Smaller (Spoken)

I wore size ten shoes in 4th grade.
Guess my path would never be adorned with sparkles or rainbows.
because department stores,
they don’t carry the pretty shoes in the big girl sizes.
And no, eager salesgirl with the saccharin smile and teacup feet,
I do not want to try on those sneakers in a Men’s 8.
I think out of spite, she mailed a Big & Tall shoe catalog to my house.
I just wanted to be smaller.

At recess, I was always the piggy back ride giver, the swing pusher, the pyramid base.
Never the rider, never the swinger, and certainly never the top.
Between hopscotch and monkey bars,
girls whose weight watcher mothers
taught them the calories in a Rice Krispie treat
but not a single ounce of sensitivity
they would ask,
“Hey Koren, what do you weigh?”
“I’m big boned” I’d say apologetically
with a hint of Hostess cupcake eating shame.
A failure for hitting triple digits before middle school.
A failure for wearing my thick-strapped grandma bra digging rivets into my shoulders.
A failure for thighs that rubbed together long before anyone had named the aspirational “thigh gap.”
Swathed in my insecurity blanket,
I was a woman hiding among girls.
I just wanted to be smaller.

High school gym class,
Darwin’s playground of the haves and have-nots.
Them, a blurred movie montage of countless cartwheels in perfectly fitted gym shorts.
Me, not.
Me, the rotten apple of my gym teacher’s disapproving eye.
eluded by a single pushup and the shiny bell at the top of the rope.
Years of believing I just wasn’t trying hard enough
And begging to be smaller.

If I were just smaller,
short boys wouldn’t be intimidated by my height, just my GPA.
And those football players in the pep rally wouldn’t have called me “gorilla” (true story),
the kill shot to my fragile teen confidence.
If I had smaller hands, grandma’s pearl ring might fit on a finger other than my pinkie
A smaller nose and Dad might actually tell me I’m beautiful.
A smaller butt and maybe my first husband would have loved me enough for ME to be enough.

But like an adolescent celestial star,
collapsing inward
before exploding into light
I tired of shrinking,
I gave up diminishing,
and stopped sucking in my worth.

Accepting I will always be big boned with big feet, big thighs, big teeth, and a big nose.
Realizing those feet, while still a bitch to find cute shoes,
they carry me on my runs
and to all the births and weddings, sunsets and sunrises of my life.
Feeling, my big thighs, lift heavy weight as well as my burdens,
Seeing, my big nose and big teeth, are beautiful in my daughter’s reflection.

These days, the only things I want to be smaller are
my insecurities, my impatience and most of all my intolerance.
The big things that matter, they aren’t body parts,
they’re BIG ideas driven by BIG commitment and BIG passion.
I strive daily for a bigger heart, bigger understanding, bigger love.
And a big, BIG life.

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Thoughts on going to the movies

I saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High with my mom.
Yes, with my mom.
I was 10, she was progressive.
Sharing popcorn with real butter and a box of snowcaps.
Only scared by her reaction when I asked what a “prick” was
and the moment I realized that I’d never look like Phoebe Cates.

Hundreds of movies and memories later…
Dune where a boy squeezed my knee and I freaked out, leaving the theater and a very confused boy sitting in the back row.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in Santa Barbara’s Mission theater, with blood red velvet curtains and balcony seating.
Forrest Gump, a first date with my ex-husband and his best friend, their liquor bottle rolling down the aisle during Jenny’s death scene —(yes, should have been a red flag).
Titanic tears that flowed in the theater and for days after.
Eat Pray Love full of life and fashion lessons; wearing aviators ever since and wishing I could eat pizza with Julia Roberts’ sense of abandon.
And The Dark Knight Rises, a movie I have never seen, nor care to, but the movie that changed how I see movies.

Opening night, a crazed man with orange hair
fires 76 shots into the packed theater.
12 babies, brothers, sisters, mothers, friends gone.
Another seventy injured,
living a wounded legacy.
Quadriplegic. Miscarriages. Brain damage. Feeding tubes.

My sacrifice – naivety.
My burden – mental vigilance as I check exits
and envision shielding my daughter with my body,
crawling across the popcorn crusted floor.
An American pastime changed forever,
along with the artificial popcorn “butter” flavoring.

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Summer of…

This is the summer of my voice.

Of finding new ways to bite my tongue on social media.
Failing miserably at ignoring my Father’s pro-Trump Facebook posts
and inflammatory, snipey emails.

Of standing up for what I believe in and knowing when to back down.
Of mourning and saying “enough.”

Of reading,
but not writing, at least not as much as I’d like.
Of juggling responsibilities and priorities.

Of appreciating warm mornings, no coat required.
Walks with the pups, on our path, on the beach, in new towns.

Of those damn enormous cicada killer wasps,
that burrow into our yard
leaving piles of dirt polka-dotting the grass.

Of soaking in the sun on foot or on bike.

Of wondering whether it is time to jump ship
Or stay the course and wait until the water hits my chin.

Of gentle parenting, steering grown children back on course.
Of watching my daughter become a woman,
seeing her discover her strengths and the joy in her own voice.

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Tree Grief

I miss you Tree,

canopy of luscious leaves

fingers tickling the clouds.

Kin concealing

manmade structures on the horizon.

Countless creature homes

lay in piles like bodies.

Heaps of kindling

bequeath openness

that chokes me

with grief for a tree.

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The Seal

I wrote this poem back in 1992 when I was living in Newport Beach attending Irvine Community College. It was my first real attempt at poetry.

The receding tide knew
before I did
and it left him alone,
out of place.

Just a sigh
or a blink
would quiet my fears.
But the gnats on his hollow onyx eyes
and the single tear of blood
from his nostril
confirm it —
death has already stroked
his shiny, sand-crusted coat.

At peace now,
except in my mind
where I wish the waves
had stolen him back,
before my morning walk.

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The Swing

Has it really been four years
since I called you,
from this very swing
to tell you we’d arrived safely?
A lingering habit
from years of traveling
to visit Dad
without you.
The metal chain creaking
as we chatted back and forth.
Looking out at the same dichotomous mix of
sand, pine trees
and brightly hued tropical flowers,
warm humid air whispering welcome.
Was a cardinal perched on the far branch
that day as there is today?
Now I just sit and swing,
trying to remember your voice.

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Dear Me – Spoken Word

I read “Dear Me” at the 2015 UUCS Jazz Poetry Slam on Saturday. Being a slam poem virgin, I was pretty happy with 3rd place. Performing was fun; think I’ll keep working on this form. In hindsight, my piece was a little long.

Had a few requests for the written version, so adding that below the video.


Dear Me
To my three-year-old self,
Mom and Dad’s divorce is not the end,
more of a starting line, drawn thick and defining, 
the beginning of your latchkey life. 
No idea why
they chose to live 2,384 miles apart,
frequent flyer by five,
collecting little plastic wings. 
Even with Grandma’s goody bags 
stuffed full of Uno cards and m&ms,
layovers will be torture 
to your tiny, young mind
whose concept of time 
doesn’t understand why 
Dad couldn’t drive 
the 90 minutes to LAX, but makes you wait
four long hours for a connection. 
Don’t take it personally when big sissy lashes out at you 
so afraid of being replaced by Dad’s new family. 
Just make her laugh, like only you can. 
Don’t worry sissy, 
he’ll treat them like shit someday too. 
At the airport,
Mom will sob, big uncontrollable “will they ever come back?” tears.
She worries you’ll forget about her
and the modest life she provides by nursing nights.
She can’t afford the Mercedes Benz or the avocado trees
or shopping sprees for izod tees.
She can only afford to plant seeds whose roots will grow deep,
in quiet safe, Rochester, Michigan.
Your hometown.

To my twelve-year old self,
welcome to womanhood.
Remember this time
because someday you’ll be a mother 
and your baby girl will be twelve 
and she’ll be talking about tampons and boys
and this girl said that and that girl did this
and you’ll need to remember what it was like. 
Being tall will be a good thing, eventually,
I know it doesn’t help now as you tower like an oak
over boys who have yet to sprout.
Wash your face more, wear sunscreen always.
And don’t be afraid to shine that big brain like the sun,
schooling everyone else in the room. 
Feel the midwestern breeze
as you ride that yellow Schwin banana seat bike, no handed,
to the Dairy Queen 
and the park to feed the swarms of pigeons.
Do NOT cut your hair
into that Dorothy Hamill cropped cut
that looks so cute on her,
but not so much on you.  
By the way,
I know you are worried about a lot,
But just remember
boys are stupid
and you aren’t fat.

To my nineteen-year-old self,
Way to go,
Venturing outside the womb,
moving to the palm tree lined superficial streets
of Newport Beach, California.
Yes, you hurt your mother
in the process of leaving,
an open wound she will hold onto for years, so beware. 
But to grow, sometimes you must break
from chains and obligations and guilt
to become who you need to be. 
Follow the urge to enlist to learn Chinese
just read the damn fine print
so you get that signing bonus AND the GI Bill.
Learn Army discipline
and the many benefits of getting up before the sun.
That man-child you meet, he may seem like a good idea, 
just trust your instincts,
that you know the truth
beyond a shadow of a his lying eyes.
He will be the father of your baby
and for that one thing alone you can be thankful.
Travel beyond your four walls,
discover your strengths, and see how you fit
into this enormously small world,
so when it shatters, you are ready. 
He is stupid and you are not fat.

To my thirty-year-old self,
years of struggles, 
and sharp needles in the ass 
filled with toxic hormones plumping your ovaries to produce 
when they weren’t quite ready. 
She is here now and
you’re better, richer, vulnerable, worried. 
She is worth every stretch mark and moment of lost sleep, 
of which you won’t have many, 
because she is an angel baby, 
an old soul with furry ears
and big feet. 
He is beyond stupid and you might be a little fat, 
but hey, you earned it with nine months of 
Taco Bell chicken soft tacos, 
building that beautiful, precious life. 

To my thirty-two year old self,
welcome to the big top,
an upside-down circus of newness.
Your divorce is not the end,
more of a starting line, 
drawn thick and defining the rest of your 
empowered, I am woman, hear me loud and clear life. 
Goodbye feeling like you aren’t enough (SASS)
and that you are the crazy one, 
driven to checking phones and reading his emails. 
Day jobs come and go so
feed the writer’s fire in your belly,
what makes you you,
a specularly unique bird of paradise in a world of carnations.
You’ll meet a man who isn’t stupid, not at all, just afflicted with demons. 
Support him and love him 
and that love will come back to you 
like a boomerang of warmth 
washing over you
making you a better woman.
You aren’t fat.
You might even be a little too skinny now, 
as if you thought that was ever possible. 
Your breastbone is poking out like an old timey washboard. 
Eat more chocolate, drink wine and enjoy life,
because that proverbial bus is particularly unpredictable.

To my 39-year old self
hold tight to that crossbar over your lap.
You’re about to climb a hill no one wants to climb.
Mom’s diagnosis, 
shitty prognosis,
quickly fading,
health degrading,
life wound down 
in hospital gowns,
hair in the brush
and then…hush,
little baby, Momma can’t buy you nothing now. 

No one to call
when all you want
is to feel that someone stands between you
and the ugly, barbaric parts of the world.
What you’d give for a brief taste of sympathy
or a single drop of her unwarranted advice.
Well, steel that backbone dear one
for the time has come to lead your herd, matriarch.
That searing edge of grief will
dull to a pulsing daily ache, 
permanently inked, 
tucked away,
part of you now, 
just as you were once a part of her.
It doesn’t matter if you’re fat 
when you’re dead. 

To my 42-year old self 
Just like Stella, found your groove,  
finally knowing that confident plus discipline
equals not a number on the scale 
but whatever the fuck you want it to mean.
Bottle up that feeling and hold it tight, 
like Gollum with his precious 
because a day is coming when 
that skin at the corner of your eyes will show creases 
like that cracked African earth you just traveled on. 
When it happens, don’t fight it. 
Don’t be that suburban, angry Ashburn mom 
who tries too hard and eats too little. 
Her drawn face lacking any hint of a smile. 
And try not to think about all those seconds, minutes, hours, days
wasted worrying about whether you were fat. 
Time gone, floating by
like dandelion seeds
on the summer wind.

To my future self,
if you are lucky,
someday you will write to your 49, 53, 61-year old selves.
When you hit 67 you’ll have outlived your mother.
And if you’re really lucky, you’ll hit triple digits and 
double digits will be only a memory. 
But none of that is guaranteed, 
only today, only now. 
So keep trudging on that winding path of reinvention.
Be a teacher.
Be a poet.
Be a mentor.
Share your truths and 
write your book.
And love. 
Love even when it is hard. 
Love your kids and your kids’ kids, 
Even when they step in shit time and time and time again.
Love the man who is sometimes stupid 
but adores you and will hold your old, 
withered, veiny, not-so-delicate hand in his.
And love you,
Even, and especially, when you think you’re fat.

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