A Letter To Jivey

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Dear Jivey,

It’s been three days since you returned to the Hudson river valley.  I’ve been moping since, but today I find the courage to write aloud. 

I love you and miss you both.  You brought me blessings and laughter and happiness and treasure I won’t forget and thank you.

This morning the cicadae are shirring in the pine trees. (Remember the little guy shuffling off his former coil by my front door?)   The temperature is cool and the humidity is gone: you seem to have taken it away with you. I wanted bathtubfulls of rain to fall sideways or maybe a thunderstorm to impress you while you were here, but all we got was drips, sweat, and static electricity high in the clouds. Tomorrow night the rain will come, courtesy of a hurricane remnant. I feel like I owe you wild weather, Ms. Vine, that we could stand outside and ride and shout out the wonderful chaos. And also Krispy Kremes.

I made a grocery store run this morning and everything I wanted was not there: bagels, rye bread, white queso sauce for a nacho treat. There are little teardrops of grease on my turquoise tablecloth, remnants of the New York pizza you brought, and everything feels out of joint. I fall into the writer’s recollection of how food joins us, humans, in happiness and grief. 

Monday I expected Ms. Vine to come in to the room where I write and felt sad when I remembered.  Last night I felt parts of you still in my room. It was a long night with little sleep. 

Horseshoe crabs come to the beach to molt their exoskeletons so they can grow into their new lives as their ancestors have done for a million years.  We collect their skins and wonder at these ancient arthropods, some intact, some in pieces, but we rarely see them as they continue their journey in the waters. You brought one molt in and prepared it with everything that I love about you. I’m glad the Universe put it in your path. Jivey, may your journeys be as successful, contingent on rising with the tide.

Love always,
Mom. 

Armloads of Anger

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It is two AM and no one is helping you move another armful of what appears to be sweaters down to the U-Haul truck. Glare at me all you want, baby, but you reap what you sow.

Sea green doors, bright yellow walls, white highlights … pagodas in a narrow courtyard lit by soft orange light. People come and go here where I live, revolving doors, no surprise living in a military community while others stay for a long time. I observe everyone (and myself) from the balcony or pagoda or water’s edge when it’s not too hot and not too cold ooh baby it’s just right. I observe kindnesses with each other, our plants, our dogs, our stray cats, and the not-so-kind things like when you let the door slam behind you that shakes my apartment. I’ve seen the mixed bag that is humanity, mostly for good, and I try not to dwell on the nuisances.

Since the first day I saw you I knew you as an angry woman. I’m no bubble of joy, so noticing your anger wasn’t hard. I marked you down as Recognized, Noted, Proceed Accordingly. Still, I waved or nodded or tried to make contact with you, as we all did, but you refused basic neighborliness and concern in general. Eyes forward, stomping ingress and egress, always. Every time I saw you walking from the parking lot to your apartment with your (husband?) all I could hear was you berating him and swearing terribly at him while he just looked forward and took it all. He disappeared and there were rumors. All I know is that I don’t see him or the little french bulldogs anymore and your demeanor has not changed. There were many social gatherings here at the apartment and you did not partake but were always welcome. You remained aloof and angry every day of every year I’ve been in your orbit. Just seeing you has been stressful which is not your problem but mine.

This afternoon a U-Haul truck pulled up and I watched as they moved your furniture. I was surprised you let them move most of that in the bathtub-fulls of pouring rain and wind. Later I saw you and said, “Hi. Looks like you’re leaving us?” Question mark, trying to be nice. She fixed a laser-beam gaze on me and said, “YES. I AM,” as if I was the reason for her pain and need to leave. It was an unexpected reaction, it confounded me, and I’m writing it out here now: Hey girl, I’m not the reason for your pain and suffering. We gave you ample opportunity to relate but you kept your door closed. I’ve been watching you for hours move boxes and bags and armfuls of “stuff” and I wonder where did you put it all in these tiny apartments? I can feel your anger in every box you walk out to the truck — by yourself. Where are your family and friends to help you move? I did that when I was a teenager: “I’m going to pack all this MYSELF and I don’t need YOUR HELP and FUCK YOU VERY MUCH. I’m going to take armloads of all my stuff out to the truck all day and night without your help because I don’t need you!!” She saw me on the balcony and gave me that “Fuck you” look again, and I just can’t fathom why, we’ve only had three words between us. The landlord will need to repave the balcony from the venom she’s dripping behind.

I am typically grumpy and crabby but not always angry. At least I am approachable and I will laugh and smile with you. I recognize my demeanor and try to keep it tamped down so I can be socially acceptable in public while at home I fume and steam in the four corners of my room, alone. It works out pretty well. You, lady, are a steam train that cannot be stopped and no one wants to.

I should light a candle for your brokenness. I should let it be water off a seal’s back. I should ask the universe to show you a way to heal and ask it to help you let that shit go. It’s not hard, but all I got now is just, “Good luck wid dat, hating the world. That’s the stuff that gave me chest pains. Maybe someday you’ll figure out you reap what you sow.”

August, Just In Time.

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Late summer nights in Jersey the council of women would convene beneath the maple tree. Dinner dishes dried and put away, beach chairs snapped open, metal frames scraped to find level ground to sit upon, and after a while they did rest their bones. It was time for us kids to make ourselves scarce, the women were gonna talk. It was lightning bug time, so wandering off wasn’t so bad. And yet…

The women smoked, their cigarettes cherry red targets in the fallen night. When I crept closer to eavesdrop on mom and her sisters and maybe a cousin or two, because nothing could be cooler than whatever it was they were talking about, the chatter stopped. They swished ice in their tea glasses and waited for my boredom to lead me elsewhere or shooed me away, nothing here to see, ma’am, move along. There were no men here at the council, just me snooping and hanging out with my little brother. One woman’s voice frequently rose above the others, edgy, aggressive, often brought the laughter. I wondered who was wearing the admonishment tonight.
***
I padded down to the pagodas half hour before a cloudy sunset. No breathtaking palette here this time. The neighbors were chatting, seated level in their sandy beach chairs. A stray cicada came to inspect us, clearly wanting to bump into us but settled on singing its chainsaw song beneath the pagoda then flew away. One of us smoked. Two of us drank. I didn’t add much because I was feeling like a kid on a late summer night who should probably be off catching lightning bugs. It rained on us some though the sky was patchy, the water was surprising. None of us moved. I speak for the council when I say the little water was welcome.

No Angels Here, They’ve Passed On By.

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I put my gnawing back to bed at the start of the new day,
little pink clock ticking but it sounds so far away
Pearl moon watched high above my window,
uncaring witness to our struggles.
When my eyes finally closed and unconsciousness collected me
right around the witching hour
a small being crashed into my screen and clung there.
I woke and wondered at the odds of a bat finding my window.
My heart fluttered a little, dosed with the tiniest adrenaline
unlike the days when I was young and taut, full of fear
my heart would have battered my ribs,
but tonight I just didn’t seem to care.
Soon its tiny talons tried to find purchase on the air conditioner
scraping and slipping, and I hoped it couldn’t find its way in
and I wondered what I would do if it did
but I just didn’t seem to care that when a bat comes
crashing into your screen
that means a devil gets its wings.
Right about then an invisible cat ran across my bedroom
but I just didn’t seem to care.
I turned my back to stare at the floor hoping for sleep to return
caring less about what lurks past our windows
just a carcass twisted in sweaty sheets and a t-shirt
from the bar up the street that burned down.
“Far From Any Road” the bloodstained tune played on repeat in my head, back gnawing, moon a mute witness in the steaming parking lot.
I’d be grateful not to think or remember or dream.

To Whom It May Concern:

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I’ve been pacing for days trying to sort and decide what to say, if anything at all, about “The Letter” posted in the esteemed Harper’s magazine and the “Rebuttal” that made a little splash by the unwashed masses of social media. Does anyone care what these 153 suffering signatories think? Who asked their opinion on open debate, cancel culture, justice, and fear that their powerful voices will somehow be silenced, vanished from history? Frankly, I’m more interested in reading the responses of the unwashed masses who do not have a Harper’s or a platform of any kind to share their stories of being ignored, bullied, shut out, and surely underpaid for the fruits of their sweaty, wrung-out Word documents?

Chomsky, Rushdie, Atwood and…. Rowling? Who invited her to this “mighty” list of elites where she can shore up support for her (deeply unfortunate) views on transgenderism? In this very same paragraph I must examine my prickling view of The Letter against my bristling reaction to a group of male authors who yawned and called Ursula LeGuin overrated again. On one hand I defend Ursula and her right to shine with the lofty (mostly male) Sci-Fi / Fantasy writers of our time, while the other hides my snickering at JK Rowling’s fear of being cancelled. Both women endured their lumps in the writing “community” for their perceived lack of talent and their personal views, and here I am committing the same sin. In this paragraph I must re-examine my views on true freedom of speech. I must learn how to keep writing while remembering to use my Super Girl Powers for good, not evil, to keep speaking out for inequality no matter where it is found, especially when I find it in my own pages.

My thoughts are ungelled, imperfect, unready to share and certainly without authority. They are an open letter to no one in particular, written in smeared ink, carried away on the back of a rogue dolphin. (He reminds me to write about cultural appropriation in fiction next time, knowing I have a mind full of that and plenty of space to share my unsought, frightfully overrated opinions.)

Morning, July.

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The day is long when I rise at 4 in the morning, before first light. I wake up surprised that I woke, I must have made it through the night.

I pace from window to window watching the light evolve and paint the sky,
the trees, the yellow face, now bright, of these concrete walls.
Swallows will barnstorm us soon. Tony is making homes for honey bees.
The weatherman says it’s gonna be 105 degrees and I worry about folks
in the heat without access to gatorade, a/c, ice, shade and rest. (and love.)

I am open to the idea of being patient today.
Patience feels like watching my dresses dry on the curtain rod in the bathroom, and when I do it right patience smells like a green tank top
left out in the sun to dry, softly touching me.

Will another storm awaken me tonight?

“A Small Needful Fact

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Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.”

—- Ross Gay

Unauthorized People

the road not taken has a chain link fence across that says
no trespassing
this means you
the ones who don’t pay me rent,
who don’t know the code.
i am the toll keeper,
the one that keeps you on the sidewalk
where you belong, outta my parking space
my breathing place
heathens in my empire
barbarians at the gate —
this sunshine is mine, so’s the water
and the cushy sand where our children play
but not your children because you don’t pay
rent around here

The Virus Is Someone Else’s Problem, and Racism Doesn’t Exist

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The late, late 80s was a time when I was boy crazy and music crazy and doing whatever I could to buttress myself of my family life. The best of times was Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Whitesnake at the Orange County Speedway. The worst of times, going home after the shows. In between was trying to figure out a life post-high school, anchored to my dysfunctional family who “needed” me to save them. I remember Tiananmen square and the Challenger tragedy and grieving. I remember the concert in Germany, a host of galactic stars performing The Wall to commemorate the wall coming down and rejoicing for democracy.

I remember hearing about HIV/AIDS and feeling bad about it and a measure of concern but it didn’t really touch me. It was a problem that needed to be solved and it was sad, but I was too busy thinking about dating and my family and basically, whatever. One afternoon I was joined by a male crush down at the river. He said, “So hey your boy died.” I was like, “What?” He said, “Freddy Mercury.” It felt like a punch to the gut. What the hell? How could this be? And how could he be so callous? Let it be known we weren’t close after that, and it was the first time I felt like an epidemic touched me, by one enth. You see, HIV/AIDS was something I heard about and felt bad about in the most fleeting way. Sounded awful, this is a problem, but I didn’t hear or feel a call to arms to help in any way. This wasn’t an “all of us” problem, it was “one of those” problems, that I hoped someone could figure out how to fix.

I recently watched an episode of “Last Week Tonight,” hosted by John Oliver. He was passionate as always for righteous causes. But as I listened to him advocate for the dilemma of covid-19 and how it affects those in jail and prison all I could think of is “Where was this passion and demand for those suffering HIV/AIDS?” It rather caved me in. A terrible guilt came over me, one that I can only shield myself from by saying “I was too young and too involved with other things to understand,” and that’s still not good enough. Well now I am not too young and too involved with other things to understand that unless we personally are affected by injustice of any kind we rarely do anything about it whether it’s a traffic stop, five-figure hospital bills, inability to pay bail for having some marijuana in your pocket. So too the stigma of contracting novel coronavirus-19. To understand the weak excuses and swatting away of “Well, it doesn’t effect everyone the same. Well, I don’t hang around in areas where I’ll catch it. Well, even if I get it I’m healthy and it’ll be ok. Well, I don’t need a mask because herd immunity will help us. Well, this is a vast left-wing conspiracy to dominate the presidential election”

NO.
NO.
NO.

Stop you all in your tracks before it’s too late and realize the world don’t revolve around you, baby. You’re healthy and employed and educated and prayerful so you’ll never catch a virus or spread one to someone who isn’t so lucky? Oh really. Or you’re not part of a group or a state that might be carriers so you’re not worried? WEAR YOUR FUCKING MASK in public. Do all you can in your power to slow down and stop this virus for the love of people you don’t even know in states you don’t care about. Support social distancing, handwashing, respecting others who do. Support local businesses, mask on, as they work through this pandemic. Love your children and partners as you are sheltered-at-home. Reach out for help when they’re driving you crazy. There are resources to help you during this time … as there were not when our fellow Americans were struggling with the physicality and the stigma of AIDS.

All these very same things can come along with Black Lives Matter. “Oh, I can’t support that, that’s a black thing.” “Oh, I can’t watch that movie, it’s a black thing.” Time and time and over and over again I hear us saying why we can’t be a part of something because it’s not something that has to do with ourselves. Ask our neighbor if they ever read “Between The World and Me,” and they’d probably be like, “I’m not into books, ” or “That’s a black thing, not for me.” I ONE HUNDRED PERCENT GUARANTEE IT. And THAT is why the virus is someone else’s problem, and racism doesn’t exist.

Birthday, Mom.

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Whose dumb idea was it to get in the car and drive to Jersey, huh?
Probably yours, glad I came along for the ride, though.
Good thing I did because if I hadn’t you’d still be standing there on the
turnpike weeping.
(As I have done several times.)

That was in the days when I loved you and wanted to be your rock
and your friend, a companion of sorts. Our road trip to Jersey
sheltered in the deep sheepskin seat covers of an ’81
Berlinetta Camaro, beautiful bronze, you remember?

We limped past road signs with names and numbers
we sat on the side of the road and counted the pieces of
amber glass, green glass, white glass, and loose cement
while we waited for the car to cool down.

I made it my job to make you laugh, you remember?
What the fuck is a Cheesequake and why is it a state park?!
Matawan. If that’s not a Native American word nothing is,
“bad riverbank” indeed, the name of our trip.

Well Chummer, we’re not standing on the side of the road anymore
wondering what to do next, phoneless, clueless, helpless.
I have Google, now, to solve all my problems, haven’t I?