Saturday, April 16, 2011

Writing Exercise # 42

I have two cousins in the whole wide world: Frankie and Jenny. My brother and I spent most of our first ten years running around with Frankie and Jenny on the streets of Santa Ana, California as our dads drank themselves into hurricanes. When their dad (the only uncle of mine that I actually considered my Uncle) died last year, it was on the day of my dear friend Gabrielle Bouliane's memorial service. There literally was no room left inside of me to grieve. I have never properly dealt with my Uncle Frank's passing.

This morning I found out that Jenny died late last night. Complications from pneumonia. It's been horrific. She'd been in the ICU since February 27th. Her body was being ravaged daily.

For those familiar with my book Pink Elephant, Jenny has a brief appearance in my poem The Doll. Jenny was the youngest of us cousins, and the happiest. I never could understand it. She was always smiling, her eyes half-mooned to joy. She had red hair and freckles and big brown eyes. She was unlike any other person in my family.

Jenny leaves behind her three young daughters and her husband, Carlos. Her youngest turns a year old today.

Right now, I am listening to the saddest record in my collection. I am thinking about taking the people I love and hoarding them somewhere. I am thinking about underground bunkers in a field of blue children. (Have you ever read that story? By Tennessee Williams? It is one of my favorite stories of all time, and is nearly impossible to find.)

For today's exercise, I'd like you to try the following:

1. List three activities you love to do, but don't always have time for.

2. A line from a song you love and love and love.

3. Three beautiful truths.

- - -

I did not grow up with a mother. I was an angry child because of it, and my anger was dressed in a man's clothing. I did not know how to be anything but mean and violent. Brutish. Femininity was something I copied, over time, and it felt unnatural for the first three decades.

In your writing today, I want you to find a small child somewhere. You choose the where. It can be at the library, behind a romance novel. Or in the ocean. In the backseat of your car.

Take them in. Teach them how to do one of the things from #1. Understand that they might not know your language. Understand this child has had no guidance. Adapt your words to their youthful nature. Write a poem of new language if you want. Design the song lyric to be good advice, or a prayer or mantra. Remind them of #3. Let one of the beautiful truths be a god to them. A parent. A home. Or something created for this child as a gift for their many losses. Give them what they don't know they need. Something they can pass down to their own children. Something to hold onto through loneliness.

(this exercise was inspired by my brave cousin Jennifer, who had four children, despite her body's protests. After losing her first daughter, she had three more, spending nine months on bed rest for each of them. This exercise is also inspired by the loneliness and loss threaded throughout this poem, by Ofelia Zepeda, Deer Dance Exhibition.)