Beneath the Boughs

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I seek quiet.

Not from the world around me,  but from the whirl within me.

A moment beneath the boughs, standing amid the falling petals, when I’m not his, or theirs, or unsure of what I want to be.

I seek silence in the breeze.

A shushing of the doubts.

A surety of me.

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I Don’t Want to Disappear

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I know how to become small.

It was a surprisingly easy skill to learn.

It never mattered what I’d done wrong. One time I accidentally hung up on two people, my friend and his friend, while on the phone and using call waiting for the first time.

Another time I walked home from school, just as I did every day. Not knowing that he’d left work early to pick me up.

The first pang of dread is my cue. Thorny vines of panic that snake their way up from my gut because I made a mistake.

Because I didn’t know what to expect or how bad it would be.

Because I knew if it got bad, my mother would intervene.

I remained rooted in place while she tried to redirect him. To earn the brunt of his anger for me. For her kids.

While I became small.

I feel my face slacken. Wiped of any expression. I feel myself retreat behind my eyes. The eyes show everything. I know because he’d scream at me of what he saw there sometimes. Emotions I couldn’t label. Plots I never thought to devise. But he swore he saw them.

In my mind, I back away slowly. Whatever there is of me inside my body – my personality, my soul – slinks into a corner. Soundlessly. As if even that he’ll hear.

On almost every block, in every city, is that house. The one that hasn’t yet fallen into total disrepair, but is rumored to be abandoned. You walk by and see a faint flutter of curtains. The echo of someone who had been standing there, watching the world go by, and retreated into the darkness, startled.

I’m the echo behind my own eyes.

Once my face and eyes are deadened, I find a spot on which to focus. It’s always down. I don’t turn my head down, because any movement draws attention. Just my eyes cast downward.

In the throes of childbirth, they advise women to find a spot on which to focus. I found it impossible. Hurricane-force emotions blow through you. Pain and elation and the noise and the encouragement. All the worry. I could never keep my eyes on just one spot in the midst of all that.

But when I’m becoming small, I can stare for hours. An earthquake couldn’t pull my eyes away. I can be grabbed and shaken, pushed or pulled, slapped and berated. My eyes won’t move.

I’ve tested that assertion.

Downcast and focused. To keep it from getting worse.

Rivers of tears can pool in my lower eye lids without breaching the banks. I watch from where I’ve retreated inside myself. They shimmer, as if silver fish flash beneath the surface of the water on a sunny day. Despite the darkness from which I watch. It’s beautiful and distracting, sucking up all my nervous energy and soothing it with the gentle rhythm of its ebb and flow.

I focus on the way the tears make the world around me waver. They become a shield and every nerve, every cell in my body, becomes tense with the force it takes to control them.

It’s a magic act. You still see me, but I promise you . . . I’m not there.

I became small.

The fear I face now is that I’ll disappear.

My Lover’s Eyes

They are both alms and torment.

Gifts that see all the good in me. All the parts of me I’m proud of and all the times I stood taller. On my own.

They curse me, a burden I shoulder, when they bear witness to every shameful moment of weakness. All the times I lashed out in anger or curled inward, shattered and small.

They are hands locked in prayer. Tense with wanting.

They crawl to me, like a man adrift in a desert begging to sip from my palms.

They seep into the shadows of my life . . . and become a beacon.

When I am most fearful, I look up and find them, reaching for me. Ever steady. Large, rounded pools welcoming me to take shelter at their sandy shores and lie beneath a bank of trees that offer a quiet, calming susurrus in which to take comfort.

They offer a flame by which to warm my hands. A mug of cocoa over which I can huddle, my back turned to any storm that lashes icy tentacles across my weary shoulders.

Questions rumble through their depths.

Patience rises to their earthy surface. Tiny tendrils, strong and true, turned toward the sun.

Turned toward me.

On The Table

I’m paying off a table I never bought.

It arrived in the back of a gray pick up, dusted with a light coating of red clay kicked up over the heat of the summer. It was carried in by an elderly black gentleman with eyes that smiled and warm, dry hands that wrapped around one of mine when he arrived.

“Let’s look at where you want it,” he said in a soothing voice that felt like a blanket around my shoulders.

I nodded. Mute. Yes. Please come in. I motioned towards the door.

I helped with the table and the boys helped with the chairs. Once they were all arranged, I felt heavier. As if we’d placed them upon my back, rather than in the small room off the kitchen.

He wished me blessings and joked with the boys, and I tried to thank him enough. Tried to give him back thanks in proportion to the enormity of the table.

Because I didn’t buy the table.

I didn’t tell my husband. Instead, I cooked. I wish I could remember the meal. The choice of herbs and the swirl of oil across a pan. The sizzle of meat or the deep rolling boil of pasta crashing against the surface of the water. I wish sometimes a smell will make it all familiar again. That maybe I’ll walk into a restaurant or market and inhale the rich scent of a yesterday that locked itself into a dark corner that’s been happily forgotten by the sunshine I’ve walked in since. I’ll stop and a wistful smile will pull at my lips.

Yes.” I’ll think. “That’s what we ate that day.”

Instead I remember only that I set the table. I placed the dishes upon it and raised the seat on the high chair so that it met the edge, and removed the tray from it so that chubby hands could reach across the table like the rest of us. The boys each grabbed a chair. A side. Seats that remain theirs today. Their claims upon that table and those chairs yet to be released.

I ran my hand along the edges that curled downward, softening where the top of the table ends and one pulls up a chair. There’s just enough room for six to sit. Two on each long side, elbow to elbow. One at each short end, alone. Room for all of us, plus a friend.

We decided which end should be the head of the table. That day it sat open, waiting for him.

I remember his arrival and the excitement that coursed through our veins. Palpable and leaping between the boys and I as we listened for his heavy boots across the kitchen floor.

I remember his eyes lighting up and the boys’ laughter ringing when they saw him and it sounded like Christmas morning despite the mid-September humidity.

I remember the clatter of forks against plates and the thud of glasses as they were placed down atop the dark wood of the tabletop.

I remember our eyes meeting and I watched as he struggled to swallow past a lump I felt in my throat as well.

I don’t remember the food.

I still own the table I never bought.

Meal after meal. Homework. Friends. Writing. Hot glue. Finger prints. Foot prints, even. Sweaty imprints of mischievous, chubby feet toddling across its mahogany-colored surface. Scratches and dings.

Thanksgivings. When it stood transformed and laden with proof that we have much for which to be thankful.

Its legs stand beneath the laughter that spills across the surface, shared between each of us. Its legs stand beneath the tears that splash from time to time on its surface. Its legs stand beneath the elbows that rest weary on its top. Head dropped into hands. Shoulders slumped by the baggage we need to carry with us on our journey. When the wheels that typically help us to roll it along give out and leave us with no choice but to hoist the baggage and trudge along through life, for a time trapped beneath its weight.

I can’t bear to part with the table I never bought.

I sit at it and recall the back of a small, two shelf, particleboard book case. Emptied of books we left behind and turned face down onto the floor.

I look at the boys, wriggling in chairs and kicking at each other beneath the table, and remember their legs twisted beneath them as they huddled over my mother’s China dishes set on the back of a bookcase. Our everyday dishes left behind.

I watch him as he sits at the table and recall his smile when he came home from work each evening and folded his height down to a cross-legged seat on the floor next to the overturned bookcase. “It won’t be for much longer now that I’ve got a job,” his deep brown eyes promised me each night.

I remember an email when I’d grown desperate. After school started and the boys had nowhere to sit to do their homework. Not a single chair. Not even a couch. We had the floor and the walls and the roof, and we were thankful for all that. I remember a reply within hours. Like the table, I cannot bear to part with it.

I am very sorry to hear about your situation and the difficulties you are having. That must be very frustrating. There have been times in my life when I did not have enough furniture (among other things) and it can be a very humbling and upsetting experience. Kudos to you for having the courage to ask for help. That’s something I did not do, but I sure wish I had! I am praying for you and your family.”

The next day an elderly black gentleman delivered to us a table I never bought.

I try to pay it off now that we can. I volunteer at the very organization that brought us the table. I cook food and serve it and struggle not to wrap my arms around mothers asking for extras for their children. Especially when it’s for their boys. I want to tell them they came to the right place for help.

I’m proof.

I try to pay off the table I never bought.

But it’s priceless.

To Each an Audience (A Drabble)

She kept to the corners, arms crossed tight against her chest.

He worked the room, a smile for everyone he greeted.

She fidgeted with the hem of her skirt, knuckles white around the glass in her hand.

His laugh wrapped its way around each guest, clapping the backs of those who walked by.

When the car pulled up he reached for her fingers, shoulders slumped. He drank up the smile she saved just for him.

At home, he kept to the corners. Arms crossed tight against his chest. She worked the room, her laugh wrapping its way around his heart.

(A “drabble” is a short story consisting of exactly 100 words.)

Everything That Could Be

It’s a song that aches
Or a movie that giggles
A lyric that stitches itself onto my heart
Or a chord that shreds my defenses
A poem somehow whispers our story
Or an anthem screams our end

It’s a leaf that floats by my window
Or a flower that brightens the kitchen
A lick of sweet and sweat
Or a beat we never missed
A taste that feeds my hunger
Or a laugh that fills your soul

It’s a hint of something special
A peek for just our eyes
A memory that won’t have a chance
A dream, fleeting as gossamer
A heartbeat that races me home
An hour that slows your day

It’s everywhere

It’s you
In everything
That isn’t ever you
But reminds me of
Everything
That could be

Us

Open and Empty

You hold everything.

Not just the ropes, or my hair. Not just my wrists, or my throat.

Everything within myself that allows me to dive into us. Everything I silence for the moments that matter most to us.

Everything that quiets when I look up into your eyes and feel safe enough to tell you what I want.

What I need.

And everything that stills because you promise to give it to me.

Look down for a moment at your hands and feel it.

It’s tangible to me.

A huge chunk of what makes up me is torn from my body, knifed from my soul, and placed there in your hands.

Heft its weight around.

Feel it.

Really feel it.

You hold all of it.

Every ounce of trust I possess, carved out, leaving behind edges that are jagged and raw, bleeding and sore. Leaving my heart pounding with the effort of getting blood through all the emptiness left behind.

You hold all of it.

Over and over again, you make me feel whole again.

Except for my hands . . .

. . . they wait, open and empty, for your trust in return.