Thursday, August 16, 2018

Go Fish

The work is never done. The drive home the same.
Listless dreams. Fabric gashes.
Dulled, weary, the suburban parade, 
I wait for a break.

Mini van, mini van, Camry sedan. Range Rover, Ford truck, Toyota Sequioa. 
I wait, my turn. 
Endless stream. Metallic flashes. 
I see you.

Shouldering sloppy backpacks, grasping poles, youth-cheeked joy
Boys on a sidewalk.
This place.
Blinding winter sky, streaked with cloud, blue and orange.
Red, champagne, gray, black and white car by car by car.
All the colors of the world
Planning their grand escape.

The boys. They hold the blaze.
My heart.

It's fishing.

Banking on forgiveness
Bemoan decaying sun
The toil
This promise. 
This day possible. 

The longest day. 
From notion to noon to the last eternal hour. 
Tick, tick, tick, from wall to the bell, her ring. 
I've known it. 
The rod in hand. 
It's everything.

The release.
My heart. 
Caught in a long cast back.
Rust of hook. Slimy finger tips.
Sinewy wrist. Bones, muscles, tendon. 
Crook of arm. Fleck of sweat. Line of sight.

Wind. Reflection
Break the space.
Sound to silence.
Cast the horizon.
Air to water.

Immutable disturbances. 
Broken space.
Silver to fish. 
Catch a fish. 
Air to water.

Breath to bone. 
Back again.
It isn't that I haven't 
It's that I forgot.

To fish.
We must never stop.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Fly Over Lethe

In the meeting there is a fly
Fresh from the chrysalis
It stalks my coffee cup
I wave it away 
It finds a refuge
Gray white wall, its flatness, drywall
I am bothered by the fly
I imagine that it is drowning in my coffee
Overcome by the bitterness that is not Lethe

I remember my first cup 
I am Iraq
On my left, Iran
And next to me, Israel
A girl
I was unkind to her in elementary school

Her resolution has made the floor
She reigns fury
But if she recognizes me
I am grateful she pretends she doesn’t
The storm her brown eyes are gathering will belie her retort
I wonder how the Jewish girl got lucky
Got Israel
Private schools
One day I will figure out
Nothing is left to chance when you have the money to pay for it

This is the human rights committee
Even in 1990 it is ironic
Saddam Hussein is fashioning the new Babylon
Hitler style, with a distinct Third Reich cut
The Kurds are not in, but gassing them is
Weathered yellow ribbons linger like moss on oak trees

A proper fascist, I can’t deign it
My resolution won’t make the floor
Wrought with youthful liberalism and pseudo socialist glean
I didn’t follow Iraqi script
An American woman does not a good Iraqi make
If the burqa doesn’t fit, you just can’t commit

I see Turkey standing in the doorway
Looking fly in a wide red bandanna
His mop of blond curls pulled tightly off his pretty face
His blue eyes shine as he ditches
The environmental committee

He rescues me because no one cares
What Turkey has to say either
We are unsexy countries
Other countries will know how to better solve our ugly problems
Our opinion is not necessary

In the wide corridor are break out groups of model American teenagers
Resolving issues the way the Christian Science Monitor told us to
I spy a silver coffee urn atop a table cloaked in red
I decide I am going to start drinking coffee
Not wanting to ever be dependent on the crème or the sugar

An executive order cools the coffee
Cold from the window to the wall
Where have all the yellow ribbons gone
Fibers degraded by weather
Time and the economy of oil
The pretty fly, with the petulant buzz, I wave away

I ascend the spiraling staircase
To look closer at that gossamer web
A fine pattern of longitude and latitude
Meridians and time spanning backwards to tomorrow
Distracted by the bleeding faces of Syrian children

The maddening buzz of degenerated flies
With their fancy mirrored crowns
Parrot other men’s thinking
Cloaked in the velvet of green and purple robes
Drink from the cup
Filled with the sweet bourbon of Lethe

Thursday, April 07, 2016

The Northwind and The Sun; A Fable Nestled in a Thread

I have always liked stories; reading them, telling them, seeing them. It is fascinating to me how something as simple as letters, pictures that represent a sound, can be strung together in a specific way to represent an idea. Letters, like dots in a Seurat painting, find an order, a sound, a pattern that creates an image of some meaningful idea our mind divined.
My mother, my sister and my daughter are artists. They can take stories and make a picture without having to use any letters. They have the patience for the tiny dots. If I tried to do that so much would be left out of the picture. I am burdened by my lack of fine motor skills . I have to depend on letters to make the words that create my pictures. I admit, I rarely get it right. There is always either too much or not enough or the arrangement is all wrong. Left, always off-center of it, I call it. I'm a Cubist teller of tales. The ideas are all there but they are all cattywampus.

I do try to center it, make sense of it but I struggle. I remind myself, often, of Hemingway's advice about the iceberg; that most of  what you write about in a story you don't actually tell. Instead, you show. But then will I think about Faulkner and all the words he needed to use to tell a story. I greatly admire his generosity with words. If Hemingway's stories are an iceberg, then Faulkner's stories are oak trees. Live Oaks to be specific. His words hang as heavy branches, laden with the burden of Spanish moss and spread wide over a large gnarly trunk, casting shadows and creating unique patterns on the ground.

In the end though I just put it all out there thinking maybe if I do, the pattern, however obtuse, will emerge because, and of this I am certain,--left off center or not-- it is all related.

There is this poem by Robert Penn Warren called Tell Me A Story. It is my most favorite poem. I relate to it initially because I like the picture the first part creates in my mind when I read it. I know that exact feeling he describes. But then I relate on a much more personal level in the second part where he commands you to tell him a story, "in this century, and in this moment, of mania." That speaks to me about every moment of every second of everyday where I try to make all sorts of sense of this world through a series of trying to connect both true and concocted stories.

For example, I will see a stranger at the pool. I will be in my lane doing my workout and she in hers doing hers. I never speak to her and  I will go about my workout but all the while I am forming stories about this woman while I count laps and the rest between sets. I might decide she is from England, no she is Welsh, though I have never met anyone from Wales. She is not married. She is widowed and I am certain she is a retired school teacher. And then I will decide she was a great swimmer when she was girl in Wales and once, on a dare she swam across the English Channel. And then I will remember when I was a child, I once said , when I was 10 that my goal was to swim across the English Channel and then I will go down a crazy rabbit hole imagining this and that and all the while I never say a word to this woman. But she told me a story.

This need, Warren talks about in the poem, about needing to be told a story (and especially the first part where he tells a story from his childhood) expounds on my belief that memory is a thread. That all our memories weave themselves into a grand fabric--  grander than just me or you-- that tells the story of us, and by us I mean the collective us.  Not just me, or you but all of us. A story--or a memory if you will, is a way we can relate this moment to that seemingly unrelated moment to you, to me, to each other and so on.

What  is funny to me is how those threads will, ever so randomly throughout your life, unwind themselves to you. Pretend for a moment that memories are colors and not personal stories. And the memory  which you recall is the color brown. It becomes in that moment and maybe for awhile the brown thread with which you patch all these pieces of your day and the people you meet together. They become stitched together in your mind with this thin brown thread. After awhile there may become so much brown stitching that all those fabric pieces you tied together look, from a distance, sepia toned and after a time, they may even look cut from the same fabric.

My grandmother Adelaide, my father's mother, had a room in her house filled with books and horse things. It was my favorite room in her house. It was a dark room with paneled walls and high windows that didn't provide much sunlight. Light always seemed to filter in from above, bright on the ceiling, darker on the floor. There was a leather couch, a cracked leather chair and lots of horse accouterments-iron horse head lamps, a footstool that was once a saddle, pictures of horses doing horse things, horse shoes, and other horse-themed decorations. My grandmother loved horses.

Three wood framed glass book cases lined one of the walls. Rows and rows of books peered out as if reading the room. Though kept behind glass, as if precious, I was allowed to pull them out and read them. Sometimes she let me take them back to Atlanta. These were musty, old books and these books were different than my  school books and the other books we had at home. They were little treasures and I was fascinated by everything about them.

A vast majority of them were grade school primers but almost all of the books had woven covers with faded print. And yes, some were of the Dick and Jane and Sally genre. The books were dated from 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's. Some books were in pristine condition and others worn so thin the covers were unraveling and pages had been torn out. The pages were thicker, wax like with bold fonts. Many had block print illustrations. Even the illustrations seemed old to me. They were in dull, matte colors and in some cases the color red was missing entirely. Often a yellowy-orange or a brown, a teal and black were the only colors used. They were primers with no primary colors.

And it was the primers in particular that fascinated me the most. I liked seeing which aunt, uncle or cousin had scrawled their name in the front. Some had those book plates that said This Book Belongs To and I would marvel at my relatives handwriting. I thought even the stories in them were old fashioned even though some of them, like Aesop's Fables, I read in my newer, modern textbooks which were printed on thin slick pages and accompanied by glossy illustrations and questions for discussion.

I hadn't thought about that room in my grandmothers house, the old books or the stories in them in years until last Saturday when I was sitting on the beach watching Ryan fish. I was sitting, staring across the waters of Calibogue Sound wanting to swim from Hilton Head to Daufuskie's shore. It was cool, windy and overcast but the weather was improving as the day wore on.

That morning I had taken a cold and windy, rain-soaked tour of the Island to satisfy the 2 hour base ride of my Ironman Training Plan.The ride turned into almost 3 hours because I got so turned around. Map reading is not my strength. The Island has only 41 square miles of land mass to claim and that is exactly what the distance of my ride turned out to be. If nothing else I was proud I found 41 miles of road and path even if some of it was from riding in circles and back tracking.

I shouldn't have gotten lost. I've been to Hilton Head dozens of times over the last 20 years and have ridden my bike or run nearly the entire Island but every single time I end up all turned about because everything looks the same to me. I think this was the intention of the city designers,  a low-country labyrinth. The area consists of pine laden twisty bike paths, azalea ringed roundabouts, brown wooden street signs a foot off the ground and all of the architecture is a variant shade of sand brown. But when you are tired and wet and cold after a few hours on the bike and everything looks almost the same and if the map you are looking at doesn't say "You are HERE!" it really is easy to get confused.

The kids, Beau, Carmella and her friend Sophie, while Ryan and I sipped beer and fished, were off on their bikes doing their own exploring of Sea Pines, the plantation where we were staying for the next 4 days for Spring Break. I was half expecting a call from them saying they too had gotten lost in a roundabout but they seemed to manage fine, so maybe it is just me. My only instructions to them was: if you come to a gate, don't go out of it and we are staying at South Beach. If they had troubles, they never said.

As I sat waiting on it to warm up the wind was blustery and the sun trying to make a go of it, I recalled the story of the Northwind and the Sun I had read as a child in one of those primers. As the fable goes, the Sun and the Northwind are bored one day and get into a quarrel over of who is the strongest. They agree to a feat of strengths to settle the dispute once and for all. Together they spot a traveler on a road with a coat. They decide whoever can make the traveler remove his coat is the winner, and thus, the strongest of them all.

The Northwind goes first. He stirs up a ruckus and he blows with all his might at the traveler,  who in response only pulls his coat tighter to his body. The illustration, I see it in my mind, is one of those with only the three colors, none primary. His mop of black hair covers his face and he is angled, pushing into the wind and arms crossed tightly pressing his coat over his chest. You can see twisted in the traveler's face his discomfort and annoyance at the wind.

Next it is the Sun's turn. And the Sun, she turns on the heat.  As the text goes on and you turn the page you see the traveler resting against a tree, his coat at his side and his face turned upwards with a look of great peace. He is happy to sit, uncloaked in the warm sun, in the shade of a lovely tree.

The Northwind admits his defeat.

I wait on the beach, for the children, for Ryan to catch a fish and for the sun to win. I too want to linger on the beach with the sun warm on my face, my hoodie at my side. I want to swim across the sound and rest on another beach before swimming triumphantly back just because I can.  But I can't because it is too cold and  I realize that the Sun and the Northwind are working together. They are not having a quarrel today at all and no one is persuading me to do anything but just sit.

As the wind blows, the clouds begin to break apart. The sun does warm me when a break in the clouds appears. I begin to anticipate the moments of cold and alternately heat and ultimately become distracted by the shapes floating and changing above me.

A lion forms in the sky. I think of a dream I had a few months ago. It has puzzled me and I think on it periodically as if the answer to it will eventually reveal itself  to me.

In the dream I am in a hilly countryside at dusk. I have climbed down a steep hill and am standing beside a river. The sun is setting beyond the forest trees that are at the edge of the grassy knoll. There are large lichen covered boulders sprinkled over the countryside. I am almost under a cliff staring at a glittering river that runs into the forest. I am watching the last bit of the day's light bounce off the shiny river stones. Along the river, I note, is the way into the forest. To my right is a tall,  black chain link fence. It is depressing and I don't see a way around it. There is no gate and it cuts off the vast and open countryside running the length of the openness and disappearing into the forest that I am facing.

After awhile, above me I hear voices and I look up. Standing on the cliff, staring out into the rolling and vast countryside that is showered in the glow of the setting sun, is a group of people. I know the people. I can't see their faces or recall any names but I know I know them. With them is a lion. A large and beautiful lion. They don't see me.

I am torn. There is a desire to go stand with the lion and the people. I want to be  with them. But I know that they cannot see the fence from where they stand and I think it is not good that they can't see the fence. They don't even know it exists. I find this troublesome.

I can see it though and I am worried about what that fence means, for them and for me. I can see the path to the forest is by stepping on stones to cross and then walking along the river's bank. It won't be easy but it is the only route.

I am worried about the forest too. I am not sure that is where I want to be either. It is dark and the world seems to disappear in there. It is unknown where it goes and where it will lead.  But I do know, because I am below the cliff and can see the fence that blocks off the vastness of the world, that straight is not the way to the beautiful rolling hills. The forest seems the only logical way.

Do I climb, hand over hand and foot to the top of the cliff where the lion and the people stand?  To stand with them and not see the fence? Will I be able to convince them to come with me?  Or if I go to them will I too just stay on the hill and stare at the vastness of the world? Or do I go alone down the river path to the dark forest?

I still don't know the answer.  I let it float out again, fading from my mind.

The kids return on their bikes, excited about everything, being noisy and running all over the beach throwing jelly fish, sand and sticks at each other. Ryan tries to catch a fish. I watch the clouds a bit more.

Sometimes it is nice to just be where you are. Thread the needle. Pull the thread through this idea and that thought, tie it off and leave it be. Feel warmed by the sun. Watch the clouds change shapes. Look out over the white capped waves that race in and out and remember that what has been forgotten will be remembered; sewn to now but this moment will never be again.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

These Boots that have Hiked

These boots are worn. The leather is marbled and tired. They've been waterproofed and Shoe Goo-ed and as of this past weekend on the way to Desoto State Park, Krazy-glued. The tread on the left boot pulled away on New Year's Eve and Ryan stopped at a Walgreen's and bought me a tube of Krazy Glue. The tread on the right boot pulled away the day after New Year's Day, after two days of walking the rocky, wet and root-laden Desoto trails. I've glued the soles back together and for now, the tread bonds tightly to the leather.

I think, though, these boots might be done. They might have walked all their miles.

It might be time for new boots. . .

I wore these boots over Thanksgiving break while camping at Vogel State Park. They held up well for the hike up Blood Mountain. I imagined, they were rejoicing to tread over the familiar lichen-covered rocks, gnarly roots and bouldered switch-backs of the Bryon Reece trail. My first ever backing packing trip at age 9 began on that same Blood Mountain trail, though, of course, not in these particular boots. I can't even guess or count how many times I've walked the trail to the top since then. I can say, I have walked it twice with my children and many, many times in these particular boots.

This last time, my daughter, the teen, walking with me, admired my boots and asked if she could have them when her feet are finally big enough. She has a little more than half a size to go. I felt happiness, pride even, at her asking because anyone with a teenager daughter knows that her liking or admiring anything of yours is the equivalent of her saying the she thinks you are not so terrible after all and that for that moment, when she is liking your stuff, she likes you again. You are "Mommy", again, not "Mom!" (eye-roll a given.) It is a bit like being asked to hang out with the cool kids and you say yes a little too quickly.  There is desperation in it, only this isn't high school, it's your family, the family you made.

My initial impulse of yes! You can have anything of mine gave way to pause. These are my boots and these are the boots that over the past two decades, I have hiked, both alone and companion-ed, the self-guided trail that led 22 year-old Natalie to this 44 year-old Natalie. When I think about all the people, the pathways, the places, the heartaches these boots and I have traversed, well, I wondered, if these boots are really a thing I can really give away, even to my daughter.

I bought the boots at Call of the Wild in Roswell, which has long since shuttered its doors. It was a month before I turned 23 and  before I left to work in Yellowstone National Park for the summer. My father had given me money, as an early birthday gift, with instructions to "get a good pair of boots" for my trip. He also gave me an industrial can of bear spray that came with a holster. And he also, after surveying all that I packed,  gave me his red Northface fleece. I was grateful many times that summer for that fleece. It was the only warm piece of clothing I had and trust me, it gets cold in Wyoming in August. I needed it!

However, never once, did I think, standing in the store that hot summer day deciding between the pairs of hiking boots laid out before me, that the boots would be with me this long. In fact, I remember, the Call of the Wild sales guy advising me to choose a different pair. But I liked the old fashioned look the leather Merrell boots had, even if they were not as practical or potentially durable as the Gortex boots he recommended. The leather Merrell ones were the only ones in the store that fit with my image of what hiking boots should look like. I bought the boots, a tube of Shoe Goo and a waterproofing compound. I rubbed both all over the boots and decided they were as good as Gortex.

I may have been wearing these boots or they may have been siting next to my external framed maroon Jansport backpack in my bedroom waiting for my real adventure, when I went with my then sort of a boyfriend, Marcus, to get a tattoo.

Marcus and I had beers at the Yacht Club in Little 5 Points and discussed our body altering plans. We walked, buzzed, across the street to the headshop. I chickened out on the tattoo at the last minute and went with a naval piercing. I picked out a stainless steel ring with a hematite stone. I still remember the girl who did my piercing. She had a pretty face, delicate, girly hands, a shaved head and strange tribal, facial tattoos and facial piercings that purposely distracted you from her prefect features. I remember wondering, as I lay with my shirt hiked up, belly exposed, why she had purposely made herself unattractive. As a habit (and still do,) I tried very hard, with my plain features, to be pretty. I wondered, as she shoved a thick needle through my belly button, and couldn't quite comprehend in my beer muddled brain, why someone would try equally as hard to make her pretty self not so pretty.

I guess Marcus still has his tattoo but I do not have the piercing any longer. Maybe he will read this and say whether he still has that tattoo on his ankle. I lost the belly ring, somewhat traumatically, when I was pregnant with Carmella at 28. Ah, here is a thing you should definitely not pass on to your children, maybe?  Your body piercing jewelry. ( Just thinking out loud here.)

I can also recommend that you should not, after getting a body piercing, "Shoot the Hooch." It was a fun afternoon, (fourth of July!)  and my last ever with Marcus but it was a year before that piercing fully healed. No amount of surgical soap, hydrogen peroxide and antibiotic ointment could hurry the healing along once the Chattahoochee had her dirty hands on my navel.

 Life lessons here people, life lessons. . .

I was wearing these boots on the plane to Oregon.The plane that flew me across the country to my ex-boyfriend. He picked me up at the Eugene airport and drove me to a party at his house, where I celebrated my 23rd birthday with him and bunch of people I didn't know. We drank tequila and said cheers to me and to our youth. It was truly one of the funnest birthday celebrations but I can't recall a single name or face other than my own or John's.

John and I had broken up the February prior after a 3-year long distance relationship. When you break up with someone over the phone who is in Eugene, Oregon and you are in Roswell, Georgia  you might not be 100% sure of your decision until you fly across country, celebrate a birthday with tequila, spend a week driving and backpacking across Oregon, Idaho--where you gamble in Pendleton on the Indian Reservation and win a steak dinner-- and drive into Montana --where you have beer for breakfast because you can: you have good times, you laugh and you have fun but you do not love each other. A week in a van and a small tent and miles on your feet and many beers later tell you this is 100% true.  But it isn't  until you find yourself at Old Faithful, in the heart of Yellowstone National Park,  where you finally realize that yes, you two are done--this is because he tells you that your are the biggest bitch he has ever known and you think, this is a fair and true assessment. It hurts your feelings though that he didn't know this before, that he didn't figure this out in those 3 long distance years. But, at the very least, now you know, for sure, that when you said, I don't think we are meant to be together anymore, you know that you were right.

I was wearing these boots when we said our lukewarm, handshake of a good-bye. He dropped me, my boots, and all my stuff off at my post at Old Faithful and turned his van back to Oregon and he nor I have ever looked back. At 23, you don't often know what is true and right, but as I watched him drive away I knew that we had hung it up for good, and that I was okay with that.

I met Chuck that same day and he showed me the Yellowstone ropes.He was my friend all of July.He called me Nat right after I told him my name was Natalie.  He is still my friend today, living not far from me with his wife and two children  We bused tables together at the lodge until I got a promotion serving either baked cod or prime rib to tourists (tourons, as us Yellowstoners called them.)

Chuck and I made days worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hitched hiked our way with his roommate Bill to the Tetons. We hiked and bouldered and forged streams. We did all the things I was scared to do and all the things that would have kept my mother up all night worrying about if she had known. We walked in the woods in day and in the dark of night,  we jumped off cliffs, we sat in muddy hotpots at midnight and had parties around bonfires. It was  of one of those parties that got Chuck kicked out of Yellowstone because a drunk guy kept leaping over the fire and the permit for the party was in Chuck's name. The next morning, in a borrowed car, I drove him to the bus stop in Livingston. Along the way, to pass the time, we listened to  Dave Matthews' album, Under the Table and Dreaming, liking every single song. We picked up French Canadian hitchhikers with a hookah, talked our way out of a ticket, and Chuck, the best of the best salesmen, bartered us a hotel room for a night in exchange for an am/fm radio. I didn't even think such things were possible. I thought you could only barter for stuff in 3rd world countries, not in America and at hotels with Formica 50's decor. We said goodbye the next morning and I felt life was as wide and open as the highway and Montana's endless sky as I drove back alone to Yellowstone.

 I made new and close friends: Shawn, Tara, Blake, Frank and Monique. It was as if we had known each other all our lives and would forever. But I have seen nor heard from any of them since.

Shawn and I drove to the Tetons to take pictures with his fancy camera. We talked about Ansel Adams, I wrote in my journal, he told me about his girlfriend and we drank Molsons at a bar outside of Jackson Hole.

Monique and I hiked at midnight after work to camp under the stars. I had brought my sleeping bag, a tent, a bottle of bourbon and some extra clothes. I was the only one who had brought things. They called me the girl scout. I shared with everyone, gave up my tent, bourbon and extra clothes to others. I slept in my sleeping bag in the dirt next to the fire and woke the next morning with ashes piled up on my cheek and spiders in my hair.

Other times I was the designated driver from parties in West Yellowstone we all attended. Frank was the only one with a car but I would stay sober because I knew no one else would. I would  insist, at 3 am, on driving his old Buick to the park, selling them on the promise of clean beds instead of cold dirt and a bonfire with drunk people. I would drive them all home under the million of arched stars and the compromise of either his sole Eric Clapton album or  the compilation of Ministry covers because it was all I could stand of Frank's otherwise heavy metal discography collection. They would call me Mama, making fun but glad to have someone looking out for them.

Jerry Garcia died that summer. OJ Simpson was on trial but no one really cared about that. Garcia's death was the only true tragedy. Some people just couldn't get past it. I had to work a shift for my roommate Tara who was just too devastated to clock in that day.

In late August, Monique and I rode horses with Blake and his family in the Gallatin Mountains. And Blake, my sweet friend, picked me up from the hospital when I had, a still undetermined but most likely, a gallstone attack and spent a scary night alone in the Yellowstone hospital. And by alone I mean, I was the only patient and there was one nurse. The doctor went home after he gave me an IV drip with morphine and determined there was nothing he could do for me. It was like being in a Stephen King novel.

Blake picked me up, helped me pack and then drove me to the Jackson Hole airport in a borrowed car the next day and put me on a plane. It was the last time I ever saw him. It was the last time I was in Yellowstone.

I was wearing these boots when I stepped off that plane and back into my regular life. I finished my degree in literature and floundered for a year while I figured out what to do. I hiked in these boots many times that year. Eventually I met Ryan and decided on graduate school. I was 25. The two years that lead me to him were an immense journey. One that I would think, had I worn these boots everyday, they would be worn too thin to have led me anywhere else, to go on any other journey.

Maybe this speaks to Merrell quality, leather's tenacity or that with enough forethought to weatherproof your boots, they will last you through many journeys, miles and years  and get you through the most ruggedest of hikes.

These boots and I hiked with Ryan for a week on Cumberland Island the summer after the fall we had began dating.A year later we were engaged to be married and the year after that, married. The year after that, pregnant with our first child. Life, in these boots, has trudged relentlessly and surprisingly forward.

Shortly before our wedding, I came home from work one day to find a letter. It was from Blake's mother. Blake and I had kept loosely in touch, post cards and letters. Just friends who wished each other a good, happy and long life. It was the 90's and before email was a thing and a million years before social media, so when you made significant friendships back then and parted ways geographically, you said, "We will see each other again. Best of luck in life, keep in touch." And so you kept in touch, maybe; postcards, letters, Christmas cards and an occasional phone call.

Blake's mother's letter told me that Blake had died a few months earlier in a car accident. She included his obituary and the program from his funeral. I suspect, in going through his things, she had found my letters to him. She reached out to me, I guess because she had remembered me from her trip to visit him in Yellowstone. I think though that she reached out to me before I could reach out to him. She was saving herself a surprise letter or potential flood of letters that would rip open what will always be a raw wound.

As a mother, I see this as self preservation on her part but for many years I puzzled over her letter to me. Having a child and son in particular, gives me empathy now that I did not possess then. I believe I wrote her back but maybe I only think that in memory. I do know that the me today, understanding how a mother feels about her son, I would have written her back. Blake was my friend, knowing him helped make me who I am and I have nothing but good memories of him. I would write to her, your child is a part of the happy memory of one the most profound, life defining periods in my life.

 I cannot wear my boots without thinking of all the places I have been, who I have been over the last 22 years of wearing these boots.

And what of this teenage, first born child of mine who I would gladly lay every bit of my life aside so hers could find a brighter, clearer and easier path?

Give her these boots that have hiked my way to her?

Well, of course, I would give her my boots. But I know these boots will not work for her. They will not fit her. As much as I want, so very much want to walk every single path and trail she must traverse in her life and make certain that every path is always clear, easy and bright or at least walk along side her, guide her. . . I know I cannot.

I know, we all know, the paths that lead us to us are ours alone to walk. We cannot get there in borrowed boots.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Approaching Prayer on Thanksgiving Day

I don’t know quite what has happened
Or that anything has,
Hoping only that
The irrelevancies one thinks of
When trying to pray
Are the prayer . . . --Approaching Prayer by James Dickey

You build me up
You break me down
My heart, it pounds
Yeah, you got me
With my hands up
Put your hands up--
Tik Tok by Ke$ha

If affection holds you back
Oh, then what is left to hold
If I could find the answer
To that question then I'd know--
The Act We Act by Sugar (Bob Mould)

Everyone has a prayer playlist with Ke$ha and Sugar songs on it, right?

Maybe not exactly but as it is with horseshoes and hand grenades, it is probably close enough. After all, isn't most times a prayer an atonement for some guilty pleasure sandwiched between gratefulness and humility? 

And if there is ever a holiday characterized by guilty pleasures sandwiched between the bread slices of gratefulness and humility I think it must be Thanksgiving. The day should be filled with family, friends, good times, joy, and of course a feast of great food and drink and some football for good measure. A perfect merging of indulgence, guilt and grace. A celebration of all the gifts of life.

The holiday for me is also a personal celebration as it marks the day of the first race I ever ran, the Atlanta Thanksgiving Half marathon in 1998. It also marks the day of the first marathon I ever ran in 2005. My life is infinitely changed and better due to those two events. 

But Thanksgiving day is also tangled up in the anniversery of the most devastating event in my life, the loss of my nephew Evan to bacterial meningitis on November 24, 2006, the day after Thanksgiving. The holiday isn't ruined by this tragedy but it is weighted.  The colors of the day are no longer just one bright shade but are every pantone hue, both dark and light and all that is in between.

 So on Thanksgiving morning I always run long. It is a recognition and celebration of myself as a runner. The run, almost three delicious hours where my mind evolves, devolves and plays over the years and the people on a brilliant fall morning in a perfect state of being, is also an animated prayer. 

The day is a gorgeous. My feet crunch the leaves on the sidewalk, as cars filled with families drive past me. I run down the sidewalk turning on all the streets that I know easily with my eyes closed. I pass a group of fathers with their sons and daughters playing football in a church yard. I pass men and women out walking their dogs or pushing babies in strollers. On two different streets I pass the dead, sleeping in old cemeteries. I pass the houses, the schools, the churches and the stores. 

I am grateful for the workers at Walgreens and CVS where I stop for a drink of water. Everyone is kind. 

As I run,  watching the world and turning on all the familiar streets, I feel a sense of togetherness in the world that isn't always there. 

My mind, finding relevancy in the irrelevancies and reunites a turn of the road with a memory. A moment of heartache turns to hope with a breath. The wind, brisk and cold, waters my eyes that find tears. Then, with the sun warming, I find forgiveness and the good stuff of promises.  Finally, I lose myself to hope in the salt of sweat and muscle fatigue.

17 miles. One mile for every year as a runner. 

I am not done. I can't help myself. I have to ask the universe the question I have asked her the last nine Thanksgiving day mornings. It bubbles up. I want to blame the wind, the bright sun, the blue sky, the concrete, the dirt, and the trees with their dying leaves.

 I am a flawed, scarred human with a need to  answer the question. I want a resolution. 

How does one ever get over losing a child? 

I realize, as I turn towards home, to some questions maybe there is not an answer. That, it could be, that it is impossible to comprehend an answer to a question that is so wholly and impossibly wrong. It is a question that shouldn't have to be asked. The question should not in itself exist. It is the flaw in the tapestry of life.

I finish at the track. I have three more miles to give. These are, of course, for Evan. 

I run circles around the families on the field while I wait for mine to come. I see strangers, acquaintances, and my friends with their children, dogs, balls and games. No one knows that while I am running circles around them that I am praying.

20 miles and I am done. 

I can finally stand still, talk to people and be in the day, back in the world; broken and reconstructed whole again.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Lunch Poem #2, The Pond

There is a pond
Not Walden
It sits between
Sub-city office buildings.

Divined and odd-shaped
It is not quite round with
A strangely grand, architect-ed bridge
Spanning to connect
Organic to Corporate
Entrepreneur to Inspiration
A planned Frank Lloyd Wright sanctuary
Framed by glass, grass, still water
And white brilliant concrete.

I wonder at the frailness
The transcience of still water.

The Swan is the queen
She has no mate.

I wonder
Does she know
She is alone.

The ducks don't know they are all different
I don't know
How long the Swan can stay under water
Looking at the grass and meandering fishes

Is she meant to be
A water-ostrich for an eternity

She is amazing.

With the koi,
Everybody knows
They have done well in the pond.

I wonder
Why the winged birds stay.

The Swan today
On the other bank
Not preening
Was basking in the sun.

I wonder
Did she see
When the snake shed his skin
And moved on.

The snake.

I wonder why
Does everyone thinks it is evil
When things eat their tail.

It is just a word
Once meant to be.

And I wonder
Why it still isn't okay
To be.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lunch Poem #1- Stepping Away from the Plateau

I need to step away from the plateau;
the Cumberland Plateau with her sedimentary rock, ridge-lines and bituminous coal;
scalped of her minerals and slow to recover.
I need to escape the hive;
the neutral and muted confines of the cubicle, with her demanding computer queen.
I need a break from
the plateau, the hive, the Word documents, the PowerPoints, Excel spreadsheets;
the rigid boxes, templates and plain white spaces between too many words.
I need to get away from
the minutes, the plans, the reviews and all the itineraries
where I go nowhere.

I need to find my spear, The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy.
I need to see the Wild Geese
and know that I don't have to be good.
I need to see everything, all at once, in the slow pouring off of rainbows,
like a Fish in a pail that refuses to lie down flat as she dies.

Lately, I've been thinking  about James Dickey and Mary Oliver.
I want to set their pages laid out, side by side and compare
his words to her words;
the Heaven of Animals to Some Questions You Might Ask.

So on my lunch break I walk from my office in my most comfortable sandal heels to the Barnes and Noble.
Atlanta is masquerading as Seattle. She is doing it all wrong though. She's a hot mess and doesn't have the right accessories-- not enough evergreen and she is missing the coast and that maritime coolness.
I don't have an umbrella.
My hair will suffer but I cannot any longer.

In the misty, wet dreary I wait
at the light on the corner of Perimeter Center Place and Perimeter Center Road.
I cross in front of hurrying mall shoppers whose turning cars are unaware of my right-of-way.
They try to run me over.
I wave with a finger as I walk by.

I cut through the landscaping framing the mall and shopping center where Barnes and Noble is the anchor.
I catch  myself on the trunk of a crepe myrtle to keep from slipping on the wet pine straw, shaking trees, creating unnecessary showers.
I wipe the dust of the crepe myrtle bark on my teal Calvin Klein shift.
I pass umbrella clutching and sidewalk-obeying shoppers.
No one will meet my eyes as I climb out from the grove of crepe myrtles;
stepping up onto the sidewalk with velvety pink petals
tangled in my hair, pasted on my arms.
Except the black man with the goatee wearing a linen tunic, also umbrella-less.
He's the only one around here for miles looking comfortable and he meets my eyes with a wink.
I return, with teeth and lips and kind eyes, a smile.

Out of the humidity and in the store I expect familiarity, a memory smell.
Once upon a time before a husband and children I use to work here.
Once upon a time, I could find any book anyone wanted.
I knew the books, the shelves, the tables and the end-caps.
I knew all the shoppers too.
Early morning was the business men and women. The jobless too. All with their lap-tops,  meetings and cafe latte grande. Hiding behind Wall Street Journals on couches, chairs and hovering at every table. If they needed anything from me it was only if we had the latest Oracle book.
Mid morning brought the mothers and their strollers for story time or really, to wreck chaos and noise throughout the store.
Mid afternoon came the ladies after tennis, there  for a Starbucks  and maybe their book club's latest Oprah pick.
And Friday nights, after the movie next door, the pageantry of prost-a-tots mismanaging their  hormones while waiting  on their chauffeurs to pick them up.
 I realize, once upon a time, I've been all these things.

But in this store I know nothing. Books are an after thought.  Instead of shelves of the numbered New York Times Best Sellers there is a wide selection of  tablets.

I look at the tablet display and remember sitting in a store meeting before we opened for the day. I am wearing tights, a short gray dress that I should not bend over in and platform shoes. I am sipping a latte, nursing shin splints  and worrying about how I will be too tired after work to finish my paper on Whitman and Dickey while the store manager spins a tale about electronic books held inside a Kindle.
Everyone one us of thought, no way.
Books, with their pages, are here to stay.

In the center of the store is a cafe. It is a bright sun. It is the major star. It has not just coffee but pastries and sandwiches too.
A fence, like one of  Saturn's rings,  holds the cafe's tables and chairs, her planets and their moons. Sitting on the moons are people with their laptops, tablets and smart phones. There are no books laying open on the planets or pages turning in the hands
of anyone sitting on any moon.
If by moon, person or star or book by page;
No one that I didn't see buy any one book.

I wander the perimeter of the store and shelves. The Fiction and Literature section, though the biggest, is rather small.
I remember vast shelves of books but these shelves I can see over their tops.
I look for the poetry books, thinking poems are literature. 
I will find out they are not.
Poems are art and art is in a different area of the store,
far from Fiction and Literature,
on the other side of the sun and her moons.

In the shelves I find Dickey but only his Deliverance. No To the White Sea or any books of his poetry.
Mary Oliver isn't here at all.
It is then I realize, maybe, poems are not fiction or literature.

I panic that there is no book of poems at all in this store.

Circling the back wall  I find the Arts.
Visual. Dramatic. Languages,
and finally,

It is a thin collection.
I see some familiars. And some notable absences.

There is O'Hara.  I pull his book off the shelf,
I remember why I am not a Painter
and realize that my lunch hour is almost over.
There is no Dickey here. I will order online.
I look over several Mary Oliver's and settle on an anthology.

The rain is heavy now, not just a mist and the day is almost done.
I see the white concrete of my office building gleam through the oak and pine branches
as I cross the street again.
I tuck Mary's book into my purse, a spear at my side.
Silently, I walk to my office and slip back into the hive.
I fold my thoughts like Arab tents
dotted along the plateau.