10-Line Tuesday

November 29, 2016


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

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


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.

August 16, 2016

the quiet hum of industry

You wouldn't have noticed she was making a bookshelf out of paper, or
that he was figuring the math for a skateboard ramp, or how the backyard
was plotting next summer's harvest. It would have been impossible to recognize
the musician turning an ear toward a field of rustling corn, or a painter
puzzling over the weave of a blank canvas, or that writer in a hotel room in North Carolina,
her fingers on a warm keyboard, remembering the steps all over again. But this
is where the work gets done, this quiet hum of industry, away from the world's
fluorescent attention, with a beauty untheatric as a sea lion tottering off the docks at Pier 39
and into the salted, murky waters of the Pacific, where no one can see his eyes
lifting toward a filmy horizon or his back, gleaming with moonlight.

August 9, 2016

poems for ice cream

Two bottles of water for the smile during a heat wave. Extra towels for asking
where she got her necklace, which led to a conversation about New Mexico.
The room with a better view for the tired look that comes from a road trip.
A bill pressed into a palm for time with a swatch of paper and the small,
healing burst of art that followed. The books from her great-grandfather for a reason
that may not reveal itself for years. When I passed through the Paris airport,
I knew exactly what to expect at the exchange booth, the numbers down
to the decimal point. But here, in the country of the heart, lives another currency entirely,
the scale seesawing in a million directions, where what you give is always, always
more than enough.

August 2, 2016

lucid dreaming at Hotel Cascada

There is an indoor water park, and a little booth in the lobby where you can take
your picture and send it anyone you know. Beer glasses clink in the sports bar -
the home team clinching victory - and the new arrivals check in, bleary-eyed
from the long road trip, and head to their rooms with the straps of their luggage
hanging slightly off their shoulders. Fluorescent bulbs pockmark the hallways,
and I wonder if we're all thinking the same thing: "Why am I here?" as we fall back
on starched white pillows and climb past the fences we'd erected at daylight, intent
as we were to mark the borders of our mind's country. Now, though, we swim loosely on,
eager to meet the hands of strangers, eat at unfamiliar tables, relieved to discover
someone has saved a seat for us, and there is a meal waiting with our name on it.

July 26, 2016

under your knees, a sandbox

Maybe no one is stopping by the house with a basket of fresh blueberries and an hour to sit
in your kitchen with the windows blowing in that particular storybook breeze.
Maybe the neighbors aren't knocking on the porch door and asking for the cup of sugar
their cake needs, and you fall into that beautiful dance that forgets the walls between you.
Maybe the drive to the ocean always involves bad traffic on the Parkway, drivers bristling
in their lanes when someone forgets to signal, and the beach is so pockmarked with bottle caps
and those kelly-green straws from Starbucks, you stay cloistered on your towel, despite
your deep hunger to swim. Sometimes, the acreage of wishful thinking stretches so wide,
while your patch of joy stays shockingly small. And yet, under your knees, a sandbox, a playground
of such tidy proportion, all the rides are just a fingertip away, if you'd only reach out to touch them.

July 19, 2016

Cleveland in Idaho

We listen on the radio as the circus begins,
engine straining from the climb on the interstate
out of Salt Lake City.  I don't know if it's the heat,
or the strange arrival of Scott Baio at the lectern
that silences us, but as the miles roll on our mouths
slacken and fall open, and the air - cooling artificially and
whooshing through the vents, lands squarely on our tongues.
"We need gas," someone says. "We need water," another adds,
and we smack our lips, awake with a thirst we are praying
we can meet in time.