Kate and I walked along the path toward the Wailua Falls overlook. Two women had set up a camera on a tripod and were preparing to shoot video of the falls across the gorge. They seemed comfortable directing the other tourists through their “set.”
We passed by and crossed the highway to look into the river valley beyond. I overheard them talking as we walked past, and the words and their implication started to become clear.
The younger woman, in her late forties, was operating the video and describing for the older woman what to do and say. The older woman was her mother; they looked alike and had the familiar way that a mother and daughter work together when they are close.
“That’s over 400 inches of rain a year,” the younger said to her mother, who then carefully repeated the words.
The mother moved to the railing, looked into the camera, and said them again while the daughter taped. The older woman was attractive, but in my brief glance when we passed, I had noticed something that at first I could not identify.
We returned from the lookout across the road and again passed through their camera angle. The daughter was giving her mother more lines, checking that she had them correctly and then focusing the video camera on her and directing her to recite what she had been told. This might have been abrupt or controlling, but it wasn’t. The daughter was at all times, in both her manner and her touch, caring and gentle and clearly loving towards her mother. There was a patience and a courtesy that encircled each move she made, every tone in her voice—there could be no doubt about the relationship between the two women. The process was slow and had to be repeated often, but there was no shortness of temper, no expression of exasperation. The daughter was accepting, nurturing and loving in everything that she did and said.
The mother had the look of someone slightly dazed, a little bemuse or befuddled by the things that were happening, but she wore a slight smile.
We walked to our car and drove away. As we looked back, the daughter was still working gently with her mother. She was taking as much care as a professional photographer and director would. It was as if the video was incredibly important, that it might well be one of the last.
At dinner, in our hotel restaurant, we saw them again. The mother carried a bag filled with gifts, and the daughter led her toward the exit, hurrying her along.
I wanted to run after them, to tell the daughter what a wonderful person she was, the importance of what she was doing to her mother and to her—to all the people who saw them caring for each other. But before I could move, they disappeared from view.
About Ron Pickett
Ron Pickett had a long career in the U.S. Navy, including serving in command positions in the United Kingdom. He received a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Science and master’s degrees in Counseling and Leadership and Human Resource Development.
More than 90 of Ron’s articles have been published in more than 18 periodicals. He has written three books, I Got Away With It – Perfect Crimes, Discovering Roots, and Getting Published in Journals, Magazines and Other Periodicals: A How to Book. He is the editor of Soul Balm, by Paul Pickett, all of which are available on Amazon.com.
Check back Sunday for our final Women’s History Month offering or subscribe (upper right corner) to receive email updates.
Photo credit: Joel via a Creative Commons license.
The folly of California’s ballot initiative law—and attorney Matt McLaughlin
Huntington Beach attorney Matthew Gregory McLaughlin finds homosexual sodomy such an “abominable crime” that he is using California’s ballot initiative process to propose a law calling for the guilty to “be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.” Apparently, the rest of us are free to continue buggering one another with impunity.
So far, McLaughlin’s effort has qualified for signature gathering, so you all can look forward to Sodomite Suppression Act petitions at your local grocery store (if McLaughlin actually has the resources to circulate petitions).
No, I don’t mean the restaurant
that serves beer and buckets of wings
delivered by busty babes
to bleary-eyed men
who secretly want to wear lace panties.
I mean boobs
mine to be exact
and mine to extract
as in rip them out of my chest.
If I sliced the skin
and what it protects
with an x-acto knife
I could pull out the plastic fun bags
implanted in this human sculpture
when I confused love with lust
when I convinced myself
I would like me more
and have more fun.
After augmentation surgery
what a response.
women were pissed.
I noted it all
bought sexy underwear
and revealing tops
that now seem obscene.
Me, the girl who was first kissed
by a boy who didn’t seem to care
that I was tall and skinny
a carpenter’s dream boys then called girls
who were flat chested.
In the nineties
I was an expert witness
in a suit brought by a woman
whose confidentiality was breached by a medical group.
I sat across the desk from her attorney
proud that I was considered
an expert in human behavior.
He told me his wife
who had been his secretary
had breast cancer
that she threw up all night
her hair was falling out.
“She was so beautiful,”
“Now, the two best things about her are gone,”
“Her boobs and her hair,”
She was at home
puking in the toilet
trying not to be dead.
I listened with interest
and thought at the time
my decision to buy big breasts
and douse my head with poison
to make my straight blonde hair
more wavy, streaky and bouncy
so smart guys like this lawyer would love me
was a good one
to insure my survival
in this man’s world.
About Marit Anderson
Marit Anderson grew up and down the coast of California. After earning degrees in Food, Nutrition and Dietetics from Loma Linda University and UC Berkeley, a Masters degree from National University in Counseling Psychology, a Masters in Clinical Psychology from United States International University, and a doctorate in Psychology from USIU, she had a 20-year psychology practice in San Diego. She also presented workshops and consulted to businesses, including several animal welfare agencies. Her career was halted in the early 21st century by an automobile accident. After several years of recovery, she is now enjoying life in a slower lane and new possibilities.
Check back Friday for the next Women’s History Month offering or subscribe (upper right corner) to receive email updates.
Stay Real photo credit: A Olin via a Creative Commons license.
Juanita insisted that Clete get a colonoscopy. He was sixty years old and had never had one, for God’s sake, and no telling what sort of malignant mischief was brewing in the depths of his bowels. His former excuse, that they couldn’t afford it, no longer applied. He’d picked up a federal job, hired on thanks to a boyhood friend, Danny Lopez, the supervisor at the mess hall at the Naval Hospital on the Marine Corps Base just north of town. Now Clete, a proud dishwasher, had honest-to-God medical coverage, and the next thing he knew he was fasting for forty hours, then drinking a gallon of a vile and sulfurous concoction so noxious that, after the second glass he, dubbed it “The Devil’s Piss,” a beverage that caused him, over a very nasty four hour period, to shit out everything in his torso, including, it seemed, his liver and his lungs.
That done, Juanita drove him to the clinic, his innards grumbling from the necessary starvation that preceded the chemical assault on his digestive system. “Hungry like a bastard,” he moaned to his wife, and when they passed an In-N-Out Burger featuring a man walking out the front door to his car with a white paper bag, laden, from the looks of it, with a Double-Double and an order of fries, Clete took a long look at the man and his food and broke down and cried the rest of the ride to the hospital.
He checked in at the clinic, and they gave him the dreaded tie-in-the back gown, set him up on a hospital bed, and rolled him onto his side. He noticed that the person behind him was a man, and he pondered that—even given the embarrassment factor—he’d have preferred a woman doing this job. He couldn’t imagine a man having the suppleness of touch, the empathy, the nuanced dexterity to make this thing as easy and as comfortable as possible. And the dude was as big as a professional wrestler, fingers the size off knockwursts, Clete noticed, as that scope in those giant hands left Clete’s peripheral vision and poked deeply, smoothy into his ass.
The sedation they’d given him—considering Clete’s anxiety level—proved inadequate. He lurched up and jumped off that hospital bed, yowling like a spanked Chihuahua. He hit the ground at a full run, a panicked sprint that stayed in place for three seconds until his stocking-ed feet caught traction on the linoleum floor. And then he was gone. …
Juanita was reading a Stephen King book in the waiting room when Clete burst through the door, knees pumping high, gown riding up his skinny thighs, three feet of the embedded scope’s tube whipping out behind him as he dashed bug-eyed by her and out the clinic’s door.
And perhaps it was a good thing it had been a man with that scope, because—at the risk of rolling into sexist territory—a woman might not have been able to chase the escapee down and tackle him in the parking lot, and carry him—arms and legs thrashing, tail lashing—back though the waiting room to the hospital bed, to administer a more robust level of sedation and complete the procedure that Juanita had insisted he get.
……………………… About Dan McClenaghan
I write stuff.
I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.
I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.
Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!
Check back Tuesday for the next Women’s History Month offering or subscribe (upper right corner) to receive email updates.
You created me, brother, you got people right, not the twin who made them face-backwards, or into ludicrous stone-hens, you made me Moon,
delight of the people, beautiful sister smiling in her
room, a perfect, orbed syllable. And then, you
violated me, in ways unspeakable, you knew your
heart belonged to Coyote, and he roasted your
skin, the people gathered acorns in the long rows
of oak trees at the base of Tahquitz Peak, silent
in their respect for the thunder, and visioned past
Pedro Chino, great shaman on the deer hunt who
transformed himself into a mountain lion so he
could reach the highest peaks more quickly from
the desert floor, the women sang songs at the oasis,
and they planted trees from the canyon. I know,
I felt the mountain lion stalking me, that late day
I’d climbed San Jacinto Peak, and no one, even you
could see me there, dusk whispering to me, and I
was scared, three miles to go and the trail waning
dark. And so I went away, sad, at your command,
for you knew you could not keep me there. The
lions left prints in the snow as they tracked their
kill, just the way you bruised my skin and broke
my cheeks, and the people can only say that you
were not very nice to me, and so I went away. And
lucky for you, they remembered to pull your black
heart from the fire just before Coyote finished his
rabid feast, and you returned to them, you look
to the sky and see my wan smile, a waxing candle
light, and now my name is Eve, I’ve developed a
roundabout way of coming and going, filling the
orbit of your mind in slices and full pies, sister
you created and violated and sent away, I slant
through your opaque window, where you lie alone
at night, wanting me to fill in your hollow side,
your absent twin, I study you, I am shadow-fill.
About Ruth Nolan
Former BLM and USFS wildland firefighter Ruth Nolan is Professor of English and Creative Writing at College of the Desert, and a poet/writer whose work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in The Rattling Wall; Short Fiction Los Angeles(Red Hen Press, 2016)KCET Artbound, Los Angeles;New California Writing (Heyday Books 2011);the Sierra Club Desert Report; Riverside Press Enterprise-Inlandia Literary Journeys; the Pacific Review; Women’s Studies Quarterly; American Indian Review; Rhino Baby Press Lit Mag; Tin Cannon; Orangelandia: the Literature of Inland Citrus(Inlandia Institute 2014);Pacific Review; Tin Cannon; Poemeleon and San Diego Poetry Annual.
Ruth is winner of the Mojave River Review Magazine nonfiction chapbook contest for California Drive, forthcoming from Mojave River Press in 2015. Ruth earned her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts in the UCR Low Residency Program in 2014, and her M.A. in English/Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University in 1995. She is at work on a memoir based on her firefighting experiences. More of her writing can be seen at RuthNolanBlogspot.com.
“I can’t die before July 28th,” my mother said as soon as her doctor strolled into her room at Long Island Jewish Hospital. “I have theatre tickets.” Then, exhausted from the effort of uttering those two short sentences, she lay back on the pillow and shut her eyes.
Dr. Nadroo put a calming hand on my mother’s arm and looked at me, her large, liquidy eyes filled with concern. Had the cancer that began in my mother’s bladder and migrated to her liver and kidneys finally reached the outpost of her brain?
“It’s true.” I hastened to reassure the good doctor that my mother still had all her marbles. “It’s not just any play. It’s my play.”
“Oh, are you an actor?” Dr. Nadroo asked in the soft melodious voice my mother found so soothing.
“No, I’m a writer.”
“How wonderful.” Dr. Nadroo smiled, as a beam of pride flashed across my mother’s ashen face. Then the doctor got down to business.
After she listened to my mother’s heart and checked her vitals, she told her to rest and left the room. I trailed her into the hallway.
“Will she make it?” I asked.
The doctor busied herself with my mother’s chart, then kindly offered me three words: “It’s not impossible.”
I tucked Dr. Nadroo’s sentence away like a gift as I returned to my mother’s bedside. Though even if she’d told me my mother couldn’t possibly live another three weeks, I would not have believed her. The play, based on my short story, “A Letter to Harvey Milk,” had been in the works for seven years and my mother had assured me many times she would attend opening night even if she had to crawl. “What’s taking so long?” she asked periodically as the years dragged on. “Tell them you have a sick mother,” she joked. But now it wasn’t a joke. I had a sick mother. A very sick mother. And time was running out.
My mother—my smart, funny, generous, kind, beautiful mother—was battling not one, but two fatal diseases. In addition to the cancer that was eating her alive, she also suffered from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. In the beginning, the COPD didn’t faze her. She simply threw a portable oxygen tank into a pouch, slung it over her shoulder, and trotted off to play bridge or mah jongg or have a little nosh at the diner. But ten years out, my mother could not cross a room without gasping for breath, even with the extra oxygen. She took frequent naps. And the cancer, not to be outdone, had progressed, too. My mother’s tumors were devouring her. She lost forty pounds. Though she was in constant pain, she refused to take painkillers, preferring to tough it out, and no one was tougher than my mother. When the pain got too great, which was often, her face clenched like a fist and she let out a moan that wrenched my heart (though time and again my mother assured me she wasn’t moaning, she was “kvetching”). I couldn’t imagine her ever leaving the hospital, let alone getting her hair and nails done, dressing up, and attending the theatre. But I couldn’t imagine seeing the play without her, either.
I hadn’t always felt this way.
From day one, my mother and I were polar opposites. The very first word I ever said to her was “No.” From an early age, I knew I wanted a life that looked very different from the life my mother led. She was a “housewife,” as we called stay-at-home moms back then. To my scornful teenage eyes, that meant she cleaned up after my father, two brothers, and me. Who would want a life like that? It was the early seventies and I was a hippie, dressing in green khaki pants and embroidered peasant blouses. When my mother pointed out that wearing army pants was no way for a “peacenik” to dress, I stormed up to my room and slammed the door. I became a vegetarian, which my mother took as a personal rejection of the pot roasts and beef stews she cooked and served. My mother disapproved of everything: my hair, my clothes, the African-American track star I snuck out to meet (and whose love letters she discovered). During one particularly heated argument, my mother yelled, “I hope someday you have a daughter just like you.” I screamed back, “I’m never going to be a mother,” spitting out the word like a piece of maggot-infested meat. The day I was to depart for college couldn’t come soon enough for either of us.
When I was twenty-seven, I came out as a lesbian. This did not improve my relationship with my mother. To avoid a scene, I wrote her a letter. She sent one back, saying she was sure I was under somebody’s influence. “You’ve always been a follower,” she wrote. “If they were marching up Fifth Avenue stark naked with frying pans on their heads, you’d be the first in line.”
After that, communication between my mother and me dwindled down to a once-a-month icy phone call. Though I was in my late twenties, I sounded like a surly adolescent as I barked out one-word answers to her questions: “How are you?” “Fine.” “What’s new?” “Nothing.” The only topic we could discuss in a civilized manner was the weather.
And then my mother got sick. Very sick. She collapsed on a cruise ship in Mexico and was taken to a hospital in California. I flew across the country not knowing what to expect. When I tiptoed into her ICU cubicle, my mother, who had a breathing tube jammed down her throat, a feeding tube stuck up her nose, and an IV jabbed into her arm, lifted her weary head and blinked at me as though she couldn’t believe her eyes. My own eyes filled with tears and my mother raised her right index finger, pointed a red polished nail at me and shook her head. I knew what that meant: No Crying Allowed.
One morning a few days later, a nurse stopped me en route to my mother’s cubicle. “Your mother had a bad night,” she said. “We gave her extra morphine. She won’t wake up for at least six hours.”
As soon as I crept to her bedside, my mother opened her eyes.
I sat down and studied her. My mother appeared so weak, so exhausted, so depleted. Clearly this could be the last time I ever spoke to her. What parting gift could I give her so she could die in peace?
“Mom, I love you and I couldn’t have asked for a better mother. I know I haven’t been the easiest daughter. I’m sorry.”
My mother slept for the rest of the day, and that evening I returned to my hotel with a heavy heart. The next morning I arrived at the hospital fearing the worst. But to my surprise, my mother was sitting up, more alert than she’d been in days. “She took a turn yesterday,” the nurse told me. “We’re about to remove her breathing tube.”
For the next seven years, my mother told anybody who asked her, and many people who didn’t, that I had saved her life. We became the dynamic mother-daughter duo I’d always wanted us to be. We spoke on the phone daily about all sorts of things: what was happening in my life, what was happening in her life, current events, fashion, and yes, even the weather. Every evening she supplied me with answers to the New York Times crossword puzzle (my mother never met a puzzle she couldn’t finish). I visited her whenever possible. I could barely remember what we had ever argued about.
And then her diseases kicked in big time. My mother became unable to clean the house, cook for my father, or manage their home. An aide was hired. There were many trips to the hospital. And then came the news that “A Letter to Harvey Milk” was at long last going to enjoy a one-week run in Manhattan, as part of the New York Musical Festival.
My mother rose to the occasion. Fortified with a blood transfusion, she left the hospital. She did indeed get her hair and nails done. The theatre had a large café, and my mother held court from her wheelchair. Though it was my day, my mother was the center of attention, and I didn’t mind one bit. Many of my friends had never met her. When one of them told her, “I’ve heard so much about you,” my mother shot me a look, and then asked, “Anything good?” My friend replied, “Everything good!” And all of us laughed.
Soon it was time to take our seats. The play, based on a short story I had written twenty-five years earlier, focused on a fictitious seventy-seven-year-old widower named Harry Weinberg and his friendship with Harvey Milk, the nation’s first openly gay elected politician. But somehow, I’d forgotten the other storyline, which centered on Harry’s creative writing teacher, a young Jewish lesbian who was estranged from her parents. Talk about a thinly disguised piece of autobiographical fiction! I wondered what my mother was thinking as the character based on me told Harry about her deep loneliness and how she longed for family connection.
The play ended, the audience applauded, the cast took their bows. And when the lights came up, I looked at my mother, she looked at me, and we fell weeping into each other’s arms.
Every time I spoke with my mother after that, she told me the day we saw the play was the best day of her life. She never mentioned what it cost her. Attending the theatre was her parting gift to me. Three weeks later, she was back in the hospital. One week later, she entered hospice. Five days later, she died.
One of the first people I called was Dr. Nadroo. Upon hearing the news, she paused, then said in a solemn voice that washed over me like water, “It was an honor to be your mother’s doctor.”
“It was an honor to be my mother’s daughter,” I responded. And it was.
About Lesléa Newman
Lesléa Newman is the author of sixty-five books for readers of all ages. I Carry My Motheris a book-length series of formal poems that explores a Jewish daughter’s journey through her mother’s illness and death and her own healing.
Preceded by open mic for original poetry and prose
Date: Tuesday, April 14, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650
Bring your favorite poem or flash prose to share during open mic, and then be wowed by our featured poets—each with a wonderful and distinct way with words.
Shy But Flyyis a Texas born, and now Long Beach-based, singer-poet. She is best known for her performances with strictly percussion and vocals. Shy collaborates with many bands including LBPOD, which consists of percussion, spoken-word and song.
Along with her singing, Shy hosts many open mics in Long Beach, including Griot Café, at Shades of Afrika, and Xpressions, and she co-hosts Flight School Open Mic, in Culver City. Shy is currently working on a CD. The single “Up And Down,” produced by Dae One, is available on iTunes. Her poetry collection, The Meaning of the Blues, is available on Amazon.
Kari Hawkey is a multifaceted writer. She grew up in Southern California, but has wanderlust and enjoys traveling the world. Kari instructs middle school students in English Language Arts, and Research Methods to Masters of Education students. She was former Poetry Editor at The Coachella Review, and is currently an Intern Editor for Smartish Pace: A Poetry Review. Her work has appeared in Burningword and Straightforward, and she was finalist for the 2013 Pocataligo Poetry Prize. She was recently the recipient of the 2014 Lucille Clifton Scholarship for The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley (thanks to former Poet Laureate Robert Hass). Kari holds a Masters degree in Educational Administration, an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts with an emphasis in poetry and screenwriting, and is currently enrolled in a doctoral program. Kari is also an interior designer focusing upon eco-friendly design. You will often find her at a local theatre, art exhibit, Nordstrom’s sale, or just reading a book at the pub down the street.
Conney D. Williams is a Los Angeles based poet, actor and performance artist, originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, where he worked as a radio personality. Conney’s first collection of poetry, Leaves of Spilled Spirit from an Untamed Poet, was published in 2002. His poetry has also been published in various journals and anthologies including Voices from Leimert Park; America: At the End of the Day; and The Drumming Between Us. His newest collection, Blues Red Soul Falsetto, was published in December 2012.
Conney has performed his poetry on television, radio, galleries, universities, grade schools, coffeehouses, and stages around Southern California and across the country, including the Black Arts Festival. He is a talented public speaker with more than thirty years of experience.
Poets’ collections will be available for sale and signing.
For more information about Writers Read, contact K-B Gressitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-522-1064.
He stood on the sidewalk nodding and gesturing while he shook his tambourine. It didn’t look like a very good one. It was all dirty, and I couldn’t tell for sure, but I think a couple of cymbals were stuck together or maybe they were missing, like some of his teeth, brown and sticky. His hair and face had that same look, weathered, brown, matted.
He played that tambourine anyway, with all of his heart, smiling and gesturing, and holding out a Styrofoam cup. He put the tambourine by his ear like he heard something. Then he nodded and bent over at the waist to do a little dance. Smiling and nodding, two steps forward and one step back, sure he was making beautiful music. Sure he was beautiful. When he caught a glimpse of himself in the big glass window behind, he grinned extra wide and waved.
I didn’t want him to see me watching so I pretended to look past him, at the big wall behind, the one that said The Lucky Greek, hamburger specials $3.95. If he caught my eye, he’d walk toward my bus stop bench, holding out his cup trying to make me hear his music, and smell his smell, that smell my brother had, that smell I hated.
I couldn’t stop watching, though. He wasn’t even playing it right, not like the ladies in church, not like my Tia Maria. She had a big beautiful tambourine with white, stretched skin, and the cymbals were shiny, like her teeth. The ladies in church, and especially my Tia Maria, were spic and span clean, playing their tambourines to a certain beat, that special rhythm for worshipping God while they all sang in a language I didn’t know.
The preacher yelled at us a lot, always in Spanish, and almost always I could count on hearing about burning in some fiery lake of Hell. It didn’t bother me much, though. I used the time to get closer to one of the tambourines, fingering the bright little cymbals and imagining myself playing. The music in my mind was so lovely. If I just had a chance, I knew I could play it. Then a couple of times one of my aunties or a nice church lady let me try. They watched and smiled in that knowing way: I sounded terrible. It was almost like the music died right there in my hands, flattened and scattered. I probably looked like the Tambourine Man. I didn’t have a clue how to play in their rhythm, that rhythm that gives blessings. After that, I quit trying.
The Tambourine Man was doing a half dance on the sidewalk in front of The Lucky Greek, two steps forward and one step back, bent at the waist and listening to his tambourine. I watched him a while. No, actually, I didn’t look much like him when I played at church. But my tias did and some other ladies, too—when they worshipped and spoke in tongues, bending at the waist, and doing that dance, falling to the floor.
It always scared me when they did that—men and women, but it seemed to be mostly women. I didn’t know if I should look away or watch. It usually happened at the altar call, when we were supposed to go to the front of the church to pray, and some of the elders and church members would lay hands on our heads. I guess God heard better and sometimes His Spirit came through their hands and zap! Someone would start speaking in tongues.
How did they know how to do that? I sat at my place on the wooden pew and let my tongue practice in my mouth just in case, but I hoped it wouldn’t happen to me. It looked embarrassing, even though afterward everybody just got up like nothing unusual had happened. They called it a blessing. After church, we went to Denny’s Restaurant, and I ate my pancakes, waiting for someone to break out speaking in tongues again. But it never happened that way. I never got the blessing. I never spoke in tongues.
But I always tried hard. I prayed that God would forgive me because I knew I didn’t help my mother enough or keep my room clean. I prayed that my parents wouldn’t fight anymore, and then I prayed the longest and hardest that Bobby, my brother, would be okay and to please take his demons away. The people at church said if you really believe, I mean really, really believe, with all of your heart, then your prayers would be answered. I saw my mother at the altar and all the hands on her and I knew she was praying for my brother in Spanish. I knew she believed.
I had to help her, so I prayed, too. I stopped watching people falling to the ground, speaking in tongues, arms and legs twitching, receiving the spirit. I stopped admiring the tambourines, and I prayed. I got down on my hands and knees and turned around to face the wooden bench, praying and crying a solid stream of tears. I prayed for Bobby, that he would be made well, that he not hear any more voices, that he would behave like he was supposed to, and most of all, I willed myself to believe it. I believed a miracle would happen in my brother that night.
But God works in mysterious ways, they said, so the prayers wouldn’t take that same night, and we had to do it again and again, always believing. They didn’t ever tell me that sometimes those prayers won’t take at all, no matter how hard you prayed or wanted it.
My brother didn’t look exactly like Tambourine Man. He didn’t have a tambourine, but they must have heard the same music, because Bobby skipped and danced, bending at the waist with his hand by his ear, shaking it, grinning stupidly and listening to something I would never hear.
There were so many cars that day I watched Tambourine Man, everyone pretending not to see him, but I know they were watching as they drove by, watching and even laughing when he walked into the stalled traffic with his Styrofoam cup, for a dime.
“Get out of the street! Get out of the street!” I jumped at the tinny voice coming from a loudspeaker. A police car was stuck in traffic, too, and the policeman scolded into a megaphone, his red lights flashing. “Get out of the street!”
Tambourine Man’s face fell apart, frightened and confused. He stepped forward and one step back, then a jump and tripped into the gutter with his tambourine and cup. I couldn’t help it. I stood to see if he was going to get up. The light turned green, and Tambourine Man staggered back to his place in front of The Lucky Greek.
I wanted to tell him, don’t you know, Tambourine Man? You can’t step off the sidewalk. No matter how you smile and play. Someone will run you over. God doesn’t see us, Tambourine Man.
He leaned against the newspaper racks for a second and fixed his cup, taking some dents out, still looking lost—until he caught his reflection in the window. I couldn’t help smiling as he gave himself a nod and a shy kind of shrug like, “Hey, where’ve you been?” Then Tambourine Man was back. He smiled and waved and danced and shook that dirty, broken tambourine. And I’m sure he heard something beautiful, something I wished someday to understand.
About Natalie Hirt
Natalie Hirt received an MFA in Fiction from University of California Riverside. “Tambourine Man” is an excerpt from her novel in progress, Goodbye Kansas. She was a best short story prizewinner for another excerpt from Goodbye Kansas in the now defunct Kalliope A Journal of Women’s Literature and Art. Natalie lives in Southern California with her husband, a couple of boomerang college kids, and one unruly dog, Rex.
Check back Sunday for the next Women In Words offering or subscribe (upper right corner) to receive email updates.
The gravel underfoot crackles
like rock candy between my teeth—
granite path across the cemetery.
What I’d give for a piece
to suck like a thumb
without the nipple I drank from.
I take off my shoes
so the stones can puncture,
scar something into submission.
I don’t mean to dissect the worm,
but I’m glad to, first-born of eight—
we craved the same nourishment.
I scrape fingernails along tree bark,
and its dust stains my skin.
She is Here, reclaiming my body.
I kneel and cling to exposed roots,
can’t think which one to follow.
They reach where I can’t so I pull,
but they break into little carcasses.
My stomach growls. I am ravenous.
About Kathy O’Fallon
Dr. Kathy O’Fallon is a write and psychologist, based in Fallbrook, California. The oldest of five girls and three boys, and grandmother of three girls, she has seen the feminine acted out in all of its fascinating forms. Her poetry and fiction reflect themes of love, loss and redemption, appearing in more than two dozen literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. She has three published poetry collections, When the Moon Spills Her Milk (The Inevitable Press), Underbelly (FarStarFire Press), and her latest, At Higher Elevations (Finishing Line Press), which can be purchased on Amazon.com.
The Woman with the perfect body
one day peels the skin off her body.
Her breasts fall to the ground,
evaporate into the sun’s hungry body.
She throws her hair, staples each eyelash
to the wall, feels the woman-pieces left on her body.
Now a monument of bones braided
in vein ribbons and pink muscle expose her body.
The Woman pulls out her porcelain teeth,
pickles them in lavender oil for her daughter’s body.
Businessmen stare. Wives vomit
caviar lunches at the sight of an unfamiliar body.
The Woman declares, Whoever chooses to love Me, chooses to love a woman’s broken body.
A florist takes her hand
drapes marigolds around her body.
Varnishes her flesh in moss and fern.
He, the only man, who knows how to kiss
bouquet made from a true woman’s body.
About Karla Cordero
Born in the border town of Calexico, California, I started my new life in San Diego, where the weather spoils the living. I’m currently an MFA candidate at San Diego State University and the 2015 recipient of the Loft Literary Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship. I’m the editor of Spit Journal, a review dedicated to poetry and social justice.
My poetry is published or forthcoming in Word Riot, Words Dance Publishing, The Acentos Review, Gutters and Alleyways Anthology and elsewhere. My first chapbook, Grasshoppers Before Gods, will be published in 2015 by Dancing Girl Press. You can follow my passion for performance poetry at Spit Journal.
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Marigold photo credit: Anne GBT via a Creative Commons license.