My toy cannon muffled by an egg stuffed in its snout.
Easter grass and sugar eggs hidden inside and out.
My parents’ Easter soirees were things of grand design.
The pink nests were sister’s and the yellow ones were mine.
One disappeared behind the mirror, one behind father’s chair.
At the end, still one nest to be found, I knew not where.
Suckers, Peeps and sugar eggs, jelly beans and gummies—
sought out and stuffed in Easter baskets, then stuffed in our tummies.
My folks went to such bother, whereas I must say in truth,
If I’d been asked, I’d rather have just had a Baby Ruth!
“I’ve lost my bearings,” she said to me, perplexed. She was sitting alone in her room, surrounded by piles of clothing on the bed and floor around her—the collapsed small tents of abandoned full skirts, the shards of scarves and small mismatched clutterings of shoes.
She had been abandoned in a daydream world that only she lived in, but that she seemed as confused by as she was by those of us who tried to visit her there. For her, even changing clothes had become an insurmountable obstacle—a challenge that rivaled childbirth, an unfaithful husband, an addicted son, an autistic grandson. It rivaled the war she’d staged against her much-younger sister—the power she held over that sister by her rejection of her. It rivaled her efforts to enter the world again as a single woman and to try to win the world over to the fact that it was all his fault. It rivaled her insistence that it was the world that was confused in refusing to go along with all her beliefs and justifications.
She had barely if ever left a word unspoken when it came to an argument. It was so simple, really. She was always right. That everyone in the world, and more particularly her younger sister, refused to believe this was a thorn in her side. The skin on her cheek itched with the irritation over the unfairness of the world. She had worn a path in it, carving out a small trench so that the skin even now was scaly with that road traversed over and over again by one chewed-off fingernail. “Are you she?” She asked me, and when I admitted I was, she added, “Oh, you were always so irritating. Even as a little girl. Why could you never be what anyone else wanted you to be? You were always so, so—yourself!”
It was my chance, finally, for an honest conversation with this sister 11 years older—more a crabby mother always, than a sister. A chance if she could keep on track long enough to remember both who I am and who we both once were.
“So what was wrong with how I was, Betty? With how I am?”
“Oh, you were always so . . . . “ She stopped here, as though struggling for a word or for a memory. I saw her eyes stray to the floor between the door and the dresser. “There’s that little fuzzy thing there,” she said. I could see her eyes chart the progress of this creature invisible to me across the room.
I hung on to the thought she had so recently abandoned. “But me, Betty. What do you find wrong with me?”
Her eyes came back to me and connected, suddenly, with a sort of snap that made me think we were back in the same world again as she contemplated by last question. I tried to keep judgment out of my own gaze—to keep her here with me for long enough to connect on at least this one question.
“You were,” she said, and it was with that dismissive disgusted tone she had so often used with me since I was a very small child. “You were just so mystical!”
I was confused, not sure that the word she had used was the one she meant to use.
“What do you mean by mystical, Betty?” I sat on the bed beside her and reached out for the static wisps of hair that formed a cowlick at the back of her head—evidence of the long naps which had once again taken over her life, after a long interim period of raising kids, running charities and church prayer circles, and patrolling second-hand-stores, traveling to PEO conventions and staying on the good side of a number of eccentric grandchildren.
“Oh, you know. All those mystical experiences! The E.S.P. and all those other stories you told my kids. And Mother. Even Mother believed you.”
Then a haze like a layer of smoke once more seemed to pass over her eyes, dulling her connection to this time and reality and to me.
Her chin trembled and a tear ran down her cheek. She ran one fingernail-chewed index finger over and over the dome of her thumb and her face broke into the crumpled ruin of a child’s face who has just had its heart broken, the entire world of sadness expressed in this one face. I put my arms around her, and for the first time in our lives, she did not pull away. We rocked in comfort to each other, both of us mourning something different, I think. Me mourning a sister who now would never be mine in the way that sisters are meant to be. Her mourning a self that she had not been able to find for a very long time.
“Oh, the names I have been called in my life,” I was thinking.
“Oh, the moon shadows on the table in the corner. What do they mean?” She was thinking.
The last time I gave my sister a fortune cookie, she went to the bathroom and washed it off under the faucet, chuckling as though it was the most clever thing in the world to do. She then hung it on a spare nail on the wall.
When I asked her if she needed to go to the bathroom, she nodded yes, and moved in the direction of the kitchen. Then she looked at the news scroll on the television and asked if those were directions for her. If there was something she was supposed to be doing. And that picture on the wall. What was it telling her she was supposed to do?
In the end, I rubbed her head until she fell asleep, covered her and stole away. I’d fly away the next morning, leaving her to her new world as she had left me to mine from the very beginning.
Predisposed to Erudition
Central to dad’s disposition
was his need for exposition.
Topics such as soil condition,
family stories, nuclear fission,
required a bit of erudition.
And every tale’s newest edition
had its own unique rendition.
Today’s prompt word was disposition. Here is the link:
The party got much better right after you walked out.
You would have really liked it, I can say without a doubt.
The cornucopia of desserts you brought was a definite hit,
but as we enjoyed its bounty, we wished you hadn’t split.
The baby took his first step and Grandma came alive
as though for this Thanksgiving, her memory she’d revive.
Cousin Shirley was a panic and the kids performed a play—
the whole family there to see it (if you had chosen to stay.)
So, the freeway was in gridlock from five o’clock to eight?
Negotiating lane changes was hurry up and wait?
By the time the party ended, traffic was flowing freely.
Uncle Arthur breezed right by us in his classic Austin Healey!
Everyone got home okay. We were in bed by nine—
about the same time you got home from waiting in that line.
Hearing old family stories may not be your favorite thing,
but versus overheated engines, they have a certain zing.
Splitting out on family may not be a crime,
but did leaving three hours early save you any time?
When you’re in the biggest hurry, you’re most frequently delayed.
You might have gotten home faster if only you had stayed!
Word prompts today are cornucopia, hurry, negotiate and delayed. Here are the links:
Almost a Miracle
I need to explain to you how it happened.
I know you don’t require it, but I need to tell you,
much as a good Catholic needs absolution from her priest or her god,
I need absolution from you.
It began with a simple mishap—the gas left on after cleaning the stove.
I do not remember this action,
yet it must have been me who left the dial turned not quite shut.
A dark part of me, because with God as my witness, I do not remember doing so.
I did remember that every payday Saturday night when he came home reeling from the tavern, he went to turn on the striker to light his cigar.
If I had actually planned it, I could not have planned it better.
My mother and the other children had gone to Talpa
for the four day pilgrimage to the virgin
and it was my night to stay with the children
of the people whose house I cleaned.
We did this weekly to afford them the chance
to be together with their friends,
away from their demanding children.
And it gave me an opportunity to avoid my father.
To avoid the sound of his entrance at the front gate,
the heavy pounding of his boots upon the cobbles,
the creak of the front door and his slipping the bolt
so that I knew once again that I was in the prison of his making.
His footsteps upon the tile stairs as I lay still, my lips moving in rapid prayers,
“Our Lord, dear lord, help him pass my door tonight.
Help him to proceed past the doors of my sisters and my brothers
and let him move to visit my mother.
Help him to relieve the cares of his week in her presence.
Help it to be his wife who smells the tequila of his breath,
to taste the lime on his lips.
Help me on this night not to be the partner of his sin.”
Rare was the Saturday night when my prayer was heard.
But this night, perhaps I had answered my own prayer.
Later on, the villagers would talk about the night they heard the boom—
saw the streaking image of a man run from the front door aflame
to run down the street screaming.
“Such a tragedy,” they would say,
“but how fortunate that his wife and children were not present.
God must have been watching,” they would say,
“but then to have blinked a moment.
It was almost a miracle,” they would say. “Almost.”
The NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a dramatic monologue.
He imagines well the cradle and a new mother bending
over the small infant that she would be tending.
The baby’s arms reached up, his young wife’s arms extending
out to lift it up, so tender in their fending.
The eager father wending
home from his day of vending,
his yearned-for entrance pending,
each mile closer mending
their separation’s rending,
more satisfaction lending
toward their happy ending.
Up at 5 to catch a plane to Acupulco. The prompt was “pending”
Click on first photo to enlarge all.
Family Reunion, Off the Grid
We find the key to the lake cabin
there where it always was above the eaves trough,
enter that family space deserted for so many years
and claim our old rooms.
Bring in firewood piled on the porch thirty years ago
and draw together at the trestle table
over dinners gathered
from the ice chests in the trunks of cars.
Dependent for so many years
on cell phones, e-mail and Facebook,
we grow listless over the loss of cell tower and wifi,
fall back on family videos from the far past,
and having exhausted that sparse shelf,
resort to family albums, dusty with accumulated years.
Over those cryptic signals from the past,
we begin to remember more,
and recall scraps of ourselves
that give a meaning to the name of scrapbook.
With no single screens possible,
we draw together over simple common images.
Dad in the neighbor lady’s hat,
sis in diapers and my mother’s heels,
my tea towel sarong and doily hat,
Mother, young enough to be our granddaughter,
in a stylish hat tipped down over one eye,
Middle sister standing triumphant at the top
of the slide she later fell from the top of—
a past truth I might have never known
if not sealed up, like this,
away from the wider world
and those parts of ourselves
that keep flying off to it.
I take her hand, grateful for her survival.
Just the two of us, now,
everyone else sealed up in this peeling album.
We put them to sleep again as we close its cover.
In the morning, restore the key,
nestle the “For Sale” sign more securely
into its mooring place and divide to our separate worlds,
the box of videos under my arm,
the family scrapbooks under hers.
The prompt words are past, video, listless and dependent.
Click on first photo to increase the size of all and to read captions.
My mother was the hero of Christmas. Decorated waste paper baskets from the church bazaar, that “Skunk” game I’d been begging for, played once and never again, that one last doll when I was eleven, purchased more for her own nostalgia than my need. The tree went up as the orange and brown of Thanksgiving was disposed of, and the jubilation of Christmas stretched on until New Years, when the tree came down.
For my dad, however, the end of Christmas was never quick enough. The tree lights hurt his eyes, he said, but I always wondered if there was more to it than that: some sparsity of the Christmases of his past that had broken its spirit in the heart of a young boy raised on a South Dakota prairie that furnished few rewards, let alone extravagent Christmases, but still expecting more, perhaps, than an orange in the toe of his sock. A pony, maybe, or a stick of hard candy, a jaunty new blue winter stocking cap or simply a mother more given to Christmas than his own busy midwife of a mother, always off to somewhere else.
In our mad months of enthusiasm over tinsel, ornaments resurrected from the attic and the mystery of wrapped boxes, we overlooked the remnants of that little boy’s pain, but some part of each of us, detecting it by some subconscious radar, never gave up trying to heal those hurts of former Christmases with tiny Black Hills Gold tie tacks, new wallets and papier-mâché sculptures meant to prod him from his apathy. It never quite worked, except for that sculpture, ugly in its craziness, laughed and pondered over, then left to age and weather on their unroofed patio until its demise, giving one small hope of reviving a small boy’s wonder over Christmas and the unexpected. His forbearance over the years made him, perhaps, another subtler hero of Christmas, just in his putting up with it.
The prompt words for today are orange, game, hero, jubilation and quick. Here are the links:
My dad in a slower mode of conveyance.
My father on vacation was robotic in his thrust.
His modus operandi was to get there or to bust—
another hundred miles or so before we stopped to sup,
and we rarely got a room before the moon was up!
When he hit the highway, he became another man.
No mere roadside attraction could deflect his driving plan.
In those days of two-lane traffic and a speed limit of fifty,
he thought five hundred miles a day sounded rather nifty.
Fathers prone to threaten, who hit and rage and cuss
are, I fear, too often too ubiquitous.
But this was not my father. Rage was not his style.
He simply had addictions to mile after mile!
My dad was generous and fun. He told a story well,
but to take a trip with him was nothing short of Hell.
His proclivity to “get there,” I fear was never curable,
and so family vacations were just barely endurable!
My sisters and I with my dad. He didn’t usually look this grim!
The prompt words today are highway, durable, robot and ubiquitous. Here are the links: