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War

When the Caissons went rolling along it was hi hi hee and the field artillery and
the grit and blood and cheery whistles of pink cheeked soldier boys even with death one skin away. Made the greatest generation, that’s what I heard. Saw it in black n white on our 12 inch TV, grainy, mythic, thin and distant.

Do you remember the posters, propaganda films, war bonds, bandages? Me neither.

But I remember live footage, young American soldiers and little Vietnamese children, skin peeling off, eyes like raw eggs, and the shaky boy soldiers when they came home, pumped full of heroin and fear, nodding off then exploding like death blasts in rice fields because something went boom. The tail pipe, the radiator, the plane flying high over head, breaking the sound barrier. Boom. And the sweating young man, the panting child, running, striking, do we think really of the glory of war, do we really?

So they sang. Young men with burnt skin and hubris crushed out like cigarette butts. Young women with dead lovers, Asian children with missing limbs, not the pretty ones adopted in the later round of after effects.

So they sang. Songs of protest and resistance, not loss and longing. Forget love. Send me back my legs, my skin, my heart broken by violence.

Whole 

There’s a hole in the roof

and the stars are shining through.

There’s a hole in my shoe,

sand rubbing on my right foot.

There’s a hole in the bucket

dear Liza dear Liza

and a place to empty,

a place to fill.

 

Sometimes emptiness

is a place, a presence that calls

for attention, calls as clear as a bell,

a baby crying, the ping of a text

from your one true love.

 

Sometimes emptiness

is a silence, an absence of

call. No ping, no singing

bell, no cry.

 

Take the sound and no sound,

the presence and absence,

put them together and there

is the whole, the whole thing,

the stars shining through,

the grit on the foot,

the feeling that everything

will pour out of the bucket

and it does.

 

It makes you want to cling

to that imperfect bucket,

just to feel the constancy,

the breathing motion

of empty and full.

Water

Babe Danube loved water. Not because of his name, not really. He was from Midland, Texas, where water was something you use to water the golf course. There was a man-made lake stocked with trout on the outskirts of town, but it was not much to write home about.
He was born Ted Wilson, but his mom changed her and his name when she got divorced. The lawyer told her go ahead, pick any name you want, you don’t have to go back to your maiden name if you don’t want to. So he became Barnaby Danube, and then Babe Danube, and that one stuck.
He grew up thinking about water, about the absence of water, about the flat brown landscape and the relentless distance. He moved to Seattle eventually, where he got a job doing telephone surveys. He swam whenever he could, and went crabbing in the northerly regions of Puget Sound. Eventually, he settled in a small community near the Maury Island Nature Preserve, and he worked from his little mildewed cabin, making phone calls and sending in data for collection. In that small town, he learned about fish, and environmental preservation, and sea lions. He learned to talk by script on the phone, and he learned to watch as the fishing boats came in and went out again.
Babe was a small man, shorter than most in Washington State, and his hair grew in a perpetual cowlick. The locals at Maury Island thought he must be a bit off, but really, he was just short, with a Texas accent. This was enough, at that time, to make him different.
One day, as he was swimming not too far off shore, he came alongside a kayak, and inside the kayak was a woman who was crying. “Why you crying?” he asked her, floating alongside her in the water.
“No reason, just go away,” she said. She blew her nose.
“No, really,” he said, paddling alongside of her, wishing he was taller, or maybe had more hair.
“Where on earth are you from?” she said, and she did not seem pleased.
“Midland, Texas,” he said, and he looked ashamed. Hard not to, to tell the truth.
“Well, Midland,” she said, “That’s an interesting accent, but go away.” He blushed and felt mad and sad, and he swam away.
From that day on, he worked on accents at his job as a telephone surveyor. Southern (easy), east coast, Bombay, Beijing, Barcelona. He got a bit alphabetical in his approach, but after just a few months he could switch to most major world accents (in English), and that made him feel taller, with more hair.
Every day, he went to the shore and he swam. He watched the population of Maury Island swell, and he switched accents and he watched. “Who loves what?” he asked himself, and he picked a handful of accents that made people friendly, or hostile, desirous or confiding.
It was true that he was looking for love, he was looking for voice, he was looking for someone to see and hear him as something other than Babe Danube from Midland, Texas. This did eventually pay off.
He was swimming one day in the Sound when he met a young lady who was bobbing along in an inflatable dragon floatie. “Nice floatie,” he said in his best Canadian accent.
“Thanks,’ she said. “I like it too. I got another one, out there on the beach, it you want to borrow.”
He did want to borrow. He floated with Jolene, from Fine Pick, Wisconsin, and they talked really a lot. About fish, and lakes, and the Gates compound back there in Seattle, and they spoke in accents. She could do Minnesota (easy), Scotland, the Phillipines, and she was just practicing L.A.-speak the day they met. It was awesome. On their first official date, she ordered an iced coffee, and he ordered an iced tea. “No,” she said. “Maybe chai.” But she smiled.
They may have had a happily ever after with each other, or maybe with someone else. Babe couldn’t say for sure, what with all those accents. They talked so much, and there was so much water all around them.

Moonrise

The mildest rosy moon has set,
No wolf, no war, no tidal wave
In silence sing both deep and wet,
Ringing shake the empty cave.

No wolf, no war, no tidal wave,
Sunrise wake bruised yellow air,
Ringing shake the empty cave,
Rain catch bell and bowl with care.

Sunrise wake bruised yellow air,
Silence, broken, dip and swell.
Rain catch bell and bowl with care,
Wash this bird or man or hell.

Silence, broken, dip and swell,
Break and mangle living bone.
Wash this bird or man or hell,
Broken damn or magi stone.

No wolf, no war, no tidal wave,
Breathe fine mist, green leaf, dark earth.
Ringing shake the empty cave,
Moonrise sing wise bright rebirth.

(Pantoum)

Name Day

Patch of skin, paste made of bone, bits of cartilage in a jar. Around me a spiral of blue scrubs, a gurney spins, mask floats mid air. Somewhere above, I hear an incantation from the wizard of anesthesia: count backward from one hundred . . .

morphine dreams of lions licking flowers, voices not mine say rest, lie back.
Inside these foggy walls I’m three years old again, fearful that someone
is changing my name.

Coming back, I wake holding tight to a starched skirt begging please hold me, push the button, send me back down. I can’t move, can’t speak, can’t rise beyond this fluorescent pain. A warm black hand unlocks my fingers, calls me milady in an island voice, pushes the hair off my forehead. I fall past the pain, past all dreaming as I watch the silent drip of comfort in a small plastic bag at my side.

I was silent for three years as a child, when the bones were cut from my face. Three years of no mouth, a name I couldn’t say, a name she tried
to change. I didn’t know how to answer when mom called me other names, so I didn’t answer at all, spent my days riding wishes like horses, chanting in my missing voice . . .

give me bones in my face I told stars, told wells, told dandelions, told apple stems, twisting not for true love like my sisters. My true love’s name starts with B, he is bones in my face. In dreams he calls my real name, and I answer in a clear, steady voice.

I go to sleep thirty years later, and wake with wishes granted. This face is stronger now, filled with skin bone cartilage where before was nothing but voiceless air and the battle to name an absence. I say my name with bruised lips; the force of new bone makes me ache. I didn’t know the hardware of wishes would batter me, burn me so deep.

Dad hated my cancer, he gave it my name. Mom hated my cancer, fought it and me with a rage that burned her dry, left nothing but bone she couldn’t give and new names for me she thought I would could should want to say.

But this is my name, don’t call me any other. I couldn’t speak, she couldn’t listen, and we became mute. We became mute.

In this room, with new bone and my name on the chart at my feet, I wish we could talk. I would say, if you could hear, that I know you were with me. I know you carried me to birth, then through that hospital with my blood soaking your dress. But I have built this face with bone and skin from my own body. I have earned this name, and it is mine.

Name Day was written many years ago. It has an interesting history as a performance piece, and has been used as text and conceptually in dance, music and theater works.

Six fingers

I’m a nice girl from a good fucking home, excuse me. I’ve taught exercise classes since my sophomore year at Kent State. Pilates, spin, kick-boxing. Finally got my degree in exercise physiology and worked in a physical therapy clinic for a year. I quit the clinic to teach pole dancing at a very goddamn nice club not too far from my mother’s house. Pole dancing was new to Shaker Heights, but I told mother not to worry, it’s not a strip club, it’s just another way of staying in shape. She wasn’t too sure, still pushing me to get married and stop working, but I did eventually convince her to come to class and was surprised by how much she loved it. Mom clinging and grinding up and down that pole did something to our relationship, opened us up, once I got over my own embarrassment. She took to it easily.

One day after class she brought up my sixth finger. I shitfuck don’t have a sixth finger any more, had it removed surgically in fifth grade, just a little scar. She said, “Did you notice, that girl at the striped purple pole by the window? She’s got six fingers too, just like you.” I actually hadn’t noticed, but I did next time she came to class. Her name was Dierdre, and she was apparently yet another sister.

I remember the first time I met one of my siblings, wondering how many there were. The things my mother kept hidden from me were doled out in tiny little stages, first the notice that I’d hellfire been adopted, then gradually that I had a brother, then two, then some sisters, until finally I came to understand that I had at least a baseball team worth of siblings, and most if not all of them lived in Shaker Heights and all of them had or were born with six fingers, shithead fuckinghell. Dierdre was a nice girl, mild and easygoing. No cursing from her, she’s not a Tourette’s attraction like I am, just that extra finger, waving at me, saying look, we have a shared secret, don’t we?

 

(This is a fictional memoir, also written in 15 minutes.)

 

Guilt

“Tell me why you feel guilty.”

That’s how he started our interview.

“Pardon?” I asked.

“Tell me why you feel guilty.”

And such is the nature of this economy that I, fresh bachelor’s degree in hand, attempted to tell him why I feel guilty. Guilty.

“Are you an only child?” he asked next.

“I’m not a child,” I said. He laughed, and pushed his chair back. He handed me his bag and asked me to take it down to baggage check for American Airlines at the Albuquerque Sunport. The attendant at baggage claim would be waiting for it, he said. He shook my hand. Payment when I get back, he said.

I don’t feel guilty. Just stupid, and fearless, and excited. Even as I carried it from short term parking to baggage check, tucked snugly against my chest, I could feel the weight of it pressing against me. Heavy as sand.

I’ll tell you why I feel guilty, but not today. I am one of many daughters in my family, too many daughters, they always said. Raise girls, dad said, but not too many. Once raised, you have to train them.

You might say I am an example of good training gone wrong. It’s been two weeks now. As I stand here on this narrow path that leads up to the lighthouse, I can see the sea strain to climb up on the land. The salt wind burns cold and hot against my face. If those are tears, they are not mine. I do not feel guilty.

 


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