I can’t breathe…

I can’t breathe.

On 11th May I wrote a poem about my frustration over the late response to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, about the constant fear I live with that something similar could happen to my brother. Or my brothers-in-law. Or my nephews. Or my great-nephews. Or one of my childhood friends, now grown black men with sons of their own.

And this morning, I read of protests in Minnesota following yet another death of another black person at the hands of police who are supposed to “protect and serve.”

It made my chest and my head ache. The rage I am suppressing makes it hard for me to breathe.

Freddie Gray.
Walter Scott.
Eric Harris.
Phillip White.
Tony Robinson.
Jerame Reid.
Rumain Brisbon.
Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old child from my hometown.
Akai Gurley.
Tanisha Anderson.
Dante Parker.
Ezell Ford.
Michael Brown.
John Crawford.
Eric Garner.
Dontre Hamilton.
Breonna Taylor.
George Floyd.

I could add more names, but I’m not going to. Because those 18 names should not be in a list like the one I’ve typed – such a list should not exist in 21st century America; indeed, in the 21st century world.

As an American black woman who spent the first 43 years of her life in the US, I know not all police are bad. Not all white people are bad. But what I see from abroad, living in Scotland where people are not consumed by race – where the main concern is Celtic or Rangers, Better Together or Independence – concerns me deeply. And I’ll admit, at times I feel guilty that I live in a country where I am safe. Where health care is a guaranteed right. Where no one has ever suggested that I “go back to Africa”.  Where I can wander around a shop without security trailing me because they think “all black people steal”. Where the police actually help you, and on this last one, I am speaking from experience.

This open season on black people grieves me greatly. It goes on and on, the list gets longer, the protests get bigger and the people with the power to do something to stop it appear to be indifferent. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by that, considering the person at the top in the US cares for no one save himself and mammon – what’s a few black lives in comparison to that?

Last night I was on a video call with my best friend of 58 years. In these days of the pandemic, I speak to my family and friends in the States via video calls far more than I did prior to the virus’ intrusion into all our lives. So I’m talking to my friend, and amongst our talk of Covid-19, I tell her of my fear that something will happen to her or my siblings or any of my friends.

“We’re all getting older,” I tell her. “Maybe it’s time to return to the States, so I can spend the remaining years of my life with my siblings…with the people who were first there for me.”

She assures me that she would love to have me back. “You could even stay with me for as long as you want to while you get established again. But, sweetie…you love Scotland! You’ve built a good life for yourself there – you’re safe there, you have health care!”

We finished the conversation shortly afterwards the way we always do: with many cyber-hugs and much blowing of kisses at the monitor. And as I poured another glass of wine before settling down to another night of insomnia and Netflix, the little voice in my head said, “sure you miss your sisters and your brother and your friends, but are you sure you want to return to the US? Why expend your energy and effort and talent in a country that doesn’t want you, where your life has so little value?”

I had no answer to that.

Make America Great Again? What a crock of SHIT.

Make America Generous Again.

Make America Giving Again.

Make America Gentle Again.

K xx

an army of angels

they’re coming:
every day their numbers swell
warriors to guard the faithful
from this living hell

carefully bred
specially selected
moving among the living
undetected

memories of love
are their calling card
we welcome them
in these times so hard

a father, a husband
his sister, her brother
a stranger’s child
a devoted mother

they’re coming:
the numbers continue to grow
an army of angels
with hope & blessings to bestow

copyright © 2020 KPM

tears in the morning

not much to say
‘s finally here
31st March
most hated day of the year

I’m blessed to have awakened
but still I cried
cause it’s 31st March
the day my mother died

I like to think she’s watchin’ me
from her perch in the sky far above
she’s sitting next to Daddy
both protect me with their love

for many other people
this is just another day
but for me, 31st March
is when Mommy went away

copyright © 2020 KPM

everything she needs

she’s so not bothered
by the arthritis in her knee
she’s happy with her brand new glasses
cuz that means she can see

pretty fish swim in their tank
lots of meat in the freezer
she worries not about grey hair
it don’t make her an old geezer

her favourite foods are in the fridge
there’s a roof over her head
& when she wants to sleep at night
she’s got a big warm bed

she’s got a job she likes
that helps to pay the bills
& the blessing of free health care
to take care of any ills

can’t forget that lovely garden
with its sweet-smelling flowers
here she finds her greatest peace
digging & weeding for hours

does she miss her family?
hell yeah – they were there first
sometimes she misses them so much
she fears her heart will burst

but there are many folk who love her
she thinks this every day
folks whose smiles hold her up
when grief wants to stay

when her tears fall,
when there’s nightmares,
when heart breaks & bleeds,
her mother’s memory reminds her
that she has everything she needs

copyright © 2019 KPM

funny

Home from work, safely behind a locked and chained door in my favourite fleecy Eeyore pajamas that were a Christmas gift from my best friend of 57 years and her daughter, whom I jokingly refer to as my surrogate child. It’s mid-April but this is also Dundee, so the heating is on and I’m wrapped up in the duckie blanket, a parting gift from a little boy I once taught when I worked for a nursery school in the US named Blake who was taken by social services. They came right in the classroom, flashed their ID badges and took him, right in front of me and Blake’s classmates. When I protested that they needed to wait so I could give them his naptime blanket – blue and patterned with gay white and yellow ducks – Blake said to me, “Keep it, Miz Mack….you’ll need it more than I do.”

He was four. How did he know that…how could he know that? How could he know that I would love that blanket the way I loved him, that almost 40 years later, I’d sit on a sofa wrapped in that blanket for comfort?

Funny, ain’t it.

The past two weeks, I’ve thought a lot about things that strike me as funny. They may not be funny to so-called “normal” people, but I have a quirky, offbeat sense of humour, and I well remember, during one of those arguments my Mom and I had during my teenage years Mom shaking her head at me, muttering under her breath as she left the room “why can’t you be normal?”

Funny, right?

Know what I find funny? The way people insist on labeling things, on labeling people. The way the new order – otherwise known as the PC Brigade – are now offended by everything to the point where one can no longer joke about anything. Though I suppose that could be considered more pathetic than funny.

Wanna know what else is funny to me? The way people – the way I – continue to do things long after the reason for doing them ceases to have any real purpose or meaning.

Take house cleaning. Why do I clean the way I do…mopping, vacuuming, dusting. I live alone, it’s not like I make a massive mess. Surely I can get away with house cleaning once a month instead of once a week.

Why make the bed every morning? All I’m going to do is get back in it, so why bother? The time I spend making the bed every morning could be better spent having an extra cup of coffee.

Why bother painting my nails? It’s gardening season, I’m going to get dirt under my nails, but mostly, they’re going to break, either from gardening or from opening boxes at work. In the same vein, why do I bother painting my toenails? Sandal weather isn’t that long or that steady where I live, and at my age, bending over to paint my toenails sometimes hurts. And don’t suggest asking the BF to do this: feet gross him out.

I realise there are some things that remain necessary, like laundry. Clean clothes remain a necessity, and I like – weather permitting – hanging my washing on the line outdoors.

Feeding my fish and cleaning their tank remain a necessity: I love them, and I don’t want them to die. Same with the houseplants: I bought them (though some my BF bought) and I love them, so I must care for them, even the ones that I foolishly hung from the ceiling in front of windows that require a ladder to reach.

I’d add cooking and eating to the list of necessary things, but even though I like to cook, since my Mom died there are many days when I just don’t bother: I’ve no appetite, and I’ve developed the mystifying and annoying habit of puking (involuntarily) after eating. Roy (my grief counsellor) says this is one of many side effects of grief.

What remains necessary to me is sleep. If they had an Olympics for sleeping I’d take the gold. Roy says this is also grief related, and on this I suspect he may be right: I sleep a lot, hoping to see my Mom in my dreams. Which sometimes I do, and these dreams are good, they’re comforting, they make me happy. I run home from work and jump into bed…I fall asleep on my poor BF at the weekends. Asleep, I am happy – I am safe.

As a kid, as a teenager, I was the child who slept a lot. Mom used to always tease me that I was sleeping my life away.

Funny, ain’t it.

harder

it would be a hard task
ripping off that mask
unsure if she’s ready to share
certain that no one would care

new lines in her face point down,
down
grief makes her tired
it makes her frown

there’s no one
to apportion blame to
she’d ask for help
but she’s ashamed to

is she mad? she wonders,
are strangers really staring?
such a burden this is,
a load she’s tired of bearing

how long in the ground
before a body grows cold?
sorrow seductively questions
the point of growing old

lines deepen around her eyes,
eyes
that saw a bright future,
now dimmed by daily cries

copyright © 2019 KPM

long time’ comin’

lassitude lies heavy
her own private laissez-faire
the fibre optics twinkle
tree’s pretty, but she don’t care

it’s that old song
about the tears of a clown
the smiles she shares are fake
all alone, she melts down

‘n the ache in her chest
is a banjo strummin’
hidin’ in the loo at work
wipin’ tears a long time comin’

there’s food in the fridge
(thanks to a boyfriend who’s too good)
all too often she’s not hungry –
she don’t eat the way she should

she’s a shadow; a woeful wraith
of her former self
there’s no Christmas card from Mom
so fuck a elf on a shelf

‘n the pain in her head is endless
neuralgia’s relentless thrummin’
all alone she weeps
bitter tears that just keep comin’

copyright © 2018 KPM

Firsts

Today marks one year since my Mom passed. It’s raining in my bonnie Dundee – appropriate, as it rained – a proper thunderstorm – the day my Mom died.

The year has been a hard one; I can’t believe I’m still here. It’s been a year of neuralgia and nightmares (when I’m not in the grip of insomnia) where I awaken myself screaming and crying, where I awaken my poor partner because I’ve been shouting and hitting him in my sleep. A year of forgetfulness: forgetting to feed my fish, running to the bathroom three times in the morning to put on deodorant because I can’t remember if I put any on. Talking to people and stopping because my mind has suddenly gone blank. A year of puking after eating. A year of therapy and various antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds.

It’s the news of yet another death that sends you into a total meltdown and you don’t want to think and you can’t bear what you’re feeling and you just wanna sleep so you take one pill and then another and another and a few different ones and drink some gin and your friend’s been trying to reach you for hours so you’re awakened by the sound of the police shouting your name as they bang on your living room window. “I didn’t really want to die, Officer….I just wanted my head to be quiet for awhile.”

A year of “firsts” you never wanted: the first birthday I didn’t get a card from her; the first time I couldn’t send her a card for her birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas. The constant assault on my memory: making spaghetti for tea and remembering how I made spaghetti for Mom. Walking down King Street in Broughty Ferry and remembering taking Mom there when she visited Scotland and her delight in everything. The daily agony of coming home from work at the end of each day and rifling through the mail and none of the envelopes bear that familiar handwriting.

It’s fear. Not for yourself, cause you’ve become indifferent to anything that may happen to you, but fear of losing someone else you love. So you make your partner crazy: why are you coughing like that? Why are you limping – what’s that mark on your arm? It’s praying to a God you’re no longer sure you believe in to keep your brother and your sisters and everyone in your Cleveland family and Dundee family safe.

It’s trying desperately to function “normally”. Work, clean the house, cut the grass, talk to people. It’s Skyping with your best friend’s daughter and having her tell you “It’s good to see you smile, Aunty Kathy.”

“I smile,” you protest, shocked. Surely you smile …don’t you smile at people at work every day?

“It’s not the same smile,” she says. “It’s not in your eyes anymore.”

And time continues to pass, and you wake up on a rainy Saturday in Dundee and it’s been one year since your Mother squeezed your hand for the last time.

I miss you, Ma.

 

rules for wraiths & other lost souls

no one knows you’re a ghost
your body they can’t see through
they wouldn’t believe it anyway
so there’s still stuff you hafta do

you gotta get up in the morning
get dressed, make the bed
put your smiley face on
quell the voices in your head

you gotta go to work
cause there’s always bills to pay
pretend to be a “normal” person
despite the grief that darkens each day

you must interact with people
though from society you’d rather retreat
& at certain times of day
you force yourself to eat

you’ve no need (or desire) for food
there’s no wish to dine or sup
cooking’s such a waste of time
when all you swallow comes back up

so you work & cook & clean
feed the fish & watch TV
& every show awakens guilt
from which you cannot flee

you’re a ghost of who you were
the old you has been erased
who is this crazy woman,
by memory constantly chased?

forward the time goes
marching through a winter gray
take it one step at a time
things just might turn out okay

copyright © 2018 KPM

mornin’ prayers

naked I stand
before my father
‘s another dreich day
‘n I’m wonderin’ “why bother?”

in the shower
I try to pray
will this soap & water
will wash my sins away?

naked before my father
I dress to the sound of rain
do they make clothes to cover
heartache or pain?

Springsteen blarin’
from the speakers
as I try to decide
between boots or sneakers

heavenly,
the sound of that saxophone
my heart throbs
with memories of home

in front of my father
naked I stand
gazin’ into the mirror
I behold a jungle land

copyright © 2017 KPM