First Haircut

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First Haircut

She wants to grow it long, and
she wants to go to the barber.
She wants curls floating down her back, and
she wants the barber’s hands on her
skull, tilting her head now this way, now that.
She wants it both ways.
She wants her locks for herself and
she wants to be
shorn, dark petals drifting down.

It’s not possible to do both, I tell her.

She looks into the mirror, picturing herself as
she might look if
she keeps it, imagining what
she might lose if
she doesn’t.
In the end, she can’t resist her own longing.
The hands of the other win out.
Studying herself in the mirror she sees someone new,
a familiar stranger.
The girl she was, gone.

Why She Looks Deep into the Eyes of a Newborn

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Her first memory is of a dark, slow journey. Many years went by before she realized that what she was remembering was birth, her own, into this world.

The memory came to her first as sensation. Often, in the borderland of sleep and waking, she would feel herself traveling through a tunnel. Slow and soft, as if she were lying on her stomach in a rowboat rowed by someone else. Liquid metal occasionally felt its way around her head.

Everything was warm and dark and quiet. In the darkness she could see light at the end; she was traveling toward light. She had no words but she was fully sentient. She was fully aware of what was happening, and what was happening was that she was beginning a new life, in this world.

The feeling was one of inevitability, and the calm acceptance that goes along with it.

Here we go.

She was in her twenties before she understood that she was reliving memory, and not a fluke sensation of the blurred edge of sleep. The soft metal? Forceps. The light? Light. The calm acceptance? Because she had chosen it, chosen to come here.

In her middle age she wonders what came before. She wonders if she decided, before that journey into this world, what she hoped to learn in this life. She wonders if she chose the people she would meet, and the sorrows she would face, and how she would grow through them. She remembers knowing she would emerge into light. She remembers the feeling of Here we go now. Whatever comes. She draws strength from that feeling, that one in particular. Here we go now. Whatever comes.

The Burning

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Look at that thing. It’s a tree pod of some kind. I should know what it is, but I don’t. I should know the name of the tree it fell from, but I don’t. This being the 21st century, I tried to look it up and find out exactly what it is – this long, fat, dark-red beanlike pod – but I couldn’t. All I found were other long beanlike tree pods, but they all came from trees down south, and I don’t live in the south.

For years I’ve picked these pods up and brought them home. Sat them on my desk and stared at them. A pod like this doesn’t look like something that belongs here, in April, in 2009. It looks as if it grew in a prehistoric forest, and as if the beans contained within might hatch into tiny dinosaurs and start running all over my floors. And then grow bigger, and bigger. And lose their cuteness, and raise their dinosaur arms at me, and open their mouths to show their fangs.

Prehistoric. Before history. Like the alligator my sweetheart saw making his lazy switching way up the Apalachicola River, just under the surface of that dark water. Like the rib cages of the wild boars littering the banks of that river.

But these things do not exist pre-history. They are here. They are now. This tree pod fell from a tree three houses down my very own block.

Prehistoric. Like the nightmare images that wake you from drugged sleep at 3:47 a.m. Like the suck of an infant’s tongue. Like the burn of hunger in the pit of your stomach when all you can think about is food, food, where is food. Like the wild grief of loss. Like the wild desire to live, and keep living, no matter the suffering of this world.

And She Drove Like a Bat Out of Hell, Too

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She was fifty-five when you were born. Hers is the first face you conjure at dawn when you bow your head to your clasped hands. Hers is the scent that you tracked through a Hallmark card store until you found the old lady wearing it, bent over the Get Well cards, who looked up when you started to cry. Hers are the dresses, old and flowered and heavy polyester and unlaundered, that you keep tied up tight in a white plastic bag on a shelf in your closet, that you sometimes untie and bury your nose in. She is the one who taught you how to fold a towel the right way. She is the one who could wring a chicken’s neck and tat a doily and scrub a floor and grade 45 English compositions all in the same evening. Hers was the pantry in which you slept at Christmas, surrounded by tin after tin of her cookies. Hers is the tiny nose that turned bright red the one time she drank a sip of Champagne. She is the one who swayed in the kitchen to the sounds of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. She is the one who played the tiny electric organ with the choose-your-own background accompaniment. It was she who took you to Dairy Queen every night when you visited for that week in the summer, and it was she who asked you if you were sure that one little cone was enough, and didn’t you want a sundae at least? She was the one who gave you fourths on everything. On her coffee table was a blue glass bowl full of butterscotch candies. She laughed and laughed when Arthur tossed his spitballs at the dinner table. She had a dog named Jody. She put reflecting balls in her flower gardens. She is the one who said Semi-gloss, that’s what you want, because you can wash it with a sponge. She wrote you hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters, all of which you still have, overflowing from boxes and bags in your basement. She is the one you always replied to.  She is the one who that one day when you went to visit her could not, suddenly, make you dinner anymore. She is the one you pushed in the wheelchair. She is the one who wrote in shaky handwriting What a happy life we had together, but it wasn’t long enough. She is the one you talk to every day in your mind. Hers is the unmistakable scent you smelled the day you needed her so badly and you walked into your friend’s house and stopped short, overcome, but your friend smelled nothing. She is the one who found no faults in you. Hers were the hands you held, knotted and gnarled with the arthritis that she swore didn’t hurt. She is the one that you, phone hater, called once a week. It was to her that you said It’s okay, you can go, you don’t have to hold on anymore when your mother held the phone to her ear that last day, and then you hung up and made that sound you had never heard yourself make. It was her eulogy you wrote and read in that sun-streaked church after Oatie sang Danny Boy. Her name is the answer to every one of your computer security questions. She is the only person in this world about whom you have not one, single, regret.

Lucky Charms

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Someone who knows you well gave you a charm bracelet for Christmas. Charm bracelets are hard to find. They stay in families; they’re passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter. They disappear quickly from eBay and estate sales. You never see them at garage sales.

You see your grandmother’s old charm bracelet around your sister Oatie’s neck. She turned it into a necklace, and you can stare at those charms forever, remembering the stories your grandmother told about each one.

Now you have this one. You have no idea who it belonged to, and neither does the one you love who gave it to you. It was found after much searching, in a faraway place reached after a long journey on dark and icy winter roads.

You keep the charm bracelet on your desk, below the wall with all the taped-up photos and quotes and and the postcard that reads When Was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?

Every day you pick it up, holding it in the palm of your hand, surprised anew by its weight. You don’t know who originally wore this charm bracelet, but you know some things about her life. She was a girl who came of age in the 40’s, you’re guessing. The 40’s are your favorite clothing era. How often you have looked at photos from that decade, and fingered dresses and skirts in vintage stores, and felt that you were born into the wrong clothing age.

She loved to travel, this far-away girl. It looks as if she made a trans-Atlantic ocean voyage to tour Europe. She began in New York, where she saw the Statue of Liberty. And then she sailed – twice, if the charm bracelet tells the true story – across the sea to London, where she saw Big Ben and lots of theater.

She had a roadster. You imagine her with a scarf tied around her neck, sailing around country roads on trips out of the city, a picnic basket in the backseat and her friends next to her, laughing.

She danced, and she ice-skated, and she even golfed. That you don’t understand – golf? it just doesn’t make any sense to you – but then you remind yourself that this isn’t your life. It was her life.

She rode horses, and if the charm bracelet doesn’t lie, she also was a good riflewoman. She got married in a church. You hope she was crazy about the man she married, and you hope she loved her firstborn, represented by that tiny baby shoe.

And she had a woodstove. Does that mean she had a cabin? She liked to camp? She was an outdoor girl who loved the country, like you? Again you remind herself that this bracelet is about her, not you.

Hello, faraway charm girl. Did you love your life?

The No Apologies Talent Show

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Welcome, welcome. Please come in. Yes, have a seat. May I offer you a beverage? We can take your coat for you, or you can drape it across the back of your chair. We’re sorry it’s only a folding chair, but we hope you’ll find it comfortable nonetheless. It’s a crowded room and you have a good seat.

Excuse me? What’s that above? Why, that is a photo of double-jointed fingers bending backward.

Yes, you’re right. It is of poor quality. That’s because the lady of the house took it. We make no apologies for her poor camerawomanship, though, because this is the No Apologies Talent Show, where all are welcome.

Oh, sure you do. Sure you have a talent. We don’t even have to look beyond your outerwear to see just how talented you are. Could that multi-colored scarf be more artfully draped around your neck? We think not. You probably didn’t even look in the mirror when you doubled that scarf and pulled it through itself, did you? See, we knew it.  And you call yourself talentless.

So few people have any idea of the talent that abounds in this world, which is why we have arranged the No Apologies Talent Show.You may take the stage at any time to show us your talent. Many of you are shy, but we are patient.

You wish to take the stage, little girl? That makes us happy. What will her talent be, we wonder.

She is removing her socks and balling them up. Now she places them on the floor. Now she backs up, takes a running start, and. . .

she leaps over the socks!

That is indeed a talent. It’s called Jumping, and that little girl is good at it.

Here’s an older gentleman. What will he entertain us with? He is taking a pen out of his breast pocket. Now he is drawing little smiling faces on his knuckles. Now he is bending his hands into fists and dancing them through the air.  It’s a small army of little smiling knuckles! Everyone is laughing.

We call that the talent of the Smiling Knuckle Fists, and how happy we are to have seen it. How happy we are to have laughed.

A young boy, made bold by the success of the other talented audience members, scurries onto the stage. From his pocket he withdraws a chopstick. Now he ties a string to one end of the chopstick. Now he slowly passes the stringed chopstick through the air before him. Back and forth go our heads, in unison.

What is the young boy doing, you ask? He is fishing for fireflies. He is waiting for a kitten to appear. He is a young hypnotist in training. He is the conductor of an unseen and silent underwater orchestra.

His is a seemingly limitless talent. We bring our double-jointed fingers together in applause.

Now it’s your turn. Please, take the stage, and do not be shy. There is only admiration here in this crowded room full of audience members on folding chairs. Don’t you want to hear the applause? We are clapping just for you.