Friday, May 28, 2010

Excerpts from the Life of a Heavy Bleeder, or “…candy creates obedience,

because the sugar opens your opiate receptors, which often feels like love” (Jackson Bliss, Spring 2010 Zyzzyva, p. 94)…a perfect line for this wickedly cold late May spring day, portable heater melting the top layer of skin off my ankles as I pop chocolate covered almonds into my mouth in my cabin in what must be a fit of p.m.s.

I come from a family of heavy bleeders. There’s a story of my mother, in the years before her hysterectomy, missing the curb and falling, one of her pumps flying into the street to land in front of a station wagon. Unbeknownst to her, menstrual blood had gushed down along the inside of her nylons, saturating the inside of the shoe.

When the driver of the station wagon got out to help, the race to the shoe was on. He beat her to it and she had a good deal of trouble convincing him she wasn’t injured, truly, she just needed to get to a bathroom.

Call it female virility, if you will—my family measures said virility by how much damage you manage to inflict during your period. I didn’t enter the fray with a story of my own until I’d left home for college (and thus it was cool again to talk to Mom).

That Thanksgiving, as we stuffed the turkey, I told my Mom about sitting in a lecture hall taking an English midterm, identifying passages from Paradise Lost, and having to raise my hand to get the TA to take my exam so I wouldn’t have to walk in front of 100 students to turn it in. Then I asked the girl next to me for a piece of paper to cover the grapefruit-sized stain on my seat (this in the era before pads with wings).

“Atta girl,” my mother laughed, and poured me a glass of wine.

By Christmas, as we wrapped gifts, I told her about the boyfriend who refused to go camping with me during my cycle. “He says the bucks, during rutting season, have been known to—like, mount a girl on her period,” I said, wrapping a pair of slippers for him.

“Horse pucky,” my Mom said. “I think you better save the tag on those. This guy’s not gonna last, is he?!”

She was right. We didn’t even make it to summer, he and I, parting ways after an argument over a comment made by my women’s studies professor (I’d asked her if she’d ever heard the “randy buck” theory). She had laughed and suggested menstrual blood could be dripped along the perimeter of one’s garden to ward off the deer; I guess that would be the does, if the boyfriend was correct, and hopefully the bucks would come looking for me, but leave the tomatoes.

Three years ago, when my youngest was one, my husband and I headed to Canada to attend the wedding of one of my husband’s high school buddies. Poorly timed, as I was mid-cycle, bleeding heartily. After several wrong turns down verdant highways laden with maple leaf insignias and waterfalls (half-hour detours each), and I’d reminded my husband for the 3rd time I needed to stop and use the bathroom, I felt that familiar rush and realized it was futile.

A vibrant blood bloom greeted us from my seat in the rental car when we finally stopped. I began to giggle, resorting to the old trick: donning my husband’s sweatshirt around my waist, I charged for the bathroom. On the way back, I stopped and bought a handful of cookies from the vets manning the rest stop in at attempt to appease my husband, then rustled up the wet wipes from the trunk. Not so much to soak the blood up, but to soak it down into the cushions, another trick learned during the college days, desperately trying to clean blood out of the boyfriend’s bed before he woke.

Back at home, I stood in the doorway, watching my six-year-old daughter as she slept: golden curve of her tiny summer tummy housing ovaries packed with eggs waiting to be doled out over her lifetime, and sent heaven thanks that she has another six years, maybe five, if she starts menstruating like I did at 11. Will she, like me, bleed for seven days straight? Fill her shoes with blood like Grandma? Atta girl!?

Drifting off to sleep next to my exhausted husband that night, I pictured the couple who rented the car after us. Maybe on their way to Vancouver, stopping at an overlook, the wife leaving the back car door ajar in her haste to get the perfect photo of the sunset. Both of them at the black formica rental-car desk, trying to explain the damage, turning their miniscule digital camera screen to the agent to show him the photos of the buck--with a full rack of antlers--tearing at the back seat with his sharp hooves in some kind of maniacal trance.

Photo credit: Robyn Beattie,

Friday, May 21, 2010

Signs of Life: Gator Lizards and Baby Rabbits

I’m just…a bridge between here and there, the world that is seen and the world that is unseen...Jo Kyung Ran from Words Without Borders: The World Through the Eyes of Writers

Through the glass paneled kitchen door, I spy my son, boots first, then grass-stained knees, then one outstretched wrist from which something dangles, then the rest of him sidling down the steep hill above our house, where, during autumn, pie-sized fallen maple leaves, numinous tan and plastered wetly to the bank, bring light into the house.

I step out on the deck and ask, with that casual voice critical to adopt with small children carrying potentially dead or potentially still-living but damaged reptiles, “What have you got there?”

“I saw the cat chewing on this…” he says. “It is totally dead, though,” he adds, holding it out to me. I’m not convinced, so when he flops it flat on the deck railing and goes in search of his camera, I lean down even with the lizard’s blue-green body, which though entirely intact, sports a disturbing rumple just after its neck. Its two front forelegs are laying underneath him as if he’s gliding along in water. I blow gently on the side of his head, and sure enough, he closes his eyelid ever so slowly.

When my son returns, we discuss, in the light of this new evidence: Should we let the cats finish him off? Leave him on the railing to die in peace? Which choice the most humane? Each question punctuated by the lizard’s three or four tiny displays of life, well—pain--as he opens his jaws wide, limps out his tongue, then hinges incrementally back up.

“Well,” my son says, “I guess I’ll bury him.” “Well,” I answer, “let’s leave him a bit longer.” Leaving out the rest of the sentence--though I think it—let’s not bury him alive. In the absence of finding his camera, my son goes in the house, takes a sheet of paper out of my computer tray, and asks, “How do you spell Gator Lizard?” He records the date and the time, and goes outside with the measuring tape, careful not to touch the lizard as he stretches out the ruler. When he’s finished recording its length, he draws a line on the page and disappears back up the hill in search of other creatures.

I remember too, my parent’s indulgence, allowing me one summer in Illinois to eye-dropper feed one surviving baby rabbit from a litter damaged by the farmer’s mower. Mom and Dad must have known (as I did with my son’s lizard) that there was little chance it would live, but they let me believe.

I remember the snow silver of its fur, brown underneath, each tuft of fur finer than my little sister’s hair, the pale pink petal folds of its twin ears, the liquid rind of its eyes looking at me as the drops of milk slid along the dropper against the shut seam of its mouth.

And just before I left to brush my teeth, the little rabbit hopped furiously around and around the border of the cardboard box. “Look, Dad,” I said, convinced all was well, the rabbit on the mend. So when morning came, and with it, no motion from the box, I didn’t understand.

But I remember gradually settling on this: sometimes signs of life are in actuality, signs of leaving. And it helped, walking out across the field with my Dad and a shovel, to go dig a hole, the cold metal of the shovel handle a good distraction from the longing for the rabbit to not have gotten separated from its mother in the first place.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Crows bordered the seams of your leaving" Poems Live Today

at The Blood Orange Review:

The editors at Blood Orange Review are looking in particular for artists to feature in upcoming issues, so please consider submitting your words and/or your art to them.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Photo Poem Montage She Dressed in a Hurry, for Lady Di Live at The Mom Egg

I’m really proud of this latest venture in technology (set to music--my father Stephen Pryputniewicz on piano, playing the music of Scriabin, and Robyn Beattie behind the lens for over 30 gorgeous photos). The poem, She Dressed in a Hurry, for Lady Di originally appeared at Salome Magazin. For text only visit:

For the Photo Poem Montage, visit: the Mom Egg, where it is due to be posted on Mother's Day:

Our first recording attempt was conducted at my father’s house, where we spent half an hour moving the computer with an attached microphone we’d borrowed from my brother back and forth on a stool in the hallway…trying to get the right balance of piano to voice. Then we discovered we were picking up the hum of the heater in the hallway, and tried sticking the computer in the bathroom, closing the door, where the voice took on a sharp tile echo and Dad had to count seconds and guess when to start the piano to time it with the poetry. We had some eerie moments when the wire of the mic became somehow attenuated (overheated?) during the recording of a second poem (Nefertiti on the Astral) and in playback we heard a long drawn out garbled voice, as if we were channeling The Queen of Egypt direct. Once the hairs aligned in their usual horizontal positions along the backs of our necks and arms, we decided to call it a day and consider the recordings working drafts

Fortunately, during one of those fortuitous family, kids, and technology woe swapping lunch visits, my friend Lori offered her husband’s recording studio services, and with his excellent mixing skills, my brother’s help transferring the file to its final form for viewing, we came up with a much stronger version. I hope you enjoy this bouquet of sorts…for Mother’s Day, for mother’s everywhere.

Thanks to The Mom Egg for hosting the montage, Salome Magazine for originally publishing the text of the poem, and Michael and Lori for the studio opportunity. And of course, my co-collaborators Stephen Pryputniewicz and Robyn Beattie (

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mothers and Daughters: A Bird’s Eye View

This is dawn./Believe me/This is your season, little daughter./
The moment daisies open,/The hour mercurial rainwater/
Makes a mirror for sparrows./ Its time we drowned our sorrows.
--From Dawn by Eavan Boland

I must have been six or seven. We’d just moved from upstate New York to an Illinois farmhouse. Early spring, the cold air evident on the palm of my hand pressed to the window, eclipsed for the moment by the sun’s heat, its blinding swath across the pages on my lap. I pored over page after page of muted watercolor paintings of mothers in long flowing gowns with their hair pinned up, escaped tendrils curling about the throat and pearl earrings as they leaned over the child on their lap.

Other images: mother and child kneeling side by side along the cream border of sand by the sea, the pastel ribbons of their hats streaming behind them as they gazed at sea stars. Or sitting nestled against tree trunks, oblivious to the wind rustling the marsh flowers and weeping willows framing their togetherness. Who were these soft, sweet pairs? And so awoke in me a longing for symbiotic, sacred quiet.

Back to reality: Dad in the pantry grinding up soybeans for pancakes in the silver flute of the meat grinder, my brother shrieking, “Batman” from the top of the cellar stairs before launching his way to a broken ankle. The kittens--unbelievably adorable by day--attacking our ankles with miniscule razor claws in the tangle of blankets at the foot of our beds at night. The goldfish--so vibrant an orange his one day of glory, found floating eye to eye with the lid of his world—for my little sister to bury.

Time for breakfast around the spool table my father scored from his job at GE, the many melted candles forming a lava mound centerpiece. Then a game of hide and seek, my mother in the kitchen washing dishes at the sink, stopping to whisper places for me to hide.

Now, forty years later, I stand in the electrified field of my own kitchen: raising a daughter. She stomps before me, enraged with me for saying no to an overnight with a family I have only just recently come to know. I could easily spend her childhood lamenting how odd to find her so deeply wrapped around my heart, embedded in my subconscious, how uncomfortable to feel her groping around in there for the edges of her own self, unable to accept the simple yes or no answers my sons tend to accept.

I’m not alone—other mothers too talk about their daughters’ relentless hunt for full attention: daughters engage until they get your anger, or your apathy, or the pushing away when they won’t accept no. I’m guessing because we arrive here more than not lately (my daughter and I), she must be honing a skill she needs. So many buttons get pushed, it takes Herculean effort to remain patient--a lifetime effort: getting a better grip on how I respond. One friend, speaking on her own relationship with her daughter and the exhausting go-arounds said wryly, “Oh my God, is this the kind of garbage we [women] drag men through?!”

And now as I muck through the day, and pray for a tiny pocket of sacred time with each kid, I realize it is what it is….My daughter hunts me down tonight in the bathtub, where I’ve managed to submerge myself, half-clothed, in order to lure in the 4 year old son (mollified, or shocked I’ve plopped in, finally submitting to the “tick check” after the hour of scrambling through downed trees and brush). She stands in the doorway, tucking her violin under her chin. One string mercilessly tuned an octave low, she perseveres to show me the first bar of “Ruben and Rachel”. She’ll wait til the boys are asleep to fill me in on her heart-life. Phew…at nine, she still cares to talk to me.

When she finally drifts off to sleep, I think about all the mothers and daughters I know. I have friends still angry at their mothers, friends abandoned by their mothers at birth, friends who ignore their mothers, friends who crave more time with their mothers, friends writing letters to their mothers who have since passed on. None of us can be where we are not…I know mending the hurts of a lifetime has its’ own timeline. But I do wish for reconciliation where possible for my friends and their mothers.

And maybe that shared symbiotic quiet I experienced as a kid, looking with longing at those perfect images of perfect mothers and daughters had more to do with a craving for god/source/connection, which I mistook to be my mother. But not really—I wasn’t mistaken—for she housed my first experiences of love. And was as busy as I now find myself to be, and yet took the time to whisper “hide behind the water heater” to me before my brother belted out, “Ready or not, here I come,” read countless bedtime stories, put on countless band-aids, listened to countless complaints and continues to surround not only me, but my children with love.

Thank you, Mom.