Sweet Talk

Mama with her best friend Marilyn (1960s)

Mama on the left with her best friend Marilyn (1960s)

Mama knew how to sweet-talk people. Her magic had served her well in McAllen, Texas. And it seemed to be working in our new home in south Louisiana, where employment opportunities were plentiful. She’d even left her first switchboard operator job for a better paying one.

“You have to be fast and have a sharp memory,” she bragged on the phone to her friend Marilyn, who’d also moved here from the Rio Grande Valley. “And it doesn’t hurt if you can charm the pants off the meanest customers,” she added with a laugh.

The image of an adult without pants made me chuckle, and I exposed my hiding place under the kitchen table. At the age of seven, I had taken spying.

Click here to continue reading “Sweet Talk,” a memoir essay published today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

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Too Close for Comfort

Jeanne and Mama in 1964

My sister Jeanne with Mama in 1964

Writing sent me into the world of social media and it’s pushing me back out there again. I found it easy to fall off the grid and back into my life on the farm. We had a nice crop of foals this year, an abundance of tomatoes, and the hens are continuing to lay, even in July’s oppressive heat.

Summer nights are my favorite. When the light softens near sunset, I walk for an hour or two. Until the chickens roost and coyotes appear near the tree line. Night reminds me of childhood games of kick-the-can. Mama calling and calling for me to “get in the house.” And like a coyote, I’d hide until she’d find me behind a tree or a bush and order me inside.

Speaking of Mama, her health is declining. She needs my daily care, and I’m happy to give it (though she can be exasperating at times). Writing about my childhood reminds me that she was once young and energetic—an ambitious businesswoman who thrived in a man’s world. The men are all gone now, so she spends her days in a pajamas. And she sleeps and sleeps and sleeps.

Today, I’d like to page back to October 1962. My family had recently moved to Louisiana from McAllen, Texas. And my big sister Jeanne (pronounced Jean) was terrified of our new landscape, our stepfather Roger, and Cuba. So click here and follow me over to Tweetspeak Poetry if you’d like to read, “Too Close for Comfort.” And come back next Friday for “Sweet Talk.”

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Such a Good Girl

Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen

Happy holidays from the farm. Celebrating today (with the hens) because I have a short piece on Brevity’s blog. Click here to read “Such a Good Girl.”

Also, please note that Brevity is encouraging readers to use Amazon Smile to help pay authors. From the Brevity elves: “Yes, Amazon’s relationship to book sales and authors remains controversial, but we also know that many of our loyal readers use Amazon to make non-book related purchases. So we ask that you continue to purchase books from your local independent bookseller, if you are lucky enough to have one nearby, and to channel other Amazon holiday shopping through the Amazon Smile Brevity Link. It’s easy: you simply use this link (it doesn’t cost you a cent) and we get a few pennies on every purchase. You can bookmark the link and make it your permanent Amazon entryway, which would really make us smile.”

egg

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The Worst Kind of Luck

Roger and Mama in south Texas (circa 1959).

Roger (the “other man”) and Mama in south Texas (circa 1960).

In the lower Rio Grande Valley, Mama had a best friend named Billie Burnside, three young daughters, and an always-traveling encyclopedia salesman for a husband. She also had a job slinging drinks at the Circle Inn lounge. My mother usually left my sisters and me at home when she worked. But there were times she’d have to take us to the bar.

Click here to continue reading “The Worst Kind of Luck,” a memoir essay from my work-in-progress published today at Tweetspeak Poetry

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In the Wake of Three Broodmares

Stormy Reply

Stormy Reply

Stormy Reply

We knew she would die. Halfway through her pregnancy, a long-ago leg injury festered, and the pain made it difficult for her to stand. We never imagined she’d carry full term, but she proved us wrong.

Weak and in labor, her vet thought he’d have to take the foal by cesarean and put Stormy down. Instead, he shook his head afterward. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “She didn’t want my help and did all the work herself.”

She had pushed out a filly and fought to nurse her for three days. None of Stormy’s previous foals ever resembled her. This one was her spitting image—her swan song.

Stormy Sea    

Stormy Sea

Stormy Sea

A half-sister to Stormy Reply, she appeared healthy and was soon to foal when I noticed her stumble. Her legs looked fine, no heat, no injury. So I was shocked by her diagnosis: Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), an insidious but treatable disease spread by opossums.

She birthed a bold and playful colt.

We put him with a nurse mare to treat his mother’s EPM. And the treatment seemed to be working. My husband and I were a pasture away and looking right at her when she fell. She got up, fell again, and again. Danny hurtled a fence, kneeled beside her, and coaxed her to stay down.

I knew she was gone when I felt an enormous whoosh! of energy leave her body, the pasture, the farm.

Tap It Twice    

Tap It Twice

Tap It Twice

Once owned by Joe Pesci, our gray beauty raced with so much gumption and heart, I worried about her adjusting to retirement and motherhood. But she acquiesced into her growing body with grace and mellowed throughout her pregnancy.

She foaled with only a slight tear that could be repaired. We had no reason to worry. She nursed her filly (the prettiest I’ve ever seen) for about a month before undergoing a routine surgery to mend her cervix.

She threw a blood clot and died.

Uncomfortable with sharing sadness, I fell mute with my grief. I read Richard Gilbert’s Shepherd: A Memoir, an honest account of farming and its hardships. I admired Gilbert’s ability to write about loss. He covered joyous and comedic moments, too. But he didn’t shy away from hard truths the way I do.

And then I read a lovely tribute to Fenton the Canine by Fenton (the human) Johnson on Cynthia Martin’s blog Catching Days. That’s when I decided to write about the passing of our beloved broodmares. Not to bellyache, but to honor three remarkable equines.

In their wake are hard lessons, fond memories, two fillies, and a colt.

Stormy Reply's filly out for a run

Stormy Reply’s filly out for a run

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tap It Twice with her Filly

Tap It Twice with her filly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

friendly colt

Stormy Sea’s colt aka Mr. Personality

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Finding the Words

Burial Place

burn·out : the condition of someone who has become very physically and emotionally tired after doing a difficult job for a long time. —Merriam-Webster Online

It’s why I haven’t blogged since the Louisiana Book Festival last fall. I haven’t even visited my website until now.

For motivation, I completed a fiction-writing workshop with Wm. Anthony Connolly. He helped me find the words I feared I had lost.

So I went back to work with my pal and first-reader Dave Malone. I crafted a flash fiction piece and “Cold Snap” was a finalist in The Lascaux Review’s 250-word story contest. I even devised a plan for a novel, but childhood memories swamped me.

And Hippocampus Magazine has just published one of the memoir essays I’ve been working on instead. It seems the “found words” had a plan of their own.

These begin with a Georgia prison.

And Mama kicking my father to the curb in “No Sign of Daddy.”

 

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A Goodbye to the Literary Life

Sonny Brewer, Smackdab in the literary life at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama

Sonny Brewer, smack-dab in his writing life, at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama

Friend and fellow author, Sonny Brewer, called last week to say he’d join me the first of November in Baton Rouge for the Louisiana Book Festival. But it would be his last book event. His goodbye to the literary life.

I’ve talked to Sonny many times on the phone, but I’ve never heard such bone-tired exhaustion in his voice as he told me about his new job in construction.

He’s sixty-five.

Sonny’s published books fill a long shelf in my loft—yet writing’s not paying his bills.

The tired in his voice convinced me he was serious. Then I read his goodbye on Facebook last night. Here’s what he wrote:

So, my friend William Gay spoke of “clocking-in at the Culture Factory” when he gave up work at the boat paddle mill in favor of a full time run at the writing he did with such force and beauty, and the world was made richer for his decision. William’s mind had a lockdown on how blood burns into strange fuel for the soul. His books prove it.

Now, I’ve clocked OUT at the Culture Mill. I didn’t tear up my time card, and I didn’t kick over the trashcan on the way out the door. Still, I’m out of there. I’ve left behind the literary life.

I have now and again longed for some ledge in the Tibetan Himalayas, a craggy claim of my own where I might sit cross-legged noodling the Mystery of It All, get quiet and go down deep for insight on how we’re connected to the cosmic back-story, through the middle act and right up to the drama’s last curtain.

Instead, I’m staying in Alabama, and my ledge moves up and down the outside of a tall building near the Mobile waterfront. Instead of a saffron robe and sandals, I’ve donned a fluorescent orange vest and steel-toe shoes. I have now got a Real Job. I put on a hardhat and safety glasses and operate a buck hoist, a construction materials and personnel elevator. Instead of the sun’s gold pouring over snow-covered peaks, I watch daybreak over the Tensaw Delta from eleven stories up.

My office is a good one, welded of heavy steel, and powered by a three-phase 430-volt motor. If the wind’s blowing, I feel it on my face. If it’s raining, I get a little damp. I expect I’ll shiver some when it turns off cold here soon. I know I have sweated some in the last several days.

I waited for my elevator to tell me her name. Last week, going up past the fourth floor, she spoke to me. As clear as the Divine would from a mountaintop. Her name is Daisy. We go “upsy Daisy” and “downsy Daisy” and if she’s moving, I’m driving. I am the Elevator Man.

When my pal Biff called me to tell me about the job opening, saying it sounded ‘just like me’, he might have had his tongue in his cheek, smiling. Or 30-plus years’ knowing me might have put him on to something more essential. I vote with the latter possibility.

Thank you for reading the books I wrote, the anthologies I gathered. I am grateful also to my friends who write, who helped me into that world.

But after this post, I’m not the Writer Guy.

Matter of fact, I’ll call on Rumi to sign us out here. It’s a poem collected into a recent book offering a poem a day from the Sufi mystic (who some 800 years after his death is America’s top-selling poet!). This selection, titled “No Flag” is actually the one for this day, October 20:

I used to want buyers for my words. Now I wish somebody would buy me away from words.

I have made a lot of charmingly profound images, scenes with Abraham and Abraham’s’ father, Azar, who was famous for making icons.

I am so tired of what I’ve been doing. Then one image without form came, and I quit. Look for someone else to tend the shop. I am out of the image-making business.

Finally, I know the freedom of madness.

A random image arrives. I scream, Get out! It disintegrates. Only love. Only the holder the flag fits into. No flag.

I’m sad a fine writer is walking away. But I look forward to a last dance with my pal at the Louisiana Book Festival. If you’re in Baton Rouge and run into Sonny (he’ll be with me in Senate Committe Room C from 10:45 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.), be sure to say hello to him.

Before he says goodbye.

Sonny Brewer

Sonny Brewer. the elevator man

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Four-Star Surrender

Pantry or Wine Cellar?

Pantry or Wine Cellar?

I’d make a terrible soldier.

I had this realization on vacation in Pensacola, Florida, as I toured historic Fort Pickens with my daughter-in-law and discussed turning the fort into a house. We marveled at weapons’ storage rooms but were more interested in configuring living spaces: bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens. Wine cellars?

When we encountered puddles of water (leaks!), the house fantasy waned but did not give way. The fort’s crumbling brick walls and views of the Gulf of Mexico were stunning. So we plunged through unventilated tunnels.

July’s heat escalated with every step.

After a long trudge, we wandered outside to what we thought would make a nice courtyard. We then climbed a steep, stone staircase to reach a rooftop mound of grass and dirt. Invigorated by a breeze and beachfront possibilities, we snapped pictures with our cell phones as my granddaughter slapped her ankles and jumped up and down.

Tiny bugs bit our sandaled feet and marched up our bare legs. My daughter-in-law instructed everyone NOT to stop. Like good soldiers, we had to keep moving. So we hopped to keep the bugs at bay, then jetted down the staircase and caught up with my firstborn son and grandson inside the fort.

We complained about the bug attack and learned the boys had met Ranger Mark who said the pests were called Caribbean Crazy Ants. According to the ranger, the ants DO NOT STING. (But I am here to tell you THEY BITE.)

In tow with the boys, we plowed deeper into the fort’s abyss. I panted but no one seemed to notice. So I shouted, “Let’s go back!” My son—the outdoorsman—looked at me as if I’d turned a hundred years old overnight. I explained that I needed water. Desperately. Needed. Water.

He did not move, so I added, “It’ll be dark soon. And I want to see those huge birds we saw on the drive over.” He shuffled his feet but did not turn. Washed out, I threw in the 4-star restaurant he’d found online that morning. “We need to go early to get a table,” I said with a rasp.

He finally turned to follow me.

Down a long hallway, my sinuses blocked up as I studied mold-covered walls and abandoned the idea of turning the fort into a home. Instead, I became a soldier. Dressed in wool uniform. No bath in days. No blow dryer or flatiron. I felt the weight of a rifle on my right shoulder. Or was it my left?

I lumbered toward an exit and envisioned a battle. Enemy fire sang toward me. I considered taking a bullet. Or three. But I decided to raise my arms and surrender. A terrible soldier—the worst—I gave up for water, to see large birds, and to chow-down in a 4-star restaurant.

Open-concept living area

Open-concept living area

Reading Nook

Reading nook

Courtyard

Courtyard

Leaks!

Leaks!

Troopers include daughter-in-law, granddaughter (slapping her legs), grandson, and firstborn

Troopers include daughter-in-law, granddaughter (slapping her leg), grandson, and firstborn son

Mold-covered walls

Mold-covered walls

Escape route

Escape route

Large bird (Osprey) with doomed catfish in its claws

Large bird (Osprey) with doomed catfish in its claws

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Is It Time to Tumble?

Mary-Jane

Granddaughter Mary-Jane’s breathtaking performance on my bed

In school, I was one of those kids who cut classes to hide in bathrooms and smoke cigarettes. I’ve always had a hard time sticking to schedules and following rules. I grow bored. And when I do, I ramble.

It’s why I haven’t blogged or posted many updates on Facebook—I burned out. So I’ve been spending more time on Twitter and exploring other social media sites.

In my wandering, I discovered Tumblr. And I think many of you would enjoy it, too. Click here to read an interview on why I love to tumble. It won’t explain why I’m prone to disappear.

But I’m happy to report—I no longer smoke in bathrooms.

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June Bugs

Photo by Ruth Mowry.

Photo by Ruth Mowry. For more great quotes on images, visit WordCandy.me

 
 The June bugs arrive early again.
 Legs good for nothing but sticking
 to thighs and fingers.
 When I pluck russet bodies
 from my own flesh,
 I set hard casings on the porch
 to stagger. Though some fly away.
 But the weakest won't stand.
 They fall on their backs
 like heart-broken lovers.
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