First performed at the Catweazle Club in Oxford.
Heart Real Estate
“You’re taking up too much real estate in my mind,” she said.
I overheard her say it,
and thought about the minefield of my own mind,
where there are no manicured lawns
and never any For sale signs,
but just rusting barbed wire with attached placards
that read: No trespassing.
But my heart, somehow, is a separate landscape,
as if the neural highway between the two
somehow spanned an ocean—
broke up the Pangea of this body,
and in the heartland, there is different foliage,
fauna that frolics freely
over endless fields
skies that rarely cloud over.
There are no For sale signs here either,
but not for lack of beauty or space
but because there is no need to buy
where every stranger can holiday
…or even have a home.
And in fact,
there are doormats everywhere
that read Welcome
but not to worry if you don’t wipe your feet
because plenty have tracked shit all over this heart before.
It’s just good fertilizer for the next growth.
You can come and go too--
whenever you please
the space is limitless
and there are no gates
no security guard to turn you away.
All I want is for you to enjoy your stay—
maybe follow some of the paths
that wind through birch groves and back
or trails that follow scents to the sea,
where there is ancient rock
that can tell you something about the strange nature of impermanence.
Or maybe take the tracks that tell you all the stories
Stories like this one:
When people ask us how we met,
there is always a pause, a look between us,
a strange laugh and the nodding of the head that says
I will once again
be the one to tell the story.
I am always the one telling the stories.
And maybe that’s because
like Leslie Marmon Silko, Native-American poet and writer,
I believe they are all we have
to fight off illness and death.
We met in Tanzania—
I was about to turn nineteen and he was twenty-five
changing his life almost like it was suicide prevention—
he needed it to mean something—his life
--something more than corporations,
more than money that his Chinese family always told him to make.
He wasn’t a doctor, but he could save lives…
and he did—probably even mine
In Tanzania, we enjoyed our mutual sense of humor,
tea on nights when the moon looked backward
and card games that I always won.
Six months later,
after we left this place,
cancer found my neck,
and he was an ocean away,
but nearer than anyone else—
sending cards that sent me into morphine-induced fits of laughter
offering sardonic words over telephone lines:
Words like: “You can’t have cancer now! I’m going to Japan tomorrow.”
Three years into our friendship that existed curtesy of telecommunication,
our dispositions changed and flirtation entered the text.
He hedged his bets and made a joke about bubble baths.
The next day he received *tasteful* photos taken on an old Nokia—
in the earliest days of selfies.
He knew I was serious then.
So, he came to visit,
while on an R&R from Darfur.
Twenty-eight and I was the first girl he ever kissed.
And just before I continue, let me say that I warned him
and every man I ever dated about the problem with loving a writer—
or at least with loving me:
No, I am not prone to rewriting endings
or getting scripted revenge,
but I remember everything,
and I write it out and I tell it too—
like the time the dog, back when the dog was young,
snuck up on him and licked his balls while we were in the act;
thank god he didn’t enjoy that as I would’ve told of it too.
So, the long story shortened is that we got married that autumn,
same year of the bubble bath photos,
same year that I finished undergrad.
We showed up in Cyprus—the Vegas of Europe—
with passports, birth certificates, and we signed affidavits to say we weren’t currently married to anybody else. And then we married.
Like you do.
Eight years later,
my own career change from academia to yoga,
and there is a house,
four dogs, two cats and six chickens.
Neither of us are very good at math,
but I can still count on my hand the amount of times
we’ve been to bed together the last year,
and the year before that,
and the year before that—
or the amount of times he’s initiated sex: twice.
I took this all in stride.
Brahmacharya is a yogic precept after all.
And I have never loved someone as purely as I have loved him,
but that liberal heart of mine,
and maybe an undernourished root chakra
started putting up subconscious For sale signs all over that wild and beautiful heartscape.
I never even noticed them, those signs,
and I didn’t believe there was currency in that land, but words like;
“I marvel at you,”
and good morning kisses
proved the monetary nature of my heart existed,
not in greenbacks or pound notes,
but in love notes, and being held so close
that the heart vibrations form their own song.
And the song of November was the pavane of a dying marriage—
the sad solo of telling him, my husband, my best friend,
that someone else had not only visited my heart,
or put up a treehouse in the ventricles,
but managed to plant a seed there,
to grow new flowers unlike any I had ever seen.
But worst of all, he seemed relieved—
like he no longer wanted to help me garden anyway,
like maybe I became a drain on his natural resources somewhere along the way.
And just to say,
the math remains easy on the amount of times we fought: once—
a stupid political argument over Ukraine.
We sulked forty minutes, became bored,
and went back to just being in rooms together.
We went home to America for Christmas this December.
No one there knew of the crumbling state of our marriage,
because what they saw was what has always been true,
the everlasting friendship,
the ease of being in rooms together.
he told me I couldn’t kill myself because,
Who would he talk to? I’m his only friend.
The humor between us strikes again and again,
always a touch dark and yet somehow full of light.
And I remain terrified
that no one will understand me like he does,
that the notes I play on the piano winter nights will just be notes
and not masks of the ever-lurking sadness
that has lived in my bones
since they formed so many years ago.
Someone who knows what a real accomplishment is for me;
whether it’s a new poem
or a new yoga pose,
he always knows.
And yet, despite knowing the landscape of my heart,
and even that treacherous territory of my mind,
he never really mapped my body,
never took the time to unearth kisses or know the skin of this globe—
he who loves geography so—
so much that we used to take map quizzes together in the early days of our marriage
until we knew it all.
Or thought we did.
In 2006, he told me he would love me if I was a brain in a jar
and I thought it was the sweetest thing ever uttered
until I realized that maybe it’s all he could muster
the brain, the heart, held in jars
sending their love through messages
while he coordinates mission after mission
to save something… human… animal… himself.
he somewhere in Iraq,
(and not telling where exactly),
“You’re still my best friend.”
My heart can barely take it—
like our humor, there is something dark,
yet bursting with light in this statement,
the way in which words work between us.
He had a torch he would carry
black nights he walked me back to my compound
in Tanzania. It’s hanging on a hook off a spice rack in our kitchen.
He would lend it to you.
No need to ask.
There are no subconscious For sale signs of the heart anymore—
just a clear night sky, a torch hanging next to dog leads
and some fireflies offering themselves as guides,
guides to lead the way along new trails, setting off new stories,
reminding again and again,
that this heartscape is endless.