river

I’m usually not bothered by my sobriety; the time when I drank openly, illegally, recreationally and privately are over a decade in the past. I was twenty one when I got sober, and that was after an almost two year dry spell. I don’t dwell on it, and it’s been fairly easy to avoid. My life as an adult has been spent with a sober man by my side, us against the world. When our son was younger all my activities revolved around him and his well-being, but now that I’m taking time for myself and am back in school I notice how deeply alcohol swills through my adult world, how easily clinking cocktails and wine glasses seep into academia; how present the hipster craft beer and barrel-aged whiskey. It’s nothing that I want but it’s something that’s so common in socializing, so we often keep to ourselves and our small group, most of which, if they do drink, only do so occasionally. Again, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t feel cheated, I don’t desire it. It sometimes makes me feel sad that so many adults can’t seem to enjoy themselves without it. That was something I had to learn when I was younger: without alcohol, there are mountains to be climbed, sex to be had with a clear head and the absolute absence of numbness, starry nights to look at without the spilling of ash, conversations that are truthful and remembered the next day. Of course I realize that not everyone drinks the way that I did — where I was destructive they are only loosened. Their gears don’t rust and then break like mine so often did. Shirts stay on, police are not called, strangers are not fondled. 

Recently, I’ve read a few articles offering advice for sober adults living in an alcohol-soaked world. Most of the advice is stupid, and likely doesn’t come from someone has ever had a problem with alcohol. The suggestions range from, “Don’t tell people you are an alcoholic.” (derp) to “Get a club soda and put a lime wedge in it, people will think you’re drinking and you’ll fit in.” Hm. Should I stumble and slur my words, too? Will that allow me to blend in? I’ve always asked for coffee, and told the truth if asked. That I don’t drink. No sob story offered or needed. 

Before I met my husband I had never had a sexual encounter while sober. I was so worried about seeming awkward, new, afraid that I became either the happy, easy, drunk girl or the quiet, shy, girl, surreptitiously sipping something I’d hidden away to gain confidence. My shoulders never went back unless properly lubricated. I didn’t allow myself to look someone in the eye unless my vision was blurred. Sex while sober was and remains a full body experience, no longer is my mind cut off from my body as it was when I drank. I don’t think we need to enhance what’s already fucking incredible without the influence of outside chemicals. Why numb the intensity? 

Now that I write that — I think I kept on drinking because I couldn’t handle the intensity of my young adult emotions — typical growing pains were too much for me, or I thought they were too much, at least. I began drinking to fit in, to add something to my social life that I thought was lacking. Looking back to the way I was before I drank, when I was fifteen or sixteen, I wonder who I would be now if I hadn’t started. I see a girl who used to go the pool with her friends, an impossibly blue place that sat in the middle of the city her parents, and she, grew up in. Surrounding the pool was a wide green lawn, changing rooms from an era when women became WACs and WAVES and were never without red lipstick. This place was surrounded by a river full of paddle boats and swans, canoes that could be rented, shuffleboard, giant carp who ate Wonder Bread. The girl used to stretch out, brown her skin on an old white quilt, eat hot dogs from the concession stand, drink Dr. Pepper, swim for hours, and then go home to fall asleep on a cool bed beneath a ceiling fan. Her head was full of fireflies and passages from the books she read and reread but it was clear. Her legs were tanned, her stomach flat. She gave history tours during the day and drank fancy coffee drinks at night with her friends. In the winters she danced and sang on a historic stage; her life was too full to hold anything that might dizzy her. Until it did. She felt old before she turned twenty. 

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But again, I don’t regret a thing (non, rien de rien). I’ve been given the gift of feeling younger now than I did at nineteen. My legs are still tan, my stomach still relatively flat. I’m still sitting on grassy lawns next to swimming pools. I’m still here. 

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magnolia

I’m worried about the future again, which you told me is where the root of anxiety lives. I’d rather live in a tree instead of a few paces ahead. Buddha had his Bodhi, I have my broadleaf evergreens. Magnolias are older than bees, which tells me that they can save us all if the bees die and all that are left are hard-shelled wasps and beetles. Before the bees manifested, it was the beetles who made the magnolias bloom, but I don’t know if they smelled as cloyingly sweet or were so paper-white.

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Mark Catesby – Magnolia, 1731

I’m sorry that I only come here when I’m worried, or after I’ve made a mistake. Most of my mistakes are internal, never voiced, never acted upon, only memorized and repeated. The need to be happy, to be still, to be settled…this is what presses on my chest. There are dozens of birds outside our window, small and brown, carrying off materials to make nests. The robins left but the finches are here. Their nests are less conspicuous, small, unobtrusive. Hundreds of eggs, blue and white, crunch underfoot. I’m writing to make myself feel better now, giving over to images that are comforting and calming. A walk across campus, heavy with humidity and magnolia, the very heat and smell that we lacked when we were north. Back then my bodhi was a birch, millions of them, actually. Their uniformity and chalky white bark was like a hum, a mantra, a lullaby. Here the trees are as different as my emotions and decisions. It’s complicated enough here, in this temperate rain forest, to stay forever. But don’t think I won’t run to the tundra again, if it asks me. Under this canopy of magnolias, dogwood, willow, and tulip poplar is where I hide. But I don’t think I can hide forever.

here is what’s inside

inside an earthen pot that’s been baked over coals are a few things that I love. The pot is sealed but I want you to break it when I tell you. It will be near the end but hopefully I’ll be so far away that you won’t be sad. I’ll be blinking right along with the stars and to tell the truth I won’t be thinking of you.

Here is what’s inside:

one Virgin Mary statue: chipped and cheap, blue and white, yellow hair and bleeding heart.

two smooth round stones: we found them in river. you’re not supposed to take stones, but you wanted to leave a trace that day. one of the stones is black and the other is grey (but looks green when you put it under water).

three dimes. you can’t use them for anything anymore but if you keep them in your pocket they won’t disappear on you. metal is one of those elements that doesn’t want to leave as quickly as the others. it refuses to float up or out. it doesn’t care that there are several layers of atmosphere above our heads.

four robin’s eggs: the same color as Mary’s robes.

I will be gone but these four things will remain in the earthen pot until you smash it. they will tumble out onto the grass and you can pick them up and carry them with you. you can’t do that with me.

Virgin Mary

found here, no source

pack

Amber touched the top of her head and found it warm from the sun, and she hoped that the sun would warm her brain and beam light through all the dark corners. The lawn chair she sat in was small, and her legs were cramped and crisscrossed with funny tan lines from where the sun had hit the book she was reading instead of her thighs. A sun tattoo.

When she decided to leave college for home she had been sick, coughing and feverish and unable to sleep. Her young body had begun rejecting the poisons she had forced into it through smoke and liquid and fire. Her parents didn’t ask many questions because they were afraid of the answers she’d give. Or maybe they knew she would lie, and silence was often preferable, even though it was edged black with tension.

She’d been home for three months, with a part-time job nestled in each of those months that never lasted from the first to the thirty-first. Her W2’s would be plentiful this year, her nametags would cover the top of her dresser. With each new job she felt like she might be able to make it stick. She tried hard to not feel bored or depressed or lonely at these menial jobs, but too often they were filled with people like her. Young people who had already been dealt, by genetics or accident or both, the addiction card. These people, like her, smoked too much and drank too much. They spent their paychecks before they were cashed on their alcohol-saturated weekends or at the mall, just like she did. When breaks came, she joined them on the broken down picnic tables in back of the restaurant, or department store, or wine store, or coffee shop) and smoked, searching each of their faces for something recognizable. She tried not to feel attached or attracted to any of them, knowing that she’d leave before the month was up. She always had a good reason for why she had to quit each of the jobs: either the pay was not good or the boss was hateful or racist. Her constant job-hopping bemused and frustrated her parents, who weren’t sure whether to be happy that she occupied her old room (surly as she was in it) or nervous that she’d never leave it again. At least while she was back home, they weren’t up every night wondering if she was lost or drunk or dead in a ditch somewhere. Parents are often very worried about losing their children in ditches.

When Amber wasn’t employed or was enjoying a day off from her twenty-hour-a-week schedule from whatever job she was at that week, she sat in the courtyard behind the townhouse in an old lawn chair. Beside the chair, on the concrete slab, was a copy of The Masterpiece, which she had read in one of her classes in college but was now reading again. A pack of cigarettes, dwindling by the hour, rested beside a cooling cup of Maxwell House. She realized how pretentious and sad this combination would seem to onlookers. College drop-out sits in her parent’s courtyard and smokes while reading intense french novels. She knew she was ridiculous and yes, she cared. But it was better to be outside than in, watching cable or hiding under her comforter and masturbating. Outside she could at least listen to birds and to the traffic outside. Outside there was a breeze (her room was always stifling).

During the summer after her sophomore year of high school she had attended theater camp on the campus of the same university that she had just left, and the innocence and exhilaration of that week was what made her want to attend there in the first place. It had been twenty-four hours a day of creation and art and late nights with new friends. She had fallen in love with a boy who was a startlingly good actor; they called one another on dormitory phones and whispered things that they were too embarrassed to say in person. Over the phone they were bold, and the line crackled with the heat of hormones and kindred spirits. They talked so much on those phones that when they did see each other in the halls the next day they didn’t have to talk at all. After camp, through postcards and letters written with heavy blue ink, he told her that he had been admitted to Julliard. She didn’t write him much after that, in the months after camp had ended she had fallen in love with weed and wine. The nice thoughts and memories of their week at camp together only came in spurts and were painful when they showed up. Actual college did not taste as sweet as camp had, though she wondered if she had stayed innocent and not inhaled so much if it would have been different. Better. Clearer. Certainly her lungs would have been better, and clearer.

Her roommate at school had been Jessica, her best friend from home, a brutally smart and beautiful girl whose innocence had been robbed by a pack of feral boys in their neighborhood. While Amber was at camp, kissing wiry-armed actors and developing a fragile idea of craft and commitment to a story, Jessica was ahead of her, drinking her father’s beer and stumbling over to boys’ houses where the mothers were unmarried, away at work and never home. These boys, wolf-like, hormonal, emboldened by beer and Ecstasy, tore away Jessica’s clothes and left her sleeping on dirty basement couches. Light never made it in to these basements; the summer was rainy, the Venetian blinds dusty, nicotine-stained and shut. For Jessica, too, college had not been the escape she had envisioned, and she also left with her tail between her legs and several plastic bags of clothes. The girls’ dorm room sat empty and institutional after they left, and the smell of Nag Champa and Marlboro’s faded and was replaced with the smell of Pine Sol. The floors had been filthy; neither girl owned a broom. Unlike Amber, Jessica didn’t want to go home, so she sat in stasis and waited for things to get better on their own. She found a job at the grocery store and sat in stasis.

Amber’s stasis was the sunshine filled courtyard, and in the coffee shops that still allowed indoor smoking. She sometimes used her mother’s car to drive down to Jessica, where they would smoke opium and listen to cd’s on the shag carpet in Jessica’s tiny off-campus apartment. Jessica always had good drugs from the guys she worked with, boys who were also either dropouts like Jessica and Amber or still in school and majoring in botany or philosophy. These boys wanted more than anything to fuck Jessica (she had all this long red hair that drove them crazy), but Jessica didn’t care about them besides the drugs they could provide. She put most of her efforts into her adopted shih tzu, into teaching him to use a litter box while she worked twelve hour shifts at the grocery store. Amber hoped Jessica wasn’t becoming a townie, a cliche. Which cliche was preferable, though? One with a steady paycheck and a small apartment (and a litter-trained shih tzu), or one that lived with her parents, ate their food, drove their cars while drunk and high, smoked menthol cigarettes in their bathroom, all the while reading books that were written at minimum two hundred years before she was born?

image by William England, found on Tumblr

 

‘mark but this flea’

She was so old now that once she crossed her fingers, the flesh turned to powder and the powder turned back to stardust but he didn’t care. She still looked at him with desire, even though his back had been hunched from birth and his eyes jumped too quickly from one object to another. She calmed him down, stilled his mind, brought all the bright things sharply into focus. That she was disappearing from the world made him love her all that much more.

She saw things when she slept that changed him. One bright and cold December morning, after they had pressed against one another on his tattered pallet and fallen asleep, she shook him awake and urged him to find his small bone microscope. She told him that in her dream the world was turned to honeycombs; that even the smallest speck of dust had thousands of little rooms inside. She plucked a dead flea from his naked skin; though no longer living it had it already had rendered a red and raised bump on his pale skin. He took the flea from the tip of her finger (still crumbling, still gossamer), placed it on a small piece of mirrored glass that he kept on his table. White light shot through his tiny window and pooled on the floor. He carried the glass to the spot, and angled the mirror until he found a prism. Looking through the scope, the flea had grown to four times its size. As he moved the glass the honeycomb shapes that she had told him would appear shivered into focus.

He looked over at her as she clutched her bare knees. She smiled and nodded at him before evaporating, leaving the smell of burning wax and dust. His hands were shaking so hard that he dropped the mirror. While picking up the tiny shards, he recalled the poem that she whispered to him the night before as they tumbled into one another –

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,   
How little that which thou deniest me is;   
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be*
Hooke's Flea, From 'Micrographia'

Hooke’s Flea, From ‘Micrographia’

*John Donne – The Flea
I wrote some things (including the above) over on a tumblr site but the place never stuck like this one has. I feel like this place has been calmly waiting for my summer to start when I’d have time to write here again. But if you’re so inclined – http://howoldthisplaceis.tumblr.com/
xo, 
C

another latitude

I drank too much coffee yesterday, and today I cut my fingers with aluminum foil while making tents for the fish. The semester just ended and you’ll be glad to know that it went well. The little pinpoints of light are starting to form constellations, and I’d rather stay now to watch what the constellations tell me than leave for another latitude. I want to go deeper into this one. 

I have an internship at the university’s museum, and it’s lovely. Through my work with an upcoming exhibition, I’ve learned that Robert Hooke, as well as being a genius and a meticulous scientific artist, was a hunchback and an eccentric. Van Leeuwenhoek didn’t speak any English when he came to the Royal Society, and sat alone in a cell working on experiments and drawing by oily lamplight. Maria Sibylla Merian traveled with her daughter — unchaperoned by males! Unheard of in the late seventeenth century — to Suriname, where she squinted at caterpillars and classified insects unknown to Europe, and painted exquisite spiders being stalked by hungry birds. The world of early scientific knowledge is filled with these flickering figures, lit only by candles magnified by glass. They fought against religious battles stronger even than the ones that scientists face now — the Great Chain of Being was lithographed into every leather volume, bound with precious metal, too expensive and stationary to budge in the minds of the public and the velvet-cloaked sponsors. When you think of Hooke, and Wren, and Grew and Newton and Merian, make sure you use the proper term for them: revolutionaries. Brilliant brains with silver swords attached to their fingers, cutting through the darkness of superstition and custom and letting all the stars burn. 

Besides the scientists and their watercolors, lithographs, and copper plate engravings, I’ve been contemplating the future (way too much). I let the possibilities worry me too much — where will we be when I’m finished with this? Why do I want to stay here? If I ask nicely can we stay here? These questions tumble around my skull and combine with the already excited neurons (stimulated by caffeine, of course) and I’m left with more questions than I started with. It’s too much. What I need is to be quiet. Look at the caterpillars. Wait for fireflies to come out. They live here, you know. All the places that bring me peace are here. I feel as though I’m asking the Universe a huge favor to hold on tight instead of letting go. I’ve been afraid to get close to people and places all my life because I know that eventually they’ll be snatched away from me. I need to accept that it’s better to lose the things you love than to have nothing to love to begin with. And I want these things to be green and pink and white and purple and blue. Azaleas and rhododendron and crumbling old buildings that fireflies blink through. I’ll never stop crossing my fingers for this. 

Maria Sibylla Merian, Passion flower plant and flat-legged bug, c. 1701-5

Maria Sibylla Merian

I guess I should have mentioned…

Our book was published back in September. You can get your copy here

“On a wintry white day, a small boy and a red sled step out for an adventure. As they slip through the snowy woods, their imagined journey takes place against real black-and-white photos of Eagle River, Alaska. Told entirely in haiku, this gentle book evokes both joy and calm. The black, red, and white color scheme is perfect for very young children, but readers of all ages will find the lyrical tone and captivating pictures a delightful invitation to explore the forest again and again.”

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