Shells

Shells on the beach tell the story
Not one story I suppose
but an anthology
Dating back to the dates of creation
Creation of you and me: an us
Oh, you are probably thinking
Well here comes a story of the one rare
one of a kind shell
No. Not at all
but the fragments
broken and crushed under the feet of many travelers
waiting for that one person to notice the pieces
and maybe put them back together
but if nothing else
just hold them
gently, perfectly.

Forever is Now

I don’t want you forever 
Forever is not for you.
I just want to know how it feels to be yours.
Right now.
This moment.
To be able to feel your body next to mine.
To let my hands wander through the scares and bruises
left imprinted on your flesh.
Hold you for this moment.
Until this moment ends and reality rushes
(with all the intensity reality should)
back to us with each breath
forever is now and 
forever is not for you.
I do not want you forever

Home

The unknown of you
gives an electricity to every moment
you even try to enter my busy thoughts.
The unknown of you
protects you from complete ruin.
The unknown of you
thats the part I never wish to know.
Right now you are perfect to me
and I wish for you to remain
in perfection.
In that space no other human
has the privilege of residing.
There you find your home.

Maya Angelou: Songs of Freedom


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” -Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou is, was and will forever be a unbreakable prophet. She spoke of the day when the “caged bird’s song” would burst open the iron gate that rendered its wings useless dreams. She sang the song of freedom when only captivity and despair seemed present. She was a prophet of song, of verse, of life.

Poetry is more than writing. More than putting pen to paper and hoping for the best. The best of poets, like Angelou, know how to speak into the rhythm of the world, to beckon the human spirit and to call that spirit beyond this present moment to a possible future. Angelou was a poet with both her word and her life.

She spoke of a freedom that surpassed the physical chains that bound so many. A freedom of the mind, the spirit, the essence of humanity. I will never forget the moment I read Angelou’s quote above, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” She knew the goal of every artist, poet, writer, human–to be completely and utterly known.

Such is not an easy task. For to be known one must bear one’s soul for another waiting in helpless silence to hear a response. Most of us never make it to that silence. Fear keeps us living within constant noise so that we are seen through every medium possible, but never truly known. Maya Angelou lived in that silence, recklessly unleashing her soul for her own soul’s freedom.

She lived in the silence of a tomorrow where ever “caged bird” not only sang the dream of freedom but flew in its life-giving wind. May we all seek that silence for the memory of Angelou and for the future for which she so deeply lived her life. A silence that speaks of human vulnerability, acceptance and a told, heard, and known story.

Thank you, Maya Angelou, for singing, dancing, celebrating, persevering and living your freedom story. Not only was your soul unchained by your story and your voice, but, through your life and your work, you helped create a freedom story for so many of us.

Rest in peace, Maya Angelou. May her freedom song continue to tell our unending human story.

Why Do We Say “Classrooms Can’t Make Men”

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Teach a man, he’ll conquer the world.
What if this man must conquer such world to be taught?
One child in a classroom.
One plus one does not equal two.
As his stomach grumbles with only remnants of last night’s frozen dinner.
“Something ain’t” not “something isn’t” right
As his deep, muddy eyes strain to see scrawlings on the not too distant chalkboard.
Lincoln was Martin Luther King Jr. on that morning at Gettysburg
As he tries to remember the winter morning he last saw his daddy
but can only see those flashing lights
The classroom bleeds onto the streets.
Teachers become brothers.
Grades are issued with the finality of a bullet.
Yet if only this young man could conquer the world.
A world that provides the lessons he must learn to survive.
Then maybe, just maybe the classroom would teach his brilliant mind

Soulmate

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A touch. A glance.
Enough to stop the whole universe in motion.
One day a stranger, the next an unforgettable friend.
How does she resist the perfection of his touch?
It’s impossible.
All she can do is embrace and call him another soulmate.
No. Not one that will forever hold her hand.
Just a soul mate that can pause her heart between beats.
Make a simple sentence sound like a sonnet.
And be a forever friend in this cold lonely world.
Never to touch how they may sometimes want.
but always to understand how souls could never be
fully apart again.

Endings

They say…whoever they is
They say all good things must come to an end
An end.
Maybe only endings mark the good things.
the new things, the beginning things.
but even more those things end.
All good things end.
Your touch, your look never ends but is always ending.
If only I could grasp that last touch
that last momentary glance
Maybe then I could make it last forever
But even forever must end.
For all good things come to an end.
That first spark is just that, a spark
fleeting, intense, gone.
And what does it leave in its place?
A completely unsettling desire to avoid all endings.
but if only through endings
do we seek the new…
Maybe endings brought me to you.

A Love Letter to My Illness

Heben “Heaven” Nigatu, November 2012

My Dear Adversarial Friend,

After years of hostile companionship, I’ve finally discovered the courage and resilience to write you this letter.  Since such courage may only be fleeting because of your current absence in my life, I had to finally force myself to pen this note of honesty and pain to you, my friend.

I remember we first met in high school.  My plump, pimple-covered exterior gave you the all-too-easy road into my close circle of critical inner-friends.  Our conversations enriched your attraction to me and mine to you.  For the hurtful, pain-filled words I would utter silently to myself for years were finally heard and repeated back to me.  You will never be good enough. No one will love you. There must be something deeply wrong with you. You, my depression, my anxiety, always understood.  You knew me.

We continued our mutual relationship all throughout high school, although I never knew your name or why you chose me as a friend.  I did not want to ask those questions because at least you were with me, listened to me, and didn’t seem to ever leave me.  We continued like this for a couple more years.  You echoing these lines of self-hatred and perfectionism back to my isolated mind. For we only grew closer the more I saw myself as worthless, out of control and unwanted.  Yet I started to realize the stronger our friendship grew, the lonelier I found myself.  But I told myself, you were all I needed: my depression, my anxiety.

You followed me to college.  I heaved a large sigh of relief as I stepped into my freshman dorm and you were already waiting for me.  A friend, a familiar face.  We stayed together.  Making new friends had never been easy for me, except for with you.  So I enjoyed staying in my room that first year and so did you.  You started whispering to me new thoughts and fears. You don’t belong here.  You will never succeed in softball or class. You are different.  I believed you, but something inside me hoped to one day prove you wrong.  This moment was the beginning of the end.

I did not know that striving, endlessly to prove you wrong would mean bringing my own body, mind, soul to its very breaking point.  But I wasn’t able to stop because in those moments of silence, pause, peace you awaited me.  My college life was filled with a constant battle between trying to control you, my depression, my anxiety, and allowing you to control me.  Softball, something that once brought me pride and confidence, became the one way you could destroy any ounce of self-worth I had left.  You are alone. You must be perfect. You must numb your feelings. You must be someone you are not. You were always there to remind me of the worst parts of me.

But I started realizing you were not the friend I thought you were.  Your listening was no longer innocent but a way to gain more ammunition against me.  Your repetitions always seemed to leave out the hope in which I most desperately believed.  I began seeking ways to numb or silence you because your whispers had become deafening.

I finally needed to know your name, which led me to therapy.  She called you “Generalized Anxiety Disorder” and “Depressive Episodes.” So clinical, so sterile.  You no longer seemed like a friend.  You were simply a disorder, an episode?  But how could your companionship be simplified to only that over all these years?

I finally began to learn more about you.  To learn more about myself.  To understand you as separate from me.  This was difficult for me to believe because, without me realizing it, we had become so intertwined.  I did not know how to distinguish you from me.  I often still don’t.  Medication helps, sure, but I always know that with any unexpected life event or sudden change you will be there, extending a friendly embrace. Through therapy, I have learned that you aren’t me.  I have learned that I can not blame myself for your presence in my life.  I have learned that you can be managed but I have also learned that you will always be my companion throughout this life.

I still call you my friend because of these many years we’ve shared together.  You worked so hard for me, so hard against me and I will never be outside of your constant influence.  Even though we are no longer close, for I know your name, your face, and your patterns, you will always be a part of me, a familiar and dangerous part.

Thank you for showing me the depth of pain and isolation for only in those depths did I learn the love of community.  Thank you for tearing me down because only through that experience was I able to rely and trust others to help me move forward.  Thank you for developing in me a sensitivity for emotion, for struggle, for hurt for only through that have I been able to connect with others.  Thank you for never leaving me because only through your presence have I learned the importance of resilience.  Thank you for knowing me because only through that am I able to see you in others around me and teach them your name.

I hope for a future day that I can pass by you on the street without pausing to entertain your whispers, without being drawn to your enticingly attractive lies, without recognizing your familiar taunts, but I know that we will probably meet again, my friend.  I have changed, though, since our last encounter so maybe you won’t recognize me.

With Hesitant and Undetermined Love,

Your Distant Friend

You Are Enough

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You are enough.
Words spoken that cover the immeasurable
immensity that is human insecurity.
You are enough right now.
For one small instant you allow those words
so subtle, so pure
to free you.
To free your striving
Your perfection.
You alone are enough in every way.
Void of any conditional fragments
that one small phrase stands alone
firm
lovely
in front of all humanity.
You are enough.
But you throw off this simple phrase
struggle to grab the chains of perfection
that had finally fallen to the ground
to become your own slave master
Every minute, punishing, critical.
Every minute unworthy.
Chains of doubt and worry cling to you
painfully etching scars into your wonderfully flawed skin.
You, my love, in every single way
are not perfect because humanity’s beauty
is found in our many unworthy imperfections
But you, my darling, are in this moment
and in every way
As you sit alone, smiling but struggling beneath these heavy chains
you are completely and utterly enough.