…just wandering out of my box.

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

Jack in the Box has Wi-Fi, and their coffee is cheaper than Starbucks. I’ve got a fistful of coupons and I’ll admit, without shame, that Jack in the Box sells the best junky breakfast I could ask for, at any time of the day. I don’t go there often, mainly because the nearest one is across the money order kiosk I remember so well, thanks to two boys who didn’t look older than seventeen. They sat in a Chrysler, the passenger nodding over and over as he pointed to me, drenched in my ivory sweater. The attendant behind the window advised me to stand across from her until the boys left. After twenty minutes, she rolled her eyes and told me, “Girls get snatched up on this street all the time.”

I thanked her, left with my security deposit, and slowly walked beneath the overpass, remembering the safety alert from two years before about a sedan falling from the upper level near Martin Street. Someone died. I cringe each time I walk near a highway, contemplating the weight of steel and rubber against my brittle chest. A thousand, ten thousand, a million silenced pieces that wouldn’t be disputed to the degree that I’ve questioned the veracity behind Jack in the Box’s calorie counts.

Roasted Black Coffee: Five calories.
Iced Coffee, Flavored: One hundred eighty to two hundred ten calories.

Black coffee sounds too good to be true, but what do I know of its truth? Without sweetened creamer, I often opt for tea. That too was on the menu, something around one hundred calories.

Hell, I’m not scared of calories, but I know I must stray from caffeine and processed sugars. I’ve just now adjusted myself to a proper sleeping schedule. My routine would take months to rectify if I toy with it again.

No one dines in at this Jack in the Box. The tables and floors are bleached to a modest gloss. I wonder if this is one of those spots where “girls get snatched up.” I suggest to myself that this may be one of those spots to get work done, with the coupons I have and the Wi-Fi stickers slapped on every door.

The police academy’s several blocks down, but it’s not the place to call when someone crawls through the drive-through window, angry that truly, Jack ran out of his awesome bacon n’ cheese potato wedges. I often think of the worst, and again, I toss away the idea of writing at a restaurant. The last time was at a McDonald’s, where I was reprimanded by a manager for swaying to Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose.”

“You’re disturbing my customers,” the manager snapped.

It’s hard to consolidate life’s taunting list of things that disturb the conscience.

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such is her finesse

she told me I was a lovely girl
and that her son was lonely.

I was twenty-two,
listening to an almost-widow
apologize for my empty apron.

they told me not to expect anything,
so I didn’t, and told her I’d be fine.

she told me her husband was happy
and that he couldn’t read letters.

So, he couldn’t read “tip,”
but again, it’s not such a faux pas
when we recall the doctor easing cotton out the ear.

recently, I’ve been collected
though I never learned to organize.

truthfully, I’ve never chosen to
as I grab my backpack before the day.

After five, I searched for news
while staring at a love letter rolled up straight
and taut, written in ballpoint ink without any sound of my name.

eyes on the collar, I pawed at my keys,
gaze reciprocated when I pulled out a maxi pad two weeks early.

“life”

oil and water
across your pavement.
I hear it’s called “life.”

let all suspense
enamor the thoughts
rustling in struck trees.

I watched as your sister
grabbed the sugar
and poured it down like morning milk.

she opened the door
just after you left
and clutched her sides, engorged.

you carried the hose
pointed at an angle
while she told you the diet worked.

Cat No. 50 of the 500 Cats Project

Sweet and Conscientious – Poetic RITUals by Ritu Bhathal

51OZQmeTjcL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_“…there is something for most situations.”

Oh, is that right?

If we respect convention, my age warrants questions, about the longterm boyfriend I do not have, the left ring finger pale as eggshells, and what I would do upon receiving a call from the daycare director after baby’s first brawl. In the barest sense, during these conversations, I answer with “Not yet.” Motherhood is foreign to me, but projects in my planner beg for attention. My obligations are limited, and as of late, my deepest conversations consist of “goo-goo”s and “coo-coo”s with none other than my two cats, George Batman Michael and Tabby.

Ritu Bhathal has a cat. Children, a husband, a profession commanding compassion and patience. She maintains a blog, But I Smile Anyway. Here, we find authenticity. In the giddy, frazzling, and sometimes tear-worthy moments of a life we have encountered sometime before. The bus monitor, teacher, neighbor next door. A woman I would like to meet on my sidewalk, share conversations with, and look up to as a model of bustling positivity.

I mention again my aversion to self-help books. Often times, I fail to relate to the sources of frustration discussed, sources that have brewed others’ anxieties and inner tensions that I grapple with daily. I sense some condescension, a reminder of “I’m twenty years older than you.” However, filled with the cries, sighs, groans, and laughter of a busy life I have yet to experience, Poetic RITUals does not condescend in the slightest. Rather, Bhathal’s book comforts.

A child learning to blow bubblegum. A working woman keeping a home. A dash of redolent romance sweet like hazelnut creamer. Contemporary issues such as prejudice, and some self-deprecating humor. The ways men perplex, and the ruddy grace by which they captivate girls in their hopeful youth. The author’s pieces, thoughtfully constructed in their rhyme and concise sincerity. Some bits remind me of well-written sitcoms from the ’90s that some of us can re-enact, word by word. There are sections of sentimentality, verses that left me thinking of the magic experienced each time I journey with Kitty and Levin in Anna Karenina. Undoubtedly, Bhathal’s collection is diverse, playful, enticing in its humor and emotion, and most admiringly, real. Girls in their twenties yet to wed may surely delight in her warmth and wisdom, verses appropriate for morning reading before the drive to work. It would not be farfetched to predict that grandfathers will smile, leafing through musings about chocolate cake, the restlessness of young children, and a matter-of-fact, personalized rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Rarely do I come across books about family life written without the drippings of sappy vanilla that leave our tummies and thoughts aching from overcompensation. Bhathal loves her children, her husband, her cat, her life, and daily sights. But the love is composed, neither preachy or theatrical. Self-aggrandizement, child worship, and Instagram shots of couples smiling too widely have no place in RITUals. But know that at a point, perhaps two, three, or more, one may be left smiling upon completion of this work. Through rain’s residual mud puddles, the teasing of daylight saving time, the loss of those we cherish and squabbles between people with whom we live, Bhathal encourages us to seize the moment. To reflect, learn, and smile any which way life takes us.

Poetic RITUals, in its gentle honesty, is now available on Amazon, through Kindle or paperback. 

she tried to take a peek.

the morning
doesn’t hide
too far away.

neither do
tiny voyeurs
in cold hurry.

losing time
and seeds
for big skies.

I witness
youth’s trying
and gawky flukes.

every week
she’s finding
gold in quartz.

Cat No. 44 of the 500 Cats Project

contrariété

if a harness is keeping
this cat on the ground,

I ask myself
what she
could have done
to deserve.

moistening suitcases
and tasting a freckle,

I stop to marvel
at another
celebrated
custard-whipped dictator.

humming as her mustache
clips itself,

while a child
has delighted in
pinching her
floured neck.

tiptoeing ’round to find
that ammonia’s not like bleach.

*Cat No. 29 of the 500 Cats Project

My friend, Monday

IMG_2193Life is like black tea
A whirlwind in white routines.
With honey, my friend.
Albeit rancid in heat
and rooms lit with the workday.

IMG_2197Letterhead gone blank.
Salutations sleeping, shy.
Oh, Ferris, he schemes
with a class I can’t capture
as I reel with meetings’ blur.

IMG_2203I hate electrics,
and water – dreary sewage.
One clips, Two swallows
the urge to bury deeper,
reaching towards my nightstand.

IMG_2207Imbeciles will crowd
and waves of bad music scream
like I do at eight.
Fabrication, I will try.
You laugh as I leave your floor.

IMG_2211Attitudinal
with sentimental longing
for simplicities
and movies I always miss
to often enjoy again.