Thursday, October 28, 2010
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.
On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay -
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.
I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I am distracted as I try to write. I try to concentrate - to put down my first thoughts, to burn through it, but for some reason I’m agitated – my mind is not clear. It is with this frame of mind that during one of my distracted street gazings I witness this scene: an elderly woman, partly crippled, laboring a walker down the sidewalk. She is heavy and her every shuffled step seems more painful than the last. She stops as she nears the coffee shop and bends down with arduous exertion to pick something up from the ground. I immediately assume she is reaching for some lost money. Instead it is a piece of discarded paper. She picks it up and with her shaky, flabby, non-muscled arm, stuffs the trash into the lap pocket of her large, white dress with pink and pastel green stripes. I watch curiously, wondering why she would to this, as she rises up with some difficulty to put both hands back on her walker. I realize then that she must use her pockets to contain loose items in order to maneuver her walker. She does this same trash-gathering act two more times on the walk right outside the window from where I’m observing, then turns herself and her walker around and shuffles about twenty feet to the community garbage can at the edge of the curb, pulls the trash items from her dress, deposits them into it and shambles her large aging body down the walk. I'm wondering how many people, with perfect ambulation,walked right past those items in and out of the busy coffee shop, down that walkway, and made no effort to pick up these scraps - including me. It is acts like this that help me see what life can be, and in a moment, it is.
Learning to observe is as important as learning to write.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
on a trip to puerto nuevo
we stopped as we always did
where the gringos ate lobster
and drank much beer
and bragged to their friends
that they’d been there
a place where somehow
we could feed our illusions
of living in the subtropics
on little or no money
in the slow motion culture
our frenzied american minds
leaving the car
i saw a girl
pouring a great deal
of cheap shampoo
directly on her head
her long black hair
lathered up in a clump
her sopping pink shift
clinging to a little girl’s body
on the verge of womanhood
conspicuous garden hose
lain on the ground
running cold water in a river
down the lawnless yard
then she scooped up suds
in great handfuls
and applied them to her dress
and her arms
ingeniously and efficiently
laundering her clothes and her body
the sudsy whiteness
with the brownness
of rounded plump face
and muddied feet
she stood in prosaic disregard
of the patrons’ comings and goings
at the busy tourista’s icon
it was laundry
and hair washing day
i felt akin to her
and gave her a name
dotie the brazen little Mexican girl
teaching me much
taking care of one’s needs
can spurn our vanities
if we will let it
in a moment
dotie rinses herself
in a flood from the hose
then stands stiff
like a scarecrow
wet and shivering
arms wide to help her drip and drain
with the look of
a deep chill
on her face
in the shadow of her home
on a late afternoon in august
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Ode to Tyler, Carl, Asher and Seth... and a girl named Johanna.
Tonight I was free-writing off a prompt from Natalie Goldberg's "Old Friend From Far Away",based on her writing method for memoirs. Probably because of the recent suicides in our country which have been precipitated by acts of hatred and humiliation, many of the people I've witnessed being treated this way during my life came back to me in a flood. I can remember seeing the agony in their faces, their tears and the reduction of human dignity at the hands of others' harassment right before my eyes.
The prompt was "Write about a memory from Junior High". It immediately brought to mind a girl I went to school with when I was in the 7th grade. I don't remember her real name but the name she was called when she was being taunted, either behind her back or to her face, was Johanna. I don't know where this name came from, but who knows how a junior high school aged kid with a mean-streaked mind comes up with stuff like that.
Johanna was not gay that I know of, but was quite poor. Every day she wore the same dingy, dirty dress - a white dress with little blue flowers all over it, so that it looked like a light blue dress. It was cut unfashionably 3-4 inches below her knees. She always wore the same scuffed up, low-heeled black shoes with no socks. Her ankles were always dirty - like she had sweated and dirt stuck to her sweaty ankles and dried a crusty brown. I remember seeing her show up at school like this in the morning as if she hadn't bathed the night before or even in the morning before school.
Johanna's hair was blonde, but oily and unwashed and hung to her shoulders. She actually had a mildly pretty face, but wore no makeup, which wasn't odd for the times. There were still mothers in those days who would not allow their daughters to wear makeup or rings or earrings until they were of a certain age, say 16 nor so.
Johanna had moved from some other town during the summer, none of us had ever seen her before then, so this alone drew attention to her. The core of the boys who began their taunting of her began as bullies often do - making comments behind her back and out of earshot of her, but attempting to gain support from their peers in the process. Then the little comments about her attire and her lack of cleanliness. Then they began shouting the name they'd chosen for her across the schoolyard when they'd see her.
I can remember noticing the change in her. At first she had no idea that they were mocking her, Johanna wasn't her name after all. I noticed her attempting to make friends with other girls, but her appearance made it so that none of them wanted to be known as a friend to someone like her. But the comments began to sink in with her, especially when they began to be made in the classroom - about her dirty feet and oily hair and the like. Then of course she began to feel the sting of objects being thrown at her - erasers torn from their pencils, paper clips and then spit wads. You could see the pain in her face as she'd sit there and take it, trying to pretend it wasn't happening.
There were times I'd look over at her and see her in tears, but she remained silent, knowing that showing emotion would only make it worse. Or perhaps she felt that if she went along with it in some way, she would eventually be accepted for being a good sport. After class she sometimes tried to spark up a friendly conversation with someone, only to be ignored or quickly moved away from. I used to see her walk slowly away with her head hung low and the saddest look of dejection on her face. She had a spot she'd go to at the farthest place on the compound, in order to stay as inconspicuous as possible. She would still get the fly-bys, when someone would sneak up to her, hiding behind one of the school modulars and throw some object at her, a crumpled up Coke cup or a bag of mustard and yell out from their hiding place "Johanna!". And she would sit there and cry, with no one to turn to and no place to go.
Then one day several boys in the class hurled dozens of spit-wads at her all at the same time about 20 minutes into English class as the teacher was illustrating something at the green board. She broke down completely and began to sob, then ran out of the classroom. I remember she teacher yelling at her to come back to her seat, unaware of the cruel event that had just occurred. I don't know what ever happened to her, I only hope that somewhere on this earth she found someone who was deserving of her love.
Many times in my life I've thought about her and others I've witnessed who'd been the brunt of such immature and painful cruelty. Every time I do, I feel shame for sitting idly by, not rushing to their rescue, mostly out of fear. The fear of being brought into the cruelty and becoming the one they turn their bitterness and ill-placed hatred on. This is a part of the bullying process - the threat of making others feel ostracized as well should they consider intervention in any way.
I think of this even more now with the recent rash of suicides occurring across our country as gay men and women are being traumatized for being merely the person they were born to be on this earth.
The immature hatred in our country has got to stop. But how?