I was little.
My mother was a bank teller.
I called her a fortune teller.
She nick-named me Pangee.
Not Pangea. I was never in one piece.
The first time I called someone “ugly”
my heart had an ice-cream headache for three weeks.
Tell that to my future.
Say, “The moon doesn’t care to be a bully when it’s full.”
I was running from myself on empty.
Not much made sense, like the Russians didn’t like us
because they couldn’t afford blue jeans?
What I knew
is that I wasn’t killing spiders cause I was scared of them
I was killing them
because they were scared of me.
You can have a cold war with yourself
even in the summertime.
I watched the rocks get slapped by the sea.
I knew the sea was made of the same stuff as tears.
That meant if you were hurting you could understand the sharks.
Maybe carry them between your ears.
Maybe hear the word ‘love’ and start running from the teeth.
I was running around with a panic in my chest.
The teacher said, “Silence is golden.”
I wanted to say, “Silence is bronze at best,”
but I had already time capsuled my voice box
hoping someday I would be either brave or scared enough to dig it out and open it all the way up.
That’s how I got here.
In this old rocking chair
typing with my grandma’s thimbles on my fingers.
Every poem is something being sown.
Every poem is me asking “are we there yet?”
“Are we there yet?”
“Are we there yet?”
Years after they told me I was already home.
My love’s feet were still not welcome on the welcome mat,
but you’ve never seen bridges that could arch like that.
So we crossed the river to where the echo took us in.
That’s where I learned bouncing back is about being honest with the canyon.
That’s how I got this see-through skin, this glow-in-the-dark fear.
This here is my shame on a silver plate.
I know it is the one meal that all of us share.
I know how much time we spend sleeping beneath our beds ‘cause somebody told us that’s where the monsters should hide.
Y’all everyone is going to pick a side on
whether they are good or bad,
whether you are kind or cruel.
But what if the quickest root to loving ourselves is deciding its all true.
Every bit of it.
I was not a child the last time I threw a full tantrum fit in the grocery store.
I was not poor the last time I stole
like it wasn’t worth my change.
I do not need air traffic control to tell me there have not been enough flights for me to lose all of my baggage.
I am learning to claim it at the same carousel where I am learning beating yourself up is never a fair fight
only knocks the wind out of our chances to come clean through that canyon.
To be exactly who we are
so we might become exactly who we want to be.
So if our baggage is to run we will one day learn to run like we sing
like someone took apart a cello to build our hamstrings.
This is me running straight into your arms to tell you my skyscraper heart might still be afraid of heights.
Your dark side might still be searching for its stars but the acoustics are still amazing in our meteor showers.
The light will never be out of your league.
You were the first one picked for your own team.
Our underdog hearts are winning this game even when we are doing it all wrong,
even when we are falling apart.
Sometimes it takes a storm for the whole sea to start doing the wave.
I know it took a storm for the message in the bottle to finally reach my shore.
To teach me how to write my entire life using only the shift key to mess up, to bounce back, to let myself be
the hinge that keeps opening the door
to look you straight in the eye and tell you
I didn’t come here to write my heart out
I came here to write it in.
An Insider’s Guide on How to be Sick
Never say the words ‘this is not my life’
This pain that wakes you screaming in the muzzle of the night
This pain that woke your lover, chased her to another room
to another life
This fevered fainting
This tremorring chest
This mangled kite
This panic like a cave of bats
This nurse drawing blood wearing doubled gloves
This insurance doesn’t cover that
This hurried paycheck of doctor after doctor after doctor
This stethoscope that never hears your heart
This hospital bed
This florescent dark
This save your prescription with side effects worse than the disease
This please let me have one month where I read more poems than warning labels
This not knowing what the test will say
This pray pray pray
This airplane’s medical emergency landing
This shame when you can’t walk
Shame when you can’t fuck
Shame when you’re home alone sobbing on another friday night
Say ‘This is my life
This is my precious life
This is how badly I want to live’
Say Sometimes you have to keep pulling yourself up by the whip
Take punch after punch to the face forward
To the head up
And still uncurl the fist of your grief like a warm blanket on the cool earth of your faith
Say every waiting room is the clime where you will finally take shape to fit into the keyhole of your own gritty heart
To open mercy
To open your siren throat
Say every fever is a love note to remind you that there better things to be than cool
Fuck every pair of skinny jeans
From the month your muscles started atrophying to a size two
Say fuck you to anyone who asks you if you eat enough
Say how do you not know that is so fucking rude
Remember you never have an obligation to quiet the hurricane inside your chest
Especially on a day when another healthy person suggests ‘you would feel so much better if you would just focus your breath into a Buddha beam of light”
Like that light is going to miraculously dissolve the knife that’s been churning in your kidneys for the last six fucking months
Say Sunshine, please go back to your job at the aroma therapy aisle at Whole Foods and leave me alone
I know how to talk to God
and God does not expect me to use my inside voice
God knows how goddamn hard I am working to become a smooth stone
So I can skip on my back across this red red sea
So I can trust deep in my screaming bones
Everything is a lesson
Lesson #1 through infinity
You will never have a greater opportunity to learn to love your enemy than when your enemy is your own red blood
Truce is a word made of velvet
Truce is a word made of velvet
Wear it everywhere you go— Andrea Gibson “How to be Sick”
I want a good heart
I want it to be made of good stuff
I want the stain glass window builder to be my drinking buddy
I want to drink only the punch of a million gender queer school kids taking free martial arts lessons to survive recess
I stopped calling myself a pacifist when I heard Gandhi told women they should not physically fight off their rapists
I believe there is such a thing as a non violent fist
I believe the earth is a woman muzzled, beaten, tied to the cold slinging tracks
I believe the muzzled have every right to rip off the Bible Belt and take it to the patriarchy’s ass
I know these words are going to get me in trouble
It is never polite to throw back the tear gas
Just like its never polite to bring enough life rafts
They crowd the balconies where the wealthy shine their jewels
But sometimes love
Sometimes real love
Is fucking rude
Is interrupting a wedding mid vow just as the congregation is about to cry
To stand up in your pew to say “is everyone here clear on how diamonds are mined?”
Hallelujah to every drag queen at Stonewall who made weapons out of her stiletto shoes
Hallelujah to the blues keeping the neighborhood awake
To the activist standing in the snow outside of the circus holding a ten foot photograph of a baby elephant in chains when it’s probably some little kid’s birthday
Hallelujah to making everyone uncomfortable
To the terrible manners of truth
To refusing to clean the blood off the plate
Bend this spine into a bow I can pull across the cello of my speak up
Love readies its heart’s teeth
Chews through the etiquette lease
Takes down the cellphone tower after millions of people die in wars in the Congo fighting for the minerals that make our cellphones
Love blows up the dam
Chains itself to the redwood tree
To the capital building when a trailer of Mexican immigrants are found dead on the south Texas roadside
Love insists well intentioned white people officially stop calling themselves color blind
Insists hope lace it’s fucking boots
Always calls out the misogynist, racist, homophobic joke refuses to be a welcome mat where hate wipes its feet
Love asks questions at the most inappropriate times
Overturns the defense of marriage act then walks a pride parade asking when the plight of poor single mothers will ignite our hearts into action like that
Love is not polite
deadlocks our rush hour traffic with a hundred stubborn screaming bikes
Hallelujah to every suffrage movement hunger strike
Hallelujah to insisting they get your pronouns right
Hallelujah to tact never winning our spines
To taking our power all the way back to that first glacier that had to learn how to swim
To not turning our heads from a single ugly truth
To knowing we live in a time when beauty recruits its models outside the doors of eating disorder clients
That is not a metaphor
This is not a line to a poem
An Indian farmer walks into a crowd of people and stab himself in his chest to protest the poisoning of his land
A Buddhist monk burns himself alive on the streets of Saigon
A US soldier hangs himself wearing his enemy’s dog tags around his holy neck
May my heart be as heavy as a tuba in the front row of the Mardi Gras parade five months after Katrina
May it weigh the weight of the world so it might anchor the sun so it might hold me to my own light till I am willing to sweat as much as I cry
Till I am willing to press into the clay of our precious lives
Might our grace riot the walls down
May the drought howl us awake
May we rush into the streets to do the work of opening each other’s eyes
May our good hearts forever be too loud to let the neighbors sleep
Privilege is Never Having to Think About it
Touring with a Black Poet-for Sonya Renee
She steps out of the hotel bathroom dressed to the nines, stilettos sharp in her glossy glossy
elegant tailored boom glittering a bold burgundy neckline
Locks her shining eyes in the worn Tshirt I haven’t changed in days and says “are you going to wear that on stage?”
I smile, gloating in the cool of my gritty apathy, the oh so thrift store of my dirty grunge
She says ‘honey, do you have any idea how much privilege it takes to think it is cool to dress poor? You wear that dirty shirt; you are a radical saving the world. I wear that dirty shirt and I am a broke junkie thief getting followed around every store
That conversation happened years ago
On the same tour where Sonya watched me pay 75 bucks to have my haircut in a way that would make me look like quote “I couldn’t afford a haircut”
The same tour that began the day after I was the feature performer at a university’s women of color symposium
No. I did not ask whether or not they should feature a woman of color instead.
Yes. I got paid.
I’m pretty sure it was a good paycheck.
Just like I’m pretty sure someone licked the paycheck when Trayvon Martin’s gun range targets got sold out in two days
I know those things are not exactly the same
I know I wanted to burn every noose white seam of our cotton flag when Trayvon Martin’s mother was on the witness stand trying to convince a jury of mostly white mothers that she could actually recognize the sound of her own son’s scream
I know I wanted to split the fucking sky when I heard the whip of the verdict
and Sonya had posted online
“How many different ways can this country tell me I am worthless”
I know it was right then that I walked upstairs and started counting the hoodies in my closet
I have fourteen
hoodies that tell me I will never be forced to dress a wound as deep as my mothers heart
She will never be woken in her sleep to peel my body off gated grass
To beg God to sow the hole in my chest
I know my family will never have to hear justice say it wasn’t until I was lying in my casket that I was wearing the right clothes
I know a woman who once knew a woman who collected the metal collars they used to lock around the necks of black children to chain them to the auction block
I was told she hung them on the walls of her home for decoration
I remember when I used to believe that was the entire definition of racism
Believed there was no one hanging in my wardrobe
Believed my style had nothing in common with king Leopold’s
Thought I am not outfitting the Congo in spilled blood
I am just buttoning up my shirt here
I am just rolling up my sleeves
I am not unstitching the face of Emmett Till
I am not unzippering the wail of his mothers grief
The laces of my shoes are just the laces of my shoes
They could not tie a body to a tree.
I am not fashioning a noose here.
Sonya, do you hear me?
My compassion is not a costume
My passivity is not hate
My privilege is not genocide
This is just how I cut my hair
That was just how they cut the cheque
This is just how I dress
I don’t even think about
what I wear
She keeps her makeup in the ceramic bowl of bullets beside a jelly jar full of gardenias on an old dresser in Mississippi
Where outside tomato plants grow in the bellies of old boats and she carries a knife just in case she finds something she wants to carve her name into
I swear to god if I had an Adam’s apple I would tell her to peel it and take a bite
Meaning this time I am not turning back
I am not turning in
I am turning over every leaf of all my leaving
I am moonlighting as the moon light
My shine is working overtime just to hear her call me ‘honey’
It makes me feel like the bee’s knees
Like I could finally lose my past like the keys to the getaway car
Like all my fucking up might finally be out of gas
Like there will be no more war fought in my name
What if my name is nothing but ‘honey’?
Do you realize I gave up on this in my twenties
You were the first thing I ever wrote on a vision board
I cannot wait to tell you the truth better than I have ever told the truth before
And no that does not mean that I’m going to tell you that you look like Marilyn Monroe
But you do
and it makes me want to run
Jesus fucking Kennedy
Do you have any idea how gorgeous you are when you’re tripping
I have never met anyone more clumsy
You walk into a room and turn every head when you crash to the floor
And I’m like ‘that’s my girl!’
That’s my girl with the busted lip and no she’s not embarrassed that’s a sunburn she already had from my moonlight
Now bring me a Shirley temple
I’m going to trampoline every inch of cement in this town
And she’s going to teach me how to bounce back
Mixing her southern polite with her New Orleans fuck-off-honey
I wanna hear every story about your whole life
Tell me again about your ghetto blaster birthday cake
Tell me again how you were master pumpkin carver
Tell me again how you’ve never ever been to therapy
Why does that turn me on
You have a friend who tattooed the words “you wish” on her ring finger
I have a friend who pulled out her tampon on the streets of manhattan and threw it at a misogynist cop
We are perfect for each other
Come drink like a fish in my desert city
I want to be the fairy in your Irish pub
I want to be your pretty boy
I want you to tell all your friends you’re out of my league so I can slap you high five when I’m sliding into home
So when I start writing down our love in public poems
You know you can burn all of my books if I don’t live up to my word
If you ever have any doubt that I am going to live up to the altitude of your highest hopes, remember it was for you that I overcame my fear of flying
For you that I learned the ropes of rescue remedy
do not under any circumstances rip off the top of the bottle and start chugging it like booze
You’ll freak out everyone on the plane
And you don’t need enemies at 30,000 feet trust me
You just need to know this is the first time I’ve ever done this without looking for an exit row
And I’m pretty sure my seat can’t float but I’ve already fallen from the sky for you
Already said no to the parachute
Already told my mother you curse like a sailor and you love like the war is finally over and you have just come home and you are running down the dock in the harbor and you’re screaming my name
You’re screaming “honey”
and I’m screaming “don’t trip”
and you’re screaming “honey honey”
and I’m screaming “baby don’t fall down”
I am running for your red lips
I am running for your red heart
With my red heart
Red as a Mississippi sunset
I wish you were here
Autumn is the hardest season
The leaves are all falling
And they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground
And the trees are naked and lonely
I keep trying to tell them
New leaves will come around in the spring
But you can’t tell trees those things
They’re like me they just stand there
And don’t listen
I wish you were here— Andrea Gibson “Photograph”