Buttercups

I remember when we used to think in beautiful.  When we still believed in fairies, at the beginning of this lifetime, or the beginning of another time.

I remember days of yellow sunshine and fields of buttercups that came up to my barely budding breasts. Pick one, hold it up under someone’s chin.  If the shine of yellow isn’t there, they don’t like butter.  If they don’t like butter, they must not know how to live, how to love.  If they do love butter they will get fat and round.  

What is this earliest oracle?  What nonsense are we trying to predict?  She loves me, she loves me not. Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.  

How do we learn to read the signs, how do we learn to listen to the earth when we are only taught nonsense poems as oracles? Or is that the great joke? That we make our own meaning.? There. You have it.  

Do you like butter? And if you don’t, what do you like? Margarine? Jam? And the game is exempt for men with beards, and dogs, and cats, and birds, and deer. What about brown children? What does the shine of a buttercup petal look like reflected on the skin of of a child whose chin is the color of the earth? I never got to find out, myself.  

So we move on from flower petals to folded paper toys, predicting who we will marry, and what kind of car we will drive to one of eight career choices. At least one of them has to be humiliating; lunch lady or garbage collector. Back home to our house in the woods, or high-rise apartment in New York City, or a shack in the desert, or a trailer on the coast.  

Today I think I’d take the trailer on the coast.  

Give me a trailer on the coast, the job of a wood carver, married to no one or myself, with my real-life husband as a sweetheart who visits on the weekends.  I’ll drive a half broken down pick-up truck and live with my childhood dog, Jessie.  Can you predict that to me in the puff of a dandelion?  Can you make it come true?

Or maybe I’ll stay here with my sweet, forgetful, super-smart husband, my old and dirty but paid for Subaru, in my cute little house, not quite in the suburbs, not quite in the city with my old cat and dog, and my career of, well, whatever this is that I’m making happen here.  

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How to be a slacker writer

 

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(for Jill and Laurie)

Find a place to sit, and sit down.
Remember to pay your bills and reset your email password.
Look up the recipe for pork loin- how long does it have to be in the oven?

Do your homework, do your homework,
always do your fucking homework.
Do the work of others first.
Make yourself tired and cranky doing other people’s bidding.
Watch Netflix, watch Hulu, look at Facebook, watch cat videos.

Make something to eat, clean the kitchen, look at your notebook.
Get that weird feeling at the back of your skull-
that shield of armor numb feeling.
Drink a glass of water.
Make a grocery list.

Go to therapy and talk about writing.
Feel shitty about not writing.
Look at the books on your shelf about writing.
Avoid them.

Lose all your pens.
Lose your notebook under a pile of mail.
Don’t forget to feel guilty.
Don’t forget to feel like a failure.
Don’t forget to feel like an impostor.

Sit down in your chair.
Listen for that voice that says “write me”
and when it shows up, just do what it says.
Feel like you can do anything for the rest of the day.

Let doubt creep back slowly in the morning.
Try again.
Try again.
Try again.

A Purple Post

A couple weeks ago, I had the good fortune to spend a couple days at a retreat center high in the Cascade mountains of Oregon. On the morning of my departure I packed my belongings into my car so it would all be taken care of and I could enjoy the rest of the day without worrying. The parking lot was sunny and bright and I found myself quickly feeling overly warm in my long sleeve thermal shirt. For the rest of the day I would either be indoors at the lodge, in the sun on one of the lawns or porches, or soaking in one of the geothermal hot springs on the property, so I decided to ditch my heavy shirt.

img_2460Breitenbush one year ago today! Sept 26, 2015.  How convenient. photo by Marshall Kirkpatrick

I walked the quarter mile or so back through the cool cover of the forest in a sleeveless tunic and a skirt made of sweatshirt maternal. The canopy cover of firs and cedars made for a much cooler climate than the sun drenched lot, but I was comfortably enjoying the late summer breezes dancing over my bare arms. As I walked back to my tent to pick up my day bag, the ravens called to each other overhead sounding more like monkeys than birds.

As I was walking, a couple of women approached from another path and we intersected at a little crossroads in the forest. I’d exchanged brief pleasantries with one of them the previous evening in the line for dinner.

“Oh my goodness look at you in that tank top just strolling along looking happy as can be and here we both are all bundled up and we’re still cold!!!” One of them exclaimed. “How can that be?”

Both women were smiling broadly at me, wearing puffy down-filled winter vests over sweaters, yoga pants, and boots. I’m pretty sure one of them had earmuffs and a scarf. I only mention because it’s relevant to the story that both of them were also very thin. I probably have more body fat on one arm than the two have on their bodies put together. They were probably in their mid-fifties, and both looked like they could grace the cover of a mainstream American yoga magazine.

I smiled back and replied, “It’s probably because I have more body fat than you do. It’s a natural insulator!” I’m pretty sure I patted my tummy proudly when I said this. It was a big moment for me to get to talk about my body fat in a nonchalant way as a potentially good thing.

img_1471No Loitering. photo by Marshall Kirkpatrick

They were stunned. Eyes wide and mouths agape for just long enough for me to register. They looked like I’d said “because I ate your grandmother for breakfast!” One of the women quickly recovered and exclaimed “It must be all the purple keeping you warm!”

It’s true. I wear a lot of purple. It gets a lot of comments. It’s something I do to remain visible in a world that wants to keep fat ladies like me in the background, if we dare to show up at all. On that day I was purple from head-to-toe. Purple hair (ultra violet), glasses (plum), shirt (raspberry), skirt (lavender), and shoes (maroon). I laughed along, and said something like “sure, we can go with that.” One of them half tittered and half mumbled something about how interesting that other theory of mine was as they continued on down the main road toward the lodge. “Yeah,” I called back. “It kept my eastern European peasant ancestors alive over many winters!” But they were gone.

mikpurplevashonTramp Harbor Dock. photo by Marshall Kirkpatrick

I was immediately struck by the fact that they were so incredibly uncomfortable with me acknowledging my fatness, by daring to speak of it, in a matter of fact and not at all apologetic way, that these women felt compelled to change my story. Fat is so vilified in our culture that these women couldn’t simply acknowledge what I said with something like “oh that makes sense” and move on to another subject.

I think it’s possible that their own fat-phobia was exposed to them in that instant in a way that they never imagined. Everyone knows that calling a woman fat is the absolute worst insult possible, so to have accidentally caused an actual fat woman to acknowledge her fatness is potentially horrifying. How cruel and thoughtless! It disrupts the “I’m a good person” narrative. But the fact there wasn’t a trace of shame in my voice when I talked about my fat body with genuine pride and gratitude for keeping my core temperature warm in a chilly forest was probably incredibly disorienting. I chalked up the women’s shock to their own enculturation; the same enculturation we all receive about fatness in our society and walked back to the lodge to meet my friends.

Later that afternoon, my friends and I sat at a picnic table on a deck eating our lunch. The deck was packed full of happy people enjoying the sunny day and the potato soup, homemade bread, and artichoke dip. I noticed some folks standing by our table and sure enough, it was the same two women from before. There was plenty of room at our table, and they were standing right in front of the open seats, but they weren’t quite looking at us. “You’re welcome to join us!” I said, and they both smiled gratefully and sat down. We made introductions around the table and chatted about how wonderful this place was, where we were from, other places like it we have visited, regular retreat center meal talk. We wished each other well at the end of the meal and parted ways.

The whole series of interactions puzzled me for a while until I had a chance to share my story with someone wiser than me. My counselor. We cringed together while I half shouted about how they were so uncomfortable with fatness that they had to change my story. My Story! We celebrated how comfortable I was talking with these strangers about my fat body. But I was still puzzled about why they shyly chose to eat lunch with me after such a weird exchange just a few hours earlier. I asked my counselor about it and she replied, “It’s because you saved them,” she said. “Something in your interaction freed them.” Tears sprung to my eyes. If that is true, and I like to think it is, there are two massage therapists, one in Northern California, and one in New Jersey who have unraveled a little bit of their fat-phobia because I showed up and told a story about my body and my fatness. With pride.

img_2408Purple Soap! photo by, you guessed it, Marshall Kirkpatrick

Walking through the world in a body like mine and being visible and unapologetic is a political act. Every time I show up in a space and demand to be seen, whether it’s through purple hair or allowing myself to take up space in a world that wants me to shrink into myself. I have the potential to change the way someone sees fat bodies whether it’s their own or someone else’s. It’s not something I asked for but it is something I’m willing to accept if I  have to. I sure do look forward to a day where I can acknowledge my fatness to an average person and not see that look of horror pass over their face. I look forward to a day that simply acknowledging my body as it is isn’t a radical act. I look forward to a day when no one wants to change the story of anyone else’s body. Until that day, and after I will own my story. And all the stories of my body and what it’s like to it’s like to live here.

The day my mom died

A couple days before my mother died she told me that her grandmother had sat in in an easy chair in the weeks leading up to her death. After we brought mom home from the hospital, on hospice, she refused to get in her bed. She stayed in her chair for her last five and a half days of her life around the clock except to use the bathroom. Just like her grandmother. A few weeks after she died, the entire contents of my mother’s apartment got stuffed into my basement. For those first few weeks, I would find myself in the basement with my mother’s belongings a lot. I sat the chair she died in. I looked through her night stand where we found her poetry and tarot cards, I went through the plastic garbage bag with the clothes she wore to the hospital mixed in with dish towels and paperwork from the hospital.

renniephoto by Dani Weiner

I told myself to remember the feelings of profound sadness and unmoored loss that sat inside me. I told myself to try to notice the feeling of confusion about how could it really be possible that I would never see her again, never talk to her again, never hear her voice again, when I could still smell her and I was surrounded by all her stuff. I wanted to remember it because I knew that someday I would be ready to write about it. And I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to be real and raw and capture the grief that was inhabiting my body. I threw myself into grief, somehow knowing that plunging myself head first through it was the only way I was going to ever come out the other side. I was heavy and I was light. I swooned, I cried. I saw her out of the corner of my eye. I saw her in my dreams. I felt like my chest was cracking open and all the pain in the world was streaming through my heart and up to the moon. I yelled at my husband a lot about things that weren’t his fault. I drank a lot. I smoked a lot. I slept for days at a time. I started talking in my sleep again, and then I started waking up screaming, then I started waking up sitting up. My husband told me I would sit up call out to her in the night and fall back asleep sitting up. I never went back to sleepwalking like I did as a kid. Four years later and I still sleep sitting up sometimes. Less and less these days. Four years later and all her stuff is still in my basement.

Right after my mother died I was wracked with guilt. She died in my care; my brother and I were her hospice caregivers. I intellectually knew it wasn’t my really fault. But I wish I had been able to make it a little more graceful for her, a little more dignified. A good death. I wanted so much for her to have a good death, but in the end on that July afternoon I was struggling to get her 90 pound body off the portable commode and back in her chair while she was losing consciousness probably in part from the closer together doses of morphine she’d needed that morning.

chewedleavesphoto by Xander Wiswall

The previous night I’d asked my brother if he could  relieve me for the whole night. I drank a pitcher of sangria that a member of the hippie housing co-op my mom lived in brought over and smoked cigarettes outside my mom’s back door all evening. I went back to my temporary apartment that the co-op had lent my husband and I across the way and slept a full night for the second time in probably nine days. Between the hospital and then bringing her home for hospice I had subsisted mostly on naps. That mornig I woke up at 11 am because my brother called me. He said he couldn’t get mom to get off the toilet. And when I arrived, there she was in her living room, sitting on the portable commode. Much weaker and limper than she had been the night before. She was slouched over on the plastic commode, leaning on my brother.

We kept asking her if she was ready to move and she kept asking us to wait. Just wait. Her words were slurred and faint, but gentle. After half an hour I tried to move her and she cried out in pain, I’d never seen her face twist in agony like that. I resettled her on the plastic potty and as I gave her some morphine it occurred to me how little my mother had complained of pain throughout the course of her illness. Over the last month that I’d been staying in town to take her to radiation, we kept going back to her doctor for stronger and stronger stuff until she was on liquid morphine that we administered by mouth in these little syringes.  But it was only a few minutes, maybe half an hour before she died that she actually let her guard down enough to let me see how much it hurt.

After an hour or so I couldn’t take it any more. I couldn’t let my mother languish, barely conscious on a plastic toilet in her living room all day. I was scared she was going to die there on the can and I couldn’t let that happen. I wanted her to have a good death. Not a died-on-the toilet-joke-death. My mom and I had a shared close relationship with Coyote, the Trickster Spirit who delivers big life lessons as absurd and often humiliating jokes, but this was going too far. I tried to pick her up, but unlike all the other times in the past  few weeks, when she’d put her arms around my neck, this time when I lifted her her arms stayed slack and her head lolled to the side. I crouched over, trying to support her whole body with my arms and pull her pajama pants up with one hand. When I got her in her chair she was half laying in with her back in the seat and her head against the backrest like an old rag doll. I tried to get her gently propped back up but every time I did I was reminded of how she used to call us wet noodles when we were little and she tried to get us in and out of our snow suits when we lived in upstate New York.

brokenbenchphoto by Xander Wiswall

I yelled at my husband to go find my mom’s neighbor Tammy. Tammy had been Millie’s caretaker for the last couple years until a few days previous, when Millie, who was probably in her nineties, died surrounded by friends and listening to Pink Floyd. I knew that she knew how to properly lift people who were bedridden and unable to help. Tammy came flying in and by the time we got my mom re-settled her heartbeat was already so faint. Tammy said we should call 911. I told her no, that my mom has a DNR. God, I was so glad that she had made that clear when we were at the hospital. It was part of the hospice intake process. I asked my husband to call my sister at work. She needed to come. I sat next to mom and stroked  her arm and her hand and I sang Swing Low Sweet Chariot to her, the same song she sang to me and that her father sang to her when we were young. I cried and sang and told her that it was ok, that we would be ok, that she didn’t need to hold on if she didn’t want to. I held her hand until her skin was cold. And that was the last time I talked to my mother.

It took years for me to let go of the guilt and the trauma of those last couple hours of her life. For so long I felt like I failed her. And that somehow I had betrayed her by moving her. That I killed her by moving her. Images and sensations from that day haunted me. I ran through so many scenarios of how it could have been better. If only I hadn’t gone to get some sleep that night. If only I had come over earlier. If only I hadn’t given her that last dose of morphine. But the truth of the matter was she was dying. She had lung cancer that had spread to her bones and her nervous system. Radiation had only weakened her. She was on hospice care. And I did best I could. And I did a damn good job of caring for her. Of helping her die. I let her lead, most of the time. We were a pretty good team, she and I, at the end. She let me help her in ways she’s never let me before. And that helped me feel closer to her. And important to her. Which I needed at the time. Maybe if she’d been transferred from the commode to her chair more gently she would have lived a few more hours, maybe even a whole day, unconscious, but alive. Maybe my sister would have made it to her side before she passed and gotten to say the things she wished she had said.  Who knows? But she was going to die, and very soon. We have this idea of death as either gentle and easy or messy and traumatic. But sometimes it’s a little bit of both. I wouldn’t let her die on the commode, and we struggled a bit to get her settled. But once we did I held her hand and I sang her to sleep, just like she used to do for me.

bikegate

Sometimes you just have to put it out there

I wrote the first draft of this poem almost a year ago, the first time I attended Laurie Wagner’s incredible online Wild Writing class. In my first class, Laurie used Kentucky poet laureate (2015-2016) George Ella Lyon’s poem Where I’m From as  our first writing prompt for 12 minutes of unedited, fast-as-you-can, pen never leaving the page writing. Wild writing is spontaneous and messy and you never know what you’re going to get when you show up in the morning. It’s an incredible practice, where I have met some truly lovely and inspiring people.  

It took six months for me to look back at anything I wrote during Wild Writing, and when I did I found that some of the stuff I wrote might actually be good. I’ve been longing to share some of it. So today I sat down and transcribed this first piece and gave it a little editing. Not too much, but enough to pull a few cringes out. It’s not perfect, I could probably spend more time editing it, but I don’t really want to. I want some of the rawness to stay there. I want to put it out there, and let it go.  

I feel like if I were to write a “Where I’m From” poem today it would probably be really different. And it would also be my truth. Because we’re all from so many places, aren’t we? 

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Where I’m from
by Mikalina Kirkpatrick

I’m from the family that just doesn’t talk about it.
I’m from bruises under shirts
and secrets on the other side of doorways,
broken glass swept up with last night’s dinner and put in the garbage
like it never happened.

Where I’m from is old stories
about speakeasies, poker games and polka dancing.
Putting up pears in the fall and making cabbage rolls all winter long.

Where I’m from we don’t have time for your shit.
You better find something to do or I’ll find something for you.

Where I’m from the woods are thick with fallen leaves and dusty sunlight,
woodsmoke and rednecks with deer guns.

Where I’m from ghosts walk among us
real as the stories we tell ourselves before going to sleep
like little lost children at the mall calling out for mommy.

Where I’m from the tapestries of life are bright and chaotic
and stitched together with yarn
like a crazy quilt you find at a rummage sale
after all the good stuff is gone.

Where I’m from we try to find peace,
all of us,
in the corners we have retreated to.

Though no one is speaking
and most of us are dead,
we’re all trying to put the same puzzle back together
like broken glass from last night’s dinner
thrown down against the tiles in weary exasperation and sorrowful rage.

Where I’m from we’re all about second chances
because most of us didn’t know we were up
the first time around.

Where I’m from we don’t wear makeup or shave our legs
or say the pledge of allegiance anymore.
Where I’m from the animals rule the roost.

Where I’m from we’re ready for something to change.
We’re trying to break the chains of years,
of generations, of biology and the threat
of the continuation
of life.

On reclaiming rest

dogsinarow

Why can’t I be kinder to myself when I need extra rest?  Sure, I let myself take naps in the afternoon.  And I’ll let myself sleep in on the weekend.  But if I sleep past 11 a.m. guilt takes hold of me.  It lives in my throat, tight and hot and I start to think thoughts about “wasting the day” and even “wasting my life.”  It all swirls around inside of me, and less than 5 minutes after I’ve woken up I’ve convinced myself there’s no point in even trying to make anything of the day.  Or my life.  I am obviously a failure.

I want to be done.  Done beating myself up for needing extra sleep.  Whether it’s due to not enough sleep the night before, or too much sun, or maybe my body is going through a hormonal shift and it takes a lot of work, or I’m fighting the end of a lingering cold, or just too many days of doing life at full speed until all hours, or perhaps I have processing intense life events that just keep piling up like dirty laundry for weeks. And I a couple  days to recuperate.  A couple of days.  To rest.  And not be telling myself I’m wasting my life every twenty minutes on repeat.

I’m ready to tuck myself in with sweet bedtime stories and lullabies and the special pillow. I want to let myself luxuriate in repose.  I want to let myself idle away an afternoon with a movie, or my markers, staring out the window, and yes, even scrolling through Facebook and Instagram for a while and not tell myself I should be unloading the dishwasher or going to the grocery store or writing a masterpiece blog post.

rest

I’m ready to be able to say “I’m just not up for going out tonight” and stay home and watch bad TV and not tell myself I am wasting my life.

I’m ready for sweet, sacred, bountiful rest.  I want to celebrate rest with cool showers after hot afternoon naps and watching Pollyanna for the first time in 30 years, in bed with ice cream and extra pillows.  And not feel bad about it.

I’m ready to slip somewhere between meditation and sleep in a comfortable chair while flute music lulls my brain and incense gentles my surroundings.  And then ask my tarot cards how I can good care of myself.

I’m ready to honor the ebb and flow of my every shifting energy, my wonky biorhythms, and my exhaustible adrenal glands.

I’m ready to build myself a nest, sprinkle it with rose water, fluff up my pillows and enter the dreamtime.  To join the collective consciousness.  To find the hidden messages, to live in archetypes and imagery, to fill my basket with lessons and memories from the dead and the not yet born.

I’m ready to sleep until I wake up and my eyelids don’t ache with heaviness, and my dreams don’t call me back.  To wake at whatever time it happens to be when I wake and know that by letting myself fully rest, I am taking the best, most excellent care of myself that I can.

I’m ready to remember that I am worthy of this care, and that this kind of care allows me to do the beautiful, sacred, meaningful, joyful and important things that I want to do in this world.  Like make my art and do the dishes.

When I am rested.

 

 

Note to self:


Dear Mikalina, 
It could be helpful to remember that the first few minutes of walking anywhere, your legs are going to feel stiff. Your calves might ache. You might feel awkward. This is ok. This is normal. Especially if you’ve been sitting or driving recently. It happens to everyone. It’s not because you are fat. There is nothing to be ashamed of. 


Sit down for a minute if you want to. Rest your hip if it’s aching. Stretch your calves and twirl your ankles. And if you want to, you can get back up again and keep walking.  Miraculously your legs will probably feel better. Walking might feel like something your body is meant to do. And wants to do. It’s called warming up. It’s not your fault. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Walk on, my dear. It’s going to be ok.