Do you want to dance?

November 4, 2010

My body was sprawled on the roof outside my window on an unexpectedly skirt-wearing short-sleeved day in late October, letting frustrated life questions reverberate from my chest to the open blue sky above me: Are my decisions worthwhile? Should I be more practical in my future-attempts?

My dad has this story he told me when I was seven years old about trying to decide whether he should leave his successful financial career to go back to school for teaching. As he was contemplating this dilemma, whispering prayers for guidance to the corner of the room where the wall meets the ceiling, he put on his headphones and immediately heard Michael Jackson’s song “Man in the Mirror” directing the phrase “Go ahead, make that change!” into his eardrums. He listened to Michael. (I reminded him of the way Michael changed his life on the event of Michael’s death, and he seemed slightly embarrassed that I remembered a story he told me when I was a kid. These days he’s cycled back around from teaching to finance.)

This morning, the church service I went to was a drama of the scene where Jesus comes to visit the home of Martha and Mary. Perhaps my favorite story in that giant book. The one where Martha tattle-tales on Mary because she’s running around doing all the work while Mary sits with Jesus and talks. The famous “one thing needful” is to spend that time in simple presence. “Stop taking yourself so damn serious and be present with me,” is pretty much what Jesus says.

So there I am glued to the roof on a perfect autumn day, trapped in suspenseful anticipation for my mind to reach an answer to my questions, trying to contemplate my life decisions with big words because I have 500 more words to learn for the GREs, and Sufjan Stevens crooning on my computer sings to me:

“It’s a long life. Everything is chance. Does it register? Do you want to dance?”

The song saying to me: Stop taking yourself so serious and enjoy the presence of unexpected beauty. The silly is salvation from the ultimately overserious.

I imagined myself whirling around the sky dancing, present and imaginative on the sun-warmed roof, needful.


a walk to where I go

July 7, 2010

“Wanna walk to Squirrel Hill?” I asked my housemate on a day the weatherman had just informed me would be “oppressively hot.” It was a 2.5-mile trek across Pittsburgh neighborhoods. Each way.

She looked at me like I was crazy. “Well…” she mustered with a disapproving look on her face. She was sitting at her computer looking at pictures on Facebook. “Do you have anything else to do today?” I offered as the only reason I had for why this was a good idea. It worked.

So we set out on our trip. I was inspired by my 60-year-old coworker who lives in Squirrel Hill and walks to and from work every day in East Liberty. Most of the people I work with drive the four blocks down the road to get from our main offices to our food pantry, but this alternative mentality of walking several-mile distances daily seemed so appealing. Usually I bike everywhere, but something about the steady clarity of walking matched the slow-motion mood of the oppressively hot day.

The walk wasn’t great.

By what we decided was the halfway point, we were sweat-dusted and had drained our water bottles in us. We stopped at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts to browse the air conditioning. Our flip-flopped feet were blistering and aching. We stuffed leaves between skin and shoe to dull the pain.

We made it to Ten Thousand Villages, the destination we intended to reach, and back. Even with the difficulties—and likely because of them—walking along with us, it felt like an adventure. Much more than rolling in a car to a store could have. It reminded me of when I lived in Uganda and no one paid much attention to time because everyone walked most places and the journey was just as important as the destination.

The journey is just as important as the destination.

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.

green dreams

I followed the rain drops along the uniquely dusk-colored handrail up to the porch elevated enough to overlook the street and entered into the greenery haven: a porch perfected with complementary walls of vines and twisting leaves caressing its boundaries. I looked around and breathed, a sneak gratefulness for walking in the steps of the people who lived here and pretending this space was mine—the shocks of flower, the bamboo chair, the rain dripping over the green netting and cooling the day.

Then I knocked because I came there to knock and waited. The old man with the look of utterness opened the door and smiled his confused old man smile.

I handed him his lunch with a pressing desire to ensure that someone would enjoy this day from the green space where I stood. “Do you ever eat your lunch out here on the porch?” I asked.

“Well I was sitting out on the porch but I came inside because it started raining.”

“Wouldn’t it be so nice to sit out here with the rain and eat your lunch?” I felt like a somewhat sales person with no clear profit goal.

His eyes got surprisingly big. “You know,” he spoke in wonderment, “All my life I’ve been eating my lunch in the kitchen. You’ve really given me something to think about. Maybe I’ll do that someday.”

And when I left, I’m sure the old man walked slowly back to his kitchen and left the porch begging to be sat on empty, and I walked back to a car hoping that words carry potential for change.

wedded to my very soulAfter driving to the store to acquire my mom’s requested milk and onions, I pulled to the parking lot’s exit and, giving into an explosive need to break free that was jittering like too much coffee inside of me, I turned onto the street away from the direction of my destination.

A few sporadically chosen turns, and I found myself driving fast through the long, curvy road of the Bedford metroparks, the woodsy haven in the middle of the over-developed suburb where I spent much of my growing-up life wondering around. The trees grew into my road roof that filtered the bright Sunday afternoon sun into granting my body a rare chance to press pedals that propel me effortlessly fast.

The kind of autumn day you dream about.

Driving past all the people walkingrunningjoggingstretchingbiking in herds or alone, I felt crisp cool breezes and listened to sullenly hopeful speaker projections, moving and moving until an end. The end arrived with the sight of an opening that led into Tinker’s Creek, the place where my grandma brought me on young summer days. Once she instructed me to collect rocks that we took into Sunday school the next day and painted. I had painted a bird on mine.

Here, on this starkly unaverage day, I pulled the car next to the creek and watched a moment the woman with her hand tucked safely inside the man’s elbow, together wondering through each other’s company in the form of a grassy space with no destination. The look of content from a distance.

Then I ripped my shoes into shreds and ran to the stream, plodding into the cool water to collect the perfect rock, painted it with poetry and threw it into the sky, called it ebenezer to immortalize the autumn day and the falling away from things I’ve known and the necessary death of some parts of me to allow the experience of rebirth.

It’s mostly about rebirth.

I watch waves larger than my eyes know crash into themselves and send their spray in the air like a father tossing a gleeful small child up and up when he comes home from work. The child goes airborne and explodes, flies, spews parts in all directions, crashes deathly to jagged ground. Too much power.

Wondering the rocky coast line, words drift on wet air from a bystander: “The ocean is so powerful…  God is amazing.”  Necessary abandonment of these words to get closer to what the water is.

I plant myself and sprout slowly from a rock overhang jutting out in a manner reminiscent of the opening Simba scene in The Lion King. The spray could devour my dangling feet if it reached with a slightly greater effort. Thought streams something like:

the need to give the ocean the credit she deserves for her tantalizing dance with the rocks that scrape her body’s outlines instead of condensing her into the word God which finds more over-use and consequent haze than the words love or starving or beautiful. But where the words? There is water there is rock there is me there are other people there is an overwhelming something greater somewhere somewhere somewhere and never right words for all the combinations of how we many meet, collide, create something like living to not be said. Hereupon helpless i utter lilac shrieks and scarlet bellowings and become only further indebted to the ocean because her waves’ melodrama drowns my sound.

An old man standing near turns to my friend, says of me, “Must be meditating.”
“More likely writing poetry in her head,” the words from a friend who read my moment well.

The old man laughed out loud at a something real he considered a joke, a sound that couldn’t carry to my ears over the more pressing although less formed perceptions of an ocean’s handshake.

swallow me whole

wondering a summer day

June 11, 2009

The land took a steep turn downward through the woods. “We’re going down,” I said over my shoulder to a friend who was clearly hesitant about the truth of this statement.

“I’m dizzy just looking down there,” she said.

We went anyways.

We half-walked-half-slid-down through the non-path in the woods that wasen’t quite tamed for traveling, through the tree-sheilded land of lost kickballs, overunderaround fallen trees and piles of dead leaves and a trickle of stream. My unconfident friend in tow, I tried to feel some kind of certain that the nonexistent path I was creating would carry us somewhere worth going.

Such unassuming walks usually do.

Finally, after pushing through bushes, coming face to face with a clearing who acquainted me with knowing the vastness of sky which life’s movements had recently concealed, and climbing up tree-root-ladders, we spotted a picnic table in the midst of the trees: a signal of abandoned once-life.tree-filtered life

As we sat on the table to recover from the journey with unknown purpose, a through-the-trees gaze taught us the nearness of the river.

We sat with the trees and the sight of water so surprisingly ours and said simultaneous phrases to make poetry, wrote the words on rocks, and left them to mark the place where everything had led.

summer standing still

May 28, 2009

summer meets me





 I walked in on new summer when she wasn’t
expecting me:

just as she woke in the morning with a hint of drool still sticking to her chin while her face glowed radiant, refreshed by sleep. She was in her element, envisioning no audience:

I paused to watch her through the kitchened chaotic remnants of a last night’s toying with life’s movements, where two glass doors stretched like arms open wide to embrace me from across the room, framing summer’s substance:

on a back porch, old speakers stacked projecting lighthearted tunes in the ears of two porch inhabitants:

one a skinny boy with scruffed curly hair slouched like comfort in a wicker chair, legs crossed, shirtlessly wearing decaying brown corduroy cut-offs. And the other a skinny boy with tousled blond hair that speaks of inattention, blue cut-offs hanging from his waist, leaning purposefully careless along the doorway’s side, and eating an apple.

I saw backs:

faces were directed silently to the same uneventful place:

green. Green of every possible shape and size growing from stems or branches covering the back yard’s wooden fence. They watched it captivated like a movie. More green than the eyes still stuck in spring could understand. And to the right, bright red growing from a bush. The scene frozen in sun-filled warmth:

the stacked speakers, the skinny boys, the apple, green, the red:

summer arrived.