Summer House: A Gardener’s First Lesson

lavender

A Gardener’s First Lesson

Out by where the lavender grows
my grandfather planted rows
and rows of carrots,
parsnips, radishes
and beans.

Out by where the lavender grows
I asked him how he chose
which seed to bury.
Was it simple as
it seemed?

Out by where the lavender grows
he said, “Listen. Your finger knows.”
He set a hard round
nugget in my palm,
brown and green.

Out by where the lavender grows
I felt a spark through my toes.
Soil can sing. Listen.
A seed bursts with light,
a sheen.

<< Previous | Next >>

 

Eight Pieces: Shine

kristal601

Kristal’s grandmother had loved that old church song, “This Little Light of Mine.” She’d sang it to her all through her childhood.

It was effortless to shine as a child, surrounded by Grandma, Poppa, Mom, Dad, and all those doting cousins.

Family lit up when she entered a room, so it was impossible not to reflect that light back.

kristal602

When had she stopped shining?

She was still bright when she’d met her ex. He used to put on his sunglasses when he saw her coming. “You’re so bright, I need my shades.”

When had he stopped lighting up when he saw her?

It was after he’d been teaching for about ten years, she realized. That was the time he took on the supervision of the grad students in his division. Maggie Mueller–his T.A. for Intro to Essential Stochastic Finance–he shone when he saw her. That was when he began to dull around Kristal.

She pretended for a long time that nothing had changed, until she became too tired to pretend. She could live without love–of course. Millions did. She could, too.

But the price had been heavy.

kristal603

She was beginning to see now that she didn’t have to pay that price. She didn’t have to jump to be with someone else. She could continue on alone. And she could still shine.

She sat on the patio many a night, watching the shine of light above the chapel door. It meant something to her. She didn’t have words for its meaning, but when she felt the press of loneliness, she looked to that glow, and warmth spread through her.

This little light of mine.

Being a human was predictable. We respond in similar ways to certain experiences. Certain symbols transcend culture, individuality, and reach deep within us to move us, inspire us.

Some nights, she sat up through the darkness, glancing now and then to the light above the chapel door, watching the sky and the slow march of stars that betrayed the steady revolution of this planet. As the clouds above the mountains became silver, her pulse quickened, and she inhaled deeply.

The first rays of sunlight didn’t bring heat of the day, but they brought warmth to her eyes.

Let it shine.

kristal604

A single kerosene lamp on a table. A light above a chapel door. The streaming morning sun.

Let it shine. 

She was older now. Her grandparents were long gone, her parents, too. She rarely saw the now-distant cousins. There wasn’t a single person she could think of who lit up when seeing her.

But there was this feeling inside–there was something that still responded to light, that took fire and shone. Whether another responded or not, she still shone.

Alive, alone, whether anyone heard her message or not, she shone.

kristal605

<< Previous | Next >>

 

GloPoWriMo: Day 8

letter0112

Redirection

“Are you in pain?” asked the Dental Technician Coordinator.

She didn’t think she was.

“We can write a prescription, if needed.”
Before she arrived
the wet-vac system had collapsed
with bang and a fizzle
and a lingering smell of burnt sulphur.

All appointments cancelled.

She’d cleared her schedule
Freed her morning
for the endodontic bur
and the afternoon
for recuperating on the couch.

“We’ll call on Monday
to reschedule.”

And that was
three long days away.

Which left
this morning
and a long drive
home
along the road
that snaked
across the base
of the mountains.

And that was where,
in a clearing
near the vista pull-out,
verbenas, poppies
and desert zinnias

danced

in spun light
that shot from the sun
through the

veins of the leaves
and petals
and the styles
and the stamens

All that
was left
was the
light.

And it shone
from her hands
and her fingernails
and her solar plexus
and out through her
eyes and mouth

and through
the wings
of the monarch
butterfly

All that

was left

was the light.

The drill would wait
for another day.

Daily Prompt: Write a poem “in which mysterious and magical things occur,” from the Na/GloPoWriMo site.

<< Previous | Next >>

img_4455

Eight Pieces: A Single Tree

kristal304

The best days happened when she stayed at the casita. Sunlight poured across the cleared jungle and over her south-facing front porch.

kristal302

When she was two or three, she played in dappled sun beneath an oak tree. She hadn’t known the word “lonely” then; her playmates were acorns, sun shafts, and crinkled brown leaves.

She hadn’t known loneliness until she’d been married for a decade. These last twenty years, the ache had become habit.

kristal303

For a moment, she forgot the meaning of the word “lonely” now, for the sunlight, the sunlight, the pouring warmth, the comfort, the yellow, echoed in the rising blooms of the kitinche tree outside the mission chapel, the sunlight spread into all, and into her, as well. And she wasn’t lonely, she was alone. She was all one.

kristal305

She rested in solitude.

kristal306

That particular ache would never be filled, the one that stirred when they stopped listening to each other. He would never listen to her again. She could never listen to him. That option had closed.

But she didn’t have to hold onto that ache. Though it had become habit, it could be unlearned.

kristal307

When they got married, she thought, “I will never be lonely again.” She would always have someone to listen to her, and someone to listen to. She’d stopped listening first, she realized. It was because it was the same thing. And he held a snobbery behind his socialism. He scorned those who wanted to buy things. That’s what had made her stop listening.

“Look at those little rats,” he said, as they passed Walmart driving to the university. “Scurrying to the cellar for crumbs! Hurry, little scruff-bums! Scurry! Scurry! The sale is ending! Get your plastic bags! You can’t live without ten bottles of dishwashing soap! Buy it! Buy it all! Buy it fast! We’re selling out!”

She looked out the window to see a young mom holding her son’s hand.

Besides, rats were graceful, intelligent, resourceful creatures. First, you don’t criticize other people, especially when they have to work hard simply to establish a comfortable life. He didn’t know struggle. And second, what would ever cause one to think that another creature, another living being, would be something to be used for an insult? What does this say about how he perceives other living creatures?

She tried to get past that day, for it was still early enough in their marriage that their ritual of jokes and what she liked to refer to as their “herd chatter” served to maintain their bonds. But then, not long after, he stopped listening.

“I took a long walk during lunch break today,” she said on an early spring evening. “The dogwoods are blooming–have you noticed? And when I rounded the admin building, I caught the sun, shining through a storm of petals! It looked magical! Like the fabric that was the petal had become filled with something so pure, so beautiful! Like liquid love.”

But he had turned away and was washing his hands. And after he dried them on a towel–she still remembered, it was that red checkered towel her grandmother had given them two Christmases before–he left the room. Her eager speech rattled through her mind and settled below her larynx in a hard knot.

She had thought once that when you were married, you always had someone who would listen to your innermost thoughts, and that was what loneliness was: the discovery that this wasn’t so.

The kitinche tree rose its golden branches towards the late afternoon sun.

kristal308

It stood, alone, by the chapel door.

If she were a young girl on her way to Mass, she would look up at it.

Let me lift my face to the light, too! She would sing to it, “O holy, holy! Bathed in sun! O holy, holy! Solitary one!”

She didn’t feel lonely when she painted. She felt alone. All one. The thoughts, the feelings, the tiny moment that opened into the immense expanse of life! It all poured out onto her canvas.

One chapel. One bell. One door. One tree. One me.

kristal309

<< Previous | Next >>

 

Puppy Love 2

puppy338

The After differs from expectation in every way conceivable–not surprising, considering that the immensity of it can, in no way, be conceived of.

Not a dark void, the After fills with light, with feeling, with memory, with possibility, with imagination, with energy, with all that is and all that can be and all that might be and all that was. It is crowded with consciousness and overflowing with time. There is so much time that time ceases to have any meaning whatsoever as the entirety of the eternal squeezes into a single instant. This is what Forever means.

I fully intended to visit my family every day, but a day is a concept that does not exist where I was. I have no idea how much time passed, for where I was the concept of “passed” did not exist.

I could feel Tanvi’s grief, an anchor that kept me connected to this place.

puppy301

Then, the anchor line was cut. I drifted. Freedom felt exquisite.

Nonetheless, I felt a pull. While no time at all had “passed” for me, surely time had progressed at my earthly home when I felt the pull.

Joy welled on the sight of form again.

puppy309

But when I saw Majora, head down, ears back, slinking through the front gate, dread descended.

puppy308

Bobie lay collapsed on the threshold, the light of him already ascending.

I remembered my promise to be there to help with the transition.

puppy302

Our gardener stopped his chores. Majora circled back around, having found her courage, and followed Babe in the solemn procession.

puppy303

Someone else, a young man who looked familiar, stood witness as the Reaper rounded the corner of the house.

puppy304

My Tanvi stood in shock.

The gardener called Bobie’s name. I tried to tell him to stop, to let him pass, but I could not remember how to form words, or how to speak.

No one saw me. You cannot see light when it is light.

puppy305

With all my being, I spoke to Bosko: Don’t fear. It’s not the end. 

But it is an end, and every cell in Bosko’s body knew what it was the end of, with a finality that carries physical fear in those for whom the physical still holds meaning.

puppy306

At last, Nibbler slowly strode out to be present for this parting with her mate.

puppy307

Dear Tanvi! She stood behind the Reaper in weary anger, grasping a fork in her hand. Go on, dear! Stab him!

puppy310

But it was too late, and the dark shepherd raised his scythe.

puppy311

The dogs knew where to look, not at the empty form, but at the light. Remember, dear ones, we will be together again!

puppy312

“Come, Bobie!” I called. “Good dog! Do you want to stay, or do you want to go?”

puppy313

To stay! To stay! The shepherd collected him in his grasp and handed him over to me.

Oh, Bobie! You are by my side again!

puppy314

“Sad day, dude?” The maid said when he arrived. And the familiar-looking youth replied. “The worst.”

puppy316

For them, it was the worst. For me and for Bobie, it was a day of joyful reunion. My grave was not so lonely now, and beside me, in the After, I would cavort with my spirit friend.

puppy315

But before we were released to play, we had the task of comforting those we left behind.

puppy317

Dear Babe, her eyes revealed her understanding. If you know you will join us soon, dear, how can you be so sad?  Because it is an ending, though it’s not the end.

puppy318

Bosko raised his head in honor of his sire.

puppy319

Dear Babe, dearest Bosko, weep no more. We’re still here. We will always be.

But not with warm forms and hearts that beat. Not with hands that stroke. Not with a wet nose and soft fur.

puppy320

“Fuck it all!” said Tanvi, and I loved her more than ever.

Soon enough, she will understand, too, but until that day, let her rage. It’s love that stirs this anger, too.

puppy321

When the young familiar-looking man followed Bosko, Bartholomew, and Nibbler back to the house, and Tanvi turned to join them, Babe curled up and slept on our graves, as she had the night through after my passing.

puppy322

I left her there and found Tanvi curled on a stone bench in the garden. Poor dear. Grief is exhausting.

puppy323

She and the youth dug deep into those reserves that we find when there are others to think of: Babe and Bosko needed walking.

I called Bobie to me, and we walked with them.

“Do you feel a breeze?” Tanvi asked.

“It’s just the sunset,” Lucas said. “Evening air off the bay.”

puppy324

I couldn’t leave them. That night, I sat in the garden. The young man screamed when he saw me. When it is dark, I discovered, light can be seen.

puppy325

“Don’t be afraid,” I said. I found my voice. “I’m Astrid. I used to live her.”

puppy326

“I know you, Astrid,” he said. “You’re my mom’s friend. We were in the garden club together when I was a kid. I’m Lucas Munch.”

Lucas! I loved that little boy, so inquisitive! So polite! Now, all grown up.

puppy327

“And what are you doing here, Lucas?” I asked.

“I live here now!” he said, and he explained that he wanted to be an artist and needed a place to live, and Tanvi wanted someone to help with the dogs, the garden, and the chores. He pitched his tent beside the house, free board in exchange for helping out.

“And all the art supplies I need!” he said. Those were my oils, canvases, and brushes. I felt grateful they could be put to good use by him.

puppy328

I wondered if Tanvi had shared with him the details of our wills: that everything we had would be passed on to the person we chose to care for the dogs and Majora. The property was for them, along with all our assets, held in trust by the caregiver.

puppy329

He was a good choice. I approved.

I discovered that night that I could help out in the physical world. I could wash dishes, clean the sink, take out the trash. I could be of use, and this brought me unexpected joy.

puppy330

“Thanks for cleaning?” Lucas said. “I, uh, never had a ghost help out around the house before?”

I laughed. He’d kept his endearing childish quality of turning statements into questions.

puppy331

After he headed out to the tent, I heard the quilts rustle from the bedroom. I hoped that Tanvi would see me. With all my intention, I remembered the shape of my form.

“It’s you,” she said.

puppy332

We clowned around all evening. I had missed laughing with her more than I could have imagined. I hadn’t thought then, but, oddly, laughter doesn’t exist in the After. Humor does, and irony prevails, but laughter, laughter seems to belong to this earthly realm. It felt good to laugh again.

puppy334

We discovered new games. I can put my energy into objects: Chairs, tables, my fiddle, even a squeaky toy.

So while I went inside Pinky SqueakChick, Tanvi picked up her rubber duckie. We played nice, and we played naughty, finding new ways that we could still be together.

puppy335

When the sun rose, I was still there. I knew I couldn’t stay forever, that I would need, periodically to return to formlessness, but I wanted to contribute during the time I was able to stay.

I found a canvas that Lucas had set up, and I managed to open the box of paints.

I tried to express the fullness of the after: The sparks of light that we are, the shifting patterns, the way of seeing that exists beyond physicality.

Plus, if they don’t get what I’m expressing, they can sell the painting to buy more puppy chow.

puppy336

Soon, the light would be brighter than my intention: This transparency would fade.

But I would be back, I knew that then, many, many times. And sometimes, Bobie would come, too. It is an ending. But it’s not the end.

puppy337

<< Previous | Next >>

 

City Tales: My Lovely Landlord, 4

mylovelylandlord37

By the time the bonsai outgrew its windswept form, CT had stopped indulging in the sweet yearnings of homesickness. She discovered she no longer wished to be anywhere else: she found plenty of inspiration exactly where she was.

Dozens of canvases lined the walls, waiting to be filled. She specialized in the flotsam of urban commercialism, finding perfection in the color and form of shapes that might otherwise be overlooked. Through her years in the city, she learned to discount nothing. Everything formed a worthwhile subject.

mylovelylandlord28

She showed each canvas to Atharv. He appreciated them all.

“One day,” he said, “you will create something that will stop the heart. Not for long! Just an instant.”

“An eternity.”

“And then when the heart starts to beat again, the viewer will feel that life has changed. Nothing will be the same again.”

“I’m not that kind of artist,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

“My paintings don’t mean much. They’re just pleasant to look at. Something to fill an empty corner! Maybe something that brings a smile.”

“It will happen,” Atharv said. “I have great faith in art and in the artist.”

mylovelylandlord32

In spring, she included natural forms in her subject matter. She loved the juxtaposition of brick and leaf, petals and metal, wood and steel.

mylovelylandlord29

Things kept breaking in the apartment. Every month or so the fuse box would spark or the pipes would leak.

“I’d think you’d find a different place, my friend!” Atharv told her. “I have properties all through the city, and many are not in need of repair.”

“But do they come with furry friends?” she asked. “And how could I get through a month without a visit from you?”

mylovelylandlord30

It was a joke, for Atharv was as likely to drop by on any Tuesday as he was to come in response to a repair call.

While CT painted, Atharv cooked a meal. He seldom ate it himself, but he would carefully pack up the leftovers and store them in the fridge.

“Artists must eat!” he said. “And if they are too busy painting to cook for themselves, then someone must cook for them!”

mylovelylandlord36

Winter again, and CT prepared for her first big show in the Art Center.

“So the critic will have to review her own work!” Atharv joked.

“Hardly!” she replied. “Will you come with me to the opening?” she asked. “I’m nervous. It’s silly. But I am. If I were there with someone I felt safe with, then I wouldn’t be so scared.”

“Do you feel safe with me?” Atharv asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

mylovelylandlord31

In the weeks leading up to the opening, Atharv dropped by daily.

“I’m feeling so unsure of my paintings,” CT confessed.

“But why?” asked Atharv. “They are you! They show how you see the world!”

“But they’re not relevant,” CT replied. “They don’t mean anything. They’re just pleasing to look at.”

“That is not such a bad thing,” Atharv said. “If you can show beauty where it might not be seen, that is not a waste.”

“I can hear the reviews already,” CT said. “‘Derivative mish-mash of style and form, CT’s work leaves one wondering about the future of two-dimensional art.’

Atharv chuckled in spite of himself.

mylovelylandlord39

“Do you remember the night we spoke of the tiger?” he asked.

She did, of course.

“You told a story that night, too.”

CT thought back to the story she had told. She had been twelve. It was a few weeks after her cat had had to be put to sleep. That was her first experience with grief and betrayal. The cat’s illness came about because of additives in the pet food that caused liver failure. Her rage and sense of injustice threatened to overwhelm her. She lost trust in the world, trust in her parents, trust in the vet. How could shops sell something that caused harm? How could pet food companies produce it? How could her parents not know this and buy it? Why hadn’t the vet warned them? How could it be so senseless?

She took long walks in the hills around her house, sometimes following them deep into the woods. When her tears stopped, sometimes, her thoughts would stop, too, and she walked for hours in a silence that was deeper within than without.

One day, after hours of silence, the trees around her began to glow. She had no words for what she saw. It was light–but it wasn’t the sunshine. It was the light of life, in each growing thing. The world around her was vibrating in light.

She watched for an instant–an eternity–until the everyday forms returned.

When she got back home, she didn’t know how to express what she had seen to anyone. She kept the story a secret within her. Atharv was the first person she’d told, after he shared his story of the tiger.

A few days before the opening, Atharv stepped into the studio. There on the easel was a painting of the light of life.

When his heart began to beat again, Atharv wrapped her in his arms. “This is the painting that does it for me,” he said. “Now nothing is the same.”

mylovelylandlord38

He laughed while she fixed a pot of tea for them.

“Someday, they will say, ‘This is the apartment where ‘Light’ was painted!’ We will have to erect a plaque!”

“Nonsense,” she said. “That you like it. That’s enough.”

mylovelylandlord35

She had two more paintings to finish for the opening. After they finished their tea, she returned to the easel, and Atharv stepped out onto the balcony.

He left not long after, and CT painted through the night. Shortly before sunrise, she headed to the balcony to catch the changing colors of the sky.

Atharv had trimmed the bonsai, and her own heart stopped when she saw it, for an instant. And when it beat again, nothing was the same.

mylovelylandlord33

<< Previous