Canto 6 – The Porcelain Doll
Brittany’s head was swimming as she walked into the coffee shop with the doll still cradled in her arms.
“Lady, you look a little pale and peaked. How about you sit down at the counter, and I give you a free first cup of java?” The broad-faced man behind the counter had a huge and welcoming smile. It made her heart stop fluttering just a bit.
“World War Two is going on?” she tried not to gasp as she asked it. But she was sure the three other people in the place, all older than dirt, knew she was rattled to the point that she was about to shake herself to pieces.
“Husband fighting in Italy is he? We all think it’s almost over there. Patton is wiping out the bad guys. But it will be a while before Germany falls too. Or is he in the Pacific?”
“No… ah, my husband is… well, he’s not in this world anymore.”
“Oh! We’re so sorry for your loss.” The shop owner had tears in his eyes as he poured her coffee.
“That why you bought the doll over at Aunt Phillia’s place?” asked the old man three seats down from her at the counter. “It’s nice… um… an antique… but it’s naked…”
“Weren’t a good idea, Miss. The toys from that store are all cursed,” said the old woman sitting next to him.
“Hush, Mabel. She just told us her husband died a war hero. You gotta have more respect than that.”
“No, my husband didn’t die in the war… He just hasn’t been born yet.”
“You can’t tell them that,” said the doll. “They won’t believe you. And they will never understand the truth from your point of view.”
“Did you hear the doll talk just now?” she asked the shop owner.
“He can’t hear me,” said the doll.
“Listen, Ma’am, I know the world doesn’t make any sense for a while after you lose someone. Especially if you lose them overseas and far from home. You need something to eat? It’s on the house in view of your loss.”
“He’s being kind. You need to accept and be grateful,” said the doll.
“Maybe… the sausage smells good.” She tried to smile, but the tears were real.
“Certainly. Not real easy to come by with the war on, but certainly what you need about now.” The shop owner took the sausage out of the frying pan and put it on a plate for her.
“Where did he die, Sweetie,” said the old woman, trying to be more considerate.
“I can’t… I mean… I don’t…”
“You don’t have to say anything. Just eat. Mabel is being nosy. You need to recover from your loss.”
“It’s me you need to talk to,” said the doll. “But not here. They already think you’ve gone nuts from grief. Finish eating and then take me somewhere private.”
Brittany wolfed down the sausage, which really was savory and delicious, and then tried to get out of the shop and leave the doll behind.
“Miss, don’t forget your doll. She’s probably valuable. And you really shouldn’t be completely alone now.”
The old woman snatched up the porcelain doll and put it directly into her arms. She smiled at Brittany with a toothless smile.
“Please don’t leave me, Mommy,” said the doll. “I can’t lose you now. You are my last hope.”
Brittany burst into tears, hugged the doll to her, and started to run.
Novel #14 is now complete and published. The Norwall Pirates, softball team and liars club, take on an ancient undead Chinese wizard. All of it takes place in small Iowa farm towns during the Bicentennial summer of 1976. But some of the major players in this life-or-death struggle are immortal, and most of them are only high school freshmen, fifteen-years-old and still quite awkward in the face of a dangerous and arcane world full of the difficult problems of growing up.
The novel is called The Boy… Forever. Icarus Jones is a main character like Peter Pan, faced with the possibility of living forever, but never growing older than ten.
For now, I haven’t settled on the next one. But Number 14 is done.
He looked down at his little-boy legs.
His little legs were bare.
He had never worn short pants as a boy.
His knees were sunk into the plush seat cushion.
He pushed himself up to the passenger car window.
He pressed his little face to the cold window glass.
Outside, as the train chugged on, the gently falling snow filled the trackside ditches.
He loved trains, though he hadn’t been on one as a boy.
But it was better by far than the table in the hospital…
Where he lay with a pain in his head and ache in the place where his left leg had been.
He remembered that there had been a green light.
So, this was not his fault after all.
But he loved passenger coaches on trains.
And there were voices singing in the snow outside the window.
Do demons sing at a time like this?
It didn’t matter. He hoped the train ride lasted a long time.
Yesterday I was walking the dog when I was approached by a man and two women in the park. They were Jesus pushers. As a nominal Jehovah’s Witness, I am not supposed to have anything at all to do with such folks. They admired the little four-legged poop factory that I was walking. They listened patiently to the story of how we rescued her as a puppy in the middle of the street as cars zoomed past. They wanted to know what breed she was, and how we came to own her and love her. And then, they wanted to pray for me.
Jesus pushers! Just like the door-to-door work the Witnesses do, they want you to learn to pray their way and believe their truths.
I shared with them that I was a Christian Existentialist, and that could easily be interpreted as saying that I was an atheist who believes in God. And I admitted to them that I have a personal relationship with God and talk to him constantly. I admitted that in hard times I don’t merely rely on science for comfort. I do know what grace really means. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me,” says the Psalmist David. (The shepherd uses the rod to guide the flock and the shepherd’s crook to rescue the stranded and endangered one.)
It is not in me to turn away true believers, even if I cannot accept the tenets of their faith. I let the Witnesses down. But I am no more a Witness anymore than I am one of whatever flavor of fundamentalist Christian they are.
So, they prayed for me… my poor health, my financial difficulties, and my little dog too. Their prayers touched me. Though I believe they needed the prayers more than I did. They were proving their faith to their God after all.
My own faith, my own spirituality is fundamentally simpler than theirs.
I am a part of the universe, and the universe is all that is relevant, all that there is. The universe is God. And I know my place in the universe. It is as simple as that. When I die, I will still be a part of the universe. I don’t need to live forever. Death is not the end. But it is not the end because when you finish reading and close a book, the book does not cease to exist. Past, present, and future are all one. The book can be opened again.
I appreciate that they wanted to offer me “the good news” and give me comfort. But I don’t need the forgiveness of sins they offer. I have forgiven myself, just as I have forgiven all who have ever sinned against me. I am at peace. Life is good while I have it. I thanked them and wished them well.
And that’s what Sunday means to me.
I can’t tell you how to write a good poem.
As a poet, I am pretty terrible myself.
So, I can’t really tell you how to do it.
I am, however, an expert on how NOT to write a good poem.
A truly terrible poem might begin with an over-extended metaphor.
It might begin by saying, “A poem is like a fairy tale, filmed in black and white on 35 mm film stock, with Orson Wells as the director.”
And for the meat of the poem, you use details about the fairy acrobats having an accident on the trapeze, and the circus train derails and has a terrible accident, and the clown never takes his makeup off because he’s on the run from the police… and you totally forget that the movie “The Greatest Show on Earth” was directed by Cecil B. DeMille and filmed in color.
And you have a tendency to “squinch” the rhymes, rhyming “good” with “food” and “dud” with “odd,” and at the same time you put trochaic warts all over the iambic pentameter because as a poet you are not William Shakespeare, and you are not even Buddy Rich because the rhythm sounds more like banging trashcan lids than drumbeats.
In the middle of the poem somewhere it suddenly becomes free verse without a rhyme scheme or reason for the change. And the theme circles back on itself and does a pretzel twist with no logic to salt it with.
And you are a terrible poet like Mickey because, when you write a poem you don’t realize;
the gemstone at the center of your poem must go from your mind, to pen, to paper, to eye of the reader, to mind… and finally to heart…
And the blaze of its beauty must be strong enough to resonate…
and be able to SHAKE THE BONES OF THE UNIVERSE.
And you can’t do it because you don’t even get the irony of that rule.
Children, especially young children, are natural nudists. So it seems to me, who was once a child and remembers being one, once dealt with sisters and cousins, once worked at a daycare center with children below the age of five, spent 24 years teaching middle school students, mostly 7th graders, raised two boys and one girl of my own, and for a few years had a backyard pool fenced in for skinny-dipping. Every child I ever knew went through a period of liking to go naked. (Though I have to admit that I never saw a middle-school student naked, nor would I ever want to, but only know about their nudist ways from talking to them and reading their journals where they often talked about things so personal it shocked me a bit and made me wish to un-know it.)
During my own preschool days, I loved taking a bath, especially with Mr. Bubble or other bubble-bath soap in the tub with me. I liked the feel of it all over my naked self. It was a sensual experience that I reveled in. But one time at Grandma Beyer’s house my nudist’s enthusiasm got curbed after bath time was over. I went out into the living room naked without my pajamas. My Grandma Beyer knew how to say, “No,” to children. But she had never threatened corporal punishment until that time.
“Put your clothes on, or Grandma will spank you,” she said. And that is all she said. She used that old farm-wife voice that promised painful hyde removal if I offered any defiance. She had never threatened me with discipline before, that I could remember, And she never did again that I know of. Nor did she have to. The message was conveyed. And from that moment on, I was led to understand that enjoying a state of personal nakedness was only the most private of things. If that had not happened when it did, then I think I would have been a lot less shy about nakedness as I grew.
And then there was the time when I was routinely being babysat after school at my Uncle Larry’s farm along with my two sisters and my baby brother while Mom worked as a nurse on the 3 to 11 shift. Dad didn’t get home until 6. I was probably 8.
Uncle Larry had a barn. And I was allowed to play alone in there as long as I stayed away from the hogs who could be dangerous and didn’t get cow poop on myself. The hay loft was a wonderful place to get naked and play around, jumping from the top of a high stack of bales into the pile of scattered hay below. The straw was always rather scratchy and unpleasant if you plunged into it butt first, but the thrill of flying and spinning through the air naked was glorious.
But, the clan on my mother’s side of the family was made up of mostly girl cousins, there being seven of them between me, the eldest cousin, and the other two boys, one of whom was my baby brother. And girls, especially evil cousin-type girls, glory in embarrassing boy cousins. My sister and the oldest of Uncle Larry’s girls caught me with no clothes on in the hay loft one day. I scrambled and dressed myself faster than I ever had dressed myself before. My face changed colors in ways I had never done before either. And both of the girls tried to further embarrass me by pulling down pants and underpants to show off their girl parts. I hid my face and pretended not to look. But I also learned that I liked naked girls that day. I did sneak a few peeks. It was, of course, a couple of years before my friend Wilford told me the facts of life (though that probably didn’t matter since most of what Wilford revealed to me was totally false information.)
It occurs to me now, 58 years later, that it probably would’ve been better to get the real facts from my Mom, the registered nurse, or from my Dad before this all happened. We could’ve maybe innocently played naked in the hay together knowing full well what not to do and what was really bad in that situation. But as an innocent child, curious but clueless, all I could do was fumble about and worry that I would burn in Hell for doing what I was told was wrong, but I really enjoyed doing. (My Mom could’ve told me the facts of life, but she assumed it was my father’s place to do that. And Dad thought Mom would take care of it since she had the medical training. That’s my excuse for being ignorant, and I’m sticking to it.)
Looking back on it now, with the full knowledge of a well-read adult, I think it is a fact that children have a natural affinity for nudism. And like the many other things like creativity and wonder that we train out of them before they reach puberty, maybe we should be encouraging it instead.
Now that I have offended you and made you swear off my blog forever, let me remind you. This is a humor blog. But that doesn’t mean I don’t really believe some pretty crazy stuff.
As a school teacher and a story-teller I have learned some fundamental truths about life. I am trying now to put them into words before my voice is silenced by the final page in the book of life. I have a lot to say about each of these things. But that is for future posts to explore. This is a list of things I have learned and firmly believe is true.
- You learn to be wise and kind and loving by living through terrible things. Some of the wisest and most loving people that were ever a part of my life were survivors of the Great Depression, World War II, the Holocaust, and racism.
- Every book has a final page and every life ends in death. The future presents us with a grim reality. And yet, life is worth living.
3. I have published 21 books since 2007, both YA novels and 2 books of essays. Nobody is interested. Nobody reads my books. But that doesn’t mean my books were not worth writing. They are valuable to me even if they never get read.
4. In politics, it doesn’t matter what a liberal Democrat says or does, conservative Tea Party Republicans are going to hate him, even want to kill him. Donald Trump has been the ultimate test. He is provably a criminal, and yet the Senate will not remove him. The criminals are in charge because we believe rich people are entitled to decide everything in their own favor.
5. Even if the world is awash in hatred, love is still a better way.
6. If teaching in public schools for 31 years has taught me anything, it is that EVERY CHILD HAS VALUE. You can even say, EVERY CHILD IS PRICELESS.
So, there is a summary of what I have learned in life. Now it only remains to talk about each thing in such detail that others might be persuaded to believe.
700 days in a row of posting at least once on WordPress daily. It is my second-longest string of posting ever. I may surpass the two years I did a few years ago. But I also might not.
My health is deteriorating. I am having trouble even getting the basic things of life done. My novel writing has slowed to a crawl. My vision is blurring, I feel like every time I drive may be the last time due to a fatal car accident.
My world will evaporate quickly after my last breath. My wife will do nothing to keep my books in print. My kids may not find it essential either. They really haven’t read any of them. My artwork will probably hit the trash pile.
Of course, the world we all currently live in may not outlast me by very many years.
But my personal despair is not long-lasting. I will happily go about what business I can tomorrow, even if it is only looking at Twitter and watching some TV shows. And you shouldn’t worry overmuch either. What comes next is beyond my power to alter. Beyond yours as well. So, make the most of today. And tomorrow if it is given to us.