Helena Clare Pittman, one of the Center’s most dedicated teachers, has written, painted, and taught her entire life. In her monthly Helena Writes series, she shares a lifetime of wisdom, one pearl at a time.
Poetry: The Journal, May 2022
I write in it everyday, or my pen does. Because I sift through my solar plexus looking around until my pen moves on the paper. There are things I don’t write. Sometimes I’m so parched, the pen won’t connect. So I start, Yesterday, and wait—
until there is something—
—I am using fall wood from my woods, and found a log I thought was too big to catch in the woodstove. But it’s warmed the house all day.
Lately I’ve been writing memories that open into stories—a beginning and an end. I don’t worry anymore about the middle. I write things that mean something worth the words.
I sit down blank as the page. I have brewed coffee. Sip it in a thermal cup Jim sent me for Christmas. It stays hot for two hours. I’ll need at least that.
I make this sacred connection, pen to paper, every morning.
I am a painter. I learned to write from painting.
I am not a poet. But I am a wordsmith. There lies my surety. The silences between words are so taut, they hold me.
In May, I set out to write a poem at the end of every journal time. But I am shy to call them poems, so I’ll call them impressions.
I went food shopping after dark
Needed the light to paint
The robin who lives here is singing a rain song.
The flycatchers, Phoebees (Fee-Bee! Fee-Beee!) whip past the studio window,
But also perch on the porch rail.
They seek me.
If I don’t come outside
They flutter at the window.
This woods where I live is a place of mystery.
You rang into my studio.
The silence between your soft calls brought me to stillness.
You sang to me
The distance between your soft trillings brought me peace.
After I wrote these lines, I realized the sound was coming from my landline receiver, running out of juice. Of course I laughed. Then I marveled: sound is sound.
“Walk though there is no place to go.”
Turn the hot water tap
My Kitchen River
The old enamel pan
Last night’s dinner plate;
A soapy finger against its grease
To play on porcelain
A thrush’s longing ballad-cry
An anthem, a woods-walk song.
The place I go is In.
Fiction after memoir: The Monkey, Addendum
Someone expressed sadness for the monkey’s unknown fate after I wrote Parts 1 and 2 for this blog. And I realized that I was sad, too. Having, since I was 14, found myself in the midst of a family of animal rescuers, animal advocates, and an animal lawyer, and having matured into the capacity to feel for those sentients, empathy that is sometimes so keen, I have to get busy, change the subject. But here is another piece of writing about that spider monkey. I’ll call it “An Addendum to The Monkey, Parts 1 and 2.”
I never learned what happened to the little spider monkey I’d brought home. I’ll have to imagine because it troubles me, and has, as I’ve said, saddened others.
The Great Use of the Imagination: Perhaps a man with a big, yellow, Texan, broad-brimmed, arch-topped hat, yellow pants and yellow shirt, came to that pet store and took the monkey home with him. But Curious George was written four years before I was born.
Perhaps no one bought the monkey after my parents brought him back. And, because most people are too practical to want to keep a monkey in a Queens, New York apartment, the owners of the pet store, let’s call them Marigold and Raymond, became more and more attached to the little monkey. Maybe Marigold and Raymond had a child, a seven-year-old, let’s call her Francine, who came to love the monkey and secretly gave him the name Obadiah.
Francine looked through the cage bars into Obadiah’s intelligent dark eyes. Obadiah tilted his head and looked back at Francine. “Oh, Oby,” Francine whispered.
Raymond and Marigold had fallen into fondness of the monkey, too. Marigold called him Bruce, and didn’t mind at all if anyone heard her. Once you name a monkey, he’s yours, let’s be real.
Customers came and went. Some looked at Obadiah Bruce. Some talked quietly to him. The Fleurettes, that was their family name, busied themselves cleaning the cages of the other animals, or guided the customer to a puppy, a parrot, a kitten, a ferret, or the miniature carps that lived in their fish tank.
It wasn’t long before the Fleurettes left Obadiah Bruce’s cage door open, and the monkey sat on one or another of Raymond, Francine, or Marigold’s shoulders while they groomed the dogs, straightened shelves, swept the floor, put fresh paper at the bottom of the parakeets’ cages, and all the other necessary daily tasks in the life of a pet store.
“Bruu-uuce,” Marigold would croon, and scratch the monkey’s silky head. “I’m so gla-a-a-d you are here,” she may have told Obadiah Bruce.
Maybe Raymond was a jogger, or a bike rider with a basket on his English Racer, where Obadiah Bruce could sit, seat-belted, behind Raymond. And when Raymond rode down a hill, Obadiah Bruce enjoyed the feeling of the wind blowing through his soft, long fur.
It would not have taken long before Marigold and Francine discovered they’d each named the monkey. But they were a good-humored family, and compromised by calling Obadiah Bruce, O.B. That the initials matched the nickname Francine used was perfection. They moved O.B. to their apartment one flight above the pet store.
When the family ate their dinner, O.B. sat with them at the table, with a plate of oranges and lettuce. Before bed the family read, and O.B. played in his own little bed until he dozed off. Then the three of the Fleurettes often talked softly together for a while until Francine fell asleep, too, and Raymond or Marigold turned off the lights and all of the family went to bed.
One night, after dinner, O.B.’s eyes seemed sad. Marigold had seen that look before—O.B.’s monkey eyelids, drooping, O.B.’s look far away.
And maybe one day Marigold and Raymond, and even Francine agreed that O.B. needed his real family, and booked three tickets to New Zealand, where O.B. had come from. Maybe they opened O.B.’s old cage and released him into New Zealand’s wilds, its trees and vines and thickets, its lush dense forest.
I think O.B. would have hugged the Fleurettes, stopped for a moment, wondering how he would live without their love of him. Then I see him turn toward the wild landscape, and turn back. I watch him look each Fleurette deep into their eyes, brown and blue, with his own intelligent brown eyes and dilated black pupils, now twinkling, but not sad. I see him spring on his hind legs, then sprint in great leaps, faster than Raymond’s best jogging speed, and he’s gone, into the thicket of trees, where his own family of spider monkeys sniff him, then realized he was he—a name I will never guess, and opened their ranks to receive him. I think there was a party that night to welcome that monkey who should never have been taken from his own home. I hope so.
When I think of that monkey I bought for twenty-two dollars, when I was 14, I turn to my kitties, Oliver and Sebastian, brothers. I speak to them; I am teaching Oliver English. Sebastian isn’t interested in my mother tongue. He shouts his love, in loud meows, that maybe to him is the same as my saying, “I love you, Sebastian.” I know that Oliver knows what I mean when I tell him that, because of the rising of his purr, and the gentle paw, all skin, claws relaxed, touching my lips, my cheek, and sometimes my hand. “Hand, Oliver, I say. “Hand.”
A writing exercise
Have a real-life story that you don’t know the end to, but wish you did? Imagine it and then write it.
What did you think of Helena’s latest story? Share with us in the comments.
Related reading: Helena Writes
Want to receive tips and inspiration like this in your inbox every Sunday morning? Join our email list community! You will receive weekly advice, a year’s worth of weekly writing prompts as a FREE download, and be eligible to participate in our monthly photo prompt contest for a chance to share an original piece of writing with our community of nearly 2,300 writers.