Sunday, July 26, 2015

i wish my father had a grave

I wish my father had a grave
where I could kneel and say
“i’m sorry”
where I could kneel and say
“i love you”
where I could kneel and say
boy, Dad, you sure would love these Cubs this year.
I wonder what you’d think of magic in the clubhouse,
no undershirts, pitchers batting eighth, and
eight games over .500.

I wish my father had a grave
so I could go and sit in silence.


I wish my father had a grave
so Josie and I could visit – oh, Dad,
you would like Josie. You would
get a kick out of Josie.
He’s got this funny tuft of blond hair
sticking straight up sometimes
from the top of his head,
and he eats avocados.
When we visit he’ll run from grave to grave,
through the headstones,
along the hedges, chasing
chipmunks.

I wish my father had a grave
so I could wander through the cemetery
greeting people I never knew,
like the boy who lived 29 days,
the woman who lived 103 years.

I wish my father had a grave
so I could lay my hand on his gravestone,
trace the letters of his name,
read his epitaph.
He might have written one, you know.
Seven words to make us laugh.

I wish my father had a grave
so we could spread a blanket, have a tea party.
A checkered blanket and a pot of Earl Grey.
Someone else, please, bring the scones,
a pat of butter, a jar of jam.
Or Dad, would you prefer a glass of sherry?

If my father had a grave I would travel
the whole day long because
the grave would be in Keithsburg, Illinois,
where Grandpappy and Claire are buried.
Where your sister and your brother are buried.
Where there is a headstone in the shape of a train
because some years ago there was a derailment, or something,
there, in Keithsburg. That is, at least, what I remember,
as every summer we made the day’s drive through Illinois
from its one edge to the other,
from the big city to the tiny towns.

I remember the last words you spoke to me.
“Thanks for coming.”

I wish my father had a grave
where I could kneel and say “I’m sorry,”
where I could kneel and say “I love you,”
where I could go and sit in silence.



Sunday, July 19, 2015

river’s flow

With afternoon temperatures mostly now hot enough, the river unfrozen enough, and the mosquitoes relaxed enough, river season begins and late afternoons we walk through the meadow, down the stone steps and along the dirt trail that cuts through the wooded bank to the water. Usually uneventful, yesterday at the top of the bank Josie flushed a covey of partridges. The birds drummed and flew, this way and that, into the brush and away.

A blur of partridge on a river bank.

The river’s narrow shore widens in spots, is muddy and slippery and pock-marked with tracks of raccoon, possum, fisherman, deer, perhaps wolf and coyote, me and Josie. In other spots the shore gets sucked into a tangle of ferns and cedar.

Who’s this?

I walk down the middle of the river against its current to the island in the bend just a few hundred feet away. This is where each spring as snowmelt surges the sand on our side shifts, creating an island sometimes accessible from the bank, sometimes not, and where on the opposite bank trees topple from the erosion and move down river or collect helter-skelter in the bend, creating mini falls and shallow whirlpools and rapids and deep pools, one deep dark pool being just our side of this crook in the river’s flow.

Because Josie likes to wade but not swim, he must figure out how to follow me and he wades along the shore where he can but bounds up the bank and through the brush where he can’t. Once he knows we are heading to the island he takes off, finds his trail, will get there first. He waits for me on this year’s amoeba-like spit of sand with its tall tufts of grass and dwarf-like dogwood and pebbley shore. I skirt the edge of that deep dark pool and I am there.

Part of the shoreline, back near home.

This year there is a log well-placed near the head of the bend that invites me to walk out into the river, sit, dangle my legs in a swirl of water. It is sunny and warm and the water talks as it flows under this log and over that log and around those branches, dipping into crevices, rising in a froth, babbling, whispering.

I start when I hear a murmur of voices.

My eyes follow the sound until I am looking at a place where the log I am sitting on creates a haphazard V with other logs, and the water flows into this V and from somewhere in there, deep down, come voices. I think of an episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” where Rob and then Buddy are at the office late and they hear a strange noise that sounds like uhny uftz, uhny uftz, and that uhny uftz, it turns out, is coming from a toy flying saucer, or was it Sonny Tufts? Anyway, my uhny uftz is coming from some one, or some thing, down in the murky depths of the river.

Ah, but I am being silly. It is just the river’s flow.

Thinking stops.

I am hollow.

Like a reed. Like a straw.

The water, the air, move through me.

uhny uftz

Josie stands closer to shore on a different log that is covered by a thin, translucent breath of rushing water. I move to sit next to him, which he appreciates. He opens his mouth, sticks it in the water, into the current, snaps up a long drink. Below are pebbles of red and grey and white and black and brown and orange and yellow and green and spotted and striped, with rounded edges, a fuzz of algae, different shapes, different sizes, the water rushes by.

There was a bend in the river where I used to live, the first place I lived in the Upper Peninsula, and I would walk to that bend every morning through a narrow strip of pine and birch flanked by the river on one side, a dirt road on the other, and there at the bend I would lean against the rough ribbed trunk of a red pine and look down. This was a more placid river, at least in this spot, and this bend was wide and somewhat marshy. It was a lovely spot and there were times when I had to leave that home, go off and do something that perhaps was trying, or that scared me a bit, or just made me sad or presented me with an unknown, and I would lean against that tree before leaving and tell myself that whatever it was, wherever I had to go, whatever I had to experience, when it was over I would be back, on some other morning, in this same spot, looking over this curve of wide water leaning against this tree and all this would be here, this breeze of air, and even if for some reason I didn’t make it back, this would still be here and that, somehow, was enough.

The water trickles and churns and flows and uhny uftzs in a continuous fugue and the notes are clear and mysterious and I think, maybe, full of all the wisdom I might ever need but alas will never have. The river shares its wisdom and all I can do is listen and watch as it trickles through my fingers.

Before heading back I plunge into the deep pool, gasping with the cold, float to shallower waters. Josie runs up and down the bank and back and forth and perhaps he is worrying because he sees only my head, bobbing on the water, so I stand up, walk a ways, and he races ahead. I go back to floating, soon see Josie emerge from the tangled bank onto the little muddy narrow beach that we started from. For a while I hang on a branch that lets me float in place in the river’s flow, and then it’s back up the bank, through the meadow, home.

A good branch to hang on to.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

josie and the deer (or, fear and fearlessness)

One recent beautiful morning with a low cloud cover keeping it dark and cool but not too dark, I am sitting in my chair with Josie, drinking tea, thinking over the day to come when I see Elliott streaking across the southside yard and hear the thud of him landing on the porch. Josie looks up, perks his ears, furrows his brow. Elliott scratches at the door and this always sounds frantic but I think that’s just me reacting to the mental image of those slivers of wood being gouged out of the door frame, but anyway, we get up to let Elliott in, and Josie is pretty excited to go out, so out we go, Josie streaking past Elliott, bounding off the porch, bouncing around the yard barking. Elliott sits down. I wonder what all the fuss is about. Josie streaks over to the southside yard and I see the deer there in the tall grass. Elliott perks his ears, his eyes on Josie, or maybe his eyes on the deer, and now I understand why Elliott was streaking across the yard, landing with a thud on the porch, tearing apart the door frame.

Elliott's doorbell.

At the edge of the lawn and the tall grass Josie jumps and barks before diving in like a swimmer and as he veers to and fro making waves, creating a wake, like a shark, like a dolphin, the deer leaps a few yards to the right, stops behind a tree. The meadow sways and moves and I hear Josie’s boof boof and then Josie catapults out of the sea of grass back onto shore, onto the lawn, where he dances and prances and boofs and barks and the way he is running around I’m pretty sure he’s lost sight of the deer, but we all watch The Josie Show, Elliott, the deer, and I, and then I catch Josie’s eye and he barrels across the yard, onto the porch, skidding to a stop, licking Elliott's face, Elliott backs away. As we head in for breakfast the deer comes out from behind the tree, walks out of the tall grass into the yard, munches the twigs of a dogwood.

On another day, Josie contemplates a mosey into the meadow.

Another morning and we are inside and it is warm and light and through the kitchen window Josie can see a deer out there a’ways in the wildflowers. He goes a little crazy, whining, running around, looking out any window he can, making little noises like air seeping out of a balloon, about to blow, about to whiz around the room in one big blast of released pent-up air. So I open the door and he charges out, sails off the porch, runs and hops all over the southside yard before he realizes the deer is off the front yard, just standing there, entranced, amused, taken aback, curious, who knows, the deer standing out there in the wildflowers watching Josie go off his nut because there is a deer out here somewhere, I know it!, Josie does, because he saw that dang deer from the window. Now, where is he? Aha!

Josie tears into the field that is two to three times his height and I can see him out there like a jumping bean, a cartoon, what’s that game about hitting a mole? First his head pops up here, then his head pops up there. The grasses are swaying and praying and the deer dashes off a bit, then stops. Watches. Is he perplexed? Is he amused? I must get the camera.

By the time I return, Josie has emerged from the field, is in the yard, and the deer follows. What? Say what? This has never happened before. At first, several months ago, the deer ran from Josie at first bark, lickety-split, then, slowly, they stopped being so quick. They stopped being afraid? They would move off a bit. Move back. Josie did not chase them too far, after all, and perhaps they learned his limit. Started testing his limit. Now. This deer. This guy here. Walking into the yard, straight at Josie. Looking at him. What the … jeepers.


Oh! For a little foresight! How I wish I had kept the film rolling!

If you watch the video, you may notice those two big bare twigs sticking up out of the ground. One is in the yard, one is in the field. Those are the apple trees I planted two years ago with such dreams of apples and yes, they seem to have croaked, but I was not without hope because the one in the yard has/had a couple of little, low branches, the most viable one just yanked off, munched on, and spit out by this deer. Jeepers (again). Who does he think he is? The deer does that slow deer lope thing, advancing on the cabin, and Josie retreats onto the porch. I think this video is spent, doesn’t even show Josie hopping in the field, and what I really need is to get a picture of this deer, so I switch out of movie mode and in that instant Josie figures it out, flies off the porch, runs straight at the deer full blast. But the only thing I see is through the camera, this picture of the deer turning tail. Running from Josie.

Why they call them white-tails.

Josie chased the deer right into the fields of tall grass and wildflowers and then he came back and we went inside and had breakfast. Elliott, watching safely from inside, was all agog.


Sunday, July 5, 2015

i is for independence, or, eleven years gone

Ground fog as we head south on Pelkie Road, a straight cut through hay fields and slumbering cows, past the old one-room schoolhouse and on through town, the blip of houses and the auto repair shop and the post office where the flag lies in folds flat against a steel pole, and then more fields until I stop, turn left onto 38, notice a deer standing on the south side of the road, just off the shoulder, stock-still, looking down the road, seemingly straight at this behemoth vehicle I drive, and I drive slow watching the deer and the deer watches me and the deer turns and leaps into the forest, Josie now noticing, so Josie stands up in his seat, looks out the window now back out the window and he wants to chase the deer but we hold a steady course, on our way to the farmers market.

6:23 a.m.

I listen to Disc One of “H is for Hawk,” a book by Helen Macdonald and, in this case, read by Helen Macdonald. I do not usually listen to audiobooks, but I have this one on loan from the library because I finally just got a library card for this neck of the woods and I was so excited I just grabbed various things and had been wanting to read this book and there it was, in audio form, on display, so now here I am, listening to it as dawn cracks behind a fog.

7:02 a.m.

Quickly I realize how much I would rather be reading this book, at night, with lamplight, holding it in my hands, but listening to it? OK, I’m liking that too, but I yearn for the other and am doubting my ability to stay attentive, to continue listening for very long, and during the hour and a half drive my mind does wander a bit, including wondering if my mind wanders when I am reading, too, and I think perhaps it does, but overall, I find I am settling into the rhythm of Macdonald’s voice and her British accent. Her inflections become part of the book, part of the story, her story, and I am caught up in it.

Disc One ends just outside Marquette. For the last little while Macdonald is telling about this fellow White who wrote the books that became “Camelot” and the like, but first he wrote “The Goshawk,” a book she read when quite young, and she explains about that while drawing in a lot more and somehow a line from a poem by a poet whose name I can’t remember becomes part of it and the best I can do right now is to paraphrase, to tell you the line is something like the cure for loneliness is solitude, and this makes me think how maybe we really don’t listen to poets quite often enough or maybe as well as we should.

Or maybe the point was that poets are crazy.

But, before then, way back when rounding the Keweenaw Bay, I stopped for this picture.

6:38 a.m.

At the farmers market streams of people, ebbs and flows, and a customer with a turkey feather in her cap offers me a sprig of lilac. She has to tell me what it is. I know what it is, but I cannot think of the word, the word “lilac.” I know the scent, I know the flower—but what’s it called? “Lilac.” And I’m thinking I can’t think of the word “lilac” because of the book I am reading, the one I am actually holding in my hands at night and reading, because in that book there is a character who is having trouble remembering common words like “lilac.” This book, too, came from the library that exciting day this week when I got my library card.

After the market a number of girls, three or maybe four, young but not too young, help me pack up the candles, I don’t know why, I don’t know who they are, they just seem to want to do this, and I use the word “help” pretty loosely but their help does make it interesting, and then Josie and I walk a block or two down a bike and walking path and then over a block to Washington Street, the parade route for the day, and its curb is lined with lawn chairs and blankets and flags and tables and coolers and balloons and people and barbecue and people and beer and dogs and people and pizza and so on and so forth and red white and blue, and the sidewalk is, at points, impassable with people and barbecue and pizza and beer and people with dogs on leashes. Josie and I plow on through. Every once in a while he looks up at me as if to make sure I am still there, and his tongue is flopping out the side of his mouth, a usual state of affairs. It is about time for the parade to start, but for now the street is empty.

Driving home, I listen to Disc Two of “H is for Hawk,” but my mind wanders, feels sleepy.

In Baraga, I stop at the restaurant at the casino to pick up dinner: a half slab of ribs, mashed potatos, cole slaw. An hour later, at home, I am surprised to find I have eaten all the ribs, every last one, down to the bone.

Earlier in the week, I saw a deer hoof in the river.

Earlier in the week.

Eleven years later and still sometimes I think I should never have left Chicago, for here, for this, left the streets and the alleys and the parks and the sidewalks and the stores and the libraries and the restaurants and conveniences and the arts and the culture and the people all the people and the family and the ball games and the everything, the life I knew, the life I was raised for, the life I was steeped in, and then I think of the fireworks and the firecrackers and then more fireworks and more firecrackers that go on for days and days and the mounds of garbage always left behind, the chicken bones the soiled diapers the beer cans mounded in the park every morning after and the people and the traffic and the noise, and I think sometimes I never should have left my job, what I had, for something I knew so very little about, so very, very little, almost nothing, I knew nothing, but surely I wanted to know: something.

And now there are these times, these other times, when it just doesn’t matter because I am here, this is where I am, this is what I do, this is what the world is, and right here, right now, this is fine, absolutely fine, each moment hard or soft coming back to this, coming back to this.

7:23 a.m. (Hay trucks move slow, smell sweet.)

Tonight I hear a bird singing, the one that sounds like glass, and Elliott snores at the other end of the sofa. I feel a cool breeze. The scent of lilac is strong, coming from the sprig now in a green glass jar on the woodstove. I have piles of books to read (and listen to), and candles to make, and who knows what to discover in the river, and perhaps a deer or two to chase (but I’ll let Josie chase them), and a lot of stuff that boy, I know nothing about yet, and all I want to do tonight, this Fourth of July night, is to write something, anything, it does not matter what. Not at all. And maybe, there’s the beauty of it.