The HyperTexts

Reta Lorraine Bowen Taylor

Reta Lorraine Bowen Taylor is an American poet, storyteller, painter and artist.


Morning—Torrance, California, 1958

I’m in the Foster Front Yard
my baggy cotton sunsuit tied in bows at my small shoulders
attempts to hold me up in spite of
Mothers who might kill
Fathers who drink their lives away from children
(as tho just another passtime)

I have hair cut short (without even asking)
and somewhere nearby
my already evil brother is tormenting a puppy
while my already jealous sister spies on me
(as tho she will steal my breath if I move)

My small white-pink feet are splayed in the
morning damp grass
attempting to hold onto this unfamiliar patch of green
this borrowed home——
where this father and this mother
who work and cook and wash our clothes
and would have us permanently
(if only father would sign us away, go, and forget)
but today
I am suddenly six years old
and the wrinkled grandma comes to hand me
birthday-carded wishes scratched into blue paper
and the brother and the sister too
manage to squeeze into the shot
as the funny box-shaped camera clicks its
grey colored pictures
capturing for all time
my innocence still

But I mourn for my hair—
the long flowing locks (that never were)
I am shorn, as always, to my ears
unable to flap little girl braids wildly
like helicopter blades
spinning me round and round
until dizzy with drunken glee

And I have stolen this mother’s bobby pins
tucking them into my cotton front
where they jingle-jangle as I attempt to walk unnoticed—
undiscovered in my theft,
I drag the long cotton jump rope behind me
like a water hose
its red plastic handles that allow it to turn
without tangling at my sides
flinch over the uneven ground as I go—
the “Birthday Girl”
here, today, attempting to be just another little girl
in smocked cotton sunsuit pretending to be normal

Before anyone spies me
the stolen bobby pins
materialize from my flat cotton top
and appear exposed in my small upturned palm
as I lay that rope across the top of my butchered hairdo
like a Hollywood pro fussing over Marilyn Monroe
and the rope dangles down my sides
toward the ground
its red plastic handles nearly graze the moist blades of grass
as I fasten the wavy bobby pins
sharply into my birthday head
against my too-short strawberry blonde hair
and I use up the whole handful of them at odd angles—
their sharp ends scraping my scalp
creating a hidden runway beneath my short ‘do
for today, you see
is my birthday
and if only for today
I choose my own image
and she has long beautiful braids that twirl around her
as she moves
and the red plastic handles
add joyous exclamation points to her suddenly fancy ‘do
as she runs and flaps the rope against her slim white frame
slapping the rope along her thighs
as tho she were suddenly a pony
set free
kicking at the air
in the borrowed birthday yard.

Writer Guy Next Door...

walks like there are small hinges in his knees
that need oil
his heels hit the hot pavement
like they should have cleats to make them stick
but he bounces on
unfettered by cricking knees
or coordinated heels
he opens his mouth to speak
although he has nothing to say
but begins in spite of that with a torrent of garbled words
croaked from his withered throat in a dry raspy knot
as his larynx hitches up
trying to stop the avalanche of words
from bursting forth into nothingness—
he knows all there is to know already
and will tell you so
in case you haven’t figured it out yourself—
he can’t type a consonant or vowel
but will pour over endless yellow pages
full of scratchy blue handwriting
and vomit them at you without taking pause or breath
or looking up for a reaction
or to see if you’ve fallen asleep
he only stops long enough to draw another
loooong drag off his umpteenth cigarette
as he tries everything he can
to obliterate what is left of his vocal chords
once and for all—
and since it wasn’t cancer trying to take him out
(at least it didn’t get him yet—
the little lumps in his doctor’s glass sample jar
have already been all but forgotten)
he keeps drying out his throat in
the breeze of constant repetition as he flails
in his own saliva
never pausing to bob to the surface
and dog paddle or float on his back
looking up to the quiet clouds
listening to the water rushing into his ears
as he goes down
for the last time.

Brucie Meade

The boy next door hung over the fence by his armpits
wood splinters gouging tiny holes where future hairs may grow
grinning as he silently, jealousy watched my brother and I
swim circles round the doughboy pool,
its bluegreen sidewalls passing my cheeks under the water
as I held my breath trying not to die

But I was impatient to grow up
so ate up every opportunity to proceed forward never looking back
to find those left in the dust of my footprints

That now nameless boy escaped my dusty footprints
to some destination never discovered by me
while I was busy going forward from another section of wooden fence
the furthermost section of what may have been a northeast corner
or possibly a southwest corner
(seven year olds are not too inclined to know the difference)
The boy behind that wooden corner climbed as easily as I did
to peer kitty-cornered into the dirt back of our property—
all knees and elbows, toothy grins, cow-licked “do,” curiosity
and young boy enthusiasm nearly knocking the eyebrows off his face
as he searched my yard for my freckled pale skin
my bouncing “Shirley Temple’d” ringlets
(a bit less springy by then with school let out)
my horse neighing somewhere nearby as the boy clung to the corner
hoping to spot me soon as his grasp lessened on the ancient wood

This same boy, my age, Brucie Meade (or was it Mead?)
was every bit the young gentleman
each morning walking all the way around the block
(or did he hop that corner of the fence and take the “shortcut?”)
finding himself upon our large square red-painted cement porch
knocking once more on the front door, smiling pleasantly, always

My father answering, playing along, knowing full well
the routine never altered—
“Mr. Bowen, may I walk Reta Bowen to school?”
And of course, I would be standing nearby
ready for my entrance upon the red painted cement porch
and our little play

My father would see us off to school
possibly glad to know I wouldn’t walk alone the half block to
Frances Willard Grade School in Compton California—
standing on the porch or watching from the front door
as the small twosome of Brucie Meade and I walked hand in hand—
me remembering my father was watching, so I’d bounce my ringlets
and my flouncy dress and pinafore (in the time before girls in pants)
for his enjoyment
as he watched us walk the sidewalk-less path to school
I could always feel my father’s pride from his gaze
patting me on the back as we went

Brucie Meade had another familiar refrain once we got to school
and were set free for recess:
chasing me around the play yard, in and out of the merry-go-round,
on and off the swings, and the jungle gym—
then behind the buildings in his first grade enthusiasm
always with the same refrain “Reta Bowen, wanna kiss?!”

Brucie Meade, did indeed, get his kiss, too many times to count
of course, always a quick peck on lips or cheek
then off to flee and pursue once more,
the two of us never seeming to tire of the chase

Apparently my Brucie Meade was quite the ladies man
as I was in his kitty-cornered back yard once
“playing house” with him being the daddy, and I being the mommy
and his baby sister as our little girl
we played in the home-made wooden playhouse
careful not to get caught kissing
by watching out the small windows for his mother
who never showed
but apparently the neighbor little girl was watching
as one day, quite unexpectedly
an empty glass peanut butter jar managed to pole vault
right over the fence from next door
miraculously finding my forehead hairline with a loud kabong of some sort
(sound effect and blood seemingly arriving at the same time)

Brucie Meade rushed me inside to his mother, who patched me up as best she could
and sent me along home for inspection which never came

The thing should have gotten stitches, but it was not to be
so, today, as I look into the mirror at my beginning to grey
“old lady” hairdo, I spy the smile-shaped white skin in the thinning hair
the glass peanut butter jar edge-shaped slice still
showing where the wound had hung open
hungering for stitches that would never arrive—
and I think of Brucie Meade
having spent years wondering whatever became of him
always envisioning him, somehow, an accountant
or banker —something precise and correct
where he could use his expert skills of politeness
I smile at the smile-shaped scar nestled
in the thinning hair reflected before me
then head into the kitchen to savor
a lovely peanut butter sandwich
and remember the taste of my first kiss
from the ever-gentlemanly 7 year old
future accountant or banker
Brucie Meade.


I wish they'd quit showing that clip of Marilyn
in that skin tight, near nude, sequined dress
Happy Birthday Mister President
thru her breath—
it's becoming see-thru
it seems,
and Marilyn
could use a rest.
I just wish she'd be thirty-six again,
white skinned
dreamy eyed,
get the roles from Meryl and Cher—
Show 'em.

steal her image up on my shelf.
I pore over them
to touch her.
She shimmers there—
cotton candy hair.
Her skin is warm, — melty.
Really, what it is is this:
we taste her
that's all.
The woman had a certain flavor,
something rare—
like a white chocolate liqueur truffle,
creamy    moist     sweet    intoxicating.
We ate her up
til she stopped breathing
and then
we put her in books.

A Kiss on the Hand May Be Quite Continental
But Cold Sheets Were A Girl's Best Friend

Now, you know, full lips are in vogue.
Collagen pouty, hellzapoppin gaudy,
eat-you-alive lips!
(Marilyn would pull hers back
in a purr of a laugh
if she knew).

I fantasize the fresh feeling of a dress
rippling against white thighs;
teasing and kissing flesh which can never
fully pretend the glory that was hers.
I know a man that for a while
claimed to own The Dress.
that one!
I wanted to ask for a private screening
of said garment, but dared not,
for fear it somehow wouldn't be
quite so splendid with the white
of her white removed,
hollow cups, and once living pleats
shaped now into only cloth.
She made those threads breathe with joy
against that flesh,
made us gasp for air
at the parting of those lips,
sent slivers of her soul into celluloid
with those simmering lids,
and there we have her still—-
against her wishes.

And she left us there
in our knowing, in our wanting,
and gave us then her departure.
Hand on phone, memory to beauty,
we sucked her down into satin sheets,
till only the fiber of her being
remained tucked between
the tight white threads
of the satin sheets
of the billowing pleats
of the stop-action stills
that breathe.

The Impermanency of Skin

His name was Jonny Kennedy,
a "boy" of thirty-six when he died—
still swathed head to toe
in the bandages which covered his massive sores,
and kept what remained of his real skin, unbroken.
His mother and brother laid him out
in a small pine box he'd picked himself
and had had decorated with a picture of a tiger
and baked beans, just to give a chuckle
to those who would come to see him off.
He'd gone flying just before he died,
and bandaged head to toe,
this was no easy thing,
but, they'd strapped him in nonetheless
and done rolls in the clouds with him,
his eyes peeking out brightly
under the brim of the cap he always wore
to conceal and protect
what little bit of skin passed for a scalp
upon his small head.
Jonny's birth defect left out the
crucial ingredient in his recipe
that would connect his skin to his body,
so that in the course of his lifetime,
his was a battle to keep and contain
that which we all assume to be ours effortlessly—
our "seal," our cover, our fabric,
which so many would deface
purposefully with inks and cuts
and spikes and burns.
His hands were welded at the bones
by thirty-six years of scarring,
but he'd laughed in his wheelchair as he'd
whispered into the camera which was documenting his end.
It was a gleeful, naughty, thirty-six year old's
inner lust just bubbling to the surface
as he'd looked down the blouse of the young actress
who'd bent down to kiss the top of his cap at his fundraiser.
And they all turned out for him, to send him off,
finally to fly free of bandages and pain,
they smiled and laughed in his memory—
the mother, the brother, the town, the world
that he had touched and honored
with his indomitable spirit.
So briefly and painfully among us—
the impermanency of skin which doomed him,
now releases him free into the clouds,
to soar there, rolling with laughter, a gleeful naughty
sprite tucked into the firmament of our skies,
free now of bandages and pain,
but not of love.

For Jonny Kennedy, born with a rare skin disorder that caused his skin to blister and fall off, covering him with sores his whole life, until he developed skin cancer and died at the age of 36. He started a charity for the disorder called D.E.B.R.A. for the disorder called Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa. His story was told on The Learning Channel (TLC) as "The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off".


He's 90 now
and he's held more shoes in his hands than
all the movie stars combined
keep lined up in their climate controlled closets

He's permanently bent at the waist now
from the 80 years of
rubbing the black and brown polishes into the leathers
he has worked for so long in his now leathery hands
and he holds these out to the cameras
what 80 years of scrubbing away
the dirt and debris from others' feet can do

He is not bitter—
his hands are a trophy to him
glory from hard work fulfilled
never begging from others, but earning every dime

He holds his head up proudly
a bright smile of accomplishment
splits his face wide open
his eyes dancing like glitter
like those shoes from all those feet
must surely do
along the boardwalks and the glossy hardwoods
reflecting his pride up from the dance floor

He admires his work
at it glides over the sleek surfaces, gravity-less—
caught spinning from the ceiling
in the mirrored rotating ball

He slides along with the beat, there too
in the microscopic sworls he has created
he kicks his heels with them in their every step
admiring where he has been, and where he's going.

HE shines
—a shining star.


Heard the gate slam —HARD & LOUD
heard small voices —several of them
giggling —scooter sounds —wobbly wheels

Opened the door.

Saw four very little unfamiliar kids riding down the middle
of the driveway-alley —no adult in sight.

Said “you kids’ll have to leave—
you can’t come in here, go back out the gate
and go home.”

The one girl
(looked about four years old) glanced up
at me standing on my balcony
and immediately flashed an incredibly adult expression
of enraged protest across her face—
crunching her little eyebrows tightly inward
as she fairly growled back
“you only tellin’ us’ta go cause we BLACK.”

I felt slapped ... struggled for the words to correct her.

One of the little boys rode past her heading for the gate
tossing over his shoulder as he did
“C’mon, don’ say nuttin to dat white lady.”

I watched them go down the street a couple buildings away
their wobbly scooters making a collective screeching racket
that mingled with their protests.
The little boy who had spoken hollered back to me
and angrily threw his small arms up at his sides in question:

They disappeared down the street, still no adult in sight.
4 little ones that looked to be about 4 or 5 years old
with no one to watch over them —protect them
from the only one who knew where they were:
white lady
standing on her balcony
stunned silent

Saving You

I was always saving you
big brother
when we were growing in another lifetime—
I'm sure in your twisted imperious mind
you've deleted the day
you spilled your frantic spine
over the short white front fence
eyes wide in horror
into the grass
as seven or eight neighbor boys came in for the kill
your weak white gawky body
almost safe
in your own yard
clammy fear pushing you beneath
the towering brown faces
into the innocent grass—
your nerdiness
a death sentence

What did you think
when you ran away into the house
bolting the door behind you
leaving me
between their hot faces
and your spine?—
My dishwater-dripping hands
up like a force field,
holding them off—
(counting on my femaleness
to protect me)
in the time before children with guns—

Did you look through the kitchen window
as I had?
see the terror in my eyes
see them turn away
Did you thank me?
You pass me on the street now and
—a greeting without words
or feeling
I cannot save you again.

Part Two

I was ironing dad's shirts—
the basket below me held at least a dozen
waiting for starch
in spring
somewhere nearby
drunk in his boxer shorts
I didn't notice you til
you were halfway across the living room
he was upon you
lurching forward
with his baseball mitt-sized hand
above your face
preparing to strike—
backing you through the glass-paneled
bedroom door
into a corner
coming down toward you
heavy and moist
needing no reason
Did you even know
that was the day I stood up to him?
that I yanked the hot iron
from the wall so hard the
cord whipped me?
What was in your mind
crouched beneath him in the corner
when you heard me behind him
Did you see the look on his face
that I saw
when he turned to face me—
his huge white sweaty belly
hanging over his boxer shorts
his hand
coming around toward me
dropping when he saw the steam-iron   —raised
Did you glance into his eyes
as you squirmed from beneath his legs—
see the loss in his expression
as he realized
our childhoods had just ended?
And later
when we met on the pier
talked about where each of us would stay
there was no going back
did you say Thank you sister
baby sis

as the Seagulls scavenged bait from the
wood rails behind us
on a sunny spring day in California.

Part Three

You went to live on a boat that spring
with an older man
and I spent my 14th birthday
in Juvenile Hall
because I refused to go home to him

You never came to see me there
He begged me to come home
(his shirts still needed pressing, I guessed)
things would change.
And weeks later I found out
you were staying with the young family
that lived above us;
their baby boy, and puppy.
sneaking in and out
ducking past our windows to avoid dad—
fearing attack.
And I
home again
emancipated, blatantly smoking in front of him
daring him to stop me
knowing he couldn't
relishing my newfound power
while you crept about above.

His eyes had died with his power
and he sat each morning with his paper
and vodka
like a ritual
while his only son avoided him above
and his last daughter
crept out windows in the night.
And you told me     gleefully
one day on the porch
that you had taken their puppy
and hogtied it
and put it in a burlap bag
and dropped it off the pier
and watched
it struggle as it sank from sight.

You said it whined too much
I couldn't save you.

Part Four

years later
you brag to my husband and me
about two cats
who steal into your trash at night
looking for food
—make a mess
all over your driveway
lure them with meat-scraps in a trail
into your garage
"you should have seen their eyes—
they knew what was comin!—"
Your famous smirk
shark-cold dead-ish eyes
trap me in horror
—"I closed the garage
—they knew
tried to get away—
went inside the wall—climbed
under the plasterboard from the bottom—
you could hear them wailing
in the wall…
I smoked them out from the bottom
and when they fell out—
I got them with a pellet gun…"

And your shark-dead eyes look through me
don't acknowledge your baby sister
when we pass now on the street
your smirk
permanently etched in delight
at your accomplishments
we do not speak
no one can save you.
Not even me.

No Religion

No habits or ancient books or candles
no prayers
or baptismals
get me through my day
light a candle
it is
to inhale the wax
covering over burnt burgers
and Sunday is all the same to me
as every other.

In some little ways
it makes it hard for me
when holidays come round
(especially Christmas)
and I bring my old tree out again from the garage
(déjà vu's of childhoods)
and plug it in
twinkling and blue
but I don't place gifts beneath it
or hold hands in prayer
but I do sing in the shower
pah-ruh-pa-pa-pumming to the little drummer boy
with a lump in my throat
over the sweet and tender image
he implants there in my mind
which brings to memory
I guess
the sons now grown
who no longer need a Christmas tree
or presents boxed and wrapped and tied with love
and signed “From Santa.”

no religion here
It even bothers me
each time I sneeze in public
and some total stranger “blesses” me
after I have spent my whole life trying not to be blessed
running too from my father's abandoned religion
and even after he brought me there to get dunked
in someone else's white long gown
(see-through when wet)
as I climbed out of the water
and up the short steps
and the preacher (or whatever he was)
stayed behind there
still in water to his waist
waiting for some other little girl
in a borrowed white see-through gown
to dunk
(against her will)
even after all of that
I shun religion religiously

when I lay dying (even several times)
I shrugged my shoulders
in acceptance
to my fate
without sudden sniveling
or begging to get into The Pearly Gates
I had earned my slot in Hell
and so
why fight it
no hypocrite here

my dad's buried somewhere
or not
asking for no flowers or prayers
same as me
no “blessings” please
I inherit his abandonment of religion
slam the door in its face
as bombs blow arms from children
on the other side of the world
and women are raped by whole families
seeking revenge for their impurity
all in the name of Allah

My Father's cast aside Mormonism
chased him all the way to California
from Utah
when he was 14
and tried now and again to recapture him
and claim him from the bottle
to no avail
and I?
I fling the last ashes of his religion
into the desert winds
and follow them someday too myself
leaving the fake Christmas tree to my sons
wrapped and bound in a blue plastic tarp
on its side in my garage


but for now
I fight the war alone
in the desert,
in the bathtub (belting out the drummer boy)
with my fake Christmas tree in the hot dark garage
beneath my floor
and my sons in another town
lighting candles after burnt burgers maybe too
and I burn a few of them myself
out here
sprinkling the black pepper liberally
pulling the tickle from the deepest recesses of my nose
and sneeze in peace joyously
without blessings

me and my drum.


God, she was beautiful!
A red-haired goddess, circa 1959.
Beverly, my half-sister, the perfect woman.
Long-legged and lean,
a heart-shaped cameo for a face.
(Oh, how I silently worshiped her!)
My nieces and nephew thought she was just
their mother.
Every Easter, she invited me there, enfolded me
into her nest, part of her brood.
I kept that toy bunny she left in my Easter basket
until it rotted from old age.
And Fourth of July?
Her yard magnificently perfumed by sulfered rockets,
damp night grass, watermelon, Chanel #5.
When I was seven, she carried me bleeding
to get my first stitches, and there was no pain
in her arms, I was weightless against
her mothering heart.
Her living room had a picture—typical 50s;
flamingos, balancing precariously in a pond
behind their framed mirrored shelves.
How I wanted to possess that!
(Maybe if I could've had those long-legged birds
paused for flight, she might also have been mine.)
I hear she is now being dissolved in alcohol.

You can't have fireworks in your backyard nowadays,
and Easter baskets
come wrapped in cellophane by the thousands.
Keeping flamingos is
not allowed within the city limits.

Hold Your Tongue
(song written on Burger King napkin)

Hold your tongue
and hold me
I don't need no more abuse
hold your tongue dear
hold it
just swallow that excuse
I'll have no more of sadness
and threats to cut me loose

So Hold your tongue
and hold me
and rock me 'gainst your chest
stroke my long hair gently
and don't hurt me like the rest
I won't need no more protection
with arms so strong and warm
don't need no introspection
cause you'll never do me harm

Just hold me baby
hold me
rock me 'gainst your cozy chest
tell me baby, tell me
I'm the one you love the best

Yeah, hold your tongue
and hold me
I don't need no more abuse
hold your tongue dear
hold it
just swallow that excuse
I'll have no more of sadness
and threats to cut me loose

We're in this thing together
and together holds no shame
together stops the sadness
together blocks the pain
so lean against me gently
and stroke my long red hair
cause together we can make it
together we'll get there
say you'll have no more of sadness
you don't need to walk away
we're safer here together
closer to it every day
the weeks turn into years
my love
with time this will be clear:
a love will stay in kindness
a love will shrink in fear

So hold your tongue
and hold me
I don't need no more abuse
hold your tongue dear
hold it
just swallow that excuse
I'll have no more of sadness
and threats to cut me loose

I don't need no introspection
cause you'll never do me harm
I don't need no more protection
from arms so safe and warm
so lean against me gently
and stroke my long red hair
cause together we can make it
together we'll get there
hold me baby
hold me
in love there is no shame
rock me baby
rock me
let love erase the pain.

The HyperTexts