Monthly Archives: January 2014

Loose Change

Sometimes I wake up with a heaviness in my heart. It could be the previous night’s dream. It could be some energy in the world that is off-kilter. It could be an argument I had or dwelling on mistakes I made. It could be that my kid is growing up too fast. It could be all these things. Disturbances. Change. I don’t do change well.

Yesterday I found a penny at the bottom of the washing machine. Loose change from one of our pockets. Now washed and shiny. I threw it in the garbage. I don’t make a habit of tossing anything that can be used again. I think I was just in robot mode.

My mom-in-law is moving to another state today. End of an era. Bittersweet. I will most certainly write a post about it.

Our favorite crossing guard had to retire for health reasons. The morning bike ride is not the same.

My favorite kickboxing partner is joining the Navy. Who will I make goofy faces at while we do the warm-ups?

I can cry about this heaviness, these changes, and maybe I have. Maybe the other day I had a full-out bawl session on a fishing pier while listening to The Cure on my iPod and watching the pelicans glide in the sky. Maybe I cried so hard and so much my tears didn’t taste like salt anymore.

The heaviness subsided as it usually does with a good cry. But there is always space for it there to come back. My heart has so much room yet it’s bursting at the proverbial pericardium. And maybe that’s what I was crying about most. “This is not a curse,” I can hear some of you say. And perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it’s a gift. And with the loving comes the hurting. And with the change comes the progress.

My mom-in-law will get even more of the specialized attention she demands after she moves. The crossing guard can begin to repair her lungs now that she’s not breathing in automobile exhaust. My favorite kickboxing partner will move on to a new stage and adventure in her life and see and do things I can barely imagine.

And as for all these other occurrences and disturbances in life well, that is just what it is. Life.

Next time I find a penny I will put it with the other loose change. I’ll save it until it needs to be exchanged. And I’ll let it slip through my fingers leaving its seasoned metallic scent behind.

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La Veranda

You welcomed me 
in the middle of a city street
tucked away among the palms and live oaks
As soon as my feet climbed your staircase 
I was full
There was no worry
only solace
I could have stayed for days
weeks perhaps
The aqua sea glass chimes 
danced in the slight winter breeze
Your cushions and lamps
and pillows and books about architecture
encased me like a warm blanket
And JackJack the cat
nipped at the corners
as I wished I could pet him without sneezing
A pedestal tub I didn't have time to soak in
The doorway as short as the people in 1849
Silk coasters to place the glass of wine
at night as I inhaled the smell of antique wood
A vintage coffee cup on the veranda
filled with the nutty flavor of morning happiness
Come and relax
the walls and veranda seem to say
creativity will abound
You are always welcome to leave 
but you will never want to.

veranda

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The Berries at the Bottom

My first encounter with drink was a romantic one.  Picture this:  Bolzano, Italy.  1989.  The mid-summer night air is cool.  A virgin girl from southern America sits in a tent in the Dolomite mountains with a group of people she now considers friends.  In the years to come there will be letters sent to and from old Italia.  One of these friends will visit America several times.  But I digress.  This virgin girl (okay it’s me) has never touched her lips to a sip of alcohol, although she did sneak a biting puff off one of her grandfather’s Winston smokes in his basement back in Tennessee.  Hack hack.  The cigarette addiction won’t start for another four years.

Tent

In this tent after a long day’s hike these friends pass around a bottle of grappa.  Grappa, as defined by Wikipedia, is a fragrant grape-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35-60% alcohol by volume.  As defined by me it was a kind of heaven.

I was hesitant at first.  I wasn’t sure what it would do to me or how it would taste.  I can hear them all now.  “Janifehr!  You must try the grappa!  Is so very good.  Will make you feel quite warm!”  As each one took a sip and passed it I scanned the bottle carefully as it made its way closer.  A homemade label wrapped around the clear glass.  The purple liquid inside was the hue of happiness.  Bloated, wine-infused berries swam at the bottom of this drunken sea.

When it was my turn I took a quick, giggly sip.  Then another.  They all laughed.  “She loves the grappa!  Janifehr we will get you drunk tonight!”

The bottle was passed around until every last sip, every last berry was ingested and absorbed.  I don’t remember feeling particularly drunk.  Just happy.  That could have been partly because I was in one of the most serene and beautiful places ever, surrounded by some of the most engaging and beautiful people ever.  And it could have been partly because of the grappa.  My belly was warm.  My cheeks were red.  And I had a difficult time jumping over the fence surrounding the campsite when we decided to go out for ice-cream.

Mtn in Italy

They let me keep the bottle.  It now sits on the 1920’s buffet table I inherited from my great-grandmother.  I cannot believe it has survived all the moves and balls tossed around.  Whoever shall accidentally break it will surely pay.  I carried that thing all over Italy.  Back home to America.  High school bedroom.  College dorm.  First apartment.  Second apartment.  In a moving truck from Tennessee to Florida for a week with everything I owned including all my non-duplicated poems and stories.  Two more houses.  A villa.

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That bottle reminds me of my sense of adventure.  My love for wine.  My youth.  Friends I don’t hear from anymore but at one time were there to share a most magnificent summer.  The Dolomites and all its green, goat-pastured, dandelion-covered, dreamy landscapes.  It reminds me that some things don’t get broken.  Memories clear as the glass they were drunk from.  Experience rich and sweet and full like the berries at the bottom.

And thank God that first encounter with drink was not Mad Dog 20/20 on someone’s basement floor.

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Australian Sky

There is nothing more beautiful
than the Australian sky,
with its midnight blue hue
and its diamond eye--
a lonely star searching
for its band of brothers,
the Southern Cross light
and a sea of others
The Milky Way, broad and blinding
The desert tree hiding
behind a silhouette of red rock
at sunset once shining
A dark branch against a lighter sky
A rustle in the grass
A nocturnal animal's cry
Red turns blue turns grey turns black
and there is no turning back
For the sky of Australia
will always be burned
into the eyes of the onlooker,
remembered and yearned.

Uluru

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Kitty

Kitty was a stray.  I found him roaming a block from my childhood home.  He was on the smallish side, with yellow eyes, and short, jet-black fur that felt like velvet.  So that’s what I named him.  But we called him Kitty.

Kitty

He was one of three strays we had at the time—the only time we ever had pets of the furry, four-legged kind.  I was eight years old.  My mom didn’t want pets in the house so they stayed outside.  One was all white and given to me by my grandparents after I’d found her lurking around their house.  The other, who was found scampering about in our neighbor’s yard, had black and white spots, and Kitty of course was solid black.  It was the perfect combo except Kitty was always trying to steal the other cat’s food.  He was relentless in his efforts, even brash about it.  With little regard for poor Whitey and Spots he’d barrel toward their bowls as soon as he scarfed down his own Kibbles n’ Bits.  There was a lot of scolding him, and I began to wonder if I should have carried him down the street and into our lives.

Kitty on piano

One night as we pulled into the driveway in our Caprice Estate station wagon, a big white cat was carrying Whitey by the scruff of her neck.  Their eyes flashed toward us and then they were gone.  Whitey’s mother had traveled 30 miles to come get her daughter.

And then there were two.  Kitty still raced to eat the other cat’s food when he was finished, but with a little less aggression.  A week later Spots took off with a flirty calico who’d been peeking at him through the slats in the redwood fence.

Since Kitty had no more competition he took his time eating, and slowly turned into the sweet pet I’d dreamed of and begged my parents to let us keep.  He didn’t scratch, didn’t shed, and scrunched his little toes when he napped.  My dad made a cat house for him and we painted it yellow and filled it with a soft blanket.  Sometimes on special occasions Kitty was allowed in the house to play for a bit.  He crawled under my brother’s bed when we played hide-n-seek.  In the living room he was only allowed to sit in this one pink swivel chair, which he did so obligingly.  There were a few times he was even allowed to cuddle with me in my queen-sized bed.  His purrs were so loud when you stroked his smooth fur.  He chased us in the backyard and climbed the maple tree my brother and I swung from like monkeys.

Kitty with Hat

One afternoon when I came home from school Kitty was nowhere to be found.  I looked everywhere- all around the house, inside and out.  I looked in the creek behind our house, asked the neighbors, road my bike to the place where I first picked him up.  Nothing.  For two weeks I looked for him, called for him, prayed he would come back.  I had this sinking feeling he was hurt and needed me but I couldn’t get to him.  I held onto the hope that he scampered off to find another cat friend, went on an adventure, and was just taking his time getting back home.

On a Saturday morning while we were helping my dad in the yard two older boys I’d never seen before came over to us and asked if we owned a black cat.  They said they’d found one dead in the creek, about a quarter mile down.  We dropped our rakes and ran along the creek bank to it.

Me holding Kitty

Kitty had been shot in the head by a BB gun.  I always wondered if those boys had done it.  We buried him under the maple tree and had a little service for him that afternoon.

I cried and bawled for hours, days, weeks.  I swore I’d never have another pet.  The emptiness, anger, and relentless sorrow I felt was too unbearable for me to put myself in that situation again.

Funny how resilient children are.  Funny how adults can be, too.

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Up All Night

If some of the other parents saw us right now they’d be appalled.  Or perhaps just perplexed.  Or maybe even wishing they could do the same but their schedules or weird-ass beliefs won’t allow them to do so.  It’s 8:30 pm on a school night.  My kid is not in bed.  He’s outside in the dark riding his new bike in the rare Florida chill.  His dad is home from another week-long stint in another state for work.  They are outside together;  I’m cleaning the kitchen with the calmness and solidarity that a man experiences in his man-cave or garage tinkering with motors or wood.

I find great pleasure in washing dishes and wiping the counter.  I have my Pandora stations on shuffle.  It’s my kitchen dance party.  I know the dishwasher will be loaded per my exceedingly high expectations, meaning I can fit nearly every dish and utensil in there without having to hand wash much except the big salad bowl, special cutting knife, and roasting pan.  I’m working/dancing off the calories consumed by finishing not only my plate but also my kid’s.  I know this is not a good habit.  But I hate seeing healthy home-cooked food go to waste.  He’ll be hungry again in twenty minutes.

Sometimes when he rails against going to bed it reminds me of when he was just a year old.  We have video of him playing with an empty water bottle and laughing at his older cousin as she fake sneezes in this high-pitched “Eh Cheeeewww”.  I pan to the clock and it reads 1:00 am.  The baby is wide awake and laughing as his fat cheeks dimple and his eyes widen with maniacal late-night wonder.

That video will forever be etched in my memory.  When I hear other parents talk about how their kid goes down strictly at 8:30 I don’t offer much.  I figure if they knew I let my kid stay up til sometimes 10:00 on a school night they would roll their eyes or widen them and give me the “Oh we don’t do that at our house” judgement crap.

My brother and I had a strict bedtime of 9:00.  I can still hear my parents yelling from downstairs, “Ya’ll need to quiet down and go to sleep!”  We were always whisper-chatting or playing with stuffed animals way past the nine o’clock hour.  Even though we had our own rooms we slept in the same bed til I was thirteen.  I was afraid of the dark.  Utterly convinced there was something under the bed that would reach out and grab my feet if they were too close to the edge.  And lightning?  Utterly convinced it would crash through my window and strangle me with its electric arms.

My brother wasn’t scared.  He just humored me.  Until I kicked him out when it was too weird for us to be under the same quilt.

My kid doesn’t have a sibling to share in late-night laugh-fests.  So we let him stay up and watch SNL skits or old episodes of The Twilight Zone.  Interestingly he never has nightmares.

Sharks are night owls too.

Sharks are night owls too.

Maybe it’s bad parenting to let him stay up so late.  But then again everyone has their own child-rearing style.  I like that we’re flexible.  You gotta grab these moments and drink them in, inhale them.  One day soon that laughing baby, this night owl boy, will be up all night with his buds.  And I’ll be biting the skin off my fingers hoping to God he’s okay.  I think I’ll go ahead and order my Chardonnay drip right now.

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January, at its Best

How many cold, winter nights
have we sat by the window of some smoky place
and contemplated the state of things
or nothing at all
And how such a winter's night
could be so mild
'tis a strange thing but all the same
Fine by me for bitter winds
only add to the shame of man
For no man has not a care in the world
lest he have not a mind or soul
Would that I could take things like
that soulless man
My existence would not have reason
And my mind would think silly thoughts
through the window of murky winter.

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Written when the Tennessee winter was more than I could bear.
The endless days and weeks of cloudy skies, barren tree limbs, and freezing temperatures took its toll.

It robbed the best of me, leaving a fallen, desperate shell.
Now my Floridian January is a celebration.

The cool winds keep the warmth from stagnating.
And I am smiling as the vivid colors of a blue sky backdrop promise me sunshine and breezes
and greenery.

And birds gracefully gliding in their sunny winter dance.

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