I miss you the way I’d miss my toenails if they were pulled out by the mafia, or the way I’d miss my eyes if I stared into the sun until I went blind. I miss you the way a madman misses his mind, achingly, in starts and fits, almost forgetting I ever had you sometimes. I miss you the way Jesus missed his skin when they flailed it from his back. Call it blasphemy, but I won’t lie. I cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” on the daily, but what I mean by God is you, even though you’re not gone, just locked up in that matchbox with a newborn swan, a few hairpins, and a bag of rocks.
Whales un-blue themselves, flinging their great, heaving bodies on the beach, tails thrashing, reaching for your wonder. Pirate ships give up their plunder, renounce their lives of crime, go straight. Tectonic plates shift when you sneeze. When you pass, lampposts bend, hissing yellow breath into smog tainted breeze, to ask if you’re shamanic.
You drift to me like incense through the air conditioning vents of every rented room I find. You say my name in braille sometimes. You teach me to see in tongues. Once, I ran my hands over the rungs of the ladder of your rib cage, and I climbed a thousand miles. Your smile has become my anchor to this world. If not for you, I’d melt away, and I wouldn’t care. A reverse Rapunzel, I’d follow the rope of my hair down, down, down, to the ground, then under.
Just now, mist you hovers over that chair in the corner, invisibly missing me, whispering the secrets of God in the rasping language of rattlesnakes maraca-ing through the window. Reptiles always shake after the rain, the way trains always blow their whistles when Nina Simone plays.
Last night, as stars cast pulsing purple over low-hanging clouds, I plucked a dream from your head, saw me in a subway. You were there. You smiled, and shards of moonlight hung from your hair, slicing your skin ‘til it glowed. You took my hand and towed me to the other end of the world. I can’t dance, but I followed you, and it worked out fine. My spine tingled when you touched my back, turning me. You had feet enough for two. I wanted to tell you I loved you, but you already knew, and anyway, you didn’t have time for small talk.
You laid me on the rock of Gibraltar, made an altar of my lips. I laughed, took the miracle of you on my tongue, swallowed you whole the way a starving woman downs cool milk. The nighttime licked me alive, silk on my skin. You sang in the sinless language of Christ, and thrice, the train running past wept, so I knew Johnny Cash’s ghost was on board. Roosters crowed in reverse, so I knew St. Peter had un-denied. I tasted your salt, so I knew I’d died and gone to heaven.
“Capiche?” you asked.
“Capito,” I whispered.
Prufrock measured his life in coffee spoons. I measure mine in the bumps on your tongue.
I drove a million miles to find home today, newborn spring sizzling the skyline pink.
I found God, a muraled man, white braids, brown hat. He didn’t shine, but behind him, a blue sun burned like it meant business.
I told him, “I’ll be looking for love in all the wrong places every night, hanging out across the street, eating lemon cake, drinking coffee, watching you do your thing. It’s a shot in the dark, but what’s a girl supposed to do?”
“Spring forward, fall back,” he proclaimed. The words seemed to have a deeper meaning, cartwheeling from his tongue.
“I’m not dumb, but I don’t get it,” I whispered, wishing I spoke fluent God.
He smiled, or tried, but bits of bird wing and clotted paint kept him from moving his eyes. The grin didn’t even touch his teeth.
I asked him if he liked my heart. He said it smelled like rain. A train trundled by, or a trolley. It was hard to tell in the dark. He handed me a wad of cash, said, “Wait for your miracle. I’m trying.”
My heart banged against my ribs, a crazed rat in a cage. I wandered past a drunken frog. It didn’t want to talk.
(God told me that I should let you lead. Step slowly. I can’t even see your feet.)
Last night, I sat at a coffee shop and sipped wine while writing. The logical/editing half of my brain has been in overdrive for weeks, so I needed to engage the other half before I went nuts. To help my students get in touch with their subconscious minds, I often encourage them to write whatever comes into their heads without stopping or censoring themselves in any way, so I did what I ask them to do. This is what I wrote. It makes no sense, I know. (Well, Freud might have a field day with it.) But I thought it was kind of bizarrely pretty anyway. So I’m sharing it.
AFTER THE END OF THE WORLD: A LOVE SONG FOR A GOD ONCE BURIED
Beloved, I tried to ride to you. All my horses died. The apocalypse is upon us. Wells of holy water have dried, leaving me stranded in this desert, cold and alone. I wait on my father’s mountain, chant mantras on his grave, eating cactus fruit, doing my best to stave off Armageddon.
Last night, stars fell, and so what? As if the death of everything was any match for love. As if darkness ever once shoved light down so far it never came back up.
If I can’t ride, I’ll walk to you.
I’ll find you four days after the birth of spring, in the place where a newly painted sun Lazaruses, murals out over concrete, echoes of Diego Rivera casting blue Chilean glow. Ra blazes. The broad gaze of God burns the way clear. Already, six sentinels, mountains made of tin cans, stand near the street, rattling to let you know
your queen comes.
I’ll send you a message in a bottle, written in the language of doves. Our love is the strongest, longest song I have ever known, the only thing I sing. In my dreams, bees sting me, impregnating pores, changing skin to honeycomb. I’ve always known the secrets they buzz. I just forgot for a millennium.
I’ll graffiti the sunlit wall,
unwrap crumbling maps, untrap carrier pigeons, set them free. The missiles tied to their toes will read:
Deep in the heart of spring, I’ll wait by the ocean before Saint Peter’s song is done, 24 hours before his drums have dwindled to nothing, praying that you, sweat drenched and smoke soaked, having coached a team of demons, maybe a little drunk, escape the hazy House of Hades. Leave behind its grease laden tables stretching for miles.
As the nearby city sleeps and its angels fall, crashing into the sea, boiling it, soiling it with seeds of God, I’ll watch the horizon, dreaming of you, reading Louise Glück’s Firstborn, celebrating her birth, mourning our deaths. I’ll cry your ghost’s name, 92,629 times, until Ra hears me and resurrects you. At a crested park where graves made from the bones of long buried shipwrecks upend themselves, goddesses once sleeping will lift aloft at last their golden lanterns. Under her widow’s garb, Isis will be naked. The moon will bear witness. Divine Dana will point the way.
The playground that once rang with the shouts of children will be deserted, swings hanging slack. But I’ll sing, slipping down slides, making sand angels, listening to the tide roll in the distance. I’ll ring church bells at midnight and beyond.
Beautiful boy, if you are ever lonely, I’ll hurricane my way to your bed. The place where I live in your head will sizzle when I am close. Listen for cannon fire. Keep your eyes peeled for smoke.
Heaven broke, knowing unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it lies forever fallow. We were buried. We are risen. I’ll wade to you in shallow water, a full-fledged daughter of Poseidon, a sister of the sun.
I’ll serve myself up to you on the half-shell, Aphrodite-style.
Spring came early this year. Pomegranate blossoms erupted and shattered behind the clear glass of your eyes. You saw me coming. I watched you waiting in the waves. The graves of prophets gave up their dead. The Queen of Heaven crooned herself red.
I feel like since it’s St. Patty’s Day, I should totally drink some green beer. Or whiskey. And that’s one of the things I appreciate most about St. Patty’s Day. It’s the one holiday you celebrate exclusively by drinking copious quantities of alcohol and pinching people. There are so many people I want to pinch today. Some of them, right on their fat, smug faces. (One of the faces I want to pinch really, really hard, so hard it leaves a welt, is conspicuously orange.) I desperately want to pinch one person gently on his cute little tushy. But yeah. St. Patty’s Day legitimizes desires that would be antisocial any other day of the year. And for that, I love it.
Also, I love it because I can wear a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” pin and mean it. I am Irish. My dad’s father was named Hugh Hackett. You don’t get more Irish than that. My dad’s mother was named Carmen Sanchez. You don’t get more Hispanic than that. My mom was mostly French. LeBuff. Or LeBouff. Or something really Frenchy that starts with “Le”. I can’t tell you the exact spelling, but I can tell you it sounds like a meat dish I would get glared at for trying to order in Paris. (Parisians don’t like you when you order meat dishes with an American accent. In fact, if you have an American accent, they would prefer you shut the hell up altogether, or maybe dissolve, like a bad guy in a vat of acid, Breaking Bad style.) Anyway, that French word was my mom’s family name. (Fun fact: both of my mom’s grandfathers were French Canadian, which means she can become a Canadian citizen if she wants. I’m pressing her to do it so we can all move to Canada before Trump blows up America. In lieu of that, I’m emigrating to Mars.) To complicate things, we found out Grandma Carmen’s ancestors actually left Spain fleeing the Inquisition because they were Spanish Jews. So once upon a time, my family was Jewish.
When people ask me what my race is, I always say, “I’m Irish, French, and Hispanic.” They look confused by the Hispanic part because I’m the whitest white girl you will ever meet. So I always helpfully add, “The Irish won.” Mathematically speaking, I am Hispanic enough that I could get grants and other things reserved for people of Hispanic heritage, but I don’t try because those programs are in place to make some small attempt to compensate for the racism many Hispanic people have to endure on a day-to-day basis. I don’t have to deal with any of that. Anyone looking at me assumes I’m white, white, white.
But no one ever has trouble believing my brother is Hispanic. He’s this big, dark-haired, dark-skinned dude, and when he walks into a restaurant, people step aside because if you are into racism (and we all are, whether we mean to be or not, raised as we were in this racist cesspool of a culture), you subconsciously fear that he will drag you into a dark alley and shank you.
Which is funny because if you knew my brother, you would vote him “Least Likely to Shank Someone, Ever, In the History of the World.” Also, “Most Likely to Take a Serial Killer into His Home and Get Chopped Up While Trying to Rehabilitate Him.” (That last title used to belong to me, but then, I actually came too-close-for-comfort to getting chopped up by one of my charity cases and realized the whole Mother Theresa thing was overrated. Now I’m meaner than I probably need to be. If you look at me funny, I will deem you a potential serial killer and refuse to be in the same room with you. Can you say “over correction”? It’s a problem. I’m working on it.)
But I guess because I come from such a colorful family, I’ve gotten to see, at least a tiny bit, the difference a little melanin can make in a person’s day to day interactions. My gorgeous Grandma Carmen was acutely aware of this. She dyed her hair blond and didn’t teach any of her nine children Spanish. We had traditional Mexican foods at Christmas, but that was as far as the exploration of that part of our heritage went. A tamale here. An empanada there. A bowl of nice, hot posole. I remember watching people be afraid of my Hispanic-looking dad when I was little and wondering what it was all about. My dad was the nicest man I’ve ever known. But strangers would sometimes cross the street to avoid him.
I won’t lie to you. I appreciate the fact that people are scared of my brother. If I’m going somewhere dangerous, I take him along, and people step the hell aside. I think, “Yeah, that’s right, bitch. Walk away. Dude’ll shank you.” I just hope he won’t open his mouth because if he starts talking about quantum physics and God and pacifism, the whole jig is up. But if you think about it, it’s weird that I can count on people not messing with me when my big, Mexican brother is walking beside me. I have a 6’3”, 220 pound, very white son. He doesn’t get the same reactions, so it’s not just a guy thing. It’s a melanin thing.
Race is weird. The further we move through history, the harder it gets to pin down. But we can’t pretend it’s irrelevant until it really is irrelevant, until people don’t think my dark-skinned brother is going to shank them, until our prisons aren’t chocked full of brown people and our legislatures aren’t brimming with white people (mostly men, but that’s another essay for another day, maybe Women’s Day).
Race is hard to define, and yet, it defines everything about the way we exist in our current, screwed up world. I long for the day when we are all just mutts, when nobody remembers that skin color was ever a thing we worried about. (Another fun fact: the Romans didn’t give a damn about skin color. They persecuted all kinds of people, for all kinds of reasons, but none of it had to do with the color of their skin. We’ve just picked this criteria for our oppression because we needed our own special brand of asshole to set ourselves apart in history. And we’ve done a bang up job of it. Go us!)
But yeah. We need to stop. However, we can’t make it be over by pretending it’s over any more than we can make St. Patty’s Day over by pretending it’s Christmas. (Try pinching someone for not wearing green on Christmas, and see where that gets you.) Until we’ve actually got this shit figured out, we need to face the fact that we are all a little racist, and it’s probably not even our faults, raised as we were in this racist cesspool of a culture. We need to be actively aware that we have, on some level, been brainwashed into believing that brown is bad and white is good, and when we feel those things rising to the surface in us, we need to acknowledge them and say, “Slow down, Kujo. I’m not going to be a dick because of some deep-seeded racist bullshit going on in my subconscious.” (By the way, if autocorrect tries to change “bullshit” to “vulkshit” one more time, I’m going to throw my computer through a window. Vulkshit? Is that an oblique Star Trek reference?) And act accordingly. Because pretending racism isn’t there, and blaming people who say it is, isn’t really fixing anything.
Just ask my brother. Or don’t. Because if you talk to him, you’ll find out he’s not even close to bad ass. And I need you to believe he is. Because no one, and I mean no one, is afraid of a translucently white, female poet, no matter how mean she tries to be.
Today, this came up on Timehop as a post I had made on Facebook four years ago today. I was struck by how much a life can change in four years. I remember the despair I felt as I wrote those five words: “What if I never publish?”
I had been working for decades to publish a novel, beating my head against a brick wall that never seemed to budge. I’d done everything I knew to do to make my dream happen. I’d gotten an MFA, graduating with distinction. I’d submitted everything I’d written (four novels and six jillion short pieces) hundreds of times. I’d published in newspapers, journals, anthologies, and magazines. I’d won a major contest with one of my novels, got it agented, and been rejected by every publisher in America. Which was demoralizing, to say the least.
And then, in an act of epic self-sabotage I have never spoken about publicly before, and I still don’t fully understand, I had been on the verge of signing my rock-n-roll novel with a big New York agent. He loved it and me. Long story short, I had what therapists described as a seven-day-panic-attack, but what felt like a nervous breakdown or psychotic break to me. I had always thought of myself as someone with a powerful mind, but I had absolutely no control over what was happening to me. In the middle of this hell, which I will write about in depth someday, I wrote the agent and fired him. After which I realized something was very wrong, after which I went to a hospital, after which I was prescribed medication for acute panic disorder, after which I felt way better about signing with the agent, after which he wasn’t so excited about me anymore. (I have no idea why.)
I’ve always been so humiliated about the acts of gross self-sabotage I committed during those seven days, I’ve never spoken about them publicly to anyone. (Don’t worry. Firing the agent was the worst thing. Nothing but my career was harmed in the making of my meltdown.)
But I guess I’m ready to talk, because I’m betting I’m not the only girl who’s ever struggled with that kind of mental illness before. It was the scariest thing that had ever happened to me. To know my own brain could betray me like that made me feel less safe than anything ever had. (For reference, I’ve had psychotic men look into my eyes and say, “I love you so much, I’m going to cut your head off,” and mean it. But psycho-boys, you got nothin’ on panic disorder. Sorry.) And having come so close to my dream, and having sabotaged it myself, almost made me give up on my dream. (I’ve wrestled the panic disorder into submission. I no longer take medication, and I no longer have panic attacks. But it took a long time to learn to control it.)
I thought it would take me another 20 years to get my foot back in the door. And I wrote these words on Facebook, as a tiny glimpse into the despair I was feeling. And I signed with the most wonderful agent in the world a few months later. Even my wacky, mid-panic attack actions seemed to work for my good, because I still don’t know another writer who has an agent who cares so deeply and personally about her work as my agent, Andy Ross, does. At the darkest moment of my life, light was right around the corner. I know that now.
I am in San Miguel de Allende as we speak, having just spoken on a panel, taught a workshop, read from my books, conducted signings, and performed in front of 1,000 people at the San Miguel Writer’s Conference. I’m a real writer now.
If only the Tawni that made that hopeless post could know what I know now. So I told her. And I told you, because I bet tons of you writers out there are feeling the way I did that day, for different reasons. Don’t give up. You might be about to fly.
Dear four-years-ago Tawni,
I know you’re tired, and it seems like no one gives a shit about your work, and people make fun of you and call you crazy, and you’ve been banging your head against a brick wall for 20 years, and it hasn’t budged. I know you are about to give up.
But FYI, right after you posted this, you got an agent and sold your first novel to Simon & Schuster. It was A Handful of Dust, that book that got rejected by every publishing house in America 15 years ago. It’s called Beauty of the Broken now. (Editors at major publishing houses are really good at coming up with titles. Also, they are super cool and take you to lunch sometimes when you’re in New York.) It won awards.
Last year, you went to a conference where they were giving workshops on how to teach Beauty of the Broken in literature classes. People hug you and thank you for writing it. They tell you it changed them. You just performed an excerpt from the first chapter, the one where Daddy almost kills Iggy, in front of 1,000 people day before yesterday. Some of them cried.
People you’ve never met ask you questions about Mara and Iggy all the time. Your characters don’t live in your desk drawer with the dust bunnies anymore. They live in the hearts and minds of many. You got several fan letters about the book just today. You drove to see a performance of it in Sacramento in December. There is talk of making it into a movie. (Keep your fingers crossed for us.)
Your second novel comes out this fall.
Your agent thinks it’s brilliant, but then, he loves you, so you always wonder if him saying he loves your work is like your mom telling you you’re special. You also published a poetry book.
And we’re working on more. (Downside: you still haven’t published your rock-n-roll novel. But we’ll make it happen. You know how we are. We don’t give up on things we love.)
You travel the world speaking and teaching other people to write their truths. No more being a groupie for you. People pay to hear what YOU have to say. You spoke on a panel with freaking Naomi Klein last week. No, I’m not full of shit. It’s true. It’s only February, and you’ve already taught in Sicily and Mexico this year. You love your students because they teach you more than you will ever teach them.
You get a snazzy red fur hat in Sicily and leave a the biggest orange you’ve ever seen at the temple of Persephone, just to say hi.
In Mexico, you dance, dance, dance and drink tequila. (Ok, you kinda do the same stuff you used to do in Mexico, except between tequila shots, you teach writing classes.) Also, you learn to salsa dance (kinda) cause this amazing girl named Ashley comes to Mexico with you. She is a way more patient dance teacher than that guy who told you you were hopeless in front of everyone and stormed away all those years ago. I know! You thought you were incapable of learning to dance. You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for.
The moral of the story: Just because you’ve banged your head against a brick wall for 20 years and it hasn’t budged doesn’t mean you should stop. Your next head butt might just bring the whole sucker to the ground, Jericho style.
Never give up on your destiny. Never.
P.S. I’m pretty sure you somehow got this letter from me, way back then, because even over all the noise in your head, something in your heart was screaming that you were about to win. You listened. You should listen to me more often. I know things. Like this: wear sunscreen every minute of every day, particularly on the left side of our face during road trips. The left side of our face is now evidence that you followed a rock band all over kingdom come for 20 years. I resent you for our wrinkles. The right side still looks ok. Our teeth are still white, thank God. We are still vain as hell. We still like wine too much. We still prefer Netflix marathons to jogging. We are working on it.
P.S.S. You listened to this song a lot during the time you were refusing to give up. Go listen to it now. Pay attention, as always, to the lines, “Sometimes it feels like you just can’t take it anymore, sometimes it feels like everybody’s just trying to give you grief, but when you find it deep inside, you pull it out, and you never give up, you never give up, YOU NEVER GIVE UP!” You don’t ever give up on things that you really love. That’s one of the things I like best things about you. Also, you have great teeth. This is supposed to be a nice blog, so we won’t talk about your insomnia and penchant for pastries.
Mary Magdalene is one of my favorite mythical figures. I write from her perspective often. According to legend, after Christ was crucified, her life was danger, so she fled to a cave in France. Last year, I was invited to stay in a friend’s unoccupied home in a small village in France for a few months. I started dreaming Magdalene while I was there, so I ran a Google search and found out I was about an hour away from her cave.
I often find myself “accidentally” visiting the places associated with the mythological figures I write about. For instance, I just finished teaching in Sicily, the place from which Persephone was said to have been kidnapped by Hades. (I write about Persephone often as well.) I didn’t plan the trip there. Rather, a college I often teach for invited me to teach for a study abroad trip. I feel lucky that my life is riddled with such serendipities.
I’ve been invited to return to the French village this summer. Maybe that’s why Magdalene has been on my mind. This is written from her perspective, while she was hiding in that cave. It will be included in the book of prose poems I am working on, called So Speak the Stars. (Both images used in this blog are by Joseph Lefebvre, a French artist who lived in the 19th century. His images of the Magdalene are my favorites of all time. If you ever want to know what to buy me for a Christmas, a print of either of these will do the trick.)
Tonight the moon is hollow, hanging as it does a million miles away, like you. It is an empty egg, speckled with dark holes, drained of its light, like me, staring at the vastness of a night blistered by boiling stars, shredded by the never-ending specter of no-you.
My love, I have been stronger than you know. I have fallen under wave after wave of moonlessness, ripped myself up from wretched ground, found another ounce of hope lingering in my bones, thrown it against the face of the unflinching sky, watched it ricochet back to me, screaming:
Tonight, I will not die. Not without him. Not without his eyes.
The lines on your hands were my maps to truth. I followed them here to this hallowed place, where I have been sacrificed, unfaced, my human mask replaced with newborn god flesh. Tender, unused to cold wind and lightlessness, it wails in the night.
Our crosses stand stark, denting the horizon.
The wrecked land has given birth to monsters and madness. In my dreams you whispered we would have to leave one another for a while, as if we hadn’t already been banished to separate sides of the world, our flesh torn apart by dogs, our meat swallowed by crows.
In visions, I see in you in the cave where they have caged you. Your eyes call me.
Come. Come. Come.
And if I could, I would hobble to you on shattered legs, sink into the rocky soil at your feet, kiss your Jesus toes, wash them with my hair, stare unwavering into your eyes, as you did on that night that has saved me a million times, unrelenting, repenting the prison that kept you from me. Your eyes whispered.
I know. I know. I know.
In dreams, you promise it is almost over. “Leave me once more, for one minute, and next time, we will go together,” you say, and I grab onto your words, wrestle them to the ground, mount them, ride them to heaven, hound God to return you to me this second, or else. But what can I threaten? All I have belongs to her already.
Your eyes. Your eyes. Your eyes.
haunt me, eat me alive. I was always going to die. What a glorious death, to be dissolved in the relentless rain of the love of you.
Every minute without you is a thousand years. I hear your voice in the thunder. It plunders my massacred mind. “Find me,” it says. “Where?” I ask. “Tell me, and I will go.” My ears do not yet know the language in which you whisper the directions.
Liber numquam. Numquam ibi.
This is how the story of resurrection goes. First comes the death. My bones love you and shudder to rise from windswept soil. When they do, my skeleton will walk the world, find you, and fall into your grave. We will save one another. Together, we will rise at dawn.
I know what the butcherers did to me, they did to you ten times. Their crimes were seen by the God who stands just beyond that sagging moon, her hands raised, ready to save, poised to flood the world with light.
Beloved son of the rising sun, I pray only this.
Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.
When the day-waves come, may they wash me back to you.
Last night, I went to pray on my daddy’s grave, after which I drove back to Albuquerque. The canyon between Albuquerque and the East Mountains screws with radio reception, so I listened to the only station I could get—a channel that was featuring The Delilah Show.I actually usually really like the things Delilah has to say.She’s kind and funny and does a great deal to honor people’s most sacred relationships and bring light into the world.
But last night, a woman had just called in.I didn’t hear what the woman said.I only heard Delilah’s response. She said something like this: “It sounds to me like your partner doesn’t love and respect you, that he cares nothing for your feelings and heart and is willing to hurt you and dismiss you and take you for granted.If everything you’re telling me is true, this relationship is abusive.You need to protect yourself.”
I was going, “Yay, Delilah!I’m with you!” But then, she proceeded to tell the woman that when her partner abused her, or made fun of her appearance, or humiliated her publicly, or called her vicious names, she was to protect herself by ignoring it and letting it roll off her like water off a duck’s back.What??? I was dumbfounded. Her advice to this woman who was being abused was, “Ignore it”? At the very end of the show, she did say, “If you’re partner doesn’t change, you’re going to have to make some tough choices.”Ok, she hinted the woman should leave.
But as a former abuse victim, I would like to offer that woman some alternate, more pointed advice.
Dear abused woman,
You are precious. You are sacred. You are beautiful. You are treasure. Anyone who doesn’t actively honor those facts is not worthy to be in the same room with you. Anyone who seeks to control you, who disregards your needs and desires, who humiliates you, who actively endangers or refuses to protect your holy body and heart, is a monster.Monsters become monsters because they are not loved, but by staying with this guy, you won’t unmonster him.He has to do that himself.
What will happen if you stay with him, if you ignore this abuse, is you will become so enraged, you too will become a monster. You will either become violent toward him or violent toward yourself, but you will become violent.
The rage you feel when this man abuses you is not wrong.It is the most sacred, beautiful part of you telling you that you deserve to be loved, respected, cherished, and protected.It is trying to drive you to action.And that action is not staying in this horrible situation, trying to ignore it and be nice, and ultimately committing violence.It is walking.
Walk out the fucking door.Never look back.Leave that man stewing in his own monstrousness, and maybe, just maybe, a light will come on, and he will decide to do the hard work of changing. But that isn’t your problem. His wounds run too deep for you to ever fix them. He has to do that himself. Pray for him. Ask that he be blessed, and by blessed, I mean be given whatever it’s going to take to make him see how wounded he is, the monster he has become, and let him begin to heal himself.
Don’t go back to him.He will promise to change. He won’t.True change takes years and years and years. By going back to him, you will be committing an act of cruelty.You will be enabling him to continue to indulge in the cowardice and abuse that are destroying his soul.Aloneness is the thing that will make him see these things, and perhaps, give him the desire to change. You are giving him a great gift by walking away. You are taking the Band-Aid off the cancer so he can see it.
It is never your job to be invisible.It is never your job to be humiliated. It is never your job to be abused. It is never your job to be disregarded, ignored, invalidated, terrorized. It is never your job to lie for anyone, to cover for abuse. It is your job to shine.It is your job to tell the truth.It is your job to protect you so you can heal and become all of the glorious wonder you were born to be.
And may I offer another bit of advice? After you walk, in the future, the very first time someone disrespects you, walk out the door. The very first time someone verbally abuses you, walk out the door.The very first time someone ignores and disregards your needs, walk out the door.I’m not saying don’t ever let anyone fuck up. People fuck up.All the time. Even the people who love you best. But abuse goes beyond fucking up. And you don’t deserve it. Ever. Never put yourself in any situation where you are not honored, cherished, loved, and protected again.The people who truly love you will do those things for you.And there are people who truly love you.This man is not one of them. Go out and find your true loves.
I say all of this because I know.I have been you.I started removing abusers from my life about five years ago, when I came close to losing my life to abuse.That was my wake up call.I am still learning what healthy relationships look like.I am still removing abusers from my life.I am still learning to protect, honor, and love myself.
But since I started doing it, my life has become a miracle. I travel the world.I sell books.I teach at universities and colleges and conferences.None of this was happening when I let myself be abused.Because every time I let myself be abused, I sent the universe a message saying I was worthless and unloved.And because the universe responds to our thoughts, that reality perpetuated itself again and again.
Now I am careful to take only actions that send the universe the message that I am beautiful and precious and holy and worthy of love.I refuse to walk through a door unless I know I will be protected, cherished, loved, and honored on the other side of that door.You should do the same.Because you ARE worthy of love.You are a miracle. Do the world a favor and protect the treasure you are. You have something wonderful to give us, and by giving your sacred soul to this abuser, you are stealing from all of us.
I’ve just returned from two weeks teaching in Sicily for Rosemont College’s MFA program. I can’t even begin to describe how magical my time there was, but I will try in forthcoming travel essays. If you want to see/hear more about my travel experiences, please feel free to friend me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tawni.waters.
We spent a good deal of our trip visiting ancient temples and modern churches, so my mind was stuck in myth-mode. I dedicated a day of my teaching to the exploration of myth and had my students write myth-based pieces (which were incredible). I started this poem while in Ortigia and finished it this morning, in a hotel room in Philadelphia, where I slept off the jet-lag after arriving back in the U.S. yesterday afternoon.
This poem is based on the Sumerian myth of Inanna, who descended into the underworld, giving away pieces of her royal garb (and her power) as she descended. It’s a complex myth, and fragments are missing, but she was eventually killed and hung from a hook there. She ultimately achieved victory over death and ascended again into the land of the living. (In the early myths, the death/resurrection gods were not always male. They had female counterparts.)
The myth is seen by many as a mirror of the process a person must go through to achieve enlightenment and peace, descending into the morass of one’s own darkness and fear, losing everything one thought one knew to discover truth, undergoing metaphorical death and resurrection.
This poem shows Inanna taking back all she has given away during her horrific descent and ascending her throne in the land of the living.
WHAT INANNA SAID AS SHE LEFT THE UNDERWORLD, WHERE DEAD THINGS MADE MEAT OF HER AND HUNG HER ON A HOOK
If you ask me to leave, I will
plead. I am divine, but I am not too big
to beg you for your life.
I am, after all, first and foremost, a love goddess.
But if you insist on raping my blessed body
blaspheming my sacred soul
when I go
I will pack up my bag of magic.
I take back my ring.
I do not curse.
That is not the way of Light.
I simply take back my birthright
and leave you with what was yours.
I take back my necklace.
I call of every particle of Elysium back to my body.
An explanation: At solstice, I often find myself writing about Persephone and Hades. In the original myth, Persephone, innocent goddess of spring and daughter of Demeter, is abducted by Hades, god of the underworld, who has fallen in love with her while watching her pick daffodils. She is taken to his realm where she eats seven pomegranate seeds. Because of this, she is condemned to spending seven months a year with him in the underworld, during which time, her bereaved mother rages and turns the earth to winter. In spring, Persephone rises to be with her mother again, and her mother’s rage and grief relent, giving birth to spring.
When I address myth in my poetry, I often find the love stories hidden beneath the horror. In many of my poems, Persephone loves Hades and spends her springs longing for him, hating the spring, hating the land of the living, wanting nothing more than to be whisked away to live with her beloved in hell again (yes, I know the Greek underworld was different than hell, but I’ve no problem with conflating mythologies), because where he is, heaven is, no matter what the landscape. To me, it speaks to the fact that heaven has nothing to do with gold streets and pearls and everything to do with love, and hell has nothing to do with fire and everything to do with lovelessness. Heaven is the place your beloved lives, even if that place happens to be hell.
This is Persephone’s prayer of yearning. It kept me up all night. I hope she will let me sleep now. I’m tired.
Beloved Hades, when I left you, I didn’t grieve. I became grief. And grief is a mausoleum. It will suffocate you if you live there for too long.
(I’ve almost gained my heavenly home.)
The truth is this pink, petaled thing I’ve become was never spring. I slap lilacs over sackcloth and ash, cover the gashes on my guts with blue butterflies. I smile, unwilling to soil my pain, the only piece of you I have left, with the feckless pity of strangers. I blender my brain, strain stains of sin from my soul, let hope turn to rust in my hands. Sand streams through the hourglass, but never fast enough.
Life fades. I am unafraid.
(My spirit loudly sings.)
I have stayed in this mortal realm too long, I think, sinking in the quicksand of thrown bones and tea leaves. When I dream, the seams of reality unravel. I travel to places you sleep. The underworld. Modern Mexico. Ancient Greece. We speak of the wonders of anatomy, the miracle of flight, the mystery of spontaneous combustion. I wish never to wake.
(The holy ones. Behold they come.)
Daybreak brings the nightmare. My unrebuffed brushes with consciousness are an endless, silent scream. Every minute is a crucifixion. Seconds flay me. I see myself a serene, splendid skeleton, sleeping in tall grass, strands of sunshine woven through the intricacies of my flowering phalanges.
(I hear the sound of wings.)
Still, it seems you will save me. In visions, you ride a boat away from the dock, all you’ve left in the underworld hidden in a sock, and sail up the River Styx, searching for your Persephone.
(Oh, come, angel band.)
The memory of the scar on your chin keeps me alive, just barely. I thrust my hands into hives, never mind the stings, starved for sweet things, bee wings and honey. I wile my hours away by the water, picking white flowers and downing pomegranate seeds by the pound, praying you’ll rebound, ricochet my way, re-waylay me.
(Come and around me stand.)
If you were a hell king, why was the fire in your eyes the only thing that ever made me live? Existence without you is a waking death. You are my life. You are my sanity. You are my breath.
Time unwinds. Behind me, I feel your heat.
(Oh, bear me away on your snow white wings to my immortal home.)
So people think that because I’m a writer who wins awards and travels the world, I’m rich. Anyway, people who aren’t writers think that. People who are know the truth. I’m living paycheck to unpredictable paycheck, always dependent on the next miracle, which, more often than not, arrives just in the nick of time. My life is an inexplicable wonder, an exquisite medley of last minute rescues and random kindnesses stitched together to make a thing of erratic, but inarguably awesome, beauty. I do stints in picturesque palaces in Los Angeles and linger for months in centuries-old homes in medieval French villages. I teach at renowned conferences and institutions. I meet brilliant, generous, light-bringing humans who open their homes and hearts to me. I eat more decadent food than I’ve a right to and always drink the best wine. I’ve been told I lead a charmed life, and it feels like I do. My luck never runs out, and it comes at me from all directions, everywhere I go. I’m the richest person I know.
But on paper, I’m dirt poor. A few years back, I gave up my house and sold/gave away almost everything I owned. The few things I kept (paintings, photographs, books) are in tiny storage unit. Everything else, I carry with me as I travel (which should give you a whole new respect for the snazzy outfits I produce, cause kid, I usually pulled them out of a suitcase in the back of a rental car–just sayin’). I don’t always know where my next meal is coming from. I sometimes don’t know what bed I’m going to sleep in on a given night.
But always, by some miracle of fate, when I’m hungry, there is a sumptuous meal, and always, when I’m tired, there is a lavish bed. I’ve literally had strangers walk up to me and say, “Do you have a place to stay tonight? Because we booked two luxury hotel rooms, and our friends can’t make it. It’s yours if you want it.” The beauty of letting go of a lack mentality and trusting that universe is an abundant place is that it opens the door to way better possibilities than your logic and financial means could ever create. God has resources we don’t know about, just waiting to be tapped into when we take actions that demonstrate we know invisible nets will be there to catch us when we make our leaps of faith.
I’ve heard people say things like, “How can you think God cares about your petty problems when there are wars in this world?” I understand the generous sentiment underlying this, but it is predicated on a lack mentality, a notion that misunderstands, I think, the nature of the divine. God is not some angry human in the sky, limited by time and space to answering a few prayers a day, as we would be, were we God. God is an inexplicable force woven through the very molecules around us, a force that quantum physics is just beginning to tap into, and that force responds to our beliefs. We are shaping reality with our minds. The God who responds to my beliefs about abundance is omnipresent and capable of responding to the prayers of the devastated person in Syria.
I’m not saying I understand suffering, or God, anywhere near completely. I’ve just scratched the surface. I only know that in my experience, reality does morph itself according to my beliefs, and to my actions. When I believe there isn’t enough and act accordingly, there is never enough. When I let go and show gratitude and generosity and believe there is enough love and joy and abundance and meaning to go around, I am deluged in splendor. My understanding is imperfect, but I can observe the way reality seems to respond to me.
(A word of warning: if you try to implement these ideas from a place of greed, the universe will read your foundational greed as a belief that the world is less than generous. That is the only reason for greed. So it may backfire. It’s not a “get rich quick” scheme. It’s a “work through your bullshit and learn that you are truly beloved” scheme, and that’s a whole lot more complex than visualizing a yacht. If you truly begin to dance with the divine, you will quickly learn that yachts are cool, but love and peace and joy are the true treasures. I know it sounds like a Hallmark special, but that doesn’t make it any less true.)
When I say God is a force, I don’t believe God is impersonal. I believe the air around us is woven from the love of God. But we have no understanding that “reality” is the story generated by the thoughts we think. We don’t understand that we are always dancing with the divine. If we become aware of this, and trust the river of God to carry us to beautiful, exquisite, meaningful places, it will. At least, that has been my experience.
I think there is a boatload of wisdom packed into the line, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not our weekly. Not our monthly. Not our yearly. Trusting God for your daily breads keeps you living constantly in the sacred now. And that is where I aspire to live always. I want my existence to be a never-ending dance with my creator, a surrender, a give, a take, a knowing that the universe is an abundant and blessed place, that I am beloved, that I don’t, in the immortal words of Tom Petty, have to live like a refugee.
As I walk out this always beautiful and unpredictable, sometimes terrifying, existence, seemingly bad things happen do happen. But when they do, a song always plays, be it from a car radio or a mall loudspeaker or the tinny headphones of a nearby teen on the subway. (I have this theory that God is always talking to us, however she can, through the world around us. Most of us just aren’t listening. I try to listen.) The song is “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon, and every time I hear it, it is a reminder to let go of expectations, to go with the flow, to not judge a situation as “good” or “bad,” but to believe that all things, even the things that are seemingly hellish, are working together for my good. Every time that kid sings, Oh, don’t you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me, I said “You’re holding back,” she said, “Shut up and dance with me,” I hear God inviting me to put my petty tantrums on the back burner, to understand that my plans aren’t always the best plans, to dance with my creator, letting her lead the way, following her, trusting her every move even when she backflips across the dance floor and kicks me in the face.
In the midst of all of this shutting up and dancing and not owning things, I acquired something big last month. A van. (For the duration of this essay, it shall be referred to as The Van.) My daughter sold it to me for almost nothing, and I was super duper excited, I think because even though I’ve chosen this life, the thought of having something “safe” and predictable still appealed to me. If I need to get somewhere, I do, often, miraculously, in first class.
But somehow, even with all the miracles I’ve received, I’m still attached on some level to our culture’s premium on ownership and predictability and safety. I made jokes with my brother about becoming the incarnation of that Chris Farley sketch about living in a van by the river, which is way beneath the standard of living the universe manages to pull off for me every single day, but at least it’s predictable. I’m ashamed to say there was comfort in that. Hey, if ever God didn’t come through with a place to sleep (as if God could ever not come through–I adore Tori Amos, but she was wrong about that “God, sometimes you just don’t come through” thing, in my experience) I always had The Van!
So yeah. I got a van. And it rocked. I dubbed Earnest, a stuffed carrot my daughter bought me, its mascot.
Then, I drove it to California with my beautiful, brilliant, light-bringing friend Ashley.
We hung out in beautiful places with beautiful people, agents and screenwriters and novelists and climate change scientists and actors.
We talked on a beach with a brilliant, famous screenwriter about the possibility of turning my book into my movie.
And we came back to Phoenix. And I had The Van. It was mine, all mine. I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It was so cool. I was almost normal for a few weeks.
But I was poor, more so than usual, because last month, one of my teeth imploded. Well, not really. It just up and died because I’d been grinding it too much. I needed a root canal and a crown, and my insurance wouldn’t pay for it. I was going to go to Mexico to get the work done, but my amazing mother (the human one) offered to pay for the root canal. (Thank you, Mom!) I still had to pay for the crown, which emptied my checking account and left me without money to pay my phone bill, much less buy Christmas presents. And since I make most of my money teaching classes online, I wasn’t going to get another check until January because schools close during the holidays.
And I’m not gonna lie. I was so not dancing with the universe and trusting. I was kind of in a funk about it. I make my lifestyle sound exotic, and it is, but it’s also lonely and scary at times, because I’m human, and prone to forgetting how beloved I am, and likely to forget to look past the illusion of “reality” and mold it with my beliefs and actions. And this holy day season, more than ever before, I was ready to give up on my life of miracles, the sacred road I have dubbed my Highway of Diamonds.
I called my daughter crying and throwing an epic pity party. “Maybe I should just get a day job I hate. I don’t even have money to buy fucking presents.” She answered in true Desi form. (God, I love that kid.) “And live like a mundie?” (That’s her word for people who live hopeless, predictable, mundane existences.) “No fuckin’ way. Momma (that’s our word for God) will provide.”
So yeah. Long story short, the next day, at Desi’s urging, I decided to break up my isolation/bad mood and go out to sit at a wine bar and write. This isn’t something I do much anymore. I’m famously antisocial in my middle age. For the most part, I like reading and praying and talking to angels way more than I like partying. But I impulsively ran a search on Yelp for the best wine bar in town, and drove to a place far from anywhere I ever go. And while I was driving there, The Van started smoking. I looked at the gauges and saw it was way overheated, so I turned into the nearest parking lot and pulled into a space. I was not happy. I have exploded enough cars in my day to know what an irreversibly exploded car smells and sounds like. I knew it had to do with the radiator, and I knew that it was bad.
I hadn’t bothered to get AAA yet, so I had no access to roadside service. Sitting in that dark, deserted parking lot, I got on my phone to order a membership I couldn’t afford so I could have The Van towed when a voice in my heart said, “Look up.” I did, and it turned out I was 50 feet away from a AAA Auto Repair Shop. No towing necessary. I began to suspect that the creator with whom I dance had a hand in this explosion, but I was mad at her anyway. Sometimes her refusal to play by my rules pisses me right the fuck off.
I decided to call an Uber to take me home and come back in the morning to deal with the van, since the nearby auto shop was closed. I was NOT looking forward to Uber-ing my way back across the city the next day, especially because my body has become accustomed to staying up most of the night writing, and sleeping until noon. This is its natural rhythm, one that it has fallen back into since I started living on the road. I respect this natural rhythm, damn it. If I’m having my coffee before 1 p.m., the order of the universe has been upended.
The Uber arrived to take me home. I dragged my beleaguered, pissed off ass into it. You can guess what song was playing. “Shut Up and Dance.” Goddamn it. So this WAS Momma fucking with my life again, and I was supposed to trust her and all that shit. How fucking unfair.
I went home, or to the place I often stay when I’m in Arizona, the gorgeous guesthouse of dear friends, Doreen and Jason, who generally treat me like a queen and shower me in love and wine and sea salt chocolate every time I come to town. I went into my bedroom, cried, and had a wrestling match with God. (I’d say I prayed, but that is way too pretty a word. Does it count as a prayer if you say “fuck” a lot? I don’t know.)
So anyway, sometime around 2 a.m., God managed to convince me of something I already know, which is that material things don’t matter, but love does, and that you can never really own anything but your own soul. I begrudgingly released the mother fucking van to God at 4:12 a.m., still pissed that she wouldn’t let me have even one toy for my very own. And I fell asleep.
I had this weird dream about me driving my van to New Mexico in the snow to visit my family, which I was slotted to do the next week. In the dream, something went horribly wrong with The Van when I was going very fast, on a freeway where couldn’t pull over into the nearest parking lot and call AAA. In the dream, the van malfunctioned in a not-so-safe place, and I lost control. I saw my own death. My world went white, and Tawni Vee Waters as we know her was no more (though I’m gonna guess she probably already had intentions of coming back as something distinctly bedazzled and strangely named).
I woke up from the dream to a knock on my door, suddenly very aware of how much worse the van breakdown scenario could have been. “Come in,” I muttered, trying to push the last vestiges of the not-so-pretty dream out of my head. It was Doreen. She said, “I saw on Facebook where the van is.” (I may or may not be guilty of revealing too much on Facebook.) “I have to go to that part of the city today anyway. If you give me the keys, I’ll take it next door to the shop right now so it doesn’t get towed.” Oh, my God. I didn’t have to get up early to wrangle Uber drivers and deal with auto repair details. I thanked Doreen profusely, whispered an f-bomb littered bit of gratitude to God, and went back to sleep, still a little freaked out from the death dream, but willing to let the terror pass for the love of a little extra shut eye.
At noon, I woke up to another knock on my door. This time, it was Jason. He told me the auto repair company had called, and that the repairs were going to be several thousand dollars, which was more than the van was worth, and way more than I could afford. “Ok, thanks for letting me know. Merry fucking Christmas, huh?” I said. Jason laughed.
Since I’d already made my peace with God about The Van, I wasn’t really upset. I thanked God for whatever miracle she was working on and set about calling numbers, trying to find someone who would tow the van away and maybe give me a little cash. I called about ten people I found on the Internet. Most of them offered $100. One guy offered $225. I told him that sounded good and asked if he could meet immediately. He said he couldn’t meet until the next day. “If you still want to do this tomorrow, call me in the morning,” he said. I said I would. Then I made this Facebook post:
“Having managed the mischief that came with the recent explosion of my van (may she rest in peace–fixing her will cost more than she’s worth), I now head out to Christmas shop and deck the halls and whatever the heck else we do this time of year. I’m just not gonna freak out about this. I don’t have the energy. Things come and go, but love is forever, and I still have tons of love in my life. And I’m so grateful. She was old. Before she left me, she gave me one spectacular road trip to CA with an amazing woman, where we had magical times with one (1) ocean and many (lots and lots) of other amazing humans. That’s all a girl can really ask for. Well, that and chocolate.”
Then I went to the mall, where I was slated to meet my daughter and execute aforementioned Christmas shopping. Well, she was going to shop. I was going to offer expert opinions. As I was waiting for her, I got a text from a man I had spoken to about the car earlier in the day, a man I thought was never going to call back. It said, “$800 for the van if engine and transmission are good.” I almost cried. That was way more than I’d paid for the van in the first place.
While short lived, The Van had been such a gift. I’d gotten a glorious trip to California out of it, and then, ultimately, money for Christmas presents. Turns out, the radiator explosion was one of Momma’s most bad ass dance moves.
I don’t have The Van anymore, but I won’t need one, as I’m spending the first month of 2017 in Sicily, teaching grad students, and the second month of 2017 teaching at a conference in one of my favorite places in the known universe, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
As I drink wine on Mt. Etna, I most certainly won’t be saying, “But man, I could be in a van down by the river right now.” (Never fear: Earnest the Carrot has not been abandoned. He will be living in my suitcase from now on.) It just goes to show you, the universe is way smarter than me. Who knew?
The moral of the story: Shut the fuck up and dance, kids. The universe is willing to tango with you, if you will only let go. (Full disclosure: she will likely kick you in the face, but you’ll thank her for it someday. I promise.)
P.S. Thank you, Momma. Thank you for playing by your rules instead of mine, by insisting on making my life a miracle even when I try to force it into mundanity. Sorry for all the tantrums. You rock cotton kitted socks. But then, I’m pretty sure you know that.
Your favorite daughter ❤️
(Start believing you are a favored child of the universe. See what happens…)