SURVIVORS INSPIRING ME, AT PENN STATE I am on tour with my recently released Expanded, Second Edition of my book, the scorched earth, and am currently in State College, PA, preparing for two speeches during the week ahead, one at Penn State and…
I wanted to believe that you were waiting for me.
I wanted to believe that your voice, with my name on it, was enough to make me want to stay.
I wanted to believe that the way the tendons in your neck moved when you spoke to me meant something more than physics or physiology and that your leveled eyes meant something other than you trying to make sure I got the point of what you meant to say to me, again.
I wanted to believe that the arc of the morning star would be enough to pull me with her through the winter, that the pinned moon would know how to hold me, that the swings in the park on Sunday when I pinioned my legs upward above the crossbar would be enough of the guise of freedom to make me curious again.
I wanted to believe you. You, who have said my name for so many years that when I hear my own name inside of my head it is you saying it. You, who held my hand in the rain in my mother’s garden, and in the face of the threat that came for me when it came relentless and when there was the one moment of celebration that told us both, together, that I had not been wrong about everything, after all. You reading my poems and me writing them and you knowing to stay silent sometimes when you read them because you knew I wrote when I needed a space where no one told me how wrong I was to have tried that hard. And her telling me that trying that hard had made me a fool. And I loved her anyway.
I think of you and of her and how many ways a heart can break and how many ways a heart can be uplifted and how I have learned to live between those two places, and I think of my mother’s broken back and her laughing with me on the phone and how she didn’t ever say: I miss you, honey, until there was reason to know that none of this is forever and love is a way to beat that knowing back.
She told me once, her forearms resting on the stainless steel of the kitchen sink as I stretched my legs from one counter top to the other and blew smoke away from her from one more cigarette during the years I smoked after I ran my long legs across the Chester Country farmland just one more morning in a row, her stopping herself from the constant motion for once to say to me: You are beautiful. You are my only daughter. You are too young to have no hope. She said it all before she left me alone in the kitchen, as startling as she ever was, edict over discussion as I contemplated what she understood about what had left me hopeless. Her only daughter who was not her daughter for how I defied any claim of her definition, how genetics made me anomaly to her features. And me, alone then, looking through the double windows at the blue spruce that had been a Christmas tree that I planted after first thaw with my father and, Jesus, but that man loved her in ways that women dream of being loved, and I have loved her, and I have loved you, and I have spent a lifetime writing my way into learning how to answer to people who say my name gently and how to leave a room when my name is said like a thing that could cut you or make you forget yourself.
I wanted to believe that loving like a Sunday revival song would make it all possible again, the living and the being and the forgiving and the moment when your breath swallows itself and your ribcage rises and you forget yourself, when you burn the boots that brought you to this point on the road, when the name you tell people is the one that has nothing to do with the history that got you here, when hope is not as dangerous as loving is and praying is both the in-breath and the out-breath, and I believed you, like I believed her, like I learned to believe myself above both of you, first and last of all. I wanted to believe that something of love was waiting for me and that I’d worked my long way around to finding it, only to discover that the only thing waiting for me was myself.
There are days when the difference between wanting to believe and believing is vast enough to make me consider the sky and the distance and the bloodbeat, and her voice and your voice, and how, when I’m driven outside to look at that sky, there is no voice there at all. There is the wind and the unknowable and the memory of the distance that becomes possibility and I was named for her, and I answered to both her and to you by that name and when this is done I will rename myself as unknowable, and it will somehow be a synonym of love and of forgiveness and it will be both water and ash in your hands. You can paint your face with it, with how much I loved you, and how much that may have mattered or not mattered at all.