Wendy to Peter: a Letter, a Prose Poem

Wendy to Peter: a Letter, a Prose Poem

For a long time, I have been fascinated by the Peter Pan story, and in particular the Wendy character. A child-Penelope, she is the one who waits in the company of her thoughts and her duties. In my own thoughts and writing, I often return to the concept of Wendy sewing on Peter’s shadow time and time again. This piece of writing below is an imagined letter from Wendy, no longer a child, to Peter. A poem, a whisper, an unsent message, a shadow sewn onto a shadow.

PETER PAN. One of the classic illustrations by F. D. Bedford from the illustrated edition of J.M. Barrie’s most celebrated story about Peter & Wendy & Tinker Bell. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T5OXAG8

Peter, my childhood friend. Peter with wings made of light.

I used to watch your shadow in the winter as we walked down the street together. It grew in diameter as your clothing became heavier. But it was softer against the snow than it ever was on pavement. I would touch it gently with the edge of my hand whenever I bent down to tie the laces of my boots.

Its edges were blurred and slightly cold. But it was kind to me when I touched it. It whispered all of the things you would never say.

Pale grey against the banks of snow, your shadow would drag behind your feet like smoke trails behind a torch.

But I think I have moved in the same way: I have followed you across rocks and ridges. I have followed you through the bed of a river. I have followed you through the sky, but you rose faster and I looked down just a little too soon.

Now that we are grown, I have tried time and time again to feel your shadow as it moves against my legs. Once as you lay down beside me, I tried to keep pinned it between my thighs, so that something of you would stay even when you rose to leave, as you always do.

But your shadow would run from me, just as fast as you run. It knows your velocity intimately, an archivist of footfalls. It knows you like I never could.

I would watch your shadow steady its pace as you moved down the stairs leading from my  fourth-floor apartment. It would disappear under the doorway in the front hall. And then you were gone as well. I would press my hand against the banister and feel myself returning. My self. I used to be afraid to be alone with my too-real thoughts. For a long time, I was better with shadows, and other things whose edges don’t cut.

I think we grew up too fast, my love. After so many nights, you were afraid to look into my eyes. I think you saw something there that you didn’t want to see – the reflection of your body, the changes in your face, the lines that were slowly forming around your mouth.

And everything we had been through together. The memories. Your mother’s face as she fell asleep and the glass in her hand spilled across in her lap. The sounds through the walls. And all of the worlds we, small children, invented. Peter and Wendy: we were the bookends to our own story. In the night, we comforted ourselves with the whispers that we wove sweetly from mouth to mouth. They were the blanket we used to warm our cold legs when it was only you and me alone together in the house as the dog, Nana, barked rhythmically in the yard. No one ever remembered that she was afraid of the dark.

At some point, I knew you were gone from me. You did it yourself, in a long slow rip. You stopped waking at dawn. You stopped falling asleep with a book in your hand. You spoke to me in words that belonged to someone else.

I had learned how to mend you for a while, but at some point I was no longer sure if wanted to anymore, or if I should. I was torn: And so I tried sewing you to me, your body facing mine, your lips against my shoulder, or your spine against my left side. I held you close, but the threads would always come undone in the night. I would wake to the awareness that you had shifted away from me, your knees pressed to your chest, your lungs like wings that had never expanded. I would watch you rise and walk to the window, your hand on the damp lips of the glass.

I looked up to the sky once again as I felt you leaving. I had my sewing in my hand. It stays with me, like my own shadow. The needles are the fingers of fairies that we believed in once: they are cold and metal, sharp and unbending.

I look up and see the stars: they are just small holes in the sky, as if someone had starting to sew erratically and then pulled the thread out at the very end. You are there too, just above me: you are a dark blot beneath a cloud. I think I can see outline of your clothing. I think you are wearing the shadow I sewed to you. You have outgrown it. It is a child’s shadow, and you are taller than me now.

You couldn’t escape the changes that came. Neither could I. I see you falling, and, instinctively, I hold out the skirt of my dress like a hammock to catch you.

But then I let the fabric fall, and I walk away. I have learned to love the sea: the waves that come back and dance around my ankles. The calm return of the light across my hands. The ache of the storm and all the names it does not call in the night. The shadows of seagulls that weave through the skeletons of the birds that flew the very same arc in the sky months before. All of these things are my stark but graceful lullabies.

The Alligator Did It: A Story of Rebounds and Imaginary Friends

When I was a child, if ever I got angry, I would take all the clothes from my dresser and throw them all around my room. Upon being discovered by my parents in the middle of a room full of strewn-clothing chaos, I would proclaim triumphantly, “The Alligator did it.”

Yes, it was always the Alligator.

And in a way I believed this: I believed that the Alligator, my imaginary but oh-so-real ally, had taken it upon himself to rip apart any semblance of normality and re-mark the world, rightly, with frenzy. Frenzy is only right in a world that makes no sense, in a world that, in the eyes of a child, inspires blue-eyed indignation. In a bedroom that smelled of the lilac trees that whispered just outside the window, chaos seemed only appropriate when things were oh-so-wrong.

Now that I am a grown-up, I think once again about the Alligator. Can I blame him again for my strewn-clothing messes? The ones that I have made in recent years, in recent days? The ones that are a bit more complicated. I would like to blame him, I think. Yes, surely, he was the one who incited that chaos. It was a green-scaled, fire-eyed chaos. Not mine. No, I wasn’t thinking, so I wasn’t there. I am a smart woman with a poetic but very analytical mind. I have a high IQ and have, in the midst of deep thoughts, maybe almost become a little wise. And so surely it wasn’t me who made those mistakes. Ha.

Oh, those mistakes. The ones that seemed to fit so beautifully into the moment, the kind that seem just right at the time. I’ve made them once or twice. Maybe three or four times. Maybe seven, give or take. Those mistakes that then left me recipient when I opened my eyes. My metaphorical eyes. Not the blue little-girl eyes.

But maybe those eyes as well.

Recipient. It is a favourite word of mine in recent years. It means regretful. But I like the way it sounds: it sounds like the wind as it moves through teeth.

I had my heart broken recently after the end of a short-lived but, at moments, treasured romance. The loss of love is always hard. The loss of love breaks the world apart. It is heavy on the chest. It moves like shadows do through a shipwreck. It is unjust. It turns you into that child again, the one to whom the world makes no sense and is only wrong.

After the little heartbreak (it was, this time, only a little one), I did what I swear time and again I will not do. I had a little rebound (oh no; haven’t I learned so many times over? And aren’t I too old and wise for this ? It solves nothing, and only leaves a big cluster of mess around my feet). Oops, I did it again. Again, a little strewn-clothing mistake. With someone who is no good for me. And then, when I saw it for what it was, I felt regret. I felt recipient. Like that child who realizes that now she has to pick up her own mess and reorganize the chaos into the compartments where it belongs.

But, like that child, I have learned a little bit too from the experience. I have learned that she, the child-me, craves, and deserves, kindness. This craving, this need, is the reason she throws her things everywhere. She wants to be held in the midst of the injustice but doesn’t quite know how to ask for this.

And I better understand the nature of messes. I know a little better how to tell the well-made, liberating messes from the ones that, in the end, are pure, irredeemable disasters.

And now, through these reflections, I’ve gotten reacquainted with my Alligator. He is in fact real; I know this now. And yes. Yes, the Alligator did it. The Alligator definitely did it. My Alligator, fierce and wounded heart. He needs a little bit of love of his own to get him through. He needs to be held gently in the lilac-scented light that comes into my old bedroom from the window by the garden. And so I will hold him, because he is mine.

Tangles

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Tangles

You gather the lilies in the folds of your thoughts
they are the same colour and feel of your skin,
under a torn silk dress stained with rainwater
You are a white sky
bruised with the sound of the sea

When I lay down with you by the ocean
the lines in the sand
tangled tightly into the lines of your palms:
these become your fishing nets
Inside them, you hold my heart, a seahorse
coiled deep in its fetal position;
the cluster of my lungs, wet and dark as seaweed;
and my eyes, twin seashells
that close shut on their own shadows

I am your mermaid, you say,
and you are my song that washed away

You know the words I was going to say
before I say them
like a forest knows
the shadows that wander through; they are
always new
but always remembered
because their kind has walked there
oh so many
times before

On Being Undiminished

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holdfast heart

Last night an anonymous man sent me a message comprised solely of hateful, demeaning comments about my body. The message came about, it seems, because he recognized me from my presence in my local Pride parade and wanted to wound me. I believe, though I am not certain, that it is someone who made a pass at me once and whom I turned down. The comments were designed to make me feel insecure and small. And I will not lie: they had this effect. The comments haunted my sleep and they have haunted my day today, not only because of what they said but because of the reality that someone I don’t even know would reach out to me with such cruelty and hatred.

But I think this sort of experience is all too common. It is the reality of being a woman with any kind of presence on the internet. No, let me amend that: it is the reality of being a woman with any kind of presence in the world. People (usually straight cis men, but not always) feel entitled to map, assess, characterize, and legitimize women’s bodies.

I am writing this because I want to own this experience and transform it. I will not let a stranger take my joy away from me. My presence in the Pride parade this year meant the world to me. I danced through the whole parade. Joyfully, blissfully. I danced because I was surrounded by people who mean a lot to me and because am in a place in my life where I am genuinely happy. I have a job that I adore, I write songs that fill my mind with beautiful electricity when I play them, I love the people in my life, and I love my presence in the world. All of the things are possible because of my body. My body is my voice, my movement, my heart, my hands, my bliss, all I am, and all I create.

I am 34 years old. It is probably only in the last couple of years that I have come to love my body. In my younger years, I struggled with, and overcame, an eating disorder. I internalized the message that my body would only be ‘right’ if I changed it in some way, reshaped it, cut away at its contours. I believe that I would have the right my place in the world only if I occupied less space in the world. And so I reshaped my body. I participated in a long, soft process of self-diminishment, of slowly disappearing like a shadow that slips under the door as the day moves on its axis.

But I am done with disappearing. I love my strong leg muscles, the curves of my stomach, and the feeling of the wind in my hair when I am dancing. I may never be completely free from the inner voices that tell me that I am not good enough, but I am finished with disappearing. I will dance in every parade that means something to me. I will occupy space, I will create, I will make change. I will not be silenced: neither my voice nor my footfalls as I move through the world with joy and presence. I am a formidable human being.

And to all the women (or people of any gender) who have been made to feel like your bodies are not good enough, who have been subject to cruel words and glances that cut you to pieces, I want to say this: I send you all my warm thoughts and love in solidarity that, if you wish, you can wrap around yourself and hold for a while. Come dancing with me, if you want to. In the streets, by the ocean, in songs sometimes, and sometimes in silence. We can undisappear, we can be whole, we can be undiminished.

No.

Image result for crow shadows

Ever since I was a small child, I have had the tendency to put the needs of others before my own. It has often been a struggle for me to say ‘no’ even when I want to. I spent much of today in a contemplation which slowly evolved into a vow. This vow is to nurture and strengthen my ‘no.’ To hold it tightly until it knows it is safe to reach out into the world.

‘No’ is a small bird that I hold in my hand. When released, it flies back to me, bringing sustenance. ‘No’ is the edges of the ocean that encircle my beautiful space of solitude. ‘No’ is the coils of the muscles of the braids in my hair. ‘No’ is a hidden strength that, if ever unraveled, may be woven again.

‘No’ is the crow with wings like torn black construction paper that hovers above me when I run along the waterfront. Despite the force of the wind and the way its body pauses tensely in the air, it is not pushed to the ground.

‘No’ is the quivering light on the forest path. ‘No’ is with me at some of the moments when I feel most free. And so I am learning to love my ‘no,’ to nurture it, and recognize its subtle warmth.

On Bisexuality, Three Fears, and, Ultimately, Love

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One of the realities that I deal with as a bisexual person (yes, I said that word, because silence is good for sleep and stargazing but not so much for changing minds) is that I live with three particular fears. These three fears come alive most vividly when I am dating someone new. They wind around me, bind me tightly, and ask me to choose one of two directions. Fears do not beseech with gentle words; sometimes they speak without words at all, or they shout loudly in the most hidden places, but they always seem to convey their meaning.

One of these fears is that, if I am dating a man, friends from my queer community will reject me (as sometimes has happened in one way or another) for not being or acting queer enough.

Another fear is that, if I am dating a woman, other folks in my life will see it as an experimental whim (as has happened, even from those who are dear to me). Being bi is so often assumed to be just a phase. This is hurtful because to me it is a vital element of my identity.

I am someone who is capable of being romantically and sexually drawn to people of more than one gender. I’ve known this since I was 14-ish, though for many years I seldom spoke of it. I have spoken about it lot more frequently of late. I’ve written about it too, and probably will so more – partly because a dear friend (someone whom I love ferociously and devotedly) recently referred to me as a ‘bisexual activist.’ Coming from this person, these words made me infinitely proud and made me want to shake up the world with words and dancing.

If I am going through a phase, realistically it’s a twenty-year-long phase because I’ll be 34 in less than two weeks. Happy birthday, me, let’s have a party and eat some delicious cake! But oh goodness, that brings me to another assumption: the assumption that as a bi person I want to have my cake and also eat another cake too. That, if I really like more than one gender, then I will never be satisfied. And there it is – there’s the third fear that nestles itself gently between the other aforementioned two.

This third fear is that the person I fall for will believe that someone like me can never love one person fully and completely. That this person will be wary of me because of that notion that bi folks can’t settle down and be satisfied with one love. I can’t speak for everyone, but I for one just want one that person to write songs about forever (as realistic or unrealistic as that hopeless and yet hopeful romanticism of mine may be).

Some people who read this will think to themselves, why can’t she just be more confident? Why focus on fear? Let the fears fall away. Don’t give them your breath, and they will just die naturally on their own.

But the thing is, I am confident. This post was born of fears, but just as much it was born from love. It is about whom I choose to love, but it also comes from a very deep place of self-love. Despite the fears and stereotypes that have haunted me, I am proud of who I am.

And I’ve come to realize that the problem is not that I have these fears. It is that I have good reason to have these fears. I have twenty years’ worth of interactions with friends, lovers, family members, and strangers to confirm to me that these fears are neither irrational nor benign. The problem is not me, but the biphobic stereotypes and myths that still thrive. These stereotypes and myths are often silent but they are still brazen. And their brazen silence is the reason I feel that I need to speak – because people like me have sometimes chosen a long, intricately woven hush rather than bare our authentic selves. Because fear has told us that love and acceptance cannot exist for us without compromise and erasure. This is not a reality I want to endorse; I’m rather fond of love.

I don’t claim to speak for all bi folks. Everybody’s lived experiences are their own. I only have one voice and one heart, but I am at the point in my life where I find value in using both of these instruments unyieldingly. Love is worth the risk. It always is.

Anchor

Anchor

You with a tattoo of an anchor on your arm,
you pin down the ocean
like the snow pins down footsteps
of all the strangers who walked there before it covered the ground

All the same, you bound me effortlessly
and without knowing

because you are
the winter light that steals through
the holes in my coat
the shadows of the stray cats that live under the steps
the silence trapped under the ice
and the dried rose petals that were my voice

You swept them off the windowsill
but the vase still stands there filled with time

All of these things have become essential

Though I was only a silhouette
my fingers balanced on the balustrade
and feathers woven into my hair
I brought the cold draft in with me
when I came back inside

And you
were a joke I told that fell flat at a cocktail party
that I carried home in a cardboard box
like a small animal with a broken leg
I could love you in the same way

You gather all the shrill points of light
when the cars move past your basement window
where you have buried your bed
under your body
and all the boxes full of unfinished letters
they bide their time inside
your fortress of closed lungs

I’ve seen the way
you are afraid to speak to me
You hold your tongue
like a banjo holds its tune

I was cold
but I chose not to put on my sweater
because I wanted you to see my bare arms
and realize that I am vulnerable. I also planned
the way the hours moved across the walls,
the wrinkles in my dress,
the way the bridge rises
to let the ships through,
and the manner by which you left through the back door
of the cafe
before I had time
to say
that your eyes make the same sound as rain
on the steps of an old wooden church by the seashore
that I fell in love with when I was a child
and still believed in ghosts
that wear the skin of lost lullabies