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.

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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.

4.12.2017

Motherhood has slammed me against the hard edges of myself
Again and again.
The transition from peacemaker to dictator takes only a moment,
And in the wake of the violence there,
My heart is left bright with bruises,
Sensitive swirls of purple and yellow, blue and green,
Places I try to protect
But bump against everyday encounters all of the time anyway.
Too often knocked against sleepless nights, loneliness, diligent work undone by a child’s cyclone of carelessness,
And I strike back with a sharp and bitter tongue
I never knew I possessed.
But I can’t escape the fray, can’t avoid the fight.
I keep my senses sharp, wipe away the blood,
I hope that this sparring will lead me to a strength and a bond that can be formed no other way.
I hope that I am not burning any bridges.

three

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oh, my love,

tomorrow you will be three years old. three trips around the sun since you burst into the world, superhero fist held high. you are thomas the trickster, thomas the troublemaker, thomas the torch these days, pushing against every boundary there is, raising your voice against the noise of the world. as you’ve neared three, your little body has begun to quiver with a fierceness that is amazing, electrifying, and not a little intimidating, and your father and I work hard to walk the line between teaching you respect and love and allowing you the space to work out all of your tremendous energy.

you are kind at the most unexpected of moments, telling your brother that everything will be okay when he cries, bringing me flowers from our yard, saving the last piece of dutch baby pancake for your father to have when he comes home. you are creative and clever, crafting intricate stories to go along with all that you build with duplos, Lincoln Logs, train tracks, and blocks. we are constantly hearing about what duck, tom the fireman, and collie dog are up to, not to mention the people who drive all of your trucks (bernice! pepe! and lazy ethel…). you love to be helpful, whether it’s cooking, baking, laundry, yard work, or shopping.

you have limbs that get longer every day, a face that gets leaner no matter how much food you devour (especially breakfast!). you go to school three days a week now. three, three, it’s a number that’s important to so many people for so many reasons, and I think this year that you are three will be no exception.

much love to you, il mio ragazzo.

Two Months and Then Some

It is easier and harder. Less and more. Just as I cannot say which child I love most, I cannot say whether two is more challenging than one.

One knocked me over. Everything was new. The milestones were amazing. The hard days were impossible. I didn’t have any idea of what to expect, not really, and so it was a constant shock to the system.

Two is not surprising. It is full of the ricochet of nostalgia, of comparing photos of the two boys at the same age, comparing habits, comparing troubles. Remember when he… ? How did we ever… ? It is exhausting. It is loud. The two of them interacting with each other happily, smiles and voices and kisses and sweetness, melts, for a moment, every tension in me into a puddle of love. The two of them crying and clinging and needing simultaneously makes me want to tear myself apart.

In order to mother these two, I must be two mothers. I must be rambunctious and playful and adventurous for the toddler. Climbing and running and singing and wrestling, matching his energy, letting him be his nearly-three-year-old self. But I must be calm and soft and comforting to the baby, source of milk and coos and gentleness.

Mothers talk about tearing their love, their heart, in two for two children. My heart has grown without incident, my love multiplied without any head-scratching or erasures. But my body? My hands? How do they serve two masters?

And what about the third master, that self of mine, that makes her own very real demands? She sneaks in when she can, tries to speak clearly and succinctly. You need to run today. You need to put the baby down. You need to take five more minutes in bed.

You need to forgive yourself.

I’ve got you where I want you, and now I’m gonna eat you

2015-05-27 16.57.56

This is the life we dreamed of, wanted, planned for. A beautiful house, two children with a third not ruled out, a good dog. His job is solid and good, and I’m on the verge of being hired for a dreamy part-time-that-may-one-day-be-more job. We’ve developed friendships, friendships with people who write, who paint, who plant massive gardens, who keep chickens and goats and cows, who believe in good food. We have a farmers’ market, a favorite farm, a local music scene. We have a vase of mint and lilacs, both from our backyard, on our table. We have the dream.

And right now I am planning a vacation across the country, across the universe. I am learning about Oregon, about Washington. Researching flight costs, camping, breweries, air bnb, public transit, food, hiking, camping. Reaching out to friends who call the west coast states home.

It’s a luxury. One that is indulgent. One I don’t know if we can/should afford. I’m afraid I’ll regret the cost. We’ve a wedding to attend in New York in September. We’ll likely have to head south for a funeral in the next year. And there are always the surprise expenses in life.

On the other hand, it’s a trip we’ve wanted since we first began dating. It’s our first real trip in ages that is not for family, that is to a place neither of us has been.

I’m afraid I will never want to come back. I’m afraid that the wild coast and the mountains so near and the rains and the people and the protected places will sing their siren songs and I will strain against the bonds that lash me to this place. I’m afraid that I will leave my heart behind.

Impossible

It’s all unstoppable forces and immoveable objects around here in the mornings. It’s the baby’s cries and screams unless he’s being held right now and it’s “But I can’t, mama” and “No, I don’t want that one” and a million other toddler demands. It’s spills and smears and spit-up. It’s screeches and shouts. It’s elbows and knees. It’s completely melting down or shattering and knowing that I can’t take a moment to recover because I can’t just magic the two of them away for a moment. So I stop crying or yelling and I coo at the baby and I apologize to the toddler, explaining my emotions and frustrations in simple toddlerspeak. It’s regret that I slammed the door or threw the still-inside-out Batman underwear across the room.

If we can only get past those first hours, the needs that start before I’m even out of bed, the needs that do not let up until we are all dressed and changed/pottied and downstairs and fed, we can make it. There’s a backyard for digging, a dirt road for walking, beach boulders for climbing, libraries full of puzzles and toys, grocery stores crowded with people to charm. Lunch and nap time and Dada’s return home. A partner in parenting.

It’s just those first three hours that leave me sobbing and empty and completely in over my head.

I stole my husband’s favorite flannel shirt today.
Nothing else fits.
Everything is dirty, milk-stained,
too big, stretched strange,
too small,
incompatible with feeding a hungry newborn.

The babe stole from me hours of sleep today
and yesterday
and the day before.
He wakes too far before dawn,
snorting and snuffling,
congested,
his little body still adapting to the
food and ways of this world.
He cries and calls out.
But the silence is even worse,
and I move even closer to find the
sound of his breath.

My husband’s mother will steal my older son away today—
his morning with Nonni.
Gymnastics class,
a little walk,
and lunch wherever he likes
(though they always go to the same diner
just around the corner).
This son who yesterday bit his best friend
twice.
This son who says every night he wants to snuggle with me
forever.

Today I’ll cook down onions, mushrooms, garlic
in the middle of the afternoon.
I’ll stir in warm crushed tomatoes,
paprika, cumin, red pepper,
more garlic,
let it simmer as the day ends.
Then a few cracks over the frying pan
at the last minute.
Served with slices of homemade sourdough.
Eggs in purgatory.

Nothing lasts forever.

Presently

Muttered sighs at my collar bone. Milk leaking onto everything. A baby, a bird. A son.

I drift through days, willing my body to heal, taking things slow. Coffee and reading. Old movies and knitting. Nursing and nursing and nursing, growing chubby baby cheeks and baby thighs and baby brain. Adrift. No goals, no expectations. April sliding away. Am I doing the Right Things? (‘You do not have to be good…’) The toddler and the husband off on their own again.

Green things sprout and begin to bloom. April showers.

Words inked onto blank pages.