A tired dog is a good dog
For August, a checklist:
Buy roses, an odd number as the French do, rather than an American dozen–white roses, with a blush, to suit the bleached afternoon sky and the crumbs on the tablecloth. Cut the stems severely short. Wipe the small cobalt vase to place on the center of the dining table. Fill the blue bowl with water each morning and sigh.
Water the monster red geranium, the one that survived another winter, the one that spilled out and overwhelmed its large ceramic pot littering blood-red petals that smear underfoot into jammy stains.
Take Mercy to the river to swim and muck about in the weeds and willows. Bring home a flat smooth river rock that fits when I close my fist around it.
Check the Orthodox calendar to confirm the feast day of the Dormition of the Theotokos is August 15th. I am not Orthodox, but the stores close in Athens and it would be difficult to find a taxi if I was in Greece.
Count the cantaloupes swelling on the vine. There is only one. I tickled the yellow-starred blossoms with a twig because I didn’t trust the bees. They seemed distracted. It’s too late.
Move the hanging fuchsia to the backyard; deer crept up on the front porch early one morning and ate two-thirds of it. The dog warned me, but I stayed in bed. Check whether the gladiolas were devoured as well.
Resist reading any news, avoid all media sites, including Reddit. Pace the length of the upstairs deck, turn, pace again as though the house plunged in open water and call “Avast,” to the pots lining the forecastle, exhorting the geraniums and bay laurel to hold fast.
Bundle up the wool Flokati rugs and lug them down to the local laundromat next door to the cannabis dispensary. (Laundromats are damp and dismal places even with all the hopeful scents of detergent and fabric softener.) Load a bag of quarters in three industrial-size machines, cold water only, and work the crossword puzzle in the free weekly newspaper while the machines spin. Lug the wet wool home again and flatten the rugs to dry in the sun for several days, turning as needed.
Let the young repair men inside to replace the tattered canvas of the awning. Though I tugged the monster geranium and its fellow potted flowers out of the way, the trailing petunia managed to be crushed underfoot.
Avoid the headlines. Return to the root.
Walk Ben to the park and loop down Walnut Lane on our return to see the enormous house under construction. Let the workers pet Ben, but avoid the nice woman with the yellow Lab, because Ben is still sketchy sometimes. Throw sticks for Mercy on the hill and let her greet the landscapers who arrive every Wednesday to mow and tend the neighbor’s yard.
Pick zucchini. Pick sun-gold cherry tomatoes. Pick pea pods. Pick cucumbers. Squeeze a grape, not yet. Wash my hair and comb through the spiral curls with my fingers before they completely dread.
Grate zucchini, salt it and and wait for the shreaded squash to sweat in the colander. Squeeze the water out and stir into muffin batter with the last of the blueberries. Freeze a few.
Strain the red currents that soaked in apple cider vinegar for a week and blend the juice with thyme-infused simple syrup. Bottle the fruit shrub and tuck it away, satisfied with sampling the overfill.
Write another poem.
Think of washing the front windows, but sit on the edge of the front porch dangling my feet and roll tiny white blooms of summer savory between my fingers instead.
Most things hang by a thread.
Last fall I gathered all the wrinkled peas dropping from the blown nasturtiums and dried them on newspaper shoved to the back of the trestle table. I hoarded the dried seeds in a sandwich bag propped behind the dusty tequila and cassis bottles on the sideboard until spring. I planted them everywhere there was soil and hope of water and shade. Nasturtium flowers are edible, peppery, cheerful fellows. Each year the colors of the blossoms shift, mutate, shades and streaks similar, yet not the same.
I took Mercy to the river to swim this morning. We walked the path down to the old boat landing through foxtail grass and swaying bishop’s lace, the sky turning white as the sun rose higher, cool by the water but rising hot mid-morning through the fields. The dog dives like a land seal. I stood at the bank flinging sticks in the water and saluted a passing drift boat.
Wrestling a rewrite on a long stubborn essay, shying from the squintingness of it all, I received an email from Cagibi accepting a 300-word postcard piece for publication in late August. (Thank you, Sylvie and Christopher. Just when one is ready to surrender, something shifts. ) Read “How to Set the Dining Room Table,” a creative nonfiction work in the latest issue by Elizabeth Jannuzzi. It’s a brilliant narrative device flawlessly executed.
Our old green 1954 Ford Tudor sedan sat squat in the driveway. My parents bought it new from a west coast bootleg dealer before I was born. Most Saturdays when I was young, my mother and older sister dressed up to drive downtown in the Triumph and browse department store racks. They ate lunch in the restaurant on the third floor of the Bon Marche, and returned with shopping bags flaunting tissue paper. Dad loaded my younger brother and me into the old green Ford, a shotgun or a rifle, and we drove out of town. Dad joked: Henry VIII was a Tudor; Joan of Arc was a wonder. Barney always came along, our fox-red Labrador, even if, sometimes, he rode in the trunk.
Saturdays I learned to scramble along reeds and brambles bordering the river, pry out gray stones impressed in the bank to plunk into the current, how to keep moving when the viscous mud fronting the lake sucked to the ankles of my black rubber boots. I studied how to ease through these places, to watch and be still, when to wait, like any wild thing. I learned to trust what the dog told me.
–Excerpt from “Birds the Color of Water”
Happy Father’s Day Dad.
Mercy and I walked down to the river kicking drifts of cottonwood fluff along the trail. In the long thick grass the dog seized sneezing when we crossed a field to strike the southern path to the old boat landing. She swam after sticks in the green water fresh with snow melt to wash away the pollen. I held a stick underwater for her to dive down to retrieve and rinse the grit from her eyes and nose. She dashed along the sandbar in loops and didn’t want to be leashed to walk back.
It happens every year, this river of grass seed pollen flowing down from mid-valley, cottonwood tufts like trout swimming south at dusk. Everyone is angry it seems, caught in a riptide gold dust monsoon and flailing out to sea. There’s nothing for it but sleep and showers swimming sideways. Everyone is angry.
I don’t need to buy groceries for the neighbors any more, Shirley said. She’s in hospice care at home. Vic just got released from the hospital after four days. There is traffic up on our hill now with traffic jams when more visitors or the mail truck arrives. Mercy and I still check Vic and Shirley’s gates every morning and I wonder if I can bear it.
Repost – June 2017
This morning my neighbor came out in her nightdress to water flowers in the brick planter fronting her steps. I try not to notice and sit very still. The sun is breaking over the hill and filtering through the birch leaves. I think I am a tabby cat, mottled and camouflaged, in the dappled light. I don’t have a nightdress to wear out into the morning.
It goes to the head, this golden haze of pollen and drifting cottonwood. It’s fairy dust. The trees and grass release their magic as the day grows, to be caught in the wind and blow south. Some afternoons, especially near the river, it seems it’s snowing. My eyes itch with it. People sneeze and scratch. They try antihistamines which only makes them thirsty and angry. It’s easier to try to think in the morning. Later in the afternoon, there’s a full lulling need to sleep, to drift into some new fairy tale, succumb to the spell cast by the gold dust.
“And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.”
–Kahlil Gibran, “The Prophet”
Atmospheric rivers are relatively long, narrow regions in the atmosphere – like rivers in the sky – that transport most of the water vapor outside of the tropics. These columns of vapor move with the weather carrying an amount of water equivalent to the average flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The Pineapple Express blew into northern California and Oregon seven inches ago, tepid and drenched, rain dropping like coconuts, a whiff of the tropical between shower curtains, precursor to that dank cannabis strain smacking of fresh apple and mango, with a taste of pineapple, pine, and cedar, namesake of the river in the sky. It’s tepid rain, night and day, relentless. Mercy doesn’t mind venturing out to roll in the puddles so much as I swelter in a zipped rain jacket while rain from the islands streams over my lips. Flood warnings are in effect for the Siuslaw, coast fork of the Willamette, and the Mohawk.
Ben, the crazy copper Brittany Dad rescued a year ago, lived to see his second birthday only by sheer red chance of mischief and puckish soul, for such are the whims of the dog daemons favoring the foolhardy.
Ben climbs ten feet into a tree following squirrel scent and bails out again when the trail plays out, straight down, diving like a sockeye. He escapes through a breath between wooden planks to parade through the old neighborhood, weaving across streets oblivious as a carnival reveler to cars, cops, and guns. For blessed are the ginger and the rufous, ragged cheerful children of Pan, to see another spring.
Knock on wood.