When did you find the courage
to press hesitant, uncertain fingertips
on each little tiny stitch that lines your sternum?
Was it one morning lying next to a sleeping Yoko
when you discovered the dividing line that keeps
a human being closed and silent,
his pages slammed together with
scrunched, gritted teeth shoulders touching each other
and screaming testimonies that have yet
to touch the moon, the stars, and the sun?
And what made you decide to slide
fingernails under thread highway center lines
and then rip each little piece of cord
from its roots?
I know what it feels like to boil.
Blood moves in El Nino currents
just beneath the surface, or becomes
a nimble god and spins in whirlpool just behind
the red door hidden by my sternum. This is because
I have been shadowboxing with Pele
since I was eighteen – she loves to stir my oceans
with a single volcanic finger and then dance
to the crimson chaos that slams itself
against the ribs of every continent and
every coastline. It climbs up my walls,
dragging its red stain glory behind it as
it falls back down. She will even
set the currents alight with little tongues of flame
and make her own Pentecost – or is it
Diwali? I can’t tell anymore, because I’m
too busy trying to tread the red water,
trying not to drown. And there are
days I can’t function – I’m so full of fear.
You used to boil. You never stopped.
Somehow, you found a way to send
sound beams below your ocean surface and let
your feral creatures crawl by claw and talon
back up those frequencies to inhale fresh, clean
air – or did they climb up the bone cliff faces
of your ribs after you ripped open your seams
and allowed them access to
pen and paper, piano and guitar? Some said
you were a dreamer – but they didn’t know
that the dreams were born from thunderbolts
riding subway blood veins up and down
your arms or bonfires lit behind your eyes,
burning since you were a boy.
And now, I try to contain my own
messy oceans. I’ve tried to drill rivets
into my pressure cooker lid to keep
the red raging, mad-at-the-mouth foaming
tempests from exploding the gasket and sailing
in single file tsunamis to land all over
everyone around me. I’ve tried
giving over limb and tooth to this monster
only to find the instant karma of ignited frightened eyes
and doors slammed shut.
This is my truth: I have lived
as a rag doll stuffed with rage, wanting to wage peace
but finding war soaked inside every nerve,
every blood cell, every thread of DNA
that wove themselves together to make me.
Poems are the exhales between gasps,
the vows written long hand in verse: and love
is the better self trying to rise up from her past
rooted in pain to grab handfuls of God and
azure. If you could answer this epistle, I suppose
you’d only say one thing, and you’d be right:
my war is over – if I want it.
© 2012 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
This poem was written for We Write Poems Prompt #135: My Life as a Poem. Considering that Saturday is the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and considering I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately (probably prompted by “Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)”), this poem has been bubbling up in my mind for about a week. Not to mention, I’ve been fighting my own personal battles which have become more difficult since the death of a family member earlier this year. I think this poem will give a bit of a glimpse into those battles.
As I discovered in my reading, Lennon also came from a broken home. His father left home at an early age and when he returned, he asked John to choose whether he would go live with him or his mother. John initially chose his father, but then was swayed to go with his mother after she began to cry. He was raised by his aunt and uncle — and a parallel to my own life, his aunt was dismissive of his musical ambitions, telling him he’d never make a living out of playing the guitar.
I suspect that due to events like these in his early life, this produced anger — I’d even go as far as to say rage. I know that kind of rage. I am still battling with it. I think Lennon alluded to this in a quote from a 1980 interview (obtained from his Wikipedia entry):
“Part of me would like to be accepted by all facets of society and not be this loudmouthed lunatic poet/musician. But I cannot be what I am not … I was the one who all the other boys’ parents—including Paul’s father—would say, ‘Keep away from him’ … The parents instinctively recognised I was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their children, which I did. I did my best to disrupt every friend’s home … Partly out of envy that I didn’t have this so-called home …”
And that rage carried forward into the rest of his life. Lennon admitted he was abusive towards his first with, Cynthia. In other ways, Lennon didn’t always make the wisest of decisions, he didn’t always behave nobly, and he did things that would definitely be considered wrong or inappropriate by some, including those who tend to uphold the “status quo”. But then again, none of us are always noble, wise, or good.
However, the contrast in his life which caught my attention the most was that between the angry young man and the older (maybe wiser) man calling for an end to war (“Happy Xmas (War is Over)”), a world where everyone would live together in peace (“Imagine”), saluting the beauty and potential inside of us (“Instant Karma”), and pointing out the inequalities and inconsistencies in our world (“Working Class Hero”). I have tried to be a pacifist but some days find rage and anger inside every fiber in my being. And as I end these process notes, I look to the future with the knowledge that somehow, I must end the war in myself.