About quirknjive

Writer, Professor, Mother

February 1st

Sitting in this glass globe, I watch the snow falling

outside. It is pretty and sometimes I miss lifting

my face to the sky and feeling

the delicate flakes land cold

and then melt, leaving

my face wet and chapped in the winter air.

*

The world shakes and rattles

but in the shelter of my glass house all remains

quiet. I cast stones only at myself and am careful

not to break anything.

*

Here is my Christmas tree, brittle

and bright. It no longer drinks

but is alive. On the mantel, pictures of my children

from years past. The cobwebs I dare not

brush away. They tether the dust that piles

upon trinkets, talismans that dare you

to take my house and shake it, turn it upside down.

Watch the storm of particle gray whirl and rise

then drift back to where it came, a dream, a nightmare

a moment. Another moment. A lifetime.

All will remain unchanged.

*

Outside the wind has begun to roar, whipping

the falling flakes into a frenzied dance.

*

I remember dancing.

And living.

I am ashamed of my cowardice.

I am afraid of the wind. But the snow

is gentle and the sky is black.

*

Perhaps I will toss a stone into the night.

If the broken glass tears my flesh, what of it?

The crimson syrup will fall and spatter

a delicate pattern of roses in the snow.

Will I not look pretty lying in my garden of impossible memories?

Feckless

I forgot to buy the laundry detergent,

again. I would need to take the container

and swirl it with water, capturing the last of the sticky substance dripping

from its sides, hoping

the mix poured into the cap and then into the machine

would be enough to wash out the dirt.

*

But how can one rid oneself of so much dirt with diluted

hope? Perhaps one must be deluded

to take an empty bottle filled with nothing more

than an half effort, a watered down, feckless version

of that which it wishes it was and expect to clean away

the filth that some feckless, diluted self created?

The Struggle to Preserve Personal History: What Happens when the Tangible Reminders and Memory Keepers are Gone?

The other day, my husband learned that the apartment in which he grew up in Rome was being torn down. It was built during the post-war economic boom of the 50s and 60s when Rome emerged from the rubble and restaked its claim as the Eternal City. What a word–eternal. Appropriate for a place where structures from the ancient world stand amongst the innovations of modernity. Eternal life, however, was not granted the home of my husband’s family, its existence lasting a mere sixty years.

The razing of that building is the obliteration of a small piece of history, personal as well as cultural. After hearing the news, my husband turned to me and said, “It’s as if none of it ever existed. My parents, theirs lives, their accomplishments, all of it, gone.” It is true–his family kept few photographs; the older members have passed away. What is left to keep their history alive other than the memories of my husband and his brother and cousins?

When the tangible reminders and the memory keepers are gone, what happens to what has been? The thought that the history of our existence fades away is terrifying. Perhaps it is because we find ourselves in middle age that my husband and I are struck by the profundity of loss. I too am in a desperate scramble to gather the remains of my fading history. My parents’ home is going on the market. Before dementia took my mother’s mind, she maintained the house as if it were a museum. Once she was gone, my father seemed to engage in a mission to erase her, dismantle the home she had preserved so carefully and start anew. Books were removed from bookcases and tossed into the garage; family photos were thrown into the basement along with holiday decorations and garbage. My husband and I would go to the house and try to clean the messes my father made only to discover the work undone a few weeks later. Searching for treasured books, photographs of my grandparents and any reminders that that there were some happy times has been like sifting through ashes.

Last week, my brother and sister-in-law called with happy news–they had discovered the boxes containing the portraits of my grandparents and mother when she was a little girl. I had been struggling with sleep for the weeks leading up, haunted with the notion that if we didn’t find these things, we would would have failed in our responsibility to preserve our family’s history. The discovery of those photographs has brought a measure of peace. What would have happened if those had not been found? Who would hold the image of those people, most of whose physical bodies have long since crumbled to dust?

I can still smell my grandparents’ house. I can still hear them, see them, feel them, but I cannot hold out something to my children and say, “Here, this is what my grandparents’ house smelled like,” or, as if I had a magic conch shell say, “Press your ear here. This is how my grandmother sounded when she sang.” All I can do to keep them alive is share my memories and show photographs.

Years ago, when my mother-in-law was visiting from Rome, I caught her sitting in silence, staring at the children. She was smiling and, when she discovered me watching, explained in her broken English, “I am taking a picture in here,” pointing to her head, “to keep with me when I go home.” How I wish it were possible-this preserving of memories. But the mind is fragile, and I have watched as memories slip away until a person no longer knows her own self.

The idea of losing memory is terrifying because it is a reminder of our mortality. The truth is most of us fade away. Even if our portraits are meticulously preserved, after a generation or two, who will care to look? Perhaps that is why we create art-music, paintings, poetry. If we create something that remains, a piece of us remains as well.

How ridiculous. The hubris of it-this need to stick around and be remembered. But most of us want to be remembered. We want to remain. If we turn to dust, what was the point of the suffering, the struggle, the battles we waged to survive in this world for the time we did? I am afraid to disappear. I am afraid to let my grandparents and those I have loved disappear. The thought of it is unbearably frightening, unbearably sad.

A January Walk

It is January.

The cold air bites my face,

not a full, open-jawed bite;

tiny bites, like a fish nipping my legs while I swim,

small, sharp stings on my cheeks

my nose

my forehead.

*

Walk. A walk will lift your spirits.

*

The Christmas decorations have been taken down.

The trees have been discarded, thrown to the ground

at the edge of driveways, waiting to be picked up

by men who will throw them

into trucks and deliver them

someplace to be chopped into dust.

*

It is gray.

There is no snow.

Just a gray sky

and a dry earth

and trees

lifting their arms, begging,

beseeching, reaching their skeletal fingers

grasping for

            grasping for…

*

Move along. There is nothing for you to see here. Only houses.

*

There are only houses

and naked trees.

Houses —

square,

one atop another

on small, ever so small, square, parcels of land.

*

How do people breathe? I wonder.

I cannot breathe.

Walking is supposed to help.

*

I watched my mother go mad.

*

When I was a little girl, my mother once said, “I want a house just like that.”

I knew it was death.

A death house.

I live in such a house. I bought it myself.

*

I realize death is a square.

A box.

A tomb

where you place yourself

and bury yourself alive.

*

Some people do not realize they are dying.

I am choking,

choking up the last bits of my womanhood.

*

Some people live in those boxes.

They are monsters.

They make noise and rattle the walls

and wake their neighbors.

They do not care.

It makes them feel strong.

*

I used to bring my dog with me, but she can no longer walk here.

She has been bitten too many times,

bitten by violent dogs,

sad creatures

kicked and broken by violent men.

*

I see those men, walking out of their square houses,

getting into their trucks-giant trucks

that make up for their small

characters.

*

It is quiet.

I don’t want to die here.

*

I see a black cat sitting atop a stone wall.

It is watching me.

I walk past.

*

Poor dear. I do not wish to bring her bad luck.

Fox

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How she got in

I do not know.

She breached the fence

Somehow. Perhaps burrowing under

Like the weeds that invade from the neighboring

Yard. Or maybe she leapt, like a stallion

Over the wooden planks.

*

I watch her through the window.

Gorgeous, predatory,

Ready to lurch and bury herself

Into the leaf pile to play or

To Snatch up the unaware chipmunk and

Sink her teeth into its soft, fur-coated flesh.

*

I envy the fox,

Her bold assertion of her self

Claiming a territory that is not hers to claim;

In the moment, uncaring

Of anything other than her desires

And what sates her appetites.

*

I watch her.

She stands at the edge of the leap, heart

Racing with the anticipatory heat of excitement.

Still. Alive

*

Yet, she knows death.

She screeches in the night

Like an owl or a woman stalked

And caught, her gut about to be cut by the blade

Of a predator whose evils the fox cannot conceive.

The fox screams for her young.

Stay away. Stay away.

*

I watch through the window.

I too am standing at the edge of a leap.

And I remind myself that I too

may live.

Dinner with Family

When I was eleven, my mother took me to the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Standing in front of Freedom from Want, I listened

as the docent explained how Rockwell created the illusion of water

in the glasses. All that white and glass and water- the painting really

is a remarkable achievement; even I, a child, could see

that. But what most interested me about the work

was the guy in the lower right corner who looks like

*

the creepy uncle. Even now he unnerves me. Staring directly at us, wanting to know

if we’re in on the joke, asking, “You know that ain’t no water, right?

That’s paint. Here, have a sip.” But he’s saying it with his eyes

because Grandma taught him better than to use the word ain’t

and she sure as hell doesn’t know he drinks anything stronger than

tea. He must need a drink, sitting at that pure, pristine table, amongst all those nice,

clean, well-behaved people. What are they talking about?

Sports? Stocks? School? Grandma’s dinner? That turkey,

*

it does look delicious, but I bet it’s dry. Good thing those nice folks have something

to drink. My family is a lot like theirs, although we also imbibe in vodka and wine,

and when we  give thanks it is in the haze of the candlelit dusk where we sit at a table laid

with Waterford and Lenox, inebriated by our own lies, so many that, we can no longer discern the glasses from the water.

Roadkill

The chipmunk is flat.

It would peel off the pavement with little resistance

if not for the blood and entrails that hold it to the surface

like of a piece of glue soaked construction paper

stuck to a child’s school desk.

*

If one removes it with one’s hands, parts will come up

with ease. Some will need to be scraped — bits of ear, kidney,

fur to later be found in nail beds. The rest will remain

on the street until someone comes and shovels the remnants

of the small, once delicate body and throws it

away with the rest of the carnage

collected during the week.

*

What fate! Crushed by a behemoth —

a dramatic end for an inconsequential creature.

Now, only a flat, damp, skin sheet.

No trace of beauty.

No trace of itself other than the color

and the tell-tale black and white stripes.

*

Leave it be.

Perhaps the crows will find the corpse.

They will pick at its flesh

and fill their bellies, offering it purpose,

and so, dignity.

Kelly Link’s The Specialist’s Hat

On this episode of Strange & Scary Story Talk I discuss Kelly Link’s, The Specialist’s Hat, a work that earned Link the World Fantasy Award in 1999. It is a literary mash-up of horror, fantasy and fairy-tale. Disturbing, strange and brilliant, The Specialist’s Hat is almost as fun to discuss as it is to read-and it calls to be read over and over and…

Checked Out

I checked out

six years ago. Long before my mother

had checked out too.

For me (I cannot speak for her) it was like standing in line at the register,

the one with a slow cashier.

There was a moment

-a moment , the importance of which I did not understand.

What’s a moment

after all? I made the choice and chose

the wrong line.

The slow line.

The line where the person behind me spurned

the notion of personal space

and had a cold

and was coughing

and didn’t know,

nor care

to cover her mouth

nor turn her head.

And she wanted me to move

ahead, out of her way.

So she pressed and pressed against the barrier I thought I built

around myself but dropped the day I was born

to my mother who checked out  long before anyone, other than me,

ever knew.

So I stood in her-

not my mother’s but the woman’s standing behind me

-spit.

Small liquid droplets

shot forth from her red,

raw throat.

Those droplets

pushing me forward into a direction

I thought I had no choice but to go.

What I should have done was leave:

the cart in the aisle,

the million silly things I thought I needed to do.

I should have left it all

and walked away.

But I did as I should.

I did as mother would

and checked out

six years ago.