with or without receipt
when the Universe
in kid gloves
stretching the skin
I think of Dana
and losing touch
to being sold
a dance beat
it could be
man or woman
...who will judge
the stepping out
a small town
jaws of register
a spoke poet
clay like candy
To Pin a Moth
It's going on 13 years since Gil passed away. He was our last connection to a past that wore itself for us like an invisible locket of childhood. Gil on one side, my big brother Jem on the other, lying right upon my heart. Atticus always said it's the unexpected that mortars men as kin, more than any blood. Guess that's the way we felt about Arthur Radley, too, our hidden friend "Boo," down the road. He was the kindred that came out from the shadow and saved Jem after the beating we took, costumed in the dark, stumbling home from that fateful Halloween school pageant.
Bob Ewell was an alcoholic, a physical and emotional abuser, but he wasn't an amnesiac. He'd no compunction taking his ails out on his daughter, or on our father Atticus, nor on us children-- bidding his time, as he had to, to divert suspicions. If it hadn't been for Boo overcoming a deep-set agoraphobia, Ewell would have broken bones in all three of us; me, Jem and Gil, and left us to bleed out. Revenge for the bad reputation that he'd brought upon himself, but which he'd blamed Atticus for, thinking he'd leverage social opinion and inferred racial superiority, to nurse what Atticus referred to academically as his "inferiority complex," meaning colloquially and more specifically, as perception of being "poor white trash." Like Gil said, an image Ewell had reinforced in himself, with loathing, and then berated his family with, as well.
I'd felt akin with Gil long before we'd taken those earliest vows, unofficially, with stolen kisses under the massive oak in his family's yard. Then some years after, we'd graduated and officially married, and had Alternia Radlee Finch Harris. So named, we agreed, to honor the memory of that summer that brought us all close together, him and me, and Jem; and our late housekeeper Calpurnia, and Atticus, may their souls rest in everlasting peace.
That summer turned to fall and drew us spiraling out of a dark- light ignorance and innocence, like the partitions of misunderstandings and misperceptions. I know that we were blind. We weren't blind in failing to see. We were blind in the glare of our own fears, projecting in flashes onto other people, and again by the fears reflected back onto us, from the eyes of equally fearful strangers. Trinkets of "knowledge" like that sparkle falsely and deceive us. We think we are learned, like when using big words, not quite fully cognizant of their meanings. Information becomes a collection, looked at, and not understood, not experienced. Something dead, even when living it, because we have labeled it, rather than identified with it.
Never did I suppose, since that time, that I would find myself caught up in that blaze again, and so isolated. Jem and his wife Angelica and their three children all moved to Canada years ago. We telephone a couple times a year, what with money being tight, and travel all the more prohibitive. We cherish the idea we'll one day have a small future family reunion. We'd thought maybe when Alternia has her children, though now that seems an eternity away. Maybe never.
Gil'd had a big heart, always. Too big, Alternia would say, in simplification, hugging the empty space in place of her father, when the doctor'd tried to explain the enlargement of the ventricles to her. He'd had a murmur from infancy, and it tore unexpectedly as he got older, a sudden gaping hole when he'd finished med school. Demonic twist of fates, he laughed, with a brave face. He said, "loving us was worth the pain," if loving us too much had caused the rupture in his aortic valves.
He'd held my hand so lightly from the hospital bed, weak and tender. "Don't go," whispered low when he wanted a word with Alternia. She was six, but old enough and wise enough to take things seriously, especially when he used that paternal voice. It reminded us immediately of me and Atticus, each of us precocious. How he knew then, I'll never discern, but something must have prompted Gil. He wanted me to hear. He said, "Altie, it is hard to be different; and impossible to be the same. Think of me in your trials. Have heart; and take care of your mother."
Maybe it's just the overlap of words, and definitions, that haunts me like in a crossword puzzle, and it was not at all prophetic. Just seems that way, in the blanks, now that Alternia is in juvey. She's seventeen. Eight more months and the rules would be different. They tell me the detention's for her own safety, for what she claims to have seen, not so much for the actual charges of possession and robbery, disputed. Nor for the assault she suffered, undisputedly. It pains me, for not having been more vigilant. It's as if a failing of my motherhood.
Maybe it was my fault for not leaving Maycomb. Maybe it would have been the right thing to do, by the family, to sell Atticus' house and leave behind the Ewell's and especially Mayella. Jem said the Ewell's had tainted the county for him and he was glad to get away--- to college out of state, and then out of the country altogether. Jem had talked a lot about Human Rights, and why he was following in Atticus's footsteps as counsel. He worked pro bono whenever he could, and we were all rightly proud. He'd never had much respect for Mayella, though. It was like he sensed she'd carried a sickness, latent, that which had progressed so detrimentally in her father. I confess I held it against Jem, a little, as though he had hardened his heart, unjustly, and I tried to keep mine open.
Psychologists claim that victims perpetrate, or perpetuate, their wrongs. Still, I thought it unfair to look down on her, her history being what it was. Bob Ewell, had long been a neglectful self-indulgent. It's hard to add the word "father." Mayella had been deprived of many things, foremost childhood, and parental love. I reckon I'd cheered for her silently when I'd heard she'd married Robert Farrow and that they'd had twins, a boy and a girl, and I'd lost track of them, in our own family plights. The little I knew from our catty neighbor was that after less than three years Rob'd left her, and that Mayella had picked up on some her father's habits, what with drinking and other rumored substance misuse, prescription as well as illegal. Maybe it'd always been like that, just better kept, behind curtains.
I had no idea of the depths of abuses. We hold "Mother" in such esteem. Reviled behaviors are incompatible with its definition. Men are as if always one step removed from the tie of paternity. Culpability is more easily placed, maybe on account of this doubt, for emotional or physical abuses, even sexual abuse. But how could a mother? ...a Mother.
Altie had been, with my repressed reservations, as well as charitable encouragements, friendly with the Farrow twins. She'd always been closer with Warren, than Cassidy, Cassidy being reticent in words and gestures, and quick to bow out of group activities. Our Altie'd no such reservations and wouldn't hesitate to drop in to visit Cass whenever she withdrew. It should have been a red flag, but it seemed an adolescent phase that Cass withdrew more, and more, and Alternia with her, pulling away from home.
It tugged at my heart that my girl was grown, and soon I'd be empty nesting, as they say. It did not occur to me that things were complicating, in ways that would subsequently implicate my baby.
She'd come back one night, not so long ago, and said something that stopped me in my retirement to bed with my books and chamomile tea.
"Wherever did you hear words like that, sweetie?" I asked her, biding some time to respond judiciously. My landed work as a real estate agent had prepared me for emotional data gathering, pitching and making a sale. I scanned her body language. I inferred she'd had a disagreement with her friends.
"um.. tonight... Warren said you were a 'butch-mom' when I left after our study group, Scout." Hanging his quote with clawed fingers. The teen's words meant most obviously to wound, instill doubts in the most vulnerable areas of stability, and pierce self-image.
She accepted my definitions and resource suggestions. I departed thinking of growing pains and could only wonder what was going through her mind. Again, I thought of Atticus always treating us as "reasonably thinking individuals."
When she came home a few nights after with a split lip, it was too late. Something had gotten out of hand, and it was spreading in the neighborhood by mouth. The stares, the whispers, the silence, the cold treatment, and the heated slurs. I suspected down deep, it was creeping up from the Ewell-Farrows. Our experience from the Bob Ewell/ Tom Robinson trial in our youth had prepared me to see it as an illness of humanity, nothing personal.
It was Cassidy who was in peril.
Author's Note: sequel to "To Kill a Mockingbird" ... in which the main character Scout, now widowed mother of one teenaged daughter, finds herself in the trial of a lifetime to stop the incestuous abuses of a neighboring mentally unstable Mother (Mayella Ewell-Farrow) against her children (Warren and Cassidy Farrow), and the wrath that incurs from inherent social needs, sibling jealousies, parental emotional ties; and community outrage.
We tried for different.
We shot for stars,
and compared the
scarring of our arms
trying to help
in the business
We shined the platter
for head of duck
in our serving up,
and in the sheen,
I said Look!
We tried for different
We shot for stars
The scarring on our arms
Trying to help
In the business
We shined the platter
In our scheme to
Plate a steamy serving
Of roast duck,
But in the sheen of
The metallic plate
I thought I caught
An accidental glimpse
Of the divine,
Then quickly changed my
Wary mind and said
It's just one of us…
…That reflection looks
So much in line
With how you genuflect,
And bow your head
When they tell you
What and when
We tried for different
We shot for starlights
And compared in vain
The scarring on our arms
Trying to help, by the way,
In the business
Of God, and us.
We shined the platter
In our scheme to
Divy a steamy serving
Of roasted apple
But in the sheen of
The metallic plating
We thought we'd caught
An accidental glimpse
Of the divine, no...
Then quickly changed
Wary minds and said
It's not one of us…
…But the reflection looks
So very much in line
With the genuflect,
And bowing of the head
When telling ourselves
What and when
We aimed for different.
We shot for stars
in our eyes.
We stopped comparing
bowed over the platter
Mavia & Bunny Villaire
Inspiration piece: Dead Can Dance
(The Holy Family is Homeless)
Maybe I've never gone. Or maybe I've never come back. Going home for the holidays is a strange foreign idiom in my mind not quite tied to somewhere as a specific point on the map. Holiday is like a person, growing, moving, a song in the heart. A feeling to return to. It's that moment of expectancy-- of something about to happen-- that passes. The hall of the soul still heaving, counting the steps fading and advancing into next year, because whatever it was--that Hallowed day--left something.
Left something, that's a strange expression. One to come back to--like an empty nest.
It adequately conveys my understanding of Home for Christmas.
Where do birds rest, when they are not roosting? we may believe that the elaborate straw lair is the feathered friend's home, but no. Nesting, is expressly for the Spring, not as shelter from the cold, but solely for laying eggs and raising the young. At any other time, birds take cover wherever Providence provides.
Much like the saying regarding food, they neither reap nor sow--nor build nor tow-- and yet they are provided for.
Christmas comes to them in the shelf ledge set by a loosened brick in the top corner of the underpass, sheltered from the wind; or in the rotted hollow of the old hickory tree in Geralds' Used Car Lot, or in a dented impression where a rock had been displaced. To huddle and await the next. Earth is their home, wherever they go.
Like for every holy family. There in the dead center, whatever the weather, alone, yet together. Even if dispersed. The Holidays come over-- when they do-- at Home in the heart. Meeting us all where we are, in the given moment. Unjudged, unless judged by us, as being in or out. Like the searing kiss of a snowflake, or of a water drop, running down the skin. Both hot and cold. In fleeting memory.
In memory like on that long journey-- one might say, of coming or going, to where we each came from-- our own Xmas story. As being temporary nests to the Spirit.
Picking the Present
I want the very best for everyone. I suppose in the end, on second thought, I want it for myself. Gift giving has inevitably something to do with the feeling one gets-- the anticipation of the receptive look, the special intonation, or significant gesture; and then that irreplaceable satisfaction of having favorably guessed.
That is the pleasure. Our pleasure.
If we are gift giving in mind set, we do not pick the occasion. It presents itself. Always. Walking along, I happen upon something, found or bought, and it is Self-evident. There is already a name tag on it. Ahh, this is ----!! Perfect! And already it is packaged, mentally, waiting on the shelf for the next opportune moment, waiting for that special Someone.
Timing is, as is said, critical. The present must never be a moment too late.
I accept the challenge of gift giving, and the responsibility it presents. It is a more subtle matter than it may objectively seem. I have over time understood that I want always to pick the Present-- the instant of gifting, before the exchange of artifact-- that blessed moment when I am thinking about Somebody other than myself.
The Viewfinder in a Clear Frame of Mind
It is exceedingly difficult for me to unravel this topic on the monetization of art of any kind. Earning one's living by one's artwork has a dangerous way of draining the joy from life. Not always, but more often than not. The pressure is more than most people can bear. I'm not sure either that it is in fact all that desirable for salesman and artist to coexist--- though I do seek in myself for the two functions to find an honorable compromise. No small task. Understandably, we want a recipe for success or at least a list of necessary ingredients. I can only offer this most general observation for moving towards that general creative goal: that we enjoy where we are going, and how; wherever it is; whoever with, and how ever it ends. A living portrait of artistic integrity--- To this effect, I have written a few conversational vignettes, between an old and young artist.
* * *
"Baby, you can't let them know how fast you work."
I couldn't understand at first. It wasn't that I was proud. Just honest, I thought.
The painting took me 15 minutes.
"If they hear you can do it in 15 they'll expect it in 5. It's human psychology, to low ball."
Oh. I was disappointed. But ambitious. I cranked out three more.
It took me 15 minutes total.
"Good, babe. And it looks like three different artists. Bravo! now you're getting it."
That was part of the plan, in the design studio. Everything was made anonymously, signed with Studio Name, and we had spread the rumor about Associate Artists.
"Wow look at these, Constance!"
"Oh, Judith, my these are so different. Who made these dear? And where?"
"Thank you. Our Associates at the Studio."
"Oh, really, how many artists do you have with you?"
"...depends on the season. We have more in the Summer." Two. And sometimes just me. In the winter. Big, beautiful, tireless smile.
* * *
He lit his cigarette, and leaned back against the corner of the deck where the varnish was drying on our artwork. The first stars emerging above, and early gnats, everything a fresh wound for bandage. A team effort, each week, start to finish, though each of us had areas in which we pulled more, and everything came together late on Fridays for early Saturday morn.
"You know you're the face, right? and I am... the patron, behind," he said, cracking a restrained grin, in nature with his reserve and humor.
"But we work together..."
"I prefer to work behind the scenes." And I know he did too.
"This is survival. The fittest don't pick their roles. They perfect them."
It seemed a large load to carry, several people on one back, but one I could see he was willing to carry, in turn. More than his fair share.
"I understand." I understood that he enjoyed his role as idea man. The title producer has an incongruous meaning.
"Nobody buys from a tired out white man. That is not a winning story."
"Baby, people don't buy things, for things. They buy the experience, the narrative thread that will elevate them in the eyes of their families or compatriots. The extra something."
"Like when people say, you have to have a gimmick?"
"Tsk. More than that. It needs to have an unquestionable truth. A happening."
"But Art is already....illusion... no?"
"Yes, that's what makes it so damnably difficult."
* * *
"Baby, we will never make it if we insist on the one-of-a-kind."
"But we have always rejected mass market." He shook his head. Time, time.
"A good idea is a good idea. One worthy of multiplying, by whatever mechanical means."
"That's a lot of pressure..."
"The good idea? yes, but if you're looking, eventually we might find it."
"And if we stop looking, we won't even know if it passes us by?"
"Exactly right. But we start small."
I wrap my arms around his neck and shoulders, "One corner of the sky?"
I can tell he's pleased, like a street performer busking an appreciative audience.
"Something we can put on a cup."
An unexpected gift
I suppose it is not uncommon for someone to give a parting gift on their deathbed.
Or rather, when they know that they are dying.
I remember sitting on the back unscreened porch. The beautiful countryside not so rustic, disturbed. The mountain behind us having been dynamited, and built over, on the rescinding of Cloud Nine-- a provision in the land deed that had previously prohibited construction.
Yet in front of us, the valley (as far as the eye could see), was still lush.
It was June. The mosquitos kept a respectful distance, and all was quiet-- the orange purple twilight slipping beyond the green feathery tops of the oaks, maples, and walnuts at the edge of our property, just where the cul-de-sac swooped around two other (invisible) homesteads. We sat on tall black swivel chairs we'd wheeled from the home office counter Father had built into the kitchen. Bats twinkled, tiny black stars above. A favorable sign, he said. And then an owl called. A Great Horned.
He sat to my right, in the corner--backdropped against the slatted window of the laundry, where the circular stairs descend to the basement and two-car garage. Two almost identical, yet distinctly different vehicles, waiting there like faithful horses. We sat wrapped, individually, side by side in charcoal grey woolen army issue blankets, for quality not nationalism. Each of us bracing the slight chill of the evening and more so the inner tremors, that reckoning brings, universally. In the turn of a day.
He gave so many gifts, immaterial, intangible and immeasurable, it seems almost bewildering that this is the one that rises above the others. I told him I loved every minute of our Hell, and apologized for any grief I might have given. Me too, he said, me too. He said other things more personal, and then squeezed my hand with extra significance, like to one whom you trust, and he said:
When the time comes, and it will come, do whatever you can to make the passing easier... you may not understand now, but you will know...
And I knew. And am eternally grateful. This from a man who had suffered and sacrificed, withstanding untold pain, in untold ways. He asked for the morphine. He asked again, and again. And then he stopped asking. And still I gave it to him--
Had he not given me those words, I would have felt that I had killed him.
The Positive & The Negative
Sometimes the shape of creativity
is the undulation of a violin
the way the sound
with the silence
of the wood that extends, to tuning keys
up where resonance is contained,
in unexpressed ideals
as loose string
when words fail
and imagery evades,
and a sigh escapes--
from the audience,
Hanging on life's
is to surmise, to intuit
the All, in regard to God:
the holy feminine, masculine
as the fragmented I,
in shards of infinite
time, collision, unpinned
the supreme realizationing
that I ...
from the other,
that would carry
......................... us on...
I wonder often about presence. We feel much more than we see.
The way you hover over my shoulder. Guardian angel legions, looming; undisguised demons, lurking. A physical sensation tempered by something invisible. No matter what I am doing. Suddenly, you are near. Checking in on me. And I'd like to know, what that looks like viewed from the side.
So many moments pass us by...
That's what it's like.
In a photograph-- not taken.