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Happy 100 Days: 86

Rain and rain. A pyramid of monster cookies greets me when I return from the gray world beyond. Inside this cocoon, he has put beans to simmer in the crock pot and started baking the sourdough loaf. This one has a drizzle of honey to sweeten it.
 
Yesterday, as we meandered past storefronts and chatted with artists displaying their shards of glass and wooden eggs, he pointed out the Plow and Hearth. “What does that word mean? What is hearth?”
 
I tried to come up with the right definition, naming the specific thing (the inside part of a fireplace, no?) but also attempting to draw the edges of the concept with my meager words. I call up a picture of a Mary Azarian wood cut, that curl of smoke, the pot bubbling over the flame, an open chair near the table. A loaf, warm, waiting on the board. A jar of honey. A box of salt.
 
We walk on, and then it is the next thing. The child, the errands, the warming up for the next sprint.
 
Everything needs doing. Everything always does, no matter how much is already done. After stuffing the gift bags for Bug’s party with pencils and granola bars, I stop and curl up on the couch with the crossword from the Sunday Post. Giovanni is kind and lets me mute the football game to put on classical 90.1. A swell of strings pushes wide the walls.
 
The rain falls against the turning leaves, yellow poplars finally claiming their name. I mumble through the clues, calling out, “Four letters! Spy plane or rock band! Ends in X or O. We should know this!”
 
“I don’t know. ELO? NWA?” He slices asparagus and pepper, sautes garlic. In the oven, the loaf is rising, and he has started on the sauce for pasta. Much to my surprise, I complete the entire crossword. It may be the first time I have ever done so in one sitting. I do not know what time I arrived today. I do not know what time it is now. The couch no longer faces a clock. I forget to miss it.
 
It has gotten dark, and he has grated the parmesan. I hop up and put water glasses on the table, set silverware on the cloth napkins I gave him back in the winter. Candles, yes, and bits of romanesco, soft cones nestled among the shells. We eat and it is my turn to ask the questions about his tucked-away stories.
 
What is hearth?
 
Inside that word, sanctuary and warmth, yes? A place of returning.
 
I only a manage a rough sketch, but it suffices for now.
 

Adventure, Outdoors

Face Lift

The quince shrub thinks it is spring. Pink blossoms unfurl from its branches, dusting the blacktop with pollen. The birds are similarly confused. One calls from the high, bare limbs, tuh-wee tuh-wee tuh-wee tuh-wee tuh-wee. Across the street, a second returns the song. They toss their ten notes back and forth, bridging the short distance between them. Soon, a third gets in on the action. At odd intervals, a chickadee scratches his beat behind the rhythm.
 
This warmth has been hanging around for longer than expected. On Sunday, Bug and I went to skip stones on a duck pond near the apartment of the man I have been seeing. He is a Don Juan with thick arms and a love affair with the open road. He knows water, mud, mountains. He made the flat rocks bounce six, seven, eight times, almost to the opposite shore. The ducks kept to the sides. My tosses managed maybe three piddly skips before plopping near the bank. The man laughed, telling me I throw like a girl. I shot back that Venus Williams turned that insult into a compliment ages ago.
 
Bug stripped off his shoes and socks. In his red plaid flannel and rolled up jeans, he was Huck Finn, tramping through the creek as it carried winter runoff and tiny minnows to the pond. The sun was easy on our skin. My friend settled down on a large stone at the edge of the creek and turned his face to the light. Bug wound around and around him, toes reddening in the chilly trickle, catching his balance against the man’s solid frame.
 
We collected pieces of mica and sandstone and scratched our names into the walkway above the bank. This man believes in talismans and magic. He drew a narrow, long eye inside the rectangle of brick. This is the first part of a converged symbol he penned on a napkin for me on one of the early dates. I do not see what he sees, but that does not stop him from showing me. In the adjacent brick, I drew a mate. The pair of eyes stared up at us, blank and cutting. I could not resist embellishment. Big eyelashes sullied the sleek edges. The swipe of nose, a swirl of hair, a smirking mouth. Don Juan lay back on the warm walkway. I traced his body in flaking, yellow rock. Bug called, “Mommy, look! A bug!” He had colored in the first of the eyes, turning its lashes into legs. He went to work on the second.
 
Bug rode the barrel of the man’s shoulders back through the woods. We made our way home, the sun beginning to fade. It grew colder again, but only by a few degrees.
 
It will not last, this strange reprieve. Already this morning, the clouds have gathered. Rain is beating against the windows.  But my arms are looser, and there is a pink burn in my cheeks. It could take a while to fade. By then, who knows? The sun may have come around again.  I have no shame. I keep the door cracked and take what I can get.

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Vein

I used to walk through the house. So many rooms, I realize now. Even then, though, I was not naïve. I did not believe it permanent. From time to time, the wooden sturdiness of that cabin on the banks of Lake George would catch me off-guard, freezing me to the spot. In those gaping moments, the scent of sweet oat bread baking in the oven brushed open my lips. Low light washed in through the wall of glass, from beyond the porch and unruly lilac bushes and the open waters and the violet Adirondack sky. My child roamed the unknown terrain in his slumber and my husband was just a short walk over the bridge at his work.

I would stand in that frame of light, and marvel. This? The beautiful terror. This is my home? My family? The thrill of its truth would split my chest. The walls, scarred as they were, would upend me just before catching my shifting weight. I could not fathom that our home might be real, even as it held me to the firm on planks of the floor.

Belief was irrelevant. I still treated that house as the one that would carry us through. I stocked its larder with rice and fruit, tidied its collection of closets. I adorned its walls with sunflowers, sewed ribbons of aquamarine into the linen grazing our windows. The man who loved to camp and play helped fill our den with a library of games and words and music and friends. My boys tromped their muddy boots in from the wild woods and I knitted the woolen caps and scarves they hung, dripping, by the door.

Every so often, when silence was my only company, I stretched out in the delicious embrace of that sanctuary and surrendered to the staggering improbability of such abundance.

Nothing is fixed. Nothing at all.

Even if I had known what was coming, would I have treated it differently? Would I have decided not to nestle the snowdrops and Sweet William into the rock-ringed patch where we turned the earth to the northern sun? Maybe a realist would have left the dust in the corners, left the oven cold. It can seem a waste of time to trust in what is in our grasp when we sense it slipping. If I could have seen then the figure of the shaken-down woman standing here now, would I have warmed that home with the bellows of my faith?

Now, I sit with a man at the end of the world, amidst the rubble and debris. The apocalypse has left us this one table, standing on its bare legs with a single candle in a stained mason jar, flame guttering but still alive. He is new, but only to me. We pull our chairs to the same side. Grazing knees and upturned cheeks, we listen, we speak.

Behind my throat, an iced vein. It runs deep, biting along my spine, chilling me awake. No, no. Don’t partake. The soporific promise in that low light, the smell of him near. Stay alert, silly child.

To know how terrible we might become, how hollow the gaze, how peppered with acid the selfsame tongue we use now to lap at the rime edging the crag between us. To know we could turn so sour. And yet, to go on.

That current in its toothed chill is a living thing. It may spill over its banks, it might even roar so powerfully as to knock the rickety legs out from under us. But also, this: the frozen creek still courses below the solid frost. It still carries brook trout to their breeding ground.

How do I lift my eyes to the man here? Can I live inside a fleeting moment the way I lived in that house on the lake? Can I treat this tenderly, nourish it, lay the bulb in the furrow of earth while defeat’s crowbar snickers at my neck? The wide-awake vein carries its keening fear down along the axis of me, bright and searing. I want to draw my hands back from the table’s smooth wood, grab tight to my own chair, stiffen in anticipation of the quake, the flood.

I know now more than I did then, framed in the imperfect light of the cabin window. I know how mighty the wrecking ball of loss when it finally connects, yes. But also, I am still upright. Also, the root holds.

Does the wide-awake chill of knowing actually breed wisdom? The question is this: what do I choose to do with what I know? We may crash hard if we fall away from each other. We also may find our feet if we do. We can endure far more than we imagine.

It would be a terrible thing to leave the table bare while the scent of the bread in the oven grows so warm, so near. Now we are here, leaning in, lips parted. Tasting what is in the air.