pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: September, 2008


it’s what happens when you buy an old house, a house that hadn’t been loved in a while. a house that, like me some days, is a bit worn-out in obvious spots. a bit saggy and scuffed, and not so polished if you peek, say, under my sandals–i mean, er, under the rug, or rub your thumb down the cracks in the walls, cracks that run courses so long and so wobbly they rival the ol’ mississippi.

fact is, you move in with a list so long you think you might never really get to the end.

but trouble is, you–old stubborn goat that you are–you have every intention of getting there, to that place where all the walls are finally tucked and the roof isn’t oozing with each sloppy rain and the floors aren’t spotted with whatever it was someone’s lazy ol’ cat left behind.

it’s what happens when you aren’t like some who are deeply endowed and who do all these jobs–the ones that have you hanging out windows gasping for air, the ones that have you washing your dishes in a paint-splattered sink in the basement for so many months the mice come in, and feast every night on your scrapings–yup, i’ve seen it myself, the deeply endowed do all these jobs before hauling so much as one single rug into said ramshackle house.

nope, you never did grasp the math–or the magic–that allows for such dual domiciles, the one you do work in and the one that keeps you this side of sane.

so you, like me, you move in and you know that, pretty much, for the next century or so, you will be shuffling your this and your that into and out of one room, and right onto another. making like your house is a chessboard and your box after box is the front line of pawns, the rooks and the knights, all clanging and banging their way toward some other end of the chockablock maze.

you will be shoving the piano from one end of the house to the other. the rugs you’ll roll and you’ll lug, like a dead cobra, perhaps. one that swallowed an elephant just before gasping its last.

oh, you’ll be taking advil by the fistful for all the aches and pains that come with the heaving of trunks and, heck, the occasional two-ton stove. and you’ll stock up on those little white migraine pills that undoubtedly you’ll hungrily gulp to knock back the throbbers that come from the fumes you breathe in so deeply on the unending days when the satin-matte toxin wafts past your nose, wreaking who-knows-what havoc to the singular cell in your brain that’s not yet shriveled and forgotten its way.

but what really i need, in these days of deconstruction, is something far stronger than sedatives (though one or two of those might be swell, mixed in with my yogurt and berries, perhaps).

what i need, maybe, is a sense that life demands a breakdown once in a while. oh, i don’t mean one in the nervous department. i mean–be it a blood cell or an old dried leaf in the compost bin, or the parts of a house even–it must be written into the code of the universe that breaking apart, disordering what’s settled, is the first step in building back up. there’s no moving forward without a shake-up, a rattling, a walloping dose of disequilibrium.

if we lose hold of the long view, if we cling too mightily, too white-knuckley to the neat clean ledge of our life, well, then, won’t we just dangle, and eventually drop?

egad, i hear my own echo free-falling down through the canyon. was that a splat i just heard?

i’d best take a few deep cleansing breaths, and repeat after myself: it’ll all be over someday (now, there’s solace for ya).

maybe it’s all just a drill, a practice perhaps, to build-up my disequilibrium muscles, see if i’ve got what it takes to weather something so inconsequential as the fact that my couch and my keyboard are butt-up against what once was the one chair i cared to curl up in at the end of a long, long tiring day.

so it was that this week, once again, i rolled up my sleeves, yanked the hair from my eyes, and ripped all semblance of order from these rooms i call mine.

the floor man was coming. he with his army of buffers and sanders. his fumes and his colors.

his was the one last fix-it-up job–okay, the almost last job–the one i’d been loathing forever and ever.

had i had my druthers i would not have minded, not one little bit, the spots duly ensconced under the rug. i couldn’t be bothered, not hardly, by the odd gaps edging some of the walls. where the floor boards just stopped. a whole inch short of the wall in some of the spots–right where you stepped in the door, for instance. way i saw it, the absence of floor in those spots made for a fine well, a ditch if you will, where crumbs and odd hairballs could be brushed and disposed of at a mere moment’s notice.

ah, but the one whose ring i slipped on those many years ago, the one whose address is now always the same one as mine, well, he thought it high time–nearly six years, if you’re counting–to make like a grownup and spiff up the floors.

one ring-a-ding to the floor man, and, hmmm, seems the calendar’s sparse in the floor-buffing department of late, so without delay, he’d pencilled us in.

and i knew, without coaching, what had to be done.

with all the constructing that’s gone on around here, i’ve learned, oh i’ve learned, that with it–preceding it, accompanying it, joining in on each blessed chorus of hammers or buffers–there comes deconstruction.

i’ve come to loathe the stage in the game where what sits calm and serene–a lamp on a table, a rug minding its business under a chair–it’s up and upended.

rugs are rolled. lamps are stuffed in a shower that’s never turned on. saucers are tucked in a drawer that, hmm, i might not track down for days, weeks or months.

once one half of the house is slid into the other, i succumb to the challenge of coexisting with chaos. at breakfast, i shove boxes off the counter, to make way for cheerios and milk. after school, i make the little one suffer–or so he cries–because the box he so loves, for the baseball it brings him, it can’t be plugged in.

i tried, really i did, to give in to the madness. to not mind that we could barely squeeze through the kitchen. to not worry if i swallowed some dust with my coffee. heck, i just plugged my ears to block out the banging.

ah, but now as i type, tired and ragged from hours of fumes, from the long stretch without food, drink or bathroom when the floor by my office was sticky and wet and i couldn’t get out, the decon is ended.

the floors are mahogany now. the varnish is satin and smooth. the rug hides not a spot. and it rests, once again, under the couch and the slumbering chairs.

the house is restored. and soon i will be too.

a long night’s sleep, in a house that’s seeping its sorry old fumes straight out the windows, that’s all i need.

and when i awake, rub the dust from my eyes, i’m sure i will marvel at the uncanny fact that the boards under our feet are no longer pocked and pitted and rudely cut short of the walls.

and, as a matter of fact, i just might pat my old self on the back, proud, yes indeed, that i got in a round of disequilibrium practice.

but, wait, what’s that i see as i stumble to bed?

it’s floor stain splattered on walls. oh, Lord, could it mean what i think? the painter must pay me a housecall? and decon, again, is headed my way?

excuse me while i try a pencil eraser. anything, please, but no deconstruction.

it’s the disorder, people, that makes me nuts. anyone else go bonkers when your house is on end? how oh how do you cope? do you crave order in your life, and do you find it in the way you keep your house, or is that moot, (or pointless?) and do you opt instead for order of the interior psychic sort?

and the moon shines on…

some nights, at the end of some long days, at the end of long stretches of days when the light’s grown dim, gone dark almost, i find myself pulled, like the tide, to the window.

and there she is, mama moon. swollen. certain. shining down and out and pinning shadow to the landscape, the nightscape.

her moonbeams, spilled milk on lakes and woods and even windowsills, turn the nighttime inside out.

i make out things i might otherwise have missed. the glint of gutter where the copper bends, butts up against another sheaf of earth-mined metal, long and narrow, disappearing into darkness.

i might catch the dew, or whatever is the night mist settled on a leaf. i might catch a wisp of cloud, in fine relief against the blue-black of night once it’s cloaked the heavens’ dome.

but mostly, when by day the world is feeling shaky, tipsy-topsy, i look out to find the moon, and there she is, anchor in the murky choppy waters, where she’s been all my nights, so far, and all the world’s as well.

oh, sure she goes up and down in size, like i used to do too. only not with such illumination. mine was done in darkness.

some nights she can barely squeeze out a little wedge of light. but others, like last night, when i needed her, she’s robust, full-waisted. for a moon, she was downright zaftig.

when i first looked up, as i began to pull the shade, so my little one might catch the bedtime drift, i stopped, hard and sudden. called to him to come, check out this moon.

“it’s a cross,” he said.

“sure is,” i answered back, not blinking, not at all, at the shafts of light that reached out, right and left, up and down, from that moon in the middle.

far as i recall, i’ve never seen quite such a moon-cross. never saw before clear channels, bright channels, distinct lines of moonglow, pouring out like that. east and west and north and south, points on a compass lighting up the would-be dark.

hmm, i thought, maybe mama moon knows. maybe she knows we need all the light we can get down here. maybe she’s shut her eyes and she’s squeezing with all her might, bearing down to bust out every molecule of light she’s absorbed from what the day’s wasted.

maybe she knows these hours are dark, darker than we’ve seen in a long long while.

coast to coast and ’round the globe, there’s trouble. and tumult. and even close to home, it’s hard to find a place where the light pours in.

oh there’s wall street, of course. and waking up to news, squawking there from the box beside your bed, news that makes you shudder before your toes get to the cold, hard slabs of oak.

and there’s all the stories and the film clips zipping through the wires. there’s the worries clogging up the computer. there’s tales so odd you consider retreating to your closet floor. where you might stay curled for weeks to come, afraid to death to wake up the morning of november 5 and find the world’s gone stark raving mad.

you meet with friends, out of work and broken-hearted and barely able to swallow the chunks of bread you brought along.

you hear tales of young mamas who’ve been told, just now, that they’ve got weeks or months to live. and you can’t do a damn thing to stop the clock, to bring them, or their children, the time they need. oh, Lord, the time they need.

and in your own home, your own kitchen, you sit and soak up the worries of a boy who feels alone. a boy who aches to find a friend. and you’re just the mama, and short of calling every single kid you ever knew or liked, saying, hey, please, call my kid and ask him maybe to hang out, there is nothing you can do.

so all day, you hold it in. so full your heart, your chest, you think any minute now your ribs might bust. you might start cryin’ and never stop.

but then the night comes. the world goes dark. except for the moon. that one fine orb of light that won’t go out. after all these eons, and all these long long mondays and tuesdays, it still turns on. like a good swiss clock.

count on it.

there she is.

right out the window, where you need her. so close you swear you could twist the latch, heave the frame, and grab a fistful.

she’s what you need. a nightly dose of pure illumination. she’s there to draw you out, and in, both ways at once.

she’s there to remind you, night after night, she shines on all the ones you love, no matter how scattered across this old spinning globe. she is the one whole blanket that holds you, each and every one.

she’s the priestess of the night. drawing out your prayers. pulling you to your knees, if that’s the way you whisper benedictions.

the moon, i think, is God’s unfailing way of sticking close behind. God’s way of reminding, no matter how dark the day, the night light’s always on.

might not always be so bright. but she’s out there. just look up. and count on mama moon to guide you through till dawn.

when one of these mornings, the sun might truly rise.

people, are these days weighing heavy on your heart? what gets you through? where does your light come in?

if she had a hammer…

if i close my eyes and conjure my mama, i do not see her face. i do not see her knees. or her lap. or her shoulders that have borne their share of weight–and then some.

no, i see my mama’s hands. ample hands. padded hands, not the sculpted sort at all, ones with nails clipped short, plain, unpainted, nails meant to steer clear from distraction, stay of out of the way, stand back and get the job done. i see fingers sturdy. fingers curled around a tool, most likely. most happily, for certain.

i see my mama with her bare, sure hands, on a chill spring day, the clouds erupted in an unrelenting mist. i see her baring down on the handle of a shovel. a shovel above a grave. where she is digging a hole that i might never have been able to dig. she digs a hole for the teeny baby girl we have come to bury, to tuck atop my papa’s chest. or what would have been, once.

i see my mama with a chair upturned, screwing in a leg. making a wobble vanish, disappear, with the alchemy of match sticks and paper wads she is known to pull from her bag of tricks when there is a job to be done and she does it her way. her unschooled, unorthodox, pay-no-mind-to-rules way. she employs pure common sense, and a bit of spit, when necessary.

and so it was, just the other weekend, she and i had at it. just steady hands and a screwdriver or two. maybe a tiny nail, at the start. and, of course, a hammer.

see, i’d cooked up this notion that what my ol’ screen porch needed was a long dining table. not the squat children’s table we’d been hauling over, nestled there between our knees and plates. half the beans, the blueberries tumbling to the floor, as they tried to cross the chasm between where the table left off and our lips began.

a year or so ago i’d eyed an old wood door, a fine door, a door that long ago had marked a fine separation from one chamber to another.

somehow, that old door had been discarded, its time up. its journey through.

it was tossed out where the dumpsters are. and where the great green garbage trucks rumble by, chew what’s left out for their week’s digestion.

i spied that door before the trucks rolled up. i hauled it home. breathed possibility down its rough-hewn, paint-flaked neck. wasn’t sure quite what i’d do, or how i’d use that plank of oak. but i was not letting it get away. not abetting its demise.

its journey hardly ended, i turned it on its side in my garage. i let it incubate, summer, winter, spring. and then, i do believe, once again as well.

but then, one too many blueberries lost between my thighs, i suddenly saw its next incarnation.

that door would be my dining table. it would be the launching pad for meals and nights that lingered on, until the last star twinkled. it would be the plane where elbows, deep in thought, were planted–despite the rudiments of etiquette that chide such churlish plunking down of joints.

upon my table’s woody cheeks, years and years of candle wax would drip. heaven’s sake, who would mind a spill?

i could picture it, the whole of it: that re-anointed door would anchor all the summers’ meals where lake breeze and nightsounds were as much a part of what was served as the gazpacho and the endless wine.

only thing is, i am the apprentice. my mama, she’s the one who forges on, without much thought. not a synapse stalled, worrying about a glitch that might or might not be. she’ll muscle through. she’s got the hands, after all.

me, i think and plot. take time to launch these notions.

not my mama.

day after i mentioned my passing thought, she was at the hardware store. and then the lumber yard.

i was still drawing pictures in my head. she had four legs and screws and metal plates, all picked out and paid for.

she was coming by, she said, on saturday.

well, well, i thought. so here we go.

sure enough. we had that table upturned in no time. brushed off the flakes of paint, sheared off years of dirt.

without a ruler by her side, she used her pointer and her thumb to mark off just where the plate should be. she screwed and screwed. showed me how to do it, and along the way, made me see, just how fine it is to build the things of which you dream.

don’t be afraid, she did not say. but i heard it loud and clear.

she’d said she hoped to teach my firstborn a thing or two that day. how to work the screwdriver. how to build with little fuss.

“he’ll be off in college soon,” she said. “he’ll need to know how to do things for himself.”

he was nowhere in sight that day. but i was there, all ears and eyes. i was memorizing all she said and didn’t say. i was absorbing my mama’s truest truth: barge ahead, have no fear. fend for yourself. screw madly.

we turned the table upside up. it wobbled just a little bit. but there it was, a place to dine. the table i’d imagined. complete with brass knob still attached. how fine is that, i ask you.

all weekend we ate, we talked, we laughed there. eight good souls pulled up that very night. didn’t wobble too, too much. what with the sticks of wood my mate stuffed underneath, despite the dent to my ego, when he declared no one could eat there, not the way it wobbled.

next morn, we had pancakes too. and syrup. and coffee in a mug that never dared to slosh overboard.

i am busy now, collecting chairs from rummage sales and cobwebbed corners of my friend’s garage. i am splattering each with paint. distressing.

i have no idea what i’m doing, really. but i am not afraid. and i’m not one bit worried.

i am doing what my mama taught me on that perfect summer’s afternoon: i am inventing as i go. i am making what i dream of. i am, deep inside, quite content with tools i never knew i owned.

not the least of which is powered solely by my willingness to try. and care not about a piddly little wobble.

do you like to bang around with a box of tools? do you get a kick out of building things you dream of? do you whip up the curtains of your dreams? or stuff a chair, perhaps, just because you see one in your mind? what are some of the lessons you learned at your mama’s side, or your papa’s, when you were old enough to have long been on your own?

thirsty earth

all night, i listened for the rain. heard the rumblings of the far-off thunder, like growling from the woods. too far off, it musta been. for when i woke, leapt from under sheets, tore to the window, looked down, all i saw was dry. and more dry.

i realized, through the half-slept night, as i tossed and kept an ear to the window, waited for the rumble to turn to roar or crack or even simply the shushing of the rain itself, that it is not unlike, not at all, keeping one ear out for a baby in another room. or a child with fever, down the hall.

we don’t sleep so soundly when we worry about the blessed things whose watch we keep.

and these days, i am keeping watch on parched and thirsty earth. dusty soils, cracked and split and open wide, in hopes, perhaps, of direct infusion from on high.

i am, too, considering the roots, groping, feeling for the soft spots where the water trickles in. because i am out there with a hose, nearly every other morning, pouring sustenance and fluid into all my babies’ throats.

i hear the hydrangea feigning dizziness from lack of drink. i hear the moaning of the phlox. even black-eyed susans, those hardy sun-baked assemblies, are bending under strain, the weight of all the waiting just too much.

oh, i do my best, make like i’m a rain cloud. tut-tut, i cluck, as i wander here and there with snaking hose.

only i’ll never bring what heavens bring. i cannot make rain that’s rich in all the earth demands.

there is no substitute for rain. no wash of all the earth that quite revives what dwells here.

heck, the hose has no sweet perfume. you’ve never heard a little one exclaim, “hey, i smell the hose.” but you do hear that with rain. “smells like rain,” my grandma used to say. so, long ago, i, too, learned the smell of nearly-bursting, misting clouds.

and that heady scent, it’s not been inhaled in these parts for too long now. oh, it’s spit a bit, once or twice, but no real soaking, not enough to soothe what’s parched. heck, i can’t recall the last time i had need to spring my umbrella.

and that’s a sorry thing when one depends on sky to do its job. when one can only hope for a long slow sprinkling to get life back in order, to bathe the rows and rows that dare to bloom, to burst with cock-eyed promise, at the summer’s end.

all this paying attention to what falls upon my so-called crops and the shriveled leaves of trees is but one blessing of the muddy paws that come with my compulsion for the yardsy beds i laid this summer.

all the world becomes so simple when you start each day inspecting the stalks and stems and limp old leaves that got to where they are because you tucked them there.

it is the mantle of the gardener, to be the keeper, the shepherd, the custodian, of your plot of planet earth.

for the most part, the growing things depend on you–and cloud and sun and wind and soil–to tend to all their needs.

oh, yes, the fussy ones need fertilizers. and the spineless ones need stakes and twine and those twisty bits that come on loaves of bread, or bagels from the deli. and, every once in a while, there’s the random beetle that must be whisked away in swift short order.

but mostly, it boils down to basics, pure and simple and straight-up: light and water–in the form of rain or, in a pinch, straight from the hose.

and are those not among the shortlist, Nos. 1 and 3, perhaps, on the Great Creator’s chart of chores, back in the way, way beginning? on the first day, i do believe, dear God flicked the lightswitch; did he not? and then he waited only till day tres for the bit about the seas.

in a world where both essentials come so mindlessly, with the crank of the faucet, or the banging of our fist against the button on the wall–we sometimes lose track of just how breathtaking both are, in fact.

and that is why, besides the simple truth that i love to pluck and tuck a host of stems and nodding heads in bottles all around the house, i consider it religion to grow myself a garden.

it brings me back to what matters deeply on this spinning globe. it centers me amid the daily storms.

and so, i wait for rain. i sit here typing with an open window, and an ear that strains to hear the pitter-patter.

so when it comes, the sacred holy water, i can leap outside, and watch my darlings guzzle down the very cocktail of the swollen summer clouds. the divine elixir, after all.

are you looking out the window, longing for the rains to come? it’s easy not to notice, so easy in this world of pavement, impervious to what is thrust upon it. but when your world is soft, and rooted in fields or beds or simply old cracked terra cotta pots, it all makes all the difference. and at summer’s almost-close, my ears are thirsty, oh so thirsty, for the shushing soothing sound of rain. a lullabye long overdue.