Friday, July 16, 2021

 In the middle of the night I wake needing to know more about Napoleon's Russian campaign, worried about the losses we can't see looming because we're so focused on being proud of doing badly at what could still be done worse. Worried about how many more winters we're going to walk right into without our coats or our common sense.

In the middle of the night I wake burning with shame over every sentence I have ever said out loud, vowing to look into silence and forgetting again by morning. 

It's just that we've spent all this time growing new skins out of knives and glitter, out of early morning birdsong and long quiet afternoons, out of grief and triumph and laughter through tears. We're so shiny and pink in the parts that have grown tentatively off of what is deservedly rough and gnarled and I worry, you know, that we're going to lose what we don't even know that we have yet. That I will miss a chance to note you sparkling softly in the sunlight.

And so in the middle of the night I wake abruptly, sure that someone has just spoken my name. There's a comfort in being the smallest point in the darkest part of the night, and if I pause just right, in the space between breaths, I can hear you through the darkness. I hope you know that I know you're wonderful.

Monday, October 26, 2020

 It's almost funny, i guess, how I spent all of these years convincing myself to touch things with my palms and then it turns out that we can't touch anything at all. 

I don't know, friends. Everything just fell apart. The world collapsed and my life blew up and for a while there was no part of me that wanted to find anything beautiful. Not much has been, after all. Everything is dark and hard and cold, and people keep dying, and all of the places I love are always just a breath away from closing forever.

But the cat and I have landed somewhere full of light and surrounded by hydrangeas. We're fine and we're lucky to be so--we are healthy and loved and there are squirrels that run back and forth all day for us to watch. I am working from home and keeping mainly my own company and thinking about that Derek Walcott poem Love After Love:

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

When you remember me, in that dream you have sometimes where you're looking at a painting you've never seen before but somehow know that you've produced, remember me like this--soft and tired and trying hard. In the fall I want to kiss you like apple cider, warm and spiced, smelling like rain and fallen leaves. When you remember me, remember me like this--in a sweater and happy to see you. 

Monday, February 24, 2020

In my head we're seventeen, sitting next to each other in psychology class, and I have just told you that I think you're secretly a romantic. You look at me, eyes wide, as though I have told you that you are a bug or an axe murderer, and your furious denials do nothing to change my mind.

In my head we're twenty-three, and you are looking at me like no one has before or since, like I am a new species of creature, like you are starving. And then your hands are in my hair and I realize, for maybe the first time, the limitations of imagination. Real life is suddenly my favorite place.

In my head we're twenty-three, on the phone in the hours that are very late for me and very early for you, and you've admitted that I might have been right and that you may be a romantic. I laugh until I cry at the chagrin in your voice, as though everyone doesn't already know this. As though it's not one of your best qualities.

In my head we're twenty-four, on the phone, and I am blushing to my toes. I think you should come to visit me, and you agree enthusiastically but never do. I think we should go to France, and you agree enthusiastically and we never do. Ultimately I think this is what happened to the romantic part of us, all the time and the distance and that you always wanted to and never did. Somewhere in there I always thought we'd get another shot.

In my head we're twenty-seven, and we can't figure out where to go. We always find somewhere, and I get back to where I'm staying at dawn dazed about where the hours have gone, foggy-brained and smiling.

In my head we're twenty-eight and I would stop time here if I could. Our friends don't know what we're up to when we leave their house and later you're crying, which makes me cry, and I don't know if I've ever been as close to another human before. I shift my torso onto yours and try to beam all of my light into you.

In my head we're thirty-one and we've both had serious enough relationships at home that things have shifted between us, but everything that is really important is still the same and we sing along to the radio and laugh until we can't breathe anymore.

In my head we're thirty-four and I'm in town unexpectedly for another funeral. It's a hard one, and one of the only things I have to look forward to is making jokes that will bring out your big laugh. You're still one of my favorite people on the planet and making you laugh is the easiest thing but it's still so gratifying.

In my head we still have so many years left.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

A side effect of all this living is how these grief events keep building up, one after the other, on and on and on until I am one myself. You could cut me open and see them there like tree rings, the lean times when everything but gray seemed in short supply. I'm still leaking sap all over the place right now, of course, but in not very long it will all be hardened over and sinking in, just one more thing in a long list of things. Nothing very good or very bad lasts for very long.

This one is the hardest one yet, a little bit I think because it has so much of my identity wrapped up in it. I've always believed in an alternate universe where we worked harder for what we had and made it into something big and crystalline and beautiful. I love the life that I built instead, of course, but I could have loved that one too.

I keep a sporadic list of things I want to track down, something I've read in a book that I want to focus on more closely later, books I want to read, people I want to research. Scattered among the list are the names of poets and looking back I'm never sure if what I wanted to make note of was their life or their work. Was it an action or a phrase that struck me? I never remember to record what I want and most of the time I never find my way back to the feeling that led me there. And yet now I keep hoping there's a secret there, a poem or a fact at the end of these breadcrumbs that will lift the weight on my heart for a moment. When really all that can do that is time.

There's comfort in that, in time, in the way that it just keeps on going. Tomorrow I will wake up, and the cat will bump my head with his, lick my nose, and chew on my phone, and it will be one week and one day since I heard the news. And then more after that, until one morning I wake up, and the cat bumps my head with his, and I forget to keep counting. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

I've been writing letters to you in my head for more years now than I haven't, more than half of my life with a place reserved just for you in a corner of my brain. I never felt too small for my skin when your voice was there and I'm not sure you knew that, and now that you're gone all I want is a time machine to let you know. You were precious and we all definitely took that for granted. I know that's what you're supposed to say whenever someone dies, but that doesn't make it less true.

I've been googling aneurysms for days, trying to find some combination of information that makes it seem real, that makes anything make sense. There's still time for this all to be a wacky misunderstanding.

The version of me that you saw was always better than the version of me that I see. From what everyone has been saying since you died, it seems that you made everyone feel that way. I always want to be the kind of person that makes other people feel like the center of something important but you actually did that, in ways that seemed effortless but probably weren't. I think we made more fun of you for your faults than appreciated you for all of your best qualities. I think we'll do it again, some more, to everyone else. That's one of the blind spots of being a human.

I loved that I knew you. I always will.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Mary Oliver died a year ago today. The great thing about poems is that they're always there even when poets aren't, and I've sat with her work a lot this past year. I'm watching a lot of people that I love anticipate or recover from grief, and Mary Oliver is great for both of those states. Lately I have had on my mind the second half of "The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac", her cancer poem:

3.
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

so why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

4.
Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of
life?

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Dear 2020,

The fireworks that were supposed to greet you were canceled because of high winds. We heard somewhere that there'd be an attempt to shoot them off at 2 am so we hung around outside an emptying party near the Space Needle to see if it was true, but the winds persisted and so we went home. They said it was the first time the fireworks have been canceled in 26 years, which is technically true but doesn't take into account all those years they happened but it was too foggy to see them. I feel like our catastrophizing has to be precise if only to keep things in perspective where we can. There's a lot out there that's a real catastrophe, and while we may have deserved fireworks we're just not always going to get them.

It's a little hard to hold 2019 in place. I think of all the slivers of ourselves we cut off and laid by just to make it through, all the ways we made ourselves fit where we were rubbing at the edges. All the days we just tried to get through. But we have a little jar of ourselves that can glow in the dark and we're sensitive at the places that were sore, and I am lucky enough that things could have been so much worse.

I think about Lake Nyos all the time, about the lake turning over one night and suffocating almost 2,000 people and no one really knows why, if it was a landslide or a rainstorm or an earthquake that set everything off. I know that there's almost no way to predict what is the thing that will trigger the rush down the mountain, the displacement of all the air. Some days that feels inspiring and most days it feels heavy. But I also think about how after that people applied themselves to keep the same disaster from happening again, and that seems likes a good place to be. If we're nothing else, we're learning.

I have a friend who posts the same survey every year addressing the same list of questions with things like are you happier or sadder? richer or poorer? fatter or thinner? and I saw it and thought, well, both. I am rounder in some places but thinner in the skin on my chest and around my eyes. I am happier and sadder both, often multiple times in the same day, happier with the woman I am settling into and sadder about the world that I'm settling into. I am poorer in dollars but always richer in a community that deepens and ripens as we all come through fire together.

I'd appreciate it if you could find something great within you, 2020, but I'd settle for nothing terrible. Let's agree to go easy on each other.