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Easy to be silent

In the corridors of memory, I keep a hazy replica of the stucco house in Miami, especially Grandma Tripp’s sewing room. The smells of recently lemon-oiled wood and cedar closets. Trunks and powdered linen. The soft Miami breeze in the corner room at the top of the stairs. The Singer sewing machine in a rounded wooden case with an iron lattice worked foot pedal. Drawers of pastel fabrics – straight pins and thread spool in clear boxes and pin cushions on the furniture. The room was sparse – dark sturdy furniture, worn and patched but clean linens on the bed. I remember the house seeming endless to me. The mangoes from Grandpappy’s trees were bigger than my hands and feet put together. And the avocadoes were thick and sweet and tasted like butter cream squash. The coconuts were SO hard to break and we’d walk to the creek and dangle our legs over the bridge. I hardly knew Grandma and Grandpappy died before I hardly knew he was gone. I laid in that corner room with the warm Miami breeze fluttering in over my sheets and through the open door. I felt so strange as an adult there, as I walked through the upstairs rooms. I guess us kids didn’t go up there much. Grandma has moved downstairs now. She had two rooms built down there, off the dining room, where the mango trees used to be. I think now that this must have been her favorite room because it’s so sunny and bright and cool in the evenings. Far enough away from the family rooms downstairs for some quiet time. Grandma must have looked out the window at their orchard and furtively unlaced her sensible shoes. She and Pappy were immigrants from Germany. Farmer’s families. No royal blood in me from that side. Just good solid stock, solid people. Grandma and Pappy, I still see them as they were on their 50th wedding anniversary. The whole family was there. But that was the last time we all got together. The photographer had to be pretty far away to get us all in. I guess most everybody went to Grandma’s funeral. They didn’t call me in California until it was too late. I remember her laughter when I asked if we used to be von Tripps – like maybe she was secretly a baroness or a princess. “No, dear, we are farmers, always have been. Come sit down and tell me where you got that notion.” Years later, I made copies of her genealogy sketched on the back of livestock accounting sheets – big sheets of beige paper with green lines for recording milk output by cow – of course the names and notes and branches were drawn on the blank back side. Sorta backed up her claim of being just farmers. And a faded piece of stationery with each of her children’s names and birthdays, and their children’s names and birthdays, it was one crowded sheet of paper, she had ten children who lived past infancy, and I figure that was alot of birthdays to keep track of.

I am cursed with Karma, I think. All my life, every time I told a lie, I would get busted. Like immediately. So if I get too much change, I tell the cashier. I know their employers take it out of their pay if they are short. Also, it is so much easier to remember what you said if you don’t try and remember who you told what. But I lie all the time. I act happy. I project contentment. That is simply not true, at least not all the time. Sometimes, I just feel useless. We used to call them old tapes, repeated loops of cruel relatives: Nobody likes the smart girl. You’re funny looking. Children should be seen and not heard. If Grandpappy asks you a direct question, you can answer, but then you shut up. I told my husband about the silent German dinners, about the only conversation being “pass the potatoes”. He didn’t believe me until Aunt Ruth made dinner for about eight of us. Before we sat down, Cousin Elaine started rifling through the cabinets. She knew Aunt Ruth kept a bottle of whiskey. Somewhere. We didn’t talk about that either. Aunt Grace, he said, “I hear you have three daughters” “yes’. “um, how are they?” “Well.” “Are they married?’ “Two of them”. Silence. “Uncle Marvin, I hear you were a detective” “No, I was a just a police officer”. “Any interesting cases?” “No.” “Cousin Elaine, where are you living now?” “Outer Hebrides.” “Why?” “Fewer people.”

Aunt Mary’s Mask

My Aunt Mary and Dolly Parton had something in common; they never left home without their “war paint” on.  Pond’s cold cream and Oil of Olay – goop on, goop off.   Gluing on false eyelashes and curling the ones she had, applying foundations, powder for the shiny spots, rouge to add color to the cheeks she just painted beige, eyebrows plucked, eyeliner traced across lids, lips painted with a color to match the manicure.  Clairol’s honey blonde dyed hair wrapped like cotton candy, coiffed and sprayed.  Her neck was encircled with metal and stones, ears were pierced and hung with baubles, dangling and glittering like fishing lures.  

I would sit on the bed, she perched on the tufted stool at her vanity, lifting one then the other jar of unguents and potions. The makeup would leave Aunt Mary’s telephone surfaces smeared with the blues and tans of eye shadow and cover up. How would Aunt Mary cope now?  She was always the glamorous one, I expect her masks would be fashionable, another matching accessory.

I am exhausted, just remembering the elaborate war paint ritual.  

I realized recently that she selected from a complexion wheel with several shades of “natural” but only one shade of brown.  “Racism in the makeup aisle!”  Sometime in the 60’s Crayola changed the name of their pinkish tan shade from “flesh” to “peach”, because, like, it ISN’T flesh colored, not everyone’s flesh anyway. 

She also planted the idea in my head that since whale and bull sperm has been used in cosmetics for years, how about using the raw material?  So, if you’re giving a blow job, don’t spit it out, don’t swallow, but smear that jism around to tighten up those sagging corners.  Would that not save thousands of dollars wasted on plastic surgery, not to mention saving the whales?

I think about my face, this face that simply merges and replicates those features worn by my mother and father, it sports the Broeker nose, the Niedbalski chin, the blond wispy hair of Teutonic ancestors and the pasty complexion of the Celts and the Brits.  So pasty, even my hippy mom would wheedle: “Aw honey, you would be so much prettier with just a little mascara… 

I realize it shields me from the ingrained suspicion of dark faces, it shields me everywhere I go.  My whiteness pops out from the cloth edges of face coverings.  

Are we now putting on masks over masks?  Without the best cosmetics showing off our makeover skills, is the playing field levelled in an unintended way?  Will all of it get wiped off on the inside of our masks, where only our lovers can see what’s underneath?  Will we miss Tami Faye’s face melting when she cried?  Is that why Orange 45 won’t wear a mask?  Afraid of the smeared face underneath?  

I hope our men will take to decorating their eyes, to augment their expressions while masked.  I hope they embrace the eyebrow plucking concept or at least trim the wayward finger length hairs above their eyes, free of societal pressure to conform by gender.

Sometimes, outrage leaks out of my face.  My black friends call me Shuh Nay Nay when I am truly, uncontrollably angry.  I got this thing against being hit.  I mean, If you hit me, I will take you down.  Did you know I was suspended from school three times (in three different Oakland public schools) for fighting?  Those three kids never hit me again.  This righteous warrior part of me is not a mask, it is full body armor.  I love my inner warrior.  She is the reason I survive.

This face can wear a beautiful mask, or when enraged, can wear a hideous mask, lips twisted, teeth exposed.  I can wash off the tears, I can moisturize their tracks, hide the traces of despair, place artfully the invisible mask of false contentment upon the surface, but the anger remains.  

Go collect your rubles, Troll, Part 2

They are not talking to me now. Because I questioned their understanding of just who their enemies are. Fox Media had convinced them there was a caravan of terrorists walking – walking – to the U. S. border from various South American countries. I said that was not true. They dismissed me as a Pollyanna. Fox Media told them that the Syrian refugees were harboring terrorists. That was not true, yet they insisted I be afraid. Cleared out the table with my stubborn insistence that my friends were misinformed. And all these months later, when none of their fears materialized, they are trying to convince me that Black Lives Matter protests are violent. They keep picking the wrong enemies. Migrant workers, no. Asylum seekers, no. Peaceful protestors, no. I disagreed when they lashed out against Colin Kaepernick, my San Francisco friends, fellow fans of the 49ers. How dare he take a knee to protest police brutality, in this country, against black people. It’s football, not politics. Where else can he be heard? Corporate greed and corrupt governments took your 401k, these “titans of industry” stole your pension plans. Certainly not any immigrants. These purveyors of propaganda are the ones who lead you to hate those of less privilege. Watch what they do, my mom used to say, not what they say. But these days, the things they say are horrible. They used to be my friends, they sat at my table, I even love them. But I cannot condone their willful ignorance. We donate to candidates set to unseat the haters. I chat-sult internet trolls. Now is the time. The world sees us, and the world protests.

Where do you store your grief?

What body part stores my grief?

I dunno, maybe it’s my feet.  By best friend Bernice has a theory about injuries and maladies.  That they illustrate a spiritual need that’s not being met.  So, I keep breaking/wounding my feet and ankles these last few months.  Go ahead, find the parallel, the symbolism of foot problems while Sheltering In Place.  I’ll wait.

But grief, well I am not sure it is stored there.  In 2008, in the weeks leading up to my mother’s demise, I started moonstrating.  We should all use moon in place of “men”, it’s a better word, because men have nothing to do with our lunar cycles. Am I right? Can I get an A Moon? And that was weird because I had already gone through the “Change of Life” (consider those words duly intoned) aka Moonopause. So as the woman who gave birth to me fifty years ago died, my womb cried.  Mom was in terrible pain, so death came as mercy, but still, it’s hard, you know?  I don’t grieve I seethe.  I can feel a deep wounding, I can experience immense grief, and it all serves to ignite a barn burning rage.

Back to where grief is stored according to the Bernice Theory of Injury Location.  ‘when I fell down thirty two stairs shattering five ribs, which punctured a lung, the Wisconsin hospital stapled my scalp, installed a morphine pump, and set me up with a famous surgeon who stapled me back together with titanium clips,  I am all What The Fuck was THAT for?  We came up with, I kid you not, that I needed to be more OPEN, that it forced a crack in my armor.  

I cry easily but grief?  That’s private.  After the accident in 2013, as I clawed my way back to mobility, I found the strength to breathe.  Without morphine, I don’t think I could have inhaled.  Jeff likes to say that I have completely recovered, but that is not true.  If I did not suffer fools gladly before, I suffer them now not at all, having been reminded in a very serious way of my own mortality.  It grinds, like the gnashing of teeth and I totter between happy talk and no talk because nobody likes a whiner and nobody wants a needy friend.  

I want to write about quarantine, about coronavirus, about how it is affecting me, but Grandma and Grandpappy Tripp frown in memory on my selfishness, and I focus on others, how are THEY doing?  The unemployed?  The hungry?  The elderly?  So I write of their despair like it was my own.  I subscribe to ta podcast called Death Sex and Money – so titled because the interviewer gently draws out of her guests answers to those questions and feelings that despite of life’s most banal moments, hinge on three subjects that remain forbidden, unspoken, and Gaia damnit, they shouldn’t be.  I agree with Annie who suggests bringing back mourning arm bands – a visual clue that your friend or loved one was recently bereaved and why does it have to recent?  I should think that a beloved spouse (not a barely tolerated spouse that you were planning to divorce anyway) but you know – that life partner type, the one about whom you have no regrets, that tears a piece off. I have friends who when they were widowed took years to pull up from the abyss and wave back.  And why is it that the parents or step parents you love the most are the first to go?  My friend Greg, whose parents died when he was only ten years old, he says that at fifty years old you don’t get to call yourself an orphan.  He was/is an orphan.  He’s right about that.  It’s almost expected, only it really isn’t.  Mom was 75 years old when she died on April 14th, 2008.  She would have appreciated the irony of dying the day before tax returns were due.  All that time afterwards my stepfather had gone even more bat shit crazy, in an ugly and paranoid way, driving away his friends and family until there was no one left to blame for his misery.

Dad was 87 years old.  Roland was 74.  Two from cancer, one really, from old age – ostensibly an infection of unknown origin, but Dad’s body was plumb wore out at 87, the benefits of 1984’s quadruple bypass surgery having expired.  His heart had run its course, and I do believe that the 2016 election and the racist xenophobic misogynistic rhetoric uttered and promoted during that year broke his heart.  He said “this is not the country I fought for in the Navy” and hated Donald Trump and everything he stood for, so it was despair and worn out body parts that got him in the end.

Colors of the Pandemic

The colors of a pandemic are all muted, the days are covered with a gauzy film of desperation.  I guess the part that is most dreadful is knowing hundreds of thousands of people are taking their last breath in colorless rooms where kind cloth covered strangers hold phones to their faces so the family members who would have smoothed their hair and held their hands helplessly speak through gnat sized speakers and the only sound sent is the rhythmic cush-cush of ventilating machines.  A small meaningful thing, repeated a hundred more times as this disease drowns their patients from the inside.

And I am guiltily grateful that my parents are already dead, and that I was there within days of their passing.  I can’t imagine saying goodbye to them at the hospital entrance, my words muffled by a mask, because only the strong are coming back out.

He saved my letters to him, in a medium Priority Mail box, ten years worth, and as Dad aged and travelled less and less, I would send off some gossipy message at least once a month. Hate to admit it, but it will take me a week to empty that box. And these days, after two months in quarantine, I am finally making time to write more letters to the living, so I’ll be putting that off, again. I am surprised that it took this long to put pen to paper, but the envelopes are going out this week. Here is what I shouldn’t say in these cheery missives, but has been weighing on me – COVID 19 is robbing people of a good death. I probably would have told Dad, he understood me when I had those dark days, but he died in 2017, just two days after I had flown to Florida to arrange his stay in the care facility. As soon as he got better, we were going to move him out with us to Hawaii, so he died knowing he was loved.

It’s hard enough for intubate -tees to communicate, just the eyes, just the hands.  How can we calm their night terrors now?

The pandemic is highlighting the cracks in society – I wish this country had a universal health plan.  I wish we had a capable leader.  The appearance of a deadly virus, though was inevitable.  We should have prepared.

I like gin with frozen cucumbers muddled in. I love that term, muddled – like it’s referring to the beverage and not the drinker. I heard a good joke the other day – the good thing about having a glass of wine in each hand is then you can’t touch your face. Like any great story ever started with “Guy comes into a salad bar?” – am I right? Anyway, I’ve got it under control. Most days. I definitely follow the news, but not all day every day. What I really have trouble with is Americans who think the corona virus is a conspiracy. It’s a global pandemic, there are no countries unaffected. So for there to be “media bias” would imply that every country on earth watches the same news Americans do. That is patently untrue and ethnocentric at best. I just don’t listen to the snake oil salesmen, but I do listen to doctors and scientists. News will always focus on the sensational over the optimistic, as the saying goes: “If it bleeds, it leads”, hence the lack of other subjects being discussed, but BBC and Business News lets me see the world’s status, not just Washington DC spin. I follow reports of positive outcomes – like drastically reduced air pollution. Like Oil and Gas no longer being the go-to energy source, and looking forward, fewer people will have to commute as teleconferencing takes hold. Like grocery wholesalers giving the same discounts to the local community. Like the bravery and fortitude of our health care providers. Like CEO’s taking paycuts, and keeping their workers on the payroll. I have to find that company that did that and write a thank you letter – no first I’ll buy stock, then I’ll be a shareholder and they’ll listen. Gotta go, the ice has melted…

No Suitcases

The feral kittens are playing outside leaping upon each other and stray branches. I try to coalesce my mind wanderings to the year 1848, to the aftermath of Harper’s Ferry, to travelers on the Underground Railroad, because that is the bloody exciting piece of history, a pivotal moment of Mary Ellen Pleasant’s life, where the thirty thousand dollars she sent to John Brown got squandered in that ill fated raid. It WAS time to take up arms against slavery, well past time, but the forces of tyranny, wrapped in hoop skirts and fancy swords, still held sway. So I swirl down, and think about unpacking a suitcase in a situation where suitcases were unheard of, where the only thing they carried was food – and courage.
“We have never known ahead of time what form our travelers will take, not if they would be children with parents, not if they were skilled workers or field laborers, not if they had baggage or just ragged shirts and not even shoes, not if they had kinfolk they were headed to, not what knowledge they had of God or Jesus or even if they could read. We do know, though, without exception, that our travelers on the Underground Railroad will be terrified. You do not wind up here through caprice, escaping slavery is not a whimsical undertaking.”
All of this was calmly said as Anna Brown prepared makeshift sleeping quarters in the back of the pantry. Mary Ellen was new at this. The part she had played before, when she and her first husband had been active abolitionists in Virginia, holding meetings at their plantation, and financing and distributing printed materials like The Liberator. She rode from one plantation to another, the news letters carefully folded and tied with straw stalks, like every other parcel in her knapsack. Mostly, Mary Ellen would read these missives aloud , after dark, in the crackling light of quiet cook fires outside the shanties, the warm evening embracing her and the listeners in that specially sticky air of the deep South. But now, since her James had died, here she was, in the humble farm dwelling of the growing Brown family, shushing the baby of a young couple who had just made their way here after running from yet another beating. They ran with nothing in their arms but this starving baby. The travelers – they told Mary Ellen that this infant boy, that was conceived in love, and was the best thing they ever done, this desperate couple confessed their commitment to drowning the child before they would be taken back to slavery. She hoped they slept well in the plank covered hidey hole, and doled out some precious brandy onto her kerchief, and showed them how to keep the baby quiet without closing his nose and mouth.

Go collect your rubles, Troll

The insult comes immediately upon commenting on line. It’s usually some variation of how I am a Libtard Ivory Tower Snowflake when requesting compassion for the incarcerated. So I type: “go pick up your rubles, troll”. The crazed conspiracy lovers who quote “Fox News” get this comment: “Fox Media because oxymoron”, that’s not news and those people are not journalists, I mean why does Fox Media have no print outlets? Is it because the followers are illiterate? Was that a rhetorical question?

The bile spewers are always anonymous, hiding behind pseudonyms. I just cannot understand why commentators (my mom used to say they were not good enough to be special taters, and too small to be dick taters) who do not use their own names are allowed to spread such malicious lies. Writing out my thoughts in longhand slows them down, not like typing or texting, Facebook forces pithiness, the enemy of eloquence is social media. Every single damn person, striving to become famous, to be HEARD. Then the genuine voices, the truly distinct – get drowned out. I harbor codeine fueled dreams of influence, of trendsetting. I ask why do you think Fox Media and Sinclair Broadcasting keep handing their adherents someone to hate? NO PERSON IS ILLEGAL, I shout into the chasm of ignorance. There are undocumented immigrants and there are asylum seekers. Mostly poor, mostly desperate people that Fox Media chooses to demonize. An enemy manufactured by xenophobic propagandists. Clutching their un-read Bibles they march wrapped in the flag, spewing hate. Let us show mercy instead, I plead, see them as our brothers and sisters, sing Buffy Sainte Marie’s folk song: “Welcome, welcome Emigrante”. I can’t ignore them just because they are so vituperative, I must be brave while they are so cowardly.

I meet death darkly

I meet death darkly, all hunger and talons.

He tried to take me in my sixth week, but then my grandmother intimidated the Grim Reaper with her simple stubborn faith and the fever broke.

And when my beloved nearly died at just 50 years old, no no not now I screamed, and cursed every god or goddess ever invented and threatened to reach into the roiling center of the earth, pull out the lava, and coat the planet with iron and fire, and intimidated by my simple stubborn anger, the Grim Reaper left most of my husband behind, promising to return someday.

And then when I broke five ribs and nearly died, I was too stoned to be afraid.  The delusions were fascinating, or perhaps we DO live in a yellow submarine, because I saw the ocean from inside the wavy portholes, and the Beatles were right all along. 

Proud of the many wins over death, yet angry for those pain filled weeks when he would not come for my mother.  Her breath came out like broken chess pieces, all their strategic importance gone, like the dust on the abandoned game board.

Being the sick one is not as scary as being bereft, and really, the scariest thing is uncertainty – knowing it could get worse, but not how bad.

Stark Yard

Through the glass starkly. What are we looking at? The end of the world as we know it? Or a fresh beginning starting with no air pollution?

I can see my Queen Emma Lilies, red ginger with browning leaves, Areca palms and coco palms, limestone tiles and lounge chairs, propane powered tiki torches.

Paradise in luxury today is devoid of visitors. No one to eat the purple sticky poi at the hotel luaus.

It’s lovely out there, wish my fingers were in the dirt, wish I wasn’t injured, wish all the paperwork was done. All the basil plants died.

It’s the watering, it needs to be robust not doddering. Drip drip or bubble spray, double double trouble and toil, the yard is filled with dirt not soil. Nutrition free scabby stuff where weeds grow faster than hibiscus or even naupaka . Store bought plants wither in the unyielding sunshine. Bringing in the compost and layering it in this week – growth’s beginnings stink.

Love in the time of coronavirus

Starting last Thursday, terror became a day to day thing. Starting late last month, shit got real. Love in the time of coronavirus means calling just to hear the faraway one’s voice.
“Just checking in. How y’all holding up?”
Video chatting has blurred the meaning of distance. The Winged Wahine had not yet booked our next globe trot. But now that we are sheltering in place, knowing we cannot fly, shared wanderlust, like diamond dust inhaled in the polishing rooms of De Beers factories is lodged in my damaged lung under ribs that hurt when I fly. Motion sickness can be overcome. Air pressure pain can be overcome. Jet lag can be overcome. Wanderlust thunders into the void so this stoicism bred into farm families has something to be stoic about. As we write our letters to later, creating virtual time capsules to be opened after we “get through this thing together”. We tell ourselves pretty lies as one by one, freedoms are curtailed.
Now that I can’t I wanna.
Government mandates inflict upon us a celibacy of sorts, we are all unwitting recluses, living as secular saints in our minds. Where it hits me hardest is the small gatherings. Dinner for four, dropping by but calling first, just to be there in person, noting the grimaces and the smiles, the shared laughter, sitting close enough to hear each other’s stories. Saying that, writing that, from a place of comfort where so many shelves are stocked with books and food and beverages, I look around but am still lost. It’s been many years since I knew the meaning of an empty shelf. The memory of want is something not lost in the midst of plenty.
The news makes it clear that all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put hospitals back together again. Because they didn’t ask directions. The female equestrians would have dismounted and asked pertinent questions while all the King’s Men failed to steady their stallions and rode off in search of a leader who can make the problem worse. And in her dying throes, the struggling animal releases her invisible toxin.
Something Alice might have noticed at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party was the strange shape of her sugar cubes and the tea wasn’t green, it was absinthe. Now I know why the Cheshire Cat could hold a grin. He had absinthe, and LSD in the sugar cubes. A cat is a magical mystical thing, two cats protect my soul. They sleep on my head and eat nightmares.
Here’s the thing I don’t want to say about this, but I will: We had it coming. These are the days of Earth’s retribution, and She has unleashed an invisible foe. Papahanaumoku, Hawaii’s Gaia, rages against the trampling underfoot of her gifts to us. Pele unleashed her fury in 2018. In 2020, Papa fashioned her own killing machine, her viral chainsaw felling old and young alike, clear cutting a space in our species, who have destroyed so many others.