Timo Newton-Syms CC
A PARTIAL LIST OF THINGS I CAN AND CANNOT PROMISE
To my next love,
On the Almost-Second Anniversary of the Last Time My Father and I Spoke
The last time I spoke to my father was through text message on Christmas morning, 2018.
He waited til the morning to drive home his point of bitter rage
his history of hurt
My father, my dad, wanted to hurt me as he had been hurt
and I let him for 29 years.
on Christmas morning two years ago
for the first time, I said: no more.
I told him to seek therapy as I have, and that this was the last time he would hear from me.
I wished him peace.
I sobbed, violent, shuddering sobs,
at the second leaving of my father.
Sorrow crept up my throat, a vise, a sickness,
it threatened to escape.
When my father left for the first time,
I was taking a nap.
I was 14.
I never slept well again.
Sorrow lives still in this one spot in the back of my throat:
A threat and a promise
How do we grieve those who are still alive?
How do we grieve?
How do we
The lesson carved into my little feeling heart since I was a child is this:
The people you love will leave you.
and life is the reason for their departure more often than death.
Now that I am older - an age I didn’t imagine myself to be -
I see myself keeping people,
I ask them to stay.
I say, please don’t leave me.
give them little gifts like a crow,
pour from an empty cup,
trying to be something like enough
I say, I cannot weather another departure.
knowing that I will weather many more if I am to continue being ages I never imagined I would be.
Life has also taught me that the strength and anger and cruelty of my fear pushes people away. It is too much.
It pushes and pours
roiling ocean waves crashing and crashing and crashing to shore
I am the sea in my despair
In the thick darkness of 4am
there are the faces of the people who are gone but elsewhere
A oncedearfriend from school
My first love
An old friend I asked to officiate my wedding.
He said yes.
A few weeks later, he stopped speaking to me for reasons that I still do not know
No warning or explanation
just another face in the vast darkness
I sent messages to him - to the void I guess - for years, telling him I missed him.
Please call, please call, I miss you
I still miss you so much
I think of you always
I am a gentler, sadder ocean
I push, I push
I search for
for my place in it
I crash, I crash
how do we grieve those who are still alive?
my waves beat against a lonely shore
nothing after nothing after nothing
then there are those who are gone but not elsewhere.
My mother’s mother, the silly charmer
who sent pieces of gum in the mail when she wrote to me
My mother’s father, who I never knew
My father’s father, who I don’t remember
apart from pennies from a cognac coin purse and silent vibrating rage
Friends, teachers who deserve more than a line in a poem
most recently there was Barbara.
Barbara was my grandmother,
my father’s mother.
She taught me to love theatre
She took me to Peter Pan at Olney Theatre down the road
where I fell in love with the living darkness of storytellers bringing life to life
I never got to say goodbye.
She came to me in a dream shortly after she died. She seemed to understand - though not approve of - my choice to keep my father out of my life.
She said, of my ability to gather a roomful of beloved friends,
he always wished he could do that.
At her funeral in the church down the road from that theatre,
I saw my father
from behind - though he did not see me -
he was so alone
his hair yellowing, his back curved with grief and something else
I heard later that he missed me
I couldn’t say goodbye to her there.
I said goodbye later in the best way I could:
sobbing in a darkened theatre,
asking forgiveness from the rafters
I love you and I’m sorry
I love you and I wish it could have been different
I love you and I tried
but I am an ocean of not knowing what to do
Life is coming and going.
I’ve always wanted to be gone and, despite everything, here I am.
an ocean and a bird
despite knowing that I cannot keep anyone
Asking them to stay anyway
Waves of love; crashing
hopeful and sad
how do we grieve those who are still alive?
TO THE WOMAN IN THE FABRIC SECTION OF JOANN’S
There was a woman in the fabric section of Joann’s
In Wheaton mall,
Who held me close
I could feel her wanting to cry
I had cracked a lame joke about wanting to buy too much yarn
We got to talking (as craft people are wont to do
She also could never resist anything soft and colorful)
I happened to roll up the sleeves of my overlarge sweater
Just because it was very warm
Right there in the fabric section of Joann’s in Wheaton mall
She saw my tattoo, a semicolon, a story I chose to continue to tell
And she Knew.
And I Knew because of the way she knew.
It is so hard to talk about,
To live through,
And I knew,
Because of the way she knew.
She said I don’t talk about this to anyone,
Not even my husband
I can’t believe I’m telling this to you
And we hugged
In the middle of the fabric section of Joann’s Fabric
In Wheaton mall
There was a woman on the streets of Philadelphia
Who had had a long day
Betrayed by the break in her voice and the creases in her suit
I had been walking in front of her, on my way to who knows where
and pushed through an unfriendly group of people
Crowding the sidewalk
(Remember when people crowded the sidewalk?)
Who just wouldn’t move
And I don’t remember what she said
Or why we started to talk
We laughed about people and the way they never move when you need them to,
Even though it would be so easy
But I know she had a long day, and sometimes when people crowd in front of you on the sidewalk and
It’s too much
I told her I hoped that she would be able to rest tonight,
she was going to skip a happy hour with friends,
And I laughed and said girl you deserve a drink, though!
You deserve to do something fun
And she stopped,
And I stopped
And I knew because of the way she knew.
And she asked me if she could hug me
And we hugged
In the middle of a sidewalk in Philadelphia
I hope she got to rest. I hope she got to drink with her friends.
I think about her all the time.
There was a teenager on the metro passing through
Somewhere or other
And I had had my own long day,
Hot and sweaty with bare arms crossed
We sat across from each other, in our own tired metroworlds,
And they pointed at my tattoo – the same one; the semicolon –
And said, “you too?”
And I said yeah,
There are all the times I’ve felt the zing of connection to a stranger
From one tired or hungry or sad person to another,
These connections with people I will never see again are holy
They are god
They are why
I check the news for news of vaccinations
I check my calendar to see what I’m going to miss
I think of all the times someone has looked at me,
Hopeful and uncertain
“You know, I’ve never told this to anyone before.”
Of the times I’ve said the same thing back
I think of all these people I’ve hugged in the middle of the fabric section of Joann’s,
Or in the streets of Philadelphia
Or just two words on the subway that share more of my story than I could ever
I hope they’re okay.
I hope you’re okay
Natalie (she/they) is a poet, playwright, and maker. She has worked as a writer in theatres across the United States and with the zine Indoorsy. If you're looking for hopeful queer stories with a touch of melancholy, you're in the right place.
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