"Since flesh can't stay, we keep the breath aloft. Since flesh can't stay, we pass the words along." --Erica Jong

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


I like to think of people as Kurt Vonnegut's Tralfamadorians saw them in Slaughterhouse Five,--as continuous beings not unlike long caterpillars, with fat baby's legs at one end, and long, ancient legs at the other--beings forever all-one-piece, integrated and entire. Vonnegut's Tralfamadorians, seeing into the fourth dimension, perceive the universe in a radically different way:

"All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

"When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition at that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes!'"

So it goes. I am five-years-old, and they have taken me to say "goodbye" to my grandpa, who is sleeping in flowers, but he doesn't wake no matter what is said to him.

Then I am six-years-old, having another encounter with Vulture Death. I hold a brown leather dog collar. Topper was a good dog, now he is dead, run over by a truck. The truck meant no harm. The driver was sorry, and he said so. I think of all the uncounted dogs and cats and birds that died somewhere back in my childhood: Sparky and Cue-Ball, Topper, Lucky, Penny and Bobby, blue and green parakeets, Monday the sparrow, Perry the chipmunk....a boxfull of naked pink baby mice someone found in an old trunk and brought to me. Another sparrow we named Frosty. Toots, and Queenie, the last dogs of my childhood. When Topper died, for weeks afterward the very air smelled of him. He was nowhere and everywhere. And every loss brought floods of tears. When Lucky died I wrote my first poem:

There is no more puppy
to laugh with, or play.
There is no more puppy
to care for each day.

There is no more puppy
to come when I call,
there is no more puppy,
no puppy at all.

Well, it's not Shakespeare, but what d'you expect? I was eight.

Back to Vonnegut's caterpillar. I am six again, watching snakes climb up the gray folds in the window-curtains, hearing the old photographs on the walls whisper to one another of times past in quiet, paper voices. My heart thumps monstrously loud.

Whatever happened to Baby Dumpling, and the rocking chair, and all those pop bottles full of sand? Nicodemus had no shoes, so who was it stepped in all the pies? Jesus loves me, this I know. I'll be a sunbeam for him. I love Jesus. I love cats. Cue-Ball is my cat. He rides in the little buggy and sings. A sunbeam, a sunbeam, Jesus wants me for a sunbeam. Loves. By pinching is how people who love each other very much get babies.

I was stunned when mother told me how people do get babies. "Do you remember that word I told you not to say?" Mother must have been acutely embarrassed. "That's what people do." She never said the word, but that was my sex education. I knew those bizarre activities occurred, whatever they were called. But I could not imagine why anyone would want to do such things, and certainly, if they did, it didn't concern me. We never talked about "it" again.

So it goes!


pepektheassassin said...

The photo shows my dad's grandmother (Theodocia Barkdull Hatton), his grandpa (James Henry Hatton), two of their children (Mary and Maude), and Maude's husband, Loren. And somebody's baby.

Paul Bunyan said...

Nice first poem. NOw I know where I got my first story about the cat in the window...

About Me

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1. In dreams I am often young and thin with long blond hair. 2. In real life I am no longer young, or thin, or blonde. 3. My back hurts. 4. I hate to sleep alone. (Fortunately I don't have to!) 5. My great grandfather had 2 wives at once. 6. I wish I had more self-discipline. (I was once fired from a teaching position in a private school because they said I was "too unstructured and undisciplined." --Who, me??? Naaaahhh....) 7. I do not blame my parents for this. Once, at a parent-teacher conference, the teacher told me my little boy was "spacey." We ALL are, I told her. The whole fan damily is spacey. She thought I was kidding. I wasn't. 8. I used to travel with a theater reperatory company. My parents weren't happy about this. 9. My mother was afraid that I would run off and paint flowers on my cheeks and live in a commune, and grow vegetables. I once smoked pot. ONE TIME. 10. I don't drink or smoke. (Or swear, much. Well, I drink milk, and water, and orange juice, and stuff. Cocoa. I love Pepsi.) 11. Most of my friends are invisible. 12. I am a poet and a writer. All of my writing on these pages is copyrighted. Borrowing (without acknowledgment) is a sin.