Tag Archives: love

embracing the feminine

divine embrace

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, I wanted to share a couple of videos that I feel embody the spirit of embracing the feminine.

To embrace means to hold, to accept and support. The feminine is what is specifically female, the qualities one associates with being a woman – defining the feminine is a little more tricky because this word holds both positive and negative connotations. Nevertheless, the feminine is what makes women quintessentially female, and I have long felt that the modern women’s movement is, at heart, the struggle to embrace the feminine.

Long ago, it was not such a struggle. In matriarchal cultures, the divine as seen in the feminine was respected, nurtured, and honored. Through time and the evolution of both society and religion, women’s roles changed. What was considered in the realm of the female became circumspect, and the qualities that made women feminine were marginalized and the “reproductive processes” that traditionally were attributed to women were seen as inferior to the “productive processes” of men.

In the quest for civil/human/equal rights, women have been told in many different ways that to be considered equal to men, to work and live alongside men, women needed to behave as men. The feminine qualities that make women female needed to be left outside of the office, the boardroom, the lab – and that is how women would succeed in a “man’s world.” Women went from burning their bras to wearing power suits, and called it progress. Or even worse, women became complicit in their own exploitation, understanding themselves only within the context of a male lens.

What I have long believed is that there truly are differences between men and women, and it is these differences that provide a wider view of the world, and all of our places within it. To be equal does not mean that men and women are the same, or can perform the same tasks in the same way, or even have the same mindset. To be equal means that our gender differences are respected and articulated, seen as distinctly different from each other, but each holding equal value.

In today’s world, gender has become understood to be much more than the physical body. So when we talk about gender in today’s world, we must see beyond the binary assigned to us at birth. When we talk about gender, what we are really talking about are qualities. The qualities assigned to each gender – feminine, masculine – are not only qualities within us, but qualities that society has inculcated and projected upon us.

Personally, I feel that we are all much more gender fluid than society would have us believe, and I think that we all have feminine and masculine qualities.  Men cry. Women are not always caregivers. Some men are born women. Some women are born men. What makes us identify with a certain gender goes far beyond what gender we were assigned at birth. The qualities assigned to each gender are largely constructs of society. Truth be told, our souls know no gender, only spirit.

Nevertheless, what we consider to be feminine – as, according to the first thing that came up when I typed “definition of feminine” into google is “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness … Synonyms: womanly, ladylike, girlish, soft, delicate, gentle, graceful.”

Contrasted with the “definition of masculine” (which also was the first thing that came up when I typed “definition of masculine” into google): “having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness … Synonyms: virile, macho, manly, muscular, muscly, strong, strapping, well built, rugged, robust, brawny, heavily built, powerful, red-blooded, vigorous.”

We can begin to see part of the problem with even the denotations of these words, much less the connotations. What seems better? To be strong, or to be soft? To be delicate and gentle, or to be powerful and vigorous? But what if we recognized that to be strong is also to be soft? What if we understood that to be delicate and gentle can also take enormous power and vigor? Because this is truly the reality of how these polarities work. There is no true either/or, in reality. The nature of duality is to be whole, to be one.

The problem really lies in the mindset that one set of qualities is better or more valuable to society than another, which is what brings me to the original reason for this post: embracing the feminine, the long marginalized and often seen as inferior qualities within both women and men, whether assigned or identified with either gender, whether these qualities have been projected onto us, internalized, rejected, or innate within.

Traditional feminine qualities such as caring, empathy, sensitivity, nurturing, giving, understanding, communicating, patience, kindness, vulnerability, beauty, selflessness, loving, sensuousness, warmth, compassion … are incredibly powerful qualities. They are very much needed in the world. These qualities are not limited to a particular gender, though they have been traditionally associated with women.

These qualities to be cherished and, above all, valued, for the light they bring to the world.

Please enjoy the following videos, both of which have brought me to tears, lifted my heart, inspired me with hope, and encouraged me to embrace the feminine – in all of us, for all of us.

Namaste. x

 

“Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full of hope? Where are you, wise woman covered in wounds? Where are you?

The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace.”

 

*

 

“so the mother in me asks, what if… what if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if our America is not dead, but a country that is waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labour?

What if all of our grandfathers and grandmothers are standing behind us now, those who have survived occupation and genocide, slavery and Jim Crow, detention and political assault … what if they are whispering in our ears – today, tonight – you are brave. What if this is our nation’s great transition?

What does the midwife tell us to do? Breathe.
And then? Push.
Because if we don’t push we will die.
If we don’t push, our nation will die.

Tonight we will breathe. Tomorrow we will labour … in love, through love, your revolutionary love … is the magic we will show our children.

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa.” – Valarie Kaur

 

*


still i rise

still-i-rise-tattoo

 

poem by Maya Angelou

 

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

 

 

*

 

 

*


kaleidoscope

 

Halfway to Long Island, Ben had a panic attack and had to pull over to the side of the road. Still clutching the damp and wrinkled directions in his hand, he decided that he was a jerk, an idiot, for thinking that they would even want to see him.

Each exit he passed was the one he was going to get off, the one that would take him as far away as possible. The sun was prismatic; it shattered the sky with kaleidoscopic color. He couldn’t see through the glare on the windshield. His head was pounding.

Taking a deep breath, he wiped his brow, then pulled back onto the parkway. It was nearing two o’clock. He knew Ari wouldn’t be home from school yet, which would give him a little time alone with Robin. He couldn’t face them both at the same time. Ben parked at least ten houses away from where Robin lived.

She had moved, Matt said, because the rent at their old place got too high. She was living in a basement apartment outside of the city with Ari. Ben knew Robin had always hated suburbia and he felt a pang of sadness as he passed houses that all looked the same, searching for the right number.

78. It was a decent, rundown house. Matt had told him to go through the side gate, which lead to the backyard. To the right was a stairwell lined with painted terra cotta pots and chimes that, moved by the sudden wind, rang in cacophony. He descended the stairs, his hand clutching the bag which held Ari’s gift. After several deep breaths, he knocked tentatively on Robin’s door.

“What does he want?” was the second thought that ran through Robin’s head. The first thought was not a thought; it was a visualization of action. She wanted to back away from the door. She wanted to run away and hide. She stayed in the hallway for a few seconds, her heart racing.

Ari looked like just like him: same nose, same eyebrows, same jut of the chin. Ben’s eyes were Ari’s eyes, pale green or blue, depending on his mood and the way his mind was turning. Ben bit his lip nervously. He was wearing an impossibly thin coat despite the March snow that still lingered in the bottom of the stairwell. She opened the door a crack and met his eyes.

“I know … it’s been a while,” he said. His hands were shaking slightly, and he attempted to put them in his pockets. The shopping bag secured around his wrist caused him to struggle to find his right pocket, until he gave up and let his arm fall by his side, still clutching the bag.

“What are you doing here?” Robin asked.

Ben opened his mouth to speak and closed it again. He looked at her plaintively, unable to find the words. She closed her eyes slightly, and opened the door further for him to enter.

They moved around each other in the small space. Robin thought, how strange it was to have loved someone so fully, to have breathed that person in until he had become part of her; and then, to have him before her as a person she could not touch, a person she could no longer lay claim to.

“Would you like some coffee?” She asked.

“I would love some.”

Moments passed in uncomfortable silence. Ben looked around the kitchen, trying to find threads of their old life. His eye caught the painting above the table, “That’s new?”

Robin turned and followed his gaze to a rather small abstract painting; it was a scene of the beach, the colors muted and distant. Sometimes Robin thought she could hear the cry of seagulls, their insatiable hunger, vibrate on the surface of the canvas.

She tensed. “Oh, that. I finished that about a year ago.”

“It’s … it’s really beautiful,” Ben said. He cleared his throat. “You’ve gotten a lot better. I mean, you were always great. But it’s different …”

“Why don’t you sit down?” Robin asked.

Ben wondered which place was Ari’s. There were three chairs at the table; the thought that the third chair might belong to someone else pained him. He remained standing.

“I read your book.”

“Oh.” Ben said. “I’m almost done with my second one … that’s why I’m here. I mean, that’s why I’m here in New York.”

“I see,” Robin said, looking down at her hands. “How’s that coming?”

“Good, I guess. You know. It can be… difficult, at times.” Ben cleared his throat again. “You know how it is.”

“I don’t know if I do, Ben.” Robin said, her voice edging discomfort. The coffee pot behind her continued its persistent sound, a noise that seemed to gather volume as they avoided each others eyes.

Ben wrapped his hands around his cup. Robin imagined that if he lifted a finger, or his palm, off the cup, he would crumble. She wondered if she would try to put him back together, or if she would purse her lips and blow, as if that movement of air would push him away, scatter the past like dust.

“I can’t force a conversation with you …” Robin began.

Ben looked at the painting again. “You know I’ve been in and out of the hospital, right?”

“I’ve talked to Matt.”

“It’s the meds … They’re supposed to be making me better, more stable. But I think they’re just making me worse.” He paused then leaped ahead as if crossing a stretch as wide and deep as a fault line in the earth.

“Do you know how much I’ve missed you?”

“How could I know that, Ben? After the first time you just checked out. You left. Nothing …” Robin struggled to control herself. “Didn’t you think about Ari? Even once?”

“Of course I did.” Ben faced her. “I wanted … How could I …”

They stared at each other for a long while, frankly, viewing each other in parts that did not quite make up a whole.

Robin’s face told him about the days she had waited to hear from him, about Ari at six, seven, years he missed, years he left her to take on the responsibility by herself. Ben’s face told her about the nights he had stayed away from her, about the spiraling downs, the manic highs, the loneliness and the guilt, the bathroom mirror at 3am, all the pills.

“I brought something for him,” Ben said, motioning to the bag that he finally released and placed on the table.

After deciding to visit Robin and Ari, Ben had rationalized that he couldn’t show up empty handed. Matt told him about a store in Manhattan that was packed with curiosities and antiques, all unusual or different in some way. Ben had walked throughout the store lightly; afraid he would bump into something and knock it over.

“Can I help you, Sir?” A well-dressed saleswoman had asked, eyeing Ben as if she wasn’t quite sure he could afford most of the items in the store.

“Yes, I’m looking for a gift… for a boy, about seven years old.”

“What are some of the little boy’s interests? Science? Art? Music, perhaps?”

Ben didn’t know what Ari’s interests were, but he couldn’t say that; he barely wanted to recognize it himself. “I just want to get him something unique and beautiful … something he can hold, something to stir his imagination.”

The saleswoman had nodded and directed Ben towards the back of the shop. It was there that he noticed a kaleidoscope, tucked into a corner. Ben picked it up and looked through it. The world changed unexpectedly. It was breathtaking and filled him with a deep joy. He wanted to share that vision, that momentary enchantment.

Robin looked at the clock. Ari would be home from school soon.

“How is he?” Ben asked, averting his eyes.

“He’s okay. He’s really smart, really creative. I don’t think he has that many friends in school. But he’s relatively happy.” Robin paused. “You hurt him, Ben. He and I have a great relationship, but … I’m not his father.”

“Look at me.” Ben said, extending his hands upward. “I’m a fucking mess, Robin. It’s better that I’ve stayed away all these years.”

“Better for who?”

“For you, for Ari. I can’t be what you need.”

“What do you know about what we need? You’ve been, what, in and out of hospitals, you’ve been working on your second book. You, you, you. Do you hear yourself?” Robin felt her voice growing louder. “It’s all about you. It always was.”

Ben looked at her with relief; he would no longer have to wait for her anger, knowing it would come but not knowing when. “You’ve always been the more responsible one.”

“Because I had to be,” Robin spat at him, “Don’t you think I’ve wanted to be free of consequences, to do whatever the fuck I want, to really concentrate on my art, and not just … when I can?”

“Is that what you think I do? You have Ari, you have a life… I have nothing. Words, paper, a book. I spend half my time writing and the other half of it wanting to die. You want that? You can have it. You can have my disorder and my pills and my instability and my fucking overwhelming emptiness.”

Robin gazed into the living room, instinctively searching out the painting she had done when Ari was about five years old, around the time Ben had left. When it was finished, she had laid it against the wall to finish drying. Robin had sensed that it was a turning point in her work.

That night, when Ari had walked into the kitchen for dinner, Robin remembered turning to him, noticing his look of joy, then his hand, streaked with yellow ochre and alizarin crimson. Her heart had seemed to stop.

“You didn’t touch Mommy’s painting, did you?”

“I’m an artist, too!” Ari laughed.

Robin had raced into the living room to check the painting. The right side of the painting was blurred along the edge. Ari had taken his hand and allowed it to travel downwards in a long stroke, as if petting a sleepy cat.

Robin broke down. She literally fell to the floor in front of the painting; the strength that she had seemed to summon since Ben left was gone. She wept openly, bitterly. Ari watched, his eyes wide and scared. Robin caught his expression through her own pain, and knew that she would have to pull it together, allow the gaping wound to scar, accept that it might never heal. She needed to be stronger. For herself, for Ari.

At 3:25, the school bus arrived. Robin had told Ben it would be better for him to wait inside the apartment.

She stood on the sidewalk and waited for Ari to descend from the bus. The sun was cold brightness. Light refracted from windows and the chrome of car bumpers, throwing a dizzying spell.

Ari’s blonde head burned brightly under it; his hair was getting a little too long, and he pushed it from his eyes in order to see Robin. He ran across the street, smiling, dragging his book bag on the ground, his coat thrown open against the rough wind.

“Ari. Hold on a sec.” Robin looked at him, his face was so trusting, as open as the sky.

“What’s up?” Ari asked, furrowing his eyebrows and smiling at the break in their routine.

“Someone came over … someone we haven’t seen for a long time. Your father …”

A cloud passed across Ari’s face. Robin didn’t have time to explain any further; he took off running and didn’t slow down until he reached the gate. Robin was breathing hard when she caught up to him.

“Ari,” she said.

He avoided her eyes.

“Are you sure … I mean, it’s sudden. Are you okay with this?” Robin paused. “I can tell him to leave.”

“No,” he whispered. He didn’t move. He didn’t look at her; he stood rooted outside the gate.

“Do you want me to go in first?” Robin placed her arm protectively around his shoulders, and he nodded.

Ben was sitting in the living room, on the couch that doubled as Robin’s bed, his head in his hands. He looked up when they walked in, his face pale, so pale that Robin instantly asked, “Ben? Are you okay?”

Ari stood behind Robin, the way he used to do when he was much younger, when he was afraid of grown-ups, of strangers.

“I’m … I feel a little sick. I’ll be fine.” Ben tried to smile, but the smile came out more like a grimace.

“Ari, sit down,” Robin said, “let me get your snack.”

Ari sat at the kitchen table. His large eyes, dark and unsmiling, were focused on Ben.

“I brought something for you, Ari.” Ben said the boy’s name as if tasting a new word. “It’s right there, in that bag. You can take it out.”

Ari reached into the bag and took out a wrapped box. He opened the wrapping slowly, carefully, until he reached the plain cardboard that held his gift inside. Lifting each corner flap, he tipped the box so its contents fell into his hand. He turned the object over.

“What is it?” he asked.

“A kaleidoscope. It’s an old-fashioned one,” Ben said.

Robin set a cup of milk in front of Ari, along with some cookies on a paper napkin. “Wow, Ben, that’s really beautiful.”

The kaleidoscope was heavy. The body was constructed of solid wood, the lens was real glass. The turning chamber was an oil filled cell infused with color, containing pieces of glass, beads, wire, polymer clay and other hand made trinkets.

Ari gazed into the object, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

“Well,” Robin asked, “What do you see?”

“Colors,” he said. “I see a star, full of colors and shapes. When I turn this part, the picture changes. This is really cool.”

Ari looked at Robin; he seemed slightly dazed, as if his equilibrium had been altered by the spell of the object. He held the kaleidoscope possessively in his hand and glanced at Ben.

“Thank you,” Ari said softly.

“I … I just wanted to see you for a little bit. But I have to go now.” Ben stood up.

Ari looked up at his father in disbelief.

“It will probably take me about an hour to get the car back to the city, and my flight’s at six o’clock,” Ben explained thinly.

“You’re leaving?”

Robin watched Ari’s face change. She turned towards Ben as the kaleidoscope hit him in the jaw with a smack, a thud, and then crashed to the floor. Ben instinctively put his hand to his face; his eyes filled with tears.

Ari ran out of the kitchen.

“Go.” Robin said sadly. She put her hand on his cheek and gently brushed his bruised jaw with her thumb. Ben closed his eyes. He remained still, as if her touch extended beyond his face to the entire surface of his skin, then deeper, to his heart, his soul.

As she walked down the short hallway to Ari’s room, she heard the faint click of the door closing behind him.

Robin called Ari’s name, then stood outside his door and waited. Moments passed. Each second Robin felt the distance between them growing and shaping into something real.

She thought about the kaleidoscope in her hand and wanted to cradle it in her arms, to restore it to its earlier safety, inside the box, wrapped, an unexpected gift. She called his name again.

Ari opened the door slightly, and then returned to his bed. He curled up, facing the wall. Robin entered lightly and sat on the edge. She smoothed the hair from his damp forehead and placed the kaleidoscope beside him.

“Did I break it?”

“No,” Robin said, “It’s okay.”

Ari touched the kaleidoscope gingerly and held it to his chest.

“I didn’t mean to throw it.”

“I know.” Robin laid down on the bed next to him. Side by side, they searched the cracks in the ceiling.

“Will he ever come back?”

Robin wrapped her arms around Ari and closed her eyes. She imagined Ben leaving, walking into the raw sun, the wind beating down on his shoulders, leaving, over and again, caught the cycle of eternal return.

 

*

 

 

Kaleidoscope is a story I wrote many years ago, and was first published on this site in February, 2012.


reading series 12.1

Persephone by Mia Araujo

 

The gorgeous image above is a painting of Persephone by Mia Araujo. I love finding contemporary artists who are also interested in mythology, and who find inspiration in some of the same myths and tales that have also inspired me. For more of Mia’s beautiful work, visit her website at art-by-mia.com

For this reading series, I wanted to share another early story of mine. I decided to share an unpublished story I wrote quite some time ago called “Between the Earth and the River Lethe.” This is a story that initially came directly from a personal experience, and was one of my earliest forays into writing fiction. It was also my first exploration into the Persephone myth, which has obsessed me for many years. Since it’s initial draft, I had revised and expanded the story, but there never seemed to be a place for it. Still, I like this story a lot, and I thought it would be a nice addition to this series.

Interestingly, the Persephone myth has found its way into some of my other work, beginning with a poem I had written which I called “Persephone’s Affliction.” From there, I began writing other poems that explored some of the themes in the myth. Later, I decided to compile the poems into a collection. The first form of the collection was a full length poetry book which included not only the relationship between Persephone and Hades, but also sought to express Demeter’s part in the myth and the mother-daughter connection therein. However, I felt that the collection was not working as a whole. After several other attempts, I decided to narrow down the collection quite severely, resulting in a chapbook length work which focused solely on the relationship between Persephone and Hades. I also decided to illustrate the chapbook, which became a whole other endeavor. Thus, my illustrated chapbook, “Persephone’s Affliction,” was born, nearly 20 years after my first encounter with the myth.

“Between the Earth and the River Lethe” had its first seeds of creation the day one of my classmates from my Greek Mythology class stopped me on the stairs, pulled a pomegranate from his pocket and offered it to me in exchange for a kiss. Little did I know then that the young man’s bold gesture would be stored in my poetic memory, and that the myth of Persephone would haunt me for so many years afterwards. From my perspective now, I can trace the paths that have lead me to Persephone in my work, and I think it is amazing how mysteriously the universe works.

You can read “Between the Earth and the River Lethe” here.

 

*

 

 


between the earth and the river lethe

Down by the River Lethe

 

There was nothing unusual about that day, except, in retrospect; I was more aware of his body moving closer to mine in the ascendant staircase. By the fifth floor, his stride quickened and as I passed the sixth, he edged around me as if he were in a great hurry. He swept in front of me at the seventh floor and his coat turned in a circular motion akin to the dramatic flourish of a cape. He reached into his pocket and extracted a medium-sized dark red fruit. He held it out to me and said, in a gravely articulated manner,

“A pomegranate, in exchange for a kiss.”

“What?” I stammered.

For several weeks, the heavy sound of his boots had followed me up the stairs. He always paced himself so that at least one half-turn of the staircase was between us. When I reached the seventh floor, I never held the door for him; he was always too far behind me.

The sound of his footsteps would reverberate in the hall before he entered the classroom, his shoulders bent in an awkward stoop as he walked through the doorway. He never corrected his posture after passing through the aperture; he continued a few steps, hunched as if awaiting a blow, and sat in the first available seat nearest the door.

A quick glance revealed nothing of his features. I could see that the desk was ill-fitting to his frame. His long black coat tailed on the floor, the edge dirty and stained. His clothing was a blur of blackness. He kept his face downcast, obscured by lank dark brown hair. When the class began, I averted my attention, and I didn’t give him another thought until the next week, when his presence assaulted me in the flight of stairs.

“A pomegranate, in exchange for a kiss.” He repeated his previous request, though his voice seemed a little more strained.

If the ground had opened up before me, revealing a winged chariot, I would not have been as surprised.

I looked directly into his face and searched for a hint of a smile, to let me know he was joking, but found nothing. His skin was without colour and the iris of his eye was so brown it was hard to locate the circumference of his pupil; as a result, his eyes appeared so dark I questioned the depth of his soul.

He stood patiently, his palm outstretched, unwavering.

The usual before-class noise dimmed and within moments, there was a certain stillness that could only mean that classes had begun. I hadn’t answered him and he still stood before me. Neither one of us moved or seemed to breathe.

“We’re late for class,” I finally said, “I hate walking in late.”

“Will you accept my offer?” He asked quietly, as his eyes fell to the floor. He picked at the hem of his pocket with his right hand, the left still outstretched but wilting.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I’m no Persephone.”

He smiled, and his face shone with a rare light.

“Would you like to go for a walk or something? I hate walking in late to class too.”

I nodded in agreement and we began the descent down the stairs. He put the pomegranate back into his pocket, but it weighed between us, an unanswered question.

We walked out of the building and were thrust into the city street. The sidewalk was crowded with people and I started to get anxious. My therapist had suggested that I take a class, once a week, as I was making progress with my social phobias. I started to walk left and he started to walk right, but then he stopped and reached for my hand and led me in his direction.

For all his awkwardness, he appeared to negotiate himself on the sidewalk with ease. Whereas I could not walk a block without stuttering in my step and nearly slamming into the people hurrying towards me from the other direction, he moved effortlessly through the chaotic rhythm of the street.

“Have you lived in New York long?” I asked.

“All my life. I grew up over by Central Park. My parents still live there, but I don’t see them anymore,” he said, his voice edging discomfort.

“Oh.” I answered, not knowing how to respond. I thought that I could tell him about my own parents, since he mentioned his. However, I didn’t have parents, well, not exactly.

I found out that I was adopted in my early twenties, when my mother and father died in a freak car accident. But that wasn’t exactly the type of thing you would talk about to a stranger who cornered you in the hallway, was it? I wasn’t even sure why I agreed to take the walk with him. I wondered what my therapist would say. She would probably think that it was an important step for me. I hadn’t gone out on a date or had sex or even kissed someone in over two years.

After we were quiet for a while, he asked me where I was from.

“Not Manhattan.” I answered.

“I figured,” he said, “you kind of have an accent.”

Of course I had been told that before. I didn’t want to tell him where I was from or that I didn’t know who my birth parents were or that sometimes I still looked into the mirror, trying to piece together a picture of my birth mother, thinking perhaps she had the same shape lips, or the same nose, or the same pale fringe of eyelashes that didn’t seem quite capable of protecting the eye.

We entered the park at the north entrance and walked the path, past the undergrowth and grass, to the benches. I was immediately comforted by surrounding nature. The sky was darkening and there was a chill in the air. We sat down and he put his hands into his pockets. It was a little colder than I had first realized and I rubbed my hands together, careful to pull the sleeves of my sweater over my wrists.

“Are you cold?” He asked.

I shook my head in an ambivalent way, meaning yes, but no. He looked at me for a moment, as if turning a question over in his mind.

“We could get some coffee, if you want.”

“No, that’s okay. I can’t really stay that long.” I said. I knew I wasn’t contributing to the conversation, but I simply didn’t trust myself to say anything.

I had been practicing my conversation skills with my therapist, but the same rules didn’t seem to apply with him. I tried to remember his name, but couldn’t. I thought about asking him, but figured we had already spent some time together and asking now would be somewhat awkward.

We fell into an uncomfortable silence. I absently kicked at the twigs and dried leaves that had gathered around the legs of the bench while he sat with his legs straight out onto the path. He stirred, crossed his leg over the other, and then, moving again, he settled into a more upright position, but remained slightly hunched over.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” he suddenly said, his voice so soft that I had to strain to hear him.

“What?” I asked.

“I didn’t mean to offend you by my offer,” he said again, a little more loudly.

I began to wonder if he had social anxiety as well, because he didn’t seem much better at conversing than I. In fact, I couldn’t recall him ever speaking out in class, or answering a question, or talking to someone nearby.

“I wouldn’t say that you offended me.”

“Because that really wasn’t my intent.”

“What wasn’t your intent?” I asked.

“To offend you,” he said.

I paused for a minute, and a slight smile crossed my lips. “Oh, I thought you meant … to kiss me.”

“No, I intended that.”

He laughed nervously, which made me laugh a little nervously as well. I stole a glance at his face and wondered what it would be like to kiss him, thinking how strange it was that between two bodies, the most insurmountable wall was something as simple as touch.

He took his hands out of his pockets.

“Look,” he said, “at the moon. You can see it just behind those trees.”

He pointed in the direction of the moon, and I could see it rising low on the horizon. The branches of the trees, reaching desperately for the sky, were outlined crisply against the fading light. Looking at the trees in the park, I felt suddenly sad.

“Where I’m from,” I said, “Nature is something you live in, not something you have to find, tucked away like an ill-forgotten secret, battling for space against buildings, bricks, and concrete.”

“Everything is confined in one way or another, isn’t it?”

We had been sitting for almost an hour, our silent conversation growing more comfortable, when he suddenly said, “I want to show you something,”

He hesitated, then brushed the hair out of his eyes. Holding his arms out in front of him, he pushed up the left sleeve of his coat with his right hand, and then the right sleeve with his left.

He held out his arms to me, and I instantly recognized the disfiguration of his skin. Each of his arms were scarred badly with several deep lines, starting at various points at the wrist and continuing upwards.

“I’ve been dead for a long time,” he said, “Each time, I put a coin in my mouth, and prayed that Charon would accept his fare … but I can’t seem to leave this world.”

He pulled down his sleeves and put his hands back into his pockets. He exhaled and shifted his position on the bench.

“All my life, I’ve searched for the river Lethe,” I said.

He nodded and whispered absently, “The river of forgetfulness. The stream of death, the tributary of rebirth. I would surely wait one thousand years to be called to the river Lethe and cleansed of my memory.”

“There’s something I should…” I said, fingering the sleeve of my sweater.

“You don’t have to show me.”

He took his hands from his pockets and reached for my hand. Then he placed his other hand on top of our joined hands, so that my left hand was enclosed in both of his.

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I recognized you from the moment I saw you.”

We sat on the bench, turned towards each other, as the evening fell later into night, and the moon rose high and bright in the sky.

“Can I hold the pomegranate?” I asked.

He nodded solemnly and untangled his hands from mine to reach into his pocket and extract the fruit. He held it out to me reverently, as he had earlier, when he made his offering.

I took the pomegranate and held it with both hands. It was slightly warm from being in his pocket. I held it as if I were holding a very small globe. If I accepted his offer, could I survive the months of darkness, the black rivers and bare earth reflected in his eyes? Would my mother, then, try to find me?

I brought the pomegranate to my mouth and brushed my lips against the hard rind, tasting the scent of the ancient fruit. I imagined the labyrinth of seeds and the dark red pulp hidden inside, waiting to be revealed. Then, cradling the world between my fragile hands, I turned to answer him.

 

*


selah

mother and child by Kathe KollwitzMother and Child by Käthe Kollwitz

 

Selah.

I whisper her name, a prayer, a mantra. Selah doesn’t stir. She is sleeping now, her beautiful eyes closed, framed by long black lashes. When she opens them, her eyes will be a kaleidoscope of colour, blue and green and gold. There was a time I was afraid I would never see her open her eyes again. I am still afraid. All I can do is continue to be there for her, to shine a light in her darkness, to hope that she will find her way, to hope that, this time, she will be okay.

Selah.

Even though she is in the room across the hall, sleeping, I can’t sleep. She has been home for only a day. For over half a year, she has been in and out of mental hospitals. Now the tally is five times in seven months. I don’t know why she wants to die. I don’t know why nothing helps. She sees a therapist twice a week, attends a support group once a week, and I am with her every day, offering her advice and comfort and companionship. She takes “medication.” I run through the list of prescription drugs they’ve given her: abilify, zoloft, wellbutrin, risperdal, seroquel, throazine, depacote, lutuda. Then the diagnoses: depression, psychosis, depression with psychotic episodes, psychosis with depressive episodes, bi-polar depression with acute psychosis. My mind spins. I can only imagine what her mind is doing. I don’t know what all of this is doing to her. I don’t know what happened to my little girl.

Selah.

The last time, she tied her shoelaces together and hung herself from the ceiling fan in her room. I was with her only twenty minutes prior, and we talked about her goals for the day, positive affirmations, things she was grateful for. She showed me her journal; she said that she was grateful for mom, the cats, and art. She smiled at me. She said she loved me. Twenty minutes later, I heard a storm of glass crash to the floor. I rushed from my room to hers, across the hallway; she was two feet away. The light from the ceiling fan fell when she kicked the chair away. She was hanging, straining, her eyes wide with fear. First I tried to undo the knot, then I ran to my room to get a pair of scissors that I kept hidden in my drawer. There were seconds I had to leave her there, hanging, in a precarious balance between life and death. I ran back and cut the thin, taut rope with the child sized scissor, pushing her to fall onto her bed. She gasped for breath. She looked terrified, lost, shocked. She said, “I’m sorry.” I burst into tears.

Selah.

At first I blamed myself. I wondered what I did wrong. There was always too little money; I couldn’t afford her “the soil of easy growth.” Her father left when she was only a baby. I raised her alone, stayed home in the day as a full-time mother and worked nights and weekends. My mother watched her when I was gone. She was always cared for, always loved. There was never too little love; I gave her my time, my affection, my attention, all the things that money could never buy. I love being a mother. I never imagined that something like this would happen, could happen. I read countless parenting books. I read to her. I cooked healthy food. I baked cookies. I spent the little money I had on books and art supplies, musical instruments, science kits, educational toys. I encouraged her. I supported her. I love her so much. I don’t know what went wrong. What did I do wrong?

Selah.

I know I’m not alone. I see it in the faces of other parents when I have visited her in the hospital. We are searching the places we missed, the signs we didn’t know, the twisted path that has lead us here. I know she’s not alone. During all this time, I’ve seen so many teenagers go through this cycle, this revolving door. They are so young, they are so lost, their arms and wrists are scarred, they don’t know how they got to this place either. There were visits she rejected me, when she didn’t want to see me, when there was more anger than fear in her eyes. There were visits we played cards or colored mandalas, or simply talked, even laughed. There were visits when she just laid her head on my shoulder and cried. Each time I left without her, I felt a piece of me missing; my heart needed to stay with her.

Selah.

After the first time, I couldn’t look at children or babies. I’d see them crying in the store, begging for their parents attention, coddled with technological gadgets to pacify them. I’d remember Selah when she was a child; she was so happy. I looked forward to her teenage years; I thought they would be a breeze. Then everything fell apart. The relationship with her boyfriend began to appear unhealthy. Later, I would learn about the emotional abuse and the drugs, the cheating and the gaslighting, her increased anxiety, paranoia, and depression. Her self-esteem shattered, she was too fragile to pick up the pieces. She saw suicide as the only way out of the relationship, the only way to end the pain. Since then, she has ricocheted like a pinball in a sick machine, a mental health care system focused on drug therapy. At first, I wouldn’t let them medicate her. After her second attempt, I had no choice. I don’t really trust the doctors, I don’t really trust the drugs. I don’t know if they are helping or hurting. All I know is that she is in pain, and no matter what I try, I can’t seem to help her find her way out of this nightmare.

Selah.

I would do anything to help her. I have tried everything I can think of. If I could, I would take her pain and hide it deep within myself so that she would never feel it again. How many times can my heart be broken, over and over again. How many tears can I cry, useless tears, only wanting my daughter to be okay. I’ve learned just how exacting everything can fall apart at a moment’s notice, another suicide attempt, another hospitalization. I am a mirror of her suffering, her shadow as she walks a tightrope down this dark, dangerous path. “I’ll always be here to catch you,” I say. She smiles. Her face is pure beauty. But she doesn’t know that, she doesn’t know how beautiful and talented and wonderful she really is. What do you do when a person you love wants to fall? I am not a religious person, but I’ve touched my own spirituality. I pray. I meditate. I ask the universe, I plead: please let my daughter live, please let her live with health and happiness and peace, please let her feel love within herself, towards herself and towards the world. Please, let my daughter live.

Selah.

I whisper her name, a prayer, a mantra. Selah doesn’t stir. She is sleeping now, her beautiful eyes closed, framed by long black lashes. When she opens them, her eyes will be a kaleidoscope of colour, blue and green and gold. There was a time I was afraid I would never see her open her eyes again. I am still afraid. All I can do is continue to be there for her, to shine a light in her darkness, to hope that she will find her way, to hope that, this time, she will be okay.

Selah.

*


persephone’s affliction

Persephone's Affliction by Michelle Augello-Page

 

I’m so happy to announce that Persephone’s Affliction is now available!!!

Persephone’s Affliction is a collective arc of poems and illustrations, a journey into the dark landscape of the heart, illuminated and inspired by mythology, psychology, the life/death/life cycle of love relationships, and the Tarot.

The chapbook includes 17 poems and 17 illustrations created by me. I am awaiting full distribution, and right now the chapbook is only available to purchase online through Lulu. A digital copy is forthcoming. To celebrate this release, I am also offering a direct purchasing option for a limited time.

(Edit: Thank you to all who celebrated this release with me! I hope you enjoyed your signed copy of Persephone’s Affliction, the mixed CD, and all the surprise gifts. It was a pleasure to send these packages out to you, and it made the release of this book very personal and special to me.)

I’ve been working on this collection for a few years, and it is wonderful to see it all come together. This became a unique project for me when I decided to illustrate the chapbook alongside my poems. Drawing was my first love and something I do regularly, but it is usually something I keep to myself.

The creation of this book has been truly a labor of love, and I almost can’t believe this project has finally come to fruition. Knowing that people were waiting for the book to arrive is so humbling to me. I hope that you feel how special this book is to me, and love it as much as I loved creating it.

Your support means everything to me, and I am so grateful to have been blessed in my life with people who believe in me and my art. Offering a direct purchase is a small way that I can say thank you, extend some appreciative gifts, and engage personally with you all. Thank you all so much. x

 

http://static.lulu.com/browse/product_thumbnail.php?productId=22241851&resolution=320

 

Persephone’s Affliction by Michelle Augello-Page

 

Product Details

ISBN: 9781329209473
Edition: First Edition
Publisher: Michelle Augello-Page
Published: July 6, 2015
Language: English
Pages: 42
Binding: Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink: Black & white
Weight: 0.24 lbs.
Dimensions (inches): 6 wide x 9 tall

 

*