Motherhood, No. 1

You’re clambering across the wood floor now, undoubtedly picking up stray hairs and particles of God-knows-what as you slap your hands down and drag your belly forward — the undusted floor beneath a bookcase teetering with stacks of beloved prose beckons you. It’s just you and me, all day every day, and you turn as you hitch your rump to one side and tuck your hips up underneath you, propping yourself up on one arm to look at me with a wry grin before resuming your destructive path to a Not-Play Area.

Two teeth jut up from your lower gums, neat and perfect and unchipped by any sort of toddler disaster, tiny white Chiclets in an otherwise gum-and-tongue world. Slap, swish, slap, swish, slap, swish — this is the music of my days, the thudding bass of your tiny body exploring the corners of our increasingly crowded living room. Peppered in among the thuds and scrapes, the excited pant and grunt of Baby Magellan en route to the Strait of Unclean Floor.

You watch me for a moment, lying on your back in all that filth that accumulates in forgotten corners beneath furniture, your head twisted to stare at me as you gnaw on a big toe with the dexterity of a contortionist. Saliva is pooling on the floor near your soft cheeks, and I think briefly — I should attach my microfiber mop to you, take advantage of this perpetual state of slobbering exploration. My own personal Roomba. I shake my head at the thought, and at you, with your body twisted in some sort of unnatural pretzel-ball while you make the kind of sucking sounds that would drive your father crazy if it were coming from someone at the dinner table.

Eyes still locked on mine — so steely blue, so unlike my chocolate browns — you release the foot from your firm grasp and purse your lips together, the tip of your tongue just barely visible before — pffffthhhhffffft — a raspberry, your favorite. Now I can’t help but laugh aloud, a quick Ha! that only encourages you to blow another and another. In these moments, I cannot deny the thought that you want to bring me joy, that you desire my happiness; and the very generosity of that from a seven-month-old baby is startling to my untrained self.

You turn your attention back to the dust-furred floor for the sparest of moments before the edge of a blanket hanging down from the couch captures your attention and you’re off again, thumpthumpthumpthumpthump. Through the belly of the coffee table, not around — So smart, I think — and in the blink of an eye, you’ve crossed the room and the purple blanket has an eggplant corner, already soaked in your saliva. As you examine the possibilities of this Other Region, I edge closer on my hands and knees, bellying up to you on the floor, placing my face nearby your fattened feet. Di-uh-beet-us feet, your father calls them; swollen and pudgy like mine were when you’d been in my belly for nine months. I know it’s likely I’ll take a foot to the face, but I want to be near. I want to be able to breathe the air that you expel, as if there is some sort of magic in just that — the act of breathing. I suppose there is. I suppose I had a hand in making that magic, now that I think of it.

While you fumble with the yarn in the deep red shag rug, I marvel at the callused pads on the tips of your toes which you maintain with regular intervals of kicking the floor in your belly-down position. At the whorls twisting inward on either side of the crown of your head, forming a spiky peak of silvery blonde. At the fingernails that never seem to be short enough, despite several weekly trims. You emit another string of raspberries, tongue proudly thrust forward as bubbles form and rivulets of spit follow the curve of your chins toward the base of your throat.

I wonder, not for the first time — is it possible that I love you too much?

The Plains: A Vignette

Out here, people are fiercely loyal to a land that has no love for any thing or any man.

The desertlike plains of southwestern Kansas are fiercely unforgiving; on any given day, you can expect to hear the relentless and mournful howl of a wrathful wind, uncorked from some mythical bottle that refuses to be stoppered until all its air has pushed forth. The wind charges furiously across open fields, encouraging earth to rise and seek refuge in every available crevice — the corner of an eyeball, a crease behind the ear, a long-neglected crack beneath a front door, a hole in the wall of a barn. The dust rises like powder into the endless sky and creates a galaxy of its own volition, daring any and all to enter its massive expanse and come out the other side.

It’s a trick, though.

Everybody knows that it is impossible to do such a thing — challenge the earth and emerge unscathed.

The furious wind and living, breathing organism that is dirt in the southwestern plains are maddening on their own; impossible to endure when they join forces. And just when the elements seem powerful enough to rob you of the most human things you are comprised of, the plains layer on another element of abysmal self-destruction: the drought.

One can live for months without a single cleansing drop of rain, it is true. But physical survival is not a close relative to spiritual continuance. As the earth shrivels and withers in the fiery kiln that is southwest Kansas, so, too, does the soul beat a hasty retreat. There is something primitive in our souls that can only be nourished by the pattering of rain upon dirt, and I often find myself wondering if I am the only one that feels mine rattling around within me like a tab in an empty pop can — or if the indigenous peoples have evolved over time to function with just a wisp, nestled securely inside the pinky finger.

I must remember to nurture my pop-tab spirit, to water it with something life-sustaining. It will not find a knuckle to burrow in safely until the sky opens up next; I am not a native. My soul will skitter about until it finds my mouth open at just the right time and whffft! — it will flee east, or north, witching water all the way.

The Dream(s)

Last night I dreamed one thousand lies.

It started with the death of my brother. First he perished in a twisted ball of metal and fire. I wasn’t there, but it was in me — I felt it in the heart of me. My blind eyes saw the vacant black asphalt reflected in the glassy stare of his coffee-brown eyes. My sleeping arms started at the sudden sting of shattered windshield and we rolled and rolled and rolled together before resting downside up. I did not feel the flames but I watched as ribbons of brilliant yellow-orange devoured his coarse brown hair and freckle-spotted cheeks. This was his first death: quick but agonizing.

Next he died face-up in the basement of a new friend’s house: his lips a faint blue with the dried remains of vomit hidden just behind his teeth. He whispered to me slow, but my ears were asleep and I did not hear words; only incomplete sounds. At least his eyes were closed and guarded by thick black lashes from whatever came next.

Then he was whole, a perfect nuisance with his consciously relaxed posture and arrogant smirk — his stare both burning and jovial at the same time. He was whole, and then there was a hole, in his gut, just off to the side of his navel. From the hole a great scarlet flower bloomed, spreading its virulent leaves in hyperlapse fashion. The flower spread within him, too, and though I could not see at first I soon noticed a curled leaf eking its way out of the part between his lips: brilliant and garish against the dusty rose of his mouth. My phantom hand reached for this flower and instead brushed against the slick surface of a wall.

Painted eggshell and pocked with shallow dings here and there, the mostly-smooth surface seized my arm and led me away. I sat up abruptly, lungs grabbing desperately for real air (not that stuff of dream worlds), and I could finally see.

There were no scarlet flowers, there was no shattering of glass, there was no muffled murmur. Only the tepid air of the enclosed bedroom and the too-loud chirruping of crickets just beyond the narrow wall.

On This Day

on this day, the day after —
i probably woke a bit later, sleep
clinging to my lids,
desperate for just
one
more
moment
of sleep —
tired still: the day before a garbled mess
of somber, tear-jerky anchors’ voices
and
panicked, grainy videos of
steely twin splinters vomiting up great clouds of cauliflower smoke
and
ash that covered bridges, manikins, golden retrievers,
even the sun.

i swallowed a pop-tart (cinnamon brown sugar) while
one thousand, three hundred fifty-three miles away
a girl swallowed a lump in her throat, an apricot pit,
as she waited in the armchair with the worn-smooth brown arms
for the person whose arms had done the smooth-wearing, the man who
chewed hot tamales for breakfast and sang made-up songs that embarrassed her.

i stood at the bottom of a hill waiting on a bus while
one thousand, three hundred fifty-three miles away
a man inhaled grit that clung to a throat scratchy with howled promises of rescue
and obedience to a god and anything, really, to argue with his brother just
one
more
time.

i waited in line at the lunch room, probably tuna casserole, while
one thousand, three hundred fifty-three miles away
a woman sat on a sofa covered with the ash and dust of 220 steel floors
and looked at the same tv images
over and over
and over
without ever really seeing anything but her twenty-four children
and their dust-coated backpacks
and the newly vacant seats at their dinner tables
and the whimper in their voices
and the whites of their eyes.

on this day, the day after —
i probably did not yet know that the great clouds of cauliflower smoke
still hesitated in the sky, more fog than vegetable
and ash still hung draped like a blanket over park benches and coffee mugs,
even — still — the sun;
and the ash-fog would hang over the sky
and the rooftops
and the people
many sunrises and sets after.

 

The Craftsman

smooth, broad nails set deep,
fingers crusted (Titebond III):
hands of a master.

the thrum of a lathe,
soft tendrils coil, pile, bury;
edges redefined.

homemade concoction:
acrid lacquer bites nostrils–
now, a waxy sheen.

curved flesh and muscle,
a backdrop of planned angles:
man and craft blended.

infinite dust motes
cling to forearms, lashes, jaw:
garb of the master.