holiday

They’re shooting out there.

You both sit patiently at my desk
you want to go out

The name for you was the same
the ones i did want to
the ones i do not
catch a
do not catch a

stray

you are all the children I will have
there is no mother for me to call this year

we stay inside.

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Chicken

In my kitchen I am cutting up a chicken.

I left it too late. The chicken is still frozen. Not entirely frozen. I can still cut it. It’s just frozen enough that the cold seeps into my hands, into my joints. Just frozen enough that the chicken has its revenge.

In my imagination, I am considering pain.

Pain experiments are funny. They don’t use real pain, you know. Not real-real pain. To discover what hurts, and what doesn’t, no one cuts you apart like a chicken. To discover what hurts, they pretend some pain at you.

You may be a man. You may be a woman. You may not be a chicken. But you might be afraid. They will be scientists, and they will pretend some pain at you. This will have nothing to do with any pain you might already have, but they like you to be healthy.

The chicken is hard to cut. It is slippery. I am using a knife, but my hands are going numb. I am thinking of changing to scissors.

One of the pretend pains they use is ice water. One of the pretend pains scientists like is to put your hands in ice water, and have you tell them your pain. Put your hands in, they say sometimes. Take them out when you cannot stand it anymore.

I do switch to scissors. The big parts are done, but this chicken is large. It will take a lot of little chops with the scissors to hack out small enough cubes. It will be a clumsy chicken dinner. I waited too long, to take it out. I do that sometimes.

The thing about pain is it’s everywhere. Men have it. Women have it. White people and brown people have pain. Scientists know about this. They have put us all into ice water. They have said, take your hands out, when it is too much.

The thing about frozen chicken is there’s no mess. You really can’t see anything of where you’ve been with a frozen chicken. Maybe a little smear on the cutting board. Maybe not. None of the long horrible trail of blood. None of the horrible tearing sounds of meat separating from bone. Only the sterile sawing of knives gone very quickly dull. Only the hacking of the scissors.

The scientists have found things, in that ice-water pretend pain. Women, they find, hurt less quickly than men. They take their hands away less quickly. People of any color hurt the same. All of this they have found from what people say, what people say for themselves with their hands in the ice water.

My wrists ache. I keep cutting the chicken. I think a little bit of hot water, of getting warm. I think mostly of dinner. It will be a good dinner, even clumsy looking, and I have a lot to do, a lot to catch up.

The thing about pain is, it’s different away from the scientists. When you go to the doctor, it is different. You cannot say, I am one who has trouble with the ice water. I am one who hurts more quickly. You cannot say, I am one who hurts less. You cannot say, look, here is my ice water proof, the proof of my hands, here is my science. When you go to the doctor, the categories shuffle.

The chicken will be done soon. I could stop a moment, I could get gloves, but there is the pile of vegetables. Scissors are slow. I do not stop. You’ve done this, haven’t you? Cut up a frozen chicken? Started late, caught up? Used the wrong thing when the right thing became too dull?

The doctors are a different kind of scientist. Maybe the doctors are not scientists at all. The doctors find that men feel more pain than women. The doctors find that white feels more pain than brown. The doctors find in their own imaginations, where they are maybe somewhere else, cutting up chickens, that some people are to be believed, and some are not. There is proof of this. I would read it to you, but I am cutting up a chicken.

So the brown people go home and their pain is not helped. The women go home and their pain is not helped. Maybe we were all too busy to report it. Maybe we did not have the right tools. Maybe we said scissors, when we should have said knives. Sometimes we die of that. The men go home and their pain is treated. Sometimes it is far too treated. Sometimes they die of this.

My hands are numb and tingling all at once, tingling going straight up my arms. I think of how nice and large this chicken is. Three dinners, easily. Four. The bones will make stock. I hack away with the scissors. I must sharpen the knives.

Divorce and My Mom and the Fourth of July

Independence day is coming and
My mother has been dead for
Not quite a year.

Someone said
If you do not love it
Then leave.

I do love it.
I always have.
And I hate it.
The way this place
Will hurt you
Just by being here.
The way it hurt her
Because she could not
However much of herself she poured out
(it was all of herself
All)
Help enough.

If you do not love it
Then leave.
We are Catholics,
You know.
We leave when
We die.
Until then
There is work to do.
And we love this place.
I love it like she did.
Oh, how she loved it.
Oh, how angry it made her.

I spent a whole night yesterday
Thinking of her hands
The large knuckles on
Her tired hands
She hated them
Ugly, she said
And smoothed in more lotion
So hard working
So always busy
Patching what she loved.
It was not enough.

We carry on
Don’t we?

I read an article today
People in poor neighborhoods
Seem to be sicker
Only from their poverty

The stress of their poverty
The violence of it
The constant tick of terror

This is here only
The article said
In America only
Where the gunshots go off
Like fireworks outside my window
Every night
And my mother has been dead for
Not quite a year.

Calvin

Was reading something on a friend’s page about Americans becoming more and more hateful. Particularly about a type of American becoming more and more hateful of brown people. There were the usual adjectives we southerners throw around when we are hating ourselves. Toothless. Shoeless. Inbred. Deliverance-esque.

I knew the person they were talking about. I”m worried about him, too.

The thing that worries me is, I’m not even sure that hypothetical American even needs to be toothless, inbred, or deliverance-esque. It might be that he just has be desperate, traumatized by his own constantly gnawing need, his own lifetime of low-level failure, the trap he has set himself, the trap his leaders have set for him. The traps he can’t see himself in.

I mean, that American, and the white people like him, believe the dream. They just have to work hard, pray to the correct god, and they will get ahead. Getting ahead means being showered with the rewards of virtue. A nice house. A nice spouse. Some security for their old age. Some security at all. It’s kind of what they were promised. Right?

And they have been working hard. I mean that. They have been working themselves to the bone, y’all. They have been working, and working, and their wages are shrinking, what their money will buy is shrinking. Their kids have less future than they did. They can’t afford to get sick. They can’t take a vacation. There’s no savings. There’s maybe no house.

There’s nothing they were promised. And they work, and work, and work.

This is America. Good, Calvinist America, where virtue is rewarded by prosperity. They know it. It is their destiny. They are good people.

Only something has gone wrong.

The something can’t be the fault of their leaders. Their leaders are still prosperous. The fault can’t lie in themselves. They know themselves to have worked hard.

But…but look at that guy over there. Look at that guy who is brown. Or loves in some weird way. Or is poor. Or is Not From Here. Or is a woman. That guy who forgot his Place. That guy is the problem. That guy is what went wrong.

You know what to do with a guy like that, right? You know how to fix this problem, right?

They are very good people, these Americans. Only they have less than they expected. They have no security left. No time to think. No time to be kind.

They saved the torches, from last time. They saved them from Tulsa, and from Beaumont, from Carrol County, and from New York. They saved the torches, and the ropes. They saved the knives.

Bounce

The neighbors have a bouncy castle up.

The Washington Post tells me the economy is booming. I am skeptical about how booming is booming, for ordinary people, but I can tell you this is a good money year.

Here are the chief economic indicators, in my neighborhood:

1. Halloween Costumes
2. Birthday parties
3. Cook outs

It’s cold, right now, so you may be asking, very reasonably, not coats? What about winter coats? But there are two things that skew the coat factor:

1. We are southerners. Even a prosperous family might hesitate before buying a new winter coat that will be outgrown after two uses. Or, you know, in the case of last winter, no uses at all. This is practicality. Your Uncle Steve’s coat was good enough for him in 1982, and it’s good enough for you, now. Just put some duct tape on those leaking seams and go out to play!

2. Do you know any children? Teenagers? Do they wear their coats? So…yeah. Coats are unreliable. We could be having a very good year indeed, and still see no one at all in a coat.

But everybody loves Halloween.

The first year we lived here, the trick-or-treaters were mostly in face paint. A little bit of face paint. Or tempera paint, dabbed on the cheeks and nose. Or a lipstick that looked suspiciously mom-colored swiped across the mouth. Big smiles. Bags at ready. But only two costumes, that year.

The next year, more costumes, less kids in only t-shirts. Fewer kids who looked like they could really use the candy.  Fewer eyes watching with disturbing, unchildlike avidity as we started with just one piece, and ended up shaking out the whole bowl into the waiting bag.

This year? Every child we saw had a costume on. Every. Single. One.

Now, the trick-or-treaters were fewer, this year. We’ve had a lot of shooting this year, and there was not the holiday armistice we usually hope for and generally don’t get. So not many kids were out. Maybe those kids were the hard corps Halloweeners. But…all costumes. Something eased in my chest, seeing that. Something does, every year most of them have that. We shook out handfuls of reese’s cups and fun-sized twix to the ones who did come. It doesn’t hurt to be one of the good houses. We won’t be the best house. There’s a lady a few doors down who gives out FULL SIZED SNICKERS. But we are ok.

And they are ok. This year looked pretty ok. Even with the extra shooting.

The summer cookouts still trended more toward chicken legs and the cheap red hotdogs than that one year when people were doing things with beef. But everyone had fun. Everyone always has fun. And there looked like enough chicken legs, and a lot of popsicles after, and not a lot of houses with no cooking smells ever. So that was good, too.

But why, you may be asking, are all these things based around, you know, children? Isn’t that weird?

Well. Working-class neighborhood, is the first part of that answer. Most people with children put any money they have into the kids first, and often, only. In a working-class neighborhood, even in good years, all the money that there is s not often enough for everyone to look fancy. Or wear a new coat.

The other part is, of course, that the grownups are working. Two jobs. Three. We don’t see each other much.  The children are out, and making noise, and living their lives, just like this was 1990. I kind of love that about this neighborhood. I hear stories of kids who are overscheduled, overstructured, overstimulated.

In my neighborhood, the kids play in the creek behind the back row of houses, and catch crawfish, and come by for a drink of water that they secretly hope will be juice instead. They offer to take your trash to the dumpster for spending money. Fifty cents for regular garbage. A dollar if it’s gross. Most of us keep light bags of paper on hand, I think, in case some child needs quick cash. Most of us keep out some laundry money. Even in shooting kinds of years, the kids come for that. Even in no-costume years, this is a good place to live.

And this year? There’s a bouncy castle.

That must be some birthday party.

Reading and Listening

“Though I had seen it happen to my clients, I now understood firsthand that being disbelieved is nearly universal for people with chronic illnesses, especially those that are largely invisible or hard to diagnose or both.”

It’s funny.

See, I’m a terrible listener. What I mean is, I’m terrible at just listening. What I want to do is FIX things. When someone has a problem, I want to HELP. This obnoxious little characteristic is, I hope, the last vestige of the bossy brat of a big sister I used to be. I’m working on it.

Just reading that sentence triggered it, the way reading variations on that sentence always does. Because I’m one of the chronically ill people who threads that needle. I mean, I should. I’ve been doing this dance for so, so long. And my illness is invisible…mostly. Unless you look. But I can tell people the counter-intuitively right tones to take, the right scripts to follow, the right ways to (not. ever.) talk about pain.

And my GOD do I want to do that, every time I see a variation on that sentence.

I can HELP, see?

I can’t help. That sentence isn’t about doctors disbelieving you. I mean, it is. But it’s not only. That sentence is about becoming invisible yourself. Not your illness. You whole self. That sentence is about learning to communicate with your entire body, with your entire attitude, that you are something less than a person now. That you are, at most, an interesting set of problems. That you are less, and you aren’t going to make a fuss about it. That you won’t be making this uncomfortable for anyone.

I can’t help with that. That takes practice.

It’s not a bad practice, even. It is interesting. It is challenging. It takes you to places you might not have expected. It’s funny. Really it is.

We get past the heartbreak of this stuff, I want to say.

But that’s still helping.

What I need to work on now? Is listening.

That first time after

It’s her birthday.

The number of people who know that, who care about that, has only shrunk by one, this year, but it’s a big one.

I keep thinking about that. About databases, I mean. About shared databases, and how they shrink. The one that was she and I, and is now only I, made up of a million tiny moments that only she and I could care about, could remember. It made up our shared language, our shared dance of remembrance and avoidance and tradition. Our language of making the sorrowful things funny or unspoken. Our language. Important to no one else in the world. Important. To us.

That sounds a little dramatic, I suspect. I mean, my sister, my brothers, my father, they all have databases too. Theirs are similar. I know they are. If we stitched them together, we would get a similar language. Maybe one day we will. Maybe, I hope, someday we will make a quilt of that language, for her grandchildren.

When I was nine, we forgot her birthday. All of us forgot it. She picked me up from school that day. It was raining. In Texas, in January, that’s what you get, generally. A thin grey rain, not even very cold, just too cold to want to go out in, or walk home from school in. A thin grey birthday rain. And we forgot. I remember the grey rain, and the windshield wipers, and how angry she was, and that under that anger, for maybe the first time, I could perceive her hurt. She worked so hard, and we forgot.

We never forgot again, but that day was woven into the language of us, a grey note under child-made gifts, under the grown-up presents, under phone calls, under cards. Remember. Remember. It hurts not to remember.

It does. I think it does.

“Kara remembers everything.” My aunt said, as my mother was dying. This was true, and not true. I am still lousy at dates. But I remember the texture of the car seat, cold under my legs. I remember the rain. I remember not remembering.

I remember without her to not talk about it with, now. Without her to make it funny with, now.

There’s nowhere to put all this memory. There’s nowhere to put my mother.

This happens to everyone. This is a condition of love. This is a condition of life. I can chant that to myself all day, and still.

And still.

Time will keep passing. I will get used to this.

I will remember.

Happy birthday, Momcat.