Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Going Back

There was no time to gather up clothes or toys.
There were never many of either anyway.

when we left

Many times there was a pistol.
Usually there were bruises.
Often it was night.
Once in a storm.

It was chaos when we left,
from the outside looking in,
but we knew our cues.
Right after the fists,
just before the gunshots,
during the screaming.

then we left

Mostly to Tommie’s house.
Sometimes to Sherry’s house.
Once to Doris Sartain’s house
in a storm.

after we left

Morning would come
Breakfast was had
Coffee was poured
Nothing was said
The ground would dry up
Daddy would show up

we'd go back

Cross my fingers
pray to God
plead to stay
come the day
we’d go back

There was no time to gather up joy or hope.
There was never much of either anyway.

Dead Daddy

Hello, I am your daughter, Jim.
James, I have your hair.
My brain could match you
thought for think.
My liver match you
draught for drink.

Good morning, Junior, it is me.
Jimmy, you’re my dad.
Down in Sheol I bet
you need me.
Hinnom’s offering,
you’d feed me.

Good afternoon, Dead Daddy, you.
Papa of the Grave.
Seems for you there’s no
No cool drop from
Goddess Ana.

Sleep tight, Old Man, I won’t be back.
You’re no Abba to me.
This grown up girl has
had her say.
My message is, “There’s
Hell to pay.”

House Guest

I was certain you were gone.
How did you get here?
Did you travel on the stream of air that flew me
home and back when Leonard died?
Were you visiting other gravesites and just happened to show up at his?

Did you think, now this would be some fun.
Let’s see how long it takes for her to notice me?
I never realized she could be so amusing.
Puff of air to the back of her neck and she brushes at me like a fly.
Wait until she is asleep and crawl into her dreams to play like old childhood friends.
Games of the mind and games of cops and robbers.
You be the dead one, I’m tired of that part.

Do you like to sit and watch me that way?
Don’t you get bored with fucking with my head?
Lord, you were always a hypersexual man.
Not getting any in the hereafter is getting to you isn’t it?
So here you are in my house in Texas trying to ramp up a little action.
All those years we spent apart before you died
left you with a mistaken impression of me.

I am not four now.
I am the Mother now.
I don’t take kindly to men who mess with my daughter
and, since I mother myself now, that includes me.
Dead or alive, with evil spirits to help you,

Be careful, dead Daddy. Oh, do be careful.
Since you are here, I can think of a few chores for you.
Take out the trash that you left in my childhood.
Scrub out the nightmares I had in the bed I shared with Julie.
While you are at it, mend the dreams you shattered.
Run out and get me something cool to wash down the choked back tears.
Oh, I think you are going to make yourself useful around here.

Maybe you could stay another week.

Eating My Words

Daddy, you are consuming my poetry.
Hungry for more of me than you ever cared to notice before.
I cannot write of cat’s whiskers and motes of dust in light streams.

Only you.

Dead and buried you live on in my creativity.
Spending more time with me now than when I was a tiny girl.
I sit with pencil and paper awaiting what has always flowed so freely.
Movement from the corner of the room shows you lounging against a wall,
tall frame of you, in taller frame of archway.
You cock your head and smirk, blue eyes chuckling merrily,
Open your mouth to speak, then don’t,
never revealing what amuses you so about my current discomfort.

You are here.

As surely as I took myself away from you those years ago,
saving myself and my child from your disdaining presence.
As surely as you looked right through me at a chance meeting in WalMart
not knowing until I blurted out, “I am Cindy, your daughter.”
As surely as you never stayed long in my life and brought havoc home when you did,
the way other fathers bring home souvenirs of pencils and t-shirts.
Why won’t you stay truly once and for all buried in the ground of Tennessee?
How did you find your way to Texas, and me, hungry for a piece of my mind?

Go away.

Or if you won’t, then let’s hear what you want
and get you gone
and exorcise whatever demons travel with you.
I don’t have space for them here.
This place of sanctuary is intended for me,
for my Ariane.
We already have a Daddy in residence
and he does nicely, thank you.
So wipe that smirk off your face and let’s get to it.
You want poems about you, well here they come.

Lunch is served.

Death of a Good Man

They packed the freshly unwrapped presents into the van.
Goodbyes left unsaid –
he sat down and died.

Right there in the big comfy chair that Tommy will not now sit in –
He just died
on Christmas Eve.

Never having to slip-slide over icy West Tennessee roads,
he strode into Heaven instead,
avoiding the perilous path for a much safer one.

They pronounced him at the hospital –
thereby sparing my mother the ordeal
of knowing him dead in my sister’s keeping room.

So officially he died in an ER bed.

The ordeal to come was, instead, transferred to the shoulders of Tommy,
my brother-in-law, and to the conscience of Sherry,
my sister, who having saved so many before him,
could not press hard enough to lure his attention from those pearly gates.

In the days that followed,
we all did things we thought we never could.

I flew to the site of my previous undoing
to mother the mother who was my mother.

Tommy made 20 trips over still-icy roads
to midwife us all
to the places we were born to go.

Eliott, grown to the man the Chief had always dreamed he would be,
piped him over
and took the watch.

Sherry, more accustomed to holding the traces, dropped them into my hands and rested.

Surprising, the many ways we all reacted.

In return, that icy Christmas we got a present we could never have expected.

Children of a reprobate stood beside our mother as she buried her husband, our stepfather, a good man.

Elegy for a Reprobate

Father, you grieve me so as you go into the dark unknown afterlife.
Left me here, Sister and Mother but never your Daughter, though.

Elegiac couplet, you and I, meant for a prescribed path to walk these fields of cotton,
my five to your six.
How did we become instead the proscribed outlaw couple?
These high cotton fibers make into such strong thread,
mercerized, woven into ties that bind.
In us, they came unwound.
Strong lye, watered down with lies, leaves me with no affinity for lovely dyes.
Pallid, ashen, you and I, and the cotton.

I hid in the cotton, high cotton, soft cotton,
alone with my cohort of mentors.
Six hundred cicadae droning in fatherly resonance
to the beat of my heart pumping your blood, our blood.
There is power in the blood, but not your blood, our blood.
Weak scarlet flow, that pulses to no fatherly cadence.
Instead I heed the call of the six hundred.
Their tattoo paces the syncope of my canticle for you.

Rest you, now, as they play antiphon Funeral Dirge for the Reprobate.
Fatherless, I will lie here with a drummer I cotton to.


Just for the record, I did not send the flowers.
So I did not need thanking,
not that I was thanked.

I was, instead, served
default judgment—
­in my judgment­—
I judge­—
I find him guilty—
his fault.

All his fault
from my crooked teeth with the gaping cavities that
caused such exquisite pain and kept me awake
to my crooked psyche with the yawning chasm
hungry for love.

All the unfilled spaces
found their fill in questionable places.

My friend Gordon says I am suspicious.
And true, that, because it was my inheritance.
I came for a hug and was lifted by my head,
feet dangling, ears burning.
I was taken for a ride and left in the car
to cower from the sight of the drunks that
cruised the parking lot.
Once, at a Sunday School swim party
(my only one, I never learned how as a child)
he came to get me early.
Still damp, shaking and chilled,
clutching a hastily-assembled hamburger taken too-soon from the grill,
he drove me drunk.
Bobby trying to reason—
stay for a while she just got here you've been drinking have a hamburger you don’t want to run off the road and hurt her.

Hurt her?
He killed her a thousand times, one insult hardly distinguishable from the rest.
A four-year-old made to sit on his lap on the return trip from the beer joint.
(I hear you gasp.)
And from my perch and the safety of Daddy's embrace he made me,
(Hold your breath.)
he made me, he made me
steer the car.
(Oh, you thought he did other things, those things.)
No, father didn't diddle the little girl who was me.
He never spent enough moments strung together caring
or noticing me one way or the other to think of me that way.
But his lack of care put me in that other house
where that other relative was happy to oblige.
So, in a way, he did fuck me, right good.

My friend, Gordon, says I am blunt.
You got that right!
Secrets have never been family friendly.
Half-truths are deadly.
I learned early to read a face or a gesture.
What was never uttered was always the loudest sound.
Miss a cue and find yourself banished by your grandmother,
and by extension, from the joy that is Granddaddy.
Ask the wrong question and find yourself sleeping in your own bed
right beside your sister, who is no help when you try to talk about
the screaming in the living room and the screaming in your head.

My friend, Gordon, says I am competitive.
I learned racing at an early age.
Run, girl­
bullets popping, lightning cracking.
rain-soaked, mud sucking at my feet.
Run, girl­
hide out in the church building.
climb high in the big oak tree.
crouch down between the cotton rows.
attic, crawl-space, gullies, any place.
Win the race to disappear.

My friend, Gordon, says I am rough around the edges.
Not so. Ragged more like it.
Run ragged,
hand-me down ragged,
food left over from another family's supper ragged,
tired, I just want a safe place to cry ragged.

Holes worn into my soul,
tears in fabric of my childhood.

This is my inheritance from Daddy.
Not sixteen thousand dollars and an old Ford truck that I didn't want
and didn't ask for
and was defaulted from me by
the woman who thought I sent the flowers
and used the excuse of a thank you to get my address
from my mother, (who did send the flowers and signed my name without my knowledge)
and had me served with papers.

Those things were never my inheritance.
I already have possession of all
he left me.

16-20 Sep 2003 Dedicated to those with unfilled spaces.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

It is time

For some time, you have heard some of the poetry I write that is flavored by the life I knew with my daddy. I have written poems you will never read, because I have burned them or torn them up or gotten past them. Frankly there are whole sections of my poetic life that I don't remember. I know I was writing. I remember doing it. I just don't know what. Then there were times when I couldn't write and I just jotted phrases. There were whole years that I journalled about recovery, because that was what I had to do to stay alive. I didn't write poems then. I just dreamed and wrote down the terrors I saw. There are worse things in my life than the things I lived through with my father, if you can believe that.

I have been writing poetry since I was eight. My sister, Julie, could draw very well and I wanted to draw some peace roses. I wasn't satisfied with the drawing and knew I liked words, so I wrote a poem. Here it is. It is my only poem I know by heart.

The Peace Rose
It's standing there like any other
so delicate and perfect yet the symbol of life.
The whole world should look upon it
see no hate, no sign of strife.

Ironically, I was standing in my grandparent's house when I wrote that. It was my house when I was a tiny girl, the first I remember, the one I ran from many times. Not such a peaceful place. I remember writing the poem as clearly as anything. I remember how I did it; quickly, without much ado. I remember how I felt when it was done. I said, "I am a poet." I was. I am.

Poetry has been cathartic and curative for me. It has become, of late, a joy to me. I love to write sassy, witty, sexy, funny stuff. I never did until recently and I am making up for lost time. But I can never turn my back on the recovery poetry. It is often dark and hateful and some of my friends don't like it much. Those poems are my babies. They were gestated from a dark conception and birthed with a lot of pain. They are mine and of me. I invite you to comment as you will.