Saturday, October 14, 2017

Epiphany

Friday, before dawn, Jonah and I  started the whole rodeo again. 4:30 in the car to the airport, 5:15 at the gate, 5:30 board, 6:00 hurtle across the country for a weekend. For him, to his father's girlfriend's house (remember? the murderer's wife? Trial was a mistrial, new trial in January), me to an airport hotel and boxed wine and revisions and drafting and reading and talking to no one, pretending I'm invisible. I was a wreck Thursday night. I picked a fight with R., didn't sleep, and when my alarm woke me at 4:00 AM Friday, I'd dreamed of catastrophe, disaster, rivers.

Then the trip, again. Jonah and I bickering at PDX--his headphones not working, his music too loud, both of us so tired, so. Then he slept in my lap for four hours and we held each others' hands. Then his father and his girlfriend and her youngest daughter met us at the gate. The girlfriend was friendly, made-up to the nth degree. We have met before, been friendly when our husbands were friends, smoking joints and whatever else on the back deck. When she was my student. It was the first time in years my ex spoke to me, made eye contact. The Girlfriend's daughter, a lovely girl, hung her head to the side, didn't make eye contact. I'm sure it was weird. Jonah told me he loved me, would see me on Sunday.

Then yesterday, woods, wine, hotel. Today: woods, woods, Lake, owls, hotel. Wine. R. texting me from 1,700 miles away. Rain and water rising on the roads. Three owls over Lake Michigan between storms, in the middle of the day, flying from the scrub dunes. I was breathless, amazed. They were silent, the Lake silent, the sky weird and grey and scuttling.

Owls are associated with Lillith (the spirit in the tree), Athena.

On my hikes today, I only saw white people. Two dudes had white supremacist tattoos, another a Confederate flat iPhone case. I am in Betsy DeVos country, sure, but it is a culture shock, nonetheless.

It has rained and rained and rained. I'm never going to be dry or warm again, I texted R.

And so I have walked through dunewoods, lakeshore. I have driven through small towns with their Victorian farmhouses and imagined my life, if i hadn't left. Rather, if I had stayed but allowed myself to want things: a beautiful house, a yard, chickens.  Space from my ex, a place to start to forget what it meant to be raped, to be flat on my back, to be folded into myself. Maybe I couldn't have done that here. And yet, I grew up here. I became the woman who became me. I don't know who this woman is, yet. But I am starting to feel okay in her skin. My skin. And I am grateful i live in the Pacific Northwest, whose forests make me feel electric and ecstatic and the ocean that makes me dumbfounded, every time.

At the woods today, two men with White Supremacy tattoos, another with a confederate flag iphone case.

But also: three short-eared owls flew out over the foredunes and over the Lake, which was still as glass and dead silent, in between squalls. Something inside of me broke open. I watched them fly over me, over the water, over me again. I climbed the dune, my ankles mosquito-bitten, raw. I could barely catch my breath. The water was grey-blue, a thin, darker line the only mark between water, horizon and sky. Then owls, silent. After they flew over and back, ever and back, the wind kicked up, the aspen rattled.Tonight, the promises more storms, red blooming like poppies on the radar screen. Tomorrow night, my boy and I fly home, and then we'll be back in a month.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Equinox

It is still warm, and I am on the porch in the dark beneath the twinkle lights. We have spent the evening planting in the backyard, which is no longer a literal shithole but has a lawn and places for berries and flowers and the old camellia has been tamed and we've planted a new one, and the photina isn't insane anymore and the satan-flower-that-never-blooms-wisteria has been whacked into oblivion. D and R and I worked until almost dark, and Jonah was in his room drawing. There are all sorts of flying insects tonight, surely because it is the last warm day after a very warm summer and the smoke is gone and the trees are turning and the winter crops have been planted in the sunbeds and the last zucchini harvested, the plants pulled but the pumpkin which has three toddler-head sized fruit, oranging.  When I was weeding in the front yard (really, a 45 degree slope) the lavender was on its last blooms, and the scent drifted over the earth, dry and clean.

Yesterday afternoon (and all afternoons when I come home) Jonah and I hugged in the living room, great yellow slabs of late afternoon sunlight over our shoulders like robes. We always hug--after he unconsciously eats breakfast in the morning and before he goes upstairs to get dressed, when I get home from work, before bed, and just now, when he came out onto the porch and scared me and I almost punched him (I have a fight instinct, not flight). Last night I made the boys dinner--chicken, potatoes, chocolate zucchini bread. I wondered to R. in bed if I were entering perimenopause. I slept fitfully, dreaming I punched the college president in the face.

During today's math department meeting, I told them of that dream, laughing.

Last week, my faculty made me cry because they stood up, one after the other, to the new executive dean, and told them how much they supported me. I sat down on the step in the front of the lecture hall and cried. I have never been good with people being nice to me. I love these people, many of my colleagues. I never expected that.

I will not be a dean forever.  I have set that intention. I am moving closer to being a witch: this night of autumn warmth, woodsmoke, lavender, pinot noir I found in the basement left by the previous owner, a winemaker. On my altar are lake Michigan stones, ocean rocks, a smooth round stone from France from a beloved writer friend, crystals the boys found at a gem store, a smooth labradorite from R. The Virgin of Guadalupe, crow feathers. I just finished Ariel Gore's We Were Witches and read Natalie Diaz's poem "From the Desire Field" and have been transformed.


How do we become witches? We have been them all along.

And the crazy family drama that has been unfolding wouldn't be believable as a novel: my ex husband is dating/moving in with the wife of his high school friend and our old neighbor and both of them former KVCC students  (the husband and wife) and the husband is in jail on an open murder charge for bludgeoning a neighbor to death with a hammer and the wife testified on his behalf and the daughter and the wife and the husband found the dead man, called the police, and the house had been scrubbed and the wife's story, according to the reports, has changed, has changed. And it was a mistrial the first trial and the next trial is in January and tomorrow I contact my new lawyer and a lawyer here in Oregon and start making contingency plans.

And the college president where I work has lied to our accrediting body and no longer responds to emails and leaves work before 3 PM and the Gorge is still smoldering and I am doing theater again and writing and tomorrow is closing weekend of The Gondoliers and I have decided to audition more and re enter this part of my life and my second book is with the editor now and I have a working title for the third. And R. is on the other side of cancer (knock, wood, heart) and my boy, my bird, my heart-outside-my-heart is upstairs in his room drawing and.

What if, i thought today, driving home along Marine Drive and the air was full of sunlight and smelled of leaf mold, water--what if i decide that at 40 i am more beautiful than i have ever been, and it keeps being like this?

Right now Jonah and I are on the porch. He is drawing, I writing.

What if I am a witch, if I am in this animal body for good, for now, am here, here, here--


Friday, September 8, 2017

Disaster Relief

This summer--this year--has been, is, hard. Cancer, wildfire, Tr*mp, white supremacists, hurricanes.

The first place I took Jonah to when we moved here was Multnomah Falls. A stranger noted my struggle with trying to take our picture, and offered his help.

The Gorge is burning, and people are calling for blood. The person who started the fire is a boy, not much older than my own son.

I love this place, this landscape. Last week, before the fires, it occurred to me as I drove home that there is nothing about Portland that makes me feel stuck. Oh, I loved Michigan and the Lake and the woods and prairie and Kalamazoo and the people there. But somehow, this is different. It is still somewhat new, three and a half years after moving here.  I want Jonah to love it too, this place. Place is so important. The earth is a living being, he said on Tuesday as we drove to school through thick yellow smoke. Somewhere, people have drilled down so far they can hear the earth's heart beating. I love this place and I love it more now that it is hurting.

And if you want the ridiculous, my ex husband has a girlfriend with whom he's moving in come December. When Jonah told me the girlfriend's name, however, I recognized it. She is the wife of one of my ex's high school friends, a couple we knew and lived near when we were married. The husband was amiable, but a drug addict, erratic. The wife was nice enough. They had a baby before we did, and one right after. That's all fine and good. But--here's the Jerry Springer moment--the husband is currently on trial for murdering a man across the street with a hammer, purportedly for drug money. Husband was then spotted in dead man's car. The next day, Husband and Wife went over to Dead Man's house and "discovered" him, called the cops. His trial started yesterday, and when I saw photographs of the trial, the defense attorney also looked familiar, as she is a former teaching assistant's sister in law.

I can't make this shit up. I can only hope he's convicted and goes away to prison for an awfully long time because if he's found innocent, I can't imagine he'll take nicely to his buddy living with his wife. This is also, as far as I know, the second of my ex's friends to be headed to prison. The first, his best friend, was convicted years ago for drugs, or violence, or both. I have blocked his last name, and I'm okay with that.

This year is hard. I am hoping for rain, for the skies to darken and the air to go cool and wet and sword ferns and moss green up. For us to ride this year out, to gather our strength for the fight. To persist.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Hotel Time

I didn't sleep all night; half-sleep dreams of organizing a resistance in the streets against our Rapist-Treasonweasel-In-Chief. I was hot all night, a burning cinder. I'm never hot, always freezing cold, the down comforter pulled over my ears even in the hottest of summer evenings.

I checked the clock at midnight, two, three-thirty. Then the alarm at 4:15.

The security lines at PDX--post Eclipsealypse--were insane, snaking past each other through the middle of the airport. Lines at PDX are never long. But the TSA agents were efficient and pleasant and I moved relatively quickly throug most of it, my companions all discussing the eclipse, the next eclipse, how they were now hooked.

I slept on the plane, landed at Midway where there isn't a fucking working espresso machine to be found. Flew again, landed.

The hotel smells like it always does, the front desk attendants cheerful, the rental car agent knows me by name. We talk about our children. She tells me she'll see me next month; she will.

I paint my toenails. I take a long, hot shower. I eat cheese and bread and fruit and chocolate and wine.

I briefly speak to Jonah, who has lost another tooth. Who tells me he is 5'3" and 120 lbs, as he went to the doctor today. I think this makes him officially bigger than me in all ways, though I haven't weighed myself in years.

I watch The Great British Baking Show Masterclass, episode after episode. I drink more wine. I ration out some melatonin and put it by the bottle of water by my pillow. I watch more Masterclass. I read a draft of a poem but decide I'm too tired/anxious/crazybrained to write.

I watch videos of elementary school brass bands in Kenya,  college string orchestras, chamber choirs. I weep, weep some more.

My alarm is set for five in the morning, which is equivalent to two o'clock western time. Tomorrow I get my boy and we go home.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse Season

Jonah comes home in four days; I fly out on Wednesday to get him, we fly home on Thursday. I am a held breath, anxious.

R and I spent the weekend in Seattle, just the two of us. We played tourist, took almost zero pictures. In bed last night, he remarked that though we are not the kind of people to take copious selfies (and in fact make fun of other people doing so) we are beginning tolack a visual record of our lives together. We resolved to do better next time.

He does have a picture of me near a stuffed beaver. My two favorite beavers, he said.

Except I cannot handle looking at photographs of myself, particularly not now. I am deeply uneasy in my body right now--too round, too soft, too large, too--

Looking at all of the beautiful young women in Seattle, I was struck how I am not young, how I am not lithe, how I feel earthbound and prickly in my flesh. The tabs on my computer right this very moment are open to searches for "feminism and body image" because I want to stand in front of that tide, the deep rooted one in me that says my body is everything, that it is a failure, that it is public and that the world knows and owns it better and more than I do. That it is my worth and my worth is fading, is nothing, isn't enough.

My anxiety manifests in my body. I know this. For 40 years I have struggled with my body, with being a woman in a very female body, with also being a mind and a person and they have always felt separate, as if one (the female body) cancels out the other. I begin plotting if i don't eat lunch for a week that will help, if i stop drinking that will help, if i stop eating/drinking wine/i will be thin and i will erase my body so i am only the mind, only the bright filament that can't be hurt.

The older I get, the harder my animal nature gets to ignore. I am earth. And of course I am most anxious now, when my boy is almost home (and the chatter from his father has become more frantic, more angry, more regular), when the world is on fire and we have a Rapist-in-Chief and Nazis are marching with fucking tiki torches and--

On Wednesday I spoke to a women's studies class, as I have done the past few terms. I talked about body image and self esteem and what it was to be 21 and falling into an abusive relationship and how my childhood prepared for that and how I got out and how even now when Jonah's father threatens I am scared. You need to write this story, my friend the professor said afterwards, in her office. You do in poems, but it's just moments, not the whole thing. I don't know if I can. I don't know how to do it. I want to be done with it, I want to live in this ilfe with my remarkable husband and son and stepson and house and garden overflowing with tomatoes and zucchini and I want to feel like I am alive in my own skin.

But.

Tomorrow the moon will blot out the sun. Something is in the air. Something is changing. May it be a prayer. May it be grace. May it be fierce and may it be ours.


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.