Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Winslow Homer Canoe in the Rapids
 I had trouble sleeping last night. It may have been the handful of M&Ms, the pep band music from the basketball game, the snoring, the menopause, who knows. We lost, the girls didn't box out and were rattled by the full court press, they threw too many long passes, looking for a hero play. But the band always wins, the boys were giddy in the car coming home, Poker Face never stopped playing in my head, in bed, though I was trying to bridge it with a Welsh lullaby, trying to sleep. There was also a story keeping me awake, a story made into a movie I will never watch, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which I read, thanks to Katherine. English major, doll, who was your favorite, I asked, then I bought the book and why have I never read Hemingway's short fiction? A writer with a blackening, rotting wound, dying on safari, on a cot by a fire, with drifting thoughts, is thinking about the things he won't write about his life, he won't turn them into stories like he planned, he won't have a chance. 

Dark and drifting, warm, I don't think about quilts, I'm not even under one. I see some of my stories, see the whale rising by the rowboat, folding in my oar to miss it, so close, so very big, the water calm and greeny black, the floating kelp, then standing on a small bridge in a foreign city, some Lonely Planet neighborhood, looking at a dirty river and watching the animals and the children and the everywhere commerce, only awake because of jet lag. The train ride in Scotland with the bad haircut, the all night lava in Guatemala with other stoners on the Gringo Trail, peering into the volcano for hours, then getting up early to watch the sunrise and, bonus! Picaya was burping smoke rings in the cold morning air. Teahouses and outhouses on the Annapurna trek and boiled potatoes and dal bhat and carmelized tea. There was a safari, too, with lions and zebras and hyenas but no guns or whiskey-sodas or gangrene. Tea fields in Uganda and bullet holes in Kampala hotels, a friend's malaria in Zanzibar with shaking fevers and nasty brown urine, frantic with worry, then the ferry to Dar es Salaam and an easy recovery. Riding all day in the Peace Corps truck, not liking the wind but quiet about it because the driver wanted the window down and country music from the US on the tape player. Steven Banda, he had a liquid voice and a beautiful smile, two daughters but he wanted a son. He changed the oil in my car before I sold it and I left him a shiny red bicycle.

The fictitious writer with the bad leg remembers war, a ranch, whoring around and his several wives, Paris - for me, it is not war but the domestic grief of the ER and the hospital and the clinic. The sharp image of a neck X-ray, held up to the light, too much space between the bones, the child still alive but now we know. The pain, the all the time pain of arthritis and old age, the drug seeking, the parents walking in, knowing the waves dashed the head of their large young man on the rocks and that he is dead but not believing it. The mom on the phone, leaving a message on her father's answering machine, Please, Dad, I know you don't believe but please, Dad, pray to Jesus that Spencer will be healed. Her boy had fallen and was unconscious and drifting away but, when I checked in the morning, he was all right, he had gone home.

No Paris in my story, and no ranch but sweet months on a boat with my one baby boy, low tides, steep ramps, slick docks. Picking out a route in the fog, in the plane or looking for a headland in a boat. Lovers, yes, and husbands, and we won't call love and sex whoring around when it is spread out over decades and no one is drunk or getting paid. This man lying beside me is the best man, the right man, but no regrets, love is my religion, love and work are enough to shape life and give it meaning.

This morning, walking on Sharpe Road, I passed one of the old guys in his reflective vest. It is winter, but mild and clear. He waved and said, "It's grand to be out on a day like this." Yes, it is grand.

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