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.

 

Northwest Folk Life Festival, 2010

A youth staples dollar bills to his bare chest.
A woman reacts:  “I will pay you twenty dollars not to see that.”
The stapled man accepts the twenty, stays planted in his pain
between the Black Death All-Stars
and the Festival Food truck hawking Pennsylvania Dutch Funeral Cakes.

I imagine the stigmata of his wounded childhood:
Smashed arm off a recliner chair, crumpled beer cans, and his father’s leather belt.
In his Mother’s coffee cup, the ash heap of regrets pile high, turns green.
She once dressed him as Medusa for Halloween.

The bleat of a bagpipe drifts on the wind –
“It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.”

A young girl says “Let’s go to the fountain.”
Her friend wears a sign – “Willing to sell I-phone to buy ride home.”

On another stage, a young capitalist offers “Expensive Ass Hugs.”
His counterpoint, a maiden in white, announces “Free Kisses If You Measure Up.”

Centrifugal Force.  Like a carnival ride where the floor drops out,
youth spinning, pinned, with no connection home.

Just open-mouthed shock, slack laughter.

Alone

“He travels fastest who travels alone.”
From Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Winners

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This is an homage to Alone.  She has travelled with me from Chicago to my home in Seattle.

An ancestor painted Alone based on a copy from an original illustration.  I know nothing about the ancestor.  The painting has been in the family for approximately 100 years.

It seems fitting that I inherited Alone.  She was a formidable presence in the home of my childhood.   My sisters were not in my play arena.  They are 15 and 11 years older than me.  I joke with the eldest one that when I was growing up, I was an “only child.”

“No you weren’t,” she says.

But it felt that way.  And so while my sisters hung out at the Sugar Bowl with pals, I made up imaginary friends.  One of them was Frosty, pictured here with me, Mother, and sisters:

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Later, in the basement of our house, I constructed my own wooly home made from blankets draped over cabinet doors where I snuggled inside to make believe this was my fortress which no one in the family could storm.
Eventually I re-potted myself and moved to Seattle and married.

But Alone is still with me.  She helped me locate my imagination and realize that “home” — even if attached — is the domain of each individual to seek in his or her heart.

 

 

 

In Praise of the Brazil Nut

Dipping my hand into the party mix, I retrieve you, Brazil Nut.
Although you mingle well with others – pecans, filberts, almonds –
you want the limelight and will not be dominated in the nut bowl.

Meaty and long, your brown membrane peels as if sunburned in Amazon jungle
before your journey to a North American store.

You are smooth and cool to the touch.
I pop you in my mouth and roll you like a stone.

Tentative molars bite down and my saliva engulfs you.
I am fooled into believing you are a baked potato.
In flavor, you could be cousin to Ireland’s spud.

Thank you for traveling so far to feed me.

Seals

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Death and Life washed up on the shore, lying on the sands of Alki Beach.
Curious on-lookers gathered near to point at
the inert, dark mass
more rock than mammal,
its ebony flesh age-battered.
No more frolics in the waves.
No more suppers of fish and kelp.

Close by the seal pup
blinked its eyes,
dorsal tail waving and I thought of the story
of the Little Mer-Baby lost at sea,
swept home on a wave.
“Should we call Fish and Wildlife?” someone asked.

The pup winked and turned to the sun.
Napped.
With no worries of its fate.