10-Line Tuesday

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. 

July 4, 2017

weeding my mother's garden

In the stillness of the backyard, a chorus descends from the trees.
Below, a trail of ants in the thick of industry, a vine of cherry tomatoes
reaching skyward in microscopic increments, a bee barreling into a nest
of white blossoms. I've planted myself in the shade, slouching over the weeds
at the far back edge. Yesterday's rain has made them easier to pull, and soon,
a clearing emerges behind me. We aren't always so easily rewarded, of course,
but I guess that's not the point. I rise and make my way back to the house, back
to my life, which advances in fits and starts not quite mappable to the effort I've given it.
Sometimes, the work looks like magic and sometimes the work looks like work,
or maybe they are one and the same.

June 27, 2017

soaked to the bone

You imagined an empty porch, a stiff drink, a ream of paper stacked at your feet,
the hot breath of the Muse at your neck and all those paragraphs catching fire.
In your mind's cinematic eye, a novel was unfolding frothily inside this microcosm,
sharp-tongued poems licking at the glass. Instead, the neighbor's backyard carpentry
keeps possessing your pages, the dog trolls haphazardly in and out of the narrative,
lashing you with forlorn, guilt-inducing looks, and a boy falls into your lap, sobbing,
ripping each line in wet, jagged seams. Whatever you thought you were keeping out
is finding a way in, and the great art of your perfect, kempt desire is mottled with a rain
your tidy world cannot repel. The room keeps pawing you with the fleshy demands of a story
that refuses all margins, but here you are in the downpour, soaked to the bone with words.

June 20, 2017

we have to say goodbye to everything *

Even the vine of peas climbing incrementally upward as summer opens
to its first chapter. In the grip of optimism, we still hear the cautionary tale
of scars from old disappointments, losses we thought long buried. It's hard,
almost heroic, to give the full thrust of undiluted joy to anything, knowing
what we know. The storm we were waiting for inevitably comes, flinging hail
to the yard, drowning the garden we'd built, and something changes irreversibly in us,
a muscle forever tenderized by the pummel of grief. But there is also this: that moment
the weather moves east and we look up and see a wash of light that takes over the sky,
and below us, we notice the tenderness and greenness of a vine whose chances
have not yet run out. This - this - is why we're here.


* I stole this line from a voice message my friend Laurie sent me.

June 13, 2017

solitaire

It's almost 2 a.m. and your wife is at the hospital with her son
because he tried to punch a hole in the floor sometime after he said
he was going to bed, and you can't sleep because you almost had a heart attack
when he screamed "ER!" from his room just when you were hitting your REM stride,
so you're playing endless rounds of Spider Solitaire as you wait for them to get back,
and you wonder which is worse, the pain in his knuckles or the one that got him
to the brink, while you try, with certain familiar futility, to solve the puzzle
playing on your screen. You wish you could tell him insanity is doing the same thing
over and over again expecting a different result, but there you are, shuffling cards,
losing each hand before dealing another, as if this will be the one that'll win you the game.

June 6, 2017

suspended

It was raining, and the laundry had piled up, and the shelves
of the fridge had been cleared by your ravenous children,
and the car needed new break pads, and the wiring of the light fixture
in the upstairs hallway looked ominously frayed, and it's possible
there was a small leak in the roof, and the grout between the bathroom tiles
was freckled with mold. Nevertheless there you were, in the middle of it all,
tilting your attentions elsewhere, eyes closed against the advancing cataclysm,
your heart stubbornly ablaze with rebellion. There would always be some stain crawling
across the walls; few ceilings would resist the buckle of weather or time. Gravity
always wins in the end. But what of this suspended in-between? Anything is possible.

May 30, 2017

how to make room for wildness

Begin with a road trip. Invite more people than can reasonably fit in your car.
Head south on the turnpike with a canvas bag of snacks crammed into the foot well.
When you stop for gas, purchase the chocolate bars of your childhood and a fizzy drink
that will make your teeth wince. Imagine the hours ahead as the rungs of a ladder
you are climbing down, and the miles behind you like years of your life sloughing off,
so that when you arrive you are almost pre-verbal, with a giddiness at this new world
you have entered. Marvel at the bird that accompanies your first breakfast,
its unfamiliar plumage and grace startling you with such wonder, you are convinced
there are wings stirring at your shoulders, and a strange, beautiful song at the perch
of your throat, and nothing - nothing at all - to keep you from sending it flying.

  

May 23, 2016

spreadsheet

The bookkeeper was fishing for numbers, and the marketing expert asked for metrics
we could not retrieve. At the paint-splattered studio table, we sat with our hands
folded in our laps, feeling oddly scolded, and began an indelicate and fruitless defense
as a spreadsheet curled thinly between us. Later, exhausted by the math,
we stumbled home to make dinner and water the new plum tree in the backyard.
Nearby, a fledgling vine of tomatoes was on the verge of announcing its first flower.
The sign at the nursery had given a date by which the plant would begin to yield fruit,
but in the delight of those yolk-yellow petals, and the pride of our own small,
horticultural achievement, we'd completely forgotten
to keep count.

May 16, 2017

fine artist

They were having a discussion about the meaning of the phrase "fine artist."
Did it make a difference, for example, that one favored dioramas and the other,
embroidery? Was the nomenclature the same for someone fashioning lopsided bowls
from outdated Glamour magazines and another who wielded X-acto knives and sliced
hair-thin lines from a vintage National Geographic? They searched for a distinction,
each arguing their cause as they sat on the porch after a long day at the mercy of their work
and the evening light slid down the length of the windows and their glasses emptied
to scant chips of ice. They were getting nowhere. Neither would bow to the other's vision
or give up their own. There was nothing to do but be exactly who they were.  
"To us," they said, and the toast stretched, nameless as beauty, into the quiet street.

May 9, 2017

choosing carefully

There was a time we knew exactly what we wanted,
dipped the brush of our desire all the way up to the neck,
then swiveled our arms to their fullest expanse, pleased at the trail
we were leaving. Now, we labor too long, hovering over our own certainty
as if we were waiting for some fog to clear, nervous about the mark
we'll make, or the space it will take up when we make it. I wonder,
at the final reckoning, which will be more bearable: our splatter
or our restraint. If we will peel ourselves from the pages under our elbows
and marvel at the clean borders or the way our skin is worn with stains.

May 2, 2017

breadcrumb

Maybe it shouldn't surprise you, the sudden pinch of too much
busyness. The way even a boozy night at the local bar elbows you
with its sharp angles, or the tinny echo certain conversations carry,
obliterating your new greed - or is it, simply, hunger - for quiet.
Your body keeps squaring itself to the tuneless, forgotten landscapes
just under your feet, where others' casual leavings and discards form
another kind of path - a winding wreckage of rejected pens and green straws,
shopping lists and the plastic seals of water bottles leading you to a single,
cherry red Lifesaver dropped, perhaps, neither in disfavor or disgust,
but a sign just for you, a breadcrumb pointing toward sweetness.

April 25, 2017

improbable auguries

It's like he's here, in these woods, overseeing the proceedings of our short hike
to the falls. Nearby, a set of tires, a burnt-out microwave, the rusty skeleton
of a bike frame, a full bottle of iced tea, frayed remnants of a dog leash, and I wonder
who else has passed by on this trail, paused before these improbable auguries, and known
the tenderest certainty of company. In the parking lot, a single black sock,
sandy with loose gravel, will meet the next traveler, remind her of that day
her mother, now long gone, saved her from a fall in an unkempt river,
and how the wind snatched up one of the pair and sent it to the ether. Now,
it's back, landed at the foot of a rear car door, and she will feel those same hands
wrap her shoulders, tugging her out of the water all over again.