And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16, 2011 A Writing Exercise, Just For Fun

Gatlinburg, Tennessee. A hot July afternoon. A father and son sat in the therapist's office, neither very comfortable with the high-priced d├ęcor and only just tolerating the presence of the counselor taking notes. At his suggestion the son, a rough looking man in his thirties, began.

“When I was just a boy, just three years old, my father left home. He had never been much of a parent or a provider, so about all he left in the rear view mirror of his rattle-trap truck was a guitar that had seen much better days and some empty bottles of rotgut whiskey. My mother had a tough time raising me alone – I wasn't the easiest kid to handle – but I think she was relieved when he left, even if she did hold on to a faded photograph of the son-of-a...excuse me, doc. Like I was saying, she had it tough, but I had it even tougher, not because I was the product of a single parent home, but because of the truly awful name my old man insisted on giving me when I was born.”

The therapist looked up from his notes. “You signed in with an initial only, Mr. Smith. What does the S stand for?

The younger Mr. Smith squirmed a little. “S will do for now. It's a...girl's name.” For a moment, there was complete silence in the room, punctuated only by the ticking of a handsome mantel clock on an equally handsome walnut bookshelf. “Maybe he thought it was just a joke on everybody, me especially. Maybe he was drunk at the time.”

“Probably was,” the elder Mr. Smith interrupted. The therapist pursed his lips.

“Anyway, it seems like I was fighting all my life, just to be taken halfway seriously. A woman would stifle a giggle and I would turn red from embarassment. I busted a few heads open. I grew up too fast, and I was always very short-tempered, I'll tell you that. And I promised myself, every time I looked in the mirror or heard someone call my name, or sometimes just yelling up at the sky after a fight, that if I ever caught up with my father again, I would...”

The therapist waited a few seconds, then said, “You would what, Mr. Smith?”

The son looked at his father. “I would kill him.”

The father grunted. “Like to see you try.”

“Gentlemen, please! That's why we're here. You were referred by the court to prevent more bloodshed. I can tell you've been in quite a brawl recently already. We're here to see if we can resolve your differences without further arrests. Mr. Smith, Mr. Grady Smith. Why don't you share now?”

The older man rubbed a scar on his cheek as if it still hurt, and ran his hand under his grizzled chin. “I was just sitting at a table inside my favorite watering hole, playing cards with some of my buddies. Five card stud, to be exact. This guy waltzes in like he owns the place, takes one look at me, introduces himself as my son after all these years, and threatens me! He got the first punch in, let the record show. I was just minding my own business.”

“Yeah, I hit you first, old man, but you drew a knife on me and cut off some of my ear – dang near took the whole thing off.”

“I would have, too, if you hadn't broken that chair with my face.”

The therapist looked through a little stack of neatly typed pages. “Apparently the scuffle eventually migrated out into the street while someone, the proprietor I assume, called 911. By the time law enforcement arrived, both of you had drawn weapons, you were apprehended, and – I take it because you were causing such a disturbance in the jail – my services were requested.”

The older man's eyes narrowed. “I wasn't through talking.” It was now the therapist's turn to squirm a little. He had seen evil on plenty of faces, but this was a man who had almost shot his son, to say nothing of branding him with a girlie name. What was he thinking? He nodded for the man to continue.

“When I laughed at you that day, I wasn't laughing at your name or at you at all, son. I was laughing with relief.”

The son was incredulous. “Relief? I was about to kill you.”

“This world is a rough place. A boy should have a father around to teach him things, and I was just a used up drunk even then. I knew I'd leave eventually, no matter how good a woman your mother was and no doubt, still is. I loved her, but I loved the bottle more. Still do. And you may not believe it, but I loved you, too, and I gave you a sissy name I thought would help. Either make you thick-skinned enough not to care or get you killed young, one way or the other. That name probably saved your life. Hate me if you must, but you fought a good fight, son. I kicked and bit and gouged you with my fingernails, and you just kept coming back for more and dishing out worse. I was relieved that you'd turned out to be the kind of man I'm proud to call my son, someone who doesn't take anything off anybody.”

“You''re proud of me?” the son said softly. “And I always thought you'd named me that out of spite.” He wiped a tear with his sleeve.

The father and son rose from their chairs and clumsily embraced. The younger son started chuckling through his tears and pulled away. “You know what? If I ever have a son, I'm going to be there for him. I'll give him a regular name, and just stick it out, however hard it gets. Having a girl's name worked alright for me, but there's no way I'm going to pass it on, just the same.”

The therapist sighed as he watched the two men leave, arms around each other, headed to celebrate at the nearest bar. He hadn't done anything to help expedite this happy family reunion, but he'd collect a nice fee, just the same.

(If the sad tale sounds familiar, watch this:

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2011

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 6, 2011 Poetry

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Dylan Thomas was a sickly child, a high school drop-out, an alcoholic, an adulterer. And yet, when we read his poetry, we find greatness. We may not understand his words, may not agree with them, but there is power there. He understood the power of words, and wielded that power with a beauty that transcended his frail and faulty humanity.

When I taught sixth grade at a small private school in Ft. Pierce, Florida, I assigned poems to the class for memorization. I don't know when memory work fell out of favor with the public school system, but it has, in my opinion, much merit. Memorizing a lengthy passage, whether the Bible or poetry or important speeches or a monologue to perform, adds auditory learning to visual learning. It trains brain cells made soggy from too much television and DVDs and video games.

One year, the class tackled Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. The school considered sixth graders upper elementary, and so at the end of the year they graduated along with the kindergarteners and seniors. It was fun, as the sole sixth grade teacher, to create a program that would show off the challenging curriculum used. I asked Ashley, a petite and very capable student, to recite Thomas' poem. Her flawless delivery (“Rage, RAGE, against the dying of the light.”) brought tears to the eyes of more than a few in the audience, I'm sure.

I've read much more fiction than non-fiction, and probably more non-fiction than poetry, but in the last few months, I have enjoyed poetry more than ever.. I read Garrison Keillor's Good Poems anthology cover to cover, dog-earring my favorites (and there were a lot of them). I have written poems, something I haven't done in years. I've corresponded with a friend who has written books and books of poetry, getting good feedback (i.e. both encouragement and suggestions for improvement). Last month, I attended a poetry reading at the local library and participated – the audience was invited to share some of their own work. What fun!

Poetry is important because of the emotion it conveys, emotion that remains fresh thousands of years after it was written (Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.)* That makes us laugh (I felt attached/To my old mouth/But it fell out //I wore it out)** or feel the stirrings of passion:
The Love Cook, by Ron Padgett

Let me cook you some dinner.
Sit down and take off your shoes
and socks and in fact the rest
of your clothes, have a daquiri,
turn on some music and dance
around the house, inside and out,
it’s night and the neighbors
are sleeping, those dolts, and
the stars are shining bright,
and I’ve got the burners lit
for you, you hungry thing.

* Psalm 23:4, attributed to King David of Judah
** from “My Mouth Fell Out” by Philip Parker, (c) 2007