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!

ICE COLD WATER MAN

One Dollar, One Dollar!
The coldest water in the city...DOCUMENTED!

The red, white and blue clad vendor
hollers his cadence.

8 bottles a day
keeps the doctor away!

One bottle of MY water and you can run 10 more! he yells as a trio of joggers pass.

"U.S. Vet, Please Help"
states the faded marker cardboard sign
Silent, he sits on an overturned white bucket
head down.

Water Guy strolls over
Talks gently for a bit
Shakes the Vet's hand
and passes him a folded wad of bills
Before quietly walking back
to his ice cold cooler
and beginning his litany again.

My pen takes it all in.