Landscape With a Blur of Conquerors by Richard Siken

“To have a thought, there must be an object—
the field is empty, sloshed with gold, a hayfield thick
with sunshine. There must be an object so land
a man there, solid on his feet, on solid ground, in
a field fully flooded, enough light to see him clearly,

the light on his skin and bouncing off his skin.
He’s easy to desire since there’s not much to him,
vague and smeary in his ochers, in his umbers,
burning in the open field. Forget about his insides,
his plumbing and his furnaces, put a thing in his hand

and be done with it. No one wants to know what’s
in his head. It should be enough. To make something
beautiful should be enough. It isn’t. It should be.
The smear of his head—I paint it out, I paint it in
again. I ask it what it wants. I want to be a cornerstone,

says the head. Let’s kill something. Land a man in a
landscape and he’ll try to conquer it. Make him
handsome and you’re a fascist, make him ugly and
you’re saying nothing new. The conqueror suits up
and takes the field, his horse already painted in

beneath him. What do you do with a man like that?
While you are deciding, more men ride in. The hand
sings weapon. The mind says tool. The body swerves
in the service of the mind, which is evidence of
the mind but not actual proof. More conquerors.

They swarm the field and their painted flags unfurl.
Crown yourself with leaves and stake your claim
before something smears up the paint. I turned away
from darkness to see daylight, to see what would
happen. What happened? What does a man want?

Power. The men spread, the thought extends. I paint
them out, I paint them in again. A blur of forces.
Why take more than we need? Because we can.
Deep footprint, it leaves a hole. You’d break your
heart to make it bigger, so why not crack your skull

when the mind swells. A thought bigger than your
own head. Try it. Seriously. Cover more ground.
I thought of myself as a city and I licked my lips.
I thought of myself as a nation and I wrung my hands,
I put a thing in your hand. Will you defend yourself?

From me, I mean. Let’s kill something. The mind
moves forward, the paint layers up: glop glop and
shellac. I shovel the color into our faces, I shovel our
faces into our faces. They look like me. I move them
around. I prefer to blame others, it’s easier. King me.”

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Lexapro and me.

Someone once told me that I was incredibly selfish for not taking God’s creation as enough for me to be happy. That, to be a good person, I had to be joyful all the time every day and the fact that I wasn’t just proved how ignorant and lost I was.

Another person told me that I “didn’t need” medication, that the drugs were a waste of time and bad for me. They assumed I could make it since they had gotten through life just fine without – they’d even been to counseling!

I’ve heard all these and more. That my life isn’t hard enough to merit medication – what have I gone through, really? Blank stares, awkward silences, whatever stereotype they’ve heard or the name of someone they know on meds for depression/anxiety – something SERIOUS, unlike my situation.

The truth is, I am incredibly weak. I can’t handle a single day without feeling like my heart is being crushed by my ribs, I can’t force myself to smile, and I am convinced that I am the single most pathetic and useless person on this planet – that the world would be better off without me. There are times when, out of the blue, fear washes over me to the point where I am physically paralyzed. It is beyond my control, and that makes it all the more terrifying.

I know, your life is not like this. You are stronger than I.

I would do anything to stop these feelings – everything that convinces me that I am worthless, and will never be able to overcome it. It’s like drowning in shadows and darkness, suffocating sorrow not directed from any specific source but overwhelming nonetheless. So yes, I am ashamed of Lexapro and my dependence on it. I wish I didn’t have to take it. I feel unbelievably pathetic for doing so, but not as pathetic as I feel without it.

There are some people who are like glowing pure light in my little dark world and being with them chases every evil away – I will do anything to be as close as I can to them to keep the dark running so I can finally sleep….

All I ask is you not run away from my struggles and stand by my side so that I may have the strength to fight on.

Reflections on Henry James

I can’t lie, I wasn’t intending to finish the assignment – reading Henry James’ novella Daisy Miller. After this long semester of pages and pages of readings, I was fairly worn out. However, in this case, the subject matter truly struck home, and I was captivated till the last sentence.

The story opens with a young English man, Winterbourne, as he meets an American girl, Daisy, in the city of Geneva. He is immediately taken with her, and she convinces him to meet her in Rome. Throughout their interaction in the book, there is this constant question – is she innocent and naive or manipulative and dangerous?

The cultural difference was key, in my mind. By the end I realized how I am both Daisy and Winterbourne – casually going about in foreign places with little idea of what is appropriate and simultaneously evaluating the actions of others based on my own experience.

quiet afternoon

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Depression is really, really, unbelievably difficult sometimes. Especially as a student, when you’re away from family, you’re plugged into the same old schedule constantly and the piles of work are crushing you.

I had a rough week. But probably everyone had a rough week. That doesn’t make me that special or anything. I just wanted to publicly make a note that I am out of the slump yet again. I have no doubt that it’ll be back, but I crawled out of my own self-loathing and fear and am now happily enjoying a quiet Saturday with paints and Johnny Cash.

The really cool thing about depression, in my experience, is when I’m doing well I become so blissfully thankful for it that the good compounds upon itself and I am radiant. So for those days I fight, I strive forwards towards something “better”, an ultimate state of appreciation and love or whatever waits ahead.

People keep telling me to take joy in the little things. What else is there to take joy in? The big things are scary, unfathomable and far away. So yes, I am happy with these little things. My head is down, my hands are folded, and maybe something beautiful will come of all this. Not today, but someday. I am resigned to hope.

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to my future kids.

There are a few things that I want my children to understand.

Now, I don’t have any children of my own. I don’t have any plans to have any in the foreseeable future. But kids have always been a significant part of my life, and I believe that one day I will have a house that is full of loud, crazy people and pets, since I have always gravitated towards such chaos. I really really want to raise children to love things that I have come to love – not force their interest or anything, just sometimes I get really excited when I think about the possibility that one day I could share these amazing pieces of my life with them.

I want these kids to understand why swimming in the river out back of Natedewai village is amazing. The river is not always there, since it’s dependent on the seasonal rainfall, but when it is it is full of mudfishes and bugs and sand. Swimming in it this past summer was unbelievable. Floating along in the current clinging to a capped jerrycan, with eddies of latte-coloured water twisting about my limbs, the thought struck me in an almost desperate way, as thoughts sometimes do when I’m afraid I’ll forget the meaning behind them: My children need to understand this.

I want my children to understand the feeling of free air, open windows, and why riding in the back of the pickup or motorcycle is the best place to be. In the western world, climate control always has freaked me out. You move from bubble to bubble, where everything is perfectly adjusted and culture whispers that you are the center of the universe. At home, my favourite place to be was always in the way back of the pickup, with my hands to the sun and my hair being thrashed about my face in the breeze – NOT perfectly straightened and sculpted to look a certain way, free to just be. They have a saying in Uganda: “be free”. Not just “feel free”, the way Americans say, BE free. That really makes me happy, for I think it says a lot about the place. I want my kids to be free within and without, to understand the love of warm and cold weather, and to value the untamed in nature and in themselves.

I want to teach my children the love of music. Not in an academic, theoretical way, necessarily, just the warm comfort that I now feel when I listen to my “parent’s music”. Now, it’s not the typical mom-and-dad kind of music. No cheesy love ballads or awkward annoying pop songs. Rich traditional Irish music that never ever ever grows old, that I listen to when I’m feeling sad. My parents taught me a real love for that music – even though I don’t understand it completely, I absolutely love listening to the dusky voices of Dick Gaughan and Paul Brady, the violins of Altan and Kevin Burke, and so on. There are some things that should never grow old, and this is one of them. Irish music is just a tiny facet of the world of art they introduced me to in a way that encouraged me to explore it for myself, though I am a paltry musician at best. I want my children to understand a love for the artistic creations of humankind – not in a fluffy pop sense, but a real deep love that will never leave them even if I do someday.

I want to love my children with the love of God. I want them to understand that love and be filled with it. I wish with all my heart that I could meet them now and just hang out and talk about life, but that’s not how the system works, so I will love them all the way from the beginning of our relationship to the end. I will pour the spirit over them in every way I can and work ceaselessly to build for them a foundation of family love that is rooted in the Lord first and foremost. For nothing is more important to me than this.

I cannot wait to meet them.

falling too fast.

I swore off clothing stores this year. For I know I deserve to be dead, and the least I can do is practice being responsible with money by reconsidering what it is that makes me feel pretty or want to get up in the morning.

Another step: I am desperate, truly desperate, to add an exclamation point to my life, bringing my heart and mind to ultimate heights of love and understanding of The Lord’s purpose in my life, so I will also not eat for a while.

I am emptying myself of all but my baptism. I only know that I am deep in sin and frustration, desperate for guidance – not art, not music, not any major decision can save me. I must stop living with this darkness, chase it free with true focus that will be brought with this fast.

In the Lord’s time, I will that I live another day. I read nothing but your Word, I am desperate. I listen to naught but songs to you, I am dying. I eat nothing, drinking only water, I must have your peace and joy.

I must sound insanely crazed. Know that I am truly serious about this. My spiritual walk has weakened, I found myself sitting by the wayside rather than running. So onwards I sprint, carried by prayer and dedication. I know I am more than this and I must be more than this.

grading curve

Part I: Sunday

It is my first day back home. I have risen slowly, taking my time to wake in my own room, in my own yard. Your cries startle, bring my eyelids open, so I shuffle out of my round, thatched-roof room to meet you.

Sunday. Sunday boy, your mother calls you. She waves a sudsy hand up at me – “Good morning!” and plunges it back into the wash basin with our slough of grimy, travel-stained clothes. My tired glance finds you, a little bundle perched on our lawn in the shade, a pile of material around your little legs. Your perfect spherical eyes are glazed over, gazing up at my glowing visage as I tousle my hair out of my eyes to see you more clearly. Sunday boy, your skin is perfect chocolate and you are so cute.

In my dazed half-awake state, I realise that lifting you in my arms is better left for later. I have two months to hold you, I think to myself, smiling in security. I am not leaving for a while. We have weeks to get to know each other. I tear my eyes from yours – brown on brown – and walk towards my morning coffee.

Part II: Monday

I am working on my final paper for the semester, on the night it is due. I am revising my thesis with a friend after a warm meal with guests. A mug of tea is in my right hand and I am glowing with the knowledge of finality, the end of a day and a semester.

My mother gasps, startling us. The next few moments blur by, the question WHY resounds in my bones. They did all they could. It was sudden, unexpected. No one saw it coming; he was so healthy. This is the second child they have lost this year.

The paper, my world of the past few days, lies forgotten before me as the computer screen blends into a single white glow in front of my eyes. My hands shake, and I cannot force myself to care about theories of modernity when I never held him. I never picked up Sunday boy. He is gone and I never held him.

Somewhere, his mother is wailing in the night; I am pressing send on a half-finished paper and we are all crying out to God in the dark to spare us this heartache that has been cut out of us so quickly.

Part III: Tuesday

It is one of my last days in Uganda, and I am waiting, watching in the corner of the back room of the clinic. The doctor is beside me, giving instructions in a loud and firm voice. Our white gloves are sticky with blood and fluids as a woman I have never seen before in my life swears violently on the table before us, clutching her knees as her abdomen heaves.

I will spare you the details, but the first thing we see is his hair. Tight curls, damp against his scalp. Quickly, suddenly, his face squirms out into the world. His cries light up my heart. He is healthy, beating the air with tiny fists.

All sorts of things that I don’t understand are happening around us. Clamps, towels, scissors, and you wailing, little new boy. Welcome.

You are weighed and wrapped, little one. Your reflexes are perfect. You are placed with gloved hands by your mother’s side, where she embraces and nourishes you. Not my hands – I never held you.

Tiny, unnamed boy. Culture says you will remain nameless until it seems you are here to stay.

Stay, child, until I can return to hold you.

breaking

My hair is brown, my eyes are brown, and my skin stays papery-pale, thin enough for word pencils to break right through every time I get an idea of who you think I am.

I love you more than my own blood sometimes, I am willing to let it flow out over this scrap paper, sticking with dirt and thorns, clotting over my thin wispy hair, weak.

Because of you I got horribly lost, lost in the stereotype of the dumb white girl who could get lied to over and over again and give and give herself away before realizing that she was stuck and trapped and loved you way too much to let go of what we had.

Friendship? What does that even mean? Is it clinging to the IV of your baby while we fly over the dusty roads in the back of the car, praying, splattered in someone else’s blood,  holding puddles of vomit in my lap while your wrinkled skin grows weaker and paler, carrying your family’s food for kilometers with your hand in mine? Is it sitting together on the dark damp floor of a hut, passing around the pitcher until our vision gets blurred, words slurred, the sun dropping into our gaping mouths over ages of confusion?

Because that’s what we had.

And what is now? What is this, what I’m doing? Scribbling down endless facts, shoving words into my ears and mouth until they bleed, overflowing with things that I think I might understand. If you could see me you would laugh and peel off all these layers I’m trying to keep myself warm with, slinging your arm around my shoulders, holding my hand and never once worrying about it being awkward. You would help me re-start the fire in the burn pit in the backyard, tossing in all the assignments and ideas and stress and orders and arguments, saying, “It is nothing.”

Whatever the outcome, we’ll have a little bit of time to clean me up before I crash back out again. I hope this time you’ll remember me and we’ll be able to scribble a little something short-hand in another one of our whirlwind, photo-snap relationships, where I don’t worry about being awkward or uncomfortable and just lean on your ribs and sleep.

I am on my way home to sunlight, to burn away these snowflakes caught in my brain and heart, freezing muscle, tensing and curling up in fear – those will fall away in the equatorial sun in water from my skin, perspiring toxin from my blood. I will sing my heart out into the wind, filling my lungs and exhaling all the cold into the breezes. I will stand and dance, fill my arms with family and friends, tangling fingers without worry, pour love into ears and eyes until they overflow in tongues. I will raise my arms to heaven and cry out in thanks for all of you.

And we will laugh at everything.