Words for You

image courtesy opmat.org.au

VJ’s Weekly Challenge #96: circling

 

Circle through the years of youth

Find the gems along the streams

Of your years, my love.

Collect them in a basket,

Keep them close.

When the time comes

Give each away to your

Young ones.

Make each a gift,

Tied with ribbons

Of what you dream

And all of your

Wishes

For them.

As I have given

All my words

As a gift

Tied with ribbons

Of my dream

Of love

And my wish

Of happiness

For you,

My love,

My gift,

My daughter.

Definition of a Wife or a Valentine to My Wife

This piece came to me after reading a thread in a lesbian political group on Facebook. The thread was not about marriage or what you call your spouse but made in a conversation about a political topic. The comment was not argumentative, really it was rather simply stated that this woman would not call her partner, were they to ever marry, her wife since the term “wife” was part of the language of the patriarchy. I filtered this comment through my experience. You see, my late wife warned me before she died that her family would turn their backs on me no matter how supportive they seemed presently because they did not see our relationship as being equal to a heterosexual one, our love was “less than.” She said they would do this even though they had participated in our wedding. I was convinced they would not. Her prediction came true. They did see our relationship as less than, and based on their actions, I believe they would have taken everything from me if I hadn’t had that marriage license. Let’s face it, some in straight society will never want us to have rights or see us as equal. But some will eventually see our love, our grief, our struggles in the same light as their own if we use their language, their terms. Language is how we define and compare experiences. Language is our filter. My wife was my wife. No other term conveys the struggles, the grief, and the love contained in the time we had.

We all wanted the equality of marriage.
Yet some struggle with the titles and terms.
To say wife brings images of June Cleaver,
Perfectly coifed, perfectly applied makeup,
Wearing pearls as she cleans and cooks.
To say wife embraces the chains of the patriarchy,
At least, some say.

If we embrace the equality of marriage,
And not the trappings of a wedding,
What is the definition of a wife?
What does it mean to be a wife?

Doing the daily things to keep a home going
That’s what a wife means.
Yes, it means the cooking, cleaning, laundry,
And more. Sometimes it means staying
When you feel like walking out.
Even before the government says
It is legal to call
Your wife your wife–
It means pulling yourself together
After you hear your wife has stage four ovarian cancer,
So you can be the one to break the news
When she wakes from the anesthesia
Of an emergency surgery.

That’s what it means to be a wife.

When a month later,
Late at night,
After another surgery,
Your wife turns her frightened eyes to you
And says that she doesn’t want chemo
Unless you are home to care for her.
Your choice—your career or her chance at life.
You resign the next day.

That’s the definition of a wife.

And so, it goes—
Surgeries and chemo—
But a prognosis of eighteen months
Turns into nearly five years—
In those years,
The Supreme Court says
You can finally call each other wife.
And marry to make it so.
Your daughter, thrilled,
Speaks eloquently about the love
Between the two of you encompassing her,
Protecting her.
You both cry. Neither of you had any idea
What the thirteen-year-old would say
When she stood to speak.
You kiss your wife’s bald head as she bows it
To wipe tears away.

That’s what it means to be a wife.

And then, very near the end,
You find them among
A mass of papers and bills
Your wife had run rampant through.
Hotel receipts. Hotel receipts
When you thought she had gone
To the casino with a friend.
You watch your wife sleep peacefully.
Heavy doses of morphine now.
Rarely does she wake. When she does,
She is thirsty and hungry.
She is wasting away.
Skin over a skeleton.
If she eats or drinks,
She vomits green bile
And the pain is like nothing
You’ve ever seen.
There will be no confrontation
Over hotel receipts.
So, she had another fling
With her high school flame,
A woman she first loved,
A woman who, for spite,
Married her husband
On your wife’s birthday.
Yes, your wife turned selfish this last
Year. Some dying turn generous and
Some turn selfish.
But you couldn’t deny the logic.
Afterall, your wife was the one dying,
As she was to always remind you.
You shred the hotel receipts.
Your daughter should never find them.
It would destroy her to know this.
And then you feel it.
Something is chiseled out of you,
Sharp edges remain.
Your wife cries out.
You run to the bedroom.
She has fallen and shit herself.
You get her up and to the bathroom.
You clean and bathe her.
Get her back into the bed.
She begs you for enough morphine to end it.
When you tell her you can’t do that,
She calls you a selfish bitch.
You give what’s prescribed by hospice.
She sleeps and so do you.

That’s the definition of a wife.

Hospice increases the morphine dose and strength.
To be given hourly.
The nurse wants to know if you want a nurse
Around the clock.
You say your wife said no.
She said she didn’t want that.
You honor every wish she had.

That’s what it means to be a wife.

For five days she does not wake.
For five days you do not sleep.
Energy drinks and coffee are your magic elixirs.
You administer the morphine as the hospice nurse instructed.
You know what they are having you do.
Slowly, slowly, this increased strength and hourly dose
Is killing your wife, shutting down her organs.

Yes, it is a mercy.
She couldn’t drink or eat.
The hospice nurse visits every day.
She says the pulse is weak in your wife’s ankles.
24 to 48 hours at the most she says on day four.
The nurse clasps your shoulder on the way out.

That’s the definition of a wife.

Your wife mutters,
“I’m sorry, so sorry.”
Three times before
Midnight of the fifth day.
You do not know to whom
Or for what your wife apologizes.
Her words have no reference point
And never will.
Your daughter comes home
From a friend’s birthday party
At ten o’clock.
She checks on you and your wife.
“I’m sorry, so sorry,”
Your wife mutters for the last time.
Your daughter asks why she’s saying that.
You say you don’t know.
The rain starts. It’s pouring down.
Eleven o’clock– a dose of morphine.
The rain hasn’t stopped.
Midnight. Your daughter checks to see if you need anything.
You ask her to make a pot of coffee.
Another dose of morphine.
You swipe your wife’s lips with a sponge
To keep them moist.
As you are rinsing the oral syringe,
You hear the breath, the rattle.
You walk to the bed.
Place your hand on your wife’s chest.
It is still. No rise. No fall. Still.
Your head falls upon your hand.
Your daughter comes in and asks
What is wrong. You tell her it is over. Done.
She places her hand next to yours.
She feels the stillness.
She screams no.
And runs to her room,
Slamming her door
As if it would shut out
Time and death.

That’s what it means to be a wife.

You call your wife’s parents next,
The hospice nurse after them,
The funeral director is called last.
You endure the parents
Because you can’t imagine their pain.
They must bury a child.
The nurse certifies the death and tosses
The drugs and leaves. She handles it all
Efficiently. Then the funeral director arrives.

It is still pouring rain.
They wait patiently in the hall.
The parents leave.
You ask your daughter if she wants a moment
To say good-bye.
She takes it, telling you she’d like to be alone with your wife.
You wait patiently with the funeral director and the assistant
In the hallway.
Something hollow settles in your chest.
Your daughter leaves the bedroom
And you take your turn.
Your wife is gone.
You stroke her forehead.
Take her hand.
It is over. It is done.
Five years of grieving,
Losing pieces of your lives together,
Watching plans melt away,
Watching the woman you love disappear
As the cancer spread to the brain
And behavior became irrational,
Accusing, and you became the
Whipping post for all the things lost,
All the things your wife felt slipping away.
You wonder how much grief there could be left,
How much more could be felt after all this?
You let the funeral director and assistant
Take your wife away. They tell you to look away
And so gently close the door.
She is covered on the gurney when they open the door.
It is still pouring rain
As they take her out the front door and into the hearse.
You close the door. There is much to do.
You drink coffee until sunrise. It stops raining.
You will sleep today, you suppose. Later.
After…After so many things to do…
After the hollowness inside is hollowed out
After the sharp edges wear away
When feeling returns

That’s the definition of a wife.

For better and for worse.
In sickness and in health.
Love and cherish
To have and to hold

This is all of it—
The equality of love.
This is a marriage.
This is the definition, the meaning
Of what it is to be a wife,
And what it can convey of a heart.

The Words

I
Words scattered across the page.
Words littering the soul.

All these words
Piled upon the table,
A hoarder’s table of words.

Words left unsaid,
Unwritten,
A bouquet of words
Wilting in the heart and mind.

Words twisted in contortionist meaning
Of manipulations,
Weaponized for destruction,
Yet leaving victims living.
II
Words of things that can’t be said.
Words of things that should have been.
Words of things we could not speak out of fears too deep.
Words of things we could not begin to understand
Of ourselves, of each other.
Words of things we wanted so to believe
Of others, of the world.
Words of hope
Of love
Of charity
Of peace.
Words of what we have lost.
Words of what we may never again find.
III
Words, words, words
Slipping through the fingers
Like water in a desert,
Dripping away, evaporating
Before they can be used.

Words, words, words
Twisting round the wrists,
Writhing up the arms,
Biting the face and neck,
Killing before they can be used.

Words, words, words
Left unread by faded ink,
Left unwritten by a tired mind,
Left unsaid by a fear filled mouth.

 

A Word

Remember whispered intimations

In the time before sleep.

Having faced down the hours

Of another day of what must be done,

How long will it take before

Forgetfulness wipes the whispers away

Of well-intentioned comfort

Along with any memory

Of facades presented but to a few

Who knew the truth?

Until then, stumble onward

Facing the intimidation

Of a blank page,

Smash a soul against it.

Read the splatters left

And know time is the matter.

Time, neither too fast, nor too slow

Can it pass before realizing

Nothing really mattered,

But the kindness

In forgetfulness.

Words Never Said

The things we never said numbered,

Counted out and measured

Against the years.

No voice given

To the bouquet

Of words

In truth I’d have said,

For you chided

Me like a child

When I tried.

A throat choked

By petals, stems, and leaves.

No air to the blood

That feeds the heart.

Need and want and desire

Existing

No longer,                                                          

Till I am not

Myself

Or who I wanted to be.

But the version of me

You wanted,

Standing mute

With tongue ripped out,

Defined

And custom made

By your design

To fill your needs

And by doing so

Drain mine,

Turning me

Into a dried shell,

A casing,

Twisted and turned,

Positioned just so,

Used for the display

Of you.

Heart and Soul

 Tell me a truth 
 of burning flames.
  
 Better yet,
 Chant me all the truth
 Of a holy rosary.
  
 Or would you whisper a truth
 Of a head on a silver platter.
  
 Perhaps, you’d like to
 Express the truth
 Of a dance through the city.
  
 Or act out the truth
 In the washing of your hands.
  
 Could you do all that,
 Plus destroy a temple or two,
 And it be the truth 
 Of your heart?
  
 I know you say it would
 But no bushes burn,
 No seas part,
 No lepers heal, 
 No dead rise
 When you know nothing
 Of your own heart and soul. 

Leaves

 What will be found 
 When all the words
 Needed are spoken
 Without broken tongues,
 Lisping fear filled air?
  
 What then? When,
 Soaked in sweat of honest prayer 
 After all the raking of words,
 Piled as autumn leaves 
 Between our feet, 
 We stand facing each other.
 What then?
 Bag the leaves,
 Clear away the broken stems 
 Between us?
 Or leave them piled
 To swirl up
 Around and between us,
 Ever present?
  
 But what would be the point
 Of letting words fall then?
 Surely nature, left to its devices, would
 Clear the pile away 
 In its own time and way.
 Then we would know a spring,
 Feeling the blood stir,
 Moving within our veins. 

In the Songs of Birds

When I was three,
My mother taught me to read,
And words
Became playthings and playmates
As I sat in the back of the restaurant
Watching her work her dream to death.

Later, as I grew,
Family losses piled, heaped
Weighty upon the shoulders of a nine-year-old.
Words became
Escape, shelter, survival,
A path out of destruction.

And so, words stayed
For more years than I’d care to say.

But now here,
Waking mornings,
Hearing birdsong,
Or in early evening,
The warm sun blanketing
My skin as I fill the birdfeeders,
I hear words in the songs of birds.
Silly though it may seem,
The cardinals have much to say,
“It’s cheaper here. It’s cheaper here.”
To “Pretty, pretty, pretty.”
The mockingbirds chatter away
Announcements of “She’s here, she’s here, she’s here.”
And I’m not sure which bird continually asks,
“Wanna see, wanna see, wanna see a receipt?”
All the while, the Blue Jays squawk away,
Warning all the others,
“Stay away! Stay away!”
Then in the chittering of the squirrels,
I hear the demand,
“Where’s the food? Where’s the food?
You let the food run out! How dare you?”
As they scurry away,
Pretending, at least, to be afraid of me.

Among all the noise and chatter
All the words of birds and squirrels
One word, never felt before now,
I feel move within my chest,
Peace.

Falconry

animals_hero_red-tailed_hawk_0 (1)

A screeching hawk climbs overhead,
Gliding, swooping in pursuit,
Her flight a perfect merger
Of beauty, purpose, and skill.

If only, if only
I could capture such a hawk
Train and bend
That beauty and skill
To do the bidding of my will.

Sent forth from my hand
In a powerful surge of wings,
Pummeling air,
Finding the perfect draught of air
To glide upon,
Turning, searching for prey,
Then sighting her trophy, her prize,
Sweeping down, a beat of wings,
A shift of body,
Talons extended,
What seems a pause,
A slowing,
Talons snatching,
Squeezing, sinking into a snake’s skin,
Wings beat, once, twice,
A cry as she lifts her body
And her limp prize,
Upon the air to glide,
Turning homeward,
The purity of her purpose,
A dance upon the air,
Done.

If only, if only
From my hand could fly
Such beautiful purity of purpose.

Splinters and Ash

 

Splinters these things:
A Cherrywood vanity
Of fine detail,
Queen Anne legs
And dovetailed drawers,
A square ring left in the surface of the finish,
Where perfume dripped down the sides
Of a stoppered crystal bottle;
A dull walnut jewelry box
With red velvet lined drawers,
An attached mirror
Makes it too large,
Ungainly, for today.

These things, leavings,
Leftovers of a life lived,
For remembrance, for reverence,
Symbols of the intangible
As spring greenery
Is glimpsed and seen
Through a sunlit dusty screen
On a late afternoon,
Containing a muted gold softness
One can never touch.

Lackluster as they are,
They are her, her leavings,
The leftovers of the grinding times
She spent between
Rocks and hard places.

You will have her splinters
And my dusty ashes:
A picture or two, photo albums,
Old fashioned things to look through,
No links to clouds but to history, yours;
Some pencil scratching and ink splatters,
Words hurled, tattooed, etched, brushed
Upon page after page,
Notebook after notebook,
Drive after drive;
Yet you will never know or guess
How many were destroyed,
Burned, ripped, broken,
All trashed over my years.

And if you should read my leftovers?
Press your lips together,
Drawing them thin?
Sigh and raise an eyebrow?
Roll your eyes then burn it all?
Or simply, send it all to the trash
In green plastic bags?
Or
Find one old photo,
one written line
Worth the keeping,
For remembrance sake?
Perhaps, perhaps

You will find something
Among my dust and ash leavings
Of the grinding times I spent
Between rocks and hard places
And view it
As spring greenery is seen
Though a sunlit pollen dusty screen,
Void of vibrancy,
But containing a muted gold softness
One can feel yet never touch
Then know my damning sin,
Like Jonson’s, “was too much hope of thee”
Then find your heart softened and free.