10-Line Tuesday

December 11, 2018

this winter, do something nice for yourself

Take a drive to the rusty Pennsylvania town you'd read about in a novel.
Put superfluous mileage on your car, and buy the mediocre gas station coffee
you won't finish. Get wooed by a leather-wrapped blank journal in a stationery store
despite the mounting evidence you won't fill it. Enroll in that improv class even if
you chicken out before the first session. When the party invite comes, suspend your answer
in the liminal space of "I'll get back you to you" and don't think yourself negligible if you fail
to meet your own promise. Cleave, even briefly, from the monumental effort 
of forced cheer. Instead, wade into the same grey miasma as the sky outside your windows,
the non-light it throws on everything beneath it. Welcome your uncertainties like 
old friends, back from a long trip overseas. Make their bed with the softest sheets you own.

December 4, 2018

bygone


We've been cleaning out the closets for weeks. In plastic tubs we'd forgotten about
live the makings of a magnificent work of art, if only we'd seized the reins
of our initial enthusiasm and sat down at the big table. Now, facing the reminder of our
neglect, it is tempting to force some version of the old fervor back into these raw materials,
rethread the needle of potential. We try this sometimes with winter sweaters or a recipe
for a bygone casserole, plucky with hope that what we'd worn or eaten seasons ago 
might still hold the zest of novelty. But I wonder if we can imagine this reunion for what
it really is: evidence that we are not the same as we were, that time and circumstance have
divorced us from stagnation, freeing once more the promise of our wild yearnings, 
uncontainable as they are. The bin is heavy in my arms. This art belongs to someone else.

November 27, 2018

weren't you amazing?

That fall at the Embarcadero skating rink the year you turned 30 -
so cartoonishly inexpert on the ice, you could have slammed your skull 
as Cyndi Lauper burst from the speakers, the rhythm pushing you to attempt a speed
far outside your pay grade. You could have executed the most dramatic exit
as your pre-teen charges looked on, and would have made the morning papers,
or better. Weren't you amazing, then, keeping the tumble this side of tragedy,
merely bruising a hip as you smacked your palm down at the outside turn,
so that now you are holding that injury soft in your heart, with a tenderness you only grant
your failures. How strange, the body and its little divots of pain, the way time circles
each one like tree rings, and every grace you thought had left you only keeps blossoming. 

November 20, 2018

instead of "thank you," try "no thank you" 

Take the thorny, inconvenient step. Create a mess outside your usual jurisdiction.
Stop leaning on the learned practices that have kept the seams of duty
tight as they are. Divorce yourself from the false betrothals of ceremony and disrupt
each tidy garden plotted assumptively by your predecessors. The change
will do you good, birth a blush on your cheeks and a slight tremor in your legs,
the kind that reminds you these particular muscles are far from atrophied.
You are not merely the sum of your inheritances, an agreement made on the merits
of habit. You are the same oyster you tell your children the world is theirs to crack,
the one waiting for the tide to turn, slippery and possible,
every grain of salt winking in the sunlight.  

November 13, 2018

what wasn't erased when the hard drive failed

1. An image of my mother, gardening mid-summer, one hand on her thigh, and the other,
holding a sheaf of basil stems. 2. A small pitcher of wildflowers on a kitchen counter,
the window behind it streaked with rain. 3. The smell the fields gave off 
when we drove the boys through the gentle turns of Brittany. 4. Any glass of rosé
my father served at lunch, the patio stones warming by degrees. 5. Two suitcases
on a Peter Pan bus to Port Authority, and the long hot walk toward Vreeland Avenue. 
6. Jen and Amy and I smoking halfway down the path to the swamp, the terror
and triumph of our small teenage rebellion. 7. The mottled scar at my knee from a failed
attempt at leaping the handlebars. 8. Karate Kid re-enactments on a high school stage.
9. The sound of a hungry dog. 10. Whatever is happening now, and now, and now. 

November 6, 2018

counting the chickens

It was tempting - even thrilling - to make certain guesses regarding the potential
blooming inside the nest, days when whole narratives unfolded over tea and cookies,
when we artfully mapped out the trajectory of flight and painted ornate portraits
of what we imagined was an incontestable destiny. Of course, we'd forgotten about 
the low-belled season of limbo, the air stale and glamorless as a waiting room,
but who wants to consider the incremental movements that necessitate birth,
the minutest fragments of bone forming and fusing in undetectable microns?
Our patience with patience was too thin, but we'd reach that magic hour eventually,
when we'd surrender our designs to the quiet intelligence of time, and in this yielding
we'd feel the minor quake of change, a pulse tapping at the shell, daring it to break.

October 30, 2018

the veil

I regret not waving the garbage men through before driving north on Claremont.
Hours later, I am asking myself what false hurry I'd convinced myself of
to keep such solid pressure on the gas. "Are we not," as the poet says, 
"of interest to each other?" And here they are, in my mind's rearview mirror, 
standing in the middle of the street with yellow reflectors on their pockets like small suns,
and I'm wondering about their wives' names, and how old their children are, and where
they dream of going on vacation when the weather turns. I am suddenly full of questions -
their favorite team, the childhood hobbies they never abandoned, the meal they still ask
their mothers to make on their birthday every year. When I had the chance, I might have
rolled to a stop, rolled down my window. The veil was as thin as it needed to be. Now what? 

October 23, 2018

poet, interrupted

Had she been the one to hold the leash on time, her lines would have arrived hours ago,
and the fistful of conversations keeping her from solitude and silence would have been, instead, 
a welcome and genial reward. But the day had loosened from its moorings 
at the beginning, her usual wake-up rattled and delayed by strange dreams,
which shifted the tectonic plates of all ensuing plans. Now, finally abandoned
to her work table, she is scratching at the callus that grew in the span of those few
entangled hours. Below it, she's convinced, lies some soft, diaphanous work of art,
but when she gets under the skin, she finds only an unexpected grey remorse, 
like she'd missed a full moon because she was too busy dusting the furniture,
and the whole sky had lit up while she swiped at each surface, not seeing any of it at all.

October 16, 2018

eggs and existentialism

If I could, I would keep my attentions on the narrow diameter of my plate,
wax poetic on the finer grains of the sprouted wheat toast at its perimeter,
praise the speckled pattern made by a turn and shake of the pepper grinder.
If only I'd linger on the solar yellow taking center stage, press my thumb
tenderly against the winking nickel of the fork, and see everything for what
it is, instead of what it's not. Maybe it's the nearby cat with one leg missing,
or the wedding revelry diminishing in the wake of each guests' departure, or 
something more elusive and shapeless, but my heart wouldn't cooperate,
kept pulling me into one shadowy chamber after another. The birds came, then,
to pick up where I left off, their untroubled wings just inches from my face.

October 9, 2018

my nephew's YouTube videos * 

provide a brief amnesia from the crush and woe of hard news, and I am grateful
to be given a tour of the game he is playing and the choices his avatar
is poised to make, even though the outcomes have little bearing on anyone's future.
Still, to watch Eli's earnestness is to lay myself at the feet of innocence, to return to
those clean, undisturbed hours I pawed through the backyard to search for fragments
of old dishware, having found a single shard of brown glass one afternoon. Never mind
it was likely a half-drunk Budweiser tripped over and smashed some humid summer.
It became the origin story of whatever else might be buried underneath, and for months 
I pulled at dark, damp soil, certain of what waited just beyond my reach.
Does it really matter if I found anything there? I dug without answers, and kept digging.


* Here's his channel.

October 2, 2018

dyeing in the desert with Deb *

In the rugged remove of east Texas, a woman is laying out a clothesline,
arranging jars of creosote and oleander on a cracked patch of earth outside
her kitchen window. The threat of drought is always nipping at the heels 
of this particular wilderness, but the tradeoff is the kind of patience art sticks to
like tar, and the wind is waving its hands like policemen do to break up gridlock.
Soon, the line is moving in a dance of sheets and Deb pans the camera out,
and it feels like the desert is, in fact, its opposite, joy populating every available
square inch, even the stoic mountains transfigured in the lap and sway of fabric,
and 2,000 miles away I peer down at my own hands, twitching at the keys,
as if they are hearing that music, too. 

This poem is inspired by this video of my friend Deb Taylor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saq1X3MnYGg&t=323s

September 25, 2018

at the fork of her next uncertainty

Yesterday, for several minutes, a foam-green inchworm toured the island of a single
drop of water. Nearby, the garden's last zinnias were pretending it was still summer. 
There was a toasted bagel flayed open beside the vase, its buttered ridges catching the late
morning light. It seemed as if the kitchen had briefly cleaved itself from the world, 
or perhaps merely reinvented it to include only its most essential features. Whoever 
the woman was who sat on the high-backed chair to witness the proceedings, she 
carried, in her pockets, her fair share of dread, which might have been the reason
she spoke to the tiny creature navigating the unfamiliar tableau of the breakfast table,
why she bent close to its thin, breakable body and urged it to take care, and why later,
at the fork of her next uncertainty, she remembered its legs moving, unshakably, forward.

September 18, 2018

breaking the silence

I stole the family supply of bubble gum once, stuffed four packs in my mouth
and felt my body vibrate with the sugary glee of the rule-breaker. 
Twenty-eight sticks in, my jaw like an engine, I stumbled to the living room
like a chipmunk drunk on a sudden windfall of seeds abandoned at the bird feeder.

Sometimes, I wish my parents hadn't come home, that the afternoon could have stretched
like that gum did around my teeth, that my little secret could have stayed intact and
undisturbed. And yet, even in the thick of my delirium, I knew my radical mutiny
was saccharine and brief, the flavor already receding from my tongue. When they arrived,
I barely protested. I knew I had taken something that wasn't entirely mine. No matter
how hard I might try to tell the story otherwise, the truth would always be stickier.

September 11, 2018

footage

There was a Thursday afternoon at the Botanical Gardens that was almost
perfect, and I'm grateful she snapped my photo when I lay in the fallen blossoms 
of that magnolia tree and closed my eyes. There is another from the Fort Lauderdale Zoo
that locates me in the heart of innocence, hands reaching toward some gentle furry thing
trained not to bite children, and whoever took that snapshot timed the shutter flawlessly,
my face registering the precise intersection of disquiet and delight.
But this day, heavy as it is with footage, teeters on obsolescence, because I keep looking 
for that moment before we turned our collective gaze toward smoke, when strangeness
was our friend and uncertainty an invitation, when the sky was the compass of potential
and the earth a crucible of good intention, and I can't find that picture anywhere.

September 4, 2018

the quiet, and the cicadas behind it *

Maybe you're feeling it, too, the largeness of space left by absence,
certain days dizzy with so many molecules spinning in the orbit of memory,
the million conversations you're still having with the person no longer
on the other end of the phone. How this kind of missing brings certain scents back -
his homemade bread, the interior of her Lincoln Continental, fresh laundry
drying on a clothespin line in the breeze of a Midwest summer - and when you lift
a glass of cold water to your lips, you hold that first sip on your tongue longer
than you used to. Maybe you'll never be done grieving, or maybe this 
is what grief is, stillness echoing with an elegy that holds the particulars of song,
like a late summer evening blinking into fall - all that quiet, and the cicadas just behind it.

August 28, 2018

what bears repeating

"Bless you" to the spouse in the middle of another sneezing fit prompted by an allergen
you can't control. "Bless you" because each riotous interruption places you square
in the room with an affliction your DNA somehow managed to avoid, and someone else -
in this case, a person you love who shares your address - keeps taking one for the team.
And "Bless you" because, while for one of you that itch at the back of the nose has become
rote as the mailman's arrival, the pile of tissues perpetual like the circulars
mounting in the trash, there is something of a pause the stack offers your attention,
and the sound of a body shaking against its unshakeable rival a reminder of the paradox 
survival demands, a ceaseless war between resistance and acceptance. You say "Bless you"
because how else could you possibly thank the dust-filled wind that blew you here together?

August 21, 2018

artist statement

Two days ago, it rained so hard there was nothing to do but look out the window
and make vague, circular movements on my lap with my thumb. This morning,
I considered the petals downed from the storm and the arrangement they might make
on a sidewalk, but the light turned green and I left them among cigarettes smoked
all the way down to the filter. A guitar, unplayed, leans against my living room wall,
a bright red pick threaded through the lower strings. Sometimes I look at my fingers,
notice their mechanical journey toward the remote control, the umpteenth box of spaghetti,
the handles of a laundry basket or the blue recycling bin. There is so little quirk to add
to these tableaux; their palette stays in limited shades of putty and beige and cream.
The landscape hardly looks like much, but my hands are in the middle of a different dream.

August 14, 2018

two halves of the same impulse *

There is a man on the screen of a security camera with the fuzzy outline of a gun
pointed toward the clerk. Behind him, out of view, another man is crouching
lower than the lowest row of candy bars, squeezing the life out of the cross
at his neck. In a few minutes, another man will break through the glass
with a single bullet, and make a different sort of headline on the evening news.
Fear brings the war out of us, the beast and the bully, the brave and the battered,the broken and the believer, and I am thinking of the way boys wrestle for the role
of good and evil, never quite certain which one will keep them safer,
or which will score the most points, or leave the most becoming scars, or take
the terror away for good. Meanwhile, the gun. The gun. The fucking gun. 

August 7, 2018

the latest infestation

Of course my gaze veers to the headlines about a new species of tick,
having improbably crossed the Pacific and recently appearing in the public parks
and golf courses of suburban New Jersey. Of course I scroll down to the hi-res closeup
of the parasite in question, engorged with the blood of its host and teetering, drunkenly, 
on tiny, twiggy legs. Of course I am re-imagining the real estate of my scalp, once
innocent and pristine, as the perfect ecosystem for a hostile takeover. No matter
the conviction with which I clutch a pair of garden shears. No matter the decisive
swipe of the blade to clear the magnolia of the invading stalks circling its trunk.
The problem is, there's a certain kind of trouble you can't see until it's too late,
the disruption subtle as a dandelion seed before it spreads, and spreads, and spreads.

July 31, 2018

so many acorns

We could point our attention anywhere - summer leaning
into its most ambitious month, the evenings an eruption of fireflies.
A hilltop climb in a nearby town opens into a view that could double
for Tuscany, and the ice cream stand on the way back home could elicit a brief, dreamy
wonder - two teens at the helm, their elbows maneuvering through tubs of caramel swirl.
And yet, despite the signs pointing toward abundance, we keep listing toward any proof
of fallowness, like jilted lovers raking their wounds to build a deeper scar,
no matter that loss has already tenderized their skin. We ravage the fields
of their unfolding fruit, picking everything before its time, out of fear there won't ever
be enough, while in the shade of a neglected oak, you've never seen so many acorns.