What is the Diameter of your Mouth?

My mouth is having an affair. It has let a non-degreed dentist inside it, stretching it far past its ability and now I have the aftertaste of sore and bothered.

My father always knew when I relapsed because my nose would be cracked and red. Eventually, he stopped asking. Instead, we’d meet at our regular lunch spot, talk around addiction to remind each other there is more to life than pain.

When I go to the dentist, the other students gather to try and understand the trauma of my mouth. The professors ask questions; my teeth become a pop quiz for what happens when one flosses with stolen pill carcasses for too many years.

Once, my father asked me why I kept putting holes in my body (reference chapters eighteen through twenty-three: The Piercing Years). He’d wince at the hoops and studs and glare of jewelry distracting my skin. I never really knew how to answer. To let the screams out? 

My mouth is called child-sized. They need to make an impression of my teeth and no mold is small enough to fit inside me. They stretch and stretch and I wonder if this is what childbirth is like.

Eventually, I stopped taking drugs and cleared my body of jewelry. The addiction will always remain, but all the holes closed up.

I want to tell my dentist that I like the way his facial hair grows and that if I could wake up with a beard, I’d leave it alone. But one day, I woke to find a long, blond hair growing from my chin and it seemed too lonely, so I asked my spouse to take it away. Maybe I have a difficult time committing to the in-between of things.

The last time I consumed “the bad drugs”, I was watching a friend’s dog for a weekend. It was her way of thanking me. The calendar called it Valentine’s Day and I might have preferred chocolate, but it didn’t stop me from consuming.

I tell my father that I have been writing non-traditional love poems. He asks me what that means. I say: the kind of love that runs away from flowers and announces the beauty in mouth sores and cavities. It hurts when I laugh because my mouth is still healing. It hurts when I laugh because I am still learning how.

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what it is to have (not)

 

As I write this, I stare at less than $200 in my checking account. I do not announce this as some sort of Kickstarter-ploy-for-pity, rather as a reminder to myself of what it is to have or have not.

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, there were never empty shelves. Before each school year began, my mom would take my sister and I to Kmart or its equivalent and get us folders and notebooks. If shoes started breaking, we’d get a new pair. Holes in the knees of jeans? We’d head to the local mall for their replacement. We had.

As I got older, I fell in love with other people’s things. I spent my weekends, going to garage sales. My dad and I would hoard our treasures, hiding them from my mom who disapproved of the dusty discards. My body would be wrapped inside various shades of polyester, purchased from the local flea market, sometimes for less than $1. I loved wearing other people’s stories against my skin.

I never thought much about money. As a kid, we always had it.

Once I was old enough, I worked, so I had loose change to purchase non-necessities like cassette tapes, books and (later on) drugs. When I started working, I began saving for larger objects like a CD/record player, TV and then upon moving out after high school, rent.

There were years I fed my nose before I fed my mouth. But I always had. Even as a drug addict, I paid my bills on time. Rent. Credit card. Utilities. All of it. Sometimes there were even some months where I actually had some money left after paying these bills.

My eyes don’t get excited over expensive objects because as an adult, I always knew I could never afford them. I own no jewelry, nor do I care about the designer’s brands. My labels are usually faded by the time I purchase them, so I barely even know what size I am these days.

As I write this, with less than $200 in my checking account, I recognize how far $1 can go these days. (Should I build some suspense? Close your eyes. Hold your breath.) Not. Far.

$1 cannot afford my trip on the subway to work. In the 1940’s, a dollar could buy four movie tickets. Now, it doesn’t even cover the cost of a bottle of water from concession.

This is not to say that with less than $200 in my checking account, I do not have.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I wake in a bed every morning in a bedroom I call mine with heat that comes on fairly regularly at no extra cost. This bedroom is inside an apartment that also houses two other wonderful humans who fill it with art, music and laughter. This apartment includes a kitchen with a cupboard full of ingredients. Each morning, I toast rye bread in borrowed toaster and slide peanut butter against its yeast with less than $200 in my checking account. I have the ability to boil water (also free) and drink coffee from beloved French press every morning. In this apartment, there is furniture to sit on. In this apartment, though there are occasional cockroaches (the uninvited pests of living in the city); luckily, there has been no infiltration of mice. With less than $200 in my checking account, I can take a bath any time I want and the water never forgets to flow.

Ten years ago, I was eating nineteen-cent packages of freeze-dried ramen with enough salt in their flavoring packet to cover my allotted sodium intake for close to a week. This was all I could afford. Now, I purchase ramen (price more than doubled) not because I have to but because I want to.

What does it really mean to have? Is it always attached to money, or is there something else to it.

As I write this, I think about the weight of love and how when I have it, I feel like it replaces every haunting presidential face attached to currency that could ever climb into my wallet. I feel like the most affluent human just for having my metaphorical heart wrapped up in a metaphorical heated 1,000-thread count blanket.

I think about the weight of words and how when I have them, I feel like I can purchase meals with my poems. I feel like I could pay my rent with my words. I feel like I could purchase a plane ticket for around the world with a well-crafted independent clause.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I have enough books to build a well-enclosed fort to protect me from the ones I hide from.

I have things. I am reminded of this with each move from new state or street. In my head, I am a well-intentioned minimalist. In real life, I am a massive collector of the discarded.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I have enough clothes to last me through two weeks without having to visit the Laundromat (or at least enough underwear). I have boots to protect me from rain or snow and sneakers to slide my feet into for the warmer/dryer months.

I go to work at a community college, teaching students about writing, reading and creative ways to think with less than $200 in my checking account.

With less than $200 in my checking account, I swipe metro card with enough money stored on it to get me to aforementioned workplace and back home with possible stops in between. I notice that as I travel with other strangers underground, this is the one place where all economic classes blur together. It does not matter if you have $20 in your wallet or no wallet at all. There is no exclusive seating on the subway. A hedge fund or 401K account will not guarantee you a seat during rush hour. Everyone is the same.

What is it to have with less than $200 in my checking account? How can one claim to be rich when by society’s standards, they are poor? Is mood measured by bank balance? Would I be happier if I could afford everything on my Amazon wishlist?

As I write this, with less than $200 in my checking account, I feel no less sad as the days of the week where my balance is far more corpulent. My disposition has nothing to do with my wallet. In fact, as I settle into this low-income identity, I recognize that what I desire the most are things unattached to price tags: words, love, peace of mind, poetry.

to amy (sic) of ten years ago today.

Ten years ago, you had a difficult time with serving sizes. Back then, you hoarded cocaine and one-night love affairs. You collected envelopes of gashes. Ten years ago, you were being cyber-bullied by your memories. You changed your phone number and the shape of your skin in order to hide from your shadow. You feasted on potholes. You grew an enormous amount of debt as though this tab was like a garden you were watering. You lost feeling in the lower region of your body. Ten years ago, you shaved everything. Ten years ago, you fondled paralysis of your heart. You stopped trusting men. You fell. Do you remember that? You traveled with bar napkins against bloody chin because the weight of panic threw you down. Do you remember that you found new places to hide the slashes from the anger which only grew louder from all the drugs? Ten years ago, you got into a knife fight with the other half of you. You filled out only half the application for a restraining order against your vagina.      * Ten years ago today, you began planning for a future you were contemplating against. You applied to university in a state you never lived in, hoping for a re-do. You found words, which felt too kind, to describe your journey and intention to study. You got a phone call from a voice you did not recognize telling you that you were accepted to university. You decided it was time to get clean again. You threw bad habits into garbage and threw heavy bag of trauma into Brooklyn dumpster. You started writing more. You decided what could be left behind and what you wanted to remain with you. You cleaned out your phone of names, which haunted your ear drums. You decided to choose poetry as your drug; it was a lot cheaper and though it left you fiending for more, it was free. And did not leave you with nosebleeds and blackouts. You drove over two thousand miles. You still made some mistakes, but when you fell, there was a lot less blood. You got your degree. You learned how to collect months and then years of sobriety. You gave up collecting things. You still have a difficult time with serving sizes…..though now, it’s just coffee. And words.

the end is just the beginning of admittance.

There were several last times. But the last last time was almost eight years ago.

I still struggle with what to call myself. Sometimes I will tell someone I am a former addict, but that doesn’t seem quite true. Former alludes to past and although it isn’t an active part of my present, my addiction resides in me at all times.

It has complicated relationships with lovers and kept me at a distance with friends. Although I no longer seek out drugs in the ways in which I used to, I never want to be in the same room as them.

My drug came in tiny bags and bottles, but my drug also existed inside me. Addictions often arrive in multiples. Though I consumed in front of others, I preferred being alone. It was my secret. I never wanted anyone to know how much or how often or the amount I was spending or what I was doing to get it. It was never cool or something I felt the need to confess to others. I always felt shame.

As I approach the anniversary of my birth, I look back on years of blurred breathing. I tried various modes of treatment, but what continues to work is arriving at each day approaching every hour one tick at a time.

As I write these words, I find myself watching letters lunge onto the screen and then disappear. I think: That is too much. You shouldn’t write that. Or no one needs to know all this about me.

We are living in a time when people post pictures of every meal they eat and document each moment of their day. We are no longer keeping things in. I struggle with giving too much away. I’ve kept a lot of secrets. I’ve lost lovers and friends because of this addiction as well. I don’t really feel the need to tell you about my intake of food or share a picture of myself on the subway in a bar in a dance club on the street in a bathroom.

What leads me to unzip, unfold and release some of this is because I know I am just one of many. Each time I ask someone to hold out their hands and I let something private slip out of my mouth, I feel closer to forgiveness of my self. All around us, people are dying due to various addictions and secrets that cause the ones who survive to ask questions: What could I have done? Should I have reacted sooner?

If I can save one person from starting, I’ll turn out my pockets and give them all the memories I stuff in there. I’m trying not to hide anymore. It is an extremely difficult procedure. To give away. To reveal. I can take off my clothes far easier than letting you know the traditions and lineage of my scars.

So there is no end to this, but some things have changed. I no longer seduce medicine cabinets like women, batting my eyes at milligram content and side effects. I (do my best to) stay far away from pills and prescriptions. I say no a lot more to remind myself that I can. I remind myself of the time I’ve accrued, but do not obsess over this. Addicts regress, but this doesn’t take away the strength of sobriety. This is why one day at a time is stitched into pillows and posters and bodies and meditative mantras. One can never say never again. It is an unfair summation. It just isn’t that easy.

So we mention today. Which will guide us toward tomorrow. And the day after that. And beyond.

 

 

 

 

“today I talk myself into staying”

This freedom is ugly. It is blistered, having walked for centuries; there is no remedy for this ugliness. How to survive in a world where pigment is a devastation, forcing other hues back into the soil or behind bars.

Poets gather to memorialize another from their tribe, while on the other side of this city, Humans gather to stomp out the reek of atrocity. What is the scaffold of race. How sturdy is its wreckage. Carve us out of these bodies and our bones are of the same dimension. Why must skin create such a need for weaponry?

Up north, another young one dies because its body grew magnetic as breaths grew lured by drugs. In moments right before death, we may contemplate our past path. There are bathtubs and trees and sharps, but weapons go beyond the ones we point and click…..

I almost died once. And then again that other time and the one before that. And then there was that most recent trip. But I remain because I am employed to this body. It is my boss, my co-worker, the chief executive operator, the secretary and treasurer, the president. There is no paycheck beyond the currency of laughter, health, deep-rooted learning, love and lust, sight, taste and smell and and and.

Sometimes there is a moment when we feel the need to search for exit signs. Or, we see another who does not look the way we look and it confuses us. We are biased against one another; we are biased against ourselves. We loot and rummage and there is so much destruction that we often forget to notice the moments of beauty: swirling of skin that may be different than our own but still tastes the same and still speaks in music notes and poetry.

I am saddened by the thinness of freedom in this country on this continent in this world. Bodies are bloated and yet liberty is starved. I want to weep for the ones who are serving time for crimes they did not commit; I want to weep for the ones who are not held captive but need to be; I want to weep for the ones we vigil for.

Today, I am trying to talk myself into staying. 

what all this means is what does all this mean.

The woman from the radio sings about her brain being picked at like a chicken bone and I think about the last time I was gnawed on by another. She fears insanity as the range in her voice reaches raspy or the kind of holler that only dedicated nicotine inhalers receive. I once dated a Human who started smoking to strip layers off throat. I want to sound affected. I want to appear bothered and broke. When I was nineteen I learned how to forget myself in chemicals and imbalance. Sometimes it is necessary to recall an evening when books replaced clothing and you wore Cisneros and she wore Hafiz and somehow Sexton and Neruda joined in. There will be a vow taken today between sunrise and star patterns and it is difficult not to think of that afternoon I lied about peach trees in an alley below the mountains. What has happened to the moments below your clavicle and when you find someone who calls your hipbone a rainforest or lightening whelk, remain beyond the fear of its end.

an extraction of descent

There are many ways.

One does not have to be abandoned in order to leap into a lake made of hitchhiked creatures in order to decide where “I’m from” means.

*

I’m from the tunnel of my mother. Rent controlled studio apartment inside her body that housed me for nine months plus two days. Fed me trees marinated in soy sauce. Ate cake without plates or individual portion control.

I’m from the other side of that river where the scent of discarded life wafts inside windows and strip malls and strippers and striped hair and everywhere you look: corporations and franchises.

I’m from that howl housed inside the beard of Ginsberg and Plath’s gas mask and Sexton’s cigarette fumes and the poets that do not wait for stages: they do not wait to be announced: they need no introduction: instead, each breath is an admittance of line break and desperate call of language.

I’m from a body that is watered and hungry and in search of in search of in search of.

I’m from that evening you poured red wine inside ceramic mugs and we crushed sidewalk cracks with our cracked heels and I’m from that nectar squeezed out of carefully cut mango, sucked tropics out of its sour and picked out rind from my teeth for days.

I’m from plucked strings and exploding pens and letters written on disconnected bark.

I’m from addiction and sobriety and can’t we all just call ourselves survivors because amidst the disfigurations, we still exist we still exist we exist.