Unwritten

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journal

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.

 

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Eight Miles

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lighthousea

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.

Broken Vase

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shatter martin-klimas-flower-vase007I heard it fall apart. The boom. The crash. The broken glass.

You, by the thin kitchen light, caught off guard when the vase fell apart. The glass lay scattered around us. We knelt to collect the shards. I carefully picked up the large broken pieces, they were easier to see. You knelt closer to the ground, quickly sweeping up the smaller glass with your bare hands.”My calloused hands,” you said, “can handle the cuts. Yours can’t.”

The glass punctured my soft hands, tiny splinters invisible beneath my skin. Blood dotted my fingertips. I brushed it away, but persistently, the blood seeped, again and again.

Tenderly you took my hands in yours, “I’m so sorry,” you quietly said.

The sharp pain eventually faded away. The scars, however, remained. A faded reminder of the irreparably broken vase.

 

Flightless bird

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frozen

Beside you I walked. Faceless men in short sleeves wearing thick gloves hauled lumber from large stacks, measured and counted the beams, then bound them together. You knelt before the stacks, peered into the grain and ran your fingers over its honed smoothness. Carefully you selected your planks.

I kicked the saw dust floors with the tip of my boot. The wood shavings and their spicy scent brought to mind our winter. The evergreens, barely visible for the heavy snow, demanded our attention. You didn’t tire easily, splitting the old pines in our yard, your breath visible in the distance. I wondered how long those white and red pines could hold their frozen burden. I imagined those trees shrugging off their weight and walking in straight lines into the tall grass plains of northern Minnesota, loyal followers of a soaring eagle. Oh!, and how I so wished they would.

You placed the logs on the stone hearth and set a fire. Everything within its proximity reveled in its warmth. And there you sat, your hands warming by the fire, a drink at your feet, beckoning me near.

I realized then I sought something other.  My back to the warming hearth, and my hands pressed against the frozen windows. The view outside contrary to everything you’d built inside. And I recalled the American eagle and its powerful flight.

Yet somehow I too understood the plight of the winter evergreen. I too yearn for a letting go, a solitary path to something other, a different kind of weather.

I know too well the condition of the flightless bird, its useless wings, its conundrum. And I understood.

 

Cobalt, Aubergine & Russet

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You brought me sunflowers. Their thick stems, outstretched arms and open faces stood tall —  laughing braggarts in a vase. I cherished their vibrant audacity.

I can no longer defend the sunflower or its yellow outburst. Nor can I defend those years, when my hair, unbound, grazed my back, and the passage of time was marked only by light and dark, the sand on my skin, and how the questions were infinitely more interesting than the answers.

I recall the parchment paper you favored. Its fine layers, pliant and fragile in my hands, lay heavy with your drying acrylics. Colors colliding on paper we could ill afford. My walls, my body, my thoughts, a mural you hung your art upon. I came to hate it. I did.

“What do you see? What does it mean?” you’d persist as you brushed your hair from your eyes. So difficult for things to just be. Of course there was no right answer, but I didn’t know that then.

Sometimes, from a distance, an image did emerge, but up close, it was always chaos.

I cannot look upon a sunflower without thinking of you. Nor can I look upon cobalt, the blue you streaked across our walls; aubergine, the marriage of red and blue; and russet, borne of crushed plums and red grapes, without remembrance.

I crave the beauty of the humble blossom, the dignity of its pale hues, and the comfort found in its simple design. Its unquestioning existence aligns to my own.

Lines & Letters

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high wire

I collect books. They gather in stacks around my space, they huddle in boxes and quietly whisper their stories. They wait for my return.

And when their siren song stirs me, I am transported. I hover over their frayed spines, their yellowed pages, the underlined words, the turn of a phrase, the grace found in words carefully perched on a high wire. Words designed to hypnotize from such great heights.

And from below I gaze. Strung together, their utterances so perfectly choreographed, their movements fluid and deliberate, are precisely performed.

Stripped of all finery and ornamentation, they mock from high above. They pounce the line, they pirouette, and at last they quietly walk off the line and gather. Such brave audacious eloquence.

At the edge of my seat I sit, all the while mesmerized, who empowered them? And how do they dare?

We all remain, long after the page has turned, hoping for an encore.

 

 

Late Snowfall

 

Screen shot 2015-03-27 at 5.43.02 PMNewly planted seedlings do what they must and begin a journey through a thin layer of soil to reach the outer world. A seemingly impossible task for a thing so small. Soon enough its stem pierces the ground, its leaves unfurl, and the smallest and sturdiest of buds, resplendent and perfect in its shape, prepares for its inevitable bloom. A miracle, its design.

Neither you nor I foretold a late winter snowfall would soon change the character of the dark rich soil that spring, or how many small sprouts would survive the voyage their brief life would come to bear.

I recall you, on your knees, your fingers deep in the dark warm soil, testing the dirt, feeling its moist coarseness in your hands, the bitter taste in your mouth. “Yes, this dirt is good,” you said as you stood, “it’s ready.” And how we planned this small piece of land.

Plum tomatoes, its crawling growth and tangled stems do well in that corner where the late sun warms the afternoons and the cool air lingers in the early morning hours. Basil, oregano, thyme and sage, your favorites, their fragrance, permanent reminders of us, on your fingertips. And for me, flowers, lavender and wisteria, their springly arrival, a coronation. Our rituals, the gardening, the bloom, the ripening, our shared joy. I loved you then beyond measure.

A late winter snowfall heralded that cold April morning, mere days after our newly planted garden lay tender and tenuous in our care. The snow and frost, fragile and magical at once, a suffocating blanket over our roots and buds. How you dug and cupped the snow and frost with your hands, each tender leaf in your frantic hands, gently warmed with your breath. Beside you I worked, our knees touching, and you, impervious, lamented, “I can fix this, I can fix this.” Each tender root you pulled haunted me years after the thaw.

You salvaged what you could. What remained, grew.

That unexpected gentle snow, our stillborn garden, our losses, now a blur.

 

 

 

Bourbon and Thanksgiving

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bourbon

This afternoon I bought a bottle of Zackariah Harris Kentucky Bourbon Whisky. I’m not a whisky drinker, or a drinker period, but when I strolled into my local liquor store and asked for a bottle of whiskey, I couldn’t help but feel like a two-bit drunk.

“I’m making apple bourbon potpie for Thanksgiving so I need this for a Martha Stewart recipe,” I explained to the cashier. He nodded his head, reached behind the counter and grabbed a bottle in a way that implied he’d heard this rambling excuse more than once before.

I walked away from the counter with my $4 bourbon in a nondescript paper bag and felt the cashier’s eyes following me as I left. “Suburbanite drunk,” he must have thought. “I can spot’em a mile away.”

On my way out, as only luck would have it, I tripped, in a spectacular fashion, on his Christmas tree. I’m certain whatever doubt he may have entertained about my explanation was fully eradicated in that brief, clumsy moment.

I looked back and our eyes made contact.  Sometimes the most inconsequential encounters can be so misunderstood.

Here’s a link to my very innocent, Thanksgiving Day apple bourbon potpie 🙂

Enjoy!