Poem Therapy: Breaking Across Us - Katie Ford

8:21 P.M. 30 July 2012

Breaking Across Us
Katie Ford

I began to see things in parts again,
segments, a pen drawn against the skin
to show where to cut, lamppost through the stained glass
with its etchings of light against the wall —
it was the middle of the night. It was something we would tell no one:
The hospital roads with standing water, I drove quickly through,
saying, you won’t have to stay.
                          But then I left without you,
you whom I’ve felt missing all this time —
when I sat in the weeds of the yard, told to pull them
from the root, not to touch the wild trillium, tying knots in the daffodil stalks,
discontented. When I watched the scatters
of firs sway their birds out through my storm windows,
the tree itself now and no more,
I thought I needed belief — walking through the stubbed wheat grass
requesting everything that would undo me — the nearness of Christ,
abandon and devotion — no one has to teach me
my disobediences. No one sees
the shed I see now, its roof bent with snow, all of it
leaning south how it was never built.
The inches overcome it, but
the green wood darkens, oceanic and deep.
                         He might not wake up,
I thought that night —
                         I remembered the house I boarded in one summer
with a widower, his wife’s fabric samples left draped over
the arm of the unfinished chair. I could feel her eyes
in my own when I tried to choose
between them, almost, if the sun of the alcove
hadn’t faded them, the dust and his arms worn them.
The sky as stark as the first sheet laid down
after they took her body.
                       But on that night
while I waited, the clouds casketed the stars,
stars with no chambers or hollows, filling themselves
with their own heat how a hive quivers
to fill each crevice with itself,
how I have never been able.

All day today I felt the hive of myself quivering with a quiet rage  I spent the entire day pacing the halls, then the room, in the hospital while my husband recovered from his early morning surgery. He is doing very well, in case you're interested. A simple offhand phrase pulled me back ten years. I caught my reflection and was shocked that my eyes looked feral. I could have bared my teeth and hissed, or roared.

The day reminded me that the past is always present, always breaking across us, pulling and shoving us in opposing directions.

The quiet rage of the day has subsided, but I can still feel the buzz of it still humming inside.

Quiet rage may be an oxymoron on the surface, but most intense emotion is a unexpressed storm out on the horizon.

Years ago I took a traditional pottery class in the tiny village La Madera, literally the middle of nowhere in New Mexico, from a master potter and the village's medicine man. It was a wild and raw experience. Packs of wild dogs snarled as they roamed the hills behind the house where I was staying, and every morning the doorstep was littered with the bones of unfortunate animals.

My host and teacher asked if I would be interested in staying on during the weekend for a sweat lodge ceremony. Of course I said yes, although I had only a vague idea of what he was offering. To prepare, he asked me to make another pot in the shape of heart. I did and took it to the fire pit, but he said that this pot was not to be fired. I thought this strange.

Before the sweat lodge ceremony, he instructed me to climb the Oretga Mountains, hills really, behind his home, and take my pot and smash it. He said I needed to break my angry heart apart. I did exactly as he asked me.

Later that evening, after the smudging purification, we had crawled on our bellies into the small opening of the adobe sweat lodge. Those very few of us who had made it to the fourth round of hot rocks steaming and passing the bowl and offering gratitude, were to receive a blessing. When it came my turn, he asked me to acknowledge my anger. I said, I am angry. He laughed and said something close to, you don't sound angry. I answered that I was indeed very angry. He told me to prove it. I said it again. He kept at me. He wanted me to scream. I raised my voice. He kept at it.

I have no problem yelling, when I am by myself.  I don't like to yell around anyone. And then there was the reality that every man in that sweat lodge sweltering alongside me, was either suffering from HIV or dying of AIDS. I didn't feel like divorce warranted  screaming.

He kept at me until I really yelled just how angry I was, and I felt a release, and then comfort from the men around me as they patted my hair and held my hands.

I received my blessing from the medicine man, which was basically the same I received as a fourteen year old girl from our local Mormon patriarch, but I still think back to all the blessings I received that night as I cried in darkness, waves of heat rising over me.

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