That Heart of Mine

I left my heart somewhere near you
And I guess you haven’t sent him back yet

Or maybe you just haven’t noticed him there

Lying beside you

I laid him by you years ago

I left him there

Thinking he’d come search for me

Leap into my chest once more

But he likes you best

Even in neglect

You’re warmer all over

And you excite him more than I alone ever could

He’s attached to you

That heart of mine

As if he longs for company

I guess he knows

That lying by your feet

With the possibility

of your hand in attention

Is better than

A thousand other hands

Less familiar

And unsure

He whimpers occasionally

I hear him now

But the mess around you

Might be so cluttered and dense

That all you hear is rejection

Maybe he’s been covered up by it

Buried beneath the debris of your past life

Moments you tried to lose yourself in

People who fell away

Fears you kept close because

you couldn’t quite toss them aside

Feelings, you did the same with

Maybe he finds comfort there

Amidst things that smell of you

Tainted a bit

By the stink of dismissal

But mingled in with a sweetness

That I’d never once denied

He’s lonely too

That heart of mine

I’d wish you’d go and notice him

Before he shrivels up

down by your feet

Pathetic and yet forever loyal

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Brink

Brink

I feel like I’m on the brink of something

Like I’m right on the edge

Like I’m right about to get to it

Like I’m right there on its tail

And I only have to reach my hand out

And take it…

If I could, I would

If I could, I would

If I could, I would…

Would I?

If I could?

Would I?

Because I’ve felt like I’ve been on the brink of something for a very long time now

Because I’ve felt like I’ve been on the tip of something since… damn near forever

Because I’ve felt like I was going to be somebody since…

I don’t know how long

But I’ve felt it

And I’ve known it

And yet I’m not

But I swear…

I swear that I’m on the brink of something…

I would tell you even now that I’m on the brink of something

Even now

After spending all my energy

And confidence

And cash

Just reaching

Even now after all this time

I would still tell you

With great certainty

And great feeling

That I swear that its there

That I’m on the brink of something

I know it

Because Goddamn it

I feel like I’m on the brink of something

I have to be on the brink of something

I have to be close to the edge by now

So I can finally leap the fuck off of it

I know that I’m on the brink of something

If only

I knew what it was…

Haven’t I been on the brink of something?

Does everyone feel like they’re on the brink of something?

Have I been continually and perpetually deluding myself?

Because

I’d tell you

I’d bet you

I’d’d swear,

I’d bet

It’s right there

Isn’t it?

Reluctant Advice

The best advice I’ve ever been given was told to me reluctantly.

At the time, I was about fifteen and my mama and I weren’t very good at having good days or good conversations. There was no one we loved more than each other, but that was why it hurt so much to be around one another. Occasionally, our personal wishes for one another’s lives obscured the love we felt. We both wanted each other to be different. Better. Stronger. Kinder. It hurt when the other didn’t want the same. It felt like rejection. As a result, our words meant too much to be said without extreme consequence. Even things said with love in mind felt like attacks. So the very best days I had with my mother were spent talking about frivolous, detached things or otherwise spent in silence.

On our special days out, away from the rest of the family — my absolute favorite days, mama and I would go to the movies, or out to eat, or, other times, shopping. We realized we couldn’t stare at each other the entire outing so we structured our interactions. For conversation, we’d give our opinions on the most obviously annoying things: how hopeless the acting was in the movie, how terrible the waiter’s service had been at this restaurant, or how hideous the dresses were at Macy’s. We were expert critics with years of experience gained from trying to improve each other. So, when we went out, we’d laugh and laugh and laugh at the hilarity of our joint negativity because, conjunctively, it was directed elsewhere.

One early Saturday morning, while my daddy and little brothers were asleep, my mama woke me up excitedly and asked if I wanted to go shopping. I didn’t really like shopping. I still don’t (I never really know what I want and the clerk’s constant inquiries make me question how put together my life is). But, my mama and I had argued the day before and by then I’d learned how difficult it was for parents to say “I’m sorry”. Instead of using words, Mama sat at the edge of my bed, hopeful and apologetic, still learning her way in the world, and trying to make it up to me. So I said, “Okay, Mama,” with a smile that mimed “I accept.” I needed some new shirts anyway.

My mama, beautiful, mocha-tinted, and battered from years of childbearing paired with under appreciation, let out an excited shriek, grin reaching her hazel, tired eyed, and kissed me emphatically all over my face.

“Hurry up and get dressed then!” She smiled, jumping up and down on my bed with her knees, the force of which almost rocked me out of it. I laughed and she hurried away exuberant.

We sang songs on our way there like we usually did during car rides (singing didn’t require conversation). It took an hour to drive to any mall worth perusing, so we drove through various playlists I’d burned onto CDs. While my mama sang, I organized her wallet, annoyed at the way she never could keep it orderly, but secretly looking forward to the mild, scattered times in which she’d comment, “Oh… you really do do that beautifully…”

When we finally arrived at the teenaged section in Macy’s, we poured our attention into searching for pretty things. My mama would bring me shirts or dresses she liked and I vetoed the things I didn’t (usually frills and flowers), but if she begged me long enough I’d roll my eyes and try on the pieces from the vetoed pile anyway. If I wasn’t looking for items myself or running back and forth from the dressing room, I was scanning the room for sales clerks to avoid, ready to flee to another section if any one got too close. Mama knew how much I didn’t like it, but still had a tendency to call those poor souls over. They’d ask me questions I had no answer to, like “what are you looking for?” or “what do you generally like?” and I’d stare at them in genuine confusion, hoping to God they’d make both our lives easier by giving up and turning around. Occasionally, they got the hint quickly and left with a “just call me over again when you decide!” Other times we’d be roaming around awkwardly for a good twenty minutes. It never felt kind or helpful when Mama asked for their assistance. She did it against my pleas, so, by insisting, she was telling me to “get over it,” like I wasn’t a person yet and my distastes were just phases to “grow out” of. Whenever she did, parts of the day’s positive intentions were canceled out, despite the silence attempting to keep it intact, but that day, luckily, I was able to evade it.

After a few hours of avoiding sales people and modeling for my mother, we found a good stack of clothes that we both agreed on. We checked out, bought some of that chocolate that stores always tempt you with after you’ve already pulled out your wallet, and that was that. We were done.

Now, there was nothing left to do but leave (no frivolous things left to fill the empty silences with), so we headed back to the car quietly, chocolate in hand. My mama led the way and I trailed behind her with all of my bags swinging side to side across my hips because buyers never carry merchandise.

Unfortunately, the store was very busy by that time and it was difficult to maneuver through the crowd. I tried my best not to hit things and people, but I was the clumsiest person I knew and always had been. At the time, all my parts didn’t really feel mine yet, so much so, I could hardly keep track of them. The days I’d managed not to trip over my own feet were deemed very successful.

Attempting to take responsibility for myself and young enough to be overly used to being wrong, I whispered apologies to the people I lightly smacked and occasionally even to the rolling make-up carts that created mazes across the bottom-most floor.

One. Two. Three — rolling carts were apologized to and reset in their places.

One. Two. Three. Four — people smiled politely and apologized back to me (they’d been in the way too). As I was turning away from my fourth “sorry,” another one slammed into me.

My left arm swung behind me, taken aback quite literally, and I nearly dropped half of my load.

“I’m so sorry!” I announced preemptively, before I’d set eyes on my assailed or even recovered my footing.

Looking up, repentance still hanging off my lips, I saw a tight-nosed, blonde woman briefly look up from her phone, clearly annoyed to have run into someone despite her own distractions. An old looking 35-ish, skin baked from over tanning, the woman gave a brief stoic nod of acceptance before stalking off again on noisy, gold high heels.

I re-aligned myself to continue walking behind Mama, mildly affronted, but an ever faithful duckling. However, my mama had also stopped when she’d heard the altercation and was now staring at me discernibly.

My mama had twenty-something years on me and therefore had probably dealt with that many years more of high-heeled entitlement. I’m sure the extra time accounted for the extra amount of annoyance on her face. Maybe even for the glares she gave the woman’s bare back when she’d barely acknowledged my presence. Now eyeing me, Mama’s face was a mixture of annoyance, disbelief, and confusion. It looked like I had personally offended her and she was momentarily trying to decide if it was worth breaking our tacit agreement to confront me about it. She squinted her eyes just enough to show she’d made a decision and, for the first time all day, spoke directly to me about something other than music and clothes.

“Don’t apologize for taking up space,” she said, almost wearily and moderately toned, with a tinge of disbelief still stuck in the corner of her eye. “You have the same right to exist in your space as everyone else does. You’re not here to be other people’s doormats. Everyone is allowed space to breathe in.”

As she shook her head, almost pityingly, I felt oddly defensive. I squirmed in my skin as she looked at me, unsure of where to place my own gaze. Somehow being told I was being a doormat felt even worse than getting my bags dismissively knocked out of my hand. It wasn’t hurtful. It was just highly uncomfortable.

“But I’d knocked into her,” I insisted lamely. Needing to say something. “It was polite to apologize.”

She replied simply, “My children are not doormats,” but now felt awkward herself. She never knew what to do when I responded and didn’t want our day to turn sour, so, eyeing the ground, she quickly turned her back to me again and continued our walk.

In the car, once more we submitted to the agreement of the day. Acting as if we’d never spoken a word, we made our way home, eating the rest of our chocolate, blasting our ears away with tunes we both knew well enough to sing to, and laughing at whatever lyrics were confidently sung wrong.

We pretended otherwise, but Mama had indeed broken our tacit agreement. She’d told me something directly that had the potential to amass great consequence. But there was something about the intention. Something about the delivery: hesitant, yet deliberate, said with concern rather than in critique. Something there that remained with me, even though so many other moments have melted away in forgiveness. Something there… that made it a lasting memory of love.

A Man of Light

I watched a man dressed in clean blue jeans, a stiff striped shirt, and blue suit jacket talk excitedly about his plans and ambitions from a table over.

I’m an odd eavesdropper. Most people may pretend that they aren’t listening. They might look down and politely make-believe that our small, quaint, shared space is a place where privacy is easily had and dutifully respected. Most people might, but I do not.

For me, an interesting conversation is a work of art. The times that engagement with others isn’t forced but natural and easy are hard to come by. A genuine, active interaction, to me, is as beautiful as the ceilings lofted high in the Louvre. So I found myself admiring this rare finding and my spirit growing warm, airy, and light. I also found myself staring enchantedly at the conversation’s main artisan. My smile visibly elevating in amusement as, consequently, both participants’ voices dropped lower and lower.

This man was there before I was. He was not the most handsome of men, but his face and hair were well groomed, his clothes were sharp and clean, and he had this potent aura of confidence that greatly attracted me. I imagined his stature to be rather modest in reality, yet he sat up straight and tall, typing away, oddly calmly for a business man, seemingly unperturbed by my blatant notice.

The other man entered the large, open area in long, hurried strides. Mid stride he greeted my secret acquaintance, bending over slightly to clasp his hand while shrinking to his receiver’s full height. I paid little attention to this new arrival. His rushed entrance, aligned him with those other people of an entirely other realm than the first man and I. The type who always seem to be rushing, running, hastily moving in every direction, never in the place they want to be, and only entering themselves half-heartedly into every situation. He was not a man of great passion or ambition. He wanted things because he thought he should want them, not because of a deep unmistakable desire. He was a common working man; hard-working, respectable, but uninteresting on almost every account.

I meant to write a story sitting there. I meant to focus on the words and their interactions and my smoothly written prose. They were meant to have simply structured business conversation. Typical conversation. The type that hurts my ears with its lack of artistry and that I often watch with agitation just to roll my eyes at, taking mental notes on how I might significantly improve it. The boring man with the badly tucked shirt was meant to ask, in a great show of superficial enthusiasm, and the other man was meant to answer, stuffily with large hints of obligation. But when the man, whose shoes didn’t match his belt, did inquire about my sleek haired man’s current business, my acquaintance’s face lit up. His posture opened. Instead of leaning back in his chair, addressing questions with answers overly rehearsed earlier that evening, he positioned himself closer, leaning ever so slightly, with excitement that spilled over his careful demeanor. He gushed. It’s honesty caught my eye. The beauty held my gaze and I found myself attached to it. In awe and in luck.

He was a man of politics, in the way that actually matters. He took action on his beliefs. He stated his positions tactfully. He wanted more out of the systems he had been subjected to and the desire lit a fire beneath his feet. He walked the world like an aged monk walked across fiery coals; with determination, poise, and remarkable tolerance.

I heard little of the conversation. The capability of my ears lacks significant range, even when my breath is made undetectable and my movements scarce. But I heard he was running for a position in some field of education. He brought with him a great love for his past experiences and a great appreciation for his upbringings. There was a light that emanated from him as he talked about the endorsements he had recently received and the significance of the change he planned on bringing.

I can recall one excerpt of the conversation clearly now and one excerpt alone. It was the part that made me wish social normalcy wasn’t expected from me and I could interrupt excitedly. I could say I was interested in listening and sit between them both, intrigued, alert, happy. But social normalcy is the only thing really expected in polite society. When rules are broken, reception is poor despite any good intentions. So though the conversation drew my ears forward, my body stayed firmly in its chair.

“It is extremely important to me.” My secret acquaintance was answering a question I hadn’t quite heard. “I come from a community college background and if it wasn’t for the opportunities I had to move forward, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

There was very defined bit of pride that resonated in the ending. I admired the way he held up his humble past as a badge of honor rather than a symbol of embarrassment. He was a confident man; self-assured, self-aware. He knew that beginnings did not determine the ends.

The honest affection he had for the subject was not only noticed by me, but the man whom with he was speaking. The messy man, the boring man, was admiring him too. His eyes lit up with an excitement that seemed unfamiliar to him, but welcome. He shook the clean man’s hand excitedly congratulating him on his recent accomplishments.

“I can see how much you’ve been working and how much effort you put into it. Thank you for speaking with me about it. You’re doing a great job and you need to continue. It seems like work you’re really passionate about. How’s the competition?”

The words became fainter and their heads came closer as they spoke about political gossip. I smiled to myself as I was reminded of both my imposing status and a lesson I often forget: people are people wherever you go. While he spoke of his competitor’s campaign strategy, background, and emotional appeal it dawned on me once again that the people we read about in history books and gossip about on television are physically somewhere, right now. The world seems so much less daunting when you stop separating yourself from it. As he gossiped about his competitor, how good her campaign strategy was, and, yet, how he felt he had a solid chance against her I sat behind him placing myself firmly into a reality I often detach myself from.

They finished their conversation and the tall, smiling, boring man stood up, shook my man’s hand once more.

“Update me on your status!” He said while leaving, his long strides taking him everywhere in a hurry.

The clean man stayed standing, repositioned his jacket, and I could feel him noticing my watching. He bent over the table to pack up his laptop into a blue backpack. His accessories were so elegantly whimsical that I couldn’t help but smile while he lifted his bag to his back.

Ignoring his incredibly nosy onlooker, the man walked off. A bit more rushed than how he’d been sitting. I wondered if it was me or if he really had somewhere to go. Maybe he really had been waiting for that interaction. Maybe he had planned it. Could you plan excitement like that?

I had a strong urge to leave my belongings and chase him down the hallway screaming: Tell me your ambitions! Tell me your goals! Tell me where your life is heading! Let me be part of that light! Please? Won’t you? Let me feel that pure loving excitement I once had, once more.

But I didn’t. It might have been impolite to acknowledge my eavesdropping when he so politely ignored it. And when he walked away the open area that was flooded with natural light, almost always, seemed to grow a bit dimmer.

Songs That Soothe the Soul

I didn’t realize
How sad my mother was
Truly
Until we sang along in the car together
on our way
to my freshman orientation

It was my mama,
her friend, Nanette
and me.
2 women
1 girl
Sharing a rite of passage
In an SUV too large to drive
but that
made her feel safe
In a world that
constantly tried
to run her over

I remember my mama was so jealous
That I
liked her friend so much
But that
lady had a fresh take on our lives
She
thought I was funny
And
didn’t make me feel bad
When
my first thought
About buying snacks
For myself
Didn’t include her opinions

But I love my mama
Even when I don’t like her
And her
happiness
Crosses
my mind every day
And has
for as long as I can remember
So when
it was time to change
The CD
Into something my Mama and me
could sing to as she drove

I picked
the mix tape
My mama used to play
In the
car every day
For months
With my
daddy in the passenger seat
And man,
Did we sing to it.

I knew every word
I had
since I was little
But I
never noticed before
What
we sang
And how
we sang
of heartbreak
And
untrustworthy men
Of
broken vows
Of
worthless promises
And
poignant pains
We sang
And I
started to remember
Being in my carseat
And my
mother playing
One song
On repeat
As my daddy brooded
In his chair

I remember
Because I liked that song best
And
didn’t mind it
being played again
3 times
4
8
20
Until my
daddy’s face was so sour
We didn’t
dare ask what was wrong anymore
And my
mama
Seemed
oddly satisfied
When he didn’t stop her
I guess
she really liked that song

I remembered that day
somewhere
in the middle of singing
When I
told Nannette
That we
used to hear that mix tape
over
and over
and over again
And my
daddy didn’t like it that much
By the look he used to wear on his face

I
remembered that day
When
neither of them answered me
Like
they knew something that I didn’t

I remembered in-between pauses
When
Nanette stared into the distance
Because
she didn’t know the words
and
couldn’t sing along
And my
mama wore a grin
the size
of Jupiter
Because
that tape had soothed her soul
So many times
And
So damn well

Huh…

Huh…

There’s silence around me
But there’s still noise
In my head
That my mind makes up
It’s own soundtrack
A playlist consisting
Of background music
That matches feelings I won’t let go of
Swirls of images
A vortex of sound
All crowd my mind
In silence
A loud silence
The whooshing of the
Air conditioner
Somehow evades me
The gentle splashing of the pool
Doesn’t catch my interest
The planes flying overhead
Are reduced to background noise
But I hear my own voice
Not coming from my throat
Some inner me that can’t be real
Because it’s never present where I am
I hear that
As clear as the day I hadn’t noticed
As present as the sun baking my skin
The voice rings back and forth
It resonates from soul to mind
I hear it
Reading
A voice I wish I had
Because it’s oddly more articulate
That voice could probably sing
And I suppose it does
In the same voice as Lauryn Hill
And it reads like Emma Thompson
And it raps like Kanye
And occasionally it throws clever quips
At disappointing memories
And I imagine I could have shut that voice up
At any time
Had I ever noticed it speaking
Without me
As it is
Currently
Huh…
What a beautiful day

You are beautiful

You are beautiful

I thought you weren’t once
I saw something else completely
But I think I might have just been hurt
Because you stand there
Without me
Absolutely beautiful
Or maybe you too never saw it before
And I could never convince you
So when I saw you
I only saw tears, pain, and heartache
When really you’ve never been
Anything but
Beautiful
And I’m glad we can both
Now see it that way

Inbetween

I’d kiss you if you asked me
But I won’t mind it if you don’t
I’m more interested
In the inbetween anyway
Where I can sit right beside you
And I get to hold you close
And it’s so natural
You think nothing of it
It’s where we tell each other
Honest truths
That sort of feel like secrets
The way our bodies relax
Like we let something go
And we swim in that
Deep connectedness
Both heavy and light
And you witness a realm
You’ve never noticed before
You’ll say it feels like
“Something bigger”
When you’re with me
I’ll smile because you notice too
The only real feeling
I love
Love
Without all the extra bullshit
Without all the simple urges
Without the resistance
We often hold
At our cores
I’m interested in the inbetween
Where I can love you
And you love me
And it’s not a dramatic mess
Of emotion and pain
And all of those simple urges
That come up
When we worry about having nothing
When life
And what we think life is
Gets in the way of real love
So I’ll kiss you if you ask me
If you still mix up the feelings
But I would prefer it
If you don’t
Because if you linger
On knowing me that way
You’ll confuse it with something real
And it might be hard for you
To ever really know
How I love you
Inbetween

To You: A Prayer

To You: A Prayer

When I was little
My daddy taught me how to pray
One way
And I never forgot
I always started and ended
With the same hopeful arch
I began
Father God, thank you for:
And I’d list all the people I needed to love
And in a whisper
Because daddy was listening
I added the names of the people I wanted to
And after all these years
Not much has changed
Ever since I met you
I’ve whispered your name
And I still visualize angels camped above me
In fancy tents as
I hope your heart is happy
I pray your smiles are real
And that your life is filled with the love and laughter
Photographs often lie about
Please bless them with all that they need
And help them find themselves where they are meant to be
It sounds like a prayer still
Because it is.
In Jesus’s name
Amen

Candlelit Thoughts

Candlelit Thoughts

The lights have gone out in the bathroom and my roommate and I have yet to fix them. At the moment it’s being lit by candlelight. I don’t know if I’ll change it any time soon. I probably won’t. The effect seems to fit my life, which always sounds so dramatic when I tell about it that I laugh at the recanting. Occasionally, I even laugh when it’s happening. Drama seems so funny in real life. It just looks so out of place. And yet, it’s sort of all I really know.

Though drama befits the circumstance, I’m not actually thinking about anything all that dramatic. I was thinking about being someone. Whomever it is I’m supposed to be. I was thinking about how to become that without throwing away everything about me that I’ve spent my whole life trying to be. It sounds deep and thoughtful, but I think it might be more of an excuse to prolong my enjoyment of the candlelight.

I was thinking about rejection. I applied to be commencement speaker this year. I’m graduating college. I didn’t get it and that wasn’t surprising. I think at this point, I’ve applied to and gotten rejected by so many things that I’m a bit numb to the feeling. I see the words “I am sorry to…” give a polite, “oh okay”, sit back down, and finish my tea. If I’d decided to believe in purpose this week, I would’ve said that all of my rejections these past few years have been a plan to rid me of the fear often preceding them. I’m not sure I believe in that this week though. This week I just feel like the universe is being a bitch.

Every thing I go for gives the remarkable impression of being right outside of my reach. I can touch the glimmer of success with the tips of my fingers, but it never glows close enough for me to feel it’s warmth. They told me, as they usually do, of how very close I was. They told me, as they generally do, that the attempt I made was a phenomenal effort. They told me, as they often do, that they enjoyed it so much they were working to give me a consolation prize. I smiled. I thanked them. As I ordinarily do. My stomach fell to my toes (it’s very comfortable there) and I all but laughed aloud at the familiarity. They brought me in to tell me this. They wanted to reject me personally. My inner me keeled over in laughter. How often does something have to happen for it to be routine? How often in my life will I be great, but not great enough?

How is it that I can be everything I want to be and give everything I have to give and it still not be worth anything tangible? I do not feel devalued. I’ve spent too much of my life growing my self esteem to knock it down with things so slight, but still… Occasionally, I have to wonder: what it is about what I want to be that is not great enough to be seen as worthy? If I can do better then so be it, but who is it that decides what is best? Why is my idea of great so different than yours? What is it that you see? What is it that you see in me that’s wrong? Who should I ask for the final word?

I guess it always just reminds me that I’ve gotten more being likable than I have ever gotten from being seen as highly merited. It’s both amazing and slightly disappointing to be seen as less than you see yourself as. It’s humbling as well as discouraging.

My brother says that merit is too relative to certain people to be discouraged by its judgment. “It’s not that you’re not great, it’s that your type of greatness has yet to be seen by the right people.” And then both playfully and seriously he references the history of most great, dead artists…

It’s a funny thing, candlelight. Even playful words seem like painfully dramatic endings…