Sunday, August 28, 2016

sucking nectar from a clothespin

For my birthday, words of wisdom from my mother.

Go on being careful with your life.

I find 11¢ in the washer at the laundromat. One penny, one dime. Both I put in my pocket. If I forget they are there, one day they may return from whence they came.

It rains, it stops. Big soft grey and white clouds drift by. Lately a lot of rain. Frogs pop up in strange places.

Frog on day lily.

There was a day when goldfinches and blue jays were predominant, flashing yellow and blue all across the fields, and another day a hummingbird was trying to suck nectar out of a dirty old clothespin clipped to the clothesline. Hummingbirds often sit on the clothesline—it is near the feeder—and this little guy, after hanging in mid-air jabbing at the pin, sat down next to it, all nonchalant, dum-de-dum-de-dum, paying no attention, looking this way and that, but then, right before he picked up and spun away, he gave the clothespin one last jab, just to be sure, I suppose, and who knows, maybe there was something sweet and lovely in that dirty old clothespin, something I just couldn’t see.

Looks like an old dirty clothespin to me.

But back to my birthday, though I don’t know why, because 59 truly seems neither here nor there, though perhaps on the cusp of something, like in 11 years I could run for president. I pour some candles, like most days. I write a little, like most days. A hummingbird sits atop a clothespin, I suppose because the clothesline has been taken over by sheets and things. I wonder if it is the same bird as the other day. Then, there is a moment. I am pouring beeswax into a candle mold. The sky is overcast. A soft breeze weaves in through the windows. Sheets flap on the line. Josie, sleeping on the sofa, snores. Elliott, nearby in his bed, snores. And I think, jeepers, isn’t this pleasant.

Please don’t take my picture while I am sleeping.

A bird glanced off the kitchen window, knocked his noggin, we heard the thunk, and Josie didn’t care, but it attracted Elliott, and, eventually, me. A plain grey—perhaps “duff-breasted”—bird lay on its back on the gravel patio. It was breathing, quick little breaths, but I thought maybe not for long. Elliott sat on the windowsill watching, then returned to bed. On the window pane was a four-inch whitish streak and one tiny, downy grey feather. I decided to let the bird be, looking at it now and again, and it died—I saw no movement, it lay flat on its back—but the next time I looked it was on its feet, cocking its head this way and that. One eye looked dark, bright; the other I couldn’t see so well, but it seemed goofed up. The bird flew off.

One day I watched a hawk pull a snake from the wood pile. I was watching TV but had a clear view through the window of Wood Pile #1. This big bird, a hawk, swooped down, sat atop the wood, pecked at something while keeping a close eye all around. Eventually it started pulling up this long snake—surprisingly long, I thought—and then it began gulping it down. Pull and gulp. Pull and gulp. When it came to the tail end, it stopped. Just stood there for a minute looking around with those piercing hawk eyes, the snake’s tail flopped over its beak like a misplaced mustache. A curling one-handlebar mustache. Then, slurp. The snake was gone. The hawk flew off.

Summer drags on.

But—fall is in the air. An intoxicating hint wafts in on northwest breezes whispering faintly through rustling leaves; everything, everyone, is busy. Days close in. Autumn, that dramatic overture to winter, tunes up. Like musicians wandering into an orchestra pit, finding their seats, adjusting their music stands, shuffling, spitting, coughing, rosining bows, wetting reeds, testing drum heads, waiting for the maestro, please; from the cello, a low strum; from the oboe, a squawk; an errant clash of cymbals; a hush and soft murmur of ever-shorter days, brown withered flowers, cool breezes, pale asters, funky mushrooms—play on.

And please, listen to your mother: be careful with your life.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

middle of the road

walking the faint path through the green grass out of the corner of my eye I espied a small creature flat on her back appendages splayed, four longish tiny feet and a tail, white belly, it was a mouse, dead, and it gave me half a start and I thought I should get the camera, take a picture, write about it, but in one hand I had something I don’t remember and in the other a clear plastic bag of dog poop and Josie was waiting for me by the van because we were heading to the vet, a 9 a.m. appointment, so I had to keep moving, let thoughts of the dead mouse on the path caught in the corner of my eye die.

Life is funny that way.

at the vet Josie had to go in the back to get his blood drawn for a heartworm test and I had to stay in the examination room and the first guy that came to get Josie, to take him back, well, you know how Josie is, he wasn’t interested, not even when treats got involved, so the guy said let’s see if he’ll go with so-and-so and left, leaving the door to the back open, and I held Josie and showed him—see, it’s OK—and I thought well why couldn’t I just go with him but then a woman came and simply took him from my arms and I was saying “if he freaks out I could come with” but she just took him from my arms and walked away and closed the door and I realized oh, I am the one who is going to freak –

life is funny –

and first I tried concentrating on flea & tick pamphlets and then I tried counting slowly but these flashbacks just take control and this time what I see and more importantly what I feel, what brings tears to my eyes and how I wish it wouldn’t, is the scene from two years ago when after having Josie two weeks I take him back to the shelter so I can leave for a week and the shelter seems the best option because at least he knows the place, they know him, he can play with other dogs, I know he’ll be safe, cared for, but after I settle him in the large walk-in cage—I don’t remember exactly how it happens—it was noisy, dogs barking, echoing—Josie got out of the cage and we didn’t know where he was and then suddenly he’s behind me, clambering up my legs, frantic –

life is so damn funny –

and of course Josie doesn’t understand I have to leave because I want what he thought he’d found and it’s way out there and I have to go, just for a week, but you know how dogs are, every moment a lifetime, and there is that moment in the kennel full of caged barking dogs I am frantic because I don’t know where Josie is—how does he just disappear?—in the midst of all this chaos then my knees are buckling he is there and what am I doing? leaving him? for what? -

life is funny -

so she says “He was fine” carrying Josie back into the room and that’s pretty much how he was at the shelter, too, because one day I called and he was out playing with other little dogs and me I was just beating that old dead horse, which is so much better than beating that which is living -

You think life is funny?

On the way home from the vet (and at one point Josie did crawl onto my shoulder because that vet he was poking and prodding, that’s what they do) a dog stood in the middle of the road. I pulled off on the shoulder. A big truck in the opposite lane slowed down. A pick-up truck came up over the rise, behind the big truck, braked sharply. A little car came up behind the pick-up, smashed into it. The dog moved and the big truck rolled on. The pick-up and the smashed car were stopped dead, but the people were okay. And the dog went home.

Life is funny that way.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

the part with the skunk and then we get to the dead chippies, liberalism, psycho-analysis: august prevails

August is thick. Every sight, every sound, every smell. Every touch of humid air saturated with heat with damp with dryness, saturates the skin, sears it, then the coolness of the river, bone deep; fields of yellow, up to the ears, prickly yellow, feathery; goldenrod saturating five feet thick off the ground; and if that cat leaves one more dead chipmunk, fat and sleek, on the morning’s doormat—; low sultry night of a sudden saturated with skunk up out of the dark, the stink, the stench, every molecule of air saturated with fetid foulness, this unmoving thick inertia air, the stench arrives like a spill of ammonia through the pores of a sponge; one can barely breathe but for the taste of it; but one must breathe, lying in the dark, windows open to the night, the night saturated with the summer sound of crickets and evening grasshoppers; the dark night saturated with August light, evening light, twilight, the light of midnight and dawn, the light that reflects on the underbelly of bulging white clouds streaked through with grey and the light that shines from the moon and the stars and the sun; the Milky Way; heat lightening and stardust; a galaxy of light; and the stink of skunk saturating through to the back of the throat, the summery taste of country roadside air alive with crickets, skunk; there’s no escaping; I drink hot tea but oh for a shot of moonshine.

So Elliott is leaving dead chipmunks on the doormat, and I was told this week that if we all understood the animal kingdom better, we would understand the perils of political liberalism, and thinking about it later I wondered if what this person was saying was that chipmunks are like liberals, thus winding up dead on the doormat, or, maybe, chipmunks represent the victims of a liberal viewpoint, I don’t know, the statement seemed a bit nutty to me, in a few different ways (one being, why is it the animal kingdom?), and I’m never quite sure of these things anyway, but, that these dead, perhaps liberal, chipmunks are removed from the doormat to be laid to rest with a prayer in the compost heap, I imagine that says something, too. And, as long as we’re talking nutty—and who isn’t these days?—what I believe is that these dead chipmunks, rather than being a show of Elliott’s hunting prowess, are revelations of his insecurities. No mere coincidence that Josie’s favorite toy is a furry, squeaky chipmunk. We call him/her “Chippie,” and we play with Chippie most every morning, flinging the little squeaker from kitchen to living room, Josie chases around the sofa, over the ottoman, retrieves gaily, and we do it all again. Elliott watches. Elliott goes out and brings to the doormat a real dead chippie and what—no applause? No festive hollers? No “Chippie, Chippie, Chip-EEEE!” Just a choked scream and a scowl? A solemn carrying away? Tell me: Does she really like him better than me?

Two dead chippies on a doormat.

That’s it for this week. Happy trails to you, vacations to all.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

why does the sun have a face? getting through a tough week

One good thing – I got started on that wood stacking, moving the wood bit by bit, log by log, into the woodshed, making neat stacks, protecting my winter’s heat from the elements. I like that the wood sits out there on the edge of the yard in a lazy heap July and August soaking up sun, as if the logs will harbor that sun, give back its warmth come December, January, when I most question the reality of July, August, sunshine; but at some point in September or October, definitely November, the days of rain and sleet will come on and on and then I’ll hate to see any remnant of that dwindling forlorn heap of wood out there cowering, soaking up cold and damp, mocking me, or so I think; so, good thing, I got started on that wood stacking.

It was a tough week. And maybe I know why, and maybe I don’t, but another good thing: I really don’t think this coming week is going to be near as troublesome.
It started out nice, this bad week, due to the Cubs game last Sunday night, which I watched Monday morning while candle-making. The game had stuff you rarely see, if ever, plus a truly bad start, like bad enough maybe to turn it off but you don’t and then, you see, glad you didn’t. And a friend sent a copy of his scorecard—he was there! And it was not an easy thing, keeping score that game, so I was impressed. Among other things, the Cubs won in the 12th inning, 7-6. Lester, a starting pitcher, pinch-hit and got the game-winning RBI. It was a bunt. I love it.

So, how do things unravel? Hard to say. Reading “Look Homeward, Angel,” by Thomas Wolfe, doesn’t help. It’s almost like being caught in quicksand that is somehow mesmerizing so you’re not afraid, just slowly sinking, and in the back of your mind you know you want to get out of this quagmire, but, look at that, wait a minute, what is that, hmmm, “lilac darkness” … and soon, there it is again, “lilac darkness,” and then again with the “lilac darkness,” and you’ve already asked: What’s with all this “lilac darkness”? But you stay put. Stick with it. Swimming, sinking in all this lilac darkness and everything else. At the moment I would prefer a book that was more like a bus with a destination, a timetable, rather than this rickety rowboat caught in an eddy.

One day I stopped by Temple Jacob, unplanned, doors locked, pretty flowers.

One evening, Buck stopped by. Josie’s pal Buck, whose velvet antlers are growing so symmetrically, each now topped with two nubby prongs. After a little jostling with Jo, Buck wandered into the yard, came over close to where Elliott and I were sitting on the porch. Josie kept up his charade of occasionally charging Buck, circling back, Buck doesn’t seem to mind. I thought Josie might get dispirited so each time he charged I said “good boy.” At one point everyone but me was standing around, chewing grass, and then Buck threw up his tail and spun and ran and Josie gave chase and that was that.

But back to the trouble.
Friday night I closed the book, had had enough of darkness, turned off the light, lay on my side looking out into the north where it was yet light, kind of golden but moving toward darkness, darkness that was not at all lilac, not so I could see, anyway, but I could see a lake, placid and smooth, and the dull grey-white shine of mirror, mirror reflecting above and below, into the air, into the deep, and sandwiched between a plane of black, a plane of darkness, thin but strong, impermeable, a plane our souls just cannot see.

Days shorten, and Saturday morning began with a skyful of stars. I did not recognize that as a good omen, but I did think how stars are always there, whether we see them or not, and, later, when the young woman from South Korea who has been by my booth at the market before asked why the sun candle has a face—she said she’s seen that a lot in this country, the sun with a face—I told her I had no idea why the sun has a face, and neither had I ever thought to ask.