On Being Poor

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I was reading this novel

with my students today,

and this character

was talking about

what it’s like to be poor.

He talks about his sick dog

and how this dog

was his best friend

and how there was no other way

to deal with it

than a two cent bullet.

He says how

this is the worst part

of being poor,

and, right there,

in the middle of class,

I start to cry,

thinking of how so many of them

know exactly what this means,

how I know exactly what it means

to be this poor,

and how sad it is

that anyone must feel this way,

especially children,

those innocent minds,

all new to hurt and tragedy.

And then I wonder

if there is a teacher out there

who still wonders if I am okay,

if I am alive

and if I am still that tragic child

with dirt-smudged cheeks

and cold hands.

Do they know

this is what I think about

when I go to sleep in a house

that is better by far

than any of my childhood homes,

better than their childhood homes?

Do they know I dream of them

and ache for their pain?

No, they probably don’t,

but I do.

 

So I cried in class

when the dog died

because Arnold

and his family

didn’t have enough money

to take him to the vet.

I stopped class

and apologized

and one student got up

and hugged me

and we kept reading.

Covered

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Ivory,
chocolate,
saffron,
mocha.
It covers our bones,
houses blood,
nerves,
the atoms that design
who we are,
who we become.
It displays our pain
through scars,
creases,
wrinkles,
and blotches.
We etch pictures
into our skin,
images that shout
identity,
memory,
joy,
love.
This organ,
this living piece
of all we are,
advertises our hearts
to the world,
publicizes our individuality.
Skin hides us,
obscures vision
and understanding.
Underneath,
we crouch,
huddle,
fade
from the realities
that blind.
Shaking below
the thin skin
that encases
heart
and blood
and bone
that shows
but also can’t help
but hide.

(Poem previously posted on my other blog under a different name, for those of you who have read this before.)

Memories Made of Ink and Skin

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Photo Credit: birdtattoodesigns.com

Photo Credit: birdtattoodesigns.com

Heated. That’s what my dad was when I came home with my first tattoo.  The ironic thing was that my step-mom had not only taken me to get the tiny turtle permanently emblazoned onto my ankle, but she had also set up the appointment and paid for it too.  To this day, I look at that small Celtic-style turtle and have fond memories of the buzzing pain that marked it into my skin as well as the image of my friend, Richard, and I drawing it during Speech 101 during my freshmen year of college.

Since that first tattoo, I have ventured three more times into that chair to feel that annoying, bee stinging feeling that presses, needles, a rainbow of ink under my skin.  I guess I like nature because all of my tattoos are reminiscent of animals or the outdoors.  I have also drawn every one of my tattoos which is strange since I don’t consider myself an artist of any kind.

My next tattoo was a tiny flower that found a home on the top of my foot.  My best friend, Jessica, and I sat for hours drawing pictures of figures, images that we might consider inking on our bodies.  We ended up with a flower I drew that contained our initials.  People say it looks like a golf flag with its tiny leaf sticking off the side, but I just think of a crazy night with my friend and the excitement of imagining a “friends forever” scenario.

I have a butterfly on my back between my shoulder blades.  It’s not a traditional butterfly–more like a tribal/Celtic style.  It’s purple and I remember going back to complain that the artist hadn’t added enough color.  He added more a week later, and I can say that it hurt more the second time. I can’t see it, so sometimes I forget it exists, that is until one of my students notices it and says some smart ass remark.  Teenagers for you.  Since most of my students have tattoos, you would think it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is.

My last tattoo is a memorial, but not to someone who has died or to someone who has left me.  I have ocean waves in the center of the sun inked on my calf.  My first year of teaching was at a temporary position on the coast.  I’ve never wanted to live anywhere but near the ocean, so it felt like kismet to find my first job and house only a few miles from the crashing waves.  Sadly, I only spent one year teaching those fantastic kids, but I wanted to remember them, to remember the lessons I learned during that year and with those students.  One of my favorite students said to me on the last day, “Don’t cry. You shall be remembered.” This was what I wanted–for my students to not just remember me but to remember the impact I had on their lives, to remember that they are special and unique and powerful.  Those last four words surround my sun–You shall be remembered.

This winter, I will tattoo three little birds on my shoulder.  They will be flying away–flying into the sky of whatever comes their way.

 

Written in response to the Daily Prompt–Tattoo

The Five Sides of a Student

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Photo Credit: deviantart.com

Photo Credit: deviantart.com

 

The Overachiever

Study, study, read.

Eyes become sandpaper orbs.

Only A’s will do.  

The Underachiever

I’ll try if I must,

But I will sleep if I can.

As long as I pass.

The Lonely One

Sitting alone now,

and every day. Perhaps a

friendship in college?  

The Bullied One

Crying in the stall.

They laugh and tease and gouge small

holes in my armor.

The Bully

Mean jokes and small barbs

make my own pain disappear.

I’m sorry…I’m scarred.

Written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge–5 Haikus

Swords and Flames

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Photo Credit: nikst.deviantart.com

Photo Credit: nikst.deviantart.com

Rusty chains

encircled the dilapidated gate.

He could see the slow

rise just beyond

the worn wooden fence.

Thick air

sat, heavy, on the dead grass.

His eyes met

the tree line,

standing tall,

soldiers at attention,

marching into foggy battle.

Over the hill,

fires burned to the sky,

tendrils of smoke

twisting through the trees,

suffocating life

in its fiery fist.

A runner arrived,

clothes tattered from

the journey,

bearing a message

from the high command.

All was not yet lost.

With downcast eyes,

he read–

the six nations were headed

up from the south.

The soldier looked

towards the horizon,

waiting,

anticipating the imminent destruction

of his loyal brothers,

those men he had battled with,

who he sought to aid

in his quest for glory.

If they could hold out

for one more night,

their cargo would

be safe.

But the dawn

was a millennia away,

and he could see them

cresting the final hill,

only a few short miles

from the gate,

the rusty chain,

the dead and burning grass.

He could see the

firelight glinting off

their steely swords.

Snow clouds

banked the top of the ridge,

a backdrop for devastation.

The frigid air mixed

with the heat from

the flames that crept

closer and closer

to the battlefield.

The sky poured

a mix of icy mud

down the hill,

instantly freezing

to the horses’ feet,

the soldiers’ boots.

The battle was upon him.

He swung his sword,

slicing through

bone and flesh,

and he prayed to

survive the night.

 

Written in tandem with TheClocktowerSunset.

Rain at Sunset

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Photo Credit: vandevertranch.org

Photo Credit: vandevertranch.org

My favorite part of the day

is when the sun

dips behind the mountains.

As the golden turns

to purple,

that is my favorite

moment.

The deep lavender

sets over the horizon

and paints pink

splashes in the sky.

The five minutes

after the sun sets–

that is the best time.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Rain splatters

the rooftops,

the pavement,

the trees–

this drenched,

soggy

sky reminds me of

home.

Of the bright green

trees

and the scent of pine

drifting between the

raindrops.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The sunset

and the rain–

if only we could

mingle their

beauties together,

perhaps we

could create the

perfect day.

Can’t Give Up

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Photo Credit: flickr.com

Photo Credit: flickr.com

We can’t help them all,

but why shouldn’t we try?

I watch their faces

fill with joy

from a kind word said

or a line of

encouragement.

Hidden behind

masks of dirt,

of poverty,

of pain,

of neglect,

their lights shine

stronger than

a thousand candles

meant to bless them.

Underneath

adult words,

harsh criticisms,

disbelief in themselves,

lies a force

more powerful than

the  sadness surrounding

them.

What we say matters

more than we realize.

We are their guides

and we can’t stop

believing in their

amazing ability

to go on,

to adapt,

to grow.

What we say matters.

They need to know how

amazing they are,

how they have the

ability to change

the universe,

to be what no one

thought they could be.

If we give up,

so will they.

Arrival

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Photo Credit: wabira.blogspot.com

Photo Credit: wabira.blogspot.com

I am waiting for the

sky to open,

for the cold to

erupt from the

unsuspecting earth.

It hovers in the

periphery

like a child eavsdropping

on a dark night.

It tiptoes out of

the high recesses

of the above

and settles quiet

on the world.

White blankets

of ice

wrap the earth

in frigid arms

and freeze the tears

that fall from

the dying all around.

It is beauty.

It is death.

The silence beckons

sounds that

won’t arrive until

Spring.

Lavender and Rain

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Photo Credit: Erica, Daily Prompt

Photo Credit: Erica, Daily Prompt

The smell of lavender permeated the air, its swirling spicy scents mixing with the warm sensation of spring.  Mary closed her eyes and breathed deeply, letting the calming aroma envelope her in memory.

It had been years since she had really thought about him although he had been on her mind, in some way or another, every moment since they had parted.  It was only now, with the scent of lavender settling on her skin, that she could remember his voice, the wrinkles around his smile, the smell of his hair.  How long had it been?

She opened her eyes and felt the stinging threat of tears stab at the corners.  Mary blinked a few times and continued to walk, her feet sending up tiny droplets of rain in splatters around her.

Mary tried to push the lavender, and the curiosity of where it had come from, out of her mind.  She had walked to work this same way every day for at least two years, and never before had she smelled lavender.  What she did know was this–she had to get past him or she might not survive.

When Steve had left, she thought her world had ended.  Everything seemed dull, bland, inhuman, without his smile, his passion.  Her body felt broken, not just her heart.  They both had wanted different things although she couldn’t quite remember the differences now.  She hadn’t wanted to let go, but Steve had given her little choice.  He stepped onto that bus and left her behind.

As she splish-splashed through the rainy morning, Mary decided to bypass work and take a walk.  She needed to clear her head even if she had forgotten an umbrella.  But, things only became more confusing and aggravating as the morning wore on.

The receptionist at her office barely replied when Mary called in to let them know she wouldn’t be arriving until later that afternoon.  It was as if the woman hadn’t been listening.  At the coffee shop where Mary always bought her morning brew, the barista skipped her in line and Mary almost didn’t get served.

Aside from the obvious lack of customer service, Mary was enjoying the wet day.  The rain glinted off the sharp edges of the city, refracting light in marvelous rainbows painted on the pavement.  Mary put on her sunglasses and veered off the sidewalk and into the park.

She remembered strolling here right after she and Steve had begun dating. He used to twine his fingers with hers and gently pull her along the tree-lined paths and so they could sit near one of the bubbling streams that dotted the park.  He had always been a romantic.  That was one of the things she loved about him.  Mary had always thought romance was silly until she met Steve.  He had brought out her romantic side, and she longed for the days they spent together.

Mary picked up her pace thinking speed might stop the ache that had begun to wiggle into her chest.  All the could think of was his hands on her cheeks, his lips kissing hers, the constellations of freckles on his chest.  She missed him with all of her being, and she wondered why it had taken her so long to realize how much she needed him.

Mary could feel her feet pounding the earth, the rain soaking her ankles, but she couldn’t stop running.  She wanted to put the past two years behind her and run straight to Steve’s arms, but when she looked up, she was standing in the middle of Hilltop Cemetery.

Her stomach dropped as if she almost remembered why he had left her.

The rows of gravestones stood like skeleton’s teeth gnawing at the gray sky.  Mary walked between the crumbling stones attempting clarity of why this place seemed so familiar.  Before today, she never remembered setting foot inside the fences of this old cemetery, but it also seemed to pull at her, to urge her onward.

And, then the lavender came once more.  Mary’s nostrils filled with that spicy yet muted, warm yet cool scent and it drove her to her knees.  Hot tears sprung from her eyes and mingled with the cold raindrops splattering her cheeks.  In front of her sat a tombstone, one with a bunch of lavender obscuring the name.  A spider’s web wound its way through the buds, and the tiny silk threads caught the falling drops, sending sparkles over the purple flowers.

Mary gently pushed the flowers aside and read the name on the grave–Mary Elizabeth Downing: loving wife and best friend.  The memories flooded back to her, sending her sprawling onto the muddy ground.  Steve hadn’t left her after all; it had been she who had broken him.

Mary starred up into the dark sky and watched the raindrops fall.

This was written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge–Traces.  The picture was included with the prompt.

Night Sailing

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Photo Credit: mmorpg.com

Photo Credit: mmorpg.com

The sleek schooner sliced through water so black it could have been an oil slick.  Bright specks of starlight hung in the interminably dark sky, and silence filled up Frank’s ears making him feel as if he were listening to the world through a pile of cotton.  He looked around, hoping that he had been as invisible as he had felt when he left the dock only an hour ago.  Nerves could get the best of a person who wasn’t as strong as Frank, and he was lucky that he had been raised by nomadic biker parents who had brought him up to be fearless in the face of danger.  And, tonight Frank found himself in the middle of one huge shit storm.

Frank had bought the sailboat a little over a month ago, and he’d been taking lessons ever since.  He imagined what his rough and worn parents might say about his purchase, how they’d laugh at his large, meaty hands pulling on the ropes and ducking away from the boom, and how pissed they would be if they knew he had spent their money on a boat.  Frank had grown up on the road, on the back of a Harley.  He had lived his childhood through the lens of a helmet and his friends wore leathers and carried “old ladies” on their backs.  It wasn’t a surprise that Frank learned how to slug, steal, and swig with the best of them.  In fact, his biker past is what had brought him here tonight, sailing well beyond midnight to a marked place in the middle of the bay.

He tugged on the downhaul attempting to fix the problem that had suddenly developed in the sails.  Frank was new to sailing, and he swore at himself for choosing the middle of the night to learn.  However, tonight was a necessity, and Frank knew that if he didn’t reach his destination, it wouldn’t matter if he returned because Cain would catch him and deal him a worse fate than succumbing to the wanton waters of the deep blue sea.  He tried to trim the sails and right his course, but the wind was working against him.

After a few more attempts, swear words, and drops of sweat, Frank had corrected the sails and his direction just in time to see the buoy balanced at the edge of the harbor.  The marker bobbed up and down on the ever-ebbing waves, and Frank wondered if this was really a safe place to do what he had to do.  He imagined the Coast Guard boats patrolling the dark waters, and he stifled a chill that started to climb up his spine.  He could do this. He had to do this.  It was the girl or him.  He had no choice.

Frank turned to the hatch where she waited, tied like a dog to the railing below deck.  He hesitated, not wanting to fall this deep, to hit the final nail in the coffin of his outlaw future, but he didn’t want to die which meant she had to.  Frank didn’t even know her name.  He opened the hatch and slowly made his way down the steep stairs and over to the woman sprawled on the floor.  Her hands were cinched tightly above her head and her blonde hair fell in messy waves over her face.

When Cain called, he had said that the job was already on the boat and that Frank just had to finish the deed.  He had said a silent thank you that he hadn’t been the one to capture his soon to be victim.  Now, facing her, he wasn’t sure he could follow through with the sinister plot.  He was supposed to be tough, strong; he was a biker for God’s sake.  He was Cain’s second. He was the VP, the boss when the boss was gone.  Frank took a deep breath and fought off the insecurities and fears that tried to get the better of him.  He was a bad ass, a killer, and that’s what he was here to do.

He reached out and brushed the hair from the woman’s face.  As Frank’s eyes met the woman’s visage, a sharp scream attempted to loose from his throat.  In his mind, he saw her blue eyes looking back at him, her bright mouth curling up at the corners, her sultry voice dipping into his ear.  Frank scrambled backwards just as her lids fluttered open revealing the vision from his memory, only now a dark purple ring edged her left eye and blood crusted on the sides of her once happy smile.  She stared up at him, pleading for his mercy.

Frank didn’t know what to do.  He closed his eyes and pictured what Cain would do if he came back as a failure.  He imagined his brothers beating him to a raw mess of meat, blood, and bone.  He could feel the dust in his mouth and lungs as his family showered dirt down upon his open grave.  He could picture the weight of the decision, the soil, the failure pressing on him, forcing him to make a choice.  Should he save his wife or should he save himself?