Posted by on Nov 12, 2010 in Poetry | 3 comments

The world seems too big tonight
To ever find the things
I so carelessly left behind.

The highway winds into the distance, black and uncertain
and while I cannot see them,
I know the ancient mountains rise behind
In the wake of my hurried passing.

I do not recall the journey’s beginning
and flight seems my only destination.

I run alone, breathless,
Searching the sky for dragons, the woods for lions,
Praying silently to whatever gods might be listening,
But no one comes to rescue me in dreams.

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Posted by on Nov 6, 2010 in Angst, anger, anarchy | 3 comments

The bridge grew like a leviathan as we approached from the south, it’s exposed metal girders suspended impossibly high off the ground. In the back seat I become silent as my brother and sister chatter about our trip north. My skin feels clammy, my stomach twisted as if the bridge has reached its awful steel-gray hands into my gut. My brother, suddenly realizing I am too quiet, seizes the opportunity.

“You know the road ends up there.” He points forward and I look with rising terror at the arch of the highway ahead. My five year old eyes cannot fill in the space outside the lines. I believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy because they give me gifts. I wonder why I go to God’s house every Sunday, but he never seems to be there. I imagine him as a man in pith helmet, machete in hand, cutting through the African jungle in search of lost sheep.  I believe in the picture I see ahead, where clearly, the road is simply not there.

My thirteen year old brother, encouraged by my fear, continues, “When we get to the top the car is gonna just sail off the end.” My fists clutch the edge of the fold down arm rest that divides the space in the back seat. I am allowed to sit there because I am the smallest. My siblings both fume at my privileged position. I look for help from the front seat, but my parents seem engaged in serious conversation. I waver slightly on our imminent death by drowning, but I know for a certainty the consequences of interrupting them. I look back at the road way. I review the few years of my life I can remember, the sandbox in my back yard under the willow tree I love, the church, the grocery store, my grandmother. It blurs into a impressionist montage as the mouth of the monster approaches. Seconds now until our death, but my brother continues to badger.

“Just a little further and it stops” he taunts as we draw ever closer to the crest. I hold my breath for the plunge, eyes riveted to the asphalt. Very soon in real time I become aware that the ribbon of highway in front of me stretches flat and straight as an arrow across the Indiana bottom land, as far as I can see. I know I have been duped, and I tell him so with my eyes. My confused and angry glare elicits a quick, “Wrong bridge” and a belly laugh from he and my sister. “It’s the next one, honest” he swears, hand in the air. The scene fades to a gray humiliation.

Ten years later, Sunday afternoon on a back country road, my mother sits beside me in the family station wagon. I am the apprentice driver, my hands positioned on the steering wheel like they showed me in the driver’s manual at 10 and 2, as if the wheel were a clock. Her fists are digging into the seat in a manner reminiscent of my five year old fingers long ago. A pale shadow of the giant bridge of my childhood looms ahead of us. Both of us look at the pancake flat road as if the ground were going to open and swallow us whole. “Move over to the center line,” she intones, trying to keep the rising panic out of her voice. Responding to the fear I turn the wheel slightly left, slow to a snail’s pace and straddle the double yellow lines. We roll down the center of the three car length structure like a parade float, our four eyes fixed directly and unblinking forward. Finally on the other side, we both remember to breath.

At age twenty I drove across the Verranzano Narrows connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island with a steady hand and a joyful heart. At twenty two I crossed the Golden Gate to visit friends at Stanford, delighted at the beauty of the perfect bay around me. Large or small, from coast to coast I cruised over them with a trust in technology stronger than any fear I could conjure in my head. One night, not long before my second marriage, I woke from a fitful sleep in a cold terror. A nightmare of a bridge loomed ahead of me and my car was moving too fast for me to control, especially from the back seat where I found myself sitting. Reaching desperately for the wheel, knowing it was too late to stop, I sailed off the end, just like my brother predicted. It was the bridge he told me about, the one my mother tried to prepare me to cross. Since that night the dream has come back to me many times in many forms, all my fears tucked neatly in one basket.

Perhaps in my rush out the door of childhood I was moving faster than the speed of fear. Now here in my dotage I have time to reflect on how high those bridges were and how deep the water lay below them. I do not pretend to understand the psychology of irrational anxiety. I only know I miss the audacious, reckless, sometimes outright foolhardy girl who lived on faith and velocity. I think I might still have enough courage left to conjure her again, slightly shopworn perhaps but stronger for the journey.

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Leap of Faith

Posted by on Oct 10, 2010 in All things natural, Death and renewal | 0 comments

At first I look only at my toes as I position my bare feet close together on the rocks at the edge of the quarry cliff. Poised, I stare down for a brief unblinking moment at the flat face of the water far below. I am seventeen, trim, tan, immortal, and surrounded a crowd of college friends. Quickly I lift straight slim arms over my head, cross my thumbs and make my hands into the point of an arrow. Bending at the waist I push off, head first, eyes open, stretching my body long and taunt to become the arrow shaft, my feet the feathers. I fly straight and weightless though air that is hot as exploding firecrackers, always falling down toward the cold soundless black surface of the water.  As it rises rapidly to meet me I fill my lungs with air and shut my eyes against the expected blow. The dive is clean, but the water more shockingly cold than I anticipated. My reflexes slow slightly, but as a colder thermal layer overtakes me I bend the arrow’s tip upward, arch my back to slow my descent, and begin my resurrection. A third bitter cold thermal skims briefly over my torso before I start to rise. My arms reach up now, cupping water in my hand and pushing it forcefully behind me.  My mind reviews the whispered rumors of sunken horror in the unknown depths below me, making seconds seem to hang like hours as I point my body to the murky light of the surface. Suddenly my head smacks square into the warm sunlight and I suck the hot air in big gulping breaths. I arch my neck and see my friends far above. I smile, wave, and pretend indifference as I try to estimate the extent of my idiocy. Is the cliff thirty feet, twenty five? I am not good at guessing and the passing years have only magnified it in my mind.

I swim to the shore where the less reckless are gathered and shimmy up onto the rocks exhilarated. Still shivering, I find my feet and walk past them to scale the cliff and jump again. Once is never enough when death is being cheated.

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Time Zone Shift

Posted by on Sep 28, 2010 in Angst, anger, anarchy, My Children | 0 comments

I have slept on this futon in my firstborn’s living room for four nights now, and only this morning became cognizant of the clock that ticks somewhat laboriously right over my head. It has the distinctive mechanical sound of a swinging pendulum, something I can’t help but believe is a calculated contrivance. Perhaps the pulse of it has been soothing me at night, the heart steady beat taking me back to a time and place of primitive comfort. After three busy days and four restless nights neither my brain or my body have adjusted to the rhythm of the northwest coast. I don’t think I can blame it on the wonderful coffee, for although my consumption of it has increased while here, I lie me down and sleep peacefully with enough caffeine roaring through my system to lift the airplane that carried me from the east. Since I have ignored the clock until today’s 3AM awakening I think we can discard that as a possible cause of my unrest. I feel it might have more to do with recent revolutions and revelations in my own life and those of my children. I am filled with secrets, possibilities, and impossibilities in equal measure.

My grandson’s birthday was held on a cold rainy Monday and all the cool kids were there. We dressed everyone up in homemade cardboard robot costumes and paraded down the street like so many happy fools. Seattle did not even blink at our absurdity. The next day my eldest son took me for a wonderful walk through Elliott Park which is sandwiched artfully between the towers of downtown and the proliferation of ships in the harbor. The hillside is wild and tame in turn and dotted with sculptures. Every man made object along the path seems to have a grace and style that says “look at me again”. For some reason my lasting memory was a lone creosote log, balanced on an angle down the rocky coast line, and bobbing up and down precariously with the tidal echo.

With so much of the day still left my son drove us over to Ballard to watch the ships go through the locks and have lunch at an old converted Firehouse. The words between us were of a private nature that required us being face to face and heart to heart. He tells me his secrets between sips of a light crisp local Pilsner that tastes like a fleeting summer day. He does not have to ask for my blessing or my acceptance, because for these few hours we are the intertwined souls that held each other fast in days gone by. As we leave the restaurant I take his hand like I did when he was a little boy and tell him how proud I am of his integrity and decency. Over at the locks the ships slip by us one by one while all the words that can be said are said. He judges not that he be not judged and I do the same. I come home filled with joy and hope and love beyond my understanding.

Wednesday night I had a less serious interaction with my middle child over dinner in a fu-fu Asian fusion joint that worked a bit too hard at being exclusive. We arrived unfashionably early and the large minimalist room had only two patrons. “Do you have reservations,” the maître d queries, in a tone that suggested she had recently been sitting on a tack.
“They were for 6:30 but we took a chance and came at 6.” She looks around the empty restaurant as if she is trying to figure out where she can squeeze us in. My son and I are both amused, but play along by following her eyes around the room. She seats us in what seems like as desirable location as any other, along the wall toward the back. After a perusal of the menu we order and dine sparingly on excellent but exorbitantly priced seafood. I leave too large a tip, just to prove I am cosmopolitan and accustomed to such practices.

The web of pretense I weave around my humble origins surprises me at times. I try to hold my center as I move through places and people unfamiliar to me, but my success with this attempt is sketchy. The young man across from me, the shy bright peacekeeper of the family, seems to have a firmer grasp on the concept of self. “In Richmond,” he says, “I was a bleeding heart liberal. Here I am almost conservative.” I compliment my steadfast child and he shrugs it off like water, for after all, it is his nature.

No matter where I land, my chameleon character cannot hold its color for long. My voice, my step, and what is left of my religion begins a slow shift, attempting to make myself indistinguishable from those around me. When I was in England I shared my colorful history with my daughter’s family by marriage. In trying to explain my roots I related a story from my childhood of the night when our Redbone coon hound gave birth to puppies under our tiny one bedroom house. My father had to crawl into the spidery darkness to remove the babies, whose whimpering woke all of the occupants above. Of course I then had to elaborate on the practice of coon hunting in rural Kentucky and further expounded that the modest house was literally where I was born. There were no hospitals, no convenience stores, no alcohol, no bars in that small town – only churches and gas stations, one grocery store, and steadfast honest people from the heartland. It stands to reason that I could not hold the pattern of my childhood sacrosanct when I left that life behind in such a tiny corner of the world.

Here, far away in the last cool damp days of the brief northwestern summer, I try on the mindset of unfamiliar philosophies and colorful people. Their dress and attitude reflect the landscape, grey and brown and black with unexpected splashes of bright color and print. I feel my colors changing to as I turn through the clothing in the cute shops of the delightful neighborhoods. Still, I am slightly out of step with the street traffic, find no discernible accent to mimic, and realize I am perhaps too old to fit into the crowd I would gravitate toward. It is this advance and retreat that keeps me unsettled here. My elder child and his wife embrace the life on this shore, love the friends they have made, and look forward to rearing their child in an atmosphere that is green and hopeful. My middle son is more stoical and merely says he fits in here as well as anyplace. I see all of them content with a full and rewarding life together.

I peer into the future from this vantage point, but like the rabbit in the Dr. Seuss story, I look around the world and back again only to see the fool on the hill trying to know the unknowable. The only thing I am sure of is that I will get on the airplane Saturday morning and fly back to the comfortable but confining place I have called my home for almost four decades. After all this living, I still have more questions than answers; at a time when I am supposed to be settled and serene, I still yearn for adventure and challenge. The stranger I see in the mirror often lies to me about possibilities and impossibilities, but she always yearns for a perfection she is incapable of achieving. I almost hope she never figures it out.

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This morning and the ones to follow

Posted by on Aug 6, 2010 in Poetry | 0 comments

Like the light switch in the bathroom

I am on when I awake

The soldier I must have been in a past life rises,

Finds her feet in seconds and stands alert, weapon drawn

Ready to do battle, clear eyed and invincible.

The stranger in the mirror startles me

A woman no longer young tries to stare me down.

I pretend indifference, a calm I do not feel.

The echos of many voices come to me saying,

No, it’s only a number.

I would never have guessed your age.

I smile and pat the taunt flesh of their cheek or arm,

Thank them for the compliment,

but inside I am thinking,

Good, then trade with me, just for today.

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Bird on a Wire

Posted by on Jul 28, 2010 in Angst, anger, anarchy | 0 comments

One foot out the door, the smell of summer pleaded with me to linger. Seductive and enticing, it pulled at the high heel of my summer sandals, imploring me to abandon the trappings of adult responsibilities and step barefoot into the damp grass. I pushed myself onward against the invisible force of early morning mist, remembering when time held it’s breath for me. I think of long sticky August days spent watching ants, exploring the fields and forest of Kentucky with no clock but the sun, running free with my father’s hounds. Time was a boundless fortune I could not dream of exhausting.

My hands are full with gym bag, lunch, and responsibilities. I must deny myself even a minute to stop and examine a single leaf. My manicured finger touches the door handle of my car and the magic of technology takes me off on its pricy magic carpet. The news of the day comes from the radio and the sweet earthy fragrance of summer is washed away by my own soap and vanilla scent. Outside my office the warm aroma of high summer seems distant and diluted. Once inside the door it is altogether gone, replaced by the anonymous sterile odor of papers and keyboards. As I open my computer, the day’s chores nibble tiny bites from my soul. For one more day I will be faithful, loyal, and responsible, even knowing that nothing I can purchase with the gold I earn can buy me a minute of the freedom I yearn for this morning.

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So Near, So Far

Posted by on Jul 3, 2010 in Poetry | 0 comments

Through my kitchen window

The lake is glamored in mist

I drop my coffee cup

And run barefoot

Skipping through the wet grass,

Crunching the children of the ancient oaks beneath my tender feet.

I do not stop until I am leaning against the edge of the fog.

I search the shifting vapor patiently for a sign.

Do pirate ships sail these waters?

Do sprites and mermaids dart there,

Beneath the speckled leaves?

The fabric of reality is so thin this morning

If my hand were placed just so

I could touch the door

Turn the knob

And be in that place where all things are possible

Where I walked quite freely as a child.

I wait patiently,

Anticipating, believing.

The silence is shattered by an engine’s growl, a barking dog

My head turns for one split second

And in the space between one heartbeat and the next

I become again logical, reasonable, scientific.

There will be no easy path for me today.

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