Kittenish

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Kittenish

Happy child with brand new kitten,
fully rapt, besotted, smitten.
Length of yarn a perfect toy
for kitten, pulled by playful boy.

Every toy another gimmick,
child on floor, a playful mimic.
Rolling over, willy-nilly,
feeling loving. Feeling silly.

All day long, antics and fun
in the house or in the sun.
Inside, outside, all the same.
With a kitten, life’s a game.

Sundown creates a sleepy-head
tucked under covers, snug in bed.
Mom and Dad survey the scene.
Gentle snores. Quiet. Serene.

Window open, curtains billow.
Kitten curled up on the pillow
nested in her master’s hair.
Two creatures in their common lair.

 

Prompt words today are mimic, silly, smitten and happy.

Mountaineer

 

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Mountaineer

I am a mountain waiting to be climbed,
its slopes slippery and rough
with fortifications.
This poem is the face
I am inviting you to scale,

not taking the clearly defined path
that prose would provide,
but a harder course with handholds and footholds
that will not give way if you
use your mind to select a wise course.

If I did not trust you so, I would give you a secure railing
like one provided in showers and bathtubs
for the elderly;
but I know, if you have made it this far,
that you have the stamina to make it on your own.

Every mind is a majestic mountain waiting to be climbed
and also a climber sometimes bent on climbing,
at other times, content
to stand at the mountain’s base,
waiting for the scree to come to him.

 

This is a rewrite of an earlier poem For dVerse poets pub. Majestic

Leftovers

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In honor of Canadian Thanksgiving and looking forward to ours later this month, this poem is dedicated to Morrie and Diego, who profit from all culinary events in my house:

Leftovers
(Dedicated to Two Hopeful Dogs)

Crying for our leftovers won’t bring you any favors.
You will not taste their textures or masticate their flavors
if you stand there begging. Those winsome looks aren’t working.
Nor are your lapsing manners—your twisting and your jerking.

Hunger doesn’t justify your unwelcome behavior.
Before we even sat down, we saw Grandpa was your savior,
slipping you a turkey leg he had dipped in gravy.
(That leg I’d saved for leftovers–a turkey sandwich, maybe.)

Our home-cooked meal? Delicious. That you already know.
When I cooked the pies, I fed you scraps of dough.
The turkey giblets boiled for gravy, later went to you.
When I cooked the cranberries, you even ate a few.

You licked the pumpkin bowl so clean. You licked the beater blade
when I whipped the cream for pies. Dear ones, you had it made.
So when you beg for leftovers, I’ll just ignore your fuss.
You ate before the guests, dears. Leftovers are for us!

Prompts for today are winsome, manner, justify, leftovers and home.

Midnight Swim

 

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Midnight Swim

I love this dark and quiet night
far from the loud and glaring light.
Solitary in the dark,
no mewling cat or warning bark.
The whole world in conspiracy
hides and holds and cushions me.
I move through water, side to side.
Through liquid currents, I freely slide.

Palms backlit by an opal moon
that’s dulled by clouds too soon, too soon.
The silence sliced by mosquito’s whine
mars a night no more divine.
Invader of my private night,
I fear its subtle stinger’s bite.
It moves in circles through the air
from shoulder to my neck and hair.

I swat at where it was until
it, alas, has had its fill.
Then it is off, leaving me
the pleasure of my company
devoid of interloper’s claim.
I wipe out memory of my name,
my age, my talents and my ills.
Suddenly, the pool fills

with the spreading whole of me
becoming part of all I see
and touch and smell and feel and dream.
I am, at last, all that I seem.
I float toward light, then climb the stairs,
free of worry and of cares.
If I can only fall to dreams
before old niggling prods and screams

invade my memory to call
me up against the judgment wall,
my whole intent will be fulfilled.
I’ll have achieved just what I willed.
Such are the charms of veiled nights
that cover over daylight’s frights
and lull us to our sleep and dreams
convincing us life’s what it seems.

With Reservations: True West

I think it is only appropriate that I rerun this piece written many years ago for Indigenous People’s Day

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True West: Racial Stereotypes in a Small South Dakota Town

I grew up in a very small town (population 700) on the prairies of South Dakota. I was not aware of a wide disparity of classes at the time; but looking back, I see that there really were classes based on economic and racial factors.  Since my town was situated quite near to several Indian reservations, there was often at least one native American in my class.  In the second grade, it was Clifford Leading   Cloud—14 years old and placed in the second grade.  Needless to say, he towered over the 7-year-olds. No doubt this was why he was constantly stoop-shouldered and his demeanor was apologetic and shy.  He was a wonderful artist, and I still have several of his drawings.  “Clifford drew this for me!” I proudly wrote beneath two colored-pencil sketches in my scrapbook, but when I took them home to show them to my mother, she said, “Be sure to always wash your hands after you touch those.”  Obedient at this stage of my life, I remember complying, but I was always puzzled about why.

Since my name began with a “D” and our placement was always determined alphabetically, I sat behind or in front of all of the Native American kids who joined our class for a year or two before disappearing: Clifford Leading Cloud, Phoebe Crazy Bear, Nordine Fink (Who was my assigned “date” for Freshman initiation, but who somehow disappeared during the year.) Phoebe had very long black hair that I loved to brush during Geometry. (In spite of former warnings from mothers who told us to be careful not to contract lice from the “Indian” kids.) She was a good student, and I liked her dry sense of humor; but although I invited her to slumber parties, she never came and she, too, vanished by the end of our Sophomore year.

I know there was a division in our community between the white population and the Native Americans, many of whom still lived in tents along the railroad tracks because it was federal land and the head of the railroad allowed them to live there free of charge.  When I was given release time from study hall to teach P.E. and reading to first graders my Jr. year in high school, the sweetest and most beautiful first grader was another Leading Cloud—who, probably due to living in a tent with no bathroom facilities and no running water—had such a strong stench that it brought tears to my eyes to stand over her for long as I guided her in her reading.  My mother attributed this to the use of “bear grease” in the hair, but I think she was a few generations behind in her thinking.

The factors of difference in culture, living arrangements and economic factors divided us from the Native American citizens of our town so that aside from actual classes as school, they faded away into the environment in a manner that should have been impossible in a town as small as ours.  They did not attend games, dances, or participate in any of the extracurricular activities of the school. They did not attend church or hang out in restaurants.  I do remember my mother asking us to sit in front  and back and either side of her when we went to the movies in White River, 32 miles away.  Closer to the reservation, there was a higher Native American population and my mother, sensitive to smells, wished to take all proper precautions.

My mother was not unkind. She fed any hobo who showed up at our door. She took boxes of clothing out to the dump and set them where foragers could easily find them.  She also told me never to mention that clothing had been mine if any of the Native American kids showed up wearing one of my give-aways. But she was the product of an age where we had not yet thought to struggle against racial stereotypes.  My father regularly employed seasonal workers from the reservation and even learned to speak some Sioux.  He was a natural born storyteller who loved gleaning material from all and sundry and a broad-minded thinker. One of the few Democrats in town, he counted everyone among his friends–from his Hunkpapa Sioux employees to the Governor of the state.

Yet, should the doorbell ring when my dad was not at home and  if my mom were to see that it was someone from the reservation stopped at our house to ask for work on his way into town, she would tell us not to answer the door and would cower in the hallway out of sight. Again, I know my mother well enough to know it was genuine fear that prompted her actions, not meanness or hatred.

There were two families of Sioux lineage in the town who did manage to bridge the gap of cultures.  In one case, it was a handsome young man who was an incredible basketball player whose name revealed his mixed Sioux and French genes. He was the secret heart-throb of many a girl, and his sister, as beautiful as he was handsome, was a cheerleader and generally accepted, I believe, although they were enough older than I am for this all to be hearsay.

The other family that was able to bridge the two cultures was also of mixed lineage–white and Sioux.  Another beautiful family, their son was also an excellent ball player and both of their daughters were cheerleaders. (This was the highest rank of success in our town—far above Valedictorian.) In both cases, the cultural differences were only a matter of skin color. They were not living in tents along the railroad tracks or migrating back and forth from the reservation.  In  most respects, their lifestyles were no different from our own.  Still, I have heard that when one of our most popular young men married one of the popular young ladies I’ve just mentioned, that his mother was heard to say, “He’s marrying that squaw.”

It seems as though the major factor, then, that created a class structure in our town was one of culture coupled with economic duress.  Yes, there were poor families in our town and many times they did not participate as fully in what little social life there was in our town, and yes, although I started out inviting everyone in my class to parties, in time the parties got smaller and the guest list included mainly those friends from my neighborhood or those I found to be the most fun or who participated in the same activities I participated in.

This narrowing of social circles is natural, I think, but when I look at who was excluded, I don’t feel as though I used any criteria other than whom I enjoyed being around. I would have loved it if Phoebe had come to my slumber parties. She was smart and even then I had a curiosity about other cultures and other ways of life. I was the first friend of any new girl who moved to town—a fact that caused some resentment on the part of my old friends, I now see clearly.

We all make excuses for ourselves when it comes to discussing our own prejudices, and I am no exception to the rule. Native Americans were stereotyped because the most extreme cases of behavior were the most obvious. The few women from the reservation who came to drink and lay sprawled in the street created the stereotype that all “Indian” women were “drunken squaws.” No one ever saw any of the mothers of the Native American children we went to school with. They were no doubt at home trying to scrape out a meal or school clothes for their children’s next next day at school.  And their fathers were probably out working in the fields for our fathers. But we did see the drunks on the streets every Saturday night as we exited the movies, and so this is the stereotype that formed in our minds, no matter how much our actual experience with kids at school rivaled that stereotype.

Many years ago, I started to write a book called “Vision Quest” about a young Native American boy who grew up in our town. This was a work of fiction, but I drew of course upon actual experience for details of plot.  I know I came back to it at least twice, but never got beyond the first few chapters, probably because I had so little experience to draw upon; for in spite of the fact that I grew up in a state that contained numerous reservations and in spite of the fact  that all of the surrounding towns contained a Native American population, in fact our cultures were so widely divided that I had as little insight into their lives as they must have had into mine.

The term “Native American” had not been coined when I last lived in my hometown, and neither had the sensibilities that I hope go with it. When Dennis Banks and Russell Means were heroes to much of the rest of the world, they were outlaws and trouble makers to those non-Native Americans who lived in their midst. To someone stopped from driving on highways where they had always driven, they appeared to be highwaymen or brigands. It is hard to make a hero of someone you grew up feeling superior to, and hard not to stereotype any race or cultural group according to what you know about the few representatives of that group with whom you have come in contact.

But I have to say that coming back to my town and hearing one of the supposedly kindest and admittedly hardest-working members of the church I grew up in describing the wife of a local boy as a “N—–” and scathingly speaking of the Native American Rights movement of the seventies made me take a really long look back at my own past as well as to reappraise my former affection for this woman whose small-mindedness revealed itself at a time when I myself was in love with an African man, teaching African children and living with African housemates.

The last time I visited my hometown, I did not go to see this lady and by the time I next went, she had passed away. Hopefully with the demise of these last citizens of the old ways, prejudice will pass away with them. I am afraid, however, that prejudice is born anew in each generation—perhaps towards yet a new group of immigrants or transplants who threaten the so-called “American Way of Life.” It would do us all well to remember that America was meant to be a melting-pot, and as in any recipe, it is made more palatable by a variety of spices.

Close enough to touch,
we came from two different worlds,
so never quite met.

for dVerse Poets I’m sort of breaking the rules as this introductory prose piece is too long to be a Haibun, but at least it is on the correct theme.

Dear Joan (Note Found Pinned to a Husband Left at the Curbside)

Dear Joan
(Note Found Pinned to a Husband Left at the Curbside )

We’ve been friends for forever, but I fear that we are through.
I have no further patience for the awful things you do.
Pretending to be humble, but not shouldering  the blame,
you’re just a kindred spirit in appearance and in name.
There’s no need for thanksgiving for you are that crafty kind
who is an ally when it’s easy but vanish in a bind.
Your friendship is fair weather, for you suddenly get busy
when good times are over and my life is in a tizzy.

I find myself alone in most times of perturbation.
Then you reappear when it is time for celebration.
Our need for help’s not only when we’re rolling in the clover,
so when it comes to friendship, I think our time is over.
A real friend should be one who also shares in all your sorrows
instead of all that sharing that happens when she borrows
appliances and money, your clothes and then  your house.
Then before you notice it, she’s borrowing your spouse.

So I must insist that you find a different friend.
There is really nothing new left for me to lend.
You’ll need a better job now that you have my honey,
for I am the one, my dear, who’s always had the money.
You’ll be needing to support him in his accustomed manner.
He needs a proper tailor and a booth to make him tanner.
He prefers the Riviera, Monte Carlo for the gambling,
a Lear jet for his weekends, Maseratis for his rambling. 

He was whining like a puppy—a most pitiful yelp—
when I dumped him at your walk-up, so I hope that you can help
him carry all his baggage up to your third-floor flat.
I fear he’s not accustomed to labor such as that.
Feed him three square meals a day. He fancies caviar.
But watch him like a hawk. I wouldn’t trust him very far.
You might survey your friends again and find one who is plucky
who will take him off your hands for you if you are really lucky!!!

 

Prompt words today are humble, shoulder, kindred, thanksgiving and kind. Photo by 俊逸 余 on Unsplash, used with permission.