Saturday, March 31, 2012

Last Night


ribbons rake my shoulders, charcoal stripes on pallid warmth
wind and tangled hair
dragged cross fevered lips
I can taste you
your caress, hesitant and damp
along my jaw
between my breasts it slid, my belly smooth
your scent saturates the night, corporeal…flesh and sky and earth
shackles me with sodden chains
the world in black and blaze of white
roaring in the trees
splinters beneath my palms, the rail I clutch
electricity shivers beneath my skin
sleep abandoned

I cannot resist a midnight thunderstorm….


Tuesday, March 27, 2012


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Last spring, we planted a tree in our front yard.  In time it will add a smidgen of privacy to the porch we spend long hours upon, and who doesn't love cruising down a tree-lined avenue. (I'm secretly conspiring with a neighbor to do "midnight plantings" all along the you think anyone would mind?)  While it was indeed the wrong time of year to move a tree, we forged ahead. If you plant in the fall, the tree is settled and then can rest and acclimate to new ground; in the spring, it's plunked down and immediately the world demands, "Blossoms, leaves and fruit!"

I was so proud the evening we dug out the circle in our lawn, knelt to insert the burlap wrapped ball into the ground, tenderly cut the string holding it all together....I remember the way the dirt felt under my nails as we pushed it in to surround the roots with dark loamy love.  We began the summer of watering...and hoping.

I called my mum to ask about a stake.  Everywhere I looked were little trees guarded by tall rigid planks of wood thrust deep into the ground.  Each twiggy trunk was tied to their guards; braided cord promising safety in the storm while still seeming a bit strangulating at the same time.  My mother is a horticulturist with a green arm.  She can make stones grow.  I was slightly taken aback when she vehemently told me no - the stakes make the trees weak. 

What?  I thought they were to protect the baby trees, keep them from falling in a wind.  But as I listened, her words rang so many ways.  You see, the most important part of a tree's job upon transplant, is to grow roots.  Deeply.  That neat and tidy ball that you carry home from the nursery is like the fat end of a weeble wobble and it must plunge its fibrous fingers down into the earth, entwining themselves in the world beneath lest it simply be blown over when the storms arrive.

But do you know what makes the roots grow?  Being shaken.  Every breeze, every thunderstorm, as the tree is rattled, it reaches deeper.  The only way our sapling would make it through the snowy winter ahead, was for us to let it tremble through the gusts and gales of summer.  Yes, there is risk--for once in a while a tempest may snap a trunk...but rarely.

And so we watered and hoped.  The August heat arrived and we watered more.  The leaves dropped one by one as if plucked by October's frosty claws, and while the winter has been mild, snow draped the barren branches a time or two.  I'm rather amazed that the simplest things in life truly do provide intense, innocent joy.  The buds that swelled on twiggy tips were sheer delight.  This early March warmth burst them open the same day the robins returned to argue with the squirrels over the neighbor's feeder.  Spring has arrived.

I've spent many days on my porch, fingers wrapped around coffee or whiskey, contemplating that tree.  Good days....and hard ones.  While the leaves were filling out, one of my boys broke a leg.  As the branches stretched in glory to the sky, my husband had a seizure and lost the ability to drive.  The tempests of life do surprise us sometimes; shocking how they can arrive in a moment wrecking havoc....and then be gone.  At times the devastation is minor, others it redefines the color of the sky.  But every cloudburst and squall--they're making us strong enough to face the hurricane.  When jobs evaporate and cars crash and children wander in treacherous lands...when money is scarce and plans disintegrate and the future is suddenly unknown.  When your heart aches and tears trace the curve of your cheeks....can you feel it?

You're growing roots.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Quiet Disclosure

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People watching should be categorized as a national pastime.  It's frankly more popular than baseball and probably accounts for a significant portion of the economy, as we linger for hours sipping lattes and munching chips while covertly observing the entertainment that is common life.  Temper tantrums, love affairs, frustration and joy.  Arguments and apologies and accidents.  Finding onesself in a shop with a klutzy obsessive compulsive fellow in line behind a hippie with four flower children being waited upon by a German named Helga is like hitting pay dirt--the cacophony of emotional spasms and explicatives sure to be had enthralls me.  Years of this stealthy contemplation, however, has illuminated me....and made me slightly paranoid.  For I've come to the conclusion that every day, every moment...we are giving ourselves away.

A "tell" in poker is a change in a person's behavior that subtly reveals a shift in the card-esk wind.  Learning to read the tells of your comrades during a late round of strip poker may mean the difference between you leaving with dignity...or baring it all. (ahem)  Some of the greatest tells, the ones oft ignored, reside within our hands.  While we make significant efforts to control our expressions, we rarely realize that everything from the pulse throbbing beneath the translucent flesh of our wrist to the flex of the tendons in our fingers, the closing of a fist, the wiping of a palm....these, my friends, proclaim much. 

And it is not just in the moment, that our hands give us away.  The state of our hands, our most used appendage, divulges a great deal about our priorities.  I'm not much of a fan of "I don't have time," I feel it is the weakest excuse on the planet.  Choosing what you do with your time--that is the issue.  And if your hands are sporting peeling polish and jagged nails, you need to take a longer shower tonight.  With a glass of wine.  Find time for yourself. 

What about the secret hands....the "housewife" in sweats at the cafe with the rumpled hair and little one in the stroller.  Look closer, see those long tapered fingers tipped with perfect nearly-black-red nails?  There's a box under her bed...with a lock on it.  The gentleman with the briefcase and the slightly crooked tie?  His baby soft, sweaty palms that twitch every time the door opens?  Don't ask him to back you up in a fight.  That overly plump bank teller who always dresses in pastel colors and has a glittery little ring on every single finger and pats them constantly?  She has four cats.....but go easy, she's terribly lonely.  My favorite?  The well-dressed man with the calloused hands.  Have to admit, the harder the palm--the more I shiver.  Perhaps it's that ranch life upbringing I had, (or just the texture of them sliding across my skin) but I positively melt at a man who knows hard work. 

My eldest son walked in the other day and immediately asked what was wrong.  When I inquired why, he responded, "well, you're strangling the dishtowl."  The cashier apologized for being slow when he caught me tapping my finger on my wallet, and a total stranger offered me advil when I was seen massaging my achy digits on a miserably damp day.  I touch my hair when I'm nervous.  And twist my fingers when scared.

In an effort to exude the peace that I am ever-seeking to embody, I have consciously begun to pay attention to my hands.  I quiet them when I desire to fidget, relax them when I feel like clenching.  Like some kind of phalange yoga, this seems rather powerful as, to my delight, I actually feel calmer.  More patient. 

The wonder of the reverse.....control the symptom, appease the cause?


Monday, March 12, 2012

Wanting To Be Wanted

I rescue things.  From the time I was small, I knew this.  When I was seven, I discovered a stray egg beside the edge of our hayloft.  This was not uncommon as we had Guinea fowl amongst our flock of chickens and these fly quite well, thus roaming the ranch stealing grain from the goats and teasing the dogs.  Most evenings they would return to the hen yard, but every once in a while, we'd find an egg somewhere else. 

This particular time, I simply tossed the egg into a compost pile and kept heaving bales up onto the wheelbarrow to be taken to the horses.  Hours later, a casual glance caught movement in the pile.  Further inspection revealed the trembling egg had cracked....a tiny beak had forced it's way through.  Knowing that for an egg to hatch, it must be incubated by a dedicated mother for nearly a month and this rarely happens for a single egg; I found myself on my belly worming my way up beneath the hay barn, scraping my cheek on the gravel as I felt around in the dark for the nest.  My fingers brushed smooth shell and I wrapped my hand around the warm egg.

And then jerked back with a yelp when my finger was bitten.

We had huge black carpenter ants in Colorado, an inch long with jaws large enough to draw blood should they catch ahold of you. (I used to pick them up with my fingers, one by one, and let them clamp onto a piece of paper--so tightly that when I pulled them away it would pop their little heads off....imagine a piece of stationary with a whole row of ant heads along the top.  Slightly warped?  Me?)  After retrieving a pair of gloves and a flashlight from the house, I once again wiggled my way up to the nest and collected seven more eggs in various stages of hatching.  They were filled will hungry black ants tearing at the damp feathers and flesh of the hatchlings. 

I remember my mother's sigh as I burst into the kitchen, her eyes softening as she saw my distress.  She set aside her baking and we spent the next half an hour huddled over the eggs with tweezers, pulling the inky carnivorous insects from the fledgling peeps.  I nestled the still partially shelled eggs in a towel lined pie tin and my mother set the oven at 85*.  I knelt there on the floor for the next two hours, peering through the cracked door anxiously waiting for the chicks to emerge.  I have no idea why their mother abandoned them to such a terrible fate, but now, I wanted them to live like I never had before.

Six survived.  I named them all.  My favorite was Martha who followed me around like a puppy....well, until a distinctly passionate sermon about baptism.  (My mother wondered why the chickens ceased laying for a few weeks until I confessed I had made use of the horse trough in my desire to ensure heaven's acceptance of my feathered friends...ah, but that is another tale)

Now I have decades behind me of rescuing.  Sometimes kittens, sometimes people.  Furniture and coat racks and long forgotten paintings left in dark webby corners of old attics.  I almost feel they have voices, crying out to be anyone. 

At times I fear this has been just my own I have felt the same so often.  I think most of us are created with this need to love...and be loved.  It's an ache that lies beneath the very foundation of our soul.  It causes us to be reckless, to dash headlong into madness flinging our reservations away as we pursue it.  And somehow, despite the catastrophes of the heart these ardent passions create.....after the anguish, we seek to be desired once more. 

Did the antique desk with the book shelf attached call my name as we passed it lonely on the sidewalk, its legs cracked and broken?  Perhaps.  Perhaps I just saw myself in it.  Last summer in the August heat, I bent over it, sawdust sticking to my arms and back as I smoothed out the edges with sandpaper, removing the bubbled finish.  I rubbed walnut warmth back into the old panels, stain tinging my my fingers. Carefully I cleaned the tarnish from the hinges and returned them to their divots.  My husband glued the legs back together and crouched in the grass, I covered the glue with pigment, masking the defects from all but the closest of inspections.

It now rests in the corner of our attic library.  A decanter of whiskey, several bottles of wine, and a selection of glasses fill its shelves.  Guests have marveled at it, amazed such a grand piece could be left out for rubbish.  In the same room is the poker table I made from the neighbor's weathered discard; the end console I resealed holds the chess set smuggled home from Guatemala wrapped in my suitcase clothing.  As I sit in the quiet, surrounded by hundreds of old books I've amassed, the room seems almost to breathe....the serenity tangible.

Once more, they are wanted.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Sometimes I have thoughts I would never admit to anyone.  Not necessarily because I'm afraid or they're horrible thoughts--just that they are so out of character for me, so far from who the world knows me to be. 

This week I was headed for work. (I've picked up something a few days a week as my studio is as frigid as a witch's t....ah yes, you can fill in the blank there.  Needless to say, no painting is possible.)  And on that journey downtown, I pass several piles of blankets-o-homeless.  The carefully assembled, mindfully arranged mountain of cloth indicating a slumbering soul beneath the overpass.  This week....I envied them. 

From a distance, perhaps even from right next door, everything is fine.  And in truth--it is.  Honestly, if you read here regularly, I have an amazing husband and three marvelous boys and a dog that can drive me mad but still waits on the bathroom rug while I shower, she loves me so.  We purchased our home two years ago--from the same place we bought our washing machine. (chuckle)   Imagine that.  Craig's list is quite handy, and this huge hulk of a century old house had the bones that I've dreamt about.  Eleven foot ceilings, three fireplaces, stained glass and a front porch we dance and eat, play chess and linger on long into the summer evenings.  Of course, the months of me wearing drywall dust as an accessory, sporting the fragrance of primer and wood stain, sawdust in my hair and paint on my cheek as I made dinner have taken a toll.  But we've made a home quite lovely through sweat and tears and occasional swearing. 

However, every once in a while, amidst the scheduling and juggling and arranging and cleaning and disciplining and chasing and stocking....and cleaning again.  I just get tired a bit...inside.  I think we all do.  Life can be heavy.  I'm quite religious about clearing out the clutter, passing on what we don't need; (especially if irked, my husband comes home to a missing coffee table and empty shelves and immediately inquires, "Is something amiss?") but at times I wonder if I have possessions.....or if I am possessed.

The human much is enough?  The years I spent in Guatemala and Mexico, I lived out of two boxes.  One of clothing--all dresses, of course; (thus began my love affair with the sundresses I now live in during the sultry months of summer) and the other filled with books.  I also carried a camera in my bag and a set of water colors. That was it.  I am slightly stunned by that.

I'm writing this with my laptop resting in the antique secretarial desk I received for mother's day some years ago.  Atop of it is a potted rosemary plant I brought in for the winter, several of the aged hardbound books I adore, a bronzed lamp with an amethyst trumpet flower shade, various stationary and journals...there are more objects within my reach as I sit here, than I owned then.  Of course children come with their own apparatus--the tackle box it takes to raise three boys is crammed with pocket knives, band aids, and footballs.   Add a husband and a pup and my world is overflowing.  Creating a sanctuary they can all run to is a mother's job, I know am I insane that once in a while, for a moment....I wish to just keep driving?  Dear Lord, not forever....but for a day?  A week? 

Perhaps I need a vacation.  Or more sleep.  I do take comfort in the fact that most of what we own we have rescued from curbs and garages, spending weeks breathing new life into the broken.  Most of it is wood, which I love, I'm not much into the gleaming plastic and glitter that seems so abundant.  However, I cannot seem to escape this twig of a thought in the back of my mind...the shadow that hovers behind the crowd.

Am I possessed?

Joy is not in things;
it is within us.

- Richard Wagner