Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

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.

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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.

The Greek Chorus

There is a group of anonymous
Commentators who live in
Our midsts. They, they are called.
As in, “You know what they say.”

They dispense nuggets of wisdom
With no credentials. No identity,
In fact. Just omniscience in
The face of adversity.

Delivered by various members
Of a suburban Thebes,
One might imagine a
Chorus of citizens, harmonizing
With lutes. If you listen
Carefully, you can hear their projection:

We ignorant mortals, the more we trip
The more we turn to the naughtier
Corners of our brain, and still reject
Larger shoes for commentary
On another part of the anatomy.

Cardboard Bridges

Packing boxes, attempting to
Traverse a wormhole between
One life and another, the transient
Selects wooden, pewter, tarnished silver frames
Showcasing photographs taken over five decades,
Meticulously wraps them in grayish
Sheaths of paper, displacing dust but
Leaving streaked fingerprints on the glass.

Entombed under the matting, a boy embraces
An Egyptian camel, his mother’s neck
And a matchbox car, a red Ford mustang
Convertible in miniature, forming
Concentric circles of memory that ripple over
Years of conjured moments.

The toy itself is now long gone,
Residing in the bin of some unknown
Young recipient, or in a junk yard
In Fresh Kills,
Missing one or all of its tiny rubber wheels,
Its axles bent from countless runs
Down a Hot Wheels plastic ramp and
Over rocks, all-terrain style, fearless
In a city playground.

The camel, even then, seemed unauthentic:
Called Charlie Brown to appeal to American tourists,
He trolled the shadows of the pyramids of Giza.
With piles of garbage lining the entranceways
Of the wondrous monuments,
Steel girders of unfinished Egyptian
Apartment buildings piercing the same smoggy
Sky like antennae, Charlie groaned under
The weight of a Wall Street master.

The boy no longer clutches the neck of his mother,
Now sagging with age and a bowed
Head, struggling with the notion that
The frames could be put to more honest
Use with updated photographs.

Piaget said it best: two objects
Cannot occupy the same space.
Conservation of volume dictates
One old life left behind, displaced
By a new one, carries only stolen momentos
That become immaterial
Or shoved aside to an altogether
Different place in space
And time.

Reboot

During mindless TV watching, the family often gathers around a wicker basket of socks: a laundered, sweet-smelling pool of white cotton that used to fend off blisters during morning jogs and afternoon soccer practices. Inter-dispersed among the white are splatterings of black, navy, and brown, ribbed in a more formal demeanor that suit well under a pair of trousers, splashes of colorful stripes and polka dots belonging mostly to the uninhibited 12-and-under crowd. The youngsters grab for the color straight away, lining up the lonely singles on their pretzel-twisted thighs, their knees jutting in polar opposite directions suggesting an aboriginal means of sitting. They shout gleefully when a match is made, and painstakingly roll them into a whole with curved trembling fingers, and create piles designated for the top drawers of bureaus flanking the walls of each private space on the second floor of the center hall colonial.

Cooperatively, they compare their collections and make more matches and more rolls, until the basket is emptied, and the singles return to the pot to await another day of reunions. There is the inevitable lament over the pink single Smart Wool model, the one that belongs to a long-lost $12 pair that was purchased three years ago at an expensive downtown outdoor store. It once protected an 10-year old foot awaiting the heat to rise from 100 year-old radiators with high tech, moisture wicking ability, but now is contemplated as base material for a folk-art pig puppet with button nostrils and hand-stitched eyes, flanked by a pipe cleaner curlicued tail that will never be attached with structural integrity.

During a future laundry room visit, a pink flash will enter the retinas of the laundress from the periphery, from between the washer and the omniscient drier: a Smart Wool tube that lay prostrate to those with neuro-motor ability. Hairy with dust and stained with dried blue laundry detergent, a hand reaches in between a tight abyss as its owner contemplates human error, assumes responsibility for all the wrong doings of the drier, and dreams of the female version of a folklore pig sock puppet. For the conscious choices of the human race have irrevocably changed its future, and the sock will instead aimlessly amuse the 12-and-under crowd rather than warm their feet.

Weeks more of laundry will bring more loss: single socks that will forlornly top piles next to underwear, cherries on top of a cupcake tower of fluffed and folded towels, T-shirts, jeans, khaki slacks and school uniforms. They will slowly fill the same wicker basket, a penalty box of evidence that a mysterious universal force of the dryer that somehow vaporizes these small swaths of material into different, invisible form. They justify the loss as an inconceivable byproduct of a God-like inevitability, a work that no earth-dwelling individual could completely comprehend, accept their part in the play out of time, then turn to the task of ensuring little pairs of feet are appropriately protected and warm, with mismatched pairs, darned holes or warm breath gently blown deliberately through cupped, protective hands.

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