1 for sorrow, 2 for joy…

April 30th, 2008

 A crow visits our backyard, our postage stamp of a backyard here in this urban neighborhood, almost daily. It swoops down from the same direction every time – from the east – and lands at the back of the yard by the vine-covered brick wall that divides our piece of green from the apartments behind us. We make up a nice little green patch, the six little city gardens of our apartment building and the grassy stretch attached to the apartments behind us. Several large trees, the wall to perch on, the hedges. It attracts the sparrows, a motley crew of song birds, and this crow.

Last Thursday while I was drinking a coffee on a balcony that overlooks an open-air market a glossy black crow landed on the railing a foot from my elbow. Its claws clicked as it grasped the railing and it gleamed in the sun. He – was it a he? how does one tell? – tilted his head this way and that as he inspected my table; finding nothing to eat he inched his way down the railing to the next table, then the next. He flew the brief distance back to the spot at my elbow, I met his gaze – glossy black eyes in his glossy black head – and then he soared away over the market.

I’ve always loved crows, those collectors of the shiny, those companions of the wolves. These visitations feel like a blessing, like a message from my totem, like a guide to the way forward.

 

Protected: A practice poem

April 28th, 2008

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Teeter-totter

April 24th, 2008

 

Like a teeter-totter in the park

a son on each end

my heart that place in the middle

where we all try to balance.  

 

I still have days when it’s hard to mother two children the way I want to, days when I can’t help feeling like somebody is getting less of me. Whenever I’m with only one of them at a time I’m struck again by how easy it is, how comfortable to focus my love on just one little being at a time, to not have to decide whose needs take precedence. And by how much more toom there is for me in the relationship. Some days, when I’m balancing both of them, nourishing both of them, I feel ragged and uncertain if my love fell on either of them that day. I tip from one son to the other and I need to remind myself not to seek the literal balance of two children on the teeter-totter, each suspended precisely 24 inches from the ground. It doesn’t work that way, doling out prefectly measured cups of love, keeping track, making sure everybody gets the same number of strawberries. The trick is to keep the teeter-totter in motion, each child rising and falling, rising and falling, looking across the way at each other and at me watching over them both, and teaching them that love is ever in motion, love is ever in play, and love is ever enough for all the kids on the playground.

 

 

The love of my life

April 22nd, 2008

  

Sometimes in the middle of the night, when C falls asleep after nursing, his face resting on my breast, one small hand gripping my index finger, I kiss his forehead and think “This one is the love of my life.” And at that moment, there in the quiet warm bed, it is true. My second son is the love of my life.

 

Then the next night at dinner A stops his fork half-way between plate and mouth, turns to his father, and asks, “How is it going with you, Dada?” and I have to get up from my chair and walk around the table and give A a kiss right then because there are stars rising in my heart and I think to myself “This boy is the love of my life.” At at that moment it is true. My first son is the love of my life.

 

I am blessed to swing back and forth between these boys, each of whom owns the whole of my heart and both of whom are generous enough to loan it to the other now and then.

Saturday morning poetry

April 19th, 2008

 

Whatever else happens during the week, Saturday mornings are mine. My husband is in charge of the boys and I have two or three uninterrupted hours of my own. I usually head for a coffee shop and I usually work on my poetry. I only have a few hours because my baby will not take a bottle, not a bottle of breast milk and not a bottle of formula and it’s completely frustrating and we’re working on it. The hours are precious; I feel the minutes acutely as they pass and it’s time I can’t let slip away. One Saturday I was having trouble working, the words weren’t coming and when they did they were as graceful as a three-year old on ice skates. But because time alone is such a premium I can’t let it slide by unused. Here’s my journal entry from that morning:

 

“Having trouble working. Jumping around. Do some Goldberg 3 lines in 3 minutes.

 

[I looked out the window for inspiration]

 

The flag outside

waves goodbye

To winter

 

Blue sky tricked me.

I have my sunglasses

but it’s started to rain.

 

[I looked out the window again and noticed a stall at the market strung with Dream-Catchers and dangling crystals.]

 

She sells rainbows at the market

hanging from fishing line

and dancing to the wind.

 

[I liked that and thought I could keep going]

 

She sells rainbows at the market

hanging from fishing line

next to the wool socks

and dancing to the wind.

They are always in season

but sometimes hard to find

during the long March days.

She knows the secret places,

the hollow under the tree

on the north slope

and the thick mud of the river bottom.

You’d be surprised

the places she finds them:

the second floor of the sandstone building

next to the clock tower,

and her brother-in-law’s cellar.

She collects them all week

and sells them on Saturdays

rain or shine

setting up her stall next to the man with the spices and herbs

and across from the well-made wooden playthings from Germany.

She does a good business

in all kinds of weather.

People always want rainbows

with their steaming cup of coffee from the couple selling cobbler

and heady homemade cream.

It’s a sideline, selling rainbows,

Her real work is the greasy brown of dirty dishes

and ketchup stains

and people who seem to be tipping less these days.

The rainbows keep her in the black.

 

[at this point I can feel the poem is really breaking down and I think I have enough of an idea there to come back to and tear apart and revise later and maybe turn it into something. I stop the free-flow of writing and go back to read it over once and make the following minor changes. The real work of revision will come days or weeks later when I come back to it.]

 

She sells rainbows at the market

hanging from fishing line

next to the wool socks

and dancing to the wind.

They are always in season

but sometimes hard to find

during on the long grey March days.

She knows the secret places,

the hollow under the tree

on the north slope

and the thick mud of the river bottom.

You’d be surprised

the places she finds them:

the second floor of the sandstone building

next to the clock tower,

and her brother-in-law’s cellar.

She collects them all week

and sells them on Saturdays

rain or shine

setting up her stall next to the man with the spices and herbs

and across from the well-made wooden playthings from Germany.

She does a good brisk business

in all kinds of weather.

People always want rainbows

with their steaming cup of coffee from the couple selling cobbler

and with heady homemade cream.

It’s a sideline, selling rainbows,

Her real work is week days are the greasy brown of dirty dishes

and ketchup gravy stains

and people who seem to be tipping less these days.

The rainbows keep her in the black.

 

 

At the line “she collects them all week” I’ve jotted “stumbles here” in the margin and starting at “It’s a sideline, selling rainbows” I’ve written “Breaks down here. Move this idea up top (and reworked)? Drop altogether?” At the bottom of the page I’ve noted “Cute but doesn’t go anywhere.”

 

I type up the drafts from my notebook and keep editing them; this draft is sitting on my desk, still cute, still not going anywhere, but still with a few good lines in there that might have a future.

 

My love affair with Grenoble, France

April 17th, 2008

 

I hold a special place in my heart for the French city of Grenoble. I’ve only been there twice, the visits almost fifteen years apart, but whenever somebody mentions it I say with longing, “I love Grenoble!”

 

I was 22 when I first visited Grenoble, traveling alone and following the Tour de France, and the city charmed me at once. Grenoble was the second stop of my French trip; the only other city I’d seen was Strassbourg. When I stepped off the train in Grenoble, a university town at the foot of the French Alps, it stole my heart . Perhaps if I’d been to Paris first – but Paris was to be last on that trip, when the Tour de France made its traditional conclusion on the Champs d’Elyssee – I would have seen Grenoble with different eyes, but I hadn’t been to Paris on that trip or ever and so it was Grenoble that became the French City for me.

 

Who knows why a place affects us the way it does – it’s more than just the architecture and art collections and broad avenues of a city, more than mountains and rivers. What we bring with us to a place, what we experience while we are there, the emotions we’re feeling the first moment we get off the train infuses our experience of a place so that we can never again view it objectively. The reasons I remain loyal to Grenoble are at heart the same reasons I am inextricably bound to the places of my childhood: they embody a feeling, a way of being, a place in time as much as a place on the map.

 

In Grenoble I felt young and adventurous and bold and excited and open to the world and the city seeped into my pores and infected me. It will always be my favorite French city because I was twenty-two, traveling France alone, and about to take a bus to the fabled L’Alpe d’Huez when I first walked out of the train station and looked around to get my bearings. And I found them. To this day Grenoble remains one of the few cities of my life I which I haven’t become hopelessly disoriented. I have been lost in Paris and Montreal and Washington DC and New York and Rome and Amsterdam and Barcelona, but I have not been lost in Grenoble. I went to a movie in Grenoble and did my laundry and ate in restaurants alone and sat in the main square and wrote in my journal. And it will always be my favorite French city because seventeen years later I still remember that I ate a quiche Lorraine in Grenoble, I bought a red and white checked journal in Grenoble, I rested in the shade outside a museum in Grenoble, I stood on a bridge and stared down at the mineral green water of the Isere River in Grenoble, I had fish and pommes frites in Grenoble. I remember all of that all these years later.

 

And I remember a twenty-two year old woman taking the trip of a lifetime, taking the chance. For that, for that moment in time, for that feeling I still capture just by invoking the name, Grenoble will always be my favorite, my only French city.

 

My shiny days

April 12th, 2008

 

But it also feels like this: shiny things, so many shiny things to gather and hoard in memory.

 

So many first things from you, my second son: your first smile, glittering and glowing, reflecting all the rays of the sun back at me. Oh, I swept down for that one. A coo and a sigh to tell me you’re awake. Small fingers in the middle of the night pulling at my shirt, grasping my finger, squeeze-release-squeeze-release until you drift back to sleep against my breast. The first time you pulled your bare foot into your mouth, your surprised and delighted eyes that you’d actually done it. Kicking and splashing in the bath, coming out smelling like water and lavendar and that scent that is simply you.

 

And last things from you, my first son: the last time I nursed you before bed-time, the two of us in your darkened room, quiet in the rocking chair in the corner. The last time you crawled into bed with us in the morning. The last time you came running calling “Ang au! Ang au!” in your mispronounced Swiss-English mix that only we understood meant “Me too! Me too!” The last time you said “Alllllll done!” at lunch. When was that, exactly, that last time? I have recorded all your first but these small simple lasts, they slip past me. It is their nature.

 

These days of your changings. You are running now, big one, down hills at full-tilt showing no fear and you, you little one, you are almost sitting up by yourself. All these things to hoard, giggles and smiles and kisses I want to put in a box. Days full of these shiny things. Yes, it also feels like this.

 

 

My magpie days

April 9th, 2008

 

This is how it feels: I stand on the threshold of my day like a child hovering outside the candy store clutching a penny in her hand. So many choices before her and just one penny. So many things she wants, the chocolate and the licorice ropes and the gumballs. Who knew there was so much candy? So much to try, so much to taste, but there is just the one penny. How can she possibly decide? She wants it all, and what if she picks the wrong thing? What if she doesn’t like it? What if she never finds another penny? Indecision sends her home in tears, the penny unspent and with no candy to show for the trip.  

 

This is how it feels: I look around the workroom of my day and see pieces of time scattered across my floor like scraps of material, bits of shimmering silks and honest calicos and comforting wools and none of them big enough for a bedspread. The best I can hope for is stitching these stolen blocks of time together into a patchwork quilt of a day, fitting the scraps into a pleasing pattern, into a sunburst if I’m lucky.

 

This is how it feels: I am always looking for time, seeking out minutes the way a magpie seeks out shiny treasures to line her nest. I see minutes scattered through my day like a bag of sequins spilled out onto the floor; like a bird I hop to and fro gathering up their glittering promises. I dive and swoop at the smallest shiny shard of time, clutching it in my beak and soaring away. I steal time, I hoard time, I defend time with ruffled feathers. I hide it in my hole in the tree thinking that I will come back and reclaim it later, thinking that I can fuse this tin-foil second to that birthday ribbon minute to that carnival-ring quarter hour, soldering these fragments of time into some workable whole.

 

This is how it feels trying to pull words out of the air when the hands of the clock seem to be turning backwards, or sideways. I want more time, more shiny minutes on these magpie days.