Thursday, January 20, 2011

Finding Hope in a Dead Bouquet

The roses had already been dead for more than a week, but I couldn't bear the thought of putting them in the trash.

Twice, the cats had knocked the vase over. The first time, I came home to find it knocked over on the middle of the table, water still slowly but steadily dripping across the table, onto the floor. I had left my three new journals and paperback stacked neatly next to the flowers. The once-crisp pages were now wet and bumpy. Ruined before I could write on a single page.

The second time the vase knocked over I was in the bathroom. I heard it crash against the table and opened the door, quickly. Mufasa was sitting perfectly still next to the overturned roses as if it never happened. "Dammit!" I picked up the already-dying flowers and glared at her.

She blinked at me, slowly, then yawned.

I probably should have just pitched them right then and there, but I couldn't. I carried the vase to the kitchen, refilled the water, then placed the vase gently back in the middle of the table in the other room.

There's something so hopeful about that bouquet of flowers when you get them, whether someone walks in carrying them as a surprise, or you simply pick them up at the grocery store. They're fresh, beautiful, vibrant. My mood instantly lifts when I'm standing in the kitchen, arranging a bouquet of flowers. For the short time the roses lasted, everything looked brighter, nicer, more romantic, even.

But even if you arrange them just so, if you know just the right tricks to keep them alive longer, still you know, as soon as you set that new bouquet out, that sooner rather than later, they will be dead and drooping. My cats immediately attack flowers, chewing and swatting and biting at them. As soon as they're even in the same room as flowers, their little cat noses start twitching, and you can tell they are about to freak out. But every time, I still put them where they can reach them, because I keep hoping and kidding myself, that maybe this time, they'll just leave the flowers be.

Of course, they didn't. So after a solid week of chiding the cats and fretting over the roses' safety, I almost forgot what the table looked like before they were there.

Of course I couldn't just throw the roses—white roses, edged with pinks and reds—in the garbage. It seemed so unfair, like I was pretending they'd never existed. So first, I saved a few of the dried buds and stuck them on the bookshelf. The table looks bare and boring without the vase.

The roses are still beautiful. Just in a different way, like they know something they didn't before.

This will be on my videotape.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

This One Time in London Town

  you can't see it, but i still can

it was the sweetest thing/ the freshest couple in town, common said so / stop me before i say too much / so maybe i'll just say how great it looked that moment/ right there on the top of the bus /always, the top, his hand in my hand / the beautiful time / before you reach your stop / and trip your way back down to the street/ the real view never quite the same again / after seeing it from the top /

don't look now, you'll ruin it

Poetry Slam Tuesdays: Do You See the Point?

Revisiting For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange yet again.

An excerpt, told by the Lady in Yellow:

i've lost it
touch wit reality/i dont know who's doin it
i thot i waz but i waz so stupid i waz able to be hurt
& that's not real/not anymore/i shd be immune/if i'm
still alive & that's what i waz discussin/how i am still
alive & my dependency on other livin beins for love
i survive on intimacy & tomorrow/that's all i've got goin
& the music waz like smack & you knew abt that
& still refused my dance waz not enuf/ & it waz all i had
but bein alive & bein a woman & bein colored is a metaphysical
dilemma/i havent conquered yet/do you see the point
my spirit is too ancient to understand the separation of
soul & gender/my love is too delicate to have thrown
back on my face

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Man with the Milk Crate

I look for him every morning. He’s not always there, and when he isn’t, I worry about him. I don’t know this man’s name, or where he came from—all I know is that he has a small milk crate on which he sits, bundled up, holding out a McDonalds’ cup. The man is of an indeterminate age. Because he sits at the first corner past my train stop, I always see him just as I’ve walked out the doors, just as the icy, Chicago air first hits my face.

Lately, stepping outside to start my walk to my office building is like preparing for battle—scarf, gloves, hood, and hat are my armor. And still the cold manages to hit me, even when I’m bundled up so much in my ridiculous, blue puffy parka that my figure has morphed into a big, down-covered blue blob. I walk as fast as I can to my office building, feeling like I did as a kid when I’d try to keep up with my mom on one of her speed walks at the gym. I’m racing against the cold, and I can’t keep up.

The first day I saw him it was painfully cold. That morning, I had woken up with my fleece blanket wrapped tightly around me, warm and content. I scurried to the bathroom, turned the space heater on high, and turned the water on as hot as I could stand it. After I got out of the shower, my skin pink and warm, I got dressed as quickly as I could. I put on an enormous, warm turtleneck. When I walked outside that day, I had almost won my cold war. I barely felt anything at first. Because I’m a huge geek, I smiled, pleased with my small victory. I waited for the train and felt smug. Ha! I am finally bundled properly. Screw you, Chicago winter. I win. For the first time, as I pushed open the door to leave the Clark and Lake stop, I didn’t dread the cold smacking me in the face.

That’s when I saw him: sitting on his milk crate, with the hood of his dark brown jacket pulled over his head. Everyone kept walking past him as if he was invisible. I dug my hands into my pockets, hoping I had some change. I did, but it was such a small amount I felt stupid about it—it couldn’t have been more than 40 cents. I didn’t know what to do, and I couldn’t bear not to do anything, because it was so goddamned cold out, and here was this man, old enough to be my father, sitting on a milk crate. I dropped the change in his McDonalds’ cup, and he looked up at me, smiled, and said:

“God bless you, ma’am. Thank you.”

My throat swelled as I looked at him and said, “You’re welcome”—fighting the urge to apologize for the measly change, wishing I had the nerve to offer to buy him a cup of coffee or to go bring him a sandwich instead of dropping my random change in his cup.

Now, I’m not so naive I don’t realize that his response wasn’t a novel reaction to someone handing you money on the street. I get it. He probably said that to everyone who gave him some change that morning.

But. But!

His voice. It was lilting and deep, the kind of voice that makes you sit up straighter and pay attention in class. He could be a preacher or a poet, it wouldn’t really matter. It was like everything he’d been through in his life, everything he’d seen and done, all came out in one sentence: “God bless you, ma’am.”

I give him change whenever I see him now, and every time he says the same thing. One morning I walked out, and saw his crate, but he wasn’t sitting on it. I looked around for him—what if he was hurt? what if he’d gotten sick? where did he sleep?—and just as I had to cross the street from his corner, there he was! He was walking right toward me, holding his cup and a McDonalds’ bag. I grinned at him, relieved that he was okay. He looked at me blankly, as if he’d never seen me in his life.

Maybe he really hadn’t. But I wanted him to know that I had heard him, even if I don’t really see him. There was nothing I could say. I had to keep walking.

Still, every morning, after I walk past him, I wish I had asked him if I could buy him a cup of coffee, and if I had, if maybe he’d sit down with me and tell me his story in his beautiful voice.

And then maybe he would see me, and I would see him.