Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Finding room for Murdoch

It must be the change in seasons, but I am going to bed earlier and earlier. Ben is loving it, because basically we both get into our jammies about the same time, and by the time we start reading books before bed, we are both comfy.

Last night, after a leisurely dinner of sushi rice and potstickers and fresh corn on the cob, we wandered toward bedtime by “playing trains.” The twin goals of this game are to engage Mom in races around the track and to create the longest possible train without it falling off the track at every turn. When Ben invited me to come in and play, I was still cleaning up the kitchen, so I put him off. When I did walk into his room, he said, in his most inviting voice, “You want to play trains, Momma?” clasping his hands in front of him, bending down at the waist, raising his eyebrows and smiling toward me. How could I resist?

I paused a moment to enjoy his invitation. He jumped into the smiling pause with, “Look, your train is all ready for you!” He pointed to a train headed by Thomas the Tank engine, followed by the Chinese dragon car (my favorite, actually) a Troublesome Truck, Big City Engine and his tender. How could I resist.

Ben’s train was pulled by Murdoch, and had about ten cars hooked on, followed by Douglas and Donald, the Scottish twins. When I suggested hooking battery-powered Percy to the front of my train, so that I could just watch him and soak in the moments around the train table, he demurred. This session of trains was to be strictly manual power, no cheating here.

Round and round we went, creating crashes (where “luckily no one was hurt!”), rearranging the track to make a bridge here, a tunnel there. We occupied the better part of an hour. I suggested it might be jammie time, an idea resisted to the bone by Engineer Ben. I parked my train on a siding, and Ben continued playing while I got ready for bed. When I came back into his room, he was naked from the waist down, still running the train around, but at least working toward jammie time.

I bargained with him: if he got ready for bed we could play some more and then read. Washed up, brushed of tooth and combed of hair, his flannel Thomas jammies properly in place, we had a few more rounds, then adjourned (not without tearful resistance) to bed where we began reading Polar Express, then moved to The Little Engine That Could, then to the latest Toys R Us circular from Sunday’s paper to look at the train layouts on pages 12 and 13. Finally, he made the request to get under the covers.

I turned out the lights and turned on his moon, and settled in for a short time of back rubbing (his) and fighting to stay awake (mine.) “Where’s my Gordon?” the question roused me, and I mumbled that I thought it was in his backpack. From his bed he sprang and like a courser he flew to the doorknob, where his back pack hung. Back to bed with Gordon.

“I want Donald and Douglas,” came the next request, and up again to fetch them from the end of his very long train. Just when I thought I was set and he might be drifting off he said,
“Gracious, where’s my Murdoch!”

Gracious? Where did he learn that one?

“Honey, you don’t have room for anymore trains, do you?” I asked, apparently rhetorically, because he was already up and after Murdoch and, of course, his tender. Now there was certainly no more room for Mommy, so I got up from my reverie, tucked him in, and did our last ritual.

From the doorway I called, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”

He called, “See you in the morning bright.”

Parenting isn’t for everyone, but as for me I can say I am glad and grateful.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

My sister's letter to Rottweiler Rescue, Stanley's first rescuers, and Arlene's response

I tried to write what I felt about Stanley, but nobody does him justice like my sister did in this letter. You can find the rescue at Rottweiler Rescue of Michigan

Hi Arlene -

It's been a few years since we've contacted you, so I'm sorry that this contact bears such sorrowful news. Seven years ago, you gifted us with a wonderful little spirit named Stanley. Stanley died on Monday, we think of dilated cardiomyopathy. He had developed a little cough, wasn't eating well and had lost weight. When he finally showed the symptoms he really went down hill, and it probably was too late. We are heartbroken at our loss of Stanley that has come too soon.

He was such a lovable goof, a total marshmallow inside. Whenever new neighbors or friends would see Stanley, they were afraid, because he looked so tough with that terrible scar and his dobie markings. But after getting to meet him, they loved him. He totally blew the Doberman image. Six years ago (a little over a year after we adopted Stanley), our son was born. Stanley adored our son, Cameron, and was his brother and protector.

Three years ago, we adopted a rat terrier (we named her Tinkerbell) from Petfinder. We were careful to reinforce Stanley's "top dog" position in the household, but to no avail. Stanley fell hopelessly in love with Tink and she with him. They were best friends and playmates, but she wore the pants. But Stanley didn't care. He was a somewhat nervous guy before Tink came, but after she came along, he felt better. Our local kennel was kind enough to kennel them side-by-side whenever we had to leave them there, because, they said, "Stan just does better with Tink."

Arlene, we can't thank you enough for letting us love and care for Stanley. He was our child and our companion. He was even Eric's co-worker (he used to go to work with Eric). Eric is at the head office in Philly this week and he told his boss that they have lost a dear employee.
I am particularly having a difficult time, because I wish that I had recognized how serious things were before he got so bad. I miss him so much. He deserved a longer life and I feel angry that he didn't get it.

We want to make a donation to your rescue in honor of Stanley. We will also be asking our friends and family to make donations as well. Is there a way we can establish a lasting monetary memorial in his honor? Please email your thoughts on this, because we want to make sure that people who didn't get to meet Stanley know what a wonderful, strong, forgiving, loving spirit he was.

He loved life Arlene. And we will love him, always.

Arlene's response

Emily and Eric,

I am so, so very sorry to hear about Stanley's passing. You put it perfectly, he was a wonderful little spirit. And no puppy ever had such a rags to riches story of coming from one of the worst hoarder/backyardbreeder situations Ingham County has ever had and then finding a family of his very own where he was treasured and cherished and received the deepest love. A dream few puppies ever have come true.

I'm not sure knowing sooner would have been of any merit for anyone. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a relentless foe of Dobermans and had you known earlier there's no guarantees you could have extended his time here or not. But what knowing earlier would have done is made you sick with grief, and in turn Stanley, as sensitive and intuitive as he was, would have been sick with grief over your's and Eric's sadness. No matter how hard you tried to conceal it from him, he would have felt it deep in his heart and soul. This way everyone got to live cheerfully and to the fullest right up until the end. And Stanley never had to have a moment of anguish wondering what was wrong with his beloved family.

I would be honored to set up a Stanley Memorial Fund. I still have his baby pictures and I can put them up as well as the super photos you just sent me. If you have other's you'd like showcased, please send them.

Stanley will never be forgotten by anyone whose path he crossed, even for the briefest of moments. His tender heart touched everyone and brought out the best in them.

with deepest sympathy,

Stanley Smallwood (1999 - 2007)

You touch
the right one and a whole half of the universe
wakes up, a new half

--William Stafford “Choosing a Dog”

While the saga of Ellen Degeneres and her dog broke into headlines, with people alternately condemning dog rescues and the people who break their contracts with them, my sister’s dog Stanley was getting sicker than anyone knew. He died Monday in my brother-in-law’s arms.

Stanley woke up the new half of my sister’s universe.

Stanley was born to a notorious puppy mill in Ingham County, Michigan. Because he barked too much as a puppy, the breeder put a large rubber band around his muzzle and left it there for many days. It was there when the place was finally raided. The authorities asked recues to help step up and find homes for the broken and sad survivors.

The rubber band caused a permanent scar on Stanley’s elegant, long face, making him look even more sinister than a Doberman usually looks. His tail, improperly docked by the breeder, was non-exstent. Wagging his tail, which was frankly his waking state, his whole hind half wagged.

My sister Emily and her husband Eric had been through the horror of terminal illness and suffering with their first dog, Jordan, who was a dog I had rescued, twice. I had given him to my sister, and insisted she take him and keep him. He opened up the first half of the universe for her, as she moved with him to a more independent life, started college, and fell in love with Eric. Jordan was the best dog in their wedding, and sat beside them in his bow tie while I read them their vows in my back yard. After Jordan died, Emily and Eric would pull the car into the garage after work and weep because they couldn’t bear to face the house without Jordan.

It wasn’t long before Emily started scanning Petfinder, and found Stanley. When she chose him, the new half of the universe opened. Stanley was there when they brought my precious nephew, Cameron, home from the NICU. He was with them as they moved to Port Huron. After I moved, he was always glad to see me, bounding up to me wiggling all the way: a giant break dancer in brown and black, and usually with a colorful bandanna my sister liked him to wear. The bandanas always coordinated with the season—this week he would have been wearing something halloweeny.

Adoption is the way we make families. I know there are some people who believe that we shouldn’t use the word “adopt” when we take non-human animals into our family. As the adoptive mother of my human son, I am sensitive to language. But it never struck me as demeaning the adoption of humans to use the word with non-human animals. We should be just as careful about the adoptions of four-leggeds as we are about the adoption of humans. Non-human animals have always been a part of my family. Fur-covered four-leggeds are just as much a part of my universe as my son Benjamin.

And so it was always for my sister and her family. Stanley the Effervescent was a member of her family. I truly believe that touching Stanley made other choices possible for her: parenting, finishing school, growing whole. It helped her heal the terrible wound left when Jordan died. In an odd way, it helped her be able to survive the loss of Stanley.

So you can carp all you want about rescues and their rigid belief that non-human animals are important. It is only when we allow ourselves to be touched and adopted by our four-legged family members that we understand how much of ourselves can be possible. It’s part of being fully human. Stanley has a soul just as surely as my son Benjamin does, just as surely as my dog Sam does, just as surely as you and I do.

Stanley’s bounding, leaping, wagging soul will always be a part of my family.

Rest in peace, you good dog, you.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Picture Day

Tomorrow is picture day at Peachtree School. Ben’s hair just wouldn’t make the grade, even with combing and olive oil dressing, so after school today we stopped by Rush’s Barber Shop.

We used to go to Royal Cuts way over on Ellsworth, where Benjamin got very stylish cuts but the barbers were young and not too patient. So there were lots of tears, sobs, and gnashing of teeth. One barber even took off his belt and handed it to me so that I would beat my son. I declined.

Mr. Rush, on the other hand, talks to Ben in a grandfatherly voice, keeps encouraging him, and slips him a Brach’s caramel now and then. He’s truly the first no tears barber we have known. Ben’s pediatrician, a magician in his own right, recommended Mr. Rush.

So when we got there today and found the door locked, my heart sank. Mr. Rush came out of his back office with a big old smile, and let us in. I told him we could come in early tomorrow instead, because tomorrow was picture day. He said he knew I work during the day, and it was fine. He said, “I was going to meet someone, but it can wait. Picture Day is very important.” He said it with capital letters.

With that he stooped down to Ben’s level and invited him into the chair.

I think he knew I felt just the right amount of guilt and gratitude that he was breaking an appointment in order to make my son look sharp.Picture day brings out all kinds of feelings I thought my old hippie self would never feel. Like guilt and gratitude for a gentleman barber who spent just the right amount of time cutting my son’s hair. Like this pride that swells up over my son’s manners as he thanks Mr. Rush without being prompted. And, yes I admit it, I like him to look sharp.

I even wanted to iron tonight. Not just the shirt, but the jeans just in case a sitting pose shows a wrinkled hem of jean. Iron. The last time I ironed was ironing the front of a blouse to wear under my court suits. Then I discovered synthetic shells. So it’s been maybe fifteen years or more. Tonight, the shirt, the jeans, and even the cotton vest got ironed.

Last year, Ben’s first picture day, I went into debt buying all the pictures and all the gimmicks they could offer. This year, I am a little wiser, but I know I will spend freely.

After all the Little Man looks so damn sharp, and with that million dollar smile, who could ever resist? Tomorrow we’ll show you the outfit—tonight it’s just too late. Ben’s been sound asleep since before I started ironing, and after I got his stuff done it felt so good I got out three old linen shirts of my own and ironed them.

Next thing you know, I’ll be cutting my hair.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Smooth sailing ?

Ben has turned the corner on toddler bi-polar amazing rages. They have nearly ceased. Two nights ago he had a small one, then right away said to me, "I'm sorry I got mad, Mamma."

"It's OK," I said "sometimes we get so angry we can't talk about it. So we cry it out and it's OK." I had been ignoring the rage, not because I necessarily practice enlightened parenting: it's a survival tactic. For us both.

"I love you, Mom," he said.

The Pout after the Storm July 2007

Never have I been "Mom." It's such a grown-up kind of word. Not the universal baby word of MaMa--two repeated syllables which all infants in just about all cultures use for mother. Mom, and enough insight to talk about his anger.

Anyone who says two was terrible never had a three year old. But I can see the light at the end of his tunnel now. It's not Thomas or Gordon, it's Himself Emerging.


I kind of like the ring of that.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Today was mild and raining, and the colors haven't really started yet. Still, tonight, it's crisp, chilly and damp: the fall is upon us. It put me in mind of three years ago, when Ben was a baby still, and we saw the end of his first fall from our back door in Port Huron. The lilacs were long gone, and we watched the last of the leaves get blown off by an early snow.

The fall

The last of the leaves
came down this morning
in a blinding swirl
of snow and brown.
My son, dark
as baker’s chocolate
and I, white as oatmeal,
stand at the back door
and wonder
about the fall.

I scoop him up
and run out into
the whoosh of wet
and spin him around.
An orange maple leaf
sticks to his dark head,
a brown one slithers
across my gray hair.

His small white teeth
shine in the purple light.
We laugh together;
fat flakes darken
our shirts, wet our faces
like sweet tears.
Our dark snowy
day begins.
He looks at me
and I hold him
at the end of the fall.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Flowers in hard places

Some things just don't know how not to bloom. I'd forgotten about these pictures from Drummond, where flowers bloom in rock, until I wandered over to Bloomingwriter's blog tonight.

As Jodi says, bloom where you are planted. Sweet dreams. Rock on.

A Walk in the Woods

It was a gorgeous morning today. Ben and I lolled around reading the papers, watching Thomas the Train and eating the world’s best vegan pancakes until nearly noon. We had to get outside.

Last week I bought a trail-a-bike for Ben, and he loves it, though he is not yet a willing pedaling partner. We went for a short ride, then swung into the Leslie Science Center and parked the bike. The trails in the park loop back to a place called Black Pond, which is just a wet spot now, since it’s been rather dry. But it’s nice and hilly, and the sun filtering through the trees was perfect. And, it’s literally in our backyard, just a stone’s throw from our apartment door. My Dad, who is recovering from some surgery, drove the short distance to the park and met us there.

The sight of my 82 year old father and my 3 year old son hand in hand in the woods was strangely mystical. I never thought I would see this: partly because I put off parenting for so long and partly because I never thought my dad and I would be living so close to each other.

But there they were. The woods, the sun, the autumn air: a fine walk in the park. As I watched Ben run far ahead of me on the trail today, sunlight speckling him, I thought there really is nothing in the world that fills me with a sense of calm like I feel watching him. I know there will be times of heartbreak ahead, as we encounter a society that does not for the most part welcome black men. I will need to keep this image in my head, and preserve it for him, to show that there are places on earth where all are welcome.

Maybe someday, 79 years from now, he’ll take the hand of his grandson and walk into the sun dappled woods, his own daughter trailing behind and feeling both wistful and fortunate.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Birds and boys

Ben, Ben’s friend Alexander and I attended a program on birds of prey at the Waterloo wildlife area today. It was a splendid day for an adventure, and while Ben kept saying he didn’t "want to see the hawks,” he ended up being thrilled. (What he really wanted to see were frogs and lions, and Alexander hoped there would be a crocodile.)

We saw a screech owl (who was molting), a great horned owl, a turkey vulture and a hawk. The audience was small and the speaker put each bird on her gloved hand and walked around the room with it: because we’d arrived late we had a bird’s eye view of each bird, sitting on the floor at the back of the room: she even turned toward us with each bird as she made her way across the back of the room.

The boys were thrilled. Afterward, we ran and walked the trails a while with Kai, his older brother Al, and their mom Carla—another Peachtree School family. I was grateful to Carla for telling me about the presentation. Alexander came along because he’s spending more time with us—his baby brother Oliver is still in NICU, his mom is worn out from pumping and trying to hold a wired, tiny baby, and his Dad is exhausted juggling the demands of job, home, and family involved with medical technology. Neil said tonight when he picked Alex up that Oliver may get to come home this week.

All of the birds we saw today were in rehab for one reason or another: the hawk for example was blind in one eye and had congenitally missing talons on one foot, so couldn’t survive in the wild. The saddest was the vulture.

Turkey Vulture at Waterloo

Stolen chick, someone’s coolest pet for a while:
perfectly healthy but too close to humans.
The times he has broken free
he’ll ride the thermals for a while
but he looks for people walking
instead of carrion.
Coming down from his death watch,
he finds some hiker,
or maybe a farmer plowing,
and he follows them, hoping
for a gift of death to sustain him.

The humans get spooked
thinking he might know something.
So they call the DNR
and he comes back
to Waterloo.

The wildlife guide tells his story.
He stands on her forearm: huge,
odd with his naked head, alert,
this bird who can eat anthrax and thrive.
He tries to fly with silver edged strokes
so powerful the speaker’s
notes are swept into orbit.
Up, off the podium
and around, then down
to the floor the cards fly,
as he realizes the tether
holds him to her hand after all.

When he fixes each of us
with his dark polished eye,
it’s easy to think he knows
which of us may be already dead.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Two Wolves

My dear friend Joe lives in LA. He’s married to a Jewish woman, has been for more than three decades. He’s Catholic, but feels Jewish and goes to temple. They raised their two beautiful kids in Jewish tradition. He feels Jewish in the same way that I feel non-white. His experience has led him to understand another way of being in the world.

At Rosh Hashanah services this year, one rabbi preached about the Native American story about the two wolves. I’d forgotten about this story until he told it. I can see the well-heeled LA congregation listening to this story, and that comfortable New Year’s temple setting fades to black and there’s a fire circle glowing deep in the woods. It’s a good story to hear before the days of fasting and atonement, a good story which reaches across cultural boundaries, across faiths and races.

One evening, an old Cherokee chief told his grandson about the two wolves. One wolf is vicious and kills everything it sees, picks fights and runs off the weaker or different looking wolves who try to enter the pack for safety and comfort. The other wolf is the wolf that welcomes the stranger, shares the kill to sustain the pack, takes on the pups orphaned by cold or hunger. One night, the two wolves fight. It is a bloody fight, each wolf striving to be the winner. The cold full moon lights the clearing where the wolves fight.

The grandson asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee chief simply replied, “The one you feed.” Because you see the wolves represent what is present in each of us: one part of us is all about territorialism, idolatry and pride, selfishness and greed, the other part of us is compassion, empathy and nurturing, welcoming the stranger. The wolf we feed is the one that wins. Which wolf do you feed ?

Years ago, during my radical Christian days, I attended the Knudsen Conference. There are many people in mainline faiths working for social change, there are people feeding the wolves of social justice and healing in the Church. I like to think that during those years of teaching Sunday school and singing in the choir, I fed the wolf of peace, justice, compassion, empathy and courage. Ultimately I left the church though, because I couldn’t find shalom before communion with people who thought that gay people were an abomination, and the God only meant to bless a certain rather pale and conservative America, and the rest of the word, unbaptised babies included, was going down in flames. I couldn’t welcome them with their different beliefs in my heart, so I felt I couldn’t sit there in the pew and wait for the meal with them either.

Anyway, the Knudsen Conference was a conference celebrating and advocating the full communion of gay and lesbian people in the church. It was founded after Rev. Knudsen, a beloved Lutheran minister who served for decades, committed suicide because he could no longer live in a church that condemned him, a closeted homosexual man. The conference came to Ann Arbor, and my sister and brother-in-law (who wasn’t really my BIL at the time but who was living and loving in what some might call sin with my sister) lived in Ann Arbor. It was an opportunity to experience church like I always thought it should be, so I came on down for the conference and camped on their couch.

A brilliant theologian at the conference spoke of weaving, and how each of us, all people, were a part of the tapestry of god’s creation. She said she really likes this analogy as it applied to gays and lesbians, christians, jews, muslims and atheists, people of all colors, the differently-abled, the poor, the rich. Then one day it occurred to her that Strom Thurmond was a part of the tapestry. It had a profound effect on her thinking: she had to make room on her piece of cloth for someone she loathed, whose beliefs she could not support. In order for her tapestry metaphor to apply she had to admit that he, too, was a part of the rich fabric of life. The next day, a brilliant sermon was preached by a Scandinavian theologian on the topic of light, as in “I am the light of the world.” He extended and made real the idea that light is composed of all colors, and that the full spectrum of light isn’t even visible or distinguishable to the human eye but is necessary for life to continue. My sister and future BIL came with me to the service, and my sister spotted her Latin professor.

Next Wednesday there’s a rally for the Jena 6 in Detroit. I’m taking Ben. Chan Tae from my office is taking her little baby Olivia, and Steven from our office is taking his sons Jordan and Brandon. And our co-worker Ingrid is coming too, because her Buddhist soul requires her to give voice to unity and compassion. We are going because the wolf we feed means something.

On September 20, if you can’t be in Jena with the freedom wolves going down there, you can wear black and white, signifying unity. Feed the wolf of peace and justice. Please, if not for yourself, then for Ben and Olivia and Jordan and Brandon and Ingrid, and for our hurting world.

I honestly don’t yet know how to make room for loving my enemies. I think the wolf probably knows, and I’m hoping that by feeding the right one, she can lead me to the right path.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This day

I was working in Sanilac County, the director of the juvy court there, meeting with staffers about budget cuts. In walks our assistant prosecutor, the one we always worked with, who said, "It's terrible!"

I said, "Damn straight it is. We have to lay someone off."

Then all of a sudden our little problem seemed small, so much smaller. The next day, still shocked by the news, there was a community prayer service. I went of course, but when that gathered group rose to sing God Bless America, I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck. Oh god, I prayed, don't forget the rest of the world.

In the days that followed, I felt like the only one who was thinking that bombing Afghanistan wasn't the right idea. That somehow reaching out to the county that spawned this horror might be a better idea than squashing them with our thumb.

I take no pleasure in the ragged "No Iraq War" sign I had in my window long before there was an Iraq war. I was right, and I know that all you had to do if you cared to find the right answer was read a little to know this war was the biggest blunder this country has ever made. I am sorry for every soul who died on September 11. Even the misdirected sad angry men who drove the planes. But I am sorrier for all the hundreds of thousands of people, children too, we don't even count now because they are collateral damage. Hell, we don't even count half our own casualties, cause if you're just driving a truck with supplies, it isn't a military casualty.

And how many future terrorists, and fathers of future terrorists, sit in Gitmo, tortured because some inept lawyer hungry for Bush's approval said it was OK?

Do you know that by some estimates there are 4 million internal refugees, all Shiite, inside Iraq, driven from their homes by the civil war there, living in cinder block houses without running water and without electricity? Did you know that the allies of the US forces in Iraq are former, and one might argue current, war criminals? But the surge is working, baby. Because we are asking 17 year old American kids to be our policemen, diplomats and civil engineers over there. Because my friends, you and I were so worried about our own "security" that we allowed the neo-cons to hijack our constitution and our country.

Paying any less for gas? Still got your job?

How come Jenna Bush ain't getting a hitch?

How ironic that Hunt Oil closed the deal yesterday for oil in Northern Iraq.

When will they ever learn? Awake yet? The roar of the buildings coming down signaled more than just the results of some born-agains crashing into our way of life.

It's the most serious wake up call we've ever had to take our country back. Woodie Guthrie wrote a response to the jingoistic "God Bless America." He reminded us that our country was founded on the principle that we, the people, possessed the power.

This land is my land. This land is your land. Take it back, and god bless the whole world, no exceptions.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Summer's End

Ben waves from the rocks on Drummond Island. Summer officially ends today, but we'll have some more summer weather. I've been writing up a storm, but not blogging--thanks for checking here anyway.

The last two trips up north to the wilds of Drummond have yielded great stuff and I am working on some prose pieces. Right now they are short stories, character studies and those small scenes that swim up into my consciousness and flow out of the fingertips or pen.

I've always been intrigued by strong women, especially those who were strong and different in earlier settings: the eighteenth century woman in colonial America who succeed independently at business; the women who defied convention and wrote; women who did what they pleased and had a sense of self beyond the conventional role ascribed to them. I've done original document research twice in my life and I can assure you that there were many, many more of these women than we are led to believe. Not that is wasn't always like salmon swimming upstream, and not all of them were treated well, but many won the respect and support of their communities. Of course, some of them, in an earlier time, were burned at the stake, but that's not my story.

So these characters who have come to visit me are in a woman's life in the early nineteenth century. She goes to live on Drummond after marrying rather late. She's drawn to wilderness, perhaps because of the wilderness she feels in her own head. So far, it's working as a rough draft, and the ideas are really popping.

I may post some of it here. In the meantime, I thank all of you for the encouragement you offer just by showing up on my sitemeter. Wishing you a glorious summer's end and long colorful fall before winter arrives, no matter where you live.

Peace, shalom, salaam--


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Water Sprite

My son jumps
into the deep end,
goes straight down:
I resist my need
to reach for him,
let him bring himself
to the top.
Water glazes
his brown face,
his smile is broader
than before he leapt.
Through watery myopia,
he grabs
my hungry hands,
and breathes at last:
a hearty sigh.
“I want to do it again, Momma,”
he says,
once again buoyant,
out of my reach.
My eyes brim,
nothing pleases
and terrifies
me more than
the fresh bravery
of his new love:

Friday, August 03, 2007

Seven around the table

Tonight, I had to pull the table out from the wall.
Simple fare: fresh green beans and
chicken from the house down the road,
lettuce, cukes and mushrooms from (I confess)
the grocer, and sale wine from Trader Joes;
laughter, love and three mothers
alternating verbal lassoes over three boys
so different, yet all loving Looney Toons,
bulldozers, trains and the baby doll.

My sisters, their sons, me and mine,
and our mother: so rare,
us all in the same city at the same time.
We feast at my square table,
our differences blend like a good sauce:
enhancing flavors, surprising us,
smoothing the edges of the old grievances.
We are together here,
at the table pulled out from the wall.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Words' Worth

I have had a terrible case of writer's block. Funny, I feel self-conscious even calling it that, it seems self-aggrandizing to call myself a writer.

Anyway, I am trying to merge onto the Recovery Highway. So, at the urging of my life coach, Brady Mikusko, I bought The Artist's Way, and have begun her suggested method of three Morning Pages each day. I started yesterday. My blinker's on, and I am accelerating.

Yesterday, in the pool where we live--that is the pool in the apartment complex, not that we live in the pool, though Ben wishes we did--I met Van Baldwin, a poet and organizer of the Crossroads Poets and Writers conference in Ann Arbor, longtime local literati. We had a nice chat, and he offered to hook me up with some groups and reading spaces.

Almost makes you believe in this recovery stuff. Pretty strong evidence when the traffic moves over and lets you slide back on so effortlessly.

And, I've been catching up on some of my favorite blogs: Ben and Bennie (hilarious lately), Cloudscome (always resonates and great stuff about kid's books) and Bloomingwriter (whose gardens bloom along with her words.) The Curmudgeon scooped NPR by three whole days on the story about stolen hours of work. Good to know you all have kept holding up the sky in my long absence. (Their links are all at the right, I still haven't figured out how to put a link in the text of an entry. Hopeless, I know. Not a writer, not a Blogger, either.)

Writing: odd stuff,
elemental stuff.
I say I can't breathe
without writing.
It's true--
my fingers and toes
are completely blue.
Still, hard to sit down
and do it,
to write it down.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Garden Muse Post

Check out Bloomingwriter's Blog and her links to other garden bloggers. It's Garden Muse day apparently. In her honor, I post this about eating from the garden, which is what I do now rather than garden. But oh I love those who grow the food and flowers.

Blueberry nights

Fireflies glow
along the branches
of the apple tree
and between the big oaks,
deep in the woods.

The porch door closes behind us
with a snap as loud as our laughter
after the race that got us here
through the woods from the lake.

Inside, ice rattles in glasses,
cigar smoke encircles
our parents and grandparents
as cards slap against the table.

But here, on the porch,
there is a blueberry cobbler.
Fresh from the oven,
cooling on the checkered oilcloth.
Next to the warm pan,
a mason jar holds a dozen spoons,
business ends down.

We dip right into the crusty pan
with our spoons and
devour the cobbler,
sticking out our stained tongues
to see each other’s blues.

On our porch the only sounds
Are smacking lips,
scraping spoons,
and soft laughter
around mouths full
of blue heaven.

This blueberry night
of sunburned limbs
and hair smelling of seaweed;
this blueberry night
we catch fireflies
and name them.
This blueberry night
a mason jar holds
the keys to our happiness,
and sweetened stains
on teeth and tongues
are the only blues we know.

Monday, July 30, 2007

We know it in our bones

There’s an wonderful children’s book by William Steig called The Amazing Bone. Steig’s heroine is Pearl, a school age pig, who is particularly in love with the world one fine spring day. She feels as if she is turning into a flower and finds, in the verdant woods, a talking bone.

Wise enough to listen to the bone, Pearl takes it with her. The bone scares away some particularly difficult robbers of unknown origin, but isn’t too effective against a wily fox, who is determined to eat Pearl for dinner. “Don’t take it personally, “ the fox says to Pearl. The bone, unable to scare this predator, offers solace, honesty and comfort to Pearl in her perilous position.

Just as the fox is about to put Pearl in the oven, the bone utters magical words. The bone does not know he knows them, they come from an ancient memory, nor does the bone know really what the magic words can do. What the words do is reduce the fox to the size of a mouse, who scurries into a hole in the wall.

Pearl and the bone walk away from certain death. Arriving home, Pearl is welcomed into the arms of her parents. The last line the bone says is “You have an exceptional daughter,” to convince Pearl’s parents that the bone can indeed talk.

Listening to the bone saves Pearl’s life.

Our lives create the voices we hear from our bones. We have only to listen to our true voices, down to our bones.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Illuminating Luminescence

A few weeks ago, Ben walked into the sliding screen door in our new place. He hadn’t adjusted to the idea of a window wall between our dining room and his sand and water table, or, more accurately, his ride-on excavator. The maintenance guy was very kind and popped the darn thing back into its unyielding aluminum track.

The very next day, my Dad walked through it while talking to me over his shoulder. I guess at 3 and at 81, in the immortal words of Tow Mater, you don’t need to see where you’re going, but you do need to know where we have been. I sheepishly called and asked to have the door fixed, again, but they haven’t gotten to it yet.

It hasn’t been a buggy summer, being very dry and cool so far. And Ben hasn’t been too bad about keeping the door shut as he goes out to the deck to play, and in to eat, and out to play, and in to get another car, train or wheeled thing.

Tonight, just after he drifted off to sleep without protest, I sat in the darkened living room, enjoying the silence that slowly blooms after a weekend of mostly play with Ben. The dishes sat in the sink, waiting for my last ounce of energy before going to bed. The computer was off, radio silent, the television dark (I’ve cut back on cable since the Sopranos ended.)

Then there was a flash of light at a small spot near the ceiling above me. The moon is full tonight, and for a moment I thought some sliver of it was illuminating the sweet solitude. Then another flash, and another.

My annoyance with the still-broken door vanished as I realized the identity of my visitors: three fireflies in search of love had joined us sometime during the endless openings and closings of the day.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Chinese Screen

Pieces of stone take shape:
become birds in flight,
roses, with thorny stems,
and lower down,
lily pads, the surface of water
a simple curve of a gold
in an artful hand.

I wonder how it might be
if tonight, you sat across from me
in the big chair, laughing
about the dinner party just ended,
making a wry comment about
Larry’s wife.

We might then retire, tired,
a little drunk, and so sweetly,
our dreams water lilies blooming
above simple golden strokes.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Robin nesting

Mother’s Day is coming up, and Ben and I have a robin nesting on our deck.

She built her nest of brown daylily leaves from last year’s blooms, and she left some of them streaming down like party decorations. She sits on top of the porch light, just under the eaves. I took the bulbs out of that lamp last year because I like to see the moon and stars, not fluorescent light, when we sit outside.

We can see her white rimmed eyes and yellow beak from the window just to the side of the light. We check on her each morning, as she sits patiently keeping her eggs warm.

I say to Ben, "Look, our robin is still there."

He says, in a whisper, "Wonderful, Mamma."

The deck needs cleaning, and I’d like to be eating dinner out there these last few warm nights, but I want her to have a peaceful time before her life gets filled with crazy worm hunting to feed her brood. So we watch her from inside, or we go out the other door and quietly walk around to look at her from across the deck.

Elliot and Goose seem entranced as well, and sometimes curl up on the windowsill, their fat cat bodies barely balanced on the narrow ledge, eyes raised in prayerful anticipation. Sometimes Elliot will chatter like a wild cat hunting his prey. Silly house cats. They were both strays and haven’t even wanted to go outside since they moved into my house.

The robin sits, wide-eyed, and waits on her bed of dried lily leaves.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Listen for Life's Whispers

A week ago, the whispers of grievances cascaded around me, heaping both pain and joy. Walking through the week felt like the slush on a cold rainy March day: pleasurable only because my warm boots kept me dry. My co-workers were caught up in the drama, my boss pleased and reassuring. All in all, I'd rather it were June.

A man I have never met sits across from me at coffee, his eyes welling-up as he describes his back yard. He tore out buckthorn by the bushel, and replaced it with yellow ladies' slippers, native sedges of red and green, queen anne's lace and spring beauties. He and his ex-wife have struggled to keep that yard for their boys through the pain and economic strain of their divorce. In my head I see my parents' house of my childhood. A carpet of trillium spread between our garage and my grandparents' cottage: may apples, jacks in the pulpit, skunk cabbage, violets, false solomon's seal, anemones and mosses. We ran through this fiesta each day, our yard five acres of hardwood forest.

My father, overjoyed at his first walk from his new apartment to town, describes his sudden desire to learn to throw a pot, and wants to make a mug for each of his children in time for Christmas. "Ceramics are forever," he says, and his laughter turns to soft sobs. "This is a good place to spend my last . . . the end of my life," he says as he lays his head on the table.

I am trying to let go enough to let him hear his own whispers, trying not to drown out his voice with my own advice and reassurances

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Big Kid Underwear

Well, we are in day three of big kid underwear. While we were getting dressed Monday, Ben took a good hard look at me, and pointing to my crotch said, "Momma, you pee?"

I explained that, yes, I pee there. "You got a penis?" he asked, hands on his hips.

"No, I don't. Boys have penises and scrotum, girls have clitorises and labia," instantly nearly regretting dishing out these terms to a three year old, but I am determined to raise a child unafraid of anatomy. And it didn't seem right to just say that a girl lacks a penis, without taking credit for what girls have--we're different, not deficient.

"Oh," says Ben, the subtlety of my political stuggle completely lost on him. Then: "Wear underwear, Momma?" as I was taking mine from the drawer.

"Yes," say I, thinking he means mine.

"Ben's big kid underwear?" he asks, and runs to his room where they have been just waiting for this moment of conscious mind. So off we went to Peachtree in our Lightning McQueen underwear. It's been a mixed success, but the good women of Peachtree and I are determined to continue down this path. We now have Incredibles, Thomas the Train and Cars underwear (well, sad to say, not me, just Ben.)

It makes me wistful, and proud, and reflective. Where did my baby go? When did we start talking in words? When did he stop being small enough to easily hold all of a piece, instead of gangly legs hanging down to my knees?

It was two years ago I wrote this about my diaper-wearin' toddler:

War Cry

Wooden spoon held aloft,
Ben shouts “Yala bada !”
A sly grin plays across his sweet face.
The toddler’s wooden scimitar
lands squarely on the dog's haunch.
The canon shot of my “No!”
makes both Ben and the dog jump.

Ben begins his studied reaction.
Eyes fastened on mine,
the corners of his rosebud lips turn down,
he opens his mouth just enough so
those darling new white teeth shine.
He tilts his plump-cheeked head back.
His chin quivers. Brow knitted,
he half closes his eyes.
A low moan, meant to be crying,
escapes his artful mouth.

No tears come.
“Don’t hit the dog,” I say
and take the spoon.
He throws himself
across Sam’s back,
wailing increases
to perfect pitch.

I put my hand under his chin
raising his face for my inspection.
He pretends to look away,
rolling his eyes to the very
edge of my face.
Still no tears.

“You know you shouldn’t
hurt poor old Sam.” I say,
and take away my hand.
Ben reaches for the spoon:
I hold it aloft.
The wail continues,
still no tears.
“No,” I say,
more softly than before.
“You can’t have the spoon
if you’re going to hit the dog.”

He hits my leg.
“And don’t hit your momma,”
I say sharply.
The wail increases.

The dry-eyed cry of a toddler
is perfectly designed.
Soon, I scoop him up.
His wailing ceases instantly.
His head rests so sweetly,
so warmly on my shoulder,
I can’t help but smile,
enjoying the weight of him,
resting after our skirmish,
his trusting body limp beneath my hands.

Peace returns to the house.
Sam goes back to sleep.
Ben squirms to be let down
and heads for the kitchen
and a rubber spatula
he left near the door.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Love, war, and a kid with sunglasses

The New York Times this Sunday seemed to burst with pieces that spoke to me. The article on the young woman who had herself tested for the Huntington’s gene was astounding and moving. The magazine piece on today’s women vets from Iraq was devastating and sad. Then, there was the Modern Love piece on the couple so much joined even though they had been divorced 40 years they died within days of each other.

This piece described how two people, not able to be together because of basic differences, were so in love they remained convivial friends long after the divorce. Their children stood as witnesses to the long years during which they continued to converse and communicate, all the while denying real attachment which was so evident. I often said during my years of practice as a divorce lawyer that some couples are never able to really divorce because they are so attached to the relationship they continue the fight which used to be their marriage. Now in my work, I see the evidence of such relationships everyday.

In my own life, there was one relationship I experienced that changed me forever. I often think it should have been enough that I offered my heart and he loved me for a while. It isn’t. I wonder sometimes if that loss will define me the rest of days.

And then my son puts on his bright blue sunglasses in the dusk and reaches for my hand because he can’t really see; looking up he says, “Mommy, cool glasses.” I realize there is no loss that could ever really define me, so long as Ben’s hand touches mine.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Good War?

In writing class tonight, our instructor brought objects for us to look at and write about. His mother was a Red Cross volunteer in England during WWII. The objects: A pass for the victory parade in New York 151 days after the end of WWII, led by the 82nd Airborne; a silver pocket watch, and a champagne cork. Are there ever any good wars?

19 January 1946

Winter’s wind blasts
between brick canyons,
my feet numb in my pumps,
a reviewing stand pass in my pocket,
I wrap my arms round me
and watch the 82nd march,
their smiles gaping wounds,
white bone where flesh peels back.
Ticker tape, like bomb’s detritus,
falls around me.

The lieutenant gave me your watch,
the hands frozen at 6:02.
Last January, near the Roer River,
he found your broken smile
and brought home what he could.

Tonight, I take our bottle
from the icebox
where it waited
since you rose at dawn
and I feigned sleep,
your bomber jacket groaned
as you bent to promise
our toast on your return.

I fill my glass
and raise it
in my still silent goodbye.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What are your muses?

What inspires you to write, to paint, to sing, to see beautiful things? What are your muses?

A brief list of mine:

The crescent moon this time of year that sets just after sunset, hung in the sky like a half-eaten slice of melon: below it the evening star swinging like an electric lavelier

The way Ben touches my hand in a quiet moment just before he looks into my face

The voice of a long forgotten lover over the phone and the way I can hear him smile when I say his name right after his hello

The lap of a wave on any beach, anywhere

The song of a warbler on an August Sunday on Huron Bay

The spoken word of someone else talking to her child without convention or care

The love letter of a long-dead poet to her eldest daughter

That hour of the day just before night when the palette narrows into grays against a purple sky

The way each of my parents has gotten sort of weepy over the strangest simple things

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Smooth sailing?

It was a night crossing,
stars bright from horizon to horizon.
We sailed into the clear water as the sun rose:
a large shark swam lazily beneath us
and the rocks appeared.

Orchids and magnolias

I am taking a writing class. It’s been a very interesting experience: a very small class and lots of free writing and talking about things that might get in the way of the creative process.

Tonight, an extraordinary thing happened.

Our leader, David Storer, asked us to try an exercise in releasing the creative brain. It’s just Jeannette and me, and we dutifully close our eyes and listen as David asks us to relax. He says “Just bear with me, sort of new agey….” And we do. "Be here now, what do you see? What does your creative brain reveal?"

I begin to write. I see only a white orchid, with very narrow, delicate, pink stripes leading to its center. The orchid is perched, as orchids are, atop an ungainly wooden stem, above two clown shoe green leaves. The rest is just green, not in focus. As I write the orchid, the rest comes into view. I feel the grass waving against my bare leg, feel the cool, moist dirt against my bare foot, feet. I am walking beyond the orchid, but reach down to feel it as I pass—the petals resilient and cool. The orchid nods at my touch. Beyond the orchid, a clear stream, rolling over pebbles the size of oranges, but flat and colored like lentils, shiny. The water washes over my feet, cold and clear. The orchid, behind me now, is still there.

The exercise ends.

David asks if we want to share and looks directly at me. I am embarrassed to say what has happened. It’s all too Georgia O’Keefe. But I do say this: ‘I am amazed. When I write it’s because I see something, or hear something, and try to describe it. Haven’t ever felt this before, where I saw something internally, and the images were amazing.” I can’t say a thing about the white orchid.

David is so gentle. He nods and says thank you and turns his teddy bear gaze to Jeannette.

“I see white magnolias, everywhere, it’s amazing. A big house and green lawn. Peeling paint on the house. But the magnolias…” her voice trails off as she closes her eyes.

“OK, sister,” I say, “I wasn’t going to say it, but you have given me courage, because I saw a white orchid.”

We all laugh, and talk about how amazing it is to just let your head see what it sees.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A frank talk about race and adoption

I am not feeling charitable. For the first time since we moved to Ann Arbor, a retail clerk asked me if Ben was my foster son. This happened fairly routinely in Port Huron, but not here. It's taken eight months. You may think I deserve this, or it is an innocent question, or he meant well. All of that may be true on some level. My answer is, and will always be, "He is my son." No other answers will be given unless we know each other.

It made me think about how often people have reached out and touched Ben's hair, an overtly racial gesture which offends me. So I am passing this along. Maybe it will shock you, or offend you. I hope it makes you think, and spares some other little kid the sort of violation I am growing increasingly tired of.

My son should not have to be your teacher. You have lived to be 40, 50 maybe even 70. You are white. You say discrimination is bad, illegal, unthinkable, some of your best friends are black. You may even mean well. You have never touched a black person.

You have never reached out your hand and felt black skin under a rolling tear. You have never touched the dense hair that tops a black head. You have never seen the naked genitals of a black man or woman. If you are male, you might have, because your curiosity got the better of you and it seemed exotic. If you did so I bet you did so by being a patron of what we now call the sex trade, because you wouldn't have dreamed of being intimate with someone who wasn't your color.

Now, my son and I are seated next to you, on a plane, at a supper, at a lunch counter, in the bus. You do not know us, we have never seen you. My son is small, on my lap, defenseless. You reach across that barrier between us and you touch my son.

You feel his hair.

The tight curls touch your extended palm but it is not enough. You tip the heel of you hand up, and you pass through his hair again with your fingertips, applying pressure because you must feel it. It doesn’t feel like the "carpet" you taunted another child with in fourth grade. It doesn’t feel “nappy.” It is human hair, attached to a living breathing human, my son.

I want to slap you. Or better yet, I want to reach up to feel your chrome dome, or your hair spray laden coif. Run my fingers through it. The most intimate sort of touching one human does to another, and you feel free to do it to my small son. I want to inflict it on you. But I know what you would do. If I raise my hand to touch your hair you will move your head away. Because you don’t want a strange adult to touch you, but you will touch my son’s head of hair.

You would not touch a white baby, because you have touched white babies. You know how they feel. Maybe you touched your own, or your sister’s or your neighbor's. But because you have never welcomed a black person into your life, you have never touched black, African hair.

You feel free to do this because I am white and my son is black. You assume several things about me, and about Ben, and all of them are deeply offensive.

First, you assume that you may do this intimate thing because you and I are the same color. Brother or sister, you and I are a world apart. Because of Ben and what I have learned being his mother for three years, I think of myself as something other than white.

Next, you will assume I rescued him. Rescued him from the ghetto, or crack, or foster care. You don’t even begin to know what our reality is. I consider him simply and completely my son. No one rescued anyone, we love each other and we are a family. That is all.

You assume you can ask how I got him. My response to you is “ Do you know whose birth canal (or vagina, depending on how prickly I am feeling) YOU passed through? Would you care to tell me the circumstances of your conception and birth, please, here in this public place? Would you enlighten all of us on your kinship circle? Are you sure you are your Daddy’s baby?”

You think my son is lucky. He is not lucky. The family he was born to could not support him because of an economic system so squarely resting on the unpaid labor of generations of black people. That same system that handed you a privilege simply because you were born white took away my child's birthright to live in his family of origin. He is not lucky that he could not be raised with his half brothers and his birth mother, and his father and his half sister. Luck has nothing to do with it.

So, when you see us in public, my son and me, would you simply greet us politely, chat about the weather, and know in your heart that we are a happy family? And then welcome someone from a different culture into your life. Get to know them. Ask another adult what it feels like to live in his or her skin. Embrace someone who doesn’t look like you. Step outside your tight-assed little circle and live.

Don’t make my small son your social laboratory. Grow up. Get a richer life. Keep your hands and your questions to yourself. We are not your teachers, you are responsible for learning your own lessons. Get started.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


I was practically raised on horseback, if family legend has it right I rode our horse before I walked. (The same family said that I swam before I walked: at home in water and on horseback before on land--the metaphor for my life.) Anyway, when I started at Smith I still hoped that maybe I was a good enough equestrian to bring my horse. This was an outrageously expensive proposition, but if I could make the equestrian team, I could get some sort of a package that would make it cheaper to bring Keni San, my beloved.

The day of the try out arrived, and I rode my best. A Midwesterner in a strange land--The East--on a strange horse. The verdict? I had "too natural a seat" to succeed in the rarefied air of Eastern equestrian competition and I didn't make the cut. It took me at least a decade to understand that all those years of riding bare back and swimming from horseback doomed my career as a jock, but added a dimension to my life I would be enriched by. No one else in my family carried the passion for horses, so, while I was at school, one was sold, and my beloved Keni, a gentle, tall, gray quarter horse, was given to a riding school for disabled kids where he, no doubt, patiently enriched the lives of many challenged kids.

I bring my too natural seat to all I live. I cannot be but who I am: the love, the grief, the ragged around the edges self. And that is a whole picture. Being someone I'm not is like trying to do the perfect hunt seat, but having a natural rythmn for something a bit different. I don't think I'd make the cut. So I continue to say what I think, admit my faults, make mistakes and learn from them. I also continue to love with my whole heart this damaged world we have the great good fortune to live in each day.

This morning Ben flew into one of those stormy rages typical of toddlerdom. We had a trying pre-verbal bi-polar it's the end of the world if I can't watch TV sort of morning. After two time outs and trying to talk him down, I just sat there at the top of the stairs wondering what I was supposed to do next. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Ben.

"Here, Mommy," he said with a smile and handed me my glasses. "I love you," he added.

Just like that the rage passed. We managed to eat breakfast and get out the door into the 6 degrees below zero day with a minor fracass about whether mittens were required. They were.

Reaching this age has made me understand there are some things I simply am, others I am not. I am not the world's most perfect mother. I will never argue a case before the Supremes--something I thought in my younger days I'd be doing with regularity. (Change the world complex writ large.) I will never figure out why Ben's world falls apart, then is put back together without me helping. I will never understand what an unnatural seat would be on a horse, or why you would want to have such a thing.

Which is not to say I won't really like the scenery flashing by.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Molly Ivins is dead, damn it.

I happen to believe she would approve of the salty language as my way of saying her death from breast cancer is a damnable waste. And while some of my best friends are men, I think if we had pumped half as much money into curing breast cancer as we do into finding cures for male impotence, she'd be alive and writing today.

Ms. Ivins, the Times would call her. They kicked her to the curb because she walked around the office barefoot and swore too much. Ms. Ivins was a graduate of my alma mater, Smith College, intellectual training ground for Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, sure, but Ms. Ivins was my hero. She must have been quite a figure there too, tall and outspoken and not there to get her Mrs. degree, as the saying went. She was a independent woman with a strong, clear, funny voice that poked the fatcats and let no one off the hook.

I had the pleasure of seeing her speak in person once, at the Humane Society Expo in Dallas. My mother and I went there because I was conducting a workshop on drafting legal documents for animal shelters and rescues. I got a free plane ticket and a room, and my mom wanted to see Molly Ivins, who was the keynote speaker. As my mom and I sat practically in the first row, beaming at her as she towered behind the podium, she took an actual clipping from her jacket pocket, identified it as from the front page of that morning's Times, and quoted some ridiculous Bushism. She then made several very good jokes about it, before a huge national audience, just like she might be joking with us around her kitchen table.

Then she said, "Oh, he sounds stupid, alright, but do not under estimate him. He is not a moderate. He is dangerous. He is not an honest man." After the speech Ms. Ivins talked with my mom briefly, and made the whole trip worthwhile for her.

This was before Al Gore won the election and we got George W. Bush as our president. This was before September 11. Before the unending war in Afghanistan. (Remember? We're still there, looking for Osama Been Forgotten.) Before the war in Iraq, this quaqmire which is sending home over 30,000 wounded young men and women so far, a very large portion of them with missing limbs and devastating closed head injuries.

And we are still in both places because George W. Bush is not an honest man. He is dangerous.

Molly Ivins, it gives me no pleasure to say you were right, prescient even. But your words never failed to give me pleasure in a world where so much harm is done. You were a beacon, a voice in the wilderness, and you made me laugh. You were nice to my momma.

Thank you, Ms. Ivins, for your barefooted, swear-word peppered truths. You were an original. I love you. Rest in peace.

And fer chrissake, don't let St. Peter off the hook, either.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Acrostic Lunch

Late lunch

Last I saw you, you stood so still,
Under a dripping umbrella. “I will always,” you began
“Never,” I interrupted and turned away into the dark.
College, grad school, marriages, divorces, children since.
How many years and you never, never left?
I’m back, a lifetime later, unfettered
Now, eating alone, across that street.
After one, I linger over pinot
Noir and watch for you who were
Never far away. Muted memories swim
And then, there you are, in winter light,
Rooted at curbside, fishing change,
Burberry trenched, cashmere noosed. A lump
Of middle-aged sentimentality rises in my throat.
Reaching to pay the bill, I realize the price.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

How life changed three years ago

So, today has been wonderful so far. Ben and I awakened at the reasonable hour of 7 (truthfully I'd been awake since 4, but dozing off and on in my middle-aged insomnia sort of way.) We had a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and leftover cupcakes from yesterday. Ben had taken the cupcakes to school to celebrate his upcoming 3rd birthday with his pals. I did some writing and he did some TV watching; I did some laundry and he played in the water. Then we dressed to head downtown to the Hands On Museum, where we were slated to meet Blake and her mommy Deborah.

And like magic, we met just outside the museum, Ben running fake slow motion to Blake, saying "Blakey!" Blake is 17 months old and the queen bee of Peachtree School. There she was in her lavender pants, red shoes and bright pink velour top, jacket unzipped (very casual) and beaming smile.

We had just gotten settled in the toddler play area when we were joined by angelic Alexander and his heavenly daddy, Neil. Now, I like Alex's mom, Christie, but swear if she were to die, I would be all over Neil. He's British, with a wonderful accent, slight over bite and glasses: handsome in that sort of geeky way I adore. He's a chemistry prof at the U. So we three parents watched and played with our kids, as they played with each other. Alex is two and a half. The threesome had a great time running us all over for an hour. We three got to know each other a bit more, then adjourned to Argierro's for pizza. There we were joined by Emanique and her two sons, Edrick and Jordan. Emanique informed me that Ben's cupcakes are now famous, having been discussed at their house for most of last night's dinner. She knew all about the colors--yellow and pink-- and the sprinkles--stars and green sugar. I thanked her and said that Duncan Hines would so love to hear that. Neil said "Oh that's what the cupcakes were all about, Alexander (and he said it like this: al-ex-ahhhhnder") was talking about them too." Sigh.

Ben was in heaven, especially when Emanique suggested singing happy birthday to Ben. It was a great morning. As Ben and I made our way home about 1:30, we stopped at Whole Foods and picked up party supplies. There, the baker advised us on how to make a light raspberry drizzle to add to our flourless chocolate birthday cake for tomorrow. Organic cheeses, wines and turkey, along with bread and sandwich delights. All for our little party tomorrow.

Ben's napping now, and I am recounting my blessings: how life has changed in just three short years. Ben came, and then a new job, new friends. Along with all those changes, the deep gratitude for old friends who have stayed in touch through this blog and email. We love you all. So many of you were there for me three years ago when I hadn't a clue how to put a baby in a car seat. Now, I am the grande dame of the parents at Peachtree (when I said I was 50, Deborah, who must be all of 26, said, "that is AWESOME") and truly amazed at the wonder of life and how much things can change when you open yourself to it. Or when you are pried open by a toddler with a spoon.

Ben and I send birthday greetings to all of you. Our birthday gathering this year will be smaller, but we will have you all in our hearts. Hippo Birdie to Ewe.

Peace! Shalom! Salaam!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What keeps you from crossing the threshold from not writing to writing

A doorway, no door.
On the other side, light
and green, even flowers.

If I step through
what do I leave behind?
Where do I go
if I step through?
What if it is so pleasant
on the other side
I can't walk back through?

Why would I go back
to Not Writing?
Because I know it.
Dark, its corners,
small warmth.
A roof, walls, no windows.
The warm comfort
of a small space.

The threshold calls:
the sun, the green,
the other side invites.

I hold my breath.
My own fear keeps me here.
I look around
the edge of the threshold.
Sun bathes my calf.
My arm now into the light.
Inertia is heavy.
The light moves up
to my shoulder.

A dappled gray mare
grazes. Turning to look at me,
green grass hangs from her lips.
She shakes her head at me.

I move toward her to ride.

The general comes from the specifics

Red! Red! Stickers
orange and yellow.
Speed with wheels,
numbers and Lightening flashing.
"Let's race."
Eyes wide and whitewalls.
Small enough to fit in his small hand:
when he finally lets it fall
from his grasp, the metal
is warm to the touch.

Hard and bruising
in the dark
on my arch,
beloved of my beloved.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

One more Ben story

I used to hate parents who told cute stories about things their kids said. Now I know that I hated that because their kids were stupid and those silly parents thought they were smart. Ben IS smart, so it's OK that I continually tell Ben stories.

I guess that should be the self-delusion disclaimer required by international blogger code and should be in 14 pt. type.

Anyway, a couple of nights ago we were driving home from work and school. Ben's current musical passion is a Billy Jonas song Coup D'etat. It's smart white boy rap with great drums and lots of French words. Ben calls it "Coup D'etat-ta" because the refrain is something like "coup d'etat, coup d'etat, coup d'etat-ta-ta." It's about life's little and not so little victories, like when you think you lost your wallet then you find it in your pocket. Or you think they're hanging you for treason and you realize you are dreaming. Coup d'etat!

So, we were driving along listening to Coup D'etat, and Ben says,

"Momma! Benjamin's car is singing!"

Coup d'etat!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sisyphus on Sanibel

Ben and I just spent five days on Sanibel Island with my mom. I’ve been going there since I was 7. The island has changed with the passing 42 years, just about everything is slick and rich now, where before it wasn’t much more than a general store and some motels full of fisherman and shellers.

On thing that hasn’t changed is the white sand beach—fine sand almost like powder. Watching Ben in the hot sun, I wrote this:

My son is trying to put the beach back into the ocean. His blue plastic shovel drips with the fine powdered sand of Sanibel. In just two days he has learned not to step on someone else’s sand castles, not to fear the waves, and to almost like the feel of the sand in his toes.

He purposefully clumps up from the water line, his beach shoes caked with the fine glop the wet sand makes. Bending down, he fills his shovel, then walks back to the gentle waves breaking on the sand. There, he raises his right arm above his head, puts his left leg out behind him raising his foot above the water. Balancing in that way, he tips the shovel and lowers his gaze to watch the dripping sand fall into the surf.

A friendly couple with a northern New England accent stops in their morning beach walk. “Good morning young man! Are you putting the beach back into the ocean?” the brassy woman asks, hands on her ample hips and her smile twinkling.

“Yes!” Ben says, beaming up at her, sand still dripping into the foam.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Irony in the Blogoshpere

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OK, this is not so funny. I post a sonnet--one I sweated and slaved over, worked for hours on, trying to grapple with an abstract idea within the confines of classical form, and the google ad that tops it is this (see above).

And to make matters worse, I logged on to edit.

On the other hand, doesn't every aspiring writer need a wife? Hmm. No cost, live in help, does meals, laundry, child care.

See y'all over at ebay.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

First of the Jubilee Year Sonnets

On Thought

The weight of our most cherished secret thought might be
As light as mist, or cuckoo's song draped round a tree.
Thought has no form, heft, no breadth, no light or dark;
We cannot hold a thought within our fingers' grasp
Or see it, though it may shake us with truth so stark.
No matter how an idea holds our heart in its clasp
Thought lives without proof, in faith, unbound in our hearts
And cannot be proved without a mortician's arts:
Thought spoken, written, is embalmed as word. Consumed,
Dead ink on paper, or binary byte: exhumed,
And read, dead to change, static words from start to send.
Listener or reader must on fair thought depend:
What you write, I read, then even love you I might,
Yet my love not be proved until I speak or write.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Why having kids is a great idea

OK, I confess, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. And I am by nature an optimist. But being called a racist by a co-worker really took it out of me. There’s been so much going on at work, I haven’t even had the energy to write.

But tonight I said I just have to get back at it.

So I thought I’d tell about Ben in the car last Wednesday. We had a gorgeous full moon here, and a crisp, clear night, which was pretty dark already by 5:30, as we were driving home.

“Look, Ben, look at that moon,” I said from the front seat to him in the back.

“Oh, yes, Momma. It’s bootiful.” There’s a pause, and he claps his hands once. What he did next was priceless but it requires a bit of explanation.

Over Christmas, Ben and I stayed in a hotel. There were a bunch of lives in being at my mom’s: my mom, my two sisters, their three sons, and my brother in law, along with three dogs and more presents than you can imagine. I thought it would give the plumbing a break if we stayed away, plus we could swim, which Ben loves.

He’s been intrigued with the idea of the “ho-towel” since we stayed there. Each night, as we head home, he says, “Go ho-towel, Momma?” He prefers it to our house, mostly I think because Santa also found us at the ho-towel and left Diesel-10 for him there. He’s forgotten that when we arrived home from his stay at my mom’s, Santa had also found him here, and left presents, too. The kid is nothing if not indulged.

So, cut back to us on the way home Wednesday, he has just said the moon was beautiful and clapped his hands like he was commanding a genie to appear. Then he says:

“Hi, Moon, wanna go to a ho-towel?”

Then, like any red-blooded American male, answering for the moon, Ben says in a higher voice, “OK, Ben, let’s go!”