Pilar Graham


This will be the summer I begin dying to myself, and like any crazy bird, I spin circles, pluck out my tail feathers—all before I teach myself how to fly, again. It will feel like a mid-life crisis, but people who are close to me say, I’m a bit too young for that.

I know there’s a resistance, a fight to escape from myself, and the only way I can rise (to any occasion, agree with myself) is to come to terms with the truth of who I am, and then, figure out what to do with this information.

Wild clue: I know I don’t want (or know how) to be content. Each day it begins to feel like the continuation of a slow death. Eventually, I realize by identifying this inner resistance will include knowing that I must surrender, until my bones finally give way, shifting and transforming into an eclipse, and I am able to relax into a kind of comfort that is vital to transcend.

For human survival, we must reach this sacred point, an entry, and once its crossed, there’s no reason to look back.

I spent years looking to an oak tree for answers. I write poems about the designs I find in bark, convinced I’m simply talking to myself.

For the next five years, I’ll continue to sit on your back deck, becoming lost to the natural world. I’ll see my first blue heron, and when our gazes lock, each of us will be afraid to make the first moveit’s kind of that way, too, when you’re too comfortable in a relationship, and neither one has a reason to leave the other, but you know you’re not “in love,” and somebody has to make the first move. I witness grace when the blue heron finally breaks our stare, and like a thief, slowly tiptoes in broad daylight through the overgrown blonde grass, until he becomes a lovely gray speck in my memory.

Healing should be more organic.

I don’t know the big, fancy, or new age words to describe personal transformation; instead, I continue to write poems under big scrub oak trees, read nonfiction essays, and become easily bored on the subject of “Emotional Intelligence (EI)” that keeps coming up in my Internet searches. Last time I heard this terminology was from an employer, decades ago, in Marin County who claimed he was a shaman, but all I remember is the way he’d lean his pelvis into the side of my body to point out edits at my computer.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary definition of a shaman is:

A person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of good and evil spirits, esp. among some peoples of northern Asia and North America. Typically such people enter a trance state during a ritual, and practice divination and healing.

I never saw this “shaman” perform healings, but I did hear heaps of hype around the office about the book written by Daniel Goleman, “Emotional Intelligence,” and I wondered if there was a connection to shamans and the latest pop in mainstream: new age intellectuality? Quantity (or mainstream) isn’t always so telling, so I had to question the meanings in the obvious; therefore, if emotional intelligence is the latest discourse in new age thinking (learning how to perceive, reason, understand, and manage emotions), then perhaps there might be something behind the language that is feeding the public with what they want to hear? Many will argue that emotional intelligence is not real, cannot be measured (as maybe the case with modern-day shamans, a bit ironic), and should not be linked with the personality. Regardless, I believe if you offer food, they will come out in flocks to eat, regardless if it’s stale. Interestingly enough, and over ten years later, you can buy Goleman’s hardcover book, “Emotional Intelligence,” for $0.01 (used) on Amazon. That brings in to question, has the mold already begun on this this day-old bread?

* * *

My breath is shallow against the backdrop of cars steadily streaming past my “post-breakup home.” Statements circle in my head, “This is your new apartment, Pilar.” These are the sounds of my new home: suburbia. It’s Monday evening in Fresno: a car door slams tight, windows slam shut, an air conditioner kick onhum hum, rattle rattle. The rod iron gate just slapped itself shut, someone is coming, or going, and then, more car doors and windows seal themselves shut, and the air kicks on.

Any process connected to survival is sure to repeat.


Pilar Graham is a poet and creative nonfiction writer. Her poems and essays have appeared in several journals and anthologies, such as: Sundog; Pithead Chapel Press; Haunted Waters Press – From the Depths; Blackberry; Poetry Midwest; In the Grove; and San Joaquin Review. In addition, Pilar has served as a poetry editor and judge for both local and national events. Pilar received her M.F.A. in poetry from California State University, Fresno. Pilar divides her time teaching at California State University, Monterey Bay and at Fresno City College in California. Any free time is spent in the southern Yosemite Sierra where she lives, collecting new poems in nature—typically wearing her stilettos.