Shiny Things I Found in the Gutter

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I found a diamond ring in Las Vegas. It was a man’s thick gold ring set with two diamonds shaped like a signet. I put it in my pocket and flew to San Francisco.

Yesterday, I found a child’s pink hair barrette fixed with a rainbow butterfly studded with tiny gems.

I found a squat green dice rolled to the number two.

The Queen of England, heads, on a one-dollar Canadian coin.

A single earring, the French hook flattened, dangling cats-eyes.

A thick indigo glass bead, heavy as any Spanish olive, which I hung on a silver chain.

A vintage filigree rose-gold ring set with ruby chips.

Many keys.

A tiny lock for a toy suitcase.

Many nickels and dimes, especially under parking meters.

The silver outline of an italicized heart that I hung on the chain with the blue bead.

A brass bracelet dangling with sharp green crystals that chafed my wrist.

A Tiffany’s watch.

Silver charms and trinkets, which I hung on the chain with the slant heart and blue bead.

A kinked gold box chain with a shattered clasp.

A pyrite marble smooth as smoke.

A crystal marble with a frozen breath at its heart.

Magpies foretell the future. The piebald bird, goddaughter of raven, wears harlequin and swears endless oaths. She knows her own reflection. She strides the back of bison big as box cars to groom ticks from shaggy hides. She is a thief, bold and shameless, of biscuits and sandwich wrappers. Tucked in her nest are strands of yellow silk, fairy hair, a jade button, and a doll’s blue glass eye. From these findings, she reads the signs and prophesies. She stores them away, as proof.

Originally published in Tishman Review, July 2018.

 

Thistledown

artichoke

“It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

–Ray Bradbury

“It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters that you do,”

–Me, to my teenage son

Walking out on the hill in the rain this morning  into that sweet earthly scent of rain on dry grass–petrichor, the blood of the old gods falling on stone–to shrug off the hood and let the drops burnish my hair.

Since the deluge in April, there was little rain, not the soaking female rain of spring that trickles to the root. Days have been warm and mornings spent carrying water in cans and hoses, swearing at sprinkler heads with stripped threads and leaking faucets forgotten in October, sprinkling, spraying, misting, playing the rainbow in the arc of falling water.

Zucchini seeds burst above ground yesterday, waiting until I was distracted, between morning watering and evening’s final tour. There are globes forming on the artichokes that are still small as thimbles. I let the thistledown bloom lavender blue and invite the bees to a buffet. The plums are red and hard as olives.

I gleaned wild asparagus with Grandma from the banks of irrigation ditches and pastures when I was a child, keeping a wary eye out for a bull or vexed mule. No two spears were the same shape, size, or color, as they are cultivated now. Some were thick and squat and purple; others willowy and pale green, with an occasional natural albino, a bouquet of spring phalli jutting from earth into the light.

Local asparagus is coming in season and to market, tender and firm (however disappointing in uniformity.) I buy a braces of it, while it lasts, to saute simply in a splash of stock and butter, a drop of white wine, and a drizzle of maple syrup, simmering off the liquid and shaking the pan to finish with a blister. The cure is always growing nearby.

 

 

What Rises, Never Returns

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Pushing Upward means successful progress. Have no anxiety about meeting with the great man. An advance to the south is fortunate.

Trees grow from earth; this is Ascension. Thus the Jun zi diligently cultivates his virtues little by little to become tall and large like trees growing.

–The Book of Changes, Hexagram 46

walnut_tree

Joyas Voladoras

blueberry_bells

“It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.”

–Brian Doyle, “Joyas Voladoras,” The American Scholar

Brian Doyle was an essayist, novelist and editor of Portland Magazine. Some dozen years ago while working as a software analyst and project manager, I submitted a piece to the Oregon Quarterly‘s annual essay contest. My essay was selected as one of ten finalists with Doyle as the final judge. Finalists were invited to an afternoon’s conversation at the University of Oregon campus followed by a public reading that evening.

I accepted the invitation. Doyle reviewed each essay during that afternoon. When he came to mine, he looked up over his glasses across the table. “What can I say. This is a mess. It’s beautiful, but it’s a mess. Maybe you’re a poet.” He moved on to the next essay in the stack. I didn’t attend the public reading.

Brian Doyle died of brain cancer in 2017. The Oregon Quarterly no longer holds an essay contest, reinventing itself as an arm of the university’s marketing department. I went back to writing project plans and business cases for ten years until I wrote them all.

“A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas voladoras, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas.”

–ibid

The moon is full tonight, again. The dog inside barking at the moon sinking in the west early this morning. Moon-keeping time signals spring Easter and Passover holidays when she waxes full after equinox, marking Ramadan and Asian New Year when she is dark and new. The first red dogwood bracts unfurl outside the window.

I rediscovered new black ballet slippers I bought on sale in October and tucked away for now, this spring moment. I forgot them in the snow. I washed the fleece sweats and folded them (I considered giving it all away as though I’d never need fleece again.) When I brought the neighbors their groceries, they showed me a tiny Calliope hummingbird at the feeder outside the kitchen, the smallest bird in North America. It weighs as much as a ping-pong ball.

Time curves upward and hangs a heartbeat before descending. There a comes a place, recognized only in retrospect, where the arc plays out to fall, when thoughts bend toward memory over hope, wistfulness over desire.

“You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you.

 

 

Pineapple Express

ben_II
Ben

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.

https://www.noaa.gov/stories/what-are-atmospheric-rivers

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.

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Storm Selfie

 

 

 

Pear and Pine

pear_and_pine

The snow is gone, even the last gritty floes in the grocery store parking lot, though sorting is long. It will take more time. Wood chippers chew in the hills, shredding up branches and limbs. Wild cat sawyers pull dented trucks to the curb and wrestle chunked rounds from the medians into their pickup beds to haul home and split, cure, and sell.

The night before the scots pine was hauled up the hill off the shattered back fence, I dreamed of a crocodile—the pebbled bark rough like a reptile’s hide. I realize this only when the trunk is sawed down to stove lengths and the crew of lean young men come for approval.

Pear blossoms lace through pine boughs. Mercy and I take the long way around returning from the park and I pause to look at this strange co-mingling. I make the dog stand while I breathe in mixed flower and pitch at the corner, wave my hand along the starry branches to descry a reason. Snow levered the pine’s roots from the ground and the tree fell to its knees against the neighboring pear. There are different types of pine, as there are many different sorts of pears: lodgepole, ponderosa, western white, sugar; each pine is known by its needles and fruit. Western white, I think, but Mercy is unimpressed and takes the lead in her mouth to nudge me up the hill and home.

The pine will be logged. The pear might survive. The little brown bats are out at dusk. A rufous hummingbird, bright as a new copper penny, appeared outside the window.

 

Doubt

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Stems from the beheaded hazel crown, stems from the nearly-bloomed rosemary, are salvage from what was smothered and crushed in the snow storm two weeks ago. I scraped the stems to encourage new roots to reach down and taste the water. The cuttings stand in jars behind the kitchen sink beside last year’s salvaged hydrangea. Tree trimmers are coming soon to cut the downed Scots Pine into firewood lengths.

I responded to Sonora Review’s current call for submissions a week or so ago while snow lingered on the hill and froze into ice each morning. Their next issue seeks work related to “doubt.” The snow is nearly gone now, except for the receding mounds on the lawn heaped up from shoveling the road. An essay, I suppose, though simply prose submission is a simpler term allowing the essay to serve as verb:

Essay: verb: synonyms:  attempt, make an attempt at, try, strive, aim, venture, endeavor, seek, set out, do one’s best, do all one can, do one’s utmost, make an effort, make every effort, spare no effort, give one’s all, take it on oneself

Here is Charles D’Ambrosio in the preface of his new and collected essays, Loitering, describing the elusive nature of the form, when prose is crafted not as information, article, argument or coursework, but something else–a portfolio of inquiry:

“Voice holding steady in the face of doubt, the flawed man revealing his flaws, the outspoken woman simply saying, the brother and the sister—for essays were never a father to me, nor a mother. Essays were the work of equals, confiding, uncertain, solitary, free, and even the best of them had an unfinished feel, a tentative note, that made them approachable. A good essay seemed to question itself in a way that a novel or short story did not—or perhaps it was simply that the personal essay left its questions on the page, there for everyone to see…an attempt whose outcome wasn’t assured.”