Constant Algebra

Anxiety has been a constant algebra I’ve had to practice

solving while out in the variable of public life

since I realized I was an introvert’s poet.

Just this morning while standing in line at the local Co-op

I imagined a work colleague by the melons,

and her looking at me as though I’d walked in on her

changing her opposites.

In the diorama in aisle two in my head, I asked her

how she was doing,

but the way I saw her looking at me

without saying anything seemed to say

I was more interested in acknowledging I was in fact

thinking about the self, which of course I was, being me.

I’m reminded of my troubled mother who

used to look at me silently,

each time I looked at her without saying anything,

a kind of mirroring which usually ended with me

getting chased and beaten across the butt with a belt

until I could prove I was able to refrain from trying

to solve the irrational formula for toxicity she reflected.

Navigating neglect and abuse in one’s inner life

is quite a dilemma, as it turns out,

because even after you’ve forgiven everybody and stopped

punishing yourself for their disease and hurting you,

the family war continues, just within.

Right now, the son in me is telling himself that

the overly punishing mother I’m paralleling

with my consciousness

is the root cause of both my fear and my vital energy source

from which my desire to write poetry swells,

and that this complex emotion is actually a wish

to distribute myself back into my mother’s life

after thirty-five years of complete separation

from that equation.

But the poet in me knows that regardless of the math

my imagining takes,

it’s all curried chicken from the hot deli of uncertainty,

that it’s all a kind of unknown quantity of leaning back

with a popcorn with extra butter and endless refills of soda,

and watching the me show, eyes glued to the screen,

for fear if I blink or look away, I might miss a part of myself

I’ll need to be there for me after I’m done

giving myself all the credit. That’s the formula anyway.