Thursday, December 30, 2010


(Heavy runaway star rushing away from a nearby stellar nursery at more than 400 000 kilometres per hour in 30 Doradus Nebula)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.


by Toi Derricotte

My mother was not impressed with her beauty;
once a year she put it on like a costume,
plaited her black hair, slick as cornsilk, down past her hips,
in one rope-thick braid, turned it, carefully, hand over hand,
and fixed it at the nape of her neck, stiff and elegant as a crown,
with tortoise pins, like huge insects,
some belonging to her dead mother,
some to my living grandmother.
Sitting on the stool at the mirror,
she applied a peachy foundation that seemed to hold her down, to trap her,
as if we never would have noticed what flew among us unless it was weighted
and bound in its mask.
Vaseline shined her eyebrows,
mascara blackened her lashes until they swept down like feathers;
her eyes deepened until they shone from far away.

Now I remember her hands, her poor hands, which, even then were old from
whiter on the inside than they should have been,
and hard, the first joints of her fingers, little fattened pads,
the nails filed to sharp points like old-fashioned ink pens,
painted a jolly color.
Her hands stood next to her face and wanted to be put away, prayed
for the scrub bucket and brush to make them useful.
And, as I write, I forget the years I watched her
pull hairs like a witch from her chin, magnify
every blotch—as if acid were thrown from the inside.

But once a year my mother
rose in her white silk slip,
not the slave of the house, the woman,
took the ironed dress from the hanger—
allowing me to stand on the bed, so that
my face looked directly into her face,
and hold the garment away from her
as she pulled it down.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.


Saturday, December 25, 2010


(Bill and I in the front room of our house, 1965; I am in pajamas and robe, sick with asthma as usual, but have put on a dress-up sombrero; Bill and I are holding our chihuahua between us)

In July of 1964 my family moved to a small South Texas town where my father's boss had rented one of the few houses available on the white side of town. There was another house, a brick one built in the 50's, that he rented for his own family.

The house allocated to us had been built at a time before electricity was commonplace in structures. Each room had central fixtures originally meant to burn gas for light. They had been retrofitted, clumsily, to hold electric light bulbs, and as well an outlet had been run to one wall of each room stapled to the outside of the original drywall. The floors were ancient bare wood, the windows rattled in their casings with weights long since fallen away inside, and the pipes thundered when a tap was turned. There was a fireplace in each of the rooms which opened off the wraparound front porch, but the chimneys were not usable and instead gas heaters were jammed into the hearths. The interior walls had never been painted, there were no keys to any of the doors, and a single clawfoot tub had separate taps for hot and cold, the hot water having been added after the house was built.

Care which had not been expended on the interior had instead been lavished on the yard, which was vast and bounded on both sides by lots wild with vegetation of that region. The yard had a small orchard of red plum trees, a grape arbor, a palm tree, magnolias, two salt cedars, a long hedge of oleanders in two colors, a riot of poinsettia beside one chimney, a bearing orange tree, and an enormous fertile vegetable garden. The giant oak at one edge was overgrown with morning glories, and there were so many large climbing trees I could hide in branches for hours on end. There was a chicken coop, an old barn with a horse stall, several prickly pears, a saw palmetto, and thick stretches of St. Augustine in the front yard, wildflowers in the lots, and even a lightning-struck tree whose trunk housed a bee colony.

Despite being given a corner of the dining room as my space, I still felt like we at last had a real house, with high ceilings, original wood trim, and that glorious yard. Compared to the tiny renthouses or 10x50 trailer we had lived in for years, I felt like we had landed in a place where I could take pride. A decent house.

That summer I turned nine. Before the end of the year, I would write my first poem -- sitting in the top of one of those trees in the back lot -- and discover what being a lesbian meant, realizing that must be what I was. When my father's work once again left the area, my mother would decide to keep us in that town, allow my older brother to finish high school in one place, trying to push my father into seeking different employment which paid a living wage for a family. She grew steadily more hopeless and ill in that house, as did I, and my older brother ramped up his emotional and physical torture of me to eventual sexual assault.

Still, I loved that house, the structure itself, the old and solid feel of it, the decades of nurture evident in the yard. We stayed there four years, an eternity in my family, and only left when I betrayed my mother by siding with my father when he came home with yet another demand that we move, this time to Brazil. I betrayed her because I realized I would die at the hands of my older brother if I did not find a way to get away from him, and another continent while he was in college -- avoiding being drafted -- seemed enough distance to save my own life.

During that first year, however, I rode with Daddy as he went to talk with his boss, receiving the news that his job was being relocated again. I was in the front seat of the car, watching Daddy's jaw work as this boss spoke to my father with condescending apology, adding "At least now y'all can get out of that dump you're in."

That's all I remember, that line. On the drive home, my father silently daring me to say a word so he could take out his anger on me, I risked remarking "He called our house a dump."

"It's a shithole" my father said viciously. I shut up.

There were a couple of girls who tried to be my friend while I lived there, and I accepted their advances cautiously. One of them, Lisa Dillard, called me her best friend. But I never once let her inside my house, and that affected our closeness. At least, my sense of shame did.

Years later, I listened to my Great-Aunt Lee talked about growing up in the rural community where my mother's line spent five generations, she said "We were all poor, but we didn't know it. We knew we didn't have money, but not that we were poor. I didn't find out until I went to college on a scholarship, and that's when I learned shame. I've always been grateful I didn't learn it earlier."

I knew exactly what she meant. Shame is something others teach you, and it's much easier to resist when you are older at its first lesson.



(Judy Grahn, January 1988, Oakland CA, photo by Robert Giard)

Every Saturday evening I post a Judy Grahn poem. Much of her best work is already up here (check Labels to the right for her name) but there is still a wealth more to share. If she'd been a straight white man, they'd have declared her poet laureate a long time ago -- but then she wouldn't be writing the stunning language that she does.

(An excerpt from the most important poem in my life, A Woman Is Talking To Death, on this my 55th Christmas Eve)

Death and disfiguration

One Christmas eve my lovers and I
we left the bar, driving home slow
there was a woman lying in the snow
by the side of the road. she was wearing
a bathrobe and no shoes, where were
her shoes? she had turned the snow
pink, under her feet. she was an Asian
woman, didn't speak much English, but
she said a taxi driver beat her up
and raped her, throwing her out of his
what on earth was she doing there
on a street she helped to pay for
but doesn't own?
doesn't she know to stay home?

I am a pervert, therefore I've learned
to keep my hands to myself in public
but I was so drunk that night,
I actually did something loving
I took her in my arms, this woman,
until she could breathe right, and
my friends who are perverts too
they touched her too
we all touched her
"You're going to be all right"
we lied. She started to cry
"I'm 55 years old" she said
and that said everything.

Six big policemen answered the call
no child in them.
they seemed afraid to touch her,
then grabbed her like a corpse and heaved her
on their metal stretcher into the van,
crashing and clumsy.
She was more frightened than before.
they were cold and bored.
'don't leave me' she said.
'she'll be all right' they said.
we left, as we have left all of our lovers
as all lovers leave all lovers
much too soon to get the real loving done.

© Judy Grahn, from The Work Of A Common Woman



Here's a Christmas Day best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.


Friday, December 24, 2010


Here's a special Christmas Eve selection of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.



(Whistler's Lesbian Mother)


I saw my mother's despair
sometimes days on end
Watched her find scraps
to feed her ravenous mind
Hang clothes on the line
Knead biscuits, iron shirts
Stir jam in July kitchens with
sweat pooling around her feet
bare on the linoleum she had
washed that morning before
we all got up. I tried to keep
my own shame and panic from her
but could not because I was
cut from her flesh like biscuits
She stopped by my bed at night
when she got up to pee or
look out at clouds in the darkness
Listening for tornadoes and
planning what to do if one came,
my father gone with the only car
She would cup my sleeping cheek
with her calloused palm and promise
someday things would be okay
I have forgiven her more often than
I have ever prayed. What I want now
is for her to come wake me up
one last time and tell me she is happy
safe fed held close, she has at last
gotten a good night's sleep and
I can stop grieving for how this world
used her down to bare knuckles.

© Maggie Jochild, written 24 December 2010, 2:59 a.m.