America the “Beautiful”

We are a culture

of Wastrels,

Cannibals

who don’t eat

what we kill.

We treat other countries

like paper plates

and crumpled napkins;

plastic cups

and broken forks.

We throw everything we’ve used

into a big can

and call it

Refuse.

We haul refuse

to the dump.

A Dump

is taking a shit.

We shit on other nations.

We call ourselves

Superior,

proud to be American.

We can’t keep

our own backyard

Clean:

cellophane wrappers,

cigarette butts,

coffee cups;

“illegal” immigrants,

welfare recipients,

transients.

We shit

on each other.

America the “Beautiful,”

my ass.

2016 © iokirkwood.com “America the ‘Beautiful.’” All rights reserved.

SAMHAIN: Musings on Pain and Death–A Personal Journey

Disturbing junk artwork courtesy of Maryrose Runk. Photo: I.O. Kirkwood

This is the jaw of a cat and a fortune displayed on my altar this Samhain. It will make sense when all is said and done.

 

Calm as you please, my mother set an incisor and a canine on the Formica table top. The teeth were pearly white, perfectly shaped and free of decay. She pointed to the incisor.

“This came out at the doctor’s office while you were on the phone.” She pointed to the canine. “This came out last week. I started keeping them.”

I’ve never seen teeth pulled completely from a jaw, not even in Anatomy & Physiology class. I stared for a long moment trying to comprehend what lay before me on the table. I had just finished eating my first plate from the Chinese buffet. I felt grateful for small mercies.

“Look.”

I did as she asked. She hooked her forefinger into the corner of her mouth and pulled it into a rictus. She pointed at the exposed jaw. I could see the gaping sockets in the bone. Half the teeth on the bottom of her mouth were just—gone. So was the gum.

“You can see everything. How many more teeth do I have to lose? I can’t chew my food.”

My proud and beautiful mother looked at me as if I knew the answer. Meanwhile, I felt as if I hung by one foot over a chasm. I couldn’t see the bottom and all that kept me from falling was my hope, which slowly frayed with each incident.

To look away would be to admit defeat. To look away would deny her humanity. She was suffering and I couldn’t help her. I’d never looked into the depths of such misery before. Not even my own pain could match what rested on the table between us.

She gathered up the teeth and put them in her wallet. She seemed satisfied, as if she’d made her point. I wondered if my eyes reflected the horror of this moment. I wanted to cry, but I held my face still. Crying would make her uncomfortable. This moment wasn’t about me.

I went to the buffet table and grabbed a second plate. I stared at a tray of vegetable lo mein, something I would never eat, and prayed she didn’t watch me. I silently came apart inside. After a long moment of self-pity, I added rice noodles and peanut butter chicken to my plate.

I would enjoy her favorite foods for her. I would break the fortune cookie with her. I would eat the cookie for her because it was too hard for her to chew. I would ingest the cookie that had patiently housed the fortune. This, I knew, would make her happy.

If anything, she seems happiest now when I visit. This hadn’t been true before she realized she was dying. I don’t know how her mind works. Maybe she was happy when I visited before, but her proud nature wouldn’t permit her to show how much she enjoyed my company.

She has never been an affectionate or particularly interested mother. Life had dealt blows to her that I could only imagine. She had closed herself up in an ivory tower of contempt and dismissal that I thought I would never be able to climb. I’ve often wondered why I continued my efforts.

She was my mother. Before my childhood went to hell, she was my everything. I don’t think I ever let that memory go or I would have stopped trying to get through. She was angry at me for some imagined wrong, but then in her mind, everyone has betrayed her. Everyone.

There was a cat my mother owned named Blaze, a beautiful, feral creature that never allowed anyone to touch her, much less see her. She was a blur of tuxedo socks and silence. You could feel her yellow-green eyes watch you from some unknown hiding place. Several months before Blaze died, she discovered the joy of human touch. After that, she was insatiable.

She would swipe at the legs of any passing human just to feel the warm glide of a palm along her back and the indescribable pleasure of fingernails scratching behind her ears. For years, she had denied herself this heaven because of her fear of getting hurt. Perhaps she died happy, but how much longer would the cat have lived if she had sought loving company sooner?

My mother reminded me of Blaze. I didn’t know how much longer she’d be able to enjoy my company, but now she has it at least once a week. There have been—difficult—complicated discussions about our shared pasts. They have healed us both and yet have opened fresh wounds as she swipes at me in passing, demanding my attention. She forces me to look at her, to see her as something other than my mother, something other than a dying woman.

Her soul burns brightly inside the body that has betrayed her. She has learned that life is pain and that everything, and everyone, betrays eventually. Nothing can be trusted to meet expectations, but that’s not what counts anymore.

What counts is the warm glide of a palm against her back as she is hugged and hugs in return. I am still shocked when she reaches for me, when she asks for that life-affirming touch. What makes life worthwhile is the pleasure of shared laughter and sadness tickling her ears as old wounds are healed. I am still amazed by her desire to probe past misunderstandings when before we would go months without speaking at all. My mother astounds me.

When I returned to the table, I knew that her teeth still sat in her wallet. I may find them, a handful perhaps, still in the wallet after she dies. They will be a stark reminder of what has been lost and cannot be reclaimed.

Right now, all I want to show her is that though time is limited, love is limitless. When I get home, I can cry, but right now, no. There will be no tears to betray her.

Life + Death = A Bottle of Pills?

nigredo-heartcurrents-alchemy

I want to die.

Notice I didn’t say, “I want to kill myself.”

The desire is a passive thing, cunning in its perfidy. It swallows me up so slowly that I can’t see I’m at the center of its crazy labyrinth until it’s too late. I can’t see that there is a state of mind beyond this.

It can happen several times a day. I will switch back and forth between a confident optimism and the sudden, overwhelming knowledge that I am insignificant and impotent. At times I wonder if some part of me hasn’t died already, perhaps the heart on my sleeve.

Each time I catch myself thinking this way – feeling is a given – I’m horrified. I frantically whisper “cancel, cancel, cancel.” I want to negate the impulse so that the universe doesn’t pick up on it and make it so.

There are days when I waltz with terror, when the desire murmurs in my ear like an insistent and unwanted suitor. Then I whisper the “cancel’’ mantra until the pressure eases.

The Buddists say that this impulse to die is a symptom of loving life too much, that wanting to die requires a counterbalance of wanting to live with the same passion. I used to disagree, but lately, I’ve embraced the idea. Life is good now, but I can’t shake the bad feeling. It stalks me in my brightest moments.

quotes-about-death-buddha

The alchemists instruct me to conquer this “demon” I know as depression. If I want to evolve, I can’t medicate. I must push through the feelings and the thoughts until I reach the other side.

I do, but it is exhausting work. The feelings and thoughts twist up inside of me. Sometimes the demon is silent and then other days it snarls and rakes its claws along the front of my brain while it gnaws at my tender underbelly.

The silence and the snarls are at war inside of me. Medicate. Don’t medicate. Feel everything or feel “normal.” Live or die. This twisted caduceus is what drives me forward, creatively, emotionally and physically, a seriously demented metaphysical turbine.

Thesis + antithesis = synthesis, right? Life + death = a bottle of pills? I haven’t figured it out yet., Perhaps the urge to die and the urge to live is the truth of the human condition.

©2015 iokirkwood.com “Life + Death = A Bottle of Pills?” All rights reserved.

In bsavedpicture-33.jpgetween bouts of writing for metaljunkie.rocks, blogging, and banging her head, I.O. Kirkwood is the author of The Needless series, a YA fantasy that even adults will enjoy.

CHRONICLES OF A PRIVILEGED WHITE GIRL

I think this image is one of the most potent for me from the Ferguson protests. I would love to meet this woman. #blacklivesmatter

With all of the debate about race and white supremacy zinging about the Internet, I thought I would put my two cents into the debate. I am in no way an expert on race relations and I don’t claim to have any great understanding of what a person of color experiences on a day to day basis.

But I got a taste-a very sour, bitter taste.

I was in San Antonio, at the WalMart near the airport close to the upper loop of I-410. I wandered the aisles and something began to strike me as very odd. When you almost bump into someone or practically run them over with your cart, you do the polite thing and say, “Excuse me.” I mean, this is the expected reaction when you almost cause bodily harm to another human being. Right?

Not here. I was saying “Excuse me” as these people blatantly disregarded my personal space. White folk and Latino folk seemed intent on running me over. Here I was, used to the privilege of being seen and acknowledged, and in the two visits to this particular store in a space of a week, I had been ignored as if my very existence was an insult.

I didn’t just assume this. I actually tried to speak to the culprits. “Excuse you!” actually came out of my mouth. “Hey, I’m right here. Hello?”

I was suddenly afraid. I was incredibly angry. Eyes looked past me. Faces were deliberately blank. I think I was more shocked by the Latinos’ reactions than the Caucasians’. But it boiled down to one conclusion: to them, I was not human.

Why do I think I experienced this? San Antonio is a unique place. Those of color who hail from this city will understand what I have to say next.

WP_20140614_001 (1)

Here is my picture. I’m Black Irish, which means I’ve got dark blood running through my veins. It’s Latin: predominantly Italian and Spanish. I’m also very fair skinned from my Irish heritage.

I was too dark for the Caucasians. I was “other.” I was one of the interlopers who only existed to clean white people’s houses and mow their lawns.

The Latinos KNEW I wasn’t one of them. I walked with too much confidence. My skin was too pale. I expected to be acknowledged. I smelled like stinky, white privilege.

My illusions about race were shattered. All this time I’d been thinking that “tales” of white privilege and supremacy were fantasies of overactive, welfare-recipient minds while right under my nose, people of color are experiencing what happened to me, twice in my life in the span of a week, on a DAILY basis. Hourly perhaps or even every minute. I couldn’t hide anymore.

This experience has reshaped my view of race relations in America. Again, I’m no expert and I certainly make no claim to knowing “black pain.” I don’t, but the dislike I have for San Antonio and its people runs deep because of this. If I never see that city again, it will be too soon.

The treatment I received made me suspicious of everyone there. If someone did acknowledge me, I mistrusted their motives. I was afraid to go out alone. I’ve never felt that deep an animosity for anything before.

Considering my reaction to one city for two quantifiable offenses, is it any wonder that some of the black population, or any population with “darkness” in their blood, have expressed such deep, abiding hatred for the white folk? It must run so much deeper than we suspect, through seven generations and more, and it is now part of the fabric of our society. We’ve poisoned ourselves.

So my question to people of color who live in America, (because I’m including everyone here, not just Africa Americans) how do you keep getting up and going out into the world every morning (or evening depending on your work schedule)? How is it that you can smile at this privileged little white woman on the metro or allow her to go first because Mamma taught you manners (in the hopes that you would survive long enough to make her a Grandma)?

You’ve got to be some of the bravest, most kick-ass people on the planet to do something like that every day. You have my utmost respect. In your honor, I will do everything in my power to apply the antidotes of respect, understanding, and good will to EVERYONE I meet. And I hope we meet.

Happy New Year! \m/

2014 © iokirkwood.com “Chronicles of a Privileged White Girl.” All rights reserved.

savedpicture-33.jpgIn between bouts of writing for metaldescent.com, blogging, and banging her head, I.O. Kirkwood is the author of The Needless series, “Subatomic Revolt” in Mike Lynch’s No Revolution Is Too Big series and the short story “The White Carpet,” a finalist in the Scribes Valley Publishing Fiction Contest in 2013.