Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Category: Family

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation

Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation
forces an impressionist painting of a river
displayed in our dining room to
hang at a five-degree angle.

Passers-by adjust it, usually with a thumb
and forefinger at one of the lower corners
with delicacy, leaning back on their rear
leg, with a squint and a tilt of the neck

to ascertain the line of the adjacent
window. Alas, the truth of the matter
is the square of the distance of its center
is perfectly equal: it is the house itself,

more than two centuries old, that lists,
to the opposite degree of the art, a mimetic
representation of the river that rushes
by our Westerly windows. The structure

is subject to time and its universal effects
on its earthly subjects, shifting sills,
listing beams and turning arthritic joints,
all the while still housing us, embracing us

with silent stoicism, paternal wisdom
and immortal affection.

The Cliché

Careening down a hill, perched on
her scooter, her only braking method
being a tumbling leap into the grassy median,
my daughter learned how to coast

downhill, finding the brake that she
operated with her rear leg, best applied
while crouching in a ninja position,
her center of gravity low to the ground.

Still, we are here, crouched even
lower to the deck a week later,
her wound festering white and angry
under the all-important Band-Aid.

I rubbed coconut oil on the adhesive,
the memory of screaming fits on a hospital
bed still vivid, while she stared at
my shaking fingers, the image gnawing:

of her lying supine under a bright light,
my strong arms holding hers in surrender while
she hated me and cursed my betrayal,
swearing she’d never trust me again.

I liken the mother-child relationship
to an arranged marriage, a match
made by Natural Caste, for I know
you didn’t choose me, nor I you.

And yet somehow I fell in love with you
without even knowing you, the idea
of you endearing me, inextricably,
with every movement, every internal

biological sound that I couldn’t
decipher from my own. I wonder
if before you were conscious of what
lay beyond that path, you loved me too.

“Rip it off,” you said, in steadfast gaze
knowing full well that somehow I’d
hurt you again, and you me, all the while sharing
the only perdurable love we’d ever know.

With one swift pull, two matching grimaces,
I yanked Rumi’s plaster and let the wound
open to the air, to heal, to scar,
to usher in the light our clouded eyes crave.

Her, And Her Antecedents

A katydid chirped

somewhere in this

200 year-old cottage,

interrupting the nightly

rituals, the scramble to

finish everything on the

proverbial fifteen year-old plate.

A lightning rod for all teenaged

concerns diverted anxiety onto

one undeserving creature

that has but one year to live

himself.

She is less entomophobic, more

stuck in the middle of

push and pull, making the

daily decision to provide, need, or

want, to place her hands on the

end of the rope that is manned by the

appropriate team.

This time, her younger self wins:

not the one who complains about

the sensitivity of her navel,

the grimace of the ancient place

that once connected her to her host; or

feels annoyance by

the dichotomy of responsibilities

of the child/parent who diverts trips home

through her ancestral village

to flip switches that her own

octogenarian mother can’t reach,

But the one who revels in the

foregone conclusion that

her mother will always want

to cradle her in the palms of

her warm hands, the same ones

that transport a green grasshopper

to a more obliging, al fresco

surrounding.

Sleep comes, tucked into

a familiar fetal position,

at the end of the day when she reflects

on all that has become ours, the

lists, the burden of what she carried, but ultimately,

Under the pacific weight of a quilt that allows

rest, respite, and a feral understanding

of the comfort it is to live where we belong and

to be essential, at both ends of the rope.

Titania’s Kingdom

It has been weeks since
You hung this gaudy
Capsized bottle, adorned
With red flowers, on
Our porch, designed
To attract hummingbirds
Via manufactured engineering.

You filled the glass with
A simple solution
Of water, a substance
So soft it can cut stone, and
Sugar, simple, sweet, essential
Balancing the bloodstream
Of every living organism.

You share no blood
With my daughter,
With whom you hang this
Ridiculous thing, you are
No relation, other than human.
Your pained hearts pump
DNA that is incompatible,
Yet curiously in rhythm,
At times, as they free themselves
Of anxious restraints.

Here on my porch there are
No gifts from the universe,
No restored faith in humanity.
Just a graceful gesture
In the middle of mayhem.

It is a quiet morning on
Which they arrive, beating
Their wings at an incomprehensible
Speed, tiny visions, fairies,
A beautiful reveal of a
Vulnerable red throat
To delight, to love my own
Mischievous Puck
In your absence.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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