Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Blue Wonder

In Dresden, I wore my hippie skirts; rode the streetcar up the steep, burned-out inclines; walked, while sick, to the wet basement pizza place, and waited for you to tell me you loved me.  You didn't tell me you loved me, at least not then, because things were complicated, and God, this was Dresden, where the sky, even when the sun was shining, was ashen and absent of light.  And because you hadn't told me you loved me, and because the ladies at the desk wrongly assumed we were intimate, they made us sleep in separate rooms in the hostel, while the wind, with terrifying gasps and shrieks, lunged out of the forest.  You tried to tell me, gesticulating wildly about the depths of human unkindness, why our visiting Dresden was so important, how the rebuilt Frauenkirche was a symbol, against all odds, of hope, but all I wanted was to catch the next train to Prague, to rejoin the living, to pin you, in defiance of all that rubble and destruction, against the broken bridge with my hips.  We walked the banks of the dirty Elbe, not holding hands, you pointing to spires, while I waited, not knowing what would happen, for bombs, for fire, but mostly for peace.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On Boyhood

The new boy, the one from Utah, is getting a tour of our house.  My son, who is rarely happier than when he's playing tour guide, is showing him every nook and cranny -- from the dingiest, most humiliating secrets of our plumbing, to the tip-tops of the toy cabinet.  "That's my mom," my son says without enthusiasm, as he escorts the new boy, with a brush of his hand, toward the serendipitously organized "shoe closet."  And in they go.  And now I can hear them from among the sandals, from the depths of a crowded, half-carpeted locker where no sensible person would ever willingly go, talking about the Utah desert and Hexbugs.  And now they're out, brushing themselves off, tripping over each other and sneakers and snow boots, laughing and plotting what to do next.  It's still about an hour 'til dinner, and their scooters, still lying on the sidewalk where they dropped them, are hot from the suede-colored sun.  From the front door, sliding into their flip-flops, they yell good-bye, and they're gone.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Woodland Walk

I don't remember anything before my seventh.  But on my seventh, my parents threw me my first real party.  In the backyard.  With Jenny and Kelly and Reid and Marianne.  With cupcakes and pin-the-tail on the Snoopy.

On my eighth, I got a Cindy doll, with a big plastic breakfront for her dining room.  Until that day, I'd never heard of a breakfront, and as I sat in the evening sun on our deck, carefully arranging Cindy's tiny plates and goblets, I thought that the word breakfront -- a word that sounded so clumsy and violent -- couldn't have been more poorly suited to describe Cindy's new piece of furniture. 

On my ninth, we had a family party.  I unwrapped Sorry! by the fireplace.  Some of the people who came are now dead.

My 10th was on a Saturday, and I celebrated at the school carnival.  I ate cotton candy, played games with wheels and balls and bottles.  I got to take home a baby gerbil, the offspring of our classroom pet.  I named her Heidi, because she liked to hide in cardboard tubes.  I thought this was very clever. 

For my 11th, I got a microscope, with a full box of plant and animal slides.  I can still see the red blood cell, round and pink and vaguely fuzzy 'round the edges, like something that could bounce.

Just after my 12th, I had my first slumber party, with Alli and Jenny and Marianne.  Someone gave me the Footloose soundtrack, and we listened to it, huddled up in our nighties, as the rain dripped in on the sofabed.

For my 13th, my father and I drove to Boston, via -- to his horror -- the Cross Bronx Expressway.  We took his brand-new silver Saab, passing block after block of burnt cars and buildings, as I listened to "Like a Virgin" and stretched out in the backseat.  My mother, traveling in the atmosphere above us, was enduring her first trip on a plane.  At lunchtime, we stopped at a Burger King in Connecticut.  My father parked in the most remote spot on the lot.

There's a picture of me from my 14th birthday, with my enormously permed hair tied back in a tribal bandanna, with my knees like golf balls teed-up on my legs.

My mother and I fought on the morning of my 15th, because, when she discovered that she'd run out of wrapping paper, she wrapped my presents in towels.  "I thought you had a sense of humor," she said, stroking my hair in half-apology.  I, feeling stupid and pissed for even caring, walked down to the magnolia tree and cried.

There was drinking and messing around on my 16th.  The overstuffed, paneled den at Marie's.

On my 17th, I went to the record store; sat, for some reason, in a mall parking lot; smoked a bowl and felt like the loneliest girl in the world.

My 18th was one of my very favorites.  Marie and bailed out of school early, drove downtown for lunch and shopping, talked about college and summer and boys.  Later, as I drove up Falls Road with my terrible boyfriend, I perceived the red balloon that came floating out of the forest as some kind of important sign.

I don't really remember too much of my 19th, except, of course, that I spent it with Brian, which is undoubtedly why I don't really remember.

On my 20th, I wore black and drank cherry wine coolers.  I stood in a hallway, still with Brian.

In love, I thought, with the manager of the record store where I was working, I pulled the day-shift on my 21st.  I watched through the window as he took his smoke breaks behind the WE BUY CDs sign, swooned when he gave me a card signed Love, Chris. 

I read poetry on my 22nd.  You came bearing flowers, clapping enthusiastically, even at the poems that didn't flatter you.

I spent my 23rd at a Throwing Muses concert.  You were braving the rain in northern Germany, and I was plotting my return.  

I turned 24 while working at the Department of Social Services.  The only thing that kept me from openly weeping was knowing how soon I would be quitting, how soon I'd be driving, for the first time, out west. 

On my 25th, I was newly married, a California resident without a home.  Melanie gave me a big bunch of flowers.  We drove to Marin County, threw rocks on the beach.

My 26th was a wonderful California birthday, with avocados and sunshine and sushi and bare feet.

My 27th, peering around the corner, came knocking on the kitchen door of the cottage.

On my 28th, one of my students punched me.  She said she loved me, that she did it for my birthday.  It hurt like fuck and stayed bruised for weeks. 

My boss took me out on my 29th.  To a mediocre restaurant, in the middle of the day.

I spent my 30th on the northern coast of Florida.  I was five months pregnant, awe-struck by everything, crying with joy over my key lime pie cheesecake.

I turned 31 in Wilmington, North Carolina, with you, with my parents, and with our beautiful baby.  I nursed her on a ferry, on a park bench, on the beach, in a restaurant.  I wanted, for the first time, to believe in God, because if there were a God, He could protect her forever.

I was pregnant again by my 32nd, already with full face and full belly, in spite of only being two-and-a-half months along. How lovely it was, after those first scary weeks of bleeding, after my mother's near-fatal run-in with Chemo, to be sitting on the patio of the Indian restaurant, to be taking tiny bites of garlic naan, to be celebrating again.

My 33rd birthday was strained sweet potatoes and diapers.  It was faded blue pants that didn't quite fit.

Wedged between your heart attack and my mother's death, my 34th may never have even happened.  I was a zombie eating a softcrab sandwich; buying a watch, even though the last thing I wanted to be reminded of was time.

I spent my 35th in the old house, recovering from months of post-traumatic stomach aches.  There may have been a cake.

My 36th was the first one in the new house.  I ate muffins and held my children close.

We walked on the rocks on my 37th.  It was hot, sandy; when we stopped for an iced tea at the corner store, I slugged it down in a couple of gulps.

On my 38th, after lemon cake, we rode around the park on a miniature train.  It was cold, so we all wore winter parkas.

We fought the morning of my 39th.  I looked out the window of the science classroom, feeling old and crooked and unmoored.

I woke up early on the morning of my 40th.  Lovingly, you called me an old fart, kissed me before you went up for your shower.  The children, whispering as they wrote cards and wrapped presents, called me to the living room.  Hours later, as I walked by myself and listened to the wood thrush, I thought about age and bones and the inevitable failings of the body, about how my mind and legs, no matter the significance of this birthday, still felt young and strong.  I climbed a steep, sun-baked hill; found a snake, black and coiled.  Stepped back.  Turned around.  Chose a path through the ferns. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012


The train, it bumps along the tracks.  The wires, their sinister outlines against the starless sky, swing in the rain, in the wind, their connections to the city, to electricity, to the train itself, a mystery.  It is early, too early to be sipping ginger ale from a can, but you are awake, your elbow painfully lodged on the ashtray of the armrest, your cheek against the cold window-glass.  Outside, there is scenery, but what is it?  Are those trees?  Houses, with children in pilly pajamas humming softly in their sleep?  The important thing is that the train is moving, that you are getting somewhere.  Any minute, arousing you from your sleeplessness, there may be terrorists, engine explosions, the heat and light of a fiery crash, but for now you are helplessly traveling, helplessly uncomfortable, helplessly heading into miles and miles of rain and bumps and unknown.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Natural World

First, you notice the ears, the soft, unwieldy ears, as she drags herself beneath the glass end table.  The legs, you see now, are flat and broken, but the moist nose, still wiggling, is sweet and hopeful, and how could your cat, your awful fucking cat, a cat who eats turkey right out of your hand, have done this cruel and vicious thing, especially when there are mice, for Christ's sakes, eating right out of your cereal boxes, when a giant bowl of cat foot sits not ten feet away?  Even as you call her, as you hiss and scream Get away from there!, she stays, rump raised, growling with pleasure, refusing to leave this treasure she's found. 

Somehow, despite her protests, you get the cat inside, as your husband prepares a dish-towel shroud and carries the rabbit, still vaguely alive, down to the brush beside the stream.  Your daughter, wailing pitifully, sputtering about how much she hates the cat, refuses to stand with you at the window, refuses to even stand with you in the room.  And when your husband returns, his eyes sad from this ordeal, as well as from a long, difficult day at work, he tells you what your cat already knew:  that the brush, down there, was already swarming with other cats, that your cat was only one of many, everyone waiting, slavering for their piece of the rabbit.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Housework Haiku

Note from a Hungry Dyson

Famished for cat fur
dried mud, toast crumbs, Barbie shoes
Feed me, I'm your beast.

Post-Dinner Apocolypse

Forks, knives, caked-on rice
Palmolive, hands not softened
Noodles in the drain.

Laundry Left Two Days in the Washer

Sour, savage socks
twisted towels, tangled panties
Summon back the Tide.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Snaps and Pockets

An eight-year-old boy, on his way to the principal's for behaving badly, pounds on a locker, sobs that nobody understands his life.  Out on the playground, other children are singing, sliding, jumping rope.  The blinds dance along the edge of the office window; papers surge on the breeze from a desk to the floor.

They fight stupidly, and she takes a walk.  Not far, only a couple of blocks, but still she must reckon with dogs and neighbors, with sinister shapes and thumps in the dark, until she's home again, until she's home.

In the parking lot outside the pizza place, the man in the raincoat says, "Cute shape."  And her first instinct is to tighten her hands into fists, to prepare her limbs for fight or flight, until she realizes that what he's talking about is the small triangle box housing her last slice of pepperoni.

In bed, at midnight on a Saturday, she takes a driving tour of San Francisco.  She starts at her old apartment, the rust-carpet place with the doorless closet and the lemon tree, and proceeds, click by click, until she gets to Twin Peaks.  The view, when she gets there, is amazing, with fog and spires and streetlamps and sage.  She pretends that she's there with her children, that they've just jaunted up from Dolores Park, that they smell of ice cream and sunshine and joy.  Later, she dreams, they'll have burritos, and she won't get lost because she knows the way.

The cat, honorably performing her duty, catches a mouse in the cereal cabinet.  She drags it out by its tail, growling and hissing, and leaves it to die on the living room floor.

March, and the sour smell of spent magnolias, blisters and sandals, the buzz of a bee.  She shaves her legs better than she has all winter, buys a sundress, sits in the yard and admires the green.

He says that thing he says every springtime, that bit about how every daffodil's a blessing, because, who the fuck knows, you may never live to see another one again.  And she gets what he's saying, she does, but Jesus, dude, the sun is shining, and the children, alternating between playing badminton and striking each other with racquets, demand, at this moment, immortality.  There's no time, she thinks, for romanticism, for dwelling, for anything other than living in the moment.  Yet still, when she sees the limp daffodils lying in a heap among the compost, she wants to pull her children against her and cry.