de(tales): mask

DSC_5042 via kimberlyanncoyle.com

They filled storefront windows down each canal and street. Most were cheap copies, a garish rainbow of colors with fake feathers dyed to match. The outdoor carts strung them along lengths of ribbon, and each time we passed the masks, my daughter snuck behind them and tried one on.

“What do you think of this one, Mommy?” She said. “Which one is the prettiest?” Glitter rubbed off and clung to her face. I tried to explain the masks were just a tourist trap, an ugly blight on the authentic face of this floating city.

She wanted to spend her pocket money…

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Today, I have the great pleasure of writing at Cara Strickland’s place, contributing to her fantastic de(tales) series. To read the rest of the story, join me at Cara’s blog, Little Did She Know. Check out the de(tales) archives while you’re there.

Sink reflections

This week, I have the honor of hosting Concrete Words, where we practice writing the abstract by using a concrete word as our prompt. I’m filling in for Nacole, the writer who currently hosts concrete words, and I’m sending a big thanks to Amber Haines, the poet who dreamed it up in the first place. Would you consider linking up this week? I would love to visit and sit a spell with your words.

Today’s concrete word is The Sink.

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The kids line up like soldiers behind blue bowls filled with milk and cereal. Slumped and rumpled soldiers, but soldiers nonetheless. I stand like a general astride his horse, behind my sink, ready to give out the daily marching orders. We circle the hours of the day like footmen, counting around the clock as we discuss the duties that lie ahead. Breakfast, then brushing–hair, teeth and the like. Make the beds, pack the bags, don’t forget your instrument/book/good attitude.

We talk about who goes where and when, and I brandish my kitchen knife like a saber, cutting through air and  morning minutes before starting in on the strawberries I’ll pack for their lunch. Gone are the mornings spent drinking in the sun and steaming tea and sleepy bed-headed babes. Those days disappeared with the toddler dimpled hands and gummy grins. Now we are all business.

I miss the days when life was a rhythm and not a march. When the hours stretched long like shadows on a sidewalk. These days fly past in a blur of drop off’s and pick up’s and playdates. I would rather stand behind the sink and compose music instead of orders, poems instead of to-do lists. I don’t know how to do both.

And so, we soldier on and we fife and drum our way through the day until nothing remains except the last scrub of the sink before the lights go out.

******* I apologize for any confusion over the linky. I have no idea how to set one up properly and I am technologically challenged at best! Thanks for bearing with me, and if you find the link doesn’t work for you, feel free to add your link in the comments. I’d love to visit and read your words.

The Truck

Today’s post is an exercise in concrete words, where we practice writing the abstract by using a concrete word as our prompt. This is new for me, challenging too, and an excellent way to practice the craft of writing. I’m joining Nacole as she currently hosts concrete words, and Amber Haines, who dreamed it up in the first place.

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I sat two rows back and to the right. The classroom fit enough chairs for twenty, leaving a decent sized gap at the front of the room for the teacher to pace with a smeared blackboard as his backdrop. It smelled like chalk, and a thin film of white dust clung to the edges of the room. He came from Africa and his accent grew thicker when he discussed books, he spoke with such passion I often had to strain to understand him. We loved books in the same way, and where I grew quiet with my love, his boomed and echoed off the windows at the back of the room.

This morning, he didn’t discuss other people’s stories. Instead, he told us one of his own. I expected the rise and fall of his voice, the thickening vowels and misplaced accents, but instead, he told it in a near whisper. He spoke of a day, like any other day in his village. One of boyhood and innocence and friendship. He and a few friends piled into the back of a pick-up truck and they drove down dirt roads, kicking up dust and feet without regard for safety. They were boys, young ones, and I imagine they rough-housed and stood up in the truck bed and breathed deep the smell of African soil beneath its wheels. And the details remain hazy, either on my part or his, but I remember this–he watched his best friend die that day, thrown from the truck onto the hot, hard earth.

He cried when he told it. All I could see was the boy, grown inside the man, weeping at the loss. I felt tears prick my eyes too, but most of the class remained unmoved. They said, well, that was sad, and then they ate Doritos and ham sandwiches and begged each other for a quarter to buy a coke. In twenty years, I haven’t forgotten. I’ve held his story and loved it with a quiet desperation because a grown man still cared enough to cry. Some stories need to be told with passion and a voice that makes the windows shake, and some must be told in tears and near-whispers. Some stories need us to meet them in the dust and cry too.

The Dress

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I thought perhaps she did it on purpose. What she managed to do to my hair was hateful enough, but the dress? It was too much for a fifth-grade girl to bear. We battled first over a red-hot curling iron, she curled under when I specifically requested she curl it out. She believed in the beauty of the dual-purpose haircut, styled one way for family photographs, and the other when I had charge of my own head every other day of the year.

The tears flowed fresh when she entered the room with the dress. We’d fought over this one before. It was her favorite, and conveniently, the only one that fit my still-short frame. I railed, I threatened, I begged. And I still have a photograph of me wearing it with my hair curled under and a pair of thin white socks pulled up to my knees.

We posed for the photo in the school library, and upon arrival I thanked God that the corridor leading to the library, now makeshift photo studio, stood empty. I felt awful enough, I didn’t need witnesses. I posed in my blue plaid dress, collar turned down, roughed up knees exposed, socks yanked as high as they would go. I tried to hide behind the fullness of my hair, but the photographer continued to tilt my face towards the light.

With a final click, we finished and my relief washed down some of the residual frustration. We exited the library and made it halfway down the hall before Jennifer arrived. Jennifer of the perfect hair, and non-plaid dress, and green cat-shaped eyes. Our parents engaged in small talk and she looked at me without saying a word. She never spoke a word, and still I recall the first feeling her silence evoked. I felt shame.

I’d like to say it was the dress, or the hair gone wildly wrong. But shame showed up when I realized I had no where to hide. I stood utterly exposed. And I imagine it’s much like standing naked in a garden, with hair that isn’t long enough to hide what’s been done, and more than a patch of skin at the knee is showing, and a voice like a rushing wind calling. And inevitably, we’re forced to turn our face towards the light.

I never wore that dress again, but I still know the heavy fabric and deep weave of a dress made from shame. I know too, that I can’t escape the light, but as I lift up my head and stand exposed, the revealing brings with it a white-hot scorched healing.

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Today’s post is an exercise in concrete words, where we practice writing the abstract by using a concrete word as our prompt. This is new for me, challenging too, and an excellent way to practice the craft of writing. I’m joining Tanya Marlow as she currently hosts concrete words, and Amber Haines, who dreamed it up in the first place.