I Feel Like an Elephant

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Because June, for all of its weddings and graduations and summer celebrations, is also, for so many I know, a month to remember those we have lost, I decided to share an old favorite poem of mine. Both of my parents died in June. A dear friend’s deceased son was born in June. There are days that simply make us feel . . .

Like an Elephant*, a pantoum
for Pauline

I feel like an elephant
big and fat, dumb with grief
hovering over my mother, a pile of bones
slowly the herd readies to move on

I’m big and fat and dumb with grief
I nudge her hoping she’ll sing or rise
the herd nods to the horizon, slowly they leave
I stay to coax and stroke her cold dead hide

I beg her to sing to laugh to rise
her silence carves a bowl into the sandy earth
I wait and watch her cold breath hide
the ugly buzzards begin their circle

Her death fills the bowl of sandy earth
a gray mountain of mother, finished
I throw rocks at the big hungry circle
I lay across her sad shrinking flesh

She is a gray mountain of mother and stone
I shiver, move away from the pile of bone
lumbering from her shrunken flesh
I feel just like an elephant.

*Elephants mourn.

Photo by Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen on Unsplash

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Four Friends, Two Babies, and the Ellipsis of Friendship

baby in a box.jpgIt is one of the absolute greatest pleasures in life to touch base with old friends after many years and to find the connection has not frayed or weakened as old wiring might do. Instead, the sparks all fire right on cue, and laughter, intelligence, and camaraderie ensue as they always had, as if no time had passed. Such joy.

I had this pleasure recently, visiting an old high school friend and two friends from graduate school. Our visits were brief but only in time. It seems that with true connection, a few of hours of conversation can fill the gap of 17 or even 24 years.

While school reunions are common and splendid, and I will be attending my 40th high school reunion this year, it is this type of one-on-one visiting that warms my soul most powerfully. To have a bird’s eye glimpse into friends’ lives. No room for assumptions or wonders. Just the reality of their lives, and their kindness to welcome me in. It is somehow a gentle reassurance when seeing first hand the artwork they hang, the flowers they grow, the children they raise, the partners they have chosen. To break bread, share a glass of red, and toast to old times, new times, and to this very moment in time. Grateful, hopeful, and kind.

Facebook or other social media, for all that they offer, cannot offer this. The whole business of posting or messaging or waving, yes, yes, yes, whatever. I do appreciate the connections offered, and, in fact, without FB, I might not have so readily found these dear old friends. But I have always preferred to sit down and embark upon a quiet intimate chat,  even at those big old high school or college parties we all attended back in the day. It is still my preference.

The aforementioned visits actually book-ended the key reason I traveled: to visit with an old friend, and roommate in my Flagstaff home, who had just had her second baby. And this visit gave me all the connection that I speak of here in this post, with the bonus of babies. Rocking and holding the littlest one soothed my soul as nothing else in the world can do. And visiting with a toddler reminds me of how great our species is, and re-ignited some hope in humanity that I have lost of recent. His curiosity and readiness for absolutely everything was inspiring and sometimes simply hilarious.

My conversation with Billie picked up and left off as often as the river bumped over rocks. We hiked and sat beside streams, creeks, lakes and lines of apple trees, and in between she tended to the little ones and I assisted as I could. We talked about all that transpired in the six years since we saw each other last. All the love, the loss, the success, the fails, the food and the trails. And of course the babies, her boys, the girls, or er, my two grown daughters.

(There will come a time soon when I do not refer to them as my grown daughters. Just ‘my daughters.’ Or maybe I will forever refer to them as my girls, my babies.)

We hiked with me carrying the wee one on my chest. His calm heart loving the race of my own as we turned the corner of another switchback. (My calves still hurt.) Billie had her toddler on her back, and trekked like a mama mountain goat. No surprise there.

We stopped for a diaper change, or Everett’s curiosity, or for my water breaks or for me to catch my breath. If it wasn’t for the babes, and this older woman, Billie would have traversed the mountain up and down without blinking, and I don’t think she ever panted.

With this part of my sojourn I rekindled one friendship, and made three more as I met Billie’s family. And remembered fondly my own days of early motherhood, and how we all managed friendships, diapers, and interruptions: with grace, poise, and bit of spit up, just as my friend Billie does now.

I did not mind one bit when her toddler called me Granny Annie. Yes, indeed, I thought, and thank you very much. Don’t mind if I do.

I am fortunate to have the resources to make the trip to do this type of visiting, and I return to my home, its colors and art and music and smells, all a little bit richer and clearer because of this time I have shared with old friends.

And this poem came to mind, for whether the interruption is from a tired baby, a stubborn toddler, or two decades — good friends, just pick up where they left off. Every time.

An Ellipsis

When we talk on the telephone,
to exchange the up-dates,
or upsets,
the needs of our daughters
punctuate our conversations,
leaving us speechless
with no time to proofread.

They question,
they exclaim,
they put an end
to our sentences.
(Never our thoughts.)
They bring us to pause,
cause us to stop:
silent as a space.

We begin again
and again,
interrupted
by the dashed abruptness
of their “Get off the phone now!”
They draw us away
with their parade
–naked–
through the neighborhood
or they pervade
the cul de sac
with just a little
late afternoon
NOISE!

Or their sweater buttons
have come undone.
Their zipper’s stuck again.

But we are an ellipsis.
We can allow our girls
to get us,
every time,
quick as a comma,
off the phone.

Riana’s in the front yard,
            without clothes;
I have to go.

            Okay, okay. Bye.
            Call me.

Because we understand
how to fill in the blanks.
STET. Close up the line. Insert.

Editors
and mothers.
We know.
We know.

 

Photograph by yours truly.

Assumption

From Across the Room

vanity

From Across the Room

I listened from across the room
her giggles and secrets
forcing my eyes to stay open
so I could hear her make
growing up sound as magic
as the parade of perfume bottles
Chantilly and Shalimar
on her dresser, I unscrewed
the shiny tops before school
to smell my future
and she never knew

She didn’t think I noticed
her or received the attention
I deserved because she was consumed
by the antics of frocked adults,
But I was mesmerized by the rapid motion
of her wrist, like a top after the string
is pulled, when she perfectly scrambled
eggs for our breakfast

She could unscramble
the mixed-up deck of Old Maid cards
that confounded my pudgy digits;
her fingers like rulers
straightened out my slippery game

She let me try on all the colored flats
that lined our shared closet
and I wanted to be just like her
knowing how to sew and unlock
the mystery of a needle’s eye
her own eyes faraway; her teenaged
tongue both bitten and requested

I did not know the safety
a sleepy little girl like me could offer
from across the room, someone
who would only approach her bed
for cuddles under the covers
after a bad dream, someone
free of nightmares that stained
sheets in a rectory far away
a dirty laundry basket
she could never take
to the basement to clean

She knew how to make
Swedish Meatballs with gravy
as fragrant as the dandelions
I brought her, how to roll Tea Cakes
in powdered sugar without cracking
the nutty dough and cracking
me up with stories told between
cola and cigarettes

She took me on my first road trip
to the cornfields of America
I never minded the hump
the heat and the hum of sleeping
on the floor in the back seat
because the promise of Howard Johnson’s
pancakes the size of a clock at 5am
made up for unending horizon
and the boring AM radio

She never trusted how much
these moments mattered
to me, her own nightmared life
of dancing with short older men
in dark confessionals
troubled her sleep and finally
she unloaded over the phone

Predicting my rejection, but this tumbling
only made me dance my own story
in studios free of secrets
what she hid became my pirouette
of caution, his collared crimes woven
like impetus and black thread
in a sweaty Danskin leotard
thrown carelessly
onto my pile of dirty laundry
before I hopped into the shower
alone and unafraid.


Image from somewhere on the internet and I lost the URL
Rapid

Cardinal Directions

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Cardinal Directions

Once upon a time, at a staff meeting, a colleague boasted (was it a boast?) that she didn’t know her directions. She rolled her eyes as if she was too busy to know such a thing, as if it was below her.

I was struck by her pride in not knowing, and struck even harder when two other women in the group chimed in. “Me either,” they both said, also with smiles. And these were all very smart, educated women whose job it was to share their knowledge and resources. Two strikes.

Then the final strike. As I sat there admonishing them in my head, I had to admit to myself, that I, too, had once proudly noted this stupidity. Three strikes.

You’re out.

Not only did I claim not to know my directions, but that I didn’t know my left from right. I was much younger when I made such proclamations, and I distinctly, and sadly now, remember thinking it was somehow cute or funny. I was smart, I knew that, but there was this funny little missing piece to my intelligence. Instead of learning it, I laughed. Ha ha.

I recovered from the like in my 20’s, so I can at least give myself credit for that. These women are in their 60’s. But most tragic, yes, tragic (I’m not being dramatic, I promise), is that not only do we live, and have we lived, in a world where women are assumed to be less smart than men, but women wear this assignment with pride, like a sparkly broach. Look at me, adorned with stupidity. I may have learned my directions, but do I not claim stupidity in other arenas? Yes, and this is not as surprising as I’d think.

My mother thought of herself stupid, and my father agreed, and often broadcasted it publicly. I don’t know that she used the words “I am stupid,” but I am certain she said things like, “I was never very good in school.” Or “Aren’t you the smarty pants, smarter than your mother.” Or “I’m not the smart one in the family.”

My mom made the grocery list, but did not do the shopping. She could not (would not?) drive, and could not (nor would dad let her) keep a check book. But she did do the majority of the cooking, cleaning and housekeeping, and she organized and managed the entire family’s wardrobes, menu, hygiene, school needs, and more. Yet, there was a big to-do about the fact that my father could not read her handwriting on the bi-weekly list. He made no small affair of having to re-write numerous items on the list, noting how they were misspelled, and spelling them correctly.

My mother rode this ritual with an odd, dutiful acknowledgement. His job was to be the smart corrector. Sarcastic, and flirtatious perhaps, loving “in his way,” his ridicule was customary. Her job was to be the stupid mistake maker. Apologetic with a repeated “I’m trying,” or “I try,” as if talking to the headmaster, and not her husband, her lover, the father of her nine children. As if she didn’t manage the daily lives of eleven people.

This dance went on in many other situations besides the grocery list. The fact that she couldn’t drive, and she couldn’t because it scared the shit out of her. Left hand turns were confounding. The fact that she never did well in school. “But the teachers loved me,” she would brag. That she smoked (my Dad had smoked and quit in his 30s). And he chided her about how the thing she did best was shop and “spend his money.” Finally, how she hadn’t had a job since before their wedding.

And it is notable that she had worked for the Detroit Edison Company, but they fired her upon her getting married.

My mother was not stupid, and I don’t believe my father truly thought she was either. Beyond the facts—poor grades, etc.— she was brilliant. In fact, while at her funeral, I was impressed and warmed by the many cousins and friends who approached and told me how important my mother had been to them. Her counsel, wisdom, and trustworthiness led many a young person to a more firm place of confidence in their lives. Not only could they rely upon her to not tell their secrets, they could rely upon her for sage advice when it came to boyfriends, relationships, parenting, etc.

My mother was the 11th of 13 children. Her role as one of the youngest in the family gave her a particular in, and an understanding, to the evolving women’s movement and some of the changes in the Catholic church. She was, in fact, quite hip, and dare I say, she would sometimes sleep through Sunday service and let my dad take the line up of children to mass alone. Smart woman!

My mother was an avid reader with at least two novels going at any given time, and she read both the daily newspapers: The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. We also subscribed to numerous magazines which she read including Life, Look, and Time. Yes, she loved her soap operas, and to nap, but she was neither lazy nor unmotivated.

I do not know if she knew her cardinal directions, her right from her left, but I would not be surprised either way. She was not deserving of the ridicule, but she did not fight it. Could she? Can we?

Being stupid for women was, and unfortunately still is, understood as ‘cute.’ Acceptable. Funny. Expected. Sometimes proclaimed with an arrogance that is numbing. Yet, I know well the disdain and animosity that is generated when a woman proclaims the opposite. To be a smart woman, and to say so, is as unacceptable by many, if not more so. A woman can be quickly deemed arrogant, haughty, vain, and somehow a threat if she is smart, knows she is smart, and does not hide it behind a facade of stupid. It is an odd dance we’ve performed. We can’t seem to win, ultimately. Smart or stupid.

As this announcement was made at a staff meeting, I looked around at the group of  women to see their reaction. No one looked nonplussed except for the youngest and  newest employee: a millennial. And me. As we reacted others were quieted, perhaps embarrassed.

Our insisting that cardinal directions be added to the document we were discussing seemed a greater infraction than the women who boasted that they did not know their cardinal directions. And that the document should use some other terminology to explain the southeast corner. A term that was left TBD.

We have a long way to go I am afraid.

So I propose that we stop this silliness. End this madness. Let’s rally and take a stand that it is neither cute or funny or acceptable or expected for anyone to be stupid, and more importantly to not be willing to learn what they do not know, and even more importantly, to never be proud of ignorance, forgetfulness, or stupidity. And let us remember that most of what we can’t or won’t memorize, we can look up. And, there is a mnemonic device for everything. Even the cardinal directions.

I am ashamed of my own role in the like, and I urge all women and men to stop reveling in what you don’t know. Learn it. Don’t dismiss what you do know, share it. Do not judge the intelligence level you perceive, but be willing to teach others what they don’t know.

Future post? My bucket list of the things I need to learn and have been proud not to know. A list far too long including things like changing a flat tire and all the state capitals.

And on that note, a poem.

Cardinal Directions

North is cold blue
Michigan snow sneaking
into untied boots in the morning
when the wind hates you
there are icicles on your nose
the sun forgets your name

Name the opposite – deep green
sticky hot, dank hides
like a crocodile or mint julep
in the veranda’s shadows
the saucy fans of pink ladies
hugging the equator
like and old friend who lingers
too too long.

Linger in the yellow
winding river of sun
the day breaks you in
beckons yellow eggs
pronounces morning
like a fire alarm
not an inkling of past
the eastern shore birds
can not be quiet.

Quiet as a western Washington
rain, I come to you thirsty
like a desert cactus
missing the memories
of reliable raindrops
and succulent roots
all that sunset beauty
the day ends only
for now.

Photo by John Ruddock on Unsplash

Divorce in Two Poems, or Two Kisses as it Were, Second Person

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April is Poetry Month. Poetry Challenge. Poem a Day. Nos 29 and 30. El Fin.

Kiss Away
January

You put our kiss away
tucked it in a drawer below
rolled socks, old Valentines
and a couple of quarters;
underneath that newspaper
with Bridget’s picture on it
and your Boy Scout scarf.

You put our kiss away
slid it under the pillow waiting
for some fairy to make our wishes come true
like when last October’s moon
shined full on our romance
oh how she would peek
into our bedroom window
witness our release

You put our kiss away
stored it among the tents
the crates and junk in the garage
near the screw drivers
your hidden cigarettes
all your layered secrets
waiting in the tool box

You put our kiss away
beside the deck, where
the grease from last July 4th’s
lamb BBQ still stains the soil
the struggling lavender plant
nods and the thriving jade shines
You put our kiss away and I can’t

find it; You, who could never hide
anything very well, hid this like
a spy, but even without it
I can’t forget the taste
of you, your gasp against
my ear,  your thumb
between my teeth

You put our kiss away
for safe keeping
for some day
for never
forever
away.

Kiss You Again
May

I found your lips inside a hug
and held on as if I could lose

you, I kissed the smell
of your smoke and scratch
of your stubble and knew
it was settled like dust
on the dash but the maybe
of forever was dancing again
upon my tongue

I kissed you and soothed
your cheeks in my hands
your eyes a query
in our moonlit van
I put my nose against yours
and remembered how lovely
are your eyelashes
your breath

I kissed you and led
your fingers to my face
they knew my chin my teeth
our lips returned
to where they belonged
once so sweet

I kissed you and recalled
nothing, planned less
just kissed and winked
behind your neck
at the December moon
she appeared, flanked by pines
to watch over this fleeting
this tease of time
she found a cloud
and I knew then
my kissed friend
that I would never
kiss you
again

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Louder than the Hummingbirds

food-3324316_1280April Is Poetry Month. Poem A Day Challenge. No. 28

Louder than the Hummingbirds

Jill paid a surprise visit last night
arriving with Jay, a bottle of wine
a pile of poems and a cooling story
about a guy from Alaska who couldn’t
meet her downtown after all.

We sat in the twilight of early June
our stories and gasps drowning out
the clicking of the cicadas, our whir
louder than the hummingbirds
looking for nectar and a place to nest.

My girls entertained Jay with Nintendo
laughter, dances, and bowls of ice cream
they stirred in cookies and Sugar Babies.

Jill told me Jay sees angels each night
short men in turtlenecks who are threat-less
he didn’t share this with my girls.

Bridget had a tantrum that morning
anger pouring from each limb hotter than June
Riana sunbathed for the first time
tanning herself toward adolescent notions
about beauty and boys.

Neither was any of this spoken
by our children, who fingered the gray joysticks
giggling between sticky teeth
and shouting at the screen.

Jill and I talked about everything
on the deck, moms and poets
certain we would never rush off
to Alaska to rendezvous
with even the sweetest of men
or  meet friends downtown at midnight.
Midnight. Would we?

We defined “contentment” relishing
the freedom of a stolen afternoon
alone with “the one” and the definition
didn’t include anything about boredom
sadness, being finished or desperate.

Just happy enough to know
exactly when to fly and who
to bring, where to go
and what we should stir
into ice cream.

Photo from Pixabay

Tantrum

Could Be

crow-2057872_1280April Poetry Month. Poem A Day. Challenge. No. 27

Could Be Just Another Lazy Morning in April

Could be just another day in the life
of the patient blue black bird
his weight pulls down the pine bow
he waves at me outside my window

Could be just another climb
for the eager red spider who camped
all winter in a crevice, decides
to grab the wind, write a new address

Could be the April breezes playing
rough each afternoon pushing
debris across the roof scrubbing
like something serious is going on

Could be the world’s gone crazy
again repeating news as if it was
not a sodden pattern of small words
I ride the rivulet like a raft

Could be all this light, so much
now, I rise with it, eat dinner
with it, I’m not ready for its
warmth, I wasn’t done hibernating

Could be time for that second cup
hot and strong with heavy cream
whip away this lazy spring
it cherishes my dreamy

Could be that damn black bird
returned to see me doze, kind enough
not to screech as he eyes my cold toast
Where are yesterday’s crusts?

Photo from pixabay.com

Rivulet

Approaching Storm

eberhard-grossgasteiger-392281-unsplashPoetry Month. Poem A Day. No. 26

     for the girls from decades ago

As quiet as snow
you arrive at my pillow
frightened by the storms
that jolt your elbows,
that won’t release you,
they cloud your little girl soul

My breath drapes you
sill to ceiling
back to infancy
late night feedings
the lullaby of my pulse
is all that sleep needs
to return and tuck
you in again

I want to push away
your nightmares
the demons
that open your eyes in the dark
with sharp knuckles
and send them out into the cold
without a jacket or gloves
and certainly no sand

And when I rid the fright
from your sleepy sky
that long-fingered grip gone
once and for all
you will not
come to me to snuggle
anymore

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Let Me Elaborate

nick-fewings-589145-unsplashApril is Poetry Month; Poem A Day; No. 25

Let Me Elaborate

from early morning journal entries

I dream I watch him run
in the most beautiful teal silk lingerie.
I dream of not pulling out my ChapStick
although my lips feel shriveled.
Nor do I take a seat
when my hip feels pummeled
but every time we lean into each other
it is all I want.

I dream of living with grizzlies
and loving them, talking to them,
they teach me to hibernate
which for me, means write.

Then we are at a party
and the bears call me over.
“You can understand us, you know?”
“This is so weird,” I say.

I dream of babies. Sick babies. Sick mamas.
A baby licking the right ear of a kitten.

I dream that every time I hit the snooze alarm
it posts on Facebook.

I dream of being obese
having a layer, a flap, of fat
hanging below my belly button
so large that I can hold it out
like a shelf
and wave it like laundry.

I dream that I start the hug club
and it was a night full of hugging;
I woke happy.

I dream that my mother wants a cell phone
and that Grandma Chata cooks in cardboard boxes
she thinks that if the flame is low
the boxes won’t burn.

I dream that she looks so guilty and sad
and accustomed to being chastised.

I  dream that I am angry at a friend
so I pull off a lion’s toes
and throw them at him
one at a time
hitting him in the face
and the lion does not mind.

I dream that a friend cooks for us
an egg dish, wine, and quesadillas, maybe.
The wine container has rice in it
and I want to figure out how to filter it.
The dinner takes place in a group of buildings
in the middle of a busy freeway interchange.

I dream that I am in an old and bumpy elevator
with a mirror and I stand where the porter stands.
There are only two buttons
“dint” or “wobble.”
I speak to the girls  about a murder,
a double murder maybe, they question my concern.

I dream of trying on clothes or scarves
one has a spot, a white one
so I clean it out in a pond
the water turns brown
and I point it out to the clerk
who is exasperated
I say I’d pay for it.

I dream that I decide 2 things:
I will take a 3-6 month trip by myself and camp, to see if I can really feel the earth move and know when the rain is coming and to get that in tuned to the planet;
and that I will take a music class because unbeknownst to even myself, I have this love for games and puzzles, but since I am not interested in mathematics I might feed that part of my brain by learning music.

I dream of getting lost and refusing to stop to get a ride or call a taxi.
My phone breaks in my pocket.
I can barely walk as it is like moving
through cement and I blame it
on the wraparound skirt I’m wearing
I carry yellow laundry
I just want to find a place
to stop and fold
the yellow sheets and table clothes.

I dream there is a crying child
and my fire-breathing guerrilla
is no longer a guerrilla
it is a toy animal that changes as it spins.

I dream I am headed to an audition
for a dance production
but I can’t find when it is
or where to go and then
I am eating dinner out
with an unfamiliar family
and I try the dad’s entree:
white meat.
He said it was Bill Clinton’s hand.

Elaborate

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

https://www.pw.org/writing-prompts-exercises?genre=31

 

Readying for Next

andrew-pons-1354-unsplashApril is Poetry Month, poem a day, No. 24

Readying for Next

The summer swing still leans
like an old man with a crooked back
certain that with a little adjustment
he could rock and soothe
a child or lover.

The fence remains in ill repair
planks pop with the dog’s jump
the snow, or windy April,
and mountains push their way
down onto the houses that necklace
these foothills and forests.

The kitchen never grows bigger
the wall remains as solid as the day
I first put flour and coffee in the pantry.
The girls still wanted to wack it down
renew the promise of more space
that their dad had bestowed upon breakfast
Cheerios and toast, oh that embrace
of a bigger dream for this house.

You could still do it they say,
from afar, to their mother who hits
the head of nails only three out of four
tries, I hammer my way
through this noisy solace.

I wonder how many times I’ll pull up
the drive or stand watching out
the window, lean over the sink
and witness the yellows of sunrise creep
up the pine slats, the oranges of early
that turn the wobbles and angles
of broken fences and furniture
into a softer blanket of ownership,
this is my life alone.

Bestow

Photo by Andrew Pons on Unsplash