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  and conviviality.
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 her funeral rolls around
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.”