Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bridge, East, West, Breeze (September, 2010)

In my dream, Master Yanni, under whose unique guidance I had learned Korean energy training, quite suddenly broke the news that she was leaving the bay area after a two -year stay.  She told me on a warm October day, the same day she had been summoned to lead special outdoor training in San Francisco somewhere near the Golden Gate Bridge.  In my dream, she had left me this brief voicemail message the night before:
“Mareesa-Nim:  tomorrow, teach 6 a.m. class in Crystal Springs.  After that, close the center and join training at the Golden Gate Bridge. We’ll meet on the southeast side.  I know you have a bad direction sense, so look for my special balloon.” Then a husky giggle followed by,”Ye, thank you! Kamsahamnida!”  I could hear her turning to talk with someone else before she ended the call.  And then a final “Click.”  I wondered why she had added the formal suffix, “nim” after my name, but I was honored that she addressed me this way.
The next morning when I arrived at the bridge, I imagined Master Yanni would be leading a group of ten to fifteen students so I focused on looking for a large group of people.  I moved briskly along the east walkway, hands jammed into my hoodie pockets against the strong wind, purple uniform pants flapping against my legs, forgetting about her hint to look for a special balloon.
“Where is your Mind?” a woman hollered above the wind, and then her unmistakably playful laugh.  I wheeled around to find Master Yanni leaning against the rail, dressed in blue jeans and a tan polar fleece turtleneck, one knee bent with her foot resting on the grate behind her, a rainbow colored balloon tied around her left wrist, and a khaki-colored baseball cap over her bobbed black hair.
“ Oh! Ban gap sahm ni da- nice to see you, Master Yanni,” Where are all the students?” I asked, embarrassed that I had walked right by her. Something in the air was distracting my attention.
“What ‘all the students’?  We’re all the students,” she smiled pointing at me, then herself.
“Cool,” I answered.
“Yes, ‘Cool’ Mareesa-nim.  So show me the beautiful, famous Golden Gate /Bridjii/.” 
/bridjii/, I repeated silently to myself, delighted by her inflection.
“Such a big smile. I think Mareesa-Nim is in love,” she said, handing me the balloon.
I just turned my palms upward and shrugged.  “Well, see that long stretch of green grass over there to the right?  It’s called Crissy Field.  When I was a little kid, my cousins and I flew kites down there. It’s the perfect place because it’s usually windy like today, and there are no wires.”
“Ah!  So the kites can fly freely there without getting stuck.”
“Yes, right. They climb right up into the sky, carried by the wind, free as a bird. “As we continued northward on the east side walkway, the wind was breaking up the coastal fog giving way to patches of blue sky. “Over there in the middle of the water, we have Alcatraz Island.  It was a prison until 1963.”
“Wow, what a pretty view from a prison island. Even though the people were called prisoners, maybe they wanted to be there for a long stay on an island that has a full view of Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco!” 
“It is said that no prisoners ever successfully escaped during its almost thirty years of operation.”
“Mareesa-nim.  I have something to share with you.  I am leaving the San Francisco bay area.”
I hated that my eyes filled with tears before I could even zip up my jacket against the wild ocean wind that I loved so much.  I opened my eyes wider and looked westward letting the ocean gusts tuck the tears into my hair where Master Yanni wouldn’t see, allowing more tears to come that I could attribute to the sting of the air. 
“No!” I watched the word writhe about silented by the wind and then evaporate out toward the ocean.
Other pedestrians filled the walkway. Master Yanni had advanced ahead quicker along the rail, creating a single file twosome.  I picked up my pace to match hers as I pulled my hood up over my head.
“Time to move on,” she turned back to say to me, smiling, looking at me over her glasses.
I remember the magical way, with just slightly raised eyebrows, Master Yanni’s look conveyed many messages straight to my heart.   Even now as on those other occasions, the ambiguity in her sentence struck me as profound in spite of the fact that, in this moment, she was simply moving along on our walk, over the Golden Gate Bridge, on this precious October morning.  I focused on breathing out and almost all the way to center span, we walked single file without speaking at all.
There was a song she would play after training sessions while she and her students drank tea together.  I never knew the name of it, but remembered that she titled her CD Playlist “Magic Class”. In my mind I filed that one song as “Yanni-Nim’s Magic Tea-Time.”  The melody was simple but what struck me as magical were the wind chimes infused in the piece. My ears heard them as if they were coming from anywhere else but the speakers.  Now, as we paused at the north tower, I took a moment to center myself before I spoke, and then taking another extra moment until I could clearly hear those wind chimes:
“When?” was all I could get out before my throat caught again.
“Not yet! In two weeks.  I’m going to Atlanta, Georgia.”
“But I am in the middle of preparing for the next level of training.  I thought you were going to be my teacher.”
“You are ready, Mareesa-nim.   You have everything you need inside,” she said tapping two fingers into my chest.
“I want--I need-I want-- a teacher-- for Me. Why do you have to go right now Master Yanni?  Shit!” 
“Again, Mareesa-nim’s fire mouth comes out. Please do not worry; there is still time. We have millions of time to do more training. Right now, more San Francisco sightseeing.  What is that place over there?” she said, pointing out toward the bay.
“Angel Island.”
“Angel Island. Good name. Let’s take a boat and bring the students there for weekend training! We can do hiking, core training, and meditation. And we’ll have a big picnic lunch. We can make bibimbop!”
“Ne, Master Yanni, I would love that. How about if bring avocado, seaweed, and that spicy red stuff we eat at the training center?”
Laughing, she answered, “You mean ‘gochujang’. “
“Ye, ye, ‘gochujang’.”  I enjoyed forming this complete Korean sentence with the two Korean words I knew.
“Speaking of spicy red stuff, why is Golden Gate Bridge called ‘golden’?  It’s a kind of spicy red color,” she asked.
“Well, this water between San Francisco and the other side, Marin Headlands is called the Golden Gate. It was named in the mid-1800s even before gold was discovered here.  So this is the bridge that connects two separate pieces of land.”
“Got it,” she said.  Then she added, “Mareesa-nim, you bring the students to Angel Island. That is your training.”  
Master Yanni put her arm through mine and pulled me in close.  “People come and go, come and go,” she said as she wiped away tears from my face and looked into my eyes.   “You can overcome the obstacle of feeling sadness when we have to separate from each other. Mareesa-nim, become the water that flows between the two pieces of land.”
The next day, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and went to the training center as usual.  After all the other students exited, I told Master Yanni about the dream I had about us at the Golden Gate Bridge.
“So, was my dream correct?  Are you leaving the bay area?
“Yes, of course someday I will move on.  But not right now.”  She looked over her glasses at me with eyebrows slightly raised, a mischievous smile on her lips.  Mareesa-nim, don’t get stuck by the boundaries in your dreams! Be like the water.”
“Mmm, hmm, I understand, Master Yanni.”
“Great!  After our lunch, let’s hang these up in front of the Center’s entrance.”  Reaching behind the rice paper screen, she brought out ten rainbow colored balloons.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

 Here at year-end, I decided to post this lovely article by Johaina Crisostomo, fellow writer participant in the 2011 NVM Gonzalez Writing Workshop.  I really like the picture of all of the writers, here with our teacher, Peter Bacho.  This event rooted my writing in ways that allowed me to grow my stories, and cultivate new connections.  Here at year-end, I am appreciative.

By Johaina Crisostomo

As build-up to the Filipino American International Book Festival (FIlBookFest) on October 1- 2 in San Francisco, the Literacy Initiatives International Foundation (LIIF), the lead organizer of FilBookFest, is collaborating with various libraries, colleges and universities, and organizations in the Bay Area to hold monthly events to encourage writers and booklovers to appreciate Filipino literature.  Following is among the events:

Eight writers gathered on a July weekend in the comfortable guest suites of Sonoma State University for the fourth NVM Gonzalez Writing Workshop.

Michael Gonzalez, youngest son of the prominent author and the mastermind behind this project, said of this latest one: “The energy and intent of the participants to find their own voice through craft and by inspiration was like none other.”

The sentiment was echoed by renowned Filipino American writer, Peter Bacho, who has been leading the workshops since the project started in 2005.
“This year there were more students who brought with them pretty sophisticated skills, at least as revealed by their projects,” Bacho said. “This one was the best so far.”

The eight participants represented writers from various stages in their literary careers—some already published, others on the brink of publishing their first major piece, while others were still in the experimental stages of their writing. Regardless of previous experience, however, one thing all participants had in common was the urgent desire to voice the Filipino-American experience and stake their presence in the world.

Gonzalez opened the workshop by emphasizing his father’s belief in the power of writing to combat the invisibility of the Filipino in America. The workshop started with a viewing of a clip from the Leong-Academia documentary, “NVM Gonzalez: A Story Yet To Be Told,” which gave participants a more intimate look into NVM’s writing philosophy.
The second day brought on a series of challenging craft exercises that participants could execute at their own pace. Bacho promoted his own writing philosophies by pushing for the importance of knowing one’s protagonist, controlling dialogue and imbuing one’s piece with poetic resonance.

Tess Crescini, a real-estate broker, joined the workshop, in part, for the prospect of working with Bacho. After having experienced his mentorship, she said, “As a workshop leader, Peter was not your typical ‘sage on a stage’ but more like a friend who really wants to see you accomplish the task you set out for yourself.”
Prosy Delacruz, a four-time participant, calls Bacho “a writer who has made this world better than he has found it by giving birth to more writers—like NVM Gonzalez did.”

The workshop fostered a sense of community among story-tellers whose diverse narratives exhibited the complex, multifaceted perspective of the contemporary Filipino. This became especially evident on the last day when each one got the opportunity to share his/her work with the rest of the group.
The group was joined by Prof. Leny Strobel, associate professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University and director of the Center of Babaylan Studies. Strobel was among NVM’s numerous mentees and said the workshop lived up to NVM’s dream in the way that it “bridged the gap between immigrants and FilAms.”

Gonzalez shares the same sense of fulfillment.
“The workshop builds on the dream—the vision—of NVM, that we as a people have important stories to tell the world, to show the world that our unique history is and should be the source of our strength and creativity,” he said. “We only have to apply ourselves to the task. This workshop is but a small effort for others to build upon.”

The workshop was co- sponsored by the American Multicultural Studies of Sonoma State University, the Literacy Initiatives International Foundation, the Filipino American International Book Festival, and Poets & Writers Inc.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tar Pieces

Magdaluyo prized the five-inch scar on his left hand.   He liked that the kids around Garfield Street in the Ingleside district told everyone he had gotten stabbed during a street fight. His friends called him Mayo, a nickname made from the first two letters and the last two letters of “Magdaluyo.”  He hated it when his name was mispronounced /May-yo/-- with a long ā as in /maybe/ and when this happened, it set off his hot temper. His eyes, dark and shiny like chocolate drops would get all dark and melty.
“Hey! Who’re you callin’ ‘Māy-yo’?” he yelled at Randy one day. Randy was the red-headed kid with the buzz cut who lived in the corner house. Mayo took two steps forward and shoved Randy, hard, sending him backward onto the curb.  Me and my best girlfriend, Aisha, stepped out of the way.
“’MAH-yo’, then.  What’s the big deal?” Randy asked, rubbing his arm.
“May-yo sounds like short for Mayonnaise. And what color is mayonnaise?”  Mayo stood over Randy, leaning forward, hands on his hips.  Randy just looked up at him, afraid to answer.  “I said, what color is mayonnaise?”
“White.  So?”
“Look at my brown skin. It’s not right for other kids to call me a name that’s short for mayonnaise.” All the kids nodded, “Yup.” We accepted Magdaluyo’s authority without challenge.  For one thing, he was the biggest kid on the block, with thick legs like tree trunks, and husky arms.  His shiny black hair, parted down the middle, flew about freely, often covering his eyes when he moved around.  And for another thing, he was big-hearted.  That’s what his Lola (Grandma) had always said.  I thought so too. One time, he got a bag of cat eye marbles from the doctor’s office for being brave when he got a shot.  After he came home, he gave each one of us a marble. 
Even though Mayo could be temperamental sometimes, he and I got along. Maybe it was because we both had tough fathers who had the same brand of temper.  Man, at the slightest thing, even before we finished thinking about doing something, our dads gave us whippings with the belt.
“God-dem, don’t even think about it,” his Dad would say and then “whap!” with the belt.
Maybe it was because Mayo, nine, the youngest kid in his family, had someone he could look after-- a younger kid like me.   Or maybe Mayo and me were close because one time, he made me swear on his Lola’s bible that I would never tell anyone how he had really gotten that scar on this hand.  And for the whole time we were friends, I kept his secret safe.
“Soli, swear you won’t tell,” Mayo had said that day, a warning look in his dark brown eyes.  Back then, I was at least a head shorter than him, so Mayo stood on his knees to get closer to my height and yanked at my two ponytails so hard it loosened the Goo that Mommy had combed through my hair.
“I swear,” I repeated, placing my brown hand, dry skin and all, on Lola’s Bible.  Our ceremonial pact was made in Mayo’s living room. I remember we stood face-to-face next to the low bookshelf where the Bible was kept. Afterward, he scrubbed my head with his knuckles, signaling his approval.
The thing is, Mayo had been out at the municipal pier, fishing for bass with his dad one morning.  Their plan was to bring home enough fish for meals to last the whole weekend.  But then, a leopard shark got snagged on Mayo’s hook.  When he brought the twelve-inch shark up out of the water, his dad went to cut the fishing line to release it.  Just then the shark jerked sideways. The knife missed cutting the line, catching the backside of Mayo’s left hand and part of his arm instead.
            He and his dad ended up not bringing home any fish that night.  I knew this because, after they got back from the emergency room, Mayo’s mother called to invite my family over for empanadas. Mommy loved the delicious meat-filled pastries with the flaky crust.  When we got across the street to their house, I could tell that Mayo’s dad was mad, ranting about Mayo. “God-dem kid can’t fish like his brother, Tony,” he said with a heavy Ilocano accent.  His dad showed my dad where his lucky bowling league shirt had gotten dirty in the struggle with the leopard shark.  Later he mellowed out they had a couple of shots of Wild Turkey.
It was that night, while Mayo’s sixteen-year-old brother Tony was in the other room watching TV with his girlfriend, that Mayo showed me his stitched up and bandaged hand and made me swear never to tell the other kids how it happened. 
            So, Magdaluyo, his toughness kept safe from my promise to keep that secret safe, held his rank as a leader among the neighborhood kids.  In return, I guess you could say he watched over me like a junkyard dog- a big-hearted, junkyard dog.
One time, I was outside on the sidewalk making bubbles by dipping a bubble hoop into an old pie tin filled with soapy water.  Two men pulled up slowly in a two-door, gray Buick. It was plush!  Cigar smoke odor floated, gray and stinky, through the open passenger window.  A ceramic smiling hula girl stood cemented to the dashboard with a glob of soft putty, her grass-skirted hips gyrating to the pulsing vibration of the Buick’s noisy engine.
“Want some candy?” the blonde-bearded, bald guy in the passenger seat asked me.  His calloused hand dangled outside the open car window.  A crusty, oversized palm--extended toward me-- filled with colorful sugar-coated candies.
I answered, “No, that’s okay.” I looked quickly to my right and left.   I could hear my dad’s words in the back of my head warning me, “Soledad, never take anything from strangers, understand?”  But the man’s voice was friendly and he coaxed me over to him, with outstretched arm.
“Here  It’s okay.  Take ‘em.  Plenty more where that came from.”
I looked upward to my forehead as if my dad’s previous warning were written there, right next to the other rules, like, “Answer when grown-ups talk to you.”  These conflicting lessons threw me off balance.
“C’mon!  Here!” the man insisted, before I could speak my refusal.
I stood up and looked down at my legs which had begun moving, one foot in front of the other.  Toward the car.  Toward the candies in the man’s hand.  His other hand reached into his lap for something more, his arm moving in a pumping motion unfamiliar to me.  My eyes darted to the unexpected movement as I got within three feet of the car door, but I was too afraid to move my gaze away from the man’s face for very long.  He leered and nodded reassuringly. I knew I shouldn’t be taking this candy, but could not stop myself from obeying him.  Without thinking, I stepped forward quickly –more from the fear of being seen by my dad than from any threat from this stranger. I grabbed the candy, one or two pieces falling to the ground in my haste to backpedal away from the car. My eyes locked in to the man’s blue-eyed gaze.
Just then, Mayo’s voice rang out, penetrating the moment.  “Hey, Soli! What’re you holding in your hand?” he shouted. I looked across the street and beheld Mayo hanging out of his upstairs dining room window.  I waved tentatively up at Mayo while his dad was grabbing him by the ear and yanking him in from the window.    “Mind your business, boy!” I heard him yell.
Alarmed that Mayo’s loud voice brought attention to their presence, the men in the two-door gray Buick sped away, vanishing as quickly as they had appeared.
I hurried back to my house, brought those candies upstairs and put them on the kitchen table for my dad and mom to see while I told how I got them.  The consequence of me having accepted them was swift.  Daddy’s leather belt came zinging out of his belt loops right then and there.   His strong arms dealt the whippings to my bare behind, in the middle of the kitchen where my mom stood next to the stove, her back turned, frying up spam and leftover rice for our lunch. She did not look around, but she rubbed her pregnant tummy as if to comfort the baby inside. I wondered if the baby could hear me crying from the spanking I had gotten. I was going to be a big sister pretty soon and I didn’t want the baby to be afraid.
“Go wash up your face and come to eat your lunch,” said my mom.  She turned her head sideways to say that to me and I couldn’t see her face or hear any sympathy in her voice, so that made it feel like I had been extra bad.
While we were still eating, the doorbell rang.  Mommy pushed away from the table, walked into the living room and cranked open the window.
“Who is it?” she called down, waiting for the person to step back from the gate so she could see who was there.  
 “Is Soledad okay?  Can she come out to play?”  It was Mayo.
“Later, Magdaluyo. She is eating lunch and then needs to do some chores.”
After lunch, my dad called me over to the recliner in the living room where he was sitting. “There’s a huge difference between getting candy from Mr. Morrison, our neighbor, and accepting candy from complete strangers. Do you understand?”  I felt like crying again, but held my breath for three seconds until the feeling went away. My dad gestured for me to come closer. “Another spanking?” I thought as he took hold of my wrist.  But instead, he hugged me close and didn’t let go.  It seemed like a long time but finally he let go and looked into my eyes.  “You may go outside and join Magdaluyo and the other kids now.  Be careful,” he reminded, as he zipped up my jacket and kissed me on my forehead.
Outside, the kids were huddled together at the corner lying on their stomachs playing with a beetle crawling along a crack in the sidewalk.  “Hey, Soledad’s back!” yelled Aisha.  Mayo and Randy stood up and brushed off their hands.
“Good!  Let’s go visit the Candyman!” declared Mayo.
  Candyman was an elderly, African-American gentleman who lived around the corner in a one-story house covered in gray, weather-stained shingles. was fondly known by everyone in the Ingleside.  He was reclusive and rarely seen, except when, rain or shine, he took his bus ride to Stonestown Shopping Center at eleven a.m. every day of the week. His real name was Mr. Morrison. In his younger days, he had been a volunteer at the Jose Ortega Home School where I went to Kindergarten, and many families remembered his soft-spoken and kind presence in the classrooms of their children over the years.  It wasn’t clear whether there was a “Mrs. Candyman”.
Randy,  Aisha, Mayo, and me tumbled up to Candyman’s doorstep like a sweaty clump of weeds , and stopped short, always a little hesitant when it came to ringing the doorbell since rarely seeing him made Candyman a bit mysterious to us.
            Mayo stepped forward first.  “Here, I’ll push the buzzer.” Cobwebs hung from the white, paint-chipped molding around the door and side windows. The four of us peered through the white lace curtains that covered them, our flattened out hands becoming salute-like visors over our eyebrows.  Candyman shuffled slowly toward the front door, pin-striped pleated wool slacks hanging off his skeletal frame like a waterfall, and worn-out elastic suspenders slipping off the clean white T-shirt he wore.  Even though he could probably see who we were, it was his routine to pull back the dusty curtains to peek out at us.   Then he turned and shuffled away again, fur-lined suede slippers scratching along his bare hardwood floor.  We waited a little.  Candyman reappeared.  When he opened the door, the smell coming from the foyer, like the inside cover of a church hymnal, invited us to his doorstep with familiar simplicity.  In his veiny, slender hand he cradled the special candy of the day: sometimes it was Hershey bars with almonds, or packs of caramel Rolos, or sometimes even butterscotch Life Savers.  He barely spoke a word as he handed out the candy, but as we held out their palms and thanked him in turn, he would nod his head, smile, and wave from the doorway as we ran off.
The following Sunday, after the scary spanking encounter with the strangers in the Buick, the parents arranged for Mayo and me to walk together to catechism classes at St. Emedius Parish.  On the way home we discovered a construction site where a burned-down house was being rebuilt. 
We had been told to return straight home, but here was an adventure too irresistible to pass up.  Mayo led the way over the yellow caution tape so we could look at the thick bundles of different-colored electrician’s wire, collect the long white plastic bands that held the plywood, and have a contest on who could find the most kinds of different-sized nails.  Picking up a big chunk of tar, he said, “I know how to make fireball candies out of these.”
“Whoa. Really?” I answered.   He directed me to pick up only the shiny tar pieces and to put them in the big front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt. 
“The shiny and hard tar pieces—not the dull and soft ones—make the very finest fireball jawbreaker candies,” he instructed. 
Once back home, he went into the garage to get his father’s old bowling ball.  We wedged it between two bricks in the gutter so it wouldn’t roll away down the hill.  With the three finger holes facing up, he filled each hole with water from the hose.
“Gimme one of those tar pieces,” he ordered.  I dug into my pocket and pulled out the shiniest one.  Handing me a popsicle stick he added, “Now drop the tar piece into the biggest hole and stir it in the water.”  I stirred and stirred while he ran back into his house.  He yelled down from the living room window on the second floor.  “Is it turning into a fireball yet?”
“No, not yet,” I yelled back, watching the tar piece floating in the tiny pool of water. “But I think it’s getting rounder,” I added, not wanting to disappoint.
“Good!  Keep stirring, Soli. You should be able to see the red color pretty soon,” he shouted down from the window.
In a minute Mayo was back, squatting beside me. I was positive I could see the tar piece turning red as he had promised.
“Now, you have to close your eyes and count to three, but make sure you keep on stirring!” he ordered.  “And keep your eyes closed!”
“One…Two…Three...”  I opened my eyes and sure enough, the tar piece had turned into a red fireball jawbreaker candy.
Mayo’s face looked amazed too. “Here, Soli girl, you can have it,” he said, plucking it out of the tiny pool of water and pressing it into my hand.
“Let’s make some more!” I shouted.
“No.  That tar piece will only make one fireball candy,” he answered. “And you get the only one.” Mayo bent down to pick up the bowling ball.
 “’Cause you always kept our secret about where I got this,” he answered, pointing to the scar on his hand.

Monday, October 3, 2011

During the first Filipino American International Book Festival held in San Francisco October 1 & 2, 2011, the Center for Babaylan Studies graciously invited me to join their Opening Ritual for the second day of the festival. Here, I read the Invocation written by Lizae Reyes, followed by a lovely ceremony which set a tone of celebration and reverence for the Filipino spirit found in the written, spoken, acted, sung, words of our people inside thirty-eight booths, embraced by the Asian Art Museum on one side, and the San Francisco Public Library on the other.  My heart is full of more stories to come.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Here are Chapters 1 "Get the Goo" and 11 "Shopping Bags"of  my manuscript, Hands for Soledad.  They were paired for a special reading with Women on Writing (W.O.W.) at the San Mateo County Fair in June, 2011.

Get the Goo 
When Mommy told me, “Soli, get the Goo,” I knew she was having a good day.  What I mean is, she was feeling well enough to come out of bed for awhile to put my hair up in ponytails.  On this day, she put on a fresh housecoat and some make-up, even though her eyes were still real yellow because she was kinda sickly.  Nobody ever told me exactly what she had, but I overheard the grown-ups say it had something to do with her being born with a bad liver.
I opened the bottle of pink “Goo”, the hair style gel that smelled like bubble bath and dish soap mixed together. I loved the smell of the Goo. Still, my nose wrinkled up every time I unscrewed the lid and I think this is because its slimy, thick texture was creepy.  If you dipped your fingers into the bottle, you could stretch the goo between your fingertips. Goo was like a bottle of pink bugers.  Anyway, I still really loved the smell.   I dropped in the rat tail comb, and sat on the white vinyl ottoman facing the mirror. Mommy took the bottle and put it next to her on the metal folding tray with painted yellow sunflowers on it.  Her plate of dry toast from the breakfast Dad had put on the tray at her bedside still had half a slice remaining, and a clot of grape jelly clinging to the side of the dish.  Mommy took a little bite of toast, sat behind me at the edge of the unmade bed, and straddled her legs around me. She gathered up my tangled long hair with one hand, while slowly drawing the rat tail comb out of the bottle of Goo with the other hand.  The Goo drooled off the edge of the comb. Mommy waited for a bit to let it drip and then tapped the rest off and back in to the bottle.
Combing and smoothing, Mommy pressed my hair flush against my scalp, the black strands of hair shiny slick—drying in crunchy clusters of hairs all in line with the teeth of the hard comb.  She bundled my hair so tight it pulled my eyelids back and upward, making my eyes look even slantier than they already were.  After that, she grabbed a rubber band, pulled my hair through, and then tugged the ponytail hairs even tighter.
 “O-w-w-w-w, too tight,” I whined. I scratched at my neck where the hairs itched at their very roots.
“Keep still, Soli,” Mommy said. She placed her hands on my shoulders, gently turning me to the left so she could comb out the second side.  With one last dip into the pink Goo, Mommy got up from the bed, squatted in front of me, and combed down my bangs. She tied plaid ribbons that matched my orange corduroy pedal pushers over each ponytail.    I was a small kid compared to the other kids, so my pants went all the way down to my ankles.  Didn’t matter.  I knew I looked so good with my hair done up with the Goo.
3-6-9 The goose drank wine
The Monkey chewed tobacco on the street-car line
The line broke, the monkey got choked
And they all went to heaven in a little row boat umm-hmm
                                             -Shirley Ellis, 1965
Shopping Bags

Though me and my brother arrived at Auntie Serafina’s house in mid-December, I didn’t remember anything at all about Christmas that year:  Where we were, who was there—or whether anyone, was there at all.  Mommy’s funeral had been only two weeks before, but my dad wanted to get out of our house on Fleetwood Drive as fast as we could.
“Too many memories, Soli,” he muttered as he folded up my bed frame and slammed it up against the wall. “Too many memories.”  While cleaning out my mommy’s --his wife’s-- belongings, in the cabinet above her closet, my  father discovered twenty Christmas gifts, wrapped in red, green, and gold paper, each one with a nametag addressed to a niece, a nephew, an aunt, an uncle, and to every one of Mommy’s fourteen godchildren. Each present was decorated with matching curled ribbon and her handmade flowers made of crepe paper.
A rush of people whose faces I didn’t even recognize, filed through the house, dabbing their eyes with a balled up tissue in one hand, grabbing whatever of my mommy’s things they wanted with their other hand: her heavy -duty Guardian Service pots and pans and the matching pyrex lids for example.
“These are expensive in the department stores!” I heard them whisper.
 I wonder why I all of a sudden felt like throwing up just because I saw one of those balled up wet tissues fall out of one lady’s hand onto the rug.
 Out the door with them went mommy’s belongings. Her costume jewelry.  Her sewing machine.  Crinkled Macy’s bags filled with fabric remnants from Halloween costumes she had sewn for me and Davey. Her shoes.
“As a remembrance, darling,” the women had said ,  pressing their powdered noses against my face, then Davey’s, and sniffing our cheeks, as if smelling Mommy’s children would then become part of the remembrance they could take away with them. 
Their hands.  Snapping open brown paper shopping bags stacked by the door on  a warped and rustingTV tray with yellow sunflowers painted on them. 

Loading in my mommy’s things, one by one. 
3-6-9 The goose drank wine
The Monkey chewed tobacco on the street-car line
The line broke, the monkey got choked
And they all went to heaven in a little row boat 
                                                                      -Shirley Ellis, 1965