Category Archives: winter

gone to the printers

I think this might be like arriving at base camp at the foot of Everest

I know its an awful lot like being 37 weeks pregnant.

maybe you dreamed of it

surely you worked for it

but as the time nears

you realize, increasingly

that you have absolutely no idea

what you’ve gotten yourself into

 

and the dark clouds form and disperse

as you reckon the size of the leap

you have made

peering at the place you think you’re going to land

readying the things you think you’ll need

asking for mentors, safety nets

realizing that when you need financial security more than ever you are sloughing it off

to pit yourself against the challenge

of doing this thing

and doing it well

aprons and layers falling

revealing the dream vulnerable to the raw air:

 

I,

Writer

terrified, quaking, tired and certain

there is no perfect draft, there is no truly ready time

the story is past due

 

and gone to the printers.

finally finished, and only just begun.

Downwind: A People’s History of the Nuclear West.  November 2014

 

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Ravens and Aprons

"Ravens,

Pressing cold fingers against a sharp-edged metal key
in a stubborn lock
after running back into the house
to grab a clean apron
i am startled
into the present moment
by the guttural exhortation of a very large black raven
perched directly across the driveway
at eye level

.Pause.

The bird’s dark eyes gleam
January wind cuts through the yard
the raven holds its perch as the power line sways
the moss growing on the shingle overhead is damp and green
and the key is painful against the skin of my fingers,
dried out by a long night of bleachrags at the pub.

Another four ravens fly overhead together
squawking and calling into the cold
wings flapping against the sky like
black aprons on the line.

I see ravens everywhere on my drive to work.
Swooping into naked winter branches,
rising up from the rocky beach by the ferry terminal,
picking at cigarette stubs on the sidewalks of West Seattle.

Tie on my apron and wade into the slow current of Sunday night,
cleaning and serving, emptying salt and pepper shakers
leaning into my work instead of out
noticing the edges of moments,
water landing in a pintglass,
footfalls on time-worn wooden floors.

Damn Raven might’ve been a Rinpoche.

(genesis. orderpad poem 6 January 2013).

(genesis. orderpad poem 6 January 2013).

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Filed under basic goodness, Ordinary, poetry, stories, winter

latkes

Last night, a homeless man politely propositioned me for cash at a gas station.
I held up a fistful of ones and told him we’d dragged the seat cushions for these,
and I couldn’t spare any
and he politely said
no worries sweetheart,
happy holidays.

Inside I handed over eleven dollars to the Sikh cashier,
and watched the homeless man standing against the cold.
while my husband pumped gas I rummaged through a canvas bag full of Hanukkah leftovers.
Returned to the homeless man with a glass container
and asked him if he was hungry
yes, he said
and I apologized that the latkes were greasy
he tugged his glove off and accepted the leftovers into his palms
and said thank you
and I replaced the lid and said you’re welcome.

As we drove away into the dark I rubbed my oil slick fingers together
and caught myself feeling relieved for having allayed my guilt
over having more
rather than less
and thus descended into a hyper-intellectual narrative
about privilege and inequity
and altruism and leftovers

Then it occurred to me
that the homeless man’s fingers were slick with the same cooking oil
as mine
and our bellies now held the same food
and that maybe it was enough to leave it at that

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Leap.

Today did not exist last year. It will not exist next year. When I click “new post,” I notice that wordpress doesn’t acknowledge today exists today: it dates my post March 1.  I feel like putting “today” and “exist” and “last year” in quotes.  This seems like the beginning of a quagmire,

so i spin my chair away from the computer and watch Callum eating a banana and gently touching the houseplants.  Earlier he draped mardi gras beads on a wee dinosaur with the concentration of someone doing calculus. He brings me his shoes repeatedly and insists on something to me in a language I do not understand, all the while refusing to let me help him put on his shoes. It is exhausting and repetitive and sweet and baffling.   It is snowing in flurries, and I am making my second cup of coffee, with a filter cone, as my percolator broke a few months back.

They say today is a correction, to prevent our calendar from drifting.

A day of correction. A hiccup in our notion of time. We are obsessed with time, with age, with hours and minutes. We have so many things to do, we parcel moments into grids, we monitor the grids and set alarms and reminders on our smart phones. We grasp hold of these pieces of time and we Use them For All They Are Worth, and we think we are stopping time by owning it.

I think the correction is an illusion.  I think it might be good to realize we are drifting every now and then, that nothing is solid. That what we call day and what we call night are nothing more than distance from the sun, that we are little creatures on a spinning orb in a vast openness. This makes me think of all my friends and neighbors and family and the people i send emails to and the people i wait on and the people who piss me off in traffic, all sitting in a rowboat that no one remembered to tie up.  We haven’t drifted very far.  Its weird to be drifting, so we’re all kind of staring at each other, quiet for once, realizing that we are all in this tiny boat together. The shore is within wading distance, and no crises appear to be imminent.

Still, we feel the need to hold onto each other.

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Filed under basic goodness, motherhood, winter

Doldrum notes

I.
i left two pieces of toast unattended
while sorting a self-regenerating pile of laundry,
the toast caught on fire
and burned for some time
filling the kitchen with a surprising amount of smoke
i opened the front door
and the back door
and our house became a tunnel of wind
the baby and i watched, astonished
as it barreled past us
like a train

II.
driving north on a rainy tuesday,
i noticed
they’ve finished the suicide fence on the Aurora bridge
its not an insurmountable obstacle
but people won’t be able to stand there,
on the edge
contemplating the leap,
like they did in the old days.
Now, they’ll have to clamber over
and dangle,
awkwardly.
it seems like it would be harder to change your mind
from this position.

III.
childproof caps are not always childproof, but
“the human body can tolerate a great deal of ibuprofen without adverse affect”
or so I am told by the nice man at Poison Control
and I sit there after he hangs up
watching the baby
who may or may not have eaten any pills,
and think of all the things we survive
just to become children
we should give ourselves more credit
for resiliency

IV.
the prayer flags are snapping and twisting in the wind
while the sleeping dogs lie
it occurs to me that I’ve used the word doldrums several times lately
without being entirely clear on the meaning.
so i look it up.
and the definition delights me.
turns out,

the doldrums are a place…
a band of the earth near the equator
where the north winds and the south winds converge
its a low-pressure zone, where things are calm
and ships got trapped in the old days
because there wasn’t enough wind to fill their sails

it seems to me that the doldrums aren’t actually depressing at all
but rather, are a good place for contemplating

to escape,
one just needs to get out the oars.

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Filed under doldrums, poetry, watching it all go by, winter

Last week, I visited the Northwest Detention Center.

On a cold, grey-sky January morning last week, I packed the diaper bag and made myself some tea with lemon and honey, since I was fighting a cold. In our bedroom, I scooped the baby warm and sweat-damp out of sleep and changed his diaper before he’d finished his waking up stretch. By the time I’d dressed him and bundled him into his carseat, his eyes had fallen closed again. I drove south from our neighborhood in south Seattle, past the sprawling concrete runways of Sea-Tac airport, to a trailer court near my husband’s school where many of his students live.

I was looking for the home of a brother and sister, one a current and one a former student of my husband’s. They and their younger brother needed a ride this morning, and I had offered to drive them. I followed a map my husband had drawn on a piece of scratch paper until I found their trailer. Their mother, a small, pretty woman with dark hair, welcomed me inside, exhorting me to come out of the cold, and I sat with the baby in an armchair near the door. Their home was cosy and dark with the heavy curtains drawn over the windows, likely to help keep out the cold. The parents’ wedding picture was framed over the television, which was tuned to a program in Spanish. The mother moved quietly around her house, finding jackets for her daughter and sons, who sat next to me and played with the baby. Their father wasn’t home. Back in early December, he’d been apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and he’d been detained and awaiting deportation ever since. His wife and children hadn’t seen him in over two months. I had come to drive his children to his deportation hearing.

Their mother couldn’t take them because she’d be asked to show her papers, and she didn’t have the proper ones to show. As I sat in the armchair by the door holding the baby, an older gentleman who was a friend of the family gave the kids a brief set of instructions in English. “When you see your father, don’t talk to him. You can’t smile or wave or stand up. Just sit quietly. If you make the judge angry they could decide against your father. Do you understand?” The kids nodded.

Outside, their mother had her car warming up for me to drive. I pulled the baby’s carseat out of my car, and she installed it in her small four-door sedan with brisk efficiency. She was wearing a fleece jacket and a black skirt, and thick pink socks over her tights. I imagined her getting out of bed early while the house was still cold, dressing in an extra layer and turning on the heat. I wondered if she made herself tea or coffee and sat with her hands wrapped around the mug in the quiet, thinking about her husband, before waking up the kids and making their breakfast. I thought about how once you have children, feeling sorry for yourself is a luxury you don’t really have time for. I thought about her daughter, who’d been one of my husband’s students in his first year of teaching at this school. Exceptionally well-behaved and kind, perfectly bilingual, insightful, thoughtful, and intelligent far beyond her grade level, she’s a critical thinker, acutely aware of the systems that surround her. At the age of nine, she and another student staged a day of silence to protest injustice after learning about Mahatma Gandhi in fourth grade. She made such an impression on me I named the heroine of a children’s story I wrote after her. I wondered how much of her and her brothers’ comportment was the result of having had such a stable home life up to this point.

The kids climbed into the car and buckled their seatbelts, and we got onto the freeway heading south. The oldest, the girl, sat next to me in the front. Her brothers sat quietly in the back, the older one focused on entertaining my son in his carseat. I tried to make conversation, but none of us had much to say. We passed the Federal Way waterslide park in the rain, and I asked them if they’d ever been. The daughter brightened. “No, but a friend of my parents said maybe they’d take us this summer.” We lapsed back into silence. I followed the family friend’s car off the freeway just north of Tacoma, and we made our way through the industrial section of the city to the Northwest Detention Center. It’s what’s known as a “Contract Detention Facility,” which means that a private corporation is getting paid for each person detained here.

(Image by Alex Stonehill, from http://www.prx.org/pieces/52448-expanding-the-northwest-detention-center)

The Northwest Detention Center is a dismal-looking place. Razor wire spirals around the fencetops, and there is no visitor parking. A few spaces are provided for lawyers’ and employees’ cars, but those who are here to visit the incarcerated have to park on the street. There were lots of people there that morning, and I had trouble finding a spot. After I’d carefully tucked the car in a space near some sort of shipping yard and unloaded the kids and the baby, a man in a hard hat came outside to yell that he was going to tow my car. I gave the baby to the eldest girl to hold and moved the car to a spot in a nearby alley.

The family friend led us across the railroad tracks and inside, past the line of waiting families. He had been here before, and knew that we could bypass the line since we were here for a court date. A brusque official signed us in and ordered us to leave our coats and bags and cell phones in a locker. I was informed I could take only “one diaper, one wipe” for the baby. As we stowed our things in the locker and shepherded the kids through the metal detector, I heard this instruction barked at subsequent mothers waiting in line. “One diaper, one wipe!” “One diaper, one wipe!” I crossed my fingers the baby didn’t have anything in the works that couldn’t be handled with these minimal supplies.

We were buzzed from the waiting room into a hallway, where the kids found their dad’s name amidst three or four dozen other names on a court roster, taped to the white cinderblock wall. A security guard told us there would be a long wait. We took our seats. There wasn’t much to look at. Lawyers passed through occasionally, checking in at a glassed in desk. A portrait of Barack Obama in front of the American flag hung on the wall opposite us. The family friend made brief conversation, asking me about the baby, and telling me that his kids were grown, and that he worked the night shift last night and had not yet slept. The kids kicked their feet restlessly. I thought about playing “I spy” with them, but gave up on the idea since there wasn’t much to spy. In the hopes of staving off a courtroom meltdown, I turned toward the wall and breastfed my son under my sweater.

A mother who looked to be about eighteen came in with her baby, another woman, and two children. The baby bumped his head while playing on the floor and began to wail, and the young mother scooped him up and pressed his forehead to her lips, whispering words of comfort to him as she rose to bounce him in her arms. She did so with practiced efficiency, moving around the room until he fell asleep, and I felt a physical kinship to her, having done the same thing many times before.

About thirty minutes later, we were escorted by a guard into another hallway. We sat together on a long wooden bench and waited some more. Dozens of men in blue or orange prison jumpsuits were escorted in and out of the three courtroom doors while we waited. I watched the kids out of the corner of my eye, and wondered what it felt like for them to know they were going to see their father dressed as a prisoner. I wondered if they were reminding themselves of their instructions, not to smile or wave or speak to the father they hadn’t seen in over two months.

After another twenty minutes of waiting, the guard led us into the small courtroom. The detainees sat on the left side of the room, their families on the right. A Spanish-language interpreter sat at a desk before the judge, and a lawyer representing the federal government sat at another desk. In the center of the room, there was a third table with a microphone and a pair of headphones. We stood as the judge entered. She apologized for the delay, then proceeded briskly to the matter at hand. It took her approximately seven minutes to hear each case. Each detainee put on the headphones to hear the judge’s comments translated into Spanish.

Some of the men were in court for bond hearings, while others were being considered for deportation. To each of the potential deportees, the judge put the same set of questions. “Are you aware of your right to be represented by a lawyer?” If they did not have one present, (and only one of twelve did), she asked “Do you waive that right?” Most answered “si.” Through her questions, small details about these men emerged. Most had American-born children. Most were in their mid-twenties, and had been apprehended for traffic violations. Most were from Mexico. Several admitted to being afraid to return to their countries of origin, citing “the violence in Mexico” or “the violence in Guatemala.” Their answers seemed to matter little, and the judge authorized the deportation of nearly every one of the men.

The childrens’ father was the second-to-last to go before the judge. He looked down at the floor when he walked past his kids. My stomach tightened when I realized there was no lawyer present for him. His three children obeyed the instructions they’d been given, and sat still as he walked past them and put on the headphones. As it turned out, he was actually here for a bond hearing, and he did have a lawyer, who the judge called and put on speakerphone. The connection was poor and it was difficult to understand the conversation. It turned out that because their father had already begun the process of appealing his deportation, this particular judge lacked the jurisdictional authority to grant him a bond, and his entire hearing ended up being nothing more than a bureaucratic shuffle. As he walked back to his seat, the guard asked the children, the family friend and I to leave, and the kids’ father flashed them the smallest and briefest of smiles.

We were buzzed through the two secured doors, and passed single file through the metal detector to reclaim our coats and the diaper bag. Outside, we stood beneath razor wire in the rain, and I asked the kids if they understood what had happened. The eldest daughter said yes, and I did my best to explain it to her brothers and the family friend, who confessed he was confused over the outcome. I told him that while nothing had really happened, it seemed that we should feel good, because he wasn’t under immediate threat of deportation, and there would probably be another hearing soon. He said he would be there for it, and I said I would bring the kids back again. “Well, I’ll see you then,” he said, with a small tired smile. “It’s a good thing you’re doing,” he offered as I began to shepherd the kids off the sidewalk. “De nada,” I told him, placing my hand over my heart.

A half an hour later, I pulled up in front of the family’s trailer. The oldest two children asked if they could go back to school for the rest of the school day, and their mother and I raised our eyebrows at each other and smiled. She thanked me, and I told her “de nada” like I’d told the family friend, placing my hands over my heart. I offered to give her son and daughter a ride to school, and they clambered into the car with their backpacks.

When I said “de nada,” I did not mean I thought it was nothing.
I meant its the least I can do.
But mi español es muy malo.

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This morning, it was rumored to be the Zombie Apocalypse.

Early this morning, my friend awoke from a strange dream to discover there was no power in his apartment. Several hours later, the power was still out, and stranger still, he had no cell service. When he walked outside, he saw no people, and no cars on the street. The rain was coming down in sheets, and the grey skies and powerless, peopleless neighborhood gave off a sense of impending doom. He theorized that his ground-floor apartment with its large windows would provide him little protection from possible Zombie Attack. Luckily his car was still working, so he picked me and the baby up and we proceeded to the Wayward Cafe for a lovely brunch with friends.

After he dropped me off at home, I settled in for a crafty afternoon, keeping an eye out for zombies. Delayed my start on projects when I broke a lightbulb in the bathroom, prompting a thorough and overdue cleaning. Afterwards, marched out to the garage with the baby and dug through boxes for colored lights and fabric scraps, bent on finding materials with which to begin our family’s particular tradition of holiday celebratory decorating, the themes of which we are still hammering out, as a Buddhist/Agnostic family with a distaste for rabid consumption descended from a blend of secular Judeo-Christian-Pagan-esque traditions. C. is fussy and fights sleep for a long time, reducing my grand plans to a tiny embroidery project. Eventually he falls asleep, clutching the feet of his too-long pajama pants to his chest, which gives him the appearance of having bizzarely crippled legs.

I leap into action, busting out the sewing machine and busily stitching doll pieces together. Its a simple pattern (I just scribbled an outline on a piece of paper. Easy peasy, requiring less than 3 minutes of planning, like all my sewing projects). Dutifully, I sew the pieces together inside out, so the seam won’t show. Do some stitch-ripping and resewing. Begin to turn doll right-side out.
Discover my prototype was so small, its nearly impossible to convince the fabric right-side out-again. Become frustrated. Attempt to create better workspace lighting. Blow a fuse. Visit the breakerbox in the rain. Return to my finger-cramping task. While using a pencil to attempt to unfurl the doll’s legs and arms, I break off first the pencil eraser inside the doll, then the pencil. Realize I’ve got to make a bigger doll, or this is never going to work. The baby wakes up, and I abandon the project.

Sigh.

I peer out the front window, where a gang of large neighborhood squirrels and several local ravens are busily dissecting the assorted garden squash that have been decorating our front porch since I harvested them last month. I’d planned to make soups and pies and breakfast sautees with them, but they froze and then thawed into mush after the snowstorm last month, and the animals have discovered the seeds to be an easy-access meal. I’ve been meaning to shovel the mush into the compost, but don’t have the heart to deprive the animals of a winter-snack they seem to enjoy. (Actually, I’m mostly just lazy, and have other things to do with my limited time during C-naps. Like give myself finger cramps while swearing at poorly planned sewing projects). I suppose the result will be random delicatas, sugar pumpkins and acorn squash sprouting up all over the yard and neighborhood. Which is great, frankly.

Get the babe back to sleep, and regard my abandoned too-small new-holiday-tradition doll project, still half-way outside in. I’m not giving up yet. After checking in with the news, which is promising political, educational, and flooding-related apocalypse, I opt to remain mostly irreverent about this mostly-ordinary rainy Sunday. At least the Zombies haven’t showed up yet.

photograph of our as-of-yet-un-zombie family by Andrea Fuentes-Diaz.

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