Corpse Pose

I lie in corpse pose, tracing my breath from belly upward, 

The rise and sinking of life’s fill while my mother dies in

The next room, eroded to the bone, life struggling to breathe.

The disassociation drifts from front room to back, cold to warm.

The back room, where my mother lies, nearly inert, heats up

The temperature rising with the sun and falling just so too, 

While the front room, where I lie as faux corpse, posing, is

Cold as the window faces the backyard, which stays sunless.

Her blood runs colder now, though she always felt the chill of

An early morning, her time, or after dusk, when she’d wish us

To bed, free her to herself, what mothers do as children sleep.

Now, the cold doesn’t penetrate, her defenses gone with decay

Just as I gain the weight I never had, she always had, in our 

Twisted turn of events that find her at the head, me at the back,

She never behind, always the leader, me the child, now the mom,

Oh, it’s all wrong as a matter of right, bad timing for an ending.

Image source

The Last Night Shift?

  
It’s a Thursday night at the sugar shack, quiet 

for the 5 to 7 hours, slow enough for me to 

inventory, tidy and re-stock. 

The day shift rarely covers all.

Like a morsel left for Elijah, the day shift–

my daughter, in fact–left me chores to do

like cutting up strawberries, cleaning up

counters coated sticky caramel or fudge, cherry

juice or chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups

dust, among the other jobs of smiling, wiping,

re-filling, lifting, swiping, shifting, and money-

tending, motions threaded into my days and

nights lo these past two years, 20 to 40 hours

a week, after the class room or with the lap top.
 

Thursday night, like most other nights of the

week brings in the small, smartly dressed 

woman who does not like people, especially small

ones, their cackles and laughter reverberating

madly from tile floor to painted wood ceiling;

nor does she deign sanitary all those dotted

dried yogurt drips on the scale upon which

she weighs her nightly yogurt, always the same,

the half dozen or so rainbow pareils atop chocolate 

obsession (her froyo choice and aptly so)

a lid and a bag. I get it all ready for her once

I spy her entry. Anxiety riddles her face so 

that her smile forced comfort in my familiar 

face transforms her, cracking ice panes.

She warms to me; I know her tics and peeves.
 

Following nervous Nelly, affectionately dubbed,

enter the Thursday night family four just out of 

church (there are three nearby churches) who

each ask in turn, “Is there whipped cream tonight?”

We make it fresh here, liquid cream and the nitrous

oxide I am often tempted to inhale on especially

dreary nights of “what am I doing here and how 

will I bear another menial, meaningless night?”

Until mop dancing, when all seems to flow, tears

and motion, two-stepping and sludgery, the end

near, a night almost over, near complete.
 

When then arrives the female version of 

SpongeBob who plops down 16 dollars of

yogurt and toppings while complaining of 

stomach pains, a gone gallbladder and 

a boyfriend who does not even deserve the

two chocolate chip cookies she adds to her order.

“He’s so mean,” she says, shaking her head 

so that the just-put-it-up-any-which-way bun

flops side to side, loose and threatening to fall.
 

Her appearance sparks a laugh and a text to 

my day shift counterpart–my daughter–

who earlier remarked that she hadn’t seen quart-lady

lately and wondered if she was all right.

Quart lady once complained the tart machine freezes

up, protested so fervently about its unavailability

since tart was the only flavor she could eat, 

given her gall bladder problems, prompting me

to move tart two machines down, thinking of her ire,

and when I proudly showed her on her next visit

the new location, which she herself suggested, she

smiled and promptly filled her cup with dulce de leche.
 

“Remember that lady made such a stink and then 

didn’t even get tart after all?” my daughter laughed

just today, this afternoon, at our passing of the baton,

shift change. She too has loved and hated the job.
 

And just yesterday, the young, energetic blonde with

savings, ready to own something (his girlfriend aside),

with his queries and interrogations–“What is your favorite

flavor? And how do you like working here? And which is 

the most popular items in the store? And which machines

are your favorite?”–may be, perhaps, looks like, and so if

he really does want to buy the store, what then?
 

 This job, a helping hand and gift after a bad life trip and fall,

a stop on recovery’s road, for which I thank cousins and sweets

and sweet cousins, father and son, and daughters,

and all who seek comfort in colorful swirls and turrets, 

gems and decor, sugar coated and sugar free, reward and 

punishment for all those bodies small, square, squat, thin,

lanky, lean, old, young and in between that have passed

through and paved my practiced presence, order, patience 

and humility these last couple years, sometimes failing at all 

or some, sometimes succeeding at all, some or none.

These sentimental seeds I sprinkle like rainbow and chocolate

on a quiet Thursday night’s spurring these 

final thoughts, final words and future memories.

Traveling On 

  
Emerging from the mountain forests, Dunsmuir.
 
A few hours’ sleep at a rest stop north of Eugene and we rise early to greet the day bleary-eyed. Hard travel brings back the days of recent college graduate pals taking a road trip across country on $300.00, Michael Jackson’s Thriller playing on cassette the whole way. It was the 80s. 

Passing through Redding, CA, I thought of you Holly and wondered how you fare. I saw your telephone listing for a massage therapist in the Redding White Pages a long time ago, which has not changed–no email address, no Facebook or Twitter listing. Maybe you no longer exist except in a journey I dreamed. 

That trip marked me, the wonder and adventure of freedom: two young girls setting off to see beauty up and down the west coast and across the Rockies to DC where Holly’s pastry chef boyfriend awaited and our fabulous meal at the Watergate Hotel with chef Jean Louis pulling out the culinary stops to impress him. Best meal of my life up til then (not hard given my humble beginnings). The VolksWagen bug Don had us drive, the one built by a friend, gave us hell, but I would not have it any other way. That VW thematizes the adventures and misadventures of youth without plans or time to savor–just doing. 
  
We laughed getting high and chasing deer in the Rockies until Holly got altitude sickness and I was tasked to figure out how I was going to get her out of the field and back to the car. I was so thin then, her too, which was unusual for her. She tended toward the thick. Her green eyes were fierce cat eyes, her brows perpetually shaped in perfect arches, a gift of her mother’s singing praises of electrolysis. 

I still see her putting on lipstick, covering the thin bottom lip and then using that lip to coat the nearly non-existent upper lip. I watched that so many times. I coat my lips the same way, when I wear lipstick, which is not often. And I think of her doing that each time. Amazing how time sticks to the bones of memory, especially from youth. I recall reading that those early incipient memories recall to mind the clearest due to their being memory-etching first-timers, before much clutter dulls a mind to narrowing newness.

  
The green of Holly’s eyes are unmatched to the green everywhere outside Southern California, which refreshes always. Flying into LAX continually reminds me that I live on a desert, brown and brimming in short scrubby smatterings of life thrust. The effusion of greenery near Portland contrasts starkly. Of course the cloudy skies also remind me of why. 

We search for breakfast. Driver’s choice so I prepare myself for sweet, blanched flour French fine pastry.

I have married my father, someone always looking for the next meal, the gourmand’s preoccupation. Only my father feasts at the other end of the culinary spectrum: Burger King hamburgers and fries.
   
The Columbia River pours by in majestic pines, thick lush Douglas fir lined highways guided magisterially by the Cascade mountain range overlooking its charges. Keep green. Between the Dalles and Hood River, the sun bathes the trees, big leaf maples, Ponderosa pine, cottonwood and Oregon white oak, green glossy frost. The heaviness of the dense foliage leans in to the road with a threatening call. 

Crossing Bonneville dam, the daisies line the road spotty white among the tall wheatland grass and Western hemlock. Mountain crags, humps of black rock jutting through the pines decorating its crown like liberty, pop from nowhwere. Stone walls line a country road nearing the cobblestone bridge. And the clouds hover and stare.

  
Deforestation scars the mountain tops, golden grass exposed through the sparse trees, soldiers left standing in the war against industry, disrespect for the land, chunks of the grab gone for timber. Small vineyards orderly tucked behind a hill also pen the hand of man on nature’s back.

Hairy rocks, like my old man’s shoulders. What grows there on the spiny rocks fungus stained hard knocks of geological story?

4 hours outside Spokane.  

The four hour rest at the truck stop outside of Eugene refreshed what little remains of our spunk and patience. Traveling with two teens and their corny-humored father wears the patience of even saints. I am no saint. I am not remotely patient.

The mugs and the fire burnished hills, repaired by time and patience, sprigs determined to fulfill their seeded destinies. 

The Columbia Gorge, a myriad of textures and vertical measures, scrubbed to ethereal. 

  
And the sterile blanched wheat colored hills remind us that altitude changes flora. The high desert provides stark contrast to the lush landscape of the Gorge. We must be headed to Spokane soon. 

A huge expanse of farmland and chaparral heading east to Spokane peppered with silos and green houses on near barren landscapes under a great polka dot open sky. The clouds form cotton balls. Water sprinklers look like sin here in a drought. Perhaps Oregon has forgotten our drought. California certainly has not. Water will drive the next world or civil war, I am reminded.

  
And the car ahead contains my two daughters speeding up and leaving us behind. Somehow that seems destined.

The hills are dusted with aqueous green scrub, mid-high interspersed with deep forest greens and kelly greens, hunter and sage too. The nature paint protrays delightful. Somehow I think artifical irrigation is the cause.

Umatilla Irrigon region.

And she is gone. Her sister will wean her these two weeks before returning as the lone twin of upstairs living.

  
He complains of the enormity of it, the lack of planning, the endless driving non-stop, sleepless roadside napping round the clock and the expense of renting a van with its out of state costs, yet the real vastness of disbelief is in her leaving. While nothing is ever permanent and kids go off to college and come back, live back at home, the leaving and living on her own is an indelible shift forever away from the cocoon years that stretched from conception to that first departure. 

She has left her childhood behind for good as the step back in will always be from a distance, a retrospect. Like unringing a bell, she cannot ever live the purity of those flexed years of growing up seamless from birth to first steps, first walking away to another’s hands in school, first kisses, first heartbreaks, and first flights of freedom. Thoughts of self, identity and independence color a life once only colored in coloring books, backyard swimming pools, trips to the candy store or tear-stained shoe box coffins for small beloved hamsters named Hammie. 

  
No, your beef, man, is not with us, our slap dash, rag tag impromptu impossible road trip, the one with endless miles of road bearing insights among the natural sights and blights of countryside and cityscapes of the northwest, sorely needed respite from the daily doldrums of grinding work hours and spatial deprivation you also complain about as likely to kill you. 

And here we are speaking lightly of the shame of it all, the clear cutting demoralizing the Oregon hills along the Columbia, deforestation in the Amazon rain forest and water wasted on the open expanses of thirsty crops along the Washington thoroughfare while our first born worries about being good enough to last, to make it under the pressure of intense competition and her own perceived weaknesses. 

  
Struggle coats our innards, the outside world only the mirror and consequence. 

But I caught a glimpse of wince in you yesterday, the pinched frown of devastating knowledge held in check–but not enough. Despair leaked from your downward cast lower lip and fallen eyes, a momentary slip of the heart spill. 

“You okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just Jordyn leaving.”

“I know.”

And we each look to our respective windows for escape into the landscape upon which we hurl our pain masked in observation, a costume of the fearful. Tears haunt us. Afraid to unleash the avalanche of suffocating cold loneliness threatening to smother us.

She’s Leaving Home

Not the right lyrics but the refrain is the same. We live like clichés: daughter leaving for college, we weep, we anguish, and we sever ourselves from ourselves to get past the pain. We cheer ourselves with thoughts of new beginnings and circle of life and metamorphoses, butterflies growing beautiful, upward flight past us.

It feels trite and real at the same time. Our lives have been captured in too many Hallmark poem-lets for sale.

I have anticipated this moment in my dreams (nightmares) since she was born, different shapes and scenery, but all the same theme: leaving.

She’s leaving home. Off to college, which will be her new temporary home in a new state. Whether the leaving is temporary or permanent is yet unknown.

In the meantime, I will be shoring up for the next one’s departure, estimated time of departure, two years or twenty.

When You’re a Grown up

  

My daughter and I were at the frozen yogurt store the other day when we overheard a boy about five years old say to presumably his mother, “I can’t wait til I’m a grownup!” Not exactly sure of the context, but I believe his mother had just conditioned his frozen yogurt choices on being old enough to know what was good for him.

Though the exclamation produced a smile on my face, my 19-year-old-off-to-college-this-week daughter quickly turned to the boy and said, “Don’t rush it, kid. You don’t know what you’re asking for.” And she laughed so as not to terrorize the boy.

I turned to her and asked, “Is it that bad?” She nodded, yes.

I know the anxiety of living away from home for the first time preys on her nerves, playing a checklist of to-do’s and what-if’s in her mind on endless repeat. I feel her.

She and I differ that way. When I left home, I had no thoughts. I left on the sheer will of want: whatever I wanted. It was only after I left that I began to worry as I realized I had no idea how to write a check let alone balance a checkbook. I had only one experience with a bank: a savings account my mother opened for me when I was in junior high, one with a little blue, firm-covered, palm-sized bank book in which to register deposits and withdrawals. I remember how grown up I felt then. But that bank book, regulated by my visions of large purchases and the change in my mother’s purse divided by four, did little to teach me about pooling money in time to pay rent, feed myself and pump gas into my car. 

I learned, especially after a few months of barely living on graham crackers and cottage cheese or peanut butter. A visiting uncle, a psychologist  from Texas, remarked to my mother at one family gathering during that time, “Does she have anorexia?”

Burning by my own mistakes was my way. Still is. So long as they were mine. My mother did little to prepare any of us five children for the world as she protected us–wittingly or unwittingly–from the responsibilities of grown-ups, cocooned as we were in our middle class suburban neighborhood.

Maybe it was the time too. She stayed at home and cooked for us, washed our clothes and poured our milk for us. I remember telling her one day in sudden astonished awareness, “Mom, I’m 12. I can pour my own milk.”

My children did not grow up the same way. Their parents worked and so had to fend for themselves more. Even when I worked from home when they were small, I advocated for their independence. As soon as they were old enough to complain about what was for dinner, I let them know they could make their own if they did not like what was on the menu and then showed them how to use the stove. 

I am not suggesting my kids are not over protected or spoiled in other ways, however. While my parents had no means to buy their children things we nevertheless asked for, my kids have had more money given to them than I had. Growing up in a one-wage factory laborer family, we became accustomed early on to the idea that any material items we wanted would have to be purchased by our own means. I worked mowing lawns, helping my brother deliver newspapers and babysitting from the time I was 8.

My daughters, on the other hand, were raised to believe their grades and sports were their jobs, that they had too many years ahead for the paying jobs that they would eventually have to report to daily. “Don’t rush into working,” I always said.  

So my 19 year old has had a job for a year now; she worked part time while attending the local community college to pay for her car, books, concerts and clothes. I know it has been a stretch, the responsibility, though I know it hasn’t been a shock. She is used to budgeting her time and her resources, having been over-scheduled since she was 6 with soccer practice, piano lessons, school, and whatever the day’s playdates or parties brought.

But it is not the practical how-to’s or what-to-do’s that have her worried about moving out. I know it. She can figure things out, and it isn’t as if she is completely cut from the cord. Smart phones have kept us connected for years now anyhow, near or far. I group text my daughters to come down from their upstairs perches (more like second-story caves) to dinner (when I cook).

Nope. What she fears, I imagine, is what we all do. Doing it herself–whatever it is. The psychological state of being on her own, which prefigures the time when she will be truly on her own, no parents to call upon for a word of advice or a few bucks (or few hundred) to carry her over til payday, is the foundational fear–of death, first others and then her own. 

Not to be too dramatic, but Freud did not get everything wrong. Death and sex are primary human motivators. Everything that drives us is rooted in either or both. 

When my daughter goes off to college, it will symbolize that eventuality (hopefully far down the line) of being on her own without the umbrella of parental love. She will experience it as a mix of anxiety and excitement. And even as she will be making her own love, whether parenting or not, which will occupy enormous space in her mind and heart, she will one day yearn–even if it is just for a moment—for a time when the burdens, seemingly too heavy to bear, were barely perceptible just as they were lurking, unnoticed, above her childhood, as she splashed in an inflatable pool in the backyard and wondered what was for lunch and if she would ever not be bored on endless summer days.

I know I have.

And perhaps my mother, sitting among us near motionless in the skin of a fading light, silently reminds her, also symbolically, that connections run deeper than the physical–etched like the voice that called her to dinner at night all those years of play and idle dreaming. Even when the voices are silenced into memory, beginnings and endings forge life forward even as they fall backward in the marching on.