Big as Life, Wife as Bold


Every day, something bigger, 

this my thought, as my head and I lay on my pillow and I cast two lines between my hands, 

one for the what the hell pay it forward, do the next thing, just in case somebody’s listening, 

the other, for the ‘take one for the gipper,’

on the chin, family, I’m a giver life,

next guy gal up, my turn.  

An eek shadows between for later,

IDK why,

maybe a secret love,

for me, myself and I, for a life lived between what-fors,

for so much praying in in-breaths all these years,

for my having a fondness for mental athletics, for flashbacks, for remembering,

clouds clear, smoke clears, 

the screaming one will stop screaming,

an oasis minute just ahead in the ‘if-you-call-this-living’ living room,

where I remember how to spell,

consciousness is spelled with both big “C’s” and little “c’s,”

times I remember this too will pass,

someday when I will imagine missing the little “c” consciousnesses too, (this, in the moment middle of an “un,”)

life, too full of herself as big as she can get,

tomorrow she’ll want more,

times, she and I looking back pretty picturing ourselves, saying,

“Wasn’t life great then? See, life isn’t so hard after all?”  

Can you see me now mom?

Forward, backward, look no hands,

I’m a wisher from way back,

wishing for a lookie-see life,

no hands on the handlebars (where no one gets hurt),

wishing to hear once more, “See you later alligator,” kidding boomeranging ringtones as I pull away from the front lawn,

next day ready,

hands out, peacable,

a Walmart Greeter,

doing what big people, greeting life, moving on do,

greeting her big as life, wife as bold,

singing, see Mom, no hands.



Jesus Hikes



Jesus in his BVDs under a straw hat, under the falls yesterday at Eaton Canyon, under a stream of water cascading from up above, kicking back in the shallow pond.  You know the place.  Jesus doing the float looking at His navel, toes out front, Jesus with friends.  John the Baptist, I guess, and Mrs. John, a hippie cutie.   The twenty of us hikers at the end of the trail trying hard not to look at the three of them having beers on a late Monday afternoon in a three sided cave.  I didn’t know Jesus drank beer.  Wine, yes, but beer?  Imported, no less.  Mrs. John, in a pale yellow shirtdress, vintage, with rusted side zipper, the kind of cotton you can see through, the kind of cotton good for a summer day, the kind, it being almost that time of year, almost summer.  John having a smoke with the Mrs..  A stub cigarette passing between them, from John’s mouth, past his tunnel of long waist length hair, a thin wall smoking room, down to the filter, to her sweet unturned face.  I am looking around us, my five-year-old son on a giant boulder, see gangbangers have been here, maybe last night, to put their stamp overhead on the cliff behind us, claiming a rock for themselves.  Cholo granite I cannot read, what does it say?  Writing that some volunteers will need scaffolding to cover up with a pretend rock color, the color of make-up, the canyon full of color, full of fixes, full of reminders, of other visitors, other weekenders, their scatter. 

Plastic water bottles, Gatorade, doggie bags, baby diapers.  A trail of breadcrumbs to the finale.  Jesus, kicking back with friends, me thinking about stuff.  Not taking the moment in.  Thinking who’s supposed to clean up the canyon now.  Jesus.  I stifle the itch to reach, reach for the trash, I reach for my camera phone take a picture of Jesus and leave.

Afraid to Live, Afraid to Die

Afraid to live, afraid to die.

Afraid to live, afraid, afraid, afraid.

A too close fog horn sound fogging my ears,

a thunder drumming war drums drumming me,

get up, get out, go get getting, live, live, live,

begging, springing me to action, away from the itch to fear, gripping the news,

killing me mort, like a done for, afraid, a done for, in these rooms.

Yet, all of us now, still alive, a-murmur-mur-mur-murring,

a-purpurring, still alive, are still alive I say, still a-living.  But not like a-living living like still life fruit in a bowl, flowers spent already, all lived out.  A living it up kind of living, over here, over there, a life lived out to fullness, I’m just a-beginning everyday, halfway or not.  Not, not and not afraid to die.

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

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


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.


It is one of those mornings. 

Cool, warm at the same time.

I walk into church having been away for a spell.  Sunshine on my back.  The church dark, oak.  The Spanish kind.  Old French glass streaming color onto faces. Our hues — rose, amber viridian.  Borrowed spirits. 

Everyone looking good, good morning-ing everyone else across pews and aisles. 

The sight, sound, smell of the place makes me think how small and low a roux I let my life boil down to being away.  How okay life really is where it counts.  Might even make sense once in a while.  Life too short to hold a grudge I chide myself filing down the aisle. 

W. and T. say hello to me.  W. surprises me.  Stands.  Gives me a hug.  I thought she and I weren’t talking, that she’s still mad at me.  I dive in. Snatch a deep breath too.  Smell oil perfume on her neck.  Patchouli. 

It is not a yoga breath, therapy breath I take, but an ancient breath.  The kind breathed before by others. 

Leftover church air, I do not know where from. 

Lungs of Christ, bought over in the fold of someone’s robe.  Maybe Buddha’s, Tsao’s, Gandhi’s, Martin’s, elder Rachel’s, Sarah’s, Mary’s, W.’s, T.’s.

Borders be damned.

A time from before I was born.  Angel air, pre-breath whisper wished into my essence, into babies, the best and worst of us, our parents, forebears, mixed with our highest good, bid from Heaven.  Who I am meant to be, want to be at my journey’s end.

A good day to begin again.

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