The blog post was about things that remind you of someone. Share and remember the ones who crossed your path, with a bend towards the oldest memory. I took a look around my apartment and it’s filled with those, but today it’s about Mom. AKA Chummer. Here’s my response.
Had to go looking through the apartment to figure out what made it with me through all these years that reminds me of someone. It appears the ring I stole from my mom is the winner. I was oh I don’t know maybe 9 when I saw it and I had to have it so I took it from her dresser. Not sure if she ever found out, and if she did, nothing came of it. I fell in love with the color and the sideways cant of it, like nothing I’d ever seen before, and though I wasn’t in the habit of nicking stuff the divil got the best of me and here it is still with me after all the moves and the crazy, tucked in a dark armoire. I used to wrap bandaids on the band so it wouldn’t slip off, but now it fits just fine. In some light it looks like broken antique Pepsi bottle glass, green and boring, but in direct light it. is. purple. My favorite purple. Anyway…. I got your ring, Chummer. Thanks for letting me get away with it.
I made a nest of her hair beneath the couch, circled soft gray strands into a bed Wove black threads and sock pills, sea green that smell of aloe into the place I lay my head. Because she is naughty there are bread crumbs and cheese crumbs on the floor beside my bed, what she brushes off becomes a feast. It is never too warm or too cold beneath the couch, though sometimes I fear she might squish me when she sits but she stays on that end and I on this, and we watch The Sopranos again.
One night late, before she wakes at three for a swig of cold milk from the fridge to stave off the pain I crept into her bedroom and a sneeze came upon me unannounced, incidentally, nowhere to hide. She sat up wide awake and said, “Hello?” I froze, astonished she could hear, annoyed I let myself be known. She said again “Hello?” asking of the dark and I think she wanted someone to be there.
Weather comes for us east and west this time of year. I watch it unfold, prepare best I can Mostly I just watch millibars and strings and eyewalls that have not evolved or think they wanna be but never quite get there coming to our shores as a tropical storm, no harm intended but beware, she’s water she’s nature, she cares nothing about you and half the time I believe she wants to do us in, and then this, an orange dusky rainbow in the backyard proof we were passed over, patting ourselves on the backs with that great camera phone pic that got twelve-hundred likes on Twitter But only three of us watched the whole thing unfold naked, no umbrellas, daring, me concerned but not flat-out afeard, standing barefoot in lukewarm puddles in the dips of the decking how lucky we are to be wet mongrels in the world of this day.
A supposed tropical storm came around this way and it was more like a car wash, normal for this spit of land, maybe a little more wind and less rain and a weak bough broke in the backyard. You know, the backyard where the lady built a wall to keep the world out with clotheslines and moldy towels, a half-assed wall of trellis covered in black cloth. We had a bit of wind and water, not much else to speak of and there he is in my window frame, my personal dragonfly doing a handstand on a twig, butt pointing to the sky because a bough broke during the night. I named him George, George of the handstand, George of the pommel horse letting his wings dry in the dawning hot sun day Then he’s gone for days, my personal dragonfly Eaten or bored But here he is again, a biplane resting before takeoff for who knows where His big, big brothers fly west, and I notice there are fewer of them this year Where are the westerly-flying dragonflies who get a little lost in this surfrider canyon of yellow walls and sea-foam green doors? George returns to the twig that looks like a slingshot, gossamer spiderweb line, one line, awaits but he’s too clever for that as they are still or pushed violently in the breeze.
George is elsewhere this morning and I have no hope this way or other to see him again, but I will never forget his biplane glassine wings, his showoffy handstands, amazement he returns to that same slingshot-shaped set of branches that came because a wind broke a branch and nobody but me gets to see you.
I enter her comfy, cozy office, sink into the comfy, cozy couch and we get all the small talk out of the way. She knows I don’t want to talk about anything, I’d much rather babble on about current events or the weather, so she tries to get me to relax so I can share how I’m really feeling so I can feel better. She asked me to close my eyes. Yeah right, that only took five minutes for me to stay in, and then she asked me to imagine
…..sitting in the deep woods, woods filled with pine trees the breath of the breeze filling the boughs that made them sway, the scent of pine taking me away… I opened my eyes and said, “Yeahno. Nope. There’s bears. There’s bears and there’s yellowjack nests in the bottom of that tree. You know I have spheksophobia, I can’t go there, no bears, no hornets, no.”
I’m stiff on the couch again and she asks me to imagine the green hillside where Julie Andrews sings “The Hills Are Alive” amidst mountains and a beautiful blue sky, a scene she knows I love and helps me get to sleep. She asks me to sit down on a blanket and watch the moment. But the hills are alive with flowers and things that want flowers like bugs and bees and oh my god it’s all covered in bees and Nope. No. No thank you. I’m stiff again on her couch really wanting to talk about the ballots being audited in Arizona by Cyber Ninjas. She slowly brings me back to where I can see my sneakers on the Berber carpet, and I want an iced coffee in the worst way.
My therapist takes a sip from her coffee mug and returns it silently to the coaster on the side table. She says, “I want you to close your eyes again,” which takes another five minutes and she says “Imagine yourself floating. You are floating in the jade green waters of the Chesapeake, the place you love. The sun is warm but not too warm, the breeze is present but not assailing, you are floating, floating free and safe…” And I cut her off. “Nope. No. There’s jellyfish. Jellyfish. They’re all over. And things that touch my calf and and I don’t know what the hell that is because I can’t see it. I mean, if I can’t see it, then what is even the point of being here? No thanks.”
My therapist sighs and smiles, adjusting tactics and says, “Well ok, that’s fine. Close your eyes again please. And now you’re floating in your bathtub at home. Your apartment where the only sound is the air conditioner. Day in and day out, the world is quiet, as you like it, your most sacred safe place. You are floating in your bathtub, relaxed, thinking about the day, and …” I interrupt her. “Nope. No. I just washed the tub. I mean, I think I got all the cleaner out, but I’m not sure. I rinsed the tub out really good, I probably used more water than I should have, I mean, I really try to conserve water, but I’m not sure all the cleaner is out, so if I try to soak in the tub with that stuff still in there my labia might swell up and my vagina will follow suit and my uterus will *eject* because who the hell knows what’s really in those chemicals, so how about if I try again tomorrow after I rinse the tub out with scalding hot water for like 24 hours, it should be okay then, right? …. Right?
There’s bears in them woods and jellyfish in that water and it’s okay. My friend wrote about her time away and my current being had hackles up, red flags, fear which I throttled back slowly as I imagined myself there faced with a bear in the ferns, or maybe it was a deer, or nothing at all. After putting out my fear fires I felt amused because I can be a dork who can look at my real inside self and hear, “Well there you go. You got some shit to work on.” So thanks, Elisa for your allowing me to live vicariously through ya, and there was probably no bears. I doubt I will ever get over the yellowjack thing, but I’ll hit the water and the woods with you anytime.
It was the No-Go stairway. Never, ever, go up those stairs, the last, highest stairs in our building. You better believe me and my brother did Go when we could get away with it, but we had to be lightning fast and super quiet in those echoey halls to get up and down before anyone caught us. Sometimes we sat on those stairs while waiting for Mom to come out of the apartment so we could go food shopping or maybe the library. Sitting was legal, anyway.
But one night Dad took us up those stairs, those No-Go stairs, and it was amazing to get to the top and go through that dark door that took us onto the ROOF! CAN YOU IMAGINE how emerging onto a roof at night, all secret-like, felt to this fairly sheltered kid? It was scary and rule-breaking and scary and cool and scary. The dark gravel crunched beneath my sneakered feet. It was warm but cool. The wall was too short to lean over so we had to stay away from it (scary) but we had a 360-degree view of the fireworks taking place around Flushing on Fourth of July. The blossoms weren’t too near and the crackling, booming was a bit far away, but I will never, ever forget the night we did a bit of rule breaking and had some (rare) excitement with Dad on the day we commemorate our own rule breaking that paved the way to Independence.
These last few days have been particularly abundant with spring life, new life, embarking on their new lives. People wonder what are the birds saying when they make that sound and as of yesterday I know:
A juvenile blue jay sat on the branch in the tree that is 2.5 feet away from my bedroom window. There are trees behind my apartment that are secluded and safe for birds and squirrels and other wild things to do their thang. I watch them all year long. The JV blue jay sat on the branch and squawked a soft squawk, not quite the jarring screech of an adult blue jay, similar, but soft, like it hadn’t found his diaphragm yet to ANNUNCIATE to the BACK OF THE ROOM. It sat on the branch and softly called and an adult came, and I watched it feed the young with something. The adult flew away and the juvenile hung around for a while and then hopped up and away out of my sight.
A juvenile squirrel came creeping on a branch. I could tell it wasn’t an adult because its eye was too small, its tail full grown but its body still smol. It stayed on the branch, still for a long, long time. And then it creeped, it tread, it wended carefully so carefully, unsure about what it was supposed to do and where it was supposed to go. This was not a professional parkour squirrel, though it would be someday. I should also like to mention that last year I saw a juvenile squirrel waiting on a branch for its mom, and she came and nursed him. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I was thrilled and amazed by this tender moment.
A juvenile robin, his head and back dark, dark, black was sitting in the backyard making that call. I know that call. It was a thready, reedy, whiny, gently screechy sound that said, “MOM MOM MOM.” The robin hopped a little bit here and there but mostly it stayed in the enclosed backyard of the lady who has a very vocal energetic black Pomeranian who barks and loses his shit if the wind blows. No sound. The adult robin came and fed the juvenile, then led it towards a large bush growing on the side of her house, probably where the nest is. This morning I watched the scene again, the juvenile hollering but the adult sat on the white fence calling “HERE HERE HERE, THIS WAY THIS WAY THIS WAY” and flew away. The juvenile kept watch this way for another meal and all I could think was that “Baby, you got your mind on breakfast and the hawks hear your crying and you’re going to be their breakfast.”
Yesterday the birds were crazy with activity. So many flights in crazy directions, things that made no sense to a dumb human, and I wondered if we had bad weather coming in, but no. This wasn’t about weather. It was about spring when the young are tested and called and cajoled to do that thing on the hot air rising from the rooftops and the sand. When wings and limbs are forced to grow and go.
There is no way I could see all this and not think of my own gestational effort and offspring that happened in May. I even told him all about it while he was here on his yearly visit, yes even in front of his fiancée. I tried to be matter of fact and not lean too heavily on the woman things, the things we scare each other with and dare each other with and support each other with if we are lucky. Spring life is nature and nurture, instinct is not a given. We struggle and suffer and none of us come out on top with gold medals. I could have attended a birthing class and watched the movies and read the books, I heard next to nothing from living women about “the day.” And yet somehow we all figured out how to make it work. I came home with a pink fella with some dark hair on his head and his balls. He cried and I cried and we figured it out, mostly. In Spring. When the birds are flying crazy and the heat is rising up from the earth.
my feet are not cold on the floor though I left all the windows open all night
no clouds in sight no humidity, only heat is imminent first morning after a pink moon
it would be a good day to drink more water, I think, as I water a red dahlia
one puff of breeze enters the kitchen and I smell the heat the heat of sun on the leaves, the pine needles, paint on the wood of the balcony Heat on a black birds back rising up from the sand, damp beneath heat from the roof tiles wafting away like the garlic she uses to make food with her hands and all is quiet again
until the heat knocks, a loud fist on the steel door expansion says science but my body startles anyway and it’s time for the sun to magnify its rays in my eyes though I’ve closed the blinds and all I can think is what sweat tastes like on the first day of heat after a pink moon and the red dahlia laughs at me.
When my son was young and we wished we could still confine him to a stroller but yeah good luck with that, we brought him to the Space Farms Zoo in Sussex New Jersey. I’d been alive awhile and never heard of it, but hey! A learning experience, let’s go! We parked in vibrant emerald cornfields before harvest, and before we left the lot I was stricken, no exaggeration, absolutely stricken by the sound of a lion who was half a mile away. I stopped walking and just couldn’t stop listening to his voice. He was speaking, announcing, conquering. He had a truth he wanted to say and I don’t know how anyone could not hear him. Breathtaking.
Years later I came across YouTube videos of a man in South Africa who took lions into his care and works so very hard at trying to help people and lions live together on the same land. His name is Kevin Richardson and you can look up his work at your will. I learned so much about lions and hyena, their relationships, behaviors, and why we need to preserve them in our world.
Recently my friend Elisa and I visited the Norfolk Zoo and at one point during our walk a male lion spoke. He made us aware of his intentions. He became the center of the Universe. I’m not convinced the people at the zoo understood lions the same way Kevin Richardson does, but I do not doubt their dedication to the creatures in their care. So he roared the way you don’t hear him in the movies, Roooarhhhh ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh…. His call to assert his hierarchy and his bond with the ladies. And I could not move. I just had to stop. Breathtaking. Lion. Captive yet regal, visceral, owning us all, all the way down into my bones. I was not expecting to hear this. Hear him. And I wept. And she saw me. And I could not avoid the question, “Are you okay?” Of course I’m not okay. How can any of us be okay in the presence of him, while we condone canned hunting and can’t figure out how to live with him in his land? So I lied and said, “I’m fine.” But she knew I was not. Elisa wrote about her very own capture as she walked in peaceful astonishment with the Orangutans.
Today I’m thinking about the lies we tell ourselves. The lion’s roar in lands we can’t quite commit to living with. Humans we won’t commit to protecting. Elon Musk’s rockets are dreams of the future, ones we should pursue, but where is that future for 20,000 lions left on the continent of Africa?
The neighbor’s bathroom door slammed. He’s a very good slammer. My eyes opened and saw Christmas cactus silhouette on the windowsill, echevarria’s sawtooth lump, prayer plant’s leaves erect as they are not during the day. It was a miracle I slept between then and then, I dreamed, and hated the dream and wanted to call you and tell you I’m sorry even though it was just a dream about your fish in a tank, saltwater in fresh, giant in small, and that you just didn’t seem to care. I catalogued my pains and knew I would not sleep anymore. Loud footsteps cross downstairs. His microwave door thumps closed: breakfast of champions. Nurse shadow passes my window, bundled. It will be light soon? I asked swaying bare branches outside. The laptop is so cold on my wrists; I turn on the heat and hope it will satisfy the plants on the sill whose magenta faces press desperately to the cold pane. It must be light soon. It was dark at five, surely the sun will come soon? Where is that cool cobalt that cancels coal dark, sherbet palette on the way? Now? Is it now? These are the long nights of winter in this hemisphere 5PM and the timers kick on the courtyard lights 6AM they’re still glowing When the light finally comes I see crows flying west as the dragonflies did in late spring, certain. The crows of Middletown flew west late in the day, I could tell the time by their flocking as I sat near tall windows, chatting on the phone about nothing. Cars dripping dew awaken, Navies on their way. The sun’s trajectory short like patience. My plants drink, hungry, and I use my indoor voice to say “Good morning” and I rub their leaves gently. I dread the night.
Well who’s going to write a story about that, he wondered. I knew what he was thinking and I was thinking not me, man, I got better things to do like re-arrange my sock basket. And then he pushed me and said write the thing and I spent many hours thinking about the thing. I wrote it in my head for days, preparing to put it formally on a document.
I sat down to write and found videos for a 100-hour-recipe for brownies and rescuing opossums and racist gift baskets and all kinds of good shit and then I went to sleep and woke up with no ink on my hands. I mean, who really wants to read a story about an owl, anyway? Actually I do because there’s something there and he’s telling me his story and I can’t get it out of my head. I’ve been writing the same story over and over and over, editing the same sentence because it’s my thing. It’s what I do. It’s gotta be perfect out of the box or just forget it all.
Then I think about Milton who wrote the epic “Paradise Lost” in free verse which is 10,000 lines; Dante who wrote “Inferno” in triple rhyme in 14,233 lines; Shakespeare who wrote 154 heart-tearing sonnets of 14 lines each… and I’m erasing the first sentence again and again and again. Modus Operandi.
The owl will pop out soon enough. I just needed a space to complain. Thank you and good night.