Family

Hello blog. Where I've been while I've been gone.

Hello blog. It’s been a while. First things slowed down (in the middle of the series about my incarcerated teen poets because Livejournal had the attack on their servers and then, well, life intervened, as it has a way of doing. And even though people say you don’t need to say to write a post about being gone I feel compelled to say a few things. Three, I think.

Number one, a couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of going to Las Vegas to speak at their SCBWI conference. I had a wonderful time talking about creating characters and met some enthusiastic writers. But if that wasn’t enough of an event, the day after the conference I had the pleasure of finally meeting the half-sister I never knew I had.

My lovely niece capture the very first hug.

What do you think, can you see a resemblence?

We spent a wonderful day together talking about similarities and differences and telling family stories. And as I posted on Facebook (forgive me for those of you reading this/seeing pics a second time) there will always be a hole in my heart from not knowing my dad but getting to my sister and some of the rest of the family goes a long way toward filling that up again.

Second, I’ve been spending a lot of my time and energy on learning how to eat in new ways and man, that takes more time than I realized. It’s taken most of my focus just to get into these new habits but now I’m feeling like yes, they are habits. I’m maintaining the healthy course I want to be on and I don’t feel at all deprived. I’ve lost 38 pounds so far and plan on keeping with the program until I am as healthy as I can be and then staying on the program to keep myself that way. And by “program” I don’t mean something like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or some diet with a catchy name. I count calories and track it every day. I’ve cut out sugar and flour except for rare occassions. And that’s about it. It really is that simple.

And third, I’ve been able to focus on my writing again. At last. In the past year I’ve let go of a ton of emotional baggage that has been weighing me down for years. And then there’s the whole getting healthy thing. Not eating the right foods was rotting my brain and affecting my ability to focus. So I’m back to work, hard and fast, on my YA verse novel, coincidentally enough, about a very interesting pair of sisters. I’m sure you’ll get to know them a bit better as the character letters start going back and forth again.

I’m a lucky gal. Life is good and I’m smart enough to know it. You know those songs where they say, “I feel like I could fly…” Well it’s like that.

Yeah, just like that.

So hello blog, I’ve missed you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011|Categories: Family|Tags: |7 Comments

5 Things I've Learned About Myself Recently

I was going to post this on Friday for a Friday five but then it started getting really long. Then I was going to post it on Saturday and didn’t. By Sunday I convinced myself to wait until Monday. That’s the way my thought process has been going these days.

I haven’t been around the blogosphere lately because I’ve been doing a lot of pondering about myself and my writing and my online life and art and a whole bunch of stuff. Not sure that many folks even read this any more because I haven’t been good about interacting and I know that’s what makes you fall off of other people’s radar. Anyway, here are some thoughts around some of the things I’ve been thinking.

1. It’s important to think about the whys behind your doing of things.

I have become (mostly unintentionally) greatly disconnected from the online world. Some of this is a carryover from all the house stuff last year but some of it is me dog-paddling for so long that I just don’t have the energy to keep it up anymore. Hard to keep swimming when you don’t see any land in sight. So lately I’m not Tweeting. I’m not blogging or responding to blogs. I’m trying to keep up on Facebook status updates but that’s about it. In some ways this has been good. Online is noisy and even if the noise is virtual, for me it’s like being at a rock concert 24/7. And I don’t do concerts.

Taking in all that info, trying to remember who to check in with, making the rounds and making the rounds and then, one more time, making the rounds it can drain me. It can also fill me, when there’s the give and take with people but because of my unintentional disconnect, there hasn’t been that give and take. I’ve taken from everyone for too long without giving back so people move on. I understand. It’s the way things work. The trouble is figuring out where to jump back in again because it’s not just the jumping in…it’s the convincing myself to keep going beyond those quiet times while things build back up again. So this has been the subject of much pondering on my part.

I recently bought and watched a CD from Brene Brown called The Hustle For Worthniess which was an extension from one of her books (sorry, I can’t remember which one) but the idea of hustling around, doing things we think will make us worthy of someone’s attention rang a little bit too true for me. So I’ve been wondering, why do I Tweet? Why do I use Facebook? And most importantly, why do I blog? Am I trying to help other people or am I seeking attention for myself? And if I want the attention, is that a bad thing, a hustling for worthiness sort of thing? I’m still trying to figure that one out. What confuses me is that a friend told me recently that I am at my best when I put myself out there with honesty and transparency. That rings true for me but then it is all about me, me, me and I don’t know that I am offering anything else to the world.

2. Not everything you try is going to work, and that’s okay.

I am probably going to retire The Poetry Push I started on Tuesdays. It hasn’t taken off and I know that a big reason for that is because of my own lack of participation in the event and in other online things. I think the result might have been different if I had started it during a peak rather than a valley. I might use the list poem prompts as my project for National Poetry month since that’s coming up next month and I have no idea what I am going to do for that. Two years ago when I participated for the first time I wrote haiku about my native garden. Last year I wrote poems about the father I never knew.This year I have no idea. I thought about trying to write poems about Cassie but I don’t know if I could come up with 30 of them. I thought about doing a different poetry prompt each day, doing the exercise myself and hoping more people would participate. I thought about trying to write about art and what it is adding/doing to my life. But so far nothing seems both right and achievable. Because I really hate failing.

3. Play time is an important gift to give yourself, especially guilt-free play time.

I gave myself the gift of March as an entire month of play. It came about as a result of taking with a friend about working and not working and she said you know, there’s a big difference between not working and beating yourself up about it and feeling guilty and then, instead, giving yourself permission to take time off and then not feeling guilty about not working. She was right so when I went to my Asilomar conference at the end of March I let myself think about which one I was doing and finally decided to give myself a month of guilt-free play. I’ve been taking painting lessons online and doing a lot of art. I’ve been sitting in the garden and doing nothing. I’ve been reading non-fiction. And I’ve been waiting for stories to tell me they want me to pay attention to them. The stories, well they’ve surprised me. I’ve been reading more poetry and feeling, at times, less like writing it. I am being drawn back to some middle grade prose ideas I’ve played with. Then of course I start to second-guess myself about why I feel less like writing poetry when I go back and read what I’ve written and mostly like it. I think some of it has to do with the labels and pressures that are placed on verse novelists. (Not that labels and pressures aren’t places on all writers.) Which goes back to my first point and wondering if it is about chasing worthiness again? I’ll continue to let myself see-saw on story thoughts for the next couple of weeks and see how I feel at the end of March.

4. Doing something with a friend makes it more fun. Plus there’s that accountability factor.

Some of you might have read  posting about an upcoming poetry adventure she and I are undertaking together. So many times we get poetry books (or writing craft books) and we really MEAN to do the exercises but we don’t. So Laura and I are starting a weekly feature called Write After Reading where we actually, gasp, plan to DO the exercises in a book as we read it and then discuss it in alternating weeks on our blogs. The first book we are starting with is Writing the Life Poetic and we’d love for you to join us. I’ll write more about it all in a separate post later but for now you can pop over and read about it on Laura’s blog. She’s started us off on Wednesday.

5. Learning something new makes you look at everything else in life differently.

I’ve been mostly focused on art this month and really stretching myself to learn a lot of new things about art in a short amount of time. I love the excitement that comes with learning something new. I love the lack of pressure that comes from being a newbie. I love making “mistakes” and just letting go of the mistake as learning experience and not beating myself up.

I dug into my stash of “beautiful blank books” and just started throwing paint on the blank pages. (oh yes, artists suffer from blank page syndrome just like writers do.) I wanted to overcome the idea that the book was too beautiful for me to use and anything I put into it had to be beautiful too. I had a stash of craft paints that have (to me) a horrible chalky texture that I can’t stand to touch, especially after becoming addicting to Golden Fluid Acrylics. So I decided to use them as a first layer in a new art journal. Every time Cassie rang the bell to go outside I’d sit down at the art desk and slap a coat of paint on a couple of pages. After about a week the journal is mostly filled up with color. Some color I like. Some I don’t. It doesn’t matter. It just the first layer and it’s only paint. I can paint over it. I can collage over it. I can even rip the pages out if I really don’t like it. But I no longer have a blank page staring at me. Now I have something to edit. Just like writing. You can’t revise a blank page.

As usual this went on a lot longer than most people want to read but hey, I’m consistent with my gabbiness. Here’s hoping to be around the blogosphere more in the future.

Monday, March 14, 2011|Categories: Family|Tags: , , |24 Comments

Happy birthday, Ryan!

Today is my son’s birthday. I wrote a bunch of stuff and then deleted it because I’m not so sure he’d be pleased to see it out there on the net forever and ever. Our conversations are usually short (but sweet) and don’t often venture into the touchy feely category. So I’ll just say Happy Birthday, Ryan. I’m very proud of you and how hard are working to create the life you want, despite a few rocks (okay boulders) in your path and that really crappy hand in the genetics card game.

And because sometimes we all need to be reminded of how far much we’ve accomplished against the odds, I’d like to remind you of something you said a while ago when you wrote  about how it felt to be hit with Muscular Dystrophy.

You said, "I was doing things I should not have been able to do simply because I did not know that I should not be able to do them."

I want you to remember your own words when life throws you another curve ball and you think you can’t do something. Because Ryan, let me tell you, you can do anything you set your mind to do. Really.

For those of you who read my blog, I wonder if you would help me wish Ryan a happy birthday and share a favorite story or quote or scripture about courage for him?  Thank you.

Happy birthday, Ryan.

Friday, July 16, 2010|Categories: Family|Tags: |22 Comments

Goodbye, Aunt Janet

Rest in peace, Aunt Janet Webb. You were my first contact with the Webb family that I never knew. I’m so glad I had the chance to talk to you before you were gone. You welcomed me into the family with open arms and no hesitation. You reassured me when I cried that it was all okay. And you told me some wonderful stories about my father and my grandmother.

Thank you.

Monday, July 12, 2010|Categories: Family|Tags: |22 Comments

How poetry, Google, and Craigslist helped me find the family I never knew I had

And now, the rest of the story, or more specifically, how poetry, Google, and Craigslist helped me find the family I never knew I had.

In November of last year I wrote about finding my father’s obituary. It was an odd feeling to find him but to not be able to talk to him. Thanks to the Internet and Google I was able to use some of the information in the obituary to get a pretty good idea of where my aunts were living but I didn’t do anything with the information. They were old and I was scared. How do you suddenly drop into someone’s life and announce yourself as a relative? What if they yelled at me? So I decided to do nothing. I’m good at that.

Along came National Poetry Month and I had the idea to explore my relationship with my father through poetry so that I could finally make peace with it all and then move on. After I had posted the first few poems I was contacted by Diane Main, a local teacher, who had read my poems and been moved by my story. And it turned out that this teacher had a passion for something of her own, genealogical research. She offered to see what she could track down about my father’s family.

In no time at all she located my father’s half-sister living only an hour away from. She had been given up for adoption by my grandmother but had the opportunity to correspond with her mother/my grandmother, before my grandmother’s death. I sent my aunt a link to some pictures I had of my parents wedding and in the set was a picture of me as a toddler taken in front of the Christmas tree at the car dealership where my mother worked. My aunt recognized the car dealership because she had grown up her entire life living right next door to the owner! My mother, when asked, remembered my aunt’s parents but had no idea that their adopted daughter was related to me.

You can read more of Diane’s side of her research for me here.

Each night while I worked on my poems Diane worked on my family tree. She found one Webb after another. My aunts and uncles. My great grandparents. Suddenly I was surrounded by Webbs. But most of her research went backwards, toward the older and mostly dead Webbs.

That’s when I thought of those names and cities and states I read in my father’s obituary. And I finally felt brave enough to try and make contact. Thanks to Google, I found the phone number for both of my aunts. I called the one that I knew my mom had met. And yes, my heart was pounding, wondering what I was going to say. I ended up just blurting out, “My name is Susan and I’m Tommy’s daughter.”

It was a wonderful conversation. She’d had some health issues so her memory wasn’t as great as I had hoped for back when my mom and her brother were married but she never once doubted me and she told me so many stories about my father’s childhood, stories that helped me make sense out of the type of person he had become. When she ran out of stories about my father I asked her about her mother, my grandmother. She paused and then said, “Well, she loved to write poetry.”

That was when I burst into tears. There is no one on my mother’s side of the family that has any inclination toward writing at all so this small piece of information touched me to the core. The next day I was still feeling pretty brave so I called my aunt Kitty and again I was greeted with open arms. She was able to tell me even more about my grandmother and she stopped every so often to call out the name of another relative. The following day I called my father’s widow Ruth and she was able to fill in a few more pieces, but not much, about him.

Until I called them, none of these people knew about me.

Aunt Kitty gave me phone numbers for three people that, until I read the obituary, I never knew existed. My two half-brothers and my half-sister. I tried my sister first but the phone number didn’t work. Then I tried my youngest brother. She had given me his cell phone but he had recently moved and she wasn’t sure if it would still be connected. It wasn’t. But for some reason I decided to put his cell phone number into Google. I’m not sure what I was hoping for but what I got was something I didn’t expect, an ad from Craigslist. He was selling some furniture and it had has cell phone listed and another number that I assumed was the house phone. The ad was fairly recent and I knew what city he was in so I looked up the area code and added it to the house phone and hit the send button on the phone.

I think I gave him quite a shock when he answered the phone and I told him we were related.

We had a nice talk and then he gave me my sister’s phone number so I could finally talk to her. And that was the best conversation of all. We laughed. We cried. She said, “I took a nap and I was the oldest in the family and I wake up and I have an older sister.”

Lori and I have been piecing together our joint history. The most surprising discovery has been that her mom knew about me all my life but us kids were all kept in the dark. Since then I’ve made contact with my brother’s wife, cousins, second cousins, and a whole lot of Webbs. My brother sent me pictures of my siblings and my father’s widow and cousins have sent me pictures of my father.

Back in 2005 I wrote about a dream I had about my father and how in that dream, he gave me a gift. And now, five years later, I think I understand. It wasn’t in him to be there for me but through him I now have that family connection I’ve been searching for all my life.

All because I wrote some poems about something that mattered to me. Poetry can change your life. No doubt about it.

Friday, April 30, 2010|Categories: Family, National Poetry Month 2010, Poetry Friday|Tags: , , |59 Comments

Family Stories

Here we are, at the end of National Poetry month and this is my last poem in the series about my father. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen to me during this month but I knew that I would be changed by the experience because that’s what writing does, it changes you. What I was hoping for was to find a way to finally heal, after all these years, and let go of any of the anger and frustration I have had at the man who was my father only in the biological sense. I’m tired of carrying all that hurt around. It’s a heavy load and it slows me down. I’ve tried to let go of it all before and never had much luck but this time, things were different. I could tell that right from the start.

These have all been first draft poems written late at night after I’ve forced myself to sit still and quietly revisit those old hurts. I don’t have a lot of memories so as the month went on, it got a little more difficult to mine the past for new poems but somehow, every night, something bubbled up that needed remembering so it could be put to rest. I didn’t revise the poems or sit on them overnight so often, in the morning, there were mistakes in grammar, bad line breaks, even a few facts I got wrong – all stuff that needed fixing. Normally the idea that I’ve been posting poems with mistakes in them would make me cringe but this time, I was okay with it because in the writing of every poem I’ve been feeling myself heal. There’s a scar, there always will be, but I no longer feel defined by the fact that I grew up without a father. I am who I am because of the things I’ve done in my life, the choices I’ve made, and while I am far from perfect, I’m pretty happy with how I turned out.

For all of you who read and posted comments and sent me emails offering support on this emotional journey, I thank you. I could feel you all holding me up when I was trying so hard not to fall apart. And for those of you who read but didn’t comment, I could feel you there too. Really.

So here’s my final poem of the series with an afterward worthy of an after-school special movie.

FAMILY STORIES

I grew up a lonely, only child in a
neighborhood of other people’s grandparents.

Imaginary friends kept me company in my attic bedroom
except for those few weeks during summer vacation
when grandkids came to visit
up and down the street.

What I wanted as much
or maybe even more than a father
was a sense of family,
of feeling like I belonged,
a chance to find myself
in the faces of my family.

My mom and I
were the only Webbs I ever knew
and I felt the absence of that family
nearly every day.
It didn’t seem to matter to me
if they were good or bad
what mattered
was that they were someplace
that I wasn’t and for the longest time
I translated that in my mind
to mean that I was less than everyone else.

I learned to tell stories by watching television
and rewriting the endings of my favorite shows
when I was supposed to be asleep.
I’d hide under the covers
and rearrange the scenes in my head
so the star of the show had to search for someone,
a missing daughter
a missing sister
a missing someone,
who always
turned out to be me.

All I ever wanted
was to write a happy ending
to my family history.

I think I’ve finally figured out
that family stories are different for everyone
and it’s up to you to do the research
to fill in the blanks
of what you don’t know
and then rewrite your story
so it all comes out
just the way you want it to.

Who I am
is not because of him
or in spite of him.

Who I am
is because of me
because of all I have experienced
because of all I have done (and not done)
because of the choices I have made
to live the life I am living.

Who I am
just fine
just right
just who I am
supposed to be.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

What You Missed Knowing About Me

WHAT YOU MISSED KNOWING ABOUT ME

I like meat and potatoes
better than fruits and vegetables
and I can’t stand it
when the juice from the green beans
runs into my mashed potatoes.
I used to take a paper napkin
and roll it into long, skinny tubes
that I could use to separate my food.

Books were always my best friend
and I could navigate our entire house
while reading
and never run into anything.

One summer I hammered nails
into the apricot tree,
hoping it would die
so no one would ever make me try to eat one again.

School came easy for me
and teachers liked me
because I always did my homework
and volunteered to answer
even when no one else would raise their hand.

Even though I was short
I ran the hurdles on the track team
and I ran fast.

I got booed
when I tried out
for chorus
and the school play
and the fashion show.

Dance lessons and piano recitals
were okay
but what I loved most was
roller skating and horses.
I was good at skating
and not so great at riding horses.

I’ve been afraid to go to sleep all my life.

When you add it all up
I was just an ordinary kid
but I was your ordinary kid,
and that’s
who you missed
knowing.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Alone Again

ALONE AGAIN

In the day time
he worked at a gas station fixing cars and pumping gas
but in the evenings
he got cleaned up and left my mom
home alone
so he could go out dancing with other women.

How good he
was at hurting
both of us
by not being there.

I don’t know what the final straw was
for her, the ice cubes or the angel food cake,
(not my stories to tell)
but one day while I was still growing in her belly
she said enough
and moved out, back to the safe cocoon of her parents home
across the street from his mother’s house.

I wonder if he ever came to see his mother
and maybe glanced across the street
where his soon-to-be ex-wife lived,
with me still growing in her belly, waiting to be born
and thought about coming to see her,
trying to fix what was broken between them.

Probably not.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Autobiography

AUTOBIOGRAPHY

The first week of school
Mr. MacComber made us write our autobiography
even though most of us  hadn’t done anything more exciting
than go to the state fair over summer vacation.

We went through each year of our life
trying to remember something significant enough
to be recorded for all time.

I wrote about my father not being there
and how his not being there
left a giant hole in who I thought I was
and who I thought was supposed to be.
I wrote about how I felt like a freak,
different from everyone else,
because I was the only person I knew
who had never met their dad.
And I wrote about how sometimes
thinking about him made me want to scream
and sometimes it made me want to run away
and try to find him.

Mr. MacComber gave me an A
because I was good at writing
but then he wrote a long note
telling me I might need to go see a shrink
because it sounded like I needed some help.

But he didn’t say it like that.

He said I was mentally unbalanced
and he recommended psychiatric help.

The rest of the school year
Mr. MacComber kept watching me
like he expected me to fall apart
in front of him and the entire class.

I fell apart a little bit every day
but it was on the inside
where no one could see.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

What I Wanted Him to Say

WHAT I WANTED HIM TO SAY

I should have called
I should have written
I should have done something
to let you know I was thinking about you.

I thought about you every day
and wondered if you were happy
and tried to imagine your smile.

When I saw other little
blond-haired blue-eyed girls
my heart always caught in my throat
because they reminded me
of you.

Every day on your birthday
I paused to think of you
and hoped you would feel it.

I’m sorry I missed so much of your life,
missed getting to know you,
missed hearing you call me daddy.

Most of all, I’m sorry I hurt you
and ever made you feel that
my not being with you
meant you weren’t a good person.

That’s what I wanted him to say
and I think I could believe it,
all of it,
unless he tried to tell me
how much he loved me
because then I’d know
that everything he said before
was just a lie.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

In My Dreams

IN MY DREAMS

Sleep rarely came easy to me
so I made up stories
about how my father traveled
the world doing important work
and how one day, soon, he would
come back to find me.
My audience of stuffed animals,
crowded around me on the bed,
listened intently and never disagreed
with my expectation of his return.

My mother came before she went to bed
and tucked me in real tight,
Snug as a bug in a rug, she said
leaving me trapped beneath the crisp, cotton sheets
unable to run from the bad dreams ahead,
the nightmare that he came back
in the middle of the night not to stay,
but to steal me away from my mother, my grandmother
the only life and family
I had ever known

I’d wake up screaming
and my mother would run to me
but I could never tell her
my dream.

I wanted him in my world.
I didn’t want to go into his.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Wondering

WONDERING

So much time wondering
about you,
who you were,
where you were,
and all that time
I was living
in the house across the street
from where you used to live
and I wonder,
did you ever
even once,
wonder about me?

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

From Father to Son

FROM FATHER TO SON

His father, my grandfather,
was a music man
with so much talent running through his veins
he could play just about anything he wanted to play
and he sang, they said, like an Irish tenor
even though he was born, most likely,
on the Indian reservation.

Music wove in and out of his life
braided with bottles of alcohol
that brought on a giant case of mean
and chased my grandmother,
my father, and his big sister
out to the barn to hide in the hayloft
until it was safe to come out again.

Eventually Grandma ran away
taking my father, and his big sister
across the country where she could
work in the factories like Rosie the Riveter
to help the war.
But she kept making poor choices
when it came to picking men,
giving my father nothing but bad examples
of how to be a father.

If I close my eyes
and let myself imagine my father
as a little boy
hiding in a hayloft
from his angry, drunken father
who beat up his mom,
I can feel sorry for him.

But when I open my eyes
and think about what
he might have learned,
all I feel
is sad.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Family Tree

FAMILY TREE

In Mrs. Mullin’s class
we studied genetics
and how sometimes
we turn out like our parents
because of what our
cells did and didn’t do
before we were born.

We brought in pictures
and made charts about
the color of our eyes
and the color of our hair.
Kyle Williams had red
hair and his mom and his dad
and his two brothers
and his aunt Agie
all had red hair too.

For the last assignment
we made trees as tall as we were
out of brown paper bags
and taped them to the wall.

Then we cut leaves out of
green construction paper and
wrote names on every leaf
about who we were
and who are parents were
and where we came from.

Kyle had so many red-headed
relatives he needed extra leaves
for his tree.

Day after day
leaves filled the trees
telling the names of people
and where they were born
going back farther and farther
until there were so many leaves on the walls of the room
that it looked like spring had just burst out
right in the middle of our class.

My tree was lopsided.
The left side, my mom’s side,
had lots of leaves,
so many you could barely see the wall behind them.
But the right side of the tree had just two,
my father’s name,
my grandmother’s name.
No birthdays.
No birthplace.
No more branches on the family tree.

On back-to-school night
while the parents oohed and aahed
over the forest of families
I stood with my back against the wall
my head tucked up
under the leaf with my father’s name
and pretended
I had nothing to hide.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Grandma

There’s a picture
in my baby book
of my grandma Tina,
my father’s mom,
holding my aunt Kitty
on her lap.

I wasn’t even born yet
but still
I was jealous.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Lessons Learned

LESSONS LEARNED

For a while, Teresa was my best friend
and we played at her house after school
because her mom didn’t have a job.

We drank grape Kool-Aid
and ate pink and white animal crackers
sitting on the teeter-totter
in her backyard.

Teresa said her dad
was the best dad because
he taught her how to whistle
with a piece of grass between her fingers,
how to ride her bike with no hands,
and how to throw a curve ball
better than Brucie Gilbert
who lived across the street.

I let her think she had the best dad
but I knew better.
My dad gave me a super power —

he taught me how to be invisible.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

I Tried

I TRIED

Wishbones on Thanksgiving
my birthday cake each July
dandelions in the summer
pennies in the wishing well at the park,
and the first star, every night, before bed

Nana used to say
that wishing don’t make it so
but not wishing meant giving
up completely

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Case Closed

CASE CLOSED

He forgot
how to be kind to her,
so while my mother’s belly grew round with me
she left, determined
to build a safe and loving home
for me.

Worried
he would come
take me
where she would never
find me.
she did what she thought best,
to keep me
free from harm.

One year and a day
that’s how long
she had to wait
to terminate his rights
to see me.

I never knew.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

No Forwarding Address

NO FORWARDING ADDRESS

I don’t remember the story very well,
I don’t even know if it was real,
maybe it was one of the ones I made up and told
so many times, that it became real to me.
In the story
someone came to the front door of my grandmother’s house,
asking if I was home,
asking to see me,
and my mom told my grandmother
to keep me in the kitchen
hidden from view.

That story got mixed up in my mind
with one I know was true,
the one my mother told me happened before I was born,
the one where men came to the front door of my grandmother’s house,
asking for my father
and my mother saying
he wasn’t there,
he was gone,
and she didn’t know where.

That’s what she told
those important men in suits
who needed to find my father,
needed to find him fast,
because of something he had done wrong.

All she had to give them was a list
of the people they invited to their wedding
less than a year before,
the only record she had, names and addresses of
my father’s friends, my father’s family
his mother, my grandmother
his sister, my aunt
his family, my family.

By the time I was old enough
to ask important questions
it was too late,
she couldn’t remember where anyone lived
where he might have gone
and my father,
his family
my family,
was nowhere to be found.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Snapshot

SNAPSHOT

In the wedding picture they printed
in the newspaper,
now faded black and white,
my mother’s smile
is the same smile
I saw
every morning when I woke up and
every night before bed.
It was the smile that
told me she loved me
told me I was her entire world
told me everything was going to be okay.

In the wedding picture they printed
in the newspaper,
torn just a little bit between the two of them,
my father’s smile
isn’t
there

at
all.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Consumed

CONSUMED

It was just a small fire
smoldering
on the kitchen table when
she came home from work.

It was just a small box
of photos, school friends,
kept on the closet shelf,
cherished mementos
from my mothers childhood
melting into nothingness
on the Formica table.

It was just a small spark
of jealously, uncontainable,
for him.

It was just
a
small
fire.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

The Gift

THE GIFT

Seven
one dollar bills
plucked from a tired wallet,
my father’s only gift,
when forced,
in family court.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

10 Things I Wish I Knew About Him

10 THINGS I WISH I KNEW ABOUT HIM

His favorite color
What kind of music he played on the radio
The cologne he wore
His strengths and his weaknesses
What kind of car he drove
Something he was proud of
Was he a morning person or a night owl
Something that made him laugh
What did he want really want to be when he grew up

Did he ever regret not meeting me?

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Ring Ring

RING RING

Sometimes the phone would ring
and I would run to answer it but by the time I got there,
the line was dead.

Pressing the receiver against my ear
I pretended it was my dad
calling to check in on me while he was gone.

Curled into a ball
on the blue and white linoleum tiles in my grandmother’s kitchen
I twisted the cord around my finger,
answering make-believe questions
while the dial tone droned in my ear like a tired bee.

My grandmother caught me once
and told me to quit playing games
that the phone was not a toy
but still, each time it rang,
I raced to be the first one
to pick it up
and say hello.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Bloodlines

BLOODLINES

From my mother I get
my blond hair and blue eyes
my lack of height
my intense desire to avoid confrontation
at all costs, to give in to others
and make the world smooth out right
so people will like me

We share a love of animals
waffles smothered in maple syrup
and after many years, at last,
a joy of reading
but politics and religion
often reside in opposite corners
of our universes

I’ve been told I shouldn’t let it matter
yet how can I not wonder
about my genetic inheritance?

People don’t realize
how much it matters to a child
to know where they came from,
to contemplate what bits of nature might
have shaped the person they’ve become
even if where they came from
wasn’t a very nice place.

It’s the difference between walking gingerly through life
unsure when you are on solid ground
and marching forward with confidence
that you can take whatever the world
decides to throw your way.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

New Math

NEW MATH

dad plus mom equals

happy family, not always,

sometimes less is more

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

In the Beginning

IN THE BEGINNING

They met
while cranking homemade ice cream
he lived across the street
and invited her to share.
I imagine his eyes twinkling
and her laughing
and their hands touching while they
took turns.

I want to believe that
once upon a time
they were happy.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Where Am I?

WHERE AM I?

The only pictures I’ve ever seen
are from their wedding.
My mother looked like a princess
with her tiny waist
in her lace dress
smiling her perfect smile for the camera.
My father wore a white jacket that
hung loose on his thin frame
his hair cut so short
that his big ears stuck out
like a car with both doors open.

My mother kept the pictures
in the pink box with her wedding dress
tucked in the corner of my grandmother’s attic.
She never told me not to look
but I always waited for her to go to work
before I crept upstairs, found the pictures,
and spread them out until
I was surrounded
by my father’s face.

His hair was Cherokee black
his eyes dark
and when I looked at him
I could find nothing of myself to claim.

I wanted that black hair
growing long down my back
like a rope connecting me to him.
I would have even taken his big ears,
just to help him recognize me,
when he came home.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Sundays

SUNDAYS

For church I wore my Sunday uniform –
a lacy dress my grandmother made
puffed out with white tulle petticoats
that almost kissed my nose when I sat down
short white gloves
patent leather shoes
and ankle socks edged in lace.

As the bells called us to gather
I watched fathers guide mothers into pews,
a hand placed low on the back,
then the children filed in,
one by one,
sandwiched between two towers of love.

It made my heart ache
to see a father
share a hymnal with his daughter
pass a coin from his pocket
and let her drop it in the plate on her own.

I held my mother’s hand
as she found her own place to sit
away from the families, and the people,
who would frown at her
for being divorced.

I never thought about what it must have been like for her
seeing all those happy families
singing for their salvation.

I only thought about me.
It was always about me.

Each week
the service ended the same way.
I pretended to whisper The Lord’s Prayer
but really
I prayed a different prayer of my own.

My father, who isn’t here,
Tommy is your name.
When will you come?
When will you come?
When will you come?
for me?

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

More Lies I've Told

MORE LIES I TOLD

In 4th grade,
hungry for praise of any kind,
I volunteered to memorize
the preamble to the constitution
practicing over and over
until I could recite the whole thing
without once looking at the words
scribbled on my hand.

My teacher sent me to another class
to show off how her teaching skills
made me good at memorizing.

One deep breath, then
I recited each word, smooth and clear,
pausing to make sure I didn’t trip over
“domestic tranquility” or “posterity”

Finished, the class clapped
then the teacher asked my name,
smiling when I told her,
smiling the kind of smile you smile
when something makes you feel good inside.

Any relation to Tommy Webb?

My heart pounded
when the name we never spoke at home
was blurted out in a room full of people.
My father’s name.
The father I didn’t know.
The father I felt sure
held the very answer to who I was
or who I was supposed to be.

But I was good at more than memorizing.

Trained for years to pretend
there was no such person as Tommy Webb
and if there was,
he had no hold on me,
I shook my head and said,

No. No relation at all.

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved