Happy 100 Days: 98

I have brought my breakfast and lunch to work with me every day for over two years. I have schlepped the giant satchel bursting with my belongings and all this food a nearly a mile each morning to the metro. Except for those blessed days when a friend took pity on my and let me ride shotgun back towards home, I have walked that almost-mile back to my decrepit Saturn each evening. That little car has ferried me into its 13th year, and it is still chugging along. I jury-rigged part of the bumper back on this weekend with wire. The nice fellow at the hardware store also made me two new keys because the old ones were so worn down, they had started falling out of the ignition while I was driving.
I refuse to waste the gas and pay to park on campus when the Commonwealth will pay for my metro expenses. Also, why shell out cash for a spot in the metro garage on this end when my legs work just fine? And this too: give me one good reason to trade in the old beater if she runs well enough to get Bug and me where we need to go. She still gets about 29 miles to the gallon, which isn’t half bad for a pre-hybrid plastic car.
Every day, $5 stays put in the wallet because of all that hoofing it. Every day, $10 is not spent on meals because I haul those clanking Pyrex containers to work. A little here, a little there. A few bucks saved by purchasing the new(ish) dress from the consignment shop instead of Macy’s. A few more saved by not purchasing the dress at all. Pennies in the piggy bank.
Don’t be fooled by my righteous claims. I am far from pure. I have blown more than you would think possible on curry and Red Zinfandel when out with the gals, and I have given over to my share of impulses when Bug is off traveling with his daddy. (Did someone say “spa day”?)
Still. Two years of living off the largesse of the folks, painting my own toenails, and making Halloween costumes by hand has paid off. I knew I was working towards something, but I didn’t know what.
Last night, I decided to pause and ask myself that exact question: What is all this for?
Last night, I decided to stop being scared of the answer.
I have been telling myself it will 2015 before I can afford a place for Bug and me. Rent prices in this area will take your breath away, and the best I can manage on my income might be a small studio in the outer reaches of Fairfax County.
Is this even accurate? From time to time, I skim the rental listings, but have I really considered buying? Now this is a stunning prospect. . .
Because what I want is a place for Bug and me. A little place, just the right size for us and close to his dad. One I can afford on my own. A place to land. A home.
Instead of getting worked up and worried about it, I stayed true to my Contract with Joy. I simply looked this possibility right in the face. What is the first step? Find out what sort of mortgage I can feasibly manage (easy enough with all the online calculators). Second, type in a zip code. Third, watch in wonder as the smorgasbord of listings within my price range appear before me. Fourth, gorge.
So, get this. All that scrimping and penny-pinching? I have actually managed to save enough for a down payment. A decent one. Not quite a 20% one, but within spitting distance of it. And you know what else? Mortgage payments are actually lower than rents on comparable places (duh). This means I can actually afford a two-bedroom condo in the astronomically expensive school district where Bug happens to be enrolled and still have a chunk of my monthly income left over for those little luxuries like groceries and heat. If I look outside his district, I could even afford a real honest-to-goodness townhouse, with a basement and a postage stamp yard and everything.
Who knew? Me! Little ol’ me, actually almost back on my feet!
So, I promise to make this fun. This is good news, not yet another reason to panic. Even though interest rates are at HISTORIC LOWS and housing prices have BOTTOMED OUT and NOW is the time to buy, I am in no hurry. Bug has had enough transitions for about the next three lifetimes, and I still have the pooch to consider, and I only just this week started clocking 7-8 hours of sleep a night after two years of insomnia. Maybe it’s better not to breeze past the lessons about the practices that brought me here: One small choice a day, one packed lunch, one listing, one minor act of courage. Each one accumulates. Pennies in the piggy bank.
Buying a home is a pretty big project. This is what I have heard, anyway. I’ve never done it before, so I’ll just have to find out for myself.



Down below the skin of things,
someone has prepared the soil,
spread the loam, drawn up hair
and root
for a bed. The mouth
of this subterranean bunker
lays its lips against sky, sipping
thin wisps, down
of feather, down
of cloud. Spooning
in that nest of damp debris:
a him
and a her.
She recalls the man who gave her a home
where she could die
in peace. Perhaps it never happened.
It is time to call back
the ghost from its powder
blue chair and beg,
the long-dead grandmother
to shake off her slumber
and divulge the secret.
How to win such a man?
She would take a bully, a drunk,
a scoundrel,
a dunce,
as long as he gives her
that powder blue chair
and three square feet
of something like her own
to put it.
Ghosts take their secrets
seriously, it seems.
Grandmothers take theirs
to the grave.
Autumn arrives
out there. The blacksmith turns
the amber strip
around a stem, bashing the glare
with a hammer. Sparks
do not fly. Only breath, only smoke
from the fire.
He makes the unforgiving iron
bend to petal, to tissue.
A rose
plunged into the ice bath
We become what we never thought we would be.
we stop resisting.
something gives.
like birth
The faraway mouth
of this cave
is nearer than it appears.
That pinprick of light
even wider while we squeeze
our eyes against it.
One pebble falls
then another.
Somewhere out there the future
like iron, like fire
in its relentless scuffle
with the past.
For the moment, we pretend
we cannot feel sand
skittering down our shoulders.
We feign sleep
for now,
for as long as our restless arms



The quiet white stillness outside the chrysalis bears no resemblance to the cacophony within. The rending of flesh from bone, and bone from marrow, the screeching tear as seed splits hull and a wing cracks into being. . .  the noise of that inexorable process is as deafening as a war zone.
There is no help for it, though. Becoming is the only choice. It is not Change or Remain the Same. It is simply Change or Change. Even death, with its pretense of permanence, is an illusion. Renewal is the only constant. All the time, within all things. Listen closely: inside, you can hear shift and jostle of the next embodiment.
Even down on the parched forest floor under the long-fingered shadow of winter, no endings can be found. All is becoming.

Spring, but only the first of the bushes have begun to shoulder open their purpling buds. Weary, crooked sticks lean against the sky. What I know, we all know: the feathering leaves unfurl, the flowers begin. Life returns as it always does. Also, it never ended. It was happening there in the blank silence, too. Death is no less alive than life itself. Everything is becoming, even in dormancy. Even in the in-between.

I dig up the calendar from 2010. An insurance change requires me to stretch back into forgotten history for an accounting of doctor’s appointments and hospital stays. The first of that year is life in Technicolor, even against the heavy Adirondack days. I see in my own hand the careless flourishes across January, February, March. A sledding play-date on camp’s tipping hillside. Staff game night. A preschool field trip. Visits from grandparents scrawled in bold letters across entire weeks.

Then, one square in April, blank. Another. And another. Days into pages, three, four, weeks into months. Not even a dog-ear, not even an erasure. Paper as empty as the branches here, the dull, bare maples sighing in their dry earth.

The nothing was not nothing. It was everything. It was the ground falling open and a marriage collapsing into the ragged sinkhole. The small frames of the calendar seem oddly cramped in their attempt to mark the tectonic event, and about as reliable as Dali’s clocks. Is this not what survivors of disasters say? The seconds slowed to minutes, hours, lifetimes. In a blink, one entire universe trades places with another. The rearrangement is anything but momentary. It is a whole new age in the history of the world.

Failure and ruin. Even when they reduce us to fragments, they are the whole of that terrible verge. They are the bellowing commandment for a new beginning.



Finally, July.

The strident nothing of everything turns into something else. A few job interviews are penciled in. August 23rd is squared off as the first day of the position I hold now. Just as suddenly as they froze bare, the pages crack open, blossoming with trainings and brown bag talks and the names of students who have since walked across the stage.

It was just three months. One season. In the span of a single exhalation, one stunned breath, the shedding of skin and form, the white-bellied exposure of the most translucent husk. Then bones knit. The strange flesh is grafted on, and the beginnings something altogether new crawls, dazed and damp, into the searing luster of the world.

It is hubris to believe this one thing can be chosen and so it will remain. We are forever stepping into baptismal waters just as the silken threads of the next incarnation thread themselves through our limbs. These wisps spin around us before we have even begun to dry. We feel just the faintest breath of this new weaving, and it is easy to mistake it for something we can brush away. It pulls us in as surely as we step to the shore, believing ourselves renewed once and for all, believing ourselves reborn.

We are shapeshifters, blind to our own relentless becoming until we notice too late we have lost our legs for fins, then our gills for beaks, then our arms for the finest cilia, then our bones for smoke and honey, and soil and light.


Cross Over

In a village cut into the edge of a mountain, the sound of pounding feet and howling beasts dredges a boy up from the tidepool of sleep. Men in masks, their bodies streaked with paint, haul him from his bed and carry him away while his mother and sisters shriek from the porch. Somewhere in the distant hills, the men burn him with charred spears and chant in the dark, handing him a machete hammered with glyphs he has yet to learn to decipher. He makes his first kill many months later, but that night, he becomes a killer. The sky, slung low across the blood-red veins of the manzanita, shrouds the transformation. The men pour a fiery brew in a circle around his prone body before making him drink, but even they cannot see the rearrangement of his component parts. When he walks back into his village two mornings later, he does not recognize his mother, despite her teary prostration at his scarred feet.

I wait naked in my bed for the ululating horde of women to arrive and bind my wrists and ankles. A barebacked Palomino follows them to the steps of my front door. They lift me, writhing and protesting, down the stairs, past the china cabinet and the baying dog. Out into the suburban street, they throw me over the damp spine of the mare. Belly down and ass exposed to Orion’s sword, I can see nothing but the familiar blacktop as it gives way to alien terrain. The ragtag caravan ferries me to the place I have known exists but had never been able to find. Behind the roar of the waterfall, a swath of Eden. All about, the implements of alchemy: the crucible and its white-hot fire, the crushed roots of blue cohosh, the skewers and spears, the jewels and the pelts of slain whitetail deer. The drums, of course. The hole dug deep into the throat of the earth where my body lands as the gruff whispers begin.

I wake in the morning, still naked in warm sheets. The dog snuffles around at the base of the stairs, waiting for her walk. The damp winter grass, bleached and flat, shows no evidence of hoof prints, no signs of a scuffle.

If a woman falls open in the night and no one is around to hear her crack, did she change at all?

Maybe I could take the blade and run it across my own skin, sprinkle the ash in, and let the wound scream and seal.

In the absence of rites, how are we to mark passage? If we were once carried over a threshold, by what choreography do we uncross it? How do we make sacred the soil to bury the blessed stone? Fall on your knees, the women whisper. Learn the names of the insects that unfurl on your flesh. Tunnel in and follow the stink of sulfur to the hidden spring.

It is morning on the last day of the hardest year. No one is knocking. Even so, behind the haze of December sun, the stars studding the belt of our galaxy flash and blaze. Cassiopeia rises from her extended recline, stretches out those stiff joints and drinks deep from the deep, cool well of space. She goes to work unchaining Andromeda from the rock. By tonight, they will be ready to cross the distance to my bedroom door. I tuck myself deep into the musty sheets and ignore the faint echo of their preparations. For a few moments longer, I can pretend that I belong locked in the safe in the cell of my parents’ home. I can pretend nothing is on its way to pull me over onto the other side, that the sun will keep the dark at bay and that the silence of this last morning is the only company I need.