Ode to Louise Gluck

I’m writing this poem based on my favorite poem by Gluck–”Mutable Earth.”  I carry that one with me in my wallet.  Rosanna Warren has described Gluck’s writing, for one as–”her–power is to distance the lyric ‘I’ as subject and object of attention” and to “impose a discipline of detachment upon urgently subjective material”  William Logan from the New York Times described her work as “the logical outcome of a certain strain of confessional verse–starved adjectives, thinned to a nervous set of verbs, intense almost past bearing, her poems have been dark, damaged and difficult to avert your gaze from.” (taken from The Poetry Foundation)

In her poem, “Mutable Earth,” there are a series of questions asked of the narrator and she answers in brief, punching stanzas.  I am going to answer the same questions; why not?


“Are you healed or do you only think you’re healed?”

I tell myself it is

terrible and beautiful

to survive

the mind.

It’s costing me everything.


“But can you love anyone yet?”

My first four years

had love;

I remember the

feeling well.


“But will you touch anyone?”

I tell myself

if I have nothing,

that’s what comes back.


I touch my face

in the mirror

and I feel nothing.


“And your face too?

Your face in the mirror?”

It feels like I am

gloved; I see

a shape of silent centers.

It always felt invisible.


“Were you safe then?”

Hands that can’t feel

reach for danger.


I wouldn’t keep secrets

of my own–my thoughts

were never safe, even

from me.


“So you couldn’t protect yourself?”

I wonder what happened

in my little body

that made me fight–

until I saw her die,

myself; and to lose someone

I hate makes me

love them.


“But do you think you’re free?”

I think I know what I am.


“But do you think you’re free?”

Everything has a price.

Everything has a price.

A small girl fighting and dying

is far more free

then what

she becomes.


The Elements of Loss

I don’t hear you say my name
as you ask why it is
I let no one love me.
I feel something stir
and I laugh.
This is my way.
There’s no room for clumsy.
Take me or leave me, I
say I’ll give you one chance
when I know I won’t
give you any.
Best to shield before
they want to leave.
But deep in the
infection of my gut
I’m saying
love me, love me.

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Daddy’s Game


I imagine you must’ve shut

yourself off somehow–the way

you’d eventually teach me to do–

before you entered my room

like a king’s shadow.


I hear the scrape of your jeans

your hands hot and big like swings;

I’m young so I love you.  I do as you say.

You blow smoke in my face.


Now, here, I slip

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Hamsa: The Hand of Fatima and the Virgin Mary


In high school I had reoccurring dreams of a symbol–a hand with an eye on it.  Dreamed it all the time.  I had no idea what it meant, but it remained with me always.  A few years later I was dreaming I was in this different aboriginal world and we were painting our faces with blue war paint.  A woman, the leader, kept saying something very close to the sound of “Fatima” and I bolted

My up and coming tattoo

My up and coming tattoo

out of bed but I could not write it down for some strange reason–it slipped away too quickly.  More time passed.  I got sick.  Really sick..  I’d sob into my hospital mattress praying the Hail Mary over and over and over until I fell asleep.  And everything changed.  But I came back to that dream of the hand with the eye on it, and mulled it over while I was healing.

Last month I was at church (a very rare occasion because I try very hard not to cry for some reason when I”m there) and I was walking out with my grandpa and there was a table of pamphlets and audiobooks set up and I stopped dead in my hamsabuddhatracks–there it was; Fatima.  I knew that name but from where?  I kept repeating it in my head.  I knew it.  It was a picture of the Virgin Mary, the vision in Portugal.  I stopped my mother and whispered that I knew this–that I’d dreamed this.  Naturally she shrugged and

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Starry Night

It was a clear October night. My sisters and I piled into the old red Chevy with our stepfather Dan and headed outside of town for the hospital where my mother was in the mental ward. None of us spoke, we hardly ever did back then.  Dan kept his eyes either on the road or my thighs, chain-smoking Dorals. I stared through the glass, street lights passing over us. As we neared the outskirt, the sky began to open up and out into space. I thought of nothing. I didn’t think of my mother, I didn’t pray for her. I didn’t think of the speed of change. I stared up into the stars, beyond my reflection, where I was beginning to recognize myself–a dark, infinite emptiness that evaded my tales of heaven. A nothingness, like the kind I knew creeping.
We swung into the nearly empty parking lot and walked to a group of picnic tables under a street light and were told to wait. It was chilly and quiet. My sisters and I stood apart, disappearing from

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Humming Birds (memoir)

“Amy, you’re gonna get it,” Nikki tells me.  I’m hiding between the lilac bushes, Barbie’s head in my hand.  It’s our weekend at our father’s house.
“What’d you use?”
“Daddy John’s knife.”  I’m not afraid.  My father is harmless, even almost afraid of us.  It’s my stepfather I’m scared of.
“I’m telling!” And off she runs toward the farmhouse.  I fish for the knife in the pocket of my dirty overalls and slice at Barbie’s pretty

Nikki and I rolling in the living room with Grandma Helen

Nikki and I rolling in the living room with Grandma Helen

blue eyes so they open.  I sit and poke little holes where her pupils are and then I saw at her ratty hair.  I lick my bottom lip, almost got it.  A pleasure fills me.
“Amy!  You get in here!”  It’s Grandma Helen, I can see her wiping her hands on her apron through the lilac branches.  The white house is blinding but filthy.  The shutters are falling off.  My Uncle Bob saunters up the dirt driveway and tosses a beer can near my hiding spot.  He doesn’t see me, I breathe.  His hands, I don’t like his hands.
I wait for him to get to the porch before I emerge.  I stuff the knife in my pocket and leave Barbie behind.
amos“Amy what are you doing?  Give your daddy his knife back, you don’t belong with that.  Come in it’s lunch time.”  I race up the stairs and into the kitchen where Grandpa Leo sits in his brown leather chair that spins and spins when you lay across it.  He’s next to the window, above the lilac bushes, watching the humming bird feeder as usual, sipping his Old Style.  I know it’s time to be a little more civilized so I toss the knife on the table and take my seat.  Nikki and Jodie are already eating their Spaghettios from the chipped blue China dishes I always loved to look at.
The kitchen is a dismal yellow place with large wooden silverware hanging on the walls.  There’s dishes and beer cans and paper baqs all over.  the floor is a brown linoleum that slants down into the next room where grandma’s organ sits.  My sisters and I sing church hymnals with her on Sundays.  There are old jelly jars all over, filled with old fashioned candy, and lilacs fill white bubbly vases.  The floor then rolls into the dark living room.  On my tricycle I barely have to petal around the rooms.  Grandpa’s torn, black leather chair sits in the corner against the gray paneling.  The first time he gave me a sip of his beer I was sitting on his lap in that chair, picking at the white stuffing coming out of the arm.
Daddy John walks into the kitchen on his long, faded denim legs.  He wears one of three shirts, this one the brown and white plaid one with the pretty white metal buttons.  He sits down at the little table and opens another beer.
“Jesus Christ, John.  You’re good for nothin’.  Good for nothing.  You got three babies here and alls you do is sit around and drink, piss your life away, can’t hold a job.  You’re a miserable failure dammit.”  My dad’s head bows a little and he’s quiet.  Grandpa shakes his bald head and Daddy John looks at us and looks away.  We smile and eat in the silence.  As I get up to go outside, I reach across and can barely reach the knife but I do, and I slide it towards Daddy John and say sorry.  He pinches my cheek.
Outside we race for the huge apple trees.  The pink blossoms fall across the cherrybigyard like snow and if you stand beneath the two of them, they arch over you and it’s like being in one of those snow globes.  The swing Daddy John built is a board on one piece of rope.  Nikki gets there first and Daddy John comes out to push her.  I climb the tree, up the nailed-in boards my cousins pounded in for steps.  Fat bumble bees buzz all about in the pink honeysuckle fragrance.

the lilac bush

the lilac bush

“Daddy John, Daddy John, when’s it my turn?” Jodie and I take turns asking.  For the first and last time I see my father get angry.
“I’m not ‘Daddy John’ I’m your daddy!  He can’t take my place with you’s!” and just like that he stormed off into the field where the hay bales dot the horizon.

It’s getting dark and grandma tells Daddy John to put us in the tub.  All three of us strip down, shameless with the door wide open.  Daddy John, filling the tub, sees us and blushes, looking away.  He gets up and says, “Okay, okay you’s (he always calls us ‘you’s’), wash up,,” and he leaves, too embarrassed to stay, so grandma comes in to wash our hair.  She calls salt, pepper, and paprika because of our blond, brunette, and red hair.  It’s different at mom and Scott’s house, where we’re ashamed.
We march up the nappy green stairs to the room we share with our father.  fdsfssIt’s divided in two by an orange afghan.  We crawl up into the high double bed we share, Jodie in the middle because she’s the smallest and might fall out.  It’s dark up here and my pajamas are still clinging to my wet body.  Daddy John kisses us good night saying “I love you’s” and he walks toward the light in the door and descends the creaky stairs.  I watch him disappear and then my eyes get caught, as they do every weekend I’m here, on the haunting picture of The Last Supper.  There are golds and silvers and glittery greens in it and it and it shimmers somehow, in the dark.  I stare at it, somewhat afraid and I don’t know why the terror, until I doze off.

We’re learning how to spell our new last name.  I try to copy my mother’s cursive.


Sunburst (for Emma)

While I was watching
she didn’t do
a slow dissolve
on the canvas
of what I’ve painted.
I waited for it.
I waited for
the oils to
drip down and blur
the dark strokes,
the blood wine moons
and negative stars
sketched in reverse,
the sharp intakes

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Sexual Identity and Other Goodies

Well it’s a sleepless night so I thought I’d catch you all up on things with me.  For starters I won my Disability case!  I’m so relieved I cannot even explain.  But aside from that, better things are happening:

Sexual identity is what’s happening with me in my life right now.  I’ve never felt more free and “normal” about my sexuality and desires.  I’m learning I have a darker side, but it’s not as bad as I had feared it would be.  I don’t recall ever desiring a man this much in my life.  Ever.  I never knew how men were just as complex and beautiful creatures as we women.  Only wonderfully different.  I think my past shut me off from men completely-I know for a fact it did.  And I’ve met some incredible, incredible people that share similar desires and stories and I feel so…

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Some Thoughts

“Loss–it’s always looking up waiting for the sky to lift

I’m somewhere in between–way down and up on my toes

aren’t we all pushing forward–

shouldn’t the earth shift beneath our force–

buds reaching always reaching?

Some of us, we’re always watching,

waiting for our half-remembered dreams,

knowing we are not magnificent.


–Amy Jo



Journal, Easter Eve, April 19th

I don’t know why Holidays are so hard, even the small ones. Easter.
standing at the edge
and telling myself
it’s not as hard as it seems
but the meds don’t
make you better
they keep you in survival mode.

You know I have these feelings I get here and there, sometimes quite often in a month, or maybe three times a month and it’s happening now–that I’m gonna commit suicide. I think about the whole thing, how it would be easier, or scarier, but how the monotony of sickness would end. The monotony of the numbness and then the craziness in my head. How my life, when I really look at it, I mean really look at it, is something I my old self would fear to look at. Its a station of dread. I want to die in it. I get so close

And will you be fine?
Cause I hear sadness is like cancer.
Sometimes you lose them forever.
Sometimes they come back.
But they’ re usually not the same.
–Oscar Lush
to going to the hospital but I never do because i’m just not “that bad” yet. But it keeps occurring, so do I go in for prevention? I know I won’t do anything. Its so strange. When Emma is here or on just some other day I’m so happy. Then I really see myself, and I cry. I never stop crying. I cry at night. I imagine Emma and how she’d be better off with someone stable. But I’m good with her, I don’t understand. I have no one to tell this to. I would havd maybe told Nikki but she’s been gone for awhile. Thinks she’s doing something brave and strong and for herself. when really she’s being weak. I thought she was made of stronger stuff than this. It’s a huge let-down. Because I am alone. I’ve never been more lonely ever ever ever ever.
I’m shaking really bad and trying to paint my nails. I keep telling myself It passes, Amy, it passes. And yes it does. So I’ll struggle through this again. It’s like dissociating but on a different level. I’m tired. So tired. It’s so hard to swallow the pill that I am not the same.
20 minutes later….It passed; head’s pounding but i’m good

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a random strike

It takes a broken heart to learn
that it’s always looking
up waiting for the sky to lift
I’m somewhere in between way down
and up on my toesprettyprint
aren’t we all pushing forward
shouldn’t the earth shift beneath our force
buds reaching always reaching
some of us, we’ll always be looking
up, waiting for our half-remembered dreams

and after so long, we make our own sun


Status Update

Well hello everyone.  I’m mulling over the idea of going to a inpatient month-long treatment facility for people like me.   I’m nervous and scared and not committing myself to the idea yet, but I am wondering if any of you have done this? What was it like?  And how much does it help???

And will you be fine?

Cause I hear sadness is like cancer.

Sometimes you lose them forever.

Sometimes they come back.


But they’re usually not the same.


A Space to Fill

It’s the coldest January I’ve known
the white light coming in
through the protective glass–
white, I think, like my grandmother’s
white sheets she’d hang in June.

The white light coming in
takes me for a turn and
I think for a moment–
is it color? Or space? Like
the space we can never fill

and then I remember where I am
and why I am here.

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