chocolate is a verb

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Tag Archives: childhood

found poem: for a few years

found poem © j.i. kleinberg ~ for a few years
found poem © j.i. kleinberg

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found poem: between

found poem © j.i. kleinberg ~ between
found poem © j.i. kleinberg

found poem: a mom

found poem: show

May 30

1954 - DAK-LRKUntil 1971, when national holidays began to wander the calendar in search of Monday, my parents each had a claim on May 30th: it was Memorial Day and it was my mother’s birthday.

By the time they met, the war was over; none of our family photos show them together with Les in uniform. The remnants of my father’s war were few: dog tags, Zippo, foot locker, sleeping bag, photos, and a slim folder of paperwork. His scars were not physical and, like others of his generation, he bore them with stoicism and little comment.

If my mother’s war had been a time of personal strength and freedom, she seemed equally willing to set it aside in favor of her new life with my father.

Each year on Memorial Day my father honored his memories, his lost family and friends, with a quiet walk among the headstones at the Veteran’s Cemetery. While my mother claimed to be unsentimental about her birthday, she never accompanied him on those walks, his brief abandonment of her like a small stone in the birthday cake.

But my father would return, soothed and soothing, and, wounds attended, the birthday would resume.

Each of my parents owned a part of the day, and a part of me. It seems we still celebrate together.
. . . . .
photo: Dorothy and Les, 1954

Mother’s Day

jik to DAK undatedHacked from an envelope and illustrated, figure and ground, with colored pencils of many hues, this is probably a picture of my mother. Though without words (except for my name on the reverse side signed with a backwards J), her red hair is a giveaway.
And the dress? Well, what can be said about the dress, except that Dorothy would have worn it if it existed. However old I was when I drew it, and however conventionally she put herself together on the outside, I already understood that within her there was a zany being aching for expression.
Happy Mother’s Day.

a Sunday in spring

jik - Easter ValentineAt age 6, things didn’t get much better than hearts and bunnies. A girl could be forgiven if the excesses of Valentine’s Day overtook Easter. All these decades later, I can’t account for the red cross, but the bunny has everything a bunny needs on a spring Sunday — a fat, chocolatey body, baskets over each arm, exceedingly long whiskers, a pink blush inside each ear and love radiating in all directions. Happy Easter.

found poem: your childhood

seen and unseen

at 3 mos - jik-DAK-LRKI like this photograph. I like that it contains a little puzzle, though it took me a long time to recognize it.

That’s me, at about three months, looking skinny and serious in my mother’s hands, and that’s my father with the camera. He’s smiling and focused on me, I’m not smiling and looking back at him, and Dorothy is flirting with the person taking this photo, whose identity will forever remain a mystery.

This is a red-carpet moment for Dorothy. She is apparently (or at least momentarily) recovered from the ordeals of pregnancy and childbirth, she looks stylish and happy, and under the gaze of two cameras, she’s aglow with attention.

Good Cheer

1950 ChristmasMy third Christmas rolled around when I was still a couple months shy of three years old. Dorothy’s card that year was a linoleum block print with the red colored in by hand. The three of us are lined up on the couch, each pair of feet missing the sock that’s hung on the mantel.

Though I’m sure my mother intended it to be amusing, there’s a hint of sadness in this year’s image. She was already feeling the wounds and disappointments of motherhood and she would soon be sent away to “rest” and “get better” (what I was told) for some months. She wouldn’t make another Christmas card for four years.

December 8

jik to LRK birthday insidejik to LRK birthdayMy father’s birthday and a card holds up the faded mirror of my young self. I don’t know how old I was when I made this card, but I was already coloring inside the lines. The heart and the figure of my father are carefully outlined in pencil, and there’s a pencil line to indicate the floor. I loved coloring, and had plenty of crayons and paper, but wasn’t allowed to have coloring books; I had to make my own designs. (The lesson must have stuck; I have no desire for any of the scores of “adult” coloring books currently on the store shelves, just astonishment at the size of the sudden trend.)

With its little brackets, the table is easy to recognize: it’s the card table in my mother’s studio, the one I had occasion to study most often, as I stood in the doorway, hoping she’d show some interest in me, but mostly just annoying her.

Perhaps the big hovering pink thing is a practice cake, where I was working out the concept of roundness. Anyway, the important parts are there: my father, the cake, and love. Happy Birthday, Papa.

Veterans Day

LRK 1942 Camp YoungMy father, who served during World War II, did his military training at Camp Young — the headquarters of the Desert Training Center, in California’s Mojave Desert, and the world’s largest Army post. Although the work was serious and hard and dirty, the war itself was, for the moment, far away.

He wasn’t big on mementos and didn’t own a camera until much later in his life, but there remain from those months of training a small collection of 8-by-10 glossies of Les, age 31. He never said why they were taken — perhaps for a newsletter or Army recruiting materials. Some are informal, like this one; others are lit dramatically.

As with the rest of his military service, Les spoke little of these months in the desert. The one story I remember was the one he told me each time I pulled out his Army sleeping bag for a slumber party. Near the foot of the bag, on the inside, was a hand-sewn patch, about four inches square. He told me that a field mouse had burrowed through the fabric and dropped a litter of pups in the soft filling. The mother mouse escaped and Les removed the babies, putting them, he assured me, “in a safe place.” As my father watched, I would cautiously unzip the bag, spread it flat and inspect the patch for recent incursions.

The story, with its frisson of the wild kingdom, long outlived its smallest characters. But it was one he could share with his young daughter, and one he could tell without threatening the edifice of silence within which he — and so many soldiers — lived for the remainder of their long lives.

lawn

DichondraMy friend Jane lives 1200 miles from here, in the over-cultivated desert of Los Angeles, not far from my childhood home. Her garden is constantly evolving in a low-maintenance and drought-tolerant direction and this past summer she replaced a grassy area with clumps of Dymondia, which is a no-mow groundcover well-suited to L.A. but, much as I might admire it, a poor candidate for the soggy Northwest. When I talked with her this morning, she told me that her Dymondia was, annoyingly, being invaded by Dichondra.

The moment she said Dichondra, I recalled the house at the corner near where I grew up. It was small and tidy and mostly unremarkable except for its Dichondra lawn. An unblemished expanse of green, it was a hands-and-knees labor of love for the owners, who were “older” and stern and unforgiving of untethered dogs and children on bicycles who might want to shortcut across their yard. When I mentioned it to Jane, she told me that her street, in another neighborhood, also had a corner house that was maintained by fierce Dichondra fanatics.

I remember my mother being both envious and disparaging of the neighbors and their immaculate Dichondra, though no less agitated when dogs or children trespassed on the ivy in our front yard. She would crank open the kitchen window and shout, “Scram!” or “Get your dog out of the ivy!” as I hunkered down, hoping no one would see me and associate me with such a loud and embarrassing mother.
. . . . .
Dichondra

Good luck.

Dear MomWhat might have temporarily removed me from parakeet-feeding duty at age 8 is anyone’s guess; perhaps I was at camp. Blueboy was my friend and companion, but, more urgently, my responsibility — another way in which I might prove or fail.

With careful loops and links, I test newly learned script, forego “Mommy” for what I intuited was the more mature and less needy “Mom” and sign my name in reverse order — Yduj — not mirror-writing, but a turnaround that offered the possibility of a secret identity. I remember, at the dinner table, my father sounding out our “other” name — Grebnielk — with a kind of gutteral messiness that made me laugh.

It’s unlikely my mother would have forgotten to feed Blueboy, but she had no affection for the bird and I wasn’t taking any chances. Already, the written word was talisman against such failure.

found poem: I grew up

portrait

1954 DAK portraitShe was not someone I knew — her hair red, her lips redder, her earrings stilled from some distant flamenco rhythm. She was a model, captured by my mother in a single long sitting during an art class.

The portrait was small, and stood among five or six dozen paintings — some framed, some not — in the tall cupboard above the closet in her studio. The closet and its high shelf were off limits to me, but now and then Dorothy would recruit me to assist as she stood on the step-stool and handed down paintings, each one transferred to my hands with cautions about where I put my fingers and where and how I propped the painting against the wall in the hallway just outside her studio.

This ritual had some purpose, now lost to me. Perhaps Dorothy was looking for a canvas she could recycle, an image she recalled, an application of color or texture she wanted to revisit. The woman in the small oil painting was like a cousin I saw only occasionally, her story unknown, her beauty unchanging.

found poem: hand-me-down

Greetings!

Kleinberg Special GreetingsI was not yet 2 years old but already had the holidays (and everything else) well in hand, if the depiction on that year’s family greeting card is to be believed.
As always, my mother’s deft lines captured something uniquely right about each of us, the message drifting up from chimneys lining the bottom edge and the red and green highlights added by hand.
Merry Christmas!

found poem: this rambling

rules of engagement

phone cornerThere was one phone in our house. Really, there was no need for more than one as long as I followed the rules about when and how long I could talk. It wasn’t until long after I had moved out that the phones proliferated, finding their way into bedrooms and kitchen.

Our phone lived in the very center of the house, outside my bedroom, in a little corner of the long T-shaped hallway. Black and heavy, with a rotary dial, it sat on a small, ornate table accompanied by a slender chair, both of which had belonged to my mother’s grandfather (and both of which now live in my house, though not side-by-side). (The photo, with its sleek Princess-style phone, was taken decades later and in the lower right features a doorbell that my mother used to recall my father from his workshop in the garage.)

As an adolescent, I suddenly realized the phone afforded no privacy and discovered that the black cord (which then had no coils) was just long enough to reach across the hall into my room. If I closed the door carefully over the cord, I could sit just inside with my back to the door and there, for the 15 minutes I was allowed, talk in peace.

Unless, of course, my mother interrupted me, knocking on the door to complain about the hazard of the cord, or my secrecy, or the closed door. Once she yelled at me because I had called a boy. I don’t remember who he was or why I called him or how she found out, but it was a clear violation of her rules and in the lecture that followed she told me that I was a slut. She had a lot of rules. Some, like that one, I only learned about after I had broken them.

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