Thursday, August 24, 2017

HAPPY 52nd BIRTHDAY SURPRISE

This morning I woke up to find my husband already awake and ready for work. He greeted me with 'Happy Birthday!' and a hug as I sleepily made my way into the living room. On the kitchen counter, beside a lit lilac candle, sat a beautifully wrapped gift. He'd already had water and electric put into our horse barn for me as a 'not very romantic' (his words) present, though the most romantic in mine!

Taking care, I unwrapped the flowered paper, careful of the multiple layers of tape to get to the box inside. Nestled in pink tissue was a magenta polka dot bag. As I opened the silk ribbon, my heart raced.

"You didn't...oh my gosh, Chad...you didn't!" It was a book. Just a book, but so much more. I'm going to have to be careful what I share out loud with this amazing, wonderful man who will go to such means to light up my life.

He's never kept a secret (worst poker face ever). He doesn't wrap, at least never like this beauty. His expression at my reaction tells me so much.

I am the luckiest woman alive, not because of the book that now awaits me, but because of the person God has blessed me with to spend the rest of my days with in love and true partnership.

To fully explain my awe, here's the piece I wrote about one of my experiences in New Orleans.

I Almost Became a Felon
            I almost became a felon yesterday. It was close. I can’t say it would have been accidental, but it would’ve been unintentional.
            My group had entered The Backspace Bar & Kitchen. Framed photographs of famous writers, deliciously old antique typewriters, and stuffed wildlife covered the walls. All intriguing, but I was drawn to the haphazardly piled books upon the wooden mantle above the fireplace.
“The Rueful Mating,” by G.B. Stern called to me. Reverently, I lifted it from the stack, brought it to my little round table. The obnoxious conversation of bartendress and horny patrons disappeared as I opened the worn cover. On an inside page I read a review of G.B. Stern by someone named Rebecca West. I don’t know who this woman is either, but she clearly appreciates the author whose book I hold in my hands as she’s written:
“She can make flesh and bones, and the hair on the head, and the phrase in the mouth…into a perfect living character.”
I am intrigued. I want more. Skimming downward, I find a long list of other works by G.B. at the time of publication. None of them ring up a memory, but the list makes me want more, so I turn the page. The dedication is written to another woman, Gladys Calthrop:
“Wishing I had not wasted so many years before seeking her company with as much appreciation as I do now.”
Were they a couple? Did G.B. love her from afar? Is she, or perhaps Rebecca, the focus of a rueful mating? Again, I am intrigued, needing more, wanting to dig deeper.
I feel myself wanting this book more with each word I read. I set it down on the table. I will only be here a short time, and I fight the urgency to put aside pen and simply lose myself in Stern’s story. Maybe just the first page, I think, and pick the book up again.
Halycon Day, the romping poet protagonist, the young daughter of the Captain, leaps into my mind as I read. I can imagine her, skipping through the pages of the book. I see her surprising her father with her sass and writing. She is begging me to put her into my Wild Horses bag.
I place it on the bench beside me in the dimness of The Backspace instead. Pondering. My hand caresses the cover once more. It would be so easy, I think. “I want this book,” I say out loud to my companions. Neither of them urges me to do it. My daughter would probably do it, I think.
I open the cover again. First edition, 1932, is written in pencil, small, on the inside page. Hmm…but still-The fireplace mantle was stacked with unread tomes! Decoration. Unused. Neglected.
Take me! Halycon cried.
I’ve never understood taking things that don’t belong to you, the random thievery in the world. But this…
Purposefully, I place the book back on the tabletop. I am too tempted. I stride to the blue haired barmaid, novel in hand. “Do you loan out these books by any chance?” The longing in my voice should have made her acquiesce.
“Oh, no. Sorry. But you can read it here.”
WTF! I thought. “I can’t stay here that long.” I said.
Reluctantly, I replaced Halycon Day on the mantle. Ignored her cries. Thought of her all night. Saw her sad round face in my dreams.
Amazon.com. Used. Starting at $500, I Googled this morning.
I almost became a felon. A part of me thinks, if I could keep the book it might still be worth it.
-Kristine E. Brickey


Kristine still dreams of Halycon Day and may be plotting her next visit upon her return to NOWM.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

First Touch (Revised!)

Two pounds, 10.1 ounces, angry dark red skin, my fourteen weeks premature girl lay on her back, arms and legs open at her sides-no muscle tone to hold them close, no fat legs or chubby cheeks.
She was only hours old, and the nurse in charge of me had done her best to dissuade me from seeing her yet. ‘Get some sleep first,’ she tried, looking to my Mom for support. My mother looked at me, and recognized and understood my resolve. ‘You can put her in bed, but I can tell you she’ll only get up as soon as you leave to find her daughter.’  So, here I was, scrubbed from fingernail to elbow, iv tubes beneath my white robe, all my nerves exposed, and needing to see my first child.
She was still in the very first room, where I learned later babies go to make sure they will make it to the first of the most intensive care rooms. I stood in the doorway, white walls, white table. My eyes locked on the tiny creature upon the warming table. My heart felt the wariness of the staff. They feared my reaction.
I saw my daughter, and the fear and shock on the three nurses' faces.
I moved to stand beside her, looked her over. My baby, already too headstrong to follow the rules, wait her turn. My first child. All the times my Father had told me, “You’ll understand when you have children of your own,” came back to me as I stood over this tiny being who was my girl.
"Can I touch her?" my voice cracked, tentative, breaking the pained silence. All three nurses nodded.
She was so red, so small, and I had so many questions.
Her little hand lay open beside her head. Covered in soft, dark hair, her head could have fit so easily in my palm. I was terrified of hurting her, this little being who was now my responsibility.
Gently, I placed my left index finger onto her tiny open hand, a feather light touch, and my daughter clenched tightly to me. Her grip was fierce.
All five of her fingers clung to me, and I remember still how much room was left over on my finger-she didn't take up even the space on the tip of my pointer.

Yet, she filled my heart entirely.       
From that first touch, we were united.        
She was mine; I was hers; from the first touch.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chaotic Beauty
   
Naghi’s (Corner of St. Ann and Royal Street)
Monday 7/10/17 10:15AM

Crystal chandeliers sparkle, drawing first my eyes and then my feet into Naghi’s boutique. “Do you mind,” I ask the man, “if we come and write here awhile?” Without hesitation he waves us in. “Come, come. Enjoy!”

The center of the room is a kaleidoscope of fountains, the largest in the middle and moving out in a five foot radius, a hodgepodge of cultures and water spouting magic.

‘Purple Rain’ is painted in vivid variations of eggplant, lavender, and indigo acrylics. It boldly takes up the entire wall above the brick fireplace, filling the corner as brashly as Prince himself might have done when he was alive.

Behaving as if they belong there, frightening African masks scowl, laugh and silently scream at me from their positions on the walls. Mixed intermittently among them is a shining white marble statue of three Greek gods, frozen forever in wrestling battle, naked, and tortured for all eternity.

I am surprised by a nearly life sized Japanese warrior who suddenly stands in front of me. I do not remember him when I stopped. His battle shield is held strong in his grip. He is fierce and proud.

Six feet of wooden crocodile bump my heel as I turn, its tail curled in warning, mouth open and threatening. Bending down, I remove the rectangle of loose wood carved from mid-back, where I find two rows of six smoothly carved circles. What would rest here, I wonder. Was it built to hold a dozen crocodile eggs, and if so, why would anyone want twelve eggs of a crocodile, wooden or otherwise. Then, I think, for that matter, why would anyone want six feet of wooden crocodile. Yet, someone must have at some point. It must have guarded a home, been a favored belonging to a royal or possibly and eccentric collector, before coming to rest on the concrete floor of Naghi’s.

There are too many things, and I cannot stop finding more favorites. Overhead, a gaudy and deliciously ornate chandelier takes up the top four feet of ceiling space. It spreads out over at least another four feet in diameter. Unable to resist, I check the tag: Handmade Italian chandelier, $26,000.

From a wall sized mirror that rests on the floor, my own legs reflect back to me, along with the proudly high, large, firm buttocks and protruding breasts of some African fertility goddess, water bowl atop her distorted face. She is simultaneously terrifying and beguiling.

My pen has not stopped moving since we entered the shop. I want to sit on the coolness of the cement, lean against a giant fish that once sprayed water in some grand European garden, spoon beside the crocodile, gaze up into the crystals of one of the hundred chandeliers, pray to the gods-Greek, Egyptian, Christian, Hindu, all of them here for the choosing. I could stay inside Naghi’s forever, but for the call of the next spot and the next round of writing.

As we return to the sidewalk, I glance over my shoulder, and feel the eyes upon me in final farewell.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

THE FIRST TOUCH

*This one is for my amazing, powerful, beautiful baby girl, Kathryn Elizabeth.

Tuesday morning we were given a writing prompt, 'The first time'. Many things went through my mind, but this is what settled, and I'm so glad it did. I shared this Wednesday evening during our NOWM Gallier House cocktail/share around. A friend took video, but my phone acted up and only got the first 40 seconds. I made it through to the last two lines before the tears made it all the way out and I had to pause to get my voice out.

I am so glad I shared.



THE FIRST TOUCH

The first time I saw my daughter, there was fear and shock on the three nurses' faces. Two pounds, 10.1 ounces, angry dark tomato red skin, my fourteen weeks premature girl lay on her back, arms and legs open at her sides-no muscle tone to hold them in, no fat legs or chubby cheeks.

She was only hours old, and the nurse in charge of me had done her best to dissuade me from seeing her yet; but here I was, scrubbed and needing to see my first child.

My eyes locked on the tiny creature upon the warming table. My heart felt the wariness of the staff. They feared my reaction.

I moved to stand beside her, looked her over. My baby, already too headstrong to follow the rules, wait her turn.

"Can I touch her?" my voice cracked, tentative, breaking the pained silence.

All three nurses nodded.

She was so red, so small, and I had so many questions.

Her tiny hand was open beside her head, that could fit easily in my palm.

I gently placed my left index finger onto her tiny open hand, and my daughter clenched tightly to me. Her grip was fierce.
All five of her fingers clung to me, and I remember still how much room was leftover on my finger-
she didn't take up even the space of the tip of my pointer.

Yet, she filled my heart entirely.
From that first touch, we were united.
She was mine.
I was hers.
From the first touch.

Because of...

*I visited St. Ursuline's Convent on Tuesday, July 11th. It is a beautiful, old place created for a sect of nuns and focused much attention on Henriette Delille (pronounced on-ree). Henriette was a Creole (mixed blood), freeborn because her slave mother worked to buy freedom. After many difficult events, Henriette devoted her life to God and the Church. Photographs show her true image, yet drawings portray her as clearly dark-skinned. Henriette Delille was secretly trained and quietly took her vows before two prominent male church officials. She was not allowed to wear a veil, habit, and crucifix because she was not white. Henriette died in 1862 of tuberculosis and is shown in all the statues at St. Ursuline's in 'garb of the day'. Ten years after her death, in 1872, Creole nuns were finally allowed to wear the habit they'd earned through sacrifice and schooling.

This writing came from my reactions to this powerful visit. (Pics added when wifi is better)


BECAUSE OF...

Six kneeling figures, hands folded, eyes lifted in adoration of the Blessed Mother. Henriette Delille would have been unknown without her name chiseled in white marble beneath her feet. She wears "the garb of the day."

Denied habit, veil, and crucifix, because of her race.

Having taken her vows in secret, because of her race.

Because of her race, drawings and sketches portray Henriette with cocoa brown skin, clearly not white.

Because of her race, Henriette's photo, truth revealed, shows skin fairer than mine.

New Orleans was a city of mixed races and colors, but even here things were different, because of race.

My students ask me, Why? as we study The Holocaust, The Children's March, LGBTQ, and 'Equality for All' as a theme.
Why?

How to explain what boils down to the phrase, "Because of their race," to young adults who do not judge based on race?

In my lifetime, I hope to hear,
"Because we are kind.
Because it is right.
Because we are equal."


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Anti-Yoke

Hand shaved cypress shingles
white scalloped beauty
enclose Antioch -Anti-Yoke- Baptist Church
on Whitney Plantation.

Inside, an escape from beating sun, burning heat
Three small black slave children
sit upon the back bench.
Their eyes are empty, and
My breath comes short.

Formed from copper,
A dozen plus more line the aisle,
adorn the pulpit.

Peter, the slave whose name hangs
from the lanyard 'round my neck
sits cross-legged in the front
an innocent eight year old
trapped in our shameful past.

A chill runs over my skin
imagining his Mistress
teaching him to write
before selling him off.
Valued at $900
half-Confederate
half-Union.

Here, their stories are shared,
preserved, important.
They were babies, I think
Valued less than family pets.

Their whispers fill me
as I leave the coolness of Antioch Church.
I have heard your stories, Children,
and they cannot be
unheard.

JUDE OF THE GREY LINE

Black leather cap
Crisp white shirt
Black socks, white polka dots
bright against the background.

The driver counts tickets
Two stacks
Passes out stickers
"Don't leave him!" he laughs when a mother
states her 4 year old
wasn't given a ticket.

A career of field trips, I think
watching as he recounts
wondering how often a guest is left behind
Laughing as one and another guest leaves
for trash dumping or bathroom use.

Recalling classroom trips
Managing 200+ teens
Counting and Recounting
All accounted for...fingers crossed.

Polka dot socks closes the door
And away we go!