I’ve planted roses in my bones,
and left the ashes of those years,
in an urn mixed with tears,
lit on fire with my fears,
disintegrated, gone away,
I couldn’t live with them any longer,
I don’t know if it made me stronger,
holding on and out for hope,
I’ve planted roses in a kaleidoscope.
Revealed a thing I didn’t want to see,
I couldn’t escape it and now I’m free,
it’s what they say the truth will do,
not the kind they thought they knew,
a rainbow through the looking-glass,
in every color, shade, and hue,
I’ve planted roses for me, and you.
I’ve let my hip bones turn to wings,
I’ve let my heart remember things,
I thought would break my soul in two,
I’ve planted roses and now I’m through,
With the thorns she gave to me,
I’ve closed the window. Shut the door.
I can’t hear her anymore.
I found a love that lets me be,
I’ve planted roses in my bones,
in among the sticks and stones,
in the tall grass, among the weeds,
I’ve planted roses, I’ve planted seeds.
Teri Skultety, 7/1/18
“Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book, your composition of yourself is at stake.” ~ E.L. Doctorow
In the bottom of my beach bag, I found a notebook full of poems I wrote last summer, along with a copy of Town and Country magazine from one year ago this month. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to undo me, or perhaps remind me is a better way to put it, of what I thought I was doing, or who I thought I would be by this time in my life. Sometimes it’ll be some other writer-woman ( who is in my peer group) that I see who obviously has it more together than I do, in every way. I’ll think, “What the hell am I even doing?” What I’m doing after that is reminding myself that I don’t live my life by comparison and it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. I have to correct myself to keep myself from letting my thoughts go down the road of “what might have been… if only…” I don’t finish that sentence because the rest of that sentence is “… I’d had my shit together/hadn’t still been falling apart when I started trying to be a professional big-time writer woman.” etc. There’s no point in that whatsoever. Really. I will tell you, I shouldn’t have been trying to pursue a writing career at the time when I started to because I was still having some serious post-nervous breakdown issues, and at the same time, as always, the writing proved to be my salvation in that, if only because, it gave me something to do, to focus on. I also did a lot of praying, a lot. I’m pretty sure I still manage to say one prayer a day at some point, or just, “Thank, God.” So, there’s no point in dwelling on any of those things or concerning myself with what might have been if only. There’s something to be learned from everything, however, and always room for improvement. So when I see those, I think, better examples of adult women writers, in my age group, those whom are emotionally mature, who look to be getting things done in the way I thought I would be, it is inspiring, and that is helpful. ( Keeping in mind that being a writer is such a completely unique job, existence, way of being, that there are no other “examples” that are in any way helpful. It makes no difference to me if the woman who owns the bake shop is a prime example of womanhood with her life completely under control, she still isn’t a writer, I am, so none of it applies, unless I’m baking pies.) Of course then I have to remind myself, so I don’t start going over all my own faults with a fine-tooth comb… if I were more personable, charming, had more grace, whiter teeth, a better car, hadn’t been crazy, wasn’t getting so many damn wrinkles… that their lives likely aren’t perfect either, everyone has “problems” or something they’re dealing with or “things.” This is also part of the point, however, because they’re still getting it done, with style, with grace, with dignity, winning awards, earning the respect of their peers, living the dream. (It is also where I remind myself to let go of any momentary feelings of envy because if we knew what all any other person had dealt with in life, was dealing with in life, we’d never ever be jealous of one another, or anyone, ever, we’d all still choose to be who we are with the lives that we have…most of us.)
The other day I was trying to figure out what kind of story I’m in, what genre. As in, what kind of story is your life in. I could say for certain what kind of story I know I’m not in, I’m not in a noir story, it isn’t science fiction, not a western, and so on. The conclusion I arrived it is that I’m in some kind of romance/love story, fantasy, fairy tale, horror, myth legend, inspirational, etc. or any of the related sub-genres, all of which sort of falls into the category of something Gothic, something sort of 19th Century meets the modern world. That’s looking at what I know to be the complete story of my life up to this point, something with Gothic overtones. I say that because it’s been part nightmare at times, and part complete joy with times of wonderful calm and happiness, Gothic. I was all set to have an interesting discussion on the topic with my husband when he said, in usual Jess fashion, “I’m in a biography.” And that was quite a good laugh. But in his saying that, I realized I’d forgotten what it was that I thought my life would be like at this point, kind of the life you have, have really been having, versus the life you thought you would be having, and that brings me back to some of those examples of women writers that have ( look to have ) it together in the ways I thought I would. I thought I’d have nailed a six figure book deal, or two, have one or two real friends, the most awesome relationship ever, etc., I’d be glamorous in an understated way, well-respected, just a completely fabulous life without any real problems. Keeping in mind that this fantasy of my life as a writer was likely first conceptualized when I was somewhere between the ages of seventeen and twenty. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned a few things about reality in the three decades since then.
None of this is to be taken as any kind of complaint. I’m pretty happy with where my life is at right now. I really enjoy my sanity. I had to fight to get it back to this. I’m grateful, incredibly thankful, for every good thing, for every good moment. What I’ve realized, however, is that it’s likely none that of us are living the life we thought we would be living, but not only that, none of us are likely living the lives we think we are. I thought I was going to live this glamorous life as a writer, I’d wear beautiful silk shirts with coordinating slacks, high heels, silk pajamas and lounge wear, drive a Mercedes or a mid-80’s Jaguar, and this was going to happen based upon the fact that I’m so talented, amazing imagination, and phenomenally prolific, it couldn’t not happen. ( I guess I thought I was going to be Danielle Steel, from the sound of that. Who knows.) At no time did I consider the realities of my own story. (Danielle Steel is from a wealthy family and grew up in Europe.) I used to imagine myself wearing plaid skirts, tall boots, and a turtle neck under a tweed jacket with elbow patches, walking across some Ivy League campus in New England in the fall, as well. Despite my “humble beginnings” it would “just happen.” You can be whoever you want to be. You can live whatever life you want to live. I wear dress pants more often than jeans these days, around the house. I’ve many style/fashion intentions and plans. (Really, the idea was to be able to live decently and create art, to be able to write. Because I was, I am, going to write anyway.)
Sometimes it’s my own work that reminds me, found in the bottom of a bag, in a notebook I was carrying around so as not to be carrying around my actual notebook, that reaches up and hits the reset button. Reminds me of who I thought I wanted to be, what I thought I was doing or going to be doing. Sometimes, it’s something that makes me painfully, if only momentarily, aware again of my own foolishness.
In my beach bag, I found these poems I wrote last summer. Some of them are pretty good, I think.
Zen written on 5/21/17
I am reading Sandburg by the pool
and longing for Joan Didion’s ease and access
I think I remember
what an aardwolf is
and contemplate the word
and a world that neglected me
and a society that doesn’t seem to know
its own behind
from a hole in the ground.
But, I remind myself
I was out of my mind for a while
So I cannot blame it. (the world)
People think crazy is contagious,
like a list of symptoms
and side effects
at the end of a commercial,
for what cures you,
can kill you.
Roll the bones.
Worry about Skylab (it fell. hit no one.)
Worry about Skynet.
Learn to love the bomb,
and don’t worry.
You could be a championship motorcyclist,
and get hit by a car while riding your bicycle.(*)
You could eat salad every day
and still gain weight
because you’ve got to think
Admit your vanity still matters
and make it matter more than
It’s your hormones.
if your hormones are off-key
out of tune
you may need more bikini
They make a pill for that too.
How to remedy humanity
in daily doses,
just don’t take too many, or
I prefer my chemicals be only diet Pepsi. Usually.
I’m reading Sandburg by the pool,
and Raymond Carver,
and Town and Country magazine, and
“How to Take A Bullet”
I’m writing poems
for a new generation
Keep your personality lean,
and the bullshit
to a minimum.
Turn the music up,
and the noise down,
so you can hear the sound
of your own being.
They don’t know what it’s like,
to have to learn how to exist again.
*reference specifically to championship racer Nicky Hayden who was hit by a car while on his bicycle on 5/17/17, he passed away on 5/22/17
Once upon a teenage dance,
Held in hearts of true romance,
Nervous shaking and stepped on toes,
So many things one never knows,
Once upon a midnight hour,
In a moment of that weakened power,
Star crossed friends becoming lovers,
So many things that youth discovers,
Once upon a fairy tale,
When our friendship could never fail,
When I could read your mind,
We never thought we’d leave it all behind.
Once upon meeting a soul I knew,
I think back to knowing you,
I wonder if it was just a rhyme,
Once Upon a Time.
Metamorphosis of the Vampire, 1857
Translated by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Meanwhile from her red mouth the woman, in husky tones,
Twisting her body like a serpent upon hot stones
And straining her white breasts from their imprisonment,
Let fall these words, as potent as a heavy scent:
“My lips are moist and yielding, and I know the way
To keep the antique demon of remorse at bay.
All sorrows die upon my bosom. I can make
Old men laugh happily as children for make.
For him who sees me naked in my tresses, I
Replace the sun, the moon, and all the stars of the sky!
Believe me, learned sir, I am so deeply skilled
That when I wind a lover in my soft arms, and yield
My breasts like two ripe fruits for his devouring — both
Shy and voluptuous, insatiable and loath —
Upon this bed that groans and sighs luxuriously
Even the impotent angels would be damned for me!”
When she had drained me of my very marrow, and cold
And weak, I turned to give her one more kiss — behold,
There at my side was nothing but a hideous
Putrescent thing, ail faceless and exuding pus.
I closed my eyes and mercifully swooned till day:
And when I looked at morning for that beast of prey
Who seemed to have replenished her arteries from my own,
The wan, disjointed fragments of a skeleton
Wagged up and down in a lewd posture where she had lain,
Rattling with each convulsion like a weathervane
Or an old sign that creaks upon its bracket, right
Mournfully in the wind upon a winter’s night.
Le Vampire, 1857
Translated by Atti Viragh
You who, keen as a carving blade,
Into my plaintive heart has plunged,
You who, strong as a wild array
Of crazed and costumed cacodaemons,
Storming into my helpless soul
To make your bed and your domain;
— Tainted jade to whom I’m joined
Like a convict to his chain,
Like a gambler to his game,
Like a drunkard to his bottle,
Like maggot-worms to their cadaver,
Damn you, oh damn you I say!
I pleaded with the speedy sword
To win me back my liberty;
And finally, a desperate coward,
I turned to poison’s perfidy.
Alas, but poison and the sword
Had only scorn to offer me:
“You’re not worthy to be free
Of your wretched slavery,
You imbecile! — For if our means
Should release you from her reign,
You with your kisses would only breathe
New life into the vampire slain!”
You may read other translations of Baudelaire’s poems here, Les Fleurs du Mal.
Les Fleus du Mal, 1857, Charles Baudelaire, is the book of poetry I am secretly always looking for a vastly under priced first edition/early edition copy of, one with a beautifully embossed cover, in every scouring of every thrift or antique shop I enter. I have a paperback copy, Penguin Classics, containing the original verses in French, in addition to the English translations. I don’t know quite what it is about these verses that fascinates me so, as their lines do not seem to stay with me long after reading them, at least, not that I’m aware of. They are beautiful, horrible, poems. Influenced by the work of Edgar Allen Poe, Baudelaire was convicted on obscenity charges, for which he, the printer, and the publisher, were fined. Quite the interesting literary character, credited with coining the term “modernity,” about whom I am still educating myself. Interesting to me in this moment, however, as I am writing about vampires, are these two poems composed by Baudelaire about a vampire, that I’d read before however had not realized were written forty years prior to the publication of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” in 1897. Forty years is a lifetime when you consider that Baudelaire himself did not live beyond age forty-six… that we know of.
This has led me to a poem by Lord Byron, The Giaour, 1813, these lines are known as “The Vampire Passage”, said to be the first reference to vampire lore in English literature ( I’m learning some things) according to that site/link. ( I found a pdf copy of the complete poem, it’s fifty-one pages long. Later for that, eventually.)
- “But first, on earth as vampire sent,
- Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
- Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
- And suck the blood of all thy race;
- There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
- At midnight drain the stream of life;
- Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
- Must feed thy livid living corse:
- Thy victims ere they yet expire
- Shall know the demon for their sire,
- As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
- Thy flowers are withered on the stem.”
Quite frankly, I’m reminded of my own first scribbled poem (along with several other of my poems and not at all to compare myself to Lord Byron other than talking subject matter) when I’d no idea whatsoever who Lord Byron was, or knew anything at all about writing poems. I thought poems had to rhyme and when pressed to produce one for a school assignment, I figured all poems were depressing or had to be “lofty” somehow. (Yes, this is well covered territory.)
“A flower starts out very small,
Then it will grow to be very tall,
then it will reach down and die,
Upon the ground, there it lies.”
It wasn’t fifty-one pages, but it got the job done, got an “A” for that in 1977. I had no emotion about that poem whatsoever other than wanting to be finished with the thing and being glad that I was. Looking at it now, that third line is strange to me, as though a flower were not wilting, as though it were tired of all that stretching upward toward the light. It rhymed. However, in some way, perhaps everything was right there in that first poem, these recurring themes in my own work. Perhaps it was always going this way, writing about vampires, and such.
I used a quote from Lord Byron’s poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”, in The Slick Furies to begin Part Two of the book, “Among them, not of them, in a shroud.” Not because I was, or am, terribly familiar with that poem, but because I remembered that line, that quote as being something somewhat paraphrased or nearly so, from a scripture, “In the world, but not of it.”
I think, perhaps, what is of interest to me is the willingness of these writers to write such dark things at all. What is the light without the contrast? I feel at home with these discoveries, new to me. I am fascinated. The work continues.
Les Metomorphoses du Vampire
La femme cependant de sa bouche de fraise,
En se tordant ainsi qu’un serpent sur la braise,
Et pétrissant ses seins sur le fer de son buse,
Laissait couler ces mots tout imprégnés de musc:
— “Moi, j’ai la lèvre humide, et je sais la science
De perdre au fond d’un lit l’antique conscience.
Je sèche tous les pleurs sur mes seins triomphants
Et fais rire les vieux du rire des enfants.
Je remplace, pour qui me voit nue et sans voiles,
Le lune, le soleil, le ciel et les étoiles!
Je suis, mon cher savant, si docte aux voluptés,
Lorsque j’étouffe un homme en mes bras veloutés,
Ou lorsque j’abandonne aux morsures mon buste,
Timide et libertine, et fragile et robuste,
Que sur ces matelas qui se pâment d’émoi
Les Anges impuissants se damneraient pour moi!”
Quand elle eut de mes os sucé toute la moelle,
Et que languissamrnent je me tournai vers elle
Pour lui rendre un baiser d’amour, je ne vis plus
Qu’une outre aux flancs gluants, toute pleine de pus.’
Je fermai les deux yeux dans ma. froide épouvante,
Et, quand que les rouvris à la clarté vivante,
A mes côtés, au lieu du mannequin puissant
Qui semblait avoir fait provision de sang,
Tremblaient confusément des débris de squelette,
Qui d’eux-mÂmes rendaient le cri d’une girouette
Ou d’une enseiga’, au bout d’une tringle de fer,
Que balance le vent pendant les nuits d’hiver.
“Tom and Rikki Lee”
They had a wildness that I couldn’t get to in the same way anymore, if I ever knew it.
They had gypsy clothes on no matter what they wore,
it was how they moved,
how to wear a hat,
and you can’t teach natural cool like that.
They sat with their legs tangled up, their hands were each other’s and his on her foot,
so intimate alone together in a crowd. What are you people doing here anyway?
Waiting on the poetry?
a poem about Tom Waits and Rikki Lee Jones, inspired by a photo of them taken by Adrian Boot.
that i am not infinitely difficult
i don’t underestimate
the touch of love’s hand.
for whatever it is worth
that i might be more attractive
had i ever learned to be a flirt.
if matters of the heart
didn’t matter much to me
i could give in
but i don’t know how
to take such things
of plausible deniability
of such duality
and i am afraid
of what might next shatter me.
that i haven’t always been this way
that when i had more confidence,
was younger, that i was a honey bee
coming out to play
from moment to moment
and time after time
when i can’t find the right words
to keep you so enthralled
i can still find the rhyme.
and say i’m glad you called.
written on May 17, 2016
Within the drops of rain,
a broken diamond chain,
comes a flood of memories,
currents strong, the deepest seas,
of people I have been,
and lives I have lived in,
it doesn’t matter how,
for I am only here, and now.
Between the sun bright rays,
where darkness fills the days,
there is a secret dawn,
to help me carry on,
when never being sure,
just why I did endure,
only to find I hold the key,
to all eternity.
Upon the wings of night,
In misty candlelight,
While hearing silent screams,
I know are not just dreams,
the wisdom comes to me,
and in my visions I can see,
my heart and soul are gold,
I am forever old.
About being an “old soul,” and immortality.
I took about a two-week break from working on anything at all writing wise and that was about as much of a break from writing as I could manage. As for what I’m working on, the thing about that is that it doesn’t matter, until the work is completed. There are many things that I want to write, hope to write, and some of those things are more difficult to write or will be, than others. If you’ve ever actually completed the writing of a book, then you know first hand that it’s easier said than done. I think, I hope, I’ve finally learned to stop spouting about what the next project is because the truth about that is, there are some things that I want to write that I don’t know if I can write them. I don’t know if I have the skills to write what I want to write to the fulfillment of my ambitions about whatever it is. There are some things I want to write that now, having written a few books, I understand exactly how much work is involved. I don’t want to talk those things into the ground, and be all hat, no cattle.
Taking a break, for a minute, gave me a moment to think about what it is that I want to be doing. For me, there’s always a moment of, “I wonder if I can write this _______.” And then challenging myself to. In that, there are also moments when I’ve looked at something I’ve written and realized what it could have been, what it could be, the potential beyond what it was at the moment of creation and that’s always a pull to get back into something, to try to meet the challenge of one’s own vision. I find myself less interested in talking about the process of it all, or that, perhaps, the process is less interesting to me. I think, I hope, I’ve finally learned to let go of self-judgement with regard to my writing. There are some who never struggle with that, with accepting themselves as writers and what that ultimately means for them. Would you write if no one in the world cared anything about it other than you? I would. And I would write without placing any limits on my writing other than those dictated by what it is that I find to be interesting, what it is that I want to do. I don’t know if I will release another book this year.
I’m always writing poetry. I wrote this one today…I don’t know what the title of it is yet It might be “Falling In Love With My Mid-Life Crisis” or “The Last Time I Fell In Love When My Hair Was Turning Grey” or “I Remember the Last Time I Fell In Love When My Hair Was Turning Grey”… I think that’s the one.
I Remember the Last Time I Fell In Love, When My Hair Was Turning Grey
I am too old to have been this naïve.
But then, I’ll always remember this time.
Some days, I have the most beautiful heart,
and the most brilliant mind.
I love the complexity in the simplicity of this poem, it’s the old adage of “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” ( Alfred Lord Tennyson), bittersweet, coupled with the implication of “Some days” implying that “other days” I’ve been neither beautiful nor brilliant, some days I’ve been perfectly foolish, to say the least. I’ve fallen in love with writing again, and I’d just about fallen out of it! I’ve been thinking about that a lot, love, in general. They used to say that before a person could, or can, really understand and accept love from someone, they’ve got to learn to love themselves. I think a person has to learn to like themselves first, to know that it’s good and fine and okay to like yourself, and go from there. That means learning to appreciate one’s own imperfections, one’s flaws, and folly. Perspective, and other ten-dollar words.
“Be in love with your life, every minute of it.” ~ Jack Kerouac
The Society of Classical Poets, of which I am a member, was kind enough to republish one of my poems, “The Harvest.” I’m honored to be included. I think that their efforts promoting classical poetry are commendable and wonderful, a really cool thing. If you enjoy poetry, you should check out their webpage and anthologies!