The Price She Paid (a poem)

With a Yes, she married him

young bride in virginal white

starry-eyed lovers, high expectations

spawned from biblical promises

then…

Honeymoon tinged with blood

dripping with cold, wet shock of disappointment

while he writhed in ecstasy, head thrown back

high on new pleasure

she shrank beneath him

cringing at the sharp pain and burn

deep shame

falling short

eyes wide open at his kiss.

“You’re beautiful,” he told her. “My sexy wife.”

His own words spurring his hunger

while her stomach turned to gravel

bile filling her mouth.

Months stretched to years, a decade come and gone

while he filled himself

and she gave, and gave, and gave

an obedient faucet

succumbing to the painful act

his touch turning riverbeds dry

green grass shriveled, trampled underfoot.

She curled alone on her side of the bed

far from his gaze and wandering hands that always sought more.

“What do you want?” he asked

eager for her to know how to fix herself

(but not willing to slow his advance).

A wife must submit.

Her body belonged to him

the Bible said so, see?

What she wanted was to make it all disappear

to give him back his ring

to admit that it was all a mistake

to stop being beautiful. Hide her sexiness in sweatshirts and

dark rooms

but the more she said no, turned away, begged

the more his insistence mounted

determined to subdue his opponent

at any cost.

The word No came with steep price tag

Insults, accusations, financial withdraw

surveillance, imprisonment at home

“You have to,” he told her. “God says so.”

“Then fuck your god,” she snarled, finding her voice

and his fists pummeled her like angry rain.

The price increased.

He strayed

seeking out other females

paying for services

blaming her, taunting her

always her fault

because she said No.

If she had known

that marriage meant she would be his marionette

dancing on short strings of lust

CONSENT tattooed in blood on her forehead

even though his touch ripped her insides

and made her feel like less than dirt

made her hate being called “beautiful”

(which also came at a cost)

Then No

would have been her first word

her loudest word

long before his knee ever dropped to the ground.

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Tenebrae (a poem)

Tenebrae

Tenebrae candles church

Tenebrae

at noontide, in an unfamiliar church

I sat in polished wooden pews, beneath smooth arches

tiny colored lights dancing through window pictures

amber glow of candles

beneath the cross.

I listened for God

as readers shared the holy scriptures

piece by piece, the stories to remind us of that Friday so long ago.

I listened for God

in the hymns we sang

still so familiar to my tongue

which once recited the words, caressed the Truth, tasted

His presence.

I have not heard God

since those golden days when we

were a thrown-together family in His name.

Remember how we gathered, holding hands, sharing spirits?

Remember how we preached

to each other

knew

the importance of

loving our neighbor as we loved ourselves

clothing the naked, feeding the hungry

shining lights, a beacon on a hill, the salt of the earth?

 

You knew.

You knew, all of you.

Yet you did nothing.

 

When I was always smiling

doors open for group socials and happy games

you were there (and so was God).

When I stood certain, a rock in my faith, inner light

glowing like a Good Friday candelabra, shining bright

you were there (and so was God).

I saw you all around me

and heard God

felt God

in the old hymns, in the new songs.

We clapped our hands

held each others’ babies as we prayed together

our own private city, Christian club

example to the world

of forgiveness

of love.

 

But when times

grew heavy, when I could

no longer carry my own load, back breaking

drowning in a salt water sea, I lifted my hands out

to you, to all of you.

Remember

my cries? Help me! I can’t…

Remember my long, gray silence

as my candles were snuffed out, one by one?

I curled there in that tomb, searching my way out of darkness

grasping like the blind at every flicker of light.

Where were you then, brothers

and sisters?

 

You were in your homes

raising your children, clocking in

walking dogs, sharing recipes, happy online photos.

I saw it all from a distance

like staring through

a locked window.

 

Where were you, brothers and sisters?

 

You,

the medicine for my pain,

stayed far away, like suffering was contagious

like my crumbling life was too much

for your pampered

sensibilities.

 

You,

fellow followers of Christ

were too busy on your knees, absorbed

in prayer, consumed with your own Quiet Times

wrapped in your hectic schedules of church, and small groups, and

planned events.

My life was messy, in those days.

I did not fit into

your lives.

 

But I was among the naked, in need of clothes.

and I was the hungry

and I was the sick

and the thirsty

and the cold.

The hurting person on the side of the road

as you traveled home to Samaria.

I was lost

I was in darkness

So

WHERE WERE YOU?

 

If I were Martin Luther

I would nail these angry words on your doors,

oh church

for your corrupt culture

your holy huddles, worshipping at the altars

of political outrage, of perfect families, of appearances

instead of following the most important

of all the commandments –

to love.

 

I did not hear God today

as the Tenebrae candles were snuffed

one by one.

Too filled with corked up emotions

released as I reflected on

what it’s all supposed

to mean

but does not.

My faith was a rock

chipped away by too many

years of solitude, apart from those

who once claimed to be

One.

 

I never cry out anymore.

Reverse (a poem)

I wish I could reverse the hands on the clock

erase the night when we danced

in your living room

fireworks blooming in flowers of sparks

shy smiles over glasses of wine

and fine art

no trace of what became Us

fingers interwoven

joined.

Two open bowls of berries and cream

something that could be broken,

spoiled.

I would make myself someone bland

a comfortable face in your office

trading humor in the break room

an easy friend

for barbecue parties

and group nights

an apple in your fruit bowl

shirt hanging in your closet.

Oh look, it’s 9am

and there she sits

open-faced, waiting

someone you turn to to share stories

revel in your travels

your triumphs

confess your frustrations

release pieces of your spirit

and not

someone you would

leave.

Two Small Words (a poem)

Today

The universe breathed your name

(the car you drive

the foods you eat

a sport you love)

and two small words

Hey you.

So tiny, innocent

written by the wrong hand

but in my mind

your voice

as clear as a summer sky

shines over the desert

that familiar lilt and cadence

Hey you.

The sweet, sharp heartache

of missing home

tiny razor nicks

Hey you.

Your strong arms around me

the wind carrying your scent

on two words

like wings

Wings (aka: Two Poems on a Winter’s Day)

Ode to a Caterpillar

 

Oh little caterpillar

who brought such color to the world!

How I remember

tiny fingers grasping

heavy Mason glass

swift

ready to catch, to observe

the free ones

the ones with wings

the ones who flew.

So much you learned, as you curled

safe

in your small, loved home

until today

fragile walls tearing loose

open crack of wide, wide blue

cupped in hands

to test new wings.

Oh butterfly

this world is yours.

caterpillar-to-butterfly

 

Night Angels

 

Eyes lifted toward darkened skies

strapped warm in leather womb

hushed voices mingle with

steady drone.

There I see it

flash of copper light

brief sight of wingless angel

flying in the night.

Warm sigh

fingers pressed, cold against glass

until

once more the darkness lifts

and angel glows.

One by one

on tall, steel legs

they dance

across the stars

halos burning in bronze glory

as my lashes droop

beneath watchful eyes.

street-lamps-shining

Rich Kids Had Disney Channel (aka: I Wanted My MTV)

1980s Television*Old lady voice* Back in the olden days, when boys wore mullets and girls pumped their bangs six inches high, my friends and I were hooked on two amazing new-fangled inventions. No, not the Wheel (very funny, kids). No, not velcro sneakers. More amazing. No, not personal computers…okay, a lot less amazing than that. Give up?

See, back in those days, cable TV is what separated the Haves from the Have-nots. Pretty much everyone watched the same cartoons and sitcoms on network TV, or were maybe lucky enough to subscribe to HBO or Showtime. But at school, we gathered around the rich kids, our envious ears drinking in every morsel of their adventures with the cable channel only rich kids could afford – The Disney Channel. Oh sure, we sang along to Kids Incorporated. But we all knew that it was little more than a shallow imitation of the Mickey Mouse Club.

rich kids Disney channel 80sThen suddenly, thanks to the violent public riots and cries of “I want my MTV!” (Okay, maybe there weren’t any riots. Hard to remember — I was pretty young.) all the not-so-rich schoolkids became hooked on the two best channels ever – Nickelodeon, and his wild-and-crazy big sister, MTV.

At last! At last! We could run home from school and be entertained by green-slime-dumping shows like Double Dare and You Can’t Do That On Television. And…and…okay, that was pretty much it, since in those days, Nickelodeon had super lame shows, like Spartacus and Star Trek the Animated Series. Then at 5:00 each evening, Nick transformed into this kooky black-and-white world of Mr. Ed, The Donna Reed Show, and some show about identical cousins.

So yeah…sadly, those were not Nickelodeon’s best years.

I want my mtvMTV, however, was another story. Back then, MTV lived up to its name. It was all about music, all the time. After school meant the hottest music video countdown with V.J.s like Pauly Shore (Yeah buuuud-dy!), Adam “Amazing Hair” Curry, Julie “Wubba Wubba Wubba” Brown, and the other Julie Brown, who was witness to the great Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun massacre of 1980-something. Our fresh, gold-medal-wearing hip-hop crowd got to jump around the Yo! MTV Raps! And my hard rocker friends and I got to rock out to Headbanger’s Ball. And every New Year’s Eve, without fail, my friends and I would flip on the Top 100 Videos of All Time, even though they always ended with Michael Jackson Thriller.

But now, I don’t think anybody really wants their MTV anymore.

Now don’t take me wrong – I’m not the type to look back on the 80’s and call them The Good Ol’ Days, when everything was better. Honestly, every decade has its share of things excellent and bogus. Just look at Nickelodeon’s glorious conversion during the semi-recent Jimmy Neutron and Spongebob Squarepants era. MTV, however, seems to have lost its soul. Turn it on today, and you’re likely to never see a single music video. Instead, it’s all Teen Mom and True Life reality shows. Will this sad state of affairs lead to another violent uprising led by music-starved fanatics? I only have one response to that.

I don’t know. (Cue bucket of green slime).

* My apologies to you clueless rich kids who were too busy watching Disney Channel in the 80s to get that last reference. Wubba wubba wubba!

Unsinkable: Snapshots of a Failed Marriage

sinking shipThere was once a carefree little girl who spent half her time happily devouring books, and the other half watching Nickelodeon and trading Garbage Pail Kids. Then suddenly, without warning, life picked her up and threw her into adolescence – splash!

Unfortunately, no adult in her life had cared enough to give her swim lessons. But luckily, she was strong. After the initial icy shock, she managed to teach herself to swim.

Fast forward a few years

The day after her 19th birthday, at a university Christian group event, she met the man who would later become her husband. Her journal is filled with happy expressions and tiny hearts. She made a new friend. A nice guy. A Christian who is crazy about God, just like her. No, they don’t really like the same music. He doesn’t read. He’s not into sports. Only average intelligence. But who cares? He’s nice, and he’s into her, and he’s reasonably attractive. One day, he asks her to be his girlfriend. She is super excited. Her first college boyfriend!

Sometimes, her journal is filled with worry. They spent a summer working at different camps, and he didn’t write her even one letter. And afterward, she begins to realize something – they never go out on dates. Sometimes, if she really pushes, and pays his way, he will go to see a movie with her. But he does not ever initiate anything. He does not call her; she calls him. She gives, he takes. But still, he says that he loves her…

“Why do you love me?” she asks him.

“Because you love God,” he replies.

But lots of people love God, she thinks.

Four months after her 21st birthday, they are married. She wears a white gown with a long train and feels like a princess. Everyone has come to celebrate the union. They have built a big ship together – an unsinkable ship, they are convinced, and they have set sail. It is a perfect day.

They are both virgins. They are both excited about finally exploring sex together. But sex turns out to be very painful and difficult for her.

“I’m sure it will get better with practice,” she says.

It doesn’t.

One year later, she still hates sex. It is awful all the time, but he wants it all the time. She gives in, like a good wife. It hurts.

She works full time at her job, supporting him while he finishes university. She is exhausted when she returns home. The house is messy, dishes unwashed, bed unmade. He is playing computer games. She straightens up the mess and cooks dinner for the both of them. She asks him to help clean the house and wash laundry, but he doesn’t know how. She does it all, because she hates to nag a grown man. She resents it. There are holes in the ship that they did not notice before.

One day, she takes a bus to visit relatives in Seattle, and attends a job interview there. They want to hire her. Her husband says no. He doesn’t want to leave California. She considers going without him. In the end, she stays.

Two years later, they buy a house, and their first son is born, followed by their daughter, and then another son. She is so, so happy to be a mother. She stops working and becomes a homemaker, cooking, cleaning, and raising babies. She loves every moment of it. Her husband is now the one to work all day, and she takes pride in doing everything else so that he doesn’t have to. She also runs a home business, which brings in extra money to help make ends meet.

Her husband still spends every moment of his free time playing video games. But she doesn’t mind. Her time and energy is spent raising children. She still hates sex, but she tolerates it to keep the peace. They attend church as a family, go to social events, and take family trips, which she carefully plans. The holes are still there, but they patch them. Most of them. The ship still slowly fills with water, but she tries to ignore it.

When her youngest child is in grade school, she returns to work as a teacher.

“Good,” says her husband. “Now you can pay the mortgage, and I can spend my extra money on whatever I want.”

“Don’t you mean our extra money?”

“I earn it. So it’s mine.”

Despite the extra income, money seems to disappear before the bills are paid. He accuses her of overspending. She accuses him of the same thing. They fight. A lot. He accuses her of abandoning the children by going to work each day and not being there to pick them up after school.

“They are your children, too,” she reminds him.

The husband dominates the conversation. He talks on and on about the lack of sex. He wants the counselor to explain what he needs to do to make his wife have sex more. He keeps trying to get the counselor to side with him.

She quietly answers the counselor’s questions. She tries not to cry.

“There is a lack of coupleness about the two of you,” says the marriage counselor. “A failure to connect.”

She is depressed and lonely. The holes in the ship have grown too big to patch. Her husband has been hospitalized twice for psychosis caused by mental illness. She has no friends, no support network. She stops going to church.

“You don’t love me,” she tells her husband in a matter-of-fact way. “You don’t even know me.”

“Of course I know you,” he says. “I know you better than anyone.”

“Okay,” she says. “Then what’s my favorite song? One of my top five favorite bands, books, or movies? One of my top ten? Favorite sports teams? My favorite food? Favorite flower? Any of my life goals?”

He does not know any of these, even though most of the answers were on her Facebook page for anyone to see. They have been married for nearly fifteen years.

Although they have sex 2-3 times per week, he begins to seek out prostitutes. The first time he did, it was her birthday.

She is not even jealous. She is disgusted, but in a strange way, relieved. Now she has an excuse not to have sex with him anymore.

“You have to have sex with me,” he said. “It’s a biblical requirement. God says so.”

“Fuck you,” she said. “And fuck your god, too.”

He beats her for those words. He begins to punish her for her lack of interest in sex. He accosts her during random moments. He calls her names and makes false accusations. Although he is the main wage-earner, he refuses to provide money for groceries, clothes, or bills. She is forced to use credit cards to pay for the family’s necessities. The bills begin to mount.

He attacks her verbally every day. He follows her around town, certain that she is having an affair. He makes threats. She feels unsafe, and moves into their daughter’s bedroom. She hates using their children as a shield. She wants to leave, but does not know how. He forces her into positions in which she must defend herself, mentally and physically, then tells anyone who will listen – even the police, that he is her victim.

The ship has already sunk. She realizes that she has been treading water all this time, and so have the children. By staying with this man, she is putting them all at risk of drowning. It is time to become their life preserver.

Once upon a time, there was a strong, independent woman who learned to build her own ship. She put her three children in it, and they sailed away toward safety, toward a hopeful future, toward happiness. She left behind the man who was once her husband and does not miss him or their life together at all.

She returns to college to work toward a more fulfilling and lucrative career. Her children are healthy, joyful, and thriving. Although she still yearns for good friends, she realizes that, for the first time in many years, she is mostly happy and content with her life and her choices. No ship is unsinkable, she has learned. But that doesn’t mean she has to sink with it.