I want to drive through the small Texas towns, stopping to capture all the shuttered railroad stops and drugstores. Finding grand old homes on dust burnt corners- walking the abandoned grounds to capture images of slender, wavy glass holding shadows of a long ago occupant. I want to capture beds of iris, once common, but now with roots so thick they are called heritage- their flowers no longer bloom, but given proper space would again shout with color. There will be ancient oaks groaning against the earth and finding support from abandoned metal roofs. White, maroon and pink crepe myrtles reaching raggedly toward the sun that beats their edges to a crisp, whilst flowers within the canopy still mist the memories held within the abandoned and shuttered past.
She kept a tidy, minimalist apartment with only the necessities: a simple two person settee, wingback reading chair, side table for library books and her readers, dining table and four chairs, and two extra chairs on either side of a small roll-top desk. In her bedroom, there was a full-size bed and simple chest of drawers, upon which sat a jewelry box lined in purple to house her well-organized adornments- the only pizzazz she allowed herself. In the kitchen, there was a basic set of pots and pans, along with a beautiful four-cup china teapot set she’d acquired on travel group trip to China many years before. For dining, she had she never added to her wedding glassware or china and, like her deceased husband, never did she need replace it.
As she sipped from a delicate etched glass, I would gaze at the scene with awe. In our home there was nothing that perfectly simple. It called to me. How could a drinking glass be art? But there it was, art in the simplest action of one’s day. During lunch, she sipped from the glass and the afternoon sun would glance against the etchings and toss newborn stars across her wall. The Children- my sister and I- were only allowed to drink from the two jam jars she had long ago put aside for our use. It never occurred to me I would one day, in her home, drink from anything besides a jam jar. So on the day she presented me with 12 ounces of icy, orange spiced tea in a glass that birthed stars I was speechless.
She made no comment about the change, simply presented me the glass and gave my shoulder a squeeze. When I was done, I carried my rite of passage to the kitchen without word- washed, rinsed, towel dried and returned the glass to its assigned cabinet. I knew I had done well by this unspoken leveling up, when the next morning I was given juice from a short, delicate green milk glass that she kept well out of reach. My younger sister began to object to not being included in this passage and I stuck my tongue out at her. She took a deep breath that would have turned into a blustery argument at home, but Charlotte simply said, “That’s enough out of the two of you,” and the fight was over. She loved us both so completely and evenly that we never felt the need to compete in her presence. Besides, she wouldn’t have it. Grown folks didn’t behave that way and neither would her nieces.
Around the corner from my place in Bushwick there was a walk-up Chinese spot. They had a thin noodle lo mein the likes of which I have never found again. In the early months of my pregnancy I ate it about three times a week. I knew I had become a regular when the ever present kids would stay and giggle when I walked up, no longer running to the back of the shop. As I approached the counter, their mom would shout my order to the kitchen and then rhetorically question, “That’s it, yes?,” while ringing up the same $5.34 total each visit brought.
Now I have been back in Austin for over a decade and about a year ago I ventured into a little Chinese take-away spot I had passed for years, never stopping because, “How good could it be?” Silly me, those are always the best places for what you need in comfort food. No pretense- simply offering their food. No need to boast, they are consistent and semi-friendly and close. I have to say, their lo mein isn’t the same as my beloved Bushwick version with its angel hair noodles and slivers of veggies and ginger. Like any past love, none will match it but there will be space in the heart’s memory for new and different love. The new lo mein is chunkier all around, using wide noodles that are not magically light, but more fulfilling in their balance of chew and crunch. The vegetables have a wonderful smokiness, more variety, and there’s always enough for two. It is a new comfort food that I look forward to.
My daughter never got to try my Bushwick lo mein. We went back to find it, but the building that the walk-up counter was tucked into had succumbed to the push of gentrification. An overpriced, metallic apartment building now stands in place of giggling children and summer sidewalk chalk. While that experience can only be shared with her through the romance of memory, I am happy knowing part of her childhood memory will be getting dinner from this new spot. One day, Wok ‘N Express will be part of her cache of stories- her favorite childhood lo mein and how no one else’s will ever be quite the same.
Darkness is back
Pinning me to my bed
Releasing any desire to care
To be overwhelmed by emotion
That has no discernible point of origin
Simply big and heavy and sad
Ride to work
It’s a good life
But the sadness sits heavy
the mockingbird’s song-
an echo of a memory
a place we never existed
through fractal distillation
She’s not a pretty thing.
There is no clean packaging or simplicity.
We share a bath and her voice becomes loud in the still, wet darkness.
I do not try to drown her with positive affirmations, but just sit and listen, I become terrified.
Her rage grows, I try to shrink away, but choose to keep the space.
Sobs overtake and she shakes my core, pounds the water and I hear my screams through tears that haven’t fallen in too many months.
It’s too much. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be the sole bread winner and parent. I can’t keep up with everything. I can’t just let things go. I can’t keep keeping the peace and being the balance. I can’t do it.
My mind won’t stop, I feel like I can’t do it. I can’t do life, not this way, but I have to do it. I have to keep moving forward, my daughter needs me. I can’t lose my mind, but the noise won’t stop. I grab pen & paper and muddle out. “You can do it. Let the anger forge a path. You don’t have to keep doing it the same way. You don’t have to keep hurting. Change your story.”
I sit with my anger and she finally knows it’s safe to surface and fill the space we share.
I sit with my anger and she is allowed to express.
Instead of imagining what I could do but not acting on my ideations, because “I’m not that kind of person,” I free her. Anger grabs for whatever is within reach- soon the room is smashed. Shaving cream and shampoo and soap are thrown against walls, the trash can is knocked over, and, as if watching myself, I get out of the bath. I see photos hanging on hallway walls. Faces with false smiles look back at me- pain relived everyday in hopes of creating balance.
Pictures are burned. My story begins a new chapter.
bare yourself on the porch
espresso with dash of cream
say good morning
Full and dense
Deep within the arms of her embrace
Built on the kisses of the wind
Carried to the edges are her stories
Tomorrow, as life moves forward
more green will appear
closer to the edges it will creep
Next week, we’ll pass and won’t recall
limbs naked and new
just the week before
March 8-10, 2019
Took the dog out to piss.
While he checked for olfactory messages left by those who had pissed before him,
icy water seeped into my fuzzy slippers and tugged at the hems of my cotton pajama bottoms.
With total disregard for my comfort or convenience,
the cold front had moved in
on a bitter slash of rain.
tears do not fall
resting in the pool of my chest
Locked in my throat
behind my eyes
divided from the day
let me cry
tears are here
staged in my heart
waiting to fall
loneliness, people separated, hunger,
loss, simple depression
here sit the tears
pooling in my heart