Monthly Archives: April 2011

bittersweet

The neighborhood poet has pulled up stakes and moved to Alpine. All week, as I’ve driven past a certain intersection where I can see his house, I’ve watched his packing and bustling. He’s hardly  just the neighborhood poet; he was the poet laureate of Texas in 2008, and he’s more than acclaimed. But for me he’s one of the characters in my Houston world: big, burly, soft Texas accent, friendly as a puppy, wonderful old-world-Texas manners, wildly in love with words. He’s likely to arrive at one of his readings in shorts and an old T-shirt and sandals, his heft punctuating inbreaths, a big turquoise ring capturing one’s eye and the spirit of his words. His frame–large and laughing–– hides the subtle sinewy strength that can reside in his poetry.

We talked a little bit about the muse yesterday. I’m a man of ritual, he said, fretting about the leaving of his writing place, a small studio at the back of his house. I’m taking a chance moving away like this. She may desert me. I said I doubted that. I said I thought the wide open true Texas spaces of Alpine would likely deepen his work. What do you want to bet, sitting there, staring at the mountain, the landscape that has always informed my work, that I start to write about Houston, he said. We both laughed. That would be a good thing, I answered. Landscape makes solid bones in his poetry and can be quite startlingly metaphoric. We really never ran around together as neighbors, but our paths would cross at local spots. Now they won’t. When I see his house at that certain intersection, he won’t be in it. My psychic landscape already misses his place in it. And soon, this being Houston, the house, being old, will be razed, and a stunning, huge townhouse will sit on the spot. Houston does not celebrate landscape or anything old. It’s always moving, expanding, changing its face. Bittersweet, my neighborhood poet said, that’s what this move is, bittersweet.

Yes, I thought. When we’re young, moves are only sweet. It takes time to leaven them with some bitter, the knowledge that with every move, not only do we leave behind sometimes precious, irreplaceable things, we take ourselves, all our flaws and longings, strapped to our backs like invisible weights––or wings––wherever we go. What gold he’s made of his wings and weights…..And so, off he’s gone to where hawks/slingshot-flung,/scream in dazzling/Texas sun.

When you have a moment, hear him read here.

A ladybug update: Festival was held on Thursday. It was a success. There are some 1,000 ladybugs out there bearing blessings and our laughter. Hope one lands near you.

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m-m-m and god

Sometime this week, I  hope to hold my second Ladybug Festival. Last year’s festival was a huge success. I dragged it around in my heart for days. Here’s what happens: I buy a package of ladybugs, some 1, 500, so the advertising claims. And then I and my two oldest grandchildren release them. It’s quite a process, as ladybugs fall out in clumps and immediately land on you as well as the nearest plant. They need a moment to take in their surroundings; then they’re off in a flutter of hilariously small wings. Since they look like tiny Volkswagen Beetles, it’s funny when the two small wings unsheath, and they’re gone. My grandchildren and I were in hilarity and wonder over it last year, and I carried a sense of miracle for days. The ladybugs landed on our arms, our hair, our legs, but then they were off, like small blessings searching for homes. So, I want to do it again this year. The package of ladybugs is bought. I need only grandchildren.

Sighting: someone in the Heights has fat clay pots filled with white petunias, fern and trailing alyssum. It stopped me in my tracks, and I had to take a picture.

M-m-m: Youngest Grandson, 15 months, walked by blooming, climbing roses at his house this last week and stopped in his tracks and said, M-m-m, his sound for food he really, really likes. His nose liked this, and he had to smell rose after rose, saying M-m-m every time. Who says there is no God?

love stories

There are three love stories around me…..

Second Grandson, 15 months, has fastened onto a white bear with a soft, soft fur and dangling legs and arms. He carries the bear around everywhere, tries to share food and water with it, wants it in the crib at night for sleep. He talks to it in the not-quite understandable burble that is definite conversation,  has all the tonal inflections and facial expressions of  conversation. It makes my heart glad that his little heart is large enough to love something tenderly already, to take care of it, to need it……

Second Cat has a cat’s fishing pole with a hodgepodge of old ribbon and who knows what that I’ve fastened on the end when the feather died a grisly death. Now there is a definite hierarchy in our house. First Cat decides who gets on the bed to sleep with us, and it is seldom Second Cat. But I’ve been noticing that Second Cat stretches out in the hallway nearby, and in the morning, the fishing pole, which had been propped up against a corner, is under her. She often brings the fishing pole with great yawls for us to play with her, and she keeps it by the food bowl, where both cats keep all important toys, so I know fishing pole, whom I call Baby, has importance in her life. But it struck me the other day that she was sleeping with Baby because she wasn’t allowed on the bed with everyone else. She might not have us, but there is always Baby.

Finally, Mother, who has Alzheimer’s, has a white long-haired chihuahua named Zoe. Zoe goes with Mother wherever she goes, and Mother shares food and kisses with her all the time. Zoe will stand guard while Mother putters around and will come to fetch one of us if Mother is too long out of sight. How Mother loves that dog, frets and fusses with her. Mother knows the dog’s name when she doesn’t know any of ours. There is real caring between them. I feel like Zoe is a little animal spirit sent to oversee. It gentles me on days when I don’t feel gentle.

We all need things to love and fuss about, don’t we? We need to feel cherished and to cherish in return. I often write about kinds of love in my novels. My conclusion is: tenderness is best. What’s your love story? What’s your conclusion?

tuesdays

It’s our usual day. She dozes on the couch most of the morning. I dress her for our outing. She’s as fragile as cracked glass, gasping and moaning at the putting on of socks, befuddled at the pulling up of pants, completely lost at the pulling over of a shirt. She can still tie her shoes.

We go out for lunch. It’s what we do on the Tuesdays when I visit her. It’s also become one of the ways I most see her decline: the inability to choose a utensil, know what a straw is, cut her own food anymore. She jabs at what’s on the plate and then opens her mouth, and it is a gamble that the food gets there. She has no preferences about what to eat, though she won’t eat what she doesn’t like. She couldn’t tell me if she did have a preference. It’s been a year or more since she’s collected enough words together to make meaning.

She still laughs. She still smiles. She is still more beautiful than any woman her age. She is willing to do what I ask if she understands it. That’s where I fall down so often, thinking she’ll understand. I’m always exhausted by my lack of acceptance as to what has happened and is happening to her and by my expectations, always too high.

Later, I make dinner, keep an eye on her as she does her rounds, from hall to dining room to den and around again. She walks carefully, so carefully, often reaching out to the wall or a chair. She runs her foot along the creases of the joined tiles. She doesn’t step, she shuffles.

I put her in pjs early, sit in a rocking chair, emotionally battered by our day, by what I see. I always try to prepare myself. I remind myself of her decline, but I am never, never ready for it. And so my mood dips in the afternoon. I hate myself for its dipping.

Are you tired, I say, more to make conversation than anything else. So often there is silence between us. She can’t talk, and I seldom chatter, but chatter is what is needed these days, a light ongoing constant from the only one of us who can do so, but I’m bad at it. She looks at me. She answers with stunning clarity: You’ll never know how tired I am.

It’s the first sentence I’ve heard in over a year. And before I can even respond, she’s back to her shuffle through the hall, the dining room, the den.

I sit where I am in shock. Yes, everything is hard for her, isn’t it? Moving, dressing, eating, getting up and down from a chair, walking, recalling, associating, living. All hard now.

I must remember this, I tell myself. But I won’t. I’ll be as surprised and upset next week as I am this week. Later, I think of the poet Mary Oliver:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

The family of things….her place in it and mine, her despair and mine, her love and mine…………….