(anywhere i go you go)

heart-astronomical1

Heart. Say it out loud: Heart. Heart. Heart.

A word, said often enough, crosses over into beyond-word-land, when no meaning attaches, or meaning attaches that doesn’t belong to the original word. Heart. Hart. Hurt.

Your young daughter, she of the black river-hair, comes home from school having dissected a sheep’s heart. She split it open and, with her gloved finger, followed her way through the veins and arteries of that glistening organ.  She describes how the heart looked, and felt, and smelled.

“Were you quiet when you dissected the heart?” you ask.

What are you really asking? You don’t even know. You ask anyway. How you hope that she will say yes.  She looks at you in mild confusion. Then she understands, and so do you. What you are really asking is this: were you respectful?

“We were quiet and we were laughing,” she says. “We were learning and we were having a good time at the same time.”

Tears press against your eyes and there is a lump in your throat. Why? Why? That heart, that once it beat in the chest of a living being. The mystery of a body, laid bare on a table. Don’t laugh. Please don’t laugh.

Heart.

You were born with one that can leap into high gear, from a slow, slow 60 beats a minute to a racecar, over 200. So fast that it doesn’t really beat. It shakes. Your whole chest vibrates. If you don’t lie flat, stars gather before your eyes, and your ears pound, and darkness slides down as you yourself slide down.

You’ve slid down many times. Down the wall at a party, startling the kilt-wearing man you were talking with. Down to the floor at a funeral. Before a crowd you were reading to. In a car with your mother, who held your hand for many minutes. On your windsurfer, even, out at sea.

And then it’s over.

Up you stand, and on you go, and this is the way it’s been all your life. You don’t think about your heart, your heart, your heart, engine of your body, big strong muscle, pumping the blood that keeps you alive.

Heart, heart, heart.

Heart that pounds with desire. Heart that slows and soothes. Heart that beats you around the lake, pushes you up the mountain, glides you through the water, hurts you through nightmares and skims you through dreams.

Heart, heart, heart, heartheartheart, hearthearthearthearthearthearth, ththththththththththththththththtththththththththththththththththt

Racecar heartheartheart undone and quivering. Chest shivering up and down. See the stars. Close your eyes. Slide down. Down.

Heartheartheart, oh heart, gather yourself. Gather yourself. Remember what you are here for, heart. Big hidden fist, punch out. Keep punching. Hold yourself trembling in this slender cage of ribs. Comfort yourself. Soothe yourself.

Heart. Heart. Heart.

Up you go and on you go.

Keep saying it. Heart. Heart. Heart.

Let Us Borrow Light

abel-pann-god-taking-a-rib


“We have cried for so long. Let us borrow light from the star that will appear for us tomorrow.”

– Marie Luise Kaschnitz

Blessings on those who in this moment are crying, and blessings on those who are laughing. Blessings on the old woman in the market who could not reach the high shelf. Blessings on the dogs who know when their humans are suffering, and who push their noses into upturned palms. Blessings on the child who sits in the entryway of the Chinese restaurant, selling Girl Scout cookies. Blessings on the boy who waits for the mail. Blessings on the girl who is afraid of being kidnapped. Blessings on the child who is training herself to run. Blessings on those dazzled by the brilliance when the plane bursts above the cloudcover. Blessings on the brother who loves his son. Blessings on the man and woman who return to their home after a long journey, and blessings on the bird who in their absence has built a nest in the woodstove chimney. Blessings on the sister who would plant her apple tree even if the world were to end tomorrow. Blessings on those who do not know themselves beloved. Blessings on the unmet friend in a far-off country who sends words of hope on a gray morning. Blessings on the girl who taught herself how to bake bread. Blessings on the child who carried her books tight against her chest in a long-ago alley. Blessings on those who love, and those who lose themselves in love, and those who at this moment cannot feel themselves loved. Blessings on you, yes, you.

Mugging

san-francisco-mug

Hello, San Francisco mug, third choice mug for the one small cup of perfect coffee drunk each morning at dawn.  (Why does “drunk” look wrong? Drank. Drinked. Draughted. Sipped. Savored. They all look wrong too.)

The mugs cram, to the extent that they have to be double-deckered, the shelf allotted to them. No teacups pour vous. (Tu? Stop second-guessing your word choices and get on with it.)

No matching sets except for the three – which used to be four before the kitchen-tile-floor-crash-screech-broom-vacuum incident – large flowered Italian ones bought for $1 apiece at a garage sale lo those many years ago, scooped up before that other woman got her hands on them, and you could tell she was just about to, and the two small cobalt-blue patterned ones bought in a pottery store in Mexico lo those many years ago as well.

“Do these mugs contain lead?”

Shrug.

“Lead?”

As in, lead that will slowly poison you, rotting away the brain synapses until they are misfiring more often than not, which does seem to be the case much of the time, now that you think about it.

Shrug.

The hell with it! Live dangerously. Maybe the lead will weight you down, keep you grounded, more solid on the earth as you tromp about. Would that be such a bad thing? Your synapses have long been suspect anyway.

Back to the mugs. Return to the mugs. Breathe in mug, breathe out mug.

The Jesus Loves You mug, preserved from early childhood. White china. Faded red lettering. Kept for childhood’s sake, rarely used but for those mornings when you remember swinging your legs on the folding chair in Sunday School, singing Jesus Loves You while Mrs. Steinbacher conducted.

The Smart Women Invest in Real Estate mug, which you blatantly stole from your place of partial and sometime employment, because you loved it and craved it and felt that the greatness of your love would be enough to forgive you. Did you replace it? Yes, but with a mug that even you considered far inferior. Someday, maybe, you will do something to make up for it. If a crime of mug passion can ever truly be made up for.

The How to Eat a Lobster mug, adorned with step by step illustrations on – you guessed it! boy are you a smart one – how to eat a lobster. First you crack it, then you crack it some more, then you extract it with the tiny fork, then you dip it in melted butter, then you eat it. Despite the fact that lobster is your favorite food, you don’t  much care for this mug, but your youngest child adores it, and that’s good enough for you.

The 50th Wedding Celebration mug, featuring a fifty-year-old transferred-onto-china photo of a young man and a young woman walking down the aisle. He looks happy. She looks happy. Flowing white dress. Black suit. Poorly transferred onto the china, but a favorite nonetheless, because this used-to-be-young man and woman are beloved to you.

The Cactus mug, one of the five items passed down to you from your maternal grandmother, via your mother. Robin’s egg blue inside, speckled cream on the outside, a saguaro painted on one side. Oh, how you love this mug. You place it in the very back of the mug shelf, the better to keep it safe. Yet your tall son also loves the cactus mug, and he ferrets it out. He sets it on the counter and pours orange juice into it.

You eye the mug, and you eye your son, and you bite your tongue. He looks at you with his knowing, laughing eyes. He knows the story, that the cactus mug is one of the very few things passed down to you from your grandmother, and he knows how you love it, and he knows how difficult it is for you to bite your tongue when he hunts it down from its hidden corner in the far back of the crammed mug shelf.

“Worry not, Kinswoman. I will be careful.”

You try not to worry. But you worry anyway. Oh grandmother, wherever you may now be in time and space and eternity, do you remember the mornings we sat at your tiny formica table, you groaning over your coffee, me silently eating my thickly-margarined toast?

You make a silent vow with your misfiring, possibly lead-poisoned synapses:  If all goes well, someday the cactus mug will be yours, Kinsboy, and when you drink from it perhaps you will remember how your mother tried, even though she often failed, to keep from warning you to be careful.

My Life as a Dog

dog-treats-and-tiny-glass-figurines

Yes, they are up there, large cat, on the wooden shelf that you will soon make your awkward jump onto. Cast your feline eyes upon  me, if you will, clumsy cat with the swaying belly, for I will gaze upon you in return with my dark and unblinking dog eyes until you feel the shame and self-hatred that is rightly yours.

For while you may be able to hoist your overfed body onto that high shelf as I cannot, ungainly feline, and while you may well ignore the tiny glass snail, the tiny glass seal, the tiny glass chicken and the tinier glass mouse, the better to crouch over the cat and the mailman and crunch them down your gaping maw, those treats are not yours by birthright, as they are mine.

Gaze upon the box, o craven one! Yes, that box.

The box that reads Peanut Butter Crunch, the Natural Dog Treats Your Pet Will Love! Shaped as Cats and Postmen.

And that is where you should feel shame, one of felineness, as you hunch and munch and cast your nervous eyes about.

First the Postman, oh yes. And now the Cat.

Cannibal!

You are exactly the kind of cat that other cats warn their kittens about. Have you no shame? Good thing you’re neutered, or we’d be reading about you in the paper.

Duly Noted

alison-in-pink-dress

On the first 60-degree day in six months, while walking with the black dog on the red leash and the black and brown and tan and white dog on the green leash, the following sights were duly noted:

A small sign stuck into the ground by a large, low stone-rimmed planter: “Please.”

A Corona beer bottle slowly emerging headfirst from an ice prison on a front lawn.

A blue plastic bag containing what appeared to be dog turds, knotted and emerging slowly from a melting pool of ice on a sidewalk.

A swingset so long buried in snow that only now can its bright red plastic seats be glimpsed, darkly, under murky, thawing ice.

A homemade Santa sign stuck into the ground next to an evergreen, with “Ho Ho Ho” painted onto Santa’s oddly slender belly.

In a scene reminiscent of Moses parting the Red Sea, a heavyset woman slowly pushes an extra-wide shovel down the sidewalk in front of her house to rid it of its six inches of meltwater, while an enormous plastic blow-up Christmas carousel next to her on the front lawn circles round and round.

A man in shorts and t-shirt, walking down the street and tossing a baseball into the air and catching it, and tossing a baseball into the air and catching it, and tossing a baseball into the air and. . . wait. . . yes, catching it.

An elderly woman in a dark overcoat, moon boots, gloves, and scarf knotted over her curly blue hair, knocking gently on the window of a car which appears to be empty, peering in, then shading her eyes and looking up and down the street.

The black dog and the black and brown and tan and white dog peeing simultaneously on either side of the same mulberry tree.

Under a park bench, emerging from a thawing patch of ice, a photograph of a woman holding a child wearing an “It’s my 1st Birthday!” crown.

The rounded toes of the long-broken-in hiking boots of a woman walking a dog on a red leash and another dog on a green leash,  soaked through and covered with mud.

He Is One of Them

evan-with-colander-on-head

Who is this child? He is a colander-headed boy.

He came into this world naked, but naked he did not stay. No, soon he was garbed in the raiment of his people, Those of Colanderness.

Through the rain and snow they saunter, heads semi-protected from the elements but with plenty of holes, the better to experience the primal nature of nature itself.

Through the lightning they also walk, because Those of Colanderness know not the fear of electrocution so often experienced by lesser beings.

Those who wear colanders have never read the Harry Potter books. They do not play basketball, nor do they golf. They will look at you with bemusement, if not bewilderment, if you mention the words “par” and “tee” in their presence.

“Birdie” is another matter, because although they do not know its meaning with regard to golf, those who wear colanders are known for their love of birds. They are at one with the avian world, perhaps because in an alternate universe, birds and colanders fly through the skies in peace and harmony, wishing no ill will to any animate or inanimate being.

Those who wear colanders worship the gods of pasta and tin. They do not wear suspenders. They dip their artichokes in Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and they can be found in the early mornings sitting on porch swings, praying that the brokenhearted of the world will know themselves beloved.

The Coin of the Realm

coins

The $11 that fell out of your pocket when you were in the movie theater with PG + the $20 bill found on top of the “sanitary disposal” container at the Kayuta Drive-In – $7.25 in quarters left in various gum machines around the country so as to make little children happy + $1.50 found in gum machines in the Utica/Rome area of upstate New York when you yourself were a child – $775 which was deposited into your Wells Fargo checking account but never made it there + the $500 Target gift card your parents gave you when you were down on your luck – the $20 bill given to your youngest to bulk up her school lunch account but which never made it there + $3.79 found in and around washing machine and dryer over two years’ of laundry – $300 deposit forfeited to northwoods resort when you had to cancel trip + ten $5 bills folded in half and tucked into birthday cards by your grandmother for birthdays 5-15 + $10 bill folded in half and tucked into birthday cards for birthdays 15-39 – $25 expired gift card to local restaurant at which you once ate a blue-cheese-laden pizza that makes you feel full just to think of + three wrinkled $1 dollar bills found in back pocket of old jeans – $.10 that fell through the gutter + $25 Electric Fetus gift card given to you by brother – $7 in now-unusable T tokens + three $100 dollar bills given to you over three successive Christmases – $2 bill you gave to the nice waitress at Rainbow as a bonus tip on top of her tip – six shiny 2009 pennies you left face up on the pavement to make six strangers happy because Find a Penny Pick It Up All the Day You’ll Have Good Luck but only, in your personal variation, if the penny is heads-up = O. And there we have it.

A Prayer for the Brokenhearted

the-moon-over-highland-park

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

– Philo of Alexandria

She is thinking today of the brokenhearted. She is thinking of them as they go about their days and the strength it took them to rise on a gray morning. She is thinking of Stanley Kunitz, who said that in a murderous time the heart breaks and breaks and lives by breaking, and of Marie Howe, who said of his work that she didn’t know then that the heart might eventually break open.  She is about to leave her house and head into the sidewalks and streets filled with people, each of them making their way in the rain, none of whose stories she knows. She will first close her eyes and say a prayer for the brokenhearted, and then she will look about her at these familiar strangers and be kind, because everyone is fighting a great battle.

Limber

chinchilla

What does a chinchilla have to do with limberness, if limberness is even a word? (limberness, limbericity, limberous, limberical?) Something, no doubt, but something that is beyond my ken at the moment, fixated as I am today on words that keep coming to me, beautiful words rarely used, words that seem from another time.

Limber.

Ken.

Lo.

Anon.

Beloved.

In the middle of the night I woke with limber scrolling its way across the subtitle section of my brain. Around and around it scrolled, much like a duffel bag abandoned on baggage claim carousel #3. Thoughts of limber, and all things limber-related, limned on a mental movie screen.

The man at the Y:  “Are you the woman who was twisting herself into a pretzel up there on that mat?”

Yes, that was me.

Limberlost: part of  a book title I wish I’d come up with myself. That it refers to a swampy area of Indiana does not lessen the enchantment.

Limbs. I have four of them, for which I am forever grateful.

Limb: to go out on one, which can be a good and intense, if exhausting, way to live.

Long-limbed Girl: my favorite Nick Lowe song.

Limbic: A group of interconnected deep brain structures, common to all mammals, and involved in olfaction, emotion, motivation, behavior, and various autonomic functions.

Limn: To describe, or to depict by painting or drawing.

Limb: in astronomy, the circumferential edge of the apparent disc of the sun or moon or a planet, which is something that I – star-ignorant that I am – never knew until this morning.

Limb: any of the main branches arising from the trunk or bough of a tree, like the ones that Fred Anken and I built my treehouse in, lo those many years ago.

Limb: a very rare surname, so rare that in the U.S., it ranks #26355. Another fact I never knew until just now.

What if my name were Alison Limb? All my life I would be spelling it out for people, just the way I spell out McGhee for people now – “It’s M, C, G, H, E, E. Yes, I know, that H is weird, isn’t it.”

If my name were Alison Limb, would I have a chinchilla for my pet?

You Can Leave Your Hat On

cowboy-boots

When they were little they had what they called shoe-boots. They pulled plastic bread bags over their shoe-clad feet and slid them into rubber boots lined with thick felt. Then they zipped the shoe-boots up – there was a central zipper that ran from the toes up to the top of the ankle-high boot. They pulled their snowpants down over the shoe-boots.

Were the shoe-boots warm? Not for her, cold-footed cold person that she is. She liked the bright Wonder Bread circles on the bread bags, though.

Then came what they called moon boots. Giant stomper things that weighed nothing. Were they warm? For everyone but her, they were.

She had a pair of Frye boots in her twenties. She wore them with short dresses, a red one that laced up the back and a black and white polka dot one in particular.

Were the Fryes comfortable? No. They hurt like hell, but she wore them anyway. Up and down the cobblestone streets of the city in which she lived, she tromped in the Frye boots.

One day she was feeling particularly fine, wearing her Frye boots and her black and white polka dot dress, striding through the public garden in the sunshine, whistling no doubt. Then came the bird poop, glooping its way through her hair, down her neck, onto her shoulder. Why, bird? Why me, why now?

Then came a long stretch of post-Frye bootless years, years in which her only boots were the Sorels that she dragged on every endless winter to go slogging out into the snow and ice and bitter wind. Stunningly heavy, those boots. Warm? Of course not.

Now she has a pair of cowboy boots, real ones. Is she a cowgirl? No, but in another life she might be. She puts the cowboy boots on with jeans. She puts them on with dresses. She likes the smell of the tooled leather. She likes the cool warmth of that leather against her bare legs.

Sometimes, in movies, she takes her cowboy boots off in the dark and perches them on the empty seat beside her so that they can watch too.