Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Fish Pearls

Let's stick to just the facts.
When the birch logs refused to light,
paper-white bark lifting in flecks toward the sky,

that's when you disappeared.
Not vanished, mind you, but in mind, and I could see
through the trees (dripping rainwater from

branch to silhouette branch)
one long arm outstretched, not toward me.
And I could see that you could still

see me. Let's stick as justly
as the emerald-green moss clings to stumps.
To the facts: where the river undercuts

its own banks, there are footpaths,
and upon those are people,
and someday the people will cling to drifting logs.

I would say, if interrogated, that this disappearance
was not sudden; limb by limb,
you faded-spine a bulwark, shoulders a scale.

Just, let's stick to the facts:
some of those people own cabins of split log.
When the river cuts into

its own banks (braids itself in like snakes
through the hair)
the elderly couple clinging to their home

will drift with split logs
into the new main channel, where the gray
water is the color of a salmon's split belly, of the skin

peeling back from the salmon's bare skull,
eye sockets housing what we called,
as children, fish pearls, 

tiny white calcified flecks
scattered in sand, that we knew for a fact
were precious
beyond measure.                                                         

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Iceberg, or the Ship?

"We'd rather the iceberg than the ship, though it meant the end of travel,"
-Derick W. Burleson

I've been thinking a lot, especially recently, about fear,
and what the modern concept of "ownership" means to us, when we're afraid.
I've been thinking about the dialogue between people, and how it becomes less a dialogue, and more a debate or a battle, over and over again, between people whose individual fears of loss rear ugly heads, dredge up painful memories, and, like quick-growing vines, tend to choke out all empathy, disallowing true "hearing".

About how we dishonor ourselves by using words like "objectivity" and phrases like "meeting halfway". How we become indoctrinated by others into believing that emotions, especially those pertaining directly to relationships and human connection, can be bought, paid for, given, or taken away; that transition, change, and fluidity are foreign, unfair, and unsafe.

Two days ago, I DNFed what was supposed to be my very first 50-mile ultra.
I managed to make it 22 miles to the "halfway" checkpoint. By that point, I had rolled my left ankle. I have had ongoing hip and knee issues in the same leg, and the combination slowed my first-half pace to a crawl. By the time I reached mile 22, it seemed inevitable that even were I to continue to finish, I likely would not make it there by the finisher's cutoff of 15 hours.

The choice to DNF devastated me. I had to hike myself and my gear out another 4-5 miles, to where a friend's vehicle was waiting. More than the physical pain (a thing most ultra runners grow accustomed to), the mental/emotional blow of having experienced what at first I felt as a total, utter personal failure has been dragging me down ever since.

During that same time, I began once again hearing the language of fear from someone who had mistrusted me, and shut down in our relationship. The slamming of an emotional door by someone we love-isn't it often the most hurtful thing we experience?

When our authenticity and our genuineness are questioned, or even insulted, and we are told that we are "too much", it's often by those whose emotional ideation is based in the fear of having things taken from them. And that fear becomes a function of the ego; of a mindset that disallows fluidity for the sake of the ego's concept of all other human beings as sheer consumers-of sustenance, product, and of people. 

Their fear is that if they share, are authentic, are true, and meet our truths head-on, that somehow we will assimilate them. Their fear is that this, then, will take away any upper hand they may feel they have in interpersonal relationships.

My running community, above all things, has dealt a compassionately firm hand when I've felt that my experiences on the trail are not mine. In DNFing, it's easy to feel as if one's performance is a function that's completely within our control: if I had just increased tempo sooner, brought more food, hydrated better. It's easy to forget that even in what we consider failure, we do not own most of the circumstance. It's not a fountain pen. It's not a cheese grater. In the immortal words of Chuck Palanhiuk, "you are not your fucking khakis".

Things ARE in fact just things.
Our experiences, ideas, conceptual frameworks and emotions are not.
We don't own happiness, trust, or authenticity anymore than we own the air we breathe.

My failure to finish this 50-miler was preceded by all these messages from someone I care about saying, you are asking me to give and I do not want to. I am afraid that you will use my emotions, thoughts, and ideological concepts as hard currency. I am afraid of your authenticity, and I am jealous, because you are NOT afraid. 

Emotionally, that's a heavy place to be, and I could feel it in my very feet on the scree.
Here I was, actually running between the rocks of the trail and a hard place-a hard place created by my having conceptualized, based on this person's poor communication, feelings, interpersonal empathy, trust and love as THINGS. As if those concepts were akin to money in the bank, to be earned, hoarded, spent. I was not engaging in self-stewardship, or in stewardship of my fellow runners and the environment around us.

And it dragged me down. I could not finish that race. Mentally, emotionally, I became heavy, having spent (using this ideology, that was not my own) all my currency in attempting to convince someone who had shut down that I was being genuine, authentic.

In the last couple of days, the trail/ultra-running community has reminded me:

I do not own the trail.
When I run an ultra, certainly a level of bargaining occurs. The distance and strain push me through each stage of the grieving process. I remember people I've lost, whom I love dearly. I say their names. I think endlessly about my son, who is usually with friends. I reaffirm over and over again, through the miles, what I've been through, and who I've become.
But the trail, with all its beauty and treachery and challenge, is not mine.
The trail does not belong to me.

There are so many other beautiful aspects of my life for which this principle holds true:

When I write, it is meant to be read, else it remains flat and unfulfilling.
Poetry, essay, even this blog, are given life by readers.
I do not own these words.

As a photographer, I often take photos of people.
Of places holding secrets and wonders of their own.
I own neither the subject of my work, nor the photos themselves.
These photos are meant to be seen, and when I lower that camera from my eye,
those people, places and remarkable things are still there.
The photos? Those belong to my clients. They belong to the world, to see.

My child. My heart, my child.
I should hope beyond hope that no matter how much we all love, protect, nurture 
and revere our children, we know we do not own them.
We help them grow their wings. We instill values. We worry, fret and pace.
We hover-oh, how we hover. We cleanse their wounds.
But we do not own them. And no matter that they make us proud
or hurt us beyond reason, we do not own their destinies, paths or actions, either.

As a survivor of domestic abuse and rape; as a mother; as a single parent: this is a HUGE act, not of letting go, but of acknowledging a deep connection to re-imagining my world as one that I move through, and not against. Instead of being incessantly afraid of the horrible things that might happen, of the fact that people may hurt me, I choose, every day, to frame ownership in a different way: after DNFing for the first time, rather than clinging to what I did wrong to prevent myself from finishing that race, I can focus instead on the things I don't have charge of-the trail, the weather, the wildberries along the course. The kindness of the race volunteers. The support of my friends. My body aches. My pride is wounded. My concept of the trade-off for that, of having my experience "taken" from me? That is all completely up to me.

It is a supreme act of faith, one that says, I have been hurt and betrayed, yes. I have had physical, corporeal things taken from me. I have been put in fear, but I refuse to LIVE in fear. The most important things in my world are things I do not own. They are not things, at all. What's precious to me is meant to be shared, spoken, passed back and forth around the hearth-fire.

People have asked me, given the situation I've come from, how it is that I do "it"-which is to say, "How do you live your life? Isn't it hard?"

It is. It is undeniably hard.

But although this life is not "easy", it is SIMPLE. And much of that simplicity lies in the ability to conceive and then achieve an awareness of how it is perfect, natural and wise to give our feelings and emotions, even to other people, other people who may hurt us. Because we do not own them. They are not things.

They are fluid, dynamic, shareable.
The hard parts, too-the DNFs, the miscommunications. The breaches of trust.
We no more own the feelings and ideologies of others than they do ours.
We can choose, daily, to be self-stewards rather than consumers, in the same way that we can choose stewardship of others over consuming them emotionally.

If there's anything I've learned, especially through use of running and the running community as therapeutic, it's that we should never, never falter in our authenticity just because someone else tells us, Whoa, slow your roll-that's too much for me. When you come at me all authentic and genuine-like, it scares me. It makes me afraid.

What a life, to constantly wall yourself off from others' shining, strong light because you're afraid. To ask others to hide that light under a bushel basket (to use a Biblical turn), out of having been hurt so badly that you no longer know how to be authentic yourself.

And, too, what a life we would all lead (and so often do) if we met that fear by always spending a currency we don't understand, to try to earn things we shouldn't have to earn. Things that should not be treated as such.

I'm going to go back out. I'll be on the trail, training, hoping and dreaming again, sooner than I might think. DNF happens. Unfair people happen.

Remember, when you're hurting, all these amazing dialogues you don't own-the sound of breath and feet on the dirt; a beautiful sunset; the best story you've ever read or heard; someone else's pain.

Your own pain.
Your own light.
Your story.
Continue to put it out there, please. 

Continue to ask little, and give more. Ask your ego to step aside-tell it to bugger off. There's so much to learn and see and do when we cease to hoard our truth and trust.

Keep running. Writing. Singing, speaking, painting, capturing the world around you.
But don't forget to let it go a little, too.

Monday, July 9, 2018


for D.W.B and J.R.R

How the body must know before the spirit.
How, on waking, maybe weeks before,
one ankle crumples as foot touches floorboards
gritty with river silt; how before first light

the head refuses to swivel, knowing
when it does, the empty side of this large room
remains an emptiness. Sometimes, the number of days
is a diaphanous cloud of gnats,

undulating against hot air, refusing
to let a body alone. I cannot recall details.
How the fingertips, long gone from that white room,
feel still petechiae on the underside

of one arm; feel stillness. How the ribcage
caved slightly. How breath slows. How this body
is now a receptacle for spirit,
begins to grieve before the paper reprints each

tribute, always begun with name . How the heart,
this heart that still beats-not each one that does so no longer-
becomes an eagle with wings spread
at the top of the blackened, dying spruce.

How the eagle begins to ululate. How it carries,
gritty with longing, across the taiga,
how the keening and the wind together are still
not enough to call down his mate.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dusk on the Columbia River, July 2017

What of the lives lived in valley,
in canyon's shadow,
and endless doubt? Will it rain?
What if I doubt it?

What of the traveling salesmen, door-to-door.
The wholly subjective buttoning
of rayon-blend suit coats over cheap

dress shirts. What difference
in the distance between a red farmhouse,
its weathered-gray equipment shed?

Between the tamed mare and the mustang colt?

One historic assayer's office
and the bakery made from a bank?

Multi-family complex, and the highway, steaming
with new asphalt left to cure?

One more block, we weary bargainers say.
One more pair

of steel kitchen knives, another bottle of tincture.

Another matched trio of red
ceramic vessels.

One more bit of the Self
and I'll head home.

And never mind where the money comes from, tonight.
It's only a few dollars for cream honey, for day lilies
to brighten the windowsill.

Every tree on this block is swathed at its base

in carcasses.

Once a cacophany, cicadas now dried, brown.
Detritus of some May-pole too withered to dance.
I shall cover the rent for this life

What audacity we practice.
Don't tell me what to do, he said once.
I won't, I muttered.

Just don't leave me. 


And I had never cared
for lavender. Had never wanted myself
to smell of cleanliness, of a white sheet

folded just so. Had never wanted

Bran muffins, granite countertop.
Shelves full of books dog-eared, gray.
A cream-colored guitar.

To take count:
a stock of breaths, not in nor out,
but every sixty husky seconds.
Still. And the same. Yet, still...

And when my hands were idle,
I climbed in beside her.
And then we were two bodies
supporting a body. 
Not a trinity.
Not as one.

Outside this open window
was once a greenbelt, she said.
Look down there. That birch.
Once, there were others.

I asked what I could take.
What could be carried home,
as if somehow my back, my shoulders
could bear it.
I did not expect to hear

A mother enters, and is asked
to trade velveteen blanket
for the cool, clean, white sheet
she carries. 
First, she must sort it from the gray
t-shirt, some socks. 
From under one pair of navy 
boxer shorts. And these
she places, folded,
in the dresser drawer.

And I had never cared
for lavender, save for now, on her wrists
and his temples.
Save for the scent of it filling
the bed on the white sheet.
Had never cared,
myself, to witness.

She says, ashes. 
A siren begins on the street below.


Tuesday, June 18 2017

I'm over-caffeinated and stressed out.
 And I'm talking about death and dying with three different people. 
About where to carry their ashes when they
or their loved one are gone. Adding to the pinheads 
on a map where you cannot touch the monument 

after it's built. 

Because, inevitably, it becomes a riverbed. 
An ocean floor. Nothing but sand. 
Becomes the ground.

So I'm not writing. Not today. Today I search 
for road races that force their runners off-road. 
That don't end for days. That begin and continue and end at night,
because, you see, it's better to use the shock 
of the heels, curvature of back against the heaviness 

of an up-hill. Than to use the eyes. 

Than to attempt to peer at the Earth 
while you're carrying it. Spheres, orbs. 

On the back of the spider are a thousand more.

Scatter me here, please, 
they're saying.

A trail of silk on the wind. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

This article/ must adhere to the biographies of living/ persons policy

{{DEFAULTSORT:Burleson, Derick}}

Only libraries sort you by last 
name first but this is what this is isn't it
the biggest canon
you can't escape it someone is always editing
you always typoing your published titles always
making up bullshit facts to pass a class to keep from having to really
look you up
[[Category:American male poets]]
I mean did you really think before you went out to feed the dogs
to curry your horse did you really 
think you had all this time for masculinity for living alone 
for farming still for scattering grain for chickens
in this godforsaken cold did you wonder 
any longer how heavy your boots are by themselves
how much weight is added by the psi of feet on permafrost ground
[[Category:Living people]]
some fucking asshole is going to say I can tell already 
without hearing it without words passing from any lips 
into air some asshole will have already typed if not saved it
'but not anymore'
[[Category:People from Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska]]
There are are 300 miles between here and there and I thought you knew that
thought you had calculated the distance I could travel before you'd hit the floor
before the pole star came out thought you could tell Venus from a biplane 
a bush plane carrying someone else's musher daughter supplies
pilot bread freeze-dried chicken and noodles and maybe some dog fish
but you have always had your own fish your own stash your own way 
and you never cared much for fishing alone so I thought you'd wait
thought you'd be preserved a little frozen like maybe you'd stay yourself 
until I got there
[[Category:University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty]]
The driest entry there is is the one where they try to explain what you did in ten words 
or less the reduction of a lifetime just keywords just in case someone 
who needs a research topic researches you looks you up but not by name uses only
what they think you did which is not who you are unless you talk to you
unless you hear your voice emanating from behind a lectern reading lives and lives and lives
from pages you put your students your friends your lover's breaths onto
[[Category:Poets from Alaska]]
I didn't save this you know didn't edit a damn thing this is its own poem but it's not
about you is it it's blowing like a pre tornado wind over a prairie here but cold
colder than Fairbanks actually colder than what exactly 
because the worst is that you didn't wait you didn't have the coffee going you
didn't stick around to see it to its end and I didn't save you you know
didn't have time didn't edit