Hello faithful readers and sock-monkeys of my imagination,
Just to let you know, my site has put on her big girl shoes and is taking her first steps in them over at this new beauty of a website (that I only spent a few sleepless nights on…):
Last summer was the summer from hell–emotionally, at least. And as I look ahead to my plans for the coming months, I am noticing a resurgence of last year’s feelings seeping into my writing. The following poem is definitely still rough, but I have found that all my writing is always rough and never finished, which is why I rarely publish anything.
Maybe you can help me smooth some of it out? That’s what the comment box is for anyway.
Summer allure rolled through spring grass in a sprint for the forest
I chased after through the field toward the promise of a sweet and holy fruit
You enticed me toward the lifted cradle and made for me a dainty halo
And I made my home tucked into your trees,
Wooed by your lullabies of things Greater Than These
But the Greater never came
And you hushed away the These
Until the day my mouth was open and the wind rushed out of me
“Will you climb up or should I jump down?” I sang from a teetering cradle on a dying branch
With an eyebrow raised and a plastic grin you called up through the limbs
“Young girl, stay put in this tree, there’s nothing down here to taste or to see
sing if you wish, but know that I have the fruit abundantly”
So I sang with parched mouth from a vine not my own
Pretending that some how this might feel like home
“Sir, this tree bears no life and these branches lack water.
It shows who you are, not a lord or a father”
With a jester’s response, you smiled and smiled
and bellowed and bellowed from a heart turned mild
“Then let thy mouth be dry and speak no more! For this is my tree and I am its lord”
White petals shriveled to chalk and fell from my hair,
To a ground far below where nothing could grow
And cries of protest rattled through the trees
While the wind sang of things Greater that These
Then that wind shooed at my halo turned ash
Swirling into black leaves with a hiss
In time for your axe to cut through the mist
[part two: The Running soon to come]
Hate slithered into a mother’s angelic song
Lullabies spewed the deepest chorus of her lying
“But nothing with me, daughter, nothing is wrong”
The daughter believed until the mother quit trying
Evil struck the foyer’s Mirror
And they were blinded from the Glory days
The mother’s face distorted in bitter tears
She writhed away from the Holy Gaze
The mother stepped from the Holy mirror, her reflection clouded in disregard
And her daughter was left sightless, allowing her pain to surmount
The mirror shattered to a million bloodied shards
And the daughter’s only Holy crushed to the pits of the Christmas House
The daughter had no face to see, no song to hear
The mother burned the bridge to Heaven
And gave to the daughter her own terrible fears
Left her groping under the scorn of a Felon
Halt, The dance of reflection at her scorching inhale
Her desperate reach now met by a veil
Here, a motherless girl who cannot exhale
[from The Christmas House: memoirs by Alexis Berry]
Her legs draped down the steps beneath her as she sat sideways in the steep stairwell. I stood at the bottom, watching her cry and mumble about the lesson I could learn from this paper.
What paper, mom?
“This is me, Alexis!”
She smoothed her hand over the ugly cream paper, the air pockets slid to the side of her palm as it swept across a gaudy floral design. Her hand stopped where a line of blue flower trails had abandoned the wall, revealing the wallpaper that it was meant to cover.
I still did not understand.
“Alexis, look at this—this original pattern. This beautiful farmhouse. Look at this paper!”
I reluctantly lifted my barefoot up to the blue carpet, which covered the hardwood staircase, and climbed the first two steps.
The Christmas House never ceased to astound me; even the eyes of her walls were enchanting. I pushed my mother’s scene away from the moment that the house and I wanted to share. The pattern was a rich, absorbent gold spaced evenly on an upright stage frosted in a more delicate gold. Oh, the stories this staircase must hold. The wallpaper carelessly strewn over it must shame those stories. Two fingers from my right hand touched the antique paper, wondering at the beauty. Why would anyone cover this wallpaper?
“Why would anyone cover this wallpaper?” she cried, pulling me back into her scene.
She sobbed as she wondered what flaw the paper was guilty of. Her cries grew louder as the wall’s flaw became hers. She wailed as the House’s flaws embodied all of her flaws (those flaws that were never her fault).
“What bastards would oppress such beauty?!”
Such reality, she wondered. But this wallpaper is exquisite and real—a part of the house.
The hideous blue floral lines spread across the cream nightmare was nearly murderous. And those lines were oppressing her.
The poor thing, my mother ruined in this stairwell, while the Christmas House silently watched. She was oppressed too.
The poor, wretched thing.
I watched, no more than ten years old, losing all of my wonder at the gold, now seeing her face in each pattern, completely oppressed. The familiar cry of her imprisoned self, every time I dared to look up at it.
Then. She had to free the House’s real beauty. It was up to her to redeem those walls. She wanted to free herself. No one else would do it for her she reasoned.
Her nails ripped desperately into the blue floral enemy lines and returned an unsatisfying patch that left adhesive residue on her gold frosted wall face.
“Help me tear this off!!!”
She frantically scratched for another strip of cream paper, trying to will me with her tears. But I stood frozen in the stairwell, watching her cry, hoping she would not drag me into this wallpaper liberation.
Whether I joined the rebellion or cowarded back down the stairs, I simply cannot remember. But I do remember wanting that pattern too. That pretty frosted antique character in the mysterious Christmas House. That House that blushed and curtsied in the spotlight that only a crazy woman and her confused daughter would shine upon her.
The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.
Some nights you might find me cross-legged in the center of my bedroom floor–my black tank again wearing through the red stitches it’s been mended twice with, my green scrub pants reminding me of the smell of bleach we wore together at the boarding home. Don’t try to approach me though; you might slip on the sea of glass I’ve tried to make for myself. My beads drown the carpet in deep, twisted hues while I add to and string them together–So walk lightly if you must, and take care to not find one stabbed into your heel.
What began as creative devotion for me turned into a consuming need that chained up the freedom I had through expression. The beads were for my Love, painted for him, to shimmer around his throne. As I set my hands to them, losing sleep over them, I moved with no desire besides offering them to the Artist of eternity. But now, as I work through the night, catching a passionless reflection in the window pane, it’s hard to picture these beads adorning anything lovely besides my bones.
When I loved my beads too much and caught their reflections of praise, I began to resent them, but could not resist a need for making worth in them. So I let my attention shift to the mirror where I could better accommodate the want for worth. As I stare at my spiritless frame, I love the lines, the dramatic structure complemented by deeply painted drops of glass. For all of the flaws I so easily find in my appearance, these jewels make up for it. They dazzle the skin that stretches at the base of my neck and smooths over the collar bones that hold the weight of a thousand beads.
So I add to my collection daily, fashioning heavy glass necklaces that twist and tangle across my chest and drape over my shoulders. They form the most impossible knots anymore–hence my glistening bedroom floor. But I still need them. I need to keep creating them, because if I stop I fear that that the creative devotion they began with will never be recovered. And I need them to see and to touch and to be able to show others and to show God. What if I don’t have them anymore? Where will I master beauty without them? What will I say without them? Further the thought of my neck being exposed to the unpredictable breeze, once again touching my skin, is terrifying.
Recently something that Paul wrote caused me to close my eyes and look at myself: This girlish, prideful island in the middle of a sea of sinful beads was what I saw. I saw that I am horribly guilty of an obsession with control (feel free to sing Mutemath here) and blatantly disregarding a truth that scares me: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
God revealed to me the skewed intentions of my works and their inability to result in anything good apart from his work. What begin as devotion and expression, I often let become a requirement and expectation for goodness, resulting in an obsession and yoke that eventually wears me into exhaustion. And my anxiousness about expectations and pursuits that, at the end of the day weigh nothing against the glory of God, only spit in his saving face. My arrogance and independent insistence says, “That thing you did on the cross? Thanks, but uh I got this covered here today. I like my [limited] perspective here where I can see things that You are obviously missing from where You are…”
But I don’t want to be the prideful wretch that turns away help and life, thinking she needs to do everything better and on her own. I have been set free and I can no longer shut my eyes to this and try to make my own freedom, my own life, my own beauty. Paul says that our freedom comes through faith in God and His grace to us (Gal 5:4). So, he tells us to live like it means something to us, For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. (Gal 5:5)
It’s a sin for me to add to the mess of beaded burdens around my shoulders. They cascade in their own bitter splendor and spill onto the floor as a sea of unmanageable glass. So here I draw the line and say that what I create and what I pursue are never things to be consumed by. My worth and my righteousness are in no way dependent upon or even reflected by these things. And when I let my art, my education, my volunteering, my anything become supreme in my life, I hope that I will hear these words again and again reminding me that I have peace with God through Christ and that this is eternally freeing and never oppressing.
She calls me away,
Untouched by the storm.
Into her lily bouquet.
Nothing will taunt me. nothing will taint me.
I love your still obscurity.
Her gentle waves wrap me in a shroud of calm.
She turns my body deeper, deeper into the grey.
The crystal waters kiss the surface of my flesh.
My bones creak as she rocks me away and away and away.
I have tasted of your colorless mystery.
The sway, the sway of her tranquil way,
bends my mind to forget that I live today.
She holds me, she hides me,
From the storm that’s inside me.
Your refuge so severe.
Her mist becomes my veil,
the waters, all I hear.
Placid purity turns my blood gray,
Something about your nothing charms me to stay.
The glass that covers my body tucks my mind in.
I’ll sleep through the ages,
While the storm rages.
Given over to her cunning, cool kiss,
Who cares about my sin?
I simply will not exist.
my empty fist crushed the glass
never again will we behold
water slammed against the window pane
in a now unrelenting rain
the sky had exploded from the south,
crawling towards me all too fast,
it’s billows growling my name
my hand is empty
my side is cold
i tried to wake you
a desperate elusion
blades of grass stab my feet
blood weighing my legs to stiffen
rain smothers my voice
vigilance grows harder to keep
my body longs for sleep
Your eyes look past mine
The cafeteria wall stares blankly back at you
I reach desperately into your dim face
So unwilling to accept despair
There is hope for us yet if you would only dare
The second-hand so unforgiving
My patience succumbs to desperation
Placid eyes, The calm is shifting
[How they tarry in the light, their songs have been stolen
Their chants are enticing the storm that will bury you tonight]
When time gets in the way
and silence fosters lies,
the gyrillidae shroud even
the most complaisant of eyes
Stone-faced, your intensity is a lie
I warned you!
How is your heart so reluctant?
I know they stole the life from your eyes
The droplets on the window pane
mark eras lost in silence
the first of the waters slither down the glass,
Hissing my name
Time has stolen away, the day is dying
You, my friend, will be wasted with it
as you sleep in your pitiful silence
Steady streams now run and flow into each other
They whispered my name into the skylight
From the memoirs of Alexis Marie Berry
The porch light of the Christmas House crawled up to my room, illuminating the raised structures of the window frame, but leaving its hollows dark and somber. I’ll never forget sitting in the hollowed corner of my window that night. My forehead did not move from the ice cold glass for hours as I looked onto the Antique Mall’s parking lot across the lawn. Rain drizzled slow and steady that night as my dad paced, and prayed, and cried. After another emotionally exhausting night with my mother, he had been pushed to the edge. Torn between honoring his marriage covenant and protecting his children, my father was on the verge of making a decision that would profoundly alter the course of my life.
The longer he persisted in his timid steps across every surface of that lot, the more my heart swelled with pain for him. I wondered if the gentle rain that night was meant to keep the circles he paced from starting a fire. Helplessly, I watched as his body shook and his face gave way to sorrowful tears. He wandered seemingly aimless for hours, begging God for an answer. At such a young age, I understood all too much the reality of sin and the immense burden it heaves on even the most innocent hearts.
No monument in my childhood compares to the haunting encumbrance of the Christmas House. When I was 10 years old “The Christmas Tree Store” was the fifth or sixth or seventh house I lived in (honestly, I’ve lost count). Before we moved in, every room of the 1920’s farmhouse was bulging with Christmas trees, holiday wreaths, homemade candles, glittering snow men, and a myriad of Nativity variations. My brother Seth and I were enchanted with the rich cinnamon and evergreen smell, the red and white lights shining from every corner, and the silver tinsel dripping from each door frame.
Once all of the decoration and sparkling splendor had been removed, though, the true difficulty of its character was revealed. The Christmas House was old and had been without an actual family for many years. It was in need of a modern update, reviving it from the ancient memories that it held in the original wood floors, the brick fireplace, and antique wallpapering. Yet my parents were captured by the potential they saw in the rustic beauty of the house’s original structure the way Seth and I were wooed by the magic that we saw in its decorations. My father identified something special in it. He saw a house that was worth investing his energies toward, no longer a temporary pursuit. He found the potential of calming my mother into a life of satisfaction with the house that she was so enamored with. The hope presented in the house was one that promised the idea of relaxing into a peace that our family had desperately longed for. We were finally out of the city with room to run freely and spread the roots that would end our tireless sojourning years.
The dream life in the Christmas House didn’t come easily, though. To say that we were “roughin’ it” for those first few months would be a callous understatement. The effort required in order to conform the House to our family’s hopes and dreams was absolutely exhausting for everyone. Our first few months there turned into the coldest winter of my life. The plumbing, electrical, and heating was an aged mess. We had no toilet for the first couple of weeks, no refrigerator for a month, and I don’t remember how long it took to get a bathtub. Until we had a refrigerator, milk and dairy essentials sat in a Goshen Dairy crate perched in a pile of snow outside the kitchen door. Chiseling milk over my breakfast cereal was a normal routine in the mornings. I remember my mother would heat water in our giant cast-iron stew pot for the four of us to take turns bathing in. And I can still feel the patterns on the heat registers beneath me and my yellow blankey cloak, as I would try to make a tent of warmth when the heater would kick on. Seth and I just had to learn to adapt without complaint as our family slowly seemed to give in and conform to the burdensome needs of the Christmas House.
During this time, the most pressing responsibilities of my mother were taking her medication and making sure that her children made it to and from school (busses didn’t venture out to the Christmas House). Because my mother struggled with both responsibilities, we were constantly late for class and often waited for hours for a ride home. Many of our late mornings were spent with Seth and I pining away in the Christmas House’s frigid foyer. There my grandmother’s heirloom mirror, hanging crooked on a temporary plywood closet door, had my scared reflection memorized, recalling too many mornings listening to her taunting and discouraging my father. I remember staring at myself, wishing that I could be older and take Seth to school on my own and take care of him when my dad couldn’t be at home. That mirror was eventually shattered during one of her increasing, drunken, manic episodes.
Perhaps the exhaustion of the effort required for her dream life caused my mother’s hopes to dwindle and her mind to falter. Both my mother and the House seemed to cling to the past and refuse the embrace of a hopeful future. It seemed as though the more effort my dad made to restore the hope of the Christmas House and my mother’s sanity at the same time, the more both resisted him. I don’t know if she gave up on us or the house or herself or all of the above. But something snapped within her mind, and she just quit trying to be healthy, hopeful, or loving. In the interest of still honoring her, I will just say that she made enough wrong decisions, succumbing to the pull of darkness, that within four or five months my father was driven to the parking lot of the ‘ole Antique Mall. The decision he made that night to trust God and sacrifice every possession and comfort of his in order to protect his children marked the definite beginning of the most heart-wrenching years of my life.
My vagabond days were far from over when we moved into the Christmas House. In fact, they were just beginning. After the parking lot night, a three-year divorce/custody battle was begun, resulting in too many encounters with police offices, counselors, and mediators. Those years of my life were spent wandering from the security of my dad’s house, to the staggering unpredictability of my mother’s House, to my future step-mom’s, grandparent’s, uncle’s, etc. With every traumatizing visit at The Christmas House and with every potentially redemptive moment with my mother spoiled by some effort of evil, my tears were absorbed by the walls of the house whose charm deteriorated with my mother’s grace. The corners of that house became my hiding places, the furniture turned into fortresses, and the bottomless piles of clothing in the laundry room grew around me as a cradle. I desperately clung to the power that I knew was in the Word of God as Jesus clearly protected me and drew me ever-closer into the fold of His wing. Yet The Christmas House still whined with the burden of evil wreaking havoc beneath its roof.
Each room eventually plundered by the darkness of my childhood, whatever innocent charm lingering in that house was otherwise raped and left a shameful mess. The walls of that house had seen too much, the floors shaken by too much, and for that reason had to be destroyed. The beauty of the historic house was eventually so degraded by the time my mother was removed from it, that it was best for it to be bulldozed into the grass. The abated fragments of treasured moments with my mother were left to fertilize the empty plot of grass where The Christmas House once stood along State Route 250. The only good left at all was from the
The emptiness of that land burrows into my heart as I feel the pain of a life that, even 10 years later, still gives me no peace. In some ways it has made me wiser and in others it has only confused me more. During the time Seth and I spent at the Christmas House for court-ordered visitation, I was essentially mothering him and making sure his needs were met. Gabriella, the baby that my mother had to a man now in prison, also ended up being a deep concern of mine. After 10 months of caring for her when my mother was unable, the baby was eventually taken into foster care. It wasn’t long after my dad was given sole custody and Gabriella put up for adoption, that my mother was torn away from The Christmas House and all of the hope that she found in it. She’s been in an out of hospital care, homeless shelters, and now has been taken into guardianship by her sister, whom I had never met.
The emptiness that my mother feels for the loss of her children and her idea of a normal life causes me deep sorrow. But the loss of my childhood digs even deeper, challenging my ability to care for her even today. I’ve only recently been able to allow God to pick up the broken pieces and offer a new hope with our relationship. After years of adhering to a no-contact order, I’m beginning to speak to her again. She constantly brings up the events of The Christmas House, the dreams that she feels she was robbed of, the family and the home that no longer exists. Moving on is impossible to her. And so, even today, as I make my feeble attempts to reconcile and have concern for my mother, our relationship is trapped beneath the failed roof of that house.
Since The Christmas House was destroyed, I’ve seen it from the road as my dad, brother, and I have driven past it on numerous occasions. It’s impossible to tear my eyes from that land as it drags across the car windows in passing. The fact that my dad has never offered to stop the car, though he knows it pains me to not even slow down, shows how determined he is to move forward from those years of darkness without looking back. And I know that this is what’s good. I’ve always trusted him. So I just keep quiet, my forehead against the cold glass and close my eyes, remembering my life in that house, turning over and over the image of my father realizing that it all must end if a life of new hope was to begin. It’s a cycle in my mind: I try to keep moving, looking forward. But even as I do, my mother always seems to be left behind, just like her Christmas House.
Chanting through the twilight air
their lovelorn songs scream for storms of despair
Wooing their own
Destroying your throne
Seizing your voice
Clamoring their noise
They choke the silence with the song you once sang
Screeching fills the midnight air
Crickets call forth the storms that rage against the seas
Whining to your enemies in a goading affair
Wooing their own
destroying your throne
The silence you succumb to is the disease that will overthrow you
the gryllidae seize your voice and sing your song
Calling forth the storm and with their lovers rejoice
As, with the morning, you are left alone