Our Faces Follow Our Hands

scissorsSome days, when I sit for my morning scribble, I read instead, go through pages, upon pages, of yesterdays’ scribbles, and I highlight interesting phrases, words, sentences. Then I randomly string them together, a puzzling, a mending, a review. And, it’s fun to see what happens. Just like watching Riana when she would play with buttons, string them together, over and over, un-string, and re-string, and again. Eye hand coordination. Or Bridget, when she would cut with scissors, her little jaw would snap in time with the blades. Early practice for tap dancing. Our faces follow our hands. Our brains so like to work hard. Here’s a random string of cut-up lines.

“I used to count lovers like railroad cars, I counted them on my side;
lately I don’t count on nothing, I just let things slide.”
Joni M.

Without Anchor: A Found Poem

I am without anchor
snuggled into the safety of the insane city
could everyone just get along?
everyone’s gone
acting like skunks
just move the shoes
just spray them
make space to dance
and sing fucking kumbaya

move through the door
all that bravado
not a brave bone in my body
full of foibles and fallacies and foolishness
I woke up thinking
“wtf” girl?
gotta find my bite
bold and brassy
my imagination of order
I swallowed myself
but cookies are richer
eat and sing and fly and write
before I spill it further

my hand always knows the way to my lips
there are women who have forever known
what was under the bed
a dropped blue robin egg
the cricket who stopped singing a few nights ago
feeling interruptive and interrupted
alone for a long time
kind of a dufus
with a couple seconds of flirt juice
kicked her right in the dream

trust in yourself, your god, or greater power, and in goodness
or, well, things will be calmer
yellow flowers make everyone sneeze
all as close to breathing as breathing
can be figuring and blathering
thinking is so habitual
humor and humility and simplicity
and to the red flags we see waving?
head games and insecurities
commit to being non-committal
so scary all this ich, the sludge, the sewage of humanity
a fallible scared curious human
each of us

 

via Daily Prompt: Commit

It Has No Ghosts, I Promise

house at nightIt is the first day of summer and my house in Flagstaff is up for sale. After six months of packing and repairing and painting and cleaning and arranging and rearranging. After seventeen wonderful years. It is now squeezed into eight hundred characters and thirty-eight photos. All that life and love we put into that place reduced, like a good red wine sauce, to convince someone else that it should be the home where they raise their girls or boys so they can roller blade on the deck or scooter down the hill or sneak up the woodshed to get onto the roof to get a new perspective on life and love and math teachers and divorce. A house where someone else will chop the wood and haul it into the house and warm the place with an 800 degree fire in the wood stove. A place where someone else will open the French doors on the hottest day of July (which, really, there aren’t very many) and turn on the one–that’s all that’s needed–fan and relish the circulation. Where someone else will open all the windows and sit on the front porch during a monsoon rain and watch the wet eruption pelt the street and sidewalk like sheets of relief, and rock back and forth in the old yellow bench, and breathe in the long-awaited,  moist air. Where someone else will rake nineteen giant, heavy-duty, contractor’s-size yard bags full of pine needles in September, and then again in November, all the while laughing when they are hit by a pine cones rushing down from the sky, or so it seems, but it’s just the top of the forest. Someone else can soak in the hot tub under 300-year-old ponderosas and oaks while the first snowstorm brews and watch the swirl of clouds over Mount Elden and ponder where the shovels ended up last year and whether the girls will fit into the snow boots bought on sale at the end of the season. Where someone else can wash glasses after a great deck party and look out into the yard from the kitchen window and notice the cinders in the chiminea have just a little remaining glow and see the one candle still flickering on the glass table and be reminded of laughing so hard you almost peed your pants just a few hours before. Where someone else can keep their eye on Maxine, she’s 96 this year, when she walks her little dog to the corner, and Carolyn, she’s 85 now, when she gets her evening stroll in to loosen up that back of hers. Or the new family, five boys, the first family with kids in that big house since Carlton and Caroline left after more than 40 years. Janet will tell you all her stories and the best one will be when there are cherries on the tree and she thinks the black bear is back. A fox family used to  curl up under the big bench, a spiral of furry red, and Laurel and the girls were amazed at the elk in the intersection of Harris Way and Linda Vista, a dozen of them, making their gigantic, yet secret, way to someone’s garden. Coyote poop was in the yard one year, an unidentifiable lump until the Fish and Game Guy came by,  and someone’s cat, just like ours, will hopefully outsmart that damn trickster and not get caught up in its teeth. The squirrels and crows will tease someone else’s dog and hopefully it’s not quite as athletic as my Romeo who ruined his knees trying to climb those tall trees to get those long tailed nut-loving bullies. Someone else will store holiday and other favorite stuff up in the attic over the garage, squeezing into the space and grateful for a little extra storage, and someone else will be amazed at how quickly they filled the three big bedroom closets with clothes and shoes. Or maybe that was just me and my thrift loving daughters who did that. Where did all those jeans come from? Someone else can stay up late in front of the fire, in their little rocker, and ponder the next day’s tasks, or yesterday’s news, a new poem or decide whether they should make a Flagstaff cherry or apple pie this week. This place that we have loved for so long will be someone else’s to love now, and it has no ghosts, I promise, not scary ones. Just the creative kind, if any, who inspire and warm and soothe. They guided us through lots of dance on the wood floors, lots of song in the shower, and great storytelling curled up by the fire. It is a good place, a very good place, and someone else should love it now.

harris flowres

Patriotism, Playing Hookie, and What Do You Keep in Your Junk Drawer?

augusto-navarro-151563It is Flag Day, and I am playing hookie. There is absolutely no connection. I am merely elated (odd juxtaposition of words) to have a quiet morning alone in my temporary home in Sedona, which is a rare thing these days because I spend my weekends at my permanent home in Flagstaff, thus, I have not had a morning to just be. So here I am. Just being. And it is Flag Day.

I do not recall if it was daily, but I recall that it was often, that one of us nine kids, under my father’s instruction, raised the American Flag up our white flagpole in the morning, and we lowered it at dusk. We folded it into its proper tight triangle, we stored it in the front hall closet, and we all knew Flag protocol. Flags do not wave after dusk. Flags never touch the ground. Flags do not wave in the rain, etc. To check these out, please visit USFlag.org

This brings to mind the idea of patriotism. What is it? Who has it? Is it a liberal thing? A conservative thing? Spiritual? Old fashioned? Eternal? I really would love to know your thoughts. So feel free to take this as an inquiry, and share what you think?

Are you patriotic? If so, or if not, why? What does it mean to you? Especially my daughters, you know who you are…Did I raise you patriotic? Are you? Do you see me as patriotic?

Personally? I consider myself very patriotic. I love being an American, and I love my country. Do I agree with everything the U.S. government, state governments, local government, etc. do? Do I like every citizen? Each immigrant? Each policy, law, ordinance? Do I admire everyone who has ever been appointed or elected or hired into a role of leadership? Do I follow everyone believed to be a hero? No. Do I have favorites? Of course. Have I ever hated anything about the U.S. so much that it forced me to leave? No. But would I? Yes. And I admire the folks who left when they thought it was no longer a place they could believe in or trust.

For me, the weave that makes the fabric of this country  — with all of its freedoms, foibles, fallicies, foreigners, friends, funk, and fabulousness; and all of its ravels, repairs, rips, and righteousness  —  is fantastic. As in any relationship, I negotiate that which I can love, admire, and join with that which I despise, reject or simply find annoying. In the end, what I love about the U.S. of A. reigns. And I’m a happy ‘Merican.

Being a part of this country, is not unlike being a part of a big family. And that makes me think of a poem. No surprise there. I offered this to my parents at their 50th wedding anniversary, long ago, as an examination of drawers, and what we keep in them. I offer it to you now, as it speaks to all of the love and craziness that a big family, or a big country, provides. I am fortunate, and probably a little insane, for both.

It’s a long one, sit back, and enjoy.

An Anniversary Poem
                for Harold and Pauline, 50 years, 1947-1997
“Stars that used to twinkle in the skies
are twinklin’ in my eyes;
I wonder why.”
                George Gershwin

The Hair Drawer
Mom and Dad nudge each other
in front of the large hall mirror
elbows as familiar as Emperor tulips
flourishing in May. They dress.
Dad’s Windsor knot, an obedient sailor.
Mom’s lipstick, seashell soft,
smells like they’re going to a party
when she kisses us goodnight.
Her hair is perfect and red.

The Utensil Drawer
They sing in front of the stove
stirring Navy bean soup.
Their song ladled with un-matching spoons,
over the sweet ham bone melting between them.
The rich pink broth, as welcome as their chorus,thickens with the verses.
They know almost all the right words.

The Tool Drawer
Another nail needs pounding, a cracked cup glued.
The lock on the back door sticks again.
They repair things; some more than once.
They break things. Fix them. Never stop
trying. Mom hums, Dad whistles, they take turns
calling from across the yard, “Can you give me a hand?”
They can. The broken pieces are gathered in Baggies with twist ties.
Chiseled lines mark their foreheads,
wonders and wounds and worries
waiting to be tightened or taped.

 The Hutch Drawer
Dad shuffles cards straight into a flush. Diamonds. Crisp corners.
Mom laughs, talks, jokes, and wins!
They wink, showing each other their card-game faces,
pale eyes hiding strategies, secrets, longings.
In between cigarettes and sips of beer,
pretzels, peanuts, Faygo, or changing diapers,
they praise their skills, their scores.
There is no greater gamble.
They bet it all, to show. Nine times.

The Phone Drawer
They are each other’s calendar, address book,
grocery list: sticky blue ink on yellow scratch paper.
They tack moments on a kitchen cupboard, memories on a door.
The curly black cord winds around their conversations,
tangles up relationships, gets stretched nearly straight.
Then gets chewed on. The receiver saves
their laughter inside an imperfect circle of tiny holes.
The smudged black plastic cradles the news
they willingly share. Secrets they keep,
waiting for another call to wake them, warn them,
kiss them goodnight.

The Cookie Drawer
Mom and Dad take us to sweeter places, to the lakes
where the waves draw us away
from Grand River and Southfield, St. Mary’s
crowded church pews, our fluorescent school rooms. Away for a day
or more from our blue TV neighborhood.
We find water glass and snake grass on the sand
search country boutiques for trinkets and fudge.
Every day is Sunday at the beach with treats
and games, staying up late, eating
donuts for breakfast with milk.
The return drive, highway turns to freeway.
We snack in the back seat watching concrete walls.
Dad’s tanned left arm soaks up the city
outside the window. Mom wears her sun hat all the way home.

The Junk Drawer
If there aren’t mistakes,
missing parts, abandoned pieces to the puzzle,
our days would line up so evenly.
Too straight, a dull gray.
Lost or forgotten moments accumulate
waiting to be found or forgiven,
attached once again to the machine
or the device, the broken toy soldier, the unpainted doll.
Mom and Dad sort, plan, search
for a way to order and soothe.
Rubber bands with no elasticity collect.
Twisted springs wait for a patient hand.
In that pile of errors there are souls to be found
lies to be untold, and tapes that must remain
unwound.

The Bread Drawer
Their humor is as certain as yeast, sugar,
and water: laughter reverberates, bubbles overflow
into a bowlful of stories: Detroit, the Macklers
and the Murphys are kneaded and baked into all nine loaves.
“Mom’s Painted Gumball”
“Dad’s Missing Sled”
Like a sourdough starter, this myth,
with its Irish charm, its Dutch stature,
will last forever.
Served daily with grace
“Bless us, oh Lord, and these thy gifts . . .”and with gratitude
“We give Thee thanks Almighty God . . .”
a four-leaf clover for an appetizer, a tulip for dessert.

The Buffet Drawer
At the end of a long list of blessings
in every night’s prayer, Mom and Dad, you ask
that God keep you. ‘Til death do you
part. Your survival is linked like rosaries
between your fingers, entertwined
and familiar. In sickness, health, poverty
and wealth, in love, you have tallied prayers,
children, and fifty years
later let us count all the times
your cheeks are still soft to touch
like old friends, your hips still sway
to the rhythm of a rag, a waltz,
a ballad. Let us toss confetti
to celebrate each dance,
and recite a toast honoring
those vows, this golden anniversary.

Night Fright

daniil-kuzelev-248948
The dark air has pinned me
warm sheets like batter
nothing moves but the dog
he hears my eyes open
his nose meets mine
on the edge
of my crumpled bed
‘what’s next?’ he wonders
me to.

The big questions take hold
why now, I’m tired, they insist
on answers immediate
accurate, polished.
I won’t look, I won’t.
Darn it. 3:23 am.

Litany as heavy as a stack
of unread books
rails from the middle-of -the-night
inquisitor, driven and relentless: What
are you doing with your life? What’s
next? What is it right? What
really matters? What
do you accomplish?
What will you do after? 
What is the answer?

Really? Now?

My dog discovers my face
as if it is new
hanging over the side
of what has turned into torture
twisted covers, clammy
skin all licked, my nose too, good
I won’t need tissue.

I soothe my sorry soul.
“You’re fine. You’re fine.”
Daughters. Strong. Good
life. The whole bit.
Late night lecture on self
approval. Don’t look.
Darn it. 3:47 am.

Dread sits on my chest, determined
like death. Like uncertainty.
Childhood fears, anxiety,
take a seat beside me.
Hello.
No!
Go away.
Let’s play
night fright, they offer.
4:19 am

He returns to sleep lucky
dog. I won’t pee, drink
water, switch the fan back
on, look at the clock
what if it wakes me up?
Duh.

Are you the best mother,
sister, lover. Friend. Are you
kind enough, healthy
calm and conscious?
When did you last talk to your brother
ex?

Please breathe away
these demons, deep
in, breathe again, push
past their silly insistence
to scare your oxygen. Sleep
like a dog
forgive
5:23 am
g’night.
seven
whole
minutes.
Alarm.

 

 

 

Polish

Northern New Mexico: “Where We Wouldn’t Know Who to Hate”

nm2
Laya’s hands are small, almost childlike, and she is a short woman, easily a head below me, but she seems to tower above me. It’s not the first marvel.

She escorts me, with a bit of a waddle, to the massage therapy room, and I think, “This is going to be good.” Something about her fragrance, her shoulders, straight and forgiving. She exuded confidence in an ‘I got this’ sort of way, which I admire, especially when it is absolutely genuine, earned, and packaged economically. The massage did not disappoint.

Somewhere between oil rub, salt scrub, and clay facial–all birthday presents and annual treats–we managed small bits of actual conversation. Bits beyond my sighs and her saying, “Feel good?” And my mumbling something positive and dozing back into the “ahhhhh” of a terrific massage.

She balled those little hands into tight fists, and she worked with a stunning ability to dig deep into my muscles. Did she just hit my femur? I became jelly. Happy, happy, calm, jelly. The room smelled sweet, like honey or peaches, and stark, eucalyptus. My nose was massaged as well.

In one of our chatty bits she pretty much turned my brain into jelly, too. She responded to my inquiry about what brought her from New York to New Mexico. Her accent was weary, but distinct enough that it made me curious. Her reply will stay with me forever.

“My husband is Jamaican,” she said, as the dull, exacting tool of her fist found another calcium deposit in my shoulder. Ahhhhh.

“We came here for our kids.” And just when I thought she could go no deeper, she reached into my lung, I think, and released age-old stress.

“We came her so our kids wouldn’t know who to hate.” And her fists rode across my shoulder blades like an old Chevy truck, heavy and determined. My muscles cracked and hissed like steam released from a rickety teapot. I felt empty and full.

“There are so many shades of brown here,” she concluded moving around to the front of the table, her ribs to my head and preparing to go into my shoulders with the full frontal force of hers. “We’ve been here for years.”

Jelly.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is wise and compassionate guidance, especially in recognizing good from bad and right from wrong. Doing so with color blind direction is–has it always been?–difficult, courageous, and honorable. I didn’t ask about her kids, husband, or the success in reaching their goal. I knew the answers.

The shades of the landscape in New Mexico are as resplendent in their diversity as in the population. Shades of brown? Laya is right. Shades of language. Shades of cultures. Shady rivers.

I travel there for solace and vistas, colors and calm. I met Laya, and I’m struck both by her need to find a place where her children would not know who to hate, and her having found it, or created it.

My shoulders hurt the next day, but in a good way. My spirit, well, it soared. Although I do not believe, sadly, that we can find a place where there is no hate in this world, I believe we can make one, even if it as small as our own home, or our massage table, or a village north of Santa Fe. Being able to choose the landscape for such an endeavor is a gift, a dream. American.

A little massage, a little wisdom. Look at me, waxing all philosophical.

Life is good.

Buying Peaches at a Roadside
or
Lo Leo, Pero No Lo Hablo

Your language rolls like nectar
off your tongue
into the air
as fragrant and sweet
as the peaches you sell.

I listen and envy
each word.

Cuántos duraznos le doy, seño?
Dos pesos cada uno, diez por seis.

Your language sings from your throat.
From mine, it sticks to my tongue
like a goat head
when I sorely attempt
a mere syllable
I can’t make the sounds

the music turned around
went the other way.

Like a shy child I hold up
the correct amount of fingers
to answer you
as the words,

Seis, por favor,
hide behind my tonsils.

“Six peaches, please,” I think
in my language
spilling ashamed
and silent

down my throat.

Gracias,” you smile.
I walk away
with my peaches
my language
my bachelors degree.

Photos of Ojo Caliente from yours truly, except for the peaches, those are from nmfarmersmarket.net

Biscuits

irishcheddarbiscuits840x470

Biscuits

I am quite blessed
to be gifted with guests
who visit my life
my soul and take
me into their arms
as warm as biscuits
with sweet yellow butter
a bit of honey
and they say,
“you’re okay, girl,”
and they mean it
and I feel gentle again.

I shall die some death
some day and do so
knowing that I was loved
and listened to like
a shell
by those who put
their ear to me
and stayed to listen
through all of my storms.

I am blessed and grateful
and wish you
sunny pastries,
long beaches,
many skips to your stones
and consistent tides.

Friend

Secrets at Seven Years Old

psychedelicMy brother’s bedroom was off limits, but that never stopped me from many things in my youth. Having eight siblings, 72 first cousins, and hundreds of class mates at St Mary’s of Redford grade, middle and high school—let alone thousands of parishioners in our little corner of the Detroit metropolis—there was always someone not to talk to, or some place not to go. Life, even at my youngest, involved secrets. Siblings ganging up on other siblings. Don’t tell. Schoolmates commiserating on a plan or a trick or a hoax against a classmate or a teacher. Don’t tell. Adults gossiping. Shhhh, don’t tell.

Kids created clubs and found secret hideouts. In fifth grade, four of us girls created the Spider Club, because when we did the spider walk, arm in arm, legs crossing over each other’s, we were cool, and we looked like a spider. We wore black. We had a hideout. Kids made easy game of hiding things, burying treasure, secreting away the trove of goodies we’d come upon especially after the holidays or birthdays or Halloween. With six older siblings this was simply part of survival. And secured that I would get to eat my own candy.

The mystery and intrigue of others’ secrets seems natural, we thrive on it. We humans like to have secrets and discover other’s secrets. There is a certain power in knowing what others don’t, knowing what others wish they knew, and knowing that you could tell them, if you dared. That superiority seems a disdain-able characteristic of adults. Purely childish for kids. It would seem that one of the reasons children view adults as authoritative and elusive is that they know things, they have secrets. It seemed a privilege of adults, or certainly my older siblings, that they got to know things that I did not. I hated that. Feeling somehow left out. But it made having my own secrets feel that much more mature. Big secrets. Big girl.

When one of my brothers disappeared one summer, and I asked to his whereabouts, I was told ‘he ran away,’ and that I wouldn’t understand. Would I not, as a seven-year-old, understand running away? Would I not, as a good Catholic, albeit a pain-in-the-ass little sister, not care about my brother? Did my parents not remember that I forever had my nose deep in a book following the likes of Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer, the Bobbsey Twins or Ramona and Beezus? Running away was a fascinating and familiar idea. Something we had all thought about doing. A secret, child-only-no-adults-allowed, adventure. Who wouldn’t want such a thing? And if my very own brother had accomplished this, well . . . I couldn’t know.

It wasn’t until we came together as a group, assembled by my father, all eleven of us, minus missing brother, gathered initially with prayers and rosaries, that the big secret was revealed. My brother had run away to California. (Why is this bad news I had wondered). He was safe, there had been a call, blah blah blah. All I heard was that he was gone, and I quickly saw this as a perfect opportunity to go snoop in his bedroom. The secret basement bedroom.

The apparent gravity of the situation went over my seven-year old head, and I thought they should have shared the exciting details. Did this escapade involve ropes out windows? Disguises? Captors? Never to be known. To this day. Nonetheless, back then I saw that his room, from which I had been seriously and permanently admonished, was now mine for the taking. And so I went.

Because there was so many of us, we easily filled the big house. Four large bedrooms upstairs was not enough, and we needed to use the spare room in the basement, next to the furnace room, as a bedroom. Who knows what that room’s original purpose was.  It was not a large room, and by virtue of being in the basement it was not a warm room. The cold basement was a plus on hot and muggy summer nights, that is when we loved the basement most, but in the winter, even though his room was located right next to the giant furnace, a monstrous looking thing, that room was chilly. My brother didn’t have much space at all, but it was his, and that was fascinating. None of us were afforded the luxury of “our own room.” Two or three of us were in every room in the house, but he got his own.

And because it was his own, and it was in the basement, I suppose when he asked if he could paint it, the answer was simply yes. I am not sure if my parents knew what they were permitting, because paint it he did. I never asked, and perhaps I still need to do so, but the bigger mystery is how did he get away with that room’s decor? And it lived as the colorful cave of hippy for many months as I remember it. But it was only that once that I remember actually going in.

Two walls were paneled in that woe-begotten 60’s style: sheets of thin plywood, papered to look like wooden planks. You could, in fact, pull away the glued-on look to reveal the pegboard type material underneath. My brother hung posters on those walls, an array shouting out the names of bands and songs and concerts I think. I can only suppose now, as those walls were far less interesting to me. The other two walls were beautiful.

They were foundation walls, rows and columns of cinder blocks that had been set into the hole dug decades earlier in order to make the house’s foundation and basement. We all had basements in our homes. Even the littlest of houses had basements. And basements usually included a laundry room, a bathroom, a furnace room, and then the other rooms that became sewing rooms or rec rooms or work rooms. Or, in our case, my brother’s bedroom. The secret room.

It was across those two cinder block walls where I found wonder unlike anything I’d seen in a bedroom before. There were strings of what appeared, at first, to a seven-year-old anyway, to be nonsense words. Words painted in the style fashionable at the time and made popular by artists like Peter Maxx. Large bubbled letters, three bricks high, leaning into each other so closely you could almost not tell one character from the next. I spelled the words out, but still they made no sense. I remember “LSD.” “Marijuana.”

The walls were lined with words I did not recognize and colors I loved. Deep bright rich dark fluorescent. Shades and tones I’d never seen used for walls, or anything else for that matter, except maybe posters we looked at in the head shop on Grand River and Mettetal. Posters we saw when we snuck in, “no kids allowed,” more secrets, more restrictions. But that’s another Detroit story. In my brother’s room, I could stare at those painted letters forever  . . . . if I could get away with it. The poet in me was duly inspired.

Those words marched like fat soldiers dressed in rage and happiness at once, all the way across the room in horizontal rows. I traced each letter slowly with my fingers trying to imagine their meaning, intrigued by their breadth, and wondering what their secret was. Wondering when I would be able to decorate my room however I wanted. Wondering why my brother had run away. Wondering if I would ever do that, run away. It was all so frightening and exciting, and so obviously an older-kid thing, words that older kids could use, things that older kids could do. Not a little girl like me.

The ceiling was equally mysterious and mesmerizing, and I was, I still am, curious as to how it was that my parents allowed this interior decoration project. My brother had pinned dozens upon dozens of orange “Union 76” Styrofoam balls from the ceiling with fishing line. Not in rows or in an order of any sort that I remember. Just all hanging above me, a ceiling in motion.

Where had he found so many of those balls, the ones that the gas station gave away as a marketing promotion, the ones you were supposed to put on the top of the car’s radio antenna? How long did it take him to pin each one up on the ceiling?  Rows and rows of them hung as light as angel hair, each some twelve inches from the ceiling, and if I blew a stream of air towards them, they moved in waves, undulating in unison like the shoreline at Lake Erie, orange like when it was contaminated and we couldn’t go swimming.  So many secrets and restrictions that plagued me as a child, but there I was, in the midst of one. Just me. And the secret.

I leaned back on my brother’s bed, watched the sea he had created, and I blew upwards, and laughed as the ceiling swayed.

Seventh

of nine children raised
on white bread, bologna and Campbell’s
chicken noodle soup
because who could expect
Mom to be a gourmet
with one in the crib,
one on the hip,
one on the way
and one begging at the front door,
“Please, mama, let me go,
let me follow
my big brothers to school.”

“No shirt no shoes no service”
was the rule,
and the table was full
at dinner each night.
Then the sixties came,
and the boys left quickly
after plates were cleared
to adorn themselves in beads,
buttons, bare feet,
and to comb their scant beards.
They made love, sang the Doors,
smoked hash, dropped acid;
they dropped out of school.

The rest of us, restless,
sat with our fingers crossed
and watched the colored screen
as draft numbers scrolled
in yellow and green, and we prayed
with Mom, Dad and rosaries
that the boys wouldn’t be called
to dress in army fatigues
and acquire mystery fame
as black-lettered names
engraved on a high school girl’s
silver POW bracelets.

One night’s tuna casserole
cooled stiff and dry,
as we witnessed
a hushed fight
begin to scream and fly
back and forth across
the stains of the long
white linen tablecloth.
The steaming bread baskets withered
while the glass milk pitcher
shuddered, waiting politely
for my older brothers
and my dad to “settle down now
we’re at the dinner table.”

But one brother cried
and buried his head
in his hands
while another ran
from the house wailing and high,
and dad chased the oldest
to the end of the red-
tiled porch with a ladle
raised high above his head
like a knife
threatening the boy’s life
or to rip the telephone
from the wall
of his basement bedroom
where he made secret calls.

That heavy evening closed,
and the emptied Pyrex soaked
in the scoured sink
all sudsy, and the babies
finally slept. So I left
to look at the scene
and found my brother’s beads
broken, some still on the string,
dripping off the concrete steps
where Dad had failed
to keep him.

I carried them down
to the basement bedroom
where “LSD” marched
psychedelically
across the foundation wall
in red letters as tall
as me, and orange Styrofoam balls
dangled from the ceiling
on clear plastic threads
like layers of sunrises
or sunsets.

His tamarind seeds were moist
and sticky in my fingers,
trembling and disobedient.
I set his necklace
on his dresser next
to the felt-lined wooden box
I had made him
at CYO camp that summer.

I felt brave,
rebellious
or part of something,
but frightened
because Dad might steal
the hippie beads back,
and I might never
see my brother again.

Trace

Word Jam

susan's redWord Jam

Words, words, wonderful words; never enough, words are birds
Rhythm, rhyme, keeping time; words are magic, before, behind
Into gold, out of blue; there’s not one thing that words can’t do
Tell me more, teach me chants; let me show you how words can dance
Every letter, each dotted “i”; makes my pencil ready to fly

Pretty please, sing all the sounds; give me rules, set the grounds
Oh, go ahead, it doesn’t matter; I don’t mind phonics, I don’t mind grammar
Enough, enough, never enough; words provide us with tons of stuff
To eat, to dream, to drink, to breathe; to bounce and scream, they give reprieve
Raucous symbols, sweet, sweet song; letters and numbers, so many, so strong
You never run out of word designs, you only run out   of     space     on      this       l i n e.

artwork by Susan B. Murray

Reprieve