She Wore Armor (#26 Na/GloWriMo)

She Wore Armor

(inspired by Joy Harjo’s “She Had Some Horses,” resurrected for NaPoWriMo prompt)

(Thank you Na/GloPoWriMo for featuring my poem on Day Twenty-Seven of NaPoWriMo 2019)

She wore armor

She wore armor over her beating heart
She wore armor over her pendulous breasts
She wore armor over her curving hips
She wore armor over her mound of flesh.

She wore armor

She wore armor over her good ideas
She wore armor over her strong hands.
She wore armor over her written words
She wore armor over her selfless service

She wore armor.

She wore armor over the cold space in their bed
She wore armor over the spoken wounds
She wore armor over the indifference
She wore armor over the goodbye

She wore armor.

She wore armor when her husband left
She wore armor on the morning metro
She wore armor at her Pentagon desk
She wore armor in her smile.

She wore armor

Her armor shifted under his gaze.
Her armor protested under his hands
Her armor groaned under his kiss
Her armor cracked under his weight

She opened her armor.

Excerpt (memoir)

IMG_1608I’m writing bits and pieces of what will become a memoir.  Here’s a snippet from my college days….

 Survival

We arrived at the training site late and I was already falling head over heels for the creek.  The other cadets in my 10-person group didn’t seem to notice the water racing below us, the winter run-off on this chilly June night making its rushing passage a chattering crowd. They hurried to collect branches. The sentinel heights of the Ponderosa pines, their color leeching in the fading light, loomed black over sepia-needled footing—ancient watchers familiar with our game. Although we were learning to build shelters in a deepening dusk, everything seemed familiar, comfortable. Racing against night when our military-issue flashlights would only provide watery micro-spheres of vision, we were directed to gather foliage, prop it into spiny protrusions off of the trees, preferably with a corresponding hollow in the ground, and make our new beds. I don’t know why the deep breaths of piney twilight sparked me to life. I felt at home.

Survival training. A summer military education program for U.S. Air Force Academy cadets. This part of the program, out in the woods treated us like pilots who had ejected from aircraft and were trying to make our way back to friendly lines through enemy territory.

Cadets.  I was one that summer, even though I never felt like one.  Looking back across three decades, what I remember most was that USAFA was looking for some sort of ideal prototype (probably a young man, six feet tall, athletic and brilliant) and that I would never measure up. A cadet should have blood that beats Air Force blue and want to act out the poem we had to memorize, “High Flight,” to “…slip the surly bonds of Earth.”  I didn’t find the Earth’s bonds surly.  And slipping them tended to make me airsick.

There were nine-weeks between the spring and fall academic semesters at USAFA and each block of the three-period summer was dedicated to three weeks of training or a three-week period of military leave, a.k.a. vacation. In 1988, between my freshmen and sophomore years, three weeks of survival training were mandatory.

As I slid inside the relic that was my military- issue sleeping bag listening to the forest night sounds and my rustling neighbors, I thought about the challenge ahead of me. I knew these programs were challenges for even that ideal, six-foot tall cadet the Air Force had in mind, so would I be able to do this? In that moment drifting off to the night noises, my fears dissipated, replaced by the unexpected euphoria found in my surroundings. I knew I was an “outdoor” girl—riding my horse no matter the weather and fearlessly walking the grocery store aisles in my dirty riding clothes and muddy boots, my filth more a badge of honor than something shameful. I wasn’t worried about dirt out here. Inexplicably, now I wasn’t worried about anything.

Survival training had portions back at school that involved learning to resist enemy interrogations and study survival tactics, but this next week would be what I considered the real test. After only a few days of teaching us about edible plants, how to signal for help, and camouflaging our appearance, the cadre of instructors would turn us loose to evade enemy captors in the middle of the night.  We would spend four nights and five days moving between “friendly” camps where we would sleep during the day and avoid enemy soldiers who were looking for us while we moved under the cover of darkness. What could go wrong? Never mind that, tonight, we were forced to race against darkness because a cadet from the first group that went last week had been lost for almost two days and whose late recovery meant that my group was launched hours after we should have left for our own week surviving in the woods.

Learning to survive in a high-altitude Colorado forest in the first weeks of June was the equivalent of drawing the short straw in terms of USAFA summer programs.  In the following days, I would eye the American Strawberry plants vining near my feet with envy, picturing their snowy blossoms as tiny bursts of red sweetness. After all, survival training meant we would mostly be living off what was now a prepubescent, spring landscape. Other cadets would tromp over these same pine needles in late July. I envisioned their experience something akin to Maria spinning about the Austrian Alps in The Sound of Music, lips stained with berries and full bellies sagging over their belts

(to be continued)

Roxane Gay’s Fangirl

Fangirl.jpg

In July of 2013, Roxane Gay wrote “ What men want, America delivers,” on Salon.com. I had my first introduction to the essay while trudging on my treadmill as part of my dogged determination to be fit enough to join my brother for nearly a month on the Appalachian Trail this coming March.

To say I am becoming a Gay “fangirl” is putting it lightly.

In her 2014 book Bad Feminist, I find myself humming the lyrics “strummin’ my pain with her fingers, singing my life with her words…” as over and over again, Gay articulates the very ideas that I have never been able to put into words.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m slow in coming to read feminist writing. The careful line of “one of the boys” and “Stayin’ Alive,” tiptoed by all women in the military made my interest in these things nothing short of a null set. It’s really too bad I waited so long.

One moment where Gay expresses an idea I’ve had, on a different topic, is when in the course of critiquing the “sometimes no means yes” content of Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines,” she admits, “In truth, I like these songs. They make me want to dance. I want to sing along. They are delightful pop confections. But. I enjoy the songs the way I have to enjoy most music—I have to forget I am a sentient being. I have to lighten up.” She admitted to liking the song she is critiquing. What a revelation! I feel the same way.

She goes on to dispel the need to lighten up, but the problems with the lyrics don’t change her pleasure in the dance-inducing music. In another essay (The Trouble With Prince Charming or He Who Trespassed Against Us), she admits enjoying the terrible prose found in E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Gray. It makes her laugh, even when the content sometimes angers her.

Perhaps these observations are what I’ve loved most about reading Gay, and I can’t wait to dive into her memoir Hunger. F. Scott Fitzgerald has been quoted as saying, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  My life feels like one big narrative full of this cognitive dissonance.

I love the Outlander series, most young adult dystopian novels, and some really cheesy country music. How can I feel this way and try to pursue meaningful writing and a serious life of the mind?  Roxane Gay is showing me the way.

I’m giving my own life a hard look as I’m trying to sort out how best to write my life story.  It took me 49 years of being a girl and a woman before I picked up a book like Bad Feminist, which I honestly chose for the title that seemed to describe me.

I love Gay’s bold and passionate voice whose relevance hasn’t changed even years after the shorter pieces that make up the book were published. Seeing the world through her eyes is giving me a new lens for my own experience.

I am unabashedly Gay’s “fangirl.”

The Red Notebook

red-notebook.jpgSo much depends
Upon

A red note
book.

Filled with my grandmother’s elegant script.
An abbreviated chapter of my family’s epic.

A Midwestern wedding, October 4, 1944, before Grandpa shipped over-seas
Resulting in,
Exactly 24 years later,
Me.

74 years from their wedding day, this page in history feels pre-destined.
That their three-month romance would bloom for 63 years.
So in love. Always.
And make us.

Inevitable?
Magical.

War works in mysterious ways.

Read the red notebook.
My Grandma will tell you.