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.

The Inspiration of Seasons

Art offers the promise of entrance into some secret club, where minds are sharper, emotions both more raw and rich, and the word “we” holds a private magic, vague and exclusive. The written word especially, for me, bears profound enchantment, as though each letter was selected with me in mind and I want to tattoo all of them onto my soul.

Perfect poetry has that ethereal quality, each shimmering word carefully selected, like stars plucked from a decadent indigo canvas. I can get stuck in one of two ruts in my own writing, because they’re comfortable to me, but may become monotonous to hypothetical readers.

One is the pleasant dream/afternoon sunlight  motif; a place of golden light and gossamer curtains. Hope and regret. Memory and slightly bored peacefulness. A place where cats sleep on warm wooden floors and flowers bloom in pots on the windowsill. Leaves, in their most majestic attire, flutter through crisp, cloudless skies that are always scented like something familiar, and snow transforms the world into a secret hideout, where only the brave venture.

The other mental room in which I often write is vast and cluttered, like a living trinket box. Floor to ceiling shelves, desktops and chairs are stacked with post cards and tattered envelopes, sparkling rocks, empty pill bottles, bones, half read books, journals with pages torn out, scribbled on and crossed out, burned and thrown to the floor. Photos of terrible memories and mementos of failed friendships hang on the walls and litter the floor. Everything is mania inducing inspiration;  bittersweet, harrowing, unquenchable, eternal- these are the words that live here. This is a room I enter alone and cannot leave until something is exorcised, lest some part of me remain trapped there. I loathe interruptions when I am here, and what comes out of this place is for me and me alone, raw and uncensored because nothing can help me if it isn’t brutally honest. I share only because it may help others, or at the least entertain, and then my plight is less useless. The danger in this writing is recognizing the thin line between purging and wallowing.

Little hurls me headlong into one of these two spaces more than the change of seasons, or happiness; the latter simply because it has always been such a foreign concept to me that it is still nearly always bittersweet. All of this is the thought behind a new category, posts inspired by the change of seasons.

Now, with summer looming like an ominous wave, exciting only to schoolchildren and teachers, and our return to an old haunt (the place of the bus’ marooning), my mind spins through memories of summertime sadness. Thunder storms and the scent of lemons, old days on a dirty lake and my first whirlwind of freedom that nearly ruined me for good. There are older memories, of hedgerows and imaginary games, the “family rug” and treehouses I built for my dolls out of bamboo placemats on the rungs of bar stools (though my parents left out the word “bar.”) These are the most bittersweet memories, because my days of innocence and wonder were spent isolated in a dark and vile place, ruled by fear and contempt.

This summer offers second chances and triumph; malts and the rebirth of the M.U.T.S. bus. I have nothing to lose, and everything to remember.

Daily Dose: Unmoored

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

They told me,

When I was young,

That the dock was the only safe place.

No life preserver

Or boat

Could serve at substitute for the semi solid wharf,

Despite what I saw others act out;

Flying across the water

Or pushing it aside with their bodies,

Gliding,

Weightless.

“Weightlessness is sin, ”

They impressed upon me.

” The cruel spirit

Of hatred and vengeance for the wayward,

Would never put more on you

Than you are able to bear.

But He built you weak

And He built you fragile,

And He built you wicked, and to untether

From the pier of misery

And righteous fear

Is to lean unto your own understanding;

To selfishly profess

That you are your own master

And challenge He

Who had his son tortured

And put the blood on our hands. ”

What they failed to mention was

The beauty of the open sea,

Made all the more breathtaking

In contrast with its fearsome power.

They never mentioned

How  the waters were teeming with life,

Unimaginable shapes and shifting colors

That may have burned awe of a majestic creator into my mind,

In place of paralyzing fear.

Unmoored, at last,

Adrift amidst alien scenery,

I see the futility

Of life at the end of a rope.

What then, is your faith,

Having never faced the Power you give your life to,

Out of horror at the thought

Of facing the Power?

Your anchors be damned,

Any and all.

You think you’re in control-

Wages, dreams of wealth,

religion, and grave plots;

Waiting to rot,  like the salt encrusted timber

You lash your soul to,

Until the day

It’s taken back by the sea.

… Like a motherless child

The only thing worse

than the death of someone you love

is the complete and utter failure of that person

to fulfill their role in your life

while there’s breath in their lungs.

They’re walking about,

talking to others,

sharing glances and smiles with people

who are not you.

My mother won teacher of the year,

I was told,

and I wonder why it is the children of others

she came through for.

I guess it’s easier to speak up on behalf

of children whose demons are not of your making,

and whom you are paid to tolerate.

I wonder if she thought of me at all,

the child who desperately needs someone to talk to

and is left to call an 800 number and say,

through tears,

“This is the kind of day you call your mother, but mine is dead. ”

It’s easier than explaining that she just doen’t care,

the person who was supposed to love me forever,

like me for always,

as long as she’s living…

I guess dead inside counts too.

Daily Dose – Unravel

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/unravel/

She remembers the poem

“Ode to My Socks, ” by Pablo Neruda

like you remember seeing an old friend

a few years ago;

The whimsy, like going back in time

to a better you,

right in the middle of those beloved memories.

” I would be

The perfect pair of handmade socks, ”

She thinks,

imagining the colors,

woven together like the simplest magic.

Simple is often the best sort of thing,

especially now,

when things are anything but.

The old friends will never visit,

she made sure of that,

by trying to encourage them to live better.

They weren’t that sort of friends which,

I suppose,

means they weren’t ever friends at all.

And now

The  twilight and goat skin,

Two immense blackbirds,

became entangled,

snagged on what she supposed was love, but,

being the drooping blossom

of a seed sprouted in rock,

she has the tendency to mistake stone

for fertile soil.

It is an easier mistake to make

than someone who was loved as a child

Can imagine.

And it has come to pass

that the one golden thread

is caught,

but time moves ever onward

with no regard for requests to pause

so that one might stop her soul from unraveling

as the result

of another mistake.

Perhaps she’ll have to settle

for being a metaphorical pile

of lovely yarn;

So many things it has been

or could yet become,

instead,  lying on the floor

taking comfort in its own shapeless vibrance.

Sometimes

after so many times,

you take what you can get.

https://m.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/ode-my-socks

Daily Dose: Denial

via Daily Prompt: Denial

My husband closes the full screen window,  starts looking for something else to watch.

“I don’t think anything like that ever would have happened,” I say in reflection. “I mean, he was violent sometimes, yeah, but he was more just pathetic .”

My husband laughs  dryly, without humor. “We just watched, what,  four things, about how pathetic men kill their families. I know you don’t want to admit it, and you’ve distanced yourself from it, but you Were just the same as those women.”