They ended up together, you know.
I hear they are happy.
He cut off his ponytail
and they live in Kansas.
He teaches photography
to college students with big breasts.
She sighs, and writes poetry
(not as good as this, however).
The days I remember
took place in his turquoise Geo.
Winding through the serpentine canyon,
autumn leaves crushed,
in search of a landscape that could be appropriately converted to an 11 x 20.
And for reasons that I cannot explain,
I remember all the coins he saved
in a jar.
He saved enough to register his car.
There were quarters, mostly.
I used to sit on the floor of his
with my legs crossed
and my heart exposed.
I drank in paint-thinner and sweet sweat,
because he was always working the canvas
(and working me).
The only time I wanted to devour a man
was the time I was with him.
We would listen to music
with our eyes closed,
and I would drive him to the store
for another beer.
But then…she appeared.
She was helpless.
Quite sad, really;
more than I could tolerate.
And I watched myself
somewhere into the flaked wallpaper
and the musty crawl space under the stairs.
She dedicates poems to him
(not as good as this, however).
Virgin River Gorge
of my heart.
“Canyon and tumble weeds
next nine miles.”
Heat vent blows,
but my head is out the window
while I drive us
to the end of tar patched roads.
You could call this home,
but no one knows when you’ve arrived,
and you’ll never really get there.
Fruitless Joshua Trees.
And like U2 said,
“I still haven’t found what I’m lookin’ for…”
Somehow, we’ll meet up
and throw another log on the fire.
Hell always rises on a Wednesday.
We will glug the latte
served by corporate giants.
Rest assured, it will scorch our tongues.
Our water tank oasis
in Death Valley.
Just call me Tomorrow.
I’ll pretend I’m
a sane vessel,
if you can prove you’ve forgotten
how to lie.
Old companions die hard.
Take the wheel,
swerve yellow lines
the white dunes.
Like the Cure said,
“Staring at the sea/Staring at the sand…”
Forget the snakes and
flesh feeding spiders.
You’ll sleep well tonight
in your reserved space.
As you’ve previously read, I attended my first concert at the age of 13. I was privileged to see the five boys from Beantown: New Kids on the Block, at the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah. There has never been a more wholesome concert or venue. The next several years of my life were dry of concert-going, but the summer I turned 17, I gifted tickets to my boyfriend for a festival called Livestock, which was held each year in Salt Lake City. That summer was one of the more difficult times in my teenage life. The aforementioned boyfriend, who was a couple years older than me, was going away to college. In my formative years, I was extremely co-dependent. That transitional July, I barely knew what I liked anymore (vegetarian pizza? RUSH? backyard hammocks?); because we dated throughout my junior year of high school and spent every waking moment together. He hadn’t formally broken-up with me yet, but the demise of the relationship was eminent. He decided he didn’t want to attend the festival, so after a failed attempt to sell the tickets, I took a friend instead. I was completely unprepared for the experience. Coolers were not allowed. I didn’t bring any water, or a method to shade myself. I didn’t bring any extra money, and even if I had, it wouldn’t have been enough. Water and food were airport-expensive. My friend ended up purchasing a frozen lemonade for me so that I wouldn’t pass out. (Thanks, Liza!) The bands who played were classic-rock types like Bachman Turner Overdrive and Foreigner. Mind you, this was the 1990s, not the 1970s, so these bands were washed up by the time I heard them sing about “takin’ care of business” and how their ladies were “cold as ice”. This was my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend’s music, not mine. At this miserable affair underneath an unforgiving sun, we sat on what used to be grass — but after years of foot traffic, was now dusty, air-sucking powder. I watched a child of approximately 10 years of age roll his own joint just a blanket away from us, and saw half-naked people coming away from the front of the stage battered and drenched in stank. Between the broken heart, the dehydration, and the gross music; this experience almost ruined my concert-going desires.
However, during my senior year in high school, I loved many bands too much to turn my back on live performances. In the mid-90s, you often had to cut school to obtain a wrist band at Smith’s Grocery Store. The lower the number on the wrist band, the greater your likelihood of receiving the best tickets for the show. I gave several freshmen rides to the grocery store during those school days so we could get our wristbands. Smith’s distributed their golden tickets through an outlet called Smith TIX. On the morning the tickets actually went on sale, you went back to the store to stand in a numerically ordered line, with the coveted number one wrist-band wearer gloating at the front.
During 1995-1996, I went to at least one concert every couple months. I sang along with Michael Stipe’s gravelly voice while he was losing his religion and telling us about the end of the world as we know it (he felt fine about it). I was never a Dead Head or even a huge fan of their music, but in the spring of 1995, I had the opportunity to see the Grateful Dead play at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. The hippie/commune vibe before the concert was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and completely unlike all things Utah. There was a bearded man handing out pamphlets, and wearing a “Behind the Zion Curtain” t-shirt with a picture of the Angel Moroni (Moroni is an ancient Mormon prophet) emblazoned across the front, which was quite revolutionary to my Mormon-raised, 17-year-old mind. There were decorated vans and buses, and out of the backs of these vehicles, people sold grilled cheese sandwiches, homemade jewelry, t-shirts, and brownies. (I didn’t buy any baked goods, because I’m a germaphobe. I never for one moment thought, “Those definitely have pot in them.”) Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia were stage left and stage right. Listening to the Grateful Dead play was akin to attending the world’s largest jam session. Their music was mellow and unfettered. A few months later, Jerry Garcia died, which cemented in my mind that rock stars are more fallible than any of us.
My college years brought a whole slew of new music experiences. I received my four-year education at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. We often drove to Salt Lake for entertainment, and the first show I attended with my friends and roommates together was Oingo Boingo’s last tour. Danny Elfman’s voice is one of the most distinct sounds, the song writing is genius, and the horn arrangements aren’t annoying (as they are in Chicago’s arrangements), rather they carry a song. Boingo played for more than three hours, and did a couple encores, ending with “Goodbye, Goodbye”.
I first saw a 311 concert at the magnificent Saltair in the fall of 1995. Saltair is about a 20-minute drive west of Salt Lake City. It backs onto the shores of the lake itself in Magna, Utah. There is nothing within miles of the venue, just sea-like scent, the marina, and the pits at Kennecott. The building’s exterior looks like a Russian palace and the interior is open to a grand staircase with ratty carpet. All the shows were general admission, so if you liked looking down at the band from the balcony, you wanted to get there early to secure that space. I preferred to nestle in the back of the room, on the outskirts. During this era, 311 was touring to support their third record label studio album, which fans know as the blue album. Today, they have 13 studio albums, many which have gone gold or platinum. The enthusiasm was undeniable as my friends Rebecca, Aethea and I made our way to the venue, parked a mile away, and then bounced along as the beginning chords of “Welcome” hit our ears. My best friend Aethea is about five-foot six-inches tall, and if she had just eaten a meal, she weighed all of 110 pounds. Regardless of her stature, you could not dissuade her from the mosh pit. The mosh pit is where the straight-edgers went to prove they were tougher than the jocks. Most people in the mosh pit were males. They shoved, stomped and threw elbows; and some were three times Aethea’s size.
At this same venue, we saw a Primus concert. Aethea went into the pit at the beginning of the show, and I didn’t see her until the show ended. Her hair looked like she’d stuck her finger in a light socket, she was missing one Converse shoe and despite her twisted ankle, she had more energy than a child on Christmas morning. She was never deterred. She was the whirling dervish of the pit.
Trips to Salt Lake City were incomplete without a trip to The Pie Pizzeria. If you didn’t know where The Pie was, you wouldn’t be able to find it. (This was pre-GPS and everyone owning a smart phone.) Once you arrived at the back parking lot, you took a staircase down to the red-haze. There weren’t many tables and the walls were covered with writings of previous patrons: J+H / Rock On! / Jenny 867-5309eeeen. Truly a hole-in-the-wall establishment, or in this case, a hole in the ground. We usually ate before the concert, resulting in the entire car smelling like leftover garlicky Pull-A-Parts on the ride back to Ogden. Pull-A-Parts are the best, smelliest breadstick-like creations known to humankind. My dad cursed if I left them in the fridge at home, because the aroma took over the entire kitchen.
I could write for days about this topic: About seeing Jamie Cullum at the House of Blues, Jack Johnson at Usana Amphitheater, and Death Cab for Cutie at the Pool at The Cosmopolitan. But no experience is clearer or more significant to me than the Beastie Boys concert at The Joint at Hard Rock Las Vegas in 2006. I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time, and my closest friends and concert companions lived out of state. I was the single mother of a first grader about to enter my third decade of life, but when the email hit my inbox from their fan club about a show taking place at The Joint in less than a week, I knew I had to go, even if I went alone — which is what I ended up doing. My favorite spot to stand at the old Joint venue was against the railing just a couple steps up from the main floor. At the time, The Joint felt quite intimate. There were three staggered levels. As you entered, the bar sat to your left at the back of the venue, and then opened to standing room beneath a low ceiling, two steps down, more standing room, two steps down, and the floor extends up to the stage. (They expanded and renovated several years ago, so it’s much larger today.) The instant the three guys from New York took the stage, their energy was infectious. They spit rhymes, wore their signature jumpsuits, and donned and removed sunglasses. When “Egg Man” was being delivered, a woman standing on the floor below me who was out-of-her-mind high or drunk was trying to “sing” along and was completely unable. Her gnarled face and dizzied expression reflected that not only did she not realize where she was, but she had probably never heard of the Beastie Boys. That’s something I still think about. To me, it was akin to being in the presence of greatness, experiencing something so magnificent, and having no clue. As the show was about to close, guitars were brought out for Ad-Rock and MCA, and Mike D took his place behind the drum kit. I was almost in tears. As they strummed “Gratitude” and I belted it out with them, life was perfect. Just a few years later, Adam Yauch (MCA) was diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland. After recording a couple additional albums with the Beastie Boys, he passed away at the age of 47. An acute loss to music, and something I felt personally.
Concerts have always been about a deep connection between the artists, the music, and the listener. When I’m hearing live music, and taking in the positivity delivered by the artist, memories overwhelm me of times I heard the song previously: Driving to the high school, cruising the back roads of Ogden with my best friends, making our annual summer pilgrimage to Bear Lake, or crowding in my bedroom at my apartment. The lyrics of my three favorite MCs sum this up: “What’s gonna set you free? Look inside and you’ll see/When you’ve got so much to say/it’s called gratitude, and that’s right.”
I was contemplating
the day I brought you home.
All snug in January.
All bundled in naiveté.
I was nervous to bathe you.
Scared of breaking fragile.
He drifted in for two days,
but you probably don’t remember
me holding you on the lawn
with hot tears
staining my cheeks
as he left us a duet.
The grass needed watering anyway.
Now you have dark arms
from summer swims.
They recall his brown face
You read “Dr. Dolittle”
in a most grown-up tone
and ask if you can play harmonica for me.
I cried in the closet yesterday,
but the carpet needed cleaning anyway.
Your breath is lilting,
as you cuddle with bears and dream sequences.
I’m forced to wonder
how I would survive
if you didn’t live in the pink room.
My Granny was friends with everyone she ever met. Before I was even school age, we frequented the local shopping mall. She called this “bummin’”, meaning to wander and window shop. I have never heard that phrase used in that way by anyone outside our family. At the mall, she talked to the clerk at the perfume counter. While waiting for the elevator, she would chat up the young mom with a child-filled stroller. If you asked her, “Who was that, Granny?” She would say, “Oh, I don’t know.” She just liked to talk and be friendly. The highlight of each shopping trip for me was stopping at the center candy kiosk and watching the taffy pull machine. It would spin, stretch and rotate the slick sweetness into a glossy marvel. It was reliable and continuous. Another favorite spot was the ZCMI department store where Granny would smile at the woman behind the counter and ask for a quarter-pound of circus animal cookies. I would watch anxiously as the metal scoop dipped into the sprinkle-covered pink and white treats, which were then shuffled onto the scale, and finally ladled into a small white bag for me to take home.
Granny looked after me nearly every day while my mom worked and my dad finished getting his degree. Most days, she would pick me up at the Challenger School around the block from her house, and we would walk together pointing out favorite trees or barking dogs.
She was the master of games. I learned to play hide-and-seek at her house, avoiding the basement cellar as a hiding place because my Uncle Jay told us that’s where the giant lived. The best place to hide was her coat closet. The coats and sweaters smelled like her embrace and the Wrigley’s gum she always kept in her purse. She taught me how to play checkers and she used sound effects like, “whooop” and “wooooo” as the pieces jumped one another and made their way to the final row to be kinged. One of her favorite games was a memory game called Hüsker Dü?. The board is a large square, and flat blue game pieces cover circular dots which are home to various pictures: pine trees, snowflakes, cars, bells. Once all the pictures are covered, an underlying wheel is rotated to shuffle the pictures, and whoever uncovers the greatest number of matches wins. She was a patient teacher and probably let me win more than was healthy for my competitive nature.
Some of the first nursery rhymes I learned were spoken by my Granny. She would read the cover, “Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes” and then turn the pages to “Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater” or “Hey, Diddle Diddle”. She had the best inflection and would do voices for each character. My sister Melissa and I often talk in voice-over type voices, even today, and it can surely be traced back to sitting in the yellow recliner at Granny’s house and listening to her read to us.
I always wanted my Granny to draw pictures for me. She would sketch little girls with curly hair and tight-lipped smiles, which greatly resembled her own. From a young age, I always wanted to be an artist, so when Granny was in her 70s and took a canvas painting class at a local center, I was deeply impressed when she brought home oil paintings of barns, pink-blossomed trees, and fields of green grass. I would run my fingers over the dried paint to feel the texture.
There was no one who was a better baker than my Granny. She may have used recipes, but I don’t recall ever seeing one in front of her. For family events, which were frequent in our large, extended family, there was always a Texas Sheet Cake with glistening chocolate frosting topped with walnuts. At Christmastime, she would keep soft, iced, homemade gingerbread men in a wax paper-lined, gold Tupperware container. It was always tucked away on the bottom shelf, but sniffing it out was my expertise.
Sleepovers at her house were a coveted event. I loved taking baths in her tub, because she had a large scrub brush that could reach the lowest part of my back and the fizzy salts smelled like flowers. She would often let me sleep in her bed on her silk pillowcases. She made waffles in the mornings, and would let me eat them with Karo Syrup (straight corn syrup). Her freezer always contained Jell-O Pudding Pops and the fridge housed a quart of crangrape juice. If we were drinking orange juice; she would defrost the concentrate, mix it up with a wooden spoon, and then let me use a mini-strainer to filter out the pulp. My parents would never have possessed the patience to let me make my own pulp-free orange juice, so this was a luxury.
One of Granny’s frequent sayings was, “I love doing dishes.” This is apparently not a genetic quality that I inherited, as I view dishes as an endless pain. Granny didn’t have an automatic dishwasher, so she would fill the sink with scalding water, and would scrub the dishes while I rinsed them. She never pre-rinsed any plates or bowls, so dish-doing was akin to fishing in a basin of leftovers. She was unphased by both the floaters and the 120-degree water.
The backyard and surrounding garden was one of Granny’s favorite places. She liked the feel of her hands in the soil, and she would take her orange kneeling pad out to the edge of the grass and trowel in the soil, pulling weeds and planting little flowers. On the west side of the yard, a gigantic lilac bush gave off a fragrance that filled the air each spring. When she would dig up an earthworm or potato bug, she would let out a little giggle when my younger sister Melissa cupped her hands to hold them, something I never dared do.
You learned early in life to never say you were bored at Granny’s house. When that utterance was made, she immediately put you to work. “I’ll give you a quarter to clean out my cupboards. You’re just the right size to get back in there,” she would say. She’d have you clear everything out of her cupboards, hand you a damp, warm rag and you’d have to shimmy to the back corners of the cupboard to wipe it clean. Then a dry cloth was used to wipe some more. Finally, everything was put back into the cupboards. She must have had the cleanest cupboards in all of Utah County. Granny’s vacuum was a wonder to me. It wasn’t an upright vacuum like you’d typically see today. It was a canister vacuum, with the hose and the handle that was pushed to clean the floor coming out of the canister like an elephant’s trunk. I still love vacuuming to this day, and I think it can all be traced back to the days I spent operating this unique-looking contraption at my Granny’s house.
In her bedroom on her ancient-looking dresser, was my Granny’s jewelry cabinet. She must have been extremely trusting, because she would often let my sisters and me go into her bedroom alone and spend time with her jewelry. The little doors to the cabinet would unlatch and little drawers pulled open to reveal the rings and earrings inside. We would try them on, sort them, and pick out our favorites.
In the guest bedroom, there were trophies and books on the shelves. My grandfather passed away about a decade before I was born. He raced boats and flew airplanes. Several of his boat racing trophies were on the shelves, along with a couple bowling trophies from Granny’s triumphs at the lanes. There was an unauthorized Elvis autobiography which I found fascinating and liked to leaf through. My Granny’s sister, my Great Aunt Armanell, had once gone to the Bahamas and brought back seashells. The largest one sat on a shelf among the trophies. I used to prop it to my ear to hear the sea.
I have no recollection of ever seeing Granny angry or upset, but she came from an era where repression of feelings was widely practiced. She lived to be 98 years old. I think about all the changes that happened between her birth in 1913 and her death in 2011. She saw the end of the horse and buggy and the beginning of the automobile. She began life without television and ended it with a TV angled just so in her bedroom. She lived through two World Wars, The Great Depression, the outrageous defiance of the 1960s, and the financial crisis of 2008. She gave birth to eight children, and had hundreds of great grandchildren (and even some great great grandchildren) by the time she passed away. I always visited her whenever I traveled back to Utah. On one of my visits during her later years, she spent a couple hours showing me a collection of old photos. There was a large photo of about 50 people, including her and my grandpa. She told me, “You see all those people in that photo? I’m the only one who is still alive. I’m the last of the Mohicans.” She was also known to say, “I checked the obituaries today, and I’m not in them.”
One of the only times I remember being frustrated at her house, was when the neighborhood kids would call her “Grandma”, because she wasn’t their Grandma. She was mine. But in retrospect, I can see how she was their Grandma too. After all, she was friends with everyone she ever met.
This beginning was broken
and then came the ethereal collapse.
It was a dream
where you hover
and watch yourself
The mouth doesn’t move
but words still manage to
and slam against your throat.
Choke them back,
let them melt against your teeth.
My false face is on again
because I’m confronted
with what cannot be held.
I pick it up with kid gloves.
Roll it in a ball.
Toss it in the air.
It will eventually end up in the trash,
like a candy wrapper or broken toy.
head in my hands,
The dream ended,
but I never woke up.
The only way I know it was real
is a blood-stain soaks
my shirt where my heart used to be.
Where did we go
wrong turn at Albuquerque
is just close enough to Santa Fe
to be far enough from home
run under the bleachers
during the time I was in love
with no one but him and him and him
and there he goes again
waving out the window
covered with fog
inside my head
all these random, swirling
snows in winter that cover the road
to nowhere and beyond
unbelievable is what you’ve become
a burden that I’m willing to unload
at the station down by the tracks
where I took that first wrong turn
From a young age, I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t realize when I was a six year old that being an artist was a difficult, rarely lucrative, profession. I only knew that I loved drawing. What first grader wonders how they’re going to pay the gas and electric bills once it comes time? Some of my clearest memories of early childhood are the hours I spent organizing my crayons by color into slots and rows in the yellow plastic holder. Despite my innocence on the financial milieu, for career day in Mrs. Knowles’ fourth grade class, I dressed up as an artist. A worn apron of my mother’s held paint brushes and pencils that clanked together as I walked the path to the elementary school. I arrived in Ogden in the middle of the school year. I’d spent the first half of the school year in Orem, Utah; which was even more homogeneous than Ogden. Ogden felt like a big deal to me, but I was at a definite disadvantage when it came to being included in the delineations that can be found in each elementary school classroom.
Each kid in a class can tell you who falls into which classifications: the troublemaker, the class clown, the teacher’s pet, the kid who is good at art. In our class, the designated “person good at art” when I arrived, was Synthia. If memory serves, she even wore a smock and a beret to career day. I’d never even heard of a beret. She was French, complete with a lilting accent. Thoughts of France call to mind things like crepes, croissants and The Lurve. How her family ended up in Ogden, Utah from France is a mystery to me. I can only imagine the culture shock of that transition. At the time, Ogden was the third largest city in Utah — a combination of industrial and suburban. In 1986, it was probably best known for having the worst smelling dog food plant that has ever existed and train tracks that no longer carried anything but cargo.
I never saw or heard anything about Synthia after fourth grade, but I didn’t let her amazingness at art kill my dream of becoming an artist. When Picasso was painting, I wonder if he ever thought for one moment that anyone in the world was better than he. Imagine if Picasso had said, “It looks like ol’ Matisse has created some damn good paintings. I suppose I’ll put the brushes away now and be a street sweeper.” Having seen Synthia’s work pushed me to be better.
In the 80s and 90s, the Ogden City School District had a program called E.Q.U.I.P. It was a gifted and talented program, and required good grades, high test scores, and sometimes a separate assessment. The school district often sought out kids to be in the program, because it took place in the inner-city schools. Today, it would be looked at as a reverse zone variance. In fifth grade, I moved to a different school to attend the E.Q.U.I.P. program. This was when I hit my artistic peak. I had a great group of friends, I loved my teacher, and I was given a set of oil pastels for Christmas. They smelled like a cross between Play-Doh and gasoline. They were my prized possession. I spent hours sprawled on my grandmother’s living room floor, sketching my first piece which was a wishing well along a grass-lined, cobblestone path. I took a class during school hours that was specifically geared towards students interested in art. That was where I learned the proper way to draw portraits and how the face is broken into quadrants, such that the eyes are typically a third eye apart from one another, the corners of the mouth typically align with the pupils of the eye. I struggled with drawing ears properly and shading noses so that it didn’t appear the person’s face was covered in dirt, but by the end of that class, I could draw a decent profile. That year, I submitted a piece for the district’s “Reflections Contest”. The theme was “Wonders of the World”, and I received an honorable mention for my oil pastel drawing of the Pyramids at Giza. That summer, my mom sent me to an art camp where I learned that salt could be used to add textures to paint and that there was more to art than just drawing something recognizable.
All I wanted to do was draw, sketch and make creative lettering. Classes like Algebra were just requirements, and I couldn’t see when I would ever use them. (To my daughter: If you’re reading this, pretend like you never read that.)
Art class in middle school was comprised of an interesting array of humans. There were those who took the class to actually produce something and those who were there because it was a laid back and you could get away with doing virtually nothing. We learned calligraphy, how to create 3D artwork and at one point, we made jewelry (which would eventually turn your fingers green). My two close friends, Nancy and Liz, were in the eighth grade art class with me. Some of the jewelry was made with a burning wax and little drills. For reasons unknown, we liked to carefully drip the blue wax onto our fingernails and create patterns with the dots. The heat penetrated our fingernails and made its way to the actual skin underneath. We would gasp and Lamaze breathe as quietly as possible while it dried. At one point, when we were making our fingernail creations — which we were very much not supposed to be doing — the art teacher walked by and asked what was going on. We sneakily hid our hands under the table to scrape off the wax quickly, so as not to be discovered. Once he was gone, the fun continued. The art room at the middle school was huge. There was a regular, well-lit classroom setup with desks and the largest desk at the front was the teacher’s. A gigantic, dimly lit, exterior room lined with cabinets, various supplies, and long tables was where we spent most of our time. When the students were out in the tabled-area, the teacher was most frequently at his desk in the other room or nowhere to be found. I’m guessing he was probably nipping from a flask, because the thought of teaching any middle school class makes me want to have a drink myself. The class was fairly unsupervised, and therefore, one of my favorite times of day.
The summer before I started high school, I went to Washington, D.C. I was able to visit the art museum at the Smithsonian. Even at age 13, I could have stayed there for hours. I drank in the art and wondered what the artists were thinking when they created this painting or that sculpture. I purchased an interesting packet of postcards in which all of the art was abstract; a series of lines, colors and geometric shapes. It was like nothing my 13-year-old, Utah-self had ever seen.
When I started high school, I continued to take art classes; but by the time I was a sophomore, I found my calling in the creative writing department. Artistic drawing and painting, and the thoughts of being an artist in my professional life, fell behind me. On my living room wall, I have two framed pieces I created in high school. They remind me of the gentler days when I didn’t realize what being an adult actually meant, and I recall that first set of oil pastels and the grass-lined path I created.