This Dance

Simone Forti

Only after the herd thunders past, then the chewing snapping locust swarm, then the boulder storm, only after all of these have carried themselves off into the collapsing distance does the gesture peek out from its hushed cave.

The ribbon unfurls from my wrist. A glass staircase bears the weight of fear. A feral pup  in its winter wool climbs to the cliff edge and readies its throat.

The wing, first opening, closes.

Opens again.  Continue reading “This Dance”


Happy 100 Days: 2

I stumble into the house, dump the groceries, take note of the dishes in the sink, and walk the dog. I tell myself, “After I fill her water bowl, I can relax.” I fill the water bowl. “As soon as I’ve put away the groceries, I can sit down.” I put away the groceries. “I’ll just start the laundry and then I’ll read the paper.” I start the laundry. “I could just do the dishes quick.”
Before crossing the kitchen, I turn on the radio. Bug’s favorite station is programmed: 94.7, all pop, all the time. I stop halfway to the sink. The music comes at me in a crash, sweeping me off my feet more completely than a riptide. There is no staying put on this shifting shore.I don’t even know the song even though I have heard it a dozen times. It doesn’t matter.
I dance.
The cat is yowling to go out. The dishes are waiting. The suitcases are not unpacked and there are five unanswered voice messages on the phone. Every bit of it tips off the edge of the earth and churns to the splintering deep. I ride the black and starlit crest of a wave.
I dance.
Through one song. Then another. My eyes are closed as I move there on the kitchen tile, wedged between the table and the counters. Still in my coat, I lift my arms and let the rhythm move my spine, swerve my hips, and turn me in small revolutions on this swelling stage. The undertow carries me further towards that misted moon.
I dance.
Three songs. Part of a fourth. Then, I feel sand beneath my feet. I tumble to dry land. I come back to earth. I stand there in the empty house and notice that the contents of the place have all come back to where they were before, yet they are somehow off by the slightest degree. They exist just beyond my immediate grasp. Everything has landed where it happens to be and not one bit of it needs me.
Forget the dishes. Forget the messages. I go upstairs and put on my comfiest sweats. The rest of the evening is for a soft couch and love songs. The rest, just for me.

Happy 100 Days: 29

The boys gather in the lobby of the rec center, one after the other striding out of the locker room. Blood warms their cheeks. Hair crazed by pool water sticks up in the back. They are swagger and ease. A mother in her track suit has brought pastries and Sunny D. They tear huge bites from their bagels and laugh silently on the other side of the glass, collared shirts tucked into belt and trouser. The tall one with the dark hair stands and slips a royal blue tie around the back of his neck. He talks talks talks, eyes bright, slipping silk and nylon around and around, up and over and through, not even having to think anymore about the rote motion of making that mighty noose.
Somewhere down the road, my own son rides in the back of his daddy’s 11-year-old Subaru past the private school. He is wearing Payless sneakers already rubbing bare at the toe even though I just bought them (yesterday?) He has on last year’s jacket. He won’t need it today. He plays and plays, building one version after another of a tower topped with armaments that can rule the world. He still believes everything is possible. He doesn’t yet conceive that anything is in his way.
There is this glass between these boys and me. I cannot hear them. Still, I hear. Their confidence booms. Today, I will go into the city and marvel at their grown-up counterparts stepping from the backs of gleaming black cars purring at the entrance to the Westin. I will make eye contact with one of the pair laughing with precision over half empty plates at a sidewalk cafe. The flint edge of his jaw will work against the sky as he drives home his point. He will glance back at me.
Fleeting. Maybe never there at all.
This summer December day. The worn out toe in my son’s shoe. The red leather handbag, butter and velvet, slung over the shoulder of the woman standing at the curb waiting for the light. The thin hips on the runner in the hot pink shorts, ponytail swinging as she turns the corner.
The bad taste in my mouth. The winter heat. The unresolved question. The pretty, the powerful, the cash, the castles.
Ancient ruins, cities rubble and weeds. We are gone. Everything we’ve ever loved and hated and coveted and ignored. Every truth, every law, every laugh.
Tiny braids spray across the girl’s narrow back, red hoops swaying from her ears. Her boredom, her long neck, her right leg crossed over the the left. Her lean, her gaze, her proximity, her anonymity.
We are dinosaurs. We are meteors. We are dust. We are the next big bang.
The wall of glass. The tight knot in royal blue. The worn out toe in my son’s shoe.
Nothing is in the way. Everything is possible.
Nothing is fixed. Everything is already gone.

Happy 100 Days: 55

“I wish we could fast forward through the whole year,” Bug says. We are in bed and have just finished three books and our first song.
“Yeah? How would that work?”
“We would go all the way through fall, past winter.” He floats his hand through the air above our faces. “And come out after springtime.”
“What for?”
“We could fast forward to a vacation,” he says. “A summer vacation.”
How many of us long for the same thing? I smile and touch his palm suspended up there. “But then you might miss a lot of the good stuff.”
“Like what good stuff?”
“Like all the cool things you get to learn in school,” I say. “How you are just now starting to learn to read. And seeing your friends in class. And playing at recess.” I turn and slip my arm around his middle. “And all the cuddling you’d miss. Think about that.”
“But we could come back all the way around to the beginning,” he explains.
“And do kindergarten all over again?”
“Mmm hmm,” he murmurs. He is fading. “Some kids do it twice.”
I brush my lips over his cheek and begin the next song.
The wind is in from Africa
Last night, I couldn’t sleep. . .

As I walk through the night with the dog over the same quiet neighborhood streets, I notice my mind has retreated again. I have slipped back to the Colorado mountainside or into our Lake George cottage or alongside the San Andreas fault with Bug in my belly. The nostalgia is an open wound. It bites and aches. I miss those trees so much. The dry summer sage. The creek snaking right outside our door. I miss watching Tee drape the house in white twinkle lights as soon as the nights began to lengthen. He would split the logs himself, stack them in the garage and carry up just enough to last through bedtime. Bug always wanted to play with the matches and help bring the fire to life, and Tee always had the patience to let him. I miss walking back through the moonless pitch on those crisp winter evenings towards that glimmering beacon haloed in woodsmoke.
I had no concept of the perfect loveliness of everything right in my hands.
Then I remind my hands to unclench. I whisper to my mind, beckoning it back to me.
You know it sure is hard to leave you, Carey,
but it’s really not my home.

The wound is not real. It is only a series of thoughts. I call myself in from those faraway wilds, giving myself the gentle nudge to attend to this here and now, this quiet stroll through a neighborhood with my lop-eared pooch who stops every 36 inches to snuffle in the leaves.
The time will come when this is the sweetest memory. It might be ten years or it might be tomorrow, but it will come. I will call up this night, the bones of these bare trees, this sleeping boy breathing in the mist and leftover lullabies, and I will ache for the perfect loveliness of this.
Let’s have another round for the bright red devil
Who keeps me in this tourist town

There is no rush and nothing to be gained from hurtling past the winter and right out the other end of spring. Do-overs are not allowed in this game. Getting to the promised land faster means you have only failed to inhabit your footsteps as you are taking them. As ill-fitting, bothersome, and wrong as this chapter may be, this right here is the story of you being written.
But let’s not talk about fare-the-wells now,
The night is a starry dome
And they’re playing that scratchy rock and roll
Beneath the mantle of the moon.

The end of this act is already coming. Whether you recognize it or not, whether you hurtle yourself towards it or fight it every step of the way, you are already on your way to the next unrecognizable incarnation. Someday soon, this will be the hard candy you suck until your teeth hurt. This will be the nugget you cannot spit out. You might as well pause long enough now to place your lips on whatever is here before you. Foul, sweet, and anything in between. It does not matter. It is yours. Take a good, long taste.
I say, oh, you’re a mean old daddy,
but I like you.


Thanks and apologies to Joni Mitchell for “Carey” from the glimmering winter night of an album, Blue.

Happy 100 Days: 96

Out there in the dark, the night creatures sing. The dog and I walk through them, deaf at first. The chatter in my head talks itself hoarse during the first mile. Finally, at the top of the hill where we turn back towards home, the soliloquy decides to pause for a sip of something cool.  I take a breath of September sky. At last, I can hear song.
The music starts with a churning of chirps. Then, an aquatic bass groans, rising slowly at first, sweeping up to its white crest and then crashing. Into that half-beat of rest, the faint piccolo of some distant insect twitters into the fringes of the composition. High up lyrics in the trees thrum against a low insistent rhythm. Some of these things sound finned, some winged. Some may only be visitors here. Some are most certainly in heat.
I walk and walk, the noise echoing against my skin. I walk right through the plush center of memory, returning to the deep blue-black of his sheets where we spread ourselves on our backs next to each other. It was the end of summer. The sliding door was flung wide, opening out onto the balcony and the woods beyond. We held hands and gazed blind into the dark, listening.
With our torn net of words, we tried to capture the sweeping shape of the calls out there. Low, elastic frog calls, intermittent and long. A high whine, a chirrup-chirrup. We listened together, whispering our discoveries. We collected five varieties of song, teasing out the threads, each of us hearing an altogether new strain that the other had discerned first. Finally, finally, we stopped forcing names on impossible things. We lay together sharing nothing but one song as it changed without our consent into something different. We let go without letting go. We no longer remembered to count. At some point before morning, that fleeting chorus lulled us to sleep.
I remember nothing of this.
I remember everything.
Tonight, the thunder rolls in. The dog and I make it home before the rain begins.

Sixth Scents

There was once an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day, his horse ran away. Upon hearing this, his neighbors came to visit.

“Such bad luck” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it two other wild horses.

“Such good luck!” the neighbors explained.

“Maybe,” replied the farmer.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. Again, the neighbors came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Such bad luck,” they said.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after that, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army to fight in a war. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.

“Such good luck!” cried the neighbors.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Bad news is on its way. I can see it cresting on the water out near the horizon. I don’t want it to come, but there is nothing I can do to change its course.
If the past is prelude, then this wave will knock me flat. What to do? Curl, protect, contract the muscles? Gather breath?
When I was pregnant with Bug, I had the nose of a bloodhound. Women carrying kids share a superhuman ability to smell that chocolate brownie a loved one ate at lunch as well as the sour sweat on every article of clothing in the laundry basket. This quirk of biology is surrounded by speculation. Is the increased olfactory skill a direct survival mechanism or is it simply a side-effect of the hormones?
Whatever the reason, my trial superpower was an equal source of wonder and disgust. The last thing in the world I wanted to know was that in the camp kitchen a quarter mile away, the fish sticks were almost ready. Also, though, I would stop dead on a walk through the high desert hills and swoon at the scent of a fruit-laced flower tucked out of sight. Between the yucca and manzanita, I stepped through some crack in the universe and emerged into an orchard of mango trees. I rarely found the source, but my brain and body understood I had brushed against the thigh of Eden.
When the senses are at their most raw, everything stings. Even the beautiful things, and perhaps those most of all.
The past is not prelude. Collapse is not foreordained. News, like the farmer’s luck, is an animate thing. This moment is writing over whatever came before.
Disappointment is just a feeling. It is an emotional tide, washing through and then receding as all the others do. Sorrow, excitement, rage, joy. These things are fleeting. The only power they wield is that which we give ghosts and kings. They rule by our willing submission.
Here is the new posture as the slow wave of unwelcome news gathers force:
Whatever the habit most associated with enduring heartbreak, do the opposite. If the pull is to retreat into a cocoon of blankets, Ben & Jerry’s, and HBO, then call a friend and make a date for the gym.
Stay awake. Read one line of poetry. Clean one closet shelf. Say a single prayer.
Every garden is both rot and blossom. It is true that we can compile irrefutable evidence of our failure. It is equally true that we can build a rock-solid case for our own limitlessness. Do the latter. Gather evidence. Learn a song in a foreign tongue. Identify a constellation. Name your goodness. Expand.
Say something nice when you feel anything but.
Walk out into the bright day.
Resist self pity. Override self righteousness. Quit faking nonchalance.
Have the courage to care. Desire will shift with the tides, too. Yearn, and feel the hunger. Neither the wanting nor the hollow it leaves will scar you.
Stay tender. Stay loose.
All that needs to be already is.
Feel everything. You are stronger than you know. Also, you do not need strength at all.
Sniff the air and welcome the scouring approach of the sea.

Muth, John J. Zen Shorts. New York: Scholastic. 2005.

Late Last Night, I Heard the Screen Door Slam

The dentist was the last holdout.
Henry Wray grew up here. He told me about it in that casual, rambling way a person can when he has his hands in your mouth. His stories were all yesterday. It was just a blink ago that Arlington had more single-family homes than condos. Tilapia risotto may not have been readily available, but you could walk down the block to get your hands such modern-day urban rarities as drill bits, a toilet brush, and practical underwear.
When he was little, Henry Wray’s mother took him shopping at Kann’s department store. He remembered standing up on the platform in the shoe department and ogling the caged monkeys kept there, one guesses, for the pleasure of the children and the relief of their mothers. As he grew, he moved and returned a time or three, watching the familiar landscape shift in that way cities do regardless of the potency of memory. Block after block gave way to office complexes, high rises, big-shouldered condos selling for $400 per square foot.
Dr. Wray has wrinkles. He wears a bow-tie. After a life of who knows what, he returned to the area and bought up one of the last little houses on North Kansas, a street that is barely a pass-through between the whizzing lanes of Wilson and Fairfax Boulevards. The tiny structure still had the feel of a home. A narrow corridor through the single-story bungalow was flanked by closet-sized rooms transformed into exam spaces and an office. The windows were plentiful. The carpet was brown. His part-time assistant greeted everyone with a booming hello.
To one side of Dr. Wray’s lot squatted a black-and-red structure made of what appeared to be oversized legos stuck together at wrong angles. It contained an insurance company and not much else, thought it was hard to tell through the tint of its windows. Behind the dentist’s house was a used car dealership and on the opposite side, a busted-up patchwork of weeds fenced in chain link.
From every side, shine pressed in on North Kansas Street. Across from Dr. Wray’s, the glassed balconies of a corner apartment building sipped shafts of light into bent shadow. A little further on, the FDIC’s rippling mirrors stretched the sun aquatic. The brushed steel face of George Mason University’s new Founders Hall burned back the day, its tiny windows blinking blinking against plaza trees that will require two decades of rain to cover its nakedness.
Every six months since I started working here, I made the 90-second journey across the street. I loved walking through Dr. Wray’s door (A front door! With a handle that turns!) After hanging my jacket on the coat rack, the dentist himself would call me back. I never had to wait. Henry Wray would reminisce as he hammered away at my plaque. On the way out, I would listen to the receptionist spill over with bubble and opinion as she jotted down my next appointment. I have one in my book for September.
Just last week, wrecking crews arrived. They rolled their equipment onto North Kansas Street and unfurled a barbed-wire border between past and future. You can get your visa stamped, but you aren’t coming back. The backhoes roared to life. Dr. Wray’s office, the last of the single-family homes in that long-gone memory of a neighborhood, lay in a heap on the ground. I watched as hot dust settled on the debris.
Time for a new dentist, I suppose. The old fellow is unlikely to start fresh anywhere else, unless “starting fresh” means sipping a martini by the side of some Canadian lake. This week, big yellow monsters clambered over the rubble of Dr. Wray’s office went to work on the black-lego building. Now, an entire city block is a moonscape of splintered drywall and shattered glass. Diggers pound deep into the orange dirt to gut the very belly of the earth. An underground parking garage? A sub-basement for HVAC? Anything and everything. It will go down, it will climb up. It will eclipse the sun. It will house the transients who, like me, have little time to spare for memory.
A local historian has written that no one can find a photograph of the Kann’s monkeys. People did not have smartphones in 1956, and even if they had, the mothers were too weary. Who captures such mundane things as shoe-shopping? As dental appointments? I did not think to snap an image of the last house on North Kansas Street or Dr. Wray’s red bowtie. I had no idea what was coming.
Silly me.
Blink, and it’s gone. Even though we know everything is fleeting, we cannot bear to hold that truth up in the front of the mind. We believe in permanence against all the evidence because it would be too frightening to consider how much we stand to lose.
Then the world up and blindsides us. Or, perhaps, we blinder ourselves.
I do this every day. I mourn the loss of the familiar, but I can’t even draw up an image of the object of my nostalgia. What did he look like, anyway? I gaze at the patch of once-woods where the new houses are going in, trying to discern some trace of the sacred canopy that sheltered a first kiss. What was there before? I wrack my brain. I probe the cavity. Emptied of recollection, the hollow place aches. Loss is the ice water. Better to go thirsty, some people believe.
We love so much without even knowing what inhabits the corners of our hearts: a small swath of trees, a giggle with a lover, the rainbow of petit fours in the pastry case at the supermarket. Every bit of it, beautiful enough to make the jaw throb, if only we had a moment, just one more moment, to notice this feast spread here for our senses. So perfect. So within reach.