Friday, August 4, 2017

The She-Wolf of--

When I walked out of rehearsal last night, a bat flickered overhead. The air still hot, sky smoke-red from wildfires in British Columbia. Play rehearsal is in the suburbs, and the drive there and back is a drive through a parallel universe, as if my old life had been dropped among the Tualatin Mountains.

I spend time that I should be writing (should, should, should) reading about the Boring Lava Fields, basalt, geology. I am reading, for the first time, Dante’s Inferno.

On Wednesday, the temperature gauge in my car read 110 degrees. My air conditioner stopped working. 

All I could taste was smoke. I went to bed nauseated, my head pounding.

The West Hills—the Tualatin Mountains—and the Cascades are almost invisible; a hazy cloud hangs over the whole city. I don’t know how people who live in smoggy cities do it—running this morning (slow and with lots of breaks even though it was only three miles) about did me in.

But if I hadn’t run, things would have been worse: the combination of finally finding a bra that fits (in an obscene and BIGGER THAN I HAVE EVER THOUGHT MYSELF TO BE AND I AM NOT A PORN STAR size) and a photograph of me singing Wednesday night is enough to trigger eating-disorder brain. It doesn’t take much to flip that switch, though.

Turning 40 has made me uneasy, uncertain in my skin. I have the life I have always dreamed of: smart and funny and talented and loving and kind partner, children who are also smart and funny and talented and loving and kind. I live in a city that I chose, that feels like home. But my body continues to soften, despite running (thought running helps calm my crazy-brain, helps me feel like my body and I are, if not one and the same, at least on the same team). But my left temple is rapidly populated with grey hair. But my face is lined and no cashier even pretends to want to see my ID to purchase alcohol, but I am no longer the youngest person in choir/youngest professor/youngest member of the board.

I, animal. Thank god(des). But being animal means being mortal.

I sent my manuscript off to the poet/editor who will be editing my second book, Animal Bride, today. I hadn’t read the manuscript in ages. It is another kind of a dream to be working with her, with this press, that this book will be out in the world.

It is evening and I am drinking wine on the porch while D and R watch Life of Brian and I hope that maybe I will see a bat here even though it is the city and I can hear traffic moving on the road behind us.

I picked the first tomatoes, cucumbers, a half-dozen zucchini. I love this garden so much. Every time I move the hoses, lift the leaves of the zucchini to see if there are more, push my finger in the soil to see if it is dry, I think of my father and grandfather and their gardens, how my dad would come from work and water the garden every night and bring in armfuls of zucchini, cucumber, tomato. I ate the first tomato, greedily, seconds from pulling it from the plant, the flesh still warm.

Eventually the heat will break.

Eventually I will be able to write something other than a list instead of a poem (perhaps the list is the poem).

The sky tonight is pearl, pink. I no longer taste smoke. The wet garden smells of earth, tomato, basil.

 In exactly 20 days, Jonah will be home. My boy. My heart.



Saturday, July 22, 2017

Two of Cups





It has been a long while since i've come to this space to write, since I have felt like my brain was capable of writing. I'm not sure it yet is--fuzz, mostly, static. Beads of sweat are moving down my spine even though I/m on the porch, and the air is moving and not humid in the way the Midwest was humid, but it hasn't rained for over a month and the sky is like a peeled egg and the sun so bright.

The garden is verdant though. Early this spring, R. and I built three raised beds in the parking strip and i planted sugar peas (not doing so well), a billion tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, sunflower, dill, basil, pumpkin, watermelon. We've harvested one cucumber so far, and a handful of peas. And in a fit of manic energy I began bagging the fivebillionsquarefeet of cedar chips that are our side yard and we had a fence guy come out and give us an estimate and I've pulled up landscaping fabric and now it's a dirt pit.

Today I washed the dogs for the first time in probably a year. Max took it well, Mr. Bill screamed and screamed and acted as though I were killing him. But they are almost dry now and they smell much better and we walked them through the fancy part of the neighborhood and they mostly behaved.

Jonah has been gone four weeks, comes home in five. Thirty-three days. His hair is still long and he spends his days at his father's double-wide writing songs and drawing. His father makes him take a judo class three days a week and he doesn't hate it as much as he thought he would.

It has been a week and a few days since R.'s procedure. When they wheeled him away from me, into surgery, I could barely stand. I went into a bathroom, locked myself in the handicapped stall, and cried.

He is still radioactive for another week. We sleep with a pillow between us. He is tired. He takes a handful of pills when he wakes up, when he goes to bed. It will get better now. I believe this, but I am also wary.

I ran my first race since moving across the country. I will run my second tomorrow.

It has been a difficult six months. I have wanted to curl around myself, around my family, and disappear. I cannot write. I can barely think. I finished my book two summers ago, and last summer at the coast, I began the next one but I can't seem to get to it right now. Everything is sideways, glancing.I deleted social media from my phone. I am learning to read the Tarot, am reading poetry, probably drinking too much wine. I am having a particularly difficult time being in my body, my forty-year old body and my hair greying at my temples and lines moving into permanence on my face.

On Friday, I took the day off because i have so much unused vacation time, and I took myself to Sauvie Island. I watched cottonwood drift into an electric blue sky, barn swallows, a bald eagle over the Multnomah Channel. I saw grebes and osprey and northern flickers. I sat on the banks of the Columbia and watched a tugboat churn past.

I go to work, I run, I go to rehearsal, I rake woodchips, I water the garden. I sit with R. on the porch and watch evening sift over the neighborhood, the sky become milk-blue, then pink, then a few stars.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Holding Pattern

Jonah is practicing his clarinet upstairs; notes heavy and round bounce down the narrow, steep attic steps.

R. and I spent the weekend building raised beds. I have seedlings started on the deck in a jerry-rigged coldframe: tomato, dill, basil, pepper, cucumber, snow pea. I have been in a foul mood for a while, though I have dug 72 square feet of sod and held the boards as R. joined them together, helped him lift the boxes into the narrow strip of land between the sidewalk and the street. I took the day off on Friday and ran and hiked 9 miles. I am beyond sore, but I don't want to stop moving. I don't want to think. I don't want to feel. I don't want to go back to work on Monday; I have dreams of being a teacher again, though that path feels impossible now, a ghost life.

I don't know how to write anymore, or so it feels. My mind remains empty, feels like a knot, or a box of air, some sickly flower, brown at the edges. I write lists: kestrel, ruby-crowned kinglet, black tailed deer, spotted towhee, northern flicker, Anna's hummingbird, thrush, robin, song sparrow; winter cress, allium, hawthorne, dogwood, radiation, layoff, seedlings, cold frame, sky.

When I hiked on Friday, I wanted nothing to do with forests.  I wanted the spread of the fog-covered Cascades and the coastal range. I wanted wind and sun, though there was mostly clouds. Walking between the trees filled me with a cold dread. I walked in and quickly walked out.

And now water through the pipes, Jonah clambering down  the stairs to hug me, shadows gathering in the narrow yard between our house and the neighbors. But the sky is clearest blue, the small patch I can see from my office. Tonight I suspect we will be able to see the stars.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Awe

I have spent Easter with a very weepy 11 almost 12 year old. He cries because he thinks he's disappointed me. His face clouds up, the long swaths of his hair fall into his face, he won't look at me. I suggest going to the beach though his favorite sandwich shop is closed because it is Easter. He cries because he doesn't know what to do. Because his computer is slow. Because he is, in his words, confused. About everything. We have been at odds for a few weeks now--any criticism or hint of it and he falls apart. My radar for him has been humming at high frequency; I know when he's not okay, when there's something going on. He won't tell me what. Just--I'm confused. About everything. He tends toward absolutes when he's depressed. He has been depressed, off and on, for a few years now. I recognize it, see the storms that cloud my own spirit move across his in familiar ways. It tends to manifest around traveling, around those seismic shifts in his life between here and there, between this life and his other life. But we haven’t traveled for weeks, and won’t until the end of May. But then, every day he also hugs me, tells me he loves me. After dinner tonight, he wrapped his arms around me and sat on my lap.

We spent an hour at the rhododendron gardens today, feeding the ducks. When we left, he was sad. By the time we’d emptied our bag of cracked corn, he was better. Himself. We talked about Jesus, the concept of resurrection, of what might happen to the soul when we leave this earth. Christians believe that Jesus came to conquer death, I said. But death is a good thing, he countered. It saves us from endless pain and suffering. Would we want to live forever and watch all of our friends die?

Death is a good thing.  This stuck with me later, a cold seed. I asked him—what did you mean by that? Just that no one wants to live forever, Mom. Do you think about these things, about hurting yourself? No. I think about what happens when we die, but not the other thing. 

Before he went upstairs to take a shower, he sat on my lap and hugged me. I tried out my internet-search knowledge of 2017 slang. He cringed, like any 11 year old would do.


*

When R. and I were at the coast last year, the beach trail appeared and disappeared with the tide. At low tide, we could climb over old lava flow to the hidden beach, then the scarp that led to woods (Beware: bear, cougar, unstable earth). At the entrance to the woods, a rope hung from a tree to pull hikers up the slope. It wasn't high, but I was too scared. R. disappeared onto the cliff for a few minutes leaving me with the rope in my hands, the smell of sea air. I began to panic. Called his name. His voice floated down a few dozen feet above me, then he appeared a few minutes later next to me.

The first night I spent alone after my ex-husband left, I slept. I hadn't slept in years. I let my legs cut across the bed, let Jonah curl into my arm. Though he had a bed, and a bedroom--in our first house, then the apartment, then our house in the suburbs, we rarely used it. He slept with me most nights, and the dogs, and the cats. This continued until we all moved in together, R. and D. and Jonah and me.  He sleeps with the dogs, sometimes an errant cat. A string of Christmas lights twinkles all night in his room over the glowing Totoro nightlight.

The first night I slept in my own bedroom at 15, I couldn't sleep for the silence. I was used to the breathing of someone else, even if it enraged me. Even if I pummeled my sister B. from the bed above with a Cabbage Patch Girl to shut her up. It was weird being alone.

I got used to it. I was a really good single mother. I became fierce and terrified, all at once.

*

The surgeon, whose accent was thick and familiar, finally admitted to being from Chicago. He said, of R.'s last name, Armenian? I thought so. I'm from Chicago--

I cut him off. I knew you were from Chicago! So am I!

He asked where. I ruefully admitted the North Shore. He chuckled--not much older than I, we'd probably graduated from high school the same year. Oh, that's not Chicago. That's soft. I'm from where it's a lot scarier.

Where? I asked. Evanston. I guffawed--really? You're going to Out-Chicago me and say you're from Evanston?

What I didn't say, but thought all the way home: what do you mean by "scary" pal? What do you mean by tough?

We decided later that day not to go with surgery, but with brachytherapy. The surgeon was knowledgeable, but I watched our body language go smaller and smaller as the conversation went on.  We tried to fold ourselves up like origami cranes. Or something smaller. Something untouchable. I put my hand on R's shoulder, pulled it away. We drove home and laughed at the surgeon's athletic socks, his sensible shoes. How weird the office was. Beneath it was a hum, a small panic.

*

If you had shown me this life ten years ago, I would not have believed it. Or, rather, it was the kind of life I desperately wanted to believe was possible, and for which I leapt into the abyss. This house with thirty steps and a new garden and coved ceilings and five bedrooms and a fireplace and Douglas fir floors in the bedrooms, narrow oak in the living room. Four cats, two dogs, two boys both as tall or taller than I. We spent yesterday morning at the nursery picking more plants for the front yard; afterwards D. and R. put flowers into pots, I scaled the front yard and transplanted perennials, Jonah drew in his bedroom and around dinner time,  Jonah and I played gin rummy and made calzones and then he hugged me with my head on his shoulder.  I love you I love you.

I woke last night at 4:00 from a nightmare: we were on the deck of a beautiful house that we wanted to buy--a house perched on a cliff face in the woods and the ocean sparking through the firs-- and a landslide swept half of us away. At first I thought we were all safe but then i realized R. and D. and Jonah weren't there, and how would D. get his insulin in the woods and how would I ever find any of them again?  I woke up because I thought I heard Jonah calling my name. I heard someone come down the stairs and I got up, walked upstairs in a t-shirt and my underwear and found Jonah asleep, his arm thrown over the his head like he did as an infant. I kissed his forehead, tiptoed back downstairs and then stood in the hallway to see R. come out of the bathroom, kiss the top of my head.

Everybody was home. Everybody was okay.


*

We learned that R. has prostate cancer almost a month and a half ago. It is a rare strain, aggressive. It must be treated--surgery or radiation. For his age, the general reccomendation is surgery but the side effects are severe and life-long. We learned a few weeks ago that the cancer has not spread; it is curable, as much as cancer can be. 

As curable as my cancer was, is--this virus I carry with me forever, this little time bomb.

I curl next to him each night, able to breathe normally because he is there, because our boys are upstairs and okay.

*

When we were at the coast writing this summer, I spent seven days writing about miracles.

*
By “awe” the Greeks meant pain, grief. To love means to lose yourself in the weeds, the trail tapering off into thicket, bramble, to wrap the body of the beloved in cloth and anoint her head with oil, it is to see god in everything and nothing. God is dead. God is alive. 

In between my boy crying, the ducks, a run up Mt. Tabor and down to the nursery where I bought seeds and ran home beneath a sky that was growing thicker, a tentative warmth settling over the city—I jimmy-rigged a temporary cold frame on our back deck, planted seeds for our garden-to-be: tomato, basil, dill, pea. I held Jonah in my arms and told him I love him. I kissed my husband and picked cherry petals from his shoulder, where the wind had blown them. 

I don’t know what will be enough.

Oh God most strange in all your ways.




Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dispatch from Trumpistan



I am writing to you from the outpost on the ghost boundary between my old life, and the new. Between our old life and whatever life we are entering. It is cold here; small pellets of snow drive against the window and the lake is frozen, though not as much as usual, though the waves crash a few feet off shore instead of the customary fifty. It is colorless; the fields and the sky a long stretch of brownish grey and the trees are frayed nerves.

I come back and I drive over familiar country roads, run down the dune path to the Lake, watch wild turkeys and deer move about the dun-colored meadow. I could almost slip into my old life, but I cannot because I have a new life, a real life where fir and mountain and river and my husband and boys sleep beneath the roof, beneath the rain.

And to say this is a new world is to speak from enormous privilege. It is the world that has existed and which some of us have recently been plunged into.

It is the Midwest, so people say hello whenever I pass—on the trail, on the sidewalk, in the aisles of the grocery store. But it is also a place I feel profoundly scared; a place shot through with despair and anger and salt-streaked Trump/Pence signs still anchored firmly in lawns, Christmas lights still twinkling on the eaves.

I don’t know how to write anymore. For months, I’ve been angry, vehement, driven. And then, a weight fell. I cannot write. I cannot think. I am numb and I wake in the middle of the night in a sweat, in a panic. We are a world moving closer and closer to war, a nation abandoning democracy. I can barely look at the screen of my phone and can’t bear to look away. The world is burning. The world has always been burning.

A week ago, R. and the boys and I joined the Portland Women’s March. After a week of being trapped inside by a freak snowstorm, it rained. We walked twenty blocks from our old house in Ladd’s Addition, across the Hawthorne Bridge, and joined the marchers already underway. The boys were grumpy, then not. R and I both wept, held our boys’ hands tightly, relaxed for a few hours in the community of like-minded people.

The night before the protests were met with flashbang grenades. The bodies of white women (and the white men who marched with us on Saturday) are sacred ground for White Supremacy. Sacred vessels, anyway.

My ex-husband ends text exchanges—civil, friendly-ish ones where I am sharing videos of Jonah’s band concert and details about what time to pick him up at the airport—with MAGA!

R.  was shocked that DT won. I wasn’t. Crazy always wins. This is what I have said about my ex, when his illogical attacks have gotten traction, and no matter of logic on my side could stop him. Crazy steamrolls sense. If you stick to an insane lie, and you have the power to maintain it, in this system you are unstoppable. Donald Trump is my ex husband empowered.

Another friend posted the interview with DT that ran recently on television, the myriad of people commenting how unhinged he sounded, how insane. He must be unwell, they said. He must have dementia.

But understand: DT is not an aberration. We have been living with him, people like him, for years. I have been on the receiving end of diatribes, broken logic like his. I have had my ex husband insist I was spying on him through my son’s iphone. That I should be barred by the court from ever writing again. That I hit him, that he never laid a hand on me, that he would come to my house and chop me into tiny bits with an ax, that he never said any of those things at all, that I was crazy, that it was his rights that were being hurt, that he was the victim, that I was his wife and it wasn’t rape, that—

My ex is a microcosm of White Supremacy Patriarchy. He is a reflection of the world we are all inhabiting, and have been. If you’re white and not a total fucking asshole, you’ve just woken up to the fact that we live in a dystopia that’s rapidly getting worse. If you are not white, you’ve been aware of this for a long time. My ex is poor, white and uneducated. He came from two parents who did everything in their power to raise their children poorly—he and his brother were passed back and forth between his parents until his father won custody in court, and sent the boys to live with their mother because he would no longer have to pay for them. He was never encouraged to go to college, to do anything but get high and drunk. I made the mistake, however, of feeling sorry for him twenty years ago. I was a white girl from the upper middle class suburbs of Chicago whose parents sent her out of state to college. And I was never allowed to stop paying for that. I learned while with him to keep that information from the people around me—never let them know I went to college, was a professor. Simply by saying those things I was accused of putting people down. I get it, poor white boys—you were raised in a White Supremancy Patriarchy and you are supposed to be Donald Trump, buy you’re not. And because being rich means being good, and being poor means being bad, you can’t admit that you’re poor and the system fucks you over too. Instead women are fucking you over. Black and brown people are fucking you over. You’ve bought the capitalist, hegemonist notion that this is a zero sum game and if someone else has something, it means you don’t get it because that’s how you think: this is mine and I’m not sharing. And no one is helping you out and you can’t see the privilege your skin and your penis give to you because in a WSP it is invisible; it is normal.

That when my ex was arrested for drunken driving for the 6th time, he was given probation—one weekend in KPEP. The Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program, according to the website, “KPEP began in the fall of 1980 to provide a live-in residence for those individuals who need more structure than regular probation provides, but where extended jail time is not judged necessary“. If he’d been rich and white, he would have been able to afford a lawyer and probably not gotten anything (as a friend of mine’s little sister did (white, blond, middle class)—she was arrested, drunk, for the nth time going 100 MPH on the freeway and had her license suspended. Her parents paid $50,000 for her to go to an alcohol treatment center.) If he’d been brown, he would have been in jail. That’s why the judge didn’t blink when he accused me of spying on him via his son’s phone. That’s why the police officer said to me, when I called after he’d threatened to kill me, that I could only hope he’d do something bad, that he’d actually really hurt me because otherwise the police couldn’t protect me. His word against mine, and clearly mine was worth nothing. MAGA! It’s your fault your son comes from a broken home, whore.

I have lived with that narcissism, with that wellspring of anger and a desire to crush everything in its path. I have had privilege that has helped me escape him, or somewhat escape him. I am, after all, here in a little apartment on the Lake in the frigid north. I went to bed the night of November 8th in shock that the world had changed. Silly girl; the scales had perhaps only just then fully come off my eyes.

I have been trying to sort this garbage out for a decade now; how I ended up in hell, how I got out, how to reconstruct a sense of self and sanity after living in hell. I don’t write much about what I have found: a family and husband and children who are my heart and my home and my tether to what is good in the world. Music, theater. All of the people I love in my life. I cannot write about those because they feel sacred and because I am perhaps still afraid they will vanish; that I am in fact crazy and all of these are temporary and hell is what is permanent. This is what abusers do. This is what Trump is doing to us. This is what white supremacy patriarchy does to anyone who isn’t in power.

The snow is hitting the windows tonight with a regular tick-tick, the Bradford pear, bare and spindly, taps its branches against the window. Beyond the dune, the Lake crashes and freezes against the pier. Somewhere south of here, my son sleeps in his father’s house and is learning to make two selves, to survive in two worlds.

I have not done enough; few of us have done enough. My white skin has protected me from a level of fear that I am only now feeling. I will not let my white son grow up to be a monster. I will do everything in my power to do the work to make this world a place where everybody is as safe as he is.