“People My Age “

I will never understand
Your inability to love.
Your wastefulness.
Your lack of gratitude.
Your inability to appreciate the shimmering details,
the small things
right before your eyes.
Your boredom.
Your insistence on misery,
for yourself
and everyone around you.
Your unwillingness to speak to your children
like real people
for any length,
or at all.
Your falseness.
Your lack of substance
and the way you fill in the gap with lies
and pretense
rather than effort.
Your facebook.
Your self obsession.
Your self loathing.
How you can be so self obsessed when you hate yourself
so much.
Why you just follow along,
with
all the trends,
the meaningless music,
the constant tv
and ever increasing
commercial breaks.
The sexualization
of everything.
Sluts.
Pretending that allowing
everyone to look at your
everything
is owning the skin you’re in.
Make up.
Shapewear.
Controlling the people you claim to love.
Not allowing your child’s other parent
to parent.
Letting your child be the parent.
Children and technology.
Children who can’t speak,
use a toilet,
use utensils,
but know how to operate a cell phone,
the remote,
a game controller,
netflix,
their parents.
Lack of imagination.
Schools catering to unparented children
because otherwise there would be no one
to cater to.
The “______ Lives Matter” game.
You don’t understand
that no lives matter
equally.
That all you have is you
and your limited perception.
That, as long as you refuse to acknowledge
how limited your knowledge and experiences are
you can never grow.
All that matters
is already right in front of you
but you insist
on pretending you’re headed for another life,
a future
you imagine
but that is in no way connected
to your present actions.
When did living like today is the last
boil down to
a frat party?

Cicadas, Dry Grass and Afternoon Sadness

When I was something like eleven years old my parents went out of town and left my sisters and myself with friends of theirs. The friends were an older couple, poetically nondescript in a perfect brown carpet and beige kitchen decor kind of way. Al had some sort of growth that gave him a Rudolph nose, more bulbous and increasingly red each year. He was the kind of guy who made it his schtick, teasing children about what he had done to get this nose, making up wild stories about how it came to be that way, and how we could avoid a similar fate. His wife, Linda, was big on top with stick thin legs and all her clothes were square, including her dresses which featured prehistoric, or perhaps just militant, shoulder pads. As a child, their property and home had the same vibe to me. Even the grass was brown and the most interesting thing around was the orchard, filled with rows of eerily twisted apple trees. There’s a vague memory of Al in a bee keeping suit, and a dark wooden shed where he kept the honeycomb in jars, the only light coming from a crude window screened in chicken wire. Fresh honeycomb had to be the most delightful thing I had ever tasted in my barely a decade of experience.
They were incredibly nice people and even took us on vacation to Branson, spending a day with us on the scorching tar walkways of Silver Dollar City. But, about fifteen years later, what I remember most distinctly is the savory nothingness and the flawless boredom. What I mean by this is hard to put into words. It’s laid out in neatly framed, moving photos in my mind’s eye, in a way that has come to define summer.

I hate Kansas. When we’re on the road and people ask where we’re from I typically say either Kansass or, “I’m not telling,” and I frequently offer the advice that, if you aren’t farming or cooking meth, stay the fuck outta the entire state. But my memories of the couple weeks at Al and Linda’s somewhat resemble a soft spot for the pulp of summer and vast lack of substance. It’s the simplicity, the feeling of almost comfort in the limbo quality of the place. I don’t like to admit it most of the time, but when the air becomes thick enough to drink and pools up on your skin, and cicadas thrum in rhythm with the miserable heat waves, a piece of me feels some connection.

At Al and Linda’s there was a lot of hang time. My sisters, being too poised and mature as new teenagers, mostly stayed in the air conditioned house, curled around books, while I slipped out the sliding glass door to wander the orchard or challenge myself to find something interesting. There was hardly any shade on the property. If you’ve ever met an apple tree you know that’s not really its purpose in life, and if you’ve ever been in the Midwest, you’ll know how useless even real shade can be. I’m always amazed when we go west, how I can be baking in the sun, step under a tree and get too chilly, so that I want to step back into the dry heat. I didn’t even realize until a few years ago that Kansas has a sub tropical climate, having once been beneath the sea. It’s a low spot where all the moisture runs and stews its inhabitants. The grass withers, the trees shudder and sometimes begin changing colors out of either confusion or self defense, and everything seems to pause.
Summer, in Kansas, can be a bit like night, because only those with a specific purpose are still dragging themselves about. Walking outside can be like wandering a vast secret clubhouse, the only other inhabitants in possession of the same closely guarded information as you, so that there’s no need to stop and converse; your shared presence means you both already hold the key.

I remember walking the drainage creeks to see where they led, the chatter of birds and insects a dull waterside roar. Saplings who had the luck of blowing into this unseen territory, rather than the well trimmed properties a few yards up the bank, willing their leaves to wave in a nearly imperceptible breeze. Leeches and frogs alike, lying in wait, hoping not be noticed in the stinking mud. I was always afraid of water snakes. Something about the way they glide so elegantly across the surface of the water coming across as royalty, and a bow, or at the very least a clearing of their path, is warranted. If snakes are the rarely seen kings and queens of this dominion, mosquitoes are the swarming street peasants, guarding over their disgusting broods not out of care and concern, but only to ensure that their vile lineage be carried on. Someone has to help the ticks keep the soulless deer in check.

I braved the muck and critters as though I were discovering parts unknown, willing to bleed and stink a bit in trade for adventure. My imagination never failed me as a kid and these creeks could be anything I wanted them to be. I might be journeying to a mystical temple deep in the jungle, wading the Amazon to test my courage against the legendary anaconda, turning sunfish into piranhas and salamanders into baby crocodiles, or perhaps I was an orphan, turned to theft and survival dependent on crime, the storm drain tunnels my secret refuge. If you never strolled through one of these tunnels as a kid you’ve missed out on a kind of magic. They seem roughly palatial, ten to twenty feet tall with varying amounts of water trickling or pouring over their floors, impenetrably dark at their centers with small passages snaking off into deeper shadows like black holes in the wall. Sometimes animal remains and paintings decorate the hide outs, and my imagination required I suppose the bones were those of a human, sacrificed long ago to some fire in the sky.

And all along, the cicadas, thrumming, voices soaring, their stridulation defining the pace and secrecy of the summer.
At Al and Linda’s there was that incredible stillness; life free of time. I don’t remember waking up there. I don’t remember going to sleep or eating dinner, just one long stretch of afternoon and eternal sunlight. Timelessness. I finally put my finger on it. Summer on a plain of dry, golden grass is like living inside a sensory deprivation tank- you float, you cease to exist in the conventional sense and life takes on the quality of ink on a page, as though you are a static character in the midst of being written, alive and in motion only when a reader lifts your book and allows you to travel as they turn the pages. And the quintessential insect song only adds to the suspended quality of events, droning constantly on, varying only in the number of voices, fading in and out but never completely quieting.

I’ve always preferred ambient light to artificial and enjoy the way it changes throughout the day. I also enjoy the various feelings of places based on the quality and source of their light and the visual flavours experienced as I move from one place to another, traveling through worlds six feet apart but vastly different. I loved to play outside in the summer until I was too hot to stand it, and then retreat inside the cool dark house, walking slowly into the blackness of the hallway, focusing on the light slipping in from the kitchen trying to reach through the shadows of the foul smelling corridor that housed the opening to my father’s lair. It was always either dark or artificially lit in there.
I would take off my shoes, set them neatly in the row along the wall and walk quietly into the blue living room.

It was in this space the “afternoon sadness” was born, the opposite of golden timelessness. I have this distinct yet fragmented memory of sitting on a stool in the middle of the room, uncharacteristically silent, looking out the window at the movement and sunlight beyond the glass. I must have been between the ages of five and seven. The curtains were blue and there was a room sized blue and white braided rug we, for some reason, called “The Family Rug.” There was almost the sense of being inside a fish tank. I watched the neighbor’s small dog running back and forth in the yard, but didn’t hear it bark. I watched their enormous elm tree wave its fingers over their roof as though casting a spell, but I didn’t hear its whisper. I watched the top of the small coniferous shrub right outside bend under the weight of a bird, but as the feathered creature opened its beak and threw its head back, I heard only the stillness of the house. The feeling that the day was winding down disappointed me in a mortal way, as though the sun’s descent through the sky signaled the end of all things. The Lord giveth, they had taught me, and he taketh away. He must be the one, then, flicking the burning ball of light farther from me, farther towards my father’s waking, towards my nightly battle with terror of things I wished would just show their faces already and get the fear over with.

The isolation was nearly tangible, the color of the light and the decor as though I was frozen inside a block of ice. I could feel my father sleeping at the other end of the house. Even with his eyes closed and his breathing slowed, all subjects were at the king’s disposal, servants of the silence of the house, that he might sleep through the day, undisturbed, and work through the night to avoid the life that played out before him against his will. It was as though, as a small child, I could feel the inevitability of time slipping, slipping, slipping, (if I may) and how meaninglessly so.

My mother would come in from her yard work smelling of sweat and her secret cup of diet Coke, forbidden by her husband because fat women shouldn’t drink soda. She would turn on the radio and, as though they knew what I was struggling with, the christian radio station would taunt me with what I still think of as “end of the day” music, and I would stay in my spot until my mother sent me away or asked me to help with something, or my sisters entered the room to mock me with their beautiful singing voices and pointed helpfulness. “Your daydreams are over,” they may as well have whispered. “It’s time to Help. Are you even doing anything?”

The day would wind down soon. It would be harder to see out the window. False, yellow tones would fill the house, and any sound would be as phony as the light, piping from the throats of a flock of sheep in the presence of the wolf, trying to placate him as his yellow eyes flickered across their meat. When allowed their freedom, there was nothing they wanted to do anyway. Our mother would enforce bedtime and I would lie awake in my windowless bedroom, imagining the sun, fresh, as though never seen, lilting over the garden and gracing the strawberries come morning. I would quietly dress, tease the squeaky back door open as quietly as possible, and slip out into the still cool day, convinced I might catch a glimpse of a fairy sprinkling small droplets over the butterfly garden and grape arbor. Our yard would suggest the inhabitants of the small house may have souls, but in the quiet afternoon, in the wind-down of sleepy light, I knew otherwise, even then. I just desperately wished-no, then I still prayed-that it weren’t true.

Pocketful of {Dead} Pets

I bury myself in caring for things
I may not be able to keep alive;
Was it my subconscious that wrote out “carrying” when I thought I meant
To say caring?
Do I focus my efforts on things
I see as redeemable?
The cat,
another in the dime a dozen story
of released kittens,
mangy,
bug ridden.
I left her to die,
with a litter of flea bitten young
when I realized I could barely even keep myself alive.
Then there was the puppy
who showed me how my eyes gleam red
in the face of things
I can’t control.
Poor mutt.
I’ll never have my own dog
again.
I did better with the bird
I found in the mouth of a cat,
dragging myself from bed at noon
to judiciously cut nuts and berries
into slivers, on a saucer,
and watch him eat
until every morsel had vanished.
He stayed with me until he was able to fly
and I was sad to realize
how badly I had wanted him
to stop depending on me.
There was another cat,
kicked
and thrown
by the neighborhood children.
My daughter told them I had taken their pet.
I refused to give her back,
but she got out
and was pregnant before she was a year old.
There was nothing I could do.
They started keeping her inside.
There are dog packs here
always seen
eating trash in the ditches.
I leave them alone.
At least they have each other,
often just pairs,
one small, one pit- no surprise.
I killed the infant mice
out of laziness
and cried for two days
at my abhorrent behaviour.
I decided I hate mice.
Vicious little bastards,
worse to one another
than my awful feeding schedule and lack of warmth
could ever be.
Maybe I saved them, after all.
Now I have a starling.
She’s so afraid
and I just want her to know that I love her,
with her twig thin legs
and immaculate claws.
My heart melts when she gapes at me
and fluffs up contentedly in my palm.
I want her to live forever.
We fed her the caterpillar we failed to feed.
I don’t know why it wouldn’t eat,
like the fifty some caterpillars we watched hatch yesterday,
walked about hunting on behalf of,
for very specific leaves.
Four courses we provided
and they’re having none of it.
Their mother only lived five days.
They were her only purpose.
She was beautiful and I don’t want
to end her legacy.
We won’t even get into the pets I had
as a child,
under my parents’ regime.

Disclaimer: If I made it sound like I killed my puppy, I didn’t. I gave her to a guy who named her Lilly and apparently taught her to ride a skateboard.

Daily Dose- Bottle

via Daily Prompt: Bottle

I nearly drown
Way back then,
My head held under the surface
of years
of your inability to cope with your own shadows.
You struck fiercely
Out of fury at your own brokenness.
You inflicted the kind of misery
That made eighteen years seem insurmountable ;
Absolutely not worth pushing through
To see what comes when dawn breaks.
For years afterward I would tell myself
What a childish fallacy
That perspective had been.
Life outside your walls was magnificent,
Smooth sailing freedom.
What I couldn’t know,
Recognized too late,
Was that my demons should have been faced immediately,
Not left in boxes in dusty corners of my mind
To grow
Into beasts that fill all corners,
Gaining strength beyond my own,
waiting, until their victory was guaranteed,
To stage their coup.
What I didn’t realize
Was that my demons would not simply pause,
Tamely allowing their vessel control.
They quietly pulled the strings,
Hiding behind all my seemingly innocent desires and motivations
Until it became impossible to ignore any longer –
The Truth
That my younger self bottled up
And clutched tightly
On nights when the end seemed more promising
Than endurance.
She knew
What I wanted to forget.
She knew
That some stains are set deep
In the fabric,
Some stones
Can’t be chipped out of the foundation
And no matter how wide open
The future seems,
Sparkling before me like a crystalline sea,
You tied a stone around my being
That no matter how fiercely I paddle,
How desperately I try to stay afloat,
My soul will be drawn to the ocean floor
As if by magnetic force.
My younger self knew, too,
That survival was an option,
A definite possibility,
But unlike my featherweight counterparts,
I would require significantly more emotional muscle
To perform the same mundane daily tasks.
“Normal ” for me,
Would be a struggle,
A dogged attempt to keep my head above water
Across a never ending sea,
And to give in to exhaustion
Would be the end
Of all I worked so hard to gain.
You see, my younger self had a tangible enemy-
You stared her down with shifting eyes,
Controlled her every move.
Your opposition was obvious.
But your pitiful girl
Grew into a thing that forgot
To fight.
I find myself wondering, was it worth it, after all?
Can I learn to see the unseen forces
Guiding my actions,
Enough to overturn the mutiny,
Like you never could?
Do I know who I am,
Apart from the demons?
Do you wonder the same,
As you stare at the phone,
Knowing it won’t ring,
On a day your daughters have only escape
To celebrate?

He Came Back From The Future To Save Himself

The American dream is only
For immigrants
And the blind;
we’ll take this boy from his home
To awaken new realities,
To show him the truth
Beyond the misery of “hometown.”
How disappointing
That true happiness is so often
only known by the most broken.
Did you know
That underneath rock bottom
Lies simplicity?
Either that or religion,
Depending on how capable
You see yourself being
Of becoming captain
Of your own destiny.
What good is a dream
If you wake and live
The opposite of your desires?

Round 2

This small Nebraska town was nearly unbearable last time, claiming the engines of our bus And our gettin around car during a hellacious heat wave, amidst gargantuan mosquitoes and the psychotic episodes of the locals we had the misfortune of getting to know too well. Or, in the case of Pastor Jack, just rubbing the wrong way, which apparently justified trying to get our kids taken away. So, when our new van, purchased to carry on the dream while the bus wonders if we’ll ever be back, starts to give us shit just a couple hours from this dreaded locale, my heart begins to race. And then he says it.
“Well, we know we can make it there and the cops are chill. Wife, you could get your job back. Should we just stay there and leave with the bus And the van? ”

I hated the idea. Unfortunately, I’m the guy who will agree to things if the group seems in favor, rather than be the diva who takes the vote away because I’m too high strung and my husband will [possibly] accommodate me. I balk. I hesitate. I spell out our whole plan and the changes as a result of this potential deviation. The others are gung ho. Reluctantly, I agree.

We’ve been here about two weeks. The mornings and evenings are still cool, but the river is shallow enough in most places to not be too cold for a splash when the midday heat rises, and the mosquitoes aren’t out in force yet. I finally got my only pants patched up. We’ve made the acquaintance of a handful of fellow travelers passing through, including a couple with a griddle the very same morning a stranger randomly offered us a couple pounds of bacon. My friend shipped my refill of the new medication to me and I’m plumb and level and square, so far this second round.

Yesterday, as we prepared to leave the truck stop outside town and head back after job applications, the van wouldn’t start. We knew we needed a new stater and just figured we put it off too long. Unfortunately, we were marooned Out of town and our road dog wasn’t even with us. This conundrum, however, led to a pleasant discovery. Of all the things I’ve seen people turn a blind eye to, people pushing their vehicle is apparently not so easy to callously ignore. Strangers seem to feel compelled to help. My husband and I moved the van to an outer parking space where he would have more room to get under the hood. A man came over, first saying, “You know that’s a lot easier if you start the thing.”
He then got under the hood with my husband, went and got his own tools, and helped us figure out exactly what was wrong and what we needed.

The sprinklers went off in the wee hours (my husband is seasoned enough to know the sound of the sprinklers rising out of the ground, even in his sleep, and leapt to the front to roll up the windows just in the nick of time, as I stared at him half asleep, wondering what was happening) and spawned a stinking pit of black mud and standing water at the front of the van. Not quite the greatest work space. So, again, we begin to push the van, and a middle aged woman with colorful beads woven all throughout the hair on top of her head a la “I bought my granddaughter a bead kit,” jumped right in without saying a word. Her husband wasn’t far behind, and once we got the van in place he offered to save my husband the three plus mile walk in the eighty six degree afternoon, and give him a lift to the auto parts store. Within two hours the van was running again.

A trucker redeemed some free shower points for us and our road dog, and hooked it up with a laundromat pack, which is to say a ziploc loaded with detergent pods, dryer sheets and quarters. We finish our shower and come out to find our homie distraught, pacing the field behind the truck stop. While we were showering he got pack jacked. We asked inside and drove the roads nearby, hoping to see someone on foot sporting their new ill gotten gear, but no luck. He was amazingly sporting about the whole thing. His sleeping bag, bivvy, fresh socks, gemstones and photos are gone, but his hammock, ID and birth certificate were in the van, and he had his pocket knife and phone on him.

We stopped by the storage lot to get some things off the bus and found it in front of the shop. Somehow, when we were here last time, we didn’t hear that the building on the edge of the lot where the bus slumbers is a body shop. A shop run by a good ol’ boy who lives in the room off the garage and likes to drink beer and make good deals for people who help him come up with money before his bills are due. When the bus died last year the main shop in town quoted us $5k for an engine swap, and we still had to source our own engine. Tim asked for $650 by June first, for the 350 he had laying around, and another $600 when the job is done. I think my husband could have kissed him on the mouth. Instead he shook his hand, we raged up $650 over Memorial Day weekend, and my husband and the frequently mentioned traveling companion, Burns aka Mama Burns aka Beer Cup, buy beers and go drink them with Tim and his friends every couple nights. Seeing the bus opened up tonight was like finally seeing your kid arrive at the top of the transplant list. Even Burns couldn’t feel too down seeing good ol’ M.U.T.S sitting there, humbly awaiting her new heart.

Today has been wonderful, and the guy sleeping on the strip of grass at the edge of the Walmart parking lot is here to remind why we have this strange, strange love for this shitty Nebraska town. Not only is their Chinese buffet unrivaled in all the land (even if they do get sneaky every once in a while and slip in a charge for the baby), but the police and the Walmart parking lot maintenance truck (I’ve never seen a walmart vacuum truck before… And I’ve slept at a lot of walmarts… This is an entire mental tangent for me right now) slide right on by, taking notice of said sleeping Deadhead and not giving a rat’s ass where he sleeps, because at least if he’s sleeping, he must not be tweaking.

Good night, Nebraska. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.