Dead

On the days

when it hurts so bad

that the bird inside me cannot sing

and instead hops about pointlessly

like a one-legged seagull

balancing endlessly on the edge of nothing

When I spend days on end

creating salty seas

and smaller puddles

with tears I shed for no apparent reason

I think of you

and for a brief moment

cease to imagine how restful it would be

if I were dead.

 

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Possibilities

 Today I accompanied my mother to a meeting of her old lady beneficent society. It seems that I have reached an age that now qualifies me as eligible for membership in old lady clubs. Today was not the first time I had been dragged off to one of these meeting, but today was different. Today a gal I went to highschool with was also there We were in the same class, Adeline and I. Friends even, in that desultory fashion of people whose common bond is mostly the fact that they don;t fit into any of the other groups. She was my superior in the constant class war that is highschool. She always looked a bit more put together than I did, projected a more collected demeanor, came off as just a bit more polished. She was a better athlete and usually managed to blend into the background better than I. She came just a bit closer to fitting in and by senior year had carved herself a nitch of mild acceptance in our small school. This had required her to distance herself from me, but I don’t think that bothered her much. It really didn’t bother me that much, by then I had bigger things to occupy me.

After highschool she went to work in the office of the local mill and a year or two later married the owner’s son. They are still married to this day and have the requisite 2.5 children, house, dog, etc. She now lives in a house that is not more than a mile from the house she grew up in. I ran about the earth, lived in 7 or 8 different states, married and divorced 3 times, had 5 kids, worked a couple of dozen different jobs, own nothing and am living in my parent’s house again with no visible means of support. We have had very different lives. So when I saw her at this meeting, I rather impulsively said, “we should get together, have coffee or something. I would like to see you again and maybe chat awhile.” She looked taken aback and immediately distanced herself saying, “well….you can see me at next months meeting.” In a tone that suggested that might be too much contact and that I was a needy, whining person clutching at her skirts.

What I would really like to tell her at this point is that my interest in her is not so much in her personally, but in the circumstances of her life. I have a story in the back of my mind who’s centeral character is a woman who still lives in the town she was raised in and has always done the expected and predictable thing. Since I never did I am having trouble imagining it. Do you feel deprived? resentful? Do you feel like you missed something or do you not know that there was anything to miss? Is it a case of not missing what you never had? Or was it a conscious choice, rejecting all those possibilities for a safe life? A steady, even existence? I guess I am not going to find out from her. Part of me, the resentful, mildly rejected part, would very much like to tell her that my interest in her was more intellectual than personal (ie I wasn’t trying to be “friends”).

The larger part of me just feels ever so slightly sad. I’m really not sure why. Nothing about her life (about which I know nothing, but surmise much) is overtly pitiable. She has kids. A husband. I assume she has known, knows, will know, many joys and sorrows. Love, agony and suspense. All the biggies. Perhaps she has never had any curiosity as to what lies out there, beyond the bend in the river. I cannot imagine that, but I can admit that it may be And yet I am sad. Perhaps because I, having known more about possibilities and risk, realize more sharply what it is to pass one up.

 

Crossing VanBuren

 

We crossed VanBuren Street the other day. We were momentarily in the town I lived in as a small child, just passing thru. On our way to more important events, more salubrious climes. When I was a little kid VanBuren was the busy street a block away from the back water of 13th street, where we lived. 13th was an odd street. It went halfway through town, but only in fits and starts. No stretch of 13th was more than 5 blocks long. It dead-ended a lot, but it would always start up again a block or two past whatever obstruction it encountered. Growing up on 13th taught you the value of perseverance.

Our stretch of 13th was 3 blocks long. We lived on the corner of 13th and some ‘L’ shaped street that didn’t go anywhere and never resurfaced in other parts of town like 13th did. I no longer remember its name. Its function was to cut up the space between VanBuren, our house and Dixie Creek into a square that more houses could be built on. The houses were already there when I was growing up. Van Buren Street defined one edge of my world as a kid. It was a “busy” street, a wide pristine boulevard with white, uncracked, level sidewalks, and we weren’t allowed to cross it. Or even walk along it without the protective presence of a grown-up in tow. The other edge of the world was another “busy” street, but it was not as busy. I walked along it to get to school, carefully staying on my side of it until I reached the sanctity of the crossing guards who provided safe passage to the school on the other side. That street held no mystery for me, although I did see the occasional dinosaur on it while walking to school in the fog.

VanBuren however, was the gateway to the world. The grocery store we shopped at was several blocks down VanBuren. Comic books and candy bars (for a DIME) could be purchased there, which we did anytime we had collected enough pop and beer bottles to pay for them. We were a major force for clean roadsides. Sometimes on Saturday mornings my father would take one of us kids with him and go there to purchase ‘butterhorns’, a giant danish like pastry with a butter-cream center that still makes my mouth water. Apparently it is the only place that ever made those, as I have never had one since. It was walking back from there, pulling a red wagon full of groceries, that my Mother stopped one day and sang me the song about the “one-eyed, one horned flying purple people eater”, in an effort to explain the name of the city bus line (purple buses with “People Eater” in bright yellow letters on the side) to me. Next to that was a drug store that sold eczema cream and where I purchased my first ‘dippity-do”.

We drove down VanBuren when we went “down town”. There you could go to the 5 and dime, the green stamp redemption store, monkey wards (where I got my first bra, a red letter day indeed) and Bob’s 19 cent hamburgers, the height of haute cuisine and only patronized on birthdays and other special occasions. As far as us kids knew there was no inside seating. The movie theater we went to sometimes in the summer (after carefully saving enough bread wrappers or soda caps or whatever was required to comply with the promotion) was down there as was the newspaper office where my mother sometimes purchased the “end rolls” of unused newsprint for us to color on. If you went far enough you came to Averey Park, where there were deer to feed, a retired locomotive to climb on and a small, sad zoo with monkeys that smelled, a mina bird that talked and a kinkajoo, which appeared to be some sort of South American raccoon, but had a very exotic name. VanBuren Street led to all things good and interesting.

Went I reached junior high school I was deemed old enough to cross VanBuren alone. Walking to my new school was going to require it. I was given strict instructions about my route and told which corners I was allowed to cross at, (the ones with lights and cross walks) and turned loose. I felt terribly important and grown up. I passed the grocery store and the drug store every day and was sometimes given money for a small errand. It was on one of these that the dippity-do was acquired. I began to make new friends, some of whom lived quite far from 13th street. Crossing VanBuren had opened the wider world to me.

We moved away at the end of that year and I never really thought about VanBuren again until the other day, when we drove across it in such a cavalier fashion. I wanted to say, “Stop! Go back!” and spend some time hunting up our old house, our old neighborhood, but I was afraid I would no longer be able to find it. Or worse, that I would find it and it would look small and shabby and VanBuren would have become ever so slightly seedy. Or even worse, that it had all been torn down and replaced with something modern and cold in shiny glass and polished concrete. So I said nothing and VanBuren receded into the distance, becoming tiny and vanishing in the rearview mirror relegating itself to some backwater of nostalgia where it can remain untarnished forever in my mind. I have moved on from there, gone many places, accomplished much, become perhaps, an entirely different person, but I will always remember that the start of the journey was, crossing VanBuren.

 

Pain

When the ache runs through me

and it sizzles down my arm

and it singes my leg

and my head throbs from it all

I wonder

When I can’t find a place on me that isn’t sore

and there is nowhere to hide

and even my teeth hurt

and I wish it would all flow down my leg

and out my foot

earthing itself, like lightening

I wonder

When it becomes too tiresome

and I haven’t slept all night for days

and I consider how much medicine it would take to make it stop

and think about crashing into bridge abutments

and my eyes leak onto my collar

I wonder

WHY?

ME?

but I suppose it has to be somebody

 

Work in progress (Waves)

I sit and watch the water wave

in which the dinosaurs did bathe

water that oversees the birth of whales

and saw the death of ships with sails

water that has touched the shore of Borneo

yet carried home an eskimo

water as alien as space

moving with infinite grace

water rising up as cloud

is falling onto fields we’ve plowed

water wherein grow the clams

it turns the turbines in our dams

water that has taken lives

but cradled there an otter thrives

(into which the osprey dives)

 

Maiden, Mother, Crone

the young girl sighs

and as she cries

believes utterly that her heart dies

then woman grown

she stands alone

defiantly, her heart she hones

’til her hand quakes

she creaks and aches

and then in truth, her heart does break

 

Compost

we become

old, brown compost

weighing almost nothing

fine and dry and crumbly

we begin

wet, green, individual

heavy with promise

creating heat and gasses and smells

we are heaped

and turned together

rubbing our edges against each other

spending our heat, losing cohesion

until

one day

we are incorporated into the whole

our selves indistinguishable

from other selves

and all of us together

creating nourishment

for what comes after

 

What Do You Do All Day?

I get up, tea in hand

and go check on life

in my parents house.

Is it progressing?

regressing?

or just stagnating in a recliner?

I go back out

surfeited on Gunsmoke and old movies

and weed-eat or clean the porch

then go back

to my little nest

in a travel trailer

not worthy of living in the house

and make more tea

and try to write

and then go back in

for a dose of news

mixed with Andy Griffith

my mother complains of my father

my father complains about the water bill

my brother flits about

raving and raging

his mental illness so long ago accepted

his behavior seems normal to them

someone competent must live here

but there are days

I regret

having volunteered

 

Frost Ferns

frost draws fanciful ferns

on my window

Such attention to detail

if that much heed is paid

to the designs of frost

how can I believe

in random fate?

Why would I think

even for an instant

that there is no order

no purpose

in my life

Am I not more than frost?

 

Going To the Ocean

I went to see the ocean the other day. Most people would say that they went to the beach, and I did that, but I had come to see the great ocean-sea. I have been to other oceans, other seas, and found them beautiful, sometimes seductive, always fascinating, but none of them are the ocean of my heart. Only the wild Pacific, the great ocean-sea, the stuff of legends and dreams, whales and whalers, surfers and Eskimos chasing dinner in their kayaks.The ocean of my childhood. I sat on the sand in a lawn chair (in deference to my knees) and stared at the water. Not being a sun worshiper (sun worshiping Oregonians have to go elsewhere for their fixes) I wear jeans and a sweat shirt. There is a jacket in the car, after all, this is the Oregon coast in early May. Since my mother had melanoma I wear a big straw hat too. You have to tie it on unless you want to spend the day chasing it. Watching the waves roll in gives me such peace that it becomes almost palatable, radiating off of me in some giant aura. I sit there and smell the comfortable, salty, dead fish and rotten seaweed smell that belongs to the ocean and watch the surf, and the seagulls as they soar and squabble. It would be nice to claim deep thoughts, but if I think about anything it is usually the japanese current which runs the pacific ocean. The water before me has come recently from Japan, by way of the frozen north. It is on its way to Hawaii and South America, Australia and Borneo. It has touched the shore of Africa. I wish to learn its secrets, but it is unlikely to tell me, the inscrutable sea. Sometimes I think about all the things that live within it, their lives, their feelings and their journeys. What it must be like to have the freedom of the entire ocean. A whale, with no alarm clock, that travels from pole to pole, wherever the mood and the krill take it. An Orca, hunting seals, an octopus with their odd locomotion skittering across the sandy reefs, tangling myself in my many arms, even a fat bull walrus, bossing the girl walruses and crashing my body against the other males for dominance of my walrus tribe. occasionally I wonder what it would be like to be a sailor, living my life on a rolling deck in the middle of that vast trackless wilderness that is the face of the ocean, knowing her in all her moods, the excitement of a new port on the horizon. Then I think about all the times I have been to the ocean, going clear back to when I was a child, chasing waves with my brother and sisters. Clam digging and crab pots, shrimp guns, boat rides in the bays, fishing for flounder, that time we caught a baby octopus in a tide pool, the harbor seal that almost came up in the boat, the red worm-like critter my sister was so proud of finding right up until it stung her, funny stories and serious coming of age. We grew up here as much as anywhere and it weaves itself into your soul. I have seen it in sun and in shadow, even in raging storms, its power calls me and calms me. It is one of the places my heart lives. Mostly though, I think of nothing at all. I just am alive, happy and free. It is more than enough.

 

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