pull up a chair

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

Month: March, 2010

college bound

i should have known, long ago, that i was marrying into a new religion. first clue came with the chair: the man i married was pining for a squat black chair, all arms and spindles, broad seat, gold medallion.

the gold medallion was everything: the crest of his college.

now up until that moment, i’d always thought my mate to be fairly sublime when it came to taste, certainly of aesthetic high-ground.

well, except for that spat in the sheets department, back on the day we were so-called registering, bride and groom let loose in downtown dry-goods store with clipboard and pen, feeding all domestic whims, checking off thises and thats.

till i got to the sheets, that is. the sheets with the rambling blue roses, and he ranted that he could never sleep in those, what with all the thorns.

instead, he held up a pack of blue-on-white pencil-lined percale. nothin’ jazzy there, so straight-forward i started to yawn. which apparently proved his point: one should sleep on spare canvas.

yeesh. you’d have thought he was going to bleed to death dozing, what with his vehement protest to my bed of roses.

anyway, as i was saying before tangling in that thorny tale, up till the chair plopped onto the tableau that tussle round the rosy sheets had been, far as i recall, our sole scuffle over domestic appointments.

he wasn’t serious, i thought half out loud, the day he held up the order form for the gold-medallion chair. he couldn’t be intent–could he?–on pulling up to porridge in a chair that shouted out his college DNA. okay, so maybe it whispered. mumbled words in latin. still…

to my mind at the time, he might as well have shown up for a wedding wearing a big ten sweatshirt. and so what if it wasn’t big ten, his fine old college. back then, before i understood the ins and outs, the intricacies of his brand of religion, i’d crossed off all college gear as the stuff of cheerleader wanna-bes.

in time, though, it began to sink in.

over the years, i’ve gotten good long looks at a beautifully educated mind. i’ve felt my jaw drop, and my heart go ker-plunk, as he pulled from the shelf some masterwork, and, before he even turned to the ink-scribbled page, he’d recite a line of utter poetry. even when the subject was, well, architecture, specifically the divine illumination of light pouring through a window.

back when our firstborn was four, we stopped for a road-trip repast in the yale cafeteria. we all laughed that the college tour had officially commenced.

our little one’s grandpa, who sat across the oak-slab table, scooping soft-serve vanilla ice cream from a bent metal cafeteria spoon, he simply beamed.

never too soon, he purred.

in the house where my boys are growing up, they’ve always known they were college bound, and not just any college, please. quite unlike the house where i grew up, where college came in just two flavors–in-state, or catholic and close enough to drive–this has all been quite an education. for me, mostly.

for years now, we’ve been swirling ever closer to today. we’ve caught a campus here and there, driving one way or another, never in too much of a hurry to stop and walk through gothic gates, genuflect at library circulation desks, imagine what it would be to pull up to some ivy-covered dorm and leave our boy to learn.

our firstborn has always been a thinker. and that’s not the bump-free way to be a kid.

years ago, late at night in the kitchen, as tears spilled down his cheeks and mine, i remember holding him, whispering, “sweetheart, it might be hard to be you as a kid, but it is going to be glorious to be you as a grownup.”

our firstborn, it’s long been said, was born to be in college. he knows no excitement like the thrill of a deeply-carved thought. has long checked out library books that few would dare to tackle, let alone consider summer reading.

he’s spent whole nights, dusk till dawn, with his desk light burning, unwilling to settle for less than his utter best, despite my pleas that he is perfect as is, and besides, he needs his sleep.

as he rounds the bend to end of junior year, he’s earned the grades to be able to consider the sorts of schools that i had never dreamed of.

and so, this morning at the crack of dawn, his bags were packed. his papa’s too.

their itinerary is a rich one; he is drawn, of course, to where the thinkers are.

my job here is to wait each night to hear whatever bubbles up for the boy i love, now walking the greenswards of his dreams. as, with each stop, the blurry outlines take on real-life edge, as he sees where shadow lifts and falls amid once gauzy colors.

last night i found myself in a vaulted-ceiling room, walls and beams carved from mahogany, the floors of slate and marble. standing there, amid a crowd, i faded out of conversation, began to think instead how this could be the world of which my firstborn someday might be wholly fluent.

i thought how, all these years, he has lived in a cocoon of our making. his every move i once knew. now, less so. but still i know the dips and bends in all the roads he travels. i’ve heard the voices of his teachers. i have come to love his friends like extra sons. know which one sips kambucha, which one favors sushi.

but now, as he drives from baltimore to philly, stops again in new york city, drives north to connecticut, then west to the berkshires, i understand his reach is stretching, and the lines on his map grow fainter to me.

he will soon know a world that i will grasp in tapped-out lines, and stories quickly told over the phone. but the phone will click when that call ends. and he will go on living, and i will too.

his world, i sense, i hope, i pray, will be far beyond mine.

i pray that he is never bound by the fears that have held me back, by all the second-guessing.

he is brushing up against the world of which he’s always dreamed. and i am home with his little brother, his little brother who cried hushed tears as the trunk was popped, suitcases hauled to the airport curb. we are practicing long distance, he and i.

life is shifting here. the life we dreamed is coming into focus.

i pray for him to fall deeply into the religion of his father, and his father’s father. he has what it takes to be a priest in that most scholarly calling.

i hear the whispers all around.

and should his wildest dream come true, i might even spring for the gosh-darn chair.

in my own way, i’ve gotten the religion.

this one’s mostly for his grandma, she who reads each word with such full heart. this one’s for all the ones who’ve gotten him to where he is, and where he’ll go beyond. this one too is for his papa. it’s not been without bumps, this college road. but i think we’ve hit the high road. be safe, be well, on your college-bound tour.

caretakers of wonder and assorted scritching and scratching…

one by one, we’re watching the cabs and shiny black cars pull away from the curbs, house after house utterly emptied. shades drawn, garbage cans shlepped to the alley. everyone’s itching, it seems, to trade in their snow boots for great swirls of sunblock, down on the sands of faraway beaches.

any minute now, we’ll have the grocery aisles all to ourselves.

it’s that annual stretch of the year when the town empties out, leaves us home alone to take care of the village. we haul in the mail, up and down the block. we feed the cats and the fish, remember to turn off the lights, click on the radios. every house, its own prescription.

and since tomorrow we wave bye-bye to two of our own here in this old house, the little one and i invited in house guests (see peephole above).

the little one couldn’t be more thrilled. predicted last night–and again this noon, as we ferried them home–that hosting the guinea pigs would make us one popular outpost over these glory days of sleeping late, and staying up later.

first, though, we had to fill out a request form, grownup had to sign it, ink in the permission. (teachers somewhere along the way must have realized that to send home, unannounced, two furry balls with big teeth and noise-making habits, is not to do much for the guaranteed welfare of said rodents.)

apparently, there was a rather grand lottery in third grade the other day. turns out, my boy was the winner. which means, so was i. a fact pounded home by the note sent by the teacher, the one headlined, LUCKY YOU!

the little one’s been talking about his great good fortune ever since. far as he cares, there’s not a beach in the world as grand as hosting these pigs.

why, he’s mapped out their day-to-day itinerary here at the pig hotel. even sketched out a plan for morning recreation, in which aforementioned furballs run free locked in the bathroom, long as we’re sure to plunk down the lid of the toilet, lest the pigs go for an unsupervised swim.

at three hours and counting, i can post this status report: so far, so good. managed to get the wire room (they called it a cage, but anything the size of a bathtub, i say is a room) into the house without scratching the walls or cracking the panes of glass in the door.

the little one set the pigs up with plenty of hay, a sprinkling of carrots, and what had been the apple i sliced up for his lunch.

then the cat came on the scene: egad, high drama.

well, that’s what we feared when the four of us stopped breathing–me, the little one, and the two pigs. but all the old striped cat did was sit there and sniff.

sniffed so long and so hard it took half an hour for our wee little house guests to come out of hiding, there in the woodland get-a-way, or however it’s hyphenated.

in case you were curious–and why wouldn’t you be–they do have names, guest 1 and guest 2. (remember here, it’s third graders doing the naming, so don’t expect french literature or anything.) so, the all-white one, that’s snowflake. and the one with black splotches on top of his creamy white hairs–that’s oreo.

for the next 10 days, their life is on my line. last time we ponied up for pet patrol, back in nursery school when we took in a tortoise that barely moved for two weeks, i couldn’t have sighed a deeper sigh of relief, the day i drove that hard-shell back to school and waved b-bye.

all i’d needed was for that shell to take one breath–inhale or exhale, it didn’t much matter–there in the classroom, and then i could swear on a bible he hadn’t expired, at least not on my watch.

why, i’ve heard tales of mice getting flushed down the toilets, and mamas scrambling under cloak of darkness to find a replacement with similar markings. by the end of that rat race (“no, no can’t go with that one, sir, i need a mouse with stripes on its tail and a Z–not an Y–on its ear”) i’ll bet those mamas will take any old mouse, so long as it’s stirring.

worst i think i ever heard was the hedgehog who heaved. up and died, that prickly thing did. far as i can figure, you can’t just run out to the walgreen’s, come home with replacement hedgehog.

those are the worries that will likely keep me up long chunks of the night, one ear cocked for scritchings and scratchings, the other alert for the fumblings of one hungry cat intent on unlocking the latch of the pig pen.

and so it goes here in the house of the caretakers of wonder. we’ve got a whole spring break ahead of us, and nowhere to go, nothing to worry about. nothing that is, but the lives of two furry balls that a whole class considers full-fledged citizens of the kingdom.

as predicted, already the house is filling with a handful of those very classmates. so declared the chief caretaker blithely last night: “guess i’ll be popular starting tomorrow. everyone wants to play with whoever has the guinea pigs.”

and so it seems to be unfolding, the phone keeps ringing. piles of shoes are strewn at the door.

maybe at long last, thanks to the draw of the pigs, i’ll be the mama sliding the trays of chocolate-chop cookies out of the oven, gobs full of little-boy hands tugging them straight off the baking sheet.

that indeed would make me a caretaker most full of wonder.

this ol meander is strictly preamble. tomorrow i do believe i’ll be posting a saturday special. at the crack of dawn, the little one and i put on our taxi driver caps and steer the big boys–the one looking for just the right college, and his papa–to the airport. they’re heading off for a sweeping arc of the east coast, and a slew of its ivy-covered colleges. that is a trip that will spur me to writing. so watch this space for that heartfelt meander. till then, i’ve apples to slice and carrots to scatter.


the house had just been emptied of its last inhabitant, save for the sleepy cat. and me.

the last lunch bag, scooped off the banister where most mornings they line up, all three, like brown-bellied soldiers in a row. the last triple knot had been loosed from the shoelace that refuses to become a floppy bow. the shoe shoved on, clop-clop-clopped to the bus stop.

i breathed in, deep and full, for what felt like the first time in days.

a glint of morning sun caught my eye. i soaked in the silence, then heard my name whispered from beyond the smudged-glass panes.

i felt my farmer self slide over me, like an old dirt-streaked pair of dungarees. before i gave it conscious thought, my feet were sliding into rubber boots, the ones that give me license for sloshing.

i stepped out to slosh, all right, to survey the so-called fields (more like a paltry plot that i pretend is vast terrain, a patchwork quilt of winding path and pine cove, woodland and a would-be meadow, punctuated here and there with dips and rises that here in the flatlands pass for hill and valley).

caretaker of this square now brown and gray, i walked in search of winter damage, poked around beneath the withered autumn’s leaves to look for stirrings, sprouts of life that i knew–from the slant of sun, the way the light these days is pure, is warming–were apt to be crowning through the crust of nearly vernal earth.

it is, more than any other mindfulness, this act of paying attention to the rumblings of the season–bird flight and song, unfurling of tenderest of shoots and sprouts–that moors me, fills my lungs with hope and my head with wisps of possibility.

as i comb the beds, push back sodden clumps of oak leaves, shove off fallen twigs and pine cones, it is as if my fingerpads absorb the bumps of braille, and once again i’m given sight. i am reading the scripture of the springtime garden.

i can’t help but bend my lips in smile at the parsley bits of green shoving forth from underground. clearly, the sun warms some spots more than others, for there are patches still in slumber while, not far off, clumps where alarm clocks must be clanging loudly.

and then, amid the reverie of all this life, i come upon a mournful mound–of feathers, glowing white in the shafts of sunlight, just beneath the weeping willow.

how apt that the branches weep, for this is all that’s left of one of winter’s juncoes, the white-bellied, white-tailed little bird that brings me joy in december’s depth.

i’ve a hawk, a hungry one, who spends long hours in my pine trees, keeping watch for lunch. too often, he is sated.
and here amid my friday rounds, my catching up with all the news in my backyard, i find sad evidence that once again he’s struck.

and i am left to gather up a feather or two, to tuck in the holy ground where i remember all the fallen from my so-called fields.

it is sacred work, the search for newborn life as well as the lifting up of the dismemberings.
my knees wet, my fingers muddy, i register no surprise to find my soul is stirring by the morning’s end.
back to life, after a long dark winter.

have you been out to feel the pulse of coming spring beneath the crust of earth, now thawing? what is it that brings you mooring, a sense of holy place amid the madness?

the sum of infinites

the last time i’d seen him, when i tucked him into bed, blew a kiss and closed the door, he was fine. just really tired, he said, worn out by soccer. and very, very hungry.

but next morning, as i walked out of the downtown parking garage, fumbled for the ringing rectangle in my backpack. tried to find a place to plop the coffee mug, so i could walk and talk and think out loud, i heard the words, “mr. t is not feeling so good. he’s pretty hot, actually. and his throat, he says, is killing him.”

a series of rearrangements were duly rearranged, numbers dialed, summons plead, before i even spied my desk.

given precise instruction, exact latitude and longitude of where he’d find the white-and-orange-and-azure box on the bathroom shelf, his papa dispensed the first round of fever-queller, tucked him back in bed, then kept finger in the dike till good ol’ grammy could ride to the rescue.

miles away, i was but a distant player, so my part had me checking in every chance i got. or so we’d scripted. till i got the call mid-afternoon, and a squeaky little voice informed, “i’m dizzy.” then asked, “when can mama come home?”

NOW! was pretty much the word that popped into my head, so i cleared my desk and drove. and once through the blue front door, i dropped my keys and lunged and kissed him on the head.

oh, the look in those empty eyes told me all i needed in the medical-data department. those of us who’ve tread this ground, need no compass, no thermometer; we know by heart these dark and murky woods, know by gut just how deep we’re in, and how the road out will be a slow and bumpy one.

and thus began, again, the work of one mama tending to her achy, fevered little person.

by rapid–and rough–calculation, i’d guess this might have been the 90th such round, each one with its own odd particulars, since i’d first put on the mama robes, since boychild number one was born, nearly 17 years ago.

and as i spent the long night dispensing care in the ways my boys have grown to know, to count on, i began to contemplate how love, especially motherlove, is the sum of infinites.

minute, and barely perceptible, although wholly definable and defining, they are the accumulated brushstrokes and palm presses and finger squeezes that imprint, somehow, on the souls of those whose care–whose fevered limbs, swollen glands, fractured bones, woopsy tummies–we cradle.

until the fever lifts, the gland goes down, the tummy stops its gurgling, we dole out and dispense our ministrations without surrender to our own bodies’ begging for unbroken sleep, or just a chair, or even a bowl of oatmeal that’s not gone cold.

it is the umpteen blankets and pillows you’ve piled on the floor, in that certain way you’ve come to call “the nest.”

it is the 181 washcloths hauled off the shelf, doused under cool water, wrung out, folded and laid on fevered brow.

it is the 99 rubberbands stretched round just as many glasses, each one so marking it, a badge of courage for the sick one, and off-limits besides–lest you hastily find yourself tending a whole flock of fevered lambs.

it’s the way, without a moment’s pause, and no thought given to germs or contagion, you’ve climbed 3,000 times right into bed beside the hot one, so you are there, should there be a whimper in the night, should you need to climb the stairs one time, or ten, to fill a glass with ice, with honey, with 7-up, with gooey purple fever-buster. or just because the ailing one left a certain pillow on the couch–and cannot sleep without it.

it is the who-knows-how-many baths you’ve drawn at three in the morning, because the fever won’t go down, and the little arms and legs you once marveled at, now barely ever eyeball beneath the sweatshirts and the soccer shinguards, are shaking like a leaf that barely clings to the branch amid october’s bluster.

next morn, as you hear the doctor speak the words, “go straight to the ER,”–thank God, you can count (three) the times you’ve heard that command–you realize that your well will never run dry, that you will pierce the microbes with sharp spear, given half a chance. that you will climb on the gurney, slide your own wobbly self through that CT scan, stick out your own arm to take the IV needles, you will wrestle to the mud whatever pokes and prods come your little one’s way, as you wipe away the alligator tears, and kiss the red-hot cheeks, and hold your breath and wait for all-clear whistles from the ER nurse, the one you now worship because she was so tender in her poking of your little soldier’s brave, brave arm.

and you realize, as you count up the hours of the week, and lose count of ice cubes and teaspoons of germ-killer, that the highway to heroics is paved, pretty much, of the same stuff as the potholed backroad.

that in the end, when all these flus and streps and bacterial pneumonias are past, we will have loved our way to triumph, in a race without a ribbon, a contest with no starting gun, an olympiad we enter with our heart.

it is through the sum of infinitely loving, and infinite in number signature touches, that the little ones whose flesh and blood and coos and cries we were handed not so long ago, will grow up wholly defining how it is to be ministered to, to be loved, to be–yes–mothered, no matter who the motherer.

and–as you’ve maybe glimpsed once or twice already, when you’re the one who’s down and your little ones begin to mimic all your ways–they in turn will love as you have loved, will fold the same cool cloths, draw the baths, pour the gingerale, stir the chicken-noodle soup.

and thus our unmeasurable infinite acts will go forth into infinity.

a mighty sum–born, simply, out of love.

who taught you how to care for those who ail around you? what motherstrokes of love do you know by heart?

and, yes yes, the rest of the backstory here is that the little one awoke day two with a golfball-sized lump on the side of his neck, then day three with red streaks shooting across it, and at last today we got the news that we’ll be visiting the OR, maybe even over spring break. and those nasty tonsils will go the way of his big brother’s–into a jar that sits, still, on his bedroom shelf. egad. but that’s a whole nother story. and this one’s at its end.

of promise, once again

they beg no attention.

they are, simply, bent. bowed in humble salutation, yellow heads drooped, petals clasped in chilly huddle. there beside the soot-stained crust of snow.

they neither stamp their feet, nor clap their wee appendages, calling scant attention to the fact that they defy the icy crystals, heave big load upon their tender shoulders: they are the harbingers of heartbeat, of promise, once again.

“there will be stirrings just around the dreary bend, what is bleak will end,” they whisper, should you put your ear to where the words emerge.

oh, i never can remember what their name is, at least according to the botanists. instead, i call them “miracle,” balm for winter blahs.

as these last gasps come from all of us, come from earth, come from sagging spirit, as the wonder of the winter white turns to mucky brown of spring-that-will-not-come, i seem to forget every year to watch for them.

they leap out while i’ve not noticed, have done their work beneath the snows, labored in silence, unfurled without witness.

they are, like so many gracenotes along the way, that hushed brush of the divine–so often cloaked as mother earth–that present themselves at the very moment when otherwise we might succumb, throw up our arms and flop defeated to the couch.

there is, if you keep watch, a holy vein of resurrection all through life.

just when we think we’re broken, along comes someone, something, to haul us back from the empty brink.

so it is with the fellow on the el car who spies our weary face, our nearly-buckled knees, and leaps up to give his seat. he and his tattooed neck showing gallant empathy.

or the boychild who spies you wincing at the kitchen sink, and rushes over to rub your achy back, tells you in 8-year-old bravado, “go sit down, i can do the dishes.”

or, for those of us who count on bird and tree and sprig to offer counsel, dish out therapeutic session without the hefty fee-per-hour, there comes this time of year a subtle tapping on the shoulder, urging us on, giving reason to believe.

there is, for starters, the sun coming up each morn, the dawn arriving earlier and earlier as if the burning ball of gases realizes fully there is work to be done, a whole half planet needs its thaw; the list of chores, endless.

trees must bud, erupt in blossom. birds, any week now, will catch the wind, fly northerly, land in our branches, weave nests, lay eggs, pluck worms.

bulbs, already wakened, will push their way through dirt, make us swoon with all their cobalt blues and oyster pinks, golden trumpets, in a thousand shades of butter.

the light itself is purer now, lands on the countertop in ways that call us to attention, make us glance out the window, notice, return to task, emboldened.

and then, there in muddy crevices, knots of green poke through. unfurl. offer moment’s tingle, make you stop as you fumble for the keys.

once again, the promise comes. the earth has turned, the seasons haven’t frozen in their tracks. something’s stirring, gently, defiantly, persistently.

once again, winter thaws to spring, and so too we glean the vernal message: after months and weeks of slogging through the knee-high drifts, the mounds, the muck, when shoulders sag and heartbeats flag, alert your eyes, your ears, and soon your nose……

you’ll be wrapped, presently, in the envelope of resurrection. what has slept, will wake. what was still, will stir again.

the way hasn’t been lost, merely hushed before crescendo.

march gives way to promise, once again.

have you spied a sign here or there of reason to hope? is the long winter wearing you down? have you given in to the clump of $2 daffodils at the grocery store, hauled ‘em home as if essential vernal tonic?