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

Monday, April 27, 2015

You are the everything

In the backseat of the car, their knees just touch. Like the whisper of the wheels on the ribbon of asphalt. Slight enough for intention to be the question dancing across the roof of her mouth.

The spring night is cool and damp on her skin--really too early in the year for the windows to be down, but down they are, goosebumps crimping her arms and legs, her long hair a flag she snaps with adolescent expertise. Some song is playing on the radio that she doesn't like--not yet--but may, given time. Their friends are their friends, and superfluous.

His weight grafts onto hers. She holds it, bravely. Their arms touch, without fanfare, whistling to the shimmy of the car.

So there is her answer. In this quiet collaboration of arm hair. Is it possible to be thrilled, elated and slightly sorry, all at the same time? She swallows. It is.

On the car's seat, their pinkies touch. Then more of them.

Then everything that matters, all at once.

The song changes keys, lifts. He takes her hand. She feels her hand being held, surrenders her ownership in a tight, breathless arc. His fathom of fingers swirl around her hapless digits, pause atop her boomerang pulse. In this rolling darkness, no one can see how Milky-Way bright her skin has turned. She has never been so big, or dense.

Looking out her window, she spies an airplane blinking in the sky's immense. Like an even, beating heart. On, and off. On, and off. She blinks and thinks, I'm going to die someday. Is thrilled by her ability to think such a thing, at such a moment in her life.

The song stops.

Their eyes hang on the silence.

His breath--

His breath--

Black licorice.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


(Photo by jasonwoodhead23)

I want to burn

like a vein
by its ribbon
of skin

or that lowly

of chemistry 

Taut and roaring,
steeped to 
a pique

of concert  

I will show

what hot

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Riveter

(Photo by Steve Wall)

Spring walked in,

so I told her
how lovely
I found her

She stopped
me, cold,
insisting loveliness was
the least of it

Leaning in
to confide,
with a darkening

that what she
liked best

was the thunder
and the lightning

and the rivets
of rain,

all pressing
and pounding

and running,
to work  

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lisa's Garden

Lisa Bonchek Adams

All day long, there's been a weight on my heart, because someone I never met has died.

Lisa Bonchek Adams had metastatic breast cancer. She blogged here. She tweeted here. I was one of her readers, but we never exchanged words. I wasn't a friend. She had plenty of friends already, and they hurt a lot worse than I do today. So do her husband and three children, and her parents, who have lost their beloved daughter. She was only 45. 

Lisa tweeted this message regularly, usually first thing in the morning: Find a bit of beauty in the world today. Share it. If you can't find it, create it. Some days this may be hard to do. Persevere.

She persevered. In fact, a week before she died, she shared a cache of garden photos taken over the summer. It was apparent that things were serious, but she wasn't a complainer. Nor was she a martyr. That was how she set herself apart in my mind. She hated her disease, hated it with everything she had, was not going to conceal its awfulness for a second. But she made it a point to love her life just as fiercely. She lived honestly, guided by a clarity of vision, always educating others about her setbacks and treatments, not because she relished the attention but because in sharing and educating, she found a way to control a fraction of her fate. She was famous on Twitter for her #mondaypleads, in which she begged her followers to make a healthcare appointment they'd been putting off. And people listened. Through her educating and "nagging," she likely saved countless lives. 

In her case, that's not hyperbole. Lisa didn't exaggerate. I wouldn't dare do so on her behalf. 

When I was walking the dog yesterday, I noticed the beauty of the snow. Yes, it was beautiful, in spite of my winter-sourness at this time of year. The sun was fierce, but there was still snow lining the branches of the woods by our house. The sky was a tonic of blue. Birds were darting over my head, robins were singing their little hearts out. I could feel springtime in the air, even as my feet slid out from under me. 

But the beauty hurt, because Lisa wasn't there to see it. I thought about her children, the youngest of whom is nine. I don't care what kind of preparation they had: one minute their mother was there, the next minute she was not. You can't prepare for that. Even Lisa, queen of memory boxes and advanced directives, couldn't prepare them for that. And so they're suffering today. And so, even when spring finally comes, they'll keep a sliver of winter in their hearts. Not just this year, but always.  

I was just a stranger. But I wanted Lisa to live until the spring, or summer. Even when it seemed apparent that she wasn't going to make it. I wanted her to see her garden again. I didn't want her to die in the cold.

Of course, she didn't. She died, at home, surrounded by her family. And she died having planted thousands of seeds in the hearts of those who knew her, or felt like they did. Over the years, her garden will grow, and cast seeds of its own. Who knows how far the wind will carry them? None of us can know the impact of a single life lived so fully in the sun. 

So Lisa will persevere. Her children will continue to be the heart of her garden. And through them, her life and love will flourish. 

While I'm thankful today to have been brushed by her beauty, even a little.    


If you'd like to donate to Lisa Bonchek Adams' metastatic breast cancer research fund at Memorial Sloan Kettering, please go here. Less than 5% of breast cancer funds go toward metastatic breast cancer research, in spite of the fact that 20-30% of breast cancer patients will eventually have a metastases. Every bit helps. 

And please, make a healthcare appointment if you've been putting one off.