Writes With Pencils

fiction, memoir, essays and poetry

Tag: Fear

Empathy for the Unborn

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“I hope so”,
was the response of the woman
at the adjacent table
after they’d ordered their platters
of pancakes and eggs.

She and her husband
had just announced her pregnancy
to their gay friends—
nine weeks on Monday.
The announcement was followed only by
her listing the technical details
of the timing
and the pills she’d taken
and allusions to adjustments he’d made
that had finally led to conception.

“We’ll be uncles!”
the friends exclaimed.

“The arrival of the baby
will change your whole universe,”
they smiled.

“I hope so,”
she didn’t.

Beached from Love

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I have hit the limit
of what I thought was limitless.

Once emerged
from a chrysalis, transformed*
free and joyous
through trials and challenges
a tiny, sturdy skiff, I was
ever open-hearted.

Even at my deepest loss,
sunken into grief
I did not contract or pull up oars
but split open
eviscerated, spilling my sorrow
my brokenness, and humanity,
split open
which let in the light
of unexpected kindness and compassion,
split open
to receive the miracle
of pools of unprecedented love
vulnerable, shared, mutual-
imperfectly perfect human love.

But now I’ve hit the limit
of what I thought was limitless.

I believed I had a heart
that was infinitely expansive,
forever buoyant,
a boat at home on placid ponds
built to bear the gales
and lithe enough to navigate
the hidden channel of the heart.
With each crag or dam encountered
its sturdiness was tested
and found ready to face the waves
and the vastness of the sea,
each new love a voyage
and I a ready voyager.

But now I’ve hit the limit
of what I thought was limitless.

For the first time in my life
I’ve headed now for shore
not to rest at moorage
at a cozy dock or cove
but have pitched my oars and rudder
turned my hull against the sky
its scars and scales
out of reach of future tides.
These last beautiful cascades
hid rocks that pierced the strake
has broken its integrity
and compromised its waterline.

I have hit the limit
of what I thought was limitless.

And for the first time
I have retreated
from the quest for love,
unequal to the task.
This quiet, solitary beach
chills and frightens me
more than any exploration
through fog or winding currents
out of sight from shore.
For it is on the waters,
even of a simple pond
that a vessel truly lives.

Because I’ve hit the limit
of what I thought was limitless
and with that I’ve turned my back
against the endless seas.

Photo credit: Jamie Burgoyne, used by permission.

*Referenced from Feline Butterfly

Invisible in Plain Sight

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Even if her sign
were illuminated in neon
she would be invisible.
We drive right by,
safely in our cars,
or glance down at our phones,
or the sidewalk,
as we walk past.
We don’t look her in the eye as she
stands on the corner
with her cardboard sign,
trying to get her life back on track.
We don’t look her in the eye as we
assume she’s an addict
or a swindler,
judge her failures
or her sanity,
feel contempt for her inability
to make it like the rest of us.
We’ve had hard times
and we’ve pulled through.
She’s not like us.

But to pull yourself up by your bootstraps
you must first already have
boots,
with straps.

And the real reason
we don’t look her in the eye
is the fear of our own reflection there,
our fear of recognizing
that we too could be
one layoff,
or one illness,
or one trauma,
or one devastating loss away
from the isolation
and humiliation
of standing on a corner
with a cardboard sign,
invisible.

Better Cup o’ Joe

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At home Dad drank Taster’s Choice decaf instant.
On the road he’d pour himself a cup
from the round-bellied glass pot,
scorched on its warming plate at the Seven Eleven.
He was ahead of his time,
before sippy-cups were marketed to busy grown-ups,
he used his red Swiss Army knife to cut a flap from the lid
so he could drink it in the car without soiling his tie.
Its searing temperature
leached fumes from the styrofoam
adding more chemicals along with the non-dairy creamer
and Sweet-n-Low from the pretty pink packets.
Caffeine-free and bitter,
his two cups a day were neither a physical need
nor a pleasure.
At most it was a habit
begun in basic training, continued at the officers’ club.
He didn’t believe in unfettered indulgences.
Pineapple upside-down cake, his favorite,
he ate once a year, baked by my mother
on his birthday.
And he’d nurse his Christmas bottle
of Chevas Regal 12 year blended scotch whisky,
the good stuff, he called it,
for an entire year.

After his example of extravagant frugality,
I parsed out my Halloween candy
until Easter.
And looked forward each year to
my mother baking my favorite
Duncan Hines Cherry Chip Cake,
the good stuff, I called it,
for my birthday.
But once I grew beyond my father’s example
and traveled to other tables
where coffee was freshly brewed from just-ground beans
and served at 3 o’clock in matching porcelain cups
with tarts, gateaux, and bowls of peaked whipped cream;
served with welcome, generosity, and pride,
without judgment, shame, or mention of sin;
I learned
to feel the pleasure of the warm cup between my hands,
to relish inhaling its toasted aroma in my nostrils,
to enjoy the glazed texture of the cup’s rim on my lips,
and to savor its exotic taste across my tongue.
French pressed, filter-poured, or espresso pulled
I learned the value of
self-acceptance over guilt,
joy over penance,
and gratitude over fear.

Dad, you deserved
a better cup o’ joe.

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