Poem of the Week, by Fady Joudah

Mimesis
– Fady Joudah

My daughter
wouldn’t hurt a spider
that had nested
between her bicycle handles
for two weeks
She waited
until it left of its own accord

If you tear down the web I said
it will simply know
this isn’t a place to call home
and you’d get to go biking

She said that’s how others
become refugees isn’t it?

 

* * *

For more information on Fady Joudah, please click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/fady-joudah

My Facebook page: : http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Andes Mint #7: Tanka (the last time)

Tanka* (the last time)

I’m crazy about
you, he ran back up four flights
to whisper. His eyes,
burning. His coat, flying. His
decision, already made.

 

*A tanka is a Japanese poem consisting of five lines, the first and third of which have five syllables and the others seven. Tankas, like the blues, often deal with intensely personal subject matter.

Andes Mint #6: Phantom ice cream

When you think of Charlie, which you do every day, he appears to you smiling, sitting on a chair wearing dark pants, a white shirt with a faint stripe, dark shoes. The chair is simple, one step up from a folding chair, and it’s set on the linoleum floor of the dark pantry-like space in his old house, the same space that once held the commercial soft-serve ice cream machine he bought at an auction and installed for the use of himself and his family.

The house burned down many years ago. The ice cream machine was uninstalled shortly after Charlie got his triple bypass. The night your parents called to tell you he was in the hospital, you sat down and wrote him a letter that began, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?”

Charlie was your father’s best friend. He is inseparable from every moment of your growing up, and from your entire life until he died last year. When you think of him now he’s always in that chair, always smiling, always chuckling.

Hi Charlie.

Hi Al.

You hear his voice perfectly. It’s as if he’s in the room with you whenever you think of him. His voice, followed always by that easy chuckle. The man could get along with anyone in the world, and others counted on him to be the conduit through which they got along with others. This was a role he was born for and he fulfilled it unerringly.

He was a farmer for much of his life, an extension agent for the state for many years, a Walmart greeter for a few. Sitting here typing this, on this buckling white couch in your basement, where you’re trying to escape the heat, you try to think of even one person who didn’t love him. You can’t.

There he sits on that chair, smiling, that easy laugh, that mellow voice that has always sounded to you like a cello turned human.

Hi Charlie.

Hi Al.

In your mind you pull up a chair opposite him, there in that dark pantry where the soft ice cream machine is churning away. This is where you meet, now that he’s gone, in a disappeared pantry in a burned-down house: a place where he used to sit you down with a spoon and a big bowl of melting vanilla ice cream.

He’s talking to someone else at first, someone you can’t see, but after a while he glances over and meets your eye. He nods and smiles and you nod and smile back. There is the same deep, wordless understanding between the two of you that there always was.

What you know –and he knew you knew it– was that Charlie’s easy chuckle was his defense. It was how he got through, how he bought time so that his brain would have a few extra seconds to whisk through a thousand possibilities, figure out how to defuse, how to smooth over, how to make everyone in the conversation –especially those who were angry, quick to judge, quick to injury– feel listened to, seen, known.

If Charlie could have been cloned and installed in embassies around the world, there would be no war.

Now he is gone, but you still need his presence. So every day you draw up a chair opposite him. You smile. You listen to that easy laugh. Charlie steadied the lives of those who knew him. He smoothed things over among people he loved and people he barely knew. An invisible filament strung through his hands held so many things together.

In life, the two of you never spoke openly of what you knew about each other, which is how much effort that takes, not only to do it but to make it look effortless.

Andes Mint #5: and she drove like a bat out of hell, too.

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.

Andes Mint #4: Rocky Mountain High

What you remember from the summer you turned 20:

How it felt to behold the snow-capped Rockies rising up out of the distance, far higher and far more jagged than you, a girl from the foothills of the Adirondacks, knew mountains could be.

How it felt to stand in the living room of a kind stranger who had offered you and your boyfriend shelter that first night, stars whirling in your eyes, the world going black, and wake on the floor a few minutes later with chipped teeth and a fierce headache.

“Altitude sickness,” said the kind stranger. “You took a divot out of the table on your way down.”

How to clean a hotel room. Bathroom first: a) sink, b) tub, c) toilet, d) mirror, e) floor. Mini-fridge: check for leftovers. Strip the bed. Remake the bed. Vacuum. Dust. Lock the door behind you.

How you laughed at the title of the job your boyfriend got at that lodge on the edge of town: Houseboy. How he used to lock himself and three oranges inside a room inside a room inside a room on his lunch hour to teach himself how to juggle. How good he got at it.

How every day around 1 p.m. thunderclouds gathered over the mountain and rain poured down for twenty minutes. The scrape of chairs and tables being hauled inside. The smell of wet cobblestone and pavement. The scrape of chairs and tables being hauled outside again. The rinsed smell of the air.

How it felt to hike up the mountain and ride the gondola down, as if you knew a secret none of the tourists who rode the gondola both ways knew.

How angry you felt the night the cops came to the apartment to arrest your friend for taking a single piece of ham and an orange from the kitchen of the restaurant where he worked.

How triumphant you felt when you dangled a piece of string in a stream high up in the mountains and watched in amazement as a trout impaled itself on the safety pin you had tied onto the end of that string.

How you used to stand by the side of the highway, thumb out, hitching a ride to the Safeway a couple of miles away. The feel of the tall grass brushing your bare legs. The dry smell of sage.

How the boys’ voices drifted back toward you near the summit of that one mountain. Headache, pounding heart, swimmy stars. Altitude sickness, said the kind stranger. How you jackknifed your body so that you could use your hands to climb the rest of the way, like a monkey.

How the girls with long hair and tie-dye skirts, flowers in their hands, danced for hours at that Dead concert that the three of you hitched to. Or took the Greyhound to. How you got up in the middle of the night, in darkness, to get there in time. How the sweet smell of pot drifted over the canyon.

How you got so good at flipping through the Welcome to Colorado magazines that were placed in each hotel room in order to find the Buy One Whopper Get One Free coupon near the back. How you carefully folded the page in quarters so as to tear out the coupon.

How it felt to come home after cleaning all those rooms, tired, and drag yourself up the double flight of stairs (Altitude sickness, said the kind stranger) and put your key in the lock.

How you used to mix a tall glass of lemonade and vodka and sit cross-legged on the balcony to watch the sun set. How you used to sit there and wonder, “Am I a grownup now?”

Andes Mint #3

Once there was a woman who possessed –or was possessed by– an ancient, crappy laptop that a) couldn’t be used on her lap because it literally burned her, and b) had a blank keyboard, as in all the letters had worn off the keys (twice), and c) frequently offered up the blue screen of near-death, which made the woman afraid ever to turn it off, even on an airplane, in case it had covertly signed a DNR somewhere along the way.

The crappy non-lap laptop had one great redeeming feature, however, which is that it was free. And since the woman was soon to be given another (also free, also no-doubt-crappy) non-lap laptop, she soldiered on, Dropboxing daily, emailing herself books-in-progress, and laughing when her youthful companions tried to write essays using the blank keys of the keyboard.

There was one real drawback to the non-lap laptop, however; its ancient, cumbersome battery would hold a charge only for 45 minutes, and the woman preferred to work not at home but in coffeeshops, for the sole reason that a coffeeshop was not her house, and therefore did not contain a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher, a vacuum, a flower garden, a vegetable garden, a refrigerator, a microwave, a dog, the cat’s litterbox, cat vomit, or any of the things that the woman would rather spend time on than her books.

This meant that the woman was constantly in search of outlets. She was an outlet expert. In the blackouts to which her neighborhood was frequently subjected, she often directed friends and neighbors to obscure outlets in nearby neighborhoods, there to charge up their electronica.

Within six blocks of the woman’s house there were nine coffeeshops. How easy and convenient to work at any one of them! Except that the woman didn’t work at any of them, due to outlet stinginess.

The woman knew her neighborhood outlets intimately. She knew exactly where the three outlets at Gigi’s were located, including the one where only the top half worked, and she knew that she would be lucky to get within two tables of any of them. She knew where the six outlets at Dunn Bros. were located, and that they too would almost always be taken.

She knew the whereabouts of the three outlets in the secret upstairs enclave at Lund’s, and while they were not as frequently taken, she also knew that she couldn’t count on getting one. She still loved the secret upstairs enclave at Lund’s, though, because she liked looking down through its wrought-iron balcony at both the shoppers and the beautiful produce in the produce section below.

She knew that the Caribou attached to that Lund’s was an outlet desert, so she never made any outlet attempts there. She knew that at Bruegger’s, she stood a good chance of the hidden outlet in Booth #1 or the out in-the-open outlet in Booth #4 or the outlets between the two armchairs, as well as a couple of the tables with the hard wooden chairs.

But the woman preferred not to write at Bruegger’s, mainly because she had once written a super-difficult book there over the course of months, and she now had painful associations with that particular Bruegger’s. She had equally painful associations with another nearby Bruegger’s, at which she had written another super-difficult book over the course of months. (In fact, Bruegger’s in general were tainted for the woman; mostly she just zipped into one every now and then on a Wednesday morning, to take advantage of the Wednesday bagel sale, and then zipped out again.)

And lo, this is how the woman came to do so much writing in a Starbucks located in a tony suburb of Minneapolis approximately three miles south of her house. An elitist Starbucks, where every single tiny table had an outlet all to itself, as did all the extremely large and soft couches and armchairs. The woman had yet to run into anyone at that Starbucks wandering around holding a laptop with that particular helpless, weary, why-are-there-no-outlets look on his face. The most she ever got, at that particular Starbucks, was someone asking politely if he could use the other half of her double outlet.

Would the woman rather have claimed her writing life at Spy House? Or Uncommon Grounds? Or even at Dogwood Coffee, despite its unfortunate location? Yes.

Was it embarrassing to admit that she did so much of her writing at a Starbucks located in a small strip mall in a tony suburb of Minneapolis where most of the customers were conservative businesspeople with senatorial haircuts having business meetings or nannies shepherding small well-dressed children? Yes.

But there you have it. Some people measure out their lives in coffee spoons, and others in outlets.

*If anyone knows where the photos included in this post are from, please let me know.

Andes Mint #2: In the Wake

一. The Journalism Awards. A long time ago, I was one of eight judges for a yearly journalism award series. All the judges had to read hundreds of  newspaper articles published in Minnesota in the previous year, select their favorites in a variety of categories, then meet for a full day in order to confer about our choices and arrive at a clear winner in each category.

This was a volunteer position and it was far, far more work than I had bargained for at a time when I was desperately short on time and energy. Nevertheless, I read all the articles and reported for duty early in the morning, sitting around a large conference table in a sterile room with the other judges.

The other judges were from varied backgrounds, a mix of men and women. I sat next to another woman who was closer to my age than the other judges. She was the only black person in the room; the rest of us, as far as I could tell, were white.

One of the articles the panel was of divided opinion on was a series about a housing project in a primarily black neighborhood. The series was not one of my top choices, nor was it my neighbor’s. Others argued passionately in favor of this series as winner. My neighbor was an articulate woman, deft and agile in her responses to the others. But gradually, instead of a give and take among all of us, questions and commentary were directed solely at her.

Why? Because the series was about a black neighborhood, and she was black.

This had to have been my thousandth encounter with that particular kind of simplistic equation, but for reasons I still don’t understand it hit me that day like a gut punch. I felt sick to my stomach. I sat next to her, not saying a word, listening as the discussion grew more and more heated: the other judges urging her to change her vote to Yes.

“I’m confused,” I remember one judge saying, toward the end of the discussion. “This is your community. Why wouldn’t you want this series to win?”

You have to say something, I told myself. No one is talking about what is really happening here. I raised my hand.

“The only reason you just said that to her is because she’s the only black person in this room,” I said. “What does her race have to do with the merits of the article? This is a journalism contest.”

That’s what I was trying to say, but I didn’t say it like that. I don’t remember how I said it. What I remember is hardly being able to talk, flushing, my hands and voice trembling.

The room went silent. That’s what happens sometimes, when the elephant is named, even partially, even by a scared person who can hardly get the words out. We all took a break. I went out in the hallway and turned a corner and sat down on the marble floor and wrapped my arms around my legs. My neighbor turned the same corner, her phone to her ear, walked to the end of the hall and hunched against the wall, talking quietly into her phone for a long time. We said nothing to each other.

Until a year or so later, when we ran into each other at some kind of book event. She looked at me and I looked at her and we both smiled. She introduced me to her friend as “that one I told you about, the one who defended me at that horrible judging thing.”

I don’t really know why that one day has stayed with me all these years, or why I hate even driving by the building where we all sat around that ugly conference table all day long. Maybe it’s because I felt, for about fifteen minutes, the weight of what she had to deal with every damn day.

二. Getting BBQ. It was nighttime and I stopped to get some takeout at a bbq place. This was a place that looked kind of like a gas station-turned-smokehouse. I was the only white person in the place. That’s the kind of thing I notice right away, because it’s rare. I sat on a bench to wait for my order. This was years ago, before I made my life-changing decision to talk to everyone I find myself sitting next to, so I was quiet.

But I could feel the man next to me looking at me. I didn’t look back at him.

“Hi,” he said.

A hi calls for a response, in my world.

“Hi,” I said, still not really looking at him.

“You’re afraid of me, aren’t you?”

That made me look at him, in a sideways kind of way. He was a big, powerfully-built man, sitting there on the bench with his knees spread and his hands dangling between them.

“No,” I said. “I’m not afraid of you.”

“I think you’re lying,” he said.

“Why would I be afraid of you?” I said.

“Because I’m big,” he said. “And I’m black. I’m a big, black man. I bet if we were outside right now, in this neighborhood, and you saw me coming toward you on the sidewalk, you’d want to cross the street. Wouldn’t you?”

This was one of the first times in my life someone had spoken to me with such directness. I looked straight at him. He wasn’t smiling. Neither was I. We just sat there, looking at each other.

三 . Target. It was a hurried day, about eight years ago now, and my three children and I were doing a massive Target shop, one that fills an entire extra-large Target cart. We labored our way through the cashier line and then piled all the bags back into the cart to shove it out to our car in the parking lot. We got to the automatic double exit doors, which opened for us, only to set off that hideous BEEP BEEP BEEP which means that something in the cart either hasn’t been paid for or hasn’t had its special tag removed.

“Oh for God’s sake,” I said. We rolled our eyes at each other and waited for the manager guy to hustle over, which he did. One by one he started pulling items out of the bags. There were hundreds of items; this was going to take forever.

“Look,” I said. “We’re really in a hurry here (lie), my kids all have to be different places (lie), I’ve got a meeting (lie); can we just go?”

The guy made a half-hearted effort to look through a few more items as I stood there acting like an important person who did not have time to waste in this manner. Then he looked up at me –I’m tall– and smiled weakly.

“I guess you’re good to go,” he said.

I thanked him and we shoved the cart out into the blinding sunlight.

“Good work, Mom,” my children told me.

“Not really,” I said. “I just acted the part. Imagine if I were black and a teenager and wearing a hoodie, like”– and I named a couple of their friends. “Would it have gone down the same way?”

My son and daughters, all city kids raised in city schools, didn’t have to think for a second:

“Nope.”

“Not a chance.”

“No way in hell.”

The only reason that manager let me go is because I’m white, female, educated, articulate and middle-class, and because I know how to use those things to my advantage. Which is what I had just done.

I’m thinking about that day at Target right now. And I’m thinking about a black teenage boy in Florida who was wearing a hoodie as he walked home, his hands full of candy.

Andes Mint #1

In college, I used to haul myself through a night at the library with Andes mints. Fifty pages of philosophy reading = one Andes mint. (That must be a lie, because I can’t imagine getting through even ten pages of philosophy reading without wanting to claw my eyeballs out, but the number 50 sticks in my head, so I’m staying with it.)

An hour of listening to Chinese tapes in a tiny white soundproof room in the sub-basement of the language lab = two Andes mints.

Managing to complete one tiny problem in Baby Physics (I think the class was actually called Physics for Non-Majors, but I’ve always thought of it as Baby Physics), while all around me others were sailing through, having taken Baby Physics as their easy class for the semester (hello, Cecil Marlowe, I can still see you zipping merrily along in that lab while I sweated helplessly nearby) = three Andes mints.

That’s how it went, people. To this day Andes mints have a peculiar power over me.

Last summer at this time was when I set myself a personal challenge of Doing One New Thing Every Day for a month and chronicling it here. Learning how to count to ten in Mongolian. Devising a Signature Cocktail. Taking the cat on a walk with a wee little cat harness and little leash (do not attempt this at home). Typing an entire blog post with my two big toes. Etcetera. I contemplated doing the same thing again this year, but decided against it for reasons that have much to do with a) a dream I had the other night and b) laziness.

Also, it’s hard to believe that an entire year has passed since my month of doing new things. I mean, I’m sitting here typing this at the same table, on the same crappy laptop that literally burns my lap if I set it there, wearing the same exact sundress that I wore all last summer. I choose to take all this as a sign that the newness of last year has not yet worn off.

But I still want to challenge myself. So I will tell one tiny story here every day for a month. You’d think that as a fiction writer, the word “story” wouldn’t intimidate me, but it kind of does. Which is why I’m calling them Andes Mints instead.

A few nights ago I had a weirdly vivid dream. (If you’re the kind of person who hates it when other people start blabbing on about their dreams, my apologies.) In it, I had taken a job as pastor of a small one-room country church. Yes, I know, me, a pastor, but still, this was a dream, and that’s the way it went down.

The tiny country church was frame, painted white on the outside and left unpainted on the interior. This was my first Sunday on the job, and as I walked up to the door (which was on the side of the one-room church), I realized that I hadn’t prepared a thing. No idea what hymns to sing, what scripture to read, what sermon to preach. (Apparently, this was a traditional church; that they hired me as their pastor makes no sense to me either, BUT: dream.) (Just trying to reinforce that this was a DREAM. Got it?)

It was one of those horrid dreams in which you realize that you’re completely unprepared, and there are people counting on you, and you’re going to fail epically, and your heart is pounding as you walk into the tiny church. Beyond that, you barely know any scripture, and the only hymn that’s coming to you is Amazing Grace, and why the hell did they hire YOU to be their pastor. Etc.

At that point in the dream, it came to me that I could tell the congregation that I had somehow managed to leave all my notes and sermon in Vermont, and here I was in the Dakotas, so obviously I was going to have to wing it, and my huge, huge apologies; this would never happen again.

(That this would be a total lie didn’t bother me one bit. The onus was on them, right? They were the ones who had hired a pastoral idiot to be their minister.)

Then:

Just tell them a story, a voice said to me at that point. That’s all they really want anyway.

Instantly, the dream changed from one of those nightmare anxiety dreams to a dream of great calm. I knew exactly what story I was going to tell them. It would be about my son and his first tattoo. So I walked into the church and that’s what I did.

(Story below if you care to read it.)

* * *

Once there was a baby boy. He was an intense and passionate baby. Before he was born, a couple of weeks before his official due date, his mother sensed that he wasn’t yet ready to be born. She could feel that he needed a little more time, just a bit more, so that all his nerves would knit together and he would be ready for the outside world, with its unpredictable loud noises and its occasional bright lights and the sensation of air all about.

But the baby was born anyway, despite his mother’s sense that just a little more time would have been a good thing. He took a long time entering the world – three days – and by the time he made it they, they being others who were not his mother, felt that extra caution was necessary in case he was sick after his long and difficult journey.

So in went the tubes and on went monitors and there he lay in a bright room with a paper cup taped to the top of his head. His mother held him in her arms in a rocking chair and fed him, and a few days later home he went, minus the tubes and the paper cup.

Soft lights. Quiet. Tight swaddling in a baby blanket. Constant touch. These were things that he seemed to crave.

Many years later his mother thinks of the word “swaddle” and can feel her hands moving invisibly: smooth out the square of flannel, fold down one corner, lay the baby diagonally down, up with the bottom corner and then across – tight – with one side and then across – tight – with the other. Presto, swaddle-o.

The baby wanted to be held all the time. If not held all the time he screamed and shook and made himself sick. So his mother held him all the time. She had a contraption she called the “Red Thing” that she strapped on when she got up, and into the Red Thing he went, so that he faced out. His thin legs dangled down. His thin arms dangled out. His head lolled until his neck muscles were strong enough to hold it up.

From dawn till late at night, the baby boy’s back lay against his mother’s chest and he faced out. She cooked with the baby dangling before the flames – dangerous! but she was careful – and she vacuumed with the baby swinging with the rhythm of the long vacuum pole, and she never sat down with the baby in the Red Thing because if she sat, he screamed.

They stayed in motion. Much of the time, the mother ended up pushing an empty stroller down the sidewalk because the baby screamed if he wasn’t in the Red Thing. When the weather turned cold, the mother buttoned her long winter overcoat all the way up and put a stocking cap on the baby, so that oncomers smiled at the mother and then shifted their eyes downward and smiled at the baby boy. It was a two-for-one smile.

When the mother did sit down, she took the baby boy out of the Red Thing and sat him on her lap with a stack of books beside them. They read their picture books together, baby boy on lap, mother propping each book up while he reached out and turned the pages.

Where the Wild Things Are.

Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel.

Good Night, Moon.

Lon Popo.

Outside Over There.

Ferdinand.

Ferdinand was the boy’s favorite, the story about the little Spanish bull who didn’t want to fight, the little bull who wanted to sit just quietly under the cork tree and smell the flowers.

How many hours did the mother and the boy spend together, sitting on the couch, reading picture books? Many. Many many. Many years’ worth of many. It was their favorite thing.

When the baby turned into a boy, he went to sleep every night listening to stories on tape. He and his mother went to the library and checked out the stories on tape, and sometimes they bought them, and the boy knew the stories so well and loved them so well that once he was in bed he reached out and blindly pressed “Play,” not caring that he wasn’t anywhere near the beginning.

Once, on a long car trip, the boy woke from sleep to look at his mother and say, “Is this where we are?”

Years went by. The boy grew and grew. He grew until he was very tall and very thin, so tall that he towered over his tall mother. More years went by, and the boy turned eighteen.

One day, the boy sent his mother a text message: “Would you kill me if I got a tattoo?”

The mother would have been happy if the boy never got a tattoo, because she had been there at the moment when he was born. She could still see his newborn skin, so soft and paper-thin that touching it was like touching air. She could still remember crying in fury and sorrow the first time a mosquito bit that skin. That first scar.

But the boy was eighteen now, and 6’4,” and his body was his own. His body had always been his own, his mother reminded herself. She wanted to wrap her arms around that body and keep it safe, but. . .

But.

What sort of tattoo would he get, his mother wondered, and where would he put it? She thought of the needles drilling down through the layers of his skin, the ink pushing below the surface, and how much it would hurt. She tried to think of other things. It was hard.

“Not as long as it’s a heart on your bicep with an arrow and the word ‘mom’ in the middle,” the mother texted back.

The boy did his research and saved his paycheck, and the day came when off he went, to St. Sabrina’s Parlor in Purgatory. He got his tattoo. There it is down there. It is not a heart on his biceps with an arrow and the word “mom” in the middle.

But it could have been.

Poem of the Week, by Dylan Thomas

Fern Hill
– Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

 

For more information, please click here: http://www.dylanthomas.com/

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Poem of the Week, by Michelle Boisseau

Collect Call
– Michelle Boisseau

Whatever he means, my brother means no harm.
It’s 6 a.m. in his time zone. Was he awake
all night dreaming these children? a girl
my daughter’s age named Music,
and 12-year-old twin sons
born six months apart:
Seth Gábriel and Seth Gäbriel, named
for an archangel of double messages
whose secret translations my brother keeps.

And he meant no harm years ago
when he scooped up a toddler at the zoo
and ran with her as far as Monkey Island
before the crowd pried away the child he fought
to save from them. While he was strapped
onto the stretcher and lifted, a cracker on a plate,
he watched me watch him speed away,
climb the stairs that wind through a hole
in the clouds and close around him like an eye.

“Oh, I have lots of children,”
he suddenly remembers, “lots and lots,
but I never get to see them.”
Perhaps each tooth he lost was sown
into a child that sprang up like a god
with a fanciful name. I hunch the phone
against my shoulder, try not to set him off:
“And how do you manage to support them all?”
“I give them lots of ideas.”

Upstairs I hear doors slamming, the kids
awake, running, laughing, a game
of can’t-catch-me. The winner chooses
the place at the table; the other pours the milk.
Perhaps he means the wind loved him.
Or that the blond aspen behind the Seven-Eleven
wept grateful in his arms.

Or maybe he does have real children,
sometime a woman slowly undressed
a small nervous man and gave him
a bit of evidence he wasn’t denied
every fruit in the garden—children,
jobs, houses, beds—our easy windfall.


For more information on Michelle Boisseau, please click here: http://www.michelleboisseau.com/bio.html

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts