Talk About Disease (creative nonfiction)

It puts me ill at ease when my mom starts talking about my grandparents’ cancer—how they were dying at the same time, in hospital rooms next to each other. Lung cancer.

They smoked together. I’m sure he lit her cigarettes when they were dating. A sexy gesture. A sexy pull. Firsthand smoke to firsthand smoke. Breathing in each other’s breaths. Secondhand to secondhand. Thirdhand smoke in each other’s clothes. They breathed it in when they were dancing close.

Thirdhand smoke in their clothes still, even their clean clothes that my mother had to divvy up amongst relatives or donate after they passed. You never really can get rid of the smoke, the breath, the illness, the cancer. It grows and grows.

My mother’s marriage was falling apart as her parents were dying. My father was useless.

One day, after having worked a full day and spending most of the evening sitting at her parents’ bedsides, my mom came home to find that my father had put my sister and I to bed in our day clothes. She tells me he didn’t even bother to take our shoes off. That’s the part she couldn’t get over.

Unemployed and couldn’t be bothered to take our shoes off.

Unemployed and he would do the laundry at three in the morning with all the lights on in the house and Hank Williams roaring from the record player.

She wasn’t spending her evenings with him. He couldn’t throw a toddler’s tantrum, so he chose Hank Williams instead and, “You did say you wanted me to do the laundry, didn’t you?”

The cancer grew and grew.

My grandparents died and my mom got a divorce in the same year.

I once asked my mom if she was glad my grandparents weren’t around to see her get divorced. I asked her if there was some relief in it for her—in their passing. I don’t remember how she answered. I know she spoke, but all I really remember is the silence while she thought about it.

The hospital was in a rough neighborhood. My mom had to go into the parking garage each night wielding mace. She had a full time job, two kids, one of them (me) disabled, and, as I have mentioned, a useless husband. She is a badass. That’s the her in her I hope to breathe in.

-M. Ashley

Noisy (creative nonfiction)

“Feel the delight of walking in the noisy street,
And being the noise.”
-Rumi, “A Community of the Spirit”

I bet the world would take Gen Z a lot more seriously if they knew the difference between “everyday” and “every day..” There is, at least I think there is, a correct way to make noise in this math we call writing.

Words mean things.

I once got in an almost fight with a therapist because she thought “heigth” was a word. That would have been an unholy kind of noise. A rumbling fist fight behind the closed doors of confidentiality. I may have come out bloody, she looked like she could have been a scrapper, but dammit, I would have been right. I am right. There is no h at the end of the word.

A lady in my group therapy had an albino husband. There was some drama with him at the behavioral health clinic. The therapist leading the group said she heard about him coming in and “acting a fool.” Part of his foolishness being that he whizzed in the corner of one of the therapists’ offices and had to be carted out of there by the po po. He was making all kinds of noise—shouts, grunts, tinkles.

I was embarrassed for my people. When the secretaries for the crazy house see me, do they now think, there’s another noisy albino ready to piss in the corner. Somebody get the gloves on. Somebody get that powder that sucks up hazardous liquids. Somebody get a mop.

I speak quietly, still embarrassed for my people. Lack of pigment doesn’t mean lack of decency man, be a human for fuck’s sake. Be a little quieter, in a dignified way. You are not the kind of spiritual noise Rumi was talking about.

That same lady, married to the peeing albino, in my therapy group, looked ratty all the time. Not throwing stones. I can rat it up in fine style myself. Just a matter of fact she looked ratty all the time. And once she said she didn’t take care of herself because her albino husband couldn’t see her anyway and I didn’t disabuse her of her excuse to look ratty, but unless there was something extra wrong with his eyes that isn’t wrong with mine, yes… yes he can see her in all her ratty inglory..

I’m sure that’s not what made him make the loathsome noise and piss in the corner, but it’s just one more stressor, or an indication of a relationship already stressed because the woman cares more about what he can’t see than what she sees in herself.

I wanted to shout in the street that she should be un-ratty for herself, and damn the pissing albino with his not that bad eyes. Be your own woman. Be you for you. Be beautiful for your own liking. But then I realize, shouting at her in the street would be me making the noise at myself mostly because I too, as I said, can rat it up a lot of the time and don’t like looking at myself in the mirror and I don’t look and the internal noise is something like well, if I can’t see the rat tunes that well, I can’t blame myself for being ratty, which is the same argument this lady had but at her other, which is infinitely better than me having this discussion and blaming my quiet rattiness on myself.

-M. Ashley

Never Write While Hungry (poetry)

Never Write While Hungry
You’ll roll from aisle to aisle
aimless and slow
eyeballing the shiniest packages first
overhead and at foot
at your groin and at your twitching nose.

You’ll make better bad choices
(still bad choices)
fill your cart with loud
brightly powdered crunchies
that exercise your jaw
but stain your hands
without so much as a goodnight kiss
or any nutritional value at all.

-M. Ashley

The Hookers of Mt. Vernon Bridge (poetry)

The Mt. Vernon bridge will be destroyed
next year
and all the hookers will have to strut
the Santa Fe diesel yard instead.

Some of them will fall on the tracks,
get run over by trains that don’t run anymore,
and their sisters will have to tell their pimps
the unbelievable tale.

The pimps will beat the girls over the ghost trains
until they get superstitious about it,
inquire of the urine-soaked mystic
who works the empty storefront
of what used to be a boutique
for children’s baptism dresses,

For five dollars she’ll confirm a curse
and justify them—
tell them to go on beating the girls
but that they must kiss their rosaries
with each crack of the belt,
each break of a glistening rib,

they must force the girls to read a prayer
off the back of a dollar store bleeding Jesus candle
when otherwise they would have held each other
naked and cried
for a mortal mama who would not come.

They should go on beating the girls.
The mystic shrugs and rolls an addict
wrapped in a government blanket
out of her shady spot

They should go on beating the girls
because what can you do
in a town that wants to survive so badly
despite all the young mothers
and trains and pimps and saints
telling it to lie down and die
to hush now and sleep
to rock-a-bye baby
to shut the fuck up, stop crying, and close its eyes.

-M. Ashley

Fun Corner (poetry)

Underage prostitutes walk past the costume shop
in hundred degree heat
One happily remembers to the other
how she went as Cinderella in third grade

how the lace collar itched

how her hoop skirt got tangled
as she crawled through her church’s
lame haunted house

how a friendly churchman,
the one who baptized her
who was on excellent terms with her mother,
lifted her out of the cardboard box
Tunnel of Doom,
took a long time to untangle her skirt,
then commented how the itchy lace collar
was pretty—

feminine and pretty.

-M. Ashley

Cafe Coco (poetry)

In one such re-birthed home off Elliston,
a neo-beatnik coffee-beer-food joint spills
red neon light into the street
where dusky jazz from the “Backdeck”
skitters with dead leaves
down the cracked one-way blacktop—
falls and rises with the daredevil sparrows
that dive-bomb the al fresco eaters’ feet
looking for renegade Tater Tots.

On a cloud of sweet clove cigarette smoke
the hustle of something like
multigenerational intellectualism
floats over the noise
while the silver-haired owner
buses the tables himself,
wearing jean shorts,
white socks,
and Jesus sandals, worn-through.

-M. Ashley

Arrowhead Farms (poetry)

Unincorporated island—
city corpus surrounds this
dusty stump
where no appendage grew,
no sidewalks either. All negative
space—all septic. Streetlights
are rare.

Casual murders In the night,
in its little triangular park occur
by desert exposure, by gangs
statistically impressive.

Twitching bodies in the weedy sand.
Rigor mortis limbs, one tangled
in a swing—seat and chain—
one stretched for shelter
of the sun-disfigured slides.

-M. Ashley

I have officially posted every day in April for NaPoWriMo! I’ve never completed it before. Thank you all for reading along. Onward and forward!

Dearest Dr. Link, I Still Love Your Buttons (poetry)

Your School of Music staff picture made
you out to be so much uglier than
you actually are so
I couldn’t show my friends, so
we couldn’t fan ourselves with our
fangirl palms and drool together over

I couldn’t make them understand the
dark-haired, fair-faced impetus for
trotting a mile to class in
the actual spiked Mary Janes that
made de Sade himself blanch—

what pale, long-fingered hand moving
half notes from here to there delectability made
me choose the long sensuous skirt with
the long sensuous slit, (oh mid 90’s rage!)

what high-toned atonal muscle, what
used-to-be-high-school-outcast humor
made me squeeze my thighs together
surreptitiously between
this-will-be-on-the-quiz cues.

Dr. Link—may I call you Stan—
of course I may, I
was also madly in love with
every single silver button on
your early spring black jacket.

-M. Ashley

Image Is Everything in a College Cafeteria (poetry)

One of the work-study cafeteria
workers took to drawing pictures
with a dry erase pen on the
sneeze guards over the entrees.

There was a speckled pink pig
for pork chops that had a conversation
bubble squeal (exclamation point)
above his terrified head.

There was a smiling, four-legged octopus,
(making him a quadrapus?)
above a tray of congealing seafood pasta
dyed, inexplicably, emerald green.

Mr. Peanut dapper-danced above the
orange peanut butter chicken
and a culturally insensitive meatball
thumbs-upped the scarlet Italian delight.

The artist slept in mornings though
leaving the breakfast sneeze guards bare
and me left to figure for myself
which mystery muffin was which.

I’d choose one at random and quickly
to appease the snarling line behind me
stacking into a long, contemptuous curve,
eyes on my body, eyes on my choices…

And inevitably I’d end up with the
loathsome banana nut which I would
eat alone, hands shaking
huddled in a bathroom stall.

-M. Ashley

Nightmares of Oklahoma (poetry)

It’s going to be over a hundred here
this weekend
so roaches have started coming up
from under the slab. Great big ones
of the outdoor variety looking for water
and morsels of dog food.

It gives me nightmares of Oklahoma,
of poverty, of you
leaving empty syruped peach cans
on the floor,
open cereal boxes on the counter,
making coffee anyway in a machine
the water container of which
was infested with molting nymphs.

You called them albino roaches,
and laughed and said
I was your freakshow baby.

-M. Ashley