joni abilene

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Month: May, 2013

Memorial Day

Grandmother Doris, who wasn’t really my grandmother, grew the nicest peonies and they always bloomed just in time for Memorial day. She lived in a two-story Victorian on the bad side of the city. It wasn’t the bad side when she moved there, but the world changed around those white walls with intricate cutouts of laced wood. My grandfather Cyril lived there with her for awhile before he died. No word was mentioned to us children of their type of relationship, just that she was Grandmother Doris if we wanted her to be.

The house was surrounded by gangs and cracked streets and a chain-link fence. Inside it was a fragile world of ceramic figurines in glass cases. There were Persian rugs and caged bird that always squawked when you came near. The wooden floors creaked under all those rugs, and it smelled like something musty and distant. Oval photos on striped wallpaper showed the faces of staring bygones. The only object we were allowed to touch in the front parlor was an electric organ. It had knobs and pedals and white and black keys that echoed with watery fusions and beats.

Grandmother Doris owned two little Chijuajuas that snarled and yapped when you entered the kitchen. Into the cellar they’d go, whining and crying like babies. And they were her babies. Our visits were their minor inconvenience in an otherwise splendid existence of cutlets and constant petting.

After a bit of chat, we’d all go to the backyard. It rolled down to a string of peony bushes: snowballs of white, pink and blush red and candy cane stripes. They smelled like old perfume, not the strong Chanel my mother dashed onto her neck before get-togethers, but a soft humid fragrance of long agos and wilting memories. Doris would fill three plastic buckets with blooms, then we’d head off to the graveyards.

Three women—my Aunt Kathleen, my mother and my faux-grandmother Doris—led us past stone markers, across hillsides, past graves untouched and overgrown with weeds, past large monuments with engravings caked in lichen, to one little stone marker for a sister long ago dead, to their aunts and uncles, and finally their mother and father. They pulled out iron vases and filled them with peony water, then the peonies themselves. Once a live thing in bright sunlight along a metal fence, now death for death in an iron vase.

Then we’d pray.

Our father who art in heaven . . . For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever . . . Hail Mary full of grace . . . 

We knelt in the sitting room of the dead, our thoughts attuned to our prayers, our voices singing together in watery beats. It was hard for us children to remember what we didn’t know, with our not-real grandmother and memories of people dead before our first breath. But it felt like we remembered something. Part of it was ours, but we couldn’t really touch and know for sure.


Must, I must . . .

I can feel it happening. Summer is killing my writing mojo. Last summer I allowed myself a brief hiatus, which turned into a full drought. The longer I went without writing, the harder it was to get motivated and the less I believed I had it in me to write again. When fall started I forced myself to pick up a pen again, and then I couldn’t stop. So, I know it’s all a state of mind. Yesterday I did not get my two pages done, but I’m telling myself that it’s OK because I wrote tons earlier in the week. Today I am determined to get those pages finished, even if the last word comes a second before midnight.

Short story collections are big right now as are non-fiction essays. I am good at both, but for some reason I can’t get motivated to write essays at the moment. I know I could kick ass, but my brain is really stuck on this novel. I’m focused on it, so worried about finishing it before fall, that I can’t concentrate on any other projects. I think once I get used to the new summer schedule I might be able to pump out my daily pages for the novel and an essay. The cool thing is, once I get a few together I’ll have another book. Not that I’m trying to be some fast, prolific book pumper-outer. I can’t stand it when people write fast and publish fast all for the fame of being published. But I do already have a good-sized grouping of essays, and a few more would make a book. That’s all.

But first, I gotta get these two pages out of my brain. Maybe a sandwich and some tea first?

Whatever Gets You Through the Night (or day) ((or afternoon))

Two-Page Joni, that’s what they call me. Every day I sit down and extract brain to fingers at least two pages of something, be it literary or lunacy. Perhaps a bit of both. Yes, definitely both. And then I pick a kid up from school. Do dishes, laundry, read. Every day’s the same. The only thing different is the weather, and even that remains unchanged sometimes so that each day clings to the other in an unending loop of bland. Why do I do it? What urges me to commit myself to such a boring and unflinching existence that would drive even a nun to flash her titties at a Mardi Gras parade? Hope. Determination.

Oh yes, and I live in Kansas. One of the most boring places on earth. There used to be Indians running around scalping people, and while I don’t wish for something like that, it would be exciting to see it happen to say . . . maybe a neighbor. But that stuff don’t happen ’round here no more. So I gotta make up stuff. You know, sex, drinkin’, shootin’. All that stuff. I amuse myself. Yep. Some folks call it crazy, but I call it fun.

Two pages a day. It saves me. I stopped smokin’ the cancer stick over ten years ago, so I gotta get my kicks outta something. I choose  words. Good old, reliable words. One after the other. Two pages worth, every day.

Gloomy Weather

May 4, 2013, Saturday, And it’s another rainy day with no hope for sun. Oh, it’s up there but not for us to enjoy, only the tops of those greedy clouds get to enjoy it. And all of space is soaking in it’s radioactive waves, sizzling and burning, but not us. We are lost in a saran wrapped world of clouds; clouds that shift and pass but never break open. I can take a day or two of clouds, but these long stretches really do a person in. I’m likely to lose myself a little every day with this gray weather. In fact, I equate my brain to the stupid clouds, always gathering, drifting, never collecting to anything grand, just constant soupy nothingness blocking out all light. I don’t want to be like that, but I can’t help it, my brain must be fueled by the sun, gelled and fueled. Perhaps my eyes are solar power vessels, soaking up the radiation and storing it inside my retinas, then passing through for usage when needed, but only enough for one day or two, not four. Certainly not a week. A week of darkness is like death. Like being in a coffin. And the rain looks pretty on glass, but I am stuck and sick and longing for the sun.