On Your Birthday

This time of year still feels haunted. Autumn feels like a gift that belongs to you, is overwhelmed with you, but absent of you. If you were alive, I like to think I would call you today. I like to think I would have apologized by now, that it wouldn’t take you leaving forever for me to realize how wonderful you are. I imagine I would call you and I’d wish you happy birthday, but I’d linger a little and stay on the line a little too long, even though you would have other calls to take and dinners to get ready for, because the whole world would be waiting to tell you how glad they are that you’re alive. I would ask you about work or some warmup question, one that doesn’t matter but feels essential. I’d ask about how your sister is, how home is, and you would say that everything is OK, and you’d tell me the most hilarious thing Victoria said the other day, and I would laugh with you because we both love her so much, and I would have figured that out by now. And I would tell you how I wish I was home to celebrate with you, to buy you a beer and give you a hug because I love you so much, and I would have told you that dozens of times by now. I would tell you about the boy, about the charm and the frustrations, and you would spout some brilliant advice, to be patient, to be sure to always be my brilliant beautiful self, and you’d say something perfect like, “I’m so happy that you’re happy, My Alien,” but a million times more eloquently because words were always on your side. And I would have teared up a little, even then, with you still alive and thriving and stringing words together perfectly on the other end of the line just hearing you call me by my favorite nickname, one no one has called me since you left.

Sometimes, I can still hear it, faint and far away and fleeting and full.


Read, Relevant

Re-reading, Re-writing, Relevant

I didn’t want to come here today and write about her on the anniversary of her death. It’s too easy, too predictable.
But here I am.

I write about Lily all the time, in poems and stories and little notes scribbled in the pages at the back of my calendar. I’ve been living in a world where Lily lives and dies over and over in drafting an essay for my nonfiction workshop, which has been difficult and helpful and altogether frustrating most days. I make myself confront her death all the time in writing because it seems to be the only way I know how to begin dealing and continue to deal with the reality of a world where my friend lived and no longer does.

For just a moment, let’s have an honest conversation about living and dying, one that isn’t blurred by promises of faith and religion, which I understand is an impossible request of me for some of you. But let’s try, okay? Sometimes I wish I had some profound sense of understanding regarding her death. I think that making sense of her death would bring about some kind of peace and closure. But I’m not sold that it’s closure that I want, and I may just be coming to this understanding as I type these words here, so forgive the disjointedness of this post.

What does closure even offer us, or better yet, what do we think it offers us? Does it make it easier to go about our lives without this person, those people? Do we think it’ll bring about normalcy, will it bring back the easiness of our lives before grief and loss? Even two years after her death, I’m not sure I want the easiness, not because I think closure means forgetting or anything like that. There’s something vital that comes with the unsettledness, something that I hope will challenge me to be a little more alive every day for the rest of my life. Right now, I think that the reality of life can be horrifyingly tragic simply because it is defined by mortality. But it is also precious, beautiful, and significant for exactly those reasons.

I don’t know.

Every day, Lily manages to teach me how to live. She pushes me to work harder, to string words together more beautifully and gracefully. She teaches me to say “I love you” when I mean it, and “I’m sorry” when my pride would otherwise keep me from doing so. I don’t have any words for where I think she is and I don’t know how to answer when Victoria asks me if I ever feel her. I don’t know the answer to that.

But sometimes, when the leaves on the trees turn to copper and orange, the same colors of the sunset she took a picture of in Lima before she died, I like to think of her telling me she hears me through the wind that blows chimes hanging from trees in that sad garden where artificial flowers grow next to her red shoes. And I suppose that’s enough for now.

“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man — he is a mushroom!”

“A what?”

“A mushroom!”

The little prince was now white with rage.

“The flowers have been growing thorns for millions of years. For millions of years the sheep have been eating them just the same. And is it not a matter of consequence to try to understand why the flowers go to so much trouble to grow thorns which are never of any use to them? Is the warfare between the sheep and the flowers not important? Is this not of more consequence than a fat red-faced gentleman’s sums? And if I know — I, myself — one flower which is unique in the world, which grows nowhere but on my planet, but which one little sheep can destroy in a single bite some morning, without even noticing what he is doing — Oh! You think that is not important!”

His face turned from white to red as he continued:

“If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, ‘Somewhere, my flower is there…’ But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened… And you think that is not important!”

He could not say anything more. His words were choked by sobbing.

The night had fallen. I had let my tools drop from my hands. Of what moment now was my hammer, my bolt, or thirst, or death? On one star, one planet, my planet, the Earth, there was a little prince to be comforted. I took him in my arms, and rocked him. I said to him:

“The flower that you love is not in danger. I will draw you a muzzle for your sheep. I will draw you a railing to put around your flower. I will — “

I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. I did not know how I could reach him, where I could overtake him and go on hand in hand with him once more.

It is such a secret place, the land of tears.

The Little Prince


More lines, but no more clarity

Stages of Object Permanence

You flew over the peaks of la Cordillera Blanca,
A copper sunset, a statue of a woman in a long skirt
Crossing her legs, the church in a plaza of a city
you never got to tell us about. The magician placed
a white sheet over your eyelids and you disappeared.
My vision blurred. I didn’t know to look for you.

I opened the mini-blinds and ate a bowl of cereal
Without milk. I waited for you to come around
The corner. I waited for you to say “I’m sorry
you thought I was” and I drove past your house,
or what was your house, just in case your old blue car
was there, just in case you were in it. It never was.

I looked for you in better places because that’s where
They said you were. I looked for you six plots
From the tree with the wind chimes and found
Your name next to a vase with artificial flowers.
I found your pair of red Converse that had faded
since you wore them last. But I didn’t find you there.

I turned the pages of my calendar hanging on the wall
In my kitchen eleven times. You missed your
Twenty-first birthday but we drank to you anyway.
In Spanish class I learned how to conjugate
In the past tense, but didn’t understand
How someone could have been, but no longer is.

I reread your letters and framed a picture of us
From a summer when we were teenagers
And you smoked on back porch steps.
I looked for you in that summer, in secret cigarettes,
in careful handwriting, and the floral section
Of the grocery store. I didn’t find you there.

I remember the way your hair around your face used to
Curl in the humidity. I listen to songs that remind me of you
in the silence before sleep, confronting all I know.
You taught me to never leave important words unsaid.
I learned not to look for you in familiar spaces,
But in ones marked with uncertainty.

Reflection, Rhyme

Our secret

It’s everything. It’s the storms and the scary driving and the fear, but mostly the fear of loss. It’s the way everything changes and the way I manage to feel lonely and it feels like a choice. It’s the way nothing changes and it’s the way things are left unsaid and the way people leave and never return. It’s the way parents get old and turn into grandparents who die. It’s how sometimes it’s hard to be alive because it feels like anything but being alive, but I certainly wouldn’t trade it for the alternative. It’s the way everything seems so trivial in the grand scheme of things. But mostly, it’s the way a lovely-written book and a thunderstorm can inexplicably make me feel very, very sad. It’s everything.

“It’s a rule that we never listen to sad music, we made that rule early on, songs are as sad as the listener, we hardly ever listen to music.”

I wish you and I were poets,
So that when I say you are a
Magical human being,
You’d know what I mean.
And I’d know what I mean.

Maybe it’s the way a single look
Can resonate for days.
How a glance can play
And promise,
Again and again
As though holding on to just the memory of it
Could save.

Maybe it’s the way you speak and think
Of important things,
And how when I think and speak,
I know I’m
Speaking and thinking
Of important

I wish we could speak of death
And the world wouldn’t turn away.
Do they not know
I’m afraid too?