Jane Eyre was my childhood spirit animal or How to toil in ten steps or less…

My childhood daydream was to be an orphan. Not a full time orphan, complete
with dead parents or anything that traumatic, more of a part time orphan,
sort of like summer camp for stray children. We could be sad and waiflike for three months starting each June, and still be home in time for the first day of school.

You see, I liked school.

Ok, honestly, I just liked the uniforms, plaid skirts, white button downs with peter pan style collars, navy pullover sweaters and knee socks, and those hideous black and white saddle shoes. It seemed so industrial in my mind, so devoid of extravagance. As if, we deserved nothing cheerful, and had accepted it, stoically.

I longed to toil.

When I was ten, I became obsessed with the children’s home, nestled
behind some trees,  just beyond the supermarket where my mother
did her weekly shopping, each Friday, after picking me up from school.

I would stand in the parking lot, clad in my little uniform, and stare longingly across the expansive lawn that led to a big stone building. I checked Jane Eyre out of the library so often, that the librarian gave me an old copy when they replaced it with a new one. I began referring to all orphanages as orphan asylums, just as Jane did.

I liked the way the word asylum felt on my tongue.

A-sy-lum. It had a nice cadence, with a smooth transition into closed lips on the final syllable, that I found particularly satisfying.

At orphan camp, I imagined that we would forgo canoeing and badminton,
winning ribbons in woe and hardship, instead. During craft time, we would construct family trees, lacking siblings or cousins, aunts or uncles,
feeble and barren, without branches, more sticks than trees, I suppose.
But, we would persevere.
Treating our collective strife as nothing more than a bump in the road.

I began wearing my school uniform on weekends, so delightfully industrial and slightly uncomfortable. I worried my mother. She bought me dolls, to develop
my maternal instinct. I made them my fellow orphans and kept a log book
of our shared suffering. She sent me to my grandmother, only to have me
returned home in a week’s time. It seemed my refusal to call my grandmother anything but Ma’am, the pure joy I derived from sadly eating plain, creamed wheat for every meal, and my insistence that I be allowed to spend my days scrubbing the kitchen floor with a toothbrush, instead of going swimming, gave my poor grandmother the creeps.

I begged my mother to understand. I wanted to be a writer, and a writer has to suffer.
To endure. To languish.
I gave her the creeps, as well.

But, I was bred to be happy. Not a creep with a Jane Eyre fixation.

We changed supermarkets. The Bronte sisters disappeared from my bookshelf. My mother bought me a pink dress and made me wear it whenever I wasn’t in school. God, did I hate that dress. It took me years to outgrow it. It began to deteriorate, after the first year, yet I wore it still, I had little else. I wore it everywhere. It’s soft,
silky fabric, almost like a second skin.

And thus, I learned to toil.

But first, I re-named my hamster, Oliver.
My mother hadn’t read Dickens.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA…

” She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”   —Vladimir Nabokov

It wasn’t always this way. With me stalking about the house on a Thursday afternoon, greasy haired, still clad in last night’s pajamas, a conversation that never happened playing itself on repeat in my head. I was ignorant,       once. Not fully formed, on the lips, nor in the mind, but pure and lusciously innocent. Not yet aware that every man who would ever claim to love me, from cradle to coffin, would love a perception of me,           not necessarily his own. But an ever-changing perception, formed long ago, rooted in patriarchy, birthed by religion, and ever, ever, ever evolving,        as need be.

(You see, I was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning standing four feet ten in one
sock. I was Lola in slacks. I was Dolly at school. I was Dolores on the
dotted line. And yes, it’s true, in your accusation, I was always Lolita…)

I bought           every bauble you ever sold, from the importance of my feminine purity, my virginity, to my responsibility to soothe the male ego. I prayed at your manmade altar, and skipped hopscotch in my plaid and pleated skirt in your church schoolyard. I learned to smile,       always. A steady diet of toothy grins, parted lips, and empty eyes, which went from forced to natural, in just a few short years. I signed up for chastity, before I could spell it, much less define it. Long before my body would have the audacity to develop it’s own desires, I vowed to silence it. I promised to shame myself, for you.

I knew at eleven, that time was running out, I could feel, yet not fully comprehend, the shift in your handling of me, both emotional and physical. I became a suspect, questioned daily, on my knowledge of sexual matters.      You took deposition,
after deposition, in regards to my prowess, my supposed feminine power over
the sexual desires of men. All men, each one unable to control themselves,
of what, I knew not. Only that it was my duty, not to tempt them, to entice them.
I agreed to understand, they couldn’t help themselves,      it was up to me,
to do it for them. To never blame them.

(You see, they were lured by Lo, plain Lo, in the morning standing four
feet ten in one sock. They were lured by Lola in slacks. They were
lured 
by Dolly at school. They were lured by Dolores on the dotted line.
And yes, through no fault of their own, they were lured, always,
by Lolita…)

Yet, that window was small, so very tiny, as miniature as one pane in a doll’s house. So minute, one could pass through it, over a lazy weekend in junior high, reading the funny pages, and jumping rope on the front lawn.  In the time it takes
to reach the bubble gum prize, waiting at the center of a blow pop, a girl can become
dangerous. She can know too much.
See too much.       Speak too much.

Think too much.

She ceases to be deliciously awkward, delightfully unrefined, no longer a silly,
fawnlike creature, but a growing broodmare. The charm of gangling limbs,
and pouty mouth, matures into a state of womanhood, a shape-shifter of sin.
Of course, men want to fuck her, or at the very least, fantasize about fucking her,
she is considered flirtatious, at this stage,                  coy,
an ardent student of manipulation, and coquettish as a kitten.   Her desirability,
at a peak that no man will admit. Instead, they take on a the role of protector,
preserver of purity. But, hey, in some churches, she gets a ring and a ceremony. And
the chance to pledge her pureness to her father. She even gets a pretty, white dress,
all bows and lace. And an assurance of her future happiness, at having signed away
control of her own body and mind. She is blissfully not beholden to her own urges.
But rather encouraged to hand them over happily, to her male gatekeeper.
The master that will keep her clean,                   keep her virtuous,
keep her wholesome,                keep her untainted for the man,

that will one day deserve her,
through no chastity of his own.

(You see, in one form or another, at one time or another, we were
all Lo, plain Lo, in the morning standing four feet ten in one sock.
We were all  Lola in slacks. We were all Dolly at school. We were
all Dolores on the dotted line. And in some man’s arms, we were
all, always Lolita…)

It wasn’t always this way. With me stalking about the house on a Thursday afternoon, greasy haired, still clad in last night’s pajamas, a conversation that never happened playing on repeat in my head. I was ignorant,           once. Not fully
formed on the lips, nor in the mind, but pure and lusciously innocent. Not yet aware
that every man who would ever claim to love me, from cradle to coffin, would love
a perception of me,            not necessarily his own. But an ever-changing perception,
formed long ago, rooted in patriarchy, birthed by religion, and ever, ever, ever,
evolving,        as need be.
I swallowed my girlhood, smothered it deep inside me, stunted my womanhood,
per your orders, satiated myself with conviction, unwavering belief, in an ideology of what you wanted me to be, wanted to always see when you looked at me. But, biology is funny that way. Every girl becomes a woman, without realizing the outcome, the aftermath. The deep, dark well kept secret of male desire.
You want us to be that gawky eleven year old, at the breakfast table, eating waffles, with sticky maple syrup, a scab on one knobby knee.
You want us, by lunchtime, to be thirteen years old, newly minted breasts, cloaked in an unnecessary training bra, with a tiny bow at the center, self-conscious and pretty.
You want us to arrive at dinner, fifteen years old, demure and ever so slightly flirtatious, burgeoning on a sexual awakening, that we have yet to fulfill.

And, you want us to start new, fresh and unsullied at that breakfast table, each morning, as if we hadn’t shyly, laid on our backs, and spread our legs, so you could fuck us for the first time, just the night before. And we know, never think that we are so ignorant, as to be unaware that you may love us still, but never again the way you thought you did, profess you did, whispered you did, while seducing the innocence out of us.

Our girlhood, nothing more than a fetish for you, in which we smile through our
candy flavored lip gloss, scratch the scab on our knee, tug on that one slouchy sock, stare bashfully at the ground, and pledge to be the happiest girl in the whole USA.

Before we even know what that means.

(You see, we never asked to be Lo, plain Lo, standing four feet ten in one sock.
We never asked to be Lola in slacks. We never asked to be Dolly at school.
We never asked to be Dolores on the dotted line. And we never asked to be,
in your arms, always Lolita…)

 

 

 

 

 

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My books are better than your social media…

I want Franny Glass, having an existential crisis, hidden under the blanket,
on her parent’s sofa, with a flea-ridden cat named Shax, avoiding her fat,
over-bearing mother and her offers of chicken broth.
I want Therese Raquine and her guilt. Her all consuming guilt, at having
done the unthinkable for love, who cares if she’s a murderer, her husband
was a whiny momma’s boy, I mean, at least Therese had the nerve to jump
off that moral cliff, and see where her convictions took her, right?
I want Billy Pilgrim, in his slaughterhouse, dipping a spoonful of malt syrup
on the sly, tucked away asleep in his meat locker, while Dresden
burned around him. Billy, who dreams bigger than anyone I know, and
never learns to apologize for it.

Imagine if he had snapchat, while held captive on Tralfamadore,
he could have sent pictures of his Hollywood starlet, naked and frightened,
made a few million, and ruined every story he ever told.

I want Esther Greenwood, in her dirndl skirt and Pollyanna blouse, with blood
on her face, tossing her wardrobe, piece by piece, from a hotel window, down countless floors, to the street below. Esther, walking about the house, with her Mother’s bathrobe belt tied about her neck, looking for a place to string herself.

I want Humbert Humbert, pedophilia and all, destroying himself for his own fetish.
I want Joseph K. unsure of his crime.
I want Jane Eyre, trapped for eternity with her blind and scarred prize.
I want Boo Radley, locked away in his house on Main street, Maycomb County.

I want the young Marcel, narrator of childhood angst, dipping his madeleine
in that lime flower tea, and remembering a passion, long since abandoned.
A sweet moment, a lost summer, that he will never know again, yet floods
his memory with a thick nostalgia, rendering him unable to even rise and dress himself.

Thank god, there was no facebook memory app, to destroy his recollection
of what really happened on this day, fifteen years ago. He probably got
the cookie wrong, the tea confused. It was actually apple juice and a ham sandwich.

I want Jay Gatsby, optimistic and in love with a woman he couldn’t have,
found dead and floating in his swimming pool and no mourners at his funeral.
But one.
I want Frankie Addams, twelve years old and awkward, cutting the calluses
from her feet with a kitchen knife, before that dinner of hopping-john,
before that little monkey danced to his organ grinder, before the wedding.
I want Zooey Glass, in the bath tub, reading an old yellowed paper letter, written by his years dead brother, with his intrusive mother, chain smoking on the other side of the thin shower curtain between them.

Text messaging would have taken the romance out that family. I prefer them
dysfunctional, thank god BooBoo didn’t have a smartphone, and had to resort
to lipstick notes on the bathroom mirror to report family news.

I want Benjy Compson, who loves three things: a golf course, his sister, and firelight.
I want Meursault, unable, or perhaps unwilling, to cry at his Mama’s funeral.
I want Emma Bovary, with her dull, clumsy husband, and messy love affairs.
I want Pierre Roland, torturing his mother over the dinner table, with allusions to her infidelity.

I want Dorian Grey, selling his soul for eternal beauty. I can handle unbridled
vanity, as long as it doesn’t come with fifteen selfies a day in my newsfeed.

I like my characters raw and honest. But, not so honest that I need a play by play
of their drive to work, or a picture of their lunch. I don’t want a photo album with three hundred and sixty-three pictures of any one year old smashing perfectly good cake into their hair.
I hate your overly filtered and perfectly pristine instagram account. My god, we all know you have a chin, probably more than one, why are you chinless and wrinkle free in every goddamned photo?

I want everything you will never be, I want you thought provoking and just
a bit startling in your mental state. I want you to almost learn a lesson, but refuse
to practice it when put to the test. I want you flawed. Mentally. Emotionally. Physically. Yet brilliant, nonetheless. I want to be so intrigued by your life, that I think about you for days, months, a half a year, after our last encounter. I want you stuck in my mind, on repeat, your words, your voice, playing an endless soundtrack that never stops humming in my ear. I want to be changed by you. To be disappointed in the very traits I relate to in you.

Instead, of empty, and hollow over who you actually are, or more exact, who you want to be.
I need you written by a better writer than yourself. A more engaging curator.

Because, I can’t help it, I want Zooey Glass, reclined on the floor of his childhood living room, noticing a root beer stain on the ceiling, his sister Franny, on the sofa behind him, trying to hide her obsession. Her recitation on the Jesus prayer. That little green felt book tucked into the pocket of her bathrobe, and her, needing the one thing she doesn’t know she needs.
I want Zooey Glass making phone calls from the dead, disguising his voice from a room down the hall, using long ago nicknames, to invoke the past.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…”

 

 

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First grade gym class, or How to jump out of a plane…

I always hated parachute day.
The slippery, yet sticky feel of
that slick material clutched
in my fingers, as six year old me,
clod in my blue, hand me down,
Scooby Do sneakers, skipped
in a circle, listening to the thick
breathing and beating feet
of my schoolmates.

I didn’t like them either.
Not their steps pounding on the gym floor,
nor their shrill happiness at this ritual,
as if, running around and around
with this stinking, old parachute,
was the biggest treat they could
conjure up in their unformed minds.

Three laps to the left, the teacher yelling, “shift!”
and three laps to the right. I was not a joiner.
And this was pack mentality at it’s very worst.
Still, it was not nearly as bad as that moment,
when it all spun out of control, and we were
ordered to run to the center, pulling that
damned, sweating, moth ball infested thing
over our heads. Everyone laughing like idiots,
and me, trying to keep my retching to a minimum.

Me. Scrawny and pale, and full of wild ideas.
Should I trip and set the whole thing off
as one would a row of dominoes? Children
bumping against each other and plopping
to their shiny faces, in a neat little row?
Should I stop clenching my insides that are barely
keeping my lunch down deep in my stomach,
and really give them something to scream about?
Should I just stop, cease all motion, and declare,
“enough is enough, get this rancid thing off of me?”

Being with you, is like that parachute. Something, I am
told I should enjoy, would enjoy, yet nauseates me
in this dark, alluring way, that on one hand, makes me
feel like the biggest keeper of secrets, and on the other
a victim of the cruelest of jokes. Where I am compelled
by the very thing that repels me. Yet, I drape it over my head,
time and time again, and try to remember to breathe…

 

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Mash-up #3 Plath and Baudelaire

(Sylvia Plath’s “Medusa” and Charles Baudelaire’s “Sed non satiate” and “Boredom it is that breeds your vicious soul…”)

one

Strange goddess, tawny as the dusk, you come
Swathed in lush smoke, in musk;
Off that landspit of stony mouth-plugs,
eyes rolled by white sticks,

Some grassland Faust sired you in wizard wise,
ear’s cupping the sea’s incoherences,
Ebon-flanked witch, spawned of night’s shadowdom.
You house your unnerving head—God-ball.

More than old, heady wines, or opium,
I crave your lips’ elixir; proud love’s prize;

Lens of mercies.
Your stooges
plying their wild cells in my keel’s shadow,
Pushing by like hearts,
red stigmata at the very center,

And when my lusts trek after you, your eyes
are wells where drinks my desert’s tedium.

Riding the rip tide to the nearest point of departure,
Dragging their Jesus hair.
Did I escape, I wonder?

Let those dark eyes, I pray,
My mind wanders to you,
rain on me less
of your soul’s flame
cruel demon-sorceress;

old barnacled umbilicus, Atlantic cable,
keeping yourself, it seems, in a state of miraculous repair.

No Styx am I, able to circle you
Nine times around;
In any case, you are always there,
tremulous breath at the end of my line,
Curve of water upleaping
To my water rod, dazzling and grateful,

nor can I—wanton shrew,
Megaera mine! —bring you to heel, and be,
touching and sucking
In your bed’s Hell, a new Persephone!

 

two

I didn’t call you.
I didn’t call you at all.
Boredom it is that breeds your vicious soul,
Vile woman! You who well would bed the whole
wide world.
Nevertheless, nevertheless
you steamed to me over the sea,

For, in your quaint and curious play,
Your jaws must find a heart to crush each day.
Fat and red, a placenta
paralyzing the kicking lovers.

And if your teeth would ply their wicked game,
Your eyes like festive-candled yews, aflame
with light-
Cobra light.
Squeezing the breath from the blood bells
of the fuchsia.

or like shop windows bright ablaze,
borrow a power, to fire their haughty gaze,
with never a notion of their beauty’s might.
I could draw no breath,
dead and moneyless
Blind, deaf machine, rich in cruel appetite,
Overexposed, like an x-ray.

Device to suck Man’s blood! For shame!
How do your looking-glasses not reveal to you
your fading charms?

Who do you think you are?
A communion wafer? Blubbery Mary?

Have you not once recoiled
to see yourself by evil thus despoiled—
I shall take no bite of your body,
Evil in which you deem yourself expert-
when blithely nature chooses to pervert
your woman’s flesh—

Bottle in which I live,
Ghastly Vatican.

Foul beast!
I sick to death of hot salt.

O queen of sin;
to shape and mold a genie-sprite therein,
and use you to perform her deviltry?

Green as eunuchs, your wishes
Hiss at my sins.

O squalid grandeur! lofty infamy!
Off, off eely tentacle!

There is nothing between us.

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Mashup #2 Rimbaud and Sexton

(Rimbaud’s “Feasts of Hunger” and Sexton’s “The Kiss”)

one

My mouth blooms like a cut.

My hunger, Anne, Anne,
Flee on your donkey.

I’ve been wronged all year, tedious
nights, nothing but rough elbows in them

If I have any taste, it is for hardly
Anything but earth and stones.

and delicate boxes of Kleenex calling crybaby
crybaby, you fool!

Dinn! dinn! dinn! dinn! Let us eat air,
Rock, coal, iron.

Before today my body was useless.
Now it’s tearing at its square corners.

My hungers, turn about. Graze, hungers,
on the meadow of bran!

It’s tearing old Mary’s garments off, knot by knot
and see—Now it’s shot full of these electric bolts.

Suck the bright poison
Of the bindweed;
Zing! A resurrection!

 

two

Eat
The pebbles a poor man breaks,
The stones of churches,

Once it was a boat, quite wooden
and with no business, no salt water under it
and in need of some paint.

The boulders, sons of floods,
Loaves lying in the gray valleys!

It was no more than a group of boards.
But you hoisted her, rigged her.

My hungers are bits of black air;
The blue trumpeter;
She’s been elected.

—It is my stomach pulling me.
It is woe.

My nerves are turned on. I hear them like
musical instruments.
Over the earth the leaves have come out!
Where there was silence
the drums, the strings are incurably playing.

I am going to the soft flesh of fruit.
You did this. Pure genius at work.

In the heart of the furrow I pick
Lamb’s lettuce and violet.
Darling, the composer has stepped into fire.

My hunger, Anne, Anne!
Flee on your donkey.

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Love Denied in Massachusetts by Whitman

( a mash-up poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Justice Denied in Massachusetts” and Allen Ginsberg’s “Love Poem on Theme by Whitman”)

One

Let us abandon then our gardens and go home
And sit in the sitting room.

I’ll go into the bedroom silently and lie down between the bridegroom and
the bride,
those bodies fallen from heaven stretched out waiting naked and restless,

Shall the larkspur blossom or the corn grow under
this cloud?

arms resting over their eyes in the darkness,
bury my face in their shoulders and breasts, breathing their skin,

Sour to the fruitful seed.
and stroke and kiss neck and mouth and make back be open and known,
is the cold earth under this cloud,

legs raised up crook’d to receive, cock in the darkness driven tormented and
attacking,
fostering quack and weed, we marched upon
but cannot conquer;

roused up from hole to itching head,
bodies locked shuddering naked, hot hips and buttocks screwed into each
other,

We have bent the blades of our hoes against the
stalks of them.

 

Two

Lets us go home and sit in the sitting room.
Not in our day
shall the cloud go over and the sun rise as before,
beneficent upon us
out of the glittering bay,
And the warm winds be blown inward from the sea

and eyes, eyes glinting and charming, widening into looks and abandon,
and moans of movement, voices, hands in air, hands between thighs,

Moving the blades of corn
With a peaceful sound.

hands in moisture on softened hips, throbbing contractions of bellies
Forlorn, forlorn,
Stands the blue hay-rack by the empty mow.

till the white come flow in the swirling sheets,
And the petals drop to the ground,
Leaving the tree unfruited.

And the bride cry for forgiveness,
The sun that warmed our stooping backs and with-
ered the weed uprooted–

and the groom be covered with tears of
passion and compassion,

We shall not feel it again.
We shall die in darkness, and be buried in the rain.

Three

What from the splendid dead
We have inherited—
Furrows sweet to the grain, and the weed subdued—
See now the slug and the mildew plunder.

and I rise up from the bed replenished with last intimate gestures and kisses
of farewell—

Evil does overwhelm
The larkspur and the corn;
We have seen them go under.

Let us sit here, sit still,
Here in the sitting-room until we die;
all before the mind wakes, behind shades and closed doors in a darkened
house

At the step of Death on the walk, rise and go;
Leaving to our children’s children this beautiful
doorway,

where the inhabitants roam unsatisfied in the night,
nude ghosts seeking each other out in the silence.

And this elm,
And a blighted earth to till,
with a broken hoe.

 

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