community, Featured, Letting Go

We Begin Again in Love


… forgiveness is not rational. One can seldom find a reason to forgive or be forgiven. Forgiveness is often undeserved. It may require a dimension of justice (penance, in traditional terms), but not always, for what it holds sacred is not fairness, but self-respect and community. Forgiveness does not wipe away guilt, but invites reconciliation. And it is as important to be able to forgive as it is to be forgiven.

-Sara Moores Campbell, Into the Wilderness

He invites us to call up a regret we hold, a mistake.  Through our restless quiet echoes the faint string of notes we each play: I wish I had  and I wish I hadn’t and if only.  The salt, he tells us, is that regret, that unforgiven act or omission.  In water, it never vanishes entirely — there is no forgetting —  though the hold it has on us dissipates.   It joins with the larger body of life, of surrender, of renewal.”Anyone who is so moved,” he says, “may come up and add a pinch of salt to the water.”

One by one, the congregants rise.  Does music play?  It’s hard to hear above the gathering notes of memory.  Our collective, unspoken remorse finds its chord and travels along the thread of bodies.  We shuffle and nod to one another. We make our way to the place where we are allowed to let go.

At the front rest two clear vessels, soap-bubble delicate and huge as bellies.  Water catches golden light filtering in from an October sun. Two deep platters of salt welcome a pinch or a fistful, depending. Some of us, I confide later, could do with a shovel.  Each of us drops our quantity of crystals in through the glass mouth.  The salt bursts into tendrils and swirls to a cloud. In one motion, our mistake both falls and rises, dissolving into light.  As we watch it go, each of us says these words:

“I forgive myself and begin again in love.”

We make our way back along that strand holding us to the place we started.  Something is changed, though.  The path feels emptied somehow.  The rows of seats, more capacious.

I watch the last of the congregants weave through the space.  Each of them, like me, carries these sorrows, these hurts.  We recognize the damage we have certainly caused.  We can see how it lives on not only in us but around us in the small world we inhabit.

Each of them, like me, goes on anyway.

For this one moment, alongside the unlikely echo of a shared chord, we are free to give way to forgiveness.

We begin again, together, in love.

Image: Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, 1970

Letting Go, Poetry

Done Enough

It starts to rain at midnight.
A spider takes refuge in the corner
by the window. Water is the last thing
We need around here.

I stack plates in the dishwasher
To make room
For sleep.

My visitor at the edge
Of the curtain near the bed
Seems neither moved by the arrival
Of tomorrow nor compelled to spin past
The threshold just to catch
The taillights of a south bound
Day dissolving into the horizon line.

Children, Parenting

Turning Rite

A rattling on metal. Something like gravel on the roof of a train. It echoes down four stories and then back again through the flue reaching above mine and the one above that, all the way out to night. The fire is a mere whisper of its former self, a glow in a carpet of gray. I reach in with the hook end of the poker and creak down the damper. Rain gushes down outside, washing away the remains of dozens of exploded snowballs, our frantic footprints, the tiny snowman with the stick features we built in the first dusting on the basketball court. It will melt away the ice that has already canceled school for tomorrow, carrying it down curbs, into sewers, away to the Chesapeake bay.
At dinner tonight, we slurped soup and talked of rituals. Tea ceremonies and such. “What’s a ritual?” Bug asked. Our guest and I tried our best to puzzle out a definition. Like a habit that you do over and over, but with more meaning. Sort of. And like a tradition, sort of. “Like brushing your teeth every night?” Bug asked. We pulled out the Oxford dictionary. We looked up both “ritual” and “habit.” The former is marked by its regularity and invariability, and it often has a religious and ceremonial quality to it. We tried to come up with our rituals. Are the three books and three songs every night a routine or a ritual? Where do our prayers and passages reside? Do we have a sacred fixation?
My boy sleeps now. Out through a reflection of green-pink-everycolor lights, the street below is a river. Ice-tipped peaks and silvered trenches first soften to hills then flatten to black.
Our last book at bedtime was a new one from the library: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. It is the true story of the feat of one Philippe Petit who, in 1974, snuck a cable between the two buildings of the World Trade Center as they were still under construction. He walked it, danced it, and even lay upon it as the sun rose over New York City. The book tipped me vertiginously too high and too far behind all at once. Dizzy, I had to catch my breath. Those towers are gone and Bug wanted to know why.
This question was going to come. Even with this certainty, I knew I would never be prepared. Shutting the book and setting it aside, I scooted down close to him. “There were some people who wanted to hurt America,” I explained. “They hijacked airplanes and flew them into the buildings. The buildings fell down. People died.”
True to his engineering mind, he actually wanted the how, not the why. I filled in the gaps easily. Too easily. It is all as fresh as if I am watching it now on that giant screen, the same silence choking us — bound as I am to the anonymous, forever Us of that moment — in a university lounge just a few miles from the Pentagon. Bug asked one straightforward question after another. “Did they fly into one building then out and into the other?”
“No, baby, there were two different planes. And a couple of others.” I kept it simple. In the spots where he plunged the shovel of his curiosity, I elaborated. We meandered around that day, finally making our way to the moment the passengers on board the last plane stopped the bad guys by crashing into a field. After Bug found where to place his period at the end of the story, he leaned his shovel against a tree, slid down into the bed and asked me to sing.
It is legend to him. Ancient history. No frisson shivers through a spectator with quite the intensity it does for a player. These are lines on maps and pages in books. When you are here and now instead of there and then, you trace them with your finger. You maybe imagine visiting. Normandy. Vietnam. Manassas. In other places, too, shadows of what was human made and human razed streak the land. The ones who remember delineate the shade. Those who don the mantle of memory after the last survivors are gone then call those phantoms back again and again until ghosts knit to earth like a skin under the now. Library of Alexandria. Berlin Wall. Twin Towers.
It should come as no surprise that Bug is not frightened by the story I tell. It is no different from any other history lesson. People work. Build things. Invent and discover. Go to war. Lead and follow. Make art and families and cities and revolution. Hurt each other. He’s learned already that villains are real. That heroes help. That people can come together to change what is into what could be.
That danger lurks and courage grows.
My boy’s classroom doors have little black accordions of paper clipped up high in the windows. He tells me these are for when the bad guys come in. While the kids hide, a teacher can unclip the little curtains to block anyone from seeing in. Bug told me this on the way to the car and then asked if I’d brought a snack.
My son sleeps. Rain rattles against the damper then dulls to a hum before finally falling silent.
He asked for extra songs tonight. Tiny lights glinted from tree branches in the living room. A velveteen Santa sat on a side table with a key silent in its back, having earlier tinkled down its wordless version of what we’ve all learned to know without even trying. I curled into my boy and called from memory the first few verses of the old standbys. Silent night, holy night. . . My voice slowed and and thinned as his eyes drooped. Christ is born in Bethlehem. . . Planted in the furrows of my brain, these hymns. As Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas day in the morn. . . I settle my child to sleep with the lyrical story of a God we do not worship in an ancient land that is not ours. Born is the king of Israel. . .
The evergreen outside the window sheds its silver husk. Boughs that protected a soft patch of snow from the freezing rain earlier now dip and shudder in the downpour. Inside, an ember pops. The scaled lip of the last log glows for one fulgent moment before turning to ash.


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.


Catch and Release

Everything? Did you really do everything?
Finally, the question works its way through the labyrinth of my choices and avoidance, and returns to its true home.
Did I really do everything?
Giovanni is a good man. He brings home a small table to put in the corner of his room for me to write in quiet solitude. He concocts his own rub for the chicken and then works it into the perfect cubes. When I arrive, he is setting red bell peppers and summer squash in neat rows on a platter. “I’m about to light the coals. Go write.” I do. When I emerge, I fill the water glasses and pour the wine. We eat and laugh and argue and make our plans.
He is a good man for me.
Still. The timing is wrong, I am not ready, we are ill-suited for each other in a hundred ways, and we fight like we have money riding on the outcome. I tell him the marriage left too much smog and debris. I cannot see him through it. I only see reflections of Tee and of all the confused choices I made.
My fear of repeating the same mistakes drives me to insomnia. I leave. I come back. Again. Again.
Giovanni listens, and consoles. I round on him for making choices too much like Tee’s. He stands up to me. He challenges my assumptions and asks me not to have conversations in my head with ghosts. His good heart may be bottomless but his patience is not. Neither is mine.
I cannot face choosing, so I make the non-choice. I leave. I come back, and for the first time, he blocks my advance. “Not so fast.”
Not choosing, it turns out, is a choice after all. Now, the possibility that I have closed the door on what may be a sweet love wakes me up. It is the one sharp breeze that clears the air. I see Giovanni exactly as he is: strong and flawed and stunningly beautiful. And loving me and welcoming Bug. And hurt. And maybe done with me.
Did I really do everything?
A few weeks back, with his firm but loving touch, said, “You’ve got to let go.”
“Let go of what?” I asked.

“You know what,” he said. “And I can’t be the one to tell you.”
I cast about for what. Which fear? Which pattern? I know he is right. It is the edge I grip, the one I believe keeps me safe. If I hold on here, keep my arms and feet inside the bars, I will know exactly what needs to be done. Nothing can hurt.
The marriage clouds my vision. Tee blows in and blocks the light. Not Tee himself, exactly, not the real man with whom I am trying to work out kindergarten arrangements and holiday arrangements for 2013. Not my co-parent. The Tee I drag back into the frame is a phantom man with whom I am still grappling. The fights we had in the early weeks and months of dating haunt me, as I see now how the other choice was there, the other door, and I did not walk through it then. I had deep doubts, but I kept crossing the divide and choosing to believe. It only worked until it didn’t. The questions about what I missed, or where I missed a chance to choose differently, plague me.
Tee and I chose each other, and we did our best, and it did not work between us. It was not because of any one quality or one chain of events. Nothing about our unraveling is so easy to identify. Exploring those reasons is another story, though. It is for another day (or, rather, for all the days, quietly). The fact is that Tee and I are not well suited. We have moved without rancor into a new kind of relationship. We raise a son together, but we are not companions and partners.
I need to let go. Let go of Tee the history, Tee the boyfriend on the other end of those doubts, Tee the husband. Let go of the marriage. Release it to the story of before.
I have not done everything. I have not created a way to visualize or live that letting go. It is time to do so. It is time to do this, not to welcome Giovanni, but to welcome myself. Somehow, I have to take an action that will allow me to walk out into the fresh air and see the terrain around as it really is.
Today is the day. On this beautiful day in June, with a single cardinal on a branch outside my window, singing without restraint to the blue suburban sky, I begin.
I find the little toy Tee gave me on one of our early dates. It is a plastic figure of Grover in a cape and crash helmet. Somehow, this token became a symbol of our affection, and we passed it between us, letting Super Grover carry silly messages back and forth. It ended up with me all these years later, even though it had been a childhood toy of Tee’s. I wrap it in a letter thanking Tee for all he has done for me. Then I pack the words and the figure in a hand-carved box that Tee gave me. It was one of the many beautiful boxes he brought me from his travels. I love being surrounded by these small pieces of our shared story, but having them cluttered around me keeps Tee too close. Bug’s father is near enough, just by virtue of being Bug’s father. It is time to hand back these pieces. To release my grip, and let him do what he will with them.
And then to let the quiet, clear nothing fill my hands.
Perhaps Giovanni will fit into that space, perhaps he will not. Whatever happens next is uncertain. My hands are open. My eyes are beginning to be so.


Cross Over

In a village cut into the edge of a mountain, the sound of pounding feet and howling beasts dredges a boy up from the tidepool of sleep. Men in masks, their bodies streaked with paint, haul him from his bed and carry him away while his mother and sisters shriek from the porch. Somewhere in the distant hills, the men burn him with charred spears and chant in the dark, handing him a machete hammered with glyphs he has yet to learn to decipher. He makes his first kill many months later, but that night, he becomes a killer. The sky, slung low across the blood-red veins of the manzanita, shrouds the transformation. The men pour a fiery brew in a circle around his prone body before making him drink, but even they cannot see the rearrangement of his component parts. When he walks back into his village two mornings later, he does not recognize his mother, despite her teary prostration at his scarred feet.

I wait naked in my bed for the ululating horde of women to arrive and bind my wrists and ankles. A barebacked Palomino follows them to the steps of my front door. They lift me, writhing and protesting, down the stairs, past the china cabinet and the baying dog. Out into the suburban street, they throw me over the damp spine of the mare. Belly down and ass exposed to Orion’s sword, I can see nothing but the familiar blacktop as it gives way to alien terrain. The ragtag caravan ferries me to the place I have known exists but had never been able to find. Behind the roar of the waterfall, a swath of Eden. All about, the implements of alchemy: the crucible and its white-hot fire, the crushed roots of blue cohosh, the skewers and spears, the jewels and the pelts of slain whitetail deer. The drums, of course. The hole dug deep into the throat of the earth where my body lands as the gruff whispers begin.

I wake in the morning, still naked in warm sheets. The dog snuffles around at the base of the stairs, waiting for her walk. The damp winter grass, bleached and flat, shows no evidence of hoof prints, no signs of a scuffle.

If a woman falls open in the night and no one is around to hear her crack, did she change at all?

Maybe I could take the blade and run it across my own skin, sprinkle the ash in, and let the wound scream and seal.

In the absence of rites, how are we to mark passage? If we were once carried over a threshold, by what choreography do we uncross it? How do we make sacred the soil to bury the blessed stone? Fall on your knees, the women whisper. Learn the names of the insects that unfurl on your flesh. Tunnel in and follow the stink of sulfur to the hidden spring.

It is morning on the last day of the hardest year. No one is knocking. Even so, behind the haze of December sun, the stars studding the belt of our galaxy flash and blaze. Cassiopeia rises from her extended recline, stretches out those stiff joints and drinks deep from the deep, cool well of space. She goes to work unchaining Andromeda from the rock. By tonight, they will be ready to cross the distance to my bedroom door. I tuck myself deep into the musty sheets and ignore the faint echo of their preparations. For a few moments longer, I can pretend that I belong locked in the safe in the cell of my parents’ home. I can pretend nothing is on its way to pull me over onto the other side, that the sun will keep the dark at bay and that the silence of this last morning is the only company I need.

Love, Poetry

Make Shift

Candles are cliché. Shopping, a bore.
Practicing signing the childhood name
is just picking at the scabs.

A run is too lonely. A book, too removed.
Vows of poverty smack of desperation
and prayers fall on deaf ears.

Road trips are dangerous. Housework numbs.
Fasting hollows you. Feasting bloats.
Whiskey just makes you throw up.

Movies are escapist.
Scrapbooks sting.
Baths are too girly. A hug, but from whom?
Confession requires a witness.
A red-eye to Vegas is far too expensive.
Animal sacrifice, much too involved.
Throwing a party takes an awful lot of work
and incense sets off the smoke alarm.

Trying on his old clothes
might work if you’d kept them.
The ring might still fit
if you dared.

Go to bed early.
Cry if you must.
Before it’s all over
sing just one song.
from among those you loved
you chose to love him.