pull up a chair

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

Month: January, 2009

packin’ up dreams

i waited, of course, till a day so bitterly cold i needed an arctic parka to climb into the attic. but it was time, so i climbed.

the baby is coming.

the baby i’ve believed in all of these years. the baby i loved long before she was even two cells or a clump of cells, or a wee beating heart. i loved her back when she was simply an idea, a wisp of a dream ballooned into hope.

all these years, despite the groans of the attic floorboards, as they took on more and more weight from all of the boxes i stubbornly clung to, despite the urgings from my mama to give it away, to not hold on to things i no longer need.

i ignored the groans and the whispers. defiant, i was. believer, i am.

i knew–i hoped–some day that baby would come.

and now she’s two months away.

and so it was time, time to poke through the attic, to search through and find the box after box that held every fine thing you’d need for the start of a life with a baby.

there were diapers and burp cloths and wee hooded bath towels. wash cloths and socks the size of a match box. onesies and undershirts that tie with a ribbon.

there were blankets all soft and flannel and easter-egg colors, and ones that were woven and white and thick for a night that is chilly.

there was the one blanket, a patchwork of swatches, i wrapped both of my boys in, for the long drive home, three miles at best, from the place where they’re born to the place where you’re left all alone to figure out babies.

there were hats that had never been worn, and booties too. and the chair, checked and italian, that was the one place, besides my chest, where they’d sleep.

there were jammies so little they still make my knees go weak. and box after box, filled with fabric and stitches that all told a story.

took a long time, the corralling of baby things, the collecting of dreams. nearly each one i held and remembered. remembered the hot summer day, or the cold winter morn, when a round little bottom i slipped in those pants, or the bald wispy head i snapped into that white droopy hat.

wasn’t long, though, before i’d slipped into some sort of a trance, an auntie trance i suppose. a meditative prayer and a poem, a tai chi of memory and muscles, as i sifted through boxes and dreams, got ready to ship the whole load from my house to the one where she’s coming before the robins return.

i would have if i could have, slipped my whole self in those boxes, as i climbed down from the attic and dove into the laundering, the rinsing, the starting out fresh. the purification, a ritual unnecessary but wholly essential.

i bought a new box of dreft, just for the baby. hadn’t had reason to use it in quite a long time. and the scent from the box, the powdery softness of clean-baby pureness, well it filled up the washer, and all of the dimly-lit basement besides.

when it came time to fold and to pack, i remembered one final time, maybe. some of these things, i’ll not hold again, chances are.

each one of them, i’d known a very long time, since the days when my own dreams were born. even before.

and, at long last, there i was in the laundry room, letting go of my baby things.

but because i was packing for baby–we call her baby L, L is for light, among other ideas–i didn’t feel a pinch in my heart, well, not much of one anyway.

filled five boxes by the end of that fine afternoon.

each box i filled as if a holy chalice. lined the bottom with soft tissue paper. tucked baby soaps and powders and lotions, all in wee little bottles and paper-wrapped bars, into the stacks and the layers, so each box would, by the end of the trip, be a trans-continental sachet.

by the time it gets up to maine, why, it’ll smell just like a nursery should smell. the barest whiff of baby and sunshine, with a smidge of the honey of beehives.

on top of each box, as if a christening, i sprinkled a handful of dried peony petals, the palest of pink and the deepest of fuchsia, ones i’d saved from my garden back in july, when i couldn’t bear to let the blooms go straight to the compost heap.

and then, whispering blessings, i taped and addressed each box. marked one or two with very big hearts. finally hauled every one off to the shipping place.

oh, if i could have, i would have climbed right into one of those boxes, been there on the other end to keep watch from a corner.

see, i won’t be there every day for this sweet blessed baby. i won’t get to know which finger it is she most likes to suck on. or just how she stretches her arms. or pokes her bottom into the air when she sleeps. i won’t hear her coo, or hiccup. won’t watch her take in her very first butterfly or snowflake or daisy. won’t see her wrap her thumb ‘round my brother’s.

it aches me to think i’ll be only her faraway auntie. for she is, in so many ways, the answer to so many dreams. a bundle of so many chapters of love.

but i will, in my own folded-up way, get to be there, tucked on the shelves of the changing table, and slid on the shelves of the cabinet my brother is building from ash and from cherry.

i will be there as her mama slips on that white floppy hat, or slings on the backpack the color of glow-in-the-dark pumpkins. i will be there in the burp cloths, and maybe just maybe when she’s rubbed dry from the bath.

i saved all those treasures for all of those years. because i knew some day, i believed, there’d be a baby.

and i didn’t want to not be there at every burp and cry in the night. couldn’t bear to be merely the faraway auntie.

that little girl has my heart. i packed it up in one of the boxes. it’ll arrive with a thud on the doorstep any day now.

once we were a people who all hunkered down in the very same village, raised our children together, a dream my brother and i once shared, long long ago. now, we live whole land masses away. so we sift through our lives and find threads to connect us. do you have babies growing up far far away from your every day? how do you dwell in their midst?

amen, amen…

and so we begin.

yesterday was the day for wiping away tears, for feeling the swell in the deep of our hearts. yesterday was the day for sitting mesmerized before the screen, taking it in, all of it, aretha franklin’s gray felt bow, outrageous bow, flamboyant bow, just-how-we-all-felt, crystal-studded bow. for taking in the tears, welled-up and streaming down the cheeks of an immigrant from gambia, among the many tear-streaked faces i won’t forget. for taking in the poetry of hands that laid the tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick-by-brick the towers “they would then keep clean,” and brought us–two million, flesh and blood; a globe of others through the miracle of satellites and wires, screens and speakers–to the mall, to the reflecting pool, and to the spaces in between the chiseled monuments of those now-hushed american heroes.

but most of all it was a day for taking in the words, the cadence, the power of a president who’s had his eye on re-stitching this torn tapestry for a long, long time.

i sighed out loud when he spoke of whispers from the fallen heroes who lie in arlington, when he reminded us of those who toiled in sweatshops and settled the west, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth. when he spoke of hands worn raw.

i held my breath. held it so hard i was dizzy by the speech’s end, the end of the inaugural address, the end of the words that marked the start of what just might be something very, very big.

and i prayed, prayed mightily, prayed without end. prayed, amen, amen.

will keep on praying, so help me, God.

i am teaching myself, reminding myself, to breathe again, breathe a new oxygen.

and for just one day, one sweet fine chill january day, i shut out all the cynics and the critics. in my mind and heart, his speech was a great one, no modifiers need apply. in my eyes, her gown was perfect, and so too the lemongrass one she wore all day. i gasped when i first saw both of them. don’t give a hoot what the sharp-eyed ones have to say. the sharp-tongued ones, i wish they’d just keep quiet. just for one sweet january’s day.

yesterday was not a day for judging. only for reveling. and savoring. and sucking the sweet marrow from the makings of a new america.

today, then, is the beginning. is when we all pick up the mantle laid before us, draped across the bone-cold mall, and across the frozen farmfields and the cities and the backroads and the riverbeds of this once great and once-again, i sense, great united states.

today, if we listened to his words, is the day we all begin anew. begin to be and act and dwell as if we are made of holy fibers and corpuscles and muscle with the strength to do the work, the necessary work.

today, then, is the day we don’t do what we’ve always done.

we start small, i’d propose, and we let it grow from humble shoots and sprouts. we start out wobbly, maybe, a little bashful, perhaps, but then we catch the wind, and, oh lord, who knows where we go.

we begin, just maybe, in the little universe that is our everyday.

we pick up the trash blowing through the alley, not because it’s ours but because it’s there and it oughtn’t be and we shouldn’t let its provenance dictate the hands that do the picking.

maybe, just maybe, we practice a whole new way behind the wheel. we don’t honk for no reason. we let the car coming from the other way take the parking space, and then we wave and nod and make it clear we’re making room for a whole new kindness and generosity.

we look, i hope, into the eyes of the man stuffing cartons of milk and cottage cheese into our grocery bag. we say, have a lovely afternoon. and we mean it.

we go into our children’s classrooms. we tell stories. turn pages. help the one who struggles with a pencil try to find his curly loop, or the ledge on the paper where the letters sit.

and then, more boldly, we go beyond the school where our own children sit, we go to ones where mamas and papas don’t have the chance, maybe, to sit and practice number drills. where there’s no globe at home, so the children in the desks have never really seen just where their city sits at the edge of the lake in the middle of the land mass that seems to run from top to bottom of that globe.

and then, after we read with them, and turn pages, maybe we go make lunch for them. bring cupcakes, for crying out loud. because have you ever met a kid who does not deserve a cupcake for no reason at all? maybe we bring our own children along. watch them make friends. watch them start to understand that the world does not begin and end at the borders of the village or the block they call their own.

maybe when we’re walking down the street, or through the office, maybe when we hear the gossip start to roll off tongues, we say, hey, don’t. please don’t.

maybe all the hundred little choices we make in a day, maybe they all add up.

maybe we start to do what the man at the foot of the capitol meant when he stood up against the chill wind and said, starting today, we’ve got to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking america.

maybe that’s why this morning i am sleepy-eyed from staying up late to watch the ballgown swirl, the white one with the single shoulder sash and all the poofy little posies, the one she kept lifting from beneath the tips of her shoes where it was getting caught while she was dancing cheek-to-cheek, maybe that’s why i’m sleepy, yes, but mostly why, this brand-new morning, there’s a pumping in my heart that tells me there is work to be done.

work for all of us, not just the one who is the forty-fourth and the first, all at once.

let the work begin.

amen. amen.

what will be the ways you begin again the work of remaking your corner of the universe? what frames from yesterday will you not forget, not ever?

tending my flocks

don’t have a cow. or even a henhouse.

darn it.

don’t have a half acre even.

i can hardly call this my farm.

ah, but that doesn’t stop me.

you should see me, these soft snowy mornings. i climb into my boots, my big yellow rubber ones, before i climb into my clothes (oops. hold that image there. erase what you might see in your head, please, the skinny old legs, naked, goose-bumped, slid into floppy ol’ boots as bright as bananas. quake not, friends, i do wear my jammies outside).

back to the boots and where i go with them.

i make the rounds is where i go, make my way, clomp-clomp-and-more-clomp, through the drifts and the mounds as high as my shins.

i make like a farmhand out tending her flocks.

which, actually, is just what i’m doing. just minus the farm is all.

my flocks, though, aren’t peacocks or hens, not araucanas, those blue-laying beauties. my flocks are not geese or ducks. not even a rhode island red, though i long for one, and plot ways to wriggle ’round the village code.

my flocks are winged, all right. and feathered as well.

my flocks live up in my trees. or under the eaves of my roof.

my flocks come in red and in blue and in plain common brown. they line up like ellipses there on the wires that run into my house, from out in the alley. they chirp from on high, from on places i can’t seem to find, though i stand and i look and i look, till the chilly-cold tears run down my chilly-cold cheeks.

my morning rounds unfold thusly, early each and every cold winter’s day:

once the galoshes are on, and the snowcoat and mittens, i reach for my old coffee can and fill it to spilling from the bin i keep near the door.

as i step into the cold, feel the whoosh of the air down my lungs, i open my heart, call out to my friends, “g’morning everyone!”

i yell it loud and sweet enough to make the neighbors think i must have minions sleeping in my bushes, little people who curl up under the branches, wrap up in blankets, come out for morning gruel when i holler.

i shlop (that’s the sound the yellow boots make sucking through the snow) from trough to trough. shake out the snow from overnight. dump in the seed. look up, heavenward, to catch whoever’s watching.

quite often i find mama cardinal looking down on me. i suppose she’s checking out the menu, deciding if she’ll fly in the youngins for their breakfast.

sometimes, and this makes me quite proud, i find a brave little feathered one, one who doesn’t bother flitting at the sight of me.

i like to think they’ve come to know me, not mind me so much. they know that i’m the kook, the one in yellow boots, who comes bearing succulent sunflower and shelled peanuts and cracked corn. who sometimes comes with cranberries. or a fat chunk of suet from the butcher shop.

when i’m done with all the dumping, and the smearing of the peanut-butter paste that never fails to draw the downy woodpecker, i shlop back into the house to begin my water rounds.

i fill an old gallon jug with fresh warm drink from my kitchen sink (i only wish i had a well and i could pump it, creak by squeaky creak). i haul that sloshing load back to where my birdies bathe and sip and fluff their wings.

then, if it’s not too, too cold, i crouch and make like i’m a yellow-rooted bush. i stay still as i can stay. and i make not a sound, ‘cept for the fluttering of eyelids and a gulp or two, when the birds come down, when my flocks return, and i watch them partake of the communion i’ve put out for them.

it is a holy thing to tend the flocks.

doesn’t matter much if it’s a flock that’s winged or hooved, or wearing shoes, for that matter. a flock that bays, or clucks. or even talks behind your back.

it’s why we’re here, to tend the ones around us, most of all.

and these feathered ones bring me mighty close to God, is all i know.

i hear the whoosh of their gentle wings as they come in for what i offer them. i watch the papa bird feed the mama, drop seed one-by-one down her wide-open beak.

i watch the snows tumble down, and all my flocks huddle on the branches at the dawn. they wait for me, because they know i come.

that’s called faith, i do believe.

and it’s a two-way equation.

they believe i’m on my way, me and my coffee cans of sustenance, just as soon as the nightfall lifts and the morning light creeps in again.

and i believe, as i fill the troughs and, every morning, my very heart, that as i tend my flock, my sense of oneness with the gentle world, the world of ever-turning tide and clock and slant of sun, draws me and them, together, to a holy place called peace just beyond my windowsill.

do you have a daily ritual, a peace-filled round, that roots you, makes you feel like you belong, have purpose, on this holy blessed planet?

and speaking of purpose on the planet, i must note that any day now our beloved slj will be a bride, and walk down the aisle into the arms of her true love. it seems right for all of us who’ve been pulling up to this table for quite a while now to send much much love to the ever-wise, ever-heartful slj.
and while we’re at it, please shout or whisper a prayer for blessed jcv whose sister-in-law is fighting what might be her last battle with a stubborn leukemia.
and finally, oh, yeesh, dear susan is in the hospital as i type, an emergency surgery on saturday night.
seems there’s need for many prayers here.
and please don’t forget hh who just last week buried her sister-in-law, a champion for the poor of chicago’s rogers park.
anyone else?
xoxox, the chair lady

when santa writes back

oh, i know christmas is all but tucked away. at our house, sadly, the tree’s outside now. its branches, harbor for the birds.

the ornaments, once again, are bedded down in tissue papers, some as old as lord knows when. the box, though, the one in which the christmas fixings doze till december comes again, it hasn’t made it to the attic. waits now on the upstairs landing, for the day when finally we’ll tire of stepping ‘round its torn, unruly flaps, the cardboard ones marked “merry christmas. lites, ribbons, ornaments & mistletoe.”

but there’s one last bit of christmas i cannot put away.

it’s sitting here beside me. crumpled. splattered with a spot or two of cocoa.

looking more or less like afterthought. a page ripped from someone’s long-lost journal.

which, actually, was quite the point.

it begins, “dear theodore,” and there’s a story to be told. so settle in, while i spin one last yuletide yarn.

twas the night before christmas, really it was, when for the first time ever i invited in my manchild-now-verging-on-man-of-6-foot-1 to the santa stirrings.

told him, with a drumroll in the offing, that what i was about to utter was truly a passage to be marked.

while his papa snoozed upstairs, as he nearly always does on any night when snows are blowing, or the day goes dark (meaning it’s a regular habit, this going to bed well before i click off the lights and trod the stairs), the boy who would be man was asked to take on his papa’s long-held, behind-closed-doors, night-before-christmas task.

might he, i wondered, dropping low my whisper, take some nibbles from the cookie plate, gnaw off a bite of carrot, make like the fat ol’ elf and all his flying herd had whirled right through the family room?

and so the man-boy had at it. puffed his chest in the way a papa would (at least on some old black-and-white ‘50s flick). the glint in his grey-green eyes went to super-glint.

he headed straight for the plate. nibbled. gnawed.

then went well beyond the dental portion of the ruse. why, he made like no santa i had ever known.

he sprinkled crumbs in a path of certitude. left a chunk of cookie on the hearth. and a peel of clementine besides. as if the old elf was rather sloppy, multi-tasking, scarfing, climbing up the chimney.

it didn’t stop there.

next i knew, he was yanking wide the glass-paned door, letting in the bitter cold.

i looked askance, in that way that mothers do, seemed to wonder without words, what in the world was that young elf up to?

he replied, as if he’d heard the very thought: “tossing out the carrot bits as if the reindeer dropped them. you know, flying off the roof, they leave a trail behind.”

still more: “hey, mom, do you have a piece of paper?” he inquired.

whatever for, i asked, ripping one from off my shelf.

“santa’s writing back,” he said, as if he did so every night, then launched into his loopiest, most arctic cursive, apparently.

“dear theodore,” he began, before going on to thank him for the sweetened fuel, the cookies, the orange, for being “quite the thoughtful young lad.”

before signing it, “regards, s. claus, giftgiver extraordinaire,” he even penned a pair of hoof prints from the carrot-dropping reindeer.

apologized for their messy habits. even excused himself for not polishing off the cookie plate, “mrs. claus made me a hearty dinner, you see.”

the words though were only the start.

he began to crumple. then asked for a match to singe the edges. i suddenly wondered how far he’d take it, might we soon be deconstructing santa’s sleigh? leave runner bits littered on the lawn?

grinch, alas, i knew i had to be.

so at the match i drew the line. shook my head, no way, young elf. this is not a pirate’s treasure map, nor a cowboy ransom note.

and besides, i added, i can see it now: the smoke alarm will go berserk, wake the house, and upstairs sleepers will clamber down the steps and find us, you and me, standing here, making like incendiary santas.

and thus, thwarted before the night turned smoky, the would-be man merely laid the letter down amid the cookie crumbs. and i shooshed him from the room.

twas time for doings he wasn’t yet old enough to witness, never would be, i told him as i shoved him up the stairs, needing just a moment to myself as i myself turned into santa dearest and strewed the few fine things we’d gathered for this humble christmas.

he’d have to wait till dawn, like his baby brother did, to see what spilled from st. nick’s pack.

i must admit, i nearly missed the treasure that the would-be elf laid out for all to see. hadn’t even seen it in the making, when i was lone witness to his work of heart.

next morning, in the hustle of the post-dawn pouncing, santa’s letter wasn’t found till shortly after the basketball jersey was permanently affixed (a week later, the little one hadn’t yanked it off his skinny little chest), and the hovering helicopter ripped from its see-through box.

but when the little one discovered the crumpled, hand-penned page, there beside the cookie plate, he held it, rapt. then turned and simply said, “santa wrote me back.”

i could have sworn the child glowed.

i saw of course that he read it very, very closely. i saw how he returned again and again that christmas morn, to read it once or twice or thrice. maybe just to hold it in his fingers, to rub his skin against the very spot where santa’s hands had held it firm.

i couldn’t quite believe he hadn’t seen right through it. i’d been so sure it was boldly overdone. a teenage folly that couldn’t be pulled off.

oh, was i the fool. i nearly missed the bliss of unstained innocence.

it wasn’t till the next day that it all came tumbling clear, that i realized just how much his big brother’s fussing to make it all just so had really truly mattered.

we were out, the little one and i, browsing through an after-christmas sale, and a clerk behind the counter leaned in and asked him if santa had been good, and in that way that assumes young children always get a haul, she asked what he liked best.

and with his little-boy eyes he looked up and said quite certainly: “the letter from santa.”

and right then and there i felt a tear spill down, from out of nowhere, i thought at first. but really, from out of somewhere. from that place inside my heart, that place that leaps before it ever looks.

it was, more than any other bit of christmas, the crumpled letter in the curly cursive his brother strained to make so santa-like.

it was the one thing no one bought, or paid for.

it was the finest unwrapped anything. maybe ever.

it was, he’ll some day know, a big brother’s best gift to the one who, at 7, teeters on the blurry-edged brink of belief versus doubt: plain, clear proof that believing comes to those who hold it in their hands.

twas a fleeting frame of christmas magic captured. and i’ll not forget its fine pure face.

nor will either deep-believing brother.

do you have a tale to tell of a little bit of christmas magic? or any other brand of magic?