Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Even Spiderman Fell

Happiness makes up in height what it lacks in breadth.

And so the most stunning delight, while perhaps brief, can be something that you savor over and over again throughout the years. You can be reminded over and over again of the short sweetness of an experience by almost anything: the way an artichoke lies in your hand before washing, a particular accent overhead as you walk past an open window, the fullness of a mid-summer moon, a broken mum stalk poking through a mound of snow, the thud of a suitcase hitting the floor, a poem.

In an instant, the years peel away and you are standing again in rapture, held by a particular moment when you felt as if your heart would burst and you knew if death took you at that moment you had lived exactly enough. The memory is real enough that you even feel the exact pleasure of that remembered moment, and there is no distance between where you are right now and the former delight.

In the moment when some disappointment threatens to devastate you it is so hard to remember that you will know that pleasure. You walk outside and you think how dare the sun shine now, why can you still feel the warmth on your arms when your heart has turned to stone. Like a blues singer, you’ll wish for rain. All you feel is that you have fallen from such a great height: like a superhero momentarily out of synch with his powers, you jumped off that tenement but then you began falling. You know you will live, but sweet Jesus, you are going to have a mighty back ache when you hit that Subaru below.

But if you are of a certain age, you know that you will, in a while, when grief has softened your heart again, walk outside and feel that sun and remember that wonderful moment when you leapt into thin air, knowing this time you could defy the laws of gravity. You will even remember the little lift as you jumped, making that remembered happiness just a little higher.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Junior Chair

At my grandparents' summer cottage, there was a smallish chair: larger than a high chair, but smaller than a regular chair and higher. The top front rung was worn in two spots where generations of small shoes had rested, or drummed impatiently, waiting while adults finished a meal before children could be excused. One of the arms wobbles.

In my family we called it the junior chair.

Sixty years ago, waiting for the first grandchild, my grandmother painted the chair a pale pink, with left over enamel after the bathroom was spruced up. Then she highlighted the features with red nail polish. Raspberry red.

She painted each name on the chair with the same polish over the next thirty years as they were born: first my cousins, children of my mother’s older brother Louie, then my mother’s three children from her first marriage, then my half sister, born when she could have been my own daughter.

The names painted in the same shade my grandmother’s nails always wore: Susie, Sandy, Kathy, Mark, Cindy, Melissa, then Emily.

Each of us spent at least a summer as resident in the chair, elevated above the crowd, seated at the table like adults, the edge of the table mid-belly where it should be. Younger ones sat on a lap, and older ones looked up over the rim of the round oak table their little butts too big for the chair. All of us with hungry eyes, waiting for the pancakes my grandmother cooked almost as fast as we could eat them, her red nails flashing as she scooped batter and rolled the eggy cakes like crepes. Swedish pancakes on summer days hot before dawn.

The paint is nearly all gone: the ash and oak of the chair visible now, along with a deep green paint from some other family, and small patches of the pink I remember surrounding the tub. And here and there, around a turned spindle and on the edge of the seat, my grandmother’s nail polish caresses Ben, my only son, young enough to be my grandchild, here in our new home.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Tonight, Ben and I ate dinner on our little deck.

We watched as a bumble bee lumbered past us, flying between us toward our back door. In one smooth arc, the big bee dropped down to the floor, and squeezed between the deck and the wall by our back door. About five minutes later, another bee came in, this one with legs bright orange and big with pollen.

One of the big bombus flew out of the hive then, and circled me three times: on the third pass he flew right past my face and I felt his hairy coat as he brushed past my upper lip. The beat of his wings—so small yet able to lift his nearly inch-long, bulbous body-- made a breeze I actually felt against my nose as he brushed by me. Ben laughed and pointed, and said, "Bee! Momma!"

I don’t mind sharing our house with the bees. They live sometimes in old abandoned mouse nests, and I like the idea of a succession of wild visitors of the diminutive variety sharing our back door.

And these guys: big and round, silly in their stripes and contrasting pollen, are like little clowns sent to amuse us. As the light wanes, they come in one after another, dropping right past us into their home. We count ten before bedtime sends us into our own hive. The fireflies begin to light the yard as Ben and I lie on his bed and talk about the bees living with us.

There’s a family story about me and a bee. Born in September, the following summer I was sitting out in our dirt driveway. There was a sandy area we all played in as kids, I must have crawled there following my bigger brother. My mother, seated not far away, heard me laughing deeply. As she walked over to see what was so amusing, she saw a huge bumble bee walking on my face. My eyes were closed, my face was raised skyward, and I was waving my arms and laughing, saying “Bee, bite me!”

As he flew away from this disappointing rendezvous with a pollenless flower, my mother scooped me up and examined me for stings. The bombus is said to learn by watching others from its hive: one bee will follow another even to an artificial flower. I have a fleeting thought that that bee tonight that brushed my lips, fifty generations removed from the bee who flew away from my face that summer morning, might have heard the echo of a little girl asking for a bite.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Well, almost all the stuff is in Ann Arbor. Ben and I have taken time to swim in the neighborhood pool, walk around the neighborhood and ride the bike exploring the small, tree lined winding roads. He likes his new school, although he has a dampened enthusiasm at drop offs that has made me weep twice as I left him. Miss Kelly, his teacher, says some bounce from the move is to be expected, and he’s doing quite well, considering all the changes he’s weathered in the past week.

And we have met some people.

One person we met before we even moved here: Siri, an attorney mediator who heard through the family law grapevine in Ann Arbor that I was coming, and through a strange twist, one of her best friends is my new landlord. Now we’ve actually met her, she lives less than a block away.

Sandy and her Jack Russell terrier, Russell, wandered up the first night after the movers left, when I was panting over a beer on the patio and Ben was playing in the sand and water table—each of us with our favorite form of relaxation. Sandy’s the single mom of a 15 year old and she’s a nurse. She wandered by because her good friend Paul lives beside us, and she was going to cajole him into cooking chicken breasts she'd been marinating.

Paul works at ACE hardware about three blocks away and he’s a good man to know for faucet aerators and grilling chicken. We share a wall, he lives next door. When I apologized about Ben’s meltdown in the wee hours of the morning Saturday, he said, “I don’t mind, it’s just nice to hear life over there.” I believe him.

Bridget is the single mom of an 8 year old who she describes as “you’ve seen him, the kid with the big afro.” I hadn’t seen him but I’m sure I will. Bridget walks with Sandy at night, with Russell and Bridget’s little Yorky-something named Cory.

Alice is an older woman with a wonderful garden and a horrible story about a mud wasp infestation in her bee balm last year. She walked down the long yard we share to meet Ben and me Sunday morning, and we talked perennials. She said I must meet Rose and Dahlia, two women who live across the street and have an even more wonderful garden. I am not kidding about the names.

Ben and I did meet Rose Monday as she stood watering her wonderful garden. She gave me some suggestions for soil amendments before the perennial planting begins.

I am glad to be here, and meeting neighbors helps lessen the pain of leaving our old neighbors. Last night Nunu called to see how we were both doing and I realized how much I missed her greeting Ben, a booming “There’s my Ben” : as he ran to her open arms with a kiss for her I always felt good about leaving him.

Still, with the proper amendments, this seems to be a place where children and plants can thrive.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Good Lunch

Yesterday,my co-workers took me out to lunch. This was a way to mark my leaving, and the only one I felt comfortable with. Usually, when someone leaves the county, they organize a cake and an open house sort of thing, but I didn't want that and my friends knew that. Instead, we sat and ate and laughed and reminisced and told stories--and that was wonderful.

How do I say good bye to people who have saved my ass countless times, were fun to work with, and taught me the job? When Ben was sick and payroll had to be posted, Jen did it. When I needed a hearing set and it was too late to do it tomorrow, Bev or Mel would do it. When I got behind on the delinquency notices (oh, the irony of that!) Jen and Martha got it caught up, and continued to do it. When the vouchers needed to be done during an extended absence of a staff member, Kathy did it. Martha continued to do the Guardianship reviews to help out Mel and Bev who were new to their jobs. Monica took on more and more tasks and learned them fast as the need grew, all while answering that ceaselessly ringing phone and greeting people with that luminous smile. There are many more examples, but it happened so often and was such a fluid process, it would be impossible to list all the times someone in that crew stepped up.

When a question came up, there was an open spirit of communication between us. It was understood that problems could be solved by talking it out, and we usually managed to do that. When we didn't know an answer, out came the Estates Code, or the Mental Health Code, or the Court Rules, and we figured it out. We decided together how to change office procedure, or what not to change.

And then there has been the fun: the jokes, the laughter, the parties for each other on our birthdays, the party they threw for Ben when he was just six weeks old. And the hard times where we stood together and supported each other: Kathy's illness and surgery, the heart-wrenching loss of Gabe, Bev's health difficulties, Mel's school work and exams, the various and sundry smaller things that happen where people get hurt and are comforted by the people they work with.

These women have been a true team. I have been working with them during some of the biggest changes of my life, and their caring and competence has been the only constant. I will miss them all so much, it's impossible to really say goodbye.

So lunch was a good thing.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Tears come easily now.

I hold Ben in my arms and watch him move into sleep: he moves closer to me, dipping his hand into the neckline of my t-shirt, looking for bosomy skin. His eyes blink three times, slowly, then he locks his gaze into a far corner of his pale blue room. The room I made for him in this house we will leave in less than a week. This moment is what I have waited 49 years for: to hold a nearly sleeping toddler in my arms, and I weep.

My friend Jackie calls. I tell her I still need to return her Women's Anthology of Humor, borrowed three years ago. She tells me she can't come to the Quay Brewery tomorrow for my farewell beers. She talks about the current struggle of the faculty at our community college, ruled by an abysmal administration. We swear to see each other before I leave town. I weep.

My sister calls, grateful she can have the electric mower I no longer need. She says my brother in law will be vaulted to heaven by the new mower. We say tonight was wonderful, sharing a meal and watching our two boys race trikes 'til they were exhausted: her boy older and yelling "I MUST win!" as he passed Ben on the boulevard. I weep.

I talk with John, just in from a motorcycle ride and a cool beer at a bike night at a Bay City bar. He talks about getting a trailer equipped with a sink, queen bed and a toilet to make a long trek together. His daughter, sweet Rhea, will be married on Saturday. I weep.

Joe calls, and we chat about Arnold and his Democratic challengers in California, about Mafia lawyers, and moving. His daughter, Nicky, swells with her first child and I think of her basking in her father's appreciative gaze. I weep.

My stepmother Kate lies dying in Florida, ten days without food or water, just morphine. Her heart is still strong. She keeps living while cancer gnaws at her. My Dad's strung out grief is marked in turn by exhausted laughter and weeping. We wait for a thready pulse, the sign that death might bring all of us relief, and I weep.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Two poems about this move. I think we fail to honor these kinds of changes enough, so these poems are my attempts at honoring this transition.


To leave this place with lilacs in bloom
would, once, have been unthinkable:
I am packing candles in the dining room.

Beneath the kitchen window, at the back door,
front door, and brushing my bedroom window
purple and white profusion spills

toward the ground, the blooms heavy
in May rain. Two years I pruned
at just the right moment, being greedy,

taking lilacs to grace my table, my lovers;
stealing the scent before it drifted
to the old man who sits on his porch.

Now my reward: doing dishes held by scent,
smiling neighbors passing by and
perfect welcomes on leaving this house.

Someone new will stop, weary and lost,
open the gate, and feel the caress
of splendid excess, a bicolored bacchanal:

white and purple stars clustered like nebulae,
and smell something almost like love.
She will lift her chin and breathe.

A buyer

This house is looking empty.

Books in boxes.
Pictures in drawers, padded
by sweatshirts and jeans.
Glassware and china
all gone, boxed,
to be moved, intact,
to a new home.

Poems, drafts and drafts,
in files, in drawers,
to be hefted by sweating
stevedores onto a truck
where they will stay the night
and then come to the new house.

How can a life,
so changed by just three years here,
be moved away with such ease?

How can a house
where so much love happened,
be passed to the hands
of others to care for?

Tonight, sweet Jerry
came for a key.
Stroking Ben's back, he said,
"We love this house."
And I nearly wept for joy.

I want love in these walls.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Tsukismom Speaks

Tsukismom Speaks

I'm moving. Not in the sense that I evoke a particular emotional response in anyone, but in the sense that I can't believe how much stuff I've accumulated in just three years and now I have to downsize to a new place and I am in total denial. As in the queen of.

I am moving from Port Huron, Michigan, land of the place where the wives of those in power have hair that doesn't move (and there aren't any women in real power here, so I am not really being sexist), to Ann Arbor, Michigan, insulated land of undyed, uncut and free moving women's hair.

I am of two minds about the move.

I've lived here longer than anywhere else in my life, I have wonderful friends, there is the beginning of a left-wing community and an arts community. My house is filled with light and memories and love and I have labored to make it a good space. I hate leaving these things.

But then, in Ann Arbor I've got a great new job waiting, and I can take the bus to work, and my son Ben and I won't feel like fish out of water in the grocery store because there are other families who look like us.

See, I am white as oatmeal and Ben is brown as 60% cocoa chocolate. Then there's the hair thing: mine is long and frizzy and gray, and he's just a toddler, so most people assume he's my grandchild and my daughter abandoned him.

Ben is my son, and the bond is deep as any bond born in the flesh. We make the same faces, he's learning my speech patterns and we love each other with passion. We aren't really of different races: we are of the human race, and I hate it when we are made to feel different because of whom we are.

Ben probably doesn't notice yet, but I do and he will. And the move to Ann Arbor is as much about trying to insulate him from that harsh reality as it is about any self-fulfillment I hope to achieve there.

I have begun this blog in hopes of recording the changes we will find together, and of course to comment on random political and social issues. Really, it’s all about finding a voice after all.

Peace, shalom, salaam.