Illegitimate | Part I and II

Part I

You don’t belong
here, ever,
and leaving
fingerprints

on the doorjamb. How
did you get
in? Who lifted the
latch? Look,

nobody wants you
here. You
weren’t invited.
Better hide

that part of you
they hate, call
Polack, laugh at. No,
you can’t conceal

eyes, hair, skin. That’s
ok. They’ll say you
got them from
your other

grandpa. Let them.
Hide the part of
you that
reaches back,

digs for roots, water,
food, slice of
you that needs
sometimes dreams.

Better yet, kill
it. Bury it.
Forget it. Let it
disappear. What’s

fifty percent of
nothing? He gave
your name
away, to his

legitimate son. Change
yours. Then maybe
what’s left can
live. Not a whole

life, but a half
life, a quarter
life, a little wisp of
something like a

life. Better than no
life. Maybe. Better
for everyone?
Maybe. After

all, you wouldn’t
want to get caught
trespassing. Better
to pay the price

now: Just a half
life, please. Just
your birth name,
please. Just his

DNA, please. Just
a little death,
please. Leave your
blood on the

altar and no
footprints
as you
go.

Part II

you belong here
and leaving fingerprints
like miniature mazes
on the hallways of My
heart, every twist and
bend leading to

you, My home
and I, yours
here, darling, here
a place to rest your head
eyes, hair, skin, no need
to hide from Me

child, hide in Me
dump your sack of
broken bits, every sliver, slice,
on the dirt floor, let them
settle, sink, rot,
root and become

shoots, vines, leaves,
summer berries
undreamed dreams
words on pages of untold
stories, and a stone,
smooth, singing

against your palm
the song of your name
yours and no one else’s
resounding through your flesh
ringing through your veins
calling green up up up

yes, you belong here
fleet-footed, kicking up
dirt and grass, like
honeybees scattering new
beginnings beneath the
Living Tree, beneath

the Giving Tree
beloved, leave footprints
anywhere, everywhere
you go, you’re
home

© Nichole Q. Perreault

“I am noisy, full of the racket of my imperfections and passions, and the wide open wounds left by my sins. Full of my own emptiness. Yet, ruined as my house is, You live there!”

Thomas Merton

Illegitimate | Part III

If Geppetto carved a daughter,
would I have seen it sooner?
myself, all wood and paint and strings
wobbly kneed, naïve
chasing vodka and bad boys, just to feel alive

Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

Or was it to forget the
fear of suspended animation
like sandpaper chewing my bones
dangling dread of the non-living, undead
If I’m not real, what am I?

There’s surety in strings
the raw physics of a marionette
its law of consequences
predictable, unforgiving
perfect for mimicking life

But I never was very good at lying
and what are puppets
if not lies in motion?
I stumble over my own nose
puppet orphan rebel ass

I’m caught in glitchy VR
rebel puppet assorphan
blipping through avatars
rebelorphanassorphanpuppet
pixelating personas until the

Whale-jawed black screen
swallows me
all of me
all the me’s
all

—————————-
——–v^—–√—–√√v^
—√√v^—√√v^—√√v^

Then spits me back
like Monstro or Jumanji
but we’re done playing games
and with limbs unstrung
I touch my chest, feel the breath

Air exchanged with trees
a thousand thousand
generations breathing me
now I see, strings are
no substitute for roots

If Geppetto carved a daughter
would I have seen it sooner?

© Nichole Q. Perreault

Rock of My Disappointment

Choose a name for God, he said*,
borne of the struggle, the
wrestling. I have

contended, fought You until the
fingers of my soul bled,
scrabbling for

gold beginnings and fabled
endings. You have left
me wanting,

disappointed. A thin, flimsy word
for the crushing abyss of
silence. Unmoved,

this Rock of my salvation splinters
dreams like toy ships on a
stormy sea. Flint-faced

You refuse to be carved by
my desires. Only one of
us can change, and

neither wants to. The night drags
on though we both know
I have lost this

fight. I will hold fast for the
blessing. You will leave me
with a limp.

© Nichole Q. Perreault

*A reference to Anthony Bloom and his book, Beginning to Pray.

When Shame Kills, Love Stays | Thoughts on Shame, Rage, Dragons, and Jesus

They nailed love to the cross.

That’s what my friend, Simara, said during a Lent meditation over Zoom: They nailed love to the cross. They killed love.

I’m used to hearing things like death was nailed to the cross and our sins were nailed to the cross. But love? Simara is a gifted woman who speaks the words of the Holy Spirit. So I’ve learned to listen, especially when those words catch me off guard.

Surely they did nail love to a cross…or more accurately: Love. Because Jesus is love personified. I find it easier to think about nailing sin and death to the cross, than to consider that, in their depravity, people nailed Love to the cross. Because “they” is me and why would I kill Love?

Photo by Nichole Q Perreault

One day, many years ago, I became acutely aware of my personal participation in the crucifixion of Jesus. I was outdoors, kneeling before a large wooden cross at our old church, when God revealed the deep resentment, hatred even, that I feel toward Him. I saw that even though I wasn’t physically at Calvary 2000 years ago, I was guilty of wanting to destroy God. Some call this original sin – a base opposition to the Lord, a desire to be one’s own god. Some call it pride. But maybe it’s more complex than that.

Maybe the death of Love is rooted in our shame and separation from God.

Shame. It’s an awful feeling: a hollow yet lead-heavy sensation in the gut, a stomach full of spoiled milk, a million needles piercing your skin, overwhelming self-loathing, the need to run and disappear, and the rumblings of self-destructive, all-consuming rage.

That’s how it feels to me, anyway. But what is it? Shame is the core belief that there is something inherently wrong with one’s own person. For me, shame sounds like this: I am inherently defective, flawed, less than, unlovable, irredeemable.

I’ve dealt with my shame a lot. In prayer. In therapy. And I’ve come a long way from the days of believing I trespassed my way into existence; so far, that I can now say (and mostly mean) that I am legitimate, I am good, I am enough, I am worthy of love.

One question: WHY AM I STILL SO DAMN ANGRY?

Me, just last week, texting friends: I am filled with unquenchable rage.
Friends: Why?
Me: 🤷🏻‍♀️ Menopause?

Yes, I’m kind of young for menopause! That’s beside the point. The point is, rage lurks within me like a fire-breathing dragon, and early-ish menopause seemed a valid explanation. Until a few days later. When God, in His ever so gentle way, pointed out that my rage is actually connected to unresolved issues of shame.

That was exciting; I mean who doesn’t love to revisit shame issues? <<<insert sarcasm here

Of course, when something is disturbing enough, like say unquenchable rage, you find a way.

I suppose it’s no coincidence that last week I came across the article Rage, Shame, and the Death of Love by David Cloke. Fair warning: after reading it, I felt like someone had turned me inside out, body and soul. It hurt like hell, but the truth often does.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Shame often begins in infancy when healthy familial attachments are thwarted for one reason or another; or it may begin later in life when a person is exposed to abuse, significant loss, or other trauma.
  • Shame is excruciatingly painful and therefore ends up buried deep within the unconscious. When something triggers buried shame, a person typically responds by doing whatever is necessary to stop the pain. This can take many forms such as distracting oneself in healthy and unhealthy ways, avoiding shame-inducing people or circumstances, seeking revenge, etc.  
  • Shame often stems from “rejected love” (when one’s love and affection is spurned by another) and leads to a “now despised urge to love” (when one hates one’s own desire to love). In Cloke’s own words this “evokes destructive feelings that attack the very thing that is desired, often precipitating an inevitable death of love.”
  • Shame is often part of a shame/envy/rage/guilt cycle. For example: A baby experiences some form of abandonment and that excruciating pain is thrust into the unconscious. Later in life, the child sees another person getting what she wants (attention, affection, praise) and feels envious. This triggers unconscious shame, setting off a rage response (according to Cloke anger and rage are different). Some children will be frightened by their rage, which could lead to rejection and further abandonment, and therefore they try to hide it. Other children will act on their rage. Both will likely feel guilt and an increased sense of shame as a result of their choices.
  • People experiencing the shame/envy/rage/guilt cycle often create a “redemption fantasy” in which they believe certain people or circumstances will magically relieve their shame. I will use myself as an example again. While growing up, I viewed every boy as my potential rescuer; I believed his love had the power to save me from my shame, that his love would somehow make me lovable. Yet I eventually came to despise them all – even the ones who treated me well. My reasons for hating them always included a common thread: I judged them all as weak. Ultimately, this perceived weakness was really about their inability to rescue me.
  • According to Cloke, shame-based rage may have several intentions including: “magically changing the other person, creating in the other person a shame feeling…as a form of empathy, to penetrate the other in a powerful way, or to seek revenge.” People experiencing shame-based rage may lash out at their offender in various ways ranging from snubbing to slander to murder, and everything in between.

There’s a lot more to the article, but that’s a solid recap. Rather than tell you all the ways this affects me personally, I want to focus on something more universal, something that, I hope, will speak to us all.

I nailed Love to the cross. Not death. Not sin. Love. And pride doesn’t kill love. Shame does.

Shame has been my constant companion since my days in the womb, when I was first called “illegitimate”, when my existence was a burden, and my presence was feared. Life got messier after that; it doesn’t matter how or why. Shame has many fathers. What matters is that shame lives inside me like a sleeping dragon, and when she wakes no one in her path is safe.

I am not alone. According to many mental health experts, including Bill Cloke, Brene Brown, and Daniel Amen, nearly everyone experiences some level of shame, even those who have relatively healthy childhoods. Why is that? Father Thomas Keating, founder of Contemplative Outreach, says that the real root of shame is our perceived separation from God.

Woah. Let’s think about that for a minute: God is our Source, our Father, our Mother. Yet here in the fallen physical realm, we experience separation from our perfect Parent and the Love we so desperately desire. This is no small matter. It has rent the very fabric of the universe, left a gaping chasm in every star and leaf and rock and atom, even to the very depths of our souls. The separation is excruciating. All of creation cries out in pain. We feel cut off from God, abandoned, exposed, naked…and ashamed.

What if shame is the universal lie that blinds and binds? Telling us that we are lost, alone, unlovable, and irredeemable, that our pain is incurable and our rage is unquenchable? Telling us that our only options are to run and hide or to attack and destroy?

What if our opposition to God stems from that shame and our fear that we’ll never be good enough? Adam and Eve hid. The Pharisees judged. Cain lashed out in rage.

What if we hide from, judge, and lash out at God because, as the unattainable object of our deepest desire, He is also the source of our greatest pain?

What if this is why we nailed Love to the cross? Because we came to believe that Love’s destruction was the only way to end our unbearable suffering?

What if we nailed Love to the cross not so much because our hearts are evil but because our hearts are broken?

I nailed Love to the cross. And I have murdered Love in my heart a thousand times since then.

Shame kills.

But what if Love still pursues me? What if Love is running after me, not to harm me, but to heal me? What if Love picks me up, spins me around and says, Go ahead. Put your hand in my side. Feel the scars in my hands and feet. Yes, I am still here.?

What if Love sinks Himself deep into my dragon lair of shame, builds a fire, and puts the kettle on for tea?

What if Love says, Do your worst, Nichole. I am here to stay.?

© Nichole Q. Perreault

Apocalypse

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

The battle is lost
has been
for a long time now
Did we even understand
what we were fighting for?

Darkness pervades
like fine dust of
a coal powered train
There is nothing it hasn’t touched
curtains, hair, the tea, his lungs

A flake of ash on white linen
taunts her
but she knows better
One brush of her thumb would
beget a smear, a blotch, a stain

She shakes her head as
the teacup meets
her lemon-rind smile
We can’t hold back evil
She swallows, licks her soot-stained lips

Darkness reigns
in this brokedown palace
where graveside songs are sung from
failing flesh and
blighted bones

Nobody gets out alive
not the defiant
not the hopeful
Nobody
Death is king

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lay down, my friend, and rest
here beside me in the newborn grass
We’ll watch the clouds
move like a stormy sea
gray chasing white chasing gray

And every once in awhile
a shard of sapphire
If we’re lucky, like last night
the sky will spit in our faces
reminding us of sea spray

Stay with me
Pray if you like
or don’t
A quiet mind
grants sanctuary, too

The battle is lost
but the war isn’t over
and I could use a friend
to hold my hand
while we watch

The Fire burn, Wind blow, Wave wash
away the shadows
that gather at the edges
of our eyes, then
LIGHT

© Nichole Q. Perreault

Resurrection

sometimes I hate the hope that
still rents room in my head, my
heart, perched bird that sings
even when I’ve thrown
a towel over her cage
and drawn all the drapes

why won’t she SHUT UP
I want to squeeze her
brittle neck, feel her
feathers squish between
my fingers, crack of
bone, ooze of blood

tell me we’ve reached the
bottom, that I’m dragging
my feet through the dregs
now, that this is finally
where hope comes

to die, where dreams de-
compose and I unknow
all the knowing, let go
of all the growing
and rot

deep into the soil, feather
and bone together
sinking silent then
split, bit by bit
into dust
air

tell me this is
finally, where
hope comes
to die, then
maybe I

fly

©️ Nichole Q. Perreault

under water

it’s still
     dark in here
     and sometimes the darkness
still wins

i think
     maybe this time
     the darkness won’t
get me

won’t scare
     me, won’t wear me
     down, but this darkness is slick like oil
and spreads

on me
     before i
     know it, stinging my eyes
my throat

i jump
     into the deep
     end, to stop the burning, to
escape

it’s dark
     here too, and
     heavy, all this water
crushing

but i
     remember i’ve
     learned something new, i’ve
learned how

to breathe
     without air, without
     love, without hope, I’ve
learned how

to breathe
     under
     water

© Nichole Q. Perreault

Reception

I will set a table
For my soul
Among the trees

Quiet, I will wait
Beneath a canopy of leaves

Let stillness be the table
Let silence be the cloth
Let sunlight be the service, gleaming
My seat a bed of moss

I will set a table
For my soul
Out in the wild

Calling her to come
And play, as if she were a child

Let soft winds be the music
Let flowers be the dance
Let butterflies be our hearts, weaving
Patterns out of chance

I will set a table
For my soul
In forest glade

Inviting her to rest
And feast, on Bread no hands have made

Let wonder be the blessing
Let laughter be the prayer
Let forgiveness be our cup, healing
And let Love be the fare

I will set a table
For my soul
Where woods are deep

And wide enough for two
Or more, so you can sit by me

© Nichole Q. Perreault, April 2021

If It Was a Dream (A Cento Poem)

Begin at the beginning
She said
Little girl
In a cab with her father

Knit me together
In my mother’s womb
Lay your hand upon me
Hold me fast

Does the rain have a father?
A trust only found in the innocent
But she bent as the reed bends
Lies can be persuasive

Shattered worlds
Lost embryos
A whorl of red on the table
I had to kill something
Crows, blackbirds
Lying in wait for the pickings
If it was a dream it would be okay

What time is it?
I think I must have changed since then
To remember and to forget
Oak tree, riven by lightning
Dead on one side, living on the other
We’re all mad here
All the best people are

Does the rain have a father?
Knit me together
In my mother’s womb

One ship ploughing the grey bleak waters
Big waves rising around it
A cold lonely sea
Loneliness
I almost wish I hadn’t gone
Down the rabbit-hole

What time is it?
Does the rain have a father?
Knit me together
In my mother’s womb

Remember
You are wanted
Under his wings you will
Find refuge
Even the sparrow found a home
In a cab
With her father

Remember you are wanted
What time is it?
Does the rain have a father?
Knit me together
In my mother’s womb
Begin at the beginning

© Nichole Q. Perreault

The above poem is a Cento (or “found poem”) from the Latin word for “patchwork” and is composed entirely of lines from works by other authors. The words and lines I used to create this poem are borrowed from:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett:
The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien
The Book of Job, Psalm 91 & Psalm 139