July 24, 2007

“Where in the hell do you know that has camel races?”

When I was a kid, my grandma Ruth bowled on Monday nights at Compton Lanes Bowling Alley. My grandpa and I would drop her off, and then we’d head over to his mother’s house (my “Mimi”) to spend the evening with her. Mostly, my grandpa slept on the couch while I spent the evening with my Mimi.

I can remember my Mimi and her house with such clarity. She had snow white hair and wore thick glasses from which her sharp, clear blue eyes peered out. For years she told me she was 102. She had little round tables with lacy covers over them that reached all the way to the floor. She had trashy novels piled next to her old orange rocking recliner. She loved owls and displayed figurines of them all over. There was always Dial soap in the bathroom, and her house smelled of cigarettes and the green outdoor astro-turf-like carpeting that she had indoors.

We had a routine. First we began with a snack of cheese and ketchup. (Don’t knock it; it’s good.) Then we’d watch The Muppet Show. After the show was over, she’d read Mercer Mayer’s “Little Monster” books to me and we’d talk. One frequent topic of our conversation was her finger.

One of my Mimi’s middle fingers—I can no longer recall on which hand—was permanently bent in half. This was fascinating to me, and I loved to look at it and touch it. I would always ask her if I could try to bend it back for her, and she would always say, “No!” Several times I asked her, “Mimi, how did your finger get this way?” And she always told the same story.

“A long time ago, when I was much younger than 102, I was at a camel race. We were sitting on metal bleachers. They were slippery because it had rained the night before. When the camels were rounding the track close to me, I stood up to take a good picture. I slipped on the wet bleachers and banged my finger and broke it. I didn’t go to the doctor right away, and by the time I did he told me he’d have to re-break it to make it straight again. So I just left it like this.”

This was a satisfactory explanation.

When I was 14 or 15, I was telling my mom this story and was amazed that she’d never known how Mimi hurt her finger. When I finished explaining, she said, “Where in the hell do you know that has camel races?”

An excellent question, as it turned out, and one that I’d wondered myself many times. It never occurred to me to doubt the story, though. Why would my Mimi lie to me?

Egypt?” I ventured.

“She’s never been to Egypt,” my mom said knowingly.

Mimi and I hadn’t talked about her finger in a long time, so I decided to ask her again and she if she told a different story this time now that I was older. She told the exact same one.

My Mimi died in 1997 when I was 20. I was lucky enough to spend some time with her just a couple weeks before in the hospital. She was remarkably alert and engaged with what was going on around her. She told me of two items, in particular, that she wanted me to have. One was a diamond ring that had belonged to her sister, and the other was a stuffed clown (the second one has never really made sense to me, as I hate clowns).

“That ring is the ugliest ring I’ve ever seen,” she said. “Don’t feel like you have to keep it if you don’t want to. If you need some extra cash you can hock it and don’t you even feel a little bit guilty about it.”

(I loved this about her. Incidentally, I have the ring now and just in the last year I've started wearing it on my right hand. It has a silver band and is actually a beautiful antique setting and unlike any of the ugly diamond rings I see these days. The clown is packed away somewhere, but for several months afterward I could open up and inhale deeply from the plastic bag it was in and still smell her house.)

After her funeral, I was sitting in my grandpa’s living room talking about Mimi. We were reminiscing about things she used to say and do and what we would miss about her. I mentioned the finger that she’d hurt at the camel races and my grandpa rolled his eyes.

“It was a WART,” he said.

“What?” I asked, clinging tenuously to the camel race story.

“She had a wart on her finger. Her mom was dying and she was taking care of her and couldn’t leave to go to the doctor. After her mom died she got to go, and they burned the wart off her finger. By that time it had drawn her finger up so bad that they’d have to break it to straighten it out so she just decided to leave it alone.”

I was speechless. She had lied? She had lied about it all these years. And the camel race story was much more interesting. Then I started to laugh. I love that she lied without batting an eyelash for so long.

For those of you keeping track this is my second lying grandma.

But an interesting thing happened a couple years later. I heard a radio advertisement for the Taylor County Fair and they mentioned that they would be having a camel race. It was a type of novelty attraction. I had to tell my mom, “See? There ARE camel races around here.”

July 21, 2007

Unsarcastically fucking positive optimism

I am ridiculously happy today.

About what? I don't know--lots of things, everything, nothing.

I've been making a lot of changes in my life in the past few months and I have more that I want to make. It actually seems to be working, and for the first time the things I want actually seem attainable. Things that always seemed to be closed to me just might not be.

I just wish I could capture these feelings in a jar and keep them close like fireflies to illuminate the nights when they get dark.

July 16, 2007

Stained Glass

It was thirty days til Easter when the elm tree hit the church
Thank God it fell on Friday cause at least no one was hurt
But there was fear it might delay the second coming of the lord
Cause the stained glass crucifixion was in stains upon the floor

They spent a day of cleaning and a day to board the hole
Where the stained glass once had cast a godly light upon the fold
But come the Sunday service all the faces now were gray
And they commenced to take donations as the faithful knelt to pray

But on Monday they discovered that the man who’d built the glass
Was the only man in town who could and sadly he had passed
But his father who was ninety said the tools were in the shed
And he’d kindly try and resurrect the window from the dead

The congregation argued, but the wise ones all rejoiced
In the one hand was solution, in the other was no choice
And they gave the man their blessings and they gave his hand a shake
And they gave him all the coins they had collected on their plate

It was seven days til Easter and they’d seen a hide nor hair
So they came and knocked at suppertime in hopes the man was there
But a banging from the basement was ‘bout all that they could hear
And curses that might make the devil blush and wash his ears

Come first thing easter morning and to everyone’s good grace
The man was up on ladders with the window nailed in place
It was covered in black velvet like a hood or like a veil
He pulled the sheet and there it hung apocryphal and frail

The seams had melted jagged, they were crooked like a spine
The glass was rough like hands of man against the hands of time
And there was bloodstains in the red and there were teardrops in the blue
He said: It may not be the best but it’s the best that I can do

The chapel fell to silence, it was more than just surprise
As the monstrosity of color slid its tongue across their eyes
And they shivered from exposure like babies born again
Cause in every pane of glass was all the joy and pain of man . . .

There was every fearful smile, there was every joyful tear
There was each and every choice that leads from every there to here
There was every cozy stranger and every awkward friend
And there was every perfect night that’s left initials in the sand
There was every day that filled so full the weeks would float away
And there was all those days spent wondering what to do with all those days
There was every lie that ever saved the truth from being shamed
And every secret you could ever trust a friend to hide away
There was the fortune of discovering a new face you might adore
And the thrill of coming home to find her clothes upon the floor
And the prideful immortality of children in the home
That the storm can’t grind the mountain down, it can only shift the stones
And there was everything your mouth says that your lips don’t understand
And every shape inside your head you can’t carve with your hands
And every slice of glass revealed another slice of life
Emblazened imperfections in a perfect stream of light
It all flooded through the window like rapids made of fire
And then God rode through on sunshine and sat down cause he was tired
He was tired.

As the thunder and the hardwood settled back into its place
God removed his veil and there were scars across his face
And some folks prayed in reverence and some folks prayed in fear
As all the shades and chaos in the glass became a mirror

July 14, 2007


I hate when it becomes important! Everything changes. Fuck.

July 13, 2007

We are nowhere, it is now (patchwork)

We must rip out all the epilogues in the books that we have read

We must stare, we must stare, we must stare
We must sing, we must sing, we must sing
We must run, we must run, we must run
We must plunge, we must plunge, we must plunge

I haven’t been gone very long
But it feels like a lifetime

I’ve been sleeping so strange at night
Side effects they don’t advertise
I’ve been sleeping so strange
With a head full of pesticide

How could you forget your yellow bird?

I’m wide-awake, it’s morning

No one's sure how all of this got started,
but we're gonna make 'em goddamn certain how it's gonna end.

July 11, 2007

I didn't know this, but I love it.

Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of Lyndon Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, died Wednesday at her home in Austin, Texas. She was 94.

She was born Claudia Alta Taylor on December 22, 1912, in Karnack, Texas. When she was two years old, a servant in this well-to-do household described her as being "as pretty as a lady bird," and that nickname stuck. Her father was a successful local merchant, a strong personality whom she later likened in many ways to the man who became her husband, Lyndon Baines Johnson. She attended public schools in Texas and was graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in journalism in 1934. Shortly after graduation, she met Lyndon Johnson, and in a manner which she said took her breath away, he wooed her.

"We had a breakfast date, but we wound up by spending the whole day together, riding and talking," said Lady Bird Johnson. "Well, he really let me know before the day was over that he wanted to marry me. And I thought that, this - impossible. But on the other hand, there's one thing I knew I just couldn't bear to have happen, and that was to say, goodbye, goodbye, period."

They were married within two months. She went with him back to Washington where he worked for a member of the United States Congress. Her public life, which was to span thirty-eight years, commenced.

Despite chronic shyness, Lady Bird Johnson participated in all her husband's electoral campaigns. When he was a Senator she took a public speaking course in Washington, and that helped, but she never enjoyed that part of the life. This did not diminish her contribution to her husband's career, however. She once described their relationship by saying, "I think we were a whole lot better together than we were separate. He made me try harder and do more. I think perhaps sometimes I made him persevere or take a gentler attitude toward people or events or be less impatient. And," she added, "we both helped each other laugh."

"You can see his office from here," she said. "The lights may be on until eight o'clock, maybe nine or ten o'clock. But sooner or later the lights will go out and in a few moments I'll hear an eager voice call down the hall, 'Where's Bird?' Then I know he's home. Really home."

July 9, 2007

I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind.

Don’t call me
Don’t email me
Please just leave me alone
I just want to move on, to keep walking
To make a different life for myself
There’s nothing you can say or do
I meant it when I said you don’t want to hear
Any of the things I have to say to you
Because, believe me, I have plenty
They fight their way to the front of my mouth
Wanting to be the first to come out
I don’t want the last words I say to be full of fury and hate
Let’s not hurt each other any more
Just fucking drop it
And move on
I spent nearly half of my life with you
I want to walk away with the shards of good memories I have
And crunch the rest under my feet as I walk away

I speak in tongues.

You are a waterfall
Waiting inside a well.
You are a wrecking ball
Before the building fell.

July 7, 2007

Laying Down With the Goddess of Breakfast

It was probably a bad idea to pour blueberry syrup on the table. Rude, in fact. But there was no better way to get her to my table. It worked like a charm really, a quick sweeping motion of my left forearm clumsily tipped the dispenser on its side. I fumbled for a moment while the blue goo followed the slant of the warped tabletop.

She was over in an instant because she is that kind of waitress, attentive and courteous. She couldn’t bear to stand by drying the heads of bent forks while a customer sat one moment in filth. I like to think that she only felt that way about me, but she doesn’t know me. She’s seen me before and affords me the kind of casual, friendly smile and slight nod of recognition one gets from being familiar. I’m the billboard she passes on the way to work.

I don’t need to be eating pancakes four days a week that’s for sure. But I don’t come for the food or the coffee that goes cold just out of the pot. I come for Sarah. I come for the blond streaked brunette hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. I come for the dark eyes and strong nose and the bottom lip that dangles in a constant pout. I come to count the freckles on her chest that speckle her neck when she gets sun on the weekend. I come for the strong thin arms weighed down with bracelets and pitchers of water with lemon.

I live for days like last Tuesday when she reached up high for a box of straws and dusted herself with the powdered sugar they save for the fancy Belgian waffles. She huffed and giggled a bit and dabbed herself clean with a wet cloth except for some white on the back of her calf. I meant to show her what she missed but I figured it might look suspicious paying too close attention to the areas off limits to the casual spectator. I hoped it would stay there and get moist from the glisten of sweat on the back of her knee. It would be a sweet surprise for me once we were alone in the grass.

We belong in the grass. Anywhere away from here where a steady breeze can lift the smell of grease and bacon fat from her apron and take it faraway to someplace else. I want us to get lost on that knoll by the riverfront. The one with the wildflowers like they plant in the median of interstates. I want us to smile in slow motion like some romantic version of a detergent commercial where everything is clean and breezy and natural.

I’m worried that the smell of pigs in a blanket is turning me on. I don’t want to get hard strolling past an International House of Pancakes. I don’t want to associate eggs and cheese with carnal delight. I don’t want sex to mean breakfast.

Sarah doesn’t belong here. She doesn’t belong in these clothes. These starched god awful uniforms with the puffy sleeves and the stiff flared skirt. I’m sorry for her and I’m sorry that someone like her is hidden by such unfortunate commercial wardrobe. It’s like wrapping a dozen roses with the New York Post. She needs draped linens, tailored suits or at the very least a willing man who will hold and cup and cover her parts so the wind is free to blow her hair and the tourists who walk by can appreciate the beauty of a naked goddess by the 24th Street grassy knoll. She could also use my quilt.

I’d prefer her to use the quilt. I’m sure Sarah would prefer the velvet feel of the patchwork of hundred-year-old fabric scraps to the scratch blend of orange plaid. We’d burn her clothes in a bonfire by the rocks. I’d even burn my own shoes if they weren’t brand new.

I just want time with her on my quilt, the two of us flattening a patch of three foot high grass. A room in the middle of outside with no roof warmed by the afternoon sun. We could exist in that quiet, tracing paths on each other’s bare skin. I’d give her slow open mouth kisses up and down her back like I was eating strawberries from the vine. She would close her eyes and I’d know things were just fine.

It would be nice for her to know my name. It would be nice to hear it tumble over that bottom lip. It would be nice but not necessary. We would keep silent on our picnic. No talking on our quilt. In our Eden. Our bodies would do all the talking. Awkward introductions at first, but then fitting each other like long fingers into an old glove.

The damp rag is bright blue and sticky. I’ve been leaning back curved with the arc of the booth holding my newspaper and coffee in mid-air while Sarah mops up my mess. I tricked her just so that she would be stuck here for a minute and half. Ninety seconds that I could use to watch her neck tighten, her tiny bicep flex and the gentle sway of her breasts trapped beneath stiff polyester. It’s hot today and I want to lick away the beads of sweat racing down the back of her neck. I want to peel her out of her clothes and clean her with my tongue so that there is no trace of breakfast, lunch or dinner left on her skin. I want her clean like a peach pit sucked too long.

Then I want her splayed out on my quilt with her arms over her head sucking spring air and laughing and not fumbling for one of the pens jammed in her hair. I want to drink from her belly button and draw slow circles radiating from her nipples. I want to be on her and in her and breathing so close that she’s breathing my breath and when she closes her eyes and smiles I’ll know my work is done.

In the meantime I get fat on butter and biscuits and tip more than I can afford. She knows my face and I see hers every time I close my eyes at night. I’ll make messes and ask dumb questions as long as it brings her close.

--Frank Grooms, Punchline, July 12, 2001

July 5, 2007

You know, I used to have a plan.

I'm a list-maker, a planner, an organizer. I have lists of things to learn about, lists of places to go, lists of dreams I had that made a lasting impact on me, lists of things to do to celebrate the month of October, lists of favorite smells, lists of memories, lists of letters to write, lists of books to read, and on and on and on.

Somewhere along the way things got fucked up.

Of course, it's entirely possible that they were actually always fucked up, but I was too busy sticking to the path I had picked out that I didn't realize. When the next several years of your life is planned out, you don't have to think very hard.

I used to think of myself like a donut: sugary sweet on the outside, and completely empty inside. I was positive that if someone looked at me closely enough they would realize that there was absolutely nothing inside of me. Just nothing fucking there. That I was actually just faking everything and going through the motions, looking like I had a clue what the fuck was going on. (I never did.)

Now my problem is almost the opposite: after peeks at that infinite darkness I might just want to pull that donut back out. It was safer. Prettier. Easier to deal with.

Today one of my students stayed to talk to me after class. He asked me what kind of job I wanted. I said I didn't really know. He asked me where I wanted to live. I said I didn't know that, either. All I could say was that I didn't want to be hot all the time. Or cold all the time.

Yeah, that's pretty much what I got.

All those "plans" are shot to hell.

I've been feeling for about a year now that there's something I'm supposed to be paying attention to. To be open to. It kind of irritates me to say it that way because it sounds so New Agey and mystical, but it's really the way I feel. What the hell to do with that? Maybe if I could stop to breathe for a moment I could pay attention to something besides running, running, running, going, going, going.

I have not had any sleep.

Ahhh...fuck it.

(Forget it.)

July 4, 2007

Poncho's Lament

Well the stairs sound so lonely without you
And I ain't made my bed in a week
Coffee stains on the paper I'm writing
And I'm too choked up inside to speak
And yes, I know our differences pulled us apart
Never spoke a word heart to heart

And I'm glad that you're gone
But I wish to the lord that you'd come home
And I'm glad that you're gone
Got the feeling so strong
And I'm glad that you're gone
But I wish to the lord that you'd come home

Well my guitar still plays your favorite song
though the strings have been outta tune for some time
Every time I strum a cord, I pray out to the lord
That you'll quit your honkey-tonkin' sing my song

And I'm glad that you're gone
Got the feeling so strong
And I'm glad that you're gone
But I wish to the lord that you'd come home

So I'll throw another log onto the fire
And I'll admit I'm a lousy liar
As the coals die down and flicker
I hear that guitar picker
Play the song we used to sing so long ago

I'm glad that you're gone
Got the feeling so strong
And I'm glad that you're gone
But I wish to the lord that you'd come home
And I'm glad, damn glad you're gone
Got the feeling so strong
And I'm glad that you're gone
But I wish to the lord that you'd come home