Friday, March 4, 2016

WAMC - Rountable Interview for UPWIFT Reel Women screening

http://wamc.org/programs/roundtable#stream/0
Roundtable with Joe Donahue and Sarah LaDuke
March 15, Nicole Quinn
on air: aprox 11:10 a.m.

 For:
Upwift presents: Reel Women In Film
The Linda WAMC’s Perfoming Arts Studio
Friday, March 18, 2016 from 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM (EDT)
Albany, NY









Saturday, January 2, 2016

Anna




It was snowing. There was a fire in the fat bellied stove, a chubby baby in the basket at her feet, her hands in rhythmic concentration, repeating a pattern with hook and yarn, an everyday industry requiring no thought, so her mind wandered weaving unconscious spells, benedictions Anna wondered where he was ... Harry, where they laid him to rest. She hoped there was a view. Harry liked a view. A hillside on a rainy day when the mist rose up off the back meadow, hovering its invocation over the bee stung monardas and yarrow. Blessing it.

"Magic happens in the mist ..."

He'd whisper, as if he'd known the sacred words that unlocked those mysteries and measured them out in careful deliberate doses, not to awe, but to admire. He'd mezmerized her always. His small gallantries when no one else could hear, as if it were a secret only they would share. All her life she'd known he was her destiny, she'd recognized him, from somewhere deep inside, the memories embedded so long ago, she can't remember the time or place, just the longing. It took him a while to come around to the truth of it, chastising and chiding her for speaking her truth about them, for saying intimate things that made him wince and think, in that time before he'd come to recognize her as well.

Then he'd seen her. One day crossing the meadow in her flannels and frills, picking flowers, and talking to herself as if it were the most normal thing in the world to hold considered conversations in first person. She'd seen him then, and smiled. It pierced his heart, the simplicity of her, the truth she spoke so darn scary and deep its irritation worming its way into his heart. Before he knew it, her truth became their truth, for he truly could fathom no one else filling him up the way she did with her questions and wisdom, her hand in his.

And then he was gone. All their hopes now hers alone. There was the child, and there was Edmund, gifts from God. Religion an institution she had not abandoned though the Lord had set her such a hard burden to bear, she'd have missed the social life.

Anna pulled at the ball of yarn suspended through the arch of the child's basket. The ball nestled next to the flanneled baby swaddled there, a turtle on its back, all four appendages dancing toward that moving thread, eyes popping at the teardrop prisms off the lamp, and sometimes startled by something unseen just past his mother's head. She wondered if he saw spooks. The old folks always spoke that way, as if the ghosts of the dead were part of living. She had to admit to having seen shadows at the fringes of her sight, her thoughts, and sometimes to hoping it was Harry come back to her. To them.

Jack was a strong baby. The Stokes were sturdy stock. They were cousins to her kin, but then everyone in Cedarsville and its outlying lands had a claim to the founding families. Anna had come from two towns over to visit Stokes Farm with her mother and father one bug nettled day. Someone's wedding, or christening. She'd not wanted to come all that long way by carriage and then a hot walk across the meadow, boiling in Sunday frippery, to the old farmhouse by the pond. She was eight, after all and would have preferred climbing a tree. She'd sat under a one instead, frowning, shooing away the gnats and that pesty little kid Edmund who'd started poking at her the minute they'd met.

Then she'd seen him ... Harry Stokes. He was 15, dressed in long trousers, and she knew she'd known him forever, that they'd made promises, somewhere, sometime, that only she'd remembered ...

The fire popped, boots scraped on the back porch, Anna startled from her reverie. She looked around her to what is, and smiled, ready to greet the man who has rescued her from ridicule and shame, who has taken another man's baby as his own, whom she has grown to love and trust and would never hurt for anything in the world. For all that was Harry was lost, its archeaology buried deep in the lining of her soul, to be mined in another time. This life it would be Edmund, he had earned it.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Harry Again



Married ...?! I must've misunderstood. While I was busy dyin' Anna was marrying my cousin Edmund?  There was even a child now, the conception of whom I didn't even want to consider. The familiar pain in my chest flared again, the feel of that Confederate's knife twisting the truth deeper into the already damaged organ. Anna was married, and not to me.

I Stayed around the farm the better part of a month, I thought to win her back, finding time alone with her, reminding her with the heat of my kisses of promises made and broken, in a vow to someone else, our love a casualty of war. Edmund. My kid cousin, pest, who we let tag along with us, endured his endless questions and the moony way he'd look at Anna like she was a dish of Aunt Oneida's fresh peach ice cream.

When he left me to die on the battle field I chalked it up to fear and inexperience. Everyone else thought I was a goner, why wouldn't he? But now it took on a sinister tone. I watch him now with fresh eyes, the way his hand rests with ownership on Anna's back, the way he cannot meet my eye or shake my hand, the shut bedroom door, the child who should have been mine ... Had this been his plan; to get me out of the way and make Anna his own? It was improbable. It was ...

I left the day she took my ring off. As long as she was wearin' it there was hope. And then ... there was nothing. Nothing but an endless stream of tomorrows far away from the place I had always planned to turn up my toes, my loving wife and a passel of babies with babies of their own gathered round, tears and fond memories. There have always been Stokes in Cedarsville ... but they won't be mine. My future stretches out on an endless road to somewhere else. I could not stay in Cedarsville and watch my cousin live my life, with my wife.

I headed west.

There's always somewhere to hang your head and drown your sorrows.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Grandma or Emmeline's Thoughts

Character essay reprint:12/07

There's a yellowjacket buzzing between the window and the screen. A frustrated hum the soundtrack to the moving picture which has become my life. Every now and then it knocks its body into the glass, the buzz fierce, determined. I could tell him that the fight is futile, but he still has to live it out to its close, where I forsee a new beginning, or what would be the point. The sound of life about to end is romantic, haunting, inevitable.

When did I first slip away? I wonder this when the sun glances off the window glass due east, the way it has on sunny days for the past ... oh ... so many years. I use to hide in my head all the time as a girl. It was safe in there, even if you didn't know what you would find, or where you would travel, if you didn't like it you could always change your mind. Life's not like that. The rules are less malleable and the colors less kind. I learned to do my chores and mastered looking like I was listening in school, then I could wander away at will, to anywhere at all. Maybe I knew then that I would retire here.

Yellowjackets, so aggressive, a barbed stinger made for repeated use. There's a hormone in its venom which acts like a homing device enabling them to swarm their victim, drawn to it, a small army of heat seaking missiles. It's horrible when you're swarmed. Your body becomes a rag doll, flailing and flapping, to make the pain go away. It's a deep hurt, the sting of a yellow jacket. But I still don't wish this death on it. Wasting away between window and screen, all that you can't have right over there.

Meat tenderizer neutralizes the venom. I use to carry it with me in the meadow where there was always a predator to be found protecting his queen. The MSG breaks it down. It works on jelly fish stings as well, Portugese man-of-war. I don't remember how I know this and not the other important things of life like how to talk, or walk, or even that to do these things might be important, to someone.

I was married young. Got caught up in the whirl and swirl of it, its reality only becoming clear at night when that old man would come to me reaking of liquor the points of his beard poking my cheek as he rocked himself on me, in me, those whiskers ... yellowjacket stings ... i was too young ... what was I thinking about ?...

"Get that spoon out of my face, Vicky Plamer!" I'd scream it if I could remember how.

Vicky Palmer, a child I wouldn't let feed my dog. She'll give up soon and go watch her shows. She likes the shows where people are unkind to one another. Where they gather in groups to laugh and ridicule. I liked jane Austen. Same thing really, different costumes. How did it go? Something like "We laugh at our neighbors and make sport for them in out turn ..." nicer language than our contemporary vernacular, but it's just people poking fun at other people. It's when they get the fists and guns and the ... I was the only girl growing up.

I had a daughter. She got pregnant by a boy who went MIA in Vietnam. It made her hard. She never liked me much. Thought I was dowdy. "Provenical..." Oh, baby, who cares? Really? I mean what difference does it make to how we live and die, if it's only skin deep? I always hoped for more. More meaning between two people. Had it once. Brief. Treasured. Beautiful. Something I draw off that dusty shelf in the back corner of my memories every now and again so as not to make it ordinary, eveyrday, but a special occasion memory. A remembrance of a time that was as fleeting and as swift as butterfly wings ... He was a drifter. Came to work for Abner and me one summer. That was all. I never thought of him as a place to run away. He was a destination all his own. Just for that while. A gift I gave myself because I deserved him.

Gentle laughter. Real smart and not afraid to share it with me cause I was a woman or stupid, all the things you start to believe after repeated use. Sun warmed skin on skin in the mountains and valleys of this land I had known my whole life ... to see it through a stranger's eyes birthed it back to me whole, mine again ...

"Zzzz...zzz...zzzz..." A stuggle against the window, now the screen, valiant. I gave up the struggle. It was too hard to participate. Once you lose the use of language folks write you off as stupid, not there. I was still having thoughts and ideas and I was angry. Trying to tell them, him... I was the one losing my mind after all. That's when ... the pills.

"Psychotic episodes ...", "Dementia ..."

That's how the doctors diagnosed my anger. How they controlled it. The drugs take you away for awhile. Further away than I had ever travelled in my head. I tried to stay here, live my life, but staying present took the day, there was no room for creative thought, trying to maintain 'normal' took so much effort. ... Now, normal is this.

Abner died. I sat in my wheelchair at the service. Violet sent flowers. I wonder how old Sadie is now? She was three, no four when she left us. It was nice having a child in the house again. ...

What's that sound? That scratching. "Zzzz ...." That yellowjacket is frantic. Something's changing. Wood on wood. It's familiar, that sound ... I haven't heard it in years. The buzz is moving off ... I wonder who opened the window?

Friday, December 18, 2015

BILLY PALMER


Dude!!! What the fuck?! Cool, huh? I mean .... like, yeah ... where you goin' now, cuz I was thinkin' like, I don't know, maybe doin' somethin' like, shit ... you know, like, maybe I will, you know, cuz it's possible to, like you know ... get there from here ... you know? You okay with that? ... Cuz if you're not we don't have to, you know, we could maybe get it together to hang out somewhere else with them, you know, so don't sweat it if you're not sure yet, cuz we can decide like later, man, you know?

Huh? Vicky? What the fuck, she's great, man, old ball and chain, right? But you know, like what the fuck, right? Neutered, right, males, right, married men, like ... fucking women and shit right? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, right? Yeah, my mom was all like, you know, .... "Vicky Palmer! That whore?!", hahahahahahahahahaha, like look in the mirror, you know, right? She's a fuckin' saint, my mom, right? Not!

In highschool, man, that's when I got hip to her shit, like you know. Yeah, right? Had to work twice as hard for old Richy-Rich man Lessiter, right, lazy old farts on his crews, right, it's construction, right, I'm like sixteen and some old fat ass says like, right in my face, right, like I'm s'pose to know or somethin' right, "Slow down kid, no one's gonna fire you while old Lessiter's nailin' your mom." ... Just like that, right, I mean, what am I s'pose to do with that, huh? Like fuck you, dickhead, your daughter's blowing guys for quarters in the boy's bathroom, scumwad, like right? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Nah ...I don't believe it at first, right, but you notice shit, like, you know, secret shit, and I know it's true and shit so I shut the fuck up to save the old man, right, drunken piece a shit, and I take care of the little guys while she's out, right? Shit ... you know ... but I'm over it, man, like who fuckin' cares, right? History, right? The old man's dead, she's with Lessiter now, and Thanksgivings a bitch, right? ... But ... like .... I got vicky, right? Like what the fuck ... maybe we can, you know do some shit like later, man, okay like ... you know, right?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Drifter



Ice blue flames flick the darkness, sharp edges bite at the dawn, the chill. How long now ... another few days I expect, till I face the past to see if there's a future there. I write in this small notebook, its leather binding now worn and rough in patches, spattered and splotched, liquid's history marks its cover with a heiroglyph known only to sprites and water daemons. I chronicle the events of my time in hiding, running from the grumblings of a war whose face I wear.

White men fight over economic subsidies, a president fights to align his constituents, all under the banner of the abolitionists cry, and yet ... they ALL hate us. Hate that we're the reason for this unrest, this anger, this ' nigger ...' animals, trainable, not educable. My people grow their food, wipe their asses, craft their civilizations, and we're the ones who are the beasts? They brought us here, flesh eating cattle, couldn't breed the fight out of us, the history, the memories as stories back to thatched huts and tribal fires, warriors ... and now that our presence has placed challenge to their collective morality, we are again to blame. The irony of it. What is fair after all? We the people ... ALL men are created equal ... according to someone's gods.

Who am I in this changing America? Born a free man to a Placee. Raised handsomely on funds deeded to us by a white father whom I call 'Sir' and 'Mister', a man who hears "Father" and "Papa" from white children elsewhere, in a world where I am not known, not welcomed. Where do I fit now that all distinction of class and money have gone, our way of life so irrevocably altered by this war to come. Any man may put a saddle on my back, a bit in my mouth and claim me as property. Some of our people will fight with the Confederacy, a futile effort to preserve the old ways of money and pastime. We men of color who have also owned our brethren. How must we pay for this? I run.

One aches for home. The smell of the river water at low tide when the mossy greens, the dark secrets of its depths, lay naked to the sun. Fish stews musky with bayou herbs, the lilt of Patois, sinister magic in spiced air, strains of a banjo companioned by lapping water, creaking wood, crickets bowing small fiddles ...

A free man. I will remain a free man ... by the waning flames of this small warmth carved out of night into day ...