Figure

Notions in my nervous system leak out from time to time

Potions in my stomach leap back up from time to time

I zombie-shuffle around the hospital on a 24-hour shift pulled between urgencies and emergencies, my ID badge clipped to my scrub top, dangling like a nipple tassel, swaying immodestly with each step.

Despite the stress of my current life, I feel deeply blessed

In the dark of winter, I feel the sun rising below my feet, supporting and uplifting me

The sky’s the limit

I feel it all- my invisible mental illnesses concealed by my silence and my simultaneous self-healing chipping away at the the plastic false-front I put up for survival, replacing it with vines organic growth that I hope will one day blossom with radical authenticity.

‘Did you come?’ he asked me, I didn’t know what he meant by ‘come’ but I was used to faking it when I didn’t know the answer so I said yes because I was raised to tell people what they wanted to hear, and never appear flawed, weak or wrong. I believed my ‘yes’ was the truth because I didn’t know what ‘coming’ was outside of arrival, so I figured that my coming had happened without my knowing, and I said yes because I figured it was the right answer- the answer he wanted to hear. It didn’t bother me at the time that I hadn’t wanted him to put his penis inside me- I was hard-wired to do what everyone wanted of me, and still am. I had suddenly entered a world of new vocabulary and new unpleasant sensations. We were kids, barely adolescents, yet he knew things I didn’t and had done things I hadn’t. The honest, informed answer would have been a resounding ‘What does it mean to come?’ followed by a ‘No, not even close’. Jersey boys grow up fast, didn’t even seduce me before they induced me grow up fast; the recovery is slow. Trauma lasts; a few seconds echo across a lifetime.

‘Don’t go in there- he’s a bad man’ was the stern and tremulous forewarning from an elder woman on a stoop watering her urban flowers. I wish I had followed her suggestion or asked for an explanation. Ever the workaholic, I brushed past her, attributing her words to eccentricity, and knocked on her neighbor’s door. I had told this man I was coming to visit, and I follow through with my word and maintain utmost punctuality, on principle. Hungry from a lifetime of poverty, I was determined to make my fortune on the high seas of the internet by socializing with rich men who I later learned were impoverished in spirit and cost me far more than the pittance I garnered. He locked me in his apartment and shouted commands at me to take off my clothes and get on my knees. He proceeded to rape me in every orifice and slapped me hard across the face, choking me as silent tears streamed down my cheeks. I had mastered the art of silent crying in early childhood. The man and I were both deeply disappointed by the events of the evening. He was furious when I hesitated to follow his commands. He asked, ‘didn’t you read my profile?’ I hadn’t, but I figured he wanted me to say yes, so I said yes. He followed with, ‘what did you think of my profile?’ I replied, ‘I liked it’. I never read his profile, but I imagine it might have read something like ‘heinously unattractive morbidly obese abusive alcoholic with tiny, foul-smelling penis seeks young woman to verbally and physically abuse through rape and violence.’ Hours after I initially wanted to leave, he released me from the hell-hole of his apartment. The city air never smelled so sweet. After fearing for my life that night, he motivated me to quit sex work. Silver lining. I wonder if the truth would have set me free sooner- if I had simply said ‘no’ when he asked me if I had read his profile or told him that I didn’t like it if he had paraphrased it. How much waste can one haste make. Speed made me sloppy. It still does from time to time.

Despite the horrors I have survived, I feel most distressed by those closest to me- my explosive nuclear family who I care about deeply and who hurt me deeply. I didn’t imagine that my own happiness could cause so much upset amongst them. They take what is beautiful and make it so damn ugly, shitting on my truest joy- my union with my life partner- with their dramatic accusations in which they mistake their feelings for facts and make my ‘special day’ about them and their insanity. They already ruined all the special days of my childhood- I shouldn’t feel shocked or even mildly surprised. It seems they only celebrate alongside me when I fit into their vision of vanity, when it is convenient for them. The frustrating part is that my partner is a good person who loves me and we are happy together, although he doesn’t fit into their narrow ideals for race or finances. The aggravating part is that we got married in part for them, to keep our love proper and kosher and acceptable. I figured it was what they wanted. The enraging part is that we got married in part for our future children, after I aborted my first three pregnancies partly for my family’s honor, without stopping to reflect how they dishonor me. I am now struggling to become pregnant at an advanced age. My uterus has suffered untold abuses. There is nothing I can do to make unhappy people happy. All I can do is cultivate my own inner glow and shine.

As usual, I am frozen in fear and anxiety, and also exhaustion. I’m tired of the indentured servitude of residency, tired of battling on the front lines of the pandemic, and tired of a lifelong pattern of catering to the emotionally labile who believe I owe them my life and that I am responsible for their unobtainable happiness. For the longest time, I believed them. My bleeding heart didn’t know any better.

I choose to collect my thoughts before responding without reacting from a place of hurt. Overwhelmed with emotion, this will take time. I want certain family members to think more thoroughly and compassionately before spitting venomous words at me. They want me to speak on demand, yet are quick to give me the cold shoulder and now that I am older I want to cut the cord between us like surgery to free myself from the malignant tumor of their energy.

May I stop trying to figure out what other people want of me- it has only lead to my misery, over and over and over and over.

Back at work, I hear the whip crack. I haven’t met most of the people who are getting rich off my back.

I observe people’s bodies with judgement even though it tastes bitter- ranking them in attractiveness- what an unattractive habit. I remind myself to stop imagining their thoughts, to focus on the flame instead of the candle, to behold the melting wax in awe- the interface between spirit and physical form.

I’ve put forth an immodest amount of effort in my life, pushing through severe anxiety and depression without accepting help, least of all from myself. I did seek help a couple of times during childhood when I told my mom in my little voice that I was depressed, to which she reprimanded, ‘you are not depressed’. If she only knew how frequently suicidal thoughts have dropped in to visit me. I no longer invite them in for tea- social distancing. My mother taught me to replace my feelings with everybody else’s feelings.

I feel emotionally ready for retirement even though there are many moons before I will receive my first real paycheck. I have come to treasure quiet peaceful moments. Doing less is my goal, even if I rarely allow time for it. Simply being present in the now, basking on the soft moss of inner calm, feeling that I belong, that I am lovable just as I am. I hope the same for you, and not because I figure that is what you want to hear- I sincerely wish that all beings be happy, healthy and free.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Please don’t judge me for being a sex worker in order to make ends meet
You taught me how to dissociate from my body, how to put other’s wants ahead of my needs
You were my first violator and my first pimp
Remember molesting me at night throughout my childhood and adolescence?
You opened the floodgates for countless rapes
Remember forcing me to do things I didn’t want to do my whole life?
Pimping me out to abusive children who you ‘felt sorry for’ because they did’t have any friends
The reason why they didn’t have any friends is because they weren’t good friends. Like you, they were trapped in abuse
Oscillating between abuser and abused
Remember commanding me yet never asking or listening?
I told you I was depressed, you told me I was not
The middle school guidance counselor called you to pick me up from school because I was suicidal-
All you did was yell at me
You found out I was a sex worker by violating my privacy
You yelled at me to respect myself
Yet you never respected me and actively taught me to disrespect myself
How can you expect me to fly when all you ever did was drag me down and break my wings
You raised me in poverty
Gave me no financial resources, no guidance
I was hungry, I had textbooks to buy and rent to pay
You want to take credit for my success
I became who I am in spite of you, not because of you
Though I see the crucial role you played
At the end of the day all I can say is namaste

Off My Chest

I need to get you off my chest

I’ve never felt relaxed in my life because you raised me in the war zone of your wrath
Bombs of panic explode in my mind all day every day
Choking me with your smoke and mirrors even though you are far away
My ears ring with your shouting
You were the biggest little tyrant
Not even two years my senior
Yet always more needy
Mandating, yet begging
I didn’t realize the power I had over you, and still do
You were the one dependent on me for affirmation, not the other way around
I didn’t have a choice then, but I do now-
To live a life without your storms brewing on my horizon
I’ve never slept well in my life because I thought you were going to murder me in my sleep throughout our childhood and adolescence
I used lie in bed wearing a cross around my neck with a note attached to it asking you to think before acting, waiting for dawn to break, dreading another day with you, feeling trapped and hopeless with no end in sight
I never felt protected, respected, seen or heard by our parents
In moments of desperation, I wish you had killed me
Instead you continue to torture me passive aggressively, and I am passive passive aggressive
Silenced, as if buried alive
I toss and turn, tormented between insomnia and nightmares
I’m trying to think before I act
I am upset that I’m even thinking about you now
I am upset about how you get upset ‘at’ me: you throw your rage at me and have me clean up the mess, time and time again, left to calm your ass down as if your reactions were justifiable or somehow my fault
It was never my fault
I am not responsible for how you feel
Leave me alone you evil bitch
I want to scream at you with the force of 35 years of repressed anger and tears
At the same time, I am trying to let go of the hot coal which burns my palm
I am trying to let the rippling waters of my pond be still
I am trying to not be irritated, for only then will you no longer be irritating
I am trying to take responsibility for my thoughts and feelings
I am tired of trying so damn hard
I am ready for ease
I am ready for peace
I am ready to breathe
Please, get off my chest
I don’t need to ask- I am responsible for how I feel
I’m not sure what to do next
I’ll probably meditate and self-medicate with raw emo poetry
Like the note pinned to my cross-necklace, you will probably never read this
But maybe those who matter will
Those who feel they are suffering alone
May find healing in this onion peel
And breathe just one breath more freely
For this I humbly pray
Namaste

Workaholic

I went into medicine partly due to heartbreak

The exhaustive training of medical school and residency was a welcome albeit ineffective distraction from my sorrow and loneliness
24-hour shifts are a convenient justification for not keeping in touch with loved ones
Even though the real excuse is my social anxiety and sense of inadequacy
Living within hospital walls, I suspect that I am not the only physician who became a medical doctor to try to forget unrequited love, to escape the world of human relationships
My older colleagues work far more than they need to to make ends meet, far more than any reasonable person would work in a week
Who needs friends or feelings when you have patients and science?
Our skin grows pale under fluorescent lights
Our vision becomes shortsighted as the screens stare unblinkingly
Our hearts forget how to feel carefree
Our muscles atrophy as our brains hypertrophy
Our minds become boxed in with facts, our mental filing cabinets overflow
I am a recovering workaholic working alongside workaholics who do not appear to be in recovery
Perhaps they suspect the same of me
Heads down in the trenches, none of us can know another’s heart
We can only know our own heart, if we listen
We carefully administer medications, surgeries and therapies
We measure progress in numerical metrics of lab values, calculated scores and vital signs
We arrive early and stay late
We work day and night without a break
We always have too much on our plates
We deprive ourselves of sleep, fresh air and food
We know why we have irritable moods
Practicing medicine is an unhealthy, imbalanced lifestyle and we know it
We can only ever heal ourselves
I’m ready to show it
I am finally healing my broken heart
I found that I had to begin at the start
Childhood wounds tangle and bloom
Trauma begets trauma until we change our thoughts, words and actions
Breaking old patterns even as we hold traction
I am love itself, I am the source of what I sought
My cup overflows, it was not all for naught

Take it Back

I feel the knots you’ve tied within me

Stains on my energy
Pains in my body
I observe the damage
Tension, nausea, sensation of suffocation
Insomnia, dizziness, diarrheal defecation
You made me feel powerless for too damn long
You beat me up but my spirit is strong
This shit isn’t mine
This was never mine
This is yours
Take it back
Take it all the fuck back
The trauma and the drama
The hurt and the dirt
Keep your hands and your mind out of my skirt
Don’t tell me what to do
Your mind games were never fun for me
Were they fun for you?
You can win the prize, I offer it freely to you
I won’t play anymore
Your ego will have to deal with the fact that I’m letting my sanity heal
I’m learning to put myself first
Through radical acts of self care to restore my happiness and health
Your energy is yours
Take it back

Watchu Know

Watchu know about germs?

Watchu know about warfare? (nothing)
Watchu know about heading into battle
Feeling like slaughter-bound cattle
Whatchu know about washing hands
Whatchu know about yes we can
My mind sees a sparkling vibrant land
My heart holds a silent marching band
Whatchu know about foam-in, foam-out?
Whatchu know about keeping tiny terrors out?
Whatchu know about watching your mouth
Whatchu know about pushing through doubt
Whatchu know about alcoholic hand gel?
Whatchu know about alcoholics from hell?
Whatchu know about face shields and masks
Whatchu know about drowning in endless tasks
Whatchu know about blue plastic gowns?
I wear a surgical cap for a crown
Whatchu know about double-gloving?
Coming home from work too stressed to make lovin’
I am a public servant
With grace and strength I shed PPE smooth as a serpent
Slow and steady, I move when I’m ready
I never was one to throw things away
But I’ve learned you’ve got to know what to let go of
So that what you love can stay

In Case I Die Early

In case I die early

From the virus which I will be in close contact with for the foreseeable future
Rest assured that I lived a full life
I was intermittently enlightened, and there is no higher bliss than that
It took nearly my whole life, but I finally found love
I enjoyed exquisite physical pleasures and the connection of sacred partnership
My mind was often filled with colorful visions and my heart overflowed with music
I wrote wild poetry which I shared only with you, and a great many other things too
If you want to remember my life, take a deep breath and know that you are loved by the universe, that you are love itself
If you want to see me, look up at the sky and trees
If you want to hear my voice, listen to the river and the birds singing
If you want to feel me, place your hand over your heart, and know that we are not far apart
If I don’t die early, I’ll keep creating my visions to promote vibrant healing
But in case I die soon, I wanted you to know that I go peacefully, though I long to see my family and turn my dreams into reality to share them with you
Take care of yourselves, and each other
Take care of Mother Earth
You are supported by spirit with every breath

Corona

I wear my crown of martyrdom

On the front lines, yet still at the back of the testing line- haven’t been tested

I think of you, virus, though you do not think of me

Coronavirus, on the news
Coronavirus, in my body
Is the aching in my muscles and bones your calling card?
You desire to enter my cells, virus, as much as I long to keep you out
Together, yet separately, we hunger
You want to pick my lock, use my typewriter to transcribe your RNA, then mail your enveloped self-promoting propaganda air mail special to Hadestown.
Don’t bring me down on the way, I pray
Not like this, not today
My heart breaks to think of those who have lost their lives to you, and those who needlessly will still
My head is intoxicated with fear
You always seem too near
Perhaps we Americans deserve the repercussions of our recklessness
Though it is the innocent who pay, as usual
Another day deep
I march on with trembling hands and heavy feet
Tracking invisible mud out of the wards and onto the street
Ashamed to stay in the job I was fixing to quit anyway,
Ashamed to leave now and abandon my post
The war is on, dwarfing the existential crisis of living the life I want versus fulfilling my societal obligation
I am among the minority who have a medical education
Only in following my heart can I grow up at last, no longer a slave to the judgements of others who do not bear my burden
My mind’s liberation opens up like a blue sky
Back to here and now, overcast again
In clinic and in the hospital
I struggle to bring my heart into the mundane and mission-impossible tasks which overflow from one day to the next
Virus, I gaze at your storm clouds accumulating on the horizon, and feel small
I see your silver lining, as I am well practiced in finding positivity amidst disaster
You are rich in potential
Look at the way you are uniting humanity, virus
People are taking care of themselves and each other like never before
Practicing presence in hospital hallways and supermarket aisles, smiling shyly at each other from behind our suffocating masks
We are finally being mindful of our precious resources, thinking globally and acting locally for sustainable solutions
We are cultivating more community and camaraderie than we could ever quantify
Teamwork and solidarity are weaving our spirits more closely together even as the physical distance between our bodies grows
I take a step back to take in the beauty of the tapestry you wove, virus
You bring opportunity for innovation and flexibility, you demand it
Many of us no longer take life for granted
We are cleaning our hands as often as we always should have
People are being prioritized over profits as we focus on what is essential
We settle in, acknowledging at last that we are in the same boat
Living in unspoken gratitude for each day of health
Please don’t rock my boat too much, virus
Though you are armed with cunning skills
And you may bring about more positive change still
I plan to ride out this storm, though land is not in sight
Virus, perhaps you could rest tonight?
Virus, my type II pneumocytes are mine, my lungs are a celebration of life and you are not invited
I wind-down after another day on the front lines,
I give thanks to those who are doing their part in time
To those in the comfort of your own homes,
Please stay where you are, be satisfied
Coronavirus, we will destroy you with patience and ingenuity, with solidarity and community, with soap and water, and with love for one another

Our Mother’s Face

We thought we could improve perfection, Mama

When we drew lines across your face
Highways of asphalt scars connecting the
Clusters of concrete wounds on your cheeks
High rise buildings offering every luxury but you, Mama
We dig into you without asking, Mama, pounding into your bedrock
Even as you gently rock us to sleep each night, as if our actions are alright
We are the ones who refuse to turn out the lights
We don’t hear your wisdom, Mama, which you sing softly even now
We boast loudly but when do we listen, Mama?
We are shaken to the bone when we drill into you, Mama
Between fracking and petroleum, our hearts are in pandemonium
We make ourselves ill when we poison your blood
Dumping debris into your waters
We choke as we pollute your lungs
Pouring smoke into your atmosphere
We share a single circulatory and respiratory system with you, Mama
Our shortsighted deeds will always come back to haunt us in spades
We drink from your abundant cup, rarely satisfied that we have enough
We pretend to be separate from you even as we depend on you for our every breath, from birth to death
We think we know best but we haven’t fooled the rest, only ourselves
We act big, but we are dust on your mighty shoulders, Mama
Our mother has the most gorgeous face
Deep blue-green eyes and a sparkling smile
Bathed in rich brown skin, holding the miracle of life itself within her
Her beauty cannot be improved by anything man-made
To thrive, she needs only to be loved by those she loves unconditionally, by us
This is her divine lesson of self-love
Caring for the Earth is caring for ourselves
We spring forth from the Earth’s womb, are nourished by her breast, and remain connected to her indefinitely by an unbreakable umbilical cord
Though we mistreat you, we love you and we need you, Mama
You are the only oasis in the vast desert of the universe
We feel calm and content when we are close to you, Mama
Words are not your language
We must show our love for you through actions
Spending quality time with you
Living simply and sustainably
Voting with every transaction
Passing legislation to protect you from destruction by our hands
We have injured you too many times in the name of profit Mama, which only robs ourselves of true wealth: clean air, water and soil
We can’t buy more of you in any store, Mama
When we hurt you, we hurt ourselves more
You wait patiently for us to learn, even as we pillage and burn
You demonstrate how to love more completely, Mama, but that does not excuse our transgressions
This Earth Day, may we pause for reflection on our self-centered predilection
May we hold you in the center of our heart, where you always belonged from the start
Though at times we get distracted, more of your children are treading softly on you each day, Mama
May I be one such child of the Earth, and help others so inspired do the same
Your health depends on what we do today
May we lift our faces to you and see our collective dream come true