Eulogy to an Age and a Man

 

 

The deep, broad-knifed grass next to the roadway is the same, the overgrown lilac bushes, crab trees and peaches, but what for me was once a sleepy town with dirt streets, wooden sidewalks, ashpits and summer swollen ditches can only be seen in sideways 94940028glances, an old plank barn, a sculpture created with rusted barbed wire from a field.  When I visit my old hometown of Boulder, the cliché “You can’t go home again,” sticks sharp.

I wander up the area called “The Hill,” close to the red flagstone University buildings and sense the ghosts of hippies gone by, hawking their leather sandals on the street, patchouli oil clouds choking their customers as, in dirty bare feet, they try on the hand-tooled shoes.  Now Starbucks’ tables encroach on the sidewalk with blonde co-eds in their REI shirts Pi Beta Phi logos and shorts, their hiking sandals made in China.

Into the University I flee, passing by Mary Rippon Outdoor Amphitheater, hearing the moans and groans echoed in my head as an actor rehearses King Lear for the summer production.  “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child…” The giant slabs of the Flatirons loom on the mountainside above my head; I recall the time we hiked among them on the steep slopes; my father forced to carry my childhood friend Susan piggy back, her ankle swollen, all the way down to town.

If I walk on Baseline, now famous for Jon Benet Ramsey, I skirt up to the old wooden Chautauqua buildings, once the healing hope for tubercular patients and venues for arts and music, I squeeze through unexpected crowds in the now hippest-place-to-be-seen-at-brunch and watch as revelers play frisbee golf on the lawn.

No more Louisville spaghetti, the Blue Parrot closed, Blue Parrotnow probably a place with fusion cooking and grilled brussels sprouts in balsamic vinegar. The hay and alfalfa fields are a multitude of breweries, wine tasting rooms, and sports bars.  The cold spirits of pinto horses, evaporate through the stone and cement buildings, through the table where the realtors are sealing a new development deal, spectral horse muzzles eternally searching for a good bite of green.

There is our old house, now called a “Mid-Century Modern,” sadly jammed on a sub-divided lot.  The Russian olives bloom yellow and sweet, the ones my father planted, reach higher than they should in their last years of a prickly life.  I wonder if someone covered up or backfilled the well when they hooked up to city water and if anyone ever looked down the stone-sided hole to see Dad’s wire cage that held the cakes of fluoride, the first in the county to heed the dentists’ call.

A house now on the site of our two-story playhouse, no more the hiding place filled with dusty hay.  Many a child pulled his or her pants down and “showed” up there in that playhouse, naïve and trusting that no harm would ever come and no harm did, at least to me.  The corral and cherry trees now a xeriscape garden to the 1990’s modern home.  Do they ever wonder who tread the earth before they installed their stamped cement sidewalks and planted their heirloom tomatoes?  Is their earth yet fertilized by my dead horse’s road apples?  Does our septic still keep their garden green?

I walked today around Coot Lake, now an exercise path with stations to build the triceps, biceps and internal obliques.  I wonder if the frogs still sing, do the lizards and the muskrats, scamper along the sandy beach, do mosquito clouds drive out the incessant humans seeking to stick a toe into their ancestral swamp.

I am home today, kayaking at the reservoir.  Does the ghost of my preteen-self, sit and shiver at the phosphorous of her 66-year-old reality, paddling with her grieving comrade?  Do the waves heal the teenage loss and an old age one too?  I see her, myself, standing on the sand in a yellow and white two-piece, eyes shaded by a hand over the brow, watching what no one else can see, her future self, paddling on the horizon, a grief boat, trying to outrun the past.

She turns to the west. Can the Arapahoe Glacier hold off another year until it’s boulderseen us through this demise, through the empty chairs, through the medical gloves, the diapers, through the open gaping mouth of the almost-dead? That young yellow-and-white-bathing-suit-girl shouldn’t know this future.  She should only see us paddle by and wave, we love her, envy her, and wish we could protect her for the next years to come.

But we are tired and only wish some solace for our now-selves. Our mother-selves, our wife-selves, our grandmother-selves.  Can Janine and I sail around and around the reservoir, with our paddles, the wind at our face, side, back, the frogs croaking, the great blue herons landing, the pinto horses wading, the speed boats waking, until we no longer have sleepless nights over the fate of our children, grandchildren, mortgages and cars.  Can we sleep without hearing every voice and wondering if this moment is our last—my murdered friend Angela’s apparition warning us, shaking her finger at our epic battles against mental illness, not wanting us to be a statistic in her book?

I remember that girl, me, gliding these streets on horseback, now three lanes of traffic.  I remember that girl, lonely, now six people deep at the checkout.  I remember that girl heading west, up the Front Range on her horse, now fenced, now divided, now parking lots for Teslas.

Tell me progress isn’t the loss of me, tell me it isn’t inevitable, tell me I can still climb, lickety-split up to the first ridge with Rollo the dog leading the way, ducking the barbed wire, annoying the cattle. Tell me I can buy a guinea pig at the feed store on Broadway, I can hear the clank of spurs on the wooden sidewalks on Pearl.

My grandpa’s three-story high school academy, a Greek Revival stone structure from the 1890’s is now a one-story bank and parking lot.  How can I shout and tell the people who bow to beep their cars locked, that there is history here, something happened here, a desire passed by?   To beg them to stop a moment and listen to the lives that manifest through the ether, the young man struggling to be free from a life of manual labor, to be free from the narrow-gauge engines and to open a door that his family kept locked.

I saw the store where another friend got arrested for stealing a nickel candy.  The police took her home and turned her over to her father, who beat her.  I watched and dawdled on my Schwinn as she, escorted to the back seat of the black and white, tossed me her stash and astonished, I pedaled it home, in reverence.  I ate up every bite, like communion, an homage to her battle to defy the whippings, the authority over her beautiful female body and self.

In the cracks and in the alleys, I see the past holding on. There is a Boulder nursery that still welcomes the children of the poor and troubled, the pathways in the garden deepened from the little feet wandering this way and that on a journey to find a haven for body and spirit after one parent shot the other or before he woke up one day and no one was there at all.

There are the schools, still cranking out the Boulder elite, the white children whose parents compliment themselves on how liberal they are, how progressive, how complete.  But the Mexican kids still sit on their cut-off bikes, still a silent audience for the golden people who ride away in SUV’s and Lexus, who fly to Hawaii on winter break.

As I pack my bag—is it an escape? —and struggle with the details of dirty laundry and charging wires-now-gone-awry, I force myself to remember, that I am here to say goodbye.Jim

Goodbye to Jim who stood like a strong redwood for those of us who needed the example of a gentle man.  He showed us there are some, well one, at least.  Like the redwood, there is no replacing his spot, his presence, his laugh, his correction, his brilliance, his resolution, his generosity, his biting tongue, his appeal, his self-deprecation, his singularity, his backward glance at ambition, his blessed-blending with the soil, the plants and the creatures of the earth.

I envy Jim.  He did it, this dying thing, and he did it right.  He made it, he crossed the line, not like everyone else wanted him to, but he left the way he thought his own going should be.

Goodbye Jim, we will watch over what you left for us to do.  Goodbye Boulder, you took my hearth and built a brewery, you took my riding paths and made a cross-fit course, you took my lilacs and planted Russian sage, my catalpas and made a mall.  You took my dandelions, my crags, my cactus, my ditches, my Charles Trees, my pastureland, my graveyards, my father and our Jim. It seems fitting that my last act here is to spit on the earth and watch the liquid sink deep

.Me camping

 

Wind Days

Happy Birthday, Tina!

Wind Days

we were released from first grade,

sent home in 100 mph

Gusts

to walk home alone before it increased.

We knew how silly adults could be.

 

Tina and I collapsed on the silent side of a sandhill.

experience taught us exactly where to sit,

that spot in Chinook air shadow,

our little faces scoured fuchsia by fury of wind and sand,

now protected, a tiny stolen peace.

 

Finally, with renewed bravery,

we grasped one another’s hand, left our shelter.

Parka hoods became our punishment,

they whipped and lashed us with

torturous hood strings, our Inquisitors.

 

We knew when a quick hand squeeze meant

the other was blinded by

dirt or a zipper sting that blasted an eye.

On Wind Days your clothing

became your enemy.

 

We learned to walk blind for blocks,

slowly felt our way

so our weeping peepers were safe.

 

Sometimes we collapsed flat

in a dry ditch to save at least our backsides

from locomotive air.

Ending in Kansas from the Colorado front range

was not a stretch for our imaginations.

We knew Dorothy was our wind sister,

if only we two, could get to Oz.

 

In the ditch we giggled, thrilled and skittish,

we laughed until our sides ached,

until we had to pee.

Have you ever tried to pull your pants down

and tinkle on a Wind Day?

The stream, violent and unpredictable,

splattered sideways and rebounded, no way to aim,

which caused more hilarity and well, more pee.

 

Other times, we had to hide on the downwind side

of a giant cottonwood to gasp air,

the pressure stole our breaths

whipped words out of our mouths

sent them eastward, past Longmont, past Brush, past the sugar beet farms.

 

When we felt courageous, we grasped the

bottoms of our coats and hauled them behind us,

over our heads, makeshift sails.

We waited for a gust of air like surfers

readying for a wave.

You could hear it coming,

as it blasted down the first mountain ridge,

mirror clouds rolled lickety-split through the sky.

The gust grabbed our little bodies and our sail,

hurled us down the empty field until our legs

couldn’t keep up and we fell splat in the tall wheat.

We shrieked with terror and delight

licked the blood as it dripped from our knees.

 

We arrived at my house, first

relieved and exhausted from the trip,

dusk turned all color to gray,

my houselights gold

but we didn’t want to part,

both anxious about what waited in the light.

So, I would walk Tina home,

reveling in our Woman vs. Nature fight with

a Colorado Chinook.

 

On our way to Tina’s place, we dawdled,

hair slapped all around our heads,

we sat in tall weeds to hide from any siblings

that might lurk about.

Then Tina walked me half way back to mine…

And so it went until darkness won.

We shouted, “One, Two Three, Run,”

turned our backs and hightailed it to our respective troubles.

 

That night, wind howled.

Silence.

The house creaked and moaned,

metal siding became loud whistles

that pierced through the din.

Silence.

Roof shingles loosened and thumped east,

outdoor chairs and trash can lids clattered

into the distance.

I lay awake in the tempestuous thunder,

yearned for Tina’s morning knock,

another adventure on our way to school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knees

exhaustion at Fox glacier

That spring in the knees, quick ascent from crouch

to standing, I crave it, I ache to elevate

without a hand on the wall or the

need to roll on all fours first – mortified

by Time.

 

I used to leap from boulder to boulder,

a mountain goat, able to avoid

the packed snow beneath. Now I slog up

and down, feet sodden, violating

the family aging rule – no vieja noises!

demoralized by one granite rock,

then the next.

 

My middle-aged son glances, wonders

if he should offer his hand, knows I

would bite it off before I use it.

He sighs, resigned to the pace I swore

never to set.

 

“Go on ahead,” I say, knees aching.

“No, I mean it.” (when I really don’t)

He bounds on ahead.  Left alone, I

hear my body, erratic rhythm,

besieged. In solitude I ponder,

what is worse – humiliation or

loneliness? Or could it be remorse?

Anguish that I am reduced to this,

a clumsy, lumbering shadow of

that young girl who didn’t seize the time

to bound and soar when she was able.

Thirst

Desert earth

       sandy, dry down as deep as you can dig.

       An arid sea of thorns and spines;

        creatures that bite and sting

         . . . abiding.

                       

Everlasting thirst.

         Even after a cloud burst,

         the yearning begins again.

         Only a watery appetizer,

          never the main course.

                     

I know that craving,

          desire, yen, languishment,

          always inconsolable for what

          will never be.

Gummy Bears *Pantoum

Milo and the Chocolate fight

Milo looks up, hopeful, his chocolate eyes sparkle.

He yearns for a treat inside the colorful bag of sweets

“I want a gummy bear.” A pause. “Pease.”

I can’t resist the smile, the little hands, covered with dirt.

 

He yearns for a treat inside the colorful bag of sweets,

I, too, am tempted by the amber, emerald and ruby creatures.

I can’t resist the smile, the tiny hands, covered with dirt.

But I don’t want to weaken in front of those bright eyes.

 

I, too, am tempted by the amber, emerald and ruby creatures.

They glisten in the kitchen sunlight beneath the cellophane,

But I don’t want to weaken in front of those bright eyes.

Should I? Should I break my resolve? Should we gobble up those bears?

 

They glisten in the kitchen sunlight beneath the cellophane,

“I want two gummy bears.” He checks my face. “Pease.”

Should I? Should I break my resolve? Should we gobble up those bears?

His bitsy fingers make the number with a little “v.”

 

“I want two gummy bears.” He checks my face. “Pease.”

Intent, he gazes at the bag and my mouth waters.

His bitsy fingers make the number with a little “v.”

What harm is a little bit of gelatin and sugar?  What harm?

 

What heartbreaking joy – the anticipation, the promise in his eyes.

Milo looks up, hopeful, his chocolate eyes sparkle.

We sit on the kitchen floor and eat four gummy bears each.

“I want another gummy bear.” A pause. “Pease.”

 

(First published in a Year In Ink)

 

 

*Pantoum is a Malaysian form of poetry in which the second and fourth line of the stanza becomes the first and third line of the following stanza.

Stamp Box Ritual

IMG_6792

I used to reach for it. . .

tiny brass birthday cake-like,

seed-sized oval atop

held the box together

but disaster

if unscrewed, which I did,

many times.

 

Sun darkened metal, from sitting

on his window ledge,

little side slit

exposed that

red,

white,

and blue

ribbon of stamps.

 

Black flecks from tarnished

nicks and scratches,

(some from when I dropped it)

my small hands gripped,

rubbed fluffy green felt

underneath.

 

He used so many stamps

running for office,                  IMG_6791

sending spicy letters

to litigants.

 

I watched the stamp ribbon,

as it dwindled,

he would ask me to

unscrew the little oval

and refill,

as though

a sacred ritual

only we could fulfill.

 

 

March 1, 2019

Visions of Deedle

There it is,

a flash in the corner of the eye —

Look full on, nothing, but a laugh.

Still, there is something,

a glimpse of her plaid house dress,

her nose pressed up against the lilac.

A rag tied around her pink curlers,

one strand floats free.

 

The skeptic,

a shake of the head, a smile unnerved.

Another day, another flicker,

a brush of tail, spirals

around a fire-charred oak,

but the dogs don’t even look

or sniff the air.

 

A sparkle next to the sun,

confronted, fades like a vapor trail when

even so, wings rustle and tickle the ear.

No feathers, no call, no streak across the sky.

 

Burst through the door, distracted

there she is again, disappearing,

while the bird feeder swings,

newly full of seed.