Fallen From Grace

The proverbial can has exploded –
transparency of our deceit now lies
like swarms of glass snakes writhing
at our feet – litany of hissing truths

Bent on keeping innocence alive,
I strategically attempt avoidance,
point to wealth, abundance, nurture
focus … the onslaught continues.

Slivers of slime, maggot-like hoards
mobilize – a sea of protestation,
I, overwhelmed by filth and disgust
encroaching on my sanity, helpless.

Familiarity colours the devastation –
have witnessed it before, watched
as my mother bit into the same
serpent-defiled apple…turned away.

There are no barriers to block out
the vile beasts, no refuge for broken
souls, whose lives, twisted in denial,
have mercilessly fallen to betrayal.

(Fallen From Grace was written in January, 2016. Image my own)

(This is an edited version of an earlier poem from 2016. Image my own)

Talk

Mother said: “Look after your sister!”
What she meant was: Take this burden
off my shoulders; I am no longer able to cope.

Father said: “Do as I say, not as I do!”
What he meant was: I don’t have the wherewithal
to deal with my own problems, so don’t bring me yours.

Sister said: “Be a good auntie!”
What she meant was: I am too young to be a mother,
and you are much more responsible, so take care
of my consequences.

So I ran away to build my own life:
met a man and married, bought a house,
had children, and dreamed of a future
that would erase the past… but

Husband said: “If you really loved me,
you’d lose weight, be less effusive, control
your temper, and be more supportive of my choices.”

What he meant was: I’m going to grind you so far
into the ground and then I’m going to cheat and cheat
and you’ll have nothing left inside to do anything about it.

And without a word, I left.

What I meant was: I am a real person
with needs of my own, and despite my faults
or limitations, I deserve better
.

(This is an edited version of an older poem by the same name, December 2018. Image my own)

The Photo Album

Adolescence doesn’t wear a smile
in our old photo album –
stares fixated on unseen lint –
distracted, we three sisters,
all reeling from the cold,
unwell, immobilized…

What is absent is the photographer
whose pointed directions critique
each decision – a derisive repetition
that eats at our souls, each girl
wrestling with self-nurture vs
self-annihilation, landing somewhere
in between – mannequin targets
for male abuse…

Oh, I tried to take up arms, rail against
the dominance, the oppression, but
only succeeded in settling for disconnection,
while one sister turned tricks for attention,
the other retreated into full dependency,
her madness, out of date, nevertheless
relevant – despite our tormenter’s death,
the images are permanently recorded
in that old photo album.

Still Travelling

Travelled East
in search of self

Half-family extended
unexpected warmth

Was my identity here
with stranger-brothers?

I contemplated pausing
surrendering to other

But that was sleep-walking

The distance still remains

Journey has no end
till soul has purpose

and wisdom relieves
the wounded child.

(Still Travelling first appeared here July 2020. Edited for this version. Image my own)

They’re Just Family, After All

In anticipation of guests,
the hostess – always bent
on pleasing – carefully selects
the script, ascribes roles,
envisions an afternoon
of light repartee, peppered
with philosophical pondering –
satisfactory entertainment.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells herself, confident
in the outcome, fatally smug.

Crowd arriving, she fails
to read disinterest in eyes,
politely attempts to orchestrate
interactions, while they cast about,
calculating, shunning protocols
of etiquette, dispersing in
an unsettling way, then returning,
savagely encircling their prey.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells herself, panic rising,
confusion overriding confidence.

Unprepared to defend herself –
bears no arms but the giving type –
she ducks, grasps, attempts
retreat from the onslaught
of vindictive agendas, but the wall
of stored grievances, spotlighting
a history of injustices, corners
her, hopelessness in its wake.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells herself, knowing
full well the legacy of pain.

It’s friends, in the end,
who save her – a surefooted
cavalry, bearing the swords of
understanding, compassion
their war cry – reigning in the
once-invited, now betraying
guests – objective hearts
demanding an end to the fray.

They’re just family, after all,
she tells them, tells herself,
composure a mere thread.

Tables turned, the offenders
now plead for forgiveness,
beg for help, pretend the slights
were unintentional, harmless,
expect their hostess to step
over the bloodied and slain bits
of herself, and with benevolence,
restore her love for them again.

They’re just family, after all,
she says weakly, the torn script
of her expectations scattered.

(My art, entitled She Stands In the Middle of It All. This poem first appeared May, 2016)

If I Were a Kitchen

If I were a kitchen,
I’d want an old-fashioned woman
at my counters – rolling dough
canning pickles, chutney, jam,
homemade pasta sauce,
and every Sunday, a roast.
She’d wear her sweat like a saint,
ignore her aching back –
one practiced hand feeding
her Carnation baby, while
other children flocked to Formica,
hot flesh sticking to vinyl
as they picked at fresh made
sweet buns, the pot on the stove
perpetually simmering.

Or give me modern efficiency –
ninjas and presses, air fryers
and induction cookers –
let the children belly up
to the breakfast bar, chomp
on veggies and humus, while
cook totes baby in a sling,
and preps bone broth,
strains of Baby Einstein
emitting from a propped up iPad,
while a cellphone vibrates
on granite, and the Keurig
spits out Starbucks Pike.

Just don’t abandon me,
piles of unopened mail,
or tossed aside receipts
company for coffee rings
on my counters.
Please don’t litter my surfaces
with rotting takeout containers, or
dishes caked with processed cheese –
don’t leave my stainless steel sinks
stained, spoiled food reeking
in the refrigerator, traces
of late night mishaps curdling
on the floor; absence of familiar
sounds declaring my presence invalid.

(Rewrite of a rewrite. Image my own)

Family Portrait

Did you know that life would come to this?
Flattened memories pressed between wax
the essence of our efforts forgotten,
the dreams, so carefully construed, lost.

You leaned toward the conventional,
and I was ever the sentimentalist,
and yet we ended up in the same place –
shadow selves standing at the banks
of our dishevelled lives…

Survivors, nonetheless, tokens
of a a past riddled with so many lies,
so much heartbreak…

We are ghost sisters
haunted, hunting,
unable to step away –

Drawn in,
pulling apart –
all that remains.

(Family Portrait first appeared here February, 2019. Edited here. Image my own)

Prayer Unanswered

Calm, the morning air,
mind lost in reflection,
mirror-still waters

Raise my eyes skyward,
pray for release, an end
to Mother’s suffering.

Nothing. Death
has its own rhythm –
emotions mud.

(I wrote this poem a year ago, when my Mother was in and out of hospital with heart failure and pneumonia. Now, a year later, she continues to struggle. “We live too long,” she says. “Pray for my release.” Photo: Mom at 94, courtesy of my son.)