10-Line Tuesday

November 20, 2017

everything is expensive

The appliance salesman ballooned with good news as our time in the showroom
stretched toward lunch. A sale, a rebate, a better tax break if we bought the stove
in a neighboring county! Still, it was hard to keep my gaze from wandering too far
from the numbers on the spreadsheet, his and the one perpetually nipping at my heels.
The kitchen's not burned down, has it? it demanded in a plaintive but accusing tone
and it was impossible to argue with that particular line of questioning. I'd spent
years learning to talk to my stepsons through loaves of banana bread and incalculable dozens
of chocolate chip cookies, scrubbing bowls and measuring cups as the trays cooled and they ate.
Maybe I had more baked goods behind me than poems or dollar bills, but everything
is expensive, even surrender, even love, and sometimes you just have to stop counting.

November 13, 2017

It's 5 o'clock. Do you know where your life is?

I see the list in your hand: Eggs, napkins, toothpaste, broccoli.
The back of the driver's seat holds a map you haven't looked at in years.
Sometimes, you think about your art teacher from fifth grade. If pressed,
you'll recite your old school song, or what you chanted around the fire
the last day of camp. Mostly, though, there's that list and that map
and everything you slide between them like a sandwich, the real estate so worn
you argue against the idea of a different meal. There are things to do, you say,
tucking the paper in your pocket and lifting the keys, as always, from their hook.
I'm running out of time, the sky whispers back, waving a pale finger of light in your direction, hoping you'll notice.

November 6, 2017

Before they change the rules, qualify to carry a gun legally *

The church pews are empty now, save for the cleaning crew,
whose grim task will likely leave them stained forever. And how will the pastor
fare, the one who'd traveled out of town but whose daughter is now
among the dead? Or the pair of siblings huddling in a hospital corridor, 
left to navigate their sudden, inexplicable orphanage? "Let us keep praying,"
someone urges a dazed audience, already so inundated by terror they
hear "praying" as "paying," as men in suits and rifles swarm the Capitol, pretending
it is still 1791. Somewhere, a boy grows intoxicated with weaponry,
aiming a crooked branch at his brother, his finger curled around a knot of bark, 
and I'm hoping their mother will call them inside before it begins to get dark.

* This was the subject line of a spam email I received two days after the Sutherland Springs, TX massacre.

October 31, 2017

if it's okay with you, I'm going to stay happy *

Do you hear the sound of the world breaking?
All that fury in the floorboards and rupture in the walls. Even our hearts
in the throes of their own keening lamentation. This morning, a hard wind
came through the trees, cutting their flock off at the neck. So much color felled
and foiled, this once-sweet season turned bitter in less than an hour.
It was easy - too easy - to imagine this a harbinger or metaphor, to close the door
to the bunker and count the remaining rations. But the sky was so adamantly clear,
almost delirious with optimism, as if refusing the ruin gathering
at its feet, and I wondered if, perhaps, I had misjudged the sorrow of the leaves,
and they'd landed precisely, thrillingly on time.

* I stole this line (with permission) from a condolence card my friend Jean received.

October 24, 2017

the poetry of turbulence

It was a surprise to the pilot, even with his elaborate panel of lights.
Earlier, as we crept toward the runway, he'd announced the smooth ride
we should be expecting, with a good tailwind to boot. But somewhere between
Des Moines and South Bend the atmosphere changed, and he got on the intercom
to tell us beverage service would be suspended and would the flight attendants
please take their seats. In front of me, a mesh pocket held the slim distractions from the
interval of bumps - an illustrated placard, a dog-eared magazine, a foil packet
holding exactly twelve pretzels. Inside my chest, my heartbeats grew rapid,
strangely paced like jazz or like that moment you realize you have everything to lose,
and you've never felt more certain that you won't.

October 17, 2017

this is not everything she has to say

The table is covered in scraps, and the caps to all the glue are missing, 
and there, in the center of the maelstrom, there is a girl
who didn't intend to sit down but did, and she's turning the pages of the small book
she's convinced out a single sheet of paper: "My Dog."
The narrative opens with careful cursive and a pencil sketch of her beloved.
And I look and I nod and offer my amazement, because it IS amazing,
one being who adores another being this much, and I know this is not everything
she has to say, that between the folds, a girl can tuck a catalog of pain so private
it may never reach the surface, never get its own proud illustration, and this might be
the story she'll always carry, unwritten, yet inked deep enough to bruise her forever.

October 10, 2017

belonging

She returns to the ash where her house once was. He sifts through mud for a photograph,
for anything. In places I cannot fathom, a child clings to a tongue-sized remnant
of a soccer ball, a faded blue hexagon at the center.
What the fire didn't take lies in sharp, twisted ruin. What the flood
didn't drown is torn in countless halves. What the war didn't kill
slips into a hollowness where only pain endures. And here, on the other side
of the coin, there is a girl turning 8, and I want her to have the party
her innocence deserves, a table heaped with joy's bright-bulbed excess,
where the partygoers binge on confetti cake and take turns claiming themselves
her best friend as she bounces recklessly around the room, oblivious to her fortune.

October 3, 2010

another elegy

How badly I wanted to extol the morning's couplet of toast, 
the slow drip of Irish butter, the caramel hue a tablespoon of cream
painted my coffee. I awoke almost writing, having gone to bed at the tail end
of a perfect fall day, leaves straight out of a Norman Rockwell. 
The headlines pierced my plans. I bent, wilting, over two squares of bread
and a lukewarm mug, poetry disappearing in the smoke of disbelief.
What to say, now, in the silence that remains after the bullets have struck? 
What shred of grace or beauty still clings to the mouth of this October
and its devastating blue sky? I am out of ideas, but here: Take my shatter
of grief and twine it to yours. Let us swallow this bitterness together.

September 26, 2017

this is not a play area

"It's not a toy," I suspect his mother said when she first caught her son pointing
her lipstick in the air as she applied mascara before a dinner party. 
"It's not a toy," she repeated later, as the lipstick turned into a nail file, a rolling pin,
a butter knife, a beer bottle. Her son heard only the words "not" and "toy." She thought
it better to keep her distress to herself, to stay silent about the violence of gestures, 
the way she felt, as he leveled each mock barrel toward any living or static thing,
as if she were taking a bullet in her own chest. The phrase "he's just a boy"
kept trailing, like a dustpan, after each new episode, not quite cleaning up the mess,
and now, years later, his armory stockpiled and spilling past the yard, his mother's heart
long-bled, he is razing whole neighborhoods house by house, shooting whatever he sees.

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September 19, 2017

at home at the edge of the world

The fog wouldn't lift. It hovered stubbornly over the bay, obstructing the view
two eager vacationers had been so confident they'd see when they booked their tickets
months before. Now, square in the grip of disappointment, they huddled in the car
second-guessing their choice, wondering if all future trips would pale as sharply,
and if everything they'd ever imagined or looked forward to would disappear
in similar fashion. Beyond the parking lot, gulls had landed, singly and in pairs, at the cliffs,
watching - almost sleepily - the spray of the ocean battering the cove.
It wasn't beauty they needed, but rest, and they took it here, briefly, in the crook
of hard rock and old moss, at home at the edge of the world despite the rage
of water around them, or because of it.

September 12, 2017

every roof, every door

I was eating scrambled eggs when the hurricane pummeled the southern tip
of Florida, a second cup of coffee steaming to my right. New Jersey had never
seemed safer or looked more pristine than from the aperture of a kitchen window
I did not have to shutter or otherwise abandon. A cable news channel was reporting live
from the imminent wreckage of Miami, Collins Avenue already flooded, and it came to me
that had this been a dozen years ago, my sister would have been in the thick of it,
and I, frantic on the phone. And then, it wasn't so hard at all to imagine even further -
a stadium floor studded with exhausted, anxious neighbors, the darkness, Earth's fury
dismantling every roof, every door, every thread of familiarity and ease. 
I crumpled at the table then, my heart breaking in a desperate refrain: "Please. Please."

September 5, 2017

amethyst

Yesterday, I saw a man racing through the grocery store with roses in his fist
and a goofy, proud smile on his lips. I was buying ice cream - a request
from my stepson - and when I came home and put the carton in the freezer,
my body registered its own small delight. I am certain we are each
stumbling through this world with the lumpiness of our foolishness and hope,
grasping at whatever's within easy reach to help us say the thing
we don't quite know how. Sometimes love is faceted as amethyst,
winking at us from a distance and strangely cloudy up close.
And then, suddenly, there we are, smelling of roses, our fingertips
ringed with chocolate, bearing the grace of what we've been given to speak.

August 29, 2017

Noah's art

In the thick of the storm, a camera trains on a man wading
into a ruined house to retrieve an elderly couple and their two dogs. He does not
know them, but the disaster has lit within him a fire of urgency, and something
resembling love emerges from the wreckage, hands reaching for other hands.
Survival, he knows, demands participation. Another day it could be him, stranded
on some floating rooftop, the highway all but disappeared. He will have nothing left
but faith, and even that will wobble and weave as the water rises. Yet the question
is not what we'll do at the precipice - instinct reaches that particular real estate -
but in our less devastated hours, what gesture will we dare to extend to one another?
Which divide will our bodies bend to cross when no one is crying to be saved?

August 22, 2017

two minutes and forty seconds

It wasn't so much that I thought the world would end or
reset like a metaphorical Pangaea, but I did imagine that afterward,
the landscape would shift toward some new alignment, and the trouble
rippling underneath would smooth out the way a plane does,
clearing the clouds. It's true, we all stopped to gaze through a makeshift lens
as the moon overcame the larger, louder body of the sun, gathering in fields
and on streets, clustered in a shared awe as the hard light cooled and softened.
But it's the fleeting mid-point I'm missing now, those two minutes and forty seconds
we held our collective breath and rested in brief surrender to our uncertain future,
leaning into the great cosmic miracle of our lives, as we were born to do.

August 15, 2017

remembering Charlottesville

Not the way I saw it in a photograph from yesterday's paper, the fists
of men meeting in smoke-filled streets, police standing too far away,
impotent in riot gear and indecision. Instead, it is the kitchen on South Bath Avenue
in nearby Waynesboro I tumble back to, the one my parents made our Sabbath dinner in, 
and the one from which we emerged to drive to a synagogue 30 minutes away.
How despite the strangeness of our new Southern home, the neighbor girls
who couldn't pronounce my sister's name, the church bells pealing on the hour,
there was a place for us in Charlottesville, a sanctuary filled with prayer and blessings
knitting us together. What I want to remember is how close we sat in the pews, humbled
by so much welcome, our hands loose and open at our sides, almost touching.

August 8, 2017

there are fairies in the empty spaces

Good luck charms in the fallen soufflé. A bright, orange balloon
behind the first slippery drafts of a poem. Twinkle lights in loneliness.
Pompoms on the outskirts of bad luck, and caramels underneath the hard shell
of regret. A merry-go-round a few dozen spins away from longing. There are fairies
in the empty spaces, sparklers in the dark, small emerald cities past the heavy,
claustrophobic woods of fear. Even when we think we'll refuse to give up, who can tell me
they haven't fallen to their knees after too many nights of the the heart's weary,
unanswered pleadings? I have wept into that very silence. I have etched my losses
in those walls. And yet, through the smallest of portholes, the air insists.
And then, it is making a bridge. And then, it is holding up the whole sky.

August 1, 2017

the empathy museum

Begin with the closest specimens: discards you find on your walk
to get more roast beef for the kids. Notice the optimistic colors of cast-off soda bottles,
the way a crushed cigarette pack bears the mark of both desperation and relief,
how the imprints of teeth on school pencils remind you of the infinite horror
of standardized tests. Soon, your eye will fan out to the frayed collar of the man
on the corner asking for spare change, the missing hubcap of the car broken down
on the busy highway, the look of sheer exhaustion the Target cashier can't hide
despite the careful cheer of her greeting. This is when it will dawn on you, all those places
you'd rather ignore but where, in fact, your gaze is needed most, rooms housing another's
shadowy narrative, and the doors you must walk through to lead you out of your own.

July 25, 2017

proximity

When the man to my left unwraps his sandwich as we're settling in,
making a production with the paper bag, the circus of pickles and raw onion,
and the entire row begins to take on the odor of a deli on the Lower East Side,
I don't imagine we will be speaking much during the trip. Still, since we're seated
at the exit, the flight attendant confirms our willingness to assist in the unlikely event
of an evacuation, and suddenly there we are, heads bowed over a colorful placard, 
nodding our promise to work together should the need arise. Somehow, this proximity
is enough to get him started on a conversation, which I am surprised to find, we continue
well into the Rockies and Nebraska, where a solar eclipse will pass in late August,
and the light which change for those willing enough to look up.

July 18, 2017

you're not crazy

For the tattoo you're plotting on your vertebrae, or the paragliding flight off the cliffs
at Fort Funston, or the two thousand miles of a bike path along the Mississippi
that you conjure from your window seat at 30,000 feet and say, "Why not?" as your neighbor
polishes off the last pages of a romance novel. Surely, someone deemed improbable
the dream that led two people to meet each other in that big house in suburban New Jersey,
on a holiday weekend no less. But the math, eventually, pierced through all that
unlikelihood, just as every ambition gripping you with its wild, tentacled longing
cuts through the thickest glass, even as the signs warn otherwise. Your language
has its own cadence. You lean on certain words, luxuriate over particular consonants.
So, too, does desire. Mapless to everyone but the girl with her heart on the trail.

July 11, 2017

too early for peaches

It is summer, inarguably, and the line for ice cream curves into the parking lot
even as a thunderstorm looms. Weekends, smoke wafts from neighborhood grills
and the front display at the CVS is a bright Pantone of sunscreen. Nevertheless,
something pulls at you, a memory willful as a teenager. Flesh yielding to your teeth. 
The blush of softness in your hands. The defiance and purity of your hunger.
Sometimes, you don't know what to do with that voice at the back of your throat,
the one that speaks what your tongue won't say. The one that howls for the taste
of peaches as you take your place for a sugar cone and a hamburger, medium-well.
And yet, there is no shortcut to the harvest, no quicker season to the fruit of your own
becoming, sweetened by time as it is.