Category Archives: Unmentionables

Unmentionables (The Series)

Hi, all! It’s done. This series was titled Unmentionables as an homage to the work Susannah Fox is doing in healthcare with trying to get people talking around the institutionalized “secrets” that are impeding progress in caring for people’s health. This series is about a very old personal story that had come back to haunt me and was interfering in my own healthcare. Susannah highlighted a particular quote from PostSecret: The only difference between our secrets is whether we allow them to evolve into tales of heroism or fear.

PostSecret 2009.12.13 band

This was, in part, a personal effort to explore that liminal space between the two. I hope it wasn’t too triggering for people. I heard from some who found it healing, others who found it puzzling or confusing, others who felt empowered. For myself, I usually read poems out of sequence, dipping in here and there. You can certainly do that, but you might want to know that I wrote these with an intentional arc, to begin with a certain sensation and shift, and shift back or onward; with certain portions of the early poems that might take on new readings as one progresses through the series. I am hoping that the poems will stand both as individual pieces, and also as a series, a constructed work. To make it easier to go back and see that sequence unfold, here is a list of all of the poems

1: Preface
2: Blessed Be
3: Three Days
4: Praying in the Dark
5: Eggs
6: A Waltz
7: Cherries
8: Under
9: The Rhythm of Revelation
10: Masks
11: The Face of Mercy
12: Comfort
13: In the Night
14: Flashbacks
15: The Inoculation Theory
16: Untitled
17: Ragdoll
18: Breaking of the Bread
19: Faces
20: The Seduction Sonnet
21: Grace and Lace
22: Saying No
23: Fragments
24: Speaking in Code
25: Flashbacks, Take Two
26: Ice Woman
27: Short Stories
28: The Origins of Daisy Love
29: Click
30: Colonoscopy
31: Bowdlerized
32: The Ugly Poem
33: The Kindness of Entropy

The Kindness of Entropy (Unmentionables, 33)

Forgetting begins even as the memory is born,
compressed with some veiled biological imperative
that dissolves, discards, thins, transforms, losing nothing to mourn.

What I recall isn’t possible. (This, said with some scorn).
The telling changed the story, permuted the narrative.
Forgetting begins even as the memory is born;

unless, that is, unless at that moment, the mind is torn,
memory locked in a loop, on replay, repetitive;
not dissolved, discarded, thinned, or transformed, but reborn,

preserved like a well known prayer, with its beads polished and worn.
Words, images, run on grooves in the nerves, pleading, “Forgive.”
Forgetting begins even as the memory is born,

as the tale is told, retold, reduced to one short word: “Warn,”
and from there to shreds rather slight, slipping through a light sieve
that dissolves, discards, thins, transforms, keeping nothing to mourn.

Fragments float, transmuting. The morning fog soothes and adorns
leaves with sparkling prisms that catch the light, bright and festive.
Forgetting begins even as the memory is born,
and dissolves (discard, thin, transform), leaving nothing to mourn.

The Ugly Poem (Unmentionables, 32)

“These poems are so lovely.” “Thank you,” I say.
“It was hard to get that effect.” “But when
they are pretty it is hard to believe
they might be true.” “Oh. Do you think I need
an ugly poem? For credibility?

What do you suggest? What do you think would
convince people this is true? Should I tell
how he ripped into me and then I screamed
in pain? He thought that meant I liked it. That’s
what he told me after. Oh! I know what!

I bled from my rectum the day after,
only a little, but I still put on
a menstrual pad. How sore I was, the ache
in my body a window to the wound
in my spirit. I put on my tight jeans,

so I’d feel like something was holding me
together. What I remember most, though,
is nothing so impressive. Just sitting
in my rocking chair, on pillows, shawl-wrapped,
shrunk into myself like an old woman,

crying and crying and crying. But that
won’t convince anyone. What do you think?
I don’t know. It’s like Saint Christopher, or
the moon landing, vaccines, the Holocaust.
Those who believe, believe. Those who won’t, don’t.”

Bowdlerized (Unmentionables, 31)

This biography isn’t authorized,
still it all began when I was baptized.
But that’s old news, long past familiarized.
This is no story to anthologize,
it’s one perhaps too often sanitized,
or if not, then it’s sensationalized,
scrutinized, fictionalized, satirized,
until some (God love ’em) are scandalized.
I dread this being anatomized.
I don’t need you to editorialize.
I’ve already been compartmentalized,
civilized, cathechized, and sermonized.
I’ve been anesthetized and tranquillized.
I’ve never yet been bob-bob-bobmotized,
(and I’m no Bob-zombie, there’s no surprise).
Count my bones. See? They’ve been alphabetized.
That’s all just as it should be, I surmize.
Don’t know if I should’ve apologized
in advance, but now it’s been serialized
& rationalized. A few realized
where it’s all been going. They recognized
something in themselves. No one criticized
me for it, not yet. Some might trivialize
the story, marginalize, minimize,
dismiss. I do ‘get it.’ Don’t patronize
me now. We’ve come this far, you’ve heard the “why’s”
and you know this can’t be homogenized.
You don’t want to hear this. I’m paralyzed
by words I sure wish were fictionalized.
I’ve already been terrorized, traumatized,
brutalized, dehumanized, stigmatized,
victimized, demoralized, and despised.
Alright. Let’s get this story finalized.
Here, this: I was forcibly sodomized.
What comes next? I bet I’ll be bowdlerized.
Just wait and see. This was no folderol,
hey nonny nonny and a ho, ho, ho,
doo wop, bebop, hip hop, bop bop, bang, bang,
bangarang, yaoi kapowie, zing zang
gazowie, ku ku ka choo little song.
This was the real word, you know, poetized.

Colonoscopy (Unmentionables, 30)

We take pride in the cleanliness of our gut lining,
the clear prep, the willingness to guzzle GoLytely;
modify the diet days in advance (no whining
allowed), chill Gatorade, hog the bathroom forthrightly.
When colon cancer runs in the family, “get tough”
is what’s expected. It’s not the prep that’s my problem.
The first time, that was all I worried about. Enough
to take the doctor’s “good prep” as my good girl emblem.
I remembered waking up during, tried to forget
the date-rape drug distortions and Dali-esque faces,
curses, crude comments, being sticky with a cold sweat.
For years it worked. They ignored me, then I them. Aces,
until it was time to schedule the next. That was when
the nightmares began, leaking through the cracks opened then.

NOTE: Don’t be scared off from getting your recommended and needed colonoscopy by my sad story of one bad experience. I’m not. I go back and get them regularly, and do what’s needed. For me, that means getting docs to support me and advocate for my having them without sedation. For other folk it means asking for them with complete sedation. For most folk, the prep is the part they dislike most, and for most folk the conscious sedation works just fine. The colonoscopy experience described in this poem is not typical.

Click (Unmentionables, 29)

Wires are jazzy, vibrate, shaking
with sound like jazz hands, deaf applause,
echoing loudly in silence,
like my hands, electric, shocky.

Cocooned, there’s no sound outside me.
My ears shriek with tessellations
of high pitched reverberation,
overlapped, a blurred aural edge.

The dead air scrapes my nerves rough, raw,
like ultrasonics, piano wires
out of tune. Call the crisis line?
Right. Dialing. How do I explain?

If there are words people can use
to describe what happened, they aren’t
ones I learned in the sex ed class
at school. I don’t know what to say.

It doesn’t matter. When I try,
I cry. When the words leave my mouth
they are the wrong words. “Is this rape?”
I ask. The phone goes click. Dial tone.

The Origins of Daisy Love (Unmentionables, 28)

[Editorial comment: Because of various things that happened during the month, I’m running a bit behind and have a few more poems to do to complete this series. Therefore, even though April is over, and NaPoWriMo is officially over, this poem series will continue on for a few more days. Stay with me folks!]

i. Girl

Teeny. Tiny. Little. White flower stars.
They’re pretty. See how the wind makes them bounce?
They’re bouncing in circles! Now I’m dizzy.
I like to bounce. Do you like to bounce? Me, too.
No, no! No tickling. Tickling’s not allowed.

“An array of common sleep related problems in infants
and toddlers, including bedtime, wakeup time, and frequency
and duration of wake during the night.” “Dark-enhanced startle
was increased in children whose mothers survived childhood abuse.”

ii. Her Mother

I don’t know. Daisies are just happy things!
Especially for people raised when I was.
We invented smiley faces, flower
power, and all that. How can you not smile
whenever you see daisies? So happy.

“After controlling for maternal psychopathology,
it was maternal trauma that predicted children’s response.”
“These data show parental trauma exposure need not have
occurred during the child’s lifetime to affect the child.” “Children
of women trauma survivors were likely to experience
traumatic events; this suggests why this crosses generations.”

iii. Her Grandmother

Careful! That vase is special. Don’t break it!
Why? Because of the daisies all around it,
I guess. The milk glass might be worth something,
but really, this one was my mother’s, so …
she liked daisies, white, with a yellow heart.

“Of course, trauma is rarely, if ever, all by itself. There’s
usually preexisting childhood conditions that happened.”
“What comes to mind when I say traumatic? What does it mean for
you? What kind of events can cause traumatic injuries? What are
the consequences of trauma? Is it a common thing here?”

iv. Her Great-Grandmother

Daisies grow everywhere. Sometimes being common is lovely.
The summer after my mother died was a hard one — hot, dry,
nothing grew very well. There wasn’t much aside from daisies
for me to put on her grave. Daisies bloomed early in the spring,
and were among the last in the fall, bright against the browned grass.

“Like the question of death and its consequences: bereavement,
parentality, transgenerational transmission and
organicity often linked to illness.” “We organized
these themes into four categories: causes; consequences
of injury; risks & protective factors; barriers to care.”

v. Her Great-Great-Grandmother

Sometimes I wish we’d kept going out West,
but this is far enough, with so many
small ones. A farm, cabin, town not too far.
Daisies to pretty the table. Sometimes
they’d even last a couple days. They’re tough.

“There’s energy behind every trauma.
There’s energy that’s involved in it. So,
that energy can be seen physically,
but it’s very difficult to see it
spiritually, on a person’s mind and brain.”

AFTERWORD (added May 2, 2015)

I have been asked to add the citations for the quotes (and paraphrased quotes) embedded in the poem above. There are a lot of them, which is why I didn’t do it at the time. Here they are, in alphabetical order by first author.

Auxéméry Y. [Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of the interaction between an individual genetic susceptibility, a traumatogenic event and a social context]. Encephale. 2012 Oct;38(5):373-80. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2011.12.003. Epub 2012 Jan 24.

Bassett D, Tsosie U, Nannauck S. “Our Culture Is Medicine”: Perspectives of Native Healers on Posttrauma Recovery Among American Indian and Alaska Native Patients. Perm J. 2012 Winter; 16(1): 19–27. |

Bosquet Enlow M, Egeland B, Carlson E, Blood E, Wright RJ. Mother-Infant Attachment and the Intergenerational Transmission of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Dev Psychopathol. 2014 Feb; 26(1): 41–65.

Hairston IS, Waxler E, Seng JS, Fezzey AG, Rosenblum KL, Muzik M. The Role of Infant Sleep in Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma. Sleep. 2011 Oct 1; 34(10): 1373–1383.

Jovanovic T, Smith A, Kamkwalala A, Poole J, Samples T, Norrholm SD, Ressler KJ, Bradley B. Physiological markers of anxiety are increased in children of abused mothers. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2011 Aug; 52(8): 844–852.

Roberts AL, Galea S, Austin SB, Cerda M, Wright RJ, Rich-Edwards JW, Koenen KC. Posttraumatic stress disorder across two generations: concordance and mechanisms in a population-based sample. Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Sep 15; 72(6): 505–511.

Short Stories (Unmentionables, 27)


In last night’s dream, my father is
time-shifted, twenty years younger,

and listening, but trying to look
as if he’s not interested.
I see them talking, but can’t hear.


She collects recipes for “sides.”
Who needs a main dish? Chickpea crepes.

Almond crusted eggplant. Ginger
cilantro sweet corn. Oven fried
green tomatoes. Pickled scapes. There’s

something different about making
side dishes, and being made one.


Did he go home to his wife
afterwards? When he finally
left, insisting on one last kiss,

both hands shook shoving the door bolt
home, everything revolting, strange.


One finger. The left hand’s index.
The fingernail polish was pink.
Light baby pink. Peony pink.

Too thin, it cracked at the ridges
and wore off, chipped at the edges.

It was a map, a mystery.
There should be a painting of it
big as a wall, huge as a house.

Ice Woman (Unmentionables, 26)

Piebald, perhaps, or bicolor,
she’s a yinyang squalor scholar,

transparent and two-faced — well set:
One side crystal, the other wet.

She can’t tell. They’re the same inside.
But one eye glitters and stares wide

while the other just trickles,
one solitary drop, fickle

and silent. Her ears, not much use,
one frozen shut with cold abuse

sports a stunning sharp stabbing point,
while the other melts and anoints

her neck with a shrinking tickle.
Don’t shine sun on the icicle,

you’ll mess up her hair if it melts.
The long sleeves, high neck, hide her welts.

Pumice & polish the glacial
cheek, and carve the floating facial

grimace into something serene.
No rouge, no color, just a sheen

highlights the curve. Almost enough.
Hoarfrost gathers into a muff

beneath her chin, clasped with grey pearls,
snowy threads in spiraling whorls.

Oh, now she’s got it — calm and still,
a whisper to abate the chill:

“As I now lay me down to sleep,
I pray my dreaming eyes to weep.”

Flashbacks, Take Two (Unmentionables, 25)

The priest wore
red robes and a smile.

I’m crouching
in the shadows
at the top
of a dim
gray stairwell.

The sermon
sparkled like stained glass.
I didn’t hear it.

No, it’s not.
I’m at school.
It’s finals.
There’s a test.
Almost time.

he exclaimed,
we have recovered
the True Cross.

I’m watching,
and waiting.
And hiding.
He’s coming.
He’s coming.