to Hold On To
the Yurok tribe, when a loved one dies
the men cut their hair.
slice braids thick as boat rope.
so alive, so lush, you wonder
it feels the rip.
hovers over the coffin, has forgotten
tears at the Back Door Bar,
the black braid
to his closed-eyed mother.
give up our hair so the Creator
something to hold on to, he tells me,
pull his mother to the other side -
sacrificial braid to swoop mother up
a kite into heaven.
you died, Brother -
your own weapon
a set of asylum sheets, with a rip
a wring and a perfect running knot –
looped the tear drop noose
your neck until it fit
tight for life and twisted
breath into death -
you died, our vain father
up his hair.
slid down the holes
his hell. And what little was left
to silver-white ash.
we went to gather
remains of your life.
empty wallet and a knot of clothes
a wrinkled paper bag,
used it was soft as a dust cloth.
you died, had I known,
would have gladly sliced
thin blond hair, year after year,
the sun-bleached strands
braided them together to create
rope-ladder. I’m unsure
this god and his power,
there must be somewhere better
where you’ve been,
9 - While I served up cocktails at our yearly New Year’s
Eve party, Mother announced to the crowd that to be perfectly
honest, she disdained all children under the age of twelve.
20 – My dad stood by the head of the coffin. He was
swatting flies and cursing the church because the cooler was
broken. A fly flew up my grandmother’s nose and didn’t
come out. My father closed his eyes, turned his head and said,
Jesus Christ! Who’s in charge of this place anyway?
32 - After a breakfast of saltines, I watched the dot on the test
strip turn dark blue. Oh baby, don’t worry your pretty
little head, he said. He patted a bulge on his ass and added, I
got the cash. When I woke up I saw the backside of the broad
hipped nurse. She was humming “Ain’t too proud to
beg” and tapping the counter with a tongue depressor.
18 - At the end of a lunch shift, my boss leaned in and murmured,
here kid, then handed me a scrap of folded paper. It read –
call your dad. Shivering at a pay-phone I heard my father say,
your brother is dead. He hung himself. He didn’t leave a
note. I squashed a water-bug with the heel of my shoe. I
heard its shell snap. Dad, I said, I’m out of quarters.
19 - Mom called about the divorce. Asked if I would testify for
her in court. When I asked why now, she said, somebody’s
going to get killed - and I’m not so sure it’s me
21 - I told my Mom that I intended to marry a man who I was in
love with but who was also my best friend. She choked on a gulp
of vodka, let out a raspy Ha! and said, Jesus Christ, when are
you going to grow up?
13 - My brother and I visited my mom at the mental hospital. My
mom had her suitcase packed like she did every day. Joy, the
nurse, began to unpack it like she did every day. She pointed to
an empty cot and said to me, Well, look over there little lady,
we’re saving a bed for you!