Category Archives: Prose and Poetry

Her Shaking Hands

She sat on the red vinyl covered chair in the corner of the kitchen.  She might have been talking with my mom, but as I recall she hardly ever said anything.  It would probably be more accurate to say that whatever she said didn’t interest me.   After all, I was very young, and she was very old.  What I do remember was how she would comment on how tall I had grown.  She referred to me as a “long, tall drink of water.”  I still don’t know what that means.

I guess most of the time I was passing through the room, not stopping unless interrupted by the adults.  Generally, I’d be on my way out the back door.  As I ran by I would catch glimpses of her gray hair, her eyeglasses, the wrinkled skin,  the inevitable flowered dress.  And both her hands resting in her lap, shaking.

I was young but not so young that I didn’t know that she had Parkinson’s disease.  That was why her hands shook.  There was a time that my mom gave her knitting needles and yarn thinking that knitting would calm the tremors.  Perhaps by then, the disease had progressed so that it took too much effort to work the needles.  Or maybe it was lack of motivation on her part.  Or maybe she was simply too tired.

Grandma had after all raised 8 children.  She had to be tired.  And by then there were sixteen grandchildren.  No wonder she didn’t really say very much to us.  She had probably had enough of kids running past her.  It seemed to us that we were light years away from the place in life that she was in.  We were full of energy and eager to try every new thing;  she sat quietly in her chair.

We never imagined that we would be like Grandma.  She was an old person with no where to go and nothing to do.  There would sometimes be hushed conversations in the other room about who would take her, whose home she could go to next.  I remember the emotion in the air around those talks – a kind of reluctance and resentment.  Grandpa had been dead for some time, and no one really wanted to take care of her.

I wonder now what it must have been like, to feel burdensome to your sons and daughters.  I wonder now what thoughts and feelings my grandma must have had.  I wonder now if she knew some secret that she kept to herself about being old.  And, if she did, I wonder now why she didn’t tell us so we could understand. 

 

 

 

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MLK Day

This is a day for those of us old enough to remember how it used to be to acknowledge and appreciate what it took to get this far.

This is a time for gratitude and for passing on the story of what’s possible.

This is an hour for being thankful for those who spoke up, who marched, who refused to be held down, who believed in the capacity of people to change.

This is a moment of reverence for a man who told his dream out loud, shared it with the nation, wouldn’t let it die.

This is a hope that we never forget the man who taught all of us what it means to stand up and not be afraid.

 

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The Cloud People

It was a lazy summer afternoon, the stifling kind that suffocates the desire to do anything.  Even thinking what to do takes more effort than is worth summoning.  It was a time of exquisite boredom – the type suffered by children on such a day as this in the middle of August.  I don’t believe that adults have such days, or perhaps it is that they have many more important distractions to occupy them.  But for us, the infinite moment of NOW can loom large and empty and static at times, leading to that most difficult of endeavors – finding something to do.

So it was an aimless energy that drew me up the hill to where my cousins lived.  There were eight of them in a house that seemed to be always on the edge of chaos.  There used to be six, and then the twins were born.   On this day I was hoping to find Seth, the oldest.  He was closest to my age, though we were not close in other ways.  I guess when there are that many of you, it pays to keep as much to yourself as possible.  I was just hoping he might have something interesting to offer on a stagnant day like this.

I saw him by the swing set which was near the edge of the field quite far from the house.  He was sitting on one of the swing seats, twirling it til it wouldn’t go any farther and then letting go, propelling him round and round a few times.  He didn’t see me right away given that he seemed to be focused on his feet or maybe his eyes were closed.  In any case, I was glad for another person to share my boredom.

Hey Seth, what are you doing?

Nothing.  What does it look like.

What do you want to do?

I don’t know…

Sometimes I wonder how many times we actually had this same conversation.  It wasn’t a dialogue that really had a direction; it simply described the moment.  It’s the moment of being where you are now and not wanting to be there.  It wasn’t a desperate sense, more like a search for the right door to open.  The potential for great adventure was there – we simply had to find the way in past this heavy overlay of lethargy.

I sat on the swing next to Seth and began mirroring his twirling movements.  I wasn’t really trying to think of something to do, but offered an idea.  

Want to ride bikes?

Where to?

Down the hill to the store.

I don’t have any money; do you?

No, of course not.

I got off the swing and walked over to the thick grass nearby.  The field had lots of tall grass, except the flattened areas where the deer had lain the night before.  There were also wild strawberries in that field – little treasures that were usually not too difficult to find.  I laid down on my back, smelling the sweet grass.

Look at the clouds up there.  They’re so big and have such strange shapes.  Imagine if we lived up there.

Seth came over and stretched himself out next to me, folding his arms under his head.

Yeah, I’d take that giant one over there – the one with lots of room.  I’d have it all to myself.  See those bulges on that side – those are the steps to go upstairs.

What’s up there?

My private room, that’s what.

Am I allowed in?

I don’t know, maybe.

Well, my cloud is over there.  That’s where I live.  You could visit me whenever you want.  But I might not be there, because my cloud can travel really far from here.

How far would you go?

Maybe I’d go all the way to India and see the Taj Mahal or Peru and see Machu Picchu.  Maybe even Easter Island to see the stone heads in the ground.  Do you want to come?

I don’t think so.

That’s okay.  I can tell you all about what I see and the people I meet.

I remember these times as an adult.  Seth and I would lie in the tall grass and tell stories about the cloud people, who of course were always us – or who we wanted to be.  Mostly I’d travel in my cloud, and he would have adventures in his.  Sometimes other friends would join in, but it was Seth and I that directed the stories.

Strange now to remember how he didn’t care to travel anywhere.  He was happy in his big cloud house with lots of room.  Yet he was the one who traveled far away to Vietnam and then never came back.

 

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What Makes A Path

A path seems big, life defining big

Unlike a journey which could be a day trip

 

Perhaps it’s the intention contained

Or because of some direction defined

 

A path might be a diving in or a forging ahead

As much an inner roadway as an out-in-the-world one

 

Is it always defined by the place you want to get to?

Or is it better known by the events along the way?

 

Ever want to lie down and just soak up

the experience you’re having in it right now?

 

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Sliding Past

There are great moments

Ones that cling to memory without a struggle

Signs or signposts marking spaces in our lives

Then there are those million moments

When we are connected to the energy of getting done

Moving on to the next all absorbing event

Moments that bundle themselves together and lose distinction in the crowd

 

Sometimes a noticing arises

That there seems to be a sliding past

Where the direction has shifted

A turning back on itself has occurred

 

Perhaps it’s a memory trigger

A scene or color, scent or sound

Whatever the source, it’s cause for a pause

 

You take a detour

Step down below the surface

Or maybe around and sideways

Or even further down the road

 

Steps that maybe lead to wondering

What might have been

Or what’s still possible

 

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The Driver, the Woman in the Wheelchair, and the Artist Painting in the Street

The man who brought her downstairs and attended to her was not her husband.  Not her lover either.  It had been a long time since, you know, there had been someone like that in her life.  She had been worried that it would be cold – too cold to be sitting still in the wheelchair outside.   He had reassured her, let her know once again that withdrawing from the world wasn’t so healthy.  She remembered thinking, “What does he know?  How does he know what’s healthy for me?”  But she gave in and let him adjust her hat and gloves. Then he left her sitting in the walkway and went inside leaving her here, waiting.  At least, she thought, when I’m in my apartment I don’t feel like I’m waiting.  Out here in the street I always feel that I am waiting for something to happen.  And I’m never sure what that is.

Hoping to distract from the process of waiting, she began deliberately noting what was around her.  A woman, younger than she, stood leaning against the wrought iron fence in front of the house next door.Afternoon Sunlight on a Greenwich Village Street - New York City-MShe was tapping words into her phone, but Sara could read the signs.  This woman was clearly waiting – while pretending she wasn’t.  Why the pretense thought Sara.  She probably doesn’t want to appear to have been left, to be without purpose.  Wait until she ages a bit more thought Sara, she’ll have ample opportunity to explore purposelessness.

Across from the woman in the wheelchair is a car parked with the driver inside.  It’s a black limo but not a big one.  The driver too is waiting, not so much for something to happen, but for the man and woman to return from the cafe across the street.   He knew it would be a considerable time before they would be ready to leave, and then probably on to a club or two.  More sitting and waiting.  He got out of the car and opened the door on the other side, shifting and straightening what had been left there.  Then he grabbed a bottle of water from the trunk and got back into the car.  He wasn’t much interested in what was happening around him,  choosing to listen to music.  He would just settle in, maybe nod off a bit.

Sara noticed the car, but barely.  She didn’t see the driver – not because he was out of her line of vision, but because he was a chauffeur.  To her he was basically a non-person.  Even if she had taken notice of him, he would have been of no interest as a driver sitting in a car.  Only if he were her driver – then there might have been attention to giving him some direction.  Someone to notice only to the extent that he is useful.  And Sara didn’t even notice that she hadn’t noticed.

Jared was used to not being seen.  He’d been driving other people around for a few years now.  He knew it wouldn’t be forever; he knew he’d go back to school.  He just wasn’t sure when, or where for that matter.  He was gathering experiences in the meantime.  Amazing what you can gather when not being noticed.   People show themselves more easily when they feel no one is looking.  Especially in the back of his car.

But there was some restlessness in him this evening that made it difficult for him to settle.  Maybe he was really tired of sitting and waiting.  Maybe it was time to stand up and do something.  While chewing on this thought, he became aware of the agitated energy behind it.  That’s when he happened to glance in the rear view mirror.  And there, standing in the street, was a man painting with palette and easel.   What the hell, thought Jared.

Well, so much for not being interested in what was happening around him or his restless energy.  Jared’s whole focus landed on the artist in the street.  Had he just beamed in from Paris’s Left Bank?  Had he actually been there when Jared pulled into this parking spot?  Why does a guy set up his easel in the street?

The artist continued painting, oblivious to the questions being launched into the universe by the nearby driver.   He wasn’t exactly standing in the middle of the street but taking up his own parking space in between two cars.   His gaze shifted from his canvas to the restaurant he was facing.  He applied paint then looked back toward the cafe.  Why was he painting?  Who was it for?  Such an oddity even by New York City standards, especially in that the artist wasn’t part of a performance piece.  He was simply absorbed in the canvas in front of him.  Yet, typical of this city, passers by didn’t seem to notice him, his canvas and his easel there in the street.  Perhaps if he’d been naked…

So,was he there hoping to be discovered?  No, he was simply painting restaurant fronts in the hopes that tourists would want to purchase a souvenir of where they had a romantic dinner with someone special.  Set up in the alley entrance nearby was a display of several of his paintings, each of a different restaurant in the Village.  It didn’t seem that he’d been too successful selling his work unless he had a big store hidden elsewhere.  Stephen wasn’t really all that interested in the sale of his paintings as much as in the act of painting itself and, of course, the exotic image of himself as an artist.  He knew he would continue painting until he couldn’t lift a paintbrush anymore.  Sad, but true, he thought to himself.  If he’d been more concerned about earning money, perhaps his wife would still be with him.  She had been his muse when they were much younger, until it wasn’t enough.  It was several years since she had left with another artist – one who was younger than he and considerably more talented.  Yes, one who even earned a living selling his work in New York galleries.  It bothered  Stephen, and yet it didn’t bother him.  He missed having a muse – restaurant fronts were not that inspiring.  He didn’t mind being alone though, he kept himself good company.  He really did like himself.  He thought that most people he knew didn’t seem to like themselves very much.  They all wanted something different from what they had.  He didn’t – he really appreciated that he could spend his time painting.  Even without a muse, he was happy painting, no matter what.

Stephen didn’t see the driver in the black limo, nor was he aware of the woman in the wheelchair.  He was focused.  As was the woman who was tapping words into her cell phone.  She was absorbed in writing about the artist, the driver and the woman in the wheelchair.  She was creating a story, something she did quite often.  It was easy, especially in the city where the were so many people and situations to witness.  So, here she was again, waiting for her companion to show up for dinner at the nearby restaurant (the one in fact that Stephen was now painting).  She was waiting for him outside, there being not much room in the crowded cafe and the evening being rather warm for November.  And while she was there, noticing the three individuals around her, she had begun to make up a story about each one.  They were not unreasonable stories, but fabricated nonetheless.

Her attention was unexpectedly interrupted by the manager of the restaurant who had come outside to tell her that now there was room at the bar should she want to come inside and wait for her companion.  Nice of him, she thought.  So she left her storied threesome in the midst of their tales and went inside.  Sipping a glass of wine, she wondered if the artist could see her through the window and might she appear in his painting.  Of course, that might just lead to another story…

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