When I was very young, long before the days of the internet, cell phones or video games, we were forced to find ways to entertain ourselves. Color TV was only for those who could afford it, and there were only 3 network channels on our little black and white set. Besides, that little video window on the world only truly held appeal on Saturday mornings (cartoons), right after school (Sesame Street), or at midnight on Friday (monster movies).
This means that when it wasn't raining, and I didn't have a good book to take me away, I spent a lot of time playing outside. We moved around quite a bit when I was young, but having a father with 8 brothers and sisters meant that whenever we lived close enough to one of them, there were always a lot of cousins to hang out with.
In the fall of 1969, I was five, and still looked about three. I was always small for my age, but that didn't mean I was going to be left out. During one of our visits, two of my older cousins decided that they were going for a hike through the woods and fields near my aunt's house, in a little town called East Prairie. Rickey was 8, and he was my buddy that autumn. His older brother Robby was 14, which meant that he was one of those mysterious BIG kids known as teenagers.
As we went exploring through the trees, we came upon a roaring river. (Okay, it was actually just the East Prairie Creek). It had been raining for days previously and this normally quiet little creek was swollen and the churning water was racing, carrying twigs and debris along as it bullied its way to the Puyallup River, some 10 miles further downstream. In my little-guy's eyes, it could have been the Missisippi.
Robby and a teenage friend of his who had joined us, both headed right into the turbulence and waded—with a little effort—through the water which came about halfway up their thighs. They kept on going, leaving Rickey and I to get across somehow. Rickey looked at the fast moving water, and then at how little I was, and told me he had an idea. He would just give me a shoulder ride, and we would wade across together. The water was no deeper than his waist after all, and I was light.
I remember being nervous, but since I couldn't swim, there was no way I was going to be able to get across the river, which was about 10 yards wide, but looked to me like it was a mile or more across. So in one of those moments of childish faith and adventure, I climbed up on his shoulders, and we set off.
We actually made it about eight steps across—almost to the halfway point—when Rickey's foot slipped on a smooth rock, and we both went sprawling into the rushing, frothy water.
To this day, I can feel the icy water enveloping me, tossing me this way and that, and tumbling me over and over. I remember trying to get my face out of the water, and gasping a huge lungful of dirty tasting air each time I was able to break the surface.
The swirling river carried me downstream for almost a half mile, scrambling for something to hold on to, before I finally saw a low hanging tree branch, brushing the surface of the water. I grabbed it with one hand, then wrapped my arms around it in a death hold... and I waited. I prayed for someone, anyone, to come find me, but I wasn't really terrified. With the total faith of the very young, I knew that I would eventually get home, but it was a long, cold vigil, as the river flowed past me and through my clothes.
After minutes that seemed like days, I heard Rickey's voice, full of terror and worry, screaming my name. I was shivering so hard that I could only croak "Over Here!" in a voice that sounded way too quiet in my own ears. He emerged from the trees, dripping wet, with eyes as big as dinner plates, and ran to the branch where I clung, With a little work, he was able to climb out on the branch and haul me out of the water.
As we lay together in the grass, shivering and letting the adrenaline fade, I still remember him looking at me and saying "You're a lot heavier than you look." This of course made us both start laughing, and we got up and slogged our way out of the woods, about two miles from the house. We trudged along the road, and cut through a neighbor's field, wondering if they had started a search party for us.
When we finally got to the house, fearing a scolding or worse, we found Robby and his buddy on the porch, eating lunch. "Oh, there you guys are." No one even knew we were missing!
After a change of clothes and some laughter about our adventure, Rickey and I got our lunch, and decided that next time we would just climb trees instead.
As a parent and grandparent, I'm glad that we never told our parents. I'm sure my mom and dad would have been frantic, had they known the truth. I had an angel on my shoulder that day, and amazingly I never developed a fear of the water, nor even had bad dreams afterward (though I do remember that day very clearly).
The lesson I learned that day was simple: When you can't make it on your own, don't be afraid to climb on the shoulders of a friend or loved one. If they should slip and fall into the rapids, and you find yourself in deep fast-moving water—keep breathing, look around for a branch, and hang on until things get better.
(c) 2017 - dustygrein
Learning to the song of the beeps
Leaning against the padded gym wall, I gasped for breath. My lungs burned. My legs felt wobbly. And I was going into shock.
Out on the floor, some of the other kids were still running in synchrony with the beeps emanating from the portable stereo. It was assessment week in gym class. Today’s test? Run the marked lane and cross the line before the beep. Then turn around and run back before the next beep. And again. And again. If you failed to keep up with the quickening beeps, you had to leave the course and your time was marked.
Gym class was one of those things that could only be endured. Why it should be part of my curriculum, I couldn’t fathom, although I’ve oft suspected that some parts of school were implemented purely to torture the students. As far as I was concerned, ping-pong and written tests were the only pleasant aspects of the class.
Yet at the announcement of this upcoming test, I took an unusual interest in the event. It was something that was scored. Therefore I wanted to do well. Obviously, I would do well. No half-measures for me, no apathetic dragging of my feet. Determination would win the day. I’d run until the cassette tape quit.
Still panting, I slid down the wall to the gymnasium floor. Something had gone horribly wrong. I struggled to work it out as my heart worked double time to supply my brain with oxygen. Then I had it:
I gave it my all, but it wasn’t good enough.
At sixteen years old, I was slapped with the realization that the adage I’d lived by all my life, “you can do anything you set your mind to,” wasn’t actually true. My world had been turned upside down.
Naturally good at all things school, I was used to success. I loved learning. I relished every academic challenge and persevered through the toughest of them to “win.” I was also artistic, musical, and creative. What couldn’t I do?
Run to the cadence of gym class beeps, apparently.
A day later, the shock was wearing off and I was laughing with my friend. “You thought you could just decide to ace the test?” I was embarrassed to admit that I had. I hadn’t considered that there was a physical dimension that might eclipse my will.
And truly, I hadn’t considered that there could be something I wasn’t good at. Oh, but it felt good to laugh at my folly!
As funny as it sounds, that day in gym class changed my life. It opened my eyes to the fact that I’m not good at everything. I began to notice and accept my shortcomings, and even admit them out loud.
But do you know what else is funny? I didn’t realize until after college that I could actually learn to do better at things I’m not naturally good at. Not easily or quickly, and maybe not to the point of greatness, but it's possible to improve.
I now see what was obvious to the rest of the world: I probably would have done better in the gym assessment if I had trained for it!
I wonder what I’ll learn next?
“Is life a mystery,
which so many want to sort?”
I once asked this question
and the reply was a retort:
“Woman, is it your mind that you have lost?
Time is of essence
Don’t waste on such a quest
Don’t squander what cannot be retrieved
Go on, don’t think of rest
There is no mystery
and, there is no puzzle
Life is a river
and each day a new bank
a new discovery
Sometimes, it’s pristine sand
Sometimes, dirt and water you can’t tell apart
But what you see each day
is not the same as last
Flow – the purpose of a river
Flow – the purpose of life
The very effort to stop the flow
can bring a flood
and spell doom
So, don’t stop to solve the mystery
Instead, just flow
And discover what life has to show.”
~ ©nehasri/Neha Srivastava
P.S. ~ This poem was published in 2016 in The Ibis Head Review. Usually I would write a new piece for all Prose challenges but I believe this is one of the biggest lessons I've learned in life. Most often we get caught in the web of life or stuck in situations which require us to simply go with the flow. Time is not just a great healer, it is also a great puzzle-solver. Sometimes what time shows us is way beyond our imagination.
#ProseChallenge #CotW66 #itslit #getlit
that identity can be agony
I used to think my Chinese culture held an exotic allure in America,
when my white friends spoke in awe of Chinatown
with its rows of old-fashioned fans and floral bracelets in the shops
and street vendors selling skewered sausages.
When we went out together they’d beg for Chinese food
and I’d ask why, tell them please no, that I
ate Chinese food every day and didn’t even like it
because my palate is the product of McDonaldization,
of the salty comfort of medium fries
and the gum-numbing first sip of an Oreo milkshake.
I used to think that being Chinese made me special.
People ran their fingers through my straight black hair
saying that they wanted darker hair and no more curls.
Was I not the perfect China doll,
small in stature and with eyes they told me were
“big for an Asian”?
I was proud of my Caucasian eyes-
only now do I realize that there’s something wrong
with priding myself in being different from what
ten thousand years of evolution have given us.
Only now do I realize that there’s something wrong in the way that
You thought you could sum up our culture
with sugar-soaked soy sauce and chewy noodles.
Now my eyes are too swollen with stress and insufficient sleep
and I’m not liking being Asian quite so much anymore;
in a half-Asian vocational high school where
freshmen self-study five AP courses and
strive to take calculus by sophomore year,
the horrifying thought is not that
we are pushing ourselves to the limit with no avail.
The horrifying thought is that in an agonizingly short amount of time
we will be forced to haggle with a system that is rigged against us,
and who can be proud of chow mein and
rolled-up ice cream- which we don’t even
have back in Beijing-
when Asians pay to have companies like Asian Advantage tell them
not to write about our “immigrant family coming to America
in a rickety boat with $2 while sailing away from sharks”?
When counselors tell us to “de-emphasize the Asian-ness”
and to denounce our culture and who we are,
simply for the sake of a college application,
that is when we lose our identity.
With the highest GDP and GPAs,
we become nothing more than numbers,
dirty numbers that must be scrubbed raw until they are
pure, white, “clean.”
America is a salad bowl of cultures
but we Asians are the dressing,
and when they think we’re becoming too heavy,
that’s when they toss the salad bowl
until we lose our color and our meaning.
My culture has left me screaming my throat raw in my bedroom at night,
crying Why am I Asian? Why am I Chinese?
and hitting my tennis racket across the piano keys
because I can’t play racket sports and I can’t play Beethoven.
You know there’s something wrong when
I hesitate to write these words in a society that claims to be free;
Harvard will reject me for this poem because
if it isn’t already clear enough by my last name and my math competition awards,
I am intolerably, unforgivably Chinese.
It’s ironic that
our culture seems an exotic paradise,
the lilting accents of our immigrant girls a sexual fantasy,
yet we are forced to strip away our ethnicity,
cast aside our identities and our abilities and our interests
for the sake of receiving that coveted thick envelope,
when our only sins have been
learning physics under the covers in dim flashlight
and toiling for near-free wages to join our country together in 1869:
the country we helped build yet are systematically discriminated in.
Chasing the Dream
I gave it a go, a moment ago, as it was almost so, within my reach…
But it ran in a way, as if to sway, from near to away, with lessons to teach.
As we rolled down the mountain and climbed towards the beach,
I shouted out my promise: “My pact I won’t breach…”
I chased her through alleys, past some trash bins,
Then came to a T, on needles and pins…
I looked both ways, then straight out to the sea,
Fearing that she’d drowned - - drowned ’cause of me…
Then suddenly she jumped out from our childhood tree,
Looking tired and breathless while taking a knee…
She spread open her arms and welcomed me in,
She asked for a hug with an upside-down grin.
As I wiped off a tear she said, “lend me your ear,”
Breathlessly whispering, “you have nothing to fear.”
She said, “some things in life are simply not meant to be…”
As she let me down gently with this ultimate plea…
“You fought for me with gusto and unparalleled fire,
But all partnerships, love, must eventually expire…”
“You tried and succeeded in never dropping the ball,
But in the end it is I, who will cause us to fall…”
“You protected me throughout this turbulent stream,
Now let me take this one - - this one, for our team.”
And then she made love to me in an absence of time,
In a position of free verse unhindered by rhyme.
Within all my predictions, I never did see…
That at the end of the night, my dream, could leave, me.
Copyright © 1986-2017
All Rights Reserved
life pounded in sharp needle spikes
mistakes I’ve made colored my soul
wrong choices tarnished who I was
wrong influences dug trenches into my psyche
crooked paths veered off course
married too young before I knew who I could be
misguided career choices without a compass
advice I didn’t follow, heading wrong way
pulled up my socks and started fresh
faced the truth and reversed footprints
released creativity and blended tints
kindness to all – sweet words rebounded
erased prejudice – we’re all the same
took a chance – threw dart into wind
wrote that book before I knew how
painted that canvas with story of my life
tried new things and honed my path
opened soul allowing new joy inside
new beginnings and new pleasures
let worry fly into the breezes of change
opened up to life and tested the future
embraced journeys exploring new trails
expanded my knowledge, explored my world
painted in new light with dawning colors
swelled with love and burst with understanding
Who I now am
soft but strong enough to face challenges
open mind and heart overflowing
creative but willing to learn and expand
giving and nurturing to those that I love
inclusive in my feeling for people of this world
grateful to Prose Community for opening up
life to possibilities and hearts to understanding.
My Dog Teddy
I was an unusual kid - keeping very much to myself inside a world designed by a dark imagination - held in check by a morbid fear of everything.
A child born without siblings who may have aided in the buffering of my parents’ violent and deeply disturbing relationship.
I did have a dog, though. His name was Teddy. Teddy was a terrier mix with soft brown eyes and a wiry, cream, scruffy coat. He was always at the foot of my bed when I woke of a morning, and we played together for hours every day after school.
I fucking loved that dog.
On that Saturday morning, as my parents started into their usual weekend argument regime, I leashed Teddy to take him for a walk before punches were thrown and the Police got called again.
We lived in a semi-urban environment about an hour west of Sydney - an area growing fast due to development, helping to provide low-cost housing for families struggling to survive the city’s property market boom.
Teddy and I had been walking for about 10 minutes when I caught sight of Gary Boil and his two Chinese flunkies.They were in the park and seemed to be attempting to uproot a seesaw.
I lowered my head and quickened my pace, all the while praying for the power of invisibility.
Frozen to the spot, I stared at the ground, I could hear them run towards us.
“Look fellas, even his dog is a homo,” Gary sneered.
At this very moment, I was wishing Teddy was either a German Shepherd or a Pit Bull - anything other than a dumb and friendly mongrel that was gazing playfully at my tormentors.
Gary Boil began backing me into a tree with a prodding finger rammed into my chest, all the while questioning this 9-year-old boy’s sexuality.
I looked up for the very first time to witness him staring into me with hate filled eyes, his face flushed red and a strand of spit nestled in the corner of his grim mouth.
“Don’t look at me, homo,” he snorted, as he slapped my face with an open hand.
Something inside me broke. I let go of Teddy’s leash and raised both hands to Gary’s throat. I began to choke him.
I then sunk a knee into his gut, which caused him to double over.
Interesting enough, Yin and Yang seemed surprised and happy to allow this turnaround to continue.
With Gary at my mercy, I put him in a headlock and began to pound his head against the tree.
It was then I heard the squealing of tires and a yelp followed by a horrible, pathetic whimper.
Turning my body around, I faced the road with Gary Boil’s head still pinned in my arms. My dog was laying motionless inches away from the front wheel of the stopped car. I threw off Boil and ran towards Teddy.
Dropping to the road, I rested Teddy’s head gently in my lap while searching desperately for any sign of life.
There was none to be found. My dog had slipped away.
The driver, overcome by grief and guilt, knelt down beside me.
“I’m so sorry kid,” he said.
“He just ran out.....I couldn't stop in time.
“I don't know what to say, mate.
“Please accept this.” He held out a twenty dollar note.
I looked into his eyes, tears streaming down my face, and he handed me another twenty.
The driver nervously backed into his car and drove away.
Gary Boil threw a rock that hit me in the back as he and his henchman skulked off down the street.
“Boo-hoo, homo,” he taunted in farewell.
It didn’t matter.
I looked at the forty dollars in my hand and then at my dead dog, Teddy.
Something else inside me broke that day. The one last strain of attachment in my life had just been severed, and my tears had given way to numbness and a void. .
I carried Teddy’s body home and into the garage to administer some much needed repairs.
Patching him up was relatively easy. I washed the blood off his coat, and, as luck would have it, I found a can of beige spray paint for the bits I couldn’t repair. Admiring my handiwork, I carried him back out onto the streets.
Waiting between parked cars, I chose my moment carefully.
As a speeding vehicle approached, I launched Teddy onto the open road.
My technique improved as the day progressed. Feigning grief and manufacturing tears -getting it down like a pro.
I cleared $250 in five hours. Each time Teddy got hit, I would take him home, repair him, and then return to my gruesome enterprise.
It was only after my fifth run that the motorist smelled a rat.
“Kid.....this dog has stitches for eyes.”
He handed me ten dollars anyway, and I didn’t argue.
It was time to call it quits.
I buried Teddy under the hammock in the back yard with his favorite chew toy and twenty dollars.
I loved that fucking dog.
I will admit I have my quirks - and you may very well question my morality - but to my credit, I haven’t owned a dog since Teddy.
My Dad and I
we don't really get along much
and sometimes, its hard
trying to talk to him
when he's mad at me
and I'm mad at him.
We can get angry together--
at the Black Community,
at the wickedness of the world,
but nothing is resolved
when we're mad at each other
Mom told me
that I should be honest,
and maybe that hate that
dug itself deep inside of my heart
will fade away with
a few simple words.
"Dad, I love you."
"But sometimes you can be too honest."
"Sometimes you can be too condescending."
"And you won't care."
"And I'll just continue to hate myself."
"Then you get mad when I don't speak up."
Dad, I love you.
But the things you say at times;
they make me want to--
("Drink bleach. Hurt myself.")
Cry a lot.
Because your words are gospel to me.
Your guidance is driving me insane.
I think that
we could fix each other
if we talked more
if we opened up
Maybe you'd be more pleased
not to see
the relaxed look
on my face.
Maybe I'll be happier
knowing that my relaxed face
is a smile
I discovered myself at 6. Like an object I tripped over, I wasn't expecting it. I thought i already knew myself: Girl, Brown, Last born of three, My name and age and school, the colors I liked, the games I played...etc.
Despite that, I met myself at 6. On a swing. In a desolated playground as I waited on someone to come pick me up from school. I had watched my friends disappear in pairs and one by one as their parents came to fetch them. So here i swung on the swing after school, by myself, in the silence that took me by surprise. I was alone, yet I was not scared. There was no one and nothing to distract me from my soul, and I could hear it.
With this unknown but freeing feeling in me, I swung as I looked up at the pale grey sky, I found it beautiful. I sang a song that i made, with lyrics I wished I remembered and I was me; no age, no label.
My mother picked me up shortly, I put my hand into hers while in a trans. The following days I realized with so much vividity the colors I liked, the songs I enjoyed, the food that made my tummy hum :). I saw flashes of a dreamed and awaiting future (as i do now). I saw the ants no longer squashing them, I watched the butterflies without trying to trap them. I had realized in that moment that every single thing on earth had a purpose that only it could fulfill. Including me.
I learnt that I was unique, thus irreplaceable, thus important. And so was everyone and everything else.
a Broken Ring,
Like Spread Thighs;
Cottage Cheese For Seasoning.
That Should Have Been
Seven Seasons Dead.
In This Room
I Have Been Held
For the Murders of you
I Thought a Friend
& the Mob Who
Trying For my Head.
Just me you See
With a Canned Good
the Misery I With Stood
2 To the Chest
& One Beside the Eye.
the 45 Caliber Kind.
to Drain & Die
On This Kitchen Floor
Was Not What I Was Made For.
If I Was to Die
It Was to Be In Battle Sweet
or Between the Legs
of a Lady Riding High.
Both Foul & Deep.
Luring me With Sex & Song
to the Valley of Sleep;
I Went For a Bottle of Beer
& Surprise Who Should I Meet
But 3 Long Shadows
Waiting There For me.
Down I Was InDeed,
Blood Red Agony,
Not a Breath to Breathe,
Pain Bright Dizzying.
Laying There Wondering
If This Was the End For me,
the Vest Had Not Held
& Crimson Was Blossoming.
They Left to Check & See,
To Get the Stuff to Dismantle me.
In the Tub to Bleed
& Then the Cutting;
Not For me
As I Slipped Ravioli In a Sock.
I Came to Crush your Skull
my Lovely Little Girl.
Then the Man
Who Came to Gut me Like a Pig
& Then the 2
to Help Move.
It Was Such a Gristly Scene,
Had to Be Burning.
I Will Never Forget
Those Broken Things
As the Kerosene Burned Bright,