Braving the Wilds

Field Notes from the Suburban Jungle

Category: Family

Loft Living

For J.S. Weaver

In a true Colonial, chopped, cornered,
center-chimneyed, puritanical walls
create charming nooks in which to
hide, with antiquated mechanisms.

We preferred loft living, a space
without the cordoned compartments, open:
where moon-faced children,
reflecting light, can hear

our shared soundtrack, a Joy
of Man’s Desiring. Clutching
fistfuls of color, they’ll
recognize me as I stumble

over their boots, left in a
row by the glass-paned door,
as I peel root vegetables
sweetened with dried herbs

which will sustain us through
this sinful New England winter.

As You Would Have Liked It

This gaudy salon offered a
poignant illustration of the
Pigeonhole Principle, where
a subset’s cardinality exploded:

those who loved you, or loved us
in your absence. It was an
occasion you would have loved,
your own fete, where every

wall of this fragile birdhouse
shattered, a Hilbert’s paradox
of our collective life: where those
that played on each stage

of Jacques’ poetical seven ages
gathered together, as only you
would have liked it. The only
gathering, solemn and transcendent

where uncomfortable compartments
dissolve. The curtain closes on
your strange and eventful history,
the last scene in which we

observe the main characters in
our own theaters, full of wise saws,
in a world too wide for smallness.
These are the keepers, who notice

that today it isn’t your regular grey
marry ‘em and bury ‘em suit that you wore,
laid out in celebration, but your dress blues
starched and as dignified as you, decorated

with a full bird on your lapel, that we found
in a box in your top dresser drawer.

If Not For You

The dashboard gasped 98 degrees
while Bob Dylan whined that he couldn’t
even find the floor without me, when
I kissed the bumper of a tall
stranger from West Orange, New Jersey
who looked nothing like the brooder from
Duluth, Minnestoa, but a grumpy
pavement dweller, whose eyebrows
separated when I chuckled a
cordial greeting, offered my insurance
card, made small talk about the poorly
designed parking lot at Kings market,
which somehow brought us, via the amount
of miles on my relatively new
car, to the Boulders Inn, still
operational in 1986,
where perhaps I prepared his smoked trout
mousse, a warmed beet salad for his wife,
enriching her blood to prepare for their
son, conceived that evening. A police
report ushered the end to our second
bump, closing another circle, when
I wished his family well, rolled down
the windows, silenced Bob while the two
distinctly arched eyebrows, framed in pavement,
directed me from the corner in
which I had found myself. It was then
that he thanked me for the warmed beet salad.

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.