Art, Home

Creeping Crawl

The plants are multiplying. They need new pots which I don’t have so I find old ones and streak them with violet and gold. Brushes dry in the dishrack alongside the pizza cutter, the wooden spoons. Potting soil and paint collect in the veins of the floorboards.

Another flea-market dining table has joined our family of orphans and strays. On any given day, half the furniture is hidden under cover of old newsprint.

An explosion of of foliage in the quasi foyer threatens to displace the coats. It needs a haircut, a transplant, a new home, yet most of the walls here are too far from windows. The greenery plays musical shelves. If any one refrains from curling into brown husks, it quits the rotation and settles into its new role animating shadow. The prima donnas demanding full sun have to contend with Bug’s beads and colored pencils to stake out a spot near the sliding glass door.

Tonight, I will divide two into four and ferry several to the office on an inverted vacation. They will sip northern light from their perch on a woven throw draped over a low bookcase. Like the others, they will spill from their pots and climb the walls, feeling their way across the muted canvas. In the after hours of a 5th-floor shush, they’ll peel open and twine into inevitability.

Back home, the false starts of an amateur’s attempts at design clutter the walls and halls. At some point six or eight months in, I abandoned pretense and pushed the sofa to a nook along with the coffee table and lamps. The honey-drunk bamboo is clear for landing. At last, nothing is the everything. A person can puddle unobstructed all the way to the outermost window and maybe beyond. My son zooms his scooter in giant orbits around a living room which is every room.

From the corners, a fecund unfurling. We’ve shed the illusion of indoors. Tiny spiders loop from strands that dust the ceiling. My Mister and I lay in the bed and watch the epic journey of one who circles back on itself, forever beginning all over again. Its progress is like our own: A lovely conceit. A reason, anyway, to keep moving.

I sweep aside obstructions, machines and footstools, bigness, permanence. I own almost nothing I can’t lift on my own, nothing I can’t throw off the balcony when the time comes. In the space where things usually reside, now an invitation. A frame without a door. No lock, no knock, no fumbling for an excuse. I stretch my arms and almost brush the overgrown fronds of the philodendron. It was the first one, the one my Mister brought to welcome me home. No surprise that it’s the biggest. It has outgrown its pot. (“Out,” groans its spot.) The jade blades arch then bow like a suitor toward a patch of grass that springs from the opposite corner.

As them, us.

We expand to fill the space we inhabit. If we are wise, we clear the way for what we can’t stop anyway.

If we are ready, we live as if we’ve chosen what creeps in.

Choices, Outdoors

Found and Lost

In the dream, I leave Bug in the hands of a busy child care center in the city and head out for an afternoon walk. The water is close. Just a few bold steps off the unmarked edge of a road carry me down to a quiet beginning.
A river snakes along sand and volcanic stone. As I stroll along it, the buildings disappear behind me. Soon, the path opens out onto breeze-rippled silence. The sun is bright enough to blind me and I have to pull my narrow-brimmed hat low over my eyes. I pause and take in the impossible pitch of the rimed stone jutting up from the surface of the confluence. Is it ocean or river, this aquatic jewelbox? Sapphire and emerald stand shoulder-to shoulder with opal, all of it turning in luxurious circles under the glittering sun.
The riverbank calls me closer. I shed my shoes. The water is clear enough that I can peer down into the caverns below the rough stone. White sand is a warm powder massaging my soles. No one is anywhere. I want so badly to slide into the aquamarine shallows but I am alone and it could be dangerous. I do not recall where I am. Is this country home to alligators? Piranhas? No one would hear me call if a hidden barnacle sliced my skin.
Just on the other side of the large stone, a pool spills into the cool silver below. The bottom disappears into deepening dark. It could fall all the way to the center of the earth. It is not a swimming hole per se, yet it is wide enough for my body even with my arms outstretched. The hunger to immerse is powerful enough to make me quiver but caution stills my descent. It is better to be safe, yes?  I only have a few hours before I must return for my son. I settle for submerging my feet up to my ankles. The cool brine makes me shiver. I bend and splash it over my calves and shoulders. The sun is so very warm.
Footfalls behind me rend the silence. It is Tee. He is jogging, waving hello. His pink skin is flushed and he has that goofy grin on his face he so often wears. Hello! Hello!
I ask him why he is not with Bug. He tells me he stopped into the child care center for a visit but he decided to go for a run. It is my night with our son anyway. He has all the time in the world. Nearby, up a low slope of grass, the balconies of apartments overlook this riverside trail. Tee strips down naked and I remind him that people live close here. He seems surprised to find he might be exposed. He dons the shorts again but ties his shirt around his waist and makes as if to join me on my stroll.
I’d really rather walk alone.
He shrugs as I go ahead. Instead of turning back, though, he picks up the jog again and passes me. He plods on just in my line of sight along the soft and sandy path. My path. The waving reeds and sea-grass are obscured by his sunburned back. He is going in the direction of what I had thought to be my solitary exploration. Now I know I must really remember Bug because Tee will be too far ahead and cannot be relied upon to take him home if I lose my sense of direction.
The wild path is no longer wild, not with my ex pounding along it before me. I don’t want to share this with his noisy presence. I turn off and wind through the neighborhood there. It is a place with rental apartments, playgrounds, a crumbling community pool. The swimming families squeal and chatter. Women with thick thighs and thinning swimsuits snap at their children. There are so many girls. They tease in a screeching playfulness that shimmers with latent violence. The yellowish-blue does not look inviting at all. I walk on past feeling crowded, heavy, a little desperate.
When I find my way back to the water, the river has grown to a surging froth. It runs below a road bridge built high on concrete girders. A footpath descends a sharp cut of rickety stairs down to the place where a culvert spills foaming debris out into the current. There is no place to cross. I cannot make my way on foot up to the pounding, traffic-dense bridge, and anyway, it seems to go the wrong way. I have somehow come out on the side opposite where I need to be.
I am so confused. My wild place, that aquamarine pool and the waving sedge, has all given way to boat launches and drawbridges. Roaring vehicles tow rivercraft. There is nowhere to walk. I carry a small inflatable raft. It is red. It is tucked under my arm. It is too big to carry but too flimsy to use for crossing. I stand near the edge of the road where it falls into this sea. I look across the choppy black. It is far too wide for me.
Somewhere over there is the city I just left, my son, and the home I don’t yet know is my own. The place I need to be is there. This awareness is a knife in the gut. I feel miserably unsatisfied. For as long as I’ve been gone, I never took that quiet stroll on which I set out. I never did find out what grew along the edge of the wet lip of the bay. I wish now I had simply let myself in to that dangerous, lonely deep.
Had I called upon the years of swimming in mountain lakes and relied on my own strong arms to keep my head above water,  I could have immersed the whole sheath of my being in that jeweled and quiet embrace. If only I had trusted the body of this wet earth and this mighty self to hold me, I could have whetted my appetite for solitude.
Now, I have to ask for help.
A man hauling cables barks commands at drivers. I am quivering, on the verge of tears, but I do my best simply to state my need.
Can you help me get across? How does this all work?
He is brusque. All business. He points me to a dinghy. Another man clips my raft onto the bigger vessel. I pay six dollars and board. He whirs the motor and speeds across the water. None splashes on me now. It is an opaque and impossible substance. I do not look down. My eyes trace the smooth line out to the west or east, if only I knew. The open horizon has room enough but no map. I have no compass to carry me to it.
The emptiness recedes. It is so very far never to go.
The captain, if he can be called this, deposits me on the asphalt launch opposite along with the other passengers. I scrounge my raft from among the anonymous craft and make back towards the road. The city thrums in the distance. I am late. I have miles to retrace. My son is waiting.


Happy 100 Days: 63

A hawk lifts off from a branch when we pass under. It is the same one we saw in the spring from the balcony. It was a distant visitor then, its tail a crimson haze. We named it Cesar.
The rain pelts our coats. Looking up to find the place where the bird has landed sends water snaking down our jaws to pool in the necks of our hoods. The hawk’s tiny eyes look down, taking the measure of us (two gangling primates and one lop-eared wolf). We cannot pose much threat, our boots slipping on the path’s wet skin of leaves. Still, the raptor lifts its wings and rises again, beating against the fierce wind to find the elevation where it can see but not be seen.
Here, under the sagging autumn canopy, we are silent. The power to name is no longer ours.
Blocked by debris, the creek has cut a new channel. White water surges alongside the roots of the oaks. It makes its escape downstream, forming an island. The emerald heads of mallards reflect the last of the light. Their white necks trace busy figures against the roiling pond. The small flock bobs in dizzying circles, rivulets of wet streaming along their feathers and back to the source.
Around the bend, the blue heron stands knee-deep in churning white right at the funnel where the waterfall begins. He glances our way. Not until the pooch veers towards the creek do the wings shudder to life. Gunmetal feathers unfurl, grab air, and haul the body up. The heron barely bothers to tuck its spindled legs under its belly. It skims the surface, tarnished bronze feet almost flicking into the water. It alights in a quieter eddy upstream on the opposite bank. It turns its head away from us, the cutlass of its beak rending the wind.


Fight or Flight

Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.
Tao Te Ching, 10

We are dressed for the day. A Tupperware of cinnamon toast and eggs is ready for Bug to scarf down on the commute. The only thing left is walking the dog. I offer Bug the choice to stay in the house with granddaddy or come with me. He fiddles with his legos, weighing his options. Usually the dog’s constitutional is an all-business trot down the cul-de-sac. Ten minutes, tops. While I know better than to take the kid when we are in a hurry, the situation calls for adaptation.
“Gramma Genie can walk her,” he tells me.
“Gramma Genie is in Dallas, remember? Your great grandma Mardy fell and broke her hip.”
“Oh yeah,” he remembers. “What did they have to do for the operation?”
Many mornings, Bug will hang around my mother’s room chewing the fat as she gussies herself up for her workday. My father sequesters himself in the basement to write. In the blessed reprieve, I can buzz around packing lunches and walking the dog, half hearing that mode of relentless interrogation only a 5-year-old can pull off. This week, the big bedroom upstairs is quiet. Bug tags along after me instead. Great Grandma Mardy needs my mother right now much more than we do, so I attempt to move along at a steady clip while also keeping expectations down where they belong. Bug’s ceaseless chatter accompanies me. I explain as briefly as I can how hip replacement works and what the word “rehabilitation” means. I remind him he is supposed to be choosing between the dog and granddaddy.
Bug glances at the wan light coming from a too-quiet basement. The old man is no match for the outdoors. “I want to walk with you,” he tells me.
Racing down the driveway, Bug kicks through a puddle. It has rained torrents every night for the better part of a week. Giant mushrooms bloom low in the grass and a creek the length of the block has formed along the edge of the blacktop. Fenway snuffles, squashing tiny wild strawberries as she goes. The scent of honeysuckle drapes itself over the mist.
Ahead, Bug sees Cleo dart into a gauze of brambles. Our skinny calico cat often joins us on these jaunts, keeping her haughty distance. In an instant, she is invisible, her patches blending into the spongy decay of last season’s canopy. Bug turns to me, impulse flashing across his face.
“Let’s go on an adventure!”
I feel a sigh gather steam but I quell it. It is getting late. The dog roots around in the puddles. She has peed so we are done here. “It’s awfully wet, baby,” I say, “and we need to get to school.”
“It’s not too wet,” he says. He steps off the blacktop and his feet sink into the muck. I groan. He shrugs. “It’s okay. It’s only a little wet.”
The cat is visible for a moment, stalking her imaginary prey. She creeps further into the shadows. Bug watches her, keeping one eye on me. He is primed. “We have to chase her,” he explains.
“We’ve already gotten all dressed for school. I’m wearing my work clothes.”
“We can change our socks. You will dry off at work.” He grins at me, momentum quivering from toes to scalp. His gaze twinkles with something like. . . flirtation? I’m a sucker for a charmer. No and Yes start throwing punches. The crowd presses in, choosing sides. The determination to distinguish myself in my profession joins the clock in clanging out support for the clear favorite.
The underdog’s backers are silent.

Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

Sometimes the hardest steps are the simplest to take. The playground scuffle goes on, but I tear myself away and look only at my son splashed across the canvas of the morning. How many of us get to kick off the workday by ducking into the wild woods? My grandma in that post-op hospital room would probably surrender her reserve seat in heaven for one last moment exactly like this.
“Let’s go get that kitty,” I say. I unclip the dog’s lead. Bug chants “Yay, yay, yay!” as he ducks under the vines and plunges into shadow. We are deep in when a breeze awakens the leaves and showers us with a morning-after rain. We look up through the blue-green awning at the sun making its way through a weave of branch and cloud. Bug and Fenway follow the incensed cat down into a creek-bed and up onto a soggy log. She leaps away and we part a congregation of weeds whispering at our calves.
Our ragtag foursome dips and climbs through summer then winter and even next year’s spring. We burrow through the earth’s core and emerge from the mouth of a cave that smells of seawater and smoke. We wander through a valley teeming with cockatiels that screech from the low branches of mango trees. Every person we have ever known has grown old and died. A waterfall as tall as a mountain washes us free of memory.
Bug parts a curtain of ivy and we spill out onto the road. The cat bounds back towards the house, her tail arched in irritation. My son’s face is wild with pink light and his legs are streaked with mud. “We came out all the way down here!” We have exited fewer than twenty feet from our entry point, but I share his wonder. The continent has shifted in our absence, and nothing will ever be the same.
We dash back to our house and peel off socks and shoes. I take the stairs two at a time to change the whole outfit because three inches of damp trouser cuff might blow my cover. I may be a feral thing, but I still have to don my breathing apparatus to survive in the world of steel and glass.
No one knows where we have been. How could we begin to explain? We slipped through a tear in the damp fabric of the morning and crawled onto the beach alongside those first gilled beasts. Only a skittish cat, one lop-eared dog, a boy and his mama recall what happened here, but our recollection is fading fast. In the car, Bug and I speak of quotidian things, of weekend plans and hip surgery. When we attempt to fit what we have witnessed into the shape of language, our tongues founder.
I know only this: When all the clocks in the world demanded we stay on solid ground, we stepped off the edge. We made our way back, but we may not stay for long. Do we have years or decades? Will we will reach ninety-two or knock off next week? No one gets out of here unscathed. For every moment we claim as our own, we will pay. It is only a matter of time.

If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Walk the dog or stay home? Get wet or stay dry? Everything we love, even the very selves we occupy, might be gone in a blink. Knowing this, what choice do we have but to step over and meet what is here?

Mitchell, Stephen. Tao Te Ching. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.


Special Effects

He races through the small patch of green at the edge of the cul de sac. Under his feet, the grass grows wild. The knot of stalks reaches his shins. Suddenly, a blur of motion bursts out around him like an electron cloud. His feet meet earth, setting off one explosion after another. A whisper of wings and rain catches the air, following him through the brush. He neither sees nor hears, swimming just below the surface of this quiet cacophony of sound and motion.
“What is that?” I ask, pointing. He stops, and as he does, the grass falls silent. He looks sideways at me through the stillness. Then he is off running again, bursts of confetti meeting his footfalls.
“Look!” I call. He stops again. All is still, all is silent.
“What?” These interruptions are seriously inhibiting his pleasure. And anyway, there is nothing to see. Controlling a phenomenon enough to observe it renders it unobservable, as Heisenberg tried to explain.
“Watch,” I say. I stride up next to Bug and stomp my foot. The weeds send up an inverted shower of tiny, living things. Bug’s eyes pop open. Then a grin spreads lights him up from within. He lifts his foot and stomps. Another shower, followed by the tinkling of tinsel rain on a forest canopy. For an instant, I wonder if these airborne, pinging things are midget grasshoppers or buff-winged moths.
I crouch for a better look. The weeds are slender, dark green stems with tresses of gold radiating out in all directions. Because of the yellow dusting atop the bending plants, the clearing appears as an infant wheat field. The tendrils are thin, cleaved nests. Each is a floral ovary clutching an egg in a loose grip, readying itself to take a shot at starting next season’s crop.
Next to me, Bug is stomping, giggling hard at each detonation. I bite my tongue and keep my observations to myself. Does knowing what things are really teach us what they are?
Then he is off and running, his face pink and his arms wide. His gaze is back, down, up, everywhere. His voice cries out the high notes. He is the bandleader now of this moving parade, and all around him, one explosion after another announces to the world the arrival of this force of nature, this human animal.  His weight is enough to set loose a surge of animate fireworks right here on earth. The simple presence of him sends life skyward to seek a brand new start in an unturned corner of the world.