Mary had the perfect imperfection, a small space in between her two front teeth, like Madonna or Lauren Hutton. It was just what I needed, a flaw, to help me focus every fear I had of feeling happy. Happy felt like another solar system – a curious and desired destination, I suppose, and yet unwelcome. Nothing good could come of wanting something that could be taken away because it always was. My nervous system still clawed its way through every day since two men had broken into my apartment four years prior and attacked me. Most days, I thought I was really a ghost observing the life I was meant to have if only they had climbed through a different window that night.
With Mary, I smiled easily, told funny stories, and serenaded her with Billie Holiday songs lying naked in bed. My voice copied sultry well enough. I was not at ease, but hid it well. Her optimism was deep enough to hold us both.
So there sat that small space. I suppose I could see the beautiful smile that held it. Or, I could see a young girl, one of eleven children whose father died when she was a teenager and left her mother impoverished and unprepared. Dentistry was out of the question. I could see the beauty of that space and all that held it in a long life of challenge or I could just see the space. If I focused hard enough on it, I might be safe keeping company with the flaw and believed it could help me flee if I needed to.
Early on, Mary was fifteen minutes late for a date with me and I gave her a stern lecture on punctuality. Another time, she had two beers at dinner, not one but two. Since I didn’t drink and my step father drank too much, I decided she must be an alcoholic and I almost broke up with her on the spot.
She teased! She forgot people’s names! She didn’t always get me!
I loved and needed that imperfection. I needed every single thing about Mary that I could put in my pocket to help me escape from the joy/loss possibility that is a real relationship. We moved in together, bought a house, made financial decisions about each of our graduate programs and then had kids. As the years went on, and I allowed each happiness in, I took every carefully collected imperfection and held them in my hand like a snow globe, shaking it about wildly, the flaws overtaking the scene for but a moment and then settling down harmless.
When Mary was in her forties, she decided to close up the space by wearing invisible braces for a year. She said she was tired of wearing her childhood poverty on her face. By then, I didn’t worry what I would do without it. It had served us both rather well in a life we built together in spite of the odds.
Michelle Bowdler has been published in the New York Times and has two upcoming essays in a book entitled: We Rise to Resist: Voices from a New Era in Women’s Political Action (McFarland 2018). Her essay entitled Eventually, You Tell Your Kids (Left Hooks Literary Journal) was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The Rumpus recently published her poem A Word With You as part of their series Enough! on sexual assault and rape culture. Michelle is a 2017 Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Award for Non-Fiction, will be a Fellow at Ragdale this winter and is a Boston GrubStreet Incubator alum. (https://michelle-bowdler.com/)
DNA is my totem pole, I shall not want.
It leadeth me to lie down amid terrapins at low tide:
It leadeth me beside coiled anacondas.
It restoreth my limbic brain:
It leadeth me on the tao of evolution for no one’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the herpetological vestiges
of primal fear, I will fear no amphibian or reptile,
for thou, deoxyribonucleic acid, are within me.
The helices of thy spiral of immanence guide me.
Thou preparest a swampscape in the presence
of my kindred spirits; thou anointest my mind
with imagery; imagination runneth over.
Surely turtles and tortoises shall follow me all
the dreams of human life, and I will dwell
in the burrow of oroboros forever.
Six Mile Cypress Slough après Howard Hodgkin
This is a poem in black and white
like a black-and-white warbler
in the black-and-white of midday
sun spots and spotting shadows
of wax myrtle sweet bay red maple
bald cypress in green stillness
this is a poem turning the greens
of spring in the slough into strap-fern
green green of alligator flag green of water
hyacinth in algae-green water swamp-lettuce
green green of my envy for the green camouflage
of an orb-weaver’s web empty of spider and prey
this poem swerves into the red
eye of ibis red eye of black-crowned
night heron red in the voice of cardinals
red on the marginal scutes and carapace
of turtles heating up with the day
red my blood red my blood red blood
for Colleen North
Karla Linn Merrifield
Karla Linn Merrifield, a nine-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, has had 600+ poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has 12 books to her credit, the newest of which is Bunchberries, More Poems of Canada, a sequel to Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills), which received the Eiseman Award for Poetry. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye (based in Vancouver, BC), a member of Just Poets (Rochester, NY), the Florida State Poetry Society, and The Author’s Guild. She is currently at work on three manuscripts and seeking a home for The Comfort of Commas, a quirky chapbook that pays tribute to punctuation. Visit her woefully outdated, soon-to-be-resurrected blog, Vagabond Poet, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com.
“You have a big head. Can I touch it?” she asked bluntly. The little brown hands approached my head like a priestess who was about to perform a ceremony, and give her first blessing. Her hands felt cool on my scalp that has known brutality of many other hands, combs, hot combs, perms and finally an electric raiser, (cutting my hair while sitting hunched over pages of old newspapers, on my living room floor). Once, I had to use a black eye pencil to fill in the gap from the missing chunk of hair from the electric raiser in my trembling hands.
To tremble with fear for going against tradition happens to me often. This was my first encounter with a person who felt brave enough to touch my bare head in the church. My mother has never really touched my head since my buzz cut, over twenty years. Her fear of no man marrying me because of my short hair hasn’t come true yet, but she still holds onto the hope that one day I will realize, “I need to have hair.” I will need it to preserve my beauty, I will need it to identify me clearly as a woman, I will need it to have her native land’s full acceptance. But I didn’t need it for a child’s blessing, soothing the heat of many years.
Jerrice J. Baptiste
Jerrice J. Baptiste has authored eight books. She has performed her poetry at numerous venues including the Woodstock Library’s Writers in the Mountains series in association with other noted female authors and poets in the Hudson Valley, NY. She has been published in the Crucible; So Spoke The Earth: Anthology of Women Writers of Haitian Descent, Inc; African Voices; Chronogram; Shambhala Times; Hudson Valley Riverine Anthology; Her poetry in Haitian Creole & collaborative songwriting is featured on the Grammy Award winning album: Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti, released by Spare the Rock Records LLC; upcoming Typishly Literary Journal; and the Autism Parenting Magazine (upcoming issue February 2018)