Friday, November 27, 2015

Approaching Prayer on Thanksgiving Day

I don’t know quite what has happened
Or that anything has,
Hoping only that
The irrelevancies one thinks of
When trying to pray
Are the prayer . . . --Approaching Prayer by James Dickey

You build me up
You break me down
My heart, it pounds
Yeah, you got me
With my hands up
Put your hands up--
Tik Tok by Ke$ha

If affection holds you back
Oh, then what is left to hold
If I could find the answer
To that question then I'd know--
The Act We Act by Sugar (Bob Mould)

Everyone has a prayer playlist with Ke$ha and Sugar songs on it, right?

Maybe not exactly but as it is with horseshoes and hand grenades, it is probably close enough. After all, isn't most times a prayer an atonement for some guilty pleasure sandwiched between gratefulness and humility? 

And if there is ever a holiday characterized by guilty pleasures sandwiched between the bread slices of gratefulness and humility I think it must be Thanksgiving. The day should be filled with family, friends, good times, joy, and of course a feast of great food and drink and some football for good measure. A perfect merging of indulgence, guilt and grace. A celebration of all the gifts of life.

The holiday for me is also a personal celebration as it marks the day of the first race I ever ran, the Atlanta Thanksgiving Half marathon in 1998. It also marks the day of the first marathon I ever ran in 2005. My life is infinitely changed and better due to those two events. 

But Thanksgiving day is also tangled up in the anniversery of the most devastating event in my life, the loss of my nephew Evan to bacterial meningitis on November 24, 2006, the day after Thanksgiving. The holiday isn't ruined by this tragedy but it is weighted.  The colors of the day are no longer just one bright shade but are every pantone hue, both dark and light and all that is in between.

 So on Thanksgiving morning I always run long. It is a recognition and celebration of myself as a runner. The run, almost three delicious hours where my mind evolves, devolves and plays over the years and the people on a brilliant fall morning in a perfect state of being, is also an animated prayer. 

The day is a gorgeous. My feet crunch the leaves on the sidewalk, as cars filled with families drive past me. I run down the sidewalk turning on all the streets that I know easily with my eyes closed. I pass a group of fathers with their sons and daughters playing football in a church yard. I pass men and women out walking their dogs or pushing babies in strollers. On two different streets I pass the dead, sleeping in old cemeteries. I pass the houses, the schools, the churches and the stores. 

I am grateful for the workers at Walgreens and CVS where I stop for a drink of water. Everyone is kind. 

As I run,  watching the world and turning on all the familiar streets, I feel a sense of togetherness in the world that isn't always there. 

My mind, finding relevancy in the irrelevancies and reunites a turn of the road with a memory. A moment of heartache turns to hope with a breath. The wind, brisk and cold, waters my eyes that find tears. Then, with the sun warming, I find forgiveness and the good stuff of promises.  Finally, I lose myself to hope in the salt of sweat and muscle fatigue.

17 miles. One mile for every year as a runner. 

I am not done. I can't help myself. I have to ask the universe the question I have asked her the last nine Thanksgiving day mornings. It bubbles up. I want to blame the wind, the bright sun, the blue sky, the concrete, the dirt, and the trees with their dying leaves.

 I am a flawed, scarred human with a need to  answer the question. I want a resolution. 

How does one ever get over losing a child? 

I realize, as I turn towards home, to some questions maybe there is not an answer. That, it could be, that it is impossible to comprehend an answer to a question that is so wholly and impossibly wrong. It is a question that shouldn't have to be asked. The question should not in itself exist. It is the flaw in the tapestry of life.

I finish at the track. I have three more miles to give. These are, of course, for Evan. 

I run circles around the families on the field while I wait for mine to come. I see strangers, acquaintances, and my friends with their children, dogs, balls and games. No one knows that while I am running circles around them that I am praying.

20 miles and I am done. 

I can finally stand still, talk to people and be in the day, back in the world; broken and reconstructed whole again.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Lunch Poem #2, The Pond

There is a pond,
that is not Walden,
between two sub-city office buildings.
It is divined and odd-shaped.
It is not quite round with
a strangely grand architect-ed bridge
distance to connect.
Organic to Corporate:
Entrepreneur to Inspiration.
A planned sanctuary framed by glass, grass, water, white brilliant concrete
and may be,
Frank Loyd Wright inspired.

I wonder at
the frail water.

The Swan is the queen,
but she has no mate.

I wonder,
does she know,
she is alone.

The ducks don't know they are all different.
And I don't know
how long the Swan can stay under the water;
looking at grass, fishes or hiding like a water-ostrich.

She is amazing.

With the koi,
everyone knows,
they have done well in the pond.

I wonder,
why the winged birds
have stayed.

The Swan today,
on the other bank not preening
but basking in the sun.

I wonder
did she see when the snake
shed his skin and moved on?

The snake.

I wonder
why everyone thinks it is evil
when things eat their tail.

it is just a word
that once meant to be.

And I wonder,
 why it still isn't okay
 to be.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lunch Poem #1- Stepping Away from the Plateau

I need to step away from the plateau;
the Cumberland Plateau with her sedimentary rock, ridge-lines and bituminous coal;
scalped of her minerals and slow to recover.
I need to escape the hive;
the neutral and muted confines of the cubicle, with her demanding computer queen.
I need a break from
the plateau, the hive, the Word documents, the PowerPoints, Excel spreadsheets;
the rigid boxes, templates and plain white spaces between too many words.
I need to get away from
the minutes, the plans, the reviews and all the itineraries
where I go nowhere.

I need to find my spear, The Eye-Beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead and Mercy.
I need to see the Wild Geese
and know that I don't have to be good.
I need to see everything, all at once, in the slow pouring off of rainbows,
like a Fish in a pail that refuses to lie down flat as she dies.

Lately, I've been thinking  about James Dickey and Mary Oliver.
I want to set their pages laid out, side by side and compare
his words to her words;
the Heaven of Animals to Some Questions You Might Ask.

So on my lunch break I walk from my office in my most comfortable sandal heels to the Barnes and Noble.
Atlanta is masquerading as Seattle. She is doing it all wrong though. She's a hot mess and doesn't have the right accessories-- not enough evergreen and she is missing the coast and that maritime coolness.
I don't have an umbrella.
My hair will suffer but I cannot any longer.

In the misty, wet dreary I wait
at the light on the corner of Perimeter Center Place and Perimeter Center Road.
I cross in front of hurrying mall shoppers whose turning cars are unaware of my right-of-way.
They try to run me over.
I wave with a finger as I walk by.

I cut through the landscaping framing the mall and shopping center where Barnes and Noble is the anchor.
I catch  myself on the trunk of a crepe myrtle to keep from slipping on the wet pine straw, shaking trees, creating unnecessary showers.
I wipe the dust of the crepe myrtle bark on my teal Calvin Klein shift.
I pass umbrella clutching and sidewalk-obeying shoppers.
No one will meet my eyes as I climb out from the grove of crepe myrtles;
stepping up onto the sidewalk with velvety pink petals
tangled in my hair, pasted on my arms.
Except the black man with the goatee wearing a linen tunic, also umbrella-less.
He's the only one around here for miles looking comfortable and he meets my eyes with a wink.
I return, with teeth and lips and kind eyes, a smile.

Out of the humidity and in the store I expect familiarity, a memory smell.
Once upon a time before a husband and children I use to work here.
Once upon a time, I could find any book anyone wanted.
I knew the books, the shelves, the tables and the end-caps.
I knew all the shoppers too.
Early morning was the business men and women. The jobless too. All with their lap-tops,  meetings and cafe latte grande. Hiding behind Wall Street Journals on couches, chairs and hovering at every table. If they needed anything from me it was only if we had the latest Oracle book.
Mid morning brought the mothers and their strollers for story time or really, to wreck chaos and noise throughout the store.
Mid afternoon came the ladies after tennis, there  for a Starbucks  and maybe their book club's latest Oprah pick.
And Friday nights, after the movie next door, the pageantry of prost-a-tots mismanaging their  hormones while waiting  on their chauffeurs to pick them up.
 I realize, once upon a time, I've been all these things.

But in this store I know nothing. Books are an after thought.  Instead of shelves of the numbered New York Times Best Sellers there is a wide selection of  tablets.

I look at the tablet display and remember sitting in a store meeting before we opened for the day. I am wearing tights, a short gray dress that I should not bend over in and platform shoes. I am sipping a latte, nursing shin splints  and worrying about how I will be too tired after work to finish my paper on Whitman and Dickey while the store manager spins a tale about electronic books held inside a Kindle.
Everyone one us of thought, no way.
Books, with their pages, are here to stay.

In the center of the store is a cafe. It is a bright sun. It is the major star. It has not just coffee but pastries and sandwiches too.
A fence, like one of  Saturn's rings,  holds the cafe's tables and chairs, her planets and their moons. Sitting on the moons are people with their laptops, tablets and smart phones. There are no books laying open on the planets or pages turning in the hands
of anyone sitting on any moon.
If by moon, person or star or book by page;
No one that I didn't see buy any one book.

I wander the perimeter of the store and shelves. The Fiction and Literature section, though the biggest, is rather small.
I remember vast shelves of books but these shelves I can see over their tops.
I look for the poetry books, thinking poems are literature. 
I will find out they are not.
Poems are art and art is in a different area of the store,
far from Fiction and Literature,
on the other side of the sun and her moons.

In the shelves I find Dickey but only his Deliverance. No To the White Sea or any books of his poetry.
Mary Oliver isn't here at all.
It is then I realize, maybe, poems are not fiction or literature.

I panic that there is no book of poems at all in this store.

Circling the back wall  I find the Arts.
Visual. Dramatic. Languages,
and finally,

It is a thin collection.
I see some familiars. And some notable absences.

There is O'Hara.  I pull his book off the shelf,
I remember why I am not a Painter
and realize that my lunch hour is almost over.
There is no Dickey here. I will order online.
I look over several Mary Oliver's and settle on an anthology.

The rain is heavy now, not just a mist and the day is almost done.
I see the white concrete of my office building gleam through the oak and pine branches
as I cross the street again.
I tuck Mary's book into my purse, a spear at my side.
Silently, I walk to my office and slip back into the hive.
I fold my thoughts like Arab tents
dotted along the plateau.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Witness

The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. 
Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. 
What then shall we choose? 
Weight or lightness?

 ―Milan Kundera, from The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Last Sunday morning, when I returned home from my 60 mile solo bike tour of Marietta, Roswell and Mountain Park, Ryan asked if I wanted to go with him to watch the funeral procession of Skip Wells. The kids were not home-- Carmella was at lacrosse camp  in Florida and Beau, probably still asleep, was at his best friend's house. We had some planned errands, would grab some lunch and then Ryan would go to his Old Guy Lacrosse game. Later, we would all have dinner together that evening. It was "Sunday Funday," and everyone one of us would have a day doing something we liked and at our leisure: me a long bike and shopping, Ryan sleep in and play lacrosse, Beau with his best friend and Carmella with her best friend at camp. We certainly had the time to spare and stand witness to a funeral procession.

Neither Ryan nor myself, personally or even tangentially, knew Lance Cpl. Squire Skip Wells, the  youngest of the group of five military servicemen gunned down on July 16, 2015 at the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center in Chattanooga, TN. We did not know his family either. However, Skip Wells  attended the high school in the district next to ours and his memorial service was held at the First Baptist Church of Woodstock that is only a few miles from our house. And Chattanooga, a city that we dearly love and visit several times a year, is less than a 2 hour drive from our home. The Chattanooga shooting rampage on unarmed US servicemen, the most recent homeland terrorist tragedy to evoke the nation, had taken one from our community. It touched our home.

 Ryan wanted to go to show support. I felt slightly uncomfortable about it. I thought we would be acting as paparazzi on someone else's tragedy. I have never seen a military funeral procession and I admit, I was curious. Generally, I  prefer to personally experience the world as much as I can rather than watch it on TV or read about it second hand. Certainly, I have seen, and even been a member of, many funeral processions. I have noted that in small towns versus larger urban areas, that there are distinct differences in the community response to a funeral procession. In a small town, people will stop and wait for the funeral to pass by, take off their hats and bow their heads. In some cases, the whole town actually goes to the funeral and brings fried chicken, green beans and cobblers in tinfoil covered  Pyrex dishes just because their Mama played bridge with the cousin of  his sister.  But here, in the sprawling Atlanta area, people can be oblivious and will get tangled up in a funeral procession and never even realize the reason they made all the lights in Buckhead was because someone had died.

Ultimately, I thought it would not be polite. Ryan advised me we would be showing support for Skip's family, solidarity for our country and that this is what the community should do for a fallen solider. It was impolite to not go and stand witness was the implication. Even still, I had my doubts that it was the right thing to do. But I agreed to go with him.

The First Baptist Church of Woodstock, where the funeral service for Skip was held, is around the corner from our house. The funeral procession traveled from 575 down Highway 92 to the Baptist Church that is located at Neese Road and Highway 92. Ryan and I drove to the corner of Hames Road and Highway 92, the intersection that is down and across the street from Baptist Church.

I was very surprised, when we turned on Hames Road from Jamerson Road by the amount of traffic on the typically empty, residential street. Already parking was at a premium.  As we made our way to the intersection of Hames Rd and Highway 92, I could see that in both directions the 4 lane divided median highway was already lined with people of all ages and stages of life holding American Flags. It was strange to see the traffic  slowed to an intermittent tickle of cars at this time of day. And the cars that did pass, donned American Flags.

It was a strange pageant for certain. It had all the fixing of a parade- a gathered crowd lining closed roads waving American flags--but the mood was not festive. It was respectful. And the crowd, while there was a spirit of palpable excitement in the air, it wasn't of the contagious type, rather it was contained, reigned in.

And, it was hot, Of course it was. Midday at the end of July in Georgia is always sunny and 90 something degrees.The heat radiated in waves and ripples off the asphalt. Of course it was humid too, as midday (and morning and night) always is in the summer. And I was really thirsty. Dehydrated and hungry from my bike ride, I was deeply regretting not going in the gas station near where we parked to buy a fountain coke. I would just suffer, I decided. And I pushed the vision of a 20 oz icy coke out of my head, because I knew as soon as walked back over to the gas station the motorcade would come by and I would miss the whole thing. I knew it would pass by in a fast moment, like everything else does.

Though hot, it was a beautiful afternoon--a blue sky and fluffy clouds kind of afternoon. And the crowd that was still gathering was quiet. As people would approach the edges of the street their voice would drop to an inaudible whisper. Eavesdropping was impossible. Only the youngest of the children there were not using their library voices. Instead, they were like puppies, rolling in the grass and running back and forth excited about everything in the world. Their energy provided a reprieve as their laughter sprinkled over the somber crowd. I would still myself, craning and also wanting to know, each time one of them asked their parents,"When is he coming? When will he be here?"

Finally, an adult in the crowd politely asked the lone police officer directing traffic, "is he close?"

The officer advised, "Yes. Soon."

As we waited, I took some pictures.

It is hard for me to process moments and their meaning as they happen. Photos provide visual aids for my memory. There is little time for reflection any more. Lately, my life, and the precious moments and experiences that cushion it,  have been spinning madly past me. I have been in losing negotiations with the universe to slow it all down. I suspect like many, I have realized my mistake too late. I know, I was warned. I clearly remember hearing it ad nauseum when the children were babies,  but I admit it, I blinked. And it is like I have been in a blinking spree. I am trying to stop, prop open and fix my eyeballs on the world in a frozen stare but honestly, I cannot hold my eyes open long enough or stayed focused to take in this rich feast of amazing moments--never mind have time to have a thought and process an understanding or a perspective, or sadly, sometimes just have an emotion. So I take pictures. I need the photographs to capture all these blinking moments, so later, in a suspended second, I can linger on the experience, hold it in my hand and look at it. And yes, realize all that I have missed.

  I will admit that I was uncomfortable taking pictures with my cell phone, feeling disrespectful and impolite in the brevity of the moment. But I was not alone. Nearly everyone had their phone out- either snapping pictures or recording the scene. One woman had situated herself on the grass median in the middle of the highway with her tripod and had a giant high powered lens on her camera. She had the whole median to herself and was not at all discreet about her tripod and her giant lens camera. A woman, standing next me and jockeying for a better spot, openly admired the tripod woman's fortitude for her choice of spots. She tried, in a series of whispered suggestions to encourage her husband to relocate to the median but he wouldn't go. After a few moments they moved a bit up the hill. As I stood there, I regretted, along with my missed opportunity for a coke, being short and wished I had worn shoes with a wedge so I could see better. For a moment, I also admired the tripod woman's  spot on the median but I was not feeling bold enough to cross the highway and stand so out in the open.

And right now, as I look back and think about standing on the sidewalk waiting for the car carrying the body of Skip Wells and the other cars that carried his heart broken family to drive past me, I wish I had taken more pictures. I have too few pictures for all the seconds I was standing there.  The ones I did take though have jarred a response in me that I wanted to chronicle. So here I sit. Stealing corners of my day, during lunch, while driving to work, while I run, bike, or swim,  trying to find that suspended second in time where I can work out in my mind what I saw.
What happened.
What changed.
What I felt.

After awhile we heard a roar and then saw the Patriot Guard  pass us. It was a bit of a ruckus, their passing, but as the rattle of their mufflers faded eastward in the direction of the Baptist Church it grew silent and the crowd again turned to face the west, waiting more patiently than any crowd I have ever been a part of.

Several minutes passed and cars were no long going by on either side of the highway.

As I looked down the  hill of Highway 92 towards Woodstock I saw a river of blue and white lights edging over the horizon line and quietly rolling towards us.

I will admit to a flutter of nervous excitement as the motorcade blinked and rolled towards me.

It is weird to think that is what I felt since the occasion of this was a funeral procession. A significant tragedy.

I don't know what  the right word is, or rather the correct emotion to have is. But it was there, this feeling of anticipation that something was going to happen.

I knew that the cars would roll past me. I knew that I would see a hearse that would carry the body of Skip Wells. I knew I would see the long dark cars that carried the bereft family. But I didn't know what else would happen. I didn't know what the reaction of the crowd would be. I didn't know what my reaction would be.

It was a long procession that stretched a mile. First the police from  Cobb County, Marietta, Holy Springs and Woodstock on motorcycles rolled past and I wondered if  behind those mirrored sunglasses their eyes belied the stoicism set in their mouths.  I wondered what they saw as they rode past the gathered crowds on the side of road after road that they slowly traveled  in the hot July sun, guiding the Wells family to say a last farewell to Skip and then finally, bringing Skip to his resting place at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, GA.

 And then I saw the dark cars and I stopped taking pictures and held my phone down. The first car passed quickly and I turned my eyes to the side. When I looked back to the procession,  my mind took a picture of that second long, black car that I have been seeing in my brain ever since.

 The windows  of the car behind the hearse were not tinted and a woman in dark dress was framed by the car door window. I could see her face so clearly. Her expression was tangible.  I presumed this woman was Skip's mother and in an instant I felt her grief. I connected with her, knowing how I would feel sitting in a car behind the car that carried my son who died far too young. My son, who had signed up to protect his country and had made, as is so often said, "the ultimate sacrifice." My son, who had been stationed just 2 hours north, that I thought was safe. My son, gone.

I watched as the procession disappeared east and over the hill out of sight. The crowd began to disperse and Ryan and I walked back to our car to carry on with our Sunday plans. As we drove away, I thought of the face of the woman who I presumed was Skip's mother's and I felt a heavy weight on my heart, a mixture of pain, sadness and guilt that was physically hard to swallow.

I recalled another time I felt this emotion and it had caught me off guard then too. It was Easter Sunday, many years ago. I don't remember which church but the sermon was, of course, on the Resurrection-- a story I have heard millions of times. But that Easter Sunday, I heard the story differently. The pastor was telling the part of the story where he would have said, in some way or another, that God gave up his only son so that we would be saved. I can't even begin to say how many times I have heard that sentence said, in one way or another, at dozens of Easter Sermons. It has never once resonated with me other than this is what one says when one tells the story of the Resurrection. But as I sat there that day, listening again to the story of the Resurrection, I wasn't focused on Jesus. That Easter when I heard the word "son" I identified with God as a fellow parent. I understood the magnitude of the sacrifice and wondered, for the first time, how God had done that. I knew, as I thought about God the parent offering up his only son to save the human lot, that I could not, nor would I ever willing give up my child to anyone or anything for any reason.  I would, I thought, possibly offer myself up but of that, I am not entirely certain.

This empathy, it has weight. It tethers us to each other in compassion, knowing that as witnesses we shoulder but do not and cannot carry the heavy burden of grief. 

It is an unbearable lightness.

And  I do, I feel guilty for it.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Part III: Pieces of Moth

Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.
-from the Omega Point by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

My sister has a shower curtain with the map of the world on it. I always stay at her house when I do the Georgia marathon and I deeply enjoy the luxury of that post race shower at her house. I love, freshly spent from my contrived urban journey, standing in her shower with midday light filtering through the glass tiles,  the warm water massaging my tired, sore and now stiff body.  I will trace my fingers over the continents,  the mountains,  the oceans and  all the tiny islands and cities I will never see. I marvel at the broken puzzle of the earth; seeing how it might have all once fit together as I revel in that last bit of post-race glow.  I traveled miles by foot but really, I have gone nowhere--as I finished precisely where I began. Nevertheless, there was a three and half hour journey where my mind, whilst my body was occupied, traveled the world, seeing its history,  my history, all the places, spaces and corners of my mind. I connected dots. I solved a mystery. And for a singular moment, I put all the pieces of the puzzle and the world back together.

But, then, I rinse the conditioner out of my hair, dry myself off and forget about the world. Forget her mysteries and how the puzzle fit together as I slip into make-up, fancy hair, and clean, fresh clothes.

Weeks later I am in Birmingham and I go out for a run during a break between my daughter's lacrosse games. As I explore the new landscape, I recall the world before my sister was born.  I  remember, randomly, that when I was five my family lived in an apartment in Sandy Springs called Rolling Woods. We had the basement apartment. The whole back side of the apartment was windows that looked out to the trees. We had a patio with a stained wooden swing and there was dirt off the corner of the concrete pad that I liked to dig in. Beyond the trees was a creek and another apartment complex, where I was told, children were not welcome.

Above us lived a little girl with thick, beautiful black hair named Ceclia. She was younger than me by a year or two. She was an only child. I adored her; for her hair and her name- because of the Simon and Garfunkel song- of course, but also, because she was  the only girl that would play with me. There was another girl in the building. She lived on the top floor, or rather her dad did.  Her parents were divorced, so she was only there some of the time. Her name was Dagney. She was a little older, definitely taller and she did not like me. I think it was because one day I told her I thought she looked like Shaggy from Scooby Doo. I wasn't being mean, in fact in my mind I still see her as Shaggy- lime green shirt and a mess of sandy blond hair. I could tell though, after I said it-- said "you look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo," --that she did not like it.

But I couldn't undo it.

I could only learn to not do it again.

Cecilia, even though I adored her, I was terrible to her too. I guess, I was never very good at being friends with girls. When my mother would take my brother and I to Hammond Park, I would always beg her to bring Cecilia with us. And she would, but then once at the park, with its change of scenery and shiny new people,  I would ignore Cecilia and make new, temporary friends on the play ground. Cecilia would cry and my mother would say later, I am never bringing her again. But she would, because my mother was pregnant and I would obnoxiously beg her to let me bring Cecilia until she gave in. So Cecilia would always come with us to the park and I was always terrible to her.

Most of the time though I played with Cecilia in her apartment as she didn't really like to play outside. She liked dolls and indoor games. Her parents had an extra bedroom or maybe it was just an extra room. Either way, that room did not have bedroom furniture. It had toys, a lazy-boy chair in the corner,  an ugly couch pressed against the wall as an after thought and a card table in the center of the room. I think it was Cecilia's playroom because I remember us always playing there. On the table was always a jigsaw puzzle in some stage of almost completion. I would always look at the puzzle and its progress and the piles of pieces scattered around the table.  One time, while Cecilia and I were playing in that room, I slipped a piece of the puzzle into the pocket of my green and white gingham shorts. I don't know what ever happened to the puzzle piece but I know I never put it back on that table. Maybe it fell out while I was on the playground swing-set when I was trying to make my swing go the highest of them all and it was lost in the thick of the grass, its existence dependent on the mercy of feet.

Or maybe I lost it when I laid in the dirt, my shoulders and hips flush in a line with the other kids in the complex who volunteered for the older boys on bikes with dare-devil intentions. Mini Evil Knievels on mongooses. They would line us up, flat on our backs, next to their homemade ramp and jump their bikes over us. I was a reliable volunteer, but I always insisted on being near the ramp, either first or second. I was never one of the brave ones on at the end of the line, willing to risk getting landed on.

I played it safe.

Most likely though, the puzzle piece lingered in my pocket; going through wash after wash in the laundry until it could no longer stand the rigors of water and soap. Its compounds broken down fiber by fiber until finally only tiny pieces of atoms remained that were silently absorbed back into the universe.

Really, the only thing I know for sure, is that Cecilia's parents were never able to finish that puzzle.

In Birmingham, I lose my puzzle reverie and I realize how much I am struggling in the heat and the humidity running up the hills in the affluent suburb of Mountain Brook.

Hills are good for you.

I tell myself  this always and while in the throes of my misery I try to frame my struggle with all the gifts the hills will give me:

Great ass!
Strong hamstrings!

But the positive thinking never works very well nor does it last very long. I am left to employ a different tried and true technique. It is called what you can't see does not exist. I trick myself into believing there is no hill, only a slow painful period that will be over eventually.

Of course, I will still want to know when it will end.

 I will stare at the sidewalk and count to 20, sometimes 30 and then allow myself to look at the hill. I will measure the distance between myself and the relief I will meet at the top. I remain calm and patient, biding my time until I reach the crest of the hill that will allow for the release the downhill always promises my calves. Get ready, I tell my quads, it will be your turn soon.

I know. The counting is just another way I distract myself from the task at hand. Always trying to move things along as quickly as I can.

As I run up another hill and turn a corner it starts to rain. The rain is a  welcomed relief from the thick humidity. The air releases its clamp and as I stare down at the sidewalk I lose count when I come upon a Luna moth. She is flat and perfect, her wings fresh from the Chrysalis.

 Is she resting? Is she dead? Why is she here in the day time? Do moths sleep? The sidewalk is not the best place to rest, I think.

I do not stop to inspect her. The powder green color and that sheen on Luna moth wings make me uncomfortable. Slightly nauseous even. I cannot bring myself to truly look at the moth and her beautiful wings with those eyes that watch, but do not see and never blink.

This is the third Luna moth I have seen in my life and the second in the bright light of day. However, I fail in that moment to find any significance in the moment other my own fatigue. It is only later that I will recall the first time I saw a Luna moth.

It flew into the windshield of my jeep. I was nineteen, driving down Woodstock Road when it was a newly expanded four lane road. Now it is six lanes and officially a highway. Highway 92. It was late at night and I do not recall where I was coming from, probably driving home from college but possibly from a fun night out. I cannot remember which it was, if it was mundaneness or revelry. It is funny how the mundane will seem impossible to endure and the revelry very important to capture but both, you will think, are something you won't forget.

But forget, apparently you do.

But I remember the moth.

She came out of the dark and spread flat against the glass suddenly. Surprised, and never having seen a Luna moth before, I turned on the windshield wipers in a panic. Moth parts went everywhere. The body went one way and the wings, broken into pieces went everywhere. That powder green, luminescent in the dark, glowed in arcs over my windshield.
Of course I was out of wiper fluid so I had to drive home with moth pieces all over my windshield.
Of course I didn't wash the moth pieces off when I got home.
And, of course I left them there-- until weather, air and time cleared the glass of those moth pieces and the color and the luminosity faded away.

It was more than ten years until I saw a Luna moth again. This time I had a phone and I took a picture of one I found resting on the glass of a store front window. I suppose, I could search the archives of my computer to see if I still have the picture so I could investigate the totem moth's wings.

But is it the same thing to look at photographed moth wings?

Would the thrill be the same?

A photograph, I believe, tells the truth about a moment that happened. But the real truth is, that the moment might have been a lie. The camera, with all her tricks and unbiased lenses,  can never really capture a moment precisely, truthfully.

And, who knows what hand the artist's eye had in manipulating the moment in that solidary attempt to outwit the transience of time.

So what is true?

What will I see, if I look back on those now 10-year-digitally-embalmed moth wings?
The moth is dead. She is hundreds of generations from where that moth began.

The answer comes too late.

I should have stopped.

I should have stopped there on the hill and not run on.

I should have paused to take a moment and see the pieces the world continues to lay out before me. Sometimes, grandly at my feet.

But I didn't.

I ran on.

I always run on, caught up in the revelry of the moment. Moments, except those painful ones, that I actively choose to divert my eyes from. In those instances I seek boring diversions, like counting to twenty over and over and over again- missing all the things.

I try to be Isis.  I wander  through the corridors of my mind looking for the lost, dropped and forgotten pieces. Pieces, I realize, I may no longer remember correctly. Pieces, nevertheless, I will try to put together. This piece with that piece. Somehow, desperately they all must fit. I want it to all fit together.

But maybe these are not pieces from the same puzzle. Maybe they don't go together after all.

Is this my problem?

I want to believe the mystery is always presenting itself to me in small, dispersed revelations. Hoping,  that while I do not see now, someday, if I pay attention, I might.

I want to believe that the myopia of the present is corrected by the lenses of time and distance.

And distance?  Well, I cover that easily but sometimes I worry that there is not enough time left to fix my myopia.

It is though those damn Luna wing eyes that concern me the most.
Those eyes that do not blink or see.
Those eyes that miss the pieces, the puzzle.
Those eyes that can only catch passing glimpses at the mystery.

I keep thinking about them and why they make me so uncomfortable.

It might be because  there really is nothing to see.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Part II: The Struggle of Dirt

In February we took a much needed family break to go skiing. It was a quick, short trip. The kids had never skied and it had been almost a decade since Ryan and I skied. Carmella, our 14 year old- "the teen"- did not want to go. She wouldn't be good. The type-A- perfectionist-cliché-first born child said before she even tried. Worse, was unsaid but understood, she would have to be alone with her family. But most pointedly, she would have to be alone with her family away from her friends. Beau, the 11 year old, was very excited to go. He pretty much likes everything that doesn't involve handwriting, solving math problems or sitting still. And, he still likes us. However, he too, is teetering on that teen angst edge. It is only a matter of time before he steps over the line to impatience, embarrassment and eye rolling at the fact that he? Has parents. The way I see it I have at most another year and then half the people I share a house with will loathe me.

During the car ride we reached an area where technology didn't work. The radio wouldn't pick up a signal and the car went silent. I am uncomfortable with silence when other people are around. Even those that came out of my body. I don't really know why but possibly, irrationally, I worry I might be able to hear their thoughts. In the case of my 14 year old daughter I am fairly certain I might hear something I don't want to hear. So in an attempt at mind control, I tried to make conservation to break up the awkward silence. Carmella was quiet, seemingly un-engaged in the backseat and while I couldn't see her, I was certain she was rolling her eyes at everything that I said.

We drove towards snow and the further north we navigated the amount of snow on the ground increased until the landscape was enveloped in the folds of a goose down blanket. I commented that it was a visual tragedy how in some spots the Georgia red clay wasn't entirely covered. It looked like the snow was trying to hide a slaughter. It was ugly. It injured my eyeballs. I wanted a bucolic scene that with my face pressed against the cold car window would make my heart swell and burst as I and my family drove towards the mountains for a lovely weekend ski trip. And damn it, that ugly red Georgia clay was ruining it.

Carmella snarkily said, "Of course, the struggle of dirt."

Everyone laughed and the tension that had radiated from the teen in the backseat dissipated. And just like that, everyone seemed to like everyone again and I felt comfortable enough that the silence became okay and I was free to let my mind contemplate the dirt and the people and my bones and all the stuff that buries me.

I work in an industry where the money grows on the trees but the dirt, I have learned, is the real asset.  In the beginning I thought it was all about the trees but I figured out it really is the dirt that matters. You have got to own the dirt to really own the trees.

I sit in meetings and take minutes about stuff happening in the dirt, to the dirt. They talk about all potential opportunities a piece of dirt offers and whether we should buy, sell, trade, or just hold onto to that dirt for a little bit longer. The dirt is assigned value by people outside our organization and those appraisals can change the value of the dirt for a whole multitude of reasons. The dirt is modeled in Monte Carlo simulations to predict its future best case scenarios. There are graphs, spreadsheets and maps about the dirt. People show up at our office doors or call on the phone wanting to talk about a piece of dirt. We have lengthy discourses on the components of the dirt, best management practices of the dirt; its minerals, its water features, its trees--even the wind above the dirt is not above scrutiny. My favorite though, and I hear it almost daily, is when they argue about the "the bare land value" of the dirt. It makes me smile to think about the price of pure, unadulterated dirt.

Dirt has a pretty complex existence.  Dirt is mysterious. It holds clues and tells stories and has a history longer than any of us can truly fathom. All of human existence is born out of dirt. We live out our days on the dirt; moving from piece of dirt to piece of dirt, seeking out new dirt to own, explore, trade or sleep on. We float across oceans and sail above the dirt in boats and airplanes. We wildly inconvenience ourselves just so we can  stand on different dirt, if only for a little while. And all the while believing that this piece of dirt is vastly different than that other piece of dirt we had lingered on just a few days before.

Our food comes from the dirt. We build homes, churches, monuments and entire civilizations on and from the dirt. We play in the dirt. We bury our dead in the dirt.

I guess, maybe, only the sky is older than the dirt. But even the sky's existence is contingent on what is going on with the dirt. The sky holds onto nothing for very long; always dying and regenerating. I think the sky must be freer: its struggle is less because you can't really own the sky. But people do try to own the sky;  sometimes insisting on retaining the wind rights to the pieces of dirt they sell. I didn't know that the wind too was assigned value. Because really? I want to know how do you measure the wind? Where do you draw the lines?

In the dirt below is the answer.

Dirt has all the power.

Whatever touches, tries to move freely above or below, next to, over, under, beyond or beside the dirt is, nevertheless, defined by the dirt. Everything is a preposition to dirt.

When I was younger we lived in a house that had a creek running through the middle of the front yard.  Ours was the last house built in the neighborhood and most likely because a creek in the front yard was not an ideal feature in Stepfordesque East Cobb. The creek was a gash in an otherwise pretty face. It was the first piece of dirt my parents had ever bought together. And I loved that piece of dirt. I don't think my parents ever did but I was wildly passionate about it.

The front part of the lot was very un-level, situated at the start of what grew into a very steep hill. I can personally attest to the hill's steepness. On my first time down that hill on my bike I lost control of my handle bars, not understanding that you needed to use your brakes to have control,  and slid on my face; crashing into our mailbox. It wasn't so terrible though. My band-aided face, elbow and knee abrasions earned me sympathy the next day from Mr. Woods, the cankerous PE teacher at Eastside Elementary. He reversed the alphabet that day and I, Natalie Wolfe back then, got to be first at everything.

The  strip of grass that fronted our lot to the street was a presentable rectangle patch of grass, probably 8 feet wide. It was fairly flat there but angled up alongside the rise of that big hill. But the slant wasn't too bad. I could still do handsprings, both frontwards and backwards there. Really though, the best place for gymnastic tricks was on the other side of the street, three houses down on the Allen's flat stretch of Bermuda that ran all the way down the length of the black iron fencing fronting the neighborhood pool. That grass, always so manicured and green and soft was a stage; us kids the performers, and the audience was all the neighbors coming and going in and out of the neighborhood.

Our front lawn vastly differed from the golf course pristine of the Allen's. Not only was it a ragged mix of crab, rye and fescue grasses, it was not level and dropped off steeply into what was essentially a giant sinkhole. It was a sloping mess of ground cover and exposed dirt that bottomed to a ledge with 2 oak trees, underbrush and more exposed dirt.  The ledge was an island atop a cliff that dropped steeply into a sometimes rushing sometimes meandering creek depending on the recent rainfall. You couldn't climb this cliff. It was slippery and crumbly. The face of the cliff, about 15 feet tall, exposed layers of Georgia: red and orange clay mixed with sediment that had folded and faulted from lines long ago decided by time. The clay mixed with chalky yellow stuff, speckled feldspar and mica deposits. It was covered by big roots and vines before dropping into the creek. I just remember all the reds and oranges of the creek and its rocks and minerally diverse dirt. It was so fantastic with infinite possibilities. As a child it was my favorite place to play. My best friend Catherine and I spent endless hours playing fabulous games on that ledge. We managed complete control of the universe from that ledge; creating drama and civilizations, building structures out of discarded materials we had collected and drug across the neighboring lawns.

I don't think Carmella really knew what she meant when she made her "struggle of dirt" comment. I know the intention was make fun of her mother but she was right on the mark.  I do struggle with the dirt every single day. I am like J. Alfred Prufrock  measuring it out with coffee spoons. I spend my days in an office contemplating the dirt all the while struggling with if the dirt is what I really need to be contemplating. I spend the other parts of my day worrying that the dirt my husband and I own(only a few miles from that fantastic piece of dirt I grew up on) is good enough for my children. There are times I wonder if living on another piece of dirt would really make all the difference. But most times, especially late at night when I cannot sleep, I worry I am simply wasting my time on the dirt.

Of course, the struggle of dirt indeed.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Part I: Icebergs in the Caribbean

Given all the world, words, and time my greatest desire is to go back and forth and down paths sideways reconciling metaphors with people and stones.  If there are, as William Carlos Williams writes, No ideas but in things, I want to counter that existential dictate that there is no-thing without ideas.

These things, they appear in my brain. I see them. Plainly.

This is lighting that strikes up, rising from dirt; not lightening from ion-laden cumulous clouds that travels a predictable downward path. Most times I just watch in awe as the bolt disappears into the looming dark clouds that the wind carries away, leaving me to contemplate charred earth.

Some images though, they are like the rhetoric before speech and they have teeth. They nibble at me, biting once then consuming me whole. In those instances I always think this must be the same feeling early humans felt the first time they discovered fire. And I worry. I worry I will spend centuries trying to figure out how to keep the fire going, trying to recreate that initial spark or worse, I will have to dig for fire. Push past the roots, the artifacts, the pigmented pottery shards, and dig, really dig deep through the history of fossilized sediment to the crust of the earth and steal the fire.


No. I am the clay figure.

Same as you; blowing pigment over my hand onto a French cave wall.

Dreaming a dream; a series of images that tell the tale of a collective story.

Icebergs in the Caribbean;

It floated across my brain on a dreary Tuesday in traffic. I said the phrase. I saw the picture. I googled the phrase, trapped on Johnson Ferry between the river and Roswell Road; while I waited my turn to cross the road at the light, I learned that icebergs are formed during a process called calving; a phenomenon that happens under stress, pressure or forces from waves or tides.

Icebergs are beautiful and dangerous.

Scars on the ocean floor show that thousands and thousands of years ago icebergs from the Hudson River might have drifted as far south as Bermuda. Humans were busy back then. They were hunting, gathering, finding fire, figuring out how to plant food and they were putting images on cave walls, crafting clay figures and sharpening tools.

When their eyes, just off the coast of Bermuda in the Caribbean Sea, saw icebergs float past; did they feel inspiration?
Feel a lighting shock of wonder?
Hope at the shimmering mirage?
Form a thought that maybe, this was out of the ordinary?
A floating ice island?
Was it extraordinary . . .

I recall my dream.

I am in a dense tropical forest high atop a cliff. The trees are blocking my view of the cerulean sea that swirls below the forest and there are pointy rocks on the cliffs shouldering the sky all the way to the water. I need a clear view of the lagoon below.     I want to leap     But all the trees are blocking my view.
Through the trees I see distant cliffs with a sprawling scrub that will provide a clear view to assess the lagoon below. The path to that perfect view is long, uncertain. I want to jump from the cliff nearby. It is more convenient but it is also so much riskier.

I stand  in the forest amongst low-lying ferns and fronds and thick trunks of palm trees contemplating my choices and suddenly, a bus barrels past. It clear-cuts a path through the forest to the sea. It dives over the cliff, crashing and disappearing into the turquoise rocked-rimmed water below. Pieces of bus and bone are scattered. The heavy metal sinks. Smoke rises, silently. Water moves outward in circles.

I know instantly this is a tragedy.
I am just a witness.
I know people have died but this is an opportunity. The path to the sea is clear.
I can see the rocks and I know the exact spot from where I should jump.
I linger on the cliff.

My alarm pulls me out of the dream.
I  leave me on the edge of the cliff.

I have been trying to find my way back into the dream.

Change it.

 I leap from cliff, arching high.

Dive straight.

That rib of mine, it scrapes rock, a wound I ignore.

I go long.

My body buoyantly rolls over waves.
My hands scull the water.
My fast feet a rudder.

I swim into the deep blue of the sea.