memoir

CARDBOARD DOJO MEMOIR

(Dedicated to JPH, BMR & MAR)

*scroll down for a YouTube video

Lived in a shack
On the railroad track
With a windmill on
An old shed roof
And we had two tiny chickens
And we ate tiny eggs
And we had my two sons
And like the CSN* song
Two cats in the yard
With loads of herbs
But the best part
Was taking karate
In our 40s
With my teenagers
Tae Kwon Do
Oom Yung Do
Bushido
Three different stages
Made it one stripe away
From a brown belt
But the best
Was living and practicing in
The Cardboard Dojo
JP hauled in his red Ford Ranger
About a hundred empty cartons
That once held desks
For the school where he worked
As the gardener and groundsman
He nailed them into the moldy walls
Of the falling down living room
And we practiced
Counting to ten in Japanese
Fist fighting the air
Side-kicking with flair
Then doing our katas
As seriously as a ballerina
Preparing for Swan Lake
Most days now
JP spends in a power chair
And me?
I just smile
Because after a while
I can hear the voices of my sons
The meow of the cats
The clucking of the chicks
And yes, the sigh of the herbs
Reaching up to the Florida sun
In a garden that was once graced
By a double rainbow interlaced
In a garden on 20th Street
In Zephyrhills, Florida
So many years ago…

(c) 2020 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: JP & CS with chicks by the RR track shack

*CSN = Crosby, Stills & Nash YouTube Video “Our House”

CS Z-hills 1993

MEMORY SPOONS

Were TV ads better
In the old black & white days?
Can’t help remembering
The Dutch boy
With his great straight hair
Painting colorful stripes
That imagination changed
From black and white swipes
Of his magical brush

Oh, the Lipton Teabag man!
Dressed in captain blues
(Who knew? It was black & white TV)
And the steam from the cup
On wintry days
Made me send telepathic pleas
To my mother in the kitchen
Turn on the kettle
Let the water bubble up
But she never heard

Jello!
Plain cherry or orange
Or a can of fruit cocktail
Dumped in
(My mother’s cooking method)
J-E-L-L-O
So sweet and always
So little to eat
In small refrigerated cups
Then years later
Dieting
Jello not so much fun anymore
When it replaced chocolate
In a calorie war

How I wanted to be
The Sun-Maid Raisins girl!
In bonnet with basket
Moving through the vines
So exciting for me
Who lived in a city
Not much growing through cement
But I confess
A few years later
When the California raisins
Danced inside my TV
There was no contest
As I sang
“Heard it through the grapevine”

So this poem grew
From my son Micah’s
Winter Solstice gift to me
Not only 4 advertising spoons
For my collection
But also 4 memories
Two gifts in one
Thanks!!!!

(c) 2019 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: ad spoons

IN MEMORY OF KB

Just heard you died
Haven’t cried
Not going to
But all these memories
Glimmered through
Last moments of a sunset

In your way
You taught me how
To behave in the real world
How to disguise my autism
Although we didn’t know that word
But you certainly knew
I didn’t function quite right

Met in 3rd Grade
Both dressed the same
Mine orange, clashing with
Sallow skin
Sailor-suit themed
So proud until you walked in
Red, white and navy blue
Angelic blonde with eyes so
Caribbean ocean true
A fairy princess to my
Dark hair and eyes
An evil-looking Disney witch
At age seven
But we bonded

Mainly hung out at my apartment
Over the corner grocery store
Your mother with
A touch of violence
Similar to mine
But mine was working
So just us
Looking out on the vast expanse
Of Oregon Avenue
Never returned to your house
You’d shocked me when you stole
Money from your mom’s purse
Twenty-five cents
To buy us candy
But she caught you
So I got scared
And ran home

5th grade teacher
Shamed us every morning
If we had incomplete homework
You’d say to me
Before class started
“I have incomplete homework, do you?”
Lying unusual for most autistic children
And so I said “Yes”
And you said
“I don’t. So be sure to stand up
When teacher asks
Or I’ll tell on you”
This happened 3 times
And I finally got it
You challenged me
To learn not to trust
And how to read the clues
On a face: lie or truth
Impossible to know
When older I decided
The lies of a Gemini provided
A new perspective for me

When we were 13 I bought a cheap wig
Blonde
Hated my dark curls
You refused to walk to 7th Street
Where we shopped for
Lipstick at the Five & Dime
You said I looked awful
Must take off the wig
And should make the most of the natural curls
I didn’t make the most
But did take off the wig
To walk and talk with you
And in future, I knew
To really study the image
In my enemy the mirror

The thing I loved most
Was you coming to my home
After school
Especially in the winter
And we’d talk without a light
Sitting in the twilight
We were 15 and you taught me
To smoke
Kept the weight off, you said
And it did
Smoke, twilight
Your face would morph into
A soft, happy voice
As mine did too
And we were equals
In the gray light
No blonde, blue
No dark, bright
That year you told me you were
Once molested
By a family friend
And last week
You’d had sex with a man you met
At the coffeehouse we’d discovered
He taught you words like
“Pseudointellectual”
And I spiced up my sentences
Loving words so much
Not realizing
I was the pretentious
Pseudointellectual
Until you suggested it
But
You were also feeling depressed
You were also feeling hopeless
You were waiting for something
But what?
I sometimes felt the same
Hormones
If we’d been born Millennials
Instead of Baby Boomers
We could have googled
“Hormones in teenage girls”

At 16 I moved to New Jersey
And you didn’t want to visit
So it was two years before I saw you again
Although we’d talk on the phone
But not in smoke and twilight

Moving back to Philly
We picked up
Right where we left off
And at 19
You were at odds
I was dating a med student
You agreed to be fixed up
They picked us up
At my house
Saw your face
And both of them tripped over each other
Helping you into the car
While I stood by
In despair
Long black curls
Black eyes
Knowing I didn’t have a prayer
To feel good about myself that day
Because you were a gorgeous
Blue eyed blonde Disney princess
And I still the Disney witch

The following year I married
And never saw you again
Didn’t know anything about your life
Until told you died two years ago
And I thought how you were the one
Who always cared enough to tell me
How to act, fit in
Showed me your
Occasional inside ugliness
But also the inner beauty
Because you stuck by me
And all I could think about
Was how I never truly saw you
Was how I never truly cherished you
Wasting precious time because
I wished I was you…

(c) 2019 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: Sleeping Beauty & Witch

HALLWAY UKULELE (memoir)

Beloved but battered
Blah, blah, blah
Can’t say enough
Love it badly
Patiently waiting
In heat and humidity
For me to sling it over
My narrow shoulders
And make it sing
Remembering
New teenager me
Raging Chakiris* crush
As he sang
Roses and Lollipops
Lollipops and Roses
Oh, the garbage we moon over
When young
Believing in romance
And love
Old now, don’t like the lollipops
But still adore roses
Yet
Who knew I’d be banging away
On my hallway baritone
Singing songs about
Life’s disappointments
Yet
Yet
So much fun to strum
And on really bad days
Can raid my stash
In a clothes closet pocket
Peanut butter and chocolate
Almost as good as music
And truly superior
To two-timers I have known
In the realm of romance…

*Actor-singer-dancer George Chakiris (unable to find the video)

(c) 2019 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: Red roses & baritone ukulele

RED SONG-IN-PROGRESS (memoir)

Red Rover Red Rover
For Red to come over
Childhood game
When our blood did flow
Scrapes and red-tinged bandaids
With young bodies
Pulsing like Native drums
At American pow-wows

Red
Blood
Life
Flood

The beat goes on
The heat pulsing the blood
And then one day
It changes…

Flirting and hurting
Judged, loved or hated
Trying to walk dignified
Through teen years as the
Moon monthly controls
Female tides
Red flow meaning
Safe another month
Slut-footing past the boys
Pulsing like Gypsy tambourines
At doo-wapping City corners

Red
Blood
Life
Flood

The beat goes on
The heat pulsing the blood
And then one day
It changes…

Sleep with legs straight
So blood will circulate
But I awake
In a tight fetal state
With that artery
Behind my left knee
Pulsing like Santana drums
At Woodstock

Red
Blood
Life
Flood

The beat goes on
The heat pulsing the blood
And then one day
It’s gone…

(c) 2019 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: Red#1

#21 THE WORLD

The World is so much more
Than Earth and the visible
Night sky
Telescopes and space cameras
Transport us to galaxies unknown
When tarot cards were first shown
Although there were always a few souls
Who knew what was out there in the vastness
Of space

THE WORLD is the archaeology of our past
Moving us through the present
And showing us the future
Symbols on cards mimic
Symbols of everyday life
Like the day I found an engraved coin
With my name and home address
Of a place I lived before age seven
Lying in the mud near a shed of broken crates
My past zoomed in and saw myself
Winning tickets for Skee Ball
To use on the mechanical engraver
In an Atlantic City arcade
Before casinos wrecked the ambience
Of ocean and sand and fries in a paper cone
Of cinnamon donuts and black coffee at midnight
From Mammy’s with my Gran

I rediscovered the coin
After finding a feather
That pointed the way
Very small feather
From a Florida Black Vulture
Stripping the flesh
From a corpse so fresh
And so here is my future
I thought
Death

To live in the now
Would be best
So I hauled out my tenor guitar
Music,the most beautiful part of
Anyone’s present
Although old songs transport us back
To the past
The words are seared in memory
Never to go
Always with us in the current phase

This trio reminds me
Of a wedding superstition:
Something old (coin)
Something new (guitar)
Something borrowed (feather)
Uh, oh, I’m blue
Because I
Always have
Always do
Always will
Need to find images of life
And force them into
Patterns
Patterns that ease the chaos
Of my world

And like the moon
We go through the stages
Circularly
As past, present, and future
Twirls like the Earth
Orbits the sun of our existence
And tilts with the seasons
The World
The tiny world that is ours
Our personal world of elation and sadness
Of terrible regrets but moments of gladness
We dream of space and vastness
But we are the microcosm
Like symbols imitating life
We mimic the macrocosm
Because the World is us…

(c) 2019 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGES: Arcade good luck medal, feather & guitar: zoom in to see my full name
and address on the coin/Photo of the arcade mechanical engraver

arcade stamped good luck coins machine SM PX

VETERAN’S DAY MEMOIR (Happy Birthday, Dad 11-23-1925)

No one selling poppies
At this Veteran’s Day festival
Dad always bought one
Somehow, the symbol
And socializing with soldiers
Anesthetized the buried memories
One way to survive war:
Thinking of the good times
Alcohol, gambling, jokes
The next day I inherited the flower
Droopy but delightfully blood red
Aries child’s favorite color
Poppies, to me
Conjured up the Wizard of Oz
“Sleep, sleep…”
Said the Wicked Witch of the West
As the camera panned along the
Endless fields of fallen flowers…

(C) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: My father 1946 Herman Simmens (Huna Suharliavi)

NIGHT SKY MEMOIR

Living in Philly
My night sky
Was the ceiling of
The Fels Planetarium
In the Benjamin Franklin Institute
Slouched in the gray theater seats
Neck comfortably straight
While head tipped upward
I’d get chills when the room darkened
And we school kids would stop talking
And the stars would begin to greet us
Like actors slowly wondering
If the audience would adore them
And when we’d applaud
Because the show was FINALLY beginning
The stars, planets, meteors, comets, moons
And all those performers
Playing their celestial roles
Hidden to city children
Living in cement jungles
With streetlights every 500 feet
All those performers
Would put their hearts into
Brightening the night sky
(although still sunny outside)
And my heart would race
As I drifted in space
Not listening to the lecturer
Because no one could top the stories
I told myself
About the constellations
Talking to me via vibrations
For all those years
I never saw the sky
Time tempestuously passed
And I found myself sitting
With my very young sons
Also stretched and bruised
On the concrete of childhood
Their excitement matched mine
As the room darkened
And then I knew
There must be very few
In this world
Who didn’t long to stride across
The canvas of our universe…

soprano w the stars 1 life wip

 

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: Fels Planetarium, Ben Franklin Institute (Rittenhouse Astronomical Society) and My Ukulele and Stars

COFFEEHOUSE ON NEW YORK AV

(ANOTHER PRE-CASINO, ATLANTIC CITY MEMOIR)

Troubadour in dark room
Singing and strumming
“Go away from my window…”
Thinks he can tell me
What I need
Coffee grinding ten steps away
Strings strangling a heart
Fibrillating to future rejections
“It ain’t me, babe” soaring through
The smoky room
Zinging in, trying to make me cry
With his lying eyes
So why’d he pursue me
Take me to his room and
Almost ruin me
Thinks he can croon
By the light of the
Not-yet-landed-upon-Moon
Me nervously twirling my spoon
Roiling the brew
To read a few escaped coffee grounds
What is my future
Another tall, dark stranger
I’ll love and lose?
Caffeine finally affects
The saddened brain
Venomously I think
He’s not even a quarter good as Dylan
Can’t help wondering, though
When I’ll be an adult
So to all you young girls,
Yeah, not really women
We’re fragile little girls
When it comes to secret chambers
Of the heart
Here to tell you
Lived despite the pain
But can’t say
I ever used the label
“Adult”
Because
For the very sensitive
Adulthood is merely in the
Eyes of children
And the memory comes through
When I’ve sipped a few
Double-shot espressos…

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)
IMAGE: kava3

THANK YOU MAGGIE KUHN

“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes” –Maggie Kuhn, Founder of The Gray Panthers

At age 34
I sat in the Women’s Congress audience
Enthralled by this old lady
And everything she said
Seemed meant for me
An older student
At the university
I couldn’t even speak from my desk
Without shaking
So although her words performed no magic
At the time
I conjured them up
When I really needed them
Stars and sparkles wreathing my face
Sneezing a bit from the moon dust
And for the next few years
Speaking in auditoriums for my career
No trembling, shaking, or fear
Just Maggie Kuhn’s words
Transforming me two decades later
Now I am old enough
To be a Gray Panther
(Although I was completely gray
By age thirty-seven)
And when once I wanted to be
Abby Hoffman, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez
I now want to age gracefully
Be grateful for aging
Be like Maggie Kuhn
It is not her birthday
Or death day
I just want to say
Thank you, Ms. Kuhn
I hope I can live up to your words
Now that I am on the path you blazed…

“Old age is not a disease – it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.” Maggie Kuhn, Founder of the Gray Panthers

(c) 2018 Clarissa Simmens (ViataMaja)