Our Lady of Improbable Greeting Cards

When nothing I could say is right (and we
both know it); when silence may go as wrong
as the wrong words; when the need to speak grows
so huge it locks both tongue and heart inside
a mouth gone mute for all that matters; then
what can I do, except ask her for help? What
does she tell me? Oh, all the usual
sensible things, that I already knew.

1. Go slow.

Slow as the dreams where you never arrive.
Slow as a watched pot just about to boil.
Slow as a surprising garden slug’s trail
showing where it crossed the path overnight
but now has disappeared. Slow and steady
as the gentle touch that defuses bombs,
or light twist releasing a carousel
to drop one slide into a slot that fits.
Slow as a roller derby jammer coasting
behind the pack of blockers, looking
for an opening. Slow as eyes before
the mind decides, watching, and watching more.
How slow is slow enough? How slow, too slow?

2. Know your audience.

Lively as laughter, berry-bright, easy-
going as trust and old friends. That is one
kind of audience, the ones we hope for,
the ones who get it, what we’re aiming for,
the jokes we practiced and polished, the sleight
of hand intended to delight. There are
others — impatient, critical, sluggish.
But I don’t know. I don’t know how to know.
If I knew my audience, I wouldn’t be
here, asking for divine intervention
to unlock my bold inner Cyrano.

3. Leave space for words.

Don’t:
… say, this is what I want.
Do:
… ask, what would you like?
Don’t:
… fill the page with words.
Do:
… listen. And listen. Closely.

THEN

Do:
… ask, did I understand? Is this right?
Do:
… say, this is what I want, but I also want you to be happy.
Do:
… ask, what would you like?
Do:
… be quiet, pay attention.

4. Make your subject obvious.

Example A)
Maybe this is a birthday you’d rather
forget, but me, I went and got you this
card anyway, because I’m a doofus
sometimes. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Example B)
These things they call “acts of God”? Well, maybe
they aren’t, not always. Maybe sometimes life
is just a raw deal, unfair and painful.

Example C)
I want to ask you out. I mean, I try
to ask you on a date, but I don’t know
how. And I don’t know if that’s what you want.
And if that isn’t what you want, I hope
that my asking doesn’t make things too weird.

5. Consider vertical or horizontal layouts.

[blush]

6. Create multiple versions.

a) I’d love to go to a movie, what about you?
b) Would you like to have coffee sometime? Do you drink coffee? Tea is okay. Or something.
c) Do you like the symphony? Opera? Roller derby? Bowling? Dancing? It’s too soon for dancing. A walk?
d) Umm, there’s a play coming up that’s really cool. All smart and funny. My kid’s in it. Oops.
e) Heck, when is payday? Anything, let’s do anything, as long as it’s right after payday.
f) Is this mic on? I can’t hear myself. Oh. Oh, sorry.

7. Be sensitive when illustrating people.

Don’t: age/shape/size/height
Don’t: distinguishing features. Just don’t.
Don’t: your eyes/hair/lips are like [blank]
Don’t: use a template

Do: tell the truth.
Do: be kind.
Do: find the truth that is kind.
Do: say the kind truth, and mean what you say.

8. Avoid gender-specific designs.

Dancing the funky-monkey pronoun swing;
tripping the light fantastic, or tripping
over your own feet, and tongue. Just tripping.
There’s that great gender-bender blender pro,
the ones that pretty much always go wrong:
“Your eyes are too pretty to be a girl’s” /
“Your hair is too thick/long to be a boy’s.”
Whatever they said, it’s just so much noise.
Here’s a novel idea to try on —
what if we all just used names? Like, what if
we all talked about people like people?

9. Keep things light.

Light and dark as jabberwocky, sweet as
the jitterbug, bright as jive alive, and
happy as the Lindy hop. Let’s keep it
there, for now, bouncing the beat with our feet,
swinging from tango to the Charleston
to foxtrot, and if we’re lucky, mix it
up with the Viennese waltz, and later
a wild merengue. This is no secret
code, just a recipe for slow delight,
the kind that shines itself into the dark
corners, sketching a map of what consent
could look like, maybe, someday, if ‘yes’ comes.

10. Ask for feedback.

Yes.
No.
Maybe.
Probably.
Later.
Never.
Rain check?
Hmmm.
Let me think about it.
Perhaps.
Wow!
Possibly.
Oh.
Oh!


Inspired in part by “Design Your Own Greeting Card: 11 Tips That Actually Work

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Shrouded

Your sorrow becomes
our shroud. So soft

a word for something
that feels like wounds,

like shredding, as if
what’s left of us

has shrunk to a child
costumed for play

in mummy wrappings,
or zombie rags,

half dead, half alive,
wordless and hurt;

a night’s revenant,
a grey shadow

blotting out color,
wincing as dawn

approaches. The winds
weep gustily

as they blow onward
and inland. Each

soft sound a lash. Each
breath a damp ache,

a throb, a struggle.
The canopy

of grey clouds covers
miles like heavy

brocade. Diminished,
the fury ebbs

and fades in its own
time. Fragments fall

from the sky like fists,
like lost treasures,

forgotten wonders.
It’s time. A rock

sits perfectly still
on the edge of

a precipice, mute,
crevices guiding

dewdrops downward,
carving a path through

the open air

Our Lady of Drowning 

I can feel you 

drowning. The thickness 

of memories 

no longer fluid, 

growing sluggish 

and solid as we 

watch. The pale dust 

of skin once plump, taut, 

and elastic 

now stretched thin, garments 

threadbare, house emptied.  

All the dark deep 

that shimmers with blue 

(ultramarine blooms, 

cobalt petals, 

cornflower eyes, and

azure hair fade

like dreams, a cascade 

of starlight cuts 

like knives, soft bruises 

swell under skin). 

I feel you drowning. 

Choking, swimming 

in sadness that roars 

with silence like rage 

of an undertow. 

Current and wind 

suck the faith out 

from under our feet, 

leaving quicksand 

and sludge. I try 

to reach out, to 

grab onto you. You 

beat my hands away. 

There isn’t much 

time. I try again, 

casting a stiff rope 

of awkward words 

tied in circles, 

wanting to catch you. 

I feel you, I 

feel you, but you can’t 

tell I am there. 

I feel you drowning. 

I feel the air 

around me too thick 

to breathe. I am 

drowning, too, helpless 

to change things. Waves 

that wash you away 

catch me up, drag 

me with you. Oh, 

the blue, the blue 

that breaks at the edge

between water 

and sky, and dissolves. 

Shots fired.

“Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Public Spectacle.” G. Washington

Forget the firing range. It’s the woods for us.
Dusty roads shrunk down from arteries to
capillaries; fallen trees adorned with empties
that pop, crumple, and fall when we shoot right through
them, back in the days when tin cans were dense
and solid, heavy enough to take some abuse.
We’ve decorated what used to be a fence
with old cans, my shoulder sporting a huge bruise.
I came here to learn what you can get away with;
how close to cradle the rifle, how much it bucks;
that the holes from a thirty-ought-six just fit
my small fingers; that there are consequences, luck,
and alternatives. You don’t have to sit and wait
for the explosion. Pull the trigger. The boom abates.

Targeted.

“When you see a Crime punished, you may be inwardly Pleased; but always show Pity to the Suffering Offender.” G. Washington

Not a little pregnant, but a lot, I mean really
huge, like someone glued a shelf to my belly

and then crammed in as much as it could hold
until I rocked unsteadily, big and bold.

There’s a reason why we protect pregnant women,
and it isn’t just because a new life is beginning,

with all that cuteness about to arrive, no, and not
just because they might lose the baby if hurt or shocked.

Factor those in, sure, but part of it has to be
that most moms can’t do it themselves. At least, not me,

I was pretty sure, as I clutched the fanny pack
that no longer fit around my hips and back

and slung it over one shoulder, on the same side
as the rib I’d cracked four months ago (with the pride

of being tough and macho, carrying paving stones),
the same side as the eye with the stye, and frail bones,

the sprained wrist. Not that the other side was better
with both feet swollen, too large for my cute leather

flats, so crammed into sneakers, and the wrist mirrored
with a sprained ankle I dragged behind me, awkward and tired,

lurching along, belly-first — hop-drag, hop-drag, hop-drag.
I was startled when a breeze went by, lifting my bag,

and trying to slide it past my crooked elbow.
It didn’t work, thank the Lord. I didn’t know

what we would do without that last twenty I’d hid
when my husband lost his job, just in case needed,

and the need was now. Then, when the breeze turned out
to be a wiry guy on a bike that slid past me, the lout

dismounting, and turning back, well, I don’t know
what happened. I guess I lost it, that cocky crow

strutting towards me, confident and easy in his stride,
my brain locked on, “You think I’m a target? You think I’D

MAKE A GOOD TARGET? Just because I’m pregnant and sick
and injured and tired?” The strangest words came past my lips:

“You want to fight for it?” He laughed, and said, “Sure,
I’ll fight you for it.” So, I kept hop-drag walking, fear

and anger blazing together, thinking, “a) this is
the stupidest thing I have ever done in this

life,” and “b) The only part of my body that works
is the one arm, so I get one strike. One, you jerk,

to take you down.” I held one image in my mind,
the heel of my hand smashing his face in and blind,

calculating the angle, force; feeling how I’d
push off my leg, throw weight behind the arm, and guide

it all right through his head. I stared at his eyes,
hoping this was quick. I stared, and stared at his eyes.

Then he stopped looking at mine. He glanced around,
noticed people gathering to watch the bout,

and evidently decided to revise his plan,
slowed down, turned around, went back to bike, and ran

(or the bike equivalent), peddling down the street,
turning once, to see if the crazy big-bellied bitch

was still after him. I was okay with that,
the shrinking ripples of his purple satin jacket.

Denials.

“Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.” G. Washington

At least a month of midnights between truths,
each a coal-black nugget of angry fear
fingered as a dark rosary stretched thin
between two hands stumbling from prayer to prayer
as reluctantly as we embrace pain,

or death, or the responsibility
for something we never did and never
ever wanted to do, but were blamed for
nonetheless. Who was the perpetrator?
Who was the instigator? The victim?

The rescuer? The righteous ally? Who?
Who was the first encounter in the chain
of random meetings over the decades
triggering memories, paralysis,
grief, guilt, and maybe one day some healing?

Who was the first to say I understand
and mean it, but without understanding?
One step past denial is something else
entirely, inability to speak
hinting at a story yet to be told.

Roll the sounds of letters over your tongue
and fracture them between your teeth even
when unready to make words out of them.
There is time for your truth and mine to meet
somewhere in the middle of empty hours.

/Ethics. Blocked.

“Reproach none for the Infirmities of Nature, nor Delight to Put them that have in mind thereof.” G. Washington

Drizzled with fatigue,
like icing on a cupcake,
am I now a joke?

I rise lopsided,
wobbling at the blurred edges
of collapse. I’m doomed —

part soufflé, part mousse,
part crushed candy canes, bubbling
like champagne gone flat.

It’s alright to laugh,
as long as I laugh along,
I guess, but I try

and try, and then when
when I finally laugh, I bloom
tears, gushing rainbows.

Ah, us. There’s a sea
of troubles, a splintered storm
sears us with shivers.

What if all things good
that we do come from that sea?
All aches transmuted,

all hurts become whole
(emotional alchemy).
Waves lap like dogs’ tongues

on our open wounds.
What if pain froze and shattered?
What if it melted,

drawing new love lines
down pulsing veins in our throat,
and drowned us all?

We swim, float, swim more.
Let’s be kind just one more day.
Take my hand and float.