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.

Tell Me

Tell me what life would be like to touch my lips to yours?  What would love be like to touch a tear upon the hollow of your face?  Tell me what joy would be like to press gently the roughness of your chin with my fingertips.  I am shaking with cold and fear.  Tell me.

Tell me what would serenity be like to step into your body’s warmth and have only a moment of space between us.  I’m so cold, so very cold, what would warmth be like to feel the heat you keep close to your skin, neck, hands and the inside of your arms.

Tell me what would contentment be like to gaze into your glorious eyes with all the wonder I hold deep inside of me regarding you.  I sense anger.  Be angry.  Weary is a word that always ends in a question. Tell me what would happiness be like to sleep next to you, just sleep.

What would familiarity be like hearing your voice read to me and what would purity be like with you in total darkness, away from preconceived ideas of what lovers should be?  You see, I believe vision is a gift in not seeing what we really are in the sight of God, Who is Love.  We see attraction; we see youth, middle age, old age, trust goes beyond sight.

But tell me what would surrender  be like to close my eyes and trust that the picture I have of you is actually true

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

The Wedding

“Do you remember our wedding?”

“Do you want to dance?”

“No”

“Why not?”

“I’ve asked you a question do you remember our wedding?”

“Do you remember our wedding?”

“Do you want to dance?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve asked you a question do you remember our wedding?”

“Honey, of course, I remember our wedding. You wore white, I was in a rented suit and the man who married us hated me.”

“My Grandfather married us.”

“Exactly.”

“You are sure Grandpa hated you.”

“Pretty sure.”

“Nonsense!”

“No, no, it’s okay. I wouldn’t want to marry off my daughter or granddaughters.”

“But if you were marrying off our son?”

“Well… every son should marry…eventually.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Do you want to dance?”

“No, I’m pretty much danced out.”

“Don’t want to dance with an old man.”

“No, I just don’t want to dance.”

“Well, at least you will be seen with an old man.”

“I’m sitting here.”

“Ah thank you. Especially for sitting next to me for nearly 25 years.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Woman, has it been that bad?”

“Being married to you?”

“Yes, being married to me.”

“No.”

“No… and what else?”

“Did you expect more?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you don’t remember our wedding so why should I expound upon our marriage?”

“For the love of God… I remember our wedding. Your Grandfather married us and your Father gave you away. All three of your brothers were either ushers or standing next to me. And we all knew that before that night was over I’d convince you to step out of that frilly white dress you wore.”

“My dress was not frilly!”

“God help me.”

“Were you nervous? I would have thought you would have been over that. I already said yes.”

“Yes dear, you said yes. They didn’t.”

“Well for Pete’s sake, they didn’t threaten you or anything.”

“How do you know?”

“All right that’s enough.”

“Well, you won’t dance with me and you won’t tell me how you feel being married to me so what am I suppose to do?”

“Hm. You are at a disadvantage aren’t you?”

“How do you mean?”

“You must speak to me sitting here, don’t you?”

“Now what is that suppose to mean?”

“Well after 25 years you’ve become accustomed to being around me. Relaxed enough to spend hours in your books, write, putter in the garage with your wood working… it’s been some time since you’ve asked me my opinion… well on you.”

“Oh, so I’ve become a bore.”

“I don’t recall calling you a bore.”

“I sound boring.”

“You may sound boring but not to me.”

“Okay, I’m a little confused.”

“Did my Grandfather wear a rented suit or his black suit?”

“His black suit with that white color of his.”

“Did my Mother wear the lavender suit?”

“No, she wore that apricot looking thing—your Father was furious at her for buying two dresses for one wedding.”

“Do you really want to know what it’s like being married to you?”

“Yes… really I want to know.”

“I like being married to you.”

“Well, that’s a relief, why?”

“Because when I walk past you while you are reading, you’ll gently take my hand and pull me to a stop and say ‘listen to this’.”

“Any book you prefer over another?”

“No–I prefer the sound of your voice.”

“Oh.”

“And lately I’ve come to appreciate that you don’t shave on Saturdays. And you don’t seem to mind that most of your beard has turned white. I kind of like the way it feels when you kiss me.”

“Really? I can probably manage that a few more times a week…”

“No, once a week is fine but I appreciate your quick response and willingness to expand.”

“Oh, my pleasure. Anything else?”

“I appreciate you cleaning out the cat box every Saturday.”

“The cat box? You witch! You had me hook, line and sinker.”

“No, really you have me hook, line and sinker.”

“Really?

“Really.”

“And when did that happen—I mean when you decided you loved me?”

“I don’t know it just happened sometime between year one and 25.”

“Not before?”

“Possibly.”

“Hm… And no regrets about Jeff Smith?”

“What do you know about him?”

“That I had a pretty close call with you, because of him.”

“Robert, when did you decide you loved me?”

“The night you put your suitcase in Jeff Smith’s Chevy.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The night you ran away. You were sick of this town, your overprotective family and terrified you would work the soda fountain at the pharmacy for the rest of your life.”

“I told no one about that.”

“You lied to your mother, told her you were with Lydia that weekend. You’d see her at church.”

“Robert, I told no one about that!”

“I watched you leave and about cried in my hymnal Sunday morning when I saw you in your usual spot.”

“You watched me leave. Understood I was gone. You asked me to marry you not too long after that!”

“I didn’t want to watch another Exodus.”

“You fool!”

“Why?”

“Well—how did you know—well nothing happened?”

“I didn’t. And frankly, I was a little shocked on our wedding night—well when everything was intact.”

“Robert!”

“I was pleasantly shocked.”

“Robert!”

“Why did you come back?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know.”

“Really. I cried like a baby 20 miles from town. I remember he tried his best to convince me I was doing the right thing… but I couldn’t stop crying.”

“It took him a full 24 hours to get you back 20 miles from town?”

“He dropped me at my Grandfather’s.”

“I thought you said you didn’t tell anyone.”

“And I didn’t. Grandfather never asked. I fell asleep, exhausted on his couch and he fixed me scrambled eggs and sausage the next morning.”

“Hm,”

“Yeah, hm.”

“Listen we are at this wedding, there is dancing. We don’t do much of that sort of thing, so would you like to dance with me?”

“No… I want to go home.”

“Why?”

“Because today is Saturday, and you had to shave.”

“So?”

“Well, I think tomorrow the world can wonder where we are for a day and you can catch up on your reading.”

“What else can we catch up on?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see.”

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?”

 

School Girl Crush

I feel the creep of age and miss the one who kept me sane

When is the sun an untruth?

Untruth?  Not to be confused with recline, relax, but everything to do with solitude when a truth is proven.

Not to be confused with the decline we all know is coming (are you sure) or nothing, but everything to do with solitude when a truth is proven by being unprovable.

The sun is an untruth when we can’t see it. We are not intruders here.

“Prove it,” he said all alone, spotlighted and mad and hatless, no small child to impose upon or to frighten.

“Such a vast universe, we are insignificant in comparison,” said they to him

– “prove it,” he said, “prove ‘insignificant!'”

and they proved it to themselves by laughing up their sleeves.

I followed him about while he scowled back at me.  “Go away.”

So I did but came back again.

And little by little he spoke less and less to me.  “Here, read this.”

I did and returned the words to him wanting to hear more, all I heard was, “no, no, keep it, take good care of it.”

I see him now everywhere and nowhere.

The librarian with no roof, no walls, no plastic to protect what paper remains,

and me with this ridiculous schoolgirl crush.

“Here read this,” he told me and now I do really read it and think –

prove ‘insignificant’ to me, prove it.