As my friend Leo says, “Cosas en las que a veces no nos fijamos” (things we sometimes don’t notice).
Blaze of sun across gasp of grass
two Inca doves huddle in a line of lamp post
shadow, shivering with heat.
In the first apartment I lived in that was real, my roommate and I printed and posted on our fridge this quotation from a fax that she got at work. At the time we had no attribution, but Karen and I wept and talked over this one many times for the long (and far too short) years that we were roomies and many times in the decades since then: *language alert*
“What if instead of drugging, shocking, tying down our Mad Women, we put Them in warm tubs of water naked as babies and got in there with Them and cooed and encouraged Them to cry great salt tears, to grieve the passing of dreams, the rape of the soul? What if we rocked Them to sleep in giant hammocks of competent fat arms when They were too damn exhausted with keeping up pretenses or holding up Their heads any longer? What if we agreed with Her that the whole world is fucking crazy, out of balance, and that SHE is not to blame for the halt and the lame, the lack of food, the phone not being answered, the port wine stains on babies, the wars on every continent of the globe?
What if we gave Her a baseball bat (none of this nerf shit impotent harm nothing foam battaca bat bullshit, but a solid wood bone-cracking put a goddamn lump on it BASE FUCKING BALL BAT) and let her slam every post stump wall door window house car in an arena where She is cheered on to a frenzy? Then let’s pick Her up when she falls down exhausted and foaming and take Her down to the locker room for a steam bath and massage that leave her noodle limp and rage-less for the first time in decades.” ~Dina Kerik, quoted in We’Moon Calendar, 1997
**Note from ~LD: I have daydreamed about the ball bat, a real one, for nigh on 3 decades now “thanks” to this long quotation. I have no idea how to tell you how much relief seeing Beyonce do the very thing in a dress like a golden tassel and high heels gives me. I watch it over and over, often without sound, even though her situation is not the one I lived. I still have this quotation on my fridge; the same one I printed in 1992. Hold up. We are not yet noodle limp, much less rageless. I LOVE this video with my whole self. Namaste. ~LD
Dear Santa, Do you have one of these books on hand for me this year? I need to be reminded in the face of other people’s lack of knowing that this.one.thing.is.right. Just like it is. No matter what. If I screw up every other thing in my classroom, I know, in my soul that this.one.thing.is.right. Just like it is. No matter what.
I’ll try to be better behaved the rest of the year. Maybe one of your elves has a used one, tucked away in a hidden coat pocket. Like a librarian I once met. Far, far away. In a book. Where books had to be kept in pockets for safety. Thanks in advance, Santa. Tell Mrs. Santa “HEYO” for me. ~LD P.S. Coal is fine, too. = )
The important thing about a TP is that it defies definition; you consider, you play, you throw some words together and sometimes it works better than you thought. But the important thing about a TP is that it defies definition.
The important thing about a TP is that it is free. Yes, you can summarize or tell a tall tale, or make a connection or do something completely different. You consider, you play, you paste some words together and sometimes it works better than you thought. But the important thing about a TP is that it is free.
The important thing about a TP is that your words are more than just words; they are your considerations, your play, your constructions, your conclusions, your connections; your weaving of words; sometimes it works better than you imagined. But the important thing about a TP is that your words are more than just words.
The important thing about a TP is that it is YOU. Those words are YOUR words; that play is your play; those thoughts are YOUR thoughts; those considerations are YOUR considerations; those connections are YOUR connections; that tapestry of language is of YOUR design. But the important thing about a TP is that it is YOU.
~LD with apologies to Margaret Wise Brown The Important Book
For the uninitiated: TP = a weekly written reflection assignment I give students. It stands for think piece. But whatever. The important thing about a TP is … see also above. = ) ~LD
Once, there was a small window
on every sheet of paper,
in every word document
where, with a sweep of my pen
the stroke of my fingers,
I could escape the shouting voices
and twisted faces of doubt, derision, and bedevilment,
but one day, I reached out, with pen tip poised
only to find the window papered over with quips from beloved writers:
” ‘Write what you know’ is the stupidest thing”
“If you can’t write clearly, you probably don’t think nearly as well as you think you do”
and the old favorite, “author-of-the-moment” is so much better than me.
How could I possibly come up with such a clever idea?”
And so the “not good enough” voice
goes round and round
the circumference of my brain
trapping me as surely as barbed wire
on the wrong side of the window.
If my hands weren’t full
I might slide my palm against yours
and wrap my fingers around to touch
the long bone below your index finger,
but there is work
a stack so high and disorderly
that I’m afraid to even look your way,
much less move a finger
that might topple all my carefully
to break against the possibility of earth.
** a couple of years ago, I was talking with one of my adult students who told me about his sister’s wedding the weekend before. He mentioned how glad he was that she was “getting a second chance” at love. His authenticity and sincerity about his wish for his sister have stayed with me all this time . . .
** On October 30 of this year, my Grammie had her 100th birthday. There was a party and everything; everyone who’s anyone was there.
Oh, you hadn’t heard. So sorry you missed it. Me, too, alas.
But I bragged on my Grammie the Centurion all day to my students and anyone who would stand still. Last year, she gave me the ring pictured, and the subject of this missive. I have hardly removed it since I got it. It reminds me to stand taller than I feel. What a life; I am so thankful for her. (All factual errors in measurements, ages, and numerical stuff are mine.) **
For all I know the stone in my new ring may be colored glass. In fact it’s probably Mexican Opal, also known as Bohemian art glass. The manmade, smooth oval stone has captivated my imagination since I was little: engrossed in Grammie’s “sunset” ring instead of the lesson at church. Now the ring is on my left pinkie finger, my hand freckled like Grammie’s, my nails not so nicely manicured, and hands that have never known the same kind of hard work that her hands knew. The ring, beloved, feels foreign and out of place. Even though I know it was freely given, I was afraid to wear it when I went to visit in December of 2016; afraid she might think I had “snitched” it from her jewelry box without asking.
At her tallest, I think Grammie was about five feet tall. The last time she stood next to me she just about reached my shoulder – maybe four foot ten or eleven. When I saw her last month I felt like a giant next to her. But then she didn’t really stand, just shifted her weight from sitting on the bed to sitting in the wheel chair. When they were young, I’d guess she just came up to Pa’s shoulder, maybe not so high – he was six feet tall, I think.
When I first walked into her shared hospital room in December she was a tilde, that wavy mark above the “n” in Spanish that softens and lengthens its sound; a toppled over “s” underneath the brown and blue-fringed plaid blanket. She lay with her eyes closed on the small twin mattress. To see her so frail, diminished took me aback, even though Momma had told me how much she had shrunk in mind and body since I saw her just six months ago. I wasn’t sure she would know me. But she turned to me from under the blanket and said my name, the way she has said it my entire life. Turns out that being the oldest granddaughter matters.
But maybe that’s not what matters. Maybe what made my name cross her lips with relative ease were all the years we spent together making memories.
I was a baby in her house, my nineteen-year-old mom and me living in the spare room. I don’t remember that time, but snapshots in photo albums tell a piece of that story: me shuffling around the house, my feet swallowed in Pa’s hard-to-fill work shoes; riding Fritz the dachshund – I remember his soft, soft ears, and that I loved him; eating strawberries from the garden; sitting with my little legs stretched beneath the TV set to watch my programs; baths in the kitchen sink. Later, when me and Momma and Daddy lived across town, staying over to go to church on Sunday; “coffee” (mostly half-and-half with a little coffee and sugar for color and flavor) with breakfast; meeting cousins to pick up pecans and dig holes to China (oooo did we hear about it over the holes to China), to prowl the drainage ditch, and turn the green house into a castle or mansion. Later still, in college, I lived with Grammie and Pa one semester and laid on my bed — that had been Aunt Sharon’s bed and Grandma Williams’ bed — reading The Federalist Papers, listening to fifteen-year-old rock-n-roll – Pink Floyd, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the rest; practicing my Spanish with them at breakfast; hopelessly trying to work chemistry formulas through tears at the dining room table; rehearsing choreographies in the den surrounded by Grammie’s coleus, geraniums, violets, and other assorted plant life – always colorful, always vibrant, always thriving under her gentle fussing.
Most nights that long summer and fall I helped wash dishes; I don’t remember cooking, but Grammie made boiled potatoes for me nearly every day because she knew I loved them with butter and a little salt. I sat on the kitchen counter and talked to Grammie while she made supper, like I had done when I was little. Sometimes I went grocery shopping with her. Sometimes I drove over to the fix-it shop for lunch after class. Even though I was struggling in myself that year, it was a good year in many ways.
Principally, it was good to participate in day-to-day life with my daddy’s Momma and Daddy. I absorbed a lot of lessons about love and hard work and perseverance from their nearly seventy years of experience. Some lessons I learned easier than others; some I’m still working on.
Whatever I didn’t learn right away, stayed in my toolbox of life skills for facing adulthood with a greater measure of confidence; I learned what it meant to be a life-long learner by listening at breakfast to their practice conversations in Spanish, the dictionary close to hand. They worked hard to get better: as people, as Christians, at their relationship, and to stay busy and to make time for study and family every day.
They both worked at Pa’s fix-it shop; they both still drove; they were both strong, and even though I thought they were “old” they didn’t seem “old” the way some of my friends’ grandparents did. There were no wheelchairs or canes in the house. Pa wore a hearing aid and false teeth. But Grammie did her own nails every week and her teeth were whole, complete, and her own and until about two years ago, her hearing was as sharp as ever. There was much for 19-year-old me to learn.
I’m still learning. The weight of this silver ring, its oval aurora borealis dulled with time and use, reminds me how much. Grammie’s world is continually shrinking, from the big house and yard on Pecan Park Drive, to the small apartment where she and Pa lived with some assistance, to a tiny efficiency apartment with just one room after Pa died, and now to a single twin bed in a room with a closet, a nightstand with Pa’s green banker’s lamp, and a bathroom and a roommate. Meanwhile, my world and my work is still growing, and I still have room in my heart and in my body to grow in these ways, but Grammie’s legacy is heavy, and I feel sometimes that it may be more than I can carry, strong and broad as my shoulders are.
I need to get to a jeweler to have the stone in her ring — my ring — polished, so I can see the sunset there again, and be inspired to keep expanding while the motivation is easier to come by than it will be when my eyes and ears betray me and the world begins to shrink to the size of a piece of polished art glass.
Relaxed against the horizon
jagged with olympic-blue mountains,
flat and staggered like risers in the quire;
Above cloudless, powdered blue: infinite inhalation;
Held aloft on sapphire blue the rhythm of the boat’s
chattery lullaby, cradled us
soothing away breakfast, and transit, and lunch, and concrete.
I almost blinked.
orca blades rising and falling
smooth ebony backs
in arcs broad and narrow
three dancers with waves and foam,
currents and breath
I almost blinked.
black bubbles of stone
trembling and murmuring under sleek,
but careless, naps of lazing seals
Dazed by the crisp snap of salt on my face and in my ears
I wondered what they spoke of,
those beasts who saw us trapped in our boat.
Were we their day’s entertainment?
What do they wonder about us
passing by in regular shifts?
Do they know we are not all one?
Do they know we think they are the spectacle?
I yearned to be the whale next to the whale who was oldest:
feel her song cross my skin, know her stories.
I wanted to hear her voice endlessly
across the ocean and over the sands
back to where my desert mountains
line up, jagged against the horizon
like risers in the quire.
For the longest time, I disliked artichoke (among other “weird” looking vegetables and fruits). Artichoke looked entirely unapproachable. Artichoke looked scary, unknown and unknowable. Dislike is the absolutely easiest thing in the world. Dislike implies little to no emotional risk.
My thoughts will sound non sequitur, but trust me, as my grad school mentor (progenitor of bitch face) used to say, “Everything is to the point. Our job is to make the connections.” I should know: even when I was a sketchy teacher, I proved Nancy Walker right every single school year, and usually again during the miniscule weeks of summer break. I still do. Every year, I remember that I know for sure that our job is to make the connections.
I first gave artichoke a chance the summer of 1996 when Paulina, a dear teacher friend, gave me a book called She Taught Me to Eat Artichokes. (I think I finally know why, after a four week summer writing workshop she gave me that book – connections don’t always come instantly.) My mom was visiting that summer. My mom the gardener, the would-be vegetarian; my mom the writer and thinker and teacher. Momma and I were inspired to boil up artichoke and make hollandaise dipping sauce thanks to Paulina. Thanks to Momma, I learned about the “choke”, and the nutty sweetness of the heart.
To get to that tender nutty sweetness, the raw, fresh artichoke has to be boiled, steamed or baked a long time. A long time. An hour. Sometimes more. And like the efforts of a teacher who has watched over raw, fresh students, the cook asks and waits, offers and waits, and even after she asks and asks again in a rolling boil the work is still not done.
I waited, and watched, and offered, and asked, and “boiled” this senior class all fall semester. There was a part of me that began to think finding their hearts was too hard, and maybe I should just dislike them and move on with my life. But early in the spring, as I kept watching and offering and waiting and asking – I saw unexpected bubbles of interest here and there linking the struggles of the wife who lamented to the conflict between vengeance and survival in Hamlet; recognition of themselves and their culture in the frustration of Winston and Julia as they sought freedom. Among these bubbles of interest and hints of tenderness the purple heart beneath the choke began to appear.
The artichoke metaphor came to me in the blinding, breathless five days in which I read and evaluated ninety-four 10-page essays (sometimes more, sometimes less). But the metaphor was incomplete until the following week when I sat for three straight class days in the brand new auditorium listening to my students tell each other and their teachers what they know for sure, right now, this moment – about themselves, about excellence, about the world at large.
Unlike my students, when the talks got a little dull or repetitive, I couldn’t distract myself with games or social media on my phone since I was evaluating the nuance and structure of argument and general effectiveness of the talks. I had to pay attention to the peeling away of each teardrop-shaped leaf of experience with my complete self, my whole brain and intellect, while my students reached into themselves and exposed the tricky, hair like choke above their hearts.
At times, during the talks, I wanted to curl up on the floor under my chair and disappear as students sheared away all illusion of youthful innocence. Despite all the watching and waiting, I had glossed over important details about the needs of astronauts, the bent backs of dancers, the shadows of introverts, the power of WORDS, the losses and losses and losses and near misses. In those three days I could see how my students held each other together both intentionally and by accident through the traumas and victories of their lives and the lives of others. Being a grown-up had dulled my sense of observation and turned me into nearly pure choke. On the final day of the talks I was both shaken and renewed. My students had revealed the heart hidden beneath the protective choke, and allowed me to find the nutty sweetness the choke protects.
That was three weeks ago. Now those students are gone and they will never be that senior class in those particular groupings ever again. And they are a nutty sweet memory with a lingering burn on my tongue and in my throat. I will remember each leaf – the beast, the giant weeping Pooh bear, the surgical steel-coated heart, the twin, the son, the daughter, the dancer, the actor, the comedian, the philosopher, the coder, the triathlete, the scholar, the loafer, the lover, the friend, the artist, the broken-hearted and the whole, the insomniac, the gamer, the anxious, and the complete orange – as if I had scraped away the choke protecting them with a spoon and let the pure heart beneath meld into my own experience.
When the artichoke is gone, it always seems too soon. As if I could have savored these hearts so much more, appreciated more, loved more. The wish for more leaves me with an ache, a yearning. Yes, dislike would have been easier, less complicated. But the heart is totally worth the effort.
if Night slips by
and you don’t notice
the verdigris left
on the back of your
smooth cotton shirt
where you’ve been leaning
against old cemetery gates
waiting in vain with Vladimir
don’t ask me
where time went
or how the stains got there
flight of time,
and Yeats knew
the beauties and dangers of modernity
but none could know
my steadfast heart.
Daedelus, father of Icarus,
borrowed by Joyce,
flew free of the isle
while his son failed.
Cemetery gates don’t call me,
I’m wanted everywhere I go,
except by you
my parallel self.
So, you go;
Believe yourself unwanted,
my raven-haired Icarus.
I’ll fly alone,
low, along the line of cerros —
my heart will carry you
next to the cool flesh
of my soul.
I trust you will wake
from dream tracings
of my fingers on the
on the back of your shirt
where you’ve been leaning
against cold cemetery gates
waiting in vain, when I’ve always been
right here resting into the warm
skin of this Tree, wanting you,
even though you don’t.