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Archive for November 11th, 2006

Your mother turned 69 yesterday, my father 83 on November 5. I’d like to believe he, Elias, will live to be 100. That I can mine the DNA from his frail bones for years to come.

But each time I see him, I see him slip away, slow and almost imperceptible. His cataract eyes have that watery, faraway look, a silver film over intense black. On his birthday I meant to peer into those crystal ball eyes. How are you today? Are your legs strong? Will they carry you further?

But it was a festive party, enchiladas with red or green, flour tortillas Mom made, a big pot of pinto beans. Between forkfuls, I admire Mom’s choker, a spiky thing made with narrow triangles of oyster shell, bones from the sea. She takes it off, tells me it’s mine.

“I wore it so I could give it to one of you,” she tells my sisters when they chime to me, “Hey, wasn’t that Mom’s necklace??” I shrug. I didn’t mean to covet it before anyone else had a chance to.

Mom is generous. What is Dad?

I still remember, and now bones on my mind, sitting in Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, staring down at my knobby knees while Dad listens to Father Cassidy’s homily. (And now, my mind catches the word “homily,” jumps to “hominy,” which in my family we make into “posole,” white kernals like big teeth. Everything goes back to food. Plain, hearty food. Not much meat in my lineage, is that why my bones are fine and my teeth achy when I drink anything cold?)

But back to the church. Dad and I go alone. Mom gave up faith after I was born and a priest slammed the confessional window in her face for telling him she was going on birth control. Dad picks a middle pew. Not too eager to please. Not a laggard, either. That’s Dad. Middle way. He sits rapt. He’s a pious man, comes from penitente stock. I stick my feet out in front of me, notice my shins have downy, light brown hair. I’m eleven. I still wear hand-me-down dresses. Brunswick patterns sewn by Mom. Old-fashioned dresses with big white bibs front and back, rickrack along the bottom. I like how my kneecaps move to and fro when I lift my legs up and down.

Then I see it. My right knee is bigger than my left. Something round is in there, like a marble or a golf ball under my brown skin. For the rest of Father Cassidy’s meandering sermon I am engrossed in this discovery, a moveable part in my leg. I’m like the Barbies I sneak out of my sister’s Barbie Doll case. Discrete joints, elbows-knees-and-shoulders. I can move me this way and that, pose me how I wish.

Up to now Dad is in his dreamy place above my small world. He can see over parishioners’ heads to Christ hanging on his crucifix, to the chalices and gold and white cloth. Now Dad looks down to where I am. He notices me popping my knee. I place his big, warm hand over the lump, show him how it rolls around under my skin. Suddenly he, too, gets engrossed in my bones. “What’s is it?” he asks in an urgent whisper, and I am alarmed by fear I hear in his voice.

Bones. It turns out to be a benign tumor. The kind of bone tumor common in horses’ knees, according to the orthopedic surgeon who eventually removes it. Bones. Who we are deep inside? Strong yet permeable. Small and obtrusive. Innocent, tainted, scared.

What was Dad thinking that day in the church? If I ask him today, will he remember? I am a writer, frantically seeking to capture memories from my 45 years. Who will help me see his gentle strength when Dad is gone?

It’s good to get cracking. There are deposits to unearth.

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The smooth sensation of tempered sand. Thousands of decades of rock, ground down, caramel clear. Ribbed edges, sanguine top. Bloodshot, ridged and angular.

Feel, feel, what are you telling me?

Ancestors of obsidian from Egypt and China, brothers and sisters all stained and quartz. The shape holds upright, transparent to light. A man, a woman, a child, centennial glass. Robin’s egg blue. Broken down by eons, ages, years, months, minutes, seconds.

Cool to the touch, rolling over my arm, sitting in the crook of my knee. Slippery when wet – it is dry. Salamander scales, temperamental foe, unyielding.

Broken, it would slice the skin in seconds. Centuries whole, it is a shiny see-through vessel. Bury it in the sand, hold it up to the light, sit next to it, not on or under. Ouch.

North Dakota. Legend. After the 100 year celebration – and ten minutes in my wandering hands – you sit on a shelf in the bedroom. I want to remember what you feel like. All I can think of is the coolness beneath your transparent skin.

The window reflects off the exterior, a swallowed hole, internal bubbles that rock your core. The tawny liquid can not escape, feels like the color of the Quaking Bog with her decayed leaves and deep pitted filters. I can not twist off the lid, or break it with my teeth.

Red, the color red comes to mind in a flash of white O’s. One hundred years in the making. No more. No less. No smell. Only sight. Color.

The sound gurgles in high pitched pops. You said not to listen but I could not help it. I had to listen and feel and touch and hold and run my fingers along the vertebrae with no rough edges or lips. No tantalizing angst – it is objet du jour, pure and simple. And if enough time passes, organic.

Time figures in your undoing, breaking you down, back to the earth. Sacrilege. Sitting on a shelf, it is not mine. It does not belong to me. Yet it does. Every grain of sand belongs to me.

I could have chosen a toothbrush or a waterfall to hold between my dry, calloused fingers. But I chose you. There are two more just like you, perhaps second or distant cousins. I guess they might have the same texture, but I didn’t touch them or pick them up. The script is fancy free, an old text. Later, block style with little swivels underneath the curly capital C’s.

I hear the Northern wind blow through the time that formed you, along the Great Plains, in 1889 you were born. Statehood, manhood, womanhood, what will it take for the tide to turn? I grew up with your rusty nectar, somewhere in the depths of the South. The twisted bowels were tender and held me like spilled milk.

Not cream. Cream rises. Milk squirts out of tender teats, and sits and falls and swallows down into blue bottle glass. The feeling is mutual.

The coins plunk into the slot, red metal, orange Nehi, yellow Bear, aligned next to the girly calendar above the shop floor, tame in this age. I feel your motion, the peanuts that fell into your open mouth from the salt-filled Planter’s package out of the vending machine next to the grease monkeys. The coolness of cold green against the palm of sweaty summer.

Fizzzzz.

You told me you were coated in phosphoric acid and your syrup was used to quell the coughs that spat out of kids in the 50’s and 60’s. When they changed your formula in the 80’s, all hell broke loose. And then you drifted back to Classic a few months later.

Choices. Too many choices.

France. Holland. Clink. The frozen tundra’s got nothing on you. Clug, clug, clug. I could pop open the middle of you, sliding down the gullet like a pipestone freeze. Underneath, the nonsense builds. You tell me you feel cooped up. I want to set you free. And then you disappear altogether. Was it worth the price of freedom?

In a river of cinnamon haze, I crack you open and watch as you drift down the Northern rivers and into the gulf stream ocean. Nothing left of your carbon soda molecules. Diluted and freeze-dried next to the rain.

You were created in North Dakota, born in Atlanta, and unfolded in the drama that is my writing practice. And there, all shiny and cool, you sit in the bedroom on the ancient dresser. While I write naked on the couch under the setting sun.

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

-related to post, WRITING TOPIC – OBJECT

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