Bunnyman, my 12 year old son, just loves school. His teacher starts talking and he mutes the video on his laptop, spreads a quilt on the kitchen floor, lays his head down, closes his eyes to catch up on sleep. His teacher continues teaching. It is a win-win-win because I sit nearby at the kitchen table drinking my morning coffee in the relative quiet taking notes for him thinking. I think about how to bring up his new school words and subject matter for later when he and I run errands and go to the grocery store and post office. Oh, look, I’ll say, to him when we stand in Produce, that lady looks like an archetypical mom buying an archetypical chicken. I wonder how many archetypical apples she needs for her two archetypical children if each child brings home four masked friends for a snack…(dicey work this math and me). Oh, Lord, Let there be a Lord. And if there is a Lord, Lord, speak to me in my love language and send me chocolates, a box of Kleenex and an empty UHaul with two strong masked men (of good humor) to help me clear my conscience for thinking ill of my rich neighbors with swimming pools that they’ve fixed with firehoses to soak their properties with the water (from their built-in sea water pools). Oh Lord, and please make me smarter. Make me not notice news so much and how these same my rich neighbors are so smart and parked large empty UHauls on our street to fill them with their house stuff in case there’s a fire evacuation order that comes down. Oh, Lord, I’ve done what I can, kept my kids safe (and extra calm) this week (extra credit please because we’ve even kind of gone to online school!). My Fortuny lamps in the living room will go the fastest. (Gold leaf on hand painted silk is like this). The oil paintings I painted over the last forty years will only feed a fire. The George Smith chairs and sofa in the old barn will be an amuse bouche for the fire (one for breakfast), my husband’s Spratling jug will be a silver cheesemelt. My young son’s teacher keeps on talking as he naps on, What’s the integer here? The teacher asks his class. I write the word integer down in my journal to work it into a conversation for later with my son and I will buy stamps at the post office. I’m stuck on the word integer now like how I’m stuck on all the extracurricular suffering these last months, kids in cages, BLM…hate worship, now come on! In the so-called richest country in the world? How does one measure riches, Lord? How can we pull together as a world? How to make people feel like they belong? Where is the deepest place, Lord? Is it our hearts? Maybe go ask Your father, God, Lord? Go ask Him/Her/They how we solve for basic decency and goodness? While your there, please ask Him how to solve for why?

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

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. 


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

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