Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Bucket

the bucket is full
its contents threaten
to overflow
with every step
I have to measure my pace
walk very slowly
it takes hours to
move but an inch

the bucket is heavy
its bottom deep
no point in looking within
its depths are unknowable
the end of its insides
impossible to fathom

the bucket is greedy
never satisfied
its belly swells up
enough to eat
every painful drop
but it has no guts
it cannot digest
any of it

walking along the path
my lopsided yoke and
huge hungry bucket
whose wide open mouth could
swallow the heavens
are pulling down, down
on my right shoulder
listing to the side
like a ship half-sunk
while the captain stands
on the bow
mulling over the specifics
of his duty

a passerby stops to ask me,
What's with you, why
do you lean so far over,
why can't you stop
almost falling down?

and I dip my hands
in the bucket
try to draw out
one single silver droplet
that will explain it
try to choose one molecule
from the ocean
that I'm hauling uphill
the more I try to
tease out
one lone care
to be my example
the wider the gaps
of my fingers become
until I am holding nothing
but the span of a canyon
that cannot be bridged

and everything I meant to say
slips back into the bucket
all of a piece
and hoisting the slanted yoke
back up
my shoulder resuming its
shameful ache
I tell them,
Do you see? I
no longer know

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Invisible Scars

it's not easy
to carry around
invisible scars
they're too heavy
and translucent
they don't get you anywhere
all the effort is your own
and every bit of it

sometimes I
stand in the shower
and imagine
a long line drawn
down the side of me
pale and puckered
something significant,
something anyone could see
if I were wearing
a bathing suit

it always
makes me smile
seems light as floating ashes,
that long line
which must have cut so deeply
taken so very long to close over
anyone could see

the line's there, i can feel it
run my hands over it
like a worry doll
like chalking a headstone
but I have to
forcibly call it into being
call it by name
for anyone else to

and if I don't
they'll never know what
weighted unseen burdens
force me to
stoop my shoulders and
tip my head forward
twitch my mouth a little
as I stand in line
at the bank,

just one more woman
with a basket on her head
ghosts of a troubled past
spilling over the side
weaving around her
like traffic

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

His Every Breath

The first thing you do when you find out your fifteen-year-old dog has lymphoma is go to Jack in the Box. What you don't do is think about what it will be like when he stops eating. You think only about him eating, because today he's eating, and you honor that with a plain burger, a bacon cheeseburger, and a chicken sandwich. When you get home and hand-feed him the burgers, you don't think about the fact that he needs your help now even in the simplest act of eating. You revel in his appetite. You plan your future days around stopping at the Jack in the Box, you plan on burgers for the rest of his life. 

When he wobbles like a top trying to get to the back door, what you don't think about are all the times he ran past you, fast and jubilant, like the wind on a playful day, without yet any ache or nausea in his body. What you concentrate on instead is the way you know how to pick him up without making his legs jerk and tremble, how you know how to do this for him but no one else does. When you carry him off the porch and both of you are standing in the grass, in the dark, you revel in the sound of his long piss, because he's still able to stand to do it. When he walks out behind the shed, you don't wait for him to become confused in the back of the yard and pace a short lap by the fence where you can't see him. You don't spend that minute worrying that he's collapsed, or mourning his ability to find his way back to the porch. You listen to the sounds of the night birds in the field behind the house, and you revel in the fact that your dog is walking around the yard tonight. When you go out behind the shed to find him, to help him find his way, you don't cringe at the way he nearly falls over after each and every step, you rejoice in the way he seems happy to hear you calling him, even though he's disoriented, and nearly deaf, and dying. You feel your heart change its beat to the tune of his tail. You pick him up in the way that doesn't make him twitch and bring him inside. 

When he goes to the water bowl to drink, you don't think about how it isn't enough, how he'll still need fluids later tonight, how dry his gums still are. You bask in his effort to quench his thirst, and you are grateful for the eight years you spent working at a vet hospital, grateful for your nursing degree and your medical ability, grateful for your boyfriend's employee discount at the same vet hospital now. Most of all, what you don't think about are the days when your big old dog wasn't so big yet, and could still fit under a kitchen chair. You don't think about how he used to trail after you to the mailbox, or how before there was a husband or a child or a second child, there was this dog. You don't think about all the times you were crying and he sidled up so close to your face, saying without saying, I am here for you. You don't dare think about how he has carried you, this big dog with his now-shrinking shoulders, all the long and winding way from your pre-everything youth up until this very minute. And you absolutely don't think about how you will start again, after he's gone, and carry yourself from here to some vague and distant point in a future that will not know him. 

You don't think back, and you don't think forward. You try as hard as you can not to think at all. And when he comes finally to lay down on the rug by the couch, and he puts his head on your foot in almost the same old way, you stay there in the moment with him, you become your most dog-like self, and you reach down your hand to him, moving your foot as little as possible, and you love him. You love so much that it's everywhere, like a mess, and you dissolve into it, as if it's the only real thing, both of you being still and both of you so very here that it's almost like this tiny span of time is the most important thing either one of you have ever felt, the only place either one of you has ever been. And you are as calm as he is, as calm as this creature at your foot, who rests quietly even as cancer consumes his tender insides, calm because you know, you both know, that it's true. This moment together is all that matters, and you're both tucked safely inside it, breathing in each other, breathing out nothing but love. The very scent of the air around you is tinged with it, love. The main thing you do when your dog has lymphoma is revel in his every breath, while he's still breathing. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

In anticipation of next weekend, an open letter to Formula 1 fans

Dear Formula 1 Fans, 

First, allow me to welcome all of you on behalf of my city, and to tell you how pleased we are to have you in our fair town. As a gesture of friendship and civic pride, I would like to humbly offer you my personal support during your stay here. I will gladly provide you with clear and concise directions to anywhere in Austin you wish to go, and encourage you to call me directly if you are in need of navigation. You can reach me using the cell phones you are clearly not afraid to operate while driving in an unfamiliar city. I am well-versed in the layout of our town and I feel this service would be invaluable, as most of you are clearly lost, judging by the way you signal right, slow to a crawl in front of me, and then dart left across three lanes of traffic in order to make a u-turn. I can help you to avoid these needless and dangerous changes in direction.

I’d also like to inform you of a few guidelines for your time in Austin that seem to have been left out of your tourist brochures. I’m certain that many of you are simply blissfully ignorant of these important points, and that surely you cannot all be the dickheads you appear to be, so I’d like to help get you up to speed. First, a bit more respect for our city’s cyclists is called for on your part, and I feel compelled to inform you that these people hold a special place in our city’s heart. The margins you see clearly marked on the sides of our streets are, in fact, bicycle lanes - that is, sections of the street reserved solely for those riding bicycles. Please do not drive in them unless, of course, you’re on a bicycle. Please also refrain from following too closely behind a bike, as this is considered at best very rude, and at worst very dangerous. Lastly, I understand that there are many throughout the country that were saddened and disappointed by the Lance Armstrong scandal, and we as Austinites share your frustration. The man on the bicycle in front of your SUV however, is not in fact Lance Armstrong, and we’d all appreciate it if you would vent your frustrations in a more appropriate fashion and show a tad more restraint than you currently exhibit as you cutoff, tailgate, and near-murder all of our beloved cyclists. 

Another matter that needs addressing involves commuting around Austin, and I am confused and embarrassed that no one has yet mentioned to you that Lamar Boulevard is reserved strictly for residents. This issue is of such importance that it bears repeating: Lamar is for locals, and you are not allowed to drive on it. We will happily give you Mopac and I35, hell you can even take them both home with you, but Lamar is for us. There are several practical reasons for this. First, Lamar is divided into North and South, and as locals we understand this distinction. For visitors, however, this may prove confusing, and here again I reference your ill-timed and poorly executed u-turns. It really is better for all of us if you just take one of the highways. Second, the speed limit on most of Lamar is forty fucking miles per hour, and though there are numerous signs conveying this information, it still doesn’t seem to register as it should. This behavior isn’t limited to out-of-towners, so the fault is not entirely yours, but suffice to say we have enough trouble with this already, and any too-slow or too-fast driving you bring to the table, which is compounded nine times out of ten by the fact that you’re lost and need to call me right away, is too much of a safety hazard, and it’s best if you just leave Lamar to us and use the damn highways. 

Finally, I’d like to offer you all some excellent tips on accommodations while you’re here, or even for the next time you visit Austin. They are all in Fredericksburg and Georgetown. But wait, you may be saying, that’s too far away! To this I would say that if you are so intent on being numerous and pestilent, which you clearly are, you are bound to congest our roadways to the point of calamity, and any traveling you do is going to cost you, as well as us, several hours of time. I say, why not spend those hours pleasantly driving through our beautiful Hill Country, and avoid the city limits of Austin altogether. Some of you may worry that you’d miss out on some of the Austin-y things you’ve heard so much about, but I can put those fears to rest with ease. First, the bats have all gone to Mexico for the winter, and they won’t return until long after you’re gone. Second, the Capitol building looks exactly as it does in pictures, and I’m happy to mail you a postcard of it so you can see it when you get home. Also, doing it that way means you may be spared the possible sighting of a Rick Perry, a misfortune I’m eager to prevent, if I can, for everyone alive everywhere. Third, Kerbey Lane, Magnolia Cafe and Threadgill’s are all overrated and you’ll never get a table anyway. And lastly, Sixth Street is nothing to get worked up about, and I suggest you spare yourselves and the poor pedicab drivers that are hauling you and your champagne-swilling entourage around, and do your slumming somewhere else. I hear New Orleans is nice this time of year. If you take your private jet you can be there in less than two hours. 

In closing, I would like to address the one fact tossed around by many locals as evidence that your presence here is beneficial, and that is the revenue you bring. While we are not ungrateful for this financial gain, I must say that I myself have seen no shred of this revenue, and I have deep-seated fears that though you’re eating and drinking and clogging the streets here, there’s a very real possibility that you’re not tipping your bartenders and cabbies near what they deserve for putting up with you. To alleviate these fears, I propose that all F1 tourists send the residents of Austin a $50 visa gift card each, to be spent as they see fit. You could then choose to drink your Mexican martinis and buy your souvenirs elsewhere. The gift cards can be purchased at any of your run-of-the-mill department stores, such as the Walmart in Killeen, or the Target in Waco. This simple solution would solve many of the problems that crop up when you descend on us like locusts, as well as increase the goodwill of Austinites everywhere, which will smooth over your inevitable return next year. 

Again, I extend our warmest welcomes and call out to you a friendly ‘Howdy,' which is in no way meant to mock you as you appear delighted because you think that people here really say fucking Howdy.

Until next year, 

Deva Haney

ps - I wasn’t kidding about you taking I35 home with you. We’d be so happy to present you with this fine memento that I will personally gift wrap it and will even include a handwritten and heartfelt thank you note from local writer and celebrity Spike Gillespie, though I would suggest that, if you do return next year, you bring 35 back with you so that you can stay the fuck off Lamar next time. 

New Chapbook Now Available!

My second book of poetry, Into The Ropes, is now available for mass consumption! Consisting of 27 poems and a cover designed by the fabulous Ruthie Kee, you can purchase said poetry from yours truly, or from the fine people at either Book People or Malvern Books. You'll be trading $8 for something worth much more - words! Come and get 'em!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

That's All

I am standing in line at the CVS. I am about to pay for a pair of sunglasses, two beverages, and two plastic shiny bags filled with peanut butter-related items. I have already paid for the cold medicine because I had to go to the pharmacist to get it. When they ask for my ID, after I request something from behind the counter, I find it a little funny and also a little strange. I wonder briefly if there’s a whole database out there somewhere that is meant for the meth-riddled drug makers of the world but secretly includes only the allergy ridden watery-eyed masses who purchase this kind of shit once a quarter. It seems like a waste, but I forget about it before I’ve even paid my 12.99 and entered my secret code into the machine. I kind of have to sneeze, but hold it because the pharmacist is nice and not full of suspicion, despite carding me for the zyrtec. 

I pick up the other items I need, because right now I need peanut butter and energy drinks, and when I get in line there is one customer ahead of me. It’s a mother. Her two children, one boy and one girl, are in the basket that she’s been using to shop with and roll them around in. The kids are of a pair, with dark liquid eyes and unruly black hair. They are both standing up. I guess them to be about three or four. They aren’t twins, but I’m only partially sure that the boy is the older one. The girl, closest to me, slightly turns and peers at me out of her deep pools. She isn’t shy, exactly, but she doesn’t speak and she doesn’t readily smile back when I smile, shyly, at her. But she doesn’t look away, either. She peers and peers, for two or three seconds, and then turns back to her brother. 

I notice that both of them have stickers all over their arms. Not stickers, but the tiny adhesive scraps that are left over after you peel off all the stickers. Blocks and lines all over their small limbs, all over the cart, all white and no cartoon character within a mile of their basket. I comprehend these kind of stickers on a fundamental level, and I smile at the girl again, when she turns back to me, still not smiling back. The little boy is talking more than the little girl, and they both keep sticking and unsticking the scraps of plastic adhesive that are everywhere.

The mother may or may not speak English. Either way, she says little. When the cashier asks something about donating this or that amount for this or that charity, something we all know full well she’s absolutely required to do, the mother says, "No, that’s all." This phrase gives no perspective as to her native tongue, because absolutely everyone who checks out here says "No, that’s all." 

When the mother’s purchase is complete, I see what she places back into her basket. It’s three puzzle books and one package of sponges. Nothing else, not even a bag to hold her items. The mother isn’t smiling, but that could be for any number of reasons. She could just be keeping quiet because any words she said would be in a language that none of the rest of us speak. It could be because her last fifteen dollars went to her children’s entertainment and cleaning supplies. It could very well be because she’s exhausted. 

When they are finished they leave, and even the little girl doesn’t look back at me as their cart rolls them away and out the automatic sliding door of the CVS. When I go to check out, the cashier, an old cranky woman with a long white braid, whom I am very familiar with, asks if I have a CVS card. Another card, my mind sighs. I would start paying extra for people to stop asking me if I have one of their fucking cards. 

“Because if you do, these sunglasses are buy one get one free,” she says. Part of me thinks, Two pairs of sunglasses for the price of one! Part of me thinks, But these were the only ones I liked. Part of me says, You could keep one and give away another, without any additional financial cost. Part of me says, quite solemnly, You’re buying one pair of sunglasses, Deva, and zero puzzle books. You’ll wake up tomorrow and you won’t find even one misplaced leftover sticker-piece on your pillow, or under your eyelid, or in your car. Just the sunglasses. And then part of me, a smaller part whose voice is growing up all the time, says, It’s been almost four years, Deva, just punch in your fucking secret code and get back in your car and go home and eat peanut butter. 

“No,” I tell the woman with the white braid. “That’s all.” 

Rumble Poem

tired and spent
like the last
in the pocket
rumble, rumble
just a little
like the hum
of an engine
in neutral
lay low
be a tiny sound
just until
the transmission
is fixed

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Not The Ground

I'm learning that
if I sit very still and
reach out my hand
the truth will crawl into it
if am patient enough
that if the wind is just right
and I stay out here 
long enough
true things will twist in the air 
around my head
and if I listen hard enough
I can learn their language
as if it had been 
something I knew all along
so that I'm not learning it at all
but only remembering
and if I can translate
those moments 
when the truth blows in
if I can piece all the signs together
like a shaman
then I will understand that
it's not the ground that has
been shifting
but my very own magnetic poles
the top and the bottom 
of me
sliding into each other's places
until my entire landscape 
is unrecognizable

It is not the ground
but only my knees 
that shake
and only my teeth
that chatter
it is not the bottom 
that eventually falls out
but rather 
my sharp will
that pokes out a hole there
so that it can leak 
slowly, like syrup 
my own will
that tries so hard
to empty me

Monday, March 25, 2013


Just a spark
the bare minimum is 
all that's required
when so much of 
is made of dry tinder
it's only hard
at the start
endings are 
bitter and 
and dark like caves
all that time on the floor is 
no problem
you can slip on down
the river that forms 
from your tears
and the whiskey
but when you
really start to 
when it all 
starts to feel 
that's when you know
you've started climbing

Thursday, March 14, 2013

For Dakota, Who Would Be 18 Now

I remember I taught you 
how to spit
and when our mom 
didn't like it
I pointed out
that someone had to do it

I remember our grandma
watching you
watching the beginning
of Rocky Horror
you transfixed
grandma mortified
even more so when
we all shrugged
said it was your favorite
you couldn't have been 
more than two

I remember your very first
scrunched up tight
in the hospital
and how when they asked
if I'd cut your cord
I said yes
how it was the first thing
I ever did for you

I remember your shaggy hair
the way it flung around
as you chased my kids
your niece, your nephew
down every inch 
of my hallway
and when I said Quit it
you did
but laughed at me 

I remember rocking you
when I was 
and you were
how my best friend and I 
were already planning 
to get you into trouble
one day
when we were thirty 
and you were

I remember your names-
what you called me 
before you could 
say my name right
the H in your middle name
that never should have 
been there
the name you
swore was yours
and not made up
even though none of us
had ever
heard it before

I remember you 
and smart
and funny
and the same kind of 
almost-psychic that
all of us are
in this family

I remember 
how you seemed
towards the end
that no one saw coming
to be on the brink
of changing

I remember, remember
I remember
Rest sweetly
little brother
keep spitting

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Chip

The day starts like this-
my daughter,
in the dream,
And just when I'm about to 
be lost in the wondering of 
where she'd gone, 
she comes back to me, 
I went to the blue place. 
My son,
in the dream,
says, almost flippantly, 
She could always
do that, 
be here 
and then 
And then me,
in the dream,
climbs a precarious hill
in the dark,
and it's littered with
slippery rocks and 
slimy mud
and it's hard work that
takes a long time, 
a considerable effort. 
I reach the top and then
I'm right back at the bottom
once more
face to face with the climb, 
and the rocks, 
and the mud, 
and the dark. 

The day ends like this-
I am making dinner
in the kitchen. 
I am using the cast iron
No. 8 bean pot
that I bought while
out of town, 
the one I had to 
make my mom 
on the phone
convince me to buy. 
But it says No. 8, 
she told me, 
it says bean. 
Today is the first time 
I've used it. 
Besides the No. 8 pot
there's the mixing bowl
that my daughter made me chip. 
And all the while I'm 
I'm thinking of her, 
The Bean, 
that day she jumped up 
to the counter, 
startled me
so that I
dropped my favorite mixing bowl
and chipped it, 
how sad I was then
and how now I see no
only a daughter,
and a day in a kitchen 
that had both
a bowl and a daughter
inside of it. 

They're trying, 
I think sometimes, 
straining to comfort me, 
to show me. 
no pain. 
I'm in the blue place. 
And to be fair, 
to try right back, 
I stack up both sides
in my head. 
On one side there's 
a memory even in the bowls, 
a daughter who
has no pain anymore and 
lives inside a color, 
a love that 
cares nothing for
boundaries, and here or there
only for me. 
On the other side, 
there is no 
no son, 
not even a bowl. 
On this side, 
there's only me 
and the chip. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Until You Electrocute Everyone

Until You Electrocute Everyone, my published book of poetry, is still for sale! Get it while it's hot, and at a meager $8, this deal is smoking. I mean, smoking hot. Smoking like a juvenile delinquent at a rail yard. Smoking like Michael Jackson's hair when it caught on fire that one time. Smoking like something else that smokes a whole lot. This book is available for purchase through the wonderful folks at Book People, or contact me directly right here: Yes! I want to purchase said item from you, Deva!

Sewing Patches

I don't remember where I got that pair of pants, but I'm sure they were secondhand. They were made of a black cotton that had been worn down to absolute softness, and the elastic waistband had been stretched to just the point that it wouldn't pinch my slightly chubby waistline. I was never one of those willowy, doe-eyed youths, but instead leaned a little more toward the pudgy side. This fact fit nicely into a bucket of facts about me that, when combined, made me less than popular with other kids. 

We were poor, a fact that I'm almost grateful for now since it has filled my toolbox with skills I use every day, along with a sense of creativity and freedom from seeing things just one way. Nothing breaks, I think now, it just gives itself over to a new use, a new form, one that you can shape as you see fit. Nothing breaks, except cars, hearts and homes. Necklaces can be refashioned into bracelets, torn books can become the backdrop of a collage, and pants can be patched. 

I wore those black pants down to the bone, down to the threads. A tomboy, I spent almost every day stuck high up in a tree with a book. The tree in the front yard of our falling-down house out in the sticks in Granite Shoals had two long diagonal limbs that left about a foot of space in between them, the perfect seat with the perfect footrest. The school bus would spit out my sister and me everyday and I'd let us in with the house key I kept on a piece of yarn, often around my neck. The house would be quiet, with both of my still-married but always-warring parents out chasing the paychecks that provided our basic necessities. I'd grab my book and head straight out to the tree, losing myself in a world much prettier than my own, existing not as the chubby ten-year-old I saw when I looked in the mirror, the one with the crooked bangs that my dad had cut himself - and butchered - because it was cheaper, but whoever it was that I found in the pages. It didn't even matter if the protagonist was male or female. I'd be a boy as easily as a girl, if it meant being somewhere else. 

All that climbing trees, traipsing through the trails behind our house looking for deer tracks and cast-off antlers, and rolling around in the shaky treehouse out back that my dad had built took its toll on my favorite pair of pants. They began first to thin at the knees, then to open just a snag, then finally gave in to the pressure and split open in several places, leaving openings like scars that showed the damage I'd done to them. I couldn't keep them going much longer, but couldn't give them up either. Something about them, their downy softness, the black and white stripes that ran only down the sides of them, the elastic at the bottom that kept them hugged to my legs and out of my way as I romped about, made it impossible for me to give them up. My mom looked them over, said we couldn't sew them, they were too thin and would just tear right back open, but we could patch them. 

We used the cheapest form of patching available, of course. Those thin, white rectangles that you could iron on. The kind that was meant to patch the inside of denim pants to support the sturdier patch that mirrored it on the outside. As we sat down to repair my favorite pants, my mom had the brilliant idea to cut out shapes from the patching and put them not just over the places that needed repair, but all over the pants. We traced out stars and crescent moons and ironed them on at intervals all up and down the legs. I thought it looked amazing, and was ecstatic that I not only had my old pants back again, but that I had a new, celestial theme to go with them. We agreed that they looked even better than they had before, and that the white patches stood out nicely against their black background, and echoed the theme of the black and white stripes on the sides. I remember being happy, having fun with my mom as we got down on those pants and made something new out of something that seemed beyond fixing. I remember delight and a sense of accomplishment. I loved those damn pants more than ever before. 

I attended school in Marble Falls, a town we'd moved to when I was in the second grade. When I began third grade, and moved to the elementary school that had once been a high school, I was put in the 'smart class.' There they referred to it as the 'gifted and talented' program, or GT. The GT class would move through the grades together, in the same group, rather than being randomly assigned to teachers in the 4th and 5th grades, as the rest of the school was. The purpose was to provide those who tested appropriately into the class with a more challenging curriculum and a broader span of opportunities than the average student. In the small town that we lived in, every single kid in that class was rich except for me. I know now that some of them were only middle class, and not the billionaires they all seemed to me at the time, but some of them really were wealthy. One kid had a tennis court, one kid had African masks on the wall that had actually been brought back from Africa, and several others lived in the well-to-do Horseshoe Bay area or on prime real estate spots on the lake. 

My family lived farther out, side by side with white trash and poorer elderly couples. My mom drove the hour and fifteen minutes into Austin every day to her job and my dad worked in the shop at the Horseshoe Bay golf course. We ate cheerios with water sometimes, used clear Karo syrup on our pancakes, made homemade chocolate syrup, and had a ringer washer and clothesline. I didn't know until I was much older that ringer washers were antiques, and I often wonder where my parents found that thing. I was always afraid of it, of the way it shook violently in its spin cycle all around the bathroom floor, of losing a digit as I fed clothing into the ringer. For my birthday party one year, we made invitations out of construction paper and yarn. We often shopped in that one aisle of the grocery store where every single label was white with black letters and said simply, Corn or Spinach. We washed our hair with bars of soap, and we patched pants that were torn rather than throwing them away or buying new ones. 

My dad was a carpenter by trade. That old joke about mechanics, that they always drive shitty cars because they buy fixer-uppers and then never get around to fixing them up, or how plumbers never have a toilet that works right, that applies to carpenters, too. Our little rental house was cheap, with no central heating and the bare minimum of insulation. Once, I went into the kitchen to get a snack and as I opened the cabinets above the kitchen counter, pulling back just a bit too hard, the entire row of cabinets detached from the wall and fell toward me, canned vegetables sliding out fast before them, heralding their descent. My mom sprinted across the room and propped them up just before they hit my face, and had to stand there holding them up until my dad came home. We did not have a tennis court. 

Added to all this was the fact that my parents were barely functional as a unit. We had moved to Granite Shoals after leaving Arlington, where my parents had separated for a time and had now decided to get back together, but had also silently decided to hate each other with a visceral passion. Their top-of-the-lungs, cutthroat, no holds barred screaming matches scared the shit out of my little sister and me, and it made no difference if they waited until we went to bed to get down to business, as the walls were paper thin, the house was too small, and their voices were too many decibels above discreet to conceal anything from us. By the time they divorced when i was 12, the only thing I had left to feel about it was relief. All four of us wanted for it just to be over. 

At the time of my favorite black pants, I was less able to relate to other people my age than any kid I knew. I often had stubborn outbursts of anger on the playground, felt most comfortable sitting alone by myself daydreaming, and read more than any other kid in my class. I was the classic picture of the poor, socially awkward, angry loner. 

The day after we put those stars and moons on my pants, I eagerly put them on before going to school. I locked the empty house behind me as my sister and I went out front to wait for our bus in the early morning cold. I got a few sideways glances, but no one said anything about my pants until the middle of the day, when we were all in gym for P.E., an unorganized group of kids running around after being pent up in a classroom all morning. It might have been this roaming pack mentality that encouraged the other kids to say out loud whatever cruel thing popped into their head. It could have been that I was so strange compared to them that it felt more acceptable to them to target me. It could be that kids really are just cruel. 

It started subtly but quickly became an avalanche of insults. One girl pointed at my pants and laughed. She had perfect, shiny hair. She whispered into the ear next to her, an ear with shiny earrings. The girls next to her all began to laugh along with her, bright tinkling voices that seemed to echo across the wooden floors of the old gym. They all had perfectly matched outfits with no rips or tears. The boys joined in next, laughing as I stood there, and one boy said, 'I bet she put all those patches on there to hide the fact that she had to fix her pants!' That boy was cute, with nice brown hair. They all fell into fits of giggles and pointed, standing together as a unit, an army that stood against me. I don't remember if I cried just then or waited until later, and the rest of the day is dissolved into haze in my mind, like sugar in water that gets boiled down to a syrup: thick. 

The tears came readily enough later as I told my mom about my day. 'But I wasn't trying to hide the holes, I just like the shapes!' I said. 'I don't care if they know I patched my pants.'

'I know,' she said. 'Kids are just mean. And I really do like your pants. I think they look really cool.' The great thing about my mom is, she really meant it. She did like those pants, just like I did. 

I managed to survive that day, and all the others. I didn't keel over every time someone laughed at my clothes or my haircut or my chubby physique or the ungainly way I struggled to relate to people. I didn't break down sobbing when, in Mr. Kosewicz's class, I was the only one not to wear my costume to school on Halloween and a girl came up to me, unbidden, to say, 'Don't cry, don't cry because your family can't afford to get you a costume.' I didn't explain that actually, I had a beautiful hand-sewn costume my mother had labored over for a week, which I chose not to wear to school because it was a Star Trek: The Next Generation uniform, and there was enough on the table already for people to mock me for. 

My childhood didn't kill me, and I only became slightly bitter about the reactions I got to my poor and dysfunctional upbringing. But when I ran into my first punk rocker, saw all those patches and inch pins, all those holes and tears and smiling, snarling faces, it triggered something in me. I'd found a shortcut over the bridge between me and them, and there was no need to rush to say, 'I'm here, finally, I'm fucked up and angry, too!' I fit, if only because there were a bunch of us that didn't fit at all, and it felt like we were missing pieces from a myriad of puzzles, happy to just lay around together not fitting into any big picture. It was enough to keep flipping over the cassettes that were basically saying it for us, and sit around on a dirty floor in someone's shitty apartment, poor, sewing patches. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Stealing Cat Food At Midnight

I come out of the grocery store and
sit in the Nova. 
It's only about 20 seconds until 
I start the car but
in my head it's an hour. 

It's come down to this, 
I think. 
The back of my dress has come apart
just a little bit
because the zipper's a piece of shit. 
What do I care, I guess, since
I got it for a dollar
at my neighbor's garage sale they had
to raise money for his medical bills
after he had a stroke
and a heart attack
at the same time. 

I don't really care, except
what a sad picture it must make me. 
The dress is unraveling in the front, too. 
At least it's blue. 

I sit in the Nova thinking 
about my dress
and the fact that I'm about to 
go home and pour myself a stiff whiskey
even though I said I wasn't going to
drink this week. 

What do I care, I guess, 
since I only drove to this store
so I could buy cat food at midnight, 
which is about the most depressing thing 
a person could ever do. 

I should have stolen it, at least. 
Run out screaming
with a 20 pound bag
in my frayed blue stroke dress
and sad, sad eyes. 

They'd never have caught me. 
What grocery store employee
wants to stand between that banshee
and the exit? 
They don't pay them enough there
to stop a mess like me from 
stealing cat food at midnight. 

It almost makes me laugh, but 
not really. 
Not even close. 
So far from it, the thought
might as well be 
the Sahara desert
or Muhammad Ali
or my kids who died two years ago. 
I don't laugh. 
I do wonder, though, if 
they're hiring on the graveyard shift 
at the grocery store. 
Sounds like a job I'd like. 

I let that thought go away and 
start the Nova, 
drive home in the Nova, 
crying with the cat food, 
and pour that whiskey, 

Other People's Ponds

I used to love the breakthrough moment.
The opening up, the tunnels that would form
out of nowhere and 
connect one thing to another.
The way a thread could form between 
two people
like it happened to 
fall off one of their sweaters and 
ended up in the other one's mouth. 

I used to like talking to strangers. 

Now I'm beginning to understand 
the other side. 
The dread involved, 
the careful rocky footpath that
runs along the outside of 
the interaction. 
I'm learning the art of 
how not to say anything at all
when I talk to people. 

It's not all it's cracked up to be, 
and so many people are greedy
with their words, 
and their questions. 
They go on and on, 
cranking them out like
an assembly line, 
always coming toward you, 
They don't seem to think at all. 
They just keep talking. 

And I'm ready to be done with that. 
All these people who see the thread, 
feel it in their mouth, 
and pull and pull until
you completely unravel. 
I am done with that. 

It's changed the way I ask
my own questions. 
I've learned not to unravel 
other people's sweaters. 
It's rude
and I don't want their pile of yarn 
They can keep it. 
I'm not greedy for their
troubled stories. 
I've enough
nightmares hanging around. 

I think more and more of a Rilke poem, 
the one that tells about
old sailors 
and their rocking cages
with terrible things inside. 
About the silence of old men. 

I have no more desire to disturb
the surface of things much. 
Knowing a tiny bit about
what could be under there
can do that to you. 

Now I say let the ripple stay 
just that. 
Think anything you want, 
but it's best not to stick your fingers
into the mud at the bottom, 
groping around to find the pebble
that caused it. 
Because sometimes it's not a pebble at all
but a stone, 
and someone else's at that. 

Or even worse, 
you come back up with nothing accomplished
but having stirred up the waters, 

and a handful of mud. 

These days I try to keep my hands 
clean as I can
and stay out of 
other people's ponds.