Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thankfully, the past is a stationary thing; its legs shrivel up on December 31. Pick it up and shake it if you want, everything is frozen in place.

Hopefully the new year will be warm and lit with a timid approaching light, like sunrise poking its fingers through a gap in the curtains.

A new year waits as 2010 picks up her keys to lock the door. I will stand there at closing time as her light fades -- a shadow like a stain reaching to cover the days.

Snow stuck to the long fur on Lily's paws today. When the clumps were too wide and she limped, we went back home.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Days, like strands of forgotten party beads, sit in a row gathering dust … I scrawled this remark in shrinking letters wedged onto a scrap of paper one night, thinking about another year slipping by, sewing the seams shut as it passed back into blackness.

Staring at the sky hours before dawn this week, I watched Orion drift sideways, shoulders slanted as he floated above trees and rooftops like a black, empty balloon. A day later Orion watched from beyond the earth as clouds wrung out more than a foot of snow in less than 24 hours. Yesterday Jerry and I crouched with shovels, digging chunks out of the drifts. With numb feet and sweating hands, we worked.

This is like shoveling out from under the damn Ice Age, I told him.

F&%k this, he said. I want a plow …

With a book, wine, and warm flannel, I sat down to read: chasing a wounded and dying plot through the lusty chapters of a romance book is one good reason to toss the pages, fluttering like birds, across the room. Lily lifted her head, then trotted over to sniff.

A new year is coming, and thanks to friends and my family, I have a growing stack of books that won't leave my hands so hastily.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A thick snow Sunday has smoothed a rugged winter landscape.

Arriving home amid steep drifts covering space cleared by plows and piling the accumulation high, I ram the Bronco through a berm and bump into the yard. My steps like stitches disappear in the wind as I stomp up a buried walk. Opening the front door, I let the dogs out to romp around before closing the door on winter again. A frigid landscape rests beneath a foot of snow.

Up to my knees in the stuff this morning, I trudged along with the dogs. Tossing a stick for Lily, I watch its tumbling arc scrape against pure azure overhead.

Later, a girl on a sled was in focus as I crouched to take her photo. With a wide angle lens against my face, only the sound of plastic sliding along packed snow warned me that she was too close. Jumping just as she crashed into my feet, I went face down in the snow.

A new year waits for me to fill it. I want more for myself -- just a little, day-to-day sense of satisfaction that what I do is worth doing. I know what I mean in a fuzzy way that has no detail yet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Staring at a picture of my grandmother sitting in her purple crushed fleece outfit below a birthday balloon, I guess that she is 90 or 91 years old.

Was this photo -- shot in my mother's dining room -- taken on her birthday? Looking closely I notice guests in long sleeves, a newborn's head, and my father in his Giants Jersey.

Must be mom's late November birthday. My grandmother and I shared a summer celebration. The clues: football season is warmest in the fall and runs through to the Superbowl in February. The newborn must be my brother's daughter Jillian, just a few months old and a fall arrival like rusty hues to the landscape, cooler days, and a tendency to stock the cupboards with the haste of time running out.

She is smiling, her party plate is full, and the moment is frozen just that way -- Sheldon passing behind her, crossing the hall toward the kitchen counter, my father reaching to place something on his dish, Judy with a plate in one hand, fingers of the other filled with food, and a cheek bursting with her last bite. In the corner is the crown of baby's head, dark hair swirled around the top. Grandma looks at me and I take the picture. The photo is printed from film. I can see her gold hoop earrings and necklace.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa spends a lot of time in a box. With glass ornaments wrapped in last year's newspapers cushioning his hefty ceramic ass, he waits.

We roused him in September and yanked his nest of wire lighting, tinsel, painted snowmen, and half-burnt candles from the closet, then took a heavy carpenter's claw to the woodwork and drywall. Santa's hiding place was exposed to daylight when Jerry ripped and tore away our roof and tossed it in the backyard.

Opposite Santa in that closet was my flimsy treasure. Finally succumbing to changes this year was a balsa wood dollhouse that my father had glued together and stained a light brown one Christmas Eve as I slept -- still firmly aware that my eyes had better be screwed shut until Santa snuck in like a sliver and inflated with gifts and toys and jolly old abundance there in the living room, just like a movie.

On Christmas day I remember the dollhouse's fresh wood scent and series of rooms, loving it, and loving the fantasies that twirled from my mind like fluttering ribbons. The house moved when the family moved from one town to another. It had its place in the loft bedroom at my parents' house until I moved it again. Down a ladder I went with my left hand gripping a cumbersome living room, and a cluttered kitchen in my right. I had a whole world swirling around that dollhouse. As my fantasies and I grew up, I began to decorate that house with photographs of boyfriends, jewelry that arrived wrapped in crinkly, pink cellophane, or with ceramic vases or mugs I had thrown on the wheel in ceramics class.

The dollhouse: It came with me to my apartment, and moved a last time to our little house in the woods in Newtown. After Jerry's daughter traded her playtime in front of its open rooms for magazines, the telephone, and the Internet, the dollhouse was pushed inside a closet.

Are we going to throw that out, Jerry asked occasionally?

My father made it for me, I would answer.

We had the conversation a few times.

Sadly, when the roof came off and we stood in the open with broken walls and splintered wood all around us, I faced the dollhouse.

What are we going to do with this, Jerry asked?

For a week or two it slid from one corner to another as Jerry worked at demolishing, then rebuilding an upstairs room.

After an hour or two of cleaning one weekend, Jerry asked, can we throw it out now?

With lots of resolve and eyes squinting against sunlight, I heaved the poor thing toward the ground where it crashed apart, but I saved some furniture.

Thank you Dad, for my dollhouse and everything else.

This year my parents and Jerry helped me rescue a dog, and for that I will have a merry Christmas.

Last year we could not know for certain that Lily would be here this year, full of warm breath, life, and an eagerness to rush into her day, find a ball or a stick, and lock her jaws on it. On December 26 of last year she arrived. Just five days away.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The road to success is paved with perseverance, thick-headed effort, and lengths of gut ripped loose when I missed a turn or two.

I am holding the past year in my hand, rolling it around on my palm and wondering if this heap needs to sail from the car window, or find a place on a shelf for reference.

Taking out a knife I slice the year apart and pull slivers and chunks of meaning from the filler stuff -- days where my mind sort of rests while my body carries on The Routine. Lily is in there, among the muddy, cold days of last December as the dogs growled deep warning sounds at one another.

The knife's blade cuts out the arguments and stress, days spent nodding off while an office whipped around me, productive, and slices from the mess the perfect shape and size of a friend or two that would have willingly grabbed for my hand had I only looked up. But, when I am determined to walk into walls, grumble, and kick the junk in my path, I will.

In the forest behind our house this weekend: Is this your path, Jerry asks?

We are shimmying through trees and shadows along a path of flattened leaves.

Yes! I answer.

In truth, I consider this beaten ground as Lily's path. Across stones and abrupt changes in the slope I would run with her every morning to keep her nimble, winded, and happily at rest once we were home. Bitch! My eyes would water with the cold, and hard winter ground often twisted and yanked at my scrambling feet.

Placing her head low over the ball she dropped, Lily's breath burst in tufts of steam from her snout. Sunlight ran its yellow fingers through her fur's bristled tips and she loomed -- a young dog that would have died here in the woods, roaming and without help.

Leaving Jerry behind with Ozzie, Bandit, and Hershey, I chase Lily up to the old foundation where I again creep up the rise, wondering who once stood above, looking down. She wanders through the stacked, fitted stones and I cross a moss covered ledge to glance deep into the forest. A rusty color tints the fallen leaves and tree trunks as the sun shifts. We head back and Lily dashed toward Hershey's barking.

As for the rest of the year sliced up in my palm like an apple, I see the bar. Running through the woods I toss out words of thanks for the extra money and the fun that have helped me and helped a friend.

I see lots of struggle elsewhere. Happiness is being an elusive little shit, but I'll find him. I got through the year, and have emerged at the end, as always, a different person than when I started. Am I better or worse? I think I am just different. Maybe soon I'll really poke through the parings and look closely for meaning, mistakes, and lessons that I have hopefully learned.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Twas the week before Christmas and all I could do

was wonder if all of my mail orders went through.

Wrapped tight in a warehouse or stuck on a shelf

Were gifts I was giving in spite of myself…

Come on Santa, load your truck and get me my stuff!

As a child I imagined elves with fast, nimble fingers and hot breath colored by magic and cinnamon as they concocted bows for wrapped gifts. But did they really make all the toys? How does an elf with all the simple spells in his tool belt manage the finely painted face on a doll? How does a hammer craft a stuffed animal. Things were too much for my little head to grasp, yet not enough to convince me without a question.

I guess that's when Santa began to fade. Although replaced by profound mystery, a feeling that I loved and held like an egg shell, I was listening more closely, watching carefully, and wondering how. How did he know what to bring? How did he know where to go? How did he get in the house? How did he carry so much stuff?

Impossible is not a real word until suspicions weigh down that bubble. Then we have the most annoying, Oh, I Get It years.

But once again, I don't get it. Every year we assume Santa's role and try to make too much, carry too much, do too much, and right about now some fundamental screw falls out. Did I need that thingy? Is it essential?

This year is for my friends. It's for the men and women who grieve as a husband, sister, daughter, son, father, or brother die. This year is for friends struggling, coming up empty, but loving their children and looking ahead with a brief hope that replaces momentarily the looming dread.

Screw you misery. Santa and I have better things to think about.

It's a perfect 12 am. Halfway from noon and back, I leave one day for the next. Be hopeful, little elves.

Santa, give me the magic and patience and persistence to teach Lily to come when I call. I really need that invisible tether to her when a deer pops up from the brush, dragging her zinging body through the woods like an unravelling thread.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Popping into my head like a stray ball was a seventh grade memory. Sharp as a blade was Ms Wiener, four feet, ten inches tall, and always ranting.

What the hell kind of lousy song is that, she asked one day.

To repeat the poor Bangles, she said, another manic Monday … that's my fun day, my I don't hafta run day….

There I was humming along when she took the simple-minded lyrics, threw them under her boots and stomped a few times. When the song was full of holes she dropped into her teacher's seat, swiveled to face us, then asked, OK, who is going to cut my hair?

No kidding, one of the girls got up and did it…

A recent back-and-forth about the dogs:

A friend asked me, how goes it?

Who the hell knows. Holiday shopping and they're canceling orders because the mailing address is different than billing, Shitheads!

Well… that's a bunch of shit indeed...straighten them out! (Joking) I didn't think you knew my address.

Ha! Well, be expecting my dogs...I have had it for the year...

Uh oh… bring them to mom's house.

Four dogs in a car is like sitting in a blender, thanks.

Four dogs…I'd imagine they are BIG dogs too...Great Danes? Rotties? I know they're not poodles!

Lab, husky, shepherd...pug. That last one sorta lands with a thud.

I can't see you with a pug for some reason... (I am really fond of him, by the way).

OK, holidays shopping aside, I really do need a break in many ways. The sky dropped some of its first chilly flakes, temperatures went from 40 degrees to less than twenty between 6 pm and 10 pm.

A day's worth of rain shorted the engine out. Lots of noise and no spark. The truck started the next day -- thank you Jerry -- so I turned it around on the slope, opened the passenger door, and a wave of water fell out. By morning the driver's door had frozen shut. I was able to hop in the passenger's side and as I drove away I thought, let me try opening the door from the inside!

Great! It opened! But would not click shut.

I drove to work with the wind sucking at the door and yanking it from my hands, but held the lever tight tight tight until I began to worry the damn thing would pop off in my fingers.

At work I say, Scott! Gotta bungee cord?

Would you believe his answer? Sure, behind the driver's seat. I have a whole bag…

So I drove home with a bungee holding the door shut. I stretched it from the door handle to a notch somewhere behind me.

I called Jerry: It's not going to slip out of the coil and whack me in the head, is it?

Oh my God! Is there anything else you could worry about, he asked?a

Let me think…

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where are my friends?

Snow, like dust, like ash, falls before Christmas in a blanket covering hardened ground that sleeps through winter.

A lot of death this year. I see friends reclined with heads against satiny interiors. The lids have closed and cemetery soil locks them in as the season freezes. Death has bundled them in its secret and I wonder what remains.

Unbound by time or breath or solidity are my friends. I imagine they still think and see. They add their little spark of energy to the air and life around us, quiet in the cold as snow settles.

Lily has her own alphabet of sounds, but does nothing more tonight than sigh or yawn here at my feet.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A soggy, 40 pound burlap wrapped root ball with a Spruce on top is now wedged beside the fireplace. With a lot of Come Ons! and Get Down Heres we managed to get a few ornaments into Erica's hands and stick them on the tree.

From me to Jerry annually: not so many lights!

Every strand of light we have lands on the tree, creating a universe of Christmases in our living room. A string of gaudy Santa heads grin like fools from prickly limbs alongside stockings and high-heeled legs -- replicas of the Oh My God That's Ugly decorative lamp featured in a movie. Well, there is Santa staring at a fishnet for a few weeks again this year.

I had snuck that leggy strand into the bedroom and draped the leg lights across our dresser. But by the time I returned Christmas boxes to the basement and wound my way back up the stairs, Jerry was near the tree and hiding something behind his back. I saw a miniature plastic leg and black stiletto poking out...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Just sitting here chasing words across the Internet like damn dust that won't settle.

I watch Fiona Apple toss a nod to John Lennon as she sings Across The Universe …Jai guru de va om.

A strange video. She sits in a corner as men ransack the candy shop. Glass canisters of jelly beans burst like shotgun scatter, spraying the floor with wild cherry and grape. She stands. Couches fly and baseball bats smash a path through the displays. Nothing's gonna change her world. Nothing's gonna change her world…Jai guru de va om.

Tonight, I worry worry worry worry.

Under tree limbs and across uneven ground we climb to the old stacked stone foundation. Dogs skitter across moss covered ledge. I look at the old wooden beams nearly sunken back into the soil and I wonder who slept in the heavy rusted bed frame now mingled and mostly hidden in low growing blueberry shrubs. Who was here? No notes on the wall. No messages scratched on the furniture. No way to ask the trees who passed this way.

Who inhabited this hard to reach, but perfectly placed cottage? For those of you walking through the woods long after any well traveled trails have ended, imagine topping a slope to find the footprint of a home in your path.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Socks? Screw socks. For reasons beyond physics and nature, two go into the machine, and one comes out.

Some columnist somewhere -- Hints From Whoever -- had a nice, tidy remedy. She said, just put a safety pin in the pair and they are together start to finish.

Not so, Miss Whoever. My fingers are not pincushions, and I will not threaten them so. Keep your Happy Helpful Hints up your ass where they belong, thank you.

Sorry to rant, but it's time. Enough of the damn clothes already. Enough waddling through the house with dirty gobs of pants and shirts and everything else squeezed in a bear hug as I teeter down spiral stairs. Was that eight steps, or nine. Who just jumped out of my arms? A sock? My crappy stretched out bra? The sweatshirt filled with holes?

Early December and a friend taunts: Kendra, wanna buy a bar with me!

YES! YES! I answer.

To be surrounded by a haze of motorcycle exhaust and raw floorboards soaked in Jack Daniels is a paradise to me. I'll barter six packs for laundry.

Yesterday. The day is over and has slipped down the drain and out of sight, but my mood, like a stain, lingers.

To Lily: 180 blog posts since last December 26 have carried us across impossible ground. To live with you, your problems, the stress, the expense, and the anxiety is to also live without regret. You would have died.

My head is in that place where the dreams are dark, the sleep insufficient, and the relief is far, far from reach. I am at the bottom of a hole, staring up at a pinprick of light, like a star that comes and goes as I blink.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We arrived at the vet's like a tornado. Dogs blowing down the door and scrambling and yelping. Hershey has two stitches in her head where Lily's teeth snagged her as they scrambled in the lobby.

Leashes, nervousness, and dogs in tight spaces are a bad combination.

We weighed the dogs. Except for Lily, who is a perfect 80 pounds, everyone else is fat. Just so damn fat.

At home again and standing with the fridge door ajar where he is a silhouette rummaging for a snack, Jerry tips the Cool Whip nozzle into his mouth. I listen to the hiss as synthetic whipped cream curls on his tongue. Propping the can back on the shelf, he looks down at Ozzy.

What's wrong with his eye? It's puffy, Jerry said.

Less than five minutes later we were in the truck and on our way to the emergency veterinary clinic to find out why poor Ozzy's cheeks and eyes had swelled. He was inflated, puffy red. In my mind his throat would soon swell shut. I was silent with the pug on my lap, his face turned to catch the cold night air. Jerry drove fast.

At the counter I picked him up to peek at the reception girls. Oh! Oh look at his little face!

The nurse came up to me and asked, who do we have here?

It's Mr Puffy Face, I said.

Not nice, said one of the girls.

Plunking him on the floor and handing the nurse his leash, she said, come on little guy. Can you see me?

His eyes were huge and itchy.

Back home after a shot to soothe Ozzy's allergic reaction, my mood finally crashed and I turned into The Beast That Melts Down And Throws Things. Tonight, not even splintering porcelain calmed me.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lily just ate a stick of butter. Again.

How do you do it?

I don't know, but it's not like that, Jerry told me.

Well, how?

You have to push them, I don't know, he said.

Tell me what you do.

I don't know!

Just tell me!

Push them back and just open the door, but get Ozzy first, he said.

As I tried to let Ozzy out while keeping Hershey, Lily, and Bandit inside, I wound up with Lily's head poking between my knees from behind as I sandwiched her in place. Bandit stood to my right, and Hershey hopped around behind me where I snagged a handful of fur or was able to pinch an ear between my fingertips. That will hold her!

OK, I said.

I cracked the door open and hoped Ozzy would slip out, but lurched off balance as Lily pushed ahead. Tipping to the right I could have hit Bandit in the back palm first to break my fall, but I opted to crash onto my side instead.

You know what they say … it's not the fall, but the sudden stop at the end …

Bandit still stood indoors. Jerry: shut the door! Shut it!

Holy shut. Shut, shut shut, already. Damn dogs.

All four of them will go to the vet's next week for what I imagine will be the most expensive check-up on record.

At this time last year I was about a month away from adopting Lily.

To my friend Erin: we never know what the year will bring. We start off with daunting things -- too much, not enough, too far, too short -- but we finish the year no matter what, as if our feet were on a conveyor belt pulling us toward December. You said that I landed in your life like a butterfly. Yours is a mind that thinks of fluttering, cellophane wings wringing blue and red stains from sunlight like colored glass. Your hands drag a plain, stiff brush through ordinary pigment to make soft petals and glistening stems. Your girls are beautiful. These things are yours. Every single day. no matter what.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To my friend in Pennsylvania with her life of trinkets, Christmas trees, holiday cookies, and yearly habits disrupted before they could grow into tradition: I wish I could move the world for you.

What an ugly culture where life without a bank account is no life at all.

That is American, however, and the land of opportunity's sparkle fades with empty pockets. Picking carefully through the grit sewn into the lines of a worried face we'll see our neighbors, mothers, husbands and wives, or friends who owe money to neighbors, mothers, husbands, wives, or even friends, and without it everything changes.

My friend must walk away from her home and memories and sense of safety, to one day find those things somewhere else. I have left, been kicked out of, or lost and found many places to live, but have never struggled to wrap the walls around three young girls and keep them pinned there -- a familiar surrounding, like a familiar face.

I see her rolling out cookie dough, washing her girls' faces, setting the table, and looking out the window as her husband comes home. She is also waiting for a notice in the mail to break this spell of comfort.

I wish I was with her to deal with life's everyday disappointments.

Like Lily, I wish that perseverance would just swallow bad luck, as it should.

Make different plans my friend, and look forward to them.

Monday, November 29, 2010

11:55 on a Monday night and I think again of Lily...

Through bare tree limbs jutting upward I can see Lake Zoar. Far away and across dips and hills is water throwing sunlight skyward.

My own path through fallen leaves. My own repeated footfalls zig-zagging around stones. My own daydreams.

Rather than crushed leaves and hints of stone I look not at the ground but inward for just a little while. My mind is cluttered with crumpled up ideas clogging doorways and blocking windows. My daydreams are having trouble pushing through. They are laughing children, barefoot and stumbling across spring grass, refusing to answer me. Yet.

I have not seen those kids up close in awhile. Where the hell are they?

Lily had me far into the woods on Sunday, where I lost sight of her bright orange vest streaking. Up a hillside, past a deerstand fortified with fresh lumber since the summer, across a stone-filled stream, and leveling off where I find what I had thought was a vernal pool, but the water has lasted far past spring.

It's a year-round splotch of moisture deep enough to outrank the puddles, but not ready to measure up as a pond. Trees sink their roots near its edges and fallen limbs and dead wood criss cross its surface.

Bandit and Hershey splash and I eventually wind my way homeward where I ask Jerry: has Lily come back?


I go back out with Hershey and we roam. I follow my path again, knowing that at any second I'll see the points of her ears peek over the rise, and like spilling water Lily will follow.

Tonight as we celebrated my mother's birthday, I gave her an angel figurine holding a puppy. It's like my mom, who spent the past year caring for Lily when I was too worried to leave a sick dog alone.

December 26 will be one year with my German Shepherd. To tell this tale in Lily time makes the year a stretching, elastic thing that whips out in long strands or shrinks back to cheat days of their hours as Lily was sick, then better.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Almost Thanksgiving and we wait for a feast…

I know bombs are going off between North and South Korea and a tenuous barrier between war and no war is thinning, but I still have an oven, family, friends, and wine to put to good use this week.

While the Vatican worries about the morality behind a condom and the state of our souls if we pull out, I prefer to dwell on Merlot, side dishes, meat thermometers, and whether or not I like the Cabernet

If Hershey does not stop growling at Lily I will shove the baster up her ass. Thank you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

My friend does not belong in caskets.

Thirty nine and gone after hitting his head.

On this late autumn night below a full moon draped in clouds Jerry took me on his motorcycle to see my friend Jerry P. Pictures of him smiling are haunting. I did not see him smile much in the last months. A few times a week he would reach for the bar's front door and I would try to have his Jack Daniel's poured and on a napkin before it swung shut behind him. While reaching for his drink, a hand would stop him. Fingers gripping his jacket, someone or other would say, Hey, Jerry, how are you…Someone always moved to greet him.

He needed a hospital, they tell me. He needed help.

I can ponder forever the things that should have happened. We all look backwards past our own long shadows late in the day and relive our lives better in retrospect, but death takes that chance and smashes it. Death holds open the satin lined casket and fluffs the pillow for us.

A rosary wrapped around knitted fingers where his hands sat clasped and cold. A suit. The license plate from his motorcycle. Stillness as we all stared in.

Until I saw a prone body in a box surrounded by gaudy bouquets and people crying, his death had just been a story I had heard. Somehow, once I saw this for myself, I finally believed that there was no mistake. Never before had I seen a friend of nearly 20 years knocked flat by death.

Too many times I have said that death is always a surprise, especially where no illness paved the path. Jerry P. was cut off mid-step, mid-sentence.

At the wake, standing there with my stupid fingers poking at my chin I looked at photos propped up for guests to see.

Lots of anger, and lots of confusion over this one. Too much time passed between his fall, and his death. What happened Jerry?

Have you pulled the strands of each little tie tethering you to us and drifted off? Your memories, knowledge, and last moments will remain yours alone.

Stories always follow death -- the last things to admit you're gone. We'll tell stories and remember and say goodbye.

At home I squeeze Lily's face in my palms. She had a couple of feet inside death's mouth, but we reached in there and yanked her out.

This death is neither something that happened for a reason, nor the Lord working in mysterious ways. We are stupid things that do not want our feelings hurt, so we make stuff up, and hurt anyway. Goodbye Jerry P.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sipping a bitter whiskey for the first time, I lifted a tumbler of Jack Daniel's and said goodbye to my friend Jerry P.

It's what he always drank, so it's what we drank. Just a few of us passed that glass. Quiet. Hands reaching.

I am angry at the blackness I see when I look for his words. My mind is tumbling along, staring at the pictures instead.

I remember ...

On the day I fell in the forest and my ankle swelled, I later sat in Jerry's passenger seat with my leg propped up between us. We went to a friend's. A bunch of guys living together will inevitably make beer can art. Buds were stacked everywhere and I sat on a couch.

Years later I visited his apartment. Fresh, new, and small. He was studying music at a state university and I was a moron trying to open a beer. The tab flew off and seconds later I heard a ting. The aluminum piece had glanced off his beautiful, shining guitar propped on a corner stand.

He came to visit me at a cottage I shared with college friends in Long Island and slept on a spare mattress that we tossed between furniture in my bedroom.

He drove to Long Island again later that year to haul home a stupid old Dodge pick-up that I loved. Damn thing wasn't worth a second look, but I liked driving it. And for God's sake, why did I have to nod off and miss the turn for the Port Jefferson ferry? He was exhausted, and trying to drive me home. I think I slept on his bedroom floor at his mother's house once we got back.

Who loves you? he had asked over the phone, when he offered to come get the truck with his flatbed. Uncomfortable being backed into that corner with his questions, I asked instead, you'll really come?

His sister's wedding. At the last minute Jerry asked me to go with him. We dressed up and drank wildly. We were in the line of guests dancing through the room, winding between tables. We were later passed out as his mother drove us home.

My first tattoo. Jerry packed up his handgun and we drove to a guy he knew in Waterbury. He was with me when the ink soaked in.

High school and college ended. Life picked up and I saw him only sometimes.

Standing at the bar with a drink while my mother kicked and turned with the country music DJ, Jerry came in and surprised me. Sambuca! He had a few shots and a beer. Soon he was asking me to take a ride on the Harley. OK with me!

You sure that's a good idea, asked the bartender. Neither then nor now am I sure of anything. So what?

Jerry. What happened? I want to reach back to last week and undo events to save you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

For a big brown friend with ears rippling in the passenger seat, and a bark that struck like a hammer. For Deeke who looked good in his Halloween capes and hats, and could tell time by his stomach.

Once again, death is a surprise. Goodbye Deeke.

He left behind his sounds. Heavy feet and unclipped claws rasping along dry tiles. Deep barking. Clanking tags slapping as he flopped on his side to watch hundreds of footsteps tromp by every hour as we walked around him and worked around him. We stepped over him. We crouched down to scratch his head. We glanced down and said, hey Deeke, good boy!

He was an old guy, and we knew it. Then he was sick.

A couple weeks ago Deeke nosed up to my desk, looked at me with the please-throw-a-stick-for-me expression, and peed on the floor. I wish he had just written me a note or something, Kendra, I need to go out!

Last week he walked up to me again and dropped his head in my lap. In the middle of a conversation with the first selectman about vacant town property, I patted his head and he wagged and wagged.

Do dogs know when it's their time to go? I think they linger for us. They wait with the patience of a soul unblemished with guilt or regret, and watch us quietly until we can't handle their wasting and illness anymore.

Dogs can learn and adjust. They can express themselves and make noise or rip our furniture or stray clothes to shreds. And they can wait.

Animals must have an essence untethered by minds like ours -- stupid tweezers trying to grasp death. Their warmth and breath fade and mingle with the air. Alongside drifting woodsmoke or purling streams they blend, soak in, and change. Deeke is there. We are here. He will wait.

I remember...

As a kid rushing down sagging porch steps I would glimpse our dog as I raced for the bus. Gypsy would be curled up in the sun.

Screw school. I was seven years old and I wanted to stretch out beside my dog and sleep.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


It's a magic drumming against windows and rooftops, a noise constant and soothing that tells us to get inside beneath a blanket, curled up and warm.

Lily slips outside to find a tennis ball and returns with her fur pasted against her, drenched. Tail wagging and water spraying, she is happy.

I listen to the low hum of a million drops crashing and wonder where the water came from. Was it a pond or stream that let go as the sun coaxed steam into the sky, balling it up into a doughy cloud? Did wind drag it away? Did it hover as night sent us to bed and morning woke us, staring up at a falling sky.

I like the rain. I like my funny reflection everywhere I look. Suddenly a slick parking lot throws my face back at me from a mirror where once there was sand. Magic.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Standing on the brakes was hopeless. The truck slowed like fading wind, like trickling water, like an ice cream melting, but wasn't going to stop. I jammed on that spongy pedal under my feet and just bounced around. I strained and heaved and kept sliding foot by foot. Rolling by were front yards, mailboxes, stone walls. Out my window passed ponds and street signs and trees stained with autumn. I was going to hit.

I woke from that dream really concerned. Whenever the anxiety is making rude coughing noises in the corner of my mind, waiting for me to turn and say, oh, I didn't see you there, the Oh Shit dreams start.

I have never arrived at school without pants, but I have often in dreams realized hours too late that I forgot to go to work. The feeling is wedged in my memory -- a nail in the tree that I grew around and swallowed.

My mind mocks me all the time. It says, ha ha, here is a memory we know you'll hate: There I am again standing in front of my fourth grade class as all those rotten kids stare back. Miss Jacobs sits in the background with neon blue eyeshadow and a red pen. I confess. I forgot it. I forgot my book report.

I stare at the pukey green tiles until I hear her voice: Kendra, for you to forget your homework is prehistoric. The last time it happened was a really long time ago…

I doubt either of us remembered a single account of Oh God, No Homework, but that day is still with me. I have grown into someone who hates to be late, unprepared, or without at least three extra sets of everything, but sadly I am always late, without a pen that works, and running around with a near-empty gas tank. But, my brakes work.

Dogs don't suffer this crap. They can either eat it, or not, chew on it, or not, or sleep. Is there really anything else to worry about? Lily spent a few minutes jumping on me after Bandit and Hershey finally got annoyed with her. She leaves Ozzy alone except to sniff, so I was her next choice. Thanks girly.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Happy Birthday Marine Corps"

Jerry is making funny noises on the couch.

I yell, cut it out!

Hey, he said, I learned that in the Marines. It's motivational grunting.

He sounds out a few more.

My poor Marine is having terrible dental problems.

He said, I can hit myself twice in the thumb with a hammer, but needles make me want to cry.

We have some things to resolve before our minds are back at ease.

Now for something funny, without context, and just hanging out there...

While grabbing a coffee I overhear a couple of 20-ish guys snickering.

One: Ya know, the things you say to your friends about girls matter…

Two: Yeah

Then something about a girlfriend…

One: she is working out of her ex boyfriend’s house. How is she doing that?

One again: I heard she blew him in the bathroom. Who cares, I love her!

Two: she wouldn’t do that…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

While reading a cruddy vampire romance filled with blood and verbal bilge that stuck to my fingers, I realized that if someone could write, market, sell, and fill their pockets on this stuff, I ought to also seize this cash cow and ship my mind off to the mental void of formula writing. I could make up sexy names like Thor Of The Wrongfully Ostracized and Camilla The Unblemished Rose and have them bite one another for a few hundred pages.

They will fall inseparably in love by page 127 despite his dark underworld of vampiric curses and aversion to light, and her desire for true love and relentless devotion, which means sunny picnics by the sea with little babies stuffed into bonnets, and candy. Lots of candy.

They’ll kiss once in the early pages and she’ll regret it, and he will burn through chapters chasing his manly manhood like a divining rod until he crashes into Camilla again. How could she resist? How will their lives ever work? What will her family say? Oh, screw it, he is just so hot!

We’ll need a tad more plot just for those readers maintaining some scholarly self-image they construct carefully in their minds with a glance in the mirror. They catch themselves flipping through some unabridged dictionary looking up Thor's origins. They are feigning research and it looks great. Great. Soon the scandalous flop's readers will ascribe to themselves a deep intellectual bent. From these fictional characters comes inspiration and a well of insight and fortitude. This Thor and Camilla are huge. They represent all that is wrong and all that is right in the world. They loom in their actions. They are god-like mentors and show us a path to happiness. They are fantasy. They are beautiful. Readers love them.

I have to get this down on paper and off to a publisher. I am also beginning to love Thor. Camilla’s hair is wrong and often gets caught in her flimsy bodice, but Thor is learning to French braid and by the end of the book he is her lover, protector, provider, friend, and hairdresser.

Explaining this yack to Lily is useless, but she encouraged me. I laughed at the crap going on in this bite me romance and she looked up at me, so I told her…

Monday, November 8, 2010

Words I found amazing today came from Dr William Petit regarding the death penalty delivered to one of two home intruders who murdered his wife and daughters:

This is a verdict for justice.

God will be the final arbiter.

Punishment from the Lord is greater than [the convicted] will face from mankind.

Tortured and killed in her own bedroom surrounded by stuffed animals.

Can't make it better, but can keep going.

Hole with jagged edges.

Vengeance belongs to the Lord, this is justice.

Fore more than 18 minutes he spoke to a media crowd, its cameras clicking, flashes throwing light, and voices trampled by the wind.

Today, running across a leaf-covered ground with its pockets of slush just cold enough in the shadows to survive sunrise, I left behind me the season's first string of footprints.

As I scrambled through a forest forever shifting, Dr Petit said goodbye for the millionth time to a family ripped from him.

Neither bitter nor intentionally angry and unkind, his words lacked forgiveness; they were a beautiful field of fresh snow unmarred by sympathy.

Lord or no Lord, and God or no God, Mr Petit suggested that his family's killers would face something uglier and more frightening than simple, fleeting, painless death.

Some people shouldn't make it past their second breath, but how would we ever know?

Winter is in the forecast and Monday's early darkness and frigid gray start tainted everyone.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Little shivers prick my skin as darkness grows on stretching shadows.

Rushing home from work to wrap the dogs in their funny bright vests and getting out to run is now a time game. Soon my headlights will lead me and I will no longer glance at the sky to see how far the light sinks. Shadows drip like wax across lawns and fences, parking lots and curbs. They are longer everyday.

Warmth is disappearing. Rain will freeze and fill with snow angels.

Animals have a quicker sense of mild weather's passing. For several weeks I have caught two birds in cupped hands as they flapped against windows, then dropped like exhausted little tufts onto the tile floor. Once their tiny bird's feet -- brittle and thin -- gripped my knuckle, they meant to cling there. Mice. They tend to scurry out and freeze half way across the basement floor. One mouse and I played tag as I urged him toward the door and he would first run away, then come toward me.

Soon I expect to see a gnome waddle in as warm-blooded woodland creatures confiscate his hiding place for their own. Gnarled, dirty, and old, he will ask, why must I be this way?

Who will guard his treasures? Who will cast his spells? Who will walk the Earth with him, a small, plodding, and determined soul that often forgets his purpose?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tensions yanking at our faces finally eased Tuesday as the sharp scent of magic markers caught us. Indelible red and black numbers went up beside candidates' names and minutes later the celebrations or concessions began.

Beginning Wednesday morning towns will wipe away the national and local campaigning's bloody mess and rehang the everyday curtains to accompany normalcy.

I considered the importance of our state representatives, treasurers, senators, or governors as I lined up the stars stretching across Orion's belt beneath his broad and uneven shoulders. Sitting sideways in the sky, he will remain as he has always remained, lifting his sword over descending winter.

Lily greets me when I arrive home from work at 11:40 Tuesday night. She and Hershey, Ozzy, and Bandit made quick orange streaks in the forest, trying out the speed of their new vests like a children with new sneakers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Politics is disparaging and ugly, at least on my kitchen counter. In the mail: The Democrats' wasteful spending is threatening our children's future. I see Monopoly pieces tossing out pastel colored funny money. The house is covered with the jabs.

According to mailers piling high: one candidate has extreme views about women, another wants to deny health insurance coverage for mammograms, one candidate had previously run a noisy and demeaning business, and does not seem ready to take on the issues of war, economy, public welfare…

Glossy, colorful Advertising That Does Not Fit In My Mailbox And Is Ruined By The Folding And Cramming touts teams that can do better, new leadership. The mailers demand that we vote to stop the Democrats, Republican...

Inside slick flyers are campaign promises. In bold letters are vows and assurances.

Despite huge money spent on campaigns, I will actually review what I know about the people on my ballot before making a decision.

I do appreciate the huge effort to sway me, but a recent employee poll asked if political advertising made a lot, some, a little, or no difference in my vote.

The ads make no difference to me. I do not cheer for either the Republicans or Democrats. I root for no particular party.

How do I vote? I pay a little attention.

What are the chances? Sometimes a rogue politician sweeps the public and makes intense splashes in realms where decisions live or die by a majority vote. More often, a good politician is a person plodding uphill and burdened with devotion to constituents. This person thinks more than he speaks, so that his words fall with precision and meaning. There is no flare. Nothing shiny to lure votes. This is the person that earns my vote.

Lily and I were both amazed to overhear one young lady say, I will exercise my right not to vote!

I suspect that anyone who arrives unprepared for the test would rather pass than sit down with a sharpened pencil.

Affluent pockets of America are some of the few places on earth where indifference is a luxury. Really. Some people wrap themselves in it like mink.

She said, I don't like politics, I don't follow it.

Does it hurt her head?

Striving to be unimpressive and a perpetual bench warmer is also an American luxury known in few other places.

Everything that is connected to a public institution, state or federal law, local regulation, or even our driver's license expiration date is maneuvered by elected bodies. Like them and their game or not, politicians are the people who have access to the places where change occurs.

Your vote counts. Your lack of a vote also counts.

I'll vote tomorrow, then I'll stop for a coffee. Maybe someone in office will change local hunting laws to keep Lily safer. I searched the house for bells tonight, wondering if I need to make noise in the woods during hunting season. I will order bright orange stuff to strap to the dogs for our romps through the wilderness where hunters could easily shoot as we crunch leaves on the approach.

I found only small, decorative bells, but they tinkle just fine. Tomorrow Hershey and Lily will wear costume pet antlers into the woods. I'll follow, laughing, remembering the day we failed to get the dogs to pose as Santa's reindeer.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I ordered coffee today from a man with eyes that bobbed and shook. Cartoonish and leering, his Halloween mask was huge as I said, regular coffee, light and sweet, please.

Muffled, but casually, he said, two dollars?

With a normal hand he took my cash. Like most of us, the disguise is never complete.

Not a good day for me. My personality was a little drop of moisture running from sunlight.

Those around me are cautious, uncertain, and wondering what will jar me from silence into criticism. Not very happy for any of us. I should live in the camper.

Poor Jerry. He just wants to have decent time with his daughter, time minced and stolen by divorce. Then there is me, the cheerless grouch grouching.

All Hallow's Eve and the lost souls come rushing. Through weak moments and sour thoughts they slip in.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Lily likes the stringy things on my feet and nibbles and tugs to undo my laces.

Today: A muddy path stamped with dog prints and bordered by pumpkin vines leads the way. Autumn reminds me of corduroy. Everything has a texture. Part of this roughness is an illusion of splotchy colors and clouds. The fall is not smooth like a key struck on the piano, the dying note a falling feather.

Autumn is a scratchy surface where plants shrivel back into the ground and darkness casts its shadows earlier at daylight's edge.

Bright orange gourds and tractors pulling bales of hay and children will distract us while morning frost glues itself to the grass.

Jerry is not home this week and the darkness hides things that frighten me.

There is nothing in the darkness that is not there in the light, he tells me.

Oh, I disagree. The moonlight plucks pockets of moisture off of random surfaces to move them across the night, rippling, what was that?

I had to run back down to the car tonight, I know.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

We were 18 years old and at school and everything was new, like wet paint. We loved everything. We had a fascination with opening lines that found us shouting, that would be a great opening line!

What started us: none of us noticed the body at first. It's the first line to Robert Coover's Gerald's Party.

I still love it.

What makes a great novel, story, or any written thing at all is the first phrase. No dust cover synopsis can tout a writer's words better than the writer's words.

Does this work for poetry and music? I think so.

From Neil Young comes a provoking, forlorn line: I think I'll pack it in and buy a pick up.

I sang along. I daydreamed the way 18-year-olds do. I bought a pick up.

A 1971 Dodge Power Wagon. Two-wheel drive, three on the tree. My Toyota croaked roadside and the guy who yanked the Tercel home with a landscaper's chain stopped off at a garage to show me a truck. It was a pasty flesh color. Salmon? Pale pink? and someone spray painted its rims red and slapped an Arkansas Razorback sticker on the window.

If you start it, you can have it, he told me.

Well, he started it, and I drove it for more than a year until it was either, buy another car or buy the farm.

Another Neil Young favorite: Oh, hello Mr. Soul I dropped by to pick up a reason.

We're all looking for a reason, right? For a long time Lily was my reason, when previously each day had been a bland, limp thing. There was no satisfaction anywhere.

From Charles Bukowski: the flesh covers the bone and they put a mind in there and sometimes a soul.

Reading the comments to follow this poem someone states: Bukowski is a sad, bitter old man.


What is the point of today's blog entry? Who cares!

About tattoos. I am thinking about constellations and zodiac signs winding all around my hips, ribs, shoulders, trickling down my arms and creeping across fingers. Something like that. Folklore and myth are cool, but the stories our imaginations have ascribed to the sky linger.

Once we thought the Earth was flat. Sailors plummeted beyond the horizon -- salt shakers rolling off the table. Our minds believed our eyes. The Earth was flat.

Where are the stars? We have not yet sailed beyond that horizon to discover that we can quietly circle back to sneak up on those we left behind staring into the distance with their hands shielding their eyes.