Vignette: Mimi’s Closet

The fabulous Iris Apfel. Like Iris, Mimi, my grandma, wore large framed glasses and chunky jewelry. Unlike Iris, who shared many of her secrets, my grandma kept hers close to her heart.

 

Mimi’s Closet

by Shannon P. Laws

 

The door at the end of the long hall stands open
The third bathroom is in there
Sent to the room by my mother’s voice
busy behind the door of the second
common bathroom, the guest bathroom
Go use Mimi’s
I obey

The faint gold light
from a bedside lamp whispers
as I step twice into the space
Her closet door is open, just a little
Moving toward the closet my arm reaches out
to feel inside
to find her secrets

These are her uniforms
her suits of clothes and character
Rich hand-me-downs with East Coast labels
—meant to impressed me, even at 13

I am too far, too deep, too close to the truth
my ears give a quick check
All family members are engaged
in after dinner conversation
at the other side of the house
No footsteps in the hall
I can quickly look
touch a few
view the hieroglyphs
decipher the ridges
in her shoes

A shriveled fox head snaps at me
with sunken eyes from the top of a fur wrap
I sense the ghost of a guard
standing attention blocking me from the
colors, textures that hang in the back just out of reach

My bladder and a toilet flush down the way
remind me why
I’m there

Use the bathroom
then leave
don’t touch anything
mind your business

As I turn to capture one last look
I see her desk
a round breakfast table
paired by two chairs
with woven wood backs
Yellow chains of jewelry, keys, papers
laid out with books and pens
There’s a tube TV, two large leather jewelry boxes
on the long low dresser in front of the bed between
two dark lamps
Under the bed, I spy boxes of canned soup

Who gets all this when she’s dead?
My aunts will consume anything of value
Strangers at the Goodwill get the rest

 

 

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Poem: Covered

Photo credit JDR Hawkins.com 2016 “Not surprisingly, the Antietam battlefield is reportedly one of the most haunted places in the country. Visitors have heard gunfire and smelled gunpowder near the Bloody Lane when it was completely deserted, and many have seen ghostly apparitions in that area”

 

Covered

by Shannon Laws

 

I am the grass. Let me work

writes Sandburg

 

Grass fixes a battlefield with memory loss

Pile up your second-hand mistakes

bodies of unfinished work

blood of sacrificed Saturday nights

onto this field and wait—

two years, ten

Time heals but grass covers all.

My First Villanelle: Towards Harris

desk wSwq
Found sticky note

But first a note from my desk…

 

This villanelle came to me during my first week at a new job on a cold, dark, foggy February morning.  With steel toe boots on and a budgeted $7 for travel and lunch in my jean pocket, I search for the bus stop on Harris to catch the 401 leaving at 6:30 a.m.  Last year I temped at SEVEN factories, now I walk towards number eight. The fog is another unknown-known waiting for me.

It felt like the ghosts of Fairhaven were dancing with me as I hiked through the fog, perhaps even poking fun at the site of a person up too early, with the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Ghost have no weight.  They do not need bus tickets, boots or money. Lazy-ass ghosts.

The overwhelming sense that I was NOT alone in that fog bank, spurred an “Our Father” out of me… and now I have a poem.

This is my first villanelle.  Think I’m gonna write another.

Thanks for your visit with me as I travel the crust of the orb,
~SPL

 


ghost o1_500Towards Harris

by Shannon Laws

One block before the dawn, heaven hides the fright
Ghosts match-step with me in curbside play
My breath sends a prayer into the air

I stride into Fairhaven’s ambered light
Behind me stirs a promise for the day
My lips form a poem too loaded to bear

Toward the factory stand steel and might
A slit of red that seeks the bay
My breath sends a prayer into the air

Ancestor songs sing “Run, freeze and fight!
Be a footed fish not a whale of clay.”
My lips form a poem too loaded to bear

Eyes search each block for tints of light
Seek sticky hope to fix and stay
My breath sends a prayer into the air

Blue ribbon peeks beneath band of night
Black evergreens promise the fog away
My breath sends a prayer into the air
My lips form a poem too loaded to bear

 

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Poem: Nightly Spirit

 

ghost_picture

 

Tickle my ear at three in the morning

Brush the bottom of my foot with mist

 

See the dreams I carry that do not rhyme

Remember the fallen that rest in the corner of the eye

A phase-shift out of reach, stuck in the web of mind

 

Take the tack off the desk

Move the keys under the couch

Roll the pencil out of reach

 

But never talk to me as one who is dead,

My breath’s bank of days still holds cash

 

-by Shannon Laws

 

Poem: Nightly Spirit

 

spirit 300

Tickle my ear at three in the morning
Brush the bottom of my foot with mist

See the dreams I carry that do not rhyme
Remember the fallen that rest in the corner of the eye
A phase-shift out of reach, stuck in the web of mind

Take the tack off the desk
Move the keys under the couch
Roll the pencil out of reach

But never talk to me as one who is dead,
My breath’s Bank of Days still holds cash

Maggie the Ghost

Have you ever worked with a ghost?
One summer, I worked on a Washington island as a housekeeper at a large inn that is playfully haunted by “Maggie”.  My encounters with the ghost were so gentle, she is an inspiration for my book scheduled to be released 2015.
The Inn wasn’t very old.  You’d expect a few ghosties in ancient buildings, but this fairly new island-craftsman seems the last place for a spirit to haunt.  The inn has beautiful contemporary cabin accents, and is set near a lake that mists up in the early summer mornings.  Walking around the lodge and grounds the spirit of the place is light and inspiring.  It has a magical feel to it, as if hidden from sight wood gnomes and nymphs dance around the ferns, and fairy princes ride dragon flies through the cedar and fir forest.
Red Hair and Footprints
My first encounter with the ghost was in the manifestation of long red hairs.  After cleaning a tub or sink, leaving the room and returning with clean towels, a bright red hair would sometimes waved “Hello” at me, all laid back resting on the clean white surface.  The third or fourth “Hello”, I started to calculate the odds of how many red-headed guests visited.  When I shared my findings with the house manager, she confirmed, it was the ghost.
Anything strange like that was given to the lady ghost’s credit.  The staff believes her to be an early pioneer woman, whose spirit wandered into the lodge attracted by the lights and noise.  One day we decided to give her a name.  We all felt like it was an “M” name, so she was named Maggie.  Maggie has a great sense of humor, locking staff and guest out of the rooms, turning on the heat in summer, but her specialty is leaving barefoot footprints on mopped floors.
Maggie’s prints came to visit me one day.  Two bare foot marks appeared on either side of the toilet, toes facing out, on my newly mopped floor.  When I saw the foot marks, I knew it was the lodge ghost!  Just to be sure, I took a stiff brush and cleaner to the area.  No success.  The marks could not be brushed off.  Before the new guests arrived I checked the bathroom floor a last time.  The floor now dry, the footprints dissipated properly, as any nice ghost would do.  What a lady!
Thank you Maggie, for cleaning up your mess.  You’re alright in my book.
***

Poetry: Ghostly Eyes

Waking up always
Same time on the clock
Walk through my house
Steps on an unchanging track
I see you
A solid mass
Your feet touch the ground
grasp the earth
My specter form floats by
Unperceived by the blind
Ignored by the angry
Forgotten by the busy
I remember what living was like
I see you all
From my ghostly eyes
Orbs of mist
And compromise

~A spooky poem from my 2010 collection
S.P. Laws

Forgiveness

As a writer I am often overtaken by my characters.  Trying to imagine what a new character is thinking, how they would walk, talk, what kind of clothes they wear and what they’ll do next is in the job description.  Yet sometimes I’ll have an encounter SO real that it seems more like entertaining a house guest instead of character development.  Visitation or not this interesting dream encounter with a former plantation slave moved me.
While working on copy for my radio blues program, Boosie’s Playhouse Classic Blues, an unexpected guess knocked on the door of my subconscious. Late one evening I was focused on the origin of the blues.  I learned that the blues started in the fields by slaves call and responding to each other in rhythm to help make the tedious work go by faster, and  to communicate with each other, sometimes in code.  Still thinking on this, I retired for the night, slipped under the covers and fell into a dream.
Visitation
In my dream I sat writing at a desk, wrestling with words, when the spirit of a man walked in and sat down across from me.  The outline of his form glowed giving no doubt that he crossed over from another world, the gateway behind him was blurred.  Lights in the room changed with his presence, turning from fluorescent to candlelight, the walls of the room from brick to log, and the furniture itself changed before my eyes from 21st century to the 19th.
Somehow, in my dream, I knew all about proper ghost etiquette.  When you meet a spirit it is like having the sensation of a butterfly landing on your cheek.  It is wonderful, yet you know instinctively how fragile they are.  You can scare them away with sudden movements or loud noises.  They do not want anything from you, but for you to listen.  Listen to their story, to hear their voice.  If you are fortunate enough to hear a spirit speak, do not ever forget what they tell you.  You must, out of respect for the dead, always remember what it is they tell you.  The only wish of the dead is to be remembered.  And so, I opened my understanding, while I waited for him to speak.
The ghost in my dream had beautiful dark skin, light brown cotton trousers hung from his hips and a loose fitting white shirt.  Broad shoulders and strong arms framed his torso.  He must of been, at least six feet tall when standing.  His demeanor, and this is most important, was like a deep river, moving peacefully.  He was going to talk to me; I could feel it, as long as I stay still, and so I did…
His large hand rubbed his face as he started to form words.  My ears perked up as his story filled my mind; his voice was warm,  “I came here to explain to you what it was like to be a slave.  Being a slave is to be tortured.  To have to no control over your life.  Your day and life are chosen for you, and yet you dream.  You dream of what you think freedom would be like.  You dream of control.  It seems youhave been hurt for a long time and prayed those silent prayers while enduring your pain, and that you kept walking through the pain. That is how I found you.”  The air tingled as his voice gave instruction,  “Listen now.  Being free, legally free, will not give you true freedom.  Until you forgive those that hurt you, you will always be bound up in chains!”
He continued using words and images as he told me his story. For half his life he was a slave in Georgia, then in 1866, he was a free man working as a sharecropper up North.  His children were born free, by his wife who wore his ring, in the home he owned.   His dream to control his own destiny came true, yet something was missing:  forgiveness.  Somehow along the way, he found forgiveness for the slave owners.  He said he knew those dark hearten torturers would never tell him they were sorry, they would never beg for his forgiveness, so to rid himself of the final burden HE forgave THEM.  Those mindless, faceless, nameless torturers of slaves, he forgave them.
The Gift of Forgiveness 
Forgiveness insures that the people who hurt us do not continue to hurt or have power over us.  You must forgive in order to move on.  I was overwhelmed with joy to hear my ghost friend share his story.  He left with a whisper as I woke with a jump.  I knew I had to write it all down, every detail!
Some believe that the power to forgive is a gift from heaven.  The Visitor’s comment “walking through my pain” was in reference to my recent divorce.   Many divorcees hold onto their hatred for their ex’s.  I have met ladies who hold onto hate.  I have seen how it keeps them from enjoying the new life they are trying to build for themselves.  Hate makes us sick!
If you really want to be free from hate, you have to forgive.  This is true for me; I know it without any doubt.
What an interesting dream.  I shall think on it for a long time.  I do not understand how or why I had this dream but I am thankful for it.  Perhaps it was my subconscious trying to make a personal connection between what I was working on and my past.  Or perhaps, just maybe, a spirit came to talk.
Good stuff here:

Poetry: Ghost in the Hall

When I was a child
A Skeleton Ghost would walk
The bedroom hall of our home
Afraid of the dark I would sleep with the light on
My door open just enough to keep out the trouble
That lurks in the imagination of a ten year old,
Usually, hiding under the bed or in closets
Ghosts are everywhere when you are ten.
Often the ghost would wiggle its way past my door
Steps heard creaking across loose boards
Creak.  Creak.  Creak.
Down the hall slowly it walked
Skeleton heading for the kitchen
To fill up its ribs with mom’s pork chops
Then fiddle its way back to bed
After the meal was consumed
One scary night before this mystery was solved
I slept between my parents for protection
Bookends of adult and authority on either side
Defense from anything ghoulish
Each parent rolled over facing the walls
As I lay blinking at the ceiling.
2 a.m. is Skeleton’s supper time
Down it came toward my parents’ room
Closer.  Closer.  Closer.
Bones walk lightly when there is no moon
From the ceiling my eyes followed
To see what stood at the foot of the bed
Its frame wiggled trying to materialize
To grab hold of me with solid hands
  
I knew it was real
The ghost that walked my hall at night!
Dad sighed in his sleep
And the ghost misted away. 
Scared off by the possibility of his waking
I waited.  Waited.  Waited.
It did not come back.
Then I returned to my own bed
Safer now with mystery solved
Wrapped in the comfort of knowing
Skeleton was real and it knew I could see it!

…true story

The Coffee Ghost

Thinking of my dad today; this little story from 2010:

The Dream
lake in the morning shone like polished glass. Looking around, the sun was peeking through the trees, shooting rays of light through the ground fog. Above, the clouds were changing colors like a slow moving kaleidoscope. Taking a deep breath of that full fresh mountain air, I knew this was one of the best sunrises ever witnessed.

Disturbing the symphony of the bird’s charming mating calls; my boots seemed so noisy and rude…

*crunch* *crunch* *crunch*

…walking out of the cabin and down to the car on the gravel driveway. The noise seemed so out of tune with the rest of the events I knew I’d have to compensate later with a quiet book reading in the chair on the covered porch that faced the lake. What a fantastic punishment. Taking the keys out of my flannel jacket was like a symbol clashing, but I was committed to reach the trunk and retrieve the items their in.

The key turned and inside the trunk to my surprise were kittens! Fifty happy furry little kittens. “Oh my goodness! How did you sillies get in here? I told you to stay home.” The kittens over took me and soon all fifty-one of us were on the ground playing and purring up a storm. Could this morning get any better?

And then I smelt it. The most beautiful smell in the world. Emanating from the cabin was this incredible ambrosia-like smell of coffee. The best coffee in the world. The smell of warmth and love drew me, seduced me, and called to me like a siren to a sailor. Someone is up and is making coffee, I thought, oh the fragrance from heaven!

Awake
My eyes opened to focus on my bedroom ceiling, the beam and a ceiling fan staring back. It was all just a dream, just a wonderful dream. But, a quick inventory of sorts made me realize part of it wasn’t a dream. Coffee?! I quickly looked over at the clock. It was 4 o’clock in the morning, why did my house smell like wonderful coffee. My mom was staying over that week and I’m telling you she is a true fan of that java mixture of champions. Before her arrival I had purchased plenty of beans and cream to help make her feel welcomed. The coffee pot in the kitchen was set up, and timer ready to go on at six. Hmmm… let’s go take a look-see.

Using my toes as radar I crossed our dark living room, weaving around some furniture but walking a straight a line as possible in the quickest fashion towards the kitchen. Locating the coffee pot with ease thanks to a night light I discovered that the coffee pot was NOT on. “Interesting.” Oh well, back to bed. Moving in the opposite direction that I had just arrived to that corner of the house, I found the warmth and comfort of my bed and quickly went back to my trunk full of kittens by the lake.

The next morning, in real life, the family found themselves gathering around the kitchen table making morning small talk. Without going into too much detail for fear of seeming strange I causally mentioned that I woke up in the middle of the night to the smell of coffee and thought the coffee pot had started brewing two hours early.

“That’s interesting Shannon,” my mom said, “I did the same thing.”

With a quick chuckle, my husband, said, “You know that IS funny. I got up and checked the coffee also.”

“Wow, I wish I had a cup of what I smelled last night. It was the best coffee ever. Our neighbor works the night shift I bet it came over from their house, or something.”

This was my mom’s second visit to Arizona so we had a nice agenda of places to see and visit while she was in town. Summer was just around the corner and the perfect time to be in the desert. Not too many Washingtonians can handle the 105 degree weather that the summer brings; it takes a while to get acclimated. Prolong exposure to the heat also destroys the webbing between the digits, a real pain to grow them back.

It had been over a year since her first visit, but I had recently seen her at dad’s funeral in February. In 2005 my father John had passed away, after struggling with lung disease. Dad had a wry sense of humor and a cutting wit that could catch people off guard. On family road trips he would alert the family “Looks like we’re close to Coffee Mountain.” Why dad? “Because we just passed a sign that said “Doughnut Pass”. Groooaannnn! “Dad!” He’d sit up there behind the steering wheel and chuckle at his own joke. He was a real character, is greatly missed and long remembered.

After lunch mom and I found a sunny spot in the front of the house and started to chat some time away while we waited for the kids to come home from school. Drinking coffee of course. Stopping myself in mid sip I raised my hand to my eyes to keep them from popping out of my head. Behind my mom, through the window and mingling among the Oleanders was the most beautiful Pheasant I had ever seen. We had lived in that neighborhood for over three years; the most exotic birds were flocks of grey doves’ coo, coo, cooing in the yard all day. “Mom, there’s a pheasant in the yard!” We went outside and watched as this laid back fowl just took a Sunday stroll around the corner and down the street, never to be seen again.

“Mom, I think that was dad.” Mom’s eyes stared at me; over the rim of her glasses with the look only mom’s have the power to give. “No I’m serious. The coffee smell and that bird- I think it’s dad saying Hi.”

Since that “visit” the coffee ghost continues to come by, at random moments, in the middle of the night, waking us from our dreams. I no longer race to the kitchen to check the dysfunction of a kitchen appliance, now I just roll over in the warm bed and smile.