No Boundaries: To Those Canadian Girls

I’ve known a few Canadian girls,
though most I’ve never met.
Some from tiny prairie towns,
others from big cities, and yet
the one thing they all share,
is a toughness wrapped in sweet.
Maybe it’s because of their winters,
where they learn to make their own heat
as they walk to school in icy chills
a Carolina girl would say no over.
A Canadian girl will just smile and say,
“What’s the matter, eh? It’s only October!”
I know that it’s quite silly, though,
to lump all these girls together.
Each one is different, as you would see,
if you knew Joanne, Tasha, and Heather.
So I dedicate this poem to the ladies
from the Land of the Maple Leaf red.
I love them and the way they speak,
from sea to mer and from A to Zed.

On Day 11 of Poem-a-Day Challenge, a Dedication poem. And, since it’s the birthday of two of my dear Canadian “friends I never met’ (© Heather Grace Stewart), I figured this would be a good day and way to express my appreciation and affection for the ladies who’ve been so kind to me from The Great White North.

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The Tenderfoot

The Tenderfoot, Charles Marion Russell 1900

Say there, cowboy, heard you first herded sheep,
but soon enough moved on to real live beeves.
So how’d a kid with callouses that deep
learn to paint as well as a Hopi weaves?

Taught yourself since you were a sprout, you say?
I b’lieve you done good in learning that art.
Now you paint people and things gone away,
real cowboys and Indians, but with heart.

I like how you showed them Piegan fellows
on ponies galloping hellbent for meat.
Them bufflers, I can almost hear their bellows,
like when there were more of them than Blackfeet.

So you’re happy now that you’re in Great Falls
‘stead of wrapped in a blanket under stars?
Or d’you miss them days when the heifer bawls
as we drove ‘em to Helena’s rail cars?

I’d say you done well for yourself, Charlie,
got this fine house and a pretty young wife.
Beats pushing a plow though a field of barley,
but I still think you might miss our old life.

‘Preciate you painting my picture there,
though I’m on the wrong side of that tussle.
Bucked like a tenderfoot on that li’l mare
I believe was your show, Charlie Russell.

For Day 4 of the NaPoWriMo Poem-a-Day Challenge, the prompt called for a “painter” poem, where I am to take a painter and make him or her the title and subject of my poem. If you know me, you know my, ohhhhh, let’s say obsession with the American West. From when it butted up against my backyard in New York to what we now call the Old West. One of my favorite artists of that time is the great Charles M. Russell, who gave new meaning to the term “cowboy artist,” since he was both. This poem’s a conversation, one-sided at best, between an old cowboy chum of Charlie’s visiting him with reminiscences and maybe a slight bone to pick. 

All The World Was His Stage

Will always got a perfect mark from his favorite professor. I don’t begrudge him his success. He came from pretty tough circumstances. First of his family to go to college, small rural high school and all.

Okay, I kind of resent the fact that Will Shakespeare got a reputation as “the most inventive and gifted writer our English Department has ever produced” according to a college newsletter to alums and donors.. 

Will was a nice enough guy. Quite friendly and very well-spoken. We hit it off our first week at a dorm mixer. I’d say he over-compensated for his farm boy upbringing by walking around like he was strutting on stage or something, but it did get the attention he craved. 

“Christine, I understand you write poetry,” he said as he swept up to me.

“Uh huh,” I said. “Been lucky enough to have a few things published. But I want to be a doctor, so the artist side of me will have to take a bit of a hiatus, I guess.”

“Wow, I’d love to have my words published one day. See some of my stories turned into plays, movies or even video games. Would you like to read some of them?” Will said.

“Sure,” I said. They were pretty bad. 

After that, Will was always hanging around my room. That is, if he wasn’t sucking up to the head of the English Department. 

Will made sure we always sat together in our Freshman Composition class. Soon it became, “Christine, I’m having trouble with this poem.” “Chrissie, how can I straighten out this essay?” “Chris, can you fix this story for me, pleeeeze?”

And, for whatever reason, I would help him. That more often than not, ended up with me putting aside my Organic Chem or Spanish 3 and essentially rewriting his work.

“What do you think of this?” he’d say.

“Will, you saw that on TV just last night.”

“So, it was a good story.”

“Yes, but you have to switch it up, give it a different slant, change the characters and setting, and puh-leeeze stop writing ‘should of’ when it’s ‘should HAVE.”

“Show me,” he’d say.

He was very sweet. Handsome in a gentle, long-haired, softly goateed way. I loved how he’d massage my shoulders while I turned his chicken shit prose into Chicken Kiev for Professor Kaplan. He’d enter my room with a flair, never wander in, always a grand entrance. 

And I loved how he’d softly compliment my hair, my nails, my new bedspread, the photos I’d taken from my trips to Europe and California. Oh, and my clothes, always my clothes.

He’d wear those skinny jeans with nice buttoned shirts that bordered on something from Forever 21. He even asked if he could borrow one of my peasant-sleeved blouses more than once. He was pretty skinny and could get away with wearing a size 10 or a medium. Just like me.

Next thing I know, he’s borrowed (stolen) a pair of my leggings and he’s wearing them around campus under a pair of workout shorts. As I said, he was pretty skinny and about as unathletic as a combined English/Theatre major could be 

“Will, I want my clothes back,” I told him.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Chrissie. I thought I’d try that look. Nathan loved it and he gave me a pair of his running tights to wear instead — more colorful than plain black. I’ll drop them off tomorrow.”

Nathan was Professor Kaplan. And tomorrow was never. Next thing I know, Will left school. His roommate told me he headed to New York with Kaplan to meet some of his old theatre buddies. Never came back. No note or a text or any kind of goodbye. When I got back to school for my senior year, I saw that alumni magazines with a photo of Will on the cover. It said he’d become a protegé of some writer-producer and had mounted his first off-Broadway play, which got great reviews from the New York papers.

I can’t remember if I cried the night I read that. Not that I should care what a skinny, femme, social-climbing, plagiarizing wanna-be Sam Shepard did with his life. I was headed to Duke Medical School, after all.

Will died recently. Nice obit in The Times. I was surprised when I received a letter at my Charlotte practice from a New York lawyer.

The Broadway whiz kid had mentioned me in his will. I was to receive his second Golden Globe, the one for that execrable movie that his last mentor had juiced the Hollywood Foreign Press to give him.

A second envelope, addressed in Will’s flourishing script was addressed it to me, Christine Marlowe. I pulled from it a note written by Will. No doubt. It read:

Good friend, for Christ’s sake listen,
Without you my career would sure be missin’
Thanks for always being there to save my ass,
And fuck those critics who doubted I had class.

Yeah, he always sucked as a writer. But the boy could act. Oh, how we loved that boy’s act.

This is a quickly penned response to a prompt from writer Julie Duffy. I needed the help. I was supposed to write a story of 750 words or less (FAIL!) featuring a character from history or mythology, but place them in a different era. I pulled this scribble out of my nether regions in about an hour. I know. Reads like our Will Shakespeare’s hideous “real” writing. I may try this again with someone else later.

Mea Culpa, If You Like

I’m sorry if I haven’t said “Sorry,”
since I’m usually good about guilt.
Of that capacity you could fill a lorry
with enough remorse a prison could be built.

I’ve taken all your reproaches to heart,
even though some of my sins are projection,
that might have been formed and thrown on your part.
I’m sure it’s your form of self-protection.

Now, let’s get back to the subject at hand,
my mea culpa for sins you think I did.
It’s my safekeeping you don’t understand,
and due to my dutiful ways I hid.

But here’s what you want, “I apologize.”
Let’s see how much real acceptance that buys.

The Spider

Slept here, watched here,
leapt here, fed here
in the window of this house
we’ve built for one another.
As you scurry past my watchtower,
solitary, I’ve seen your
comings and goings,
your joys and sorrows,
your yesterdays, todays
and hoped-for tomorrows.
With every turn, you rip away
a corner of this Web I’ve stretched
to sense the quickening
and ceasing pulses of things
I can’t see with my many eyes.
Once torn, I spin a new yarn
to memorialize your passing.
But the foundation has failed
and our house is falling, blowing me
away upon its final exhalation.
I am suspended in air without wings
and the great descent it comes.
For this moment, though, I see
all our lives spread beneath me,
the ever solitary spider…
And never have I felt so alone.

Objects In the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Jen sat in her Honda, its engine running, backed into the parking place in the l ot so she could face the riverside walkway north of Albany. She also backed in just in case she and Ashley needed to make a quick getaway.

She could her friend Ashley in the distance walking with her boyfriend Sam. Jen knew what was coming. She and Ashley had talked about it for weeks.

“Ashley, you’ve got to break it off with Sam. He’s an arrogant prick who treats you like crap,” Jen would tell her childhood friend.

“You’re wrong, Jen. He loves me and I love him. You’ve got to understand what he sees every day in the streets. Sometimes it’s hard for him to shake it off when he gets off work,” Ashley said.

“Is that why he tends to stop off at Bogie’s at the end of his shift and drinks for two hours with the other cops before he sees you?” Jen said.

“Like I said, job pressures.”

“Is it job pressure that leads him to call you stupid, a summa cum laude graduate of Boston College? Two masters degrees? Nationally recognized teacher of special needs kids? Really, Ashley? You deserve so much better,” Jen said.

Ashley blushed and Jen wasn’t sure if it was because of the litany of honors she listed or the fact that Jen had heard Sam call Ashley stupid. Or worse.

But Ashley was adamant.

That is until Jen brought the video from the bar capturing Sam yucking it up with the other cops, three pitchers of beer on the table and a table full of St. Rose College girls behind them.

“Just watch this for a second, Ashley. And listen closely,” Jen said.

“Don’t do this anymore, Jen.”

“This will be the last time, I promise. If this doesn’t change your mind, just a little, I’ll give up trying to convince you this guy cares about nothing but himself and has disregard for not only you, but it seems anyone unlike his twisted self”
Jen held her phone up and started the video again. In it, Sam turned in his chair and started talking to one of the college girls.

“Sammy,” one of his cop buddies said, “don’t you have a real teacher waiting on you? These are student teachers, man.”

Sam turned to his friend and said in the way guys will when alcohol meets testosterone in a spontaneous combustion of stupid, loud enough to be heard on the phone’s microphone, and said, “Sometimes Ashley’s more like a student, one of those little kids she teaches, than these ripe young things. She’s always wishing and expressing and not getting down to what’s real. Fantasyland, man.”

“That’s cold, dude.”

“No, that’s the real world, real talk…hey, Jennifer, what the fuck you doing over there?”

The recording froze right there.

For a few seconds, Ashley blinked at the captured final frame of Sam staring cold enmity at whoever had just recorded him. Most probably Jen.

“Why did you need to show me this?” she said.

“I needed to give you proof that he’s a dog, Ashley. An over-the-line stepping, skirt chasing, arrogant and self-absorbed dog,” Jen said.

“While you’re home working for your next day’s classes, he’s out there…”

“Protecting us,” Ashley said.

“Okay, I’ll grant you that, at least for eight hours a day. But for the rest…I’ve seen him, cozy up to coeds and older chicks at the bars. Yeh, he can be damned charming with his blue eyes and self-assured way, but it’s all a lie. He’ll do nothing but hurt you, Ashley. And he won’t care. You’ve got to end this sooner rather than later.”

Shaken, Ashley said, “He and I will be going down for a walk by the Hudson tomorrow. I’ll somehow confront him and we’ll see what happens.”

“Do you want me around for support?”

“No, yes, I don’t know,” Ashley said as her eyes darted around the room and her mind raced behind them.

“I’ll be in the parking lot if you need a lift. No questions asked.”

“All right, but don’t get your hopes up. He gets one more chance,” Ashley said.

“That night, Ashley barely slept, compiling the many instances Jen had pointed out where Sam treated women, especially his doting girlfriend, like any other perp from the South End.
And here they were–Jen could see Ashley turning away from Sam and she knew she’d finally convinced her to walk on this guy.
She pulled from her parking place and glided up to the end of the river walk. With a kuh-lick, Jen unlocked her passenger side door and Ashley climbed in. Ashley motioned for Jen to drive away.

“Proud of you, hon. That took a lot of courage,” Jen said as she eased out of the parking lot and saw Sam stalking nearer the trails end.

Ashley just sat there in stunned silence. Then her shoulder shook.

“Trust me, Ashley. You just gained, by any substantive means, an exciting new life. Trust me, you’re better off with him in your rear view mirror as I have him right now,” Jen said. And she meant that. The charm fell of Sam as he drew closer to her car.

Jen peeled out and headed up the road and back to Ashely’s apartment. But while driving there, she was glad to be going to her doctor’s on Monday.

She didn’t want anyone to know, most especially Ashley and Ashley’s now-former boyfriend, about her terminated pregnancy plans for tomorrow. She hoped to put her one-time-only transgression in her rear view mirror as swiftly as the transgressor, now stalking toward his car in the snowy parking lot.

Today’s story for Day 15 of Story-a-Day May. Was to take a secondary character from a previous story and use that character/story as a springboard for them, or continue that story but in the point of view of a different character. I chose Jen, the girlfriend who picked up Ashley after her breakup with Sam in What the River Says, That Is What I Say. I wrote this in a sleepy hurry to get in Day 15, so please forgive any inherent lameness or outright stank, okay?

Long Time Between

 

I’d felt nerves in her presence before, but I was just a kid then and she was the nonpareil, the Mt. Everest, the Hope Diamond of my nascent horn-doggedness, if not feelings of love.

I’m sure it was such fear, coupled with that raging hormonal confusion of mine that broke the lines of communication between us. Garbled communication—the staticky two-way expression of thought and opinion—and one or both parties can say to themselves “He’s/she’s not interested” or “What a douche/bitch,” and break off before the climax of their story.

Take “climax” as you will. I took it rather poorly, no matter which definition you prefer using. And on I fell to the denouement. No reviews. No sequel.

One day we went from best chums, the next to inseparable and huggy boy/girl combo to “I love you, but…” to incommunicado one-time acquaintance to “I don’t want to see you anymore” to silence of the grave. Not even crickets. A desert of emotion with no winds to temper the heat nor provide the merest of soundtracks. Only the sound of one broken heart strumming a shuffle beat of the blues.

So here I was, in this little restaurant not too far from the last place I saw Melanie, waiting to meet her again. I say I “saw her” because she deftly avoided making eye contact with me. Maybe she forgot what I looked like. Or maybe she was embarrassed about something else. I saw nothing to be embarrassed about. I was the one left waving at the air, my joyful expression at running into an old friend falling like a red-faced avalanche into the figurative pants around my ankles.

It hurt. It hurt worse than the day she told me goodbye. Worse than the years of not knowing what I’d done, if anything, to cause such a rift.

And then came the messages out of the blue from someone on Facebook calling themselves Lainie the Cat whose profile pic was a gray and black tabby. Cryptic things, gauzy innuendo and allusion to some forgotten connection that even I, the now-sensitive emotion-spilling writer, couldn’t fathom. I’d received messages and friend requests like this before from people——perhaps they were women, I’m pretty sure they weren’t cats——who would turn out to be trolls trying to fracture my testicles. I’d learned my lesson and it only cost me these two scars.

But making, or just as importantly, re-establishing such connections was what God, Zuckerburg or God in the guise of Zuckerberg, made Facebook for.

I know I shouldn’t have. My shrink, my songwriting partner and my bartender all warned me I shouldn’t, but I ended up responding to this hazy Nigerian diplomat of the heart.

No reply. I should have listened to that baritone Greek chorus.

Months go by and up pops another mysterious message that poked awake my curiosity, but jangled alarm bells from my balding head to my arthritic knees.

I was back in full confusion mode, a place I hadn’t inhabited since my last days as friends with Melanie. I had an inkling by now, but didn’t want to know, just to go. I’d even stopped listening to old favorite bands because they reminded me too much of her. I stopped writing anything that could even have been informed by our erstwhile relationship.

The next time, she flat out identified herself as Melanie. I would have liked to have written “my Melanie,” but that ship had sailed, gotten scuttled and sank to the stygian bottom of some uncharted ocean.

So this ghost ship of a woman begins with small talk to which I was even shyer than clumsy younger me. But I was ever the alloy with the melting point of chocolate Easter bunny for her. I couldn’t help myself, even after all these years and all my experiences. There are just some people who vibrate at the same frequency you do. You dial in, connect and whoever has the stronger signal calls what station you’ll listen to.

I listened to hers.

“Let’s meet up somewhere to talk about old times,” she wrote, for I refused to hear her voice on the phone.

“I don’t know, Melanie,” I replied. “Don’t you think we’ve gone our separate ways, taken new paths, broken new bones, bled out a few times, for a good reason?”

“I just think we should clear the air about what happened between us,” she said.

“We can’t do that here? I’m a fair expresser of ideas and emotion—and much younger and taller—in black and white,” I said.

“Okay. I just thought you’d like it if we saw each other, even if it was one last time, just to talk. I’d like to see you and talk to you.”

“Okay, you win. Again. You’re right. This late in the game, I guess I should swap out my wimpy tighty whities for a sturdy pair of boxers.”

“Or, better yet, go commando. LOL”

She always knew how to push my buttons.

And so I sit here, waiting for she who set me on my path toward easy access to emotions and a fragile heart. I owed her for that. Owe her for some hit songs I wrote, too. Like Harlan Howard said, “I’m always collecting emotions for future reference.” And I guess she owed me an explanation. Though I wasn’t holding my breath for one. Melanie was never one to shift blame, but wasn’t known for taking any either.

I was lost in thought, as is my usual state of being, when I felt the tap on my shoulder, to which I jerked and spun my head around to see who broke my self-absorbed concentration.

The woman looked familiar, like a faded old photo of your grandmother looks when you pull it out of your late Mom’s shoebox. But the puffy cheeks, sallow skin and hat covering her baldness rang more alarm bells than lit light bulbs above my head.

“Jay?” she said in a voice raspier than the one I heard telling me to beat it forty years before.

“Melanie?” I said, quickly rising from my seat, bumping the table and spilling what was left of my glass of bubbling courage. “Shit, some things never change do they?”

As I reached for some napkins to mop up what little beer left in the glass I’d spilled, she reached for me and gave me a gentle hug. It felt the same temperature of the spilled beer.

“Please, sit. I can’t tell you how great it is to…”

“See me? Please. The look on your face when you turned… Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” she said.

“No, it wasn’t,” I said. “It was a very good idea.”

The waitress interrupted us to finish cleaning up my mess and asked if she could get me another and anything for the lady.

“Yeah, please, another IPA would be great. Melanie? I’m buying.”

“Oh, nothing for me, thank you. Haven’t had one in a while now. Doctor’s orders.”

The waitress slipped away and we each turned to look at the other, gauging the damages done by the years and whatever mileage we’d put on our bodies.

“Your hair, so silver. I wish I had it,” Melanie said with a laugh, touching her hat.

“Your laugh,” I said. “I wish I had it.”

“You always were a silver-tongued Yankee,” the Virgina-born woman across from me said. “So, tell me your story and I’ll tell you mine.”

“Oh, no. Your party and ladies first, always.”

“I’m not much of a lady anymore, Jay. Never really was. Please, indulge me, old friend,” she said.

“Okay. Still writing, though retired from the old gig after thirty years. Widowed. Three kids and four grandkids. I won’t bore you with the proud grandpa portfolio,” I said.

“Oh, please,” she said, genuinely interested.

“No, your turn. Indulge me this once.”

“Okay. Probably retired. Divorced. One daughter with one granddaughter. Long term relationship. I guess you can say widowed there. More than a few short-term relationships and affairs. Only one ever meant anything,” she said.

“Afraid I lost my head a couple of times sniffing trails other than the one to my door, too. Not too proud of it, but I’ll cop to it. Sorry, Melanie, go ahead.”

“Well, as you can…”

The waitress arrived with my ale and asked if we needed a few more minutes to order.

“Just a few. Thank you,” I said. “Now, as I can what, Mel?”

She sighed.

“As you can see, I’m not well. Liver. Alcoholic. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to see you.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” I said. But I did.

“I’m in AA now. I know, too late to the fair. But I wanted to make things right in my life before… Well, before. And one of the twelve steps is to…”

“Make direct amends to all persons we’ve harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Step 9. Yeah, I know,” I said.

“You’re a friend of Bill?” she asked, eying my IPA.

“No, just a close friend of a friend of Bill.”

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to see you. To explain why I chased you off all those years ago. I was a drunk and wanted to be with other drunks. And you scared me with your honest, naive, altarboy-next-door on a testosterone bender ways. So I cut you out of my life. But I never forgot how you tried to stay in touch, until I…”

“Yeah, but you’re here now and that’s what matters,” said and reached across the table to take her cool hand.

“Not for long, Jay. And that’s the other reason I wanted to see you. I wanted to see you and talk with you and feel you looking at me that way one more time before…”

“The salad arrives? They make a mean Caesar here, I understand. Look, I found out long ago all we really have is living right now. And right now we’re living three feet away from one another. At some point tonight and I hope for many nights ahead, we’ll be closer than that. No strings, just friend sitting with a friend. I’m too old to get all twitterpated over a woman again anyway.”

I waved the waitress down and said, “We’d like two Caesar salads to start off, please. And could you please take this back to the bar and get me a club soda with lime? I want a wet whistle and a sharp mind while I’m catching up with this lovely lady tonight.”

“At least,” Melanie said, and laughed that laugh that always reminded of the glass wind chimes on her front porch thirty-some years ago.

My much-too-long Day 7 story for Story-a-Day May. The prompt, from author Stuart Horwitz, was to think back to a time earlier in life, and a person from then with whom you’ve fallen out of touch. The writer was to turn himself and that person into characters and get them together and see what happens. How does it reflect on the protagonist’s journey? Well, this story kept on going. Good thing I tend to write poems of only around 100 words most days or you’d never visit anymore.