Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Two Turtle Doves

About a month ago, I discovered that I left the storm window open in my second floor bathroom. In an attempt to bring order to an otherwise chaotic life, I decided to strive for a spotless sill, capitalizing on minutae of life that lay under my power. Removing cobwebs and dead leaves from the space between two pieces of glass seemed an obtainable goal and satisfying task at the time, yet subsequently leaving that window open would have eventually defeated the purpose.

IMG_3256I likely wouldn’t have noticed the oversight until the next OCD attack, if it weren’t for the female mourning dove who had decided to build her flimsy nest there. One evening while attending to my toilette I heard the distinctive, soulful coo coming from the window, coupled with an aviary silhouette: an evening sloped bird shadow in the lower left pane.

The next morning she remained, periodically exposing her two small ivory-colored eggs, much to the delight of my children and me. We scoured the Sibley’s Guide To Birds, devoured the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website, took daily photographs and videos of our new feathered friends. We were careful not to disturb her mothering, her dutiful and steadfast wait for her squabs to emerge from their shells as she warmed them with her bulbous breast.

They hatched about two weeks later, wet little chicks with tightly wrenched eyelids, vulnerable to all that lay beyond that sill. My teenaged son crouched in the adjacent bathtub waiting for over an hour the morning we discovered they had hatched to capture their image on film. I marveled at his stamina, his persistence, the ability of this tiny winged creature to tear him away from all electronic distractions. It’s as if Lovey Dovey, a name coined by my five year-old, had reminded us all of a world that existed beyond ourselves, outside of our comprehension or natural abilities.

The squabs matured, violently devoured dove’s milk from Lovey’s esophagus, which is simply regurgitated seeds she had pre-digested for their convenience. The growing squabs bulged from underneath their parent, as we learned that both male and female take on child-minding responsibilities. We wondered when they made the shift change, musing to ourselves that the changing of the guard was done in much more private circumstances than those of Buckingham Palace.

Mostly, however, her presence was reassuring in that there was an order to the world that was natural and that perhaps we were part of it. We instinctively lowered the shade when her uneasiness was clear, when the reactionary ruffle of feathers in a stream of artificial light spilled through the pane of glass that separated us. We understood that there was a wall, albeit a clear one, that offered an impressive view, but kept us definitively apart.

About a month after we discovered we were playing host to one of nature’s wonders, we left for a weekend away, only to return to two adolescent doves struggling their way up our back steps, and clumsily flying to a near-by branch. The nest was left, empty and filthy with guano, as we regretfully acknowledged that we missed the flying lessons and the thrill of observing the first stretch of fully-functioning wings. Of course we are not part of that world, and understood that our connection to this little family was fleeting by necessity, distant by nature and yet unusually intimate.

Yet it is impossible as emotional beings not to connect the experience to interpersonal, human ones. We had suffered loss that all human beings do, albeit in greater concentration in the recent past: we lost a parent, a grandparent, a marriage, the dream of a cohesive, nuclear family, an adored family dog. We had begun to prepare for my oldest child to leave our own nest, as he begins to think about colleges. It made us wonder if all such connections are as fleeting as an accidental intimacy we shared with a doting dove.

So it is with joy that we discovered that Lovey has returned to her nest this evening, perhaps seeking shelter from a rainy summer night, maybe to delightfully re-use the nest for another clutch of eggs. Let her serve as a reminder that the simple yet wondrous experience that she has shared with us, by some stroke of serendipity, will always be ours, as will every human connection we were lucky enough to make.

Meantime, I will leave the sill littered with sticks and droppings, ignoring – for now – what can be controlled.

Labor and Delivery

A hospice published booklet,
A quasi “What to Expect” publication,
Featured a cover photograph of
Easter lilies in full dripping bloom,
A maudlin image of resurrection.

The penning nurse likened the dying
To laboring mothers,
Wincing through pain and anxiety
In wildly individualistic ways
With some aspects of universality.

The paragraphs that followed offered
Bullet points of signs, what to look for,
What to recognize, what to offer
As “comfort management,”
Generally undercutting the hope
Of a Hollywood ending.

Instead, caretakers are led
Inadvertently down a different
Stream of consciousness:
Wondering what it was like to be born,
And therefore, to die.

The birth simile sends us through a
Channel of the mother host,
Ending a parasitic relationship
In loneliness and fear, the light
At its end, elemental
And blinding.

The first point of a finite timeline,
The lives of their babies are marked
With altruistic, private emotion:
Joy and relief for a relatively safe delivery,
Overcome with colossal responsibility of
A new coexistence.

In the blink of a new clouded eye
The world and all of its realism,
Material conditions now grips a new being in
Wondrous danger: the cold from the air
Will parch their skin, the hunger from
Lack of umbilical support will
Hinder them thrice daily for the rest
Of their lives.
With an innate survivalist urge
A newborn grapples for the breast,
Cantaloupe-scented milk, for sustenance
And comfort, while the clinically-minded
Marks birth weight, length,
The ticking minute at which one
Masked attendant happens to look at
A school house clock perched above an incubator:
The start, his point A, one milestone throwing
A shadow at light speed.

Easter lilies replaced by poppies,
Hedgerows, young soldiers who
Didn’t have the advantage of
Comfort Managers, their continuum
Stopped prematurely, they naturally
Cry out for their mothers,
Yearning for the same comfort.

Their own line has been folded,
Turned, pierced, offering
Sunlight and Moonlight intertwined;
The axes of a place inconceivable
Bend to form a sphere that rolls,
Time ceases to exist and loved
Ones float in ideas.

May the more seasoned veterans amongst us,
Those more fully realized
Making the trip in necessary solitude,
Leave loneliness and fear at
The beginning, be enveloped in light
No longer blinding with all
Points in the line marked
By hash marks of recognized Grace,
And be met by the one woman, who
By a more natural course
Might be present, somehow,
At both ends of the labored line.

timeline-33

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers