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  Garibaldi, Garibaldi.

When I was a child in Garibaldi I had few concerns.

Nothing could trouble me, morning or night. Mornings I spent with my aunt. Like me, my aunt was not sent to work. My mother worked. My father worked. My sister worked. My uncle worked. They worked on the docks. The men hauled and the women boned. Hauling boning hauling boning off they go to holy bones. I didn't know why I didn't go, I didn't know why my aunt didn't go, but I did know that my aunt and I deeply resembled one another.

In Garibaldi my aunt had few concerns and watching her through the days I learned to be the same. Like me she had a round face, partial deafness and webbed toes. Like me my aunt liked laundry and dirt and bread smeared with butter eaten at the top of a hill on a cloudy day when the birds cawed often. Like me my aunt did not speak much and when spoken to like me my aunt only on occasion would respond. But my aunt went away early on in my story. Though I missed her, this did not overconcern me much. I knew of the resemblance but I was not certain I preferred the resemblance so when the resemblance was gone so was my uncertainty about it. While she lived everyone was kind to us. However I felt that they thought of me as a version of her rather than simply as me, the child with few concerns.

When I was a child in Garibaldi we were always referred to this duplicate way, as Auntie and Auntie. 'Is dinner ready? Ask Auntie and Auntie.' 'Are my long johns laundered? Ask Auntie and Auntie.' 'Are we ready for church? Call Auntie and Auntie.' I was Auntie and Auntie and if I had any concerns at all, it was this repetition of names. Auntie and Auntie go to the moon, Auntie and Auntie died too soon, Auntie and Auntie see the birds, Auntie and Auntie know what we've heard. I made that up in my secret shack. It was there I wrote my best poetry. Auntie and Auntie times two.

Garibaldi, Garibaldi. When I was a child in Garibaldi on weekends we went to the city nearby. Our schedules were otherwise smooth. Daily my mother and father and sister and uncle went to the docks. There the fishing and boning took place in a rough fashion full of odors. While this occured Auntie and Auntie stayed home. The end of the days followed a straight line from the kitchen also with smells to the bed where I slept dreamlessly alone. But on Saturdays we drove to Tillamee to shop. On Sundays we drove to Tillamee for church. The city was where cheese was made and what my mother called 'sundries' procured. Sundries, cheese, Sundays, church. I could not fashion a rhyme but believe me, the coincidence of the shared first letters did not escape me. Because I had no worries I could notice such things. Scrutiny!

Tillamee, so blessedly near Garibaldi, was lovely, lovely, lovely to me. As an example: all the stores featured free cheese. My sister and I both admired the samples on toothpicks. While my father and uncle went to the barber and my mother and aunt went to the market, my sister and I admired the cheese, the opposite of fish. Yellow cheese and white cheese, cheese in strips, in cubes. Cheese with holes! Cheese with sausage in the holes! My sister and I would reach a frenzy of cheese and then we would take a long walk, a rather long walk down a lane, and admire the boys in the town. Apparently all of them worked in cheese. Oh, my sister and I shared many admirations. This was different from sharing 'liking' which I did with my Aunt.

Garibaldi, Garibaldi. In Garibaldi there were two shores and one had a smokestack and one had the docks. The smokestack did not go on working once I was born, but there is no relation between these events. The docks were our livelihood, they were our blood. This was obvious to all who happened to visit our good town for all of Garibaldi smelled like the docks, like brand new fish just caught or killed or rotting fish left behind in chunks or if you went to the docks at four a.m., as I often did, to stare in the water and think, the smell was of swimming fish left living for the time being. Fish figured largely in our days and our nights and this made everything friendly. We ate fish for breakfast in the form of pickled herring. We ate fish for lunch in the form of a fry or a sandwich. We ate fish for supper in stew. We ate fish for snacks as dried jerky. Fishy fish, fishy fish, when I was a child I liked all sorts of fish.

Because of this affinity, I didn't like to stray far from the sea. Not seeing the sea did concern me. But there was one place to be. Behind our house and beyond the hill where Auntie and I watched the birds before Auntie died was my shack. This shack was far from the fish. From there one could not view the sea but one could hear the waves on a windy day and from time to time in a strong hale breeze, smell the boning going on. Inside the shack I would put on my sack. My sister had pilfered the sack from behind the cheese factory in Tillamee. I had asked her to take it for me. Because I did not speak much, when I made a request it was always heeded. I would share this secret to persuasion with a select few if it would not take speaking to do it. Besides I save my talking for things that will benefit me. Come now, don't think that's selfish. I never do anything unkind unlike others I see. Being a simple child of few concerns from Garibaldi, I was often confused in Tillamee when I saw people exchanging hard words with one another, shaking their heads and contorting their faces as if they were having fits. Right on the street corners.

Ever since being a child, I have preferred to sweetly gaze, to finger, to smell.

In Garibaldi I had few concerns, but people leave children alone, particularly simple children with round faces, partial deafness and glorious webbed, beautiful webbed, those special webb-ed toes. I make no mistake this unconcerned disposition was an achievement of mine.

Before Auntie died as she sat nearby on watch I would dress in the sack that my sister had taken upon my request and kneel on the floor and spread out my poems in order to speak. I liked a poem especially I had done called 'The Sea.' The poem went something like this: See what will be spent in the sea, See what will become of thee, See how my coins will weigh you right down, See how I've saved them see how you drown. This poem was based on a coffee can full of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters that I had been saving for several years. At first I had planned to spend the money on a pink dress I had seen in the Sears catalogue, but then the catalogue was discontinued. This made me so angry that I decided to write a poem about how, if I found the person who had discontinued the Sears catalogue, I would offer him my coffee can full of coins while he stood by the sea. I would cry deeply but quietly as I told him the pink dress tale and it would sadden him so deeply that he would throw himself into the sea. Weighed down by my can he would drown.

I remember that poem because of what happened with the sack, which had to do with the pink dress I had wanted.

When I discovered I could not have the pink dress because of the discontinuation, I was for the first time in my life distraught. I was in a bind, for once I had sidled up to a boy at the cheese factory while sampling a particularly gooey variety, which I'd taken with my finger. Under the pretext of wiping my hand on my pocket, I had taken the photograph of the pink dress out of my pocket, and held it toward him and raised my brow. He understood the question and smiled. He had nodded his head, with vigor, I might add. For several Saturdays that followed, I noticed him look at me.

Garibaldi, forgive me! For in fact he had been misled. One should not flaunt a pink dress, the promise of a pink dress that is not owned. As penance for my deceit I wanted a burlap sack. If I presented myself in a burlap sack he would see the real me and he would not expect any other. With his eyes he would arrange to meet me at the edge of the docks and toss me around like a buoy and I would laugh loudly as the gulls got confused about the girl in the brown burlap sack who resembled their particularly ugly gull brother or aunt. All Garibaldi would hear my song. The song of a girl whose family smells like fish yet who is so simple she isn't even allowed to smell like fish. Therefore a fishy, fishy girl.

I never made it to Tillamee in the sack. My parents would never allow me. The first time I tried, I simply wore it and they sent me to change. The second time I tried to sneak it under my clothes but I was so slim, the bulges gave it away. The third time I put it in my purse but the clasp would not close. Finally I just gave in to pining away. I took to putting on the sack and going to the shack and lying on the dirt floor crying 'I love you, cheese boy, I love you cheese boy I love you I love you I love you so bad.' This was not one of my better poems. It had no rhymes.

Of course, I didn't love him. I was a girl of few concerns, and love was not one of them. I knew that I liked the sound of the word. Words. I liked them all! But 'love' I did not the boy.

To my great misfortune, my sister heard what I said. Auntie had gotten sick and could not keep watch while I spoke in the shed. My sister told the boy and he laughed hard. 'She is tortured by the loss,' my sister said. My sister, a young woman of few concerns but not in the positive way, told me baldfaced of what she'd done. My sister liked to use the voice. This is how we differed. Of course soon I noticed a terrible thing. The boy stopped looking at me.

But because I was a child of few concerns I had no inclination to explain. 'No, I am not tortured,' I would have to say. 'I know that I don't love you. I know that you don't love me. Do let's eat some cheese and go back to how it used to be.' But everyone knows that an insisted thing loses all meaning. The more I would say I did not, the more he would think that I loved him. And there was the lament to defy me which had been overhead and translated. I got into fits in the shack in that burlap, but my sister, being the unfit kind, did not understand the difference. Perhaps she liked him better than me.

Is it any surprise that that I decided to cease writing poems? This was not difficult at all. However I had trouble giving up the burlap sack because I had become quite accustomed to the rough feel it gave the skin. My aunt, who had not yet died but would soon thereafter from some kind of brain fever, who liked similar things, made me some nice brown clothes. She knit me a cap, and a poncho, and altered a flannel shirt of my uncle's into a dress. In knee socks and the rest I looked serious and quiet and warm. I was dressed in this outfit when a nicer boy happened upon me in the shed. I laid down the burlap sack and kissed him. Then some other things happened. Though the things were unfamiliar they caused no alarm.

After that I didn't stay in Garibaldi long.

When I was a child, I had few concerns. From most places I could see the water where most of my family worked. The fish that they caught and then boned flew through the air in a smell that entered my clothes. Because I smelled fish, I thought fish, and fish have no use for voices. I occasionally used my own, and occasionally I still do. But because I did not work in the rough trade of boning and calling out to the men, my voice was a seldom thing.

This is no one's concern. They will learn, or drown.


ketzia in the burlap sack

kate bernheimer