Redemption

“He’s an angel,” she told them. “ He must have been coming for the child, but the poor fellow is so old that the rain knocked him down.”

This quote from “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the basis of a prompt in Amy’s Exploring Fiction class.   Take it and go, she said.

I took her at her word.

Named it Redemption.

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I took the baby.
I left two feathers.
The cinnamon colored one,
The big one,
Is from me.

The little one,
The grey and white one,
Is from your baby.

Don’t worry.
He’ll grow into his colors.
I’ll make sure of it.

His flight feathers are already sprouting.
Indigo.
He’ll be a fast one.

Don’t listen for him, though.
You won’t hear him.
Because he can be fast
Or he can sing.
But he can’t have both.

I kept his voice.
Gave him talons.
Because one sharp weapon
Is all he’ll ever need.

 

 

 

 

 

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Leaving Home

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Fresh out of the chrysalis.

 

1

A monarch holds tight
To its shredded chrysalis.
I understand why.

2

The first divorced Christmas
Triscuits and cheese for dinner.
The sweet taste of peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Landscape

I have six new scars on my body since the beginning of summer. I am tattooed from the inside out with stories.

There are the fresh ones around my navel and under my left ribs, still red with their newness. But there are also the ones on my right knee and hip from the incident with the pony and its cart, the close spinning contact with pavement and small rocks, the long ago child’s body broken and then mended. There are the bright hallucinations of wild ponies in the hall of the hospital, of a silent, non-threatening Jesus glowing in the corner of the sunny antiseptic room. There was a brushing against Death’s jacket, so close I could smell the smoke on it, and then the coming back to finish first grade. There is a small blue-grey pebble in the skin over the kneecap that still hasn’t come out. There is the lack of a limp, against all odds.

There is the jagged slash on the back of my heel from riding a blue Schwinn bicycle barefoot and catching the sharp pedal like a scalpel. That scar holds the memory of my mother and her hands full of gauze and mercurochrome kneeling and mending me, not one word of lecturing even though I knew to wear some kind of shoe and flip flops didn’t count. Her fingers coating the split heel with that sharp red medicine and then giving me a bandage worth bragging about. The scar on my foot today is a bright white, like an electrical arc shooting into the sole.

There’s a small, deep one on my elbow from failing at a somersault at the 4th of July Ruritan Horseshow, going up like a starfish and landing like a guppy onto the one piece of grass that held a glass shard. The smoke from the barbecued chicken fell over the shoulders of the mother of my best friend, a nurse, who inked me up with more mercurochrome and sent me off with a bandaid and a warning and a fresh new scar.

They’re on my chin and in a small straight line under my nose.

There are scars from me reaching into ovens and retrieving casseroles and roasted things, holiday dinners and failed loaves of whole wheat bread.

Some are invisible, unless you write them down. The ones that happened after two drinks too many and arguments flaring into the night. The sharp edges of a tongue that did deep damage. The slash of the distress brought to the surface while someone was dying and you hadn’t resolved all the wrongs. The missing parts of your history. The empty places, leaving scars carved out like strip mines.

Knitted, woven, knotted, inked, threaded together, they are the paragraphs and chapters written on my skin and in my mind.

They aren’t trophies. They’re medals under the lotion I use to soothe them.

Autobiography

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I am from bottom land and whirlpools,
Black walnuts and tribes of deer at twilight.
I am from a notch in the bend of the river.

I am from apple trees and
The bees that suck their pitted fruit
And sting the feet of children.

I am from Fred and Mary Emma,
Fitz and Jolene;
From football games on the radio
And love letters written in peacock blue ink.

I am from vigorous July gardens
And jars holding a thousand tastes of summer
In the dark of December.

I am from big snows
And little churches.
I am from covered dishes
Offered after wakes,
A subdued wreath
on the front door announcing the house holds
the presence of the dead.

I come from hymns
And catechisms.
From practiced cursive writing
And narrow lipped warnings that
Christians don’t swear.

I am from wild flame azaleas
In woods near homeplaces.
From great aunts with braids the color of steel
Clipping branches and bringing in blooms.

I am from cemeteries on the side of a hill
Where all the names are familiar.

I am from stories and legends,
Sermons and lies.
From gardens and root cellars,
Creeks and springs.

I am from pistons and steam,
And black smoked Shay engines.
From spider’s webs wet with September
And radio observatory antennae that turn
And listen to the stars.

I am from August morning fogs
And February storms;
From crow feathers and hoot owls,
From elderberries and ramps.

I am the story of my father’s Royal typewriter,
His fingers on its worn keys,
And my mother’s red, red lipstick-
Her infinite kiss caught
In the crease of a blue-inked letter.

 

Vestiges

Every day, there was more furniture leaning between the culvert and the fence. One day, a brown leatherette sofa piled with embroidered pillows. The next, a heavy matching chair, white trash bags tossed against its bulky arms. A book case with warped shelves, empty of pages and covers.

Cleaning house, I thought.

It had been raining every day for a week and the pile kept getting bigger. More trash bags, tied tight with red plastic, tilting under the shadowy weight. A large grey radio with a crooked antenna.

By the end of the week, there was a small table and three wooden chairs. A crockpot was centered on the table, next to a green and yellow crocheted child’s blanket. A vacuum cleaner’s brushes rested on the drenched grass.

Then the toys started showing up. A stuffed pink camel. Small things on wheels. A baby carrier with a coral cushion and large plastic beads dripping with rain. A humidifier.

Next to the metal fence that encircled the big yard, something new. An iron bedstead, its headboard painted the soft salmon color of a summer peony. It was set apart, placed upright against the squares of the fence, drawing attention by the care of it.

I had an iron bedstead once. I found it hanging on a dark wall in an old tobacco barn, the farmer said he had no need of it, rusted and smoky as it was. Six dollars and you can take it, he said.

It was chinked with rust. I took a stiff brush to it, scraped and scraped but it still looked pocked even after all the pressure I could apply to it. I got tired of fooling with it, impatient to paint it and get it in my small room in the little house I was renting far out in the country. I was proud of my choice of sky blue paint. Underneath, the headboard looked scabbed with leftover layers of rough iron. I had taken the easy way out. The scars of the bed’s past stayed that way for years.

The iron on the pink bed was smooth, cleared of age and rust. The paint wasn’t chipped. Care had been taken.

I couldn’t imagine leaving that pink bed to the elements like that. I kept the blue bed for years. It chipped the whole time. Just like the marriage. When I left, in a hurry and in secret, that blue iron frame went into the U-Haul with me. I was back in a small rented place, in a city this time. I threw a blanket with a geometric design over it and called it freedom.

But this abandoned bed haunted me. So smooth and pastel. Careful in its place against the fence, in the rain.

And in my head, I heard “There but for the Grace.”

There but for the Grace.

I willed myself to look away. And then I looked back against my will.

Grace is a thing with feathers and weights.

Sacred Geometry

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My pockets are stuffed with memories. I rattle with them when I walk.

I hold them up to the light-sometimes it’s the sun, sometimes it’s 2:45 in the morning and there’s just enough moon to make them breathe on their own.

I empty my pockets, my mind. I find treasures.

People are there. Their words. Their faces. The outline of their absence.

Pets, the memory of their fur, their colors, of the places they used to be.

Summer days that smell of onions and plums.

The faded lemon light over humid fields at the end of a day in August. Driving through that light, I finally understood the meaning of the word “benediction”.

The memories make noises.

The sound of a saxophone. The taste and feel of the player’s lips on mine after the music stopped.

The shiver of the night’s dew just under my hips and shoulders. The imprint of my body on the early June grass.

Once they leave my hands, my mind, the remembrances shift and glint like mercury or crystallized smoke. Sometimes, they transmigrate.

There is the memory of a well aimed smile, the smooth teeth, and then the hidden venom.

There are ministers with robes like crow’s wings.

There are gilded handles on a coffin.

The memories glint and knock, reminding me not to walk into the deep part of that river or I’ll go under for sure.

I reach into my pocket for a feather, a two -toned leaf, the bubble -eyed shell of a cicada. I lift them up to the alter of my history.

All the dots connect. It is a sacred geometry.

The Summer Road of My Mind

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There are so many little things that seem inconsequential in the big world. Small things, like when my daughter handed me her bowl of black raspberry ice cream, giving me the first bite when it should have belonged to her and the sweetness of it was doubled.  There on the spoon and on my tongue was a flavor that took me in Time’s slipstream—down Route 39, riding in the shade of the maples that my best friend’s granddaddy had planted, past the spring on the hill that supplied our little town with good, sweet water.

I was in the car with my dad again, riding on a narrow road between yellow fields because it was summer.  He hadn’t said where we were going but I knew and I fidgeted a little because I was happy.  The windows were down and the dust came in and even that was something good, the wind and the dust and the sun over everything.

The tires crunched over gravel when we pulled up to the Texaco station, ringing the bell that came out of the hidden mouth of the tube that snaked across the pavement, letting everyone know we were there.  I could see a hand waving behind the station’s big front glass. I saw the embroidered red Texaco star on the gray shirt of the man who was waving. My dad swung the big car over the ringing tube again and lined up next to the red and white gas tanks that said they were “Fire Chiefs”. We were all exactly where we supposed to be.

I got out of the car.  My flip flops slapped against the bottom of my feet.  My toes and ankles were scratched from running through briars and creekbeds.  Inside, it smelled like oil and rubber and cigarettes.  That was exactly the way it was supposed to smell.  I was asked “What flavor today, little lady?”  and sometimes I picked chocolate and on some days black cherry, but never Neapolitan because vanilla took up took much space.  Today, I picked black raspberry.  It was scooped up and the cone was wrapped in a thin paper napkin and handed to me by hands that still smelled like Lava soap. The first taste was how the day felt and it was all pretty close to perfect.

The road I’ve been traveling lately has been a very different one from that summer road. The pavement seems tilted and glints with mysterious shards. The trees that line the way provide little shade, the leaves seem flecked with barbs. There have been more questions than answers. I ache a little from needing the feel of a benevolent sun on my skin.

So I needed a place that was familiar and safe and full of a simple richness. That’s what I tasted on the spoon tonight and when I thanked my daughter, I really meant it.

 

Shadows

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I come from a long line of invisible women. They were creatures of flesh and pulsing arteries, desires and frustrations, anger and bitten tongues, love and faith and doubt. They were fearful and brave and some pushed out babies and some never knew a man.

My grandmother from generations ago is being rocked at the bottom of the Atlantic, along with her two little children, Mary and Josiah. They were slipped off the side of a wooden ship before they reached American shores, their skin mottled with small pox. They died on board a ship with the comforting name of The Welcome, dying far away from their old home, watery miles from the new one, wrapped in a shroud and sent into the salt. And now their bones, maybe still together-I hope they’re still together-moved by currents or the wake of large fish, making designs in the sand. A dance free of muscles and cartilege and skin. Free of pock marks and fever. My grandmother lies there in the deep silence, and she rocks forever, her babies traveling around her.

Another grandmother, nameless, graveless, dying after giving birth to her first child, a boy.  The baby’s father was a fair skinned, blue-eyed descendent of an English merchant who shared a ship’s voyage to Pennsylvania with William Penn. The birth of a son was recorded, acknowledged in the well traveled two hundred year old New Testament that is in my keeping now. The mother, Native American, having delivered her infant is noted as “Unknown.”

A great-aunt, considered “different”, shunned by kin because of her affliction, stopped on a too warm summer’s day on her way up Back Mountain Road to ask for a cool glass of water from the kind woman in the farmhouse set back off the road. The woman, her husband gone to war, her belly round behind her apron, invited her in, gave her that cool water, and asked her to sit in the shade of the porch for awhile. My aunt stayed for seventeen years, raising the baby that was behind the apron and her two older siblings. Kindness was granted.

Her kin still denied her. She is buried in the cemetery where they all rest now, but her grave is unmarked.

They are all as real to me as the imprint of my mother’s lips on a love letter she wrote to my father before they were married, the sweet stain of her lipstick caught in the crease of the paper.

I walk with all these missing women, sharing their caul.

 

Unfamiliar Music

I’m sitting in a parking lot on a too-warm June day, waiting for my husband who is notoriously thorough in his shopping habits.

I’m watching people. I’m watching the rhythm and flow of other couples, families, all of them strangers to me.

The impatient ones who try to open the door before their partner unlocks it. The teens too tall for their newly stretched out bodies, doing their assigned duty of carrying bags for their mother, who is driving. The teen climbs into the passenger seat, waiting, just waiting until its his turn to flip on the engine, go where he wants to go. Until then, Mama holds the key.

Someone is always holding the key.

The rhythm and flow of our lives-my husband’s and mine- has become syncopated lately.

We’ve had our own unexpected dance.

We met on a bus.

We talked about everything.

He made me laugh.

I married him. He married me. All of our strangeness and offerings got stitched together. It was the most incredible surprise.

Last week, I had an unexpected surgery, done at midnight by capable people. I healed well during this whole week. I read myself silly and at the end of the week craved tomatoes and apple pie and got them. They were delicious.

In less than two days, I am facing another surgery. One that’s been in the works for awhile. So much is an elastic mystery. We none of us know what to expect.   My daughter is brave and quiet and studies me when she thinks I’m not looking.    My husband peels the skin from small tomatoes as a gift,  reaches for me while we’re reading.

We are unfamiliar with this script. We want to call for rewrite every now and again.

And yet, the music plays. Our feet are nowhere near familiar with the rhythm or the dance.

But if this be love, by God, play on. Please play on.

 

 

A Box of Spirit

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Last spring, it was snakes.   This year it’s turtles.

Last year, creatures were shedding their skins all around me, leaving their cast-offs for me to find in shady places, among flowers, next to the rock they itched themselves against to free the sleek new thing underneath.  The skins were papery, see-through and etched with small patterns of the snake they used to be.   The designs came up like stretch marks.

Once, when the phoebes were building a nest under the eaves over the kitchen window,  darting up and down like feathered scythes, a long transparent strand escaped from the weaving and floated in front of the window,  weightless in the breeze.   It carried a pale pattern of diamonds where scales had been.

This year, it’s little turtles, barely here, the size of the center of my palm.  Their new shells are painted somehow while they’re in the egg, squares and half circles, gingko leaves,  Japanese fans.   They’re safe from mosquitoes but don’t know all the things they’re going to have to stare down and skirt around, all the steps that will seem like miles, all the potential cracks in their armor.

They stop me in my tracks on walks.   Their eyes are small chestnuts, shadows of the fruit of Appalachian trees that no longer exist.   They are flecked with fresh mown grass, showered with its green.

They don’t shed their skin.   They grow into it.  They’re out in the open and they’re staring me down, daring me to walk far and steady, away from blades.