To My Daughter

From the narrow doorway,

I saw you.

Small fingers spread lightly on your chest,

long, dark tangles tossed across the white pillow,

framing your face, it’s features frozen as

you slept in the dim light.

 

Your eyes,

usually wide and wild,

perfect grey-green with

won’t-take-no-for-an-answer eyelashes,

were closed.

 

The impish grin was gone,

and your lips, no longer

singing, screaming, sputtering

their incessant now, now, now,

were poised in a perfect pout,

smooth and silent.

 

Stretched out, listless, beneath

white wrinkles and folds,

your scrawny, long limbs,

that endlessly trip, turn, tip-toe

and kick, kick, kick,

were resting.

 

In the peace of that stillness,

my breath, too heavy to hold,

hollowed me out,

and the thunder in my chest

beat at its bony cage

until I thought it would break.

I thought it would break

to feel you

kick there again.

 

~DRH for The Poplar Grove Muse

MAGGIE

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month—time to share Maggie once again. I am grateful to have been the conduit for the following poem several years ago. It was well past midnight when I returned home from a friend’s 50th birthday party and sat down at my kitchen table. Maggie, a blending of several women that I knew personally and thousands of women that I knew viscerally, opened my notebook, handed me my pen, and fell onto the page in full living color with surround sound stereo. Now, ten years later and still aware of her strong presence, I “move with the rhythm and give Maggie the praise.”

Maggie

festive dancers poured into forest clearing
as eastern horizon birthed buttery full moon, and
aging ragtag band belted and crooned familiar tunes
from the 50s, 60s and 70s—wild and crazy, thick and lazy
pregnant with love’s bliss and blunder and bygone dreams
of peace on earth, make love not war

that was the night Maggie danced her shoes right off her feet
nothing left but a few scraps of leather
kicked wildly into the weeds
danced through her purple and green socks
till they hung in rags around her ankles
danced her joy till it was all used up
then danced through her strong woman skin
and painted the ground red with her blood

danced her broken marriages into the dust
stomp, stomp, stompety-stomp
like rattlesnakes that needed killing
danced her fuck this, fuck that, fuck you teenager
into flattened grass and curling roots
down, down to earth’s fiery core

she wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop
after a lifetime of tamping it down and locking it up
her anger raged as rhythm and blues and rock ‘n roll
invaded her body and mind like some unleashed demon
demanding her soul

Maggie danced the scared little girl out of the closet
from under the bed
from behind closed doors
turned her loose on her drunken father’s face
his roaring mouth, his bleary eyes
danced so long on his violent fists
that flesh and bone and flowing blood
obliterated fear and pain no child should ever have to bear
danced on her mother’s going back
and going back and going back again
and kicked her under a rock at circle’s edge

danced the broken-down, lead-piped, asbestos-walled
rat-infested southside projects into splintered ruins
set them afire with lightning feet
and stirred the coals with her bones
like a woman gone mad
danced so hard and fast her clothes dissolved
with blood, sweat, and tears that puddled
the earth red, yellow, purple, green
danced off her skin like a butterfly’s cocoon
till only her soft raw spirit remained
anger danced out, madness revealed
shattered dreams strewn about
like broken glass on the ground

the band stopped playing, the frenzy died
the circle of dancers grew quiet and calm
we tiptoed around puddles and razor-sharp dreams
picked up rags and charred bones to carry them home
then watched Maggie’s remains melt into thick golden butter
like tigers who raged in some long-ago tale

we ladled her rich smoothness into earthenware crock
carried her gently to our campsite fire
and when the moon disappeared
and dawn painted a new day
we spread her fat beauty on skillet-fried cornbread
and filled our hungry bellies with her essence
her goodness, her self undiluted

and these many years hence to this very day
when the full moon pulls and the music strikes up
Maggie sets us to dancing wherever we are
in forests, in bedrooms, in streets, in our graves
and we move with the rhythm
and give Maggie the praise

Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse   (September 2008)

Click…

I sat in the waiting room with one other woman. She was older, probably my mother’s age. We didn’t make eye contact as we mindlessly flipped the pages of our magazines. The industrial clock on the wall noted the passage of time with slow clicks and added to my anxiety. I can’t speak for her’s. It was the fall of 1995. Two days prior, I had awakened to find a large lump in my breast. It was Labor Day, so I had to wait. My doctor got me in to see her the same day and arranged for my mammogram the next day. Things moved quickly, until after the mammo. Until the waiting room, then time slowed.

Click, click…

Finally the tech came into the room. Hand on my shoulder, an ever so slight smile on her face, asked, “Is anyone with you?” My fear overflowed into the room, closely followed by my tears as I was told they would need to talk to me. The motherly woman across from me did what mothers do and said, “It will be okay, honey”. My barely uttered words,

“But I have a five year old”.

Click, click…

Then time shifted again. Words defined moments…You need to have a biopsy. You have cancer. We’ll schedule you for surgery. We will remove your right breast. You will go home the same day. We will know more about treatment after.

Click, click…

But I have a five year old.

In the pre-Google world, my waking hours were filled with unanswered questions. What was the survival rate? Who would take Adam to the Y for his soccer game? Would I live to see him graduate, marry, have children?

Awaking from surgery, I was told that the doctors were wrong. I didn’t have cancer. I stopped asking questions. I didn’t need to know more. Gratitude was overflowing.

Twenty-three years and several health scares since, life has been so good to me. I have learned that I don’t need all of the answers, because despite my fears, I have survived. I have also learned that life doesn’t follow “waiting room time”. It goes much more quickly and although I would love to slow it down some, when I stay in the present, I find joy.

My five year old is now my twenty eight year old. This past Saturday he married the love of his life, and I was there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

We Are Afraid

“Fear is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited….It is a climate closing in; it is like the fog in San Francisco….It is a mood which one carries around with himself, distilled from the acrid conflict with which his days are surrounded.”    —  Howard Thurman Jesus and the Disinherited

“I was afraid of him. I knew he’d kill me. So I left him, changed my name, went to a totally different city. He found me a month later and buried me alive. I don’t know how long —” Peggy says, her tone matter-of-fact.

“Like in a box? Underground?” I interrupt to check my ears.

“In a box underground,” she replies, pausing to wipe her eyes. “By the time that he finally started digging me up, and asked me before he opened the box if I was going to obey him, I had scratches all over my neck and arms, trying to get my veins out to end it.”

Peggy and I are sitting outside the local food co-op in Bloomington, Indiana, drinking coffee on a warm September morning. We’re quite familiar with one another, but I’m not sure you could call us friends. Peggy moved into the guest room in my family’s house about a month ago. So while we live together we still don’t know each other very well. It is normal for us — me, my husband and our two young children — to live with someone who would otherwise be homeless. It’s part of what we do as members of the Bloomington Catholic Worker community (BCW). But it is not normal for me to spend an hour listening to a guest talk about her fears. I’m thinking now that it should be.

Peggy was raised by her grandparents on a farm in southern Indiana. She was a scrawny girl who was frequently picked on. “They put gum in my hair,” she recalls. “Just mean kids. My sister always took up after me, but we were always molested until I was sixteen.”

At fifty-one, Peggy is petite but muscular, assertive and sweet. She calls the cashier at the co-op, “youngin’” and me, “honey.” Her long, curly hair has been dyed the red of fallen leaves, but the roots show the gray of stress. I’m envious of her energy: though she comes home after a full day of volunteering at the day shelter and weeding the garden at the Peer Recovery Center, she will still take up a broom and whisk away the dirt from our living room floor. Staying busy and helping people is one of the ways she copes.

“What’s your biggest fear?” I ask as I glance around at the other tables, aware that her voice carries. Peggy doesn’t seem to notice. She keeps her gaze on me.

“My biggest fear is Kent getting out of prison in a little under six months. I still have my nightmares, where I can smell the dirt. Thank goodness I haven’t woke up screaming in your house yet! That’s one of my biggest fears because that’s something I can’t get out of. So now I’m carrying a flashlight, a lighter, a knife on me at all times because honestly if that ever happens to me again, I will probably slit my throat.”

“How do you build back up after something like that?” I ask.

“A lot of prayer. A lot of faith. A lot of talking to caseworkers, psychiatrists,” Peggy says. She puts her hands around her coffee cup. Her pale blue eyes are wide, and she grins. “That’s why I’ve always watched scary movies, like Criminal Minds. Believe it or not, you can watch someone be in a situation and watch that show and try to figure out how to get out of it before you get in it.”

Peggy’s imagined, again and again, what might happen if Kent gets paroled and comes looking for her. She’s contemplated carrying around a small shovel, to dig herself up, and a gun for protection. “After everything I’ve been through, I will go down fighting before I give up.”

Yes you will, I think. I’m right there with her: I imagine myself pummeling her ex. But the truth is I have not been formed by fear the way Peggy has. I know I’d just collapse into a heap on the floor.

I know this because just the other night, a stranger paced the sidewalk outside our house screaming obscenities. When I pulled back the shade, he saw me and started to approach the house. My heart quickened. I locked the doors and windows and went to Peggy’s room.

“Peggy,” I asked, “do you know that guy?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” she said.

“Is that your ex?” I asked.

“No way. He’s still in prison. I was hoping you knew him.”

“Nope,” I said, peeking out the window again. The guy was gone.

“I’ll see if I can find him,” Peggy said, pulling on her hoodie.

“You sure?” I asked. I was not about to chase down an angry stranger.

“Yeah. I’m not afraid.” She slipped out into the night and walked the block, but we never found out who he was.

By Laura Lasuertmer for The Poplar Grove Muse, excerpted from a piece originally published in Geez Magazine #48.