White Bird

A joint is passed around the room. Jordan, sitting on R.J.’s bed, arms wrapped around her knees, smoking in her sultry, pouty Lauren Bacall way, long hair parted in the middle, falling on her shoulders, waves it off with the barest movement of her hand. R.J. is sitting by his precious turnable, flipping the record every twenty minutes or so, or choosing a new one from the vast but predictable collection he keeps in an orange-crate under his desk. He flicks his long hair back semi-unselfconsciously, and though he favors Neil Young, he puts on White Bird, for perhaps the ten-thousandth time this semester. The vaguely Asian, vaguely psychedelic notes fill the too small room, and then:

White bird
in a golden cage
on a winter’s day
in the rain

The usual faces come and go. A bottle of Boone’s Farm strawberry wine makes its way around the room as well, and the joints keep coming. There’s a girl I haven’t seen before sitting in Ron’s desk chair. She has a beautiful smile that starts in her eyes. She laughs easily and often, and I steal glances. I think her name is Terri.

White bird
in a golden cage

Tad and Smoker are talking politics. Without hearing I know it’s something about McGovern. Mark and Jan are sitting on Ron’s bed holding hands, toking deeply when the joint comes their way. There’s Victor-Jim, paranoid, eyes darting, and others I know and don’t know, but it’s Terri, it is Terri, that I see.

The leaves blow
across the long dark road
to the darkened skies
in its rage

Terri’s hair tumbles in auburn waves, her smile is infectious, I am falling hard. She’s wearing a Mexican peasant blouse, white with colorful embroidery, and overalls. She smokes with such ease, and takes the joint and the wine as easily, and talks to whomever happens to be near, all effortlessly. I watch in my passive way.

But the white bird just sits in her cage

Terri came with Tad, just friends, please. But Tad, in his ever-present, and less than fresh, tweed jacket, is utterly stoned and drunk, which is his normal state these days, is still talking politics, and pays her no mind. Smoker is animated, but he can’t match Tad, and doesn’t really care in any case. Mark and Jan care only for each other.

Terri meets my gaze, and like that she’s gone.

White bird must fly
or she will die

When I get back to my room Terri is there.

Skin against skin, breast against breast, we lie together. Outside it is as dark as the city can be, and the city sounds come through. When she kisses, she kisses softly. Her hands are telling me to relax. We breath in each other’s warm breath. Her hands continue to tell me to relax and I do. We breath as one. Her hands touch all the right places, we drift in and out of each other, and I never knew, and I am not afraid, and I am not alone, and I whisper, more to myself than Terri:

I am a but a maid
with one gift to give

It is effortless. This is bliss.


We visit her home in Los Altos during fall break. I meet her parents and brother, and ride her horses, which they keep at stables nearby. She is so careful with me, and protects me, and loves me.

Her mother’s Mercedes is midnight-blue and the leather is fawn. We drive to Half Moon Bay, and even though she is only sixteen to my seventeen, she knows how to do this. I am beginning to see how she knows. Her boarding school taught her. Her parents taught her. Life taught her. It comes to her naturally. But when we’re alone all of that falls away. She looks into my eyes, touches me just so, and loves me completely. I’ve waited so long, and sometimes I cry, because, what if she hadn’t come into the room?

She does to me what she wants done to herself, and in the process learns what I want. This is how we dance—dolphins cool and sleek, effortlessly, and nearly as wordlessly, but not without sound. The clicks and squeaks of dolphins become our sighs and moans and demands and urges and pleas and resolution. And when we walk into a party she is no different than she was before, except for the way her body says I am hers, even from across the room, and she laughs as she laughed before, and takes the joint when it comes her way, and smokes her cigarettes, and knows. We rarely kiss in front of others, or hold hands, but she wraps herself around me, somehow, from across the room, and I’m still a little scared that maybe all this will go away, and I’ll have to think about boys again. Then I glance her way, as I do, always, and see her watching me, and her eyes say I love you and I want you, and my heart races, and I love her so much it hurts.

We study with our books on our bed. We listen to Santana or Wes Montgomery or Blonde on Blonde. Her fingers make sure I’m near, as do mine, without thought or effort. When we go to the dining hall and sit with the others I am quiet and she is herself. I know the sorority girls talk about us, and the boys make jokes. Terri doesn’t care, and teaches me not to care, and don’t they sometimes wonder how everyone knows what they know, and aren’t they all dolphins in their own way, in the same sea? Terri is talking to Smoker about biology. Mark and Jan are absorbed in each other, in love with themselves and each glorious day. Marcy and Colin and me and my poetry sister Antoinette are talking poetry, Thirteen Blackbirds and Zero at the Bone and Daddy, and our seminar, and evenings spent with Professor Eliot and his wife in their home drinking tea as he gently reads his translations of Japanese poetry, reminding us again and again to read, then read some more, and when we’re tired of reading read some more. Then, he says, write. And live. He reminds us to live, and to write about what we know, not what we imagine we know, and Terri and I are the union of two sets, each in our our world for the moment, but when we are together we are one without a breath unshared, and aren’t we all dolphins in the same sea?

When she comes at Christmas break to visit and meet my family we pretend we are only friends and she can do this too. But I come into her room after my parents are asleep and get into her bed and we love each other. In the morning she wants to go home, blood is on the sheets from her period, but I say no, my mother won’t care, and she doesn’t. She stays and we walk to the ice and snow covered beach. Terri’s coat is blue and her eyes are brown and more sparkly in the cold than ever, and it is cold, it is the coldest winter, and her coat is unzipped, and I love her so much. I love her on this day, at this moment, and I take her picture.

She tells me about school, when she was at boarding school. I don’t think she knows how sophisticated they were. She thinks it’s the way it is, how easily they drove the cars their parents gave them, and had sex, and fell in love, and listened to their albums, and sometimes, even after we make love, she puts on Wes Montgomery, and we’ll listen and smoke and touch, and she’ll put out her cigarette and lie on top of me, and press herself against me, and begin to glide in time to the music until the needle comes to the end of the side, and goes around and around, gliding, and I meet her pressure with mine, pressing myself against her in what is now our own rhythm, and she is holding herself up on her arms with her eyes closed, concentrating and gliding, and when it happens she opens her eyes to meet mine, and I reach and touch her lips, and she is my sweet wet glistening salty dolphin, and I am hers, and we taste and drink, and outside the dorm room girls are talking and being silly and vulgar and stupid and smart and singing songs and talking about boys and dicks.

It’s so easy.

Being in love with Terri.

For my birthday she surprises me with a needlepoint she’s made, a heart with “Lynn” stitched in the center, and she’s made a pullover of yellow flannel, a print with silly children’s cartoon characters on it. It feels so good against my breasts, as if her fingertips were touching me.

It isn’t only for me that she is sweet. On Tad’s birthday she buys him a cartoon of Camels and a pair of Levi’s. He has never had jeans, and can’t afford his own cigarettes, and has to bum. And this easy way she has about herself extends to other things. She doesn’t seem to study very hard, but does well. She knows things about life that most sixteen, now seventeen, year-olds don’t know.

At spring break we treat ourselves to a night in a downtown San Francisco hotel, with a king bed, and the next day we drive south to Big Sur with the top down, her hair is wrapped in a scarf against the wind. We park at an overlook by the ocean and I take her picture.

Later, after we've set up our campsite, we have a fight, and I don’t know why, or what started it, or why she’s crying, and why she wants to go home, and why this is happening. I take her to the airport in San Francisco and she goes home. I drive back to school alone and scared and teary.

When she comes back after break we make up, but it isn’t the same, and then, somehow, in some terrible way, it’s over.

Over the summer she writes to me, and tells me that what had was beautiful, and that I should remember that. I don’t write back. When fall comes she isn’t there. I drift alone, or from one to the next. I drift, I suppose, like a dolphin separated from the pod.

Time passes.

So it’s startling when I come across the two photographs of her, the first taken in the snow, the second at Big Sur with the Pacific in the background, her hair wrapped in a scarf. In both photos it’s the smile I see, and the eyes. I had forgotten. Memories are like pain, I guess. They fade. Only a semblance remains.

She looks like a child.

I think she should have them. Why should I hang on to something that hurts? And if it hurts her, it should, and if it doesn’t, if she is reminded of something good, something beautiful, as she said years ago, that’s good too. So I put them in an envelope and address it to her parent’s house, and send it with the briefest of notes:

I found these among my college papers.


My motives, though, are clearly mixed, for I put a return address on the envelope. I expect, what? To hear from her? An apology, a hope of reconciliation? I don’t know, but I think what I want is possibility. The possibility of what I do not know. Perhaps of something other than the nothing with which she left me. If I had found another to take in my breath, and give me hers, and guide me, and glide upon me, and if we could be dolphins, I wouldn’t have mailed the letter.

But I haven’t. And I did.

A little later, a couple weeks later, I receive this, in her unique handwriting, so carefully written:

Why did you send these? Is this a total repudiation of what we had? If so, fuck you. Your abrupt and uncaring words made me shudder. How could you be so cold, what would compel you to be so? What did I do to deserve this? What hatred do you harbor, and why? I cannot fathom this, and though my inclination is to give you the benefit of the doubt, I don’t know if I can. I’m asking myself these questions. You tossed me aside and ignored my every attempt at reconciliation. Because we fought and parted you have no place in your heart for a warm memory of me? If I am mis-reading this I am sorry. I don’t think I am. I think this is hurtful, and hateful, this “I’m purging myself of you” note, this passionless note. Passionless! From you! From you of all people!



I stare at the words, and read and re-read them. One emotion after another rattles me and none settle. I am disoriented and shaken. In all the scenarios I had run through my head, and of all the imaginings of words she might write in reply, none approached this level of wrath. How, when she crushed me under her heel as if I were nothing but a cigarette smoked down to nothing, could this come from her?

I begin a letter in kind, but rip it up. My thoughts are cycling, racing, getting nowhere. I parse her words to make sense of them, and come to this:

“You tossed me aside and ignored my every attempt at reconciliation.”

Can this be true? Does she really remember it that way? I begin to focus, to remember the day at Big Sur when it fell apart. What happened, who started it, what was it about? I recall sitting on a fallen log in the campground, with our tent and gear scattered around, and other people camping nearby, their activity. I remember that we talked and talked, after we had fought, and there were tears, but I cannot recall why we fought. She wanted to go home. We drove back to San Francisco, to the airport, and we did try to reconcile when she came back, and she did write to me over the summer, a beautiful letter that I tossed in the trash. But what happened, and why? I cannot put it together, and I cannot make my memory and her words make sense.

It comes to me gradually. Not the fight, I can’t bring that back, though I sense it began over something trivial. What begins to come are glimpses of us, of me, of my personality, my moods, my excesses, my history, before and since, of ups and downs, of depression and ecstasy, of descending into one morose abyss after another. I think of her careful handwriting, of her taking the time, in secret, to make me a blouse, and the needlepoint heart with my name lovingly stitched on it. I think of how much love she bestowed upon me, guilelessly and unselfishly, wanting nothing but my love in return. I can see her, almost feel her, holding me, soothing me, touching me gently, giving me such pleasure, teaching me how to let go.

I see it clearly. I exhausted her.

It was me, the crushing essence of me.

I close my eyes and see myself doing the same thing to Annie and Gail and Robin, of driving them to rail against me, or drift away, or be glad that summer has ended, and each of us can go back to our respective schools, and they would be rid of the wreck that was me. I think of the photos of Terri, and see a beautiful, lovely, loving girl smiling at me, eyes sparkling, her face devoid of any hint of anything but love, and not only love, but a secret knowledge that I am hers, and she is mine. That we are one, and happy.

There is a reason I am alone in this world. I see it now, with perfect clarity. I have spent my life in selfish introspection and exterior negativity. I know why I cannot remember the cause of the fight, there was no fight. It was only me being myself. I drove her to despair and frustration and tears. I caused our happiness to wither by my mere existence. She was bewildered by it, and hurt, and tired, and probably scared, and wanted to go home. She didn’t know why any more than I did, only that she had to go. And when she returned she did try to make it better. She did write to me over the summer. Why would she do that if she didn’t care? I would have none of it. I turned my back on her. I never gave her a word or glance. And I blamed her, and the others. It was always them, never me.

It was me.


Dearest Terri,
What have I done?
If I have the words to explain how sorry I am it will be a miracle. Sorry doesn’t even begin to capture how wretched I feel, for so many things. I have dug as deeply as I know how to understand your letter, and it led me to a place I’ve never known within myself, and it is very dark. It is black. I read your letter a hundred times, and I have found in your words a revelation.
I have done nothing but cause hurt and inflict pain simply by being me.
If I could, I would be on my knees before you, and every person I have ever wronged, and it would be a world of people. I would beg for forgiveness and absolution. Failing that I can only face myself. The shame I feel courses through my entire being. The love I felt and lost haunts me. I can now begin to understand who I am, and how I am perceived, and what I have done. I have been in despair over this revelation, and now know that that kind of self-centered thinking has been my undoing.
My despair means nothing in itself. It is the despair I have caused others that matters. I have been an infection among the people I have loved and cared for the most.
If words could heal I would write forever. If begging forgiveness could work I would beg. Terri, what I have done to you and others may be unforgivable, for I have taken my unhappiness and spewed it upon all of you, and tainted you with it, and if that were not horrible enough, I have blamed you for it.
I am sorry, and if I were to write those words over and over until I could write no more, it would only begin to approach the depth of remorse I feel.
But that is not what I will do or say or write or think. There is a better way. You have given me a gift of unfathomable magnitude, and not for the first time, for years ago you gave me another gift, you gave me yourself, and introduced me to myself, and now you have given me the gift of insight, and what I see now is this, my feelings have been my undoing, and since we cannot shed feelings we, I, must direct them, and let the black turn white, and the negative become positive, and more than anything let love flourish, and refuse my innate inner-darkness to ever taint that love again.

Forever yours,


I feel a lightness I have never felt before. Am I born-again? I see before me the symbol of yin-yang, and I see that we have choices, and they matter.


Lynn, your mea culpa has left me cold.


The words begin to crush me, but I resist. I see the black and look away. Instead I see blue sky with white clouds, a garden with spring daffodils, a splashing fountain, people walking in a city park rich with colors, and windows shiny with reflected light.

I see her words as yet more truth.


Dear Terri,
. . . as they would me, were I in your shoes.
Maybe I cannot write my way out of the mess I have made of my life. I’d like the opportunity to try.



So try.


Dear Terri,
I am, and have been, a difficult person to be with. I needn’t tell you, no one knows better. But I must write the words before I can right the wrong. I see this now. I take other’s joy and blacken it with my darkness. Until I read your words I had no idea that this was how I was going through life. I see it clearly now.
You were, and I hope you still are, a joyous person, and what we had was joyous. Bit by bit I needled at that joy, unraveling it with my “feelings” and negativity, and probably much more that I’ve yet to discover. You were the light of my life. You showed me the way to myself. We were so young, but not so young as to make that untrue. My love for you was true and right, but I spoiled it by being me.
I see all this now, too late for us.
But not too late as I begin to live my life anew.



Why after five years are you doing this?


Dear Terri,
I’m not positive why I sent the photos. I’ve been lonely. I’ve been through several relationships, all have ended badly. When I came across the photos I think I used them as an excuse to write to you. I don’t know what I wanted or hoped. I think I wanted to hurt you for your injustice to me, which I see now was an illusion on my part, a fabrication that I created and carried and nurtured. I think it’s as simple as that.
I wanted to hurt you. And maybe by doing so elicit an apology. Or more.



Lynn, I wouldn’t know what to apologize for.


Dearest Terri,
You did nothing, nothing! which would demand an apology.
It was only me.
I couldn’t stop myself from being myself. I couldn’t stop the blackness, the depression, the moods. I didn’t even try. I let it be the cross we bore.
At Big Sur something trivial, I don’t know what, was blown out of proportion, by me. You did nothing but love me, and be bewildered and defeated by my incessant list of needs and my inevitable black moods. You couldn’t have done anything other than what you did, and what others have done, to save yourself.
I have been thinking of little but this since receiving your letter.
Who I was, am, is not my doing entirely. I am a product of my personality. What I haven’t known, through immaturity and lack of insight, is that one has choices, in the sense that awareness can bring change, one can direct the change. In my case, I needed, need, to learn that as the weight of my moods descend upon me and those around me, I must recognize what is happening, and take responsibility. I must be self-aware, not selfish, and learn to recognize that negativity and control it, and turn it into something good and positive. I must see things as they are, not as I imagine them to be, and end my inappropriate responses.
I have spent my life blaming others for my inability to see the world in a better light. Perhaps I didn’t have the ability until now. Regardless, I know it now. When you could no longer bear the weight of me, you withdrew. I pushed you to it, and when it began to unravel that day at Big Sur I pushed harder. I was selfish and demanding and petulant. I began to bring up the venom I carried, carry. The more of this I presented, the more you retreated, until you said, simply, “I want to go home.” All I could see was that you were abandoning me. I couldn’t see the why of it. I bore into you until you had no other way to respond.
It doesn’t take two to make a fight, it only takes me.

With love and sadness,


Lynn, clearly you have gone through something, I’m not sure what. I’ve read what you’ve sent, and I hear what you’re saying, I think. But I don’t know what to make of it. What do you want or expect to happen?



Dear Terri,
I have no expectations.
But I do want something. I want to tell you that I ruined something beautiful, and in my previous letters I’ve tried to explain why it happened, why it has happened throughout my life. I want to say that I am sorry. I’m sorry for so many things. Having told you that, I want nothing more.
That isn’t to say a kind word from you in response wouldn’t be welcomed in the most heartfelt way.




You’re beating yourself up, it’s too much. We had a fight, we broke up. It happens. It made me sad. I didn’t understand why it happened. But we were young and dumb. What did you think would happen? Of course I wish we’d stayed together. That we didn’t, I mean, we just didn’t. You’re blaming yourself for being yourself. I’m glad, really, that you’re having these insights, and yeah, they make some sense. But cut yourself some slack. You’re not Lucifer for crying out loud. It seemed like we were good together. We were, for awhile, and then we weren’t. Let it go. You were a great girlfriend, ok? Relax!



Dear Terri,
I hear you, and I’ll let it go. Things are changing for me, making sense.
This has been an intense six months. I’ve worn a path to the mailbox. Thank you for bearing with me, and for this last letter especially.
Would you mind if I asked how you are, what you’re doing? What five years hath wrought?



Dear Lynn,
It has wrought thus, I’m back at SFSU getting my master’s in biology and my teaching certificate. I’m working hard. Life is good. As always.
How about you? Wroughting anything besides angst?



Dear Terri,
I got my PhD. in angst.
I didn’t even have to go to school for it. It was delivered right to my front door.
When I’m not wroughting angst I’m working at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art. I am technically known as junior flunky, but I’m in line for senior flunky.
Without delving into every conceivable nuance and ramification, which I am learning is counter-productive and the cause of my angst, and everyone’s around me, I’ll tell you that I’m on my own.
We’ve spent half a year writing, the long pauses have left me limp. We live within a bus ride from each other. What would you say to a phone number, a cup of coffee, a drink?
I won’t be crushed if you say no. Not much anyway.


Poetry by one trick pony The PoetBay support member heart!
Read 1103 times
Written on 2014-12-31 at 04:24

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Ann Wood The PoetBay support member heart!
Such a lovely poem, which bring a tears in my eyes. Well done Jim, I love it.

So this is where it began, jim.

I am utilising the Bay's "By email" option as I note that you have not read my private message.

Ah well. I am writing as a courtesy to confirm that, following the unpleasantness of your final private message to her, Ms E. Bird opted to block both your accounts. She discerns that you dislike her a great deal and in real life she would not continue such an acquaintance.

Perhaps you would like to feel you have intimidated Ms Bird in some way, as once you boasted of offending Ashe, but that is not so. Ms Bird, being very busy, simply has a knack for prioritising people; and as you have been discourteous to her, it follows logically that she is happy to eschew you (and your poetry).


Touching saga of love and bewilderment and the way we were. Nice writing.

What a beautifully written story, told mostly through letters. Very clever writing, touching and tender. I enjoyed it very much.