Friday, March 4, 2011

FEBRUARY 32, 2011 - the end

How fitting, Thou drollest of Stage Directors, to call me out today for one more dove release.

why eye . . . must change my life

Okay, homing pigeon.

Not the sign of inspiration winging in, but that common bird, hardy and resilient with a useful trick of knowing how to come home - and yes, I get the significance there. (I am willing to be Thy pigeon, if Thou wilt plant in me a sure way home.)  Pigeon made dove  by word alone when I say the words:  To conclude this service, this pure white dove will be released as a symbol . . . 

"You and your symbols,"  my friend said recently, trying to rein me in.  Shaking her head at the way I had waxed ecstatic describing the shabby-but-graceful fox-trotting middle-aged couple who'd danced a private enactment of the lightness and forbearing unity that is one kind of marriage.  My friend was shaking her head at me like I made these "symbol" thingies up myself.

why eye . . . still dream of flying

But did I do this bird trick?  Did I arrange the plot so neatly?  Did I set out to begin and end this long, overlong, stretched-over-two-years-long, who-am-I-and-where-am-I-going scene like this?  I did not.

Pigeons and funerals?  Not my doing.  I never saw it coming until just now.

I'm just catching Thy joke.  Appreciating Thy sly wit.  

why eye . . . remember I have wings
Because Thou knowest it was that long-ago funeral-bird-fiasco that drove me to begin this blog in the first place. As an incident too perfectly apt to my situation then.  An outward picture of an inward truth. (i.e. SYMBOL and not of my making)

Only Thou and I remember how much I needed an Imaginary Bicycle, some un-ordinary vehicle, to help me to recover all those too-soon departing doves pigeons doves.  My fledgling chicks, my long-flown ambitions.  (i.e. more SYMBOLS, partly made but mostly found)

I nodded Thy direction last month, when in January (#12) I was called out of the blue, after two years, to once again release another "dove" at a funeral.  I acknowledged it as a sentence remitted, a curse undone, a silly but symbolic second cosmic chance.

why eye . . . am not my cage

When nothing went wrong -- the bird flew as birds should do and at the right spot in time --  I felt the holding pattern I've been stuck in -- for lo, these two too-many years -- was maybe breaking up at last.  That the filibuster was maybe hemming and hawing into his handkerchief, going hoarse at last.  (okay, this symbol I made up myself -- but see? nothing like so powerful and corporeal as Thine).

In the flesh, last month, I held a laugh of release inside my chest (feeling inside something died, something about to be reborn) while I watched two old brothers trying to coordinate their swing-and-toss of a silly bird, symbolic of their father's soul, back into the air.  After saying my magic-symbolic words of transformation and putting the pigeon-now-dove into their hands, I tried to keep my face suitably sober as these two tear-softened gray-haired brothers together tossed their pigeon-dove into the air.

Being a mixed creature myself, I was jubilant standing amid the grievers to feel that maybe my cycle was grinding into action once again.

why eye . . . have flown
Today the grieving family couldn't decide who should release the bird.  After swinging back and forth, they tossed the action to me, as a neutral and unrelated and thus innocent bystander.

And so I held the bird in my own hands and felt beneath my own fingers the eager feathers, the certain strength of wing muscles. Feeling inside myself at the same time the eager heart, the greedy mind, the glowing prospects ahead of me. 

With mourners all around me, jubilant I swung my clasped hands up, jumping a little onto my toes the way you do, watching this feathered hopeful creature take to the sky.

I stood a long moment, with all the other upturned faces, witnessing that lovely bird wing her way unhesitatingly home.

And I just have to say, Nicely played, MaestroNicely played.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

FEBRUARY 31, 2011 - what I told them

What mi amiga said:  "You can just go and totally reinvent yourself.  Do not even look back."

What my dad said:  "It's about time."

What my mom said: "Don't you think this is what it's been about - not anyone else, just you not wanting to end up a querulous old lady?"

What YoungSon said, after laughing, his face making all its sweet crinkles, because I'm swooping around hoom-hooming a manic rendition of Phantom of the Opera - which has, I hope, very little to do with my news:  "That's cool, Mom.  Will you be gone when I come home from school?"

What Middlest said: "Yay!  I'm so happy for you!"

What Fritz said:  "So we can meet for lunches.  How long is it going to take?  Because we'll need to set that much aside."

Because this  is what I told them.

And now I'm telling you since - just now - the word came through that all the official prerequisite flotsam has been nailed down.  So when I come back in April I will be talking like this.  Or trying to.

(Now back to the swooping and hoom-hooming)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

FEBRUARY 30, 2011 - taking questions

Take One

What are you doing here?
I'm trying to write.  At home the phone rings, the piles of gravel mutter, the second coat of paint in the bathroom whines for attention.  Also the dog.  While the same sad array of disappointed books and obdurately unlucky rocks stare back at me. It is quiet here.  And I can let home go.  After all, dinner is already bubbling away: beans, fifteen varieties of.  The laundry: quelled.  The paperwork: up-to-date.  Everyone who needs to be fed or cheered - or fed and cheered - in my immediate purview has been seen to.

What are you doing here?

I'm watching sea gulls fly across a patch of blue sky.  And tons and tons of water flow west, north, northwest.  Dripping from the sky, dripping down out of local watersheds in hundreds of small cascades and flowing now together to empty themselves into the wide immensities that are Ocean.  And I'm watching an old lady in a crocheted cap - a black beanie with variegated neon seams - totter up to the rail overlooking the river.  She fusses about in her pocket, wipes her face with a kleenex, totters away.

What are you doing here?
I'm sipping orange mint tea from a thermos.  I'm eating a half-sandwich, one slice whole wheat: folded over, peanut butter: 100% and unadulterated.  And peapods.  And stunted carrots.  I have an apple waiting.  I am so very stuck in this age and place and socioeconomic profile, sitting here in my soccer-mom van at the water's edge.
What are you doing here?
I am trying to write something and crossing out lines like the heart of what really matters and the thread of light in this mazy murk and meanwhile my mind keeps wandering away to that article from Sunset (June 1993) in the waiting room at the DMV about braising/deglazing and now I'm thinking how a clutch of yellow onions in beef broth/with balsamic, respectively, would be rather divine if stirred (with a little garlic) into those 15 varieties of beans.  And then maybe some smoked paprika?  a bit of sage?  Crumbled bacon.  And collards cooked up in a bit of the grease to go along with.

What are you doing here?
I'm looking/ not looking at the young lovers who have wandered over to the gazebo down on the grassy shore.  Their hands in each other's pockets.  They lean into each other.  They read each other's faces like everything they'll ever need is written right there.  They ought to be in school this time of day.  Or working.  I'm trying not to remember what they look like.  I don't want to recognize them later - or more probably just her - months from now at the food bank, big-bellied and abandoned.
What are you doing here?
I'm trying to shape a life I can live with.  I'm trying to balance in and out, dark and water - which is so egregiously self-plagiarism, too utterly obscure and private metaphor that I might as well just say I'm aspiring to be the Telescope's Apprentice and have done with any wish to communicate clearly.

What are you doing here?
I don't know.

Take Two

I wrote a poem once.  So long ago, it seems like someone else wrote it.

What the Telescope Hears

You scan the void with such aplomb.
You gather light, reflect. I clown
around in borrowed clothing, goatskin

suitcase packed with worn-out
constellations. Spectator
pumps Andromeda

wore, Orion's studded belt,
the Virgo's wig and flowered caftan.
I am so broken down

into question-answer, mix-
and-match coordinates - still
hoping to be seen through,
yearning to be taken in,

absorbed by all that isn't there:
black holes, dark matter. O

you who see it all: help
me to the right ascension, the arc
of declination where I

will give up every mask to see
the room where stars dissolve and spin
themselves from dust. O deaf

and blind but filled with light,
heaven's laughter in particle waves —
show me the way between

in and out, dark and water,
sudden planet, white apple,
bright and fiery pomegranate

© by Emma Jay

What does it mean?
It means I'm still not there yet.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

FEBRUARY 29, 2011 - what? you didn't realize there was a Leap Day this year?

How about a Leap Week?

The end of the month is upon me.  In fact, we could say (thanks to a major power outage) that the End of the Month is been and gone, hit and run, abscondido.  That it is the First of the Month now squalling and mewling for attention out in a basket on the front step.

We could say that.  Or we could say February is far too short when among friends. We could, actually, consider today February 29th.  We could decide that for once, February gets its full complement of 30 days hath September . . . even an all the rest get thirty-one.  In fact, considering the amount of things I find I need to tell you before slipping back behind my vow of silence, we may need to stretch this month to a record thirty-two days.

Couldn't we?  Actually, we could. 

So, since the first of the month (which is still February remember?) I've been carrying around notes I wrote on the fly after one day at the Food Bank.

For weeks I've kept coming back to my little book and its quick scratches, trying to shape scribbles into something postable, trying to tease out some interesting angle, or shadow of insight - because something here mattered immensely to me.  I began: 
Last Monday I worked at the HELP Pantry - unless that stands for Hunger Eradication League Pantry in which case I worked at the HEL Pantry.  Which would be unfortunate.  But a good sight warmer.  However, it was achingly cold, so I suspect it stands for Help Everyone Live Properly Pantry.  Or the Higher Eating Levels Project Pantry.

Anyway, as I was saying . . .
Though I never actually did say.  I never actually got beyond playing around with what I wasn't saying, never put shape to the telegraphic notes I've carried around with me in the  little moleskine notebook that I carry everywhere so that I am never prevented from scribbling down recipes copied from magazines in waiting rooms or meditational maunderings or, shockingly often, taking dictation from the unsuspecting who speak interestingly in my presence.

I have from a child upwards  gathered small rocks.  Overlooked treasures.  And this habit of collecting the things that people say is the same habit.  Check the pockets of my coats, the side pockets of my car, my recipe box, window sills, inside the covers of my books - everywhere: pinecones, bizarrely shaped pebbles, little rocks with intriguing glitters, scraps of paper, 3x5 cards of sketchy monologue, torn-open envelopes with snatches of other people's conversation scribbled on the back. Small undervalued delights.

I wanted to tell them to you.  I was going to set the scene . . .

 . . . how I breezed in, in a hurry as I so often am.  How I greet the grim-faced helmet-haired lady and the pale young man beside her: his slicked-back 1920s poet's coiff and curly spurt of chin-hair, the heavy chain hanging out of his pocket.  How even before I say anything they are wary, watchful, on guard against me, anyone, everyone.  I won't know why until I hear the whole story later in the day of how the absentee I'm covering left in a huff in the middle of last week's shift.

"Hi," I introduced myself, brisk and bright, "Are you working the desk?" 

The old lady bristles, "I usually work desk,"  drawing herself up to do battle, "Unless you have some Reason you need to?  Really though it's much too heavy for me in the back room, filling the boxes -  "

"No, no, perfectly fine. Just wanted to know where I'm needed."  Other days there are some volunteers who find the alphabetizing a little onerous, and are glad for me to relieve them, though thankfully I do not suggest this might be the case with her.  But my tone is still too bustling, and I can see the feathers are not unruffling.

So I step back to the warehouse, catch my breath, stroll around the shelves - to all appearances checking supplies but really just getting quiet.  And then come back in.

And feel glee rising in me.  Because this is something I know how to do.  It's a pity (or maybe a blessing?) that I don't know how to make this knack, this whatever it is  - pay.

But what joy in watching the transformation! As faces lose their tightness, eyes relax, open wider, begin even to shine sometimes, and twinkle.  Those intriguing pebbles full of fool's gold.  And I'm the fool that gathers them up like best treasure.

I was going to tell you how the thaw took place.  How she at length reveals she's been a nurse - her nursing degree at Missoula whose campus we both admire for its clean, wide brightness.  While she talks, the crisp white nurse's cap almost shimmers into its place on her head and I can see how her clean silvery cut still curves up in expectation of that badge of hygiene and progress.  The young man, who it turns out is her grandson, asserts and I agree that nurses in his grandma's day were certainly lovely beings. 

He loves to talk, swoopingly, dramatizing as he tells it - airing the heat from his collar and fanning his slender face, "Grandma has showed me her yearbook. Oh oo-wee! yes, they don't make nurses like that any more.  Now they all look like they're from California."

His sad and scornful tone when he pronounces the name of our neighbor state makes me laugh out loud. Which you may not understand unless you've had to live too much in the neighboring shadow of that unreflecting, water-guzzling. self-proclaimed capital of the world.  . . . Or, I suppose,  if you happen to be Canada or Mexico . . . 
But that's another tangent. 

I wanted to tell you every utterly well-scripted, self-revelatory thing they said: trenchant commentary on the undeserving poor ("Drank his breakfast, he did.  Almost knocked me out.  Did you catch  whiff of him?") - which explains the grimness with which she faces off with some of the clients.

Even if she says nothing, I can tell which ones she has no use for even before her grandson tells me why.

Though he does tell me why -- and so gorgeously: "So he's leaning up against the fridge like he was the cat's tuxedo and hectoring Grandma . . .

(who says "hectoring" any more?  And I'm seeing the sleekest Cary Grant of cat-kind.) 

. . . but when they give Grandma a hard time I can't abide that.  I was about to give him a fat lip and would too if I wasn't working here.  Lucky for him he didn't just quite cross the line."

He squares his slender shoulders.  Translucent skin and an utterly refined profile, twisting his beardlet as he talks until it curls up like a pale candle flame.  Grandma looks at him purringly, pleased to be defended retrospectively.

Though it doesn't keep him from comparing haggis favorably to Grandma's Lenten fish. 

Her only recourse is to counter with blood sausage:  "My dad used to butcher a couple of hogs and hang them whole.  Then he'd send word to the Austrian ladies who'd come and catch up every last bit of the blood. They'd work it and work it - with their hands! - while it was cooling down so it wouldn't coagulate.  It would surely make our stomachs turn, my brother's and mine, watching them." 

I love it all - the disgusted expressions of the pigtailed girl she once was fleeting across her wrinkled face, the nurse's easy and precise pronunciation of "coagulate."

They know the stories of most everyone who comes through the door. And do not generally approve of any of them.

"And so crabby!" they comment as one old grump approaches our door.

They tell me about the regular scams and outrageous demands of the ungrateful and indigent.  I make myself remember they are choosing to volunteer here, faithfully week after week, not the erratic pinch-hitting I do these days.  But I notice when I shake my head with her and then sigh, "Lots of sad stories come through that door, don't they?" that her face softens.

I wanted to tell you how he described sitting down at dinner at one of his friends': "it's like Asgard - " (I'm nodding, thinking that sounds familiar?  Famous restaurant? Or is that the Astoria?)  " - like sitting down with Thor and Freya," he finishes with complete unself-consciousness, as if everyone is on first names with the Norse gods.  And his love of all things bike - both motor and pedaled.  "Don't you ride an old school cruiser?"  he asks me.

"I do."

"I thought I'd seen you around town.  I love those old school rides."  He waxes eloquent on the lost values incarnated in Vintage.  How it's more human, more full of sweat and courage.  His close-set green eyes are freshly clear.

He starts to trash-talk the yuppie-riders who clog the roads on organized rides in their skintight Lycra - though, when I laughingly  admit I might be one of them, with a gracious wave of his hand absolves me of any guilt by association.

By the end of our four hour shift, she's confiding that this is a hard town to make friends in.

"It can be," I say.  Because I can see how it could be.

And she tells me, a little shyly, how she hopes we end up working together again.  "Oh me, too." And I tell her what a pleasure it has been for me, too, talking with her and her grandson.

Because this is one of my deepest pleasures -- this connection that can be made. And that's what I wanted to tell you.

But I never did

Instead, throughout all this month it was to my own marginal questions I kept coming back: " . . . it's a pity I don't know how to make this knack, this whatever it is, pay" because I realize what I really want to do with the rest of my life is wander around getting people to talk to me.  That's it. 

But do what with it?

And also, the exhilaration I  feel - which is unlike the deadened and damped down way I feel after a day . . . doing other things. 

How I feel incredibly alive (filled, fed - despite/because of this grey little town we live in, because of/despite this cold rainy day - bright and vivid and deeply dear) but also chagrined - who is this easy, open,  laughing, helpful stranger and what is she doing in my body?  And why won't she come home and talk with Fritz and my other beloveds this way for me?

It's these questions I keep turning back to whenever I mean to write up these notes. 

Instead of shaping this post, I keep writing something else for somewhere else or getting up and leaving without writing, asking myself - why can't I make it pay? 

Until I begin to ask instead - Well, why can't I? 

And instead of  - Who is this person and why won't she come home and talk to my loved ones for me?,  I ask at last - Well, why doesn't she?

I keep asking myself that.

Until I think that I can.  Until she does. 

Which is, my dears, something else I wanted to tell you.

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