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.

Immigrant

what you were born intoMy friend immigrated from Pakistan when he was eleven. He might be thirty years or so old now. He has an accent. He looks Middle Eastern with large, dark brown eyes and glossy, black hair and a quick and ready smile. He prays to Allah every day facing Mecca, several times a day and quite visibly, when he is at work. He enjoys toilet humor (I make him laugh so hard he cries), playing with his 2-year old daughter, eating his wife’s amazing traditional cooking, and taking care of his extended family. He’s also a Pittsburgh Steelers fan living in the Baltimore area. Brave man.

I worry for him. With all the business about Daesh and the accusations of genocide and the threat of terrorism, I have that small thought in the back of my head that he will be harmed by the bigots and war mongers as well as the fear of otherwise kind and rational people. Fear has a tendency to blind the heart and mind to the truth and to the history that has been created over the course of years.

People who know my friend also know that he loves the United States. He is proud to be a citizen. He works hard, pays his taxes, and is active in his community. He cares for and respects his aging parents. He is a good friend, treats everyone with respect, and is very generous with his time and his resources. He is wise, compassionate, and just like the rest of us, he is flawed and beautifully human.

He also enjoys the traditions of his country of origin. He saw wisdom in his parents’ desire to select a wife for him. He explained the process to me, how the woman or the man could refuse, and how the family supported the couple when hard times hit, which in his opinion increased the chances of marital success. He asked me how many love match marriages have stood the test of time. Mine hadn’t, but he wasn’t suggesting that I should try his way. He just asked me to think about what was important to me and to go from there. It was a breakthrough conversation.

So this is my request to everyone who reads this post. Judge people by their actions. Your experiences with the person should be the barometer by which you determine to continue association with them or not. If you don’t know someone, regardless of color or culture or creed, don’t be hasty to pigeon hole them on first sight and react. Take a step back, gather your awareness, and give yourself a moment to be in the moment. Unless they’re pointing a gun at you or have obviously malicious intent, they are just another person trying to make a living and hoping to find a bit of peace and happiness throughout the day.

Peace be with you. Blessed Be. As-salamu alaykum. Namaste. Shalom. Peace exists in the hearts that live it.

2014 © iokirkwood.com “Immigrant.” 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.

Album Review Rationale for Annoyed Artists

I know the pen is mightier than the sword. If you are an artist, do not take my ratings as a personal attack on you as an individual. I know it’s hard to not do so. Artists are some of the bravest people I know because they consistently put their guts out on display for complete strangers to poke over and discuss. This is not an industry for cowards but yes, I acknowledge that if I give you anything less than a 4.0, you’re probably going to feel a little butt hurt. Just realize that my review is one of many, probably won’t affect your bottom line, and I don’t know you personally so it isn’t personal. If we are friendly and on a first name basis, realize that I agonized over giving you anything less than a 4.0.

That said, I’m going to explain the mechanics of my rating system:

Anything below a 3.5 needs to be rethought because this signifies a serious craft-fail. If I take the time to review a work in this category, it isn’t to bash the artist with how bad it is but to provide constructive criticism on what needs improvement and why. The fail could be in production. In these instances, I find that the live performance deserves a much higher rating and also gives the work a higher rating post-review. If it is a production fail, I will say so. It’s still a craft fail but it may be outside the artist’s control (or budget).

A 3.5 to 3.9 is an endorsement of solid craft but there are underdeveloped elements that I would like the artist to address and lavish with attention in the next recording or redevelop in the live performance. Oft times this rating is based on a comparison with previous recordings. I also find that artists with line-up changes and “super groups” have this rating on their first release with the new personnel. It is very rare that people who have just started working together put out an opus. Sometimes I do go a little hard on the artist here, especially if I am a fan of individuals in the group. I personally want these bands to grow artistically and succeed. Often the live performance is so much more than the recording. As an artist, if your album received this rating, your live performance rating most likely will jump up to one of the next two categories.

A 4.0 to 4.4 indicates that the artist has exceeded expectations. The work is not only well-developed but there are elements that surprise and excite my senses. I’ll point out a few things that need attention, but overall, the work is worthy of critical acclaim and the artist is deserved of hearty slaps on the back, thumbs-up, and at least a six-pack of good craft beer or a fifth of preferred poison.

A 4.5 to 5.0 means that I had a visceral, ecstatic response to the work. Endorphins were released in large quantities. The craft is superlative and sets the bar for all other works in the (sub) genre. This is where I want every artist to be. I know it won’t happen on every album, and the artist should know this too. This kind of work deserves a gala with lots of champagne. If there is criticism, it’s with a light touch because having one song on an album that doesn’t make me cream my pants isn’t a bad thing. Everyone needs a breather between orgasms.

So that’s how I do it. It took me a while to get to this point. Just like every artist, I am honing my craft and trying to figure out where I fit in the big picture. I don’t get paid a salary for doing this either. I’m not rolling in dollars here so music is just as much a passion of mine as it is to the various artists that I critique.

I write. I listen to music. The two go together. It’s what I do. If there’s one thing you can count on from me, it is honesty. I’m not afraid to tell the people I admire the cold, hard truth. Will I be mean about it? No. There is a responsibility that comes with the mighty pen and I choose to use my powers for good.

©2014 iokirkwood.com “Album Review Rationale for Annoyed Artists.” 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.

Summer Blog Tour: The Needless Series

I was asked to participate in a Summer Blog Tour by my colleague Ruth L. Snyder. We were to write about our current work in progress and I decided to tell everyone about my main protagonist in the new series The Needless.

What is your name? My name is Verity Wilde. No nickname though some people try to get away with Veri. Just say the short name and my last name together and you’ll figure out why I’m not happy about it. What was my mother thinking?

What one word best describes you? Only one? Hmmm, gotta look at my thesaurus on that one. Don’t you dare tell anyone I have a thesaurus. People might begin to have expectations. Okay, here it is. The word to best describe me is diligent.

How did you first become involved in the story? When I moved to San Antonio, TX, Mom swore it was the last move so she wanted me to join a club at school. I joined the M.O.R.G., a gamer’s club, and that’s the lid off the coffin, so to speak. M.O.R.G. stands for Masters of Reality Guild, if you’re wondering.

What worries you? You got a few hours? My life was supposed to become normal after the move, not crazier. Mom’s talking about trouble finding me, my friends and enemies are getting killed or kidnapped, a really cute not-human (angel? demon?) turns up out of the blue telling me my father’s alive—oh, and something’s out to get me. Something nasty called Dybbuk.

What’s your favourite song? “Golden Slumbers” by The Beatles. Mom always sang it to me when I couldn’t sleep. She has a lovely voice and the song always worked. I have it on my iPod. Paul McCartney does an okay job.

What’s your favourite food? Cook at Hendrix’s house makes a guacamole so fresh, my taste buds explode when I eat it. I like trying new stuff. Snails are tasty if they’re cooked right but so much can go wrong.

What do you think of the other characters? I really like Alexi but she needs to grow a backbone when she’s outside the game. I would kill to be a beanpole like her and eat all I wanted without gaining a pound. Hendrix is a cool guy, almost a little too chill, but he’s easy on the eyes and he’s got superlative judgment when it comes to friends. Chad’s fat and soft, like a tower of marshmallow, and he’s quiet but I would trust him in a tight spot. He knows how to hold your back. Mike, well, he’s difficult, but he might be my favorite of the bunch. I don’t know, it’s complicated. He’s vertically challenged and he’s got a huge chip on his shoulder, but we’ve come to an understanding.

What do you think should happen? Dybbuk needs to eat it, permanently. I’m not the blood thirsty sort, but I won’t hesitate to protect what’s mine. That’s what I mean by diligent. I didn’t want to be the “chosen one” but it looks like I’m it. Even the people who irritate me are MINE.

Are you happy right now? I’ve got an unknown evil after me and it’s not going to let me alone. Happiness is a warm gun and I don’t have a carry permit. I’m hoping to change that in the near future.

What do you hope to do with your life? Survive high school? I’m starting to collect battle scars. My life expectancy rate has taken a nose dive. These are factors that shift a girl’s priorities.

Check out the other authors in the:

Summer Reading Tour

Monday, July 14 – Ruth L. Snyder  http://ruthlsnyder.com

Tuesday, July 15 Cindy Noonan http://CindyNoonan.com

Wednesday, July 16 Mishael Witty  http://bluebrownbooks.com/

Thursday, July 17 – Michele Huey  http://michelethuey.com/

Friday, July 18 – Patti J. Smith  http://gridirongrannyfootballfanatic.blogspot.com/

Saturday, July 19 – Amber Schamel  http://amberschamel.blogspot.com/

Sunday, July 20 – Mark Carver   http://www.markcarverbooks.com

Monday, July 21 – Marian Baay  http://marianbaay.blogspot.nl/

Tuesday, July 22 – Jen Cudmore  www.jencudmore.com

Wednesday, July 23 – Tracy Krauss  http://www.tracykraussexpressionexpress.com/

Thursday, July 24 – Marcia Laycock http://marcialeelaycock.com/thespur/

Friday, July 25 – Joy Davis  www.joyrossdavis.com

Saturday, July 26 – Travis Perry http://travissbigidea.blogspot.com/

Sunday, July 27 – Mark Venturini  http://markventurinijourney.blogspot.ca/

©2014 iokirkwood.com “Summer Blog Tour: The Needless Series.” 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.