Painted Pictures

I moved out with my princess bedroom furniture, college loans and cat.  We moved into the loft together and I lost my virginity to a writer who was twice my age.  In short, I was lost and frightened for a while.  

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Working in the city meant semi starvation rations, living in the city meant free days at the museum of art, tranquil walks even in the coldest winter months.  My worst day was when Pristina died.  She came with me to the city when I moved from my parents home in the suburbs and the community college that taught me nothing.  They tolerated both of us (yes the college as well).

I moved out with my princess bedroom furniture, college loans and cat.  We moved into the loft together and I lost my virginity to a writer who was twice my age.  In short, I was lost and frightened for a while.

After I found myself awake beside the man I didn’t know,  my longing for Pristina grew – she was just across the hall all alone.  I crept out of bed, gathered up my strewn clothing and crept along the hallway to my own studio apartment.  I cried and petted my cat telling her that I would not leave her again.  I fell asleep, the next day I was late for work though refreshed.  I received a promotion, raise as well as a corner office in the basement that year for my diligence.

I didn’t go home for Christmas that year.  In the new year my parents wrote me from Florida encouraging me to visit them in the new retirement community they had found.  I started working a second job in the evening and for two years Pristina and I worked and slept in a studio apartment and the writer across the hall slipped us poetry under our door.

I paid off my last college loan on November 16th and that night I ordered out and shared a rare New York Strip with soft wedged potatoes sprinkled with sea salt and vinegar for myself and Pristina.  Pristina sneezed over the potatoes and licked her lips each time she swallowed a dainty piece of meat.  She taught me the art of savoring a meal.

Pristina and I moved to a one bedroom apartment with wooden floors and an ancient looking bathroom which depressed us both.  The kitchen was dark green with brown linoleum and I told myself we would get used to it because the skyline of Chicago was worth the depressing dark interior.  It wasn’t and one year later we moved into a renovated old brick factory.  The writer who turned poet lived on the bottom floor with his wife and their golden retriever.  The writer turned poet’s wife would tap on my door; she had long dark black hair and her face was smooth but she would smile at me and invite me to their apartment.  “No worries, no worries, I’m not jealous.  Come and eat with us.”  I always refused and Pristina would sit upon an old heat register meowing at the poor dog who lacked exercise.

I left for work one frigid January day and was late coming home because the CTA was running slow and the sidewalks were slippery.  Pristina was alone and in the dark when she died without me.

Her funeral expenses set me back financially, and I had to miss a day of work but I came home with a jasper jar with her ashes in it.  I called my mother to tell her and after explaining that Pristina had not died years ago I hung up and sat in the dark.  I understood the coldness of a smooth jasper jar.

The writer turned poet, turned writer showed up in February with a great framed painting of Pristina for my brick walls.

“You need color up here.  Pristina, her dark fur and golden eyes will make this place feel like home again.”

I said nothing to him while he drilled and worked and swept up the dust of his labors.

“Why don’t you have dinner with us?”

“No thank you.”

He slid the wide door of my apartment shut and tip toed away.  I sat in the dark for another night with my back to the painting.

April in Chicago can be violent.  The wind slammed and bounced against the tall buildings and tumbled down to rattle old brick ones sheltering poets, writers, wives and administrative assistants.  The dog below howled in a low whimper when the lightning was replaced by the thunder.  Pristina lept down from her perch on the wall and walked, her tail perpendicular, to the register and sat to mew in the old register.

There was calmness.

I thought of making love one more time to the poet before I had my picture painted and hung next to Pristina but thought no, I did not want to surrender again to my needy self consumed psyche which was only fodder for the deceitful.  You see, I spent so much time imagining my happy ending I discovered I loved being relieved it never happened.  In fact I realized that there was no such thing as poets, painters or writers only a terror of being alone.

Crow

I’ve never told you, but the common crow is the amulet of writers – not poets.
No, the crow belongs to the writer because the poet was born first and chose the raven.
That is why the poet suffers.
The worst is dryness. The worst is no moisture, the worst is salt in all the wrong places.
Wounds, specifically.
I pray for you continually.
Perched upon my giant, tiny spy machine I watch you and listen when I have the courage.
Fickle thing courage and I’m damned demanding.
Not you dear, me. What good is broken to wounded?
I wade out hip-deep into Superior and the ghosts rise to greet me.
None are polite all are demanding and don’t think I’m not frightened – I am.
Raven black and metallic ice blue the crow, brilliant and never alone. The treetops here
Are their village and they call to me – hope.
Literally.
Thieves they are, as am I stealing a glimpse of you and writing novels while the birds bring me
Tiny, shiny trinkets.
I put them in the offering every Sunday and wonder if it is possible to mix heat and cold without
Destroying one or the other.
So broken but that is always where I start. I don’t think you would believe where it has taken me.
Talking crows, kneeling faith, the study of purity, the dryness of words and a simple light breaking
The grayness of Superior.
I’m so gloriously tired and the crows have left dreams of you upon my pillow.
Ask me my favorite poetry and I’ll tell you.

 
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

It Wasn’t My Fault

He was an awkwardly beautiful man.   I couldn’t call him shy, there may have been some hesitation in him but not shyness. 

It wasn’t my fault.  I know that it is petty, but it’s true–it wasn’t my fault.

He was an awkwardly splendid man.   I couldn’t call him shy, there may have been hesitation in him but not shyness.  He was tall and broad-shouldered.  He looked very proud of his Harley Davidson motorcycle.  I for one dislike motorcycles and I was not tempted to ask for “a ride.”  However, I admired how he straddled the machine and I had wild ideas regarding him so I did my best to suppress those thoughts from my mind.

That’s why the dark conclusion to this small story isn’t my fault.  Yes, I looked at him.  Yes, I stopped to look at him.  No, I didn’t tell him to go away and yes, he knew how to shake hands with a woman in a way that was open and honest.  Did he work at being open and honest?  Well with me, I hope he had to work at it.  I hope he wanted to take my hand, pull me forward and wrap those big, fine, strong arms around me and kiss me until my knees went weak.  In my opinion, he was open and honest by natural disposition yet shy around me.

It still wasn’t my fault.  I did not play coy, I looked him in the eye and did my best to just keep walking whenever he happened past me.

I think men demand too much, I understand their need, and I understand the chase but enough is enough.  A pity I didn’t walk away.

Heaven above help me, those narrow hips, those soft denim shirts and in the summer those tight t-shirts.  Now, the tight t-shirts were a turnoff after the initial view.  Total vanity.  Total.  When I saw the tight t-shirt, I could turn off the heart palpitations, and he didn’t get it.  He could sense it too–and I could sense his confusion.  The “what,” expression on a man is similar to a salient mark on a treasure map.

“Turn right at Mount Everest, you can’t miss it.”  That’s the “what,” expression on a man.  What?  Don’t you like it?  Do you know how I’ve worked for these arms, this chest, and hey I’m not a young man?  On and on the “what,” expressions go.

So you can see, it wasn’t my fault.  I wasn’t out to distract him.  I wasn’t out to gain his attention.  I found him attractive, sure but I didn’t flash my eyes at him and beg him to chase me down.  I’m just not that kind of… person.

Do you know a spider won’t eat its prey unless said prey is alive?

That’s how spider webs work you know.  Invisibility and then trapped.  Spider webs work because so much of life doesn’t believe in death; especially their own.

He was strong, he still twitches now and then but it won’t be long until I must ignore another one and build yet another web.

Immortal Spaniels

The spaniel was immortal and sighed often.

Maudlin music and less than red linen made for soft people she felt, yes felt, which was beyond knew and just before faith –

In oneself.

Her red was of the blackish kind and her curtains blocked out the sunlight and opened to the rain of days- she was content.

She knew that was it.  She knew.  The world bloomed red in small startling places and she searches for the sear and pucker of it in the dead of winter

This proved effective to draw her attention away from the doggish way he looked upon her.  He had a spaniel that she liked and wished was hers

But he wasn’t.

They were well sheltered within the stonewalled cottages that were between a farm house and just shy of a manor house — and the walls encompassed them and there they lived.

Her looking for scarlet and he looking at her.

The spaniel was immortal and sighed often.

Magicians were not allowed through the gates and witches could fly over but the breeze was constant and she could not tempt fate with this or that bauble of love.

A nod, not even a sur name offered when they met upon the cobbled street, she always with her eye on the corner of a stone building looking for red.

What could he do?  Learn to dance?  Pray for drought? He walked the dog and they spied her over the scarlet rose of autumn.  Embolden he walked to the place and bent his head to smell the flower.

He looked back up to see her gazing out upon the horizon.

“Stay,” he said, “and the dog will dance until you see the famous scarlet sunset.”

She stayed and as the sun played out the light of evening he whirled her round and the dog barked and gamboled about their feet.

And the scarlet of sunset reflected against the once stone walls of their lives.

Dead Today

How long are we dead Missy? A moment, a flash of time that encompasses exquisite pain and then – what? Do we remain in a paroxysm of memory or do we go blank a sudden release?  And really, old friend, what is worse?

So I read today that you are dead.

Are dead, and were dead, and was dead. Ah the beauties of the English language, each statement reflects for the audience who I am…well to hell with them.

How long are we dead Missy? A moment, a flash of time that encompasses exquisite pain and then – what? Do we remain in a paroxysm of memory or do we go blank a sudden release?  And really, old friend, what is worse?

Your obituary was short and brief; no viewing, no opportunity to submit to your favorite charity – the abortion clinic, the woman’s homeless shelter or possibly the city’s club for user men. They put you in your grave and since weather permits a “brief” family ceremony is allowed, graveside, where the dirt hides their mess now. At last, my friend, your very own address.

And what dear, is the ceremony about? The children that don’t know you because you were unfit or broke or worse, deceived into believing you were too much of all the above?  What of the son who was raised by your parents, the same parents who smiled at our girl scout uniforms and told us both we were communists? What, would, will, shall, it be about?

And your “companions,” will they be there? Yeah, I know dear and so do you, if they slept with you then they loved you right? Tell me, did you ever get over that notion? You know, being able to brush your teeth, look in the mirror and say, ‘I am more than an easy lay’? Or did it ever occur to you that possibly sex, no matter how intense, is not love? Did they ever give you the time?

Maybe, I don’t know.

Missy, I always thought you pretty; your smoke-blue eyes and blemishless ivory skin, even young as we were, I thought you pretty. It was always you who ran from the boys on the playground — they showing you their crotch and yelling, “sharpen my pencil, Missy, sharpen it for me.” On the playground, God help the early-developed girl.

Later we watched the boys, who stood up straight for the blond prom queen’s father. While they fawned over future wives, they made sure you knew their intent; making you blush and me shudder. They snickered in their Christian youth groups and pondered you. We fooled ourselves into thinking that their gold crosses meant something to them. But they were raised right and condoms were always ready in their pockets and roomy back seats. For justice’s sake, I wish them daughters with large breasts and low self-esteems.

As for me, I wait for the dead to tap on my windowpane, and for someone else to tell me their name. Today it was yours and in a swirl of green girl scout uniforms, hobo Halloween costumes and trampled prom dresses your blank, smoke-blue eyes, look back at me, no more questions just perhaps surprise.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Are We Breaking Up Again?

What books can do

Last night I didn’t keep a revolving appointment.  It was simply our weekly coffee get away.  A tradition that we kept through thick and thin.  A tradition that probably kept our relationship alive.  At the last moment, I found myself somewhere else completely.

It was an odd sensation being in a part of town I had not often frequent.  It was a bohemian sort of family orientated, blue-collar sort of place.  Small front yards with bright, primary-colored plastic toys and large trees shading the uneven sidewalks.  There were a few dilapidated unloved houses here and there but for the most part refurbished rambling old homes with attic apartments, to help finance the restoration, sat about in reminiscent glory.   Small factory woodshops and little Italian restaurants were tucked in here and there and on one corner an Irish pub with window boxes full of bright salmon-colored impatients shone almost fluorescently against the kelly-green of the shutters and awnings.   Next door to the pub was a well-kept little boarding house that allowed dogs, cats and curious, peering little cockatiels.  The evidence of the liberal pet policy was evident in the open windows; a large tabby cat was wedged up against the screen of an open window and two stories up the cockatiels whistled and gyrated as if performing for the people walking by on the sidewalk.    I didn’t see a dog but somewhere within the old, square, brown brick building, I heard the yap of a ferocious little dog who probably thought himself at least a Great Dane.

I parked my car in a small lot beside the used book store.  The bookstore had been there for years and when I was younger I would come often and grab a read on the cheap.  I would take the time to walk the neighborhood and wonder if I could find a house and rebuild it to its former glory while taking my kids down to the small park or making them sit up straight in the little Italian restaurant when it was all you could eat spaghetti night.

During our last coffee appointment, I had mentioned my desire to visit again the neighborhood and you said I should go when I had time.   I was embarrassed, not sure if you thought I was trying to cajole you into some sort of proposal by showing you how families lived or if you thought my old habits droll.

I Mechanically dug into my narrow but deep purse that you brought back for me from Ecuador.  The vibrant hand dyed colors and the texture of the hand-woven material enamored you to my heart.  We were early in our relationship then and the purse retained its shape and vibrant colors and I never tired of it.  I found my “smart phone; a small, glowing box that contained all my vital work and social appointments and I knew I’d be lost without it.

I muted the phone, got out of my car and walked toward the bookstore.

The bookstore was in a tall, thin looking building with narrow windows displaying all sorts of used and new books interspersed with board games, and wooden toys.  I realized that the building was built and intended for a retail store.  I glanced up and saw that the upstairs apartment was probably one of those high ceiling places with windows that allowed only so much sunlight in and an abundance of shade in high angles all day long.

I walked in and the smell of old books confirmed to my wondering mind why I had driven in the opposite direction of my appointment and left my coffee to cool and my usual seat empty.

Books take my mind off of all my preoccupations, you often have stated that once I begin to read nothing disturbs me.  When words don’t go right or a ridiculous annoyance comes up between you and me, I pick up a book.  Time and distance help smooth over the rumbling disturbance and we can look good together for a little while longer.

My first stop was history and the section on the U.S. Civil War.  I picked out the books and felt the weight of those tomes that had well-creased bindings and dog-eared pages.  I felt a vibration on my hip.  I knew then I had muted the damned thing rather than turned it off just to know I was annoying you.

Pathetic.  Standing in the midst of the burning of Atlanta, the March to the Sea and turning of a page in US history, I realized that I was pathetic.  I looked around for a quick distraction and found a brilliant display of old coffee table books.  I immediately felt the burn of tears.

The sight of the coffee table books saddened me and angered me.  My grandmother always had coffee table books.  Coffee table books were a sign of past times when people still wanted to see the world and was content to see it in brilliant colored photographs on high-quality paper.  They didn’t rush, for example off to Ecuador and prove to the natives that US citizens could live without ice cubes.

I didn’t have a coffee table and felt void, even bereft.  I had taken your advice to spare the room, don’t allow clutter, bookshelves were signs of a cluttered mind.  Instead, I had a very large modern art watercolor with brilliant colors offset by dark grays, not quite black.  Black shouldn’t be used by a true artist you always say.  Thinking of that piece of art while standing amongst all those books made me think of upscale hotels and high-priced prostitutes.

So, I moved quickly to the do it yourself, help yourself, forget yourself and there goes the vibrating smartphone again.

No, self-help was going too far and I was too old.  I realized I could make a change but I couldn’t go back.  I didn’t want a large house to refurbish but an old brick apartment with some bearded hippy, sporting a man bun stopping by installing quality bookshelves in every corner.

I stepped quickly to the classics, skipping the mysteries and the romance books in cheap yellowing splendor.  I picked up Middlemarch and let the pages fan my face.  The letters on the broad white pages danced in confusion, just before my eyes.  How I struggled through that book and how I wondered at its popularity when there was Jane Eyre or even Wuthering Heights.  While smelling the old cloth covered classics I couldn’t deny that some time while driving away from our usual appointment I had some sort of epiphany.

The phone vibrated again and mechanically, yet without dread, I dug it out of my narrow brightly colored reminder of you.

“You running late?”

“Where are you?”

“Are we breaking up again?”

 

Rock of Ages Light

Shipwreck and remembering the Great Lakes

Sounding Thunder,

Wind in our sails

Good sailing,

Economy counts

And always will.

We sailed the crew low-

A woman to cook, a boy to pray.

The wind in November there is

Nothing at all like her.

The ice encased the hatchways

Freshwater knives cut and

crack our skin.

The young men cry for mothers.

And one hundred years later, in safe harbor,

The generations etch our tomb in radar.

The sensitive woman may wonder

One hundred years from now

And tomorrow, they’ll forget

The waves that slide and take

Sounding Thunder down

To the Rock of Ages.