Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What They Found

A container of wrapping tape, three
cookbooks with handwritten notes,
fifteen hardback journals filled
with rhetoric of homespun, volumes
of poetry with sticky notes holding
fast as lightning, dried flowers crumbling
at the touch. In another room, outlines
of an English garden and plans to extend
the back room, replete with French
doors and a deck, boxes of baby
items, each neatly noted, half-worked
crossword puzzles, some with notations
scrawled in the margins regarding the idiocy
of language, dental floss on the bedside
table & Kleenex wadded up and scattered
like magnolia blossoms after the storm.
Room by room, they go, these who were left
behind, these who thought they knew.
In the kitchen, this: colorful asides
on the O'Keeffee calendar pages, musings
on the finer qualities of cabernet, Almanac
facts regarding the heat, enigmatic inscriptions
with no apparent relevancy: No phone call
from B
, 15 Maybe 20 at the best, trade offs
seldom pay off. This is all that is left
of her life, all that remains of a body
that lived among them, attached to them
like tendrils of wisteria vine, clinging
tightly to the closest storm-proof refuge,
rising and falling above them like no sky
they had ever seen, below them like strange
organisms of the deep they considered
a time or two when pondering the mysteries
of the unknown. Work not done, they enter
a sanctuary, a refuge when they were frightened
in the dark and the straight way was lost,
the room where she held them to her breast
and stroked their small heads as they clung to life,
where she kissed tears and patted the shoulders
of worry when the long, long nights turned longer,
where she curled herself up, fetal position.
There, a lavender pillowcase littered
with fine brown strands, some smeared mascara,
the stains of a mouth-breathing sleeper,
panties cast off in the night, no longer willing
to be confined or defined, a ceramic cherub-embossed
bowl with trinkets and jewelry, a mother's broken watch,
a dead friend's toothed necklace, a strand
of Job's Tears beads they never saw her wear,
a class ring with some forgotten sprinter
breaking the tape in a race that mattered
far too much many years ago, a faux Celtic
pendant engraved in runes, a shiny and radiant
lock of auburn hair, clipped in a moment of abandon,
saved for a purpose, for a memory of a time
when cutting a lock meant something.
One Cell

...contains a digitally coded database larger, in information content,
than all 30 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica put together.
--Richard Dawkins, from The Blind Watchmaker

So in our beds or in the beds of lovers,
when we leave we leave volumes
of information, the book of our days
lost to ourselves, sloughed off into the world.
As we wander a filthy city street
we grow new cells, pungent with the old codes,
so we can stop walking, remember
the day we wept openly for a man
in a casket, the night we touched a glass
to our lips and saw all creation
in a stranger's face. The pain of childbirth
comes back, the scent of magnolia, a song
from a commercial, an afternoon carnival,
a choir. Our cells retain it, pinhead
sponges soaking up whatever we need
to keep walking, to keep stumbling into
the blinding darkness ahead.

Dorianne Laux, from Facts About The Moon

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Leonard Cohen - Bird on a wire

For the last week, I have gone to sleep with this song in my head and I wake up and it's still in my head.

Like a bird/on a wire/like a drunk in a midnight choir/I have tried/in my way/to be free

31 years ago today...

I got married.

Can't remember what time of day the big event occurred.

I remember it rained. I remember worrying that my borrowed
wedding gown might get muddied up, soiled, marred, damaged
beyond repair.

I remember that 2 hours before the time (whatever the time
was), the rain stopped.

I remember my husband's brother telling him he still
had time to make a clean getaway.

I don't remember where we went that night. The lake?
The city?

I remember that bottle of Blue Nun someone
gave us exploding in the suitcase (quite an appropriate
demise for a blue nun and for Blue Nun--which tastes
like what it is-- cheap wine).

I remember a week or so later, a box with two broken
Phaltzgraff soup bowls and a note from my mother
wondering where I was.

I remember not knowing where I was for a very long time.


Happy anniversary to my husband who has stood beside me
all these years. Who has watched me suffer and tried his best
to help. Who has watched me in the happiest moments of my life
and been made happier because of those moments. Who has
not understood so much of who I am but who tries to understand.
Who doesn't like much of anything I like (except my food) but
who supports me just the same. Who has been a hard worker,
and many times, absent father, but whose heart is always
in the right place. Who doesn't give up on me. Who has not
ever given up on me.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Heat

So sick of it. We set another record yesterday--
104 actual degrees. With the heat index, it was 110
or so in the shade. Day after day after day of nothing
but heat, humidity and watering plants!

Allergies have been killing me too. Everything
is so dry. It looks like fall here with all the leaves
turning and falling from the trees. We may get some
rain this weekend, but it doesn't look promising.
We've only had 1.10 inches for the month of August,
and I think that fell on about the 2nd day of the month.

Molly and I continue to take our walks, but she doesn't
tolerate the heat any better than I do, so I let her run
loose at the track (if no one else is there), and I just keep
going even when she gives up. She gets next to the car
in the shade. I always take her water and some toys
so she just waits there for me to finish my walk. I am
walking 2 miles a day at least 5 days a week.


Still no job. I had to make a decision the other day
to stop beating myself up about it. I will keep trying,
and hopefully something will come through soon.

Not only is it hard for me to be home, jobless, I am also
trying to deal with letting go. Wes is 16 1/2 now, and he
has his license, so he can take himself to school now.
This is the first time since 1981 that I have not had
to transport a child to and from school. My oldest
started preschool in 1981, daughter started in 1984,
youngest started in 1994, and in between all of that
came elementary and high school, so when my oldest
got his license in 1994, I was still driving my daughter
and my youngest. Then daughter got her license in 1997,
but I was still taking my youngest.

In a nutshell, I feel lost.

I have always enjoyed the time in the car to and
from school--time to say How was your day? and just
to talk. Life was so hectic with me working full-time,
going to school full-time (some semesters) and part-
time other semesters. Going to school in the summers
too. Then I also had everything at home to do--the yard,
the cooking, the laundry, the housework. Though my kids
helped with things around the house (and my husband
helped as much as spossible), I did most of the work.

Now, here I am. Not in school for the first time since
January of 2001. Not working. Not taking children
places. Just home with the cats and the dog and
my thoughts.

I went from a very scheduled routine to this do-
what-I-want-to-do-when-I-want-to-do-it thing
and I am not doing well with it.



I went to see my mom yesterday for the first time
in weeks. She only lives 3 blocks from me, but
going over there is so difficult. She made me
smile, which totally shocked me. It's not something
she's ever made me do very often. I took Molly
with me, and when Mom opened the door, Molly
jumped right up on her. I am trying hard to teach
Molly to quit jumping on people. All of Wes's
friends just can't stand her because she jumps on them
(and, if she's really excited, christens them too!), so
I am used to having to continually pull her off people.

But when she jumped up at Mom, Mom just took her paws
and said, Oh, you want dance? and then she just waltzed
Molly around.

It's just too hard to go there now, no Dad to go see. No Dad
hug. No Dad kind words. No Dad in his chair sipping coffee
or reading the paper or working in the garden.

No Dad.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

In The Heart Of

Six men still lay beneath
the earth, beneath solid ground,
far from wives and girlfriends,
sons and daughters, far from food
and water, fresh air and sunlight,
far from their homes and lives, far
from a Friday night out with the guys,
far from reviewing that day's homework,
far from feeling the cool waters
of a shower rinse the dust from every
cavity, far from making a phone call
to say, it's okay, I made it out,
far from rescue. In the heart of coal
country, I know this story well,
one friend who became a widow
in a flash-fire that killed her husband
and nine other men, that took fathers
from their children and children
from their parents, that took youth
and the choice of where to lie
down for the final time away,
that took hope and possibilities
and dreams of a lake house and some
acreage quick as the fire took
their breaths. Not many days
pass that I don't think of that day,
all of the friends gathered in the kitchen,
waiting for her to come home, the smell
of roast and fried chicken, the sounds
of small talk and optimism, the look
on my face when she was brought
in the back door, supported by a sister
and mother, that look I can't erase.
I was smiling about something someone
said, something unrelated to the tragedy
that was yet to unfold, something not
funny but needed. There is no scream
like that of a child who has just been
told her father won't be back, no
nightmare that could equal the frozen,
distorted faces of friends gathered
in her kitchen when we knew she
had no choice but to tell, but to say
the words we could not hear
but knew, but to hear the weeping,
the screaming, the pleading, the quiet.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

How Easy To Be: An Early Fall

Two of them hopped
around in the tall
grass of the infield,
mouths full, happiness exuding
from their bushy tails.

Can they think
the seasons have changed already,
these busy squirrels,
who take me away from me
long enough to matter,
who chase one another up a tree
and across the wires, who think
nothing of the loneliness of wires
and phones that won't ring,
who look funny with some large
green things in their mouths,
jaws nearly as large as their heads,
who will not feel anger from me
because they refuse to acknowledge
my presence, who will not miss me
when I get in my car and drive
away, who will not look for my face
again nor wonder what I may have to say.
How easy they make me feel, no
expectations, no disappointments.

My reverie ends as they hop
out of sight. Now only the sound
of my soles slapping the crumbling
pavement holds my attention,
feet so unforgiving after
years of neglect, legs carrying
the weight of all my mistakes.
I make myself, force myself,
to do this, this pretend-to-care-
about-me routine, this practice
session for a day of reckoning.
And as leaves drop from the summer trees,
nestling in the verbena and vinca,
and wedging themselves inside the gaps
of the yellowing azalea, I accept
the truth--

I can only know what
a glorious thing it is to stand,
to make legs and body move forward,
to revel in the watching of small
hunter-gatherers, because I have known
the intricate nature of falling. Again.
And again.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another Sunny Day, Yippee!

So sick of sunny, hot days. No rain in so long.
All the plants are suffering and the trees are starting
to lose their leaves. I can't wait to smell the rain
again, the earth after the rain, that musty, loamy
wondrous smell.


My sleep patterns are getting crazier. By 8, I am wiped
out and ready for bed, which means I wake at around 12
and then again at 2 or so and then again at 5 and then again
at 6:30. Never feel rested. Just sleepy and tired and my brain
foggy and unfocused. Frustrating, very frustrating.


I am not doing well. Unemployment does not suit me. If it
had been by choice and I had been doing something productive
or creative during these 10 months that I have been home,
perhaps I would better, but most of the time, I have simply
been grieving or depressed. I try to be positive, but I am not


Molly requires so much of me. So much patience that I don't
have right now. I was so looking forward to a dog. What I failed
to remember was that a dog has to be a puppy first, and puppies
are major work. If she would ever just have a decent day--a day
that she didn't bark at the cats constantly or jump all over people
or chew up my furniture or pull my arm off when I take her walking
or try to lick all the clean plates as I unload them from the dishwasher
or not eat all of the clean (and dirty) socks she grabs from the laundry
basket or off the floor or not pee all over someone who comes in the
door because she's excited, but she does all of those things every
day, and despite my attempts to teach her how to behave, we have
made no progress. I was wrong to get her. Wrong to think I had
the energy. Wrong to think investing time in teaching her things
would make her a good dog, wrong and selfish to want her to help
me through this pain. Wrong because she deserves more. I pray
every day, every day for the strength to take care of her and to
not give up on her.


My sister called yesterday to ask me if I knew the story
behind the bird tattoo on Dad's left calf. I don't and I told
her so. And then I started telling her how I made such
a point that night he died to look at all of his tattoos,
to touch them all, to burn their images in my brain,
these images I had seen all of my life but couldn't clearly
see, and that despite all of that attempt, I still couldn't
tell her which tattoo was on his left arm--only that I knew
he had a tattoo on one of his arms that had the name
of the first ship he was ever on, but you know what,
I don't know the name of it. And then I started telling
her about the night he died and going in his room and how
the doctors had left the intubation tube in his throat
and left his eyes open and then I just had to choke back
the tears because I was right back in that room again,
standing right over him, looking into those eyes that would
never look back at me or look at anything else again
and I was sobbing hysterically and saying breathe, Dad
breathe, Dad, breathe. I finally just closed his eyes,
went in the hallway to get my youngest son, and brought
him in to touch his grandfather's still-warm body.


Been thinking so often about all the friends I've lost--
to death and just to other interests besides me. The
pain some days is simply intolerable. I don't do well with
all this alone time. I used to beg for alone time or
wish for it. I have learned to be careful what you wish
for. So, I start this day as I have started many over
the last year or couple of years--or hell, maybe for
all of the years of my life--I start it feeling sad and alone
and somewhat angry and a whole lot bitter. Well, not
a whole lot bitter, but bitter. For reasons I'm too tired
to get into. So, the following poem is for all those "lost"


One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

---Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

-- Elizabeth Bishop

Friday, August 17, 2007

Once in a Lifetime

To Mat, who stopped by today and whose presence made my day much brighter.

Same as it ever was

In so many ways, and yes, once in a lifetime, people come to us and our lives are forever changed and touched and we are grateful.

It was pretty much same as it ever was here today but seeing you again and catching up on your life and filling you in on my daughter's life and the rest of the family was so good.

The light is always on here, ok?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

What I wanted to say is it's not
even dark yet , but I'm going to bed

You didn't live to see
the birth of your first great-
grandchild, nor the birth of your

oldest son's child. And, after that, another
great grandchild and another. All in this
short time--which has really been such a terribly

long time--without you. And they will not
see you, but they will know you just the same:
the half-smiling seventeen-year old sailor,

the young man with his foot on the running
board of a 54 Chevy, the man who became
father again at 50, the face blowing

out the candles on the day of his double-
nickel birthday, the gray-haired
man holding one of your cousins,

the silver-haired man hugging his daughter
at the wedding of his youngest, the stooped
and thinning-haired man with the big smile

on his face at the family reunion. They will know
you. Today, as the heat intensifies, I wonder
how you would have been making it through

all of this drought and sizzle, if you'd still
be sipping coffee on the front porch,
if the birds would continue to come to your open

hand, if you would still know me, errant
daughter that I am, finding a way to find
you in the midst of a broken childhood,

in the love that survived the all of it.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


In honor of you,
I planted a weeping cherry
tree, lillies too.


Heat permeates, gives
no respite to lovers, no
hope to the living


A woman and her
children play beneath the elm
where death finds a home


Garden phlox, Speedwell
stand guard beside the trellis
waiting for autumn


Sometimes, my hands swell,
and my fingers resemble
strange things from the sea.


When it is not clouds
that darken the heavens, it
is something far less.


Three birds found refuge,
perhaps some food, after I
soaked the dying green.


I know nothing of
haiku, and little of Eastern
thinking, how sad.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

When Things Like This Happen

...I have to wonder why I spend so
much time worrying. When your number's up,
it's up.

Death is all around. It makes no distinction
with race, gender, age, socioeconomic
status, ethnicity or character. It doesn't care
if it's a beautiful, clear, sunny day or the most
bitter day the planet has ever known. It doesn't
care if it's midnight or 2 in the afternoon. It certainly
doesn't care if you're minding your own business or
actively seeking it.


Yesterday afternoon, as a local company was
preparing to unload a tractor, something
went terribly wrong. The truck, trailer,
and tractor were parked in a driveway. As
the John Deere came off the trailer, its
weight caused the trailer to lift in the air
which sent the truck, (which had hauled
it to its spot), to start hurtling downhill.

The truck went down a lane, crossed a highway
(missing several obstacles that could have
stopped it), veered to the left (which kept
it from hitting a house), and plowed right into
a mother, her 10 month old son (whom she had
on a swingset in the yard under a shade tree)
and her 4 yr old daugther. The mother and 10
month old died instantly. The 4 yr old is
expected to survive. The report just kept
mentioning what a completely freaky accident
this was and that nothing remotely similar
had happened in recent memory.


So, there she way, enjoying the shade and her
children, when this unoccupied truck comes
straight at her. Geez.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Regarding Anecdotes

I am sure I never
placed a jar upon a hill
in Tennessee, but I walked
up a hill to a party one night
in Tennessee, if that counts,
and as the party wound down
(or the party goers fell down),
I found my way to a garden,
deeply scented with rosemary
and lavender, and I lay down
upon an old lawn
chair thinking I was alone
with the garden and the night
only to find this very young
man, who was full of booze
and small talk, who had come
from the alleys and attitudes,
who was dark-haired and quite beautiful,
hovering above me, making somewhat
laughable passes at me, there in the chair,
in Tennessee. And so I rose
from the chair, his hands
a strange comfort beneath the smooth
white pits of my underarms,
and at the height of a moment,
I slipped and he fell,
and the chair remained.
And I don't think the garden
had any regard for either of us.

(My thanks to Wallace Stevens)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

After the Sun Sets: The Call

My brother calls. He speaks love
and I think means it. His tired
voice, harried but real, gently probes

into what little is left
of my sanity. Memory is this strange
bedfellow (I say to him as I try
to explain the mother I knew),

who lies there beside you
in the near morning hours
when sleep has chosen to visit

another, perhaps more worthy,
friend. His voice gets softer,
softer even than the flesh
of my newborn grandson.

He's trying to reason with me:
me the unruly Virginia Creeper
curling around the delicate blossoms

of an unusually hot summer; me the relentless
crop of ragweed infiltrating the barren
brown fields; me the perpetual low
hum of a thousand hungry mosquitoes.

When I can bear no more of his kindness
or reason, I make an excuse to get
off the phone: The ribs are burning,

the yard is burning, the flowers
are burning, the house is burning!
burning, I say! And in his pragmatic
way of knowing what cannot be known,

he says: It's late. Put out the fire.
Water what can be watered and saved,
let go of the losses beyond your touch.