Reading

It was a dark and stormy night when I decided I hated everything written by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen. I know that probably kicks me out of the league of women despite my gender qualifying me but the only thing a woman hates more than green peas is deception.

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It was a dark and stormy night when I decided I hated everything written by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen.  I know that probably kicks me out of the league of women despite my gender qualifying me but the only thing a woman hates more than green peas is deception.

I know as I scribble away in my garret room (garret because it’s true even in the 21st century, women suffer financially from divorce and I have two behind me, divorces not marriages), that the Bronte sisters and Miss Austen are probably mere pawns in the battle for my psyche.

I also realize that perhaps the Bronte sisters and Miss Austen would have had less infamous influence if Sigmund Freud had died in obscurity but he didn’t.  Actually, men don’t do they?

The veil split too late before my eyes that these women were writing fairy tales.  You have no idea my suffering.  The artist even bohemian atmosphere around me closing in, the impending July thunderstorm and my single paned window looking out on a back alley, opened wide for the storm to enter in.  I had stripped down to nothing, my skin absorbing the heat and humidity of summer, even prickling in the anticipation of cold wind, thunder riddled, coming my way.  Sense and Sensibility was open before me and the margins, where I had penned notes over the decades of reading the novel, consoled my loneliness.

Yes, Colonel Brandon, even though he wore flannel waistcoats (or something flannel) was a true knight and our young heroine would embrace his calmness, his intellect, his nonexistence?

His fiction?

Shit!

The storm had not hit, there was time and I knew to keep up my own self-induce façade I had to bring out the big guns.  Villette?  No, Jane Eyre.  Rochester must pave his road to hell and with single-minded passion. Would such a man really have brains enough to covet a mousy little governess over an accomplished coquette?

The storm hit with such a vengeance I jumped and the rain hit my clammy skin like so many needles and the blue-white lightning split the skies before me and I saw the face of God.

Don’t believe me, I don’t care.

He was there beard and all – the Father and in my despair, He did what only a loving, encompassing parent could do, He drove the lesson home.

“I told Adam anything but one thing – he took the one thing.”

“I told Abraham he’d have a son in good time but he had to help it along.”

“David had any woman he wanted, freely but he took the one that didn’t belong to him.

I raised my arms in an appeal to stop, and He did.  The storm passed with a shudder and I sat in my garret room cold and damp.  The pages of my books, both Austen’s and Bronte’s were damp with rain but not tears.

I’ve not evolved, I have adapted however to reality.

 

Black and White Photographs

I see you in black and white. I see you against a tall and narrow wood framed house; the type built in the 1920s and 30s; narrow windows, narrow doors with the prairie grass growing right up to the field stone foundation.

I see you in black and white. I see you against a tall and narrow wood framed house; the type built in the 1920s and 30s; narrow windows, narrow doors with the prairie grass growing right up to the field stone foundation.   I picture you standing in front of the house my grandfather and grandmother were married in.  I see you in black and white; the monochrome that hides the fact that the shirt you wear is one hundred percent cotton and the pants are not pants but trousers and the smile you have on your is sort of shy because a camera was an odd thing and the word itself was still associated with an actual room in some parts of the world.

I see you in black and white because I so desperately want to. I want to stand there next to you in front of a small house with quarter paned windows that settlers on the prairie would have thought folly.  In the dead of winter with no wind breaks, perhaps they are folly.

I want you there, our bare feet wedged against each other, and our skin the only heat we feel in the back bedroom, while the winter wind howls around our house.  I want your hands in my hair telling me it’s okay, that I’ll be okay as we lock into each other in the making of another generation.

In my reality, however, I see in shades just less than Technicolor. I walk to work and I breathe into my thick, ninety percent cotton scarf, just the right shade of pewter blue; it matches my eyes and I get a few stares or two.

I have an ego.

I wash out the scarf once a week in my studio apartment, washing away the faded but expensive perfume and I wash away my own respirations while walking to work during cold January days in Chicago.

A car backfires and people scuttle for cover and then we wonder at the thought that we pay taxes to send young people to die for others, and we die on the streets unprotected.

That’s when I see you in black and white.

I took down all of my art work, I don’t believe in it anymore, and had the walls painted stark white. The landlord didn’t care, I pay my rent on time and he can see that I’m here with no intention of leaving.  I hated to, but I painted my walls with dusty looking flat paint – the kind my grandparents used.

You know, I dated a guy that works at the Art Institute of Chicago. No, he wasn’t a prig or overly anxious.  Don’t be alarmed but I was in it so he’d help my hang my old black and white photos.

He asked me why the frames. He knew a guy who could take my photos, enlarge them and really make them look like museum pieces.  No, I told him, the old photos needed frames.  A frame, like the frame of a house, was and is to me foundational.  The world crumbles without a frame of some sort to give it shape, personality, security.

He looked at me hard and then asked if I’d come to bed. Somehow I’d moved him and he was serious during sex. He telephones every once and awhile but the photos are all hung in their black and white glory so I don’t return his calls.

What time I have alone I think of you standing there next to me within the picture frame. The wind is caught in our photograph. You can see it in the background, pushing our hair out and away from our faces, moving the creases in your trousers just off center and wrapping my skirt around my legs. The wind never leaves the prairie, it cleans the air that surrounds us.

I walked the old farm with my grandfather once. He was glad to be back in North Dakota. We walked and he showed me how to make gum from the heads of wheat and pointed out where great-grandfather’s farm house used to stand – the barn was still there. I was thirteen and that was the only time that year I forgot about myself, my chemically suppressed acne and the flabby bulge around my midsection that the pediatrician explained to my mother was caused by my “eating problem.”

I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty-five. I’ve told that to no one until I told you. Okay, that’s a lie I tell anyone I’m intimate with, you’re the only one who didn’t joke about how long it took me.

By twenty-three I swore I’d be celibate for the rest of my life.  I met a man in the library, we were what you might call “nodding acquaintances.”  He would read in the library, not just browse the books and take them home.

He was twenty-three years older than me, married and with three children.  I learned these facts much later.  For a year we would meet at the library, walk to my place and fuck. It was intense and I don’t think he noticed that first time I was a virgin. I cried when he left but the next week I couldn’t wait to see him. I felt that way for a year, a drive that never culminated in “I love you.”

He invited me to a dinner party. I was introduced to his wife and he smiled while we shook hands.  He then started to introduce me to his friends and I could tell suddenly that I was being assessed. When I went to the open bar for a glass of sherry and stood off by myself his friends came up to me one by one. They were nice, asked me for my number, said they appreciated someone clean, considerate, that they’d take care of me.

I, of course, am very careful but I do invite a few in, outside their circle. I keep my daytime job but I make sure they pay any out of pocket medical.  There are some evenings I look forward to with the select group, but not too often.  I still feel at times that need, that drive, I felt at first. Yes, I know, they may grow tired of me but they are growing older, I think, sooner than me.

One night, the heaviest of them was working hard, sweating profusely, his hair, shock white, hanging in his face moved to the rhythm of what he was doing and my Technicolor vision suddenly went black and white.  I was struck with the thought of you, whoever you are, having a bad day on the farm, coming home to me, pushing up my thin cotton dress, holding me down on the sturdy kitchen table – just like this guy was doing – but I was on the prairie, where it mattered, where it worked.

One of them asked me, just the other day if it didn’t bother me to have all these old black and white pictures looking at me while we “played.”  “No,” I said, pulling at his tie, “I’m working to return to the wind and wide open spaces my grandfather was glad to see.”  He told me I was good at my work.

Actually, I wonder if I’ll ever feel the wind again.

 

Dear Tuesday

Dear Tuesday,

You’re awful.

Dear Tuesday,

You’re awful.

I do not hold you responsible for my attitude (I am adult enough to own my attitude) nor do I sling out my sentiment to cause pain, resentment or embarrassment…perhaps.

Aside from that, I feel that you are the way you are (awful) simply because you hide behind Monday.  The accusation of hiding, in some estimations, may prove to be more cause for resentment (on your part) and insult (again on your part) than being just plain awful,(which you are) I understand.  I myself have been accused of hiding and that accusation stings and nettles me – I’m sure it does the same to you.  However, to keep to the truth I am sure, beyond doubt, that the reason for my feeling resentment toward you is that you hide behind Monday.

Tuesday, hiding is a despicable practice and never have you come forward and tried in any way to defend Monday.  Never have you reasoned with us, (slaves to the paycheck), that the reason we hate Monday is that you yourself Tuesday show no mercy in longevity nor do have you open-handedly proffered us hope.  You are a repeat of Monday with the added rancor of making us all feel trapped without a Friday in sight.  Tuesday you even paint poor old Wednesday with a drear and deadly gray that makes sorrow seem interminable and Thursday so very far away.

I do want you to know that I have settled down to write this letter to you on a Wednesday.  While I suffered through your hours yesterday forming my accusations I thought it would only be sporting of me if I gave you the full day – to see if you redeemed yourself at all.

You did not.  My home was quiet, dull and sullen with the Tuesday doldrums when I walked through the door.  All the inhabitants therein, right down to the cat, looked at me with the idea that perhaps I should do something – anything, which would give relief.  I failed and being that it was Tuesday I felt that perhaps my failure was helped along.

Know too, that I pause in my other letter writing (one to U.S. Literary critics that has been confounding me for some time, another to audiobooks in general and another to Corrie – I just found her physical address again and the most adorable owl cards that are just dying to be sent) so that I may further analyze my feelings and express to you my dismay.  I realize too that there is nothing I can do – you are.  Nor do I want to argue the fact that you are third in the week or second in the week according to ISO standards (drop dead).  Nor do I want to want to delve into your ancestry to some Norse god – you are more than that, you are more than a name – you are a 24-hour eternity.  You’re awful.

With Regret,

 

Me

 

A Cup of Coffee

Lift the cup, warm in my grip, the cool smooth clay, shaped and glazed somewhere in China — so the well-engraved letters state on the bottom of the cup. The cup contains the slush of deep, deep brown and steam lifting into the air and ignored. The cup, so stated in my first communion held a liquid that puckered my lips and made me cough no matter how hard I fought it. This cup is a shock of hot liquid and my nerve endings smooth out.

Don’t slurp.

Lift the cup, warm in my grip, the cool smooth clay, shaped and glazed somewhere in China — so the well-engraved letters state on the bottom of the cup. The cup contains the slush of deep, deep brown and steam lifting into the air and ignored. The cup, so stated in my first communion held a liquid that puckered my lips and made me cough no matter how hard I fought it. This cup is a shock of hot liquid and my nerve endings smooth out.

Don’t slurp.

A picture of my young mother in the house that I grew up in, pouring my first cup of coffee, soon after my first communion. Don’t slurp your coffee, if you want some, drink it right. But drinking it right was a conquest all my own, nothing I could be taught. So I taught myself to sip not to slurp and I drink coffee to this day and try to remember my last cup of communion. I take another sip, puzzled, and feel the heat move down inside of me. I notice the local newspaper sitting on the table. Yesterday’s news. I pick it up and throw it away since I’ll get another one today.

Coffee in my hand. I use both hands and sip, not slurp. I move my lower lip up and down the smooth curve of my cup, thick and white. I searched hard to find just the right cup. I wanted the greasy spoon diner appearance that my mother would never allow. I watched actors on stages, being filmed, sipping coffee not slurping, not remembering a word of their black and white drama but remembering their non-descript coffee cup. My daughter moves into my sight and looks at me for a moment, contemplating me contemplating my cup. Summer break, hair on end, she reaches into the fridge and pulls out the milk. I smile, she grunts, and she walks to the counter and prepares her cold crunchy breakfast.

Looking at my watch I wince. Just time enough to fill my insulated cup and go.

I tip the pot and try to ignore the aroma.

My brother and I in our grandmother’s kitchen. We are not allowed coffee, too young, but we watch her fill the pot; water on the bottom, grounds on top. The smell, we pull in with our still button noses and think – heaven, heaven in a smell. We watch and watch that pot on her old electric range and shout, when the liquid, jumping into the glass knob on top of the coffee pot, starts to change color. Coffee color. So I pour from my drip coffee maker. I pull the glass pot high and watch the coffee waterfall into the narrow mouth of my travel cup and think, I still have aim. And also think of my grandmother all those years drinking coffee alone.

Damn, it’s hot for seven thirty. I walk quickly to the leather interior of my car and the radio that just plays classical music all the way to work – no shop talk, no car dealers telling me I could do better and no coffee commercials. My coffee fits just so in the cup holder, sippable and the faint smell of yesterday’s ride home fills the air. A touch and the engine hums and the AC blows out the stale smell of yesterday’s air conditioned yet breathable musk.

I smell my coffee.

And my Dad is there, three years in his grave this month. The old, gray, plastic, lunch box that he used to take to work every day and the gray, and the lighter gray and the darker gray thermos that snapped up into the lid of his old gray lunch box. The thermos bottle that held his coffee until one day his doctor told him decaf was the only thing he should drink. Told me when I was away at college that the only thing he smelled in his thermos after that was piss. I smiled thinking of my dad, drinking pissy, smelling coffee, because his doctor told him so. He never listened to me.

I remembered when dad died; it was quick, it was sudden, a cup of coffee in his hand – that’s how mom knew, she heard the cup drop and crash on the kitchen floor. It reminded me of a poem I read by Charles Bukowski but I couldn’t remember the name of the poem. And for months afterward when I thought of my dad I thought of that poem. I found a novel by Charles Bukowski, in a used bookstore, “Ham on Rye,” and I bought it and I keep in my leather, accordion briefcase. I carry it with me everywhere and someday I’ll read it; “Ham on Rye.”

Out of the driveway and out of the well-manicured subdivision I’m on the road and have at least a mile before I merge onto US 20, so I reach for the insulated coffee cup and have a sip and think of the times my administrative assistant has had to help me cold water scrub coffee stains out of my tie.

“Why don’t you wait until you get to work to put on your tie?”

“Then I’ll get spots on my shirt.”

I remember her shrugging while scrubbing away at my silk tie, just before a board meeting. I looked through her lacquered gray hair and the wall behind her was fascinating between different and random lines of gray. She caught me staring, looked behind her like something was there, shrugged and muttered something about the smell of coffee on silk ties. I’ve been very careful ever since.

My favorite part of the day, merging onto US 20, leaning back and switching on the autopilot in this four-wheeled leather coffee cup holder. I knew when I bought the car, the only reason I wanted it was because the headrest fit my neck to perfection. Yes and every morning I take my foot off the gas on US 20 and the car goes down the road anyway. I feel relaxed enough to pick up my coffee cup rigid and stiff and manufactured somewhere in India. And careful not to drip on the tie, I sip. The sunrise is behind me and the road to South Bend before me. The traffic on this death trap keeps driving interesting enough.

Sip, and I feel on my lips the ridges and curves of my Indian made insulated, coffee cup. I smile at the smell and think, thank God decaf is out of favor during my trip to work. I put the coffee cup back and feel more than smell the aroma fill my car, I’ll smell that in the evening during my ride home and it won’t be so bad. I’ll think of my morning ride, the sun coming up, the heat of July on the road, the shimmer of humidity in the deep, dark, green, trees so distant from the highway. My tie will be loose around my neck and no doubt the top button of my shirt will be undone and I’ll be thinking of something that needs to be completed tomorrow during the ride home.  Right now the coffee scent is real, the music soft, making the leather seats look too plush for a car. I can hear my wife complain that the leather is too hot for her short skirt and makes her legs burn and I squirm just a little when I think of her taking my hand and making me feel the heat of the leather between her legs.

So I look down for my cup of coffee.

Never seeing what it was that suddenly blurred my vision or lifted the two wheels of my car up. But I do remember this. I felt the lid of my insulated coffee cup come off, pushing my two fingers up and away. I remember the spray and the burn across my chest and thought no saving the tie or the shirt, no feeling hot leather between my wife’s legs or thinking of drinking decaf in my older days.

 

Good

She didn’t realize until she was older that she was mistaken. I’ll cut to the chase, I won’t beat around the bush here but in the summation of her misconception is the story. She realized that the all-encompassing way of life her parents taught her to embrace; the idea of being a decent human being, to accept people and circumstances the way they are, to not pass judgment unless it was a civic duty and to never swerve the car she was driving to deliberately hit a ground hog were, in short, diabolical.

She didn’t realize until she was older that she was mistaken.  I’ll cut to the chase, I won’t beat around the bush here but in the summation of her misconception is the story.  She realized that the all-encompassing way of life her parents taught her to embrace; the idea of being a decent human being, to accept people and circumstances the way they are, to not pass judgment unless it was a civic duty and to never swerve the car she was driving to deliberately hit a ground hog were, in short, diabolical.  The ideas mentioned were diabolical because on the surface they can be summed up as “good,” but to accomplish them left life just that thin as finding a surface with nothing beneath it.

Her soul, her psyche, her intuition screamed out against her very strong mind.  Her soul, her psyche her intuition were parts of her that knew better but were refused voice by her mind.  Her mind was so sharpened by her parents as to be on guard against insidious attacks made by those parts of her she was told to distrust.

Are there those who grow old and die and say during that process that their parents may be wrong but never waver from the path they were set upon?

Well, she was that close.  No, she had no experience other than reading in which to understand that the narrowing down of the flat surface of “good,” or “goodness,” or even that dreaded apparition, “being good,” meant, in reality, a deep pool of cool gloom.  Good alone was simply drowning.

She had read a passage from an author (an old dusty prophet long dead) whom her parents would certainly have thought from the pedantic, judgmental and self-righteous camp and got the idea that if she stopped the flattening out of “good,” she may find something interesting.

But alas where to start?  How could she focus on a point of interest when from her lofty place in life all seemed flat.  Please do not come under the impression that flat is in anyway synonymous to boring.  Her life was not boring.  She was actually quite busy in flattening out the rest of the world and smiling blithely over the serene faces that she left in her wake. Can’t you see them, those relieved of their beliefs, those no longer worried about their convictions because from a distance the bumps, cliffs, peaks, and the deep look flat.

Live and let live.  Wrong could be right for your neighbor.  What harm is there?

There is a power skimming over the water.  Imagine the leathery wings of a dragon or the feathers of a great eagle, extended as far as possible and just inches from the water.  The power of the glide, the mist of cool water and the idea that nothing, absolutely nothing is beneath that inch of calm water.  Where does the eagle grab his prey and where does the dragon plunge to explore the depths of ancient cities and creatures?

Yes, of course, metaphors to her because this world is worth preserving.

 

Narcissus

I’ll wed in April I said to myself, I’ll wed when the dew is like diamonds upon the white of narcissus and the deep red of its heart like the beating of mine. My pale, tall groom, so stoic and waiting – I remember being a young girl and not really knowing.

Daffodil yellow and the frill of their edges when I was a girl.

I remember.

The white, a moment with narcissus, the demurring and pitying smiles of ladies in waiting, the whispered trill of laughter as they danced down the tall, stone, halls – she loves narcissus, she loves narcissus flowers – well she should, well she should, as she weds the living breathing man himself.

I’ll wed in April I said, I’ll wed when the dew is like diamonds upon the white of narcissus and the deep red of its heart like the beating of mine exists to please the eye.  My pale, tall groom, so stoic and waiting – I remember being a young girl and not really knowing.

I wed in June as all brides do – I longed for the cool of April.  He stood so tall, so austere as in my dream, my knight of white, he stood tall and without a smile or glance of kindness.   The monk took a pitying glance at the roses in my grip that trembled, he glanced the pallor of my hand – what manner of man was this that I was kept in tall towers to await his approach?

– I dread the night – I dread the knight.

No food touched my lips not wine would I allow, even with the supplications of kinder women that I knew – take they said, take and the coldness of his touch perhaps will warm, this night.

No.

He held out his arm, that I may touch but not lean – that I stay within my austere body and not weep to leave those who cared for me.  If I had seen a measure of kindness, If I had seen any sign of even cruelty upon the pallor of his skin, the blackness of his brow, the pale, thin, red of his lips – only a mask of a man handsome to some – narcissus, narcissus I heard the girls sing – and now knew their meaning.

We walked beneath the high vaulted ceilings hung in tapestry and glory.  His voice alone now mine to hear, deep and austere “I have secured the borders of this high tower and your beauty and your fairness are now mine to ponder.”

I bowed my head and sealed my lips refusing to look at a man who views me as a prize and perhaps, yes perhaps worthy in feature to be called his bride.

Narcissus, narcissus I hear the girls clatter.

“You think me shallow, I simply see the outside of my wife – not at all, not at all my dove, I see both inside and out – you are lovely, a fair spring flower…”

A daffodil I remember and let the tears slide.  No sorrow, or compassion, no tender touch – he waits and so I pull within myself the grief that has escaped.

To the high tower, our bedchamber now – and in a daze and docile I go.  The air seems light and the June evening at last cool, the lights are low and the rose petals upon the floor, upon the cushions, and upon the bed do glow.  He seems well satisfied,  he seems content, and at a pinnacle of satisfaction looking about and then his eyes light upon me.

But to the edge, I have crept while his mind took stock of all that is now his.  A moment of hate flashes across his face and a word of denial screamed, slashing like a sword’s edge from his mouth –

Too late, too late and it is I who smile as the cobblestones below I embrace for comfort– a moment’s pain and years of release

– narcissus, narcissus they whisper not jeering, nor in laughter, narcissus, narcissus they whisper as I sweep along the cobblestones, leaving a tinkling, icy laughter.

I glide upon the stair during autumn’s long night – I wait, I wait, my hand now cold and white.  His grip in marriage did slip, he now dreads with all the force of living, of living man upon the living earth.

A madness sears his once handsome face, the narcissus blooms in fields every cold, cold April – a reminder that I wait.

 

This Is An Escape

I have faith that I can live without you and your lack of vocabulary and your lack of effort. I can live better without, than sitting here with you in doubt

I often wonder if suppression is not my bailiwick. 

I hate the vague, I hate the words that hide that feeling you simply cannot find the word to describe.  Find the damn words. 

Don’t drift off into meditation damn it, get a dictionary, a thesaurus, pay for the subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary and sort it from the 19th century on down.  Surprise me. 

Please.  I won’t beg, I swear I will walk away.  Of course that means I’ve already walked away.  Here I stand out in the middle of Lake Michigan, realizing that it doesn’t bother me to walk on water. 

No I’m no Saint, I have faith and that’s all it takes. 

I have faith that I can live without you and your lack of vocabulary and your lack of effort.  I can live better without, than sitting here with you in doubt. 

You look beautiful by the way, the way your hair catches the sunset and the steady breathing you maintain in the middle of this muddle.  I love the sheen of your day old beard and I love the thought of you carefully shaving it all away.   Yes, I too can love.  Yes, I too can push it away. 

Not everyone is able to grab the right word, not everyone can understand the effort, not everyone can stand the cold dunk of water that searching for meaning takes. 

I’m not for everyone, isn’t that amazing. 

I’m not for anyone, I understand.

Guess I’ll walk north to Lake Superior and stay. 

There is an island up there, nice sized that boarders on Canada and sports still the stars and bars.  Have no idea why.  Maybe I’ll give it a try. 

I’m not much for crowds and I’m certainly not much for love.  I feel you dissolve before I can mourn the loss.  Was that encounter just now or one hundred years ago?

I long for the northern wind who whistles down with no mercy to meet me.  I have shunned him more than once asking for a reprieve; his love is too demanding, he exposes me.  Think of yourself totally naked, no lust, no love but up for examination.  His critical eye assessing, measuring my age, my height, my skin.  Curl under.  Go ahead and curl under and the northern wind will thunder.  So I stand straight and feel my skin tighten and my breast squeeze painfully in the freeze and I am humiliated.  That’s loving the north, that’s loving the north wind. 

What else can I do?  I too can love and I become too demanding. (Find the word but you won’t will you) I too can love but you won’t allow it – this must be a one sided thing with me grateful and you always fulfilling.  We could have it the way you want it my egotistical despair, if you could just find your heart in all the preparations you’ve made to love me.

No I am not rejecting you – this is an escape. 

 

Lydia Ink / This is an Escape by SK Woodiwiss