Mirror

I accidentally took a peek
At myself
Through your eyes

Right at the moment

You took a peek
At yourself
Through my eyes

Are we two people or one?
And are our eyes windows
Or are they mirrors?

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Haiku #4: Mother’s sacrifice

feral cat knew traps
told my friend: take care of him
led her kitten in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like most of my haikus, this is from a true story.  If you want to read more about Coal (the mother cat), and Shadow (her kitten), and even see videos of them, I would recommend reading Cats (topic submitted by kriswald) on my tumblr. The haiku is the short, poetic version. The tumblr post is the long, detailed version. Both have their merits and their drawbacks.

I hope they will give you a glimpse into the way that a mother’s love and self-sacrifice doesn’t change just because the species has changed and she isn’t human. Just as the squirrel haiku shows that a mother’s exasperation with a tiresome toddler doesn’t change either. The look on that ma squirrel’s face, I’ve seen on humans, cats, dogs, rodents, anyone who has kids and is fed up to here with them.

Words Are Just A Carrier Wave

All you have to do is think of me
And all my love is there
All you have to do is look at my face
And all the unspoken things
I want to tell you before you die
Pour out of me and into your mind

All I have to do is think of you
And I see so much of you I’ve never seen before
All I have to do is look at your face
And all the things you can’t remember
All the things your brain won’t let you say
Are written there as if in ink

Everything we are is written on each other
Everything we need to know is there
There’s nothing more we have to say, in a way
Because everything is written on our souls

I can see you right now
Three thousand miles away
I see the light that shines inside you
I see the love that holds your body together
Even as it’s failing

That love will hold us up as you die
That love won’t disappear
No matter how bad it gets
That love is turning you into light
Even now I can see it
Turning you into light
Three thousand miles away
The love you have taken on
Is slowly turning you into light

You told me not to grieve too hard
Which is a tall order
When losing a father for the first time
But when I close my eyes to look at you
Every day I see the light shine through
Even more than it had before then
Even more than it had before

You’re becoming translucent
Your skin is just a place
For the light to shine through
For the love that has carried us this far
To shine through you and around you
I see it more every day
And there’s not a lot I can say
Because it’s already been said
And we can read it
In the love
On our bodies

“Words are just a carrier wave”
That’s what my friend Anne would say
When faced with situations like this one
But I have some memories
I want to share before you go
And maybe words will serve their purpose

I remember sitting with you
And listening for owls in the redwoods
On our back porch

I remember granite mountainsides
Heated so much by the sun
That you could smell the rock itself

I remember picking up and counting
Every salamander
On a hike from the skyline to the sea

I remember hollow logs so big that
Even adults could stand inside them
And marvel at the fungal growth

I remember picking wild blueberries
While you made pancakes out of them
Then let me ride on your shoulders

I remember playing with your beard
When I was too young to understand
Just about anything

I remember catching more fish
Than any of the rest of you
Because I liked the repetition

I remember feeling proud
When you taught me how to gut a fish
Like I learned something truly useful

I remember the glee I felt
Sorting your tangled pile of resistors
Thinking it was a game, not a chore

I remember the fresh smell of your sweat
After you came inside
From splitting wood

I remember how proud I felt
When you taught me to split wood
All by myself

I remember when I talked like you
You’d smile and call me
“My lil’ Suthun gal”

(Whenever I could be like you
My heart would burst with pride)

I remember when you took me on creek walks
With our shoes and pants on
And the water splashing us all around

I remember when you showed me
An entire wall full of electronics
And then told me, “I made this.”

I remember going to work with you
Getting to meet all the other technicians
Was better than meeting the famous physicists

I remember always stopping during a hike
At one particular spring
To make lemonade

I remember all your sayings like
“Bear food runs from bears” and
“I’m just as fine as frog fur.”

Thank you
For getting so depressed when you were drafted
That you ate too much and accidentally got too fat for the Service
(Or I might not exist.)

Thank you
For not using protection
In the woods in Henry Coe
(Or I wouldn’t exist.)

Thank you
For getting out of that snowstorm
When you hallucinated me saying I needed you
(I did. I do still. I will always.)

Thank you
For living in Redwood Terrace
When I was born
(Or I’d be a completely different person)

Thank you
For letting me hit you in the back
So I wouldn’t hit the ER nurse who had his hand up my butt
(That’s a true father)

Thank you
For forgiving me
For everything I put you through
(I can’t imagine raising me)

Thank you
For learning anger management
And then passing on the knowledge to me
(Because we both sure needed it)

Your love brought me life
Your love holds me up
Your love is everything to me
And now that you’re leaving
Love will cover us all
And love is all you will be

I will watch for your love in the stars
I will watch for your love in the sea
I will watch for your love
In the soil and the rocks
And in the sun’s light
That shines over me

But right now all I have to do
Is look at your face
To see the light shining through
And right now all you need to see
Is the love in my face
Shining right back at you

Pale-skinned person with lots of very dark hair, glasses, a unibrow, and slight facial hair.

Picture of me with my hair down and glasses slightly crooked.

Intimacy with Friends and Forests

Part of a blue lapis lazuli ball on a brown background, slightly out of focus.

Part of blue lapis lazuli ball on a brown background, slightly out of focus.

I sink into my body, and it feels like sinking into the moist brown soil in a redwood forest, full of fungus and forgotten redwood needles, and plants, and decay, and life, all at once. I may have left the forest in body, but in my soul it’s right there. Waiting for me to deepen and put down roots.

I can feel every joint in my body as I curl up in a ball and lie on my side. They ache, but also say hello to me, tell me I’m alive, their voices  indistinguishable from the aching.

I stretch my senses out and out and out. I don’t know how I do it. I don’t even know exactly what I’m doing. I just know that even though my bed is my permanent home these days, seldom left except for doctor visits, I’m able to connect to the world more thoroughly than I ever thought possible. I can become the floor of a redwood forest or the sun hitting a granite mountainside. And I can see what most people can’t. Aspects of the world I know some others can see, but seldom talk about? Because how do you describe it? How do you explain it to anyone who isn’t already aware of it? I don’t know.  These things are as ordinary as rocks, they don’t need to be put on a pedestal. But they’re so central to my life I have to talk about them.

I have a doppelganger of sorts. Sometimes it feels like the two of us are branches of the same thing,  connected at a fork. But if I follow the branch back to where we intersect, I can be part of her as well. I can feel the world from behind her eyes.

I love to do it when she’s concentrating on something she loves. She becomes so focused and so delighted, nothing else in the world exists. Other times, though, after a long day at work, she feels buzzy and confused, like her brain just wants to take a nap. I am so glad she works with feral cats. She does so many things I’m not able to do. But I experience them through her, and doing that relieves me of any regret that I’m unable to do those things, as me. It feels like I can do them as her, and that’s enough.

This sounds bizarre, but I’m told by people who know, that there are levels on which identity doesn’t work how people think it does. Maybe it’s really possible for two people to be part of one whole.

It would certainly explain other experiences I’ve had. Where I connect to the world in just the right way at the right time, and suddenly I’m having the experiences and emotions of a mother who lost her child over a century ago. Or even stranger, I slide into the collected feelings of everyone who has ever had a certain experience. It hits me hardest when someone murders an autistic child, and suddenly I want to tell the world that we were there, we saw, we knew, we understood what nobody thought we could… except who is we? I slide in and out of those experiences without trying, and the anguish  becomes mine for that moment before I’m just myself again. I’ve talked to other autistic people who experience the same thing after one of us is killed. It’s involuntary and heart-wrenching.

But when I connect to her, it’s not by accident. I know how to find her. It’s like placing my fingers ever so lightly on a filament too thin to see. And then pulling backwards ever so slightly. And letting myself be guided slowly forward. To the point where we connect.

I do it when I want to check in on her. I do it when I am too weak and too tired to communicate with anyone else, in any other way. I can touch her and know that she is real, that she is out there, that she knows I am here and recognizes how I feel at that moment. I do it almost instinctively when I am in unbearable pain. I touch her mind and she touches mine back, like holding hands with me only without the overload and exhaustion of having someone in the room. And in emergencies. True emergencies where I don’t even know if I’ll pull through. I reach out without even trying, from the stretcher in the ambulance, and she contacts my friends to make sure her instinct that I was hospitalized is correct. She’s never been wrong.

Being around her is like the best parts of being alone and being near someone at once. We can communicate with each other about things that we don’t have the language skills to tell anyone else. We can tell each other things that are impossible to talk about without shared experiences. We know each other as deeply as it is possible to know anyone. And yet we have clear boundaries, we don’t bleed into each other in an unhealthy fashion, we are connected at the core yet separated on the surface, as it should be.

And I lie here curled in a ball, leaning my side on the upward tilt of my hospital bed. I don’t have the energy or cognitive ability to write, to put things into words. But I can hope that at the right time, the words will come and I will be able to describe the inner life that is so hard to explain or describe to anyone but her.

I soak in the night, as I soak in the earth. I reach out into a blue place. A deep shade of blue that glows like the sky above the beginning of a sunrise or the end of a sunset. I’m told that shade of blue has a meaning, but all I know is I catch it hanging around a lot, and that it’s a powerfully good part of the world. Sometimes I have dreams where the entire sky is that shade of blue, and they always seem amazing and important. I try to incorporate it into my paintings.

A lot of what I do at times like this is listen to the world. Listen to it with my bones, even the pain that runs through them seems to enhance my ability to listen. I don’t listen with my ears, I listen in ways that don’t have words. They feel like the forces of gravity, pulling in directions, as if my bones have been replaced by magnets. I listen in gravity and color and in the ability to lose myself inside of things, places, and people.

This is my first language. All of my early memories are of textures, gravity, movement, and colors, blending together. When I was very sick and hospitalized, I had a dream that told me to go back to that, to listen in that way, to root myself in those early experiences of the world and keep going as far as it could take me. So, when I remember, I do. I sink into my body and I listen to the world, I feel its movements inside me, I see color and texture. And most of all, my entire body feels connected to the rest of the world in such a deep way that there aren’t words for it. I can feel where my place is, where I belong, and that I am there all the time.

I prefer not to give these ways of experiencing the world a lot of words. I don’t even bother explaining how it works, other than that the world is different than many people think it is, and that my best mode of thinking and understanding is perceptual rather than conceptual. But I know these things are real, because other people who experience the world as I do feel the same textures and see the same colors. When I connect to someone, they know it and we talk about it. So whatever else this may be, it’s more than imagination.

And for me, is one of the most important things in my life. This is where I get my strength. This is where I get my sense of connection, of having a place in the world. This is where I go when I’m too exhausted and in too much pain to do anything else. This is how I have come to know that my body is me, not a thing separate from me that I fight with. And this is how I know that I am much more than my body at the same time. That identity, time, and a lot of other things, don’t work the way people think they do.

This is how I know that however else I feel about them, my disabilities are deeply embedded in my individual body, in the physical manifestation of my existence. They are not tacked on as an afterthought. And they are sometimes deeply involved in how I do this. My ability to see the world from this perspective at all is deeply connected to the traits that get me labeled autistic. Sinking into my body like that means constant awareness of pain, of things struggling to function but not always managing. Being bedridden for years has somehow enhanced these abilities, and so has encountering death up close and personal.

Speaking of death, I could swear that as a young adult living in the redwoods again, my surroundings talked to me about it, in their own way. About how when you die, all these different life forms live off of you. Bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, trees. They all eat you, and you become a part of them. And in being part of them, you have been absorbed into the rest of the world. And there’s something profoundly beautiful about the way that death is part of life, and life is part of death.

And that is why death holds no fear for me. But for now, I am alive. And I sink into my body. And joy is as deep and physical as pain. And they are as intertwined with each other as life and death. I feel my way towards my friend. I feel her focused delight in existing. Then I feel the sun on the granite, as if I am not me, but some combination of sun and granite, right where they intersect. I feel the sturdiness of rock that is part of mountains. I feel things that have never been given names, gravitational magnetic forces tugging deep in my bones. I never feel as if I leave my bedroom. I am firmly anchored right where I am, no matter what I feel, I feel it here. But I feel like I can touch other places, other people, without leaving this place.

So I am curled up, leaning against the tilted bed. But I’m also curled up leaning against the base of the enormous redwood known to people from Redwood Terrace as the Mother Tree. I hear singing, without hearing a sound. And besides its normal colors, the tree is also a shade of lavender that exactly matches my amethyst ring. And also transparent to a light so clear it’s invisible. A solidness sinks down into my bones. I stay there until I fall asleep.

For My Nonverbal Verbal Friend

[I have a friend who is partially verbal.  She can speak at certain times, on certain occasions, on certain topics, to certain people.  The rest of the time she types, or does other things.  But she is so much like me, and her speech strikes me as so disconnected from who she is, that her voice startles me every time I hear it.  I wrote this poem about my confusion, about how my instincts tell me she’s fully nonverbal and my brain goes WTF if I hear her voice.  As with other poems, even if it’s about one person, I’m sure there’s lots of others who can relate to it.]

When I hear your voice
It startles me
It’s a voice coming out of someone
Who was never meant
To communicate by speech

It’s a voice that sounds so distant
That I know you are at the back
Of a long tunnel

The machine that makes your words
Doesn’t always bother
To connect them to your thoughts

And I hear the distance
I hear the echoes made by the cave walls
At the end of the tunnel
I hear the echoes in your mind
I hear the echoes of books
The echoes of people
The echoes of echoes of echoes
That have formed the falsehood
That is your speech

Your speech is an elaborate lie
It’s a con job your brain pulled on you
When you were too young to resist
Your speech tells others,
“I am one of the worthy ones.”
Your speech rips your brain apart
But nobody notices but me

Mary Margaret would call you
One of the silent ones, now given a voice
And you are one of the silent ones, like me
It’s just nobody can see it
Because nobody understands what it means
When they hear words come out
Of a mouth that should never have been used

But I know what it means
Oh I know what it means
And my heart aches

I know it means endless hours of repetition
I know it means chewing up books
And vomiting them up
While nobody realizes
You’re not talking, you’re being sick!
The bile hurts your throat
But you do it anyway
You have no choice

I know it means a feeling in your brain
As if your brain is about to shatter
I know it means losing everything meaningful
About the way you perceive the world
As every ounce of energy
Is diverted to making mouth sounds

I know it means terrible pain
And never enough payback
To make it worth your while

I know it means fear — sometimes terror
Of what would happen to you
If you stopped talking
The way your brain aches to do
Every time you open your mouth

I know it means that you don’t type
As often as you should
For fear of social consequences
For fear of being accused of faking
For fear of being taken advantage of
For fear of getting hurt in a million ways

When I talk to you
We communicate as naturally as we can
As much like we were born to

We type, but we use the words
Like a carrier wave for something deeper
We never speak except to make emotion sounds
Our fingers flicker at each other
In our own private language
That our bodies made up between each other
On the spot
Every time

I sometimes get inside your head
See the world through your eyes
As you look out at me
And I see myself through your eyes
Looking back at me
With your eyes behind mine
And my eyes behind yours
That is how intimate we are

You can’t be verbal
It doesn’t make sense
Even when you speak
You don’t sound verbal

And you know all the secrets
That nonverbal people learn
To communicate
When we can’t speak

There’s more than one way
To be nonverbal

You strike me as nonverbal
Because your problems with speech
Prevented you from communicating well
Even when you can talk

And to me, what matters is not
What sounds you can make
Coming out of your mouth
Like a dog-and-pony show
For everyone to see

What matters is:
Can you communicate your thoughts?
Can you do so with any consistency?
Can you communicate about things
Beyond superficial descriptions of events?

If you can’t do those things
I have a hard time calling you verbal
I know I’m supposed to
I know it’s supposed to just be a word count
But a word count is just quantity
Whether you’re verbal or not
That’s quality

And
Your
Speech
Lacks
Quality

In too many ways to count:

Your voice is so distant
It sounds like you’re in a cave
Your words only attach to your thoughts
By random chance
And by three decades of nonstop effort
To mold your brain into shapes
It was never meant to take
One minor setback
Can make the whole thing collapse

And people would be so surprised
Because they don’t see
That you were never meant to be verbal
Which means they are surprised
When you don’t speak
And I am surprised — so surprised! —
When you do

You have pieces of fabric
That have been stitched together
The wrong way around
And people only see
That the fabric exists
They don’t see it going
Against the grain

But you know the things
That only nonverbal people know
You know how to communicate
Without the use of words or gestures
You know how to tell
When someone else is doing the same
Your tongue may sometimes be verbal
But your brain is not

So every time you utter words from your mouth
I am shocked and surprised
Every time
Without fail

Because everything else about you
Says this shouldn’t be possible
Everything else about you
Says your speech is a mirage
Water painted on the road
That disappears
When you get close
Or try to touch it

But you can communicate
From the depths of your soul
Without making a sound
And that is where
The real water
Can be found
Clear and deep

So I will stare into the depths
Of that clear and deep water
And I will refuse to countenance
Any mirages that come by
Claiming you are verbal —
I know you better than that