Friday, December 28, 2012

Alive and Kicking

         He had informed me on-line he was not long for this world but when I saw him for the first time in thirty years I thought surely he had lied. The only evidence he'd spoken the truth was the hospital bed in the dining room.
            Within an hour, he allowed me to know him much more than I had before, when he was my professor. As he conversed, his hands decorated the air.   He littered the living room with witty tales, tossed sparkling anecdotes into my lap along with the names of top-notch colleges, world leaders, and movie stars. He spoke also of the things of war.
            You’re not who I thought you were, I told myself. I imagined you a mouse of a man, tottering in dotage, but here you are fascinating and alive, not a dry, curled leaf but a slim, straight tree with laden branches.
            When I finally stood to go, I offered him a gift of food even as I wondered if he could still eat.
            “It will be my supper,” he said, his hands warm on mine. “Thank you.”
            On my way out, I noticed the oxygen tanks lined up against the wall. I turned in the doorway. 
             “May I come again?”
            His smile and eyes burned bright. “Please do. It would be my good pleasure.”


Friday, December 21, 2012

*Do You See What I See?*

Every night was the same. Mary slumbered until some time between the second and third watch. She would wake then lie wide-eyed until dawn. It had been this way ever since the great and terrible day of the angel. After his visitation, Mary found it difficult to close her eyes, to even blink. Every time she did, she watched not her life, but her son's death, pass before her vision.
            How many times each night did she question her divine appointment? She would move her lips but make no sound.
            "Oh, Sovereign Lord, why? Why did you choose me? Holy Father, I do not think I shall be able to bear it. Please, will you not take this lot from me?”
            Almost always, she felt her hair stir as a slight breeze sighed through the room where she lay. One night she thought she heard the wind speak: "I am.” She had turned onto her stomach, to be face down.
            "Forgive me, my Lord. Your will is perfect, and good. Let it be done to me according to what you have said."
            "You are a prophet, Mary," her cousin Elizabeth had said, "a prophetess. But do not tell the men. They would laugh at you, or yell. Scorn your youth, and your gender."
            "A prophet? I think not," Mary said. "Did not Joel, the son of Pethuel, write of our people having visions? I do not speak for the Lord. He merely shows me things."
            This was after Elizabeth had made a fuss over Mary's arrival. She had washed Mary’s feet herself instead of summoning a servant for the task. All the while she murmured things like, "How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
            Mary shook her head. "Elizabeth, stop," she said. "I am just a girl, your cousin, the one you see every year at Passover in Jerusalem. Now tell me, what it is like to feel your son move inside you?"
            Elizabeth took Mary's hands and placed them on either side of the tautness beneath her breasts. She glanced down, smiled.
            "Can you believe I possess a bust like this? At my age? Zechariah—"
            Elizabeth stopped when she saw Mary blush, bowed her head, spoke to her belly.
            "Son? Is my cousin, Mary, a prophetess?"
            Mary watched her right hand move. "He kicked me!"
            She knelt and rested her cheek on Elizabeth's swell. "Baby boy, is the child I carry the Son of the Most High God?"
            Mary sat back on her heels and rubbed her face. "That hurt!”
            She gulped and her eyes filled with tears. Elizabeth took her hands and pulled her to standing. She held Mary close and patted her back. Mary thought she could feel faint and gentle movements from inside Elizabeth's belly, as if the baby wanted to communicate to her with his tiny hands.
            "Shalom, cousin. Shalom," Elizabeth said. "Peace be with you. Remember what the angel said? You are highly favored among women. Does that not please you?"
            Mary pulled away, used her sleeve to dry her face.
            "It does, cousin, indeed it does. I am most grateful that my thoughts and deeds please our Lord, but—”
            Elizabeth shook her head. "But what? What could possibly dampen your joy?"
            Mary wrung her hands. "The angel—  He said God would give my son the throne of David."
            Elizabeth drew her breath in. "But that is good. David was a great man."
            Mary walked to the window and peered out. "King David was a man of war.”
            She sighed and glanced back over her shoulder. "Also, King David did not have the Romans to contend with. And . . ."
            Elizabeth crossed the room and stood behind Mary. She removed Mary's head covering and laid it over her arm, released the younger woman’s hair from its constraints and combed it with her fingers. She whispered into the long, dark waves.
            "And what?"
            Mary's inhale sounded frayed to Elizabeth. "And ever since the angel came, I see things, when I close my eyes."
            Elizabeth rested her hands on Mary's shoulders.
            "You see things. It is as I said. You have the gift."
            Mary spun to face Elizabeth, her face contorted. "No gift this, Elizabeth. I see death, suffering."
            Elizabeth gripped her throat. "For our people? God's chosen remnant?"
            Mary lowered her head. Tears fell from her chin to her garment.
            "No," she said. "Of my son, my baby boy, but grown. And no one, no not one, acts on his behalf."
            Elizabeth winced. "How do you bear it, dear one?"
            Mary turned back to the window and squinted across the distance.
            "Promises," she said. "The promises of our Lord: 'Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.'  That comforts, sometimes."
            Behind her, Elizabeth shook her head. "You are so young, and yet, a stronger woman than I.”
            The older woman slipped between Mary and the window. She gathered the young woman's hands in her own, arranged them on her girth again.
            "Tell me what you see."
            Mary shrank back, shook her head. Elizabeth nodded slowly, her eyes narrow. Mary closed hers, saw, shuddered. She opened her eyes wide, to stop the vision.
            Elizabeth's voice was low, almost a growl. "Tell me."
            "No.” The word was a gasp, a plea.
            Elizabeth cupped Mary's chin, lifted it so their eyes met. "I want to know."
            "You do not."
            "I need to, Mary."
            Mary shook her head. "You know not what you ask, cousin."
            "Tell me," Elizabeth said, "so I know how to pray."
            "You cannot pray away his destiny."
            Elizabeth tilted her head. "Can I not?"
            Mary's mouth fell open. Her eyes widened. "No, you cannot. Pray for his strength, and yours, and Zechariah's."
            Elizabeth's eyes glittered with tears. She ran two fingers down the side of Mary's face.
            "I see now," she said, "why He chose you. Now tell me."
            Mary squeezed her eyes shut. Sobs wracked her small frame but she spoke what she saw.
            "I see a king. And a young woman. She is very beautiful, lovely in form. She dances for him. She whispers in his ear. He smiles and then suddenly soldiers— The king sent them, for your son.” Mary twitched as her flesh crawled. She swallowed. "For his . . . head."
            Mary opened her eyes when she heard Elizabeth moan. There she was, on the floor, in a crumple. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Oh, Christmas Tree

I’m getting ready to say goodbye, preparing to have regrets. One sentence in a five-minute discussion with a stranger and I already know the outcome.
            “My boss’ll pay to have that giant pine tree taken down.”
            Later that afternoon I walked through the front door, down the steps, and out into the street. I faced the house, tried to hold my hand so that I blocked the fifty foot evergreen on the right side of our home. Failed. I lifted my other hand and partially covered its twin on the left. I’m pretty sure if one goes, the other will follow.
            “The one on the right could be the presidential Christmas tree,” I murmur to no one. “And they could use the other one at the Rockefeller Center in New York City.”
            The men will assure me it’s the right thing to do.
            “Our roof,” my husband will surely say.
            “My rental,” the landlord will add.
            I’ll think a thought but not say it: The sky-touching trees make our house seem magical, like a castle. Do men these days still dream of castles?
            I return to the kitchen. Make a cappuccino and sip it at the table, channel Scarlett O’Hara.       
            “Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll think tree thoughts.”
            Actually, can we please delay the tree talk for a few days? So I can celebrate a little while longer the fact that the nocturnal wraith that lived next door for five years, or was it four, is now gone? I picture the plum-hued smudges beneath her eyes. Recall how they looked like an Ash Wednesday priest missed her forehead, twice.
            I wonder if the lives of her dogs will improve—Doberman, Pit Bull, Doberman, sweet boys all. For the last few months I’ve only spied each of them out in the yard once a week, if that. I imagine their nearly diaphanous pet mom in her dingy camisole and rumpled gym shorts with rolled-down waistband, wearing striped rainboots. By now she must be knee-deep in dog doo. I pity the extreme-makeover-home-edition folks that will soon arrive, consider going next door with my Bath and Body Works three-wick “Winter” candle and some clothespins.
            I ponder what will become of Pet Mom. “I’m going to kill you!” Those words were hurled at her on our street last month. Made us all shudder. Someone called the cops but without probable cause all they could do was knock on the front and back doors. No one answered.
            Earlier this week, I’d peeked out from behind a drape. Watched the U-Haul move slowly down the street, her black sedan with New York plates creeping after. At first I grinned and clapped. Then I stopped myself. Exhaled and sagged. I stretched my hand out till my fingers pressed against the cold window.
            “I should’ve told you shalom,” I whispered. “It means hi, bye, peace be with you, covenant relationship with God.” I gripped my throat. “’cause I think you’re gonna need it, sweetheart, wherever you go.”
            I darted out onto the porch and down to the street, thought maybe . . . But the truck and car had already disappeared around the bend. I spoke anyway, to no one.
            “I really should’ve told you that in person. I’m sorry, that I didn’t.”

Friday, December 7, 2012

*Forever Changed*

On the steering wheel, my husband’s knuckles shown white. I leaned forward to watch the pink dawn illuminate the Cincinnati skyline.
            He glanced over. “May I speed?”
            I winced and nodded. “I reckon this is the only time you can.”
            He snickered as he ran a red light. I stared out the window and murmured. He kept his hands on the steering wheel and his eyes on the road, but leaned his body toward me.
            “What’d you say?”
            I spoke louder. “Nothing’s ever gonna be the same, is it?”
            My husband shook his head as he skidded to a stop in front of the emergency room entrance at Christ Hospital.
            “Nope,” he said. “Today everything changes.”
The beautiful, willowy brunette nurse perched beside me on the hospital bed. She picked up my hand and flipped it over, traced the creases of my palm with a maroon fingernail as she talked.
            “Did no one give you an enema?”
            My eyes bugged out. “No, ma’am,” I said. Kinda glad about that, I thought.
            She huffed. “I swear. So many nurses think it’s old-fashioned, but I don’t want my ladies pushing out poop with their babies. It’s not sanitary.”
            I heard a gagging noise. I peeked in my husband’s direction. He stared at a spot on the ceiling and cleared his throat.
When Dr. Lum arrived, I immediately noticed the peace signs on his socks. He'd rolled up his scrub pants so they'd show. He patted my cheek before he sat down at the foot of the bed.
            “Sorry I’m late. Had to finish recording a Pink Floyd concert.”
            He stood suddenly and struck an air guitar pose.
            “We don’t need no ed-u-ca-tion.”
            He grinned as he tugged on latex gloves.  “You feeling okay, missy?
            I felt fine. I’d had my epidural. Tall, pretty nurse made sure of that as soon as I hit four centimeters dilated. I hadn’t checked out the needle, but my husband did. When his eyes bulged, I gulped and leaned over the bedside table, did snifftas like our Lamaze teacher had taught us. Sniff in with the nose, ta out through the mouth.
            “Husbands,” the instructor had said, “you can use this technique too. Like when you’re in line at the grocery store and you have to go to the bathroom—number two.”
            I liked my epidural. A lot. Too much really. Because of it I never had the urge to push.
            Dr. Lum waved stainless steel tongs like a conductor’s baton. “These are forceps,” he said. “If need be, we can use these to yank baby out.”
            I squeaked. “Fine!  I’ll push.”
            I couldn’t feel pain but I could feel pressure, and its absence. I was fully aware when the baby slicky slid out of me.
            “It’s a . . . . girl!” Dr. Lum said. “Nancy’ll take her over and shine her up, bring her back in a jif.”
            I reached down to touch my belly—empty now—after almost a year. I pressed my fingers in as far as they'd go. My flesh felt like a pouch of Cool-Whip, all wooshy and gooshy.
            “I need you to bear down one more time,” Dr. Lum said, “to deliver the placenta.”
            I wrinkled my nose. “Ew!”
            I pushed half-heartedly. Surely the exodus of an empty membrane sack didn’t require the effort a seven pound baby did.
            The blob Dr. Lum held up resembled a large man ’o war jellyfish. “What’s your baby’s name?”
            “Josephine Joy,” my husband said.
            Dr. Lum pounced the placenta from side to side—first left, then right.
            “This is the house that Josy built, Josy built, Josy built. This is the house that Josy built—” He paused to look at his watch, “on December 7, 1991 at 12:34 p.m. on a Saturday.”
            I tilted my head and squinted. Thought him a bit odd but didn’t say so out loud.
            He peered at the giant Jell-O jiggler. “If we were in—can’t remember which country—we’d cook this puppy and eat it for dinner.”
            My stomach lurched. I cupped my hand in front of my mouth, just in case. 
The lovely labor and delivery nurse finally brought us our baby girl. Her face, the baby’s, was alarmingly scarlet. Dark, silky hair wisped out from under her white-with-a-pink-pom-pom beanie cap. The nurse cooed as she tucked the warm flannel package into my arms.
            “Isn’t she gorgeous?”
            I gazed down at her. How long had it been since I’d held a baby? Was it my niece? Six years ago? I stroked my daughter’s velvety cheek with my pinky. 
            “She kinda looks like a Conehead,” I told my husband. “You know, like on Saturday Night Live?”
            Nancy the nurse snapped her fingers. I glanced over at her. "What?"
            She came close and gripped my face, rotated it toward the baby's. Josy seemed even redder than before and her chin was like an ocean wave, coming at me then retreating, over and over.
            I turned to Nancy. “What do I do? What’s she want?”
            Nancy cocked her head. “You really don’t know? Did you never babysit?”
            I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I had a paper route.”
            She grimaced. “Oh, my.”
            Making tsk, tsk noises, Nancy placed one hand on my shoulder, the other under the baby bundle.
            “How do I say this, honey? Nothing’s ever going to be the same for you, ever again.”

(Happy 21st birthday, Beauty!)

Friday, November 30, 2012

(Pilgrim's) Progress Report

Looking back, it’s a blur, a filmy orange streak. Thanksgiving Day 2012 is. I thought I was ready, that this would be the year I’d achieve my goal. I didn’t want much, just to get everything on the table at its appropriate temperature. I was on track too, until they arrived, the invited guests. Then everything went SHABOING, like one of those trickster cans of peanuts you open and out shoots a cloth-covered spring, wild with potential energy.
            The problem wasn’t that the guests were in the house. The problem was that they were in the kitchen. I’d arranged all kinds of awesome appetizers elsewhere to keep people out of the kitchen, away from me.
            My brother was the first invader of my domain. “Whatcha doing?” he said.
            I kept chopping. “Before I forget, I meant to tell you last night on the phone, we can take Mom home afterward,” I told him. “If you all wanna go Black Fridaying.”
            He peeked over my shoulder as I transferred garlic chunks into the green bean pan.
            “I’m over that idea,” he said, “after what happened on the way here.”
            My heart skittered and I stopped stirring, turned to face him. “What happened? Did you all hit a deer?”
            “Close. A big dog.”
            My eyes filled and I placed an oven-mitted hand over my heart. “That’s terrible!”
            He nodded. “Yep. We came around the corner and there it was, in the middle of the road, licking its butt. And then it wasn’t.”
            My son burst through the door, skidded to a stop in his stocking feet. Held out the empty cracker basket.
            “I, I mean we, need more Nut Thins.”
            I glanced at my watch. “The shrimp butter’s been out all of ten minutes and you’ve already polished off a whole box of crackers?”
            He cowered. Took tiny steps backward.
            I glared. “You know what this is, don’t you?” I handed him another box of Nut Thins from the snack cabinet. “It’s gluttony. Pure and simple.”
            He grabbed the box and ran. My brother followed him.
            Moments later my sister-in-law sidled up next to me. “How can I help?”
            I motioned to the pan of rolls. “Put ’em in the toaster oven please. It’s preheated.”
            “You want me to brush ’em with butter? My mom always did.”
            I squinted at my to-do list. “Sure. Whatever.”
            Right after the toaster oven door rattled shut, I felt her breath ruffle my hair.
            “Are you making gravy next? Can I watch? ’CauseI can’t make gravy. Gave up trying years ago.”
            Her confession gave me pause. I gathered in a deep breath. Be in the moment, I told myself, here. Connect. Share.
            I faced her with a grin. “It’s easy,” I said, “if you know the secret. Gravy needs to be shaken, not stirred.”
            She watched intently as I measured equal parts flour and cooking sherry into a jar. I screwed the lid on tight and handed it to her.
            “Shake it like crazy.”
            As she shook, her face glowed. “I remember now!” she said. “My mom used to make gravy like this.”
            “You’ll never have lumps again,” I said as I poured the slurry into the pan juices. I pressed a whisk at her and glanced at the stove clock. Despite all the interruptions, everything was running pretty close to schedule. The dining room table was set. The votives lit. All the side dishes were arranged on the kitchen table. There was only one thing left to do.
            “Men!” I yelled. “Time to carve.”
            My husband and brother bonded while they devastated the turkey, trying and rejecting a variety of knives.
            “I thought you all had an electric knife,” my brother said.
            I surveyed the pile of pale shreds. “Bring yours next year please.”
            When no one was looking, I stuck my pointer finger into the center of the mashed potatoes. They were warm, not hot. I closed my eyes and growled. Dang it! I missed the mark, again.
            Without being told, my sister-in-law removed the rolls from the oven, slid them into the bread basket, and covered them with a clean dishtowel.
            She smiled when she caught me watching her. “I’m really excited about the gravy,” she said.
            Something inside me unfurled. “Me too.”
            “Maybe I can make it next year,” she said.
            All of me clenched, but then I willed all of me to let go. “I think that’s a great idea.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

Winter Soon

Go outside. Onto your front porch or into the parking lot. Breathe. In through your nose. Do you smell it? The barky, brownish-gray scent of smoke? Someone nearby must have lugged a portion of their woodpile inside and arranged it just so in the orifice of their hearth. Perhaps they then sprinkled it with a handful of fallen leaves from an oak or maple, pressed a button, and Floom! Flame emerged from a long-handled lighter. Created coziness.
            Inhale again. Is there something else? Indeed there is--the fragrance of the clouds when they prophesy, “Snow soon.” I love that ice-blue perfume, grin as it stirs remembrance on the inside of me. Do the math. Smoke somewhere + snow soon = my happiness.
            I’m craving another scent and I know how to make it happen. I enter my house from the evening dog walk and search determinedly for a box of matches. Here they are. So much better than a book of them. Uniform and diminutive, stand-at-attention-wearing-red-hats, suicide bombers. One or more of them will sacrifice themselves in the fire for the greater good—my olfactory pleasure.
            The lid of the candle jar settles on the entryway’s tabletop with a hula hoop’s 'round and 'round frenzy followed by a metallic Ca-lank! A pale redhead skitters across the strike strip then Fuwah! Becomes a brilliant, quivery tulip of light. Petal points twitch and sway when the furnace exhales with a grunt. Down into the charred jar I tuck my flame-bearing fingers. Kiss the black-blossomed wick with orange and purple. Invisible wafts of butter, yeast, and cinnamony sweetness rise. So does a corner of my mouth.
            I hurry to the entrance and unchain, unbolt, swing back the old, carved door. Elbow open the newer, top-to-bottom-glass storm door. I restrain the latter with my hip. Notice the slap of straight bitter cold on my left cheek. Relish the golden dry house heat on my right. I gather the night again. In through my nose. Fill my lungs completely with the knowledge of fire somewhere, snow soon, and imaginary treats baking. This, these, I love.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Pilgrims' Progress


1. The act or process of desensitizing.
2. Physiology, Medicine/Medica. The elimination or reduction of natural 
or acquired reactivity or sensitivity to an external stimulus, as an 
3. Psychiatry, a behavior modification technique, used especially in 
treating phobias, in which panic or other undesirable emotional 
response to a given stimulus is reduced or extinguished, especially by repeated exposure to that stimulus.


            Well, what do you know? It’s six days out from Thanksgiving and I’m not freaking out. Yet. About the ginormous stuffet I must prepare in less than a week. I can tell I’m relaxed this year because it hasn’t even occurred to me to locate my fountain pen in order to calligraphy the menu and after that the multiple it’s-pert-near-Turkey-Day to-do lists. I call that (Pilgrims') progress.
            For decades, my ma-in-law had the knack of feeding dozens of diners with amazing aplomb. I wonder how long it took her to lose her fear of cooking 30 items for 30 people and exactly how many years did it take her to master the skill of arranging everything on the buffet at the same time at each individual item’s appropriate temperature? I haven’t even begun to grasp that ability and probably won’t until I a) buy a turkey roaster or b) get one of those fancy-schmancy multiple oven stoves. Instead, I vacillate between two mantras:  1) even-if-it’s-slightly-too-cool-it’s-still-yummy and 2) it’s-better-than-eating-out-isn’t-it?
            Alas, my own mother is eighty years old and she still hasn’t conquered cooking for a boatload of folks. In fact, it still jangles her to prepare open-faced Longhorn Colby sandwiches, Mrs. Grass’s chicken noodle soup, and Crystal Light lemonade for four.
            Even though she does not possess high-level hostess abilities, I have managed to learn a thing or two from my mom with regards to feeding a crowd. Namely, if something can be made ahead of time, by all means, add it to the menu. To Mom, this means prepare as many items as you can two to three weeks in advance and freeze them. To me, this translates to make or bake as many items as possible two to three days out and Ziplock and/or refrigerate them until needed.
            Holy cow! We’re inside a week now. I guess it’s time. To make the list and check it twice.

Thanksgiving Dinner 2012
(Adventure Girl will hog these for sure.)
(These bites inevitably yield garlic breath but Sandwich Child claims they are exceedingly worth it! Especially if there are no handsome,
available young men present.)
Shrimp Butter on Crackers
(Boy Child would weep if I didn’t make this family favorite.)
Spiced Pecans
(I find these alarmingly addicting. In fact, they may not make it to the buffet line. I might just hide them in the kitchen built-in alongside the
Pretzel-Cheddar Combos and bite-sized Reese Cups.)
Herb Roasted Turkey
(From Bon Appetit’s 1994 November issue. Why change perfection?)
Bon Appetit’s Mushroom Stuffing
(I did change perfection. Amped up the traditional flavor with the addition of celery, roasted chestnuts and scads of sage.)
Thyme-Scented Browned Butter Green Beans
(I love green beans either bright green and crisp or grey- green and cooked to death with ham bits and a whole onion. These are the former.)
Super Buttery and Garlicky Smashed Potatoes
(With regards to smashed potatoes, there is no such thing as too much butter.)
Sherry Shitake Turkey Gravy
(Bon Appetit 1994 strikes again. Note to self: Mince the mushrooms super tiny
so Boy Child can’t find them.)
Sister-in-Law’s Superb Secret Recipe Orange-Scented Sweet Potatoes
(Sometimes she even lets us keep the leftovers!)
Mom W’s Corn Pudding
(I requested this dish last year to dissuade my mother from bringing lime-Jello-with-cottage-cheese-salad. As if it wasn’t scary enough, Mom insists on serving it atop a bed of Iceberg lettuce with a dollop of Miracle Whip. I used to furtively distribute air-sick bags to my kids whenever she brought this item.)
Cranberries Jezebel
(To my amazement, I'm the only one who cares for this delicacy. The secret ingredient is horseradish. Oops!)
Mom T’s Bread
(Every year in my tummy of tummies, I pray Mom T will bring her famous potato rolls, but anymore she just shows up with sliced Italian bread in a waxed bag. Know why? ‘Cause at 84, she’s totally over cooking for the masses.)
Black Bottom Pumpkin Pie
(This is the only new item on the menu. The recipe is from Southern Living so I expect it to be to-drool-for.)
Pecan Crescent Cookies
(Know why these delicately delicious, boomerang-shaped treats crumble on your tongue? Because the recipe calls for two, count ’em two, sticks of butter.)
Cappuccino, Coffee, or Milk
(I suggest the former to ward off the effects of turkey tryptophan.)
          I have good news. I just took my blood pressure and checked my pulse. Neither is elevated whatsoever. Maybe I have indeed desensitized my Turkey Day Phobia. Thank you, Jesus! Now if only I could do something about my gephyrophobia; you know, bridge phobia.


(I'm curious and/or nosy. What's on your menu for Thanksgiving 2012?)

(Desensitization definition found at

Friday, November 9, 2012

Something Else

            I didn’t mean to hurt you. That time I said he was my favorite. Brother. It’s not that . . .  What I meant was . . . Well, you’re different. You’re something else.
            I will give you this: you never came at me with stealth, a certain anarchy oozing from your pores. And not once did you approach me hands choke hold ready and cheeks stoplight red but forging through anyway. You were different. A low tide. Quiet, steady.

            I like to look at your senior picture and consider how your hair was like the bunny slope at Canaan Valley when I went there in eighth grade with the Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church youth group. Not white, but a smooth, nut brown arc with one perfect dip in the middle. 
            That first morning I hurtled down the hill over and over, winter’s edge both thrilling and terrifying me. Right before lunch, the ski patrol gal advised me that falling down in a six-point star formation at the bottom of the slope was not a safe way to stop. She demonstrated the snow plow a couple times. Recommended lessons. I never skied again. Ever.
            In your portrait your eyes seemed serious even as they smiled. Did you already know you had healing (and therefore much responsibility) in your hands? Your irises matched the widest stripe in your chubby tie—fall-morning blue-gray sky.


            Remember all the stuff we dabbled in? I do, because I made a list. That’s how I write a story. I jot down everything I can remember then comb away all the stuff that’s not so hot. Here, I’ll show you:

Stuff We Did Together

Yoga (living room): For a whole summer we copied the moves of Lillias as she did Hatha Yoga on public television. We wore Marshall green gym shorts and gray Thundering Herd t-shirts. I was way more flexible than you.

Weight Lifting (basement): You lifted. I watched. Because you’d read somewhere my bones wouldn’t be ready for resistance work until at least fourth grade. I wept, but you insisted.

Archery (back yard): We set up a range behind the house, crammed the target into the tangle of honeysuckle that concealed the chain link fence. We were evenly matched until our flimsy green bow broke and you replaced it with a red, white, and blue compound model. I couldn’t budge the string so I became the designated arrow fetcher.

Church (Ohio): You invited me to come along when you started attending church across the river. We’d hold our breath as we drove over the bridge. Make a wish when we got to the other side. You suggested we start a gospel group since I was taking piano lessons. We practiced a few times but then you went off to college. I was sad to see you go but also relieved that I wouldn't have to inform you that your pitch was less than perfect.


            Did you know that writers are supposed to show instead of tell? You never told me, “I like spending time with you,” but you didn't have to. The stuff we did together showed it. Proved that you were in fact something else, something better than “favorite.” I might go as far as to say you were the best. Brother.

Friday, November 2, 2012

It's a Matter of When

I am not an alcoholic but I'm pretty sure I could be. In my blood runs the stuff of addiction. Case in point: My way-back-when relative named Sterling rode a horse off a cliff due to alcohol’s deathgrip.


Years ago I heard the Spirit’s whisper to not be drunk (with wine). I obeyed for the most part, except for that one birthday. I woke the next morning my head obnoxiously pained, my mouth potty paper dry, my world a Tilt-a-Whirl.
            I squinted at my face in the bathroom mirror. “How did I get home?”
            Furtively. Illegally.
            “No one asked if you were okay to drive,” someone, something defended.
            How many times did I do that very thing in my early years? Drink . . . drive . . . regret . . . swear off . . . Well, maybe just one. It's rare now, but still . . .


In vino veritas the saying goes, but really, I don’t even need the wine. Words rush and tumble out of me without liquid assistance, but introduce alcohol, caffeine even, and my tongue’s audacity quadruples. More often than not, it's been my careless, fluid speech I lament the most. 


I pencil a pro and con list. The  pro row is pitiful. The against column is pregnant, late term for sure. All I can praise is taste and relaxation. I speed read the cons: killer headaches, gnarly stomach, embarrassment, calories, hypocrisy, embarrassment, sugar (another familial issue), the risk of losing everything. There wasn't much to lose before, but now?
            “I should just quit,” I told my cappuccino one morning. “Forever.”
            “Then why don’t you?” something, someone in the house whispered.


My mother’s vice is sweets.
            “Come into the kitchen with me,” she says after supper.
            I watch as she feeds the leftover peach cobbler to the garbage disposal. Wince as stainless steel blades gobble the treat. I almost ask why but I know full well why. What I wrestle with is how. And when.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Her, Him, Me

Darkness Poem
(Irene McKinney)

Have you had enough darkness yet?
No, I haven't had enough darkness.
Have you had enough fire?

Enough wind and rain?
Enough black ink?
Ask me again, later.

Have you had enough sugar?
Enough salt? No.

I haven't had enough salt.
Are you finished with wringing your hands?

Finished with spiders and silks 
And creatures of glamour?
Probably not.

Winsome looks?
Pity? Never.

I feel pity right now
For everyone who got broken,
Including me. Pity feels

Like a sore and swollen heart
Leaking blood and tears
So hot they sting.

Imagine that. Stay there.
Have you had enough wind?
No. Enough earth? No.

Enough water? No, not nearly enough.
Enough dirt to walk on?

No. Never, never.


(Robert Louis Stevenson)

Then the bright lamp is carried in, 
The sunless hours again begin; 
O'er all without, in field and lane, 
The haunted night returns again. 

Now we behold the embers flee 
About the firelit hearth; and see 
Our faces painted as we pass, 
Like pictures, on the window glass. 

Must we to bed indeed? Well then, 
Let us arise and go like men, 
And face with an undaunted tread 
The long black passage up to bed. 

Farewell, O brother, sister, sire! 
O pleasant party round the fire! 
The songs you sing, the tales you tell, 
Till far to-morrow, fare you well! 


Wee but Still

Sometimes you have nothing to say but you speak anyway. I empty everything out. Thank you, coffee, green smoothie, my fountain pen. 

Stanzas from Irene and Robert Louis blow me up inside. A poet I am not, but a poem, maybe. That must be why the beauty of their words plucks strings inside of me. Music. 

I need to walk toward the sun. Politely ask it to fill my barren spaces, to make things grow and live inside me. Plant them beside and within the melody please.

(Sometimes the words won’t come. Or they will but are few. I offer what I have. Remind myself this is not perfection. It is a process, a journey.)


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...