Tag Archives: memory
Night Blooming Jasmine, a poem
After dark, anything could happen – each
moment was disconnected from the last.
There was no logical progression to our lives:
most events had the dramatic essence of a car
accident. One evening, my mother decided
to sneak out my bedroom window when my
stepfather cut her off. He was drunk himself,
but for some reason decided she shouldn’t have
more Scotch. I remember her butt, in white
nylon undies, decorating the center of my open
window. I both fretted and hoped that she might
fall and hurt herself. Another night, my stepfather
decided it was time to throw all the pillows away,
including mine, because to him they smelled like
“horse piss.” My mother followed, protesting
loudly, wrestling him for the pillows. She lost:
the pillows went into the garbage cart. This
happened in our front yard, on a warm night scented
with night-blooming jasmine. I watched the two
drunken grown-ups, distancing myself from the scene.
I watched it like a T.V. show or a movie. When
I try to tell people about these things now, I can’t
keep a straight face. The laughter chokes me,
renders me unable to speak. I am silenced.
They’re both long dead now… but I’m still here.
Living On The Moon, a poem
I remember all she had, stockpiled
in a child’s Easter basket. Necklaces
of ivory, turquoise and amber beads —
hopelessly broken and tangled. Cheap
metal pins, plastic bracelets, a dozen
stilled watches. Dried-out jars
of skin cream, mangled greeting cards,
portraits of her sisters. Often,
I allowed her to caress my face with
her trembling, soiled hands. On the pillow,
my head next to hers, pretending
I was a small child, and she my beloved
mother. Afterward, I scrubbed myself pink
with harsh soap. In a moment captured
years ago, Brandy, her tiny poodle,
dances on his hind legs, his pink toenails
scrabbling against her tanned,
scrawny calves, a rhinestone collar
tight around his limber ashen neck.
She tempts him to please her with a bit
of bacon — herself very plump around
the middle, silver hair teased and
sprayed, a perfect bouffant. You
would never guess then she was fated
to end up living on the surface of the moon,
by herself, without shame, without desire.
I must restring the beads, drape them over
a mirror, say a few words to her picture.
She will appear in my dreams nightly, dancing
with a small white dog, twirling her brittle
bones around and around until they catch fire.
She will sparkle like cut glass; gulping for air.
Heavenly Dances, Heavenly Intimacies, a short story
“Isn’t there any heaven where old beautiful dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong themselves?”
Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier
How can I be “dead” to any of the men I once loved? They are not “dead” to me. Not even H. How can I be “dead” to H.? They — even H. — are each as alive as when I was with them; as alive as the first time they touched me, whether tentatively or with confidence; whether softly or roughly; whether with passion or mere lust. It is shocking and appalling how H. lurched so radically to the right after 9/11. He began that journey to the Tea-Party-Mad-Hatter-Neocon-Bill-Buckley-Wall-Street-Apologist-Fringe-Brainless-Faux-News-Right when Ronald Reagan was shot; I was with him the very night it happened. We had a short affair, right then, because we started thinking the end of the world had arrived and we decided, like the crazy college students we were, to get married to celebrate our courage in the face of chaos! I realized very early on (but still way too late!) I was embarrassed to be seen in public with him. Did you ever start seeing, and marry someone whom you later realized you were embarrassed to be seen with? Perhaps the person in question was “dorky,” “geeky,” dressed “badly,” or had questionable “taste.” H. readily admits he was a “dork” in high school. He was on the debate team; need I say more? When you can’t bear to be seen in your lover’s/spouse’s/significant other’s/partner’s company, things usually don’t work out.
Still, I put in ten dutiful years, trying to make amends for my mistake in marrying H. The second he started making the big bucks, he dumped me. He left me for my best friend! I guess I deserved it, not taking control of my own life & filing for divorce two weeks after we married. And I guess I deserved how my ex-best-friend S. ruined me, as she subsequently did. She was in charge of the whole group we had socialized with: dictating how everyone in our “circle” should think, speak, act, or react. H. was dead wrong about most everything, but, to his credit, he was dead right about her. At the time I thought him merely woman-hating, but I see now, even though he did hate women, there was something more than simply being a “woman” he hated about her. He was covering up the fact he loved her by pretending to hate her. Now, I have no desire to see her, not ever again. She is definitely “dead” to me. Yes, I understand intellectually, a living death (call it shunning) can happen to anyone.
The upshot of all this boring history? I’ve been waiting for something a long time. I can’t blame anyone but myself for my unhappiness, not anymore. There is something dispirited inside me, something empty, drained, and beaten — something sick, something tired, something that has surrendered. I gave up, when? When my first ex-husband arbitrarily said no to children, breaking his solemn vow. When I realized I couldn’t find happiness outside myself — not with an old love, not with a new love, not with any of my subsequent husbands, my friends, my eventual children, or my family. Yes, to casual acquaintances and virtual strangers I am “happy, happier than I’ve ever been.” And it’s true! I’ve never been this happy, this contented, in my life. Yes, there are still problems. My oldest son is still half the world away, fighting an endless war on behalf of my “country.” My youngest son still has an ignorant, racist, rabidly conservative father. I am getting old. My face is melting. My neck is turning into a wattle. I am drooping.
Still, I cannot imagine any of them, the men I have loved or made love to, being dead to me the way my former best friend, S., is dead to me. Yet that is how they must feel about me, the way I feel about her. Wanting her removed from my memories. Wanting never to have met her. Not missing anything about her. She wants to see me, I heard from a mutual friend I still speak to. I don’t want to see her, or even see the mutual friend. I don’t even want to get as close as that! Because of reasons. Top secret, NSA, DOD, CIA, FBI, SEC, IRS, FDLE, GPD, ACSO reasons! No further comment!
Lillie Mae was the first person, other than her mother, Ella remembered being in love with. She — Lillie Mae — chewed gum, had a gold front tooth, wore long, dark auburn wigs, bright and warm against her dark brown skin. She — Ella — buried her nose in Lillie Mae’s neck, held up high in her arms. Heard the muted snapping of the gum in Lillie Mae’s mouth. Lillie Mae could get Ella, a picky eater, to eat when no one else could. For Lillie Mae, Ella would open her jaws for the spoon.
“we are all the universe manifested through a human nervous system and becoming self-aware; going beyond your ego-encapsulated identity; the secret of healing is the secret of enlightenment; healing is the return of the memory of wholeness; when you’re holy, you’re healed; when you’re healed you lose the fear of death; the best way to reach enlightenment is through the yoga of meditation; cosmic ideas; when you hear them over & over again, at first you may not understand them; but they cause a shift in your consciousness & everything changes.”
Twelve Songs for a Broken Ankle
(originally published in Eclectica)
Before she even notices my leg’s
in a cast, my daughter’s friend
Eleanor, age five and a half,
stares at me and says solemnly,
your voice sounds different.
Different how? Does it sound better
or worse? I ask her, laughing.
It sounds darker, she answers with a frown,
and suddenly it’s not so funny anymore.
I remember hurting myself
trying to fly. Jumping down
out of trees; sometimes my ankles
would ache for days afterward.
We ate fudgsicles up in the trees
all that summer. We liked to spy
down on the older kids, kissing
and kissing and kissing below us.
I would caress the rough bark
under my fingers and hold on tight,
never afraid of falling, only forgetting.
In high school, I fell in love
with a boy on crutches. His ankle
needed a metal plate to keep it together.
Years later, after he became a priest,
he wrote, remember all those times you carried
my books up and down the staircase
for me? Did I ever say thank you?
In the emergency room, Dr. Scarlett
tells me about his young daughter,
how his wife broke her ankle
just before she went into labor.
Now his beautiful daughter loves
to dance, she twirls and twirls
in her new frothy ballet skirts
in front of the triple mirrors
at the department store. I’m afraid
I don’t have any good news for you, he says,
shaking his head, patting my shoulder.
All of a sudden, the laws of physics
I’ve always sneered at seem
terribly, terribly important.
Simple issues of mass, density,
velocity, and villainous gravity
loom unsolvable. As a baby, I walked
suddenly, at ten months. Lessons
I thought I’d mastered are now swept away,
each step is like that very first one.
The nurse applies the fiberglass
wrap with firm, even motions.
She is made dense with fat,
and as she bends forward
to wrap my sore dangling limb,
I watch her enormous breasts
heave up and down. The heat
from the casts’ chemical hardening
feels like my leg will surely blister.
Be sure to keep your heel down, sweetie,
she murmurs, her breath brushing my ear
gently again and again and again.
When bone breaks, it bleeds. The blood
pools underneath the skin, turns
purple then green then yellow
as the liver labors to reclaim it
for the good of the body. The frayed edges
of the broken bone reach out
to one another like pale garden tendrils
reach toward the sun, and soft new cells
form, caressed in that delicate vacuum. I sit
and feel my leg healing, it is like praying.
We are skating when it happens. I have just remembered
years ago, the first boy who ever asked me to skate
with him. He was a friend’s handsome
older brother, we’d never exchanged a word
before. He knew how I was waiting for him
to come to me, he felt everything before I did.
My hands slipped against his, both our palms sweaty —
then on the turns, he pulled me close against him
so we could go even faster. We went faster than anyone.
He was a better skater than I, he wasn’t afraid.
First, I put on the skates. Orange wheels,
black laces. I tie them tight, then stand
and make a few tentative forays
with my feet. The gliding sensation,
the lack of friction and stability,
seems much scarier than it did
ten years ago, the last time
I had skates on. Who needs this? I think.
I’m too old now. Who needs
to break an ankle? I take off the skates,
pad around in my thick white socks.
For a while I just watch the other skaters,
some are little tiny kids no higher than my thigh
zipping around like they were born with wheels.
I watch my daughter and her friend
cling shakily to each other and scream
with delight. I put the skates back on.
It’s not just my ankle that breaks when I fall.
A little girl has fallen; she is afraid.
Let me show you how to lift yourself, I tell her.
I kneel, the world turns too rapidly, odd
thoughts fly past, time rushes over me
with a powerful thrill; the next moment
I know myself, I lie awkwardly
upon my twisted ankle,
which does not hurt exactly, but tells me,
in a strong, eloquent voice,
lie still, stare at the ceiling
for a little while. Forget everything but
this moment, your sudden brief flight.
Faces peer down, but I hardly see them.
When I saw you lying like that,
the girl says after a moment,
I thought you were dead.
She knows more than I.
A certain elaborate lacing, drawn and wound
tight around my heart to keep it
from expanding beyond a certain girth,
from expecting more than was practical,
from beating with too much tipsiness,
apparently gives way in that moment as well.
The young manager is so kind, he unlaces my boot
and — oh, so carefully straightens my leg.
His fingers upon my skin as he regards me
with his dark, thickly lashed eyes
are as smooth and tender as a lover’s.
Can you move it? he asks. I try, tell him
a slight crunching sensation ensues,
but happily report there is no pain.
His handsome face falls nonetheless.
Perhaps he doesn’t get it. I, on the other hand,
feel unusually light, buoyant, unafraid.
I do not care who is sad; however unseemly,
I am glad I had a few moments in the air
before I came back down to earth.
As moments go,
surely it’s worth repeating?
Though I didn’t know it at the time,
my life will never be the same.
The stolid laws of physics
will have their way with me,
weak as I am — bone mends stronger
for the break, while once-bound hearts
are never any better off
for being allowed out
of their wrappings; it’s too late —
old scar tissue and scary
skipped beats cloud and darken
the intricate red lace
of frantic working muscle,
obscuring and confusing the memory
of that one important moment, in free flight,
how life seemed so beautiful, so terrible,
so clear. And the darkness spreads
outward, outward from my voice.