Can’t Talk Yet

Sometimes, World Poetry Day is missed because of brutal fucking ignorant mental illness lapses. Anxiety and depression. The pneumonia was easier, gang. By a mile.

Listening to confessions from a mother

And songs respecting the struggle of abortion

I cried

At least the baby didn’t die

She said

I smiled for the first time

In miles

She’s been in

The car with



Half of


Many times

Can’t talk about it

Not to someone

Being so nice

To me

An indicator

Of true illness

Doing it again

Misplacing comfort and kindness

Where I want spark

Two lengths of jumper cables

Battery leads corroded


A color I knew

Wearing it in the crowd

Staring the stage

Wanting my own light

Coveting conversation

Forsaken for

Hugs that don’t need feet

Those come from both

Sets of Arms

I’m told

Cemented you chipped me

Not enough to be broken

But enough to be surrounded

By ceramic pieces


Disconnected enough

That every edges finds

Your soles

When you get out of bed

In the morning.

Can you sprain your

Diaphragm crying?

Or is that just


Setting up housekeeping?

Rattling pans

And nailing down


Planning to stay

Until the foundation


Tucked with wool

Set aside from

The destruction

Handed gently


Purpled with


Color of a fresh


Waiting for the

Ease of pain

That comes with

Greens and yellows.

Twitching to a


Melting to a


Stealing comfort

Even though

It’s freely given.

Some things

Can’t talk about.

Not yet.

What I Didn’t

What I Didn’t

Learn to spell believer

Change to os to as for feminine

Include Ferdinand with Isabella
but that may have been intentional

That’s what I didn’t do in fifth grade today

Didn’t distinguish capability from intention
work from talent
strength from indulgence

He sees what I didn’t
make dinner
wash my hair
clean the crumbs

What’s the worse didn’t
That I didn’t

He can learn
because he watches
what I didn’t
and see his same

And then he does
Lie in bed with a book
That others think
Is meant for another

Didn’t like I didn’t

He senses my shaking
and knows when I’m crying
even though
I like to pretend bathroom walls
are thicker than they are

Didn’t stop like I didn’t

He doesn’t want my reminders
but it’s my fault
when I don’t give them

Didn’t stand up because I didn’t

I watch him parent
what I didn’t
I try to take the blame
that he shouldn’t

I didn’t enough

I hope he knows it was my didn’t

Not his

Are You Okay?

It’s the pricks you aren’t expecting that slide in the deepest and hurt the most. If only we could get a 1-2-3 and a chance to close our eyes before the shock.

What is it about the tangential kindness of a friend, or in tonight’s case, a stranger daring to ask,

“Are you okay?”

that results in an absolute torrent of tears?

It’s a fucked up concept. Left alone to our thoughts we can compose and keep the dangling, rabid parts from flinging off and clinging to the nearest sticking place. But the moment a human wants to interact, sharing the core connection of that humanness, the spackle crumbles off the form and the holes beneath are exposed.

But then, I wonder about the humanity of someone who asks those questions. I’m afraid people are not that compassionate and selfless. I look inside and I know I’m not. And then I wonder about the tarnish on my own soul because I ask, am I that jaded that I assume most people are usually not okay, so asking that seems redundant and sardonic?

That’s probably not true either.

I probably do think people are okay most of the time. I see them calm in public. Or laughing at a funny, unexpected turn instead of breaking down. I covet that like there’s a tip waiting for me at the end of the night if I do it well. I wonder, how do they do it? How are they okay? What’s the fucking secret?

There is no secret.

It’s not as entry-level as sharp end/blunt end. The people I stand beside on the sidewalk when I step away in a panic, are not complete messes or totally together.

Many of us are not okay and hanging on by a thread and hearing, “Are you okay?”, is the bolt undone that unleashes the mudslide of messy, dirty feelings.

No one like to be caught covered in messy, dirty feelings. They make you cold and wet and then the car is a wreck after the drive home.

What the fix? The plastic poncho and umbrella that keep us from getting splattered? Is it honesty? As simple as, “No, I’m not okay?”, and then sharing and sitting with that icky closeness. Or should we pretend it all way?

I don’t know.

Yes, lovely girl with the fantastic hair. I was not okay last night. Yes, you are compassionate beyond what my brain can wrap around for asking. I diverted and reverted and maneuvered away from me. In a surprising turn, having to convince you I was okay, when I wasn’t, actually nudged me into the direction of okay.

No one could have been more surprised.

I’m not great with surprises.

Now, I still had to keep my routine. Practicing gratefulness. Remembering non-comparison. Trying to self-affirm. All about as useful as they ever are.

But it gave me something else to think about for a while.

And that was okay.

It’s Always Something

Like many women of my rapidly advancing age, I loved Gilda Radner. I watched old SNL skits on VHS, while eating popcorn with my dad. He and Gilda helped me learn what funny was. 

When I later became a reader, I devoured her memoir “It’s Always Something”, probably still while eating popcorn. The book was funny and heartbreaking. A passage always stuck with me. 

When Gilda was advancing down the floor, dancing with cancer, she told of lying in bed at night with Gene Wilder. She relayed her memory of once again crying, being scared and needing someone to hold her and make it all okay. 

She revealed, to my teenage disgust, that on one dark and lonely night, Gene could no longer do those things. He too was tired. He was scared. He needed someone to rub his own cheek with words of solace, and make it all okay. 

How dare he! I spat and eye rolled and huffed as only a disappointed privileged teen can. How could he ever consider not being there to the very last curl of his hair for Gilda Radner!

I didn’t get it. 

Now I do. 

I watched my own dad die of cancer. I watched my mother care for him as he slowly did. My father needed the physical care. The mental care. 

But so did my mother. 

It’s not easy to be the caregiver or the partner. I know that. Sometimes, it really is easier to be the patient. As hard and callous as that sounds. 

I watched her do it before for him. Before cancer. She laid with him through anxiety and mental illness. I know there were nights that she didn’t have any more to give. When she was bone-tired from her feet to the end of pin-straight hair. When she needed someone to tell her it would be okay. 

There was no one. 

Last night, I lay there like my dad. 

I was the one hurting. 


And I was the one who asked to be held and comforted and coddled. 


And I never thought for a moment to consider if the one I was asking might not need some care, too. 

They did. 

I forget. I avoid. I neglect. Not on purpose. Not at all. But because while anxiety and depression hurts. And hurts. And then hurts even more. To have your own brain and body rebel and scream lies. It hurts. I was too busy hurting to see. And remember. 

It hurts to be the one watching. 

It hurts to give and give and never get any return. To reaffirm and encourage and try to lift up someone who seems to only want to drag themselves as far down in the pits as their claws will carry them. 

And that’s what I do. What many of us with unquiet minds do. And sometimes we bring the ones holding us down with us. 

Because it is always something. It’s work. It’s a kid. It’s a bill. It’s a failure. It’s a successs that’s not success enough. It’s a wonderful weekend of love and magic that your brain tells you to fight against for no good reason, only that you can’t believe it actually happened. 

Today, I want to remember. To be thankful for the love I take that is so freely given. Again and again. Even when I don’t see or believe it. To see, really see when someone is watching me and maybe hurting too. I want to go into the pit alone if I need, but alone. And I want to have strong, free arms to grab hold, to keep them from going into the same dark. 

That’s what love is. 

Being there. 



Remembering every little something.

Sitting Out


Sitting Out

Hello, Friend

I see you’ve come around again.

Was beginning to wonder if you

hadn’t forgotten your way here.


But I knew you’d remember.

I remember.

That time in fifth grade, when we first met,

when I wrapped you around my waist,

tight and knotted.

Because I was afraid I’d forget.

To hold in, to hide,

to stay the way I was,

when I was small and good.

And I remember when that boy,

the nice one,

wanted to steal his dad’s car

just to try and help.

He didn’t.

He couldn’t.

I remember.

Trying to jump off the chair.

Trying to hide them beneath my socks.

Trying to hide, and then hurry.

Trying to hide within a story,

because you can’t tell that tale

the first time,

if you ever want there to be a second.

All it took was a second.

Trying to fit into a box that wouldn’t have me.

Letting people fit inside that didn’t really want me.


I remember trying.

I remember fighting.

I remember giving up.


It’s easy when you’re here, friend.

We know each other.

Our cells know the steps of the dance

and we move together,

without needing music.

Because we’ve rounded this room together

for a long time.

And I don’t know how to move

without you.


But I wish I could.


Because you’re not good, friend.

You’re not a good partner in this

collapse of two.

Because only one of us ever falls.


You’re possessive and clawing,

You take over my soul and I can’t breathe.

When you fill my head with your thoughts

of not good enough,

of she’s better,

of he doesn’t love you,

of you should just give up,


I can’t hear the music

and despite rehearsal

I can’t remember the steps.


I don’t know where to go.

I don’t know where I’m supposed to be.

The spotlight is blinding.


I’ve lost so many days with you.

Lost people.

Lost myself.


And every time you leave,

the sun comes back,

I say, no, not again.

Because the gloaming

might be dark and cold

but it’s honest; and at least

it puts the shadows where you can see them.

But when you knock, you bring a

a flare of bright and heat.

So hot it chills.

So cold,

I answer,

swept into your arms again.

Sweating in an icy room,

being asked if I have a fever.


Because I know these false-caring arms,

I know they are not arms that hold,

to return life.

But ones that suffocate, to bring

Stopped breath.

And then



So yes, hello Friend.

I see you’ve come around again.

I hear the music coming from behind you,

and I see you holding out your hand,

asking for another turn,

around our wooden floor.

nicked with heel marks,

worn smooth from years

of spins and shuffles and falls.


I’m turning off the sound,

even though it’s still rattling in my brain.

Probably always will.

And my feet will tap

to the ghost tunes of

the waltzes I can’t forget,

that left me gasping,


and bleeding.


But I can’t let you in.

I’m not dancing tonight.


I’m standing,

arm across the threshold,

giving myself a chance

to stand.

For me.

With me.

Willing to say goodbye.

For a chance at

an awkward, unsteady,

but real



To a life without you,


For a life with me.


(Taking a break from the novel to consider my next work of a poetry collection. Stay tuned. And of course, the book Drowning Above Water still lives at Amazon.)


Tangled Limbs

Tangled limbs.

The pain is not always a knife,
not quick and slicing and bleeding before you know it.
Sometimes it’s a bracing and tightening and a
before-impact hurt.
A knowing it, seeing it,
feeling the molecules slide in slow-motion hurt.
One that gathers, in the hollow between your lungs
and drills through to your back.
It gestures. It promises.
It lets you know what the world will be tomorrow.

Your shoulders ache.
An up-all-night,
sixteen hour drive,
flu-is-coming-on ache.
It’s twisted braches of knotted
limbs and mossy fibers,
entangled to the limits
of organic,
needing mechanical intervention
to ever separate them.

Your eyes blur.
A staring-into-the-sun,
twist and gnarl fuzzing.

Your head hurts.
A day-after-whiskey throb.
But more than that.
That’s just the grey matter.
Tired. So tired.
When the phone is too far
to call for pizza
and the other end of the room
is the width of a castle moat.

Your body feels enormous,
heavy, dragging and tied to the dirt.
Or it feels empty,
floating and untethered
and prone to escape.

But before you can move,
this dark monster grabs and digs in,
claws below the surface,
sinewy tentacles above.

And that fucker will not let you go.

Fight, it’s worse.

Let go, it’s worse.


But that’s only the physical.

The other side,
the harder to touch or explain side,
can be more hobbling than
any bone or viscera dysfunction.

Most of us live life uncertain.
Not quite knowing
what to do or
what is best.

But in this night, you know.
Complete and absolute.
Without hesitation.
Without equivocation.
You know what you are worth.
Never is it more clear.
It’s not a void or a vacancy.
The problem is not
the absence of being.
The opposite.
It’s the absolute crushing weight
of space. Without worth.
Of taking up so many cubic inches
of weight and mass and air.
Because the heft of that debt
is more suffocating
than a room drowning in water.

They can’t see
and they can’t believe
and they don’t understand.

You can’t explain exsanguination
without a cut,
amputation with whole limbs.
or birth without conception.

And you can’t point to
what is wrong
when they see
there’s nothing wrong.

You’re the one inside.

Alone. Screaming. Not heard.

They are outside. Screaming. Not heard.

Silent. Eviscerating noise. Corporal crumbling. Soul sucking.

And that’s what depression feels like.

Or love.

See that? You try. You try to laugh.

Maybe shingles, or mono or slight GERD.

That’s funny.

Sometimes strep throat. Or a general staph.

Possibly herpes simplex. Not the bad kind.

Usually PMS.

Definitely IBS.

See that? Cute.

Maybe vertigo or lumbago,
depending on your immune system
and your semicircular canals.

On the rare occasion, scurvy.

But mostly depression.

You could laugh.

Because it’s ridiculous.

But you can’t.

But it’s not funny.

It’s real.

Real as scurvy and not an orange in sight.

Real as the forest. Tough as the trees.



And you

are the one alone and


September 3, 1950

Half underwater, I’m half my mother’s daughter

A fraction’s left up to dispute.

-Amanda Palmer, “Half Jack”

Today would have been my father’s 66th birthday. IMG_7031

He died two years ago, just a few weeks after his 64th birthday. I still have hidden on a shelf the Breaking Bad DVD collection that I bought him to watch during chemotherapy. He loved the show, hard and proud. He made it through one treatment and two and a half episodes before his own season was cancelled.

My dad loved television. He got serious joy and impish I-told-you-so fun out of finding shows before they were cool.

Yeah. The dude was so hipster before there were hipsters, that he didn’t wax his moustache. He left that to grow 70’s wild like Bob Belcher.

The delight he had in talking about new characters he had met on his new favorite series was adorable. If you disagreed, he would get sulky. Even worse, if you couldn’t be bothered to watch the show after he recommended it? It was was like you were trying to be an awful, ungrateful child. You could see his cartoon thought bubble: Yes. I sold my 1969 Mustang so you could go to college. And now you can’t watch Mad Men so we can talk about it? What a jerk.

He always told me if I wanted to write, that I should write for television shows. Or commercials so that I could make money. So that I could take care of him and my mother. And then he’d give me twenty dollars because my mother said so. Hasn’t happened just yet. Sorry, dad.

He also loved music. LOVED. MUSIC. Couldn’t play a single note on a single instrument. He did have a sweet, tuneful voice, though. But it never saw the stage. Just the walls of our house, and our cars, and the office where he worked, and the grocery store, and the gas station, and…

Dude sang constantly. Anything. His favorite 70’s songs. Jingles. Christmas song. Old church hymns. While some teenagers ask not to be embarrassed, my only request was ever, ” Dad, when my friends come over, please don’t sing.” He’d smile and nod. And launch into full Led Zeppelin, “D’Yer Mak’er”,

OH, Oh, oh, oh OH!!!!!!

You don’t have to go, OH, oh oh, OH!!!!

complete with air guitar the minute my friends walked through the door. He thought it was hilarious. I vowed to run away.

He was my influence in music. It’s why I like rock and roll. His collection in vinyl, even if some of the choices are extremely suspect, is one of my treasured hauls. It made me endlessly pleased to watch him love every second of my brother becoming a talented musician. My dad drove to every show, from which he hadn’t been banned by sulky teenage ennui.

He loved movies. Because of him I saw Full Metal Jacket and Bad Lieutenant, Midnight Cowboy and  The Deer Hunter. Although none of these would even be as good as Top Gun in his opinion.




In this instance, I am my mother’s daughter.

I don’t look like my dad. A bit of the crazy curly hair, maybe. The light eyes. But side by side, you’d never tag us as sharing DNA. I’m more the image of my mother. As I get older, and my wrinkles get deeper, and my grey hairs grow  more wild and unwilling to be covered, I see the  physical resemblance to my mother more intensely, more concentrated.

The older I get, I also see more and more the things about me, inside me, in my marrow and my grey brain matter that are my dad.

My father struggled with mental health issues for most of his life. I don’t know much about the details. As a kid of the fifties and a guarded and private person, he wouldn’t have talked about it. The upbringing in his house with a stern, bordering on abusive father, didn’t make it the most safe of spaces. Problem? Have a drink and shut up about them. It explained much of my father’s delicate personality and difficulty with conflict, but the kindness that he kept always surprised me.

Because we didn’t talk about it, I don’t really know what my dad went through. I don’t know if there were awful things that swirled in his brain and yelled lies and misdirections at him. I know he had dark times and dark places. I know anxiety was sometimes so intense and acute that he couldn’t leave his bed. I know that multiple times in his life, so disgusted by the whole cycle and infinite nature of the whole thing that he stopped his own medications. Trying to convince himself he was fine, he’d just stop taking his daily, needed and critical doses, without telling anyone. And he would be fine. Until very soon he wasn’t.

My own problems with depression and anxiety are small compared to what my dad dealt with for most of his life. But, even on my scale, I know a bit of the road he travelled. To have miserable, harmful thoughts flooding your brain. To not feel like there is anyone who understands or who can make it just the smallest bit easier to bear. To feel so hateful of your own mind and body and actual person, that you can’t imagine anyone else possibly seeing any worth either.

I wish we could have talked about that more. It’s something I try to include with my own son as part of our life and family. Sometimes people have bad days. Sometimes there are reasons. Sometimes not. But let’s talk about it. Not to fix it. Just to acknowledge it. Just so you know you’re not the only person on the road, even if it’s long, and shitty and full of holes that could wreck you. Could be that first child vanity and hubris, forever and always, needing parental approval. Just wanting to tell him how I pulled myself out of a depression and anxiety cycle a few days ago. That I was truly able to change my thoughts and choose positive and happy instead of destruction and hurt. I wanted to share that victory and I think he really would have understood. I don’t know.

Maybe knowing more about my dad and what he went through would have given me a better perspective on my own issues. Probably not. And maybe I didn’t know more because he didn’t want me to know. It was his war to fight, and you fight that whatever way you need to so you can win. Loud and thrashing screaming. Or silent and grounded and resolved. Or softly singing “Wish You Were Here” while smoking an “unfiltered cigarette” behind the garage.

But my dad was never a fighter.

My dad was, however,  cool as hell.

I wish I could call him today. Let him say his always “Hey, Alyss!” and then after barely a minute, “Well, okay, let me get your mother” while he yelled from his chair. The man enjoyed a good sit. Another point on which we diverge.

I’m thinking about him today.

Comparing the men in my life to him as daughters of fathers have no choice but to do. (Hmm… an impressive guitarist and singer  who also drinks Rum and Coke, and is funny and endlessly kind…  excellent start)

I hope my dad was happy while he was here. Hopefully, despite all the difficult patches for him,  he was. He sang and he laughed made the people around him smile. And I want to keep that and use it to be more my father’s daughter.

Happy birthday, Dad. Keep singing.