Excerpts from Between Poetry, Prose, and Dying: One Woman’s Journal in Haikus:
Love is fickle. There’s nothing wrong with that.
A feigned reaching out
Like the old moss on a tree
My love stays put here.
Sometimes dirt is pleasant. It smells great when it has been slightly rained on. It looks pretty on my son’s baseball uniform. It makes a great sound when it is being dug into. But sometimes dirt is just dirt. It is thick unpleasant stickiness on my arms. It is an unpaved road. It is layers of tiredness. It is a grinding in your teeth. It is the opposite of a plush grassy yard.
There was a dirt road
that led back home and is now
fully paved over.
I decided to stop liking tea. Hot tea to be exact. I’ve never been a dedicated believer in the practice of drinking hot tea but I liked the idea of it and the vast number of selections and pretty boxes. I liked owning a tea kettle. I liked offering tea to company. I liked buying fancy teas in fancy packaging. I think it was one of my “grown up” things to do.
The beginning of my relationship with hot tea can be traced to my arrival to Buffalo. Our history isn’t long. I started drinking hot teas when I came here in 2005. (Who the hell needs hot tea in Texas besides my mother who liked making herself tea before bed but never convinced me to really like it?) Here, hot tea fit. It fit with the cold weather and the coziness I was attempting to summon in my quiet Buffalo apartment. It fit with my moving away from home. And somehow it fit with graduate school.
However, the last few nights I’ve been roaming the kitchen thinking, “I should have some tea” and instead not having any. Passing it over almost snidely and wondering whether I’ve ever enjoyed it at all. (Jasmine tea might be the exception). And then last night my husband asked, “Would you like a cup of tea?” And I said, “No, I don’t really like tea.” Huh, I don’t really like tea. It seemed like an interesting discovery.
And thus, it was decided. Hot tea: I don’t really get any pleasure out of it. Now, I just have to figure out what to do with all those pretty boxes filled with little tea bags waiting to be had.
Sipping is a skill,
coyness and civility.
Devouring, an art.
Sometimes I am afraid I pull too much towards the fulfillment of my own desire. I used to do it when I was a kid. Well, I take that back. In retrospect, I have to say that when I was a kid I don’t think I was pulling too much— I suspect it was about the same amount most kids would pull towards the fulfillment of their own desire, a normal amount for a kid. But my mother convinced me that expecting to get what I wanted, wanting to get what I wanted, wanting in general, I mean really wanting, wasn’t good for the soul. There was a religious slant to this. My mother had sincerely lived a very religiously virtuous and ordered life and had been taught herself that one must deny the flesh. And I, being an impressionable child, believed her (for the most part) when she accused me of being fickle and capricious, undisciplined and willful.
I remember on various occasions, when I was particularly heartbroken over not having something I wanted or particularly set on getting something I couldn’t have, she would read me this quote that she had tucked away in one of her books. It was on a bookmark hiding away waiting to be read, apparently only to me. In Spanish it went something like this, “Cada capricho satisfecho resta un centímetro de talla humana.” My translation: “Every whim satisfied deducts one centimeter of human stature.”
It was an unpleasant maxim to live by; I felt it even then as a young child. It was especially unpleasant because part of me believed it. But another part of me was also already suspicious of it, already resisted what that quote was trying to tell me about life and about myself. Eventually my suspicion turned into dislike and then into hate. I hated that quote, the bookmark, the moment she’d read it to me. I still hate it now.
So, when I feel like I’m pulling too selfishly towards the fulfillment of my own desire, I do try to restrain myself, a little. Not too much. I figure we’re all selfish beings. All of us. Even the least selfish have something to gain out of their “unselfishness.” The best thing we can do is acknowledge that we function on desire and that it is, in fact, human to do so.
Every time my mother read the quote to me, I used to picture myself growing shorter and shorter, so short eventually I would disappear: the danger of my desire was that it might make me disappear. Sometimes I was really afraid of this; guilty of giving in, I feared disappearance. Perhaps that is truly the danger of desire, but the other side of that coin is the possibility of appearance — the possibility that I will, in fact, finally appear even if only as desire. Purely as desire.
Each whim satisfied
deducts one centimeter
of human stature.
This is not about motherhood. Honestly, the word disgusts me a little bit sometimes. Since I was about 18 or 19 and more with age, I’ve cringed at the way it is generally used. I’ve cringed at mothers who said they just live for their babies. I’ve cringed at women who swooned over every baby they ever saw. I’ve cringed at my mother’s repeated insistence that nothing fulfills a woman like being a mother. I still cringe at phrases such as “the miracle of life,” and “the baby’s vessel.” The relationship I have with my son may have something to do with “motherhood,” but I prefer to think that it has mostly to do with him and I.
My son is a wonderful sweet young man of 10. His voice is always loving even when he is upset at me. His eyes are painfully beautiful to me and it hurts me so when they are sad or when he is sick and his eyes are tired. They have a life in them that means so much to me that imagining ever not being able to look into them breaks my heart in two, empties me completely. They are the perfect dark brown, tinted with hope and love.
He has learned to be so kind. He is compassionate and he loves people. He knows how to be happy even when actively engaging in questions regarding his own mortality and the mortality of those he loves. He comes up with the most insightful solutions to the pains of life and death. One day he told me, “I understand why you want to stay up all night with your friends when you get together with them. That’s one way of forgetting about death and enjoying life. I think that’s why I like to be with my friends too. ” Another time, while also thinking about death, he surmised that death was when you subtract one thing from yourself and then another and then another and then another, until you are left with nothing. He is thoughtful and while struggling with some of the same questions or doubts that make me such a pessimist sometimes, he smiles, he laughs, and he reminds me that he loves me and that love is all you need.
He is the most special thing to me in the world. We’ve learned many things together and knowing he is part of my life makes many difficult things a little easier. (Sometimes it also makes them harder since I would prefer to have so much more time just for us.) We have a wonderful relationship and while I know that our relationship may go through some trials as the years go by, I hope he remains certain that I love him beyond what I could have imagined before him.
For someone to tell me that I love him they way I do because that is how all mothers love, because that’s motherhood, well, it doesn’t do justice to my love for him or to his love for me. Our relationship, I would like to think, isn’t burdened by the concept. We love each other because we do.
Not the appearance
of life where there wasn’t; the
appearance of you.