This is the place it happened. It was here. The two of them in someone else's nice neighborhood, walking down the steps to the water. The young man kneels. This is the place it happened. It was here. The young woman smiles & cries. She says yes. They hug & kiss. They make each other a pledge. This is the place it happened. It was here. Soon everyone will know they're in it for good, for life. This draft has two inspirations. The first is Joshua Mehigan's "The Crossroads", a perfect triolet from which I borrowed the first line. The other is Yi-Fu Tuan, who reshaped the way I think of space & place. My then-girlfriend & I had designed just the right engagement ring for her, for this moment. The jeweler finished it a week early, and we both rushed to the store to make sure it was just right. Then I drove to this spot, a nice neighborhood where we used to walk, in Dallas. We both woke up that morning not knowing that today would be the day we got engaged.
Category: things I write
When I learned about love, I was on my knees, praying for mercy & wisdom. I believed what they said: G-d listened, and G-d cared. I grew to love myself, to open my heart (late). The right girl found me and waited, and led me to believe again, believe anew.
The challenge for this one, I think, was to stick to five-line stanzas or five words in each line. Every time I write about my wife, I’m tempted to use that image above..
There are certain items in my parents’ house that are downright totemic.
On a shelf in their study, an official US Post Office scale from the 40s, its elegant detailed dial stilled after decades of bearing & measuring the heft of countless packages, ounce by ounce. My grandfather’s–my dad’s dad.
Under the bar connecting the kitchen to the living room, an iron & smoothed wood sewing machine with a still working foot pedal from the 30s, a real conversation piece. Miles of fabric have burnished the metal guide brackets to a crisp silver gleam. My grandfather’s–my mom’s dad.
Two men, fifteen miles apart their entire lives. Lives of honest work with their hands, with these tools. Work the town depended on, where everyone knew everyone by first name. Generations along those dusty Starr County streets.
And then there’s mom’s molcajete.
Boutique kitchen shops sell the smooth white marble variety, a device better suited to a medieval apothecary than a Mexican kitchen. They call it a mortar & pestle. We call it a molcajete, although technically it’s supposed to be called a molcajete (the bowl) and a tecolote (the grinder). I’m not going to call it that–we never did, never will.
People walk by the molcajete there on the kitchen island. (What a lovely word for this space in our homes–island. I don’t know what they call it in other languages in other homes. This spot that isn’t the fire, isn’t the water of the kitchen. An island of food in the ocean of family, an island of fecundity & fellowship.)
On the kitchen island, a squat rough small volcanic thing. Look close & I’d swear you can see remnants that can never be ground or washed out. Maybe a sharp corner of anise or an eyelash-thin thread of a garlic peel. The pepper pops under her strong loving hand, leaning her whole body into the rotating motion–deep from her shoulder through the palm of her hand, willing the pieces unmeasured into perfect proportion. Decades & generations of family later, everything she creates is always just right.
The rice begins to steam. Mid-conversation, mid-instructions to my father, she sidesteps from island to flame, scraping the pasty earthiness into the pan. A quick stir and then back to the sink. A tablespoon of water to eke out the last little bit before the onions & peppers get sliced and added. My sister & I argue over the rice that gets overdone at the bottom of the pan, the rice that peels off the rest like its own thin rich bloodbrown cake of flavor & motherly love. (She overcooks it deliberately now. Just for us.)
And after dinner, it sits where it began, a low peak on the center of her island. Pockmarked & uneven, blackened & alive, fragrant with the subtlest power.
You'll be tempted to (you'll need to) talk to others. They'll be tempted to ratify what has happened. They'll tell you what was wrong, what was not worth loving. They'll remind you of all the bad times--ignore them. Take this time to do what seems the least natural: Make sacred the things that always were (are) sacred. Curate & cherish what it was like to love her. You'll have nothing but time for anger if you choose. Choose instead memories that water your dry heart. Thanks to Ruben Quesada for the guidance & the challenge of writing a paragraph on heartbreak, and then making each sentence an Alexandrine. The image is Josef Sudek's The Window of My Studio.
what lies beneath illumines what's above diaphanous weight a statue baptised the bracelet a shining silver choice the depths indistinct no stones no plants she is alone and elegantly out of place ennobling what holds her her body is not at rest toes spread arms drifting maybe we're all suspended and safe, floating facing what's above listening to the depths
Green burrs grow there, dandelions & weeds I can't name. Cigarette butts & candy wrappers catch low in the chain link fence. You have to look up to see what it meant to me all those years ago. Look up to the wide dry space, for running, walking, daydreaming a life of an adult you (never this one). Look back to the line of live oak trees along the fence, thick shade for boyhood summer days and cover for stolen embraces on the thin flannel sheet you didn't know she had in her trunk. Nobody saw you that night. Nobody sees what you saw back there back then.
Before I grew into doubt & anger, disappointment & disgust with the church, I prayed daily to Virgin Mary. She was calm & beautiful, her pain serene, not a crown of thorns. Let it be done to me--disarming service & bodily yielding, faithful, maternal & beautiful, clothed in the stars & sky, atop the moon. Pray for me, Mary. I will be good. In some ways, I've written about this part of my life before, most evident in the Virgen de Guadalupe pendant above which I have worn since I was thirteen. but never with these parameters, where each line length is dictated by digits in my phone number.
The city restricts watering during summer, for good reason, so the man tends the brown patches daily by hand. Seven thirty and seven thirty at morning & at night. He times each session each day down to the minute. He gets to know his lawn intimately, patch by patch, the narrow band right by the sidewalk nine feet long, the yellowed oval that stretches out just behind the mailbox, the tight corners near the turns by the lawn lights. His fist around the hose, his thumb widens the spray, the mist cooling the only man outside this hot night. Sometimes cars pass him, their fingers lifted in a hello, their palms steering them down the alley to their garages. On vacation, he worries about the lawn, patch by patch. Over time all see the green return stronger than before. Over the summer, I wrote a lot of watering-the-lawn poems. This one is kind of a sonnet, but with ten words per line rather than ten syllables.
The child enters. "Knock knock" "Who's there?" The father wonders at the enduring appeal of jokes, the older we get the fewer we hear. The child grins through the setup, knowing that it's worked all day long friend to friend playground & cafeteria, a center stage moment he's rehearsed & honed. The child delivers the punch. There's more ah than ha at first before the father shifts from discovery to joy. They laugh together. Let there always be shared moments like this, an assurance for each, a luxuriating in who's there and why. May the doors to their hearts always be open to each other. This is inspired by a writing challenge that Matthew Olzmann gave my students--write a poem that begins with a joke and ends with a prayer. Photo of Diego Rivera with his child here.
May your feet be warm & dry May you hear your name said with a smile today May your nights be peaceful May your work be meaningful May someone you love think that you are smart & funny May your coffee be served just right May you see your child laughing May you enjoy the book you're reading -- and the next one May you feel the warmth of the setting sun May your children be safe & happy May they grow up to love & talk to one another May they have dogs & beloveds that love dogs May the clouds always inspire you This is inspired by a three-part writing challenge that Sarah Freligh gave my students--write blessings for all people everywhere, then blessings for someone difficult to love, then for yourself. The image is by my friend Scott Lewis, from his series God & Globalization.