Tag Archives: memory

Ain’t That a Shame

 

at night I unhinge
my bones in moonlight.

maybe I dance
a little

maybe I remember him

I have ritualized dear grandfather
into my agnostic bedtime prayers.

Grandmother says she’ll
sleep through Christmas,
sleep right into next year
holed up above the awkward
holiday wishes

up where he slept, too.

and how

how has nearly a year
snuck up as quickly as

death did?

I can still smell the
cigar on his breath

the way his chest

rose
and
fell

with that rusted laugh
always the
ain’t that a shame

it is,
grandfather.

It is.

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Asymmetries

I.

Her mouth is wildflowers

but her tongue is too tame for its own good.

 

II.

She was raised up in a climate too hot to keep

the skin from melting at the edges of her eyes

and then the world was only horizontal,

so that she never saw the days rise and fall

but shift hazily from right to left, left to right,

like the pages of a magazine.

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A Secret of Long Life: Familial Heartache & Happiness in Elegant, Timeless Fashion

a secret of long life

Poet Liz Dolan paints the ordinary in passionate hues in A Secret of Long Life, a collection of poems that move across the page with the sweet, haunting ache of memory. From now distant days as a Catholic school girl to the death of a young brother that still lingers, Dolan drags us through every human emotion via very simple, very real human experiences.

With a chapbook sliced into four equally heavy parts, Dolan begins our journey with stories of her mother, glimpses into her childhood, and the first gut-wrenching look at a small brother lost too soon. In “The Boy Who Swings on Our Line”, a young girl watches as the ghost of her sibling dances through the family laundry hung out on the line. Dolan writes, “From the open window / I see as he swells my father’s overalls, / crooks the knees and bellows as though / with Dad he flags the six a.m. from Darien.” The poem ends in childlike melancholy, with the girl telling her brother to leave the family alone. “I am not sure / if I want him to stay and play. I lie. / Go, release us all from your awful presence, / airborne shape-shifter, powerful child, so we can smell fresh cotton against our pasty cheeks.”

Dolan depicts the nuns of her youth as elegant, damaged powerhouses, a refreshing step back from a usually stone-like stereotype. Her admiration for her teachers shines through in pieces like “I Longed to Be as Lovely”, in which she describes Sister Purissima “in her opal linen gown / her tanned cheeks backlit by her veil / like an angel surprised.” Each piece continues to sway and swoon from memories of death, family and school days, pausing occasionally to smile and turn to face something purely innocent, as is shown in the lighthearted “Sunday at the German Bakery” where a girl dreams of a boy “who clerked at a bakery, slipping his fingers in and out / tying the knot on the white box.” She is taken with him and delivers imagery we can almost taste, with “hot-crossed lovers nibbling / apple cobbler, yolked together / hobbling along until the glaze wears off.” Part Four carries us into Dolan’s later years, her life still intertwined with life and death, now as a mother and grandmother. With grace she describes her grandson with Down’s syndrome, taking care to maintain her love and admiration for him and the patience of her own daughter.

Dolan’s poetry is real, it is grainy, and in the best way it is plain. Every word crawls from the page with a simplicity that makes it all so very relatable; and that is just what keeps us contemplating the beauty in every piece. A Secret to Long Life is a collection of family history that will remain timeless even after the pages have yellowed.

Purchase Liz Dolan’s A Secret of Long Life here:

http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Long-Life-Liz-Dolan/dp/0692311823

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My Grandfather Who Lingers Still

grandfather

At breakfast he sits just across

from the coffee cups and pats of butter,

elbows propped on either side of an empty

placemat while I flip through a magazine.

 

And then I am winding down with the

sun that hugs me through our bay window,

while he is swaying hello from the maple tree

with the shade that falls in and out like an eager child.

 

He turns down the bed and tells me

the same story of his childhood while I

brush my teeth and close the curtains,

routinely kiss the photo of him on the nightstand.

 

He touches my face, my grandfather

who lingers still, and I don’t feel it but I can.  

Either way there is a warmth I can’t explain;

he leaves me love letters in my dreams.

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What summer was like

The backseat of my

grandfather’s Lincoln

smelled of warm leather

always saltwater

even folded into his

sloping

Mayfair driveway.

 

Two weeks of

washing with generic

soap bars

and his skin still

made me think of

hard work, cedar,

sandpaper.

 

The name inked

on his shoulder

his own

drooped and faded

quietly like the

sea memories

of a sailor.

 

They packed away

the soap and

I rolled up the

windows in the

Lincoln so I wouldn’t

forget

what summer was like.

 

I curve my hands

now

around the steering

wheel,

around his shoulders,

I press my forehead

to his happiness.

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Unremembered (Part 2)

 

The sun was just beginning to dust the sky in pinks and greys and we were still on her doorstep, a modest collection of empty beer bottles at our ankles. It was early October, the air clean and brittle, and our voices floated unnoticed into the still sleeping morning. She tucked her chin into my shoulder and I inhaled her – sweet, floral, like home.

“My parents will be up soon,” she said. I knew it was time to tear myself away from her, at least for now.

“Will I see you again?”

She smiled, effortlessly mysterious. I hung on her gestures, the constant, brilliant glow of her.

A month passed before I saw her again. I’d deflated weeks before; intoxicated after one long, hazy night, I’d drifted through the week with nothing more than silence on her end. One phone call attempt went ignored, and so I quickly gave up. Obsessiveness never looked good on me.

I was trekking back home with a sandwich and a carton of milk when I saw her, smoking a cigarette and chatting with a friend outside of a brick-walled corner bar one block from my place. She wore a wool scarf that swallowed her neck and chin, black leather boots that hugged her legs just below the knee. I didn’t remember her smoking when we met.

After a second of debate I tucked the milk and sandwich under one arm and approached her.

“Lily?” I forced a smile. There was something different about her now – instead of comfort I felt purely uncomfortable. She turned to me and for a moment there was a look of concern on her face as she scanned over me, as if she was trying to remember how we knew each other. Internally, I was collapsing. Quickly I began to feel small, pathetic, and childlike. How could she forget?

Then something changed, like the imaginary light bulb had clicked on and her lips parted in a sunburst of a smile.

“Matt!” She yelled, and threw her arms around me like an old friend. My own arms hung limply at my sides for a moment, then slowly I wrapped them around her waist. I couldn’t stop myself, even in all the confusion. Her friend, a pale girl with long brown hair, looked bored as she pulled out another cigarette.

“How have you been?” she said, stomping out her own cigarette with one leather boot.

“Um,” I opened and closed my mouth awkwardly, ransacking my brain for words, for anything. “I was surprised I never heard from you.” I couldn’t help but get to the point.

“Sorry,” she said, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “I’ve just been busy, I guess.”

She didn’t look busy now, standing on the corner, beer on her breath. Still, that warm, familiar rush began to return until I’d forgotten the strangeness of it all and we were melting into each other on two bar stools in the middle of the day, my milk souring on the floor beneath us.

***

Click here to start from the beginning; follow along for more installments!

Click here for Part 3.

 

 

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Another Common Phrase

 

“Blood is thicker than water.”

“Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!”

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

There are some words and images that float past us like fireflies; they turn heads with a quick, soft glow then disappear somewhere into darkness. Even with their presence we stay in sweet, undisturbed awareness. Some make our lips curl at the edges, quicken breath, evoke the deepest, purest happiness that escapes lungs in undulating melodies. Other times, the rose-tinted shades rush open and for solid moments we are caught in pockets of undesirable reality and that dull, grey rain of life we scramble to keep hidden.

“I love you, but I don’t like you.” 

She was eight years old, built like a Popsicle stick when her father opened his mouth and snakes crawled out. She was new to nightmares, shaken by the way they squeezed out from her depths when she was sleeping, helpless. She’d just done something eight year old’s do – tracked mud in the house, dropped the milk carton, skinned her knee. If she had a nickel for every time she’d committed such crimes, that Barbie’s Dream House with two working elevators would have been at the foot of her bed already. She hugged her knees to her chest, thinking if only she could curl herself in tightly enough, she’d disappear and her father wouldn’t be standing over her with that familiar wild-eyed anger spread across his face. She hated that stare; it made him look old, much older than he was. When things were good and he smiled, laughed even, two perfect rows of teeth appeared, white as the pearls around her grandmother’s neck. When he really let go, really roared, she’d walk across the sound; for a moment the hot coals beneath her feet had disappeared.

So now there he was, draped over her like the Grim Reaper, teaching her what real life disappointment was like – its sounds, its touch – not something her head conjured up while her green eyes were closed. He didn’t need a blackboard or intricate diagrams to teach her – just silence, just gestures, a few words. A magician, her father. In just minutes he’d taught her that disappointment is a small child who does small, child-like things; she is not yet old enough to shave her legs, but old enough to know she is a burden. There was something about love in there, too, its many forms, its requirements and optional add-ons, another common phrase, another useful lesson she scribbled in a Pooh Bear diary and tucked into her non-existent chest when he wasn’t looking.

It was summer, late afternoon, when she was handed her first demon. She covered it in Elmer’s Glue and pink glitter and tucked it under her bed. She was exceptional, ahead of her time, already numb.

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Rock, Rock, Zoom, Zoom.

As a kid, I was lucky enough to be riding on the coattails of the days when kids were still forced by their parents to play outside, riding bikes and scraping their knees on the pavement like kids should, not sitting on their asses with cheesy fingers, playing Grand Theft Auto. (I still love me some GTA, though.) But when five hours of sidewalk chalk and street hockey started to get boring, we’d begin to sniff out other cheap thrills like crossing the streets we were told never to cross, playing in dangerous construction zones, or our very favorite: Knock, Knock, Zoom, Zoom.

Little jerks. I love it.

Maybe my love of running has its roots in banging obnoxiously on my neighbors’ screen doors at eight years old, then diving behind cars or trash cans before they managed to see me. The look on that lady’s face when she answers and sees NO ONE on her stoop?! The excitement of it all just tore us to pieces. We were rebels, magicians, the stealthiest of ninjas. We’d do this until the sun went down, or until we were caught and someone told our moms. Then it was inside, where my best friend and I would send Morse Code messages to each other via knocks on the wall between our row-home bedrooms. There was always tomorrow.

A few houses down lived my best friend’s grandmother. She was a bitter old biddy, and I don’t recall ever seeing her anywhere but in the space she allowed for herself to pop her head out of the screen door on her front step, yelling at the neighborhood children for who knows what. Every word always sounded like it’d be her last. I won’t mention her real name here, but a nickname I favored instead:

How'd you like to see THIS peering down at you from a city doorway?

How’d you like to see THIS peering down at you from a city doorway?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s right, everyone. I lived on the same small street as the Crypt Keeper‘s twin sister. And while equally terrifying in appearance, she wasn’t nearly as funny as he was. Nor did she tell any good scary stories. Once, when our cat got into her yard, she shouted angrily down the alleyway:

“If your cat gets into my yard again, I’ll kill it!”

Another time she popped her bony bobble head out of that door and yelled:

“You’re fat!”

So while every other house was gifted with simple knocks from the sticky fists of annoying children, Crypt Keeper’s twin sister got the special treatment – rocks thrown at her home. Ten points if you make a dent! (When her own grandchildren are helping you throw mini boulders at her house, what does that say about her exactly?)

I’m not necessarily proud of the fact that I was a snot-nosed little brat, but I still stand by two things:

1.) Knock, Knock, Zoom, Zoom was fun.

2.) Crypt Keeper’s sis deserved those rocks on her doorstep.

What obnoxious things did you do as a child? Were there any mean neighbors you chose to terrorize in a special way? 

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our beds could have been the soft earth

poconomountains

 

in summer sun

maybe I was ten

the soft soles of my feet

floated over river rocks

like hot coals

a rite of passage

a display of bravery

while water the color

of hot tea

cinched around our waists

 

those days we

welcomed the night

tacky in the crooks

of our arms

we folded

scabbed knees

in circles around

a lowlight fire

 

our youth was

smooth like glass

 

and our beds

could have been

the soft earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hot City Sidewalks

 

before she knew

all fifty states

her father beat his fist

steady as a heartbeat

on an old screen door down the block

it was May, I think

some time for shorts

 

she squirmed in the background

a poster child of name-calling

one knee scabbed, one just plain old skinny

“your son did this” he called from the

bottom of the concrete stair

 

she looked down on us in a

nightgown on a Monday

and simply said “no”

for the boy who’d failed

the first grade three times

 

he hid, or maybe not

in his bedroom, trains and crayons

while she kicked garbage

on a hot sidewalk

 

but she was there, she held her aching scalp

from all the pulling on the

only time in history she had braids

past her shoulder blades

 

to this day

fragments of a

girl too small for

things like politics

and death

are

 

buried

 

in the smoke

that dances upwards

from a hot city sidewalk

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