‘Cuts you up’

Lily (who now goes by Lee) and I drove to the Teanaway river valley on the east side of the Cascades, stopping at a Safeway in the small town of Cle Elum for junk food. I didn’t bring the guts of the tent, just the rain fly, poles, and footprint, opting to go light since we’d be climbing a couple thousand feet and I was carrying basically everything. And I regretted that both nights as it was hard for me to keep warm, but it wasn’t so much for Lee.

And both nights Lee got scared by the dark and the sounds outside our tent because she couldn’t see what was going on, and that frightened her. She asked me to check things out, which I did with the flashlight, but that always makes things worse, with the light cutting through the bushes and trees, making strange shadows and shapes. We tried to cuddle but it was hard in our sleeping bags. Then Saturday night she nearly had a panic attack, with footsteps of other campers and the clip-clop of mountain goats outside…the occasional wind coming up the valley, making the trees creak…and I worried about being so remote and without cell service, what would I do if she really freaked out?—so I got angry and tried to make her snap out of it, and it worked—but it only made her feel sad and bad about herself, and she sobbed and buried herself in her sleeping bag until she drifted off.

Then in the middle of the night I had to pee but I couldn’t get out of my bivy sack, the zippers were stuck, and it made me feel claustrophobic and panicky, and I thought this must be how Lee feels with her anxiety, trapped inside her mind.

When I came back to the tent her small face seemed to glow in the pale, half-dark, and I thought what a tender soul, my heart ached for her. And how hard it can be, to relate.

In the morning I wandered out on the trail in the dark and made my way through the rocks and dirt to the pit toilet, sitting in the quiet of the mountains and pre-dawn gathering myself for the day, rehearsing a presentation for work on Monday, wanting to enjoy my time with Lee, to make it the best for her. I quietly closed the lid and returned to our camp, to boil water for coffee. Lee was making sleeping sounds in the tent and shifting: I wanted her to get as much rest as possible, but I also wanted to get back down the trail, and on the road. It didn’t feel as cold so I removed a layer and took my coffee to the rocks with the view looking east, where the sun was making the cloud cover pink and starting to soften over the valley.

When I came back to the tent Lee was stirring, and agreed to come to the rocks with me to watch the sun, wiggling her way over in her sleeping bag. We sat there for a time and I asked if she was ready to head back and she said no, let’s stay a little longer. It had been two years since we last came and it could be another two, she said.

At camp, Lee sat on a log watching me systematically break everything down. When I was done I pointed to the flat patch of dirt where we camped and said it always makes me a little sad to see it like that, empty and bare like when we started…but it’s good to make room for the next people, to make their own memories.

We climbed back up the pass and down again, sharing our filtered water, stopping for other hikers on their way up, asking how it was, last night.

When we got to the car, Lee had a bottle of Coke and we finished the Doritos, debating where to stop on our way back (lunch or breakfast?). We picked the pancake house at a ski area by Snoqualmie pass, and were back home by 1.

On Monday I texted Lee a link to the song we first heard when we were on the rocks Saturday, and wrote I’m thinking about you and missing our time, and wished her a good Monday—I said I was looking forward to dinner, just the four of us. And I kept that song in my head, thinking it meant more now.




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Top down

On the first foggy morning of late September the daylight cut itself in half and the moon looked full as we drove home from our birthday celebration for Charlotte. We climbed the steps to bed, the three of us (Dawn away for business), and in the middle of the night I heard an owl cry, the dog smacking her lips; I felt the cat by my side, and lay there thinking about work. It wasn’t bad thoughts, more like staring at a light bulb, the after effects. I knew I’d get enough rest if I fell back to sleep before the clock tolled again and I must have, for I had strange dreams. I’d normally have a couple drinks at the end of the day to calm myself, but it sometimes interferes with my sleep and has the opposite effect. I was doing push-ups after my shower to boost my testosterone every day, needed all the help I could get. Work was good but heavily nuanced. The Check Engine light was on in the car so I had to take the bus and I stood in the fog watching the power lines, the cobwebs in the trees, remembering when we left for the UK this same time of year, 2015. The bus was too warm but the tail lights looked like embers in the fog and made me think of Christmas. In the dark of morning I walked out back looking for the moon, listening to the sound of the dripping in the trees from the fog and dew. It was the sound of the earth beginning to cool, it starts from the top down.

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Song to the dark lands

When I look through the trees at the park near our house they are all pretty much the same as when we started coming here—like me, a bit older but still the same, mostly unnoticed. And the kids were so small we kept them packaged in bundles whenever we went out, not much different than when they began, in the warm dark.

I read a poet’s last collection before he died, knowing he was close—hearing him work through it, making peace with his leaving: the rationale, it’s really a return. And now with the turning inward, all the poets come out like late summertime frogs and crickets, croaking, sawing their legs together, coaxing me to sleep…

The mountain ash’s orange fruit is now ready for the birds to harvest, and they leave the remains in the grass uneaten, the same way each year. I cut the last roses for the window sills and soon, we’ll move the patio furniture to the garage. The lake has gone gray again, and the trees a dark green. Poets die the same as anyone, they just talk about it more.

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The soul dies first

At the end of it, the wick is either cut too short or it’s so long, it falls on its side and can’t stand up, won’t light. And so much wax left, in the shape of what remains. This body poured into a form—this wick, the soul that lights it.

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Twilight September

In the late afternoon shadows, by the underlit leaves, near a tree bent by the weight of its own fruit…in the breeze between summer and fall: there, in the crook of a bush by a rock I spied a colored egg overlooked from last April, a memory of youth sealed like a wish, better left to itself.

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Song from a shell

In the icy depths of sleep, in dreams, you held me when I was no one,
just myself, a shell

You held me at the edges where I could have been anyone,
but wasn’t—

and in sleep, in dreams, is where I miss you the most

For making me believe I was someone, made better, through you

(Is that all we are to one another? An admirer of shells, who sees some beauty in the same? Who hears a song in the silence, who makes an instrument of me, a reason to be?)

In the icy depths of sleep, I am no different than the rest—
it’s you who made me see myself differently.

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The flavor is in the blood

swords05Any cook will tell you, when you brown meat and rest it on the plate, blood will accumulate there and you always use that blood, or whatever juice comes out, when you put it in the pot.

I sat in the hot tub thinking, when was it I started tweaking like this? Has it been all my life? Is the brain like a piece of fruit that ripens over time, destined only to draw flies? Seeing old friends was sad when they looked older, and I realized so must I—we are all in a race that no one wants to win, this march of life, this procession.

I halved the dried prunes and soaked them in a cup of brandy longer than I needed, but figured it couldn’t hurt. The French pork stew with prunes and cream, Dijon mustard, served over buttered noodles, the fat pappardelle egg pasta that costs $7 a package but you only get eight ounces, so I had to buy two.

Trying to relax in the hot tub but distracted by all that needed to be picked out of the water. The satisfying look of a newly stacked woodpile. Week-old vegetable oatmeal soup for lunch, cold, the breakdown in proteins that makes it stringy but still good. The ever-battered and beaten up kitchen, how the cupboards get sticky from the oil and catch hair like flypaper, how it adheres like a skin. And dare I look at the fins at the base of the refrigerator where the fan blows, the hair down there like an old man’s mustache.

How things would get put in the fridge with no rhyme or reason if it weren’t for me, the sheriff of condiments, applying logic to the leftovers, grouping them. How regularly I have to cull through the duplicates in sauces and dressings—how sometimes a large container of yogurt gets put there with hardly a spoonful remaining…or a bottle of wine, with just a finger or two.

The sickly condition of the dish washer, the strange grime that amasses there like coffee grounds, or potting soil. And where does it come from? The brown stains that flare up from stagnant water on the dish rack, how hard it is to remove. And the sad insides of our stove…of the microwave…cooking is a dirty business, and so is living together: we are all like pack animals in our lairs, shifting like pigs in the straw, in our stalls.

Having to listen to Lily and her friends watch a slasher film on the laptop while I’m trimming the pork. The screaming and cutting sounds as I handle the meat. Watching my legs underwater in the hot tub and how bloated they look, thinking about getting old. Refilling the tub with the hose but forgetting it was on, dozing in the hammock…waking to the sound of Charlotte crying from the house, “It’s overflowing!”—and me, running through the grass to turn it off. Dodging poop, barefoot.

Having Lily read my Tarot Friday night and starting with the Five of Swords (never good), a distant loss she says, weighing on my consciousness. Ending with the Six of Pentacles, a good card, and me as a sharer of wisdom, just a satchel’s worth…

Advice for would-be poets: if athletes train by going to the gym, your training comes from brooding by the lake, from looking inside…from finding yourself in the spaces between the clouds and the layers beneath the surface…it’s what’s in you, the blood, that gives it the flavor.

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