My father, who would have been 77. He would have been 77, but never quite made it all the way to old. Hard to imagine him grayer, balder, thinner, still swimming in the apartment complex pool in the mornings, still bickering with the neighbors. My father, who inched toward happiness and then tumbled backwards again. There were so many ways to understand how he lived those last few years, but perhaps the most real is to say he made me a wreath in a craft class, a tiny gold and burgundy wreath that the ladies helped him with, a small wreath with a big bow at the bottom. My father gave me a wreath, offered it with a shrug layered with pride and for a long time I hung it in front of my house, a little circle on the big brick wall of our fireplace. For his 70th birthday he received his first grandson, Ian, who turns 7 today, another thing we should be commemorating. So for Ian we took this goofy selfie and sent it through the sky to him and received back a photo in which his eyes have their wise gentleness and a smear of chocolate cake darkens his cheek.
July 27, 2015
Came home to music from the brown room, Chris with a guitar and microphone. Cats as his audience. Cats climbing, entering, inserting themselves. Cats, we imagine, dancing inside.
May 27, 2015
Occasionally, it happens: the moment I would like to freeze, to stay inside for good. If this was all there was, it would be enough. Sunday, reading on the deck, the day breezy but mild, jasmine climbing the purple wall. Enough. Of course, soon Chris was late getting home from a mis-timed movie and I worried he’d died on the highway, and soon I was on the highway myself, off to a dance lesson where I am learning to stand tall above my own feet when I turn. Mortality has been on my mind lately–my own, those I love. I don’t want to live braced for disaster when there is no disaster. Here. Enough. A time between losses, as my friend wrote in a poem years ago, a poem I have carried inside me. This week I learn of her own deep loss. This week I am between. By evening we were on the deck again, eating white beans with roasted fennel and tomatoes. Chris noted the bugs eating the tree, the ladder propped against the wall for the leaves he didn’t clear from the roof. Come back, I say. Here. Between. Everything as green as it will ever be.
May 3, 2015
The tom kha gai is tangy and creamy, the tofu crisped and floating in the broth. Back when I wrote stories for the university, I would head downstairs and sit at Madam Mam’s eating it, book or draft in hand. It’s the soup I chose when I was getting a cold. When the days sat too heavy on me. When I needed escape. The soup at Sap’s is the same, same woody bits to work around, same scoop of the whitest rice to the side. Praise the old standby. Praise spooning it onto the plate in a practiced way. Praise how it was there on the day I needed comfort. Praise umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. Praise the good husband who came when I called only an hour later, who sat in the room while a machine clanged and banged, all so that we can know that I’m okay. Praise being okay. Praise it every day.
April 20, 2015
Praise how they sit on every counter at every bar and every restaurant — city, country, tiniest village where one single man stands at a machine steaming milk. Tucked into crusty bread, heated or not, this simple combo of egg, potato, and onion can fuel you through a morning, or an evening, or hundreds of miles on the Camino. In Rabe de la Calzada, the town where they prepared for the feast of Santa Maria de los Milagros by carrying a giant paella pan across the square, I ate tortilla at an oil-cloth covered table with other pilgrims. I had seen the hospitalera cooking the tortilla from a side door to the kitchen. Praise her easy shrug when I asked if I could watch. Praise her powerful wrist as she turned the tortilla from skillet to plate then slid it from plate back into skillet. Praise how she tried to give me the recipe despite my faltering Spanish, then served it to us brightened with strips of red pepper. Praise how I remember her each time I make a tortilla, which I do most weeks. Tonight, after teaching, almost 10pm, Chris and I sat down together to this one, last of the CSA leeks tucked in. Praise the brown edges of the potatoes, the perfect slice on the plate.
April 7, 2015
Most days slide by on the calendar without much to say for themselves, and it’s true that I’ve made it my intent to celebrate in those days the small things — feet on the coffee table outside on the deck, the perfect Spanish tortilla, bluebonnets dashed with unexpected pink. But some days stand out on the white pages of dates. Today, for example. It’s the day I sent my friend Jane the latest draft of the poetry manuscript I’ve been working on. That deadline kept me going. And on this day 11 years ago Chris and I met for the first time. We shared a plate of fajitas and began the conversations that’s been going ever since. We’ll celebrate tomorrow, when I don’t teach until 9pm. Tonight we connected late, when I got home, talking as we often do at the kitchen table. Some of it was funny, some of it dark, but all these years later our appreciation for each other is undimmed.
March 31, 2015
On Monday we are tired, sure we can’t learn how to glide with ease like those West Coast swing dancers we admire. Out on the floor, they spin, they clunk along trying to find the rhythm in cowboy boots, they perfect their turns, pausing to watch videos on a laptop. We arrived too early. While we wait, we sink lower, overwhelmed by how far it is from here to good.
March 30, 2015
At church, they hand out the palms. Fronds for some, long, thin leaves for others. Judas plants the kiss on Christ once again. Peter denies him. Pilate prepares to wash his hands. The congregation–that is us–yells “Crucify him!” And we file out silently, placing paper programs into the recycle pile, carrying our leaves of palm. I grab two extra. Wildflowers at the edges of the parking lot are unstoppably bright. At home, I offer a palm to Chris. He shapes it into a cross and slips it under a magnet on the fridge.
March 29, 2015
There is no better Austin than the one that shows itself on a late March Saturday, which is the one we got to share with Gary on his visit. It’s a day that invites deck sitting and park going and choosing between too many good events spread between too many places. It’s the perfect problem to have. Julie on the radio talking about the Candoli Brothers. Marching bands from across the country converging to play and dance and sing. The familiar old woman in the bright yellow sports bra shaking it with the belly dancer. We sat in grass, in the shade, and we stood in a parking lot beneath giant murals and the horns honked and swooned. Minor Mishap brought it again. Then we drank tea and ate leftovers and saw improv and strolled through the hopping streets of downtown, all the way to Willie. I leaned over to Gary at the show and said, “Just so you know, our life isn’t always this exciting.” But occasionally in late March, it is.
March 28, 2015
All those late nights — coming home after Free Minds class tired and ready to drop or energized and spilling over with stories and thoughts. I underestimated the impact of nighttime work back when I imagined myself in this job, back before I was married, back when what I most visualized about working in a humanities classroom with adults was Earl Shorris’s anecdote of the guy who called him up to say, “I thought to myself, ‘What would Socrates do?'” Still, the classroom is where the joy is. And driving home after most people have had dinner and put the kids to bed and settled in with the tv or a book or a laptop open to internet surfing has become second nature. Some nights I pause on the pathway to the house and look before I enter. In my 20s, before I could see the house and job and life where I’d land, I listened to a lot of Tori Amos. In one song, she trills, “Somebody leave the light on / Just in case I like the dancing / I can remember where I come from.” I’ve often felt like someone left the light on for me, welcoming me back after I’d wandered. And in this period of evening teaching I am ever grateful to pull into the driveway and find the porch lit, often Chris waiting inside, sometimes a bit of dinner still left for me on the stove.
March 24, 2015