Morning Glories

"...that was that, we could do no more—had to trust to sun and water and time..."

Morning Glories

Morning Glories

My first garden grew in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx where every spring my mother would order morning glory seeds from the P.S. 48 school catalogue, seeds that came in brown paper packets that arrived with our original order, names checked off—while other seeds didn’t do well, the morning glories never failed us. First we soaked the coarse black seeds overnight in a glass of water, (I wondered how she knew such things), and if I were lucky, the next day we’d plant the seeds in a cheese box that I had procured in advance from Mr. Kurtz’ grocery store at the end of our street. Those were the days when cheese arrived in a rectangular block and were sliced to order—thin, medium or thick—wrapped up in wax paper, folded and sealed, never knowing if Mr. Kurtz would heed my request, which is where I began to learn about the power of knowing what to ask for—brought the box upstairs to my mother and then we filled it with dirt—I don’t remember where we got the dirt—prepared the garden bed for our morning glories, a box about a foot long and four inches high, made an indentation with the back of a soup soon for the seeds that were swollen and cracked after soaking, pressed them into the prepared row and covered the seeds up, then placed the box outside the kitchen window on the fire escape—and that was that, we could do no more—had to trust to sun and water and time. Each day I got up, walked past my two sisters who shared a separate bed, and tip-toed out to the kitchen where I would go to the fire escape that served as a patio and a landing platform for sparrows. One morning I looked outside the window and saw the soil beginning to erupt, and even though I knew better, used my finger to disrupt the soil so I could see the sprout, bent over with its head still encased in a seed hat, until it tossed it off and emerged from the soil, growing long and spindly, with its own intelligence seeking a white string we had saved from a bakery box and thumb-tacked to the window frame—each day I’d investigate how much the morning glories had grown, for they were no longer seeds but seedlings and then plants, and in which direction they leaned. We had to thin out the seedlings, decide which one were most likely to survive in a Bronx cheese box garden, able to produce large blue blossoms growing along side our window.


Two Places: Cross the Bay Bridge to Oakland, California and walk the bayous of Louisiana
Price(USD): $15.00
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Change the Louisiana State Slogan

It seems odd that the Louisiana state slogan on its license plate is Sportsman’s Paradise. I am not a sport in the way that the slogan implies (hunting or fishing), nor am I a man. With such a gender specific state slogan, Louisiana has eliminated half of its population. But it’s not all about being politically correct. The slogan is probably aimed at folks coming from outside Louisiana who wish to spend a weekend sitting in a duck blind slathered in mosquito repellent, a marketing ploy aimed at bringing dollars to a state whose governor has refused federal money for Medicaid expansion and who also has excelled at dismantling the public health system. But this isn’t about Governor Bobby Jindal. No.

Take a look at a few other state slogans: Alabama, Sweet Home Alabama; Georgia, Peach State; Florida, Sunshine State; Kentucky, The Bluegrass State, and Mississippi, Birthplace of American Music. I’d like to recommend that the Louisiana legislature develop a more inclusive slogan. If nothing else, consider the benefits of increased revenue from new license plate sales, T-shirt designs, bumper stickers, coffee mugs, and other paraphernalia.

But a change may be in the offing whether anyone wants it to happen or not. Scientists and environmentalists for years have been studying the Mississippi River, which verily is the lifeblood of the Sportman’s Paradise. In the olden days when the river ran free and wild, it created six thousand square miles of wetlands and luxury housing for oysters, shrimp, and wildlife. Louisiana contains twenty percent of America’s coastal wetlands and forty percent of its salt marshes. However, each year twenty-five miles disappear together with the livelihood of its fisherman and their families. State agencies addressed the original problem of flood control by building levees to harness the Mississippi. In doing so, they created another problem: the river can no longer dump alluvial soil and replenish barrier islands. Instead all those nutrients get wasted off the continental shelf. Of course, it will take money to address the issue, but otherwise the state will sink into the Gulf of Mexico as marshes, starved of needed nutrient material, are unable to rebuild and subsequently
die. Another issue has been the increasingly salty waters of the bayou due to pipeline channels built by oil companies carved throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

For the time being, can we call Louisiana The Bayou State, or maybe if real monies are dedicated to addressing the issue, Coastal Restoration State? Now that would be something.

For more information, read Bayou Farewell by Mike Tidwell.

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Stormy Weather

Sundial Ridge, Redding, CA

Sundial Bridge, Redding, CA

A storm begins as a harmless patter,
a shuffle on the pavement,
an occasional trip-trap
coming down
at the same tempo,
target practice
increasing in accuracy
until its velocity
becomes more insistent,
a spring downpour,
the ahhing of earth
absorbing moisture,
then rain plays a trick,
comes down in lashes,
a punishment for hours
and doesn’t stop,
the ground can’t take it,
spills over in sobs,
becomes the background,
what we live with

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William Dickey’s Desk

William Dickey
An oak roll-top with a locking lever
to keep out snoops,
antique with a brass plate
from George H. Fuller in San Francisco–
four drawers on the left, three on the right
cubbyholes for envelopes, stamps, paper clips,
upstairs in your Chenery Street apartment
like a Rainbow Grocery of good taste
where for lunch, you fed me
black olives and chunks of salty feta,
cheese and crackers, wine.
I met your lovers—
Tommy who liked funerals,
and Len standing in the five o’clock shadow
of your dream boat, Warren.
But after you died from HIV
Len was the one
who emptied your desk,
lemon-oiled the oak,
moved it to the safety of a house
in the upper Mission
where he cooked pasta
and gave me poems by Anna Akhmatova,
talked about Sylvia Plath
before he hung himself in the garage.
Then there was the desk.
That beautiful desk with inset panels,
dovetail joints and carved pulls,
stranded amid boxes and crates, disassembled
inside the back of a pickup
and delivered to my condo,
my Strega Nona serving
stories and poems—
each time I open a draw, there’s
a yellow post-it
from you
telling me to keep writing.

Find more about William Dickey

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Making Friends With the Lawn

Yellow Flowers

Yellow Flowers

You have to understand I didn’t come from a place where people had lawns.

Courtyards maybe, even patios where a person could grow tomatoes during the summer months, but swaths of green lawns, not really. Of course, my Aunt Clara from Port Chester, New York, had a lawn with two large azalea bushes and roses that were arranged in a horseshoe. While I admired her lawn, I was spared any knowledge of its maintenance.

For many years, lawns didn’t enter my consciousness. The people I knew who had lawns, more like parking strips, were mostly interested in planting perennials and allowing them to fight it out with the weeds.

Not until I moved south did I discover real lawns. The first week following my move to Sterlington in northeastern Louisiana, I woke up to hear a grating noise. What could that be? I’d left police sirens and ambulances far behind in the city, a sound I secretly was beginning to miss. I stepped outside to see a man sitting in a four-wheel vehicle zipping up and down his front yard. He steered past his mailbox and crew-cut the grass like an army sergeant. His vehicle was similar to the one I remembered from the movie, Forrest Gump, except this man did not have the same congenial attitude.

I came to learn that depending upon horsepower, four-wheel (or not) steering, blades, and cushy seating, lawn tractors can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, which might have accounted for the man’s dour look. Now I knew that my Uncle Jack in Port Chester cut his grass with a push lawn-mower, a distant cousin to these behemoths. Why would anyone want to spend so much money? My neighbors often seemed like retirees riding around in golf carts. But then the lawns in this neighborhood were enormous, rolling past southern oaks and growing on either side of driveways. While the sound of city sirens came and went, lawn tractors could easily drone on for hours like a worrisome mosquito buzzing in my ear.

Lawns were work. Not only did people have to cut them, but just like in Ecclesiastes, there was a time to scatter seeds, a time to fertilize, and a time to spray for bugs. It seemed endless, a weekend ritual of cutting grass, grass that always grew back. It was like Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill, and then it rolling back down again. Wby?

I didn’t begin to appreciate lawns until the second summer that I lived in the south. I’m not sure what changed. I think the sound of the lawn tractors began to fade into the background. The noise wasn’t quite as irksome, and in the summer months I began to see green scarves wrapped around houses and offering a sanctuary for crepe myrtles, red bud trees, and day lilies. I found that people riding their lawn tractors liked to wave whenever I walked by. I found turtles making their way across the lawn to lay eggs, a trembling prairie of marsh grass in the runoff behind the house. I waved back.

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Dental Hygiene

Bayou Bartholomew

Bayou Bartholomew

The dental hygienist didn’t talk about her boyfriend
or her latest home improvement project or even
the movie she saw on Netflix, so funny,
she couldn’t stop laughing.

She yanks a blue hydration tube.
Bangs cover her eyes,
a mask hides her mouth. She is a friendly mole
dressed in a smock with pictures of Wilma Flintstone

who labors at divesting my teeth of tartar.
There are no clouds on the ceiling like in Ernie’s office,
my Oakland dentist who built his practice
catering to Medicaid recipients,

owned a share in a pizza delivery business,
handed out cards saying, Get Drilled at Ernie’s.
This office has none of that charm, except for
a garden outside the window

matted with orange zinnias and yellow snapdragons
and Dr. Jan Bagwell who has saved my mouth
on more than one occasion,
bright red lipstick her calling card.

A place where water is suspect,
and how guns are a hobby,
you could say a way of life, not the assault rifles
of my old neighborhood trained

on rival gang members and errant police officers,
but on deer ambling through the piney woods,
and how people in these parts
have enough aunts, uncles, and cousins

to fill up a school gymnasium, and
hand-me-down quilts made by grandmothers
with a life-time backing,
not the Bay Area aquarium

filled with anemones and neon-colored gravel
on every incoming tide, a mixed soup,
a Vietnamese Pho, basil and scallions,
not the bayou trembling

with marsh grass,
cypress stirring the pot
waiting for the sky to torch,
a scrim of thunder, the rain.

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Judge Judy

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He planted daffodils, tea roses, peonies,
morning glories to climb higher deities—
bricks, along the fence,
surrounding the pole near begonias, the shed.
I sit on a bag of Miracle-Gro
stuck between canna stalks and calla lilies,
hear a woodpecker on a Smith Corona,
go back inside to grab a cold cola:

Oh Judge Judy, you brown-eyed Athena
of cable television,
if I handed over energy bills,
birthday cards, wireless receipts,
documented everything—
how I listened for the echo of his boots
from the carport to the kitchen floor,
toilet seat mysteriously
turned up every other day of the week,
never sure when he’d make it home,
my Cupid, a jingle on a cellphone.

Would you tell me not to unravel?
Assign two years of community service,
send me on a quest to knock off dragons,
help dull the argument sawing my head?
Judy, give me more than a rap from your gavel,
the should’s or shouldn’t’s, freaking endless.

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Two Places Now Available for Purchase

You may now purchase my new collection of poetry. Just click the link, “Two Placescover april 4-3.” I appreciate your support.

Here’s what the reviewers say:

“Lenore Weiss’ psychic linguistic engagement borders on the transcendent, the mystical and familiar.”
–Sharon Doubiago, author and member, PEN Oakland

“The genius is…between the strong voice and the sense of time and love…”
–Matthew E. Silverman, author and editor of Bloomsbury’s Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry

“…Whether crossing the Bay Bridge to Oakland or walking the bayous of Louisiana, Weiss carries in her fine, attentive eye the attitude of praise.”
–Jack Heflin, author and Professor of Poetry, University of Louisiana at Monroe.

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The Ambassador From San Francisco State

A portion of my memoir is now available from the Spring/Summer issue of Full of Crow. Editor Paul Corman-Roberts has called it “intense, surreal and erotic…” You don’t have to go anywhere to visit The Ambassador From San Francisco State. It’s just a click away:

Look for news of my forthcoming collection of poetry, “Two Places” which will be available for purchase here on my website, Amazon, and from Kelsay Books. The Store on my site is set up, but not currently open for business. Will let y’all know when it is!

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Soft Where

by Sinthop Katawanij

by Sinthop Katawanij

I’ve taken off a day from work and prepare myself for a hot soak, a totally outrageous notion because for years I’ve shared my bathroom time with Anna who remains unconvinced that she can do without me for five or ten minutes. I want to know what it means to luxuriate in the tub without interruption. I overlook the disgusting green ring in the toilet, turn on the radio to some soulful jazz, light a stick of incense, candles, and begin to draw the water, breathe deeply and ease my way through the steam, transported to the Mediterranean, afloat in a bathtub where blue mosaic tiles alternate with white ones. I hear the ocean rise and fall behind me. The smell of brine is strong. It is mid-day and there are people who walk beyond my compound that is enclosed by a fringed curtain. I watch a seagull alight on the white sand and flies toward me with a bright orange beak.

“There she is,” a woman cries as she flings open the curtain. “All of us are there with the children,” and points beyond the mosaic tile and then at me. “You were supposed to watch them today.”

I hear a rabble of voices. “That’s right.”

I want to say, “No,” but feel a hand slip over my mouth. Art tips my chin upward and lowers his mouth to kiss me. His breath is sour, rancid. Out of the steaming water, I hear a phone ring. A cake of soap slips out of my hands. Who?

I wrap myself in a towel, reach for the cellphone on top of the closed toilet cover.

“Is this Anna’s mother?”

“Yes.” I recognize Di’s voice, Anna’s sitter. “She’s sick.” Her voice is mildly accusatory. “She’s burning up.”

I pull on my jeans and jump into the car. I remember to blow out the candle. Damn. I wonder if I have Anna’s medicine from the last time she got sick, a bottle that I keep in the cabinet. The doctors say she’s pre-asthmatic. When she gets sick, purplish shadows form beneath her eyes and make her look like a first draft choice for the Adams’ family.

I finally get to Di’s house. I pull into her driveway and run to the back of the building. A brown and orange Thanksgiving turkey is pinned to her door wearing a Pilgrim hat. There’s also a note listing families that are overdue with their monthly payment. Fortunately, our names are not there. Not this time.

“Mommy,” Anna jumps from Di’s lap.

Green gunk is drips from Anna’s nose. I place my hand to her chest and feel her wheezing. “How’s my honey?” I pick her up. She laces her feet around my waist.

“Di pats Anna’s head. “Poor little girl. We didn’t know when Mommy was going to show up, did we?”

When we get back home, Anna gags on her medicine. But the wheezing subsides. She sits on the couch and draws with glitter pens. I sit next to her. We wait for my son Brian and Art to arrive back home.

“It’s a new routine called, “I never make love anymore and it’s written in C,” laughs Julia. She is the programmer I work with, a single mom with a ten year-old daughter. Julia’s been on her own for the past seven years. Her husband died in a freak accident.

I inhale the scent of her Juicy Fruit gum. We’re sitting in her cubicle looking at a flowchart. Her desk is filled with framed pictures of her daughter, Francine, and pots of African violets. Julie is telling me about her weekend.

She said she was on a date at Jack London Square during Fiesta Time, otherwise known as Happy Hour, selecting a variety of tomato, corn, and guacamole chips from the chip buffet. “Then he asked me, have you had the test, and I tell him, honey it’s been so long that I’ve done it with anyone, don’t worry about getting infected.”

“He didn’t feel reassured?” She shook her head. “Don’t worry,” I say sounding motherly. “It’ll work out.”

“You’ve got a husband waiting for you at home every night. Art’s crazy about you. Easy for you to say.”

I look at the flowchart. We’re designing a specialized value-added tax system for a new complex of hotels and an amusement park on the outskirts of Budapest, Hungary. The Hungarians have a different attitude toward money than their American counterparts. Culturally, Americans won’t serve you unless your money us authorized up front by the banks while the Hungarians are okay with cooling their violins until checkout time.

I want to confide in Julie, tell her that Art and I hardly make love anymore, tell her how days and weeks and even months can accumulate before we touch each other. But I don’t.

“Our deadline is in three weeks,” says Julia. “Think we’ll make it?”

In the six years that I’ve been with Hotel Reserve, I’ve always met my deadlines. I specialize in preparing the custom specs and mostly work in the office. But about twice a year, I’m assigned to the field. Derrick steps inside the cubicle. He’s the Sales Manager for European accounts. He wears a silk tie, some Japanese design.

I say, “Love your tie.”

“Bet you tell that to all your salesmen.” We laugh, comfortable flirting with each other. “I hear the big guy wants to send you to Budapest.”

“But why don’t they send Joe instead?” Joe’s the Project Manager who’s assigned to Europe.”

“Joe’s one taco short of a combination and this isn’t the Marriott Hotel we’re talking about. Plus, you’ve designed the customer specs for this value-added tax business and are probably the only one who understands it.” Derrick glances at Julia’s flowchart. He lowers his voice so we both can hear and says, “And I might’ve had something to do with recommending you. I’m tired of looking at Joe’s ugly mug.”

“What about Julia?”

“I like her mug.”

“I’m serious, Derrick. I’ve been talking to this Sandor guy for months now, but Julie’s the one who knows the code. If anything goes wrong, we’ll need her there.”

“I’ll consider it,” he says, and has already turned the corner.

“Double shit!” I blurt out,“ remembering how Anna’s been sick. How can I leave, especially around Thanksgiving? I look out the window to the parking lot. A squirrel climbs down a tree and hangs perpendicular to the sidewalk.

I come home. Anna, nearly three and a half, races me to the toilet.

“Linda, where’d you put my extra set of keys?” Art calls back from the kitchen.

“What’s for dinner?” I call back, sitting on the throne with Anna smiling next to me. Art has is back from his own job administering the county’s free food program. I remove my business suit, and transform myself in the space of two minutes from Linda, the Project Manager, to Linda, the Mom. Anna takes my hand and walks me to the kitchen where Brian, my sixth grader, is eating a peanut butter and jelly.

I tell Art, “We already talked about it. I thought you were cooking tonight.”

“Why can’t we stick to a regular schedule?”

“Because we don’t have regular lives,” I say. “Sometimes my meetings run late. I can’t help it.” Purrfect, our cat, sees an opening and jumps up on the counter to the lick the butter. “Brian, can’t you come up with something for dinner?” My voice sounds desperate.

Anna tugs at my sweatpants. “Wanna color?”

“How ‘bout a soda?” Art asks Bryan, who is well aware of my no-sodas-when-you-get-home-from-school rule.

“That’s okay.” Bryan must’ve seen my eyes flicker, a smart boy. “I’ll drink juice.” He fades into the cabinets on a quest for a clean glass.

“To hell with dinner,” says Art. “Let’s go out to eat.” Anna dumps her shoebox of crayons on the kitchen table. “Mommy, color.”

“Do you remember Monday evening when you cooked and burned the rice and over steamed the vegetables?

I outline a purple circle and color it in red. “But you were tactful enough not to mention it then.”

“There’s several tons worth of rice sitting at the dock and the county can’t find the right paperwork because a bunch of bureaucrats have moved their offices from one place to another; it’s a month before Thanksgiving, hundred of people are out on the street and you want be to be tactful. Geez!”

Anna goes over to Art and gives him a crayon. “But Artie,” I say, feeling more communicative. “We went out for dinner last night.”

“I’m not keeping track.”

Brian sails into the kitchen dressed in his white karate gi. “You don’t have karate tonight,” says Art. “Friday.”

“What day is it? Oh, that’s right.” He disappears to his bedroom.

“Think about it,” says Art, and gives me a quick hug, the kind where we don’t really touch. “And how’s my sweetie?” he says, bending down to meet Anna’s face. “You want Daddy to pour you juice?”

We go out for dinner.

After the kids are asleep, we approach each other from opposite ends of the bed. Art has folded up his pants and shirt into a neat envelope and places them on his chair.

“Wanna watch the news?”

“No.” His stomach has ripened into a paunch. Still, there is something athletic about him, like the way he springs up on the balls of his feet after removing his socks.

“You tired?” We speak in evening shorthand.

He nodes, “It’s a mess. One jurisdiction in the way of the next. And for what? Just to move a bag of rice. And we’re supposed to be feeding people.” Art props up several pillows behind his head. I place my hand on his shoulder. He squeezes my other hand. “I hate bureaucrats.”

He is aware that I am listening. “How’re you doing?”

“They may send me away during Thanksgiving to direct a new installation. Isn’t that great?” He solemnly drinks his beer. “It’s just a rumor.” Art understand rumors. Last year it was rumored that county social services would be cut back twenty-five percent and they were.

“You’re going to tell them no, right?” He presses the beer can against his lips, rolls over on his side and looks at me, hazel eyes lined in red. “Not now,” he says. “There’s too much going on. People are dying in the streets and you want to run off to install a piece of software for some kind of Holiday Inn?”

Our long-time arrangement has been that he maintains the socially correct heart of our marriage and I bring in the money. It’s the Budapest Crème,” I say. “They’re our biggest client.”

“AWOL for Thanksgiving. That’s great.”

I’m ready for him. “Just take the kids to one of your shelters. They can see what you do. I bet Brian would love to serve dinners and maybe Anna can help set the tables. At least the napkins.”

Next morning Cheerios spill all over the table tap. I cajole Anna about what shoes to wear, what dress to wear, what color napkin to place in her lunch box.

“Blue.” I give her a blue one.

She runs around the house and squirts me with her Lego gun and I squirt her with my fingers. She must wear her jellies, a pair of plastic shoes in day-glo orange. If she can’t wear them, she insists, she wants to wear her tap shoes.

“No,” I say. We go through the same thing every morning. “You have to wear your school shoes.”

On to the disaster of her blanket that is soaked with pee and she must hold her blanket before she agrees to have her teeth brushed which is never an easy operation on the best of mornings. She sits on the toilet seat with her finger in her mouth. “Don’t want to go,” she cries. “Don’t want mommy to go.”

“Mommies always come back.” I repeat this mantra several times every morning. Finally we are out the door as Brian and Art wave goodbye to us through the departing Buick window.

Art says, “I’ll call later.” He is wearing the green crewneck that I bought him last year.

“Did you remember your homework?” I call out to Brian.

He groans, “Yeah, Mom.”

I take a deep breath because I’ve made it this far, get into our other car, a red Fiesta wagon, and push in the CD that Anna and I always listen to for the ten-minute ride to the sitters, songs about fish swimming in the ocean.

“Hi squirt.” Di opens the door. Her brown hair is permed into curls. She’s a woman who probably was pretty as a girl, but her features have softened into late-night snacks.

“Wow! Lookit those new red socks.” Anna shows off her red socks that she’d insisted on wearing with her purple flowered pants and striped top. “Whee! What fun, huh?” We walk into Di’s kitchen, warm with the smell of blueberry muffins and coffee. Di pushes a mug my way. I thank her, but explain how I’m running late. I smell something bubbling on the stove.

“Caldo Verde,” she says. “Portuguese soup. Carlston likes it. Come over here, Anna. Want a muffin?”

Di hands out paper plates to the rest of the children. “Okay, it’s muffin time.” She’s been running the daycare center in her home for the past twenty years, a woman my age, 44. Both of her children are grown and out of the house, overseas and stationed in Germany. Carlston, her husband, is the security manager for the apartment building where they live and doubles as backup when Di needs to run errands. Di reaches out to the circle of children. “Lewis, don’t smack Charles in the face. That’s his muffin. If you want something, then ask. Say please.” She turns back to me. Anna is beginning to ease her way into the circle.

She gets up and moves to the kitchen table to pour cups of apple juice.

“Over here, kids,” she says. “Who wants juice?

In the meantime, Di gossips to me about Lewis’ mother. It’s her way of holding all the balloon strings. Sometimes I try to imagine what she says about me. “We’ll probably need you to watch Anna more hours for the next few weeks. I mean, it’s not absolutely sure. My cheeks begin to burn. “Art’s going to be working overtime these next few weeks.”

“I bet,” she says. “I read about that agency mix-up on the morning news. It’s enough to drive a person to drink.” She winks.

“Art doesn’t drink.”

“Didn’t say he did.” She goes to the closet to pull out the vacuum, catches the muffin crumbs as quickly as the kids can drop them on the floor.

“Shut up, baby.” I hear Anna say to one year-old Paula, who is crying.

“Anna, that kind of talk gives the baby oowies.”

Di takes her hand. “Don’t worry,” she says, and navigates Anna back to the circle. “At this age, they all talk like that…So you’re increasing your hours?”

“Only for the next few weeks,” I say. “Plus my job’s sending me overseas for Thanksgiving.”

“You’re not going to be here for Thanksgiving?”

I shake my head.

“Really? I always tell everyone what a good mother you are.”

“This isn’t about being a good mother. It’s about work.”

“Whatever rolls your socks. Just write down Anna’s new hours. Otherwise, I’ll forget.”

I wave goodbye. My babysitter tells me that it’s best to leave quickly to make a smooth transition. This time I don’t.

I stand there crying for something I want to understand.

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