My poem “Recipe” has just been published in the new web zine Siren. Check it out here:
When Terry’s mother died she left Terry her lifelong collection of journals. When Terry was finally ready to open the door to her mother’s memories all she found was blank pages. Terry describes this blow as a “second death.” But the mystery her mother left behind also gave Terry the opportunity to explore the power of the unsaid, the weight of the unspoken. What came next was Terry’s lyrical, transformative memoir, “When Women Were Birds.” Each chapter is an exquisitely composed meditation, breathing meaning and possibility into the empty pages of her mother’s journals. Sure to become an enduring classic, When Women Were Birds is a breathtaking and unforgettable testament and tribute to the most beautiful words never written.
“Here is what I know:
My name is Budo.
I have been alive for five years.
Five years is a very long time for someone like me to be alive.
Max gave me my name.
Max is the only human person who can see me.
Max’s parents call me an imaginary friend.
I love Max’s teacher, Mrs Gosk.
I do not like Max’s other teacher, Mrs Patterson.
I am not imaginary.”
I am quick to read books with main characters who have autistic traits, i.e; The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime, Me and You, Marcelo in the Real World, and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. I am also drawn to literary fiction written in the voice of a child. Not everyone can masterfully pull this off, but when someone does you get masterpieces like Room by Emma Donoghue, and now, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend.
My fourteen-year-old son was diagnosed with autism four years ago which is one reason these types of books appeal to me. I especially enjoy books that don’t come out and diagnose the main character for you. Anyone who has autistic tendencies herself, or who is close to someone on the spectrum can instantly relate. It’s because I’ve read several books with characters of this nature that I am sensitive to would-be cliches, the moment when an author is beating you over the head with personality traits to lead you to diagnosis.
In the first thirty pages of Imaginary Friend, I began to worry. Will Max simply become a summary of stereotypical traits, a carbon copy of every other autistic character popularized in recent fiction? Are his parents—a father in denial, an anxious, protective mother who wants to understand why her son is so “different”—going to fulfill all too predictable roles? But then, Green did something I wasn’t expecting, couldn’t expect. Just as you think that the worst evil Max faces is a lonely world, fighting parents, and a school bully, he put Max in danger, serious danger, and he handed Budo, Max’s imaginary friend, the terrifying, and harrowing responsibility of saving his human, his creator. Budo’s journey, and more than that, his inner transformation are what truly made me fall in love with the book, and more so with Budo, Max’s “imaginary” friend.
It is Budo’s humanity, his perspective that sets this book apart. Imaginary friends are far more common, often a relatable childhood memory. So for those of you who can’t relate to someone like Max entirely, Budo is the guide, the guardian angel that transports readers to both the vulnerabilities and limitless imaginings of childhood.
I urged my son to read the book the moment after I finished the last page. I still had a few tears in my eyes when I handed it to him, so hopefully that won’t deter him.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend will break your heart a little, I won’t lie. But it will also break you open in the most beautiful way. It is a story you will never regret knowing and never forget experiencing.
** This short story of mine was previously published in an anthology by Girl Child Press called “Just Like a Girl.” It has also been posted on A Word With You Press. It is my tribute to my hero, and one of my greatest inspirations, outsider artist Henry Darger.
The Conscience of Spiders
by Kristy Webster
Before I was a woman, I was a spider. My footsteps were silent. Cold, dark places were my home. I took what I needed and left the excess. No one told me what I was. I was born knowing it all, my purpose, my strength, and my prey.
Eventually I tired of the basement’s dank, moldy laundry. I wanted to nest in a higher place, to know the world at a distance, guarding my solitude with anonymity. That is how I came upon the old janitor.
He was called Henry Darger. I spun a web inside his apartment window. Other curious spiders joined me and Henry’s quiet audience grew. His apartment never knew day from night, and no one knew him but us.
We watched him glue portraits of baby-faced girls to watercolor landscapes stretched across the walls, the floor. Henry painted his heroes the Vivian Girls–little girls with penises who fought off monsters and men in military coats. We his spider daughters argued amongst ourselves. Is he a deviant or an innocent? Some decided he was the pornographer gone mad in his isolation. Others like me decided he was a child, clueless of the rules. The only undecided Daughter of Darger silently crawled across a wet painting until she reached the face of an unfinished pig-tailed girl, and blossomed from the child’s mouth like a tiger lily.
Henry’s thick, coarse, and charcoal stained hands are unspoken evidence of invented magic, places lit by his imagination. That’s when I envied the dreaming. Henry, in your dreams do the little girls defeat the evil monsters in the Glandolinian War? In your dreams have you spotted me, your protector of secrets?
Henry’s life took place on pages, tens of thousands of pages. But sometimes words were spoken into the deceivingly empty apartment. One year Henry cursed God for the snow, cursed the church for leaving him both fatherless and childless. These are moments I was tempted to reveal myself, but I knew Henry was a maker, something more than an ordinary man, capable of creating his desired company. I was superflous.
In Henry’s room, there were no empty bottles of liquor or wine, no excess articles of clothing strewn about the room. And in the thousands of pictures piled, stacked and sometimes scattered, there were no traces of Henry’s past, only the traced, drawn and painted faces of his little girl heroines, the pilars of his blooming story.
Henry is a snowflake in hell. My capsule of a body carries the hot poison that could melt him. But I want him to finish and I want the little girls to steal the waves of grass back from the dragons and soldiers. I want to know that the littlest beings can show the Giants the secret places they’ve been missing.
Thousands of water colored pages later, our Henry dies in his sleep. Not on his mattress which was buried in pages, but in his chair, at his desk, still in navy-blue janitor overalls, his hands and head resting on his latest collage of the Vivian Girls, who’d claimed the final victory.
People enter his sanctuary, our sanctuary. Strangers interpret the old janitor’s room. A woman in a pompous yellow hat calls him a recluse. The word rings true, resonates with me. I am the same. I spring towards the yellow to become a star atop the woman’s hat. I am invisible, her worst fear.
Little did I know that once I released my venom into the woman’s skin, I’d be caught and killed and this would be my last life as a spider, a small, unnoticed predator. If I had known that I would be reborn as the very same thing I poisoned, would I have let the strangers interpret our Henry’s works without interference?
In my new body I am a clumsy mess. Now gaudily visible I can no longer disappear into cracks, or make homes of windowsills and curtains. Even houses won’t conceal me.
Though I’m a woman now, I sometimes remember having been very small, and having hung from high places. In my home the smallest, most hidden places take precedence and I welcome silent visitors. The venom of my new existence is Time. I wait for the next rebirth. I ache for a transformation to be once again a selective danger.
My mother told me about a young woman who had a son but no husband. The father was gone. She worked as a maid scrubbing caked mud off lobby floors. She picked up wrappers left behind by children. She carried two buckets of water at a time, up six flights of stairs. Her black hair turned white and straw-like in just a few years. The skin on her hands turned so translucent you could see the blood pulsing beneath the surface. The woman’s body aged so much that passersby believed she was the boy’s grandmother.
My mother told me that this woman worked herself into an old lady, so her son could go to college. She imagined him as a doctor, a business man, a school teacher. She imagined him never immersing his hands in buckets full of Clorox Bleach and hot water. Never scraping gum from under tables, never eating slices of orange off the floor left behind by hurried crowds.
When the boy became a man, the mother took out a schoolbook from many years ago, that she never learned how to read. Inside, she had carved a space where she had stashed the money she’d bled for all these years.
“This is for your dreams,” the mother told him, with tears in her eyes.
He grabbed a few bills from the top, to make sure they were real.
“My dream,” he told her, “is to wander the world, on my own, with nothing but my shirt, and hat. My dream is to dig my hands in the soil, and make my own way. My dream is to walk circles around the world, until the day I find my father. Then I will rest.”
The son put the bills back. He closed the book. He kissed his mother on the cheek, put on his hat, and walked out the door.
The woman threw the cash in the stove. She collapsed and cried so hard, her tears flooded the kitchen floor. The empty book floated to the surface. The woman reached out just before going under. Her wrinkled hand fit the carved out space as if the two were made for each other. Black letters appeared on her fingers and palms, grew into sentences, then paragraphs, and lastly, pages. She still couldn’t read the words. She didn’t need to.
This little bird, this little birdy snapped her neck and didn’t tell me a thing.
I see the difference between twenty-five and thirty.-five. But I still hate pastels.
Thirty-nine will eliminate Saturdays, twist Sunday night like yarn into my salt and pepper hair.
In my Airstream, manners are irrelevant. Phone-calls are bloodbaths. For holidays, I succumb.
My dog limps.
One of you has taken more to your father. DNA and Cola, his nature versus my nurture.
My mother dies.
My sons bring me girls. I offer them bowls of popcorn, but they don’t stay long. I’ve never been one of those girls, carefree giggles and no plans. I spit old-girl chips on their cupcakes. Watch out, that bit of frosting on your nose. There. No, there.
Tea pots. Never owned one.
I carved coffee holes. I bleed Folgers.
In my forties I’ll dry out. The desert. Ceramic bowls. I’ll burn, never having burned like this before.
Sons. Babies. My sons and their igloos. My sons and my age. My love.
They’ll lie to me. Tell me I was a saint.
I’ll pity their lover-girls. Thinking: babies, more sons, age, delivery and doubt.
Don’t forget weekends, weeks and ends, and matricide.
My books. My crippled dog will eat them.
The moon gives me cramps. The sun brings me pebbles. Grains. Mortuaries. I am spent grief.
Fathers are what you bump into. Fathers are missions.
I am forty-one. You two with your cars, your places with girls and beanstalks. You’ve brought me four.
In my dreams, I am eleven, dark, lanky, suitable for play dates and teasing playground princesses with earthworms.
Awake, I am Elijah. Sitting.
I am fifty-two and have taken to pottery. For birthdays I still hand you the moon.