notes while waiting to decide how long to leave the ashes on my forehead

fishCrazy M has no employees and answers the phone five times a day because people call to ask what is cod, what is halibut.  At least five times a day. People in Montana don’t know their fish, she says.  She reaches over the bar and sets two baskets of halibut and fresh slaw before us.

First I take this photo.  Then we ask for forks. The way she serves her fish no utensils are required. But what about the slaw?

Oh! She laughs, disappearing behind a curtain to find two clean forks. Back there is where she makes her secret batter. Out here, everything is on display. What you get is whatever it is you see.

*

Last week I dreaded leaving my house in 30 below wind chills to work at our art museum’s annual art auction. In that kind of cold you can’t walk fast, but walking fast is the only way you want to move. Given enough time a person learns to slide or never leave the house.

I wore a volunteer badge and until the auction began, I had no artwork to wrap for patrons. This was when I came across Rabbit’s son participating in a Quick Draw exhibit. The same slow boom, the same authentic reach. Though we had never met before, and though I was not a patron who had paid $150 for a seat at the auction, he took time to find his wife and introduce us to each other. A warm gift wrapped in quiet paper—this hospitality. Later, I would wrap one of his paintings that had sold for thousands. Eight feet by eight feet, resting on my packing table. What does promise look like? Close your eyes and see: layers of Khowshisgun deep red evening smears.

*

Find me in the wilderness. These stained-glass lyrics and the thorns, piercing. Whatever society we live within, whatever century, we link. No matter I don’t believe in the pope or follow faithfully Catholic doctrine the way  I was raised to do.  Ashes on  my forehead administered by the man with fat thumbs. To dust you will return. We are connected. Each of us to each other. No matter the century, the sidewalk, the phone calls we don’t make.

*

These ashes come from burning palm leaves because we can’t burn the stars.

*

Crazy M talks while she cooks, peering at us over the counter that separates us from her grill. This place feels like home. On the counter is a framed note from the Governor commending her for her fine fish, but she says she doesn’t remember serving him. Was he really here? She already has some steady customers: one with crutches and a bad leg stretched out in the narrow pathway in her fish hut.  She tripped on his leg the first time she served him and asked him to move his leg, not realizing his situation. How it took both hands and torque. Now, he eats there every other day, but she tells us she won’t ask what happened to his leg. Because, she says, what if it was self-inflicted, we all know how that is.

 

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About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit and YB Poetry Journal. website: http://toomuchaugust.wordpress.com

12 responses to “notes while waiting to decide how long to leave the ashes on my forehead

  1. That’s the best proclamation of faith I’ve heard about Ash Wednesday this week: We are connected. Each of us to each other. No matter the century, the sidewalk, the phone calls we don’t make.

    Thanks, as always, Sherry. I love your writing.

    • redmitten

      thank you, andrea. i am happy to hear you connected on this. whatever else it could mean, it always means this to us. good to hear from you and thank you for the kind comment.

  2. Joyce

    Ahhhhh. I’ve spent the last four months working on poems for state and national competitions. How sensitive, how poignant, now real your writing is. I wonder if I will ever “grow up” to this kind of work. Thank you so much (deep sigh).

    • redmitten

      joyce, why, thank you. i had no idea. i thought it was always me who wondered when i might grow into something. writing helps me figure out what it is i am trying to figure out . . . i think when we say “writing” we are also talking about life. it baffles each of us.

  3. “What does a promise look like?” A lovely post, full of images and history and locale.

    • redmitten

      kass, thank you. i hope you were there with me on this. the connections are right here and also spread all over the internet.

  4. “Given enough time a person learns to slide or never leave the house” sounds like me right now, for different reasons.
    Lovely post, with disquieting last sentence.

  5. Katy

    “Because, she says, what if it was self-inflicted, we all know how that is.” You got me at the end. :/ I had a co worker who finally hung herself in November. But long before that, she shot herself in the gut. The doctors saved her but she lost her spleen, and was constantly sick/had health problems because of it.

    I hope my tenacity never binds itself to my sadness that way. :(

    • redmitten

      katy, oh my. that sends me to my knees. and what a statement from you regarding tenacity binding to sadness. life can sure hurt.

  6. Wow….I mean oh WOW….what a beautiful lesson, a wonderful piece of life and writing. It just recharged my battery on many levels.

    • redmitten

      such goodness to hear from you. you, the man who has shown me how to listen to whales, how a line drawn from any hand leads to all the others.

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