Doubt

cuttings_kitchen_sink

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.”

 

 

 

 

Aftermath

aftermath

The sun pushes upward into an empty city.

The triple tree-of-heaven, Ailanthus,

Toppled once to the east, twice to the west,

Roots a waking bear crack the pavement as it falls.

Wrack and wreckage,

Flotsam flung from a receding wave.

What did you lose?

What did you surrender?

Because there was no choice save surrender,

As sun and moon met the Earth Shaker.

Born for This

snow_shrouded_butte

Vic is shoveling snow off his driveway with a flat half-spade. There are soft trailing footprints where Mercy and I climbed the slope to deliver white bean and chicken soup and take away a bag of trash to the street. We put the bins out for collection Sunday night as snow started to fall and stick. I knocked a foot of snow off the bins with the snow shovel, twice. The snow on the hill is up to Mercy’s belly and my knees. I’m keeping an eye on Vic through the front windows as I write. Vic is 89. He doesn’t want any help.

Vic’s red plaid Pendleton is tucked into khakis hitched up to his lower ribs. When the sun came out after the latest flurries, he leaned against the garage and unzipped his coat. He slices at the top of the snow with the spade and lets it slip off to the growing pile on the side. Looking south to the Butte, he stops and rests, bowed with both gloved hands on the handle of the shovel. Twice I nearly pulled my boots back on to go out to help and then stopped. He refused my help twice already.

mercy_snowplay

Monday morning there was a foot of snow. Mercy was out back barking before daylight, baying at snow drifts. My phone starting pinging with incoming text messages. The power went out at ten o’clock, yet I had enough presence of mind to brew extra coffee and fill every thermos from the top cupboard with hot water before it went. We lit a fire and set up the camp stove under a sheltered eave. I pulled on my gear and took the dog out back to dig the gate free while she capered and plowed through the powder.

Small trees, herbs and shrubs, my beloved curling hazel, all snapped and broke under the weight of the first fall. Fallen cedar limbs yawn like leviathan bones jutting from the snow. A 30-foot scotch pine toppled in the back and took out a section of fence. Fir trees cracked in the middle distance. An electrical transformer flashed and exploded farther away. Another ten inches of snow fell. Shy yearlings lurk down the hill behind tree trunks watching the dog tunnel in the snow. Deer mice crept in during the night to scoop frozen drippings from a corner of the grill pan.

Mercy danced.

The main roads are plowed now. The power is back. The sun was out briefly before it freezes tonight. Our hillside spur road needs to melt more to drive down; even in the Outback there is not enough clearance to negotiate the grade. Shirley was referred to an oncologist and has her first appointment tomorrow morning. She thought she’d try to walk down the hill to meet her son where the roads are cleared. I shook my head and suggested alternatives. Shirley is 81.

The patient advocate at the cancer clinic is sending transportation for the appointment, a chained high-profile vehicle with a chance of climbing.

Shirley doesn’t think Vic will be able to travel with her, although he desperately wants to go.

Blue Iris

tiny_iris

Tiny blue iris surface among the dead leaves.

Just when it seems like a corner, the horizon flattens out, far flung to the line of sight, so far the pavement shivers, and it’s always been this, this winter hex, summer just a myth we share to keep us believing–I never walked barefoot over pink daisies in the lawn and there’s never been spotted fawns sparring on the hill, and my hands will never be warm again. I wonder if it’s August in South Africa and Australia. If yes, please write.

I flinch with every chime from my phone when it’s another advertisement for thumb drives in primary colors that I don’t want, although I’m not sure what I want exactly, just nothing that can be bought. February is one long damn month for the shortest one: Valentine displays are dismantled and lonely hearts lumped in sale bins marked down for quick sale. The full snow moon passed over but she’s still digging in her nails and not letting go. Rain rages down shooting ice pellets. I’m tired of this story.

Tiny blue iris surface among the dead leaves. I had to go down on my knees to sweep them free.

Praying

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

–Mary Oliver

 

Ephemeris

ephemeris

The cold front passed over dropping a burden of snow to the north, smothering Seattle and snarling Portland. There were flurries and skiffs here. The Butte frosted down to the timberline. In gray fleece and white wool like the storm clouds, a pine-colored coat among the dark trees, I walked the dog down to the frozen field in the park. Clouds bloomed and swirled around the creek valley while we pivoted in the eye, the snow threatened and refrained, dizzy with the rising dash of it all surrounding us.

Mercy found a rubber ball under a bush. A lame man with an old dog joined us turning under the spiraling clouds. There was no one else in the park. Last summer he shot himself in the right leg and left ankle while cleaning his Glock. He carried a walking stick and leaned hard on it as we talked. Someday he would return to Baja and surf again. The bullet sheared a screw in his ankle from a previous injury. He was waiting for another surgery. We shared the names of our dogs, but not our own. His dog’s name was Beau. I threw the ball for Mercy as Beau looked on.

There’s a flood watch, bellowing gusts. Rain tattoos the glass. I have a book of days. It’s titled “New American Ephemeris for the 21st Century.” Such books were once used for celestial observation and navigation. Software probably has made them obsolete. Inside the book are tables listing each day of the century, line-by-line as day-by-day, with precise degrees and angles of the planets, the moon phases and eclipses.

The Greek word ephēmeros means that which lasts only one day–a mayfly, a snow flurry, or a newspaper. At times I take the book down from the shelf and open to some random future year, 2077 perhaps. I construct a mental orrery, a model of the solar system, with planets revolving from the data in the tables. I will not live so long, without doubt, to see 2077. It is a singular solace of mathematics and imagination to glimpse a future Harvest Moon.

Practical Magic II

calamondin_infusion

The little citrus ripen to orange, plump as Bing cherries, a limey-kumquaty fruit native to Asia. Philippinas prefer them small and green and prize calamonsi flavor to finish a dish and give it brightness. I’m told the fruit is difficult to find in the states–one woman squeezes the juice on her long black hair to add even more shine.

The calamondin trees overwinter in the sunroom until they sag with the weight of the winter crop. I sit at the table with a salad bowl full of green, yellow and orange fruit. I wear rubber gloves when I quarter them because prolonged exposure irritates the skin. I fill a jar to infuse vodka and then pour the remaining fruit into a covered bowl to brew into colonial-style shrub syrup.

I toasted the last of the pecans from the pantry to make chocolate chip cookies. I tried to soften butter in the microwave. There was lightning. The wrapper threatened to catch fire, yet I was tempted by the lightning. I’m waiting instead. Neighbor Vic likes the cookies.

Monday night, on new-moon-eve-year of the pig, flashing red and white lights appeared in the street and leaked through the blinds. There was an ambulance and fire truck out on the hill. Vic was rolled down his front steps and taken to the hospital. He’s home now, recovering from a fall and blow to the head. Vic is 89 and very literal, but he likes my cookies.

There are snowdrops nestled down in the gnarled cherry roots. More snow is forecast.

snowdrop