I just came in from my evening seaside walk. Exotic black sand harvested by winter storms, heaps of seaweed with chartreuse and fuchsia tints, low, low tide, sun dousing itself in the marsh among cattails and red-winged blackbirds, moon rising on a quicksilver horizon. Such beauty, at its heart-wrenching heights, can be disarming, even alarming the way sudden love can be. A torrent of gorgeous torture, then, which is the high sublime. I greet this sea twice daily as I am addicted to its stunning power, its absolute unwillingness to back down.
I was rounding the bend in the road just before my house when I saw, to my utter horror, a homeless black man. There are no African Americans in Kittery Point, ME and to suddenly come upon one, in such ruins, was an instant heartbreak. Immediately the words, “There but for the grace of God go I,” came in to me fully, totally.
Given that I have a major, at times debilitating, mental illness, I take nothing for granted and o how so many times has the suicidal swan song hummed in my harrowed bones. Far too many times and I hear it now, my stealthy, secret siren. I want to go in a wild fury, to be dashed upon the sea’s boulders by waves that are magnanimously violent. Violence is practically a cult in this country and I became intimately acquainted by it during a childhood that was an evil eternity, my body a killing field.
Deeply damaged, I understand the myriad ways one can be totally, terrifically ruined and seeing that black man, caked in dirt, was just about devastating. When I came into my house I stood before my favorite painting. It was done by a very dear friend, Flynn Donovan. He is a master, a profoundly deep seer and this painting—I have others by Flynn—is of boat people. Golden silhouettes riding green and turquoise waves. Every time I look at it I can’t help but feel that all of us are a hair away from being boat people. Disaster isn’t picky, it is quite willing to be anyone and everyone’s destiny.
This took me back to a memory, one that is singed in me. I was in Cambridge, MA attending group therapy called DBT, which I secretly called The Diabolical Training. It was winter, winter in zenith, winter having a heyday with its tip of the whip winds and penetrating, piercing cold. It was so cold I thought my cells might freeze.
I came out of The Diabolical Training, headed down the alleyway toward the garage where my car was parked. I came upon a homeless man, dead asleep, with an open book in his hands next to the predictable grocery cart that held all his earthly goods. The book broke my heart, but worse, far worse were the cat and dog in his cart. I knew they got fed before this man fed himself. These were homeless, beloved animals loved by a homeless man. I took a twenty out of my purse, put it in his book as a bookmarker and gently closed the book so I wouldn’t wake up this homeless gentleman. I wanted him to find the twenty as though an angel had given it to him.
Which I most definitely am not. Still, each of us has the capacity to shape-shift into an angel sometimes. Perhaps our humanity depends upon it. The damage, the utter demonic violence visited upon me as a child has only deepened my compassion for others who are damaged and damned.
Right now I have two books with no homes. Right now Flynn’s work, his profoundly and gravely beautiful paintings are in a warehouse. Artists and poets are not the legislatures of this world, they are its secondhand citizens except for those lucky few whose work is magnetic.
Of which I am not, nor ever will be. My fourth book, My Life as a Doll, brought out bravely and beautifully by Autumn House Press two years ago has sold less than five hundred copies. My tale of travail, this book chronicles the abuse, abuse so severe it’s a wonder I survived, but I did and there but for the grace of God go I. Nobody or very few really want to know what’s really going on behind closed doors.
The homeless, the boat people—let us not forget about them. They are everywhere. They are multiplying like loaves and fishes. Who will save them? Who will save us from our very own souls? As I write this I’m looking at the cover of Gregory Orr’s wondrous book, How Beautiful the Beloved. All of us are the beloved, most of us have beloved ones, so let us love the beloved fully, whole-heartedly.
There’s another A.A. expression that I love. It goes: God loves a drunk. That means God loves the legions of demolished ones best. My parents were drunks and I am glad, very glad God loved them in spite of their violence and I believe that when they died they went straight up to heaven. Hopefully I will, too, but not by my own hand. Rather may I breathe that wild fury, tortuous beauty into my poems. In the end, God put a pen in my hand and I will keep using it even if my story, like so, so many others, goes largely unheard.