Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Déménagement

There are spaces we occupy,

We nomadic tribes, picking

Up and leaving the eroded

Ground behind us,

Touching each and every

Possession twice, at origin,

Destination, judging

The beauty, the utility

Of an object.

The original purchase of

Sacred ground, from

The raised open palm of

The Wyantenock to

Transplanted Englishmen

At the peaceful source of

A river, ushered forth

A revolution,

As does mine: yet altogether

More personally. I cast off

The ill-advised blouse, the

Vacuum that never worked;

But I carry your letters,

My own hand-written

Epistolary memoir,

With me, like the bleached

Bones of our dead.

Winter Solstice

Omnipresent,

This injured child, propped

On her hip, arm looped

Around her waist, hand palmed

At the half moon crescent of her

Buttock, pelvic bone locked

In her cramped fingers.

The child, the mother, the woman:

Bound, each to each,

Bedraggled, malnourished,

Chaffed and tattered, less like

Jacob’s chains, more like

A scarred spot

That was tender to the touch,

Yet comforted by piety,

To behold what makes

Her heart leap, for one:

Migrating mergansers,

Whose crests, disheveled

From diving to great depths,

Arrive on a cold New England Lake,

On the darkest day of the year.

Historic Preservation

For more than a century she stood
On a rocky outcrop of
Land, a pile of indigenous stone
On the shore of a glacial Lake,
Carved, an ancient water-filled
Sculpture fashioned from
Ice-aged hands.

Her Victorian façade,
Dressed in cedar shingles,
Were weathered to a rich
Grey in steadfast streams
Of earthy elements; she
Leans to the West, toward her
Inhabitants’ viewpoints,
Contemporary, ancient:
Where summer days would
Conclude, awash in golden
Reflections.

Her skirt, foundation plantings:
Leggy Rhododendron, stalky hydrangea
Whose blooms prefer old wood,
Are stripped away, and lie waiting
In burlap-wrapped bunches.
Tattered hemlines of her stone slip,
Her rudimentary systems,
Pipes, conduits, wires, and
Shards of wood hang like entrails,
Grotesquely, finally resting
With an audible sigh
On six hydraulic lifts,
Steel I beams fashioned
After an Industrial era that
Postdated her and her
Oak and chestnut frame.

Behind her wide-open
Glass eyes, upholstered furniture,
Some with pillows still fluffed,
Await in arrangements suitable
For best conversation. Photographs,
Framed in silver, plates, chipped
And stained are wrapped
In newsprint, screaming headlines
Unthinkable to her original builders.
She awaits patiently on her craftsmen,
Her stylists, her mechanics,
For new, perfectly fashioned shoes,
To break in as she settles down
For something else
To pass her by.

Sold

You can’t take it with you,
This piece of immovable property.
Steadfast and heavy, it has
No handle, no toe hold. Towering,
Cumbersome, unable to be enveloped
In shrink wrap or newspaper,
Packed away, relegated to
Archives; instead, cobwebs
Distance, and fondness. We pass 
Our once intimate space on
To its next occupant,
A few azalea bushes
Richer, our children’s 
Names carved in a sheltering oak, 
Scuff mark from black-soled
Work boots leaking over the
Threshold, a simple piece of metal that
Delineated our sanctity,
Now theirs, from a wilderness
With boundless frontiers.

Penultimate Euphemism

When the Sonne shineth
Make Hay,  Whiche is to
Say,
Take Time When time
Cometh, lest time steale
Away.

John Heywood, A Dialogue Conteining the Number in Effect of all the Proverbs in the English Tongue, 1546

We’re burning daylight here,
When we should be making hay.
Why linger, lolly gag, dilly dally
Dwindle, piddle, procrastinate
Twiddle thumbs or amble along,
Tarry away, while away,
Take our sweet time while it burns?

We’re only here for a short visit,
Anyway, and opportunity
Is knocking loudly on the door,
Behind which the fat lady
Is warming up, trilling her
Scales, which are at a
Tipping point.

Can’t fritter away, vegetate,
Cogitate, kill time, horse around
On this boondoggle; time is ticking,
But that is that. It’s curtains for all
Of us, a done deal. The checkered
Flag is waving. We’ve saved up to
Buy the farm, a one way ticket,
Biting the dust on a permanent
Vacation. Elvis just left the building,
Dropped the mic, and
Is kicking a can, a bucket
To meet his maker and take a long
Nap with the fishes. He cashed in
His winnings, and is growing daisies
Now, retired. It’s past sunset.

We’re not ready to ring down the curtain,
Join the choir invisible;
We haven’t come to Jesus, on the other side.
Alas, just as sure as taxes,
We’re doing it,
And as we only have one,
We might as well
Get down to it.


 

Obsolescence 

The apron, threadbare,
A wilted floral cotton
Piped in a zig zag, ric-rac
With an all-encompassing
Bib, a gathered skirt,
Belonged to a phantom
Woman, her shed skin
Hanging from a hook.

The strings were wrung to
A weakened thread, perhaps
Pawed by an impatient kitten,
Twiddled between a
School child’s fingers,
Barefoot and dependent,
Who, judging from the stain
At the waist,
Must have wiped
Purple blueberry filling
From the corners of
Her talkative mouth.

Perhaps she helped roll out the dough
Grew bored, and tired,
And retreated to the floor,
Next to the cat. Those once
Able, thick ties would take years
Of patience to unravel,
The knots connecting
A piece of vintage
Domesticity to history,
And this empty house.

Third Culture

“Traveling, she realized, was like a slow dismemberment of the body. It plucked the heart out of her and split it into pieces, leaving a bit behind wherever she went, never to be whole again.” -Rhian J. Martin

 

An island, in the middle of the Atlantic:
Where one could straddle two worlds,
Two homes, unify torn hearts into
One numbed organ that beats dry,
Where unlabeled keys fit into locks,
Unnamed dogs fling
Themselves at just-opened doors
Without the accompanying emotion.
The coffee is served: just so.

No longing, no pain,
An antiseptic wholeness
Without the idealized notion
Of what was lost. An emotionless
Purgatory, where the bittersweet
Morsel is tasteless, no
Canonization of those gone.
Here, we are all unacquainted human beings,
In a place with no appeal,
At present with no past.

Leave the island, lose the half
To feel the tear, taste the metallic blood;
Jump in, head first, wet the feet, swim,
And recognize tenderness again.

Volition

Winds in the east, mist coming in,

Like somethin’ is brewin’ and ’bout to begin.

Can’t put me finger on what lies in store,

But I fear what’s to happen all happened before. 

-Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman

There is a vintage kite
In the trunk of my car
As my daughter and I await
An opportune time:
When one of the thirty-two
Prevailing winds of the
Compass rose strengthens
To an accommodating velocity.

We have attempted runs
In open fields with
Her tiny fist balled around
Its sphere of cream twine,
Me trailing behind her
In a canter trying
To defy Mother Nature
With little success.

Alas, our aerodynamic
Forces pale in comparison
To the lift and drag
Obtained by meteorologic
Serendipity, or native
Birds in their enviable,
Soaring talents.

I am reminded of a
Rare, New England tornado
Precluded by my own mother’s
Lament: “If only we had
A breeze to chase away
These incessant insects!”
The tempest’s aftermath
Was one for which we
Could never prepare:
Uprooted trees pinning
Doors closed, a canoe
on the hood of a
Neighbor’s car, mayhem,
Misfortune beyond
Our mortal capacities,
Frustratingly beyond our reach
As fluke, as happenstance,
As dumb luck.

 

Ripened Berries

It was well after midnight
When I heard the whine,
Louder in my heart’s middle-aged senses
Than thunder, which rolled
Over First Mountain and into
My still-waking ears, registering only
The anxiety of a trembling
Labrador retriever. His fear
Befuddled me, assuming him more
Cognizant of the natural world than me.
Perhaps his instinctual response,
A vestigial one, harkened back
To a time when the woods were
His home, and there was nowhere
To hide from flashes
Of blue, illuminating lightening.

I slid onto the floor with him
Where he placed his head in my lap,
Next to my womb, which had sat
Vacant for a decade. He was supposed
To be the antidote for that emptiness,
Filling my nest with a wordless
Charge to feed, to caress,
To nurture. Now I wondered if he
Was destined to comfort me,
To guard my abdomen which
Wouldn’t give way. I gazed at him
With my own brand of anxiety
Wondering if the blood that pooled in me
Supported another or grew stale with age.

The rumbles subsided, the flashes
Grew dim, and the pup’s breaths
Grew steady as a man’s snores.
I got up reluctantly, rousing him,
Ordering him to his donut-shaped
Plush pillow, as my body gave way
To its monthly flush, in conjunction
With the full corn moon. Like the native
American calendar, we women have thirteen
Ticks in our annual cycle. I remembered
Fondly the berry moon, ripe with summer,
Where during a warm night I reached out
To my partner, grasping at my own
Aggregate life. Delicately I pinched the fragile fruit,
Its carpels soft and sweet, staining my fingers with
Raspberry juice before they fell
From the vine.

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: ’twas 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.