(short, not sweet, always a photo)
Our mother springs naked from the tub to answer the phone. Tucking a lone strand of bubbly blonde hair back into her topknot she says Hello to the disappointing salesman pawning waterless cookware. She shoos a buzzing horsefly away from her bare thigh. Forgets about the cookware considers instead the Hawaiian print patio pants displayed in a downtown window and drops the receiver on her bed where the waterless voice sells on. Our mother glides to her desk bathwater dripping wet from neck shoulders breasts. She punches keys on the adding machine until the balance in her checkbook is appealing.
In the hallway mirror she checks her appearance and finds herself, too, appealing. She glances out the window. Brown leaf and withered bud droop from her best geranium. Off she goes to the backyard where she plucks the ungrateful foliage from the carefully tended plant, crumbles it between her fingers and sprinkles it around her rock garden where lava mica smooth water-marked sandstone broken bits of Indian pots, decaying deer and cattle bones grow. Her plot is lush with forget-me-not baby’s breath and some kind of creeper.
She straightens a canvas deck chair overturned by sudden gusts of wind—in spring they daily flood the air. Crawls into it. Dry now. Baked by the afternoon. Burnished. More golden every year. The sun. The gold. Both feel good. She is not getting older. Old. Closes her eyes but does not sleep she dreams a life outside the back porch rock garden surrounding farmland. A beach perhaps a jungle never a city. A smooth desert billowing wide beyond her reach. Not this rough cholla cactus covered one. Dunes. Bare. She spins around her a misty crystalline cocoon.
The fieldhand who sometimes works in the yard opens the back gate, is not surprised to see her there. The woman who naps naked in the dusty canvas chair. She is not startled or afraid. He tips his sweat-stained hat and she stretches like a cat she might even lick a paw. He untangles the old split garden hose and begins to spray the roses. An airy shush upon the tender bush opens buds, tinges color pale. In time she will cut and arrange the full-grown flowers into vases fill the unadorned still wintry spaces of our house with afternoons.
She is reminded of the hour by the whispering shower upon the roses. Past the rock garden fragrant honeysuckle vine she goes through the backdoor hallway mirror. The waterless man voice gone she puts the receiver on the hook slips back into the tub. Warms the cooled water and waits for the sound of the school bus crashing across the cattle guard. The rattle shakes her out of nakedness out of the dozing woman the fieldhand knows and into the one who dresses for us in her fine young mother clothes.
Mom holding Johnny, her third child. She was 24 or 25.
(This prose poem was published in 2015 in The Dr T J Eckleburg Review, an online magazine that no longer exists.)
Dreaming in mink
Before Sally Macintyre ran off, she tore a glossy ad from Vogue, folded it into an envelope and mailed it to my mother. A kohl eyed model, aloof in full-length fur that rippled to the ground in luxurious folds, stared seductively from the page. On a piece of plain paper Sally Macintyre wrote, “Last night I dreamed of you in mink.”
I was 12 then, in 1965, and could easily imagine dreaming of my mother—a buttery Marilyn Monroe blonde, not yet 30. Sally Macintyre was even younger, a lean Audrey Hepburn flirt.
Sally Macintyre—forever referred to by her first and last name as if to cement her to Dr. Macintyre (called just Dr. Mac) who filled and pulled my teeth from the time I was seven until I graduated from college—ran off with a cadet, a boy, from the New Mexico Military Institute. She ran off with a black man. She ran off with a woman. She ran.
The two daughters she left behind were younger than my six-year-old sister. Though we all lived in Roswell and must have ridden the same rides at the Eastern New Mexico County Fair, paddled boats across the same waters at Bottomless Lakes State Park, and cheered at basketball games between the rival Roswell High School Howling Coyotes and the Goddard High Rockets, I can only picture them neatly framed in annually updated studio portraits hung on the wall by the reception desk of Dr. Mac’s office.
There sat Godzilla. That’s what Dr. Mac called his assistant. She was petite and pretty and seemed old. It might have been the glasses or the stiff nurse’s cap, or maybe it was the fact that she worked when most mothers didn’t. Godzilla’s daughter was my older sister’s best friend. Dr. Mac was having an affair with the tiny monster who handed him pliers and probes. He drilled my teeth, my mother’s teeth, my sisters’ and brother’s teeth. He drilled the whole town’s teeth, ripped them out by the roots, packed the bloody sockets in gauze.
Everyone knew. But no one could imagine. Wouldn’t imagine. Why.
Handsome Dr. Mac his perfect hair combed neatly over his square box of a head, scrubbed face too clean in the glare of the blinding lamp. Antiseptic smile. Teeth so perfect they might be false. Hands soft as baby mice fit everywhere.
When my 17-year-old pregnant mother married my father, he was a handsome Cherokee boy with a crooked smile and an eye patch. Gored in the head by a bull when he was just a toddler, he’d lost an eye in a dusty corral. I knew him as a sunburned, dry skinned farmer.
He was 30 when my mother divorced him after 13 years of marriage. From my older sister, I would later learn that our father had, in her words, kept a woman. In a cottage downtown near the Petroleum Building, twelve stories tall. Romance in the long shadow. This makes my father interesting to me. After he’s gone.
When they talk about Sally Macintyre, my mother and her friends imagine Phoenix Las Vegas Dallas and Denver. Main Street turns into US 285 and goes all the way to Mexico. By the end of the decade, they will all be divorced. They aren’t gossiping. They are figuring it out.
Sally Macintyre answers the telephone. With its extra long cord she can walk through the house, the receiver tucked between shoulder and ear, tearing the page from Vogue. She stops in the dining room and scribbles a note. She tells her young black woman boyfriend not to worry, be patient, she’ll be there soon. She hangs up and gets into the car. On her way out of town, Sally Macintyre dashes like a dentist’s wife into the Post Office on the ground floor of the Petroleum Building and mails an envelope addressed to Nancy Hammons, Rural Route 2 Box 158-A, Roswell, New Mexico.
Kept in my mother’s desk for years, the envelope yellowed. The glossy model went white in the creases. But Sally Macintyre’s note never stopped saying, “Last night I dreamed of you in mink.”
(published in Word Riot, February 2007)
It was in the last expulsion/explosion (theories differ) that we became OneWith.
Tsunami. Seism. Zud. All matter cast out outcast came back like a gangster on crack.
What did it think it was? Who do we think we are?
It thinks we think it thinks too.
Earth. Water. Air.
In the big remix some OneWith got brain matter material/immaterial. Bacteria iron neon moss mercury skunkweed coral reef loam peak plankton.
Mutate. Sporulate. Bud. Regenerate.
Volatile—we surface UpTop—hydrogen nitrogen ammonia helium.
Some OneWith got data datum information. Thermosphere. Mesosphere. Stratosphere.
Records exist. Haboob. Typhoon. Derecho.
Some OneWith got memory storage story/history. Mumble mutter hum buzz. Kebra Negast Qu’ran Torah Bhagavad Gita Phtagoras Dhammapada Bible Upanishads Tao Te Ching Thelema.
Some OneWith got appendage. Flutter slump lurch lunge. Movement surfaces UpperUnder. Plastic upwells. Cleave cap bench bomb.
At the core: heartbeats. Nickel iron nickel iron catastrophe/catalyst.
originally published in Blue Fifth Review Fall 2012
Some things about austin
Maybe because I'm new to Austin, or maybe because I like to think about places and why I'm in a particular place (or not), I do a lot of reading about Austin. And some writing. In light of the recent bombings in Austin, I wanted to just share some of the articles that have recently caught my attention or that I've come across in research. (I would do this on Storify if it weren't closing down . . .)
This one about Cody Wilson, the man who created the 3D gun, undetectable by by metal detectors, is one of the most disturbing: Cody Wilson, Austin's Edgelord Prince.
"How I Navigate the Overwhelming Whiteness of Austin" by Doyen Oyeniyi discusses the little-discussed segregation of Austin.
The history of Keep Austin Weird, which came about during the rapid explosion in Austin's population, which brought with it, of course, gentrification.
Religion, immigration and the Confederacy: less about Austin than about Texas. But Austin is the state capitol, and so it is the site of enactment and protest.
The Radical Theology that Could Make Freedom of Religion a Thing of the Past (Lt. Gov Dan Patrick an insidious and powerful practitioner)
Austin is a sanctuary city
Hate groups, Nazis and schools
Confederate monuments at the state capitol
and, of course, guns
Like any place, Austin and Texas are more than the sum of their negative parts. And I find much hopeful about how the state is changing. The activism here is mind blowing. Changes here bode well for change in this country. So a bit of that, too. The Resistance Against Donald Trump Begins in Texas by Greg Cesar, the youngest person to be elected to Austin City Council.
Nonetheless, someone is planting bombs in Austin: (as of this writing, the most recent update on the bombings).
SIGNS OF UTAH
The news of Orrin Hatch's retirement and Mitt Romney's possible run for his seat reminded me that I had taken a bunch of photographs while I was in Utah, mostly Salt Lake City, last November. Whether or not Romney runs, I hope that journalists reporting on the race in Utah will be knowledgeable about the state. Currently it is described, as Alabama was during the election of Doug Jones, as the "reddest of red" states. Sure, it's a red state. But it's more than that, as is any state described by it's crayon political color.
Here's an article about the naming of Harvey Milk Blvd, with quotes from locals that give you a good picture of the variety of opinions on the renaming of the street in an important commercial area. The gelato shop (site of Harvey Milk sign) on Harvey Milk Blvd is in a different part of town from the You Are Safe Here sign, which is downtown near Ken Sanders Rare Books. The Joe Hill mural is on the bookstore.
"Church & State." Explicit statement about the fact (one that infuriates me) that there never has been much separation between the two in this country. And that is, of course, an inescapable fact about the state of Utah and the Mormons--though this sign is not advertising a Mormon church group as far as I could tell. It is near the Central Christian Church building--as the plaque dated 1955 on the red brick notes--but I don't know if it is related to that church either. Or if that building is still even a church. (It was a drive-by shot.)
On the way to the north end of the Great Salt Lake to see the Spiral Jetty, I drove with a friend through the beautiful Logan Valley.
I was surprised, silly me, that people hunt swan, so I did a little research and came across numerous blogs devoted to the dressing and cooking of the swan (tastes like goose! let's have swan for Thanksgiving!). It is the tundra swan that is legal to hunt in the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, but not in this area, which might be the Salt Creek Waterfowl Management Area of that Refuge. (I couldn't find the exact name of the Public Shooting Grounds Waterfowl Management Area.)
I take lots of pictures of signs: they speak for themselves. And others.
Something I'll do for a while then not
Every morning and evening I read a few pages from Teju Cole's remarkable book, Blind Spot. I suspect when I finish it, I'll reread it, probably not page to page but just open it here and there.
I'm not someone who rereads books or rewatches movies (with the exception of Apocalypse Now and Badlands), though there are plenty of poems I read and reread. And I'm not someone who has much of a daily practice except for making the commitment to spend some part of the day writing and several times a week (once it was daily, now less often) take a photograph. If you are not familiar with Bind Spot, it looks like this.
So you can see (literally) why it appeals to me. I don't think anyone has made better use of short pieces of writing than Cole. Here is the opening passage from "Brooklyn" (pictured above). "One of the common uses of the word 'shadow' was as a synonym for 'photograph.' This was the sense in which Sojourner Truth used it when she wrote, on the 1864 photographic postcard bearing her image, 'I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance.'"
And just now writing this, I see that shadow behind the photograph (a scan of my grandmother's garden scissors) which inspired the following poem, published by Best Friends Feminist Collective in Albuquerque in the early 70s.
Those long silver scissors
shears you call them
sit in your kitchen
like you long your hands long
like the shimmer of
sliding down your lean throat
The garden scissors
snap the heads
of roses and mums
that sit in coffee cans
in your kitchen
We see them when we visit you
The scissors next to your hand
In San Francisco passing over
the Hills Bros. plant
I thought of you
The beach in Carmel
Waves breaking silver
I thought of you
In your kitchen
thinking of me
married on your back porch
surrounded by mums
your scissors had been to work
You stayed outside most of that day
to greet guests
But you longed for the kitchen
champagne did not satisfy
The silver of the kitchen longed also
What I planned to do:
What I hadn't planned to do:
Resonance: that is how Blind Spot is working on me. And why, for now, it is so valuable.
Walking in Austin
First: it's possible again! Seventy-five extremely cool degrees and breezy when I left the house this morning at 11:00 a.m. It's been a while: try as I do, it's impossible to enjoy a walk when it's 105 out.
Today I walked in a different direction from my usual treks and to a new neighborhood. I often pass this street designated as green when I'm driving because it's off Oltorf St., which is not a particularly enjoyable street to walk on, at least not in my neighborhood. It intersects with South Congress where there is an old strip mall on one corner, an HEB on the other, and the drive-thru entrance to a bank and a big Catholic church and school across from the HEB. Police often appear to mediate fender benders, and paramedics tend to injured pedestrians and bicycle riders weekly.
But I'd been curious about this street (Forest, I think, in the Dawson neighborhood) and what it means to qualify as a Green Neighborhood in Austin. I'd glanced down it a number of times as I drove past, attracted not just by the sign but also by the large trees and the shade they cast (see above ref to temperatures).
Like many neighborhoods in Austin there are sidewalks on only one side of the street. (In my sister's Crestview neighborhood some of the streets have no sidewalks and streets even wider than this one. In his book The Geography of Nowhere The Rise and Decline of America's Manmade Landscapes, James Kunstler writes that back in the 1950s when suburbs were being designed "the width of residential streets was tied closely to the idea of a probable nuclear war with the Russians. And in the aftermath of a war, it was believed, wide streets would make it easier to clean up the mess with heavy equipment" pp. 112-114). Austin, despite its Walk Score, is not a particularly walkable city. (When I moved here from the Bay Area, I chose this neighborhood because I can, in fact, walk to most everything I need to do and to much of what I want to do.)
In addition to being Green, this street is almost frightfully clean, something I notice because I am in the habit of picking up trash, and there is typically a lot of it on the streets of Austin.
I did come across a full bottle of root beer. It hadn't been opened, so I suspect it was accidentally dropped and not tossed. (Is it still litter?) After picking it up, I attempted to deposit it in a recycling bin at the end of someone's driveway and was chastised for it, so I carried it out of the Green neighborhood and into the parking lot of the HEB where there are plenty of trash cans but no recycling bins. While I did not have a conversation about the ownership of bins with the person in the Green Community, I talk trash frequently with my homeless neighbors (oxymoron?) many of whom sleep in the darker recesses of the strip mall and enjoy the shade of the bus stops along South Congress. I walk a lot, weather permitting, and also frequently ride the bus, so I've gotten to know a number of them. I once had a rather lengthy conversation about whether a single glove was trash or a lost item and was persuaded to leave it on top of the trash can in case someone came back for it. These conversations made me pause as I prepared to toss the unopened bottle of root beer. Was it, after all, trash? Maybe someone would want it? So, as with the glove, I placed it on the flat top of the trash can, leaving it to someone else to decide whether it was food or garbage.
And then I walked home.
Memoir Notes: 2
Ghost jewelry. What you can’t see here, because I’ve made it that way, are the colors. Turquoise. Coral. Silver. Her colors. And also red. Earth tones I think of her that way. And black, too, in her last years, like a lot of women aging, she turned to solids. No color. One of the last gifts I gave her was a bright orange vest. Faux fur. To keep her warm. To brighten her up (did she want to be faux warmed and brightened?) She was always so cold, constantly losing weight, not eating so she wouldn’t have to think about adjusting her insulin. When I cleaned out her house, I took the vest home with me. I never wore it. When I moved, I gave it away. I gave a lot of things away. My sisters and I shared her jewelry. I don’t wear it (okay, I wear a bracelet, but it was mine before it was hers—another story). I look at it. Polish it. Scan it. Filter it. Fade it. Crop. Edit. Manipulate it. Until I start writing.
Memoir Notes: 1
In the process. Writing. Memoir. Breaking things apart. Breaking things down. Breaking. This is an earring that belonged to my sister. I had the pair. Dropped one. Broke it. I wish I had kept the pieces. But I wasn't thinking then about this. I did keep the other one, the unbroken one. It's some kind of stone polished, flat. Tiger Eye maybe. A rectangle with a circle, a hole, in the center. I could show you the whole piece, but it isn't the whole that interests me right now. In the process. What I am showing you is the scanned image of an earring shattered with a photo app "healing" tool. Across the surface of the scanner my sister's ashes glitter. Bits of bone. Tissue. Bits of me. My kidney that became hers. Becomes her. Becomes me. The ashes a mess atop the scanner (something I hadn't considered; no doubt there will be residue in photos contracts and objects scanned in the future). But look at her! Me. Memoir. Transformed. Human. Mineral. Bone. Blood. Not living but alive. What we shared. I have ideas. Things I want to say about my sister. Me. Us. I've written some essays. Made notes. Drafts in progress. But right now I'm looking. Seeing. Rearranging. Re-seeing. Knowing differently. Learning. Breaking. Healing.
Texas has good junk. I learned this soon after moving here, having given away or recycled much of what I owned in California. There was stuff I needed. Like a table. And a chair. Forks. You get the picture. So I started going to the used, thrift, vintage--whatever you want to call them--stores in Austin. But I hadn't ever been to Austin's City-Wide Garage Sale at the Palmer Center. There are still some things I need: a kitchen step stool, for example, a screwdriver or two. I didn't get either of those things--no step stools, an overwhelming number of screwdrivers (I just walked away from that bin). But I saw lots of cool stuff (Texans have A LOT of stuff!)
If only I had more arms and feet.
Humor comes in pink.
Precursor to the phone case.
What I bought.
I needed the skillet. I'd been looking for cast iron skillets in the used shops, but hadn't found one that didn't seem really over priced or just too worn out. The man I bought this skillet from and I had a long conversation about cast iron skillets when I asked him for the price of the one I as interested in. He said, "This is a real Wagner." The look on my face probably told him exactly how much I knew about cast iron skillets. And when he asked me about that, I told him, "nothing." Which is true. He suggested that next time I want to buy something at a garage sale, I should probably not tell the seller that I know nothing about what I want to purchase. Point taken. (Out of curiosity, not because I doubted him, I looked up Wagner cookware when I got home. Apparently, I do have a real one.)
Anyway, he told me a lot more than I have ever wanted to know about cast iron cookware. But it was really interesting, and I enjoyed talking to him. One of the things I love about living in Texas (and there are a number of things I really despise) is listening to Southwestern accents. Of all the accents I used to hear in the Bay Area, the Southwestern wasn't among them. Lots of Southern drawls, for sure, but they are not the same thing. The twang sounds like home to me, and I can listen to it all day.
So I pad $15 for the skillet--a steal I was assured. I also bought a "vintage" billiard ball, for which I have no explanation.