Song for late March, sung from a dog

There was no way we could all live forever. My dog knew that by the way she looked at me when she folded back into a crease on the couch and smacked her lips; that was it right there, the essence of the moment and passing of time, the dog curling in on herself clockwise, checking the boundaries, securing the edges. We settled in for a nap, and woke two years later, the odd passage of time on 78 RPMs, a dog’s life.

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No breaks (from a plane)

There were times I felt like I had to write, I had the impulse, to save the moment. I thought I could just throw my arms out and surround it, I could throw my line in the water and bring back something worth keeping. I could piece together moments and make a whole life out of it, an identity born out of what I wrote because I was a writer. But once you sign on for that it’s a commitment you need to keep. When I let it go, there was nothing to replace it with. I tried on other “selves” (you can wear many), and some look better than others.

I sat in the aisle seat at the Schiphol airport thinking about that and picked up my phone to write. I took off the disposable sleep mask, but kept my headphones on. We had just been through London, Munich and Amsterdam in five days. Six nights away from home, counting the red-eye. On the last day I woke to my phone buzzing with mail, made the mistake of looking at it, got irritated and not long after, I got out of bed. I logged on and saw my reflection in the dark, and it wasn’t good. I sent some emails and closed it down and then packed up my things and went down to the lobby. The night guy was signing off. Breakfast wasn’t ready yet, I was 10 minutes early. I sent more messages from my phone, one to my client saying I’m here now, join me if you can. Then I ate, had two coffees, got the taxi for the airport, and sat in the back seat looking outside at the fog. We talked about our times in Amsterdam, before. We both felt good, going home. I pictured myself there and so did my client Jo, and we got to the airport sooner than we thought we would. I had to change my seat, and she had to eat, and everything went as it should.

I sat on the plane remembering the week, the small scenes like cards shuffling: the Italian restaurant from our last night, the walk back to the hotel, having a last drink at the hotel and looking for pictures of my dog on the phone. Feeling sad and disconnected from those scenes: my life, in sketches, what I took, what I saved. We all said goodbye and goodnight, and then I hit my head on the wall getting into bed, forgot to wear my night guard and felt the cold on my teeth in the morning. We hadn’t even been in Munich a full 24 hours, in and out. It was the first day of spring and I taught everyone the word Fruhling, I really stretched the word out in the middle when I said it. Before that we spent two nights in London, days full of meetings, hardly time for anything else. Business travel. Two words that shouldn’t go together. Me, passing through Holland and Germany in the airport with my blazer and carry-on, feeling like a businessman but not believing it, not wanting to, forgetting what it felt like to be a writer. It only feels that way when I’m writing.

When they brought the hot towels to clean your hands I used mine on my face. I saw myself landing and getting home to Dawn, opening our bedroom windows and trying to stay awake until it was time to go to bed. There was so much life left, sometimes you forget. There was so much you could go back and relive, but I wanted to believe the best was yet to come. I just couldn’t write about it yet.

The movies were starting up on the plane and so was the beverage service. There were no breaks on this trip, not until now. When I took my first drink it made me shudder as the gin hit my throat and floated to the top, but then I felt better and warm, I finished what I had to say.

On the screens, in the movies, I watched the scenes of the actors without any words. You can be whatever you want to be, good or bad, whatever you believe. And the moon was full, that first night in Amsterdam on the rooftop terrace, the highest I’d ever been in Amsterdam, but we hardly had any time for it. I walked to the edge to hear the church bells at 12, but we went back inside before the last one chimed. How much like a dream it all seemed.

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Regret

I imagined the house quiet, after they’d left. I could hear the memory of their voices as they were now, an echo. I could feel my heart pull in the way a hand contracts to a fist, the way a tide recedes as it pulls out, the sound as everything settles down and softens. And all there was was loss for all I didn’t do now. So I called out goodnight and they called back, and when I woke the next morning I rose the same as I did any other day, not knowing any more than the last.

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LGBTQIA, the new strong password

I took Lily to her LGBTQIA support group for kids with mental and behavioral issues, dropped her in the lobby with her phone, then drove to Bellevue for a quiet drink. I sat at the bar with a shrimp cocktail, and that song came on I’ve been listening to in the car, one from the ’80s that seems to be following me around. And I let it take me out of my circumstance, to another time.

On Friday, we celebrated her birthday in Issaquah at the Italian restaurant we’ve been to so many times, for birthdays and random days we felt like going out. And then we watched Bohemian Rhapsody, and all weekend I had Queen songs in my head.

We went to the mall in Bellevue twice, and ran up the credit card on clothes, shoes, a new skateboard for Lily. I bought a new blazer for my business trip to Europe, a couple outfits, and exceeded my budget by 4x. And we crammed into the Asian specialty beverage shop that sells drinks with jellies and rock salt, got a bubble waffle, and found a bench in the mall to share it.

Though it was a beautiful, almost-spring day, I did laundry in the afternoon: and paused over Lily’s orchestra shirt, brought back to the recent scene of her leaving the house to perform in the concert, but unable to proceed to the car, frozen in tears and anxiety: telling her it’s OK, it doesn’t really matter. How moments like this can cut into our self-esteem. And thinking that, leaving the support group with its flags and positive affirmations in the lobby, why it’s so important to accept people who need to feel a part, and how little it takes from us to just accept.

We lost an hour on Sunday and now it feels like early morning, or fall, though we’re tilting southward again, and all the birds are filling into the auditorium waiting for the show to begin.

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Down, down

Down went the day, followed by the sun, the night, the moon which rose just a hair of itself, the kids, then us: the weights on the clock: everything goes down. They talk about the ascension, about what happens “after,” but we all end by going down, lowered, covered, burned and blown across some patch of land or water, pushed down in the bed of somebody else’s past, the survivors, those left with the droll task of our remains. Down. And as it went down, the day, the colors softened and gave a good glow. The clock ticked and the heater fan came on, and blew. And I regarded myself and what I had left, what came before, and looked for the moon, just a hair, but what a nice light it cast in that cold, dark, late winter sky.

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The turning back spot before coming down

When the poem is done I let it take effect on me like a pill slid down my throat, waiting. And when at last you get to the top, when you’ve reached that place to stop and turn back, how does it look, the view? Does the sun touch the tall trees or fill the valley with pink, in the day’s last light? Or have you come at morning, for a last look before breaking camp? When it’s time to turn back, I hope it was all you imagined it to be and fills you with some reward for how hard you worked all your life to get there, for that long journey back down to the start.

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Excavation of self, through rotten banana peels and skin

At last the smell that was really me came to bare, to fully express itself, as a piece of rotten fruit or uneaten meat, table scraps left to bloom in some dark, neglected space. A smell, an essence, of toxins combined with bad habits and bad hygiene. The smoker, the homeless, the mentally ill, the town idiot spiraling out of orbit, fallen to their own crater on some distant moon — and what a feeling of peace in the uncaring, shifting in the underbrush of the early morning licking a sore, hungry, still alive for another day. No dry cleaners or office parking lots here. At last, the real me. Hiding in the shadows with that stilted, startled look of the coyote, untamed. The self is not all it’s cracked up to be, it smells of the earth and ground. It needs to get out and forage. It does best undercover.

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