Poetry, Relationships


Before the tip even reaches
the scrap he’s set on the bar,
the pencil hums
a Cartesian chord
like a tuning fork
loose in his grip and streaks
two thick axes
across the plane. Pivoting now
at the corners, the silver
gray lead cuts those dicey
little circles
with their arrows
and Ts that come to mean
in the abstract.

is a scatterplot at odds with offers,
men churning up a quixotic cloud
that claims a rarified horizon
well beyond
the gals who
know in their bones
the laws of gravity
and let their feet dance along
the trendline
until closing time.

Art, Children, Friends

Love before Love

Valentine's Soup

Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.

– Elie Wiesel

Bug creeps out of his bed and tiptoes into my room. “Mommy, I made twenty-eight bowls!” His eyes are far too bright for this ungodly hour. For the third time, I walk him back to his room and perch next to him on the bed. He has been drawing a Valentine’s Day picture. The pink and red markers are running to chalky streaks.

“You know it’s well past time for sleep, buddy.”

“I know, but see?” He starts to color in the legs of the lone person on the page, already forgetting why he called me in. Continue reading “Love before Love”

Creativity, Happy Days

Happy 100 Days: 12

Bug's Subterranean Bunker
Bug’s Subterranean Bunker

While I lay in the bed singing Christmas carols from the old songbook, Bug draws. This elaborate little world is his latest creation. He stops me before I kiss him good night so he can explain all the elements of his picture.
Conveyor belts rolling down from up in the treetops carry suitcases to the inhabitants below. The suitcases have “all the things people need, like food and hammers” for underground life. The dude on the right sitting under the tree is fishing from the subterranean spring that runs along the bottom. His catch is stored in wooden storage boxes up above, and the conveyor belts ferry fishes down when people need food.
The ladders help people and dogs and cats go up and down, too. There are also slides. The little dwelling on the bottom right is a dollhouse someone built so the kids have something to play with down there. There is a kitchen for cooking. The brown stuff is the soil, Bug explains, and tunnels through the soil are for the worms. The guy fishing uses the worms for catching fish.
The skull, bones, and wishbone in the middle of the brown patch are remains of a deer skeleton decomposing in the earth, which Bug put in to show that this whole place is “way down underground.”
You know what gets me? Every single inhabitant of this bunker is in a state of perfect bliss. The fisherman, the cats, the children: all happy. The dudes schlepping suitcases are grinning. The fish swimming in the spring and languishing in their boxes are wearing smiles. Even the dead deer is content with the situation.
Predator, prey. Worker, player. Compost, bloom. No matter where anyone lands in the tableau, happiness is an option.


Happy 100 Days: 74

You Will Be Sorry to Go In Here
As soon as we walk in the door, Bug grabs the scissors and scrap paper and scoots a chair up to the kitchen table. He first draws a monster and then pushes that aside to create a row of pumpkins on orange paper. He asks me how to spell out a warning to the trick-or-treaters. I help him sound it out. He writes “Boo Boo Boo Boo” all on his own.
“What are you going to make, Mommy?”
Uh, dinner? And a bath? I force myself to leave the dishes for the moment. I pull up a chair and join Bug at the table. “Hmm. let me see. Something scary.” I draw a witch on a broomstick, snip her out, and paste her on a background of black construction paper. This satisfies my boy for now.
Dinner is ready. I heap the brown rice noodles and spaghetti sauce in bowls, hiding a few spoonfuls of cooked squash in the glop. Bug wolfs it down and even finishes his broccoli. I begin to peel an orange to add another serving of the good stuff to the meal.
“Wait!” He blocks me. “Don’t take the skin off! Can I have it?”
“Sure,” I laugh. I hand him the orange and take the second one from the bowl. “Can I peel this one?”
“Okay, yeah,” he says, but he is not paying attention to me. He has pushed his plate aside and taken up the marker. He draws on the orange and then cuts and colors a little strip of paper. He finds the tape under all this mess and sticks the little strip onto the top of the fruit.
“There!” He says, a big grin brightening his face. He turns the orange towards me. He has drawn on a triangle-eyed face and attached a makeshift stem. I laugh.
“That’s awesome, buddy! You made a jack-o-lantern!”
He goes back to eating his dinner. “Let’s make Halloween things all night,” he says.
“That’s a great idea,” I say.
After dinner and bath, we paste a few of our scary pictures on the front door. In bed, he takes up his clipboard while I read, drawing first a ghost, and then a vampire with red fangs, and then a leprechaun hiding a pot of gold behind a stone wall.
The papers flutter to the ground, one after the other, carpeting the bedroom floor.


Happy 100 Days: 90

While we are brushing teeth at bedtime, I somehow manage to elbow Bug in the face. I feel the crack, and immediately pull him into my soft belly. A split second passes and then he is wailing. Hot tears and even hotter anger seep through my shirt.
“I’m sorry, baby. Goodness gracious, that must hurt. I’m sorry.”
He howls into my side. “It’s your fault, Mommy!” Choking sobs. “It’s all your fault!”
I call down the stairs and ask my mother to bring us the ice pack from the freezer. She hands it up to us and I talk softly to Bug, finding a pillowcase to wrap around the pack. Bug is still clinging to me, yelling, “It’s your fault!”
“Yep, it is,” I say. I help him press the ice to his cheek then have him put on his jammies. I fill a mug with cool water for his bedside table. “It was an accident. I am sorry.” He keeps crying and scowling as the spot under his eye puffs to an angry pink. He reminds me about two dozen more times that I am to blame for his misery. I concede this fact.
Here is tonight’s small victory: My son does not hit me. He does not bite, kick, spit, or butt me in the face with the back of his head.
“Can I have paper for writing?” He asks. I dig up a clipboard from the clutter in his room. We crawl into bed and I begin to read as he writes on his paper with a thick red marker. Halfway through the first book, Bug interrupts me. “That’s you, Mommy.” I look over and see he has drawn on the far left of his page a frowning stick figure with a distressed look. I am impressed with the expressiveness of the eyebrows.
“That looks like a mean mommy,” I say.
“It is,” he says. He returns to drawing. I keep reading. After the next book, I look over again. He has filled in the page with two more stick figures. “Now you are sad,” he tells me, pointing to my double.
“Is that you with an angry face?” I ask.
“Yeah. I am punching you.”
“Oh. I see now.” He marks in little teardrops falling from the mommy’s eyes. “She seems pretty upset,” I say. “And he looks mad.” He draws the two faces again at the top of the page. One is crying and one is scowling. When he puts the cap back on the marker, I tap the page. “You know what you did, kiddo? You told your feelings to this picture.”
Bug reaches over and gives me the gentlest of swats on the shoulder. “Now I did the same thing to you for real,” he says.
I let it go. So does he. He pulls the page from the clipboard and drops it off the side of the bed. He starts practicing his letters. I start on the third book.
After we are finished reading, I tuck him against me into a full-body hug and sing “Baby Beluga.” My son’s new favorite approach to cuddling is to slip his arm under my neck and pull my head down on his chest. He wraps his hand around my shoulder and strokes my hair. It is an odd juxtaposition, my son holding me against him the way I have held him for so many years. I feel small and safe. I feel gigantic and cumbersome. I feel the echo of my voice off his fragile ribs and his unbroken heart.
Downstairs, I hear Giovanni come to drop off the dog. Her nails tippy-tap on the kitchen tile, a staccato counterpoint to the thundering footsteps of my parents as they wash up the dinner dishes and stash away the pizza stone. Bug’s schoolwork is on the kitchen table awaiting his teacher’s smiley-face sticker. A truck roars past on the muggy street outside. The air conditioner hums to life. The presidential debates begin.
I sing “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” and Bug sings along, his voice fading.
There’s a lake of stew and ginger ale too,
you can paddle all around it in a big canoe

He is under before I reach the end, but I finish anyway. I stay there for a few moments. His hand is against my ear, fingers tangled in my hair. He holds me as close as he can even in his sleep.
My son was angry at me. For the first time in 5 years and 363 days, he told me about it with words and art instead of with his hands.
So often, I sense the hugeness of the task ahead. Survive, save, support my child, teach him well, build a future. It is daunting. It can be very lonesome.
Tonight, I can feel my son’s strong pulse against my cheek. All around, the world goes on. It sometimes happens that in all that going on, people help. Sometimes, someone takes care of something that need taking care of. Someone walks the dog. Brings the ice pack. Pays the mortgage. Teaches the kids. Runs the country.
Sometimes, I can whisper my boy through his storm of feelings precisely because I am not alone.
What a revelation.
Sometimes, I am not alone.


With Drawn

Rose McLarney

Some springs, apples bloom too soon.
The trees have grown here for a hundred years, and are still quick
to trust that the frost has finished. Some springs,
pink petals turn black. Those summers, the orchards are empty
and quiet. No reason for the bees to come.

Other summers, red apples beat hearty in the trees, golden apples
glow in sheer skin. Their weight breaks branches,
the ground rolls with apples, and you fall in fruit.

You could say, I have been foolish. You could say, I have been fooled.
You could say, Some years, there are apples.


For the second night in a row, my son is awake past 10:00pm. He is riding a tidal wave of inspiration. A paper sea churns around him. He draws with thick marker on a sheet of blank-backed leftovers from my father’s draft articles on adaptive management and my own half-hearted attempts at a screenplay. Without any concern for the neat lines of type on the opposite side, Bug splashes the blue ink across the surface of everything. He makes rocket ships and big-headed people,  giant insects and treasure maps. When the clipboard is empty, he takes to the bedsheets. His lime green linens explode with giant butterflies and airborne letters. Even the bedside table has become canvas.
He is wearing me out. Eventually, I tip him from his perch. The wave crashes to the shore in a blast of salt and foam. Sobs wrack his body as I snap the cap firmly back on the marker and toss his creations overboard. “It is bedtime,” I say. My lips are tight. I am so very tired. The past week has been yet another chapter in the thousand year history of insomnia. Without good thinking to move us up and out, my own vessel runs aground in some desolate cove. While we languish, my visions of the promised land atrophy in tandem with my faculties. Neither tide nor wind is sufficient to carry us where we need to be. Without rest and a shot at a better life, I give my son only the leavings of my legacy of mistakes.
I long to give up, to curl into my own rumpled sheets. It is impossible while he is awake. He, too, spars with the night. What worries does he carry into his fractured dreams? With nothing to do but be, I crawl in next to my sobbing son.
“I’ll sing you one more song. What do you want to hear?” I have to ask this three times before he can calm down enough to decide. Finally, he chokes out a request.
“Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
“Okay, baby. Come here. ” Drawing him close, I sing it all the way through, slow and low. He  surrenders his weight to my waiting shoulder one ounce at a time. When the song ends, he starts to stir. I ease into “Molly Malone,” welcoming him back to my arms. In Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty. . .
Well before the fever kills her, Bug’s breath steadies and his muscles soften. I carry on to the end so I can bid goodnight to Molly’s ghost, Alive, alive-oh.
When my feet swing off the bed, they splash into the eddying pages. I have to wade through them to get to the door.  I can barely bring myself to look at my son again. His peace is too stark a reminder of what is required of me. How will this broken woman ever provide enough for this beautiful, bursting boy?
In a literature class in back in the wide-open days of college, a professor spoke with reverence of the tenacity of the great authors. She told us of the Brontë sisters, hunched over tables and making stories by candlelight. On bits and fragments in cramped script, they inked worlds to life. Sometimes, the scarcity of paper was severe enough that one of the girls would fill the page with tiny horizontal lines, then turn the page sideways and write across the previous words.
In my own bed, I train my mind away from our doom and breathe in the quiet safety of an in-between place. This inlet, our only home. We have paper in abundance to fashion both ship and sails. Oceans of ink. Currents of light. Our larder is full. We have song. We have each other.
We have enough.
You could say, I have been foolish.
You could say, Some years, there is this.