activism, Choices, Take Action

How Carrying More Weighs Less

girl carrying lunch pail

While little has the power to shock these days, 45’s evisceration of climate change rules still horrifies. Here in America, it’s a matter when-not-if we’ll start donning face masks to walk the dog. Also, when-not-if we’ll look back with something like fondness for such a quaint inconvenience as a face mask. This week marks yet another threshold moment we’ll someday read in history books about humankind’s relationship with its home.

Sweet notion, isn’t it? That we’ll have books? That anyone’s left to write them?

I understand that we need to fight back. Win at least one chamber of Congress. Jail another white supremacist or two, block the next attempt to gut the ACA, block the cops in riot gear with our cameras and bodies.

What I don’t understand is why we still insist on paper plates.

Continue reading “How Carrying More Weighs Less”

Parenting, Poetry

Side Way


Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act ii, Scene 1

In case of paralysis, break glass. Out there
is here. Stairs, a whining thud, fat-bellied
cicada trapped in a breezeway
flings itself from wall to wall
until it surrenders
to defeat, so much like gravity.
Even with its trident of five eyes,
it is blind to the way through.
Corridor becomes vault. Had it been born
a bluebottle butterfly, it might stand a better chance,
its photoreceptors detecting
a million colors
more than those five eyes,
and far beyond what our feeble pair perceive
(and so believe). We are as wary of spectrometers
and their evidence of hidden hues
as we are of quantum wavefunction
and infrared snapshots of the Kuiper belt. Continue reading “Side Way”

Growing Up, Things I Can, Writing

69. Things I Can Tell Myself: One Small Truth

I am not going to read Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday.

Never mind that he’s on deck for a Monday evening book group at the Unitarian church right up the street. And I have two full weeks until then, which is more than enough time. And it’s an opportunity to talk ideas and raw human family concerns with like-minded, world-eyed liberals right here in my community.

And that I want more than anything to disrupt this aching lonely purposeless robotic toil-consume-pick up-drop off-sort-pay-do-it-all-again-tomorrow middle aged existence by weaving myself into a project bigger than me, and attending this group is one simple step towards a richer life.

Because that’s a lie.

I want other things. This I want, yes, but only as much as other things, not more than. Maybe even less than, if I’m really honest.

My 7am Zumba is a few notches higher. That’s why, instead of reading past 11pm, I turn off the light and quiet myself down.

Also higher on the list? Long, meandering walks through the neighborhood with Noodle.

Making my own hummus from scratch is up there too.

Drawing crayon doodles on the envelopes into which I fold letters to Bug at camp. And scritch-scratching in my journal. And tip-tapping here: All higher.

Also whirling through loops and riding over soft plateaus in nighttime phone conversations with My Mister. And deadheading the basil. And transplanting the peppers. And mining the deep vein of creativity when the tough tasks come calling during my 8 hours.

Lunchtime yoga. That’s higher too.

If I really want that book club and the currency I imagine it carries — I mean, if I really want it — the choice is simple. Kick Jared Diamond up to the top of the list. Let something further down fall off.

And here I am, standing at the local library about to wave my key-card under the scanner. I look at what I’ve got. An Alice Munro collection of short stories, a thin volume of poetry exercises, a Stewart O’Nan novel called Last Night at the Lobster.

And Jared Diamond.

I think, What would it hurt to just take him home? Maybe if he’s there on the bedside table, I’ll pick him up. He might enthrall me. Just imagine how edifying, how engaging that discussion group! Fourteen days? No problem.

But why do this to myself?

Why this relentless work to repair, mutate, improve?

(Or prove?)

Somehow, I still fear the call chorusing through me is a siren’s song. The desire I drive so hard to override must be Peter Pan at the window, stunted id and stars for eyes.

Somehow, I am still trying to get this growing-up thing right. And still doubting that the woman right here in this skin is actually enough.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.

from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”

I’ll do better (because doing better seems to be so damned important) if Jared Diamond makes his 512-page case somewhere other than my bedroom. I set his down on the re-shelf cart.

The moment I do, two quick but powerful currents rush past from opposite directions. The first says, Rock on, Girl! You’re free of that pointless assignment!

The second one is harder to decipher, but I still manage to catch its gist. It says, There goes another chance to be a person of substance. Have fun playing in the shallows, my friend.

And because my father earned a PhD, lists dozens upon dozens of publications on his CV, and spends a good chunk of his weekends reading not only the entirety of the Washington Post but a good portion of the works of nonfiction reviewed in its “Book World” — because of all of this, I am forever falling short of the mark.

That mark written on the bones of ghosts.

That mark mapped in disappearing ink.

I beep through the library checkout with only poetry, short stories, and a novel. As I do, I take a deep breath and tell myself the true small truth. This one has nothing to do with Jared Diamond.

It is this:

I will never be my father.

The heart shivers, resists, cries out for the comforting lie.

Then lets go.

I carry home my works of fiction and image. I walk my dog, slice peaches and cherries, talk on the phone with My Mister, then come here to write.

Fiction. Image.

Lyric. Story.

(So much closer to nonfiction than anyone let on.)

Something alights outside my bedroom window. It calls softly.

This song, I’m learning.

This song, mine.



Mindfulness, Poetry, Things I Can

20. Things I Can Close: My Eyes

Snake Oils:

Fret about it
Complain about it
Excavate the underlying cause
Make another promise
this one, really
Mop the house
Dial the number
Detail the feeling
Sidestep the feeling
Itemize the failings
File the taxes
Register for classes
Rearrange the closet
Rewrite the resume
Revise the story
Make soup
Start sourdough
Start seeds
Regret the follies
Rehearse the maybes
Gaze up
Stroke the dog
Squeeze the kid
Write on a blog
Disappear into
Not even breath)

It may take months
trying every tincture
to ease a tired
so deep it
leaches marrow from bone,
thins tissue
to husk
shedding away from the once wet
years even
to absorb
the stripped bare

It is the single
the message a fortune
as maddening
and true now as it was
in infancy
as it always only ever was.

The only cure for exhaustion
is unbroken silent eight-hour potion-free
rooted deep held in night’s
annihilating arms

Growing Up

Driven Out

Just like all great stories, our fears focus our attention on a question that is as important in life as it is in literature: What will happen next? So if we think of our fears as more than just fears but as stories, we should think of ourselves as the authors of those stories. But just as importantly, we need to think of ourselves as the readers of our fears. And how we choose to read our fears can have a profound effect on our lives. – Karen Thompson Walker in her TED talk, “What Fear Can Teach Us”

I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel. . . Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

The reader can’t put down the book. It’s well past midnight and her bloodshot eyes stagger across the lines. She turns another page. This is better than Stephen King, not even in his league, clipping along against a minor chord shuddering in the shadow of the action. Every door opens on a freefall into hell, each descent rank with its own unique boil and famine.

She does not look up. She is ready for anything without being the least bit prepared.

The crack across the ceiling spiderwebs without a sound while her pinhole focus contains only one character marooned on one desert island where melting icecaps have designs on the shore. Fingers, each alone as huge as her thigh, push through. A gaze presses close, taking in the whole of the room. Still she hasn’t noticed. Those fingers wedge wider an entry, those fingers give way to hands.

The pages of her fear are a shield. They fasten her yet again into the cockpit’s choking chemical burn, strap down her arms and freeze the throttle. The churning sea races to greet her. The certain but predictable disaster is comfort of a sort. If any of this came true — which it surely will, because something enough like it already has (how do you think this became her personalized Choose-Your-Own Adventure?) — what would happen if she closed the book? What if, halfway through her final descent, she yanked the cord, severed the word, and cast the whole thing onto the nightstand?

What if she looked up?

Giant eyes, each the size of her own skull, take the measure of the room. Of her shape. Her scars, her tics, her threadbare sheets.

Of her.

What if she looked right at (it) and watched the pulp of those hands jarring loose chunks of drywall, ripping back the illusion of structure? What if the impenetrable box containing her artless version of Dante’s fifth circle — forged, as it was, in infancy, no doubt — is penetrated after all?

She will not be able to unsee.

She’s already had her shot at that.

Those unbreathing, rolling, unmoored eyes are glass buttons made real by some inverted pinocchio magic. (He) is the golem she moulded from the debris of punishment and silence, the same one that slipped eventually down the side of the bed and fed on skin cells and broken sleep for three lifetimes.

Until now.

She never reached down to tend him but neither did she root him out. Such concentrated matter does not fade or decay, certainly not without its turn in the light.

He comes trailing the stink of hunger. And something else.

He crawls in beside her, filling the not-forgotten space between her and her dogeared book, spilling into corners. This is where he began. She watches him peel back a crusted mouth that is a funhouse image of her own. She has no choice but to let him show her what she stuffed down his throat when she was not ready to bear what she couldn’t name.

Determination, Poetry

Damned Spot

A year at least.
A splash on the threshold
in the shape of a star
if stars were ink
or soup. From the long slate
corridor into this rhomboid cocoon
breathing in the milk perfume
How can I help you?
step the fresh and the fretting
alike. They pass over
and over months, we tuck
paper into tray, stand up
the silver frame and spiral
notebook at right
angles to the phone,
slake the incessant thirst
of the philodendron and before emptying
the recycling bin, fan
pencils into bouquets of pink buds promising
or at least
the pleasing semblance of it.  Continue reading “Damned Spot”

Divorce, Parenting

Cause and Effect

Waking up is relief even if it is to the dull edge of January dawn.

He is there, a red T-shirt and splash of white stripe, resting at the bottom of the swimming pool. It is too late. I know this but I dive in anyway and haul him to the concrete. Pressing air through tiny lips. The taste of chlorine. The taste of silence. Over and over and over. No tears. Breath. Press. Breath. No pleas. Just this single determination. Pushing out water, pushing in oxygen. He stirs but it is only me, my desire, my exhalations inflating the sodden puppet.

Then he turns. Just a little. Eyes crack, lips part. What are you doing, Mommy? Concern bends his brow. Wariness, too. Before he can resist, I tuck him into my arms. Gather him like fallen limbs. He is only three and still so very light.

Just taking you home, baby.

I stand with my son bundled and dripping against my chest. Warming him. Warming us. I step away. Up the passageway, past the closed doors and towards ours which must be somewhere that way. Somewhere else.

I stand knowing this is me leaving me. Me walking away from the woman on her knees bent over her drowned son. Me choosing madness over truth. Myth over pain.

The unutterable facts:

He is gone and I am the one who lost him. I turned my back. Let him leave the car at night while I hefted grocery bags and backpacks. Forgot to give him the key. Me. I am the one who saw the door was still locked and he was not in the corridor waiting. I felt the fear rising; I did not run for him then and there. I took 30 seconds too long dumping the grocery bags and backpacks. Another 30 seconds trying to find a warm coat to put on him because he hadn’t brought his home. I was the one who wasted those fateful, final 30 final looking with widening eyes down the dim hallway and up the shadowed stairwell of our complex instead of hollering his name at the top of my lungs because of. . . Decorum? Pride?

The unbearable facts:

I lost my son. The blow of awareness is sudden and blinding. My negligence is the cause, I am the cause of his death and so the blame for my suffering falls on me alone. This knowledge is itself a source of staggering shame. It seems I care more about my role in the loss than the loss itself. Me, me, me. It’s always about me.

Then, back around around again.

The impossible knowing:

A life without this boy in it.

Too much.

So I gather him up. Forever now three, complete. Just his light boyhood, his lift, his easy willingness to be carried without protest. I carry him close and walk in great strides away

from sincerity. From courage. Poised at my moment of choice,

I abandon my moment of truth.

The one closest to me wonders if he should fear my break with reality. I do not say out loud yes you should. That it is not a possibility but a certainty, but in any event, it is far from a clean split. It is a spiderweb. A slow shatter.

I wake in the dark but it is close enough to light. The house is quiet but for dog on her pallet by the sliding glass door. Cracks at the seams expand as temperatures contract, peeling back the illusion of solidity. Out there in the space between, my son, like my sanity, straddles dimensions. We are Schrodinger’s cat. Both of us are completely intact. Neither of us is entirely home. We cannot touch

and I caused this.


If a Tree Falls

We climb to the top. He hangs on my arm and wraps his hands around my thigh. “Mommy, I’m tired.” He drags at me, trying to make me stop. He has no idea. Gravity has no effect on me. I am stronger than he can imagine. His fifty pounds are a ball of cotton, a cheesecloth sail. I can carry him to the top. Down the crevasse. Hoist him back up. I can lift him into the branches of an oak. I stand below him and know he will not fall because I will not fall.
I will not fall.
The hands under me are not visible. Are they any less present? Are they any less real? I have skidded and tumbled but still, my body is not broken. I rise every day. The smile comes, even it is forced. Music whispers at my throat. The legs walk on.
A good job, a good living. All there is? No, I still believe. Maybe that makes me a romantic idealist foolish idiot. Maybe small minded and smaller hearted. Maybe unable to accept the world as it is. Maybe? Maybe not believing in this one approach to things. Maybe ready to welcome the self that is becoming and not just the self that has already become.
It could have been beautiful, but then it was not. I left one when he was as ugly as I am now. When he could not get up and out of himself. When he got stuck. This is karma. It shows no mercy. It is a pitching machine. It hurls its force at a guilty spirit. It is deaf to the pleas. It is blind to the body, curled in a ball.
Get out of the cage. Just get up and out. It only hurts if you stay inside.
What is this jail? I built it. I put myself in it. The key might be right here in my pocket, but all I find is an ID card, a mobile phone, lint. I find the inside of the pocket. But there, a tiny thread, a small tear in the making, the skin of my thigh there, warm. Alive.
Who will come if I wait here? A chariot? A winged horse? Icarus, maybe? I would dare him to fly even closer to the sun just to feel its heat.
Up, away. Through the rent fabric, I feel my own leg. I feel the possibility of rising by my own volition.
This is what’s begun. The end. We unravel. We fray. The edges were never bound. It was all just us pressing the hems into one another, holding it up. The thread was not real. It was spit and prayer and no sudden moves. As soon as the twist was 180 degrees, the whole garment split and fell away. We were as naked as the emperor.
I could have gathered up what was left. I could have brought it to our naked breast, covered the soft place there before the broken branches had their chance to pierce
Our poor torn heart
There were three there, inside that one body. Three bruised and busted creatures in need of a gauze, a soft wrapping and an untouched room with a curtain at the window to soften the glare.
It was not in my hands. I did not reach for anything but my own rope. I let the others slip down under, grabbed only the hair of my son.
I am single again. It is sweet nudity. It is defenselessness. He is not coming to get me again. This is not his job, and I must grow up enough to know this is the way it is.
Grow up. Bear down. Bare truth.
What is the thing you still believe even though you know it is false?
You have all the time in the world. You will get there someday. Being beautiful will make you happy. Having things will bring you peace. You can live a halfway life and still be whole. You can have it all. You deserve better. You deserve worse. You are a piece of garbage. Someone will write to you even if you do not write first. Doing more will get you more. People will change. Your criticism protects you. Love is unconditional. The number in your bank account is based on hard work. You can trust your neighbor. You’ll have another chance. You’re out of chances. People forget the words you say. People remember the words you say.
In which myth will I place my faith today?
You can live through your children. You can live without music. You can live alone. You can live without making something of yourself. The way will appear if you keep walking. The voice will guide you if you shut up and listen.
Which myth?
Swallow it down. Choke it back. Squeeze the muscle and contract. The only way to the woman I am becoming is to punch through to her, rip the torn place wider, shape her, make her, smooth her into being, breathe in life life life. Oil her. Wet her. Paint her with a paste of pollen and creekwater, gather the milkweed fluff and tuck it between her thighs. Draw down the branches of the hemlock tree. Weave moss and bough to shape the organs that beat her blood into breath.
Whatever is haunting me, I have to perform this exorcism alone. It is not the job of any man to boil down the sap of me into something sweet. He cannot discern the obscenities of the ghosts. He only hears their echo called back through my own flailing limbs.
A wise woman once told me, do not adore your man. She meant to be cautious of idols. We deify our lovers. We pray to them to shoulder the burden and quiet the demons, to absolve us of our sins. This is too much to ask of anyone. When I left the man I married, I merged into the first one I found waiting. He promised he would come for me. They all say this: I am here. You are not alone. But it is impossible. No one can get as close as would be required to inhabit the place where the dark chill lives. To unfurl the buds. To bring the spring. They would have to press themselves entirely into the skin I call my own. They would have to squeeze me out and become the skeleton of me. This is what the one adoring dreams of. Obliteration. Complete.
Now, here, I release the myth of disappearance. The only story I can live is this one. It is not for me to make this into anything other than what it is. The paycheck comes. The child is fed. He climbs, he runs. The work waits on Monday morning for me to arrive, for me to claim it as mine. This is mine. This is the only narrative, and here sits the only protagonist, inside the arc. I never thought of myself as anything other than an independent woman, but I have lived for 20 years as one who cannot get through a day without fantasies of rescue. This is the cage.
Giovanni will, alas, not be the last man I love. But he will be the last I dream of saving me. No one is coming. I save myself.
Maybe there is nothing to learn from this. Maybe it is the same lesson after all, returning like the first leaves. Falling is a choice. So is growing. So is stepping out from behind bars. So is opening to the sun.