The Face of My Cat

I open my eyes to see eyes wide, staring into mine

above sunken cheeks astride her pink button nose

and upturned mouth, with whiskers between

that are long enough to measure exactly

the width through which her body can squeeze

when she is chased by an enemy.

The whole of her face rests on two paws,

claws curled under, but I know they are there,

sharp as fangs waiting to rip asunder

any who dare to breech a contract

or cross a stream of consciousness.

As I watch she creeps up my legs, over my belly,

onto my chest, opens her mouth.

Her tongue comes out to my left jawbone.

She begins to purr and lick with gentle ferocity,

with the incredible rasp of a craftsman’s tool.

Once, I let her lick as long as she liked.

Finally in pain, I slipped from under her tongue,

consulted a mirror to see the blood of our bondage.

She looked at me with those eyes,

those eyes so loving, those eyes wide, staring into mine

above sunken cheeks astride her pink button nose

and upturned mouth, with whiskers between.

My Earliest Memory

It is very dark. I am lying on my back in my crib. I have said all the words I know but one. I cannot remember one word. I say them all again, but the same word still will not come to me. I try again. Mommy, who always tells me the word I cannot remember, is in the next room. I know that, because it is dark and she is always there when it is dark. But she is not telling me the word.

I say all the words again, still missing the one.

Mommy speaks. “Hush!” she says. “Be quiet. Go back to sleep!”

She does not tell me the missing word.

I am upset and frustrated.

Why doesn’t she tell me the word like she always does? What is wrong? How will I know what it is? Is it lost forever? What if I lose more words before she tells me?

I cannot go back to sleep. I think, “If I were big, I would help, even in the dark.”

I was ten months old. My mother recorded the event in my Baby Book, which I still have.

About Self-Pity

Here’s something our (girls) mothers never told us: One of a man’s most important characteristics is his capacity to feel sorry for himself.

Girls should be trained to observe, query, and rate all prospective mates on this trait before serious involvement with them. It is more important than material wealth, good looks, appreciation of good cooking, compatibility in areas of thinking and feeling, desire to have children, political position, educational level, job ranking, income, types of entertainment enjoyed, love-making ability, or any of the other traits women are taught are important.

Men cannot “let go” of past hurts; each hurt serves as kindling for the fires of current felt pain and tribulation. The more past hurts there are, the greater the burden of self-pity becomes, until—finally—the poor sod cannot sustain even a pretense of a relationship in the present. He views it as yet another failure he can add to his list of reasons for which he feels sorry for himself.

Self-pity can make or break a relationship. The more willing a man is to wallow deeply in self-pity, the less willing he is to invest himself in an on-going relationship of any nature. That’s all there is to it.

Oh, the stories I could tell …. But then I would sound like a man, wouldn’t I?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the same things can be said of women. But I’m not talking about women, right now. Another day, maybe?

Dickie Conducts Himself Well

The PTA meeting ended and assorted parents and teachers returned from the Home Economics building to the Chapel in the High School; they towed the little children behind them. The elementary and high school kids were already there; we’d been treated to a movie. All of us waited to hear a concert.

That year, the Methodist Church of the North sent to Pittman Center a bonus teacher, a second music teacher. Poor Miss Wakeman must have felt sad indeed to think the Elders had to send another music teacher, because for years she had been the only one needed. But there we were, graced with Ms. Yokum. Miss Wakeman continued to teach the high school chorus. She gave me piano lessons as well, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out what she did with the rest of her time.

Ms. Yokum directed the marching band (another quite wonderful story, indeed). She taught some music over in the elementary school as well, especially a rhythm band. And that is where we came in, that night.  For our concert. The rhythm band soon would play.

The parents, little tykes in hand and still talking to each other, came into the Chapel and found seats in a clutch. The elementary students ran down to the front rows. They flapped the seats up and down, moved from one to another, not sure of the greater importance: to be able to see better, or to be next to the most popular person. Seventh and eighth graders inched in almost sideways. They had no difficulty with that question—obviously, proximity to the popular person held priority, but who was it, that minute? The young adults of high school age either sauntered in alone, as they looked for prey, or oozed through the door molded together, already hunted down and lost—they thought—forever. Finally, the faculty closed ranks and shut the doors to signal silence.

All eyes front. Silence ruled beyond the dark, dusty curtain. I’d been there in that beyond; I knew the floorboards creaked, the dust rose up and filled your nostrils, the curtain actually stunk. But when it opened…. When it opened….  It didn’t matter….  You were….  On stage!

Creak. Groan. The curtain slowly rose. Two rows of chairs stretched primly across the stage, eight chairs in each row. A music stand stood before the rows. It seemed so short, that music stand. Not on a long stem, like the one at the festival in Knoxville….  Shhh…. Rustling off to our left. Here they came!  The Rhythm Band.

Sixteen elementary school students. Tambourines, tom toms, sticks, rattles—all those little things I do not know what they are called. I had never been in a rhythm band. Each kid stood before a chair, silent. When they were all in place, somber, the final kid walked in. Eight-year old Dickie. In The Blue Suit, with the white shirt I’d ironed that afternoon and the red bow tie, and not a golden blond hair out of place. He looked so somber, so dignified, so smooth, you would think he wore a tuxedo. He strode up to the music stand, dipped his head, lifted his hands, held them up, and then lowered them until his band all were seated.

I had goose-bumps on my arms so big my sleeves trembled.

It was one of the few times that Chapel knew absolute silence. When he felt sure, Dickie raised his arms again. The members of the band stood and lifted up their instruments. At exactly the right moment, Dickie made that little flick of his wrist, and the music began.

Music it was! I sit here now, fifty-seven years later, to tell you I have been in great concert halls. I have heard famous people play famous music. I have seen famous conductors. I have even sung under the direction of one of them and been good friends with another. But I have never seen nor heard a more professionally conducted performance in my life.

Dickie, that Golden Boy brother of mine, had music in his soul. It had to pour through his veins and filter through his bones as it did through those of our father and it does through mine. I do not know about my other brothers. They do not speak of this, and none of them have acted on it. I know only what I saw that night. Dickie had found his element. Not only did he stand and wave his baton, he called in individual instruments and players. He leaned into the task; he begged them for more. He held out his hand to a section, to ask them to show restraint, and his restraint evinced perfection. When the time came to go a little bit faster, he enthused (he would!), and they all were happy together.

At the end of the third piece, he bowed to the band and seated them, then turned to us, his audience. He bowed with such courtliness we found it impossible to believe him anything but a prince. He turned and, with a small smile, walked proudly off stage. The applause of the audience of fewer than fifty deafened even the youngest among us.

After an hour, my sleeves relaxed and my cheeks were dry. I sat tall and proud of that Golden Boy. Richard!

First Storm

I was eleven the first time

I felt the big wind and hot rain.

The creek was a river.

It rushed like a madman.

 

On the rickety wooden bridge,

toes curled over the edge,

hanging out,

waving my arms,

I welcomed exultation’s flow.

 

It was my first

full-bore, full-blown, hyper-manic;

a welcome discomfort,

scary, beyond control.

I loved it.

 

“Let’s go!

Let the wind blow through me.

Look at that water chugging along,

spinroiling, roaring, chortling,

laughing past rocks,

throwing big limbs up in the air.”

 

I heard crashing rocks,

rumbling that was the whole world

singing itself bigger than life,

groaning: “I am not Mother Earth! I am The Father,

bringing life to all that will live,

flowing My will into everything,

leaving no stone unturned,

lifting each root up unto these hills,

bearing the presents in all things to come.”

 

Old bitch Baxter teacher witch came

screeching like the banshee she was.

Said she was going to tell my Daddy on me;

meaning to put fear of The Father in me.

 

Impossible.

I sent threat down the river.

 

She put disgust,

distrust of humanity

in me forever.

 

I remained

 

high on the bridge.