Rites of Spring

*

Photo by Mihai Benu021ba on Pexels.com

*

A springtime school story from 2008, from when I taught ENL K-1.

*

Outside my window this early April morning, I see two gray squirrels playing chase.  The first one goes up a tree and across a branch, then makes a daring dive to the next tree with the other in hot pursuit.

No matter how many times I witness these rituals of spring, I still watch with delight and amusement.  All around males are wooing females.  Squirrels play tag in the treetops.  Birds mark their airy territories with song: “This branch is mine, mine, mine!”

Solitary red tail hawks pair up as the snow melts.  I see them making figure eights against the wide pale sky.  I spy two hawks sitting next to each other on a bare branch, a rare sight.  Each bird looks away, staring in opposite directions.  A mating pair, I have no doubt, and I smile at their appearance of unease, like a couple on a blind date.  When the raising of the brood is over, they will return to their more accustomed solitude.

The pileated woodpeckers are back with their manic laughter echoing through the backyard woods.  Looking like red-headed pterosaurs, they cling high on tree trunks, pounding away.  The hammering rings out all day.   Near our stream, I see a fallen tree, a victim of the recent strong winds, with fresh wood chips scattered all around.  A day or two later I am surprised to see the pileated there, working at ground level, pecking away at the log.

Spring rites appear everywhere, even in the school where I work.  Each day at 1:30, I collect two girls from their recess time.  A few days ago, I called for Chelsea and she came to me red-faced and panting.

“What game are you playing?” I asked.

“The boys are chasing us,” she answered.

“Ah, yes,” I thought.  “I remember.”  When I taught second grade, I knew spring had really arrived when the boys began chasing the girls on the playground.  Sometimes the chasing was couched in a current popular context: Ninja turtles, monsters, the Lion King, but it was always boys chasing girls.

And now I discover that the springtime chasing ritual belongs to the youngest students of all, the kindergarteners.

What deep human instinct surfaces in these rituals of spring?  Somewhere in our large brains there’s a switch that gets turned on by longer daylight hours, the sun’s new position, the sap flowing, the birds’ return.

Even little boys and girls, years away from puberty and the tyranny of sexual hormones, feel the urge.  They run and shriek back and forth across the black top.  Sometimes it’s a whole pack of boys, gathering a harem on the doorstep.  They even elect one boy to act as guard while the others chase down swifter females.

To me, the ritual is both astonishingly ancient, and also reassuring.  The boys are chasing the girls again.  It must be spring.

If

*

Photo by Alex Andrews on Pexels.com

*

If I swallowed the moon,

would my blood know the tides?

Would my cells swim

on waves of light?

Muscles could stretch and bend

the way kelp sways in filtered moonbeams

Bones emerging from shadows,

stark, silver pillars

Nerves branching into lunar roots

*

If I swallowed the moon,

light would bathe my heart

like a firefly caught in an eggshell

a crescent glowing yellow-green,

or a snow moon, shyly white

inside an indigo dome

*

If I swallowed the moon

Would my heart’s song

wax or wane?

Would I sing again?

Papa’s Song

*

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

*

Here is another short short from my archives.

Take this hammer-

Huh!

Give it to the captain

Huh!

Tell him I’m gone-

Huh!

Tell him I’m gone-

Huh!

            At first the words were just sounds to Lilah’s ears, but by the time they had meaning, the song’s rhythm was locked in her cells, in her heartbeat.

            Right outside the frosted window of Lilah’s bedroom, Papa chopped the wood.  Each “huh!” was the jolt of the axe tearing through log after log.  Lilah, in her crib cage, felt the bed shake and shiver.

            When nap time was over, Mama came to lift Lilah out of the bars, up into a warm hug smelling of apples and spearmint gum.  Mama with her big white smile and her rough red hands.

            “Take this hammer–huh!  Give it to the captain–huh!” Lilah sang along when she was rolling scraps of bread dough into snakes.  She was a big girl now, too big for naps.  She knew to stay away from the black stove that swallowed those chunks of wood.  She had a wrinkled scar on her hand to remind her.

            One day even later, Lilah came home from school.  Mama met her with a bright light in her eyes. A surprise.  A phonograph.

            Papa put the black vinyl record on the turntable and set the needle arm at the edge.  There was a whisper and a scratching noise, and then a guitar and a man singing about the Rock Island Line, it is a mighty good road.  Papa grabbed Mama and they did a cramped Lindy Hop around the kitchen.  Lilah clapped her hands.

            The song faded into the scratchy whisper and then a strange man’s voice began singing,

Take this hammer-

Huh!

Give it to the captain

Huh!

            Lilah put her hands up to stop the sound, to stop that man.

            “That’s Papa’s song!  That’s my papa’s song!”

            She pushed the metal arm.  It made a terrible shriek and line appeared across the flat black circle.

            Mama and Papa stared at her, still as statues, while the metal arm, caught in the center, went click, click, click.

Game of Horses

*

Photo by Iurii Laimin on Pexels.com

*

Scent of eucalyptus

carries me into the woods

bordering my school

where my best friend, Lisa–

she of the straight blond bob

and breadloaf teeth—

gallops with me on paths

of fish-shaped leaves.

*

We are the best of horses

I, Skyrocket, and she,

Bahira, the Arabian queen,

defend our forest,

escape from evil traders

We can never be bridled or tamed

No saddle will touch our backs.

*

Magically, we are the riders,

two huntresses of Artemis,

armed with bows

we ride the bent-over tree

in a canopy of lemon-tart leaves

tracking the Cyclops

Lisa says the monster kills Skyrocket.

No, no!

Yes, it has to be Skyrocket.

*

I chase her through the dusty woods

Nothing inside but rage

Lisa runs ahead laughing her fear

If I catch her—

*

but I can’t.

She’s bigger, faster.

I collapse on crumpled leaves,

hot tears who wanted

to hurt my friend

Yoga, Myopia, and the Monkey Mind

*

Photo by Yan Krukau on Pexels.com

*

This piece is from my archives, but I’m enjoying it again.

*

After Jake dumped me, I signed up for hatha yoga classes.  I figured I needed to do some deep breathing and stretching. Maybe I’d even meet a single yoga guy and we could do pranayama and who knows what else together.

            By the third week of yoga, I knew the routine.  I had my own purple mat and my favorite place in the back corner.  On the third Thursday, I spread out my mat in my spot.  I put my glasses carefully in my carry bag. Then, following others’ examples, I lay down and stretched.

            We began with a short invocation and then some breathing exercises. When I opened my eyes after the pranayama, I looked to my right and my heart lurched. Jake Murray was sitting one row and two spots away.  Without my glasses, I stared at his back. That certainly was the bulky, teddy-bear body I knew so well.  His curly brown hair wreathed the bald spot on his head.  If I squinted my eyes, I could see the black hair on the back of his neck that I’d touched only three weeks ago.

            Jake!  What was he doing in my yoga class?  What a lot of nerve!  Wasn’t it enough that he was constantly in my mind?  Now he had to show up in my yoga class, the class that I chose to help me get over him.

            I hyperventilated remembering that day I waited for him to call.  We had planned to go for a hike together before his conference in Rhode Island.  I waited all morning and then finally I called and left a message.  It was a casual message, a message I rehearsed several times so that it would sound light and unconcerned, like I had plenty of other things to do than sit around pining for his company.  “Hey, I thought we were going hiking today.  Give me a call.”

            To my shame and fury, I did wait around all day.  Waited and wondered and imagined.  Well, he’s a doctor, maybe he had an emergency.  Not likely, since Jake had told me that Dr. Bill was on emergency call this weekend. But you never know with doctors, right?  The phone only rang twice that Sunday, and neither call was for me.

            When I was in bed that night, the phone did ring and it was Jake.  “I ran into Barbara at a restaurant,” he said. “We decided to give it another try.”

            I stopped breathing for a moment while my brain replayed the words.  Then I said, “That doesn’t feel very good.”

            “No, it doesn’t.” he said.  “I’m sorry.”

            “Goodbye, then,” I said, and pushed the END button.

            I called my best friend and cried. 

            “What a chicken-shit, doing it on the phone,” she said.  We lambasted him for a good half hour.  She was on my side, and it helped–a little.  Still, I wept myself to sleep, feeling worthless and unloved.

            During the following weeks, I kept busy after work. I raked out dead leaves and planted more perennials.  I even started a new flowerbed in the back yard. My teenaged kids called it “Dr. Murray’s grave.”  That made me laugh.  Yet every time I shopped in the supermarket, I feared that I might bump into him. 

            And now here he was invading my yoga class.  What will I say to him? I wondered.  Or should I just ignore him?  No, that’s too childish.  I can’t pretend he’s not here.  I must be calm and mature.

            “Oh, hello Jake.  How are you?”    

            “Hello, Jake.  Do you like the class?”  Maybe a simple, neutral statement was best.  But wait, questions were a bad idea.  Asking him a question would force us into a conversation.  I didn’t want to talk to him.  Did I?

            While we moved through the poses of salute to the sun, I glared at Jake’s back.  I was hot with fury at his presumption in showing up at my yoga class. This was another one of God‘s weird jokes.  Or maybe it was a spiritual test, to see if I could remain detached and calm in this unwelcome encounter.  I peeked at him doing the postures.  He was lousy.  He couldn’t touch his toes at all.  His belly got in the way when he tried to grab his ankles. 

As if reading my mind, Beth, the teacher, said, “Remember that this is your yoga, not anyone else’s.”

For a moment, I felt guilty.  But only for a moment.  Then my petty, picky monkey mind resumed its gleeful chatter.  Ha!  You fatty, you can’t do yoga.  Shut up, that’s mean, I scolded myself, but the enjoyment of his ineptitude remained like a tiny, tickling flame.  Hee hee hee, look at that slob, he is sweating like a pig and this is the easy stuff. 

            When the class was almost over, I finally decided to be friendly and breezy, “Oh, hi Jake.  Great class, yeah?  Got to run, bye.”  Something like that. 

            And then he turned around.

            It wasn’t Jake. 

First Love

*

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

*

My face in the mirror looked different—

softer, rosier. 

My skin sang a humming song. 

“I’m in love,” I told my reflection.

The object of my affection,

a senior, was not an academic.

He came close to not graduating at all.

His name, Inigo de Martino,

like the Mexican film director,

but my Inigo claimed Spanish nobility.

Inigo was an artist. 

He designed and painted sets

for high school productions.

*

We worked on the high school

literary magazine together.

That’s where it started.

Inigo would give me a ride

to our teacher-sponsor’s house.

The collaboration blossomed.

*

Inigo rode a motorcycle.

He wore a leather jacket.

He smoked—but never around me.

He had a shock of shiny, straight dark hair.

He was slim and wiry, with big smile.

He wore round, dark-rimmed glasses.

I thought he was exotic and fascinating.

My father hated him.

*

My father said,

“He always shakes my hand

to show me he isn’t holding a knife.”

*

Inigo took me to the prom.

I wore a long dress of dotted Swiss,

very demure.

My hair styled short like a woman of forty.

We had our picture taken.

Inigo in suit and tie,

me with my corsage, smiling shyly.

*

Inigo graduated and joined the Navy.

I never saw him again.

Years later,

I found that prom photo

in my father’s wallet.

My father had neatly cut out

Inigo’s head.

Cross Off Yesterday

*

Photo by Hilary Halliwell on Pexels.com

*

When she peed on the rug

though you walked her so many times

in 26-degree air

*

When you were impatient

used mean words

When you felt so sorry

for yourself

When all the asking

for help for food for attention

sucked out all you knew of God

*

Don’t erase

the holy darkness before dawn

under waning starlight

the promise of the day

resting in warm flannels

the hawk’s grace and cry

geese invisible overhead

inked permanently

on the heart

The Crush

*

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

*

He was the only boy in high school that I wanted.  He was the star of the class of ’69.  He played tennis in his white shorts.  He played varsity football.  He was in all the Advanced Placement classes. (So was I.)  But he thought fast and critically and spoke up a lot.  I rarely said anything. It was still the days when boys ruled classroom discussions.

I wanted his attention from ninth grade through twelfth. I wanted this rising star to want me by his side.  He was broad-shouldered, dark of skin with dark brown hair.  He was hairy.  He was student body president. Of course.

Whenever he was near, I talked louder and laughed more.  He appeared not to notice, but, knowing the way high school society works, I bet people told him I “liked” him.  He liked the slim girl with the thick, long blonde hair.  She was also in the A.P. classes.  She had a wide smile, a sprinkling of freckles and was quiet but smart.  She became a flag girl.  I was friendly to her because it brought me closer to him.

And then in my senior year, my mother’s cancer and the treatments forced her to stay home.  The high school grapevine probably passed that news around as well.  My seventh-period teacher often let me go home early.  On the way home, I’d sometimes walk by his house.  I don’t think I was much help at home that year.  I did do the grocery shopping.  I did cook–sometimes.  Mostly I nursed my crush, played the guitar, and listened to Donovan records in my room.

But sometime before graduation, he called and asked me out.  After accepting quietly with great self-control, I hung up the phone and shrieked, “Daddy! He asked me out!”

The date was for a show at the L.A. Music Center.  I can’t remember what performance it was, a play or a concert.  I fussed about what to wear, but I don’t remember what I wore either.  I know that my father waited up for me, and when The Crush walked me to my door and we paused at the top of the stairs, my father turned on the porch light and opened the door.  So much for my longed-for good night kiss.

When I look back on that evening, I believe it was a pity date.  I imagine his mother saying, “Your father is too busy, and we have these tickets.  Why don’t you take Kim? She’s having a hard time right now. I’m sure she’d like to get out of the house for a while.”  It speaks to his kindness that he asked.

The summer before college, I went to summer school at U.C. Santa Cruz.  I took to wearing Mexican blouses with no bra, and ragged bell-bottom jeans.  Let my hair go curly-frizzy.  When I came home in August, he called me.  Or maybe I called him?  I went to his house, and we made out on the basement sofa.  He was a lousy kisser (by now I had some basis for comparison).  All spit and sloppy lips.  And when I wouldn’t go further, he complained about blue balls and how uncomfortable he was. 

In the fall, I went to U.C. Irvine.  My mother died in November.

He went to Harvard.  Got a law degree like his dad.  I knew he stayed on the East Coast, but just last week, I googled him.

He never practiced law.  He wrote a book or more, and he writes a blog of political commentary.  He went bald.  And he voted for Trump in 2016.  I’m still affronted.  How could I have had a crush on someone who would vote for Trump?

Dog Dreams

*

Photo by sergio souza on Pexels.com

*

are better

than daydreams

Even though

dog dreams

are limited in scope:

a ballsy rabbit

someone else’s pee

or poop,

a panoply of scents

*

Daydreams tend toward

unfulfillment, a lack of

or deep need

Sometimes awash in

memories, sometimes

rehearsing the future

reimagining the past

They float the dreamer

away from now

*

Dog dreams

anchor to the present

a sprightly chase

after quarry that is

possible to catch