Archive for February, 2017

Returning

amywink February 28th, 2017

Returning

Like a wave laps
the lake shore with
the slow rocking
of the earth,
memory returns
again and again,
not crashing,
but caressing
the stones,
wearing them first
to pebbles,
then to sand,
glittering in the light.

Where once the ruffled
crests pushed against
the harder shore,
each wave will
smooth the coastline simply
by returning presence,
rising, rising, rising.

In those waves of memory,
every end becomes beginning,
every no worn away to yes,
every moment that seemed a loss
becomes a smoother gift of truth,
clear and glittering,
dancing with the light.

Mildred

amywink February 21st, 2017

The day my mother had her heart attack, I was seized in a direct attack as my lizard brain rose out of stone with tyrannosaurus teeth and raptor claws, a new species Tyrannosaurus Mentis. . . .tyrant lizard of the mind. Trapped firmly in her jaws, I could not eat.

Specifically, I could not eat anything on her seriously restrictive diet. While I had always eaten relatively healthy anyway (I am a woman in America, I know about food “rules” and diets), this was different. I was frozen in front of food, as if one move would tighten her jaws. She first appeared when my oldest friends took me to dinner, I ordered a salad but forgot to say “chicken”. The pile of ground beef atop the salad laid before me turned the reptilian eye and I thought “I cannot eat that.”

No illness, no revulsion, no nausea, just the sudden clarity: “I can not eat that.”

Much to the irk of the waitress, I asked for chicken and sent it back, and waited. . . and ate.

But barely.

I stayed pinned in the jaws of my tyrant lizard for a few days as the other parts of my mind cogitated on how to cope with this ambush predator. Because, really, I needed to eat something. Not eating was not the better choice.

I developed a plan.

I named my tyrant lizard, Mildred, and welcomed her into my life. She was only doing what her nature prescribed and as she was clearly a part of me I could not excise, I determined to accept her. I let Mildred choose my food. I took Mildred to the grocery store and we read food labels together. Mildred got agitated at certain RDA values, shocking amounts of salt and fat. Sugar didn’t even make it to the meetings.

I told friends, “Mildred won’t let me eat that.” “Mildred won’t let be buy that.”

Mildred became a good companion at the table and the store, rolling her reptilian eyes at marketing ploys, offering a steaming huff at ridiculous portion sizes disguising realistic calorie counts. She evolved from her Cretaceous origins and became a pleasant presence, softly clucking her annoyance instead of tightening her jaws. I ate a lot of vegetables, some pasta, some chicken. I grazed happily with Mildred for a long time until she decided I was okay on my own and flew the coop.

The day I brought home Cheetos, I texted a friend “Mildred has left the building.”

Now, I eat healthy and well but I am no longer trapped in the jaws of a tyrant.

Opening

amywink February 19th, 2017

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Opening

Under the fall of last year’s autumn
the remnants of the garden
I’d left neglected by necessity,
rise anyway.

Even untended, the bulbs and
hardy perennials emerge green
strengthened by the layer of decay,
more robust in the nourished soil
of this cyclical life.

The roses, resilient, fierce, remember
the truth to grow, made only more
vigorous by hard pruning.

The lacy blooms of the Mexican plum
will come to fruition
only for the birds, the tartness
of its fruit too forbidding for other tongues.

But I am also slowly rising, drawn again
into the garden I barely recognize,
into the garden that I missed,
to tend the forgotten Eden I’ve found.

Gansta Wasps, Undead Squirrels, and Immortal Fleas

amywink February 13th, 2017

I originally wrote this piece as part of an email to my dear friend Stacey, who died last summer. While she was dealing with her cancer, one of the most important things I could do was make her laugh. More than once I virtually sat with her, on the stoop of her home in the dangerous neighborhood of her mind, writing to walk her out of danger, to be a light before the dark overcame her.

She laughed and laughed at this piece and wanted me to read it at The Moth but I gently reminded her that meant standing up in public and I am an introverted writer who lets her words go public but likes to sit at home while they gad about. Mom didn’t live long enough to find this funny but I think she would have eventually. I do miss making both of them laugh.

Now I am posting this in honor of Galentine’s Day.

Gangsta Wasps, Undead Squirrels, and Immortal Fleas

Dear Stacey:

So this is the title of my morning thus far, but the prelude could be titled, Night of the Twitching Insomniac (feel free to read to Todd…and whoever else needs entertaining).

I slept very, very, very little last night. I went to bed at the normal time and was sleepy but could not get comfortable (too much caffeine after 2pm??). Calliope kept bugging Lily, Lily kept scratching, I kept worrying about all the things I had to do. . . wasps, squirrels, fleas. . . .twitch, twitch, twitch. I would sleep a little, then BING be wide awake. . .twitch, twitch, twitch.

I was awake sometime in the wee hours before the power went out, making the carbon monoxide alarm beep VERY LOUDLY. . . at 4am. . .and I had to get up and see if it was us that blew a breaker. . .or the entire neighborhood. . .which it turned out to be because the street light was pitch black.

Luckily, it didn’t last long and the power came back on in a few minutes, making the carbon monoxide alarm beep again…but then Mom burst out of her room saying she couldn’t get the tv to come back on. . .because it was rebooting and did just as that question left her mouth. I looked at my iPad before actually going back to sleep and I was SOUND asleep. . .when Mom opened her door around 6 to loudly take Sunshine outside and to begin giving me instructions . . . as I was stumbling towards coffee. So….as if that was foreshadowing, let me begin:

The Tale of with the Gansta Wasp

As you know, we have had several wasp nests (yellow jackets…the hard core biker gang of insects) built right outside the backdoor, in the corner of the eve, one far back, one a little further out, and one forming on the gutter. Last week, I bought some new wasp spray at the grocery store to begin the assault on them. I was totally environmental with my first choice of Ecosmart Wasp Killer made of Peppermint Oil and some kind of
Peanut-derived Death Agent but, of course, I backed it up with some kind of chemical Wasp Terminator Spray with all kinds of dangerous environmental warnings. . . .because. . .well. . . wasps.

gdgdgdgdgdgdgdgddgd

I sprayed the nest that had begun construction without permits on the gutter in the corner…mostly the workers were just milling about anyway by the first little cup of nest and it did kill them. . . but not fast enough for my tastes. . . I want Instant Death with NO Loitering. Some flew off, some dropped and crawled around. . . and the porch smelled weirdly of peppermint and something not unlike burnt peanuts. It was also coated in oily residue and so were Lily’s feet when she returned from inside after I used the leaf blower to remove the bodies–safely from inside the door with only the nozzle end sticking out.

AND THE WASPS CAME BACK!!!!

And started squatting in the same location….and also crowding into the 2nd
nearest nest…..so I sprayed that one too…..and made everyone smell
Pepperminty Fresh!!

And still they returned!!!!!!! So, I got the Black Flag Wasp and Hornet Certain Death Spray that was my back up. And in one spray….THE CAN WAS NEARLY EMPTY!!!!!!!! AND NOT ALL THE WASPS WERE DEAD!!!

But clearly, I had pumped that nest full of unsavory odors so they did abandon it….and started hanging out near the largest next in the very corner of the roof joists that I could barely see….but for the crowd of wasps hanging out…..with their leather jackets and hand-rolled cigs dangling from their mouths spoiling for a fight. . .

And me without any wasp spray of consequence. . . .

So, this week, I went to Lowe’s and bought Commercial Strength Spectracide Fires of Mordor Spray (2 cans!!!!!) but I hadn’t had the opportunity to spray them yet. Yesterday, they seemed pretty brazen and were dropping down low off the nest when I let Lily out, so it began to really worry me because wasps don’t die when they sting, they just keep stinging. Clearly they were
all hopped up on Peppermint Oil, Peanut Derivative, and Black Flag Nietzsche Spray (What does not kill us makes us stronger).

Now, add in the Dead Squirrel or rather the Undead Squirrel that had to be removed from the back yard before we let the dogs back out.

So all last night, twitch, twitch, twitch…must kill wasps to get to dead squirrel……twitch, twitch, twitch. Must kill wasps to get to dead
squirrel…..Then power outage……BEEEEEEPPPP…..twitch, twitch, twitch.

As coffee was brewing, I got the new Spectracide spray ready after taking Lily out front on a leash and after Mom took Sunshine out under the evil eye of the Gansta Wasps.

And I cracked open the back door……and set to spraying…….then slammed the door as THEY FLEW OFF THE NEST AND STARTED SWARMING THE DOOR AND STINGING THE GLASS…….

AND SOME JUST FLEW OFF TO RETURN TO THE NEST…..

So I went to the garage back door, further away, and sprayed from there, getting more of the lingering wasps. And I sprayed more times to make sure the nest was saturated…about 4 times…….until no one seemed to be returning with any kind of vigor……

And I sat down to have a cup of coffee. . . .

gdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgdgddg

“Must kill wasps to get to dead squirrel……….must kill wasps to get to
dead squirrel….” is not at all the Loving Kindness meditation I usually repeat but I had to steal myself for the next battle somehow.

Part 2: The Undead Squirrel, or Squirrel Interrupted….

While the wasps were dying, I decided I needed to shower to face the rest of the morning chores–plus I was kind of sweaty and itchy–and THEN I would be ready to face the Dead Squirrel Removal. . . .which Mom kept worrying about. . .and reminding me of. . . and bugging me about. . . and ya know, that squirrel is not going to get any deader….but the wasps might actually really hurt!!

I emerged from the shower less itchy (and dressed my flea bites with benadryl). I had flipped Lily over for flea inspection and sure enough. . .she had fleas. . . only 5 days after Advantage II application. . . .they did not appear diminished in capacity so I must find a way to spray the backyard.

But I digress, back to the Dead Squirrel Removal:

Mom said The Body was at the base of the mountain laurel tree and I looked out the windows of her room to try and see The Body.

Nothing.

She kept saying “It’s on the other side of the trunk….well, really, more like between the trunks…..I think you can see the little legs……”

I see nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing but leaf litter and limestone rocks. . .grey limestone rocks. . . (that’s foreshadowing). But she says she saw it yesterday and the dogs sniffed it and so I just assume there’s a squirrel body that I don’t see in the leaf litter and rocks. My vision is kind of limited in dim light anyway.

Since the Wasps have been defeated, I can start the process of. . .clearing a path to the Dead Squirrel. I have to load up the weed-whacker and whack my way through the weeds to make a path. . . .also looking for auxiliary wasp nests along the way. And I finally get there after some time whacking two different paths. . . one of which was not going to work because of the amazing growth of the rosemary plant but the burrs are really bad and my cotton pants are getting covered and I don’t have any of the Carcass Removal
items (shovel) yet.

Mom is watching from the window and giving useless and annoying commands about where I need to get too that mostly the sound of the weed-whacker covers except when it doesn’t.

So I finally get around to the back of her bedroom, near the base of the mountain laurel tree, and she keeps saying “it’s right over there. It’s right over there”….I’m loooking and loooooooooking and loooooooooooooooking and she keeps saying “it’s right there, see, right there!!!!!”

And I see nothing.

Nothing that looks like a dead squirrel.

Except.

Maybe. The grey limestone rock at the base of the mountain laurel tree.

Which I poke with the weed-whacker and say “This?? Is this what you see?”

“YES, that’s it!! That’s the dead squirrel.”

Except…it isn’t.

It’s a rock.

A grey rock.

A grey limestone rock. . .

Which I guess *technically* is a dead something. . .dead sediment. . . from
ages past. . . but not a dead squirrel, though also, it was a curved dead squirrel shape.

Sort of.

So, because I say “It’s a rock”, she says “no, it was a squirrel!! The dogs sniffed a squirrel!! I saw its little head!!”

And I say, “well, maybe someone came and got the body in the night. . .like a cat or a raccoon. . . .but what’s here now is a rock, not a squirrel.”

. . . .A rock. . .must kill wasps to get to. . . a rock. The battle won, the crisis over, I shoulder my weed-whacker and return inside, leaving the Undead Squirrel to walk the night alone.

But at least the wasps are diminished, I have weed-whacked some of the weeds. I can start cutting up the fallen tree branches, hopefully spray the yard with some kind of flea killing spray later in the week. . .and I can tease my mother with the best line ever: “I see dead squirrels.”

And when I eventually did, it was delicious.

The Difficulty of Blue

amywink February 9th, 2017

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Image by Marc D. Wink

The creation of genius always seem like miracles, because they are, for the most part, created far out of the reach of observation.” ~~Homer, The Odyssey

But, ancient Greece and ancient Rome. . . .people believed that creativity was this divine attendant spirit that came to human beings from some distant and unknowable source, for distant and unknowable reasons. The Greeks famously called these divine attendant spirits of creativity “daemons.” Socrates, famously, believed that he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him from afar. The Romans had the same idea, but they called that sort of disembodied creative spirit a genius. . . .
They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.
~~Elizabeth Gilbert

The modern use of the word “genius” refers to someone with a remarkable brilliance in one aspect of their capacities. We think of Mozart or Einstein or Michelangelo. But the original notion of the word genius meant “attendant spirit.” This was not reserved only for the gifted. Rather, it was believed that everyone has an attendant spirit. Everyone has a genius. This is where the word “genie” comes from. So each of us has our own genie, our own soul to guide us, if we dare to look for it, to listen to it, to stay in relationship with it. ~~Mark Nepo

The Difficulty of Blue.

In the storming days of August after Stacey died, I felt the wake of her leaving in the pulse of my every day. The writing partner of my daily correspondence, we’d spent most of the last 20 years, thinking together in writing and the last 3, since her diagnosis with Stage IV Breast Cancer, thinking together through the hard and simple questions of our human lives, how to live well and daily, how to learn what was truth and where kindness carried us. Eventually, we came to know when she had to go and how I would go on without her, different but okay with her leaving. I had not seen her in a year but there wasn’t enough time to see her before she died, though I would have gone if I had thought she wanted that ending. I do not think she did and I stayed home, my soul lonely for my friend.

It was the wrong time for painting but the craving for creative change came on hard and strong. I had cleared and cleaned my mother’s room since her death in March but the space remained hers, yet vacant, liminal. Pushed forward, I began to renovate, to transform, the space I had into the space I needed. In her last months, Stacey had finished crocheting an afghan intended for my mother, who died before she could use it, in two shades of blue and cream my mother had chosen, so I took from her handwork my inspiration and focused on the difficulty of choosing blues.

Stacey and I loved decorating and had often conferred on the challenges blue presented. Which blue was the right blue for the bathroom? The study? Which blue of our mind’s eye could we match the color strips? Always it seemed, we both had to decide from at least 10 close choices, agonizing over slight differences that seemed to be huge. Was something too green? too purple? too grey? too blue? And even though we were usually able to choose the blue that worked, the agonizing choice of blues seemed so much more difficult that other colors we also loved. Greens, yellows, sometimes browns were a challenge but never like blues.

But I knew the difficulty of blue and still, blue was my choice. I wanted to keep the painted ceiling, pale blue with white sponged clouds, and the blue and white quilt for the bed, as well as the blue afghan made it clear: Blue. Find The Right Blue.

I found three: “Sky’s The Limit”; “Life at Sea” and “Blue Opal” came home to be checked in the light of the changing space. All were right enough. So I went back to get samples and paint large square patches on the walls. “Sky’s the Limit” and “Life at Sea” had staying power and I continued to wait, watching the changing light for a few days.

Then my poetic genius appeared to make the choice for me: “Life at Sea.”

“Life at Sea” because Stacey loved her last adventure, a Thanksgiving cruise to Hawaii, the previous year.

Because she loved Melville’s poetic prose and wrote to me about her new understanding of his descriptions.

Because she had delighted in the sea horses she found in Hawaii.

Because she watched the stars at sea and wrote to me about the vast open sea.

Because we both loved Louisa May Alcott’s “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

Because my mother collected shells.

Because my mother loved the Texas coast.

Because through both of them, I had learned to sail my ship.

On the day of Stacey’s memorial service in Chicago, while it rained outside in Texas, I opened the can of paint, and weeping, transformed the difficulty of blue into a meditation of remembrance.

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