Friday, June 17, 2011

Hang On To Those Bags!

Kate Campbell

      (For Ashley’s 13th Birthday)
—Kate Campbell, Sacramento

My mother kept buds on rose bushes in her front yard.
She snipped and sprayed, planted sweet alyssum
at their feet, and never gathered a bouquet.

Considering that a waste, when I grew up
I picked buds in their prime and put them in
a vase on the window sill above my sink.

She told me I was wrong to take the sweet,
tight buds from my yard and press them into
service for my own selfish whims.

My mother said she liked to watch her buds open
in the sun, spread into full bloom, because
unfolding is the purpose of a rose.

Buds are like young girls, I said, just before their
first period, pink and curled, innocent of the
push to womanhood that will come.

I told her I could not stand fragrant virginity,
waving vulgarly at strangers on the street.
I cut buds for the sake of modesty.

Before spent blooms formed knobby hips,
my mother would slice them cleanly from their
thorny stems. She said roses like it rough for
flowering and I shouldn’t fear for the vulnerable.


Thanks, Kate! Kate Campbell is a journalist, photographer, editor and creative writer. She grew up in San Francisco, but has lived throughout California and the West. She is the single mother of two sons and has supported her family for more than 30 years through her writing and art. She is the recipient of many awards for writing and reporting. Her work has appeared in major daily newspapers and in regional magazines. Her photography has been widely published and exhibited. She lives in Sacramento and is grudgingly coming to grips with the clay soil in her garden and the ever-present dust on her furniture. See more of Kate's work in the current issue of Rattlesnake Press's WTF, available free at The Book Collector in Sacramento.


—Kate Campbell

I’m always there, tough and chewy,
gristle against the bone, narrow eyes
trained for radial sight, seeing all—
the spittle spray, salsa dribble down
your clothes, hanging threads, runny
nose, dangling hairs from frayed lapels,
scabby ankles in torn hose.

I watch you floundering in the foam,
you who cannot swim. I find pleasure
in your struggle, smirk, stroke the notches
of my sternum, as you’re sucked into the
hole, where my righteousness need not go.

You see the surface of my face, my very
skin and bones. From my outward glinting
light you think you guess my turn of mind,
the workings of my soul.

You do not get too deep with me, down
to where my judgment makes its bones,
where your every flaw is analyzed
and cataloged, tallied against my norm.

I’m always watching with my lizard eyes,
smiling, licking my teeth, cracking my knuckles,
popping my back, clacking my ivory bones
like dominoes and keeping score.


—Kate Campbell

Due to moments beyond our
control, your life is not secure.
White zones are for loading
and unloading passengers.
Unattended vehicles will be
Towed without notice.

This is a security announcement:
Keep your bags with you at all times.
Report all suspicious activities.
Use the white security phones.

No scissors,
no clippers,
no lighters,
no knives

Talking about bombs is not a joke,
it’s a federal crime. You will be
prosecuted. Have your ID ready.

Shoes off.
Step forward.
Arms up.
Arms down.
Please exit.

Now loading at Gate 14A,
show your boarding pass.
Find a seat, enjoy
100-calorie snack packs.
Cocktails $4 and we’ll
keep the change.

Put trays in the upright, locked position.
Turn off electronic devices.
Don’t stand in the forward portion
of the aircraft. Fasten seat belts.

El asiento es para flotar,
use for a water landing.

Flying on September 11, waiting, bottoms
cupped in plastic seats, legs cross, uncross.
News headlines offer: “Seared Memories,”
“3,000 lives lost and all we’ve got is a hole in the ground.”

Names of the dead read out loud. Drop by drop,
on airport monitors. Crying kids, wilted flowers, bells toll,
rain spatters. Cross winds. Rough landing.
Welcome to Baltimore!

Check overhead bins.
Take all your belongings.
Women and children first.

Don’t push.
Don’t shove.
Don’t forget your umbrellas.

We know you have many choices
when you fly. Thanks for choosing us.
Have a nice day and see you—next time.

This is a security announcement:
White zones are for the loading
and unloading of passengers.
Keep your bags with you at all times.


—Kate Campbell

The waffle press of summer heat
crisped the edges in my yard. Now
singed leaves dangle and drop,
on syrupy breezes. Parched
blossoms shrivel and withdraw.

I watch sweet summer turn to fall
From my kitchen window,
Above the steam of washing dishes,
I sense the season’s battle draw.

Powdery mildew chokes Mexican sage,
Its purple flowers defeated. Fruit
rats raid my pomegranate tree, gnaw
tough flesh to suck hot, red juice.

Mushrooms push aside green blades
of grass, sprout fleshy helmets filled with
spores. Puffs on dandelions release
dainty bombs for next year’s scourge

while aphids huddle on the cherry tree.
They pucker leaves, damp the shoots.
Tent caterpillars set up in the oranges,
prepare for winter's siege.

Soldier ants begin to march, wild grapes
tighten their grip and berry canes, they
brandish thorns. Wild grasses spread evil
seed to ambush spring—when it arrives.

Insidious, deceitful season.
Cusp of death on velvet breeze,
transition on an egg-dried fork.
I scrub the tines, hungry for this garden fight.
I fling wide my kitchen door, gird myself with
rubber gloves, spray gun by my side,
spoiling for a fight with fall.


i don’ like my dad
—Kate Campbell

From a child’s lost homework
found in the bushes in my front yard:

i’m malaysia, malaysia malone, an
i don’ like when my dad don’ call
to see if we’re doin’ good in school.

my dad he gived me my name,
he said i’m smooth like china sea
but he hurts my feelin’s a lot.
my dad is a dead b dad.

on fridays he don’ call.
fridays is the day my dad’s
sposed to come, but
he don’ no more.

my sister, we sit outside.
we wait. we tie kicks. we sing songs.
i’m almost six. my dad don’ come
no more.

my dad make me feel like i don’
wanna to talk to my dad no more.

my mom she yell. she say
my daddy a fool. i don’ know
bout that stuff. bout how he
do his time and mess with
rocks an other wimens.

i don’ like when my dad
don’ want me and my sister.
she’s burmese.
she’s littler an me.
my dad he’d say she
Burmese if y’all please.
he squeezed her knees.

i don’ like when my dad
don’ want us in his house.
i don’ like when my
dad don’ have a house.

i don’ like when
i don’ like my dad.


—Kate Campbell

Four walls could not hold you,
         could not keep you in the nest.
                 You walked away and left us,
                            your room a major mess.

The door is closed, like my heart
         but sometimes, it opens, just a crack.
                 The smell of you is there, your dirty
                            clothes piled on a chair, waiting.

Run-down sneakers, baseball cards,
         twisted gum wrappers on the floor,
                 posters of Al Pacino and Bob Marley,
                            guardians of memories behind the door.

Things of your childhood clutter
        the room from which you fledged
                 and I go in sometimes to feel the
                            downy feathers shed before your flight.


—Kate Campbell

In morning frost before coffee brews
and orange trees warm their blossoms
we speak of Nisei, of generations come to stay
in a land breathing bees and broccoli, analyze

red cherries and parasols, the whole empire,
before breakfast, before sun. And whisper
the pebbled patio smooth with talk about
implied racism, about Enola Gay, about the day

and we resolve this glimpse of war that blasted our
morning with memories of scorched seeds, burnt skin,
powdered bones, seared fields, a target selected for
maximum cruelty, to force a nation’s surrender

and, we part then to speak no more of Hiroshima,
a quarter million people gone, while here our Nisei
farmers had tilled fields and suffered internment.
Such a bitter taste this mourning frost.


Today's LittleNip: 

...inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.

—Brenda Ueland



Photo by D.R. Wagner