All About Petunias

1.

I want to know everything there is to know

about petunias.

I want to know their scientific names, their species and subspecies,

what kind of soil they like and if they come back year after year

or have to be purposefully planted each spring.

I know exactly when my fascination with petunias began.

It was the end of a long summer day.

I was sitting on the doorstep watching evening throw shadows

over the rhododendrons

when a frangrance so subtle I wondered if it was real

caught my attention.

A tall, dark purple petunia wavered between the wall and sidewalk.

I had seen these flowers before and they never meant a thing to me.

But now, this flower, who stood tall and leggy as if trying to watch

the parade of people and animals go by on the sidewalk,

and who had avoided the gardener’s pruning sheers,

revealed her power when she allowed night to fall.

2.

Petunias grow best in ground that is

equal parts sand, silt and clay.

The way they arrange their petals so neatly

around a pistil makes them seem cultured and ladylike.

You wouldn’t know that any of them grow wild

and feed Buckeyed butterflies all summer long.

And you wouldn’t suspect that these demure little plants

who hang in baskets and window boxes

take over if they are free to grow as they please.

3.

I dreamed that an ancient grandmother

with long, dark hair

held petunias in her hand and told me they would protect

against all kinds of ill will.

So the day after the dream I searched for the healing

properties of petunias and learned that their essence can be used

to make one’s mind keen and alert, they can lift a sagging spirit,

and help a person find her voice.

Grandmother knows it is time to speak

but for the life of me,

I don’t know what I can say that petunias have not already said.

Plans

I’m always making maps

And drawing up diagrams

Of the changes I will make.

If I can see a schematic, I think,

I’ll be able to follow through.

I will make habits that will change me,

Get me into shape.

Try as I might, none of the plans

Look quite right, or have the best words

To address my situation.

So I take two steps forward and one step back.

And before I get discouraged

I remember that I’m not marching but dancing,

And that, as a matter fact, these steps

That are the same steps I’ve taken a million times before

Have never brought me to exactly the same place.

Paper People

These paper people gather,

And in subdued hushes, ask

If I am willing to suspend reality,

If I can take a chance,

If I can soften my gaze and see peripherally,

What I might miss if I look straight at

All their paper layers and wrinkled, painted hats.

Music Being Unmade

Long ago and far away

When a tree was my friend

And the wind my playmate

I followed frivolity hither and yon

And never once wondered how long I’d be young.

Over the rivers and cities and moors,

Up the down staircase,

Across bare wooden floors,

I carried my babies and sang them to soothe,

I counted red apples, made rhymes, Stories too.

But none were as fine as the ones that weren’t mine

But belonged to the sea, the skies and to time.

Now I am silent as I sit in the shade, at one with  the music being unmade

If It’s Not About Love

Caution: This essay is about suicide. Please have support for yourself and your loved ones as the subject matter may be upsetting

If it is not about love, it is not worth talking about.

None of it. Not depression, not suicide, not child abuse, not family turmoil, not poverty, not hardship, not foster families or group homes or hospitals—unless it generates love, it is not worth talking about.

Starting with my mother, the one who hurt me the most. The one who loved me the most. The one who is trying to do her best in this life; She is the one who introduced me to the idea of suicide.

Basically, she taught me, by her actions, that suicide was a good option for emotional pain. She was always weeping and saying she was “too tired” to go on. She was going to kill herself. She mentioned walking into oncoming traffic or overdosing—those were her two choices. As far as I know she never actually attempted suicide. She just talked about it. A lot.

I guess I was next in line. My first suicide attempt happened when I was 12.

 I wrote about suicide in my poetry and romanticized it a little. I thought it would be the perfect way to end the chaos and turmoil happening all around me. It was almost a reflex to overdose on pills. It seemed to be the thing I was cut out for.

The last suicide attempt happened when I was in my 30’s.

As you may imagine, there were many close calls between ages 12 and 30. It still brings up anger to think about it.

I am 61 now.

It feels like so much of my life was wasted in trying to end it prematurely.

By my actions, I modeled suicide as an alternative to pain for my children; they have had to suffer because of my suicide attempts—and their own.

God dammit! It makes me furious to know that I planted the horrible seed idea of suicide in their innocent minds. Gut wrenching regret! All the demons in hell wail in angst, “It has to be over! It has to be over now.”

Please. Please go away. Please don’t go. Please know that I am in pain because you are in pain. Please let me comfort you. Please comfort me.

All those years! Years and years of chaos and turmoil. Years and years and years. Hospitals, foster homes, treatment facilities.

Always picking up the pieces, gathering the family back together after being so widely scattered. Gathering my babies back to me.

 Please forgive me. I didn’t mean that I didn’t love you when I tried to kill myself. I did it because I loved you. I thought I had to do it, to kill myself, to save you.

Sometimes there is a sound that one hears when they come back from the dead. It is a high-pitched whine with silence all around it. Then all the noises of normal life come rushing back, louder than ever.

There are holes in my soul where I’ve attempted to tear out the pain. I didn’t know a better way.

It kills me to think of my children’s torn souls. I try to make repairs. I try to mend them so carefully, but I am clumsy and I’m not sure how to do it.

Love is the only thread and tender kindness the only sutures. I sew them into the fabric of what is left of our family.

Someone said, “Write an essay about suicide. Say something that will help someone, somewhere.”

You don’t know what you ask!

Over the years I have formed cellophane-like coverings for all those wounds, and I’ve smoothed over the wounds my children have sustained, and all this talk of suicide shows me how flimsy cellophane can be.

Purify me, purify me! I chant mantras and pray for mercy.

My heart reaches to embrace my children who have grown and gone away. One is longer on the earth, two won’t speak to me, and one is living his life heroically, helping people wherever he goes, and still he is tortured with his own thoughts of suicide.

My mother is still alive. She is 78. She doesn’t talk of suicide anymore and doesn’t seem to realize the impact her suicidal ideation had on us children, and on her children’s children.

I chant mantras and pray the way one would wash a dirty dish.; I try to remove the scum from the bowl that holds all these memories.

Don’t scrub away the print on the dishes. Leave the flowers and gold rim. But wash it- wash it- wash it till all the madness is gone.

Wash away the memory of lying in a heap on the floor and waking up in ICU. Wash away the dark circles under the kid’s eyes. Wash away their fear and betrayal.

How the hell does a child get up and go to school the day after her mother attempts suicide? How does she have a meal, or play in the sun, or take a bath and go to bed? How does he grow up? How does he put one foot in front of the other?

My mother is old and in poor health. I help her as much as I can. I mop floors and go shopping, cook food, and wash clothes.

I blamed her for everything that went wrong, but now I see her as a whole person. She was a baby, then a girl, then a young woman, then a mother, a grandmother, and now she is a widow; she is old and mostly alone. I don’t blame her for the past, but I can’t forget it all either. I still get disproportionately angry at her from time to time. She still has the power to make me feel like an idiot, like a bad child, like the reason she was always talking about killing herself.

But I see the way she loves me too. She loves me and my siblings and she did the best she could. She did a lot of good. She taught us to be creative and innovative and to give strangers the benefit of a doubt. She takes in stray cats, and she keeps the yard looking like a park.

She still has a sense of humor. We laugh together. We still enjoy learning new words and reading dictionaries.

When I was growing up, she had bright yellow, orange and lime green wallpaper—flowers and stripes all over the house. Now she paints her walls white and can never get her house clean enough.

She works and works, every day. She does not enjoy her work, but she keeps at it, doggedly trying to get things clean and tidy. The house never looks clean.

There is a residue of stuff that can’t be washed away, a sense of dissatisfaction.

I am convinced that love is the only cure, the only solution.

I love her. I love her, I love her, I love her. I take all her suicide attempts into my heart, and I hold her and say, “It’s ok. It’s going to be ok.”

I take all my own suicide attempts into my heart and say, “There-there., there, there.”

I hold my children in my heart and tell them, “It’s ok, now. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry.”

I say, “Live. Please live. One more day. Give me one more chance to tell you how much you mean to me.”

Love is the only thing that matters.