Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bohemian Dreams

The year I made it, you weren’t there.
There were fragments of you
plastered on the walls of my throat,
clinging to my voice as if they owned it.
I was there, all eyes, open wide,
taking it in, years later,
always after the fact.
I was wondering where I lost my smile,
and there was its echo.

I see it now,
in the people washing past subway trains,
my stare fixed through them.
I see it now, the last time I laughed,
stuck like graffiti to the grime.

The fact that I was walking with your ghost
may not be fair, but at the top of the stairs,
as the city splayed itself below
like an immense cadaver on icy grey,
I couldn’t even shed a tear.
I let the street cellist slice me wide
with every sweep of his bow.
He knew it well, that song to which we all bled:
“Je vous parle d'un temps
Que les moins de vingt ans
Ne peuvent pas connaître
Montmartre en ce temps-là…”


I thought I lost it, my voice,
but it was only getting hoarse
until I couldn’t recognize it.
I became a ventriloquist of myself.
And yet the yearning for song never quits,
the way my mother still attempts to dance every New Year's,
her protruding kneecaps buckling under the weight of her soul.
It catches me there, the urge to sing,
where the pigeons take flight with horror.
It catches me mid-sentence,
with a groan that rumbles like fear.
But I bundle it up—limbs at the scene of a crime—
and drag it here—choppy, bloody and raw—
here where no one sees,
no one hears, no one shudders,
and let it go.

© Copyright 2010 Obeida Sidani

(Originally posted on November 28, 2006)

Friday, February 23, 2018

Inspiring Passage from "Lost Connections" by Johann Hari

I was conscious, as I thought back over these seven provisional hints at solutions to our depression and anxiety, that they require huge changes—in our selves, and in our societies. When I felt that way, a niggling voice would come into my head. It said—nothing will ever change. The forms of social change you’re arguing for are just a fantasy. We’re stuck here. Have you watched the news? You think positive changes are a-coming?

When these thoughts came to me, I always thought of one of my closest friends.

In 1993, the journalist Andrew Sullivan was diagnosed as HIV-positive. It was the height of the AIDS crisis. Gay men were dying all over the world. There was no treatment in sight. Andrew’s first thought was: I deserve this. I brought it on myself. He had been raised in a Catholic family in a homophobic culture in which, as a child, he thought he was the only gay person in the whole world, because he never saw anyone like him on TV, or on the streets, or in books. He lived in a world where if you were lucky, being gay was a punchline, and if you were unlucky, it got you a punch in the face.

So now he thought—I had it coming. This fatal disease is the punishment I deserve.
For Andrew, being told he was going to die of AIDS made him think of an image. He had once gone to see a movie and something went wrong with the projector, and the picture went all wrong—it displayed at a weird, unwatchable angle. It stayed like that for a few minutes. His life now, he realized, was like sitting in that cinema, except this picture would never be right again.

Not long after, he left his job as editor of one of the leading magazines in the United States, the New Republic. His closest friend, Patrick, was dying of AIDS—the fate Andrew was now sure awaited him.

So Andrew went to Provincetown, the gay enclave at the tip of Cape Cod in Massachussetts, to die. That summer, in a small house near the beach, he began to write a book. He knew it would be the last thing he ever did, so he decided to write something advocating a crazy, preposterous idea—one so outlandish that nobody had ever written a book about it before. He was going to propose that gay people should be allowed to get married, just like straight people. He thought this would be the only way to free gay people from the self-hatred and shame that had trapped Andrew himself. It’s too late for me, he thought, but maybe it will help the people who come after me.

When the book—Virtually Normal—came out a year later, Patrick died when it had only been in the bookstores for a few days, and Andrew was widely ridiculed for suggesting something so absurd as gay marriage. Andrew was attacked not just by right-wingers, but by many gay left-wingers, who said he was a sellout, a wannabe heterosexual, a freak, for believing in marriage. A group called the Lesbian Avengers turned up to protest at his events with his face in the crosshairs of a gun. Andrew looked out at the crowd and despaired. This mad idea—his last gesture before dying—was clearly going to come to nothing.

When I hear people saying that the changes we need to make in order to deal with depression and anxiety can’t happen, I imagine going back in time, to the summer of 1993, to that beach house in Provincetown, and telling Andrew something:

Photo by Iswanto Arif on Unsplash
Okay, Andrew, you’re not going to believe me, but this is what’s going to happen next. Twenty-five years from now, you’ll be alive. I know; it’s amazing; but wait—that’s not the best part. This book you’ve written—it’s going to spark a movement. And this book—it’s going to be quoted in a key Supreme Court ruling declaring marriage equality for gay people. And I’m going to be with you and your future husband the day after you receive a letter from the president of the United States telling you that this fight for gay marriage that you started has succeeded in part because of you. He’s going to light up the White House like the rainbow flag that day. He’s going to invite you to have dinner there, to thank you for what you’ve done. Oh, and by the way—that president? He’s going to be black. 
It would have seemed like science fiction. But it happened. It’s not a small thing to overturn two thousand years of gay people being jailed and scorned and beaten and burned. It happened for one reason only. Because enough brave people banded together and demanded it. Every single person reading this is the beneficiary of big civilizing social changes that seemed impossible when somebody first proposed them. Are you a woman? My grandmothers weren’t even allowed to have their own bank accounts until they were in their forties, by law. Are you a worker? The weekend was mocked as a utopian idea when labor unions first began to fight for it. Are you black, or Asian, or disabled? You don’t need me to fill in this list.

So I told myself: if you hear a thought in your head telling you that we can’t deal with the social causes of depression and anxiety, you should stop and realize—that’s a symptom of the depression and anxiety itself. Yes, the changes we need now are huge. They’re about the size of the revolution in how gay people were treated. But that revolution happened.

There’s a huge fight ahead of us to really deal with these problems. But that’s because it’s a huge crisis. We can deny that—but then we’ll stay trapped in the problem. Andrew taught me: The response to a huge crisis isn’t to go home and weep. It’s to go big. It’s to demand something that seems impossible—and not rest until you’ve achieved it.

- from Hari, Johann. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions (p. 252). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Generations

To the generations of women I come from


When the black bile rises within me,
And the grass juice drips sordid down my throat,
I wear all of their faces on mine,
A history of women, and tousled hair.

Their lives tinge my blood
Like ageless smiles over my eyes.
They gather in the morning
With names, faces, and loose ends,
And an almost forgotten lullaby.

Petals of the same flower
Come to rest in me,
Peeling like a white veil off graying hair,
Like rouge cracking on crinkling smiles.

And drip by drip,
Like a bleach blue on naked whites,
I am left smelling the evening
From afar.

The bats are closer to them now
Than my words,
Peeling off the marble
And into their sleep.

A saga of laughter, and of cardamom,
And of coffee black into my day,
Of heels racing the clock,
And bathing the terrazzo,
And soaking my feet...

Tell me, when does the night stop,
And the dawn flee,
And my name turn into a dream?

(originally posted on June 06, 2005)

Friday, December 08, 2017

Naked on the Inside

It’s on nights like this
that the wall of smiles crumbles,
dimple by sparkling squint,
with a only a faint sigh to be heard
as it crashes.
How is it that things so labored
falter so quietly?

As the roads spread ahead of us,
vast and dim,
lit half-heartedly and glistening
with the sheen of a promised storm...
The night, worn out of shopping
late at resoundingly vacant stores,
hung lifeless and limp,
an expanse of exhaustion,
over our worn out being.

Nothing was left for us--
not the effort of pretense,
not the thrill of acquisition,
not even the recurrent name of a friend...
There we were, naked on the inside,
bereft of even the comfort of joy.
We had only for company,
on that unforgiving night,
the loneliness of each other.

(Originally posted on June 10, 2007)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

"Tropical Watercolor: Sarasota"

Summer sings not far away, and we both know
The errors we've made. The sloped shoulders
Of those palms in the middle distance
Darken; the palms stand solitary as guards.

Summer sings, and against those walls
The late May light has sweetened, the palms
Sigh a little, fronds swaying in the breeze,
Making a sad watercolor of the square.

A mackerel sky frames the square, the square
We dreamed failed us in this place we'd come to
To find ourselves again as in a mirror.
Love, this is the square that failed.

I broke myself trying to make myself strong
For you. Dusk gilds white buildings, and smoke
From my cigarette floats toward the stars
That aren't there yet, the stars we used to desire.

They are a vast absence, reminding me
I don't believe in anything anymore except
The difficulty of everything for men and women.
Your remembered ghost is the ghost of my grandmother

Walking here endlessly in a black dress,
Shadow lost among the shadows of palms
On this square that failed, blocks from the sea.
I have run out of life, for what?

I have run out of life from the repetition
Of our moving only from mirror to mirror,
Catching our reflections in shop windows
And finding them less real than mannequins.

- by Joe Bolton, from "The Last Nostalgia"

Monday, November 27, 2017

Reasons

      Because in the distance between
when we die and when we forget about it
is where our happiness is pitted;

      Because in the intensity of the green
I seek respite from your drenched words and
pretend that your life doesn't trudge along elsewhere;

      Because in the middle of the woods you only grunted
when I told you that I love you, and I took that to mean
"Yes, me too, very much," and smiled to myself;

      Because the comfort of thinking that this is all there is
is seeping back in, and that the world begins with
my mud-crusted shoes and ends with the jargon in my head;

      Because the possibilities of all the faces passing me by
passes along with them, and their beaming eyes bore through me
holes as big and blue as the sky, that they don't even look through;

      Because I promised, if given another chance, I would grab on to it
though I don't know what that means; and I made a vow of goodness
to a God I don't believe in--and I wonder if He believes in me.

(Originally posted on July 6th, 2006)

Friday, November 24, 2017

Synthesize

When all is said and done,
what have I given
and have you taken?
When one day we sit across the room from each other,
legs crossed, the silence suspended in the air
like a ray of light on a late winter afternoon,
what will there be to say to each other?

When that day we look back, will it all
weave together in a sprawling
tapestry just coming to light?
Or will the strands and loose ends
clutter the room like dust bunnies
piling underneath the couches
and in the crevices in between?
Will we think, yes, that was
a good life we lived together?
Or will we despise one another
for having wasted each other's?

Now, late at night, as you
and the animals lie asleep around me,
I scramble for a coherent thought,
for meaning in your pattern of breath,
for something to sink my teeth into.
I wonder as I push sleep aside...
And then, exhausted,
I let it take over me.

(Edited; originally posted on August 02, 2008)

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Tired

To my mother

You're tired, I know
From dancing barefoot
On shattered graves
From lifting the sun
Onto the ground
From pulling the days
One after the other
From your mouth...
You're tired, I know
From bearing the weight
Of your own breath
From breaking your word
Once more, in silence
From letting the dust grow
At the crevices of your lungs
And in between your toes...
You're tired, I know
From my weight
From the bird that's pecked
Its own feathers
Until it's coughed a furball
Rounder than itself...
You are tired
From the sounds of the same promises
From the dawns lying into the light
From the way your face looked
From the corner of her eye...
From his grey hair, you're tired
From another winter scaling off the back of his hand
From his smile, waning and unwavering
From the eyes that glow into the dusk
Like embers at the end of the talk
Like the night when she peeled off the mandarin
And squeezed it into his eyes...


(originally posted on November 01, 2005)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

I’ll Be (Nothing)

I’ll be nothing, that’s what I’ll be.
I’ll be the limbs breaking on the ice,
I’ll be desire melting onto itself,
I’ll be the longing that possesses me
That I’ll never possess.

I’ll be nothing, that’s what I’ll be.
I’ll be the vicious hope that rides me to death,
I’ll be just another breath, another step
To nowhere...

(originally posted on December 06, 2004)

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Smallness of Life

(To Katy)

This,
the smallness of my life, I said,
can you see it?
But she said nothing,
she just wrote
a series of details
and small spaces.
My life used to spread, I said,
over pot-holed streets and easy laughter,
a time when youth was
just another smell in the air.
But she said nothing,
she just sniffed;
from where she stood,
she could smell it still.
But my life has stretched so thin, I said,
it has shrunk into this square mile
between where I sleep and where I yawn.
This corner of the world, I said,
that I call my own;
this bit of the earth
I staked as home.

This piece of life, I said,
that I squander at will;
this circle of friends
I ignore to call.

This head resting on my hip,
this hour of the day when the sky
looks like Mary in front of the cross.

This hollow in my heart
where they used to be;
this cat, this breath, this,
this smallness of my life...
But she said nothing,
she just blinked.
Her life wasn't any bigger.

(Originally post on January 30, 2006)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Holes

Time punches holes in my being
With each passing loss
I am emptier
Till nothing remains there
But a big gaping void
That reminds of me

(Originally posted on April 15, 2003)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"We Are All Dead At Twenty"

"We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off the flower of age
Hanging from the tree of spring
In the most beautiful of landscapes

The earth rotates for children
Those who grow up too bad for them
It will swell the regiment
Of the officials of boredom

With days that resemble
Habits and grimaces
And migraines, trembling hands
From wrinkle to wrinkle, from ice to ice

We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off of the sick flower
Of an agonizing ideal
Of a barricaded spring

I who detests war
Sometimes envy
The dead child a spot of earth
Without having time to cry

Without seeing the sad smile
Without listening to the bird lying
Twenty years is to learn to live
The rest to learn how to die

We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off the flower of dreams
In a station or on a bench
Where the first love ends

Why prolong its youth
Why play at being still
Love is dead and tenderness
Committed suicide from body to body

We're all ghosts
Of a certain sex, of a certain age
With words for feelings
With masks for faces

We are all dead at twenty
Picking the petals off the flower of age
Hanging from the tree of spring
In the most beautiful of landscapes

La la la la la la la la
La la li la la la la la la
La la li la la la la la...

We are all dead at twenty..."
Original text in French: "Nous sommes tous morts à vingt ans" (Dalida)

Monday, October 23, 2017

"One World" by Joe Bolton

I have a photograph:
It is the green of a Kentucky summer,
A few skinny sycamores
Gone white with afternoon light,
A shadowed dirt road
Curving off who knows where in the distance.
You are leaning against a blue fence,
Legs tan and hair bleached a little from the sun,
My T-shirt tenting your breast.
Years later and a thousand miles removed.
A waiter named Rico lifts his sad eyebrows.
I nod.
I've been drinking at this crummy bar
In the spring dusk of Florida,
Watching the cars go by
With their headlights just on,
Hearing a siren wail.
I don't remember how it was
We came to live in cities.
But I think that somewhere this evening
A man has checked into a cheap motel
And shot himself in the head.
His driver's license and an empty bottle
Laid on the bedside table
For explanation.
Maybe he had a photograph
He couldn't reconcile his life with anymore
And wondered, at the end,
What he had come here hoping to find.
Soon enough now,
I'll be either drunk or out of money.
And there will be nothing to do
But walk back home in the first dark.
I can see on the television
It’s cold where you are,
And the sky is failing all across America.
Why were you smiling
That afternoon so long ago?
I can only think we must have been happy.
Somehow that helps.
We are still here, after all,
And it is the same world.

-from "The Last Nostalgia"