March 25, 2008

"Starting a New Hobby"

(1998---Ellsbeth speaks)

On the day my father is scheduled to die, my mother drives him to the hospital.

I wait at home, in the basement. Geraldine, from Shangri-La, down the road, lets herself in. She surveys my mess, picks up scattered bows and wrapping paper, tape, scissors,wrenches, hammers, puts them in piles.

I stop her, saying, "You can’t do this without supervision! You don’t know where things go!"

Geraldine shakes her hands in helpless agitation.

"We can’t clean now," I say, "my mother is due home from my father’s death."

Geraldine stands at the dryer folding laundry, as if it were any other day. But aching inertia puddles in my bones, making my hands, feet, belly and heart too heavy to budge.

A blue car turns into the driveway. "Here's my mother now," I say, and coming unstuck, I walk out through racks of photo-developing equipment. Geraldine follows. My father, on the night before his death, must have stayed up late preparing these. "These are for me," I tell Geraldine smugly. She looks puzzled. Worried.

I hurry to meet my mother, who comes in through the basement. My father comes in behind her. I inhale sharply, surprised. I study his profile and his flared nostrils, recognize him from the way he would look in his casket: dark, pockmarked, emaciated.

He frowns at Geraldine, hisses in the cracked voice of my estranged husband, she’s smelly, obese, retarded. Because I thought my father and his judgements would be gone by now, I don’t make Geraldine leave. But I'm afraid to defend her, he looks so fierce.

The photo equipment is not for me, but for my father, who is starting a new hobby. He packs his supplies and accessories. I accompany him, swarthy and silent, to catch a bus headed for the city. The bus is made of couches on wheels tied together, each jammed with people. I climb onto a trundle seat that comes out from under my father's seat to the side like a motorcycle sidecar.

Geraldine waves and waves as we drive off, still waving until she's a speck on the far horizon. A huge emptiness swallows her up. When we get to the city, my father gets off, walks away, and doesn't look back. I try to take his seat, but my hips are too wide to fit between the passengers.
They scowl, grumble and shove over to make room for me.

(Mary Stebbins Taitt---------- 080301)

March 24, 2008

"Belinda's Price"

Her chosen grave before him, Paddy brought his shovel down
And pierced the breast of Ireland to prise it from the ground.
He lift his eyes to heaven and he cried out sad and clear:
"Oh Lourd, why take Belinda and her Spirit from us here?"

"Ah, Lourd," prayed sturdy Paddy, "ye have giv'n us this Earth
And all which grows upon it and beneath, for what it's worth,
But why did ye see fit to give us poor Belinda May
If only as a flower seven years and snatched away?

"What did she in her little life not holy in your Sight?
What sin had she committed? None! so what gave you the right
To take her back untimely? Well, for taking her away,
I take this stand...I'll be god-damned if I won't make You pay!

"Belinda's Price from You, oh Lourd, is lasting Peace on Earth;
My price for her removal is redemption from our curse!
You may not wish to pay this price, but I say all the same...
My name is Paddy Donnell, and by God I make the claim!"

The blessed Moon, in crescent, like a silver scimitar
Slid sideways through a smoky sky and left behind a scar.
A Star shone through that rifted cloud of midnight in the mist
And took a fair position over Paddy's outflung fist.

And Lo! a Voice, a Rumble, like a thousand raining stones
In tumble down a mountainside in mashing, crashing moans
As if from many miles away, yet to one ears are borne
Such came the Voice of God to Paddy, answering his scorn:

"I hear ye, brother Paddy, oh ye simple, foolish man...
I hear ye as ye bellow badly, questioning my Plan
Such arrogance as you display deserves no recompense
But as I am a gracious God, to PEACE I will consent..."

And from that moment all the people, land to burning land,
Cast off from war and fighting, and instead began again
To take this World and make it in the Image of Above,
And drown all hate in charity, in hope, and faith, and love.

And children gathered flowers, woven in a grateful garland,
And in Belinda's memory they danced the fields of Ireland.
And Irish mothers smiled on them, and knew, forevermore
Their sons would be no sacrifice to foolishness of war.

By Paddy's sons' and brothers' toil a monument was raised:
A "Statue of Belinda", carved and placed above her grave.
And every morn about it were a thousand petals flung!
And everywhere those blossoms fell, a thousand seedlings sprung.

But what of Paddy, father, left to ponder what God wrought?
Well, after many months had passed, with Peace at long last bought,
He pined for poor Belinda, and her blessed presence lost,
And in the end he muttered, "Lourd, it wasn't worth the cost."

March 4, 2008

"How Uncle Jake was First to Fly the Transatlantic"

(Driving Aldy and Geraldine to the Pediatrician, 1969)

This buggy can fly! England, you say? France? Where's that doctor at, Gerry? Aldy? Do you know?

Look at her purr through the clouds--- mushrooms and magic separate the skyway into shimmering layers, dancing through each other---kelp in the tide, ribbons in a breeze, living
strands of DNA unwinding across itself---sticky---

The shining keeps slipping. Here, hold the wheel for me, Geradine!

Simultaneously I want to be more me and more "not-me." If more me is more not-me, why, when I try to speak clearly, do these words and not-words disintegrate into such gibberish?

"You don't understand me? Come along. Watch the "me"'-selves and the "not-me"'-selves split and crawl along their various skyways. The Not-me's chant---"Don't go so slowly! Someone might notice! We'll fly!" Burn up the sky, Geraldine! Don't worry sweetie---

WHUMP! Whazzat? Out here in the ether, I watch the body police attempting to reassemble
the Not-me's back into something they recognize. Some of the me's-or-not-me keel over, laughing.

"Pretty funny, isn't it Gerry? Even Aldy agrees. Listen to him chortle! Just not that big. The rest of us Me's notice the texture of the bark on this tree that holds this cumpled car, the dark
spaces inhabiting the light, the gaps between the policeman's teeth. We flow through his clenched fist like honey--sweet, sweet on some laughing, layered tongue. That's one rough runway, crew!"

--------------------(a story newly penned by Mary Taitt)

February 28, 2008


O, Moon in your skythrown flight ...
...Luna, goddess, Maker of Madmen...
Why do you blush tonight?
Is it because you're ashamed of your deeds?
...or are you merely changing makeup?

(Photo: Mary Stebbins on the title for more.)

"The Serpent's Apple"

How Al Spoke to Beatrice on the Way to the Safe House

(Mud Sky, a tiny story, 1990)

At a party I stood up rude in the middle of a conversation that showed no sign of letting up and said I was going out to the golf course to walk it was nine thirty and dark and a little snowy and a woman I didn’t know said now at night isn’t it spooky and scary and I said no and she said I wouldn’t feel safe and I wouldn’t go good-bye I said and went anyway and snow which was hardly snow at the party but got deeper until at the golf course it was about three inches and more in some places I was wearing sneakers but went anyway with a few beers in my belly out through the dark and snow over a series of humpy hills and then out beyond the golf course into the wild lands at three rivers where the snow was even deeper and walked up the spine of the highest hill I remembered the woman at the party who was afraid for me stood under a sick sky that was reddish purplish grey and mud-colored elated felt a hundred times safer and more at home with the snow and all the strange sky and the dead weeds poking through and the foxes than I did at the party with people I didn’t know even though they seemed intelligent and interesting and sort of nice I had in the dark snow a strange sense of peace and contentment and stood alone and alone and then I heard a baying maybe a dog or coyote or wolf it sounded wild but then I thought of Ellie and wished she could be there too and knew that if she were it wouldn’t be the same night quiet open but some other night that had her in it and my heart racing if in my nervousness I didn’t start blabbing or kissing and have to pretend to be quiet to feel how I felt then without her Mom you know I felt so utterly still in the snow and sky but if Ellie or you intruded even softly that silence would exchange for love or companionship and then that night like the serpent's apple multiplied by loss and possibility was already changed and lost I couldn't recapture it but I wish I could give it to you it grows like a swelling on my heart like some kind of wound like eden on the tundra glimpsed and gone.

(An original story, told in one breath by Mary Stebbins Taitt)

February 27, 2008

"Love by the Dashboard Lights"

My Dearest Datsun:

You know and I know we've been through this before. I see that little "Service Engine Soon" light. Again. You're nagging me. But this time I've had it. You've pushed me just a little too far.

Know what? I'm ignoring it. Really! I'm serious this time. Look, it's not like we don't see each other every day. We spend quality time on weekends, weaving through traffic, ignoring yield signs, me flipping off pedestrians, you playing your CDs. And those have been good times, I'll admit that. But that was all before you started in with this nagging thing!

Seems like every time I turn a corner now, it's "Service Engine Soon. Service Engine Soon." On the way to get groceries... "Service Engine Soon." Slogging home from work... "Service Engine Soon." You just don't get it. I've been working slavishly just to pay for all those wax jobs, keep you in rubber, picking up the tab for your insurance, and this is the thanks I get? "Service Engine Soon?"

Okay, okay....I'm sorry. That outburst may have been a bit uncalled for. Still, I've put up with a lot over the years, you'll have to admit it. I've never complained when you've needed a jump, even though you're frigid when you do. Your gas gauge goes to zero like every week, but do I blow smoke about it? No. I open your flap, and I fill you up. But here's what gets me. I can never figure you out! I turn on your lights, you beep if I forget to turn them off. You make all sorts of noise if I don't fill your radiator, and then when I do, you get steamed. I tell you, I'm getting mixed turn signals.

Buckle up, check the oil. Door not secure, shift into neutral before starting, objects may be closer than they appear. Why all this bitching and moaning and ordering me around? I'm not some crash dummy. And now again with this "Service Engine Soon."

You know, in the old days, when we were first running around together, that little light was kinda cute. Winkin' and blinkin' there. Just for me to see, nobody else. It felt like you needed me. And I thought you did. I thought that little light was a sign of, well, a signal more like. A signal you were concerned we'd break down, wind up on some deserted road, without that Triple A card I got you when we first got together. Remember that? I still have it. Right in my wallet, next to my heart.

That light meant something, then. It meant that we would be together always, and that made you the coolest thing on four wheels. But then that day came. That little light came on and stayed on, like a sign from fate or that junkyard in the sky. It left me with no alternator. I had to get you help with your problems, whatever they were. We couldn't move on without that.

But when I did that, something snapped inside you as that greasy-handed butcher of a wrench-jockey prodded and poked. I saw that look in his eyes, counting stacks of my money in his imagination as he tried to sound so...optimistic about your recovery. And all the while those dirty fingernails were all over you, tweaking your components, seeking places my hands never went.

How do you think that made me feel, seeing another man's greasy wrench under your hood? I have eyes, you know. And I have paid the price for everything.

So, you know what? Listen. If we can't get any traction in this relationship, what good is spinning our wheels? I've made up my mind. I don't care if your muffler falls off, or your tranny goes to a million pieces, I'm not taking you to back to Him. Oh, I'll stick around, I'm not the kind to hit and run, but you can forget about that other guy, he's history. I'll clean your plugs myself. You're my car, dammit, not some floozy rental, and if I can't have you, no one will.

I'll be the only man behind your wheel, baby. Tomorrow, we'll go for a ride to work. Won't that be nice? We'll put that road behind us, you'll see. We'll work out all the bugs, and I'll get that repair manual you always wanted. We'll be riding high. And I'll get a piece of tape put on that light.

(thanks to Monkey Tale)

February 26, 2008

"The Project"

How Ethel and Geraldine Made Caskets for their Memories

Arts and Crafts, 1990

Bright bits of paper... hot pink and red, dayglo blue. Magazine pages with pictures, large and small. Shreds of ribbon. Flowers, torn from napkins. Beads... and plastic jewels: Geraldine and Ethel make memory boxes for each other.

Geraldine cuts out pictures of chickens. She slices off one leg by accident. She puts the leg inside the box. She remembers the chicken they called "Peg." Short for Peg-leg. Peg was a good layer, even with only one leg. Mama cut the bad leg off with an axe. It was black and oozy, but Geraldine didn't want to throw it away. She wanted to fix it, and put it right back on the hen. She remembers searching the weeds for it and finally agreeing on a burial with flowers.

Ethel cuts out pictures of babies. Babies, and little girls. Girls with braids, brown hair, blue eyes. She puts them all inside the box. Buries them in beads. Blue, green and aqua. Geraldine glues beads to the outside of her box. Green and yellow, alternating.

"A tisket, a tasket, a green-and-yellow basket..." (She hums, sings, taps her foot.) "I wrote a letter to my love, and on the way I dropt it... I dropt it... I dropt it....."

When the bead string begins to look like a snake, she glues a brown plastic gemstone on for a head. Two small red beads for eyes. Then makes another. Another. Snakes intertwine and layer. She adds some rhinestones. The box begins to sparkle, like fireflies on a summer night.

"Yes, on the way I dropt it..."

Ethel plunges her hands into the gallon jars of beads. She likes the way they feel on her skin. Cool. Massaging and skin delicious. "Try this," she says to Geraldine. Beads pour from one hand to another. They flow like water. But dry and nubbly. Geraldine remembers swimming, sleeping, stretching. She remembers Ricky. (Again.)

Geraldine cuts out a frog, strokes its back with a fingertip. Drops it not in her box, but in her apron pocket. Ethel unburies the paper babies, then covers them with beads again. She pours the beads out and in on top of the babies, again and again. Geraldine paints her name in red on the bottom of her box. Ethel paints her box black. Then they trade boxes and unpack the images. Black paint sticks to Geraldine's fingers. Down through blue beads she digs to find a pile of babies and little girls in pigtails. She cradles them in her hands, humming a lullaby and crooning. She sways from side to side in her white plastic chair.

Ethel cuts out eggs to go with the chickens in her box from Geraldine. She finds an axe and puts that in too. When the counselor comes round and asks for a story, Geraldine says:

"Once upon a time there was a little girl. She laid in the bottom of the lake with water over her head. Water like a blanket, only cold. A big light came. It came down though the water and the girl thought it was an angel." Ethel says:

"We had lots of chickens and they laid lots of eggs. Brown eggs, white eggs, colored eggs. When they stopped laying eggs, we cut off their heads and ate them for dinner. Even the one whose leg I cut off. We even ate the ones we loved."

"We ate the ones we loved," Geraldine repeats, rocking the babies, whose blue beads cling to their gummy black paint.

(from a story created by Mary Taitt)