Friday, September 24, 2010

fear in a handful

Matter, we say, meaning undifferentiated stuff. 
Lint.  Galactic dust.
The baggage we carry. 

Yesterday, and the day before, UPS delivered boxes to my father-in-law.  He had ordered another pair of slippers with strong soles "for walking out to the mailbox, you know."

I know.   

And a table he can pull up to his chair.  "We can eat, pay bills, write, paint . . . anything!"  He has another one still in the box for my mother-in-law, too.  "Should I put it together, Momma?"

"Not just now."

"I am strong," he says, lying down with his eyes closed.  His body has begun to consume itself.  He lifts his once-strong arm, the skin hangs in a swag like a curtain, "I'll get through this.  I'll be okay."

In the kitchen my daughter hugs herself, shaking.  She doesn't want to be touched.  She won't say anything until we're out in the car, "I know he's right.  He will get through.  He'll get through.  You know?  He'll be okay.  But I just won't get to see him.  For awhile.  I won't see him."

*  *  *

He exhausted himself last month, driving back to Idaho, packing up the house, wanting suddenly to get it ready to sell. 

The doctor sent him back here.  Said, "It's time now to calm down."  Said, "No more driving."  His older son drove him here.  The van was full of boxes.  Full boxes.

He sat in the brown leather recliner he had ordered a month before, exhausted.  His eyes, his face.  The apartment was already full. 

"But I had to get Momma's treasures for her.  She was going to want them."  Her china, her rocks, her figurines, her crate of souvenirs from their trip to Egypt years ago.  "We're going to get a corner knick-knack shelf," he says.  "We're going to get one of those mirror-backed shelves that hangs on the wall."

"Do you want these boxes unpacked?" I ask her, later.

"No," she shakes her head.  "And I don't like corner shelves."

*   *   *

When I was very young and my grandmother lived in a small green house between two very tall pine trees, baby birds would fall from their nests and my brother and cousin and I would try to keep them alive by feeding them whole worms and small round bird-berries.

Their mouths kept opening piteously peeping even as their gullet filled and the skin of their throats grew pebbly and wiggled. Eventually they all died always.

And more clothes. "Winter's coming," he says. "We need to be warm."  Boxes of clothes. "Momma needs her warm clothes."

They are the same clothes that fill the closet here and the drawers already.

But in different colors.

*   *   *

Mater. Maître.
My mother-in-law is like a little bird.  Small and hungry for attention.  She waits for us eagerly.

When you hug her good-bye, she tucks her head under your chin like a child in need of comfort.  She does this even when YoungSon hugs her.  She has always done this as long as I've known her.

She is always in pain though she doesn't complain, except to say, "I can't. I hurt. I hurt."

No one has been able to find her hurt and fix it in twenty years, though they've given it a name - neuropathy.  It came on her suddenly, the week before I married her younger son.  She tripped over a water hose in the lawn. 

I've never known her any other way.  Never seen her outside walking except once, right after she fell.  Fritz and I had slipped around the corner of the house.  "I want to show you something," he had said.  When she hobbled out a few minutes later, we weren't looking at anything, our eyes closed.

Fritz' face grew warmer.  I turned my head to smile, expecting her to laugh and withdraw, seeing we were just fine, and occupied. Instead she led us back inside, small between her crutches, limping like a killdeer coaxing the predator away from her young.

*  *  *

What's the matter? 
It doesn't matter. 
It matters to me.

"Did you forward those lights?" he asks.

"Which lights, Dad?"

He is almost asleep, lying on his side in the bed, so tired suddenly.  Up until two weeks ago he had been the busy one, the one who got up in the morning and made Mom breakfast, helped her get dressed. 

Now it seems every day he is more sleepy.

"I ordered a box of lights so we can read," his voice is weaker than it was yesterday,"so we can see.  You said you'd forward them - "

"I don't -"

" - because when they sent them they sent them to the other house."

"Okay . . .  "

"You said you'd forward them."

"I'll do what I can."

"I know you will," his eyes are closed.  He is almost asleep, "I know."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

simple fool rejoicing

Having established (to my own satisfaction) that if indeed doting is foolish, fevered, a sign of our inescapable self-deception, the way we cling like a vine, dithering in the wind, to what once made us happy. . . Having  established, at least, that the fond fool is not more foolish than the sad one, nor the angry, nor the grim and uncomplaining. 

Is perhaps less silly than the fool who won't admit to foolishness nor hope nor any other thing with feathers. 

And as, dealing with, and, all that (bodily fluids, failing ludicity, dying), finding over and over myself refreshed by the sky which I suddenly notice every day sweeping over the top of my day.

Small jokes.  Music from a forgotten CD.  Leaves turning.

And as I've already granted, been granted permission . . .

I Am Lately Doting On . . . 
a blessed-happy-silly abecedary

Absolutes that aren't:  nos and nevers that open into maybes, mystery at the heart of everything.  What is there quite reliably, like a table, absolutely solid and able to bear, but also, at the same time, not in fact solid, in fact more space than solid when you get right down to it. (It being the sub-atomic level.)  And on the other hand, the void that is not empty.  I love that.  That the final word has never yet been said.

Brevity, the idea of it, the wit in it, the unquenchable hope of it for myself, but also Brevity the Blog because it mails itself to me so regularly with small delightful bits and pieces.  

Cinnamon on peaches to go in my oatmeal or my plain whole cream yogurt.  Cream itself, for that matter, sour and whipped. Clever talk.  Clever writing. And crockery for which I have a fatal weakness.  And the color celadon which is evocative and also lovely to say.

Daughters, their undaunted freshness.  Seeing the future in their faces.  And liking it.  

Embroidered sheets.  And that someone who loves me puts them on the bed whenever I come visit.

Fascination.  Finding it in a sudden phrase . . .  it took seven years to complete and gave him a taste for creating fantastical environments . . . , in an image of geodesic domes and dreadlocks and a haunted house made of changing light on a white sheet.  Finding it and suddenly knowing what I'll be writing next.  How over and over these fits of fascination grip and compel the scribbling self, identifying yet another of the teraphim who mark out the boundaries of my home country: Julian of Norwich, William Morris, Maria Reiche, Gaston Bachelard, Helen Waddell, Josephine Butler, Susa Young Gates, William Penn, Alexandra David-Neel, Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, and now Jaron Lanier.

Grapes, black and muscadine.  Google, and the instant gratification of idle curiosity.

Herbs - thyme, oregano, rosemary - spicy in the air on an autumn afternoon.  Heroism, particularly the daily, down-to-earth, self-deprecatory and often very funny sort.  Also hyperlinks.

Images (film, photos, open eye) and that I (despite the eyes I was born with) can see them.  Also India (color, spices, saris, dance, ageless, ragas, lilting intonation, utility bicycles, Bollywood goofiness, clever technology, human dignity under duress, contradictions). And how it all comes together so beautifully on  indiaphragme.

Justice and judgement, in the Old Testament sense: advocacy for the oppressed, the despised, the downtrodden, or as in the book of of Joel, where the patient earth itself is spoken to (and for): 
 Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: . . . Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. . . .  for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month.
(And yes, I dote on the language of the King James in general, not just "the former rain moderately" but also "the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain" among other many millions of instances.)

Kisses.  Not Hershey's, but Fritz's.

Lazy, lingering breakfasts because we have to get up so untimely now that our mornings are long and leisurely, full of conversation and early laughter.

Movies: going to the, imagining favorite books as, discoursing passionately uponMusic.  In especial, music made in the open air, or back bedroom, for the fun, joy, or pure waily sorrow of it.  Musical instruments.  Musicians in their moment.

Neighborliness that gives me smiles on a bleak day, runs to open the door for me when I am burdened, waves me down to talk inthemiddleof the empty road, halfway up the hill.

Obituaries on the last page of the Economist.  The brisk, in medias res boiling-down of a life into two-thirds of a page, with iconic photo.  It has been my (not any more) secret ambition to appear in this gallery of rogues and heroes . . . and as significant heroism seems outside my reach, I've spent many happy moments trying to plan out some roguery sufficient to get me there.

Pencils - yellow Ticonderoga with green metal and pink erasers.   Portland (also photo at top), in every season, though especially now when the virginia creeper growing on the walls along the main arteries blushes brilliant. Poems by Merwin, by Gluck, by Szymborska, by Housman, by Dickinson, by Li-Young Lee.  ArtSparker's playful photos of people long ago and the sinuous prose of People Running, People Walking

Q-tips.  The colored ones. Quiet quirkiness: the so ordinary woman - who keeps a lit-up, mechanically nodding, pink flamingo inside the front door of her manufactured home to remind her she has everything she needs plus, who sews small, beautiful quilts for the local animal shelter from scraps she collects online from around the world and mails off monthly boxes of exquisitely matched and stitched dresses for girls in Africa. And acorns and oak apples (from Quercus garryana) which will soon be falling in my town.

Red.  Raspberries. Reading stories of redemption and returning prodigals (See: Home, by Marilynne Robison.)  (Or if you are the wanderer, maybe you should Go: Home.)

SuccotashSunrise.  Sleep. 

Ten-year-old boys.  The things they keep in their pockets.  Their bursts of sudden sweetness.  The way their hands and feet outgrow them.  How they throw their arms around you.  Their mouthful of uneven teeth.

Umbrellas.  Sudden understanding.

Vividness in all its variety.

Wallpaper: my grandmother's.  That it is in layers, that she chose each one, that I remember/recognize forgotten layers.

XY & Z . . .

For the unknowns that change everything suddenly, or gradually, and not necessarily in catastrophic ways. 

For what's still coming.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

imaginary biking.

"I thought maybe you'd given up biking
one says when I show up on two wheels.

"Have you made friends with your bike again?"
says another, brokering the idea of autumn rides.

I haven't given up and we are friends. 

At least, I would still like to be friends. 

Dear Oma and Lady Blue,
 I would like to still be friends with you

But here's the thing -
setting aside the thing about how suddenly (with the caretaking thing and
the horticultural reconstructive surgery thing and
the I-just-can't-get-my-act-together thing)
suddenly I can't seem to afford
that extra 20 minutes it takes to ride into town -
suddenly I can't seem to consolidate my trips into town 
to once at the start of a day and back at the end of the day-
how instead it's zip-zip-zip zigzagging
from hill to river three four times a day. 
And carting loads that would no way fit in my handlebar basket. 

Setting aside all that,
and setting aside also the hostile forces
among the powers-that-be who have laid down a new rule
that kids can't ride the school bus from the transfer site to school
but only from home to school (a 45-minute bus ride, followed by a half-hour wait at the transfer site, followed by that 5 minute bus ride)

Setting aside all that
as stuff that could be worked around,
worked through,
wriggled under,
here is the real Thing: 
 I had a daughter-driver
to tote siblings from practice
with their backpacks of books and duffels of sweaty clothes,
in the dark, in the pouring rain, which rain I don't mind.
But I do mind whining and all that gusty griping.

Before,  I had the option
of leaving my reluctant ones at home and biking alone,
letting them come along by car
if they couldn't be persuaded to join me in the cycling life. 

Now it's all persuasion and capitulation.  And mostly the latter.  And mostly on my part. 

Dear Wheels of Self-Propelled Progress,
I'm beginning again to yearn for you.

And that may be enough to get me out there.

Friday, September 17, 2010

to dote and dither- a meditation on the words.

We live in a language suspicious of fond doting.  To dote and dither -

words that branch from the same word -
DODDER - "To shake."  
Like a dotard, grey-bearded and drooling in the soup. 
Or a vine, rattled by the wind. 
Words that trace themselves back
 to the Proto-Indo-European root
*dud- "To shake, deceive,"
by way of Middle English doten, "to be foolish."

Fond too comes from fool
so that a fond fool is among other things, redundant.
Fool from the old Proto-Indo-European root
 *bhel-(2) "To blow, swell," 

a first cousin to
*bhel-(1) "To shine, flash, burn"
giving us words like FLAME, FLAGRANT,
showing the roots of all those blonde jokes

cousin to *bhel-(3) "To thrive, bloom"
that tired old melodrama of greed, lust, corruption

cousin to*bhel-(4) "To cry out, yell"

But *bhel-(2) "To blow, swell,"
gives us all those round, tumescent words
a short history of politics in itself, 
not to mention BALLOON, nor BAWD, BOLD,
innocent FOLLICLE,  PHALLUS, simple FOOL . . .

And we begin to understand the reason for the distrust of fondness, of doting.  

Fools follow their fondness, 
doting on those bad apples we (perhaps he)
would never have et
if we (he) had not been so shaken,
inflamed by the efflorescing flourish
of the flamboyant bowled blossom of a hand (her hand)
offering that boldly rounded and flordily deceptive fruit,
her other hand still curving around the smooth-barked bole
still shaking with the knowledge of difference and desire.

Doting, asserts the language we live in - 
by way of Old English, old Germanic,
chiming together with the received
wisdom of its brother-tongues
in Celtic, Tocharian, Balto-Slavic, Italic, Indic, and Old Persian -
like a great bell, or better a whole bell tower,
agreeing on the hour, every hour, 
that doting puts men at the mercy
of powers almost outside themselves,
the inconvenient unwilled acknowledging nod
to powers blooming, loud, and flagrant.

So that standing in the latter-end of history, at the full flowering of this living tongue we speak and think and dream in, as a simple woman - a word - like womb - with no entry in my Dictionary of Indo-European Roots - standing here I hold these words inside me and wonder. 

To be simple is also to be a fool, a silly fool. 
But silly comes from Old English sǣlig "happy,"
from sǣl  "happiness,"
from Gothic sēls  "good,"
from Proto-Indo-European *sel- which is also "good,"
giving us Greek hilaros "cheerful"
and Latin solari "to comfort" and salvus "whole, safe."

Haven't we come too long a way, baby,
from silly's original "happy" and "blessed,"

to "pious," to "innocent," 
to "harmless," to "pitiable," 

to "weak,"  to "feeble in mind, lacking in reason,"
to end at simple fond and doting "foolish"?

Don't we live in a language that mistrusts happiness?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

sometimes I am a superhero.

Outside there is a clanking, a sick whine.  I don't know what it is but feel suddenly, at the pit, a cold heaviness. 

Our summers stretch late here.  Both Middlest and Young still at home for one more day.  "What is that?" they ask me.

Soon they run back in.  What it is . . . is the 100-year old Doug firs along the road.  Mowed.  This is the road department's new low.  I've seen the damage along other county roads, walking over the hills Saturday mornings - cracked branches, barked, ragged, open to pest infestation, disease. 

"Someone ought to do something about that," we say to each other, my friend and I.

Middlest and Young are outraged.  Voices hot, faces full of grief . . . and expectation.

Who am I?  A tired woman at the midpoint of a life.  Heel so painfully inflamed I can't walk my hills -  just when I need to carry double loads.  Sometimes I think I miss my Eldest, but what I miss most are the years of my competence and strength.  Those years of speaking earnestly, looking into those soft young faces, earnest words about not accepting victimhood, not standing by when wrong is done. 

I feel victimized. 

YoungSon's eyes are frightened as he describes what's gone.  Something green and lovely now matchsticks, litter.  These trees older than the road, so big they have a presence that we've read as protecting, benevolent, patient, wise.  The profanation of their sanctity, their age and heavy shade frightens me.  Their vain dependence on us who have failed them when we thought we sheltered under them.

Middlest, face fierce, pauses to catch her breath. 

I sigh, breathe deep, run my fingers through my hair.  "Well, I'm going to need my gray jacket."

"YES!" says YoungSon.  "I'll get it!" and runs to my closet.  He calls, "Where are your boots?" Because he knows the costume I wear for battling injustice. 

*   *   *

After I return with promises of reparations, I ask my children, "What will we do the day the gray jacket gets ragged and wears out?"

"You can save a piece of it," says YoungSon. "You can keep it in your pocket always."

Monday, September 13, 2010

at the mind's eye café.

Already I’m looking forward to November.

(If I can pull it off again this year - with the juggling act I’m in these days.)

Lovely November when I write 50,000 words of a novel's first draft.

(I will pull it off. I’ll just write faster and more furious. And fierce. Juggling fiercely and fast. And writing with the other hand the whole time.)

(Or maybe, juggling with toes and soles of the feet – since one-handed on the keyboard – which I could cover with my piano-octave finger-reach – but the typos incurred would be nightmare. Or mare’s nest. Either way, none too sightly. Nor readable.)

Embarrassing how much I’m looking forward to it.

(Middlest tells me she’s already planning to carry the cooking. Actually she says, “. . . looking forward to it . . . already have ideas . . . plus cross-country will be over then . . . ”)

Will a dedication in her honor at the front of the book ever be enough? 

(I’m thinking a whole page in the manner of NeoClassic poet to royal patron – lots of caps and italics and euphony.)

*   *   *

And I think I know what my November novel will be about this year – it just grabbed me with that gut-deep excitement that’s like . . . the smell of poplars, spring and fall, when the sap moves up into the leaves and when the leaves dry, dying.

Like the first snowfall.  When you're seven. And school's just been cancelled.

Like the first returned glance, significant and full of future tense.

*   *   *

As for last November’s novel, I vow here in this public plaza, here at the Mind’s Eye sidewalk café, my cloud-cycle leaning against the table, beneath the striped awning, basket full of flowers and curious packages tied up with string ~

Yea, verily, will I give to you, abandoned manuscript, September's balance, October's whole: a daily vising/revising.  Because life is not going to get any more freed up and imagination’s masked racoon has been treed up long enough by the baying hounds of responsibility.

And also verily.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

permission: 8 Easy Lessons for Caretakers: a list. with conversation.

"And get yourself into the doctor.  Because," Mom's voice just audible over the hiss of wet tires, "you know what they say about caretakers."
"Yeah?"  Which means  . . . no?  As in, There can't be more still I should be worrying about? 
Caretakers, it appears, as an added benefit, are too known for not always surviving, not long surviving, their caretakees. 
"Just look at your dad after taking care of Grandpa."
Or Fritz' dad Bill, for that matter, who has got four months.  Per the doctor.  Which means give or take.  As in, the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.  I've just come from the first meeting with hospice nurse and social worker where Bill's repeated concern is not for himself, for the coming pain, for the shortness finally of these last months after years of remission, but, "What about Momma?" 

I'm sitting on the bench outside the Hot Spot waiting for my turn in the chair and a drastic haircut - today's quickest way to alleviate what's weighing on my shoulders.

Up until now we've just been helping him to help her. 

Herein begins the shifting of the heavy lifting.


1.  permission to Take Care of Myself.  No more staying up late to putter around at things that will get done faster by daylight.  No more ignoring symptoms hoping they'll go away.  No more sacrificing family dinner for a snatched something because we're too tired after fixing up, cleaning up, cheering up, chatting up.  No more. 

2. permission to Ask for Help. With essential attendant . . .

3. permission to Not Feel Guilty about paying someone to do what I could do if I had more time / were more organized / never slept.  And while we're at it, here's a pass for forgetting those reusable grocery bags, driving when I could have biked, buying store-bought bread . . .

4. permission to Laugh at Ridiculous advice/ comments/ expectations. Or just . . .

5. permision to Laugh.

6. permission to Lie Down in the Grass and Look at Trees.

7. permission to Dote, to Dither, to Take Pictures of Flowers.

8. permission to Live even in the midst of all this.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

how the water flows.

There should be a soundtrack. Something gentle. Like the dream I slip from into the quiet kitchen. Familiar as the backdoor my son and I ease through into the morning.

It would be more authentic if the truck were Grandpa's light blue Ford: white-wall tires, chrome knobs, squeaky vinyl seat-covers, the smell of hay. But we're squeezed together in the cab of my dad's Dodge just like we should be. Morning sagebrush and the breath of water rising from the creek smell just like they should.

We're in the Narrows, along Clear Creek, fishing poles in back, sun not yet risen above the canyon's edge.  It would be more authentic if the worms were in an old tin can, some we'd dug beneath the moon, instead of picking up at the Flying U.

But still. What could be more beautiful than this morning?

There should be a soundtrack.

YoungSon settles in. 

I almost catch one, see it rising against the current, dark locus of movement and will. But I'd been squeamish, threading the worm. And the fish that was not to be my fish nibbles a risky breakfast and breaks away.

YoungSon catches his first fish. Then another, matching his grandpa, my dad, fish for fish.

That it would be more authentic if I were worried about doing it right, about winning here or failing, is just one more sweet thing about having come of age. Being old enough to know it's enough to have a reason to sit here in early morning by the side of this stream.  This place I dreamed once was the sister I wished for (how was that possible?) the only girl amidst my bouncing bunch of brothers.

Here I am, the only girl again.  But my son now, not my brother, catches the fish I don't, each silvery catch an iridescent, dotted wonder.  We laugh into each other's faces. 

What could be more beautiful than this first catch?

He watches patiently the same water I watch when I'm not watching him.

There should be a soundtrack.

Something about how water flows.  Around and through life's best-laid plans. 

Something about coming of age, every day getting better and better.  Something about beautiful, beautiful boy, morning, fish, life.

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