Some Good Bits

So I’ve been in the process of going through my journals from the last few years and pulling out all the good stuff. Sometimes it’s just a line or two that stands out in a several page entry; sometimes it’s a few paragraphs. I’m thinking about making a zine of these, formatting them like poems or very short stories. I like how they look with the dates omitted. Thought I’d share a few now on the blog.

What was the best moment today? Maybe now, but… before this, what? It was a tiring day, satisfying, warm- I liked waking up, I’d slept well. I enjoyed my slushee margarita after work, but the best? Maybe it was just walking to the curb to get the trash canisters- about 8 pm but the air was still warm, body temperature. I had on a knee length flowy pink skirt so the sensation of warm air and skirt blowing around my legs was a loose, sensual, rare feeling. The sky was almost an iridescent blue, and the moon silvery and seemingly brighter than it should have been with the sky still so light around it. A lopsided moon, maybe two thirds full, flattened on one side. And then grabbing the canisters, one in each hand and rolling them easily and gracefully across the parking lot, a familiar and practiced movement from my long ago recycling job, the resonant rumble echoing out like the steady travel of thunder. 

Did the dishes. Scrubbed the coffee pot. Re-seasoned the cast irons. The dishwasher gurgles, the dryer churns. I was about to head upstairs, then thought: 

“I could write in my journal now, if I wanted. On the couch. With Mina asleep, mom and Benny upstairs. I could do this thing, alone, that I used to do almost daily for years.”

I’m noticing changes in myself. I see pictures of myself two, three years ago and I look livelier and more rested then I do now but I couldn’t have been. The way I am with Mina is changing. When she was a baby and toddler I was so open, emotional, melted, pure. Now I am more stern with her, a bit hardened. Sometimes I talk to her a bit sarcastically, or with some of the attitude she’s giving me. I’m more calculating, less coddling. 

I see a fierceness in her sometimes, a glaring focus, her ember eyes burning, eyebrows a straight dark line. Sometimes I can’t tell what she’s thinking- she has an inner life that’s growing stronger, she’s becoming more independent. Mostly I’m glad for this. I’m glad for all the ways she’s separate from me, becoming her own person. As separate as she becomes I can’t imagine never knowing her the way I do- an intuitive understanding that comes from knowing myself. But I know also that there will be times that I think I understand her but I won’t. She will do things that I would never do. 

   

Did I ever write about that dream I had? 

I was in an antique shop and was attracted to a box, 

a small shallow wooden box with a window in the lid, you could see inside of it 

and it made a picture, overlapping layers of muted colors. 

It was $25 and I wanted it but couldn’t justify the purchase to myself, 

it wasn’t practical. 

But finally I decided, “Beauty is a necessity.” 

And I bought it, picturing it sitting on a special shelf I would make to display it. And maybe it would be the start of a new kind of life for me, allowing beauty 

to take the forefront of my existence-

a way of valuing aesthetics as much as practicality if not more;

a way of living for the sake of art. 

The car I’m borrowing for a few days has a tape player. This morning I grabbed a few mix tapes from the box as I rushed out on my way to school. Even though they are from the 90’s, so long ago that that decade has made a comeback, I didn’t expect to have any problems with the tapes. But when I slid one in (that satisfying moment when your gentle push is replaced by a gentle tug) the sound coming out was slogged, demonic, warped, clattery, unrecognizable- until finally a voice emerged, the gravelly growl of Tom Waits singing Kerouac lyrics, followed by Kerouac himself singing Bing Crosby, a brief interlude by the Presidents of the United States of America, continuing into Talking Heads’, “This Must Be The Place”- a song that has now become popular but back then I felt like the only one who knew what a good song it was. It played slowly with a heavy warble. I sang along, thinking my voice sounded ripe and raspy, blending in nicely with David Byrne’s, remembering a time when I was a young, fierce girl, holding dear my three heroes: Tom, Jack, David. 

Last night we went out to collect some candy. Some of the streets we walked were very dark and no place for children. The 205 rushed by on the other side of the concrete wall. How did we end up here? But the moon was perfect, classic-a white gold crescent against a deep violet sky, glowing, knowing. Venus, a beauty mark. Look at the moon! We kept saying to the kids. Did they look? 

I want to tell you this new fear I have-a fear of the dark, of night. I noticed it during those short days when the darkness creeps in quietly and suddenly drops you into a black velvet bag. When I’m walking to work from my car for an evening shift or when I wake up early and it’s inky black outside- It’s not a fear of what could be lurking in the dark, of things unseen. It’s a fear of Nothing. When it’s night I can so easily picture our tender planet half dark, and me- impossible and minuscule, on that shadowed side, staring out into the nothingness of space. Night reminds me that I live on a planet, that the planet is in trouble and that it’s suspended within the frigid unknowable universe. 

    Walking in the foggy midday at the Lone Fir Cemetery. I have other things to do but I miss walking. I want to feel my body create its own warmth. I want to see my breath. I stop at the oldest tombstones, trying to read them- the worn, mossy rock carved with facts. Mother, Father, Beloved Son. Aged 46 years. Aged 28 years. The big monument to Storie. The crumbling mausoleum. The tombstone cast to resemble a craggy stump. A stuffed lion by a teenage boy’s grave. A candy bar resting by another. Leaping squirrels, plunging and darting through the branches. I try to observe my thoughts. I realize that any thoughts you have while walking through a graveyard will not be original. All will be cliche observations of mortality, time, cycles. I thought of all those bodies under the ground. I thought of my own death. I thought of the eventual death of those I love. I wondered about all these stories around me, all those lives with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I felt my own vibrant life force. My hands became warm enough to pull out of my pockets and swing alongside my body. The rhythmic movement of feet, legs, hips, arms. I left and walked back out into the chaos of the living. 

I dreamt of visiting Sharon Olds at her lovely house, a creamy gold mansion with an incredible bathtub. I read one of her poems and it’s stunning, soothing, nourishing. I think about how she has been rewarded for her work as a poet, the world sees her, honors her. It is possible to be a wealthy poet. This dream shows what is valuable to me right now- the richness of words, the value of poetry, of living poetically. The value of being the kind of person and living the kind of life to be able to write like that. 

My body can tell you about itself: 

I am a stiff bridge in a wooden playground, low thump thump, shaking chains. I am wind- cold, tearing tiny flowers off of thorny branches. I am an empty boat. 

I am dirt- wet, wormy, rich, waiting. 

My stomach is a soft stone, like day old bread, something hard surrounded by something soft. A brick inside a pillow.

 My wrists and ankles are spindly branches, cracking and twisting in the storm. 

My shoulders are a desert mesa, stripes of flat sedimentary layers- rock where you can see the eons, seashells embedded, reminding you that whales once hovered over this dusty land. 

My neck is there, muscled, straining to maintain equilibrium. I want to unhook it, roll it out like fresh dough, release all its knots and vices, braid it loosely, reinstall. 

Someone once told me I have raccoon hands- and like all comments that ring true and slightly shameful, that once has stuck with me. Small, scrappy, furred, pointed, nimble, almost human. Frantically washing, digging, plucking, sorting, rooting through trash to find the treasures. 

When I dance I let my hands be waves, fists, flat paper, aimless birds, sun-seeking leaves. 

When I breathe deeply sometimes I feel a cracking in my ribs, I imagine them stretching to full capacity and then continuing to expand, breaking apart not like a cage because that’s too obvious but like what, like a brittle shell, a too small container for a leggy hermit crab, or maybe like the chocolate shell on a soft serve swirl cone. 

My body tells you things. But sometimes it doesn’t- sometimes I feel things my body won’t show you. I am often measured; I rarely get out of control unless I decide to. I don’t fall asleep unintentionally. I am pouring exactly 1 and ¾ cup of water into the bowl and you know it’s exact because I bent down to sea level to check its preciseness. That’s why my body likes alcohol, exercise, massage, swimming in the ocean. That’s why my body needs sex, sleep, sun, space. 

Every so often I find 

a new freckle on Mina. 

Noticing freckles appear 

on her pale skin is like 

     watching the stars

come out

Venus was in the sky last night, piercing the dark darkish blue of after sunset-  a bright white point in the center of the window. Benny said, there it is again, it was there last night in the same spot. We peered at it, perplexed. Could it be a planet? Wait, was it moving? No. Yes! No. 

I googled, bright star in the western sky. Yes, Venus, at its especially brightest in May. I kept thinking, Venus, beauty and love at its brightest and that can’t be a bad thing. 

I am so tender these days, on the verge of collapse, looking for ways to strengthen but maybe I should just submit, allow myself to break, I need a break, I need to break, to crumble so that I can rebuild, rebloom. 

Last night Mina was energized, “activated” by bunny grahams, and even ran around outside in the parking lot after dinner. 

“I think our bodies are magic,” she told me. “The way that our brains tell our bodies to do things. How does it work? How do our bodies move?” 

I said, “I don’t know. I think it’s amazing how living things just grow, they just do it themselves. I think all living things are magic.” We kept talking about the brain and all its wonders, and she was alive with ideas. She said her idea tube was getting clogged up, but luckily she has 133 other ones. I’ve never seen her quite like that. I’m not sure what triggered it, what was different about yesterday. 

At bedtime it took Mina a while to get tired so she had me do something mom made up, where she makes Mina out of clay. It was fun and I got lost in it, molding her features, smoothing her arms, scooping clay from around her neck to make shoulders, pinching fingers and ears. Afterwards she made me out of clay, and I felt myself becoming, gaining mass and form. I make her who in turn makes me.

I was getting ready to make dinner- I had chicken breast thawing on the counter, sprinkled with salt and lemon juice and I realized I hadn’t been outside all day and also I wanted a glass of wine and we were out of butter. Benny and Mina were upstairs playing video games and I thought, I could just drive over to the store for wine and butter. But I almost didn’t, the outside world was so black and wet, I had a sudden fear of the dark- like, why would I leave my safe warm house and open myself up to danger? Who knows what could happen on the five minute drive over? I felt fearful and vulnerable as I stepped out the door and locked it behind me, got in my car and turned it on, NPR coming on the radio. I heard two women talking, one interviewing the other. She asked her to read aloud her poem about the death of a loved one. Her voice was soft and cracked and wise. I wondered who the poet was. Then she read another poem about picking blackberries with her old hands that used to be her grandmother’s hands. The poem seemed to be directed to the poet’s daughter. At one point her voice caught and she had to tamp down a little sob. The interviewer asked her after, what was it that had “snagged” her, I think that was the word she used. “Well, it’s all there in the poem,” she said a bit snippety but I knew what she meant. Oh that great line: “the best berries grow in shadow.” By then I had found out it was Margaret Atwood. “What would a life lived entirely in daylight be like?” she said, and then answered her own question: “It would be a nightmare.” 

   I remember when the movie Titanic came out I was fifteen

                   My mom dropped me off at the big theater in the next town 

             and went to go run errands.

There was something so tragic and defiant, watching it alone 

on Valentine’s Day. I felt the solid, self sufficient presence of myself, 

tender but invincible, eyes wide and heart pumping 

as that gigantic ship 

slowly sank. 

I’m in the river but I’m a strong swimmer now. The thing is, I’ve always been a strong swimmer but I’m tired of being strong. I want to stop swimming. I want to float. I want to be swept downstream. I even want to sink, I want to feel the water close over my head, feel the weightless weight of me drift down, make gentle contact with the river bottom. I want to get knocked around by passing rocks, their sharp corners lighting up my skin, scraping my taut muscles. I want to let go. I want to be carried, rescued. Or even ignored, allowed to drift. I want to be forgotten, I want to forget. I want to wash up on shore with amnesia and believe I am a wayward fish, a frog, a snail. 

So often I get tired of being human, of navigating human nuances, our complex needs and emotions, our tiresome journeys, searching and finding, or not finding. The ways we betray each other, and ourselves. I’m done. I’m done being human. Can I just decide that? Can I just be a lizard, a whale, a buffalo? I bought a buffalo tooth the other day. There’s a hole in the top of it. I can pull a string through it and wear it around my neck. I can carry a piece of a buffalo with me, I can pretend I am a buffalo. Will that help? I don’t know. 

Dream purchase: a skirt from a vintage store, knee length and made from a silky, translucent blue and black material. And attached to the fabric, giant dead black scarab beetles. It was $20. I bought it, thinking I might never wear it, but I also might. 

I fell in love with a mortal and I knew it was doomed. His life would come and go as if in a day. I’ve learned to love quickly and deeply, without attachment, without expectation. I’ve learned to breathe in their skin, memorize the dynamic changing colors of their eyes, taste the sweat on their neck, harmonize with their voice, make a map of their freckles. I’ve learned to be with, completely, almost becoming my love, being them for a day. 

It’s frightening to become mortal, if only briefly. How can they live each day, waking up in the morning and not knowing if they will be alive by night? How can they wake up thinking, this might be the last time I brush my teeth, choose my clothes, heat water for coffee? They must hold two truths always in their hearts- the knowledge of their own imminent deaths, and the belief that they must act is if it’s not true. They must continue making plans as if there will be a tomorrow. How they must savor each moment! Maybe I envy them a little. Sometimes I forget to notice the moon, to watch the new spring buds. It all happens so fast for me. 

I prefer spending time among rocks and trees, things that change slower. Then I can take the time to notice the widening and lengthening of a redwood, the erosion of a mountain ledge. I like to ride the glaciers, watch islands form, then disappear. It’s like watching the planet breathing- the shifting of oceans, the breaking apart of continents, the melting, the freezing, the heat, the cold. 

I had a perfect karaoke night in early March when things were still open. I totally succumbed to that song, I pitched a tent in that song and lived there for a few weeks, I made that song the center of my body, I left my body and became spirit, and there was a crowd of loving, dancing, howling witnesses there with me. Why is it that the most perfect moments take you away from yourself, allow you to drop your ego and expand up and out, connecting you to everything and also simultaneously allow you to burrow deeper down into your exact molten center, momentarily touching the you that is truly you and could never be otherwise? 

Another stolen moment. It’s after dinner, not quite bedtime yet. I didn’t announce that I was getting some Serra Time, I’m just taking it, waiting to be discovered. I was uninspired by the dredges of our fridge and made a weird veggie Mac n cheese thing which Mina refused to eat. Oh well. 

Today I did laundry, planned three dinners for the coming week and put in a Freddy’s order, replaced a lightbulb, took a shower. Read Mina all three volumes of Bigby Bear comics- they were surprising and perplexing, like picture riddles. When they went upstairs to play games at 5:00 I wasted time shopping for Mina shoes online then decided to go for a walk in the windy, rainy evening. 

As I walked north I could see the darkness of an impending downpour but wasn’t deterred, thinking it might be nice to feel some weather, safe in my rain jacket and Blundstone boots. 

It felt good to walk, the air smelled of wood smoke. I turned left at Stephens towards Harrison park, the sidewalks mostly deserted. At Harrison there were many downed branches from the storm and one almost whole tree was in pieces. I felt a little vulnerable in the empty park, evening turning to night.

On the way home the drizzle turned to rain and then the sudden powerful downpour I’d been waiting for. The evening turned dark and hazy, foamy with rain that streamed down my glasses, pounded into my shoulders, soaked through my socks. I thought, it’s cool I still have this persistent desire, to be alive. I’ve always had this, this drive for growth, this invitation to challenge, this yearning to be up against the elements- awake, aware. I have felt it fade some over the last few years, and that really won’t do. I have to stay alive. It’s necessary. 

Sometimes you’ll take this whole trip, like a family vacation, and maybe it’s mostly stressful and expensive and the food is bad and your kids are whiny and the airline lost your luggage but there’s going to be at least ONE moment where elements combine harmoniously and your senses are heightened from being in a new place and maybe you’re looking across the vista and taking your first real breath of the trip and you take a snapshot in your heart and mind- a 3D, sensory aware fully present photo- and that moment was what the entire trip was for and that’s fine, that’s what you came for, that’s what will remain. 

On the radio this morning I heard about the death of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and someone read aloud something he wrote, What Is A Poem. Yes, yes, I thought as I listened. Poetry fits in the pocket of your heart, poetry is a lighthouse dragging its megaphone across the black ocean, poetry is your mother in her Woolworth bra gazing out the window at her garden, and so on. I thought, that’s what my writing needs- to be more poetic. Of course, that’s a tired thought for me, not a new one. And how does one be more poetic? By being aware of your senses, by being open to the world, absorbent, delighted, awake. And remembering to take notes. Be a wanderer, an observer, not just of the world but your inner self too, and the way one plays off the other. Your heart is the anchor you tie your rope to, then swing the rope like a lasso, seeing what you can snag. 

I want to create, but there’s a new apathetic, cynical side of me that whispers, “Why? Why bother? So you can write a poem that lives in a closed journal? So you can make a painting that gets stuffed in a drawer? Who will see it? Who will care? It’s just one weak shout among millions.” I know not to listen to that voice. But it’s there nevertheless. 

I realized something this morning; a thought came to me 

suddenly and fully formed. 

When I die, I want to be able to say 

one thing honestly: That I got close to people

and I let people get close to me. 

Sometimes it’s a mystery how to even do this

but it’s worth it 

to spend a lifetime trying. 

1 thought on “Some Good Bits”

  1. What a moment… to take a break in typing up the fading biography my grandfather wrote about his father: “He gained an expertness with such elemental tools as the scythe, spading fork, hay for, bundle fork, manure fork, sack needle, walking plow, butchering knives, and milking stool…” to read your writings. I read about Mina’s freckles and making each other out of clay aloud to my Aunt as she sorts photos of her grandchildren and old trips with past lovers and husbands, and she asks, “where did you find those?” “Serra posted on her blog.” I don’t think she knows what that means, but I’m touched by these images of us, trying to save what’s important, and put it somewhere it won’t get lost. Why? To know ourselves and each other, to get as close as we can? What else matters so much as this?

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