permanent record

when she was a child, she

realized she could move

things with her eyes. she

remembers them levitating,

flying about, crash-landing.

 

she’s in the middle of her

life now; she feels what

people call a crisis. she

talks to herself, and is the

nicest person to talk back.

 

she reads novels that are

going no-where; she keeps

seeing under-utilized words that

aren’t there. she thinks one thing

and writes another. she knows

 

you can say things in a poem

you can’t say any-where else.

people are weapons; even the

kids playing on the lawn in the

warm snow are getting away with it.

 

 

 

 

snap shot 4

“I’m in trouble.”

She woke with these words in her mind, almost on her tongue. She wasn’t sure if the words were spawned by her feeling of despair upon facing another day with the chronic aches and pains (some inhabiting her body, and others visiting from an unknown place) and still no answers—or if they had been triggered by the random patchwork of dreams from the night: her wedding to an old love, her pregnancy by an ex-husband, her strange reunion with an old friend.

At least she was human in these dreams. And, lately, sometimes Kevin Arnold. She smirked at this, at the knowledge of the television world seeping into her reality—of her growing dependence on nostalgic shows to help escape from what felt like a dying garden. There was still beauty—all around—and some soil, and some water, and a little cold sun, and a few people wandering about; but there was also the nagging feeling of death, of things being slowly starved and shriveled, of other things sprouting oddities and twisting off in the wrong direction.

Lee often tried to be optimistic. Not quite cheerful (that emotion typically surfaced only when buzzed or caught up in a love balloon), but grounded in a larger picture of herself and this life—stabilized by an ever-present, irritating really, knowledge that things would somehow work out, would somehow be okay. She had felt this stoicism from her father, this cautious confidence. But lately she could feel herself slipping, her knowledge fading, her hope becoming heavy under the weight of loneliness, age, teenage cynicism, doubt, and now—injury.

Leonard Cohen knew. And he knew that everyone else knew, too. This life was unbearable, harsh, cruel even. And yet, startling in its beauty and unpredictable kindness. Navigating between these two extremes was a heroic, gymnastic effort which exhausted the trifecta of mind, body, and soul. No wonder she could barely get out of bed some days.

Some of her friends were tired of hearing about it. She didn’t have as many friends because of it, and usually she was relieved by this. It meant less expectation, less energy, less investment. But the reverse was also true: fewer people were invested in her. Less energy was being tossed her way. She knew her readers would also become impatient eventually—especially if she didn’t throw in a love scene soon. At least some suggestive dialogue. She laughed out loud as she struggled to stand.

“Love waits for no man.”

She thought of all the love that was happening all around her—and of her own small doses being exchanged within this house, and without. Within this world, and without. There were so many different types of love, and she would be damned if she was going to let herself get caught up in one or two tiny definitions. And anyway, was it love that waits for no man? Or time? Were they one in the same? She pictured a wild time-love horse charging away into the tide without its rider.

After all this thinking, Lee became tired. Coffee was up next, with a side of berry yogurt to cushion the belly against the delicious acid. What came after that was a new hope in the form of a phone call. There was a treatment for her broken foot, and she had been approved for it. A new path—beginning next week. She would throw everything she had into this hope.

She thought about her fear of surgery, and wondered if it was related to her other fears. She would not name them just yet. She would not give them credence. Instead, she would spend days, weeks—months even—trying on yet another opinion about how her life could be improved.

snap shot 3

Charlotte was a rescue. She had been found and brought to a shelter at about three months old. They weren’t sure of her exact age, history, how she had come to be wandering the city. So they fed her, fixed her, and named her after a queen. She knows this—as well as her exact age, history, how she had come to be wandering the city. She carries it all with a regal grace and perfunctory aloofness.

Charlotte was lying directly on Lee’s chest, her muted gray form rising and falling with the in-and-out of their shared breathing. It was evening, and the lamps were dimly lit. Lee didn’t like bright lights and turned them on only when deep cleaning. So, maybe twice a year. Everything was more forgiving that way. After all, you had to be really angry at something to achieve a truly thorough clean. And if you allowed yourself to become really angry too many times a year, you may find yourself without a home to clean.

It was too warm for a fire—unseasonably warm for January. The fireplace looked sad and dusty when empty—like an old, gray eye staring ahead squarely, blankly. There were tiny paw prints of ash leading to and fro as evidence of Charlotte’s investigation. Someone had to ensure that the embers were out.

Lee worried that every time she wrote about herself she was lying down or lazing on the couch. She didn’t want her readers to think she was too sedentary—though, in fact, she was. Well, she was in good company with Charlotte. And anyway, she had an excuse. She had broken her foot six weeks ago and was laid up with an air boot. Turns out she may need surgery after all. Turns out different doctors will give you widely different opinions. Lee wasn’t sure how she felt about the fact that the only opinion that mattered at the end of the day was her own.

Sophie sat behind her at the table, painting her nails. She was supposed to be reading The Great Gatsby but had somehow managed to segue into grooming within minutes of sitting down. The mood music drifted from the television. Lee thought about how people never say television when speaking, but how it is more proper than TV when writing. She thought about the many ways speaking and writing were different, and how this had perplexed her all her life. She was sure she couldn’t write realistic dialogue because of it.

She was glad she didn’t have to write dialogue for Charlotte. The occasional meow was sufficient, sometimes with a side of purring or a variety of guttural sounds only a pet owner could love and understand. The hissing was reserved for when Sophie tried to torture her like a territorial big sister.

The window was cracked again, and the sound of cars whooshing by reminded Lee of her confinement. She would not drive for weeks. She would not walk for weeks. She would continue to use a knee cart to navigate the narrow lanes of her house—measuring out her every move so she wouldn’t further injure herself. Or anyone else. It may be too late.

The familiar sound of Charlotte crunching on her food could be heard from the kitchen. She liked to eat when everyone was home, when things were quiet and predictable. Lee wondered what she was thinking when hovered over her ceramic bowl, lapping at water that probably needed refreshed. She wondered what she was thinking when staring at a plant for several minutes on end. Maybe if she could tap into a cat’s thoughts she could land a bestseller.

When they first brought Charlotte home, she had disappeared overnight. They couldn’t figure it out—how a cat could just be gone. They looked everywhere. Could she have gotten out? Could they have been so careless? They searched the house, the yard, the neighborhood.

Hours later, after everyone had stopped calling and shaking cat toys and rattling bags of treats, Charlotte had calmly emerged from the tiniest crack in the kitchen between the stove and the cabinet. She was so small then—and full of secrets. She never disappeared again—at least not inside the house.

snap shot 2

We remember and forget things on a daily basis. If we could retain everything we have ever remembered—or perhaps never forget it in the first place—we would be different beings. Forgetting may be a blessing—the mind’s way of coping with this insidious loop of existence. How else could we get up and do the same things over and over again? Maybe the forgetting was a curse. Or was it the remembering?

These thoughts came to Lee as she dragged herself once again out of her dreams, out of the deep remembering that came to her each night. She was usually in a forest, in a fog of stories without words, surrounded by things you just know in your bones, things that make you run and jump and fly and hunt. Things that let you escape humanity and become the elements that make up the dreams of others, that make up the universe. Things that don’t require bones but that know them to their core.

Upon waking, she could feel the familiar forgetting wrapping around her like a bathrobe. Sometimes it came in the form of a coffee cup or phone notification. She could have stayed in that wordless world forever—and maybe one of these times she would. But the crash of the recycling bins outside had jarred her out of sleep. At first it melded with her dream, and she was rushing to try to gather all of the bottles, boxes, and cans from the week to get them to the curb in time. There used to be many more bottles. She was trying to cut back.

She had fallen asleep in the living room again, beside the simmering fireplace, with the window cracked. It was like sleeping by a campfire, the contrast of the soft heat and cool air bringing her back to a place of childhood and longing. There was something addictive about a fire, the measured build of the elements as heat met paper met wood met air—the initial catch, the crackling increase, the leap of flames, the slow burn of embers. It was like a birth and a death—right at her fingertips—and it warmed the room beautifully.

Lee was avoiding her bedroom. She had been for weeks—ever since the holidays. The pillowy couch by the fireplace was only comfortable to a point, and then her back would start to ache. But something was keeping her from that room, from that big, firm bed. She thought she knew what, she thought she had it figured out, but then she would forget. In the meantime, she continued to make fires, sandwiches, phone calls.

She checked her phone, first for the time (and to see how many times she had hit snooze), and then for the regular dose of notifications. There were only a few this morning, nothing to really stimulate her to fully wake. She got distracted by a cat video and then a news parody, and found herself laughing before her coffee—which was rare. Not really laughing, but slightly snickering as she stretched and pulled herself up out of the couch cushions.

It was cold and overcast, and she sucked in the air as she gazed out the window. She could smell the eventual passing of winter, the tiny hint of spring, the desire to run through a field or chop some wood or take off in a canoe. Instead, she followed the well-worn path to the coffee maker.

The house would be as quiet as she wanted it. Sophie would sleep until noon. There was no school today. It was Martin Luther King Day.

I have a dream.

 

snap shot

She was thinking about moving again. It had only been six months in this apartment. Six months, and it still didn’t feel like home. Half a year, and she still hadn’t unpacked that room of boxes, moved the piles out of her bedroom to make room for living, hung any color or curtains.

Her baby sister would have had the place remade in a weekend—paint, tapestries, candles, made-to-order colors. Instant cozy. Simone knew what she wanted, and she didn’t let things get in her way. She knew what other people wanted, too, and she had that unique ability to help them see and achieve it—if she agreed with it.

Lee sat in the middle of ‘her’ house, of her possessions, of her many unmade decisions. She couldn’t even decide which name to go by. Currently she was using her middle name—as a nod to her deceased father, yes—but also as a cop-out because she still didn’t like her own name and she couldn’t think of a good alternative. Someday she would be a published author. She agonized over what name she would use. She lay awake at night putting together different combinations, signatures in her head. The notepad, computer, journal sat mostly empty by her bed.

There was too much truth in writing. Too much she wasn’t ready to face, to accept, to believe. Too much she still didn’t understand. She thought she would have had more figured out by now. She thought back to when her parents were her age—and how old she had considered them. Odd how we measure time and people. We think of people as old when they have gained a certain amount of knowledge and experience—but at the same time we label them as out of touch, as if we can’t have both at the same time. We want to swoop in and brush up against their knowledge and experience from time to time, but we don’t want to touch them. We don’t want them touching us or our ideas or outcomes.

Suddenly she heard church bells, which reminded her that it was Sunday. 10:46 a.m. A call to worship. She had never heard those bells before. She pictured people coming out of their doors, gathering on the sidewalk, walking to the big, brick church on the corner with the giant stained-glass eye that watched over the town. Driving past at night, headlights would hit the window and light up a massive image of Mary and Christ, side by side, looking somber under their halos. Their eyes would stare back at you, into you, with that shimmering light, and you had to remind yourself that it was trickery—the work of physics and man-made headlamps.

Her coffee sat cooling in her hands as she stared out the window, past the cat, past the fighting, fledgling tree in the front yard, past the street and the neighbors’ houses and the skyline. She needed to get away, to go somewhere she had never been, to meet people she had never met. She needed, deep in her core, to find herself, her name, her color, her sound.

“Mom!” a voice shouted from the hallway. “We’re out of toilet paper!”

Lee sighed and stretched and rose from the couch.

“Coming!” she called back as she made her way to the linen closet.

She had never had a linen closet before. She thought it was going to be so great, to have a place for all those ointments and products and sheets and towels and things that had cluttered up her bathroom before. Now the closet was stuffed to the brim with every manner of item which did not belong, which begged for order, which sat hidden all day on a dark shelf.

crystals & quiet

the snow is here again. i remember last year, shoveling our

way out from downstairs, forging a path through the tall

 

wall of white, pushing up-hill to break out into the day.

i donned my grandmother’s boots, with plastic bags in-

 

side, and walked. it’s amazing how many people walk in

the snow—people you’ve never seen before, waving their

 

woven mittens, wide smiles under wide brims. the streets are

so clean—and every-thing is covered in an eerie-beautiful sheen

 

of crystals & quiet. this year, i sit looking out the window—

waiting for the neighbor’s kids to trespass into my front yard, maybe

 

leave some evidence in the form of a snowman. i wanted to kick

them out a few months ago. now, i wait for them like i wait for the

 

sun, like i wait for my broken foot to heal. it is a slow process. i’ve

become accustomed to patience over the years; i have accepted my

 

turtle state. but this is a new form of waiting. my whole body is

weary of being sedentary, is longing to walk, to run, to jump, to

 

be in the world. my spirit is tired of depending on others, of being at

their mercy, of painstakingly measuring out every movement to

 

avoid further injury. but i am grateful that i am not alone, even when

i am. i am grateful i have another working foot. i am grateful that

 

this one will eventually work again. i think of all the people who will

never walk, who are confined to a chair, a couch, a bed. confinement

 

takes on a whole new meaning when you are suddenly in those iron

shoes. it is a heavy realization, how fortunate we are even when we

 

feel our worst. i know there are things to be learned here, now and

always. eventually these things will break through this stubborn

 

cast and burrow their way to the core. i am waiting——

to be pure, to be whole, to be more loving toward each

 

person in their own crystal prison, to be more

loving toward my flawed, flurried self.

 

fill

we fill, you fill,

they fill;

fill it up,

top it off,

until it breaks—

over and over:

this tiny fist of a machine

inside a bigger machine with

too many inputs and not

enough outputs. our off-

spring crack us open again

and again. we are nothing but

mechanized eggs. it’s not what

we want to hear; it’s not what

we want to believe; but we

are born into it with nowhere

else to go. we stare out the

two portals—sometimes three,

if we’re lucky—and try to really

see: our mother, our father, our

motherland, our altar. we act out

the lines of our code, never truly

understanding the words. the

motherboard is never satisfied.