Washing Away

Another form of water that reflects my mood on this last day of August.

This month I’ve been obsessed with water. Starting with my art grant for next year, which focuses on how water always seems to show up in my paintings, to the horrific events still unfolding in Texas. I’ve gone from lazy afternoons spent watching barges glide down the Ohio River on painting trips to recoiling from the unforgettable photos and videos of the broiling brown brew currently washing away lives and lands.

Like Katrina before it, I felt the same sinking feeling with Harvey as I tracked the swirling cloud mass on weather maps and phone apps. Growing up on the east coast I remember well the endless deluge of Agnes in 1972, when constant rain soaked through everything in my family’s spanking new saltbox colonial home, the wooden shingles, the old-fashioned plaster walls that only a very few craftsmen still knew how to apply, and the extensive fireplaces built with unglazed brick. My mother set out so many pots and pans to catch the drips, that the sparsely furnished rooms echoed like a tin symphony.

But that was nothing compared to the flooding of my beloved meadow, where the innocent creek that meandered through my youthful playdates became a wrathful river that destroyed the little driveway bridge carrying us to the outside world of groceries and grandma’s house. We waited days before my father was able to reconstruct a passage to freedom. By that time, the angry torrents had reduced to a slimy whimper, and when I managed to slip and slide my way to the meadow’s edge, I couldn’t recognize my former friend amid the scattered rocks and stinking muck from a thousand fields upstream.

The gentle bends and soft shoulders of the grassy banks I knew by heart were never the same, making it easier to say goodbye. The next year we moved away to another land with a completely different kind of water, where my brother and I played in a man-made ditch that ran straight as an arrow through soil the color of coal, reflecting a greenish hue that I would later realize was filled with something more ominous than the little leeches clinging painlessly to my legs in the old meadow.

And while Agnes’ unrelenting rain and stifling air fell heavy on my bony shoulders that June of 1972, this was nothing compared to what the population of Texas is enduring. My family didn’t watch our beautiful new house fill up with sewage, or have to leave our pets behind, we didn’t inhale the choking fumes of chemical plants and refineries relieving themselves of toxic byproducts as they shut down, and we didn’t know anyone who perished beneath a dark current.

This water, no matter how swift, will never wash away the fear and countless tragedies. As I grieve for those living beings who have been affected by this national disaster and donate what I can, I find myself wondering whether the suffering evacuees will return and the bridges be rebuilt, or if it is easier to say goodbye and start over somewhere else? Only time will tell and there is one thing I do know:

It will never be the same.

 

 

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Passing Through

A double row of hornbeams planted twenty years ago.

Here it is the end of May and I’ve barely been here. My focus is kept packed by the door and my psyche feels like it’s still moving after an interminable car ride. I stop by just long enough to check my email and pay the bills, wash a big pile of neglect that’s accumulated. There are cobwebs all over some best-laid plans left piled on last winter’s table.

My “word” for 2017 has been “awake,” and boy, have I. To the point where I rose early enough to see the dawn in all kinds of wind and weather for seven days in a row. There are no photos because I refused to carry any form of electronic distraction. Instead, I wanted to burn the sun’s first midas touch on the tips of trees into my eyeballs, let a heavy dew sink into my bones, be swallowed whole by the rising rush of bird song. How could I have missed these treasures for all those countless years spent lolling about in bed like an apathetic teenager?

Some mornings we danced intricate steps set to modern astral music inside a labyrinth’s ancient patterns. On others we were high above ancestral land and its tree-lined ribbon of river, at a circle made with stones that whispered power and prayers. And still others were spent in the gardens, tended by human hands but retouched by faery folk in those magic hours when mortal souls still wander through the grainy dreams from other worlds.

There has been art and music, poetry and dance, and some really good gin. Despite an early rise, I’ve stayed up way too late talking about crazy-beautiful ideas and inspiration, because I didn’t want to miss a minute of this precious time or interrupt the messy, foolish freedom that doesn’t fit into a shifty shared cloud calendar or antsy time-management app.

But perhaps the most precious gift I’ve been given by staying awake long enough, is to rediscover a forgotten little keepsake tin with the rusty lid I left hiding in my memory’s bank barn. Inside, once again I heard the quail’s call in tall grass, felt hard rain rumbling across a field, finally found those missing linch pins from an old Farmall tractor hitch, inhaled the sweaty scent off a low morning meadow, and watched with great joy some gritty, grinning kids stagger home covered in the satisfying filth from a mountain of freshly dumped sand.

You see, somewhere during those adult years of dysfunction, darkness and despair, I had lost my childhood’s best mementos. I’d fallen into a slumber of numbing responsibility and restriction. I could only recall the disappointments and failures harped on by my mind’s endless critiques, where the rules are always changing and your advisors never let you leave.

Nearly halfway into the year, I’m happy to report that I’ve been awake long enough to know now, that I’m finally free to go.

Slippery Slope

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It was second grade recess on a windy day. After weeks of watching kids fearlessly hurdle down the big kid’s slide, I lined up with the others, climbed endless steps while watching the legs in front of me — and froze at the top. The air was different up there. From that great height, I clearly saw the terror of my ways. How could I foolishly believe I was just like the others?

The line behind me hanging off the rungs and on the ground began to whine and grumble. The playground authority was called over, and yet I would not move. The lady tried to coax me down but I wasn’t buying any of it. From where I sat, this was a fast track to quick destruction and untimely end.

Finally, the long-suffering teacher stuck with recess duty made the kids behind me get off the ladder and back away from the scene of the crime. I crawled down through unforgiving disgust and crept off humiliated, once again an alien among my own kind.

For weeks after my cowardice, I hung around that slippery nemesis until my classmates’ attention was preoccupied with tether or kick ball, monkey bars, see saws or a scuffle under the one basketball goal bolted to the school’s red brick exterior. When I was sure no one was looking, I carefully positioned my bottom in the seat of triumph at the base of the sinister slope, and scooted up as far as I dared, using my shoes’ rubber soles as traction. When I was high enough, I pulled my feet up, and slid down in an all-too-brief moment of pure joy.

Each time, I rose a little higher out of the doldrums of my shame and disgrace. Each time, the feeling of release and flight lasted a little longer. Until finally, one day, I ascended the infinite ladder once again, adjusted my breath in the thin air, took in the bigger picture at the top, and pushed off into my life.

Last month, fifty years later, my family and I came upon a playground in a state park, clearly built in the Sixties. And there stood my old nemesis, with the same tall silver board reflecting a forest of memories, and the thin metal poles supporting my recollections on either side. Each rung on the ladder spelled out America as I climbed up and I wondered if I believed in them anymore.

When I arrived at the top, I found to my surprise that the air was still rarefied, and the view still too big for me to comprehend. And when I let go, the journey to the bottom was just the same, only slower.

Cross-eyed

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When I was very
small I couldn’t see
any sharp-kneed
truths inside the
dark forest planted
by grownup legs, or
dim familial views
offered out of high
windows shaded with
long-held secrets.

All I remember
were those bright
celestial stars down
the hallway to where we
come from, refracted
into a billion
diamonds.

April Love Prompt: When I Was Small

This year I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by combining  NaPoWriMo’s daily poetry challenge with Susannah Conway’s April Love daily photo prompts on Instagram. Each day of April, you will observe the same photo in my Instagram feed on the righthand sidebar that you see in my blog post along with an instapoem. We shall find out at the end of the month whether this was a brilliant career move, sheer laziness or a fool’s errand. 

Until then, care to join me in these creative waters where even fools fear to tread? The water’s fine.

Stay at Home

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(for my daughter)

Back when hours
were counted by
morning snack
afternoon naps
trips around the
world in a block,
where time’s only
worry was whether
the dog next door
would greet us
at the gate.

April Love Prompt: A Happy Memory

This year I’m celebrating National Poetry Month by combining  NaPoWriMo’s daily poetry challenge with Susannah Conway’s April Love daily photo prompts on Instagram. Each day of April, you will observe the same photo in my Instagram feed on the righthand sidebar that you see in my blog post along with an instapoem. We shall find out at the end of the month whether this was a brilliant career move, sheer laziness or a fool’s errand. 

Until then, care to join me in these creative waters where even fools fear to tread? The water’s fine.

Is This Gandalf’s Hat?

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Wasn’t it just yesterday that I lay in an unraveling hammock of slow southern heat, deep in the mysteries of dwarven kingdoms and hobbit holes and Gollum’s riddles? Fires from a merciless afternoon sun lasered through the roof of twin Norway maples, to singe me with the kiss of Smaug while my book split open across my knees.

To this day, I wander in search of entrance back to Rivendell, resting under middle earth’s translucent banners dusted with dormant magic, while I raise my eyes to the same innocent blue of a child’s forgotten world.

From there I can feel my bare feet padding down old paths, knowing the way.

Smells Like Grape

Burdened down with grownup folly, I round the corner of adulthood and it hits me:

Those bright memories of eternal elixir encased in tiny bottles of wax, and tubes of frozen joy squeezed into a sticky summer evening.

Rising up before me, stacks of thirst-seeking missiles wait inside the cold cocoons of my grandfather’s soda pop machine.

Once more, I would happily follow that grinning pitcher of Kool into the fires of dental decay for a taste of way too much white sugar.

And then my whiff is done, taunted by the snap of bubblegum I was never allowed to chew. Bereft, I want to go home and watch cartoons.

Visited by the ghost of a thousand childhoods.