Follow my sister, Nina, and me as we make a book together: my writing and her gorgeous inks on paper.

7. A World of Shoes

Posted on May 3, 2020

When I sold shoes in college, shoppers would sit in my department to rest their feet. The store owner walked the floor in his double-breasted cashmere blazer because he could afford everything he sold. He walked with his arms crossed over his chest, keeping an eye on us. My friends would stop in. They knew my hours. And I’d put them into shoes they didn’t ask for so the boss would see me work.

I needed my own money when my parents stopped paying. I still lived at home. Before classes, while my mother practiced her violin, I babysat my sisters. We read about the unsinkable Pippi Longstocking, whose mother died at birth, whose father was lost at sea. And we watched Sesame Street, singing the jingly songs that taught us to be kind. I don’t know that my mother had much other use for me by then. My father needed my company at the dinner table. I felt stuck in the mud of their marriage. In the back of the shoe store, I’d try on the world: platforms the color of robin’s eggs; Ferragamo flats with a bow; burgundy Aigner pumps; silver strappy sandals as light as butterflies. I got a 40% discount and acquired a closet-full that would one day walk me out of there into a rough first marriage, into my eventually happy second marriage.

From the nursing home, my mother leaves long messages, telling me she still needs the new wheelchair because her body hurts. She reads me the model and make of the right chair, which is the exact chair she is sitting in. I don’t know how to convince her. She is angry about my last visit when I tossed Styrofoam cups and got her room cleaned, her sheets washed. In the message, she tells me I treated the staff poorly, bossed them around, but she is confusing me with herself. I wish she’d confuse herself with me and be kind to others, whether they’re froggy green or human. Why can’t she enjoy me like I enjoyed my baby sisters, like I enjoy my son? When I was young, I wanted to be her, to dress in slim skirts and silk blouses, to swirl my hair and wear a kitten heel. And now at the end of her life, I can’t make comfortable the one who taught me to land on my feet. She phones back to say how much she enjoyed seeing Malcolm. Will I bring him back?

“Stuffed” – http://ninatempleart.com/collections/124222

Ink on cold pressed watercolor paper

“22 x “30

6. We Shall Set More Plates

Posted on April 25, 2020

In the grocery, I pick fruit out of bins. Raspberries all ship from the same place in California. I grab a fountain drink, let ice cubes plop, plop, bouncing into my squeaky Styrofoam cup. Cabbage the color of amethyst is such a bargain it could be free. A pint of Bluebell ice cream won’t hurt, or the fudge topping I’ll heat and drip, drip, drip. On the meat aisle, Malcolm finds the perfect chuck roast. I can’t think about the animal, her worried mind, her nerves that carry pain. Red means fresh, but red is blood. On the drive home, I spritz our hands with bacteria killer that smells of lavender and freshens.

If I were to lose Malcolm, I would curtail eating meat. He’s the fixer of slow cooked delicious foods in heavy pots. He keeps it simple: sautés onions, celery and bell pepper, braises the sides of flesh, sticks the Dutch roaster in the oven for three hours. Before the roast comes out, I’ll make the cheat of instant mashed potatoes from real spuds.

On TCM, it’s Harry Belafonte week, in honor of MLK day, when businesses close and New Orleanians parade, go to church, do good works, but Malcolm and I will stay in our bubble, eating enough for two when we might have set a bigger table.

“Joy of Plenty” – Nina Z. Temple – http://ninatempleart.com/

Ink on 300 lb. cold pressed watercolor paper

“22 x “30

5. Busted

Posted on April 22, 2020

I miss a bikini, my oiled and tanned tummy, staking my claim during maximum sun hours, my towel a piece of property, fenced by sand, the contrast underneath my watch band and silver rings, and where my straps pulled down. I had less patience tanning my back, forgetting to turn my face evenly, right, left, right left. But what a yield, pink shifting into brown, a thinning color, the contrast dialed up by white shorts, a bright yellow tank top.

I’m not fat fat, but fatter than my fighting weight, my driver’s license weight. I renewed it soon after I lost my appendix, after I’d lost seventeen pounds and almost my life. Everything fit or bagged. Surviving felt good! If I ate an egg roll or a glazed donut or macaroni and cheese, no harm, no foul.

Next week, I will offer a vein and the blood panel will sell me out, because I’ve been operating undercover, eating and drinking, posing as a thirty-year old, when I need to break the mold, stand in the mirror in my one piece, see a pale sixty, find cool clear water for a night swim in a dark one piece.

“Spotted Glory” – Nina Z. Temple – http://ninatempleart.com/

Ink on 300 lb. cold pressed watercolor paper

“22 x “30

4. Cloud Hands

Posted on April 21, 2020

Doing things on the ground used to be natural: somersaulting, crab-walking, scrambling like a centipede. I’d Indian-cross my legs and pop up. Malcolm was amazed. “My legs don’t bend like that,” he’d say. But now if he’s not around to pull me up, I must get on all fours into a supplicant crawl and pray the right, stronger leg works. Staying upright is job one. In the safety of my bathroom, I bend at the knees, lower and raise, with my hand on the bathtub, grunting. Why do sounds of struggle sound ugly? Would yodeling distract my burning thighs?

Susan from down the street teaches Tai Chi. She pays a call on me, a private. On the front hall carpet in sock feet, I mirror her, the subtle shifts of weight in the ankle, knee, hip and lower back. Everything connects if you slow down, breathe. Be quiet! Our arms float like underwater movements as we drive our elbows through the resistance of air.

“Balance” – Nina Z. Temple – http://ninatempleart.com/

Ink on 300 lb. cold pressed watercolor paper

3. Silenzio!

Posted on April 21, 2020

When I see gummy candies at check out, I miss my son. The red cherries on green stems, the peach flavored peaches, blue Smurfs that stain the tongue. Long ago, he dared me to eat sour patch kids. “Just take one taste, Mom.” What an assault on my tender buds. I lean toward Swedish Fish! Are they raspberry? It doesn’t matter. They’re two bites of yum that get stuck in my flipper denture, so I eat them toothless. A few times, I’ve left home without the flipper and didn’t remember until I lisped or smiled. It’s not a bad feeling, to give your mouth more space. “Take care of your teeth,” I tell my son, just so he’ll say “Okay, Mom,” because him calling me Mom never gets old. When he’s home again, we’ll eat worms. 

“Rehearsal” – Nina Z. Temple http://ninatempleart.com/

Ink on 300 lb. cold pressed watercolor paper

11.5 x 30.5 x 1

2. Corka

Posted on April 20, 2020

I keep promising: I’m coming with the chair. But every morning, I wake to fog and my mother’s wheelchair, folded in the front hall, expectant. She’s leaving me voicemails. She needs: the juices, Fiji water, lactose free ice cream, but also, please, (in her kinder voice) Magnum bars, the ones with the caramel. And lactose? She leaves another message: an eyebrow pencil. Someone brought her the face shaver and her graceful arching brows are gone. Will they regrow even into stubble? Until then, she’s drawing them, darkly. I used to watch her “put on her face” as if the face under the makeup wasn’t also her face. She’d be going out for the night with my father, her sharp shoulder blades freed, her décolletage, shocking. A sensuous French word. De – removing. Collet. The collar of the garment. She’d wish Nina and me a goodnight in Polish. Dobranoc, córki. Coeur, cuore, corazon.  In German, the word for heart is herz, a rental car, when the root for mother in many languages sounds like a plea. Mutter. Mamman. Mama. Matka. Mom.

“Rosy” – Nina Z. Temple http://ninatempleart.com/

Ink on 300 lb. cold pressed watercolor paper

23″ x 23″

1. Move Closer

Posted on April 19, 2020

For fifteen years, it was only my first sister and me. Our parents moved often, flying across the ocean, driving us cross country, so Nina and I we were the perpetual new girls, missing what and whom we’d left behind. But we always had each other, and in every house, we slept in twin beds. Nina couldn’t sleep unless I answered her when she told me goodnight.

“Goodnight,” she’d say. “Goodnight,” I’d say. But there’d be one more thing, one more thought – about a clueless boyfriend, a hard teacher, a mean girl, what outfit to wear tomorrow. With each other we felt as secure and successful as billionaires.

“Goodnight,” she’d say. “Goodnight,” I’d say.

“Should I get a pixie cut?” she’d ask. “It’ll grow out,” I’d say.

“Okay. Goodnight,” she’d say.

If I paused to mess with her, she’d plead. “Pia, say goodnight.”

Goodnight, Nina.”

And then silence for a bit, and then, Nina: “Can I borrow your white poet’s blouse?” (It was the 70s. Bellbottoms. Platforms. Love’s Baby soft. Fruity Bonne Bell lip gloss whistles on cords around our necks.)

“Maybe. If you don’t sweat. Now, hush,” I’d say, sleepy. “This is the last goodnight.” Finally, I’d hear her breathing rasp; then so could mine.           

This book is me and my sister back in twin beds; a writer and an artist, me on the right, my sister on the left, or vice versa, in our sixties with aging parents and grown kids and grandchildren, living on opposite sides of the country but sharing a room, with things to say before we sleep.

“Alway Connected” – Nina Z. Temple http://ninatempleart.com/

(ink on cold pressed 300 lb. water color paper)

22″ x 30″

Cover: Now We Are Sixty

Posted on April 19, 2020

Now We Are Sixty is a collaboration between two sisters, one an award-winning writer, the other a renowned and highly collected artist, both in their early sixties. The full-color book  – 9 ½ x 12 and 100 pages – pairs Pia’s short, tender memoir entries with Nina’s intuitive and improvisational inks on paper. Working side by side, the sisters, explore aging, their long marriages, their history growing up in a musical family, their violinist mother’s dementia, and their luck at being sisters. Pia, the eldest, lives with her husband and their dog, Ella, in New Orleans, Louisiana, close to her two stepsons and eight grandchildren, but across the pond from her grown son in London; Nina, the second born, lives in Carmel Valley, California with her husband, near their two children and three grandchildren. This book is the first in a series that navigates this next decade, and narrows the distance between sisters who enjoy any chance to be together.