Memoir as a Body of Water

Long ago, in the storm rocked Cantabrian Sea,
My friends and I heeded some impulse to strip
And plunge below the jagged breakers.
Blood pounding in my ears the only sound
As waves swirled above like illuminated thunderheads.
Later, we sat on pockmarked boulders at dusk,
An electric charge in the air. Hushed breath, chests rising
And falling as though joined by an invisible current,
The shared knowledge of what we had risked.
Today, I enter the pebbled shallows of a man-made lake.
My footsteps tear through the reflection of pine trees,
Warp their curve upwards with hill’s rise, their sun-bright
Branches greening the water’s mirrored darkness.

Today I’m thinking about youth and the vitality I once had. When I wrote this poem this past spring, I was feeling content with the peace and calm I had arrived at.

But as I’m going through another depression of the agitated variety, my nerves completely shot, I marvel at how I used to thrill at riding wooden roller coasters or swimming in rough water.

Yesterday I took the second Covid booster, which hasn’t seemed to cause me any great distress, but the new medication I’m taking for anxiety has tired me as my body adjusts. I’m still hoping the anxiety will ebb, but so far, after ten days, I’ve only experienced minor improvements.

Guided meditations and lap swimming have helped ease some of the pain. Distractions like walking my dog or gardening when the heat is not too unbearable also help. Remembering that all things change and are changing every moment is a consolation, too.

I copied the owl’s face from the cover of this month’s Atlantic, “How Animals Perceive the World“ by Ed Yong, photo by Shayan Asgharnia

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss, I recall my life in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s and the punk rock/new wave scene there.

Seuss’s poem, [I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious], brought me back to the times my friends and I drove to New York for a weekend to hear our boyfriends open for bigger bands at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge.

[I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious]

Unlike Seuss, I was more of a voyeur of the punk scene, a curious suburban college girl who wanted to graduate from university and study in Spain. For a while, I got sidetracked by punk’s promise of anarchy and rebellious art making, but I never had the need to “escape from punk’s thesis.” That was a forgone conclusion with my conservative, Catholic father hovering in the background of my psyche.

Seuss, raised by a single mother, was the real deal.

The 80’s in Athens at UGA was steeped in systemic misogyny that I bumped up against in my creative life, although at the time, I thought this bumping up was due to my own failures as a writer and human being.

I tried to get into Coleman Barks’s creative writing poetry class, but when I approached him at his office he practically shut the door in my face.

Instead, I tagged along with the boys in the band, read their chapbooks, gathered at their art openings, and attended theater presentations at the Rat and Duck, named for the rats running along the ceiling above and having to duck from falling plaster.

We slam danced and pogoed at the 40 Watt Club, went to parties on Barber Street, and picked through steamy piles of musty clothes dumped in the back of the thrift store.

We had a lot of fun in the early 80’s, but I was an outsider on the periphery of cool, while many of the *boys* were hipper than thou, making pronouncements about art and music as though they were the arbiters of all taste.

I appreciate Diane Seuss’s critique of the New York punk scene, especially her lines:

the rest was the same old white boy song

and dance, unaware of its misogyny and convinced its dangers

were innovational … .

A Funeral and Texas Coney Island Wieners

In 1992,  when my son Casey was two, my grandmother died, and so we drove up to Scranton, PA with my parents to attend the funeral. My father’s mother wrote poetry, and because of this I felt a special attachment to her, even though I only saw her once a year growing up.

Every summer, wherever my family lived, we would pack up the sky-blue Ford Galaxy 500 and drive the highway miles to spend two weeks with both sets of grandparents in Dunmore, PA, a borough of Scranton in the Lackawanna Valley.

There were four children, so three of us would settle into the backseat while the fourth would wedge between my parents in the front seat. This was before bucket seats, when the interior of a car resembled a couch rather than a recliner. My dad would drive the entire way, and whoever sat between my parents had the luxury of being able to lie across my mother’s lap to sleep away the miles.

The backseat, however, was a different place. No air conditioning, the windows down, hot wind would blow across the cornfields into our faces for hundreds of miles. When we grew tired of drawing, reading, or weaving potholders on a plastic loom, we would squabble with each other until my father’s freckled arm, always stretched across the front seat, would start waving wildly in our direction in an attempt to swat us into docility.

The occasion of my grandmother’s funeral found me once again in the backseat of my parents’ car, this time a station wagon with air conditioning. My mother and I sat in the back with Casey strapped into his car seat. He was a champ, considering he had to stay locked in place for two days as we drove from Atlanta to Scranton.

We took some time during that trip to visit my dad’s favorite diner, Coney Island Lunch for one of his Texas Coney Island wieners, food he probably should have avoided considering his struggle with ulcerative colitis and the many surgeries he had already endured.

The way home from the funeral felt like the old days of driving under the threat of my father’s arm. He had broken down in tears at the service, but for reasons only my father could explain,  his grief morphed into anger toward my mother and the rest of the world. He raced back to Atlanta with us in tow,  a black cloud of  negativity seeping from his pores. He drove at breakneck speed until my mother and I pleaded with him to pull over to let someone else drive. That was the last road trip I made with my dad.

Painting by my sister, Patrice Needham.

Painting by my sister, Patrice Needham.

My sister  took a few pictures of us while we wandered around Scranton, whose early twentieth century architecture charmed us after the glass towers of Atlanta we were accustomed to seeing. She painted the picture from a photograph, and then gave it as a gift to my mother and father-in-law. Katherine’s maiden name was Casey, which is why we named our son Casey. Another connection is that Sean is wearing his Berkshires t-shirt (which I still use as a night shirt), the place where my in-laws lived every summer.

I rescued the painting from Katherine’s house since she’s planning on selling the place in the Berkshires. Now that she’s getting on in years, she can’t travel there by herself, much less live there alone for a summer.  I like my sister’s photorealist style of painting. Her more recent work is plein air water colors, which I also find very beautiful. This one was painted at a beach trip we just took, on a postcard size water color block.

Plein air water color of Port Saint Joe Bay by Patrice Needham.

Plein air water color of Port Saint Joe Bay by Patrice Needham.