Art, body, Creativity, Writing

Bowl Cut


“Can bowls swim?”  a question asked.  I knew the answer they wanted was No.  But bowls could float, even heavy bowls, if flat and large enough. The large, flat-bottomed bowl of an ocean liner, for instance.  If Paul thought like that, too, he’d give the wrong answer.  They meant small inanimate household bowls.  Not the bowl of the deep ocean, say, holding currents, coral, plants, and creatures — itself floating on the earth’s liquid core of iron and nickel, whose swaying produces Earth’s magnetic field. Not the bowl of the earth floating — or, with so many life forms, was it swimming? — in space.

— Diane Ackerman, One Hundred Names for Love

It is all okay, just the way they say it is.  By every measure, it is fine.

Rise weary.  Shower off the animal, dress in unremarkable cloth.  Speak in operation manual dialect.  Meet only the eyes of the bus driver and snap straight the helicoid moment as you stride to claim your seat.

Write like a man, the librarian says.  She scrubs her emails now.  Each is an écorché peeled free of padding.  Each correspondence a naked, muscled machine, its purpose laid bare.

Maybe we danced before.

Maybe we pretend we haven’t forgotten the petronella turn.  Continue reading “Bowl Cut”

community, Growing Up, Purpose


umbrella house

It was easier when the heroes were prophets. They stood just far enough forward that we had to keep moving to keep up. We had to lean in to hear. That was when tyrants wore names like uniforms. Good and evil faced off across chasms and we knew better than to tumble between. We stood firm on our side. Myth grew us a chorus of muses. They sang in every shade of green.

Over across the way, it was hard to make out anything but ruin. Rumor had it someone had salted the earth. The restoration was a long way off. We knew we could only build a bridge after the villains had been vanquished. Even if we could arrive sooner to begin the purge and planting, would our comrades welcome us? Would they even recognize us? Continue reading “Resonate”

Growing Up, Poetry, Things I Can

75. Things I Can Lay Down: A Nest under Sky

From the dining table of a rich absent landlord,
from a rooftop tilting over
screaming streets,
from the hide of a man
whose soft fangs belie
battles he claims
as the source of his scars,
I plucked splinters
and locks of discarded hair.

I was ravenous
even for hollow breath
echoing against a bare wooden
belly. Strings cut flesh to callous
and every song clanged
like paper against my hunger.
I tried to pry frets
from the neck. I tried to harvest
spider legs.

A sign was necessary. A silver
ring or maybe a strip
of fur curling on the tip
of a thorn. I walked
not away. Something else.


a canopy of sumac, bent like a crooked
house, I passed
through to the first division
and pressed petals
back into their seed.
I swaddled my thighs
in creek water. I bled
into moss.

I lay down a bed like a bow
to the half open moon.
The voice I used to call
up the shape of a home in the sky
Goodnight you moonlight ladies
was the same lunatic jabber
of coyotes coursing through folds
in a mist forever closing
between us.

I wake now to the face of a frozen sun,
my bones young and brittle, hung
with crystal globes and gloved
in frost. I glitter like grass
and shatter in the light. Blowing
out from a depression
in the earth shaped like someone
I catch a full spectrum
of morning

in each one
of my birth’s hundred
billion prisms
every time
I refuse
to die.



Happy 100 Days: 13

Love and joy come to you
and to you your wassail, too.

“Only six more days until Christmas!” Bug tells me as he climbs into the back seat.
Holy cow. Six?
My kid has been with his dad since last Friday. We have three half-completed advent calendars in the house and a heap of gifts that may be opened before Christmas and maybe after, but certainly not on the day. Co-Parenting at the holidays is running a relay race: short bursts of lung-popping exertion following by periods of hyper-alert waiting. Now we have six days to get ourselves through the end of the school week, on a plane, and in place for Santa’s touchdown on a Dallas rooftop.
I guess it’s time to pull out the Christmas carols.
Joy of Christmas
The songbook we use belonged to my Grandmother. It was in the piano bench of the old upright she had in her Oklahoma living room. After she passed away and we sold the house, the piano made its way first to Colorado and eventually to upstate New York. There it stayed when our lives imploded and we had to cut and run. We sold it for $150 to the camp director who had just fired Tee. The contents of the bench were among the few items we salvaged. We made it here with several dog-eared hymnals and this yellowing book of carols.
Classical paintings of angels and virgins grace every other page. Most of the songs are truly Christian odes. No figgy pudding or “dashing through the snow.” This is all the red blood of Mary when the baby Jesus is born. Still, the tunes are swelling and sweet, and Bug loves to stay near me as I flip through the pages each year around this time. I sing bits of this and that until he hears something that strikes his fancy.
“That one!” he says.
Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green.
I sing the whole song through because all the lyrics are written out for me. I realize I have never made it past the first verse before. It is really a pretty silly thing, to sing about singing. I start giggling when I hear myself asking for the moldy cheese, and I can barely make it back around to the chorus.
“Do you know what wassail is, Buddy?”
“Wassail is a warm, toasty beverage. It’s funny because the word also means singing for the drink. The carolers are asking for a cup of warm wassail in exchange for coming around in the cold and singing,” I tell him. We are cuddled up close in his bed. He is drawing an elaborate treehouse as I explain. “They are basically saying, ‘Here we come a-hot-cocoa-ing.’ It’s like trick-or-treating at Christmas.”
I sing on before catching the small-print explanation under the title. According to a this 40-year-old songbook, “wassail” originally was a Welsh greeting of well wishes. At some point people began to drink from a shared wassail horn for good cheer. That festive Christmas sense of communal celebration became synonymous with the drink itself. Of course, singing for wassail gave an additional layer of meaning to the word.
Imagine such a thing. A single word that means good wishes, shared celebration, yummy warm drink, and singing. How is it that six days before Christmas, we all aren’t just shouting this from the rooftops? Who needs “mindfulness” and “wellness” and “community”? Why would we subject ourselves to such sterile terms to capture our joy? We already have more than we need in this language right here.


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.


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.

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.