Before I Speak

SheSpeaks, One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine – Lael Couper Jepson
It's my turn to take the mic
Not as a character
Not the representative you know, but as
The brave voice of who I am

Dwelling deep where my story lives

I don't like to feel
What's difficult
This standing here on stage before you
Is the beginning of being

Willing to feel
The doubt, anger, fear
To grow into the person I wish to

Taking a stand for myself

Beyond the fear of fear,
The anger of anger,
The doubt of being in doubt
Is the joy of being joyful,
The confidence of being confident
And the truth of truth

It is my turn
To be the voice

The same woman

My daughter & me
When I am 91
Waking up in my bed on wide white sheets
Vanishing into the open question
At the end of my life
I am still a young woman

No baby suckles my breasts
No tiny hand in mine
Brings me to the window
To hear the birds

Yet I am the same woman
Who wrote this poem
Long ago
From the foundering depths of
New motherhood

I am also the baby girl
At the beginning of my life
Held by my mother
To her breast
Giving me her milk

For the work of her career
From the depths of motherhood to be
Doing important things
Her real life

This I absorbed this into my cells
Keeping me
For a long time
From the things I loved
Especially myself

As I nursed my baby this morning
On the wide white sheets
I prayed
For love to guide me

Thanking God for the grace
To leave aside my work
For a while
For the important things
My real life

Even as she sings the alphabet
In the next room
And stammers along the floor
To find me

My baby is the grown woman
Who will bring to me at 91
Her motherhood, her children
Her children's children
And I will remember myself


It is an act of self contempt
That I pull white hairs from my head

Leaning into the mirror
Scanning for the inaccuracies
In what I wish to be
My youthful appearance

This is not just a denial of the truth of my age
But a metaphor for my existence

These unruly sprouts
Arrived at this late hour to
Express the essential inobedience
That has defined me all my life

Is it any wonder
The child who learned to pluck from me
What was weird
When weirdness was wrongness

Has come to be
The Grim Reaper?
One by one
The zany kinks
In brilliant white
Who boldly stand apart from my crown
Immodest in their announcement   

There is a slaughter going on
Though fruitless against
The merry revenge of
The Hydra of age, as
Three more sprout
For each brilliant spring that is lovelessly snatched

When will I grow up
To love
The ageless rebellion in me
That wills itself
To live
Against all odds?

The Choice

Image taken from
There is only one answer 
I want to hear 
When I ask each day
To myself
Can I drink ever again? 

Part of me believes 
I have a choice
Can you believe
That I can't believe 
"I'm an alcoholic"

I know
Wine is my drug
I must remember
It is the great lie that 
Addiction comes looking the way I think

Not what you've read 
Drunk, poor luck, addict, abuser
Not you and definitely not me
We are quiet drinkers 
The fun never stops

Yes I am one of the secret collection
Built this way
Having the same glass of wine again and again
Who in the mirror
Cannot meet my own eye

I have this image in my head
Of a future scene
That almost didn’t happen
It is my daughter

My age now and I am much older
She sees me
At dinner
Not drinking

As she always has
Nothing different
Nothing remarkable
But what she does not know is

There is another reality
A different future
That never happened
But was once inevitable

In which she sees me at dinner
Enjoying wine
As I always have
Nothing remarkable, nothing different

Except this time, she wonders if I 
Have a problem
This sucking question 
Will possess her every drink at her own dinner table:
Will my daughter inherit this from me?

It will be her choice
Just as it is mine
Beginning today
As it always does
And always will

My daughter will lack this question
Free from the parasite that didn't take
Seeing herself as she is
Looking herself in the eye
Never knowing another way

God Washes Away the Devil

I used to I used to 
I used to know
Who I am

Doesn't the devil do his work?
Under disguise
Pain is dependence

Go In
In in in, friend
Down down down
Light call it 

Relax soft
In call in the light 
Down down down
Let it fill tendency
Pain is the opening
Of God

You are right 
This is who you are
God washes away the devil


How different we are 
If different is the word 
For your dirty feet 
Nestled sweetly together 
Two tired pigeons
The sun bakes the heat into the pavement like a griddle
Searing any skin it touches
Not fit for a human 
To walk here

Under this overpass
By the concrete park 
You are grey dust 
Grey shirt grey mess hair
In a haze of busy avenue shadows

If it's the great eternal sleep you seek
No one knows when it will come

My baby and I
Unnoticed in our walk's chirping and song 
Toward the bright books of the library
        Where the AC’s on
        Where babies babble and play
        With puppets and toys

You’re asleep 
I hope not dead 

Has no one has looked you in the eye 
To tell you the green trees 
Against the blazing sky?
Have you seen the purple sunset?

Perhaps there is a place in the city 
To walk
Where you can hug the shadows 
As the sun dips

All day
The desert cooks the colors
Lifting from the traffic and cactus 
Bruised light into the sky

A watercolor of grey-purple grey-pink
You wouldn't think such moist life would survive this heat

You just have to look up
To know you're alive
Did you know
That’s what we’re famous for?


Compassion doesn’t make appointments

Why did I cry during the teleconference?
I opened my mouth and
The tears would come

As you spoke about the death of your father
I see myself on the screen in
What listening looks like:
Shiny desperation mixed with refusal

I have a primordial itch
The deep "next"
Reaching out and away from myself
To anything else

This is not suffering

"It's good, basically good. That's my life: the simple things"
The waves of pain wash you
As you tread gracefully
Accepting the world as it is

On my turn to talk
Having been touched
I can feel myself again
Your pain is all pain

My heart, speaking for me, is
Red-faced and her voice wobbly with emotion
I am a contortion of grace
That will not be silenced

Remembering to return to
The bed of fear
(Free-falling as it does)
I do not hold on

This is surrender

Under the Black Moon

Mercury / black moon

Little cat gripping the walls of the tub
Start over and trust that I can

I wasn't old enough to even buy
Sought out trouble
The black sickness

Crouched over the hypnotic whirr of the ceramic wheel
My hands lost
in the curative water of clay slip
The clay demands perfect balance
or else warps off center

I allow perfection to emerge
from me
Until the darkness leaves once and for all