grace

eulogy for moth

I stepped on the moth. 

It happened quickly, walking over to the rocking chair barefoot to pack a few things I had left there - a notepad, a pen, a hand towel - and I felt something small and soft beneath my heel. I leaped back and away as soon as I realized what I had done. 

I want to think it was already dead. It must have been injured, of course, to have remained in that same spot on the carpet, unmoving for days. 

I walked away. I didn’t want to look at it closely, but I forced myself to squat down, put my head close. It was flipped over on its back, all its brown legs bent and broken.  

On the ride home, we stop at a record store and in addition to the crates of old records, there are a few racks of used clothing. My daughter slips a polyester halter dress over her t-shirt and shorts and I make approving noises. 

We have lunch at a dimly-lit pizza place and we eat with our hands from paper plates beneath a wall of dusty photographs signed by people whose names I don’t know, but they seem familiar, well-worn in the same way that the names of the streets in my childhood neighborhood will drift to mind at times, unbidden. Soft sounds. Warm and rounded on the tongue. 

I saw geese walking in the brown grass. 
I saw lush fields of alfalfa.
I saw barn after barn. And granary. And water tower. 

I saw power lines slicing through the tops of trees. 
Tractor and thresher. 

Sloping hills. Stagnant ponds clogged with algae.
I saw a stone quarry, bright white. A deep white gash in the earth. 

I try to think about the moth like it means something. Like there is some inherent meaning in nearly stepping on the moth, but then not. A certain feeling of relief in not. In catching oneself before the deed is done. And the next day, to so carelessly and thoughtlessly do the very thing that the avoidance of which had so recently brought such slight and fleeting grace. This must mean something, I want to think. But in the end, I fear it does not. 

This is just waiting. These words, these attempts. A kind of placeholder for the words that will come, for what may bloom from a few carelessly strewn seeds. It is waiting and it is watching and it is passing time. Wildflowers and weeds. It changes nothing. It leaves everything as it is. 

The moth remains dead. The fields of alfalfa in approaching autumn. The stagnant, choked ponds. The gaping holes in the earth. 

Such slight and fleeting grace. 

come to your senses

M. returns from Austin with the Dean Young book of poems and I’m all aflutter, swoony. I am late to this, I know, but look:

Delphiniums in a Window Box

Every sunrise, even strangers’ eyes.
Not necessarily swans, even crows,
even the evening fusillade of bats.
That place where the creek goes underground,
how many weeks before I see you again?
Stacks of books, every page, characters’
rages and poets’ strange contraptions
of syntax and song, every song
even when there isn’t one.
Every thistle, splinter, butterfly
over the drainage ditches. Every stray.
Did you see the meteor shower?
Did it feel like something swallowed?
Every question, conversation
even with almost nothing, cricket, cloud,
because of you I’m talking to crickets, clouds,
confiding in a cat. Everyone says,
Come to your senses, and I do, of you.
Every touch electric, every taste you,
every smell, even burning sugar, every
cry and laugh. Toothpicked samples
at the farmers’ market, every melon,
plum, I come undone, undone.

If you are looking for breathlessness, does it get any better than this? 

His plane lands in Boston late at night. He drives through the dark, through the pouring rain. Arrives in the small hours. I sleep so lightly that I hear him on the stairs, ascending. Overnight, they are building the bridge. Overnight, the jackhammers, relentless. It is barely sleep, what we do. Our bodies entwined, suspended. Held there, for a few short hours, hovering. 

Morning is a celebration. All of us back together again after so many long separations. The pleasure of it, palpable. We huddle around the kitchen table, even with the papers and the catalogs piled on top of it, even with yesterday’s unopened mail. We are all chatty and loud and laughing. We cannot walk past each other without touching, as if only to prove that we are all there. 

And then we are not. We head out in different directions where we will pass the hours of the day with other people, with other concerns. 

But aren’t these the moments that we will remember, years from now, years after the places that we went and the things that we concerned ourselves with today have faded from memory? This boy, crawling up to his father’s lap, grinning. This girl, perched on the edge of a chair next to me, her hair falling in her eyes, her eyes alight. This laughter. 

This man, this woman, this reaching out across the impossible distance of where one of us ends and the other begins. How we are trying to carry this love.

Won’t we always remember the trying?

Once in the early days, we fought about some petty thing. We were in the parking lot of the movie theatre. I got so angry that I left him there, drove off. It was raining. I drove to a nearby strip mall, circled around, fuming. Wandered in and out of the stores, lightheaded and sad. Eventually, I went back, but he was already gone. 

I am looking for grace in the small moments. I am looking for a kind of redemption. I am trying to make meaning from this chaos. This swirling world. This collection of losses that we all carry with us, the weight of which threatens to topple us at any time. 

These grand gestures of language are attempts to contain it all. 

There is grace, I think, in the trying. 

hungry

In the morning, when the fever breaks, I eat voraciously: Fried eggs, bacon, toast with strawberry jelly. Two sliced pears. A pancake with maple syrup. Fingerling potatoes fried with zucchini and leeks. Coffee – black, hot.

My hunger surprises me. I eat almost to the point of discomfort, then try to read the newspaper, curled up on the couch, under a blanket. Instead, with a burst of the energy I have been lacking for days, I clean the kitchen – the dishes, the counters, the stove. The morning is bright and through the window, looks cold. I am still warm though, from breakfast, perhaps from the sickness, and the kitchen, too – warm from cooking. I imagine throwing all the windows open wide, letting in the fresh winter air, inhaling deeply. It feels so good to be moving again, after more than twenty-four hours of immobility – a small, quiet kind of rebirth.

I spend the day of my illness drifting in and out of sleep, in and out of fevered dreams. Scenes from childhood bump up against present-day life. I am walking up the stairs to my office, but as my six-year-old self, in the red polyester pants and striped shirt I loved as a child. I wake for a few minutes, my son standing over me. He tells me about the game he is playing, the rules that he makes up as he goes along. I nod, reach my hand out to touch his cheek. I close my eyes – just for a moment, I think, and then I am going to get up – and before I know it, it is dark.

I am hot – throw the blanket off, pull off my socks. And then I am cold again. All the while, my family drifts in and out. They go to the pool to swim and when they come back, their skin and hair smells of chlorine as the hover near me, their heads cocked to the side, watching. Food appears – toast and tea. Soup. I sit up, drink. Eat. Then lay back down again. And I am gone.

When I was a child, my aunt, my mother’s sister, lived in the apartment beneath ours. For a time, she worked nights, on a special assignment at the law firm where she was a secretary. She would leave in the late afternoon and return home after midnight. My bedroom window looked out over the front entrance and some nights, when I had trouble sleeping, I would wait up to hear her footsteps on the front stairs, her key in the lock. I would kneel up on my bed, peek out over the sill, watch until the door closed behind her.

There was reason to be vigilant. Talk of strange happenings in our neighborhood. A story on the late night news about how – in the church parking lot not far from where we lived – there was found a pile of stones and the remains of a fire inside a large painted circle. Bits of bone found in the embers. Mesmerizing words whispered late at night – sacrifice, satanic rituals, cults.

As I think may be true for many girls raised in Catholic families, attending Catholic schools, there was a time when I believed that I might, in fact, have a calling. We go on retreat in grade school, to a distant convent where we pray and prepare our meals together, spend the night in sleeping bags on the polished wooden floor.

We learn of the saints and the martyrs. Stephen, stoned to death for faith. We reach up and touch the cool stone of his statue, feel the hollows meant to depict his wounds. Beautiful Lucy who plucked her own eyes out lest her beauty lead her to sin. She holds them out on a plate, the two perfect orbs offered up like after-dinner sweets.

We take Communion, let the papery wafers melt on our tongues. We kneel down on velvet-lined cushions, hold our heads in our small folded hands. We are told to be open to the Holy Spirit. To ask for the Spirit to enter us, to fill us with grace. On the bus ride home, I sit alone, pray silently as the rest of the students are led in hymns. It is a particular burden, I recognize, to be called by the Holy Spirit, and I weighed down with it. At night, in bed, in confusion and fear as I wait to hear the familiar sounds of my aunt returning home, delivered safely in grace, I pray myself to sleep.

Last night, I rally my strength for a dinner party, the date of which had been set long ago. We drive up in the dark, and still, I marvel at how dark it is, so early. I misremember the house number, so we wander for a few minutes on the dark street. Through the lit window of a house near the corner, I can see a woman standing at the counter, her hair pulled back in a blue scarf, her eyes down. From another house, the pungent aroma of garlic and onions cooking. Finally, we are rescued by our host, who has come out into the street to fetch us. “Twenty-four,” he says as he guides us to the door.

Every part of the meal seems extravagant, rich. From the cocktails and candied nuts and gougeres, to the cauliflower soup, the delicate savory dumplings. We dine at a long table dressed smartly in muted colors. White dishes, crystal glasses. On the walls, a painted mural of the hunt – jacketed men on horseback, the dogs running on ahead against a pastoral landscape. I eat roast leg of lamb for the first time. It is infused with garlic and rosemary. It is tender, succulent. We eat savory bread pudding, glazes and sauces. Warm homemade biscuits. The wine flows.

The conversation meanders in pleasant fashion through many topics on which I feel no need to comment, enjoying as I do, the easy exchange around me. I am full and warm and drowsy as we drive home through the dark, cold night.