In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"


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Cryogenically Yours

 

 
“Wait, Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen, right?”

(We are in the car.) 

“No, I think that is just rumor, one that’s been around forever.”

“Really? Because I think he actually was frozen.”

“Look it up. You have a phone.”

“Oh look, ‘Disney on Ice’ it says, so it’s true, right? Wait, that’s a joke isn’t it? Oh shit, he was cremated.”

“Yep. Hard to freeze ashes.”

“When I go I’m going to be cremated and have someone throw my ashes in Harry Styles’ hair.”

“Um…you better put that in your will, so that your ash delivery person can justify throwing your dead-ass ashes in the man’s hair. And so he’ll feel bad enough to allow it since he will feel compelled to  honor someone’s dying wish. Bet that would go viral on Twitter.”

(high pitched laughing) “That’s a great idea! It would so work!!”

(SMH, eyes on the road ahead)

 

credit: http://www.flinthosts.co.uk


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Deny Me to the Moon

  
An exile of his own skin, he dances around himself

like a forgotten memory, webby-silk and opalesque.

Missing at the core he is, out and outwardly leaning,

seeking last letter spaces, the crossword’s final clue,

bluntly obvious solutions, words clearly spelled out,

none save himself a riddle, yet unanswered to mind.

Self-realized men confess, embrace inherited power,

weakness staring truths, scorched in skin worn open.

Banned men envision, only scoff-turned accusations,

toss blocked revelation, obstructing responsible claim

in twisted other-outerness, blaming all not one source

he who self-circles doubt, brandishing blind knife ego

’til none know his name, only echoes like tinnitis ears,

trace stirrings in songs, a residue of teflon-tinged taste

on tongues never spoken, refusal in face of god’s moon.      


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Small Favors

  
Small favors, thank goodness for them, like finding a dollar on the sidewalk

or pulling up just in time to nab the last parking spot.

Still underpaid and broke, struggling, the dollar shines like a 

ribboned gift nevertheless.

And yes, a spot probably opens up for those who wait, 

but all drivers treasure time.

Larger small favors look like winning the raffle at the company picnic

or an impromptu sparkling conversation out of the blue while 

perusing the nonfiction aisle at the bookstore.

Unsuspecting, like those bracelets.

My beloved’s gift, the one I wore til it broke as I shed the last

shred of clothing, naked before a lover’s gaze,

my panties catching its piney speckled beads

and shattering its thin knotty hold on my ankle.

The wood bead’s dull clink on the ceramic tile motel floor. 

While the other, a punishing thick relentless reminder, black 

plastic prisoner’s promised ring, cut into pieces, stabbed in shouting outness,

that one that wrongfully shrunk skin and tamped tibial boxes, receding like

the mote of my motivation, and then gone, freed–but only fake freedom.

I cut it at its malignant root, vengefully scissoring its mad fastening.

And the final ring to replace the broken ones, a gift, simple plastic beaded 

black, silver and white, sweet, puerile and true to salve the wound

and psyched out phantom circle chain.

A charm, a trinket, a child’s delight, and one small favor thoughtful and big–

infinite to me. 

 


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Positively Pressure

 
 

No more apologies:

I disappoint.

Not enough, not long, hard, gentle or 

joined in heart when I hold you,

I hear your silent reproaches.

A lip corner flick.

No sorries in my storage.

Unrepentant lashes, 

un-sick over baggage.

Time I give is all the buzz

I have, all my life,

before run before hide 

–before–

and composed thus

I always was.

Heaving breath,

the sigh of it all,

sense-fire hearth, 

shorting electric

with your, his, her, their

expiry utter other grunts, twists, glances or

dances belly deep,

and all I beg is a bite of sleep.

My gutters sag under the weight

of leaves and leavings and arrivals,

the spinning door rotates you for you

and him for her for him for them,

and back again, 

a reversion ahead of me, the fool

to believe in words

deployed poison control tools–

bright, early, sunny-gregarious 

gets the worm–

the norm of help-me-happy right

keeping the dark ones light.


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The Tangerine Tree

 
 
We lived at Quo Vadis then, a dumpy avocado colored complex 

across from the dying strip mall sputtering out, 

stores no one shopped or missed when they closed, belly up or dying out. 

Remember that pizza store with brothers in the name? 

There for 20 years, like an institution, and then closed its doors one day

no warning

though someone knew the owner had cancer.
 

We were in our twenties and striving, 

you selling pots and pans and me in school.

And Barry would be on the couch some days, 

popped out of nowhere watching t.v. while I was in the bathroom.

The apartment door was always open and he wasn’t shy.

Sometimes he would show up at the door and knock.

And there he would stand dressed in snow gear.

“Let’s go skiing.” 

No matter that we both had school and jobs.

And we would go.
 

I was trying out my domestic skills then.

So I grew house plants filling the light of the window,

hung in fives across the ever-open blinds.

Those were the days of open, unlocked doors, drop-in neighbors,

never closed blinds, royal blue apartments and sleeping naked.

We cared so much about the world and so little about everything

but the intimate and local, the near and myopic scope of our lives.
 

But it was just like you–who you are really–to toss those seeds

behind you,

without a thought to the life already existing in that pot, 

the spider plant fledgeling waiting to hang

though still nestled on the window sill 

waiting to flop its trestled wings over the burnt clay lip.

It must have been a luscious, tinny sweet tangerine that held those seeds.

Because now, dozens of years later, 

that tree that grew from strange sprouts 

crowding the spider plant on the sill, a puzzle to me then, 

and with time snuffed out the baby spider buds for soil, space and sustenance, 

room to grow and then outgrow that small pot to a larger one and then 

a larger one yet, moving with us from apartment to house to house 

where it now lives in the backyard, 

bursting with abundance.
 

It took 25 years for that tree, 

grown from thoughtlessly tossed seeds 

by one too lazy to get off the couch and trash them,

to bear fruit.

It simply grew and followed us from home to home, 

life to life, childhood to adulthood, 

and then our children’s childhood to adulthood,

and our puppies and kittens and hamsters and birds and fish and frogs

to their graves, 

some feeding the soil of tangerine tree roots, 

finally strong enough

firm enough to bear the weight of hundreds of sweet orange sun nuggets.
 

You, unwittingly, mindlessly, grew that tree you love so much now, 

picking one tangerine each morning, 

cold from the morning’s chill dew,

sucking its sugary juice and tossing the peel to the soil, 

just like you planted it 31 years before, 

when we were young and the tree was yet to be, 

its fruit long time coming.
 

And now the fruit is plentiful and we are old and love infertile, 

like sterile lovers circling, unwittingly trodding the soil of our graves.


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Just Be

  

Credit: Angela Jimenez for The New York Times
 

A friend sent me this article in today’s New York Times, knowing it would be of interest to me as a female college instructor. The author, Carol Hay, in Girlfriend, Mother, Professor? presents the gender role expectations and student-teacher dynamics unique to women professors as described in her title. 

I too have found students of various gender identities attempting to posit me as mother (I’m older) to fit their particular emotional or academic agenda. I have had the distinct impression many students male and female assume that a sob story will likely work an extension or accepted excuse out of me, an avowed mother and presumed female who is therefore, presumably, an emotionally pliant nurturer. And like the author, I both bristle at that cultural expectation framing my student-teacher relationships and reinforce it by presenting as female and exercising compassion. 

To preemptively strike such a situation arising in the first place, I warn students at the outset that requests, pleas and beggings for extensions and other variances from the syllabus terms require creative stories real or imagined to appeal to my imagination more than manipulative ones meant to appeal only to my emotions. I tell them I do not really want to know the reason for their transgressions or requests for amnesty. I just want to hear a good story in exchange for my lenience–a bargained for exchange. 

That first-day-of-class advisory is meant to foster creativity in an English calss as well as set the professional distance between student and teacher. Some get intimidated and fear approaching me at all after that speech, which is not the desired effect, while most do not even detect the signal–do not ask me to sympathize. Your excuses, absences and late work are just that–excuses, absences and late work (excluding verified medical causes). Most do what they do, regardless of syllabi, rules, words and grades. If a harried student is in dire need, he or she will resort to what comes naturally, whether that be groveling, begging, lying, demanding or manipulating.

Somehow I suspect most students act the same with men–need dictating the method and expectation. I doubt gender has more to do with role expectations than personality of the professor. Each brings his or her own strengths or weaknesses, experience and exuberance to the classroom and students react accordingly. Men perceived as gentler than sarcastic and caustic me are going to attract the nurturer-seeking students more than I will probably.

Honestly, this year teaching English at the local college marks my 16th year of just doing me. While students of all stripes and colors have passed through my classroom doors these many years, exercising displays of need, desire, hunger, apathy, enthusiasm, curiosity, ernestness and dozens of other dispositions in their dance of student and teacher otherwise known as jumping through the hoops of yet another required course, I may have experienced and certainly understand Hay’s dilemma (women professors get this typecasting, not men) but so what? 

We do ourselves, mindfully as educators, and point out human behaviors and relationships as part of education. The English or any classroom includes discussions and critical analyses of people, relationships and culture, including gender roles and expectations. Sometimes I call my students out on their assumptions. “Are you assuming I will react emotionally because of my presumed gender?” 

Be the teacher; be myself. I consider it my job. I teach English–and life.