In Your Presence

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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?

Soon?

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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.

Process

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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.

fog morning.

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the kind of morning i wish would stand still
see what i see.
let me take in the silence
the scent
the gray
the cool soaking wet
let me hold you still
before it all becomes the day.

i remember waking and rising before everyone
and sneaking outside to sit on the concrete steps
shocked i could rise so early
that i could be so quiet mousy
elated that there’s no one to tell me
No
or
Don’t
a long green and white trailer nestled in the catskills
courtesy of grandma and grandpa
land of loud crickets, soft orange lights
strangers in pubs who are friends
a pool that’s off limits
and a basketball court where my dad actually bounced a ball.
so many tiny white spider tents in the grass
should i walk, yes i should walk and soak my socks
i’ll take them off
my tracks look like skis in the wet grass
the world was still and mostly silent
accompanied by tiring crickets
soon grandma will rise with her little slippered feet
and pastel house dress to make us toast with too much butter
that is life
and no one around to say
No
or
Don’t

sun please hold before you burn this fog away
fluttering flock of mourning doves say otherwise
the guy downstairs comes out for a smoke
the chemicals chase the ocean scent away
still, everyone is reverent this morning,
keeping quiet.
so far.

dreamsong

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Standing at the kitchen sink
in a tiny log cabin
cold orange light slanting in
Washing washing washing
Bruce Springsteen behind
watching me
wash with a rag in the big white sink
singing an old bride’s song

It’s a song about rain on one side of the day
blue skies in the morning and waking cold
middle of the night
unsure if I did all the washing
The blankets you made are heavy and tell me
everything’s all right.

I’ve got rain on my mind
fog in my eye
Lavender in every breath that happens
Mom said she loves me
I already know
because it’s about to rain on the other side of the sky.

What Does This Button Do? (book review)

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At the time Bruce Dickinson published his autobiography many things were going on in my life that kept it on the back burner. He is one of the heroes of my young-woman and heavy metal life, and I was shocked and prematurely mourned when he announced his cancer diagnosis. A new album was expected but I was still uninspired by the previous album he made when he was healthy. My life was upside-down and I had little patience for much of anything, particularly the band Iron Maiden where I felt their music and tours were, while high-octane, mostly the same.

During another recent bout with insomnia I said, “f*k it,” so I downloaded the book and thought I’d have a look. I page-turned it to the point where mid-morning when I woke I was pretty sure it really happened to me; it wasn’t a dream, I was actually there in his tiny village in their tiny rooms with no televisions and few cars and people were losing their men in the war and little boys fell in love with aircraft. (Perhaps I had my first and only Edgar Cayce moment? )

Perhaps a better place to begin is here: Bruce is an excellent story-teller. Everything happens quickly, goes down easy, and you can see it all. What spoke to me most was his formative years up to when he began performing onstage, then his solo band’s venture into Sarajevo at the height of the war and their orphanage visit. The chapters that described his induction to the music life that introduced him to the Iron Maiden life, the interim years of solo life, and returning to Iron Maiden life had few moments I didn’t already know because I’m a Maiden fan and any fan who didn’t know those moments aren’t worth their salt were okay, and would be more interesting to those of us who don’t already know their story. He goes on a great deal about fencing which tells me it had a lot more influence on his life than any of us knew. I thought it was a hobby he was devoted to and not much more, but no. Same for his desire to learn to fly. I learned that he must keep his mind active, not just focused but laser-focused and full of creating and completing a task so he can feel okay; comfortably sane.

I knew before I read the book that he chose not to include stories about girlfriends and wives. This doesn’t surprise me as he’s always kept family closely guarded. He dedicates a passage to wife and children at the front of the book but that is all. In the epilogue he says he chose not to bring them in because the book was big enough and they didn’t move the dialogue forward. And that, my friends, pissed me off. Finding and falling in love and having children and all the stories in between does not move the dialogue of You, Mr. Bruce Dickinson, forward? Throughout the process of reading this book I kept hoping he would throw out a little mention of a wife or kid moment but no. It was microphones, amps, cassettes, managers, trousers, fencing partners, movie treatments, commercial airline pilot training. Not a word for the woman who stood behind him all those years? This might be a shocking comment coming from one of the Maiden females who wanted him all to ourselves, but leaving out any goodness you had with Paddy and your children makes it less autobiography and more like another Iron Maiden tour. This was my only disappointment with his work.

The casual reader will consume the book quickly because he’s an excellent writer. Here’s hoping he will regale us with more tales from the skies or possibly the stage because he is unstoppable. Not sure I’ll buy another album or see another show, honestly but that’s not why I’m here. I will end with two quotes from the book that spoke to me: “Nothing in childhood is ever wasted,”  and “It didn’t matter what it was that you engaged in, as long as you respected its nature and attempted some measure of harmony with the universe.”  

Eddie Van Halen. This One Hurts.

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Eddie Van Halen smiled like a kid when his hero gave him the thumbs up. He smiled like he saw the love of his life across the room. He smiled like he was up to sumpthin… who me? Oh, yes, you. Then he serenaded or assailed you with the wit of his strings.

There can be only one. And that is cliche. But tonight that’s how it feels when I think and write about Eddie Van Halen. A friend asked for a best memory with a Van Halen song involved.

I’m not sure how I got the cassette (probably borrowed from a friend or my brother). Popped it into the Sears stereo. Heard “Eruption” and just … Did you ever hear a piece of music and wonder what just happened to you? What the hell just happened to me? Never heard anything like it. I’m an 80s Mtv grrl, so I’ve seen a lot (oh my word a lot) of videos. When I went back to wash in Van Halen just now, most of what I see is Eddie playing like “this is kidstuff and I’m having fun.” He played with a joy, a playfulness I haven’t seen in many other bands. He had a guitar made for his creativity because he needed something more, which is not surprising. Many creatives have to have things built or changed for them so they can CREATE because what is in the here and now is just not filling and satisfying. I want us all to smoke that cig and take a swig and write that thing, that easygoing swagger that’s easy as breathing, breathing pie. Eddie, no one is like you. But we gotta try.

To Kill A Mockingbird, A Confession

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I know I read this in middle school, must have. I remember thinking about what a mockingbird must sound like, and also feeling a little spooked thinking about Boo Radley hiding behind Scout’s bedroom door. I must have taken a quiz or test or wrote an essay, fumbling for some kind of understanding of the bird and the Boo. And that’s it. It didn’t stick to me. It just faded away along with many of the stories from dogged-up sun-faded anthologies sitting on windowsills. (Poe was more to my liking, since I’m confessing.)

Read an article recently that mentioned Harper Lee’s most famous story and it sparked interest so I sat down and watched the movie for the first time. That’s right. I have never seen Gregory Peck channel Atticus Finch until a few days ago. Guess I thought that since I’d read the book there was no reason to go there, never had much interest in Peck as an actor or black and white films in general. The brief opening credits began to roll, a picture of a cigar box filled with childhood treasures and so help me I could smell that box and I began to weep. And it’s happening again as I write this. Childhood, it’s all there. The children appeared and acted as children do but spoke in most adult ways. It was an odd mixture and we were asked to suspend our disbelief that children of a widowed lawyer could be sneaky, have wonderful play, but speak in grown-up ways. I was surprised (why?) that Atticus had a colored servant (housekeeper). Where was that in the book? I thought Atticus was more progressive than that; wow, my memory is bad. Then, the revelation that a colored man raped a white woman. Where was that in the book? Wow, my memory is bad. The n-word was used in the film and I guess I read it but didn’t flinch? It was used on the street and by some older relatives, so it wasn’t a shock. (Unless I was surprised at the use of the word in this book and I just don’t remember?) I was most interested in the courtroom scene, watching the witnesses come and falsely accuse Tom of a terrible crime, the African American people in the balcony, Whites on the main floor. Judge, prosecution, defense, witness chair, none of this was like Law & Order SVU but it was still compelling. How is it that I knew Atticus made a good case but Tom would still be condemned? Was it from memory or just my jaded heart? I did not remember Tom allegedly attempting to run from the cops and getting shot instead of being jailed. Why did I not remember? And why do I care so much now that this shit is still going in full color with only a 10-second delay from camera phone to internet?

The film goes on and I was surprised that the white man came to harm or possibly murder Atticus’ children. Where was that in the book? I was surprised that Sheriff Heck Tate allowed the white man’s death during the attack to be chalked up to “he fell on his knife” as justice for the lies he and his daughter told about Tom that led to his death. Heck was a man trying to do a decent thing, and I believe his character and his actions were largely ignored. There are more heroes in the story can be counted and should all be on one line, they’re all first place. Sorry Mr. Peck, but at least you won the Oscar.

Another confession: I did not know that Boo Radley was played by Robert Duvall and it was his very first role. They could have given it to any actor, but I think he did a fine job being a frightened man coming out of his safe place to rescue Atticus’ children.

So childhood and play and innocence are huge in this story. It’s no wonder I largely buried it somewhere. Found it difficult to watch two children who love and care for and stick up for each other; where a little girl’s voice mattered and might have made a difference. We used to play like that once; we had good times; I remember those more than this book. Maybe that’s what I like best about the end of this essay.

Guardians

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When you come to collect me be careful where you step and what you touch
There’s sand on the floor,
slippery and on the couch,
kind of funny
and in the bathroom under everything, grit everywhere
in your hair and I hope it never washes away

When you come to collect me take note and be gentle
Precious cargo here:
Horseshoe crab molts, a seahorse
A green flower he found on the sidewalk and gave to me
Ribbons from gifts long enough to wrap sarcophagus
Penguins and llamas and Piglets,
Empty journals waiting for a smeared knuckle
Hoya and snake plant that thrive against the odds

A mantis, finger long, the color of bark
Who hung on the ceiling outside my door
Biding his time
Guarding my home
His mortal body now in the dish beneath my aloe.

Be careful.

A Letter To Jivey

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Dear Jivey,

It’s been three days since you returned to the Hudson river valley.  I’ve been moping since, but today I find the courage to write aloud. 

I love you and miss you both.  You brought me blessings and laughter and happiness and treasure I won’t forget and thank you.

This morning the cicadae are shirring in the pine trees. (Remember the little guy shuffling off his former coil by my front door?)   The temperature is cool and the humidity is gone: you seem to have taken it away with you. I wanted bathtubfulls of rain to fall sideways or maybe a thunderstorm to impress you while you were here, but all we got was drips, sweat, and static electricity high in the clouds. Tomorrow night the rain will come, courtesy of a hurricane remnant. I feel like I owe you wild weather, Ms. Vine, that we could stand outside and ride and shout out the wonderful chaos. And also Krispy Kremes.

I made a grocery store run this morning and everything I wanted was not there: bagels, rye bread, white queso sauce for a nacho treat. There are little teardrops of grease on my turquoise tablecloth, remnants of the New York pizza you brought, and everything feels out of joint. I fall into the writer’s recollection of how food joins us, humans, in happiness and grief. 

Monday I expected Ms. Vine to come in to the room where I write and felt sad when I remembered.  Last night I felt parts of you still in my room. It was a long night with little sleep. 

Horseshoe crabs come to the beach to molt their exoskeletons so they can grow into their new lives as their ancestors have done for a million years.  We collect their skins and wonder at these ancient arthropods, some intact, some in pieces, but we rarely see them as they continue their journey in the waters. You brought one molt in and prepared it with everything that I love about you. I’m glad the Universe put it in your path. Jivey, may your journeys be as successful, contingent on rising with the tide.

Love always,
Mom.