Category Archives: Americana

bigger than a blog post, smaller than a breadbox

I haven’t been doing much creative writing lately,

because this:

Fox_sketch-1

 

is coming out in the fall and contrary to what I’d somehow fooled myself into thinking,

my work is only just begun.

More to come lovelies, I promise. all sorts of things are moving and shaking.. a website, a video, events, travel. opportunities for folks to support getting the stories in my book out into the world. For now… disjointed waitress poetry will make an attempt to return, because learning how to market a book gives me a headache, and I need to write creatively again.

 

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emptied

photo(7)
today a crew of three vietnamese men arrived
they backed their trucks up along either side
of the foreclosed house next door
and over a period of hours
systematically removed every artifact
of the family

at first I thought they some of the local laborers
who make their money hauling away scrap metal
but then I saw they had opened the doors to the house
and were taking absolutely everything
and then I knew they had been sent by the bank
to purge the ghosts
so prospective buyers could envision their own plans
upon the structure
without distraction

It took them less than 4 hours
At the end of our driveway I stopped the car
to walk to the mailbox
and crossing the street upon my return
I saw one of the men leaning in the front doorway
of the foreclosed house
eating noodles out of a bowl
with chopsticks
he looked at me from under his hat
just taking a break while doing his job
and I looked back at him and wanted to smile politely
but couldn’t
because I was distracted by a vision of Jesse’s aunt,
who stayed there sometimes, and always brought our dogs
surplus foodbank meats
sitting in that doorway
soaking in the summer sun

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foreclosed upon

photo(6)

The neighbors have been
foreclosed upon
which is to say their house was paid off years ago
and then Gloria took out a second mortgage to help a family member in trouble
and then she died of pneumonia
and her survivors fell behind
while the bank crept ahead
and there was drug addiction and fighting
and now they are throwing in the towel
and scattering
and so the possessions they will not take
are being dumped
daily
in piles around the run down
brown house
built a few decades after our Great Depression grey one.

This morning I sat on our bed
staring at the piles through the cedar boughs
people made trips from the house,
dragging items across the grass.

Each of these houses had a matriarch;
Gloria across the lot,
Annie in this house,
they raised their kids in these houses
sent them off to various wars,
some foreign,
others domestic.
and both women went about the business of dying
in these houses.
I know little about them otherwise,
except that Annie was white and Gloria was black,
and the names of some of their children.

I call up their thirty-two year old selves,
and make them sit beside me on the bed
in the dresses they would have worn in 1939, and 1969, respectively
and I sit here in my jeans and sip coffee in the middle,
and we stare out the window together
contemplating the mortality of
All Things

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Filed under Americana, basic goodness, Change, memory, Mothers, Ordinary, watching it all go by

Seance

I have lists of the dead in my file cabinet. Mothers, sisters, fathers, sons. Children and old women, veterans and sheep ranchers, baby boomers and gen-xers. Granddaughters and neighbors, teachers and tribal leaders.

Casualties of the Cold War, all of them. Radiological warfare is the gift that keeps on giving, implicating the rest of us in a conflict that ended before our children were born. We do not get a choice. We get rhetoric instead, about National Security. About terrorists, and staying vigilant. About the bombs that brought peace.

Its just been nonstop peace since 1945. Hasn’t it.

Nine years ago I went out hunting for these names, for people who remembered the dead, who had the energy left to tell these hard, ugly stories. Now they come to me unbidden, flowing into my inbox like disquieted ghosts.

Unbidden is the wrong word. I asked for their names, because I wanted to bear witness, because I’m not convinced that their stories ended with their deaths. Irma Thomas’s daughter believes her mother is still hanging around in the ether because she died with her work undone. She’s told me that I use phrases she only heard her mother use, like “damn it all to hell,”

I don’t know if I believe in ghosts,
but I do believe in Irma.

After the clouds passed over from the nuclear tests to the west she put on her husband’s coveralls and tied a dishcloth over her face and pulled her laundry off the line to rewash it. Her neighbors thought she was crazy. She asked them “do you want your kids sleeping on these sheets?” Despite her mother’s vigilance, her daughter lost the use of her legs as a teenager. She wanted to be a dancer. She’s survived cancer more times than I can count. She is the same age as my dad.

Sometimes I light candles on my writing desk, because we need ritual to face death. Sometimes I avoid working on my book and do laundry instead. How the hell could I possibly get it right?

I can get it right by letting them speak for themselves. From the grave, sometimes. I play back the tapes to myself when the house is quiet. I listen to the silences where they stopped to compose themselves when the tears came. I listen to the places we laughed together.

Whenever I visit a town to do an interview, I go to the cemetery. My mother taught me to go to the cemetery. Her dad died in a plane crash in 1962, and she spent my whole childhood looking for stories that would knit her past together. So in Hurricane, Utah, and Emmett, Idaho, and Mesquite, Nevada, I have gone to the cemetery. In Logan, in Cedar City, in St. George. In Red Valley, in Orem. In Salt Lake. I wander the headstones and I look at the dates.

There is no monument for the casualties of the uranium industry. Most local museums in the region do not mention the downwinders. The atomic museum in Vegas pretends they do not exist. We have been led to believe that American “supremacy” in the Cold War (and on the globe, by extension) was purchased without civilian casualties. Its a big, ugly lie. But while there are no placards about the uranium widows in the museums at Los Alamos and Las Vegas, there are cemeteries. And I stand alone in those cemeteries, the air thick with stories I cannot read, and I listen to the quiet. I visit the graves of the activists who fought until they could no longer draw breath and I let them remind me I do not have the privilege of growing weary of all this.

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IMG_5810

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Filed under Americana, As it Turns Out There Were People In All Those Little Communities, Atomic Bomb, death, Desert, Family, History, Homeland, Mothers, Nevada Test Site, Nuclear weapons, stories

ask questions. people will tell you their stories if you promise
to listen
roll “history” around in your mouth
and see how it sounds when you say it out loud

test it out for righteousness
and the metallic taste of propaganda
coated in sugar

understand that the difference between those hours and these is not a flat timeline

the past inhabits the present
and the present inhabits the future

and you feel your familiar ghosts crowding in;
unknown ancestors
dreams of your former self
storied poets
anonymous nannies
and private photographers
college dreams
and immigrant fantasies,

Americana writ thickly across the land

and you in the midst of it
becoming a part of the past

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Filed under Americana, art, basic goodness, Change, fathoming, History, howard zinn, meditation, memory, photographers, stories, waitressing, watching it all go by

newyorkminute

photo 4

It wasn’t until the last day that I sat on a corner bench and raised my collar against the cold and cracked my journal: for four days I followed his tall and purposeful stride through the subways and the sidewalks and the elegant lobbies, beneath the sky-filling spans of bridges and down the hallowed and corrupted aisles of urban cathedrals, through the temporary winter foyers of artful restaurants and past the legions of doormen, (some of whom i am convinced we have interrupted in the midst of composing poems), along the curving sidewalks of frozen Central Park and over the very ground where John Lennon breathed his last on the day my mother heard my heartbeat for the first time, in and out of taxi cabs and up the stairs of the Jane hotel for a cocktail but not a 99$ room, into the darkened bustle of gay bars without women’s restrooms which makes me laugh, buzzed on gin and freedom while musicals are projected onto the walls and the scarcely clad bartenders ply their trade, past graves marked and over graves unseen and through gusts of paper confetti drifting onto sidestreets after a Lunar New Year parade, taking refuge from the biting wind over yet another cocktail and elegant scallion pancakes, seitan marsala with figs unrolling on my tongue and fennel soup eddying across my notion of what is possible, exorbitant shop windows and resilient beggars, and meanwhile there are ghosts, millions of them, Ginsberg ogling muscled Puerto Rican delivery boys in the East Village and Dorothy Parker tapping her pen on the tabletop next to her drink at the Algonquin, the woman who shares my name who was murdered in Central Park a few years back and whose face I know from the pictures, precious babies who died from adulterated milk in the tenements by the thousands because their malnourished immigrant mothers couldn’t produce breastmilk what with all the stress and work outside the home, each of us here chasing our own particular version of the American dream in this island city built on ancient bedrock and washed over by the storms of the Atlantic and I’ll just stop there for now because the laundry won’t do itself.

KP and RR… crazylove and wildgratitude.

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Everyone is Careening, she pointed out

careen: [From French (en) carène, (on) the keel,  see kar- in Indo-European roots.] 

 To lean to one side, as a ship sailing in the wind.

—–

Everyone is Careening,

she pointed out

and it was precisely the right word.

overworked and underslept and sorting through a whole slough of

philosophies

on child rearing and relationships and gender and equality and economies

Saturn is looping back around

to the place in the Milky Way it occupied

when we were all ushered into these lives,

we dialed rotary phones as children

encountered sex in the teenage years of HIV

and attained legal drinking age as the ashes of September 11 settled

now we are making our way into our Thirties

with our smartphones and our student loans

and our conviction that Capitalism is pretty violent

and we are in Bed

with it

whether we like it or not

our friends are going ex-pat in droves

and the planets are doing that thing they do

and we are getting married

and attaining graduate degrees

and divorcing

and bringing up kids

and making art

and thinking about where our food comes from

and walking away from mortgages

and kicking habits

and lobbying senators

and angling for book contracts

and still slinging food,

and trying to cobble together an updated version

of the Beatnik Dream

We are trying to meditate more

We would like to see some changes

we eschew “establishment”  morals

but we are becoming our own establishment

even as we seek to change the one we have been given

we are looking for bliss and also sustainability

we understand it could all end tomorrow

but if it don’t, there’s going to be a real shortage of

clean water

and so we polish our post-apocalpytic skillsets

and make it up as we go.

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Filed under 11 September 2001, Americana, aprons, art, basic goodness, Change