Sunday, January 13, 2013

You're Cheese, and I'm Cottage Cheese

Has anyone ever told you that your story isn't true? Or that you have no right to tell it? Have you been criticized, censored, excoriated, misquoted or misunderstood?

Well congratulations! Someone's listening.

As a woman who only started blogging because she had a rare and aggressive form of cancer and she wanted her children to know something of her if she were to die young, and she wanted her friends to know how she was doing, and she didn't want her immediate family to have to explain all the time, I am somewhat naive to the ways of the blogging universe. I know nothing about sponsorships, little of blogging communities, a tiny bit about trolls, and have only a vague knowledge of audience and how to attract it. Normally, 50 or 60 people read my blogs. Various cancer survivors or others find specific posts, for years after I've written them, at times, and I know that I have helped people who say that they were searching for something "real."

Once I got used to writing KatyDidCancer, I realized that my blog was only technically a cancer blog. I started this one so that I could continue to write about a variety of things without having to figure out if they were related to cancer or not. This domain has enabled me to write posts that are essentially ME. But there's another reason that I started this blog.

It's because I sometimes had the experience of people telling me that the things I expressed in the cancer blog were, essentially...WRONG.

You shouldn't feel that way. You should be more appreciative. I am living for my children; what is wrong with you?

Those sentiments have been rare; most people have responded in an overwhelmingly positive manner to my blogs. But what is interesting to me is how common it is in this world where there are millions of bloggers--especially women bloggers--to tell people that their stories aren't worth telling. People feel comfortable using this anonymous social-media-fueled medium, to violently criticize others--often while admitting that they didn't actually bother to read the entire text.

Ponderous thoughts don't work so well in an instant-gratification universe.

And women are on the receiving end of this punishment quite a bit. We have mommy wars, feminist wars, body type wars, skin color wars, the decade of my youth was better than the decade of your youth wars, your suffering is not as bad as mine wars, jock versus princess wars, funny versus serious wars. There's always someone ready to say that the life you've lived is inauthentic and the way you have chosen to talk about it is unacceptable.

I began writing a blog because I wanted to tell some very specific people my story before I died. It would be a lie, however, to say that I only started doing that in May of 2010. The truth is, I have always done that. And here's the proof.

When I was 15 years old, I loved poetry. Like any teenager, I was curious about sex, but was technically a virgin (back then, we were led to believe that oral sex "didn't count). However, I hated poetry about sex. I told someone that I could write a sex poem as good as any adult's. It was a dare. I wrote this, and my mom printed it off and framed it and hung it in the living room.

I Don't Know What
by Katy Jacob

it is in you
that makes me
crumble, or
whether it is
in pale moonlight that I
seem to fade
and I begin to open my
best heart--
or if it is simply
the action of opening;
here and there a dark new
precisely made to offer
to you something
than hell--
like the warm stuff of eggs,
this that
makes me
and possibly
and then
you--over me, silenced--
leaving behind only
a shedded snake-like
for the killing

When I was in college, I won an award for writing a poem about wondering what it was like to grow old:

The Elderly Couple

by Katy Jacob

As they go upstairs to bed,
the last light faintly fades.
Everything has been put away
and they are clean again, tired again.
They walk slowly in their soft clothes
as if steps were secret thoughts,
spinning and floating on delicious air,
leaving light traces of empty space behind.
As if his hands weren't silently shaking,
as if she had time to spare.

When I was maybe 18, I was riding the el with my boyfriend, who was, let me see...20, and it was really hot and there was no air conditioning on the train and there were a million things to look at out the window, but I was only looking at one thing, and it was insignificant so I didn't say anything, but he did. He was looking at the one thing I was looking at, so I wrote this to tell him that:

by Katy Jacob

The doorman stands before me waiting in his red coat.
Shyness of color is too subtle for him;
the wool of his jacket is purpled like a worn bruise,
a color so heavy it hurts.
The detail he possesses is a kaleidoscope
of moving pictures that wrongs my eyes.
On a coat like his, even the buttons are moving.
They bleed bright light all the way to the ground,
reflecting shiny blood-drops on his face.
The collar is regally wide and teases his shoulders,
leading to simply-perfected metallic stripes on his arms.
These are his decorations--the stripes are nowhere hurting.
As the door man shifts in sunlight,
these lines become molten to his body, taking on his form.
Looking more closely I see that they are
glad straight arrows, funny kissing mouths,
two gold things going down, new money.

In my late twenties, I got tired of hearing people talk about women's words as if they were always sexual words, or of people conflating the very ideas of women and sex, and I decided to write a poem about riding the train. The TRAIN, people.

Commuter’s Lament

by Katy Jacob

When I rode different trains
I wrote different poems.

Two straight lines turned into three
as I lied a little, to mix it up.

Late became world weary,
crazy ended up spiritual.

I’d make love and redemption
out of three tin cups.

I wouldn’t cover guns at my head,
hands up my dress or the friends I kept.

Words only flowed
from the ordinary

when the sharp rumble
where my feet should have been

caused the faithless to pray a little
made the ride home sweetly rougher

turned 6 pm into everything I’d want
to remember about the life I never had

over the wooden trestles
where the sparks burned blue

the screech lingered and
you had to go down to feel the real world.

Once, on my lunchbreak, I went to a museum. Really, I did!

On Viewing "The Old Guitarist"

When Wallace Stevens saw it
he wrote about things as they are
and things as they seem
and imperfection.
When Rafael Alberti remembered it,
his written recollections were all of blue.

But when I stood in front of the painting which
stands by itself, apart,
on my day off from work in June,
I thought of making art about art--
of the ways we create worlds from a wall--
and I wondered if I could do it.

I don't think I will ever know now,
because I don't know how things are,
and I can't imagine what exists outside of
imperfection and colored memories.

All that I can recall of that Picasso
is the way it made me want to know
if there was ever such a man
so tattered and bent and blue,
if his fingers were really so long,
and where it was that he was sitting.

I can't get to the metaphor
for the obstacle of wondering
if he was real.

When my daughter was a baby, she grabbed a frozen leaf:

First Winter
by Katy Jacob

No one ever told you what lies beneath
the most beautiful days.

In the whole of your life
no one ever told you about the
heavy sharpness of white lace ice,
the glare in your eyes that you will miss after the melt,
the implied noise just before the branches crack,
the danger and perfection all mixed together.

Remember that I will always remember your tiny hand
curling up to a soft white leaf, which cracked and fell at your touch.

If I could, I’d give you this gift,
this day, a postcard you are too young to receive.
I’d vanish into you
so you could see how you smiled.

And when my son was a baby, I held long and intellectual conversations with him:

Talking to Babies
by Katy Jacob

I have a secret.
I use you to talk to myself.
You don’t mind.
You could watch me
search for dust in the air
as long as I was close.
I leave you alone
and you babble and shriek
to yourself, my son.

So keep my secret,
learn what I have learned.
Other people don’t need to be there.
Words are what you make them.
They’re real if you hear the sound,
or even if no one does.

You and I are here,
talking around each other,
wondering what the other one is saying,
alone together at least for a few more months
or maybe forever.
But why am I telling you this?
Your eyes crinkle up at me, saying
come on, Mom, we’ve had this conversation already.

In college, I did an independent study wherein I wrote a bunch of dramatic monologues--poems in memoir form, from someone else's point of view. I wrote one poem, which I will NOT include here, about myself, from my lover's point of view. He said I got it right, and my professor, who was a man, said, "I think only a woman could have done that. That must have been very difficult. I mean, it's even erotic! How interesting. You see yourself as others see you." And one of the other poems that I wrote--years before I married or had children or had lost anyone very close to me or was daily facing my own mortality--was based on the monument of a child that you can find in a cemetery in Chicago. Now that more than fifteen years have passed and all kinds of things have happened, I can say this:


Graceland Cemetery: A Mother's Request to a Sculptor
by Katy Jacob

A little more curl in the hair, please.
She always wore her bow on the right.
That's it! That's her face--
but not her eyes,
they were never so bright white, pallid, unmoving.
Please, why can't you get her eyes?

What I would give for you to color this marble!
Then it wouldn't be so easy
for death to creep right in.
Then it could be how I remember.
But now she seems cold, so cold,
I don't want anyone to touch her.
Surround her with glass, let the sun in,
give her a space that lasts longer than seven years.

I want to see her eyelet dress move;
I want her to look on stone-stemmed flowers that won't fade;
I want the ivy to loop through the wood slates
of the white wicker swing she always sat on--
I want the green of it to glisten and melt into every
Saturday morning.
I want to drive that chisel of yours straight into my heart.

O God, when I die
lay me to rest underneath her name

These things, these stories, large and small, were worth telling. They are true, or at least as true as anything. Sometimes, it's the sharing of perspective that's important. Sometimes, we can learn all we need to know from a three year old child. My kids had this conversation the other day, and it brought everything into perspective for me, and it allowed everything else to just roll off my back. Here it is...truth.

L: you're male and I'm female.
A: no, I'm not.
L: you're not male?
A: no, I'm something more fun.
L: what are you?
A: you're cheese, and I'm cottage cheese.


  1. I was told I'm too depressing :-/ Good thing I don't give a damn!! Love your work, your writing and your honesty!!

    1. Thank you! You know that phrase: I'm a realist, not a cynic... :)

  2. Wow. A decade ago, meeting someone who could express themselves the way you do, to be so self-actualized yet aware of being outside of yourself, to have such splendid internal dialogs - it seemed such an unlikely possibility. Having never read any of these poems until now, what is this I'm feeling? Sublime luck, profound appreciation for the obvious mystery that is Katy, my life's love.

    And while the words you put down here may occasionally embellish life the way one would retouch a photo to improve the clarity of it's subject, the conversation you quote from our children is ver-ba-tim.

    But it's the closing poem, oh, that gets me so deeply! I am truly amazed by the words you've shared with the world today.

    1. See? Even after 10 years, there are still things to learn!

  3. You are seriously a badass poet. Please post more - I really enjoyed each of these.

  4. Katy... I love these poems. LOVE them. They touched me.