Monthly Archives: May 2009

Leaving a Mark

SudokuMy daddy would have loved Sudoku. He would have disappeared into his back bedroom and spent hours making careful markings with the freshly sharpened #2 pencils pilfered from his job at the Naval Base or REA. He always described himself as a pencil pusher.

His Sudoku’s would have been painstakingly constructed – the squares filled with carefully formed numerals. He prided himself on his distinctive handwriting. I emulated it. I still form my “2’s” the way he did.

The only marks left to remember him now are those inscribed on his tombstone. Virginius Gorman Clarke.  Born July 19, 1923 – Died June 5, 1991. He left no writing behind. No one saved the endless crossword puzzles he completed. Or the ledgers he kept for his employers. He never wrote letters. He read. Usually trashy paperbacks, the Virginian Pilot and the Norfolk Ledger Dispatch.

He was marked with tattoos. One on each arm. They were beautiful. I remember the colors but my memory of the designs has been confused by all the tattoos I’ve seen. Was there really a MOTHER on one arm and a ROSE on the other or is that just a false memory?

 Is my memory of him false? He was just a shadow in a back room for most of my childhood. He retreated there to escape my mother’s temper just as I retreated to my tiny room pretending to do homework. I really scribbled poetry on the pages of my loose leaf notebook

A couple of my poems were printed in the school literary magazine – the YAWP. The teacher-advisor was disturbed by the dark nature of my writing. Especially the one I wrote from the point of view of a prisoner resigned to a life in a cell. Was I thinking about my father or myself?

“And so you take my world away and lock me in this cage.

Around me now it’s night not day.

My sun’s not gold, it’s beige.

A punishment I don’t deserve. A penance I don’t need.

Imprisoned now, you serve me malice with spoiled meat.

I will not pray. I will not kneel. Why should I stoop to lie?

Alone I’ll find true happiness.

The price I’ll pay is loneliness.”

I named the poem “Satori”.  An odd poem for a 15 year old. Odd or not, from the beginning I left my mark. Markings left behind to show that I lived. Sandcastles. Journals. Poems. Letters. Stories. Novels. Blogs. I leave breadcrumbs. I also fill Sudoku books with careful drawn numerals. I am, in many ways like my father. But I have no tattoos.

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Filed under Breadcrumbs, Nonfiction

Coffee, Cigarettes & Anonymity

….we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.  Does that include blogs?

12 and 12

I had only been in AA a few months. The topic was “what do you do instead of drinking?” I looked around me. Everyone at the table was smoking and drinking coffee from Styrofoam cups. I was the only one at the table not smoking, but I had the obligatory coffee cup in front of me. This was long before smoking was banned in most meetings.

As we went around the table I didn’t hear anyone confess that they had begun smoking and drinking coffee since coming into AA but, to me, it was obvious. Before the basket was passed at half time I had decided that not drinking would be easier if I started smoking. I spent the rest of the meeting trying to decide what brand I would smoke. It had to be elegant. I was an elegant drunk. I wanted a hard box instead of a soft pack. Maybe a brand that no one else smoked. Certainly not Marlboro. Everyone other person was smoking Marlboro. I’d need a lighter. I could be bothered with matches.

I didn’t hang around to talk after the meeting. I was anxious to get to Schele’s Market. I usually stopped there for ice cream on the way back to my apartment. That night I stopped for cigarettes. I spent too long examining the rows of cigarettes behind the cash register. The proprietor was growing impatient – even though I was his only customer. I finally opted for Players. I liked the box. I bought a lighter and a can of coffee.  After struggling a bit to open the box, I lit the first one on the way home. Didn’t inhale. Just puffed a little. Probably looked very awkward.

When I got home I smoked the second one in front of the bathroom mirror. I began feeling a little lightheaded. I smoked the third one the next morning with my coffee. I decided I was getting the hang of it and was ready to try it in public.

That night I went to the “Victory” meeting on McArthur Boulevard. I got my coffee and picked up an ash tray before taking a seat at the table. I waited until the preamble had been read before lighting up. I looked around to see if anyone noticed. They didn’t.

I smoked for three months before quitting. I chose January 23, 1984 (1-2-3-4) as my quit date. Like any good ex-smoker I immediately demanded that John quit smoking – and he did.

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Filed under Breadcrumbs, DC, Revelatory

Look Up

This is a portrait of Susan Delaney. She is an explorer, an observer, a thinker and a star gazer. I have never met her face to face, but I’ve met her on Twitter.  This is for @susandelaney

 

eyes

Feet firmly planted,  her eyes search the heavens delving into secrets long stowed out of sight.

Her eyes weave and dart with a life of their own as her feet follow a trail past wild blueberries that grow among glacial rocks.

Her eyes are open

to the Blue Snowball of Andromeda, to double stars and the faint galaxies in Pegasus

Her eyes are open

to a light that dimmed 3900 light years ago

She marks the season by the stars and when they fade she carves a constellation of memories into spare poems dense with meaning:

aphrodite luminous wonder unbridled kali gaia cosmos

“You hear me

do you listen?”

Her eyes are open.

 Her body remembers.

 

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Places I’ve Slept

 Assateague IslandI slept in my mother’s womb. I slept in King Daughter’s Hospital. On South Woodlawn Avenue. On Ivaloe Street when we visited Aunt Irma and later when we moved into the green-shingled house next door to her. She kept rabbits in her back yard and her son Billy Mackey took me for rides on his motorcycle. But I digress. I slept in DePaul Hospital when I had my tonsils out and in Norfolk General when I had my appendix out.  I slept on Jackson Street in South Norfolk in the back room of Aunt Gladys’ apartment over the bowling alley – across from the firehouse where her husband Johnny worked. I slept many nights in the little house on Pungo Creek. I could see the creek from my bedroom window. My bed was closest to the window.  My sister’s was closest to the door. When Daddy ran away from Pungo Creek, we followed him to Avon on the Outer Banks and then to Fairmont Park where he was living with Old Man Midget in a two story house. We stayed upstairs. Mama cleaned the house Midget. In exchange, he let us live there for free. We were living in that house when I got my period for the first time. That was the day I jumped off the front porch and a needle went through my foot. Mama couldn’t get the needle out so she took me to the emergency room on the bus. I got my period while I was sitting on the examination table. Again, I digress. I slept on Trice Terrace when we lived in Ingleside. That was a second floor apartment. I shared a room with my sister. The apartment came furnished. I slept in another second floor apartment on Azalea Gardens Road. Sounds prettier than it was and it wasn’t furnished. I slept on the nalgahyde couch in Aunt Gladys’ living room on Norcova Drive. That was the same couch I stretched out on to watch the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. I slept in my own bedroom on Sharp Street in the only house mama and daddy ever actually owned. They paid $5000 for the house. My bedroom was all white. I slept in Aunt Gladys’ house on Robert Street in Jupiter, Florida when I spent the summer with her. Later she moved to Flamingo Road and later to Paradise Point Road. I loved those summers in Florida. I slept in Tyler Dorm at Radford, In Chandler Dorm at William and Mary and later in the Phi Mu House. This is where it gets fuzzy. In no particular order, I slept at the Hotel Roanoke during the Young Democrat Convention, several apartments in Williamsburg with men I thought I loved at the time and on Lake Matoka (on a dare.) I slept in a trailer in Indiantown, the back of a truck at a rock festival, a field, a group house in Athens, Georgia and an apartment in Macon. I slept in Montrose Park, a church yard and a group house in Washington DC. I slept in a VW Van from DC to Denver. I slept in the Zodiac Coffee House. I slept in a TR3 waiting for the sun to come up in San Francisco. I slept in a commune in Embudo and a Hospital in Taos. I slept in motels in Biloxi and Perry on my way back to Aunt Gladys house. I slept in the Flagler Apartments in West Palm Beach before Steve and I rented an apartment over Mercedes Gomez’ garage on New York Avenue. I slept on Bruce Street in Arlandria when we moved to Virginia so Steve could stand trial for draft evasion. That’s where we were living when we got married. There was no honeymoon, but his dad bought us a pizza to celebrate. I slept in Arlington Towers with two husbands. That’s where Steve and I were living when he left me, and it is where I met my second husband who had a photo studio on the first floor. I slept on Benton Street in Glover Park until I left Mark and moved into a basement apartment on Q Street. That’s where I was sleeping when I met my third husband. We moved from the Q Street apartment to an apartment on 39thStreet in Glover Park and later to our own house in Holmes Run Acres in Virginia – where I still sleep when I am not sleeping in our other house on the Bay or our camper or our boat or in one of the places we travel – like the house on the Outer Banks or the Villa in Veneto.   Hilton Waikoloa on the Big Island, the little lodge on Molokai, Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, Conquistador in Puerto Rico. Granville Island, Taos, Seattle, Frankfurt, Rome, Sueno Azul in Costa Rica, Montreal, Ottawa, Venice, Vancouver Island, Capri, Lisbon, Sedona, Newport Beach, Big Sur, Sun Valley, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Rhinebeck, Key West, Saratoga Springs, New York City, Peterborough, Seville, Barcelona, Chicago, Lasquite Island, Minneapolis, Orlando, Toronto, Bimini, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Miami, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Atlanta, Myrtle Beach, Chattanooga , Bodega Bay– and on numerous planes, trains and automobiles traveling to all those places.

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Filed under Breadcrumbs, Nonfiction, Revelatory

When it is Dark Enough You Will See the Stars

Starry Night by Van GoghToday I awoke to the sound of a dog breathing in my ear and a toilet flushing. The first words I heard were “are you up?” Those are the first words I hear each morning Monday through Friday. The second are always “here’s your coffee” as John places a cup within easy reach. Darcy puts her muzzle close to my nose and the smell of dog breath mingles with the aroma of hazelnut coffee. I still haven’t opened my eyes because as soon as I do the remnants of my dreams will scatter. Today I woke up with faint memories of dancing in a full skirt and tweezing one eyebrow. All the other images had gone where algebra went so I gave up and opened my eyes. 

John was next to me sipping his own coffee. “These sheets smell good” he said.

“We could be in a commercial for fabric softener” I replied. I do like to wake up to the smell of sheets washed with Snuggles fabric softener. I’d changed the sheets last night. They did smell terrific. “Do we have time for a hot tub this morning?”

He said we did so we took our coffee outside and shivered until we were submerged in the 104 degree water. We watched the sky turn pink and orange. We watched Arlo and Darcy chase each other around the yard, pausing occasionally to peer over the side of the tub – never too close to the edge. John was complaining about a presentation he’d made yesterday that wasn’t well received. “Turn your frown upside down.” I repeated the phrase with accompanying hand and facial gestures until he smiled. I can always make him smile. I am the optimist, the Pollyanna, the one who would look at a water hazard on a golf course and only see the cute ducks.

 The branches of the surrounding trees gestured against the brightening sky but I could still see a few stars. For some reason I thought of Van Gogh’s Starry Nights. Those huge cartoon stars in the blue-purple sky. Then I thought of the darkness that those beautiful paintings were born in. How we have to take our writing into the dark for a time before it is ready. Of course, some of my writing has been in the dark too long. So long it feels like it was written by someone else.

For no particular reason these lines are begging to be included in this meandering post. They are the words of Stanley Kunitz – one of my favorite poets.

 In a murderous time
   the heart breaks and breaks
      and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
   through dark and deeper dark
      and not to turn.

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Gum Balls

gum ball Gum Balls  The Fruit of the Sweet gum Tree.  Also known as “space bug”, “monkey ball”, “bommyknocker,” and “sticker ball”. It is a hard, dry, compound fruit 2.5-4 cm in diameter and composed of numerous (20-50) capsules. Each capsule has a pair of terminal spikes, and contains one to two small seeds.

I nap on a brown army blanket under the sweet gum tree and I am content.

I breathe in the smoke from Daddy’s Chesterfield cigarette and his Old Spice Cologne

I ignore the gum balls under the blanket.

I count the flowers in the linoleum on the kitchen floor.

I memorize my phone number and the pictures in my Little Golden Library Book.

I like the flowers best – the yellow ones that look like butter.

The flowers on the linoleum are red.

The television is always on as

The World Turns

If I open the cupboard under the sink will I still find your whiskey bottle there?

Does your ironing board still crowd the dining room where no one eats together?

Do you still have the ashtray I brought you from Luray Caverns?

Do you still catch your toe under our worn carpet and cuss at the dog?

Have you shot him yet?

Do you still write me every day in your mind?

Can I come home again?

Where rabbits hutch in Aunt Irma’s backyard.

Where Bill Mackey’s motor scooter dives down a hill that seemed steeper then.

Where you are still young and you tie a perfect bow in my sash and send me off starched and ironed to conquer the first grade.

Where the houses on both sides are filled with people who love me.

Where you stand on the front porch and holler “It’s Howdy Doody Time” and I run home to you.

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I’m Not Cut Out For…

scissorsI’m not cut out for cruise ships or cigar bars. I’m not cut out for parachuting, gardening, knitting or skin diving. I’m not cut out for Reality TV, Mad TV, or Fox TV. I’m not cut out for bikinis or bikini waxing or window washing. I’m not cut out for martinis, anchovies, capers, fish roe, lima beans or plain yogurt. I’m not cut out for Beltway traffic, night driving or miniature golf. I’m not cut out for sushi or pointy shoes. I’m not cut out for darning sox, picking crabs or clipping coupons. I’m not cut out for Motel 6, Ramada, Applebee’s or Wendy’s. I’m not cut out for blind dates, Filenes Basement or comedy clubs. I’m not cut out for flying standby or carpools. I’m not cut out for parakeets, pet pigs or scrapple. I’m not cut out for polygamy, group sex, playgroups or push-up bras. I’m not cut out for video poker, Tournament Bridge, the Christian Right, Compassionate Conservatism, scrapbooking, dog shows, fishing tournaments, burning the midnight oil, ironing, fine china, paper plates, eating at my desk, The Palm or raw shellfish. I’m not cut out for team building, team sports, team spirit, sports bars or fantasy football. I’m not cut out for flashy jewelry, fast cars, fasting, low-carb diets, low fat diets, low sugar diets or decaffeinated coffee. I’m not cut out for tofu burgers.  I’m not cut out for the desert. I’m not cut out for holistic pedicures, aura photography or past life regression.

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Filed under Breadcrumbs, Nonfiction

So Cold

orchidWhy did she fall in love with such a cold man?  His heart as frozen as Denver in February. His smile frosty. He stayed with her for the handiness of a warm body and to insure a witness to his genius because he was a genius. A great artist.  She stayed because he had ruined her and she thought no one else would have her. She knew no one would ever love her again if anyone ever had. She watched herself dry up. All her juices sucked out of her. She was parchment. She died a little each day. No one noticed. The years passed. Then he left. Suddenly. She was sure she would die completely then. He took everything. Even the orchids. The only truly living things in their ascetic sixth floor apartment.  No courts awarded him custody. He just took them like he took everything else he wanted – because he was so cold. He took their money – her money really because she was the one with the job.  But he would need it because he was still alive, creating, branching out like the Paphiopedilum, Cymbidium, Cattelya and Dendrobium they had raised together. He was so cold.  The words he scribbled on the note he left where the orchids had surprised her. On one side “Of course I loved you. I wouldn’t have married you if I didn’t.” On the other side “I’m gone and I’m not coming back.” Somehow she survived without him. Alcohol helped in the beginning. It warmed her. Brought her back to life. Then she found other men who said they loved her. Warmer men. Sweeter men. Today she detests orchids and color field painting but sometimes she googles him, just to see if he is still alive. They call him the “Orchid Man of Brooklyn” and his smile is still frosty.

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Learning to Drive

aunt gladys' chrysler

I didn’t learn to drive until Steve told me he was leaving me for another woman. We were living in West Palm Beach in a two room apartment over Mercedes Gomez’ garage. We slept on a mattress – no frame, no box spring, just a mattress. We were lying on that mattress when he told me he was leaving. Nothing between me and the floor but a thin mattress. Nothing between me and loneliness but Steve. And I didn’t even know how to drive. The next morning as soon as I got to work I called Aunt Gladys. “Aunt Gladys, Steve is leaving me and I don’t know how to drive. I’m almost twenty-four years old. My marriage is over. And I don’t even know how to drive.”  The next day she picked me up in her gold colored 1972 Chrysler and drove me to a remote part of Martin County where Paul had taught her to fire a gun. She put the car in park, got out and told me to scoot over behind the wheel. When she had settled herself in the passenger seat, fluffed her hair and checked her lipstick she took a deep breath. “Okay. Drive.” I drove. If she hadn’t injured anyone with Uncle Paul’s pistol then I probably couldn’t do much damage with a Chrysler. “Ten o’clock and two o’clock.” I realized she was telling me where my hands should rest on the steering wheel. This was before airbags. Hell, it was before seatbelts. “When you turn, turn like this.” She demonstrated the way the steering wheel should move through my hands. “Don’t cross one hand over the other when you turn.” I was getting the hang of it, but there were no other cars within five miles of us. Aunt Gladys helped me study for the written test. I only missed one question. (When do pedestrians have the right-of way?  The correct answer is all the time, not just when they are in the crosswalk like I said.) I passed the driving test in spite of the fact that I had learned to drive barefooted and had a really hard time driving with shoes on – still do – even in the winter.  And Steve didn’t leave me after all – not then at least. He waited until four years later and by then I didn’t love him anymore.

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Baring my Sole

I love going barefooted. When I was a kid the soles of my feet were so tough I could walk from our old Ford to the concession stand of the drive in theater without as much as a wince.

“Don’t those rocks hurt your feet, little girl?”

“No sir. I’m from North Carolina.”

I loved running barefooted up and down the dirt road in front of my house, stomping on the clumps left behind by the road scraper.

I kick my shoes off the minute I get home – immediately placing them out of reach of Arlo and Darcy. (I have no one but myself to blame if one of them chews up a shoe. How are they supposed to know the difference between a shoe and a doggy toy?)

I love pedicures. They don’t have to be expensive like the holistic pedicure with crystals that I had in Sedona. The $25 pedicures at Xtremeties are just fine. I love having my size 11 feet scrubbed, exfoliated, massaged and painted by Mimi, Sarah and Linda. Those aren’t their real names. The owner of the Salon gives them American names. The only English they speak is “make shorter?” and “too hot?” but that’s fine as it eliminates any need for conversation. I can just sit back in my massaging chair, read my Kindle and enjoy my pedicure.

I was raised a Baptist. I loved the foot washing ceremony. My Aunt Irene taught me how to do it. Carefully moving the basin in place, tying the white dish towel around her waist, sloshing the water over my feet.

“You’re not actually washing the feet, honey. It’s just a symbol. Just dribble the water over the foot. Now you do it to me.”

I miss my Aunt Irene. I miss the intimacy of dribbling water over her veined feet and daubing them dry with a dish towel.

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Filed under Breadcrumbs, Nonfiction