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Cottonwood

cottonwood

 

Late May, early June—

It happens, every year.

 

The cottonwood drifts down,

White fluff rains from the sky, in the clear blue day—

Settling along curbsides,

Floating outside my window,

White heaps at the edge of the lawn.

God blows a kiss from his giant dandelions.

 

Last year, the children ate end-of-year barbeque and danced

Across Chapel Green at Breck School.

Dancing with the cottonwood,

Swirling to the Beatles, played by the teacher band.

We drank cold lemonade, ate oatmeal cookies.

 

Now, the whole world showers white—

And now we stay home.

Afraid, and wearing masks.

 

Summer came quickly,

As it always does in Minneapolis.

 

It is 90 degrees.

The air is thick and heavy—

A knee pressed on my neck.

I cannot breathe.

 

You, cottonwood tree—

Your irony is not lost on me.

You, white fluff raining from the sky

Tragic beauty,

You are all I know—

You, the white baggage piled high at my curb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Pizza

seafood

You, sterile cardboard carton—

Presented to me with gloved hands,

Or worse, left on the bottom concrete step of my front porch.

 

What wonders of mozzarella cheese and meat await inside,

For the third time this week?

 

I imagine you are mussels and linguine,

Lobster or scallops,

Delicate, and served with butter sauce and warm bread—

On real dishes, not paper plates.

 

The server pours cold pinot grigio.

We do not recoil from the diners nearby.

 

You, sterile cardboard carton—

There is a 50% coupon taped to your top

For my next order.

ET

 

-for Andy

In my mind—

You still wear a starched pink oxford and crisp khakis.

You drive a Corvette with a vanity plate—

Your initials, ASL.

You had a second car, late-model brown sedan.

What kind of 19-year old has two cars?

 

I am not allowed to brush my hair in that Corvette.

Or to eat the ice cream cone you bought me at the Dairy Queen.

Vanilla, dipped in chocolate.

 

Yes, you were a bit of an idiot.

You admitted it.

Yes, I was worried about the sticky melt dripping down my hand.

I worried about everything back then.

 

In my mind—

We sit awkwardly at the movie

While the Roy Rogers charity basket passes—

In synch with the preview on the screen.

Happy trails, you crazy kids.

 

It was a Spielberg movie, E.T.

 

You held my hand, and I died a little inside—

17- year old me.

I ate buttery popcorn and drank icy orange soda.

Licked the salt off my right hand while you squeezed the other.

 

In my mind—

We sit on the beach at Cove Island.

Stamford, Connecticut.

You, tanned muscle lifeguard man.

Me, shy Irish girl in my brand-new Jantzen one piece,

Turquoise blue, covered the flaws only I saw.

 

Small breasts, wide eyes—

I was so out of my league.

You pass me a Coke from the cooler.

Cold, delicious.

I stretch my legs out on the towel and relax—

Pink frosted toenails burrow into the rough sand.

 

Finally.

 

From that beach we could see Darien,

The other side of the harbor.

The rich town.

It didn’t look so different,

But it could have been a thousand miles away.

We didn’t care.

 

Thirty years later, we exchange memories.

You hated parties.

You liked girls in mini skirts.

I thought I was a wallflower, but you said I was pretty.

 

Pretty?

Me?

 

I flew into the full moon in the basket of a bike that night in 1982.

 

Funny how life ends up.

 

 

 

Isolation

plague

 

I can’t breathe out of my nose.

Have I caught this plague?

 

The numbers double and triple, and double and triple again.

987 ill, 29 dead, 48 in intensive care, just in Minnesota.

More people have died this month in the metro New York area than on 9/11.

I can’t stomach the loss, reading the names of people I knew.

 

I am up all night, sucking dry hot air through my mouth.

I take an allergy tablet, which has caffeine.

 

I can’t sleep.

Brain churn.

I took two of those pills.

Damn.

 

There are street noises–

Airplanes, neighbors leaving for work at 4 am.

 

My boyfriend snores, oblivious.

I wish I had his peace.

 

I am living in sin, whatever that means.

Alternating between chills and the heat from his core.

Damp sheets, my hair in tendrils.

 

Wide-eyed wild child, you were warned about hell.

Contained into yourself, with only your thoughts.

Oh, your thoughts, the whirring cars on I-94,

Static radio playing polkas and country music,

Ants on your skin for eternity.

 

You better like yourself, babe.

You are stuck with yourself.

You will never sleep.

 

You were warned about hell–

By your mother, by Father Gill,

Who taught you to pray to St. Michael the Archangel–

 

Be my protection against the devil,

In god we beseech you prince of the heavenly host

Cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits who roam the world for the ruination of souls.

 

I take my temperature for the third time today.

97.5.

I am safe, for now, still on this temporal plane.

 

 

 

 

bond

 

I tried to be a Bond Girl.

Last night–

Slinky black dress, diamonds, a hint of cleavage, the bold red lip.

 

I tried to be a Bond girl,

To smile, make small talk replete with scintillating innuendo.

To smile and pose, just so.

 

I tried to be a Bond Girl.

Until my shoes hurt and my spanx made the slow roll downward.

 

It was tiring, holding my breath,

And my midsection in.

 

I left it, and the whole business of being fabulous

To the professionals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hitler

Tan khaki uniform,

Shiny black boots.

Neat, trim moustache—

 

He didn’t look much like God

That benevolent bearded father man in the clouds

The father promised to me in Sunday School.

 

Where are your white robes?

Where is your absolution?

Where are the silver clouds, the shiny cherubim?

 

Nowhere.

 

God was imperious at the rail station,

The mist, the damp dripping off the cracked cement.

God, your riding crop in hand.

I was chuffed here to face you, to look you in the eye.

 

Here I am, God.

What do you think?

 

God told me—

You will be a good girl.

Or, I will send you to that place.

The chamber.

The leather crop points left, then right.

 

 

 

20200223_144749 (1)

 

Duke, let’s toss a ball.

 

Duke, that’s what Daddy called me.

I never knew why.

My name is Susan.

The dog was also named Duke, brown-eyed mutt shepherd collie mix.

 

When Daddy called, we both came running.

It was confusing.

 

Duke, let’s throw a ball. 

 

Daddy, I can’t throw.

I don’t like sports.

You don’t know–

I am last to be picked at kickball.

Surly kids staring me down in the schoolyard,

Me, shuffling my feet, staring at the hot asphalt.

 

Daddy, I do like figure skating, acting in plays, playing my flute, and writing stories.

 

Duke, maybe you’d like tennis lessons. 

My cousin was a national champion.

Or I can teach you to bat. 

Check out that badminton net I set up for you and your friends.

 

Daddy, you are the athlete.

Captain of every sports team in school,

Teeth knocked out playing shortstop in Tokyo, World War II.

The army didn’t fix teeth back then.

They gave you a cheap bridge at age 20.

 

We had one bathroom in our little pink house—

I stared curiously at the nicotine-stained false teeth soaking on the sinktop.

Once, I fished them out of the sparkly yellow plastic cup,

Tried them on for size.

I wanted to fit your smile into mine.

 

Daddy, high on love, low on empathy.

 

Duke, let’s toss a ball. 

Daddy, listen to this poem.

For Finley

 

 

This is the story I am going to read at the Black Forest tonight, for Finley…

Follow

“Go forth, Susan, and run roughshod through the snow!”  Thus spake Mike Finley.

This kinda seems like the opposite of follow, but that was Finley’s advice when we were talking about this show.  I wish he was here tonight, but he can’t be and I still wish he was, so this story/rant is for him.  I love you, friend.  I know so many of you here do too.

He also advised me to tell this story without worrying about what any of you think.  I will try, but still seek your approval.  Humor me.

Anyway… I am going to tell you about some random things I learned when I went forth, got divorced, and ran roughshod to Minneapolis after my escape from Darien, CT two years ago.  If you don’t know about Darien, the 1975 Stepford Wives movie was filmed there.  The main shopping center was called “Goodwives Plaza,” where the titular river flowed to the brackish mouth of Long Island Sound.  You can still find this movie on YouTube and watch Paula Prentiss blow a gasket in the parking lot.

The 2004 Nicole Kidman sequel was filmed in nearby New Canaan, where I worked.  I auditioned to be a crowd extra—but was not tall or thin enough.  I lacked Stepfordsity.  I took offense initially, because I wanted so badly to fit in.  To follow the pack.

So, back to my much-heralded exodus.  I shall share with you, in no specific order, what my 50-year old self learned since coming to the Twin Cities:

  • Personal prounouns: My first job in the Twin Cities was raising money for runaway teens. It was a strange, 1970s homeless shelter in the heart of Uptown, on the bus line, but situated in a posh old-money neighborhood among brick and stucco mansions and streets named things like Dupont and Franklin, places I could never afford and only dream of living in.  First staff meeting, we had to introduce ourselves and announce our personal prounouns.   Fortunately, I didn’t have to go first because I had no freaking clue what anyone was talking about.  For the record, I now know I am she/her/hers.
  • Cash management: I was broke, waiting for dough from my divorce settlement, and eating the day-old donated muffins from Caribou for breakfast left in the lobby each morning.  They weren’t too awful: I learned to sort through the cellophane pile in the basket for the ones without stale sticky icing.   That first winter, I bought my a parka at Kmart when I realized my old camel hair coat didn’t cut the -20 degree weather. 50 bucks.    It has since been replaced but remains in my closet as a momento mori.
  • How to get a cat through airport security: Do NOT put his carrier near your laptop and shoes on the conveyor belt.  You must remove him, hold him securely, and walk through the screener.  You will be clawed by said cat and then patted down by nice TSA ladies in blue latex gloves.

After their latex hands confirmed I was not some crazy blonde suburban terrorist, I was sent on my way.

My big fat orange cat, Chuck, and me—we flew first class, a first for both of us.  I will never forget the rush of that flight, that lift when the wheels were up and I was hurled airborne toward Minneapolis, toward my future.  Chuck sensed I was tense and gave me his free wine while he slept under the seat.  I also ate his peanuts.

Friends, I arrived in Minneapolis in August 2017, to follow some dream I had of finding love, and being a writer.  A dream of not being someone’s wife.  Or someone’s mother, or someone’s daughter.

Friends, I walked out on my husband after 29 years of being entombed in a bland, loveless suburban nightmare.  Chuck in his carrier, and my three suitcases, off we went.  My former husband carried it all down the back stairs to the awaiting limo, and I can assure you, it was the door slam heard round Darien.  Real Hedda Gabler stuff, total Doll’s House damage.

I was not a good wife.

Then I realized.

No.

It was time to pack my life in a moving pod.

It was time to divest myself of everything.

It was time to be born anew.

Yes, I now sign “Susan Cossette” on every credit card receipt I can.  It is a minor miracle after 30 years.  While it can be terrifying, there is beauty and magic in every act of rebellion, of affirmation.

Yes, I followed the path to Minneapolis.

Yes, I have been called immoral.  Yes, I am immoral.

Yes, most of my family has nothing to do with me.  I am the untouchable pariah, my name whispered behind freshly manicured hands at holiday meals I can no longer attend.

Most of the time I do not care.  From my dining room window, I gaze at the sky, the too-tall Minnesota trees, and the park across the street and still wonder how I got here.  I bought this house.  It still blows my mind to see my name on the deed.

But here’s the question I still ask: Do we choose to follow, or not to follow, or get thrown into it—or is it all of the above?  It’s up to us to decide.

These days, I sign the deeds that will work out:  I won a meat raffle last week at the Legion Hall and made dozens of homemade meatballs for the first time in years.  I look forward to seeing butter sculptures at the State Fair this summer.  Someday, I will buy a cabin up north.

I live happily ever after.

Thank you, Finley, and thank you friends.  My name is Susan Cossette, and you have no idea how wonderful it is to say that.

 

Insomniac

Woman with insomnia

I wonder should I get up to fix myself a drink—

Then I would not have to think

I would not hear endless words,

Competing, screaming helter skelter for attention—

Let me take you down

I’m going soon.

 

The laughter in another room—

There’s nothing I can do that can’t be done.

Mother Superior jumped the gun.

 

I write poems in my head—

I know what it’s like to be dead,

Then judged by a million eyes.

I know what it is to be sad,

Remember all the faces and places.

Come morning, these words will be gone.

Bang bang, shoot shoot.

 

If I could just turn off my mind—

Relax and float downstream

Fix that hole where the rain gets in

Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void.

 

Wednesday morning at five o’ clock—

I’m so tired.

I haven’t slept a wink.

Leave me where I am.

 

Old enough to know better,

Always smiling and arriving late for tea.

Another year older,

I’m not a girl who misses much.

 

Can you take me back where I came from

Can you take me back

Can you take me back where I came from

Mama, can you take me back?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maternal Wisdom

fait

 

Be careful what you wish for—

You may just get it.

When you get it, you may not want it.

Then you live with the consequences.

Then, you will have to want it anyway.

Just saying.

 

I got it.  I make it work.

It’s not what I expected, but I will never give

Anyone the satisfaction of uttering those four words:

I told you so.

 

Don’t make that face—

It will stay that way.

The world throws its grenades.

You will scowl and glower.

You were much prettier when you were 16—

Pageboy hair, monogrammed sweater, staring wide-eyed at my camera.

Pure cipher, shackled vessel.

 

I can live with my crinkled nose scowl of disdain.

Botox fixes the lines.

A shot every six months wipes the slate clean, until the next time.

 

No one buys the cow if they can get the milk for free.

 

But what if the dude is lactose intolerant?

He was, it turned out.

Vastly intolerant of me.

So, Mama, am I off the hook?

Can I rejoin the herd unscathed and unbranded?

I took my name back.

I use it and sign it freely on every credit card receipt I can.

I am I.

 

You get more flies with honey than vinegar.

 

Work your honey, Honey.

Smile, nod, and march in line like your life depends on it.

It really does. 

You have no more second tries.

 

Every action has a reaction.

Every shard of karma you’ve hurled,

Every act of love, of hurt, of light, the decades of obligation—

It all tells you:

 

This is the final round.

You won’t fuck this up.