Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Skating on Page Park Pond

We are shuffling together
Across a hospital corridor,
Your aged body weak with malady,
Mine assuming a new role:
That of doting child.

One arm around your waist,
A hand under your twitching arm
We maneuver a wheeled walker
And trailing oxygen tube with
Slow and deliberate mobility.
Your skin still emits warmth
Regardless of all that has
Atrophied underneath.

You held me this way once,
Thirty-five years ago, as we
Glided across ice,
Blades on our feet,
My ankles buckling from taxing
Rarely-used, unnamed muscles.

Embarrassed over my lack
Of skill, trumped by my
Pride in yours, I savored the
Attention, paid with parity
For each acre of your
Complicated life.

Our piece-meal skating costumes
Blue-collared sheaths, were
More like crimson cloaks
And cadet grey capes in
The vapors of our exhaled
Breath, staccato waves of
Effort and laughter.

Currier and Ives printed
The same over your utilitarian,
Cotton, hospital-issued gown,
Shrouding sorrow, grief, and
Illuminating an evanescent
Physical warmth of our
Eternal familial connection.

Central Park, Winter The Skating Pond Courtesy of the Currier & Ives Foundation

Central Park, Winter
The Skating Pond
Courtesy of the Currier & Ives Foundation

Still Life with Pear

A bartlett pear, held atop the
Touching wrists of a child,
Is a homage, a prayer,
A subject of Van Gogh, more
Than a simple selection of produce.

Brought to the nose,
Molecules dance to the
Back of her tiny throat
In a sweet wave
That whispered:
I am a healer! The strength
Of my seeds will arouse
Even a dying king,
Prostrate on his bed!

Or so goes the legend
Of the Bartlett’s
Fifteenth Century
French origins.

The child declares
It must be saved
Until story hour,
When mother and child
Would tuck themselves
Into one another’s bodies,
And read a selection
Divine enough, simple enough
To illustrate life’s sweetness,
No matter how small.

She lay the ovoid-shaped,
Pinched like maternal hips,
Fruit into a dough bowl
With others, still too
Green to be savored.
She staked her claim and
Gazed at it, golden,
Amber and radiant
Like the sunshine that
Cultivated it.

At four years,
Nowhere near
Ripened herself,
One wonders how
She found the time to understand
The value of delayed gratification,
Drawn-out pleasures,
Or the wisdom to place
Luminosity on a single,
Perfect pear:
Ephemeral, rare,
Tucked brilliantly
Into her monotonous days
Of letters, numbers and
Bird-sized, earthly meals.

1887 -88, Vincent Van Gogh, Still Life with Pears Oil on Canvas Courtesy of Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

1887 -88, Vincent Van Gogh, Still Life with Pears
Oil on Canvas
Courtesy of Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

Anubis

Oh, some scholar! oh, some sailor!
Oh, some wise man from the skies!
Please to tell a little pilgrim
Where the place called morning lies!

Emily Dickinson

Radiance of Ra,
A sun god, illuminates
The chamber, aglow with
Yellow hues of a
Signaled Spring.

Blinding, waking, the
Light saturates objects
Of routine and comfort,
Casting shadows on
The wall above a
Clanking radiator, busy
Tossing off artificial
Heat on our waking,
Still bodies.

A picture frame, an
Armchair blocks
The rays, forming
A suggested image of
An Egyptian jackal
On the wall.
A sweater tossed
In weariness over
The arm becomes
A scale, projected,
Weighing the heft of a
Leaden heart, bursting
But burdened.

It hangs over the
Twitching body of
A still sleeping dog,
Content and relaxed
In its unconditional
Sharing of affections.
He blinks while humans stir
Knowing he lies
Securely in
Dickinson’s morning,
Where death stops
Not, and we all
Acknowledge the gift
Of one more day
To try and get it right.

Kinship

Two sisters barely fit
Into the soaking tub anymore.
They lie curled around
One another, like a monochromatic
Human rendition of the
Yin and the yang,
All alabaster and pink,
Slick with soap and
Bath water.

They take their turns, out
Of spatial necessity, rinsing
Their hair, golden made
Dark amber with the water,
Which clings to their heads
Pronouncing the enormity
Of their skulls, the fullness
Of their cheeks. It drips
From curlicued ribbons,
Onto their tiny,
Rounded shoulders.

Imagine, if years had not
Separated their births,
What a sonographic image
Of them would have looked like:
Two new bodies, underdeveloped,
Intertwined, unable to
Support the greatness
Of their heads, the epicenter
Of who they are and
What they will become.

Stoics Shoveling Snow

They emerge from their dwelling-places,
New Englanders, to the public
Colonnade, suburban sidewalks
Clogged and choked by
Township plows. Mounds
Of packed snow, churned up like a wake
Line the streets, shrouding
Helpless cars in drifts and clouds.

Tax payer dollars, purchased plows,
Providing service for the public good,
Ipso facto, is a burden: the personal
Chore of freeing one’s self
From the natural reality
That is the weather, worsened.

They nod to neighbors
Commenting on the beauty,
Bright and peaceful,
In the recaptured sun.
Aware of their public persona,
Shells of themselves,
They bend at the knee
And smoothly, without complaint,
Clear a path to the larger world
Beyond themselves.

Their pajamas, hidden
Under snowmobile suits,
Goose down, soak with
Their efforts. They bear
The logical result of
Precipitation in
Sub-freezing temperatures,
And ignore a nagging,
Lonely voice that is heard, loudly
And echoing off new-fallen,
Silent snow.

They connect with the fire,
Their primordial being and
The warmth of strength,
While the cynic across the street,
Who with his heavy equipment
Curses the long winter,
And claims a seat on
The next flight
To Paradise Island.

Morning In Montclair

The town is waking beside
Us, my daughter and me,
As we drive to her bus stop.
I am silent as the first
Few ounces of coffee start
To reduce the swelling around
My eyes, but she actively
Chatters a commentary
Of the daily details of
What transpires outside
Our car windows,
Still blooming with frost:
A bespectacled man
Walking an old English
Sheepdog who raises his
Paper cup to us in greeting,
Shop keepers turning keys
In streak-free doors,
Reflecting the rising sun
Still framed in boxwood and
White lights for Christmas,
A gaggle of children
Huddled together at the
Corner of North Mountain Avenue
Waiting for their own ride to school.
Yet noticeably absent
Is the pregnant woman
Pushing a stroller occupied
By a toddler of unknown gender,
Tucked into a fleece pouch,
Westbound on Bloomfield Avenue.
“I bet she gave birth!”
My daughter exclaims,
As I long for our unacquainted,
Who as familiar as they are
Remain strangers to
Our intimate daily life.

Janus

2014 was feted
With exhaustion:
A collective fatigue
Of a complicated year
Of regrets and pride
In a pool of deluded people,
Drunken enthusiasts
Content to seize
This opportunity
To convince themselves
That an invitation is proof
Enough of a full life.

Others, introverted,
Stand dumb-struck and
Contemplating a most
Thoughtful party favor:
A Roman coin,
A Latin god in relief:
Janus, of transitions,
Two-faced and split
With one persona
Looking back
In reflection,
The other, forward
With hope, anxiety and
Recognition of change
We all face
On any given day.

One guest holds it
On a clothed cocktail table,
Steadfast with a forefinger,
Flicks it with the
Free finger of the other hand
Forcing a spin
That results in a single,
Whole head, an
Optical illusion
Making contact with her
Own still face.

The whirling dervish,
A spinning god
reminds her
Of free will
And industry
And a single day
Of pause, reflection,
And considering
Janus as her own
Personal, straightforward
First-footer.

Hogmanay hogwash:
Scottish superstition
Whereby one
Can rely on the
Future by the
Luck of the first visitor
Of the new year:
May the first to cross
Your threshold
Be a tall, dark,
Handsome Scotsman,
Or the soul- searching
Harborer of uncertainty.

She privately pledges to
Seize present moments
With deliberate care.
Even this one:
Muffled with
Exaggerated voices,
Fuzzy with champagne
And shimmering with
Artificial light
Meant to brighten
The long nights
Following the winter solstice.

20150101-151950.jpg

Dreams

I envy him, that old friend,
Who says he can sleep anywhere
If given a soft enough spot
Quiet enough not to startle.

He boasts he can sleep deeply
With a dull enough cacophony
Surrounding his deaf ears
In any given weather.

I imagine being his bedmate,
Watching his supposed dreamless sleep,
As I intermittently close my own eyes
And calculate the hours before
The day will begin in exhaustion.

He admits to fear, but conquers them
By transatlantic sea voyages, alone
Enjoying solitude in all its forms
And letting go of everything.

His friendly advice: to skip
Calculating shepherds,
Melatonin, NyQuil, Ambien.
Ignore the personal Dadaist film,
That is frustrating consciousness,
Stubborn and steadfast in the small hours.

Forget the words that were spoken
Yesterday, their endless possibilities
Of interpretation, the scenarios of
The present and their anxious affect
On an anticipated future.

He says to turn off the projector
Illuminated on the inside of
My dry eyelids; focus instead on
One black dot, that swells to fill
The entirety of my screen
Of consciousness.

The dot, a graphic, becomes vast,
Without edge, Nothing, closing the
Curtain on a full day – still begging
For interpretation and meaning –
Leaving me powerless.

I succumb, finally, to the innate fear
Which is not mine alone, but belongs
To every owl, every lark,
Every dreamer, doer:
Of what lies beyond that black hole,
Beyond that barrier we cannot
Pass through again, where I hope
Each bird, in flight, enjoys
Everlasting consciousness.

Butter

While Irish soda bread
Filled the modest kitchen
With the yeasty aroma
Of a divided home,
The children,
Just shuffled from Father to Mother,
Taking wrong turns to the bathroom
And erroneously opening
Glassware cupboards
In search of plates,
Shake jelly jars.

Inside the covered glass,
All-natural cream, nurtured
With a dash of sea salt,
A teaspoon of local honey
From the apiary of a trusted friend
Slowly grows more viscous,
Changing physical form
From the trauma
Of a vigorous shake,
A violent love.

As young arms grow tired
Mother coaxes the liquid.
Clumps grow together
Into a solid yellow froth, a
Unified mass of opaque matter.

Fingers dipped, licked,
Knife spreads the
Smear onto a piping
Slice, brittle at the center.
A yellow brushstroke of Love,
Which grows transparent
As it melts.

Children of a Humanist God

As a mother, I pretended to teach
My daughter to pump a swing;
’Twas more like a persuasion
Of her legs and brains
Into her natural and instinctual abilities.

Gravitational forces,
Manipulation of a swinging
Pendulum of joy by a rhythmic
Pumping of tiny legs, outstretched
By Pavlovian-like response
To the metallic squeak
At its hinged, friction-full pivot point.

Rocking herself, an oscillation
Of comfort, she discovers that
A harder kick results in a
Higher trajectory, a bigger thrill,
And eventually, the ability
To fly, if only for a moment,
As her tiny hands release the
Chains, and her bottom leaves the
Propylene rubber strap of a seat,
Her yellow rain boots higher than her chin.

For a moment, I see my own saddle shoes,
White polish bleeding into the
Brown arch, laces frayed and
Soles worn from braking a 1974
Model of the same pendulum.
I had learned the hard way that
The pain of landing, the sting
Shoots through the soft bones
Of the heel through developing shins.

Vestigially I felt the same flip
Of the stomach, anticipating
Euphoric flight, which suddenly turned
To the realization that nurtured fear
Left me the child, learning to navigate
Galileo’s research on pendulums,
Which proved useful as time keepers.

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