Baby, It’s Cold Inside – or – Being Trapped by My Boss in the Walk-In

walk in“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

So, on one of  the first nights of my first job, outside of babysitting or cleaning houses, when I was all of fourteen years old, I was trapped inside a walk-in cooler by the chef at a popular restaurant in Detroit. A restaurant now rumored to be frequented by the mob. Go figure. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. About those who have “trespassed against” me.

It was in listening to an interview on Fresh Air the other night (which, by the way, is a very insightful piece on recent news about (mostly) men who have harassed, abused, or violated women in the workplace) that I heard Rebecca Traister referr to the range of men’s offenses–from annoyance to violent crime–as “trespassing.” Good word, I thought. Good word.

Those who have trespassed against me. Well, the list is long. Thus the post, “Yes,” on October 24. That morning I had listed all the trespassers of my life, and I noticed a pattern. When I had said “no” to men or boys they had interpreted that word to mean “yes.”

Upon further investigation–which means writing in my dark  morning office, waiting for the winter sun to please rise soon because I am not fond of short winter days—I realized that sometimes my ‘no’ may have meant ‘yes?’ Sometimes my ‘yes’ may have meant ‘I do not know.’ Or I am afraid. Or sometimes, each time, I experienced the confusion of adolescence. It appears, I was not alone. Adolescence, and womanhood, in this world, is confusing.

I do not remember the moment that walking became strutting.  Somewhere after I turned 11? Twelve? I do not remember when walking changed from just walking to exhibiting. But it had. And I was cat-called. Followed. I was the recipient of whistles, invitations, inquiries. I was flattered. Being noticed for my appearance by strangers was new, titillating, flattering. It made me feel grown up. Sexy. Pretty. Noticeable. I did not feel harassed or that any trespass had occurred. I believe the following explains why.

When I was seven years old, walking home from school with my sister through the alley that ran east and west along Grand River, we saw a man standing by the fence. He was a stereotypical provocateur, I know now, but then he was just a some jerk in a trench coat who exposed himself to us as he rubbed his hard cock when we passed him. We took off running.  We told my brother when we got home. He grew angry, ready to go beat up the guy. “Where was this?”

The second time this happened, I was nine, and in the same alley. And a different man was sitting in a car parked oddly in our path so we could not avoid walking by his open windows to continue on our way. And, as we walked by, we can see that the man, who is staring at us, is also rubbing his erect cock below the steering wheel. We ran again. I don’t remember telling my brother this time.

Perhaps what stopped us from reporting this was that nothing had happened the time before. So an assumption had developed, a precedent had been set: it was a normal occurrence. Us girls were to ‘just be careful.’ AKA the onus is on children to be wary of pedophiles, not pedophiles to be put in jail. This is what happens. Men in the world do this type of thing. Little girls are subject to this behavior. Trespassing happens. And we must forgive according to my Catholic upbringing and praying.

So when I was the ripe old age of 14, and I had seen men’s hard cocks and I had experienced the exuberance of being noticed for my looks, well, no, my assumed fuckability (because man whistled at me until I had boobs and hips  as if those, for some, made me accessible), I really didn’t know much about sex at all. I had been provided the mechanics, and nothing more. Again, adolescent confusion.

Thus, my best friend and I researched what we could one afternoon, going through the set of Encyclopedia Britannica at my house, and the Worldbooks at hers. We flipped to the appropriate alphabetical listing each time we came upon a new term. We read all we could on that topic until another mysterious word appeared. Vulva. Erection. Urethra. Coitus. Still mostly mechanics but we were figuring it out. Our Bodies Ourselves was first published in 1971, and that was nothing that we young Catholic girls would or could access at the time.

So experience became the key. Many of our friends had delved into sexual activity and talked in whispers and coded language about who’d gone how far. The ‘bases’ were part of that code, and the boys in the group were braggarts, making coded comments about what they knew or had done, or had tried. They always spoke to this loudly and in front of others.

The girls, on the other hand, kept the conversations more private. Much of boys’ banter was critical, derogatory, and embarrassing. It wasn’t “locker room” talk, per se, for it occurred in front of everyone. And, again, it fed into the sense of normalcy that I had come to understand. Males showed off, bragged, and maintained a level of cruelty on a subject that females took seriously, carefully researched, quietly analyzed.

No, I am not saying that anything ‘saintly’ was occurring with us girls, we were engaging. But there was a very distinct divide in the perception around the sexual and the flirtatious as I observed it. The boys seemed to use it as a tool for disdain and bravado. We girls wanted it for love and affection.

So, it was about this time that I took a job at Chuck Josephs, washing dishes, and then helping Jerry, the chef. One night, he sent me into the cooler for something. I had never been in a walk-in cooler, and I couldn’t even open the door at first. Jerry came up behind me, extremely close, and wrapped his arm around me to show me how to open the door.

I will never forget the warmth and strength of his body against mine. It was the closest a male, a man, had ever been to me, and it was something. Looking back I can honestly say I do not remember feeling either fearful, or in danger, not titillation and longing, but he was warm and strong. Once the door was open, and we entered the cooler, he shut the door behind us and showed me how to get out, by pushing the big metal button.

He explained to me that nobody on the outside could hear me if I was inside, so be sure to leave the door open. And then he approached me, cornered me, in the back of the cooler, explaining to me in somewhat coded language, that ‘all kinds of things’ could happen in there, and nobody would hear.

“Like you could kiss me,” he said putting his arms on shelves on either side of me and coming in close to my face.

I believe I kissed him.

But I do not remember.

If I didn’t that time, I did the next. I definitely remember a kiss. One. At some point. Working beside him as the prep cook, on many Saturday nights, was a long stretch of hours where I cut carrots or peeled cucumbers, but it was also long hours of his noticing and commenting on me, my body, what could or could not happen with us, in the cooler.

And I did not feel harassed. It did not seem to be trespass. This is my point.

It felt normal.

I worked there for several Saturday nights. Then Al Valente, the owner of Maria’s, the pizza restaurant next door, who often came into the kitchen at Chuck Joseph’s and talked to Jerry, asked me if I would like a job at the pizzeria with more hours. I jumped at the opportunity.

The first night on my new job, Al approached me, turned his back toward me, and asked me to scratch his back. I did.

It felt normal.

On every shift for the next few years, I worked with a team of three or four teenage boys, and one of two men. Al or his backup manager, Ken Angelosanto. Al never asked for more than back scratching. Ken was an outright flirt, and like Jerry before him, wanted kisses, and more, and he spent a lot of time with me at the counter in front of the restaurant, instead of back in the kitchen where he belonged. Both of these men were married and had children.

I did not feel harassed by either of them. It did not seem to be trespass. This is my point.

It felt normal.

I was fourteen.

I worked at Maria’s until I graduated from high school. At eighteen my understanding of men, males, and relationships was pretty consistent, and unfortunate, looking back. What occurred was lost on me. I did not know that it was wrong for my superiors to expect physical attention, sexual attention, and for me to offer it as part of my role as their employee.

I was a smart girl. A good Catholic girl. Not saintly, but not innocent either.  I did not have sex with these men, but the amount of and the normalcy of the sexual and flirtatious interaction, in retrospect, is appalling. But certainly not news.

I am struck by the use of the word “shock” in the stories that take up the airwaves and blogosphere and print these last few months. I know that what I experienced in the first few years of my work life in Detroit, Michigan was not rare or isolated or new. Surely, surely, we all know this goes on, and we have seen it, heard about it, or experienced it ourselves either as the trespasser or the trespassed.

This is not shocking. It is normal. People in positions of superiority trespassing upon their subordinates is not news. The current headlines strike me as about ridiculous as someone reporting each day that the sun rose.

Yet, I am glad that people are talking about this, I just think we should remove the drama and the shock factor. Let’s admit what we all know, and have always known, these types of stories to be true. And let’s be glad that the stories, not news, are everywhere, and we are currently inundated by them and by how normal it is for men to trespass against girls and women. Women expressing long quieted anger. Men continue in denial.

Keep the stories coming. But let’s get real folks. The content, and the behavior are not news. That women have a platform and are stepping up onto it and speaking out is new.

But let’s not forget that the platform has been hoisted by the media, and the government to some extent, and both are run or owned, for the most part, by men.

But change is upon us. I do believe, change is upon us.

via Daily Prompt: Saintly

Saintly

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Home

sunset 1

As I prepare to travel to Michigan, the place I grew up, the first time, and the place I call home, I think about this. This calling of home.

What makes Michigan my home is those twenty years I lived there, barely a third of my life. Yet it is a place drilled into my heart. A place that courses through my blood. Where I have roots. Where I had dreams. And even for all that is unfamiliar, changed, destroyed, there is still so much that is a part of who I am. How I speak. How I react. How I perceive a lake. (If you can see a person clearly on the other side, it is a pond, people, a pond.) How I understand traffic, negotiate a crowd, judge a pastrami sandwich, taste a beer, watch a ball game. How I love.

And still, really, there are other places where I have lived, almost as long as, in fact longer than, I lived in Detroit, and I don’t think of those places, now, as home. I think of them as places that I once lived. Even though Las Cruces, New Mexico, and Flagstaff, Arizona, also drilled into my heart and coursed through my blood as Detroit did. They are places I love deeply, remember fondly, and I think of them often. But when I visit there, I do not say, ‘I am going home.’

There are only two places that get that label. Detroit, and my current residence, my new home in Cottonwood. The former, where I still have family, and lots of it. The latter, where I live now, and, more importantly, where my daughters go when they ‘go home.’

“Home is wherever you are, Mom,” one of the girls said to me as I considered leaving Flagstaff, and felt sad that visiting me would not be in that house where they had spent almost half of their lives, in a town where they grew up. And then it occurred to me, they grew up in two towns, and now they are each old enough to have lived equal amounts of time in a few other places. Each being their home when they are there, and then there is being home where I am.

So, in this simple musing, in which I set out with no other purpose, really, than to share the photo above, I have landed on a truth. Out of the mouths of babes.

Home is where you know you are loved. Loved by the land, the history, the dreams, or the family and friends. The pets, the parks, the smells, the vistas. Be it the corner deli, or a struggling metropolis. Forest or desert. Land or sea. Family of one, or dozens. It’s home.

I hope your holidays take you to the place and to the people where you feel yourself to be home.

Me? I’m going home. Detroit, Macklers, Murphys, see you in a few.

The photo of sunset at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood, AZ, is by me. 

Undies

laundry-2656164_1920
What a day it was shopping with my daughter Riana, not for anything in particular,  just spending time together. Talking, laughing, and talking more. But in the course of the day she shared magic words. Words that mothers and fathers wait for all of their parenting lives, and when they finally hear them, they think, ‘Ah ha. I didn’t do so bad after all.’

Riana has always been one to come along with me on ‘mom’ errands. Early in her life this became a favorite activity. For me, it eased some of the stress, the droll, the rote, and the ‘what did I forget this time?’ of mom errands. She has a memory like an elephant, so she served as my list, my post-it note, and my buddy. She would remember which store it was that had milk on sale, or where we saw that dress I wanted to pick up for Bridget, or as would happen, where I left my phone.

She also served as a map. When we first moved back to Flagstaff, in 2000, and she was only eight years old, she remembered the arrangement of the city’s streets and intersections as if she’d been there when Planning and Zoning had plotted it all. I had lived in that town for almost five years, 15 years previously, but it had changed. My memory, needless to say, had also changed – post grad school and two babies, it had, well, could we say waned?

Riana would easily tell me — sometimes with a bit of a snip, a bit of, ‘I’m smarter than you, and I’m only eight’ — to turn left when I had incorrectly turned on the right blinker, or tell me ‘five more lights’ when I would ask, ‘is this the street?’ Or just roll her eyes and demand, “How can you not remember?”

She was my little personal GPS. One with an attitude. And now, in a similar vane, she has her Siri robot report to her in a British accent. I don’t believe she really needs the instruction most times. I think she just likes the camaraderie of the nose-turned-up style of a robot who will call her ‘princess.’

And why would Riana want to join me on chores? I don’t know what incited her to tag along from the dry cleaners to the shoe makers to Walgreen’s to the office and then finally to the grocery store. Her sister Bridget has always been less inclined to go shopping with me or to tag along on errands. She’ll do it, but she’s more geared to spending mom time by curling up in bed with me and watching a movie;  proposing that we read together at a coffee shop, sitting with steaming hot lattes in front of us. She’ll always jump at the chance to grab our laptops and go sit at Macy’s. But for Riana, it’s ‘let’s go shopping.’

I was in Tucson earlier this month for the All Souls Day Procession, and to that I say ‘put it on your bucket list.’ For me, Tucson is a big city with its half a million people and three PetSmarts. I have recently moved away from Flagstaff’s sixty-five thousand people because that is simply too many for me. I’m the one in the family who strove to find the place that was the exact opposite of where we were raised. Cottonwood’s twelve thousand people is just right for this Detroit girl. But I do appreciate the Trader Joe’s and Marshalls, so, well, the shopping, which we do not have in Cottonwood.

It’s become a mainstay for when I visit Ri in Tucson. We had just dropped Romeo off for a grooming at one of the PetSmarts because his swimming in the Verde River, while good for his bad knees and making him a happy dog, has also made him a smelly one. And Marshall’s was nearby.

“It’s a fancy Marshalls,” Riana reports.

“Perfect,” I say.

While we love Marshall’s, that consumer notion that we have been given this grand opportunity of purchasing the wares of the wealthy at an affordable rate is hogwash. Do they believe that middle income folks like us feel privileged to sniff the low end of the  the rich and the famous’ shopping line. As if it’s our high end? Well, okay, it is, and we’re proud.

But usually my girls and I . . . . we are thrifters. There is simply nothing like the smell of old, sometimes moth balls, always affordable. It’s treasure hunting really.  As the seventh of nine children, and one of some seventy or more first cousins, hand me downs are normal for me. Normal, not embarrassing, not below me. I can get as excited about a Woodward & Lothrop hat from the 1950’s for five dollars as some might get when buying a brand new Neimun Marcus fedora for two hundred.

Ever since I left home at eighteen to live on Ferry St. on Wayne State campus, I have been a thrifter. Buying it used for a fraction of the cost, even if it meant mending a hem, or dry cleaning a dress, well, there is the real opportunity to own and don the higher quality wares of the world. Marshall’s had nothing on Twice as Nice, or even, if you look hard enough, Goodwill or Savers.

“I need new bras,” I announced glad that underwear is no longer a topic that my daughters will not discuss with me. Puberty and adolescence stripped this conversation right out of our lexicon. “Mom!” was the refrain, through gritted teeth or at the top of their lungs if I suggested it was time to buy new underwear or bras after seeing what had become of their under things. Doing laundry is a vital chore for parents. Mysteries of life reveal themselves in those baskets of topsy-turvy, twisted and balled up shirts, pants and undies. Histories become evident, curiosities resolved, and sometimes truths be told. But far be it from me to say, “You wear a thong when you’re on your period?”

Oh, the good old days of granny panties with thin strips of elastic in which we wedged a football sized wad of cotton and paper. And even with all that “protection,” I still leaked into my new pink hiphuggers at the roller rink. Still leaked on Pat Gladney’s back seat. Oh, dear, God. Forgive me, Pat. We’ll talk when I meet up with you on the other side.

I once saw thong-shaped panty liners in the “sanitary’ aisle at CVS. “What?” I asked out loud to nobody, and certainly nobody that would ever speak out loud in that aisle. We must be quiet about the fact that ounce upon ounce of blood rushes out of female bodies once a month for far too many years of their lives. “How on earth can that be of any use?” The question, fortunately, remains unanswered because? I really don’t want to know.

But back when the girls were stretching like bubblegum, mum was the word. The girls insisted on buying their own underwear and bras. And when, as adolescents they went off on shopping expeditions, on their own, and returned excited to show me the new jeans or dress or jacket, they never shared the undies. Never. As if to say, ‘Shhhhhhhh, we don’t talk about those things, mother. It is our private blossoming sexuality, and you, mother, can not know about this.’ Funny. So, funny.

Likewise, my girls had shopped with me in thrift stores all their lives. And they had found used toys under the tree on Christmas mornings. They were fed from the trays of used high chairs. Their butts were wiped on used changing tables. When we shopped for new school clothes, I would acquiesce to the need for more special items, and Target was the place. But usually, it was a thrift store.

And then all that came to a screeching halt, as loud and as bright as a red fire truck screeching and honking and coming up from behind. I pulled over and watched puberty and adolescence quickly take over all three of our lives, and their tastes in shopping. They would not be seen with me when I went thrifting. They would not want a thrifted gift. They had impressions to make and perceptions to mold. No questions asked, just no, mom. No.

Until, when they were both a  a little older, and it became cool (aka affordable) for the high school gals to thrift shop for prom dresses, jeans, Halloween costumes. All good things do come around, no? Suddenly thrifting was not just acceptable, but the expectation. It was environmental. It was green. Oh, my, God. Enough already. I’d had it with their citizenry. As if all the thrifting I’d been doing was somehow different or old fashioned. But, really, I was so glad.

And, that’s where this particular trip to Marshall’s was a highlight of my parenting life.

My mentioning that I needed to shop for bras neither embarrassed or appalled my daughter as it might have ten years previously. In fact, she readily joined me in our march to the back of the store where we were met by long racks of tiny bits of strappy fabric hanging on impossible slotted hangers arranged in a simple system of rib sizes: twenty through forty inches; and early alphabet letters – A’s through DDs to indicate the depth and breadth of the boobs themselves. Heft or toss. Chomp or nip. Grab or brush.

I have never understood why they stopped lettering at D, and then moved to double letters. Why not E, F, G, etc.? They do the same in shoes, apparently. Really wide feet can be up to quadruple E’s. Why not I or J or K? Anyway.

Riana and I were happy to sort through the array of silks and cottons and lace and padded or bare. We chit-chatted our way through cheap, cheaper, and cheapest. It became quickly apparent that white bras are a thing of the past; padded bras are losing popularity, thus the removable pads. And razor backs are now optional with handy little snaps that will draw traditional straps together over your spine.

When I finished one row, I found another displaying even more brassieres for every size and shape of boob there might ever be from flat as a rib cage to ‘Holy Toledo, doesn’t your back hurt?’

My best friend’s mother always said, ‘a mouthful is perfect, a handful too much.’ Easy for us smaller women to say. I’ve been happy with that assessment throughout my life and remember fondly moving from a flat chested twelve-year-old to a Holy Toledo myself. But my Holy Toledo was, really, more like Holy Girona.

But in the bra-less days of the feminist seventies, too little bra and too much boob could lead you directly and quickly to the cross your heart model or some other heft lifting contraption, one even rumored to be designed by a rich aviation magnate. Lift and separate, the television commercials used to say.

For me, all that heft, the little I had, was left behind with babies and nursing, and then age and gravity. I’m lucky I’ve got anything to tuck into a cup: they just don’t make trainers for thirty-eight inch rib cages.

We discussed sizes, Riana and I. Something we had never done before as the topic was prohibitive. It was refreshing to learn that a 38A and a 36B are the same, according to Riana, or at least similar, according to a pod cast or YouTube video she’d watched.

“Darling,” I tried to explain. “You have tiny little ribs and plentiful bazoombas. My ribs grew immense when you tried to kick your way out from behind them, and my boobs deflated when you and your sister no longer wanted them for nourishment. The rib diameter, and the boob size, matter. A lot.” Although, I had, over the years of trying on bras, wondered how much difference was there, really, between the 36Bs and 38As I had looked at.

We argued in a friendly fashion all the way in to the fitting rooms, where we entered our little neighboring, mirrored stations that were lit, surprisingly, quite exquisitely. They had tamed the typical fluorescence, so my every wiggle and wrinkle was not highlighted by the ill-lit rooms usually available. Something I never even noticed until after fifty birthdays.

In between exchanging oohs and ahs, or “OMG not this one,” between the wall of our side by side rooms, I exclaimed, “I need to look at underwear, too.”

And then the magic happened.

“I thought of you the other day,” Riana said, “When I was buying underwear.”

“Really,” I wondered where this was going.

“You always bought us packaged underwear,” she explained. And yes, I always did, and I still do, I thought. Because I’d buy thrift undies if I could, but that’s one thing you can’t thrift. So buying a package of cotton bikinis, that are made well, all fit the same, and will last longer than a month, is important to me.

As if she’d read my mind. “And you were right,” she exclaimed. “It makes so much more sense.”

We exited our little rooms, having determined which of the bras would or wouldn’t work, and headed back to the show room. Riana continued.

“I thought I was so cool when I was a teenager. Picking out individual panties for their color and print and beauty, not really paying attention to the price. But the other day, I did pay attention. Packages are the way to go.”

Did I hold my tongue? Or did I blurt out some form of “I told you so”? Doesn’t matter, and knowing me,  I probably blurted something akin to gloating. But I was elated, smiling from one side of the lingerie department to the other, the satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, the pure joy of watching my grown daughter realize her own foible, and her mother’s wisdom, was unforgettable.

Not that I had expectations. In fact, if she had bought expensive, ill-fitting, short-life underwear for the rest of her days, I wouldn’t have held it against her. But that is not the point.

The fact that she got it. Gets me. Realized, with some pride, that Mom is pretty smart after all.  That made my day. I didn’t do so bad. Nope. I did good.

And so here is a poem that I wrote for Riana, my poetry-hating daughter, and that I gave to her when she was probably buying those fancy panties.

Riana

Her eyes, like mystery
may conceal the innocence,
but no matter
how many masks
she designs, she moves
through her childhood
like a beam,
nothing hidden,
like a lamb.

She is everything.

She smiles wide as sunrise,
and never hides her sorrow.
She leans with the wind
of compassion
to the endangered,
the downtrodden,
heartfelt waves
carry her forward;
and then sometimes
she forgets.

She is growing.

I watch her sneak
away and know
she knows I know.
We play as if we don’t
because we are in training
for her adolescence,
for puberty,
for the remainder of her life
this is but a rehearsal;
the wash, the pigments,
will they show through
when she sneaks
and I don’t
know?

She is everything.

Being ignored floors her,
and she retracts
into her bellybutton.
As if she had become
a hardball pitched
into an old glove,
pinned and stunned
by the softness, strength,
the fat-laced fingers,
she quickly loves
that the worn leather
smells just like me.

She returns.

Sleep is a deep occasional friend,
and when her lush black lashes
finally kiss her cheeks goodnight,
it is an embrace
of gratitude. I kiss
her forehead relishing
that she will rest, that she
will leave my name behind
for a moment, for a dream.
Then I, too, am quiet
‘til morning.

Honk
photo from Unsplash.com

Only Faint in a Cute Guy’s Arms


One kiss, I was down
stories grow like cloudy dawn
sun breaks through like truth

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Faint

image dead horse ranch state park
by http://themartinsamericanadventure.com/?page_id=624

Nothing to Rely on but October


Nothing to Rely on but October

Crisp wood in the shed like a story snipped
from July secrets retold in tall columns
seasoned logs waiting for slow death
no sap or water, a simple bit of fragrance
cedar or aspen, or loss, for kindling

Left to weather the elements alone
no more refined than any other girl
dreaming from a window waiting for rain
to drum up the fading perfume
of fallen leaves and pulled pumpkins.
There is, perhaps, no other truth.

Poignancy and comfort rest
in fall’s cooling sleep
another storm spills its load
feathered quilts hugged out of dusty boxes
ash pans line the drive
squirrels chase crazy acorns
determined like the pushing wind
seeking spots for burying
bushy tails twitch
October mornings

Autumn’s sting is so pretty
hardly feel the bite, or notice
wilting blossoms, birds taking flight
I must find that sweater, the one
with a hole in the elbow, hidden
after the funeral, that sprinkling of ashes
un-retrieved packages, ink faded
behind the empty porch swing

October lingers
orange and amber procrastinate
November sits in the wings
its sting sits on an icy tongue.
Hats off to all souls day
life closes quietly.

via Daily Prompt: Orange

Orange

Consensual

Yes-Logo-white-on-black-square-bgYes is never alone
in meaning yes
No means yes
Stop means yes
Silence means yes
Go away means yes
I’m sorry means yes
Not again means yes
I’m afraid means yes
Maybe later means yes
Please don’t means yes
I don’t want to means yes
I’ll call the police means yes
I have a headache means yes
I mean it this time means yes
You’re hurting me means yes
You’ll wake the baby means yes
You promised to never means yes
I’ll call the police again means yes
You said you wouldn’t again means yes
Please don’t it hurts I’m really scared I mean it
means yes to those who can only hear yes

Stress is an Odd Bear

BEAR by ryan-grewell-95004

Stress is an odd bear. Ferocious. Hungry. But there must be some perception of cuteness about it. For we treat it like a teddy bear. Take it to bed with us. Cuddle it. Hold it when we wake up in the dark. Share it with friends. Family. It is always there for us. Whenever we need it. And we welcome it into our lives. Stress is an odd bear. It goes into hibernation often. We don’t really miss it when it is gone. We know it sleeping. Snoring perhaps, and storing up energy for the next time we need it to arise, exit its cave, land on our pillow, our doorstep, our desk at work, our kitchen counter while we bake chocolate chip scones, and take over our lives. Stress is an odd bear. Big and sharp clawed. Keen and cunning. It loves cherries and fish. Honey. It loves to eat. Away at our souls. It hangs on for it is loyal. And we appear to appreciate its loyalty. And we take it to bed with us, but again. Just like Joan Armatrading sings, ‘some days, the bear will eat you.’ Stress is an odd bear.

Photo by Ryan Grewell on Unsplash

Skunked

skunkSkunked

Sky as soft as a good night’s sleep
pinks like pillows and dreams
the ones you don’t need to remember.
The air is absent and invisible
no burn or chill, not a rustle
no risk, just a river guarded
by reeds and miles of possibility.

The sun sets early here, slips behind
the black hills quickly, Mingus Mountain
made up like a desert bed in prickly chenille
it tucks the little city in for the evening.
Wide shadows keep tempers cool
bunnies and scrubs settle in the brush.

A skunk squeals, determined
disrupting the heavy night, twisted
sheets woven like insomnia. She heaves
dousing the air with a poignant authority.
Some desert toiler, once brave, now greased
returns to the wild, empty handed
sullen, hoping sunrise offers
another chance at courage,
for a nod or a pat on the back,
or just to bring home
dinner.

via Daily Prompt: Brave

Conversation with Blue

verde-slideshow-great-blue-her
You bathe at the banks
of the Verde River, Blue, you
strike a deep note beside
the muddy timber of green reeds
that don’t hide you
when you leave.
Those wings reach the edges
of my curiosity
and I am only brave enough
to inquire of your disappearing shadow:

“Why do I wait for next, Blue?
What is amiss with my now?
Why do I think better
is on the other side
of this minute?
Instead of within it?

Why is sleep so tempting?
Because it offers morning:
some other, some new
chance at what I didn’t do
today?”

Distant blue sings to my reflection
ripples in the slow current,
eyes down, dog splashes, crickets
nod to the sun’s set.

“You wait for nothing,
and call it something,”
Blue writes in cursive,
“You plan breathing
because it fills time.
You listen to stories
because it is easier
than telling your own.
You don’t dream
but for when you sleep.

“Remember the gift of tomorrow
is its return.”

Sharp blades of grasses crack
as I head back to the trail
yawning and ready already
for an early dinner.
“Think I’ll turn in early,”
I tell the dog still sniffing
in the cattails
for the things
I left behind.

photo of Great Blue Heron courtesy

https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/arizona/placesweprotect/slideshow-growing-food-saving-water-on-the-verde-river.xml

A Bug in My Eye, or Dear Eye Doctor, You Missed the Metaphor

beetle 3
The eye doctor said with ease, expertise, and very little drama, “You have a bug in your eye. It’s part of a wing, probably from a beetle.” While he is an ophthalmologist, and not an entomologist, I doubted his diagnosis. Not about the foreign object, that was evident from several weeks of feeling exactly like I had a bug in my eye, and then, of course, the proof in the image they showed me. (Whoa.) No, I doubted his diagnosis regarding which type of bug it was that had landed in my eye.

I did a little Google entomology research (ah, we all get to be such experts these days) about beetles in Cottonwood, Arizona, and I was, to say the least, unimpressed. The beetle types residing in my new geography are all a little, well, ugly, or at least uninteresting. From a non-bug person’s perspective that is. So I decided that, certainly, something far more beautiful and noteworthy found its way behind the epithelium of my eye. Something memorable, amazing, and definitely metaphor material must have lodged itself into my cornea.

Something like a candy cane beetle. Who wouldn’t want to eat one of those? Who wouldn’t want one of those in their eye? Or perhaps something strong and bold and loud like the Apache cicada. Like the one who greeted me and Romeo with resounding, and enduring, song each time we meandered down to the Verde River for a hike and a dip. Surely, surely it was that type of bug that journeyed deep into my face.

And while said doctor–who, by the way, did a fantastic job of diagnosing and solving my little issue (literally tiny); and whose bedside manner was absolutely reputable, and to whom I will go again in my new quest for discovering what the Verde Valley offers in medical care–saw the problem quickly, he saw it quite differently than I did. While he talked about the depth, the tissue, the scarring and possible infection, the need for antibiotics and artificial tears and steroids, and rattled off so many beautiful scientific words, oh, oh, blah, blah, blah, medical eye doctor blah! He simply didn’t get it.

And, yes, I watched doggedly as his technician brought in the “optical forceps” box and the “foreign object” box (did that have a collection in it, I wondered?). I remained as still as a rock when he leaned into the black box that divided us, his headed the opposite side of mine, and as we looked eye to eye, he took a very, very sharp object and put it as gently as a grandma would do, right into the center of my eye, and he scooped out said beetle. “Do you want to see it?” he asked.

“Does a beetle have wings?” I replied. He told the tech to put it on a piece of Scotch tape for me.

And then I listened carefully and very seriously when he softly but distinctly scolded me. When he moved the eye inspecting machine, the one with the blue light like an acid trip, out of the way, and he looked into my eyes, and he leaned in close, and then closer, and quietly asked, “How long did you say you were you in pain?”

I cleared my throat and noted to myself that I was so glad he did not have bad breath because that would have made the moment hysterical instead of serious, and I said, “Um, two weeks or so . . . ”

Sternly, fatherly, very concerned and doctorly, he said, without pause, “Don’t let your eye hurt for that long next time. Come see your doctor if your eye hurts. If that had been a piece of metal . . . ”

I immediately put on my good-Catholic-girl face–been practicing that one for a lifetime–and not even sarcastically I said, and I meant it, “Yes, thank you, Doctor, I will.” Point well taken.

But, dear Doctor, what I didn’t say is that you simply didn’t see what I saw. In fact, you completely missed the masterful life metaphor here. A foreign object, potentially hazardous, flew stealthily into my eye, and how did my eye respond? That, my dear Doctor, is the real question. How did my eye respond?

It did not scream. Itch. Tear. Or complain. Not at first anyway. Said cornea appears to have said, without a blink, apparently and literally, to the foreign object, “Come on in. Have a seat. Make yourself comfortable.” And appeared to have served said foreign object, or baby beetle as you believed, strong black tea and wrapped it in a comfy blanket of cornea tissue, and said soothingly, and apparently somewhat lonesomely, “Welcome home.”

Are corneas so lonely that they take in perfect strangers? So desperate? So friendly? Have they not received the memo that I have been reciting all my life and reiterated often to my children all their lives, “Do not talk to strangers,” etc.?

Ah, you see, dear Doctor, this is why your diagnosis is simply incorrect and my diagnosis would be spot on. The above scenario clearly indicates that it could not have been just any old, brown, baby, ugly beetle who arrived at the threshold of my cornea’s home and rammed its way in like some criminal with intention of keeping my cornea hostage for a few weeks, as you had determined. No, no, no.

It was certainly an insect as beautiful and colorful as the candy cane beetle; for who could ever ignore entry to that outfit? Deny entry to that, er, eye candy, or at least engage that beauty in a conversation about where they were headed, what party or festival? Did they take a wrong turn, are they lost? “Can I get you a cab?”

Or, if not the candy cane beetle which actually, and unfortunately, doesn’t usually make it this far north in Arizona. (See, I am a Google bug expert now). Certainly it was a bug that would sing for its supper. A bug that hovered at the porch of my cornea’s home and sang a loud, enticing song to which my cornea opened her doors, her windows, and she brought out the tissue to dab the tears in her eyes, grateful for such a moving and passionate serenade, albeit a bit on the noisy side. Then she gladly invited the Apache cicada in for a tymbal-soothing belly rub, and a pillow to rest the horny bug’s head.

When you, dear Doctor, promptly plucked that comfy little chunk of insect out of my eye, with an object that could have, yes, in fact, poked my eye out; and when you, dear Doctor, wrapped my cornea in an optical bandage . . . what?

I at first imagined myself donning a black patch for the rest of the week, and was excited that I had saved my vocabulary list from ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day.’

But when you explained that it was–how boring–just a contact dipped in antibiotic, and not even a colored contact, dear Doctor, you disappointed.

“No,” your tech said, “The optical bandages do not come in purple.” (How fun to have had one violet eye for a day or two . . . no imagination these folks, just no imagination.)

And then you sent me on my way. Doctor, did you not realize that my cornea was left bereft. Did you not hear my cornea snuffle, drowning under tears and drops and wrapped in a plastic dome, and finally offering this?

“That was,” lonely cornea muttered. “That was my new friend.”

Stuck forever on a piece of tape, no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. And into the ‘foreign object’ box for time unknown. Goodbye.

Ah. To an eye doctor, a simple exercise of extrication. To an entomologist, a specimen. To a poet, well, a story. A sad one at that.

So, now, dear reader, it is not a poem that I can offer to this tale, for no poem that I have written brings justice to this brief narrative, although I am working on a series of haiku.

Instead, I offer this opportunity to join a sing-along. And I bet you find yourself humming this song later today.  Score! Happy Saturday!