Tag Archives: daughters
PRETZELS & CHOCOLATE
(rented room, cigarettes)
I am eating pretzels
and they are hard
but splinter into salty crumbs
with the merest bite
they only satisfy
part of my tongue
(rented room, cigarettes)
so I pick up the chocolate
greedy for it to melt
against my palate
sucking the firm square
feeling it mold to me
the way I imagine
my body molds to yours
(rented room, cigarettes)
retaining the character of sweetness
to complement the salt
to balance my mouth
I am eating chocolate
thinking of us
(rented room, cigarettes)
Dear Mary M. E., Class of 2016:
How do I affirm who you are and tell you why I love you? What do I want to say to you as you go off to college next year? Why am I proud of you? What are my hopes, dreams, and prayers for you? What are my favorite memories?
Darling BooBoo, you came to me as a gift. A child I never expected to have, never even dreamed I would have — a gift from God. You helped me become a “real” mother, along with your big sister, just like the little boy helped his velveteen rabbit become “real”… you helped me become who I am today just as much as I nurtured you from birth till now. Your patience, your sociability, your love of other people, you enjoyed being the youngest in a big mob! You helped me learn, really learn the value of a strong will and a compassionate heart. The value of having a silly, infectious laugh, and a serious, contemplative side. You are a sensitive, delicate soul who deeply appreciates the joyous things in life yet is nonetheless strong enough to survive the tough times with grace.
You were born pretty fast, and were tinted blue (now your favorite color) when you came out, because your umbilical cord had been wrapped around your neck, but the second the nurses got that untangled and rubbed you down, you turned pink and opened your eyes. You didn’t cry… just looked at everything with your eyes wide open, for an unusually long time, the nurses said. And when your big sister, Abigail, came in to see you and reached out to touch you, you grabbed one of her fingers with your tiny hand, tightly, and you didn’t let go!
You didn’t want a pacifier, or a bottle, or to sleep anywhere but on my chest. So we slept like that for a while, barricaded with pillows so you couldn’t roll off the bed. Then you slept in the middle between your father and me for months. Eventually you were okay with the crib.
You wanted to hold your head up so much you insisted on being in a walker when you could barely manage it. You’d push yourself around, looking at everything. The minute you could crawl, you were done with the walker. You didn’t talk much, at first, but when you started it was in full sentences, and you talked a lot, about a lot of things, very curious and with a very big vocabulary… people would hear you talking and take me aside and whisper, “she’s very smart!”
You had the tiniest, cutest little feet! Your toes were like little pink peas. You were a bit of a mischievous rascal, playing peekaboo, hide and seek, chase, you name the game, you were ready. You even put on your big brother’s boxing gloves one time and wanted to play that game!
Something I wrote about you a long, long time ago:
November 5, 2001
What BooBoo said today, at Abigail’s school, where we were to drop off a bag of dressy clothes for A’s French presentation: the sky was gray & overcast, yet there was no rain, it was borderline gloomy but also very pretty in a way — she said “It’s a beautiful day today.” I agreed with her.
Later, I realized that just because the sun was behind a layer of gray, you could still tell it was there, you could still see the disc behind the gray, it still had light, and though you couldn’t see, exactly, the brightness, you knew it was there. As did my three-year-old. Faith is the key to all of this. Trust in this life, trust and god will bring you what you need.
I love you, my darling Mary M. E., and I am honored to be your mother.
I couldn’t go to work today. COULD NOT go. Me. Me! Me!!! The Me I know as Miss Responsible (at least before), or Miss “Took Copious Notes and Asked Earnest Questions of Every Professor She Ever Had” (at least before), or Miss Order of the Coif & Law Review (at least before), Miss Top 5% (at least before)… I COULD NOT go. I could not go, as surely as if I had been very heavily & securely shackled and chained to my bedroom floor with no tools of any kind within reach.
Then, abruptly at 12:11 p.m. – perhaps because Miss Self-Blaming loves to make Miss Responsible feel horrible because she has not done anything productive on this (fucking difficult) day, I am suddenly ORDERED (by a part of myself I don’t know, and, frankly, do not ever want to know) to write about “temporal lobe epilepsy with localized/partial seizures.” This particular moment — Wednesday, August 12, 2015, 12:11 p.m., convinces me that my entire universe — the physical, the emotional, the intellectual, and the creative — has turned into one long, very long, seemingly endless, “temporal lobe epilepsy with localized/partial seizures” episode… at least for right now.
Helpless to help myself, mostly, except for a stubborn, almost instinctual, ability for self-care, feeding & watering. I’m conscious, but either (1) not able to speak aloud, or (2) uncontrollably babbling each & every random thought my storming brain generates. That’s how you can think of a seizure: an electrical storm in the brain. Complete, sometimes, with inner thunder & lightning & high winds. I sometimes wear earplugs, or I sometimes listen to the music I love — and there is a lot of music I love — loud enough to drown out all the sounds that go along with being in a room in a house in a city on planet Earth in the calendar year 2015. Block out the loud, the abrupt, the frightening; nurture the calm, the logical, the safe.
What has saved me thus far, mostly, is the fortunate fact that even in this fucked-up state I can still write — albeit with tons of spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. At these moments, in particular, I thank God for the generations of computer whiz kids, who gave us things like word processing, complete with editing capabilities, and pretty good grammar & spellcheck. I thank them for these things because another aspect of these seizures is a barely functioning short term memory, and a dreamlike, almost hallucinatory perception of myself and my surroundings… very vivid while it’s happening, and very ass-kicking after it’s over. I do not recommend it as a way of life, or even as a temporary experiment.
I think, but do not yet know for sure, that my “temporal lobe epilepsy with localized/partial seizures” may be permanent, and treatable only with an alarming number of drugs, needing to be taken as many as four times a day. This entire state of affairs is due to the fact that I required brain surgery for a nonmalignant, though large, tumor, which was between, or around, or next to, my frontal and temporal lobes, and as a special bonus, was wrapped around the main aorta of my brain and my right optic nerve. The other permanent souvenir of my tumor and surgery is a 50% vision loss, more or less, in my right eye, and a funky-looking scar on my head that usually isn’t visible (thank god!) because I have very thick, coarse, wavy hair. Horsehair, I used to call it, and I am profoundly grateful for it now, for without it I would remind people of Frankenstein, and quite possibly frighten some children.
I’ve tried to write this without it sounding like a 30’s blues song… what comes to mind is “Down The Big Road Blues,” by Mattie Delaney (born 1905). When I am in this state I find myself missing my daughters… when they were children especially. I miss so many things about them! I miss listening to music or watching a movie or playing a game or just talking with them. They love music, and singing, and laughing, and playing Scrabble intensely. Aren’t the intimate connections, with our intimates & beloveds, what make life worth living? I am so humbly grateful for my beloved partner, my daughters, my dearest human & animal friends, my fellow creatives & nonconformists.
Without all of you, I would be lost. As part of a team — even if it’s only a team in my imagination — I am able to keep doing the next necessary thing, whatever that may be. Sometimes it’s cleaning the floor. Sometimes it’s snuggling my dog. Sometimes it’s work. Sometimes it’s reading. Sometimes it’s meditation. Sometimes it is putting my arms around a living, breathing, warm human. My daughters, as babies, taught me the value of plain old physical closeness to someone we love as we love ourselves. So, I say to myself… “Shoot The Loop,” just like the Acoustic Alchemy song my beloved partner introduced me to.
Thank you for your time and attention. May your day be blessed with clear thinking and right action and peace. May you, may I, and may all the human world keep on waking up from our “very long dream,” into a brilliant and fascinating future. Fascinating. Brilliant. All of us.
The Way of Tiny Swordfish, a prose poem
Sitting in the living room next to the indoor fish pond. Watching the tiny swordfish jump up the miniature rock waterfall, knowing and empathizing with their drive to go somewhere farther along, somewhere even unknown, somewhere presently unattainable.
Sitting on the floor next to the black Naugahyde, Father-Knows-Best chair and matching ottoman, which no one actually ever sat in, as if knowing we were not worthy occupants. Wanting a father badly, asking my stepfather if I could call him Daddy. My mother made me ask him myself, but I wanted her to ask him for me!
They married when I was four, then went away to New York City – actually the Dick Van Dyke show suburb of New Rochelle – for a year, while I lived with my grandmother. My mother worked as an “executive” secretary for Norelco, and every time I saw the commercial with Santa riding the Norelco razor down the snowbank I swelled with pride.
I started kindergarten at four, Catholic school. Nursery school, kindergarten, and first grade with the Catholics. They say if they have you until age seven, they have you for life. Saint Teresa for Halloween! I came home, told Mommy I couldn’t wait to die and go to Heaven, so I could be with Jesus; pictures of Jesus taped to the headboard of my four-poster bed. Mommy said, “That’s enough Catholic school!” So public school for second grade.
Loving the families shown in black-and-white on TV, where the biggest problem was fighting over your curfew, getting a bad grade on a test, not being allowed to go to some party where, in the end, father knew best because some kids got in a car wreck either on the way there, or after.
Having a kitchen where there were no roaches living in the toaster, or the silverware drawer. Where I could ask my mother for advice, and not have it be wrong, not have it break my heart. Dreaming of and longing for a life of being saved and shepherded by your parents, like on TV. Trusting their wisdom. I wanted to trust mine.
The First Time I Met My Father, a very, very short story.
The first time I saw him, I was not dazzled. He was too tall and wiry, and he had too much red hair, flying off his head like an unmown hayfield. His eyes were too chilly, a piercing blue that made me feel like an insect on a pin. He was brimful of himself, but at the same time tried to project a false humility. When he found out I was trying out for cheerleading, he tried to talk me out of it. He’d only met me for the first time and hadn’t even met my friends, but somehow he’d already found them incomplete, just because they weren’t political radicals. “Why do you want to be a cheerleader?” he asked, chewing on the straw of his soda while he squinted.
“Because it’s fun,” I said. I shook my head, throwing my bangs back out of my eyes to glare at him. “Because it’s good exercise.”
“Do you know that the players will feel like it’s their right to sleep with you?” he asked.
“I’m not sleeping with anybody,” I said.
“I hope not.”
“You think anybody’s going to be able to talk me into something I don’t want to do?”
The arrogance he displayed made me want to slap him, punch him, kick him, or at least knock a couple teeth out.
Jan. 11, 1979
Kenneth got into a big fight with his father last night. His Dad said that he follows me around like a puppet, and that he’s being bought. Then his Dad told him he was a lazy little bastard for not fixing his car & going somewhere with his mother. Then Kenneth said something back and his Dad tried to choke him and Kenneth left & went to the library.
I have a feeling Kenneth’s Dad hates me, or at least dislikes me. He would probably be a lot happier if I wasn’t going out with Kenneth. I would like to go up to his Dad and say that if he would prefer Kenneth not go out with me — because he thinks Kenneth would be better able to concentrate on sports & school — I will comply.
All I know for sure is that I don’t know anything anymore. Sometimes, I want to go far away – to Europe, maybe – and meet strange people and find out how to live. But then I get scared and I am suddenly glad to be in my safe room with all my possessions that tell me who I am supposed to be. I don’t know who I am – I used to, but things have changed so much, I’m not sure anymore.
Ever since Mom and my stepdad got divorced, it’s been harder and harder to just live. Mom is getting worse with the booze and sometimes I get so angry that I scream at her. Then I feel awful and try to hug her and tell her I’m sorry, but she’s so out of it she just stands there, swaying a little with her eyes half-crossed, and I end up stomping into my room and slamming the door and locking it. Then I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling and sigh.
It’s the best just after I get home from classes at community college. Mom isn’t here, and I am alone. No one can bother me, and if the phone rings I don’t answer it. It gives me a sense of power – listening to that phone ring and ring and ring until whoever is calling hangs up, frustrated. I close all the curtains and put on records and smoke cigarettes. In my cool, dark cave I find peace for a few hours.
At six o’clock, though, I hear that fucking bitch, my mother, put her key in the lock, and I jump up and run down the hall to my room to get away. If Mom says something to me, I try to be nice, but it’s usually only a few minutes before our voices become sharp and anger is in the air again. Until she’s blotto, that is. Then, wobbling and bleary-eyed, she’s all lovey-dovey, but also by then all I want to do is shake her until her head falls off!
The only positive things in my life are Amy and Kenneth. Amy is my best friend and Kenneth is my lover. They know, and once in a while I can talk to them about it, but I know that friends can only take so much before they are tired of hearing it. The only person that would listen to everything you said and be interested was a psychologist or psychiatrist, and I’ve thought about going to one, but it’s really too expensive. So I just don’t let myself think about things most of the time.
I keep this journal and write my thoughts down, and that helps a little. Most of the time I’m fine, but it’s always there, hanging over me. Actually, I function very well. I graduated in the top five percent of my high school class, and after a year at junior college I have a 3.8 average. And I’ve never gotten into any serious trouble at all. I’m what grandmothers like to call a “lovely girl.” On the outside. Happy? What did happiness ever have to do with any of my fucking life choices?
Ojai Is the Chumash Word for Moon
1. When I See the Moon She Comes Back to Me
Everyone else has something good to tell. This is what I have. This is what she gave me. Even now I see my mother’s face, soft and drunk, pale and frightful, moving through the darkness, soaring over me as mysterious and unreachable as the moon. Her affection waxed and waned, never constant. When she’d had enough Scotch, she loved me, but the way she went about her mother-love, pulling at me with sorrowful, clumsy arms given unnatural strength by liquor, made my flesh wither under her touch.
My mother and father lived in a solidly built house, outer walls nearly two feet thick, in the oldest and grandest neighborhood in their town. They lived where people like them had lived for hundreds of years. My father felt comfortable with his mahogany furniture, his linen upholstery, his hand-woven Orientals. He collected, among other things, antique, cut-crystal decanters. They were displayed in a case in the living room, unfilled, sparkling, sharply defined edges, here and there a tiny chip but that only added to their elderly charm. Things weren’t supposed to be new; he took satisfaction in the fact he’d inherited most of the contents of his house. His life, its outward details — wife, child, home, furniture, and car, standing in the community, salary, and immediate circle of peers — had functioned for many years like a brick wall, and he found himself hiding behind that wall even as it started getting chipped away.
3. Fathers and Mothers are Our First Lovers
My mother had skin like rose petals, eyes like a deer’s. Too needy for most men, she could not be promiscuous — she was not strong enough for that. There were times when she forgot to be sad, if only when some equally sad-eyed boy noticed her. If a boy loved her to the point of obsession, to the point of contemplating suicide, she imagined she might find the strength within herself to survive, but she eventually rejected all such suitors, only wanting those who were unattainable, as her father and later her husband, my own father, were. Remote, a source of funds and orders and criticism, the two closest men in her life approved of her external beauty but not her soul. They didn’t care what she wanted — they wanted her to be like all the other girls and women, to be beautiful and obedient and never talk to dead Indian spirits. They broke her will; she broke their hearts. Distance was how they both managed her. If she could have hardened herself on the inside, if she could have seen either one of them as just another man she could conquer with her flesh, it would have helped.
My father and my mother were having sex one night, and my mother was on top of him and she got that silly, dreamy-eyed look, like when she read a romance novel. “Remember when you were little?” she said, still sitting on top of him, him inside her.
“What do you mean?” he asked. He and my mother were aliens to each other anymore.
“Don’t you remember sitting on your mother’s lap, in her arms?”
“My mother?” he asked.
“Wasn’t it good to feel her arms around you, as a little boy?”
He was inside her still and he felt his penis start to shrivel. His mother! What had she got to do with anything? “What on earth are you talking about?” he asked.
“Your mother, holding you in her arms, when you were a tiny little boy. It must have felt so good.”
“You’re sick,” he said, pushing her off him.
“Sick?” she said. “What do you mean, sick?”
“Asking me about my mother at a time like that, it’s sick.”
She rolled over and was silent, and then he heard her start to cry.
“Oh, Christ,” he said. “I’m going to sleep downstairs.”
“No,” she said, bolting out of the bed. “I’ll sleep downstairs.”
“That’s it, after this I don’t owe you anything,” he said to the ceiling after she was gone.
5. The Coastal Mountains Cut Off the Sight of the Sea
My mother was sent away at 14 to boarding school in Ojai, where she refused to eat. She wanted to turn back the years already. The moon drew her, she felt herself drawn to its inaccessible height, its untouched opalescent skin. Looking back as if from a far distance, she mourned her own childhood while it was still happening. Her eyes rolled back in her skull, the whites looking like two small moons. She howled at the moon without making a sound. Though she began menstruating at age 9, for years she shaved her pubic hair off in secret with an old, dull razor because she did not want to become a woman. Dreaming of the ocean, hidden behind the coastal mountains, she wanted only to be clean. She felt how the spirit of a Chumash Indian warrior possessed her. As she grew thinner, harder against the world, she rejoiced that there would be less of her to feel pain, less of her to bury. The other girls at school were as mysterious to her as stars. They sparkled while she could only reflect sadness. Her clothes hung on her bones and she was sent to a psychiatrist — that very night the moon was full and blue. They don’t understand me at all, she thought. In her own way, she was a visionary, a trend-setter. Doctors didn’t have a name, then, for what was wrong with her.
Finally, after 15 years of marriage the wall between my mother and my father fell. Then my mother wanted to figure out who she was. She wanted her own personal growth; she wasn’t able to focus on anything else. She needed space and time. At first, it was only the beginning of the process, and then it became the end. She couldn’t suffer any more, so she killed those feelings that brought her pain. She didn’t want to try to sort them out just yet, maybe not ever. In the end my mother’s feelings for my father were dead, gone. She didn’t know where they went.
7. She Owed Me that Much, Didn’t She?
She and my father lost their virginity with each other. Much later, when I knew her, she was memorable for simple things: her rose garden and her Scotch & water, her menthol cigarettes and her Pucci nightgowns, her ladylike hands and her A-cup breasts, her bitterness, her resignation, her unending string of sentimental, alcoholic boyfriends. She taught me how not to be. How not to live. A psychic told me she was my soul-mate, that my heart had been broken on the day I was born, that first hazy time I looked into her eyes and saw nothing there for me. One normal thing I remember is hanging clothes out to dry with her in the backyard when the dryer was broken. Once, she even took me out to the movies. Darker engrams always swamp whatever happy little memory-boat I manage to stow away in — like when she drove drunk for the umpteenth time and hit a kid on a bicycle, breaking his arm. I remember protecting her from the police, making sure she wouldn’t end up in jail, but later coldly stealing money from her wallet, cigarettes from her purse, clothes from her closet. In the end, she drank too much, and that killed her.
Toward the end, my mother said she was on fire from the neck down. Her arms and legs felt like they were glowing, orange-red, molten. But her head felt like a block of ice. She was emotionally or spiritually paralyzed, and worried about whether the condition was permanent. She felt like the nerves from her head down to her body were cut, and she didn’t know if they would ever grow back.
Right before the end, she said she could not distinguish life from dreams — she slept little, ate even less. She didn’t feel mad, she felt terribly, irrevocably sane. Everywhere she walked the ground seemed on the verge of opening up into blackness, into fire. If only she could go mad, she said. When they found her cold and stiff on the living room floor, she wore nothing but blue nylon panties and a wristwatch.
Stone Crab Fossil
My daughter and I
wear our matching crab T-shirts.
We are known for our prickly natures,
our quick defenses.
We stare at Ocalina floridana,
which, though dead, reaches out
as if for rescue with its fat claws —
now pale, delicate shades of gray rock,
not orange and black as in life:
a desperate ghost crab.
Entombed in mud for millennia,
turned slowly to stone
by seep of minerals. The flesh
would have been delicious
with melted butter. Side-walker,
harbinger of bad luck, omen of the great flood,
enemy to all snakes, brave
in the face of death, the humble crab
goes down swinging. The crab does not run
from danger, the crab does not abandon
pride in the moment of attack.
When I was pregnant with her,
I had a taste for crab-cakes.
Sometimes I wear a hard shell,
sometimes I wish I could shed it,
leave it rolling down the beach
while I slip back into the clear water.
This year she learned to read,
tells me the name of everything
in the museum. Sometimes, just like me,
she doesn’t want to talk, she wants
to be alone. I hope someday,
should she ever have need,
she seeks me out, reaches toward me
in her distress, lets me in again.