Septennial

If it’s true what they say
about our bodies replacing all of our cells
every seven years, then —
then you are no longer my son.
Not the slick, swollen, bewildered creature that,
when our bodies could wait no longer,
hurtled out of the only dark, hot world it had known
and into the water, into the light.

You are not the invisible force that
jammed its feet into my sheltering rib cage,
nor the curious bubbling I felt
when you first hiccuped in the womb.

Of course, looking at you now,
recently shorn of your curly, mopped mowhawk,
I wonder.
You are just as serious, just as mischievous, just as affectionate
as your infant self.
You still like to sprawl your body across mine,
hold my finger, kiss my skin.
Your eyes still look like stones glittering at the bottom of a sunlit river,
more green now than the silver-gray they were.

We still have our share of battles, you and I,
we who made each other,
I you as my body assembled yours from fried eggs and sauerkraut and water, water, water,
You I as your needs alchemized my hormones and rewired my brain.
Our intimacy is just as much a product of love as of
conflict, rage, disappointment, fear.

And I am not the woman from whom you came.
I am not the eager, anxious girl who waited for you.

I shout now.

I bargain. I cajole. I fume and smolder and grit my teeth.
If my eyes are river stones, they are high on the bank, dry and battered.
If I savor the touch of our bodies together, it is because I sometimes have trouble remembering
that I am a body at all.

Your cells divided and grew anew and turned infant to toddler to
reading, running, clever boy.
My cells weakened and were replaced by those of a woman
aging.
A woman tired.
A woman not sure what she has been made into.
A woman undone.
A woman waiting to be born.

October

I wrote this nearly two years ago. Tonight, as I read about Rachel Carson, as I read about astronomers, as I contemplate the universe, I thought, too, about this piece.

 

October is a month for breaking.
On the heels of the equinox, the autumn, the fall, October whispers in like a predawn fog. October is for caving in, for losing hold. October is for weeping. October is for breaking down, for tearing apart.
October is a month for breaking.

I knit wool socks on slender needles and bake cakes puddled with the flesh of red plums. I pretend that I am not breaking at all. I pretend that the world is not breaking, either, that the center can hold.
The center cannot hold. And every day I wait for that last wobble to send everything I know careening off into the oblivious emptiness of deep space. Paralyzed by a sense that it is a matter of fate, already written, I cannot imagine what I could possibly do to effect any meaningful change. Already so many voices shout and hands labor and to what end? Another wobble, another quake.
Maybe it will be better after. Maybe when the center is lost and we are all forced to fight not just for principle and theory but for food and survival, maybe then it will be better.

In October, all of the herbs that were fat and green under the summer sun fade to brown and gray and olive, and the seedpods they have grown break open, spreading next year’s hopes to the wind.
Except for rosemary. Rosemary, for remembering, hangs on through the early light frosts. Rosemary is the last to leave and will come up again in spring of its own accord.

In October, the fog comes. These are the days when it gathers in the sunken beds of the cranberry bogs, crops of mist, harvests of smoke. Each morning and each afternoon, I cross back and forth over the canal bridge, and these are the days when the canal is a river of white roving. These are the days when I cross within a cloud, the world beyond the car windows shrouded and uncertain. So close to the sea, nothing is fixed. Coastlines and tides shift by the hour. Populations rise and fall with the seasons. This place where the earth slides into the sea and the sea laps at the earth has always played its tricks.

Early in October, a friend is riding in the car with her spouse and her young daughter, running errands for a birthday party they will host later that evening, when they see a pedestrian trip on a curb, stumble into the street, hit by a car. The friend felt the collision in her stomach and in her heart, heard the screaming of the motorist who didn’t mean to, saw another woman come out of a nearby shop and recognize the body.
A few days later, a woman I work with at the farm totals her car. This woman had already been breaking open. For six months, her entire world has been crumbling around her, piece by piece. Her husband’s true nature laid bare, her belongings taken, her support system gone spiny with briars and poisoned thorns, everything shaken, and then her body collided with her car when it collided with another car. She is bruised and shaken and trapped without a method of transportation.
That same day, a pair of bombs goes off in the capitol of Somalia and tears the life from more than thirty human bodies.
October is a month for breaking.

And for burning.
Starting a shift at the farm, I set public radio streaming from my phone, jam it in my pocket, and begin loading the truck with bins of produce. It is cool enough now that moving between cold storage and the world outside no longer fogs up my glasses.
On the radio, the interviewer is visiting a crematorium in Los Angeles, talking to the twenty-two-year-old man in charge of burning the bodies and packing up the remnants.
It’s beautiful, he says, as he and the interviewer watch a body return to dust.
I lose signal. When it returns a few minutes later, there’s a new voice, a new story.
Searching for bodies is more like archaeology than search-and-rescue, the voice says. It’s just dust and bones. A firefighter in northern California, where untold acres of farms, homes, vineyards, forests, lives are burning.
I climb into the truck and survey the trees, all quivering flames of foliage.
The night before, I narrowly avoided an argument with my husband. He is scalded, sensitive, rubbed raw these days by work obligations and the state of American politics and by his sense of time passing. He can’t catch his breath for the smoke, can’t keep his balance as he crosses the bed of coals. Like a volcano about to erupt, he signals with puffs of smoke and ominous rumblings.

Thirty people did not perish in the bombing in Somalia. Three hundred did. Days later, not even half of the bodies have been identified, they are so burned and broken, scattered among the shrapnel of buildings and cars.
The pedestrian my friend saw hit was only a teenager, on lunch break from her first day at a new job.
Where is the season I know, the one that comes in a whisper of dusty, tiered skirts, in the dropping of dried fruit and petals, rose hips and goldenrods and hydrangeas? October, October, where is your gentleness? Where is your kindness, your quiet shifting? Where is your steaming pot of milky tea, where your cinnamon, where your sweaters that smell of attic dust and lavender sachets?

In the newspaper, a story that I hear no one talking about. Scientists were surprised and elated one August morning when their instruments began to record undulations in space-time headed toward earth, like ripples in a pond gently breaking at the shore. Then a gamma ray burst. Suddenly, all of these scientists were on alert, morning classes and meetings canceled, observatory night owls pulled back out of bed on just a few hours’ sleep to see what they could of two neutron stars, having circled one another for eleven billion years, a spiral dance, measured and calculating, collide.
Countless eyes fixed themselves on telescopes and gravitational wave detectors as they watched an event wherein two stars, each the size of a large city, crashed into one another. They made fireworks that, in a single day, spread to an area the size of an entire solar system. It was a marriage of obscene ostentation, entire planets’ worth of platinum and gold flung into dark space.
Before this day, the astronomers and physicists had hypothesized, made models, debated, dreamed, but no human had ever seen such a thing before. And it happened more than a hundred million years ago, but it took all of that time for the evidence to make its way across the galaxies to our tiny, insignificant earth.
I read the article over and over, unable to fathom these lengths of time, these volumes, these distances.

I ought to visit my coworker. I ought to bring her something. Comfort.
You don’t have to, my husband tells me. She’s not even really your friend.
It’s true. We’ve not been to one another’s houses, not met outside of work. But, I want to tell him, that’s not how it works, this web of women. It isn’t about one woman owing another. There is no angry god to enforce the rules of justice and duty.
There is a web, a weaving. There are threads that bind us all together. There are small kindnesses women offer each other when they can. Women do not make sacrifices to god. But they do perform these rituals, these acts, these manifestations of prayer, for one other, for the web. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
It is a simple and necessary work.

October is for breaking, for burning. But sometimes that means a collision of stars, a raucous celebration that rocks the universe for eons. And sometimes it means just enough comfort to balance the scales. You cannot make hot tea without a low, steady flame. You cannot build a friendship without breaking down walls of privacy and politeness. You cannot forge the iron of marriage without a torch and a hammer. You cannot make gold without shattering stars.

Writ on the Eve of my 32nd Birthday

inspired by Gregory Corso’s poem of the same title

I am 32 years old,
and I finally look my age, if not more.

So many strands of gray gathered at my temples, failing to hide among the brown bangs.
Is my skin losing the firm roundness of youth,
or is that just the weight I lost over the course of my twenties?
Have my eyes begun to dull?
At least, I think, there’s more muscle definition in my back, my shoulders, from carrying boxes and bottles at work.

32 and still working part-time, still making less than fifteen dollars an hour.
No books published—
No books published hurts,
but there’s lots of time.
And I have the husband, the sons, the house, the dog.
No debt from college.
No debt except the mortgage and the car—
That has to count for something, right?

Taught myself to spin wool into yarn, bake bread, make my own effervescent ginger ale.
I can start a fire in the wood stove while cooking oatmeal with raisins, the way the boys like it, and brewing tea and soothing the tsunami of discontentment a three-year-old excels in.
I’m probably not much fun
(not without a couple of drinks in me)
but I don’t know that I ever was,
so I probably can’t blame that on my age.

These days they’re saying women only improve with time.
I hope it’s true.
I hope the first thirty-two years have been the warm-up, the practice rounds,
learning the rules, figuring out the proper tactics,
and soon the real game will begin.
I want to be a foul-mouthed old woman who makes no bones about
cutting down fools and cackling hard truths.
I want my value to increase exponentially from here on out.
I’m pretty sure that’ll only work out if I stop fucking worrying about everything for five lousy minutes once in a while.

But if I tried that, my son would probably crash into the coffee table and split his lip wide open,
or the dog would shit on the rug,
or some other domestic disaster would shatter the moments into nothing.
The world owes me those five minutes, I think,
at least once or twice a week

For poetry, for prose, for words, words, words.
They may not make me into the mistress of zen I’d like to be,
fold my laundry for me,
diminish the amount of shouting my parenting involves,
but those sentences—
glinting, sparking, chipped off of eternity—
keep smoldering in my belly the neglected but not forgotten fire.

Resume

My dirty hippie roots are showing.

I think we have mice

but only in the cabinet where the loaf pans loaf and the pie tins wait, forlorn and empty of tart treasures.

Crumbs of nourishment litter the floor because the baby roams wild as he feasts upon what he forages, what he gathers, what he gleans to feed his monstrous, howling appetite. It must be a wormhole, that mouth of his, that leads to an entire population of raving, starving madmen who speak through his lips words of a fool, words perfectly common to someone who has been alive on this crazy planet for not even a thousand days.

Dog hair—whispy white strands of clever evolution—flits and fumbles across the buttery wood of the floor. Cotton napkins and painted blocks and scraps of paper, of poetry, of genius, of my children’s zen scribbles, all collect and scatter throughout the house, created in passion, abandoned without concern as they are left to be swept up or torn or lost under the couch, behind a dresser.

I eschew the cleaning.

My dirty hippie roots are showing.

You can see them here, as I perch on a chair in the living room—

The brassy blue garbage truck huffs and grumbles outside, taking away my sacrifice of packaging I never wanted, a few soiled diapers, daily ambitions, the dreams of my late twenties—

in my husband’s wife beater, stretched with age and hol(e)y, book before me like a habanero too hot to consume outright but delicious and dangerous and tempting, feeding flames on my fingers, the tips of my bare, shifting toes. Like an affair I do not want but I want, it beckons and maddens and I hold back and I yield all at the same time.

But there’s bread in the oven, so there’s that.

Even if there’s no dough in the wallet. Between jobs, useless, my brain a beautiful machine of neurons and nephilim and shortcuts and impatience and so much love for this earth mother lady that we never call on Sunday or send flowers to, but no one wants me to use my higher mind. The job listings are a dull maze of meaningless words. Middle men and women, middle of the middle men, paper shufflers, enablers, cheaters, swindlers, dealers. The only ones employable in this bona fide twenty-first-century world.

I just want to dig my hands in.

I want dirt and manure and fish emulsion on my skin, the stuff that feeds the seeds that grows the stems and roots that swells the fruits that feeds our bellies.

I want flour and yeast and water on my hands. I want fresh milk, aging and fermenting and dying and reborn as cheese that is creamy or tangy or hard-rinded or bitter with herbs.

I want to bring people joy directly. Unadulterated joy. The kind we’ve forgotten about. The kind my sons know when they make each other laugh. The kind that has made our bodies shuddering starlight hot spring thunderstorm lovelies since our species began.

Today, my dirty hippie roots are showing.

another excerpt from The Moving Sea

When the electricity in the air stole that which sizzled through the power lines, they burned two dozen candles to chase the darkness away. Wind howled down the chimney as woodsmoke and sparks flew up and away. Outside, the water, frozen, half-frozen, careened from the clouds. Gathered, moblike, at the windows and the doors. Night lasted forever.

She and the boy drank milk mixed with honey, cinnamon, and ginger, coaxed to warmth on top of the wood stove. Although the Christmas tree had been abandoned to a corner of the yard, the edge of the wilderness, weeks before, the smell of evergreen remained in the weft of the curtains, in the furniture, in the needles that had slipped between the floorboards and into corners, evading the broom and gathering in hidden places.

She and Orryn and Michael built vast cities in the living room, farming estates, towers to the sun. They crafted Bedouin tents of quilts and pillows, caves of softness and shadows and eternal evening.

With restless hands and a tongue she bit too often against the wildness of a trapped trickster, she stitched and stitched at a woolen blanket for the baby to come. Her fingers were hurried birds, her needles tapping time, the finished work pooled around her, warming her distant toes and her billowing belly.

Her paints and brushes lay cold in the guest room. There was no space for that energy in a room already so crowded.

Orryn played and sang, spinning music through the dimness, drinking endless pots of grassy green tea. His fingers calloused over completely, firm as river stones, as she learned when they slipped beneath her sweater to find her heat. His beard looked as though it were doubling in size each day, threatening too absorb small items that came too near—pens, mandolin picks, playing cards, building blocks—and he kept bellowing out verses of English literature he had memorized a lifetime ago.

Mice crept in at the edges, seeking sanctuary. Then squirrels. Cardinals. Blue jays. The woodpecker they hated. The gulls that annoyed. The crows. They all endeavored to follow, but they wouldn’t allow it. They battened down the hatches, filled in the gaps. She spied through the kitchen window as the creatures sought refuge instead in the garden shed. In the spring, Orryn would find a sea of feces and feathers there

novel excerpt (I think)

Paint it today. A picture. A prototype. Paint a woman who serves as model for others. Paint a wife, a mother. Paint a creator. Paint the middle class. Paint a mild summer. Paint the total eclipse on the horizon, weeks away, to mark the turning toward school and schedules and the fall. Another autumn. Another fall.

Omit the ominous. Leave out the madman in the office, the elephant in the room. Paint the conversation that is happening, that was always happening, though not in fifty years has it been so audible. Paint the racism and the rioting. Paint the women in this country fighting for what many women in Europe already held in their hands. Paint the women in this country fighting so that women on other continents might have education and clean water and the right to move their bodies freely, the right to claim their bodies at all. Paint voices that are heard. Paint future that are brilliant. Paint until the colors streak down your forearms and drip off your elbows. Paint until the walls tell the story and the floor tells you the story beside the story and the ceiling, up out of their reach, tells you all of the stories underneath that so many people fight like mad to keep covered in darkness. Paint the way your body feels. Paint the way your blood pulses through the subterranean river in your neck, just below the surface of your skin at your pelvis, at the delicate branching from forearm to palm, in your ears when you sleep. Paint the stretch marks that have claimed your hips like the scars left by a lover’s zealous fingernails. Paint the faint beginnings of varicose veins at the backs of your knees. Paint your ring finger, the bearer of your wedding band, and the way that finger veers crookedly at the outermost knuckle from the time you broke it roughhousing as a child. Paint the swollen imperfections, and paint the pores that society tells you are too large. Paint the pale, unaccountable strands of hair that straighten and sway away from the dark waving curls you have always known. Paint the hair you’ve neglected to shave, the hair you now have no intention of shaving. Paint the words you will no longer swallow, the outrage you will no longer temper with so-called pragmatism. Paint the muscles that run all over your body, the muscles that lift and pull and push and carry every burden and reach for every prize you desire.

Paint your lover. Paint the human body beside your human body, this person who is infinite in complexity. Paint every moment you have marveled at the good fortune of calling this person yours. Paint every one of the thousand cups of tea you have poured for one another, every kiss given, every touch received. Paint the nights you went to bed frustrated, furious, on opposite sides of an insurmountable wall. Paint all of the mornings you woke to find the wall, in daylight, to be knee-high and mossy sweet.

Paint it today and tomorrow and again next season. When the paint is all used up, use pencil and pen. Stitch the tale into cloth, into wool, with cotton thread. Weave it, warp and weft, or carve it from wood, from stone. Shape the clay, the loaf. Use the scraps no one else will claim to make a mosaic of broken glass, a collage of pictures torn and faded.

There will always be the autumn. There will always be falls. But the waves are constant.

March 21, 2017

For Adrienne Rich

Spring began yesterday
and with it, my cycle,
late.
Lining my thighs with
slick, red, loose blood,
spotting my face with
imperfections
it was unapologtic.
Clawing aches down my thighs,
clawing craving through my center,
it was merciless.
Filling my eyes with tears,
filling my heart with the whole world,
it was the unmoved mover.
My cycle began
late,
only after I spent an evening
steeped in feminist strength,
in the fierce, brutal written words of
an honest woman
born sixty years before me,
who was writing
a decade before my birth.
She was unapologetic, merciless, too.
She was imperfect and craving and carrying the world.
She was not late—
like spring, she came right on time.

But it is uncertain as yet if we—
our generation, our sisters—
will need to apologize ourselves.
It is uncertain if we will come,
fierce, imperfect,
into this fight.
It is we who must learn to be moved and
to move.
Her feminism is our feminism,
but ours contains, too, the knowledge of
all of the seeds her generation planted
that we failed to water and weed.
More is expected of us,
we who have been given
more time, more space.

The blood comes when it may,
and we fight for the right to bleed
from month to month
without unwanted interruption
as we fight for the other cycle—
the cycle of rising up and falling back—
to cease.

earth sign

Solid.
Stable,
unremarkable,
stubborn and stony.
Fertile then fruitful then fading then cold
round and round
she turns in dark space.

But unseen,
more than skin-deep,
slow shifting,
sedimentary compression,
flowing tunnels of
mineral aquifers and molten rock
and blind mysteries.

The surface breaks open,
and in that rare, astonishing moment,
a glimpse of the raw wilderness within.

Octobr 9, 2017

Rosemary, celery, corn husks and pumpkin flesh
The sunken bed of a cranberry bog
A white deer, or two.
One boy, but usually two.
Robert Plant releases a new record
Neil Young an old one
and Tom Petty passes away
but not without making us all pause and
watch for a moment.
Ishiguro—not Atwood—wins the Pulitzer.
Legos. Pasta fagioli. More coffee.
One hurricane, then two,
followed by a third.
One shooting, then two,
followed by an infinite grieving of shootings.
The autobiography of Malcolm X.
Webbed clouds and woodsmoke.
Light the color of Tokaj,
twining leafy vines the color of Malbec.
Driving onto the bridge, into the fog.
Driving over a canal of smoke, with
a single, slow barge boat wading through.

An excerpt

From The Moving Sea, the novel/memoir/thing I keep writing to sort through my experience as a wife&mother:

 

Parenthood was oddly isolating for them. Like two people who could look across an alley and see into one another’s apartments, they still lived intimately. They ate together, talked, slept in the same bed. They joined friends for dinner, made plans for the future, traded earnest I love yous. But thick glass kept them separate. She was physically worn out by the process of growing a new child while keeping up with a toddler, mentally taxed by trying to teach morals and kindness and physics and caution and hygiene and patience and everything else a person ought to know in this life, all while holding onto compassion herself. She was emotionally exhausted by Michael’s mood swings and her own, the testing of boundaries, the nos and the I do nots, the fits and the tears.

And Orryn, too, did not possess boundless energy. He was occupied by office politics, by evaluations, meetings, assignments. His uncle died that autumn, an uncle long estranged but ever present in ghostly form, and Orryn’s emotions pulled at him like the currents of an unfamiliar sea. There were bills and deadlines. There was his share of the parenting. There was the shoulder that bothered him off and on, his body leaning toward the end of its fourth decade.

And so, for days or for weeks, sometimes one or the other but also sometimes both could only muster the energy to go through the motions, to hold steady, to promise themselves and each other that it would not always be this way. There would one day be time off. There would one day be the luxury of not being woken before seven, of not spending their single meal together cajoling and correcting and muddling through interruption. The cold and the fog of early parenthood would pass, and their relationship would grow again.

But that autumn was long, its colors and sounds muted, without the close company to which they had grown accustomed. Marriage is hard, they say. But it takes so much more than those three words to begin to tell the story of the how and the why of it. Marriage is hard when your toes can’t get warm under all of the blankets of your bed and your loved one is downstairs still working and won’t be joining you any time soon. Marriage is hard when there has been no spark, no sex, no true meeting in weeks. Marriage is hard when you wonder if life will ever get easier or better and the one you love can’t reassure you any more than you can yourself. Marriage is hard when you can’t turn your full focus onto your partner because in that moment your son will dump his entire cup of milk onto his dinner plate. Marriage is hard when you have spent all of your day’s allotment of compassion and empathy and care on someone who may or may not have noticed and you have none left for the person you most want to give it to. Marriage is hard when the moon is dark. Marriage is hard when the clouds of the storm have shrouded what stars remain. Marriage is hard.

A marriage doesn’t need betrayal or resentment or anger to be hard. It just needs reality.

The last quarter cord of fire wood still unstacked a month after delivery. The peeling paint on the kitchen window frame. The living room bookshelves they still have yet to purchase, though she’s wanted them since the day they first looked at the house. The bulkhead he worried won’t last another winter. The floor, uneven, that always wants sweeping. The appliances that can’t last forever. The terribly lumpy living room sofa. The tiles in the upstairs bathroom that keep coming loose. The lawn that will need one more mowing before winter…

But it had happened the year before, hadn’t it? When the toddler had been sleeping no better than he had as a newborn and they were out of their minds from sleep deprivation? And the year before that, when the drunken joy of the birth had worn off and left her cabin feverish and grasping for ideas as to what to do with a clinging newborn? And the year before that, miserably failing to get pregnant? And the year before that, new to the town, to the state, without friends or connections.

It happened every year to these two introverts, two earth signs that burrowed into their mental dens as the air turned cold. Maybe, she wondered, it wasn’t a thing to fret over. Maybe this was just a part of their year, this stretching apart after the bare intimacy of summer but before the long winter kept them bound close to home night after night.

It was a pattern. One, it seemed, that was a thing that their marriage needed, that made it stronger. Keeping the patterns. Cracking the codes. Learning to read this language of together. Not just the pidgin anyone can pick up in the first months of a relationship, the basic phrases that can get one through a quick trip safe and sound, but the deep nuance of the old literature, the beauty of the poetry, the varying complexities of the written word.

Which didn’t make it completely painless, this pattern. This phase. It reminded of her of before him, before love had been confessed and reciprocated, when she had liked him—or, for that matter, any other man—lusted after him, tried to memorize the lines of his body, tried to puzzle out a map of his mind. Back before they spoke of anything but the most casual things, or even before they spoke at all. Back when her mind was clamoring for answers and her body quaking with need and her emotions ready to burst out and be shared.

The autumn felt like that. She wanted to tell him how she struggled with parenting and with patience. How much she longed to create art and to make the world better and to contribute to higher thought and also to clean energy and sustainability and respect for the natural world. How her mind was filled with metaphors and morality and epistemology. How she was capable of so much more.

She wanted to tell him how much she loved the way he smelled when he came in from playing baseball with Michael in the backyard, how much she admired and aspired to his patience, his even keel, his contentment. She wanted to tell him she appreciated how he worked to support the family financially even when it wasn’t the job of his dreams. She wanted to tell him how important it was that he always kissed her first thing upon walking in the door.

But she didn’t wish to be a nuisance, a chattering, overemotional stereotype of a wife. And so they spoke of the child and the pregnancy and work and the weather and the things to be done. And she searched the conversation for a gap through which they would connect once more.