Poetry

I usually rediscover poetry when it’s quiet. I’m waking up with no music on, everyone else is still asleep.
I make myself a pot of coffee and tiptoe back to my room.
I browse through cummings and Neruda. I dare take on Bukowski.

When there is nothing else-when I am tired, sick, lonely, confused-poetry is the one thing that brings me back to myself. It is the truest form of me I can think of. I am more sonnet and vilanelle than I am short hair and brown eyes. I am more slam competition and free verse than I am my age or occupation. Sometimes I get lines during inconvenient times like when i’m on the phone with a customer, or holding onto the bar on a packed bus. I have poems I’ve been trying to write so long that i don’t think I’ll ever get them out.

Shortly after I moved to Chicago, I found an old book shop with a poetry section. There I sat on the floor, cross legged like a child, going though prints published decades before my time, reading the words like I was thirsty for water. No one bothered me except the owner-an old man behind the counter, who would occasionally peak around the corner to check in on me.

There is no logic in poetry, except done up by the heart. The more you think about it, the less sense it makes, but the more you feel it the more you understand. It skips beats, it hurtles you into the parts of yourself that you forgot. You can only love it, like most things, when your open. Sometimes it comes in belting out the lyrics of your favorite song at a show. Sometimes it happens in a rocking chair with a baby resting on your chest. Utilities can’t move you in the same way poetry can.

The point is mute to those who don’t understand, people who die miserable not knowing what they missed. They spend their whole lives living for other things, like money and people, but not a goddamn moment indulging in themselves. They look at people like me like we’re jesters-poor fools, lust and listless. I look at them like they’re tall walls that don’t guard forts, slow burnt out cigarettes and the impending dead.

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Whole Foods Problems/ Thanksgiving Shenanigans

A lot has been going on the past few days so I hardly have had a spare moment to write. The point of this post is to keep everyone updated on what’s going on so I can’t guarantee the quality of what’s you’re about to read.

Anyway, so my friend, Steven is staying for the week. We met last year when he lived upstairs from me back in Dorchester. He’s grown to be like a big brother to me. He’s highly traveled, into art and music, smarter than most people I know and overall, very good to have around. While I’ve been feeling very introverted lately and the initial concept of having to entertain a guest for the whole week was kind of tiresome, things have been working out so far. 

Added Bonuses: My roommate is perpetually a people person. Very rarely will you find her needing to be alone. With that said, prior to my friend arriving on Tuesday, she told me she’d be happy to show him around if I needed a couple hours to not be around people. Also, Steven is like me in the way that we need to be quiet to recharge our batteries. He doesn’t need me to be constantly social to have a good time. For example, he was more than happy to plan his trip to China while I attempted to sleep off a hangover yesterday.

Which brings me to the point as to why I was hungover yesterday…

Black Wednesday.
A Chicago tradition where people get plastered the night before Thanksgiving. Many bars have Black Wednesday parties, or special cocktails made just for the occasion. I celebrated Black Wednesday in the comfort of my own home with Steven, my roommate, our guy friend Porter who was in town for a concert,  Nadia, and a couple bottles of wine to myself. 

Note to Jess: Wine by the glass is a good idea. Wine by the bottle is not. When drinking large quantities of anything, always go for beer and just beer. 

I’m pretty sure I’m still hungover. Bare minimum-I only had a sip of wine yesterday and I doubt I will drink anything today.

Getting back to yesterday..

So I didn’t get out of bed until 11 yesterday (really late for me) Steven was planning his trip. Alex and Porter were watching Toderick Hall videos. Nadia was smart and left early the night before. My kitchen reminded me of my college dorm. I tried to make a bath but the water wouldn’t get hot.

Which brings me to.. Whole Foods Problems

If you’ve ever been to Whole Foods or a store LIKE Whole Foods, and if you’re even paying the slightest attention to what’s going on around you, you will hear some of the most asinine conversations ever. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place. If I could afford organic produce and fillets of chickens that were sung lullabies while they were still alive and fed non gmo corn in porcelain bowls I totally would be there all the time. I can’t, so I am reduced to the Hispanic supermarket down the street for my basics. I’m pretty sure my stomach can’t tell the difference between cucumbers that were coddled and those that came from an undisclosed location, but I digress. So with that being said, Whole Foods is a mecca for privileged white people conversations, people who complain about the brand of Swiss chard, or that the chocolate they’re about to buy wasn’t made in this specific region of he Andes. They have children who complain that their parents bought them a Saab over the Benz they wanted. The place smells like a garden but feels like a mix between Woodstock and oppression. 

So I came up with the term “Whole Foods Problems” for anytime someone complains about something that is more of a minor, privileged inconvenience rather than an actual problem. (Also known as White Problems.) 

My bath not getting hot was a total Whole Foods Problem. As was the rest of the day..

Porter and Alex ended up going to her brother’s house for a couple hours, so Steven and I decided we’d walk to Wicker Park just to finally get out of the apartment. It was much warmer than it had been (33 degrees, woohoo!) and it was nice to just enjoy the day. Somewhere around our second hour of walking, the temperature dropped and we were getting hungry. We walked by a cafe that was open and had food about a mile back, but at this point it was too far, so we tried a sushi place close by that we thought was open-no dice, the owners were just there renovating? Anyway, so we cut across another street to a place that was definitely open, only to find they were just having Thanksgiving dinner,  you needed a reservation and it was $25 per person. (Keep in mind, this was essentially a vegan fast food joint, so a reservation seemed leaps and bounds out of character.) Alex called us around that time. She didn’t eat dinner at her brother’s place, and her and Porter were getting hungry. I gave her the instructions to find a place that has delivery, and to have it ready to order when we got back.

At this point, Steven and I were 2 miles away from my place, after a little walking I was pretty frozen, so we walked in to this place called Go Grocer, like Whole Foods, but convenience store size. (Do you see a theme here?) Steven ended up finding Post Road, my favorite fall beer. (Win!) and we got cheese and crackers. (Lactard stomach didn’t act up later-double win!) I also got impending niece a book called, “Good Night, Chicago.” (Too perfect, really.) Steven was content to walk the rest of the way, but I wasn’t. I hailed a cab and paid $8 including tip for a mile and a half cab ride.

When we got back, we ordered Thai from a place that I was yet to try. It was terrible, but I was very hungry so I didn’t care. There is no such thing as good thai food in the city of Chicago. I am convinced. 

Image

(At least it looked pretty?)

Afterwards we played Cards Against Humanity and we all took naps, except I ended up not waking up until 7:30 this morning, and they others stayed up to continue shenanigans.

All in all, the day was an entire Whole Foods Problem, but it was oddly wonderful in the best way ever. Thanksgiving/ Friendsgiving turned out to be a solid success and good times were had by all.

Have a great day everyone, totally judging anyone who goes Christmas shopping today.

Drinking in Circles

“How was the party?” my friend asked.
“Kind of insufferable, ” I replied, “just a bunch of artsy people, drinking in circles and talking about themselves.”
“So it was standard?”

At 26 this was what my fun was reduced to-drinking with a small group of people talking about myself at a larger party. I figure this is how you’re supposed to make friends in a new place, but even with a good buzz going it all felt a little cheap. Plus, a few of my new friends had taken a vow of predominant sobriety.

“Think of all the things you’ve wanted to do sober, and how those change when you open a beer.”

It’s true. Grammar aside, even the phrases I write while drunk are so awful-even the snootiest of hipsters couldn’t find a correlation to thought or emotion. They scream hysterics rather than feeling.

If I want to get anything done in this world I can’t be under the influence of anything except that of which I am doing. If I am trying to love than I want to be drunk with it. If I need to write, I almost want to drown in the time spent tapping away at my laptop. I want to wake up feeling refreshed and not foggy.

Growing up means having a better taste for the bottle, and knowing when to put it down. Cut back reflect. Indulge in what makes you feel.

The cabbie gets lost on his way to the party.
I know two of the fifty. 
The honor is going down south to find herself, in either Savannah or LA
I end up drinking a beer I didn’t show up with.
I hear Lorde and Beyonce.
I’d be glasses twins with several guys had I worn mine.
There is an absurd amount of plaid.

Something tells me I need to get home to write this down.
Something tells me I need to get home period..

Nadia is drenched in satin and velvet, drinking red wine from a gold solo cup.
She looks lovely as always.
The conversation is smaller than most talking.
I wonder what this would be like without a buzz.

A group of mildly creative twenty somethings, hanging out talking about themselves.
I should be home writing?
Pretentious?
More pretentious than this scene.

I’m curious as to what blurs the line between observer and participant, and if I’ve gotten there.

When I get home, I look at the painted road map of Boston, and can’t help but be reminded that
the only thing that city ever wanted of me was to be my home.
And Chicago?
No sure what it wants yet. It’s overtly coy about the whole thing.

Last night looked like takeout sushi and 3 PBRS. It smelled like leftover mashed potatoes heating up in the microwave. It felt like lonely- the feeling I get when I am stretching my body out as far as I can go, for someone to meet me halfway to make a connection. I fall asleep with my hand still hanging and wake up with sore legs. It’s funny to think I used to enjoy being anonymous.

Maybe it’s the impending holidays, or the fact that since I’ve been here, I haven’t met anyone particularly reliable. While I love the city itself, there’s a piece of me that misses feeling comfortable.

Boston-where everybody knows your name.
My ever shrinking city.

I swear I smelled the ocean today. I was in the stairwell of my apartment building and it was misting outside. Right before I opened the door to catch the bus I tasted fresh salt and cold water. I closed my eyes and pictured my favorite spot on my favorite beach back home, and took a few deep breaths before opening my eyes again.

Sometimes I wish I could go back there-to the ocean, the quaint bars in Harvard square and my little room on Dorchester. I wish I could have coffee one more time in kitchen with my old roommates. I miss that awful plastic table cloth and several friends living upstairs.

I wish I could go back to people who inspired me too cook. The people who inspired me to dance to funk music. Painted shower curtains and the roar of the redline overhead.

I miss the commons and the homeless gentleman that would shout the weather report as you walked by for change. I miss being able to lean on the feeling even when I was by myself.

I know I’m still in the thick of this transition, but I’m so tired. Even when I’m happy, I’m so tired all the time.

Quiet Little Voice

I was 5 years old when I figured out how powerful words could be. My brother and I were seated on this wooden bench outside a courtroom while my parents and their lawyers battled over custody inside. We were dressed up, and our mother had packed us a small bag of toys neither of us touched. Several people walked by glaring out of the corners of their eyes but no one stopped.

A woman came out of the court room wearing a navy blue blazer, white button up blouse and pencil skirt. She had dark wavy hair and blue eyes. I remember those eyes because she looked at me with such sadness and while by that point I was used to adults looking at me in that way, it always came from a family member, not from a stranger.

She knelt down to where my brother and I were and introduced herself.

“My name is Kathy. What are your names?” Her voice echoed in an otherwise silent lobby.

My brother, 3 years my senior, happily piped up,

“I’m James and this is my little sister! Her name is Jessica. She’s shy.”

“Hi James. It’s nice to meet you.” She said to my brother.

Then Kathy looked at me.

“Your name is Jessica?” She asked me.

I nodded.

***
I wasn’t always that quiet, not even to people I didn’t know. My earliest memories of my parents were of them fighting. I recall the smashing of lamps and a tiny apartment my dad moved into for a spell. Those fragments lack order in my mind and I feel awkward talking to family about them. I remember the louder their voices screamed, the softer mine got. At one point my brother mentioned that they never used to fight like that until I was born so I started to take some responsibility for it. In the end, I would slip into this anxious pit of shyness that would take me nearly two decades to crawl out of. I still battle with it to some degree, usually when hearing myself speak with conviction.

***
Kathy asked me how I was feeling and while I looked straight into her eyes I didn’t speak. It felt like a lump had developed in my throat and that if I were to talk, my little voice would be so loud that the police flanking the doors might hear in the tone of what I was saying that things were very much not ok at home.  I was afraid that by saying one word, all the rest would come out and maybe someone would take one of my parents away from me. I had no idea then that despite this logic, I would be without at least one of them in a large way from then on and for the rest of my life, but there in that court lobby, I swore by the silence I would keep for the better part of the next two decades.

Kathy dug into her purse and pulled out a pen and a small notebook.

“Can you write?” she asked me.

I cracked a smile. I was in Kindergarten and by that point, could write my name and a few 3 letter words. Writing was my favorite time of day, next to arts and crafts.

She passed me the pen and notebook.

“Can you write your name and how you’re feeling?”
***
Up until that moment, I was only given instructions, most of which involved me not speaking to my father which I thought was odd. I was still in the childhood school of thought that all adults were right and kids had no idea what was going on. Given that all the things I was told to do caused me some type of sadness I was starting to get a little skeptical, but I complied anyway because I for some strange reason I figured that if I was really good, it would all stop. I remember sitting on Santa’s lap at a mall when I was 4 and when he asked what I wanted for Christmas, I said “For Mommy and Daddy to stop fighting.”  After seeing the uncomfortable look in his eyes, I quickly added “And an art easel.” I got the easel but it didn’t stop the battle at home.

In those surrounding months, I would crawl into my closet with all my stuffed animals, a flashlight, a few pieces of construction paper and crayons. There, I would draw out these elaborate stories to distract me from all the noise. My closet muffled out a lot of the words that were being yelled and the garments draping overhead made me feel safe. Mrs. Hartnett, my teacher, said that books and stories could take you to faraway places without leaving your house. I was jealous of my 8 year old brother who could read for that reason. I figured if I couldn’t read a story, I would make my own in pictures. I didn’t care that only I could understand them. I needed those stick figures just as much as I needed my Sleepy Time Care Bear, my knitted blanket, that closet and the coats and dresses overhead. I needed those things because while I didn’t have the language for it, I knew all too well that the system that was put in place to protect me was failing me dramatically.

****

I took the pen and notebook from here, flipped to a clean page in the book and wrote, “JESSICA IS SAD” in big bold uncoordinated letters.

“My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!” my brother interjected, getting bored in his seat before finally opening the bag of toys.
 

Something changed in me the moment that pen touched the paper. Feeling the tread of my shaky hands create something I wasn’t sure I understood yet made me able to communicate without talking, and I could do so in a way that people could understand and respond to.  Getting those three words out, I felt an odd sense of empowerment. Finally, I was able to speak up. Finally, my little voice could be heard.

Kathy read my words and looked at me. Her eyes reminded me of the ocean. My favorite place was the beach.

“You’re very sad, huh Jessica?” she asked me.

I took the pen and notebook back from her. “YES” I wrote in those same bold letters. I held up the notebook to cover my face so she couldn’t see me start to cry. When she heard my sniffles she took the notebook down and gave me a hug where I continued to cry for what felt like a really long time.

I was still in Kathy’s arms when the courtroom doors burst open and my mother briskly came out along with a slew of other people wearing dark suits.

“James! Jessica! Come here right now!” She ordered. I held onto Kathy for a moment longer.

“JESSICA!” my mother screamed, “NOW!” I pulled away and looked into Kathy’s eyes one last time.

That would be the last time in years anyone would ask me how I was feeling. It would be the last time I would feel safe for a bit longer than that.

As my small legs moved to keep up with my mother’s pace, she yanked the collar of my dress motioning me to look up at her.

“What did I tell you about not talking to strangers?”

****

I would be one of the first kids in my class to learn to read, and the first to be able to write complete sentences. I would struggle with spelling due to an undiagnosed learning disability, but that didn’t stop me from writing. I would use pieces of paper in place of actual space. I would use a pen and a keyboard in place of my actual voice. I wrote everyday about everything, from all the toxicity in my home life to friends that were somehow able to attach themselves to a painfully shy girl. In high school, I would hardly participate in class discussions but my teachers would claim that my papers were nothing short of extraordinary.

By college, I would lose some inhibition thanks to alcohol. I would meet people like me that became creative due to tragedy. I would be inspired by poets like Buddy Wakefield and artists like Frida Kahlo. Through these people, I would find my own color and embrace my broken little road whose cracked surface I was born onto and by no fault of my own.

And I would write. God, I would write. I would write for me while older people were in control of my mess and once I got out, I would write for all the people that were still there. I would write for the men and women who walked parallel to my upbringing. I would write for all the kids that were still there. I would write for my friends who would get annoyed when I felt uncomfortable dictating plans for the evening and for the lovers who couldn’t understand why I had a hard time speaking up. From this writing I would learn to put myself first. From this writing, I would learn my own voice.

21 years after that day in the courtroom, I was at this dive bar on Division in Chicago, downing a PBR and waiting for the open mic to start. I held onto my crumpled piece of paper containing a poem about surviving a turbulent childhood. I was drinking to quell the nerves, though the booze wasn’t helping.

“Up next is Jessica! This is her first time at our open mic!”

I walked up to the stage as the room of surly people in dark coats applauded me.

“This is actually my first time reading anything I’ve written ever.” I began. I nearly jumped at how loud I sounded.

A salty voice from the back yelled, “Congratulations, Sweetheart! Welcome!”

“Hey thanks!” I said to the gentleman before beginning,

“This poem is called, ‘I’ve Arrived.’”

I went to bed with a nagging issue at work, along with some fear related to my writing.

I woke up to a text from my sister, saying she was in the hospital and while she and the baby were ok, she’s going to be monitored there for the next couple of days. I won’t get into details for sake of her privacy, but the whole thing rattled me.

As I biked the daily 10 miles to Skokie, I thought of her road and our road together. We aren’t related by birth, but grew up in the same house and while there were moments when we really hated each other, I feel in our adulthood we’ve become one of each other’s biggest ally and advocate. I’ve seen her battle things bigger than herself only to come out smarter, stronger and more loving than I ever thought she could be. She is funny and charming, focused and down to earth. Picturing her in the hospital, talking to doctors with her boyfriend and mother, hooked up to machines and worrying about her impending daughter scares the ever living crap out of me. I’m suddenly angry at all the people I have to deal with who don’t know my story, and I’m even angrier at the people that do but are complaining about things like being stuck in traffic, or forgetting their lunch at home.

I want to shake them and say, “Yes, that’s annoying, but there are so many other things more important than that crap right now!”

Because at the end of the day, it’s about the people you love isn’t it?