Memories

Today the challenge is to share your earliest memory. I have a love-hate-and-on-and-off-again relationship with my memories. Some days certain years, days, or decades are Caribbean clear. Other days, I can barely remember what happened last year.

In fact, today when I was waiting at the vet with my new writing buddy (who is currently asleep at my feet), I thought about where I should keep his flea/tick preventative. Instead of picturing somewhere in my current dwelling, the flash of my grandmother’s green kitchen desk came to mind.

Memories are funny that way: coming unbidden. Curious and convoluted. I worked on this poem over the past two years, and I shared it at the May NewBoPoJam.

Yarns

I honestly can’t remember the summer sun in grandma’s backyard but I recall the swing brushing the gooseberry bushes even though I still don’t know the shape or tangy pop of the berries. Who knows what fragments of light crossed that upstairs Spanish painting terrifying me into bed until sunrise? I can’t remember the face but I know the rounded edge of hat and bag of candy for the girl he’d never see again.

I can’t remember the faces of the babas in line with us. Interlopers we stood in the snow eating their language while reading the maps of the past in their eyes. Stories blended together in our bewilderment at lives that we could not have endured and would leave in ten months. They’ve probably perished since, but not I.  Is that true?

I can’t remember the farm wall color but the smell of cattle and electric fences danced through the window and called for discovery: kittens in the barn – blind wet furies hooked into childhood’s hands and memory. A little fur on the cookies didn’t hurt and who wandered down to the one room school with me? Abandonment and age scarred the board and discarded books. A potbellied stove warmed spiders’ nests.

I can’t remember my aunt’s odd cat named a Japanese name and eating cheese from a toothpick at Christmastime.  Soft, elusive, peering from the almost upstairs – what of me remains with you?

I can’t remember the old farm where the woman lopped off the chicken’s head and it actually ran around before collapsing.  A heap of edible death near the marigolds. Perhaps we made stew or chicken pie? The bloodstain remained for weeks, not so the food.

I can’t remember all those beers and shots of laughter with friends, buying our way to a fake joy that should have never been attempted in the first place. What was I trying to prove the night I smoked that first cigarette and threw up?

I can’t remember the kneeling moment or the taste of the three tier cake, but sickly sweet recalls the blows and bruises and unfairness.  What does it say about me that I remember no kindness but all the dinners of hardship and contempt?  Scars hidden can be denied.

I can’t remember the Barbies and Monopolies and Go Fishes and Kick the Cans.  The twilight of summer that shone in your firefly eyes.  Licorice smiles and watermelon breath after supper, and did anyone like pigs as much as you? Too much pink escapes me now and I feel something gained despite loss.  Leaf houses turn snow forts that we seal by pouring hot water across the walls in frozen sticky red mittens.

I can’t remember the call of the creek but crystal feelings sparkled hope mixed with breeze and salted sunshine.  Something.  Someone.  Out there waiting to stumble across me and I waited for that embrace that never came, didn’t I?

I can’t remember the copulation and the birth is blurry.  Undefined then suddenly manifest.  The shapes of your cries still hang in the air as your paintings on the walls.  Joy anticipated had no disappointment, but shifted expectations speak loudly while childhoods now past whisper conspiracies of guilt and regret from the corners.  Is it possible to hold on and release?

I can’t remember the crafts and shared knowledge little to big.  Your made up language and the green smiling alligator that no one knew.  Robbing the bank on doubles.  How about chocolate eating in the living room.  Did Mom ever catch you?

I can’t remember the reasons, but I remember the stitches.  A fall on refrozen ice or too soft chin on a too hard floor or trying to fly from a desk chair? Indelible souvenirs of the invincible imagination – moments fleeing into small history.

I can’t remember becoming mom’s age.  I can’t remember mom becoming grandma’s age. The fields of time and hamburgers along this path extend beyond imagination. Keeping dreams and hand holds and goodnights while pushing the cry-stained blankets farther away creates comfort of a sort. Who knew that this was a ball of colored yarn tangled beyond recognition? Trying to sort it out will reveal hidden nettles and unspeakable softness.  Who snarled this so impossibly? I can’t remember.  Maybe it was me.

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This Really Does Matter

A few years ago – while living in the South – I became aware of a new holiday. I went to get a document signed for my son at the state-run immunization clinic. The clinic was closed on a Monday in late April. Later that day, when we didn’t get any mail, I asked what was going on. It was Confederate Memorial Day.

Tragic events over the past year from Ferguson to Texas to New York and beyond coupled with a road trip that included a series of civil rights stops reminded me of a poem that I wrote shortly after learning about Confederate Memorial Day. I invite you to think about it.

April 26

A boy mows the field next to the
Senior Center: offices locked.
Blue bars and stars decorate
signs out front.

Southern mists rise, pulling names
from graves - a haunting -
families foraged from left over
people who did not foresee faults.

Collards and black-eyed peas glance
at luck; chicken and dumplings
bridge only religion - not
race.

Those keys are kept 
in generational vaults - 
though quick acquaintance
can be had over pond seining - 
fish fries - or moonshine.

They won't look, but fingers crossed and
casseroles cover wounds and scars
built in eternity.

There is no end.

His grandfather is buried at Mr. Elam's 
feet - there's a rub that cannot
be dug up.

Recollected history means more
on this day than textbooks
and undiluted sweet tea memories
float up Freeman Harris Road.

This is more than we think it is.

tribute

i am the woman upstairs when company
comes doors are closed and sometimes
locked and i may be on one side
or the other with the yellow wallpaper
and i may creep around to have
a look in the parlor or i may lay down
with the baby while it naps —
a calming guzzle to its sleep
breath but i may also crouch
behind the swinging kitchen door
to frighten cook when she brings the
tea tray or perhaps that’s me —
i am supposed to bring the sandwiches
and petit fours and berries but
i have forgotten because i am no angel
and the children whimper in the
nursery as the trees’ waves
entrance me through the windy rain and
laudanum – either too much or too little —
doesn’t level and the doctor’s hushed
syllables float past and out the window while
i sit in my own room with rocks in
the pockets of my sweater as they
all wonder and glance and employ
the carefully constructed
nonacknowledgment of the flowers
i had to buy myself when it was
so difficult; no one can be properly
organized to do anything so i find
sipping tea from a jar in the kitchen
much easier than standing an outing
anywhere and in the dark
up in the cupola i can see
the water and ships and the
lighthouse cuts the pitch and i know
i know because i am the woman
upstairs.