Poems & Essays

17 Jun

Dust and Water

Toddlers to Teens 4 Responses

Once, I ran headlong into the waves and let their salty sheets enfold my body, drench clothes and shoes newly purchased. I did not care, needed to feel the cold shock of being still alive. Despite the all too frequent procession down the aisles of my memory—where pews stood like soldiers guarding against desertion or revolt—towards those open-mouthed lilies, too sweetly smelling, singing dirges below the cross. There with forests of faces, tear-soaked and thirsty, staring back, I mustered every ounce of strength from every bit of muscle and marrow to speak. Neither height nor depth nor anything in all creation, I read, fighting to believe in truth beyond the dark and mournful shadows in that church.

Walking out into the light, we crossed ourselves with holy water, desperate to shake the dust, wash away ash that we were slowly becoming.

“Someone coming or going,” my Irish grandmother used to say about the dust piled below the bookcase, gathered in the corner behind the door. She who was accustomed to living with the smell of death clinging to moist air, buried beneath rocks beside the strangled garden where once sustenance grew. But even then just barely. She who buried her father a child, her mother too soon after. At the death of their friend my grandfather mused, “I wonder what he left,” while on the blaring television stocks drawled on as anemic lullabies beneath his haunted gaze. “Everything,” my grandma said. “He left everything.” Everything but dust.

Everything. Had you asked me what I lost when my brother died, I would have told you, “everything.” Not because he was but because everything about who I was had to change, bend, pound against solid earth until it was reformed–until the land slipped away and allowed a new flow of being and all the meaning we try to make of it. I can’t say how many times I went to call him before my mind crumbled in on itself, gave way like a slip too long lashed by a current it could no longer fight. The way that violent summer storm rerouted the brook behind my grandma’s house, leaving bare soft sediment shores once hidden below water, tree roots like torn arteries, reaching for soil.

As a child I tried to catch a portion of the brook in my hands, watched it seep slowly down my wrists, drip off my elbows into red-brown clay beneath my toes.

The clay I now spray with detergent and scrub like hell out of our children’s clothes. They who dig in dirt with fingers scraping for sacred and cry out Beauty! when they find it. A shiny rock, a bottle cap, a tiny yellow flower. They cannot help themselves, grab greedily when life is offered, ask a thousand times in winter to please run through the sprinkler, lick honey off the floor. Before the sun they wake with wonder in their eyes and marvel at how it follows us to the store, the park, and back again. “Is God dead?” they ask, echoing Nietzsche but in a voice so much more like the chirping of a bird when finally the buds begin to show.

“God cannot die,” I say as we walk beside the cracked concrete retaining wall, where a solitary dandelion stalk pushes its seed head skyward, waits for wind or rain to scatter life.

“Why no we see him?” Oh the thousand times I’ve bled this question through cuts that will not scab.

“At night our world spins and we cannot see the sun, but it’s still there and we know that in the morning it will rise,” I say. Every night, every single night, we wait for dawn. For the thousand flecks of light on frost or dew to signal day.

We wait. As through the night my heart contracts in rhythm with rounded flesh while raindrops count time in tiny sliding streams against the window. Then morning. And in the light the doctor says not enough has happened. So naked I entomb my tired body beneath the swirling water of the hospital tub, waiting as I weightless pray for light to once more breathe being. And in the night, while the world spins dark through shadow, she arrives with screaming, tearing passage, her tiny arms outstretched. Reaching, as first reflex, for life.

“Someone coming or going,” my grandmother used to say, she who laughed as way of being, tiny wrinkled body giving way to trembling, child-like giggles. In the end, consigned to sit in her living room with arthritis swollen knuckles resting on recliner arms, she’d keep watch over the thick marine fog waiting for it to roll back to reveal the sea.

Katie Straight is a writer and stay-at-home mom of three (twin 5yo boys and one 2yo girl) with a professional background in international education policy. She lives in Charlottesville, VA, with her husband and kids.

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17 Jun

Domestic Voices

Toddlers to Teens 2 Responses

This morning I tried to scrub lily pollen
Out of our rug for hours
While the voices told me I wasn’t enough
Would never be enough
Had missed my boat
Was too old to reinvent
Or find myself
Or reacquaint myselves
And the pollen just sunk deeper
Clinging to every yellow-tinged fiber
Of the rug that was our best
The one we keep in the room
Where all things have a place
An order
Reminding us of beauty’s possibility
Even as our lives spin in and out
On and off of the rug
With the big yellow stain
I cannot seem to get out
What should I have told those voices?
The ones so hopelessly sure of my
Fixed place in this world
The permanence of my lot
As the one who hoped for
But never did
Or tried but never made it
Past the four walls of
The room so controlled?
Should I have said
The lily did this
Or our boys
Giggling as they pulled each
Other by the old dog leash that tipped
The vase so fragile
Until it rolled with a thud to the ground
A silent second
Followed by sorrys
And please give me space to clean
And reorder
And make of this a sanctuary
Where I am safe again
In the absorbing, the drenching and dabbing
The fixing and reacting
While the voices croon softly
To keep me scrubbing

Katie Straight is a writer and stay-at-home mom of three (twin 5yo boys and one 2yo girl) with a professional background in international education policy. She lives in Charlottesville, VA, with her husband and kids.

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17 Jun

Postpartum

Babyhood 2 Responses

The thing about having a baby,
or tumbling through a dark hole night after night
not knowing which way is up or down,
feeling like you’ve lost your way
and definitely your mind,
with bile and breast milk stains on your shirt,
is that someday your baby will be fourteen.

She’ll help you paint your walls,
and dip the roller in the tray
without making a mess.
She’ll play her music and you’ll sing along to every song,
except the French ones,
and when you ask about the lyrics
she’ll translate for you.
“It’s about guitars and being free,” she’ll say,
pausing with the roller above her head,
“but it’s not as romantic in English as it is in French.”
And you’ll finish the room together wondering
what you’ll listen to after she leaves in a few short years.
Wondering how a nightmare turned into this.

And you’ll want to tell every women
with cracked nipples and crazed eyes:
Hold on.
It won’t always be this deep
or dark
or hard.

Wait for what’s ahead.
Wait for white walls and music.

 

 

 

 

 

Tricia Friesen Reed is a writer, storyteller and educator with international experience in community development. She facilitates creative arts retreats with Wonderscape Creative Arts Inc. and her writing has been published in The MidWest Review, Power for Living and Geez Magazine among others. Tricia lives in Saskatchewan, Canada and blogs at experimentingaswegrow.wordpress.com

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17 Jun

The Suffix to Giving Birth

Babyhood One Response

is a skeleton that bickers
as sand in every hinge of a house,
a bladder that whispers
in my underwear well before
I’ve opened the bathroom door,
abs like stale hoagie bread
sandwiching soggy tomatoes and slippery ham,
and a heart like a rocket
every time she toddles into the room.

 

 

 

Caroline Simpson is an Assistant Professor of English and ESL at Delaware State University. Her chapbook, Choose Your Own Adventures and Other Poems, was published by Finishing Line Press in October 2018.

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