Without Whom

082315Mostly we saw her like this — through the crepe myrtles tending the pool that no one swam in. It shone blue past the fence, a filter occasionally spraying a jet into the air. Come over any time, she said when we moved in. We never did. But we waved through the trees, talked in driveways, rolled down car windows when passing by. Then a neighbor banged on the door, Mrs. Duckworth has died. Emergency vehicles swarmed the corner. Her son found her by the pool. She fell last night. I keep thinking of her lying there while our a/c unit clicked on and off all night, while the traffic on Riverside roared and we fed the cats and checked the doors and cleared the last crumbs from the fudgy chocolate hearts I bought for a friend’s birthday. We didn’t know. Don’t think about it, says the neighbor. After we finished talking on the porch, we went back to our days. Chris to his nap, me to my crossword, the neighbor to whatever was waiting for her at home. What else should we have done? I thought of the time I came back after a month away and she called over the fence, I missed you! I thought you had left. It was sweet. It was nosy. I got up and stood by the back door. Gloved men paced around her pool, collecting evidence. Then they pulled away, cars filing down the street. The water was the same blue as ever. On Riverside, people got on or off the bus. I sliced some potatoes into a bowl. Someday it will be me without whom the world goes on.

August 23, 2015

Passing Through

072615We have the imagine the purple martins came this way even before the swath of land housed a Walgreen’s and a Target, even before this spot by the river became home to a towering power plant that chugged along for years and then was taken apart, piece by piece, and hauled away on the backs of trucks.

July 26, 2015

Twilight On the Boardwalk

070515It’s one of the gifts of summer: late strolls after dinner, the air still warm but not seething with heat, the smattering of joggers and unicycle riders and Latino families with children leaning to look for fish in the water. It stays light far past when we expect it to, and downtown looks impressive, shiny and aglow. We live here. So often we complain: the traffic, the prices, the scruffy city we fell in love with transformed into something else. But didn’t we fall for each other when we both lived in tiny apartments and mouthed off about simplicity, paring down, though for a decade we have had 2200 square feet and squabbles over the lawn? We can’t spend forever on the sagging deck of a coffeehouse listening to Guy Forsyth strum his guitar. Sometimes we turn and are struck anew with delight for our midlife selves dressed in the better clothes that midlife allows. And so our city too, offering a different kind of impressive while we saunter along, the day mostly behind us, rail lights illuminating the way toward home.

July 5, 2015

Poem in the Kitchen Cabinet

060215I taped the poem there so long ago I forget it, though I open that cabinet door daily to grab a plate, a glass, a ramekin. Before you know what kindness really is / you must lose things. In this room where so much of life happens, where we land in the morning and in the evening, often in between, where we discuss schedules and finances and the finale of Mad Men. You must see how this could be you, / how he too was someone / who journeyed through the night with plans… I believe in poems in pockets, poems pasted into the covers of daily planners, poems on cards pinned to bulletin boards. I believe in poems wherever we place them, wherever we find them. Feel the future dissolve in an moment / like salt in a weakened broth. I taped this one in the kitchen cabinet because it was the one we needed, would still need, would always need as we went forth as human beings trying to make our way in the world. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore. I taped it there to remind us when we would inevitably forget.

June 2, 2015

Read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness” here.

Between

050315Occasionally, 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

Praise Song: Comfort Food

042015The 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 Song: Children at Easter

Praise the boy in the pew in front of us, his blue glasses held to his head with a strap, his bow tie and blonde bowl cut, praise how he rolled and wiggled through to communion, when his parents finally carried him away. Praise the girl in the white polka dotted dress, with her turned-in toes and messy hair that gave Chris a lump in his throat for a past so far away. Praise the children who took over our house for the afternoon, who made obstacle courses out of hand weights, bouncy balls, and an inflatable balance disk, then ran in circles around the couch. Praise their laughter from the den. Praise their joy at an egg hunt, at guitar strumming and piano banging and tapping the side of a mesh strainer to rain sugar onto a cake. Easter asks for the spirit of children, for baskets of plastic grass and cascarones cracked on the head. Praise a holiday that revels in glory, in youth. Praise our house afterwards, the confetti on the porch, straw on the carpet, the dozens of seeds pulled from out-of-date packages that were tucked into the soil by small hands. Who can say? They just might grow.

April 5, 2015

Praise Song: Father Gregory Boyle

040415The first time I listened to him, I was planting tomatoes in the garden. This time I was taking my sore body on a loop around the lake, Saturday morning. Priest, teller, spirit, he reminds me again how deeply I believe in second chances. So praise his stories. Praise his laughter. Praise the tidbit about Diane Keaton being served by a home girl who seemed to know her face, then said, gleeful, “I know — we were locked up together!” Praise his faith in right action, in delight. What are we put here to do? he asks us. Love. Discover awe. See ourselves in kinship. Praise this one man and his voice that walks with me down this worn path: “The day will never come when I am as holy as the people I serve.”

Listen to him here.

April 4, 2015