Ian at 14


Ian, there’s no question that you are beautiful, that you’ve always been beautiful. You’re taller now, that’s certain. I can wear your shoes. You can wear mine, if that’s something you wanted to do. The thing is, though we’re matched right now in shoe size, shirt size, pants size, we’re moving in opposite directions. Tomorrow, you’ll be taller. Tomorrow, I won’t be taller. You’re stretching outward. I’m stretching inward, each of us reaching for the same universe.
You always surprise me with your astounding kindness, that pensive and quiet part of you, that escapes from you when you forget about being a teenager, when you forget about who you think you should be, when you just are. And you’re funny. And you think I’m funny. And I hope it will always be that way. And I love you so, so much. Happy 14th my little man!


When I first walked into this house, I didn’t see clean or dirty. I saw fixable or unfixable.

I saw how all the kitchen appliances leaned in, doors waiting to fall open.

I saw where the owner, in a fit of drunkenness, painted the stairwell, some parts whitish, other parts a greenish brown, like the Mississippi at its weakest, dam water running over.

Where the moulding was missing from the frame around the basement door, I saw the jaggedly cut drywall. I knew the feel of the score, the fold, the snap, and the final cut with the dull blade of a utility knife.

I knew the dry rot. It was outside, under the patio door, hidden behind a 1×4, and sealed over with bathroom caulk.

It is natural, this dry rot. It is expected. It is the persistence of water. 

There are the slippery Spring rains, soft and bitter. There are the raucous thunderstorms of Summer. In the Autumn, when our rain coats shield us from having to look at ourselves, the rains bring unexpected sounds, drips of golden leaves.  Soon the snow, water in white camouflage, will press up against us. Decomposition is not fixable.

We hang on in our sponginess, thinking our skin is breaking down because of too much coffee, too many cigarettes, that we give up on occasion. We think that, like the kitchen appliances, we lean in to listen and see, freely open our doors, because we’ve become more welcoming, more interested in others besides ourselves. We think that the way our veins pop out on our hands, like the screws on the kick plate under the patio door, is because we’re so good at laboring, consistently busy and being helpful.   

The only reason any of this matters– the appliances leaning in, the jagged skin of drywall, the kick plate under the patio door popping screws– is if the plan is to make this house your permanent home. I’ve got other ideas.




I noticed that you keep checking your email. What kind of message are you waiting on? Nothing in particular? Just something to interrupt the waiting? Waiting is a bitch, isn’t it? And I know it’s hard to pass the time now that you’ve quit smoking or whatever it was you gave up.

I know, too, that you have to engage the mind, become your smallest self and create something even if it’s only a drawing of a person with no arms and no legs or a poem where every other word is a unique expletive.

Forget about physical work, unless the plan is to fold the laundry into Origami shapes. Vacuuming is out, unless you name each strand of fur, each spider you suck up. Mowing the lawn is out, too, unless you begin at the peak of the day’s heat, set a timer, say, for 15 minutes, to mow the whole yard, front and back.

It is imperative that you don’t embark on any big tasks, like reading a whole book. If you do choose to read, read only a couple sentences. Read them out loud. Read them slowly. Think about each word and how it connects to the next. If you read any other way, it’s certain you will be thrown back to where you began and you’ll only add to your frustration, having retained nothing, having accomplished nothing.

That’s the irony, the challenge. You want the time to pass but you don’t want to waste your time.

Well, go ahead and check your email. There might be a message. There’s certain to be a message if you compose it yourself.



What I saw

This week, I saw an opossum, out back, in the very night, circling a small circle in gravel. Only once before have I seen an opossum. We called it a rabipelado. It was balanced on top of a rusty, chain-link fence in the yard where the mountain fell.

I also saw a woodchuck, standing in prairie dog style, not far from the pontoons on the river, beside a grey, leafless tree. It must’ve been  that I’d seen a woodchuck before because its departing waddle was familiar.

And I saw a small, black, curly-haired dog. It was something I’d never seen before, the way he laughed away from his owner, cresting the roof, running down, then off, like a buffalo over a cliff.

One long cry. One short.

The wave of the girl behind him receded then, a moment later, came pounding through the house. The hedge wouldn’t allow us to see anything except for the father’s hands above his head, a helpless gesture.

We stood as witnesses. Pook was on the curb and Betty and I were in the middle of the road.

Be okay, be okay, be okay, be okay, be okay, be okay, I said, keeping true to these words until I could no longer mouth them.

Then we walked away from knowledge, until the next day.

The mother was in the yard.

I said, “We saw what happened to your dog. Is he okay?”

She said, “Yes, he’s okay. Sore, but he’s okay.”

Little Fishes

The fish, they shimmer,

especially the little ones,

the anchovies, the minnows, the silversides,

in sunny, shallow water.

They do not say to each other,

“You open your mouth too often.”

They do not care who is the quickest.

See how they flow, like fabric in a soft wind.

And they are nothing like fabric.

And the sea is nothing like the wind.