Monday, August 27, 2007


I have always lived between worlds.

I am bi-coastal, defending east when I'm west, west when I'm east. I know my way around various lines of underground transportation, but I won't look twice if your house smells of cleansing sage and you ask all the guests to leave their Ugg boots on the porch.

I spent three years hosting poetry slams shouting encouragement at the crowd, the largest chunk of which was under 20 and overflowing with angst, and then would be invited to read for a Jeffers' Tor House benefit, where the white-haired attendees would sip wine and no one begged to get in for a buck cuz it was all they had, man.

When I taught in Hungary, I learned all the polite-isms to nod at my colleagues, but would spend all my free time with my students (learning cooler stuff).
So it doesn't surprise me that I'm here again, in a borderland.

As a poet, I avoid cliche - oh, let's just say it - like the plague. The glue of poetry is fresh, rich metaphor. But as someone who writes for newspaper (we'll just stay clear of those needling little titles like "reporter"), I am asked to embrace cliche with - indeed - open arms. Newspapers are built on the idea of cliche. New metaphors are frowned upon, edited. You need look no further than the headlines.

My life as a mother falls right smack in the middle of the scale where metaphor and cliche are concerned. I want to find new metaphors for what I'm doing, what I'm burdened by and blessed with, but the easy ones, the old, tired comparisons are so easy to walk into, their little siren voices calling, calling...

My son wraps himself in a ribbon and asks me to tie it.

"Present!" he then tells me. "Open!"

"What could be inside?" I wonder as I untie the bow.
"Me!" he squeals and leaps into my arms.

As required of any toddler game, it is repeated over and over again. And each time, I receive my gift with equal parts joy and discovery.
What's a poet to do?

Friday, August 24, 2007

open letter to the Uber-Mom

Listen, we need to talk. Things are hard enough around here. You think I want to listen to how after searching and searching, you finally located the sippy cups made of some magical material that doesn’t leech toxins into your kid’s system? Hurray. Hurrah.

Now, look, the human race will go on not because of you and your greeny, green, green, lala, overachiever, making the rest of us look bad ways, but thanks to those of us who continue to give our toddlers the bot-bots they are madly attached to – the ones they chewed the (toxic) nipple half off of, putting them at risk of not just leeching but swallowing bits of the (toxic) plastic. We’re talking the difference between garlic powder and whole fucking cloves. I’ve seen the fish with legs on your hybrid, sweetheart, so I know you’ll follow along when I explain that that (toxic) plastic will assist in our genetic evolution after all the farm land has been turned into subdivisions and vineyards and we are forced to wash down our asphalt lunch with a (fruity yet earthy, wood-like flavored) Pinot Noir. Our kids with (toxic) plastic running through their veins will survive the shit out of your pussy-footed little organic baby doll.

And could you PLEASE not ALWAYS be so freakin’ excited to see your kid – the whole crouching down, sneaking quietly up to the door of the preschool grinning like a ninny to peer in on little pooka-pooka, then sweeping button-button up like you’ve been separated for weeks? Okay, so maybe I should slow the car down just a tad more as I throw open the door and honk for Isaac, but you really push things too far.

PS - Check it out - I'm the featured reader on today. (They may regret that after this entry...)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

just listen to yourself

In grad school once, (language analysis course), we were tasked with transcribing speech of some kind or another. A conversation. To hear what we really say and how we really say it or don’t or say it again and again or say it over each other or “um” our way through it or in general, talk. It was pretty durn fascinating.

So lately, I’ve been wondering what it would sound like if you could really hear the conversations that go on in our house these days. Absent a recording device, I’ve tried to recreate one as faithfully as possible. Let’s check in with reading time. Children’s literature is fascinating, sends you places you’ve never been before…

“’N’ dat?”

“And that looks to me like a donkey dancing with a chicken.”


“I don’t know why a donkey would dance with a chicken, frankly. Couldn’t tell ya.”


“Why couldn’t I tell you?”


“Well, because I just don’t know. Seems a bit odd, don’t you think? Maybe the chicken is a really good dancer.”

“Dood dan-er?”



“Maybe he took dance lessons.”

“Dant le-uns?”

“Yeah, like maybe it was always his dream to be a dancer and he took lessons and now he’s stuck dancing with this donkey who has four left feet.”

“Wo feet?”

“Yeah, donkeys have four feet. See?”


“Why not?”

“Don-e feet?”

“Yup, the donkey has feet. Four. One, two, three, four.”

“Right dere?”

“Yup, right there.”


“Wanna count them with me?”

“Un. Ooh. Wee. … Un. Ooh!!!” (raises both arms in triumph)

“Yay… One, two, three, four. Four comes after three. Wanna try?”

“Don-e dant?”

“Yeah, the donkey dances.”


“Should we turn the page?”

“Why, Mama? Why?”

“Why should we turn the page or why does the donkey dance?”

“Um, dat, dat don-e…Um, um, dat don-e… dat don-e dant?”


(Giggles) “Dat don-e dant!” (Giggles.)

“That’s kind of a silly donkey, huh?”


Sunday, August 19, 2007

dolls and ‘dozers

When Isaac was an infant, I went through a phase in which I was determined to supply him with the perfect baby doll. It would be there for him when he got home, despite whatever kind of genderization of toys he experienced out in that larger world of small boxes and segregated clothing sections. It would be there when he wanted to nurture his nurturing nature. It would be not too big, not too small, not too hard but not a simple stuffed cushion. It would be something other than the blue-eyed blonde-headed doll that he is, reflecting difference where possible, since reinforcement of his mirrored reflection was not hard to find elsewhere. It would be a friend, a teacher, a companion, going everywhere with him, speaking for him when necessary, loving him back.

I searched Ebay. I scoured the web for homemade dolls, artists’ work, something special. I compared 12 inches to 18 inches, debated jewelry the older dolls wore, wondered girl or boy. I found one site that sold extended families of anatomically correct cloth dolls of various ethnicities for a lot of money.

Finally, I dropped it. The obsession just faded away and as my infant became a toddler overcome by the sight of the garbage truck, I bought him likenesses of mechanical beasts and settled for taking pride in the fact that I also bought him pink clothes hangers and yellow socks that the other mothers of boys wouldn’t touch.

I’d nearly forgotten about my desire for Isaac to have a doll when he began, just recently, to wrap random objects in blankets and cradle them lovingly in his arms: playdoh, police cars, bits of his lunch. He’d shush me, tell me his baby was sleeping. So I asked him if he’d like to have a doll.

“Yeah,” he said. “Doll. Baby doll. My baby doll.”

As we already had plans to fill in his truck collection with a long-absent bulldozer, I thought we might as well pick up a doll on the same trip.

Something I essentially have never done – take my kid shopping for toys. In a break with his usual M.O., apparently aware of the uniqueness of the opportunity, Isaac actually readily agreed to sit in the front of the cart.

We found the doll aisle first. There wasn’t a big selection, but I’d left my craving for the ideal doll months ago, back at hormonal surge #346, so this would do.

A woman pushed a cart with her grandson in it past the shelf we were peering at. “I want one of those!” the probably four-year-old said pointing at a Cabbage Patch Kid. “Oh, I don’t think you do,” said his grandmother keeping her stride.

“Which doll do you like?” I asked Isaac. We looked. We held. We debated colors of hats and flexibility of limbs. We changed our mind. We changed our mind again. Iz decided on a small doll in a purple outfit whose eyes closed when you laid it down. It cost $4.99.

“Is this the dolly you want to take home and love and take care of?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said my son, and promptly threw it over his shoulder into the cart without looking back.

There wasn’t any better a selection in the bulldozer aisle. There was only one truck we could find that was officially a bulldozer, besides the remote control monster model I was determined to ignore completely. We discussed scoops and the possibility for indoor or outdoor ‘dozing. Finally, Isaac picked out a small but sturdy dozer with slow crawler tracks – the “real” thing.

Off we started for the check out, but at the end of the aisle there was something else, a packaged pair of friction-charged trucks – a front loader and a tow truck – his two biggest weaknesses. Soon, we’d made a deal for door #3 and the dozer was history.

He wouldn’t put the package in the cart. He insisted on holding it, staring down at it with genuine affection.

“Truck!” he’d squeal every few seconds. “Brannew truck!” he sighed, as he cradled it in crook of his arm.

Monday, August 06, 2007


It was too good to be true. In bed before 8:30.

It was too good to be true.


“Your son is awake,” I told Mike coldly.


He's awake.”

And then I was walking. Sandals dove into at the last moment; hair in a ratty ponytail all day, now flapping in messy lumps on my head, coatless in a foggy chill; I was gone.

I headed up the street, aimless and determined, cursory nods to the men with their heads in the hood of a car. Furious.

Anger. They skipped that topic in Mommy n Me. It never appeared on the whiteboard signs outside the classrooms with their cheerily painted doors. “Good morning!!! Topic: parallel play. Art: stamps and markers. Glad your here!!!” I could just squash those women. Stuff them whole into cracks in the sidewalk, cracks in my veneer of coping. It wouldn't have to be those women. It could be anyone right now. Anyone. Just give me the smallest reason. The men working on their Buick don't know how easily they got off.

I turn up the hill toward “Watertower Mountain” as my friend's four-year-old calls it. There are stairs snaking steeply upwards in front of me. I have always avoided them like the plague before now; I take them. I haven't been this driven on a walk since I was in labor, but this is more desperate. Much more.

I leave our crummy neighborhood behind and surface in the one with the views, with its own name and fancy cars in wide driveways, where all the dogs get haircuts. The houses almost look inviting, their archways over carved wooden doors, their flowering vines climbing charming half-walls. I want to live somewhere other than my house. These will do.

There are more stairs. I take them too. My throat is burning and I'm out of breath.

I notice a plant stand out at the curb for trash, but I passed it by. This is not about nesting. This is about flight.

Finally, I'm out of places to climb. I circle around and, against my will, begin to descend.

The loop will likely take me 25 minutes. It has to be long enough. I won't face the possibility of returning to a house where my child is awake.

He may have already worn away the fingerprints on my pinky for all the time he's spent rubbing it in an effort to fall asleep over the last umpteen nights, then again in an effort to fall back asleep when he climbs into bed with us in the middle of the night. I have nothing left to give. Once the fingerprints are smoothed out completely, there'll be no way left to identify me. The rest of me has vanished already.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

neighbors - another chapter

When I 'd brought him roses from the garden for his birthday, it was the first time I’d seen him without his glasses on. His eyes were smaller than they usually appeared, kind, smiling, without the glare in the way.

I’d told him, “I don’t know anyone else who’s 89.”

“Me neither,” he’d said.

“Three sisters, all gone. A brother, gone. My mother died when I was just three years old. My father lived to 55.”

His drinking buddies were all gone too. And his big band radio station. Cats from the 30s and 40s with jazz tubes and fine blues. Now it’s just oxygen tubes. His wife put his 6 o’clock asthma treatment on the table in front of him.

“I’m not complaining. Wouldn’t do any good.”

Most of the few conversations we got to have took place outside, him leaning against his ‘73 pick up.

Never out of his blue mechanic’s coveralls, he told me about being drafted in 1941, basic training in Wyoming. Going to England from NY, a caravan of ships – everywhere you looked, ships, all of them scared to death of the U boats. 800 troops had just gone down.

He interrupts himself, points to our driveway. “I been meaning to ask you, what kind of car is that?”

Fought in France, Belgium, finally made it to Germany in 1945.

When his time was up, he said, “I decided it wasn’t that bad after all. I got to see places I would never have seen. I’d heard of them, but I’d never been there. So, I thought, let’s try it again.”

To the next tour of duty, Mr Johnson. May the music be as good as you hoped.

James Johnson (May 17, 1918 – July 30, 2007)

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