A Great Good Place

Reposted in honor of National Donut Day

glass-enclosed vestibule
the woman behind the counter
a dozen customers seated

The author paints a portrait
of the me I did not become
there in black and white

there seemed to be a connection
you knew they all knew one another

and me
wondering:
what if I had remained?

Worked my shifts.
Made the donuts.
Married the cowboy.
Had the kids.
Lived that life.

Would it have been
the better or the worse?

Would I?

My finger dogears the page,
as if to say I was here
or remember this
the alternate ending

blurred and obscured
I was drawn to it as if to a dream.

Poem ©2016, Jen Payne, inspired by “A Great Good Place” from A Cape Cod Notebook by Robert Finch.

Mary Anne Siok: A Eulogy

Mary Anne and I met in a freshman English class at UMass in 1984. We were just joking a few weeks ago about how it’s been 30 years since we graduated. I said “How the hell did that happen?” and she said “Because we’re old.”

But the MA I knew – the one we all knew – was never old. Very often her texts would go on and on about what she was doing and where. (Even her cousin Katherine couldn’t keep up!) The weekend before she died? On Friday, after a full day of work and a train commute home to Rhode Island, she went out for sushi with Billy. On Saturday, she and I spent an entire day walking around the mall, shopping, talking, toasting her birthday with bloody marys. On Sunday, she was with friends at Foxwoods to see the Hollywood Vampires, and then on Monday she celebrated a gorgeous spring day with a drive along the coast and lobster rolls.

THAT, in a big long-weekend nutshell was our Mary Anne.

MA was my best friend, my secret keeper, my sister, my person…and the most fabulous yin to my yang.

Me ever so cautious and worried, the introvert full of specific plans to her come what may, live life to its fullest, hell yeah we’re doing that extrovert with an absolute love of life.

She
was
inspiring.

So much so that in recent years, I’ve taken to asking myself WWMAD? As in: What Would Mary Anne Do?

What would Mary Anne do? Mary Anne would say Yes.

YES to the next concert, the Red Sox or Patriots game, the fireworks, the dive bar, the music festival, the movie night, the road trip, the matching tattoos, and one more Hallmark Christmas movie.

YES to the beach. Always.

YES to anything in black, the sales rack, the sparkly earrings, the extra glass of wine. And YES to Dunkin Donuts. Of course.

YES to dancing … anywhere, drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe, going to the symphony, enjoying a home cooked meal, taking a spinning class … or yoga, cheering on her boyfriend’s band.

YES to shopping at the outlets, seeing an art exhibit, wandering a museum, getting tickets to a play, or a long full day at the Big E.

Jump off a 3-foot ledge into the ocean while a crowd cheers? Yes.
Help you check off something on your bucket list? Yes.

YES to coming to your BBQ, your daughter’s dance recital, your campaign event, your nephew’s first birthday, your sons’ soccer game, your girls’ weekend, your wedding, your holiday dinner. Probably all on the same day … usually with a gift … always with that big, sweet, joyful smile.

A smile that said YES, I’ll move in with you. YES I’ll meet you at the winery. YES I’ll be at the party. YES let’s go shopping.

YES, we have to do this again soon.

Not everyone can do that — be so wide open to life and love and friends and experiences. No holds barred. Fearless. Hell yeah, we’re doing that!

And so, in honor of the blessing that was our wonderful, bold and brazen, brave and beautiful Mary Anne Siok, I challenge you — all of you — to say YES a lot more often.

And I thought we could practice right now…ready?

In memory of Mary Anne Siok, May 31, 2018. Click here to read her full obituary.

8 Years, No Looking Back

The wall behind the cashier is filled with familiar colorful boxes, and I remember clearly how happy that used to make me. The ahhhhh of the fix, its brand name rolling off my tongue as if I were ordering filet mignon or sauvignon blanc.

Outside of a passing glance, a nod of recognition one might furtively offer an old lover in the check-out line, I have no reaction to the merchandising. There is no impulse or yearning; no longing, except for those romantic moments that must someday find their way to poems: 4AM coffee, midnight highways, Texas horizons, Rue La Boétie.

But memory is funny that way. It can make romance from refuse, and there is nothing more refusious than an addiction — the wasting away of time and money for something that will never fulfill you. Never fill you.

I promised myself, the last time I saw a cigarette, that I would only entertain its companionship again when I turned 80. It was a break-the-glass-in-case-of-emergency promise that I might not keep after all.

Quite frankly, I know some pretty kick-ass 80-year-olds, and if I am blessed to be so gifted with a long, creative life? I’ll have no need to take up with the likes of the cigarette again.

It’s been eight years since I last held one, that challenge of break-up barely a memory now. Except today…when I take a moment to honor the anniversary of one of the hardest things I ever did. Except today…when I remember the people who offered their whole-hearted witness and support. I remain forever grateful to each and every one of them.

They…you…saved my life.

With love,

JenSig

©2017. Jen Payne. Want to stop smoking, too? Please read Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. It’s the only way to go. xoxo

A Great Good Place

glass-enclosed vestibule
the woman behind the counter
a dozen customers seated

The author paints a portrait
of the me I did not become
there in black and white

there seemed to be a connection
you knew they all knew one another

and me
wondering:
what if I remained?

Worked my shifts.
Married the cowboy.
Had the kids.
Lived that life.

Would it have been
the better or the worse?

Would I?

My finger dogears the page,
as if to say I was here
or remember this
the alternate ending

blurred and obscured
I was drawn to it as if to a dream.

Poem ©2016, Jen Payne, inspired by “A Great Good Place” from A Cape Cod Notebook by Robert Finch.

New Haven, Circa 1971

That she would consider it
“the amazing city”
is about as ironic
as the wry half smile
on her 5-year-old face.

She didn’t see the
protests, trials, riots.
(She never does.)
Only the possibilities.
The lofty towers
and filigreed intentions
of a something that
seemed larger than life.
Of a something that indeed
seemed “amazing.”

But what’s in a word?
the poet asks
with a similar smile:
amazing…..astonishing
half…..not wholly true
wry…..sardonic
ironic…..absurd

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne

338 Arch Street

My duck lived
under the back porch
of my grandparents’ house
at the top of the hill
on Arch Street,
surrounded by privet
and a bowered
maze of azaleas.
The screen door creaked
and slammed into
the kitchen where
the middle drawer
had a secret panel
your finger could
push-pull for Wonder.
The rooms smelled of
eucalyptus and river
and whiskey.
In the living room,
too thin for a couch,
three chairs angled
to face the television
and the gun cabinet,
dusted and polished daily.
The deer head
didn’t have a name,
the duck did—
perhaps that’s why
we let him go.
Set loose by a bridge,
spared or sacrificed,
no one knows.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. National Poetry Month, 25. Image: Duckling, David Burliuk.

Tenacity

At autopsy,
they will not debate the
boring faded scar on my forehead
(sled hit tree, 1970)
or the slight divot on my chin
(golf club, 1974).
The discussion will be about
the hard marks of betrayal:
the stab in the back,
the heart cracked open,
the lungs held breathless,
the chafe on the thighs
from the necessary action
of getting back on the horse……again.
Damn analogy.
Stuck with me since dad
pulled a bloody rag from the
glove compartment,
pointed to the tree
and said neither of us
was worse for the wear,
then made me get on that sled,
pass that tree,
and move forward.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. National Poetry Month, 13. Image: Fir Tree In Snow, Eyvind Earle.

Herstory

Do you think Cinderella looked up from her ironing and thought “this is going to be a great story someday”? Do you think she could identify the elements of her narrative arc, living in the moment? No doubt the beginning was very clear, it usually is. But what was the inciting incident – was it the first kiss or the first argument? the first time she stopped pretending or the first time he made her cry? If the tensions rose and fell like the tides, how could she ever recognize the climax? And had the ending been foretold—Chekov’s gun-on-the-wall theory come to pass? Had she missed it in the exposition? Or did she choose to ignore it? It would all be explained, of course, in the dénouement, when the fibers of the story are finally woven together. Or untied, as the French word suggests? Untethered?

©2017, Jen Payne. IMAGE: Cinderella at the Kitchen Fire, Thomas Sully

Memoir

In the pieces of memory
and scraps of conversations
transcribed in situ
I will tell you about
the headless groom
and the dead dog,
about the failure of Saint Raphael
and the irony of the phrase
“you could get hit by a bus.”
I’ll tell you the 15,000 words that broke me
and the ones that almost put me back together
until I realized my heart was better
cracked wide-open like that anyhow.
Now all I need to do is type

Happy Ending.

on the last page
and hope it will suffice.

Poem ©2017, Jen Payne. Image: Woman writing, Edouard Manet.

Kintsugi

come, look closely
I am gold here
in between the pieces
broken

no longer broken

repaired

each crack
part of my history
this shimmering self

now

here

this is no disguise

no pretending
you don’t see the scar

it is the thick hot line
that shows you
how I traveled here

come, touch it
trace your finger
along its golden trail

there is poetry there,
can you feel it?

Poem ©2016, Jen Payne, 11 years removed. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.