Tuesday, June 23, 2020

proper

"Your Proper Name" is the result of an exercise, led by Tommy Pico at the June 2020 residency for Antioch MFA. We read different trade magazines and harvested a word bank to be used to create a new poem. The crazy results were intoxicating. Here's mine: 



The brain is a splendid instrument

with a lilac tail that winds around

a kale clock, stopping in places to say

your proper name and drip ancestor

fury. Come a little bit closer

and help me look for the stash

of boxtops in the kitchen drawer.

It’s been so long since I saved

anything at all.

 

Coming home to you, the hearty

love which glows and shoots

this intensity, this fetch, which

blossoms on plumb wine. Your

proper name won’t matter, only

your desire to be eaten, your

crisp yet soft texture, the light

that stretches from one part

of you to the other—the JOY of you—

where I’ve craved salt and fat.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Memorial

R.I.P. PFC JAY-D ORNSBY ADKINS
December 9, 1985 - April 28, 2007


Every year on Memorial Day, I remember one soldier—his name was Jay-D Ornsby-Adkins.  He was handsome, funny, compassionate, kind to strangers, and enlisted in the US Army.  I think of him to remember what Memorial Day is all about—to honor the soldiers and sailors who have paid the ultimate price while serving their country in the armed services.  Jay-D was  born on December 9, 1985 and was killed in Iraq on April 28, 2007, making him only twenty-one years old when he died.

The reason I know of Jay-D in the first place is because of Morgan, a girl who has been Alicia’s best friend since high school.  It was not long after I met her that I found out her brother was killed in action. 

It has made me see this holiday, Memorial Day, much differently.

Jay-D’s mother, Robyn, is a beautiful woman who now bears the dubious distinction of being a Gold-Star Mom.  “I have a hair salon,” she once told me, “and every year I ask people if they know what Memorial Day is.  Only one or two will know exactly what the holiday is for—only a few know who we are remembering.” 

She’s not exaggerating.  According to a recent Gallup poll, only 28% of Americans know that Memorial Day is specifically to honor those who died in war.  Veteran’s Day is to honor those who served—Memorial Day is to honor those who have died in battle.

These fallen soldiers leave behind families.  These families are given a folded flag and a thank you from the U.S. Government.  We, as a nation, also grieve on this day, with them.  We remember them as more than bodies on a field—we remember the people that they were. 




“My Jay-D was born a mischievous little monkey,” Robyn told me, laughing.  “Honestly, he was a little character who found joy in challenging me!”  Her laughter faded and she sighed.  “I would give anything to have him here challenging me now.”

Jay-D grew up dearly loved, an active boy who loved to play.  He was fearless and mighty, never running from any fight.  “He wouldn’t tolerate anyone bullying him,” Robyn told me.  “He’d give them a good fight, for sure.”  Robyn stopped to explain how hard it was to teach Jay-D the delicate balance of sticking up for himself and having self-control.  As soon as she felt he learned this lesson, he started sticking up for others. 

“I would get a call from the principal's office, and they'd tell me that Jay-D was in there for fighting a boy who was bullying someone else,” Robyn laughed.  “When he got home, I asked him why he would fight other people’s battles, and he answered me straight: ‘Well, it just didn’t seem right!’”

Jay-D's anti-bullying campaign  was in place long before any even existed. “At a time when it was not cool for anyone to help the Down Syndrome kid in school, he did,” Robyn said. “He would defend an underdog, stand up for the new kids, and even helped others when no one else would.” The same guy who fought also learned how to express his own tender interior.  “He taught himself how to play guitar, he loved ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ which he played very well.”

After high school, Jay-D chose to enlist in the US Army, since career opportunities seemed more promising after finishing school.  “Jay-D wanted to get his life started,” Robyn said.  “He knew that if he enlisted he would be able to earn money for college and get other opportunities.” 

Jay-D in his dress Uniform


At twenty years old, he was enlisted, sworn in and enrolled in boot camp.  It was there that he became a soldier.  “Once boot camp was over,” Robyn told me. “Everything changed.  He was very focused on fighting for his country. Shortly after, he was deployed to Bagdad, Iraq, where he served as a tanker gunner.  While the main gun is what most people think of when it comes to tanks, Jay D was part of the crew that operated the machine guns mounted outside.

Through tears, Robyn told me about the day her son was killed:  “It was actually supposed to be his day off.  He wasn’t supposed to work that day, but his team needed him.  He agreed to go, not only because he was part of a team, but also he could apply that day to his next leave.” 

Instead of their usual tank, the team took a Hummer as part of a convoy and made their way through the streets. On the side of the road someone was waiting: the enemy.  As soon as the company’s Hummer was in range, the enemy exploded an IED – an Improvised Explosive Device-- and killed three of the four soldiers in Jay-D’s Hummer.  The enemy was fired upon by the surviving convoy, but their deaths did not bring justice.  War really is hell.

Robyn was able to bury Jay-D’s remains in Sunset View Cemetery, a place in Jackson.  “It is a beautiful and peaceful place.” 

Every Memorial Day, Jay-D’s  family usually celebrate his memory with friends and close family. One year, Robyn decorated a wine barrel and burned a special candle, signifying how the light of love will always burn bright in her heart. She takes special delight in having her grandson close by, a little boy named after his Uncle Jay-D. 

Robyn's Jay-D (1985)      and        Morgan's Jay-D (2015)


For Memorial Day, please take a deep breath and remember at least ONE fallen hero. If your family has not lost a human being in war, remember Jay-D, his heart of gold, and his Gold Star Mom, Robyn.  Remember his sister, Morgan, who honors her family and her brother's memory any chance she gets.  

Resolve to be part of the minority of Americans that remember what this day really is all about.  “I see the advertisements for the Auto Malls, the shopping centers, and the grocery stores,” Robyn told me once.  “All of them say ‘Memorial Day Sale!’  I wonder if they will honor any fallen veterans there? I think not. It’s all a money-making opportunity to them.”

Our soldiers are more than men and women in uniform. They are someone's baby, someone's spouse, someone's uncle or aunt.  Today, I will grieve the fallen. I will celebrate the freedom that I have because of them. 

I will grieve with the families who have lost loved ones on Memorial Day.


 
The Gang at Kynan's Birthday Party
LtoR: Harmony, Alannah, Scarlett, Alicia,
Alannah, Kynan, Baby Raimey, Morgan and Jay-D (in socks)


Morgan, Alicia, and Alannah—the Three Musketeers from high school were together the other day for Kynan’s birthday. There in the mix was Morgan’s oldest son, a beautiful blue-eyed boy named Jay-D, who bears a striking resemblance to his uncle. 

R.I.P. PFC JAY-D ORNSBY ADKINS

Monday, April 6, 2020

palms








For the quarantine, my parents (who are devoutly Catholic) found out that their church has decided not to distribute palms on Palm Sunday. They heard this news with sadness, and appeared to be more disappointed than they have been with any piece of news surrounding the Coronavirus or the shelter-in-place edict. To them, these palms mean a lot. 



They look like nothing: a single, dried out palm branch from a lowly palm tree. The only difference was that these palms had been blessed and given to the people by a priest. Things that were blessed by a priest were important in our house. My parents used to tuck their palms behind one of the many wooden and pewter crucifixes in our house. I grew up looking at dried out palm leaves behind crucifixes. I knew these would be replaced in a year by another one that looked just like it.

I used to joke that we were more Catholic than the Pope.

***
Palm Sunday kicks off the most sacred week of the year for Christians. We call it Holy Week. Like Easter, the feast day of Palm Sunday moves around, based on the Liturgical calendar and the Jewish feast of Passover, because those two events are related, like cousins. 

On Palm Sunday, Jesus started his journey to the holy city of Jerusalem on a donkey colt, one that his disciples retrieved for him—an event that had been prophesied by the Old Testament prophet, Zechariah. A crowd of ordinary people went out to greet him, while he was still on the road approaching the gates of the city, waving fallen branches of palms and shouting in celebration for his triumphant entry. Some people lined the road with palm branches, like a carpet, laid down for a king.



There was so much noise and celebration, that some of the religious leaders in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” Jesus only answered: “If they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.”

I always liked that Jesus said this. Even as a child, I knew this day, this event, was a huge, big deal. What I didn’t understand was that as soon as he saw Jerusalem, he wept. He talked to it, like a father and said things that I never fully understood as a child: "If you had only known today what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden, so you cannot see it. The time will come when enemy armies will build a wall to surround you and close you in on every side. They will level you to the ground and kill your people. One stone will not be left on top of another, because you didn't recognize the time when God came to help you."

Less than a week later, Jesus would leave Jerusalem, but this time, he’d be carrying a cross to a hill, just outside of the city. He’d be scarred, beaten and barely alive, wearing a crown of thorns around his head—mocking his alleged kingship.

We human beings are fickle people who have the power to crucify our heroes on any given day.

***

In the Catholic Church, Palm Sunday is celebrated by the blessing and distribution of palm branches, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Christ as he rode into Jerusalem. Some people use them as bookmarks in their Bibles or prayer books. Some of these palms are later surrendered to the church, ceremonially burned, and the ashes kept (and blessed) to make ashes for Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

On Ash Wednesday, a Catholic person will kneel down in front of a celebrant (Priest) and receive the ashes on their forehead. The priest will say: “Remember, thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

It’s a sobering reminder.
***


Because of the COVID19, most churches aren’t meeting until further notice, determined to break the cycle of infection to its people. Most of us agree that the human body isn’t above infection—even athletic youths are reminded of this on Ash Wednesday.

I no longer go to the Catholic Church, but I’ve always missed the celebration of the liturgical calendar and the  deep traditions that bring its members together. It’s the calendar that remind us to number our days, to remember we’re mortal, to understand the limitations of our body as opposed to the greatness of God.

This year (like any other year) I don’t need palms to remind me of my faith in Christ, or remind me what he did for humankind this week so many years ago. My parents, however, treasure their palms, so for them, I grieve.

***
This virus will end, and this season will come to a halt as quickly as it began. Because we are human beings, we disagree when and how this will happen. In truth, the way and truth are found in a person for me, and today I remember Him.

Our Holy Week ends with us declaring “He is risen!” and whoever hears this, calls back, “He is risen, indeed!”

He is risen, indeed. Those beautiful words...



Sunday, April 5, 2020

pens









Today, a box of pens came in the mail--stick pens, nothing special--and there are no excuses for not writing. There is now plenty of pens and plenty of paper, and there always was, I just have to put one to the other. On the side of the pen is this inscription: "mightier than the sword..." I got this whole box for three dollars and fifty cents, instead of the normal price of seven dollars for the box of fifty. They were on sale as "misprint pens," misprinted for a customer who wanted something else. I am buying someone else's mistake. Someone else's disappointment. They work just fine.

"Come on, pens," I say to them. "Let's write! One person's misprint is another person's bargain."
They love me for this.

And we begin a beautiful relationship.


True story. I wrote this poem with one of those pens!

Friday, April 3, 2020

ancestors

Carved
elaborate order from start to finish,
twenty-three noses, P'urhepechan
slopes, interrupted by hills before
finishing in royal flares where
nostrils trumpet greatness.

You show yourselves able to endure
and never leave us; faces carved
and breathing the same twenty-three
collective atoms that I do.

Your blood is in my blood,
your mother is my mother,
the same twenty-three
chromosomes shared,
invisible threads, stretched tight
across life and death~too tender
to move and too strong to break.
And yet...
when people ask me
what I am, I've never
ever told them
I am you.

Days unfolded, twenty-three
white roses bloom in our garden,
robots mow our lawns,
pipes bring water from
deep inside twenty-three
underground wells. We live
on borrowed soil, in a land
prone to drought. Its face,
once barren, now with lawns
exploding dandelion stalks.


All of you who walked
before me, please
do not turn your noses,
do not be ashamed,
do not think I've forgotten.
We assumed this culture
assigned to us
from glossy magazines.
It came with everything:
a place to sit,
a place to stand,
a language to speak,
a way to live.

Marie Antoinette, from her foreign
land, journeyed to France at twenty-three.
Her carriage was met by twenty-three
members of its monarchy, who made
Marie strip down to nothing
before she entered France.
"You are in our country now,"
her captors told her.
Twenty three years
later, she lost her head for sins
of ancestors she never met.


Monday, March 30, 2020

measure

"Measure" is a poem about my true love, Mario.

At the Cairo Hospital...looking at my true love.

February is the show month, when
some couples choose to measure love:
“He took me to that waterfront 
restaurant with candle-light and violins!
He gave me long stemmed roses! 
 A two-carat diamond!"
 He knelt when he proposed! 
We made love in front of a roaring fire...
Measures of love, compared and pitted,
spurred talons sharpened,
greased feathers glittering.
I don't want to play. 

My true love doesn't like waterfront restaurants,
not after a messy incident, when
I ordered Maine lobster at market price.
He doesn't do diamonds, not after seeing the mines.
He gives me potted, living roses,
and says he's "not gonna fall for that
overpriced crap that'll be dead in a week"
and means it.
His idea of a roaring fire
is at the end of a good cigar.
But, he puts the seat down,
replaces light bulbs,
and has strong arms. 

These arms once supported me,
all of my weight, as I
tried to act normal, plodding
up stairs in Cairo—uneven stone steps,
in front of the hospital—littered
with candy wrappers. Women in
black-wool hijabs looked up at me,
their eyes begging me not to touch
them, their hands tucked beneath
their dresses, not outstretched
(too afraid? too wise? did they think I was cursed?)
leaning away from my shadow
as we passed.
Those arms around me, he pulled my
weight up so my feet
would be lighter. The women, with
those expressions made me believe
I was dying.

Weak from blood loss, no fluid
would stay, no water in my eyes
or my body. It took all the strength
in me to hold on to my true love,
whose arms were around me, supporting me.
The primal scent of perspiration,
his one hand clasped over mine, holding me up.
So many stone steps between us and
the surgeon and we had to stop twice
and when I cried the women hid
their faces. We had to (could we?) stop
the bleeding. 


He kept whispering: “A few more steps, just
a few more steps…” And it was one up, and
two up and neither one of us had ever
been there. He whispered, "Just a few more..."
I pleaded to stop and lie down. He shook
his head and didn't feel sorry for me, and the
hospital was there, at the end of the steps,
just like he said it would be.

My measure of romance will always be this.
The strength of his arms and his whispers.
When the self is a weak, bleeding, staggering
thing, and the world is a bleak place with
long, stony paths, all uneven, he steadies me.
Even more, he believes I can do it and tells me,
and I get there with him, one step at a time.
He knows my pain and walks beside me
anyway.

On steps like these,
too weak and bloodless to stop crying,
with nothing left to give, he asks for nothing
and expects nothing. He never leaves.
That is the measure of my true love’s heart.



Sunday, December 29, 2019

32




Mario and I have been married thirty-two years today. When we met, he had two young sons—David and Joe—and I had a toddler, Vince. Less than a year after our wedding, we had Alicia. The family we had together was wonderful and I love our kids (and now our Grandchildren) but the early years of marriage were also the early years of parenting.

Tonight, over dinner, Mario said, “It seems to have all flown by.”

When you have children—especially when you have a blended family—the rules of marriage are constantly changing. As a couple, you have no choice but to change with them. We’ve been lucky because we have been surrounded by friends and family who strengthened us when we needed it.  
People often ask us for marriage advice and we RARELY give it. The reason why? Most couples don’t want marriage advice. They want to know they’re going to be alright.

Our Engagement Party - November 1987

I’ve decided to list three pieces of humorous marriage advice. It’s all going to sound ridiculous, but this is actual advice we’ve received, and it worked. Have fun reading...and remember, you’re going to be alright.

Our Wedding Day--December 29, 1987


1. “Trust you’re okay.”

I was raised in a culture that sold romantic ideas about marriage: If you married the right person, you would sing duets in gazebos as it rained outside. If you keep up your appearance, your husband will chase you around the bedroom. If you share good ideas, you could both spread your passion to others and change the world. Anything less was a ho-hum marriage. I wanted to be the physical, intellectual, and emotional partner of Mario's dreams. I did my best to be like a bride in a movie, and often felt rejected when Mario was tired or working.

“I think Mario and I need help,” I once confessed to my friend, Hilary. “We have no real time together and when we do, he says there’s a lot of pressure to be romantic.”

Hilary didn’t even blink. She asked, “What would you like to have happen?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I want to be together more. I want to feel like a priority to him. Sometimes I think he cares more about his work than he does about me. I don’t even know if we’re okay.”

Hilary shrugged. “Marriage is a partnership, and you’re working together. Most of the time you have to trust you’re okay with each other, especially since the kids commandeer so much of your time.”

TRUST we’re okay? I thought. That sounded like a pat answer. How was I supposed to trust we’re okay if I didn’t feel okay?

Looking back, Hilary gave me the best marriage advice for that day. I wasn’t in the middle of a crisis, or being threatened by anything more than our hectic schedule. The truth is, Mario and I were okay during that season. Hilary, one of my close friends, could probably see this. She also could see that I thrived on attention—especially Mario’s—and demanded quite a bit from my husband. I had to trust that Mario and I were alright and stop demanding more than he could give, just so I could feel like the bride the media had portrayed. 

Even though Hilary's simplistic answer didn’t satisfy then—if I am being honest, it still doesn’t satisfy—I now know it's one of the greatest truths of maintaining marriage.

Here we are, husband, you and I. We love each other, even though we don’t get a lot of time alone. We don’t tell each other “I love you madly!” several times a day. You and I are here, walking toward the goal of raising our children into adulthood and being part of a functional community. Today I will trust that you and I are alright.

There have been times when we were facing a battle that was too much for us—and for those times we have definitely taken action by getting formal counseling. We’ve somehow been able to save our overturned canoe on more than one occasion, with a little help from our friends. We’ve been able to cling to each other during terrible times. I also had to get over my unrealistic picture of what a healthy marriage should look like.

~

Family Portrait just after we got married


2. “Don’t Fight.”

As a young married couple with a blended family, Mario and I would sometimes argue when we should have been working together. For some reason, the fights were more intense when we were supposed to be somewhere at a certain time. If we were expected at a family dinner, a holiday, and (most commonly) for church on Sunday mornings, Mario and I would sometimes arrive looking like two cats that had been through a car wash. We might have looked fairly put together on the outside, but we really struggled with the other person when we were under pressure to perform. 

Most often, the behavior would surface on Sunday mornings. We would fight over seemingly trivial things: Which clothes should the kids wear? What should they eat? Why aren’t you helping? Who opened the peanut butter and spread it on the cat? Where is the baby’s new car seat? Once we were all in the car, Mario (who hated being late) would speed off to the destination, while I (who didn’t like to be rushed) would sit in the passenger seat, looking out the window. The kids knew better than to talk.

Other people pulled into the church parking lot in shiny vehicles, unloaded their children (who always seemed to be wearing matching outfits), and entered the building, ready to be happy.

“How are you guys doing?” our pastor, Rick, greeted us one day.

I was ready to say some bullshit thing—like Great! —but my face wasn’t cooperating.  Mario blurted out: “We’re fighting again!”

Not just, We’re fighting, but again.

Rick looked sympathetic. “Oh, guys. Don’t fight.”

It was the most absurd thing to say. I looked at Mario, just to see if he thought the same thing. Instead, Mario looked at me and shrugged.

“Okay,” he said.

So, we dropped it.

I didn’t bring up later how I couldn’t just forgive him like that. I didn’t point out how I did most of the work, even though he was more alert in the morning. Nope. I just dropped it. Maybe it was a miracle, but I did.



Despite some really complicated personality differences, Mario and I rarely fight. I think we have moments of severe disagreements, but we’ve stopped attacking each other and speaking our mind without a filter. I have to remember that this is my guy, and he’s on my side. I also have to remember that he likes knowing what he’s supposed to do long before I want him to do it.

So, “Don’t fight” is actually pretty good advice. Disagree, yes. Fight, no.

 ~
January 2018

3. Share Your Dreams  (BTW, I have permission to tell this story 😁)

A friend of mine (Cindy) told me, at a BBQ, that she wasn’t talking to her boyfriend (Jake) because he’d taken apart the engine of his old Indian motorcycle that he was restoring, and spread it out on newspapers in the living room. She was almost crying, and I felt like clobbering Jake myself. 

Later, Jake explained how he was only doing this because they had no garage, and he had chosen a spot in the house they never used (their pristine living room). He had taken great care to sort out the engine parts and lay down cardboard boxes and newspapers underneath them, so the grease wouldn’t stain the carpet—and it was only until the replacement engine parts were delivered.

What Cindy didn’t tell me is this: the Indian used to belong to Jake’s father, who had died the year before. It was Jake’s dream to restore the bike, so he could take a trip to the coast and spread his father’s ashes. What Jake didn’t tell me is this: he used the money he saved to take Cindy on a vacation to restore the bike. Now, without a vacation, and feeling less important than the Indian, Cindy had to look at the disassembled bike every day until the parts came.

Mario and I didn’t offer any advice to Jake and Cindy. They never asked us what to do, but I remember asking if the Indian restoration was a dream project.

Cindy answered, quickly: “Restoring that motorcycle is his dream. Not mine.”

Jake (a huge man with a full beard) suddenly looked five years old. “But I want you to support this dream,” he said. “That’s what you promised to do.”

Cindy looked at him and shook her head. “I will,” she said. “But the motorcycle is lying in parts all over our house. I wasn’t planning on that. That wasn’t part of this dream.”

Jake moved the parts to a friend’s garage until the parts came (which, btw, had to be flown in from the States and took three months to be delivered). After that, everything was better, kind of.

ARC Graduation- June 2016
Sac State Graduation December 2017




















I decided to go back to college when I was fifty-two, for a variety of different reasons, but mainly because I always wanted to get an MFA (a Masters in Fine Arts). This meant I had to get an AA and a BA first. Mario and I agreed it would be a good time to go back to school. He supported me one hundred per cent and loved me at every turn. I had to work twice as hard as my younger classmates, whose brains were all beautifully elastic.

Here’s what Mario wasn’t planning on: the speed at which I attacked these degrees. I had seen (at 52) what interest-bearing student loans did to our children and I knew the faster I got the whole thing done, the better off we’d be. The pace of the combined degrees commandeered much of my energy, and it shows. The house is not exactly littered with greasy motorcycle parts, but our relationship, our social life, and life in general, has definitely changed.  

Tonight, as we were eating tapas at a reserved table at Aïoli Bodega Española, a Spanish restaurant in midtown Sacramento, Mario said so.

“I can’t wait until this is all over,” he said.  “The next six months are going to be critical.”

I agreed. We enjoyed our evening, but as I was writing this blog, I decided to go out and ask him if he feels like my dream has taken too much out of our family, our relationship, our lives.

“It’s not just your dream,” he said. “It’s our dream. We decided to do this together, and we’re doing it.”

“So, you don’t you feel cheated out of my time?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “But there are days where you’re exhausted. There are days you don’t feel good about yourself. Those are the days I don’t like. Those are the days we need to pray harder.”

I agreed. I kissed him—and took a puff on his cigar—and came in to finish this.

There have been times when Mario has decided to go after a dream, and I’ve supported him. There’s something rewarding about the process, something that is key to happiness in a partnership. In his mind, this MFA is our shared dream.

It makes sense. Mario is wonderfully diligent in achieving the things we call dreams, so much so that he’s inspired me to realize my own. I feel blessed to share my life with him. I feel grateful that our time of dreaming has been clear and realized.

~

So, there it is. Mario and I are in our 32nd year being married on this earth, and this is the advice I’ve listed: Trust you’re okay. Don’t fight. Share your dreams.
Shoot. That’s pretty good advice...but it looks like nothing. In fact, it looks so simple, it’s almost irritating.