10-Line Tuesday

April 9, 2019

poem from an empty mind

Take what slips in—the leaf-blowers, a memory of a green velour dress, a blanket
made by a woman who wasn’t your grandmother—and walk through the threshold. 
Maybe this will take you to a wedding chuppah, a farm in rural Massachusetts, a road
with inconvenient potholes, a tray with lemonade glasses, a sign for fresh eggs, a field of
dandelions interrupted only by a pair of horses, and these will travel you elsewhere, 
to a town in southern Indiana that reunited you with an LP you hadn’t heard for years.
Not two feet away, there’s a painted seashell, an incense stick burnt down to its final inch, 
and below that a toy the dog has lost interest in, and more than a few clots of dust. 
While you are waiting for a greatness that may never appear, what about that photo 
on the mantel. The shutter clicked before you were ready, and aren’t you beautiful still?

April 2, 2019

cilantro

For days, a cluster of cilantro has been leaning against the left side of a thick glass,
its stems submerged in tap water and a twist tie wrapped around its middle. Nearby,
meals and cocktails have been assembled, bowls of popcorn poured into coral-hued
ceramic bowls, sleepy conversations held over cups of dark French roast. By the time
we leave this beach house, it’s possible no one will have snipped any leaves into an
impromptu salsa, or minced a handful into a salad, or even stooped over the counter
to inhale a bright, grassy whiff. Maybe when we reached into that particular chilled bin
in the produce aisle, what we were thinking about was spring, and how long we had
waited for this reunion, and how relieved we were that our bodies were still carrying
the same deep joy we’d remembered, our own greenness right at our fingertips.

March 26, 2019

primer

For the first time, you wonder if you’ve brought enough paint. In your mind,
the room wasn’t nearly as large is it looms now, the ceilings less catastrophically high.
What you’d pictured was a tidy, nesty scene and your arms - outstretched - almost
touching the walls opposite. At each surface, you feel suddenly, freshly enfeebled,
which is strange because you are usually good in a crisis situation. Why now,
absent of catastrophe, a ticking clock nowhere in sight, are your doubting
the basal impulses that tugged so deliciously at your sleeves? Whatever gripped you
at the outset is still here, clutching the tail end of the handle, and it is enough.
Once you set the first stroke down, you’ll be shocked by your own steady hand, and
how the walls, newly touched, will reach for you, soaking up everything you give them.

March 19, 2019

Franklin Avenue in March

A woman in her late 40s is making her way through traffic, bright yellow sneakers
flat against the pedals of a bicycle that once took her down the California coastline.
You can still catch her mooning over that trip - the relief of a pint of strawberries,
the climb up Quadbuster, the swishy palm trees greeting her in Ventura - but here,
on the busy, bumpy pavement that marks the far end of town, she’s gone further back
than that. She is five years old in a red cotton dress with flowers at the hem, pink feet
in buckled leather sandals, coasting on her first real downhill. Maybe it’s because it’s
the day before spring, or maybe it’s because it’s true what they say about bicycles, or
maybe it’s the way her feet rotating on the pedals look like two small suns, beaming
at the drivers beside her, saying hello to the world again, or as if for the first time.

March 12, 2019

shoveling my mother’s driveway

We always complain about the hard swivel of Emily Lane, the way parking the car
becomes a kind of vehicular acrobatics, made less thrilling at the end
of the 4-hour drive from New Jersey. After Sunday’s incursion of snow, I find myself,
shovel in hand, bending like a monk, lungs drumming in my ears as I scoop the blade
along the curves and make piles at their border, where the asphalt meets the edges
of a buried front lawn. It feels like prayer in the way taking out the trash feels like
devotion, which is to say the resemblance can be seen only from a distance. I make
slow, stiff progress, then shake my boots off in the breezeway before coming inside,
where my mother is composing a late lunch, her silver hair haloing around her
as she leans over the cutting board, slicing the tomatoes into perfect circles.

March 5, 2019

mythic

On Margie’s dining room table, a set of ikebana vessels make, despite the absence
of flora inside, something of a centerpiece. Over lunch, I imagine her,
some coming spring morning, gathering stems, fingertips gentle as pillows. I picture
a flat lay on a dampened towel and Margie, making the first, crucial placement.
Maybe it was the eastern light stretching into the back windows as we ate, or the way
the snow from two days ago has begun receding, or that my stepson, so often poised
for disappointment, received good news today, and he can, for one suspended moment,
envision a different narrative blooming in front of him, petals wider than his own palms.
However the axis pitched, Margie’s table fills with vernal promise, and the flowers -
mythic - tilt their faces skyward, taking me with them.

February 26, 2019

Build…That…Mall!

After 16 years, the American Dream is finally coming to East Rutherford, New Jersey.
A few miles before the Lincoln Tunnel, the bones of a waterpark have emerged 
through a pitched glass roof. Inside, a jigsaw of rollercoaster tracks and the faint outline
of what seems, this side of Route 3, to be a ski slope. Maybe the $5 billion price tag
will have been worth it once the highway ferries eager shoppers to spin
the golden roulette wheel of capitalism’s crowning achievement. But from here, with bulldozers
scattered like a stunned army, it’s hard to see anything but the cataclysm of excess,
a crash site posing as a carnival. How much entertainment do we really need, and will
450 additional retail opportunities be enough to keep the ice caps from melting?
I see boys in the sandbox, fists on their gears. I’m not buying what they’re selling.

February 19, 2019

pull

There are two choices for the drive to Minneapolis, but if you want to land in the 
happy accident that is the perfect sour cherry pie, you’ll opt out of the interstate
and wind through Wisconsin’s sleepy villages, your wheels hugging the Mississippi almost 
the entire time. Better yet, make the trip in winter, when the whole road will feel 
like an outstretched arm, the rolling farmland scenes to your right a paint-by-number:
baby blue, egret white, barn red. When you enter the empty shop, the cashier will look
unusually soft-eyed, and the man in charge of your order will add an extra scoop
of ice cream. Such kindnesses remain in the world, but you have to keep your foot 
light on the gas, and park, and get out of the car, and wrap your fingers around a door,
and pull.

February 12, 2019

magnum opus

The snow has arrived, after days of weather alerts. The high school calls
to cancel classes. Jen is standing by at the Detroit airport. Margie writes 
to postpone lunch. Steph sends a photo of her socks and a mug reading “Driftless.”
I picture certain liminal geographies as portals of potential. Other times, the space
looks flat and featureless, a bland span of inertia pockmarked only by the sound of a 
fridge door opening and closing, a tea whistle, the stiff uncrossing of limbs on a couch.
Wherever you are, I hope you remember there is nothing that needs doing, until it does.
Your magnum opus is riding the conveyer belt and will stay there until you spot it from
the lineup of neighboring luggage, its telltale ribbon fluttering. Whatever you do, 
don’t leave the terminal without it. 

February 5, 2019

Ruth stops by to ask about the movie

I almost missed it, like a subway stair or a stitch or that post about the new moon 
in Aquarius. The doorbell rang and the dog gave her requisite quartet of barks, 
and I answered. And there Ruth was, sleepy-eyed and magnificently silver-haired, 
asking about the movie, which—it turns out—I’d already seen. After she left, I noticed
how cheerful I’d been during our conversation, almost careless with optimism, freshly
innocent to the odds that always seem so stacked against its survival. The sun is out 
in full force today, and it is still winter, and it feels like someone broke the rules 
but no one got in trouble, and maybe this is what happiness is, the bridge between
near-misses that keeps you from losing your sweater or your balance, a door you open
as if by instinct, because someone else is on the other side, waving at you.

January 29, 2019

sometimes, strangeness is a place I lean toward

Outside Johannesburg, Monica is bending down to pet the fur of an infant lion,
marveling at the way the cub seems oblivious, undisturbed by her human presence.
Across the world, on the cobblestones of a highland city in the epicenter of Mexico,
Andrea is retrieving lessons from a salsa class, squaring her toes between cracks,
humming a few bars to keep time. Of course, I’m imagining that part, the singing, 
just as I’m placing my own hands at the belly of a tiny beast in a country I’ve never
once visited. Sometimes, strangeness is a place I lean toward, an alien continent
I travel to when my own geography rubs its too-familiar elbows at my ribs. I like
how the distance ripens my enthusiasm, opens my mouth to the rim of some red
margarita Andrea must be dancing toward, crystals of salt inches from my tongue.

January 22, 2019

somewhere between

"I'm tired of my clothes," I said to my wife, coming home from the gallery opening. 
Around me, the artists had looked glossy with purpose, their bodies sturdy as tripods.
I'd made my way through the maze for a glass of whatever was being poured
at the back table, clutching my coat close. I'd not dressed for the part I was hoping to play,
somewhere between fitting in and standing out, and I realized, mid-sip of a too-sweet
Chardonnay, I was always aiming my sights to this strange middle distance, caught
in a perennially swinging door of visibility and concealment, and I stood there,
juggling a tippy plastic cup and a heavy-gauge scarf as the lights blazed down. 
Outside, winter was repeating itself, too, but it still it made its way into every conversation,
fresh from its long hibernation and looking sharper than ever. 

January 15, 2019

The light, the town, the people, the food!

Jean's photographs make me long for the burnished hues of Amish country, barns 
the size of football fields. The cafe where she stops for a late breakfast features
cookbook-perfect biscuits and a waitress straight out of a movie set. I want to be
in the booth seat opposite, clinking coffee in thick ceramic mugs, but I am nowhere near
the turn off that particular highway, and the day is already curving too sharply
toward its finish. I get in the car anyway, and the back roads curlicuing from the parkway
take me to a graveyard just as dusk descends. At a back plot, a fresh bouquet is leaning
toward a newer headstone. Whoever was here sprinkled potato chips on the petals
in private homage to the woman buried below. The frozen grass is confettied with crumbs.
It's not Ohio, but Jean's here anyway, painting the whole scene in gold.

January 8, 2019

you can't blame everything on the president

I've been eyeing every head of lettuce with a mounting suspicion, reading my phone bill
with a new surliness about the charges appearing there. The stove seems to take forever
to warm up and longer to cool down. In the mornings, I find myself standing numbly
in a fog of hot water, the post-New Year malaise squarely upon me, until I watch clips
of newsroom analysts and then, with rapid-fire surety, relocate the onus of responsibility
elsewhere. Last week, I paused before a refrigerator case at a mid-town deli, deciding
between sandwiches, feeling a sudden burden of choice. I ate without the usual joy.
The bread had dampened in the cold, but I threw the yoke of critique on the shoulders
of a man I've never met, hundreds of miles away from the soggy mess between my hands,
my fingers creased from so much pointing. 

January 1, 2019

blind spot

Last week, there was an article in the paper about the 3,000 pounds of confetti 
a team of 50 volunteers would disperse from 20 floors up before the New Year's ball dropped.
I imagined it descending each story during that final countdown, passing by
the residents who'd stayed in because of the forecast, or simply because the view
was so much better from where they lived. I thought of strangers standing by
their living room windows as a cascade of cut paper drifted streetward, then pictured
the movement of a single square, the way it might wobble in the air as an updraft
from a subway grate caught it mid-flight. This morning, walking miles of city blocks,
I went looking for it, one tiny quadrant of color left in the concrete, a souvenir of festivity
to take home. Above me, miles of uninterrupted blue kept trying to flag me down.

December 25, 2018

ready *

The boiler is expressing something that sounds like protest.
I can hear an intermittent whining all the way to the second floor.
Even the appliances are ready for a new year. 
I make the rounds of the house, straightening knickknacks and magazines.
This time, I say to no one in particular, I will do a better job with dusting.
I will read the fine print before signing my name or committing my resources. 
Afterward, I microwave leftovers and put the electric kettle on.
I think of all the letters I might send, now that I have everyone's address.
Moments later, I am watching news bloopers and opening another caramel.
Baby steps, I tell myself, as if I'm teaching myself to walk all over again. Baby steps.

December 18, 2018

sometimes, I am a woman counting bagels

For brief periods each week, you'll find me with a pale square of bakery paper,
peering through clear plastic doors behind which unkempt piles offer themselves
shamelessly in my direction. My mouth goes slack at the overflow, my hand reaching
numbly forward. I came sideways into motherhood, the way sleet arrives in December,
my face streaked with the marks of its sudden assault. Those first years, I bit down 
on the sounds of basement video games and tripped over the sneakers they left everywhere
and fell into bed with a feral exhaustion I did not recognize. Now, sometimes, I am
a woman counting bagels - two sesame, three plain, one everything. I twist a little red tie 
around the bundle and keep going. There are pending requests for body wash and
pulpless orange juice and rare roast beef. Patience is an art, like any mother.

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.