Things I’ve Learned on the Road
– Poetry by Liz Stewart – November 30, 2018
I remember the fire trucks
with all the lights flashing
and the noise
and the woman screaming
down the street.
I was six,
the teachers whispered nervously.
Another child told me what happened
my next door neighbour put a gun to his head.
She explained it all to me, and I catalogued it.
This is suicide. This is what people do when they are sad.
On the monkey bars when I was eleven
my best friend was swinging
with her arms slack.
I noticed a mark on her inner ankle
“Love” cut into her with a sharp piece of plastic.
This was the art she made
with her parents yelling in the next room.
The art of adrenaline
the art of release and seeing red.
This is cutting. This is what people do when they are sad.
I was sixteen in the asylum.
With the lessons I learned I branded my skin,
never crying until my mother caught me.
The rooms were small and the surveillance was constant.
I was the sanest person there.
The psychiatrist gave me a bottle of pills
and taught me:
This is dopamine. This is what you’re missing when you’re sad.
My adolescence spun in slow motion
the world was mornings and Saturdays,
the times I could exhale.
In times when no one talked to me
I counted days on my fingers
days since I’d been touched, by anyone
days since I’d spoken.
My friends moved on from me,
to new apartments and dogmas
and I didn’t leave my bed.
This is depression. This is puking sleeping pills at four A.M.
This is going to school the next morning, not eating
for three days with a fragile stomach.
Eighteen with a backpack, trying to outrun myself,
I met a man in winter time with sandals on his feet.
He told me this is not suffering
We are molecules in the breeze
This is not suffering
We don’t even know what that means.
He said all wounds are self inflicted,
but we can search for peace
leave behind lines of red and white,
close your eyes and breathe.
He told me “love your life. We’re all living it,
This is not sadness. This is an eye finally opening.
I swam in rivers and danced among stars,
and hoped that joy spread like disease.
I made homes in places and people,
they touched me and did not cringe.
The beautiful thing was noticing
the fluttering heartbeats every person shared
So volatile they might fly from our chests to the clouds
if we locked hands and believed.
This is life, churning forward and forgiving
my mistakes. This is throwing away your garbage, this is meeting your own eyes in the mirror, and saying
“you are what I see the universe through, you are the physical enclosure of my spirit that allows me to be
a part of the apparatus of humanity, and I love you because to live fully and share that life, I must. And all
of these moments and all of these years and all of this pain is a memory you can be comfortable with, and
it is time to move on.”
This is the last time I cry over it. This is not a poem,
This is my skin.
About the Author – Liz Stewart
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