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

Month: July, 2010

“can i come talk?”

the house was blanketed in little else but moonlight. the clock ticked from down the stairs and around a bend or two. the red digits that burn beside my bed–there only simply because they get the job done, there in the middle of the night when you roll and see them flashing the wee, wee hours–they broadcast, 11:01.

i was dozing when the footsteps padded up the walk. so all i heard was the click of the door. and the breathing that followed, the footsteps up the stairs.

i knew right away whose steps those were. you memorize those things.

and then i heard, through the gauzy mostly-darkness: “mom? can i come talk?”

and so, a summer’s night turned sweeter than a cantaloupe cut open, spilling, melon juices running off the cutting board, melon in july the sweet you wait for, perfect sugar stewed in sun and farmer’s field.

“mind if i lie down?’ the long-bodied boy asked, politely, though he didn’t wait for any grunt of answer, throwing his lanky self upon the sheets in darkness.

how long had it been since we’d lay side-by-side, this boy who as a babe slept every night curled beside me so i never missed his gruntings or his midnight peeps when once again he needed mama’s milk?

once he’d thrown his skinny jeans upon the sheets, his curls upon the pillow, i heard the deep, deep sigh.

i assure you i’d roused myself from sleep. i was wholly at attention. it’s what happens when your end-of-high-school child throws himself upon your bed: you listen hard. you savor every word.

what flowed beyond the sigh were sentences and paragraphs, whole stories of moonlit walks and beaches, of how he saw the world, and more importantly, the human heart.

as he talked, considered contours of the human race, the soul, what’s right, what’s not, i lay there soaking in the whole of it. every blessed drop of the notion that i’d a 17-year-old almost-man who understood through and through that wherever i am in the world, there’s a heart that wholly listens.

oh, there are many things that i am not. i grind myself daily that i’m not at the park, throwing, catching balls with the little one who would swell at such attentions. i do not make weekly trips to the library, as i wish i did, trudging home with loads of books and the little boy in tow, the one i cannot get, without squalls of protest, to lift a book. i wander past a treehouse, just built down the block, and think, now why didn’t i surrender a corner of the yard to old-fashioned summer construction, the sort engineered and executed by a child equipped with load of wood and pure imagination?

oh, i scold myself plenty. sadly heard too often as a child, shame on you. and shame i did absorb.

but there is one small arena of the heart, of motherhood, that i can proudly claim, learned the hard way, learned through all the bumps and bruises of the heart to which i’ve paid keen attention: i seem to know how to listen, how to take my children by the hand, traverse the landscape of the heart, the bumps, the planes, the high places.

it all came rushing in to me the other night, there in the murky moonlight darkness. i heard the boy i love tell stories, and in the ones he told, i heard that he too has learned to forge head on through the shadows of the heart, to seek the clearings, to know they’re just around the bend. to breathe blind faith into thickets all around.

at long last we heard footsteps on the bluestone walk. heard the click of the door, and more steps up the stairs. it was the father of the man-boy, home at last from work.

and there he found us, mother and son, lit only by the shafts of moonlight, telling stories, listening, as one day became another.

“can i come talk?” the child asks.

and the answer, always, always, says the mother: i am so deeply blessed that you lay your heart on mine.

holy God, bless the children and their stories and the mothers born to listen…..

whose heart did you turn to when you were growing up? whose heart do you turn to now? who turns to yours?

starting the goodbye

that old cat, a country cat, has been a feisty cat since the day he sprang forth from the icehouse beer cardboard six-pack in which he’d mewed the whole way home.

he was a kitten then, a wee striped thing, and he’d come to fill a gaping hole in our little family.

you see, we’d had our hearts broken time and time again back in the baby-hoping years, wishing and praying for a someone to carry home someday for our little one, who’d turned from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4, and still was all alone, without a someone to share a room, to fight over books in the back seat, to venture off into our tiny back yard and spend the afternoon making like it was the amazon jungle, or the dark side of the moon. or, heck, looking down the road (and that’s what mamas do), there was no one yet whose hand he’d hold on the someday when i die.

fact was, there’s only so much breaking a heart can do, and then it’s time to wipe away the tears, make peace with what you’ve got rather than long for what you’ve not, and, well, when talking to a friend, a friend with many cats, and more on the way, you nod and murmur, “hmm, maybe…..”

and then you rejoice at the news that your kitten has been born. you wait six weeks, and when the father of your four-year-old is out of the country, for heaven’s sake, you drive out to the farm to meet the furry little fellow.

and, oh, you feel your heart go thwallop. and you see your little boy melt down onto the floor to meet what will pass for, um, a brother.

and you tuck the little ball of stripes into the nearest carry-all you can find, in this case the cardboard six-pack left from someone’s weekend beers.

and home you drive.

and out you let those stripes.

and he hightails it straight for your toes.

so many toes he charges for, he nibbles, he pierces with his razor kitten teeth, you hear these actual words come from the mouth of the father of your child, once he’s back from faraway country: “either he goes, or i go,” you hear him say. (and deep inside you snicker because you know forever more you’ve got one fine yarn to tell.)

and of course neither the ferocious toe-smitten kitten nor your mate heads for any door.

and you grow to love said cat. you catch your little one curled up with him, stroking him, making houses for him, trying to coax him into his kindergarten backpack.

you screech when said kitten leaps from tree limbs onto rooftops and when, uh oh, he can’t get down. and you hold your breath as the one who issued he-goes-or-i-go declaration hauls out the ladder and climbs precariously to the little rascal’s rescue. again and again and again.

and you walk through city alleys, crying, calling his name, every time he goes and gets lost for days on end, stuck in tight spots and dark cellars where, egad, drugs are sold. (you discover the latter after you’ve tiptoed through the labyrinthine basement blackness with the helpful chap who gangbangs on the side.)

oh, lord, that cat puts you through the wringer. and you love him more with every cock-eyed hair-raising chapter.
and then, some 13 years pass, and the cat you never could contain, the cat that roams all night, and leaves body parts on your doorstep, he slows down one summer. loses weight. is hardly his feisty self.

you fear he’s slurped too many murky waters from the birdbath, darn it. or perhaps he swallowed one too many critters from the tall-grass jungle.

and the boy who once carried him home, who stroked him, and cooed to him the whole long way, the boy who loved to tell the story of his name, how he came to be turkey baby choo-choo hi cat bye cat, the boy whose legs are now so long they spill beyond the borders of the bed (though the cat finds room to curl there, each and every morning), he is the first one to crumble when you point out the cat’s all bony just beneath his fur.

when you point out how he barely leaves the hollowed-out spot beneath the old roses in the garden, where he now spends hours napping. or is it that he’s feeling rather ill, and just can’t muster what it takes to up and stumble toward the house?

all at once, you all realize how time has passed and this chapter might be coming toward a close. how this cat that carried you from all alone and four to seventeen and very much a real-live brother has shared some fine adventures, stories to be told forevermore. and how, along the way, you’ve come to count on that rare breed of loyalty a boy and cat can surely share.

and you realize that even if it’s not the very end, the goodbyes begin in measured spoonfuls.

and so for a whole hour one summer morning, you sit on bricks, beside the spot where he’s gone limp, you stroke your blessed furry cat, you honor him with gratitude that’s deep, will last forever. you whisper words to him, tell him he was mighty in his glory days, showed what cats are made of, hauling home whole herds of chipmunk parts, and mice tails too, fierce hunter.

you consider the gentle side of that ol’ cat, how he climbed upon you in the morn, pushed his paws into your chest, as if kneading breadloaves, one paw after another, sure sign of cat love.

you think back on all the times when that cat, he leapt to your rescue. how when you were sick or sad, he always had a knack for climbing in your lap, for licking you with that scratchy sand-paper tongue of his. uncanny, how the cats smell hurt rising from the ones they love.

and with a cat–or any creature, after all, maybe even with a caterpillar if you name it, feed it, let it out for so-called walks (though more likely bends-and-stretches)–love’s a two-way street.

and, oh, what with college round the bend, and all this slo-mo cat decline, it seems we’ve come to the part of the story where the grace-filled parting starts unspooling.

where we gather up all the hours and the days of our entwined lives, where we sift through the parts that make us laugh out loud, and the ones where we held our breath and begged the heavens for his safe return.

love is like that towards the end. if you’re blessed to see it coming. if you’re given long slow mornings where you have a chance to look into each other’s eyes and hearts, say thank you for the bond that will not break, the bond that got us through a dark place, the pawing at the door so many times, when in on cat feet crept the next best thing to a little brother, one who never fought for books, but did play along in the amazon jungle.

that old cat is moving slow now. and we are mustering the start of our holy blessed vespers, the sacred rites of thank you and thank you before the last goodbye.

not always do we get the chance to tell the stories one more time, to whisper thank you and good bye. i know too well how suddenly sometimes death can come, and we’re left gasping. without goodbye. i know too that cat or dog or bird love is real. and its loss leaves a gaping wound. hopefully that old cat has a few romps left. he’s the cat my boys grew up with, he’s the cat who’s made us laugh and cry. and one thing’s certain, there’ll be more of both. have you been blessed to whisper long goodbyes? or were you too cut short?

thumb-on-the-hose therapy

likely, it’s linked back to some prehistoric inclination toward splashing under the waterfall. certainly it’s among the earliest playthings of any young babe afloat in the sink. i’ve seen many a toddler get lost in the gee-whizardry of making a fountain out of a faucet, the plain old kitchen-sink kind, the kind that when blocked with a thumb sends water arcing every which way, drenching the whole darn countertop and half the floor besides.

so it is with human thumbs and narrow spouts for water: they’re inseparable. you can’t keep from playing.
and so it was that i found myself out not-stopping this morn.

i’d only meant to crank the spigot, drop down the snake of a hose, let the wide-open O dribble and drool for awhile, fill up the gullet of all those poor thirsty things in my over-parched garden.

but then, well, the whoosh of the water wooed me, pulled me in, wouldn’t let me go, held me in a waterlogged trance.

it was just after dawn, and the day ahead promised to pull me every which way (much like the geysers of water), and to tell the truth, i had no sensible reason to be cooling my thumbs playing with the hose.

but there i was: unable to stop.

i was putting about, offering a quick dribble here, a long drink there, making like some sort of bar maid pulling back on the spout of the keg, filling the mouths of my in-need-of-a-tall-one stool-spanning patrons.

and that’s when i felt it: the whole gritty grime of the long jumbled week, just rinsing away.

the more i played with the hose, the lighter i felt.

there is nothing, i’d like to suggest, more soothing for a parched tattered soul than to while away the morning, at play with the hose. thumb on the spout, preferred.

oh, it had been a week all right. let’s see where shall we start: how bout tuesday? the day my tall fellow’s back went kerpluey (or splat; i can’t say as i heard the precise mechanical breakdown, all i heard was the odd cry of my name, the beckoning from above, shortly after dawn, just as i was about to scurry out the door to the worktrain, and, after some searching about, i discovered the long, lanky fellow quite flat on the floor).

egad. but that’s merely the start.

later that very day, just as dusk set in on a faraway riverbank, the young rower of mine called to say he’d been pickpocketed, a most unfortunate phone call that shattered the already-not-so-calm evening.

egad. just warming up here.

by next day, a fine locksmith was making our acquaintance, as he went about the business of changing eight locks to keep the tomfoolers away. (the pickpockets snatched the housekey along with the few dollar bills.)

oh, and then did i mention a house filled with houseguests? why, yes. a fine old gradeschool friend of said flat-on-his-back fellow arrived with his flock just after the locksmith let himself out. (might i add that a full seven of us shared one wee bath with a spritzy ol’ shower, for two nights and three days. rub-a-dub-dub. hmm, perhaps i should have hauled in the hose….or insisted on showers out back by the spigot…why in the world wasn’t i thinking?)

oh, it was a week all right. a week that had me driving hither and yon, once with a back patient supine in the flat back of the wagon. another time, rescuing the freshly wallet-less rower not far from the scene of the crime.

and then there was the unexpected jaunt to the airport to pick up what was left of said wallet; found not long after pickpocketing, it turned out, tossed aside on a runaway el train, one that pulled to a stop at the airport, where the wallet was scooped up and locked in a safe, there at the end of the line, till i could drive out to claim it.

which brings us, at last, to the hose, and the dawn of another hot sauna day, and the chilled spilling waters that lulled me away to a faraway place, the land of the tranquil, the fiefdom of the wholly un-frazzled.

it’s a knack i believe i picked up via pure DNA. my mama, she wields quite a hose, is armed with a thumb that’s a heck of a squirter; broad and flat, it gets right down to business.

fact is, i’m third-generation thumber. i needn’t even close my eyelids to see my grandma lucille in her fine summer frock, and her heels, out thumbing the hose all over her beds.

i’ve heard it said that the thumb and the hose are the tightest pair a gardener might ever employ.

beats any spigot or sprinkler. wallops a watering can.

why, with your thumb you can aim this way or that. you can spray. you can spritz.

you can get up close to the delicate fronds of the fern, or pour forth on the trunk of a maple.

you can steer clear of the bee, play chase with the robins.

you can get lost in all the water games. forget that you’d wandered into the garden loaded down with a week’s worth of worry and grit.

it’s what happened to me just hours ago, when i set forth with my hose and my thumbs, the two of ‘em.

and now, at the close of a long hot string of worrisome. wearisome days, my garden is humming, and so are me and those thumbs.

i barely had three seconds to write today, and likely it shows. oh well. so much for those fine-laid plans. tis summer. barely a minute to breathe.
anyone else live to splash in the water???

sewing for college

the question came late, of course, as i was tiptoeing off to bed, the house–except for one last bedroom–finally dark, lit by the few scant rays of moon that crept around the clouds.

“mom,” he said, coming to the door wearing white oxford and shorts, “some of these buttons are coming loose. can you get these?”

truth be told, it was 1 in the morning when this loose-button truth erupted. “not now!” i shot back, or maybe all i did was mutter, the details now are fuzzy. i’d been up late making a movie–oh goodness, doesn’t that sound all hollywood; fear not, it’s not something i do too often, in fact have never done before, but geez, it sure sounds fine in that there sentence. anyway, i was dragging my movie-making self to bed. the manchild was packing for his quick trip to college. (oh lord, that too was a test sentence: to see how it feels to write that he was packing for college.)

it is all, really, something of a test these days, this dabbing of big toe in college water, this slow unspooling process of a whole family absorbing the knowledge, through and through, that what we’ve been these past eight years–the whole of his little brother’s life–a family of four who wake up and go to sleep under the same roof, who know each others’ quirks and oddities, who leave red peppers off a certain plate, or stock up on slow-churn ice cream, who have memorized each other’s coughs and sputters and sloppy habits, we will soon be only three. there will be a bed that’s never tousled. there will be a bathroom sink that’s polished, unspattered, no vanity of goops and creams for me to rearrange most mornings. there will be no clothes flung on backs of chair, on floor, a dropped-and-heaped trajectory of just where he has disrobed.

ah, but like all of us these days, i am getting ahead of the story. i am peeking round the corner, trying hard as i can some days to imagine, just how quiet it will sound when he doesn’t bound in the door, fling his messenger bag, kick off his shoes, drop the headphones, dash up the stairs.

all he’d asked was if i could thread a needle, knot the thread, pull it through the oxford cloth, get those buttons cinched, taut where they belong.

and so, next morn, before the clock struck six, i sewed for college, sewed for the boy who was boarding the plane with his papa, flying off for that rare chance to sit down with a dean of admissions, say who he is, have someone listen.

i of course have visions of the dean picking up the phone, calling me, saying, where did you get this kid? he is magnificent, isn’t he?

but then, i’m his mama. i’ve been his ace no. 1 believer since the day i took his chubby just-born thighs into my hungry long-waiting arms, marveled over the whole of him, breathed promise into him and over him and through him, through and through.

i sewed those buttons taut, all right. whispered secret vespers with the tug of every thread. prayed for those buttons to hold it all together, straight through the interview–and far beyond.

it’s the least a mama can do. she can do so little by that point. her work, so much of it, has come before, in all those hours in the kitchen, the talking place so often in our house. her work’s been done in the worries and the hopes and the love notes tucked under pillows, in lunch boxes, sleeping bags and suitcases. her work’s been done in the driving and the shopping, and the riding, once, in the ambulance, and the checking of the mailbox for the letters from summer camp that rarely came. it’s unmeasurable really, the work that’s been done since that long-ago moment when the doctor called, said “blood work’s back; you’re pregnant, dearie.”

but at least, on the dawn of the day when he flew off to college, the sewing gave me purpose. gave me a string of stitches to pull through cloth, to knot, to carry to his room, to lay on his suitcase.

not too many nights before, as i was tucking the little one in bed, he looked up at me, a somber face suddenly washing over his sunburned cheeks. “can i ask you something i’ve wanted to ask for a long time?” he started, not waiting for my “of course.”

“is willie really going to go away next year? i don’t want him to go away ever!”

and then the tears came. to both of us. down our cheeks and soaking into sheets, a sloppy mess of gaping-open sadness, we were.

i thought of that as i sewed those buttons tight. i thought how much the sounds and rhythms of this house will change. i thought of the empty aching heart of his little brother, his brother who has only known life with a big brother always in the wings.

there’s a lot of shifting, looking round the bend, that’s going on here.

and all i could do was sew those buttons tight. and pray they lasted through the college interview.

we’ve got a year to stitch together all the rest. or get tangled in so many floppy threads.

i have a sense this will be but one in an occasional series of captured moments as we all try to wrap our heads around the change that’s coming, how the world as we know it will not be. we’ve all weathered–and worried about–such ebbs and flows in life. we’ve sent a kid to camp, to college. we’ve lost a spouse, a mother, a father, a child. we are here a table of folks who pay attention to the stirrings and the comings and the goings. we’re allowed to say here how much it hurts, when it hurts. mostly we’re allowed to sift through the messiness of the human heart. that’s why there is a chair at the table for each and every one of you. because here we understand that the most glorious side of being human is the one that’s tied to the heart, and to ignore it, to shove it under the table, well that’s to miss out on a whole book of beauty.
have you tightened buttons for a leave-taker? how have you readied. steadied yourself for a major shift in your life’s river? or were you taken wholly by surprise?

summer dinner, and the waiting is easy

like so many of the very sweetest moments, we bumbled straight into it. didn’t set out to clear the deck, haul in the props. just simply decided: big boys are rolling in the door round nine o’clock, we’re not sitting down to eat till they get here.

no matter that that starlit hour is more like bedtime on a schoolnight. this is summer. clocks be dashed. we’re keeping our time, summer time, not greenwich time or CST time or CSDT time, or all those alphabetical configurations that amount, truly, to playing games with clockhands.

come to think of it, it was the little one himself who put his foot down. who declared: i’m not eating till everyone’s here. i want family dinner.

and so it’s been for a string of nights now. we set the table out back, the door table, the wobbly table, the one with paint that flakes (a little chip o’ ancient white with your salad, oh well, another source of…mineral??).

we stoke the citronella candle buckets, the ones that bar the biters, or at least keep their bites outside, on the far side of the screen.

we zip around the yard with felco no. 2s in hand, clipping here and there, a rose, a stem of yarrow, delicate feverfew–the wee little daisy that bobs its head and does away with headaches should you steep it in a cup. we stuff stems in an old glass jar, light candles. put out plates and forks and knives.

uncork the prosecco, this summer’s delight, the sparkly wine that not only fizzles, it foams, a thick white froth of effervescence, summer uncorked. (it started as a curiosity, “research” for a story, now it is downright essential, the liquid testament to the season’s looser side.)

the two-hour dawdle before dinner is just what summer orders: time found, time to sit and savor. time to putz around the kitchen, the garden, the summer porch. what’s not to savor there?

it is, in its own sweet way, an act of defiance. it’s saying: we won’t let the odd-timed activities of our lives steal away the one deep-rooted truth of our existence, family dinner. that holy sacred hour when we sit before a table set with care, look down at plates piled high, join hands and say out loud our thanks for all that brought us to this circle.

as the drape of summer’s eve descends beyond the screens, as darkness falls, and candlepower keeps us awash in flickered light, we tell the day’s stories. we inquire. we listen. we laugh. we gasp at whatever was the drama of the day, the afternoon, the evening.

it is all part of this summer’s deep understanding that while we might not live in times–or be of single-digit years–when rolling out of bed and building adventure was the first and only order of business (after lapping up bowls of cereal ‘n’ milk and the few scant berries you’re allotted when you grow up amid a flock of seven berry-grabbers), we can–and will–claim for ourselves whatever wisps of summer come our way.

it is planting a stake firmly in the day, proclaiming it unlike the schoolyear, unlike the days and weeks when bedtime matters, when we conform to grid of hours and litanies of assignments, big and small.

it’s as if we can’t be bound by indoors, and kitchen tables. we are as hungry for the summer porch as we are for the corn, the cantaloupe, the herbed everything that stirs our appetites and fills our plates.

to get to our particular summer porch, there is a walk involved. it’s not attached to the house, but rather on the far end of the garden. and we’ve noticed, time and time again, that the simple act of moving through space, tiptoeing along the brick walk, even in the darkness that follows every dinner, is to whisper to the knowing place, the one that’s deep inside our soul: we are leaving behind the cares and worries of the house. we are dispatching to the screened-in place where there is only breeze and candlelight, where chairs are old, are weathered, are storied. where crumbs don’t matter, and wet spots from where the wine bottle perspires or the glass tips over, they’re not worries either.

there’ve been nights when i am cleaning the kitchen at half past ten.

and i don’t mind.

because what’s preceded that, a long summer’s eve waiting for the rumble of the car down the alley, into the garage, the slam of a car door, the grown-up bass-voice of a manchild who’s been rowing on a river, and his father who waits for him at the river’s edge at dusk in a murky corner of the city, the joy of knowing we are one now, all together and on the cusp of sitting down to share an hour of our day, it is the holiest slice of time i know right now.

it’s summer dinner, and the waiting is so easy.

how are you mixing up your year-round life, to mark this chapter we call summer? what stakes have you pounded in the turf, claiming this as time you’ll savor summerstyle, slow and sloppy, sweet and oh-so-succulent?