Poem: Mr Lincoln in My Garden

Poets and Storytellers United: this week’s prompt for weekly scribblings comes from my BFF, mentor, Reiki Master, sister witch, and prolific poet snakypoet, aka Rosemary.

Take an object in nature and examine it closely, letting it inspire a sense of wonder.

*****

You looked dead, Mr Lincoln.

I thought I’d pruned too hard.

I quietly mourned you for your lack of green.

You’re fairly old, Mr Lincoln,

with a lot of grey wood.

(Can I say that about a President?)

But here you come again,

with fresh red leaves

feathering the ends of your twigs.

The other rose bushes have knobbly buds.

You have sprouted, like a wand

in a nature-based tarot deck,

first one with leaves.

A defluffed dandelion pokes up through the middle of you,

Mr Lincoln.

Is it uncomfortable.

Are dandelions growing from the corpse

of your namesake, Mr Lincoln?

Is America’s dead President

a home to nasturtiums and borage,

like you, Mr Lincoln?

Forever faithful, back from the dead

of winter,

grow well, Mr Lincoln,

and govern your red and cream roses to come.

I made it worse

I found an old poem this morning – one from the vaults.

Here’s the information you need to know:

  • I believe that autism may be the next evolution of humanity
  • at the time I wrote the poem I did not know that I was autistic
  • I knew my offspring was autistic
  • in 2002 there wasn’t the open talk about autism that there now is
  • I didn’t agree with the abiding view that autistic people were cold and robotic, but there wasn’t much else being presented to me in literature, media, etc. I just thought my offspring was unique, and I was broken.

So, I wrote a poem about rigid thinking, robo-talk, being a cog in a universal machine.

I got the poem out this morning, because I’d made a promise to my neuro-diverse accounta-buddies that I’d rewrite an old poem today.

Readers, I made a huge mess. Huge. I don’t have a vision of what the next evolution might look like. If it’s me, we’ll have a humanity that’s overly sensitive to smell, noise, crowds, vibes in rooms and around people, textures, who can see below the surface of what people are saying and doesn’t have the sense to ignore it. I’m the person who sees the disconnect between what a group says they’re about, and how they’re actually behaving, and asks awkward questions about that.

If it’s my offspring, we will be non-verbal, highly amused by a lot of humanity, quietly going about their own pursuits, and not giving a hoot what anyone else thinks.

Likely, as a species, we will have a hard time expressing and identifying emotions. Sort of like Mr Spock from Star Trek, who was a role model in my formative years.

Will we get to the stars that way? We might well do so, since there’s the cliche of autistic people being superb at computers, tech, and the like (not me). We might be a kinder species, a more honest one, acting as we think and believe, rather than social niceties.

I wanted to marry this nebulous idea somehow to the Age of Aquarius, at least in the draft I have now. Not only the hippie, sharing, caring, save the earth side of Aquarius, but the ‘needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one’ loss of individual freedoms and rights that we are seeing as we move into the Age of Aquarius.

Honestly, as the poem evolved on the page, I realised that I didn’t have a concrete vision on which to extrapolate and fly. And it showed.

Ah well, back into the vaults you go, wee poem, and let me haul out another ragged old thing. I hope this isn’t a ‘make everything I touch worse’ day. Because I have some housepainting, a penpal letter, and some witchery to do.

Mid week writing prompt

From Poets and Storytellers United, mid-week Magaly asks us to write to: ‘war is over, if you want it’.

The war on drugs,

the war against covid,

Wars We Will Win,

let’s not talk about wars lost.

The war isn’t over for some.

Paul Hogan, comedian,

once declared himself king of Australia,

and said he was taking the country to war.

“I’m not saying where,

but I wouldn’t go to New Zealand for your holidays.”

Everyone laughed,

because he was a funny man,

with a tv show,

and ANZACs unite our countries forever.

“I’m waging a war on aphids!” says a neighbour.

I am repelled at her language,

even as I loose ladybirds in the garden,

and spray liquid garlic everywhere.

Aphids suck the life out of roses.

War sucks the life out of me.

*****

I’m afraid this is a bit of a nothing poem, or jagged piece of prose. I’m not feeling it today, but I can at least say, now, that I’ve dipped my toe into writing.

Prose offering – Learning to drive

Poets and Storytellers United offered a small note about a child taking driving lessons. This wasn’t a prompt. Those came later in the newsletter. However, it sparked me, so here’s a wee prose offering. Or maybe it’s prose poetry. I don’t know. It’s a thing.

My boyfriend looked down at me.

“Why don’t you drive?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know.” I felt foolish saying: “I’m terrified of getting behind the wheel of a killing machine.” Which was my real reason.

I also caught trains, trams, and buses, walked long distances, and saw the world that way. I knew every shop in Bentleigh, what was growing in gardens, train time tables by heart, and when the Glenferrie Road tram would arrive to shunt me to Victoria College from Malvern Station.

“I couldn’t wait to start driving,” he said. The implication hung heavy in his bedroom’s air. Normal people got their licence as soon as they could, and started driving to the places that trains don’t go. Normal people assumed an adult life as soon as they turned eighteen.

I was nearly nineteen, and still not driving. He played me ‘Sugar Mountain’ by Neil Young. Again. A song about growing up, or refusing to. “You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain”.

I began driving lessons in a manual car, but didn’t have enough arm strength to haul around the wheel of the heavy Nissan Stanza. That sent me, eventually, on a whole other journey into gym work and weight training, which later fed a feature article for my creative writing course. The Bachelor of Arts to which I travelled by train and tram.

I stopped lessons.

I began again a month later. The gears, the clutch, brake pedal, accelerator, indicators, mirrors, my driving instructor, me, and my fear had some more lessons. I wept during and after every lesson, flustered by everything to do and remember.

“You’re at least supposed to have been around Southland Shopping Centre on a Sunday,” my boyfriend said. “Had some sneaky practice before you get behind the wheel.”

I hadn’t done that. My dad was either not home, or laughing at the idea of me driving. My mum didn’t drive. Dad was teaching her, back in the day, but she took a corner a little sharply, he said words, she said words back, hopped out of the car in a snit, and never got behind the wheel again.

I stuck at my third set of lessons, in an automatic, with a man called Frank as my driving teacher. He was saving up for flying lessons, so willing to let me dawdle through as many lessons as I thought I needed. I still sweated during every lesson. I must have had fifty lessons.

My friend Sue had tried for her license four times. “The third time,” she said, “I got so nervous I drove on the footpath.”

Her words haunted me, and I wouldn’t even park in my parents’ driveway, because entering meant crossing a footpath.

Frank talked me into my first license test by simply booking it. I failed it within five minutes, when I couldn’t park between two bollards. Frank had never taught me that one.

We practiced parking between two bollards for a month, then I went for my license again.

I’d been warned about a particular assessor.

“Mr Smiley never smiles. He gets into the back seat and reads the paper the whole time. He’s got grey hair and thick glasses.”

I prayed for Not Mr Smiley. My first ever lesson in the universe never hearing the word ‘not’. Mr Smiley got into the back of Frank’s car. Off we went. Passed the parking. Out onto the road and off to Oakleigh Shopping Centre, which had a lot of different speed signs, traffic, and a few one-way streets. I passed everything, I supposed. We were on our way back to the testing station.

I pulled up behind a truck. The truck driver must have taken his foot off the brake because slowly the truck started rolling back towards us. I watched for a second then honked the horn. The driver slammed on his brakes so hard that the whole truck jerked back and forth. The rear doors of the truck swung open. A porcelain toilet fell out onto the bonnet of Frank’s car, and rolled off. Toilet rolls bounced free all around us.

Slowly, shaking, I clicked on the hazard lights, and parked the car. Frank leapt out to assess the damage to his baby, and swap phone numbers with the astonished truck driver who glared at me as though it was my fault. Mr Smiley stopped reading his paper and stared.

On his way back to the car, Frank scooped up some toilet rolls and popped them in the back seat with Mr Smiley.

“Drive on,” said Mr Smiley, his voice flat.

I sat in a pool of sweat, and I must be a good driver, because I drove on automatic back to the testing station.

“Sometimes I look at you young girls and I wonder if you should be on the road at all,” said Mr Smiley. “You didn’t avoid that accident, but I suppose it wasn’t your fault.”

Of course it wasn’t my fault, dickhead. I was more than the legal distance behind the truck. It rolled back.

Mr Smiley granted me my license. I drove home, staggered out of the car, went into the house. I cried, telling Mum I’d passed. She gave me a tin of celebratory vodka and orange.

“Let’s go for a drive,” she said, starting to put her shoes on.

“I can’t,” I said. “I’ve just drunk alcohol.”

Whew. Crisis averted. I didn’t have to get behind the wheel all on my own just yet. I would find excuses not to drive for six years, until after I had my daughter, and was so isolated that I made myself drive, just to be out of the house and find company.

Socially Awkward Writers Society

I had a long chat with a sister writer today. We are both socially awkward writers. Meet me on paper and I’m witty, wild, full-on. Meet me in uncurated person and you’ll realise I’m the group doofus who will suddenly announce, in a silence: “Don’t eat polar bear liver. It contains a lethal dose of Vitamin A. In fact, I think most predator species have that going so, so don’t eat predators.”

I suppose, in some ways, my super power is my autism. I’ve been high masking all my life, so what’s one more mask, right?

I was a bookworm, introvert, smartypants, nerd, geek, and all round low-rung girl in high school. I couldn’t wait to leave. When I walked out of that last exam on a warm, humid November afternoon, in Year 12, I literally muttered: “Goodbye shitty old life” as I left the school grounds. I was done wi,th my teenage self who got bullied, got ignored, got dropped as a friend when football, boys, or more normal girls came along.

My first day of university, I stood in the centre of the lecture hall building, watching people racing around me as they got to their first class of the year. I stood there in my sweet summer dress, and cork-soled heels, a pair of bell-shaped tiny earrings dangling from my ears, and just a drop of Chimere perfume on my wrists. The quintessential Nice Girl. Adult learners, teachers-in-training, and the Arts department students who were easily spotted swarmed around me. I took a breath. I could continue being a Nice Quiet Girl, and mouse my way through university, or I could woman up, and find a different part of myself. So I took another breath, and walked up the most unusually dressed woman I saw and asked where Lecture Hall 230 was. She was a first year Arts student like me, 3 years older, with short crimson hair, wild leggings, and red boots. We walked to the lecture hall together. This was how to get on. Step outside my true self, put on the sociable mask, and be Out There.

I’ve pretty much lived in that persona for the rest of my life. Even when I have to take days to recover from being socially out there. Even when I’m talking too much and being too loud and I know it. Call it a mask, a persona, my Gemini Ascendant, whatever. Call it the advocate loudmouth self I had to become when I had two kids with disabilities. Call it cranky older woman if you like.

But it’s served me well when it comes to gushing over the work of fellow writers, being brave enough to go up to someone famous and introduce myself, to friend sister and fellow writer folx on social media, to interact with them online and sometimes in person. Even if I’m quailing inside, I do it.

Writing is a lonely business.

I figure that even if I’m dorky, geeky, nerdy, sometimes far too much, sometimes not enough, I’m still a human being, or masquerading as one, and I might as well make the best of it, even if Imposter Syndrome sits on me like a fat hen. So I shake hands with Lee Kofman, I ask for Robert Silverberg’s autograph, I verbally admire Lois McMaster Bujold’s jewellery, I admire architecture with a famous agent, and….oh dear, teach dodgy lap dancing at a publisher’s party. I admire artwork and ask to meet the painter. I sit and happily watch people create jewellery or whatever they’re doing.

I dunno. Maybe they’re all thinking ‘who is this schmoozing creeper?’

Mostly, the relationships are what they are, and I hope they get as much out of it as do I.

But every now and then, someone knows someone, and puts me in contact with just the right person to ask a question of, to read a book that I needed to read, to be lead down a new path. Even more occasionally, there’s a book blurb or some such that comes from this, for which I am profoundly grateful.

But mostly, it’s me careening through the galaxy like one of the hippos in Fantasia, tutu rustling, mouth open wide, and spouting information about polar bear liver. Even if inside I’m dying, I still do it, because the friendships are worth it.

Poem – The Damaged Chalice

Even looking at the cat’s pink nose

leads to a cascade of thoughts,

then memories,

that wend their way into trauma.

The cauldron of the mind pours

until I am sweat-bathed,

tense in my comfortable bed,

seeing but not seeing the window,

suddenly afraid of the day

and what fresh trauma may loom.

I have twisted myself yoga-style

to insist on something happy.

The cup tips itself upright,

supplies nothing,

says it is as empty as an old tea mug,

with used leaves crumbling to dust.

The damaged mind drifts along

the flow of the past.

This morning, the cat on my chest,

I cannot remember

when my daughter first decided pink

was the only colour for her,

and my amused laughter at the cliche.

Sudden Moment

This prompt of ‘Sudden moments’ from Poets and Storytellers United.

I felt lousy for days. One of the endless head colds I copped back then, in my thirties, when every period meant my immune system crashed, and the bugs my kids so generously shared from school crept into my body. This one came with a cough-cough-cough.

My partner was fed up with my coughing. I coughed when he came to bed at 2am, fresh from a night’s computer programming, and ready for sex, sleep, and a home-cooked breakfast(every morning, thanks, because he’s the bread winner, so no store bought bread). So it was a perfunctory goodbye as he went to work.

I made the bed. Coughed. Swooned on it a while, covered in sweat. Coughed. Dusted a shelf. Coughed. Must carry on, be tough, prove to him that I’m worth his time. Cough.

Something sharp jabbed me in the side, and tingling pain spread through my back, my ribs, up into the nestle spot of my shoulder, my neck. Breath held, pain dying away to a dull ache. Breathing – pain, and more pain. Stabbing, an odd rustling in my chest, strange gurgle from somewhere around my liver.

I couldn’t lie down because getting up off the couch or bed was pain. Couldn’t sit. Couldn’t stand for long. I leaned against the wall. Coughed. Pain. I climbed onto the kitchen table, lay there, because at least I could slide off that to standing.

He telephoned mid-morning.

“I didn’t like the way you looked this morning. You looked sick for real.”

As though all those other times, I’d faked it.

“I coughed, and something’s wrong,” I said, croaking, coughing, groaning in pain.

He took me to the hospital. Nothing wrong. Ribs fine, lungs fine, everything good, good, good, we’re not keeping you in, go home, rest.

Two days later, I see my chiropractor.

“I almost didn’t recognise you,” he said. “You look that bad.”

My coughing had thrown something out in my spine, and my ribs. Painful clicks, and I could breathe and think again. More crunches, and the coughing stopped. I wept in gratitude, threw my spine out again. Another click.

That spot, years later, still goes out but obstructs rather than stabs. I don’t get quite the range and ease of movement I want when it’s being foolish. A few chiropractic clicks, and I’m fine, but no adjustment in the world gets rid of the scar tissue my ex-partner left behind – heart, mind, back teeth, scalp, ego.

Five years ago, he tried to make contact, saying we were friends. I disconnected in a short sharp stab of time.

How I Read Oracle Cards – one card pull instructional

Good morning. Executive decision to not go to dance class this morning, and concentrate on writing stuff. If I want this publication, writing life AS my life, creativity, digging deeper, spilling my mind into the world thing, then I have to make space for it. A growing urge since art therapy last week – lots of frustration came up over this old, old pattern of distraction.

Card: What you want is wanting you.

I asked for guidance for this morning’s writing session, with that decision in mind. I used the Sacred Rebels oracle: artwork by Autumn Skye Morrison, words by Alana Fairchild. (I get peeved with Alana’s decks, when the artist isn’t mentioned on the box. Just sayin’, Alana.)

  1. Looking at the card: a young person, hair streaming/floating, is looking up at the shape of spiral shell formed from their hair. They are white with brown eyes, dark hair. The background is blue sky with clouds. Colours are browns, whites, and blues, a hint of orange as shadow.
  2. Without looking at the book’s interpretation: this feels like a big yes to my decision to….I won’t say run, because that’s not my speed these days, but perhaps float or sail into the possibilities being offered by the various writers’ newsletters I receive, the opportunities offered through Writers Victoria, and my own research into various journals. I can only presume that my resurrected desire to be in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction means that they too desire to have me in there. Perhaps the world is waiting for my prose and poetry and creative non-fiction just as much as I want it out in the world. After years and years of thinking ‘no one cares’, this is complete turn-around of thought and energy, and brings to mind the lessons from E-SQUARED by Pam Grout. The universe wants to give me what I want. Okay then.
  3. The book meaning: “If you have been shamed, judged, made to feel guilt for, or denied your natural desires or pleasures in any way you may have developed and very tricky and complicated relationship with the yearnings of your heart. We often learn to distrust our desires and come to believe that they are something to be overcome or avoided. We may even try to want second best, disbelieving that we are worthy of our first choice….First, trust in what you truly want, what would bring a sense of passionate, playful purpose and fulfillment to your life….If you genuinely don’t know what your heart wants, you will very much enjoy the process of exploring your desires by making gentle and persistent enquiries of yourself….what is it that truly moves you….Play with what it would be like to be fulfilled right now.” All good thoughts from Alana Fairchild. Dream big, dream often.

The spiral in the card is a representation of the Goddess for me. The beautiful circular, sacred spiralling nature of the divine feminine. Look to the Goddess for inspiration, resolve, and bigger dreams.

The element of Air is strong in this card, with the floating hair, and the sky as background. Thought, inspiration, The Sword, The Mind.

I’ve mourned my pre-25 years old life, when I had a burgeoning writing career. I was publishing professionally regularly, wrote regularly, kept sending stuff out. I was confident that my work was good enough. Publications include: Starlog, Meanjin, Mattoid, Australian Short Stories, Far Out, Aurealis, Orb, Pandora, Westerly, Southerfly, LINQ, The Age, The Weekend Australian. I was an emerging writer.

Break to get married and have children – post-natal depression (undiagnosed).

A few more publications in Aurealis, and some overseas non-paying lit mags.

Five year gig as a columnist for NOVA, with appearances in Spellcraft, Circle, and some other USA pagan publications including Green Egg.

Slow fracturing of spirit and mind.

Current state: 42 sessions into TMS treatment (see my posts about Trans Cranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy), art therapy, lockdown slow life, and suddenly, I feel like writing, and publication are possible.

This card says YES in a big way.

Driven And Enthusiastic

From an interview with Ingrid Laguna: “I’ve always been driven. I’m a passionate person and I throw myself into my work, whether it’s drumming, teaching or writing. I still have a school report from when I was twelve where a teacher wrote: ‘Ingrid needs to learn to control her natural exhuberance’. Who says that to a kid?”

Well, dear Ingrid, you look a lot younger than I am, but I can tell you now that I unnerved teachers with my very focussed ambitions: writer and astronaut, most likely combining the two to be the first writer in space, and part of the first Mars colony, as chronicler.

From age 12, I made a resolution each January 1 to be that little bit more dedicated to my writing. What that looked like, I couldn’t and can’t say. Presumably, write more. Which, as I edged towards 16, became ‘get published’, then ‘get published professionally’. Had all that in the bag just shy of 18.

Capricorn Sun, Mercury and Mars, bitches.

I also had a school report that said: “Almost too conscientious.”

Who says that to a kid? Who says that, full stop?!

Yes, I do find it a bit of a bugbear these days when I’ve signed up for about 20 courses, and have done maybe 1/3 of one course. Conscientious me wants to complete them all. The greater, lazier part of me wants to say ‘fuck it’ and look for the next Good Thing.

OohShinyGirl says I have ADHD as an autism side dish. Could well be. PTSD has set off the behaviours that were likely lying dormant when I was younger.

So yes, dear Ingrid, I can assure you that teachers do say stuff like that. They write it in reports too. My Year 11 Physics teacher wrote: “Works hard for no result. WHY?” Fuck you, Mr Wragg, and be a kinder teacher. Oh well, you’re probably dead now, so nothing to be done. But I hope that in your old age, you gave thought to your younger self, and how fucking smug you were. Probably not, though. You didn’t strike me as the sort of man who’d think twice about his smugness, his casual humiliation of students, and his ‘you figure it out’ attitude. Not helpful.

I have an image of you standing on the shores of the Styx, and no one giving you a fucking clue that you need two coins to pay Charon the boatman. Good. It means you’ll still be there when I arrive, and I can kick your arse.