Memoir, Prose

How Do My Breasts Look? (memoir)

go_cougar_womens_tshirtMy first boyfriend and I sweat together in my room with the door closed and his hand under my navy blue “Go Cougars!” T-shirt. I lay on the floor halfway underneath him, one of his creeping hands at the waistband of my white cotton shorts, the other pushing my shirt up. His alien fingers probed their way under the pale pink of my little girls’ bra that had been too tight for months. He didn’t kiss me. He gave me a hickey on my midriff instead and smiled, proud of himself the way he and his friends were often proud of their own farts. He got serious then and tugged at the band of my bra. I lay there bare-chested for the first time with a boy, still wearing my T-shirt that was now rolled up under my chin. He unceremoniously pinched my left nipple, then my right, frowned and announced, “Your boobs look funny.”

I don’t need a whole essay to tell you I never got over that.

In my later teens I’d stand sometimes in front of my mother’s full-length bedroom mirror and pull my Garfield pajama shirt tight over my chest and belly to get a better view of the curve of my breasts in relation to my other curves. I’d shift right and left—diagonal—I’d bounce, look back over one shoulder, turn around with one arm up behind my head, but I couldn’t tell. I’d pull my shirt up and wonder for a while at my nipples. I couldn’t figure them out either. Too big? Too small? Too low? Too pale? I didn’t know.

I once used a French class report on impressionist artists as an excuse to look at a lot of paintings of naked women so I wouldn’t look like a perv for getting close to the page, squinting at them, and comparing. One red-haired woman, all in fading yellow light, a royal blue wrap around her shoulders and her white underthings visible at her waist, appeared to have breasts that went at near right angles at the bottom—her tan nipples pointing this way and that. I thought surely mine weren’t quite as different as that, and even then, some artist found hers beautiful.

When I got older, I got brave once and asked a lover what he thought of the funny-looking breast issue. I should have known I wouldn’t get a straight answer considering his face was between them at the time.

But maybe that’s my problem—thinking “No!” kiss, “Not at all!” nibble, “Absolutely not!” muffled through busy lips—was not a straight answer.

-M.

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Memoir, Prose

Envy (memoir)

Danny LeavesMy oldest dog—a red, hairy, shedding beast of a border collie/German shepherd mix will be turning ten this August and, at 50lbs, he still loves it when I pick him up and hold him in my arms like a baby.

He isn’t afraid of anything.

Whack him on the top of the head or his big fuzzy butt with a rolled newspaper and he barks, jumps, turns in circles in happy play, which it is.

He thinks his own farts are awesome—smiles a wide, bottom-toothy smile, spotted tongue lolling out the side like a broken window shade. Sometimes they make him sneeze. He wipes his nose on the carpet or, if I’m lucky, on my pant leg.

He isn’t afraid.

He isn’t afraid of the big blue vacuum monster either. He stalks it like the wild beast of mechanation it is, goes on the offensive, attacks with abandon.

I’ve had him since he was three months. I brought him home from the pound shivering a week before Thanksgiving. But I’ve come to the realization the shivering was an act to woo the weepy-eyed rubes, like me. I was wooed. I admit it.

He isn’t afraid of anything

He isn’t afraid because he was never taught he should be afraid.

I picked him up in my arms like a baby ten years ago—all six disingenuously shivering pounds of him, and he never had anything to fear after.

He lies on his back with his legs straight in the air and lets me scratch his tender belly with my toes, even if I’m standing up at the time—and my balance is terrible. And he knows my balance is terrible.

No fear.

No fear.

I think I’ll write this down. I think I’ll call it “Envy”.

-M.

Prose, Writing Life

By the Humping Doggie Balloon Animals, I’m Sure It’s Obvious My Poetry Reading Went Well

IMG_0517My big poetry reading was yesterday. I was so nervous I thought I was going to die or poop my pants, or turn around in a circle chasing my tail to the end of the universe and back. I contemplated backing out. I contemplated what the train ride and board would cost for me to slip away to Kalamazoo when no one was looking. But I saw myself in the mirror and the face that looked back at me said, “Oh, no you don’t.” So I didn’t.

I’m not going to lie. Smokey-smoke was involved. I took a puff or two, or five, before we left. They were little puffs, I told myself, little puffs to preserve my throat, so I needed a few more of them than I would usually have. My sister put on some Jazz to calm me down and, post-smoke, I walked around the house in my long, full skirt, swinging my hips, happy and relaxed, mouthing my poem to myself over the music.

My sister—ah my lovely, sparkly sister—did my makeup. We went for a 1920’s look, which is my look, but one I have no idea how to achieve on my own. I don’t know what magic happened there, but highlighter was flying all over the place and the time she spent on my eyes was akin to the hours Degas spent brush-stroking puffy little ballerinas. I came out with a slimmed face, big, big dark, alluring eyes, and Cupie lips. I ended up with a feather in my platinum hair.

My sister pinned a little button on me. She bought it for me in advance. It is red and white and says, “It’s my first time.” It was my first time, well, first time in a long time (almost twenty years… don’t tell anyone) and, Jesus, the nerves started to come back.

My brother-in-law took the twisty-turny way to the bookstore and the smokey-smoke kicked in again. I giggled all the way there and laughed uproariously at the view, at the drop, at the too-close-for-comfort turns. I thanked my brother-in-law in all seriousness for his coming, his driving us, his being such a good sport about having to go back in the house twenty-six thousand times when we were getting ready to leave in order to retrieve all the this and that my sister and I had forgotten.

I was the first to show up, the first to sign up—lucky number three in big black marker on an unsuspecting piece of blue flyer paper. We were there almost an hour early. Nervousness makes for punctuality overachievement. After I signed my name, my sister and I walked down to the dollar store to buy our winning lottery tickets. The cashier said, “May the odds be in your favor,” and surely the movie reference with a smile means we are going to win. (I could be sitting on the winning ticket right now as I write this, incidentally.) An old man interrupted the transaction to buy an orange juice out of turn, but when you’re in the process of winning the lottery, little things like that just don’t get to you the same way they used to.

My sister said this dude we talked to outside the store, who also claimed the winning lottery ticket, was flirting with me. I didn’t see it. It’s entirely possible I didn’t see it because I was being stubbornly vain and not wearing my glasses so I would be extra pretty-ful. We’ll call it that and choose to believe my sister.

We made it back to the bookstore, the reading began, and us in the second row.

A comedian started it off. His spirit was incredible but he moved his shoulders up and down too much. Good spirit, bad body twitch. Gods bless him.

Up next a mentally challenged lady, probably the most badassed among us. She read a love poem to Roger and used a funny voice at some point. She lit up my eyes. She made presents for the featured readers. She made cookies for the rest of us. She had to leave early. She said she liked my feather, or my tattoo. Either way, when I got up to read after her, she made me feel like the millions of bucks I’m about to win.

Then it was me. Me and my “It’s my first time” button. I got extra applause for it being my first time and also because my sister and brother-in-law were sitting there, a well-dressed and enthusiastic entourage. “I’m going to do the Naked Hemingway Poem,” I said and launched in. “And the way he looks at you is obscene,” I said, leaning on the “obscene”, raising my eyebrows, and I knew I had it.

I wish I could write more about my turn, but it’s hard to describe something that went by in two seconds. I can tell you I made the slightest little bobble, but picked it up without panic. Not a stutter, just a sentence that I had to rearrange a little to get back on track. No one noticed, and not that “No one noticed” that means we’re too kind to tell you we all noticed, but that it fit in seamlessly.

I can tell you I kept my eyes open and moved my head around as if connecting with this groupie or that. I can tell you I held on to the mic the whole time which surprised me and, next time, I told myself, I won’t do that.

Then it was over and my sister was woo-ing for me. My sister wooed and got others to woo also. Big, big smile. I flounced, or at least I felt I flounced, off stage back to my seat and my teeth were so big in my smile that they might have been seen as a sign of aggression by primates.

The MC thanked me and told me to come back. He doesn’t say that to all the first-time readers of course (yes he does). He was only talking to me.

There were a lot of other readers then. The featured readers were wonderful. The magicians, the comedians, the musicians, “Baby won’t you call me Daddy one more time…” all wonderful. There was even a balloon animal guy. I got to be his assistant. He made a lovely little pink doggie while I held the banana string of a purple balloon he would use to make the next lovely little doggie… then attach the two… humping. Because it is near Valentine’s Day, you see. Romance was in the air.

You just don’t top that.

The hardcore stoners were well-represented. One’s poetry came from his cell phone and was totally decent. One was a bearded hipster, had no poem to read, but wanted to tell us all how rockin’ we were anyway—how much our awesomeness touched him. My secret was I was among them, only if even a little. By that time, just enough to keep my hands from shaking as I held the mic and did my little dance.

I ended up with the humping doggie balloon as a souvenir. I ended up with a fabulous memory. I ended up with a triumph to stick in my dusty cap. I ended up with the beginnings of finding my “tribe”, as my sister put it.

I ended up being, for the first time in a long time, myself.

I smoked two black clove cigarettes when we got home. I earned them. That night, I was the black cigarettes and body magic woman that I have always dreamed of being—that I thought I lost.

I smoked those two black cigarettes and swished my skirts in the moonlight, decompressing with my sister until two thirsty coyotes, a mother and a baby, started to make their way down the hill.

I slept well. I slept very well.

-M.

Elegy for My Empire, Prose

End of the Line Berdoo (memoir)

350px-SanbernardinostnYesterday, on the train, I saw all the ugliest parts of the cities from Berdoo to LA—the Route 66 cities luxuriating in their own decay. I saw the backs of sound walls all helpless against the graffiti, like a tender woman with a black eye someone tattooed over to shame her, permanently. I saw the trash glittering in the sunset—white against scrub and brown like pearls of waste and carelessness. I saw fire from a metal shop shooting up into the darkening sky. I turned my head. The fire turned my head.

I was jealous other cities had prettier stations than Berdoo does, that they had more healthy bike-riding young women and man, that their passengers stepped livelier, looked less like shopping cart ladies, sounded fresher, dressed fresher, came from places and were going to places where they didn’t know what it was like for us at all—we who dwell, and don’t work, and close our eyes, and listen for gunshots at the end of line.

-M.

Writing Life, Writing On Writing

Not Sounding Like Everybody Else, Even in the Face of the Bald-Asshole Workshop Leader (writing on writing)

bald-head-1-574667-mI had a revelation once at writing summer camp for adults at the University of Iowa writers’ conference. I noticed when everybody read their short prose pieces that mine sounded nothing like theirs. But then I read mine and people were delightfully receptive. I wrote about my dad botching sun tea. “I’ll remember that melted orange plastic pitcher for a long, long time,” one of them said and the other two laughed and nodded while we walked away from class, across the stinking river, backs turned to the university art gallery that was featuring second-string Picassos and African furniture.

I realized in that moment and for the first time that maybe not sounding like everybody else is a good thing.

But that was all about prose. It was the opposite reaction in my advanced poetry class. I read the poem that won me the big hoop-dee-doo writing award only a few months earlier and the bald-asshole workshop leader who worked mostly in prisons and wrote about breast milk eroticism told me my poem had “a lot of work to do.”

He was mad at me anyway because when our class went out together at lunchtime and climbed up the interminable campus steps to forage for chi chi sandwiches, my retelling of going to a computer generated atonal concert that was held in the dark by a composer whose silver jacket buttons I was madly in love with got more laughs than his pretentious snarking about “language poets”.

My revelation stands.

-M.

Family, Memoir, Prose

Unaffectionate Boy (memoir)

Natanon was near the last one to deplane and make his weary way through the Roy Rogers airport. He met us by the empty spinning of the baggage carousel. His mother sent him to us from Thailand to finish his education in the States.

He was sent to us to get a little time with his dad.

He was dressed in black like a cowboy villain, but almost bald being only two weeks out from a stint as monk in his hometown of Phuket. His father and grandfather hugged him welcome. He smiled, but his shoulders were drawn up. He and I shook hands. He smiled again, but looked down at his shiny, square-toed shoes.

Later that day with the family, eating fast food Chinese— a mystery to him—he slid his cookie’s fortune across the greasy table for me to read to him, his English still a little weak. I read it low-voiced like a mystic and, as benediction, exclaimed, “…in bed!”

His English and teenage hormones were just strong enough to make him blush, drop his head and silent shake his drawn up shoulders down, with laughter.

-M.

Prose, Still Life Prose

Working Man (character piece)

Work, work—consumed by the work. And who could correct him? This was the creature his mother bore him to be. What would seem purgatory to the rest of us was his joy and satisfaction—building a palace of thought that would never be finished. No matter where he placed the lights, there was always a better place for them. There were always dark corners that needed to be lit.

-M