Growing Up, Love

Permission

Pissarro Family Legend

We are allowed to love ourselves.

We are allowed to show up. We are allowed to take the compliment even when we fall short of our own standards.

We are allowed to determine the standards.

We are allowed to talk about how hard it is to love ourselves. We are allowed to enjoy our own simple company. We are allowed to release our grip. To revel in the small days. To have just one or two good friends.

We are allowed to think of our family, whatever its shape, as worthy of a crest.

Continue reading “Permission”

community, Love, neighborhood

This Can Happen Here

chagall dreams

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

– Naomi Shihab Nye, “Gate A-4

Someone vandalizes a church and a Jewish community center in Northern Virginia. They paint swastikas on buildings and dark words over a sign supporting Muslims. This happens on the first night of Passover, at the start of the Christian holy week. The story is here.

Then the police track down a suspect. Dylan Mahone is a 20-year-old man who has found his way into white supremacist and neo-Nazi circles. A student at the community college. A neighbor who lives just blocks from the house my former partner shares with his two kids. A young man whose Facebook page drips with racism and hate and noxious fantasies of violence.

White. Christian. Educated. Male.

One of ours. One of us.

Continue reading “This Can Happen Here”

body, Love

Self, Beloved

labor-of-love

The friend says the pressure to love her body is too much.  “Isn’t it enough to not hate it?”  This is what we are supposed to do as women. It’s yet another thing to add to the list.  Love ourselves.  Love our bodies exactly as they are.

That word, love.  It covered my notebooks in junior high, markers and hearts.  As a teenager, those four letters grew far too big for crushes.  They became like currents sweeping the earth in a gusting flourish, ecstasy and aspiration with a peace sign woven into the O.

The tropospheric ribbon of script I tattooed across my days was a declaration of protest.  It was a way to give voice, unformed as it was, to an infant movement.  A confederacy of truth was gathering, and it was growing skeptical, maybe downright mutinous, of the dogma that ordered my inner life.

Continue reading “Self, Beloved”

body, Letting Go, Love, Poetry

Cooking for One

kitchen witch

my tongue craves skin, my skin
tongue.  how to eat when the only flavor
is salt? too poor for the extravagance
of a meal served to me, i recall the logic
of giving the beloved what you want
for yourself.  this woman
is her own again, my only lover
here.  In the kitchen i peel
off my clothes and wrap around my hips
an oceanic gust from the cotton bolt
i brought from Zimbabwe
half this life before
and gave to a dear one who returned to me
one yard in thanks, tiny stitches,
this skirt. heat tears through
onion silk. with the long blade
i slice gold threads of ginger. oil pops
as punjabi mc strips the carapace
and wings unfold from my hips.
roil and scrape. peanut, coconut, turmeric, cumin.
cabbage, tomato, cauliflower, honey.
masala dust clings to raw arms, ribs
sweat red clay heat. mouth gorged
with song, the feeding precedes
the eating. my tongue thrills at the naked
steam curling into its hidden cells, my skin
tilts towards the kaleidoscope
of scents. i serve my beloved
a dish and she returns to me
one  birth  in thanks, tiny bloodbeats,
this night. the only flavor
is never the only flavor. the body can taste
every texture of loss. the body can learn
to boil sugar
from the heart.


 

Divorce, Letting Go, Love, Relationships

Lost & Found

diamond in sand

Six years ago, I lost a diamond. It was a tiny bit from the whole, just one of many fragments — a single round stone from my father’s mother’s wedding ring, chips from my maternal grandmother’s jewels, and a white gold base that had been my own simple engagement ring. A craftsman put all these together and carved it with fine floral scrollwork.

At a December birthday party for Bug’s preschool friend, I glanced down and noticed the hole in this wedding ring. It was one of several small diamonds, easily replaced. Even so, the loss agitated me. In that tilting moment, I felt stripped, even a little ashamed.  The chattering conversation with other parents swirled around me and I couldn’t find my place in it anymore.

Looking around was futile. The dizzying bounce-castle playland reeled with dozens of shrieking children, a mini train, a video arcade, and a vast carpet littered with cake crumbs and rock salt shaken from winter boots.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone. The hole felt like exposure, like it was baring some part of my story I wasn’t ready to face or share. I turned the band around to hide the cavity inside my fist.

When the ring came off six months later, it stayed off. By then, the holes in the marriage had multiplied beyond repair.

The ring lives now in my jewelry box. A little tarnished, it still bears the lovely tiny flowers. It still holds my Grandma Francis’ flawed stone. It still has the cavity where the lost chip used to be. For five years, I’ve been meaning to have the thing refashioned. With no unmarried cousins in line, why not turn the raw material into a necklace? A tiara? A bindi dot for nights on the town? This is what the brokenhearted do sometimes. They start their repairs from the outside in, turning burdensome symbols into pretty trinkets.

A wise idea, no doubt, yet here we are. Down in a dark tangle of discarded costume beads and widowed earrings, the ring is silent, holding what’s left of my grandmothers’ gems. It still contains that tiny reminder of something shaking loose, something escaping when I was looking the other way.

In grim or sentimental moments, I lift the ring from its shadowy velvet coffin. It is less fraught now, just metal, stone, and a little bit of history. The hole there no longer chills. In fact, I am oddly fond of that missing piece. That space is where the light shines through.

Back then, the story called for a way, and an opening appeared. This is how it goes with loss.

Now I claim the absence along with the substance.

I imagine the lost diamond out there, carried away in the tread of someone’s shoe, crushed into an icy Glens Falls sidewalk. It rises with the spring thaw and courses along rivulets, down, down, until it splashes into Lake George and sinks to the cold, jagged bottom. It returns to its beginnings. It becomes what it was all along: rock, debris, the stuff of earth churning back into itself.

Freed from the confines of its white gold setting, it expands, morphs, rearranges its atoms.

Eventually, in the full, unfurling expression of the shape it’s decided to take (for now), it returns.

When it does, I barely recognize it.

The messenger, the man, is already kin. I blink until I see in him the resemblance of the generous gift of my family’s love now multiplied. Their glinting progeny reaches for my wrist and draws me – the girl, the woman – into the next chapter. From their place in the wings, the ones who have passed from the story now urge us to carry on. Their part is over. They leave us here to do what we will with what they entrusted to us.

Last night, my grandmother’s diamond returned.

Changed, certainly.

And so much more lustrous than if it had never gone its own way.

 

 

Letting Go, Love, Relationships

My Shimmering Lovely

Today is a resting time, and my heart goes off in search of itself. If an anguish still clutches me, it’s when I feel this impalpable moment slip through my fingers like quicksilver… At the moment, my whole kingdom is of this world. This sun and these shadows, this warmth and this cold rising from the depths of the air: why wonder if something is dying or if men suffer, since everything is written on this window where the sun sheds its plenty as a greeting to my pity?


 

Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays

Heartache is a bitter decadence, the dark chocolate of emotions. Indulgence means savoring the long, slow melt.

Tonight, I wallow.  Continue reading “My Shimmering Lovely”

Choices, Love, Relationships

Sky’s Limit

There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.

Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving

Nowhere in the Odyssey or Iliad will you find the color blue. Homer’s sea was dark as wine, his sky fingered rose. Indeed, the word itself is missing from the whole of ancient Greek.

This defies logic. The vast canopy envelops us in blue. What blindness could obscure those coruscating waves as the bolt of silk billows open to the day? Sapphire, azure, cobalt, cerulean. We see this now and maintain it must always have been so.

But this too: What name was glass when those first Mesopotamian beads fell from the fire? What did we call that handful of thatch when we ventured out from the cave and found ourselves in need of a roof? The people of Atacama never have foggy memories. And you, city dweller, suburban native, may live a whole lifetime without capturing in words the clank and groan of the pumpjack as it drinks up oil from under the broken steppe.

To know a thing is to name it. We describe what becomes familiar as our mind splits it from the mottled everything and our senses fight to trace its shape into being.

When a thing is everywhere it is nowhere. Sky becomes blue when we develop the capacity to make blue and the concurrent desire to trade in it. Indigo velvet, lush royal moire. Now we grind a once exceedingly rare pigment out to its dizzying extremes. Now we call up a spectrum of descriptors for the field across which the sun and stars make their journey.

Indeed, we have dozens of terms where we used to have none. These words pin our eyes to ever-finer slices of hue, and we discern every shade as a distinct and almost solid thing. It is impossible to un-see what’s fixed now on the canvas, so we assume these shades were born with the world.

We believe we name what exists, when really, we birth what we name.

Ask this: what might the sky be without lapis and cornflower? To the ancient Greeks, it could have been a copper valley laced with honeyed streams, or herringbone and almond root, or blood seeping through sheared wool. From dawn to dusk and around again, petal and wing and wine and jewel. The sky holds anything given a name.

But only that, and nothing more.

Now you pull the door closed as you leave.

You take our words, all the ones we’ve only just begun to distill and to weave and — yes, we were almost so bold, we came so close — to conceive.

You, one who was not until he was. In the anonymous swirl, a faceless other. I was as blind to you then as Homer to a 21st century sky. If my language had a word for you at all, it would have been as it is with “bird” until the plangent whipporwill calls down night, with “tree” until sweetgum briars bite tender feet. You were stranger, neighbor, father, man. The general is where things might have remained.

Then I saw you.

I see you.

You are.

Then we have in our hands the material of us, thread and patches, a whalebone form. But what is it? What word do we coin for this new architecture?

Do we even think to ask?

When the sand-burnt debris fell out of the fire, it could have been stone, it could have been trash. Its very existence was determined by the lexicon’s outer limits. Beyond that horizon line, all things embryonic swim in the invisible not-yet.

Until someone picks it up and says, this is something else.

The boundaries shift. The world expands.

Sifting through ash, someone finds it again, shares it, and someone else finds it yet again. They begin to recognize it as an it, to spin it and shape it, and the infant entity takes its place in the vocabulary of civilization.

How many beginnings are discarded or broken, how many — for want of notice — fail to hatch?

How many nameless wonders already walk among us that we are unable to see? What kaleidescopic marvels sing against our blind skin?

We can garnish our curiosity with courage. This ability is our human birthright, and we can let our minds split an almost imperceptible variance from the mottled everything. It is up to us to marshal the tremendous combined force of sense and choice, and to trace the shape into being.

Kinship becomes love when we develop the capacity to make love and the concurrent desire to trade in it.

Love becomes the invention into which we breathe life when we sift it from the ashes and say, this is.

We are.

This is something else.