As I approach the river in the fog a heron takes flight, dark winged angel. “Good morning, Mom.” I say. Since her death, I greet each heron and feel blessed by the sighting. Mom’s love of nature saved my life. When sun sparkles on saltwater and I feel the wash of waves, Jamie, my summer brother, is near. As teens, we surfed September breakers then collapsed onto the sand laughing always laughing. All my old boyfriends are dead (except for the one I live with.) Maurie, lifted his 6’4” frame into the boat like a wet otter, his homely face offset by a quick wit. His farm town roots were exotic to this suburban girl. He believed withdrawal would work. Good thing we broke up. John, a handsome bad boy, drove his dad’s T-bird. He was my first male obsession. He rose at Jamie’s funeral to hug me, share our grief for old times, old backseats old friends. Ann died last year. Forty years of friendship, knitting and laughter. Each project and strange new style prompts me to call her. In New Mexico, when Linda decided to drive - Ann and I jumped in the back seat. I am still laughing.
When the tall stranger steps into my kitchen in his tux asks for coffee and brioche, I’ll slip up to my room don my gown, plait my hair curl with a favorite book in my reading chair. With wind brushing my skin soft music in the air, I won’t invite him in. But when his face appears, I’ll smile and say “Darling, I’ve been waiting here.”
A hundred questions cross my mind What was that song dad used to hum? What college did my mom attend? Where did Aunt Marge’s friend come from? I failed to ask or make a note of many things while they were here just within reach alive and near. A hundred questions cross my mind About Dad’s mom who died so young. I’ve no idea what she died from. My favorite stories too are gone The battleship for whom Dad played Hail to the Queen a serenade. Salts stood attention at the rail Dad asked them down to drink and sail. He went onboard to drink instead. These questions come at oddest times Old photos with the names now gone A tune, a food, a place, a song I wonder and will wonder long.
Banker Bob wears suspenders and a bow tie is older than God rents rooms to the newly sober bridges no bullshit. Old school AA he brooks no whining insists newbies suit up and show up. Never loses sight of the disease that wants to kill us. He is just a man many years sober doing what we are taught saving lives. Don’t talk, listen. Don’t try, do. Walk the talk. Keep it simple. Help another alcoholic.
Abuse is subtle Nothing friends see I'm blamed for his mistakes He credits my work to himself. Observes I'm “almost” thin enough Implies small things lacking If only I were smarter, prettier, quieter He laughs when I fail Photographs my clumsiness Ignores my success Mumbles under his breath the whispered threat “I’m getting angry.” He pouts childlike when ignored Hovers over me in arguments He buries the kitchen table in papers Resists clearing it even for parties. Holds my arm tightly lest I leave The Christmas tree he promises to take down remains up until Easter. His hatchet for cutting up chicken for the dogs rests against the hoosier. It gives me pause. He harangues me while I book vacation. I select the seats. I'm in 13A He’s in 32B.
Each night I wait. I watch out the window. I count cars that appear on the road. See their headlights grow then dwindle as they continue past on two lanes heading north. “If I count ten cars, he’ll come.” “If I count twenty…” I hope we will drive to the light and talk and laugh but he may not appear. I sit at the window until late, the night gone. Disappointment’s my reward. All evening I'm held hostage to hope. My job – suspense, submission. His – choice and power.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one nation, diverse and indivisible, created and preserved by the love and labor of indigenous people, slaves and immigrants for their children and their children’s children as one nation with freedom to worship, to love, to marry and to seek the truth and insist on its telling and to preserve this fragile earth with respect, liberty and justice for all.
Nothing says elder like grab bars installed in your shower and tub to keep one from slipping when soapy and dripping and hitting the floor with a thud. Nothing says senior like sneakers worn with any and all sorts of dress to keep one from wobbling ungracefully hobbling though safe, not designed to impress. Nothing says ancient like groaning every time one gets up or bends down and the need for a prop to help pull oneself up lest you’re stuck all day long on the ground. Nothing’s as lovely as living long enough for what’s listed above letting go of the strife and arranging your life with a focus on those whom you love.
She is sixteen when leukemia claims her a girl of nut-brown hair and letter sweaters the brightest star in the local firmament. She outshines her brother even in death. The church overflows onto Route 12 the April afternoon of her funeral. She leaves behind a mother, a brother, a father. Each evening the family sits at her graveside as if awaiting benediction. That summer her friends bring picnics to her grave. The red votive lamp on her headstone is always lit. It shines in easy view of the family’s kitchen window and glows warmly through blizzard, rain and star shine. Deer walk daily through the churchyard years sift down like snow. The son graduates, moves to Bradford. The father works and works and works. The mother sits by the glowing lamp. Deposit Photos Image 124351762_xl_2015.jpg
If I call myself Beloved I cannot trade my life for trinkets. I must not pursue more than my due. I may not treat my body like a dumpster. If I call the stranger Beloved I cannot smash his head with a bat. I must remove my hand from his pocket. I may not force myself on his wife. If I call the earth Beloved I cannot mine her oceans. I must not poison her air. I may not abuse her wildlife. I become one with the moth on the screen, the mouse in its nest, the hawk in the sky.
Why so many rules, Shepherd? Have you no faith your flock will return Wiser and grateful for your fences Glad of food and shelter? Our boundaries are our own Close or far, sharp or smooth Set by instinct, fear or faith Curiosity or passion. Not all live long Some return their bodies early For soil to recycle but Matter abides - ours and theirs. And what of spirit? If the world wastes nothing Do not spirits too persist Awaiting their next vessel?
It’s hard not to love the world. A small boy at Dunkin’ Donuts all blue eyes - tousled hair curls his toes on the rung of his chair waves at me through the glass. Leaving Dunkin’, one dad holds the door for another as his daughter spins in her red skirt and her dark curls fly in a little girl’s flirt. Saturdays with her dad. How can I not love this routine weekend trips with children? Media so rarely features bliss, family outings, courtesy better than a kiss is the kindness and joy that hold us here.