Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Seasonal Cottage

When the grass began to sprout
From the swathes of grey like
Tufts of newborn hair, starkly
Green and colorful against the dead
Landscape, ripe for the
Awakening: a signal,
A call to the Lake to install the
Porch screens. We’d inspect the
Damage from a hard-played previous
Summer, winter months stacked
Against the wall, tucked behind
Antique wicker purchased
Three generations ago.

Barn swallows, chimney swifts,
House sparrows and non-native
Starlings didn’t take kindly
To having their nests moved,
So we avoided construction altogether,
Pinching our whitened fingers
Between hook and eye closures,
Some winking with rust. The screens
streaked with mould, others
Grey, having just been stapled to
Chipped wooden frames, homemade
By the over-taxed man who
Funded this seasonal household
At present.

“Just like New York!” he’d say,
As if this porch were the
Epitome of fine-tuned engineering;
Yet we all knew he hated the City,
In “its constant state of decay.”
“Renewal, Dad,” I’d protest,
Thinking of the thousands of men
And women, scurrying on, over, under
Its streets, changing the hardscape on which
They trod with heavy feet.

Interrogatory

Answer only the question posed,
Offering no additional
Information than what was
Originally requested:
Sage advice from childhood
Development specialists.

The first answer will undoubtedly
Lead to a second, a third, etcetera,
For the more inquisitive of
Tots, until the parent has pieced
Together a daisy chain of examples,
A regular Kotex ad of explanations
Beginning with “in my uterus” and
Ending abruptly, by,
“Sexual intercourse.”

The most precocious of them, however,
Will push deeper, if you will,
Skipping the “Disgusting’s!” and the
“You did WHAT with Daddy?” and turn,
Instead, to the stickier of subjects.

“But where did the first person
Come from?” Blushing, the parent
Stumbles over Genesis and Darwin’s
Hominids, Adam’s agnostic
Rib, which couldn’t possibly have taken
Residency in the cage of
Mitochondrial Eve.

Tripping down an endless path made
Beautiful by Natural Order,
It’s divinity subject to
Personal interrogation,
One as endless as the
Expanding Universe, the
Young prodigy, shakes her head,
Exclaiming, “I thought
She was from Texas.”

Immersion

“I could get used to this.”

My stoic companion’s heels
rested on the cabin railing
In front of her, her feet forming
A Vee, mirroring the mountain pass before her.
A plate of wild strawberries balanced
Precociously on her lap.

Les fraises du bois, sweeter,
More acidic than the
The caricature version
Packed in a plastic box
At the A&P, a mere suggestion
Of the genuine, alpine version:
Delicate, dark, a decidedly
Unseasoned traveller, and wholly
Uninterested in private enterprise.

Fruit foraged from the woods,
Hidden at the edges of tree carpets
That adorned the Rocky Mountains:
We came dressed, ourselves, in bells
To deter bears, miles stolen
As if by Venus herself and
Left to contemplate Icarus soaring
Around the setting sun.

An impossible image,
Framed in vertigo and
Quickened breath, I turned from
The majesty, delegated it to a corner, to
Fade with age and romance.
“I don’t want to get used to this,”
I responded, fearing prolonged
Exposure would burn it
Away, like a jammed
Eight millimeter cell, muted as
An old knee-weakening ballad,
A torch song, turned
To background music.

 

A House Made of Stone

Perhaps the origin of our own beings
Exists there, at the center of
Concentric ripples on water, where
The stone, a seed was thrown:
An ephemeral place that is only
An impression, a start, a beginning.

When we turned our eyes
Toward the sun, the waves
Extended out of reach,
The rock lay at the bottom of
The pond, while its smoothness,
It’s weight still keenly felt
Between our growing fingers.

In later years, while bathing,
Like elder salmon returning upstream,
We will search for that small piece of gravel,
Only to find that during our Odyssey
It has eroded to something
Altogether unrecognizable.

unknown

Connecticut Dawn

The morning my father died,
He woke before dawn,
Attempting to start his final day
As he did all of the others:
With the quotidian copy of
The Hartford Courant,
Clipped securely to
A lap board instead of laid
Out on the breakfast table.

He used to liken our bodies
To that spread, “Look at you,
Laid out like a warm breakfast,”
As we poured ourselves onto
The floor like syrup, at his feet,
Onto pillow pancakes,
Our chins perched atop
The heels of our tiny hands
To better view
The Wonderful World of Disney
Or
The New England Patriots.

During such TV enterprises
He’d often fall asleep himself, an
Uneasy sight, his mouth agape
And his lungs rattling him
Gratefully awake. Who would take care
Of this large world while he sleeps?
Who would ensure that Steve Grogan
Would connect with his receivers?

This morning we’re out of season,
His work done: Tom Brady has
Long taken over, two foreign wars
Have been fought, maybe won,
Seven children educated. Somehow
No circle or square of the Word
Jumble lay vacant, his pencil
Scribbles legible by all who
Love him, long for him;
We kiss his waxy cheek,
Turn away to hide our human selves
And find another way
To make ourselves useful.

Going Home

The final stages of packing for a
Weekend away involve decisions
Concerning the produce that remains
In the Mother Hubbard refrigerator.
What’s left? Odiferous reminders
Of want and waste, seasoned with
Expiry dates and missed opportunities,
Tangible evidence of hearty meals,
Both utilitarian and celebratory.

The last of the olfactory offenders,
A fuzzy hunk of manchego cheese
Given lovingly by a faraway host: a
Spanish ewe with an exotic look in her eye.
Once divinely dressed in a fig chutney,
Paired inter-culturally with a granny smith apple,
A queso gives way to time, or the lack of it.
Any self-respecting New Englander
Would cut off the offensive parts
And call it a luncheon.

The thermostat turned low, a cool
Hush envelops the house with one
Last aroma to decipher: the quiet
Bouquet given in commemoration
Of nothing in particular: two
Weeks old, the gerbera daisies lay
Wilted, exhausted and supported
By hearty, whitish-green
Hydrangea that traditionally decorate
Many a Connecticut cottage.

Plucked from the florist’s vase, their
Stalky stems were tipped with brown
Where they were cut from its host.
Trimmed again, introduced
To a traveling milk jug, bound for
An heirloom piece of crockery in which
Its blooms would slowly lose
Its dewey countenance, and
With dignity dry to an indiscernible,
Subtle change of color: vintage, charmed,
A muted hue with a suggestion
Of its natural strength and sensibility.

Subconsciousness

The perfectly still water
Rests, frozen, uncut by wake,
Paddle, or stroking arm
Under which hums a vibrant winter
World, running meters deep.
Fishermen sat in semi circles,
Perched atop upturned
Plastic tubs on the ice,
Swathed in khaki
Like cradle boarded babies
Huddling for comfort.

The Lake, unyielding, was forced
Out of its dormant state
By augers, long cork screws
Piercing through ice
Three feet thick.
One bundled man
Dropped a line through
The incision, an operatic
Procedure, while the others
Observed the delicate
Removal of one brown
Trout, glistening in the
Weak winter sun. An
Indigenous nurturer stocked with care,
Now lay in the muffled palm of
An outsider,
Who mercifully, with an
Altruistic stroke of water to the gills,
Released its struggling body
Back to its murky waters, to fight
Any invasive thought
In privacy.

Election Night

The world now enveloped
The newborn’s perfect, pink skin
From the tip of his pointed skull,
Cone-shaped from the trauma
Of birth, to the terminus of every
Corn kernel-shaped toe.

Terrified at the prospects of raising him,
Those left to his charge grew panicked
And educated in the world of
Emotional intelligence: with
Love comes great vulnerability,
Now that the air touched his body,
Still pruned from the protective
Maternal bath made wholesome
By clean living.

“Forget the striped birthing cap,”
His father nervously chuckled,
“Give him a stove-pipe one instead!”
As his anxiety-ridden mother
Conjured Abraham Lincoln himself,
Remarking to his new lot
Of hard-fought constituents:
“Well, boys, your troubles are over now,
But mine have just begun.”

In the Moment: A Retrospective

In the hours between the
Dawn melting the stars into its
Warm glass of sky, and
The dusk reigniting them
From burning streaks on the horizon
To the arms of unseen lamplighters,
The day is illuminated by
Some remarkable moments,
Ones I would try to remember to
Share with you, when you
Would stumble through the door,
After dark.

I’d hand you a paper cup
Of chowder, the soup
That warmed my Raynaud’s toes
Somehow from the inside of my belly,
Like I was in a fisherman’s port,
Where the locals knew the secret
To the best creamy broth:
Was it brandy?
You would know.

An older man
At the counter, eating the same
Soup, his with oyster crackers,
Mine with bread, said:
My wife of 60 years preferred bread
With her chowder, too. And she had
Red hair, like yours. He winked at me,
As if I was supposed to know
The code of winking
About chowder, or redheads,
Or bread.
You would know.

Behind the counter there was an
Etching, a print, a woodcut
Of a birch tree, like the one that leans over
Our fields, seemingly fragile,
Providing a foreground, a streak to
Our winter landscape. I longed for the piece,
Which was a medium
You would know.

In the moment, alone, I
Ordered more chowder that I hoped would warm you,
Comfort your own body, where we would relive it all
In a delicious retrospective. We’d sit on the couch
Toe-to-toe where I’d lament all
The details of the day my middle-aged brain
Had forgotten, but somehow,
You would know.

The Wizard of Dreams

Tucked comfortably into
Our vie quotidien, we live
Not so much in monotony
As swaddled in a warm blanket of
Perceived certainty.

Inevitably, the three AM phone calls
Jar us from lullabied sleep into a
Racing heart, a dry mouth
Requiring us to get out of bed
And board airplanes, soaring through
What feels nothing like cruising altitude:
Where the temperature is an
Inconceivable -70 degrees fahrenheit.

The flight time gives us
Ample opportunity to stare out
Of tiny windows, contemplating
The unreachable, a vapor, a quilt of clouds,
Analyzing the daydream
In which we’ve been sleeping.

As children, dreams of flight
Roused us with the same
Startled thrill, bells that rang
Just as loudly as that of a telephone,
Sprinkling snow on poisoned poppies
By a wizard of dreams,
Like our wide-eyed children
Who re-introduced us to faeries
Which we had sworn –
If only for a moment or two –
Were real.