Sunday, November 30, 2008

One Single Impression: Two Prompts -
Welcoming and Childhood Memories

(Please scroll down for the final Gratitude post.)

This week's prompt for One Single Impression was "welcoming." I missed last week even though I really wanted to participate so I have added a response to that prompt at the bottom of this post. I warn you in advance that it is very long and gloomy. Sorry about that.

Welcoming each day

My gratitude unbounded

How awesome is life


I have slowly learned

To welcome all life offers

Not always with grace

But with a desire to trust

To find beauty in all things


This poem for last week's prompt is VERY, VERY long. I just wrote it. I have not polished it. It took two weeks and a half dozen false starts to get anything, yet I wanted very much to respond to that prompt.... so I did, just a week late. My apologies for the length and the.... darkness of it. This is what I come up with after a month of writing about gratitude. What's wrong with this picture?

Childhood memories are rare and full of pain

Part of me thinks still that I had a happy childhood

I was more fortunate than many, I know that

I had a home, a family – crazy as they were –

I had food to eat, ideas and books

I wasn’t Unloved

Just badly loved

Not out of malice or malevolence

But my parent’s own woundedness

They meant no harm

I believe that

My brother, I think, did

He loved me and hated me both

I don’t know why

Some mis-firing synapses in his brain, no doubt

Doesn’t really matter any more

Though his cruelty, his madness

Has etched itself into my bones

Scarring them with the acid of his devious hate

Sometimes he was mean, you see

But often, his malice was coated with sugar

Always it was excused, explained away

By a mother who thought she could pretend it into submission

Then there were my two fathers

The elegant, brilliant actuary and the slobbering fool

Oddly, it was the drunk Dad who I knew best

I was his caretaker

We made music together Drunk Dad and I

Those close moments at the piano

Him lurching

Tuning and retuning his mandolin

Sitting too close on the bench

Breath strange, eyes red and glazed

Those are my “happy” memories

I didn’t understand until years later

Until my 40s

How afraid I was

Didn’t understand that life on watch

Is not normal

I remember watching him make drinks

(I was server)

Chugging shots as he did

Drunk before he had his first official sip

I remember watching him at dinner


Take all the food onto his plate

Before my turn

My mother’s anger simmering

I remember once my mother packing all her things

“I’m leaving,” she said

But she didn’t mention me.

What about me?
I remember that as being on my birthday

Though I doubt it was

Just my psyche’s code

You are to blame

They would have been ok without you

Be good

Be very good

You must atone for existing

Oddly, aware as I was of my father drinking

Of how he got so drunk

The power of denial is so strong

It took my sister’s anger one day

“You’re drunk” she yelled

I was in my 20s.

“Aha!” my brain cried at last.

“That explains it.”

It’s not that there were no happy days

I think there were.

But I think I wasn’t there

I lived my childhood

Both hyper-vigilant and out of body

It’s how I survived

I still feel guilty

Saying all this

(And there’s so much more)

My parents were good people

How can I betray them so?
They did their best

I have no right to blame them

To be sad or hurt or lost

Even now

I don’t know what’s the truth

Was I a lucky child?
My mother said I was

And ungrateful too

Certainly compared to her

I had a golden childhood

She reminded me of that constantly

As she spilled her own grief into my child heart

I listened to her story

And felt it as my own

In therapy years later,

I realized that her memories were so vivid in me

It was like they were my own.

They are terrible memories

Brutal and harsh

My life was so much better

How can I complain?

I don’t complain really

I try not to

The bad came with much good as well

And in the end I am who I am

Because of both

My weaknesses and strengths

Emotional Siamese twins

Operating for good and ill from the same source

This is long


I do not speak easily of the child I was

She is lost to me and she rules me both

I am still trying to make peace with her

With them

With pain

With shame

With love and loss and confusion

So tangled together

That at 60 years I still can’t sort them out

I don’t know why I remember the bad

More than the good

I am ashamed of that

But it’s how it is.


Deborah Godin said...

I love that your first two poems express hope and peace and acceptance of the life that you so bravely and painfully described in the long poem. It is that expresion, that recognition of the dark and painful, and the moving on in spite of it, that gives a measure of fullness and grace for each of our tomorrows. Blessings to you!

Geraldine said...

You've come a long way Raven from a dark and lonely place. This was so heartbreaking and touching to read.
So many people are haunted by memories from their childhood (I know I am) but I agree, we need to dwell on the good ones, not the bad. I look at photos of myself when I was very young and there is usually a tenseness and sadness under the surface smile. I know what you are saying there.

We are not alone in our suffering and sadness. That for me has always been a comfort.

Big hug, G

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Wow, powerful stuff here. I think most people can relate, at least in part.

Sue said...

It is so important not to bury the bad stuff from childhood. Buried it has more dangerous, dark and deadly power. We pull the bad things out into the light, reveal them, recognize them, and only then do we begin to free ourselves of them. We share them with others and learn we are not alone. Each of us has a unique history, none identical, and yet all have some common threads and themes.

SandyCarlson said...

I appreciate the acceptance you express in the first two, and I deeply admire the candor of the third poem about childhood. It reminds me of all the strange, mean, dysfunctional things I once accepted as normal and reminds me of behavior I still need to unlearn. It is difficult, painful, real. Thank you for expressing this.

anthonynorth said...

I can look back on my childhood and remember terrible, dark times, and I can remember exceptionally happy times, and I make a conscious decision not to forget the bad - it made me stronger - but to put them in their place; to accept that I'm stronger than anything anyone can throw my way.
And then I don't just survive. I thrive!

Shimmerrings said...

I understand your confusion... you have a right to your pain, yet feeling guilty, all the same... understanding their stories doesn't make it any easier, the burden you bore, as a child... I tell only so much of my own stories, where family is concerned... try to stick to my own, but my own is so tied with theirs, now isn't it? A little at a time... little at a time...

gabrielle said...

Ever listened to Janis Joplin's Little Girl Blue?

I know just how you feel.

Jim said...

Hi 'Raven.' Thank you for these two poems, it is good that you preceeded the second with the first on 'welcoming.'

I like your first poem, especially the line "But with a desire to trust." We like to have good intentions even when we know we won't always follow through with them.

Your second poem is a wonderful work of sharing your troubled childhood. Thank you.
And I appreciate this, I couldn't go all the way like you came very close to doing. I ended mine with "all there is for you to know" meaning there is more, mostly for me alone to bear and/or rejoice in.

Thank you always for your encouragement and this time for the congratulations. We heard again this morning from her Sunday clinic visit, her numbers are on target.

peppylady said...

It sound like your childhood was some what like a roller coaster. The ups and down.
Or maybe a carousel but every so often it stop for a brief time and every one change horses and got a different look but at same place.

I don't think any childhood is prefect my dad was a functioning alcoholic held a job down and took care of his family.
He work on the railroad for 50 years.

Coffee is on.

SMM said... all I can say Raven. This is so straight from the heart. I can feel your pain and your tears as you wrote this

Carletta said...

So very powerful these words you wrote. I feel you still to this day have many unanswered questions in your mind. I 'hear' the pain but I don't 'feel' it - I'd have to have walked in your shoes.
I so admire your courage to face everything you have.
You are an exceptional person - I hope you know that.
I loved the first two too!

Anonymous said...

Hey, Raven, you were a cute kid. Loved your welcoming poems. Strange how we make plans, and then life happens, isn't it?

I didn't write last week, we were away, so I skipped. Alcohol was a major player in our house, too. I left home very early, and have since come to terms with it.
Did you laugh at those shows from the 50's and 60's with parents like Ward and June like I did?

Dianne said...

A life on watch - that really spoke to me

and don't be ashamed of what you remember at 60. I tell myself the same thing. we are a compilation of all the songs we ever heard - can't take any out of the playlist without upsetting the whole thing. what I try to do is listen to the good ones.

gabrielle said...

“I lived my childhood both hypervigilant and out of body it’s how I survived.”

I’m so happy you found a strategy to protect yourself. The challenge comes when this attitude, etched into our neural fibers, becomes a way of life. Or retriggered, is the first in line of defense, even though we have learned more effective and less self effacing ways of being in the world.

Love and loss and confusion.

For me the sense of loss came more easily than the recognition that I still loved my family.

Our stories are very similar. I became invisible or tried to be in order to survive a brutal childhood. I too absorbed my mother’s pain and for a long time she had me convinced that my suffering was not enough. Thanks for sharing your story. Your pain has meaning and it helps to remind us that we are not alone.

The childhood photo is wonderful. The young Raven looks deep and full of stories.

Quiet Paths said...

Thank you for these words. They further cement my belief that although we struggle with the clouds of our past we remain children leaning towards the light and love that is our true nature. You are full of courage; never forget.

tumblewords said...

Life is a series of dark and gloom, bright and love. Nice writing - as always.

A said...

I liked this post!

Anonymous said...

These poems touched me. The long one is brave and honest - an unpolished gem.

Beth P. said...

Dear Raven---
You've captured the essence of growing up in an addictive family. Thank you for your honesty and trust.

You might want to read my poem for the childhood memories, too. It might speak to you, or not!

Thanks again--

zoya gautam said...

..who am i to comment on ur pain,anyone's pain ie-
no one_
(to craft poetic verses out of it is not my purpose)_
but i can see that as the soft wax was melting ,the flame was burning too..anguish_at both ends_& ur poems for the prompt 'welcoming' also burn brightly ..

gel said...

Dearest Raven,
With tears streaming down my face, I read this and identified with (too) much. I hope that writing this was cathartic for you. So many phrases I feel are akin to my struggles and survival. The reason I do not sleep well is due to PTSD. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Those memories never leave. We learn to cope with them with time and I feel it's a lifetime process of coping with that "tangled pain, shame, love, loss confusion, the child that is lost yet rules you (oh how i feel that).



Tammy said...

Raven, I so want to hug that little girl and tell her everything will be OK. My heart breaks for her as those memories taunt you. Your haiku shows me that you are healing and have hope.

Thank you for bravely sharing your soul. HUG

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