Saturday, August 18, 2012

Girl and Oak

I was young once, living on hope and ten dollars
In an upstairs flat in Royal Oak, Michigan.

I used to eat at The Busy Oak, where junkies and drunks lived in the weird apartments on the second and third floors,
And I went to the movies at The Washington.

I remember buying a jacket at Joe's Army Navy Surplus,
And a bright red scarf at some corner boutique where 80s chic was so thick that it made this ordinary girl feel out of place.

The sky was a brilliant September blue that day,
And I was on my last fine free days of being semi-employed,
An art I had perfected all through my twenties...

I needed time to read Vonnegut and Tolstoy,
And to go see Far From The Madding Crowd and Desert Hearts.

Late that afternoon I sat on the wood floor of my little place,
Listening to Joni sing I Had A King, while I read the album jacket and my dog slept in the only chair.

My door was open, as if to let the future in;
I was getting sober and I was getting older.

Who knew then, that I would shortly get a real job, a car, 
And marry some other damaged soul?

Who knew that the Busy Oak would become trendy stores for out of towners,
Or that The Washington would become a stage theater?

Who knew that I would ride by those places every day, a couple of decades later,
Having divorced, come out, come clean,

Or that I would still listen to Joni sing about kings and seagulls,
And still wear a red scarf against the chill?

Not me,
whoever I was,
waving to her future self
going by on the street like a ghost begun but not yet walking the earth.

for Mary's Mixed Bag "neighborhood"


Mary said...

I love that you talked about Royal Oak both as you knew it and as what it eventually became, along with the you of then to the progression of you of now. Neighborhoods and people both change. And through all, Joni STILL sings! I enjoyed this, Shay....a lot.

nene said...

Yes, this gave me a sense of not being alone in this travel. The steps taken, the sitting with an open door letting the future in and then when now the present is what was then the future.

Married another tortured soul and now divorced is a common theme amongst us tortured souls.

Gracias for sharing a large portion of your life with simple words

hedgewitch said...

The older we get, the more the past becomes a diorama, a step removed, yet intimately connected and impossible to deny--I like it that the red scarf endures, through the whole metamorphosis. We do indeed choose what we bring forward with us, and what becomes the vista in the rearview.

TexWisGirl said...

i like this. i left my younger self in another part of the world so can't see her anymore.

Margaret said...

...and Joni still sings of seagulls and kings, and your red scarf still graces your neck. Powerful lines, but I loved "living on hope and ten dollars" what a strong, strong beginning!

Indeed, who knew then we would finally get "it" ... 25 plus years later... ;P

Helen said...

Your strength is contagious. Gandhi said 'my life is my message.' Your message rings loud and clear.

PattiKen said...

Excellent, Shay. I wonder how we would feel were we to bump into our former selves. Surprised? Shocked? Jealous?

Sherry Blue Sky said...

This poem rings true right to my very soul, having made a similar journey - damaged soul meeting damaged soul, then emerging, still with the red scarf.....what hit me the most is "whoever I was, waving to her future self going by on the street like a ghost begun but not yet walking the earth". That is EXACTLY how I felt back then. LOVE this poem so much, kiddo!

Peggy said...

Wonderful then and now poem! How places from our youth do change!

Mama Zen said...

I love the image of you sitting in the floor reading the album cover. I find that so vivid and real.

cloudia charters said...


sends a friendly, shy wave
to past-you

Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
> < } } ( ° >

Kay L. Davies said...

Oh, Shay, I can certainly relate, and although I was long past being a girl by the time the 80s arrived, I managed to make the same kind of marital mistake then, too. (I always say I got married every 20 years, whether I had to or not, but the truth is I never had to, I just did.)

Sioux said...

So many of us, whether we've come out or gotten divorced or finally simply stood up for ourselves--we can relate.

(I've loved Joni since I was 13, as a young adult wondered if it was ME she had given up for adoption--alas, she found the girl she gave up and it was NOT me) and was fascinated once to read an article about her, which included photos of the inside of her home. I expected all wood and quilts and soft, colorful fabrics. What I saw instead was all white, unbroken white, with steel/chrome armrests and couch frames. It was quite intriguing...)

Far Beyond The Ridge said...

I was a free man in paris
I felt unfettered n alive
No one callin me out for favors
And no one's future to decide
~who hasn't been there?
Who has forgotten?

Lynn said...

The story of you. Wonderful, Shay. (I have also seen myself from a distance - and often wished I could tell her how to be.)

gabrielle said...

It’s wonderful how you turned a portrait of a "neighborhood” into a beautifully reflective piece on the journey. What do we carry forward and what do we leave behind. We all choose, sometimes more deliberately.

Wise pick--the red scarf to buffer against the occasional squall. And from reading your poetry, I’m pretty certain your door will remain open to what the future may bring.

Reminds me of Emily Dickinson:
Not knowing when the dawn will come
I open every door

Kerry O'Connor said...

I often pause to think of myself as I am now, as I once was, and who I someday hope to be, so I could relate to your retrospective angle here, though our stories are different, and I still feel like waving down the street at the person who is the future me.

HermanTurnip said...


It's weird thinking about your past, and even stranger to visit the physical places you used to occupy and see how much they've changed. Often times, the combination of the two can be like a kick in the stomach.

Here's hoping that your past self would be proud of your present self.

Anonymous said...

"My door was open, as if to let the future in"

"going by on the street like a ghost begun but not yet walking the earth."

it doesn't seem possible under all the laws of science, but your words just keep getting better and better!

gorgeous song, too!

Anonymous said...

"like a ghost begun but not yet walking the earth" ... I could chew on this for days. Intense, gorgeous, and deep.

Daryl said...

and it doesnt say 'the end' so I say lets say 'and so it began' ..

Rene Foran said...

Sitting here reading one piece of brilliance after another, dying of jealously

but this one, this one right here is an absolute gem. The way you move through each room of your life, weaving music, books and a scarf is masterful.

And I've been away too long.