10-Line Tuesday

January 3, 2017

overhead: wild grapes

There was a poem about the post-holiday sidewalks I started to write,
the litter of Christmas trees denuded of ornament and fanfare. Garbage men
in their bright yellow vests appeared in the lines, too, as did the new, determined
recruits at the local gym, and the sweaty promises we make in the name of better health.
It would have been reasonable, then, to address the fresh checklists of fix this, change that,
how the turn of a year pushes the doing out of us. And yet, it wouldn’t stop raining today,
and all I could do was remember that cold, clear late afternoon in the fields beyond
my mother’s house, looking up at thin, bare branches stretching skyward and shaking,
slightly, in the breeze. How my own hands lifted and opened, and my body shivered
in sudden, unexpected certainty: There was still time. There would always be time.

December 27, 2016

today

When she boarded the plane at Heathrow, the famous actress couldn't
have known that hours later, approaching Los Angeles, her heart
would stop beating and a stranger, however briefly, would keep her alive.
We were coming home from Central Park, happy and a little tired
from the walk, grateful for the unseasonable warmth of the afternoon,
our good luck with parking. Now, I can't quite believe she's gone;
there are some people you think will live forever, outlast the cruelties
and calamities of the thin-skinned, mortal body. I want, today, a story like that,
despite the terribly stacked odds. I want the princess waking at last, her sleep-spell
broken, the welcome sound of bluebirds at her shoulder, a fairytale on the verge of beginning.

December 20, 2016

cracks

I am trying to imagine how the 15-year-old girl got her legs
to climb that fence on the overpass. How she stood above
the New Jersey Turnpike's busy lanes, then aimed her body
south. So, too, am I twisting my mind around the wrist
of the young man pointing a pistol into the back of the diplomat
visiting his country, then pulling an irrevocable trigger. Or the ankle
of the driver in the seat of impending carnage, pressing the gas pedal down
to the crucial notch. Despair is not what I thought it was, a lovesick, festering ache.
No, this runs deeper in the cracks, where hope has fallen so silent
the sound of sirens feels almost like music.

December 13, 2016

the pile

There is a sweater - Pacific blue, frayed beyond repair - I cannot seem to part with.
A long coat, once the green of late-winter pine, has gone grey from disuse,
though the closet still bears its bulky real estate. The world, too, feels loosened
of its seams, on the verge of - or already - unraveling, a tumble of unsortable laundry.
And yet we're standing by the pile, pointing fingers at the mess,
refusing to let go of our favorites no matter how long they've withstood our neglect.
Spring cleaning is months away, but it is already too late, and I'm wondering
who will make the first move, unfold from their stiffness at the podium, and bend
to the task. Who will give up the space on their shelves with the floor so bursting
with the wounded.

December 6, 2016

dreaming of Carl Lewis

Are you here, too, a part of your legs still 12, still tensing
at the thoroughfare of hurdles 25 yards out and yet already lifting,
soaring over the rail, your laces tight as promises? Are your lungs
taking their full fill as they did back then, staring down the barrel
of that track? I remember that summer, glued as I was
to the unfolding narrative of a superstar I was so sure
was looking straight at me when he took his place at the starting block
and the crowd grew silent. I was hardly gifted in his language, not
by a long shot, but there he was, beckoning with each muscle, telling me,
in no uncertain terms, I was running the race of my life.

November 29, 2016

weapons

I have been reading the posts of the 5:00 a.m. running club,
though I have not, myself, risen from sleep to make the start time.
Elsewhere, letters are being sent, phone calls made, petitions
signed and delivered, and I find myself empty of the vigor and volume
I think I'd need to join the fray. Last week, I spent several hours raiding
my mother's closet, so immersed in the racks I almost forgot to eat breakfast.
Yesterday, I stood at the corner of Forest & Chestnut tilting my face
toward a early winter sun, wondering what name I would give this particular
yellow. It's not that I don't have the heart for battle. I'm just still deciding
on my weapons.
 

November 22, 2016

liver and gin

Our visits came long after her glory days in the kitchen.
Instead, quiet afternoons of Scrabble and warm milk and dusty
caramel squares, the wilted smell of old perfume rising from her stiff
living room couch. Years after she died, my grandfather sent a stack
of index cards of recipes, the handwriting shockingly illegible and mostly
in German, a collision of dishes from the country she left and the one
that took her in. I imagined the wet slap of liver on the counter, the pot
on a roiling boil, a staunch conviction and residue fear competing in the gut,
her own boys growing up too fast. Which is why I wasn't so surprised
about the gin.

November 15, 2016

I'll bring the soup and biscuits

Rain today, finally. As if the sky had had enough of holding
itself together, November unseasonable in all ways. My friends
are planning for the apocalypse...or at least, enough catastrophe
to escape our current zip codes. A playlist is being assembled. A corner
in a house is mounting with art supplies. Liz has been knitting us
wrist guards to keep the cold out. "I'll bring the soup and biscuits," I say,
only half-jokingly, looking around for what I would scramble to gather
if the call comes. The dog has her head tucked in the crack of the couch cushions,
sleeping out the storm. Soon enough, she'll wag over to the back door and demand
to be let out, where the world - teeming with potential - is waiting to greet her.

November 8, 2016

simplifying the menu

The island restaurant has lured vacationers for decades
with its vivid kitsch, a culture clash of Hollywood royalty
and Christmas. As we wait for our table, I glance at the menu
displayed, Bible-like, under the awning. The descriptions of each dish
reflect this deliberate confusion, drawing the eye away from
the price, diminished to a thin font at the bottom. But when the plates arrive,
the contents are unmasked for what they are - meat, potatoes, vegetables
roughly chopped and sauteed over a brief flame with a toss of olive oil. We bend
our forks to their task, and I don't think I'm wrong when I say the pomp and theater
leave us hungrier than we came, though when the waitress returns, no one wants dessert.

November 1, 2016

one week to go

The TV cameras are rolling at a frenzied clip, lawyers on each side
standing by with wet-tipped pens. We watch, delirious and dumbfounded,
as the country sways and buckles, our bearings loosened by the wear and tear
of competing narratives. And now, one week to go, with the poll numbers still
vibrating, we shift our gaze to the sky and scan for signs of reprieve.
How do you hold your breath and pray at the same time? How do you lay down
your armor and steer your heart away from the trouble? Each day offers itself
like a clean, stretched canvas, yet look how quickly we busy ourselves with the edge,
already shrinking from the finish. But this deadline's an illusion.
Forget what time it says on the dial. We are not the frame. We are the paint.

October 25, 2016

devouring the stew

At dinner, my stepsons say things I don't understand, their language culled
from the antics of rising YouTube stars. They show me the clips but even then,
the narrative is lost on me, distant as Pluto. And it does feel sometimes like we're orbiting
disparate solar systems, our paths crossing in random galactic events no astronomer
could ever predict. Last night, a meeting kept us from an intersection at the table.
I'd made beef stew in a cast-iron pot. The carrots had been sliced with certain
tenderness, the potatoes scrubbed clean, bay leaves gentled in.
When we came home, the boys had settled in their rooms; their bowls lay emptied in the sink.
On the stove, the outline of a ladle, pale remnant of the meal they'd plowed through.
The universe keeps expanding, I've heard. But maybe the opposite is also true.

October 18, 2016

the night after a full moon

Maybe it was the buildup, or the sexy images from NASA, or how the sky
was already brimming with so much light two or three evenings before
the apex. I wondered if, across the world, others were carrying
a similar euphoria of anticipation, as if this lunar narrative would wipe the dust
from our own, offering fresh, nuclear buoyancy to whatever solitary weight our shoulders
were bearing. And it did feel, gazing up, as if the real estate of my life had wandered
into the geography of everyone else's, our necks angled at the same exact pitch.
A day later, the stars looked a little less bright, their sheen bruised by the latest headlines,
the wake of a hurricane, the war between neighbors over lawn signs. The face above us
soured slightly, then began turning away, giving us a month or so to think things over.

October 11, 2016

the dragonfly at your knee

You have to be still to see it, perhaps a glass of red wine nearby,
or David Sedaris stories in your lap, the burble of a river at your feet. The children
from the local school will have not yet passed by in their kayaks, and you
will have not made the grocery run or even written the list for dinner. Instead,
you'll be tilted slightly back in your green plastic chair, as if leaning into time itself,
and the warmth on your knees from the afternoon sun will become the briefest
of invitations, a landing spot for a creature that tends to busy itself with errands
you cannot begin to understand. But there you'll be, away from the frenzy of your lives,
waiting - without realizing it - for the other to stop moving. It won't last long,
your little communion, but it will be enough. You'll remember this day forever.

October 4, 2016

mortar
Josselin, France

From a distance, no one would know how this place has held itself together
all these years. A cathedral rises behind the canal, its spire stark
against an autumn blue sky. Window boxes jut from old stone walls;
you notice the pop of cadmium and violet as you walk up the cobblestones
for your daily bread. My father lives here in a house that has stood,
despite the seasonal floods, for centuries. At night, I check the sills
for spiders. In the next room, he is trying, unsuccessfully, to fall asleep.
Mornings, we sit in silence over espresso. Everything we tell each other
has stopped needing words. Instead, we hold hands on fraying placemats,
watch the mill wheel take one rotation after another, as if it will never stop turning.

September 27, 2016

porous

A month ago today, my parents celebrated what would have been
their 49th anniversary. My father made a transatlantic phone call,
catching my mother somewhere between her writing group and late lunch
with a friend. It's been 22 years since their divorce and yet, like clockwork,
the phone rang and she was there to pick it up. I don't know, exactly,
what they said - they are, now, deep in the trenches of their separate lives -
but I am certain, even from my distant perch, their voices were soft and edgeless,
not in the way of sepia tones in old photographs, but with a kindness that transcends
departure, a grace lingering after a long season of rain, the earth between them
porous as ever.

September 20, 2016

perfect timing

If there’s no rain, the mailman comes at 2:30 on the dot.
In the mornings, though I am not there to see them myself,
the crossing guards gather like geese 20 minutes before the onslaught
of first graders. The bagel place popular with the high-school crowd
nudges its front doors open at 7, and the corner barbershop takes
great pride in welcoming its first buzz cuts by 8. It would seem easy, then,
to chart one’s movements by this same clock, say “I will make the big decision
by lunch” or “This terrible mood will be over by the evening news.”
But no such timepiece ticks as our own work opens and closes, the blooms
inexact and imprecise, each which is its own beauty, its own perfect timing.

September 13, 2016

each day is another doorway

She likes to joke about the foreign country of the suburban town
she’s lived in these last few years, how she’s just “visiting” even though
the postman keeps delivering her mail at this address. She says
she hasn’t quite dug her heels in, imagining this a temporary state
of affairs, as if her real life is somewhere else, however far and filmy.  
The truth is, though, her body took her here, the bones and muscles both,
her skin pliant and yielding, and each day is another doorway
she keeps entering, unflinchingly, as if she already knows
the gravel of this place matters less than the bedrock underneath, and deeper still,
the river of her heart, which always seems to fill the spaces in between.

September 6, 2016

on not waiting

Maybe she pressed “send” too quickly. Maybe the urge to get this one thing off her chest
uncoiled the patience inside her, freed the spring from its usual taut remove, and now -
seeing the sloshy mud of words mirrored back - she wonders if maybe a little more time
would have given them a more graceful tint. And yet, there was certain thrill collapsing the space
between thought and deed, pinching the window of her usual contemplation to a slimmer crack.
The oceans are rising catastrophically. An earthquake leveled an entire Italian village in seconds.
The boy who was 6 years old yesterday is now driving the turnpike. How long must the shadow
stretch before we leap? Even the hatchling hawk descends from its dark, canopied perch before
it knows its wings, exactly. Even the faintest scratchings leave their mark, however
hieroglyphic, unfolding one poem at a time, petal by visible petal.

August 30, 2016

strange brew

No one told you it would be like this: a Monday night, pulled
from the reverie of a Netflix documentary and into the theater
of a hospital hallway and the cluster of the wounded waiting there.
You watch the medics wheel in a woman with no socks on; her husband
trails the gurney, carrying her shoes. Minutes later, a newborn
with a troubling rash on his cheeks. A waitress clutching her elbow. A young man's shoulder
bent at a Neanderthal angle. No one is prepared, and yet, as the hours toil on,
the lines between your stories blur, and each time the orderlies come by,
you gaze at each other in a strange brew of hope and surrender, your bodies caught
in a private stillness yet reaching out, in wild and tender innocence, to dance.

August 23, 2016

returning home, I encounter an avocado

The drive is pockmarked with stops for gas and weak coffee,
snacks in indestructible foil packets and cinnamon gum that loses its sweetness
far too soon. Those final days, we angle back on highways that could pass
for siblings, going for speed, and I realize as I press harder on the pedal
I'm not quite sure what I'm coming back to; the way out always feels simpler
than the way back in. And then, just like that, a driveway, and a package
on the front stoop: avocados from a friend in California. At dinner, we slice the fruit
in two and see the continent of green inside, dig in with eager spoons.
Maybe it's true, how good things never last, and yet here, on this last day,
such goodness, each bite ripe as a back road twisting just slightly out of view.