We Go Up

The April day that felt like summer. I took the boys for a walk in the woods. Sam wore sandals and dodged parts of the trail pooling with snowmelt. An older woman sat on a pine stump at the trailhead. Her back rested against the trunk, arms folded across her walking stick. Still as an owl.

“I’m just happy to be here,” she said, her head swiveling to meet my eyes. “I had a heart attack last week.”

She held her milky arms up for inspection. Bruises from the IVs and injection sites congregated in the creases. Her skin sagged. Her brown eyes wild.

“I came to sit with the mycelium,” she said. “It talks, you know.”

I do know.

Subterranean fungal networks stretch between trees, a fabric of living lace, linking the world above with the roots below. Mycelium help trees share. Resources like nutrients and water are passed through the networks to younger, smaller trees. Like parents at the dinner table. And when a tree dies, they tell each other through chemical warnings zipped between these same lines. But what is their language? How do they say it?

On one level, the signals are like computer machinery signaling through electrical pulses. Or a brain. Always talking to some part far away. Breathe. Move. Look. Smile. But do the signals sound like music or is the message more like a feeling? Tingles for disease. Warmth for food? What is the tempo of death? Does the mycelium listen to the conversations happening above and know when someone is suffering? Do they remember each other?

The old woman came to sit above the ground and watch the sun sparkle between the bare branches. She knows that inches beneath her feet there is life. Maybe that is something you think about when you were hours from joining the community underground?

I left the conversation earlier than I’d like to admit. She smiled knowingly and shooed me away.

“The boys are restless,” she said.

They don’t understand what a heart attack is. They don’t know they were talking to a woman who listened to a tightness in her chest. Who is pondering death. Who wants to know how much time she has. Who wonders about the mycelium and what it is saying. The boys just know that there is a trail in front of them. And it goes up.

two poems about water.

It was supposed to snow. Six inches. Maybe twelve. The kids wanted a snow day. We were going to make doughnuts and sled in the backyard. Instead, we woke to four, maybe five inches of heavy snow the plows transformed to slush with salt. An icy brown sludge boxed in the cars. The winter storms of my youth required wading into snow hip deep and feeling like I might get stuck forever. “The myth of winter,” my husband says. I shoveled and thought of two poems going nowhere on my computer.

A religious observance

Three sisters live down a dusty, rock-ridden road in the Chihuahan Desert. The first sister dug an oasis for migratory birds. She hauled in water and planted a fence of gnarly trees. She patrols the periphery with binoculars, waiting for the flash of wings. The second sister, a retired anthropologist, leaves jugs of water for a different kind of visitor who travels with the shadows. She taps together a mosaic floor of pottery shards trying to make sense of it all. The last sister built a sandcastle. She sited it in a wash and prays every day for rain.


It’s the end of the world and I am just sending emails. And for every one that matters an avalanche that don’t follows.

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I am drowning and no one has mentioned the Conger ice shelf. The size of New York City. It disintegrated two weeks ago. But,

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“Stresses cause cracks in the floating ice,” The New York Times explains.

This morning I fished a dozen moths clinging to icebergs of sap from the collection bucket. How long can we all keep swimming?

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 when the person

you live with 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 blond 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.