Sunday, November 13, 2016

He's come to take his children home.

I spent my childhood quietly (or not so quietly) singing along with my dad from a chair or blanket or stool in a restaurant or cafe or park while we sang for the people assembled there. I used to think he wrote every Grateful Dead song into existence--with a few Beatles songs peppered in for good measure and popular appeal.

Despite years of practice, I have struggled to find ease and confidence in playing my own music and performing live. It felt like this private, essential part of who I was, strung together at birth and so important that I couldn't possibly risk sharing it. I wrote music and played primarily for the look of awe in my dad's eyes. He--with the constant writer's block and knack to make popular songs his own--he made me feel like a combination of Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith when clumsily clanging chords and words together.

Up until the last day I saw him, I was convinced my dad would get better. Even as frail as he was and as bleak as the circumstances were, I thought things would improve. He made me believe in magic so many other times throughout my life, I thought this must be just another magic trick to add to his repertoire. Dad's popular magical acts included making bottomless pancakes from a cup of batter, singing songs that made your heart beat like you were sprinting long-distance, and an innate knowledge of when the most beautiful things would fall from the sky in an exquisite extraterrestrial light show.
I am just now beginning to recognize that my father is gone for good, in the physical sense. That this is not some prolonged silence caused by a meaningless fight manifested in physical distance, one day to be resolved with a phone call and a long chat over Magic Hat #9 and some hummus. This is it. This is life now.

Dad was not a man to sow lofty expectations for his kids, and I mean that in a good way. If I spent the rest of my life drinking merlot on my couch, watching JOY and crying ( like I have today), he would not fault me for it. But I lived for his giddy smiles, and I lived for his music and I can't help but think--I can still find a path through this world with that motivation and love riding shotgun. I can still make music that would make him smile, and feel in awe of life enough that I feel compelled to write a song about it.

But not just now. Today, I am crying with my eyes open.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Looking inward vs. Looking outward:

Lately, I have been frustrated by my inability (or lack of desire?) to turn my gaze outward, and write down what I see. So much of my inner focus involves looking at my surroundings, the rooftop gaze that includes both the entirety of midtown Manhattan, ringed by the Farragut and Walt Whitman Projects in my backyard. The woman who takes cans out of my recycling bin offering me a warm smile and a "good morning". My dog's first successful foray into an off-leash park.

But when time comes to write down what I see, I turn inward., to personal disappointments. How much I miss my father, or how hard it is to go to a dress fitting without Emily in tow.

II want to write about what I saw in Guatemala--the ugly and beautiful--and how the current political proceedings are both a wonderful sign of progress and a damning symbol of how the political system is failing the Guatemalan people.

I am still trying to write something cohesive about my year spent working in a Charter School--what worked and what did not. What was situational, and what appears to be endemic in a system that siphons money from local school systems and gives them to private companies and individuals.

Fall always feels like an opportunity to jump into something new. Despite the bitter memories associated with November, Fall never fails to invite us to start over. That crisp fall air has a lot to do with the smell of trees dying, but somehow that smell feels new, a sign of good changes to come.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Another dream about a Bush

streaming everywhere,
it had particular preferences &
personal affinities, altogether unattached
from the rest of us.

Got into the pumpkin soup and
tapped a good-looking girl on the shoulder while
tickling a gentleman's ear--
not my idea of a good night, but
overshadowed an otherwise
 dull dinner party.

It had hidden
childlike with sequined hot pants
but someone shouted stolen
and without further investigation,
demanded their return.

So let it
envelope the room.
tendrils clinging like wispy
arms, thin and appealing
yet coarse, memorable, unmistakeable.

The bush is not afraid of her.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Brendan Irving, who should be 25 today.

"I will miss you more on some days than others, but I could never love you any less"
--Brendan Irving, aged 17, writes to Olivia Lloyd, aged 16, while she is away at summer camp.  

It is still difficult to look through pictures from what is now my childhood--you are a prominent fixture in them, oscillating from brown curls to a mane of black-and-white hair, depending on the month and year. It is so odd, finding a photograph of you that I haven't seen before, your jawline well-defined. A trait that I found handsome, even as a girl. Although my life is not really so different now as it was when we were together, I sometimes think that we lived a different life in a separate universe. If only I could pull the curtain between those two worlds, I might see you  again. Lying in the grass of some public park, driving too fast on back roads, and covering the car floor with doughnut crumbs and coffee stains.

I am 24, an age that sounds distinctly adult, and you would be 25. But in my memory, you barely reach 19. Is it so strange, to hold a lingering affection for someone so young?

It took me a very long time to be happy again after you left, and sometimes feeling so happy and in love now feels like a betrayal to the rarity that was us. How often does one find real love before 30? How did I find it twice, and in the same town?  Do I just love too easily?

Perhaps the last is true, and definitively your fault. You taught me that love is really the only remedy for this nameless panic and dread that not-so-occasionally erupts in my chest.

The anger is finally gone, five-point-five years later, and the panic at losing our love has eased. But I will never shake the feeling that you were my big failure. I couldn't have possibly--but there is a lingering nag that I should have found a way to keep you alive. I cannot shake the feeling that this was on my great cosmic "to-do" list--and I missed it.

This feeling does not permeate every waking hour,
but hits me in moments, like when I see a photograph of you that had gone unnoticed before.. It is almost like discovering a new memory, as I try to decipher your mental state, your facial expression, what you are trying to tell the camera.

I am reminded that eventually, this re-discovery of living moments will end. profound failure settles in for a prolonged stay. But as the years pass, the moment becomes rarer, and today--your birthday--is the first time in a very long time that I have felt the sting of defeat at your preemptive departure.

"who the hell can see forever?"

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

tectonic plates over Baltimore // riots under Nepal

(A multitude of voices) 

The earth is shaking
Can you feel it?

an aftershock lasting for years
like grief, without promise of abatement
hair on the back of the neck to stand vigil
unable to discern the bullhorn from the bullet.


                                                                     throes of

earthquake sensation                     earthquake rhythm
                                                                                              earthquake movement
                        earthquake minute
earthquake music                                                earthquake second                      earthquake innards
                                             earthquake lovers
                                                                                       earthquake bodies
earthquake houses                                 earthquake tempers                                      earthquake mother
                             earthquake sinners
earthquake cities                 earthquake heat                                  earthquake moans    earthquake outer

                                                  e a r t h q u a k e f le e    i         n           g
to the edge of the world.

which world?emerging?decaying?recessing?static?moving?imagined?concrete?concrete?concrete?
can you repeat?can you repeat? can you repeat? can you repeat? can you repeat? can you repeat?
                                                               can you repent? repent?

after so much compression
and heat--                             nearly unbearable--
over time                              immeasurable--
struggling--                           to--'

be--                                         seen---

until finally, it erupts.

(settles in the dust)

We are revolve, re-evolve, revolving
Mother Earth says:
Chaos can only rule for so long,
but for me
a thousand years--





Monday, April 27, 2015

on Fatherhood

Today, I had lunch with the 4th graders. Lately, I've been half-present during lunch duty, anxiously refreshing the e-mail app on my smartphone, and praying that someone is interested in hiring me for a different job. However, I am often disappointed. No answers, or not the answer I was hoping for.

But today I sat with the kids and talked. We talked about our favorite songs, and what the week had in store for us. One student assured me that the summer break would come faster than we might expect "like---that!"
The subject of Mother's Day came up. A boy noted that he was surprised to hear that his first word had been "da-da" instead of "mama".

My heart ached a little, but I was enjoying the various contributions. I wasn't about to share such sadness with nine year olds.

He went on to say that his dad had left the family when he was very young. This sentiment was echoed by a chorus of his peers

yeah, me too
me as well
yep, that just happened to me.

All casual, in the way that 4th graders so often echo this kind of truth. The words rain down like pebbles, hard in spite of their carelessness.

I think of my father, as I often do, and his aching absence. His constant, steady presence--followed by a sudden, permanent absence. The grateful stinging of his love throughout my childhood, and how in his last days, he expressed gratitude for his community of family and friends.

Do any of these men have a community, now that they have left their sons and daughters?
One boy murmurs that his dad's got a new family now. I wonder what it must be like, to be on the outside looking in.  To only invite half of your pride to the dinner table, and know that the other is eating elsewhere, perhaps missing you, or trying his best to forget you.

 I ache for them, for my father, for those fathers without the bravery or wisdom to claim their titles.

 Thinking of my niece and nephew now, I realize that this phenomena is all too common; not at all a rarity. Sometimes, I forget about their lack of a father. Partially because my sister takes up both roles so well. Partially because--until recently--my father filled  the remainder of those shoes.  His calm spirit amongst rowdy women made him a favorite among babies. My father's patience led to countless games of "Pretty Pretty Princess". After he fastened clip-on earrings into his beard, I would place a crown upon his head as he exclaimed, "I'm a Pretty Pretty Princess!" with only a hint of irony.

I do not think that fathers are superflous, nor are they a necessity. But when they become yours "my father", rather than "a father", they are indispensable, irreplaceable.

Claim it or do not. There is no middle ground.

The conversation switches back to summertime, like a sinking boat with the leaks plugged slowly righting itself. The leaks plugged, the fear forgotten. Children are resilient, but not impervious. They mend, but they break.

Friday, April 3, 2015


Spring is here, although it often feels like it is playing a trick on us--
peeking out, only to slink away again, hiding through another cold and windy day.

Condensation on my skin feels like a whispered memory, rather than present tense
Perhaps I thought that winter would last forever.

Changing colors usher us into the Now, 
and I am chanting my mantra internally, waiting for good news. 
Not because I deserve it. Because it might come to pass. 

Changing lenses, I realize that I am not set up for failure,
 so much as I set myself up for endless possibility. 

One day, chance and good energy and opportunity will align,

For now, I sip my water and try not to sink.
It is Spring.