Tuesday, March 24, 2020

My Corona

My Corona
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
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My depressed daughter amped up her eating disorder the Monday before Mayor Adler shut down the city.

I checked her into Dell Children’s Hospital fifteen miles from our home, on a day when traffic was traffic because Austin was Austin and a cough meant simply catching a cold.

The first night I was lost in her nightmare.

Seattle was on the moon.

The stock market crashed in a forest with no trees and Italy was a scream muffled by an ocean.

I slept in a rollout bed beside a window looking out at a courtyard of mistflowers and wandering jews. Vines of purple, clusters of white petals. No children swung from the branches or played in the flower beds. The birds chirped but no one answered them.

Light filtering through the green, blue, red, and yellow stained glass of odd-shaped windows cast rainbows on my toes on the way from my daughter’s room to the cafeteria on the first floor. Stale bagels, chipped ice, the screech of chairs pulling out from tables. Men and women talked hunched over in muted conversations. A woman in scrubs pressed her palm against a pane of glass, reaching out to her own reflection. The granola tasted like sand in my mouth.

It didn’t smell like a hospital there, but I saw dead children everywhere, so when they said, “wash your hands thoroughly,” I thoroughly complied, and I won’t deny it took some work not crying every time I passed a wall of art signed with loopy handwriting.

Depressed kids can turn a remote control into a suicide plan so we listen to the Food Network on mute, my daughter spread out in her bed with half-open eyes and eyebrows shaped like waning crescent moons knitted low on a face I have loved since the moment it breathed life into this world.

These days, I have to beg my world to eat a cracker.

The next day they admitted her into the psyche ward secluded on the second floor while that bug brought to Virginia Mason from across the sea spread its hands over the map of the USA and our mockery of a president finally had to confess that we’re fighting more than flu.

I drove home alone with a stack of paperwork.

The following week I ride to the hospital on empty roads built from DUIs and long goodbyes and calamities no one saw coming. An eerie silence silenced the live capital music of the world. My son and I scattered from the car in a dance of sleeved hands. I signed the release form and my daughter walked out into a world different than any world before or at least since she was born, fifteen years ago.

She didn’t seem to notice. Her face was glowing. She met a boy in there named Shiloh. He drew a ring around her finger with a red magic marker. They made paper mache pets and gave them names like “Schizophrenic Spot” and “Bipolar Buddy.” They met in the hallway at night when everyone else was sleeping and held hands and exchanged numbers, although they’re not supposed to.

And now it’s Sunday 10:50 am, the air conditioning is roaring and I’m working because back in January, I warned my employer, “We needed a teleworking plan” and they ignored me. Now I attend Saturday, Sunday conference calls with my ear to the walls and the shouting for laptops to appear. No one acknowledges my prevision except for Christie in Network Access who Skypes, “Sorry we didn’t listen to you sooner.”

My daughter folds into my view. Hair messy, yawning. She’s spent all morning sleeping off last night’s conversations. I heard her giggling from the other room.

(I found a plate in the kitchen sink this morning, and two slices of bread were missing.)

She approaches me, smiling. Reaches out to braid my hair. Love has filled the vessel of her grief. Shiloh, the hero. I am okay with this impermanent menu; I only wish I was the one who could feed her.

Our cure is our ruin is our cure. This conference call could last for hours.

My daughter asks if I want my plaits fat or thin like spaghetti. There’s a ski resort in Ischgl with three floors of coughing patrons. Trafalgar Square is empty. In Madrid the Spanish army has turned a skating rink into a mortuary for victims of the first attack. This was only the beginning. Overnight the Giants stole the crown from the Seahawks. Now the Alphabet City is counting numbers. Trains move without passengers. Carnegie Hall sleeps without singers. In Central Park, pigeons make their own dinner.

Every man for himself. Every saint to their sinner. Every sin to its saving grace—the great black eye shining light into our existence, speaking truth: “It is time. Choose wisely.”

Our ruin is our only salvation.
Saturday, January 4, 2020

Australia

Australia
Saturday, January 4, 2020
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I.
I don’t talk about Australia much because it hurts. Some periods in a person’s life are too painful to recall, and some are so joyful that they, too, become a type of burden.
Australia is the latter.
From an early age, I only had two goals: to escape Mississippi and become a successful writer. Everything else—marriage, kids, friends—took a backseat.
So it’s become a continual source of amusement to me that everything I put on the backburner would find me in my years Down Under.
It was in Melbourne where I met my best friend, Mercedes. Drunk on youth and beauty, wired by caffeine and nicotine, we’d skip our college classes to hunt for men and drink for twenty. We’d teach the guys from Supergrass how to shoot pool, dance until the floor melted, laugh until our sides hurt, and stir a boy’s entire paycheck into our drinks before wobbling back to her flat on Orrong Road just as the sun was coming up over Port Phillip Bay. We’d wake up under a large red gum tree, hungover with smoker’s coughs and creased clothes, laughing and hungry to start over again.
We’ve maintained our friendship over two decades and three continents.
I also met the man who would later be the father of my children. He was beautiful, brilliant, with ambition larger than life. We barely speak now, but for years, we were inseparable, and the residual energy of what we had still clings to me, revealing itself when I find the odd picture or letter tucked in the back of a book with pages browning at the corners.  
I found my fairy godmother too. Her name was Amanda. A “true blue Aussie,” she and her English husband Mark hosted me at their home in the outer western suburbs of Melbourne. The town of Melton was far enough from the city and so sparsely populated that it could practically be considered the outback. Warning signs of kangaroo crossings dotted the road every kilometer or so, tucked beside acacia and hakea bushes and occasionally accompanied by wedge-tailed eagles and skuas scavenging for roadkill. The city center was often vacant save for the burly, sunbaked men coming in from the bush, making their way to Mac’s Hotel on High Street for a round of Carlton Colds and to watch a game of footy on the telly (Melbournians, above all other Australians, love their footy. There are about 3,000 footy teams in Melbourne alone. The year I arrived, the Sydney Swans had won the whatever the Aussie Football equivalent of the Super Bowl was, and I thought there was going to be a civil war.)
Amanda lived in a Victorian home off a dirt street, just down the road from a famous retired Australian boxer. Her expansive house hosted a hodgepodge of everything—Amanda was a self-admitted shopaholic—and was rarely ever clean (“Houses should be lived in,” was her reasoning). My favorite room was the only room where I was not allowed entry—an elaborately furnished parlor just off the kitchen, hidden by a sliding stain glass door. It had an air of Miss Havisham about it, the way the dust and cobwebs coated the pink and cream Queen Ann chairs, the velvet Victorian settee and mahogany demilune tables, the clawfoot ottomans and Tiffany lamps.
Each morning Amanda’s four cats—Spit, Terror, Friendly Shorty, and Unfriendly Shorty—left trophies of their hunts from the night before at my bedroom door—usually rabbit guts (“shit bags” Amanda called them), but sometimes bird feathers and possum fur, and occasionally a snake, venomous and non-venomous.
I was accompanied to the bus stop each morning by flies as large as magpies and magpies as large as horses.
The only time I saw koalas was at the zoo; they tended to make themselves scarce, especially in Victoria, where the bush was being depleted at a rapid rate.
For much of the year, Melbourne weather felt like Seattle, drizzly and perpetually overcast, sometimes four seasons in one day. But for a few weeks each summer, the wind from the Great Victorian desert would breathe through the city, coating the pavement and buildings with a layer of dust. Under a cloudless sky, the sun intensified, its dilated orange pupil deadlocked on the lone country continent, weltering green to brown, boiling the streets, eating the air alive.
I think about those summers now the way I remember childbirth. I knew it was painful, I knew I didn’t want to experience it again, but to actually relive it is impossible.
And to think how it has only gotten worse…
II.
My adopted country.                                      
I can’t imagine what you are going through.
All your Odd. All your Unique. All your Indigenous. All your trees without shade, your flowers without scent, your birds with flightless wings, your beasts barely able to walk or walk not at all but hop on hooved feet. Your sleepy-eyed creatures in the trees who refuse to eat save for the food that slowly kills them. Your slithering ropes with enough venom to eradicate an empire with one extended fang. You are the holy vessel for the children of an adolescent god. He drew you on a napkin and molded you with paper and paste—his first attempt at scribbling life into existence. 

III.
I wish I had gone to Australia when I was older, when I wasn’t so ripe with selfish ambition, when I was mature enough to know that journeys were arrivals in their own right, and that the one-and-a-half hour train ride from Amanda’s house to the city was just as important as the hours I would spend in my urban destination, strapped to my narrow dreams.
Australia is the last unopened chamber of my heart. I never share her with people, not even Doug. I don’t even like sharing her with my present self. The Erin who writes this now is very much embedded in today—her work and kids, her home and cats and the scourge of current events that blaze through her timeline like a hot Australia sun.
But today, Australia is current events, and so I allow myself this moment—
I find Crowded House on Spotify. They are my favorite band, but I never listen to them because they remind me too much of the best years of my life. But they soundtrack my memories whenever I want to go back there, and today, I do. I want to go back to Australia…which is why I skip to “Now We’re Getting Somewhere” and forward to the 3-minute mark, just to hear Australia’s adopted son Neil Finn sing,
“When you took me to your room, I swear I said surrender
When you opened up your mouth
I saw the words fall out…”
And I’m there again, in my foster country. I’m on a Footscray train, squeezed between uniformed schoolchildren and working men in ratty Billabong sweatpants and gum boots, the kurrajong and waratah trees making way for great giants of concrete.
“…though nothing much has changed…”
I’m creeping into Amanda’s parlor, into the beautiful decay of a paradise abandoned. The cats scratch at the sliding door, but I refuse to admire their prey.  
“…I swear I will surrender…”
I’m at Lorne Beach with Mercedes. The salt stings my nostrils as we wade through tides, the Southern Cross watching from the distance of a million years ahead.
“…there is pain in my heart…”
It is a Southern Hemisphere spring and I am engulfed in my new love. He is picking me up at Flinders Street station in five minutes. I’m carrying a Les Murray book and I got a pen behind my ear because I’m going somewhere. My daughter and son are secrets in my knapsack, and I unknowingly carry them with me down the steps where Flinders Street and Swanston street meet, where throngs of tourists have lined up, their heads bent over maps. Some of them speak with American accents, but I don’t stop to help. I am not one of them now.
“…we can choose what we choose to believe…”
In a second I’ll stop remembering and I’ll finish this story. I’ll go online and donate to the young families of Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O'Dwyer, and I’ll spread awareness on social media, But for this moment, this brief moment,Australia is alive within me and nothing is burning.
Thursday, December 19, 2019

For Eli

For Eli
Thursday, December 19, 2019
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Low Angle View of Man Standing at Night

Eli you would have been proud of me
Today I slayed a dragon
She lied to me so I swallowed her whole.

I probably won’t have a job come Friday,
but boy it felt good to sink the beast
before it fired and released on the people I love the most

Essentially, I saved my team

You were on my team once

I wish I could have saved you too

I wish my Spider-Man sense
Had sensed you hovering over the chair
wrapping a noose around your neck
before you jumped,
before the art stopped
and the music dried up,
and the strokes of color you brushed across the sky
were erased from the world forever

My mysterious friend,

Before you hated me
Before you betrayed me,

We played a trick upon the stars
We spoke in code and god only knows
What signals were crossed
And before I knew it you were gone

Jen B. told me through a screenshot
Jen N. and I thought it was a hoax
That’s just Eli being Eli
Digging her own escape through the barricade
of holiday facades and family gatherings,
hibernating until the bells ceased ringing
and the registers stopped dinging
and the carolers had run out of songs.

I must have called every YMCA
in Seattle. Me with the office door closed
the Ravenettes muted, nibbling on a Kit Kat
a co-worker had left on my desk with a card
merry christmas and voices of Northwestern women
interrogating my reasons and me saying, it's fine,
you have the right to be suspicious,
but I promise you,
I'm her friend.

Some friend I am.

now forever your death will taste like stale chocolate wafers
and the aftertaste of devouring a monster. 

Cheers Eli I gotta go
Gotta clean up my resume
By the way they’re protesting in Delhi
And the big bad orange has become a peach
In the house at least
But we all know how it will go
In the senate.

it's okay it's progress and you're a thousand lives ahead
I'm applying to a job in Budapest
and you're delivering your nightmares a bowl of ice cream
finally, some peace for the peaceless weary-eyed princess

see Eli monsters aren't as scary as we think.

EP 12-19




Sunday, November 24, 2019

Badlands

Badlands
Sunday, November 24, 2019
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 Image may contain: people standing, cloud, sky, grass, mountain, nature and outdoor


for Doug

We got lost in the Badlands,

the November wind stabbing at our backs,
the sky bleeding topaz while ash-colored clouds lowered
over the land like a holy simlāh hellbent to disguise
any path back to civilization.

"just drink it all in and pretend we know exactly
where we're going," you say,

"focus on the mule deer hopping away from us in
pairs scared thinking these pale faces are hunters
who like their meat complete with hooves for feet
and minced and gamey,

or focus on the chipmunk puffing out its cheek and
bushing out its tail while it scrambles from
rock to rock sequestering seeds for meals

Or just be glad we're not back at home on MOPAC stuck
in four lanes of non-moving traffic under the rage of a Texas
sun with one desire -- to eat us alive.

Or just be glad the mountain lions have learned
to hide from other predators."

I listen to you and I do--I drink it in. I drink it in for miles,

I drink in the mounds of oyster scoria that protrude from the earth
like oven-baked caves gutted from the inside out,
which you say reminds you of your humble beginnings,

born to this world with a curve at your back
and a set of grasping pedipalps which you wear these days
more like a badge and less like a weapon,
ever an ambassador for peace while your partner (who is me)
stays unreleased in perpetual combat--a trait
that you both love and fear about me,

"Just be careful when you enter the circle of serpents
that you don't come back wearing their shape," you say,

to which I reply, "Even when I slither, remember:
I'm the good kind of snake."

-- not like the kind we're likely to
encounter here, the kind with rattles and
infamously notorious tempers and reputations for
laying men to waste in a split second
for disturbing their season of slumber.

I think: the Badlands could kill us a number of ways,

but we walk on...

down the Medicine Root Loop on the way to the castle,
where you reminisce on the time when I was still a ghost
in your rearview mirror, a shadow in the hallway at our high school,
a time of your life when you had quit your job after four years of law
and set off to see America, driving the
coastal highway from California up to
Oregon and through Montana, searching for yourself in
changing landscapes and well-planned playlists and roadside
gas stations with busted payphones and broken
people, the dream for yourself hiding in the palm
of America's hand like a talisman with powers unrendered.

We stay lost in the Badlands.

We wander and stomp through mud, and I tell you that I miss my kids,
and although I know what it would be like if they were here (miserable)
I couldn't help but wonder if the kaleidoscope art of sedimentary rocks would
open my son's eyes to the beating heart of the world, or if the
western meadowlark's call would pull my daughter from the wreckage
of her teenage years long enough to
remember her song and how to sing it.
 
We got lost in the Badlands,

We got lost in the tall, dry grass,
and slipped on patches of ice,

We got lost in the layers of sediments
and roaring Dakota winds and the cold getting colder
and the mud getting slicker,

We got lost and risked trampling through rattlesnake dens
just to escape before the sun dimmed and darkness took over,
but I grinned and beared it, as I knew you did--

because we knew as long as we were together,
we would always find our way home. 

-Erin Passons
11-24-2019

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Toxic

Toxic
Saturday, September 7, 2019
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Person Looking Out The Window


I. He Tells Her

You are a toxic person.
You should be grateful for what I’ve done for you.
You should be thankful for the sacrifices that I have made for you.
Who are you going to tell? The executives?
Ha! Executive leadership loves me.
They support me 100%.
Where does that leave you? HR?
Fine, I’ll meet you there with my lawyers.
Don’t go making false statements about me.
Because you know what I’ll do? You know what I’ll do?
You already know, don’t you?

II.  Who Will Stand

“If I complain, who will stand up for me?” Ann asks. "The Director
is terrible to the men too, but they never speak up."
 
“Let me take care of the men,” I say.

III. Initial Text to Men

“Hey, some of us are going to HR regarding
the Director’s behavior.
If they speak to you,
all I ask is that you tell the truth.”

I don’t tell them why we’re going because
they should already know—
after all, they were there, they heard it all,
they must have walked by Ann’s
desk a dozen times in the aftermath and seen
the shadow of their co-worker’s former
self hunched over the window, her eyes clouded
looking out at the blue sky, her hands
trembling clutching the cup of 
masala chai as if it were a life preserver
and somewhere written in the sky,
a safe exit strategy.

And surely the men must
have thought, “Poor Ann.
She is not who she used to be.
Something must be done.”

IV. Men’s Responses

Frank replies, “I’m ready to talk to HR,
the Director gives us too much work.”

Jim replies, “I have no problem talking to
HR about how the Director
has deactivated our teleworking.”

Danny replies, “Ok.”

Larry doesn’t reply at all.

No one mentions Ann.

“What did they say?” Ann asks.

“They will cooperate,” I say,
but I don’t tell her their reasons why.

V. Prepare

Spreadsheets, document, timeline,
incidents, research, consult,
meet, strategize, organize, initiate.

VI. Excuses For Why Their Hands Are Tied

“It’s a Civil Rights Issue,” HR says.
“It’s an Ethics issue,” Civil Rights says.
"It's an HR issue," Ethics says.
“It’s a poor management issue,” other managers suggest.
You should go to the Chief Operations Officer.
Send an anonymous complaint to the Commissioner.
Write the Governor. Contact the Statesman.

File with the Texas Work Commission.
File with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Hire a lawyer.
Open a class action lawsuit.(not that you'll win, and even if you do, they'll appeal until it reaches the fifth circuit court--then, young lady, you're screwed.)

Better look for other work.
Polish your resume.
Lockdown your social media.

Pray extra hard on Sunday.
Keep a low profile. Don’t speak up.
Don’t say a damn thing.
No one likes whistleblowers.

If you want justice,
then you've come to the wrong place. 

VII. Parent/Teacher Night in West Lake

Austin with its scorching heat and soupy
air boiling the sidewalk where
I walk, fumbling in bone-colored
heels to my son’s American
history class, room 310.
the teacher says, “I teach my students the country’s
past mistakes so they can compare it with
today and see how far we’ve come as a nation,”

I almost laugh but instead I look around the
room where Austin’s most affluent moms and
dads are nodding their heads
in approval, and it hits me:
Ann never stood a chance. The escape plan
from blocked from the start —and so into the fire
she ran, and into the fire I follow.
Sunday, August 11, 2019

Charlotte

Charlotte
Sunday, August 11, 2019
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It’s going to be 103 degrees today,
Doug warned before he left.

But we weren’t where the sun could touch us,
were we, Charlotte? No.

There were no windows in the waiting room—just posters of pretty cats free of fleas and leaflets about feline autoimmune disease and the smell of wet fur and sanitizers.

Signs said, “don’t remove your cat from its carrier”
So all I could do was gently rock you in your case and sing “My Favorite Things” while you hissed at the beagle who kept pressing his nose to your face,
oblivious to the fact that you’re not there to make friends.

and when they took you back and ran the tests,
and when they said your kidneys were the size of string beans and you couldn’t drink enough water to sustain your five-pound frame from collapsing with inevitable failure,
and when the technician held you down to stick an IV in your neck,

all I could think of was how, on a toasty spring night 17 years ago,
I drove from New Orleans to Jackson with you in my lap, and for 17 years I’ve only known a home with you in it,

And now I had six months to prepare for your death,
when all I wanted was to walk backward through time,

back to Coralberry where you could lie with London in the grass, hear her giggle as you sniffed each freshly mowed blade,

back to Brandywine where you could sleep in the shade and chase shadows behind the glass,

back to the nights in Lakeway where you could walk between London and Kaya’s rooms as they slept, ever watchful like a shepherd guarding her sheep—an unquivering eye scanning the darkness for the dangers only a hunter’s eye could see.

Back to Fentonridge where you could purr and coo whenever Doug picked you up and called you his baby

back to the lower 9th ward where you were born where you could sip hurricane rain and watch Bourbon Street dip into the sea from the crumbling steps of a memory that you once called home.

My crocodile-eyed cat. Here is my hand, go ahead—self-pet.

You will always have my lap—always, always.

I write this before these six months have passed, before the words leave me and the long night begins without you in it, before I lose my voice as sure as you will lose your physical form, all five pounds of it.

*

They rang up your death sentence and handed me the receipt, along with three cans of chicken dinner designed with cats like you in mind, the st.jude of cat food, a feast for loss causes.

They let us leave with one last warning, “be careful, it’s 103 degrees out there.”

But we weren’t where the sun could touch us,
were we, Charlotte? No.

We were far beyond that.

-ep 8-9-19
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