Ode to the Foot

Shod as a girl in sensible Hush Puppies, how did my feet go astray?

Corns – I grow my own crop.
Bunion – should I name mine Paul?

I bemoan clodhoppers but am thankful I have feet,
summon praise for podiatrists who name the fascist Plantar and form my orthotics.

Who are the betrayers of the ball, arch, heel, tendons, fascia, ligaments?

Was it the Loafer, the Pump, the Mary Jane, the Earth, the Espadrille, the Wedge, the Platform, the Wallaby, the Hurache?

I eschewed the Stiletto.  Was that a mistake?  Should I have given them a tango on the dance floor?

And what about DaVinci calling the foot a masterpiece of engineering, a work of art?
Leonardo, do you have a fetish?

These days I look for New Balance, preferably lace-up.

Primordial Life

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The swamp is gone.  I steer the car to the side of the road and park under the shade of a Dutch Elm.  Crossing the road  (paved,no longer gravel),  I wander to where the marsh was, recall the chorus of crickets and frogs that lulled me to sleep as a child.

No soothing chirrups, no cattails.  Only grass.  My gaze sweeps to the split-level house.

The rev of a lawn mower.  A strange woman rides it, cuts swaths in the grass.  I notice that the chokecherry tree is gone along with the tire swing.

I watch the woman make pivots with the machine.

And the weeping willow?  Vanished also.

Isn’t it poetry the way that tree weeps?  I flinch — realize that I sound  like my Mother.

The woman angles the mower toward the fence at the rear of the property.  It’s then I notice the cornstalks in the distance.  Yes!  The maize waves in the summer breeze, reassures.  The warm, sweet scent of silky corn hair as I played hide and seek with other children.

The woman circles the mower towards an unfamiliar tool shed.  She shuts it off and dismounts like a seasoned cowgirl.  Her hand dips into her shirt pocket and she pulls out a pack of cigarettes.  Tapping one out, she lights it and surveys the work she’s done.  Then her platinum blond head turns in my direction.

“Hello,” I call out, moving towards her.

She flicks ash off her cigarette and the corners of her mouth rise in a smile.  I remove my sunglasses.  Her hazel eyes are warm, friendly; somehow the crow’s feet add to their sparkle. An aroma like freshly baked bread escapes the chambray shirt she wears.

I hold out my hand to clasp hers in greeting.  “I hope you don’t mind my snooping.  I lived here when I was a girl.”

The woman’s name is Barbara and when I tell her my parents last name, she recalls my mother.  In a gravelly voice, she tells of Mother stopping by once to ask for some plantings from the back yard.   How could she refuse such a sweet little widow wanting flowers for her husband’s grave?

Barbara offers to show me the house.  She leads me to an enclosed porch with wicker furniture.

“The patio used to be here.  There were no screens.”

“Mosquitoes,” Barbara answers, “a nuisance out here.”

I don’t recall this being a problem.  What I remember is fireflies glowing and dancing in the distance.

Barbara leads me to the living room.  The picture window is enlarged and there’s a wrap-around view of the grass that replaced the swamp.  I am not disturbed by the changed house but the disappearance of the marsh with its humming, primordial life makes me sad.  It teemed with crickets and frogs and we children dipped into it to catch tadpoles.

As I stand in my old living room with this stranger, I feel how time distorts place.  It is like returning home after travelling long and far away.  How rooms seem as small as those of a doll’s house, how they cramp the humans inside.

The humans who look outward for primordial life.

 

 

Tunnels

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The tongue controls the endgame of words formed in the tunnel between heart and brain.

It is a great manipulator, the gatekeeper of food and language.

It curls and uncurls, rolls words that love or lash.   Or claims neutrality like Switzerland.

Sometimes the tongue deceives and takes the shape of dinnerware:
“He or she speaks with forked tongue,” we say.

But what of the throat?

The throat is the tongue’s precursor.
It is a curving tunnel stretching from heart to  brain.

When mood clouds the celebrated heart, it mists the  brain with poisonous vapors.

Left to incubate, moods rot.

Or they coil, snake-like, await a victim.
Then cold winter slush slithers through the tunnel ignoring mediation,
spewing rattler venom and surprise.

Regurgitated poison is hard to take back.  Like rolling broken glass on the tongue.

This is So Serious

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Every now and then a scene from the movie Royal Tennenbaums, bubbles up in my thoughts and I laugh.  In the movie, Ben Stiller is hyper-vigilant for disaster.  Ben plays the character Chas and he has two little boys.  Chas has his boys practice timed fire drills in the house.   Fire alarms blaring in the background, Chas yells at the boys to go, go go!  Once they safely exit the house, Chas clicks on his stop-watch to see if he and his boys will survive or be burned to a crisp.

I can relate to Chas’s character.  I, too, have been known to awfulize.    Perhaps my vigilance for disaster began in childhood.  I had a vivid imagination and once believed I saw the outline of a bear in the darkened hallway of our house.   It turned out to be a pile of rugs.

Then, when I was seventeen disaster did hit — my Father collapsed in the house and died from a massive heart attack.

Ever since then, the Grim Reaper taps me on the shoulder and tries for my attention.  It is a life-long challenge to be at peace with the knowledge that some day I, too, shall pass.

Until then, why not have faith that there is a reason for the way things happen?  Being crisis-oriented is horrible.  It robs life of joy, detracts from living in the moment.

Oddly, my worries took on a deja-vu turn a few years ago.  My husband collapsed in the kitchen and at first I thought it was a repeat of what I experienced with my Father.  But it was not a heart attack.  He’d been broiling Leeks Au Gratin and bubbling cheese dribbled down the rubber mitts he wore, burning his wrist.   The doctor in the Emergency Room lightened things up about the Leeks disaster, joked about wine pairings.

My husband still makes Leeks Au Gratin.  I just look the other way.

 

 

Sew What?

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Atta Girl!  I commend myself for measuring, cutting, pressing and sewing a curtain valance today.  The inner critic wants to berate that the rain drop pattern (white raindrops on black cotton fabric – I love black and white design) is not moving in the correct direction.  Raindrops fall downwards, the critic says.  They don’t travel sideways and they certainly don’t levitate skyward. 

If that isn’t enough, the critic starts in on my math skills:  You should have measured and cut more carefully.  If the width of the fabric is 42” and your window is 75” and you stitched the two 42” pieces together to make 84,” how come the valance looks skimpy?

Inner critics are such bores.  I silence her with a gentle voice, letting her know that instead of skimpy, I prefer the word minimalist.  My goal is a valance with a Zen feel to it – no frou-frou for me, thank you.

And if raindrops in the fabric pattern travel sideways and levitate skyward, oh well.   I call it artistic license.

Liver Days

I was edgy.  The caterwauling at 2:00 a.m. was keeping me awake.  It was the cat’s sleep or mine.  It was time to take our tabbie to the animal hospital to have her put down.
But neither of us could stand the thought of Mimi taking her last gasps on a clinical metal table.

Luckily, I discovered a local veterinarian who made house calls.

“I’m phoning the home pet vet,” I told my husband.

Showing up in her starched white doctor’s jacket with her medical bag (straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration – and this was for a pet, mind you), the vet took one look at our 5-pound cat, listened to our description of her dwindling appetite, ran some tests and confirmed that Mimi had kidney disease.

The vet recommended daily hydration injections through an IV catheter.

“It’s simple,” she said, demonstrating by lifting a lump of fur on the cat’s back and poking it with a needle connected to a plastic hydration pouch.

I have a dread of needles going into anything other than a sewing machine.   It didn’t look simple to me.

And the cat?  I could see that her feline dignity was clearly insulted:  “Huh?  How would you like carrying a plastic pouch on your back?” was the overall attitude as she skulked away.

Then the vet recommended we start cooking Mimi some liver.  From that day forward we did not own the cat, the cat owned us.

I gave my husband free reign — both with buying and sauteeing the liver and poking the cat with the IV needles.  But the caterwauling at 2:00 a.m. did not stop.  I was tired and between the vet bills and hydration bags and trips to Whole Foods for liver, Mimi was costing us.

The bigger cost, though, was my sleep.

“Eeeeeoooowwww.”   The piercing cry grew louder with each shrinking ounce of cat.
Her huge green eyes seemed to look into my soul as I warmed milk for myself in the wee hours of the night.

I felt nostalgic for the days she used to circle her kibble bowl as if she were a Cheetah moving in for the kill, crunching dry food as if it were zebra bones.   I felt guilty and conflicted in my heart about her euthanasia, but I did not offer her my milk.

“Do you think we’ll be treated this well when we’re elders,” I asked my husband.

He shrugged.

And then, on one of those insomniac nights, I happened upon a quote from Mark Twain:

A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.

That was it!  It was as if we were carrying Mimi by the tail and all her caterwauling was at us for meddling with her natural process of dying.   Her rebuffing food, her pleas to end it all in the middle of the night.

Set me free, I imagined Mimi screaming.

And so we had the home pet vet pay her last call.   My husband stayed true to the end in ministering to Mimi.  I left it to him to hold her in his lap while the doctor gave the fatal dose.  Tears streamed down both our faces.

“Do you want me to cart Mimi away, cremate her, send her ashes to you in the mail?” the vet asked.

“Of course we do,” we said.

“I also offer a plaster impression of paws.  Would you like me to cast one for you?”

“Of course we do,” we said.

Within a week we received Mimi’s fancy container of ashes in the mail.   And at Christmas Mimi’s plaster cast nestles in our tree.

I painted these words underneath her paw print:  Liver Days.

Trainman

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Sometimes, behind the skin of the wall, she finds the Trainman.
He rode the rails to Canada in 1906:
New York to Ontario, Toronto to Winnepeg, Calgary to Vancouver.

Did he have hobo dreams?

He writes postcards to his wife:
A detour in Montreal, a wash-out near Fort Nelson;
a quick shave, a layover in Portage LaPrairie.
“Hoping you and kiddies are well and full of prunes.”

The granddaughter peels layers of memory, travels to what is behind her:
The bleat of a train horn echoing beyond the Illinois cornfield where she wandered as a girl;
the clatter of cars on the track clack clacking away as she watched amid the withered maize.

Was it the Trainman who tracked her arteries, jangled her bones
as she glimpsed the red caboose wobble away to grown-up destinations?

If she were to go behind the skin of her cheek;
if she were to swab for DNA, test her cells, peel away a pattern –
what would she find on her maternal track?

Nothing pressed her to do this.

She had a fondness for mystery.

Totem

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I met Blue on the Oregon coast.  He ruffled and stretched his wings.  Plunged his bill in the water for food.  Moved with Tai Chi deliberation.

I followed Blue around like the paparazzi.  When Blue caught me filming, he did not fly away.

I took hundreds of snaps.   As if I could capture his bird-soul!

I, his pupil, still struggle to learn stillness.