That cliché quote from Anna Karenina

You know all the boring stuff you read as a teenager about how “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”? One day I grew up and I was boring like that too.

Birth Control

The levy passed today
I called my mom and told her
All about it
How sad I was that it passed by
Such a slim margin

I texted my husband
Said that the elementary school
Just two blocks from our house
Will be standing proud and ready
When our children come tumbling in

I saw myself walking with a younger
Amber-haired bull-headed
Better version of us
Showing them how to use the crosswalk

I always thought they would have his optimism
And my steady hand
His laugh
And my strong jaw

When I found out
My eyes didn't bother to sting

I've known since before I met him
Before I tried to pour anyone
Into that wound in my life
That I would inherit my mother's
Watchful grief

I stood, autumn-still
In front of the school
And wondered why I didn't learn
To look both ways for liars.


Were you, reader, ever the younger child? Did you have to watch your sibling get a training bra, go to prom, pick out a college first? Did it hurt? Or, more simply, were you ever grounded? Did you have to watch through stained-glass tears while your parents carted away your Gameboy or your stuffed dog, with the assurance that you’d have them back in three days, four days, a week?

Bouquet Toss

 My sister got married
 And set atop a high shelf - 
 I was grounded from her.
 I waited and stared impatiently
 As she moved North, 
 Took semi-annual international jaunts
 Wore the latest fashion
 And left her tabs open
 She barely decorated her mansion
 And found every excuse to come home
 But by then there was nothing to talk about
 No common wire to perch on
 Two years and a torrent of abuse
 Locked my sister behind glass
 While I continued to stand below her shelf
 To catch her
 Now, though – I hear it in her voice
 A storm is coming
 I throw out my arms.  

Ten Days

I’m sure all two of you who read this blog have noticed my absence. I have run myself so ragged that even my sister has squawked at me to “slow down!!!” I’ve been doing a poor job, but I did stay in on Friday. I watched Super Troopers with my dog. It was a totally unremarkable evening, and I would like to have more just like it. Anyways, here’s a poem I started about this whole thing.

I'm supposed to be getting better
Rebuilding my strength
But what is vitality
If not a volatile currency
A fickle, use-it-or-lose-it force?

Hold on
I need to sit down for a moment

E. Jean, Oh Dear

A week or so ago, I sent my husband a link to my two personal essays published by Sleet Magazine. His response was merely that the first one, “Bodies,” made him sad. My self-absorbed ass wanted to hear about what a great writer I am, how my husband understands some critical, previously-unobserved part of me, how I am an old soul or some other corny shit. But no, all he said was that he was sad. This, of course, propelled me to new levels of wallowing and self-absorption. I emailed E. Jean Carroll, one of very few people I can confidently call a role model. She congratulated me on getting published and told me that she makes a point to never show her writing to family or husbands. Damn! I grew up reading E. Jean’s column in Elle, so I really would trust her with my life. For several years, her advice column was the closest thing I had to guidance, while my mother was busy working 60 hours per week and doing what mothers do – “seeing about things.” Anyways, here’s a poem for my mom. I’ll never let her read it.

The writer, her mother (who will always bear a striking resemblance to the Columbia Pictures lady), and her sister.
 For My Mother, For Father’s Day
 I am not half the woman my mother was
 Though she never wanted me to be. 
 Mom fled across the old South
 From slick men and robberies
 Tenements and community college
 To a burnt-out Camaro and a basset hound
 Who bayed at my young sister and I 
 Unable to express his love otherwise
 I never knew an eviction notice
 Or a too-tight school uniform
 Although my mother’s thin-soled sensible shoes
 Whispered about budgets and bounced checks
 Store-brand food and impending mattress springs
 Mom’s eerie foresight and vicious budgeting
 Did not account for grit
 I would sleep on a thousand floors
 To inherit her ramrod spine 

Familial Fauna

This morning, when I left for work on time, hydrated and with an almost-healthy lunch in hand, I felt for a moment like I had my shit together. It was a great feeling. I, by and large, am still floundering around trying to pull myself together, but it runs in the family. My innate sense of disaster, along with my love of nature, inspired a piece that was recently published by Sleet Magazine, “Grandmother Rose.” Feel free to read it below. Sleet put out another piece that I wrote in their most recent issue – I’ll put a link at the bottom.

Grandmother Rose

My Grandmother Rose annoyed my parents in the same way I did. She was too messy, too scatterbrained, and too unpredictable. The things about my Grandmother Rose that annoyed my parents endeared her to me. We were kindred spirits – gross, disorganized ones.

That’s why, when I was brought down to Arkansas to visit her, she did not get cross with me for bringing toads from her backyard inside to swim in the bathroom sink. She waved my mother off, when she was squawking at me for patting the toads dry with my grandmother’s “nice washcloths.” To me, fluffy pink washcloths made perfect toad towels.

My grandmother did not scold me several years later, when I wandered out of visitation for some recently-deceased elder, to pick ticks off of a stray dog in the parking lot of the funeral home. The dog didn’t seem to mind my dalliance, either. And the fact that no one noticed I was missing for a solid thirty minutes only reinforced to me that the dog was more important than the make-pretend and stiff hugging of visitation.

As I grew older, I became more aware of why my parents would get so exasperated with me. I instinctively blushed when I saw my school folders overflowing with papers, and I knew that I should hide the way my socks never matched, and my shirts invariably had some sort of stain on them by noon every day. During my annual visits to Arkansas throughout my middle- and high-school years, I saw myself in my grandmother’s overflowing ashtrays and heaps of laundry. My parents whispered about her mangy dogs that she took in as strays while I tried in vain to teach them tricks. And even once I began sporting mascara and hickeys from boyfriends, I delighted in chasing the toads whose bellies made a comical “plop” when they landed after each jump.

Over time, I’ve gotten more adept at hiding that Grandmother Rose side of myself. I’ve stuffed my blotchy cheeks, stained clothing, and overflowing folders into a sort of closet of unwelcome habits. I try not to let others see that a level of my mind is a ranch-style home in the middle of the countryside, full of coffee-stained teacups summering, coaster-less, on hardwood mantles. Years after I had seen a southern toad, when I was no longer beholden to my parents’ bevy of roadtrips, I lived alone in college. After a disastrous breakup, spurred on partly by pretending to be someone I wasn’t, I had a one-bedroom apartment by the river all to myself. Every night, as the stars rose, I would walk the path by the water. Sometimes, after a heavy rain, disoriented crawdads would wander up the hill from the river, swaying in the dark towards the nearby golf course. I interrupted my stroll every time to pick the lost creatures up and ferry them back down the slick hill to their home, setting them carefully just at the muddy edge of the lapping river.