Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

This poem about child sexual abuse split me in two today, and I thought it was worth a read.

Ghost Story
by Matthew Dickman
for matthew z and matthew r

I remember telling the joke
about child molestation and seeing
the face of the young man
I didn’t know well enough
turn from something with light
inside of it into something like
an animal that’s had its brain
bashed in, something like that, some
sky inside him breaking
all over the table and the beers.
It’s amazing, finding out
my thoughtlessness has no bounds,
is no match for any barbarian,
that it runs wild and hard
like the Mississippi. No, the Rio Grande.
No, the Columbia. A great river
of thorns and when this stranger
stood up and muttered
something about a cigarette,
the Hazmat team
in my chest begins to cordon
off my heart, glowing
a toxic yellow,
and all I could think about
was the punch line “sexy kids,”
that was it, “sexy kids,” and all the children
I’ve cared for, wiping
their noses, rocking them to sleep,
all the nieces and nephews I love,
and how no one ever
opened me up like can of soup
in the second grade, the man
now standing on the sidewalk, smoke smothering
his body, a ghost unable
to hold his wrists down
or make a sound like a large knee in between
two small knees, but terrifying and horrible all the same.

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I am still surprised by every silence
How each twist of anxiety makes my breath catch
How every swelling tear forces my hard swallow
How every heartache makes me tilt my head in wonder

This is feeling

This is what I begged to have
Oh, double-edged sword that you are
When you were elusive, I sensed only the dull ache
of a barren heart

As you return and threaten to spill over the narrow banks
that contain your shallow bottom,
I am overcome

But buried on the silty floor just below the squish
is a joy
A joy that says but one thing of all the pain:
Worth it.

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com·pas·sion [kuhm-pash-uhn]

1. a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

This morning, Jesus and I did some hammering with regard to my belief about compassion, and it was good stuff. He told me that I despise compassion because I know that it means, “with passion,” and it’s passion that has done much damage in my life. Passion caused men to abuse. Passion caused rage and lies. Everything that feels too big, too scary, too emotional, too angry, too loving — it all gets lumped together for me.

I’m using a workbook in counseling that talks about recovering passion as a form of repentance; that is, deciding to live, and therefore acknowledging and giving up the things I have allowed to keep me near emotional death. I don’t think I realized just how much emotional distance I hold with people in my life. I know that I feel things, after all. But I’m getting the picture that I don’t express it well or often, and that’s hard. Anyhow, here’s the product of quiet time reflection on com+passion.

Deadness is a cool disdain — choosing distance over risk of relationship,
assuming about and judging for others.
It is a sideways glance, disapproving and making known my displeasure.
It is the mean girl,
the intellectual snob,
the faultfinder,
the one without love.

It is being caught up, held hostage in, strangled by my own fear of rejection.
It is allowing my childhood beliefs to dictate my grown up behaviors.
It is utter foolishness.

It is extinguishing every spark of life in and around me, abortion in broad brush.
It is how I sometimes desire to break my daughter’s spirit,
to make clear to her that she’s not God’s gift to something,
when indeed she IS God’s gift.

It is despising the things that will bring joy and healing and wholeness
(those ethereal words – are they even real?)
to maintain a world that’s flat and grey, predictable and two-dimensional and safe.

And boring.

And painful.

Where the same decades-old nightmares chase me around the cardboard cityscapes night after night
and continue to provoke the same terror,
the terror of a child desperately clinging to her little world.

Compassion is fearful because it removes the luxury of denial,
the denial that says, “I don’t even want to really live.”
Oh, but I do. I do want to live.

I want
To stretch my legs in the warm autumn light
and hold my babies with loving abandon
and kiss my husband in the middle of the day, just because.

I want
To hold close the friend who is crushed by rejection, heart in hands, my own eyes misted over for her pain.
To love that I’ve accepted the tender invitation to hurt with her, no RSVP required.
To revel in the meaning of tears, this evidence of life,
the same salt water that cushions my children before birth dots the brows of hardworking men and comprises the seas.

Connection, that is passion.
Because it’s not a solo gig.
It’s an inside job.

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I’m miserable. My throat hurts and my head hurts and I’m exhausted from nightmares and lack of sleep. I whine when I’m miserable. And when I have some clarity about my husband’s job situation, I’ll update, but that’s serving to make me even more miserable. Sigh.

Anyhow, Epi, our church’s writer’s corner came out today, and I included this poem. I spent quite a bit of time on it by my standards, but I’m pretty pleased with how it came out. It says to me that even my earliest memories aren’t my first story.

My First Story

It is not, “How could you do this to us?”
“No daughter of mine”
Or a late spring wedding, fast before she blooms

It is not swimming in a dark salty sea,
tethered to she who wished to cut me loose
Or the cheek throbbing hot and red from knuckle striking bone

It is not the inky stain of violation, pooled and permanent
sunk to soul
Or thick summer Sundays full of wood and brass and song

It is not rage spilling into crimson sear,
breath of fire spreading wild
Or being called adjectives rather than my own proper name

It is not back child support in thin green envelopes,
Forty-two dollars per week
Or the absence of abandonment, better this way

It is not the, “I wish you were never born”
(which translates to, “I wish you were dead”)
Or the baby who, because of memory’s ricochet, never drew first breath

It is not the tug of convention;
marriage, motherhood, roots
Or the deep rolling shame that aches and thunders


It is rather the soft call of home,
somehow known though never known
The redress and recompense

It is the First, the Last, the I Am,
Author of Life and Ancient of Days
The unsearchable mystery of being found

It is the joy of being bare-faced and
blue-jeaned and whole
The delicate lilt that captures my ear

It is my wounded heart weeping,
finally weeping, through its thick balm
The dignity remembrance lends to suffering

It is the nightmare calmed,
brow mopped and hair smoothed
The gruesome yet profound beauty of truth

It is the Artist’s hand sculpting the slope of my nose,
curve of my hip, arch of my foot
The monogram graven deep, forever on His palms

It is He whose name is the sound of my breathing,
worship spoken holy in the raging silence
This Jesus; He is my first story

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Lately I’ve been in a creative mood. I want things to be beautiful, and I want to make them beautiful myself. That’s why there’s a big honkin’ sewing machine on my living room floor (a gift from my mother-in-law), and there are a half dozen paintings propped on the wainscoting.

I decided to institute nap time art each day. That’s a project I can do, start to finish, in two hours while my kids are upstairs resting (they almost never sleep, but alas). I’m using this time to do things I enjoy, regardless of how they look to other people.

What I haven’t been doing is writing, but that totally needs to change. I feel like there’s a poem to be written for each painting, so here’s the first effort. I only had about six minutes of the two hours left for this one after painting, so keep that in mind. You can also see the draft behind the top of the painting. 🙂

The loamy earth greets, beckons, draws me deep into the cavern of trees
Down I go, from hilltop descended
Barbs whipping around tender calves
Biting at tender flesh

The forest holds me deep in her womb
Hums her lullabies over me
as the wind whispers,
“Hush little babe.”

Sweet safety,
Mother of my youth, you held me close
My fingertips caressed your rough skin
Your shoots brushed soft wisps from my face

I yearn for your protection even now,
the quiet canopy of safety you offered
When sunlight landed on my cheeks
like patterned lace.

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I gaze upon a little girl
Toddling on chubby legs
Smooth-skinned and bubbling

Her gaze meets mine, and her sweet charm belies the defiance behind her eyes
I swim in the hurt I see in those pools of honeyed green,
the sparkle formed by a film of tears
which, by sheer force of will, are bound just there

Never spilling onto tender cheeks
Never caught up in flaxen lashes
Just quietly present, in constant suspension
Threatening, swallowed, this is the line she toes

Safety’s cost a lower price to pay, she hides them in plain sight
Choking on salt water,
Absorbing them deep into her gut
Drowning in the grief

She’s repaid every cent with interest
But even at zero sum, the woman standing where the
child once stood
Stands with tears frozen, unspilled.

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