Friday, November 6, 2015

Human Resources

Tulip 1

Even their small talk felt large in her mind, every word of conversation assuming a weight and import that might be measured later, when she was back home, weeding the garden or walking the dog, or performing any one of those small, mechanical tasks that allowed her to be half present and half very far away.

He was guarded with her. But then, so was she. There was a lot at risk.

"I guess we're in for a long week with the quarterly reports coming up."

"Coffee, don't fail me now."

"You're not kidding."

And that might be it.

But each small engagement arrived with its own weather system. She felt it like a swarm of bees inside a thunderstorm. At first, they'd betrayed themselves too easily. Her, by smiling too much and tucking her hair behind her ears. Him, by swallowing nervously and excessive face touching. But over the weeks, they had learned to minimize these physical slips so that any colleague watching them talk, from a distance, might infer from their body language that they didn't like one another at all. He might be standing across from her, with his arms over his chest, in a posture of male protection. Whereas she would routinely keep her hands in her pockets, tilting her head at a stiff, discrete angle that indicated nothing so much as forbearance.

But their eyes were what gave them away. They had that bright, startled look of repressed absorption. As if they were drinking not only the words that came from the other's lips, but also the glass that held them.

"When is that conference you're headed to?"

"November 13th."


"What are you doing for Thanksgiving?"

"Oh, my mom has this thing every year."

She wanted to talk forever with him. She couldn't get away fast enough. It was perfectly excruciating, if perfectly ridiculous.

And one Friday, she reached her limit. It was already late, and everyone else had escaped into the weekend. He was just finishing up the budget numbers he'd been sitting on all week. She brought him a piece of leftover birthday cake from the week's office party and sat on the edge of his desk, pushing aside a potted plant and a picture frame.

"Why are we like children here?" she blurted out, as he took the first bite.

She watched him chew the cake, a smear of white frosting sticking to the corner of his mouth. Impatient, she pressed harder. 

"I mean, why do we have to play these games? Why can't I just say what I feel when I'm feeling it? Why all the pretense, as if we were still in high school and too—too—scared of rejection to seize happiness where we can find it?"

With some difficulty, he swallowed his cake. 

"I guess I don't see it that way," he said, setting down the plate to look at her.

"You don't?"

"No." He wiped his mouth and stood up. "I think this is adulthood. "

He reached out for her, briefly taking hold of her hand. She felt the flesh of his palm biting into her engagement ring. Then the sensation was gone, and he was grabbing his coat.

"Have a good weekend, Leah."

And then he was gone, too.

"You too, Jim."

Saturday, October 3, 2015


With the legs 
of a dancer

and the throat 
of a snake,

the egret picks its 
atop the silt lake

Pausing, in places,
to hook a sharp head

as if trying to fathom
a voice from the dregs.

But no,  
that's me 

projecting my own,
for Autumn is homed   

Bringing ghosts to the breeze 
that blows from these trees

ghosts of regret,
and ghosts I can't see,

as the egret stabs Narcissus
straight in the eye

stunning the vibrating fish
with its lance 

which it will keep there,
before working it down

then chasing success
with a quick nip of brine

before finally, without guile,
stretching wide the white wings—

So soundlessly, sated, 
a bird lights for the marsh,

leaving only the shadows
of angels behind.

Great egret

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Like This


It was still summer, technically. But there was a stiff, fall breeze coming off the lake, letting her feel the small pleasure, and protection, of her sweater's warmth, as he walked along beside her.  

A camera hung around her neck and bobbed against her sternum as they took another turn around the dock.

"What's that?" he said, pointing up at the sky. 

She followed his arm. "Another vulture, I think."

"Are you sure?"

Well, no. The truth was that she'd been too distracted by his nearness to put her mind on much else. But no. A vulture wouldn't reflect the sun's light like that. 

"A hawk, maybe?" she said, coming to a stop and shielding her eyes. "Or an osprey?"

"Too big," he said, looking with her as the bird skirted the gap in the clouds.

"Wait," she said, reaching for his arm. "I think it's a bald eagle."

"I think you're right." 

They stood like that, with her hand on his forearm, for a full minute of silence. The giant bird turned and leveled, turned and leveled. She was conscious of the feel of his flannel on her fingertips, the camera's weight around her neck, an exquisite breeze just lifting her hair. 

Finally, he spoke. 

"Don't you want to take a picture?"

She turned to him, and with her other hand, dutifully pressed the button on the camera hanging around her neck.  

"There," she said.

He lifted an eyebrow, wonderingly.

"I don't need a picture of it," she explained, sliding her arm through his and watching the eagle dive at the lake with a sudden, spearing intention.

"I just want to remember, like this."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Kiyiya Vuran Insanlik

(Photograph: Reuters)

a little boy 
who might have been mine
or yours

a little boy wearing
a red tee
and blue shorts

a little boy who will 
never be anything 

a body
on the sands
of a big, big world


The title translates to "Humanity Washed Ashore." The story is here. I'm sorry for the photo. I know it's crushing. It crushed me. 

We shouldn't need photos like this to make us act, but I think a good many of us probably do. (A different, happier Syrian refugee story reinforced this truth earlier in the week.) This boy, Aylan Kurdi, was one of thousands of Syrian refugees trying to flee Turkey for Greece, the gateway to the European Union. These are desperate people needing relief in a way I can't begin to comprehend, or impact. 

All we could think to do was donate money to the International Rescue Committee, a highly-regarded charity dedicated to helping refugees worldwide. If you'd like to do the same, please click here

Friday, July 24, 2015

The most important thing

Here is how I picture us. 

In a common wood, sitting side by side on a rock made for two. A breeze finds my face, and I lean into its lure. The leaves around us seem an extension of skin, rustling. A large nut drops from someplace high and untouched and lands, with a thwack, on last year's slough. Cicadas and birds we can't name mark out a perimeter, but they can't edge that bit of cloud, puffing along beyond the treetops' sights.

You put your hands on your knees, mirroring me. Our mouths are still talking about the fawn we saw back there, how it's a shame these pathways are lined with gravel. There was a rabbit, too, we startled with our clumsy, human progress. But I'm remembering back farther than that, to your very first words as we stepped out of the car: "It looks like Provence," you said, before looking down at your shoes, as if to check some instinct for confession. You can't know what that did to me. 

The light is water, running down your cheek, past the ridge of your throat, to be swallowed by your collar. I can just make out the color of your eyes. But that is not the most important thing.

I don't know how life can be as beautiful as this, or why we can't be like the trees, so easily roused, all of the time. 

What I do know is that I'm alone, on a rock made for two, but not lonely at all, for you're here, too.

The camera shutter opens, and closes. It's been doing that all day.   

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Tin Man

That boy I went to high school with—the one who stabbed his father fifty times—the one found not guilty of murder, by reason of insanity—the man committed to a hospital for the rest of his life—Jonathan—

He recently got permission to leave the grounds, unsupervised—and what can I say—I'm glad for him.

Maybe, if you'd sat with him in honors English—captained by the supremely competent Mrs. Thompson—you'd feel the same. He was so smart, you see. Not book smart, like I was, but smart smart, like that entire first row of upper-class aces. He was the rare kid who thought for himself. (Which begs the question: when did the thoughts start thinking for him?) But he was also unassuming and shy, which if you were a teenage girl, you could sort of take and run with. (For instance—I once had a year-long crush on a boy who never opened his mouth—I saw him the other day, and smiled).

But this wasn't shyness. It was something else. Something so silent and creeping that none of us saw it for what it was—certainly not us second-rowers, with our heads-down balk before Shelley and Shakespeare ("Jonathan, could you help us out here?" Mrs. Thompson might ask, after a pause, perseveringly).

My friend, half in love with him, dubbed him "Legs," for short—she especially enjoyed watching him run track—he was a middle-of-the-pack, middle-distance sort—and how does that seem like the strangest part of this whole, strange affair? 

The valedictorian and the murderer. Both overflowing with that youthful, bright magic we mark as potential.

The valedictorian, my friend, whom I haven't talked to in twenty years—but who I know, thanks to Google, is now a primary care doctor with a master's degree in public health—has not come back to our little town. Saving the world makes one busy. Yes, Jenny met her destiny, chin to the stars.

But once, we were all huddled in that English class, haltingly discussing our Ozymandias and our Lady Macbeth, squinting at the tissue-thin pages of the Nortons in front of us, skimming the text for examples of symbolism and foreshadowing, ticking off syllables to grasp a mysterious force called iambic pentameter

Our hearts in the grip of such fear and hope.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Finger paint

(Portrait of Adeline Ravoux by Vincent Van Gogh)

Standing in front of a painting by Van Gogh is different than standing in front of a painting by anyone else. 

Time becomes viscous. Your insides turn wobbly. Your eyes turn wet. Like a child, you want to touch his wiggles, his crosses, his splotches. You want to touch him. The artist. The man. Vincent. 

I don't feel quite the same compulsion to connect with Picasso, with Matisse, with Cezanne. Sure, in a print, at home, I might like any one of them better. But when confronted by the hot topography of paint-on-canvas, I'm not as unmoored by their work. I'm not as moved. It's not the ear-cutting, either. It's not our societal obsession for romanticizing the eccentric, the different, the troubled. 

It's simply that, more than any other artist, Van Gogh seems both bracingly there in his work and most profoundly not. There it is—the primacy of an impulse stationed by the pigments of the past. Such frenetic, bubbling life! Such a quietude of death. This is the contradiction coursing through all of our fates, but rarely do we feel it as viscerally, like a swipe of neon through the gut. 

So I stand, for as long as I can, letting the current go through me.

And what does the girl in the painting—young Adeline Ravoux—look toward, so piercingly and true? 

Not at us, I'm sure.  

Monday, June 29, 2015


Female ostrich


Every rejection becomes a feather, pinned to your breast like a badge of honor, as you survey the endless horizon ahead, knowing they'll come to serve the story of how you learned to fly.

Until the one comes that flattens you—strangely, no worse in tone than the rest—and you see that the horizon you've long been plotting is—oof—just a crack in the ceiling, right overtop that water stain.

And all those feathers you've been fearlessly storing, saved by the months or years of hoping, have become the ostrich, now squat on your chest—now bleeding your breath—as you keep one eye glued to that stupid crack

and the other eye, reddening, fixed on the bird's, both of you waiting on who will blink first,

while your water stain turns into a Rorschach of words 

oddly enough, in the shape of a


Thursday, June 25, 2015

As the clouds changed keys

Hocking River at Sundown

Last night,
driving home,
under a concert
hall sky

I rode,
for miles,
through a Steinway

with its lid
propped up,
past the sun's
rolling spires

My mind
a box
thread of ivory
and wire

my heart
a dove,
uncorked of
its silence

and these 

not mine,
but Chopin's

Friday, May 29, 2015

For my son, whose friend has moved


You are dear to me 
in your hurt

Your wounded eyes
say plainly--
my heart is broke 

You are choked
by the strain of
getting it out

But it's still there

and no,
it's not fair

To be a child
with too loose
a hold on
his world

To be tied
to two grown-ups, 
for good and
for ill

But this pain
that's turned you
inside out--
and these tears
that seem spent
from a hole
in your chest-- 

This is the price
of loving 

you're finding

And all I can do
is love you,
in turn,
and ache