Photo Distraction

Instead of mowing the lawn, I carried two boxes of pictures upstairs to sort. It has been three days and there’s still no eating at the dining room table and the lawn isn’t mown either. Here are some pictures that I looked at longer, didn’t readily sequester into a plastic bag.


This first one is of late teenage me on a merry-go-round and I appear to be having a good time. On a merry-go-round? Late teens? Something isn’t right. My happiness must’ve stemmed from the fact that I had long fingernails, painted a glittery pink. It must’ve given me a thrill to be able to tap those things, point those things, to look down and admire my other worldly hands. That phase was short lived. They kept getting in the way and, like high heeled shoes, I realized they were a voluntary handicap.


The next one is when we were living in the jungles of east St. Paul. Kimball, the old guy, is on the left. Jas is on the right. Bear, a gentle Newfie we took care of now and then, is in the middle.

I used to think of this yard as my conscious mind, the way it seemed chaotic no matter what I did. Every year I sprinkled grass seed. Every year it didn’t grow. The picket fence was rotting in places. Rusted nails would slip from the softened wood and the pickets would fall at the slightest pressure. Behind the house there was a slope, a drop off where the soil was eroding. It was there that I built steps. I had the bags of concrete piled on the warped surface of the picnic table. They rested on each other like dead fish.

This concrete is like the work of writing, I thought. It is a physical task, the hefting of those bags, so heavy it feels like my chest will cave in. Oh, and the strain on a writer’s delicate wrists. And it’s a mental chore. How do I get the bags to the bottom of the slope with the least exertion? What will I use for filler? How high? How wide? How much water is too much water? How will I keep it contained? 

Thankfully, I’m not such a whiner anymore and, today, I would use a completely different metaphor. Back then I couldn’t separate the need to sort out the chaos by writing and my fear of the house sliding down the hill.


The next picture I found tonight is at my grandparent’s farm in Little Falls, Minnesota, where, except when we lived in Montreal, we used to spend our summers.

My grandpa had a big head and hats always rested upon his head like a crown. The dog is named Spook. His rusty water can is just out of the picture, as is the slow dripping hose in the can. I’m missing those summers with my people a lot. I’m missing my past and that’s probably why I hauled those pictures upstairs in the first place.


And this last picture is of the All Knowing dog in El Jabón, Venezuela.





It’s after eight o’clock, the time of night you like to have a snack. Tonight it’s popcorn.  Usually, I say, “Do you want me to make it?”  Usually, you say, “Yes, are you sure?”

But tonight you say, “I know how to make popcorn.”  You say this in defense. You think I judge you incapable. Yes, you have made popcorn hundreds of times. But on an electric stove, in that pan, that thin aluminum pan, the one scarred from the dishwasher soap?

And later, not so much later, I walk to the kitchen, for coffee, for something, the way I make the rounds of this house, checking, but not really aware of checking, that everything is safe. No bumps in the rugs to trip over. No toys slipping into the darkened hallway. No power buttons left on and alone.

You are at your computer doing your computer things and I am looking at that pan with the decorative wooden handle and I am smelling the smoky black of burning grease. I will not take control of this situation. I will not pick up that pan. So I yell to you, “Get that pan out of here!” You get up from your chair, a little confused, but you do as I say. You trust me.

And, you take hold of that decorative wooden handle, walk with it to the back door, right before it bursts into flames, surprising you, surprising the snow where it lands.

My Girl Betty


I love your happiness and your soft ears,
your three-legged hop in winter, in summer, your four-legged dash.

I love when and how you bark, so professional.

When I find you standing on the dining room table
like a mountain goat,
chewing zippers on coats, teeth to teeth,
I love that too.

You are not concerned about anything,
so today
I will not be concerned about anything.