Monthly Archives: August 2015

A Perfect Sliver

“I want to see the night with you, Mom”
he says
in dinosaur pajamas
at still dark 6 am

We sneak out onto the patio
next to the dog bowls
peek up at the barely blue sky beyond the neighbor’s
cypress trees
cicadas still sleeping
day in utero

Little hand on my leg
whispers
a perfect, still sliver.

Down Here

If we were allowed to speak of such things,
I would say that
down here,
a young black man walks down a sidewalk past a sign pointing the way to Acadian Village,
a living history museum,
stepping through broken glass in front of a corrugated metal shack
living a history that no one will curate.

If we were allowed to talk about our experience,
I would mention that
down here,
bumper stickers suggest I pray the rosary and
there is a television station constantly saying the Hail Mary
while I know that
another population sings
gospel
in little churches
next to seafood restaurants
unbroadcast.

There is no talk at the public library
on how they came to live here.
There is no Culture Day
when they all put small boats in the
bayou
and explain their life stories to news reporters.

If we were allowed questions, I would ask
why can’t I hear them?
don’t they live down here, too?

Behind the Clouds

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Behind the clouds,
brain cells were never destroyed
by nitrous
or lsd
and a girl has her master’s degree.

In Cairo
or Venezuela
with her undamaged hair,
a Fulbright and a tall Londoner
or an Australian with an accent and good ideas.

She believes in God
or the piano,
jogs in the morning
through pinkly lit alleys
smiling at vendors,
running through the mist.

Or in the evening,
passing tired men in old suits
on their way home from
a long day at the embassy
or the museum.

I can feel her feet on wet cobblestones
hear eggs frying in a pan
or lamb roasting over a fire
in a spacious flat
or a small third floor walk-up
tended by a man wearing sandals.

I can smell coffee,
or warm beer
and all the colorful flowers bunched together for sale.

When it rains here,
under the clouds,
I can feel her heart beat
in her chest.

W is for weary

W is for weary
and where have my friends gone?
and when did my arms start looking like my mom’s
wired
a-wake
wide-eyed
and words I haven’t even thought of yet.
Which of these choices is best for all of us
and will the present ever really feel like enough
when I’m driving
weak
Wednesdays
and work.

Stargazing

Now let’s speed up a year,
said the lady holding the remote
control of the night sky,
and see where Saturn will be
next year at this time.

A whirr of stars
fastforwarded over our heads
while my hands grew
wrinklier from washing 365 nights of dishes
pulling up 48 doses of Pediacare
spreading peanut butter on 547 sandwiches
and turning right into my parking space 896 times.

There!
she cried happily,
lifting her finger off a button
as Saturn’s rings screeched to a
halt.

And we all craned our tired necks
to stare at the dots
dizzy,
still wondering what happened to Pluto
and why exactly.

“A Serious Question” or “What Happens When a Writer Loves Poetry and Journalism” or “Ouch, these Questions Hurt My Brain”

Can there be a story without me in it? Is it possible to write anything outside of–minus me? Of course not. Right?

But what if I write about the shed? My view of the shed. What if I write about the neighbors? My take on the neighbors. Even if I snap a photo or record a video, I can’t remove myself from the tale-telling entirely.

And then there’s you—the reader, viewer, listener. And you can’t remove yourself either from the way you receive the story. How does anything ever get communicated?

Man #1 states, “Red, red, red, red, red.” Man #2 responds, “Yes, you’re right! Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow.” In walks Man #3. “Finally,” he states, looking relieved. “Green, green, green, green, green.”

Maybe this is not a problem, after all. Maybe all there is to communicate is Each Other. We try to capture a moment outside of us, but all we capture is us. We try to tell a story that happened to others, but what we end up relaying is what is inside of us–our hearts, histories, hopes, dreams, pasts.

But somewhere deep in the center of storytelling, running down the middle like that vein you have to pull out of a shrimp before you cook it, is fact. Pure fact. Somewhere, a woman just got shot. Somewhere, a child’s parent hit him. Somewhere, a storm killed a family while they sat in their house eating dinner.

Who can bear these facts? Perhaps I’ll start to receive the news as poetry, concentrate on what that reporter has contributed to this article, what part of his soul is showing as he shouts into a microphone in front of a burning building.

Maybe all we have to communicate is Each Other.

The Initiation

WomenSingingEarthoptI became a woman in Nepal. Not that kind of woman. No, that happened another time, in another place. This night, I became a Mother Daughter Sister of the World, a Female of the Earth, member of the tribe Woman.

It happened on a rickety bus heading east from Kathmandu. Night pressed on the dirty windows, black and foreign, seeping in occasionally when the door swung open to pick up riders huddled under trees or standing in front of low, mud buildings. Men wearing dress pants and sweater vests crammed into the seats, bench-style like a school bus. I sat in the front seat near the only light source, next to a well-behaved man with well-groomed facial hair, overnight bag clutched to his chest, wearing muddy shoes.

The bus lurched to a stop unexpectedly along an empty stretch of road with no buildings or trees in sight, though it was so dark outside the emptiness could only be seen for a few feet beside the road, then a wall of nothing. The door folded open and a beautiful young woman peered inside. Her sari was wrapped around her in that way that looks so simple when executed by an expert, but I could never quite figure out. It was a chilly March night and piles of soft scarves and shawls made her look like a rainbow of dusty, sun-faded colors shining into this world of dull greys and browns.

Her eyes quickly scanned the mustached crowd and landed on me. With no hesitation, she shoved a small bundle in my arms that she had apparently been cradling under all that fabric, then turned around to drag her bags up the bus steps. No one moved to help her.

The bundle squirmed. Two huge dark eyes looked calmly up at me, chalked on the bottom rims with thick black make-up. The baby felt warm in my arms, alive and moving. Without a plastic diaper, it felt as small as a newborn pig.

In that moment, as that little body was thrust into my arms, something happened.

Up to that point, my life had been, at best, stunted. I lived with mentally ill women, cooking and cleaning for free room and board. My latest loves had been an alcoholic musician and an insecure, out-of-work biologist. I had no education, no career. No children, few friends. (Hosting is difficult when your roommates are crazy). I floated through foreign countries eating up the adventure, the fear, the loneliness, the flings. I didn’t think of myself as an adult, nor did I act like one. At twenty three, I was in some kind of purgatory between child and grown-up, totally without direction.

But when that woman boarding the bus saw me, she didn’t see a frightened foreigner who was starting to question the wisdom of buying a one-way ticket to Asia. She didn’t see a silly girl who’d dropped out of three different colleges in two different states in the last five years. She saw a woman. When she found my face in that sea of her countrymen’s blank stares, she found a human being whom she had no doubt would help her. I saw it in her eyes. She felt relief to find a sister she knew she could trust with her most precious package. When she looked at me, she saw a woman.

In that darkness, with tiny feet kicking under swaddling clothes, the shuffling of bags, the men coughing impatiently, something ancient turned.

When she looked at me, she saw a woman.

A woman.

I am a woman.

I will help you.

I will help you as you do your work.

I will hold your baby, keep it safe, even if just for a minute while you straighten your things to make your way in the night.

I don’t remember giving the baby back, or where the woman decided to sit on that packed bus ride. I do remember transferring to a bouncing Jeep for the last leg to Darjeeling and getting not-so-deftly fondled by the army officer sitting next to me for three hours while I tried desperately to keep our legs from touching. But that didn’t bother me much that morning. Because the night before I had entered into a proud, sacred pact. I had been invited to a party I had begun to wonder if I would ever attend. I had been initiated into the oldest, most powerful organization to ever run the earth. I had become a woman.