Thursday, November 29, 2007

"A Miracle in My House

By Amira Abdul-Wahhab

It was November 25, 2006, Thanksgiving Day, one of the coldest winter days I have ever faced in my 19 years on the earth. Man it was so bitter cold that those tiny hairs on my arms and back were sticking straight up toward the heavens. All the houses on my block had little ice sticks hanging from the gutter and the roof and snow flakes were falling so gently on the icy side walks.

Sounds like a little fairytale story right?

Well it was nothing like that at all. A few months before, my mother had lost her job. She felt let down and so ashamed. She knew that Thanksgiving was not going to be as delightful as in years past.

Just the year before we had celebrated the most magnificent Thanksgiving dinner that I had ever seen. We had macaroni and cheese, candied yams, turkey, and stuffing. You know, the works, anything you can think of, we had it, and lots of it.

But now it was 2006. A year of relative famine. We didn't even have heat, let alone a plump turkey to fill our stomachs. It was so cold in my house that you were able to see your breath in the air, you know the way those little fluffy white clouds come steaming up?

Many times I asked my mother "Why do we have to live like this? It’s not fair, none of my other friends have to go through this." I would stomp out of the house crying with nothing but rage in my eyes and fear in my heart. We had no idea where our next meal or rent payment was going to come from, and I tell you, that is one of the scariest things to think about, for my mother had three children including myself to care for.

I spent a lot of time in my room crying and hating my life.

That Thanksgiving Day I lay there on the bed sobbing when something rather miraculous happened.

I actually heard a strange voice coming out of my closet. It was the voice of an unfamiliar old woman. A voice like you might hear from a grandmother. Crazy? Oh yeah. The voice asked, “Why are you crying, dear?”

Scared to my toes, but trying to be brave, I asked, "Who…who's there?" and out of the closet came the funny reply: “What do you mean who, you know darn well who this is. It is your closet, girl, you see me, don’t you? Every single day I am here for you. You throw your shoes at me, don’t you? And don’t you remember all those days you would climb into my arms and cry almost every night. I never asked why, did I? Well not until now.”

Shaking, I nodded my head and said “I don’t know what in the world is going on, am I dying or something?”

The closet didn’t answer. Not at first.

Finally, she said, “Tell me, honey, what is wrong?” And she said it in such a nice peaceful voice that, as scared and confused as I was, I found myself answering her.

“I'm sad because of my mother. She lost her job and we don’t have a cent to our names. So we fight all the time. It’s gotten to the point where, when she hits me, I can feel and taste the warm salty blood in my mouth.” I paused.

“Go on, honey.”

“She hits me sometimes as if I am some strange man off a lonely street, a man trying to steal from her. It feels like she hates me and now it’s Thanksgiving and we haven’t got any food. What did I do to deserve this?”

I started bawling. “HELP ME, please, what can I do to stop her?"

With the sound of sorrow in her voice, the voice began to speak. “Here here dear, first, why don’t you wipe your eyes.”

I reached for a tissue and blew my nose.

“OK, so there you go. Now close your eyes.”

I did. She continued in that wonderful grandmotherly voice. “All you have to do is let all of your pain go. And breathe. Can you do that?”

I took in a long breath. I breathed out. I did feel a tiny bit better.

“Whenever you need to, come to me. Sit here in my arms, and close your eyes and breathe. And I will sing to you.” And she did. She began to hum.

Imagine, some kind of a closet that holds you close AND sings to you?

“And one more thing, honey.”

“Yes?” I whispered. Her words of wisdom came singing out:

“Next year, you will go away to college. You will find friends there. You will find yourself growing in ways you never imagined. You will be happy. You will no longer have to cry out for help. Make school your sanctuary. Learn everything you can. You will be free of all this. And you will have your dignity with you at all times.”

And here, a year later, I am in Albany. I am a student. I am doing well.

Sometimes I think about that closet. And how what she said to me was, so true.

Amira Abdul-Wahhab, who grew up in Binghamton, New York, is a freshman at the University at Albany, State University of New York. This is her first published piece of writing. It appears this month in LATINO NEW YORK.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"My First Love Was a Wicked Twisted Road"


My memories don’t exist for you. When I look out of my head through my eyes, I see the now. All that ever happens in front of my eyes is the now. I figured that out a few minutes ago.

If there is such a thing as a collective memory in this country, it must include trains. No matter how often I ride on a train, when I get on the train my now that’s in front of my eyes starts to mix with my memories behind my field of vision.

I’m riding the Now and Then Line from New York City to points north. Fascists, like Rudy Giuliani, generally rail against the Now and Then Line in their stump speeches and campaign ads. They attack this venerable, historical railway as, "not on time," "neither here nor there," and perhaps most damning, "Now and Then but Never on Time." True, when the Now Local arrives, it most often was scheduled to arrive then, and is therefore late. And in an odd synchronicity that proves Amtrak does have a sense of humor, the Then Express generally arrives now.

On the Now local, the woman sitting in front of me is always a fat blond woman eating potato chips. I can see her playing a game on her cell phone reflected in the window.

The guy sitting behind me always likes to call people at regular intervals during the ride to ask annoying questions. He says, “Hello!” in a way that completely captures the essence of Now. His singsong repetition of that most basic of words is an eerie simulacrum. He means it to be a imitation of a cartoon character, but there is no cartoon character that sounds like that.

By now, the fat blond lady is crinkling the empty bag of Frito-Lays and has taken her Blackberry out of her purse. Double fisting her phones, a flip-style one in the left and a PDA in the right, she clears her throat as if to say, "this train is just so now right now."

Sometimes this train is more then than now. Those are the rides I like the best. The people stay off of their – excuse my French – motherfucking cell phones, unless they are speaking in hushed tones. On the then train, the golden glow of reading lights falls on clean, wide seats. The train speeds along the Hudson River. During the day, the Then Express passes sailboats, and at night, the opposite bank of the river offers a never-ending string of twinkling lights. On the Then Express, my steel cocoon rumbles through deserted stations where white lamps splash pools of light down onto solitary train platforms. In the summer, there are moths gathered around the lights.

Every now and then, I catch a whiff of the Jim Beam sour mash whiskey that someone in my general vicinity is furtively sipping. Although, I have never had the good fortune of sitting across the isle from this whiskey sipper, I know his name. He’s the Gambler from the old Kenny Rogers song. He knows when to hold ‘em, he knows when to fold ‘em, he knows when to lay down, he knows when to run.

I’m not sure if it would even be possible for the Gambler to ride on the Now train. I mean, he’s been riding the Then train since it was the Now train. I’m like the Gambler in that way.

My memories don’t exist for you. They exist for me, though – all of the time. My life is looking out of my head via my eyes and seeing about 150 degrees of now. The other 210 degrees are on the Then Express, 24/7. In front of me are the bright fluorescent lights and high-speed data connections of Now. The Now Local stops in grimy subway stations and navigates 6th Avenue in the rain. The pavement is slippery, the wind is cold, but that’s only now. Behind my eyes, wrapped around my shoulders, and trailing behind me, just my memories.

Memories of the caress of an ex-girlfriend co-mingle with memories of the wind on my face in the evening as I was getting home to my seaside apartment in Cancun. Memories of the gently swaying palms of Cancun brush shoulders with memories of walking down the tree-lined streets of Vedado in the springtime.

I don’t know this for a fact, but I do not believe that most people live as surrounded by their memories as I do. Maybe old people do. My two living grandparents are probably on this Then Train Express somewhere also. I guess I’ll go find them now then.

BSM lives in Brooklyn. He writes at night and reads on the subway.

Friday, November 16, 2007

"On Deck"

By John Grey

A splendid serenity suffuses the planet
and stars, buoyed by the pale calm of their glow,
gift the world their pledge of unending sobriety.

The new moon glimmers in the sky's low trough,
a golden curve like a wheelman's smile
and the ocean flattens glossy like a silk sheet,
stretches windless to the arc of the dim horizon.
Propeller spins. The dark fleck of speeding hull
creases the invisible.

On bow, starboard, a deep crease of water,
endless through the shimmer,
traps, within its crests, its valleys,
white curls of foam that fracture, fizzle,
wavelets that, left to themselves,
would ripple all the way to shore.

Poet John Grey, a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives, is from Providence, Rhode Island. His book, “What Else Is There,” is published by Main Street Rag. He has been published in Agni, Hubbub, South Carolina Review and The Journal Of The American Medical Association.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Family Tale"

By Camincha

The 50s

She arrived virgin. Was baptized by the foam of new waves. Swallowed by 5 & 10 cent stores, radio, the tube, night school, boyfriend, car, dancing. Swallowed by wars, turmoils, universal and personal.

Her wedding gown compounded the problems. Covered her like a shroud. The first of four chubby babies made them proud, a boy! In ignorance they celebrated. In ignorance they lived. Their ignorance like a boil grew. In them it grew. Then came two little sparrows. One straight hair, one curly top.

And all were swallowed by the American Dream: OWN YOUR OWN HOME, their little house. House swallowed by termites. Not a home that house but a menace hanging over their flimsy heads. They, not the owners. It was owned by FHA and BofA. In the garage, cars, owned by dealers who demanded payments. Also demanded: payments on a couch, chairs, washing machine, dryer. Worst of all the freezer, AMANA, BIGGEST IN THE MARKET. WILL SAVE YOU MONEY AT THE TABLE. Sharks sold it to them. Sharks devoured them.

The 60s

Another little sparrow came. Also curly topped. Came with the New Year, almost. Which found them, bleeding hearts, desperately trying to save their love affair from unnamed horrors. Unknown dangers in face of impotence against discrimination, lay offs, frustration, despair. Divorce. He did what he had long been practicing for, his GREAT EXIT. Left her juggling mounting bills like a circus veteran: merchants, banks. Doctors, for diarrheas, colds, flu, viruses. Dentist bills, for teeth retainers. Orthopedics, for feet retainers. Felt she could use some for her head. Maybe could keep it from falling off.

She switched to powdered milk to save for socks and shoes. Meantime she carved pumpkins for Halloween and stuffed turkeys for Thanksgiving. This took on meaning, when seen through her children's eyes. And on and on. Good moments few and far between. There were lovers, hers. One, she married. A mistake. Divorce didn’t make it good. Brought shock, destruction. Learned to lie: All is fine. Yes, all is fine! To so called friends in disguise. To so called neighbors who denied them the Christian virtue of looking the other way. But rather, pointed and stared.

The 70s

Materialistic well-being. Big disappointments. Strange comforts. Spiritual discomfort. Adjustments. Adjustments. Counseling. The long-haired boy looked like a middle aged lady: marijuana. Wine. Beatles. The Doors. Janis Joplin. Protests and sit-ins. Hippies, beads and flowers. The girls wore long hair and no bras. More protests and war. War of un-sung soldiers. Graduations, birthday cakes, good-byes. Trips to far-away, long-longed-for relatives. Earning power. And with it they knew envy and discrimination at its best. Despair. Disappointment. Unemployment. She searched. Searched spiritual growth.

The 80s

New passions, alliances, new life, new joys. Awesome expansion in learning power. As a reentry she first earned an AA, then a BA, then an MA: She, a Master. Oh, with great effort and perseverance, a new language for her.

The 90s

The one of the GREAT EXIT, performed his last. And left her to tell the story, which she did, in a prose poem. And here it ends. Not the story but the prose poem. For she knows now that writing will never end for her. Rather. She thinks this is but. The beginning. . . *


Camincha is a pen name for a California-based writer.