Finding Solace in the Gutter

(A companion piece to this photograph by Leanne Cole)

The idea that I’d be one of those people who could show raw emotion in public and not even care who saw me – that was something I would have never believed could happen to me. I’d always heard not to be too quick to criticize how people act in situations, because you never know – you might do something just as ridiculous in the same circumstances. I’d HEARD it. But I didn’t BELIEVE it.

I’ve never liked being in the spotlight. For a long time, I colored my hair brown because red hair just brought too much attention. But when I lost my job last year, I couldn’t afford to keep it brown and so it’s back to red. I hate it, though, just as much as I ever did.

My sister – she LOVES being the center of everything and when there’s no drama, she sure will create some. Even being on the fringes of whatever she was up to was too much for me; I couldn’t deal with it. That, plus some other things, is why I moved all the way across the country. It was time for me to start over, to make myself into who I wanted to me – not a boring replica of my sister. Distance was what I needed; distance was what I got. No one understood, but a few people like my mom and my friend Darlene at least pretended to support what I was doing. My sister never talked about it; for a while I thought she was jealous that the spotlight wavered from her for just one quick second, but later I decided that she hadn’t even noticed my departure.

I never meant to cut myself off from the family, but it happened anyway. I don’t think any of them knew I lost my job, and I know they never found out about those couple of weeks when I was living in my car. No one knew about that – I could barely even admit it to myself!

That rough part didn’t last long, even though back then it seemed like it lasted forever. I found a new job, got a place to live, and was finally starting to relax. Sometimes I even felt happy. Or what I guessed happiness felt like.

About a week ago, my sister called. I didn’t answer; I didn’t figure I had anything to say to her, and didn’t want to get pulled back into her drama-filled life. She called the next day, too, a couple of times, but never left a message. I wondered about it, but not for long.

The next day after that, Darlene called; we hadn’t really talked since I’d moved, but I answered. That’s when I found out my mom had died.

And that’s when I walked outside, in the rain, and sat on the curb.

I didn’t know what else to do. And it didn’t matter who saw me, or what they thought.

Sky Harbor

The old lady’s enormous plastic eyeglasses,
high on her aquiline nose,
reflect blue-white light of Arrival monitors.
She clutches her substantial vinyl pocketbook tightly
under her left arm,
clinches a creased plane ticket with her right hand.
Her lips work with the effort of reading
the long list of flights. When she reaches the end,
she frowns, looks at the monitors again,
then edges to the ones marked Departures.

Behind her, in the B21 boarding lounge,
a brown and gray sparrow flies toward
a window, seeking a route to the outdoors.
The bird, up against the glass, sits a moment
on the aluminum window ledge, then flits away.

The old lady hitches up her purse,
its outside pockets bulging a crossword puzzle book
and last week’s checkout stand tabloids.
She looks at the monitors
at her ticket
at the monitors.
Noticing her lengthy stay
an airline employee comes to help,
scanning screens briskly
announcing Gate A2.

Meanwhile at B21
the bird wheels in again
to make another attempt at liberation.

The old lady’s face collapses
at the comprehension that she’s not even in the correct terminal.
Her rescuer unclips a two-way radio
and DO YOU COPY? crackles across the lounge.
He then helps her sit down,
facing the concourse, to wait for the transportation cart.
The old lady, perched on the plastic upholstery, twirls her wedding band,
already worn as thin as gold leaf.
The furry ruff of her threadbare gray coat rides up
and uneven ends of her sparse steely hair poke into it.

The bird looks toward the tantalizing outdoors
where catering trucks and luggage trolleys swarm purposefully,
hops a few feet down the ledge, stops, looks again,
then loops away toward the sports bar,
which is blaring Super Bowl pre-game shows.

The old lady looks jerkily up and down the concourse until
the cart arrives. The driver double checks
ticket, departure gate, then settles her
into the backward-facing passenger seat.
Still hugging her pocketbook
a hint of calm at last settles on her face
as the cart driver executes a swift
turn and heads toward the correct terminal.

The bird returns again,
flying at top speed straight into the glass.

What you gave me

Slices of your world
given to me –
careful, simple gifts.

     Coffee is on sale this week
     I am a light sleeper
     Today would have been my mother’s birthday

With what might be grace
I accept, trusting that each offering
is profound in undiscovered ways,
then smooth out the wrinkled wrapping
wondering what to offer in return.

2007

A Tom Robbins Novel Kind of Obsession

She wished the dream could be a fact:
that the spoon held temptingly to her lips
would not disappear the moment she woke.
She wanted the cool raspberry sweetness on her tongue
and the craziness of mating dissimilar entities.

Her mismatched place settings of old silver were odd
but creating a unified whole out of bizarre passions
seemed only right for a woman who was fond of fucking around –
with seriousness, sanctity, syntax.

After all, why should she wait and let Tom Robbins have all the fun?
Why not, upon waking, take the long-handled spoon
and pair it with the V-monogrammed fork?
And then –
eat her simple solitary meal,
savoring the taste,
imagining that the silver
had infused the food with flavor until it was too intense to bear.

She’d eat dessert first, with the spoon.
Then, slowly finish the meal,
smiling at the monogram on the fork,
recalling unsanctioned passions.

Laurie Wagner Buyer/Melinda Green Harvey
1999

force of habit

my body weight too close to the edge
pops sheets off the mattress
every night
twined in dreams of struggle
i wake tangled in
percale knots

memories shove me
to the far side of the bed
your cold-rolled steel voice
my bruises shaped like gripping fingers
extra makeup, unlikely explanations

     Parents’ day, private school
     earnest conversations with headmaster.
     Smiling couple, half a foursome
     for Saturday tee time.
     Nicely dressed family, usual pew,
     early Easter service:
          scars hidden by sunlight.

i’d rather fight loose sheets
than you
i’d rather feel them
under me
than you beside me

a touch from you
no matter your intent
carries with it a force
i can’t afford to forget

2004

An event, inexplicable

Freeze that moment:
look back at what has led you
to this day of destiny, of purpose.

Cast in today’s glow of new beginnings
what could have been random
can be understood differently –
as part of a larger plan
unfurling itself upon two people
before they even knew.

At that moment
fireworks didn’t explode –
rather a steady, gradual knowledge
began to take hold
and this event, inexplicable
by what you knew,
was understood by what you felt.

Each event, every step
led to this fulcrum,
when the balance swung
from friendship to love,
when scales tipped
in favor of sharing lives
forever.

This moment couldn’t have happened
any other way.

2004

1964

1964 altered

Pink pearlescent cateye glasses
brought my second grade world into focus.
My waist-long braids had been recently cropped
to a more manageable chin length, but a cowlick
still influenced rebellious bangs.
Baby teeth gave way to huge replacements,
their odd angles foreshadowing future orthodontia.
Thanks to McCalls patterns and mom
my Brownie uniform was my only store-bought dress.

That summer I gathered
backyard caterpillars,
stuffing them into pickle-scented jars.
Fueled by daily rations of leaves,
larvae spun cocoons.
Before long, silken walls thinned,
revealing chrysalises folded inside –
a yellow and black swallowtail;
an orange-purple harvester; or a Southern
pearly eye, dusty white.
After emergence, the butterflies would
spread creased, damp-looking wings,
then flap them slowly, preparing for flight.
I would unscrew a nail-holed jar lid
setting beautiful, fragile creatures free.

Also that summer, using a net fashioned
from a coathanger and a cone of white tulle,
I caught butterflies, examined their colors
with great longing,
and set them free again.

2007

Meteor Shower

The clouds came that night,
the night the meteors streaked across the sky,
their tails pointing, always pointing,
to Perseus.

But I felt their presence,
felt you watching them
from a place you and I once shared,
a place where we’d made love,
and where we’d cried.

Without the clouds
I could have shared your view.

And so it was that I thought of you,
thought of our times together,
hoped for another chance to love you.
And went to sleep
only to startle awake when my fist
hit the headboard,
driving away any more sleep that night.

I sat outside, staring past the clouds,
pretending I could see Perseus,
Cassiopeia, Andromeda,
meteors.

And you.

2009

Fucking in French

Beside each other on the meager mattress
you tell me about Christmas Eve, alone
in Luxembourg,
when you heard the couple in the next room
make love all night long.

Eventually we emulate them
though it’s only October.

2004