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.

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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”