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I leaf through boxes of saved ephemera, find the ancient fax Darryl the artist sent on my birthday years ago. The old paper is greyed and sticky, but faded lines still hold the cartoon of Melvin the Memory Minder, one eye twice the size of the other, short-sleeved shirt tucked in, thin necktie from those days, his fat, determined fingers poised to turn off whole years of recall.
Melvin: a dweeb, a thief, a made-up man with a job to do. In the drawing, his index hovers over 1974, but in truth he has been more selective. Dwelling 20 years in the basement of my brain, he seeks first for names and faces, turns off dates and weather patterns. Numbers are his favorite victims. What things cost and when things happened, who died when, birth dates, logic.
A mere technician. Melvin lacks access to sensation. I can still feel the sand in my young bikini, hear walnuts cracking, campfires popping, feel pain of breast growth, breakage of first orgasm, the crunch of angel snow.
Melvin’s not leaving. He’ll be busy till I go.
Memory’s hard drive
corrupted. Smell of burnt wire.
On scarred blue formica, a familiar face in the body of a baby, torso upraised on short arms. I look just like my father minus the red hair. My grandmother presides, as always, in the shadowy kitchen, large and proud, German-Russian immigrant with new country say-so. I smile nakedly, not yet caring who pushed the button on these old black and whites, this portfolio of three women with nothing in common but blood. In the darkest shots, my mother appears in a smock top, skinny from my birth, wan smiling, knowing deep down how this prosaic portrait will develop.
Bald as a cue ball,
Daddy gone to the pool hall
Baby needs new shoes.
There are trees everywhere – plum, apple, chestnut, elm, maple, crab apple. There are bikes that go anywhere, and no one to answer to, endless Monopoly games played outdoors with a Catholic girlfriend, despite Lutheran grandparents who hate Catholics with demented passion, no special dispensation for a girl whose family lives under bleeding mulberry trees. There is candy in every shape and color: red wax lips, red licorice whips, chalky Necco wafers. There is the hole we dig to China by the backyard burn barrel, the tents made of blankets over clotheslines, the simmering sex that we don't yet know the cause of or the way to, golf balls on the vice, unwrapping ribbons of rubber and at the core, a smaller ball we have been warned is full of deadly poison. There are flying grasshoppers and fireflies caught in jars, the pickle factory with huge tubs of brine and drowned rats. We love every mysterious minute of it, suntans on cement, Mexican boys, snow cones at the public pool, release of bike pedals at the topmost point and the downhill rush of wheels headed to salt, to sweet, to jump off the high dive.
Crazy young girls twirl
the world they know on fingers
that ring with what's next.
In part one, we morph from children to chicks with mascara and nylons. I assume the junior high uniform, swim upstream to my stolen spot on the right side of the tracks. Social climbing is a brute strength endeavor, and I have the stomach for it, sugar cookies and french fries fueling my way. In part two, I drive back and forth to high school in a Corvair as fumey and impact-imperiled as Ralph Nader warned. I take amphetamines and advanced biology, but have no mind for math, for what it all adds up to. I run with the out crowd, would-be intellectuals with dark family histories. We imagine we are climbing the stairway to heaven. The drinking age is 18, and we do not ignore that option, nor the fact that if we travel deep into the ghetto and bare our young butts, birth control pills are ours for free.
Sung wordless and lustily
Dumb to the refrain.
Marriage, College, Marriage
I marry my high school boyfriend at 19 for no good reason except sympathy for his missing thumb. It doesn't heal right, so I thumb my way south to the state college where I set up housekeeping with my one true love. We major in Chinese takeout, long neck beers, fried egg sandwiches and all nighters, typewriter tapping, our kitty cat stalking. By the time we graduate in 1977, free love is on the wane and divorce stats are waxing worldwide. Still, we marry for good and all, betting on the long run with three agreements: keep our money separate, keep our fierce independence and share everything else. The justice of the peace performs a secular miracle. Poof. We are man and wife.
Bearded man becomes
a cop; wife yearns to be a
poet. They wrestle.
Raised to believe hard work is its own reward, I work hard and am rewarded with money and more work, writing self-laudatory scripts for the chieftains of enterprise. In a parallel universe, I have three children, one with brown, one with blue, one with green eyes. As they grow, we take them to the coasts, to the dunes, to aquariums and museums, take them skiing and skating, to concerts and games, give them most of what we think they want and need, but our taking and giving is not enough to save them from the black holes in the gene pool. They fall in, one by one.
How little we knew
about helping small people
grow big. No teachers.