REPORT A PROBLEM
I haven’t put pen to paper in three weeks. It’s different without it. Life, I mean. Writing, I mean. There have been years of no writing. Oh, with short spells in a personal crisis. But in the past two years not a lapse for more than a few days. Is that why I’ve felt floundery these weeks? There are so many other reasons.
But look at the magic of ink on paper, how words form in black and white like a Polaroid develops.
Mind speaks with heart, with muses, with I don’t know what and eyes watch the hand write.
Suddenly out and around and under them was blue and clear and peaceful. Quiet but for the sound of their breathing. The two alone but for the schools of fishes green, yellow, iridescent, round, and flat. Looking through the masks, the tubes, the gauges, the heavy tanks that were there to keep them alive there was the joy of seeing nothing man-made. The ledge they had been following curved suddenly toward shore. The feeling was like flying and they both extended their arms banking right and left, soaring through water, laughing into their respirators, bubbles floating upward like jet trails.
Rosie pushes her way through the knot of brown mares and drops her red nose into the halter. I like to pretend, at moments like these, that this eagerness to see me is great devotion, even love as some people think. But when she starts to head to the upper gate, I know better. For the past five cold blustery nights we’ve gone out that gate for her antibiotics in a bran mash. After 12 years, through all the thick and thin, and though we have come to a fond agreement with each other, Rosie maintains a level of independence.
The zippy zebra sleeps soundly on Sunday. Surrounded by zombies at the zenith of the sun (and feeling zany) he settled into a somnolent snooze. Being zaftig he snored. And startled the zealot zygote into the zenith of substantive spirit. What a state! “Sleep is superior” said the zealous sloth. “Zooming causes zoster! I am a zealot and will zap your zesty desire for stir and splutter.” So, zig-zagging through the Zea mays (eating some zwieback) and zeroing in on zilch the zoologist slept. A Zen state. Surreptitiously suspending zilch so silly Swedes slide on skis; as zonal zephyrs zoom.
It may be “Super Tuesday” here but there it’s the final full day of Carnival. The streets, at 8 am, will have been swept clear of the plastic drinking cups, rinds of fruit, food containers; but it will take weeks for the city to rid itself of the urine fumes. Unsuspecting tourists will be at Barra beach. There will be the few people sleeping in the streets. Those who are awake are either carrying four days of drunk on alcohol, drunk on sleeplessness, drunk on the music still causing a pounding in their ears that will also last for weeks.
Not even a week into it and February is bearing down hard on me. I’m not feeling so flexible this winter. There are things I want to do and I don’t want them preempted by ice storms that make all movement impossible. I don’t want rain causing patches of muck in the pasture that sucked away one of my Yaktrax. Perhaps it will come to the surface in some future season. But I’ll need them now. My winter coat is literally heavy and hauling it on weighs me down.
Perhaps that month in Brazil has something to do with it.
Following Sam through the woods we crossed a stream and headed up. He bounded and we climbed gingerly over downed trees and old barbed wire fences. Small leaves and ferns and the occasional flower were just beginning to grow. I wanted to avoid stepping on them, each seemed so fragile to the spring landscape. I wasn’t thinking about how overgrown the underbrush would be in just a few short months. Coming back down we made our way back to the house along the little path: The area cleared from the forest and planted with fruit, vegetables, flowers, and a house.
Paint a canvas white. Take a grayer white and dot it with green for the hills. Put in vertical dark brown and light brown lines for trees and horizontal black lines for telephone wires. Leave some room for more white. Add red barns and yellow houses with red chimneys rising from white roofs. Find a dirty white to color in alongside roads of brown blending with white. Make a colorfully bundled person walk a cream colored dog along the road. Go for a mood of quiet and stillness with undertones of the magic of a child’s belief in Santa Claus.
Allow the end of my long finger to crook over some sturdy part of you as I sink, as I feel the earth, like quicksand, unable to hold me up, as I feel wave and undertow.
Let the deep of your eyes be a beacon as I try to stay whole but implode from the spaces between my eyes and in the center of my chest leaving only tears to fill the void left behind.
Be witness as the tears of sorrow run down my cheeks. They are watering the hope that I know exists because I feel the loss.
I remember it looking like a sculpture. Like a perfectly round rock on a flat surface. I remember seeing the date on the screen with it: FEB 10 ’06. I remember thinking, “This is the day I’m seeing my cancer.” Terrified, it was almost a relief. The overly calm look in the doctor’s eye. The eager, innocent demeanor of the medical student until they came back to pierce it with a needle. Three women in a room. All medical providers, all on one side of the chart. One crossing over. Two years later, back from the other side. Wiser. Younger.
Suddenly emerge 25 surfers like buoys in the water. Dark chocolate preto, mocha coffee marron heads, shoulders, arms bob above green sea and ride on white foam. Some stand balanced, curving, bouncing, playing in the draw of the wave finishing with a sink into, a fly off of, or a toss into the sea. Some glide on short boards or only bellies through thick suds and emerge slightly stunned shaking their heads to clear salt from their eyes and take account of where they’ve landed. Standing with a smile and safe and running, diving under and through and at home.
Helen wakes with a sense of surprise and awe that’s becoming familiar. The girl said that whole business about the chemicals and the sugar and all that waking up our brains. Bah! If God and Nature decide that Helen has something important to do that day she wakes up. If not, it’s over, no time for questions. But, here she is again on a dull gray morning with snow on the railing and has to ask what important thing will she do today. And will she even know which thing she does today turns out to be the important one?
In the last days of my mother-in-law’s life she lay on a bed before our huge picture window overlooking the forest. I sat with her one day and thought about my own departed father, about how his friend said about my grandparents that they “stood at the side of God” to welcome him. I wondered who would welcome Marion. I wondered if my dear father and my husband’s dear mother would meet. Moments later Marion opened her eyes and asked for me. “Was that your father?” she asked. “Who?” “That man who was just here.” “Yes, I believe so.”
We cut the papaya in half, scooped out the seeds and left them for the birds to eat and deposit elsewhere so there will be more. I licked the dewy moisture for the sweet juice. I sucked on the flesh that melted on my tongue like sorvette. My lips pulled out nectar from the soft orange center, smooth as pudding. I bit hungrily into the meat and juice ran down my chin and fingers. I scraped my teeth against the skin for every morsel.
Sitting on the rock in the hot Bahaian sun. It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
After the dessert they moved to the living room. They sat on opposite ends of the couch, faces facing, feet intermingled, eyes locked. The space between them electrified and magneticized. Soon feet were on laps, between legs, stroking thighs; hands drawn to toes, to knees. Sitting became lying, closing space but stretching the distance between eyes, between sound. Words passed between; codes and silent messages. Fingers reached, intermingled and, finally, pulled. One folding over the other. At last, parts match parts: thighs on thighs, bellies unselfconsciously on bellies, chest on chest, hearts racing together. Lips on lips. Breath on breath.
Huddled by the woodstove it seems that seeking warmth is the basest of instincts these days. Staying upright on the icy surfaces of walkway and drive is another. My studded snows, my Yaktrax. My layers of fleece. At work I hug the copier.
This is not like Brazil where I was, or Cozumel or Florida where my friends are going this vacation week. This is not, “How little can I wear today?” or “Which beach should we go to today?”
This is all about faith and hope. That the sun will get warmer, the snow melt, that spring will come.
The girl brushed and rushed past him, running. She was half-way down the walk when she turned and waved, “Seeyalater, Dad!” He watched her get into the friend’s car, the driving mother raising her hand and smiling the universal sign for “She’ll be just fine.” He stood gazing into the street only vaguely aware of feeling cold. The boy was inside practicing Bach on his guitar and it was beautiful to him. Sharp pieces of icy rain began to ping on the window beside him and to touch him like electric shocks. He’d like to remember all of this moment.
I would call myself Grace, just as a reminder. I could live where I am, with the man I am married to. I’d have a tiny house on our property of my own. And we’d have to have another place, a basic place, somewhere warm, like Brazil. My work life would be completely turned around. Most of my time I would be a writer, of stories, poems, novels even, and every few days I’d do the work I do now, because I do like it.
I meant to sit down and write about gratitude for what I am and have.
“Where did this snow come from?” Hello? It’s been snowing here for weeks, except when it rains. Why is the store clerk surprised? I say, “It’s all the snow on the ground flying back up in reverse.” I picture the hard packed icy snow breaking into the beautiful fluffy flakes that it never got to be on the way down. I see it lifting like a miracle to the sky, everyone in awe of its amazing action. It keeps going all day and into the night and the next morning the ground is lying there embarrassed by its sudden exposure.
Anything can be a celebration, anything can be celebrated. The celebration need not be elaborate: The house straightened up; the dying flowers taken out of the arrangement on the table; the string of little white lights that line the kitchen ceiling giving the room a soft glow; candles flickering light on the trinkets from Brazil: the little frogs that hold up signs saying “amor”, “paxiao”; music, turned down; good food cooked simply; sweet tap water; maybe a glass of wine. Six days ago an official celebration of a Hallmark holiday. Tonight another one, for a decision made and just because.
I think I just have to rant some. I love what I do for work. I’m just doing too much of it. Today a patient said, “I’m burning the candle at both ends and the middle.” Now, that’s an over-used phrase but I never heard it, really, before now. I was already feeling that I was about up against the edge of what’s possible to do. I just got home from a little over 12 hours at work. And that included only about a total of 10-15 minutes of not working, a chat with a coworker. It’s absolutely too much.
With a part of another person inside of him
Who had to die
But who lives on
That doesn’t really belong but
“is happy where it is”.
Matched only by blood and not by tissue.
Three and a half years of grace
Still in awe
Still with wonder and questions
He shakes his head perplexed.
“It’s a feeling that
can’t be put into words
because something is lost.”
Birthed again and given new life
“I’m halfway there.”
Knowing that it is tenuous
And can be taken away
Then both will die
Like Mount Rushmore
Or the face of a queen on a coin
Here is my proud profile
Watch me not cry
I stand firm
Like the diseased oak in the yard
To which the family
Ties its tethers
Not realizing the crumbling in the center
Here is my dream
I'm driving an old yellow rectangular convertible Chevy
With a long flat wide hood in front
And a long flat wide deck in the rear
Down the hill behind the house
Through an eaten down pasture
Look both ways
It’s about forty-five seconds
from home to the open road
They arrive in all shapes and sizes, some willingly, some grudgingly, some skeptically. They are skinny, lean, fat, obese. They are black, white, Puerto Rican, Japanese, Kenyan, Polish, Native American. They come alone, with friends, parents, spouses, children. They are construction workers, hairdressers, professors of psychology, American history, biochemistry. They are parents, caretakers of parents. They paint, waitress, run computers or offices. They work in factories, stores, hospitals. They drive trucks, cars, heavy machinery.
They have diabetes. They are afraid, confident, stoic. They cry. They get angry. They have a story to tell and it’s my job to hear it.
The first house on the right outside of the town has a nice barn with three creosote paneled paddocks surrounded by a pasture. There is a barbed wire fence with hand-hewn spiked posts separating the horses from the cows next door. The three shiny horses in good weight seem oblivious to the books saying that the barbed wire is bad for them. The farm is on a wide stretch of flat green and between the red road and the foothills beyond. It is beautiful unspoiled land. The priorities are obvious here. The horses are happy. The house has no roof.
Now I’m angry. Then I was busy, focused and determined but now the impact of it, the fact that it’s not just over and never will be is really aggravating. Twice today in an hour I turned the dial on the temperature gauge to blue and put the fan on high, just to put it back to heat again 10” later. I wake all night with hot flashes from the medicine that’s supposed to keep the cancer from recurring. And still I am plagued by fears. Is this back pain, knee pain, hip pain, eye twitch going to kill me?
There is no silence in the hum of blood in veins, the whoosh of air into lungs, the labor force of digestion grumbling through another shift of shit work. Yet this is what we call silence. There is no throbbing red inflammation of a gouty toe, no piercing hot-knife nerves in the lower jaw behind a tooth, no constant dull moan of an organ unable to do its job. The mind is still with only the gentlest voices commenting on the passers-by, the temperature of the air, sending a reminder from today’s to-do list, wondering if there is a god.
Complete culture shock. That was a different Brazil. Sitting in the top deck of an air-conditioned bus with attendants offering waters and
. Last minute tickets on the executive through the special departure gate from two men selling their seats. “No wrong bus”
! We laughed and laughed that we got on, passport and ticket names unmatching. Luckily the woman read our minds because we could never have told that story. Video of Brazilian rock stars: flashy, slick. We ride above the ground, don’t stop for anyone waiting at the side of the road. But we are dropped there.
Another month. Bob says I should stop. That I should focus my writing energy on other work like the Brazil story, the horse story, maybe something new. And he’s right, I should. But this is my structure. It keeps me writing on the days that I’m way crazy at work and only steal five minutes at the end of the day to jot in my little blue book. It’s writing practice that no one will ever read. Some days it’s good work, some days it’s crap. But it’s moving pen and leaving ink droppings in the form of 100 words.
The Tip Jar