By Michelle Railey
January 1, 2017. Happy New Year!
That the wind will be always at our backs
That there will always be a candle for the snow
That there will always be time with those we love
That we never forget the good in anything
That there will be laughter and comfort and hope
That we will have what we need when we need it
That we will recognize what we have while we have it
That our wits will be sharp and our troubles dull, brief, and slight
That 2017 will be a graceful year
These are the wishes for a New Winter Midnight I have for you. And have for me.
Happy New Year, one and all!
February 16, 2016: Branches.
13 March 2018: Untitled
I’m full of bad poems.
For example, from eighth grade:
Late at night
I lie awake
Looking out my window
I see a star
And stop and think upon it.
In second grade, I wrote some damn poem about a goldfish. Maybe named Fred. But I don’t remember.
In high school, I was forced to write poetry for a project; a whole sheaf of them. The only one that came close to mattering wasn’t (needless to say) good. But it had to do with a hanger as an analogy: Having the words, but no ideas to place upon it (like having a hanger without the clothes, the tools without the project, you get it, you’re smart).
I’m in my forties now.
I started a magazine so I could have a place to put my writing.
At which point I promptly forgot how to write. Not bad poems. Not anything.
Got the hanger, missing the clothes.
A million ideas in my head, truly, good and bad and ugly and indifferent. None of them important, I’m sure. And I don’t even care, so long as I could get one of them down, into words and sentences, clauses and paragraphs.
A really shit jacket on a wire hanger is better than nothing.
A shit jacket can still keep you warm. Or at least warmer than you’d be without it.
I miss whatever it was in me that used to give the permission for me to pump out words without caring so much I stopped them before they had formed.
I miss, maybe (or maybe not), being forced by the threat of a B letter grade, to write a sheaf of really terrible so-called “poetry.”
A million ideas: I start writing now and I kill things before they begin. Edit before a syllable has been (in its way) uttered.
Did I have things to say before, back when writing was a daily thing, if not a thing well-done?
Do I have things to say now, now that my fingers, my ink, my keyboard, my pages are empty?
I don’t know.
I know a lot of words; I was a spelling champ in elementary. Sometimes, no kidding, I read the dictionary and the thesaurus for fun.
I have, as it were, a hanger. (Yeah, it’s wire; I’m no genius. My hanger is cheap, misshapen. Things fall off it all the time; it’s the one I wait until last to use when I’m doing laundry.)
I have a hanger. Not the hanger I want, but a hanger nevertheless.
And ideas to hang on them?
A billion possible. So, like, what, patterns or pictures of clothes: 2-D, 1-D, undeveloped.
Nothing real, nothing of substance.
The emperor has no clothes. And neither do I.
Late at night, I lie awake
——that’s because I have insomnia and nightmares. And my husband has restless leg syndrome. And I’m afraid for daytime to appear, with its needs and requests and its repetitions.
Looking out my window
——my neighbor has a halogen front porch light. It keeps my husband awake sometimes. And, when dawn breaks, roughly at the same time I’m falling asleep, the light makes me miss the darkness. I never see stars out of those windows. I would wonder why the universe prefers the back yard, except I prefer it, too.
I see a star
——A star is dust and so are we. Ideas? Less than that. Maybe nothing; in my case, certainly nothing.
——You are here.
And stop and think upon it.
—— Good for you. Why do you have to stop in order to think? Can’t you just think?
Bad poetry, which I don’t care about; words in my head that I can’t get to gel around the ideas I can’t get a handle on?
Now that, my star, my window, my goldfish named (or not) Fred, that I can’t quite accept.
May 23, 2014
June 10, 2016. A Fish Hook Called Wanda: Welcome to Church Camp.
Hey, welcome to Church Camp. It’s 1986 and I know you’ve just spent a month organizing your plastic glitter bracelets, sipping on Cherry Cokes in the glass bottles, buffing your Walkman, writing in your diary, and catching up on the adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield at Sweet Valley High. Still, it’s time to unpack your travel-size VO5 and your Sears swimsuit in teal, hot pink, and purple. And your Bible! You’ll need it because your shorts are too short and it’s time to pray and welcome to Church Camp, 1986. There are spiders in the bathroom and high expectations for moral behavior. (Pro tip: Don’t sit next to a boy.) Crafts are from one until three: you can swim, fish, or do crafts, but only one at a time, for five days running, so choose wisely.
Crafts are good because, as it turns out, it’s a rainy and unseasonably cold week. Also, the one girl who went fishing sat on her hook and now she’s been driven to an emergency room far, far away, and everyone knows who she is, and how clumsy*, and my god, she literally sat on a fish hook and it stuck there so bad she had to go to emergency, so don’t go fishing…plus, the water is mossy and cold and there are live fish in there who will nibble your toes and bite your skin off…so you’re better off with crafts, which at least you can take home to your mother, who will dutifully hang it/them on the laundry room wall and pronounce that your varnish, acrylic, baby-food-jar, sculpy masterpiece is the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen.
It’s just too cold for that Sears swimsuit, no matter how many ruffles it has.**
So…in the mornings, while you’re at “church,” you’ll secretly be memorizing your “Verse of the Day” so when Warty Wanda (who did not actually have warts)*** comes to “examine” you after lunch, you won’t break a sweat, you’ll just recite. And then you will still have time to grab a Snickers before Crafts. If you don’t please Wanda, you will not make it to Crafts, let alone to the commissary to get a candy bar. Plus she’ll tell you your shorts don’t please God. (Memorization notwithstanding, she’ll tell you that anyway. Probably daily.)
And that’s why it’s a really good thing to spend your morning memorizing the verse of the day. There will be no fun allowed for you until you do. So get it out of the way early: after the bacon and during the sermon. The sermon is not the point. The verse. The verse is the point and the only point. Just ask Warty Wanda. She’ll tell you. (Actually, don’t ask her. She’s mean. Just recite the verse. Perfectly. Preferably in long pants and on the first time.)
Warty Wanda has the tightest curls you’ve ever seen. They match her personality, which is also tight. And maybe her name is Marsha or Jane or, well, you don’t really know, because she is cold and mean and hates you if you can’t rattle off the V.O.D. (verse of the day).
But the way to make Warty Wanda hate you, really and truly hate you, so much so that Snickers lose their flavor and Craft time loses its pleasures (Sculpy notwithstanding): try out for talent night and sing “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston.
Sure, you’ve spent your week making up a song that Amy F. tells you is “so good.” It’s called “Dancin’, Dancin’, Dancin,”**** and even Tracy in the top bunk thinks it’s neat. But at the last minute, you chicken out and sing “The Greatest Love of All.”
Because children are our future. Treat them well and let them lead the way.
Which is approximately the moment at which Warty Wanda, hallowed be her name, loses her mind.
“That song doesn’t celebrate Jesus.”
“But it’s about love and children who were made by …”
“That. Is. Not. A. Godly. Song.”
At which point, despite your perfect record on Bible Verse Memorization, you will not be allowed to be in the talent show. Children are not the future. Children are a bane and a curse: their shorts are too short. They sit on fish hooks. They sing “Show them well and let them lead the way” instead of “His eye is on the sparrow.” Children are heathens. They think of her as Warty Wanda and Wanda knows. Of course Wanda knows.
Wanda hates children. Wanda hates church camp.
And still, despite Wanda, Tracy and Amy and you will be singing, late into the darkness, with Sears flashlights and Coleman sleeping bags, you all will be singing “Dancin’, Dancin’, Dancin'” because sometimes even Jesus likes it when 11-year olds make up their own songs and sing them, even if they are about music and godless dancing for fun, and not about Jesus or God or sermons or the V.O.D.
If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have made Wanda such a hard sleeper.
And he did. Praise Jesus. He did.
*Not clumsy. Sitting on a fish hook could happen to anyone. Anyone who’s fishing, anyway.
*** Who am I kidding? She had a big wart on one cheek. Possibly one on the forehead. (Sorry, Wanda)
****My own version. This is not like that time I thought I invented the word “incognito.” This was an original song with a common title.
30 August 2016. Baker’s Dozen: Las Vegas Traveler’s Notes
Traveler’s Notes, Las Vegas: A Numbered List. (Lists are Fun.)
1.) So last year, it was a Starbucks cup in the “G” of the Giada sign. This year, it’s a pint glass (nearly invisible but it’s so there) in the “s” of Drais. Apparently the Cromwell’s exterior is where all the cool kids stash their drinkware. I can’t wait to go back to Vegas just to see what cup is next: a holy grail in the “D?” Perhaps the Kool-Aid Man reclining on Giada’s “A.” I almost want to put my Fat Tuesday cup there. But I’m too gosh-darned polite.
2.) Speaking of Fat Tuesday (Fat Tuesday is a chain of stores offering frozen daiquiris and other frozen alcoholic delights. Pro Tip: Buy a refillable cup from them on day one of your Vegas trip and then visit every day for reduced-price refills.), can Fat Tuesday and its near-twins, Numb and Purple Zebra please, please work out a deal so that refillable tumblers can get reduced prices at all locations, even though Numb and Purple Zebra are not affiliated with Fat Tuesday? I mean, it’s all frozen drinks. I’m just saying, do it for the good of the people.
3.) Geez, Paris (Las Vegas), could you get some light fixtures? You’re embarrassing yourselves. You’re not a parking garage. Get some lights, would you?
4.) So, on Fremont Street, there’s a street performer called Dyno Staats. You’re going to want to catch his “Weird Science” magic show. He’s very good. He’s very smart. He’s very funny. Also, he’s steampunk on a milk crate. I really can’t emphasize this enough: catch his show. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen in Vegas.
5.) Sure, amateur traveler, you could go all the way to Ireland to touch the Blarney Stone. But if you’re in Vegas, there’s a chunk of it downtown at D’s. D’s is a little seedy but worth going into: they have vintage games upstairs, plus a hunk of the Blarney Stone. It’s, um, well-worn. And lucky.
6a and 6b.) Big Golden Nuggets on display at…(wait for it) the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino, downtown Las Vegas. 6a is “The Hand of Faith Nugget,” found in an Australian trailer park in October, 1980. It weighs 60ish pounds and is the largest golden nugget on display in the world. Also? It’s on display, rotating in front of mirrors, so if you catch it at the right angle, there are three of them. 6b is the so-called “Robin’s Nugget,” found in 1975, also in Australia. (If you’re going prospecting, might I suggest starting with Australia, maybe 40 years ago?)
7.) So, on the off-chance you weren’t aware, heaven has no social class. This guy with a large sign saying “Repent Tonight” was standing near Wahlburger’s with a bullhorn and he was pretty convincing. I hadn’t really considered before how class would figure into the great beyond but it turns out: there is no social class. I think that must be a good thing because the bullhorn was really excited about it. While I wanted to ask him how his keen attention to status has affected his life, I didn’t. He just seemed a little preoccupied, you know? So I walked across the street and Bullhorn’s arch-nemesis was there. His sign read “Repent tomorrow. Titties tonight.” High class titties or low, I wondered? And that, friends, is the question for the ages, isn’t it?
8.) Crystals, a couple stories high, at Planet Hollywood. They sure do sparkle, don’t they?
9.) There are philosophers everywhere in Vegas. Some of them are mumbling to themselves on the streets or selling fake roses made from palm fronds to tourists. Here, though, at the Cosmopolitan, are all of the Heavy Hitters of ancient philosophy. In bronze. Handily, right in front of the restrooms.
10.) Hey, speaking of the Cosmopolitan? Visit the Sports Book Bar while you’re in Vegas. Hands down, the best service I have ever received anywhere. Plus, if you cadge a box of matches (they want you to take them!), they’re purple with silver tips. And seriously, a finer afternoon of chatting and video poker was never had anywhere because the staff is lovely.
11.) Chicken and waffles at Hash House a Go Go. I waited a year to experience these. And they were worth it. Just go, get, eat. The sauce is chili’d maple, the waffles have bacon baked in to them, and the whole mess is topped with fried leeks which somehow makes a magical green taste on top of all the warm and crispy savory. I can’t tell you how delicious this is. Magical freaking food. Just go and eat it.
12.) Now, you can’t eat chicken and waffles every day you’re in Vegas. You’re going to need one meal off. So, for your one non-Hash House meal, might I suggest that you venture over to Ellis Island? It’s a skosh (technical term) rough in there, sure. You don’t care: (a) there’s karaoke if you want it, (b) cheap table games and (c) glory of glories, once you get your player’s card you have access to $14.99 full rack ribs. And while Ellis Island is a microbrewery, the beer is not what you’re there for (it’s, umm, so-so). The ribs are a meat-filled miracle; an adventure in happiness. They’re off-the-hook fantastic (a full rack!). Tender, juicy. Served with fresh from the freaking farm corn on the cob, vinegar slaw, beans, and garlic bread. (Not that you’ll touch much of the sides, because, ehrmegerd, the ribs are to die for.) Best ribs and corn I’ve ever eaten. No contest. And $14.99, are you freaking kidding me???
13.) Mountains. In Las Vegas. Like, all natural and stuff. The sun shines on them and everything. Look past the neon for a second and check them out. They’re not golden nuggets or chicken and waffles or barbeque. Still, they’re kind of pretty. Even if they don’t light up.
December 2015: Obligatory Christmas Tree Picture.