Rene

Sometimes, at night, I get these aches to know the lives I haven’t lived, lives I wanted to know better. Your life is one of them. I think of all the family letters you wrote, so many that Grandpa began to store them behind the smoke house, in the old fridge with the rounded shoulders and the pull latch door. Then one summer all the letters were gone. In their place was a 50 pound bag of dog food. (Which reminds me that I want to remind you that there will be dogs in heaven)

It would’ve been so much easier to get a chronicle of your life through your letters. Instead, I’ve turned to Emily Dickinson. For days I’ve been carrying around The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, all 770 pages of it. It isn’t a heavy book. The pages are thin, wispy even. I know how you love her and I know how, after you retired, you set out to analyze all 1775 of her poems. Sometimes I even open the book and read pieces of poems like this one:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—

The truth is I do not enjoy reading Emily Dickinson.

When I first went to college my mom bought me an antique charcoal sketch of Emily Dickinson’s home. The sketch is torn now, missing a large corner. Maybe this was due to mice. Maybe dogs. Maybe it just aged and disintegrated. This sketch wasn’t enough to engage my fascination.

Emily’s poems are controlled, tight as a stiff back, with a precision of word choices that, although astounding, leave me stranded.

I’m having some trouble finding a segue here, which tells me my heart isn’t in it, this off the top of my head critique. I will try again. This time I will tell All the Truth.

You, I see as a meanderer, moving through the world like water or wind. I see you as Rilke’s falcon circling the primordial tower. Emily, I see as a great song circling that same tower. She, who spent so much time in her garden, became the rhythm of bird song, became the hovering silence of bees, became, even, the crash of waves in the horizon of her imagination.

It is from this imagination that she sees tiger lilies as “Blazing in gold and quenching in Purple/Leaping like Leopards to the sky”

When I see tiger lilies I do not see leopards leaping across the sky. I see their tall, thin bodies moving with that McGraw grace that is at once flowing, at once hesitant. I see their elegance, growing alongside the shadow weeds on the banks of the Mississippi. There, they go about their unassuming business of blooming and stretching toward the sun.

Last summer I’d drive to a dairy farm every week to get milk. The milk was sweet and fresh, in glass bottles, with a cream line I’d scoop off for my coffee. It was a way of scrambling backwards, an imagined recapturing of a life I didn’t lead, a life that wasn’t meant for me.

That is what I did but that is not what happened. What happened was I saw clusters of tiger lilies by the roadside and my breath caught. I saw the branch of a long needled pine reaching for me and I reached back. This beauty was not mine to have. I have no doubt that it yearned for me as I did it, the same way that the purple-headed Alfalfites in the field called out as I dusted up, down the rutted dirt road. And there, like the falcon and the tower, I circled between memory and grief and grateful awe.

So my dear Rene, I will continue to circle that primordial tower where you leave off and I will keep Emily with me. And, maybe, I will come to love her as I love you.  

This Marble

Holding this marble was the most satisfying thing I did today. Heft, coolness, air bubbles, and swirls of color. Why do I think this is hope? 

I’m sorry to be so sad.

I put on Joan Armatrading.

I took a cabbage out of the fridge. I put the cabbage back into the fridge.

I wondered if I’d been finally written off by the people I love but don’t communicate with. A hard and desperate lesson.

I’m sorry I’m so sad.

I changed a lightbulb. But first I said, “Oh no” because I thought it was the wrong kind of lightbulb. My children both said, “What, what?!” And I am so sad that I don’t want to throw confetti around the house.

I stepped out onto the deck where it was already dark, except for the snow which was shadowed cold. 

I wondered, who are those we call snowflakes? The ones with the divided hearts? Or the ones whose hearts just ache and ache? Since this is unclear, I cannot identify as either. I suppose this is a blessing.

I also thought about Canada and their clean-colored flag. I thought about maple cookies and civility. I remembered a picture I saw when I was 10, right before we moved to Montreal. It was a picture of a train moving deep, and I suppose fast, through the autumn forest. I thought it was beautiful.

The problem with beauty is the same as the problem with God. You recognize it. You try and breathe it in. You open your eyes wider to absorb the imprint. You want this. 

But you can’t have this, human. It is not meant to be owned.

This marble you can have.

Longing

I saw a post by a friend I knew from my youth in Venezuela, someone I always associate with the color yellow- yellow hair, yellow shorts, softly mellow in countenance. The post was about a helicopter crash, small and not tragic, atop Auyán Tepui in Venezuela. It was about a foreign service agent and a writer. I started to read the post and was flattened with longing for this country we knew. 

I’ve had years of longing for Venezuela before, but not like this. I know at once the scorch of the air. I can feel the humus of red clay under my feet. I can see and heft the rocks bejeweled in mica, gold and silver everywhere. There is the scratch of Monte against my face, my bare arms. There are the mountains, slippery purple and rooted in scrub. There is the tang of mangos, and flies upon the rotting pulp. All the insects are powerful, all the beaches soft. The colors shout in vivid splendor, colors that are only occasional in other places I’ve been. This is because the saturation is never interrupted. And there I am in this wild and certain place, young and naive, in my t-shirt and shorts, trusting life so completely.

I wonder if what I long for, truly, is to trust in life again, to revel in the breath that binds us together. I wonder if it’s something different, something crass, like a desire for arrogant privilege. I don’t think it’s a yearning to return to my youth. I never want to relive those follies. But maybe it is neither. Maybe it is a longing not to be afraid of death and the death that is piling up around us. Maybe it is a yearning for certainty and hope amidst the crack of rigid minds. 

For now, I will try to stand on my head so things will make sense.

7:36

My first clue that time had stopped was when I noticed the analogue clock in my son’s room said 7:36. I had already been awake for hours, long enough to make three breakfasts, one for each of us. Long enough for Betty the dog to be given a long, long walk, a task I delegated to my other child whose room does not have an analogue clock. Betty had three poos I’m told. She just now had another. This means I have to get a different dog food that requires I go to a store I hate because it is owned by a ridiculous man who is just so ridiculous that the words to describe him are ridiculously absent. There are many like him. Wait. I forgot. I have time. I will make my own dog food.

It is still 7:36, day or night, so I will be late for work either way. I don’t care a whole lot, not terribly much.

This day I also took a bath because I couldn’t remember how many days it had been since my last one. I said a rosary because that is one thing I can do. Last night I prayed, too, for my sister who has been feverish for days despite testing negative for Covid19 with the American made test. I prayed for my children, which is really just praying for myself, because they were melting down like wax on a light bulb. They were hitting out, kicking up their feet and flailing their arms like three year olds. The difference here is that teenage bodies engaging in such tornadic behavior causes plaster to fall from the ceiling. At any rate, I asked, “what am I supposed to do?” The answer was, “Nothing.” This is a hard lesson for me. As of 7:36, the storm seems to have passed.

I’ve noticed that with the gears of time jammed up as they are, the weather is quite bizarre. We had three mini blizzards complete with darkened, wind whipped skies. These blizzards were divided up by three trumpets of intense sunshine. It is still 7:36 and the weather appears to be calm. No, not calm. It is still, like a cat ready to pounce.

At 7:36, a feral kitten-cat slunk past the back porch. Finally the troops have arrived! The mice inside the house are out of hand. I asked St Francis to see about this when they began construction on an apartment building inside the oven. I don’t want to do poison because of the chain, you know the one, how every action affects every other action and lives will be lost. Of course, I think about Betty and how, despite her magnificent dog wisdom, cannot discern between what is good to ingest and what is not.

Well, it’s still 7:36, a little early to get up since we’ve already had breakfast, too early to go to sleep for the night, and nowhere near the time to go to work. It is, however, the perfect time for a nap.

A Singular Body

Humanity is a body singular.
See how
When pressured to
When ordered to
When prevented from
leaning in, touching, breathing
each other in,
Even the quietest, most distant, and fearful among us
recognizes this unnaturalness, knows the desire and the lack. 

To be separated, caged
in a cage
or in our own homes
rips a hurricane through our chests.

Just this once, we tell ourselves,
No one will know
about that clandestine hug.
No one will know about that nip taken
at the glass-block corner bar.
No one will see how broken
were the rules,
how that is not separate from this:

I watched my neighbor through the window
contained in his snow-edged yard.
He wore a t-shirt and carried a yellow bucket that swung too high
to contain anything.
Why an empty bucket?
Why the t-shirt? Though spring, it is still winter.
And why winter?

Last night through my window
The trees became my eyes.
My eyes became a lace of branches
visible only in winter,
visible only in the naked tree
against a moon sky. The stars stranded themselves
in that lace, a pattern and beauty impossible
for any human to replicate
because our body in the body is not whole,
is not distinct
from your body and mine.

It makes me sick
that some men, sallow and sour, and
the stupid women who suck their
cheeks in to be gorgeous
are part of the body too.

Let them be welcome.

But not as the steady hand or eager heart,
and certainly not the brain.
A toenail, maybe, where malignancy won’t take hold.

And when this long winter sorrow ends,
we will wash our hair
we will trim our nails
we will step outside and kiss the air
and we will embrace our singular humanity.