Tuesday, June 3, 2014

There is no warning rattle at the door

There is no warning rattle at the door. Instead it was the quiet sounds of my upstairs neighbor that woke me. He had just gotten up, was making his coffee and walking around his apartment, probably getting ready for work. I listened, peacefully contemplating the early morning sounds when it hit me: I have no upstairs neighbor.

“The birds must have gotten in again” I tell my husband.

“Or the chipmunks.” was his reply before turning over.
  
There is no warning rattle at the door. When an artist makes her mark, she opens all the cage doors locked before and after her. For the longest time we felt ashamed of our language and had to code switch when we’d go to the doctors office, at school with certain teachers, in front of the social worker if she ever made the dreaded visit to our roach filled, dirty apartment, especially dreadful if our mothers weren’t home.

She used to tell me it was aspirin and that her mother couldn’t manage to swallow pills so she needed to smash them up. But it looked so much like a cocaine vial; even I at 7 could see that. She insisted so adamantly that I began to have doubts.

My brother had another allergy attack, this time worse than before, his whole face blew up but my mother couldn’t explain what had happened. She spoke Spanish and the doctor spoke English. He seemed annoyed at having to deal with the endless, non English speaking Medicaid patients the hospital was so full of.

“They always have so many damned kids” he said looking down at us. My sister and I didn’t bother translating that.

I lost myself in books because the world around me was falling apart. The loud salsa music would not cease and the cops stopped coming even though every woman in the building was being beaten to a slow death.

I read all the European poets, all the old men that wrote long narratives on proper conduct and attire, long ago kings and queens that had nothing to do with the reality of our life here.

Kids were free to roam even around those dangerous city walls. Drug deals and street harassment were as common as the urban pigeon. We were sort of oblivious to that I guess. We knew when to turn our faces away and when not to make eye contact.

Then I opened Maya and she spoke to me, she spoke our language and had no shame. She spoke our truth and exposed all our words. Here was a writer I could follow; here was a poet I could understand. Never mind I had heard of some kids doing Shakespeare in the Park. We would have to take the train to the city, the equivalent of an international flight for kids like us. Plus Shakespeare was dead and Maya was alive. The year was 1982 and here was a writer that felt no need to code switch, to tailor her voice to her audience. That spoke the truth.

“We can write like this?”  I asked my best friend.

“Sssh, the teacher is coming over.” was her reply.

There is no warning rattle at the door. The rattle leapt from the page. Maya told us to get up and show our insides, we don’t have to be part of the status quo; we don’t need to be old white men. She passed us the torch and it was alight.

“Can bird be used as a verb?” I asked my best friend.

“Not in English.” was her reply.

We laughed so hard we cried.

There is no warning rattle at the door. Rather, it was more of a vibration, a powerful vibration that opened the door.
















 The Speakeasy Challenge: FIRST line in submission: “There is no warning rattle at the door.” Submissions must be 750 words or fewer. Submissions must be fiction or poetry.

26 comments:

  1. Ooh I really like your voice in this piece.

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    1. Thank you so much! It feels so raw when we do it quickly. ;-)

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  2. Your writing gives me chills. Damn, that was good!

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  3. Very good. Non confrontational tension like a wound up watch spring. At least that's what I got!

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  4. What a lovely tribute to a lovely woman. Indeed, she truly was someone who allowed us to speak the language of our hearts. It didn't seem to matter so much if our words were harsh and gritty at times, rather than vain and flowery, or whether we wrote words of anguish, instead of false sunshine and mist. She taught us that it was best to always share your heart -- no matter what your heart was feeling -- for just as the scriptures say, it is the truth that will set you free.

    Thank you so much for sharing your words of truth in a moving tribute to a woman of truth. Who knows how many hearts your words will touch. They touched mine.

    God bless you abundantly,
    Cheryl

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    1. I loved your words, thank you so much for your comment.

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  5. "I read all the European poets, all the old men that wrote long narratives on proper conduct and attire, long ago kings and queens that had nothing to do with the reality of our life here." Screw the European poets and the old men!

    "Then I opened Maya and she spoke to me, she spoke our language and had no shame. She spoke our truth and exposed all our words. Here was a writer I could follow; here was a poet I could understand." Yes, yes, yes!!

    Loved this. Karen

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    1. Glad to have a little solidarity here!! Thank you. ;-)

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    2. Absolutely : ) As your narrator said, it's important to find writers who speak our language and expose our truths.

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  6. "Can bird be used as a verb?" That question struck me as a sign of hope. This piece is part-staccato, part-lilting...I love the repetition and street memory. Beautifully written.

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    1. Thank you, I love your analysis on the bird as a verb. Writing ideas are so mystical sometimes.

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  7. A lovely tribute to a lovely poet...liked your story very much and it was very sensative and well written!

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  8. Nice story! I liked the hope in it and the narration. Brilliant!

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    1. Thank you!! I appreciate your comment.

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  9. Love the expressions and characters woven in the amazing narration:)

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  10. You used Maya's words perfectly in this piece. You told the truth as it is.

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  11. What a lovely tribute to Maya Angelou and the impact she had on so many people. Thank you for linking up at the speakeasy this week! :)

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    1. Thank you! I am delighted to have found such an awesome writing community.

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  12. Oh, I agree, this was really great. Excellent voice, important message.

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