Thursday, April 8, 2010


I have been ill. That is another reason for all the quiet around here lately. Though some of us around here don't believe in illness.

"Are you going to try to walk it off?" he asks me. I'm shuffling into my clothes in the dark. I meant not to awaken anyone, but heavy coughing gave me away.

I leave the house in the dark to walk in the dark.

The air is good. Chill and clear. But I can't get enough of it inside me. "Go on without me," I have to gasp halfway up the hill. But my friend comes with me back down. In the dark we climb back up towards home. There is no other way than uphill home.

I am sorry at every stop I have to make, hands on my waist, head bent down, trying not to feel I'm breathing underwater. My friend is very patient. She waits beside me until I can climb on. I come back inside, still in the dark, sobbing for breath. And back to bed.

It's the old trouble - run myself down and the bronchial stuff acts up again - too boring to talk about it.

Boring, too, to be sick like this. Too short-minded to read. Sleep is only a softer deeper buzzing and unrefreshing. The only pleasure is a long succession of hot mugs: Throat Coat, Gypsy Cold Care, Breathe Easy, Lemon Ginger, Licorice Root, Good Earth Original. If I do not cough, I believe, I will get better faster.

I fall asleep and wake to watch the sky through the window.

I decide to contemplate my life, to set out a new and improved plan, and fall asleep.

When I wake up I try to read and end up looking deeply into the knotty-pine slats of the ceiling - someone stepped on one when the roof was still sky and left a 1970's Ked's tread in the varnish. I breathe and do not cough. I drink more tea.

I think about the little vase my grandmother made for her mother.

And the little tin that great-grandmother was given by her husband when he came courting.

Or rather I don't think about them.  I notice.  I look very closely.  I feel their sides.  And then I sleep again.

I call my sister, my mother, ask them to talk to me, except that I can't talk back.  I can only listen.

Music gives me a headache.  I do laundry.  I go back to bed.  I listen to the rain.

I am so quiet at last that, after months and months of running away and running around and talking at the top of my lungs, I can no longer avoid hearing the muttering of my broken and abandoned book.  The one I thought I was too much a coward to keep writing.

Back before this spell of silence fell on me, I found a site among the treasures in this Babel tower of many tongues: weaving as a story-making.  Watching this woman's apt hands weaving, seeing her try this woven pattern with that, the ripped cloth blending into the cloth it overlaps, reminded me of something.  While I lay there, another of the Babel's treasures replayed itself against the gray sky outside my window: a ghost story suggesting many ways for coming home.

So that, coming back to myself, I am haunted by ghosts weaving themselves into existence.  And I don't wan't to talk too much about it for fear of over-handling.  Like moth wings with their fragile feathers, so easily rubbed away.  Or the bloom on blue plums.

Which is to say:   more silence up ahead.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

a story for this silence

Just before this last stretch of silence I spent the day with my very young nephew who lives some hours down river.  I arrived the night before to a quiet house, a few lights on, only his parents and older half-siblings gliding through the kitchen.

In the morning I awoke to music, soft and folksy.  Danny was already awake, padding around amongst his family's knees, small bare feet slapping on the tile.  And then they were all gone - to high school, to a set schedule of mouths full of teeth, to a day of training at the new hospital.

Danny and I sat together reading  - Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham, Gingerbread Boy, Mr Brown Can Moo . . . well-worn words I used to read nearly everyday, even long ago to his own daddy.  Then Danny played, chasing his push toys, clacking blocks together, while I paid my bills. 

We listened to music again and ate sourdough and bananas and cottage cheese.  "Where are your shoes, Danny, so we can go outside?"  He took me to his room.  Not there.  But his blanket was, so we sat in the rocking chair and rocked and hummed to each other.  He popped up pointing - socks!  He brought them to me one by one, lifting each foot for me to put the sock on over his bare toes and then we looked in the closet for his coat and found his shoes there, too.

Outside we walked very carefully down the stairs and back and forth across the walk.  We bent down to touch the shining drops of water on the grass.  We visited the daffodils, bending down to each one and breathing on them.  We walked around and around the big old clump of oak, touching the moss soft, touching the bark rough, then climbing up inside the four or five oaks that have grown up together for a century.  We sat on oaken knees, touching more moss soft, and looking up at the unfurling leaves and bare twigs.  We found sticks to wave in the air.

Danny chased the shadowy six-toed cat MacGregor through the garden and fell, cutting his lip.  One burst of crying, one hug where he rested his head on my shoulder, patting my back as I patted his.  A little while inside the house sipping drops of water off an ice cube held against the swelling lip.  And more stories.  We found squares of sunshine to sit in - book, baby, lap, bright window.  We pulled all the books out and then put them all back in.  We went back outside. 

We walked all around the house.  We walked up and down the stairs twice.  We opened the front door, looked in, stepped back, closed the door, opened it again.  We picked up maple seeds.  We watched the garbage truck come from far down the road, stopping at each of the neighbors' driveways and reaching with its skinny metal hand to chug down the garbage can, setting the cans back on their pavement slightly askew. 

We sat on two rocks just the right size.  The sun shone on our skin and made small sparkles.  The wind moved the leaves of grass. Some birds sang and then stopped.  Every once in a while Danny hopped up to bend down and touch green the fleshy leaves of a nearby bush.  Each time he came back, settling himself onto his rock again, putting his hands on his knees in the bright sunshine.

We walked around the house again. He pointed to the windchime and I lifted him up.  He rang the chimes in a great jangle.  We both laughed.  He rang them again and again, stopping longer and longer to listen to the sound of the chimes unravelling into silence . . .

And that is one story for this stretch of silence.

Another is that this is my favorite week of the year.  Easter week.  The week of emptying toward the empty tomb. 

When fall comes, when snow first falls, I think some other season is my favorite, but really spring is the season I love best above all others.  And Easter is Spring taken to its furthest conclusion. 

When I was small  my parents would hide candy and colored eggs for me to find the day before.  My mother would stay up late sewing me a new dress for Easter morning.  I remember feeling the big bow tied behind my back, hopping from sun-dapple to sun-dapple on the sidewalk.  Easter morning a colored basket full of magical transparent grass would appear and candies in pink and purple foil.  Then we would eat ham and coconut bunny cake for dinner.  But along the way my parents became dissatisfied with ham and chocolate and late nights sewing as a celebration for Easter. 

We fell into a quietness, acknowledging the day, but nothing much more.

And for years I carried on that same quietness.  My own children hunted for eggs to celebrate the first day of spring.  And Easter was a day of quietness.

Little things we began to do have become traditions - the Signs of Spring walk (first dandelion, oak apple, the ceramic coolness of unopened apple blossoms), hiding candy in colored eggs around the 21st of March.

To celebrate spring.

But Easter, coming sometimes after, sometimes before, has grown softly into a quiet and contemplative week.  My husband's favorite holiday, he says.  I think this is better than Christmas, one child said once.  Quietly.  


But it is my favorite, too.  Maybe because the advertisers haven't caught on.  There isn't anything special we have to buy - except a lamb shank, matzos, parsley and radicchio for a very simple passover meal during the week.  And meanwhile the rest of world buzzes around doing the things they usually do while spring grows outside the windows. 

What do I love best about this week?  Sunday to Sunday and spilling over into Monday.

Do you remember in elementary school decorating paper plates - one with curls of white paper as a lamb, one with a yellow fringe for a lion's mane - all to celebrate the month that comes in like one to go out like the other? 

We make Lion & Lamb bread the Sunday before and I think as I make it about Peace.  

Remembering -  as I crush rosemary for remembrance and sprinkle it on the baking sheet sleek with olive oil for consecrated kings -  the crowds of oppressed people who cheered the teacher from Galilee as he rode quietly into the city on a donkey's colt.  How they called out for their coming Prince of Peace.  That desire planted in us all for peace . . . 

Thinking - as I brush the pale unbaked dough with an egg from my sister-in-law's ducks - how great things begin small and unshaped and almost accidental.  How we shape what comes after with how we turn and where we go today.

We've begun inviting a friend or two to eat with us that first Sunday.  Our widowed neighbor brings fern fronds to wave, to decorate the table.  And together we make salad with bright-colored leaves and blue rosemary blossoms and violets from beneath the trees.  We make asparagus risotto, which requires four hands at least, to ladle in broth and asparagus water, to stir the rice constantly, to blend basil, asparagus, parmesan and cream for a velvety green sauce.

The aparagus crowns looks like sceptres, says a child.  Basil is a Greek word for King, someone points out.  Everything smells wonderful together.

For dessert there is orange custard - milk and honey abundance - and eggs new life - and orange zest and fresh-squeezed juice which is for me the fruit of paradise.  Sometimes there is also cinnamon-and-nutmeg scented strawberry-rhubarb pie.  The point is that it is the work of many hands together that brings it all to the table, fragrant and warm, a meal to welcome in a King with all his peaceable kingdom.

That is a good day to begin a week.

Monday then is the cleansing of the temple where we think through the day - what noise and commerce inside myself is offending holiness?  How can I drive it out and make a space there for God's gift? 

Tuesday is a day for telling each other parables - the lost sheep, the prodigal son returned, the watchman, the vineyard, the woman finding a coin and calling all her neighbors together to rejoice.

Wednesday for abiding together like Jesus did with Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus who was raised from the dead.

Thursday is for retelling the stories of deliverance - Moses in the bulrushes, the parting of the Red Sea, the Garden of Gethsemane - as we drink four cups of red grape, before we eat lamb and bitter herbs, flatbread and a spicy mortar-paste of apples and figs.

Friday and Saturday are days of waiting and if weather allows we sleep outside Saturday night.

Sunday morning we rise to sunlight - sometimes clear and bright, sometimes behind a bank of gray clouds - but perceivable light and a new day.  We sit together watching the light grow, singing very quietly songs with words like Rejoice!  Hosanna!  Alleluia!  Fish and honeycomb for a dinner.  A new loaf of bread. The simplest of meals.

And Monday, as the last chimes of the week trail off, unravelling into the ordinary noise, we talk together about carrying this light and quietness forward, how to feed other sheep who are, like ourselves, too often lost in the roar of  - the buzzing business of -  the weight of all that is too much with us.

And that is another story for this stretch of silence.  It is almost the same story.
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