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.
Forty-year old men have grace unseen in younger men, however fine. Their depth of voice and solid stance shivers my spine. With shoulders for children and eyes for business, tortoise shell glasses for slight correction, they give and also take direction. Aware that stamina won’t trump skill they accept the limits of their will. They’re fathers, lovers, friends of substance with minds like rooms, ideas abundant neither peace nor conflict rocks their stride. They step out boldly or move aside. I could watch, enjoy them by the hour, those thickened backs and thighs of power. I love their jaws with new grown stubble their easy way approaching trouble. I sigh remembering a lover - forty years in the making - one afternoon in the taking.
At 72, it takes two tries to get each foot into my jeans. I wobble and catch myself against the closet shelf. At 72, I nap each day enjoy my dreams scary or complex, puzzles to ponder in waking hours. At 72, it seems absurd that I remember a child’s great great grandmother. I'm a walking history text. At 72, my 87-year-old friend says I am young. I should not fret but get to work. I have another 20 years. At 72, I think of poems unwritten, songs unsung and return to my desk. The day is young.
Truth runs thin in homes diluted by pills and alcohol. There’s no hook to hang your hat upon, no rock on which to stand. Mothers park along the driveway at school’s end. Our Buick sits cock-eyed across the curb. I long to be like other kids, but know I’m not. Vodka bottles line the linen closet - a fully-feathered duck rests in the freezer. I show it to my friend. The puppy ate mom’s sleeping pills and will not wake again. School is worse - so many faces whose chatter makes no sense to me. I am not them. Sunday’s comics fill me with dread. There’s no vacation from fear, only blank days that stretch ahead.
The Lord’s Prayer went missing today on my knees no words to say. Often a name, a place evaporates as I reach for it. Whole chunks of books I’ve read when opened, I’ve lost the thread. I used to drive with knowledge sure of roads from today and long ago my sense of place, a source of pride. That map in my brain is gone. This troubles me. It isn’t clear what’s normal. What I should fear. I trust the journey - friends, family, God and if I must – will seek in books, maps, stories, prayers to fill my lips and ease my grip upon this world and what remains – the precious gift of days and hours, I ‘ve yet to claim.
To which sins shall I confess? Panic when as an infant, you’d hold your breath and faint? Complicity moving away from Grandpa? Weakness, letting you visit your father who was still drinking? I apologize for the dogs you did or didn’t like for shopping trips where you spent money like a Sheik for not punishing your $300 pre-Christmas phone bill for loving you when you were your least loveable. We refract the light that spawns us Blue permissiveness from black strictness Green sprouts from shiny white bread Time unearths our original sin, imperfection.
Adrift in time, days wash by without regard for date or name. A whole week vanished in August. There is nowhere to go. No one wants our dollars. Once we modeled democracy. Our story now's a dark comedy. The President says the virus will vanish like a mist. No problem, he’s got this. Magical realism is fine for Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but has no place in a country where people die alone in crowded hospitals city folks swarm to the country morgue trailers line city streets. A pandemic’s not a minor event, a slight inconvenience. It stops the world. No magic can blind us to the growing pile of corpses.
Warm at my back, black Aberdeen dreams his fourteen years chasing - never catching cat and deer. Awake he seeks me if I leave his sight. Howls the agony of my upstairs to his down. His almond eyes give the lie to a gentle way companion in migraine patient with children. He cannot hear me when I call – stares heavenward for long spells. Smells better than any dog I know. I carry him upstairs, set him on my bed, turn out the light. Warm at my back, black Aberdeen Goodnight.
As I walk the old railroad bed away from town violets and periwinkles peer from bright green ground cover and the funky protozoan scent of the Raritan fills my nostrils. A cardinal’s scarlet flashes from a Sycamore overhead and two gold finches,like acrobatic dandelions, frolic through the green haze of trees. The path is lined with skunk cabbage, daffodils and buttercups, their mix of intention and happenstance so like life’s. High above, almost out of range, a hawk circles. The hum of the nearby Interstate hardly matters here. Its slinky spasms and urgencies are no longer my problem. I’ve traded those for the white flowers of May Apples, emerald velvet of moss and the disappearing tail of a red fox trotting into the trees. The world of commerce and its stresses computers, paperwork, clocks and what they count roll off me in a grateful sigh. I have lost my job and gained the world.
No one comes from nothing. Who birthed him – potty trained him taught him to tie his shoes? The concept’s blind to the myriad lives that touch our own - The workers who create roads The teachers, who teach math and language The plumbers who keep the sewers working The linemen who climb poles to keep the lights on Who made the shirt he wears? His shoes? His socks? His BVDs? Rich or poor we all rely on weaver, seamstress garbageman and priest to help us through our days. In this time of plague, we’re reminded no infant can change its own diaper.