Chimera

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness visible.” – Carl Jung

In Greek mythology, a chimera is a fire breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tale. According to Merriam-Webster, it’s also “a thing that is hoped for, but in fact, is illusory or impossible to achieve.”

I have spent countless years chasing impossible illusions, sifting through both the banal and the grotesque in search of evidence of the “thing that is hoped for.” Stories of miracles are my spiritual Pokémon cards – a doughy dad that summons unexplainable Hulk-like strength in order to free a child pinned under a station wagon; Joni, the teen who learned to not be depressed about her quadriplegia after God shows her how to paint kittens and landscapes with her mouth; one of my employees, whose pituitary tumor was cured by the power of prayer.

I’ve always been a seeker. . .and hungry, a combination that once caused me to attend a prayer meeting with some people that I met at Burger King. I was 19. The meeting took place in a grim apartment devoid of pictures or furnishings. We sat on rickety folding chairs that formed an uneven circle in the boxy living room. Prayers were recited, and then people started hurling themselves toward the center of the circle while speaking in tongues. After an indeterminate amount of time, the tongue-speakers returned to their folding chairs, and I was offered a ride home. It was kind of like being abducted by aliens, only without the probes.

People who have a deep faith are fascinating to me. I am drawn to them in the same way that I am drawn to the purported magic inherent in four leaf clovers, St. Christopher medals, and the severed paws of rabbits. It’s the reason I carry a tiny plastic statue of the Virgin Mary in my purse. These things are good to have around.

Just in case.

 

 

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Chemistry

“But along through those years I began to make lists of titles, to put down long lines of nouns. These lists were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on top of my skull.” ~ Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You 

I too, am trying to feel my way toward something honest, but my skull’s trapdoor is sealed shut, and my lists don’t evoke the lyrical inspiration of Bradbury’s lists.

Deer hearts; shiny rocks; pet rabbits for dinner; torn coffin silk; Palm Sunday; escape . . . . . . 

My grandfather was a hunter. Elk. Deer. Pheasant. Quail. Nothing was safe from him. When the woods didn’t deliver, he went drunk hunting in the backyard, where he released my mother’s two pet rabbits from their cage, shot them, and made my grandmother cook them for dinner.

So, I guess mom came by her cruelty honestly. It is probably also why she never allowed us to have pets.

Mom. It sounds unnatural to call her that. Rarely “mom”, never “mommy”, mostly “ma” – which makes her appear in my mind’s eye, as someone with false teeth and a gingham apron – not the woman who did Jane Fonda aerobics in our refinished basement, and had a host of cosmetic surgeries – including a full facelift, before the age of fifty.

ok, that was supposed to be about how my grandfather, always saved me deer hearts from his hunting trips, and how I used to take them to school for show and tell. Deer heart in a mason jar filled with formaldehyde. After a few weeks, the flesh turned from pink to gray, and bits of sediment flaked off and settled in the bottom of the jar. My Sears Garanimal bell bottoms and only-allowed-to-shower -once-per-week greasy hair already set me apart, so I don’t think this odd showing and telling helped to endear me to the other children. I actually can’t believe that my mother allowed the deer hearts in her home. I kept them in the garage with my chemistry set. It was one of those 1970’s ones, with all of the poison shit, and a real Bunsen burner. I spent a lot of time in the garage, pretending to be a mad scientist. I even touched the mercury, which feels like silver tears.

I can’t believe I’m still alive.

Resurrection

“A mother’s body against a child’s body makes a place. It says you are here. Without this body against your body there is no place. I envy people who miss their mother. Or miss a place, or know something called home. The absence of a body against my body created a gap, a hole, a hunger. This hunger determined my life.” ~ Eve Ensler

I don’t know how to form articulate sentences about my family. How do I cobble together words that tell that story? How do I breathe life into my peculiar genealogy without some means of self-soothing . . . an assload of crunchy, salty things with a cake batter and Jameson chaser? Impossible appeasement. The dog will never stop barking. The war will never end. For fucks sake, just bake the cake.

How can I pick up a pen and drag it across white paper leaving a trail of inky blue notes to myself that say, “Your mother is dead, and it’s okay not to be sad. To feel relieved, even?” Well, I just did that very thing. And I am sitting in a small town coffee shop, owned by a family of fiddle-playing evangelical christians. The women at the table next to mine are having a straight up Bible study, and they also have adult coloring books and sets of colored pencils that are perfectly sharpened, in rainbow order – not haphazardly arranged, splintered nubs like my colored pencils would be, if I engaged in post bible study public coloring. The ladies room here (gender neutral excretion is frowned upon in these parts) is decorated with a large, wood, shabby chic plaque that says: “God Is Good All The Time.” There is usually Christian soft rock playing on the sound system, but today, “Forever in Blue Jeans” is blaring out of the speakers as I write this, and the only self-soothing that is available to me is a gluten-free bacon mini quiche and a hemp milk latte. God. Sometimes I hate myself.

i don’t know why I chose this place to re-enter the writing world after such a long hiatus. Maybe it’s a subconscious test to see if the vengeful God of my Catholic girlhood actually exists – lurking in the Christian coffee atmosphere, casting a benevolent eye upon the middle aged public bible readers, and waiting for the perfect moment to choke me on my alternative milk latte, as punishment for the sin of mother blasphemy.

There are so many things I wanted to say in this post, but today’s window of freedom  is about to close, so deep exploration of death of the mothership is going to have to wait for another time.

Resurrection, to be continued . . .

 

 

 

The Penitent

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This is day I don’t know, and I don’t care of
the Ideal Protein Diet,
and just like any regimen of relinquishment and confession,
there are catchphrases
and hooks
that keep the penitent motivated to continue
traversing a path littered with sharp pebbles and rusty bottle caps.
Scabby knees and bloody palms propelling the seeker closer to

the promised land.

My “coach” smiles benevolently as I remove my socks
and step on the scale.

Her mantras:
“you’re melting”
and
“every pound has a story”
are meant to convey comradery.
We are soldiers
in this war against fat,
and I can tell her “anything”.

But I resist,
because I have already told those stories,
and my secrets died with my therapist,
which is both ideal . . .

and not.

Now I am here, in this strip mall
taking off my socks
in front of a stranger.
And the nail polish on my big toe
is chipped.
And I am melting

like the Wicked Witch,

while thousands of miles from here,
my mother is being eaten alive by cancer.

Maybe by the time I go to her funeral
I will be thin,
but not too hungry for anything.

 

Seeing the Future

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My great-grandmother had a glass eye.
She only spoke a few words of English,
and our family legacy demands silence
about imperfection and difference,
so I never knew the truth about why.

Love – “milosc”
Grandmother – “babcia”
Immigrant – “imigrant”
Fear – “strach”

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the unspoken story of how she lost her eye,
and I was convinced that the glass replacement was imbued with special magic.
I though that owning it would give me powers of divination, or the ability to read minds.

I imagined sneaking into my grandmother’s room while she slept,
and snatching the milky orb from the small wooden box on the table next to her bed.
I wanted to slip the eye into the pocket of my Sears Toughskins,
and examine it privately,
under the leafy cover of the Italian plum tree in her backyard.
I longed to turn it over in my palm,
gaze into the future,
and search for clues about who I would become.

Love – “milosc”
Grandmother – “babcia”
Immigrant – “imigrant”
Fear – “strach”

We are always looking for easy answers to the big questions,
but the clues are often there all along,
lurking beneath the surface.

I wonder what ten-year-old me would have done with those easy answers anyway,
choking on sadness
while the sweet juice of Italian plums ran down my chin?
What would I do with the prior knowledge of this day?
This day, when our country has become a reality show.
And blame is placed upon an orange man with bad hair and tiny hands,
because we don’t want to acknowledge that the hate has been here all along.
Hate, whose roots run so deep we have forgotten that we took part
in the planting of the seed.

Love – “milosc”
Grandmother – “babcia”
Immigrant – “imigrant”
Fear – “strach”

Turd in a Bucket

“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words, that could heal you.” – Philip K. Dick

For as long as I can remember, my mother has used the the adage, you wouldn’t know your ass from a hole in the ground, in response to things I’ve done that are ridiculous or incomprehensible to her.  Every misplaced glove or crumpled piece of homework (you wouldn’t know your ass from a hole in the ground); my fear of learning how to drive (you wouldn’t know your ass from a hole in the ground)getting lost after a concert, wanting to be a writer, coming out as a lesbian (you wouldn’t know your ass from a fucking hole in the ground).

Now that I’m almost 50, this series of letters strung together have lost their power to destroy me. The once jagged edges of the words you, and wouldn’t, and know, no longer have the ability to tear at my skin from the inside. The words ass and hole-in-the-ground seem silly when I see them in the same sentence.  The incongruity of those words resting next to each other on the page, makes me laugh. It’s like imagining my subconscious in her underwear.

The stories that accompany those words are ancient history. They occasionally show up in my fiction – where versions of my child self make *bad choice* guest appearances as semi-forgettable minor characters – a young girl who gets scratched by a potentially rabid baby squirrel, or a kid who allows bullies to steal his UNICEF box. But their impact on my self-worth is negligible. The words that make up those stories have become an indistinguishable part of me, like my crooked pinkies or my genetic predisposition for alcoholism. I rarely notice them any more.

*     *     *     *     *       *

I recently got a part-time job at a small cafe in a tiny redneck town.  I didn’t really need the job, but I generate most of my income by working from home, and sometimes I get lonely.

The owner of the cafe is a micro manager who often refers to herself in the third person. She’s also a bit crazy. On my first day of work, she cleared a pile of debris off of a prep table to make room for some chicken, and a medical document depicting an outline of a woman fell out of a cookbook and fluttered to the ground.She quickly grabbed the paper and said: “They found a small mass in my breast. It’s no big deal.” Actually, it IS a big deal. She has breast cancer. But she has decided to forgo chemotherapy, radiation and surgery in favor of swallowing apricot pits and massaging her breast with frankincense oil.

The other employees are nice, but we don’t have anything in common. One of the cooks drives a car that still displays a *Bush 04 – A Safer America* bumper sticker. I’m a liberal. I am also a Buddhist. The main waitress runs an evangelical church out of her rural home.  Her husband is the pastor. On Sundays, they do river baptisms.

Several hours into my shift last Wednesday (after I had cut my finger on a broken glass, and soaked myself from head to toe at least a dozen times with the jerry-rigged sink nozzle), a drain backed up and flooded the kitchen, and I asked myself the same question I had been asking since the day I first walked into that kitchen: “Why the fuck am I doing this?”  Eventually, I unearthed the mop bucket from the storage room to find a glistening three inch black turd mocking me from the yellow plastic interior. I’m pretty sure it winked at me. And I think I heard it whisper, ” Because you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground.”