February 13, 2017
The window rattles, startled by the desperate bursts of wind.
The glass dances, its vibrations carried down through the floor and deep into the boards. The outside land’s maddened temper is aroar, alight. Might the glass buckle entirely, might shards and slanted rain and tumbling debris come blowing in?
No, the window holds its own. Clear but sturdy, made to withstand the violent bluster and the revolt of particles and matter, though these kinds of events are rare around here.
A tree outside has greened and grayed and filled out and molted all along the seasons, but lies nearly horizontal now. Will it snap? Will its elegant trunk give way to the gales, and offer up its life to the One who made it? How much can it withstand? Gusts of 40, 50, 60, more? How many times can its pointed top touch near the ground, fully bent, and still right itself again? The tree bends and stands, bends and stands again, a ballet all along its leg and arms.
The sun has abandoned this day, perhaps to rest, and passionless light filters through and joins the glow of a desk lamp. (The lamp buzzes but cannot be heard–not through the squall and the frightening whine of sirens.)
The tree remains, ducking, still bracing itself. The glass window, an eerie instrument, hums a tune alive on the wind and drums a loose refrain.
And the rain soaks the ground.
January 17, 2017
She hooked herself to people who disappointed her.
Case in point, there had been a person once that she would have written about thus:
“I know an extraordinary person, a mountain of a man.”
It became, over time, harder to write such things. Maybe it wasn’t fair of her to require otherworldliness of the people who touched her. She expected them to perpetually move her. If someone impressed themselves upon her heart, she required that they march in place there, to deepen the imprint. When they simply walked off or away, she would wait–she would wait a long time. Sometimes they came back, but more often, they would find new people to inspire or care for, and she would feel the loss very deeply. It was not only the loss of the person, it was the loss of the image, it was the loss of the feelings the person had inspired.
It was hard to conclude that people with whom she traveled particular eras of life could forget her, or could sever themselves from the quality of the connection: so many laughs, so many insights, so much investment. For what? She supposed the purpose of such experiences had their own lifetimes, and it occurred to her that for others, this was adequate. She realized quite suddenly that she was perhaps unusual in wishing to be forever stirred by her relationships. And she wanted to appreciate the people who had been writ so heavy-handedly into her history, but had somehow, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, skated outward and away from her. She watched their departure, perplexed.
It was as if the mountain that had once loomed so large before her became, for better or for worse, an unreachable, far-away dot, a place she only remembered visiting.
January 16, 2017
She does a slow striptease, but in reverse.
Picture this: January. Cold in the morning, gooseflesh strutting. Her skin, lit up and cold…the chill announcing itself in italics. She shivers and belts her lavender flannel robe, tight. She had always pictured meeting for the first time in summer, never winter, but the calendar has tumbled open to this page in her life, thus. On this date, the number is circled in red pen and there, optimistically, is a note: Meet W!!! Coffee, Emp. Rulli.
A hot shower, where the pummeling sword of water tenderizes everything. Her body, her skin, injecting warmth over her. Thankful. She thinks, “That’s better.” Warmer is better.
Then, a towel. Dark hair scraped back and wrapped away from the face. The careful, but brisk and practiced, application of lipstick, the curling of the lashes, eyebrows brushed into groomed order. The ritual of perfume, two spiced black-tea sprays onto each wrist, move the hair aside so the exposed neck receives its aerosol allotment (two hits).W did talk once about vanilla, and she remembers the Nordstrom “fragrance stylist” noted this perfume’s sweet, vanilla-bean note.
Standing in front of her closet, the towel wrapped tightly. A skirt? That would give the better indication as to the real shape of her calves, that much is true. Her best assets should feature, she thinks. Yet, jeans send the better message, “this is casual. I am as casual as you.” Exactly as casual. And, heels, of course. That’s a done deal, because peering into her closet, there is little to choose from in flats: an old pair of slippers, neon green and maroon sneakers from when she thought she might get into exercise (she never exercised), some cheap flip flops. With outsized delight, she settles on a denim skirt, thick black tights underneath. Boots with their tall wooden heels.
Jewelry. On the left hand, always…fine jewelry, yellow gold and gemstones. On the right hand, always…costume jewelry, or silver. Check the ears and try to decide on hoops or studs or pearls. No, not pearls: too much. Not hoops: not worthy. This is coffee, three years in the planning. So. Diamond studs, the ones she has traded up for twice, cashing in smaller glinting pieces, adding a thousand dollars each time, to here have finally achieved a carat on each ear. Significant, but not overso. Apropos to the cause: this meeting. Meeting W.
A last smile in front of the mirror. The teeth? As brushed as can be, flossed to the max. Cleaned doubletime. Gums pink, some have bled.
Get in car. Drive. Find parking spot (good parking karma) and emerge, sleek.
Finally meeting W.
Deep breath, stand up straight. Emporio Rulli. Coffee.
January 15, 2017
As a child, I never knew I would spend my life falling in love with ghosts, one after the other, who would each rise up from the earth or descend from the trees about me, ghosts with mouths that released words out into the landscape of my life like a fine, cool mist searching for a fire to go up against. Words like I love you, I have met my soul mate, you.
Now ghosts come out like night animals in a loamy wood, first not seen, then as I look, I spy sets of eyes glinting in the dark. Two there, two there, two there. I see them slowly emerge and unceremoniously reveal themselves, and each in turn places a memory in my hands: my very first wine headache (age: 24). One gave me something like soaring despair (age: 37), one gave me innocent hope in diamonds and a home (age: 30), and one left me a lingering disgust in trite platitudes that lasts to this day (age: 39).
Because of my ghosts, my life’s string of love stories, I cannot:
listen to the song, “Lady in Red.” When you are 16 and the 15 year-old boy you love dedicates it to you in a dusky gym, you learn what it is to not breathe.
be a passenger in a Volvo without feeling slightly sick. I rode in your car after you taught me to appreciate vodka martinis, then gin martinis. So many martinis.
believe that “she just doesn’t understand you” while I listen and sympathize, wearing frilly underthings you chose for me. She understands you.
I cannot go to the little diner on the 101 in San Rafael where you ate ciopino, then we went home and made a child. (age: 31)
-later-after the ’til death do us part part came true-
I can, but won’t, listen to “Diamonds and Rust.” 37 years old – old enough to know better, but I still hoped.
And I cannot forget that there were those for whom I am now their ghost. As I made my way, I left pure, valuable love sit uncollected for no reason I could name or made sense. If ever I were sorry, here I am sorry. I am (still) (ever) (always) (not a big paragraph but it’s the biggest) sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry ad infinitum.
All the ghosts of my past lock hands and come forward, a procession that ends in the present (age 40 onward), where an angel now guards my heart. In the dark, where shadows make ugly stories and shame is alive, the angel enters and delivers a lamp. In it’s light, is his face. In it’s light, is his face.
December 29, 2016
The Resolutions begin themselves.
Again–then again–and in every year, the New Year’s exercise narrows its scope. The feline curiosities and appetites that are too far afield are discarded, in favor of those simple goalmouths that might be more readily fed. (Lose weight, lose vices. Lose reliance on paper crutches.)
What, someone asks, do you want your life to be known for now? To start: honesty, passion, romanticism, endurance, philosophical intelligence. To wit: a life occupied with meaning. Hitting the marks, meeting the resolutions.
Only, do I? Do I achieve my resolutions? Or are the things achieved by each December surprises that were never targets to begin with?
Gain weight: bricks fashioned of compressed understanding and experience. Build a home of these bricks and let one’s cats roam there, nosy and pouncing. Shelter in place where one’s tribe resides, on the grounds that peace and the consummation of resolution most artlessly begins in that collective (safe or unsafe, steady or riotous).
Wheat and water, hay and mud
Construct a layer, add resolve and hope
Compress, compress, firmly pack, set in sun
Now, there is Block One
Make a duplicate block
(Make a duplicate block)
Stack these tablets and form slab
The foundation for 2017
December 9, 2016
Five years ago, her landscape had been folded over by one great and bone-rattling trembler. All the structures around her, the buildings that created a life–her heart, her whipsmart heart, her clean, clean soul–these constructs loudly broke apart and there, in the light that clinked through the floating dust, was a mirage she knew was a mirage: She knew the things she saw in the aftermath, the debris, were not real.
She turned to her old friend, the earnest and blank page, and sought to create something real. But, it was effortful, it was so effortful she worried she could no longer write. It had been a long time since she wrote anything clear or bright or smart, since she had put together something good. The quake had left the roads around her filled with matter, and she wondered if taking time to clean up rubble had made it so she could not string together words in any poetic fashion, with any dynamic motion, for any specific reason. She earned paychecks and reared young children and figured out what post-earthquake love means, but at what cost? Was the cost so high that she had lost the ability to take words in hand and break them into pieces and put them back again to create something new and beautiful? She feared for a long time this was so.
But, something new has begun, she has stumbled onto an open road that leads to a surprise clearance before her. 2017 crooks its finger to beckon and she wades into the vast, empty space ahead. The words are coming.
The words are falling out of her hands, fully formed.
November 5, 2016
She goes to meet Thanksgiving once again, where the full blossom of love happens. Another year gone by, but she never really changes: Still living with the most tender heart, and the keenest, sweetest nostalgia. Nostalgia is her evergoing mood.
Nostalgia is her Thanksgetting.
Writ permanently in her heart is this time, the yearly November, the time where the flowering of this life means fields of roses, iris, lilies, stargazers, the lowly carnation, peonies, tulips–fields and fields of these blooms between her world and the lands apiece of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, oh Centennial State! Where the Thanksgivings are amber grass and full, leafy, unrestrained thankfulness, where the music and chants of gratitude grow so loud into crescendo’d bliss that they fly o’er the rivers of California, o’er the barren miles of dust in Nevada, o’er the Indian Reservations of Utah, above Great Basin, o’er all the species of cacti in low areas and the wild, ochre blooms in the foothills…the music of the fall heart passes through all of this.
Etched forever in her history is a purposeful Harvest of Gratitude, expecially when life is hard. Know she understands her blessings aren’t universal or common and that the goodness has been gifted to her outside of her own power. She could never create this perfection alone, but she recognizes the sweetness of Thanksgiving when it comes, and through some secret intuitiveness, she understands that it is set upon her through the mercy and love of God.
October 26, 2016
Brackish water seeps in every fall. There’s a dreadful quality, a dreadful worry, in the air.
What happens in October? What have the winds and crying clouds to say? The whispers begin in October, the “seasonal affective disorder” comes alive and insists on fading out the sun’s warmth and placing this sadness at the foot of the day. October is the time of whole moons and a cascade of trouble.
I watch gray air force itself to emerge over the light. I stand with my cup of coffee, noticing more the coolness of the porcelain than the heat I want to drink; I watch the leaves tumble in stop time out the window and shiver. Here comes winter. Here comes the broad hand with its sting and slap, and I duck my head to evade it. There is no match for nature, the murmuring grows louder: Winter.
October 25, 2016
At the mirror, watching herself. A shimmy shake, a quick twitch of the hip. Grab the thick cut glass, the aromatizer, and feel it’s heavy weight. It is weighty, the glass is square and thick, belying the sweet, round light within.
Her perfume is mainly floral in its nature. It’s roses and ivy. And it is shadows and violins, a watercolor of a sandy beach, and beautiful old gospels and darkness and fading dreams and sometimes it’s tired but grateful motherhood and hopeful woman–it is a perfume of so many things. Her scent is a flower left in its early days, not burst open. It is captured, bottled sun, distilled hope and happiness, fragrant appreciation of the sweetness in her everyday life. It is the smile that covers over her heart. Her perfume lies in a bottle, it’s pretty messages waiting to be told.
The thousands of times she has held the bottle to the nape of her neck…the ritual of perfume, it has a voice. It says: come into view, be alive, be real, attract, act, be conscious of self, help, notice, show up, give, stay awake. Don’t give up. Be lovely. She watches in the mirror as she lifts the bright glass again to her throat.
August 18, 2016
I lie on my stomach. Dread, as real as air, fills my body and I squeeze my eyes shut.On the floor, the heavy odor of our old carpet is dank, musty. I turn my mouth and nose away, ignoring the feel of the carpet’s rough bristles.
Beside me, my 14 year old brother kneels and I crane my neck around to see him, his face set with worry, perspiration forming at the forehead, dark bangs slicked back with gel against his head. He leans over my body, the silk cloth at my back gripped in his hands. His dark eyes meet mine but he looks away quickly, concentrating on the task before him.
He says, “Okay, suck it in.”
I inhale as hard as I can, body rigid—a plank on the floor. His hands work, quickly, they feel like small birds prancing upon my back, and I wonder if Brother can fix this and I wonder if she is gone, if she has left the house. Or is she somewhere still inside, still angry?
Brother’s hands push my ribs, touch my spine. From the hallway, our grandfather clock chimes loudly and I count—five chimes. The concert rehearsals begin at 5:30 but I am too worried about the dress to care if we will be late. Exhaling slowly, as slowly as possible, I mumble into the carpet, “Is it working?”
“I think I got it. Don’t move. Take a breath again.” I do. I feel Brother grip the fabric and tug, hear the slow, mechanical sound of the zipper as my dress is closed over my back. I sob, once. I sob again—so relieved. I open my eyes, light-headed with gratitude because the dress has been zipped, because it was possible.
Brother stands up, says, “Be careful, it’s really tight. Breathe shallow.” He reaches down and takes my hand to pull me up, my body awkward with tension—the dress is very tight, the fabric so tensely pulled against my ribs, I think, “this is what a corset feels like.” Pale blue silk falls around my body as the skirt reaches my ankles, and he hands me the sash, then takes it back to tie it around my waist himself. “It looks good,” he says.
“Thank you. Thank you so much for helping me.” I want to hug him, but he is very tall and I know reaching up will the tear open the dress he just zipped up. I want to tell him how he has saved me, how everything is okay now. But he is turned away and digging through a drawer, already moving on to the next task.
“Where’s mom?” I ask.
“I dunno. I got to get my concert stuff on.” He turns, walking out, and yells, “Mom! Where’s my jacket? Hey, Mary’s dress fit. She fits.”
I swallow my relief and push aside the dizziness caused by shallow breaths and the sweet reprieve from disaster. Mom had been so angry, clearly weary: “It’s not my fault you keep gaining weight and don’t fit. If you keep it up, you won’t fit into any of your clothes. I’ve been telling you.” It was true—she had been telling me. At 16, I am large. Not chubby, but solid somehow, heavy limbs, big thighs. Humiliating breasts.
I brush my hair, rub lip gloss over my mouth. Should I wear eyeshadow? It looks like I have been crying. My brother appears in the doorway, dressed in his concert clothes, silently mouths, “Let’s go.” I ask if mom is angry and he shrugs, saying, “Who cares?”
In the car, we are quiet. Mom does not ask how I got the dress on, she says nothing about the dress. We all three look out the windows. It is raining out, and the wheels of the car make a beautiful wooshing sound as we pull into the school lot. Pausing at the curb, mom says go inside, she will be in soon. Brother jumps out of the car, and the motion, the movement, breaks my reverie, my worry. I too prepare to get out. I open the car door and pause, but mom does not turn. I lean forward carefully, still afraid to move, and too-brightly say, “Thanks, mom!”
“Okay,” she says, putting the car into drive.