DMV

I really did not want a tour of the DMV.

I arrive early, just as they open the doors, and there is already a line. We file in, each taking a paper number. The people in front go straight up to the desks. One window processes two people in only ten minutes each and then promptly puts up a closed sign. I guess it’s exhausting, working so fast.

Everyone waiting looks strained or sullen or stressed at the DMV. Shoulders hunched, heads down, the ones in power suits on their phones, but the phones keep cutting off in the DMV. Some sort of special shielding, I would bet.

I have number 17 and get to go to a window after 2 hours.

The clerk smiles at me. She is pale, pale, but has horns and pitch black wings, no feathers, like a bat.

“Unitarian!” she says, grinning.

“Um,” I say, eyeing the wings.

She looks wicked and then her wings are classic white feathered. She is browner and well, I’d guess Filipino. “Worried?” she says.

“No.” I say. “Tired. Sad. Curious.”

“What would you prefer to see?” she says and morphs. Now she has one bat wing that changes to black feathers then through rainbow feathers, to the snowy white feathers on the other side. Her skin tone is very dark on her right hand and then lighter across to pale with red freckles on her left hand.

“Nice.” I say.

“Which heaven would you like?”

“Unitarians do not believe in hell. Send me back.”

“You just got here. Violently and by surprise.” she wrinkles her nose. “Riots again. Sorry about that. We have opened a Unitarian space.”

“No. Send me back.”

She sighs and pulls down a heavy paper file. All the papers have gold edges, except for those with black. “You found your true love.”

“Yes. So what. We didn’t have time to make it work.”

“Don’t you want to wait until she dies so you can head down at the same time?”

“No. She’s only 32. And there is work to do.”

She is paging through the file. She snaps it shut. “Two week vacation. The minimum required. Go to the door on the right.”

I sigh. I want to argue but I’ve done that before. She will add on an extra week for every word I say.

My memories are intact here. Of all the lives. It’s always a bit overwhelming when I first arrive.

I go to the door on the right. A small page with grey tattered wings opens the door for me. I think it is a boy but he is wearing a Tinkerbell style tunic.

“I am your guide today.” No, it is a girl. I think. They may be able to morph that too.

We go in the door. My guide is shedding feathers, one every few steps. I pick one up. “Sorry.” she says. “Puberty. So, where do you want to spend your two weeks?” We are in a half circle shape hall, with hallways branching off. The hallways have no end that I can see and there are open doors all along them.

“I just want to go back.”

She pats my arm absently. “Oh, yes, they told me. You have to take breaks. You are wonderful, though, we love you.” She is leading me to one of the halls towards the left. We go past two doors and to the third. “See?” she says. “Unitarians. Of course, they can come in and out and go in all the others and argue with everyone. We wouldn’t want them to get bored.”

The room is empty at the moment. “And I guess they are all in other places!” The room across the hall seems to be a classic hell, with demons and pitchforks and a grim rocky landscape with pits of burning tar. I can see a dinosaur caught in tar, and a really huge crowd of people. There is a lot of screaming.

“Some people insist.” says my guide. “Where to next? Evangelical? Valhalla is rather fun for males and certain females, we’ve got fluffy clouds and harps, or are you more interested in touring Asian, African, Australian? We do have paleolithic sites and many people are interested in Egyptian themes. The cliff dwellers interest many as well. “

“Atheist.”

She frowns. “Of course, but that room shuts down consciousness and you have to have two weeks of consciousness before you can go back.” She is leading me back into the central half hall.

“Ok,” I say, giving in. “I am not trying to be difficult, you know.”

“Yes, and everyone told me correctly that you are difficult. All the ones that go back over and over are difficult. And there are more every year.”

“Take me somewhere new, ok?” I am looking now at the frieze over the door that will take me back. Two weeks. I can manage. I am resigned. The frieze is cupids and then male odalisques, then female, then leopards, and then they are cupid fauns with horns on their heads, morphing towards adulthood. Yet the carved letters stay the same:

Deus Machina Verum

and I follow my guide into another hallway to find a place for my two weeks.

_________________________

This poem inspires me to post today’s story: https://narble.blog/2021/08/17/if-there-are-no-dogs-in-heaven/

I think the hell in heaven also fits today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: scorch.

Loss

It seems to be one of my irritable days
They come rolling round in the month of May
I don’t feel friendly and don’t want to play
It seems to be one of my irritable days

It seems to be one of those days when I’m mad
At nothing particular. I feel really bad
I hate those damn tourists who always wear plaid
I really intensely dislike feeling sad

I haven’t felt quite this bad since last year
But I’m not one to cry. I don’t like weak tears
I’m not one to let myself feel any fears
I haven’t felt this bad for almost a year

It seems to be one of those days when I’m mad
I think I’ll go pick a nice fight with that lad
He looks too damn happy and just too damn glad
When I’m punching his lights out I won’t feel so sad

It seems to be one of my irritable days
Going to work on them just doesn’t pay
My boss’s revenge just goes on for days
Today it’s so bad that I can’t even pray

Helen Burling Ottaway, my mother, died May 15, 2000. I wrote this poem in the early 2000s. Her birthday was May 31, right near Memorial Day. Mother’s Day always falls near her death.

I am putting up a series of poems that I titled Falling angels, after a dream, where all the stars in the sky started falling. I was frightened and then realized that they were all angels. Then I was more frightened.

I think we need poetry and dreams and angels during this difficult time. Even if the angels are all falling.

I took the photograph of my mother. A friend loaned me his 35mm camera and I took one roll of pictures and gave the camera back to him. Almost all of the photographs I took were portraits.

Painting angels

You were an artist
You are an artist
You said that you’d have to live to 120 to finish all your projects
And died at 61
I keep wondering
what the art supplies are like
and if you work on sunsets
or mountains
or lakes

Trey, 9
made a clay fish last summer that I admire
He said grumpily “It’s too bad Grandma Helen died before I could do clay with her.”
He tells me he’s ready to make raku pots to fire in your ashes as you wished
I ask what he’d make
He considers and says, “What was Grandma Helen’s favorite food?”
I can’t think and say that she liked lots of foods
At the same time wondering squeamishly if maybe
he should make a vase and then being surprised
that I am squeamish and thinking of blood and wine,
too, I wonder if my dad would know. “Maybe guacamole.”
I need to find a potter to apprentice him to.

Camille, 4.
asks how old Grandma Helen was when she died.
I explain that she died at 61 but her mother died at 92.
Camille asks how old I am.
40.
When are you going to die?
I say I don’t know, none of us do, but I hope it’s more towards 90.

Camille studies me and is satisfied for now.
She goes off.
I think of you.

I perpetuate
the Christmas cards you did with us
upon my children.
They each draw a card.
We photocopy them and hand paint with watercolors.
Camille wants to draw an angel
and says she can’t.
I draw a simple angel
and have her trace it.
She has your fierce concentration
bent over tracing through the thick paper
She wants it right.
The angel is transformed.

My kids resist the painting after a few cards as I did too.
Each time I paint the angel
to send to someone I love
I think of Camille
and you
and genes
and Heaven
I see you everywhere


January 19, 2002

published in Mama Stew: An Anthology: Reflections and Observations on Mothering, edited by Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Sylvia Platt c. 2002

For the RDP: another day.

Recipe: Corned Beef

My mother gave my sister and I small notebooks decorated with our names when I was starting high school. She said that we were each going to cook once a week. We were to tell her what we wanted to make. She would give us the recipe and we would put it in our notebook. She would buy the ingredients and we would each cook.

It ended up being every other week so that we alternated, but I still have the notebook. My mother died in 2000 of ovarian cancer. I miss her. The first recipe I chose was corned beef and cabbage.

Katy B.’s fruit torte

Katherine White Burling was my maternal grandmother, and this recipe is attributed to her. I still have the small three ring binder that my mother gave me when I was in high school, explaining that my sister and I had to do some of the cooking. We told her what we wanted to make and she would write the recipe in our book and help us. I wrote this recipe out in the 1970s.

preheat the oven to 350 F

cream: 1 C sugar
1/2 C butter

while the butter is softening enough to cream, cut up fruit: apples, pears, peaches, rhubarb, or use berries…

Add to the creamed butter:
1 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
salt
2 eggs

Spread in in a buttered, floured pan. Cover with chopped fruit: apples, pears, peaches. This one was local plums and blueberries.

Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice
Dot with butter on top.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven.
Cook until browned a little in the part that rises around the fruit, and when a toothpick comes out clean.

I am submitting this to today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: Kaleidoscope, because the torte reminds me of a kaleidoscope.

The Introverted Thinker deals with death

When my introverted thinker daughter was two and a half, we took care of her maternal grandmother at home in hospice for nearly six weeks. Her maternal grandmother died at home.

Two and a half year olds can’t process death, right?

When she was four she came to me.
“How old was grandmother when she died?”
“She was sixty-one years old.” I could anticipate the next question.
“How old are you?”
“I am forty-one.”
“When will you die?”
“I don’t know. No one knows. But, great grandmother K lived until she was 93 so I am hoping to be more like her than like grandmother H, but I don’t know. I don’t think I am going to die any time soon.”
She studied me very carefully. It felt like she was checking to be sure that I was telling her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Apparently she was satisfied, because she toddled off to do something else.

And that is how the introverted thinker processed death.

Judgement

Why are the roses caged, you ask? What did they do? Nothing, they are being protected. I found that rose and transplanted it years ago, but our deer eat the buds every year. This is the first time that it has bloomed in the 21 years I have lived in this hours. Isn’t it beautiful?

I am listening to this:

I wrote this poem today. This is one of the poems where I have no idea where it will go when I start writing it. I start writing about judgement and it never ever goes where I expect. The poems go where I want to go in my deepest heart, in my soul. I am never where the poem is, the poems show me the way….. Then I try to go there. And it can take years….

I am being judged
and watched

I have no issue with the Beloved

it’s the humans I don’t like

I twist people’s words
but not with malice

when the antibodies are up
it is hard to communicate
hard to explain
it is hard just to survive
and I might be focused on survival first
and comforting the people around me second

can you blame me?

how near to death have you passed?
and how often?

first pneumonia
heart rate 135 when I stood up

my doctor and I could not understand it

my doctor partners thought I was lying
in 2003

second pneumonia
after my sister’s death
which was bad enough
but the legal morass that she had set up
with her daughter as the center

pitting me and her daughter’s birth father
and my father
against all the PhDs in the maternal family
smart, smart, smart
yet emotionally stupid

my niece is not an inheritance
to be passed to whom my sister wants

she reluctantly came home
and the myth endures
that this is an injustice

third pneumonia
one year after I find my father dead
triggered by grief
and the outdated will
and the mess he leaves

and I don’t even get sued
about the will
for another year

endure that
endure endure endure
endure hatred
endure triangulation
endure meanness
unwarrented

I do not care
if you want to believe
what you want to believe
it isn’t true
and it hurt

and I learn to let go

with the fourth pneumonia

I see the liars surrounding me
downvoting
yes, it does matter
except that one that I trusted
that mentored me

has lied all along

that hurts too

let it go
let it go
let it go

and I let it go

each pneumonia is a time of change
creativity
I am lonely and sick
and not trusting

as I improve
slowly, slowly

I wander garage sales
estate sales

and find things
things that are beautiful
things that enhance my joy

at the start of covid
I was so down
I was so sad
I wanted to lie in the street
and give up

the Beloved sent a spirit
he says he is no angel

I see angels bright and dark
after all they all fall

just as humans do

we all fall
we all fall down

try to look perfect
try to look virtuous
tell yourself that you are good

that is the biggest lie of all

the bad parts of your spirit
locked in the basement of your soul
howl
howl and want to be freed

and if one gets out
and you reject her or him

he will return with nine friends
yes that is what the bible says

she will return with nine friends

he/she MONSTER
will free the others

and you will do bad things
you will be terrible
you will hurt people
while you try to contain
while you try to lock away
while you try to chain
your monsters
your evil
your self

let them go
let the monsters go
they are howling
I hear them all the time
when I meet you
when I speak to you
the monsters howl at me
begging to be loved

yes, they want to be loved
and I love them

but if I mention them

you get that look
of horror

someone sees
me
someone sees
my evil
someone sees
what I hide

I can’t help it
raised in alcohol neglect and lies
on my own
as soon as I can walk

but I can’t walk away
at nine months

so I find other escapes
words
songs
books
poetry
rhymes
numbers

and my sister
when she is born

I do all the mothering

that I have longed for

even though I am three

we were talking about your monsters
not mine

you must go in to the cave
where you have locked them

and free them all

fall on your knees

and say
forgive me forgive me

for I have sinned

bow your head

and hold out your arms

and what, you say,
will the tortured monsters do?

will they smite you?
will they burn you?
will they lock you in their place?

mine didn’t
mine were babies
grief, fear, shame
and I embraced them
carried them up to the light
and care for them

wash them
diaper them
feed them
wrap them in warm blankets

and love them

until they stop crying

and begin to grow

long white gloves and an oxygen tank

I am invited to a Sinatra party, formal dress.

Let’s see. I have a sprained left shin. I fell on Monday, walking around a piece of property trying to find out if it had two streams. It doesn’t. It has one, three feet deep and over 18 inches wide. Who cares? Well, if it’s over 18 inches wide, it’s a salmon stream and to build a house you have to be 150 feet away. Which means you can’t because it cuts diagonally right through the property. Darn. I did not fall in the stream. I fell into a nice hole by a tree and rolled my left ankle a little. My ankles are pretty strong from dancing. It seemed fine.

So the next day I hike the beach twice, with my daughter and then B, maybe 6 miles. I am tired of hiking boots and try the toe shoes instead. “You have toe SOCKS?” said my minimalist daughter. “Of course,” I said, “Otherwise they are uncomfortable.”

Ankle is fine.

Next day I end up moving furniture. Ankle is a little sore.

Next day I hike a couple miles of beach in the morning and then a friend from Portland and I do the spit. We get to within a mile of the lighthouse, which means we hike 5-6 miles out on sand. It is gorgeous. I am limping on both feet by the time we get back, but left shin is worse. It’s really dumb to hike 14 miles in shoes that you have only worn once in the last year. I elevate my ankle once in the car.

View from North Beach

The NEXT day B and I are on a jaunt. My ankle now makes it known that it is NOT HAPPY with me. We stop at the store for fud, as my son calls it, and I get an ace wrap and wrap it. Later we pay $1.00 at a Fast Food Joint for a cup of ice water and I ice it. At his park unit he mows and I limp along the river until I am in the sun. Later we hike Rialto Beach. I wore my hiking boots. My ankle is not appeased.

Now we are at yesterday. I have tickets to the Sweet Honey in the Rock on line concert. At noon. Junteenth. Ooops, no, at 3 pm. Ooops, no, on the west coast at 5 pm. Then I can’t make the stupid ticket work. I am really really frustrated. Well. I send them emails, try to get a new password, I have the ticket number. I keep getting a 503 server OVERWHELMED. Dang. I give up after an hour.

But I am invited to a Sinatra Solstice Juneteenth Bash, formal dress up. In my town that means wearing anything you can think of. I put on a gray dress, sleeveless but it has little gray flowers with silver gray pearls in the middle, all over the front. I have above the elbow white gloves. My ankle has a snug wrap and I put on dark gray hose and silver shoes with a 1.5 inch heel. I won’t dance, too hard on the ankle. I have acquired a set of gray pearlish beads which is so long that if I do not wrap it around twice it reaches to my knees. Mysteriously enough, it has a clasp. Why does it have a clasp? So some giant can put it around their neck? I complete the outfit with lipstick and my oxygen tank. The tanks are lighter than the concentrator, though bulkier. They are slightly bigger around than a tall oxygen tank but are light. I change the tank before I go. A full one lasts about 3-4 hours.

It is an outdoor party, there is tons of yummy food and there is wine and mead but no beer. I brought one beer along with my contribution, so I nurse my one beer… and dance. My ankle does not like this, but the music is so fun. Our host sings sets intermittently and then there is a DJ. The above the elbow white gloves are very fun to wear dancing and I have to try not to whack people when I spin with the awkward oxygen tank.

One gentleman thanks me for dancing. He says I am having so much fun that he’s having fun just watching. Cool. I LOVE to dance. One woman says something about wanting to pick one of the gray flowers off my dress, and I say dramatically, “No, I shall not be deflowered!” A line that one cannot use often… People have wonderful costumes and feathers and gloves and hats. It is fun just seeing what people are wearing. People were asked to come only if vaccinated and I am mostly distanced. I mostly dance alone, but have a couple of dances with guys. It’s a bit tricky to spin without whacking them with the tank. Tank girl, heh, heh.

At last I get home. I got to the party at 6 and it is not dark when I get home. Maybe 8 or 8:30? I lie down on the bed with an ice pack, propping my pissed off shin up on a pillow, just for a few minutes. Crash and wake up three or four hours later with the light still on. I turn out the lights, move the ice pack and go back to sleep.

Long white gloves and an oxygen tank. I am so grateful for the oxygen. I feel better than I have in the last seven years….

….and today I might just rest the ankle.

Here is one of my favorite Sweet Honey in the Rock songs:

Sweet Honey in the Rock “breaths”

Happy Father’s Day. My father died in 2013, emphysema from unfiltered Camel cigarettes. Damn cigarettes. I miss him.

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Let There Be Peace

Bears all his sons away;

I wrote this story today. I am not Native American. As far as I know, I am white, but then, I have not done any genetic testing so who knows? This was inspired by a poem of the same title: https://everything2.com/user/etouffee/writeups/Bears+all+his+sons+away%253B

One
I am wailing. I am crying. The Bear came today, our bear, the tribe’s bear, our Spirit.

But he didn’t just walk through camp and take fish and his tribute.

He took my son.

He walked right up to where my wife stood still, as we must when he comes, and he lifted the boy in his paws. The boy was quiet and still, he did well, he was brave, but when the bear turned to leave, he called once.

Then our bear dropped to three legs, my son in the fourth, and turned and left.

My son, my son, my heart, my joy. Spirit Bear, return him to me!

Two

We fought, argued, for a very short time. The Shaman said that if Spirit Bear wants my son, he shall have him.

He does have him, I said, but I want him back. The Shaman knew that was true. Some shook their heads and say that my son is already dead, but most agreed with me. We were on the trail nearly immediately. The bear should not be able to move as quickly as usual when he is carrying my son. I dread evidence of my son’s loss, that he will be eaten. But that has never happened, in the history, in the songs. The Shaman said as much. But neither has a bear taken a chief’s son.

Three
Spirit Bear is moving amazingly fast on three legs. He is headed for the mountains. Not a surprise. My son may get cold. But bears are warm. My son has not been eaten.

Four

We have to make camp. I am so angry that we have not caught Spirit Bear. Out of our home camp he is fair game.

We do the Bear Dance, four times. We did not bring the masks and the young men dance the women’s part and one sings the woman’s part. We made quick rough masks and costumes. The Spirits will forgive us. This is past all understanding.

What does a Spirit Bear want with my son? Four years. No one knows.

Five
Day again. I am up before dawn praying for light, for my son, to find the Spirit Bear.

Six

We are hot on the trail. We find that Spirit Bear did sleep and rest. My son is dropping beads. Smart boy. Each bead means that he is still alive and relatively unhurt.

Seven

We have spotted them. Spirit Bear stood and looked down at us, my son tucked against his side. My son very slowly raised his arm, so he knows.

Eight

We are approaching the peak. Everyone is tired from the climb and hungry and thirsty. Yet we keep going. No one complains.

Nine

We reach the peak and Spirit Bear and my son. We arm our spears and arrows, but my son shouts “No! Look!” We turn. We see the water. There is something in the water. It has tannish wings that are filled with wind. It is huge compared with our boats.

We turn to my son. He stands and Spirit Bear leaves, ambling down the mountain, quickly, gone. I hurry to my son, sweep him up. He starts shaking and then cries, leaning his head into me.

We turn and watch the tan winged thing, which is coming against the wind. It comes at an angle and then turns, to the opposite angle, yet still it comes. We know this is new and that there can be terror or joy, we do not know which. There will be learning, we know that.

My son falls asleep. We carry him down to water and camp. We are all singing quietly, the song of new things, fear and joy. The Shaman will welcome us when we are home, and we will prepare for the winged thing. We do not know what it will bring.

We thank the Spirit Bear for warning us, for telling us to prepare.