Crazy Real

the official blog of author and poet Jennifer Wilson

Awake

Before I turned ten, my memories are streaked and watery and sepia-toned, like photographs that have faded with time and too much sunlight. I remember only snatches of things, as if they are calliope music from far away or the discordant tones of the ice-cream truck that fade in and out as you scramble for money. Before fifth grade, I hardly remember anything because my mind was still forming, still full of amniotic fluid and the trauma of being born. I recall Bobby Goldsboro and the sound of his song “Honey” which made me cry, but beyond that there is just mama and schooling and the church where an enormous crucifix hung, a vague recollection of fish in a tank, my first glimpse of the ocean, and the smell of damp-hot summers when all was washed to blue and green.

And then time, hypnotist-like, snapped its fingers and I came awake.

There were fields of grass and hay and wildflowers that reached up to my waist as I walked through them, swishing behind me as I went. There were bugs that flew skyward when I squatted down to urinate because the house wasn’t done being built yet and the red-clay dirt was my only recourse. There was my father, always working, swinging a hammer or a paintbrush or supervising the pouring of concrete, sweating and yelling and building his version of the American Dream so we could all live in and worship it. He worked for an oil company by day and spent his evenings on the 160 acres, breathing deep the sounds of coyotes and crickets and cicadas. I wondered if he ever slept.

There were siblings, two ahead and two behind, and me sandwiched in the middle. We were a curious tribe of misfits, trying hard to fit in but hopelessly artistic; a mix of writers and artists and musicians and all feeling out of place in our skins. Mostly feral, especially in the summer, we would roam the wilds of Oklahoma and come home with ticks in our hair and dirt on our hands, sunburnt and sweaty. When we weren’t exploring we were working as my father’s laborers on his feverish vision: one Christmas Eve was spent on the roof-ridge of the garage, handing him shingles as the snowflakes drifted down from a navy-black sky and our breath froze in our lungs.

Childhood was hard work, this much I remember. And adolescence was no easier. When I first noticed men, it was with something of a shock, like cold water to the face. I realized that I was captivated by them, fascinated by the hair that came out of their faces, the veins in their arms, the deep timbre of their voices. Big men, small men, dark men, light men—it didn’t matter what variety they were—if they contained the requisite amount of testosterone, I noticed them. I was never in doubt of my sexual leanings; they veered hard right and stayed solidly in the heterosexual court from an early age.

My first boyfriend was freckled, with hair the color of weathered barn siding and eyes grey as the sea. We were in ninth grade, and our romance began when he called me one night after flirting with me for several weeks during science class. The phone never rang for me in the evenings unless it was my best friend Sarah calling to ask what I was going to wear the next day at school, but on this particular November night, it was for me, my mother said. Then, in a slightly hushed tone, she added it’s a boy. My heart stopped beating entirely and then, in the next moment, began to hammer.

I moved to the kitchen in a daze and picked up the receiver. The voice on the other end contained a smile and a wink, a mischievous tone that lodged in my heart and took wild root, and I was breathless with joy and longing. We talked (a lot of nothing and at the same time everything) and went on our first date to the Twin Cinema to see The Toy, starring Richard Pryor. I sat and laughed at the comical situation portrayed on the screen, but all the while the heat and nearness of him saturated my being and made me flushed, every cell thrumming. He took my hand and pulled me into a kiss—my first ever. He tasted pleasant and faintly metallic, and I disappeared completely into the abyss of first love.

When my father’s oil-fueled job moved us to Europe, my would-be lover wrote me once, a long and rambling missive punctuated by all-caps assertions that we were destined for one another and that, someday, we would be TOGETHER FOREVER. I never heard from him after that, learning belatedly from my best friend that he, too, had moved away. I had no idea how to find him, and my broken heart healed with ugly, weeping scars.

I had a couple of boyfriends after that, including one that was serious enough to plan marriage and baby names, but I believed that the feel of first love could never be captured again and thus settled for less and less. I told myself it was fine, that heart palpitations and trembling kisses were overrated, and that safe, lukewarm affection was a satisfactory substitution for messy, reckless passion. I found myself almost believing it, too.

Until I met him.

When he came strolling up to me on the cobblestone streets of Stavanger, Norway, it was the swagger that I noticed first. His stride was full of life and energy and an athletic grace that carried him forward until he was before me, him smiling, me squinting into his radiance. Introductions were made, but I don’t remember any of the rest of the conversation, so captivated was I by his eyes, the color of new leaves in springtime, and the flash of his crooked smile directed my way. Dark waves curled against his neck, and I fantasized pressing my lips just there, below his ear, where the skin was warm and smooth.

We were friends first, but just barely. Our “platonic” letters are full of innuendo and thinly-veiled romance; he would write to me PS’s composed entirely of Tolkien’s runic alphabet, which I was helpless to decipher but told myself were declarations of love. For a year and a half we managed to stay in neutral, until one star-lit night when we looked long and hard at one another, gave up, and kissed. I was consumed. My heart opened like a rose, blooming in my chest with dramatic swiftness, scars stretching to accommodate this new sensation, pain releasing to the sky.

It’s been over thirty years since that day, and yet my heart still leaps in my chest when I hear his voice on the phone, or feel the touch of his broad, warm hand on my skin. His eyes are still green, his smile still lopsided and endearing, his stride still thrilling. He claims that he fell for me hard that first day as I fluttered my eyelashes at him and laughed at all his jokes, and that he is still falling, little by little, day by day. We are the lucky ones, the ones who grab and don’t let go, the ones who fight and struggle but come back together in the end, who press into one another and find, in the end, home.

 

Literary

The Pevensies
started it all
and James with his
phalanx of arthropod friends

And then along came
Margaret and Fiver
and Taran Wanderer and
Ralph the Mouse

And Alice in her land of wonder
Anne (don’t forget the E)
Ponyboy and Johnny
Jo and her sisters
Jane and Mr. Rochester
Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy

I grew, and discovered
Henry and Catherine
And faithful butler Stevens and
The Boatwright sisters who
made my heart bleed
dark realization of what
used to be and is now

There are works
of fiction that
made me weep
hot tears of longing

But none more so than
Scout and her beloved
brother when he
comes into his own

Jem knew something
that I never could, that
Atticus would be there
arms ready
heart open
welcoming his questions
accepting his doubts
applying generous grace
To all the empty places
where words are meaningless
and reason takes flight
And only love
will suffice

Books.
They are only books.
And yet, so much more.
Without them, I would be
half the person I am now
and who can say how important
that half would

Be?

Hobo

There once was a time
I carried a bag
tied up on a stick
held aloft like a flag

and into this pouch
my heart was compelled
imprisoned by doctrine
and forced there to dwell

I thought it was safer
to keep it secured
within my worldview
so I was assured

a vagrant was I
with bindle-beliefs
traversing the road
ignoring my grief

but then the bag tore
its seams all asunder
and out spilled my heart
with all of its plunder:

the tears left unwept
from failures and blows
the bitter defeats
the anger and woe

the conflict within
that could not be hid
the struggle long-fought
with vigorous id

I long to march on
in dumb innocence
continue to stuff
my nascent conscience

but there lays my heart
and I cannot leave
it foundering here
in dust while I grieve

the night long endures
with no end in sight
and darkness derides
the concept of light

yet there is a whisper
that bids me be strong
portends after all
a spectacular dawn

and so I sit patient
and wait for release
from this vigil beside
my tattered beliefs.

Rodeo

My brain doesn’t

think

it leaps
out of the gate
bucking furiously
over normality’s head

racing

from one extreme to the other:

adoration
repulsion

elation
despair

bravado
terror

scattering rationality
with its horns
as it hurtles
back and forth
across the arena

and I

can only stand and watch
clown-clothed and
equipped with a
butterfly net
when a lasso
is what I need

diving
into barrels
to escape

its rampage.

Ingredients

Our hearts are made
of earth and clay
of cells and blood
and DNA

a tree is made
of cellulose
of branch and leaf
and breeze that blows

the stars are made
of fire and light
of wishes made
on summer nights

and oceans come
from storms and rain
from ancient tears
no one can name

but mostly I
am empty space
and dismal thoughts
I can’t erase

I wish to be
an unnamed star
a tree, a raindrop
yet here we are

a soulless thing
I cannot be
and so I sit
myself and me

and try to hope
and strive to stay
this human thing
for one more day.

Award

Oh wow, for me?

It’s for me? Really? I’m overwhelmed, I’m startled, I’m completely amazed!”

*stands up, smooths dress, strides to the stage*

Yes; yes, of course I’ll accept it!”

*takes award, smiles, waves*

Oh my, I can’t believe this. Let me just catch my breath here for a moment, I never imagined this moment would come for me.”

*breathes deeply, waits for applause to die down*

Thank you, Father Time and Mother Nature, for awarding me this enormous milestone. Without your continual persistence and steadfastness, I wouldn’t be here today. FIFTY. Wow. It never occurred to me that I might actually make it!

I’d like to take this opportunity, if you would indulge me, to thank some people who have given me incredible gifts throughout the years. Their contributions to my life can hardly be fathomed. 

First, the Sun, for the hours of pleasure beneath your rays, for the vitamin D, and the great tans. Also for the crepe-y skin, wrinkles, and abundant freckles. Hey man, you’ve been more than generous. Maybe enough is enough now, though? Haha, yeah. No, seriously.

Next, Aunt Flo. Girl, we’ve known each other for, what? Thirty-seven years? And you’ve been such a consistent companion, always showing up at the exact wrong moment. You’re amazing. You and your partner, Hormones, always kept it interesting. I know you’re planning to leave me alone completely in the next year or so, and can I just say one thing? Don’t let the door hit you. Thanks for the parting gifts, too: hot flashes and hair loss. Nice.

To my Muse, hello! Hello? Muse? Where is she? I’d like to thank her for being a flighty bitch, but I see she didn’t bother to show up tonight. Typical.

Also, I don’t want to forget Medication. I see you there, don’t blush! Don’t know what I’d do without you. Thanks for being there. We won’t mention the side effects now, it’s not the time.

But seriously, folks. I have, surrounding me, some of the best companions on this journey a girl could ever have. They pick me up when I stumble, they encourage me forward, and they bandage my bloodied knees when I hit the ground. For instance:

My parents. You taught me how to work, how to live, and how to laugh. Without you I wouldn’t be here (literally). I love you and am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to walk this earth.

My friends. You who have stuck close beside me through the good times and the bad. You who have prayed for me, wept with me, and laughed at my razor-sharp wit. Yes, you. You know who you are.

My sister Pam. She has demonstrated a determination to reach for the stars and never quit, a bull-dog like ferocity to achieve her dreams, and she has shown me there is no shame in doing so. She would drop everything to help someone out, even when she herself is hurting. She loves me unconditionally, keeps my secrets, and forgives my lapses. Thank you, dear sissy.

My brother, Matt. Steadfast friend. Selfless hero. Generous giver. Faithful encourager. I have no doubt this man would strap me to his back and carry me if he had to, just to get me to safety. He has given me gifts I will never be able to repay, shared with me his abundant talent and creativity in more ways than I can count, and I miss him desperately every moment he is not near me. Thank you, Machu.

My brother, Paul. Your wisdom and compassion, paired with your inimitable style and confidence, have buoyed me along throughout the years. The music you create inspired (and continues to inspire) me to find my own voice amidst the hubbub of life and the chaos in my own soul. Yours is a singularly calming influence, and I am forever grateful to have you in my life. Thank you, Pauly.

My brother, Chris. When you came along, you instantly brightened my life, and you continue to do so every day. Your sense of humor, your love for humanity, your relentless courage, and your determination to follow your own path teach me lessons I never could have learned otherwise. You love so big, and we would all do well to follow your example. Thank you, TTFer.

And lastly, the brightest star in my sky, my husband, Jim.

What do you say about a man who would step in front of a bullet for you? He has saved my life, both literally and figuratively, more than once. I would not be here if not for his love. He never once has given me cause to doubt his desire for me, which, for a person with as many deep-rooted insecurities as yours truly, cannot be overstated. He sees every tear that I cry and always tries his best to stay tender towards me in spite of my own harshness at times. This award is as much for him as it is for myself. Thank you, darling man. I love you eternally.

Thank you again, Father Time and Mother Nature, for the chance to achieve this, the big 5-0, and may I persevere to reach the next milestones set for me in life. May I ever endeavor to improve with each passing day, and never forget to give thanks for the many blessings that envelop me.”

*lifts award overhead and shakes it for emphasis before proceeding to fall down the stage steps*

Heartbreak

There are
breaches that can’t be repaired
bridges that cannot be crossed
darkness that will spurn the light
words whose meanings long are lost

Wounds
whose oozing edges bleed
while scorning aid that’s close at hand
desert places parched and dry
that no amount of rain can stand

A heart,
once broken, always weeps
help is little, and always late
I stand and pound on barred window
and mourn before a padlocked gate

My voice
Is broken, faint and dim
within the darkness echoing
pathetic messenger at best
a dove with useless, shattered wing

No time
Is left for second chances
fate has spoken all in all
the hourglass can’t be up-righted
the final grain of sand will fall

And so
I stand, a bitter warning
etched upon the thoroughfare
“Watch your step, if this way coming
broken hearts are littered there”

Chapter one of something new

It had been fifteen years since they said I do, and sometimes, just when Geena thought everything was going well and that they were going to make it, really make it, something would happen that would cause her to doubt. Mostly, though, she thought they were doing all right—paying bills and grocery shopping and going to work and putting kids to bed as life made its slow march across their faces, leaving faint lines of crow’s feet around their eyes and worry lines between their brows.

The day her marriage ended was not particularly ominous. The sun rose, bright and hot, and traversed the summer sky methodically, as it had every day before, baking the pavement and sending waves of heat up from the Alabama asphalt. The boys were out of school and spent their days bickering and playing games and wrestling like bear cubs from sunup to sundown. She loved having them home, but sometimes, it was difficult.

Like on this day, when she told her husband that they needed to talk. The boys were complaining of the heat, but as soon as they jumped in the pool the arguing commenced, causing her to step outside the back door innumerable times to tell them to hush, that the whole neighborhood didn’t need to hear them.

On this day, of all days, she and Max needed privacy. So she ordered the kids out of the pool, left them in charge of a babysitter, and went to a nearby restaurant to talk things out. She had a vague notion that if they were among strangers, they might be able to control the seething piles of emotion that lay just under the surface of their words.

It wasn’t true, of course. The emotions spilled over the tops of their words and came tumbling out of their eyes until they were sitting in the car, sobbing and trying to make sense of everything. It wasn’t that either one of them wanted to get divorced, it was just that nothing seemed to be working. Even therapy couldn’t provide them with the healing words that they needed. It only served to highlight their differences and dichotomies until neither one could look at them anymore without feeling deep despair.

It was there, then, in the car on that hot summer’s day, that Max and Geena decided to throw in the towel.

When Max was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer just four weeks later, however, the process of divorcing came to a stop even before it could even get started. Everything changed, and the next six months were an agony of watching the man she thought she’d grow old with slowly crumble apart and die.

“You’re beautiful to me,” he breathed faintly one day toward the end, as she sat by his bedside and gave him sips of ice water. The morphine pump chugged nearby, its steady release of medication alleviating but never completely resolving his pain. He was thin then, a mere shadow of the hearty man he had been before, and his body beneath the sheet moved spasmodically. “I just want you to know that.”

“Okay, Max,” she said in what she hoped was a reassuring tone. “I hear you.”

“No,” he said, turning his head to fix her with his bright green eyes. “I mean it. I love you. I’m sorry we couldn’t make it work.”

“But we have, haven’t we?” she said in consternation. “I mean, here we are.”

“Are we, though?” he sighed and closed his eyes and the conversation was over. Geena bent her head to her chest and wept. Though they were here, occupying the spaces around one another, they were not together. And they hadn’t been for a long time.

Book Signing

On Saturday, the 18th, I will be at Brace Books & More in Ponca City, Oklahoma, signing Skip to the End and Noah Knows from 1-3 in the afternoon. If you’re nearby, be sure to stop in! Brace is a grand little bookstore, packed to the gills with books and gifts; you’re sure to find something you like.

New Poetry Book Cover

Here’s the cover for the new poetry book, Cover Me:

Let me know what you think!

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