Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don’t bother remembering
any of it. Let’s stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
I get the timer going and am ready to start typing when the puppy leaps down from her chair and hurls herself at the door, growling and barking. When I go to the door, there’s nothing on the lawn, but I imagine she saw a squirrel, or maybe a bunny, who fled as soon as it heard her or caught her scent. Now she’s lying alert on the rug, facing the door, monitoring the just-greening lawn for signs of activity. It’s grey and rainy outside, perfect April morning, and soon I will have to get ready for work, as this will be one of my busy days, as the course I coordinate is running this week. But what does this have to do with poetry, with sinking down into the words and possibility that the words can make on the page and in ourselves? What I want is to be walking in the rain, listening to the few fearless birds singling out the morning with their song. Last night on our walk, Sophie and I heard the first peeper frogs of the season. I was so excited that I ran the length of a block to get to the little pond where they were peeping, surprising the puppy, who thought we were just doing the slow, leisurely, it’s about time for sleeping walk. I laughed and almost cried with happiness to hear the peepers. Can I explain why? Do I have to?
What can I say about antilamentation, about regret – and about releasing regret, sitting for a moment in the possibility that everything has been worth it, every difficulty and bad act, every failure and betrayal, has added up to this moment in this place with candles and a strong cup of green tea, has added up to knowledge and now, has made this me possible. And I am grateful, this morning, to be able to be this version of myself, to have lived long enough, survived long enough, to get here. I know that I have not always been my best self – does anyone actually know what that phrase means? Does it mean anything outside the world of personal coaching and marketing campaigns? I have not always been who I wanted to be. I have not always said what I wanted to say. I have let good food rot in the refrigerator and gorged myself on bags of chips. I have wasted hours and days and maybe years of this one lifetime in grief and dissociative fugues, captive to the voices in my head telling me I would amount to nothing and no one could ever save me. But listen to the voice in the poem – it’s why I return to this one again and again. What if we give ourselves just that brief moment, just the length of reading and the heartbeats of silence afterward, to regret nothing. Not to celebrate, maybe – but to imagine ourselves not being regretful, not being made of regret, full of empty space and stupid decisions. We give ourselves just this secret time, deep inside ourselves, to be grateful for every breath, for all we have learned and all we have yet to learn, to be easy with ourselves for what is still hard, for all that lives in us still unsaid, still undone, still longed for. Maybe we can laugh gently at ourselves for our bad decisions in the past, maybe we can hear that mean voice in our heads for what it is, the voice of the abuser, no, actually, not the voice of the abuser but the voice of ourselves trying to survive abuse, the voice of the mother trying to keep her child from further harm, the voice of us making fun of ourselves before anyone else could do it (and hurt us more).
This morning I will throw the ball for the puppy here in our green-brown lawn, because the tide is high right now and so there’s no beach for us to walk, and I will circle the house and admire all the crocus blossoms and san encouraging words to the daffodils and tulips still yearning upward. I will get damp in the slow rain, and feel glad to be back where there is such a thing as warm(-ish) spring rain. I will remember myself at 19 in the spring of my sophomore year, terrified and tender and full of grief, walking in the rain and crying, losing sight of any future at all. I will try to reach back to her and touch her shoulder, which she would not want, as she was trying to get away from everyone and everything. Alone was the only safe thing in her world, and that hard-learned truth sits with me still. I look out the window at the pair of mourning doves who just flew into the bare branches of the trees behind the house. They are following each other toward breakfast, or toward home. Regret is a hard stone or, maybe better, a velvet blanket, as comfortable as the slick slide of shame, and just as dangerous. Maybe we can give ourselves this gift every now and again, the gift of knowing we deserve to be alive, even if we don’t regret all that we had to do to make it through to today.
~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~
Give yourself twenty minutes on your timer for your own freewrite today, if you’d like. Read the poem aloud, notice which words or phrases linger on your tongue or continue to ring your throat after you say them, and consider beginning your writing with one of those. Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go — and try and be easy with you today, ok? I am grateful for you, and for all that has brought you right here in your life today.