You never forget what was lost:
a favorite pendant dropped
down a vent shaft,
the last breaths of the first family dog.
Gradually, you learn to let these things
keep their shapes in your life
even after they’ve become shadows.
Even your own child slips from your life,
first day of school.
Her old clothes, too small now,
take up space in the basement,
sealed into bins, saved for no other reason
than a look back.
- Julie Brooks Barbour’s chapbook, Come To Me and Drink, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in 2012. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in UCity Review, Waccamaw, Kestrel, and Bigger Than They Appear: Anthology of Very Short Poems.
Home Movie – Flying a Kite in Palmer Park – 1962
We are in our winter coats, light snow falling, still Fall, trees
not fully abandoned by leaves, Detroit
not fully abandoned by the leaving. My father
is tethering string to kite.
This is where I learn the power of pulling away,
of drag force and flight.
My nine-year-old sister is jumping up and down, untethered,
her knit cap tied with two stringy balls under her chin, the wings of her
coat flapping. She is suspended and plaid. She can’t wait for the kite
to leave my father’s hand.
My mother’s hands are in her pockets. She is trying
to stay warm. She wants to return home, talk on the phone,
tell secrets in Yiddish. She speaks a language we can’t understand.
My brother is seven, he wants to hold the string, wants my father
to let him hold the string, wants my father to make the kite go higher,
my sister to stop dancing, wants my father to let him hold the string,
wants me to stay away from the kite; from everyone.
My sister’s arms are kite tails. She is twirling in circles. She is
bobbing up and down, she is caught in some braided turbulence.
I am five. I am standing quiet, hands in my pockets.
I admire the balconies off the porches, the pitched roofs
the old trees, the swing sets in the back yards. I admire the picnic tables
and already know that there are ghosts of families there. There are families
not like ours. I know, there are families not like ours.
My mother is shuffling foot to foot, her mouth is saying
come-on, hurry up, it is snowing. We are in the city.
We are in Palmer Park. The kite is trying to leave.
- Joy Gaines-Friedler’s work is widely published in journals including RATTLE, Margie, The New York Quarterly and others. Her book Like Vapor was published by Mayapple Press (2008). Joy teaches creative writing for non-profits in the Detroit area.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT BEING A HOMELESS YOUTH COUNSELOR
You are a part of a machine. The machine has no feelings. Too many feelings makes the machine rust. A rusty machine leaves marks. You cannot leave marks.
There are walls between you and your coworkers when you laugh about psychosis, between you and the fourteen year old with a story that’s only half as bad as her roommate’s but still beyond your pale, pale bones, between you and a lover that grows queasy at the stories that make you laugh the hardest. The wall is made of smiles and carefully crafted tones. The wall is made of nods and carefully reflective statements. The wall is made of good boundaries, and leaving work at work, even when work is the life someone else has to go home to.
Behind the wall are your two good arms. There is no use for them here.
You are part of a machine. If you are white, if you are woman, if you are educated or queer, you will find other cogs like you. Someone has to run the machine. Don’t tell yourself it’s the big boys in the spotless suits upstairs, it’s you. You in the organization logo t-shirt and the jeans you’ve worn for three days and the food stamps and the sneakers, you make this run. The suit boys will say they can’t do this without you, and they’re right.
You are part of a machine. If you break, they will replace you. Try to hug a crying person; they’ll replace you. Trust a seventeen year old who swears she needs more pain meds; they’ll replace you. Let your wall grow weak with attachments and they’ll replace you. Don’t care too much. Don’t work too much, but give up your weekends, your evenings, keep your cell phone on for emergencies. Stay late when they need you, get your papers filed on time, remember: you are replaceable. The unions won’t touch you. They don’t trust the two year turnover rate and wonder why you do.
You are part of a machine, and you will be hated for it. The young and angry will spit contempt on your shoes, try to jam the machine with their messy, messy lives. You will learn that a quiet threat to call the cops works better than all the yelling. You run the machine. You have the power. There is no need to be rude or cruel. I have learned how to turn youth back to the streets in the nicest voice, to send a person back to jail in my most honeyed tongue.
I am part of a machine. My machine is part safety net, part cattle prod. My machine does not understand. It does not heal. It does not save. I run the machine. Keep my walls chinked. Keep my voice well oiled.
- Dane Kuttler is a Seattle poet who used to be a Massachusetts poet, but has always been a Jewish poet, a bit of a cranky poet, and a pretty good cook. Her work is generally influenced by her fellow performance poets and has been published in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation (Seal Press 2010) and Learn Then Burn: A Classroom Anthology (Write Bloody Press 2010).