Things I Didn’t Understand

Traded for an antique free-standing, full-length mirror,

she lives in a kennel, her cage, lined up

with an unfinished section of privacy fence so she can see her family

through the sliding glass door

while swarms of flies worry her. She stands in piles of her own excrement.

Barks to drown the sound of her own loneliness.

At the next house she attracts suitors. Her chain denies her escape.

When she and the neighbor stud are stuck together I judge her,

like my good Catholic upbringing Dictates.

I never dwell on the fates of those eleven puppies nor my own culpability.

3 Weeks Sober

I'm three weeks sober today.

I thought I would have been miraculously transformed into a better friend a better employee a better colleague a better daughter a better sister a better mother a better neighbor a better human.

But I'm still just me.

Only with a little more clarity regarding my shortcomings.

All I want

is for someone who loves me to kiss my forehead while I sleep

so my subconscious might believe that everything will be OK.

My Body is an Apple Blossom

I entered the world, much like a tiny apple blossom. Some days I attracted bees that helped me grow; other days I weathered storms and blazing sun.

I eventually grew into a bright, shiny apple. I attracted attention, and even got picked as tasty.

Today, I am slowly shriveling, although it remains to be seen whether I'll be dehydrated for a snack, made into fruit leather, or simply fall to the ground, becoming food for worms. And start the cycle all over again.

Here’s a poem I wrote a couple of years ago when I was pretty darn frustrated with my work. It’s interesting to reflect on now. Remember . . . I’m not actually a poet.

Work Rage

Tears of salt and trust Splat On my IT issued keyboard To later be Alcohol wiped And disposed of.

#Pulled Over

Yesterday I was pulled over for driving 39 in a 25. After checking my license, but not my insurance because I didn’t have my current card, the cop let me go with a request that I slow down.

Which got me thinking about my colleague AJT. AJT is a whip-smart, stylish and beautiful, well-educated woman. She is a person I admire. When AJT gets pulled over for speeding she always gets a ticket. And she gets pulled over. A lot. AJT is black.

AJT has shared with me several times about getting lots of tickets, and I thought we were both chuckling over her poor luck and gravity to speed traps. Even after she shared that she had to hire a lawyer to fight being denied a well-deserved promotion solely because of those tickets, I still didn’t intellectually make the connection between the frequency of her being ticketed and her race.

I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but another colleague of color once shared that he had gone through a bit of depression after looking around his neighborhood and realizing that no one else looked like him. And that is what finally struck a nerve for me. Someone I know is sad because of historical red-lining and persistent white-flight, our community lacks diversity in even the tiniest degree.

Hearing that expression of sadness, followed by BLM protests and pushback from racists I didn’t realize still populated the earth, have had me thinking about race and starting to do the work of understanding where we came from, where we are, how we got here, and how I can influence where we are heading.

With neighbors, I’m reading and discussing White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Race by Robin DiAngelo. It’s tough going. It’s very difficult to see myself within those pages and not retreat to the comfort of not having to do that work.

So, as I pulled away from that benevolent officer I was reminded of a question Randall Horton’ asks in an August 2020 article The Awakening of the American White Mind, “What privileges of race are you not willing to give up?”

Apparently, I’m not willing to give up a clean driving record and lower insurance. Had I, in the moment I was told “I’m going to let you go with a request to slow down” thought about the implications of getting off scott free, would I have been brave enough to suggest I be treated as AJK, were she the one in the drivers seat? Would I have been brave enough to ask that officer if he ever treated black drivers differently?

As I reflect on what being an ally means, I’m wondering how my looking inward and finding myself lacking can manifest itself into action. And do I have the courage, am I willing to give up the privileges of my race, to the benefit of AJK?

When Kerry was born, I was working 40 hours per week in a non-benefitted job, and attending graduate school. Our rituals revolved around surviving. After graduating, and moving on, and then up in my work, the pattern continued. I'm not a big celebrator of holidays, and have remained entrenched in The Grind. I don't know how to stop and celebrate.

When Kerry was in high school, his friend Mauricio had returned from Mexico without his parents. He had mostly grown up in the US. His friends were here and he was deeply depressed before making the return journey to couch surf and crash with whoever would have him. He eventually landed with us.

When Kerry was around fifteen, he and his friends spent all weekend at my house. From after school Friday until late Sunday, there were between three and six boys at my house. I committed to being available to drive them around because I knew that as soon as he or one of his friends got a car, I would never see them again. I wasn't wrong. They would stay up all night and sleep all day. I fed them and the other kids parents never checked in or contributed in any way.

I got so sick of them sleeping all day that any time they had a day off school, I would take a vacation day from work and make them go on a day trip with me.

We went to The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve, Shatto Dairy to milk cows, and we took a tour of the Harley Davidson factory. It wasn't always a good time. The boys wanted to sleep and Kerry had to act like he hated going on these trips, but I insisted. His friends were the good sports, otherwise I don't think we would have left our own neighborhood.

A few years later we were reminiscing and Mauricio said, “remember all those traditions you and Kerry had?” I didn't know what he was talking about until he explained.

Our traditions have evolved. When we shared a house and neither had to go to work, we would make a big breakfast. Now we occasionally go out, or take the dogs to the woods for long hikes. When I remember those little adventures and the impact it might have had on a group of drifting teens, I wonder if it isn't time to establish some new family rituals.

When introducing the uber-cool poet for the job you feel unqualified to have, don't take a drink just before beginning. You'll feel the need to belch the whole time you are speaking.

More importantly, don't dwell on the text message you glimpsed, just enough to see that your father and his wife, who you had planned to see in two weeks, have tested positive. No need to wonder what for. Don't dwell on what the rest of the message that you didn't see says, or you'll feel the press of tears and the tightening of your throat while trying to maintain the professional demeanor you were faking anyway.

You won't know until after you've read the uber-cool poets bio that the rest of the text says they're already feeling better, but now, you want to call them instead of listening to the uber-cool poet.

I've heard it said that dogs, after a time, start to look and act like their owners. I don't know if it's true, for Max is a strikingly handsome fellow. On the other hand, we share a love of long walks and our creaky joints are matching up pretty well.

He hates bulldogs. He starts acting like a rabid squirrel when he senses the two neighbor Frenchies before I even see them. Toby, the English bulldog, just wants to play and be loved, but Max will have none of it. His best friends are corgis and Jack Russells, but the bullies, large and small, just piss him off.

To my recollection, he's never met an American Bulldog. Except, of course, the one within himself, revealed only through his DNA test.

Does Max hate that mysterious part of himself? Has it always been so, or has Max really come to look and act like his owner?

Write about a time you lost something or somebody. From My Shouting, Shattered, Whispering Voice: a Guide to Writing Poetry & Speaking Your Truth by Patrice Vecchione

That One Time I Was Cool

On the junior high bus the cool kids have a tape recorder, Hot Child in the City drifts down the aisle, a welcome distraction from the tobacco spit rolling back to front.

Wanting a distraction of my own, I ask Dad for a tape recorder. And he gets me one. It's not a boom box, the kind guys carry on their shoulders, but one a businessman would record an important meeting with. It fits in my backpack.

It doesn't occur to me that it might not have been new. I sprawl patiently on the living room floor in front of the stereo speaker, pressing record three seconds after my favorite songs start.

On the junior high bus, I'm cool with my distraction from the black eye-lined, scary-mean girls in the back seat. Companions to the spit- source that runs under the seats where you never put your backpack, always holding it in your lap no matter how hot and dry the air. My stomach doesn't even flip when they look at me, for the first time, me with my new tape recorder.

After first hour, at my locker, I can't believe what I don't see. It's gone. Incomprehensibly gone. I check back between every class, but it does not reappear.

On the junior high bus, I am not cool.

Until now, I've never told anyone what was taken from me, and I've never stopped opening my locker with a faint hope. A hope always deflated. I'll never forget that one time I was cool.

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