branches & bones

He said,
"I have to feel my bones
to make sure nothing's broken."

And sure enough,
when I glanced back to where he sat
strapped in
on the road to IKEA this morning,
I saw a strange half-smile on his face
and his fingers
playing his ribs
like piano keys.

I said,
"do you hurt?"

He said, 
"i don't know."

I said, 
"if something were broken
you would hurt."

He said, 
"sometimes
when something breaks
it just feels like nothing,
right?"

He was thinking of the tree
in our front yard,
whose living branch
he ripped from the trunk
just as it began to bud
last week.

I have to feel my bones
to make sure nothing's broken.

My first thought was
your body will tell you -
interrupt you -
if something breaks.

It won't be like windshield wipers
where you can go about your day
(picking up a jar of olives
sliding overdue library books in the bin)
and you only realize something's busted
when you reach for it
and it fails.

It will be like the door falling off the car:
a wincing screech,
a shower of sparks,
a blow.
You can't miss it.

I suppose we're both right;
although I'm right about broken bones,
he's right that sometimes
some things
break without pain.

Some breaks don't begin to ache
until you find them.
The break feels like nothing
while it's waiting to be found.

___

A group of adults sat at a table
and one by one we introduced ourselves. 
By the time it was my turn to say hello
my greatest fear had been confirmed:
Everyone there had credentials
but me.
Everyone there had a brand identity - 
the entrepreneur
the academic
the tech expert
the brand manager in his thick frames,
and me.

I felt like I should rise
to take coffee orders.
Pleasant service is, 
after all, my wheelhouse.

I should have just said
"Hi, I'm Katie.
I'm a stay-at-home mom
and I'm here to help."

If I'd been brave I would have.

But I was afraid that if I did
the only thing I'd be
(to this group)
would be upbeat, eager,
and good for a cooler of orange slices.

My heart fluttered and my calculating mind raced
as the woman ahead of me described
her travels to Africa and Asia
as a consultant to various aid organizations.
Oh shit, that's so cool.

I knew I couldn't out-business
or out-degree anyone at the table, 
which left me with only one option:
I had to out-creative them.
Creative works - people will think you're cool
and that you might know good bands,
but only if you're demonstrably successful with your creativity.
If you stumble when describing your one-woman show
or reveal that it closed after 1 half-full night,
then everyone will know you're just a dumb flake
who was too whiny to handle a real job.

Me? I write a blog that a few people read.
(Hi, Mom.)
So I had to find a way
to say I was more,
and the fact that the way needed finding
made me think,
Am I not more
anymore?

So I skipped the part of my resume that included
telemarketer
call center employee
shot girl
bartender
receptionist,
and said,

"Hi, I'm Katie. I'm 
a freelance writer and blogger 
with a background in education 
and the arts.
I currently stay home 
with my two young boys."

(You have to say currently
or everything else
doesn't matter.)

Good thing I was wearing pants
with a zipper
or they might not have bought it.

As it was, I cracked a few jokes
that were edgy enough to break the ice
and support my assertion that I was
a creative type.

I basically majored in cracking wise
and faking it
so I'm not uncomfortable putting on a show.
But there's not much difference between performing
and hiding.
Some people hide right in front of you,
while you're laughing at something they said.

I'll never forget the acting teacher who stopped me
mid-speech,
walked up to me in front of the class
and whispered in my ear:
"You are enough."
I burst - really, burst - into tears,
as if I'd been kicked in the chest.

He made me try again,
right then,
crying.

And math majors think their classes are hard.

I'd had no idea something was broken
until he found it,
placed a finger right on the wound,
and said, "here it is. 
Here is where you are broken. 
Now, you can break."

I imagine saying what I want to say
when I introduce myself.
It comes out righteous
and punishingly honest,
ruler slaps of words, meted blows.

"Hi, I'm Katie.
When I got pregnant, I was relieved
that I could stop pretending to want a career.
I am building a strange fucking awesome family,
an enterprise that consumes me
not because I am simple or weak,
but because the job lasts forever.
Literally. Forever.

If you don't have kids then
no, you cannot imagine staying home with the kids.
Do not say that you think you'd get bored.
That's a shitty thing to say
about my life's work.
Before I had kids I had many pointless jobs
that you probably assume
only high-school students,
stupid people,
or single mothers do.

I am not here to 'keep busy.'

And you are?"

When someone asks who you are
you should be able to say
me.

Right?

How much does that degree cost?
The one where you can just say
me.
___


Yesterday he snapped a living branch
from a tree that was probably planted
around the year my grandmother was born. 



Drunk on early sun
the tips of its spidery stems 
had just swollen into tight buds.

He swung the torn-off branch in the driveway
making soft shooting sounds
and stumbling a bit - 
it wasn't a twig, after all.

I knelt down around him 
and placed my hands over his
on the branch.

"Please don't do that,"
I said.
"The tree needs this branch 
to make food from the sun."

"There are lots of branches,"
he said.

"But there was only one of this one,
and now
it's gone."

He studied the branch in his hand
and dropped it suddenly on the ground.
"Put it back."

"I can't," I said.
"Once you break something
like that
you can't fix it."

"Yes you can," he said,
"of course you can!"
the way I do when he insists
he can't put the blocks back in their bin:
chirpily, testily,
like a camp counselor
who was just about to snap
when the boss walked by.
"I know you can fix it." 

"No, baby.
I can't."

I couldn't see his face
but I could feel his body still
the way it does when all his movement
goes inside his mind.

Then he pushed away from me 
and stomped on the branch,
with a grunt.
Its buds quivered
and he stomped again
to watch them shiver under his feet.

He muttered something.
"What's that, baby?"

"I want grape juice
now!"

He roared,
his face twisted,
his shoulders coiled,
his fingers curled into tiger paws.

I asked,
"Are you okay?"

He growled at me
and crouched to attack.
"I'm a tiger!
A fierce tiger!"

"Oh yes, I can see that. 
You have big claws and a fierce roar.
Is there a big feeling inside you, 
tiger?"

"I'm mad."

"I can see that.
You're really mad. 
You look like you want to hurt something."

"I do!
I wanna scratch!"
He swiped the air with his paw.

"I've felt like that.
I usually feel like hurting someone
when I'm hurting, too.
Do you have another feeling
other than mad?"

"I'm super sad,"
he said
in his own small voice.

"About the tree?"

"Yeah."

I reached for him.
He came to me and asked,
"is the tree hurt?"

I didn't know what to say.

Of course he did;
he ripped a piece from the core.

But of course he did 
nothing more
than what happens to everything that grows
and buds
and breaks.





If you liked this poem, you might check out this one, which explores a much younger Chicken's fraught relationship with brokenness. 

2 comments:

  1. The middle one. Yes. Beautiful and true. I have never been in an introduction scenario where I didn't feel like the least interesting/qualified/impressive person in the room. Even in your example, I'd be like, "Crap, I don't want to go after the freelance writer/blogger, she's so accomplished and outside-the-system!" And I also have a 2 sentence summary of myself that is designed to sound impressive (and intimidating?) to everyone but me who knows that while it's technically the truth, it doesn't feel true. What can we do to make these introductions less horrible if/when we are in the position of leading them? Do you think asking people for their names and what drew them to be a part this meeting/talk/group/project instead of a summary of "who you are"? Then we could say something like "I'll start. I know nothing about X, and I wanted to learn." I just feel like almost any prompt immediately turns into a contest. Even something as ostensibly playful as two truths and a lie: "I am an olympic skier, I started my own business at age 10, and I shit gold bricks." "Haha, suckers, I'm actually an olympic SNOWBOARDER."

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  2. Also (so many good nuggets in this post), are you ever temped to say to someone (who has just said the same thing to you), "Oh, you're a CEO. Cool. I guess I could do that for a while, but I think I would get bored eventually. I mean phone call, meeting, report, lunch, repeat, amiright? You're telling me when you go to bed at night, you actually know what time your workday will start the next morning? Like I said, BORING!"

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