before I get out

I have no fiction in my heart this morning, but I want to sit down and write. For a long time I only wanted to share elegant, eloquent words here, words that had flown to me while showering or driving. Words I had to write down so the feeling surrounding them wouldn’t disappear forever. Such desperate grasps for relevance often lead me to desperation, so instead I’ll write down a few things I know to be true.

My friend is moving, to a house that I dreamed about a few months ago. When she showed me the small basement with its row of white windows and Depression-era hooks and latches, I told her that it was the house she and her family are meant to be in. The house sits in a small town north of here, next to a state park. The entire place is on the Historic Register, was built for the builders of the TVA dam that fed electricity to the valleys and hollers that surround it. You have to walk to the post office to get your mail and meet your neighbors. It’s perfect for her.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had dreams like this — that have proven themselves as more than mere images of wishful thinking on a blank screen. I dream of a museum almost every night, I dream of certain fields and copses of trees with orange leaves underfoot. I dream of small towns in the mountains. I hope these turn out to be as true as the one about my friend’s new house.

Better run — off to ride bikes with Xander. If we wait it will grow too warm and the ride will be shortened by our sweat and weakened breath and stupor.  We’ve been swimming a lot, an activity that will soon be the only appropriate outdoor one in the heat of this southern summer.

In the meanwhile, here’s a picture of what we’ve been up to this summer:

Elkmont

and this was two years ago the same week…

Two Years Ago

salt fire

We moved back over two years ago, and I remember that first winter especially. It snowed here, an abundance of white covering what is normally still bright green and mossy this time of year. It felt like Alaska had followed us, placed her ice-cold blue finger on our shoulders, and whispered, “Not so fast. You can’t get rid of me yet.”

We drank a lot of espressos that winter, because you bought me a new machine. The grinding of beans and the steaming of milk became a calming ritual, even though the product kept our hearts racing. That townhome had a large window that overlooked the trees and the street, and when it snowed in great white flakes it looked like one of those animated photographs in Chinese restaurants. Later that summer, when the electricity went out for days and the only light was from the hundreds of lightning bugs darting through the trees, the picture was replaced.

Last Friday, you told me about Connecticut, gently and without much commentary. The ache is still raw, and will always be raw. There comfort lies only for those of us who are far removed, we see something that doesn’t make sense, so we weave metaphysical quilts to wrap around ourselves. Quilts with threads of gold and silver embroidered in the batting. I’m sure for the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, teachers, friends of the dead, there isn’t a quilt warm or beautiful enough that could keep them comfortable for long. It would likely be too small, and slip off their shoulders too often. Their ache is a black hole, devouring their movements and thoughts. I ache for them and I ache for all of us.

Something (or someone) was here this morning. The dog was sleeping next to me and she raised up, hackles like porcupine quills on her strong back. Her teeth bared, her growl low then rising into a full bark; there was something in the hallway. Invisible, but still very present. Maybe she was dreaming, but just in case, I did a cleansing salt fire this afternoon. I said, in a low voice, that if the someone or something that was here was nice and calm, it could stay. Loved ones are welcome. Always.

Some drivel and some news

This memory is strong tonight: A quiet day, so quiet I can hear the coffee brewing in the break room and window glass settling in the building’s framing. It’s snowing; some of the snowflakes are as big as ping pong balls. On my work computer, all of my emails have been categorized and labeled, and I’ve completed a press release. I’m having a rare calm moment when I love being a secretary (but that is probably  because the phone is quiet).

This song is playing. Xander is at his daycare and Gary is at his work and I am at my desk and it is snowing. I feel beautiful and warm. Snow from my earlier break is melting off of my boots, pooling water on the carpet. The latte I’ve bought from the coffee hut next door is perfect, and still fairly hot.

Outside, the temperature is hovering around 10 degrees. The snow and ice fog turns the air cloudy and blue, and when I walk to the library at lunch, my headphones small and cold inside my ears, the only sound (aside from the music playing in my ears) is that of my feet padding the snow and the ravens calling in the trees above my head.

I took it all for granted. Well, most of it. Some of it.

Here is that song again.

Also – If you like southern writing, my friend Ray has the new issue of 2nd and Church Literary Magazine up. Gary has a photo featured. My two short pieces on Knoxville’s literary history and literary community will be in the next issue. Here is the link to the issue…

 

small, pink jewel

Here I am with just a few moments to spare. The house is quiet, except for the obligatory tick tick tick of the clock. We bought it at Ikea for $1.99, and it ticks so plainly that it reminds me of the big black wall clocks that hung in every elementary and secondary school classroom I ever sat in.

I was thinking today about a little vintage shop that I used to frequent when I was a teenager. Perched on the far corner of the cobblestone streets in the Oregon District in Dayton, Ohio, it was a small pink jewel in an otherwise gritty block. Just a building over was a bar known for mafia activity, gunfire, and blood on the sidewalk. But the vintage shop was perfectly quiet and dainty, and closed at 6:00, well before the bar rolled up its iron gate.

I could never afford to buy much: a bracelet here, a scarf there. Once I found a camel-colored cardigan with three quarter inch sleeves that fit me so well that I wrote a check that I knew might bounce, so I hurried to the bank afterward and deposited a few soiled dollar bills and some coins from the bottom of my purse. A checking account was a new thing for me, then. I remember I ordered checks with the Simpsons on them.

Since I came of age in the 1990’s, the clothes in the vintage shops were mostly from the twenties through the  sixties, not the seventies and eighties as they are now. Clothing from those more recent decades saturated thrift stores, and no one was prepared to call something so close in the past “antique” or “vintage” yet.

There was one sweater set I coveted: soft, pink, angora, and sequined. It reminded me of something that Ed Wood would wear. Standing in the shop, mothball and lilac wafting up from the clothes and the carpet and the ancient proprietress, I felt a little swoon come over me as I ran my hands up and down the sleeves. I couldn’t buy it. Too much money, the wrong size. Most of the clothes in the shop were the wrong size, even at my lightest and slimmest I am tall, full, and curvy. I tower over many women today, and I imagine if I were alive during the time that the clothes I admired were new I would appear to be a sort of giant.

One of my great-grandmothers was almost six feet tall. There’s a photograph of her and a friend standing underneath a tree, wearing cloche hats and short flapper dresses. Their lips are dark; their eyes smoldering. She must have been such a standout knockout, you know? Six feet tall, gorgeous and fierce. No demure sweater sets for her, I would bet.

I apologize for my absence here. I have been at school, as you know. It’s been wonderful, and I have been writing a lot as you’d imagine. I’m excited to say that I’ll be doing a presentation in my Communications Class on the Kreung Tribe of Cambodia (they of the “Love Huts”), and am also writing a short piece on the dreadful crime that inspired Emma Donoghue to write the brilliant, wonderful, sad novel Room. I will be busy for the next, oh, five or six years, but I will always need this outlet. I need a place to store my memories and my dreams.

 

I always wanted to be a Ziegfeld Girl…

breadcrumbs

This is how it will work. You will take something out of your pantry, preferably something relatively dry, and tasteless. Breadcrumbs, oatmeal, stone ground grits. All of these are appropriate, because something must be added to make these foods have flavor. Keep in mind that you will not be cooking with the breadcrumbs, or oatmeal, or stone ground grits, though you will be pouring it into a bowl. Go ahead and do that now. Pour everything out into a bowl, and leave the kitchen.

Now. Go into your bedroom and shut the door tight. No child or dog or neighbor can walk in on what you are about to do.

Framed on the wall, is a photograph, taken the month you became  pregnant with your first child. The print is a large one, 11 x 18 or so, and  You are standing in a web of kudzu, and there are morning glories climbing from your feet to your ankles. Your hair is long and black, and parted down the middle. You are not wearing any clothing, and there is a look of wild abandon in your eyes. Being newly pregnant will do that to you. You’re not entirely convinced that you’re not carrying a wolf baby, or something with cloven hooves.

Back to the bowl of oatmeal (or did you chose the grits?). I need you to go ahead and pour that onto the floor. Yes, the whole thing. Scatter it, stomp in it, grind the flour or oatmeal or breadcrumbs deep into the carpet. Yell if you want.

Once you are spent, and the floor is a mess, go get your vacuum. Clean up the mess you made, and shut the door behind you when you’re done.

I used to clean for a lady who had a huge nude photograph of herself framed on the wall between her bathroom and walk in closet. Judging by the kodachrome color of the print and the style of the woman’s hair and makeup, it must have been shot in the mid to late seventies, when this woman must have been in her thirties. She stood in a field of flowers, her hands behind her head, a full black bush between her legs. 

She was always at home when I cleaned, puttering around the garden or working on her computer. A decade older than middle aged, sedate-looking, kind and grandmotherly, she looked like someone who could make a big pot of perfect pasta out of one egg and a stalk of wheat. When I saw the picture of her as a sort of nymph/earth goddess the first time, I was embarrassed for her, thinking if I had something in my house like that I would take it down when the maids came. Of course, I was twenty-two, and thought the world must end as our bodies grow wider and crow’s feet form around our eyes. Might as well dig our graves and walk to them slowly, while carrying canes made out of gnarled branches.  I don’t feel that way now. 

tracing

I am five years old, and am able to concentrate and hold onto the images around me, seeing even the pixelated static of colors. I know that white is not white and that black is everything mixed together. I know this because I can see the flecks of green, grey, gold, red, and blue dancing into shapes. This is also the age I was when I loved placing my mother’s handmirror under my small nose, and then walk around the house. The ceiling was the floor, the arched passageway into the dining room an obstacle, the pendant light in my bedroom a protruding sculpture to be stepped around and avoided.

 
When Xander was this age, he followed the geometrical patterns that objects made with his eyes. He told me that he was “tracing” them, and would squint at the invisible line that intersected the floor he sat on with the perimeter of the house. He did this so much, with such an exaggerated movement in his blonde head, I had to provide his Kindergarten teacher an explanation of his odd behavior. I wanted to tell her that he was simply seeing things as they really are, just as I did with my shimmering pixels (if I try not to focus on the details, I still see things in all their colors, in all their microscopic parts). To keep things simple, I explained his actions to her the same way he described them to me: he is tracing shapes with his eyes.

At seven his habit is diminishing, though sometimes I catch him studying a tree closely, or the corners of a tall building while we’re walking downtown. I wonder if, as he follows the patterns, if any of the lines are in color. Maybe electric blue straight across, then a shock of orange rising up  in the space between.

white perfumed blossoms

When you’re happy, you might remember how it felt to be fourteen. Your body was slender and your skin was still clear. You were usually allowed to devote your all of your free time to your own passions, which included books, being outside, boys, and eyeliner. Your voice, when you use it, is languid and spoiled sounding. Like pampered pet, the vowels are drawn out, the syllables clipped.

But really, you can’t imagine how wonderful it is to be grown, with rounded hips and a full chest. To have someone love you, and to have given birth to a small, warm infant. You and your husband will take that infant home, and fuss over his every movement. He will grow up as you grow older.

And now your voice has grown deeper, has lost the spoiled tones of your youth, and has developed a mature cadence. You’ve found there is still time for sitting in magnolias and smelling the white perfumed blossoms.