The faith grew from inside my bones, starting with incense, candles, and bells. I loved the magic of my church. First down the aisle came the Verger. Then came the majestic candles and banners, singers and acolytes, and the hypnotic clouds of incense from a swinging ball. Then came the Assisting Father, the bearer of the holy Gospels, and lastly the Celebrant Father. The sweet fog of the incense hung in the air like a cloud of God, making everything in my head holy… making me, myself, holy. Holy: as in whole, complete, well-loved.
It all helped me pray. I prayed for lots of things, on my knees, eyes closed, hands together, kneeling in the pew. I just knew someday I would live in a convent castle, and be the bride of Jesus. But at the same time I was always a tiny bit afraid I might speak out loud; what if I said a bad word? Even in elementary school, I understood this fear should be irrational and unlikely.
But it wasn’t! My little brother had once, when he was under the age of two, shouted the word “fuck” while the Congregation knelt with their heads-bowed, palms pressed, in one of the dramatic kneeling sections of the service. And my baby brother’s voice was so bright, so free, so joyous… that even the Celebrant Father couldn’t keep from laughing.
Everybody laughed. Including the Assisting Father, who was round as a ball and wore his red hair shaggy, and had round, hippie glasses. It may have been High Church Episcopalian, but it was still Fort Lauderdale in the 60s. Thank god my little brother didn’t do that when I got Confirmed by the Bishop was my only thought!
“Jesus loved children,” said the Celebrant Father, and the service flowed on without a hitch.
Filed under bible, childhood, christian, compassion, eternal, faith, family, fiction, forgiveness, god, good, kindness, love
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.
Filed under beauty, blood, cancer, compassion, daughter, daughters, death, development, dream, dreams, eternal, eternity, everything, faith, family, fiction, forgiveness, god, grief, heart, hope, human beings, humanity, identity, karma, kindness, life, loss, love, mama, Uncategorized
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.”
Filed under adultery, anger, born again, children of alcoholics, compassion, courage, divorce, fear, fiction, grief, health, human beings, identity, karma, kindness, life, loss, love, marriage, mea culpa, mitochondria, mortality, mysterious, personal responsibility, punishment, regret, relationships, short stories, women, youth
Where Does It Begin?
(originally published in The Charlotte Poetry Review)
Possibly with well-steeped tea,
gooseberry jam on raisin bread,
lots and lots of idle chatter;
later, he could try daily walks
through the woods — though she
has resolved she is finished with
nature — still he persists
in pointing out the log in the creek
holding five mossy-backed turtles;
if all else fails he could try
brushing her hair in the rough manner
of a mother, offhand, impatient fussing
to decipher knots. He could place her
in a room filled with the images
of budding spring trees, on a wide,
comfortable sofa, her stockinged feet
perched lightly upon the armrest
as she reads. The sight
of the frail new leaves will work
upon her, surely? Better yet,
he could fill a bowl with fruit,
three kinds of berries,
layering green upon yellow
upon blue upon red, teasing her
with a few squares of chocolate,
protesting all the while
that he always says the opposite
of what he means. Who lived my life
until this day? she will say. I could
ask myself the same question, he will
say by way of answer, placing his hands
lightly, lightly upon her shoulders
Filed under beauty, birth, heart, hope, love, marriage, nature, passion, poetry, relationships, spirit
The woman thought of God a hundred times a day. A thousand. An infinite number of times. Consciousness on the quantum level. And each day, she grew unhappier. More discouraged. Bleaker. Uglier. Sadder. More uncertain. In the trenches. Wanting to know for sure, and be done with it. The big picture… could anyone see it… could anyone imagine it… could she, or anyone she knew, ever have a clue to its subject… its matter. Most people seem strong until something goes wrong. Could time really heal?
Her belly grew heavy and cold, a dizzying pit of endless space. Would she ever be able to see it through to the end? Where was the end? When was it reasonable to stop trying. When was it the right time to stop trying… too hard. Where were people when you needed them. Bullets never did any body any good. The first human-killing weapons led to more, and more deadly, machinery for war… cannons and tanks and bombers. Land mines. Napalm. Nukes. Propaganda. Poison. Secrecy. It all boiled down into the same rotten thing, in the end.
Terror. The dog barked and barked and yelped and whined and barked some more. He was single-minded; his existence that moment was all about the cat, the cat behind the sofa. She refused to be ruled by terror. She growled and hissed back. She sat just outside his reach and baited him. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it backfired. Sometimes the dog came so close to her, his mouth closed in on the long, silky fluff of her tail. He bore a complex pattern of red scratches on his black and white snout. The man wanted the cat gone in the morning. What if he insisted? The man, or the cat? She preferred the cat tonight. No telling about tomorrow.
Filed under anger, courage, death, fear, fiction, grief, heart, hope, human beings, humanity, loss, love, mourning, murder, peace, personal responsibility, prose poetry, relationships, short stories, soul, spirit, united states of america, war, wish