Archive for the ‘writing’ Category
Seven minutes: My eyes have changed from gaudy kaleidoscopes to half-moons
There is an angel in my hair
who guides my fore-thought, my wisdom,
my knowledge of body and the pearls
that rest within it.
Enigma angels offer questions
and warn me of
my Pharisee tendencies,
my judgmental stance,
my narrow focus at the hem of
the Jehovah angel, who has sternly restricted my breath.
Have no fear for there are flowers, and the devil with the pitchfork
is small like a gnat. Mama Angel love me, make me feel loved and blessed.
Make my moon eyes trigger the flowers.
My present today is a nubby purple cashmere sweater that has been regulated to pajama wear. Blazing hot sun disappeared and it’s cool again. I would love to live where the weather never saw ninety degrees, much less 110. Give me fog and wool sweaters, a knit cap, drizzle. The type of weather where a hot bath is appreciated. The long cloudless summer is approaching. Sometimes cumulus clouds appear on the far mountains on the other side of the lake. But here, it is endless blue skies from June to October as a rule. Monotony. The rattlesnakes are coming out as they do each year at this time. It’s common for one or two to be seen at my school. Friends are reporting their presence at their homes. If you walk at Anderson Marsh, you can hear them in the rocks in the early mornings. They could be the rhythm section for a mariachi band. Trato de apprender castellano en mi coche en la manana cuando manejo a trabajo. The nice lady and man with the beautiful Spanish diction never get frustrated with me. I feel my head is very small. My brain is at least. But I need big hats. So I’m back on that drizzle day in my large comfy cap walking along the beach with my hands in my pocket and breathing. I can wear my ratty purple sweater. No one will care.
What is my present? The leafy maple outside my window? The sun casting its last light on the trees lower on the hill? They had warmed with gold light just before I wrote the last sentence, and by the time I typed the period their illumination vanished. Six seconds of splendor as the sun descends behind the mountain. Is it the slight pain I feel in my back as I sit here? The tightness of my legs? Or is my present in the breath and striped fur of my tabby cat stretched along my thigh? The open notebook next to her? The feelings of frustration in trying to market a book? I saw one of the pileated woodpeckers for the first time today, though I’ve heard their hammering for over two weeks. That is the present I want. Writing thoughts and making images, that is the present I desire. Selling and searching and looking at Amazon rankings, not. My present is my struggle with faith. The laundry in the dryer and the new load to put in. In hearing my husband’s car door shut and his feet on the steps. The opening of the door as he comes home. The opening of the book I plan to read tonight.
A long time ago, Old Woman of the River got very tired. She was tired of always rushing her children down the river, all the fish and all the silt, tree branches and pieces of gold. She decided to stop. Her water froze, the froth of the rapids became little white stars hanging in the air, sun sparks stopped twinkling, and there was only quiet in the forest. The birds stopped flying because they thought the sound of the pounding river was what held their wings in the air. Bear sat heavily on the ground confused. All the weeds and bushes leaned over straining to listen for the mother’s voice. Never had such silence fell upon the forest. Old Woman of the River fell asleep in the quiet day. One by one the fish vanished. Each spark held by the air and water snapped out. Bear’s body slowly dissolved into sunlight. Birds put their heads under their wings because even the sun began to dim. Hanla’chu sat on her hill and watched the world disappearing. She cupped her hands and made a huge cry over the land. “Wake up, Old Woman of the River!” A startled woodpecker cried out, flew from her tree, and vanished. Hanla’chu saw this happen. She stomped on the ground and caused an earthquake. The mountains rumbled. Panther, who still prowled the forest, growled. “Wake up, Old Woman of the River!” Hanla-chu yelled. Old Woman kept sleeping, but she turned over and the water of the river rolled with her. One by one the stars where beginning to shine in the sky. Night was coming forever. A wind rushed over the sleeping body of Old Woman. “Wake up, Old Woman of the River!” Hanla-chu yelled. Hanla-chu took in a deep breath of dark night. She filled her lungs and blew it out with as much force as she could. Deep in her dreams, Old Woman felt cold and began to shiver. One eye opened and she saw it was night. She called for the birds to make the morning but there were no birds to hear her. Old Woman slowly rose and saw what her sleeping had done. “But I was so tired,” she said, and waved her hand. The river began to move again, but there were no fish or pieces of gold or life of any sort within its banks. Panther let out a loud angry growl for he saw that the Earth was dying, and he knew that he too must die. Hanla’chu also cried and her body began to break apart. It became fish and bird and the sparkle of the sun on water. Her head began to burn and slowly lifted to the sky. Her skin became plants and deer and from her breasts all the birds of the forest were reborn. Old Woman of the River thanked Hanla-chu. She flowed on and on forever after this. And no matter how tired she gets, she keeps flowing to the ocean.
I have had too many students put into prison. I just saw a headline yesterday. Another troubled child, now grown, sent to prison for shooting someone. As a teacher you see how disturbed they are, how much in pain, how horrific their lives are, how dysfunctional their families, how abused they come, how broken they were as small children. I write of Eddie and his brother Richard, both who murdered other young men, who came to school beaten and wild and in pain. Eddie was always in trouble from the day he walked in as a kindergarten. Richard was quiet. We thought he’d “make it.” I didn’t teach Eddie to read. Richard could have been a scholar. I think of driving along a winding road outside Willits and hearing the news that Alberto had shot his brother Rafael and how I stopped in the middle of the road taking in the news. Now Sonny. Red-headed and angry, so angry as a child. How helpless we feel with these children as teachers. There is nowhere to send them for the help they need. They’re fighting generational abuse. No stories we read to them can heal their spirits. Poor children, all of them, illiterate parents. And our prisons are full of men who were once boys who created chaos because their tears were ripped from t hem and their fists and guns and hatred that has grown like a poisoned weed has filled their souls in their place.
I lean with longing on the sill.
I am at the edge of expectation,
to see the future form, the grace
I have wished for, the humble steps
of hope, the whirlwind ready to kiss my cheek.
My heart is at the window,
I have been here so long,
the horizon has been hidden by the leaves’ ornamentation, by pages of years, by my too small courage.
My heart is at the window.
I pray that love sweeps down the lonely road
and breaks open my heart, so sadly patient,
into the seizures of a streaming sun,
shattering me into the light that taunts my vista.
Seven Minutes . . .
Last night this strange feeling came over me that I was my grandmother Parala. Never knew her as she died in 1922 at the age of 42, mother of Lois, Leslie (my father), Mary Ruth (dead at two), stillborn babies, and my Uncle Darius who is still alive at 93. I saw a post card she sent once when I visited my uncle. She signed herself Para. I decided her mother was playing with language and came up with her name because they were sounds she liked, like a song. She had a hard life, wife of a sharecropper who made moonshine, who wore her husband’s shoes, who saw her children die, who moved to Detroit and didn’t last long. Did she miss Arkansas, and Mary Ruth, where the legend said she planted a white and a red rosebush at her child’s grave that never stopped blooming? The child whose head made a feathered crown on her death-bed. My father, 12 years old, 1918, having quit school to pick cotton, remembering he did a somersault in the fields hearing the news that World War One had ended. All in one year, little sister he could not talk about even as an old man. Was it the flu? No money for a doctor. And his grandmother, Sarah Winn Johnson Eason, who buried half of her dozen or more children, whose life stretched out to old womanhood. As a young woman in Mississippi, she buried a child and gave birth to another two days later. I have Parala and Isaac’s wedding picture when they were both fresh and young. I have his eyes and her thick hair. The other two pictures I’ve seen, she has become this Grapes of Wrath woman, so thin and weary with life. And I had this feeling last night that I was her and walked in her thin dresses and loved her children and how that for all them, save my uncle, did not save them from the darkness ahead of them.
My palms form a tent
over distant cities as I pray
and I want violets to rain down,
and to smell healing oils
instead of sulfur,
and see angels pour the waters of peace
from their place of mythic origin,
no angels on backs of apocalyptic horses,
no plagues, nor rumors of war,
no masquerades of death,
and to hear that myths of sacrifice
are no longer allowed by the laws of Heaven,
the testing of Abraham eased from human memory,
of Isaac in peaceful slumber, no vengeful Lord
waiting to see how far a father will go,
no knife raised above any altar.
no offering of children to slaughter,
no cruel jokes of a jealous god,
not even a scapegoat desired,
and for prayers to rise to Heaven
on the scent of violets and answers given
as rain falls silently to a quiet Earth.
From my chapbook Threshold, Meeting of the Minds Publications
Selection from the novel I’m working on:
It was a glazed doughnut and sticky. She licked her fingers one by one and then took a bite. We went over a bump, and there was a loud farting sound. The boys in the back cheered.
“Rhonda, you don’t know who Bo really is.”
“Oh, yes, I do.” Rhonda turned in her seat and waved at him. Bo was on his haunches, his tail wrapped around his legs. “He’s the spawn of Satan and doesn’t care what I eat.”
I was speechless for a moment. “What’s a spawn?” I finally asked.
“I have no idea, but Bo says that’s what he is,” Rhonda answered, and then she whispered in my ear. “Charlotte, I knew you weren’t lying about Ezequiel. Now we both have boyfriends.”
My lunch pail suddenly grew warm in my lap. “Ezequiel’s not my boyfriend, but whether he is or not, that’s not the point. Bo isn’t anything like him. He’s evil.”
“He’s not evil, not deep down,” she said. “You don’t always know everything.”
Rhonda finished her doughnut in two bites, no doubt thinking I was being bossy. The picture of Mary Poppins on my lunch pail felt like it was burning through my dress into my thigh. I opened it. On top of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich there was the paper folded neatly like a napkin, now with the same branding iron seal that had embossed Ezequiel’s diploma.
The bus entered the school driveway. I clicked the pail shut, grabbed the handle tight even though the heat made my fingers smart, and left my friend sitting there waiting for her Bo.
Rhonda was in a different class, but though Bo was now her official boyfriend he followed me into mine. Mr. Harrison and the kids acted like he’d always been there, just like my family had. I studied the class photo Mr. Harrison pinned on the wall by the door, and, sure enough, there he was with two fingers behind my head.
We were assigned a boring ditto where we had to find the right place to put the accent on our vocabulary words and then read a story that seemed about fifty pages long. After that, we had long division. All but Bo. He was allowed to lie on the rug in the class library and read whatever he wanted. At least he was quiet and not making a nuisance of himself. I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he flipped through a National Geographic (Mr. Harrison had pulled out all the naked pictures) and then start a Hardy Boy’s mystery. He seemed genuinely lost in the book and every so often his tail would twitch like he’d come to a good part. He didn’t even hear the bell for recess.
“Son,” Mr. Harrison said in his kind voice, “time to go out and play.”
Bo heaved himself off the floor. I followed him out. He made a beeline to the swings where Rhonda waited for him. Some demon-magic lifted them off the ground, and they swung in high arcs perfectly in tandem. Most of Rhonda’s class and mine were gathering around them chanting:
Rhonda and Bo
Sitting in a tree,
The words were truly a curse. When it was time to go in and they came to a stop, Rhonda leaned over and kissed Bo’s cheek, the first girl in fourth grade to kiss a boy.
On the way home, Bo took over my place next to her. Mr. Teddy told them that they were too young to hold hands. I brooded as I sat next to a second grade girl with a drippy nose. I decided to do what Daddy was always accusing Mommy of and give them both “the silent treatment.”
I didn’t tell Rhonda, “See ya’ tomorrow,” as we got off the bus like I did everyday. I watched her hesitate, waiting for me to say goodbye, and it felt like a worm was beginning to chew a hole in my heart. I clenched my teeth together and headed home. They could share more kisses and all the gummy devils in the universe if they wanted to, but I wasn’t going to watch.
The garage door was open, and I could see Daddy leaning on the freezer. Mommy said as clean as he kept the garage you could eat off the floor, and she didn’t understand why inside the house he could never wash a dish or put his underwear in the hamper.
Daddy stared at the wall where his hammers and wrenches hung holding a shot glass. A bottle of Jim Beam perched behind him.
Bo caught up, panting from running.
“Daddy’s broken the promise he made to you, didn’t he?” he said. “Last time, at least, he went for almost a week.”
“Don’t you dare call him Daddy,” I hissed.
“Can if I want to,” Bo said fiercely.
Daddy was so lost in thought he didn’t hear us. Bo went into the garage and gave him a hug.
I went inside. Bo was back in the Christmas picture, but this time he looked older than Connie and his middle finger was raised. Mommy was making a salad, cutting a cucumber so fast I was afraid she’d chop off one of hers.
“I hate that man, Charlotte. It wasn’t even noon, and he started to drink.”
Bo piped up behind me. “Too bad you don’t have any job skills, Mommy. You’d be too ashamed to raise us all on welfare.”
In less than a minute, Bo had grown as tall as Mommy was. His freckles had given way to pimples, and he reeked of Daddy’s Old Spice after-shave.
“If I just felt I could take care of the three of you.” Mommy was now attacking a tomato. “I couldn’t do it by working at a dime store, and I’ve never done anything else.”
“Traffic is so bad in Vegas, isn’t it, Mommy?” Bo put an arm around her shoulder. She stopped chopping and leaned against him. “You might get killed. Or worse.” His eyes grew big. “You could kill one of us if you drove.”
Mommy nodded. “Oh, Bo, did I ever tell you about the time that your father tried to teach me to drive? He yelled at me from the get-go, and I knocked the fence post over as I was trying to back out of the driveway.”
“Maybe you could try again,” I suggested. “I bet Millie would help you learn.”
“Millie’s too busy,” Bo said.
“Millie’s too busy, honey.” Mommy took a can opener from the drawer and began to open a can of soup. She smiled at me. “Chicken noodle, your favorite.”
A couple of moments later, Connie stormed into the house. She threw her books on the floor headed straight to Bo with clenched fists.
“You dirty, little creep.” She went for his head. “How could you do this to me?”
“Mommy, Connie’s picking on me,” Bo whined.
“He’s spreading lies about me,” Connie said.
“Quiet down,” Mommy said, pulling her off Bo. “Tell me what happened.”
“Bo told everyone that . . .”
Daddy walked in, and Connie stopped herself. I wanted to disappear into my room, light a match for Ezequiel and disappear into Hell.
“Connie fooled around with Freeman at the carnival,” Bo said.
I could feel the heat of Daddy’s anger along my spine. “You . . . little . . . tramp.”
I wanted to ask Ezequiel how Bo could be two ages and at two places at the same time, how could he kiss Rhonda in a tree while he was ruining my sister’s reputation?
Daddy took off his belt. Mommy pulled Connie behind her.
“You’ll have to use that on me first,” she said.
The soup was boiling on the stove, but I was too afraid to move to turn it off. If I stood there, maybe Daddy couldn’t get to Mommy and Connie. Maybe my body had a force field to protect them. Daddy had never hurt either one of us before because he loved us. He’d come to his senses any minute and know that Bo was lying.
“I didn’t do anything,” Connie pleaded. “You know that, Daddy. You were there. You took my picture.”
I had no force field. I could give no protection. I was invisible as he stepped around me, winding the belt in his hand.