Letting Go, memory, Poetry, prayer

Charming

chirag-shenoy-neck-jewelsjpg

An angel, a puppy, a music note.
She was not wearing these when she left.
Neither the black and copper choker,
the latticework of wire,
the abalone cuff.
She had not strapped on even one of the five Wonder Woman watches
to keep track of the time
it would take.
If she had clasped the anklet with its tiny bells falling against her foot,
we may have heard her go.
She didn’t want anyone to stop her,
we tell ourselves.
She waited until the house was quiet
after all.

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community, Friends, Letting Go, memory, Music, Relationships

Eric Panegyric: No Outer Limits

Page Heart

In the story we tell of our family, the Fall 2019 chapter will be entitled “Haunted by Tragedy.” Three people close to us died unexpectedly in the span of four weeks. The past few months have been consumed with sorting belongings, planning memorials, and dealing with the aftermath of loss.

This weekend, we held a joyous and moving celebration for my friend Eric Dixon at one of the pubs where he played many winning games of trivia. This marks the last of the tangible tasks left to the living. The heart carries on with the intangibles. Here is what I shared at Eric’s service.


It is the music that finally does it. Sylvan Esso, “Funeral Singers.” It’s not the song’s particular connection that splits me open. It’s the fact of the music. That I can hear so much better, that I have learned to taste, appreciate and eventually love music that would have never existed for me if not for Eric. I’m guessing this is true for many of us here. How many of us can say — show of hands — that it’s because of Eric that we know King Crimson? I bet we all have lists of things we call our own now because Eric’s enthusiasm infected us. For me? It’s Galactic. Janelle Monáe. The author Katherine Dunn. The mathematician Martin Gardner… and that’s just the start of my list.

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Friends, Letting Go, Love, Relationships

Fragmentary

rocky shore onolan

In 2017, my workplace started offering us bereavement leave. Two days per year. I’ve barely noticed it in my benefit package, let alone taken it. With an active tween and a couple of fit and overscheduled parents, it didn’t cross my mind that I would need to use those two days.

Or that those two days wouldn’t come close to covering the need.

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body, Featured, Poetry, spirit

Soon The Return

Paci Nunzio
Nunzio Paci

Picture the vines creeping from his collar.
The stem snaking.
The petal pink and thick as a human ear unfurling from the place his cheek should be.
Pollen-pouched bees yellowing as they gather
what he was always bound to become.
What comes next.

This is our revenge.
Those of us he mounts to build the crystal barricade,
its pearled locks and curtains
thin as whispers and thick
as what stands between dimensions.
He designed it all to let in the curated glow
and keep out everything that makes the light.

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body, growth, Outdoors, spirit

The Digger’s Mirth

moss woman

There is no end to pleasure. Our flesh, how its tastes change.

You barely pause to wonder how we end up in the garden. Crepe-skinned crones in sun hats, we busy ourselves with one of the few benign industries left to us in our diminished worlds. We cannot captain the ships, you reason. Cannot write the laws. We must see life backward now as our children and their children take the keys and set the route.

In your haste to cover the stretch of highway still spooling out ahead, you don’t waste attention on what occupies the roadside. We bend there, indistinguishable from scarecrows. From garden gnomes. It stands to reason (if anyone were to ask) that we surrender to these tiny corners of the world. Our puttering a last gasp at creation. Bygone artists, barren makers. Do you see us deflating into bodies long past their use-by date? Do you see us at all?

Invisibility is a curse for certain, though one we have a hand in casting.

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Children, Mindfulness, Parenting

Of Mice and Mornings

visitor for bear door

Little holes in the bag of rice gave it away. Three and half years living in this place, and here was the first sign of uninvited guests. On our next trip to town, we stopped at the hardware store for traps. Despite Bug’s insistence that we buy the $39 ultrasonic pest repeller, I opted for Tomcat traps. A four-pack for four bucks.

We smeared on peanut butter and tucked it into the cabinet corner. The next morning, we heard a snap. Big brown eyes, white fuzzy belly, limp broken body. “Oh, he’s so cute,” Bug said sadly. Into the weekday rush we crammed this death. We shrank it down to fit. School, work, a morning meeting and already late. I dumped the trap, mouse and all, into the garbage. Another dab of peanut butter on a clean trap, and off we hustled into our overfull day.

On the drive to school, regret hit hard.

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Children, Growing Up, Love

Overboard

Slow-Swinging Sea
He stirs as I tiptoe past. It was the quietest of midnight bathroom visits, but sensing proximity, he surfaces. The butterfly nightlight gilds the unfurling comma of his body. He mumbles and I bend down close. Is this just a ripple as he passes beneath or is it a call up to his divemaster in the waking world?

“I had a nightmare.” A moan chokes the almost-whisper, tears bubble under the almost-plea. He asks still sometimes. More frequently now, he turns into himself and finds uneasy comfort in his approaching PCS.

He reaches for me from the small bed we’ve tucked into a nook in my room. For one night, this night, he is here. I must remember what I so easily forget: Tonight is the only night.

The only guarantee is this.

When does it go? Does the wind change, do we get any warning at all? The story has its own arc and rarely does it show mercy to the players.

Our neighbor died last week. Every day, he walked his goofy dog named Mulligan. Every day, he beamed out a smile. So many of us here lock our gazes on the ground as we stride headlong across the face of the day, but he spared a moment for a hello.

We rode the bus together to the metro in the mornings. This summer, along with his tattooed son, intermittent daughter-in-law, and 5-year-old grandson, he went camping in Minnesota. We rode together then too, taking bus to metro, the clan lugging duffel bags and airline tickets. He came back with sunburned cheeks.

The tattooed son walks Mulligan now. He smiles and says hello just like his dad did. Mulligan wags and sniffs and strains at his leash, doing the same.

In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon.

When was the last time we read aloud the book we used to know by heart? Who can call up the final Sweet Baby James?

Tonight is the only night.

Tomorrow, my boy will sleep in another place. Behind a closed door, in a dorm room, alongside his troubled lover. He will rest on the shore of the cove he’s found following his own songlines. He’ll plunge into caves that crack open in his private sea floor. He’ll battle the Leviathan that has fed on his leaked blood and whispers.

I sit down on the carpet next to him. Our dog is curled into a ball on a tattered wool blanket on the other side of me. She is a soft pulse, a shuddering exhale. I stroke my son’s hair, its tangled gold, its damp heat. He sighs. Then he touches my arm and pulls it down across his middle. Turning, he tucks me in under him, extending my reach, strapping my slender weight across him like a harness. I lay may cheek against the warm place his head left on the pillow. His discarded breath is my oxygen. His scent, my surf.

Soon he is rhythm and release. When his grip relaxes, I plant a kiss his slack cheek then roll away.

It is deep night and I am so very tired.

I fall into the passing current of sleep, drafting in the slipstream of my son’s swift descent.

Image credit: Asleep in the Arms of the Slow-Swinging Sea by Ruby Levick

Family, Things I Can

39. Things I Can Deliver: Her Eulogy

The girl who climbed trees in Durant, Oklahoma, ignoring as long as possible the suggestion that this activity may be less than ladylike, she was long grown by the time I came around. But I caught a glimpse of her when she and Dick outfitted that van for the open road, and she scrambled over hillsides all around this country collecting gems and geodes.
 
The college graduate who came to Dallas and strode through downtown with her girlfriends, in awe of the fashions at A. Harris and the big city bustle? She was a distant memory by the time I was old enough to have joined her on those walks. But a glimmer of her appeared when she’d stroll through the aisles at Neiman’s on the way to the Zodiac Room, pausing to stroke the beaded silk and saying, “Oh, just imagine the places we could wear this!”
 
I wish I could have met the young woman who whirled around the USO with her flyboy, but she showed up at the bridge table, and stocked her cabinets with board games and playing cards, and let us flounce through the house in the puffed sleeves and petticoats of her square dance dresses, and opened her treasure boxes to gild our necks and arms with costume jewels.
 
That girl who’d let her big sister Cecil take the spot as Mima’s culinary apprentice while she herself was skinning her knees climbing all those trees? When she became a young Navy wife and realized she’d actually have to cook for that husband of hers, it would have been a kick to see her rooting through the barrel at the PX and choosing a nickel edition of Fannie Farmer and stumbling through her first pot roast. But I saw a bit of her when she cranked a whole orange through the grinder for cranberry salad, and tossed just the right splash of ice water across the flour for pie crust.
 
I could have learned a lot from the dedicated young mother who cared for those five babies while setting up house and community in Hawaii, Maine, Florida. But she appeared in front of me when, at 86 years old, she got right down on the floor and played with her infant great-grandson.
 
I wish I could have held the hand of the young widow with two of her children still in school, who took the searing tragedy of losing a husband and transformed it into the courage to up and move to Germany. But I did see her seek adventure in the everyday, driving all the way down to the Dallas Farmer’s Market on a Saturday to marvel at the cantaloupes and east Texas tomatoes, lifting them to her nose and wowing at the fragrance, the warmth, as if each was the first she’d ever held. I saw her boldly stay open to the world even as her body set its own limits. Walking the pool, gabbing with friends; accepting every invitation to travel; serving families in need through her volunteer work; consuming the Dallas Morning News every day; and meandering all the way through each new issue of National Geographic.
 
Mardy was Gramma Mardy by the time I came along. She would sit with me in the breakfast nook and drink her tea. But she was so much more than a tea-drinking, nook-sitting gramma. We’re working the crossword together, digging through the dictionary, patching together word origins and giggling at the rickety bridges strung between the gaps in our knowledge. She wants to learn it all. Then the puzzle is done and she’s reading the headlines out loud and punctuating them with fiery commentary about this senator or that scandal. Then she’s up feeding birds whose habits and classifications she is eager to grasp. Then she’s skimming the arts page for a gallery or a foreign film.
 
Then, invariably, the people come.
 
The phone rings and it’s one of lunch ladies. Rick and the kids stroll up the patio waving. The doorbell rings, and Nelda is there with a question.
 
Gramma invites them in. Curious, affable, delighting in whatever is going on in their worlds, she offers a chair and questions, and soon they’re re-drawing the blueprint of old neighborhoods on the map of their collective memory. Where did Sleepy Reese end up? Did the neighbors actually lay that driveway on Daddy’s property? Which year did Eddie Dominguez graduate? Oh, and what about old What’s-his-Name? Then we’re laughing and hollering, trying to reach consensus, and barring that, nudging the discussion into more agreeable territory. Soon someone’s going to pick up Dickey’s barbeque or getting suited up for the pool or arranging for church then lunch then a trip to Durant. And all of this activity just blooms up from the mere act of being in Gramma Mardy’s house.
 
I say I wish I could have known the girl, the young wife, the mother. But maybe I did know her. All those glimpses had stories behind them, and the stories were right there, still very much alive, ready for me to weave into my own. I knew a much fuller version of my Gramma because people called and came to the door knowing they’d be invited in. Made comfortable. Asked to share.
 
Witnessing and learning about the lives of her loved ones – that was Mardy’s way. She cultivated openness, welcome, HOME. Everyone who was part of Mardy’s circle knew they’d have a place where they could come and where they could belong. Cherino, Crestover, Allencrest, Hideaway. She opened the doors to Paul, Lissa, Brin, John and Nancy, Rick and Carrie, Jamin, me. Giving all of us at one point or another a waystation and a launch pad, or just a place to catch our breath. And the other grandkids – Jonathan and Jennifer, Brendan, Dylan, Sadie too – all of us knew that Gramma’s home was ours.
 
This is not an accident. This is a way – Gramma Mardy’s way – unique and extraordinary. And because all of these generations of friends and kin have sat at her breakfast table laughing and arguing and telling the stories, I met that red dirt girl who became the kind of woman I hope to someday be.
 
It breaks my heart that my Gramma didn’t make it out to Virginia to stay in the condo I bought two summer ago – the first home of my own. It would have been so nice to share my table with her for once. I spent the first year there guarded and shell-shocked, protecting my solitude, my hackles up against the obligations attached to membership in a community.
 
But this year, as Gramma’s health declined, it’s almost as if some fragment of her spirit rode the currents over 1500 miles and took root in me. I’ve finally started to look up and become friends with my neighbors. To host parties even when my house is a mess. To follow my son when he jets off with his buddies, and go meet their parents and siblings.
 
Maybe that woman I only caught in glimpses over 41 years waited for me to grow up enough to meet her, fully formed, as the curious, vibrant, tough, and tender person she always was.
 
I am lucky – in fact, we all are so lucky – to have been on the receiving end of her love. She’s here in that love, in me – in us – every time we open the door and invite someone in.
 

Living in the Moment, Things I Can

26. Things I Can Ignore: Contrails

Way up there, a tiny plane skates across the early spring blue. Here, the bus wheezes up to a stop sign, waits its turn, then groans on. The sun has hours yet to make its languid descent into rooftops and half-clothed branches.

Scuffs streak the plexiglass. The eyes are trained to peer right through.

What would it be like to see only this in here? Only what’s behind? I still have hopes of Corsica. Each year another scar cuts across the frame. The edges blur. It’s clear enough, though, for today: Maybe almond trees, maybe the Pillars of Hercules. Or Galapagos. The Badlands at the very least.

It was just now, or near enough to now, that I pressed through a scouring wind to summit Mt. Snowdon in Wales and cooled my blistered feet in Llyn Ffynnon-y-gwas. Such a thing could happen again. Those engines up there could carry me to the source of the next pool where my toes touch bottom as fish nibble down to live skin.

Another renewal.

It’s not impossible.

Or if I choose to walk lightly, I could use my own traction. Starting on this very bus, I could cast off on a winding route to the borderlands where the last of the wildcats hush their flanks against night.

The sky is a door. I am 41 and just came from the gym where I pulled 70 pounds and crunched 100 times on an incline bench.

Now my pooch who narrowly missed her date with a Chinese abbatoir flies like a formula one race car across the dog park that backs against the freeway. She turns fast enough to send mulch and dirt blasting into the sound wall. I shed my jacket and hurl the ball, my arm getting looser now with each lengthening day.

Now I sit in solitude at a dim table at the Indian restaurant. I taste it all: the whang of the cilantro leaf, the spring of my jaw against cubes of cheese, the smoke that lingers in papered boils on the flatbread. Tabla music patters against the sizzle and clank of the kitchen.

Now I bend to this page and rub the dull lamp until it glows.

Everything here is here. Everything here is forward.

What luxury, this illusion.

How fleeting.

The texts ping in, one, then six or seven more. All day in bursts, each sounding a claxon. She is in the ER. She is prepping for surgery. She’s in the OR. She’s in recovery. Her hip is fractured. Her hip is mending.

If she makes it through the next three months, she’ll turn 95 in July.

What must it be to come up out of the fog of anesthesia into the even more stifling smog of dementia? To see only through scuffed glass, to see only the scars? No forward. Not even a here, really. The machines that didn’t exist in your lifetime then did, now they buzz across a silent blue you can’t see. Now they carry other people away into pockets of the world you’ll never know.

If you’ve even lost the comfort of memory, what then? Where do your eyes alight?

I am 41 and grip hard to delusion. This blank page is an open window. That sunlit frame holds no pane. I can step right through and cast my line up against gravity, snag that jet and let it ferry me into another fable, one waiting just for me.

I ignore the microscopic particles, the wind and all it carries, strafing the body of this vehicle. I pretend the light falls through unimpeded. Against the mounting evidence, I claim this day and this endless tomorrow.