day 20: alphabet

The Greeks called trees alphabets. Each one was a step closer toward a meaning. They scraped and dug toward the many layers of flesh behind the wood and sap.

A  is for axis. How the tree is identified.

T  is for the thickness of each trunk, which alerts the one who views it how long it has been around.

S  is for sunburn; trees are sensitive too.

“Of all the tree letters, the palm is loveliest. And of writing, profuse and distinct as the burst of its fronds, it possesses the major effect: falling down.”    –Roland Barthes (“Barthes by Barthes”)

Even in its massive sturdiness. Even when a tree is accompanied by hundreds just like it in a place called forest or preserved park. Even when the strongest of humans tries to chop it down, the tree remains….even when it falls.


Listen to the alphabet of the trees; they are the best teachers out there. They are the ones who remain even when hunted or burnt.

If you lose your speech, go follow the trail of roots. They will guide you toward remaining.

“only be afraid of the words you’re not saying”

They prefer darkness to loneliness. And when they speak, there is a hiss of moan.

A cockroach crawled slowly on the floor of my bedroom as I typed words out of my brain and into computer. My body tensed and screamed itself open. Quickly, I covered it with an empty brown mug, turned upside down. I expected it to scurry beneath my bed, but it allowed me to capture it.

This reminds me of the last time I saw a cockroach. Ten months ago right before springtime. Just after a break-up with a lover that left my skin charred and exposed. There was no need to chase this insect away as it had died before my eyes found it. Fear aside, I scooped it up and flushed it into the walls or wherever toilet water goes.

This time, though barely moving, it was alive. After brave roommate trapped it between porcelain and paper, she brought it outside. Go, she instructed.

Cockroaches were around during the dinosaurs. They have survived atomic bombs and wars. Gentrification and global warming.

try. I try to find an attribute attached to them, offering more than just disease and contagious fear. Now, I realize they are a reminder of resilience. And each time they find me, I am in need of this reminder. When lovers leave, we are tricked into thinking something is wrong with us.

So we make lists of what we should change about ourselves and when I write we, I mean, me.

There is elasticity within all of us. There is only so much that we can bend and twist until we find ourselves tangled.

And by we, I still mean me.

Although these cockroaches are difficult to look at, so is truth and loss. Survival is deliberate and these hissing species always find their way in. So when you think all of this is too difficult to bear, channel the cockroach. If they can remain, so can you.

And when I write you, I mean me too.

how to be sturdy

A lot can be written about a bag of rocks and shells.


The shells arrived from Coney Island, stuffed into brown paper sack, all crumbly like an instrument of papercuts. The day these shells arrived in this bag, I was with my father. Earlier in the day, we drove from Crown Heights to Bensonhurst, where he lived many years ago. We even rang the doorbell to see if we could see inside. An old woman in curlers and question marks opened the door. She spoke only Italian. We smiled and continued walking. My dad and I shared a pastry at a local bakery; he got a grape juice and I got a cup of coffee. Then we headed to Coney Island where he hoped I might find strength within the sound of salt liquefying into oceanic waves.


On this day, I felt like a collapsible ladder: screws removed, flimsy and hunched. Another break-up…and I won’t reference a heart broken, because the muscle inside me kept beating. Instead, I will speak on the hazel in my eyes, feeling burnt and long-winded. My blinks were wheezing and weary. My hips were bloodied and my appetite had been carved out, replaced by nothingness.


As we entered the beach, I took off my shoes and socks and reveled at the feeling of scratchy sand between my toes. My dad took his shoes off, but remained in his black socks with gold toes. This made me smile. He treated the beach like a giant, bendable magical carpet.


I picked up shells that felt whole to me. They needed to be unabridged and intact. I could not bear to see any cracks; I was cracked enough. I held each chosen one to my nose and inhaled the stench of seaweed and the Atlantic. Then, I put them into the brown bag, along with some sand and sea glass.


Two months later, I grab many of these shells and some rocks purchased at a garden store on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn. They were of various colors and curvature; all were extremely smooth and treated. I mixed them all together in a see-through zip lock bag and brought them to school with me. Today, my students were taking a test that they had worked all semester preparing for. I wanted to give them something sturdy. Strong. I wanted them to rock this test.


Each student chose their rock or shell and I tried to explain to them that these came from the earth, like them. And their resilience is a sign that even through the toughest of times, these natural elements remained. Sometimes (oftentimes) their shape changed, but so did these students. Their minds and thoughts and perspectives like rocks and shells, altering texture and configuration.


Many times in my life, I have been given rocks that have saved me like hardened life rafts. I keep them on my alter or in my pocket or by my desk where I mix up poems like linguistic tinctures.


One student rubbed his chosen rock between his palms and said: this rock will get me through this. I wanted to tell him how right he was. I also wanted to let him know that he is the rock. I guess I am too.