Not Me

© 2010 David Parker

I woke up this morning to an orange-pink sky:
Ominous.
Made coffee, made lunch, made the bed.
Skipped breakfast.

I’m too sensitive. I want
to leave the house not for work.
I want to leave
for a place where I am a stranger.

Where people don’t know me so well
that they can call me a bitch
and be sure of it.
Where someone else
makes the coffee, makes lunch, makes the bed.
Where I can get by on
wit and good looks.
A place where there is no history
unraveling itself at my feet.

Instead, I sip back tears
with room-temperature coffee: nothing worse
than a pack of fifteen-year-olds
watching you cry.
I send an honest email and immediately
regret sending it: I care too much.
My raw little soul tapped into
the keyboard, onto the screen.

I see myself too clearly,
know myself too well.

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nothing breaking the losing of no little piece

© 2010 David Parker

I’m washing dishes at the kitchen sink. I’m angry. The water is running from my hands to my elbow and puddling on the floor around my feet. I scrub the plate hard, feel the beading around the edges. I’m thinking harder than I’m scrubbing, my thoughts like fists on the back of my brain. Put the plate down on the rack to dry. I’ve exhausted it. Pick up the forks, knives, spoons. In my small hands they look awkward, heavy, primitive. The skin on my hands is older, harsher than I remember. When I straighten them, my knuckles look like the rings inside a tree cut down. I pause. Bring my hands dripping out of the water, stare at them. Pick up a glass. More scrubbing.

I realize I’m holding my breath. Exhale.

There’s mold growing up the inside of my single-paned windows above the kitchen sink. The plants are drooping over the windowsill. It’s too hard to remember something so simple as to water them. Their pots were painted by Ruthie.

The anger is beginning to bleed out of me into the warm soapy water. With every tedious piece of silverware scrubbed clean, I feel less like wings beating against a cage.

I put the last clumsy spoon in the silverware basket, wipe my forehead with the back of my hand. My gaze is directed through the window just above me, but my mind is still reeling from the rage, slowing down like a roulette wheel with the little ball clicking over the redblackredblackredblack. My focus shifts outside of myself, and I notice that it’s not dark yet. I see the trees with their leaves pressed up against the sky as if at any moment, someone could pluck them from the ground leaving only their impressions against the clouds. The leaf-stippled sky quiets the guilt I feel for getting so angry over what I’m not sure.

The sound of running water and Ruthie’s heavy footsteps behind me, her voice chirping. It’s bathtime.

Drive

© 2010 David Parker

Six hours of interstate brought me to this bed and I can already feel the sting of Monday slapping me in the face. The last two hours of our trip home were spent in the dark and my mind felt cool and clear. I was granted the eerie blessing of an Alabama interstate at night: three crosses on a hill lit by the halogen floodlight behind the Sneaky Pete’s, the Mattress Man’s van parked next to the abandoned gas station whose pumps have been consumed by kudzu, the metal carcasses of abandoned cars cold and empty in my headlights, the reflectors humming by on railings close enough to make me tighten my grip on the steering wheel, and the white dotted lines on the road that merge together into the distance to form one long glowing thread to follow. The sound of nothing–of space, time, air–rushing past us, over us, around us. I steeled myself against thinking about tomorrow or yesterday and was met with a great deal of resistance, but my mind was generally quiet. I wore alone like a costume made out of scraps of memory that felt like panty hose on my skin.

Waving and Thankful

© 2010 David Parker

All my life people have been trying to save me. My grandmother, many of my friends in high schools and college, my family, but especially my grandmother. And they all say the same things: that God is working on my heart and that they are praying for me. All my life, I assumed that these people who wanted to save me were acting from some personal conviction that either they were better than me or I was doing something terribly wrong, or both. Today I saw two people who have been praying for me for a long time: my grandmother and a very dear, beautiful friend whom I’ve known since I was in kindergarten.

This morning, we visited my grandmother in the nursing home. She was dozing on the couch in the common room when we got there and it took her a few seconds for her face to register that she saw us. Ruthie came skipping in with me and all the old ladies sitting in heaps around the room turned toward Ruthie like flowers toward the sun. Terribly unsettling and sad. And so we sat there, Grandmother and I, on the badly upholstered sofa, while Ruthie flip-flopped like a fish out of water. She was so taken with Ruthie and how big she’s gotten. I was so taken by the fact that she’d evidently had her toenails painted a deep shade of red (I later learned that they offer manicure/pedicures at the home). When I left she said that next time I came home, she’d take me shopping and assured me that she had been praying for me. There was something about the way she said these last two things that made my chest hurt.

On the way out, I checked the time. We’d been there maybe 40 minutes. It occurred to me that she’s there all day. More chest hurting.

At 1:00, I picked up my friend for lunch. 45 minutes later, I was crying into my white truffle chicken salad. We talked a lot mostly about how we thought things would be much easier, how we only wanted these small things. And then she started talking about hope and what her hope is in. I’ve never understood hope, and, when I have allowed myself to hope, I have been generally disappointed. My friend has also been disappointed, but she hopes anyways. And she hopes for me. And prays for me. And I am so deeply, wonderfully grateful.

Grateful because both of these women were offering me their hopes and their prayers the way you would offer anyone you love a cup of tea with honey at the end of a long shitty day. No judgement, just a desire to share something that has made their hearts lighter.

It’s strange how heavy thankfulness can feel. It’s much easier to shrug off other people’s hopes and prayers, even get pissed off at them, get all Who does she think she is praying for me. Because to accept their hopes, their prayers, is also to admit that you need them (even if you don’t understand them). And gratitude, real gratitude, is humbling. And humility is rather uncomfortable.

So last week, I wrote about “Thanks,” a poem by the new Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin. This poem mesmerized me when I read it the first time or two, but today I felt it in my bone marrow. In the last stanza, he writes

we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Two things are difficult about these last lines for me: that nobody’s listening and that it’s dark. But it occurs to me that someone is listening: me, the reader. I’m listening to the voices in this poem saying thank you. So maybe not-nobody’s listening to me too. And maybe I’m waving in the dark, but there’s a lot of us here waving in the dark, so maybe we’re not waving at nobody. Even though I can’t always see it or hear it, I believe in the we of this poem. And isn’t that faith?

On Being Brave and Wearing Jeans

© 2010 David Parker

I have this pair of jeans. We’ve been through a lot together–nine patches, two fly-zippers, one busted belt-loop, most of my twenties. And they still make my ass look great. Confidence, comfort, and a nice ass all wrapped up in the perfect-shade-of-blue dreamy denim. They don’t cut off the circulation in my thighs and the waist doesn’t make my stomach pooch over when I sit down to a big plate of pasta. They forgive, but they don’t forget, and the not-forgetting is what makes them the best because they love me anyways. I’m my best self in these jeans and the more I wear them, the more myself I feel.

These and a ring I bought myself just after I got divorced. These are my everyday talismans. I wore both when I went on my Very Bravest Adventure to boldly spend 17 hours doing something I’ve never done before with people who initially intimidated the hell out of me (and meant to). And all of us–ring, jeans, self–came out living, breathing, wishing only for this life.

Rubber Band Writing

© 2010 David Parker

From morning to mid-afternoon, my classes and I brainstormed all of the things you can do with a rubber-band. Inspired by a comment posted here, I decided to try this little exercise with 9th graders, and it was absolutely magical. When they walked in the door, I had a rubber-band waiting for them on each of the desks. They had to divide their paper into three columns and, in the first column, list all of the things they could think to do with a rubber-band. Then we shared (and I wrote our collective list on the board). Then they had to write more things to do with a rubber-band (that we didn’t already have on our list) in the second column. Then we shared and I wrote again. Then they had to do the same thing in the third column. EXHAUSTING! We spent an hour in each class with this activity. And every time, the kids whined about how there was nothing more they could possibly say about rubber-bands. But each column got longer than the one before it. And by the end, I was having to cut them off because we were out of room and out of time.

My favorites:

Take it to Wal-Mart.
Ask it how your butt looks in these pants.
Get mad at it for not talking back.
Lasso a rhinoceros with it.
Put it in your game day pants for good luck.
Insult it.
Measure it.
Forget it.
Tell your mother she can’t have it.

We talked about how our writing should be third-column writing. We figured out that it takes the first and second columns to get to the third, that you can write about anything if you want to (or have to), that you never feel like you have anything to say at the very beginning, that it’s sometimes easier to write if you have someone you can talk to about it.

My neck is sore, my arm feels bruised, and my back is all messed up, but, damn! It was one of those I’m-a-Teacher days, where you know you’ve just blown their minds (and yours). And the kids were buzzing about it in the halls. And, from now on, when they hand in shitty-first-drafts, I can say they need to work it into the third column and they’ll know what I mean and how to do it. But what made the day was that they valued each others as writers and thinkers. It’s not often you see 15-year-olds, or people in general, valuing each other’s ideas.

‘Flicted with the Hubris

© 2010 David Parker

We started reading The Odyssey today in my AP class, and it’s got me thinking about quests and tests and challenges and nostos and hubris. Especially hubris, which is really a necessary flaw if you’re going to be an epic hero. I mean, being successful at anything requires a certain amount of ego, so if you’re going to be a fucking hero, I would imagine that you’d need maybe just a bit more hubris than the average guy. But in the end, the hubris is what brings the big boys to their knees. Well, hubris and fate.

The Odyssey was the first nail in my literary coffin. I read it my sophomore year of college in a Great Books class. It was the first time I realized that literature was about the human experience. It may have been the first time it was ever brought to my attention that there were certain universal aspects of being human. Except for the fact that Penelope never leaves the home, I love the narrative structure of The Odyssey: We begin with ourselves, our home; we go out into the world for a reason, on a quest; nothing goes the way we’d imagined it might; it takes a hell of a lot longer than we’d planned; we encounter challenges, battles, obstacles, monsters that test who-we-think-we-are; we eventually make it home (under strange sail and in exchange for a story); and nothing is as we remember it—not even ourselves. We thought we knew everything (hubris), we thought we were somebody (hubris), we bragged about how much of a somebody we thought we were (hubris), only to have our spirit sticks broken by the gods (fail). Just one big circle that begins and ends with me. And we arrive alone, without even our trusty hubris.

I think that’s why so many people experience success in their forties: it takes a long time and a lot of failing to get over the hubris. My twenties have been marked by arrogance and entitlement, and that too seems to be a universal piece of the human condition. Everyone is kind of an asshole in their twenties. We’re like Odysseus, messing over our accomplishments with our bragging. And my generation of braggarts is surely the worst yet as we proudly proclaim our cleverness from the tallest peaks of the Interwebs. Our status updates and tweets have a willingly captive audience and people like us. Social networking’s got us ‘flicted with the hubris. *heavy sigh* #kidsthesedays