Love Stuff

It’s a quiet, snowy Sunday before Valentine’s Day and I’m diving into some of my older poetry about Carl and I. We’ve been together for seventeen years now and somewhere in there, I came to understand what people mean when they say it takes more than love to make a relationship work. I write a lot of “Marry the One Who . . .” posts, but those are all little things. Don’t get me wrong, they’re lovely little things; they’re important little things that add up to a beautiful day to day life that I do not take for granted.

But they’re still little.

The big things are how you handle it when one of you royally screws up, what you do when you can’t do life fifty/fifty or even sixty/forty because both of you are running on ten percent, when life changes and you change and your needs change. Whoever you are when you choose each other, you’re both going to change again and again and again and it can be so hard to keep up. Love won’t make your relationship last, but it can sometimes hold you together long enough for you to figure out the rest.

So today, I’m combing through roughly seventeen years worth of love poems and sharing a few on my Black Ink Birds Facebook page, in my blackinkbirds Instagram stories and here on the blog. Some of them are awkward and clumsy, some of them painful and sad, and some of them are beautiful and sweet; that’s how it is when you’re looking at love as a whole.

Letter from the Bottom

This morning I was looking through old drafts; I have nearly 100 starts I’ve never finished and I’ve been going through each one to either publish or delete. I was surprised when I ran into this poem I wrote in 2018.  It was completely finished but never shared and I’d so completely forgotten it that I really felt like I was opening a letter from an old friend, which, in a way, I guess I was.

I may have cried a little. I spent a good, long while at the bottom, but I’m not there anymore, and reading this poem was a lovely reminder of just how far I’ve come. 

Here I sit.

I’ve asked why,

why me, and

why them.

I’ve tried to climb out

only to slide back down even as I claw at sides too steep

for tired fingers.

I’ve been angry to be here

and sad.

I’ve been desperate to leave

and keenly felt the expectation

that it’s past time to get up and dust off and move on.

I’ve scratched tally marks into my soul–

noting each day as it passes,

the way the moon and stars change position

but I can’t.

And then, just yesterday,

laying on my back and looking up

from my lowest point,

I realized why I’m here

and all my efforts to leave have failed.

It’s not even a secret.

But it was still a revelation–

Rock bottom is where you rest.

where you catalogue injuries and sore spots

where you identify and cast off the heavy things

weighing you down.

where you gather energy and resources for the difficult climb ahead–

Rock bottom is not comfortable

because you aren’t meant to stay

but it is quiet,

and empty

but for your self,

the broken dreams that dropped you there,

and everything you need to leave . . .

when you’re ready.

Moments in Motherhood: Art? Or a Mess?

So this happened today:

No, not the marker on her face. That happened yesterday. The hearts happened today.

My initial reaction was to be upset. There was paint on the floor, the wall, her . . . It was a mess! I took a breath, looked at her, and said, “Babe, we put a lot of paper in your desk for painting.” It was a toss-away line–something I said, hoping I sounded neutral, to buy myself time to think about what to do. Have her help me wash it off and explain that we don’t paint on the walls? Give her extra cleaning chores as discipline? Take her paints away for awhile? . . .

We’d never made a specific rule about not painting on your walls, although by the look on her face when I entered the room, she was expecting a negative reaction. When I mentioned all that paper we’d bought for her in a calm and normal voice, her relief was evident. She went from tense to relieved to excited in the span of a second. Jumping up from her desk she went to the wall and said, “I really love my hearts mom!”

I replied, “They’re beautiful, baby, but we should get them washed off before they dry.”

“NO! Pleeeeeeaaaaaaaasee? They’re beautiful and I want to keep them!” she didn’t say it with attitude, just genuinely begging to keep her work. She’s always liked to have her room her own way. I’ll hang something up and she’ll move it or put it in her toy box and replace it with something else. And she’s always loved any form of art, but especially art that involves lots of bright colors.

When she was three and Carl had to go back to work after the boys were born, she painted the bathtub in all blacks and browns. And when she was four and Orion was on his last day, she drew him pictures of them together to thank him for being such a good dog. Now that she’s in school, she comes home almost every day with a new, colorful picture that says “I love you Mom” on it.

Out of nowhere, The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery came into my mind and I thought of “Drawing Number One” and “Drawing Number Two” (if you haven’t read it, please do, it’s beautiful.) . . .

And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I decided to let her keep it.

Of course I want my girl to grow up respectful. I also want her to grow up with seeds of joy in her heart that she knows how to tend. I want her to know how to make her own moments of sweet, happy freedom and you can really only get that feeling from things like roller skating in the kitchen, having a mud-fight, jumping in puddles, or painting on the walls. And it only works if you don’t have to feel mountains of guilt afterward.

I did have her help me clean the paint off the floor and explain that if she wants to do more painting, we’ll wash off the hearts first and put any new artwork in the same spot. She agreed and then, so happily and so proudly, told me more about her hearts and how much she loves her room and paint and the color pink . . . and somehow, those hearts don’t look like a mess at all to me now.


An Armful–The Contents of the Closet

Written December 29th . . .

“I was never really insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.” -Edgar Allan Poe

If you’re wondering where we’re going, no words of my own could say it more accurately and succinctly than Edgar Allan Poe already did. Grief is strange and we do strange things when we’re in it’s grip. For instance, right now I’m sitting on the floor in front of the closet (not inside because I discovered mouse poop once I started pulling things out so a thorough bleaching is going to be necessary before I do any sitting in there) and I’m holding a literal armful of horse hair.

Let me write that again. I am holding a LITERAL ARMFUL of HORSE HAIR.

But before I get in to that, let me lay out a few of the things I did to prepare for this moment. Again, it all seems a little insane when type it out, but all I can tell you is that I promised myself I would listen to my intuition as I went through this process. This is what I felt like I needed to do and for the first time in years, instead of doubting or questioning, I just did it.

  1. I brought coffee and water-coffee is soothing for me, especially in the morning and water for hydration because I figured I’d be doing a lot of crying (I was not wrong.)
  2. I put on my husband’s shirt–it feels strangely like armor. He couldn’t come with me for this, I needed to do it alone, but his shirt is a comfort.
  3. I brought a clean notebook and pen to jot thoughts for more in-depth writing later.
  4. And finally, I brought a pair of shoes, not to wear, just to remind me that if it gets to be too much, I can and should get up and walk away for a bit.

There are so many reasons I’ve put this off and I’d planned to come down here this morning and start small, approach the half-asleep beast of my grief nice and easy . . . but instead, I opened the door and looked at all this horse hair and there he was in my mind, thrashing out his last moments, eyes rolling, and obviously in great pain. It’s my worst memory. I have avoided it so consistently and successfully since it happened because I knew just how awful it would be to go back in my mind.

I loved him so much. I’ll never be able to write how much I loved him. And all of our life together he gave me absolutely everything a horse can give.

Yet the one thing I wanted to give him so badly in the end–a quick and painless death, I couldn’t. And it guts me still.

Instead, I watched and spoke soothingly in his ear the same way I did when a train passed too close or that pack of four rottweilers ran up on us, or when bicyclists went by “Easy, easy boy, easy.” and I didn’t cry because I didn’t want my sobbing to be the last he heard of my voice. When he was gone, I stayed with him until his body started to feel cool under my cheek. And then, I apparently cut off almost all of his tail hair like a complete lunatic.

It was the same with the tufts of Why?lee’s undercoat I kept, which are also now in my lap. I can’t think of a single, normal reason to have kept all this, but I remember the horrible feeling as I watched him breathe his last three breaths. I counted them while they euthanized him. Three breaths and he was gone.

Sitting here now, with all of it in my hands, I first thought, Why did I do this? What was my plan? But I know I had no plan. There was no thought to the future at all, just an overwhelming desperation to keep them with me: any way I could.

And one thing that has become clear this morning, is that keeping this hair has done nothing at all to make me feel closer to my lost loves. It’s all become an ugly weight in the center of my home–representative only of the guilt, pain, and fear I felt in their last moments.

Written January 13th . . .

As often as I can, I get up very early and spend time just letting myself remember, letting myself cry, writing my thoughts, etc, and I’ve come to a few conclusions over the past two weeks:

  1. The initial pain was possibly even worse than I imagined it would be, but even that first day, after I pulled myself up off the floor and had a long, hot shower, the relief I felt at having finally opened that closet and acknowledged its contents was undeniable and immense.
  2. I can now say with confidence that I do not want to keep these mementos of their deaths–neither the armful of hair/fur nor the plaster paw print of Why?lee’s I got just after he passed. But I can’t throw them in the garbage either. They need to be laid to rest properly, I’m just not sure what that means yet.
  3. I frequently feel crazy as I move through these intense thoughts, memories, and feelings. Yet, every time I allow myself to do what I feel like I need to do, the relief is instant. My body and my heart know just what they need, it’s my mind that resists and denies.
  4. The longer I hold on to what was, the longer I go without opening my heart to what is and there’s so much here before me to fall in love with.

Written this afternoon . . .

SoCo and I took all the fur and hair and the plaster paw print to the woods this afternoon. It was very cold and snowy and I like to think that maybe a bunny or a bird will find the dog fur and tail hair useful for a cozy nest. I thought it would be incredibly hard to let it go and walk away but when we found just the right spot, I didn’t hesitate. Turns out, before I rode into the woods today, I’d already let it go and walked away–the power these things have held for the past, nearly four years is just . . . gone.

And now, well, I don’t know what now, but I’m ready to find out. : )

The Untended

I’ve been quiet,
but not still–
Wandering the untended places
inside
where grief has taken over the garden.

I arrived with a plan–
to tear it all out
brambles of fear
choking the life out of the lilies
shred it all
and till it down, down, down
where I’ll never have to look at it again.

And plant new lilies
new vegetables
new everything.

Only
I am not new.

And my plan fell apart
another failure
another noxious weed
to add to the growing tangle.

But today
I put my shears in my pocket
before setting off
to my ugly, ruined garden.

I am not new.

This place can not be destroyed
what is buried in good soil
will only and always come up again.

And this is good soil.

But I can tend it.
I can cut back the brambles
to get to the lilies
still trying underneath.

I can pull grief out of the garden
and take it back to it’s place.

It has a place.

They all have a place.

And even where the brambles are thickest
the darkest places
with my shears in my pocket
I can always get through
tend the path
through the wild places
to the garden
and home again.


The Lipstick Letters: No Way Out but Through

I decided to revive The Lipstick Letters on Christmas morning one year ago and since the moment I opened that beautiful box of possibilities, I’ve failed more times than I can count at seeing my vision for it come to life. I’ve told myself its because I’m always so tired. It’s because my thyroid meds were significantly off for nearly a year. It’s because I don’t have time. But these days, though I am still always tired, I do get a day off from my usual responsibilities every week, and I’ve started getting up at four a.m. so I have quiet time to write each day, and my thyroid meds have been back on track since June . . . so what is it?

To find the first piece of the puzzle, I had to stop looking at the lipstick and start looking at my home and my life. Something I did completely by accident, and if I’m being honest, I wish I could undo and push off for just a little longer.

I was getting Wilbur his breakfast from the little closet under the stairs where we keep his food. And for some reason that morning, I noticed Morris’ carrier on it’s side in the way back. (Morris was our sweet and salty cat who passed away in September.) Then, as my eyes traveled the floor of the little room back toward my own feet I saw that his remaining cat food is still in there along with Orion’s collar and leash. (Orion was our precious dog who passed away of old age in March.) Finally, I looked up to the shelf and, though my eyes have passed over them without seeing for years now, they were still just where I left them–tufts of my 17 year old, Why?lee dog’s undercoat I brushed the day we put him down and lengths of my beautiful horse–Tristan’s tail I cut moments after he died of colic. My mind took me straight from there to the deaths of my friends, Tammy, Brent, and Kerry, my beautiful cousin-Gena, then on to the baby Carl and I never got to meet. All these losses having occurred over just the past four years. I closed my eyes. I took a shallow breath . . .

Then, I poured Wilbur’s kibble into his bowl and did what I’ve been doing. I took my twins outside to play and when we got home, I made them lunch, cleaned up, put them down for a nap, and spent their nap time prepping dinner and cleaning. When they woke up, we got my Sunshine off the bus from school, had a snack, played, ate dinner, brushed teeth, read stories, and then I put them to bed. Once they were in bed, I cleaned some more, took stock of what was in the fridge for meals the next day, prepped the coffee, folded the towels, walked Wilbur again, fed him, brought in the horses, fed them, too, then went to bed. But I was up the next morning at 4am to write. It was still dark, the house was silent, and I tried to write about a shade of lipstick called “Memory” but the only memories I could think about were the ones piling up and collecting dust in that closet.

And that’s how it’s been every day since. Even though I don’t want to think about it any more now than I have at any point since I put all of those things in there. There hasn’t been time to fall apart so I’ve been holding it together but in that 4am stillness, I can’t ignore the call of that dark, sad, somehow both tiny and unimaginably large room under our stairs. Large enough to hold every moment I nearly broke, every tear I’ve held back, every minute I would have ached, hurt, sobbed, screamed, or shattered into a million pieces but didn’t because there wasn’t time.

So here I am, up at 4:30a.m. again, sitting on the couch in the beautiful glow of our Christmas tree, staring at a closed closet door that I’d rather just burn down than ever look in again. But, since burning down a closet that happens to be under your stairs in the center of your home is not recommended, I’m going to have to tackle it’s contents another way. And, while I’m at it, I’m going to have to accept that my heart needs to pick these things up, so I can set them down properly. My soul needs to experience and write this first. Then we’ll see about the letters. Right now, I’m just love and grief inside. It’s too heavy and there’s no room for a new project, no matter how exciting and worthwhile it may be.

I don’t know how this is going to go or how long it will take so I’m not setting any expectations. I just know that when it’s all done, I want the closet to be clean and the things I’ve chosen to keep to be in the light. A dark, dirty closet is no place to hold any part of the most treasured loves of my life.

So, if you want to come along with me while I thoroughly clean out the near-literal “skeletons in my closet,” come along. Maybe you’re holding onto to something you want to let go of, too. Maybe you’re like me and even though you’re about to start, you have no idea how to actually do it and the prospect of facing these memories is terrifying. Maybe we’ll figure it out together.

The Short Version

I had been getting up at 5am to write, but ever since daylight savings time, my children have been getting up around 5am, so today I got up at 4am because I am a glutton for punishment, but also because I love writing and if this is the only way, so be it.

I’ve overhauled my plans for The Lipstick Letters and I’m sooooooooo excited about it! Instead of posting one blog for each shade, I plan to post a collection of thoughts, poems, and whatever else strikes my fancy over the course of a month for each word. When I’m done, I plan to pull it all together, add to it a bit, and edit the full body of work into a book.

The best uncle and cousin in the world (if you know me at all, you know who I’m talking about) bought me a beautiful briefcase for my birthday which I keep packed with my notebooks, pens, laptop, etc so whenever there is a moment to write, everything is in one place, ready to go.

Writing time has also been scarce because someone in my family has been sick every week since my sweet Sunshine started kindergarten. I was warned it would be this way and all those warnings have come to pass.

Momming at the level I want and writing at the level I want are currently mutually exclusive. This is frustrating, but also simple. Momming comes first and writing will simply have to fit in the cracks for now.

Lastly, we finally got our first snow of the season and it just happened to be on the day we got our Christmas tree . . .

It all crashed in
too heavy to handle
so I stepped outside to
walk my dog and
the dead leaves at my feet said
“Shush, shush, shush, shush”
And my mind quieted down.
The fallen log over the trail said
“Slow down.”
and I did.
The mossy boulder I shushed past said
“Give it time.”
and I felt better about all I hadn’t done yet.
The rock wall said
“Great things have been accomplished using only what’s at hand.”
and I remembered I didn’t need to wait for this or that or anything.
The hawk above me was quiet
but extraordinary–wings stretched wide, swooping and gliding overhead.
My dog said “Isn’t all of this incredible?”
And it was.
So I went home
empty coffee mug in hand
poem in my heart
time forgotten
and ready to do life again.



Bardo (or state of the soul between death and rebirth)

I want to wander Bardo
ambling down misty paths lined with
thick, dark trees
that hang over your head
not to hold you in
but to hold time out.

I want to wander Bardo
alone
though Death is often there
and so is Life
I’ll walk quietly and
hope not to see either.

I just want to wander Bardo
following words
not feelings
you cannot feel in Bardo
because you must leave your body behind at the gate
and cannot get it back till you leave.