gunpowderandcandy

it's not all skin and bones

Grandpa Shannon April 8, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — lindseymarie @ 7:04 pm

 

 

 

The snow falls thickly around the eaves of the Halstead House,

tucking in tight the people snug inside.

 

your voice is warm with frayed edges,

         Especially when you laugh.
Smoke hangs thickly above the green plastic card table,
Your strong hands folded over your belly as we play another round of cards.
You tell stories about when you were a boy:
                  back when going for a drive was something special,
                  back when candy only cost this much but no one could afford it,
                  back when air conditioning was only for the infirm.

You tell wonderful stories:
My cheeks are tight and sore
  though it’s only eight o’clock
but it’ll be hours yet before I climb up the stairs
and under a clever crocheted bedcover.

you flirt with Grammy.
You whisper something and pinch her arm and she says
“Oh, Dex,” and laughs, her slick lips curving around a cigarette
               that in my mind she never quit.

Her voice is full of ashes and
when she presses a lip mark to your cheek
cherry-red and sticky,
                                             You wear her kiss like a badge, grinning.

 

 “My mom always tells me that you and I would have been best friends,” I offer. 

My throat feels tight with subtext.
                                    I wonder if you hear it.
I scuff my shoes on the linoleum.

 

“Well, kid,” you say and ruffle my hair,

( I don’t know why but you always call me kid)
“You never can tell, with these things.”

 

 

bakersfield July 25, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — lindseymarie @ 3:51 am

 

every time i close my eyes i can see the road leading up to that house on the hill, hear the wind through the fescue, the cicadas and sparklers.

there’s sunscreen and the riversmell that stays in your hair. the soft slapslapslap of icy water on the underside of an aluminum canoe.

half-daring shrieks, tiny frames braving the three feet between bridge and water, land in daddy’s arms. take a breath, jump in the spring.

the cold punches the air from your lungs and you have to swim swim swim to the edge and then even the river water feels like a hot bath.

thinking of fishing in that fast-moving current. minnows nibbling on my heels, sunburned hillbillies drifting by: “y’all got a laah-ter?”

shrieking chubby fingers pinching a crawdad in just the right place, holding it high as it flails, but it’s getting put in the boat.

echoing downriver there’s hollering and loud, awful music from speakers that cost too much for the junky pickup they’re in.

back at the house, birthday cake is baked and iced in a muggy kitchen because no one can ever remember to shut the front door all the way.

the clouds rolling in warn that it might rain (somewhere). sand in your shoes, crunching toward the car. thinking of fireworks and fish fry.

spf 30 greaseslicking my shoulders and trickling into squinted eyes. “ready to head home, sis?” she asks, smiling.

that’s summer, that’s wheat stalks, that’s the four-wheeler and the hay barn and homemade ice cream that grammy brings under a quilt.

time to head in, yes, because the sky is dipping low into orange sky and the next day’s forecast spilling out the window and across mossy ground.

 

She, Gévaudan April 10, 2011

Filed under: Poetry — lindseymarie @ 8:16 pm

The she-wolf cries under the moon,
fair days of snapping bones behind,
she plots her vengeance in the tune
‘gainst those who tread too near her kind.

She gapes and bares her silvered maw,
thick glossy coat a-shine with guile,
by singing, keening to her draws
the victims of her menace vile.

What cunning beast! to placid sit
and wait for awe to cancel sense.
How sweet a monstrous exhibit
that teeth and tissue bloody rends;

Unknowing darlings soon to tell
her rancid breath, their warning bell.

 

Red March 31, 2011

Filed under: Creative Non-fiction — lindseymarie @ 10:12 pm

In order to be a fully-functioning female member of society, Grammy Faye believed that one absolutely had to have one crucial thing: lipstick. The only exception to this stringent rule was if you were either in diapers or a nursing home. Whenever she had visitors in the hospital, she would make sure she had lipstick on hand. Though perhaps unwashed, tousled, connected to multiple monitors or I.V.s, Grammy would not permit you to enter the room unless she was fully dressed. It was always bright red, the color of a cherry gumball, and would smear just as readily on your cheek. Her lips were puckered, always, when I knew her. Smoking etched lines around her mouth, and her skin was always a yellowed tan. That was because of the Hepatitis C, but that is another story for another day.

Her lips were the color of a newly skinned knee, and about as wet. Kisses were surreptitiously wiped off once we were set free to play. It wasn’t meant as a disrespect, of course. But the squeaky wet kiss-mark dried slow and crusty. There was almost always a maroon trash can half-full of red-smudged tissues in her bathroom. Sometimes it was blood. Actually, a lot of the time, it was blood. Grammy had this cat- Pollyanna was her name- and she would stretch her oversharp claws into Grammy’s arms and dig deep. But the band-aids were never cartoons and never had sparkles, so we were seldom interested in stealing them to wear like badges on our overalls.

There was a bright red glass bull on the bookshelf that stood above the little blackface figurines of happy grinning slaves feeding tiny chickens. The bull was Grandpa’s, but I never knew him. He died of a heart attack when I was two. But the bull watched us while we played. Because of him, we had to walk slowly through the house and keep our voices down. But below the little happy slaves were the rows of romance novels. As a young and awkward girl with few friends that were not leatherbound and slightly musty, I was drawn instantly to the books. Oh look, thought I, a book about the Grand Canyon. But it was so much more than that. There was the Grand Canyon that was cut by the Colorado River, but also the grand canyon that divided the swell of Anna-Leigh’s breasts, and the grander canyon that Christopher discovered as he slid her skirt off over her hips and trembling thighs.

Red was also the color of the ceramic chickens she kept around the tops of the cabinets in her kitchen. She had shotglasses in those cabinets- they were really for her medicine, but we used to pour Mello Yello and sling it back and act tipsy while wobbling around in overlarge quilt-togas. Red was the color of her favorite grown-up drink. She had a refrigerator in the garage, behind her red sedan and beside the red ride-on lawnmower, which was always full of wine bottles. But sometimes, there were cherry popsicles out in the fridge, and they would stain our fingers and drip down to scuffed-up summer elbows.

The ants were red. They climbed up and down the trunk of the tree that stood next to the garage, shading the gravel and the smudge of a flowerbed that ran alongside the trashcans. There were black ants, too, and I used to imagine the two different sorts were rivals questing for the same territory: a sort of entomological checkers match. We spent hours in that tree. One branch jutted out from the others, straight out and up like an elephant’s trunk, or a giant, un-tethered swing.

Grammy made bright red spaghetti at my house one night, long after she moved in with us to more easily go to and from therapy. The sauce was supposed to be thick- veggie lovers’, or something- and it was her rehabilitation homework to follow a logical pattern, such as a recipe. This time, therapy was easy for her. She moved through the process with much consideration but general ease. Not like the night when she wanted to know if the noodles were cooked and reached her naked hand into the boiling pot. She had held her hand in there for a full fifteen seconds before her mind registered pain. (They were cooked and squashy then, by the way. The noodles, not her fingers, which were shiny, boiled and burned.) But we knew she was bouncing back, Nerf Grammy that she was, when she made a joke about the lack of actual vegetables in our supposedly legume-laden sauce.

And, for years, she was doing just fine.

At the visitation the night before Grammy’s funeral, we were a bit taken aback to see that her lips (a weird, twisted, wry and hermetically sealed smirk) were a pastel shade of pink. Some misguided mortician decided pink was more youthful. But who was he/she kidding? The immediate consensus was that Grammy would be so, so pissed if she knew that people would soon be seeing her, laid out and stately, with pale pink and chalky lips. Back at home, the half-used tube, with lip-cracks pressed upon it, still sat on her vanity table. A quick swipe and careful blotting restored Grammy’s mouth to something that was close but not quite her.

I left my room this morning, knowing I was somewhat naked because of my lackluster lips. I hope she understands red simply isn’t my color. How can it be, when it was so wholly hers?

 

Akimbo

Filed under: Poetry — lindseymarie @ 10:10 pm

One of the worst days
Of my young life was
That April afternoon when I realized
I was too gangly to somersault anymore.

I’d done it a thousand times
At recess,
In the basement,
In the grocery store,
Avoiding capture by Indians.

Once I somersaulted down a hill.
Dandelions stained my bare arms yellow.
I had bruises and scrapes on my legs that day, too:
Purple clovers, a princess band-aid, connect-the-dots.
Momma called them summer legs.

But this time
I went all wonky and sideways
And ended up in a—Oof! —
Tangle of skinned elbows and
Split my lip when my knee crashed hard
Against my mouth.

I sat there a moment,
Still feeling the prickly grass poking my neck
And tucked the wispy hairs that wouldn’t fit in my ponytail
Behind my newly grown-up ears.

 

The Lark February 15, 2011

Filed under: Poetry — lindseymarie @ 6:22 am

It was a Thursday when I saw you
Hunched over the blocky plastic table
Knees angled half high above paper and
safety scissors, confetti and crayons.
Your glasses slipped down on your nose
Lips pressed in a line to concentrate
While you held crafty pieces against each other
So the glue would dry just right.

Your t-shirt had a hole under the arm-
Your favorite one that you’ll nevergiveup-
Softly baring threads and a patchy picture
Stained with bleach and beloved.
Your forearms were marked, with purple
Under fingernails, glittering, tacky and taped.
Hands in hands, twisting out triangles
Helping chubby fingers trace smeary shapes.

Sweet blue eyes studied the press of your hands
And she laid her arms on yours, leaning into
Your chest, reclining small on her favorite chair.
Kiss kiss kiss you pucker lips against her cheek
Wringing giggles and a spare smooth squirm
Beckoning a tickle here, a breath there.
I arms folded lean in the doorway,
A smile at my lips as mismatched bestfriends play.

You dragon-slayer, fort-builder, hider-seeker.
You dearest darling, only only and ever.
She bubble-blower, day-dreamer, question-asker.
She soft creases and curls and chatter.
My heart bubbles up and over, frothing and hot
When she clambers to unsteady soles and tap
Tips to my side. You watch, trusty crooked smiling.
She reaches arms up, hands grasping.

I stretch to touch her browngold head, spun
Silk like yours, but startle before I trace it as
As she pushes her hand through the skin
Of my stomach, fingers sticky and soft but searing
Her prying taloned fists clutching and tearing
Yanking clenching pulling my insides
Until I gasp, clawing my way up and out
Of hazy colors and dullish hurt and burning eyes.

Folded, sleeping hands cradling hard my belly, I wake,
Blink as the fringe of your cropped hair glows precious
With the light that pours through clear glass panes.
You lean and exhale gentle goosebumps to my ear
And tuck stray strands, kiss kiss kiss to my temple
Though I listen for a cry, a waking, a breath, nonsense
Babble and hear nothing but the tick tick from the
Bedside table reminding that it’s almost morning.

I cuddle close and press face against neck,
Breathing deep faint sweat and sweet cologne
Eyes hot and salty as you wrap your arm snug around,
Fingertips scratching gently down my spine and up
My side to play with sleepwarm pillow-creased cheek.
You cup my chin in raspy paintless fingers,
Tip up to watch me and those blue eyes spill and
My chest contracts as we’ll try again, you say.

 

November December 12, 2010

Filed under: Fiction — lindseymarie @ 11:06 pm

November

The weathered yellow house sagged upon its foundation as if exhausted from the effort of remaining upright for so long. The yellow faux-brick paneling peeled off in pieces from whitewashed wood, and a thick mesh of dead ivy vines crawled around the face of the old home and out of sight. A dead limb had fallen from one of the towering trees, caving in part of the roof. But the house had stood far longer than anyone could really remember, its craggy face mournfully watching tractors amble by on the highway.

Darby Putman slowed her car as she passed the house, and pulled onto the graveled shoulder near a big, tin-roofed barn. She studied the house a moment in the rear-view mirror of her car. It slouched between two ancient trees whose branches reached to intermingle a few feet above the roof.  After a moment’s deliberation, she reached over into the glove compartment, drawing out the old C-41 film camera she took with her everywhere and seldom used.

She got out of her car and closed the door almost reverently behind her. There was no reason to preserve the silence, as she hadn’t seen any other cars out on the road in this part of rural Missouri. After all, it was a gloomy Tuesday. The clouds above were pregnant with rain, and the breeze did little to stir the already heavy leaves that piled up in the ditches to be burned on some far-off windless day. Darby pulled the camera strap over her head and arm so it hung across her body, and started walking.

Darby climbed the barbed wire fence at the post where the wire was least likely to bend and cut her and leapt down to the other side. Her camera was an old Canon AE she’d gotten from mom’s closet when dad had gone through to give all her old things to Goodwill. It scraped against the barbs as she came down, but it was her sweater that got caught. She cringed as she pulled the fabric away from her body, studying the quarter-sized hole with dismay. Lower lip between her teeth, she debated whether this was a sign she ought to go back to the car. Mom would have kept going, she decided, she would have laughed. Darby waded through the knee-high scratchy brush. Her fingertips were cold. She scrunched her hands into fists and pushed them deep into her pockets as she surveyed the old house.

The house in all its decrepitude seemed to beckon her inside. Darby placed a hand on the porch rail. When her hand came away it was covered in flecks of crackly paint. She tested the soggy, rotting timbers of the tiny front porch as she stepped through the threshold, checking behind her only once to see if there was anyone out here to catch her trespassing. But there was no one.

The windows of the old house had long since lost the front panes that might have protected the rooms from the elements. Frayed curtains stirred uselessly in the breeze and the greenish wallpaper rustled like autumn leaves in curling, brittle strips. Bits of glass lay embedded in the mossy brown carpeting. Across from the molding couch was a large and dusty shadeless lamp with a cord leading to a furious scorch mark where an outlet ought to have been. Nearby, a baby doll clothed in nothing but a pinafore cap lay on its side, arms outstretched; painted eyes and pink rosebud mouth open wide.

It was awfully quiet. Darby wanted to hum or sing or talk to break the smothering quiet of the old place. Here, the silence had been so long unbroken, and it didn’t seem right to interrupt. She held up the viewfinder to her eye and peered through it, almost forgetting to take off the lens cap. She adjusted the focus and crouched low, squinting, trying to frame the baby doll as mom would have. The shutter blinked with the press of her index finger, and the dirty baby and matted carpet and burned wall was hers forever. Out of habit, she looked down at the back of the camera to see a miniature of the image she’d just taken. With a small smile, Darby remembered this camera was an old thing. She would have to wait and hope that the lighting was right and her exposure was good before she could see the picture. Darby wound to the next frame, and continued on.

Chilly wind blew easily through the house, sneaking through her clothes and raising the hairs on the back of her neck. She would have worn a jacket, had she known this morning that she’d be getting out of the car. She shivered, and reached into her back pocket for the tube of lip balm.

The reek of mildew and exposed linoleum backing soaked the air as the carpet of the front parlor gave way to the kitchen. Cabinets remained tacked to the walls, but the doors hung crookedly on spent hinges and there was nothing inside except a dried-up wasp nest. Antiquated appliances stood heavily in place. Rust dripped down the front panel of the refrigerator. A thick layer of dust coated the table and chairs, and a vase of long-withered, crusty flowers perched on a crocheted doily with wisps of cobwebs linking the browned leaves to the smooth tabletop.

With every step, the old house creaked and moaned its disapproval at being disturbed. Darby walked near to the wall where she figured there had to be more support. The mental image of the ground splitting under her weight and gulping her into the foundation was enough to keep her moving in search of a back door She chanced down the small hallway, past a door that was wedged shut by the tilted frame. Darby didn’t try to force it open; maybe that was the only thing keeping the roof from coming down on top of her.

The last door in the hallway hung ajar. Darby listened hard before leaning forward, pushing it open with her fingertips. Inside, broken dark wood beams served as the only flooring, disappearing into the dark below. She was thankful she hadn’t stepped forward. Her stomach lurched at the thought of falling down into the dark. She crouched down, squinting. Light reflected weakly back up at her. Darby turned and broke off a piece of the baseboard and dropped it into the hole. It made a plashing sound at the bottom.

Darby straightened up, looking around. The room had probably been a bedroom: a wedding portrait hung on the wall, the bride seated, pale eyes staring balefully at the photographer with her husband behind her, smiling. The jacquard-patterned wallpaper had faded to a dusty pink. Above, a vast yellow water stain covered the ceiling. The broken light fixture dangled by a single electrical wire, swaying gently in the stagnant air. There was another door on the other side of the room, but it was closed and there was no other way to get to it without negotiating across the busted floor.  Darby turned to leave.

It was nice to be outside again. The oak trees, though shedding the last of the most obstinate leaves, seemed far more welcoming than the shell of a home at her back. The wet leaves made a sticky sound underfoot as she walked around the side yard. The barbed wire around the yard drooped between posts like Christmas garlands. An old trellis leaned wearily against the wall, the brown cord of some long-forgotten creeper vine curled around the slats.

A musty odor drifted up from the side of the house, where Darby found the cellar, wooden doors splintered and strewn down the steps, yawning widely. She hesitated, looking into the dark maw. She raised her camera and clicked another exposure as the diagonal lines of the deep staircase disappeared. She took a deep breath, telling herself with every inhale that there was nothing down there but some standing water and cement walls.

That’s what mom had said when she was little and they had walked through the woods and found a cave. Mom had smiled and tugged Darby’s hand, but Darby was afraid.

“Of what?” her mother had asked, “all that’s down there is rock and moss and maybe some mystery! Come with me, Dee. You’ll love it. Be my little explorer.”

This was no cave. Cellars were far spookier than caves. Darby made her way down the steps, ready to bolt up and out if anything jumped out at her. She hated being startled more than anything. She wrinkled her nose as she stepped forward into the basement, which proved to hold standing water that swallowed her sneakers and flooded her socks with icy, murky water. She eased her other foot in to make sure she would be able to stand without slipping. With her arms outstretched for balance, she sloshed inside. The weak glow of her cell phone revealed something like rotting blankets in the dark water. Leaves floated in clusters. Her foot nudged something soft that gave under pressure, and she recoiled, stumbling back and splashing cold water up her inner calves. The legs of her jeans got heavy.

The water made an echoing sound in the dank enclosed space. It was the same as the civic center pool had back at their house in Arkansas. The smell of chlorine, the slapping sounds of bare feet on the cement as kids clambered out to jump again, again, and just one more time into parents’ waiting arms. But this sound was dark, like the cave at Blanchard Springs where mom and dad had taken her the day they told her that mom was sick. A good day in theory, a treat to balance out the bad news, but while other visitors oohed and aahed over the delicate stalactites and stalagmites, Darby had walked with the guide at the back of the group, her small hand in his. Her parents had asked her if she’d rather not go down into the cave, if maybe she would rather they come back another time. She’d refused, but remembered nothing from the cave but the scratchy callused hands of the cave ranger and the echoing splash of running water in the dark.  No, the water in the cellar sounded more like their day in the caverns than the civic center.

Her feet were cold, and the light was bad. Mom probably could have made something of it and found a good picture to be had, but it wasn’t in Darby’s eyes to see. There was nothing in the cellar to be found other than some old furniture and leaves and mulch. Her shoes made squelching sounds as she tramped back up the stairs, and it occurred to Darby that she wouldn’t have time to go all the way back home to put on dry clothes before she was supposed to meet dad at church.

There just wasn’t enough left of the old house. Darby knew she should have come sooner to see the old place. Mom had always wanted to show it to her, but there never seemed to be enough time, especially after she got sick. Darby looked around for the well mom had talked about- the one that she’d fallen into when she was a little girl- but mom had probably made it up. She loved to tell stories, and for a long time, Darby had listened and believed. But the house wasn’t all that she expected. Where was the tire swing, the big back porch where grandpa would whittle, the secret cubby in the cellar? She swiped her eyes with woolly sleeves.

Darby stood in the backyard for a long time, looking up at the little old house. She tried to imagine mom like in the pictures: a little towheaded girl in a cherry-printed sundress and a wide, gap-toothed grin. Darby closed her eyes and tilted her face upward toward the bleak and cloudy sky, smelling the musty leaves and smoky air and damp grass. She had wanted to feel something while she was in the house, in the rooms where mom used to sleep and eat and play and sing. A closeness, perhaps. A presence.  Mom believed in memories just as much as she believed in mysteries. But her old house turned out to be a house and nothing more. She raised the camera a last time and took a picture before pressing the lens cap back on. She walked toward her car, pushing her cold hands into her pockets to warm them.