What newborn pup could tell
sweet milk from sour
fresh meat from rotten?
I, too, long
to bite the hand that fed me
knowing what I know now.
What newborn pup could tell
sweet milk from sour
fresh meat from rotten?
I, too, long
to bite the hand that fed me
knowing what I know now.
I am a fragile thing
bone and soft meat
like a mollusc shell I fold over the words inside me
and think, I will protect you
I was drowning. Pandemics, wildfires, depression, abandonment, grief, grief, grief. The sky is red and the air is toxic. I was so deep in the well I was sure this time I truly wouldn’t be able to climb back out. I thought this was something from which there was no return. So I begged. Send me something, anything, please.
Hetheru sent a bright sunflower growing straight out of a concrete barrier in the middle of the interstate. Wepwawet sent a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed coyote dashing in front of my car, apparently running late to an early morning meeting. Bast sent a sweet old cat named Oreo whose eyes held the piercing gaze of my mother goddess as I drove past his home. The Morrigan sent ravens and crows and ospreys and scrub jays. And my father sent the Green Weenie, a bright green Plymouth Road Runner with a black racing stripe, a car he sold over twenty years ago, a car I have not once seen since the day someone else drove it out of our yard when I was, what, ten? eleven?, but there it was, right on the waterfront happy as you please as if it’s been living beside me all these years just waiting to show up when I needed it most. I’d been thinking as I drove home from work, I should have done more in those last few days, those last hours, why didn’t I do more? Why didn’t I beg him to stay? What would he say to me now, about his final moments on earth? Is he mad I didn’t try harder? and there the car was around a bend in the road, just minutes from my house, to tell me he loved me and that after thirteen years I needed to finally forgive that child who could not have known she would lose the person she loved most. That car told me he was proud of me for the work I’m doing, serving my state during these disasters and striving to mitigate the ones to come. That car told me to breathe, to rest, to give myself a goddamn break.
Have faith, my gods, my guides, told me. Be kind to yourself. We’re here.
“Is this anything?” I ask
proffering a chunk of flesh
(garnet red, still warm from my depths)
but they have already turned away.
I discard it on the floor
with the others.
look into my eyes;
how can you not see I am
Alexandria’s charred skeleton
Delphi’s discard, Pompeii’s corpse-hollows
a husk of a revenant vomiting
endless bean sí grief-wail?
HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE I AM
A THING ALREADY DEAD?
These dreams of you are
Echoes from my subconscious
Just phantom limb pain
The picking could be worse!
At least I didn’t make anything bleed today.
Well, this morning.
Okay, in the last hour.
…anything that’s visible to others.
But I promise I’ll be better!
I’ll go cold turkey right now.
I mean, starting tomorrow.
Okay, starting Monday.
Well, the first Monday of next month.
this would make a great New Year’s resolution.
Now I know you are gone, truly gone
because I no longer hear your voice in my head
that subtle blade which you wielded so expertly to reopen old wounds
and when did you ever miss a chance to remind me of my failures?
I watch my state burn
Blood sacrifice to hubris
And can do nothing
It’s beyond salvage
Ashfall shrouding charred ruins
No one’s noticed yet
My muses dumped me
How embarrassing is that?
Rats flee sinking ships
My love for you is a dead weight I have dragged behind me for years now, a rotting corpse I somehow convinced myself I could still revive if I just kept searching this desert for the mythical spring from which flows the water of regeneration. I just needed more time, I told myself, always just a little more time, a few more steps, another chance for redemption and reunion. Yet I have stumbled across this desert for years and still I have nothing to show for my pains but a heart nearly as desiccated as yours and no hope, no hope left at all. I do not even hallucinate your touch or your voice in my weakest moments; I have no strength to pretend you might show me such mercy. Even your corpse contrives to ever avoid my eyes.
If there is an oasis here in this wasteland, it is the wind which gently brushes my cheek and whispers with my Mother’s voice, “You owe Them nothing.” And I am incapable of feeling sorrow anymore, for you or myself, but I might be ready to feel pride. And anger.
Here’s the thing. I can’t tell if I like the way the person in the mirror is starting to look because
(she? they? ooh let’s not touch that right now) what I see more closely fits what I imagine for myself, or if it’s because it doesn’t. Am I getting closer to the person I really am or am I pushing myself farther away? Is this finding myself or just disassociation? And you might say it doesn’t matter as long as it feels right or as long as it makes me happy, but I think it really does because what if I get so far down the wrong path that I can’t find my way back? I get confused, you know, and this wretched excuse for a flesh prison contains multitudes. I might lose track. I might lose control. I might slip beneath the dark water and someone else might break the surface in my place. And I might like that, it might make me happy, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best or right thing to do. It’s just not that simple, you know? I can’t just claim with confidence an identity that touches down to the core of not only what I am, but who. Who? Like I even fucking know anymore. All of this, all of me, balances on a knife edge. Hell, a lot of fucking knife edges. Every time I move I slice myself open and I can’t say if the blood I bleed is always red. I just don’t know. I yearned for so long to become those who I was not, to be a vessel worthy of their contents… How do I know my subconscious isn’t just self-fulfilling that prophecy? Isn’t this all terribly convenient? So no, “you just know” really isn’t a useful answer for me because I CAN’T. I can’t bank on the impartiality of my senses because they’ve been hijacked before; I can’t assume purity for my motives because what if they’re not even mine? I am filled with lies and false memories. I am entire sagas of untruths. I must question everything to even know if I’m asking the questions for myself or someone else.
Body, spirit; sex, gender
But where? And how much?
You can’t publicly mourn anymore. Not really. You can’t claw at your skin or tear out your hair. You can’t howl and beat your breast. Polite society demands we tame our grief into dry-eyed stoicism or silent, stately tears. Lacking an outlet, I settle for picking at scabs that never heal and pulling out my eyebrows until my fingers ache, but it’s never enough. They call it dermatillomania and trichotillomania because if you do this to yourself there must be something clinically wrong with your mind. I think a more accurate term, if one is so necessary, would be obsessive compulsive mourning. Can we be blamed, though, given the state of the world? We’re drowning in grief and our bodies long for the catharsis of mindless animal exertion. Some sorrow you can only release in screams so loud they leave you voiceless. Some rage you can only set free by clawing it out of your flesh with your own fingernails. Some mourning only heals when you are surrounded by others who wail and rend with you. There’s solace to be found in the ugly, violent mourning of our ancestors – but instead we cage the misery inside ourselves, where it rots us slowly from within.
You are more death than desire. Why does that surprise you?
Every time I feel the knife twist I see your smile in the darkness like the thin blade of the crescent moon. You are clearest to me in these moments where self-loathing bridges the gap between us, and though I know you cannot be trusted I listen still to your soothing cruelty. You are honest, at least, and there is comfort in your lack of platitudes or promises. Or maybe I just appreciate your attention.
Oh na Morrigna, help me!
Teach me to fight an enemy no sword can pierce
To fell an enemy that neither bleeds nor breathes!
On what battlefield can we make our last stand
When our enemy is everywhere and nowhere?
Oh na Morrigna, guide me!
I long for the simplicity of steel on steel
The clean finality of victory or death!
Yet how can we ever achieve a lasting peace
When the evil we fight is so systemic?
Oh na Morrigna, free me!
Tear off my chains of fear and hopelessness
And transform my impotent rage into energy!
How can I squander my privilege with inaction
When so many less fortunate fight to their last breath?
Oh na Morrigna, lead me to battle!
I’m like that myth about the sculptor who so loved the woman he sculpted from marble that the gods granted her life – only the opposite. I’m not stone becoming human, I’m human becoming stone; and as my flesh grows cold and hard I fear your love too will diminish instead of grow. Perhaps in this version of the tale it was a divine punishment, not a blessing, which set these events in motion. Did I so offend some goddess of love that she would curse me to never experience the kind of desire one expects from their beloved? Is it justice, this lacking which alienates me from the rest of humanity? I would not wish this affliction on anyone, so perhaps this is indeed a retribution I deserve.
Oh wise Anup who weighs the hearts of the dead, how heavy mine feels today! Be gentle as you hold it else I am sure it will burst from sorrow. How can any heart which beats in these dark times remain lighter than a feather? How can any empathetic heart not soak up all this pain? Even ravenous Ammit would spit out my heart, bitter as it is! Oh chief healer, I beg you take your sharpest knife and lance my septic heart so I may bleed out this toxic isfet. Empty my heart of this impotent rage and never-ending grief, that I may refill it with love and peace!
The Morrigan is change in all its forms. She is change swift as lightning and disorienting as thunder. She is change that draws blood and sweat and tears. She is the sweeping scythe of change that severs the wheat from its stalk and yet She is also the slow, steady millstone of change which grinds that wheat into flour. The Morrigan’s change is not always the cataclysmic storm; sometimes it is the gently falling rain which, over time, will weather what even the tempest could not touch.
I think I misunderstood the Morrigan’s lesson for me. She revealed to me the tower of my subjugation, that mighty thing built of sorrow and fear, but She would not use Her power to bring it down. I thought this meant I must tear it down myself brick by brick, that Her lesson for me was that only through violent destruction of my cage could I earn my freedom. Yet one day as I clawed at the mortar with weary, bloody fingers a raven passed overhead, a black silhouette against the bright sky, and I suddenly wondered, What if I don’t tear the tower down at all? What if I just… walk away?
Sometimes the Morrigan’s change is a wrecking ball. Sometimes Her change is slow, hard labor. And sometimes Her change is choosing to leave something behind. Time will wear this tower down all on its own. Rain will soften its stones; lichen will grow in the mortar’s cracks. Flowers and grasses will take root and, seeking the sun, will break apart what is no longer strong. If I return, all that will remain is a ruin slowly crumbling back into the earth, and ruins hold no power over the present.
Since I work in emergency management, my supervisor has been urging our team to document our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s good advice; nothing of this magnitude has happened in the recent past and it’s obviously fucking up a lot of our established paradigms. When experts say we won’t be able to return to the way things were Before and we need to embrace a “new normal”, they aren’t exaggerating. COVID-19 has shaken human society in a way even our recent megaquakes, which have literally shaken the entire globe, could do. So it’s good advice, yes. The problem is just that everything I have to share is so gods-damned bleak and I don’t want to seem like I’m whining when others have it much worse. I guess there’s wisdom in the telling, though, and I’m sure I’ll value these words years down the road, so here goes. I’ll go easy on you and start with…
In July 2019 I made a much-needed career pivot into my dream field of emergency management. I was hired by the Washington State Emergency Management Division (WA EMD) as a Tsunami Program Coordinator, and thus my day job consists of preparing locals for The Big One. For the last 3+ months, however, WA EMD has been activated for the COVID-19 response. This is unlike anything WA EMD has faced before and so it’s all hands on deck 24/7. That means instead of worrying about being laid off or furloughed, I’m actually working more hours than ever. My team is currently on a three-week rotation, meaning for two weeks I work my normal job and then the next week I’m activated Sunday through Saturday for 7 12-hour shifts in the state’s Emergency Operations Center. Not only is the extra pay providing a much needed financial buffer (you’ll see why), I’m receiving some great hands-on experience. No amount of online or classroom training can really prepare you the way an actual disaster can, so even though I’m way outside of my comfort zone I’m very conscious of how good this work is for me. I’m also relatively healthy, at least immune-system-wise, and glad I can help the effort to keep others safe. It’s pretty surreal to be even a tiny cog in this great machine. That being said, here’s…
I AM SO STRESSED. Between work stress, personal life stress, and all these concurrent global crises, I am absolutely filled to the brim with stress. And lucky me, my stress always manifests as flare ups of my various chronic illnesses. These days I’m just constant IBS stomach aches, migraines, carpal tunnel pain, angular cheilitis, exhaustion that’s apparently at least partly narcolepsy, and some weird uterus stuff that I’m super hoping isn’t fibroids. It’s a lot. I’m honestly surprised my shingles hasn’t come back yet, but I’m sure it’s just biding its time. On top of that, my mental health wasn’t particularly stable going into this pandemic and weirdly enough witnessing preventable death on a mass scale because those in power care more about propping up the corpse of late-stage capitalism than saving lives isn’t exactly helping. So enter the panic attacks, severe depression, and uncontrollable dermatillomania. My wife has been wonderful, though, and is basically the reason I haven’t had an actual breakdown yet. Which brings me to…
I might be more willing to find the bright side of this whole mess if it wasn’t for everything that’s happened with my wife. Just thinking about it makes me so angry I’m having trouble getting the words out so I’ll give you the tl;dr version. My wife is a truly amazing person and the world enjoys crushing her for having the audacity to be queer, Asian, and chronically ill, among other things. When COVID-19 went down she was working for a company that pretends to be progressive but is really just out for the money (what a surprise). On top of that, her position required her to be stationed in a major retail space which is considered essential and therefore never closed, nor has ever really bothered to put any employee protection measures in place. Since she has severe asthma and catches pneumonia on practically a yearly basis, my wife and I were understandably very concerned about her being in such a public-facing position. COVID-19 could quite frankly be a death sentence for her (which I think about constantly because Anxiety).
Anyway, flash forward like 2 miserable months and her employer has not only refused every accommodation she’s requested, they are actively punishing her for asking. Last week they used a note from her doctor as an excuse to cut her hours enough that she’ll lose her health insurance at the end of the month. IN A PANDEMIC. This was the final straw (she’s been taking their shit for years) and I’m proud to say she walked right the fuck out of there. Problem solved, right? Except just to twist the knife a little more, they’re refusing to give her a letter stating when her benefits will end so I can add her to my insurance plan – a technically legal but absolutely unnecessary delay that will probably force her to go without health insurance for at least all of May. Again, IN A PANDEMIC. I really can’t express how cruel they’re being without sounding like I’m a conspiracy theorist, but it’s true, and it’s happening to countless other people right now because Capitalism™. This instance just especially hurts me in particular because she’s MY people.
But wait, there’s more! Yeah, we’re not done. So on top of dealing with aaaallll this shit, my wife is also being regularly harassed in public because of her race. Yes, even in western Washington, bastion of progress (that was sarcasm) and home to a pretty sizeable Asian population. It happens every single time she goes somewhere and if it wasn’t for her refusal to let me come with her I might be in jail right now with several murder charges to my name. It’s the fucking worst. If the various feel-good COVID-19 stories ever had a chance to renew my hope in humanity, that chance has been thoroughly crushed. We really are in the Darkest Timeline.
So that’s a brief glimpse into how my pandemic is going. Which is great. Everything is great and totally fine.
…Oh right, I was supposed to record some of my observations, not just wordvomit about my life in particular. Uh, here are some non-me-centric observations for history or whatever in no particular order:
– Traffic is so light that someone has been doing donuts on the Narrows Bridge, which is fairly impressive.
– Traffic has also been so light that I can see the Olympic Mountains every night as I drive home, something usually only possible on the clearest summer days. So that’s cool, but also horribly depressing because that means the reason I don’t see them as often is air pollution.
– You ever think about how there are probably a lot of kids who are only alive right now because schools closed so early in the year that their would-be school shootings never happened?
– You can’t find wheat tortillas anywhere right now. Who’s hoarding all the wheat tortillas?- I hate to be all “I was right” but when Trump got elected I totally predicted a wide scale disaster would hit the west coast and he’d deny us aid because we’re blue states. I just thought it would be a megaquake, not a pandemic. So close.
Anyway. Have a good apocalypse everyone!
Maybe we just didn’t understand each other at the beginning and in reality we’re more alike than either of us thought. We are both selfish things, after all, and we both abhor a cage. We nurse our wounds like fine liquor. We wear our grudges like fine jewels. Look back on the things I’ve done; see that I can be as cold and as cutting as you. Have I proven myself to you yet? Do you finally recognize some small kindred shard of yourself in me, enough at least for you to desire its nurturing? There is much that only you could teach me. There is much I understand about you that no other ever will. Must we be at odds? Can we not work together?
The phoenix is lucky;
Fire is the easy way out.
I want to transform as well,
Rise out of my ashes,
But I must use my teeth and nails
And I make such a bloody mess.
Every day I try and fail to pass as a proper human reminds me I am still just that feral child raised by rabid wolves. I chafe at the chains with which society would bind me: family, duty, privilege, complicity. I am truly loyal to none but they who nurtured me on violence and given the opportunity I would choose that wild, brutal life over the restrictions and safety of a tamed society. Blood I understand. Bone I understand. Bared teeth I understand. But expectations and disappointments and layers of artifice? Those I can’t understand no matter how I struggle. I’m not good at subtlety, I only know how to fight or submit. Can you blame me for always reacting on instinct when instinct is how I’ve survived this long?
Sometimes I manage to forget
(Just for a moment)
That I’m a shitty friend
And a shitty employee
And a shitty wife
And a shitty daughter
But then the knives come out and I remember again.
They’re a kindness, really;
If I get too comfortable I might start liking myself,
And we can’t have that, can we?
You will never be enough, you say, and I feel the truth of it like an ache in my bones. Perhaps this is why I feel such kinship with you. Is it possible we, two people who are each lacking so much, could together make a whole of true value? Of course not, and your mocking smile cuts through my hope like a fine blade. Yet I can almost feel your hand at the back of my neck like a benediction, can almost believe that this shared inability to be even just adequate stirs at least some fondness or attachment in you. Almost. But if we cannot be enough for those we love then certainly we cannot be enough for each other, or even ourselves. You get used to being a disappointment, you say. But when?
I am a ghost town
Built around a dried-up well
Oh how the winds cry
I will dismantle my tower stone by stone
and with those stones I may build anew
or leave them scattered in the field for the grass to grow over
and the rain to soften
Writing used to be a seance, divination by psychography, a holy communion between worlds. Now it’s just DIY vivisection with a mirror and a knife, my bloody hands cutting out chunks of vital organs to smear on the page and call art. Yet Spirit is an endless fount and my body a limited resource; someday soon I will run out of flesh to offer up, and then bone, and then I will have nothing left. Is this offering worth the attendant sacrifice? Does the creation of one thing balance out the loss of the other? I fear the scales are unevenly weighted. Perhaps a pound of flesh buy less than it once did?
Take this last precious ship from this dying planet and go, go journey into the inhospitable depths of space and find the door torn in the fabric of our reality. Pass through to a new place, a new time, somewhere so very far from here where perhaps out of ten thousand hostile lands you may find one, just one, with gentle arms to guide you to a safe landing. Even if this new home does not exist you deserve at least to try, to abandon this wreckage of a world and perish in the struggle for life somewhere else. No hope can grow anymore in this dead earth; take your last little seed and fly away, fly away from here before you give up your bones to my graveyard. And if you do make it to some happier home, somewhere and somewhen far from here, try to remember me fondly. I was not always a desert. I knew once how to love.