Thursday, October 20, 2011

Forwarding Address

For all sorts of reasons I may or may not get around to listing, I have made the switch over to WordPress. Please take a stroll over to my new block.  The wine is cheap and the tongues are loose.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Again, the flock of birds dives
through this narrow canyon of steel and glass
catching a current as it eddies between the upper stories.
Their silver wings flash,
scooping up spiraling winds
before casting off from the gathered force.
There are two dozen of these birds, at least –
an unknown quantity of an unnamed breed.
They are too consumed with their choreography
to alight for classification.

On the ground far below, an altogether different breeze
laps at the edge of the streets
like a child dipping a bucket in the creek.
It sweeps seed-pods hitched to feathered propellers
into the gutters and cracks
where they pop underfoot.
Invisible ovate dust
flags down the yet another passing gust
and hitches a ride to some distant inch of soil
where it will burrow in and wait out the storm
that is surely coming.

Does each airstream stand alone,
with its distinctive pace
and a place waiting in the heavens?
It is nice to imagine that a thing without a name
can still claim edges
and a fate.

But we all know the truth.
This column of air
carries both seeds and wings
and is bound
to the one whipping up wildfires in San Antonio,
ferrying bats and carrying off the Stetsons of drunken cowboys.
It is the same as the scouring shriek atop Everest
and the whisper on your cheek
at this very moment.

Every breeze is one single, ancient being,
older than the Hebrew god,
predating even the pterodactyls who rode its current
through the canyon of cliffs
long since returned to the bottom of the sea. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Make Something

Excavate the clay from the beds of your eyes
to shape its crude skeleton.
Press its feet into sand so it stands rooted
wherever you find forgiving earth.
Use force
wherever you don’t.
Plunder grand tapestries crafted by greater men
for patches and scraps
to stitch the skin to its bones.

Command your creation
to rise.
If that fails (which it is bound to do)
use flattery and bribery and even deceit.
When you have nothing left in you,
Press your lips to husk and stone
and pound its chest
until it creaks to life.

I don’t blame you
for limping back to your lover
who waits with a silver bowl brimming
in outstretched hands.
You ache for intoxication
and you imagine
once she is done pouring herself down your throat
she will oil your stiff shoulders
and bathe your eyes, so weary
from trying to fix your gaze on that hairline crack
in the horizon
where your promise gestates.

The mighty figure you see reflected
in that pool of her grasp
is hard to resist,
especially as she refills it again and again
and whispers that you belong there
that she will restore you
to the one thing she has known all along.

You are a marvel, limitless,
an everyday rarity.
You are a man.
She will give you sanctuary
For as long as it takes
But not a moment longer.

Don’t mistake the sustenance for the source.
No well is bottomless
And no woman’s hands can fight gravity
or the urge to scratch
her own itch.

long and deep.
Then turn your back and walk out the door.
Your love is not resting at the bottom of a bowl.

The golem you braved doubt to construct
awaits your transfusion.
Your place is there,
your next incarnation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Beater Love, Part I

So, I'm talking to my old man about a new car. He's giving me the skinny on how to keep the dealers on their toes. "Cash on the barrel," he says to me. "Then you just walk away."

I'm hemming and hawing about emptying my entire savings account in order to acquire something reliable vs. dropping a few thousand on unpredictable CPR on the Saturn. Then he says to me, "You gotta wonder if you're sending the wrong message about your worth."

That one stopped me cold. Worth? As in, my worth as a human? My net worth? Maybe he's talking about my value as potential mate or a job candidate. This is an intriguing question. If I'm wheezing and grunting around town in a beater, am I telling the world this chick has got things together?

It's not as if the old man's question had never crossed my mind. Pull into any Shell station or Safeway in Fairfax County, and you'll see very few scarred up 2000 Saturns. Even the kids zipping out of the public high school parking lot are driving nicer cars than I am. Hell, they're driving nicer cars than my parents are. So, yeah, if anyone is taking account of such things -- and someone must be, because even my dad voiced the question -- it's entirely possible that the run-down mess I drive is seen as a proxy for the run-down mess of its driver.

The thought of an affordable new-ish car, of shedding the mileage and rusted out clutch, appeals. But the truth is, I am not swimming in liquid cash.  If I were to drop the money on a car, I would not be squirreling it away into Bug's college fund, my own 401K, or my get-outta-dodge account. At the brink of any decision, an open field of affirmatives awaits. Say a single Yes, and at that very moment, you say a dozen other Nos.

Underneath the financial echoes of the immediate decision is a quieter strain. It has to do with honoring and maintaining the choices already made. Our world is full of disposable things. Razors and soda bottles give way to electronics and automobiles. How much of this before one fails to see the resilient potential even in other people? Just because the old hunk of metal is limping along, it is not a piece of trash. It is a machine in need of attention and repair. After that, it requires careful handling, ongoing maintenance, and adaptation. Isn't this true of all the things we invite into our lives?

My Saturn's scars should make clear to those phantom judges sharing the road with me that I don't have a ton of cash to spend on frivolous things. The cluttered booster seat in the back might even help explain my priorities.

The waffling goes on for a few tortured weeks, but I finally come down on the only side I ever could have. As I bypass the showroom and pull around to the service bay, I tell my old man that the message about my worth is exactly right. If  the car I drive communicates that my bank account is not a frat party, then I ain't stuttering.

By fixing the clutch, replacing the valves, oiling her up and getting her back on the road, maybe I'm attempting to walk the talk. Live lightly, make things last, care well for the long haul. I aim to hang on to this one as long as she is willing to ferry me through this congested tangle of urban streets. A car is an incomplete messenger. It can only offer a fractured glimpse into a person's value. It can, however, shed light on what a person chooses to value.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


At the 3am wake-up call, I crawled into Bug's bed and let him nestle into a big bowl of mommy. The chilly October air made the closeness a particular comfort. Bug promptly crashed. Warmth is apparently fear's kryptonite. I let myself drift, but a cackle from my son startled me to alertness. In his sleep, Bug was snickering. The sound roused him, too, and he pushed closer to me, grinning. "I had a dream, Mommy." He began to tell it just as the words turned to cake batter in his mouth. He was back under. A few minutes later, another dose of his giggles jolted me awake.

I can't know how the anxiety of splitting a life between two homes might be affecting my son. It isn't fair to him, is it? Tee and I know we can't live together, yet I still fantasize about biting the bullet and making a go of it. One bed for Bug? A single set of books, of boots, of parents, of expectations? Why should this little boy carry the bulk of the discomfort? That's a pretty big shot of adaptation to demand of a kid.

Nevertheless, the ship has left port. On the phone prior to the meeting, the lawyer was prepared to take Tee to the mat. "Bring in his 401K records, his pay stubs, your joint tax documents. You may be entitled to child support, and you are entitled to half the marital assets."

I ignored her. The only papers I brought were ones Tee and I created and reviewed together: Separation Agreement, 26-point Parenting Plan, Virginia divorce paperwork. No subterfuge, no secret strategies. She combed through the pages to make sure Bug is protected, Tee and I have a plan for every contingency, and everything is polished up for the judge to stamp it legal.

At the end of the consultation, the lawyer looked up at me and smiled. "You guys really did all this yourselves?" I nodded, trying not to let the wave of relief and pride upend me. "You two have done an excellent job on this. You've covered everything and more." She cut the retainer in half and told me we should be able to move through the remaining steps without a hitch. If Bug never knows how much effort it has taken to keep this vessel steady on relentlessly churning seas, then we can claim victory.

We sail on in this way, the rigging tight in our grasp. Tee and I have been planning Bug's pirate-themed birthday party for over two months. Never once did it occur to me to do this alone, or to leave the organizing to the parent whose weekend is shared with Bug. Half the task list fell to each of us according to our strengths and preferences. A friend is on the payroll, making a treasure chest out of cake. Bug's Grandma and I have assembled the food and helium balloons and favors decorated with skulls. Tee is managing a treasure hunt and limbo, invitations and thank you notes. Occasional check-ins at allow us to make sure details and numbers are in sync. Beyond that, we trust each other to take care of business. We are a professional partnership now.

In four hours, 35 members of Bug’s growing circle will turn the park where Tee and I were married into a Caribbean island peppered with hidden riches. My objective is to have our son never know that his two parents could have behaved in ways that would have made this impossible. Normal = cooperation. Tortuga may be today’s destination, but civility is our true north.

None of us knows how much our children will have to pay for our choices. This question has kept me awake at night for well over a year. All too often, when sleep does come, tsunamis and rising tides have me racing for a shrinking scrap of safe ground. This is why I am grateful when I startle awake and discover the culprit to be Bug’s mirth.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


On a winding trail through the San Gabriels, we scaled the frosted mountainside together. You clung with embryonic persistence as my toes found purchase in snowbanks peeling back from crumbling stone. It was February then, or maybe March, and you were still just a hope I dared not count as one among us. Still, we wound our thread together through those unmarked canyons, managing to find our way both in and back out despite our shared inability to identify a true north. When gravity pushed back against my smug confidence, she kicked my heel out from under me and tumbled me down a frozen waterfall, my backside raking over the jagged teeth of the unyielding creek below. My skin gasped through torn trousers at the slap of iced air and my coccyx howled in protest. But not you. You just rolled on over and commanded me, "Up, Mommy! Do it again!"

We walked through the spring months over eroding summits, through ponderosa and coulter pine forests. We disentangled ourselves from the manzanita's ruby clutches and breathed deep the clouds of sandstone dust. Rattlesnakes coiled at the trail's edge. Coyotes lurked in packs down below, lapping at whatever ribbon of creek remained as the bottomless thirst of June and then July pressed in. You grew hot and restless, as keen to hear the insane yelps of those wild dogs as any among us. You were not yet a name, but you were a definite you.

Every one of those sweltering August days, California's high desert sky was an uninterrupted expanse of blue. Where shade was insufficient, we took shelter in water. The camp pool was our sanctuary during the noon lunch hour. In the dining hall nearby, squeals of damp, red-faced children eating corn dogs and tater tots tumbled down over us as we cut through the rectangle of blue. Immersion, extension, buoyancy, breath.

We climbed and swam together until the doctor demanded we stop. We stretched ourselves out through September, cutting a trench in the camp perimeter with our shared weight, with our endless steps. Two weeks before your ETA, the doc announced you were on your way. You had sent me no signal; you had never even knocked. You just began shouldering open the stable door, compelled, perhaps, by the bright promise on this side of the threshold.

In that hospital in Apple Valley, though, you stalled right at the starting gate. One never knows what kind of kid is going to come slipping out to life. Maybe you were to be a hesitant type after all. Would you be one who lingers in doorways? One who keeps his feet planted firm on flat ground while the others bound up and over the uncertain horizon?

The doctor told me to walk. I walked. The tiny hospital courtyard became a stadium track, a mountain pass, the whole of the Pacific Rim trail. For nine months, we had marched. Now we walked another 90 years, another 900 miles, a marathon to coax you to life.

When the doc finally forced you free and you landed in your daddy's waiting hands, we knew it was not reluctance that had held you back. Arm up, fist raised, you had been trying to punch your way right through to the light of day. My boy has been a warrior from the start. You defy rules. You blaze your own trail. This, even when your stubbornness hamstrings your own determination to be the first across the finish line. You came over to our side fully formed, a tiny hot-wired motor already primed for speed.

"Alive 'til five," the grandmothers say. This alone is a lofty goal for the mama of a boy like you. It stuns me you have survived, let alone thrived. Yet here you are, launching yourself around the next lap. Your pace is not faltering, and your stride only grows more sure.

Happy birthday, baby. The terrain ahead may be rough, but I look forward to crossing every inch of it with you.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


I wake twice in the night to find my boy silhouetted in the dim light of the doorway. His voice quivers. "Mommy, I'm scared." The reason does not concern me. I will leave archaeology to the lover who will whisper him open in the next lifetime. I rise. My hand alights between his shoulder blades, fluttering him back towards bed. My body curls around his and I drape a blanket of breath over his head. He slips like a stone down to the bottom of sleep's dark spring. When the ripples left by his fleeting fear finally still, I press my lips once more to the steady pulse at his temple and make my way back to my own unquiet sheets.