Archive for the 'children' Category

Morning

I remember your twin brother and how he had a dimple on the left side of his smile. You didn’t have any dimples, and when I was seven I was suspicious that you and he were not really twins after all. But still the two of you always had perfect synchronization, rebuilding carburetors, installing the new clutch cables, draining and replacing the transmission fluid. It was a twin ballet, the two of you so different, one with dimple and one without, Jake with his dirty jeans and his flat boy butt, you with your sweats and the tank top that showed a little bit of girl belly. I remember that Jake lied more often than you did, at least I noticed him lying, and when he left, he went to France, or so he said. But when he came back, he didn’t seem to have picked up any French at all. Meanwhile, you and I had been studying up in school so that when we graduated we could go to France together and the three of us have a French movie adventure, something with beaches and candlelight and that was romantic, wasn’t it?

I remember when my dad came home from work one morning. We were making breakfast; there was a tower of toast and the bacon was in the frying pan, spitting hot grease over the white stove top. He came in and sat down without saying anything, not even “mmm, bacon” and he did not pour himself a cup of coffee like he usually did, just took off his gun belt, hung it over the back of the chair and pressed his hands together like they hurt or something. Mom turned away from the bacon, yelped a little at the hot grease as it caught her on the wrist. She wet a dishcloth with cold water and put it on her wrist, and sat down across the table from dad. He kept his hands pressed together, and after a moment, she reached out and put her hand, dishcloth and all, over his, and there was silence, and grease popping, and the toaster shot out two slices of bread.

“Kids, go on out and feed the dogs,” she said. “We’ll have breakfast ready in about 15 minutes.”  I started to protest, but Jerry kicked me and pushed me out the kitchen door.

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Concatenation

I come from the island country of Concatenation. The commonwealth of Concatenation was named by the state poets and accountants who were held responsible for balancing the books, booking the best artists, poets and musicians; and the doctors, who raised the technology of health care to a single point of light. Every citizen of Concatenation was entitled to unlimited hair removal, dermabrasion and cold laser therapy. They were uniformly smooth, soft and silky to the touch, but unfortunately utterly unable to tolerate touch of any kind, and so the pedestal was actually invented in the commonwealth of Concatenation, a little known fact that has nonetheless shaped the past and future of the Catenates who first migrated to the island in 1846 from a small atoll on a deep current that passes Concatenation during times of climate change.

There was a heavy wind that day, I remember distinctly, with a sunset that was mango colored and shot with clouds. There was a ringing in my head, and a sense of warning, as of shipwreck, the shipwreck that is in the bones of all natives of Concatenation, the one that brought us here, and threw us away, stranded, on foreign soil.

Standing on the prow of a sailing ship is a young boy, or a young girl, no one ever knows in these stories, but whoever or whatever he is, he stands tall and looks far as the ship tosses. Only the very young can be tossed like this without severing an artery or rupturing a disc, and so we know that the young boy or girl is rubbery and ripe for the hard action of adventure. The slim bare feet are dirty, the kerchief ties the tangled brown hair back and away from the face, which is both brown and mischievous. This child, regardless of age, stature or gender, has been traveling like Pan on the seven seas, and here has come to the island of Concatenation, where the adventure changes suddenly from swashbuckling and overt to spicy, mysterious, and internal. I saw the child there, hanging onto the ropes, nearly falling into the wash, and I saw my future. Pulling against my mother’s skirts, I tugged away, away from her brush and her braiding, away from the skin, hair and nail care that made up my predicted path, and ran into the foaming waters at the edge of the sea on the island of concatenation, where I heard the sea birds ringing in the changing of the season, tintinabulating, sang the birds. And so what, you may ask? That was the first day of my life as a pirate, is what I say back to you, the me who is little and wild and still hairy as might be. Saved.

The singing beggar

gold lame

There once was a beggar who loved to hear himself sing. He started out as a child.

Most singers start out as children. I remember, myself, singing to my small dolls, which were made of popsicle sticks dressed in fabric scraps. At that time, gingham was easily come by, but my small dolls did not sing back to me until after the war, when the fabric samples suddenly bloomed. The gingham was still there, but also sequined fabrics, gold lame, bright silks, rayon, some thin gauzy fabrics that were neither silk nor satin. My popsicle dolls dressed more and more for evening wear, their little painted faces had rosebud mouths and eyelashes drawn on for many nights on the town. They put on little plays, some geisha action, but with Debbie Reynold’s moral sensibilities, and these popsicle girls were terribly conflicted. I didn’t know what to do with them, exactly, and put them away for some time. Took singing lessons, etiquette, even found a small Korean book on how to entertain American service men. This was in English, marginally, with many grammatical errors but the basic message intact: listen carefully, your face must mirror your companion, no extra movement of body, hands or face.

I taught my dolls to keep their faces still and their stick bodies well dressed. We learned to sing simple Korean songs, little jingles that had two or three American English words. I learned to tilt my head at the exact right angle to convey interest, kindness, and willingness.  My dolls had red rosy cheeks.

Then one day my uncle, who was an American serviceman, came by to say hello and to bring us presents. When he saw my dolls, he took them and crushed them and screamed at my many Korean moms, who were raising me to be right for them, right like they were being, and I felt sad, confused, and angry, too, to tell you the truth. Then I went away to school at the American school where Ken, my American sponsor, sent me, until I was 17, when I went away to the U.S. to go to college, where I studied music. And that is another story.

First I will tell you a true story

v is for violin

First I will tell you a true story. Then I will throw a big bag of words at you, because I can.

True story: About a year ago I was working with a kid who did not talk, almost three years old, no language at all. I spent a few months getting past his fear and hysteria, helping to lead his mother to the A word. Autism. One day, teaming with my therapy partner, she was talking with mom about his learning style. While they talked , I had Lou leaning against me, looking at cards as I turned them over and named them.  It was rare for him to touch me, or to sit quietly, or to interact in any social way. I showed him another card and said the name: Violin. And the next one: Rainbow. He took them from me and said: Violin. And showed me the card. Then the other: Rainbow. And showed me the card. Then he danced around the room with the two cards, saying Violin (holding it out). Rainbow (holding it out).  First words. Violin. Rainbow. Three years old. For the next few weeks, he kept those cards close, repeating the names. And new words came, all of a sudden, a suddenly opening door.

 

Suddenly words

You might consider your libido as a kind of ornament, hanging on a tree like a ripe tomato, or secret and deep as a trench, ripe and sweet as fresh-squeezed juice. But that’s not how we do it round here. We keep our spirits up, we’re green and crisp as spring salad. We like to showcase our young; reservations are required. At the Odium Theatre every year there is an extravaganza that features filigreed kimonos (most of them in mauve) challenging the deep water acrobats, diving into moats, down gorges, smiling and waving all the way down. The journalists draw pictures of them, smirking like Cheshire cats, jumping down that gorge, making aerial hairpin turns, alive alive alive until there’s a bad moment, could have been just a bruise but instead the truth is a bastard, a dastardly freak who gloats at the bloated corpse that floats downstream until it is washed up in a swamp, a quagmire, a murky, queer and unlikely terrain. The distinguished gentleman stands and with characteristic discernment and an unseemly relish demonstrates his encyclopedic knowledge, his Hail Britannica superiority. After hours he goes home, shoots up, and plays the violin, watches as the sun goes down, where the rainbow smudges the lengthening sky. But never mind all that, indeed, certainly not, it’s not surely, but you jest, and you find this questionable, this questionable judgment that zooms past us while we stand and pontificate. Zip it up, friend, make it work, it’s not me, it’s the esoteric tickle of uncertainty, the chronic temperamental temptations of someone who loves Pandora, the Explora who is no esoteric Cassandra, no hunch maker, inkling spreader, odds wagerer. She is more like coals carried aloft on balloons, leaving their baggage suspended on earth day, the flying Brenda on the wall, bounteous, dubious, glorious, smack down gorgeous, suspended indefinitely by curious safeguards draped in a koolaid smile.

rainbow ocean by thelma

Rainbow Ocean by Thelma 1 at deviantart.com

Zola runs

After one hour. One hour. Not a talkative child, not really, but after one hour of riding in the high nest of a truly big semi cab, the girl starts to talk to the man behind the wheel. Ever been behind the wheel? Lot  of things to hear, and that high seat, looking out over the great highways, it’s a map, it’s a history. That driver, old-ish at 50 from driving hundred of thousands of miles, he’s like the pope, or a grand wizard, looking down on people like ants, and the girl is an ant. The man behind the wheel starts feeling himself to be a spiritual advisor. Life is the road. The road is life. He says stuff like that. So she starts to talk, and he listens in his big head Wizard of Oz way until he realizes no, this kid and her kid, that he picked up on a black road in a deep night, they’d really need to be far away from here.

This is where not too much can be said, or folks who are still here might suffer, might find sudden bad luck visited upon then. Even still, even now we can say that the girl brought her belly and her secrets with her on the road between Abilene and Padre, thanks to the big rig driver who was not the wizard of Oz, who set her off a little bit away from where she’d been going, back toward family who were willing not just to hide but to twist her secrets to keep the family looking right into the eyes of God.

Here is where time challenges some of what we know, because the woman, the child, the birth, the release of life into the open space – they push us uncomfortably toward the primitive, the unsanitary.

Zola labors

She refused a cigarette and did not want to sit down.

“I have been jealous before, don’t think I haven’t. This just isn’t it.” She said. She paced and the light in the room was hard and white. She was soft and brown. Soft and brown and angry, in more trouble than she knew. Too young, this girl. Odds were against her, if you want to know the truth.

“Tell us again why you shot him,” said the younger man, who might have been good looking if it weren’t for the bad skin and that expression. A flat expression, flat like a sidewalk, that gave nothing back. Zola stopped pacing and smoking for a minute to look at him. She had the cigarette hanging out of her mouth, like she’d practiced when she was learning how to smoke, and it was burning her eyes. She wiped them dry, and put the cigarette out.

“Going to tell you again that I didn’t shoot him. You got a hearing problem?” She said and she looked at him and dared him to tell her fuck-all. She rubbed her big belly and said she needed to sit down before she went into labor. The younger man looked away, sudden discomfort marking his face, adding to the acne scars and he looked too young to be hard like a sidewalk. She felt sorry for him, with that bad skin, maybe he might not be such a bad guy if…

The older man interrupted this line of thought with a sudden hard bang on the table. Hey, she thinks, suddenly energized by loud noises at this late stage of her pregnancy, these two are playing good cop/bad cop with me. The fog and the hormones cleared like a rough weather front all of a sudden and she played her one and only card. Childbirth. Clutching the belly, she crouched suddenly down and commenced a good primitive wail, like she’d learned in that Lamaze class her social worker had been taking her to. She leaned, she wailed, she tried to pee herself but couldn’t quite manage it. Bubba one and two couldn’t tell, though; she’d scared them already with that first round of deep breathing.

Zola prayed to the gods of delivery to spare her from an actual early labor, and they were listening. She was out of the hard tile room with the sharp white light and into the warm unconditional arms of her social worker and a maternity ward, where she spent the next three weeks as a ward of the state, eating good and with blankets, stuffed animals, and unlimited cable TV. They cut off her cigarettes, but this was better than jail and interrogation, she figured, and when she did finally give birth to that hairy little girl, she was happy to see the pink skin and the long newborn fingers, and all in all, she was glad she scared holy crap out of a couple of redneck cops if it led to this cadillac delivery, all nice and clean like she’s a lady with full medical coverage and a husband somewhere waiting in the hallway to come in after all is birthed and bathed and settled to pretty rights.

On more than one occasion in the life of Zola Gorgon, she’d fallen into a hormonal trance that convinced her that all was well and safe and easy. On more than one occasion, she’d snapped out of it in time to avoid permanent damage. This was one of those times.

 

Summer Triptych

Summertime

Little baby with flyaway hair is dancing. White sheets on a clothesline and a tree with green leaves waving high to the big blue sky. Baby laughs and waves at tree and sheets and runs through grass to cool mud. A reel-to-reel memory and the baby has blue-green eyes, half on land, half at sea. We laugh and toss her between us. Then nothing and the film strip thwock thwocks at the end of the reel. Thwock thwock, thwock thwock, then the living room is dark except for the hard white light staring out the end of the projector.

In summertime, there are many smells. Smells of hot, melting tarmac, of laundromats billowing out sweet dirty laundry sheets and bleach. Hair burnt crunchy and dry, slightly green from chlorine and swim lessons. Chemistry smells lingering wherever blue pools light up at night. Steaming bright midnight, an abandoned inflatable chair rocking gently in the wee hours as the pool filter blurbs and billows, benign and protective.

 

Making do

Wish I had a shoestring. What do I have? Rummaging in this paper bag, I find a bag of Fritos, a dollar twenty five in change, and a book of matches. Making do. I buy a single cigarette from the Circle K on the corner of Solano and Hadley, sit on the corner in the hot July evening. I eat the Fritos and go back inside for a cherry lime slurpee. Then back out on the curb, I smoke the cigarette and drink the slurpee and my tongue turns bright red. A white Chevy Nova pulls up at the corner and I kiss the boy in the driver’s seat with my bright red tongue, which is still cold. Then I run away into the dark alley behind the Circle K and lose him almost immediately. Ten minutes pass, then twenty, and I walk back to the Circle K for another cigarette. They are three cents apiece. I now have a paper bag, 45 cents, and no place to sleep tonight. It is 1 a.m. and the streets are still hot. I can see moths and fireflies banging against the streetlight in the parking lot. I put the cigarette out and save the butt in an empty pack, then walk down Hadley three blocks, four, til I come to a small square park with a bandstand in a summer pagoda. It is the only building lit this time of night. The boy is there, waiting for me, and we dance a polka on the raised stage. There are still flowers in early summer, not worn and dry like everything else here will be by August.  We sit on the steps at the edge of the stage; we can both see the fourth of July from here, still three weeks away. We lean back and look up at the sky and the stars are fireworks, shooting up into the deep forever and bursting. Thousands of shooting stars bursting and showering the night, comet tails leaving a bright, trailing signature. We sleep in the Nova that night, him in the front seat sitting up, me in the back with a trunk blanket on the floorboards in case of a chilly dawn. In the morning, we drive to the Denny’s to wash our hands and faces, and order coffee, and fill my purse with crackers and jelly packets and a bottle of catsup for later. Then we go back to the Circle K for a cigarette, which we share. Later, we will either go back home, or find another place to stay, or do the same thing again tonight.

 

Be happy, precious five

Be happy, precious five.
Five fingers, five toes.
Five days in a work week.
Five acres, five dreams
Dreamt in a night of coupling

Uncoupling, dreamt in a night
Of sweat and a morning of worry.
The snow coming late, left early
And everything is dry:
Grass, air, trees, eyes, and dry is a crisp
Threat calling sparks from the sky.

I am counting on my five
Fingers, five toes, counting on
Rain, counting on clouds piling up over
There, over there, purple and heavy,
Pregnant like cattle in this late spring.
We are overdue, it is past time.
I am counting the days til the rains begin.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

Until then, I cannot afford to breathe. Hail Mary,
Hail Mary, send us hail, send us rain,
send us rain. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

 

(Three prompts: “Summer” 10 minutes; “Making do on a shoestring” 20 minutes; “Precious Five” – W.H. Auden – 10 minutes.)


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