Monday, April 30, 2012

Sometime today someone pulled up outside my house and helped themselves to my pile of $$ planting mix, which has been waiting for me to assemble the remaining boxes. So....I enlisted my son to help me tonight after work — in a fierce spring wind — and we got the job finished. Carrots and beets seeds are planted. My chard hasn't done much of anything, alas. But at least it's still alive. We've had odd spring weather: one day sunny and balmy, the next with winter's lingering hiss.

My attempts to rouse the muse have fallen short. Always feels like a stifled silence when she's gone, fists stuffed down my throat. Ack.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Again, or Not

A subject keeps coming to mind of the inability to completely comprehend the fact that I was married to someone and now, most likely, will never see this person again. Not that I want to see him again — the man did me wrong — but it's such an unsettling notion that I once shared intimacies with a man who, for all intents and purposes, has voluntarily vanished from my life.

I'm guessing that the passage of time enables one to become accustomed to any change in routine. The new life unfolds with its own new habits and reoccurences, whatever they may be, for good or not. I'm lucky in that I won't run into my ex-husband on the street: he now lives 3,000 miles away. But just as we possess a curiosity to see, say, high-school friends at a years-later reunion (or not, as is my case), will I desire an end-of-marriage reunion in 2031? What an odd thought that is.

The picture I keeps in my mind of long-ago friends is my last, ultimately embellished, memory of them. Last summer I rendez-vous-ed with a high school friend I'd not seen for 23 years — and I didn't recognize her when she walked into the restaurant. In high school, she was plain, pale and awkward, dressed like a boy with a head of short kinky hair. The woman I met for lunch had long styled straight hair swooped to one side, and was chic and confident. And who was I, I wonder, to her?

The ex-husband I won't see in 2031 will be an old man. And I guess that would make me, equally, an old woman. Who will I be in twenty years? Who do I want to be?

Cut loose from domineering men, that decision is now completely my own.

Can I say that it brings me a profound measure of joy?

Yes, I can.

And it does.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Job

The artisan glass business continues at a frantic pace. We're down two people, behind on orders and every day we are writing re-orders. Such problems! Today I unpacked 22 cases of blanks, broke down the large boxes, bundled them together for recycling, bagged-up the bubble wrap. When UPS delivered, I asked the delivery man to stack the cases on the front porch. When I finally got around to unpacking them, I discovered that he'd stacked them flush up against the front door, so the only way out (that way, at least) was to unpack the very heavy boxes = a sizable caloric burn. I guess I lucked out.

It's an ever-evolving adventure — though we work with glass and paint, which would seem to be fairly contant without a tremendous quantity of variables — the variables each day are numerous. Paint reacts to temperatures, glass is cranky when it's been stored out in the cold, the masking we use requires that we handle it with kid gloves. All is temperamental: every client has particular notions, wants this color and that shape in this pattern. And what color is Champagne, really? All that matters is we guess right.

I think what is not well-understood (even though we communicate this often and well) is that every single piece is painted, by hand, one at a time. By real live people. On this planet. By Melinda and me.

The pace and the on-going variety of tasks holds great appeal for me, though. And at the end of the day today, I walked down to Columbia Library before heading back home through blossom-scented streets, a lunch-sack filled to overflowing with CD's and novels.
(I would request these colors.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Remedy

As medical bills once again begin their upward spiral chez-moi, as a privately-insured citizen I suggest that Costco — known for volume discounts — get into the healthcare business.

Imagine this: while shopping for your gallon-jar of salsa and 24-pack of toilet paper, you could also pick up a six-pack of knee replacements — instructional DVD included! You could share the extras with friends and family, or save them for yourself. Fast and convenient, without the hassle of a hospital stay!

Need some talk-therapy? Not a problem: Costsco can offer a 12-session (what most insurance plans in this country cover) DVD that you can use IN THE PRIVACY OF YOUR OWN HOME. When you feel the need to speak, just press "pause", and you can talk for as long as your heart desires. And the best part: you can use it over and over again.

How about this, available only in February: buy one human heart, get one human heart free. For an additional fee, installation could be arranged.

And for issues dealing with infertility, a septic pack of fertilized human eggs could be marketed in the refrigerated case beside the 48-packs of fresh chicken eggs. Easy! Long shelf life! No need to check expiration dates!

It's sick — I know — but then, so is our healthcare industry. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

All weekend I dug in the garden and sawed and clipped and transplanted and pulled weeds and cursed morning glory, called it by its more appropriate name bindweed. The Chehalis apple tree is blooming and it's a considerable bit of heaven, just outside my kitchen door. Out the front door the clematis blooms pale pink and I think that maybe some bushtits or wrens are building a nest in the tangle just under the eaves — time will tell. Cats attend to my tending, Kitty Boy from across the street or Oliver from who knows exactly where these days, he might be calling my house his home. Flip and Lucy, mine, patrol the deck and pretend to be fierce but we all know that they're not. I can hear neighbor children pounding drums and laughing. Someone has grilled meat three nights in a row — I want a bite.

This benediction with the earth keeps me steady in a week where foundations have been cracked and sundered. My sister L. has lymphoma, and is still in the discovery stage, on heavy-dose pain-killers that render her a bit loopy. I visited her Friday night, and left feeling helpless, mortal.

(My own health is well. Thankfully.)

There have been lots of phone calls and text messages, one from my younger sister K., who wrote, I always thought that you, L., and I would live together when we're old. I texted back we will.

Damn it.

I hate this.


I planted sunflowers in little starter pots, and gave the wintered-over geraniums new soil and a tincture for health and vitality. I moved mint, ripped ivy, trimmed violas.

The nursery man at Holly Park Greenhouse said that he might have heliotrope this year (I count on him for this) and maybe cosmos — sales have declined, and only the oldsters (I'm assuming he included me in this category) ask for them. We'll see. I've been shopping there for 25 years — it's time I asked him his name.

Everything grows — tumors and parsley and collards and, if I'm lucky, heliotrope.


On another note, my son left for work today when I was working in the garden, and he locked me out. Oy. ("Oy" is my current favorite new word.) A back window was unlocked (bad in general, good for me) and I climbed through it onto a winter's accumulation of plastic sacks and assorted cast-off debris. Landed, balanced, got on with the business of being alive.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

I do not live here.
    I buy seeds here.

   There is little that isn't run-down,
   but still it's beautiful.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Good afternoon, Napoleon.

Once I walked into a little shop in Orvieto and announced "grazie" to two very confused sales clerks. No context — just this goofy American feeling overly confident with her newly-acquired four-or-five word Italian vocabulary, and stuttering out a completely incorrect greeting.



Cursed with blushing, I turned around, exited.
Once outside, I nearly fell down laughing.

And then there was that bakery in Paris, when I was twenty, that I visited daily for my croissants and baguette. Desiring something sweet, I asked for a Napoleon. The crowded boulangerie suddenly became very quiet, and the girl behind the counter delivered an arch glare.

What? Did I say something wrong?

She looked me in the eye and said, "Il est mort."
Whereupon loud bursts of laughter erupted from everyone in line.

"Mille feuille," she said, "a thou-sand-leaves."

I'd just ordered a dead emperor.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tuesday Poem: My Papa's Waltz

My Papa's Waltz

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.

Theodore Roethke

For the past week, I've been struggling (and not blogging) with writing about a subject fraught with terror and sorrow, a subject that has pushed itself — once again — into the center of my daily life: the plague of our times — cancer.

A week ago my co-worker C. underwent major surgery for removal of her stomach and spleen, with evidence discovered of a more extensive diagnosis than what was originally anticipated. At work, we've had the delightful company of her dog, who runs in first thing and jumps to my lap. Melinda takes her on jaunts around the neighborhood, and the resident feline has decided to be the dog's new best friend. This was our upside to the darker side of what C. has had to endure, and is now recovering from, one day — one hour — at a time.

Who among us has any real inkling of the future? We can plan, guess, schedule, anticipate, etch in stone, and in the end life will hand us its own version of What Will Be. In the end, the only thing etched in stone will be your name, and mine.

Late last week I received news that my sister L. was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. She is still in the discovery phase, but the grim evidence shows large masses in three locations, one of which has caused a fractured spine. I spent Saturday in Urgent Care with L., her husband, and their youngest child, who is a sophomore in college. It was all very surreal, and then also frighteningly real, with the awareness that this is it folks, it's all we get.

My sister asked me to pick up her son from college and drive him to the hospital, which I was more than glad to do. Now, I come from a very large family, and there are many nieces and nephews with whom I've not spent more than a few minutes visiting at a hectic family gathering. Such was the case on Saturday with K. Although the larger part of my thoughts were focused on L., I did wonder what I'd talk about with K., and whether there would be awkward aunt-nephew silences.

During the 30 minute drive, the conversation veered to an English class K. is taking. I asked him what he's reading, and he said so far it's been mostly poetry. Said he'd read some RoethkeMy Papa's Waltz — and was required to analyze it word for word. Had to look up each word and pay attention to not only the etymology, but also every meaning, and the nuances of every meaning, and how a slight shift in nuance could shift the direction and understanding of the writing. I'd entered into this conversation with the knowledge that K. excelled in high school in math and science, and here we were talking about one of my favorite subjects, and talking about the poet on whom I cut my teeth. I was astonished, thrilled.

Soon we'd settled into an easy banter. We talked a little about James Joyce, and Conrad's Heart of Darkness. We got lost trying to find the hospital. And then we sat for long hours in the waiting room, run out of conversation. We each drank a can of vending-machine soda and ate cashews from a teensy plastic sack. Ran the batteries down on our phones. Took photos. Sent texts.

It was a protracted afternoon, but a mere blink compared to what my co-worker C. faces, and what my sister also now faces. The silver lining to Saturday was that I got to know my nephew, at least this little bit. He's contemplative, tender, smart as all get-out. I wondered, how did he get to be twenty without really ever being on my radar? Life has a habit of getting in the way, and we are led from day to day minus enough intentions to do the things that are most important. A cancer diagnosis enabled this closer acquaintance with my nephew, and, while I felt a filial glow afterwards (shadowed by the terror of the larger issue at hand), I also felt a little ashamed. There are delights and riches everywhere, if we would only pay better attention.

Sleep didn't volunteer Saturday night.

And then all of this has pushed my own surgical procedure (on Wednesday) to the furthest reaches of my consciousness. More discovery, more waiting for results.

But my new planting bed in back of the garage is ready for sunflower seeds. I dug out the rocks and glass shards and chips of vinyl, made a tidy edge and lined it with the unearthed stones so the garbage collector will (hopefully) avoid crushing seedlings with his giant wheels. Last night the air outside smelled like spun sugar, like a bakery, like a million flowers in bloom at once.

So say a prayer, cross your fingers, stroke a good-luck charm. And maybe we'll all be here for a little while longer.

Friday, April 13, 2012

It has been observed that men, in their aging, for the most part have thrown off their feathers; while women, largely, remain in full and absolute plumage for many, many years.

This is an issue, for those women among us who still stand with feathers fluffed and ruffled, those of us still seeking a complement of feathers no matter how dark and muffled. There is the disenchantment of the jowly neck, the rubicose nose, the sprung-steel brows.

A long time ago, in another century, there were peacocks late on a summer's night, with their solitary cries traversing hill and gully. I recall how that piercing tone caught my imagination, a lonesome teen penning poetry by moonlight. I could see in my mind's eye that fan of iridescent plumage, while my own want & adolescent desire threw off sparks that failed to ignite even the most tenuous of tinders.



Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gardening by the Square Inch

In my cardboard-box planting beds, bright slips of rainbow chard and ruffled lettuces (red, green) have taken root. A part of me wants to just grow flowers: clarkia and bachelor's buttons and godetia and nasturtiums. To hell with vegetables. But no. Instead of delphiniums and larkspur and portulaca there will be tomatoes and bush beans and beets.

A neighbor tonight raised an eyebrow to my project and said, "Oh, I see you've done some, uh, landscaping."

I told him that it wasn't landscaping but an eco-hip edible garden plot made entirely from recycled materials, which are also 100% biodegradable. This neighbor, an epidemiologist, looked at me and said, "Oh! Okay!" Then he flashed a barely-discernible twinkle. He got it.

And although he generally seems to take zero interest in gardening, this evening he was engaged in hand-to-thorn combat with the Himalayan blackberry vines which were threatening to overtake his shrubbery. (God Save The Shrubbery.)

My son and I recently took shovels to the roots of blackberries back of the garage. (The falling-down garage.) For 25 years I've put that particular swathe of earth at the bottom of the to-do list, and it felt good to finally get out there and make something happen. It'll be the perfect spot for some giant Russian sunflowers.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Reilly, Escaping

A blur of blond curls between houses,
scrape of an elbow, heel of a shoe around a corner:
Reilly runs from any open door.
When we install trick locks
six feet up, he opens them
with the tip of a plastic sword,
a wooden spoon, anything long enough.

Today he runs panting from the alley with
a branch of apple blossoms torn from a neighbor's tree,
its pink extravagance waving in the blue May air.

How can I be angry:
This child plies me with flowers.
At five, already he knows about love,
which gifts to bring,
what small penance we must serve.

© T. Clear 1991


At a party last Saturday was a woman to whom I hadn't spoken since a conflict arose between her husband and my late husband, many years ago, concerning a flooring installment gone bad and the ensuing repayment. There was intrigue and deception (not on my husband's part) which resulted in late-night threats of violence. Scary stuff, which has lingered and left me uneasy whenever I'm reminded of it.

So when she entered the party, our eyes met, and I offered a courteous hello, hoping to avoid her after that. But no: she sat down across from me, said hello again, asked me how I was, and said,

"I have a wonderful memory of you, T. There was a neighborhood party, and you read some poems, and I remember one particularly, a poem about your son Reilly, and his running off, and apple blossoms. In fact, it's stayed with me all this time. It really touched me."

I think my mouth dropped open in amazement. The poem (appearing above) was written years ago, and I'd long left it forgotten in a box in my basement, not even in the current roster of work on my computer.

I told her as much. I was stunned — both that she'd remembered the poem and that she'd decided to sidestep the uncomfortable issue between us and moved instead directly to something founded in love. I told her that I hadn't thought of that poem in years, and expressed gratitude that she mentioned it at all. I know that, without saying, the unmentionable incident was dancing in front of us, flashing red lights.

Instead, she offered a gift of inestimable worth.

She added, "It's so rare that one remembers a poem so clearly as I remember that one."

And even better: it's my son's birthday tomorrow.
I can't believe I have a 26-year-old son.

Poetry — with all its mystery and enduring power — healed a long-simmering feud.

I bow down
at the altar of the poem,
in humble gratitude.

When the corpse of a dream lingers....

Have you ever awakened from a dream still so completely entrenched — flesh & spirit — that it's nearly impossible to escape it? My eyes were literally bleary with dream imagery when I woke up today, and I can't seem to shake off its disturbing details. With a rapidly shifting cast of characters, I was visited by:

1. Serial killer Gary Ridgway's mother, who, though long-deceased (or so I thought) had changed her identity and was still working at a JCPenney. (In my non-dream life, I worked with this woman when I was in college. You can read about that nightmare-ish adventure here.)

2. A man who was my supervisor at a job when I was nineteen, who'd repeatedly asked me out, and was repeatedly turned down. In the dream, he was mistakenly introduced as my husband. I DON'T THINK SO.

3. Paul Newman. (Back from the dead. And damn — no opportunity to get his autograph!)

4. A two-year-old child throwing a tantrum, who screamed one long, dramatic, drawn-out note so completely exquisitely that a crowd of people gathered around him, and applauded when he finished.

In addition, there was the recurring appearance of the non-functioning phone, the recurring disappearance of my car (lost in a parking lot!), and I was late for work at a job where I was to sell forks and CD's.

What I need now is a good night's sleep, so I can recover!

Sunday, April 1, 2012