My Great-Aunt Helen’s Flag

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My Great-Aunt Helen was a pistol. That’s the best way to describe her. She was a transport sergeant in the Marines, and when I attended her funeral six years ago, the priest told the congregation that it was the first time he had performed military honors for a woman.

Helen grew up as part of a large Polish Catholic family in northern Wisconsin. She had two husbands, both of whom were named Wally. She met her second husband while singing the national anthem at a snowshoe softball game in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, which also happens to be the home of the Hodag. (A Hodag is what you’d get if you mixed a jackalope with a Game of Thrones dragon, BTW.)

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When it became clear that acting and singing weren’t going to just be a hobby for me, the nearest heredity influence my family could identify was Helen. She paid for my braces, and she helped to finance my undergraduate education as well.

I met Helen only a half a dozen times in my life. My favorite memory is visiting her at the nursing home, playing Christmas carols on the piano and singing with her to the other residents.

Let it be known that Helen never really cared for that nursing home, and planned an escape the following Easter. She knew which exit wouldn’t be heavily watched during the festivities and hightailed it out of there with her walker. State troopers picked her up just as she was about to get to the county highway.

My parents help to take care of Helen in her final years. While she was still at her home, a bear walked through her house and ransacked her many bird feeders. My father named him Roberto, and sent her postcards penned by that mischievous bear for several months.

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When Helen passed, I asked my parents if they would pay for a plane ticket for me to make the trek from Seattle to northern Wisconsin and back. They seemed surprised, but enthusiastically said yes. I asked if I could sing Amazing Grace at the service. They phoned back a couple days later saying not only could I sing the song, but would I also consider giving the eulogy. I cracked a joke saying “Well, of course—what else is a theatre major good for?”

After the service, we went to the cemetery where Helen’s several siblings were buried. A 21-gun salute honored her service, and my father shared that he and his sister, Jean, would often walk the cemetery as kids and pick up the bullet casings from these salutes. A folded flag was also offered to our family, and when no one else indicated interest, I said that I would like to take it home.

Fast forward to the present day, when Meridith Grundei, who is directing the second year MFA Theatre: Contemporary Performance ensemble in Under Construction, by Charles Mee, asks the cast if anyone has an American flag. I make an offering of Helen’s memorial.

The first day we rehearsed the closing moments of the play with Helen’s flag, I had a hard time holding back tears. I would like to think that Helen is watching me rehearse from the great beyond. It heartens me to know that her flag and her legacy live on.

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The MFA Theatre: Contemporary Performance program brings things into focus for its students. I’ve learned so much about the theatre artist I want to become and the work I want to share with the world. Helen is a part of that tapestry.

At home, I have a binder filled with letters that Helen wrote during World War II. My mother wants me to use them to write a play about her. Someday, when I’m ready.

Under Construction runs 9/29-10/8 at Naropa’s Nalanda Campus. More info & tickets here.

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Squamata

I used to swim with seahorses
but found them to be inconstant.

(How do you love again when someone gives up on you as a person?)

Now I live with the lizards.
Baking on hot stone.
Shielding my heart from those unworthy.

Each of my scales
has enough surface area
to scribe
all of your h e a r t b r e a k s
come
close
I will wrap myself around you.

My mother called me coldblooded
even though my heart pulses with warmth
(& I place it on display in galleries
where photographs are not permitted.)

I know what it’s like to feel
submerged in an ocean of pain & anger,
the dark waters lapping
like a sadistic metronome.

(Always give yourself permission to change the tempo.)

I will shed my skin
once I have collected
a thousand heartbreaks
& written them down
with the ink of my venom.

I will remove myself
from myself
& give it to you
as a new set of armor.

& go back to studying
the evolution
of
my
venom.

 

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5 9 2017

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There are three cans of paint:

one is pain
one is fear
one is anger.

For years, I’ve tried to mute these colors
or hide them in the basement of my soul,
willing spiders spin a shroud around them—
and yet, the three cans still remain.
***

I was buying a bottle of whiskey
at Harvest Spirits on 30th and Arapahoe
and I see this German Shepherd puppy
who is a service dog in training.
She looks up at me from her place in line
and then eyes the basket of small bottles
of Bacardi Rum. She takes one in her mouth
and shakes it around like a chew toy.
The store clerk is afraid she’ll get drunk.
Her owner says she’ll pay for it if the teeth
puncture the plastic. The owner returns the
bottle, intact, but covered in slobber.
“What’s her name?” I ask.
“Hilde. Short for Broomhilde.”
“Cute,” I reply, searching for my phone,
which is in my car. Broomhilde leaves.
I buy my whiskey, which is called Larceny.

***
I would rather write about
Broomhilde
the service puppy
and how she almost
drank a shot of
Bacardi Rum
than force myself
to write
about the cans of paint
stored in the
basement of my soul.

Their excavation is inevitable
and the paint fumes seep up
into my psyche on occasion.

If I’m feeling strong enough,
I’ll take a sniff.

Amber Days & Toys

Some days disappear like childhood toys.

Wearing down slowly,
the fibers disintegrating.
Impossible to remember in detail.

Once cherished, the days and the toys
evaporate into corners of memory,
next to the now unpaired socks
we were sure we once washed.

We do not mourn the loss.

The disappearances repeat
on a familiar amber loop that is
both warm and cold to the touch.

Radiating heat.
Expelling cold.

A gentle, inevitable sizzling
that echoes only if we stop to listen.

Charcoal & Chiclets

2016 was a samovar filled with
indifference, intolerance and
a myriad of other self-boiling
elements that took us far away
from tranquility.

Unbeknownst to us, palpable walls
began to rise at a preternatural rate,
built of pepper and spite.

A mouth cannot make
another mouth
understand
if it is
intertwined with
brazen privilege.

Listen: we may tempted
to dump Benzodiazepine
into the waters of 2017.
Rewiring our brains.
Sedating us.

Or seek to terraform Mars,
creating a peace-filled
escape hatch, 54.6 million
kilometers away.

Here’s hoping we instead
have the prescience
to envision a better year.

To live it with zeal and grace.
Choosing gemütlich over schadenfreude.

2016 is done.

In 2017, new work begins.

charcoal

 

Skorpios

Sidney_Hall_-_Urania's_Mirror_-_Scorpio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was sent forth by Gaia to slay a giant.
Eight legs. Dark heart. Venom in my tail.

My instinct was to grab goddesses with my hooked stingers.

Now I live in the firmament. A constellation.

I devoured Libra’s stars and made them my claws.

My destiny is to share the night sky with Orion.
I am chasing him into eternity.
You’ll never see us at the same time.

I watch earth with a stubborn hope.
Some day to return.

To kill every injustice with my ferocity.
Inject my toxins into each bigot,
drive intolerance to extinction with my rancor.

One loves more deeply with a dark heart.
Considering the expense of each emotion.

Watch me gleam in the cimmerian heavens.
I am making my way back to you with

s
t
a
r
l
i
g
h
t.

Vows for a Feminist Marriage

I promise to love you without limits.
Breaking down the gender binary
one square inch of bubble wrap
at a time.

I am yours through sickness
and through health, yes,
but also through
smashing the patriarchy.

Together we will combat
microaggressions with
unassailable tenacity
and tenderness.

I promise to love and honor you.
We will obey the rules we write.
And not what has come before.

We will build a world for our children
that doesn’t mute the pink and blue
but brings forward all the colors
of their rainbow.

Whether taking a sledgehammer to glass ceilings,
or explaining the necessity of intersectionality,
or making sure that female superheroes line the shelves, too—
I am yours and you are mine.

Utterly.

Equally.

Completely.

 

The poem was commissioned by Kacey Shiflet by contributing to education fund to attend Naropa University’s MFA in Contemporary Performance. Want your own custom poem? Learn more here: https://www.youcaring.com/katie-woodzick-585387

Crisp Sentiment

I am not an easy person to love.

My heart is brittle.

Accessible only
to the most skilled
and delicate of
excavations.

A thin wire tool
scrapes away
the detritus
of heartbreak.

The accumulation
of self-loathing
and skewed
perception
of self-worth.

Perhaps warmth
will reside within again.

On a sherbert-colored day.

When the wind discovers its arms.

Binding

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,

We fear what we can’t define.

I come to you, cupping my breasts:
these sometimes strangers
negating my newfound pronouns.

Have you ever bound your chest?
The first time, I did it with elastic bandages:
another actor walking around my chest,
securing the bust espionage with
metal fasteners. It took three rolls.
Safe beneath a tuxedo shirt, mustard vest
and green velveteen coat (with tails),
I felt a sense of power and freedom
that ended up meaning more than
I could comprehend at the time.

I have two binders now; they are safer.
They flatten tissue without the harsh
compression of fluids. I pull them
over my shoulders and delight
in the flatness of my chest.

A passerby yells
“Hey, white boy!”

And my heart leaps
outside of the binding.