My First Ham

My first ham felt like…well, like felt. A ham purse maybe one from the hide of a sweater from Goodwill in pink with three circles I cut from the sleeves, ribbing and all. My vegan’s rebellion. One kill exchanged for another– the blood, sweat, and tears kind. A side pocket from two sweater slices, a third on the back, I pound white into pink, adding scraps of burnt sienna from a daddy vest, some brown sugar velvet ribbon goes round and round — a fourteen foot memory that hardly cleared the door, scraped the ceiling, piles of gold beads sewn in, jute braid marrow, loops and a brass chain, ham ready at my wrist.Image

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Coin Toss

Teen announcer calls out, Final swim event. Coin toss, he says. All children who are seven or older please go to the shallow end of the pool.

The kiddie pool spills nakedness.  Kids who are not yet seven fall over three-year-olds.  Childhood shakes off itself.  The big pool fills with sharp shooters.  Wall Street.  We are far behind, not sure what a coin toss really is.  Stand on the margins.  Main Street.

Announcer says, participants, please sit on the edge of the pool, legs over the side, no false starts, no accidentally falling in, no using swim caps as baggies.  Or else.  You’re out.  

We are game.  At the bottom of the pool a treasure chest glitters silver and copper.

Don’t go in yet, I tell my son S. 

Sit down S., a lifeguard who knows him calls.

Now?  Should I jump in now?  My four-year-old son calls back to her.

Not yet, wait for the horn to sound, I tell him.

Guards, get in the pool, the announcer says, every lane needs a guard, someone on deck.  Kids, I want you to swim away from the other kids, no pushing anyone down.

A blare and burst of koi.  Tan, fair, brown kid fish go over the falls.  A simultaneous slingshot release twists into the shallow end of the water.

I yell to the guard.  Is he holding that girl down in the pool?  Guard, can you get him off of her?  She’s been down there a while. 

My tender son is focused on one thing I think he knows nothing about.  A talk we have yet to have. 

He knows enough.  That a penny lays under his foot.

They’re okay, guard says.  Kids are good.  The guard’s eyes never leave the lane.

Five minutes of life or death palm sweat on deck for what?  For clinking piles of change? 

No.  A penny.  Six dives become seven.  I count eight.

One happy man child payday penny later, my son’s hand held high, he says,  Is it over? 

Yes, I say. Let’s get out.

Here, Mom, my son says, giving me his coin.  This is for you.

I open my hand to the flash of a Lincoln.  My son and I, we are still Main Street. (c) M K Smyth 2012

Judge Not

So far things are going fair at today’s church fair.  Saturday’s October Fall Fest Fair I mean.

By eleven fifty I paint two butterflies, two ladybugs, a few ghosts while I nurse my coffee, a big invisible sign over my head reads:  ‘Enter At Your Own Risk.’

A toddler waddles over, asks for only knives and skeleton tattoos.  I comply.  Hope kids are not too particular with my attempts with stub crayon details.  Hate painting their superfine skin.  Ask them not to wiggle so much.  From one Botticelli I take four tickets for a greased cherry and purple flower.

Another comes in, switches me up.  Just the hair, she says.  Hot pink.

Okay, okay, I can do this, I tell myself.  Suit up, put a paper towel over her eyes.  A glow cloud sprays in her direction.  Hangs over the both of us.  Weather conditions prevail.  It goes everywhere.  Splatters mostly on the chair where she sits, drips across her thin trash bag apron.

How much are we both breathing of this quality air?

Still I cannot get her hair to turn vivid pink.  More a fade of sheer.  I keep spraying until I get a splotch over her forehead.  A widower’s ‘dot,’ fuchsia.  Hand the kid the mirror.  She thanks me sweetly, hands me her four tickets.

Keep the tickets, I say, feeling a twinge, I’m just tuning up.

Ten minutes later, shift over, booth manager arrives from her son’s soccer game to take charge.  Thanks me profusely for doing nothing.  Your welcome, I say.  Hand her my clean apron. Watch the booth from afar for the rest of the day.  See the boss go to work.  Spread her flat bristle tip tools of the church carnival trade across the table.  Plastic gloves, baby wipes, alcohol, make-up assorteds, face paint, pirate press on tattoos – large, small – roses, ribbons, candy designs, photocopy examples for make-up counter consults.

Then, she takes out her line of hair products.

Super gooey epoxy stuff from the black depths in her purse.  Comic color neon hairsprays, hair waxes, that will take weeks to wash from baby hair.  Ones teachers will write notes home over all week.

‘Maestra Capelli.’  Spaghetti hair meets its match.  A hair contortionist.

Hair that should not stand up, goes ridge pole in her hands.

In an hour flat, the church parking lot fills with rainbow punks, flare freaks, Goths.  Lines wrap the Gathering Tree from where I sit to watch the scene where I take notes with my colleagues, other off-duty types in the ‘volunteer breakroom,’ a place where we parents do double duty, where everyone’s a winner, sales always brisk.  We sit back and peel yet more tickets for our kids, greenback answers to young and old.

Do our prayers.  Where all is forgiven.

‘Done,’ or not, we are unjudged in the pop-up chapel for the fallen away.  The Beer Tent. (c) MK Smyth 2012

Something to Confess

I have something to confess.  In this economy, I went shopping.

Taking the four-fold from the inside pocket of my wallet, I slid a Franklin note across the store’s mirrored sales case.  The difference in tax I paid with plastic.

My exiled AMEX I took back into the light.

The money in hand belonged to my primary investor.  My three-year-old.  In a curved path from his Christmas stocking to my wallet, the money from grandma and grandpa destined for the bank, took a switchback in January.  Voting in absentia he made me a loan.  The absent baby bought his mother a gift.  Not just any gift, mind you, ‘Jo Malone.’  Orange Blossom Parfum, a nosegay drift of youth I’d have for years.  My penniless years.

I could not take one news report more, or, even my own fever pitch whining, the handwringing about the blasted economy’s ‘un-recovery’ recovery.  On impulse, using my dingy tees as excuse to get out the door, I checked my watch and hit the freeway.  Nordstrom’s.  A couple of hours there before car pool strummed would return me energized as my imagined bad girl.  A ‘who cares anyway I deserve it’ wonder girl with a sometime snarky attitude, who vies with ‘well, at least I look good.’  Besides, I told my inner ‘Snarkster,’ except for the one white tee, I only wanted to touch the nice clothes.

Getting to the store, circling the groomed lot – I saw a good sign.  A spot near valet parking had just opened up.  Taking it as a nod from the universe, I parked my car, grabbed my vintage bag, and stepped up the pace.  Inside the name brand garden sanctuary, I took an escalator, up.  The shoes, I passed as too easy, a no-way torment.  Leave them for another day, I thought.  The second floor I could justify, if vaguely.

It did not take long.  There, a stacked table of silvered faux croc skinny jeans called me over for a fast consult.  I could no longer see the tees for the forest swamp of teeth in front of me.  Caving in, I picked up a pair of sprayed on lizard-look slacks, thinking, ‘oh, what would it hurt, I’ll just try them on for a laugh.’

Before I could toss the catch back in a recant, a clothing whisperer stepped in and offered to ‘start a room for me.’ A critical moment, this, I knew the language.  However, I stopped and deferred, said something from my overthumbed ‘today’s modern zombie shopper rote text’ about not wanting to spend much.  Nodding, she said, “I get you.  Right this way.”

A long time between ‘gets’ and my actually getting something besides groceries and gas, so retail weakened had I become in the new economy, I did not resist.  Lingering, no doubt I sent desperado pheromones her way.  Still, I told myself it was research.  I wouldn’t actually ‘buy’ anything.  I’d be strong.  Failing that, it would help the economy.  My congratulations would be a tight fit, a mixed one, in the mail my bill.  I would not think of that for now.

Nubile women like Kim, my sales associate, are on a mission.  Empowered to help the battered, meek – the un-wary — they take you by the hand, putting a bottle of chilled water in it, thread you machete style through land mines of violence – dressing, resistance.   My girl was no different.  She took me under her wing, to her ‘shop’ within a shop, to the ‘Young and Still Peppy,’ then over to ‘Vince’s’” place.  The next hot young thing of ‘in,’ she said.  “Vince’s tees?”  “Who’s I said?”  “Wang? James Perse?  His slogan, ‘tees for the bootcut red dirt girl.’”

From public to private arenas, I trailed my expert friend.

At a hidden panel we stopped, she knocked twice.  A secret door to a room with other doors, other rooms opened.  All rooms with soft focus up-lighting, angles mirrored in multiple locations, upholstered chairs, yonder pedestal for the Alterations lady –- call buttons, private registers -– art — and a gentle beat.

Waiting between try-ons for Kim, I surveyed from the doorway to the public zone.  The world had changed.  Department stores had become boutique hotels with live bands and follow-up thank yous on Crane stationary and secondary ‘e-notes,’ “Thought of you when I saw this,” they would read.  I would anticipate them later.

Today, long flowing calico prairie dresses, halter-tops and handkerchief hems hung everywhere.   Exposes of zippers cut into curly lamb, ruched leather in the ‘Prelude to Fall’ department.  Animals who had ‘traded’ freedom for security.  We would know exactly where they would be for posterity –- skinned.  On someone else’s back.  I held my breath.

I thought of Kim.  She, like me, did not mind spending my child’s inheritance.  “A good baby would want his mom to smell good, wouldn’t he?  He’s a good baby isn’t he?  He’d want his Mom to be happy, right?”  Of course, I nodded.  Spirit lifted, I skipped through my trust issues with new people and bonded with Kim.  In my tiny upholstered room, the land of Tees came to me.

Tees, jeans and skirts, arms loaded, my sales help, Kim returned,  “That one shows your cleavage, you definitely should get it.  Our most popular style, could have sold hundreds of them,” she said.  “Anything with any color?”  I asked.  She said, “Oh, that.” Then she said, “I’ll be back.”  Five minutes later, she was awash.  Blush, khaki, grey and sage.  “These,” pausing, “are the new color-neutrals.”

Never having had my colors ‘done,’ been an artist for 45 years, I felt I knew what a color was.   This was not the case with Kim.  Kim knew better.  Finger to her lips, she silenced my protests,  “mutes are in the forecast.”

I tried on more clothes, then, the share of shares she shared.  Poor thing, Kim.  She talked about how stressed-out she was with her new boyfriend.  Whom else did ‘shop girl’ have to turn to but to me?   No one.  Serendipity was speaking.  Until.  Seconds later, I saw her in action four doors down.   ‘My girl,’ doing a hair-flipping double dog she-dandy down the hall, was working the room.  A fitting room of oversized soundproof baffles I heard it all.  A maze of divides without zip codes, where each space held a part of Kim’s story.   Listening, I waited for her to pull a pair of what she described, hands on hips, eyes-skyward — as ‘my dream jeans,’ the snippets came from the beyond.  “That’s the one C..  Fabulous.  Jen, come over here and see what a fashion icon looks like.  That Missoni dress is so you.  Amazing. What tummy? Didn’t even notice it, it’s not bad at all.  Empire waists are very hip now.  And, that length is the latest.  Blogs say, if the Japanese are still wearing long dresses this Spring, word on the street says, it means the trend will continue through next year.”

Kim’s vision of me, I liked best.   That, and, she knew how to knock.  “Hi, me again.  It’s me, M.R..” (Down to my skivvies, my name a nickname between girlfriends, I could tell we were sealing a deal.)  Jumping to a new ‘friend’ tier when, buttoning the jeans, I told Kim, “I like your look.’  “Just a mermaid skirt.  There’s one just like mine in ‘Savvy.’  I’ll go grab it.  Steal my look.  No problema.”  (I wondered if I could manage on the job credibility in head tosses with the coordinated feathered headband she suggested and not knock myself out to the floor?)

Two pairs of Mother-jeans, four shirts and two dresses later, we called Annie from the old country of Alterations.  She pinched me here and there.  “Hems, regular?  Or, deluxe?” she said.  She and I, our love untapped.  I told her deluxe, then handed my AMEX over to Kim.  Like bacon to a dog.  Gone.

My dear Mr. President, senators, congressional members, chief of staff, store managers, just one word of advice.  Kim — call Kim, you can do no better.  Kim has the answers.

Ask not what your country can do for you; ask, what you can do for yourself, for your country.

Call Kim.  (c) M.K. Smyth 2012

My Buddha Dad

Dad rolled to a stop.  Around him?  His flank.  His family.  His, and mine.

At the short end of my sister’s dining table, with wheelchair brakes set by others, Dad let out his song, ‘Happy Birthday.’  His version of it anyway.  A rough tenor attempt with great ‘Oh Danny Boy’ conviction.

Vibrato, hard to figure notes dragged up from his basement gut,  a yelping pup grabbed by its tail squeezed out a tune that told of the past — pressurized past esophageals, caged lung halls, and memory banks — Dad’s and mine. 

The notes he coughed up to a sit fell off his wide, flapping mouth, a Tiki smile over-glazed with jolly Irish. 

Dad’s face, the kind of open-happy, unnatural in everyday people, something I had not witnessed from years spent shrinking back from him, afraid he might flip in an instant to an angry roar. 

Today, my eyes fixed on that mouth, that face.  I did not recognize it or the burst shudder of swansong that kept pouring.

Since Dad’s stroke six years ago, the song, a new development, a mush of wind-up articulations to iron out later like a damp shirt.  A sound I figured to be the sound of decay – of caved-ins times now set to music.  Stayed notes almost readable in the air waiting for a birth that would not unbreach itself.  

That moment of waiting, found time.

Time enough for me to check the stove clock against the time on my wrist, or the dark exposed rough hide under the peel of colored  on my best vacation shoes, or the wonder of split fingernails on my hands — a ‘white board’ of my important life — a calculus of my getting away from standing there, from waiting, hanging around, from being present any longer with Dad. 

Looking up, Dad still in the before breath of distilled slurs, sounds unmmatched with face, his senseless pendulous delight.  

A sound came.   Low moans, with something else.  Outward, inward, something puny that gatecrashed my stomach, my over too soon final goodbyes, my soft tries to make amends with him over the time.

Before that moment, when I told myself, ‘Yeah, sure,’ when I hung up my phone, ‘this ought to be good,’ thinking about the song my older sister touted as if a top-40 hit; the one my six siblings, near and far, now raced closer to hear, Dad’s grandkids, nieces and nephews, pulled up dining benches alongside, spinning in their seats to listen to hear.

Mom, so excited Dad was back. 

That infernal song Dad began to sing.  

Notes stirred from an away place, Dad alone in a room of near silent burgeoning wrested during practices in the corner room of his convalesent home between swishes of doctors, aides, nurses, and nuns. 

Until the day someone stopped, noticed, listened.  And Dad’s song became the family’s centerpiece, and became Dad’s song. 

Swell.

Separate of implied lyrics, and style, his ‘Happy Birthday’ had something else in it too.

Something beyond rote-ness.  The pummeled tune had heart.  All heart.  It still had a beat.

I did not know how to react.  What I hated about the man had fallen away.  I searched the rasps, for the thing I knew separated me from my Dad.

An absence.  A presence. 

In Dad, into each shushed face, that Dad’s song touched, a flood wash of church quiet.  Sad, robbed, I stood there unknowing, and somehow red-handed.

Before Dad’s stroke, everything Dad, a tall loud man told me in our tiny moments, carpool, quick college check exchanges — lectures, I actually let sink in — I could drop into a demitasse cup and not bring to midpoint fill.  I now had to reconsider.  

Damn it Dad.

Dad’s life as example lay beyond the chair and in it.  Beyond the puffy white arm he now extended to me.   His new working arm, still a ramrod.  His left arm, his ‘right’ spoke across the room.  ‘Sit, daughter, let’s hold hands.’ 

My ‘eek, not me, not now’ looks, in the dust.

With or without that song, Dad’s gesture, a message, a Turner painting for me, confused oil with water, fire, the purged perfection of persistence.   A message leaked to me, through my high-up fences and barbed thinking. 

Recasted, the feeble one, me, still fenced, and fencing, the old man, old ways.

On that day, when I stopped to listen, I was hardly in the room, trying to get out, on the threshold, I stood. 

Finally I chose, ‘in.’

Lifting the cup set before me, I sipped the forbidden tea. 

What struck me so late, despite the odds, the lag of life’s plow, was how through some cracked door, a spring of innateness still worked on Dad, on me. 

No.  Joyed forth on him, more slowly on me. 

A patience and grace had entered between. 

Far from Long Island, our native soil, Dad, and I, ‘stood’ on foreign land in L.A., as if on some other planet, a new land gained. 

Without so much of an utterance by keeping on with less, some wonder not drained yet from the world, a man showed up for his daughter.  And, bit by bit, maybe she.

The invisible playing on of the annoying human condition.

Oh, blessed annoyance.  I hate you and thank you.

Through Dad’s doleful ‘requests’ for handholding, singing ‘that song,’ it, now near-sacred (if still blasted and confounded too), a song, my older sister says Dad needs weekly singing lessons for now.  Dad’s hobby opera playing on.

That one song changed a man, and that Dad became my Dad. 

My Buddha Dad on wheels.

(c) M. K. Smyth 2012

Porgy Loves Bess

Porgy loves Bess. 

I mean, he really digs her despite her feet of clay. 

Feet she is washing at the water pump.  One that runs out with the receding tide of Bess’ good intentions of turning her life around, finally becoming an honest woman. 

Not five minutes into last night’s Broadway production at the Richard Rogers Theatre, Bess had given up on Bess. 

Powerless and hurt she is defeated again and back on drugs.

Yet sweet Porgy, reserves judgment.  He will not ‘mouth down on Bess,’ nor will he let others get their digs in.  Not even as Bess travels far afield on a path of self-annihiation, her dope loving ways, her tendencies to be swayed by character-free hanger-oners.  She who is tossed out by the whole town, Porgy calls still his own.  His one true Bess.

“A cripple can’t keep a woman,” the folk refrain to the injured Porgy, “Half a man’s a no good man.  Quit her, forget about trying, about her kind of woman.” 

Porgy, is all of us.  He sees Bess’ essence, sees through her damage.  And, we see through his.  ‘We alls gots damage,’ he intones. 

Strong enough for two, Porgy’s vision of Bess and himself is sure. 

Limping badly, without a map, he takes off to find his runaway lost dreamer, Bess, in the vast north.  Off to New York City with a dope fiend.  Porgy is undeterred, his only belongings, the clutch of a bandana sack in his hand, his heart as compass, on imperfect legs.  Life is hard. Giving up, not an option.

The curtain closes with this possibility.

What, however, if Part 2 were to open? 

See Bess now?  On a bare set.  NYC in July at dusk.  Shimmer on the building magnifies heat. 

Bess, in a faded slip, stands, hands empty, strung out near a clothesline between buildings, hung with a shred of underthings, dungarees, a stained calico dress. Hardly a stir on the rusted fire escape stage left. 

The lack of privacy, she hates.  She feels eyes everywhere.  The grubbed sweat on her body, her brow, the fresh start of forever doomed already, it will never wipe clean the dream she longs for, the Porgy she left.

Behind her, the dandy letch she came with rubs his palms together, waiting to prey her back into a corner.  His coaxing, “Bess, I know your type.”

Back to drugs, denial, a soul’s ruin.

Enter the limping Porgy.  New in town, he lumbers onto the city street.  Much castabout, yet a glow of glory joys about Porgy.  Directed to a rooming house across the way on the same street as Bess and her junkie partner, to a five story walk up, Porgy struggles up the stairs. 

Opening his sluggish window, he leans into the fire escape and surveys the new city land.

Across the way, a lock of eyes.  A look to cherrish.

Porgy’s spent face spies Bess’.  Then in a flash, a proof of love that needs few words, their eyes meet.  Bess, sees Porgy, he her, both, as if for the first time.  She sings her miracle valentine, “Porgy, I (really) is your woman now.”

(c) M. K. Smyth 2012

Mums the Word

Mom says, ‘’Ulbefine,’ or ‘Wheelbefinenowgit.’  Or variations on this idea. Places I hope to soon live.  Words uttered by Mom the minute I start to tug at her dress when I fret and cry.  Places I cannot find on the shrill green globe I take from the shelf off Daddy’s oak roll top desk.  The one Mommy calls an eyesore blizzard before she slams the tambor top with a thud.

My eight-year-old index finger runs over crease mountains Daddy calls Ghana and Poughkeepsie.  Where my aunts, Dad’s sisters live.  My hands and eyes travel in return traces, until my head tells me I must have the wrong map.  With another rattle spin, I pick the globe up and carry it into the kitchen.  My face full of water and ooze, I find Mommy at the sink, beg her to look at me.

“You’re going to be fine,” she says wiping her hands on her dress’ front as she moves to the table.

I am not so sure she is so sure.

“Show me where,”  I say pushing the globe into her, my fingers on the red gloss buttons of her dress.  Thick cucumber slices that run up and down the front of the yardstick print of her dress.

She sets the globe on the table, sits down, takes a ‘Superstiff’ hair pomade stick from her pocket and pulls my seven-year-old brother Andrew from the floor to stand between her knees.  Two short swipes later, a week’s worth of boy hair is pushed to the side of my brother’s head, his bangs stiff peaks above his freckled forehead. He does not mind his church hair today.

Mom has her good loafers on, the mahogany ones, a good luck cent in each penny spot.  Days on end I watch Mr. Lincoln go about his business with Mom between rooms winking honest copper at me.  I bide my time in waits between fills, when the shoe pair wait in Mom’s closet.  Like Mommy, Mr. Lincoln is a hard worker, one who does not gather dust.

He pays me no mind.

Day comes, Mr. Lincoln and his twin safe in my pocket, I look to the ceiling at a float question.  I will wait, then buy myself a piece of Bazooka Bubblegum from The Associated Grocers like the piece already in my skirt pocket bought for waving in front of my younger brothers or sister to keep their attention.  Gum is not for chewing.

Besides, I have a plan to go somewhere more important today.

I am going to ‘Befine.’

Mommy and me.  Together or alone.  Still in the kitchen with Mom. Between dry sniffs I tell her my plan.

“I am ready to be fine.  When will we go?  When will it be time?”

Confused, Mom says, “What?” She, squint looking at me.  “Church first young lady, that will be enough for today.”

She brushes past me into the living room to stand at the bottom of the stairs.  There, her frosted head tilts back, soft as powder cheeks, through pink lips razor words fly up the stairs.

“Bernadette Mary I called you down here once already.  Whatever it is you are doing stop this instant.  Come downstairs.  Do not make me come up there in person.”

I no longer think we will go anywhere.  ‘Ulbefine’ anyway, water wells my eyes, followed by a new round of moans.

My brothers and sisters on the ‘company’ sofa sit in a ‘finish line,’ next to the ‘almost finish line.’  Where they watch a stop-motion TV clay family, ‘Gumby’ solve putty problems.

My brothers, ready for church in Sears’ Permapress plaid shirts tucked into starched white shorts, my sisters, two in ‘Deb ‘n’ Heir’ blue seersucker skirts with crisp white Peter Pans, Sharon, too old, in a facsimile.

Keds all around.

 

(c) M K Smyth

Dearly Undeparted

Love, the Gwyneth Paltrow movie star way. 

Cool, short. Neat.  On a city bridge in the rain.  The bridge her grandfather built.  Her boyfriend redeems a critical moment.  He really is single and he can prove it. 

Prove love?  The real love I see is messier.  The no excuses kind.  The no “excuse me” kind.

In this same dress I have been here.  The same shoes, three years earlier.  In this same spot, I stood for an hour, to talk with a minister because there was no one else.  I could not excuse myself from talking to him.  From being nice.  From saying the nice things that kept coming to mind so there was no quiet between us.  Still thinking the mean. 

How do I get away from him, I remember thinking.  And now.  My mouth threw words up to me, conjecture about the person who just died.  Someone’s mother I did not know well.  Things people say at funerals about the dearly departed.  What people think between kind thoughts said.  Soft comma nods at intervals that send clues of a sort. 

What departed even means?  What undeparted means? 

Because clearly today, I am dearly undeparted.

A dearly undeparted, who still resides in her body, still harbors her voice in unvoiced ways. 

I watch as Msgr. Flemming’s right hand goes up over his sweated forehead, over fried wire brows beyond where I can see without standing on a box.  That his white floss hairs he flicks lay smooth on red skin tells me he is of a certain age.  His voice, a certain ethnicity.  His collar, stiff, black.  One inch precision, like a large Chicklet candy licked dull, flat, tasteless.  One I want to taste, to make sure.  Try on, to inspect.  To see if it has frays yet, is grey or yellow on its edges.  Still square after all of these years.  But I will not. 

Why Monsignor even talks to me at this reception for Rosemary, I do not know.  Before today, I never saw the man. I do not think I look important.  But try to talk in that direction.  For the old man I make a story about in my mind between smart thoughts said.

Her son is our friend. 

I did not know his mother.  Her son I only know so well.  My husband’s friend.  Good men both.  Now I almost know a third.  A monsignor, no less.  That, and that a good man’s mother has just died is enough for me today. 

Worn to a bend, Rosemary, when I met her the one time I did, survived by three boys and one girl.  Her trophies who do not cut to the chase either. 

Single, widowed, in her eighties.  She lived one town over in a house on a hill behind a municipal park.  Had lunch with friends I heard today.  Their ranks thinning, marked clearly on the refrigerator in her loose scribble hand.  Tells me Wednesdays were booked at noon into the foreseeable future at Katherine’s on Honolulu Av. where I imagine the ladies order a chocolate malt shake, melted cheese on wheat, tomato on the side.

Enough material for monsignor to conclude, recount, Rosemary was a good woman who did God’s work.  Took up her cross like all good women.

Left to read between lines, I take this to mean she did not runaway.

To Paris, to New York.  To Rome.  From the children that look like her, their whining and reticence, more his than hers.  Children she reminded to mind her words, that God sees everything, just like Santa and the teachers at school.  Do not step out of line, speak up in demanding ways. 

Nor do I think she uses the family’s rainy day money set in a jar on a shelf for selfish purposes.  Knowing her son the little I do.  This much is true, she was a good woman who did God’s work.  Took up her cross did not run away.  To Paris.  Or New York.  Did not learn French from the ruddy sweet man with one good sweater at Paris’ Sunday street market.  The man who squeezes tomatoes like his mother taught him, or the woman seller nearby, with a long pug face who shows her how to pinch lemons.  They are ready to use when they smell like the back of a French lover’s neck.  Someone she says with arching eyebrows maybe Rosemary will meet in the country?  Someone to share a baguette and Vespa with when she careens around the too slim roads.  Roads that take her to San Tropez or Monaco with soft shoulder edges, drop away sides, pencil lines roads scratched into a mountain.  No median to slosh into when the tanned stranger pulls alongside.  His coup revving in the oncoming lane as he asks for a light.  Two people alone who throw back their heads with glee, soundless laughs caught in the wind that go over the hill a shepherd hears.  The kind of laughs with teeth you can count.  The driver pushes an index finger into the air, indicates Rosemary should pull off the road at the lookout ahead. She smiles, shakes the waves in her hair, salutes him goodbye.  He gives her a look that says, “poor me,” in a little boy way that starts a new round of laughs, the kind with teeth you can count.

(c) M K Smyth 2012

Happy Dogs Read

My neighbor plants a flower she will not water in a garden pot just past her curb.  Sets the pot in the street next to a line of ball hedges — coffee bushes, I think. 

The flower she made herself.  This brings me to a U-turn.  A daisy flower made out of cut foam, card paper petal points stuck into that.   At the center a note reads:

“Please do not walk your dogs too close to this bush.  It is full of wasps.”

In my car I am almost crying at the compassion of my neighbor.  The love this woman has for animals.  Wonder about all the dogs who cannot read.  Live life going about their business as if in a fog.  Happy one minute.  Stung, limping the next. 

Too I wonder about dogs in a way I never thought about before.  Which dogs read?  Which ones put aside their egos, unafraid to ask for directions?  Which ones know it is okay to make U-turns?  Start again, different this time.

The next time I see my neighbor, I query her.  Try to thank her for lighting a candle for me.  She laughs, brushes me off.  Another nut neighbor in a neighborhood full of them.  I drive on. 

Have you read to your dog today?

(c) M. Smyth 2012

Strays

I did not mean to grow this way.  Old.  Grow at all in fact.  Wanted to spin in my upstairs room, in front of my mirror, my little girl dress flared out to here, the shine on my patented leather shoes still Easter white, clear of scuffs.  But did grow, or would, still will.

Take a stand.  Forty years later, well, fifty-two years to be exact.  Stop wanting so much.  Live off my essence, off my boiled down list of needs.  My irrevocables, my economy lesson.  Thank you Universe.  A suspicion that  that still fronted for my wants floating just behind that.  Always there is more to give.  A have charity chastise to my waistband, ‘there’s no give in these.”  I reach for another, choose again.

We all have our way, want our way now.  Still have not found ‘the’ way.  Not as in ‘The Way,’ my mother’s old New American Bible wobble fix way.

I am thinking about my friends, my enemies, my neighbors, my strangers, you, me.  A filmstrip of people who, fishing rod bait, were flung from parents too soon, our bodies into the world, had to make way, our way, not get eaten.

My grey hair is an inch and one-half long today.  I am into my elder place.  ‘Marilyn,’ beyond that.  Still, I wear makeup though.  My eyebrows bush in places.  They will not cooperate they say to me.  Fill ins forgotten, forever forward.  They want space.

For the space of the time it takes to make a lane change I look in the mirror at myself, am shocked to see that girl in there, a woman, looks back.  She is in there, me, her spaces not filled in either.  She is still alive.

Thank God for strays.

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