Red! I Want that Job

alex-blajan-liops up close

I’m not much one for make-up. Never have been really except perhaps for those early days of adolescence. When the discovery of blue eyelids and long lashes had a timely empowering factor. I could change how I look, quite dramatically, or subtly. But I had that power. And I was something. It was that simple.

I preferred pinks. Pink eyes shadows. Pink lipsticks. Pink sweaters. Maybe I wanted to look like bubblegum? Maybe I did? And if I did I could, and that was my choice, dammit. Pop!

But it all grew silly? Took too much time? The ritual of it grew tiresome at any rate, although pink was still my choice when I went out dancing. ‘Clubbing’ as they call it now. Or is it called something else already? Jeez.

I threw away a heap of color palettes and small brushes recently. The whole lot of it smelled a bit funny. What on earth do they put in that stuff?

I still like an occasional color fest upon my lips. And I certainly enjoyed watching my little sisters and my daughters make the same discovery of self. I was somewhat alerted to how young we look when we first paint our faces, experiment with colors and effects. Or, how old?

Anyway, it’s always a treat to ponder the make up aisle at a drugstore.  I am not a marketer, or a wearer of make up, but how fun to be ‘the namer of lipsticks’ or ‘manager of nail polish titles’.

I want that job. So here goes.

Some of these are found, some are mine. Ideas? Share your favorite or made up names for lipsticks!

Kiss me Now.
Light Flames.
Thinking of You.
Almost Pink.
Broken Heart.

Stop By Later.
Maybe.
Yesterday’s Roses.
Forgive Me.
Perfect.
Deep.

Sunset Kiss.
Inside Out.
Sedona.
Prickly Pear.

One More Time.
No Apologies.
Scottish Plaid.
My Ember.

Rubies are Shy.
Friday Night.
Dancing Shoes.
Watching You.

*photo from unsplash.com

This Dress, and other musings on motherhood

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This Dress

It doesn’t fit, Mom
this dress, your death
it’s like a net, in satin
wrapped around me, I’m trapped in
this collar, I flounder
I can’t get it right
it’s not my size
I wish I was naked
and you had your breath.

It’s a straight jacket
in black, I’m crazy
like burlap, scratching
my joints, my deep creases
can’t squeeze into this garment
I buckle right under
this neatly hemmed grief.

The stitching is permanent
too dark for me, too grave
I bedeck myself more lightly, Mom
and these restless sleeves bite me
the zipper’s angry, I can’t breathe
or dance.

Remember when
we would get all dressed up
in colors and bourbon and stories
and talk until the night
stripped off its darkness
by dawn we were naked
in our friendship
our connection, that cord.
Do I really have to wear this?

I am bereft in a dress
without pockets
there is no penny, no
falling star to catch, no
Kleenex or keys
just this puddle of silk
too heavy to hold this loss
I want to wash and wait
for it to come out
as something different
than this dress
your death.

I watch myself and I watch my girls as we hang out. At first, it seems so different than how I spent time with my own mom. That process of witnessing. She watched me grow into womanhood, I watched her grow into middle age. We met in the middle, relieved at last, as so much of the stumbling and stammering of earlier days in our time were behind us. A leveling occurred.

The girls and I travel and hang out together in a way I never did with my mom. We have seen the world together. Ireland and Argentina. Chile and Mexico. We have all attended university.  Together we united our splintered family. Just the three of us. We wrote and made art and watched each other on stage in a variety of theatrical endeavors. We ate an awful lot of scrambled eggs. Witnessing. Leveling.

My mom and I pretty much traveled as far as the Cunningham’s across the street where we often walked for our ritual “Coke and a smoke.”

A ‘Coke and a smoke’ meant time to talk, uninterrupted. To laugh. Whisper. Reveal. Release. Gossip. Laugh some more. Light up. Take a sip. We figured things out.

Somehow it was about the nose. Smoke in the nose. Bubbles in the nose. Being nosy. Inhale, exhale. Funny, she died of cancer right there. Not in Cunninghams. But right there, back behind her nose. That’s where the cancer landed. Little did we know as we poured our souls over a tall icy drink, and another long drag. We were dear friends until her death.

The chemo and radiation ripped her up pretty badly. The oncologist told my dad that it would; he had promised they could easily kill the tumors that had usurped most of her sinuses and nasal cavity, and they would rid her body of the nasopharynx cancer. That was the good news.

But my parents would hate him for it. Her life would be miserable he warned. And it was.

Along with the tumors they took her saliva glands, and her sinuses deteriorated like a Kleenex that’s been in your pocket too long. Frayed and full of holes. Not any good for snot, that’s for sure. She ended up dying of an infected skull.

After 14 years of infections – sinus, ear, throat, mouth – all stalwart in the face of antibiotics, the germs freely marched into that big old spherical bone we rely upon so desperately, or casually, to protect our brains. Osteomyelitis. A major army of germs descended. Led a successful coups. Antibiotics couldn’t even get past them. Didn’t have a chance. The failed pharmaceutical warriors retreated. Necrosis won.

All those wonderful talking sticks, thinking sticks. Cigs, they stuck it to her. I often wonder if I carry the propensity for that same cancer, or another. I smoked for some twenty years, which is a very sad statement thinking that my first cigarette was at nine years old.

It was behind the billboard at the Grandmont Hardware Store with Katie Coonen and a Virginia Slim we had stolen from her mother. We coughed and laughed. And continued. Amazing how a mere child can be so enticed by the burn and choke of a cigarette. I started buying packs of cigarettes by twelve. And I smoked until I knew I had conceived Riana.

Quitting had been a nonstop effort since my mid-teens because I didn’t really like smoking all that much, so I never quit quitting. And, I owe Riana big time. Or she owes me. We’ll have to talk about that. But it won’t be over a “Coke and a smoke.”

It will be over the racks at a Goodwill store or a game of cribbage. One of my favorite “Coke and smoke” moments with Bridget was actually over espresso and scrambled eggs in some little neighborhood cafe in Alphabet City in the lower east side of New York. Our moments happen when we hike up the trails on Mt. Elden behind our house in Flagstaff. Or window shopping. Over the phone.

My tie with my girls is neither soda nor nicotine, which makes my witnessing with my mother seem so different, it isn’t really. It’s all about the talk. The lens through which we watch each other evolve from one stage to the next: girlhood to womanhood to elderhood. From the politics of the world to the politics of our extensive families, we have lots of opinions and theories. We bring perspectives that are different and respected. We have our wonderful fiery moments. And sometimes we just settle into ogling over the cute cat cuddling in the corner, or watching as the soft snow falls in the triangle of yellow under streetlight. We talk. We level. We witness.

And yes, something will someday take us from each other’s lives. The frail Kleenex of our bond, the inexplicable and unpredictable tether to this earth, this life, will fray or rip or dissolve. But that will be then. This is now. Let’s go  . . .

Stages

I take back my house
missing and pushing the girls
out at once – go! give me space stay!
I need your sweet and smart and beautiful
there is no one on the roof no one in my car
no one sleeping in my bed or on my couch or spare
bedroom, no paintings and socks and dry cleaner stubs no
steamy mirror no Mac products spread about the couch counters
come back no go clean up no leave it sort through it no let’s keep it
my girls my life my walking sticks water witching there you are
again go be brilliant and brave and ambitious and teach me
everything you learn I so want to reap the benefits
of your brains beauty your wit talk to me never
stop visiting or talking talk me to sleep
on my final day tell me the best part
and the worst tell me you bake
better and write with zeal
love more deeply, think
more clearly and at last
remember to let me
smell a nutmeg cut
in half and garlic
sautéed in butter
lemon zest set
in sugar then
tell me your
song story
and that
you did
it damn
it you
did
oh.

Photo from Kris Atomic at Unsplash.com
Descend

“This Dress” first published in Puerto del Sol, 2004.

‘Ma,’ No Now, No Next

random impulse 2

Drums that Heal

No now, no next. Ma.

Who knew that on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the Flagstaff Public Library, I would find the word I needed to capture my current state of affairs, and from Taiko drummers at that. Five performers pounding out their hearts, and pounding right into mine.

This group’s performance was part of the Library’s 30th anniversary of the the building on Aspen Street. The drummers’ physicality and power, a few of them just skinny kids, drew even the grumpiest of those in the building toward the  corner where this band had set up. The complaints of those who “came here to read, damnit” were calmed by this explosion of sound and rhythm. One song, in particular, answered a question I have been asking for months. It helped me find a calm that I have needed.

What is this?

What is this space, place, time I am in. No now. No next. But a content determination to go forward. Whatever that is or means.

The Taiko instructor David Ramos, pictured above, introduced a song that he had written explaining the importance of the pause in the song, or the ‘ma,’ as he referred to it.

Ma.

Ma is a Japanese term that is used for space, interim, or the place between, among many other meanings. Ma. Yes! That’s the term that’s been sitting on the tip of my tongue for months, maybe years. Maybe a lifetime, but definitely these days. I was not only moved, literally–my heart beat happily with their drums–but physically, sensually, and spiritually as David promised Taiko drumming can do to you. I was calmed. And I had a new word.

Ma.

You see, being a woman of words as I am–I like them a lot, words that is–I need them, actually. I am most confident, secure, I am my strongest, when I can put a name to what I am feeling, experiencing, understanding, etc. An addiction perhaps, and this one is as simultaneously fickle and constant as addictions are.  I often misuse words, or get them wrong (bring and take), pronounce them incorrectly (Vietnamese), insist on old rules (don’t end sentences in prepositions). Nonetheless, my hanging on to them, and them to me, is not unlike a junkie and her needle. I was drawn to the pen and paper as a mere child, and I have not let go, nor will I.  A healthy dependence, perhaps, but distinct.

Thus, not being able to put my finger to a term that describes my current state of affairs, well, I have been nonplussed.  What is this?

I am preparing to leave the house where I have lived, the house I have owned, the house that has cared for me as I have for it, for 17 years. And while I know my next residence will be south of Flagstaff, in the Sedona area, I do not yet know where. I can’t even call this state of affairs a transition, really, for a transition seems to have a now, and a next. I have neither.

I have disrupted my now so determinedly that I do not recognize the realty, or reality, when I enter that house, the one I own, as I do each weekend. I go in to pack, paint, consider, question, and pack some more.  Possession is an odd thing.  While I may “own” it, it no longer defines me. It is not my now.

And I am staying in a lovely home in Sedona, to which I return every Sunday night, a house that belongs to someone else, were I have carved out a small comforting corner. It holds me like cupped hands, and I am safe and pleased. It is plentiful. It is close to work. Yet it is not my next.

No now, no next. Ma.

I am in this space between things. Between times. Between decisions. An interval. And we, I, live quite dependent on next. We have all experienced that feeling of anti-climatic when on vacation, or Christmas morning. The preparation was so big and fun and busy. Preparing for next. But when next becomes now, sometimes it offers a dark sullenness.

I have forced myself, not for the first time, into a state of nextlessness.

And now that I have a word for it, I am actually a bit more comfortable with it. It is not sullen. Or dark. It is just . . .

Ma.

This ma, this time between beats, this space between words, this pause between inhale and exhale is refreshing.  And frightening. And, really, is no different than every second of every day.

We live so convinced we control time and space. We live, I live, thinking I know next. But, really, do we? Ever?

A test of patience and strategy.  Reflection and planning. No now. No next. Ma.

Ah.

Celebrating Smart Women

patrick-fore-26336for my girls, even Riana, who doesn’t like poetry.

The Cranberry Line

Follow the cranberry
line of dawn, go home
reach far, the moon is only
a lost star looking
for sunrise, for the saffron tide;
waves like Aurora’s children
on the verge of morning,
stretch and rub their eyes.

Be a poet. Be that girl
awake at the water’s edge
on the brim of next.
Be that light, renewed
from dark to day.
Be the patience
between each letter and space.
As quiet as dancing
along the cranberry line
or as loud
as tomorrow’s
crashing orange spray.

“Do You Pray?” – a reflection on angels, in-laws, and holy stores, with a bit of chocolate cake thrown in for good measure

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for Kay McKay

I wondered today how long it takes for someone to become an angel. Is it instantaneous? Now you’re dead, now you’re an angel? Is there a waiting period? A series of hoops and steps and paperwork to get desensitized from life and ready for death. Like an immigration process? A job  interview? Is there a toll booth? Decontamination? An entry fee?

When Kay was alive, in the course of a few months, I would think, “I haven’t talked to Kay in a while, I need to give her a call.” And I would. And we would talk. Easy as that.

Today, I thought, “Can she hear me yet?” I looked up into the gorgeous Arizona sky, and said, “Kay?” wondering how long it takes.

~~~

Sure, I talk to the deceased. Don’t we all? In one way or another? Talk to the dead? People mostly, that is, though I suppose some talk to their dead pets or plants or stars.

Catholics call it praying. I can live with that. I typically don’t call the act of talking to those I have deemed angels as anything, really. I simply don’t talk about it. But “praying” works. In fact, it got me out of big trouble once.

You see, Catholics pray a lot. They name the deceased, who they really like and really miss, saints. There is a big job interview type process before you get to have a friend or family member become one. Then they attribute certain tasks to them. These tasks line the pages of prayer books that Catholics keep by their bedside or in their purse.

They also often have small statues of them that stand over the kitchen sink or march across mantle pieces. I learned of them, saints, from early on in my childhood home. And the home of the family I married into.

There is a host of saints upon whom Catholics rely. Those who help us find things, overcome tragedies, keep our travels safe, convert the infidels, reduce anxiety. A litany of problems and the saints who are the solvers, all available in toy-sized likenesses or full out sculpted artwork. Oodles of prayer cards are available, wallet size–like business cards–but better. They are almost ‘get out of jail free’ cards. There are bookmarks and now websites, too.

And you can wear them. There are the traditional engraved silver or gold metals that many Catholics wear on chains around their necks, or reminders printed onto small cloth scapular necklaces with an image of the saint on the other side. Donned in saints.

All of these things, that in today’s world of Disney or Hollywood or Nickelodeon, are considered marketing for profit; while in Catholicism, they are simply tools to remind us of who is out there to assist us in the difficulties life brings. You can visit “Holy Stores” to peruse the aisles of tools and trinkets. Think Disney store but no mice or wizards, just saints and spirits, and coffee cups or place mats.

holy store

I digress. We’ve moved into shopping. Very Catholic. But back to praying.

I suppose praying, as it is called, or talking to the dead, is what so many poems and songs and headstones and other assorted markers are doing really. They all portray a conversation with those on the other side. Or a way for the living to talk to each other about the dead. We keep the deceased alive somehow and for some reason. To spite them. Or ourselves. To honor them. Or ourselves. To find them or to ascertain that they are, indeed, dead. And it is a very holy and important thing to do, for Catholics especially.

When I first met my Mexican Catholic mother-in-law, she was pretty pleased that her wayward son had brought home the likes of me. A mere 23-year-old girl (I thought woman, ha!) with a degree,  a job, a small savings. Score! I seemed stable. I spoke Spanish – a major plus, even if I spoke like a Gringa. And I was a baker (another big plus). I brought a bagful of scones and bagels, and a pie, I think, the first time I visited. Brown noser.

And I was raised a Catholic. So there I was, a good Irish Catholic girl (lots of throat clearing) who was a perfect match for the good  Mexican Catholic son (oh, Mijo). Aida’s youngest. I’d help him. Finally settle him down.

But did I practice Catholicism? Was I a believer? Did I pray?

Having been raised Catholic is a foot in the door into someone else’s Catholic family, but it is not the whole enchilada of acceptance, to say the least. As the years passed, questions arose, but none were delivered with too much expectation of response, or they were presented with no expectation at all. Not really. Just conversation. Until we had children. And then my Catholicism, or lack thereof, became quite important.

My mother-in-law asked: Would we raise the girls Catholic? Did we attend church? Would they? Had we planned the baptism? Why hadn’t I changed my name when I got married? (You know, Mija, you’re not really married if you haven’t taken your husband’s name as your own.”) Did I go to confession?

“Do you pray?”

The day came when my mother-in-law introduced my little girls to all the family members by way of the dozens of dusty framed photographs that lined the dim shag carpeted stairway leading to the second floor at her house.

“This is your Great Grandpa Julian. This is your Uncle Nieto. Here’s Auntie Dalia, your namesake,” she said to Riana. “Here’s Grandma Chata when she was just a little girl.” And so on.

“Who’s this one?” Riana asked, pointing to a large ornately framed Sacred Heart of Jesus.

sacred_heart_of_jesus

Yeah, well the proverbial ca-ca hit the fan.

My speaking Spanish quickly lost its glitter, even all my baked goods were suddenly crumbly and dry in the minds and appetites of my Mexican in-laws. Now there was serious question about whether I was fit to be in the family for I had obviously not done the job I was expected to do as the mother. Raise the girls as Catholics. Teach them about the picture of the guy with a blazing heart on his tunic. There was less, in fact almost no question about my husband’s work toward this effort. He was the Mexican male, he was the baby of his family, the only son, he was busy being the father. No it was my job, and I had failed.

It just wasn’t enough anymore being the kind, smart, hardworking and good parent that I was to these precious grandchildren, if I wasn’t going to be more Catholic. Not necessarily a church going, confession making, communion taking Catholic. It was okay if I eliminated a few of those more typical expectations from my list of being Catholic. But it was the believing. The having of faith. The accepting. With all of the almighties and each of the halloweds and every one of the highests and the rulers. “Don’t you believe, Mija? Don’t you pray?”

Oh, the guilt, the guilt, and then more guilt. No, I don’t believe or pray the way you do, I so wanted to say. To them. To my own family. To myself. I am not a NON believer, however, I just believe differently. I’ve done everything differently all my life, so, of course, I am going to do this differently. But I wasn’t certain yet how to live it, believe it, express it, or teach it to my kids, let alone explain it to the devout. Guilty and confused, I was, but mostly I just carried on in our lives until the next family event was scheduled. Then I’d consider the questioning that was sure to come my way.  How would I avoid it? For starters, I’d bake another dozen cream cheese danish, some cupcakes. Chocolate.

And then the opening came, finally, and I was in. It was over. I had my place back. It went like this.

One day, Bridget’s first birthday celebration, I believe, and Grandma Chata (chata means pug nose, BTW, and it is a term of endearment, and Rafaela, my Grandma-in-law, certainly did have a lovely pug nose) questioned me again. I am uncertain how the topic came up, but it always did. And there it was. Ergh.

“But, Mija, don’t you pray? Don’t you believe in anything?” The girls’ Great Grandma asked me these questions with such profound hope and genuine sadness, her watery light brown eyes burrowing into me like a pointed finger, I could have crawled under the table and hid for hours.

I knew I had to give her something. Anything.  Throw the old woman a god damned bone — nice, Anne Marie, nice — I told myself.  And so I did.

“Grandma,” I explained to her. “I believe.”

“You do, Mija?” she asked with equally hesitating disbelief and anticipation. And another bite of chocolate cake. “What do you believe in?”

“Angels,” I said, casually, wiping a blob of chocolate cake from Bridget’s face and replacing her cake with a handful of Goldfish, and then cutting another piece of cake for Great Grandma. Putting it in front of her. And then I saw it.

Years and years of weighted worry and despair spent over me, this poor infidel daughter-in-law, rose from both her stout shoulder pads. Her bright suit turned from blood red to rose red. The room smelled better, like Spring. The girls looked up from their high chairs  and from the Goldfish they were gumming or counting (Bridget gumming; Riana counting), and they looked from their Grandma Aida to their Great Grandma Chata to their Mama, me, expecting something exciting to happen as four generations of Catholics/nonCatholics celebrated birthdays. Maybe a balloon would pop.

“You believe in angels, Mija?” Grandma asked with such pure elation you would think I had just told her the Archangel Michael and I were pen pals. Or that a balloon had popped.

“Yes, I do.”

And I was back in – pop- that was all it took. A small act of believing in something extraordinary. Pick one, any one, of the many extaordinaries Catholicism offers, and my place as the “Good Irish Catholic” daughter-in-law (who also happens to speak Spanish, bake really tasty scones, pies, and cakes, and overall is a damned good parent) was regained.

Angels.

So now, as all of this reflection comes to mind upon the death of my dear friend, my mentor, my other mom, Kay McKay, I go back to my original questions. I trust she became an instant angel, quick as a heavenly wink. They surely excused her from all the Pearly Gate rigmarole, and just gave her the damn wings. She probably insisted upon it.

I suppose I could have asked for her guidance — about pruning geraniums, making gazpacho, managing a tough moment in a relationship — in my head while she was alive. That conversation could have happened that way. But it was so much easier to call her.

Now, the same requests for guidance and counsel will happen, but only in my head, my heart, and my prayers.

Yes, Grandma Chata, I pray. To you, too, now. I pray to all of those who listened to me when they were alive, and to all those whose death did not reduce my need for their ears. They can still serve the role of listener.

In fact, I think they probably listen even better once they are dead. I assume less distraction on the other side. And lots and lots of cake.

Me? I can maintain my standing as a good, well, mediocre and trying, Catholic girl who makes tremendous pies and cakes.

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And finally, in this very long read, a poem inspired by Kay McKay, when we met over the oranges in Safeway, and stayed there for an hour, smelling citrus, and figuring out life. 

Girlfriends

We talk
and we talk more
we talk again
and we talk over coffee
we talk over my life
we talk over yours
we talk over wine
and we talk over the oranges in Safeway
and we talk.

We talk.
We talk over biscuits in my kitchen
we talk over polenta in yours
we talk over the noise in my head
we talk it all over again
we talk on the phone
we talk on email
we talk on and on
we talk over all the broken talk
and broken hearts, we talk
I love to talk
to you.

We talk or we don’t
we postpone talk or we hurry
we talk quick, we talk slow
we scream talk, we whisper
we talk long, we talk short
we talk words, we talk time
we talk history
we talk through tears
and you don’t mind.
I am healed by the talk
by your talk.
We talk.

(Top photo from Robert Murray at unsplash.com, other photos found online.)

 

Gray Choices

cole-patrick-2908

Gray Choices

I come from the dry cleaners
chemical steam staining
my shallow breath
like my brother’s ashes
that cannot stay
on the mantle watching us
wondering where to put them

I come from the tulip garden
tall stems like picket fences
that need painting
petals drop and rest
in dirty sunshine
sullen remnants of the bloom
you can only be pretty once
so bury them
in the loam

I come from the pot
of pea soup with ham hocks
a haven of anticipation
dinner will be peaceful
no brothers fighting
over the television station
or ashes absorbing smell
like wet towels hanging
yesterday’s stories told
to the dingy wind

I come from the hamper
my mother’s hands reading
the layers of each day
underwear, socks, his favorite t-shirt
with its armpit stains
washed one more time
on ‘heavy duty’

I come from ashes
from funerals
I come from gray choices
never made

Gray

Roots, Worms, and Blossoms: for Maureen

laura-johnston-apple blossom

Roots, Worms, and Blossoms

How will the promise of age
rest upon my skin?
As it does the forgotten apple?
The sad Macintosh left under a tree
withered and no good for a pie?
Will time brand me with pinches
smudge my shiny skin
and deplete my rightful size?

Or will I be the old woman
who wears her wrinkles like a crown?
A Golden Delicious, showing off
her spots like jewels, each scar
a story of a tree in full bloom?
Of a glorious day basking
in the royal September sun?

Or will I be the Granny Smith
deep green and so, so crisp,
too tart to taste, alone
at the top of a narrow branch
where nobody will climb
to soften my goose bumps
or ease winter’s brisk lines?

The little Pippin?
Shrunken and silly
fallen twice from the bushel
bruised and never to bubble
in a perfectly browned dessert
but perfectly happy to rest
next to a sandwich
in some schoolboy’s crumpled lunch bag
underneath his desk?

Maybe as an old woman,
I will just sit on a dusty shelf
aging like spice whispering
my cinnamon stories
offering fragrant rhymes,
remembering roots, worms and blossoms
and waiting quietly for my time.

Happy Birthday, Maureen.

image by Laura Johnson

Protecting Women, a found poem, Aisle 7, Walgreens

foodmatters.com

This is one of my favorite performance pieces, and while I haven’t performed it in a while, my daughter Riana and I were in Walgreen’s recently, and it came to mind, so I pulled it out, and thought I’d share.

Imagine me on a stage, wearing a pink pussy hat, of course. There would be a bit of editorializing sprinkled in while I breathlessly rattle these lines, some dramatic pauses, and maybe some pointing.

For now, here is a poetic litany of the marketing and content, certainly a billion dollar industry, supported by mostly men, all towards the effort of sanitizing women, all of us, all in one little poem. Enjoy!

All the Protection You Need
A Found Poem: Aisle 7, Walgreens

The cycle.

We are protected from our cycle, from our flow, from our syndromes, our pain, our discomfort, our discharge, our blood and
from our surprises.

We are protected with dryness, with superior dryness, with extra heavy absorbency
and rapid absorption that we can count on for up to 12 hours.

We are protected in seconds, any time, on the go, all days, all ways
and after sexual intercourse.

We are protected with rags, pads, napkins, shields, liners, plugs, portables, tampons, wings, flexi-wings, gentle glides, plastic applicators, recyclable applicators, biodegradable and flushable products, and
with gentle elastic sides.

The flow.

We are protected from our flows, from our light flows, our lights days, our heavy flows, our heavy days, night time flows, unexpected flows, and
from our minor discharge.

We are protected from our flows with ultras, with regulars, with maxis, with thins, ultra longs, long regulars, heavies, extra heavies, super heavies, super heavy longs, overnights, end-to-end adhesives, and where we need the most protection:
from side leakage.

We are protected from our symptoms, from our tender breasts, from our bloating, from our aching, our cramping, our “stronger than usual menstrual” cramping, our mood changes and the emotional swings all related to pre-menstrual syndrome.

The symptoms.

We are protected from our symptoms. Protected with medication that makes us dizzy, cross-eyed, sleepy, unable to drive, that doesn’t work well with alcohol, prescription drugs or if we’re on other tranquilizers.

The smell.

We are protected from smelling.

We are protected with nozzles, with easy angle flexible necks that make insertion easier if we insert gently — no more than 3 inches — don’t force the nozzle, sit on a toilet, and we are protected
if we are careful
not to close
our vaginas.

We are protected from the residue of contraceptive jellies or creams, leftover vaginal medication, minor discharge, mid-month discharge, major discharge, and again,
after sexual intercourse

The residue.

We are protected from residue and discharge. We are protected with deodorant, with hygiene, with sanitation, odor elimination, with clean feelings, fresh feelings, refreshed feelings, neutralized odor (not just covered up), personal cleansing cloths, sanitary wipes, feminine wipes and seven different clean fresh scents:
including vinegar and water.

The blood.

We are protected from our blood.

We are protected from our blood with HOSPITAL size pads, with quilted pads; with cotton, rayon, Polypropylene, polyester, silk-like, dri-silk, fresh weave, and dri-weave pads, pads with cotton-like top sheets, pads with cottony covers, pads that are contoured for comfort , pads that have fast absorbing pores, pads with special rolled design and
pads that channel our moisture away.

We are protected from our bodies, from ourselves.
Walgreens, where the military of “clean” awaits us.

Stuff

chaos-627218_1920I am equally embarrassed, and fortunate, to be the owner of all my stuff. A woman in transition, I have spent the first four months of this year looking at it. Sorting, choosing, remembering, cleaning, tossing, and ultimately, keeping. Some things anyway.  Now that I think about it, this process began most seriously ten years ago, when my ex-husband left. When “we” ended, and “ours” was over, it could only be mine.  As the sole owner of it all there is nobody else to blame. I am stuffed.

Years back, Riana helped me sort through boxes in the garage. She opened one only to find hundreds of greeting cards and letters going back to my childhood. “Mom, why do you have these?” I explained to her that I like to keep the kind sentiments that are sent my way. She rolled her eyes, pulled out a card, and asked, “Who is Edith?” and looked at me accusingly. I didn’t know out of context, and, in fact, couldn’t for the life of me remember ever knowing an Edith. She read the card, some silly sentiment, and then laughed, and I joined her, as she read: “Love, Edith.” She then kidded me and asked, “So, do you feel good now?”

“Don’t toss that box,” I told her, even though the ridiculousness of my choice had made itself evident. She folded the top flaps, took out the extra large black permanent marker to label it, and wrote, “Mom’s Stuff. Hoarder Box No. 1.”  The afternoon proceeded, with much hilarity, at my expense, and quite a series of Hoarder Boxes, which, I am embarrassed to say, I still have.

In this most recent purge, I have not sojourned out to the garage while in my sorter brain mode. Not yet, anyway. I have worked on my bedroom, kitchen, closets, pantries, etc. In these spaces I am not finding too much that I have kept for sentimental value. But for my dad’s yellow sweatshirt that I will never give away. Or Sue’s Michigan hoodie. My mother’s stacked porcelain mixing bowls. These things are old, a bit worn, but putting them on, or using them to stir cookie dough, is as close as I will ever get to deceased friends and family. (Hoarder Box No. 14, I hear Riana say).

Otherwise, I have made three trips to Goodwill or Savers with carloads of stuff. Stuff. Stuffed. While I believe that it is “American” to shop obsessively, purchase for the sake of buying, own for the sake of having, I can only account for my own habits. I see us, myself, as hungry. Eating sandwiches that are so large and stuffed we cannot take a bite without flavors falling to our laps. Some of us savor the pieces on our thighs, pick them up and eat them. Some brush them to the floor. I think it is time to not make such a sandwich. Reduce. Take leave of my stuff. Stop feeling stuffed.

Reducing my linen closet to two boxes was cathartic.  The pantry to one shelf, relieving. Emptying my bedroom to ten boxes. Okay, my empty bedroom did choke me up a bit. But why in the heck do I own four sets of sheets? Three black skirts? Character shoes from before my feet grew with pregnancy. Two pairs! Four boxes of band-aids. A heating pad that doesn’t work.

Reducing my life of stuff down to one carload is my goal. I have watched over the years as tenants have moved in with one carload, maybe two, and I am envious. They walk with an air of carefree that I can taste. I look at my garage and gag. Stuffed.

How do you eat an elephant, or a sandwich as the case may be? One bite at a time. How do we overcome our addiction to ownership? One box at a time. Hoarder Box No. 14? In the trash.

 

Life Is Only a Borrowing of Bones, a journal poem

mark-rabe-180525
I journal, somewhat obsessively. Nearly every morning. The sunrise and me. I write. It rises. I have had this partnership with the rising sun since I was a wee little thing. My day is just not right if I don’t begin it writing. (And funny, the day wouldn’t be right if the sun didn’t rise!) My crises are just not solved, unless I write my way through them. My joys crave the seeming permanence of pen to paper. Fingers to keys. And over the years, I have accumulated a lot of words. A lot.

So, on occasion, I will scroll through a month’s worth of words, pick a year, pick a month, pick out phrases or sentences that strike me as interesting. Line them down a page. Keep them in tact, but rearrange them. Rearrange them again. See what happens. And there they sit. On the cusp of being poems.

Here is one. Enjoy.

and life is only a borrowing of bones
                      pablo neruda

full moon lights
my early kitchen cooling
cooler colors, calm weary
rhetoric and misnomers
unauthentic kindness
some type of reach for reverence
and reputation

I am still green tossing
and turning children swept away
to the depths below woundedness
embraced in a basement
do not smash the stones
put in your path make the messages
from your mouth kind
and kinder; fly
unburdened

“don’t give yourself away”
wet matter crashes down
from the sky
understand the connection
tears water river flow
pay more attention
to what we don’t know
whatever they ordered from this moment
did not capture me
put them in the dumpster and say
“there is no hierarchy to suffering”

stuck in my cold fingers
broken out of shells
years of drivel and treasures
the rim sucked us in
we squint jumping
back onto the bandwagon
bloated and teary
heartbreak on the itinerary

to the forest
to the lingering moon, Jupiter
still sitting by her side
just a speck
poor girl

Cusp