A Late Birthday Poem for my Husband

The book I am reading about the history of the wife questions if couples today

care about things like making each other a better person.

But maybe I’m old millennia like that. I never loved you because you don’t lose

your keys. I love the cool way you don’t unravel until they reappear.

I never loved you because we love the same music. But I love how you dance

with your hips. At weddings. And in the kitchen when chopping vegetables. You have

big feet. And big shoes that you leave in the middle of the carpet by the backdoor. Sometimes

I trip over them and quietly curse them. And sometimes you curse the person who forgets

to take her hair off the shower wall and put away her suitcase weeks after traveling.

Remember that time we almost died on the highway in Idaho? I’m glad we didn’t.

And I am glad we have two blonde boys who take more after you than of me. Who pretend

dragons exist in the folds of mountains because you told them it was possible. And who

remember to sing Happy Birthday to you throughout the day. Unlike their mother.

Who made a pie that was a little too sweet and burnt on the top but you ate it anyway.

My Son Will Not Nap

“You will miss this time,” I tell him the way my mother told me when I was a kid.

But I didn’t listen the way Sam doesn’t listen because what your parents don’t know but you do is that now is the time for pasting stickers to the walls, and your arms, and your belly. Especially the car stickers that make it look like a traffic jam at your elbow. Now is the time for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all day. Until you suddenly decide that you need grilled cheese.

When you are a kid what you don’t know but your parents do is that there will come a day when you have to make your own lunch, and pair your own socks, and fish weepy broccoli out of the dishwasher drain with a hooked finger like you would an infant choking. You don’t know that you will miss naps.

And you will wish for them. Deeply. Particularly the day after you no longer had breadcrumbs and cold eggs from the seats to wipe and no more shoes to straighten by the door. Instead, you chose to forgo sleep and stay up almost all night watching Korean dramas on Netflix.

It is only once you rub your 3-year-old’s back for the second time during the last chance window to nap that you realize he was right. This is not time to sleep.

for Sam who hates wearing pants

Let us pack for Maine.

We will eat lobster rolls and fries and leave greasy napkins behind.

Let someone else crack the shells and scoop the flesh and dice the celery just so. Let someone else butter our bread.

Let’s head for the hills and down the backside. To the beach. Warm sand under our office-lined feet.

Let’s bury our worries in the seaweed and pretend we are mermaids and wade until our hips freeze.

Let’s pretend we have all day. And scour the sand in search of shark teeth and the smallest shells we can find.

Let’s pretend it will always be summer and the leaves aren’t changing and the temperature isn’t falling and people aren’t packing up their blankets, umbrellas, and towels.

Let’s stay forever. Or at least until the next tide.

Let’s remember this moment. Salt water in our mouths. Crystals in our hair. We are so beautiful here.

a momentary reprieve

It’s raining here. It sounds like a rainforest rain. Thick drops on wide green leaves. Pummeling them into a mist. A gentle hissing. It feels like the whole world should be raining. Everywhere, rain to cover the wailing. But that’s not how it works. I know this.

Somewhere, right now, it is the perfect bluebird sky as some local tragedy unfolds. That’s how it always is. Nary a cloud in the atmosphere as some plane comes hurtling towards Earth, the people inside screaming before the great nothing.

That’s how it was in Somerville 20 years ago when the Twin Towers fell. That’s how it was a decade ago when two men bombed the finish line of the Boston Marathon, sending shrapnel into innocent bodies they believed deserved punishing. And that’s how it was on Friday when the ruling about Roe first broke.

I spent the early morning hours eating pastry by the river with my husband. Drinking coffee. Watching fish snatch unseen bugs dancing on the surface. A momentary reprieve from the human world that seems to feast upon the controlling of safe harbors. Of flinging apple cores at wild animals and feeling like some merciful god.

But we are too quick to judge who must suffer to truly fit the part.

I knew it was coming. The news would either be bad or worse. And yet I still yelped before falling silent.

Right now, I hear a bird breaking through the pounding rain. Occasionally puncturing the white noise with a quick chirp. As if she’s checking to see if she’s still here. If anyone is listening. She’s quiet now. Perhaps settling in for the storm.

What do we do with all of this water?

the great unraveling

It was the little girl holding her ears, stumbling as she walked down the sidewalk, who broke me. Skinny ankles. Tiny black boots. Enormous purple backpack. Uncertain where to go. 6, maybe 7.

Her dead classmates had turkey, ham, and cheese sandwiches for lunch.

What are we doing as we do nothing after another school shooting? Sending emails into the abyss. Raging at our spouses and parents and friends because those with power know they just have to wait out another news cycle. This too shall pass.

You can buy a bulletproof backpack for your kid for $119. 95 on the homesecuritysuperstore.com. It has smiley faces and weighs less than three pounds. The design “ensures safety while providing normal utility” the specs read. Limited lifetime warranty. Because of course.

When I was in second grade a backpack was for carrying books. Notes decorated with hearts and swirls from friends. And burying lukewarm cheesesticks in the bottom of. These days I pull yarn balls from the zippered pockets of my son’s backpack. I unravel them each night. Like the world.

In 2021, 73 police officers died in “felonious killings” in the line of duty. For much of the last decade the figure has been significantly lower. Closer to 50.

19 kids died in one classroom on Tuesday. The school year is not over.

the farce of it all

She told me about the rapes during a long run.

Although she didn’t call it that.

She was a nursing student on rotation in the maternity ward. She was shadowing a senior nurse who cautioned her that sometimes the nurses walk in on husbands having sex with their wives after they gave birth.

When a woman is raw and swollen and her tissue is held together by stitches. When the blood is still falling out of her in jellied clumps. Before her milk comes in.

“That is not sex,” I said. “Does anyone stop it? Do they call the police?”

She didn’t know.

My mind flashed to six months earlier when I was at that same hospital at 34 weeks pregnant and experiencing complications. My 2-year-old and husband left the room to visit the vending machines downstairs. That’s when a nurse came in.

“Don’t let him make you have sex,” she said sternly.

I laughed because that is not my life. I stopped when she repeated her warning: “Don’t let him make you.”

I forgot about that conversation until the report about the Supreme Court potentially overturning Roe leaked and I began reading more about some of the trigger laws that would ban all abortions, including those for rape and incest. The cruelty of it all is stunning.

“Don’t let him make you.”

The memory sickens me. At the time I didn’t think to ask: Why didn’t she speak up when my husband was in the room? Why didn’t she talk directly to him about the risks? Why are we STILL punishing women?

Mother’s Day. What a farce.

when we talk of big things with small people

The questions seem to come out of nowhere. Liked a spooked grouse that charges from the bushes. Only it was there all along. Just hiding in the great wide open.

“I don’t like wars around us,” my 3-year-old says before climbing into his car seat.

“I don’t like wars either,” I say.

“Where is the war? Is it far away?” he glances into the woods.

“Yes,” I say.

And it is here, too, I think, but say nothing.

“Do people die in wars,” he asks?

“Yes,” I say, fumbling with the buckle.

And their families suffer even if they don’t.

“What is on your mind?” I ask.

I wonder what he thinks war is and who makes it. I wonder if he thinks about children like him. Just going to school until they no longer can. Who just want to play on the swings and lean back and pretend to be birds flying.

“It’s funny when trees break,” he says.

And then his brother asks about blue sharks and what they eat and we move on. Except I don’t.

things worth noting.

It’s the first small thud that makes my chest supernova. The steady thump as each drop of sap hits the bottom of the bucket. Like a heartbeat. And for a moment I am in a conversation with an old friend whose only common language is how we both feel when the sun warms our skin. Spring is coming. Can you hear it?

One of the first maples I ever tapped wept from the poorly placed spile I jammed into its side. The tree, the largest on the hillside, forked in two early on and the trunk accommodated its need to sprawl ever skyward. My electric drill could not pierce the thick bark. I fought the tree and eventually amber, then almond colored curls fell from the drill bit. After hammering the tap in place I watched sap stain the trunk like tears.

This year is different. I’m better at tapping trees. Faster. Gentler. I place my hand on the trees and search the bark for evidence of past scarring. And then I talk to them. I thank the trees for stealing their sap. I ask if this spot is okay to puncture. And then I wait for something to change.

This year I picked a day it wasn’t so bitter cold. I waited for a morning when the sun made the snow glitter and I could handle metal without gloves and not swear. While setting the taps, I listened to the woodpeckers knocking their brains out somewhere in the woods beyond. My eye wandered to a firefly tucked between the bark. I always thought the adult fireflies died after mating and laying their eggs underground. But here one was. Dormant or dead I am not certain. I noted its location and reached in the bucket for my rubber mallet. Once the spout and bucket were fastened I looked for the firefly but it was gone.

Later I learn there is a species of northeastern firefly that survives the winter by nestling between the hollows of the bark. But they are fireflies in the name only. The beetles don’t flash. Perhaps they gave up their light in exchange for more time. Even if sometimes it’s a little too dark.

Back inside I hang up my coat and stack my boots by the door. I scan the family room and see nothing but children’s toys littering the carpet. My blood pressure surges.

Sometimes I find myself slamming the kitchen drawers out of frustration. There is always a Lego creation stashed in some bowl so a brother won’t find it, a sock stuffed in between the couch cushions and forgotten. Railroad tracks routinely cut off the pathway to my desk and I often find Matchbox cars parked under my pillow. I try to remind myself that one day I will be sad when I reach back and find nothing there.

But it’s the glinting that gives me pause. A red marble stalled in a wooden groove under my bed. I get down on my hands and knees and study it. I ignore the dust bunnies gathered nearby. The balled up black sock that now appears gray it’s so dusty. I focus on this little orb that seems to glow in the room’s lone sun patch. It’s in these rare moments, in the right light, when the mess is all kind of beautiful.

the last thimbleberries

The last thimbleberries of the season are ripening. Early September and there is already a chill in the mid-day shadows. My 2-year-old and I plucked the tart, pink caps from the bushes when I noticed a tiny feather floating in the leaves. I peered closer and noticed the nearly invisible strands of a spider web locking the feather in place. A beautiful mistake, suspended by threads so fine, so expertly woven, there was no escape. I thought of Texas. A place I used to live. A place I struggled to really live.

“I think Texas is hostile to my womb,” I would say to my husband when we were trying to get pregnant but couldn’t.

I visited a doctor. She had five children. She said I would be fine. I told her early menopause runs in my family and that we had been trying for years. She told me to come back in another. Then she had me lay back on the crinkle paper for a routine pap smear. Taped to the ceiling was a poster I hadn’t noticed before. A photograph of a sunset with a prayer to a God I wasn’t sure I believed in anymore. Afterward I put my clothes on and never went back.

I found another doctor that specialized in fertility. While waiting for him to arrive I counted three couches in his freezing office—two more than my husband and I could squeeze into our tiny Austin apartment. While fiddling with a magnetic puzzle on the table I read the wooden sign facing outward on his desk: “Babies are a gift from God.” I was enraged but still couldn’t bring myself to leave. I wanted to have a baby. And perhaps this man could help us to conceive.

As he filled out my medical history for his files, I asked him if stress could be a factor. “You’d have to be under extreme stress,” he said flatly looking up from the clipboard. I knew then that he had never personally felt the loss of hope as his partner watched the swirl of red circle the toilet bowl once again. I offered to show him the months of temperature charts of my cycle that I religiously plotted. “That just tells you when you should have had sex,” he said. I felt foolish.

That day he performed a transvaginal ultrasound to examine the follicles in my ovaries. I asked for a tour of the screen. He turned the computer in my direction. My uterus looked a like a formidable black cloud. He pointed out my ovaries. Inside was a universe of stars.  

Eventually, two tiny pinpricks of light inside those sacs became my sons. A third never became anything more than a few weeks of promise. One day I felt a glimmering of pregnancy and then it disappeared. Like a ghost. I knew I’d lost the pregnancy before my doctor told me.

We discussed my options. I had an out of state work trip coming up and my doctor explained that the tissue could easily pass or it may result in heavy bleeding that required a trip to the emergency room. I was supposed to attend a conference with two men. I couldn’t imagine going to dinner and calmly excusing myself to assess the bleeding in a restaurant bathroom. We scheduled a dilation and curettage so I could decide when and how to move on from the loss.

Two days ago Texas deputized and incentivized its citizens to spy on their family members, friends, and neighbors, and report their personal tragedies to the government. At the time I felt a tightening in my chest. It remains there. How can women trust anyone when living in a state of surveillance? How can they thrive?

This afternoon I felt a need to go back to the web. I looked for the spider, hiding somewhere under the leaves. This time it was stationed in the middle of the web, waiting. I fished the feather out with my fingers and cradled it in my palms.

The part of the quill that attaches to the bird is called the inferior umbilicus. It’s how the feather is nourished to grow. I studied the miniscule tube and briefly wondered where the bird was now. If it even knew what it had lost somewhere along the way. And then I opened my palms and let the feather catch the wind.

the end of the pandemic is beige

I wasn’t expecting the end of the pandemic to be beige.

But there I was, sitting in a metal folding chair in an empty department store that once housed a JCPenney’s, staring at my reflection in one of those floor-to-ceiling columns with mirrors on all four sides. My back was straight, my feet were firmly planted on the ground. I have never had such good posture.

Members of the Vermont National Guard strode between the rows of chairs collecting paperwork and directing human traffic. Like cattle. And I was grateful to be joining the herd. I looked around trying to find some familiarity behind all the cloth masks but it was an effort I was doomed to fail at—I barely know anyone here anyway.

So I focused instead on the carpet. It was beige. So were the tiles lining the aisles where shoppers once pushed carts filled with clothing, towels, coffeemakers, and shoes. The movable partitions segmenting the operation into check in, shots administered, and check out, were beige too.

I can’t say it wasn’t what I expected. Because honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But in case you are wondering: There are no hugs at the end of the pandemic — at least not in the beginning.

During the 15 minute waiting period after my shot, I put my cell phone down and watched the scene unfold. I wanted to absorb the moment. I wanted to lock eyes with someone, anyone, seated nearby and smile. I wanted a fellow witness. Someone else to acknowledge how far we come in the last year. And how much we have lost along the way: People. Jobs. Futures.

When the announcement for the JCPenney’s closure came in June 2020, it was unknown what would come next. “Hopefully the replacement will offer new types of merchandise that will enhance their shopping experience,” the property owner said.

I suspect he was not thinking it would become a mass vaccination site.

“From our point of view, change is good,” he said.

He was right about that.