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House Cabernet

We got back from Knoxville and stopped at a restaurant to eat, Mom put our name in and I went to the bathroom. It was stuffy in the lobby, she passed me a menu but I studied the cars passing outside. It would be 10 or 20 minutes to get seated. “So is it 10 or 20?” The hostess pressed her lips together, declining a reply.

I took my coat off and pushed hair away from my neck – why was it so stuffy in here? 
I muttered something about needing air and pushed open the heavy wooden door. The heat off the street buffeted my face, smelling of sewage and traffic. I glanced up and saw the wind stirring the flags, coming from the north west, but it couldn’t reach me here. I wove through pedestrians to the corner and closed my eyes, picturing the spring grass at the farm, the daffodils lining the fence in the front yard, and the sound of contented horses grazing.
The wind reaches me there, smelling of sweet hay and spring buds. 
I’m stifling on the street corner, traffic whizzing and screeching by, people buffeting me with shoulders and strange glances. There’s no air here, there’s no meadows and ridge lines set ablaze with sunlight.
The American flag whips and snaps far above me, taking my breeze. I think of rolling hills, of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and sigh. They say home is where you hang your hat, and I’ve left mine at the farmhouse, perched on the dinner bell near the kitchen door.
I return to the lobby, and the tight-lipped hostess leads us to a booth. My mother and I slide in to sit across from each other, and I realize she gave me the view of the busy street. But I can’t see the flags from here.
Her hat is hung in Florida: but she recognizes the look in my eyes. I imagine it is the same look my Grandfather gave when Dad asked for her hand. It is the look of letting something go that you love most in all the world. It is releasing your right to happiness, and giving it the wings to fly. That pained look when you close your hand on empty air.
Soon, I will fall asleep to the sounds of traffic. The orange street lights will no longer keep me awake. I will breathe deeply the smell of freshly cut grass, and pretend for a moment there are horses grazing on it. In the mornings I have no chickens to feed or cats to let out, but when I open all the windows, the breeze will rush through my house like it does in the hall of the barn, and I pretend that one day it will be.
 
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Kimberlin Heights

Driving out of town we pass what used to be a Garden Ridge and a boarded up Miami Subs, the one where we had my little brothers 2nd birthday, and he cried because he didn’t want to leave the ball pit after all the guests had gone. The white paint was peeling off the front of the building, the magenta and teal trim was faded from the sun.

I remember my mom loading us in the car to leave town, with her soft pink nails and soft voice, and her dark brown hair that fell to her waist, making a curtain around her face. She would remove the middle seat from the van so we could stretch out to nap, solving arguments on who could take turns during the long drive from Florida to Tennessee. Dad would have filled the fuel tank the night before, in the sky blue van with the wooden paneling around the side, the tan carpet where every cheerio and sandwich crumb blended in perfectly.
We would bring my little bother’s potty chair and use it between rest stops to save time, Dad would slow down and my mom would open the van door to sling the contents on the side of I-40, then slam it closed as Dad gunned us back into the flow of traffic. He’d pack and repack the trunk, trying to keep the cooler near the top of the pile, and moving the pillows we snuck in from blocking his view.
We would finally arrive at the farm, tired and stir crazy, and find leaves to roll in, or head straight to the creek to hunt tadpoles. There were cats to chase and dogs to cuddle, we would rush to the garden and look at the unripe pumpkin or tomato vines, amazed that it could go from the ground to the grocery store with just a little dirt and sunshine.
My mom would hug her mom and talk with her sisters, remembering old high school friends, laughing and slapping their knees at the men they dated before they had enough sense to know better.
Any trip to the kitchen surely yielded a bite of dumplings, pie, or fresh cornbread.
My dad and brother always seemed to disappear with rifles under their arms and ammo spilling from their pockets, returning victorious after shooting old cans and eggs off fence posts.
In the summer there were trips to the river to escape the heat, grilling hot dogs and sunning ourselves on round rocks before dashing back into the cold water to scare everything away from the fly-fishers. In the winter my uncle would build a bonfire on the hill and make hot chocolate, telling stories of hunting foxes and raccoon’s under the full moon, trying to frighten us with the ones who eluded the dogs and we’re still wandering the ridge line.
My mom and I head there now, in a new white van with no toys or blanket forts, there are no pillows or a cooler to wedge between the trunk and the back seat. Her nails are still painted, but her hair is shorter.
We go to bury my uncle, to leave spiced cherries on his grave, to sprinkle Tennessee dirt over his body.
The sun sets as we pass through North Carolina, the trees have infant buds on their branches and the grass is springing up in lush green carpets. My mom tells me she would gather fistfuls to lay in her Easter basket, trying to stay awake and see the rabbit place treats inside.
We pass blooming Bradford’s and Dogwoods, long stretches of yellow daffodils my Grandfather would bring home from the farm and give to my Grandmother. He would place them in a coffee can full of water and set them on the TV, before calling everyone to the table to pray and eat.
He is in the earth where the pumpkins and tomatoes grow, where the grass springs up every year, in old and fresh dug graves.
I can see him greeting my uncle with a handshake and a clap on the back, calling him to the table and introducing him to old friends.
The air cools as the sun disappears, the mountain road bends and rises, twisting around rocks and rivers.
I can almost smell the farm, see the lights twinkling from my Aunt’s kitchen, hear her laugh as we all pile in the door at once, breathless and smiling.
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Homesick

Sometime during the night, an ambulance flies down

my street, jolting me awake. I turn the lamp on

and see that it woke Pup too. We both lay

back down, hearts racing, as the siren

fades into the distance.

Then I think of the farm.

I look around at my home where there’s no room

for muddy jeans and boots by the door

my new leather gloves and James’ handkerchief

sit on the dresser. I left my hat in Sadie’s kitchen –

I couldn’t wear it here anyway. There is no

room to practice roping on my brick patio.

At night, the crickets and frogs and stars

are drowned by traffic and laughter

and pale orange street lights.

My aunt sent me the papers

for the land across the river from her.

The old dairy is up for auction 

137 acres in all – the meadow, the stream,

The side of the mountain where I 

Learned to ride will go to a developer

Or a hunter 

Or someone else who will call it their home

who can write the check by May 1st.

I can’t picture anyone else living there

or loving it, dreaming of it as often as I do.

The thought of someone else signing their

name on the papers keeps me awake.

A stranger who doesn’t know the

the curves of the creek

or what the ridge-line looks like

in the very pale light

just before dawn.

I want to sign my name on that land,

to map out the fence line

and drive t-posts into the orange clay,

stringing barbed wire

across with gloved hands. I could

cut hay on it in the summer, raising

colts and calves there in the spring.

I could learn the land, and have it learn me

and at the end of the day,

look out over that beautiful ridge-line

and see something I am proud of.

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Peeled Carrots

It’s been raining most of the day – a thoughtful, contemplative rain

if I can ascribe water that kind of quality.

It drips from the clouds to the leaves, to the gaps

between the bricks on the patio

trickling down the face of the For Sale sign framed in dark green.

It makes me realize I am hungry:

The groceries in my fridge are slowly reaching decay.

I find my cutting board and begin peeling the withered looking carrots from the drawer:

Taken from the ground, to a truck, to a Farmer’s Market, to a bamboo board.

The rain drips solemnly off the eaves of the roof

framing my kitchen window- my tiny kitchen

that reminds my Father of his days in the Navy.

Long, curling strips cover the cutting board, scuffed on one side,

bright orange on the other.

I lean against the oven and think of His travels, picturing him rising for the midnight

watch, while my Mother watched for him from home.

I cut the peeled carrots in half, in half again, and then slide the knife to the core

making sticks that vary in shape and size. Enough sticks to place in a ziplock bag

enough sticks to crunch tomorrow in the hours between breakfast and lunch.

The rain has filled up the patio, rising to cover my front porch

sloshing over the kitchen window that now looks like a port-hole.

There have been no offers, no buyers,

only the birds notice the sign – perching there for a moment

before fleeing under thicker branches.

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Wasted Citrus

When I bike home, I don’t listen to music. I listen to the hiss and rush of traffic,

of birds passing overhead, to the zzzz’s that escape from the chain as I coast.

I take a quick left and flash by a dumpster reeking of last nights leftovers

The alleys are marked by wandering trails of thick liquid-

sour mop water, spilled drinks, melted ice and the spit of

a dozen servers who wish smoke breaks lasted all weekend.

There are clear and black straws clogging the flow,

bright yellow lemons and neon limes keep leaves

and wrappers from reaching the bottom of the drain.

In daylight, the alleys are silent

the spills dry and the spent cigarette butts almost look like confetti

but I can’t imagine anyone celebrating such an infamous end.

By night, the kitchen doors are propped open and the sounds of dinner

spill into the streets.

Stainless steel freezers guard the inside entry way

and the crash and rattle of plates is eclipsed by laughter and the shouts of servers.

Smells waft between the buildings, overcoming for a moment the

scent of yesterdays special.

Overturned buckets and broken chairs litter the space between

stacks of cardboard and broken glassware,

poised to offer a brief respite from a double shift.

I turn off the ally onto a street where the

trees reach across the road, their branches intertwining

above the pavement, and blocking the stars from the sky,

the galaxies that look like spilled confetti on a dark street.

The sounds of so many servers carrying clean and

filthy silverware die out, to be replaced by the

rushing wind. I speed home to rest my weary feet,

thankful that more than broken chairs and

overturned buckets await them.

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