Humor, Memories, Narrative, Observations, Poetry, Reflection

Cactus Adonis

I wept Sunday. Cradling an iPhone in my lap, earbuds like IV-lines between my father and me, I sat on the floorboards of my friends’ attic, near the brightly-lit hole leading to my room, and finally found my fountain.  Bizarrely, I had not wept at all during this entire painful period and I was aware. Aware of all the heavy blows that could have made me cry, aware of a melancholy trying to bloom in tears but lacking– what? It was not simply a matter of energy (or lack) nor a matter of time and events, not of distance or proximity to (whatever, whomever). No. The missing piece was of perspective: the moment of self-pity. “Sometimes,” I said, choking, “I feel like I’m a handsome and smart guy and none of this should be happening to me — it’s really not fair.” “I feel that way about you all the time,” replied my father, “–these things happen but they shouldn’t. I’m always here for you.” Afraid self-pity would turn into a tar-pit, I skimmed past recognizing the tragic in my condition; my time in the attic marked a point where my self-love exceeded the artificially high standard I set for myself — something I called “self-respect”. In full humility I recognized that I could be clever and handsome but still vulnerable. No accomplishment, improvement, skill, or trick would make me immune. Rather than linger in despair in the attic, I climbed down with a piece of my confidence restored: I deserve better…

The idea of a “Cactus Adonis” has marinated with me all of the past week. When I bobbled and broke a beloved cactus mug, I recognized the opportunity to write a poem that intentionally seeks renewal. As the weather improved, so had my exercise habits and last Saturday I started my trail-run with the vague sense that I was… pretty. I’m still in my physical prime. In fact, the title for this piece came to me as I was cresting a hill, enjoying the breeze in my face and composing ideas as I dashed through OW FUCK MY ANKLE– SHIT– (pay attention for stones)

–but I was still on my feet and soon regained my stride. Without stopping, I decided that I need not let an ankle-sprain stop my psychological upswing. For the next three miles I pounded my left ankle as if it were my depression; I am not pulling punches about my unwillingness to pull a punch. By the time I got home my foot was swollen and discolored but still able to support weight. Unfortunately, by sunset of the next day my ankle needed rest and I needed… coffee? A challenging personal-life milestone and some missing java brought me down… and then up into the attic. I digress.

Waking has been difficult. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday my goal was the same: exercise first, stride through the day as an ‘adonis’. Each time I woke, limped downstairs to use the restroom, and returned to bed for a long time afterward. The tactile ambiance of bed suffuses me with contentment… which ends, sometimes leaving a residue of disappointment. Yet this time I cracked the code: I’ve never exercised consistently in the morning and I often feel restless in the afternoon. I used to benefit greatly from running after work. I recognized that my morning objective wasn’t merely difficult but fundamentally unnecessary– just something to which the negative residue could stick. If I wanted to conquer the morning, I could restructure my goal and make it about WRITING… if there is anything I can do immediately after waking, it should be COMPOSITION–

Artist and art-teacher Julia D’Ambrosi Major made me this cactus in a gesture of friendship. I hope it keeps its soul for a while.

Naturally, I forgot all about that and slept an extra two hours Friday morning and Saturday. My inertia is not for lack of reflections to share, here, but rather a function of itself. Inertia is like that. I did run Thursday, in the cold winds of a low-energy day. I ran Friday in the warm glow of a higher-energy day, despite the late start. For the first time, it occurred to me that I should run my route backwards and appreciate how all of the inclines turn downhill and all those breezy, space-out hills become fresh inclines. Kinesthetic powers worked upon my ideas and I began to brainstorm– how to better form a writing habit? How can I shape other aspects of my life so that they funnel me into such a practice? To share the full breadth of my thoughts would do less than to keep chewing them, to implement them rather than try to fully conceptualize them. A little past half-way through my run I felt something important: primal hunger. I forget how I love that feeling, the feeling of my body wanting what it deserves. That feeling of hunger signals the return of my will to live; as I tread-out my thoughts, I recognized how exercise could be a means rather than an end. I’m not going to get much sexier; the essence of ‘Cactus Adonis’ must be artistic– however I construct that idea in writing, it’s valid regardless of my physique. Before the sprain, after the crying, between all the sleeping, and wedged between whatever else I was doing (which wasn’t worth noting), I was writing a poem.

[As Yet Untitled]

I broke the cactus mug I
hand-painted green with staccato-marks
of yellow thorns, pink handle and insides
to represent the juicy fruits. ‘Twas
marked with Arabic script meaning
both “patience” and “prickly pear”
in remembrance of Palestinian harvests.

A desert dessert in a difficult jacket, bristles
that demand deliberate undressing, yet
portend of an addictive delicacy. My lost
lover used it as a pet-name:
“Sabr” —
a prized pick. It held sweet
memories (and liquids) for me.

Dustings of coffee inlaid its surface
graced with fine cracks, like wrinkles,
to mark years. I drank heavily of natural
stimulants. It crackled more than once under
the heat of morning pours and I wondered
if it could crack beyond repair. The sabr
cracks underneath the shock of what brewed

in February: seasons of fragmentation,
of widening gaps, of atrophy… of course,
I dropped it while carrying too many
things. Too many objectives bristled
against my patience. Sabr fell between
the once careful hands that painted
and peeled — caresses rotting into tremors.

The cup broke apart but I continued, clearing
the shards:
intentions, fractured — the smooth surfaces,
jagged. A vision crashes, splinters, threatens
to scar but the exposed edges reveal the texture
of substances within, conjuring memories
to illuminate my losses. In Belize,

I pilgrimaged a cave. I descended past
a stone jaguar-god of death who seeded
embers in my imagination. I swam through
narrow passages into sacrificial
caverns where Mayan priests had faith
they could stall calamity if
human bodies were pierced.

In an alcove were piled pots, vases, and
ceramic cups, all rendered broken
or marked with drill-holes
because, as the guide explained,
“by breaking the vessel, they believed
its soul was released as an offering
and allowed to join with the universe.”

Thus, my cactus mug became
a sacrifice so a soul of Sabr can be
freed to regrow like the cactus hedges
after a slash-and-burn, rooted deeply in
high, holy mounds and secret fissures, alike
in sweetness across oceans: pink or
jaguar-orange fruits of vitality.

[Fair use only; don’t take advantage of me]

In feedback from friends, I may find some grace for myself and the sleepy tendencies of this past week. One friend advised that we work on things in our dreams and heal through sleep. That became Saturday morning’s justification. I wish there were a better way to convey this but I got an encouraging personal-message from another contact, on Facebook, with whom I don’t have a deep friendship or frequent contact. She encouraged me to keep talking about mental health journeying; she said it was refreshing to see someone be real about not living their “100% best-life”, the image we love to project on social media. We believe don’t set out to deceive each other; we want to be living that life so we construct our image on social media without it. In the spirit of my poem, my extra sleep seems like time in warm soil. My roots run deeper than the superlative scorch of the past six months but my green parts may still be straining to find the surface.

At my psychological intake last week, the screener and I discovered I have an unusual amount of resources with which to fight: theater, music, running, and writing to name a few. I met my therapist in Olney, MD and found-out that she has also done improvised theater; I felt positive energy building between us in ways that were not possible with my sedate practitioner in Washington. At risk of seeming ‘broken’ right now (I admitted I saw a therapist– it’s almost like I saw an orthopedist for my ankle or something else shameful *sarcasm*), I am bringing my image and my hidden self into one place so that they can join forces and gain momentum on the way to the sun. There are plenty of reasons to believe I will rebound stronger. If I will embrace my role, writing about this topic, I might bring some others to the surface with me. Beneath these bristles, I really am the sweetest fruit. Sabr fans know what I mean.

This blog post is not perfect, either. It needs reader criticism. There is so much to say… and I’m going to be alive to say SOME of it.

 

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