Bird Report

As the dog bounds through the back yard, a junco skitters up from the evergreen bush into a nearby pine. With rare morning light behind the tree, the bird's landing releases the finest glittering of tiny sparkles to fall in and out of perception – a slow motion dusting of prismatic wonderment. If winter was like this more often maybe it wouldn't seem so unrelenting in its ability to unleash misery and despair, especially for those who feed on light. A woodpecker's drumming breaks this dream with staccato bursts of longing. Judging by the volume and clarity, he is next door on neighbor's tree. Given the onset of late winter, perhaps this red-headed king is searching for a mate. All I know is how sharply he can be heard against the frozen silence of this subzero morning.

Yesterday a male cardinal appeared in place I hadn't seen him before. He tried to feed in the small feeder attached to the dining room window but was unable to fit. With multiple attempts, he'd fly in after pausing on the adjacent pine. Tilting and turning his head left and right, his sharp red feathers glared against the green of the needles. Eventually he was forced to pick through the black and golden scraps of seed beneath the window. It's the only feeder the squirrels cannot drain, although they do try. Muddy prints dot the window where the squirrels have managed to jump from the house siding onto the window, only to slide down past the feeder and fall to the ground.

When L. calls from college and asks what I'm up to, I tell her these little vignettes with the full realization that I am now more like my mother than I am not. L. will tell me a million details about her classes and her saxophone studio and her friendships. I love to listen to her chirp and chatter, her voice rising and falling like music itself. She leaves nothing out, or so it seems. Sometimes I curl up in her empty bed and stare out of her bedroom window. I imagine her life now as she grows away from home.

Coming in from school, B. pauses at the window. He'll notice the feeder getting low or the mess the squirrels have made or all the dog prints around the tree where Kora tried in vain to nab the squirrely invaders. I'll ask him how his day was and he say that it was just okay. It is always just okay. His hugs tell me that he is glad to be home. We sit quietly on the couch after school. He'll pet the dog and ask her how her day of squirrel patrol was. He tells her in a cooing voice how badly her breath smells, as if he was giving her the most endearing compliment in the world. We share a smile over that. He scrolls through his phone and asks me if I saw this headline or that headline. Between long silences, he shows me memes and puns and jokes. We can hear K.’s voice through the floor register. Sometimes it's just his side of the conversation but more often it's a conference call with many voices making many decisions for many hours of the day.

Today the house is still sleeping. I want them all to sleep a little longer so that this silence can be stretched a little further. Here is where the bird report begins. In the bird report, the writing begins. And with a little sunlight, something breaks wide open.

Ah, now he stirs. The toilet flushes and I know my morning prayers are finished. Though winter has taken too much, February begins to give. Here and there, feathery amens start to rise. A chickadee leads the way.

Alabaster Aftermath

After five days of relentless snowbands and arctic freeze, a break in singular condition becomes a song. Rabbit tracks lead up to the front door it feels like the holy visit of a ghost. Hash and eggs on the stove. Coffee for him. Tea for me. The dog limps to her bed to lick her paws after a brief time outside. Today is diverting snow from drains and roofs before the warm up.

Blue, like unrelenting eyes, above for the first time in a million days. Like poetry pounding on my heart. Like the time I almost drove east into the sea. Who have I swallowed? Who's ego has been reinvested into my cosmos? We are not sundered, despite long white miles of winter's reach.

Seeds unsown. Empty buckets. The wheelbarrow sleeps in the shed. To ride out whole seasons is to be handed over in faith. February says sometimes there is a deep truth within a lie. That's the book I tried to write. Untranslatable. Untoward. Unshelved. Yet under this breakthrough sky, I can glint and shimmer upon that which is cold and barren. I can knit the belief of here and not here into a scarf wrapped twice around my neck.

After the outside work is done, a hot shower and this.

This before the melt.
This before the refreeze.
This before I write the book.



For a Kiss

I.

I spend the morning watching pine trees conduct a winter symphony. The last of January howls. Every window is white and ice builds on the inside sills. The furnace hums to keep the house warmhearted. There is no where to go and no way to get there.

faultless
laundered
dawn


II.

We are starved of the sun and obliterated by sub-zero winds. Snow adds to itself, unceasing, rising into new territory. Naked bulbs press into their deep sleep. Irrelevant of which way I write or to whom, my ruminations birth one manifestation.

of chickadees
taking turns on pine branches
to feed –
what I can taste
of January

III.

On occasion
I drink hot chocolate
and it hurts my stomach
I keep my favorite beer on hand
despite the allergy
And I pin you to the wall in the stairwell
so my eyes can ask
for a kiss
for the gateway of dreams
for the manifestation of what is always present
despite the ruinous fruit
because something is ruined, yes?
I am this, this




Tasting

Snow over ice over sleeping daffodils.

I'm up long before daybreak to roast root vegetables, make a batch of chili, shovel the driveway and spread salt. After a night of snowfall, day breaks into brief moments of silver. My cheeks burn from the cold air and the sting stays with me most of the day.

A blizzard bears down from the west, gathering moisture from Lake Michigan. Another 12+ inches and -50 windchill is expected. Preparations are in order: firewood, gasoline, candles, batteries. I clear as much snow as I can before my soft body gives way. After an hour of raking the roof, my arms are too shaky to wipe the freezing sweat from my forehead. I trip myself in the calf-deep snow walking back to the garage and decide to just stay down for a bit. The dog thinks I am playing, so I do. Fake it 'til you make it, right?

Still on the ground, tiny prisms melt on my face. When the dog sticks her nose into my scarf-swaddled neck, I remember my dream from last night in which we shared a bowl of soup. And tea. Through the fragrance of steam you said: when you love one, you love the whole.

Back inside, heating the kettle, I catch a glimpse of the pileated woodpecker at the feeder and it sends a shiver up the back of my neck. He is exactly where he should be but his large frame and fiery crest startles me every time. Winter wants nothing from me – but it is here – and I am here – between thoughts – shoveling – sleeping – dreaming under books and a mountain of quilts. We are not on the periphery. We are threaded through – led by a piercing needle – down – under – up over – down through again. I'm not sure what we are making but even now in this unrelenting winter, piling white upon white upon white, I taste the vibrancy

of what
and of whom
we are making



Three Heartbeats and a Hill of Bones

In last night's dream, I walked through an unfamiliar village. Coming upon small groups of newborn elephants bound together, I saw their eyes had turned white from abuse. The barely conscious babies were kept alive to ensure freshness. I wept as I climbed a hill rising high above the village. At the top, a freshly painted sign read: Hill of Bones.

A regressing moon shimmers through the east facing window and begs blue respectfully upon my books and nightstand and pillow. It's not hard to love January nights when they give like this. But dawn does come, not brightly, not refreshingly, it just comes. Feed the dog. Cook oatmeal and make coffee. Prep the fireplace for a slow burn. Today will be a just-here kind of day.

Yesterday, driving home, the sun was setting in my eyes around 5:15, which means the days are slightly gaining length in a way that puts a flutter in my stomach. Halfway hope meets halfway here. The greenhouse work should start any day, and so too the reclamation of my body adrift. I'm not sure how else to do it.

In the moment before the snow begins, before I even know it's that moment, I am struck by the stillness of the pine branches and the absence of birds at the feeder and the roofs dressed in uninterrupted white. No cloud rushes by. No squirrel dances along the picketed privacy fence. No wind tips resting snow off oak and maple branches. Then, as if a dream, a light confetti begins to catch my eye. With a slight breeze pushing weightless snow left to right, it takes no more than 3 heartbeats to become everything I can see. It is this, this unexpected hitch in the way I inhale, which causes me to know exactly who I am. And I don't need faith anymore because I know who you are, too.



Assume Wind But Hope Cardinal

What if tea was made for me? What if bread? What if soup? What if that one action was everything? Because it is. At least, I think it would be.

The rhododendron bush shivers. I assume wind but hope cardinal. In the joy of my winter, it is both. The first cardinal this year shows itself to me and in this way I am restored. Relieved? Reborn.

No sunlight manages to break through the stone ceiling. Yet today, birds crowd the feeders: nuthatch, titmouse, chickadee, and a red bellied woodpecker. The dog has taken to whining anytime a squirrel disrupts the bird stations. I don't blame her but she does call attention to my own irritation with fattened thieves. A sharp rap on the window is effective for a moment only.

These days meander with a bite. My bones are consumed by a hostile glacier of ache that creeps ahead without consent. Another sweatshirt, more blankets and second pair of socks. A hot shower. More tea. In bed I trace the white stitching of palm-sized flowers floating on a navy sea. I came upon love like shell awash at low tide, a surprise existing with or without me. The shell exists for every one and in my exploring hands, for a tiny moment, it also exists for me. But do not search for it. Do not walk the beach looking for the prize conch because a found treasure after expectation is another thing entirely.

At 4 a.m., a full and glaring moon urges the wakefulness I am accustom to in this kind of season. Lately I use this time to pour over cookbooks in the hopes of reconnecting with something I lost a while back. A way of giving. Green tea. Hot soup. A slow dance in the kitchen.

How far away I can fly in the dark.

An Essay or a Letter

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.” – Hemingway

I have nothing to offer. The sun rises and sets behind oatmeal clouds. I think my friends believe that a few hours of sunlight is a laser treatment for the mangled tissue that piles up along the ventricles. It's nice to know they care though. “Be the light” and all that jazz . . . I still wake. I still make my bed by tucking hope into the sides. I still do my best to stay aware of what is.

There are things that I miss though. This collection of joys and depths and aromas of life that make up Jessica has a fingerprint. And though the seasons roll through without regard to whom is observing it all, Jessica's DNA is inescapably mapped out to be affected. The absence of sunlight breaking through is more than just a backdrop for the details of life. Energy in measurable effort is expended trying to make up the difference of missing light. Building fires, keeping lights on all day, forcing movement so that the very nonhuman act of hibernation does not take over entirely . . . all of these things rake through a typical day in order to avoid death. With so much effort and consumption devoted to existence for 6 months out of the year, what does it mean for the sunny months? What does Jessica mean?

In April, do I commune more entirely with existence in a way that erases winter's sentence? Living moment to moment is just as much a dip into true reality as it is a survival tactic; so, the first full glorious day of sunshine in spring should be a location of ascension. By almost every account, it is. Yet, how does one abandon all the pathways that supported life in the darkness? Conversely, how does one handle being a repository for complete expansion day after sun-filled-bird-chirping-flower-erupting day without the old wineskin bursting? Don't give me the adages about how maybe it's okay for the old to pass away or about how it is symbolically good for the skin to break open to allow for growth and new life. It doesn't go down that way. Sure, with eyes closed, chin tipped towards the all encompassing savior burning in the sky, all is well. But after, when inside the house tending to the needs of a communal existence, there is an ache to diffuse in the sunlight again or more or always. Every spring and summer day begins with the work of balancing the desire to be swallowed by the sun and the work of assimilating one's place in the world.

During this yawing, the length of days is noticeable, at first only subconsciously, but like aging memories, dawn and dusk blur away from their longest recollections. Winter is always imminent. There are those sweltering, melty days of summer that should keep frostbite at bay. Yet they do not. Like the shimmering heat mirage in the distance, winter's millstone is visible just ahead of summer months that flee.

Winter hurts. It isn't my first choice to write about the tar that keeps me anchored at the edge of the abyss. But this bleeding and constant wincing exists on the other side of bookstores and cabins in the woods and hey-I'm-alive-aren't-I moments.

But darling, listen: in all of this murkiness, I still know love when I see it and feel it and read it and become it. I am not lost due to that lucidity. Writing what hurts is just a place to start. Let's see what happens next.




Yin Yang of Place

There comes a point whereby gray must do and be and elicit something else. A black squirrel dances along the fingertips of the privacy fence, pausing here and there in an apparent stare. The rain has ended and sub-freezing temperatures have returned. There is no comfort in the sky or on the ground or around the bare trees that only click and clack together in the gnawing wind. Before everyone wakes I can still trick muddy ears into hearing the sea. No birds today. No sounds but the ticking wall clock, the rise and fall of the furnace and the occasional whimper of a dreaming dog. No sea. No sun. Am I made to come apart?

Let me start again . . .

Books and shelter and food. Family, dog, music. Health. A fire smoldering in the hearth of hearts. It's okay. I'm okay. I know love and love knows me. In this version I cull my blessings and wring them for every last drop. It's sunny somewhere. Meditate. Contemplate less. Fold the monastery linens and put them neatly away. Exercise. Drink green smoothies. Disconnect. Walk. Read; I am dead in the water without reading.

For literally seconds, the famished gray hood thins enough for sunlight to pierce and pulse through empty branches. It bobsleds down white, pristine roofs to finally tinge the valleys of my laugh lines. Tears brim before the light is gone. Here's the thing I'm trying to say: Michigan is stunning in all of its wild iterations and yet, its dark cloak is just too heavy for me to bear. My home it too heavy.

White chicken chili bubbles on the stove given by my sister when I moved back to the United States.
The “happy lamp” is stationed on the round oak table that used to be my childhood epicenter while growing up on Gun Lake.
My brother called – my niece is done with the Jenny Lind bed that I slept on for 18 years and he'd like me to come pick it up.
That is only half of the equation that binds my feet to this pine scented, freshwater, yin yang of place. The “how” of enduring is some kind of oasis shimmering in the untouchable distance.

For now, another dawn. I make my bed and cook for those who need me and try to stop fleeing from the writing that writes me.


12-31-98

Treading on the brink of a calendar turn. It doesn't matter and it does. I got married on this day 20 years ago so when one talks about lines in the sand and sands in the hour glass and shifting sands and burying heads in the sand, it means something tangible. Day to day, ashes to ashes, the seasons proceed regardless of what we rob from them. I remember walking the length of the church after the wedding, letting each pew of guests out, one by one. The floor was carpeted in a dizzying floral design and the church was glowing with candles and Christmas lights and poinsettias. Hundreds of hearts were with us. But hundreds of hearts were knowing hard things. “You're so beautiful...congratulations...good luck.” I left something on the altar. I didn't mean to. I meant to remember everything. I meant to be fully collected. There was a terrible snowstorm during the ceremony. The church was positioned on a steep hill in downtown Grand Rapids. In the icy snow, the limo started slipping backwards before we could step in. They shut the highway down and told people to stay off the roads. And yet, over 400 people came to the party. We danced all night and ate pizza and watched the Times Square ball drop. People still say that it was the most fun wedding they had ever witnessed. This day is marked on the inside of my skin. It's enough, right? We are different now, together and apart. I was born on the water but I didn't marry the water. I am safe and dry. Loved. Allowed. Consulted. I sleep in bed but I dream in breast strokes and back floats. I walk to the water. I run to the water. I am made in two ways and I honor them both today.




. . .

A rivery paragraph . . .

What is there to own? Even the smallest, water-smoothed stone, when considered intimately, leads to unending depths of the cosmos. And aside from the integrity of where ever I am going, there is nothing that suggests I possess anything. Yet, limitless meaning flows under, around and through. When the light is just right, a five petaled flower floating and turning on the stream's surface casts a shadow three times its size below. I am smitten by wonder, to be sure. I am not the first to suggest that wonder is love directed. Cut boulders, rushing water, and the trees lending darkness and depth to a flowing existence of awareness and mystery and breath. He said, even more than fidelity, it is wonder that keeps marriages alive. Summer's long shadows from golden arrows are not here, but the river remains. The sky is more gray than blue. The ground more brown than green. My boots meet the banks and then . . . nothing.



More Tea Please

The early morning sky smiled for a moment as if it were an invitation to gather east like readied lavender. It makes me think about visiting an unfenced place and let's be honest, it’s about more than just visiting. After a week of travel, Christmas at Gun Lake. The ice forming on the lake is only thick enough for an occasional bird landing. Fisherman are itchy as the shanties wait along the snowless shore for moving day. The visit goes well with the exception a few clashes of unthoughtful posturing and declaration. Times of gratefulness and love are interrupted by the exacting John-Wick-draw of a very sharp knife. At least, that's how it goes down in my mind.

Home afterwards, spaghetti sauce simmers on the stove for hours. Which heaven is more holy than warm bread melting around the tongue? Okay, maybe chocolate pudding. Maybe soft Nutella crepes. The fire is stoked all day and it somehow keeps the compounding gray at bay. I still feel the sea, and my knees still have the impressions of sand. There are words about the sea and then there is the sea. Presence renders any reaching unnecessary.

Am I done reaching? The distance plays games and the body responds. Distance from the sun. Distance from that river. Distance from the small book shop, coffee in hand, with hours to kill.

Rain. More rain than the land can handle right now. From the bay window I watch the fat creek gush over mossy rocks. More tea please. Blueberry, peach or ginger. You decide. Place the teacup next to my preacherless church and I will give you my soul.



Of Course

After several glasses of wine at dinner and the waiter's “special surprise” flaming green licorice drink, we followed the moon's pull to the beach. It was shocking how cold the sand was as we stepped bare-footed onto the reflection of the moon. Sea waves were gilded and glowing as they barely seemed to roll ashore. All of it together was a rhythmic slice of the cosmos that couldn't do anything in that moment but throb peace. Stars and stars and stars. Just to the right of the moon's silvery blare, Orion. He was the clearest I've ever seen and I couldn't stop staring. A shape patterned through a human lens, playing the role of guide or muse or myth-maker. Truth teller? The unending blackened depth of the cosmos is too much to bear. It's beautiful and terrifying and honest. Though we are alone on the beach, we whisper. My heart beaconed out over the sea – a lighthouse calling.

When he lovingly asked if I would do it all again, I smiled and sighed and knew I should say, “of course.” It would have been the truth in a million ways. Marriage is like that . . . gray areas where the hard work plays out – hazy and shimmering areas that prevent phrases such as “of course” and “absolutely.” At the end of the day, we are telling momentary truths. And I just don't see any way around it.

Dawn in this place is a new chorus of unfamiliar bird songs. So vibrant. So full. They escort me to the beach before it is warm and golden and teeming. Morning crashes in to fill the senses with every step towards now.

I am lifted. Unto One. Married. Unto All.



Sea and Me

Tropical birds chime question marks through a gushing rainstorm. A stream of rainwater is bumped out in tiny steps down the trunk of a young palm tree. After a clearing breeze causes the fronds to sway into each other, click-clacking. I think of Palm Sunday and bringing home the long green spikes from church. Dad would always tie the fronds in a knot and leave them on the high buffet table which I always thought was a weird metaphorical juxtaposition – tying the blessing in a knot and putting them in a place of display to yellow untouched all year. I remember wondering: where did all these palm fronds come from? Who gathers and wraps and ships? Sitting in this place, I watch groundskeepers rake the leafy debris. So of course, it is the priest that makes the magic happen and it is the congregant that consumes the magic and calls it holy. We've assigned all the glory and the blame ourselves.

Besides everywhere, where are you? I throw myself out into the roar of an unbounded sea, asking. The sea and me. Winter solstice on the equator. Full moon. Meteors showering over the black pulse of my Caribbean. Sea and me.

My feet feel each granular touch of innumerable sands. Step – sink – step. To kneel at this kind of blue is to leave the body. I'm always leaving the body, especially under the force of the sea and me.

How many times have I finished this name? Where are you? Sea and me.



My Left and My Right

Leaving here through miles of sky, seeking what the sun brings. Home travels along – its words, its love, its vascular pores exchanging old breath with new air. The sea is calling, as they say. Or as I say, the sea and me. Cuban cigars Caribbean sand calypso constellations. How the sea wakes the day and sways the soul to sleep. How I am poured out into a tide pool, mixed forever with the salted heart of Aquarius. How I swim away.

It's our anniversary soon.

For twenty years we've cut the stones to build this difficult and beautiful place. Our backs ache now and our fingers bleed easily with the labor. With each passing year, we add to this dwelling. We watch Netflix and rake leaves and celebrate the passion and love extending from our children. We guide when sightlessness narrows the path. We make soup and friendships and mistakes. Twenty years of Christmas and depression and work bonuses. Days rushing forward and suddenly still. Years overflowing with nothing and everything. This New Year's Eve is twenty years. How can I just now be learning what love is? How could I know of the teachers required?


you who slips through my fingers
to pool at my feet

you who makes the way
stable and safe and clear

my left
and my right

sweeping the trail

of body parts
of hope
of despair

down to the bedrock

to the magma
to the core

to the love
untouched


Sip Smile Sip

Making my bed only to crawl back in an hour later. Winter is too cold; the gray is too deep. Through blankets, through walls, through floors my brain sends signals: coffee – fire – chocolate. In the end I read something about landscape and desire. Am I contained or so free that I cannot move at all? I won't say.

I've thought about the cabin a million times – how it's situated a short distance from the creek and little hike from the inland drive. My old shoes, a warm jacket. Collected firewood and a tea kettle. There's an old quilt on the Jenny Lind bed whose asthmatic springs give a groan when you lie upon it. Dust motes on the only sunbeam to break through the canopy. A wool blanket drapes over the rocking chair in the corner. It's not summer or winter...maybe spring...maybe October.

For our 20th wedding anniversary, I asked for impossible yellow and Caribbean blue. He asked for me. The thing I remember most clearly about Mexican nights were the foreign constellations plunging daggers into my chest. The oceanic breezes whispered rhythms across my sunned shoulders, and wafts of cuban cigars mingled with the sea to bring me closer. To this.

Rain now instead of snow. The temperature difference is a relief. Every time I sprinkle cinnamon into my coffee I remember you saying, “way to fuck up a good cup of coffee.” Smile, sip, smile.

“It's not down in any map; true places never are.” Herman Melville. This heart-shaped island. This collection of fallen leaves. I miss the fragrance of wet pine and sugared sap. I miss cardinals and thin jackets and walking without the arctic burn of frost in my lungs. Who owns the deed to here? Only me through you.



Rising

One by one, muted lights dab through a predawn fog. During the night a thunderstorm's ovation dropped in and out of my sleep. How misplaced the rain is in December. How unmanageable the gray. With morning, the hush knows what I know.

Sunday eventually lifts from the stove with soup and roasted asparagus. Affection. Attention. Maybe apprehension. I see it all through because existence demands it.

Love as a messenger swings the gate inward to invite the loss of time and tears and unknowing. Caught off guard by the billowing comfort of a chesty fullness, I sit for long stretches as if basking in some unseeable light. An awareness of beauty has begun to sharpen and seems to have no resting place; it simply rises from everything that must die. What is pursued, what is expected, what is defined, what is captured must perish. In this death, one forfeits purpose and motive and usefulness to finally see. Beauty. And where there is beauty, there is love.


white pine waving
woodsmoke on the rise
winter loves me, loves me not


Love Unsettled

Sleeping below a winter's moon the night groans with a colder version of day. In one dream, we know each other's hands by now. In another, I sit in my room alone wondering how to make things different.

The wooded creek collects fall's last foliage. One day the air is 22 degrees, the next day it's 47. Yet one thing remains the same: gray after gray after gray. On the way to Pentwater, the solemn remains of milkweed – a parade of bare sticks standing thigh-high with nothing but cottony tufts atop to be directed by wind and snow and rain. They stand in groups in front of long, sleeping fields all the way to the highway. My thoughts wander to growing Cannabis and what that would mean for my community and family.

For breakfast, a feta-potato-chorizo omelet topped with a hint of jalapeno cream sauce. Aggravation simmers over the meal as I watch adolescent squirrels drain the squirrel-proof bird feeder. “Squirrels gotta eat too” no longer overrides or placates the intention of the feeder. One realizes one must get smarter or relent.

He reported that he intended to have me sign a copy of my book (which alone is an entirely ridiculous to consider) but when he arrived, he realized he had left it on the plane. “Well perhaps it was meant for someone else,” I quipped. This is an example of how I can mean something whole-heartedly and at the same time, feel the corruption of something entirely opposite.

accept / override / reset / repeat

Lately, considering love. Thoughts mound and heap and yet, build nothing. Whatever love is, it cannot be thought. Labels and ideas and restrictions should be rejected because they enslave. I see myself diving, using my arms to push aside water in order to go deeper and further beneath all that I have considered love to mean. Running out of oxygen, I begin to see that I am guilty of defining love, restricting love, of marrying love and sorrow together. Something more radical is at stake here. Deeper than desire, more alive than duty, beyond turmoil and chaos and conflict – love is perhaps a place that rejects all maps and calculations and efforts. Maybe love is just right now. And now. And now.



Missing Red

Curled up conversations reverberate like an old player piano in need of tuning, fully committed to it's own sound. Your ghost walks with wayward courage right through the song. This mesh gauze around my neck – this red cape shouldering winter's gaze.

holly berries / scarlet / making a scene

It's been weeks without sun. Lake effect cloud cover stretches taunt across a blue sea of waiting. Wanting? Coffee / happy lamp / sleep / tea / yoga / sleep

Where are you and why?

What do you think: was I kindled from the lake or woods or mountains or the field? I pace the floor feeling grains of dirt and slivered planks and thirsty oak. Bare maples and scrubby pines gather the gray sky. The thing about birds is that they do not visit on command. Lately, nuthatch, titmouse and chickadees. But the cardinal is not here. Missing red, missing fire.

Nineteen Bibles on the top shelf, black or brown bound, some gilded in gold. To be fair, three of the holy books are in another language. The next shelf down is Biblical historical commentaries by desert fathers and philosophers and saints, mostly bound in varying shades of wine. Can one donate who one used to be? The books are dusted without reverence but dusted nevertheless.

Whatever light there was today slinks away long before dinner. Spicy Korean beef noodles, red wine and a blushing fireplace. Or maybe just red wine. It's okay to melt; good even.




Hewn

Heat from the fireplace crawls past my feet, up my shins, over my bent knees, then directly to my paper cheeks. The air cools a bit when the dog walks between me and the fire. I feel drowsy enough to dream about hell after falling asleep here. As my eyelids pray, they come to rest on the old hatchet leaning against the brick. Its white paint has peeled almost entirely off the wooden handle, leaving the impression of spongy age. What can be hewn when held properly? The day never brightens above highway-gray.

Michigan's cycles secure me in a loop. November curls into the downward arc that will tuck me into the bottom of months. Coffee, sleep, coffee. Voiceless light. Shoreless seas of night. It is my only mission to forget about winter's duration in order to tread water today. And maybe tomorrow.

Blowing leaves come to rest amongst fallen brethren – a cartography of brown hands at peace after a few moments of freedom. I can't hear the birds singing. Therefore division. And loneliness. Through the dark, one follows the notes of light up ahead. What song of light do I live by? I curl up into the blanket, thankful to teachers who have taught more than they know. Gratitude / survival / repeat.

At last, October lets go. Love must win; there is no otherwise. I open the gate and watch it all pass through.

A Bare Song

This day under infinite gray. Yellow and orange trembles a bit against the low light. Staring out into a slow fall, nothing in November anchors my eye. Where are you?

Rain begins to patter a bare song. A burning persists with unseeable light. Missing are the syllables of our secret name. Missing is the contentment of place.

In a dream, Amherst called. Her bees and butterflies mentioned you, but it was the violets that sang of the sting. After the dream, a small glowing spur nestled on top of my heart. Presence struggles with mind. Whatever love is to you, show me. My eyes are dim with ache. Well, that's what I said to the sorrel sea of leaves.

Even now across the muck fields, the eye eats an expanse of black soil topped with illegitimate green – stolen hints of April – savored long after the deep, open-mouthed kiss. Acres race past before an eye can blink. So, too, the construction of time. Remembering is different than never forgetting, beloved.