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”

Children, Love, Parenting

Happy 100 Days: 26

In the two and a half years since my husband and I split, sleep has eluded me. A night or two of peace might pop by for a brief visit before fractured restlessness moves in for an extended stay. It is relentless. Anyone who suffers from insomnia knows the agony of half-functioning (if even half) for days on end. Usually the affliction doesn’t strike someone whose life is straightforward, so the difficulty of everyday tasks is compounded by the strained cognitive and physical function of sleep deprivation.
In the past year, I can remember one deep, delicious night where slumber was down in the lowest cave, safe and silent, exactly as it should be. I still remember the stunned feeling of waking the next morning, fogged and groggy and perfectly thrilled that the sun was halfway up in the sky. A single June night over six months ago. It was that good.
The night came to me as a surprise gift on a Pennsylvania hillside after a long day on the road. Bug, Giovanni and I had packed up the Jeep and headed out in the direction of Lake Erie. We tried to make our way into Baltimore to see the ships and found ourselves foiled by crowds. To quiet Bug’s disappointed sobs, we stopped at a McDonalds instead. He was still young enough that two Happy Meals were a fair trade for tall ships.
We found a state park with a lake and a playground and a gazillion kids. It was summer. We swam and warmed in the sun, Giovanni and I taking turns keeping an eye on Bug in the brown water teeming with humans with no lifeguard on duty. It was like vacationing on the Ganges. Bug loved every second of it. We drove on, following the map to another state park with the small triangular icon. We called ahead, found out sites were available, and pulled in a little before dark.
Bug was tired and testy, I was ready to stretch, and Giovanni was focused with laser precision on putting the tent up before dark. We all tripped and sniped over each other. Bug and I fussed and eventually made our way to the bath house as much to give Giovanni room to finish as for us to clean up. When we stumbled back, the tent was up, the fire was blazing, and the camp chairs were warming in the amber glow. Giovanni’s fingers were already striking the steel strings. Wagon Wheel lifted up to the topmost branches.
Somewhere in that deepening dusk, I hear the first whipporwill of my life. We all stopped together and listened to the call, another, back again. Whip-POOR-will. The cry was as unique as my son’s sigh.
Bug and I crawled into the tent first. We read and sang by lantern light and he fell asleep pushed up against me. Giovanni came in soon after and tucked himself around me from the back. We three, a row of spoons cast on a rocky Pennsylvania hilltop, died out long before the embers from the fire.
Even though the clearing was on a slight incline covered in sharp stones, even though Giovanni and Bug both let their jaws fall open and their snores rattle the tent flaps, even though the whipporwill called well into the wee hours, sleep came and ferried me away. Nothing remained to be fixed. Nothing needed my attention. Finally, my weary mind could surrender to night.
Wrapped up between my two boys, I was home.
Tonight, I lay down next to my boy and sing him under as I do every night he is here. He is charging me for kisses, droopy-eyed and giggly. “Kiss me again, Mommy,” he says, pressing his soft cheek to my lips. I do as directed. “Now you own me $300,” he grins. Then he turns his lips to me and presses them on my temple, my head, wherever they land.
“How much do I get?” I ask as he breathes and snorts into my skin, drawing out the long moment.
“Nothing! It’s free! Now kiss me again!”
I plant one on his ear.
“Hah! Now you owe me $600!” And by 300s, we make it up to a debt of $1200 before he takes a last breath and drifts off. His mouth falls open against my neck as I sing the final verses of Big Rock Candy Mountain. His snores tickle the song as it rises from my throat.
I’m bound to stay where you sleep all day
I let myself drift off next to him for a few delicious moments. Oh, sweet surrender. What freedom it is to believe there is nothing left to do!  In this place right here, maybe it’s possible that everything is as it should be.
Now, it’s just Bug and me. My boy. No one slipping his arms around me from behind. The cocoon into which I can tuck my love and my wishes was just a husk, after all. As such things do, it fell away when it was time to hatch. Still. I remember that night. I remember when I slept because everything was in its place. My man, my boy, me.
Now, I get to learn to create that quiet place just for the two of us. On my own, I will tackle what is perhaps the third of my twelve labors. I kiss my sleeping boy (he can’t charge me for this one) and decide to believe I am capable of small miracles. I can make us a home. I can give us our sweet rest.

Children, Home, Love

Happy 100 Days: 33

And so I heard this tune for the first time on the drive home.
Like every other lonely heart on the planet, I could hear my own You whispering these promises into my aching chest. I am a fool, of course, because Giovanni was the one with six strings tuned exactly to the key of me. He is gone now because I was not ready to let him make this place our home. These were his vows to me, re-written in a language I am only just beginning to comprehend.
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

It’s just this: greater than the longing to be lifted into someone’s love is the need to learn to do the lifting. Despite steady practice, the skill forever eludes me. It is a strange thing to come this far in a life and still be such an amateur at giving. I keep turning the key this way and that, and still, I can’t quite seem to fall open.
(I just want you to fall into this, Baby. Fall into me.)
And so when the song ends, I change the station and coast for a minute on some cheesecake pop. It does its job distracting me from the low-down pulse in that place of brine and skeletons. Crying is out of the question because I’m stuck on I-66 and need my wits about me.
Then, wouldn’t you know it? The song kicks in again on the new station. Phillip Phillips (I now know), weaving ribbons of comfort around his You just a breath after he had already tugged her in.
Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone

And against the shiver, I hear the echo of Paul Simon singing, Sometimes even music cannot substitute for tears. So I let it roil and it the current pulls me under for a minute.
Then, Okay.
Yes, okay. That’s enough.

No one will come. Rather, I am the someone who will.
I decide to let the tide recede and lift my own voice under the ice-white moon. If I could not learn to lay these promises into the open arms of Tee or Giovanni, then I will give them to the one You I do love. I give my word to my son. What I have to build, I build for him. I still have a lot to learn. Bug is where I begin.
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home


Love, Outdoors, Poetry

Happy 100 Days: 46

I have only two left
gloves, a worn
hole in the index finger
of one so I turn it backwards
on my right hand and heft
my end of the 6×6
over to the pit where the small hill
of sand by the gate
will reside
after we are done
(probably not today)
The man’s toolbelt drags
down his pants and his pencils
have not been sharpened
in a year. His drill
bit is too short and keeps escaping
from its housing
it is a wonder we manage
to fit holes
three beams deep
with the same rebar we use
to lever the lumber from its
ill-placed seating
(the volunteers did not use a level)
Leaves drift into the pit and we lose
the maul and then the last
pencil. My gloves flop like wings of
bats. Nothing stays. We use the flat
side of a hand saw to draw a line
“measure twice, cut once,” I say
so he pauses and smiles and unclips
the measuring tape
before hitching up his pants
again. When he drills backwards
through wood to meet
the hole from the other side, every time
I hold my breath and every time
I cheer when the bit spins free
finding its aim in the dark center
and the light and the air
spill through
behind the shavings
The eight-foot beam splits
my right index finger
at the tip and I suck my breath
but he is bleeding too in almost the same place
(the posts are hard to lift from the rebar
we keep seating too soon)
so we both shrug and keep hammering
the business end of one maul
with the blunt end of another
The sun sinks. We coil
the orange cord and stand
the shovels and wheelbarrow against the shed
wall, the beams still loose
the sand still piled
by the gate. He gives me
my first and
as it turns out
only hug of the day
and drives off with the circular saw
in his back seat
The gloves need a proper burial
but I toss them in
with my tools again
and my skin chafes red and thirsty
as I lift away the leaves caught
in the trunk of my car to make
room. The sting dulls to a throb
and so I do not feel the cut
mouth of the paper frog
my son made for a man
he loved once when crafting
something by hand was enough
even if the the edges
were ragged and maybe
even especially then.


Happy 100 Days: 96

Out there in the dark, the night creatures sing. The dog and I walk through them, deaf at first. The chatter in my head talks itself hoarse during the first mile. Finally, at the top of the hill where we turn back towards home, the soliloquy decides to pause for a sip of something cool.  I take a breath of September sky. At last, I can hear song.
The music starts with a churning of chirps. Then, an aquatic bass groans, rising slowly at first, sweeping up to its white crest and then crashing. Into that half-beat of rest, the faint piccolo of some distant insect twitters into the fringes of the composition. High up lyrics in the trees thrum against a low insistent rhythm. Some of these things sound finned, some winged. Some may only be visitors here. Some are most certainly in heat.
I walk and walk, the noise echoing against my skin. I walk right through the plush center of memory, returning to the deep blue-black of his sheets where we spread ourselves on our backs next to each other. It was the end of summer. The sliding door was flung wide, opening out onto the balcony and the woods beyond. We held hands and gazed blind into the dark, listening.
With our torn net of words, we tried to capture the sweeping shape of the calls out there. Low, elastic frog calls, intermittent and long. A high whine, a chirrup-chirrup. We listened together, whispering our discoveries. We collected five varieties of song, teasing out the threads, each of us hearing an altogether new strain that the other had discerned first. Finally, finally, we stopped forcing names on impossible things. We lay together sharing nothing but one song as it changed without our consent into something different. We let go without letting go. We no longer remembered to count. At some point before morning, that fleeting chorus lulled us to sleep.
I remember nothing of this.
I remember everything.
Tonight, the thunder rolls in. The dog and I make it home before the rain begins.

Friends, Poetry

Good People: An Elegy for Chris

He did not grow out of the cultivated earth of a literary tradition. He was Texas dirt, sunburnt and scarred. He banged into poetry sometime in his twenties and instead of slinking back and skittering away, he grafted it onto his body and sprouted there, all new.
He was not a particularly good writer when I met him. It did not matter. He drove his pen into the page, hammered those rough words out on a stage, and decided to be a poet. Bukowski and Ginsberg and Ferlighetti elbowed out the last of the complacency. He wrote of dark stink and revolution. He riffed off the speeches of great leaders with only a vague notion about how to organize a movement. Something more, something growling, pulsed through him, throbbing, feeding his voice.
He was so young.
We wrote together. In Dallas, on the cracked vinyl of diner booths, we wrote and wrote and wrote. One of us would suggest a prompt. We would write frantically for 10 minutes, read aloud without commenting, then write for 12, read aloud, write for 20. We could pass hours this way, whole lifetimes, galaxies dying off and starting again, no sense anymore of where one story birthed the next, one theme then the next, the rhythm of impulse moving in synchronicity over lukewarm Dr. Pepper and tattered pages.
For three months, maybe four, we were this toothed pair, fighting about everything and nothing. On Friday nights well past bedtime, we drove down I-75 to the slam in Deep Ellum at the Blind Lemon next to the auto glass dealer. We competed against our own team-mates and our own demon for the coveted perfect 30. He would get up there and hiss and hum his fury for that cash prize, barely enough to pay for two drinks. On Tuesdays, we went to Insomnia and took the mic just for the hell of it. On Sunday afternoons, we holed up in a windowless bar and team-wrote with a scruffy menagerie of rockers and poets and screenplay writers under a low shroud of smoke.
He was up for anything. He jumped at the chance to walk through the Dallas Museum of Art. He would pull over at a techno club well past midnight to dance among the goth teens. When his car was towed, we passed two hours in line at the flickering mausoleum of the impound lot, coming up with characters and laughing with our whole bellies. He discovered German barbecue places off the interstate, tried alligator tail at the cajun place, and introduced me to a proper Texas cheeseburger. We drove to Austin and crashed on a friend’s couch. He meandered wide-eyed through the State House, a place he had never visited in the lost years. He tracked down his state representative to ask her about road projects in poor communities.
I loved him a little and he loved me wild. His run-down pad off Walnut Hill had posters of Limp Bizkit on the wall and a full Nintendo game system he could barely afford. He had a twin bed. A sour couch. No savings. No degree. No plan. No pedigree.
But on that day my grandmother had the ladies over for bridge and he swung by to pick me up, he tapped some source of sugared light I had only just begun to sense.  Never has a group of octogenarians so quickly puddled into fits of giggles.
He was complete already, and I didn’t know it. Neither did he.
He wanted to plan Big Things. Community-wide bilingual free poetry shows. Demonstrations in the park for funding for arts in the schools. He was firing on all cylinders with no direction of travel.
Except for one: Poetry.
He dreamed writing. He woke writing. When I urged him to slow down, to read, the practice the craft, I could see his jaw tense with the effort. He did not want to measure his pace. He did, though, because all suggestions were fair game.  Then he would return to just writing writing writing. He got better and better.
He treated every other uncertain artist exactly as he treated his own self. “Get up there. You’ve got something to say.” He never let anyone sit in the back and play it safe. He did not wait for perfection or an invitation. He crashed the party. He grabbed everyone within reach and carried them with him.
“I believe the world is beautiful,” wrote Roque Dalton. “And that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.” Christopher Ya’ir Lane lived this.
Alas, no journey unfolds without flat tires and black smoke. Back then, a dozen years ago in the Dallas night, there were lies and drugs and there was another woman. I was leaving anyway to head back to Vermont to help a friend with a baby. So, the heat burned to embers and then ash. Sometime later, I heard that he had stumbled down the rabbit hole. The details were vague. He moved to Arizona. His siblings were involved. Who knows? I failed to reach out. Bruises, even if only to the ego, can make a heart cold.
I found him again virtually, years later after I was gone and back and gone again a few times around. He had his own beautiful family. A wife, a baby in his arms, then another. In the intervening decade, he had not stopped writing.
What did I say? He was not a good writer?
Now I have to admit that I didn’t understand the first thing about good writing. Chris had something to teach me I am only just now starting to wrap my mind around. Good is only this:
Doing it.
Just doing it, over and over, then doing it some more. He did not stop, from what I can tell, for longer than half a breath during that time. He had become a great poet. And what’s more, he had let that fire and fury carry him into projects that would make the Espada and Angeolou and even Roque Dalton proud. He put together youth slams. He became an organizer for the Alzheimer’s poetry project. He bridged the gap between rural and urban artists. He wrote and wrote, but he did not just do it from the back of the cave. He was a people’s poet. He shared, learned to make things happen, turned that charm into currency that could open the door to the ones for whom a closed door, or no door, is standard fare.
Christopher Ya’ir Lane was a far better writer and man than I gave him credit for. He never stopped. I wish I had known him later, that I had gotten over the small peevishness of our parting and welcomed him as a friend and as the gifted teacher he became. That is my great regret. But I am thankful that he inhabits a small moment in time and a living corner of my heart.
It is hard to know how to honor someone when the loss is so fresh. I can only say that this man’s life work is both humbling and inspiring. He did not wait around for the world to tell him he was good enough. He simply decided to love something, to make it multiply, and to cast the seeds of it far and wide.
So, for Chris, who shared that burning moment with me, I make this commitment:
I aim to crack open my rigid perceptions about what makes a piece, a project, or a person worth consideration. I aim to be impatient, to open my throat, to have the courage to believe in ink and voice to carry the art to life even if my doubt would surely sink it. I am to urge everyone I meet to follow their own bright pulse, blow past the doubts and the critics, and burn big, and burn loud.
Christopher Ya’ir was the best writing companion a girl could have during a fit of Dallas fever. I am grateful he unfurled his passion in my presence and showed me how it’s done. I ache for a world without him, and my heart goes out to his two beautiful little ones and to the wife who carried him over.
Goodbye, Chris. Your voice is with me, splitting open now in this turned soil, reaching for my own roots and feeding me the heat I did not even know I lacked. You live forever.


Chemical Reaction

The festival’s fireworks are beating at the sky. Down in the dining room, the dog paces and pants. I know now that the report is the second and larger explosion of the two. The shooter lit the slow fuse before sending the case skyward. At just the right moment, the flame ignites the calcium, the sodium, the copper. All this knowledge does not propel me out to watch. I have decided that to know is better than to feel, and so I remain, curled in the safe cocoon of my bedroom.
One slight click to the left, and we are there on the curb in the parking lot, letting light shower down on us through trees purpled with night. Between blasts, I hear the fat tears always at swelling at the edge of his throat when he sings “Sweet Savannah.” His voice slides over the lip of the distance to fill my hungry ears.
I still remember exactly what you said
That you had demons that you couldn’t put to bed.

On nights like these, some women buy shoes. Others call up girlfriends for pink drinks in a loud bar. Some fill the tank and hit the open road. I do none of these things, at least not at first. I dig out the last of the blank books and fill page after page with nothing but him. He gives way eventually and I find my way through the rubble to myself.
I made promises I could not keep. I wonder if everyone does this, or just those of us burdened with the belief in more. “I’ve done everything I can,” he said.
This claim intrigued me. “Everything? Did you really do everything?”
Oh, my impetuous tongue! I am so often accused of callousness, one would think I could remember the importance of timing. Not everyone pauses to marvel at each fragment of insight. Even those who do have no appreciation for inquisitiveness when they are standing with a lit fuse in their hands.
On nights like these, some will find another one in whom to stash the remains. Here, take the bones. I do not do this, either. Instead, I unfurl the turquoise sweater that had been left in his drawer since winter. His scent blooms from it, an explosion of molecules I cannot quite place except between the folds of his sheets and skin. A chemist could identify them, but only as long as the unique microorganisms last, which, as we all know, is not very long. I hang the sweater back in its native habitat. No one would guess anything here has been gone. Time and homeostasis are the secret of oblivion. All extremes return to a steady, predictable state. Soon, I will smell only my own sweat and dander unadulterated by the leavings of any man.
“Did you really do everything?”
We were well past the play of the idea. He contracted and pawed the earth , refusing to defend even as he did exactly that. He folded and re-folded the corner of the comforter as he stood next to the bed, breathing like a bull.
Lithium makes red. Strontium makes an even brighter red.
Like so many times before, we were the north and the south, two nations divided by a common tongue. My question was one of philosophy, not history. Have any of us really tried everything? Have we, in our tumultuous affair, made ice cream from scratch? Built a weather-vane? Learned pick-up lines in Russian? As best as I can recall, we did not read Rumi aloud every night for a month. We neither carried bowls of fire out to the forest at dusk nor fell down on our knees before the wide open sky to beg for a sign about how to proceed.
We worked hard as workers are known to do. We walked at a dogged pace around a known perimeter, time and again, and then anguished at the absence of mango trees and open sea. My own imagination grew weary of scoping the narrow sphere around us for signs of wolves. I forgot how to lift my gaze. So, it seems, did he.
On nights like these, some shred the old letters. Some march back into the world, shoulders squared and jaws tight. Some set themselves to re-writing the to-do lists that love’s windstorm left in disarray. I do none of these things. They are just more noise, as deafening as the blasts still clanging against the sky. Always, the dead weight of the silence that follows presses on the chest. Always, the only guidance that matters is found in the nothing.
After the grand finale that I refuse to witness, I close my eyes. The older self with loose gray hair and a hard-earned smile takes my own young body into my arms. She does this without effort. After all, she knows I survive this. She knows it won’t be long before I rearrange my constituent parts to bloom in full-spectrum color when the slow fuse finally makes its way down into the rare elements that comprise me.
I set the book aside and go find the dog. We step outside. It is quiet now except for the echo of him.
Sweet Savannah, you shine so bright
May the evening be your favorite night.

I let his voice out to rise and then splinter against the high branches of the white pine.
I walk with slow steps and follow the loop that brings me back home, every time. In bed, the silence is a tungsten shard against my throat. No reason to fight. I get up again and feel in the closet for thick knit. The bag I found under his kitchen counter when I was carrying my things away is still crumpled on the floor. I fold the sweater into it then stash the bundle in the furthest corner. Maybe there I will forget about it until one of those nights like these, when I most need to remember.

The Shooter Jennings website: http://www.blackcountryrock.org/shooterjennings/
“Sweet Savannah” on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u9e85XEWoM