Thursday, May 16, 2019

Her Daddy

Teresa Martin and I collaborated on her Orphan Train biography, which became the popular Mail-Order Kid. As we worked, Teresa at times implied that her foster father, Bappa Bieker, had molested her. When I pressed her for details, she fell silent.

At last she told me, and I understood why she'd refrained. With Teresa's consent, I opened Mail-Order Kid with her Bappa story. Here it is, below, in poetry form.

He's My Daddy
An Orphan Train Tale

I met him at the station
when I was three 
He put me in his wagon
took me to his store
sat me on his lap
lifted my dress
touched me everywhere
bounced me up and down
gave me a licorice stick

He's my Daddy
I ride his pony
eat his candy

I live with him
learn his language
Volga German sounds 
like barking dogs
I go to his church
Nuns teach me
in his school
His wife slaps me
He eats with his fingers
He calls me to his store
bounces me on his lap

He's my Daddy
I ride his pony
eat his candy

He's an old man but agile
bigger than me
When I turn thirteen
my breasts burgeon
He grabs my nipple
twists it
I slap him
He yanks my hair
right out of my head
I scream
hide in my bedroom
The sheriff comes
to take me away
"No, no,
I won't go"

He's my Daddy
I ride his pony
eat his candy

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Barney Baker

He's big
Two-hundred-eighty-four pounds, they say
Big enough to be a strong-arm man on New York's docks
Big enough to be a prize fighter with cauliflower ears

Three-hundred and-twenty-five pounds, they say
Big enough to dope horses, to bounce folks into line
to pull down bleachers at a circus, killing three
Big enough to be a hash-house voluptuary
gorging on Teamster dough from Chicago to St. Louis

Four-hundred pounds, they say 
Big enough to receive a bright red Caddy convertible, 
Big enough to wear a top coat large as a tent
sweat from his shiny pomade hair wilts his white collar 
A blubbery man with one pudgy hand on his shotgun

Five hundred pounds, they say 
Big enough to toss a nonTeamster taxicab into Wichita's
Arkansas river, to execute dynamite bombings there
ex-con, stink-bomb tosser, underworld enforcer, scum of the earth

Why is he knocking on my daddy's office door?

Nonfiction Poetry

Academics define "nonfiction" as writing based on facts, real events, or real people. As a rule, authors write nonfiction as prose but it can be poetry.

I wrote "Barney Baker," above, as a nonfiction poem, based on a real man with known traits. I learned about him from various news stories, including Time.  

My prose version of Robert Bernard "Barney" Baker appears in That Punk Jimmy Hoffa! Coffey's Transfer at War with the Teamsters. Baker played a major role in that war.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Bulging Calves

My mother despised physical exercise.

She found it distasteful.

I remember watching TV ballet with her. As delightful ballerinas in soft bell-shaped tutus danced on pointe, Mom said, "Look at her calf, the way it bulges. That's disgusting!"

Mother also picked at her food, eating much less than I did, keeping herself femininely slender with a narrow waist and calves that dared not bulge. 

In her eighties, mother developed osteoporosis, that disease of porous and brittle bones. 

Her fragility made her fall. She broke bones. After a hospital stay, she returned to the Home where she lived, to do physical therapy—exercises to strengthen her body.


How she hated them. 

She did them grudgingly. 

When she became stronger, she returned to her room. Predictably after a  week or two passed, she fell again. Once more the hospital and the loathsome exercises.

Repeatedly she fell.

She saw that the rest of her life would continue like this, and she couldn't stand it. 

She stopped eating. That was easy enough for a picky eater like herself; she just looked at her food to remember where it would take her:  fall, hospital, those horrid exercises. That quelled her already finicky appetite.

The doctor called me. "She has stopped eating." He paused. "Now we can feed her intravenously, but I really wouldn't recommend it." He paused longer. "She really doesn't want to live, but it's your call."

I slept on it, then I let her go.  

Did I kill her? Or was it suicide? Or just a strong case of will.

From the example of my mother's life, I learned to eat well, with plenty of calcium, and to exercise. 

Unlike my mother, every morning I voluntarily work through a sequence of 15 exercises: squats, twists, tucks, stretches and the like. Then and only then do I allow myself to eat breakfast, a hearty meal for me.

I'm almost as old now as my mother was when she died, and I'm used to nurses telling me what good physical condition I'm in. Periodically, my doctor tests my bones. They're fine, sturdy.

I don't tell Mother about this. I don't want her turning over in her grave at the thought that her daughter might have actually chosen calves that bulge.