Perpetua in Carthage

I, martyr to dust.

I, traveler with slaves
to beasts.

I, rejecter of the babe
my father brought
aching for my breast,

asking me:

“Do you see the space
where you will not be?”

I who was silent.

He asked me:
“What can this space be called by?”

I, who answered:
“I cannot be called anything
other than what I am.”

I, who dreamt of the serpent
I, who dreamt of my slave sisters
I, who dreamt of fighting my way
through the dark door into the light.

I, who brought Felicity singing
to the wild heifer.

I, whose collarbone caught
the executioner’s knife.

I, who caught his hand
and drew the knife
through my neck.

I, who would not be denied.

Copyright Kay Winter

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Not a Completely New Concept

It wasn’t a completely new concept. Babcia had been  teaching me how to Polka as soon as I exited my mother’s womb. But once I got to kindergarten, I had less time to Polka. The teachers were always trying to get me to run.

Running was definitely a new concept. The gym teacher kept yelling at me “why are you hopping like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like that! Like that! That hopping you are doing? Run! Run!”

When I was young I had a major hearing problem. I thought he said “Hops” and so I replied, “my dad will not let babcia teach me how to micro-brew at home. We have get our beer from the liquor store just like everyone else!”

The teacher grabbed me by the collar. We were marching up to the principle’s office.  Except I apparently didn’t know how to walk either or march. I was hopping back and forth from one foot to the other. I tried to work in a fancy twirl into my Polka moves. Wham! Bam! Ouch!

The principle had started his career in the educational system as a gym teacher. My first head concussion happened right in that moment. My first day of kindergarten and I was out for the count from polka’ing right into that principle. He called my parents as they could get to the school quicker than our volunteer paramedics who hung out at the volunteer firefighters’ station in town. The volunteer fire department station was the only bar open before 10 am on a school day. I can’t blame them . I mean being a volunteer fire fighter was a stressful job. They needed to kick back and relax in between fighting those fires.

I could tell the principle got my dad on the phone.

“No, not hops! I said hopping! Your daughter is hopping,” he yelled.

I instantly thought my dad must have the portable phone with him on the John Deere backhoe.

“What is wrong with hopping! She is supposed to be running not hopping. Who taught her how to hop like that? Is it that baba person she talks about teaching her this?”

“Baba, don’t ever call my babcia a baba! And if you value your life, never call her a stara baba! Nothing pisses off old Polish women like being called an old hag! If you do make that mistake then you better pray she isn’t wearing her plastic babushka. Everyone knows or should know once that plastic rain proof babushka is off a Polish woman’s head, it becomes a weapon. They just put it on your head with the main plastic part covering your face and then tie it tight as can be. You see steam come out of the nostrils for a few seconds but it is just a few seconds then you’re…well you know.”

“Is this baba or babcia woman in the mafia?”

“Mafia? No, she’s in my family. She is just my dad’s very Polish mother. My grandmother. My babcia!”

We heard a thunderous roar. Then saw the lightening strikes in the sky through the windows. Rain started pouring down and pounding the roof and those same windows we were staring out as we waiting for my dad. The principle started sweating. The sweat poured down his forehead, his face to the same pace of the sweet smelling yet fierce rain.

I saw my dad’s brown dodge cab and half truck pull up to the round about driveway. I could see my babcia in the passenger side.

As my dad slowly opened the main entry door to the school, I turned to the principle. “You’re lucky this morning she got her hair done. She isn’t going to risk getting it wet to deal with the likes of you.”

Babcia waved to the two of us staring out the school window. In her one hand we could clearly see her plastic babushka. In her other hand was her colt 45. Stain marks from the sweat now drenching him were so visible in the armpit area of his fancy late 1970’s dress shirt. I didn’t want to know where the other stains in his clothes were. Although guessing by the smell in the principle’s office….his shit did stink.

Copyright: Theresa Dolata

My First Polish Words

Pocałuj mnie w dupę i babcia cię kocha!

My grandfather taught me the first part “pocałuj mnie w dupę”. The first time I caught him cheating at cards. I was five and the game was 31. I had lost a lot of nickels and I finally realized why. Grandpa was keeping 4 cards in his hand instead of 3. I called him on it. And those were his words to me. I asked my mom in my sweet innocent little 5 year old kindergarten voice, “did Grandpa just tell me to kiss his ass?”

“Tak! Yes!  And get him another Polish beer!”

I got up and got him another Polish beer. Babcia had sat out the last few games to make supper for all of us. I learned the “babcia cię kocha” from her. My grandmother…My babcia…I knew she loved me no matter what language it was in.

However, the languages I would hear things like this from her were going to be either English or Polish. Mostly Polish, as it was her default language. Babcia was making something that was not meant to be translated into English. Czarnina was not meant to be translated into English especially to a 5 year old prior to Halloween.

Ah, what the hell! I will translate it for you. Czarnina is Blood Soup. First step Babcia would say is and this is in her own words…

“You chase the duck or goose around the yard and then when you have the prime opportunity to swing that axe with all your strength. Polish people are strong hard working, faithful people, Theresa. Then one swing of the axe and that duck or goose is bleeding. Now you have to be quick to gather and draw the blood from it. We need it all for the soup. Okay?”

“Are we vampires babcia?”

“No! Where would you get an idea like that from? Those German Lutherans in your kindergarten class spreading rumors about us Poles! I knew it. Bringing in a German Chocolate cake to celebrate you and that little German Lutheran boy’s birthday. They probably poisoned your piece.”

“No German Lutherans told me anything about us Poles! I saw it in a Halloween movie where these vampires suck blood out of their victims.”

“Oh Well, we don’t suck the blood! We harvest the blood and boil in a pot with of other things!” Babcia muttered under breath as she turned to walk away, “vampires, vampires! I am keeping an eye on those German Lutherans. They ain’t going to poison my favorite grandchild. No poisoning her mind, her spirit or her body!”

Babcia was sure the German Lutherans had already infiltrated my body. She was sure that was why I didn’t eat any Czarnina for supper. But I didn’t eat blood sausage either or blood pudding or anything that translated into blood and some kind of food! I didn’t want the kids at my school to call me vampire girl for the rest of my educational experience at Castle Rock Elementary K-8th grade school.

Babcia cię kocha! Yes, she did love me. Of course when I was five, I had no idea that we were going end up being like the live Polish version of the movie “Thelma and Louise!”

Copyright Theresa Dolata

Fluidity

Fluidity
By Shelley Maasch

I finally gave up. It was Kyle’s death that did it. Kyle, the twenty year old killed in a car accident on his way to work one Wednesday morning about 5 miles from his home. Something like that stuns you. Your mind flips through a series of possible items he did wrong that caused the accident because you cannot believe a random act is possible. Not in a small town, in the country, where there aren’t very many other drivers.

He crossed into the other lane, the driver that hit him said, so the driver instinctively swerved into Kyle’s lane. But then Kyle snapped to and turned back into his own lane, only to be hit.

You wonder, what are the odds that there would be another car coming at the exact time Kyle’s car drifted?

He’d been driving for four years. It wasn’t youth. And it was in the morning, so it wasn’t like he was out drinking somewhere and then got in his car.

It just happened. That’s all. No one was at fault. No one knows why Kyle’s car crossed the line.

I’d been struggling with the impermanence of things, up till that day. Things like there will never be children living in my house again. Or, how you’re going along running every day with your dogs and suddenly one morning they’re just too old. Over night. Or how a group you used to belong to dissipates and your friends move on.

Most things you can see coming and it makes you sad to watch them happen and you can’t do anything about it.

A sudden tragedy shifts your thinking. And you begin to realize there isn’t anything you can do about it.

I went to the funeral. It was on a Monday, in a town 2 hours away. Brooke, my niece, asked everyone to wear bright colors because that’s what Kyle wore. She’d been dating him for four years when he died. There were people in orange and purple, his favorites, lined up outside the small funeral parlor. I found my brother sitting with my mother on the bench out front. I reached down and hugged her, then him. He couldn’t talk, my brother who was usually boisterous and somewhat obnoxious. We went inside to sign the book and I found my father sitting in a soft winged chair in the back. He looked smaller. His arms were beginning to shrink into an old man’s. Even his shirt looked a little big.

I turned to face the front. There was no body, thank goodness there was no body lying in a padded box up front, a youth face in a new suit with hands folded across his chest. Kyle was part Sioux Indian, just a small part. But he’d wanted to be cremated, which was just fine with me.

I searched the room for my brother’s third wife. She was nowhere to be seen, not her or her three children. All his girls, all six of them were there and his second wife was there, Brooke’s mom. She was standing next to her fiancé, the same fiancé for the past three years, the one she had another child with.

I was there with my second mate, Puck. We weren’t married yet but we would be. Someday soon.

The service started. The minister started talking into a scratchy tin microphone, then gave up and used his own voice. The same stuff you’d expect. I wanted some Indian thing, like chanting or dancing or feathers, but my other niece said Kyle was only 1/6th Sioux, so his family didn’t know any Sioux things.

You sit there and they play those songs, the ones that twist you up inside and make you feel like a wet rag full of emotions and tears and you want keening brought back into funerals so you can let it out. And you keep your thoughts from the mother, the poor mother, the poor poor mother that has to bury her son, the son who’s little boy pictures of Christmas and holding his new born sister and fishing are hung all around the room, the prom pictures, the high school graduation pictures. Yeah, those. And tears push up into your head so hard it aches and your eyes bulge out keeping them in.

I sat as still as I could, hoping it would end soon. Then the minister invited anyone who wanted to say a few words about Kyle’s life was free to do so. I closed my eyes, good lord, there’s no way you can get through that and just how long would it take anyway? But the few that did, told funny stories, stories to make us laugh.

Afterwards, we were all given balloons filled with helium on our way outside. I stood in the crowd, holding a yellow balloon against the clear blue sky, thinking about how my parents, still married to each other for 50 years, how the permanence of their marriage will soon end and then what? The last permanent thing in my life will be gone.

And then I watched as Brooke came out, carrying a purple balloon, walked out into the middle of our crowd. I know what’s coming for her, I know it isn’t going to be pretty, when all this is said and done and she reaches for the phone to call Kyle or its Saturday night and he’s not coming to pick her up.

She stands there in her light blue dress, raising her hand upward. I lift mine high. We all let them go, blue, red, yellow, purple, green bulbs rise into the empty sky. Not straight up, but to the east and upward. We stand watching till they become smaller. It felt better.

I kept an eye on my balloon and wished things could stay the same, but there’s nothing you can do about change. Except go through it. And as the colors became smaller and higher, I began to accept the endings and beginnings, life and death, transitions and the cycles as all part of life. They’re all tied together.

© Copyright Shelley Maasch, All Rights Reserved

What Matters: Like It Or Not

What matters,
like it or not,
is that the world comes at us
without warning.

It finds us without our asking,
without our worrying and wailing
as we dry the dishes
or wait for the bus.

Like it or not,
the tips of our fingers
are as good a way to hang on
as any other.

Like it or not,
the world looks at you
the way your child does,
clear-eyed and expectant.

Like it or not,
you also have to eat
what is in front of you.

What matters,
like it or not,
is that everything that is beautiful
fades, falls, and breaks.

(We have, we do, we will.)

(It doesn’t matter.)

Like it or not,
this is the road we are on
because this is the way to the garden,
though the days in the garden
are long past.

Like it not not,
you have to get up now,
the bell is ringing,
the clouds are flying
across the morning sky,
and the tide has pulled itself
away from shore.

Like it or not,
the world spins around
and the people who were here,
are someplace else now,
and who you used to be,
is gone as well.

Like or not,
we are all a little bit lost
but always where we should be.
Like it not,
here we are,
on our knees in the dark,
wiping our eyes,
wiping our noses,
trying to make a deal,
even though we are the ones
who blew the house down.

Like it not,
life and death are both thieves.

Like it or not,
it doesn’t matter,
that what they steal,
they keep better for us
than we could keep for ourselves.
But they both promise,
(this is what matters),
they promise to give it back.

Copyright Kay Winter

Discovering Francine

I don’t know what I was doing, living in that old duplex. I shouldn’t be here, not at my age. But there I was, living in the type of place you get for your first home once you move out on your own. Like Dash, the young woman who was living here, now, with me.
I don’t know her. I don’t know where she came from. And I could tell she was wet behind the ears.
Because when thunder cracked and the rain pounded the roof and soon after, water streamed out of the ceiling, between us, she stared at it with a sick look on her face.
I’ve been here long enough to know the landlord isn’t going to get his butt out here and fix it anytime soon.
“I’ll get a pot,” Dash said. And she headed into the kitchen.
“Going to need more than I pot,” I said. She doesn’t answer me, but that’s nothing new. We need a five gallon bucket and the most likely place the landlord would have one lying around would be in the basement.
Dash was not going to go down there.
No one goes down there.
It’s up to me to go down there.
It’s an old house. The steps are wood, the paint long worn off in the middle. There’s a window in the door at the top of the stairs, but the sky is dark and it makes the basement look black. I flip on the switch. Florescent lights buzz and I can see my way down into the gray blocks and cement. I walk slowly down, holding onto the railing, descending into the dark, dank world.
This is where discarded things go. Like that old oak table in the corner used as a work bench, all scraped and full of divots and splashes of paint. Small tools lay scattered across the top. A mop rests against the wall, but no bucket. Dash has come to stand at the top and is looking down to where I stand. I head toward a bunch of boxes and old furniture near the furnace.
I poke around, brushing my fingers across dust and cobwebs. Basement must; the air is heavy and cold and uncomfortable to inhale. I bend down to look under the old kitchen chairs stacked on top of each other. Water splashes behind me and I turn to see the rain coming through the floor from the living room. I turn back to my search and then something strange catches my eye.
Three busts of women, from the neck up, sit in a triangle on the floor, below and beyond the chairs. All face the same direction with their profiles turned toward me, chins tilted up, eyes closed. The one closest to me has been painted gold, an Egyptian hat angled back so my eyes follow the slant down to the hair, then forehead, nose, chin and neck. A queen’s head, I think. It should be in a museum. The one next to it radiates beauty but is not stately. And the one in the back is blurry but still beautiful. They rest on their necks on the concrete floor, without stands.
As I stare, three chins drop in unison and the faces turn toward me. Their eyes open and stare back. Their mouths began to speak. One word.
“Help. Help. Help.” It is not a desperate plea.
I stand up.
They were stone before.
I don’t know what they want.
I feel strangely quiet as I stand listening to them repeating the same word, over and over, out of sinc.
Thunder cracks overhead and the light goes off. I hear a door open and close and Dash leaves the stairs to go to the front door.
I race back upstairs. The lights are on again.
“Thank god you’re here!” she said to Calvin. Calvin is the other person that moved in when she did. They sleep in the same room, the big room, of which she stripped the wallpaper and painted a pale yellow. I like Calvin. He’s sensitive and most times he stops to listen when I’m talking or singing.
Dash points to the water filling the pot. “I’ve emptied it twice already”, she said. She’s upset and fights back tears but I can tell she’s about to lose it.
Calvin is patient as he listens and puts an arm around her.
“I’ll go get a bucket. There has to be one in the basement,” he said.
I’ve been quiet, letting them have their private moment until now.
“I did look,” I said. “But there’s something else down there you should see.” I say this but Calvin is already heading down the stairs and I follow him.
He starts looking all around, seeing if he can find a bucket.
“You’ve got to see this,” I said. “You’re an artist, you’ll appreciate it.” I motion to where the busts are, behind the chairs, but he’s still looking around where the mop is. I wait until he walks toward me and looks around the chairs.
“See!” I said. Then I stop. The busts are gone. All three. The cement where they sat is swirly and ripped, but no sign of the busts. Like they’d bent their heads and dipped under water.
I stare at the empty spot. “I think they’re under the cement.”
Calvin finally notices and bends down to run his hand over the surface.
“That cement doesn’t look right,” he said.
He stands up and stares a bit longer then notices a bucket in the corner.
“I found one,” he calls, loud enough for Dash to hear.
He grabs the bucket and heads upstairs.
I remain staring a bit longer. I reach out to touch the cement, then pull back. It’s soft enough to put my hand through. I back away, keeping a safe distance.
Upstairs I hear Calvin and Dash talking again. She’s telling him a coffee cup got knocked off the table and hairbrush turned up in the kitchen. The radio on while she was watching TV. She’s careful not to mention my name, but we all know she’s talking about me.
I look down and see a puddle forming under my feet. It looks like blood in the dim light and my legs begin to shake as the puddle gets bigger. I can’t feel my feet. I sit down, light headed, dropping my head until my cheek rests against the floor. Mannequin arms push out of the cement where the heads were and I move my saddle shoes away from them. It’s hard to move. This time I know they want to pull me down there with them. The hands begin to move slowly, gracefully, in unison, like prairie grass in the breeze. I start to relax and close my eyes. I’m too tired now. It feels so good to sleep.
My eyes snap open. I suck in my breath, sit up and turn around. I don’t know how long I laid there; it must have been a long time because I see Calvin standing there, bent over the hole in the floor, a sledgehammer at his side. He is brushing the dirt away with one hand, then quickly pulls back.
I look down into the hole and see a fragmented plastic bag that tore open from the hammer. I see clothes, stiff and torn, embedded with dirt and disintegrating.
He moves more dirt. A ring appears, my ring, the one my grandmother gave me, peaking out of the dirt. Calvin and I reach for it at the same time and we pick it up.
A thin bone slides off it.
My mouth drops open and I turn to speak to Calvin, but can’t. My breath exhales and it ripple against his shirt. He drops the ring like he touched a hot muffler. It clangs on the cement, bouncing and rolling, then spinning like a dying top, wobbling on it’s side till it stops under the chairs.
Calvin jumps up and races up the stairs.
I stare at the ring.
It’s on my finger and it’s on the floor.
That’s my skirt in the dirt, same as I’m wearing.
I don’t understand.
I wait for Calvin to come back.
Then I feel like something is missing only I don’t know what it is. I head up to my room and open the closets and drawers and dump out my purse. Nothing. I push my hands under the mattress and move the bed across the floor. It isn’t there, what I’m looking for. I sit back on my heels and look around. The room looks strange. A panic starts to grow in my chest.
I stand up. I need to find Calvin.
I start wandering through the kitchen and living room, looking for him. Strange voices come up from the basement along with Calvin’s. I join them.
There are two policemen standing around the hole in the floor.
The big one who is older and in charge rubs the back of his neck then turns toward Calvin.
“How long ago did you say you bought this house?” he asked.
“Four months ago,” Calvin said.
The younger one is a woman and she’s poking around in the dirt. “I think there’s more than one down here.” The big one stops rubbing his neck. “You know who you bought it from?”
Calvin shrugs. “Some old guy had it for years, lived in one side and rented the other out.”
“Any chance you remember the name?”
Dash is sitting on the steps. “Cleary was the last name,” she said.
I suddenly remember. “Clarence Cleary” pops out of my mouth. The lazy landlord, always watching us girls from behind the kitchen curtain. The name spreads through my mind like poison and I want to wash it away.
“Young woman disappeared. Lived in your duplex with two other girls,” the older one said. “Looks like we might have found her.”
“Are you thinking of the old Grant case?” the woman cop said.
Grant? That’s my name.
The older one nods. “Francine Grant.” My name swells in my ears.
“Wait a minute!” I said. “I’m standing right here. See? See?” I start waving my arms. I knock a wrench off the bench and it clangs to the floor.
It’s all quiet as everyone turns to stare at the wrench. They look at each other then back at the hole.
And then I remember. Mr. Cleary standing at the kitchen door, asking if I’d help him for a second.
I’m all sick with remembering. My eyes are wide with panic. I sit down in one of the chairs away from the others, bending forward till my chest is on my knees.
I stay that way till everyone leaves.
Except Calvin. He comes up to where I’m sitting.
He speaks softly, so I’m the only one who hears. “It’s time to go.”
It could be him he means or me. I’m not sure. I don’t wait to find out.

Copyrighted All Rights Reserved Shelley Maasch

Uncertain Weather

We met when we were uncertain weather
and unfound lucky pennies.

An uncertain season
of rain through sun,
and smooth gray clouds lingering
low in the sky.

I did one certain thing.

I left you behind.

You, not strong enough for what was coming.
(Or was it me, sparing myself
the trouble of you.)

The weather this winter
blows sleet
over the bare trees of the park
I see from my window
(my only).

Years ago, before I knew you,
before I had to think of you,
I spent a year of Novembers
waiting in that park,
reading The House of Seven Gables
by streetlight,
while crows circled high in the pale air.

Now, from this window,
(my only)
I see the same crows,
settling in the dark empty windows
of the chapel across the green.

I leave the window open
to let the sound of the wind
drown out the drip of time.

I ask this:

When my crow comes
and settles on the sill
and speaks my bright simple name,
let me step over,
from do, to having done, to being over it.

Copyright Kay Winter