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?


Was Love


Was love between us, a scent of danger, of linger, of orange and lemon, of salt and sand, of time dare not, of leave not please, of please come back, of one minute more, of one minute more, then gone.

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.



Used, Big

Mom and Dad believe in big.  God, family, houses.  In that order.   In big conversations Mom has with God.  By morning God takes his leave.  Before He does He leaves lists.  Chores, tests.  Lists God tucks into our house’s eaves, garage, shed, basement, backyard.  Crypt places where we prove our potential for heaven.  The reason we’re on God’s planet, not born in Africa, not Biafra babies, not yet called ‘Home.’  

“Work separates the wheat from the chafe,” Mom tells us. 

I wonder if the others in our house will be sorry come Judgment Day.  I, for one, am taking no chances.  I am determined to be 100% wheat. 

All I know by thirteen is not to utter two unholy words.“I’m bored.” Words of the fallen.  Those, God has extra business with.  He will keep them busy for years and God and Mom will talk some more.

“Not in my backyard,” Mom says hearing the phrase.  Mom doesn’t care who said it.  She says, “May 1st, go get your brothers.  Go and clean the pool.”  

“Not the pool,” I groan.

My brothers Pat, 16 and Andrew 12, myself, 13, the stricken elect, suffer most because we are slow, easy to catch. 

“Anything but the pool,” we beg.

Mom weighs the now against the later, flicks no-see-ums in the air.  Then she points, we scatter.  Mom heads upstairs with her New American Bible.  The good book with hip slant between denim covers.  An un unchartered republic we know as Mom, like the one God opens on Sundays on my lap.  Always a page to turn, re-psalm, for our one true Boss, Him.

Outside, we sigh at the winter wreck that is our pool.  The up close smell of baked twigs, leaves, sludge and sediment warming under death glow blueness, the tarp.  Pat lips the hose, a siphon starts.  He flings the hose over the fence, drags it down the drive as far as it will go.  Past three hundred years of European copper beech, over our yellow rutted lawn to where our brother Matthew, 8 drops pebbles into the gutter for a dam.

“Forget this mess,” someone on the deck yells, “Let’s come back tomorrow.”

Always a better day to begin a project. 

Next day, Saturday, it is chilly and overcast.   Someone drops the ladder over the side.  Pat orders us to get in.  Ten minutes in, the job ahead is too much miracle.  Around white pole legs, Comet tides surge mosquito larvae.  Pat pulls the ladder away. 

“Make it like new swabbies,” he sneers through clenched teeth. 

We call for Mom to come but our pitch must not be emergency enough.

“Wait until we get out of here.  You are going to die.” we call to him fumbling to climb over the pool walls.

We do not know yet we have seen into the future.  Put a curse on our brother.  That an irrevocable horror waits.   For twenty-one summers we treat him like one of us, an ignorant comrade, a fool kid, then Pat goes out like a light.  Another slime strikes him dead.  AIDS.  One, bleach cannot reach.  Through tears we console each other he was a good worker.  He’s the right hand man.  Not today.  Today is not that day.

To stay with the pool job, Andrew and I walk around the oval, Pat jumps in, we speed to a chop chase, and a whirlpool begins.  We spin, slide, and throw foulness at each other.  First water.  Then words.  Forever curses of winter puke lay on our skin.

“Heads up,” Andrew calls.  He hurls a bucket of slime.  Pat ducks.  Drenched I am pulled into the abyss.  All I can think of are the ads from the back of Marvel Comic Books.  Books in the attic under the boys’ beds.  Ads for ‘Live Sea Monsters’ and my body swimming in a feces petri.  All I want to do is die. 

“Get him not me,” I scream.

Pail by pail, we empty the bilge, until we get to the bottom.  There, we scoop with our bare hands.

Mom out, we go inside for long breaks, get lunches we cannot bring to school.  Lunches that smell bad look like bruised skin, lunches we love. Liverwurst on rye, cream cheese, jelly on white.  The one good tomato we eat. 

Andrew knows something Pat and I do not.  In life you must choose.  You cannot have it both ways, pick mustard or mayo.  Fire or water.  Andrew is a mayonnaise man.

Not me.  Not Pat.  We’ll never learn, we like fire and oil in our taste.  We pick the mustard mix it with mayo. 

We then go back to hell.

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

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

Moving Day

Closing Cottage, oil on panel, 26″x48″, by M K Smyth 2012 (c)

We roll away from the house in our new car.  Our uncle’s aqua ’66 Chevy station wagon.  From the flip rear seats our old world goes by.  Our new one still to come.  The car windows, our road TV.  We keep up with the moving van, packed with everything we own.  Everything we don’t know we care about most in the world now too small behind us.

The English copper beech tree we see for one last time.  A specimen tree where we discovered who’s best climber, told crybabies to go home, they were too little to climb, probably couldn’t get down.

Our house, a village Tudor Mom and Dad try to sell as a ‘package deal’ with the tree lot when we are 3000 miles away. Dad’s company buys from them.

Our fort unguarded.

No turning back when you don’t have money and a somebody who does plants a fast buck.  History is leveled.  Something strange now where something grand stood.  A tree whose whole measure is three cooperating children around — fingers stretched, palms flat, tippy tippy points touching.  A rare planet spot with river view leveled in slices to ordinary.  Chunks again

st the grain that lean for years against neighbors’ sheds for the hundred conversational coffee tables that don’t get built a mile around in every direction.


Something different in the old neighborhood.  With our parents too when we return to live across town near the Links.

Yet today we are on our way.  To California.  Amnesia settles, brightens our mood.  I will not have to share my bedroom with a sister, remember what happened in that room upstairs.  Go to a place where tiny white carnations with red edges are planted on hills, my house look just like my neighbors.  Where the first week, a movie is being filmed on our cul de sac, and a star asks for my autograph.

“Me?  I’m nobody, just the new kid,” I say. My hair curled this morning, my best dress on, Mom’s mascara on powder lids.  School uniform in my lunch bag.

(c) M.K. Smyth 2012

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