Barking at Mountains

An ode to Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico and wanderers. 

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At night here, dogs bark at the mountain, as if asking it why they are penned by fences at its’ feet.

The mountain does not answer or offer its Aztec secrets. It stands proud and haughty instead.

In the morning the dogs come to my feet, begging for papaya and frijoles.

They have forgotten their battle cry. I pull one into my lap.

“You don’t mind the fence now, do you?” I ask.

In answer he kisses my cheek with a velvet tongue.

His captivity, so it is, isn’t so bad after all.

Or maybe it’s just his home. Of course, there are similarities.

Wandering always makes me wonder why we ever return home at all.

I think I could spend my whole life with my red backpack and the brown boots I wear every day here, subsisting on food from a thousand markets in a hundred countries.

I could bark at every mountain and have no leash to hold me back from climbing them.

I could run my hands over warm bricks and feel cobblestones pushing against my shoes in old cities all over the globe.

Plenty of people do it. “Digital nomads.” It wouldn’t be hard to become one.

But like those dogs I like breakfasts on terraces and to know how the day will begin.

Even though sometimes I feel caged by home, without one I am afraid I would be unmoored.

I wouldn’t be known, or know others.

So eventually, I think, I will go back to mine.

But not yet.

There are mountains to climb.

Superpowers: In Honor of the International Day of People with Disabilities

 

IMG_5486 Superpowers: In Honor of International Day of People with Disabilities

My body says, “here is something that they never told you about us: We are a reinvention.”

My body explains that we are like the upcycled dress bought at a thrift shop in Asheville, North Carolina, when I was fourteen. Black and white plaid, A-line, stopped just above the knee. I have never felt so pretty.

It used to be a party dress from the 1950s. They cut it up and they added fun details and they made it much, much shorter. They let the seams show. “Somebody made this,” it announced. It was beautifully flawed.

My body says, “We are not broken. We are rule breakers. We are upcyclers.”

I wore that dress to my eighth grade dance. No one else had the same dress as me. Nobody had anything close. It didn’t fit in with the halter dresses and the bodycons. I looked wildly out of place. I have never felt more at home.

My body is like that dress. My body is upcycled, a recombination of genes in new ways that nobody has ever seen before. “Medically impossible” were the allergist’s words last week. I am not impossible, though. I am just previously undiscovered. My seams show.

My body says: “I like redefining possible.”

Disability is beautiful because it reinvents normal. It turns bodies upside down and shakes them out and we see a different way for them to fit together.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It does. Sometimes I look out at the next eighty years I have to live and I think “In THIS skin? You have got to be kidding.”

What if we were normal, my body and I? This is my fervent and most secret dream: What if I never had to say “chronically ill” again? Imagine. Just imagine.

But my body says “Fuck normal”.

My body says, “We belong together. I promise you, this is your home.”

Listening to a podcast last week, the host said that maybe chronic illness is an adaptation, because it slows us down. It reminds us to be present. It is, she explained, a strange kind of super power.

I ask my body what she thinks of this. Are we super?

“Listen,” my body whispers.

“They have no idea what we can do. You and I are limitless. They just don’t know it yet.”

I decide, for the first time I can remember, to trust her.

Worlds Among Worlds

Newbury street, early January. Blindingly cold. 5:30 PM. Already dark.

A bookstore is the warmest place in the world on a winter night, and this one is lit bright against it.

Inside, half off calendars and stocking stuffers, self help books for every resolution, toys and games and stickers and tote bags that say “I’m from Boston”. And endless, endless books.

An overwhelming cacophony. I set out to get lost.

It’s hard, because others had the same idea, and every corner and hideaway is occupied by some other wanderer looking to warm up.

I am about to give up but I see books by a poet I like in the corner, hidden behind a rack of mystery novels.

That, I decide, is my spot.

I curl up, pulling off my coat and hat and scarf, laying them next to me. I feel lighter without their dead weight.

As soon as I settle, a wave of smell hits me squarely.

A kitchen nearby, maybe through a hallway. Someplace hot and loud and very, very crowded.

And then the voices, speaking the Spanish I haven’t heard since I left California a week ago.

Laughter and jesting, the occasional yell.

I can’t catch  all the individual words and I don’t try to—it’s  not my conversation anyway.

But the voices are comforting in an unexpected way.

They show me something remarkable—that every place is a universe all on its own, with lives running against one another, colliding, weaving through narrow hallways in old brownstones, through crisp white pages and along dusty shelves.

Worlds among worlds.

I wonder as I walk out of the bookshop and along the street about what each old building contains. How many hopes and minor disappointments are held in each narrow brownstone? How many different paths can one front door lead to?

A city is really humanity stacked on top of itself, layered until individuals become just parts of a whole.

6:00 PM, a half hour later, still dark.

Lights twinkle in the trees.

The night seems warmer.

Full.

In/Valid: Learning my worth

I have been late when I wanted to be early. I have left dishes undone. I have turned in assignments late. I have left the party early (or not shown up at all).

I have taken out my frustration on the people I love.

I have made promises. I have broken them.

This is what chronic illness looks like today: a series of “I did my best” moments.

A series of “but it wasn’t quite enough” moments.

This semester I have learned to accept that I will not do everything I want to do as well as I want to do it. I won’t do everything I want to do, at all.

I will not move mountains.  I may not even move mole hills.

Yesterday my best friend told me she thought she was “dropping the ball” on her responsibilities.

I told her maybe she wasn’t dropping it, just handing it off to someone else.

I am trying to listen to my own advice.

Our value is not measured by our productivity.

It’s not measured in the number of brave faces we wear.

And here’s the real kicker: our days shouldn’t be measured in how“good” they are.

I have had some bad days this semester, some bad weeks.

But that doesn’t mean those days, those weeks, had no value – that life wasn’t worth living in those weeks.

We are still human on the bad days. We are still remarkable on the bad days.

We are goddamn miracles, every one of us.

And we don’t have to prove to anyone, even ourselves, that we are worthwhile.

The dishes do get done, eventually.

The assignments get turned in.

There will be other parties.

But there will be only one life. I will not spend it feeling guilty.

The sweetness of September

September creeps up on a person.

You’re enjoying a gin and tonic after work  and it’s still warm out, the glass is sweating.

Then suddenly you need a sweater when you walk a block for ice cream because you have none in the freezer and tonight is not a night that can end without dessert.

Suddenly you’re carrying a bag full of books again, comfortably heavy on your shoulders.

You missed the particular weight of books.  Nothing else feels quite the same.

Happiness creeps up on a person too.

You woke up this morning and felt it.

You felt whole.

You  woke up and saw the pictures on your wall.

They smiled down at you like they always do but this time you smiled back.

You woke up and saw the world  map above your desk with its crayon colored countries and  you thought, “I’ll go to them all someday.”

You walked down the street with a friend to the neighborhood café.

You savored every sip of that ordinary iced tea and thought what a nice color it was, that rich mahogany color that inexplicably always makes you think of your grandfather.

Today all the small moments of everyday euphoria added up and filled you up and over the brim like foam from the tall Guinnesses your best friend always orders at the bar.

September creeps up on a person and so does joy.

September happens in between summer and fall, the comma in the calendar year.

Joy happens in between things you thought you ought to notice.

You’re trying to enjoy every moment of both.

Life Ring

My smile is a gift, not an obligation.

My heart is a sovereign nation,

And if I choose to let it break,

I may.

 

Please do not demand the sparkle in my eye,

The blush in my cheeks,

My windchime laugh.

 

My happiness is not owed to you.

 

I cannot float simply so those around me do not sink,

I am not a life ring.

 

I ask of you,

Let my stormy waves rock your  boat.

Stand in my icy rain and feel it hit your face like a thousand little daggers,

And dance in it.

Hold your hands up to my sky and say,

“Let it come”.

 

“You aren’t smiling today,” my friend says to me, waiting for his sandwich.

I think of the man in the bar near my house who said to me, “You’re too pretty not to smile,” and then tucked my hair behind my ear as if I had asked him to, as if we knew one another.

As if my body was public space.

“You’re right,” I say.

He looks at me with something between confusion and wonder, and just then,

I feel us both  stare into my gathering clouds,

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April Showers, May Farewells

 

 

May is a goodbye month in the circles I run in.

I found myself dreading it as the skies turned blue and flowers popped up in my yard, because separation was as sure a part of the spring as the daffodils.

It’s funny, isn’t it, that when you watch graduation caps tossed in the air,  no one ever seems to see them hit the ground again.

Like their owners they are uprooted.  They are free.

The goodbyes came fast on each other’s heels  this year, like kids playing tag on a summer night, bumping and crashing and overlapping.

Every goodbye is a sunset.

The anticipation and the suspense far outweighs the actual event, the sun slipping   behind the waves, the beloved stepping into a car and driving away.

It is over in an instant and then you are left a little hollow, your voice echoing in the long hallways of a body alone.

I am learning to leave space for the emptiness that follows the fullness.

I am learning to be grateful for music even when it is silent.

As a  knock-kneed four year old  I would cling to my mom’s jeans at preschool, afraid of facing the day without her.

A part of me would still like to hold on that tight to the people I love.

But I am realizing

Goodbyes tear us open, and maybe in the process they show us parts of ourselves usually kept hidden.

They show us just how strong are the ties that bind us, stretching out from my exposed heart across wide oceans and long highways.

When my love is unraveled like a spool of thread, I see just how long it is.

I am not afraid of goodbyes any longer.

There is space in the chambers of one heart to hold the whole world.

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