Why I Cry

I can talk all day about how I have a thick skin, how it’s not my business what others think of me and how I love myself and when folks talk poorly of me how it doesn’t affect me. But the truth is, it does, usually I can deal with it and especially from strangers’ I could care less, they aren’t part of my world and if I am not doing anything illegal, immoral or hurtful to anyone then why should I waste my time worrying about it right?

When I was married to my first wife she would say many times over to family and friends, in front of my children how I didn’t cry when my kids were born but I would tear up every time when our Nations anthem was played. She would mock me. Truth be told I always nearly cry outright every time I hear the Star Spangled Banner. That’s what it looks like when someone literally doesn’t understand, I would gamble to say that most veterans would get it at this point, they would know exactly what I am talking about, but there are segments of society whom will never get there, they just fundamentally cannot comprehend that feeling.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my children, for their entire lives I have altered my own to be there for them and care for them and love them. Everything I have done, including serving my country was for them even though they had not been born yet. I may not have teared up at their birth, I have never cried at happiness, but I was and still am proud of each one of them, I was the day they were born and am still today.

When I hear the national anthem of our great country I immediately think of all the opportunities my children and those of my friends and relatives, and all the people who’ve found their way here away from tyranny will have to become what makes them happy and successful. I think of all the freedoms they will enjoy in this land that so many around the world will never have. And I know the sacrifices that have been experienced to keep it that way for my children and all those who’ll come behind me. I think of my grandfather and his siblings fighting in Italy and France, my father and my cousins all serving to protect our freedoms, I think of those I have served with when I myself served over-seas whom didn’t come home and their families who’ve experienced those sacrifices. I think of all those soldiers who’ve come home to face protestors enjoying their freedom to speak out against those soldiers, the freedom they are given because of that soldier’s detriment. I think of all the soldiers who deal with post-traumatic stress disorder every day, and the guilt of being the ones to make it home.

You don’t have to agree with me and you don’t have to understand. But every day I spend free because someone from this country is somewhere around the world without their children, holding a blank check they have written to the United States of America for an amount up to and including their life, is  another day I get to spend with my children and my loved ones.

That is why I cry.

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Pennie

There is an image I can’t seem to get out of my mind; I am standing in the snow at the edge of a wood, the trees are as thick as the shadows and the only sound heard, carried on the bitter cold wind swirling around the back of my neck and off and over the tops of the tall, green pines is that of heavy footsteps in the icy snow.

I can see in the distance not too far off a girl, young and pretty, she stands in the open in a blue and white flowered dress. She doesn’t see me, she doesn’t appear to be cold but I can see her sweet breath crystallize and fade away on the breeze. I recognize her, but not as a young girl, instead I have seen her, known her as a woman, one whose lived a life of struggle, of pain and loss and sickness. But in spite of it she always seemed to be surrounded by light that shown in her eyes, it danced wildly there and in a deeper place too that she held safely, gently, as if it were a small tender puppy.

I want to offer her my coat but she doesn’t seem to be cold, she looks back over her shoulder at me as if knowing I want to help her, but with a look as if to say that she was fine, she smiles and her eyes all but disappear behind her cheeks, it’s a huge and bright smile and it made me feel swell.

Then she suddenly turned back towards the woods and from somewhere in the darkness the hefty, crunchy footsteps came louder, closer. I am afraid but she is not, instead she stands firm, tall and proud. In a moment of sudden quiet, an unkindness of ravens rushed from the trees and  flew straight for her, turning at the last instant, she, unfazed and smiling raises her arms in support and celebration of them. She seemed to see the beauty in them as they flock and swarm overhead.

Just then from behind a thickly barked Evergreen the shadow appears in the form of a wolf, its face stern and black, it’s eyes deep and mysterious, its breathe weighty and wafting, it echoes over the field in which the girl stands firmly. My heart skips as the wolf steps out in the direction of her, slowly, methodically. The deep brown, sweaty hair on its shoulders rising and falling as it makes its way to her.

I fear for her, I cry for her, and as the wolf approaches I am confused as she opens her arms in a gesture to suggest her willingness to accept it. The wolf steadily approaches her until it halts just within arm’s reach of her breast. The wolf stands facing her, it’s raspy breath, seems and cold, but she extends her arm and in a slow, gentle manner slides the palm of her small, soft hand along the wolf’s jawline to its chin. Then drops her hand to her side, and something changes, I look at her, she is aged, her skin less soft, her hair thinned and her posture hunched. She glances back at me again over her shoulder and smiles, and her eyes all but disappear behind her cheeks now wrinkled but no less vibrant.

In her eyes I am pulled in and lost, watching a history of her fending off the wolf, she battles whole-heartedly with each attack, sustaining injuries she fights on as she ages all the while smiling as if to say that no matter the wounds, the damage, she wins because she continues to fight and because she appreciates the fight, respects it and trusts it. It becomes her struggle, and though never does she control it she conquers it daily, surviving and living in spite of it, smiling always.

But today seems different; she appears tired, but not beaten. Instead she smiles at the wolf and the wolf lowers its head to her, it seems to respect her. Suddenly she steps to it and together they begin to walk towards the wood, I try and follow them but cannot move, I am not welcome there, not yet.

The two of them walk side by side, companions at rest, reverential partners in the echoes of battle they slowly disappear into the shadows. I fall to my knees and cry, I weep for her and for my loss. When I open my eyes again the moon has risen, and it is quiet but then in the distance, the triumphant call of an owl reverberates among the trees and I know it is her, it is Pennie, she is free from the pain, and she has earned her place away from the fight, she is in the presence of magic, of mystery and ancient knowledge.

Now at night, when I hear the hoot of an owl, I will know it is her, among the animals she loved so much, watching over her puppies, and I imagine her, smiling somewhere beneath the light of the moon, her eyes shining brightly from behind her swollen cheeks.

In remembrance,

Pennie Harrington 1950-2019

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

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