Wednesday, May 28, 2014

New Poem-- Rebels


My eight-year-old son and I stand in front
of the microwave in our kitchen, waiting
for our popcorn. His coarse hair hangs in his eyes,
earned him the nickname Rock Star in second grade.
The bell finally dings. He opens the door, grabs
the bag and tears it, steam pouring out. His mouth
drops open, eyes clench, hands shaking. When he
catches my glance, his lips clamp shut. Steam burns hurt,
I say. He shrugs, says, S’not that bad. I keep myself
from rolling my eyes. Already he shows signs
of needing to look tough: refuses to wear a coat,
argues with me at every chance, sides with his
sisters. I’m single, feel like the enemy, outnumbered.
My kids are from different eras of my life:
party girl, college girl, career woman. All three
are from never willing to be tamed. How can I expect
them to conform when I never have? My son and I
sit on the floor, share popcorn, argue over whether
to watch a movie or Sponge Bob, settle on
Artist Unknown for the umpteenth time, because
when it comes to my kids—I crumble like paper.

Friday, May 23, 2014

New Poem--The Last Time I Saw You

The Last Time I Saw You
—For Tony, 1966-1987

You just turned 21, bought us the Beck’s Beer
we sipped while we waited for the drop-off
at my apartment, listened to the Stones.

You had silky feathered hair like Mick Jagger,
wore a brown leather jacket from Dad’s shoe repair shop,
dingy white Pumas. We talked about our childhood,
how you played tricks on me, like saying you
were adopted, or that the egg shell was more
nutritious than the egg. We planned to run
Dad’s business together until we were old.

You left to get one more six-pack, and I walked you
to the door, Ruby Tuesday playing on the stereo,
hallway stinking of weed smoke. You patted my
shoulder, said, I’ll be back, three words that would
become a broken promise—because three hours later,

after I figured you caught up with a buddy, got drunk,
forgot to call, our uncle phoned to say they found you
one block from the store, motorcycle crushed, helmet
cracked, your brainstem snapped, you never felt a thing.

But I felt plenty. 18 years old, phone still in my hand,
grief dropped over me like a veil. I packed an overnight
bag, took a cab to our grandparents: recalled when
we were kids, how you made a noose out of plastic, tied
it around your neck, pretended to hang yourself from
the top bunk. I waltzed into the bedroom and found you
there, head slumped, eyes bugged, tongue hanging out.
I screamed through the house, Daddy, Daddy, Tony hanged
himself. He popped you on the head with his knuckle.

I sit at our grandparents, waiting for Dad. Waiting
for you to walk through the door and say this is all a joke,
like before. I sit there. Waiting.  Waiting.  Waiting.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

New Poem -- Cuss Jar -- for my three children

Cuss Jar
—For my children

I sit at my work desk, gape at the computer
screen, drag text boxes and photos from
one page of a printed program to the next.
Cream floats on my coffee like paint.

My cell phone vibrates. Girl #2 yells
that Girl #1 called her a bitch in
front of the Boy. I see his wide brown eyes
turn to dollar signs—the cuss jar on the counter—
most coins dropped in by yours truly.

I line up a photo of an exec with veneers 
inside the grid lines on a page. Barely
listen to the next call and the complaints
about how Girl #1 should move out,
blah blah, she’s a slob, blah blah. I nod
into the phone, sip my hours-old coffee.

Third call. Girl #2 says Girl #1
went psycho, threw a bottle of nail polish,
which I see ricochet off the wall, land
on the floor with little ado. Finally
quitting time, I glaze over until home.

When I walk in, the stench of acetone
wakes me up. Girl #1 kneels in the
hall, the walls colored like a speckled egg.
She smears nail polish remover on spots.

The ceiling’s marred with three maroon Vs,
cushion of the loveseat stained with lines,
couch topped with giant polka dots. I stand there,
lips tight, fighting back tears. The Boy walks over,

throws his arm around me, and says,
“Those girls owe me like ten bucks.”

Monday, May 5, 2014

Why Become a Writer?

A friend of mine, enrolled in a creative writing class, once said to me, "Why in the hell would anyone ever choose this?" I laughed and said, "I didn't."
I grew up Catholic. And for years, I listened to nuns and priests talk about how their station in life was a "calling from God." They felt they were called by him, selected to be chaste, to live by the vow of poverty, to serve him, all their lives. I understood the calling then, and I understand the calling now. And part of me believes one is called to be a writer.
From as young as two or three, I had pre-verbal memory. Memory before I could talk. These images and thoughts may be convoluted, mixed up, half-truths, but they exist in my head as real as any other thought. They are part of my stories.
I have always existed on the outside of things, as an observer. I participate, but usually recollect more than others, for whatever reason. So, when people say, "Remember when such and such happened?" I do. The year, the day, what everyone was wearing, where people were sitting, etc. And even those memories may be suspect, but they are the only ones to question.
My personal story started big. At six months my father asked my mother to leave our house, and she was gone. I grew up with a void. At six, my father remarried a woman who abused me. So did her brother. Her mother, however, treated me with respect and love, and had a positive impact on my life. So did my neighbor Sue Barbis, the O'Rourke family, the Leahys, my Catholic School, extended family, and countless others. They helped make me the productive adult I am today.
When I was 18, my beloved older brother was killed in a motorcycle wreck. Two years later, I joined the navy. I moved from New York to California, traveled all over the state. At 21, I eloped and divorced. I got married again, and had a baby. Left that man and married the man I thought was the love of my life. Had a baby. And at 28, became a widow. The pen came knocking at my door. I've never been the same.
Sometimes I wish I would have been called by God. My life may have been less dramatic, less traumatic. But, why wish away experience? So, here I am. Truthfully, anyone can be a writer. That's why there a million MFA programs. But, it's more romantic for me to think of being called to writing. And after all, I am a hopeful romantic.

My brother, 4, me, 2, and cat, Midas. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Agony of De-Grief

After looking at the date on my last blog, I realized I had not written in so long. Partly because I fell in love. When I'm in love I tend to set the pen down. Perhaps that's ironic since the old poets wrote scores of love poems when enraptured by another. But I write when I'm thrust face to face with my demons, and writing becomes a torch out of the tunnel out of that scary mess.
That said, the last three months have led me back to the pen. Part of me is still reeling from the unexpected death of my father. He was 66 and my best friend. Our relationship was complicated at best. We argued, we laughed, and we were like siblings. And I hate that I can't call him anymore when I cook Italian food. It was a habit I'd started in my twenties--mince some garlic, call my dad. "Hey, guess what I'm making?"
The man I fell in love with helped sell my father's Cadillac, which was a blessing, and he was a wonderful distraction all through the summer and early fall. Even now I find myself waking to thoughts of this man, who was once the boy I fell in love when I was nine and tagged along with my aunt Linda on a summer day on the south side of Binghamton to a friend's apartment. This boy had bushy red hair and freckles, and he oozed coolness, like Fonzie. He told me my first dirty joke. Weeks later I would see him again at PAL camp and became shy around him. Why would a cool boy, two years older, give me the time of day?
But here I was, thirty-five years later, dating this man whom I had fallen in love with when he was a boy. And he loved me back. As grown ups, we seemed to have rescued each other. Almost everyone was behind us being a couple. (there's always haters, right?) But could we could sustain a relationship 3000 miles away? He lived in New York and I lived in Idaho. He had never been married. I had an eight-year-old son and two grown daughters. I visited him in August. He visited me in October. I visited him in November. And then he said, The long distance didn't work for him.
And just as quickly and passionately as the relationship began, it ended. And the high I floated on from July through October dropped me to the ground like a skydiver without a parachute.
I returned to my job, my three kids, two dogs, and a bunny. My best friends Jackie and Jean Paul had me over for Christmas. All I wanted to do was hide in bed under the covers. But they forced me to get out and come over and be around people who love me like family. So, now I am mourning my father being gone and losing the boy and the man I love. It gets better day after day. We all now how grieving works. The only thing that helps you heal is talking about it. And time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why I Wrote the Book Suede

After fifteen long years, I have finally compiled my poetry together in a collection titled, Suede, which is a tribute to growing up in a cobbler's shop. My father stored leather hides wherever he found room, tacked to the wall and on the workbenches in back. The leather scraps found themselves piled in boxes, just like this photo, which is the cover of my book.
I like to call myself a blue collar poet, mostly because I write my poems for that audience. People who are like my father. He was one of the smartest people I ever knew, and he had little more than a high school education. My father always taught me that I was "no better than anyone else," a concept that both defines me and has caused me problems. It's because although my father taught me this, he got annoyed when I fell in love with men for who they were, not what they could give me.
This book pays homage to my older brother Tony, who died when I was 18, and to my father, who became my best friend in Tony's absence. My father and I grieved together--which means we fought, we made up, we argued, we laughed, and we loved each other with the deep ferocity that runs through our Italian roots. My father once told me, "You couldn't be more like me if you tried." In his keen self awareness, he saw that as both a strength and a weakness.
My father's death pushed me to get this book finished. I regret he's not alive to read it. I am sure that where ever he rests, he is beaming with pride.
Thank you for reading.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Doing the Best Job I Can

As most of you know, my beloved father passed away in October. Last week was Father's Day, of course, and it was strange because I did not have to buy a card for him for the first time in decades. Since I was a little girl, I've always tried to find or make a card that explained how much I truly loved him. I think he knew, but I liked to say it out loud.
Since October, I have had to pay numerous hospital, ambulance, electic & gas, cable, you name it, bills leftover from my father's life. This has not been easy, and I've had to take money out of my IRA in order to afford these bills. In the meantime, I've been in probate trying to settle the rest of my father's financial affairs. The fact that I live in Idaho and he lived in New York makes that a bit complicated, but not impossible.
Seventeen years ago, I was in a similar situation when my 28-year-old husband died of a genetic liver disorder. Back then, I really didn't know what I was doing. All of a sudden I was a young widow with a toddler and kindergartner, lots of bills, and no one to help me. On top of that, I received some criticism from people about how I handled the funeral, eulogy, and what type of wife I was. That was like being kicked when I was down.
We all know that people grieve in different ways. I am putting a pin in my grief, really, until I get my father's affairs settled. Otherwise, I will go crazy. I'm hoping that others see that I am doing the best I can and cut me some slack. My father was everything to me, and I would rather have him than his money. I think you understand.