Sunday, May 12, 2013

Violet Ward

Violet Ward's mother wasn't a smoker, but she got a cancer anyway.
Her skin was white and papery, despite her (relative) youth.
Her hair was brittle cellophane,
dishwater blonde, with a gold stripe around it from some kind of cranial jaundice.

At night, she smoked herself empty.
There are degrees of empty,
and sometimes empty just purely hates to be alone.

My dog loved Violet Ward.
He had made a hole in the upstairs screen, as if it were the ozone,
and he would run to stick his great head out, at a word from her.
Sometimes she would bring her friend to see The Dog From The Sky.
They stood like stargazers by the fence, looking up.
He barked a blessing.
It was a pure, fine thing.

Violet Ward had a chow chow named Gemini,
but one day the men with their loops came and chased him around his own yard,
and took him away.
That night, Violet sat outside cradling a broken radio, and the sound that came
from her poor raw throat was unlike any I have heard. 
There is no frequency for that.
It would break the air and stop hearts cold if it weren't contained.
"Shut up!" screamed Violet Ward's mother, in the public interest.

My dog's name was Sunny, and she was his faithful moon.
She called, he came, and he shone,
into her frozen world, as he had into mine.
Years later, I told my night-frightened son that Sunny could banish ghosts and devils,
and this was the God's Honest.
I had seen him do it a million times.

Because she was full of cancer, if nothing else,
Violet Ward's mother made an heirloom of emptiness
and screamed at her daughter to come collect it.
"You stupid little fuck!" 
And so emptiness took root and went to work from within.

Violet Ward had a dark doll she called Nigger Baby.
I sometimes saw her come out the side door,
wiping tears with the back of one hand, 
and shaking the shit out of Nigger Baby with the other.
Sometimes she bashed Nigger Baby's stuffed brains in against the side of the house.
"Bad Nigger Baby!" she would hiss quietly, so her mother wouldn't hear--
her mother with the perpetual headache and the cancer heart.
Every time Nigger Baby hit the siding, I flinched.
I would hold Sunny and breathe carefully around the broken thing in my chest.

I left Texas, and what became of Violet Ward stays at the edges of my dreams,
out of reach.
Sunny died and went straight to Paradise.
I finally got sober.
I had a child of my own and raised him, and I hope I did more good than harm.
His dolls were called Stretch Armstrong and Donatello.
When I still went to Mass, I prayed for Violet Ward, for years.
I hope she found a glow-dialed radio
to watch over her with Golden Light
and play only the songs that Violet loves--
Maybe Mitch Ryder--
and that she is all right.
________

Everything in this poem really happened, a long time ago, in Texas.

For Marian's "Dead City Radio" and Kim Nelson's "Violet" challenges at Real Toads. 

It's Mother's Day. 

 

29 comments:

hedgewitch said...

Thanks for not sugarcoating this day with the usual treacle. While I do believe there are many mothers who deserve every bit of praise and love there is, there are also those who should never have been given the incredible gift of having a child, not to mention those who aren't good with gifts. Like every other human relationship, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all characterization of parenting, and you show that here, both in the mother, and the doll, and the dogs, who nurture us in ways no human can. Your words are bright and cold as neon, your characters, razor sharp, and cut just as deep. Fine, fine writing, Shay.

Jinksy said...

Hedgewitch has said it all... :)

myheartslovesongs.com said...

damn, baby, Violet's mother remind you of any others? you know, the ones who had/have cancer of the spirit.

i lived in Atlanta, Texas for a year or so as a child. some of my earliest and most vivid memories and NOT many of them good.

this is so raw i can see your nerve endings!

Kim Nelson said...

Legacy. This poem shimmers with it. And glimmers with little bits of hope as well. you've covered the range, Shay, in your personally perfect way. No blinders. No whimsy. Grit and acceptance and reality. As always, a transporting experience.

Kerry O'Connor said...

True stories are far more brutal than fiction, I've always found. I love the inclusion of the dogs in this story- they are so vital to the human/humane perception of character. Although I do not practice religion, I feel Violet Ward needs blessing, wherever she may be.

TexWisGirl said...

bless violet... i hope she overcame some of that wretchedness...

Marian said...

"cranial jaundice" and "heirloom of emptiness," two amazing turns of phrase. wow.

Sioux said...

THIS is a "Mother's Day" poem I will never forget, Shay.

I guess you're working on your NEXT collection of poetry?

Helen said...

You are THE force to be reckoned with Shay Caroline Simmons!

Poet Laundry said...

Not all mothers exhibit the art of mothering that's for sure. A gripping, heartbreaking read Shay. I hope Violet made it to brighter days too.

Grandmother said...

I hope some other dog is barking a pure, fine thing of a blessing for Violet. And that she didn't take in the lies screamed at her by the mother filled with cancer. This was starkly, horribly truthful.

Maggie Grace said...

Such despair for Violet Ward. I read every word and understood her fate with her mother. Today is a difficult day for those with mothers like that. And poor Violet I'm sure never lived to know any other kind of world. I hope she is in heaven with no memory of her past and filled with the love of angels with your dog Sunshine beside her.

K9friend said...

That brought tears to my eyes. So many broken people in the world...including Moms.

Pat
Critter Alley

Roselie May said...

What a world full of broken souls we live in. This story touched me... especially the part where you say
"At night, she smoked herself empty.
There are degrees of empty,
and sometimes empty just purely hates to be alone." I 've felt that... not that it's a justification for things...
P.S I love the song

Roselie May said...

Oh and I wanted to thank you for coming to my blog and read and comment.It means a lot...

Brian Miller said...

whew...no one writes like you shay...love the pups from the sky...the no frequency for what came out of her and that busted radio....really fine story telling in this...i hope for her too...

hope some have a happy moms day...i know for some its a tough one...

always great to see you shay...

Hannah said...

Your writing brings me to tears, Shay...it is that good...and that sounds weak but you gotta know I mean it. Wow.

Loredana Donovan said...

I like the hope in your last stanza, and how life turned out to be good for you. We can only change ourselves, and sometimes we just have to leave others in God's hands.

HermanTurnip said...

Difficult truths summed up with a flourish and a fist. Powerful stuff here, Shay. Nearly brought a tear to my eye, not because of the subject matter, but because of your beautiful combinations of words.

wkkortas said...

It's storytelling of the highest order, the stuff I wish I could do. The madness that plays around the edges of the piece keeps it from being a four-kleenex gullywasher, which I think provides a balance, a counterpoint to the tangible pain and sadness here which makes the whole piece just that much stronger.

Kay L. Davies said...

So much pain in this world, Shay, and when mothers inflict it upon their daughters and dogs, I want to weep forever.
"but one day the men with their loops came and chased him around his own yard, and took him away." Poor little Violet Ward.
I'm glad you told your son Sunny could banish ghosts. All children need a ghost-banisher.
Luv, K

Mama Zen said...

This just hurts and hurts. Brilliant.

Lolamouse said...

I could tell that this was a real story before I even read your note. It's heartbreakingly honest. I sometimes wonder what became of some of the "Violets" from my childhood.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

No one can tell a story like you do. And what a sad, painful story. I, too, hope that little girl grew up to be all right, somehow. Wow. This just blew me away.

Herotomost said...

Just clinches your spot in my favorite writers of all time category. I am a lover of tone and character. Dialogue and context. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances (that's not mine). You have this gift in spades and I am not just blowing Emmylou tunes up your skirt, you are truly one of my faves. You should be required reading.

sloan said...

I like that her name is a sort of oxymoron in my head. Violet is the color of pure freedom and transcendence. You can't pin down a girl who's purple. And a ward is unwanted --- you take her out of cold duty, but you do not love her. She rises above it though, finding love and safety in her color and her own energy, even if no one else ever sees it.

"There are degrees of empty,
and sometimes empty just purely hates to be alone."

"It was a pure, fine thing."

"That night, Violet sat outside cradling a broken radio, and the sound that came
from her poor raw throat was unlike any I have heard.
There is no frequency for that.
It would break the air and stop hearts cold if it weren't contained."

"so emptiness took root and went to work from within."

This is a powerful piece.

Vesper said...

What a raw, visceral story, somehow even beautiful in its sadness, in its ugliness… You are such a fine poet, Shay!

Matt D said...

**At night, she smoked herself empty.
There are degrees of empty,
and sometimes empty just purely hates to be alone.**

That's so true.

This poem really packs a strong emotional wallop. Whoa.

aprille said...

Masterful.
So much, so well expressed, so modern, such impact.