10-Line Tuesday

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. 

July 24, 2018

it is time

If you've exhausted your charity to the doomsday hawkers. If you've tired of
flipping the channels of fear-mongering and poorly rendered stories hinging on hearsay.
If you've had enough of towing the line of shock and awe, of polite indignation,
of folding your napkin at the corners to keep the spills from staining your lap.
If whatever has frenzied your attention has worn you thin, naked and needy and
malnourished of hope and unmothered by those who'd wooed your allegiance
with promises of safety and good fortune. It is time, now, to make the most difficult
of mutinies, to surrender every tacit agreement you've ever made to those who told you
how to hold our knife, with the blade pointing in. It is time to open your hands,
and show your blood, and refuse to ever be hurt like this again. 

July 17, 2018

shouting from the bleacher seats

Their voices had gotten hoarse from weeks of yelling toward the ant-sized
players in the pitch. Even if their team was teetering toward certain defeat, 
they kept at it, launching feverish cries from hundreds of yards away,
feeding the air with a frothy brew of urgency and hope, their reserves holding out
until the final whistle blew. On television, it was hard to distinguish between sides
or bodies, the stampede of cheers rising in unison, rivalries sharing the real estate of a stadium, colliding past all borders. This is not to say there weren't bitter words thrown
between neighbors, wild invectives flung in a moment's thrill or misfortune.
But this is how I want to remember it: How everyone stood, shouting
from the bleacher seats, believing they were exactly where they belonged.

July 10, 2018

the cicadas singing me back to work

The weekend slid into its final hours, and we drove home in contented silence.
There had been warmth and revelry, a walk down a country road that revealed
an oasis of wildflowers. There had been glasses of pink lemonade and bowls
of fresh-picked strawberries. There had been a languid kind of amnesia that made
a cream rise to the top of all the hard news, almost thick enough to leave it behind. 
Of course, it trailed through the front door, mud and all, when we returned,
and no amount of prayer would shake it off. I tried unpacking, laundry, pulling
the recycling to the curb, and the mud became single voices, calling from the dark
with the pain of the stories they were each carrying. Or maybe it was the cicadas,
singing me back to work. Either way, there was no other choice but to listen.

July 3, 2018

a thousand petals are possible *

She was worried there was so little she could do to save anything or anyone,
how a certain darkness had settled in like an old, unwelcome guest,
hogging the dinner table and, later, sprawling grotesquely on the couch to flip
channel after channel. Even when she stole out to the street to
stand under the cherry blossom tree or squint for stars, she could hear
the television humming, see its lurid glow pulsing through the windows.
Her body, whole as it was, felt bloodied, caught on a barbed-wire fence
installed improbably between deserts. It was hard to know where the water was,
or if it was even there. And yet, parched as the air felt, the tree held its leaves, and the sky,
its light. A thousand petals, if she started counting. A thousand stars, if she kept looking. 

* I stole this line from a Facebook post by my friend Jennifer New.

June 26, 2018

Triple A

We've lost the keys to the car and there may or may not be a spare
in the glovebox, and my mother is already retrieving her membership card to AAA
and dialing the number. When someone picks up, she introduces herself,
as if this person might recognize her, and at first, I think it's strange - why
is a name more important than the problem? And then I remember, 
I've heard her do this countless times - calls to the bank, the internet service provider,
the plumber during the busy winter season. Each time, she identifies herself, 
as if placing the emphasis on the fact of her personhood. And of course, now,
this makes me think of the thousands of families desperate at the border, pleading
for help. Who is listening for their names? Who is coming to unlock the door?

June 19, 2018

failure is an option

My first casserole - baked for my parents on an overcast early summer evening
and served with the unmitigated pride and exultation of someone left
to her own devices - was barely edible. I can say this now, 30 years later,
how I'd been so heavy-handed with the olive oil and undercooked the squash,
how, in a fit of improvisational verve, I'd made a gleeful orgy of spices that did not,
in the end, find each other attractive. But this wasn't the point. Instead,
what clings to the vines of my memory is the collision of effort and joy my body
made against the task, my hands focused and fervent, how the countertop
held the weight of an outcome without the judgment of not meeting it, and how the meal
made its way onto the plates as the sun began to set, imperfectly, through the clouds.

June 12, 2018

squinting for stars

Sometimes, she dreams of cleaving from the dishes and recycling,
the millionth swipe of the sponge across a stovetop polka-dotted
with sauce. She imagines deserting forever the pile of untwinned socks,
the Q-tips and Kleenex wads birthing progeny behind the trash can, 
the stubborn resin on the soap dish, the hazard of upturned razor blades still sharp enough
to slice a thumb open. For years, she's extracted clean lines from the leavings of others,
feeling the brief satisfaction of her daily ministrations. A practice, some might call it.   
But the canvas always looks the same, a pale outline of beauty born of perpetual order.
Certain evenings, the street lights come on and she stands at the doorway, squinting
for stars, relieved to find them exactly where she remembered.

June 5, 2018

push/pull

The boys are fighting over who gets to drive the car. I want to tell them:
There are two lonely bicycles in the garage. Or, Your legs aren't getting any younger.
I think about my great-grandmother, who stretched into her late 90s
before drifting off for good one night. She survived two World Wars, rationed sugar, sent
her own young sons on a boat to America not to imbue them with a love of the open sea,
but to save their lives. Sometimes, I sound like my hard-chinned math teacher from 8th grade,
who grimaced whenever the calculators came out. She was, I've no doubt now,
reminiscing about the smudge of graphite sticks, the grain of pulped paper, the minds of children
well-oiled from use. The boys don't want to hear these stories. They'd rather fight over the car.
The air fills with the smell of skinny tires and old perfume and tarnished coffee spoons.