poems by Rena J. Mosteirin

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Moose

I lived for almost a month convinced I was dead
and singing songs that didn’t make sense. You say it’s okay.
I like the sound of that. Will you be my main character?
I want all my new poems to be about love.

We are driving up to Maine
when we pass a motorcycle on its side
half-covered by a big black stained blanket. The driver is down, got
one arm around the guardrail and the other trying to gather up the road
in a backwards hug. The cops aren’t there yet
just some guys in jeans and sweatshirts who wave and rearrange the traffic,
directing us past the brutal place
where everything gets slow and silent and terrible.

That moose was huge, you say finally.
What moose? I didn’t see a moose.
I just saw a blanket.
I am worse then blind. I saw a man drowning
in the ocean once and he just looked like a big, white fish. I looked away.
I didn’t understand why so many were running
to the water, like some sort of backwards shark attack.

Worse is when I see things that aren’t there. Just black
flutters in the corners of my eyes. Spider, moth, bat, ghost shadow hallucinations.
How can you want someone so damaged?
I am just freaking out now
and you take my hand.

You say it’s okay,
which is code for
sometimes it’s better not to see the moose.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Only Cure for Stage Fright

      I was going into fourth grade but my mother told them that I was going into sixth. Admission to the Southport Camp for the Performing Arts was difficult and required lying. It was a little white lie, she said, because I was gifted and it was cheaper then the out-of-doors camps, and not goody-goody like girl scout camp, and I wasn’t tough enough for sports camp. My first day of camp was a nightmare because I thought they all knew I was lying when I said I was going into sixth. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head saying: Acting camp teaches you lying, don’t worry! And, here’s where being overweight works to your advantage! She was right of course; skinny kids always look younger.
      I made friends with some of the younger kids, but I felt very shy, even more shy then usual, because I was haunted by the thought that at the end of the summer we’d be performing a show for our families. Thinking about it too hard made me feel sick. Every time the camp director gathered us around to talk about THE SHOW I would try as hard as I could to tune him out, but it was almost impossible to tune out the two worst words--THE SHOW—because he shouted them, and put his hands next to his face and wiggled his fingers. This is called jazz hands.
      Sandy Lee was the dance teacher and I loved her. She sported short-shorts and a long mane of blonde and grey hair that tied back in a ponytail holder that she always twisted a long ribbon around. The ribbon was usually pink. Sandy had wrinkles and the deep voice of a cigarette smoker. She claimed to have been a member of the Rockettes at Radio City. That was a very exciting thought, one that made my mother snort and say, yeah, right
      Sandy made us lay down the carpet and visualize our bodies all tensed up, and then release the toes! Release the feet! Release the ankles! All the way up to our neck and head and eyes and I would almost always fall asleep when we did this, but she never yelled at me for falling asleep. In fact, she said that I was probably doing it too well, and that’s why I kept dozing off. I felt stupid, like everyone would know I was a baby, a lying baby who still needed naptime.
      There was a big fat man with a big beard and a big voice who sat behind the piano and taught us songs and he was jolly but there was this rim of terror to him. Like if we’d been practicing a song for a long time and still weren’t getting it right, he’d slam his fists down on the piano keys and shout that we were never going to sing the song again, and sometimes that the song was ruined forever, for him. The first time he did this, I started to cry a little, but I was safely in the back of the cluster around the piano, so nobody noticed.
      THE SHOW was something we were writing ourselves, the director told us. He was not only director of the camp, but director of THE SHOW and he did acting exercises with us and yelled at me when he would find me curled up asleep behind the piano. I had one line in the show. It was in this song and dance part where we were singing, “If I, If I had a million, million dollars, tell you what I’d do…” and my line was, because I couldn’t think of anything better to say, and needed to have a line in the show: I’d like to go to visit Barbados.
      I picked Barbados because my Uncle Bob had gone there on his honeymoon the year before. I was the flower girl at his wedding, which meant I had no lines, just a fancy white dress and that was perfect. I wept a little when they said their vows because my grandmother was weeping and everything was so beautiful and there were flowers everywhere. "It was the best day of my life," I said very seriously when asked how I’d liked the wedding.
      I had the feeling that THE SHOW was going to be nothing like Uncle Bob’s wedding. For one thing, I didn’t have a costume. We were supposed to wear cut-offs and white tee shirts, at the director’s behest. That was not fancy. I thought the former Rockette might protest, but she didn’t. I saw the Radio City Christmas Spectacular the year before, and no one was wearing cut-offs. I wished horseback- riding camp hadn’t been too expensive. I could imagine myself astride a great black mare, galloping down the beach, in proper tan horseback-riding pants. Maybe I’d even have a little black cap and riding crop. I would love horses, I decided. And horses would love me.
      Perhaps I should have tried to change my line in the show to “If I had a million dollars I’d go to horse camp instead of this camp.” My mother was outraged at my line when she finally heard it. She said that Barbados was a cheap place to go, and the idea that I would want to go there—to Barbados of all places! Why not Europe? What about that sweet little girl whose line was “My family and I would cruise ‘round the world” the one with the red pigtails—didn’t I too wish to cruise around the world? I would have changed my line if I knew it was going to upset my mother, but I didn’t know. All I knew was that Uncle Bob said his honeymoon there was the greatest, and brought back this wonderful wind chime made of shells with whales painted on them.
      Not being in the show was not an option. The director told me that the only cure for stage fright was to get out there and perform. Sandy Lee said I should look out at the audience before the show started and imagine everyone in their underwear. The music man was indifferent to my plea. He told me to sing quietly when everybody else is singing, and if all else fails or if I forget the words, just relax and lip-synch.
      I started writing furiously that summer. I thought that if I could just prove that I was good at one thing—anything else, I would be okay. Anything that wasn’t singing, dancing or acting games, and I would be fine. So I wrote a novel in a marble notebook, about a thirteen year old girl (because that seemed to be the right age for falling in love) who meets a boy who turns out to live on her street and he lies about his age and steals his parents car and they go out on a date but the cops pull them over because he can’t really drive, so then the main character gets grounded for the whole rest of her summer, but on the upside, the bad boy moves away shortly after the disastrous date, and a new boy moves in, a very cute new boy. I filled every page of my notebook and when I was done, I decided I was an author and though I didn’t talk to anyone about it, I felt much better about being the worst singer, dancer, etc… I don’t need any of this, I told myself day after day—it’s the literary life for me!
      So of course I was unprepared for THE SHOW when it finally came and I tried to hide behind the piano and the director caught me there and scowled at me and I said, please, let me go, I have to go to the bathroom, and he didn’t believe me, and thought it would be worse to have to pull me out of the girls room, so he said, “Use it!” and pushed me out on stage. I had no idea what he meant by use it, and luckily the first thing we were doing in the show was a dance where I was in the back row any way, and then small groups (that I wasn’t in) were performing scenes from plays. So I figured I’d have time to go to the bathroom before the song with my one line in it. After I said my line, I want to go to visit Barbados, not knowing how it would make my mother cringe, I would sneak out and find my parents car and wait for them in the parking lot. Maybe I could convince them to get me ice cream.
      Just as I thought about ice cream, my stomach began to rumble and I wished I was in the bathroom. I half-heartedly did the rest of the dance number and then as it ended and I went to sit with the kids who weren’t in the small groups on the side of the stage. When I sat down my stomach felt much better. So much better in fact that I forgot about my stomach entirely and just watched the scenes. Some of the people in the scenes were pretty good. Some were terrible, like Kiki Wilson pretending to cry and honk-blowing her nose into an old lace handkerchief, making the audience laugh when they should have been sad. One of the older boys was cute but I was too scared to talk to him, and now the summer was over and it was too late.

      When I stood up for the group song with my one line, my stomach rumbled so loud that the other kids on stage glared at me, and I really wanted to cry and run away to the bathroom, but I didn’t and all of the sudden I was in the front of the stage, holding hands with the other kids who suck at theater, and one by one, we were singing our lines, our responses to what we’d do if we had a million dollars and I couldn’t hold the shit in anymore. My underwear ballooned out as Henry Pendleton sang that he would help starving children. I could smell it as Allison Wong mimed jumping on a trampoline and said she’d get a trampoline for her backyard.
      And then I mangled up my line with my eyes were full of tears and my face twisted up with the pain of extreme embarrassment. The audience laughed. Then it was the girl who’d cruise ‘round the world, and then our line walked backwards (thank god) while another line of wishful thinkers came out holding hands and beaming. I got to the bathroom supporting the shit with both hands, praying to God to at least not let any of it fall out of the stupid cut-offs. I took off the shorts and the underwear and put them in the toilet and cried until Sandy Lee came in and I explained to her what happened, and she gave me a pair of her old sweatpants and said something about the show must go on, and disappeared.
      I hid in the bathroom holding Sandy Lee’s pants until the applause from the finally died down and then I quickly put them on and ran to the parking lot, where I hid behind my until my parents came out. They offered to take me out to ice cream, but all I could do was hide my face in my hands and cry.
      Later, when I was talking about it with my older brother Marc, the only person I spoke to for at least a week, he said, “Well, at least now it seems like you’ve cleared the way for yourself, as an actress I mean.” I looked at him and frowned. He continued, ”Cause, you’ll know a show is good if you don’t shit yourself.”

Friday, September 12, 2008

the end of summer fabulous (9.03.03)

The red barn girls are so summer fabulous.
My name is high
crazy and no sleep
and everything I eat comes out like diarrhea,
comes out like I’m in love.

I pause his film
at the flash of his face at the end,
he's taken out all the frames where
his face is not obscured
by a hand so
How do you know it's him? she asks. I just know.
The way I know he’s hijacked another pirate ship,
and never coming back.

You can have the red barn back,
but it's full of continents
and nothing can grow there
and it gets cold at night now.

I sit shrouded in cheap blankets in the dark,
listening to my theme song on repeat,
which is to say, it’s just me and his name
in the dark over and over again.