002. tension & ghosts

Mam,

Last week was the kind of nightmare I’m glad you weren’t here to see.

The guilt I feel in even thinking that is tremendous, but there is it, immediate and definite. I don’t think you’d fault me for it. I know how you would have worried if you’d known what I am about to tell you and, feeling powerless to help, how that worry would have stirred into a full panic, which would have done no one any good.

In the midst of record low temperatures, my apartment lost power for approximately 60 hours. About halfway through the ordeal, I was able to escape said apartment for a friend’s house 30 minutes down the highway. I remembered everything you taught me as I drove down the one cleared lane: go slow, keep your wheels straight, don’t throw your brakes, look for black ice under bridges. Everything I know about surviving comes from your warnings.

Mercifully, I got myself and your grandkitty safely to my friend’s home, which had relatively consistent power over the next two days. I ate better than I’d eaten in weeks (my friend, L, is a divine cook) between rounds of boiling, cooling, and storing water, binge-watching Netflix series, and shitposting on Twitter to release the tension roiling in my body.

I was finally able to return home on Thursday. By then, the roads were better, and the heat had returned to my two-story flat. One of the first things I saw when I entered was a huge cockroach on my stove, and all I could do was sigh before disposing of it.

It’s now many days later. I still have no hot water, and won’t for many days still, but I have little else to complain about. I am one of the extremely lucky ones—the privileged ones—who was spared burst pipes and ruined belongings and hypothermia and everything else. So many have lost so much.

I don’t find it a coincidence that my neighborhood—largely working poor, multi-generational, immigrant and otherwise BIPOC—was targeted for such an extended “rolling” blackout. Knowing you, you would have played devil’s advocate while secretly agreeing with me, just to push me to think more complexly. That used to annoy me, especially when my passions flared hot and righteous and I just wanted someone to tell me I was right, that it was okay to be angry.

Today, I miss it, even as I know that I would prickle at your defenses.

Perhaps soon I will learn how to argue with a ghost.

Love,

A

001. precious moment

Mam,

It’s snowing today in north Texas. Projections suggest we may get eight inches overnight.

The last time it stormed like this, I was staying with you amidst ongoing tensions with a college roommate. You were due for a trip to visit your then-fiance, now-widower in his homeland of Norway, which was somehow experiencing milder weather.

The streets of your small hometown were coated in inches of snow and ice, and the traffic lights didn’t acknowledge us as we wove delicately along tire tracks made by large trucks to your parents’ home, where your father waited to drive you to the airport more than an hour away.

Somehow you made it there, and he made it back, safely. The photos you sent over Skype from Frederikstad showed you and my future stepdad cozy and thriving; I pored over them from my grandparents’ couch, which I hardly left in the days we were iced into the house.

It’s been ten years since that storm, and so much has changed. But you’d expect that, wouldn’t you? A decade begs for growth and development, for expansion and depth.

I’ve married, accepted I was a lesbian, and am now going through a divorce.

You married, celebrated that marriage in Norway, got your PhD, grew a tumour in your belly the size of a large fetus, and eventually decided enough was enough, submitting to hospice and the long quiet after on your terms.

It’s been three weeks since you left, and today, as I lay in my apartment, blue fairy lights surrounding my bed, my cat-child on my lap, snow piling against my door – I wonder if I had known then when I know now, if I might have asked you to slow down as we raced toward your parents’ house that night. Take a moment to let the snow melt into our hair, the thick fabric of our coats. To roll the windows down and inhale that special scent that only exists when snow sticks to the earth.

If I would have asked you to spend just one more precious moment with me.

Love,
A

when you finally stop running

I’m beginning to think that denial is stronger than faith—at least, in me.

I never thought of myself as a runner, feet pounding the pavement or carpeted track of my university gym, rolling inward as I lifted and struck again. I hated the sound of my footfalls, no music loud enough to mask my breathing. This was before my legs got bad and running became impossible—or so I thought.

The fact is I’ve been running from the truth of myself for more than a decade. By truth, I mean there is evidence of my path in the pages of journals I’ve kept since I was six, mentions of attraction and fears and wants buried between reviews of books and half-finished poems and obsessive (performative) notes about boys.

The truth that I am a lesbian. A lesbian who married a wonderful man who is her best friend and the only person she thought she’d spend her life with.


Coming out as gay when you’re 31 years old and married to a man is its own unique chaos. Fear at how friends and family will respond to you. Weekly therapy to try to understand why it took so long to stop running, why you stopped now. Moving into an apartment with one of your two cats (he kept the other). Exploring the hellscape that is online dating when you’re queer and new and not sure what you can offer another person when you’ve already failed the best friend you’ve ever had. Filing for divorce in the middle of a pandemic.


The reality of my life has completely unraveled in the last three months. No more beautiful rental home. No more stability. It’s all panicked timelines and deadlines and somehow, a full-time job waiting for me every Monday morning.

This is the story for so many of us. I (almost) can’t believe I’ve been running alongside all these women for so long and never noticed, each of us fighting against the force the pulls us off the track until we can’t anymore. Until we have to say it—quietly, at first, and only to ourselves, then again in desperate admissions to our loved ones.

Sometimes it feels like I was running to keep my fragile world spinning, and once I stopped to look back at what I was running from, I realized it had already shattered, splinters of glass lodged in the soles of my feet. I wonder how long it will take to excise the shards from my skin, for the scars to heal.


I have hope for congruity, now; for peace, finally. I have hope to find it here and share it with you, so maybe there won’t be another me that follows along that broken, well-worn path.

‘Language Barriers’ is a Best of the Net Finalist

Part of me wants to say, “I don’t know how this happened!”

But I do.

It was one too many comments in a day of exhaustive, unsolicited feedback from strangers who felt ownership over my body by virtue of its existence in their presence.

My options were to scream into the void or put words on paper. Thankfully, I did the latter.

Over months, I edited the words into a poem. I sent that poem to nearly a dozen journals before Kissing Dynamite sent me the email that changed everything.

They wanted to feature my rage in their May 2019 issue.

I provided commentary to readers. I got to tell the why and how of the words that had poured out of me that one angry day that could have been any angry day.

The feedback I received was empowering. I hadn’t felt so validated in my feelings of violation and indignation.

In September, I received an email with the subject line, “Surprise!” Inside, the KD team announced that they had nominated ‘Language Barriers’ for the Best of the Net Anthology.

To be nominated was itself an honor. It was enough.

Last week, following a string of bad news, I received another email with the subject line, “Congratulations!” Inside, the lovely Christine Taylor, EIC of KD, told me that my flicker of fury had been named a Best of the Net finalist for 2019.

This is how it happened: I turned my hurt into flame into a story. I shared that story with someone who found some beauty in it, who shared it with their corner of the world, then shared it again with an even bigger corner of the world. Someone there saw some beauty in it, too, and decided to share it even wider.

There is magic in how it happened, and something so desperately human that it can’t be named.

Thank you Christine, the KD team, the judges and readers and producers at Sundress Publications. Congratulations to my fellow finalists, the winners, and all the other digital poets just trying to make something of the everything. Keep doing.

a study in the things i need

yesterday

i’m not sure what compelled me to seek out my copy of emily dickinson’s poetry, but i couldn’t leave for work until i had it in my hands.

the front flap was tucked into the pages. i pulled it back, trying to set it right, when i noticed the signature hidden on the inside cover–my grandmother’s name in beautiful, distinctive flourish.

i don’t know how long i stood in the kitchen, fluorescent light casting blueish shadows on the floor. i don’t know how long it took the tears to form, to fall.

eighteen months ago

april in texas is a kind of first summer, wet and hot and relentless.

my mother called me on a sunday. she said my grandmother had fallen in her home and had been taken to a major hospital in a nearby city.

forty-five minutes later, i was navigating the maze of bright-light hallways and shades of antiseptic melancholy. underneath the hum of activity was the ever-present beeping of machines.

i found my way to her room. my grandfather offered me the only chair.

she seemed far away, numbed by medication and shock, but it wouldn’t last. the eight broken ribs would make themselves painfully known, throughout her body and ours.

within a few days, our extended family–my mother and her siblings and all but a handful of the grandkids–had taken over the wing. we claimed the waiting room, blankets and snacks and electronics strewn around us. we talked late into the night. we shared stories and laughed and cried when we accepted what was happening.

six months ago

how did i hear about it? an article? an ad? the trailer, maybe, on a social feed?

a film called wild nights with emily proposed a new interpretation of the emily dickinson’s letters and works–that she was in love with her brother’s wife, sue, and not at all the fearful, unrequited lover of unavailable men we’ve come to believe she was.

after a particularly challenging week of work–and while my mother lay in the same hospital her mother had died in, recovering from surgery to remove a 13cm tumor from her abdomen–i sat in a dark theater and watched molly shannon kiss susan ziegler as a narrator recited the version of the story i already knew.

molly’s emily felt more real to me than any other, this vibrant being of passion and humor and regret and sadness so deep that she didn’t know a way out. could i call her my sister then? fellow poetess with an affinity for the same kind of love?

yesterday

i shared a photo of the book with my mother. the day after chemo is usually one of her best days of the week, steroids like buoys against the grey of sick sleep.

“i must have stolen this at some point,” i said. “i want you to have it, if you want it.”

instead, she said i should keep it. maybe it was meant for me. maybe it was my grandmother’s way of letting me know that she wasn’t really gone.

i’m not sure i believe something like that can happen. more than likely, it was serendipity, or maybe the vague tugging of memory, grief leading me back in time.

however the book came back to me, i’m thankful it did–if only for the reminder of books’ magic.