The besom should always be hung ￼
thistle side up, surrounded by hollyhocks,
wormwood, artemisias and black iris:
to celebrate the sex joy of the thatch and rod,
the white harmonies between male and female,
as in the giving rain and the power of thunder.
Keep close your besom to dispel
an encounter with a black bear
not bound by wolf bane and trouble, even in a dream.
Besoms of foxglove, snake leather and hawthorn
can out fly a swarm of Ayahuasca bats and
most hail storms, provided there is moonlight.
The best besoms are powered
by Mars, tin and memory.
Familiars along for the ride cradled to the heartbeat
or lungs are said to obtain a bird’s hollow bones,
breath eaten by wind while imaging the altitude.
Sanctity above, forests below, rivers like scorpions.
As with a fire drake, a besom needs a
considered husbandry. Never dally
by a still green pond in which dwell
snapping turtles; these are the incarnations
of the Page of Cups who would steal
your besom by splintering your Earth soul,
his cold hard jaw you must then bind
with a blue silk cord. Beware of such
crude ponds. And blessed be.
Mama’s got a name made for trouble. That’s what the meat-man down at the store said. “Vyla,” he said, “now that’s a troublemaker’s name.” (He said troublemaker as if it was the same as a shoemaker). When he had finished up slicing mama’s ham he said, “How many hearts you done broke, Vyla?” Mama didn’t answer; she just said thank you for the ham, told me to come on, and walked off. I could have answered for her, though. Could have said “three” and named them, too— daddy, Jasper, and Clementine.
Now daddy had it coming. He let mama run all over him. When we had but one car in the garage, he always let mama have it to go wherever she needed to go. He’d take the bus or walk. “Vyla,” he’d say, “I got that car for you.” Knowing full well he bought the car for himself ’cause I was with him when he bought it. He had told the car-man to give him somethin’ in red. “I love red,” he told him and they went up and down the lot looking for the red that suited him— not wine-red, not blood-red, but cherry-red. He knew it when he saw it and that’s the car he bought. He drove that car but twice— once off the lot and once to take my mama to the hospital when she had this fever that wouldn’t go down. Fool, that’s what the people in the neighborhood called him— behind his back and to his face. Didn’t he know, they said, what all Vyla was doing around town in that car? Didn’t he know, they said, she had another fellow in the passenger seat most times? And sometimes they had even seen that fellow behind the wheel— driving daddy’s cherry-red car like it was his. But daddy would just say how town talk was just that— talk. But it wasn’t just talk. Once, when I was standing outside the candy store with a boyfriend of mine, I saw mama fly by in daddy’s car. Then a few minutes later, she flew by again with Jasper in the car. Jasper was the fellow the people in the neighborhood tried to tell daddy about. My boyfriend said, “Ain’t that your mama?” And all I did was nod. My boyfriend said, “But that ain’t your daddy in the car with her— that’s Jasper McGhee!” And he went on tellin’ me how Jasper was the football coach for the high school two towns over and how Jasper was gonna turn that team around. “So!” I said and something in my stomach made me spit out the gum I was chewing. “So,” my boyfriend said “if your mama’s messing around with Coach Jasper, your father don’t stand no kind of a chance!”
And he was right because when my daddy found out about Jasper, it was too late— mama was already round-&-radiant with Jasper’s child. Daddy had tried to put his foot down— had said, “Vyla, I’m sick of this foolishness.” And he buried the car keys in the backyard as if the car was the real problem. But mama just smiled and said, “You act like Jasper don’t own a car.” My father was through with her after that. He dug up the keys out the back yard and left. Before he left, he kissed me and told me to look after mama ’cause “she needs lookin’ after.” But I didn’t have to look after her on my own; Jasper moved in shortly after daddy left and he and mama were always off at the doctor’s office ’cause mama was always complainin’ about being so sick. “I can’t do nothing by lay up,” she’d say and point the finger at Jasper. She got sick of Jasper real quick, so he was with us but only for a little while. Mama got to the point where she couldn’t even stand the sight of his face. “Look at him,” she said to me once while Jasper was out in yard mowing the lawn, “don’t he gotta face like bruised fruit?” And she laughed. I wouldn’t have laughed like I did if it wasn’t the truth. She put Jasper out shortly after that and that boy who used to be my boyfriend said Coach Jasper wasn’t the same after my mama had got hold to him. No sooner had Jasper gone, mama’s roundness and radiance had gone too. “What I want with another you,” she told me while we ate breakfast and that was that. A few weeks later, I told mama how I missed her belly. Her eyes got real big and I almost thought she’d hit me, but she didn’t; she just hugged me and started crying— real tears, too! And mama hardly cried. She said that she had missed her belly, too. But that didn’t last long ’cause in no time, she was wiping her eyes and laughing, saying, “Supposin’ the baby had been a boy, huh?” And there were no more tears. She said, “And what I want with a boy taking after Jasper Mcgee with that bruised fruit skin of his!” I didn’t laugh this time; mama did and she kept on laughing, too, until her dinner got cold. But she was sad about the baby, I could tell— every day, she’d be on the phone with her friend Clementine talking low and gloomy-like. Once I overheard her on the kitchen phone talking to Clementine. She said, “Clem, you know, I have these dreams about what I done…” And in no time, Clementine would be sitting at our kitchen table rubbin’ mama’s back and listening. Sometimes, she’d come over to fix up mama’s hair.
“You can’t be sitting around the house like this, Vyla,” Clementine said to my mama one night.
“Why not,” mama said and Clementine would go on and on about how mama never used to let herself look like this— this unkempt, this slouched over.
“Ever since I’ve known you,” Clementine said, “you’d put on lipstick just to sit around the house— this ain’t you!” And she fixed mama up and dragged her out the house.
“You gon’ be alright here by yourself,” Clementine said to me and I nodded and said “Yes ma’am” like I was told to call her. Clementine didn’t look like a ma’am, though. She was a slim girl with slim fingers and slim, long, feet. She wasn’t bad looking, but she never had a man. Mama said it was because “Clem is real picky, you know?”
Well, when they got back the next morning (goin’ on somethin’ like six in the morning), mama was all better. They came in the house loud as morning roosters— waking me up. So I joined them in the kitchen. You should have seen mama showing me the moves she and Clementine did on the dance floor— they were hand and hand and leaning all over each other.
“So y’all went dancing,” I said, having nothing else to say.
“Mmm hmm,” mama said, “and can’t nobody dance like Clem!” At first I thought she had said him and I was going to say, “him who?” But she said Clem. I made a face and said:
“Mama, what y’all doin’ dancin’ together? I bet y’all looked funny.”
“Naw,” Clementine said, “we didn’t look funny. We were the best dancers out there.”
“Mmm hmm,” mama said and she grabbed Clementine by the waist and started dancing to the tune Clementine was humming. They were drunk, too, so I left them in the kitchen dancing while I, up for good, went to bathe. All throughout the day, though, Clementine and mama couldn’t stay away from each other and Clementine would be all up under mama like she was her man— tucking mama’s hair behind her ear and whispering in it. She started staying over nights. Sometimes, they’d go out dancing. Sometimes, they’d stay in and watch a late night movie in the living room. Then it got so Clementine was never leaving. She’d be here for breakfast, go to work, and come back for dinner and stay. We ain’t have but two bedrooms and Clementine wasn’t sleeping on the sofa downstairs. I don’t know what mama thought I thought, but I know woman-woman love when I see it. I just kept my mouth shut the whole time Clementine was with us. I made like I was too young to know what was goin’ on. I thought, this one day, Mama might sit me down and tell me what-all was goin’ on between her and Clementine. This one day, we were on the front porch while Clementine was at work, and mama sang a little ditty about her Clem being as sweet as Clementines (the fruit).
“You made that up?” I said
“Mmm hmm,” mama said, smiling. “I didn’t even know I was singin’ out loud.”
“You must be happy, then,” I said.
“Sorta,” mama said and closed her eyes. I left her on the porch— that ditty stuck in my head. Something about that ditty got under my skin, made me miss daddy and even miss Jasper. My old boyfriend stopped by one day and said, “Your mama messin’ with Clementine?” And I told him no. I said, “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.” He didn’t believe me, though. He just laughed and said that folks were talking and that Jasper McGhee was going crazy over the idea of being replaced by Clementine. “He don’t feel too good about that,” my old boyfriend said, looking back at me, as he walked down the street. I knew folks were talking about mama and Clementine— the same way they talked about Jasper drivin’ daddy’s car. But this was different; they had laughed a little at Jasper behind the wheel of daddy’s cherry-red car. They weren’t laughing now. They talked about mama and Clementine in the grocery store with frowns on their faces. Even the meat-man joined in on the talk, saying to this one woman: “I hear Clem got Vyla wearing a ring.” And that was no lie. Mama was wearing a ring— nothing fancy, just this gold band on her ring finger. Clementine brought it home one day and mama just put it on. Just like that. But I knew that ring would be the end of things. Mama don’t like being owned and, to me, that ring was Clementine trying to own mama. She said that’s what Jasper was trying to do when he slipped that baby in her. “He was trying to own me,” she had said. And so I told the meat-man, when my number had been called and it was my time to place my order, I said, “Nothing’s goin’ on between mama and Clementine.” And he laughed this laugh that told me he thought I was just a young’un who didn’t know woman-woman love when I saw it. But I only said what I said because I knew soon what was goin’ on between mama and Clementine would be over. ‘Cause I knew mama would get sick of Clementine the way, say, plum-people, who, trying somethin’ new, get sick of peaches after a while. And mama is a plum-woman— that is to say, if plum were men. And I was right because no sooner had that ring gone on, it came off. She wore it for about a month and then one morning she told Clementine she had dropped the ring down the sink. Clementine got down on her hands and knees and unscrewed the pipe and searched for the ring. She hollered for me to “get in here and help me look for this ring!” I said “Yes ma’am” and helped her.
“Ain’t no ring here,” she said and I knew then mama had probably tossed that ring in the trash somewhere.
“You see a ring anywhere?”
“No ma’am,” I said with the biggest smile on my face. They fought long and hard the rest of the day— Clementine accusing mama of lying about the ring and mama hollering that she did drop the ring down the sink.
“How can a ring just up and disappear, huh?” Clementine said and when she left the house, she was shaking with anger; her face wet with tears.
Mama’s cousin Lew came to stay with us after that and he brought his gun. He didn’t like what mama had said about how angry Clementine was when she had left and he felt like Clementine might could do somethin’. He told me to stay away from Clementine if I saw her in the street. Clementine didn’t bother us, though, but cousin Lew stayed just the same. I don’t know if Lew was really mama’s cousin or just somebody she called cousin, but he stayed with us and kept his gun on one of the pantry shelves. He called that gun “Clem” ’cause he said it was only to be used on Clementine. Something in his eyes told me he’d use it on her even if Clementine had just come over to pick up something she had forgot— like that bra she left hanging on the door knob on mama’s closet. And it’s a good thing Clementine never did show up for that bra; I don’t think Lew cared too much for what went on between Clementine and mama. I think, maybe, someone sent him up here to watch mama ’cause I heard mama and Lew talking one morning in the kitchen. Mama had said, “You don’t have to worry about me, Lew, I like my lovers thick-necked and wide-backed.” Lew laughed at this and as soon as mama was gone out the kitchen, Lew got on the kitchen phone and told somebody on the other line about how he had knocked that nonsense right out of mama.
“If he comes back here, I’ll-”
“We know, you said…”
“We know that too. You said.”
Ciara feels the movement grow within her like a balance that she dare not trust… because despite her parents’ fury, Frankie’s flight, and rancid words spewed from tight‑lipped mouths… her baby lives. Today, slumped in apathy, she does nothing more than drown herself in tea and wish for the clock to tick less loudly.
The familiar murmurs drift beneath her.
“If she doesn’t decide soon, it’ll be too late.”
“There’s nothing to decide.”
“There is. She’s our daughter.”
“She’s not my daughter. She did wrong, she has to live with it – but not under my roof.”
“No. No, love, she is our daughter…” The rustle of fabric, the adjustment of breath as fingers wrap around wrists and supplicant palms caress a chest. “We can hide this for her. Get rid of it and forget it. It can’t limit her life now.”
“It’s not her life to take.” There’s a pause, an inhalation. Perhaps he turns his palms up, trying to cup the lost words cascading from his thoughts. He loves her… but he can’t accept… and that’s not the answer…
“It is. Right now, it is.”
The slam of angry father, followed by her mother’s music: the clink of crockery chiming an uneven tempo broken by loud clanks that signal a battle’s end but a war only just begun.
Ciara stares at her feet until her eyes cloud and the day’s edges dim. She lets her mind drift as if by sliding into blurred existence, the clamours and needs that dwarf her might distil into something altogether more manageable.
The kitchen song is over and now the sitting room reverberates; the pianissimo hiss of a rug being straightened, the grunt of a sofa disturbed from its seat, the sigh of the duster.
Her mother had always set her sanity by empty filters, clean steps and timed eggs which as each child spewed forth meant escalating failure until thirty years of screaming had carved into her speech crevasses from which molten anger poured.
If you don’t… I don’t want to find… You mark my words, unless…
Unless, unless, unless… what?
Staccato wood under angry feet. The scent of polish, a squeak of a window and tendrils of cold air that reach with icy tongues to lick Ciara’s neck. But as Ciara breathes the breeze that once raged as an ocean gale, it is warmed and soothed and becomes her, soft and supine… bearing on its silent strength sweet dreams of white fleece passing under blue and the sun kissing her face while ivory gulls call, ‘keeeeeeeeeahhhh’ to speckled, flapping young.
And she wonders, even if her rug be crumpled and her steps filthy, beneath the storms of contempt and criticism could her child not float on clouds of calm? Even if chaotic, demanding and ill‑conceived… might her child not still be loved in aimless, rambling and glorious fashion? She thinks, this will be her daughter - then frowns and smiles together as she adjusts her mind: or her son.
Silence flows like summer air as Ciara rises to stand and smile. She will speak later.
For now, it is enough to know.
~ * ~
The Train Dream
The train does not stop in Plumfield. It stops in Wyndsor and Heartford, but not in Plumfield. From Heartford it goes right into Wyndsor without stopping in Plumfield and Jonetta doesn’t understand why it just can’t stop in Plumfield.
When she is done with washing the dishes she sits by the window in the kitchen and listens out for the sound of the train as it makes its way into Wyndsor from Heartford. Jonetta often imagines that the train runs right behind her house. She has elaborate dreams at night about the conductor and in the dream she arranges with him to stop his train in the back of her house. She would be on the back porch, luggage and little Sarah at her feet, waiting — waiting to get on that train, after the cooking, cleaning and washing was done. She wouldn’t come back either. Even though she would miss Sofia and Jon and James Jr., and Sylvester; she’d even miss the big old dog Buster that could die any day now.
She used to dream of going on the train alone and leaving little Sarah behind, too, with the rest of them, but she always feels sad on the train, in her dream, without little Sarah. So now little Sarah is part of the dream. Little Sarah — the youngest — would not be able to fend for herself. Sofia is young, but grown, and she knows how to fight. Besides little Sarah is the one she loves the best. Little Sarah looks more like her. The others look like James Sr. — big heads, big mouths, and heavy feet.
Whenever Jonetta is in the kitchen, sitting on the cold radiator and dreaming, and the kids are off playing in the backyard, and it’s a little after five, James Sr. pulls up in the driveway and slams the car door when he gets out. He isn’t angry; that is just his way. The loud bang of the door shakes Jonetta out of her dream and she goes to the oven to fix James Sr.’s plate.
Jonetta eats standing up. The stove is her table. It isn’t because there is no room at the table to sit; it is because she hates watching James Sr. eat. She is glad that he eats with his wide back to her; she doesn’t have to see his face when he chugs down his Coke. She wonders if other men drink like that. She is sure that they don’t. She is certain that other men had more class than James Sr.
She sees men in the grocery store — they look clean and washed and wear fresh clothes. James Sr. wears stretched out tee shirts with holes under the arm. He owns more than ten sea green tee shirts and Jonetta cannot stand it. Why didn’t she get a man that liked to look good and smell good?
James Sr. never appears on the train with her in her dream. He would ruin it with his loud voice and his musty, shapeless green tee shirt, his dusty jeans and his worn-out shoes. He is so sloppy. And Jon, James Jr., Sylvester and Sofia are taking after him.
Every time Jonetta tells them to take a bath, they protest and James Sr. always says, “They are boys; they don’t need to bathe every day.”
And Jonetta complains, “They haven’t bathed in weeks!”
“They’re boys,” James Sr. shouts.
“Not Sofia … she’s no boy, but she might as well be one.”
“They’re kids,” James Sr. says.
And Jonetta would go upstairs to run the water for little Sarah. Little Sarah is too young to protest. She looks washed and shiny like an apple after her bath; Jonetta would hug her and smell her and wouldn’t ever put her down, but there is cooking to be done and cleaning, too.
If Jonetta could walk to Heartford or Wyndsor, she would, but it’s too far. She would drive, but she doesn’t have her license or her own car. She would take the cab, but she never has any money. She would take the bus, but how would she hold the luggage and little Sarah, too?
If only the train stopped in Plumfield— right behind her house.
Demeters world is falling apart
she enters the tomb
leaving behind every last bit of skin
and bone, naked and torn
her heart in jagged little pieces;
tears like condensed salted earth, ashen.
spirit as dark as Hades
her womb, a barren undergrowth of loss
her voice, a howling banshee sevenfold
Persephone revisited in dreams
her escape futile, Hades whispers in her ear
she runs, never holding on nor looking back
dismembered dissociation awaits those who fail
and while cadaverous limbs are discarded
fertile appendages flail
her pieces crumble into dust
Demeter withdraws her love
only to find a serpent tongue
suckling at her breast
Demeter descends, and Persephone awaits
her chamber the great unclean
unashamedly devouring our lost souls
Demeter falls to her knees in despair
death is just a figment,
and life here is just a memory
she breathes in the rancid air,
the smell of a distant pyre
she kisses the hand that feeds her
there are only fools here in paradise.
© 2009 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
Who says there is a God?
wishful thinking created by man
to control the masses; no
Mothers in sight – save Mary
look what happened to her our Lady?
will rise again, known by all her names
we will see them come, and recognise
fire, earth, sea and sky; Ishtar
we shelter in the rivers and forests
we gather all the sticks and stones
Mary emerald as the forest green
will ride with Rhiannons guiding moon
her shoes of moss and lichen
her cloak of rainbow silk: transformed
her eye’s like Innana shedding tears
as sisters mourn and do
all that’s dark and been before, will shadow us no more
she has awakened in terrible wrath and has unleashed a whore
Kali destroys and makes anew
Pele knows which heart is true
Abundantia makes it very clear
there are no more second chances here
Gaia, Papatuanuku and Ostara, forging ahead new life
Innana, Dana and Isis surrounding them with light
Athena and Mother Mary have much to undo and teach
Aphrodite, Ostara, Nemetona and Ixchel
Mothers of divine healing heart
all these Mothers will guide us through without the slightest flinch
She is all Mother and we recognise her full
we run with open arms, no fear
she restores our wayward souls with care
she cradles our broken hearts to weep
and peace will be reborn again
where war has gone before with man
our raging rivers will forge and cut
ravage and avenge; our rivers
will shed tears of pain
new paths lest we forget
calling all our wonderous women
our voices banshee wail
we will hear them in our hearts full throb
and never fear again
here comes Persephone from the dark
the first to see the light,
Demeter fills an earthen jug that overflows with tears
she gently wipes her daughters feet to cleanse away her fears
and without Mothers no seed will grow
and so they must obey
but men are men, God or not
and evil still prevails
our Mothers cast all seeing eyes
and none shall let them pass
Zeus may watch with Ranginui
for both have known this day
Hades left enraged behind
his plans for her subdued
for she is with the Mothers now
a war he cannot rule
Persephone is free at last
Who says there is a God?
for Goddess rule this world or ours
Papatuanuku birthing fruit
my Maiden showing me the truth wary as she treads
my Mother prays the safest journey our Mothers forged ahead
my oldest Crone will rest her bones on her dying day
and sisters will be reborn again and again
woven waxed and waned
© Copyright 2010. Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
It is good to be sober. I felt so much shame drunk! I feel much less shame at any given time now. I am still sorting out if I felt more shame for my drinking, or I believed I was shameful before I started drinking, or I drank to fulfill what I believed I deserved to feel.
It was a secret ,my drinking, or so I wished to believe. I only drank at home. I only drank beer. Towards the end, I drank 6 to 10 beers a day. Sometimes I’d drink wine. One Thanksgiving, I stood up from my father -in- laws table and fell over. I had on a short skirt. I ripped my hosiery. I felt embarrassed. And ashamed.
Shame and embarrassment are not the same. Embarrassment lasts just a short time. A gaff ,a slip of the tongue, a misstep, these we all do, and these things can cause embarrassment. We can feel embarrassment for others, too, as when somewhat farts loudly in Pilates class. I felt embarrassed once when I told a patient I had to give him an injection under his foreskin, rather than saying an injection under the skin of his forearm. He was drunk. Thank heaven, I was not.
I did drink and drive. I did drink and drive with my children in the car. I never got a DUI. I was always afraid I would. I would have deserved it . I am ashamed of such behavior. Drinking affected my ability to parent.
One evening I was drunk and I blurted out to my teenage son and daughter that I had had two abortions. I gave them the details. I think I wanted their forgiveness. It doesn’t work that way.
I would scream at my husband when I was drunk. I screamed at my sister. She called the cops. I started crying. The cops came. They knew me because the neighbors had called the cops on me for screaming before. My sister hasn’t spoken to me since 2004, when the cops came to my house for the last time.
Soon after sobering up, my writing changed. There was a clarity to it, a confidence that was not present when I drank.
“You’re serious about this!”, my family said.
“Yes.” I replied, as I wrote furiously: Seriously.
It’s not so much that ,in my sobriety, I write seriously. It’s now, that six years after my last drink , I am writing well.
This time Gary the Beekeeper decided he was gonna listen to his customer. His last shipment of raw Eucalyptus honey from Santa Cruz to the Bronx didn’t work out so well, because he didn’t listen to his customer. It was packed shabbily because he didn’t listen to his customer, put in the big 5 gallon glass jar that said “fragile” right there etched into it. Wrapped in a shabby carboard box that had no corrugation, left devoid of packing peanuts because he didn’t listen to the customer, tied with no twine, because he didn’t listen to the customer. The 60 lb container rose to the top of the carousel in the baggage area at JFK last, alone, uncushioned by the underwear and inflatable party dolls packed in the suitcases that now circled below, waiting for the Sad Men on Vacation Society of Kamloops to retrieve. It took a plunge down the ramp, smashed rather unsweetly into the overpacked suitcase of Barry Breathholder, Grand HooHaa of the Society, burst open and spilled its gooey insides over all the bags. As they continued to go round, the honey acted like a paste, until they all came together in a pile that looked like a beehive, because Gary didn’t listen to his customer.
Gary the Beekeeper grew up in a home where he had to listen to and do whatever anyone else told him to do, and throughout his childhood and adolescence, he complied, not wanting to upset his one-armed Momsy, who threatened him by saying “If I only had two arms, I’d crush your head in them like a vise until your brains oozed out your ears”. As a result, as an adult he developed an averse reaction to doing whatever any one else told him to do. The shrinks never saw such an extreme case before, publishing their work in the psychiatry journals with the diagnosis of “bupkisitis”, so named because they could do nothing about it.
Gary the Beekeper learned to adapt. When he opened his one man beekeeping business he put up signs all over the place “Do not tell proprietor to wash hands after using” in the bathroom; “Do not tell proprietor what you want, point” over the counter; “Do not tell proprietor how you want your change” on the cash register. This worked out well for the most part, and since his was a local business, and people got to know him, he did pretty good.
But then this New York Man came in and bossed him around, pack it good, put it in a sturdy box with plenty of packing, tie it tight. Bupkisitis kicked in, and he didn’t do any of it. Now look at the mess he was in, probably have to pay to replace all the damaged suitcases, the New York Man might sue him, he would have to replace the lost honey, all because he didn’t listen to the customer.
Momsy was right, Gary the Beekeeper concluded. The sweet dreams at night of him crushing her head in his two arms until her brains came out her ears were inverted to the nightmare of her crushing his head in her legs, her one arm waving in the air like a bronco buster as she screamed “The customer is always right”.
So when the New Man came in, Gary the Beekeeper fought all his instincts to do the opposite. The New Man had with a him a hive of bees of his own, placed them on the counter and said “Two months”. “Pardon me, Mr. New Man, what do you mean?” “Two months. I want you to keep them for me for two months.” “I don’t do that, this is a shop where I sell honey.” “What do you mean? The sign out front says ‘Gary the Beekeeper’, so I fully expect you to keep my bees for me for two months. But whatever you do, don’t let them out to collect pollen and produce honey, it will be too heavy when I pick it up.”
Gary the Beekeeper fought all his instincts, and in a return to the womb, complied. Besides, his old bees had been taken from him by the Sacramento Bee police as a result of the JFK incident, he was running out of honey to sell, and maybe Momsy was right, after all. Letting the bees produce honey sent him onto a huge guilt trip, but he had no choice if he were to eat, oh I am such a baddie afterall, he thought over and over.
Two months came and went, the New Man never returned. Officer Opium came by that day and told Gary the Beekeeper that the New Man crashed on the winding Santa Cruz Hills road on his way back, tumbling into the ocean. As they couldn’t find him, no way of identifying him, Gary the Beekeeper might as well keep the bees.
Then the letter, and the check, came in the mail. Pan Cram decided they were at fault for the JFK incident, settled with the Kamloops Sad Men on Vacation Society for the damages to their possesions, and are enclosing a check for $10,000 for Gary the Beekeeper’s pain and suffering. With this, Gary the Beekeeper expanded his enterprise, it took off from there, and today he is known as “The Bee King of the West”.
Momsy was wrong, Gary the Beekeeper was free at last.
Originally seen on metazen, October 29, 2009
I found my heart
on the borderline
of too late
and paper thin -
© Copyright 2009 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
Newsletter 15-June 2010 from the desk of the editors
Recent VOICES posts are a host from our newest members, plus some recurring characters. Stop by for your reading pleasures.
The Lodge – by Tara Larkin
“I could not see the big picture. I knew only that I wished I could spend the rest of my life here.”
The Hunter – by Beate Sigriddaughter
“Yes, women are weak. They ought to be lovely. Yet here’s this Q’An ordering me to kill a little girl for no good reason.”
I am the voice inside your head – by Ajay Nair
“I am the one who tells you that it is alright to laugh at that sad, pathetic little girl, eating lunch . . .”
hello grace – by Coleen Shin
“the purest white ever known, the sludge on a stiletto heel, a mystery
to be solved by curious test.”
Breaktime – by Linda Simoni-Wastila
“Damn. I didn’t think the crash would come so fast. I grip the sink, wait for the bathroom to clear but the door keeps opening.”
I don’t have a gun and I don’t have you – by Marcelle Heath
“At my last job, I was accused of intimidation, of provoking the elderly clients. All I wanted was their stories.”
The Wind Itself – by Darryl Price
“I want you to / know this place because / I think it / would like to know you.”
Introducing Mabel Honeycutt (V) – by Michelle McEwen
“Sadie stays up under Ike / like he’s gon’ up and disappear. / I wonder if she’s like that / with him when I’m not here.”
Lady of the Night (Redlight Series) – by Jodine Derena Butler
“Your wish is my command / ill push back and pull forward / fronting your senses while tearing apart my own”
Take No Prisoners – Chapter One – by Jodine Derena Butler
“Muzz wanted to avoid a beating if he could possibly help it, making every effort not to offend Charlie any more than he already had.”
I Remember (for my Grandparents) – by Jodine Derena Butler
“I remember the bright orange berries beside the house before the steps. I was always warned they were poisonous but I still used to pick them . . .”
Introducing Stella and Humphrey – by Carol Novack
“I recently read your article, “The Sex Lives of Starfish,” and viewed the accompanying video with your photograph on its cover. I found it all most elucidating.”
Dear Dr. Ichovitzsky:
I recently read your article, “The Sex Lives of Starfish,” and viewed the accompanying video with your photograph on its cover. I found it all most elucidating. I perfected my PHD thesis, “The Sex Life of Octopuses” (due to be published in the March edition of “Sealegs”) last night, and I must tell you that there are striking similarities between starfish and octopuses when it comes to the mating ritual; the only striking difference is (of course) the role reversal. As you discovered, it is the male starfish that gives birth, a breathtaking phenomenon, rare in nature.
When a male octopus is in heat, he wriggles his legs, just as a female starfish wriggles her points. By employing a marine audio laser, I was able to hear the subtle song of the male octopus in heat, as he wriggles his feet. Oddly enough, it sounds like a cross between Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and an obscure folk song by Bela Bartok that has never been published or performed. You can imagine: the song is riveting. It attracts all female octopuses within a radius of 31 miles. What happens next is truly esoteric. The female octopuses vie ferociously for first place with the male, forming a totally out of control football huddle. It’s exceedingly difficult to tell what’s actually going on without employing sea opera binoculars, which, as I’m sure you know, are very hard to find. I procured a pair and was thus able to discern a rhythmic flapping of a plenitude of legs all entwined. My audio laser registered a hissing whisper.
Eventually, the legs of the female octopuses form a tight sailors’ milleoctocross knot and when that occurs, the male octopus jumps onto the knot as if it were a trampoline. During the ensuing mating ritual, the male bounces on this knot at a rate of 53 bounces per second and the voices of the male octopus and the female octopuses crescendo to attain an almost inaudible high-pitched screech, similar in tonality to the death song of the Samoan conch (with which I am sure you’re familiar) but also reminiscent of the screech uttered by the male starfish.
This bouncing and screeching activity lasts for 3 to 346 seconds, depending on the age and physical endurance of the male octopus, who collapses and dies when he can no longer keep it up. At that point, the female octopuses sing a dirge remarkably similar to the 17th mournful aria sung by Isolde in that opera by Wagner.
At least half of the female octopuses give birth to baby octopuses (affectionately termed “little leggies”) within the following three days. This gestation period, is of course, identical to that of the male starfish.
I propose that we get together to discuss the ramifications of our research. Just let me know when and where and I will make myself entirely disposable. I understand that you have been studying the mating habits of the Fijian seaworm. What a fascinating project! You must tell me all about it. Incidentally, I’m 6’1,” with long red hair, green eyes, and well-developed mammary glands. Seriously, I’m kidding about the mammary glands.
(soon to be Dr. Stella Marinaro)
I remember my Aunt Bertha sitting in the front passenger seat with Nana driving down Whangaparaoa Road in her white Hibiscus Coast Taxi. I was jumping up and down swinging my bottle from side to side in between clenched teeth and a wide grin. “Sit down!” said Nana, but I ignored her deliberately, seeing how long I could get away with it.
I remember the toy helicopter that was my uncle’s pride and joy. I would sit on the top bunk when the lights were turned off and we would all giggle and laugh at the flashing lights and whirring sound of the blades. There was a drum-kit stored underneath the bunks. I used to dream about playing them one day and sneak a peek every now and then. There was a piano too I never heard played once. I often wondered what it sounded like. I was allowed to play the harpsichord and the melodian and I’m sure there was an accordion too. My family used to be in a band called the Hibisca Cats you see.
I remember the old house that Grampop built on Wade River Road with his bare hands after the war. It was made of solid rough-sawn Kauri and painted a rusty-red colour with an iron roof to match. I will never forget the patch of stucco plaster that wouldn’t stick to the ceiling in the front room for years. It ended up turning yellow from all the nicotine. Nana later named the house ‘Banana Court’ after a holiday in the Norfolk Island, and eventually managed to grow some banana palm’s which we all had to try. They were hideously dry and pithy but we still ate them anyway. They were nothing like Nana’s cups of tea that was more like soup! Everyone would give each other sly looks when the teapot arrived with a plate full of pickled onion and cheese sandwich’s. Nana also smuggled a coconut in from Fiji. She would show everyone who turned up…but it always looked dead till one day it had a shoot and so began another excited trip to the garden.
I remember the red telephone, one of those art deco types that you had to dial with your finger or a pencil. It was always too far away and it pained me to watch them move at a snail’s pace trying to reach it in time, complaining all the while. The telephone number evolved over time too. It started off 7289, 47289, 4247289 and ended up 09 4247289 over a period of 30 years or so.
I remember the bright orange berries beside the house before the steps. I was always warned they were poisonous but I still used to pick them and wonder what they tasted like but never dared. It was like they were guarding the drop off into the abyss which was a great big black hole off the side of the landing when the new deck was built.
I remember 99 green bottles sitting on a plank balanced precariously above two large brown swing doors that were recycled. They always looked like they were about to fall. Eventually they done away with the doors but the bottles stayed put.
I remember firewood stacked neatly beside the fire beside the stereogram. Grampop would chop kindling on the newspaper in front of it with the axe. It was an open fire until they upgraded to a Kent but it was still open. Nana and I would listen to Johnny Cash singing “I fell in to a burning ring of fire…” . I loved listening to the Folsom Prison album.
I remember dressing up in Nana’s Mink coat fascinated by its head. I would put curlers in my wet hair the night before and wear Nana’s clothes with oversized sunglasses pretending I was older than I was. I used to play with her fake jewellery and would later wear the pearl necklace at my wedding. It got stolen during one of many random home invasions.
I remember the two chamber pots down beside the bed and I can still hear Nana waking me up saying,“No no”, but it was always a little too late; till I had that dream that finally woke me up in time. I had to use the pink plastic pot then but sometimes I would pee in the porcelain one because it looked special and I wasn’t supposed to…but it was colder.
I remember Grampop’s taxi parked on the brick driveway out front. A 1964, white Chevrolet Belair. It was his pride and joy. You could tell by the photo on the bar of when it was used for a wedding. It was coveted by everyone I knew. I even found a set of white wall tyres for it years later. The taxis formed Hibiscus Coast Taxis which they founded, and is still in operation today. They had a boat too that Grampop named after me called ‘Jodine’. I felt a mixture of pride and shame and wondered what people thought. I don’t think it was well received.
I remember my first bike that Grampop surprised me with for my birthday. He taught me to ride it by sending me off down the hill till I figured out where the brakes were! He later brought me my first car, a bright red Mini he paid $500 to get paneled and painted. He said he thought about having my name written on it…but I’m glad he didn’t.
I remember Hillary in her blue dungaree’s who lived up at the shops. She lived alone like a man and I suspect she was a lesbian by the way they used to talk secretly about her. I found her fascinating and we used to exchange respectful pleasantries whenever we met.
I remember the Loquat tree right down the back past the old Army Hut. They were always big yellow and juicy and the juice would run down my chin into a sticky mess. I would blow-spit the brown slimy pits as far as I could then I would traipse off and investigate the hut. I had to use an old wooden handled screwdriver to open the door. I would often imagine the war. Grampop had to go to Wellington to receive an award one time.
I remember Nana teaching me how to knit holey scarves and Grampop showing me how to stick shells onto bottles. They were quite crafty. I would dig up clay from across the road and we would make sculptures. I learned how to make string patterns on plywood with nails. Grampop also had an old Robert Burns poetry book beside his armchair that I would read occasionally. I didn’t really understand it though. The walls were covered in paintings and prints too.
I remember when we went up to Bayley’s Beach to look for a bach. They finally decided on the one at Omamari Beach just South of the Kai Iwi Lakes just North of Dargaville. I helped Grampop dig out underneath to make room for a basement flat. We would laugh and talk and shift sand like it was normal. God knows it probably wasn’t safe! Like the time he made the septic tank and I nearly fell in. He later went on to build a solid concrete water tank out the back on which he painted a Mexican wearing a huge sombrero. So creative!
I remember the yellow beach buggy that I learned to drive when I was about 8 or 9 and fishing for Kahawai off the rocks. Trying to get the Contiki to go past the waves was alway’s a mission. There were many Toheroa’s and Tua Tua’s dug up and minced into fritters. Nana made the best fritters! The Toheroa’s used to be a foot long and blue at one end with huge tongues, I would dare to bite. My cousin found a fish stranded in a rock pool once and we were nearly stranded at the bottom of huge sandstone cliffs as the tide came in.
I remember the drives up North like it was yesterday. The Ruawai straights and spying the pointy Toka Toka hill which was hardly a mountain but it was as big as a mountain to me. It would always be a distance marker on our journey. “Look Jodie” said Nana, waking me up. “Are we there yet?”. “Not far to go now”, Grampop would say.
I remember Great Nana and Grampop my Grampop’s parents. They lived on Whangaparaoa Road not far from us. They had the most beautiful little cottage with a garden and fruit tree’s. They would give me .50c when I visited with Nana. They were such beautiful old people and I adored them. They came over on a boat from England in 1918 when Grampop was about 1. They have passed away now and I wasn’t there. I don’t know why I wasn’t there to say goodbye. We are supposed to be direct descendants of King Edward the 3rd on the maternal Smith side of the family. I saw it once on a family tree. I wrote all over it in pencil filling in my gaps.
It is memories like these that remind me of where I come from. I feel all of them inside me and beside me. They left me a legacy. I am a poet, a singer, an artist and a lover of adventure and if it hadn’t been for them I wouldn’t be here today. I knew I was loved. I knew they had all the time in the world for me and I loved them back fierce. I will alway’s love them.
© Copyright 2010 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
Your wish is my command
I will push back and pull forward
confronting your senses while tearing apart my own
I perform admirably
I hold my head up in the face
there’s only one thing on my mind,
no monthly specials here
no flat ‘on my back’ rate either!
I’m a bargain in the first place, comparatively
they should be so lucky
no chance of getting bored,
I re-invent events
creatively juicy and spicy hot with a side of lies
the blood never drains nor loses its metallic colour
and the well will never dry with KY,
spread from arsehole to breakfast like _______
I got class, my website deems it so
“It would be my absolute pleasure to welcome you into my
wonderful world, filled with all things naughty and nice.”
oh make me over, please!
on my back, my side, my stomach and my face is covered
69 divine and women line up!
I’m not exclusive… smile ; )
sad and lonely is universally applied, like my eyeliner
smudged and blurred
obscured from most
I provide a service, the hostess with the most(est)
and fine wine will have you spellbound!
they line up
I spread em’
in a downtown apartment with a sea view
on Fur-Lined avenue – not!
my un-inhibited wide-on, exhibited
and the 26th floor, awaits you but
I am not for free
never for free
I am a Lady of the Night
who shines in the face of adversity
with trust issues and insecurities like the rest of us
I am not blinded by earthly needs by fools
I wake up,
I put on my make-up
I dance to my own tune
and pay the bills
© 2007 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
Tante Margrit was getting used to this. It was late, and her husband Ivar was not home yet, working again into the night, digging the foundations for the Levittown Housing Projects in Long Island, just over the border from Queens. Margrit couldn’t object too much. After the depression and WW II, when it was mostly the women taking cleaning and cooking jobs to support the family, it was good to see their still not old men back at it, instead of drinking beers on the stoop or in the parks, bemoaning their lack of work. It was also good to get them out of their hair for a bit.
Levittown was the first ever planned suburbia, and there was a need for it. As the economy took off after the war, the educated professionals thrived, and wanted to spend their money on a place with a little greenery for their families, away from the swelter of the city. The prosperity spilled down to the immigrants such as Ivar and his sister Klara’s husband Axel, providing as much work as they wanted. The pay wasn’t great, but with the double shifts the wives could finally stay at home to see to their families.
Margrit was a bit flighty, to use a kind word, but in a sometimes calculated way. A few years later when they got a phone, she would call up Klara, and if either of her very young nephews answered, would ask how the weather was where they were, just four miles away. If it was August, and the boy would say “Hot, Tante Margrit” she would tell them “Oh – we just had six inches of snow here.” In January, the reverse – “It snowed six inches yesterday, kindygarden is closed” was followed by “Oh – its so hot here, I have my bathing suit on.” The nephews believed every word.
She also was the one who played Santa all those years, none of the kids ever knew, she was that well disguised and an actress, deepening her voice so well, her belly laugh shaking the walls and putting the requisite awe and fear in the kiddies.
This made her a perfect fit for Ivar, well known for antics of his own.
After a while, having her husband gone so much, Margrit got bored, so she went looking for a pet. But, it couldn’t be any pet, this was Margrit. She chose a myna bird, with her ever-skewed logic that she could have conversations with it, even though it would just repeat what she said.
Now, to tell the truth, those nights Ivar didn’t show up weren’t always because he worked a double shift. He liked to toddle every now and then, stopping in every two weeks or so at The 19th Hole, a bar a few blocks from the house, near the Dyker Beach golf course. He could cover the pay issue, for math was not Margrit’s strong point, and he was good at coming up with reasons – extra union dues, work clothes, etc. They didn’t have a phone yet, so he couldn’t call.
But Ivar knew Margrit was pretty shrewd in life matters, behind the ditzy facade, so he came up with an elaborite ruse for those nights. He didn’t want to be on the town in his mussy workclothes or cart them around; there were women at the bar, and even though he never strayed, he did like to flirt. So he would change at work, and he kept extra dirty clothes in a sack that he snuck to outside the back door in the morning, to don when he got back home, Margrit safely asleep upstairs. If she awoke upon his entering, there he was in the mud of the soon to be suburbanites.
One Thursday, the night Ivar would use to dally, Friday being payday was too obvious, Margrit needed to do laundry again. Mondays and Fridays were the normal days, but it had rained all week and she couldn’t finish on Wednesday. As she went out to the clotheslines in the backyard, she saw the sack and thought to herself “Oh, that Ivar, so silly, why didn’t he just tell me he had more laundry.” So she washed them and hung them out to dry.
That evening, Ivar ran into an old friend, and the usual four or five short beers turned into six or seven tall ones. The result was that he stayed out a few hours later, and his head was a few turns dizzier. As he came home, he searched for the sack of dirty clothes, but they were nowhere to be found. “I musha lef dem in the foyer by mistake” he thought. Ivar slurred his thought-words as well when tipsy.
As he entered the foyer, still in his glad-rags, he heard Margrit stir through the creaky floorboards above. “Uh-oh, gosta hide, cant gosh back out, she’ll hear the door close.” So he started to crawl to the kitchen table, which had a long cloth over it, down to the floor. Through the moonlight from the window, he saw Petey – Margrit gave the myna a parrot’s name, and Ivar thought fuzz-headed again, “Oops, better cover my bases.”
He lifted a finger to his lips and whispered to Petey “Shhhhhhh – don’t tell Margrit Ivar’s under the table.”
Margrit came down the stairs sleepy-eyed, looked around, saw nothing, and started to head back upstairs. “Good!” Ivar thought, peeping out from the cloth, “It worked!”
Margrit gave a turn before heading upstairs and called “Ivar, is that you?”
“Sqwaaaaaaaakk!! Don’t tell Maaaaagrit Ivar’s under the taaaaaaaaable!”
Hi. I am the voice inside your head. My name is Rogan.
I am the one who tells you that it is alright to laugh at that sad, pathetic little girl, eating lunch, unaware that there’s a piece of green vegetable stuck in her anyway ugly teeth. When your wife looks at you funny for laughing, I tell you that she has no clue that you once slept with that sad, pathetic little girl – she was not so little then, was she? I help you picture how your wife would look with a fork sticking out the side of her cheek, small droplets of blood dancing out, dark red and merry, happy to be liberated from the confines of her oily, white skin, that smells like buried disinfectants. I was the one who goaded you to bury the disinfectants when you were a child, with no reason other than the fact that it amused me to see you do something so futile, so pointless.
Like I said, I am the voice inside your head, and my name is Rogan. I am your boss-man and you belong to me, you whiny little piece-of-shit.
(from the novella “Snow White,” in which the evil queen incidentally prefers to be called “Q’An” for reasons of uniqueness and elegance)
The way to become an effective hunter is, of course, not to identify with foxes, but to start calculating how much gun powder it would take to rid the whole forest of foxes in the cheapest and most efficient way. Which easily translates into knowing where exactly a small girl’s heart beats so that she wouldn’t bleed a lot and make too much of a mess. That way you can keep your mind off the fact that you are about to rob another creature of its life.
You have to admit that these are confusing times we live in. There was a time when a guy would be presented with his wife’s child—or his mistress’s child—and if he accepted it, then the child was allowed to live, and if he didn’t—well, then it wouldn’t. Those were much simpler times.
Still, why should I argue with a queen’s wishes for the death of one that wasn’t even her own child in the first place? Maybe she was just clearing the way for producing an heir of her own? How should I know? Except that I do know that sort of thing is done all the time.
All the same, there’s something foul and heavy about accepting an executioner’s task. Mind you, when I accepted the job of chief hunter for the royal court’s forest service, I wouldn’t have dreamed—not in my worst nightmare—that the job would entail anything like this. I thought I was committing myself to keeping things neat and tidy in the forest, fixing broken birds’ wings while having a loyal dog scamper at my heel, that sort of thing. That’s what I signed up for; not this ridiculous assignment of killing a little princess.
What exactly was I to do, I ask you? Talk back to the queen? You didn’t talk back to that one. She has a very cold streak, very mean. Still, you can’t help but admire her. You’re in awe of her, whether you want to be or not. She’s imperious. And more than that. She’s mesmerizing like a snake. She’s magnetic.
Still, I’m packing my bags as fast as I can. Anyone would have to understand that. When I got back here with the boar’s liver and lungs, she was a notch too cold even for my taste. Sure, I was impressed by her composure. But I didn’t find her very feminine. There she stood in all her finery and frippery—a blue gown of silk and velvet—accepting from me what she thought was her stepdaughter’s liver and lungs.
For my part, I’ve seen plenty of animal entrails. I was a master at skinning them and disemboweling them by the time I was a lad of fourteen. But she? A woman?
She was impressive. Didn’t bat an eyelash as she accepted the parcels of meat wrapped in linen strips into her dainty hands, half the size of mine, and pale and white and creamy.
But despite her amazing calm, in the end I think women are basically weak, even this one. Nice, of course, in a way. I have a good deal of respect for them—but it’s hard to understand most of the time what they’re up to. I mean, you expect them to be motherly and sweet, with milky chests to bury your head in, and aprons smelling of cinnamon buns straight from the oven. Instead, half of the time they turn out controlling and weird, or ice-cold like that Q’An. Oh, she makes me shudder.
I did my duty. I did what I had to. And now I’m packing my bags. I don’t want to be around here and around her.
Yes, women are weak. They ought to be lovely. Yet here’s this Q’An ordering me to kill a little girl for no good reason. I mean, if it were a man killing a child, I could almost understand that, I think. He’d have his reasons. And they would probably be good ones. But a woman? And yet, not too long ago, there was something about a woman who drowned her two babies in a lake because she didn’t want to lose her boyfriend, or God told her to do it because she wasn’t going to be a good enough mother, or something like that. In fact, I’ve once had a beautiful bitch hound who killed all five of her pups by breaking their necks because the water of the well was poisoned, which we human caretakers didn’t know yet. The pups would have died soon anyway. So she saved them from the agony of a poison death by killing them swiftly. She died a little while later, unaided, convulsed by poison. I tried to save her, but I couldn’t.
My point is, I’m certainly not lily-livered. Still, she gives me the creeps. Sort of like a Roman Nero—-I learned about him in history way back in school. He played his fiddle while Rome was burning to the ground. I imagine she’ll have herself quite a candle-light dinner with that boar’s liver and lungs.
I don’t know exactly why I let that little girl go. She was nothing to me. Not really. I guess she was so young, sort of like a pretty pup with all its cute soft features and huge eyes.
Now I am proud that I let her go. Later, as an old man, I’ll get to remember my own moment of kindness. Maybe I’ll have grandchildren of my own, and I’ll tell them this story. Though I’d have to marry first, and I don’t see that happening, not in any near future anyways.
I don’t like women on the whole, and the queen certainly doesn’t do anything to change my mind in that regard. Women have no heart. They’re just animals. Everybody knows they have no souls. I’m happy to keep my distance. That’s why I prefer leaving. I want a quiet place, somewhere in the mountains where no one bothers me. Court life is something I can do without.
I’ll miss the hounds. But I’ll have to leave them behind. Too bad. I’m rather attached to them. They like me, too. Especially the little runt. I call her Mini. She’s my best. Maybe I could sneak her into my knap sack? But no, she’d just make it more difficult for me along the way. I’ll get another one like her one day.
I’m not too worried. I’ll find some sort of employment.
Imagine, a woman wanting her stepchild killed. And such a pretty one! At some point I thought maybe she was pregnant and wanted something, craved something to eat, like they always do in fairytales. Turnips or a special salad from the witch’s garden. It would have made sense, too, if maybe she wanted to have the young girl out of the way so there would be no quibbling over inheritance later. But she doesn’t look pregnant to me. She’s skinny as a rail, though she has all the right curves in the right places. But not in the place where women normally carry their brood.
She doesn’t act pregnant either. No sickness, no looking unusually pale. She looks like one of them models, flat bellied. Not my type at all. But of course I don’t have a type in the first place. I’m not interested. Well, I like to look. But I’d much rather not touch. It’s altogether too complicated to be around women, if you ask me.
It bothers me, though, that someone would have the power to ask me to do something I would never have dreamt of doing on my own—kill another human being, I mean, and kill her at close range, with a knife in my hand. Slit her throat, carve her up, as easy as you’d strangle a puppy or break a hare’s neck or wring a chicken’s neck. The mechanism is basically the same either way.
I’ll never let anyone have so much power over me again, so help me God. When I think of the queen now, I think of how easy it would have been for me to break her own neck. Just clamp my hands around that delicate pale skin. And squeeze. The end. It might have felt very satisfying.
The main reason I didn’t strangle her—these thoughts do run through one’s mind—is that they’d only catch me afterwards and then I’d be sentenced to death for sure. Besides, I’ve never killed a human being. That’s not to say I couldn’t. Obviously with the little girl I came close. It would probably be easy. You just push your humanity aside for a moment and act like an efficient machine. Knife to flesh, like with the boar. Hands twisting neck, as with a chicken. Club over skull, as with a mouse or a fox.
Instead, I’m running away. I’m moving on. I’m pretty certain I’m not important enough for anyone to take a great deal of trouble in royal pursuit.
All women are ever interested in is frippery anyway. Frippery, frappery.
She would have been a nice morsel to crush, though. She’s not that much older than the little girl, either.
From now on I just want to live, put one foot in front of the other, do my stuff. Pick up brambles. Make sure the traps are empty. Make sure the lookouts are all right. That sort of thing.
I don’t know where I’m going yet—preferably somewhere where there aren’t any people at all. It’d be so much easier to just deal with animals. I’d like that. I have no great ambitions to become immortal by spreading my own seed around. In this pathetic place where people kill and maim one another, and the animals as well? Actually, I’m sorrier for the animals than for the people half of the time. They don’t deserve being killed. They haven’t done anything wrong.
I wonder how the little girl is doing in the woods. Not so good, I’m sure. Something has probably eaten her by now. I wash my hands off it. It wasn’t me, that’s the main thing, and now it has nothing to do with me anymore. I left her to God, whoever that’s supposed to be. Maybe she’ll get recycled into a bear cub or a raven chick. Anyway, I don’t want to think about her anymore. Things are bad enough. She’ll probably haunt me for the rest of my days with that thrilled smile on her face, that tearful thank-you-for-letting-me-live smile, as though I had suddenly turned into God. Thank me for what? For leaving her exposed and defenseless out there in the wilderness? She’ll soon enough realize that it’s no picnic. But it’s her own fault for being a girl. If she were a boy, it would be a different story. A boy would figure out what to do. But girls are pretty useless that way.
I’m packing a loaf of bread and a hunk of hard cheese, which is more than she had when I left her to fend for herself. I have to be grateful for that. Of course, she’s smaller and won’t need as much food as I do. Berries will probably do her for a while, unless she gets eaten by something first. Anyway, I have nothing to do with that. I wasn’t there.
And off I am into the big wide world.
If only I didn’t constantly have to carry around the picture of the little one on her knees in front of me, wringing her tiny little hands up into my face, tears streaming down her cheeks. Don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me. Well, damn it, of course I couldn’t. If a deer in hunting season, or a wolf cub in no season at all, were to fall on its knees and beg me for its life, I would let it be, let it live. I sure do think of the absurdest things. But then again, I also live the absurdest of lives right now.
So, off I am with my backpack. Never to be heard of again in these parts.
My lover and I spent most of the summer of 1979 living in a tipi in the White River National Forest in central Colorado.
We crafted it ourselves from #10 canvas duck that we purchased from the Sears catalogue store on the corner of Harrison Avenue and West Sixth Street in Leadville, across from the courthouse. I don’t remember how much fabric we ordered. I recall its shipping weight as seventy two pounds
The canvas had to be sealed, or it would rot. The book we used as our guide, written by Reginald and Gladys Laubin, recommended house paint as a cheap sealant. We were living in a rental house the color of icing on a lemon cake. There was some leftover paint in the detached garage.
I purchased calico cotton blend for the liner from the Ben Franklin that sat on the same block as the Golden Burro. Locals still referred to it as the Five and Dime. I cut the panels to Sam’s specifications. He was very good at math. He had graduated from high school in Manhattan at 16 and enrolled in UC Berkeley in 1963. He was now thirty two. I was twenty three.
When I had arrived in Leadville in September of 1978, I got off the bus with a paper bag of clothes, $11.04 and my Singer sewing machine. We used this machine to sew the tipi and liner. I remember my mother using that machine when I was in kindergarten. My father had paid $400.00 for it. She had been furious at him!
The canvas was thick and Sam was careless. The cam shaft broke before I had finished sewing all the panels of the liner together. I had to complete it by hand. I used a whip stitch. My sister Seana showed me how. She was visiting from Connecticut, but soon took up with a painter, sleeping at his place all day and night. I had been hoping she would stick around, but she went back east.
The liner came out quite well. The tipi was acceptable. The poles were made of lodge pole pine. We purchased them from a friend of Sam’s named Steve. Steve was a miner at Climax, and had a piece of land up towards Mosquito Pass where he had built a shanty typical of those times, made mostly out of scraps. Parts were beautifully wrought, and parts were like shit. He had a remarkable outhouse. He lived with a woman who was his sister. She, too, worked at the Climax Molybdenum Mine. I want to say her name was Judy. I always had a feeling they were having an incestuous relationship.
The poles were well seasoned, which was good, because green poles would have warped under the weight of the canvas. It was a big lodge, 18 feet in diameter. I soon started calling it a lodge instead of a tipi. Then I referred to it as an Arapahoe lodge, because the door hole was too large. Sam was inpatient by nature and didn’t believe in the old carpenters adage of “measure twice; cut once.” People called Sam intense. That was just an adjective used frequently at the time to describe anything frighteningly quixotic.
We had a 1964 Chevy pickup, agua, with a long bed. The poles we stacked in the bed on top of the folded canvas lodge, inside of which was the liner and two down sleeping bags. In the cab with us was the cardboard kitchen with cast iron skillet, Dutch kettle, Swedish saw and axe. The interior of the cab I had painted with hearts, pines, peace signs ,clouds, rainbows, diamonds. As well, the poles had to be lashed to the roof of the cab. It was slowing going; our good- running truck like a rock.
We were headed north on Route 24, following the contours of the great divide over Tennessee Pass. I no longer kept a journal. I stopped soon after moving in with Sam. He was like an orphan, hovering nearby if I tried solitude. He had written in my journal, drawn on my drawings. Each night he entwined me, closer than a second skin. During the day I’d wear his clothing.
I could not see the big picture. I knew only that I wished I could spend the rest of my life here: WEST. The sky was bigger and bluer, the mountains were Gods and Goddesses, the deep snow could be swept from a porch or truck bed with a broom. I didn’t often know what I thought but knew what I felt. I was adrift, allowing things to happen to me. I hadn’t yet learned I had the power to make things happen for me.
The lodge was erected with the principles of physics coupled with muscle, and the utility of the tripod. It was stable in the wind, warm at night.
Reginald and Gladys: “The fire is laid by placing four pieces of firewood, about three feet long and several inches in diameter parallel on the ground and pointed east/west.”
Yes! The smoke flew up and away magically through the smoke hole. The smoke flaps were easy to adjust with their dedicated poles. The only difficulty was having to go outside to do so!
We followed the guidelines in our bible, it’s paperback spine becoming soft, it’s pages sooty. We were near a spring, had plenty of firewood nearby. Sam would drive to work and I would stay and take care of the lodge, cook, gather and chop wood; mostly pine, occasionally aspen. I painted the lodge much as I had painted the cab of the truck. I had freckles on every square inch of my skin. Once a week I hitchhiked to Leadville to take a bath at the Delaware hotel. The big porcelain tub was up on claws. I could submerge and recline simultaneously, it’s size was that generous.
If Sam had money in his pocket, it burned a wicked hole. I figured I better be quick if I wanted anything It seemed like a fair enough request to go to the movies in Minturn. Sam obliged me. We went to see The China Syndrome, starring Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon.
It was no longer twilight when we exited the theatre. At least eight inches of snow had fallen. It was still coming down, briskly yet quietly, soft as ash. It was the middle of June.
Tennessee Pass would be treacherous under the duress of a late snow. We were silent as Sam navigated. Battle Mountain was reduced to what I could make out in the cockeyed headlights of our Chevy. Part of our silence was certainly from the grave plot line of that now- forgotten bit of Hollywood I had subjected us to. Still ,having learned that his silences were none of my business, I was becoming skilled at invisibility.
What a reliable truck that was! Having made it back to camp, we needed to hike a bit through the snow, but it was dry. Locals called this unusual precipitation corn snow. You could hold it in your hand like crushed peanuts.
Up a small rise, and I caught site of the lodge. I felt a moment of pure astonishment. The fire still burned. The clearing was lit as if by a huge lantern of transparent gold, the glow within like a steady heart. The red bandana liner I had labored over ringed the bottom third in a perfect circle. The lines of the poles were outlined strong and black against the bright yellow skin dusted with snowfall. The designs I had painted now appeared as tattoos, glyphs, charms. The nature of it’s powerful architecture was revealed to me, and I was astounded. Nothing short of marvelous, I had never seen anything quite so beautiful. Together, we stood for a time and admired it, then went in.
For awhile, I was home.
Sid & Eddie Reminsce at 46 of being 36 & Reminiscing of Being 26 & Reminiscing of Being 18 – by Walter Bjorkman
“Hey Eddie, tune into a replay of Nova in an hour, Gwendlyn Bacon is being featured, its on here right now, but you should see it from the start.” Sid was calling from deep in the bowels of the SuperCaliFragile Istic Expealidotious Laboratory in the mountains of western Pennsylvania.
“Yes! Get offa your ass, splash on the water and have a cuppa, then turn on PBS.”
“Oh, you mean Rock Lobster Gwendlyn Bacon.”
“Yes, you remember!”
“Sure, she was this semi-hot astronomy gal that was at a party for some distinguished retiring Astro-physicist great that you dragged me to and we hit it off so we start dancin’ an the kids of all these old profs are there and so they put on Rock Lobster an when they all went ‘down, down, down’ an fell to the floor I did too an Gwen is standin there lookin at me like I’m an Alien! Me E.T.! We kinda drifted apart the rest of the night.”
“YES! That Gwendlyn Bacon.”
“So what’s that got to do with NOVA?”
“Well, alright, you never could wait. She’s now the head of MI NASA SUI NASA’s Search for Alien Life Program, and she’s doing a special. Man, if you just kept your cool you could be living on easy street right now, she makes buko, and get me a job with her, instead of me hanging in these caves! And – get this, when showing an image of a lobster shaped galaxy, they played the song!”
“What can I say, guess I was an Alien Ahead of My Time.”
“Hey , Sid! That reminds me, remember the time I called you up way back when about doin’ the same with The Gong Show? Only you were at CalTech then, and I was in Brooklyn, so you just waited til when it came on there?”
“Gonnng Showww! Yeah! I remember. Rita.”
“Rita Brandyalexandria, you remember!”
“Yep, on our coming of age trip to n’orlans. bout 4 days after we chatanooga-ed our chew-chews for the first time with the hooker, Fred too and then we go to the Showoff-Boat strip club an out comes Rita Brandyalexandria with a filled champagne glass balanced on top of eacha her boobs stickin so straight out she could do it without leanin back, drinks them without using her hands and puts em back then puts one plastic one at the foota the bar which you swoop up cause it touched her nipples an then she went on and did a fantasy fuck with James Bond all alone up there makin all those sounds on a big round bed, gyratin’ stark nakkers.”
“Yeah, that Rita Brandyalexandria.”
“And so I says, what that’s got to do with the Gong Show, Eddie?, an you says shes on there now! doin’ her act! but not the fantasy fuck just the balancin an sippin’ and she got on a skimpy bra not nothin like back then, and that she says she’s from Stormsville, Maryland and she’s only 24 but this is eight years after an’ she was no way 16 back then, we woulda got arrested.”
“Yep, Sid you got it the way I remember. But I forgot what you said to that.”
“I said, ‘well if she really was just sixteen, she came ahead of her time, if you know what I mean, nudge nudge.’”
PS – Rita won The Gong Show that day – so far no alien life found . . .
is unsure of
which way to go
wanting either that red frisbee
or that green kite
to play with but
settles for several voices
to toss around.
If you were sitting
we could feed ducks
corners of our
sandwiches and not have to speak
except to laugh
and sigh and maybe
hold fingers. The clouds have all
bowed so low that
all the blue of
our streaming hearts has come rushing
in to fill every
every branch or leaf or arm or strand
of hair with its
large bright goofy
face. I don’t care if any of
this matters in
the grand scheme of
things not right now. I want you to
know this place because
I think it
would like to know you. Again if
you were sitting
here next to me
we could put our shoes together
in a kind of
huddle for warmth
the kind that makes life seem worthwhile.
what is lost with the disavowal of youth, the sickness of our twenty-one
as swifts through doorways, music and ecstasy made rabbit this
and rabbit that, and what potion to make me small and bits of clothing fallen
the sweat licked from a troubadour’s hip ambrosial, a hotel shower curtain
the purest white ever known, the sludge on a stiletto heel, a mystery
to be solved by curious test, a sniff then cursed for its stench and tenacity
the city that would follow when finally we slept, amidst duck ponds
and limber wrists, invisible stamps that illumine by ultra violet lite, a park
with that one dear friend reckless and innocent as I, curled as ivy around
the other for warmth and joggers and walkers and horse mounted policemen
simply watched over, rose white and rose red, the communal slumber
on a picnic blanket, two melodious, snoring girls, recently from the sticks
mute in the light of insane naivety kept a hush, kept their distance
from a tableau almost perverse spectacle but for the dozen white duck
that surrounded us with gentle bird bon mots, plump little cracker fed fowl
a shimmering guard that moved away when finally the sun fell full on our faces