Instructions on burning a barn

Haul the dog to the vet – she’s perfectly healed.
Sort the mail – a small stone glimmers from the stack.
Reluctant to cook – the lemon and basil take over.
Morning madness –the earth and sky kiss me at the door.
Can’t find your way – let the barn burn itself to dust.

***
Barn’s burnt down – now I can see the moon
– Masahide

8 years, 4 stitches, $5K, a lot of itches

My Poem
by Georgia

When I was a child
I was quite wild.
I banged my head on a piece of metal.
Years later I got stinging nettle.
I won a huge award.
Our dog had surgery that we could hardly afford.

Early and often


More of my excerpt from the new anthology, The Maternal is Political. Go back here to read the first installment.

I was not, I thought, unduly anxious about my daughter’s educational prospects. I was not among those employing literacy tutors for my three-year-old. I did not use an Excel spreadsheet to track the application process to private kindergartens. I did not angle playdates with the grandchildren of private-school directors. I did not donate a wad of money to the schools at the top of my wish list. I did not even make a list. I simply believed that one day, when the luminous sheen of my daughter’s wonderfulness was made known, something fantastic would happen.

“Who’s John Kerry?” she asked one day, seemingly out of the blue. It was not out of the blue, but rather right out of the red, white, and blue bumper sticker on the SUV in the preschool parking lot. She pointed to it and revealed that, while I wasn’t looking, she had begun to read. It seemed early, the reading, and early too, the electioneering, although I happily took both signs as foretelling a fabulous outcome.

I had been crushed by the presidential election of 2000. Heartbroken, enraged, and then quietly, insistently, optimistic again. Four years was unimaginable, but four more was entirely impossible. Not with truth on our side. Not with smart money. Not with the Internet. And so I found myself doing what I’d never done before, not in my more than twenty years of informed and, sometimes, impassioned voting. I took the phone calls. I made the phone calls. I sent tens of dollars. I sent hundreds of dollars. I walked the precinct. I wore the button. I slapped on the bumper sticker, then saw the stickers everywhere, and not just in the parking lot of our high-priced, progressive preschool. Democratic values were alive and never wealthier, it seemed. The republic would be saved.

We took our daughter to the polls on election day of 2004. And what seemed to matter most going in—truthfulness, courage, effort, and ideals—mattered nothing in the end. One measly vote in one dinky town in one irrelevant state didn’t count for much. The republic was not only broken, it was no longer ours to fix.

“Have we ever voted for someone who won?” My daughter’s response reflected her brief life history of losing, 0 for 2, in presidential contests, but the dejection was universal. We had come to the irretrievable end of hope. And the loss, we realized, was truly hers.

***
To continue reading. To continue listening. To be continued.

Grateful dead


From naive simplicity we arrive at more profound simplicity. – Albert Schweitzer

Is there anyone who doesn’t look at this discovery and say, well . . . duh?

***
May you find your own place to rest in peace this weekend. Back to school on Monday with more on my latest learning curve.

Big gulp


I’m looking out the window
for my baby to come home
because today she left without me
while I stayed behind and mopped up:
the floor, the walls, the ceiling,
the stickiness of me

I’m looking out the window
for my baby to come home
because today I spilled over,
supersized with my own wonderfulness
when I asked, “Want some Coke?”
(Which I never do, you see, since Mommy says it makes kids stop growing
and that settles that.)
I poured this one-time specialness over ice in a cup,
toasting my good-motherness,
our happy-togetherness,
handed it to her
and instantly it spilled,
emptied over homework and folder,
onto table and chair,
soaking the Crate and Barrel rug.

The poison rose in me like foam over a tumbler
streaming down the sides
puddling on the counter
my long tongue lashing out the blame
lathering the shame
my arms and legs erupting
in a crazy-lady dance
saving wet pages
wet carpet
letting her wet face dry by itself.

How awful, how inane, over a pause that refreshes?
Sugar water and dye.
I’ve had my pause. I’ve died.

I’m sick and sad and sorry to be
looking out the window
for my baby to come home
Standing alone
where I can catch the first gleam
It’s what moms do
we do it forever
even before we are moms.

The waiting is worth it.

* * *

For Denise. In fullness. Of time.

My bus


School’s out for many of you. But for some, it’s always just beginning.

I always knew where it would lead.

As we cruised down the street on the morning commute to nursery school, my two-year-old would pipe up from the back seat whenever the yellow bus rumbled into view.

“My bus, my bus!”

“That’s right,” I would carefully rejoin, “A bus,” affirming the noun, but not yet the pronoun, not the possession, not the slightest quiver of possibility that the public school just down the street would one day be hers. Years before the question of schools could reasonably be raised, I already felt the fluttering clutch of resistance to her baby-talk claim.

Which school for my daughter? I waffled. Haven’t a clue, I’d think. Never given it a thought, I’d shrug, although I’d given plenty of thought to how brilliant her future would be. How bountiful her birthright. How predestined her success. Although my husband and I were public school progeny, those were different times in different places with different kinds of parents, we thought. Our parents had neither the privilege nor the need for a choice.

Our school district was as underfunded as any and especially ill-favored by those with a chance of escaping it. Decades earlier, forced busing had decimated enrollments. As incomes and property values rose, the middle class that had once populated neighborhood schools was nowhere to be found. Sixty-three private schools educated more than one-third of all children in the district. Competition for admission was severe; tuitions were stratospheric. But for parents like us, parents who could pinch and scrimp their way to having a choice, there seemed to be no other choice.

This was the state of education in our country. This was the state of our country, in which the newly elite lived in fear of being left behind with the mass of others we had falsely promised to never leave behind. This was the road the yellow bus traveled twice a day: hauling mostly Hispanic kids to and from the apartment buildings that rimmed the industrial fringe of our suburb; collecting them on the littered streets at frosty dawns and delivering them to our quaint hometown school in our million-dollar neighborhood, made empty by a herd of us heading the other way.

***
To continue reading. To continue listening. To be continued.

Disconnect the dots


Even when the news is 2,500 years old, it can be useful to pay attention.

How the better half lives


Upon returning from the pet store with goldfish, hermit crabs and/or aquatic turtles, which have been called one of the most labor-intensive reptiles to maintain:

Don’t worry, you won’t have to do a thing.

Upon being reminded that it’s time to renew the car insurance, pay the property taxes, or fix the broken sprinkler that sprays a 30-foot geyser onto the neighbor’s front porch every morning.

It’s on my list.

Upon hearing of the bolt embedded in the tread of my brand-new tire:

That’s easy. Just drive it down to the station and wait for it to be fixed.

Upon learning of the first day of school, the date of the parent-teacher conference, the call from the school nurse, the school reading night, art night, volunteer night, open house, and the last day of school:

Wish I could be there.

Upon entering the kitchen while the lasagna is in the oven, the artichokes are steaming, the maple-glazed carrots are glistening, the salad is chilling and the garlic bread is warming 15 minutes before the company arrives:

Do you want me to grill something?

Upon opening the drawers where four dozen articles of clothing have been sorted, washed, dried, folded and returned every week for the last 12 years:

Thank god. I was almost out of underwear.

Upon getting out of bed, after the dog has been walked and fed, the water boiled, the beans ground, the slow-drip coffee made, the girl’s breakfast and lunch assembled, the dishwasher emptied, the permission slip signed, the homework checked and the child herded out of bed and wrestled into her school clothes, all by 7:25 a.m.:

Are you in a bad mood today?

Upon being asked to check his calendar for a week in the summer when it might be possible to plan a vacation.

Nothing. Not one word.

DISCLAIMER: These incidents are not exactly based on the real life of any actual better or worse half that I know. But they may be based on one you know.

The doormat of your life


One last thing my dog showed me.

Before the accident, Molly and I had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the home front. I’d leave the backdoor propped open and she’d wander out to do her business, whatever that was, and I stayed inside to do mine, whatever that was. The stipulations of her rehab now require mutual engagement. I have to decode her wags and whines to judge the likely outcome, the redeeming value, of a bothersome excursion.

Do you have a good reason to go outside, Molly? I test her intent as she tap dances her enthusiasm.

Lately, she has no good reason at all.

Because the sun is shining.

Because the earth is warm.

Because the grass is thick.

Because she is alive.

This is a line of argument that I do not practice. I hardly do anything for no good reason at all. Last week she led me outside by leash, and I followed, impatient for her to find the right spot as only a dog’s nose knows. But she had no business being outside. She simply plopped onto the lush carpet of mondo, letting the day’s radiance soak her sun-starved coat.

Amused, I took the time to gaze up through the canopy of maple leaves. Then I saw the painted birdhouse we hung five years ago when I felt interminably housebound with a three-year-old.


The project, like most of my projects, was a way to relieve my confinement. But there is really no part of life that is confined, no part that is just a tiresome interlude to be tolerated, or a penance to be endured, because life doesn’t come in parts. Every moment is your whole life.

In faded strokes I’d lettered under the portal it still says “Enter.”


Make yourself at home. Cross the threshold. Enter your life.

Dogs, birds, babies, everything, everywhere, all the time shows you how.

***

And if you’ve read this far, read a little farther still and see what I found in the laundry basket. It will take me forever to get it washed, dried, folded and put on the shelf.

No inside, no outside

Another thing my dog showed me.

Just the idea of it had me pacing anxiously. But there it was in black and white:

Molly should be STRICTLY CONFINED for the next 2 months in an airline kennel, crate or equivalent.

All my doubt and consternation rammed up against this barrier. Say what? A dog? A big dog? A big running, jumping, happy-go-lucky dog? Behind bars? For how long? Say what?

Truth is, just the idea of having a dog – a healthy, ambulatory dog – had seemed confining enough to me. And now the walls were squeezed to an inconceivably narrow enclosure.

We lugged the crate into the house. It loomed over the room. Black, menacing, punitive. Her prison. Our prison.

Molly walked inside the pen. She walked inside and laid down. She laid down and relaxed. She fell asleep. She snored her doggy dreams. When she got better, we began leaving the door unlatched. She ambled in by herself, undisturbed by what you or I might judge as the cruel separation of inside and outside.

She has never been anything but completely unconfined in her confinement, because she has no idea of confinement.

Me? I have been thrashing my head against these bars all my life.

Some are a quicker study.

Poetry in motion


One thing my dog showed me.

Plainly speaking, the benchmarks of convalescence are often the movement of bowels. So it was in the first weeks of my dog’s recuperation, as she swayed between long silences of worrisome constipation (She’ll explode!) and the urgent crescendos of an opposite kind (She’ll explode!).

One night, as her whimpers sounded oncoming eruptions, I hoisted her outside again and again. Four times that night. The quiet covered the yard like a blanket. The air was prickly with dew. Molly’s sore hindquarters convulsed, and I looked up at the sky. The moon’s dark lid was half lifted; her glowing eye kept sentry.

Night must be the birthplace, and the moon must be the mother, of patience.

Good dog


The author and Zen teacher Lin Jensen wrote a book entitled “Bad Dog!” I haven’t read it although now I want to, since Lin let me read an advance copy of his forthcoming book, “Together Under One Roof.” You will want to run out and fetch that book too as soon as it’s out. You will want to want to run and fetch and sit and stay with everything Lin writes from now on, as I do, because I have a hint of what he writes about in “Bad Dog!”

And that is that there is no such thing as a Bad Dog. Mercy me, there is no such thing.

This is what I have been learning so vividly in my relatively brief yet eventful tenure as a dog owner, in my slightly longer stint as a mother, in my considerable experience as a wife, on the bumpy road as a daughter, and even in those storied stretches when I’ve been bad at any and all of those things.

If you’ve been traveling here with me for a spell you know that Molly, our dog, came to us from my father’s house, after his death, after all other recourses failed, on good authority that if not yet altogether bad, she was probably difficult, quirky, nervous, untrained and prone to peeing on the carpet. Including his last, humiliating debilitation, those were the very things we would have said about my Dad.

Molly is none of those things, or maybe all of those things, but we just can’t tell anymore. We can’t tell because she’s such a damn Good Dog.

Her goodness was revealed to me in little bits, like milkbones, until Molly went and had herself a bad accident in March. It was the kind of accident that turns your day and night inside out for a good long while, topples your every notion of what a dog could and should do (and what you’d like to do yourself), rattles all that loose and shakes it silly.

She ruptured her ACL, the ligament behind the knee, repairable by a fabulously expensive surgery. She spent four days in the hospital and then came home with a list of post-op instructions that knocked the last bit of sense out of me. She was to be completely confined in a crate for two months, hoisted for weeks via a sling when hauled out expectantly to pee and poop, noosed for 14 days in an Elizabethan collar (a gross misnomer for its indignity) and kept painfree. I look at this list now and it doesn’t seem outrageous enough. It doesn’t seem like the list that left me deranged. We are now six weeks into the stretch, she and I, six weeks when we’ve never been closer or more dependent, and I can only say that I’m smiling now, my eyes flooding with love and appreciation, because she is such a Good Dog.

I’m dedicating this week to Molly so I can show you all the tricks she’s teaching me.

The cheese manifesto


Last week we shared the disappointing news with Georgia. “It doesn’t look like we are going to have the first girl president this time.” Then, moving swiftly to pre-empt a pout, we delivered the good news. “This means you could be the first girl president yourself!” She busied herself for a bit, then presented her first executive order:

Laws
No gasoline at all times
No violation on people’s proporty without pormishon
No war
No littering enywhere
No kids in front seat under 10 inless emergencey
No bombs
Every victum goes to the hospital as soon as possible
All violaters go to jail for 3 months
No one eats American cheese

***
L’enfant terrible! Elle est un francophile.

Happy Camembert, Everyone.

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