Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Red Wings

Within the cage of my ribs, the great red lungs beat. They are wings that inflate, collapse, inflate, collapse - my invisible red angel of life. Never flying free, only beating and beating, sucking oxygen into their great red wet convolutions. One adult football-sized lung has more surface area than all of my skin combined.

These wings of my mortality. These precious wings. 60.6 years x 365 days x 24 hours x 60 minutes x 15 breaths--more or less--per minute = the incredible math of lungs. Over 477 million breaths so far in my lifetime.

What did I do to deserve so much air? What miracle makes the trees and grass and algae and rain forests, those great green lungs of the earth, photosynthesize my CO2 back into O2? Are the forests as desperate for my carbon dioxide as I am for their oxygen?

I wonder what it felt like when I first breathed. I hold a tiny grandchild and wonder if she is just noticing, noticing, noticing what it feels like as her tiny lungs inflate and collapse inside her tiny ribs. Breathing.

Monday, December 8, 2014

I had an idea for an essay yesterday. I did not write it down and now it is gone. It was something about boundaries, and the word "no," and whether our universe is really real or if it may be a virtual universe.

There was something, too, about our bodies, the table, the chair I sit on, being made mostly of space, not molecules. That the volume I occupy here in the kitchen, me, is more empty than not. That billions of little space molecules zing through our bodies all the time, every day, and they don't hurt at all because they're just zinging through emptiness.

How can a brain that is more empty than not hold on to any thought at all? And speaking of brains, I read recently that our brains are laid out on a grid. Our thoughts criss-cross at 90ยบ angles. Like we were designed to be a circuit board or something…but that's weird.

But back to boundaries. A tantruming two-year-old looks tough, but really she's just beginning to figure out who she is and who she isn't. Where she starts and where she's no longer she, but now it's something else. Screaming at the top of her lungs to see how far her scream carries, to find out that she's the only one screaming. No! she stamps her foot, No! she cries, not to be difficult, but to figure out the point at which she separates from yes, the word of acquiescence, of surrender.

When you tell me No! is that your way of saying, This is who I am?

Human body made of stardust

Saturday, June 28, 2014

No Imagination

Last week - played with some writing on the flight home from Hawaii (!!). Experimented with a circular (spiral) format where every paragraph begins with the word or phrase that wrapped up the previous paragraph. Not so sure about this - on rereading a week later, it seems disjointed and jumpy. On the other hand, I felt free to let the writing wander. A different take on writing structure.

           I have no imagination. I cannot invent a story to save my life. I tried lying once and immediately regretted it; my sorry lopsided grin gave all away. All I can tell you is what actually happened; all I know is the truth.
            The truth is a fickle bitch. She presents herself as firm, unwavering, neutral. She pretends to virtue when in realty she seduces. Truth is good, worth telling, or so she says. So I try to tell the truth and find myself on an unstable foundation, a tricky balancing act between what I know and what I thought I knew: the shifting sand of memory.
            My brother’s memory is much better than mine. When we play, “Do you remember the time…” he can always trump my recollections. This worries me because my mother, only 19 years older than I, is already suffering from dementia. What I remember may be only part of the story, it may be embroidered or ragged. I assure you that I have no imagination, and yet, only parts of what I tell may be true.
            I insist that I am telling the truth even as I feel memory slipping away. I feel an urgency to get it down, to get it all down quickly before I forget. How ephemeral the computer screen, the circuitry where I lodge my stories. Paper tears, disintegrates. Last week I tossed a box of computer floppy disks in the trash – I had no interest in the once-precious information stored there; even if I had wanted to sift through the files, I had no way to read them. This is 2014. Everything is stored on the cloud.
            Clouds drift below the airplane’s wing, soft fluffy clouds with endless blue sky above and endless blue ocean below. The blue planet spins below me at 11,000 miles per hour. It spins east toward the sun and I am flying along at 500 miles per hour. How can this be? How will we ever reach Oregon?
            I came to Oregon at 25. Today my children move freely from state to state—Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Alaska, New Jersey, Kansas, Idaho, Texas—but in 1979 it had never occurred to me to move from California, even though I held no love for the constant brown smudge of aerial excrement that stained the Los Angeles sky. I did not belong in Los Angeles. I was fiercely proud of my upbringing along the central coast, but pride didn’t pay the bills, so Joe and I and our two daughters were getting along in L.A., where Joe worked for Times Mirror Press. It was no place to raise children.
            Children have such funny ideas. I was a strange little child. Somehow I had the idea I should pray, probably something I picked up from occasionally attending the Christian Science Sunday school. My parents did not attend with me. They dropped me off wearing a starched dress and white gloves with a nickel tucked inside the palm for the collection plate. The teacher asked the children to find the word “God” on the Bible page. My white-gloved finger followed the lines of print: G-o-d, G-o-d, G-o-d, six or seven times. I have no idea what doctrine I was learning, but at home, alone and secreted from my parents, I prayed, “Please God, bless everyone in the world except Barbara Couch.”
            Barbara Couch was the freckled child with straggly brown hair who lived next door with her grandparents. Years later, when I confessed that childhood prayer to my mother, she remarked, “And no wonder. That girl had problems.” So much for Christian kindness. However, except for my antipathy toward poor Barbara, and the unfortunate incident when my brother, Maury, and I dug a 6-inch pit with a teaspoon and covered it with a white handkerchief, hoping to booby-trap innocent Judy Munn, who lived across the street and who’s parents were wealthier than ours and who, as an only child was always just a little too smug—or more probably a little too shy and lonely—except for those two things, I was generally a happy child. My parents were loving and consistent, my brother was a reliable friend, and we lived in a small community on the coast, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
            But I am only telling the truth by halves. It is also true that Maury and I had frequent, pitched battles throughout our childhood. We called a brief truce during adolescence, then resumed our resentment as adults. He was my first friend and my first great heartbreak, and I have not yet entirely forgiven my sister-in-law for her intrusion into the family. School was a mixed bag for me. I loved my teachers and loved being a student. I could sit still and the academics came easily. It was the extra-curricular part of school that gave me difficulty. Because my father was a recovering Christian Scientist, I had been spared the pain of my baby shots, so I endured the humiliation of standing in line at school, crying, as a big 2nd and 3rd grader to finally get vaccinated. At age eight, I had not yet heard the word, “introvert,” but I knew that I preferred reading in a corner of the playground to subjecting my person to the willy-nilly capriciousness, the downright visciousness, of a tether ball. My report cards carried comments like, “Kathy needs to socialize more.” And the other part of the truth of my “stable” childhood is that we moved. Frequently. I never asked my parents about it at the time, but I knew we moved more than any other family I knew.

            Most of the time we moved to different homes in the same community, Morro Bay. By the time I was fifteen, I had lived in fourteen different homes, but I had been to only four different elementary schools. The moving was supposed to be an adventure. It was supposed to prove that we didn’t need a lot of extra “stuff” in our lives. We were efficient and portable.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sestina for the Middle of the Week

I am too tired to write a poem today.
The earth is spinning slowly on its gears
And I am slouching toward the afternoon
With dreams that whisper through the sky like clouds
That sometimes cluster, sometimes dissipate—
So clouds and flowers and stars and I all fade.

The color in my eye begins to fade.
I shall not be about the town today.
My strength, my will, my thought—all dissipate
While still the slow unfolding of the gears
Cranks on and cloaks my brain with sundry clouds:
I shall not write a poem this afternoon.

Come walk with me sometime this afternoon
Along the stream where yellow violets fade
And emerald crickets crouch beneath the clouds.
Shall anyone intrude on us today?
Their work consumes them, turning at the gears
That stultify and kill: joy dissipates.

My energy and goals all dissipate
Before the tedium of afternoon
And staring into space, I sense the gears
Enjambed and cannot care, I fade
Into a dream of nothingness today.
The far horizon veiled with rising clouds.

I used to think these moods were clouds
That I could just ignore; they’d dissipate
If only I could fake it for today
Like counterfeiting time, the afternoon
A currency to squander lest it fade,
Crushed to nothing by the heedless gears.

A field of daisies—simple petaled gears,
That dip and wave in meadows while the clouds
Sail overhead—great thoughts that soon will fade
And at the sunset’s coming dissipate
All time’s been whiled away; the afternoon
Is gone. It never comes again: Today.

Grind on then, gears and hours, and dissipate
The gloomy clouds lingering all afternoon.
Dreams fade. And still…I have no poem today

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Cooler today. Lows will be in the anxiety range.
Lonely and dull.
Soft breezes from the southwest signal possible energy tomorrow.
Heavy and brown today.
No unicorns in sight.*

Sunday, May 25, 2014


My mother makes endless lists: things to do, things to buy, appointments, birthday and Christmas gifts, letters sent, what she did today, what she will do tomorrow, vitamin pills for each day of the week. She is trying to remember who she is, though she does not know that.

At the psychiatrist's office, we haggle over terms: dementia, frontal, temporal, Alzheimer's. What is the difference, I ask. One is more about the loss of memory, one is more about the loss of judgement. She has both. The names do not matter.

Lists matter. Calendars matter. Calendars filled with little lists matter.

She is clinging to the lists, to the dates, to the notion that something she does matters. Lists matter.

I could list my emotions: pity, frustration, condescension, impatience, weariness, fear.

Charity should be on the list. I pretend it's on the list. Sometimes, for a moment, it is there.

My mother was 19 years old when I was born. Is this the future for me? Should I start now, this making of lists?

Today I thought: I hope when I am old and restless and unable to focus, that I will write: ideas, memories, novels, memoirs, essays, poems. I am afraid that I will write lists.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Guilty Pleasures

the oreos in the hospital waiting room,
a smuggled Hershey bar - especially cruel because you
     weren't allowed breakfast
but you didn't see, you didn't know

"do you have any pain?" the nurse asked
"no," you said, "but I'm hungry"

chocolate rich guilty chocolate lingered

when you came back from surgery
you got a turkey sandwich