Posts Tagged 'children'


“It is warm in there, warm as a badger hole,” said Elizabeth, who was 10 and therefore considered very practical and mature.

“How do you know how warm a badger hole is?” Michael interrupted, even more practical at 12 and dull as dirt, at least to Elizabeth.

“She just knows, so you shut up,” said Isabella, who was almost as old as Michael, and competitive, as cousins sometimes are.

“But – but- but “ said Jeremiah ,stretching his words for dramatic effect, “It wasn’t just the horse who went crazy that day.” He bulged his eyeballs and rolled them at the smaller children, who laughed or whimpered, depending on how much younger, and how susceptible.

“It wasn’t just the horse who went crazy that day,” Jeremiah repeated, stretching his teeth into a tight grimace and bugging out his eyes. The children stared, and laughed, uneasily, or tucked their noses into their cousins’ warm wooly armpits, eyes peaking out beyond the fear.

“It was also the sparrows, and the finches, and the robins,” he listed solemnly. Each bird, as named, made a silent space in the room for each child, as they thought back about sounds they’d never heard, not this spring, more silent than any spring before. More silent than any spring since, although they’d no way of knowing that at this moment in time.

Michael, Jeremiah and Elizabeth would meet many years after this initial encounter at a conference on entomology, mythology, and oly-ology held in San Francisco in a building that looked like a crochet hook, reaching up to the sky and then dropping down a handful of conference rooms on the tag end of the hook, conference rooms that swung slightly for 48 or 72 hours, engendering both a slight queasiness and a sense of comfort. Deeply felt conferences were cradled in that hook – Elizabeth looked back on these as a kind of magic, although not necessarily a magic she would be comfortable wearing every day.


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.


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.

Jennifer and Stephen

Jennifer and Stephen

“We’ve had this discussion how many times now? How many?” She is talking in that tone of voice, the patient tone she uses with unfortunate people, and Stephen feels unfortunate, which makes him want to leave even more.

“We’ll keep having this discussion until we can make some kind of decision that we can both be satisfied with,” he says, meeting her tone for tone. He mediates for a living, has the conflict resolution skills of a grand master, and feels like tearing his own face off of his head and running through the streets of Santa Fe screaming until someone calls a task force in to take him down. He sighs.

They’ve been talking to Sofia, their daughter, about the discussion, but have refrained from fighting in her presence. In retrospect, Stephen thinks this may have been a bad idea, a throwback strategy to his parents generation. Staying together for the children, never go to bed angry, and so on. They’ve talked and processed and reasoned their way through every step of their relationship, from day one, when they practiced “When you say this, I feel that” in their interpersonal communications forum for undergraduate students at Santa Cruz. Stephen wishes now that he’d majored in theater instead of communication, or design, or engineering. Something less or more something. Contained. Rational. Soft science with a hard frame. Jennifer has her parallel regrets, Stephen knows. Right now, he doesn’t care.

In the airport

Ms. Desiree Staunton listens to people on their cellphones as they rush by on their way to and from. Knits together their snaggled conversations into word blankets and collages made of paper and wood and glass and hair and sells them to the designers guild to put in model homes in developments all across the Southwest. Round shapes, a letter here and there, a confession, a complaint. The corner of someone’s face, caught without notice. An invasion of privacy into a conversation taking place publically and very close to a runway. A runaway, Desiree calls these.


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

Summer vacation

wooden crate

I lived for a time in a solid wooden box. Not cardboard, you can’t live in cardboard for long; first rain takes you out, puts you back in shelter.

I believe in shelter. I believe in shelter like I never believed in some other things. Once, when I was little, I lived in a doll house behind a big old palace, or mansion I guess it might have been. In Texas. The folks who lived in that mansion were almost never there; they lived in Connecticut most of the time is what I heard from Elba, who washed their clothes and put food out for the stray cats in the neighborhood (pretty good food, it was, and with cloth napkins, sometimes). I slept in that doll house, belonged to these folks little girls, only like I said they were never there anyway and I guess the people who kept the place up while they were gone didn’t much mind me for a certain length of time. I stayed there one entire summer. It was small for a real house, but real big for a doll house. There was a kitchen that actually worked, only it was short, like for kids about 7 years old or so, with a sink and a little fridge. No stove, but I did find cigarettes and matches in the little bitty roll-top desk in the living room. There was a velvet sofa in there, too, almost big enough for me at the beginning of the summer but I had a growing spell and had to switch to the little bedroom with the two twin beds. I had one big summer of pretend. I pretended I was Goldilocks. I pretended I lived in the Magic Kingdom. I pretended I was a fireman. I pretended I was flying through space in a rocket ship. I found a telescope one evening in the gardens near the house and looked through it on a clear night and I saw shooting stars and I imagined myself up there in the constellations riding a horse with magnificent wings. This was maybe my best summer ever in my entire growing up years. There was a little bitty library in that small house, too, and since I like to read I found myself curled up on that velvet sofa or stretched out on those twin beds with the chenille bedspreads reading all night.

In the daytime, when there were people around, I headed on into town and went to the full size library, where they didn’t have snacks lying around or anything like a little privacy, but they did have air conditioning, which was new in Texas at that time and most welcome by just about everyone. Back then all the older ladies still carried their fans with them everyway, and every one of them smelled like lavendar sachet and talcum. Old ladies always made me sneeze, and I can barely think of them even now without the end of my nose twitching reflexively. In those days, librarians were strict about silence, and about not folding the pages of the book back. I knew how to follow the rules, even back then, and how to break them without getting too lost from my own sense of what was right and what was wrong.

At the end of the summer, I came home to the doll house one evening and found that it had been visited. There were piles of toys stacked against the wall in the little living room, most of them with their price tags still on. There was this one toy donkey, about 3 foot high, almost big enough to ride on, and if you pulled his tail and let go, he made a big hee-haw sound and his ears wiggled. That was one expensive donkey. I looked around – didn’t seem like anyone had noticed my stuff, it wasn’t touched at all. So I gathered it up and put it back in the pillow case I’d been carrying it in before I stopped here, and I left. I found a bag out by the back porch where the cats eat, with peanut butter sandwiches, some fritos, and a few apples, and I took those with me. Cats don’t really like peanut butter, anyway, I said to myself.

stuffed donkey

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.

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