CNF: Piñata Memory

by Carlin Katz


The VHS tape stutters back to life: cicada drone and the summer-crisped backyard of my childhood. Adults wander into the frame with sweating beer bottles and bowls of pretzels. A solitary donkey dances in her paper dress at some cousin’s birthday party. All of us kids line up and take a turn with the bat. I’m the eldest child, so I have to wait. Each kid steps up and an aunt or uncle spins them, takes them by the shoulders, and aims them at their goal. Thunk of wooden bat against cardboard. The piñata careens like an untamed thing on her thin tether. I step up to take my turn and look around to see who will spin me, but the adults have lost interest. I am watching my 10-year-old self: skinny knees, too-serious. I try to reach her, this flickering shadow: steady now, I’m here with you. But I am eager for my chance to swing. And with no one to pull the blindfold down over my eyes, I do it myself. I jerk, head-down, whirling myself silently in a crazy circle, and without warning I head off in the wrong direction. Blind, I knock the daylights out of little Andy from next door. I lift the bandana and blink at my forfeit prize as the adults hurry to tend to the dazed child.

My family pauses and rewinds the tape, laughing. They want to watch it again. But in my mind, the frame is frozen on that little girl—unbalanced and alone with a weapon in her hand.


Carlin Katz (she/her) is an animist, student herbalist and writer living with her family and an anxious dog on traditional Chinook land in Washington State. She loves wordplay and cracking up. You can find her in the woods.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Piñata Memory”?

As the mom of a 10-year-old, and as a person undergoing her own late initiation into true adulthood, I very often think about rites of passage and the lack of meaningful rituals for entering adolescence in mainstream White American culture. Even in a loving and well-intentioned family like mine, most young people of the dominant culture are left clumsily wielding their own power with very little guidance or elder-ing. We long to be woven into the great nexus of meaning and purpose and that we are born to as children of the living world. This yearning was made conscious for me the moment I saw myself in this home movie, spinning myself around and around.

On a lighter note, I considered titling this piece “Andy Gets His” because I find it funny that this was the actual title someone wrote on the VHS tape—as if the child in question deserved to get clonked on the head with a hollow bat. Which, of course, he did not.


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Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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