Look for my new six month column, Madgirl Elegies, in Lidia Yuknavitch’s Corporeal Clamor, to start this week. Peace.
Sometimes the ache for my child slams into me like a bloody Buick,
crushing my torso, collapsing me
like an accordion of paper doll women
on themselves and I wrap what is left
around the place where
my daughter lived inside me, that reticent, magic place we once shared like a locked garden
impact slicing through even the sharpest of intimacies, sacred womb secrets torn
by man hands and heavy tread lead feet
while my bones melt through the floor
Sometimes the daughter grief is a bird in my throat that chokes me suddenly,
an inhalation of ashes–
within its own ochre-ache for flame,
orange-amber fingers creeping across
cardinal-umber phantom flames of memory–
Memory itself is a swallowed hell
when Now is the only tense I can tuck into bed at night
and ask if it wants water, or a story.
Oftentimes my girl sorrow is sly and swift,
and I have become simple and slow and therefore easy to wile,
so at the catch of a blonde head, the lilt of a laugh, an echo through the silence of my own mind–
an orchestra of sounds steal from cracked chambers of my soul, foreign and undulating,
notes my tongue has never formed; grief songs with no cadence,
sobs so rich with empty arms and full cabinets and clean rooms and nap times gone unobserved like wakes or hymns
that I can press a finger to the traces of them in the air, dust particles in dim light—
My rhythmless braille-cries of a girl-grief song
When my body can no longer bear the sky-load of sadness
it has been made to carry
Mother rage bites
through the blackness–
Mother rage has no stanza —- it is a pulse all its own — —-
—- a Universe flipped, —-
—– —– where water runs gold . . . . and . . . . . . stops. The worlds within the hollows of a mother’s howl for her child holds every lost cry of humankind and it is
unraveled———————–one red thread pulled through the center of time and order.
Dirt violated, ripped of green and torn from the earth by human hands,
what is natural desecrated, altered, deviated, mercilessly denigrated,
somehow, reasonlessly recultivating what was lost,
re-growing seeds in dark, underground spaces
dropped by birds of pain who nest nearby, phoenix-fires half-kindled,
while the great wolf rests curled deep in her den, red thread tangled in her teeth, baby girl at her teat.
Until then, what is up will be down and what is right will be wrong, tire treads will be blood-stained, skin shorn,
and I will walk around with an open abdomen flapping, coughing up feathers and fire, choking on daughter-grief
until it really is my little girl in the crowded store calling—— “Mama!”
I remember honeysuckle and a brother
beside the shade of a girl, must have been me–
You snap them off at the petals–
ripe on vine-green, birthed red
into Mississippi summer—
smoldering pressure cooker of buds
whose orange explosions are inevitable. . . .
Watch her reach a thin arm cautiously–she was warned,
unlike the brother,
that dark things lie gape-mouthed
in pretty places, but still, always, she reaches.
When dreams were treehouses,
weakly built with heavy hands
and the pounding of
a split-wood hammer,
steps were joined drunkenly, steps
that my right foot broke cleanly through
when forward motion became
That’s when I remember.
“Remember” means climbing rotting steps lit from a honeysuckle sunrise
bark broken by nails frosted rust with time,
that tight marker of right and wrong, old and new. . . .
My foot fell through the entire shelf,
skinny fingers clambering for straight
edges . . . unable to be found.
You had to jump over the line from the sky into the pasture below,
JUMP! But I am shoved
into a barbed wire fence separating county from cows,
a wire that hooks beneath soul-skin
and makes you run a trail bloodied enough
for only the best trackers.
Sweetness obscures long snakes, dreaming,
She is dreaming.
She sees it, stretched and sunning, and dreaming.
A foot-slipping, step-snapping shadow of a girl
found the snake sunning long
across boards that must be his because
he had so boldly claimed them
Honey girl screams
–but the shoving boys have returned to their nights.
girl and snake are left alone
with only bedtime stories
and childhood legends to weigh through consequences.
Girl and Snake stare,
scanning for ways around themselves—
She could run, but the steps
and honeysuckle blossoms don’t catch little girls
who dare to falter, slipping through
hard floor rules
south of the leaping line
where time has stalled at the pull
of a stem through a bloom
strange, thick liquid at the tip.
On Men: Fucking Hemingway
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time——
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God….
(from “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath)
Ernest Hemingway is totally fuckable, in my opinion, as is William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe, and, worst of all, John Steinbeck with his Red Pony.
Of course all these men are dead, but that sentence is the best summation of my life with men. Until, that is, I realized I could break my neck in escape, leaving them to their own whips and nooses.
Freud was an asshole, probably, but he was right dammit, he was right, he was right about many things.
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
(from Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”)
Fathers and husbands are often prototypes of one another, made of the same dust and marrow of Hemingway, Faulkner, Wolfe, and the like—many times physically strong men, aggressive men, men who vow to protect women as wives and daughters. They vow to protect us from everyone but themselves. Power carried by muscle always has the capacity to turn on you though, rabid.
Horses are similar, an ultimate irony. Even though they are a thousand plus pounds of hoof and strength and power, they are prey. You can work and ride horses for months and years on end, you can create a dependable bond of trust between you, both requiring the other to keep you safe in life and death situations, but in a moment of blind panic, the animal can spook, fly sideways, buck and throw you or slide to a sudden stop seconds from a jump, betraying your trust in its courage, which is a betrayal that can cost you your life.
I have never been badly injured by a horse over my years of riding, but I have seen people badly injured. I have had several bones broken in both my feet several different times from being stepped on—horses often forget the sheer mass of themselves (“YOU ARE NOT A KITTEN, GODDAMMIT!” I have yelled at my own mare with her hoof planted squarely on my foot). I have purposefully leaped, in an utterly disgraceful manner, from a galloping, runaway horse, I have been bucked and thrown, I have come off more times than I can count, sometimes laughing at my own stupidity, sometimes in an out-of-control panic. A friend of a friend, though, a highly experienced rider, broke her neck when a young horse threw her. Another friend who worked as a breezer at a racetrack rolled head-first with a galloping horse when its foot went through its martingale (chest strap) and she suffered severe trauma. That was after half the teeth in her mouth had been knocked out from a kick. And remember Christopher Reeves, that superman who fell from the sky.
So why continue to ride with all the risk involved? Why trust my life to a beast who could freak out at any moment and kill me?
To answer that question I would have to tell you about moments that linger just after sunrise when fog cuts the earth in two and horses saunter in and out of the mist, appearing and disappearing in the sky like illusion, the way god must. I would have to tell you of cantering all alone across a dam on horseback, how my hips move in time to my horse’s rocking gait, how my shoulders relax through my hands in a transfer of energy through leather reins, my thighs and calves pressing into the huffing sides of a beast meant for freedom, not fences, for herds and nature, never for show rings or breeding barns. You would have to understand what it means to communicate without words and instead with minute gestures, a gentle squeeze of the reins, the slightest pressing of my right calf that shifts all of this tremendous energy to the left. I would have to tell you about galloping bareback and the stunning, breathless feeling of flight. I would have to tell you of sips of warm whiskey from a friend’s flask as night turns objects into shadow again, horses nickering welcome to the blanket of dark, jeans and boots filthy, hay in my hair, the gratification of hard work settling over my bones in solid contentment.
The difference between men, especially men like Hemingway and husband, and horses is that the reward with horses is far greater than the risk.
Yes, it’s a total daring of the fates to straddle an animal that, when it really comes down to it, you have no control over whatsoever. I have never felt more alive and connected to nature than I have doing irrational things on horseback—dropping the reins at a full out gallop, wind turning my hair to sky, feeling the animal take control, my mare’s reaching strides digging into the earth out of her will to do so. Flying over jumps, some intentional and some not, blocking narrow, wooded deer trails. Rounding a corner at a trot and feeling like my heart would burst at the stillness of the woods, deer that do not run from us because they recognize us as their own, turkeys that scare the shit out of both my horse and I as the perfectly ugly things take flight over a ravine in a flurry of flapping wings and wind-caught feathers. It is a kind of nirvana. A wholeness.
Still, although there are no known hunters in the area, we wear neon orange vests just in case.
Bullets don’t stop just because of No Trespassing signs.
The true danger is not in animal or nature, but in the invasion of animal and nature, an assault on Eden.
My father taught me how to box when I was a teenager. He had a sand bag in the garage, surrounding walls mounted with trophy deer heads.
He taught me to box differently than he taught my brothers to box, though. I was always on the defensive, they were offensive.
“Say you’re walking down a dark alley late at night….,” he’d start, intensely.
“But it’s Mississippi, there really aren’t any dark alleys….” I’d say, while wrapping my wrists, smirking slightly.
“Ok, well say your car breaks down and you’re all alone on the highway in the middle of the night….,” he’d try again.
“Oh! Then I would call you on my new cell phone!” (Cell phones were new then.)
“Megan! This is serious! This could be a life or death situation! I’m trying to tell you how to protect yourself!” He was adamant. His intentions were out of fear, but they were good.
“Ok, geez….,” I’d say, snapped from silliness into a moody sullenness.
Life or death. Go for the eyes or the groin. Here’s a gun, here’s pepper spray, here’s a bat, a machete (I’m not joking), here’s a taser.
Jokes ensued on my part.
What the fuck was out there, the goddamn zombie apocalypse? Yes, I found out not long after, yes the zombie apocalypse, in more ways than one.
I snapped my wrist on that sand bag one night, when I was alone in the garage, glassy eyes of prey animals staring down at me in a kind of silent condemnation. I had yet, at the start of my sixteenth year, to understand what it was I was so furious about. By the end of my sixteenth year, I would be so robbed of self that fury was the only emotion that could possibly come “naturally” any longer. I heard an audible pop of bone and wondered at the weakness of my wrists against packed sand. How must those deer have felt at the crack of a rifle-shot second, now decapitated and hung as they were? And how do wrists measure against rifles?
I was unknowingly months away from looking the depths of evil itself, bringer of floods and famine, death and disease and desperation, right in eyes, not for the first time in life, and surely not for the last time.
To teach a horse to be saddled, bridled, and ridden is often called “breaking,” an irony apparently completely lost on entire generations of cowboys. I have watched the process myself, once, as a young girl. When I cried and then became sick to my stomach and wretched in an empty stall, I was told to toughen up, that this was the way things were done.
I believe now that those people, both men and women involved in the horse breaking, were as far removed from the torture of their own souls as they were the torture of those yearlings’ souls.
Many of the men that I have known have been like the cowboys I watched tie terrified, adolescent horses to cemented posts, content to watch them break their necks before they let them go. It was physically impossible for them to match a horse’s sheer size and power, so they whipped and spurred the animals into submission. They quite literally broke their wild souls. The cowboys brought knives to a fist fight.
Violence is the result of people fearing what they cannot control.
I have closed my throat against the hot breath of evil, inches from my face, again and again. Daddy, Sylvia says, husband, Boys, Boys, Boys. They know what evil they do.
I, like a pony, have been tied to a post. I broke my neck, but I broke free.
If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There’s a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.
Here’s your halter back, boys. I no longer have any need of your bits and leads.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(Plath, from “Mad Girl’s Love Song”)
I totally would have fucked Charles Bukowski, too. He is probably one of the better known modern misogynist poets (though I’m not altogether certain I believe that woman-hating label).
I would not have fucked him because I hate him, by the way. I do not, could not, hate him or anyone like him. I see too much of myself in his heart-stung bitterness.
I would have fucked Bukowski because I would have wanted him to see that I acknowledge the torments of his soul. I see them. I am not naïve enough to believe that I see them without judgment because I am not sure it is possible not to “judge” someone you see, but “judgment” is not necessarily a negative term.
“I judge, Charlie, that you have known fence posts, and that you have lost to varying forms of muscled power, same as me.”
“I would judge, Hemingway, that you, my darling, are not at all as brave as you think yourself to be. I would tell you to search your nets again for your speared whale of a story.”
I would tell Steinbeck that I fucking hate his novella The Red Pony, that I think the image still left to be digested after all the years that have passed since I read it, is not the one I ever would have desired to be stamped into the mesh of my mind. And I would tell him that people probably think the same thing about my work–my own dead-corpse-of-a- pony-story.
I would tell Thomas Wolfe I fell completely and hopelessly in love with his descriptions of people and cities, that I can sit, even now, even with my goldfish memory, and recall the sun on my face at the exact moment I inhaled the transcendence of his words. But that I felt like he stopped short of a territory that writers like Jeannette Winterson and Colette and Lidia Yuknavitch never hesitated to traipse straight through, bullets and brambles and all.
Women are horses. We are deer on posts and ponies on walls, all wrong in every context, even metaphorical ones, for the horror of the experiences we have been made to survive. We are snapped bones surrounded by the severed-vertebrae-heads of prey-called-“sport”, taught to break while being broken—No.
Hemingway’s romanticized African safaris, ha! I would have fucked Hemingway mainly because he was so weak. Only weak people go on wild game hunts, or any game hunts. He needed to be taught that he is nothing man to lion. Take away his gun and he becomes the game to be batted about by too-big kittens muscled with the power of the gods.
Get down here, boys, and deal with the life-force standing firm at the other end of your rifle, your business, your career, your insecurity, all of it.
All these false castles of phallic pretenses. Have you ever been washed over by an ocean tide, I wonder . . . .
To the men I have loved and who have loved me back with fists and anger or abandonment: get down here and stare at the fucking sunrise, look how quickly a horse trusts a gentle person, no posts or whips, lie with me in the ocean instead of smashing your fists against the sand, quit trespassing through what was never yours to begin with, shooting prey with bullet blasts like bullies, all Against, no Flow, all of it stolen territory.
Watch wild women in the morning.
Your women, Bukowski, are exhausted. We did not create this chaos, this is a foreign territory of patriarchal horror and violence that women must attempt to adapt to, but will forever be alien to. Our bodies birth, they do not destroy. And you have got to understand, Wolfe, that constantly, not occasionally, but constantly, poacher’s shots ring out against innocence and all across the globe my sisters and I are caught, strung up, abused, raped, and murdered out of cowardice. Like deer. Like rabbits. Like squirrels. Like bears in pens. Like ponies tied to posts. Or lions in their homes.
Anyone who has glimpsed god in the mist has also run like a lunatic into the pens of half-dead horses, cutting cross-ties when cowboys were not looking. They have set fire to boxing gloves and punching bags and have purposefully positioned themselves straight in front of rifle barrels instead, staring the wrong way through the cross-hairs into the squinting eyes behind twitchy trigger-fingers, laughing at your trembling, loving even though you may well tear our throats open with semi-automatic explosions that will only amplify our voices against red dirt.
Sometimes we are Sylvia Plath or Kate Chopin, unable to breathe for one more second in this inverted mirror-reflection of conscience and humanity, and we brave the darkest corridor of them all, the Unknown, in order to untie what has been so brutally damaged.
Sometimes we are Gertrude Stein or Edith Wharton or Zadie Smith or Lidia Yuknavitch and we don’t give a fuck about your feelings, we just keep writing toward home.
But know this, boys, though we are tired, we are not too far gone to continue righting what has been so badly wronged. So for fuck’s sake, put down your cocks and your guns, your cities and your trains, your gore and your “girls.” It really has all become so dull, you know it, too, you must.
Go to the ocean, to the fields, to the sun.
Come to the mists, and to the goddesses.
Our wrists are snapping from fights we did not start, and our bodies are burnt from ropes we never tied. And yet . . . .
I would most certainly have sassed Bukowski within seconds of meeting him, I would have dared Steinbeck to a bare-back horse race, I would have had Hemingway explain to me sans-whiskey how exactly the sun also rises over Africa as well as Paris, I would have made Thomas Wolfe destroy his dignity and jump into a city fountain with me fully-clothed, missed trains, averted eyes, and all, lives well lived.
So come on Faux-Civility, bear-skins on raw-pine floors, to the place where Whitman’s grass meets the burn of the sun in those first few moments at dawn when god still dances on the horizon-line of humanity, mixing Now and divinity into one bright ray of light, a glare in the eyes of the fallen, brilliant.
I can fuck Hemingway and sing Sylvia home, too. The two acts are an alchemy of the same manifestation.