The Blue Pitcher

that which may be filled and emptied

Category: Writing

There seem to me…

few things sadder than old blue curtains held up by thumbtacks.

Green Beans

Joe took this picture: a jar of green beans sitting on the windowsill of the house our grandmother was raised in, a house that has been abandoned forty years now and is grown over with poison ivy and kudzu.

I remember being little at our other grandmother’s house and spending all afternoon sitting on the porch snapping and stringing beans. Mama Heaton would spread her knees and make a bowl out of the skirt of her dress, throw the heads and the strings of the beans into that bowl. Heather and Joe and I’d snap until our fingers hurt, and Mama Heaton’d tell us to keep snapping, and we’d snap some more.

I’m up in the mountains now–in Blowing Rock, North Carolina–not even an hour from that front porch. I’ve got this feeling of emptiness that I keep trying to find words for but it only comes to me in flashes: a salted tomato, the cracks in the sidewalk that ran up the street, a hickory bush, the smell of bologna frying, Bob Barker’s voice coming from the bedroom.

My mother told me once that her father (before he died–almost everybody is dead now) was building a boat in the basement of that old house. Every evening when he’d come home from the gas station and before he’d go to the mill, he sanded the wood and sawed the notches. He spent hundreds and hundreds of hours building a boat that–if it would have been possible to take out of the basement (it wasn’t)–could have sailed around the world. It was a giant ship in a bottle. The walls, though, weren’t made of glass; they were more like mud, and there was nothing much else down in that basement: old boxes of torn paper dolls, a washing machine that was nearly always off balance and metal shelves stacked with canned green beans.

When I dream about the basement, and I often do, there are secret tunnels and holes, places to hide, places to be found. I am usually reaching for Cody when I dream of it, terrified, and I go downstairs, take an Advil, drink cold water, make small deals with God to get me back to sleep. Sometimes, though, I dream that there is a door that opens into the back and that the back is a beautiful orchard: magnolia blossoms and Queen Anne’s Lace, ripe apples and just fallen pecans. When I dream of the orchard, I don’t even bother to look back to see if the house is still standing. I almost hope it wouldn’t be.

Old Story, New Home

So, I’ve just found out I got a story published! Shadowbox Press which specializes in beautiful handmade limited edition books sent out a call for poems and stories to be anthologized in a book called The Musculature of Small Birds, a book devoted entirely to poems and stories with the things that are hope!

My story, “Love Song,” is about a woman named Melissa who works in the maternity ward at a hospital in Amarillo; her job is to ink the newborn’s foot and press its print onto the birth certificate. The story is a letter written by Melissa to a man who was in her college poetry workshop and who fathered her child. He’s moved to New York City where he’s become a fairly well known poet, and she’s been dreaming she gives birth to a bird. The doctors believe the father of the child was a sparrow; the reader is led to believe the father may actually be dead.

Yowza! I hope the story itself isn’t so confusing! I thank the kind editor who accepted it, and also give a shoutout to my old friend Jason Nelson who inspired it by taking me to a bbq restaurant off Old Highway 9 and telling me stories about the end of the world.

One of my Favorite Poems in the World


by Amy Hosig, my dear friend

Bless these shrimp from Sing Hing
that I am about to eat,
that spent their life, hopefully,
jetting about
in odd, propulsive motion
without minds
and before language.

Oh you little shrimp
who involuntarily
died for me,
make me,
like the intelligent whale,
able to change you
into song.

Let them eat cake!

This is Addison Maxine. She is my (very sweet and funny) god daughter. Last week she turned one. Imagine being one! Imagine the cake! Imagine burying your face into the cake, and your fingers; imagine going deeper and deeper into it and not knowing that this is exactly what you are supposed to be doing, that this cake is all for you, that no one will say no or slap your hand;
you won’t have to go to therapy or Weight Watchers or to that little place with the psychic in the west village; you can bury yourself in the chocolate, and the people around you–the people who have never hurt you, who have only loved you–will clap and snap photographs; they’ll sing you a song, and you, you delighted little beast of a human, will keep eating because you have made it; you have made it to one (to one!), and you need all the chocolate you can get to make it another 99 years!

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.)

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.

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.

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.