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.

Continue reading “The Digger’s Mirth”

Choices, Love


Magic Rings

We belong to the conjurer. Separate and seamless, you in his left hand and me in his right. A twist, a clang, we slam into one. Solid chain, linked, as if made this way. As if always.

It’s jarring when they slip apart again. So smooth they go, and this time, without a sound.

We no longer speak in the dark. Promise has lost its voice. Nevertheless, we lean in as if we still believe. Look here, he says. He gives them a twirl around his wrist. We watch, knowing better. The price of admission includes a pass for enchantment.

Do we want them linked or free? Reasonable people would just get on with it. Decide and be done. If the man unbuttons his cape and hits the house lights, we’d know exactly what we’re working with.

Maybe impotence is a form of power. For a night, a year, for the backlit wish of a lifetime, magic is indulgence. Against better judgment, we hope he’ll never let us see under the hood.

When faith is in peril, keep the theater dim. Whisper the charm. Follow the gesture of the offered hand and pay no mind to his fingers. He may or may not wear a wedding band. Of all people, he knows how tenuous the link. He knows there are always invisible seams.

He’s mastered levitation and the suspension of doubt.

What happens to the discarded ring? Somehow, the story lingers. We refuse the god but ask the pastor to invoke him regardless. He is there still, or maybe it’s just an imprint of an aged spell. Hammered metal, more than an orderly arrangement of molecules in a chunk of deep earth. It is a thicket of notions, a fasting band, a crown of thorns.

You slept for a hundred years, after all, as did I.

Metal, dust, molecule, atom. Inside everything is the smaller fragment. What holds an object steady is just a set of conditions. What holds the intersection in alignment is just the proximity of sets. The stitching is evident if you look closely enough.

Incantation is both source and sustenance: the words, the whisper, the angle of light, and where you choose to place your hands.

We are not fixed by circumference. Every line we draw contains the space between component parts. Anything can escape.

Anything can stay.

Change, Letting Go

Receive the Blow

I wanted to believe in cards. Like the woven bag around my neck containing seven polished stones — one to ground each chakra — her cards might be the missing talisman. Maybe they could wash clean the deep cut of skepticism inveterate in the daughter of a biologist.

The friend I don’t remember handed me an overlarge deck and had me shuffle. We drew and placed them in the required configuration. Three down, three across, four afield. Celtic Cross. Magic needs its portal. Design is combination, a code that lets the tumblers fall.

She didn’t ask me the question I was to ask myself. A sentence of silence. Imperative. Interrogative.

Intention presses open the door.

I turned them face up.

It’s been 25 years. I recall only one card. The one in the center, the one that made the novice medium suck in her breath.

The cloaked skull, the languid bones.

From the pattern of masks and wands, my friend began to shape my story. It was a transition. An earnest wish. An unreachable other. It was the poison secret. My story was as stunning a truth as a Chinese paper fortune. As dead on as the morning’s horoscope.

When you peel back your bark and feel for gods’ whispering, when the wind breathes through your naked reed, surely you hear music.

Clairvoyance is the prerogative of the young.

Before you snap yourself clean, claim yourself free, before time’s tireless blade whittles you into fixed form, you can still be idol or masterpiece, veined with myth rather than function. You are rooted in an origin both sturdy and sweeping, that origin itself so rooted. You can still feed on light. You are held.

And so you are more free than you will ever be. More so, certainly, than later when you venture to free yourself. You are still free to choose to believe whatever you wish, even what the wise and powerful dismiss as bunk or sacrilege. You don’t have to decide wisdom. You don’t have to delineate power.

You can’t yet calculate the true cost of dissonance.

My friend came back to the bones.

In words picked from among the most tempered, she said death is not death.

Winter is the transformation that happens in stillness. She told me a version of this I can only make out through memory’s scuffed lens. I see a blanket of ice. Compulsory paralysis. Pain as insurance against motion.

She said it is necessary.

(I say, beware of the jealous wind.)

On every branch, the last leaf shivers. Clings. Each gust demands it surrender for a greater good. Death feeds the next beginning.

If you can see down, see that all you were and all you’d ever considered yourself to be blowing away, would you let go?

Or would you hold on with all your might?

You know the source needs you free. This is how cycles works. Death is not a one-way slice. The thing has to shed to live, just as you have to give over if you hope to do the same.

This is the cost of names: leaf, branch, tree, earth. We bring taxonomy. Without language and its arsenal of nets, there is only everything: Cell, thread, ember, night. Tomorrow is the light after the dark, but always yesterday exists alongside next year. Sun warms somewhere always just like sun explodes to nothing somewhere always. Hands sweep the clock face and I come to mistake the measure for the phenomenon.

I am trapped inside my name.

I resist the iced bones.

If I tip towards that death, what promise? What warmth? Only the grinding jaws of blind mealworms. Their hunger erasing history. Everything I was becomes digestion’s stink and sleep. No guarantee that mine — me, this decadent conception — will be the embryo that splits to sky come spring.

Twenty-five years in coming. The cards did not survive the passage. Neither did cookie fortunes or tiger eyes.

My hands reach for something. Anything.

I open them.

It’s the only way to fall.

Love, Poetry

Love Lettering

Who will receive this next
ink ribbon folded back on itself, tucking
the pulp heart of the matter
into its own layered belly like an origami crane?
As if for peace
offerings and platonic love, I write to him
(or is it you?) yet contemporaries of Plato knew
that Mercury conceived the alphabet
from the sight of those wings V-cutting the sky
and words are nothing more than traces of hollow
bone and feathered vein, the page
a leaf stirred to flight.
Pen nib, beak, and paper’s razor edge.
Perhaps it takes on a power of its own, this letting
into letters a promise I fancy
a vial drawn from Delphi and ferried
in talon to brush his trembling lips
(or yours)
with prophecy,
with Us.
When he (or you) unfurl the knot
of scratchings here, neither gods
nor philosophers tumble out,
no. Not even a waterbird
for all this trouble. Just abracadabra and alaka-zam,
a spatter of angles and curlicues casting
untested home-cooked spells.
This tattered plea calls not on him
but you,
(yes, you)
to fold back the edges, to smooth open
the wrinkled sheet. I beg
your mercy. Use your hands. Clear a place. Let divination
spread itself
across the waiting acre
of us.

Family, Poetry


The brooch must contain traces
of her. In the solder bearing glass
to wing, a bit of cell, a fleck of skin
resides, this amulet is her
as much as mine.
The butterfly falls open
in my palm.

By caress and incantation
the jinn unfurls from brass
antenna and twines around
my naked face
planting one kiss then another
dozen the way she did, her powdered cheeks
fluttering, alight
until I squirmed from the onslaught
of an affection,
so much like thirst.

“I know you love me,” she would say
on her way into the hall, closing
the door on fleeting dusk, my visit
in that blink of summer never long enough to probe
under folded silk slips and kidskin gloves
to unearth each rose bead, each hidden leaf
of virgin jade. I loved her in return,
I suppose (as if a child has any notion
of the magnitude of such a claim). She told me I did
so this is how I know

that when the jeweled pin
pierces the wrap at my breast, she is
what thrums there
drawing nectar from the pistil
still, but with all the latent force
of flight.

Children, Creativity, Music

Sight Reading

The copy of Rise Up Singing is two decades old. On the inside cover, my maiden name is a flourish of ink penned by a girl I hardly remember. My boy and I have thumbed the spiral-bound pages thin, working our way through every song I maybe-kinda-almost know. Each time I come across another vaguely recognizable title, I begin, off-key and falling flat. Bug is the final authority on which ones can come to the party. “I do not like it,” he says of “Octopus’s Garden.” When I try Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi,” he blocks the page. The garden song is acceptable, “Erie Canal” gets the boot, and “Waltzing Matilda” enjoys top billing for two weeks before experiencing an abrupt demotion.
Our collection is large. We have been singing together since Bug was an infant. In truth, we have been sharing songs since before he was even a he, back when Bug’s in utero nickname was Moo Shu and the critter was just a bottomless craving for Chinese food impossible to satisfy California’s high desert. Despite our sizeable repertoire, we have almost exhausted the supply of songs I know. Some have stayed and others have been forced into retirement by the boy’s capricious tastes.
I flip through page after page crammed full of unfamiliar titles. Hand-written lyrics are accompanied by simple chord progressions that mean nothing to me. I tell myself again that I should learn more of these classics, perhaps listen to some of them on YouTube. But I won’t. I reach the end and and come back around to the tried-and-true. “Red River Valley?”
“No, Mommy.”
“Country Roads?”
He wrinkles his nose.
I don’t even suggest “Baby Beluga.” He was bored with that one before he turned three. I flip another page. “Au Clair de la Lune?” He lets out a great sigh. Clearly the world is just not sufficiently entertaining.
“Hmm. This one is about a rooster,” I say. “I should learn it. And here is one called – ”
“Sing the rooster song,” he says.
“Can’t. Don’t know it.” I turn the page. “Let’s see. Here’s ‘Puff the Magic Dragon.’ You like that one.”
He flips the page back. “Please? The rooster song? Please?
“I don’t know it, baby. I can’t sing it.”
He points. “Aren’t those the words right there? You don’t have to know it. You read it.”
“But I don’t know the tune,” I say. “I can’t sing it.”
Bug sags. I flip to another page.
Last week, a new-ish friend sent me an email after reading my post about housing. “Do you really want to own a home?” She asked. “Are you willing to see the world as other than limiting?”
Yes, of course I do. Isn’t that obvious? Doesn’t everyone? Yes, I want to see the world as. . .
But wait. Isn’t the answer also a little bit no? Don’t those limits feel so safe? Don’t they protect a tired brain from having to reach? Self-defined prison bars are convenient in their way. They keep us stuck, but they come in handy when a person wants to have a firm grip on something.
They also make it easier to say no when life sends Oliver Twist up to ask for an extra helping.
One morning this week as I was packing up for school, Bug asked me, “Is that a made up song?”
I paused. Had I been singing? Sure enough, a little melody had taken shape under my breath without me noticing. It is gonna rain and we need our raincoats.
He asked again. “Is that a real song?”
Made up? Real?
Which is it?
What I do every day, mindless or intentional, becomes my child’s real. For good or ill, we grownups shape the world in which our kids move, and delineate the perimeters, and create (or not) the pathways out of them. What is real but what I say? What any of us say? Aren’t the real and the make-believe simply two different lines of sight on the exact same world?
“I made it up,” I say. Like everything. This power, this amazing power. “And it is real.”
Why is this so easy to forget? I don’t know a tune, so I cannot sing? What is every song but an act of creation? What is every story, every building on the skyline, every space capsule orbiting the moon but something fashioned from spare parts and fancy? Even a whisper of love into a bending neck is nothing but an idea that was not until it was. Everything. All we have here was an absence that some act of nature or will planted with the fleeting life that now inhabits it.
We have only so much knowledge, only so much money, only so much time left. We have only a few choices, and other people’s claims and fears can deplete the imagination.
Also, a feathered, nameless thing preens just outside the window. It takes wing and streaks across the day. The magnolia drapes us with glossed leaves and heavy perfume. Also, we are magicians.
Made up. Real.
One day we will open the songbook, and the pages will be blank. The melodies will skitter from our memories, and those that stay will be all wrong for naming our hungers. No medium in existence will fit our hands. What will be left then? What is left but all the everything inside the nothing?
The whole of creation is ours, if not for the taking, then for the making.
Back in bed, my boy looks at me. I look at him. The first lesson for any apprentice alchemist is to imagine the absurd, yet I have just told my boy that I cannot sing because I do not know a tune. I laugh right out loud. “That’s just about the silliest thing Mommy’s ever said, isn’t it?”
I turn back a page and open my voice. The rooster song requires a certain amount of twang, and my throat complies. Bug giggles through until the end. I cuddle up close to him. “How about. . . “ I skim. “Maybe the one about father’s whiskers?”
“Yes!” He says. We are off. Every page blooms with lyrics to music that belongs to us.


After Midnight

Just think:
a cute little flat
in a college town, a job in a non-profit
animal welfare organization
and evenings free to rock
the open mic.
All of this, in a blink.
Poor girl.
Your godmother must have earned her wings
from an online university.
All that magic,
and the best she can do
is a dress,
a dance,
a man?
When you leave
his ring on the nightstand
and cross the moat
for the last time, be ready to take
matters into your own hands.
If she shows up again,
grab the wand
and run.

Brain, Reading

Taken Literally

Learning can be effortless, continual, permanent – and also pleasant. . .  We can learn without effort if we are interested in what we are doing (or in what someone else is doing), free from confusion, and given assistance when we seek it.

Frank Smith, The Book of Learning and Forgetting

We are halfway through Year Three. Sirius black is on the loose, Dementors are terrorizing the countryside, and Crookshanks has it in for Scabbers. In a parallel universe, Bug’s Halloween costume is already assembled. About once a week, he pulls the cloak from its hanger and tries on his glasses, just to make sure everything still fits.

In the evenings, my mother and I bustle around the kitchen preparing dinner while Bug snaps Legos into intricate models at the table. Chattering about the latest excitement at Hogwarts usually compels my boy to spare some focus for the conversation. In the middle of a recent re-cap of the previous night’s chapter, mother asks, “I just wonder when he is going to start reading.” Continue reading “Taken Literally”