More Snake than Critter

I’ve been the absent gardener yet again. It’s a bad habit, I know, I know. Disappearing from the world, but I haven’t; I’ve been jumping into the pool with both feet, into freelancing (and it’s a ride.) It feels like the most natural thing I’ve ever done, and also so surreal at the same time.

Self-employment is turning me into quite the lion.

And yet I feel weak tonight, apt to crumble like brown sugar from the slightest temptation. More snake than lion, and it is Friday the 13th, isn’t it?

I had a dream not so long ago, that I got a 13 tattoo on a Friday like this one. I’m sick, so not this time. But maybe next time. I’ve come up with the comeback to the tired old anti-tattoo remark that “You wouldn’t put a bumper sticker on a Bentley.”

…To that I say, “No, but the Sistine Chapel wouldn’t be half as breathtaking without Michelangelo’s work gracing its ceiling.”

I’ve been percolating poems. Dark, barbed little things. I’ll try not to vanish on you again, you wonderful readers who stick around for all of this.

Sleepy Writer in the House of Men

She came down the stairs, bare feet padding on the dusty hardwood. Her hair was a tangled mess that fell around her shoulders like a mouse-frizz halo.

His mouth dried up when he saw her. She quirked one side of her terracotta lips up in acknowledgement. It wasn’t a smile— it was what a smile would be with all the effort drained out of it.

She wore a too-big men’s white T,  worn and just a little grayed. It hit her legs just below her shapely buttocks, and he noticed. Oh, he noticed. He swallowed hard, and she caught him staring.

“I don’t need to be decent: it’s my house.” Deadpan and dead-on as a mind reader.

He quickly averted his eyes, returning to the conversation at hand. They were talking business, after all. Business in his friend’s living room.

His eyes flicked back to her when she emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later, steaming mug in hand. She yawned like a cat, indolent and unapologetic for rising disheveled from sleep at 2 in the afternoon.

He caught a glimpse of a tattoo on her arm as she passed— the barest hint of a spiked, scaled tail peeked out from below one sleeve, curled intimately around her arm.

Choosing happiness

“Choosing happiness,” “Creating our own realities”… These phrases get thrown around a lot in certain circles. I’m not convinced that they’re wrong, but I’m not ready to say that I believe in them either. At the same time, I find myself echoing these platitudes in my own life, through my actions. Living it out without consciously meaning to.

It’s choosing “Coconut Girl” over listening to one more round of the Avett Brothers. It’s listening to T-Pain’s “Up Down” (yeah, yeah, go on; judge me) instead of Bon Iver’s cover of “Coming Down.” I used to dwell on my sadness, wallow in it. Sorrowful songs were just another way down the rabbit hole.

I’m still not sure I had a choice to do it any other way. Depression is a bear of an illness, and I have no judgments for my younger self. No condemnation or reproach. You can’t bootstrap yourself out of mental malady.

And yet, I’m so grateful that I’ve found a different way these days. I seem to have developed a natural aversion to the things that upset me. Does that sound crazy? Is that just how humans usually are, fresh off the lot and out of the womb? Because it feels like a revelation to me, a wild wonderful innovation, that I can choose the other door. Take the flowers instead of the thorns.

I can put down the things that burn me and grab a cool drink instead. It’s blissful.

 

Wolves look like sheep look like wolves.

I’ve been pulling so many poems from my old files. I submitted this one to the WriteAHouse residency last year.  They passed over my application, so I’m glad I can share it with you now:


 

1.
When I was a child, still suckling on honey and God,
I tasted my own tears and called it Nirvana.
Thought I learned about life when all I learned was the taste of my own snot and disappointment
I pulled the wool over my own eyes over and over again,
and then grieved for the darkness
and named it Loss.

 

2.
I have had experience with love, with
this kind of love.
I’ve loved men who growled like wolves in the night,
turning shuddering away from my embrace
I’ve loved men who were
more bird than man,
flying, refusing to be caged by commitment
or monogamy,
or singularity of place.
Freedom that I wished to taste.

It took me years to realize
it was the freedom I loved.
The men were just
something I could wrap my arms around.

 

3.
(I’m the wolf that killed the sheep,
burned the barn down after it got dark.)

mea culpa (not at all)

Wishing you decades of nothing, fistfuls of it. Whole acres and oceans of it for you to drown in. Fields so wide, sown with salt and nothing…

…And also wellness and safe travel because whatever else is true, whether I’m a demon or a lover, I love you all the same in anger and in peace, no matter what I say. Because I say so many things. And I mean them, yes and no. Come back to me safe and whole?

love,
the Mad Scientist

Coffee Lovers

Acro-girl wrestled with him on the floor, her lover, her magician man. She hedged, chest heaving up and down, legs sprawled open and tented like spider’s legs in her black leather shorts. She ran a hand over the plush cream carpet, feeling the fibers drag against her palm as she stroked it. Julieta licked her lips and stared at her lover with a predator’s huge black eyes.

“Coffee is sexual,” she huffed, not finished with their argument.

“Uh-huh.” Magician-man rolled his eyes and gave her shoulder a shove. “Sure it is, Julie. Glad we have such a perfect relationship then.”

She shoved back, then pounced on him. “You’re not listening to me,” she insisted, face an inch from his. “Picture it: all that steam rising up from the cup, the thin stream of milk poured from the perfect height, oh god, the cream.”

He rolled his eyes again, and she gave him a gentle shake by the fistfuls of shirt she had her hands on.

“The sugar slowly dissolving in the cup, melting into liquid sweetness crystal by crystal. The silver stirring-spoon breaking the surface tension as you dip it straight in, swirling it deliberately around the cup, making a gentle whirlpool, releasing rich fragrance… Tell me you can’t smell that now? Rich and heavy and damp as forest floors as you take the warm porcelain into your hands and feel it heat your skin, bringing your mouth up to kiss the rim of the cup as you take the first sip…”

She was relentless. He stopped her mouth with a kiss.

To Taipo: a Letter for my Late Great-Grandmother

My great grandmother passed a few years ago. She was Chinese-Hawaiian and a farmer to the end. I called her “Taipo,” and I wrote this letter for her a few days before she died. I never sent it, but someone read it at her funeral in my absence.


Will I know, Taipo, the moment when you die? Will I feel your life being stilled, extinguished like a candle flame? Will there be one less light on the branches of our family tree, will the world be just that infinitesimal bit dimmer without your life in it? Your stubbornness, your strength.

I have admired you, grandma, although I never told you. First you raised pigs, then orchids. There are books upon books of journals, their paper yellowing and cracking under the fingers of time, filled with your notes. You were a farmer like I want to be a farmer. You grew flowers and avocados. Mangos by the basketful. Taipo, you grew a family.

I am flesh of your flesh. Your blood, however many generations diluted, is what pumps through my veins. I want you to be proud of me, your California great-grandchild who moved away and sometimes sent you letters and drawings. Once, maybe twice. I should have sent more.

You’ve lived to see five generations grow, would that I will be so lucky. Long enough to see a blonde-haired, blue-eyed keiki come out of our Chinese Hawaiian family. I’m thinking of you in California, in Oakland where I am, grandmother.

So if I play guitar and sing today, it’s for you. If I cry, my tears are for you too. Small things, maybe small enough to tuck into your dress pocket to take with you. And if I light candles tonight, for you, I know you’ll understand. You’re Chinese, after all. You taught me how at those funeral ceremonies where you’d try to convince me, a little girl then, to kiss the snout of the giant roast pig. (I did, and you laughed.)

Grandma, when you see him, say hi to the master reed-carver, the Beloved who shapes and sounds us all. Say hi for me when you get back home.

Love,
Hope