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My youth plays out in monochromatic Super 8, all shadows and light, soundless but for the clacking whir of the projector, each jumpy image spattered by specks of dust that flash past, gone before they even register in the mind.

Around me, I see the shining, sun-bleached hills behind our houses, wild land laced by the trails I hike in adventures that are my haven, my freedom, my escape. I see the black-and-white blurs of schoolmates as they race their Flexi-Flyers headlong down the sloping streets. I see my family—mother, father, sister—wave and laugh, speaking silent words to whomever runs the camera, as they go about their daily lives.

All is shades of grey, wan and distant.

In my home, though, moving past the dark stain of lawn, the walls of pale grey stucco, and the brightly trimmed opening of the doorway, beyond the shadowed living room where children dare not tread, through the kitchen with its charcoal-colored wood, and into the chiaroscuro of the family room, there is a red chair.

It is red. So red.

It stands in the ashen jumble of the room like an open wound, colored the red of blood, bright and arterial, shiny as a skinned knee. Upholstered leather is nailed to its frame by rows of brass tacks that glint in the streaming sunlight, their rounded heads faceted by the hammer blows that set them.

It is an old chair—I do not know a time when it was not there—a holdout from days before my birth. Wing-backed, claw-footed, it is large, its arms stained by the grip of a thousand hands. Here and there the leather is a bit dry and has cracked, revealing tufts of excelsior and batting. It creaks when I climb up, as if complaining, as if I am an unwelcome intruder, and perhaps I am, for it is my father’s chair, and his alone. I curl up in its empty embrace, breathing in its captured aromas of Old Spice and Bond Street.

And on this day, this one day, it is the chair in which my father sits and, for the last time in our lives, gathers me up in his arms, in his warmth, in his scent. It is the chair in which he tells me of my mother’s death. 

After that day, I do not know what happened to that chair. I still see the wall of books, the ancient davenport, the old B&W television on its tubular stand, the corduroy love seat, the sliding-glass door that opens out on the too-bright patio, all these I see in the flickering cinema of remembered youth, but there is a dark spot, a lacuna, a patch of emotional blight where the chair once stood. After that day, I do not remember it being there. I do not remember my father ever sitting in it again. I have excised it from my past, wished it out of existence. 

In my experience, time does not heal, but it does teach. Sometimes it teaches us to understand and adapt, while at other times it teaches us how to cope and survive. The disappearance of that red chair is just such a lesson, learned during the sixty years that separate me from that day. That chair, the cauldron of my earliest grief, has bled out, its color used up, the power of its memory spent.

And I can live with that.

k

 

We Are

We are:
falling raindrops
drifting snowflakes
crystals of ice

Alone:
insignificant
small
powerless

Together:
an ocean, carving the earth
an avalanche, felling all in our path
a glacier, grinding stones to dust

We do not havthis power
We are this power

Do not give it
to those whose thirst
exceeds their capacity
to care

We are

k

Losing Touch

For six decades, my feet have touched the earth. This did not seem a consequential thing before, but I have learned otherwise.

I grew up on the shores of San Pablo Bay. While, behind me, the dark oases of live oaks studded the rolling golden hills, I walked unshod down the shingled shore, the smooth curves of wave-worn pebbles pressing upward into the flesh of my bare feet. I would gather kelp vines to use as bullwhips, challenge fiddler crabs to duels, and with a poked finger annoy the anemones until they spat. My bare toes gripped the ragged rim of a tidepool’s edge, and my arches provided stability as I balanced on weather-beaten logs. To my bare feet, the cool water and the hot stones were as natural as the salt air and the scent of baking seaweed were to my lungs.

Then, with shoelaces tied together and draped over my neck, I kept my shoes dry as I crossed the tidal marsh that lay between shore and home,. Navigating past clumps of reeds, gently pushing aside the serrated blades of pampas grass, I let my feet breach the brackish water, sink into the yellow mud, continue down through muck the color of rust, until they hit the underlayment of fetid black peat, the foul and oily rot squishing upward between my toes. Here, shoes were worthless, destined (if used) to be left behind in a muddy grave or, worse, to survive for a few brief and redolent hours on the front stoop before my mother gave up and threw their ruined stink into the trash.

When school let out for summer, my friends and I tossed our tattered Keds aside and headed up into the sun-bleached hills behind our homes. We followed creekbeds and ridgelines, slid on the fragrant mat beneath the eucalyptus trees, and winced as spiny oak leaves pierced our callused feet. Come late August, with back-to-school sales shouting from every newspaper and TV ad, I’d be given new shoes, along with my mother’s admonition to take care of them this time because she wouldn’t be buying me any replacements.

To be safe, I rarely wore them outside of school.

In the time between those days and now, I maintained my contact with the earth, barefooting my way through the years. Working in my gardens, shaded by their canopy of spruce and fir and maple, I felt with each step the sun-warmed grass, the cushioned mat of russet needles, the crunch of pinecones, the coolth of upturned soil, and always I reveled in the chthonic energy that flowed upward from earth to sole to crown. My feet are still callused, though now mostly from walking on pavement than traipsing across youthful hills, but lately, age has begun to make its effects known.

An injured ligament across the left arch and instep has required support beyond what my bare feet can provide, for which I resorted to an ankle brace and bindings. The foot has improved, albeit with glacial speed, to the point where the tight grip of the bindings is not always required, but sadly, the foot is not yet able to go it alone, and so a shoe (with arch support) is needed.

The practice of walking shod was melted out of my DNA by the sun of many summers and so, even though it lessens the pain, wearing shoes around the house feels alien and unnatural. I feel as if I’m just passing through my own home, on my way to somewhere else, some place where bare feet are a faux pas.

My heart holds tight the hope that this is a temporary condition and not the first step down some inexorable decline, and that by the solstice I will once again be able to feel the ground beneath my feet, but there is no guarantee. Meanwhile, I will practice patience; but do not be surprised if, now and again, I leave my shoes on the bottom step and walk out to spend a few minutes standing barefoot beneath the garden’s green-leafed roof.

k

Seeking the Light

With my posts here, I attempt to include (or find) at least a smidgen of hope or goodness, even when the topic is difficult or life gets me under its boot. Lately, this has been a challenge. (OK, it’s been a challenge for at least a couple of years, but this year has presented me with exceptional challenges.)

At times, the best I can do is show you my distress, thinking that (if nothing else) readers may empathize and see that they’re not alone in their own near-despair.

This doesn’t always work. Not for me, and undoubtedly not for you.

In such times, I need outside help to encourage me to keep treading water. For this help, I keep a small list of “inspirers”—so much more than an “influencer,” whose goal is merely to be seen and sell stuff, an “inspirer” is someone who rejuvenates my desire to keep breathing, just by being who they are.

I limit my list* to about three names and I pull them from realms such as education, art, science, and (surprisingly) even politics. To make it on the list, the sole requirement is that, by the person’s actions and attitudes, I find myself feeling grateful to be alive at the same time as they.

Think about that for a second. Who, in your experience, makes you glad you’re alive to experience their presence, even if you have no real connection? Who—famous or not—makes you feel good about being alive? Who, when you’re faced with the tragedies and brutalities and existential crises that we all face these days, can make you stop, reflect, and perhaps say, “Yeah, life sucks, but at least we’ve got them.” Pick three names from all the teachers, relations, friends, public figures, celebrities, activists, and others you know or know of; who makes you glad that you’re alive?

Admittedly, I don’t look too deeply into who these “inspirers” are on a personal level. We’re all humans and, thus, flawed in myriad ways. If you look for perfection you will be disappointed. And so, the list changes over time, as people rise and recede from public view, and as their activities move from the inspirational to the merely admirable.

But having these names, keeping them near to mind, has helped me through darker days, so if this rings any bells for you, give it a shot. Or, if you already have a few names you keep close by for this purpose, please share who they are and why, as there are many people worthy of this title, and we can’t know of them all.

k

*For the record, my current list of three “inspirers” is:

  • Sir David Attenborough
    • The man’s love of the intricacies of the natural world is unbelievably infectious, like “sense-of-wonder measles,” and I catch it each time I see one of his productions.
  • Lady Gaga
    • I don’t listen to her music (generally) but every time I see her—in interview or speaking at some event—her ineffable kindness and love for others fills me with joy and gratitude.
  • Jon Batiste
    • This gentle man exudes an incredible vibe of peace and love and acceptance and honesty; he’s hard to resist, and I choose not to make the attempt.

–k

Ratiocination

I am made mute,
the words struck from my mouth
by the unfathomable.

The world’s gyre spins,
casting lucid reason
into the dizzy vortex.

We cannot see,
having doused the light
for what it might reveal.

Fear is our all,
leading from temperate sense
to blistering fireworks.

Answers are lost,
along with their questions
as knowledge becomes foe.

Bereft, I reel,
accompanied by emptied thoughts
about the stolen same.

Tears are useless,
for I am wept out
and the world is a sponge.

I long for sleep,
for dreams untroubled by dark terrors,
a retreat from what I cannot control.

But wishes fail,
and the tragedy of this circus
continues unceasing.

So I hold tight,
cherishing bits of trust
and blink at each morning’s sun.

k

Hopes of Spring

crocus blooms explode
blue/gold beneath grey spectra
the sun remains hid

I Need a New Word

I need a new word
for the conflict that
rages within me

I need a word
for the feeling that hits
when I see
a response to force
so primal
so basic
so innately human
yet
so brave
so admirable
so worthy of honor
that
I become a forge
a crucible filled with
heart and spleen
love for the spirit
hatred for the reason

This alloy of
love and anger
horror and awe
this reactive nexus to
the best
and worst
of humanity
surely deserves
a word of its own

k

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