Jeff-Phillips-Reflection-in-Puddle

“My life was a gift that I wanted to return.”

She doesn’t combat topics like, ‘My daughter got into Yale’ with, ‘Oh yeah, my daughter remembered to buy eggs.’

A “good day” means such widely different things for everyone, doesn’t it? Never more clearly rendered than in this poem. Within it I found such relatable stark truths about the state of depression, about its toll, that I haven’t read in recent memory. Well done, Kait.

 

A Good Day

Kait Rokowski

Yesterday, I spent 60 dollars on groceries,
took the bus home,
carried both bags with two good arms back to my studio apartment
and cooked myself dinner.
You and I may have different definitions of a good day.
This week, I paid my rent and my credit card bill,
worked 60 hours between my two jobs,
only saw the sun on my cigarette breaks
and slept like a rock.
Flossed in the morning,
locked my door,
and remembered to buy eggs.
My mother is proud of me.
It is not the kind of pride she brags about at the golf course.
She doesn’t combat topics like, ”My daughter got into Yale”
with, ”Oh yeah, my daughter remembered to buy eggs”
But she is proud.
See, she remembers what came before this.
The weeks where I forgot how to use my muscles,
how I would stay as silent as a thick fog for weeks.
She thought each phone call from an unknown number was the notice of my suicide.
These were the bad days.
My life was a gift that I wanted to return.
My head was a house of leaking faucets and burnt-out lightbulbs.
Depression, is a good lover.
So attentive; has this innate way of making everything about you.
And it is easy to forget that your bedroom is not the world,
That the dark shadows your pain casts is not mood-lighting.
It is easier to stay in this abusive relationship than fix the problems it has created.
Today, I slept in until 10,
cleaned every dish I own,
fought with the bank,
took care of paperwork.
You and I might have different definitions of adulthood.
I don’t work for salary, I didn’t graduate from college,
but I don’t speak for others anymore,
and I don’t regret anything I can’t genuinely apologize for.
And my mother is proud of me.
I burned down a house of depression,
I painted over murals of greyscale,
and it was hard to rewrite my life into one I wanted to live
But today, I want to live.
I didn’t salivate over sharp knives,
or envy the boy who tossed himself off the Brooklyn bridge.
I just cleaned my bathroom,
did the laundry,
called my brother.
Told him, “it was a good day.”

subway

Poetry Waits

Poetry waits patiently for the poet
as the molten glass
awaits the artist,
the microphone the singer.
the expectant groom, his bride.

Waits
for the moment the woman decides to leave
and the man does nothing to stop her.
The moment the bus driver accelerates
rather than wait for the runner,
for the subway doors to slam shut a second too soon.

Biding time,
watchful for the seemingly insignificant,
smallest movements
when our lives turns on a dime,
cocking its ear for the words that go unspoken,
only then setting to work,
preparing to speak volumes.

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Mail Still Comes

It is the thing you never expected.

Didn’t think to guard against.

Mail drops in through the slot a full year after

with his name on it.

It hits the ground with a gotcha. The one bullet remaining.

The one gaping mouth you forgot to shut.

Grief slipping in seamlessly through the front door

when you had worked so hard to seal up every crack.

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Me, Found

This would be a time capsule of me,

I’m talking me.

Not of the Western world circa 21st century

or even this particular zeitgeist extraordinaire.

 

To be unearthed in some distant space and time,

to disclose a definitive self-portrait

for the ones who follow.

 

I’d have to start with the coffee mug I drank from every morning for years

that reads Do No Harm But Take No Shit.

A box of Cheerios because I basically lived on them for 20 years.

My books of poetry, I know, predictable, but come on.

That is, if they still speak poetry.

Oh, and my drafts file on disk

if they still speak disk

because drafts sometimes speak louder than finished versions.

 

A vinyl 45 of I Want to be Bobby’s Girl protected by its original sturdy cardboard sleeve

to resurrect perfectly my teenaged longing skating on Saturday nights

inside freezing cold arenas praying underneath my breath

for someone to take my hand so we could go round together.

They’ll need my vintage Crossley Record Player too and can consider it my donation

to whatever brave new world they are in,

the inestimable value of which may, alas,

be entirely lost on them.

 

A black and white photo of me at six standing at the edge of a diving board

high above a crowded community swimming pool

because I felt the world was waiting for me then.

And it shows I wasn’t scared;

I wasn’t scared at all.

 

 

bride

Clearing away the detritus…

Among my favorite poets writing today: Tony Hoagland. Few do it better. Who else could unearth a parallel between a blossoming dogwood and a bride ripping off her dress? He inspires us all to dig down a little deeper, to not be complacent. And asks us to pay attention to the things that truly matter after we clear away all the detritus.

 

A Color of the Sky

 

Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,

driving over the hills from work.

There are the dark parts on the road

when you pass through clumps of wood

and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,

but that doesn’t make the road an allegory.

 

I should call Marie and apologize

for being so boring at dinner last night,

but can I really promise not to be that way again?

And anyway, I’d rather watch the trees, tossing

in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.

 

Otherwise it’s spring, and everything looks frail;

the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves

are full of infant chlorophyll,

the very tint of inexperience.

 

Last summer’s song is making a comeback on the radio,

and on the highway overpass,

the only metaphysical vandal in America has written

MEMORY LOVES TIME

in big black spraypaint letters,

which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.

 

Last night I dreamed of X again.

She’s like a stain on my subconscious sheets.

Years ago she penetrated me

but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,

I never got her out,

but now I’m glad.

 

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.

What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.

What I thought was an injustice

turned out to be a color of the sky.

 

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store

and the police station,

a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,

like a sudsy mug of beer;

like a bride ripping off her clothes,

 

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

 

so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.

It’s been doing that all week:

making beauty,

and throwing it away,

and making more.

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Life Has No Map

Only a series of cryptic signposts on dimly lit roads.

Crossroads aren’t even crossroads.

Just there to force decisions

before there is enough information.

 

The glass of the compass was stepped upon

thus true north is

anything but true.

We are forced to take our bearings from lesser guides,

the lady on the GPS with the grating monotone,

the priest in the pulpit who forgives nothing,

Dr. Phil and his rigorously toned wife,

who now comes complete with her own line of anti-aging skin care,

developed in laboratories deep beneath the earth’s crust.

 

Desperate for direction

we connect the vastly unconnected.

We begin thinking

the car’s software is speaking directly to us,

that the only true absolution lurks within a tiny wooden confessional

by way of an invisible voice,

that retinol has something, anything,

to do with happiness.

 

sheep

Why I love children

I love their whimsy, how they abandon themselves to fun and are able to find it in almost all things. And how they have not the slightest fear of judgment or disdain.

In Tongue years ago, way up in the northernmost reaches of Scotland I popped in to a local shop. While browsing I spotted a wee lassie there with her father, dressed up in her lovely kilt, a matching tartan tam perched at an angle on her head.

She was curious about me – and watched me, as children will do – her eyes following me around the shop.

Standing alongside her I pointed to a tiny toy sheep displayed on the shelf, which was dressed comically in a full perfect tuxedo.

I asked her, quietly: “Now what would a sheep be doing dressed in a tux?”

She thought about it and then announced, seriously:

“Maybe he’s goin’ tae a weddin’.”

rotary phone

Missed Calls

I remember even now how it would feel

when you wouldn’t call.

Cursing the ugly faded pink rotary phone

sitting mute at the desk on the landing.

I grew to hate that phone. Its insolence.

Its deadness.

 

I left the light off on the desk to lessen expectation,

tried not to listen for it

not ringing,

lifting the receiver every ten minutes.

Maybe a power outage, a felled tree limb,

slamming it down again.

 

I hated you for all of it,

for this stranger I had become,

saddling me with a rejection so deep

I can still hear the deafening sound of that phone

not ringing.

 

velella

A Windblown Legacy

Dolphins are toothed whales. Who knew?

How do you distinguish a dolphin fin from a shark fin? (You never know when that might come in handy.)

Easy!

Dolphins roll at the surface so you see more than just the fin. If you only see the fin and nothing more, head for the (air) mattresses.

I just came in from the beach. I was, as ever on these islands, beachcombing, with my writing pad and pencil tucked into my windbreaker pocket, hunting for “sea glass.”

It takes about 20 years for a piece of regular bottle glass to evolve into the much sought after “beach glass,” ubiquitous now in pendants, earrings, bracelets, etc. Twenty years, that is, of continuous buffeting by course sand and salt and sea spray. The glass must be exposed to all these elements during that time to render it smooth and opaque. And exquisite.

I bring these treasures home and display them everywhere – in wine glasses, soup tureens, ice buckets, any receptacle will do. In fact, the more incongruous the vessel, I find, the more intriguing the display.

These trips never disappoint. In a recent seaside meander I happened upon a diminutive jellyfish, a fascinating creature, about the size of a pinkie finger. They are usually deep blue in color, but their most obvious feature is a small stiff sail atop a transparent cylindrical base that catches the wind and propels them over the surface of the sea. The mainsail in this case is the fish’s protective barnacle, made of a fingernail like substance.

This jellyfish is commonly know by the names sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail, or simply Velella. Yes, they are small but they are amazingly resilient. Like Sammy Davis Jr (RIP). Or a toddler resisting bedtime.

When these wee jellyfish die their hardy mainsail remains, to become part of all that outlives us… their weathered windblown legacy.

More beaches – and discoveries await.

SW06

The Cost

Yes, painful, so very often
to have fewer filters than most.
To be wide awake to the hurt in the world.
I look across at the driver next to me at the stop light
and wonder if he is loved.
It is involuntary. Born in some. Inescapable.
Manifest.
This breathing in the pain of others. Then carrying it.
Never failing to notice the one lonely person in the room,
the resigned among us.
Drawn to what is broken, all that needs tending.
Powerless to look away.
And always more to see.

But I pay the cost.
Would pay it twice in this life of mine
for what it gives in return,
this unseen affliction.

See me here.
Still standing,
bearing scars under my clothes,
yet laughter rises easily in me.
Still able to take a child’s delight
in an unexpected gift,
a fresh snowfall,
a baby returning my smile.

See me here.
I am still standing.
And so terribly vulnerable to joy.