A Child’s Life

A Child’s Life

(A Hejinian poem I wrote about childhood while at university.)

I was at the table. High, dangling legs, looking at biscuits. The sun colored the room yellow. Her smile was wrinkled and bent. That was happiness. We went onto the swing. Back and forth, back and forth. The sky turned dark blue, and the stars swam. We ran over the fields. The roof was falling in, and the sides were no longer red. We jumped the hay then over the fence. My cousin laughed when he fell. I carried a stick because coyotes and kicking cows. We swayed at the creek then jumped. It was brown and red because the stones weren’t blue, and the water was clear. We climbed the fallen tree. Dangling legs. The grass below danced. It felt like Christmas. 

There were eyes always watching. We held our ears to the wall then ran outside. We always ducked or froze when a car whizzed by. Statues and mannequins made me think of sadness. We were always very still when we went to a funeral. I touched my great aunt’s cold, bloodless hand. We ran and ran, and I loved to swing. The sky was my friend. I loved when he was blue. My mother angrily shouted for me to get out of the tree. My father never bought us toys because we could die. I never got my bow and arrows or pocket knife. We traveled the world through pictures and the porch swing. We’d put our legs up, and my cousin pulled the lever. We would arrive in a different world where the roses had souls and dogs could speak but chose not to. 

I always mixed the buttermilk with the flour too quickly, but she would give me her wrinkled smile. Clocks confused me, and I watched clouds form castles and animals from my bed of leaves. My sister loved to sing and put on blue makeup. We secretly climbed the mountain until we craved chocolate drizzled ice cream. We threw the cow rib across the road into the ditch. The limbs caught our hair as we ran up the steps. My biscuits always turned out too brown, but we colored them in honey. Molasses made my jaws hurt. 

My father always came home late. I used to chase my cat then put her in a cage then let her go and feed her. The sun would turn pink. We could never swim because it rained enough to fill a swimming pool. I watched raindrops race and imagined tracing them, but my fingers were too greasy. Windows were a portal, and I saw myself riding a horse down the sidewalk with wind blowing through our hair. Then we arrived at school, and every smile hid a frown. 

Photo by Senjuti Kundu  


Stolen Heart

Stolen Heart

He is the tall dark stranger those warnings prepared me for. Those dark eyes and soul-penetrating gaze. I notice his indifferent smile and lifeless words, yet I bare my chest and grit my teeth as his knife lacerates my skin.  

The blade is cold. The pain is barely noticeable until his fingers slide around my sternum. My heart rips from its vessels.  

He walks away, my beating heart in his hand.  

I stumble, leaving a mess of blood behind me. 

“I wish you would learn to listen.” My mother begins loading her gun. “Come on, before that heart stops beating.” 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema 


Magic Silence

Magic Silence

I think silence is such a pretty sound. Not the sound of nothing, like when you are absolutely alone and nothing is around. I mean the sound of your mind when you are sitting quietly. Content. Maybe people in the background are talking. Perhaps a TV is on. Maybe birds are chirping or rain is falling. But there is a peacefulness in your soul.  

I have not felt that in a long time. 

I work with kids. Sad kids, needy kids, rude kids, kids who will smile and joke and make the entire class laugh all while avoiding direct eye contact with anyone. Kids who wear a mask over their numbed pain. Kids who use memes and other stupid things to hide the shining desperation in their eyes. They smile so wide that it hurts, it screams. “See me! See me! Please just see me!” all without saying a word. Their insides are charred and broken from unseen wars. 

These kids are too young for this.  

I want to carry them with me to a forest or a field and have us all close our eyes and breathe fresh air and appreciate our beautiful existence.  

I want them to feel that silence. It can cure, almost like magic. 

My kids would laugh. A bitter and sad sound to mock my foolish ideas because magic doesn’t exist. Fairytales and happy endings don’t exist. But they don’t know that fairytales helped me reach adulthood. 

So instead, I play violin music, and touch their shoulder, and tell them they are special. It’s like giving a lollipop to a kid in a war-ravaged country, but have you ever seen their eyes? The way they light up like I could somehow guarantee them lifelong happiness? It would curl the corners of your soul. 

That silence holds so many things with it. Like love. 

I used to never think about love. Never thought it applied to me.  

I’ll never forget when a guy mentioned that he would like to marry me, though he would never be able to sleep with me or even kiss me because we weren’t that type of love. I couldn’t even feel love. The way he’d said it too. So casual. Not a trace of anger or mocking in his words. He had meant them, and he believed them.  

You’re not capable of feeling love, he said. 

I think about that often.  

Am I a psychopath? What am I? I love my family. I love my kids. Never a boyfriend. Never a first kiss.  

I had a crush on a boy once with gorgeous dark hair and pale eyes. Why? There wasn’t a reason, but I was convinced that he was good. Even when he wasn’t. He never spoke to me, but was just another self-obsessed individual trying to survive, searching for someone to help frame his picture of himself. He is normal. 

But in my silence, when I am content and happy, I think myself in love. With what? Not myself and certainly not another person. 

Would I be okay without the people I love?  

Yes, I think so.  

There is a man I think I love. I know he loves me because of his eyes. The way he smiles. It makes me uncomfortable to think of someone being in love with me, opening doors for me, buying me cans of chicken soup when I’m sick, and reading my stories and telling me they’re good even when they’re not.  

Why does it make me uncomfortable? Because I can’t feel love? Because if something were to happen to him I think I would be okay?  

So many people want this. I guess I can understand that. It’s nice.  

Is it because I am able to hypnotize myself into this silent, content state? Where nothing outside the walls of my mind can affect me? And I am alone, but not empty. I am the opposite of empty. Is this what Buddha felt?  

I don’t know what Buddha’s silence was like, but with mine, my mind is not empty. I think about the universe. So many things are wrong. So many people are angry and depressed about the wrong, but is it not beautiful? I think it’s beautiful.  

The stars, the seas, and all the tiny people who are so insignificant yet so unique. Some are evil, and some are good, and some just want to live. I want to help them all, but maybe I will just help a few. And that’s good enough to make me satisfied.  

I appreciate the existence and stop thinking about everything that’s wrong and everything that could make me angry because what does that anger ever accomplish? It only leads to depression. So I thank God for a chance to do some good. To help my kids and the man who loves me with what love I can feel. And I trust God will look after them too.  

If they knew, they might laugh and mock because fairytales don’t exist, but fairytales are what helped me get to adulthood. 

Photo by Meritt Thomas