Thursday, November 8, 2018

Sense Memories, by Susan Currie

Carnations are the fragrance of funerals. Standing next to my father’s coffin as a child, the scent of flower stands filled with carnations overwhelmed me. Carnation olfactory hallucinations have followed me ever since — to school, walking in the woods, driving, or even just upon waking in the morning stretching to meet the new day. For years, I was convinced it was my father come back to check on me.

“Eau de New Baby Doll” is the 1950s smell of . . . well . . . a new baby doll. It’s the plastic. Sometimes, even now, a new shower curtain liner takes me back to unwrapping the cellophane on the big box holding a new baby doll. In retrospect, it was quite scary with eyes that never closed.

In the 1970s there was the overwhelming and suffocating experience of patchouli oil, on everyone, everywhere. An Alice Cooper concert was the crowning moment of a communal bath of patchouli. But there is also the memory of sandalwood, the fragrance of thousands of Egyptian princesses mingled with warm oak, earthy and magical.

In the spring, I miss the intoxicating scents of a southern spring night. Flowers give off the color of their perfumes: wisteria deeply purple; magnolias white, sometimes with faint pink and green at the center; daffodils cheerfully yellow; and even violets with their elusive, easy to miss scent. The deepest is the narcissus, heavy with, at first, joy, then at a certain moment, the rot of regret. “Starry Narcissus, starry Narcissus,” my mother liked to sing under her breath as she took care to track the exact moment the flower’s fragrance tipped from beautiful to decay.

The teenage perfume I loved most was one called “Tigress” because it smelled like new paper. There is the "Jovan White Musk" Chris wore when we first dated. Later, I fretted that the perfumes we wore defined our personalities: “White Linen” and “Escape” for her and later “Happy,” while I wore dark, more foreboding-sounding scents like “Eternity” and “Chance.”

We each keep the last bottles of perfume our mothers owned: Estee Lauder’s “Youth Dew” from Antoinette, Chris’s mom, and Lanvin’s “Arpege” from my mother. Perhaps once a year, we pull out these bottles, close our eyes, breathe the scents in deeply and remember our mothers as they sprayed a mist and stepped into it for a lighter effect.

Lessons from my mother about scent:  Only at night, always a light mist that one steps into so that passing through a room, a faint fragrance is left trailing behind like a pleasant memory.

=== === ===

Twenty-Four Hours of Five Senses: November 7, 2018

In the last twenty-four hours in our house, there was the smell of freshly baked oatmeal bread, the odor of turned earth as the gardens were stripped and cleaned for the winter, the wet dog running happily through the house, the fragrance of roasted vegetables for soup.

There was the feel of the smooth, old wooden banister while going upstairs, the slipperiness of throw rugs, the unpleasantness of stepping into an invisible puddle of water in sock feet.

There was the sound of shuffling through leaves on the path while on a walk, the silence ringing in my ears while in the house alone.

There was the contrast in the sky between dark blue-black and grey storm clouds and wispy, faint pink cirrus clouds just under them; the sudden clarity and brightness of a few stars popping out as clouds passed overhead. The light from a low plane on ascent, looking like a car gone mad.

We can’t give up the taste of the leftover Halloween candy — “teenage girl candy” — Starburst, tootsie rolls, and strongly flavored fruit chews that make our jaws ache with the sweetness.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Lost, by Fran Markover

The usual suspects: socks without mates, lone earrings, wandering keys.
 I lost a Wedgwood china ring. The design: a pearly woman leaning against an anchor.
 Her name was Hope. I had bought it in England to keep me safe crossing any ocean.
 I lost her the day I packed for college.

I lost my father’s medallion, the gold one he pocketed during WWII as he flew over enemy
lines. Inscribed are the 10 Commandments in Hebrew. I wore it to mammograms and
court hearings for my work. I took it to the ER when my 90 year old mother broke her hip.
Found the coin one day at the bottom of a pocketbook. Now, the medallion rests on
velvet by Tante Ruchel’s bracelet.

I lost my first love, a boy I met in 6th grade. Years later, at our 50th reunion, I met his
wife who took a liking to me. We talked, this woman and me, for a long while.
She called me “soul mate.”  So now Annie and I are Facebook buddies. Life surely
becomes complicated when one door slams and an unexpected door swings wide.

I’ve lost words, early sounds of Yiddish, words that spat, that occasionally grumbled their
way home. Words like: bubkis and meshugganah, oy kinehora and tsouris. These are
syllables I yell when English seems too polite. Did I lose myself as words and phrases

I’ve lost names. Or can you lose what hasn’t been inherited? Names like Grandpa Morris’
brothers. There were a lot of them and grandfather never could share their stories.
Did he imagine that if he whispered names of the dead, he’d travel back to his lost country,
his lost village? When he strummed his mandolin, I could almost hear a celestial roll call.

I’ve lost possibilities. After my surgery, I could never give birth. I was 31 years old.
The scar across my abdomen formed soft tracks to nowhere. I can accept this fate
until a stranger inquires: Do you have any children?

 I lost a tooth the day I left Spunky the cat at the vet hospital. I thought at 5 years old
 she’d survive. Now there’s a hole in my mouth, unfilled. Like leaving an empty chair
 where dad used to sit or the fissures in my heart when my younger brother died.
 When my tongue enters the gap, I think of Spunky’s smooth fur, how I held her against
 my chest to hear each other’s music. How a rescue cat on my lap can be an anchor.


Thursday, October 4, 2018

Uproarious Laughter, by Summer Killian

“Uproarious laughter” is the sound she says she won’t forget. For me, it’s more the quiet I remember: the loudest, most quiet ride. The road beneath us. Tires on upstate roads sound hopeful but lonely. The green glow of the numbers on the minivan’s radio display: there must’ve been a song, there would’ve been several, really, but I can’t hear them in my memory.

She says he tried to take her clothes off, while she tried, against the palm of his hand, to say no. She says his friend thought it was funny. She thought she might die there. For me, it was a miles-long calculation of how badly injured I might become were I to slide open the side door of the van (moving 60MPH) and roll away onto the asphalt into the night. There’s a lot of time to think startling thoughts like these when a boy has his hand down your shirt. There’s a lot of time to make elaborate plans for the escape, and the turning in, and then to realize that you should already be saying something, and then to worry about who will get in trouble if you do – you? Him? And then to strangely, horrifyingly, care more about what happens to him than about what is happening to you. To weigh your broken bones from jumping out of the car against his being booted from the varsity soccer team, and to decide that his fate was worse, or that it mattered more.

It starts with thinking it’s a fly or some other annoyance on the back of your neck, but it’s his fingers and then, no…no. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t possibly be fumbling with your bra strap? Your friend sleeps peacefully beside you, or maybe even in your lap. Wake up! You are beaming a message to her brain from the center of your own. You don’t wake her up. You don’t move.

You imagine telling your dad. He would go over there! Demand a talk with the boy and his dad. Not in a fighting way, but he would fight if he needed to, maybe? Before all that, though, you can hear your dad asking you — why wouldn’t you say anything? I raised you to speak up for yourself. You are worth more than that. And you can hear the hot tears splatter on your jeans as you look at your lap, ashamed here in front of your dad. And you don’t know what to say, or to do, again.

She says she had one beer. I don’t think I had any. I also didn’t have a crush or even an interest in this boy beyond an inherent fascination with kids further along in high school than I was. But what he had was my right breast in his hand for miles. Me, staring out the windshield, and him, doing whatever he was doing with the other hand while he leaned forward from the seat behind mine.

She says she told a therapist. I told my girlfriends, in whispers. His sister was in our class. Shhh! We can’t let her find out.

She says he isn’t fit to serve. This guy sells cars today. I can see how he’d be fit for that. I imagine him speaking to a customer: “Such a quiet ride.”

Today, I wake to news that the investigation has been concluded. I read comments of all sorts, the angry, the supportive, the poorly articulated, the painstakingly so. A new theme emerges, and sounds kind of like this:

Even if he did this drinking-too-much, holding-her-down, uproarious-laughter-terrifying thing, even if, the bottom line is that he was so angry, so unhinged during his questioning, that he clearly can’t be considered for the Supreme Court. So that in the end, even if he isn’t nominated, it won’t be because he sexually assaulted someone. It will be because he was too angry about being accused of it.

This makes me want to be 14 again, speeding in a minivan on the way home from the Saratoga Performing Arts Center at midnight on a school night. I will say stop the fucking car and I will unbuckle my seatbelt and my girlfriend will wake up just in time to see me spin around with this guy’s right forearm gripped between both of my small hands that are so much stronger than they appear, and I will fucking twist that arm until he says JesusChristwhatthehell and then harder until he cries, and that’s right, I will say, YOU don’t get to be angry.

And then I will tell everyone else in the car what he was just doing and then I will tell everyone at school the next day, starting with his sister and then the soccer coach. And then I won’t even have to tell my dad because I will have handled it.

I won’t have to think about him when I drive past Ford dealerships in other years, in other states.

I won’t have to forget all the details of that night: which friend was next to me, which concert we’d been to, what I was wearing, what happened the next time I saw the guy.

I won’t have to tell my daughter that even if a man fucks up in this way, he doesn’t get in trouble. I won’t have to tell her to wait, he’ll soon exhibit some other, more minor bad behavior and we can remember him for that instead.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Celestial Rolodex, by Fran Markover

A is for Albie, beloved uncle, fighter pilot, who made model airplanes at Horizon Village. His last words to me as he lay dying were “I’ve still got all my marbles, kid!” At his burial, my cousins played Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.”

B is for Barbara, mother-in-law, her favorite expression: “I’ll be darned” to most anything we said. She loved her hummingbirds, hummers who alit on her trumpet vines. “I’ll be darned,” she’d cackle to them.

C is for Carl, my father, who I miss so dearly. Dad, whose harmonica I found in a velvet-lined box shaped like a casket. “Chattanooga Choo Choo, Woo, Woo.” Somewhere over the rainbow he’s chugging out a song. His finale ─ “Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling.”

D is for Deborah, classmate at Ellenville Central, who gave me a 16th birthday party at her home. I can picture the gift she gave ─ my favorite sweater, the one I saw on the cover of Seventeen magazine, pink mohair with yellow knit dots.

E is for Elizabeth, 2nd mother, who adopted me in college. She’d sit patiently in her rocker, wrapped in a homemade afghan, listen to my misadventures with boyfriends. She sheltered me after my surgery. Years later, when her husband George was so ill, she called and said, “please come over, Fran. I need children.”

F is for Feigele. I’m named after her, my grandfather Morris’ mother. She remained in her home in the 1920s. “They’d never harm an old lady,” she told Grandpa in her Ukrainian doorway. Feigele. It means “little bird.” I’m so sad she never took flight.

G is for Gerry, our friend, poet, who loved to take walks in the woods. Who knew all there was to know of white-tailed deer. He had a booming voice. Cancer took that away. To this day I can hear Pastor Jack at the funeral say, “Sometimes we’re dealt a bad hand of cards. Gerry played his the hardest. Gave it his best.”

H is for cousin Harry, a man I never met. He was the first relative in America, early 1900s. Harry was a tailor from a line of tailors and seamstresses. I can imagine him in a tenement, early Brooklyn, cutting away with his big scissors. They’re now in a place of honor in Tante Ruchel’s hutch.

I is for Izzie, another tailor from the old country. His shop was down the block from our house,
Izzie was the shortest man I knew, also the most ornery, the most gruff. When I brought my prom dress to him he questioned me as if he were part of the Spanish Inquisition. His last name was Needleman.

J is for Uncle Jack, my father’s brother. He was a Navy man during WWII. Jack gave me a grass skirt from Hawaii and I’d dance bare-breasted around our poultry farm, wildflowers in my pigtails. At five years old, I didn’t think he’d never speak to us again, how heart-broken my father was for the rest of his life.

K is for Mr. Kesselman, superb Social Studies teacher in high school. I remember him not so much for lessons on world events but for the handsome blond boy who sat opposite me, Peter, my first crush. Oh, yes, there’s one lesson Mr. K. taught that I recall: “jaw, jaw is better than war, war.”

L is for Laurie, expert musician and my meditation instructor who taught me to breathe in 2, breathe out 4. She planted flowers in every nook and cranny in her neighborhood. They have bloomed long after her death. I picture her in a celestial spaceship playing a flute cantata, seeding posies like stars dotting the universe.

M is for my brother Michael who passed 5 years ago at 56 years old. Severely autistic, he lived in a group home for adults. I think of him daily and with every piece of writing, with every poem, I try to channel his voice, to say words he never got to express. Rest well, Michael.

N is for Nick, my husband’s client, who remained a friend to us. Nick, developmentally disabled,
beaten as a boy, still so angry as he grew up. We loved him, became family. When he was found deceased on January 2nd, the coldest night of the year, we felt the ice in our hearts when the cops came to our door with news of his passing. Every month, we place a stone on his grave.

O is for Olga, my aunt. I wear lipstick in her honor ─ Passion Fruit #308. She began each phone call: “Hello, Bubbalah. How are you, delicious girl?” I miss her orange puffy hair that reminded me of cotton candy, miss her muumuus and gold lamé sandals. If love were a color, it would be bright orange.

P is for Papa, my mother’s father, Morris. He’d greet me ─ “Francinooski, eat something, skinny girl.” When he escaped from Vinnetska, he carried his mandolin as he rowed across the river Dnestr. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I hear his Russian folk tunes strumming after seders.

Q is for Leo Q., my cousin. I only saw him on Passover. His cigar formed circles each time he’d catch the little ones giggling at Hebrew or sneaking matzoh under the table, breaking the unleavened bread into tiny pieces so that the floor felt like a beach.

R is for R.C., poet and sailor. I saw him 2 times a year at workshops held at Amazing Grace. He once pinned a buttercup into the button hole of my sweater and whispered how poetry was “necessary.”

S is for Slapsie Maxie, my father’s distant cousin. He was welter weight champ in the ’30s and a Grade B movie star. I know him through his films like I Married A Monster from Outer Space. On bad days, I imagine him yelling: “Don’t take no crap from no one.”

T is for Tante Ruchel. She worked in a millinery. Her hair was the color of parchment. Ruchel earned her high school diploma at the age of 80. Every time I wear a sunhat, I picture her sewing ostrich feathers, or polka dot netting, or velvet trim around the edges so I could be a proper lady.

U is for Ursula, my father’s mother, who left my grandfather when dad and his brother were young boys. I never met her. She headed to Ohio with her lover, abandoning her children. Ursula was a hand model. Did she ever think of her grandkids? My father? I believe she’d disapprove of my fingers, garden dirt under my nails, uneven crescents.

V is for Uncle Vinny, mother’s brother. No one liked him. He was a gambler, snarled a lot. Once, he met Cousin Eileen at the door with a shotgun. After his funeral, I discovered he was an Elvis wannabe in a band called the Four Roses. He once loved a woman named Rose but felt he couldn’t marry her because she wasn’t Jewish.

W is for Ed Wuppersahl, dad’s friend. Both worked as prison guards. Long after Ed died, I found a newspaper blurb about his life. He was a member of the Klan. Father never knew this. I think of Ed and his wife at our dining room table, joking, eating ice cream in front of our menorah.

Y is for Yitzak. He was Grandma’s brother. He lived in her attic and came downstairs for dinner. Yitzak was toothless. He loved sardines. He spent time mumbling in prayer. I was fascinated by his tallith that hid him like a fringed curtain. I was certain that if there was a God, he’d look like Yitzak, tired, very wrinkled, robed all in white, looking out from above.

Z is for Zeke, short for Ezekial the cat, supreme outdoor adventurer. He originally belonged to in-laws. We had promised we’d look after him when my in-laws died. Zeke had other plans, and ran away. The last time I saw him, he was resting against my mother-in-law’s feet like some furry Egyptian deity, as she lay dying. “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…” I hope, Zeke, that you are still dreaming of heavenly mice scampering across some Elysian fields. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

School Daze, by Rob Sullivan

white shirt immaculate,
conception of knotted tie
still room for improvement
older brother's aid invaluable

trousers had the crease
black shoes had the shine
face and hands- the sheen
heart and spirit- the genuflect

make no mistake
to be of value and use
all we colts
needed to be broken,
brought low
quitted down
and tamed

every manner of half-truth
and subversive lie
was to be weeded
from the garden-primeval

catechism, church doctrine,
daily prayer ,weekly mass and confession
all designed to bring
wayward young souls
back into the fold
back into the arms of the one true god

how we wanted to be saved
how we yearned for love
and acceptance
into the good
boys and girls club

save for the fallen angels
who would not bow down
or cower in fear
of ruler and switch
across knuckles or bottom

these prideful angels
found themselves
thankfully banished
to the most public
of schools -- forever

each of us who stayed
fought the good fight
to be saints
in a fallen world
to be imitations of Christ
to be of and not of
this world

to be good
to be small
to be quiet
to be humble
to be servants
to be docile
to be less
to be no trouble
to be obediant
to be afraid

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Kansas Wind, by Marty Blue Waters

Every day in Kansas you can pretty much count on the wind to mess around with you. It is so ubiquitous an element that not much concern or attention is usually given to it. Even when everyone grabs for their hats at exactly the same moment an enormous gust of wind whips by, nobody misses a beat, they just continue on with whatever they were doing or saying.

It really made sense to me when I learned that the state of Kansas was named for a Sioux Indian tribe, the Kansa, which means “people of the south wind.” When I was growing up in the open spaces of western Kansas, I liked to watch the wind at work, and discovered many different ways to witness its power for myself. A cottonwood tree was a good choice for climbing. I could sit astride a high branch as though I were riding a pinto pony, heading into the wind, and looking it straight in the eye. I rode with great glee. The leaves of the cottonwood rattled like fleshy castanets and provided an inspiring rhythm to dramatize the movie that was playing in my head.

Nobody had automatic clothes driers in Kansas. We had clotheslines stretched across our back yards. Sheets became parachutes, straining to free themselves. Everyone had their own special methods of battening down the wash. Clothespins usually worked just fine, if you used enough of them. But sometimes they still needed a little help. Mom sewed iron weights into old pairs of socks and knotted them together into long, heavy strands. Then she tossed these odd ballasts over anything that attempted to leap into the sky.

For some reason, our next door neighbor, Miss Pew, never quite got the hang of it. She was a robust woman, and her huge overalls flapped on her clothesline like giant flags on a ship at sea. Her bloomers, as she called them, were cumulous clouds darting about in the bright blue sky. It was not unusual to see a pair of her runaway bloomers flitting down the back alley in search of a lilac bush to get all tangled up in. It was one of my favorite neighborly duties to retrieve these escaped undies, fold them up nicely, and knock on Miss Pew’s door with a grin on my face. She always had a good laugh and said “Oh, did those naughty girls run away again?!?” Then we’d sit on her big porch swing for a long while and talk about anything that crossed our minds. Or just be quiet and rock gently back and forth.

Miss Pew was called a spinster, whatever that was really supposed to mean, and I think she was in her 80s when I was in grade school. She lived in an enormous house all by herself and she loved to collect things. Like salt and pepper shakers. They were handsomely displayed in two giant glass cases in her living room and she enjoyed telling me the history of each pair, over and over.

And, speaking of pairs, I wanted so badly to have a pair of overalls like she wore. They looked so comfortable and had lots of deep pockets. As soon as I started babysitting to make some money of my own, I went by myself to Woolworths and bought a pair of Osh Kosh overalls, much to my mother’s horror. She had to drag me into clothing stores to shop for skirts and dresses to wear to school and church, so this was quite a shock for her. Thank you, Miss Pew, for giving me the courage to do that, back in 1958.

As I approached my teenage years, whenever a big storm blew through town, there I was in my overalls, disregarding the sirens that were blasting the well-known code, informing everybody that it was time to dive into their basements immediately. I only heard the wind in superb action and headed for my favorite tree. I had to grab on to that upper cottonwood branch so tightly I thought I might snap it off the massive trunk all by myself. Like a Thanksgiving Day turkey wishbone. I imagined I was in a rodeo riding a bucking bronco and I was not about to let myself be thrown off. Afterall, I was a fearless cowboy having the ride of my life!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Things That Make No Sense, by Rob Sullivan

twig cracks underfoot,
rain drop chooses
this moment to fall
into a puddle

eyes smile serene,
knowing long beyond
the kingdom of words
the province of thoughts

mind blown as the wind
shifting, sculpting
dry, desert sand
into a greater design

body, ephemeral vehicle,
for this leg of the journey
that spans the birth and death
of many universes

spirit remembers true calling,
dross melts away
revealing wondrous beauty
of a love supreme.