February 9, 2014

Forgotten

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

Mother checked her watch again, doing her best not to let her daughter see her eyes directly. At eight years old, Izzy already knew what that look meant. As they both sat at the picnic table waiting, the tall trees around Pritchard Park were lithe in a warm mid-afternoon breeze. Izzy watched a brochure gliding along the edge of the grassy lot they’d staked out for her birthday party. She chased after it.

Mother adjusted her halter where it dug into the roll of skin under her arm. She too was fidgety, tapping her pinky finger on the plastic table cover. She pressed the creases that remained from being inside the package. She adjusted her thick-framed glasses that weighed on the oily bridge of her nose. She watched balloons bounce against each other. She checked the tape along the border of the picnic table that kept the strands of crepe paper in place. With another breeze, she brushed back strings of her straight hair that she never had a chance to wash that morning. She wished she wasn’t in such a rush when they left the apartment; she’d forgotten her cigarettes on the kitchen counter.

Izzy returned to the table, showing the brochure to her mother. On the weathered cover was the image of Jesus floating above an apocalyptic landscape. Underneath him was the phrase I am coming soon … I am the Alpha and Omega. Mother took the brochure, folded it and pressed her palm on it. When she looked at Izzy, they smiled at each other. Izzy walked away again, preoccupied, humming to herself.

Mother removed her hand. The brochure unfolded itself. She was bothered that her daughter would see such an image on her birthday. She watched Izzy dance in the grass reassuring herself that Izzy wasn’t bothered. She hid the brochure in a bag with wrappers and other trash and continued watching her daughter dance. She noticed the trepidation in Izzy’s movements. Izzy lacked the expression that other girls had: full body motions, arms swinging confidently, legs airborne. Izzy seemed to censure herself, stopping her arms halfway, her feet never leaving the grass. Alone at the table waiting, mother didn’t need to censure her disappointment behind a smile. She too remained expressionless. Izzy reminded her of herself as a child, never knowing her father. Even as Mother wanted more for Izzy by giving her a birthday party, she knew it only veiled an underlying disappointment for both of them.

Mother felt the warmth of the sun on her shoulders and closed her eyes briefly. For a moment she took in a deep breath and listened to birds and cicadas, rustling leaves, and cars moving in and out of the parking lot in the distance. She caught the smell of burning lighter fluid from a grill nearby, and then the smell of the latex balloons taped to the table. She opened her eyes and looked at her worn hands. She clenched them then opened them several times, assuring them an afternoon of rest from the routine of her assembly line work at the local medical device plant. She wanted to enjoy her day with Izzy before her third shift later in the evening.

Izzy had stopped dancing and was watching a family in the next lot. Parents were moving fully around a picnic table and smoking grill. Children were chasing each other and yelling. Mother watched Izzy. She knew she couldn’t stop Izzy from thinking what Mother tried to mask. Mother let her watch the family as she pulled a rolled poster from a bag under the table, grabbed her masking tape and walked to a nearby maple, her flip-flops clacking with every step. She pressed the top of the poster against the bark and tore a piece of tape from the roll. She secured it, tore another piece and placed it on the bottom.

Mother inspected the homemade poster and ran her eyes across the words: Happy 8th Birthday Izzy! In the sunlight she could see the gaps without color inside the letters. She thought that she should have done a better job coloring for the sake of Izzy’s friends and their mothers. She reinforced the poster on the tree trunk with several more pieces of tape before another breeze blew. By then, Izzy had come back to the table. She held an invitation in her hand that she’d pulled from Mother’s bag. Mother knew that Izzy was silently asking herself the difference between the time on the invitation and the present. Izzy knew there was a gap. Mother walked back to the table worried that Izzy might already know. There would always be colorless gaps.

As they both sat again and waited, a wasp hovered above Izzy’s birthday cake. Izzy yelped and stood from the table as Mother swung her hand. Another wasp then hovered. Izzy extended her arm to Mother. Mother grabbed the invitation from her hand and swiped at them. The latecomer disappeared as Mother saw the other wasp lodged in the frosting. She scooped it out with the invitation and crushed it inside. Izzy returned to the table and sat. She saw Mother’s displeasure. Izzy knew what time and money Mother had sacrificed for her birthday party.

Mother forgot to smile because she sensed that what she wanted so much wasn’t going to happen. She couldn’t decide how much longer they would wait. She relied on the thought that Izzy still had hope, but wondered if Izzy had already learned to veil her disappointment. Was Izzy’s hope intended for Mother’s sake? Mother wondered if Izzy would blame herself. She listened to Izzy humming to herself again. They both sat at the table waiting.

Izzy watched Mother reach in the bag and place a package on the table. Izzy looked at Mother who nodded back. She smiled and grabbed the package from the table. She held it for a moment, wondering what it could be. Mother smiled. Izzy pulled at the wrapping delicately until it lay open and flat on her lap. She raised a picture frame to the table and stared at the photo of her and Mother smiling. Mother wanted Izzy to open it in the presence of her friends. She wanted it to remind her of the day Mother threw her a birthday party. Instead, Mother wondered if it would be a bitter reminder of the day they were forgotten.

Izzy placed the picture on the table and meticulously ran her finger along the frame. Mother was angry at herself. She knew Izzy was disappointed. She could have found a nice summer top, or a stuffed animal for Izzy. It was too late. Mother could only find some consolation in the fact that none of the invited were there to see Izzy open the gift after all. They sat idly, waiting.

A late afternoon gust caught them by surprise and sent napkins and paper plates flying off of the table along with two balloons, a strip of crepe paper, and the invitation containing the dead wasp. The loosened birthday poster fell to the ground. As Mother shuffled to retrieve it, Izzy leapt and chased after the debris. Mother scorned while Izzy laughed.

Hearing Izzy, Mother sighed. She wanted the laughter to be real, not as comfort. She wanted to turn and see Izzy both smiling again and for the first time. She wanted Izzy to stop feeling the need to comfort Mother for the failed day. Mother wanted the last ninety minutes to do all over again.

Mother picked up the poster and turned back. Izzy returned to the table with hands full of paper. She looked closer at Izzy’s face. She couldn’t stop projecting disappointment into Izzy’s thoughts even as Izzy busily stuffed trash in the bag. Mother walked back to the table and rolled up the poster. She realized that if they stayed, they would be waiting indefinitely. There would be no Coming. The beginning and the end would be the same. Along the grass in the distance, the wind blew the forgotten invitation under lithe trees unnoticed.

~

February 2, 2014

Daydreamer

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

~

escapism in a pickling jar

acquires its own flavor

but by a certain age ideals sour

it’s why the moment before waking is so attractive

~

to wander to a place not so far

just enough to fool reality

into tasting familiar

and youthful

~

distinct from memory

void of reminiscence

something beyond convention

full of effortless thought

~

tastes surrounding texture

sounds beyond range

spots of canvas untouched by pigment

moments in negative space

~

one is fleeting

but a collective contained in distilled borders

is a hopeful consolation

of an idea matured in waiting

~

I reach for it when waking

then with eyes open it ricochets off of walls

promising to return

obligating me to daydream

 ~

January 26, 2014

beheaded

PuvisdeChavannes,PierreCécile

Photo: Creative Commons

~

mind of mine

born in another

were this possible

would this poem be different

~

forgetting where I walk

not remembering your name

my million lapses in synapses

as unreliable as knowing where falling leaves land

would you be tinted in the same crimson colors

~

the same childhood fears

memories matured with time

dreams intact

words as natural

science as mysterious

layers of soil covering archeological artifacts

would you find the same

~

privilege re-matched to a skin

social circles redrawn in ovals

a home on a hill

where I see my former self without knowing him

would life be so different

~

though I can never know the possibility

my mind rests under a late afternoon sky

consciousness drifts into chaparral, into dry soil

beheaded with the thought of elsewhere

another plane

through another’s eyes

~

then red sun

I think to myself:

were this poem spoken

in other words

would it too end here

~

January 19, 2014

Ode To The Santa Anas

SantaAnasinOC

~

Santa Anas when you blow

across the Southern California landscape

in January

you clear the air of particulates

that no longer matter:

pollutants,

dry earth,

and dead skin cells alike.

~

When I wake before sunrise

I see the branches on the Ficus benjamina outside my window

shake like a dog right out of water.

Your wind burrows through the thin rafters of my flat

as if to say I can shake you better than the earthquakes do.

The bright mid-morning sky is deeper, bluer.

It still is winter after all.

My mind clears.

I smile to the car next to me on the freeway.

Until now I forgot what it’s like to look someone in the eye.

The mountain ranges to the East are closer today.

They look me in the eye waiting for my thank you,

my appreciation for the way they compress the cold winds from the North

into a warm desert oscillation that brings wind farms to life.

~

By afternoon

you fold across the region;

your arms and legs flatten

like an ingenue reading her script

on a floating chaise longue

in a pool

in the Hills.

When the Fahrenheit peaks,

your tongue laps the smoke plume above the Angeles.

The smell permeates my open, thirsty pores.

People rear their heads to the sky like deer during hunting season;

urbanites revert to native instincts.

Our proofs of progress

are almost trivial today.

~

As the sun sets

and red hot irons

spread beyond Catalina,

weaves of hot and cold air

interlace along the coast.

The darkening San Bernardino Mountains retreat

taking the freeways with them.

It’s a confusing winter evening

of shedding layers.

I should

be cold

in

my t-shirt

shouldn’t I?

~

When another molt

is complete

and winds calm,

a fresh skyline glows

beyond the silhouettes of palm trees

in a new skin.

~

December 22, 2013

City Solstice

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

~

On this silent night

Venus lifts her veil as she waits on the horizon

Through her crescent smile, she holds her breath

~

I lower my wool scarf to smell the cold, unfiltered air

I listen to park branches, illumined by reliable moonlight

Light and time slow as the night draws closer to solstice

~

Still people retire to warm flats

Still nature folds under ice sidewalks

Still night in the city

~

Though reliable as she may be

Venus suspends herself for a moment

From life forever in revolution

~

I too wait until the moment

When a revolution ends

And another begins

~

When ice cracks on a frozen pond

When a jet bellows in the distance

When sirens echo on city streets

~

Venus lowers her veil

And with a pulse she breathes again on the celestial city horizon

Before blending back into this silent night

~

December 1, 2013

Molcajete of My Life

Photo: Patricia Jinich, 2010

Photo: Patricia Jinich, 2010

~

Porous volcanic rock of my skin

Tejolote of my mind

The lingering smells of the past

Of pounded herbs and spices and memories of home

Garlic of my mother

Cumin of her mother

Cilantro of hers

The many spices of my ancestry

Are residue-enhanced flavors of my present

Each meal with my molcajete

Every pound of the stone that reshapes my soul

Is many meals bequeathed

Is remembrance of my lineage

Is legacy for my future

Is life

~

November 27, 2013

don’t gotta eat

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

november 23

Mom I’m a grown college man you never got to see I won’t forget what it was like back then winter tried you broke you down with a shot furnace when the car didn’t start you didn’t have to tell me again you were sorry for making me tardy to school in seventh grade I was too grown up to get my meal tickets from the office each monday you yelled at me when I said I don’t gotta eat I didn’t want anybody to see me I bought what I could and found a used brown bag an empty soda can had them out before anybody knew you would be amazed how they feed me in college can pick me anything with my meal card and nobody says anything I know how ladies at the piggly wiggly back home whispered at the people on food assistance (I still hate that word welfare) like us but when you’d come home late to make something warm for supper you would smile at me for eating nobody knew how sick you were except me when I was old enough to get a job it was like thanksgiving for us remember how I loved surprising you with a real hamburger on fridays but when the restaurant manager fired me I told you that he said I was late too much it was really because he saw me slip food into my backpack to take home you were mad at me every friday after that when I told you I don’t gotta eat I couldn’t work after you got worse when you stopped eating you weren’t as strong anymore those nights at the hospital when I held your cold hands you yelled at me for being too thin the last time I told you I don’t gotta eat you said don’t have to eat son use the right english I’m doing okay now I have your work ethic and I study hard I’m still skinny I miss suppers with you but I know now I have to eat

~

~

November 24, 2013

breathing in black and white

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

~

life in every iteration is matter

that begins in black and white

and expands with colored words over time

~

ideas transmuted by ink on paper

those that die are erased

brushed off the page in bits and dust

~

we breathe in the discarded thoughts floating around us

absorb them into new ideas

reiterate them in new thoughts

~

a cycle of familiarization

predecessors unforgotten

legacies to progenitors

~

until life is once again stripped of color

in a state of black and white

hoping rather to breathe than be breathed

~

November 17, 2013

Fighting Fat Randy

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

When I saw Randy Hadley’s obituary on my hometown newspaper’s website, the only recognizable feature in the photo of the grown man was his gaping mouth. In the brief summary of his life after the last time I saw him, Randy left the Midwest and returned to Kentucky. The absence of any references to a wife and children, career, education and community involvement gave me a clearer picture of the lonely trajectory of Randy’s life since moving away from the neighborhood.

Randy died of complications from Type 2 Diabetes. In his obituary photo he resembled Fatty Arbuckle. His boyish face was anchored by his excessive weight, expressionless brows and lost eyes. See, we knew Randy back then as Fat Randy. In the pejorative and crude way kids related to difference, Fat Randy represented the world outside of our urban neighborhood; it was a world unkind to boys of color.

Besides his weight, Fat Randy had his challenges. While undiagnosed at the time, mild autism and a stunted intellect prompted mood swings and little in the way of assimilation with neighborhood kids. Yet he was exploited for his height and size which served well in pickup football games. Though he couldn’t catch a ball, he was a good offensive guard. He took victories cheerfully but had a peculiar tick. Whenever he laughed, he clapped, and then flapped his hands as if shaking off the pain of his laughter.

At dusk when we collected ourselves curbside to play kick the can, Fat Randy was on the periphery, staring at fireflies, laughing; it would be easy to think that he was lost in his thoughts, clapping; he was fighting inside, flapping. Even then, he seemed angry at his world, at us, at fireflies – anything that would remind him that life was better than his lot. For a moment I watched him watching the orbs. When I turned back to the group, I could hear him breathing with his mouth wide open.

One winter afternoon when I was in the front of my house kicking snow drifts with my friend Cory, Fat Randy emerged from the driveway of his house across the street. He yelled back at the door from where he came and wandered to the front of the house. Cory and I kept to ourselves. Like Ultraman I went on with kicking snow boulders and drifts.

Agitated, Fat Randy approached us with determination in his stride.

I wanna fight, he said.

Cory and I stepped back. Cory, the bigger of us then stepped forward, calling Fat Randy’s bluff, C’mon then.

Fat Randy looked behind him at me, No I wanna fight him.

I froze at the idea that a boy twice my size was challenging me. I’d never been in a real fight before. No I don’t want to fight you, I said.

C’mon sissy! he yelled. He jerked forward and Cory stopped him with his arm, I wanna fight you!

I didn’t know how to respond. The three of us stood there silent for a moment. In my mind I couldn’t reconcile my rational self with my instinctual self. Though I’d been raised around boys who resolved their differences by pushing and shoving before our friends would stop us from going further, there was no such regulator in place.

Randy leaned forward. Hold on! Cory yelled. Then he looked at me apologetically, You gotta do this.

It was all happening so fast. I wanted to run away, mind my own business. I thought I could stay on the margin unnoticed for the rest of my life avoiding the rites of boyhood. I didn’t see the point. I had no faith in them. Wasn’t there a place to which I could fast-forward myself to get on with the order of reason? I wasn’t ready for my first fight, or any fight. I wanted to kick the snow in protest.

Then Cory stepped back.

Fat Randy lunged forward and pushed me. I slipped on ice in the street but got back up. I envisioned Grizzly Adams fighting a bear. I had an idea of Fat Randy’s intellectual limits and had to devise a strategy. Though Fat Randy was in it just to fight, I was in it to survive.

As we circled, he appeared even larger. With orange hunting mittens fitted like oven mitts and a matching orange hat, he stared intently at my smaller form in front of him. I was his animal. I was his game.

Whenever he lunged, I dodged ahead of his delayed movements. I was smaller but I was faster.

I could hear Cory yelling somewhere in the background but my mind kept me focused on Fat Randy’s every move. He lunged again and as I backed away, I slipped on the ice. When I regained my stance, he pounced on my side before I could pull away. I realized then that my winter jacket and the layers underneath saved me from feeling anything more than mild jabs.

As my mind raced in places it hadn’t been before, I convinced myself that I needed to get Fat Randy off of his feet. As long as I could get him to the ground, I not only could spare him the humiliation of defeat, I could run satisfied with my little victory.

I lunged forward but was wrapped in Fat Randy’s arms. He squeezed and shook me before letting go. I fell to the street unharmed. I was alert. He laughed, clapped and flapped. As I saw two blurred orange forms I fumed. He taunted. I waited for my moment. Just when he stepped backwards, I lunged at his knees. I could feel his fists on my back but I wasn’t letting go. It was clear I hadn’t the strength to lift him, so I kept pushing him toward a patch of ice. He continued to release his anger on me with each punch but I drove him to the spot at which I could feel his body shift. I felt his weight come off the ground. I saw his mass collide with the ice. He rolled, unable to stop himself.

When I stood, I could hear him swearing at me, and I listened. Rather than run I listened, and then I kicked, and kicked: to his abdomen, to his thigh, to his arm, to his chest, to the side of his head. Cory yelled at me to stop, but I kept on kicking. He ran to me, pulling me back, but I was enraged. My senses numbed. I watched myself kicking. With a final kick, I saw Fat Randy’s orange hat fly. When it landed on the ground, I exhaled. Was this really me? I hated the angry me I was expected to be. I hated it with every fiber of my being. I heard crying. I looked down and saw Fat Randy rolled in a ball. He was crying like a two year-old.

Cory sat me on the curb. He checked on Fat Randy. Soon my body stopped shaking. When my adrenaline rush leveled I stood and could feel the cold air again. I walked to the back of my house. I could still hear whimpers from the street. I went inside quietly hoping my mother was still in the basement doing Sunday laundry.

After removing outer layers of clothes, I walked into an empty living room. From the window, I saw Fat Randy’s mother walking him back to their house. I watched her face: hurt, protective, guilty. Randy’s orange hat remained in the street. It stayed there, eventually forgotten as it was folded into slush and salt and the remaining winter.

After reading Randy Hadley’s obituary. I thought for a moment about what if: I could go back and find that orange hat under a shrub in a neighbor’s yard and I would clean it up and give it back to his next of kin. But the moment quickly passed knowing they wouldn’t understand the rites of boyhood that Randy and I tried so hard to flap off.

November 16, 2013

Maxim #18

 

No word lives without its consequences.

— Literophanes

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