10-Line Tuesday

October 10, 2017

belonging

She returns to the ash where her house once was. He sifts through mud for a photograph,
for anything. In places I cannot fathom, a child clings to a tongue-sized remnant
of a soccer ball, a faded blue hexagon at the center.
What the fire didn't take lies in sharp, twisted ruin. What the flood
didn't drown is torn in countless halves. What the war didn't kill
slips into a hollowness where only pain endures. And here, on the other side
of the coin, there is a girl turning 8, and I want her to have the party
her innocence deserves, a table heaped with joy's bright-bulbed excess,
where the partygoers binge on confetti cake and take turns claiming themselves
her best friend as she bounces recklessly around the room, oblivious to her fortune.

October 3, 2010

another elegy

How badly I wanted to extol the morning's couplet of toast, 
the slow drip of Irish butter, the caramel hue a tablespoon of cream
painted my coffee. I awoke almost writing, having gone to bed at the tail end
of a perfect fall day, leaves straight out of a Norman Rockwell. 
The headlines pierced my plans. I bent, wilting, over two squares of bread
and a lukewarm mug, poetry disappearing in the smoke of disbelief.
What to say, now, in the silence that remains after the bullets have struck? 
What shred of grace or beauty still clings to the mouth of this October
and its devastating blue sky? I am out of ideas, but here: Take my shatter
of grief and twine it to yours. Let us swallow this bitterness together.

September 26, 2017

this is not a play area

"It's not a toy," I suspect his mother said when she first caught her son pointing
her lipstick in the air as she applied mascara before a dinner party. 
"It's not a toy," she repeated later, as the lipstick turned into a nail file, a rolling pin,
a butter knife, a beer bottle. Her son heard only the words "not" and "toy." She thought
it better to keep her distress to herself, to stay silent about the violence of gestures, 
the way she felt, as he leveled each mock barrel toward any living or static thing,
as if she were taking a bullet in her own chest. The phrase "he's just a boy"
kept trailing, like a dustpan, after each new episode, not quite cleaning up the mess,
and now, years later, his armory stockpiled and spilling past the yard, his mother's heart
long-bled, he is razing whole neighborhoods house by house, shooting whatever he sees.

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September 19, 2017

at home at the edge of the world

The fog wouldn't lift. It hovered stubbornly over the bay, obstructing the view
two eager vacationers had been so confident they'd see when they booked their tickets
months before. Now, square in the grip of disappointment, they huddled in the car
second-guessing their choice, wondering if all future trips would pale as sharply,
and if everything they'd ever imagined or looked forward to would disappear
in similar fashion. Beyond the parking lot, gulls had landed, singly and in pairs, at the cliffs,
watching - almost sleepily - the spray of the ocean battering the cove.
It wasn't beauty they needed, but rest, and they took it here, briefly, in the crook
of hard rock and old moss, at home at the edge of the world despite the rage
of water around them, or because of it.

September 12, 2017

every roof, every door

I was eating scrambled eggs when the hurricane pummeled the southern tip
of Florida, a second cup of coffee steaming to my right. New Jersey had never
seemed safer or looked more pristine than from the aperture of a kitchen window
I did not have to shutter or otherwise abandon. A cable news channel was reporting live
from the imminent wreckage of Miami, Collins Avenue already flooded, and it came to me
that had this been a dozen years ago, my sister would have been in the thick of it,
and I, frantic on the phone. And then, it wasn't so hard at all to imagine even further -
a stadium floor studded with exhausted, anxious neighbors, the darkness, Earth's fury
dismantling every roof, every door, every thread of familiarity and ease. 
I crumpled at the table then, my heart breaking in a desperate refrain: "Please. Please."

September 5, 2017

amethyst

Yesterday, I saw a man racing through the grocery store with roses in his fist
and a goofy, proud smile on his lips. I was buying ice cream - a request
from my stepson - and when I came home and put the carton in the freezer,
my body registered its own small delight. I am certain we are each
stumbling through this world with the lumpiness of our foolishness and hope,
grasping at whatever's within easy reach to help us say the thing
we don't quite know how. Sometimes love is faceted as amethyst,
winking at us from a distance and strangely cloudy up close.
And then, suddenly, there we are, smelling of roses, our fingertips
ringed with chocolate, bearing the grace of what we've been given to speak.

August 29, 2017

Noah's art

In the thick of the storm, a camera trains on a man wading
into a ruined house to retrieve an elderly couple and their two dogs. He does not
know them, but the disaster has lit within him a fire of urgency, and something
resembling love emerges from the wreckage, hands reaching for other hands.
Survival, he knows, demands participation. Another day it could be him, stranded
on some floating rooftop, the highway all but disappeared. He will have nothing left
but faith, and even that will wobble and weave as the water rises. Yet the question
is not what we'll do at the precipice - instinct reaches that particular real estate -
but in our less devastated hours, what gesture will we dare to extend to one another?
Which divide will our bodies bend to cross when no one is crying to be saved?

August 22, 2017

two minutes and forty seconds

It wasn't so much that I thought the world would end or
reset like a metaphorical Pangaea, but I did imagine that afterward,
the landscape would shift toward some new alignment, and the trouble
rippling underneath would smooth out the way a plane does,
clearing the clouds. It's true, we all stopped to gaze through a makeshift lens
as the moon overcame the larger, louder body of the sun, gathering in fields
and on streets, clustered in a shared awe as the hard light cooled and softened.
But it's the fleeting mid-point I'm missing now, those two minutes and forty seconds
we held our collective breath and rested in brief surrender to our uncertain future,
leaning into the great cosmic miracle of our lives, as we were born to do.

August 15, 2017

remembering Charlottesville

Not the way I saw it in a photograph from yesterday's paper, the fists
of men meeting in smoke-filled streets, police standing too far away,
impotent in riot gear and indecision. Instead, it is the kitchen on South Bath Avenue
in nearby Waynesboro I tumble back to, the one my parents made our Sabbath dinner in, 
and the one from which we emerged to drive to a synagogue 30 minutes away.
How despite the strangeness of our new Southern home, the neighbor girls
who couldn't pronounce my sister's name, the church bells pealing on the hour,
there was a place for us in Charlottesville, a sanctuary filled with prayer and blessings
knitting us together. What I want to remember is how close we sat in the pews, humbled
by so much welcome, our hands loose and open at our sides, almost touching.

August 8, 2017

there are fairies in the empty spaces

Good luck charms in the fallen soufflé. A bright, orange balloon
behind the first slippery drafts of a poem. Twinkle lights in loneliness.
Pompoms on the outskirts of bad luck, and caramels underneath the hard shell
of regret. A merry-go-round a few dozen spins away from longing. There are fairies
in the empty spaces, sparklers in the dark, small emerald cities past the heavy,
claustrophobic woods of fear. Even when we think we'll refuse to give up, who can tell me
they haven't fallen to their knees after too many nights of the the heart's weary,
unanswered pleadings? I have wept into that very silence. I have etched my losses
in those walls. And yet, through the smallest of portholes, the air insists.
And then, it is making a bridge. And then, it is holding up the whole sky.

August 1, 2017

the empathy museum

Begin with the closest specimens: discards you find on your walk
to get more roast beef for the kids. Notice the optimistic colors of cast-off soda bottles,
the way a crushed cigarette pack bears the mark of both desperation and relief,
how the imprints of teeth on school pencils remind you of the infinite horror
of standardized tests. Soon, your eye will fan out to the frayed collar of the man
on the corner asking for spare change, the missing hubcap of the car broken down
on the busy highway, the look of sheer exhaustion the Target cashier can't hide
despite the careful cheer of her greeting. This is when it will dawn on you, all those places
you'd rather ignore but where, in fact, your gaze is needed most, rooms housing another's
shadowy narrative, and the doors you must walk through to lead you out of your own.

July 25, 2017

proximity

When the man to my left unwraps his sandwich as we're settling in,
making a production with the paper bag, the circus of pickles and raw onion,
and the entire row begins to take on the odor of a deli on the Lower East Side,
I don't imagine we will be speaking much during the trip. Still, since we're seated
at the exit, the flight attendant confirms our willingness to assist in the unlikely event
of an evacuation, and suddenly there we are, heads bowed over a colorful placard, 
nodding our promise to work together should the need arise. Somehow, this proximity
is enough to get him started on a conversation, which I am surprised to find, we continue
well into the Rockies and Nebraska, where a solar eclipse will pass in late August,
and the light which change for those willing enough to look up.

July 18, 2017

you're not crazy

For the tattoo you're plotting on your vertebrae, or the paragliding flight off the cliffs
at Fort Funston, or the two thousand miles of a bike path along the Mississippi
that you conjure from your window seat at 30,000 feet and say, "Why not?" as your neighbor
polishes off the last pages of a romance novel. Surely, someone deemed improbable
the dream that led two people to meet each other in that big house in suburban New Jersey,
on a holiday weekend no less. But the math, eventually, pierced through all that
unlikelihood, just as every ambition gripping you with its wild, tentacled longing
cuts through the thickest glass, even as the signs warn otherwise. Your language
has its own cadence. You lean on certain words, luxuriate over particular consonants.
So, too, does desire. Mapless to everyone but the girl with her heart on the trail.

July 11, 2017

too early for peaches

It is summer, inarguably, and the line for ice cream curves into the parking lot
even as a thunderstorm looms. Weekends, smoke wafts from neighborhood grills
and the front display at the CVS is a bright Pantone of sunscreen. Nevertheless,
something pulls at you, a memory willful as a teenager. Flesh yielding to your teeth. 
The blush of softness in your hands. The defiance and purity of your hunger.
Sometimes, you don't know what to do with that voice at the back of your throat,
the one that speaks what your tongue won't say. The one that howls for the taste
of peaches as you take your place for a sugar cone and a hamburger, medium-well.
And yet, there is no shortcut to the harvest, no quicker season to the fruit of your own
becoming, sweetened by time as it is. 

July 4, 2017

weeding my mother's garden

In the stillness of the backyard, a chorus descends from the trees.
Below, a trail of ants in the thick of industry, a vine of cherry tomatoes
reaching skyward in microscopic increments, a bee barreling into a nest
of white blossoms. I've planted myself in the shade, slouching over the weeds
at the far back edge. Yesterday's rain has made them easier to pull, and soon,
a clearing emerges behind me. We aren't always so easily rewarded, of course,
but I guess that's not the point. I rise and make my way back to the house, back
to my life, which advances in fits and starts not quite mappable to the effort I've given it.
Sometimes, the work looks like magic and sometimes the work looks like work,
or maybe they are one and the same.

June 27, 2017

soaked to the bone

You imagined an empty porch, a stiff drink, a ream of paper stacked at your feet,
the hot breath of the Muse at your neck and all those paragraphs catching fire.
In your mind's cinematic eye, a novel was unfolding frothily inside this microcosm,
sharp-tongued poems licking at the glass. Instead, the neighbor's backyard carpentry
keeps possessing your pages, the dog trolls haphazardly in and out of the narrative,
lashing you with forlorn, guilt-inducing looks, and a boy falls into your lap, sobbing,
ripping each line in wet, jagged seams. Whatever you thought you were keeping out
is finding a way in, and the great art of your perfect, kempt desire is mottled with a rain
your tidy world cannot repel. The room keeps pawing you with the fleshy demands of a story
that refuses all margins, but here you are in the downpour, soaked to the bone with words.

June 20, 2017

we have to say goodbye to everything *

Even the vine of peas climbing incrementally upward as summer opens
to its first chapter. In the grip of optimism, we still hear the cautionary tale
of scars from old disappointments, losses we thought long buried. It's hard,
almost heroic, to give the full thrust of undiluted joy to anything, knowing
what we know. The storm we were waiting for inevitably comes, flinging hail
to the yard, drowning the garden we'd built, and something changes irreversibly in us,
a muscle forever tenderized by the pummel of grief. But there is also this: that moment
the weather moves east and we look up and see a wash of light that takes over the sky,
and below us, we notice the tenderness and greenness of a vine whose chances
have not yet run out. This - this - is why we're here.


* I stole this line from a voice message my friend Laurie sent me.

June 13, 2017

solitaire

It's almost 2 a.m. and your wife is at the hospital with her son
because he tried to punch a hole in the floor sometime after he said
he was going to bed, and you can't sleep because you almost had a heart attack
when he screamed "ER!" from his room just when you were hitting your REM stride,
so you're playing endless rounds of Spider Solitaire as you wait for them to get back,
and you wonder which is worse, the pain in his knuckles or the one that got him
to the brink, while you try, with certain familiar futility, to solve the puzzle
playing on your screen. You wish you could tell him insanity is doing the same thing
over and over again expecting a different result, but there you are, shuffling cards,
losing each hand before dealing another, as if this will be the one that'll win you the game.

June 6, 2017

suspended

It was raining, and the laundry had piled up, and the shelves
of the fridge had been cleared by your ravenous children,
and the car needed new break pads, and the wiring of the light fixture
in the upstairs hallway looked ominously frayed, and it's possible
there was a small leak in the roof, and the grout between the bathroom tiles
was freckled with mold. Nevertheless there you were, in the middle of it all,
tilting your attentions elsewhere, eyes closed against the advancing cataclysm,
your heart stubbornly ablaze with rebellion. There would always be some stain crawling
across the walls; few ceilings would resist the buckle of weather or time. Gravity
always wins in the end. But what of this suspended in-between? Anything is possible.

May 30, 2017

how to make room for wildness

Begin with a road trip. Invite more people than can reasonably fit in your car.
Head south on the turnpike with a canvas bag of snacks crammed into the foot well.
When you stop for gas, purchase the chocolate bars of your childhood and a fizzy drink
that will make your teeth wince. Imagine the hours ahead as the rungs of a ladder
you are climbing down, and the miles behind you like years of your life sloughing off,
so that when you arrive you are almost pre-verbal, with a giddiness at this new world
you have entered. Marvel at the bird that accompanies your first breakfast,
its unfamiliar plumage and grace startling you with such wonder, you are convinced
there are wings stirring at your shoulders, and a strange, beautiful song at the perch
of your throat, and nothing - nothing at all - to keep you from sending it flying.