Tag Archives: imagination

I heard that song

I heard that song. The dreamy, melancholy one.

A father to a child.

And had a moment –you know the ones—

where the world becomes a film and the song a soundtrack.

I looked out at the sunlit day, the lazily turning autumn leaves.

And imagined your child, man-child, in among the tubes and wires and sounds.

Your exhausted wife at vigil.

And the man sings, “May all your days be gold, my child.”

This day is gold. This moment, light here, miles away.

Dark where you are, even at noon, waiting for rare, bright moments of hope—

flashing for a moment here and for a moment there.

The spaces between

shapeless, long, and gray.

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As is

The neighbor’s house down the street.  Quick cash sale—“As is.”

The pale wife, rarely seen except for well-timed trips to the mailbox from the tightly-curtained house, made a change after her husband died.

Curious, I went to the estate sale.  Crossing the threshold was like falling into a time warp; I felt as if had I resurfaced in a 1970’s-era Sears Catalog. Stale shag carpeting, once forest green, covered the floor of the living room, rust-colored shag in the rest. Dingy walls showed bright rectangles where pictures had once hung, many of them now stacked against the walls. Little furniture remained in the front living room, but as I went further into the house and peered into the homebuilt, wood-paneled rooms at the back, I saw that they were full of old furniture and belongings. Too new to be vintage, too old to be kitschy, too nondescript to be retro.

The estate sale company hadn’t made an effort. Preprinted price tags, neon orange, adorned everything from the unexpected biography of Gertrude Stein among the National Geographics to the rusted and dented TV tray tables tossed against a support beam in the basement. Astonishingly high prices on less than pristine…junk. The sort of junk we all have cluttering various nooks in our houses,  that we periodically purge for the donation box.

This estate sale was how the pale woman purged her belongings: all at once. She was nowhere to be seen, pressure marks on the carpet in the two almost empty rooms indicating the few large items that went with her. No one in the neighborhood had spied a moving van in the days leading up to the sale; she didn’t take enough to need one.

Three days later workers for the new owners came in and began gutting the house. Their first task was to finish the job the estate sale company had so poorly started—emptying what was left in the house. For two days, the man disappeared into the house, grabbed an armload of price-tagged items and tossed them into an industrial dumpster parked out front. Pots and pans, dishes, linens, books, tables, planters, picture frames. The contents of the once tightly-curtained house destined for the landfill. No ceremony, no hesitation, not a second thought.

The kind neighbors who know everything say the pale woman moved to a high-rise apartment building for retired seniors not too far way. They say that she couldn’t be happier.

I like to imagine her now, in her new home. In an open space that contains only the things that matter. Her belongings, her history, her future reflected in the light coming in from the open windows.

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Ashes: A Travelogue

When I told my sister once that I want my ashes scattered after I die–that I don’t want to be buried beneath a headstone in a cemetery I have no connection to, she said, “But how would I visit you?”

In June, I’d tell her, head south to North Carolina. Go to the island off the Intracoastal Waterway, where the water in the inlet is like a warm bath and the white egrets glow against the tall sea grasses. Where the hot sun is tempered by a cooling breeze and, if you look very carefully in the crushed shells above the tideline, you might find tiny, black shark’s teeth.

In August, I’d say, go to the opposite edge of the country, to the wild Olympic Peninsula, where the beach is so remote that you’ll experience the darkest of nights lit by the most brilliant moon you can imagine. Its reflection on the waves a never ending path for “what ifs.” Where “my” tree hangs by its roots as water erodes the ground beneath it, yet it persists season after season, storm after storm, year after year.

In October, I’d offer, return back towards home, but go just a bit further, to Athens, Ohio. On a Sunday afternoon, drive without plan through the country roads in the worn foothills of the Appalacian Mountains. Stop here and there and shuffle your feet through the vibrant carpets of russet, red, yellow, and brown leaves. Breathe in the crisp, clean air. Let the sun, glowing in the late afternoon, redden your closed eyelids, warm your face.

In January, I’d tell her, head back west. Ride the ski lift to the top of Denny Mountain and look back, midway, to the fog-filled valley behind, knowing that while you’re in the secret sunshine above, people below are going about their days under a ceiling of gray. Head down the long run, but stop before too long and look across to the far side of the valley. Marvel at how high you are, how much snow lies beneath your feet, listen for the raven’s call as it glides across the landscape. Hear how lonely, yet fulfilled he is.

In February, I’d say, follow the hidden sun east from Seattle to where it shines without shame on the Methow Valley. It’s a bit of a slog to ski up Thompson Road, but you’ll thank me later. Breathe in the scent of the fir trees’ sap as they bake in the sunlight. Admire the grandeur of the Ponderosa pines, their red bark radiant against the snow. At the top is another valley to gaze upon, this one a high desert valley. Look for the ravens, the eagles, the camp jays, the mocking birds. Wave at the other skiers as you stand and catch your breath.

Then start down—all the way to the valley floor—your mind empty of everything but the two tracks for your skies, the occasional need to eat or drink, and the reassurance that this world is still beautiful, is still wild, is still more solid and substantial than any of us are or will ever be.

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Weeding the Front Bed*

It was time. The weeds taunted me, choking our few perennials, their colorful petals just visible through the wall of green. The blueberry bushes trapped behind a prison of crab grass. Strawberries competing with towering dandelions for a bit of sunlight. Through the latticework fence I could see the neighbor’s well-tended, raised beds. They were weedless and overflowing, even so early in the season, with beautiful red lettuces and rainbow chard.

A long afternoon of work ahead.

I glanced at my new Ipod, freshly loaded with entertainment. Portable, easy to wear, perfect for an afternoon of repetitive, tedious labor. I paused for a moment thinking of the possibilities and then left the Ipod on the table and went out for the pitchfork and gloves.

I got to work.

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, let the mind wander.

I remember the beautifully smooth blacktop of the horseshoe-shaped driveway leading up to and away from the convent’s front door.

I remember looking at my friend, thinking what she was thinking. A road test is a road test, convent driveway or not.

I remember our certainty that the nuns had horses somewhere on the property. (Why the certainty? Because we wanted it to be true.)

I remember our plan. We would volunteer to weed the convent flowerbeds. The nuns would be so grateful that they would let us ride their horses whenever we wanted to.

I remember my parents’ pride when they learned that their 10-year-old would sacrifice some of her precious summer hours to help nuns.

I remember there were really not many weeds in the convent’s flowerbeds.

I remember the curved wooden door of the white stucco building, like a Bavarian chalet; the cool foyer where we’d wait for a few minutes after weeding while a nun disappeared into the kitchen and returned to offer us lemonade or a store-bought cookie. (Didn’t nuns bake?)

I remember that eventually, after the offer of free horseback riding never arrived, I did my weeding alone. Peaceful, silent, and shaded by the gardener’s carefully manicured shrubbery.

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, smile.

I remember Grandpa Lynch’s garden beds. Narrow borders around the small back yard, full of dahlias, roses, geraniums, and—always—tomatoes.

I remember Grandpa Flynn’s garden. One long, long bed between the clothesline and the patch of the yard where he parked the car. I remember rhubarb and zucchini and corn growing there. Probably tomatoes—everyone planted tomatoes.

I remember that Grandpa Lynch’s beds meant it was a city garden. Grandpa Flynn’s giant bed was a country garden.

I remember Grandpa Lynch, in his old Heileman beer t-shirt and his slacks (never jeans), weeding the beds and bringing in tomatoes. Always a fedora or a cap when he was outside.

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, remember.

I remember our first garden together. We’d signed up for a p-patch in our college town, rode bikes to work the tough, crummy soil. We planted tomatoes, lots of tomatoes, because everyone planted tomatoes. Corn, too, but we didn’t realize corn was truly a challenge.

I remember I’d always hated tomatoes, but that didn’t stop us.

I remember that harvest. We were up to our ears in tomatoes. We visited our parents in turn, loaded down with tomatoes. We had to get rid of them somehow. They already had tomatoes—because everyone planted tomatoes.

I remember deciding that I’d better start liking tomatoes.

I remember thinking, “Can all these people be wrong?” It took seven years.

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, thoughts meander forward and back.

I remember the story of the neighbor boy who wanted to surprise his mother by getting all the ants off her peonies. He proudly showed her the flower heads in a mound on the ground. No more ants.

I remember picking violets so I could give a bouquet to old Mrs. Frank, who seemed so lonely.

I remember my mother explaining that while Mrs. Frank thought the bouquet was pretty, she’d rather the violets stayed in her flowerbeds.

I remember the two little girls sneaking quietly up my front steps very early on a May morning.

I remember being fearful about their safety because of moments in the past when they weren’t safe. What could be wrong that they were coming over at this unexpected hour?

I remember opening the door to their smiling, sweet faces as they held a secret May Day bouquet towards me.

I remember saying, “Oh! Were you going to surprise us?”

I remember they nodded happily. “Then I’ll pretend I never saw you.”

Jam the pitchfork into the soil, rock it back like a lever, feel the roots give way, pull them up, shake off the soil, toss them in the bag. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss. Jam, rock, pull, shake, toss, remember.

 

*This is my take on the memoir style of poet Joe Brainard. Thanks to Philip Dodd for introducing me to Brainard’s work and for inspiring me with his own “I remember…”

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Transitions

It took more than a year for me to lose habit of saying “Oh, Bob’s home” to myself when I pulled up to the house on late evenings  after class.

Bob was a trucker and, in the year after his mother Millie died, the glowing lights behind the curtained windows meant he’d completed his most recent trip. When Millie was alive and Bob was on the road, she’d leave the curtains open, even late into the night, as she watched t.v. and waited for him to return, the flickering blue of whatever she was watching dimly lighting the yard below.

She’d wait and watch and when Bob finally came rumbling down the street, he’d lightly tap his horn so Millie could see him drive past the house on his way to park the truck out back.

On my late nights there are those few minutes between the car and the house, the minutes I pause to take in the evening. Checking the night sky, savoring the evening breeze coming up and over the hills from Puget Sound. They are the moments of transition from whatever I’ve been doing—winding down from the hyperactive mind of teaching a long class or storing the mental release from yoga so I can recall it at necessary times during the week.

I look at the glow of lights from behind our curtains, knowing everything is all right in that little world. I used to glance, too, at the glow of lights from behind Bob’s curtains, knowing that the longevity of long-familiar neighbors settled the world to rights as well.

It’s been over a year since Bob died, over two since Millie did—a family gone within months—but lights still glow behind the curtains in the evenings. The house is empty, the lights representing not Bob or Millie, but the dedication of another neighbor. One who is vigilant at maintaining the fiction that they are still there, that they can still return at any time, that the house is anything but empty.

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Time Zone

The phone rings shortly after 6:00 in the morning. Too early for anything typical: car pool questions, school bus changes, telemarketers.  When there are 3,000 miles and three time zones between us and family, calls at odd hours mean a quick intake of breath.  A racing mind that generates a list of benign mistakes that might be behind the call.

I want it to be a wrong number, something annoying, because calls from far away can turn a life upside-down in an instant. When that happens your life acquires a new time zone. Life Before the Call becomes Life After the Call. And there’s no turning back from that.

I pick up the phone on the second ring. “Hello?”

A pleasant voice, a woman’s voice, asks for me, though she shortens my name. I recognize the Appalacian accent—my thoughts go to my mother-in-law—but the voice itself is unfamiliar. I assure the woman that, yes, I am the person she’s asking for.

Pause.

“I’m looking for….” she gives my husband’s full name. Almost. First name, last name. Just shy of his middle name. Correct first letter, though. “Do you know him?”

My husband is sitting at the kitchen table, drinking strong coffee and reading the front page of the paper while our tussle-headed daughter, who’d rather be in bed, is reading the comics. Neither of them had looked up as the phone rang. Their sleepy curiosity is held by the papers scattered in front of them.

“No. I’m sorry. There’s no one here with that name.” Because there isn’t.

“Oh.” Longer pause.

Maybe it’s delicate. Maybe it’s none of my business. But she’s a stranger calling my house early on a dark autumn morning, causing the familiar start of adrenaline that comes with an oddly timed call. I want to know why she is looking for this man.

“Is there a reason you want to find him?” I ask. I’m polite because I am always polite on the phone.

It tumbles out in a bit of a rush. “I’m looking for my son. I gave him up for adoption in 19___. His real father wants to find him. We’re sixty now. He was taken to a small town in Ohio. I searched the internet and got this number.”

“It is a common name,” I say unhelpfully.

“I know,” she says. Another long pause. Disappointment? Relief?

“Well.” There’s not much else to say. “Good luck with your search.”

“Thank you.”

I picture her, a woman sitting at the kitchen table in southern Ohio, it is 9:00 there, three hours later for her than it is for us. She’s not thinking of time zones. She’s not even considering that in some places people are barely awake, less prepared for astonishing news from far away in space and time than they would be at midday. But when is anyone prepared for a voice from the past shattering a mundane day, one that started with newspaper and a coffee just like any other morning?

She sits there at her table, sheets of printed names in front of her. Dozens of versions of her son’s name, men born around the same time, men in towns all over the country. I imagine her calling each of these numbers, ticking down the list. Those common names, the unknowing families answering on the other end.

Is she nervous as she dials each number? Does she look out her window at the lovely, crisp autumn day as the phone rings? As she says, “Hello. I’m looking for my son,” hoping a little that the answer will be no? Or does her heart soar a little, hoping that this time it will finally be a yes?

I look over at my husband with his newspaper and his coffee and his child. They’re still focused on what’s just in front of them. I tell them about the pleasant voice, the enormous task in front of her, the odd way her voice flew across those miles, those time zones.

They are momentarily caught up in the mystery, then turn back to their papers.

The woman remains in my thoughts. A perfect stranger and her past, her choices, her quest turning my regular morning routine into something altogether different.

I lean against the kitchen doorframe, musing. “What do you think would have happened if I’d said, ‘Yes, he’s sitting right here?’” I asked my husband. “If you’d been the one?”

He turns the page. He looks up at me and says, “There would have been a long silence.”

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