Tag Archives: finding the words for it

let’s say I could see your broken wings

Good morning — the light is just shifted from dark grey to heather blue, and rain is streaking onto the windows. The candles are quiet in their glass cages. What is bringing you to the page today?

Let’s say everything is changing. Let’s say it always was. Let’s say I’m always afraid when I sit down to the page — I don’t know what I’m going to say, and I’m certain that whatever I do say won’t come out right. Let’s say I want it to be right. Let’s say I compose on a bag of bones. Let’s say the coffee isn’t cutting it anymore. Let’s say the candles are humming and erect next to me. Let’s say I found a way home. Let’s say I don’t know what home means. Let’s say it’s opening its eyes inside of me. Let’s say there was a place in my body that asked for now. Let’s say I don’t know what that means. Let’s say now spreads its quiet wings around the flames of my insides. Let’s say I tangle with the past. Let’s say I am afraid. Let’s say I do not live in the moment. Let’s say the fingers are forgetting how to work. Let’s say the heart is breaking down. Let’s say I am aghast. Let’s say you are. Let’s say we weren’t ready for any of this.

Let’s say it used to be good. One day it was good. There was a moment of good between us. There was an idea of good. There was a breath. A hope. Let’s say we both had our own dreams. Let’s say the dreams fitted against a knowing that we had forgotten all the words for. Let’s say we weren’t able to climb the trees of our own dark insides anymore. Let’s say we saw in the other someone who might be able to open our locked doors. Let’s say we still believed in fairy tales and knights in shining armor. Let’s say that no matter who you are, you always hope for a knight in shining armor. Let’s say no matter who you are, you always want to be somebody’s knight in shining armor.

I wanted to save you — let’s say that. Let’s just say.

Let’s say I thought it wasn’t hopeless. Let’s say I convinced myself. Let’s say I wanted to hear the names you never shared with anybody else. Let’s say I believed you never told those names to anybody else. Let’s say I sat there while you called me names. Let’s say I ate your accusations like breakfast. Let’s say I was your whipping boy, the safe release, the escape valve, let’s say I was your penitence — or I was my own. Let’s say I thought I deserved it. Let’s say I made all your excuses for you, before you even had to take in a breath. Let’s say I could see your broken wings. Let’s say I knew we were both wounded. Let’s say I said it wasn’t your fault. It was where you came from. It was what you’d been through. Let’s say I could understand rage. Let’s say I wanted to understand what it was like to be you in the world. Let’s say I wanted to get inside your skin. Let’s say I was afraid I could never be enough for you. Let’s say I wanted you so badly I thought my teeth would break. Let’s say I set myself aside for the sex of us. Let’s say I finally understood how people could do that.

Let’s say I tried to be enough for you. Let’s say I tried to be the good woman, the open-handed woman, the woman you deserved, the mother of all good women, the woman that was all small smiles and nods, all feeling and compassion, who could take your slings and arrows for what they were: the wails of a despairing child. Let’s say I wanted to cradle your despairing child. Let’s say I imagined you could cradle mine. Let’s say you dropped me on the floor over and over again. Let’s say I made your excuses for you, before you ever even had to take in a breath. Let’s say I got up from the floor, dusted off my knees, and reached for you again. Let’s say I began to understand my own madness. Let’s say I couldn’t trust what I saw myself doing. Let’s say I put your needs before my own, because it’s so easy to say that, the words are right there on the cover of every book in the library. Let’s say I took off my mouth, then my hindbrain, then my hands, then my shoulderblades. Let’s say I couldn’t understand how I could still be screaming. Let’s say I couldn’t imagine my life without you. Let’s say I found myself in a now that was choked me. Let’s say I got tired of being an emotional punching bag. Let’s say that cliche is too easy. Let’s say the harder words: I got tired of tending to wounds that you both insisted that I make better and insisted didn’t exist. Let’s say that I finally recognized the madness. Let’s say I saw how heartbroken I was. Let’s say I still carry your heartbreak, because I was never, never, never supposed to put it down. Let’s say¬†your accusations are lodged in my body lodge like poisoned arrows or the quills of a broken porcupine. Let’s say you persist in me. Let’s say I put you down. Let’s say I opened the wings of my body to find you chewing off your legs. Let’s say I lifted off the carcass of your despair. Let’s say I can’t do anything to stop it. Let’s say I stopped needing to do anything to stop it. Let’s say I let you do it. Let’s say I let you do it.

Let’s say I let you do it.

Let’s say I was conscious every step of the way. Let’s say every time we came to a fork in the road, I thought, here’s a good chance to get away, and then stepped with you deeper into the forest. Let’s say I thought I could save you. Let’s say I thought love was about fighting and struggle and saviors. Let’s say in the beginning I was thankful for the fights. Let’s say I felt blessed. Let’s say I was so glad I had someone who would tell me what they really thought, and didn’t need to protect me. Let’s say I wanted you to not to protect me. Then let’s say that changed. Let’s say it didn’t change. Let’s say I wanted you to see what your words did when they hit the ledger of my body. Let’s say I wanted you to understand. Let’s say I thought that eventually you would notice, you would get it, you would say you were sorry. Let’s say I finally understood that you could not see, that your eyes lived somewhere else. Let’s say I finally understood that you didn’t think you were doing anything wrong. Let’s say I found the unbridgeable crevasse between us. Let’s say I understood finally that it wasn’t my job to fill all of the holes that life left in you. Let’s say I’m still sorry for those holes. Let’s say I am still speaking into the ones you left in me, whispering into my own body, trying to figure out how to unarmor enough to let the deepest wounds heal.

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This is a morning write. Twenty minutes on the timer, and I just let the fingers go. Here’s a prompt: Begin with “Let’s say-” Complete the phrase, and then begin again. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

It’s all important: the recognitions and the blindnesses. Thank you for what you allow yourself to see. Thank you for the generosity of your words.

learning to speak with my dad

jen & dad

me & dad, way back in the Before

This is a Monday morning, with roses in it, and burning-off clouds, and a puppy who has just learned to swim. This is the day after Father’s Day. This is the cool breeze that creates a confluence of culpability.

This weekend I got the new Kent Haruf novel, Benediction, and, in starting to read, returned to the world that is the place that my father is from. He wasn’t born in the High Plains of Colorado, but in the fertile land of middle-southern Nebraska, but it’s small town midwest living just the same. Reading Haruf’s setting and characters, I meet the voice and the cadence of the people I am from, and I meet all the layers of things a generation of folks never wanted to have to talk openly about: abuse, illness, homosexuality, love.

The people I come from show love through acts — they spent a lifetime working harder than a human should have to, tilling soil, tangling with weather, worrying over futures and grow rates and cattle prices; cooking meal after meal after meal, sweeping the same sidewalk, the same front porch, the same kitchen floor, day after day after day. These were acts of resilience, acts of human do-ing: what you did showed how you felt. Why is there any need to say it? Words were just words — it was what you did that mattered.

And if you didn’t say a thing, maybe that thing would un-be. If you didn’t talk about it, maybe it wouldn’t be true. The people I come from will welcome anyone with all of their arms open, as long as everyone agrees not to say aloud what we are all uncomfortable with.

Why do you have to say it? Why do you have to be so brazen? So vulgar?

How can this message come through so clearly when the words are never spoken?

My father comes from this place, this language of action, this complicated relationship with saying and silence. and thus, so do I.

Then, as a teenager, abused by a stepfather who was also a therapist, I was indoctrinated into an overabundance of words: words as deluge, words as battering ram; words as hailstorm, tornado, blizzard.

My father didn’t know how to interact with language in this way. He lived in another town while I was being drowned in my stepfather’s way with words. For so many reasons–the things unspeakable, the things overly spoken– my father and I lost the ability to speak to each other. We had no common ground in our present tense. We spent years talking about Before, unable to find shared language for our Now. Visiting with my father meant trying to become again the pre-raped girl that he’d parented on a day-to-day basis. The currency of our visits was “Do you remember?” The change was in tears, in apologies, in the spaces around the words.

Fathers and daughters–fathers and their children–often feel that they speak different languages. Ours is not a unique circumstance, I know. When my father was a young man, he tried to use the new languages he was learning to communicate differently with his own father, and found that effort — well, if not futile, then extremely challenging. Parents can’t always find their way into the languages their children discover and create in order to save themselves. Is this an everyday pain? Is this an ache we all just learn to traverse if we are going to have any relationship with our parents at all?

Yesterday I called, but I didn’t reach him. I left a message saying happy Father’s day, I hope you are having fun, here’s what I’m doing today — well, have a good Father’s day, and I’m glad you’re my dad. I didn’t try to call him again, or text. I didn’t think ahead to send a card, take some action that would show that I was thinking about him, even though I think about him every day.

I use words altogether more than actions with my dad. And yesterday I said aloud to my sweetheart, I wonder if I will ever stop punishing my father — punishing him for not being able to hear what I wasn’t able to say, punishing him for still inhabiting a landscape and relationship with language that is utterly foreclosed to me now. Punishing him for not opening his mouth wider, for not yelling what his daughters couldn’t even breathe, for being of a people who never yelled at all. I wonder when I will stop punishing myself by denying myself a fuller relationship with the man who taught me about the power of humor, about music and song, about the layers of hope that language can bring. I wonder when I will forgive myself for not being able to communicate with him in such a way that could have “saved” me and my sister. I wonder when I will let us be exactly who we are and decide to learn and trust what shared language still threads between us — terrifying, tender, broken and true.

This is my father’s day write. What does yours look like?

Big love to you today, you who are in the heart-achy aftermath of Father’s Day. Thank you for your spaciousness with yourself. Thank you for your words.