Monday, May 29, 2006

More Painting

It has been another weekend
of painting and the welcome of
summer humidity.

Some of our recent accomplishments...

living room

our bedroom

guest room

the end of many days...

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Horses in the Streets

One of the things I love
about our neighborhood
is the horses.

Just the other day
after washing out our paint brushes
we watched three kids
riding bareback
meander down the block
and as I left school earlier in the week
two horses were trotting past the door.

This is THE CITY.
And to see some horses
poke their heads between
the lines of rowhouses
past boarded up buildings
with some barefooted kids
continues to astound me.

The horses, more than likely,
belong to the Arabbers.
They have a stable a few blocks away
and during the day
the horses pull along
a red and yellow cart
of fruits and vegetables.

Back in the day,
they brought fresh produce to
urban neighborhoods
from farms along the Eastern shore.

Today, they got to the same warehouses
as the grocery stores
only without much refrigeration
the produce is worse, not better.
This makes for a charming spectacle
and watermelons and lettuce
unfit to eat.

But what I love
is that it's like another world
or a different country
where the contrast of city streets
and skinny horses clopping
past the roller rink
holding up traffic
is like a moment from
another time
reaching back from the past
and falling into this

Where is this city?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Coming of Age

Nisha's sister Brita brought
her baby up to school today.

She's fifteen--
a mother for nine days
holding this tiny man

We passed him around
cooed and aaahhed
and smiled.

Then passed him back
to his mama
who I remember
at eleven
standing on stage
for a job well done
certificate in hand.

This little one
in a few short years
will trot through the doors
of our school

Babies growing up
to be children
girls growing up
to be mothers

May you both know kindness
to get you through the long nights
when morning seems
forever away

Monday, May 22, 2006

Another Weekend

of painting.

T. and I spent Friday evening
at Home Depot
waiting for our colors to be mixed
by a tall, skinny, limping boy
frazzled by the line.
It was two hours before
we could leave with
15 gallons of paint in tow.

With help from some family and friends
we got the first coats of color.
Things are beginning to look more like a home.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Oscar of Baja Fresh

So about three years ago
my friend K. returned from her summer
of having kids buy cigarettes in California
(a study of who would sell
to underage children)
loving Baja Fresh
where they would often eat
between hitting convenience stores for a "smoke"

A mere few months later
we discovered TWO Baja Fresh locations
in the not-so-distant suburbs.
Practically in our backyard
compared to California.

I can't lie. We went to Baja Fresh a lot.
Once-a-week a lot.
And so the counter-guy, Oscar,
began to recognize us
Hey! How are you tonight?
How has your week been?
he'd greet us on a Thursday evening.

While there seems something quaint
about being a regular at, say,
a local coffee shop,
there is something far less quaint
about being a regular at an
upscale fast-food establishment.

But you smile and say
how do you do
while rushing off to the soda machine.

The Baja Fresh days waned,
grew more infrequent,
there'd be a stop on the weekends
when Oscar didn't work.

But now that yoga ends at 7:30
just down the block
it only makes sense to stop
for a burrito before I head home.

So a few weeks ago
Oscar was at the counter, like always.
Hey! How are you doing?
And your name is...wait...let me guess...Emily!
Am I right?
smile and nod
Well, you just made my night Emily!

This should be my sign--
that I'm a regular at a burrito chain in the suburbs
and I don't even live in the suburbs.
Maybe it's time to cut back.

Now, when I go to Baja Fresh
whether I'm in his line or not
Oscar beams his greeting:
Hello Emily! How are you tonight?

I'd rather be annonymous
just another face passing by
I'd rather there was more staff turnover
so I could order my burrito ultimo
without fanfare.

But how many people in the world
take the time
to remember our name
and greet us with kindness
no matter the day.

Thanks, Oscar.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Paint Brushes

On Saturday we took to our house
and with rollers and trays
we primed the whole thing
in only nine hours
our walls covered with white--
backs sore from bending
to reach the tricky ceilings
we had reached the beginning...

On Sunday we wandered down
to the old train station to see
MICA's senior art show
scotch tape dispenser wreaths
a fountain of pastry bags and coke
a star of lard and cardboard
behind the installations
shoved in corners
were paint-filled rollers and ironing boards
the materials used
to set a show in motion

The same tools
bring us art and home--
giving us a new eye
on our world

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Girl Talk

Are you going to come to my sleepover?
Kyrra whispers across the row to Whitney
What sleepover?
Oh? You didn't know? Kyrra smiles.

Of course Kyrra knows she doesn't know.
That's why she says it,
why it's followed by a coy smile
the power of using "kindness"
to include and exclude

There must be fifty exchanges
like this a day
a complicated language of
smiles, sighs, rolling eyes,
sucking teeth, whispers, notes,
invitations, threats, gossip...
each interaction is a code
to be deciphered
analyzed and then
a crafting of
the perfect response.

I watch it unfold
try to prevent the fall out
and remember my own days
as a twelve year old girl
when you never knew where you stood
and the rules always changed
so you could never trust a friend.

You can't punish cruel intention
like a punch in the nose
this legacy passed down
from girl to girl
from decade to decade
all perpetrators
all victims

our own worst enemies.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mourning the Dead

My colleague B.
has been reading slave narratives
with her class.
What hits me, she says
is that slaves eventually forgot
to mourn the dead.

We don't mourn here.

Is this what happens
when violence becomes

Kids who tighten up their hearts
small and sharp
as a bullet
so they are always moving
not thinking
not feeling
just making it
to the next day?

And in the name of education
the test
the achievement gap
we carry on with
reading and writing
shuffling over grief
knowing if we touch it
a grenade will explode
and we will be left
with wreckage.

Even elephants grieve--
bury the bones
of the departed,
take a moment
to remember.

What do you do in a city
where 253 murders is a good year,
down from one-a-day?
We don't have time
or heart enough
to remember
but forgetting--
condemns us.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Junkies Have Families Too

Lawanda came running in from gym:
Nisha's in the bathroom cleaning up
because she smells alkholik


You know, alcoholic!
She picked up a can
spun around and now she smells

she smells like old beer
which is what she dumped
on her skirt and shoes
twirling back from the littered field.
Back in class,
she resourcefully covers up with some flowery
body spray, now smelling
of beer and gardenias.

We move into a discussion of culture
as we compare life for women
in our neighborhood to life for women
around the world.

All cultures have family...
I begin.

Junkies don't have families Dejene yells out
Junkies do too have families! Lawanna retorts
Everyone has a family

Everyone has a family--
people bound to us
no matter what our choices
drugs or beer at parks
people who have their eye
on our left ear
even when we're wandering aimlessly
down the street

To my lost little girls--
may you find family.

The kind that will
stretch out their hands
across miles
to help you grow tall
a spiky rose
in a dirty field
littered with forties and vials

may you be
the strong ones.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How I Found Myself at Burger King after Yoga

Lawanna pushed all my buttons
at the end of today
so that I left school proclaiming
I'm going to yoga so I can relax
which I did successfully
until I rolled out of the parking lot
to get my Baja Fresh burrito
before heading back home.

Flat tire.

My '92 subaru has been a champ
with the breaking down from time to time
but the tires!
every other month it's a flat tire
rotating through to one or the other
twice they've gone flat while I'm in the left lane
zipping up the highway
so I was thankful to be merely in the suburbs
a stone's throw from the yoga place

I should put AAA in my phone
(the cell I finally decided to get
after a tire blow out summer '04)
at 7:50 they say someone will be there by nine
I make some phone calls, write some lists
look for tow trucks.
No luck.

By nine I call again.
Half-hour the dispatcher cheerily reports
I fiddle with the radio
realize I need to pee
and think about how I haven't eaten since lunch
which was merely cheese and crackers

My thankfulness for safe harbor
sinks into irritation
(I'm not a happy hungry person)
as the minutes tick by
and all the yogapeacefulness
starts to tighten up again

9:20 the phone rings
15 minutes sorry for the delay
yes. me too.

of course, at this point in my tire life
I should be changing tires like AAA pros
but they have easily accessible jacks
while I need to rumage through my teacher trunk
past the blankets, shovel (winter)
lawn chair (summer)
school supplies (you just never know)
and an ecclectic group of other items
to get to the spare
let alone a jack

Tire repaired
I head on back to the city
trying to think of where I might find some food
at this late hour
the burrito a dashed hope at nine
I settle on a little place with good sandwiches
Can I get something to go?
Um, we just closed the kitchen.

It's the time after 10.
And this is how I land in the Burger King
drive-through because you can't walk-in
after ten, which I prefer
because the driver's side window on the '92 subaru
won't roll down

I do not believe a junior whopper with cheese
should ever follow a yoga class
but some things do not go as we plan
so you give thanks
for a phone to call from
for AAA
a car to drive
and food to eat

It's enough.