The Tower Journal

Jenny Saarloos


Charlie

My mom said that you were no better than the rest. You hit her. Windows broke.

But I never thought much of it. Even when you pulled out your pistol I figured you wouldn’t shoot. All day you drank Bourbon Deluxe and managed to get up to make dinner. But the darkness waited. You screamed in your sleep. Your friend’s brains covered you again and again. Your pinky was shot off. You woke every morning with a metal plate in your leg. It was only a few years from the time my mom met you in a bar till you went in the hospital. I went to see you not knowing it would be the last time. Sometimes I dream about your beat up beige station wagon that barely chugged up hill. The cans we gathered in public parks for spending money rattled in the back. I ducked every time we passed anyone for fear of being recognized. Sometimes you are chugging up the hill where I live––coming for a visit––and I look forward to seeing you again.



Katherine

African Violets bloom in the window where you liked to watch the birds.Your clothes fill the closet. Some of them too much of a bargain to resist—hanging with the tags still on. Your soft blue sweater hanging on a hook—wadded tissue in the pocket. The thin cotton scarf you wore when you lost your hair. Your bracelets. Hundreds of them. Perfect rows of tiny beads all carefully put together by your hands. Quilts too in thoughtful patterns. Teacups & teapots—antiques. Flowers & hearts. Your accounts. The money you worked for & saved your whole life. The start of a grocery list. Half eaten boxes of your favorite treats. It makes me smile to see that you bought chocolate pudding—even though my dad would have called it poison. I will eat a cup. Thanks for answering my prayers & coming to be with my father all of these years. He is as maddening as ever & can never find anything—not even the phone & there are six of them.

I’ve put some of your things into boxes & my eyes are so near tears they burn because I need to put them into my car and take them to the Goodwill. I fold your clothes—finish your laundry. The birds nibble at the food you put out.





My Father

I am writing to see if I can feel the slightest tremor. I am thinking about my Father and the depths of his work. He works in his garage. He works long days and into the night. He makes antennas that get lowered into the ground. They are being used to sense any movement of the earth. When he is not working he is reading and jotting down designs on scraps of paper that fall to the floor. I gather them carefully. Standing stilI I feel his blood pulsing through my heart.




Google Earth

My father travels to back to Holland on Google Earth. We are at the kitchen table. His family left Holland after the war. He points towards the screen: this is where I was born. This is where my father was born. This is my house—it is still here. I liked to play over here—but if I was out past six the Germans shot over my head. It was just a warning.

There was an outhouse over here—and there was a second outhouse--but it was a decoy. Underneath a few inches of waste we hid the food. My mom cooked up whatever we had in a big pot every night. It was my job to stamp the cards of the people who lined up for food. At night we hid them under layers of hay. A row of people—tarp—hay.

There was a haystack here--but it was hollow. One wall was a tarp where hay was carefully sewn on. In there the resistance hid a car. At night they rolled up the tarp and drove off.


This is where the Germans flooded the land and this is where a plane crashed. I watched the Germans remove the body of the English Pilot—they did so with so much respect. Part of a plane fell on our roof here and Dad had to repair it. In the house there was a table and on the table a small jar of sugar—I snuck a small bite once and was beaten. Dad worked for the resistance but Uncle Pete worked for the Nazi’s. In Holland a murderer gets ten years but Uncle Pete got twelve.

We are at the kitchen table in my father’s house. Ripe lemons hang on the tree out front. Chirp of Birds. A little sun.





Dear Francisco Ramos,

In the middle of the night
Your face appears

You are trying to make
Things right—
You are trying
To turn it all around

You are a name on
My roll sheet
You are second row
In the back

We are in a small room
We do not have windows

Every chair is filled

You have done the assignment
You needed to do
& not what I assigned
I force myself
To put a grade on the paper
I know that it is wrong

I am trying to turn
Everything into a lesson
You see class that punctuation
Is beautiful—
You are beautiful
The way your thought breaks
Mid-sentence (dash)
Your emphatic assertions (colon)
You—you—
Are beautiful

But this time the lesson
Is all mine

This business of reading
& writing
Is life & death

The lesson is aching
In my gut.
You were about to die
Francisco & I put a grade
On your paper

It was not the paper
I assigned
It was the paper
You needed to write

It was about your life
You were reflecting on your life—
It was what you needed to do

Life teaches us—
But some of us are busy grading
& some of us are busy believing
The grades

The class moved to a room
With windows
We lit a candle

At your funeral
Your father so
Tenderly put his hand
On your coffin

Weeks later he comes
To campus with your mother
To pick up the paper
That you wrote


Copyright © 2014 Jenny Saarloos

Jenny Saarloos has an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She has been published in On the Bus, Rattle, Transfer, the San Francisco Guardian, and Fourteen Hills. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon with her son and Chihuahua.

The Tower Journal
Spring/Summer 2014