...A silent rush hour envelopes the streets leading out of downtown and birds perch like royalty on buildings, inside the quiet. The homeless shelter is full and the streets are empty. Inside the shelter, coughs and hacks fill the air like always, but each one is weighty, and heard by everyone. The Bible Group did not allow bibles in laps tonight. The cots and TV rooms are full of viral villains, invisible but seen by many resident’s imaginations: A furry critter alighting on the throat. A bug walking on every alveoli. A red hot cartoon devil poking between the shoulder blades. A c-clamp around the forehead. A road runner running up and down the ribs. No escape from the voices, the visions, the virus. In the morning the corporate regulars are not out on the sidewalk, in suits, ready with spare change. The critters return inside their minds.
On October 26, 1967, six months before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia.
“I want to ask you a question, and that is: What is your life's blueprint?”
June 15, 1967
Tomorrow is the last day of school! Mrs. O says we are now 3rd graders.
I will wear my bright orange shorts and bring back all my books.
We had an assembly about the blacks coming in September and Principal G made us promise stuff. Like being nice to them.
(spelling corrected for publication)
My diary with the pink cover and princess lock was my first one, and the last one to have such short entries for each day! As if my exploding emotions could fit on those four gold lines. The diary started as something my mom wrote in with me, for a year. She wrote while I talked. Then I said it was my turn, and I never let her see another entry. It was where I wrote down my fears on summer nights about the black kids coming to our school. But during the day I acted like I was excited. I was. I was scared. And excited.
Three Songs and a Skimpy Thong
It was the 80’s. Seattle. Four books on feminism stack themselves perilously next to my twin bed, in a teeny apartment, on a narrow rickety dark wood table I stole from a Goodwill drop box. De Beauvoir. Robin Morgan. Kate Millet. Mary Daly. I ricocheted between each of them, since there was a fast-changing array of dogmas and shoulds, and I sought out stories of contradiction like mine.
Exhibit A in Irony: I loved prancing through construction zones with my girlfriend, sexing it up in glittery leggings, bra stuffed with cushy paper towels, and a jean jacket, faking heterosexuality, and collecting cat calls while throwing our hair back. Exhibit B in Irony: I loved leaving curves behind and starving myself into a boy body, shunning flesh, running long distances, chalking up rainy miles, mace in hand, in case my camouflage of maleness failed. I marched in midnight Take Back the Night marches, fueled with rage and righteousness about women’s freedom to walk the streets. My bedside books made my pursuit of a non-feminine body a conundrum.
“This is just a suggestion,” Grandma whispers with an eyebrow raise, during our cracker snack time in her yellow Formica-laden kitchen. “But you need to eat without your fingers ever touching your lips.” Even though it is snacktime, it is always china plate time with her. I pop white crackers into my mouth, then follow up with a cheese piece. She says that is not ladylike. “It is not ladylike to place a whole cheese piece in at once. When you are older and eat in front a man, on a date, my suggestion is to smile a bit while your fork enters your mouth, and chew completely before talking. And I know you like hearing yourself talk, but don’t let every thought you have come flying out of your mouth.” I ask, “So what should my date eat like?” She explains that while need some manners, they don’t have to worry about their countenance like we do. Implying that “we” is all women. We must keep both attractiveness and manners in mind. She serves the crackers with a wooden-handled cheese slicer, and suggests that I serve cheese only this way, because the slices are thin, and less fattening. Her willowy, cat tail reed body was dutifully bound to food but also restriction. From the farmland of Oklahoma, she prided herself on frugality and living “close to the bone” - prairie dust and endless vegetables being the only things in abundance. “This is one snack is not in the recipe box,” she says. pointing over to a scratched wooden index card box with over 100 recipes in her penciled careful cursive. She tells me they are for me, when I marry, on repeat, over and over, every visit. Each card has a serving suggestion at the end: Serve hot. Serve with sprinkled cinnamon. Serve with an olive on the top. A dollop of whipped cream. A sprig of mint. Serve with a smile.
Trees in the 1st Degree
My (not-on-paper) husband sat outside on the back porch, at 1:32 am, smoking, staring into the empty lot next door, with 6 wide, towering maples. A downhill slope of wetness, maple leaves, and small creatures. His skinny butt balanced on that wobbly waterlogged fold-up wooden chair that needed to go back to Goodwill from whence it came. I had woken to pee and he wasn’t next to me in bed. I knew where to look, moving past the stove in the dark, bare feet on the dark tile floor. Bracing myself for his dark mood. And the smell. Tobacco and pot: his hands and lungs had reached for these, over the last month of rainy Spring Seattle-ness, breaking a rhythm of sobriety. Three Saturdays ago was when the first big white permit sign was pounded into the ground in front of that lot of trees, which we had grown to name, like kids name imaginary friends. Merkilt. Stillsong. Skygrabber. Thunderbolt. Rootsy. Canopy. The slanted ground – we never thought anyone would try to build on it. The trees were as old as the owner: a centenarian whose son lived nearby and got her to write it in the will to give it to him. The neighbor gossip was that he promised to keep the trees. But there my guy sat, stoic and whispering about the guy who was about to let our friends die. He was already in phase one, yelling at the people in the city permit office, to get pipe and drainage approval.
Grief Gives a TED Talk
Good evening. I am glad to be here and harvest 19 ½ minutes of your time. Statistically, I am granted that time allotment at funerals. I soak up the limelight at those, cherishing the moments that I am not being pushed away, or pushed down into the tissues of your bodies, but welcomed with tissues for your tears. Anyway, I promise to reward you for your attention.
My superpower is masquerading as a variety of moods, emotions, or even mental illnesses. I am able to move like mercury through all eleven systems of human functions, from circulatory, to muscular-skeletal, to lymph systems. I am stuck in the muscles of your jaw, eyes, spine and heart valves when you do not grieve. I sit next to people and wait to be invited in. who have layers of unresolved loss and feel the clamping down of it in their gestures, physiology, and armor.
A Sharp Lens into a Day of the Pandemic
All the prompts from today are sharp as arrows. Like, to the heart of things, sharp, not dangerous sharp. I have seen enough of that photo of the magnified Coronavirus with its pointed protrusions, which are sharp in their mission, but more like suction cups in appearance. The pandemic has caused a prickly pause, a sharp halt to routines, and addictions, and the simplicity of touch. Touching a friend’s shoulder at the moment of a punchline. Touching a yoga student’s hip in a downward dog. Touching a door handle or the 85-year old schlepping a full bag to her car. Touching our faces. Which brings a memory of feeling the sharp reprimand of my mom, when I had hives on my cheeks, and she would quip, “Don’t touch your face!” We are all sequestered in our geometrically sharp-cornered rooms and residences, craving the opposite: soft curves of nature with her beach sand and windy hillsides. Our dogs have long, sharp nails since the grooming places are closed. Our eyes are endlessly glued to the sharp blue light of our screens, in our interior existence and timeless days. In my frustration at being behind four walls, I regret my sharp words to friends who oversimplify this time, saying we just need to stay positive and carry on.
A long line, with long black straps to harness bodies, waiting for an exhibit about the undersides of our skin sacks. The Bodies Exhibit. Even the name has no artsy words, no sugar-coated skin.
A girl whose hair falls so long it covers the Camp _____ on her t-shirt tries to hang on the canvas straps stretched horizontally but they droop and one clangs to the ground. Straps to tame the bodies from becoming anything other than a linear waiting line, obedient and leaning. There is a whisper between each set of bodies, families, couples, punctuated by huffs and sighs, since the tickets promised no waiting. “This is not what we paid for,” one of them whispers. And another child whimpers. The body of the girl is in constant flurry, audible breaths and grunts, legs moving in every possible direction. Picking up the aluminum divider stand brings her joy and a look of surprise that she did it by herself.
The Bodies Exhibit, where sinew shines, and fascia upon skeletal mazes comes to life and the skeletons stare back at you in your clothing, as if to say, “What are you doing here, so masked, so covered, so afraid of what is raw in you?” Just as you got up the nerve to ask your new girlfriend, and swallowed hard when the price of the tickets came up on the screen, and you both tried to shrug it off, because you were still trying to impress each other that you lived OTHER than close to the bone, pun intended, you realized that it was like going to a nude show, as you looked at the preview photos.