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
Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Smile Because You Want to Smile (For London on her 15th birthday)

Smile Because You Want to Smile (For London on her 15th birthday)
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
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I can write about it now, London.

you had been alive for five weeks
when the old bags at your christening
combed their fingers through your mane
and exclaimed, “what a head of hair!
it’s a shame it will fall out.”

“Will it?” I asked.

“oh yes,” they laughed.

and I thought about it,
how every dark lock and red highlight
was doomed the moment you left my womb
and took your first breath.

it made me sad, but you were indifferent.
you gurgled and rolled over in my arms,
and you went on to defy them.

for 15 years, that head of yours has never felt
the bald blunt of wind.

it was your first rebellion.
it would become a pattern.

and just like your crowning glory and the many
afternoons I’ve chased you through the house
with a brush and elastic band, feeling like
an ax murderer in a horror film—
and you running like your life would end
if one bristle touched your tangled strands—

your defiance has been my curse on some days,
and a source of pride on others.

years after your hair refused to fall out,
when we were sitting in the doctor’s office
—you already bored with the assessment,
eyelashes fluttering, subdued,
looking out the window of possibilities
that I knew existed but you were still learning—
I realized I’m watching a girl unfolding
into a woman at her own pace, without a trace
of self-conscious deliberation that debilitates other girls
so easily (those little queens who sit beside you in class
and who smile when tasked and do what their mothers ask
without bargaining.)

I can write about it now, London.

even in our worst, most cliched mother/daughter moments—
I would never want to strip away at the sharp edges of you,
I would never want to disarm your warrior.


-Erin Passons
7-9-2019
Tuesday, June 25, 2019

July 18

July 18
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
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Shallow Focus Photography of Green Leaves


what an amazing journey life is
what a terrible destination
my central texas babylon matches hell’s wager
and raises it ten degrees.
my daughter is on a winged submarine 8000 miles above the clouds.
I walk next to hard-hatted men hammering steel to life
next to a building with its guts spilling out
this gory site brought to me today by June sunlight
and an email memo
“we’re making renovations”
so I take a sabbatical to the yogurt shop
and dive into bus exhaust and cigarette smoke crossing Guadalupe,
remembering the time hollee drove all the way to the triangle
for a grilled cheese, remembering this morning
dropping off my son at westenfield park
and how he walked away from me and back again
the blue backpack strapped to his razor-sharp shoulders
but in his shadow, a man awakening
and he’d be damned if I walked him all the way
to where three trees met in a circle and other
campers waited in their shade sans mothers
“mom I’ll be ok” irritation twitching his face
reminding me of his father
meanwhile my daughter sleeps in a metal machine
suspended over the earth and I have just
crossed the threshold of heat
to air-conditioned sweetness alone
mission accomplished,
next destination unknown.


EP, 6-25-2019
Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Big Blind Is All There Is

The Big Blind Is All There Is
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
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 Image result for sri lanka

shantha missed earth day this year,
buried with her daughter under four feet of rubble.
she taught Westerners how to tame
the flames of curry with a side of mild rice
—until the windows shattered,
until the lobby exploded,
until their tongues were slathered with ashes
and only death could cleanse their palates.

The men brought cameras.
The reporter dusted her nose with powder.
“Here we go again, in the fourth (fifth?) hate (no, don’t say that!)
-TERRORIST attack this year.”

Let the finger pointing begin.
Who is responsible?
God, Thowheeth Jama’ath, Trump, in that order.
Throw in Al Quaida for good measure.
Also, the Sri Lankan government.
“They were warned!” cries the New York Times.
“They should have known better.”

Meanwhile the prayer warriors pause from drowning eggs in pastel colors
and gather en masse at their keyboard altars.
Pray for Sri Lanka, pray for New Zealand.
(Prayer does nothing, atheists hiss.
And the pagans are pissed.
“Funny how jesus had his coming-out-of-retirement
party on our special day…”)

Funny how such a beautiful time of year is capable of such ugly things.
Funny how Man makes it that way.

Meanwhile in Negombo they’re still recovering bodies.
234, 241, 250…

Meanwhile over the Lakshadweep Sea off exit 23,
smoke creeps through the loblolly pines and
a man sings beside the charred walls of St. Mary’s,
“Deep river, my home is over Jordan,
Deep river, I want to cross over into campground…”

Meanwhile on Cameron Road the ghost of Guru Angad serves a plate
of gulab jubun to my son, and Sikh men wrap his head
in holy threads, saying “turbans are an expression of love.”

Outside my blond child runs wild in fields of burgundy winecups and pink primroses,
his turban unwinding in the wind, the sky above split between sleep and fire.
meanwhile over on a park bench Madre Tierre sits, playing Texas Holdem with a polar bear.
“The big blind is all there is,” she winks.
She doesn’t give a damn about her birthday.
“I got 10 billion species of plants and animals
waiting for Man to get his sh*t together.”
She leans in. The polar bear grins.
“Listen: your dead don’t want resurrection,
and your gods grow weary of you.
you can split your differences down the middle  and call it ‘faith'
but only love can cleanse your palates from hate.”

Erin Passons
April 22, 2019
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