Category Archives: identity

Rain for Remembrance, a poem

illustration rain for remembrance II

Rain

The woman sits up all night, listening to it rain.  The woman  has often sat up all night waiting for one thing or another to either leave or arrive: bandaged fingers, whooping cough, her own lookalike grandchildren.  When she can, she sleeps next to her dying mother in the king-sized bed; she bangs her own shins on the high rails, climbing in.  Her arms and hands are able to lift the wasted body of her dying mother with amazing ease.

She watches & waters the great rack of African violets in the living room; grows wheat grass for her mother’s cat.  Other times, she sits in a high-backed wooden chair, needlepointing forests in wool, chain-smoking for hours.  Her mother will die very soon; then the daughter will put on her navy dress with a large, elaborate organdy collar and fail to draw a deep breath for several days.  The woman’s several brothers and their children will fly in from all over the country, and flower offerings will dwarf the grave itself.

After the burial, the woman will pack all sorts of mementoes into her mother’s old cedar “hope” chest:  yearbooks, diaries, photographs, diplomas, invitations, programs, baby booties, baby spoons, baby cups, even a rather grisly alligator purse, complete with the head, legs, tail & feet and sharp black claws.  When she has nightmares, more often now, she sits up all night, her fluffy gray tabby queen on her lap like a hot-water bottle.  The cat’s purring leads the woman away from the perilous mountain passes & rocky cliffsides inside her head and back to level ground, so she can help her mother die properly.  That is what proper love looks like, she thinks.

 

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Engine of Life, a short story

mitochondrial_electron_transport_chain_wiki_pd

What inspired her?  A seemingly insignificant little turtle, named Max… Max who sneezed.  Dear, little, humble, Max!  How the mighty could fall.  Schadenfreude:  a word she had to admit was genius.  After Max?  Then there came the little red hen.

“Listen, honey,” the Wife told her friend.  “Go on then, and fuck him.  Go on, confide in him your hopes, dreams & fears! You go on, beg him for mercy, for forgiveness, for permission to have a life apart from his.  Go on now, and you be his wife.”  The two of them sat frozen, four icy blue eyes wild, two heads of hair crackling, one jaw hanging an inch with shock.  The wife licked her lips.  “Don’t judge a book by its cover; and certainly not by its dust jacket. Everybody’s story has more than one side.  Don’t believe everything you hear.”

The Other sat, listening for the answers with every cell of her body.  She could feel mitochondria working inside herself, she could feel the mitochondria chugging away in every single person in the restaurant — the fuel of molecular energy turning substance into the stuff of life. But she perceived only silence.  The engine of life, the mitochondria?  She stared off into space.

“Look, you asshole,” the Wife said, and she stood up & grabbed the check, her gauntlet thrown.  The icy, motionless, blue Other sniffed loudly.  The Wife kept on, plunging a sword through the Other’s breastbone… twisting.  The Wife wanted blood, as was her right.  Her old life was over.  Her new life was being born, right that second.

“How dare you,” the Wife told the Other.  “You will need me someday.  You might learn you have influenza and mononucleosis at the same time.  You could need a year’s bed rest to heal your lungs & liver.  Someday, you might get arrested for something which isn’t even a crime!  You might find out you have a brain tumor.  You might die in jail.  A wise, wise man I know told me the ends of things are always coiled up, rising from their beginnings.  He changed my life.”

 

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The Iconoclast Says Goodbye, a short story

illustration the iconoclast says goodbye

The Iconoclast Says Goodbye, a short story

Dear Zarel:

It was 1977.  You’d majored in filmmaking at the same expensive, private school Stephen Spielberg went to.  You were 25, and stalled.  For entertainment, you drew a cartoon strip, Fred and Edna — they were strange four-eyed aliens, and of course all the humor was sexual.  You had another idea for a cartoon — pieces of meat talking to each other, perched on barstools.  We met at Mr. Pip’s discotheque.  I was 5’ 7” and weighed 130 pounds but thought I was fat.  Everybody was skinny then.

All that cocaine; cutting edge.  You asked me to dance, I forget whether you asked my friend first or me.  I would have been slightly offended.  I knocked your glasses off on the dance floor.  It charmed you somehow.  We were drinking, probably vodka gimlets, that was my idea.  We went off in your car, you parked at the beach.  You got my number and said you’d like it if you could be my first lover.  You cooked dinner for me at your parent’s — they were away for the weekend.  I was impressed with your cooking, the French antiques and the view of the bay.

We took a sauna in your parent’s bath.  We went upstairs; I was only slightly spooked by the huge oil painting of your mother in full jewelry regalia on the landing.  Out came your pack of Trojans; it was difficult, painful.  I can’t say I enjoyed it much the first time.  “It’s just… got… to open,” you kept saying.  My muscles were clamped tight as a vise.  You worked up such a sweat trying to impress me, later you revealed you’d slept with hundreds of women.  Over time, things improved for me in bed, but the closer you came to me emotionally, the faster I started to retreat.

I always dreamed and schemed for love then got strangely revolted when it appeared.  I thought you were too old because you were approaching thirty.  I felt typecast, imported from the sticks.  Your mother seethed, your father smiled benignly.  Every Sunday morning, you brought my mom the finest nova and bagels — but my grandmother cast a dour eye on our trysts.

For fun, we drag-raced on I-95 — always a tie.  You said I liked to dominate relationships — to me it didn’t feel like domination, only self-expression.  I didn’t want to be owned.  You weren’t romantic enough, and never romantic at the right time.  It could have been worse, for my first affair.  If only you’d given me a nicer present our first Christmas together, maybe we wouldn’t have broken up.

I just didn’t like the sugar dispenser.  Then there was your plan for my prom — you were going to wear a T-shirt printed with a tuxedo.  I was 17 — I wanted to be taken seriously.  One night, lying on my mom’s couch we discussed marriage and children — you wanted to name our first Bozo — but the next morning I knew it was over.  My heart was sheathed.

I liquefied in your arms, then dribbled away. You tried for months, told me how wonderful I was, how beautiful I was, but I didn’t believe you.  You said you were too busy for friendship.  It had to be all or nothing.  After we broke up I saw men who reminded me of you everywhere, and every time my stomach lurched.  I waffled, waffled, waffled.  I bought a plane ticket to see you, then came an attack of conscience, or memory, or both.  You wanted to be my alpha & omega.  Nice dream, love  love love.

Goodbye,

your Iconoclast

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The Rosenbergs & Me, a reflection

ethel and julius rosenberg
The Rosenbergs & Me

Ethel arrived for court that day in a wool elf hat, beaming.  Her chin had grown double; her skin was flawless and glowing.  She wore a bit of lipstick.  Julius didn’t smile or frown — he looked like a man who had just woken up from a long, dreamless sleep.  Ethel draped her gloved hand over her belly as if to shield herself from unseen bullets.

Ethel & Julius grew up poor in New York, and came of age during the Great Depression.  They grew up going to rallies for the WPA, listening to radio broadcasts by FDR.  I grew up watching the rich debauch themselves in South Florida, and came of age during the Disco Years, the anything-goes Seventies.  John Travolta, spinning like a dervish in his white polyester three-piece suit.

Ethel and Julius and I were all politically inflamed at an early age — I wrote to Nixon at age 11 to protest lax emission control standards, and got a personal letter back, signed by Rosemary Woods, Queen of the Accidental Erasure.  Julius was contacted by the KGB and asked to spy for the U.S.S.R.  He found it flattering — was he really that important? — an offer he couldn’t refuse.  There were no KGB agents contacting me, but if they had… how would I have answered?

Unfortunately, in addition to the political, I also got inflamed past all reason by my mother’s drinking — I used to fling her gallon jug bottles of wine into the canal in the backyard.  My reaction was a type of revolution:  I wanted to throw off the chains of her alcoholism and be free at last.  I wanted to throw off the chains of her drunken love just as much, if not more, than Julius wanted working men and women to throw off the chains of their capitalist oppressors.

I had an ongoing fantasy:  a mother who could be confided in, a mother who wouldn’t judge, become angry, or load me up with confessions of her own, far greater problems than mine would ever be.  Once, I dreamed Ethel was my mother and it was a relief; I knew she’d fight for me; have my best interests at heart.  She looked to be a normal mother, cooking meatloaf and mashed potatoes in her tiny apartment kitchen, smoothing her boys’ foreheads after bad dreams, murmuring soothing words in the darkness.

My father and his left-wing ardor neatly complemented the Rosenbergs.  He once ran for Santa Monica, California city council on the Communist Party ticket.  It was only a few years after Kent State, the simultaneous apex & abyss of the “age of Aquarius.”  My father and I never discussed the Rosenbergs; we were in agreement on most things.

Ethel, Julius and I all studied Marxist doctrine, and I toyed with the idea of joining the American Communist Party.  I read the Party’s official platform (from the 60s), and decided, after considering Ethel & Julius’ fate, that joining wasn’t such a great idea.  To think was private, to act, public.  Plus?  I wanted to be a lawyer someday.

The Rosenbergs had a larger purpose — to transform society from what they viewed as unfair to something more egalitarian.  This is what most political rebels have wanted.  But who defines fair?  Those in power?  The USSR  hardly turned out to be an entity worth dying for.  Are Julius & Ethel content in their graves?  Maybe I should have been sent to the electric chair.

All of us spin out of control in some fashion; Ethel & Julius got caught committing actual crimes.  The main evidence against them was the testimony of Ethel’s brother, a man who turned State’s Evidence to protect his OWN WIFE.  He didn’t actually believe Ethel & Julius would ever be executed.  The government only wanted the Rosenbergs to name names.  They, however, remained silent.

After their deaths, Julius & Ethel were laid out in religious garb.  They didn’t look dead, just asleep.  The embalmer did an excellent job.  Three hundred people came to look at them.  The dead Rosenbergs left behind two young sons — I left behind my mother, slowly dying.  She was a child who wouldn’t grow up.  I couldn’t be her mother — her own mother couldn’t even be her mother anymore.  She had worn everyone out!  Julius, Ethel, don’t ask for God’s forgiveness — I can’t bring myself to.  God should be asking us for ours.  Our enemies have already forgotten us.

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Columbus Park

Older Chinese men playing Chinese chess, Columbus Park, Mulberry Street, Chinatown, New York City, New York USA.

Columbus Park

Layers, on this island the pearly nacre of creation — darkness,
light swirl for my attention. Walled around the park are giant
buildings, shades of gray and brown, windows glinting,
dark mirrors. I traveled a thousand miles to get here,

to find something, the heart of something, heaven,
earth, sore feet, my own heart. I am a dry sponge,
tramping from one street to the next, darting eyes
quick to latch on, transcend movement, freeze-frame

all in memory. The benches call out to me; I can’t refuse,
down low in Manhattan, where Chinese congregate,
playing some fast game. Like mah-johngg, like dominoes,
like poker, like checkers.  And a wino passes out on the bench

next to me — his mouth gapes, his teeth darkened with decay,
his tongue moving as he breathes. I am here on my bench
otherwise alone, trying to remember my divine nature.
The fact I don’t feel full of knowledge is sure evidence

I am. Nobody ever talks about how in his twenty-ninth
year, the Buddha left his wife and child in the middle of the night
without even saying goodbye. Nobody speaks of the tears
they shed next day. Buddha’s sobbing wife

is the mother of all things, and I have never known
her name. And I know without knowing I have two
souls — the one that will die with my body, the other that will
wander the world. Everything here becomes holy;

I take the wino in my arms, feeling his foul breath
grow sweet, becoming perfume of heaven. The world blooms;
I am its soul, dancing upon the knife-blade, bleeding, but not
falling. No, not falling. As I understand, so shall I be delivered.

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Letter to Bill O’Reilly from Kimberly Townsend Palmer, Esq.

maxine waters bill o reilly

Dear Bill O’Reilly:

This morning, you saw fit to ridicule House Rep. Maxine Waters for her personal appearance. Specifically, you observed her speaking in the House and began to snicker. You apologized because you said all you could think of when watching her speak was… “James Brown’s wig. It’s the exact same wig!”

Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. You’re so fucking funny.

Might I point out to you that Donald Trump has so much hair glue in his sleazebag, 1980s coke-sniffing, 13-year-old-raping, gangster coif it makes me nauseated every time I see, hear, think, or write about him.

Might I point out to you that you are not even worthy to be stuck to the bottom of Rep. Waters’ shoe?

Might I point out that your books are absymally written, clumsily biased, and badly researched?

I won’t even stoop to discussing YOUR personal appearance. But I WILL add, I know who I’d rather wake up in bed with. And it ain’t YOU or your HAIRMAN.

Most sincerely,
Kimberly Townsend Palmer, Esq.

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Hate crimes against Muslims rose 67% last year, FBI says

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/hate_crimes_against_muslims_rose_67_percent_last_year_fbi_says/

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