Catorce Abriles

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golden trumpet

For the April Girls:

Today I sat beneath a flowering golden tulip tree, and in the waning light I gathered the fallen blossoms, their soft petals, yellow footprints on my skin. It’s April again.

“How can you not remember the time of our birth?” you asked, annoyed at my imprecise memory. Fourteen Aprils ago you made a mother of me — one who’d never before held a baby in her arms, but now, for better or worse, a mother. I remember those moments, the haze following your births, was it hours or minutes, waiting to see you both, unaware of your delicate condition or my own.

I recall your irregular breaths, your inhalations puffing your small bodies and filling your chests, your mottled skin, thin and translucent, diffusing light and life. The machines, inhuman but complicit, watched as we held your twisting small bodies tight like fists, in our frightened arms. The rituals of the NICU: the knotted silence, sitting beside your transparent incubators, the long white corridors between elevator doors and other quiet corridors, the passing of minutes, hours and days, the incomprehensible unknowns, and so much more in that dreadful room — but outside your window, a vibrant tree and its free-falling yellow flowers, the sun and its slanted rays, the shadows and the particle light.

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Maya’s 10th birthday beneath the yellow tree

I am no closer today to grasping motherhood than I was that April, fourteen years ago. I am no less able to fight your fights as I was then, when we watched you sleep and wake, sleep and wake.

But here we are, me, a novice playing it like an old-hand, and you two, challenging me at every turn. You and I are each inextricably bound to that budding tree and her yellow spoken words. Her fallen flowers, tokens of that April morning when your births ushered in the daylight, this new chapter, our parenthood, and family.

Happy 14th birthday Maya & Sophie! ♥

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She burns

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That night, in the penumbra of contented sleep, he sprinted, left to right, through her dream corridors, opening and closing doors, dragging his knuckles like a doomed Andersen prince in an untold fairy tale. Everything he touched he set ablaze.

And in her sleep, she followed. She sensed her body lift heavenward, and everything that tethered her in place withered into ashes beneath her. Her skin warmed as she rose and rose further away from her burning bed, weightless, free, unafraid, and suddenly, very much awake.

She struggled to understand the riddle. He said something about the heart and the mind, and truth, and the catharsis. She warmed beside his flame, not understanding his words, and touched his fragmented skin. Fair, freckled, a webbed spatial constellation, spreading like flowering vines connecting them each to each, to earth and sky. Equally tethered, equally free. He, her spark; she, his tinder.

And she gathered his morphing shape onto her own. She smoothed his licking flames into a twisting containable shape, but failed, again and again. Together they rose, each mutually engulfed, and soon she gave of herself fully, even as she burned. And while his fire bespoke cacophony, collapse and complete engulfment; she sensed the rapture, not the prediction.

 

 

 

Blameless Hope

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What a fight we had. I turned away and you pulled. I pushed and you shoved back, twice as hard. Neither gave up.

Hope, so gallant and disingenuous, I thought the worst of you. Villainous enchantress, the spells you carelessly cast. I understood these: The tired breast and the child’s ceaseless hunger. The brook’s uninformed search for its current. The incoherent thought longing for coherence. The letters that scramble together, over and over again, into imperfect words.

I was afraid for so very long, and fighting you hurt like hell.

In the arms of others, ethereal and flimsy, false. But now, in my hands, blameless and guileless, fragile and beautiful, perfect, sharp and enticing.

Hope

 

 

Muir

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They agree to return to the redwood canyon of their youth. Beneath towering giants, they recall the searing songbird calls, the draping moss and the morning light as it filters thinly through heavy fog and drizzling rain. She remembers the promise, and he, the hope.

Many years have since passed. She notes he no longer wears his hair long, and he studies her manicured hands, the diamond and its spark, and how it catches the light. Together they find the familiar path off the trail, and while he beckons, she stalls, considers, and she follows.

The damp dark soil sinks beneath her feet, the wet air curls her hair, and the atmosphere, so deeply green, savory, acrid and sweet, is familiar in her mouth. And he thinks how this path, this bend in the distance, is theirs alone; and she questions, is this the beginning, the middle or the end?

They work their way through the songbird trill, the hanging moss, the softened branches, the damp air and the lifting fog. And she held her breath and he, his own.

She views his farewell a beckoning, a tide, a relentless retreat, and a repeated approach. Was it she who begged the question? Was it he who left it unanswered? It didn’t matter.

Alone in her car, the Muirs cling to her fingertips, and she is unwilling to let go. The impatient songbird, persistent in its call, audible still, as each retreat to the sealed silence of four-door cars. They each know well the Muir songbird’s song. Its gut wrenching plea, a beautiful exclamation, an indisputable truth.

 

 

 

Paper

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When the welling inside her finally spilled forth, it ripped everything from the inside out. It pulled the walls down, and the hairline crack in her foundation stretched and snarled until the ground gave way beneath her feet. Then her words finally failed her.

In the rubble, she gave it all away: the furnishings, the food, the clothes, the instruments that make up a life, those that build a home, those that speak of what was there, the symbols of a life.

In the midst of the collapse, she viewed the letting away as a necessary slash and burn, a throw back to the anthropogenic fires of ancient civilizations. The landscape of her space obliged her to make way, to pull its rotted root, and to haul it all away. This purge — its blazing fire, the noxious smoke, the dying embers — calmed her.

Days later she held in her splintered hands the remains of what was. She recalled the delicate Unryu rice paper she’d bought years before. In the light, its feathery fibers twined like cherry blossom branches and it was completely translucent. She remembered the care she took when she carefully parsed together charcoaled words upon that paper. When rubbed, charcoal coursed like blood through its porous fibers. She learned to blow away the charcoal, lest she stain the paper with her mistakes.

Mostly, she remembered Unryu rice paper is surprisingly difficult to tear.

Pieced Apart

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She sat across him, 1000 puzzle pieces strewn between them. Putting it back together seemed possible. He said it would take a focused commitment. She thought they would need a bit of patience, for the work might become tedious and its completion depended on dogged determination. On this they agreed.

And so they began. She lit a lavender scented candle. He silenced his phone. Through the window pane, days and nights blended in rapid succession. And with daylight, the parting of a soft curtain, and with night, a drawn curtain and a candle snuffed signaled time’s passing. At first, they worked in obvious commonalities: the flat edged pieces were somewhat easy to place together. The task had a rhythm and it led to repeated small victories. But soon that tactic failed once the outer frame took shape. The interior was daunting. All its indiscriminate pieces, its vagary, their common frustration. And that act, of sorting, finding, and discarding what worked and that which didn’t, tested him, tested her and it tested their resolve. And then, on occasion, that seldom found puzzle piece and its mate and its unexpected connection to another, a shared respite. But most often, for her and for him, this puzzle and its defeating unsolvability flung them apart in fragmented pieces.

Separately they pieced apart this great big strange thing, each working together and alone, silently, and soon the wholeness of the act mattered less than the race to the finish line. Both were indifferent to the light and to the dark, the parting and the drawing of the soft curtains, the candle, the lavender, and its flickering light, meaningless.

She thrilled in her individual assembly, the act of finding, fitting and placing. The invisible check mark against what is right and what is wrong, her scorecard beside her as he fell away, veered off course, his defeat, his resignation, his shrinking away, his predictability, a testament to her resolve, her commitment, her hypocrisy. Oh and she reveled in her individual victory, the validation, her vindication. Of course, she’d stay the course. Of course, he couldn’t. Of course he wouldn’t. Of course.

There were times he wandered in, his callous fingers skimming the sturdy mahogany table, leaning in with an unrequested suggestion, a failed assembly or two, and that seldom lucky placement, and now the crack in her veneer. The failure. Her anger: how could she miss that? The flickering candle and its fraudulent lavender, its heavy sweetness, thick in the air between them, enraged her. And how in that moment, she hated him. These futile thousand pieces, now fewer by a hundred or so, completely unsolvable and utterly pointless without him to measure up against, the assembly, her scorecard, absurd to her.

That night she ripped the puzzle apart. She blew the candle. She flung open their soft curtains. She crumpled her scorecard. She saw all she mistook, what she was and he was not. And she saw. And he noticed.

 

 

 

On facing fear

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These last few weeks Maya’s gymnastics training has really stepped up. She is learning elements elite gymnasts practiced during the Olympic Trials this summer. The transition from her last level to her new one is, in my view, very tough, and as her coach has emphatically stated, “real gymnastics” has now begun.

The rips in her wrists are deeper and the bruising in her body is punishing. The conditioning is tougher and the pressure to perform, to learn, and to try harder is constant as well. The push to go faster, stronger and further doesn’t end.

Then there’s fear. Not the kind of insidious fear that destabilizes a childhood, but the kind of fear that can cripple an athlete. She’s 13 and she understands it, feels it, can name it, and can taste it. It’s a pivotal moment in her life as a gymnast, and as of today, she thrives despite her daily, hand-to-hand combat with fear.

I know these are unique life lessons she will carry with her for the rest of her life. I never faced fear in my childhood and when I did as an adult, the truth is that I was ill-equipped to confront it. I was (and am) a soft-skinned mollusk fully panicked when exposed to the elements.But she’s not me.

She’s that other version of me, the one  I aspire to be 

 

 

 

Unwritten

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I have a friend who collects words. She amasses them tightly in small bound journals, places them in wooden tackle boxes, and neatly stores them for reference. Each journal a bookmark of her life. Everything is neatly cataloged, annotated and illustrated, for in her view, these journals are a sentient body of work which lives and breathes and simmers in her hands, like a lover or a dog, eager to be touched.

Over the years I too have been gifted with journals. Years ago I received a hand stitched burgundy leather-bound coarse-papered journal. Its enticing craftsmanship beckoned me to write, to write, to write gently swaying castles out of thinly strung words. But each time I touched it, it stained my hands red, and for days those stains were impossible to clean.

Now it sits in a drawer with the odds and ends of other bits and pieces of my life I can neither part ways with or use. Its leather is still fine and stiff, and its paper remains unyielding to any words I might dare write.

I suppose one day I might find the right combination of words. I might, like a timid lover, string together glimmering words that softly chime and twinkle when read. Words that undress, words in quiet repose awaiting their turn to leap into the starry night.

I’d like to think I could, that I might.

 

Eight Miles

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On the rocky shores of a jagged sliver of land stands my home, a granite 44 foot lighthouse. Generations in my family have faithfully manned this post. It is our shared destiny.

Duty tethers me to this spot – but a mere eight miles away from here are the shores of my homeland. Eight desperate miles to her coarse sanded beaches, and four miles up along a winding mangrove dirt path which clears into the town’s outskirts. There my dark-eyed beloved quietly awaits. It may as well be a continent away.

In red and white my gas lit tower stands. It’s a reassuring beacon to every ship and sailor who passes by. Accessible only by boat, my mission is to record every occurrence on this islet. I take inventory of every supply ship entering and exiting our narrow harbor, I document the tide and the weather, I install buoys and reposition them as needed. But above all, I man the beacon. I clean the lens and lantern with a cotton cloth. Punctually I climb 200 steps to the top of the lighthouse to lite the beacon at sundown. I keep it bright until sunrise, when it is dimmed.  I then retrace those 200 thread bare steps, and walk out to a rocky path which winds down to my living quarters, 30 windswept steps away from the lighthouse.

I think of you as my body strains against the weight of the nets I cast earlier in the day. I think of your dark hair and the melody in your gait, and again I am lost and swept away to all but you. My hands chafe against the rocks when I check my traps, and I am certain it is your voice calling my name among the splashing waves. Alone I prepare my meal and I count and recount the ways and whys of my life here, eight miles from you, all I most hold dear.

Tonight I take comfort in knowing we gaze at the same stars swaying low and bright. Their flickering lights recall the night I first held your soft hand near the Flamboyan tree, and you told me the stars above were swaying lanterns held high by laughing giants. I believed you then when your alabaster hands pressed a seashell into my palm, your fingers tracing its smooth edges, your sad smile telling me it was time to leave.

I ran through the mangrove’s snarled path, reached the darkened shore, mounted its swelling waves, and rode my weathered skiff into the salted air. In the gray flutter of low flying seagulls I heard the beat of the son you so love. My heart and fist tightly clenched the seashell you’d given. That night, every wave wailed its eulogy against the lighthouse walls.

Eight miles. You may as well be a continent away.

Upright

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old manimagesQFCWO58ISome years ago we observed a well dressed elderly man collapse against the sliding electric doors leading into Walgreens. We parked the car and helped him.

His skin, thin like parchment, peeled off in layers and bled through his shirt. His face and hands purpled with tender bruises. His large butterfly hands flailed when he reached for his glasses on the ground. His gray eyes, shell-shocked and panicked, locked with mine, uncomprehending. All his disjointed parts, it seemed, had scattered to the ground. “And how,” he must have wondered, “do I begin to pickup my broken pieces?”

We offered to drive him home or to a hospital but he refused. His soiled legs and arms trembled as he got to his feet. To this day I don’t know how he mustered the strength to gather up his soul into his thin, frail frame. But he did. He did despite whatever force had prevailed upon him moments before.

I’ve since thought of him often. And so it seems, the notion of one’s soul remaining upright, despite being buffeted here and there by life or one’s own failings, is universal.

It’s our nature to stand upright regardless of that which pulls us down.