Link to a good article about the evolution of tip culture and living wages in Seattle. In which Overeducated Waitress gets a lil mention. 😉 More to come on this subject from me soon.
the branches are thrashing and swooping
on the trees
like tango dancers
battered by the same notes
the boys took the bus downtown in the storm
because they wanted to
and I spend the first 45 minutes of my precious
fixing the vacuum.
so as to avoid
dragging it out into the rain and wind
to go to the friendly neighborhood vacuum and sewing shop
where a nice old grey haired nice lady will push her glasses
up on her head and narrow her eyes and tell me
there are 3 pens, a thomas the tank engine
and 2 cubic feet of dog hair
jammed in there and am
I really surprised it has stopped working
Finish a brilliant Woody Guthrie autobiography
and start a mix of train songs
for my son
Lefty Frizzelle and Leadbelly,
Arlo Guthrie and Karen Dalton,
Gladys Knight and Elliott Smith
Hank Williams and the Stanley Brothers
Hem and Bob Marley
so we can indulge our mutual interests.
pick him up from school
he reports that he was a bird with Sadie and Gabriel
at the grocery store he picks out apples, cereal, and coconut milk for himself,
and politely buys the Real Change paper
from the woman in red
who always sells it out front.
At home he does art
and I do dishes
and soon it is time for another pubshift
and another night away from my boys.
Feel weary of it,
but proud of what we are accomplishing
buoyed up by our long day trip to the Coast and the rainforest on MLK day
another cup of coffee
and back into the car.
in the middle of the night he wakes up
I not want to go to bed
and I bring him out to the couch
and hold him till he settles
never really waking up
muscles in his face going sleep slack again
small mouth pursed
and I cannot remember the last time he fell to sleep in my arms
and I smile here like a fool
watching him breathe
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
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
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
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
The neighbors have been
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 so the possessions they will not take
are being dumped
in piles around the run down
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,
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
We have so many things to tell you,
about how we are literally inhabiting different bodies,
in which entire hormonal plotlines have been cut up
about how our understanding of the Feminine Mystique has evolved
and how quaint we now find the memories of our former selves,
about our newfound empathy for mothers in ratty yoga pants everywhere,
battered by sleeplessness and worry and exquisite joy,
and for people everywhere who are doing all they can
how brutal, capitalism,
on the caregivers, the aging, the children, the laboring, the exhausted, the sick….
how unromantic, the trips to home depot for paint and nails and replacement toilet parts
how heartbreakingly beautiful small conversations can be,
how vast and bottomless your love
and how nothing we anticipated intellectually could begin to come close
but when someone wakes up from their nap 15 minutes early,
or wants to be picked up
or fed toast
or directed to the nearest bulldozer dumptruck airplane
or they refuse to wear pants,
or come out from under the train table
or they bust out a pretty loud and articulate argument
for why you need to watch them throw a ball
and then someone spikes a fever out of nowhere,
and the the diapers have to get moved
to the next wash cycle
or you won’t have time to dry them before your shift tonight,
and sorry, i hear silence, something must be wrong
and hold that thought, i hear crying, someone’s hurt
no, that’s a play cry,
continue with what you were saying
oh, i was talking
i can’t remember what about
yeah, sometime we’ll save enough for the new furnace,
in the meantime why don’t you shoo the dog off the couch and
take the seat by the space heater
and we might earnestly try to work out which wave of feminism
for a moment
but someone has to run to pick up the kid from preschool,
and the kettle is boiling
when this is your life,
it is hard to form coherent sentences,
let alone finish the thought in your mind
that bore them.
word to the mama.
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.