what it is to write.

I was in high school, year nine, when teachers started to wonder about the dark in me. I was eating Sylvia Plath and Lou Reed, collecting pills and scars.

At a school assembly, I read a poem which caused my guidance counselor to call my parents. Back then, I didn’t know words could be a diagnosis. I had no idea words could be a precursor to prescriptions and social workers.

It’s the tale of so many poets’ stories.: Depression. Drug addiction. Suicide attempts. Social anxiety. A walk-on role by Homosexuality. 

I heard a writer say, “Good writing doesn’t come from happy childhoods.” But I want to believe that we don’t always need the backstories. Our imaginations are massive enough to create our stories and poems.

When I run out of words, I dig my fingernails into the root of a scar found on forearm, hip, between thighs and rummage around until letters come out. This is a metaphor.

When I run out of words, I go to my bookshelf. Pull out Kate Bornstein. Pull out Vera Pavlova. Lorca. Neruda. Miranda July. Ivan E. Coyote. Audre Lorde. I scratch out their words and sniff the aroma of magic coming through. This is literal.

What it is to write.

I have been diagnosed and hospitalized and “treated” and analyzed and medicated and rehabilitated and tested. The pills gave me dry mouth, increased anxiety, nausea, increased thoughts of suicide, fatigue and irritability.

The side-effects of writing? Awareness, realization, acceptance, ease of overwhelm, validation.

When I tell people I am a poet, they say: better find a day job. I want to explain to them that there are different versions of currency and poetry may not pay my rent, but it keeps me alive. Twenty dollars in my pocket won’t.

There are days I feel as though I am not allowed to call myself a writer. These are the days I fall asleep without a puddle of words at my side. These are the days I feel dry.

And yet to others, I am able to say: Thinking is part of writing, so if you thought today, then you created. 

I get lost a lot. I’ve never had GPS at my disposal. I’ve got a flip phone in my pocket (features including only camera, calendar and calculator). So, I often turn away from where I am supposed to be. But maybe humans need to get lost more, in order to feel more found. Maybe more humans should write without disclaimer, without waiting for a place for these words. Let poetry be your diagnosis. Let language and its looseness be your symptoms.

Let ink and paper be your geography. Your map. Then, you’ll be ready for travel.


He touched my thumb and asked me if it hurt.

He touched the stars that only went half-way around right thumb and as he signed my name in his ink in his book of photographs; he wanted to know how much pain was involved.

He touched my thumb and I wanted to tell him that I carried around his book of lyrics when I was still contemplating death and just learning how to poem.

He touched my thumb and I wanted to tell him that I got lost inside the footsteps of heroin (the song) and his mirror (poem with sound) and I felt like if I could explain the logistics of my body (at that time), I might have described it as velvet’s underground.

He touched my thumb and asked me if it hurt and I wanted to make sure he’d spell my name right, so even though I had a yellow piece of paper with my french spelling, I still sounded out each letter.

He touched my thumb and I wondered if I should have pulled out a condom (of which I never carried at that time). Although it felt like we were engaging in something far more intimate than sex, this touching still could have yielded babies or bumps.

He touched my thumb and I counted the gathering of wrinkles on his face and each one was a song. And each one was a poem I haven’t written yet. And each one was a memory. And each one was an encore. And each one was a barroom brawl. And each one was a shot of whiskey. And each one was a broken guitar string. And each one was a posed photograph. And each one was a collection of decades drawn closed.

He touched my thumb and the line behind me did not matter. And the snow enraging the pavement outside did not exist. And my overdrawn credit card that I used to purchased his extremely expensive book of photographs was not a worry.

Because he touched my thumb. And suddenly every song he ever growled dug its roots into me. And who I was and what I did in that moment was dust. We said goodbye and the person behind me moved forward. I walked outside in blue coat and shaky skin. And that snow fell on my thumb and wiped his prints away.

Until I went “home” and listened to: