Choices, Creativity, Divorce

Post Box

“You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.”

– James Baldwin

I’m not married to him now.
I remember these things.
He could weave string into bracelets. Yarn into pouches. He picked up discarded wrappers and curled them and knotted them and made them into chains.

When he asked me to marry him, he brought out the ring in a box he had made from paper tucked in on itself.

He is not my husband now. I remember these things.

The soil of my own life was restive in my hands. Its thrum vexed me. It was so pliable. So insistent. It offered no clues yet demanded everything of me. As if some larval creature moved through it, the contours kept changing. I would press my fingers in halfway but pull back, plugging the divot before it had a chance to drill open a corridor in me I was unprepared to claim. I could not – would not – choose a manner of shaping, let alone the shape itself.

My very own life in my very own hands. I was confounded.

Potter, sculptor, bricklayer, farmer. Technical skill is just the beginning, all hammers and season, chisels and heat. The other work is the inversion of craft. Abstruse. Intangible. Vision? Call? It is the sense of shape before shape. It is a moment of conception in stop-action. The mind must coil around the shimmer and foam and draw from-in-with it, frame by frame, a creation splitting into its own origin.

Here is art. Here is courage.

Skill marries imagination in a painstaking process. It requires coaxing that inner membrane out, out to reside within the material at hand. Slipping. Adjusting. Aptitude falling short. Hands seeking the next nuance, the next skill to call that thing into being. And the thing, the virtual life, when it meets tool and clay, shivers without permission into forms no one ever imagined. It slips into sync with the material world as much in spite of the artisan as because of her.

This was me, holding a pulsing handful of wing and seed and licorice root, warming the rank, luscious matter that cannot be created or destroyed but is always only changing form. This was me without any idea which of the six dozen flitting shapes in my mind it might take. This was me, seeking an instruction manual. A trail marker. A sorcerer for whom I could apprentice.

He offered me a tiny folded box. It fit in my palm.

I learned to knit while we were married. A bucket of bamboo needles. Yarn by the mile. A haberdashery of hats and scarves and ill-fitting slippers.
I squirmed on the sofa. I ignored the ache. I forced my gaze to zero in on the next stitch in the pattern.
This was me, making something with my hands.
At last. Something.
This was me, turning fairytale outside-in. Deaf to the clatter of limb against wall. Surrendering to threads biting fingers, ankles, throat. Hewing my own Gepetto out of fine-grained evasion and then feeding him my lines.

My son grew into the oversized hats then grew right out of them.

The man I married looped ribbon into lanyard. He did this, as all things, without haste.
I took up those strings. I practiced those boxes. I pulled and folded.
I pretended they were mine. I wanted them to be mine. His paper box fit in my hand. His cellophane chains fit my wrists.
My fingers ached. Below me, the fecund earth roiled. I stilled the urge to plunge.

In the winters, our house, whichever one in whichever time zone, was edged in white-gold lights. He laced every corner. He installed timers at the outlets. I walked through the dark mountain frost on those blue-black nights. Miles from any town, the only cloud brushing that carpet of stars was the one I alone breathed.
I followed the bend until our house appeared on the hill. My cloud found its kin. A fire there. Odd relief: the communion of breath with ash, the shared obscuring of depth.
A ribbon of smoke, a runway of light. A place to land. The home we made.
I imagined it was ours and that I was an equal part of the Us who created it.
Our marriage. Our son. Our Christmas. Our hearth.
A rectangle of lights framed the door. A square of lights outlined the window.
Strings of light made boxes of light made chains to grip in the direction of travel.
Always, the urge to plunge. Did I admit that it was almost as strong as the one that pulled me back? Almost. Not enough.
It could have been.
Down to the creek, the glassed stone, the trout slipping down low. A canopy of mist kissing the water’s quaking skin. Somewhere near, the bald eagle in its nest. A screech on the hillside. The towering stone, the natural bridge, the dirt road twisting down and away. Down from light. Away from the frame, the flame, that steady glow.

My son in there. I went home. Always.
Until I couldn’t.

Now, I am making the Christmas that a good mom should. My son and I drape aquamarine garland from the doorframes. We follow lines scratched deep in the vinyl.

The sound is tinny. Grainy. There is dirt in the grooves. Weeds push up through the cracks. Seeds rupture. Their dogged tendrils erode the smooth edge.

Something unfurls in the air here. It is not pine. It is not mulling spices.
Carapace and decay. Bud and birth.

The Christmas I make is my penance.
Yet no one is demanding it. No one has handed me an invoice or called me before jury.
Peers don’t speak their judgments aloud. Not now. They have their own failings to answer for.
The man who was my husband is not holding a yardstick. He never was.
The box fit in my palm. The box fits all of him. Of course it does. It is his. It always was.

The man who is not my husband still has the Christmas stocking from his childhood and he takes it with him every year no matter where he ends up on December 24. He makes sure our son’s stocking is wherever our son will be on December 24. The stocking goes back and forth like a lunch box.
Like our son.

The tree twinkles. Gifts are piled in heaps that brush the low boughs. Cards wend their way around the globe.
The season squeezes. The strings pinch but no one is here to pull them. No one but me.
I find a spade. The dulled blade is still sharp enough to split threads. To crack floorboards. To pierce ice and soil and root.

In these moments when my son is with his father, I marinate in disquiet. I look around the home we are making and see the places where we spill from the corners. The dining room table is a hard-hat zone of paint and pennies and half-written poems in calligraphy ink. The empty floor of the living room yawns wide and pulls me to dance under low lights. I write. I pace. I wander out into the night with the dog and turn my bare face to winter sky.

Christmas is changing shape. Everything is.

The material comprising the ground under my own feet still puzzles me. Frightens me. Yet this terrain I inhabit, both alone and with my son, is all I’ve got.

This is me closing my eyes and seeking the shape preceding shape. I follow its source. I feel its beat and match my pulse to that throb.

I bend. I reach.

This is me.

Love, Poetry, Reading

Book Lovers

Each with his favored arm
made his foray
scorning confections and only sometimes opening a hand
dusted with the crushed stamen
of a hothouse orchid. Walt came bearing small sprouts
at least before his straight-up offer of crotch and vine
while against my throat, Edgar licked
glossed feather. I choked down Eliot’s ragged claws and talk
of Michelangelo, glancing against the vorpal snicker
Carroll carried unsheathed. The graze bared
blood beat and Baldwin fire going the way I dared not ache.
I had barely found my feet and certainly not my sense
when, whispering, Kazuo led me to a corner of the room
I’d never seen and there, Salman with a slow grin
esta-esta-estuttered open his voice in song.

Continue reading “Book Lovers”



You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.
– James Baldwin.

Is this what happens after the tender eardrum bursts? Is this what it is to bear the thick scars, to become deaf, to grow hard?

The third man in less than a year has chastised me for lacking empathy. The third man in less than a year has used the word “selfish” to describe what he sees. It seems this should sting, but oddly, it falls away. The swelling sensation in my chest for my son has to indicate some capacity for care, right? The dedication to Bug is so instinctive and self-sacrificing that this thing love, while perhaps not my dominant chord, is a riff repeated throughout the improvised song of me.

Perhaps the other exes will be nodding their heads as they read this. You said it, brother. That exhalation of relief at being rid of such a cold and steely thing. This is confusing, though. I have also been told I love a little like scalding, a little recklessly. Sometimes, when I get a verse of you stuck in my head, it is hard to shake it free.

A brief and totally unscientific survey of the years preceding the marriage indicates a pattern of ducking out from under the proffered embrace. I fling myself back into the path of my own cyclone, grab hold, and ride. Yes, even if it bucks and hurtles me away from the you whose train just carried me where I claimed I wanted to be.

Alas, this string of men may be right. Should I be peeling back prickled rind of their criticism? It would be nice to make a course correction if it is called for. It’s just that I find myself a tad too unconcerned with this interpretation. Selflessness may be overrated. (Spoken like a truly spoiled brat).

Early experiences with the blues teach a girl a few things. Like, take charge of your own joy. Don’t wait for someone to re-write the song in a major key. Go the way your blood beats. It was never Tee’s job to make me happy, and one of the things he told me recently is that a few years into our relationship, he stopped trying to put a smile on my face.

Sad, but you know what? Good for him.

The desire to be a generous mother and wife eclipsed my capacity for blazing my own trail. We try so hard, the driven among the women, to be soft and giving while the unwritten strains of our own magnum opus threaten to burst the seams. I am sure I am not alone in having tried to quell the jostling desire for a more symphonic score, to draw the string around the neck of the sack and press it down in the river of some man’s cadence until it stopped squirming, until it just floated away on his meandering current.

It does not work (unless it does, and which is worse?)

Certainly, I love to love. Also, though, I have learned to return to the dance, my sweat, the craft. Ink, work, questions, earth. It is unfair to rely on him to conjure the beauty. I have learned how to work the magic with my own hands. This has a price, of course. Not needing him might (oh, irony!) leave him hungry. No wonder I begin to look ugly when, upon hearing the growl in his belly, I toss him the bones. He is no fool. He sees me heap my son’s plate with an extra helping, then retreat behind my velvet curtain and feed in rapturous solitude on the meatiest bits myself.

Please allow me to veer to the side here and indulge in a little contextual inquiry. How is it that we are already a few bites into the 21st century, and a woman who unapologetically carves out time to tune her own strings has to ask herself if she is a loving enough creature? When I rise before the sun to dance or run or write, I know I am leaving that man to his own dreams. He wants me to stay. I get it. I have been the one left before, and it chills a little, right at the moment when the most delicious thing would be to slide up into a tangle of limbs. Girls who become women have to swallow the hardest lesson: the thirst accompanying the beloved’s receding back is what finally makes you decide to stop grumbling at the barren sky. Pick up your own instrument. Pluck out your rough tune. Turn your voice to the horizon and call the rain.

She wakes up when she realizes she no longer aches for company. She has, without knowing how it happened, stumbled upon a few marvelous secrets.

One: it is really a treat to work hard and succeed at something that matters in the world, and the more you do it, the more you want to do it.
Two: that thing you enjoy? It turns out to be just as fun when you do it alone, in the company of strangers or friends, or alongside a lover. It really doesn’t matter. Just doing it makes you smile down in your belly, and that is the truest source of your generosity.
Three: loneliness is the low-hanging fruit. Joy is just a little higher up. Take your pick. Both are within reach.

For me, the greatest surges of love occur when watching a companion out there, bringing his hands down across the taut skin of the world and banging things into place. Seeing him play and build, move and shake? That’s what sets this lady to shivering, not his proximity. Or, at least not only that. I, too, crave the comfort of the hearth, and it is so very nice to spin a cocoon of whispers and flesh, to fit inside someone’s breath.

Please consider this: I am as warm blooded as the rest.

When I turn away, I am not running away. It is not a cold thing. The door is open wide, and I am still offering up whatever scoop of love I have to give. It overflows, and I will gladly glop the best of it all over you once we have both worked up a hunger in our separate pursuits.

It is a gift to wind through the fine lines of the staff with a companion, feeling the buzz of resonance when hitting the notes together. I am not so self-contained as to welcome the prospect of a lifetime of playing one-handed. Being able to cherish and care for a companion, to practice love, not just as a three-chord ditty but as a collection of movements, is a breathtaking blessing. I hope I am fortunate enough to have a chance to attend to a partner’s place in things, and to help him open his voice to his true lyric.

If I am free to practice mine alone, I will leave him to his. My arms will stretch wider, my mouth will lift higher, and I will be able to hear the many layers of him. All I need is a few measures to compose myself.

Growing up ain’t easy. We resist it until we surrender, and then we pull our fingers from our ears and hear, at last, how clear the sound of our own pulse, how perfectly timed the beat of our veins to that of our feet. Finally, we do not concern ourselves with finding someone to fill the gap. We write the bridge in where it belongs, and then cross it to meet our companion, weaving together our whole and separate songs.