taste of content

My last apple eaten was an after-school snack in 11th grade. There was the breathlessness of dancing, flinging my body repeatedly over and across the shaggy orange carpet of my parent’s basement and the subsequent grabbing of the apple I had left waiting for me on the surface of their wooden entertainment center. I ate and my throat swelled its disapproval. The threat of strangling from the inside scared me away from apples for the next six years.

My ultra-recent revelation: I can eat apple meat as long as I skip the peel. Today I plucked apples from rows of trees illuminated by the autumn day and sunk my teeth into the taste of juicy content that’s been contained inside a high school memory for too long. It devoured me.

the morning’s words

May 26, 2009

If you’re ambitious you’ll have a career path set by your 30s,” the kindly retired man offered in response to my verbalized indecision. His voice had a rambling tone that nearly disguised the knowledge burrowed deep inside of what he said.

He winked his next sentence toward me with new clarity: “Of course, there’s no law that says you have to be ambitous.”

If was liberation to hear aged advice from an older adult that resonated with my now: it’s okay to have an unconventional life’s plan; it’s worth devoting time to poetry if the prospect of it makes me fall in love with mornings; it’s important that our ways to live keep us actually alive.

But the important decision isn’t whether or not to shirk ambition, but to choose what to be amibitious about. Even if it’s something abstract, undefined… ambitious for a feeling that comes from something like sleeping inside warm rain or for a carefree attitude that sings summer or for forgetting about boundaries (like time, like routine) that can’t control as much if we give them less credit. 

definitionOur ambition’s directedness creates for ourselves a something to be known.

colors collide

May 13, 2009

KaleidoscopeI started writing a poem with kaleidoscope imagery yesterday. It made me realize that it’s been too long since I’ve held a kaleidescope in my hands, pointed it up to the sky and spun colors around for exclusively my eye, consented to let mirrors trick me into seeing glimmering patterns change when I look at a rolling pile of beads.  

Kaleidoscope2

sparrow security breech

I stepped off the elevator and directly into a dilemma.

A bird flew inside through the window next to me and cut off my path like he was challenging me to a race. He continued a confused hop all the way down the outrageously long hallway as I hesitantly trailed him. He stopped in front of the very last door, the exact apartment where I needed to deliver the meal I was carrying.

I took one step closer, and the bird went crazy. He flitted his wings ceaselessly and nose-dived into the door, rebounded and slammed into the door on the other side of the hallway, and set himself in repeat mode for this painfully back-and-forth pattern.

This moment verified my suspected terror of birds in enclosed human spaces.

Only yesterday a woman discussed with me her suspicion that the tiny brains of birds who bang their heads on windows and walls experience something like shaken baby syndrome. This makes them go crazy and (I might be slightly exaggerating this part) their mushed brains force them to peck out human eyes.

But if I didn’t get past this now-crazy bird, an elderly man would have no food. I took a deep breath, clutched the meal container in front of my eyes to shield them, and stepped forward. The mess of wings shot toward me. I started swinging food and running the other way until the two of us were right back where we started.

I left the apartment building to enlist help. My driver was a very kind and very small Russian man named Yuri, and I explained the situation to him twice because the word “bird” didn’t translate well between our different accents. “Ohhh, you are too scared!” he said and resolved to heroically save me from my fears.

I led Yuri to the bird-infested hallway and watched from around the corner as he marched into the path of the likely eye-hungry bird. The bird just flitted past him. Yuri was clearly not going to allow a bird to continue haunting the hallway and scaring helpless people like me, and so, after delivering the meal, he chased the bird.

As Yuri pushed the bird into the main hallway, a woman and her small child stepped off the elevator. “There’s a bird in the hallway!” the little boy excitedly screeched with giant eyes. He then thrust his hands upward and yelled, “I’m superman!”

Our small crowd watched as Yuri caught the bird in his hands and released him out the window. While we rode the elevator safely away from the situation, I added “birds with shaken baby syndrome” to the list of things I’m afraid of which now includes choking, knives pointing at me, owning expensive things, and birds with shaken baby syndrome.

I also added both Yuri and kids who think they’re superman to my list of useful people to have around in times of crisis.

raining liberation

May 4, 2009

rain me free

She parked the car on a side street and the three of us spilled out of it, locking locks and slamming car doors in our wake.

As we collected ourselves on the sidewalk, another car paused mid-street in the space next to us. A girl who stood near us with a broken umbrella over-protecting her from the barely rain reached for the car handle and attempted to stuff herself and her stretched-too-high rain equipment inside. She began to reshape the open car into closed but her arm barricaded her intent, extended above the door boundaries with the curved umbrella handle gripped still in her hand.

“This umbrella is a joke,” she announced to the dark, wet sky and let go of everything that held her back.

She threw the umbrella and sped off in the car while the quick reflexes of the wind caught it and carried it for a moment. The wind soon considered the contents of its grip equally as useless, and everyone walked away with the broken umbrella abandoned to the middle of an empty street.  

rainy laughter

I set out in sun to walk to the post office.

Half way down an alley lined with dumpsters, the wind whips through and the sky quickly closes its eyes to light. Garbage goes up into everywhere.

I start racing the rain to the post office while wind holds my hair out of my face and lets me experiment with leaning forward without the risk to fall.

The rain wins. It starts to brush me lightly like a hesitant painter on a pressingly white canvas. Then it has a couple drinks and lets loose. Warm water streams and I run.

And I laugh. There are guidelines for how and why we should quickly end our encounter with wet. I break them. I wish the people I pass would throw down their umbrellas and understand.

Images flash of other moments like these where my legs pound quickly across ground, my body gets clothed in water, and my laughter rings loud like song—each run in the rain so vividly alive.

While I run and cling to those images I reside inside subtle contentment until the sky runs out of water. I play no role, have no definition.

I become just laughter with water dripping down its face and arms.

grilling ourselves full

April 24, 2009

Yesterday I felt trapped in a frigidly endless cold winter.

Today it’s hot. I stepped into the middle of summer and I’m ready to jump in a pool.

And so we did the only thing you can at a job that’s responsible for feeding a group of homeless people lunch every day: we had a cook-out.

grilling ourselves full

Hamburger and hot dog-scented smoke filled East Liberty, and people appeared from every direction in search of the source. Our meager group sat at the corner picnic table, handing out our extra food to people visiting us with hungry eyes, and getting burned by unfamiliar sun.

Something about sun and outside makes life taste liberating.

Today is my lovely older sister’s birthday. She’s a kindergarten teacher, and everyone in her immediate family individually decided that the perfect gift was sending flowers to her classroom. She likes flowers. But as she received her birthday bouquets, she made the mistake of saying it out loud.

“I just love flowers!” I can imagine her saying in her always-enthusiastic kindergarten-teacher voice. The kindergartner kids are constant spies. They hear everything she says. And remember it.

And so later, when they went outside, the children approached her with vivid excitement and smiles grasping bouquets of yellow dandelions in their little hands, glad to grant her just what she loves.

As my sister told me this story, we laughed, remembering how happy we used to get when life was little and bursts of yellow appeared in the yard. We ran in the grass barefoot, collected them carefully, and gave them to our mom.

I wish I would still look at a dandelion and see a flower.

dandelion

It’s a new door that I have never knocked on before, so I don’t know what to expect. It opens quickly to reveal a smiling-eyed old man in an outlandishly giant green bathrobe wearing large, thick glasses and skewn white hair that seems to indicate he spent the night in his basement developing the formula for flubber.

“Well you’re younger and smaller”: the first words from his mouth.

“Than what?” I ask.

“Than the last person who came here. That’s why I’m happy to have you anytime they want to send you,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I have to tell you that I’ve been real into photography lately. Come in. Let me show you something.”

I take a second to contemplate this offer, wondering if this is a trick scene from some kind of sleazy tv show. But I visit many elderly people in their homes, and I’m confident in my ability to outrun and/or overpower any of them if necessary, so I assure this maybe too-kind old man that I can stop in for a little bit.

We walk into his living room, and he hands me an envelope.

“Many people dream about this but you don’t see it too often,” he narrates as I open the envelope and unfold its contents. It’s a letter that says something about some of his photos being posted in a photo gallery on the internet.

I look at this old disheveled man wearing the giant glasses and outlandish house robe and doubtfully speculate just what kinds of images his photos show.

“I like to take photos, so if you see that look come across my eyes…” His words cut off to make room for his intent stare at me, then he abruptly continues, “Don’t cut your hair. We need about three more inches on your hair. Then, next time you come, we might just have to see about taking you upstairs.”

Feeling thoroughly creeped but more so enjoying such an absurd interaction that I didn’t expect from this morning, I laugh politely.

I actually enjoy this part of my job. The part where I’m unexpectedly entertained at how it reveals the interesting aged characters who spend their days behind the doors of houses in my neighborhood. People can be so humorously charactered.

happily unexpected

April 17, 2009

“It seems like miracles always happen around here,” my supervisor said over the rim of his early morning coffee. “I’m becoming too dependent on them.”

 

I suppose that’s the perspective that a social work agency has to adopt. We encounter endless nice people who make harmful life decisions, and we grip the armrests of our front-row seats and watch the painful consequences play out in their lives, knowing that there are severe limits to what we can do to help. But every once in a while things work out. Homeless get homes. Drug abusers stop abuse. Hungry get food. Volunteers show up at right times.

 

It’s life. We have so little control and such a minuscule amount of opportunity to enforce organization on it. Maybe miracles is the word for what constantly brings things into a happily unexpected sense of togetherness. If that’s the case, I don’t know how to live without them either.

 

miracle