Dec 8, 2015

Morning Sadhana

My boat knocks gently against
The other shore of the night
Long before first light shines
On the blue faced doves.

Jan 30, 2015

The Creation of The Earth

The creation of the earth
Was my favorite project. I was
Just a baby spirit then. I was in my
Elephant phase. I thought, When I
Grow up, I want to be an elephant.
Of course, all of this changed when I
Saw the ocean.

God stretched forth his gigantic arm,
The one with the branches growing out of it
And spoke to the clouds and the gusts of grey
Matter and they began to dance and sing and
Praise Him.

The water appeared. Still singing,
The fish singing too.
That is where I found myself
Deep in the ocean, fish-like and swimming
Praising His name in all languages at once
Thunderous, undulating sound.

My astral body slid
Through matter.  
I became nothing
But purple light.  I became myself.
Suddenly older.  A wise old soul
In whose golden eyes I cannot touch bottom.
I am beautiful and motherly, or
Maybe that is the Great Mother.
Her crown shines peaceful light-ocean
And I am part of Her.
Plunging to the surface
Silver dolphin
Shooting sparks.

Apr 12, 2014

Matthew's Brain

Matthew’s Brain
by Felice Austin
Matthew’s brain is in the weeds, hiding
from Melville.
Matthew’s brain hiccups,
runs for the train, battles
intruders, feigns sleep, swims
upstream in green moonlight.
Matthew’s brain has mood swings
It crawls along the floor
hides in a corner
runs circles on a graph page.
Mathew’s brain is like polar bears in chairs
Like a typewriter in a stream
And it is not unlike the darkest night
in a graveyard where you don’t belong.
Matthew’s brain is on a shelf at Trader Joe’s
And in the dugout at a Dodgers game
Matthew’s brain is in his chest where his
heart should be.
Or with his heart
in a deadly embrace. Tonight
is the night they will lose their sorrow.
Matthew’s brain is going to a black
hole for treatment.
Is on a ship, bound for icebergs,
or whales. I can never be certain.

Feb 12, 2013

Phoebe's Sunset Sentimentality

Phoebe’s Sunset Sentimentality
By Felice Austin

I found out later
That she was on the roof with Lily
While we were inside watching
The sunset through the beach house windows
As it sailed on its canoe, off the edge of the world
Turning the water gold,
The sky a veil of orange.

If you watch a sunset sitting down,
And then stand up, you can watch it again.
I demonstrated for our guests, standing on a chair.
Later, she told me about the view from the roof.

Very young children rarely notice sunsets.
Why would they,
When everything is new?
Why would it be any more bewitching
Or beautiful than a bird flying,
Or a boy riding by on a skateboard,
Or the mole on your belly?  

Now, she is six, my daughter,
Who is named after the sun.
She touches her heart as she speaks
“Mom. It was so beautiful.”

And I feel sorrow,
Like she is describing her own death.

Apr 13, 2012

Gopher Town

Gopher Town
“A gopher town can easily spread to take over large sections of prairie or mountain meadow and may have a population in the thousands.” - Wikipedia

Like a black hole at the center of the universe, the gopher holes had their own magnetic pull. As children, we were drawn to them like strange attractors. My mother was waging a personal war against the gophers, and we couldn’t get enough of the excitement. Family folklore tells of entire stalks of corn being dragged underground before our eyes, their silky green tops frantically waving like drowning victims. They were no match for the bucktoothed rodents, who ate the roots first, then had easy work.

No one else we knew had this problem. No on else we knew had a garden. We lived in a medium-sized city, north of Los Angeles and south of Santa Barbara in the oil rich hills of Ventura. In my childhood the hills all along the coast highway were dotted with oil derricks, like bird beaks, rhythmically pecking the earth. A rhythm that hypnotized me on car trips. Most of the city was highly developed, but by some accident or zoning blip, our corner house backed up to a large piece of undeveloped land--a hill that was many acres square. The bulldozers and other earth movers that had once rumbled across it now lay silent and rusting.

My mother had made use of our large corner lot and planted several gardens. Carrots, strawberries and raspberries grew in planter boxes around the side yard. Zucchinis and other squash grew heavy and abundant in the back yard. And in the far garden beyond the avocado tree, bean stalks climbed wooden frames. There were also potatoes and other root vegetables. The root vegetables didn’t stand a chance.

The grating of the hill had displaced many creatures from their homes and like water, they flowed downward--to our house, and to my mother’s garden. The gophers were only one of many pests she battled. There were also the squirrels, mice, and stray cats. Of course, she may have also counted us, her four children, in that group of pests, but our intentions were pure, as was our hunger for her raspberries.

She experimented with many methods of pest elimination over several years, from yelling and banging pots, to a gadget that looked like a spacecraft. The flying saucer was purchased from a gardening catalog and must have been expensive, but my father agreed to buy it for her. The space ship was made of green plastic, about the size of a salad plate and a few inches thick, with a metal stake in the center. When the stake was pounded into the ground, it looked like a UFO hovering a few inches above the vegetables. Once they installed the batteries, the craft sent seismic waves down the post and into the ground around it, causing gopher sized earthquakes ten to fifteen feet outward from the epicenter. This seemed to be a success, and for several weeks my mother went about her gardening with a smile, an exultant twinkle in her green eyes.

I thought about the gophers often. I wondered about their underground route and their nighttime habits. I empathized with them to a degree. I also liked to sneak the fruits of my mother’s labor, but they crossed lines I would never dare. Their lack of regard for my mother’s position awed and baffled me.

Sometimes from the elementary school across the street, I would look up at recess and see my mother standing on the hill top. In my mind she is paused with her back to me, gardening gloves on, in dark blue jeans and reddish hair. At other times she had no hair, and the sun shone off her shaved head, or her light blue turban, because she didn’t like to wear wigs. And she seemed like a giant to me. Her hips looked sturdy and wide under the stretched blue denim. One would never know the extent of her internal ravaging.

Even though she never turned around, I always knew that she saw me looking at her. The gophers didn’t understand this. Her ability to see without looking, her largeness, or her quiet determination to win. So I was glad when the space shuttle arrived.

However, the win didn’t last long. Either the batteries died or the gophers became smarter. I imagined them coming out at night, their yellow front teeth leading, followed by their small eyes and ears, inching closer and closer till the smartest gopher finally rapped it with his curved claw, and said in chipmunk voice, “It’s plastic.” And they all sighed and chuckled and went back to their ravaging.

Nothing was said, but somehow the failure of the space craft was felt among the whole family. Perhaps we absorbed the resonance of her frustration in our meals.

Of all the pests, the gophers were the most mysterious to us, because we never saw them, only the evidence of them. So when my brother shouted that he had seen one of the rodents peek its head up and then retreat into a gopher hole in the back yard, we shrieked at our luck. We were hungry for gopher action.

Mom was inside, probably cooking or sewing or laying down. In an instant we decided that the hose was our best weapon. Forrest jammed it down the hole and I turned it on full blast. I grabbed a stick from the nearby woodpile and ran to the other hole at the end of the yard. The stick was for bonking the gopher when it would surely be flushed out any minute.

A few years earlier. Same back yard. Same hose.
Poised like a batter, I listened to the water run. Even as an eight year old, I was conscious about water. We were in a monumental drought and the way my parents made it sound, every drop of water cost a hundred dollars. Yet in that moment, I didn’t care. I had read the story of Noah and the flood and I knew that that much water could do damage. And we wanted to do damage. Ephraim was excited to get in on the gopher clubbing action too, and soon came running with a baseball bat.

We made eye contact occasionally, thrilled by the possibility of fighting a common enemy. The possibility of blood.

It felt like an hour before we finally gave up. An hour of water down the gopher hole. It did not flood out like I imagined, but rather seemed to disappear down an unseen well. Forrest took the hose out and put his eye to the hole, but could see nothing. He jumped up and down on the ground and screamed at them.


That’s when I realized that their underground tunnel system was more extensive than we knew. In my night-time imaginings of them, I began to add intricate gopher highway systems that ran for miles underneath the entire property and the denuded expanse of dirt that was the hill.

How does one make a map of the unknown?

The radiologists had made small blue tattoos on my mother’s body. Just a dot or two here and there to map where they had been or would go again. They too were fighting the unseen.

My father, perhaps because he couldn’t stand the unknown any longer, went after the more visible pests--the squirrels. Perhaps it was after breakfast one Saturday that he leapt from the table, grabbed a BB gun from his closet, and ran outside where he saw one scuttling away from her garden. He lifted the gun to his shoulder, aimed and fired in one swift movement. The squirrel ran and then fell with another round of BBs.

My brothers and I held our breath. We had never seen anything like it. His movements had been focused, intentional, powerful. Yet as the blast sound ricocheted around the yard and dissipated, he seemed to get smaller. He walked over to the dead squirrel and nudged it with his foot. What happened next shocked me to the core.

I had read about crucifixion, and crimes of war—mostly in the Bible. But now my father, who survived Vietnam, who read philosophy books and listened to Joni Mitchell and Elvis, was nailing the dead squirrel to a wooden steak.

We all quivered near the event horizon. My father’s head was bent over the purposeful sound of the hammer. The squirrel’s blood was red like mine, and its guts were spilling out. My mother turned away and went inside.

I didn’t know what my dad was thinking, I only knew that my mother’s garden was being eaten by rodents as her body was being eaten by cancer, and he had shot and crucified a squirrel. He then hammered the stake into the ground at the top of the hill on our property line. He said that it was to be a public example for any other creatures who thought about coming down the hill to eat her garden.

This made sense to me. I imagined one or two gophers coming out at night, seeing the carnage, and running back to tell the rest of the family that the man on the corner had lost it—was showing no mercy; no animal was safe. They would all quake at the tale.

Feb 27, 2011

My Permanent Condition

My mother died in July before I entered seventh grade, and afterward everything changed. I did not fully realize what it meant to be motherless, however, until later that fall. I sat in the back of the morning bus with Kristin, an eighth grader. I wore a pink sleeveless shirt that I adored, but that was too big for me. As I reached down into my backpack, Kristin saw through my gaping armholes.

“Oh-my-gosh,” she said, covering her mouth. She moved in close to me and whispered, still covering her mouth. “Um, I think you need to start wearing a bra.”

My eyes widened. “I do?”

She nodded.

“But….” I was about to object, but instead I pinned my arms to my sides like a penguin for the rest of the day. Later that night, in the privacy of the bathroom, I stood on top of the toilet to look in the medicine cabinet mirror. I was positive that an incident with a soccer ball several weeks before was what had made my left nipple bruised and swollen. I remembered joking with another girl at the bus stop that if only the other one would swell up I’d have something. A few days before, however, without explanation, my right nipple also became tender. Looking in the mirror, I saw the small pink nipples I was used to, had become darker and grown to size of a penny.

I covered them with my arms and groaned, thinking about that morning on the bus. Though I was not as physically developed as other girls in seventh grade, I had always prided myself on being smart for my age. In fact, I had known about puberty for years. I knew that things went in holes and that I would someday get a period. But my mother was flat-chested even before her mastectomy, and I was flat for so long after other girls that I accepted it as my permanent condition.

Puberty had betrayed me after all, and I had flashed my ignorance all over the bus. There had been no woman or friend to spare me this embarrassment. I stood on the toilet and realized that I had no one to turn to.

Around the same time as my mother’s death, all of the other women in my life also disappeared. My best friend moved away, leaving me with half of a heart shaped necklace, and no other close friends at Anacapa Middle School. My grandmother moved with my grandfather back to their home in South Dakota shortly after the funeral—after my father firmly refused their offer to pay for a nanny.

Because we couldn't afford a nanny, my brother and I were sent to the Jensen family's house after school. My younger brother and sister went to another family’s house.

The Jensens had a daughter my age. I was nice to her out of obligation, but behind her back all of my siblings and I called her Grody Jody. Grody Jody was twice my size, wore thick pink-rimmed glasses and had asthma. But she also had two lumps on her chest that had been in a bra for several years. All I knew about bras was that they came in numbers and letters and that there was a complicated method for figuring out your size. I cursed myself for reading Nancy Drew mysteries all year, when I should have been reading Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret?

I realized that there was no one else to turn to but Jody. She knew more about bras than I did, but I had superiority over her from being half her size and less of a nerd, so I knew that she would not tell anyone. That is how I ended up at K-mart with Grody Jody Jensen.

Jody’s mom dropped us off under the pretense of school shopping. Once we entered the store and started down the long expanse of linoleum, everything slowed down. I felt very small next to Jody, and I wanted to shrink even smaller so no one would see me with her. I wanted to forget about the whole errand and go back home. I wandered off the path into the racks of clothes, walking quickly, trying to lose her. I weaved through round racks of overalls, skirts, and purses.
I passed the shoe section with its sour smell of new plastic, then turned a corner and bumped into Jody again. She was breathing in short asthmatic breaths. Her nostrils were flared, and the inside of her eyebrows were drawn up like a baby about to bawl.

I felt bad for ditching her. “There you are!” I said. At this, her eyebrows returned back to normal, and her breathing sounded less like a bull’s. As we approached the bra section I stopped to examine something on every rack. Finally Jody grabbed my wrist and took me to a display of training bras and presented them to me.

“Here,” she said, with a flourish of her hand and then stood awkwardly waiting for me to do something.

I stiffened and looked quickly around. A woman in a K-Mart blue vest was upon us.

“Can I help you?”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” said Jody at the same time. “She needs a training bra.” Jody fidgeted. I glared at Jody but was glad I was no longer left to her guidance.

The woman was a middle aged Mexican woman with fuzzy brown hair and a nice smile.

“Oh,” she said, drawing out the O. She looked around. “Where is your mom?” she asked.

I had been bracing myself for this question, but it still disarmed me. All of the muscles in my body tightened to hold back the tidal wave rising inside. Sweat formed on my forehead. Sudden tears began to leak out of my eyes. The salty drops burned my skin. I choked when I spoke, trying to keep the water from shooting out and filling up the K-mart and drowning me.

“She died,” I said wiping my tears, holding up my chin.

At that moment, standing barely taller than the clothing racks with Grody Jody Jensen and a stranger, I realized what my mother’s death meant. The flat-chested ease of childhood was gone. Everything, even dressing, was more complicated. Most of all, I realized that the future would have many more moments such as that one: uncomfortable, pained, maybe even glorious, and for each of them, I would be inexpressibly alone.

Jan 18, 2011



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