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TERRACED TOBACCO

It’s been a long road. Each terrace is a milestone, a relief to my thighs, my back, an artificial landscape that’s been here so long even the island accepts it as natural. Row after row, sweet smell of tobacco drying in the sun, hemmed in by prickly bushes that tear my thin trousers. It helps to imagine the road as a fast flowing river, blue with little white caps carrying me along. I feel at home detouring up and down the rows, trickling like irrigation ditches that come and go with the barely perceptible seasons. I want to stop at the white roofed buildings, see if they might have something for me; to eat, a place to lay my head, maybe forever. It might be better than anything over the hill.

Peggy painted over Terraced Tobacco, it no longer exists. I felt compelled to post it because the verse the painting inspired, its blue road, the long white roofs, the horizon over the hill, speaks to me, puts me walking through my vines and lateral acequia ditches in Taos, always on a journey, even when at home.

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Red Pants

The rooftops are a stair-step to my childhood home, a time when Mother washed me and my clothes, was always there when I looked up, making sure I was safe. There’s that gate of thin scrolling metal I couldn’t resist playing my fingers through until my hand got caught, the dank garage where I wanted to leave the light on so I wouldn’t have to overcome my fears next time Father sent me to let Fido out to do his business, the red pants that signaled from several streets away how much further I had to go. The way the wood slats creaked under my feet on the balcony, the smell of fresh sheets still makes me sleepy. I imagined jumping like a superhero into my red pants while they forever hung over the balcony. Sometimes I dream it and because they’re still damp they melt into my legs like cotton candy on my tongue. Mother always warned me to be more patient.

From Cuba; An Adventure in Image and Word, Paintings by Peggy McGivern and verse by Peter Stravlo inspired by our trip to Cuba last year. Opening Reception Friday May 16th, 5-8pm, Abend Gallery, Colfax and York, Denver CO I’ll be reading at the opening.

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BEDDED DOWN FOR THE NIGHT

It was a crumbling two lane road at dusk we saw their silhouettes on a ridge. Blacktop shadow leading us down the middle, fading to gray-green and peach and rays of blue like fingers losing their grip over the mountain, blood-orange grass calmly striving through patches worn by time. The whine of our small engine fell quietly into neutral so we could slow, turn, gaze in peace. That night all the hotels were full. It was the first night of many someone took us into their home, fed us, gave us a pillow.

From CUBA: AN ADVENTURE IN IMAGE AND WORD Opening reception Friday, May 16th, 5-8pm, Abend Gallery, Colfax and York, Denver CO. Paintings by Peggy McGivern. Readings by Peter Stravlo

Fingerprints of You

Reading Kristen-Paige Madonia’s Fingerprints of You, and certain passages strike home.

p.38: Inner voice of Lemon, a 17 year old pregnant girl who has never known her father, who resents her mother for moving her around so much as a child;

I remember our shitty little house with the stained carpet and the worn-out couch waiting for us on the other side of town, and I realized I’d spent most of my childhood being angry at her (Mom) for making us live like that, for not having enough money for us to rent a nicer home, and for refusing to pick a place to settle in. (End of Quote)

I have a similar situation in my family now, adult kids struggling with their resentment of moving a lot when they were young, of Mom being married multiple times and having boyfriends, of feeling when they were kids they didn’t have all the fancy stuff their peers had, because Mom bought thrift store Polos, cut the little guy on his horse off and sewed him onto their cheap shirts, because Mom pursued her art instead of a steady job. Mom’s hashed this out with them many times, but somehow it hasn’t been enough, though the kids have their own kids now, beautiful kids, like their parents, who are responsible and capable and articulate and are good people in large part because Mom has always provided for them, still provides for them, is committed to her children and grandchildren as if they were still her vulnerable little tots, which in many ways they are.

Lemon again, on p. 93, talking to her friend Emmy as they ride on a Greyhound bus across the country, to San Francisco to find her father;

“I wanted to believe she made the right choice for us,” I told her, “but I just couldn’t help being pissed off. It’s like sometimes I blame her for not making a family out of us, but then sometimes I know it was probably better that way,” I said. “He never came for me, so I figured he was a loser, the kind of guy who couldn’t handle being a real dad.” (End of Quote)

My wife’s son told me he’d reconciled with his father for not being there, that they’d never be friends, but they’d been able to talk about things in a way he couldn’t get his Mom to talk about things, and they’d come to terms. Yet I’ve been there more than once when the kids ganged up on their Mom, telling her how bad she was to them, how awful it was to live in a funky house full of art and artists, in the wrong part of town, how embarrassed they were that their mother made a living cleaning other people’s houses and traveling to art shows to sell her paintings, how she abandoned them when they were teenagers when she got an apartment close by and let her daughter’s boyfriend’s Aunt move into their house for a short while, and Mom apologizing and defending herself, until all any of us were doing was repeating ourselves. It’s hard for me to imagine what else could be said, what words from her could dig up and dissipate feelings that have been shunted aside since childhood. 

I haven”t finished Fingerprints of You yet, but I last night I read these passages to my wife, and I told her that I’m guessing Lemon comes to terms with her mother by the end of the novel, that she comes to realize that even her mother’s mistakes were the best she could do, and that part of becoming an adult means accepting responsibility for who you are, giving up the impulse to blame others for your emotions.

My parents always felt guilty for breaking up our home, for the protracted nastiness of the custody battle, for using us kids against the other parent. My sister and I dealt with the divorce in different, often unhealthy ways. My not blaming my parents may be the best thing I ever did for myself.

I hope to finish Fingerprints of You this evening, am anxious to see how Lemon grows up.