10-Line Tuesday

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.

July 12, 2016

the amphibian inside us

Because it's summer. Because the air is heavy with heat and nostalgia.
Because this is what we have to keep remembering, the way our bodies
know the waves, the amphibian inside us unafraid of going under,
of what ripples beneath the surface. Because waiting on the dock
for the signal to jump is like thinking someone else is responsible. Because
there is no one else responsible. Because despite the current,
it is possible to swim against it, or even stand, inverted, balancing
on a slippery mulch of murk and mud, and stay perfectly still.
Because when the world tips from view, we have to do everything we can
to tip it back.

July 5, 2016

approaching Jupiter

I picture them, the mad scientists, squinting at their screens and holding
their collective breath as the engines fired 500 million miles away and
a seemingly untouchable planet came into view. It turns out they were not so mad
after all - maybe that's why when, after they stood to cheer, they turned to each other
and embraced. We did it! the gesture seemed to say, and behind it, a smaller voice:
This is just the beginning and then, smaller still, We were not wrong to dream.
I am sitting here, in my living room, an atlas on a table nearby. It doesn't matter whether it's real
or not; the landscape of that story we never stopped believing in is always this close, even if
we never get up to rustle the pages open. We can't stop the rattle of wind at the door, or
the wild song of gravity, or that certainty of hope that fills the sky every time we look up.

June 28, 2016

losing ourselves

We stood in a long line for the free outdoor concert in Central Park,
dimly aware of the gathering clouds, the close proximity of bodies and where
the nearest exits might be, you know, just in case. The two women behind us
had taken the train for a night off from their little ones; I wondered if, along
with their picnic blanket, they'd packed a new fear of crowded spaces, knowing
how a single night's revelry could explode in a concentric narrative of loss. Either way,
the music started; we packed in close as we could to the stage. And when it finally
began to rain, we turned amnesiac, losing ourselves in the edgeless happiness
of a warm summer evening, our clothes getting more soaked with each song, our voices
rising in the same refrain, and everywhere we looked: dancing, dancing, dancing.

June 21, 2016

the fireflies, returning

The headlines have made an upheaval of our certainty, each day
another shadowy jab, another needle piercing soft, familiar skin. And even though
the blood dries, what remains is a fear throbbing visibly at the veins. We stop imagining
there is good news around the corner, pull cards, instead, from a dusty pack of memories,
gaze longingly at the images. Oh, to be back at that moment summer first began
to flirt, and the lines for ice cream tripled overnight, and beads of sweat
gathered in a tidy pool at our throats, and the sky winked, letting us all in
on its secrets, and time sprawled out like a cat with its belly to the clouds.
Yet even as we grieve and our innocence is lost to yearning,
a silent dusk descends. And out of nowhere the fireflies, returning.

June 14, 2016

at the entrance

I've never believed what they say about strangers. I have walked into
a Nebraska town so many miles from home and been fed ambrosia salad,
offered a place to sleep. In Centennial, Arizona, they asked me to read poetry,
opened a bottle of wine to toast my arrival. There was a living room in Houston
where a woman I'd never met shared a difficult secret, and her eyes softened
in the telling. There are doors we insist, despite the risk, on keeping open, and doors
we insist, despite the risk, on walking through, and I don't want to imagine a world
where the houses stay shuttered and silent, and the front stairs splinter, and the bell
goes rusty from disuse. So there is no other choice but to clamber up, point our heart
at the entrance, press the buzzer, and wait for who will come to let us in.

June 7, 2016

before the hurricane comes

The storm hasn't yet made landfall, but you wouldn't know it from the words
"state of emergency" crossing the governor's lips, and the sudden beeline
to the bread aisle, and the forlorn looks of children ordered off the sand
despite the castles in the midst of their assembly. Everyone's craning their necks
to the sky, hoping for a glimpse of what will follow, but the answers live
inside invisible currents of air moving at a clip that bears no easy navigation.

This morning, waking early, I heard the littlest breeze pass through the backyard;
the birds, if they knew, did not betray a thing. And yet, there is no going back,
and I'm at the window now, too, hoping I'll remember the blue of this particular
Tuesday morning, and the songs I heard coming from the branches.

May 31, 2016

May's last sunset

It is late in a small village in Brittany, where a woman and her mother
are strolling the canal. And yet, the sky has broken all the rules, and the light
guiding them back to the house feels improbable as the airplanes
that brought them here, as if weight and gravity had forgotten themselves.
A dog scampers alongside them, blessed with an amnesia for despair and
uncertainty, unmindful of whether the day is at its close or just beginning.
His tongue flaps the air comically as he runs, and for a moment, all they see
is joy. Their footsteps slow along the path to take it in, and their breath
stays patient in their chests, and in the river's quiet mirror they watch
as the world above them spreads out in all its glory at their feet.