That’s mostly bullshit, for the record.

Trying to figure out what you want to do, who you want to be, is messy as hell; the best anyone can hope for is to figure out the next step.

For me the first step was to try college, then a university, if I could get a scholarship, to study translation: the art, science, and magic of distilling meaning from one language to another

but complications ensued and the plot twisted, hard.

drawn and quartered

At community college we had a professor sweet and fangless

he was known as “the widow”

raising nine kids on his own.

Cancer ate most of his wife but her pregnant womb

was the fortress resisting the final bite long enough to breathe

life into their phoenix child, who was born in bitter grace.

That professor taught anatomy breastbone connected

to ribs, pelvis to spine and so on

he waxed rhapsodic about the form of the female leg. Drew one on the board, a small, high-arched foot wearing a stripper-pole stiletto. The angle of the heel tightening

the gastrocnemius muscle of the calf, he traced the action, contraction of muscles, drawing, climbing the leg’s ladder until he reached his favorite part: the gluteus maximus.

My sweet, fangless professor drew big, bulbous buttocks

like heavy, low-hanging fruit he patted them fondly, wanting to take a bite, he told us that this sweet curve of ass was why Barbie dolls’ feet were formed for shoes

with ridiculous heels

plastic foot-binding

for girl children,


served with mother’s milk He never fondled, never hit on any of us students, that old man, but still

we left his class

feeling a little dirty.

calving iceberg

and then it was time to say goodbye again

we packed the station wagon for my last leaving, for the predawn trip to Georgetown; me, my sister Daddy and Mom,

all of us knowing

none of us saying

that I’d never live in their house again though I’d visit when I could the drive to D.C. hurt

the unpacking of my suitcase positioning my alarm-clock radio gooseneck study lamp

hot-air popcorn popper

everything hurt

as a transfer student I had a single, no roommate to break the suffocating silences, the awkward fumbling for tissues, Daddy making jokes sprinkled with bad puns so we could groan out loud and pretend to laugh I had no microwave or fridge or TV

but I had my dictionaries and a phone for local calls and envelopes with stamps my mother cried all day long I tried not to look at her because it hurt

it all hurt so much

the necessary, impossible goodbye that had suddenly, in slow motion, arrived weakening our knees

we leaned on each other

putting my T-shirts in the drawer hanging up my towel

unwrapping a bar of soap

opening the new toothbrush sharpening the pencils and placing them tip up in a plastic cup next to my typewriter Mommy brought extra bottles of Wite-Out cuz she knew how many mistakes I’d make they had a six-hour drive home so we didn’t have time for dinner we limped down the stairs down the stairs we limped cuz it hurt

it still hurts my father and my sister poured the wet ocean of my mother into the car buckled her in, then limped to their own doors the melting begins at the waterline as young icebergs prepare to calve from glaciers the breaking off is always preceded by a rift rarely seen by outside eyes but felt inside the heart of the ice the eruption, the split makes a noise heard for miles across oceans of salt water and time

the ripples are still washing ashore

sweet-and-sour tea

I went shopping with a new sorta-friend my first semester at Georgetown, aliens warily circling each other, sniffing for clues, both of us desperate and lonely cuz she was British boarding schools and flying first class while I was a hillbilly who worked on farms, chopped wood, shoveled manure, and milked cows.

But we smelled some possibility, so she led, I followed

and after hours of watching her buy things (I’d never seen someone my age with a credit card) she announced we should have a proper English tea, her treat,

which sounded good to me.

We floated into a restaurant, perched on Cinderella couches, spread cloth napkins(!) on our laps, and she ordered tiny sandwiches and a high-class blend that came with its own pedigree I asked for plain tea, regular folks’ tea, the waitress asked me, “Cream or lemon?”

and I said, “Both.”

It was the first cup of tea of my entire life.

Tiny, crustless sandwiches arrived you needed two to make a mouthful and the waitress poured our tea into skin-thin china cups

we spooned in heaps of melting honey added thick cream, already heated and stirred silver spoons in an arpeggio of satisfaction, tink, tink, tink I was a glowing, sparkly unicorn in love with a life that suddenly included tea and cute sandwiches. I picked up the slice of lemon and I squuuuuuuuuueeeeeezed it into my dream cup

It curdled instantly, it damn near turned into cottage cheese for a horrified moment we both stared in my cup

I waited,

praying for a friendly laugh to bridge her world and mine, the way I’d laugh sweetly

if she ever tried to milk a cow and screwed up, which she would, cuz it’s hard, but my laugh would ring warm like a copper bell and I’d help her

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