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

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

Sex Culture, Christians, and a Call for a New Conversation

THE WRONG CONVERSATION
Recent discussions sparked by John Crist’s public confession have led me into a strange land, one where I spend a lot of time thinking about the generational differences of sexual behavior, beliefs, and norms. What I’m realizing, now more than ever, is that the western evangelical Church (the Christian subculture I am a part of) is woefully ignorant about what is actually happening in the sexual culture of today’s teens and young adults. This is especially apparent when sexual sin and misconduct within the Church become the topic of public debate.

Photo by Alejandra Quiroz on Unsplash

After the story of John Crist broke, many prominent Christian voices asked, not for the first time, how we can best address and care for those who “fall” into temptation, commit “sexual sin,” and experience “moral failure.” Usually, by the time the Church starts to engage in a conversation publicly, individual churches are already engaging in similar conversations. Individual churches are talking about sexual temptation, sin, and moral failure – from the pulpit, in our small groups, at youth group. There’s no shortage of books, studies, or sermons on sex, sexual sin, and how to avoid it. Our problem isn’t that we’re not having the conversation – our problem is that we’re having the wrong conversation.

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Playing Potter

Photo by Ricardo Mancía on Unsplash

trapped behind these
one-way eyes
inside
the lies we wear like make-up
spread thick
slick
with a spackling knife
layer slapped
on layer

we play Potter
with counterfeit clay
covering lines and
carving new ones
making mud masks
that bury us alive
that harden
into barrel helms
heavy
on our heads

necks bent
beneath the weight
of myths we can’t remember
shoulders hunched
around our hearts
a blockade
gazes fixed
on fingers

we can’t even look each
other in the eye anymore

Would it matter if we did?

© Nichole Q. Perreault, July 2019

This poem was written in response to my poetry group’s July prompt “differences”. The first line popped into my head and inspired the rest of the poem. 

Rejection

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

It’s Rejection that kills me
pain so similar to grief,
it’s like dying,
like being stabbed in the place just between my shoulder blades,
like being punched in the stomach with a lead fist,
like having a hand shoved into my chest, fingers wrapped around my heart
…and squeeeeezed…
slowly at first, because Rejection likes to watch the pain creep up my neck, over my face, into my limbs, my fingertips, so that I can’t move.

Rejection likes to watch me die.

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He Held the Door

Written in response to  the Weekly Writing Challenge | Fifty:  …write a fifty-word story. Not five thousand, not five hundred, but precisely fifty words. Writing a word limited story was challenging –  I would much rather try to write a 50 word poem. But even so, the story below is true: 

Her grandparents waited in the car while she, 12, ran in to buy their tobacco. Times were different.

On her way out, he held the door.

“Thanks,” she smiled.

“You’re welcome,” he nodded.

She climbed into the backseat.

“That was your father,” grandma said. “He held the door for you.”

10 Facebook Statuses You’ll (Probably) Never Read & What it Means, if Anything

1. Look, I gained 20 lbs.!
Do I blame you for not advertising the new, softer, rounder you? Duh. Of course not. Take my profile pic, for example. It’s from a NYC wedding I attended over a year ago. I’m wearing contacts, make-up and a formal gown. It may be the best photo I’ve taken in 10 years. That’s the me I want people to see. I don’t want them to see 6:30am, gray-haired, bespectacled me. In my defense, it is called “Face”-book. Besides, I wouldn’t want to embarrass the kids. Yeah, that’s it. I’m doing it for the kids. Point is, maybe your boyfriend’s ex doesn’t look quite so fine as her FB page implies. I mean, you did see those celebrities on The Talk without make-up, didn’t you?

2. My husband forgot our anniversary. I don’t even know why we’re still married.
OK. So, I’m guilty of posting a brag on my man here and there. But for all the good things I post (which isn’t much because I’m not the gushy type), there’s at least an equal amount of crappy stuff that goes unposted. And, barring newlyweds and the ridiculously blissful, this is true for most of us. Because marriage is hard. Sometimes, it’s really hard. Not that I recommend posting all your couple troubles on Facebook…talk about a sure fire marriage-killer! But maybe next time you come across Sally’s post about her best-ever husband who makes her breakfast in bed every morning and serenades her with loves songs written just for her each night – maybe you’ll remember that even if her husband is perfect (which, trust me, he isn’t) the rest of us are slogging it out in the trenches of love, just like you.

3. We’re struggling financially and now our house is in foreclosure. #soblessed
I write this from a desk in suburban Connecticut, where UGG’s, a North Face fleece and an iPhone are practically requirements for middle school. Imagine what it would be like to endure foreclosure while rubbing elbows with lawyers and brokers at the winter choral concert. It was bad enough having to explain to my kindergartener’s friend how we get on without a garage. I’m so tired of feeling like our financial value mirrors our personal value. This is America, after all…you know, give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses…right?

4. See me and my boyfriend in this pic? Aren’t we the cutest? He gave me an STD and now I’m pregnant. He’s taking me to get an abortion tomorrow.
I know. I know. You’re in love. For real. Like totally. And it’s going to last forever. Yes, I know, for some of you that’s actually true and aren’t you cute? But for most of you, it’s fantasy. So when you see a pic of Ashley-Ann and her sweetheart Lance all snuggled up under the blankets “just watching a movie” remember that when she gets pregnant, catches herpes or gets her heart broken, chances are she won’t share a photo of that. In part, because those who once envied her will then judge her, when what she really needs is support. Lesson: Don’t set your relationship goals by what you see on social media.

5. I didn’t get the promotion I wanted and my boss says I suck.
No one wants to be told they don’t measure up. And sometimes we do measure up and still get passed over. Haven’t most of us been there at one point or another? Of course, no one is advertising their professional failures online, likely because they’re hoping to actually get another job. (And now that companies purchase social media records of applicants, this is probably a good plan.) However, rest assured, you are not alone. And you are more than your career.

6. My son was arrested for DUI. My other son is an A student plagued by perfectionism. And my daughter’s addicted to prescription drugs (which she stole from me).
Now this one’s tricky, because posting negative stuff about our kids online would just be bad parenting. And of course, we all love our kids. We think they’re adorable and funny and talented and loving and generous and compassionate. And they are! But they’re also challenging, demanding, selfish and struggling through this life like the rest of us. They aren’t trophies. We can’t use them as the measuring rods of success. Let’s not put that on ourselves. Let’s not put that on them. Don’t compare. Don’t compare. Don’t compare. Just do the best with what you have and trust God to fill in the rest.

7. The dog has fleas, the kids have lice and the house has bed bugs. #partyatourhouse
When it comes to honesty, some things are off limits. With cleanliness being what it is in America and not wanting to be treated like we’re under quarantine, we keep these little things to ourselves. (Which, in a literal sense, is perfectly fine.) But isn’t hiding exhausting?! If I can’t tell you my dog has fleas, are we really friends?

Photo by LiveLifeHappy

Photo by LiveLifeHappy

8. I prayed and God didn’t answer. I worshiped and felt lonelier. I read the Bible…nothing.
How easily we equate a “positive attitude” with being a “good Christian.” Failing to live in victory? Bad Christian. Are you complaining? 40 years in the desert for you. Haven’t heard from God? You must have an unrepentant heart. I, too, am tempted to think that if I’m struggling, I must be doing something wrong. But what if I’m struggling simply because I live in a fallen world? What if there is no explanation? Sometimes, life is just painful and confusing. Ask Job. Or read this book and see if it makes sense to you. Bible quotes are encouraging – seriously, they are – but I need spiritual transparency, too. How else can we travel this road together? And how else can we let others know that following Christ is more than putting on a happy face?

9. I spent the weekend doing homework, staring at the ceiling and wondering why I’m the only one not out having the best time ever. #imaloser
I can’t imagine living as a teenager today, feeling the need to prove my own self-worth with photographic evidence of a booming social life on Instagram, Twitter, FB or wherever. Just trying to find a hairstyle acceptable to the middle school powers-that-be was enough for me. (Especially after my Annie perm debacle.) But at least I didn’t have to worry about someone snapping a shot of my bad hair day and sending it into cyberspace for all eternity. Anyway, remember, no matter how old you are, much of life is ho-hum, looking a lot more like Lorde’s Royals video than My Super Sweet Sixteen. And that’s ok. Mountaintops are great for inspiration but life happens in the valley.

10. You don’t really know me and I hope you never do.
Really, this sums up all the others. In many ways, it sums up social media entirely.

I believe that deep down we all want to be known – truly known, understood, accepted and loved. At the same time, we spend most of our time hiding because we’re afraid that if we are truly known, we will be rejected. So we hide…behind our achievements, behind our looks, behind the personas we create for ourselves, behind the personas people create for us, behind our busyness, behind our defenses.

Social Media feeds this part of our human nature, enabling us to be known by many but only as the person we want others to see. We can live like mini-celebrities, presenting ourselves to the world however we wish while hiding all the ugly bits. The problem is everyone is doing this. And because we are so easily deceived, we begin to believe that the happy, shiny faces of our “friends” are real and constant. Then they, in turn, believe the same about us. Thus, we create this vicious cycle where we think we are relating to each other but instead we are isolating ourselves.

But that’s not what I want. Not really. And I don’t think it’s what you want either. The question is, will we settle for the superficial connections we make online or do we have the courage to seek genuine community and real relationships? It’s risky. Believe me, I know! Because there’s a part of me that hopes you never really know me. But there’s another part of me that desperately hopes you do.

So my advice to you is not that you give up Facebook or that you bare your soul online, but rather that you think about the time you spend there. Why are you on social media? What is it doing for you? Are you honest about who you are? Do you spend too much time comparing yourself and your family to others? How can you connect more honestly with others? I don’t know. Just a thought.

Written for the Weekly Writing Challenge, Dear Abby.

In the Mirror

The following post was written for the Weekly Writing Challenge of WordPress.com.

Every scar holds a memory.

When I was little, my mother used to wince at the sight of it. 42 stitches from my scalp to my eyebrow. There are others…smaller ones…including the one inside my upper lip. Sometimes, I still run my tongue up and down the jagged ridge that cuts from the edge of my lip to where the skin meets my gums.

The memory is my mother’s, not mine. An empty aquarium shattering over the hard skull of her 14 month old daughter. Blood. Deep red. Heavy.

Washing glass from her little one’s hair while she waited for the ambulance.

“No time!” the police officer shouts. “I’ll drive you in my car.”

My father screaming, blaming. The officer leaves him behind.

Doctors whisking her baby girl into surgery.

“Will she be okay?”

“We’ll have to wait and see.”

Wait and see…and be questioned by protective services. It’s the standard protocol, they tell her.

Wait with empty arms as her little girl sleeps a dreamless sleep in a cold, sterile room down the hall. Wait as they pick glass splinters from her baby’s soft skin, as they stitch the broken, delicate flesh together. Wait and see the new face. The face of a memory she can never forget.

A memory I can never remember.

In the mirror, I see the only face I’ve ever known. Scars from a memory I own but cannot find.

I don’t remember my father screaming or the officer leaving him behind. I don’t remember my father much at all. But he left a scar too. Sometimes I can feel it – running along the outside of my heart -the jagged edges I sewed together to close up the cavity he left when he left us behind. It’s not a pretty scar. I was only a child, not a surgeon. But I needed to stop the bleeding…to keep the life from spilling out of me…to stop the world from getting in.

Like the scars on my face, this heart-scar is a part of me. It’s the only heart I’ve ever known, shaped by so many memories: memories I love and memories I loathe, memories I can’t remember and memories I never made at all, but could have, had he stayed.

Scarred hearts beat funny sometimes. And they ache…for what was taken and what was never let in.

Looking in the mirror, I ask The Surgeon, “Will she be okay?”

He gently rests a hand – a hand carrying scars of his own – on my heart. Knowingly, his eyes smile into mine as he whispers, “We’ll have to wait and see.”

A Love We Cannot Fathom

The other morning as I was praying for a friend, these words just poured out onto the pages of my journal. About halfway through, I realized that this message is not just for one particular friend (though it is certainly for you, my dear) but for all of us. Happy Easter, my friends.

What if we just stripped away all the theology, all the questions, all the seeming inconsistencies of life … and just let Jesus love us?

What if we took a step back from our toil, set down our work and opened our hands. I would like to sit in a chair – perhaps a rocking chair – and rest my tired feet and aching muscles. And then, what if we just sat back with nothing left to do but receive His love?

No need to labor over this or that. Forget about if you’re doing a “good enough” job. Stop fretting over whether you said this right or thought that right. Just stop and let Him love you.

Because His love just is. There is nothing you can do to change it. You can’t increase His love or decrease His love. His love has no limits – past, present or future. His love is perfect, bottomless and complete. God’s love just is.

So what if instead of thinking about love, trying to figure it out, you just sit back, relax and open your heart?

You may say that you don’t get it – this love. You wonder, how can you receive His love when you can’t even fathom it? Here’s the thing: you will never truly be able to fathom the depths of His love because it’s His love… and He is God.

But you can experience His love. You can receive His love.

When you were a child, you didn’t understand or fathom your parents’ love. How could you? An infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager can’t know what it is to love with a parent’s love. They can’t even begin to understand such love.

Oh, but they receive it! Like a dry sponge, they soak in every ounce of love their parents will give them.

And so it is with God. We don’t have to understand His love….we just have to receive it.

He loves us. Whether we love Him or not. His love never changes, never runs out, never gives up. His love for us, for me, for you… just is.

And this love is more faithful, more powerful, more rich and deep and warm and consuming and freeing and nourishing and redeeming and forgiving and compassionate and nurturing and constant

Photo by natasha555

Photo by natasha555

and merciful and gracious and fierce and healing and completely free… than any love we’ve ever known.

His is a love we cannot fathom. But it is a love that is ours.

Let go of your toil. Let go of your work. Let go of your need to figure it all out. Let go of every last shred, every little thread, every tiny cord of control. Let go so that you can open your hands and receive.

Let go. Let go. Let go. And let Him love you. Let Him have you.

He waits. He waits at the gates of your heart for the moment you will turn the lock, pull back the heavy doors and let Him in.

He waits. He longs to give Himself to you. Receive Him. He is yours.

Lessons from Grandma

I haven’t posted anything in quite some time, but I have been writing! Today I want to share an excerpt from that writing. It is about my grandmother, the most influential woman in my life after my mother.  She passed away 3 years ago this August and I miss her as much as I did the first day she went away. This post is not only about her, but about me and just a few of the life lessons she taught me. I hope they speak to you and bless you as well.

Grandma. 5’ 10” with short, dark-blond hair (before it went white) which she set in curlers weekly for that June Cleaver kind of look. Not that my Grandma was much like June Cleaver. Gosh, I’d probably catch heck if she heard me comparing her to June Cleaver! Kim Novak…or Angela Landsbury…maybe she would like those comparisons better. After all, Grandma traded in skirts and dresses for elastic waisted, pocketless denim or polyester slacks long before I came along. And whenever she was at home, the only thing she wore on her feet were those toeless, backless, slide-on, terrycloth slippers. I guess she figured if clothes weren’t comfortable then they weren’t worth wearing.

I, along with my brother and mother, had the privilege of spending more than half my childhood living with my grandparents. While she didn’t work outside the home – and she cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed on a schedule you could set a watch to – my Grandma, Arlene was her name,  found no bliss in her domestic duties. Domesticity was her job. Period. She lived for the moments in between. Those filled with piano playing, crossword puzzles, game shows, family visits, apple pie with cheddar cheese, diet coke, Pall Mall non-filters, Murder She Wrote and Fred Astaire.

One afternoon, when I was about 10, I came home from school with an assignment. I plopped myself down on the floor in front of the chair where she sat.

“Grandma, I have to ask you a question for homework. If there was one thing you could have done differently in life, what would it be?”

“Oh, let me see,” she said, resting her elbows on her knees and rubbing her wrinkled hands together. She turned her blue-green eyes to the floor to think, then looked back up at me and said, “Well, I probably wouldn’t have had so many kids.”

I, the firstborn of her fourth and very last child, stared back, wide-eyed, slack-jawed.

“I think I would have stopped after the first one. Raising all those kids…ah.” She waved her hand as if brushing away all the chores of childrearing. “Then maybe I would have gotten a job or something.”

She said it so casually, so matter-of-factly. My mind reeled. My grandma – the most dependable, reliable, non-threatening person I knew, one whose love I never doubted and whose care I never lacked – just wiped my name from her book of life!  I imagined the consequences: my mother, my aunt Joanne, my uncle Gibby, my cousins and me…all gone. Uncle Thomas and his kids the only survivors. How easily she dismissed our familial line!

I took a breath and checked myself, searching for any internal hurt or anger. There was none. In fact, if I hadn’t been so shocked, I might have even laughed. Geez Gram, I thought, you can think those things if you want, but maybe you shouldn’t say them out loud…to your grandchildren!

But I found that I couldn’t hold it against her. Rather, my appreciation for her grew. She had hopes and dreams beyond motherhood and housewifery; she wanted more than us. I wondered what held her back. Was it falling in love with grandpa that caused her to settle down and have kids? Was it her limited education? Or just a lack of options for farm girls in the 1940’s? Whatever the case, she wanted something different and yet her dutiful, personal sacrifice betrayed none of those regrets.

My grandmother was the solid ground beneath my shifting sands of life. Borrowing from singer Sarah Evans, “she was steady as the sun.” Faithful. Predictable. Available. Consistent. She loved us all and would stand by us until the end. Of that I had no doubt. That day, I saw in her, perhaps for the first time, the incomparable value of a life sacrificed for others.

She was no saint. I’m pretty sure a woman who at times shared vocabulary with sailors can’t be canonized. And her insistence that “that Mary, she wasn’t no virgin” probably wouldn’t have won her any votes either. But she was ours and nothing, not even her own dreams, would change that.

At that moment, I made a point to tuck this little conversation away, knowing that someday, when I was old enough, its retelling would make us all roar with laughter.

I learned a few more things that day. I learned that while our choices matter, life is bigger than our choices. And that our regrets don’t have to define us. But perhaps, most importantly for me, an unplanned child, I learned that our plans might not always be the best plans.

How precarious was my entrance into this world! What if my parents never met? Never dated? What if they’d chosen to abort me? It was 1973 after all.

Or what if my grandma had stopped at just one child and went off to get a job instead?

Life is not only bigger than our choices; it’s bigger than me, bigger than all of us. That day, I stopped asking “What if?” and began to wonder “Why?”

Why was I here? Why was my mother here? My grandmother? Anyone?

I was Curious.