Lincoln Woods in the ’60’s

It was the annual trip

down to Lincoln Woods

where my dad and uncles

would stand over one of those outdoor grills

chanting their version of the fire song

wondering if they needed more lighter fluid while

watching and waiting for the charcoal 

to finally be hot enough 

to cook the burgers and franks

while another group played horseshoes

the clanging of the shoes against the metal poles

the cheers as someone got a ringer

the moans when a shot knocked it off

while my cousins and I would all run around

out in the fields playing ball or tag or hide and seek

getting bug bites and sunburns

and not stopping to notice

while ma and my various aunts 

would sit under the shade of the oak tree

all wearing the same style summer dress

talking about that one relative

who somehow seemed to be in trouble

it wasn’t until years later 

I understood what trouble meant

realizing that I was once trouble

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Letting Go and Learning

 What is it that I’m trying to say? It’s the question I ask every time I sit down and begin to write, what do I want to say and why say it? Maybe every writer goes through this angst, questioning their writing, wondering if it makes sense and if it’s any good. As I continue in my own quest to find my voice, these questions arise more and more as I grind away at my keyboard. It’s a case of the flying monkeys swooping in then scattering all my thoughts like they scattered the poor Scarecrows body. My first thought is over there, my second one over there and my main one is way over there. So it’s always an attempt to take my scattered, messed up thoughts and try to corral them into one place where they can be managed.  

Of course I say this knowing full well that I will never manage these thoughts anymore than I will be able to wrangle a herd of cats in a calm and cohesive manner. The introverted brain, my brain in particular, tends to shift from one thought to the other and never will the two thoughts meet. Not only will they not meet, they won’t even look like they came from the same unstructured mind that bred them in the first place. It’s a wonder that I can even get out my simple little blog never mind write a full blown memoir or story. 

 At some point, I need to find that place, the one that lies deep within, and drill away exposing the riches that lie beneath as well as that vein of fools gold that we all seem to have an abundance. You know, not everything is pretty, not every thought is pure and not every word is golden, yet everything is precious. My memories, our memories, are the libraries we carry with us each and every day. They are the repository of our histories and the way we interpret our surroundings. Sure, one day some historian will slog through the blogs, the Facebook postings, the Twitter feeds, other social media to try and figure out what we were thinking and doing. What will they find? Hopefully they will find our humanity. They will see that we did indeed try to make our world a better place, that we tried to set aside our differences to create a space for every human being. Yes, I know that is a fantasy, given the rhetoric we hear and the negativity of our social media feeds, but somewhere, within all of this crap, lies our better nature. 

 Today, I wrote a poem about my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Toro, who I remember as an autocratic, mean spirited, old lady who seemed to delight in torturing me. All I can remember is her face, dark and foreboding, looking down on me, calling me a liar and sending home notes to my mother telling her of my seedy crimes. Already I was marked and it was then that I learned that not every person, not every adult was nice, honest or kind. It was then I began to build that shell, the one that would protect me from the slings and arrows of words used to hurt. It’s my memory, it’s my history and it’s part of what has formed the person I am today. Without knowing it, Mrs. Toro began laying the foundation of my own journey into writing not realizing that one day she herself would become a topic, a memory, a history that I will mine and drill for all it’s worth.

 These bits and pieces, these stories, all distorted by time and space and by my own imperfect vision, make up what I write today. It’s cutting through, right into the marrow of life, sucking on the richness that lies there, and using it, writing it, telling that story. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry or prose, I tell what I know and in these words a part of myself is revealed, and in a way healed. The shell, so carefully constructed and maintained, is slowly if not painfully being pealed back and now I’m at the time in my life where I feel that I’m ready to tell the tale.

 In Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, I learned that to write one must be willing to deal with those shitty first drafts, to go through a process of just doing it, vomiting words onto a page and then basically killing some of those words to create your story. I’m not sure I’m there yet. My introversion is my security blanket and like Linus I’m loath to let it go for fear of what will happen. So each word, each sentence is a slow, painful process of letting go and learning.

Not Perfect

I realized long ago, that I wasn’t perfect.

I learned that, in the third grade,

where my teacher pointed out

all my childish faults and then publicized them.

Notes to my parents, outlining my faults,

just to make sure they knew of my deficiencies.

She sought to leave no doubt in their minds,

and also leave no doubt in mine.

I wasn’t perfect and therefore a loser,

not meant for anything special,

yet here I sit, writing about her,

and remembering the pain I felt,

of feeling less than perfect,

of being a complete dolt,

incapable of learning and so I quit,

I quit trying to please and hid in a hole,

until one day I saw the sun,

and in its light hope.

I’m not perfect, that I know,

but I am special in my own way.

Now I write, poetry and verse,

delving into the mystery,

my third grade teacher dismissed.

Childs Prayer

I kneel by my bedside, 

my mother sitting, patiently as I pray,

“Now I lay me down to sleep”,

I start, fumbling for words trying to remember,

“I pray the Lord my soul to keep”,

I’m four years, what is a soul, 

why would anyone keep it?, 

“If I should die, before I wake”, 

Die?, 

A cold darkness settles over, 

in the ceiling I see him,

the jester who stalks my dreams,

the dark one, 

seeking to take me away.

Flying down three flights of stairs,

out onto Congreve Street, 

a bumping through Fallon Field.

“I pray the Lord, my soul to keep”,

In the dark my eyes open, 

my heart races,

I run to the safety of their room,

I bury myself in the familiar smells,

Old Spice and Ivory Soap,

“God bless, mommy, daddy, sister, Grandpa, Grandma”,

The jester will not find me,

and on that night, 

as I nuzzle between the sentinels,

safe from the darkness,

I finally say, “Amen.”