Category Archives: LAFPI

RAIN

by Diane Grant

It’s the New Year and yesterday it was raining!  Hooray!

It wasn’t a big rain. There was a sprinkling on the windows and the roads are getting slick, but I’m not breaking out the umbrella yet.  (I always keep one by my desk at work – an old habit.)

When I was a kid in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, rain was a good part of my life.  I had a beautiful white slicker, red gumboots, and many different colored bandanas.  Ready for anything, hoping for a squall. 

One of the delights of childhood was in watching the worms in the rain puddles (cheap fun for all and of course, the boys would jump on them.) And it was so lovely and comforting at night, lying warm and cozy in bed, listening to the pounding on the windows.

No one ever said, “Help, it’s raining.”  We said, “There’s a bit of a mist today.  Better take an umbrella.” And we said that about seven months of the year.   I remember more than one of those umbrellas being blown inside out by the wind and rain working together.  Great fun!

 One of my favorite movies of all times is Singing In The Rain

Perfect casting, great plot, and dancing to die for. (I saw one interview with Debbie Reynolds, who said that they rehearsed the dancing until her feet bled.)   Every once in a while, my brain starts “Moses supposes his toeses are roses” and I feel happy.

THE NEXT Day

Well, that was wishful thinking.  It’s another beautiful clear day without a hint of mist!  But I’m hoping.

And, of course, I can go for a walk in the sun!

Love to all,

Diane

Kitchen Sink Trauma

by Leelee Jackson

I’ve always  hated the  term Kitchen Sink Realism. Not that I  hate the plays that fall under the category but that’s not my reality. I keep coming  back to this hard truth. The reality that I am a person who has lost love over dirty dishes. It is the most embarrassing reality I’ve had to face in my adult life, and I’ve endured some major failures. But this by far towers over them all. 

So I want to write about it. 

I used to consider myself a pretty clean person. It was clearly subjective, because of course I think that, I’m supposed to think that. No one’s ever like, “i’m hella dirty, lol, wanna live together?” That would be stupid. But over the years I’ve learned that being clean (or not so clean) is not only subjective, it can also be a response to trauma. 

If you grew up in a working poor family and identify as a person of color, being home alone might feel  like a for real luxury, because growing up, rarely ever was the home empty. Cousin need a place to crash until they can get back on they feet and there’s a couch and shelf in a closet so there’s space. Uncle just got out of prison and grandma begged your parents to take him in because her house is full and the foster people don’t allow former convicts in the house with kids anyways. Brother got his  girlfriend pregnant and her parents kicked her out. And the babies sleep in the other room gon be there until we find where they mama or daddy is. 

I grew up  with at first two working parents, and then just 1. As my father’s physical health declined, he was forced to leave the workforce and remain on disability for a great portion of my life. From ages 11 until 23, I saw my  dad cook, clean everything (or yell at us for not cleaning everything) and watch grandbabies. I was fortunate  to get to see him in that way. See him all the time at home, watching tv. Even with  my dad being at home all the time,  we (whoever was living there) was expected to clean up after ourselves. Though, we did not. 

The year was 1998. I was was 9 and my sister was 11. My grandmother fostered a kid who was between the age of my sister and I and at the time, we lived in my maternal grandma’s house, with  a bunch of uncles and cousins. And of course, we were responsible for cleaning the kitchen. In my family, cleaning the kitchen is washing the dishes, every single one of them, cleaning the counters and stove top, sweeping and mopping the floor and taking out all the trash. Nothing should be left out. Nothing should be sticky. My paternal grandma, she didn’t play the whole dishes in the sink game. She didn’t play none that dirty shit. I honestly loved going over my grandma’s house in Oakland (paternal) partly because she let us eat whatever we wanted and I never had to clean the dishes. But my maternal grandmother cooked every meal and with so many people living in one house, the dishes quickly piled, spilling out the sink onto the countertop and floor like a neglected infection. From breakfast to lunch, it would look like a restaurant scene in a movie where the caught dine and dashers have to roll up their sleeves and bust some suds. And every evening, guess who had to clean it? The preteens. Not my brothers and older cousins who were in high school at the time, and not my little cousins who were too young to clean right. The big kids. Personally, as a 31 year old, I wouldn’t trust a 9 year old to clean dishes right. And I didnt! I would throw away dirty dishes to avoid cleaning them and not bother to even rinse off the stubborn fruity pebbles before I put the bowl in the dishwasher (yes I grew up with dishwashers) which doesn’t clean but santizes. I left all tupperware in the sink to “soak” and I’d always have to redo the dishes in the morning for doing such a bad job in the evening. And still, I was expected to do a good job. But this one time, my sister was washing, I was rincing, and Sean, (the fostered 10 year old boy) was supposed to be putting the dishes away and wiping down the counters, helping. But he was in the den with the bigger kids talking about some, “clean my dishes woman” and all them foo’s was laughing and carrying on. My sister was so mad. She said, “As soon as I finish this last dish, Ima just take off on him.” I was going much slower then she was and had already thrown away a few knives anyways so I didn’t care too much that he wasn’t helping. I knew my grandma was gonna give him a whoopin for showing out like that. I couldn’t wait to tell. But my sister was serious. After tossing the last fork in the murky rinse water,  with soap up to her elbows, she went in there and beat his ass. I remember her shadow from the  den,  bleeding  in the  kitchen like a Kara Walker art  piece that made you feel pain and pleasure.  And all the big kids laughing at Sean getting whopped by a girl. She beat that boy so bad, my grandma had to take him to the hospital. 

After moving out of my grandmas house (that time) we got a little two bedroom apartment. I have 7 brothers and sisters. At any given moment, with cousins, friends and girlfriends, we would have up to 13 people staying with us at one time. Again, a lot of dirty dishes. My parents tried to assign days and weeks but it didn’t  work. They’d come home to not one clean cup to drink water from. They would go off on one of my brother’s and he would go off on me. Toss me around. Force me in the kitchen and block the entry way until I cleaned every dish. I’d throw things at him and punch him as hard as I could but he wouldn’t budge and he wouldn’t let me out until I had to take out the trash (again, full of dirty dishes). And no matter how many times they told us not to at church, I knew then what hate felt like. I hated being in that kitchen, screaming and crying until I lost my voice. And I hated my brother for forcing me to stay there. 

My sister and I often reminisce about our first apartment together, “I hated living with you. You never cleaned the kitchen.”I argue with her and tell her that it’s not true. That I would clean the kitchen all the time and didn’t have a problem with cleaning it and she retorts “when you feel like it. NOT when it needs to get done.” which is true. I don’t like to be forced, (ya think?!) but I didn’t have the language then to explain  something as simple and real as my feelings. 

Later in life, my housemate at the time (and my favorite cousin on my dad side) would talk to me often about cleaning up after myself. She would never yell or anything but I’d get really anxious and start accidently breaking dishes and scrubbing them really fast and hard to the beat of my heart. 

In undergrad, I had a housemate  who brother lived with us on campus. She would clean up after him and sometimes we let the dishes get crazy (no dishwasher). I remember calling a house meeting to strategize what would work best and she just started cleaning everything all the time. I think she felt bad that her brother was kind of messy and he was living there rent free. So she went into overdrive and became really clean and particular about everything. He moved out after the first quarter and I felt like it was because of me, or she felt like it was because of me. But instead of talking about it, she just got upset when I left dishes in the sink or smoked on the balcony or had friends over. But it was all taken out on the dishes that I didn’t clean. 

For a long time, I thought I was just lazy. That’s all I had known lazy was, a person who didn’t clean up after themselves. I accepted but I didn’t feel like a lazy person. Maybe messy, but not lazy. I had issues with being told or forced to clean up after myself. When I lived in an international housing community for a few years, we also had days of the week where one person was responsible for cleaning the kitchen (though we all were responsible for taking care of our dishes and our guest dishes). It sometimes worked and sometimes it didn’t. Maybe I had finals and wouldn’t even think about doing my day, or a different housemate who was a teacher, would not even bring her dirty dishes from her car the first few weeks of the school year. So we didn’t expect her to clean the kitchen and because there were 6 to 7 people living there, we were pretty flexible. It often got dirty but never too dirty, restaurant dirty. Every Monday evening after dinner, we all cleaned the kitchen together. All of us. One washing, one drying, one collecting dirty dishes and one putting away the leftover food. We would all clean the kitchen and I never felt angry, or hate or forced. I honestly felt good. Whenever I go over a friend’s house, I always offer to clean the kitchen, like I want to do it. I love serving them in that way, especially after I ate all they food. I didn’t feel lazy then. But I felt lazy in my home. 

Lazy- feeling your heartbeat out your chest and being so exhausted with the thought of being in the kitchen that you need to sleep it off for a while. Work up some courage. 

I didn’t have the language then to know that I was responding to a traumatic experience over and over again. It wasn’t until my last housemate (and one of my best friends) moved out and though he didn’t tell me, I know it was partially because of how fucked up the kitchen would get and for how long it remained that way. I’d sometimes wake up in a panic, feeling  like I needed to clean the kitchen before he saw it, just to see that he cleaned it already. I hated that he cleaned the kitchen, I mean I was grateful he was doing something I didn’t (and sometimes couldn’t) do, but in a way I felt like that was a soapy fist to my jaw. I’d swear to myself it wouldn’t happen again, like a triflin man trying to get back with his girl after breaking what’s left of her heart, “baby please, I won’t do it no mo’!”…until I do. 

My housemates had nothing to do with my trauma, though I can see how they must have felt disrespected by my lack of action. Maybe even like I was trying to attack them personally when I was just trying to defend myself. I had no clue. I didn’t mean to. I  honestly just thought I was lazy. 

In a workshop I attended led by poet Morgan Parker, as a writing prompt, she asked us to write about the room we were in. It could be any room from any time and we  had to write a poem about it. What it looks like. How it smells. I was transported to the hall leading to the kitchen I was trapped in as a child. All the doors were shut and the black trash bags of dirty clothes enveloped me. It  smelled like mildew. The only  safety was the  kitchen. A tiny window on the wall for fresher air. I thought I’d rather be here, but I should have known. 

Trauma is the worst! My friends who I lived with, who I don’t talk to anymore and who I once called love, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for my trauma to get on you. I’ve always hated the term kitchen sink realism anyways. They say it  as if kitchen is a neutral location. A place where women gossip and men eat and ponder big  decisions. But what about the fights that broke out over  stained pots and pans? The punches thrown with no resolution? After the food’s gone and the audience has left, who’s  stuck with the mess? 

I have so many stories that flood my memory about  fights breaking out over in the kitchen  or  over some dirty dishes.  First fights  and screaming matches that on stage would feel like a  bad play  you wanna  get out of. I don’t have a healthy solution. Other than writing and  going to therapy, I often have to remind myself that if I do it wrong or later, I won’t be punished. I ask for help if I need it and try not to get upset. I put on music and dance, liberating my body’s inner child and soaking last night’s dinner plate, telling her, “see it aint so bad sometimes.”. Decolonizing the space and my body that has to be there.  

the Price of Settling…

by Robin Byrd

There is a cost for everything – the biggest question is how much do you want to pay?

Lately, I have been researching a lot of things that seem random and disconnected – history, geography, post-traumatic stress, women’s issues, world class lies, isolation, and COVID. As a writer, mining for story is a regular event.  The problem, this time, is the mass intake of information and not knowing what it will be used for.  With all this extra knowledge, I feel like I should map directions to a new project.  I am just not sure what that project needs to be.  There is usually an arrow that lights up “go this way” but this time there is no arrow just continuous downloading of information. 

Questions, I am asking myself:

If you find out something was a lie, how do you handle the material that you wrote based on that lie?  Is it now considered a fictional account? 

Do you settle for what you now know to be false and leave it as is or do you correct it? 

What will it cost you to leave it?  Sleepless nights, self-esteem, integrity, or simply a ripple in time…

What is the price of settling, if you do nothing and just move forward?

What is the cost if you go back with what you know now and rewrite?  Rewrite.   That’s a word that triggers anxiety, it’s like losing your whole identity.  Paradigm shifts are hard especially when they are tied to your life and your work.

The act of writing can be an act of purging… I just want to always write my truth even when it changes, even when the bread crumbs that have just now become visible lead me to a place I had no idea existed.

I guess the price of settling to me is worth revisiting… it’s more about getting a sure footing in order to move forward and less about what it costs to get that sure footing…

A New Word and Old Word

A year ago, I don’t think I had ever heard of Covid-19.  When I did hear of it, I knew it sounded nasty.  Why 19?  I looked it up.  It’s an acronym that stands for coronavirus disease of 2019. 

Now, suddenly, everyone’s heard of Covid-19!  Should it be Covid 19-20? I hope not Covid 21!

It looks like this:

According to a report on my computer’s last update, October 21, there were 41,104,946 confirmed cases and 1,128,325 deaths in the world.  Astounding!

When I was a child, we heard about the bubonic plaque.  Horror stories were passed about in school and I remember one story about a woman in France, who knocked on a door, went inside when the door opened, and WAS NEVER SEEN AGAIN. There were sayings, “He avoided me as if I had the bubonic plaque!

(It’s still around, apparently but can be cured.  It’s not the Black Death of old.)

And then there’s that new old word Zoom!  I have always thought that Zoom was something that the road runner did – beep, beep, and then he’d zoom far out of Wiley Coyote’s reach!”

Well, I looked it up!  The word means whizz along, which is certainly what the road runner does.

1886, of echoic origin. Gained popularity c. 1917 as aviators began to use it. As a noun from 1917. The photographer’s zoom lens is from 1936, from the specific aviation sense of zoom as “to quickly move closer.”

Then, of course, I had to look up “echoic” –  adjective – of or like an echo.

I have a very old motheaten Oxford dictionary which I’ve kept for sentimental reasons. I haven’t looked at it yet to see what it has to say about zoom.

It’s such fun to work on a computer because you can zoom!  And learn things so fast!

However, I still like to find a good book and curl up in a chair and read.  When I was young, we had a big floral living room chair that I loved and I could sit there for hours with my nose in a book.  My brother loved to see me sitting there and when all was quiet, he would creep up and suddenly shout, “Boo.”  And I, of course, would shout, “Mother!!!!”  And someone would say, “Leave your sister alone.”

I no longer have a big floral chair but I still like to curl up and read.  Today, my husband and I went for a walk and came across one of the delightful kiosks of free books.  And had a look, of course.  We found Famous Father Girl, A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein, by Leonard Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie.  Joy!

So, I’m off to read!

Sending love and wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Diane

Imagination

by Analyn Revilla

A friend of mine and I have been exchanging a daily list of 5 things we’re grateful for via email.  We’re now on our 7 month, and I hope we continue this for the rest of our lives.  One time he listed “Imagination”.  

Thinking about the meaning of imagination I begin to understand that imagination is a tool we all have access to only if we allow ourselves the luxury of time to practice it.  It is a practice, like other forms of discipline.  

Imagination allows us to to go places where we physically can’t go – the outer edges of the universe.  Imagine.  

With our imagination we have created other tools to give body to something we’ve imagined.  For example, math and science to map the galaxies.  With imagination we think about the possibilities of life on other planets other than our own.  Statistically, scientists have hypothesized that the probability of life beyond the Milky Way is possible.  So we endeavor to explore and build spacecrafts and probes and radars to reach out.  “Hey, is there anybody out there?”

With imagination we can empathize and know what it’s like to be in someone else’s position – their joy, pain, sorrow, guilt, shame, contentment, dreams.  It is effort to practice imagining a situation; it is a form of surrendering our ego to something beyond ourselves.

You’ve probably heard someone say “I can’t imagine…” after telling them a story that is either unbearable or unbelievable.  Then you say, “It’s true.  It really happened.”  And the other person still can’t accept the story as a possibility.  Later on, she may think further about it, and allow her imagination to go there and then start to believe in the possibility.  And tendrils of sympathy may grow from empathy into believing.

Yes.  Imagination is something to be grateful for.  

How else could we have hope to get through this period of isolation and uncertainty.  Just imagine it without having an imagination.

The Search for Water…

THE LONG HOT SUMMER

At rise, inside a 1960s apartment building.  Hundred-degree days, a waning water supply and the dire need to stay in a creative space, the protagonist gathers the almost empty bottles; she pours them into one bottle, scavenges for more in bags around her home.  She can make it to the day before payday if she rations herself…  Inside an old purse she finds a five-dollar bill stuck between two receipts.  PROTAGONIST breaks out in a victory dance, slow and off beat, dehydration is cruel.

PROTAGONIST (singing)

HOT DAMN, WATER, WATER

WHAT? WHAT? WATER, WATER

                           (pause)

——–

I could have never imagined that the world would start to have hints of the BIRD BOX or the BOOK OF ELI real time and that in the midst of “working from home,” the competing stress factor would be water or the lack thereof.  So yes, I danced around a bit then promptly left for the store to restock.

The dehydration lasted a few days longer than expected, symbolically tied to the minimal writing I have been doing.  My whole self has been crying out for community…  I took a webinar on grief through Hedgebrook just for that reason.  The Webinar, “The Sixth Stage: Possibilities for Awe and Wonderment When Writing Grief” with Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili, and its ‘holding space’ was a profoundly refreshing experience.  Hedgebrook offers a lot of webinars that can be a source of gathering during this time.  This was my first one which I took on grief because I seem to be living there as of late.  Grief encompasses real estate like a swarm of bees heading home to the honeycomb looking for the sweet refuge of its cavernous walls.  Hovering over loss like a tornado, it’s the bitch that won’t go away easily, not without a fight, not without drawing the last bit of blood.  With the death of one of my cousins and one of my dear friends, my body which has been keeping score has begun to scream, “do over, do over.”  There’s no such pleasure…

What’s left is what’s left. Or, is there a way to change something – some part – of this madness?

Maybe the do over is in the expelling of the stinger and the adding of salve and alcohol.  It does help when you write about it.  Even when there’s so much of it that it can fill two lifetimes, writing moves it on it way.

I am missing the pieces of me frozen in the walls, my fingers and toes have started tingling, waking up, moving, they don’t know there’s no such thing as do over’s.  Maybe I won’t tell them, maybe I’ll just wait and see if this leads to deep welled water… deeper than this grief. Maybe it’s flowing upward from underground just waiting for me to believe so it can burst forth…

There is a wonderful article “Letter from Oakland: Black Motherhood in Sleepless Times by Idrissa Simmonds-Nastili on the Literary Hub site at https://lithub.com/letter-from-oakland-black-motherhood-in-sleepless-times/

An elephant’s ass….

by Robin Byrd

the elephant – and his fat ass – is sitting on my arm, squashing my chest

his feet protruding through the walls

destructive

and he smells

like centuries of hippopotamus-shit caked in his skin

imagine elephant ass/hippopotamus shit

from where I’m lying, I can only see thick gray folds of wrinkly, wrinkly skin with gobs of hippo-shit smeared across the folds

crumbling off that ass onto me

damn elephant

get off me!

NOW!

he slowly raises that ass up off me

the pressure lingering

the tightness

got me searching for aspirin, tylenol, something

found two pills in what looked like a 2006 package

gonna have to take a chance

if I can just burp

the bubble is lodged dead center of my clavicle

feels like that ass never left my chest

In the morning I burped

It came rolling out like a

Sheila E riff

pure glory!

Dig…

by Robin Byrd

Dig through the wall in their sight, and carry your belongings out through it.”  Ezekiel 12:5

this

is the unearthing unburying re-birthing of the offspring of praise

emerging from the fields covered in a red clay-like bag of waters

clenching smooth milk and honey stones – one in each hand

this

is the promise

sustenance

renewal

Life

clothed like john the baptist in knee-length hair

honed toward home, they go

from the dust

rising in strength, dry bones and all

seeking balm for hands raw from digging

unearthing

unburying

re-birthing

rank from the shifting of dung rocks out of the way

while the earth is shaking around them, its heavens opening to the hope of rain

look up,

the clouds are aching to let loose of water to wash away this dust of ages

mountains are quaking to the shifting ground,

needing more than salve, needing gilead’s balm

THERE IS A BALM IN GILEAD TO MAKE THE WOUNDED WHOLE

God speed to the offspring of praise, these children of promise, as it were,

may praise meet gilead in the valley of baca and make it a well

give Hebron, give grace and mercy, give renewal and sustenance and life

Oh, let praise inherit life…

the speed of sound…

by Robin Byrd

the dead are speaking

literally…

I ran into my mother’s voice; it came out of nowhere – attached to a file on my computer

hit me like a bolt of lightning

I gasped, I cried out, “Mommy!”

I was a ball of emotions

I played it over and over again, oh, how I’ve missed the sound of her voice

She’s been in my dreams for the last month

“what is he reading?” she asks, upset that death forbids her tend to it

the collage of her is everywhere

even my breasts are mommy’s breasts now, courting gravity like a first kiss, surprised yet not so impressed

my hands are starting to cook like hers, I bought a new pot so I can make her stew

been craving it for years, I am my mother’s daughter, her face is in my face

and I think she’s ready to tell her story

She’s coming to me like my characters do but she’s more forceful – like coming back to the middle of a semi-heated conversation we were just having to say one more thing

so familiar

“WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS, ALL OUR SINS AND GRIEF TO BEAR, WHAT A PRIVILEGE TO CARRY, EVERYTHING TO GOD IN PRAYER…”

Her favorite song rises out of the silence in my head

yeah, she’s ready…

and then, last night, I was reading old blogs of mine because I couldn’t sleep nor could I remember me before–

and there, in the comments was Erica (Bennett) telling me she hopes I feel better – the words were audible, clear

“Erica?”

“I hope you feel better…”

“I miss you, Erica…”

and in the background, I could hear another friend saying, ”God loves me.”

He was walking briskly towards me so full of joy…

the dead are speaking…

it’s making me shake myself like Samson and get to swinging

’cause I got things to do…

They are reminding me to redeem the time because the space between now and eternity is as far away and as close as the speed of sound…

Riding the Air…

by Robin Byrd

Is it like riding the air?   movement…   

I seem to have forgotten – stuck here like I am in the hardly bearable heat of these walls and the “go nowhere” doors from sun up to moon down.  I tell myself that I am not going to faint or lose heart, that I am going to subdue this beast one hour at a time, one day at a time, by the Grace of God…

but I really want flight, I yearn for air… I want wings and I want wind to ride. I been looking for signs of movement, looking for a great big wind to come skip-to-my-lou all through this mess, dislodge some rivers for baptisms, root up healing herbs and toss some around for everybody to have.

I want to relax, I want to float like a leaf and land picturesquely on the grass showing off the beautiful colors of my whole self.  I don’t want to apologize for nothing not for floating, landing or seeking air.  If I push myself, I bet I can land far enough away from here so I can breathe new/fresh pockets of wind…bet I can land somewhere east of here, near appalachia, up where lavender lilies bloom, where rose of sharon sings… 

I can’t breathe here no more in this heavy porous atmosphere, it’s dropped down way too low, to the little grassy piece of earth I live on and I just can’t breathe.  I thought I was imagining it but it’s real – the air is thick; thick and sticky like a glob of peanut butter caught in the throat daring you to drink water, threatening to thicken regardless…

I need air and space and

God cracking the skies…

Oh, God, blow on us, shower us with rain and the latter rain, deliver us, heal this land…

Heal the land, Father… we humble ourselves and pray

we pray

we Pray

we PRAY

We dream of riding the night winds again, of sleeping well and waking rested

send Your wind, help us fly

lift us up high enough to catch hold

let us mount up with wings as eagles — send the wind, Lord, send the Wind…

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31 King James Version (KJV)