Posted by: facetothewind | May 19, 2001

Burning Orchards, a poem+

May 19, 2001
Santa Cruz

BURNING ORCHARDS

Afternoons in Orange County.
Gold coins of light on the wall wink over my crib.
The station wagon wanders through Southern California.
Power lines, train tracks, and a smokey sky.
They’re burning the orange groves.
It’s the mid 60’s
A white Chevy Belair with a magnetic Mary on the dashboard.
Eucalyptus trees whiz by.
Close to the ground.
A pet tortoise eats lettuce and wanders away.
Jacaranda flowers replaced by a swimming pool.
Macadamia nuts are so hard.
Pomegranate trees lost for tract housing.
But I loved the ruby-red seeds.

Sometimes I wonder about little old ladies. I see them pushing a walker down the street, alone. Their small, birdlike bodies craning over the aluminum rattle trap that gets them across the street for an ice cream. I wonder who loved them once. I wonder if they had a moment in their lives when they clearly began their downfall.

I remember my Grandmother on my father’s side. It was the cold and mysterious side of the family. It was the Gilmores who changed their names from Gilacek. They were the disconnected ones. The ones who had a DIVORCE! My grandmother’s name was Alice. She died one day when she fell off the steps of her trailer in Orange County where she lived without a friend or family member to care for her. She smoked packs of Lucky Strike and ate those little orange candied peanuts that she kept in a red glass bowl on top of the refrigerator in the single-wide. I remember she had snails in her watering can – we had to play outside when my father would go to visit her because we were too upsetting for her. Years later we moved to Florida and she drank and smoked herself to near-death. A fall on the stoop finished her off. My father never returned to visit her. Her estate was settled over the phone from Florida.

You see, Alice was in love with my grandfather – Albert. They met in the 20s in Watertown, New York. He was tall and handsome. She was attractive, save for the buck teeth. She modeled dresses for a department store. But she and Albert never worked things out. He left her for a librarian named Myrtle. Clearly, Alice spent the rest of her life in reaction to this heartbreak. She married another man years later but mostly found herself schlepping around the depressed corridors of ice and industry of upstate New York in the 40s.

I contemplate my own decisions a lot these days. For those of you who know me, you know the saga of my undying love for Patrick. His father was also from Watertown, NY in the 30s. I dare say my father and his father probably knew each other. I met Patrick on the beach in SF 10 years ago. He had soft brown eyes and black hair that I could get lost in. And I did. Patrick had that lost puppy kind of demeanor – a diamond in the rough. Wistful and ruddy at the same time, his eyes cloaked behind big, nerdy glasses that were taped at one corner. I think I saw my salvation in Patrick. That perhaps I could have a chance to re-parent myself, give him all the love and support in the world and maybe he would respond by loving me back and getting his life together. Fat chance. This turned into 10 years of battering myself, hoping for a little attention from someone who could deftly impersonate the coldness of my father and barely find time outside his self-absorption to love me back.

I wonder about my decision to love and leave and love and leave Patrick. I wonder if this will place me in a trailer like my grandmother Alice, drinking my pain away, alone at 80 waiting for relief to come on the stoop. I have been spending much of my time these days napping away my pain in my rose garden. Is that much better? I start projects to hide my pain and suffering: a graphic design business, a radio show, a rose garden. Whatever I do, I do well. However, I have started to wonder how much of a mess my life really is? I can’t tell. Yes, I do interesting things. I do make a difference in the world. I’m often funny. But all the things that have brought me relief from pain – sex, creativity, sleep, quiet, adventure – all seem so ephemeral now.

Changes afoot…

Recently I also stopped relating to my parents in the way we always had. I came to the conclusion that trying to be “nice” to the people who both bore me and cause me pain with the hopes of an inheritance was toxic. Toxic to them. Toxic to me. When they heavily criticized me for wearing a girl’s T-shirt at their gated community in Naples, FL, I broke free. I let them have it. I held nothing back revealing that I cannot bear to visit them anymore in their precious little wealthy white world of hatred, pinched-ness and fear. I told them I thought they were no more secure in their life running around wearing their ID badges and watching the stock market than I was, living in a shack and a garage in Santa Cruz, trying to squeak by with my paltry radio income, resolute that I won’t live a life of deadness in a job that would guarantee me a cushy retirement.

Then I left Patrick (again). This time in Chico. I had bought a VW camper van to help satisfy my wander lust. Patrick and I were on the road for a trial run week. I fantasized that I would follow him around the country as he becomes an organic farmer. Me in the van doing the radio show and Sweetness in the field. This dream burst when he got drunk one morning on a bottle of cheap cognac from a drug store. My last images were of him pawing me on a beach by a river, shit-faced and sloppy. His hands felt like feet. I felt he was walking on me. Then he honked out a wad of spit in the backseat of the car and smeared it all over my shirt. “I love you,” I said, “but you have to get your addictions under control, or I can’t be with you anymore.” I chunked his luggage out at the corner of Salem and 24th. I cried most of the way home with a stop here and there to indulge my own addictions. The van broke down on the way home. What have I done?

The wreckage is all around…

Ben won’t talk to me – he fell too in love with me and got needy. Patrick doesn’t talk to me – he’s on the tough love program. My parents delicately attempt communication by email. My mother says, “When did you get to be so complicated?” I want to say, “when did you start paying attention?” Another best friend is fighting a battle in his body that he will likely lose. Last week’s romantic fantasy ends abruptly at dinner when we realize we can’t relate to each other in any way but sex. The uneaten dinner comes home in a bag. I lie in my bed late at night, breathing heavily from the mess. My heart beating very irregularly. What have I done?

I wake up in the morning – there’s a black and white picture of me by the bed. I’m about 5 – blond hair – just waking up, a twinkle in my eye. I look at the face of this beautiful child and I say to the picture – you have no idea what you’re about to go through. You have no idea. I want to just pick up the pillow from behind his head and hold it over his face and press it there. This will make things a little easier for you.

The Little Prince…

I read this book aloud to Matt while he painted my portrait. I could barely get through the last several pages between sobbing. The Prince gets the poisonous snake to bite him so he would die and then return home to his own planet where he can take care of his little rose that he left under glass while he went out on his adventure. I wonder about going home. Where is that? It seems to always escape my grasp. I wonder about the little Princes in my life who left and who will leave me in the desert – a pilot with a broken airplane, touched by the magic of a little being who wandered by in the sand one day. Will I be able to look into the stars at night and hear their laughter?

“If you love a flower that lives on a star, it’s sweet to look at the stars at night. All the stars are abloom with flowers.”

Inside, I feel as lost in the world as anyone I’ve ever met. There’s nothing but years between me and those little old ladies I see on the street or Patrick drinking away his fears of change and the past that circles ’round his head. I keep a lot of roses on my little planet to give me some sense of purpose. It keeps me alive.

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