liz phair - down
there is an elemental quality to certain kinds of grief. or grief encountered at particular junctures, perhaps. or perhaps grief experienced by people endlessly hunting for the metaphor that will free them from the search for metaphors. i don’t know. i am trying to be fair, lately, even at the cost of elegance. which means admitting i am pulled towards elegance, including — especially — elegance in disguise. i am trying to be fair, even when, especially because, life is so majestically apathetic to the matter.
you can trip; you can be pushed. they are not the same story but they can be told the same way: you were a victim of gravity, which infuriatingly remains unchanged.
butterfly lets her wing brush past your shoulder
i know you know her around by the way she’s so familiar
you keep bringing me down, while standing straight and tall; she flies on with the structural integrity of a catalyst. a river doesn’t care if you drown. a person should not be like a river. there are people like rivers, who can give life and shatter it without warning against rocks. who can be a home you will never see collapsing until the floorboards give way beneath your feet.
all this time you were telling me you loved me
you’ve been sleeping around
and the shame of it hangs above me like a cloud
a river becomes an ocean and a cloud. a cloud becomes rain and a river. it disappears and reemerges and seeps into the soil. it changes the earth beneath your feet.
i’m hearing lies
i’m feeling the sting of surprise
i make myself stand up and leave
and turn my back on your hollow pleas
—or don’t think about it. i am trying to be fair. i would not wish the need to think about it on anyone except barely myself, hardly ever. i think about this: the disjoint between feeling and action. the act of necessity which is also an act of will. the effort it takes to achieve escape velocity in an orbit that has drawn you so close, for so long. what it takes to stand up when you are down. how unfair it is to need to build it in yourself. how to build it in yourself when all you feel is the sting of learning the air you have been breathing has this whole time been poisoning your lungs. i think about this incantation:
let it ride, when if i let myself i could believe it will sweep me away. let the wind blow past my shoulders, when i crave stillness, quiet, a stoppage of time. let the road like a ribbon unwind, and you can try to wind it back up again but it will never be the same, taut and unwrinkled. you can unwind but you can’t unmix. once was a dreamy kid yanked to attention in physics about entropy, clothes on my bedroom floor and pieces of a life i was so far from being able to distill into clumsy words. the incomplete fossil of a forgotten animal, jagged edges joined by speculation. in chemistry it was van der waals forces, the idea that in every instant we are unmade and remade, an image to write a poem about though i never did. it doesn’t matter in the day to day but i don’t write poems anymore because i forgot how to break the lines.
and the pain of it make me older. older, not better. older, not stronger. older, and if you said there’s something bold in it, from a woman, when so often older is painted as a womanly fear, and i wouldn’t argue. let me escape the open-eyed youth that left me bruised. let me live long enough to see what older means. i listen to how gentle she sounds in the moment of breaking, and it isn’t a wish, it isn’t something i would urge on anyone else, but sometimes i can think let the world keep bringing me down and it isn’t a call for destruction or a cry of defiance but a moment of grace. let it. it will. let me stop fighting without giving up.
some things can’t help but leave craters. the geography of a place is its testimony. there was a valley, there is a canyon, and the sun slips below the horizon unbothered so that you could almost think, still, it was beholden to the earth. let me forget and learn and forget again. let my feet slip. let me learn the strength to scale the indifferent walls.