Posts Tagged ‘unlearning’




Keep distance, the fencing teacher says,

and by this he means, stay close enough

to your opponent that you could, at any time,

extend, lunge and attack with your point.

All my life, I’ve tried not to keep distance.

All my life, I’ve done my best to avoid

the attack—from either side. And now,

with my silver lamé and my one white glove

and my face safe behind metal mesh, I dig

to find the part of me who craves engagement,

who seeks a bout, who wants to threaten

my target and exploit their vulnerability.

Keep distance, he says, and I understand

that this is how I show up for the game.

This is how I meet not only the opponent,

but, perhaps for the first time, myself.

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Tonight I will give you yourself.

All those pretty words you spun

into negligee, all those promises

you strung like pearls and then

tightened around my neck, all

those lovely leashes you made

out of praise, I give them back.


I have always loved being naked.

I think this is what you loved

most about me, too. Once. No one

is at fault for this strange game

of dress up we’ve been playing.

Perhaps it is what we were taught to do.

I unlearn this game. I want to give

you you. I give you your

own nakedness. Any robes

of hope I put on you, I untie

them. See them slip into soft piles

on the floor. Look at you now.

I see I never saw you before.


Out the window, winter is melting.

Everything loses its sheen.

I tried to hate you for the ways

you bound me, though the bounds

were beautiful. Now, all I can feel

is the thrill of this body so bare,

so new. I stare at my feet, my hands

and marvel at how they move.

Is this me? I never knew her.

I know her so intimately.


It is almost sweet now, so innocent,

how we tried to dress each other in dreams.

We didn’t know then that even

the softest words become chains.

I give you yourself, your longing

to be loved in the ways you thought

you needed. I give me myself,

I don’t know what that means,

already I am shedding.



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still unfurling into blossom,
this flower I thought
was fully opened

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I don’t know the name of the flower
about to bloom beside the trail,
but it has the leaves of a lily
and a single bud that hangs heavy
off a long bent stem.

Just as I don’t know the name
for the feeling I have when
I want you to act a certain way
and I have not yet realized
that my wanting is the problem.

Neither of these things matter—
the names, I mean. We like to think
that by naming a thing we know it.
But I have stopped believing that.
Whatever we can name, we start to overlook.

The heliotrope, for instance.
I greet it as we walk by, but I do not
stop to investigate its tiny white flowers,
nor do I rub its leaves between my fingers
to better understand their shape.

Imagine I did not know your name.
So every time we met I would
gather everything I could about you—
the scent of you, the shape of your hands,
the weather of your moods.

And imagine I forgot me, too,
and in discovering you, I’d see
myself anew. And I would be unfamiliar
with words such as happiness or forgiveness
or wound or wife.

Ah, to meet each other like that, the way we meet
this strange flower. More inquisitive than convinced.
More curious, less sure. Less like gods,
omniscient, commanding, more as if we are the ones
with so much opening left to do.

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I am perhaps like the fish
who is attracted to the hook,
the thrill of the line—
though barb is sharp,
at least for a moment
I know what it’s like
to fly.

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No Guarantees

It turns out I have loved
learning too much.
Star charts. Yeast. Omega 3s.
Tear fluid osmolarity.
Particle and wave.
I want so much to make sense
of things. Like why we have
so few words for smell.
Why only some birds sing.
Slave to purpose, slave
to the why, slave to the need
to know. I want to compare,
to contrast, to chart, to rank,
to graph, to prove. As if
that might tell me my place
in the world. So I pin down facts
like butterfly wings, splayed
and precise and dead.
Meanwhile the world expands, overflows,
moves beyond all that I think I know.
Let me live on questions. Let
me lose my absolutes. Let me be willing
to abandon my certainty. We are that
which breaks down the walls
of the learned—let me know this,
and unknow it, too.

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For the Hungry

it bends
the dark
and sweetens
it holds
the daughter
she coughs
it rides
on buses
on tongues
it begs
to be
and when
the swagger
to swoon
and when
the clock
has ticked
too soon
and when
the rain
keeps raining
it finds
the spaces
in the song
where all
the words
you thought
you knew
are different
it leaks
this love
this mmm
this empty

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Five Ripples

reading in my journal
the lesson I learned two years
ago the same lesson
I was so thrilled
to learn today


I leave the dishes
when you say “let’s play,”
not because I want
to play but because the day
will come when you won’t ask


the veil
of hurt, though it
weighs nothing
I am utterly unable
to lift it


sowing poppy seeds
in the meadow together,
though it will be months
before we see stems
already I feel blossoming


what would be left
if we solved all our troubles—
just a breathing
sometimes when I get very still
I am still not still enough

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Mommy, she says,
I can see right through myself.
What do you see,
I ask.

I see the night,
she says.
Are there stars,
I ask.

She pauses long.
And then a few moments later
she says, Mom, I’ve disappeared.

How do they do it,
these young ones,
teach us to be
so wholly here.

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—poem on a line from e.e. cummings

Rubble, smoke, sparrow, stone,
she wakes in darkness all alone.

Angel, master, docent, thief,
she wears the scars of love and grief.

Furrow, honey, Chopin, moss,
those are veils that are her loss.

There’s more, there’s more to be undone—
milk, lattice, lily, plum.

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