Sunday, September 23, 2007

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Nuts and Bolts

You swung the golden handle in a half-circle to open or shut the latticed metal doors and the elevator would clatter between floors on command. In the early '50's I was very impressed with those fancy doors at the Albany Hardware and Iron Company. My grandfather was the manager of the store, thin and bald and dapper in his vested suits and his wire-framed spectacles. I was so proud on those special occasions that he would take me to work with him on a half-day Saturday.

I was thrilled that my grandfather had a key to let us into the store before the customers started arriving. I could prowl the dim, deserted aisles, tiptoe-ing through the particularly spooky spots while he turned on lights and set up for opening. The cash registers had windows across the top where black numbers on pieces of white metal popped up noisily when the clerk hit the big round keys. The machine made glorious dings and chings, and the money drawer practically flew open to transact the cash exchanges. I was allowed to practice hitting the No Sale key when there were no customers.

Better even than the elevator and the cash register was - I still don't know what it was called - the pneumatic thingy that was able to transport money and messages from floor to floor. Need change for a $20 in third floor housewares? Stuff the bill in the gleaming brass tube, twist it shut, and stick the contraption in the brass pipe that ran throughout the building. The pipe mysteriously sucked the little messenger down to the first floor where the clerk there would whoosh it back to you with the proper change. How cool. Better than e-mail, or voice mail, or fax, and simpler to understand. I loved it and begged to send experimental posts through the tubes - pennies, gum, thumbtacks. My grandfather had the patience of a saint.

The old building sat sadly vacant for years with the long vertical sign easily recognizable on the front of the tall building on lower State Street. I don't get downtown much, but it is probably now a Curves or a Starbuck's or some other such irrelevant business, housing nothing as useful as screws and door hinges and garden tools, and making lovely memories for nobody.

Thanks, Gramp.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Don't read this 2

My breath is a treadle sewing machine behind my collarbone. A creaking bellows. An angry alligator. I am trying to make a poem before I sleep, but I cannot think. I keep falling into old song lyrics. Regularly, my diaphram spits out a cough and I must fight to control it, to keep from barking and choking. Even Eli has taken refuge under the bed.

Lots of things hurt in the night. Things that are more bearable by daylight.

It has been almost a year since I have seen Maddix and Lily. They have been surgically removed. I am still stunned. I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the times that I will ever see them again. Lily's birthday is coming again. You have stolen a whole year of her from me. Why did you do this, Michael?

I press my fingers into my cheeks. I take slow breaths. Shallow. Do not disturb the alligator.

I think of Laurie in her chicken dress that Easter Sunday, with her curly head, standing in the tulips on my parent's lawn. She was so beautiful and I thought that everything was going to be okay. I thought that marrying David would turn him into Arthur. I thought that we would be Happy Family and I would be June Cleaver in a Marianne Faithful kind of way. I thought I was doing the right thing. I didn't know anything. And I didn't do a very good job at any of it.

Eli has come out and climbed on the chair beside me.

I want to be another person and I am surprised because I always thought I liked me.What am I going to do now?

I locked my doors again tonight.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


My throat hurts.

My nose is running.

I have my socks on.

I am too cold to think.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The earth practices dying
the sap chills and slows
strangles the trees
into the colors of death
red and gold and orange
the leaves are choked

Purples and pinks and greens
gather their skirts in mourning
brown and shrivel and droop
in sad anticipation
of the end of life

Spiders seek shelter in structures
habited by unwitting humans
field mice and house mice
battle for basement
housing in shoes and boxes

Ponds and streams
slow to a walk
hiding perch and bass
burying turtles in thickening mud
silencing the frogs

There is a moratorium on birth
no kits, no fawns just
drowsy bears and squirrels
shivering with worry
over the lean months

who can love this
ominous prelude
to the dying of the earth

I hate it

Friday, September 7, 2007

Gloria Steinham's glasses

I am looking like Gloria Steinham. The hair is long and various shades of blonde and gray. I am constantly brushing it out of my aging face. My mother and my sister were rolling their eyes at it when they thought I wasn't watching. And my appalling tattoo. Same old, same old. Even when my sister is trying to be civil, she is hurtful.

There are worse people to look like than Gloria, even as she aged. I always admired her look, if not her agenda. She was obviously educated. Attractive, smart, expensively dressed. I am wearing her glasses, heavy framed, mine are blue. I don't dress like myself anymore. They don't make my fashions in extra large.

I threw my extra large tie-dyed tank dress in my bag and took myself to 40 Main Street for consolation tonight. (I know, hope springs eternal - I was lonely and sad and trying to divert my attention from the tears that were lurking.) I made a plan, which was useless, to keep myself busy this weekend, to be busy and happy and not sit around here with the animals, reading and playing that stupid word game and trying not to think about the elephant.

Yesterday was my father's birthday. His 89th. On the recommendation of his doctor and the nursing home staff, we have called hospice for him. It appears that he cannot swallow. His mouth was leaking baby food from the lunch they tried to feed him. The baby food. Just writing those words does not reflect the horror it was to watch. This is my dad, my dad.

They asked how we felt about a feeding tube and we both said no, Lauren Meacham and I. They don't know how long it will take him to die. They assure us it will not be painful. Starving isn't painful, I guess. Hospice will watch out for him and keep him comfortable. Whatever that means. I want it to be over. Let him have a heart attack and go. DNR. Don't make us all suffer through a prolonged dying, wondering what is happening inside him, what, if anything he is thinking and feeling. Where is my father anyway? He has been gone for so long.

We don't know if he can hear us. We talk to the empty air and the air doesn't move. I rub his papery hand and he wipes at the spot as if his hand got dirty. Does he know I touched him? Does he want me to? Doesn't he like it? Somewhere in his empty head does he know it's me? Or, after 60 years, have I become nothing?

What do we tell my mother when my father dies? He talks so much to her, she tells us, that she can't shut him up. He is her second skin. For all the life we've known, she has never been without him. If he is not there, will she know that he is gone? Will she say where is Arthur and we will say Arthur died. She will say oh, no, he didn't, stop kidding me. Really? You're full of it, she will say, and then again she will say, where is Arthur and we will tell her again Arthur is dead and then again and then again, and she will never believe us and keep asking and asking and we will have to say that Arthur is dead five million times until she dies, still asking.

I just got up to get another soda and I locked the door. Both doors. I have lived in their house for three years now and I have never locked the door. Arthur will not be home to chase the foxes fromt the bathtub.

Missing my dad again

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Bloody Winter

It is five a.m. and winter is coming.
The books are gathering on the shelves.
The moon is a curl in the sky.
A dog is snoring.
The cat is watching for dawn.
Conversation is bottlenecked.
Windows are broken here and there
letting the lies fly in and out.

The mail is arriving.
The furnace is not running
but the lights are on.
Cars are dead on the lawn.
It is a slaughterhouse here.
The blood is thin and pale and dries
in familiar patterns when it hits the air.
Everyone is sleeping in small beds.
Something doesn't make sense.
Legs and arms are piling up.
People are without voices.
Their silhouettes have no eyes.

Snow is waiting for the leaves to fall.
It is time to prune the raspberries.
Bruises form like icebergs
and never go away.
It is no one's birthday.
The cake is ready.

Arthur's daughter

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Labor Day Weekend

I am not having any party. The neighbors are having a party. Their lawn is set up with tents and awnings and nets for games. The sun and the sky are perfect, cooler than it has been. Just enough to mourn the summer.

I just want to stay in bed. Eli has been his cutest self, teasing me to get up, with his head cocked, offering me his paw. Even Chinny sits beside him, imploring me with her big yellow eyes. I have nothing to get up for. Except to have a cigarette.

I think of party days. When I would be in the kitchen squashing cooked potatoes through my fingers and stealing bites from the hard boiled egg yolks before I put them in the salad. The doors would be standing open, the kids running and asking what time we were leaving or the company was arriving, Max trying to be several places at once. Tony would be running to buy ice and stocking up the refrig with so much beer I had no room for the hamburgers and salads, and asking if I thought he should buy wine.

My sister would be on the phone with my mother, working out the details of the day. Who was bringing what and what time we would eat it. We would probably have cake for Arthur's birthday. He would love the day, the conversation, the family.

Tony's mother and father might be there, Eunice ceaselessly smoking her long brown cigarettes and Milt, in an orange sweatshirt, with his cigar. John and Linda would come and we would build a fire in the evening and swat mosquitos and keep the kids from falling in the blaze. Linda would entertain with her stories and her opinions and yell at John for being stupid and a man. When everyone else left, we might play Trivial Pursuit at the dining room table.

Long ago, it was Grandpa Baker and "Etta who could never be left out of anything" and sweet Aunt Ethel and maybe Maybelle with her two obnoxious children and whichever husband was in her wake at the time.

Grandpa and I and my sisters, Aunt Ethel, maybe my father, would play croquet on my parent's front lawn while my chubby mother sat in her lawn chair and critiqued. We had the best iver croquet set which my grandfather giver-of-great-gifts had brought from Albany Hardware and Iron where he worked. Gramp and I played croquet endlessly, long after the others had conceded defeat. We were the best, he and I.

I am the grandmother now. Alone with my dog and my cat and my books and computer. The children and grandchildren are scattered. Michael in Oregon, Zach in California, Laurie on a trip to NYC. Josh lives in the city, married now with Amy and Egan. Tony is living in his own house. My sisters don't like me. My parents are gone. Gramp and Aunt Ethel and Linda and Milt are all dead. Eunice in Florida, John in South Carolina.

There won't be any cake or potato salad. No Max. No children. No campfire or croquet.

And I have no reason to get out of bed. Except to have a cigarette. One of the long brown skinny ones like Eunice smokes.

Feeling sorry for myself