On a drive today I saw an old phone booth and I took out my phone to write “nothing is as shitty as you feel in a phone booth in the winter getting bad news,” because, even though I can’t remember the news, I remember the metal shelf where I spread out my quarters, dimes, nickels, and the wet scraps of paper and small muddy piles of ice on the metal floor and the sound of the door when I pulled it shut, one fold in an accordian, and how I wished there was a bench to sit on because standing and hearing the news, whatever it was, because I’ve forgotten, hearing the news was too hard to do standing up, but there was no sitting down, no comfort, there was just pulling the door open and leaving.
Last night’s post made me remember this.
I still have those earrings. And the son. But not the t-shirt or white skirt, sad because the white skirt was part of my fancy wedding ensemble when my husband and I were married in the local courthouse a few years before. In Nicaragua in the 80’s, women never wore pants or short, only skirts. So I was instructed and I complied.
This picture was taken at the doctor’s office where we were waiting for my new son to be examined so he could get the okay to leave the country and enter the United States. We were to take the results of the exam to the U.S. Embassy to finish the paperwork to allow me to bring him home to Milwaukee. That day when I picked him up from the orphanage, helped by my good friend Christina and with a couple from New Hampshire who adopted a brother and…
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The woman who sits next to me at my writing workshop wrote eight lines of poetry about taking down Christmas lights that were so exquisite and gleaming that I wanted to steal her poem, put it in my pocket and pretend I’d written it, but I had to hand it back to her with my comments.
It is rare for me to covet someone else’s words.
There was another instance today. In what was otherwise a very hard to follow chapter from a fellow writer’s many-charactered story involving talking creatures and mysterious wars, there was an enchanting scene of a water nymph calming an hysterical fish by carrying him in her arms encased in a bubble.
I didn’t want to steal that one but it was probably worthy of theft. But where would I use an hysterical fish?
I get transfixed by what is called a turn of phrase, an elegant phrase, a perfect image. So I become bored by long, gray narratives that move stories along like traffic on the Illinois Tollway, this toll booth, that toll booth, now and then a stop at an oasis for coffee. A blur, the whole trip becomes a blur.
The fewer words the better for me, three beads on a necklace instead of fifty. When there are only three beads, they have to be perfect on their own and with each other.
It is my aim to be a great beader.
End my life, I say
Copper pennies on my eyes
When sweet dogs are gone
If a person hears a story
from someone who, say, was just talking
and then tells that story to others
I’m wondering who owns the story
If the story is about being afraid, so afraid
that one sits terrified, looking out the window
for a car that might drive up in the dark,
does the fear become the teller’s in the telling
At lunch, the man tells me his story
his gone wife, their nameless children, all angry
mistakes, what his name used to be, grief
which I pack in a bag with a sandwich to take home
His words stick, thick rubber bands in a drawer,
wound around each other to be picked apart
and set on the table, the gist refigured, reconjured,
stitched together for my telling to you
For years I told my stories.
Younger women friends indulged me. They were patient and careful with me. I’m an elder so I’m entitled to that tender care though I never asked. They listened to me like I was an old storyteller dressed in heavy robes, holding a carved walking stick, and looking out through rheumy blue eyes. They gathered around until a better attraction came along. Something that was post-feminism, more current, shinier, and certainly more relevant than my tales of old hurts and disadvantages. They wandered off after the magic of Lean In, bored with my stories of standing up. It is nothing to stand up, they thought. We are already standing up.
I clung to the past because it shaped me. I am this because of that. The history of the women’s movement is still hanging on clothes in my closet, it is that real to me…
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Black tractor tire tube
Float little in her pond, gone
Without the picture