The Blue Pitcher

that which may be filled and emptied

Month: May, 2007

Any Old Bird

Today’s News:

1) The man who looks like Jesus and is always on crutches is passing my window now.

2) Thorn’s closest friend had a massive heart attack.

3) I received an email entitled “The Small Musculature of Birds.”

4) My little sister, Madeline, emailed as well. She will be ten on Saturday. She has been dabbling in trapeze. I was very impressed with her syntactical structure.

5) I played Miles Davis for my students. Kerri wrote about clouds changing shapes; Nakeea wrote about her mom getting her hair done on Fridays.

It’s all got me thinking…

And when you think, you start to hear your heart, and when you start to hear your heart, it’s almost all you can hear, and just when you start to believe it’s out of control–that it’s beating and beating and beating itself blue–you realize it’s only the flapping of the bird’s wings, but it’s not any old bird, it’s the bird that was born out of the robin egg that you found as a child, the one you wanted to put in your sweatshirt pocket and carry down the dusty road to the store, the one you wanted to place in a nest made out of a Mountain Dew bottle and seventy-two straw wrappers, the one you wanted to keep your secret because you knew one day a bird would fly out, and it would be all yours, and you could name it, and it would sing you to sleep and sing you to wake and sing you into those crazy dreams. Birds, you’d say and point out the window. Your mother would nod; your husband would smile; your father would play a little bird song.

I have been teaching again. Chris who is nine and has autism flaps his arms when he sees me. Poetry, he says. We fly. Airplane. Bird. It’s our warm-up exercise–flying, shaking, slithering like snakes, hopping like bunnies. I’m thrilled, of course, that it is the flying he holds on to. For years, (and I’ve written this before but I have to say it again because I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten it really right), for years, teaching students with autism made me feel like a giant bird. I’d flap and flap and flap. The only thing I could think to compare the students with was a man I loved in college, one who was far way, one who seemed impervious to all the flapping in the world, who drove a Saab and wore sunglasses and played a too kind hand of Gin Rummy.

Now, though, I just sit. I put my hands on the desk, and I make the students breathe. We inhale, exhale, inhale again. It is peaceful, and they are with me (a feat I never thought I’d accomplish), but I love that there is still a bit of the bird in me, that Chris points to me and says, Fly.

This was the first blog entry I ever read: (It’s a beauty.)

Vote for Maaza!!!!

Now, please…

Memorial Day: A Story about a Ukulele

Inspired by my father’s relationship with his brother, I wanted to share this short-short that I wrote some time last year.

A Story about a Ukulele

My father asks me to write a story about a ukulele. A uke, he calls it, and it’s coming back, he says, big, everybody in town’s gonna own a uke, everybody in this whole blasted God-forsaken town. Mark my words.

And I do. I mark his words. I am thirty-two. I am a thirty-two year old woman pushing a shopping cart with one bad wheel marking the words of a man whose mouth I have. By the time I am thirty-four, he says, fifty-three percent of American households will own a ukulele; of that fifty-three percent, eight percent will be multiple uke households. You should get hitched, he says. You and your husband can have a uke or two.
I imagine what it would look like: me in an apron, crock-pot a’bubbling, rutabaga a’stewing; my husband in a tie. We would have a grey-eyed child and present her with a tiny guitar. Her small pale fingers would pluck out a song that starts real slow like warm honey inching its way down the body of a clear plastic bear but speeds up, faster, faster, stops. Maybe I don’t want to get married, I say.

You’re not listening, my father says. It’s not a tiny guitar. It’s a ukulele.
Outside there is a war, but it’s far away, so we can’t hear any bombs or smell any bodies. In the light of the supermarket, we are nearly angelic. My uncle Gabe is four feet ahead of us. This is what we do every Tuesday. My father and I pick up an empty-handed Gabe, take him to Aldi, then drop him off with plastic sacks filled with everything he needs: hot dogs, oranges, puffed cereal.
I didn’t know Gabe before he went to ‘Nam, but they say he was a real lady killer. Oh, those eyes, but he went and saw and ate a boat-load of legumes and went a little nut-so and when he got back he all but stopped talking. This is the only Gabe I know: the one who uses the end of his government-issued cane to knock a twenty-five pound box of dry milk from a too-high shelf.
So, I say to my father, what do you want it to be about?
What do you mean?
I mean, it can’t just be about a ukulele. It’s gotta be about something.
There’s that dull ding of items being scanned, and I run my finger the length of a Hershey’s bar while the dank eyes of the cashier stare past us. Gabe does little calf raises, half-hopped up on something like he might fly away.
I guess it’ll be about the same thing everything’s about, my father says.
And we stand there staring at the conveyor belt. I wonder for a second what he means, but he’s gotta mean love. For Chrissakes, he’s gotta mean love ‘cause even my weak-ass heart beating its crooked little tune so deep in my gut I can barely even hear it, even it wants it to be about love.
But I’m afraid to ask.
We get the bags—Dad and me and Gabe, with his one hand—and we walk across the blacktop. The wind’s starting to pick up a little, out of the west but cold, cutting me to my bones.
Spring, Gabe says.
Spring’s coming. Wind’s stirring shit up, he says, and all of the sudden I can feel it, that warm yellow sun pressing on me, a thousand friggin’ flowers blooming their stinking heads off, and that sun soaking in, soaking so deep in that I’m speechless, that I got nothing for the ride home.
We’re quiet as snow the three of us, maybe even quieter than snow save the half-remembered song my father beats on the steering wheel with the heel of his long un-held hand. The town passes us by, one stone after another, and we are dumb with hope. There under that bleached-out sky, we’ve got groceries and each other and six dozen boxed-up ukuleles waiting to be sopped up on E-bay and sent out to play the music of the world.
It’s like sitting on a winning ticket, dad says, and heck, it hurts to admit it, but this time I can feel it, this time he just might be right.

So Much for the Promise Land

Earlier this week, scientists confirmed that in the winter of 2001 a hammerhead shark in an Omaha zoo gave birth to another shark with no sign of a male parent. While the process known as parthenogenesis may at first be seen as a sort of biological miracle (or, for the believer as a modern-day virgin birth), it is noted that these “miracles” occur only when a species is under threat and being held in captivity. More on that here:

As for Nebraska, I had a student from there once, and I wanted to love her for that reason alone. Sadly, New York grabbed her up by the skin of her neck and made her its own before I really got a chance to know her.

The only other thing I can say about the Cornhusker state is that when my mom and I lived on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota we used to drive over to Nebraska for milk shakes and bowling: it seemed a sort of Promise Land–all big sky, shiny lanes and cold, creamy treats. I haven’t been back in over twenty years.

Poor Ole Mockingbird

She couldn’t even carry a note.

Why Not to be a Good Citizen

So, I’m sitting in the parking lot at the Flatbush Avenue P.C. Richard’s waiting for Cody, and I see this white Jag trying to pull out of a space. Crank the wheel to the right, I’m yelling, but he can’t hear me so he backs into a parked navy minivan. He pulls forward then does it again. Twice. The minivan is actually being hoisted into the air. Hey Jerk-o, I yell–this time out the window. You can’t do that. Finally he gets out of the space, puts his car in park, gets out, examines the damage he’s done to his own car, and goes to get back in. Stop, I yell and slam my door, walk towards him. You need to leave a note on that minivan. You can’t just leave.

He stares at me blankly. The passenger door to his Jag opens, a very large wild-haired woman steps out. What you say? she says. I repeat myself but with far less conviction. Watch us, she says.

I got your license plate number, I yell into the sky. In my memory I’m actually shaking my fists in the air, but surely I wasn’t that animated. Suddenly, it occurs to me that they may have a gun so I run sheepishly back to my car, roll up the windows and listen to the radio, really thankful–for the first time all day–to be alive.

Where We Come From

Present Day, Henry River

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be from a place that no longer exists, and all I can think is that maybe Hickory, my own birth town, isn’t so different from Henry River. All of us–but a handful of cousins, and Anne, of course, who doesn’t even leave the house and so has abandoned the town in her own way–has left.

The last time I was there, I got sub sandwiches with April and went to hear music down by Green’s Grocery. These days, she warned me, it’s the dangerous part of town. The street that lead from Mama Heaton’s house down to Green’s did look different–maybe not dangerous, but it certainly didn’t seem the same sidewalk I used to run up, the one I once saw the rain travel on, the one where we’d play Mother-May-I and pretend we were famous. It was dusty, in a sort of exhausted way.

Once we were at the club I sipped a weak drink and counted teeth. Meth has hit Hickory hard. You’ve got to really keep your eyes peeled to see a full set. Rough skin and hair–all the signs of hard-using. Halfway through the night, I needed a sweater and some air and wanted to walk out to the car alone. They wouldn’t let me go.

I live in Brooklyn, I told them, and still they wouldn’t let me walk the twenty or so yards to my car. I was, I will admit, more nervous there than I ever am in Brooklyn. There was a rumor of a serial killer who was arranging his victims in cars at the junkyard, then with the drugs and the racial unrest; it was quite unsettling.

But what unsettled me most was how unfamiliar it all seemed.

It’s not just the place that I miss. The world that I was born into–with its coffee cans and night shifts, its apartment evictions and praise songs–seems so far away from the world I live in now that I can hardly even make up stories about it. Today, I’m a little sad about that, a little sad about having abandoned the first things I ever knew and not even recognizing what they’ve become.

Health & Fitness Tips #8 thru #11

When trying to attain a “buff bride” body, steer clear of any cardio classes which contain the words “blast,” “boot” or “suicide.” If you do take such a class, do not opt for a burrito while limping home from the gym. If you must get the burrito, do not ask for extra sour cream. If all else fails, make sure you put the burrito on beautiful China and eat it with a knife and fork. Candles are, of course, optional.

Syntactical Freedom!!

For years, I told my students that a writer is granted only one–maybe two!–exclamation marks in her life. I highly doubt, I’d tell them, that you want to use that single mark in your freshman year of college. Save it! I yelled. Save yourself!

But why was I so afraid of the exclamation mark? I must admit: I’m an exclaimer. If I were transcribed over the course of the day, the transcript would be filled with exclamation marks. Cody, breakfast! Cody! Or perhaps with the interrobang:

Cody?! Still though, for years, I was afraid. Maybe it was college? The blase college student shan’t use such wild modes of expression. (But then the inevitible shift!) In the past year or so, I can’t get enough of them. I use them, use them, use them! That staunch vertical! That emphatic dot! Perhaps putting all of my markings in a single syntactical basket is getting me nowhere. I’m feeling, today, a bit trapped. Sure, four exclamation marks might make a window, but a whole line of them, and you’ve got a jail. Maybe…I need to stop transcribing in my head. I need to let the way the sun is shining through my blinds right now (!!!!!!!) just be the sun shining through my blinds.

Things You Can Take

a photograph
(on a beach, from above)
Spanish lessons
(Hola, Mr. Vaca.)
your temperature
(but you’re not even warm)
your child’s temperature
(but she’s not even born)
hot baths
a train headed south
your own sweet time
(if you wish;
I wish.)
anything, really
you can take anything, really
(but it might hurt)
oh, it’ll hurt–you can bet your big ole heart that it’ll hurt–but hurt goes away,
or doesn’t go away, turns into something else entirely:
the music downstairs, a half-remembered dream,
a hand that finally unfolds, opens, reaches to find what it might take next.