Posted in Uncategorized

In the Land of At Least.

Twice I turned my back on you. I fell flat on my face but didn’t lose. – Yukimi Nagano

1.

This love is a leaden zephyr: it will always sink but at least it was made in the image of that which can fly.

Long ago, I gave you my heart in a kite. You wound the string around your neck: a floating pendant, an ascot that sailed against sky. And we walked together, two children in grown-up bodies: a girl in an eyelet dirndl, a boy in a sport coat and knickers. Playing school, playing doctor, playing house. You always wanted to be the teacher, always wanted to be the patient, always wanted to be head of the home. But at least I was never made to wear the dunce cap. At least I was not stricken with incurable disease. At least the home that we built was made of air.

Before long you began your proposals. The first was framed as algebra: if I asked you to marry me on your birthday, what is the probability you would wed me before gaining ground in your career?

n is the number of times you have asked for a compromise that solely benefits you. x is the absence of rings.

Solve for y.

You said my heart-kite became a noose. At least you didn’t die.

The bloom has long since fled this bouquet. It will shrivel like a cancerous thing. Its petals, if pulled, will portend our eventual fate: he loves me; he loves me; he loves me not. But at least you chose each flower yourself, at least you picked them from a garden you tend, at least you did not leave our outcome in the cold and scarred hands of a florist.

2.

These inner children have grown. The girl has turned in her dirndl for a rough-hewn maternity smock. The boy is donning track shoes. They are every bit as mature as we’ve always looked and as wary as aging requires. When the sedatives wear thin in her blood and she raises her heels to push, his hands are not the ones that act as human stirrups, his eyes not the first to be laid on their child. He is not there at all; he has left for a gig. But at least he is called when the infant wriggles free. At least he whispers her name through a telephone held to her ear. At least he flies back one month later, bearing diapers, sleepy midnights, and money.

At least when he arrived, she did not say: this is the least you can do. The literal least.

3.

This family is a disassembled mosaic: three shards of brightly colored glass, devoid of base and of hold. We float on the surface of waters, carried east and west on winds we cannot control. You have slit my sails and I have shredded yours; at least we are not without oars. At least we have not been submerged. At least we’re not lost to each other, in fog. At least you do not question the resemblance of the little shard to you. At least, should we ever find meet driftwood and fasten, we will make something beautiful, to be ogled, critiqued, and admired. At least on occasion, you roll a tiny scrit into a bottle. It says: my decision to remain on this water alone has little to do with whether we’ll wind up together. It says: this drifting will not always be, at least.

I know better than to read this as a promise. I have learned how to interpret you, at least.

Posted in Nonfiction

Out There is a Garden.

Like a widower, like a prisoner, like an acolyte new to a nunnery, the mother who splits with her lover during pregnancy–or more acutely, because of it–is expected to sustain an extended season of mourning–of mourning and reverence and soberness. She will be watched, her next actions weighed and measured. If she returns to the fray too soon, she is a bad mother, dodging her new role as diaperer, doter, and dairy in order to don peep-toe stilettos and hit the stroll, wielding a clutch full of condoms.
It’s tricky.

When the casual observer spots this woman with an infant, he conjures a domestic life for her that includes a shared bed, nightly lower back rubs, a partner, because this early on–while the baby is still dewy and wordless, while the mother is still bathed in her miraculous life-bearing aura, while the father is still awed by his heir–this is simply implied. There is no uncomplicated way to explain the echoing loneliness, the cavernous absence, the awkward near-daily phone updates on their daughter’s development. At a time when her most intimate moments should be spent with her ex, at the rail of a crib, whispering over the shared triumph of getting their colicky infant to rest, the last thing anyone suspects is that she’s calculating the appropriate time to wriggle free of her billowy blouses and pull on the form-fitting regalia attendant to getting back Out There.

Out There, with its speed dates and hookups and earnest longterm courtships, is no longer her scene–or if she is me, it never was. If she is me, she is practically hermetic, all her previous relationships casual, unconsummated, or in the case of this last, the result of happenstance, fondness, and, later, inertia. Every man she’s dated–and there have been less than a handful–was found in the places she most regularly frequents: school, work, church.

She doesn’t know to meet them, otherwise.

Regardless, an unbidden desire to meet them has risen, like decomposing Lazarus improbably exiting his tomb.

She knows there is a link between this pining and her heart’s recently enlarged capacity for love. Love is emanating from her pores, insomuch that she runs the risk of becoming an unrepentant helicopter, hovering over her increasingly independent child, lifting her for hugs and kisses before she ever has the chance to offer them. She needs a reservoir for the runoff; a dreamcatcher for the excess; a man who makes more sense within the context of a world that has reimagined her as someone’s mother.

And, there–there is the other rub: she is someone’s mother now. This necessarily changes everything.

If dating was a house of mirrors before, filled with misshapen images of herself and her possible suitors, dating with a child is a house of cards, full of false starts and toppled attempts to balance a new identity with an old one.

She will need to reconfigure her banter, curtail her nervous laughter, meet eyes and match their fervor, infuse all conversation with clarity. She can no longer be one for ambling. There is no time.

It has become apparent to her, in these twenty months she’s spent alone, that as the mother of a one-year-old, she will be treated as though she is unavailable. And in so many ways, she is. The best part of herself has been claimed, the bulk of her time accounted for.

What can she offer a prospective paramour, other than leftover love, the slivers of time per day that her daughter spends sleeping, the occasional phone call at dawn?

She must grow more.

It is impractical to desire a garden she has no space or time to tend. But what is life without the wildness of flowers, the sustenance of fruit and grain, the lushness and full spice of the herbs? And what will she do with the love overflowing these buckets, if not use it to water a series of promising seeds?

Her season of mourning has ended. A partner is not so readily implied of a mother with toddler, as the one who conjures images of the madonna when she holds her swaddled babe.

Now, the wind has turned. The soil will yield to tilling.

Posted in Nonfiction

Lovesick.

It must infect me, must spread rapidly like the virus we all secretly believe that it is. It must pierce my cynicism, bleed through the memories that diseased it the first time, will me to relinquish my yearlong remission.

This love must invade.

Love, crack open my broken ribcage, reach in, begin, get elbow-deep in clogged capillaries, root through the detritus other strains left behind, balloon past abandonment and through the veins I have knotted to block you, remain–even if I code. You should be worth the flatline, worth the sear of defibrilating paddles. Please. Please, be worth the crackle of nerves. Resurrect their deadened endings.

Dissolve the stitches of past disappointments. Glue my skin; seal yourself in. May there never be seepage. Absorb my longings; though they be many, fulfill them–even if they must be liquefied, bagged, and dripped intraveneously. This time, I will sacrifice nothing; I will not go undernourished.

I will be pressed to walls, wrists pinned to the optic white, to the blood orange borders, to the sharpened and beveled mirrors. So fortify my spine, shoot rods into weakened discs. I will need iron in my backbone. No must be non-negotiable–even through tremors and twitches and the offer of alternative medicines. And so also must yes be resolute–even if it would be easier to treat you in stages and sessions, until you’ve subsided and solved.

I will die either way–with you or without you. You will be a germ to which I am exposed, even if I never contract you again. You will either be in the air I breathe or the reason that I breathe it.

But I would rather you leave me restless, heaving, gutted, gasping than as undisturbed as you’ve left me thus far. I am still and unsuspecting as a clean bill of health, but I miss the fever, the fainting, your vapors.

Make your peace with my apothecary. Convince him to pour you, distilled. I will drink of you, straight from the bottle. I will wait for each poisonous wave.

Posted in Nonfiction

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

Fill her with wonder. Convince her that the feeling is less the flitting of butterflies and more the plumping of caterpillars: fuzz filling her insides and, at the first blush of reciprocation, it is the spinning of a chrysalis, the building of a silken borough that may open at the flutter of a first kiss or the airy bliss of barely touching hands.

This is what she needs to know of love.

It is tender missives full of youth’s hyperbole. In an amoebic form, it can begin in the sandbox. The boy who pastes his sloppy lips to the peachy round of her cheek may mean it.

He is not always a mimic.

This will be important for her to carry later. Tell her to pocket your promise: men do not always mimic.

They are not crude facsimiles of the fathers who failed their mothers. They are not the statistical likelihoods our cynical culture will claim. Not always.

There are some who are not conquistadors; they will not treat you as a creature to be branded or broken.

There are some who do not view you as an isle of escape; their gaze will not turn scornful upon learning than you are more than a port toward which they can sail.

Love is more than a welcome distraction. It is everything Paul’s first letter to Corinth suggests. But it does not always manifest itself as patient. It does not always know what it means to be selfless. It is rarely aware of how susceptible it makes us to hurt.

We must be careful with it and pray that it is careful with us.

Love is minutia, but it is also the momentous. Do not let your sentiment shortchange you. Never believe that it is only holding one another or whispering hopes under moonlight. It is the sharing of considerable assets. It is the saving to jet off to Greece. It is the dowry he stored for a marital house and the decision that you should be its cohabitant.

Love is an insulation from the shrapnel of the outside world’s criticism. It is a conduit for longing.

It looks like this when it has no able recipient** (ff to 5:16):

It feels like this, when under-explored:

Do not tell her that when it goes bad, it bulldozes. Don’t tell her it lays waste to what you were.

There are some things she should learn of her accord. Her love will lead her through a labyrinth quite different than your own.

Just pray that at its end, she finds a mirror. Hope that when she peers at the woman inside it, she still recognizes her as herself.

 

* Shout-out to Raymond Carver for the title of this post.

** The embedded clips here are from Richard Linklater’s 2004 sequel, Before Sunset. If you haven’t seen it or its predecessor, Before Sunrise, get yet to Netflix, post-haste. Add a baby and some melanin to Celine in that first clip and she is me.