Sunday, December 8, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent

When I left my first husband and moved into my first apartment, I took almost noting with me. A giant armoire my father had made, a bed, a coffee table, a couch, my desk I'd bought at a roadside flea market, my books, Jonah's bed. A few things we'd gotten as wedding presents: the industrial Mixmaster my grandfather bought me, a cutting board my dad made, quilts my mom made, bohemian glass martini glasses I've still never used. My grandmother's wedding china, which I quickly learned broke easily and would light on fire if microwaved. A box of ornaments someone had given us at our wedding--ornaments reminiscent of those my grandparents had on their tree.

The apartment was gracious--Moorish arches, heavy plaster, gleaming wood floors. When Christmas came, I bought a tiny real tree but had only that one box of ornaments, a single strand of lights.

I was broke. Even though I was an almost-tenured English instructor, I was paying my rent plus our mortgage, car payments, student loans, daycare, plus our credit card on which my ex had charged furniture, dating apps, porn.

So we made do. Those first few Christmases, we made ornaments. Except, I was broke and utterly overwhelmed and had no idea how to construct a life for me and my toddler. One year, we made robot ornaments out of empty tampon boxes. I had blue paint, glitter, googly eyes. Those tampon robots followed us from our apartment to our little ranch house, all the way out to Portland and our first little brick house in Ladd's Addition. And then they disappeared. We still have the gingerbread man cut out of corrugated cardboard, still have the bead strings and laminated snowflakes from preschool and the ornament with his face glued to a ball jar lid.

Tonight, after a race this morning and a day-long migraine and a trip to the hipster craft supply store, after making double-chocolate waffles and minestrone and brownies--we painted two new tampon boxes (it is, after all, only a matter of time that I'll need them anymore. Robots 1.0 were painted when I was 30; twelve years on, I've been warned my fertile window is likely closing). We sprinkled them with glitter, and are letting them dry on paper grocery bags--our canvas of choice those years ago, when during snow days we painted triptychs on flattened moving boxes and cobbled together a car racetrack from broken pieces of ikea furniture.

We have two weeks until we have to fly again.

Tonight, R is watching television, the chickens laid two eggs, the dog is asleep in his bed and the cats are curled on the folded laundry in our bedroom. I am struggling to write, mostly depressed about what I've written, can write, will. As these things go. This week I have five rehearsals, two performances. It is December, after all, and the life of a singer during Christmas is frantic. I don't know what I would do without singing.

When I was in Kalamazoo, my life outside of teaching--my singing life--followed a liturgical calendar. Last Sunday I would have sung the alto solos in the Messiah Sing-Along for the first sunday in Advent. This Sunday would have been Lessons and Carols. Advent is a kind of potent waiting, an important arrival, according to the etymology. Christmas Eve would come and I would be alone in my apartment or house after the midnight service. Snow would fall, I would crawl into bed with the dogs and cats. Jonah would come home Christmas day and we would celebrate together the 26th.

Things change, though I will be alone much of Christmas Day while R. is with D. at D's mother's house and Jonah will be in Kalamazoo. I'll hike and write and be silent, waiting.

Sunday night and a patchy fog has settled over the Willamette Valley. I have poured myself a glass of wine, have arranged my houseplants beneath the window, watered the Christmas tree, let the cats climb into my lap. There is soup simmering on the stove, brownies cooling. Somewhere in the neighborhood, a barred owl glides above the treetops; coyotes slink between houses, and above the fog the night is full of stars.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Manic Minor Poet

It's Sunday. I'm a little (a lot) manic. I do not want to go to work tomorrow, because last week was really difficult, and this week promises to be worse.

Today I:

-Woke up at 7. Cleaned the bathroom, did a load of laundry, made coffee, made banana-chocolate chip waffles.
-Ran 5 miles (wanted to run 7, but the air quality was awful and I couldn't stop coughing).
-Made a sponge for a loaf of french bread
-Walked Mr. Bill with R and Jonah
-Cleaned the chicken coop, checked  the cloacal vents of my Americaunas that I thought should be laying by now (they're not laying, and perhaps are a lot yonger than i thought)
-Swept the 30 stairs up to the house, and the sidewalk. Filled the yard waste can to the brim.
-Made an apple pie (baking now)
-Went grocery shopping with R.
-Cleaned Jonah and D's bathroom
-Did more laundry
-Took a nap, woke up nauseated
-Made fried chicken and mashed potatoes for J.

On Friday, my new boss and another dean sat me down (they sat down all the other deans) to ask me about "Academic Prioritization" which is a euphemism for "laying faculty off." I was pressured to tell them which programs--people--I would lay off if we were only thinking in terms of the budget. If you had to make a very difficult decision.

If it's just a budget issue? Not a 'which-program-is-more-valuable-than-another' or 'which-program-is-clearly-failing" If it is JUST a budget issue then lay me off, I said. No one needs yet another administrator. I know how difficult it is to find a meaningful, tenure-track job as a professor. That's why I'm a dean. I will not, will fucking NOT, let my people be cut before I am cut.

We cannot afford me to be cut. I insure the family; we have chronic illness, a history of cancer. But.

I had R. investigate options for insurance through his job. I started looking at the ACA. This Friday, my boss has asked all of us to clear our schedules from 8-5 because that is when the announcement will be made.

I have a concert this week with a new chamber choir I'm a member of--I'm really excited about this group, even though it's wholly volunteer (my other singing gigs are professional). Next weekend is a three day weekend.  I got my period early this month, again (hello, perimenopause, hello mortality). For the first time in years I have purchased two pairs of jeans.

In a little less than a month I'm going to fly Jonah to Michigan and then I am going to spend Thanksgiving with my mom, who has moved back to Chicagoland. I haven't seen that family--or any family, really--in almost a decade. I'll see S, my best-friend-since-kindgergarten, and her wife. R. won't be tehre with me because Jesus Fucking Christmas, finances are suddenly really precarious. OVer Christmas we'll be in New Mexico with R.'s family.

I am struggling to write, struggling to promote my current book. Maybe I will just be a Minor Poet. Maybe that's okay.

I look at my body in the mirror--42 years old, strong, soft, sagging, striated with stretch marks, and I feel wholly myself.


Friday, October 18, 2019

Alaska, Michigan

It is dark. The river behind the house is fast; standing on the little concrete dock I got dizzy, had to sit down. I didn't bring a sweatshirt. Two deer stepped out of the woods on the other side of the river, paused to watch me, make sure I didn't pull out a gun, then placidly picked their way to the water, drank, then disappeared back into the woods. A kingfisher flashed on the water, then chuck-chucked into a tree.

Jonah's grandfather met us at the airport. Of all of the motley members of his father's family, his paternal grandfather has been the only one to actually interact with me. He smiled, laughed, almost shook my hand, almost leaned in to give me a hug. He was almost manically friendly. I don't know if he's just too dumb to be mean to me, or he doesn't really care, or he doesn't hate me as much as everyone else does. He always liked me, or at least liked my tits, kissed me inappropriately on the nape of my neck, on my mouth, let his hand slide to the small of my back.

Jonah's dad has a weekend with his son. I am unsure when he will see him.

The house where I'm staying is all knotty-pine and parquet ceilings, river and woodsmoke. The owner, a google search has revealed, is a frustrated but genial local historian, late blooming singer-songwriter who is mostly adjacent to the notes he wants to sing, and aspiring local Republican politician. Everyone is a republican here; everyone is Dutch Christian Reformed and blond and Loves Capitalist Jesus/Calvinist theology. The neighborhood around the house--a ghost town that the owner of this rental has extensively researched--is frayed at the edges. No curbs, a scattering of mid to late 1800 modest farm houses (this house has an original pump house), American flags, abandoned RVs, blue tarps, weed-choked yards. American cars and trucks that barrel too fast down the road. I went for a walk after I arrived and had to leap into the borrow ditch to avoid death by man-truck.

At any rate, tomorrow I will run and go to the Big Lake and look for Petoskey stones and write and drink a(nother) bottle of wine and we'll fling ourselves westward once again late Sunday morning.
Here we are, alive. Let's make the best of it.





Monday, September 16, 2019

How to Dig A Chicken's Grave

Today began with the digging of a grave, rain falling hard and cold and only scrub jays screaming in the neighbor's overgrown holly.

I've known Horus, our Rhode Island Red, was ailing for a while. Early in the spring, she started laying shell-less eggs: weird, gelatinous blobs in the nesting boxes. Then she stopped laying altogether, as did Lilac the Barred Rock, after our late dog Max killed the third chicken, Reiko. I worried, I fretted. Then Lilac started laying again in May and Horus began losing feathers. Jonah left for the summer, and I considered:
-mites
-lice
-egg binding
-molting
-who the fuck knows

I consulted my chicken oracles: the multiple backyard chicken boards I belong to. I checked her cloacal vent, and stuck my vaselined fingers up there looking for a bound egg. I bought food grade diatomaceous earth, sprinkled the coop, their food, their bodies with it. We had also gotten two new chicks, young Americaunas. I assumed Horus was molting, as red feathers began littering the enclosure. She seemed fine, but didn't lay. Looked a little rough. Then last week, she began sitting in a dark corner of the yard, refused to come into the coop at night until I herded her in. She seemed less enthused about grubs, then didn't care at all. By Friday, she wasn't moving much, and decided to lay between the food and the water in the run. I moved her, Saturday afternoon, to a cat crate, gave her a blanket, water, food. I began googling how to humanely euthanize a chicken. I knew I couldn't do it, not humanely. I would bungle it. I didn't want to call the vet because I'd just read an article about the high suicide rate among vets and I couldn't imagine calling Zoe, our amazing house-vet, to come over just to murder my dying chicken. So I stroked Horus's feathers, gave her a little water. Told her it was okay to go.

These are the things I couldn't do for my father, for I never got to say goodbye. These are the things I didn't know to do for Max, the dog, until he was in my arms at the emergency vet and the tech stood with the needle ready to stick into his veins and let him go. This morning, when I held Horus' cold, stiff body, her eyes milky and blank, I felt nothing but relief. I let the dirt fall upon her and hurried off to work. The spade is still leaning against the house, over her shallow grave.

Lilac stood vigil most of the weekend, but yesterday seemed to abandon her to the crate. When i locked them up for the night, she hadn't moved at all, but was still breathing. This morning she was cold, dusty, dead.

So I did all the things I usually have to do in the morning: shower, dress, make Jonah's lunch, feed the animals, feed the chickens, get Jonah up, get him fed, fold the mountain of laundry we generated last night and I was too tired fo told, answer work emails from panicked faculty. Then pull my garden shoes on and pull the spade out of the shed and find some garden earth soft enough to dig a grave. R. was still asleep, and I told Jonah the chicken had died when he came downstairs for breakfast, told him I'd buried her when he came down to leave for school. Jays screeched at me, the sky was yolk-pale yellow, rain dripped down my neck. Jonah cried on the way to school, cried this afternoon.

Only Lilac is laying now, the Artemis twins on the brink of it. When they do, I have been promised eggs the color of a new spring sky, palest blue or green.

It rained and thundered. A CenturyLink technician was high on a ladder against a pole when a great peal of thunder rang out, the sky opened, and he quickly clanged down the rungs and made a run for his truck. I pulled in front of the house as Jonah and his friend A. walked up. They were soaking, A.'s umbrella half broken and limp. Bye, Jonah's mom! he called as Jonah and I walked up the stairs. A rainbow pressed its flat snout briefly against the eastern sky.




Friday, August 23, 2019

Home, Home, Home

I don't have much to say except my boy is home.

I flew 3,400 miles over two days and we were delayed for hours in Chicago and I contemplated the possibility of sleeping on our bags on the shitty, dirty, disgusting airport floor but lo! the angels at Southwest conjured another plane and we lifted off and landed in the wee hours of the night and my boy slept in his bed and spent the day with his friends at the pool and came home sunburned and exhausted.

He is so skinny and tall and he hasn't slept all summer long. I hope a few days here can jar him back into a non-psychotic sleep schedule.

On the plane last night, I thought about that first time I flew to Portland, R.and I only a possibility after weeks of writing to one another. How terrified and also brave we were, how I couldn't eat at all, how scary and yet easy it felt with him, how he held my hand as we walked through a parking lot, how awkward that first kiss was in the airport, how I asked him, timidly, that last night, if he thought we were a thing and he said of course we're a thing and how when I turned my phone back on after landing in Chicago I had a text that said I think I'm in love with you and I didn't even hesitate to write back I'm in love with you too

And here we are, seven years later (!). Jonah exhausted and asleep in his room at 7.45, R watching a soccer game in the living room and me here on the porch.  The boys were in third grade when we moved out here; they start high school next Wednesday. In the hours I had between landing in Michigan and flying out, I drove to Lake Michigan, walked through a prairie. THat landscape is in my blood but today on my run through the sun-bleached lawns of North Tabor, the deep green of Laurelhurst Park, I realized this landscape is in my blood now too. And this one doesn't make me feel anxious, doesn't unsettle me.

Even before we landed, my ex was emailing demanding our travel dates for September (we don't travel in September). Jonah only is required to travel three more summers; in three years, I never have to deal with his father again. I don't wish my boy to grow up any faster than he already is, but my god.

Here we are. I hope J sleeps tonight. The air is thin and pink. I am so glad to be home.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Late August and Here We Are, On the Edge of It

It is the golden hour: yellow-pink light on sunblasted lawns, lawns dry as straw, the deodar cedar and its little chartreuse pollen cones. My husband is inside, playing his guitar and singing quietly I can hear highway noise, a soft hush-hush. Runners and walkers and crows slip past the porch, the twinkle-lights on, prayer flags fluttering in small wind.

I leave tomorrow to fly across country to spend a night in an airport hotel, get my boy, turn around and fly back home again. It has been 10 weeks. I am brim-full with anxiety: these transition points feel like weak joints where anything could go sideways.

The neighbor's sedums are almost blooming, a blush of pink. I have a glass of wine. My husband's voice rises and falls softly inside.

We have gotten the best of news possible--he is healthy, he is cancer-free. We have bills, large ones, for all the tests. We have hiked the Deschutes river, Great Obsidian Lava flow, Lake Paulina high in the Cascades. We have also had some particularly difficult nights as life has closed in again. I had the first reading for Animal Bride. I have gotten, suddenly and after long silence, back-to-back extremely good poetry news that I must wait to post about. He struggles to sell his novel, which is beautiful and brutal, and it is hard, being a family of two writers sometimes. It is hard to be a woman and have spent my entire life learning how to fold myself up put the needs and emotions of others before my own successes, to know how to navigate this. We are trying, both of us. There have been tears and shouting and long walks with the dog and trying to find our way outside of ourselves to something real. We will--that we are able to have these conversations about gendered behaviors and what it means to be in a supportive partnership, that--honestly--he listens to me and I feel safe enough to work my way to the truth without fear he will stop loving me, is huge.

My boy comes home on Thursday. It will be late, he hasn't been able to sleep all summer, finally falling asleep at dawn most days. He starts high school next week, as does his stepbrother, D. Both boys at the same school for the first time, and D. having to navigate moving to a high school where he knows no one. Jonah is moving with his tight group of friends, kids he misses fiercely.

The sky is pink and lilac. R. is singing, Mr. Bill the dog is collapsed on the floor after a long walk, after a day of not eating until I gave him turkey and wet food and he scarfed it all down. He is twelve and Jonah's best friend and I need him to hold on for a few more years, even though he is twelve.

Jonah is coming home. It's going to be okay. This is what I told him as a baby, as a child as I rubbed his back and held him fiercely to my heart.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Halfway Through/Leo Season

It is almost halfway through the summer, and it is grey and chilly. Late July and it's crept above 90 once; it has rained, there was even a tornado in Alameda, a mile or so north and west of my house. Tonight, breezy and the air is chilly. The tomatoes haven't grown a bit, though the cucumbers and zucchini I planted in the new raised beds in the back are verdant, monstrous. The chickens went for almost two months without laying, and the Artemis Twins have grown. After R.'s PET scan, Lilac, the barred rock, started laying again and Horus, the Rhode Island Red, started what looks like a hard molt. The enclosure is full of orange feathers, and she looks more bedraggled by the day.

I talk to Jonah three times a week, I go to work early and come home in the late afternoon sunlight, I run, I walk the dog, I water the garden every other day. We don't sleep much, R. and I, as we are still waiting on one last test to clear him, again, from cancer. All the signs have been good, but I am deeply tired and my body worn down by worry. We lived a week, in between test and a doctor's explanation of the test, believing we might be facing a worst case scenario. I have not had such anxiety attacks for a long time. Thank god for CBD oil, thank god for cats and chickens and running and the smell of jasmine and rosemary and lavender. Thank god for the porch and for good news.

Tonight I can hear a neighbor's toddler having a complete meltdown--scream-crying mama mama mama NOOOOOOO!!!!!! and it feels like a fist in my chest, at my throat. I want to scoop that baby up and hold her and rock her and take her sobs into my body.

It's been a long time since Jonah fell apart like that. That he was a baby. And he didn't have many tantrums--after I left his father and he started sleeping with me every night, he rarely threw a tantrum. Oh, he cried. We both did. A lot. Still do, I suspect.  And he'd ask for a 'rocky hug' where he'd sit on my lap and wrap his legs around my waist and bury his head in my neck and I'd rock him and rub his back until he felt safe, until he was okay.

His face on my laptop yesterday was strained. He's worried--about R., about his friend M. who was diagnosed with a heart murmur, about his father's girlfriend's dog Otis, who might have cancer. We still have four weeks. I miss him fiercely, my boy-man, my best person. I cannot bear to see Facebook memories from years ago when summers were ours, when I didn't have to work and he was with me every single day. But, that was also when his father forcibly cut his hair and he had to sleep there three nights a week and i thought i would never escape.

The screaming toddler--and mother and father and infant sibling and dog are in front of the house now. Dad is doing a valiant job of distracting the bigger one. Did you see that house that had the flowers? are they still there? Mom is wearing a magnificent sky blue caftan; the infant must be weeks, if not days, old.

This is what I am so desperately jealous of. What I so wanted years ago, but didn't believe could ever be possible. To have raised my son away from fear.

I know. Not everything is as it appears. As R. pointed out a few days ago when we were on our nightly walk with Mr. Bill, maniac dog. I have to walk a few paces ahead of R., (despite his legs being almost literally twice the length of mine and my steps being three to his every one) because Mr. Bill walks like a goddamn maniac and can't choose a side of the sidewalk and if you were to walk right next to me he would trip you in an instant. Anyway, R. wondered what people thought of us--did the neighborhood think we didn't get along, as we never walked next to one another?

Well. We made it this far. Only four weeks and a few days left and then the boys start high school and the school year starts up again for me and I have my first reading for my book in a few weeks and am begrudgingly trying to schedule a few more (self promotion is really fucking difficult and I am Not. Good. At. It.).

Anyway. My friend M. and I saw a juvenile red tailed hawk today over the creek at work today, spreading its wings and tail while perched in a snag. It turned its head and looked at us a few times, but paid us little mind.  Thank god for friends. And there have been no fires so far this summer, no orange medallion sun and unbreathable air, and the toddler has stopped crying and Mr. Bill found a tennis ball on our walk and the sky is lilac and I have to believe that despite everything, because it it, we didn't make it this far for it not to turn out all right. It took, and is going to take, a goddamned fight, but the only thing we've got is the ferocity of hope.