Friday, May 30, 2008
The thing my daddy is best at--and he's good at lots of things--is being a father. Not the handsomely trim, emotionally demonstrative soccer coach dad you'd see on Desperate Housewives (a DILF, if you will). He's a born caregiver. He doesn't have to look the part because he invented it. He doesn't have to say "I love you" because his body screams it with every muscle spasm and joint pop.
My daddy ran my bath water for me until I was ten years old. I think it hurt his feelings when I, in my decade's worth of grandiose wisdom, told him I would no longer need his services. He obliged me without an argument, but he was right there when, just after he left, I cranked up the hot water and yelped from the scald. Daddy cared about me, and he didn't want me to burn myself from the water that got much too hot as it traversed its way topsy-turvy through the persnickety pipes of our double-wide trailer. He cared about me enough to let me burn myself, though, and learn caution. Learn that maybe I still needed him after all.
He was at each of Jeffrey's home football games, and at most of the away ones, too, unless they were too far south in Mississippi, so far he couldn't make them in time after he got of work. Daddy loved watching those boys fumble on the field, particularly his own son, my brother, the 2nd string whatever who got little field play. Despite his love of sports and my disinterest in them, Daddy was there for all my adolescent rites of passage: choir concerts, school plays, countless academic awards ceremonies. Even the Momma I Adore can't say that much.
I took a composition class at Mississippi University for Women the summer before my senior year of high school and wrote a personal essay about my father, how he was born to drive. It makes sense. He drives a silver boat of a patrol car for a living, would spend evenings driving all about the county after he got off work, taking Jeffery to Taekwando and me to church. He always drove Aunt Mollie to the Methodist church at Pleasant Hill on Sunday mornings and picked her up just before noon since she never stayed for the invitation hymn. And the only two times I've ever known of him go to church of his own accord were the day I was baptized and the night I played Shepherd Number 2 in a musical at the Cedar View Baptist Church. My Daddy doesn't do religion, but when his youngest, most precocious went through that Evangelical Phase small town Southern kids are susceptible to, he took off his cap, tucked in his shirt, and sat right there in the back of the sanctuary to watch me take the plunge, make my joyful noise.
Jeffrey is so much like my father. He paces the floor when he talks just like Daddy, and he never quite knows what to do with his hands when he's conversing. He is restless now, constantly burning up gas bumbling down the road in his red pick up, finding some relative or another to get mad at. That's our Momma coming out in him, but he'll settle down when he has a child. Like our father, my brother was born to be a daddy, to care for another person more than he does for himself. In Jeffrey's case, like in Daddy's, I think the other person will have to be his own child, or the equation just won't work. Men like my father and brother make strange bedfellows. They aren't passionate lovers, which precludes them from being husband material for the types of women to which they are attracted. If I had a crystal ball it would tell me that my brother will marry right around 30, have a couple kids and remain completely enthralled with them through his divorce and high cholesterol diagnosis, right up until the day he dies. Just like our father.
More tenuous is determining the Theoretical Predestined Role for myself. I'm not like the men in my family, and those men closest to me, Daddy and Jeffery, have never treated me like I would grow up to be a man at all. Daddy still doesn't want me driving late at night, and Jeffrey calls to check on me when I'm sick, not like a brother would but like a father, to impart wisdom and utter proclamations of finality, words infused with healing, "you'll be alright come morning." I often feel like the daughter and sister they never had, because I'm the sensitive one. I am the son who loves in a different way than they know how. For me, love is my mother buying me a glittery star candle holder at Goodwill because she knows that my interior design taste tends towards a tacky-hippie infusion. It's my grandmother picking me up a John Grisham book at a yard sale for a quarter, not because she knows whether or not I like his work, but because she knows I'm a reader. Thoughtfulness, random acts of kindness, evidence of care beyond the conceived parameters of care giving: this is the style in which I love, and it's often gotten me in trouble with my male friends who, upon reflection, consider the cookbook or homemade banana muffins I gave them demonstrations of my romantic interest.
I don't love like men do, because I feel that love is contingent. It's something that can slip away unless little signs are shown to indicate it's still in blossom. I learn that from my mother, and I see myself in waking dreams like her, endlessly loved yet constantly aware that at any time the affection could slip away. Love is something we pine for, like school girls, longing for a kiss, who spend Sunday afternoons weeping in unmade beds. My father loves differently, constantly, unquestioningly. He is the only man I accept this type of love style from, because I believe more than just about anything else that he was born to love his sons with every movement of his body.
But I wasn't born that way. I was born for something else, yet to be determined.
This scribble comes from a discussion I had with my therapist (did I just demolish any credibility I may have had?) and from thoughts I've had while reading The Man I Might Become: Gay Men Write About Their Fathers. I'm thinking of polishing, tightening, and including this piece in the collection of creative work I'm submitting for my master's thesis, tentatively titled Learning To Talk.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
I'm always torn on what to do. After a trip home, I'm either gung ho about getting back there or chomping at the bit to leave and never return. It depends on how good of a time I had. For me, going home is like going on vacation. For however long I'm there, I don't have to do anything short of hauling some wood for my grandmother and washing my own clothes. I hook back up with my high school partners in crime, eat out on Daddy's dime, and snooze and laze around watching cable t.v. Sometimes so much idle time is a dream come true for me. As an undergrad, when I lived much closer to home than I do now, I'd run home for a weekend in the midst of mid terms or room mate fights just to have a break from my "real" life. Momma and Daddy are always so excited to see me they don't know what to do with themselves, and like any good family man, I love making the parents happy. And being lavished upon.
However, home can put me in a glut, and sometimes I feel like I'm falling back into a hole of deep water I'd just managed to crawl out of. Being a bum is only worthwhile for a week or so.
This past weekend was a good one at home. I went back to see my brother and attend a family reunion, where I played with my cousins' babies and prayed to sweet, merciful Jesus that my aunt would not fight the lady at the park whose son bit my cousin on the swing set. I was sweating for a moment, because my aunt and all her brood like to throw down at a hat's drop, but cousin Vanessa's preacher husband calmed everyone down in his diplomatic way and we were spared a police citation, at least for this reunion.
I stayed out much too late with some of the old crew and swam in the shallow end in the wee hours of the morning with no clothes on. I took long think-walks around the new neighborhood that's going up by ours, played with the new beagle puppies, shopped at the dollar stores, and thoroughly enjoyed the hometown experience.
I'm still not sure what to tell friends and family when confronted with the most daunting of all questions: Are you planning on coming back home after you graduate? Honestly, a very large part of my decision to go on to graduate school came from being unable and unwilling to answer that particular question. I strategically applied to schools that were at least six hours from home so I could have a bit more time and space to make up my mind about where home fits into my future. Well, I'm halfway done with my two year by, and I still don't know what I want to do. The problem is, I fall in love with every place I live after a while. I love East Tennessee, and I would settle down here in a heartbeat. Same thing happened to me and Central Arkansas. We were deeply in love for four good years, and I'd still give her the time of day if the cards so fell that way. But home--where my family is, where my roots are--that's a tough place to leave. It's even tougher to go back once you've gotten out, at least in my opinion.
Maybe North Mississippi will be my vacation home. I mean, that's what it has become for me pretty much at this point. Or maybe I will apply for jobs in the area this time next year, and look into living situations. Oh, if only I had more time to be indecisive.
In other news, I'm being published! A poem I've re-written and re-titled several times has been selected, in it's 2nd incarnation, for publication in the Knoxville Writers' Guild anthology, Outscapes: Writings on Fences and Frontiers. This version of the poem is called "Wheeling and Dealing," but its heavily edited, most recent rendition is called "Working Man's Blues." I'm going to send it out, too. It is a different poem, after all.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
To this day, when I hear that song, I'm 18 years old again. God, I was cute back then.
I also attach songs to people who mean a lot to me. For instance, I can't listen to Rilo Kiley's "Always" and not think of my friend Andrew, because, like the song says, "I should have known, with a boy like you, you're middle name is always, I'd always love you." The funny thing is, he's the only boy I have ever been able to sing love songs to and not feel as if I was crossing some boundary that dare not be crossed. Love is many things, often undefinable. I may not have a clue sometimes about how one can love someone so fearlessly but not libidinal, but I know one thing. Love is no boundaries. It's shamelessly dedicating cheesy songs to someone on the radio.
There's a slew of other folks whose song memories ignite something in me: passion, nostalgia, a bittersweet smile. Regina Spektor's "Hotel Song" will always be the Spring Break 07 Writing Center Cabin Trip anthem, and Abigail knows that I'm an Engine Driver, that I'm here waiting, crash, that she's Irreplaceable.
I wonder, sometimes, what songs people attach to me. Everyone reminds me of some pop tune or another, because of an experience we shared (or I wish we'd shared), their way of being in the world. I can't hear "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" and not remember shooting tequila and dancing in the living room with my mother the New Year's Eve when I was 20. But does she think the same thing when Cher belts out her woeful story in that husky voice?
Memories are strange things, because they happen upon you unexpectedly, and often you feel embarrassed to remember nights being one in a pile of people lying on the floor after too much Andre champagne and too many rounds of "Tiny Dancer" sing-a-longs when you're walking across campus to meet with a professor and Elton John pops up on the iPod's shuffle. But, jarring as that memory can be when it visits me in public, I can't help but embrace it, miss those Saturday nights of my junior year in college, and grin thinking of all the people I may never see, let alone lie beside, again.
I'm keeping these memories, and I'm listening to these songs. They're mine, and I can keep them forever. I can keep those people forever, and that's major.
Monday, May 19, 2008
My habit for justifying certain bad-for-me things always involves my mother's validation. The diet pills make my heart race beyond healthy contractions? It's okay! Momma gave' em to me. I want to lay around the house all day and eat fried bologna sandwiches and Neapolitan ice cream? Mama thinks that's a good way to unwind. Even sometimes when I'm engaged in intense debates about academic things (and I'll admit that never really happens because I'm not so confrontational), I sometimes long to take the easy way out--or is it a backhanded approach?--and tell my adversary, "Well, I'm right because my Momma said so!"
I'm just going to go ahead and confess. I was that kid. You know, the little boy who loves his mother maybe a little too much. Not in a creepy way, but I was most definitely a momma's boy. A daddy's boy too, much later when I realized I'd tricked my father into loving me. But I never had to trick Momma. When I turned six, she brought 24 cupcakes (homemade, courtesy of Betty Crocker) with blue-tinted icing and M&Ms on top for my kindergarten class. She brought them up to school with bottles of Hawaiian Punch and sang "She'll Be Comin' 'Round The Mountain" to the kids in my class. I sang right along with her, much louder than the other children. It was my birthday after all.
There was a boy named Jeremy, who, after my mother left, told me I couldn't sing. I was incensed, I remember, but knew he couldn't be more wrong. I could sing well because Momma told me I could. And that's what I told him. And he laughed and I cried and a week later we became very good friends until middle school when he just disappeared from school because he'd gotten in trouble or into drugs or into jail--whatever it is unsupervised adolescent boys do to vanish from the earth. Maybe it serves him right for scoffing at my mother's omnipotent decree about my singing ability.
Now, I'm an adult, and I realize that as adults we can't weasel out of arguments or justify poor decision making by citing our mothers. I'm perfectly capable of understanding the harmful effects of diet pills and bologna sandwiches and late nights spent shotgunning beers (well, Momma wouldn't like that). But I like the feeling that what I'm doing, no matter how bad it really is, can't be that bad since my mother says it's okay. Despite her 6 a.m. phone calls that drive me crazy, my momma is the best person in the world (probably just after yours, right?). She knows more than I care to admit about living in this world, and I know she'll never steer me wrong. Because she said she wouldn't.
Besides, it's not really her fault that she doesn't read ingredient labels or worry about calorie intake and the caffeine content of diet pills. That's not what folks from her generation do. A bologna sandwich is a delicacy for her, and diet pills have helped her lose weight and make some money back in the mid-nineties. She was in on the class-action Fen-phen suit. So maybe I should readjust my rationale and give up the Pound-X whatevers. I hate to think what it would do to my poor mother if my heart exploded.
Friday, May 16, 2008
1. Edna St. Vincent Millay's Collected Sonnets (for .25!)
2. Peter Shaffer's Equus (horse porn! $1.50!)
3. Lee Smith's Cakewalk (great Southern short stories! $1.75)
4. Henry James's The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller (a 1960s double edition! .95)
5. Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (Mary Ruth told me to read that so long ago, and now I will since it was only .95!)
6. Plato's The Symposium (for the 102 class I'm working up--"Inquiry into Friendship"--I need a theoretical base. .75!)
7. Joel Spring's The American School, 1642-1990 (a history text, but interesting and FREE from the discard bin)
8. The Selected Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (a 1950 edition, paperback. FREE!)
So what's that, folks? 8 books for around $6? All I did yesterday afternoon was read bits from all of them. I now can tell you that the first high school in the country was the Boston English Classical School established in 1821, and that Lee Smith's Joline from the short story "Between the Lines" sounds an awful lot like Eudora Welty's narrator in "Why I Live At the P.O." (which you should read immediately). I can tell you that Millay deviates from the English sonnet form from time to time while still restricting her sonnets to fourteen lines and that you, Abigail, need to read her. You will LOVE her, I swear.
I'm just so giddy I can hardly stop grinning. And I need to get back to my books. Let me know any of your recent or most memorable bargain shopping and/or reading adventures.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Let's see what happens when I throw sex--particularly penetration--around. Let me know what you think, and feel free to suggest line edits, a new title, online dating, or deep spiritual guidance.
The Osmosis of Desire
My body contains many stories,
A refrigerated trailer truckload of mythos.
The language of my body
Sung out in eruptions,
Pit sweat and heart palpitations.
I do not write new myths of longing.
I am not the first to want things I don't have
But I admit to it,
The osmosis of desire,
Longing at the molecular level.
This is what I talk about when I talk about love:
Parts of you in me,
Plasma united, cell walls suctioned,
A strand of your hair in my mouth.
I bathed with a lover's soap weeks after he'd gone,
Switched to his cologne,
Hoping pieces of his body would be sucked up by mine.
I love your sleek jawline and understated laugh,
Like bluebird wing flaps.
I can make you smile,
Make the muscles in your face maneuver beneath your skin
Inside you, a piece of me,
My wit, desire down past the tissues,
Soaked through the skull.
Me shot through your brain.
Deeply, I affect you.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
And one of my favorite strange little girl poems, by a woman poet who, after I met her thought, "what a strange older lady."
The One Girl at the Boy's Party
- When I take my girl to the swimming party
- I set her down among the boys. They tower and
- bristle, she stands there smooth and sleek,
- her math scores unfolding in the air around her.
- They will strip to their suits, her body hard and
- indivisible as a prime number,
- they'll plunge in the deep end, she'll subtract
- her height from ten feet, divide it into
- hundreds of gallons of water, the numbers
- bouncing in her mind like molecules of chlorine
- in the bright blue pool. When they climb out,
- her ponytail will hang its pencil lead
- down her back, her narrow silk suit
- with hamburgers and french fries printed on it
- will glisten in the brilliant air, and they will
- see her sweet face, solemn and
- sealed, a factor of one, and she will
- see their eyes, two each,
- their legs, two each, and the curves of their sexes,
- one each, and in her head she'll be doing her
- sparkle and fall to the power of a thousand from her body.
P.S. Tomorrow I plan to be back in full swing with a post of my own work, or at least some ruminations about disc golf, laying out by the pool, or the trip to the therapist's office.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
(notice the underwear on the clothesline strung across the porch)
Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to me
("and I leave my Christmas lights on on my front porch all year long")
What's better: the doo rag, the boat paddle, or the trash 'stache?
Our only casualty of the night, but what a great photo op!
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Okay, I admit it. The summer so far is wonderful. Lazy days spent with my pen to the page, nose in a book, or butt in the kitchen (my three favorite alone activities) sprawl into late nights dancing ecstatically at holes-in-the wall or on front porches in Fort Sanders. It's all I dreamed it would be back in late March, when I. Just. Couldn't. Take. It. Anymore. Tonight I'm attending a "White Trash Bash," where I will wear a sleeveless, stained Boomsday t-shirt from 2000, denim cut-offs, and a "Preferred Insulation and Fireplaces" ball cap while swilling cheap beer and grooving to some R.E.O. Speedwagon. And Confederate Railroad, since I like my women just a little on the trashy side.
In honor of the trash-tacular events planned, I share with you a (shitty) first draft of a poem that might be a little creepy, but shouldn't raise any concerns. Unless of course those concerns are about the quality of writing, in which case, please share your constructive criticism.
“Lovely Boy with Sleeve of Tattoos”
You are not the rebel
You want to be.
You are rebel enough for me.
Why do you buy your mushrooms and weed?
Things don’t make you eccentric but
Notions of love,
Untenable actions of your taught, lean frame.
You are more vulnerable than
You think you are
You are vulnerable enough for me.
Pocked pore face,
We can explore eccentricity.
P.S.-- Don't you think "On Front Porches in Fort Sanders" would be a great title for a poem?
Friday, May 9, 2008
Last time Jeffrey called, he sounded better, told me he put in for a transfer to Tupelo. "I'll be just right there," he said, of the town a hundred miles east of where we grew up. He has lived off for a while--first Lexington, now Pensacola--away from the steep bluffs of our hometown overlooking the Mississippi Delta, for five years now. He hasn't adjusted well.
I left home before he did, by 34 days. My exodus was different, though. I am always doing it differently from him. He left to drive an in-town courier van for FedEx; I left for college, with its mid-semester reprieves, fall break, spring break, not to mention Christmas and summer when I've had all the time in the world to do go back home as much as I want. As much as he wants to but can't with these gas prices and those 12-hour days. I adjusted to life away better than he did.
But was I ever really away? Not longer than a couple months. Not gone a full year before I got back to DeSoto County's sweetest water, Muffy's cocksure golden rooster. I keep trying to grow up, to say each August, "No, I will not go back until Christmas." But I can't stop going, especially when I really want to. I've never been any good at not doing what I want precisely when I want to do it. My brother has.
Jeffrey is stoic and brave--at least logical. Him with his work-a-day common sense, too much like our father, sacrificing himself for his job because if it doesn't give him purpose at least hard work makes him a man. I do not know what makes me a man, or if anything can besides biology. I like to hear my brother's voice deepening as he talks to me on the phone, as if he has just cleared phlegm from his throat. As if low tones are merit badges of self-sacrifice
Monday, May 5, 2008
I wanted to wear eye-liner when I was in high school, and sometimes my friend Candi would make me up. But my glasses got in the way of my curled eyelashes. Sometimes I'd put on my grandmother's Avon lipstick and kiss the bathroom mirror. She caught me by the mauve smeared toilet paper squares in the trash can, and I learned from then on to flush all evidence.
I won't believe that most boys don't dabble in cosmetics and football player crushes. I won't believe that our daddies didn't kiss when they were sixteen and on fire. At least they thought about it. And I'm here to tell you I did it.
*I have no idea what this is--a poem? an essay? a rumination? the beginning of someone's biography? Either way, I like the voice here, and the honesty, even in the parts that are made up.
Friday, May 2, 2008
But, I ain't gonna lie to you, I'm thankful for summer, because I really need a break. I've already begun my first "for fun" book of the summer, Kevin Brockmeier's The Truth About Celia, and it's shaping up to be a really interesting read. He creates a fictional author who writes the novel in a series of inter-related short stories, which I love, because as of late I've become really fond of the short story genre. Heck, this summer, I might even try to write one or two.
I've also used the free time I've had the past week to work on some new poems, and I'm excited about a sexier one with a particularly striking image of an avocado. It's going on a really good direction, I think, and I'm hoping I can play around with form and try to figure out my own style. I think I've got my subject matter, at least my early twentysomething subject matter: I can write a hell of a witty and poignant white trash poem and sometimes, if I'm lucky, a queer love poem that doesn't get too sappy. I'm sending my first batch of stuff out on Monday, so I'll let you know in a few months if any journals decide to take a chance on a kid like me. Oh, I'm so excited about having more time to write.
Tonight I'm making cupcakes for an end of the year cookout one of my MA friends is throwing at his house. Lemon-cream cheese cupcakes that are going to be the best damned confections all the guests have ever eaten. That is, if they don't deflate when I pull them out of the oven.
To all of you still embroiled with finals-taking and paper-grading, godspeed. It'll be over soon, and then you'll have the summer to relax, and, here's a thought: come visit me! (winking at you, Abby).
To the start of summer!