Finally Finals: Ten for Today (and Tomorrow)


Click, click, tap, tap, ping…the room is a jitter with typing and timers. It’s final exam day, the last day of the semester, school year and year, almost. It is all three for me. Tomorrow I jet off to another land until next year.

 
The tension in the room agitates me, always does, hearing the sighs and coughs, seeing the head scratches and screen light bounce off the wide pupils of mad typists-thinkers. They’re exhausted. And so am I. I’ve stayed up late and gotten up early to finish grading their term papers, the culminating work in this writing course.
 
I hope I’ve taught them something. I always wish that–some affect I might have.
 
But some of them, I will have barely touched the shell of their minds. There’s a young man in my class who stares at me and smiles the entire class. He attends almost every class and looks engrossed in my lectures, detours, tangents and lessons. He watches attentively as I scribble dry erase marker slashes and dashes and dots on the white board. His eyes absorb the light of the projected screen filled with words and pictures.
 
But his work is crazy, of a parallel existence. He’s a photographer. He loves art.

He’ll smile and tell me that he’s got this essay down. But then he’ll hand in some garbled, riffing, hip-hopping, slap-dash jive bullshit about…frankly, I don’t know what. I read, trying to find the thread of his pieced together logic, the color of his world, or sliver of his memory filtering through disjointed fragments slithering between whole sentences and never-ending, like a river meandering down the shallow incline along a stony road, sun-blazed along red rocks, not a ripple, trickled to a narrow rivulet…and dry. Done.
 
I won’t reach him in time. It’s not his semester to catch on. That’s okay. I know it. I think he does too. He wrote a few final papers, two of them incomprehensible, but the third one…it’s practically logical, relevant and convincing.
 
I whisper during the final exam to him with a stone cold face: “You pulled it off.” He smiles. Of course, he does. It’s a breakthrough, but too little too late.
 
And on the way out, he says, ” See you next semester.” Yeah, he knows. I hope to see his smiling face in January, the new year, new semester and new beginning.

 
Image: touch-tap: pixabay

Angst: Poem 8


We’re leaving the Great Park.
It’s a scorcher out there.
Her team just lost six to one.
She’s quiet on the tortuous zag from the fields.
I don’t think she feels responsible.
At 17, she’s philosophical, albeit a touch cynical and weary.
She carries her angst in her pocket.
“What is nihilism?” she asks the road ahead after a while.
“Lately, I’ve been thinking about how minuscule
we are, especially in light of the cosmos and
the improbable non-existence of other life, somewhere.”
I haven’t hydrated enough.
My head hurts slightly.
“Well, it’s sort of like nothing matters,
an extreme sort of skepticism,” I immediately regret saying.
Her eyes widen and the depths of velvet brown
endlessly recede, raw terror swallowed–stored in a gap.
“But it’s not just the life’s a bitch then you die philosophy.
There’s something freeing about understanding our
insignificance in the larger scheme of things and our utter
significance at the local level, where we live.
It doesn’t have to be about uselessness.
The randomness and chaos of our births and deaths–
some take comfort in the just-is-ness of it.”
She still stares out at the road ahead of us, but I hear
her thinking it over, this great question of being and nothing,
all tied in knots to her senior year of high school,
turning 18, the possibility, potential, and unknown…
she who has always tightroped the anxiety fine line.
At 65 mph, those last 5 minutes take us no closer to home.

Not all children are poets

Not at all children are poets, but some are.

I remember my four-year old saying, with gravelly complaint and

consternation as we rounded the last lap of tract homes from the 

neighborhood park, “It feels like there’s an elephant in my shoe.”

Those days, I was not a poet myself, so I simply took off her shoe

to see what was the matter, what was in there, a rock or a sock?

Neither of those could possibly be the size or weight of an elephant

but I skipped right over the poetry and assumed the play out of it:

She just meant that something was slowing down her gait, some

obstruction that was making her walk like an elephant, and that

full explanation did not even articulate in my mind, just swallowed

up in the patching up holes and problems, as parents are wont to do.

 

And then those hours of “Mother Goose” nursery rhymes that 

pleased and placated my tiny joy-riding song and wordsters who

pleaded, “Again” after we’d go through the entire night’s rhymes read

before bed time, and all I could think was, “What does this mean, 

‘hickory dickory dock’, mice, clocks and ‘Little Jack Horner’s plum’, 

dishes eloping with spoons and cracked “Humpty” eggs that garnered

so much respect that all the king’s horses and men came to its aid?”

My mind drifted as I sang-sung the words that were impossible to

read plainly, prosaically–meter forced down the reader’s tongue and 

bones–through history, fairy tales and folktales, lore of

cultures and small pockets of rural societies past when these words, 

rules and references made sense, all the while losing the music that 

kept my poetettes lulled to the opiate rhythms of story-song silliness.

 

Only when I noticed their wobbling knees and fatty little fingers 

opening and closing like metronomes to music I forgot to hear, the

pulse of primal iambs that beat like limbic hearts, laughter-ful, wordless 

sense, even while my lips, breath, voice, tongue and ears decoded and 

reproduced the text just as it was meant to be read–filled with 

drama, pause, whole notes and half notes, lento and allegro, 

ha-ha! loud and sh-sh soft as we three piggies word-danced, they

with their poet souls and me with my mimed mastery of lines.

The Quiet One I Watch Over

It wasn’t easy telling her how I felt used and taken for granted,

all the while fighting self-judgment for sounding needy and guilting.

Do I tell her how I feel, even though there’s nothing she can do about it,

especially knowing that she will feel she has to do something about it?

Do I just silently accept our condition–she not relating to me, not

wanting to be with me, me wanting to be with her but not knowing how

to reach her, make her happy, engaged and connected?

She needs my money, advice and time.

She needs my permission, approval and signature.

I pay for whatever she wants and requires.

I take her where she must go, pace the sidelines and cheer her on,

encourage her, give her feedback and teach her how to live now and beyond us.

We make each other laugh and share sharp wit and sardonic smiles.

She seems appreciative for us, for all we are and do.

No one writes a more heartfelt loving, grateful text.

I don’t doubt her love, she not mine either, I hope.

She’s neither unhappy nor oppressed, just disinterested.

Tied in obligation knots, we–without violence, anger or volume–co-exist,

each with our silent confusion, angst and helplessness, resentment perhaps.

If she could only speak her mind.

Is it bullying to speak mine, a unilateral outpouring inevitably producing reactive

toxic anxiety or worse yet, guilt?

If she would shout, complain and demand, I would know what to do.

But quiet responsibility-assuming aimed at relieving me burden, one fewer needy time-taker,

a sign she’s stepping independently aloof into burgeoning adulthood, leaves me flustered.

No one wins, even when we’re not vying for an upper hand or competing in a contest.

As our relationship gestates, becomes what it will be for years to come, then changes

again, waiting, speaking and abstaining are the hardest parts.

Just one more of the many skills, mothering this one, I may never master.
image

Childhood’s Forest

  
  

  

Her honey-bliss lips, newly bee-blessed, set real people free.

All who tasted described a low grade sympathy lighting dark,

dubiously melding wind and song, fear and safe homecoming. 

 
And then we grew to us, no longer children speaking true lies.

Stories told tied us to the road, beat-boot trodden dusty paths 

leading home to meet two strangers, once lovers kissed true.

 
Now flash-blue sparks sidelong, like ghosts slipping peek-bye.

Glass tags filter your image as pastel strip-thin pressed clouds

spied at vision’s corner, blowing kisses once given free people.

Pinwheel Day

  
Arbitrary framework the hours make; 

the shadows perform tragedies on screen-less walls.

When I was 12 I discovered an ache inside me,

one only quelled by singing the love song antidote

in lilting swallows warbling trills at the edges.

Nature offset flame in cool wind balancing my moods

 that hatched my youth to full fledged childlessness.

Today is just a day; life expels to slowly turn pinwheels.

So Many Ways to Lose a Daughter

 

 
When they were little, headless operations I called them, 

toddling about with no motion detection sensors, 

oblivious to the science of mass in flight against

the immovable object, cause and effect, win and lose, 

I feared losing their pristine purity, their soft roundness

drenched in new flesh, irradiant, to rocks and bumps

in the playground grass or sandbox, opening into

split lips or knobby eggs on their foreheads. I feared

losing them to cars in free fall, driven by madness 

up on my lawn, taking my children with them, like 

the newspaper clipping in the local Starbucks report.

I feared flus and asthma, pneumonia, broken bones

and stitches they could contract or suffer with 

complication and then die in my arms or in their sleep.

I dreamed of kidnappings and wanderings off in 

supermarkets or department store aisles, lost, lost, lost.

I walked them to school the block and a half every day.

And when they were in middle school, I dreaded

the treacherous row of absent-minded, harried

dropping-off moms vs. the brainless, twit t’weeners on

bikes, laughing and careening their wheels into traffic,

caring little for mortality the daily drive threatened

like that boy and his friend on a bike, on the same road,

on the way to school two days before the school year

start, picking up his schedule, leisurely, laughing, 

peddling, looking back at his lagging friend just before

the swerve, the truck, the texting driver, the hit–gone.

I never let them ride their bikes to school, not with that.

I did not want to lose them to twenty somethings’ texts.

Just like I did not want to lose them to drugs, drunk

drivers and AIDS, cancer, concussions or accidents.

I did not want to lose them. And I lost them any way.

To friends, trends, music and driver’s licenses, to

social media and idealism, fierce loyalty and pride of

a generation angry in the wake of destruction their

parents have left them to navigate, chlorinate the gunk

of polluted finance and corrupt opinions and falsity, 

falsity everywhere. I lost them to independence and

opportunity elsewhere, greener, colder, blue-skyed

distant and lonely, free and home away from home.
 

credit: arthistoryarchive.com

When You’re a Grown up

  

My daughter and I were at the frozen yogurt store the other day when we overheard a boy about five years old say to presumably his mother, “I can’t wait til I’m a grownup!” Not exactly sure of the context, but I believe his mother had just conditioned his frozen yogurt choices on being old enough to know what was good for him.

Though the exclamation produced a smile on my face, my 19-year-old-off-to-college-this-week daughter quickly turned to the boy and said, “Don’t rush it, kid. You don’t know what you’re asking for.” And she laughed so as not to terrorize the boy.

I turned to her and asked, “Is it that bad?” She nodded, yes.

I know the anxiety of living away from home for the first time preys on her nerves, playing a checklist of to-do’s and what-if’s in her mind on endless repeat. I feel her.

She and I differ that way. When I left home, I had no thoughts. I left on the sheer will of want: whatever I wanted. It was only after I left that I began to worry as I realized I had no idea how to write a check let alone balance a checkbook. I had only one experience with a bank: a savings account my mother opened for me when I was in junior high, one with a little blue, firm-covered, palm-sized bank book in which to register deposits and withdrawals. I remember how grown up I felt then. But that bank book, regulated by my visions of large purchases and the change in my mother’s purse divided by four, did little to teach me about pooling money in time to pay rent, feed myself and pump gas into my car. 

I learned, especially after a few months of barely living on graham crackers and cottage cheese or peanut butter. A visiting uncle, a psychologist  from Texas, remarked to my mother at one family gathering during that time, “Does she have anorexia?”

Burning by my own mistakes was my way. Still is. So long as they were mine. My mother did little to prepare any of us five children for the world as she protected us–wittingly or unwittingly–from the responsibilities of grown-ups, cocooned as we were in our middle class suburban neighborhood.

Maybe it was the time too. She stayed at home and cooked for us, washed our clothes and poured our milk for us. I remember telling her one day in sudden astonished awareness, “Mom, I’m 12. I can pour my own milk.”

My children did not grow up the same way. Their parents worked and so had to fend for themselves more. Even when I worked from home when they were small, I advocated for their independence. As soon as they were old enough to complain about what was for dinner, I let them know they could make their own if they did not like what was on the menu and then showed them how to use the stove. 

I am not suggesting my kids are not over protected or spoiled in other ways, however. While my parents had no means to buy their children things we nevertheless asked for, my kids have had more money given to them than I had. Growing up in a one-wage factory laborer family, we became accustomed early on to the idea that any material items we wanted would have to be purchased by our own means. I worked mowing lawns, helping my brother deliver newspapers and babysitting from the time I was 8.

My daughters, on the other hand, were raised to believe their grades and sports were their jobs, that they had too many years ahead for the paying jobs that they would eventually have to report to daily. “Don’t rush into working,” I always said.  

So my 19 year old has had a job for a year now; she worked part time while attending the local community college to pay for her car, books, concerts and clothes. I know it has been a stretch, the responsibility, though I know it hasn’t been a shock. She is used to budgeting her time and her resources, having been over-scheduled since she was 6 with soccer practice, piano lessons, school, and whatever the day’s playdates or parties brought.

But it is not the practical how-to’s or what-to-do’s that have her worried about moving out. I know it. She can figure things out, and it isn’t as if she is completely cut from the cord. Smart phones have kept us connected for years now anyhow, near or far. I group text my daughters to come down from their upstairs perches (more like second-story caves) to dinner (when I cook).

Nope. What she fears, I imagine, is what we all do. Doing it herself–whatever it is. The psychological state of being on her own, which prefigures the time when she will be truly on her own, no parents to call upon for a word of advice or a few bucks (or few hundred) to carry her over til payday, is the foundational fear–of death, first others and then her own. 

Not to be too dramatic, but Freud did not get everything wrong. Death and sex are primary human motivators. Everything that drives us is rooted in either or both. 

When my daughter goes off to college, it will symbolize that eventuality (hopefully far down the line) of being on her own without the umbrella of parental love. She will experience it as a mix of anxiety and excitement. And even as she will be making her own love, whether parenting or not, which will occupy enormous space in her mind and heart, she will one day yearn–even if it is just for a moment—for a time when the burdens, seemingly too heavy to bear, were barely perceptible just as they were lurking, unnoticed, above her childhood, as she splashed in an inflatable pool in the backyard and wondered what was for lunch and if she would ever not be bored on endless summer days.

I know I have.

And perhaps my mother, sitting among us near motionless in the skin of a fading light, silently reminds her, also symbolically, that connections run deeper than the physical–etched like the voice that called her to dinner at night all those years of play and idle dreaming. Even when the voices are silenced into memory, beginnings and endings forge life forward even as they fall backward in the marching on.