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.