Summerpeek on the Plagueround

I have plague fatigue. The weekend was brilliant with kids and hoses and dirt and sun. And color!

Sumeryard

85 degrees. Let’s run that Summeryard inventory:

  1. Star spangled paddles
  2. Aluminum baseball bat (pink?)
  3. Hose with selectable nozzle
  4. Scooter
  5. One boxing glove
  6.  Bicycle helmet
  7.  Tiny soccer ball (pink?)(and sparkly?)
  8. Camp chair

Note: no children in sight, being so close to cleanup time.

They invented a game wherein they would heave the boxing glove down one end of the not-so-dead end street, then run past me to retrieve it. I was sitting in the camp chair, facing the street, about midway through their run to the glove, wielding the garden hose. They tried to go and get the glove, manufacturing a series of (let’s face it, pretty weak, if tremendously enjoyable) diversions, schemes, misdirections, and covering maneuvers, in an attempt to not be sprayed by the water. The paddles were shields, the baseball bat was used in an as yet inconclusive role (though it was generally menacingly pointed here and there), and a very pathetic, flimsy, plastic football helmet whose logo had long since worn off was passed from head to head. Each new wearer had high hopes for the helmet’s water repellency, but was ultimately disillusioned in turn. The cries were of the timeless variety:

“He got me!”

“You can’t run out of range!”

“Cover me!”

“No, split up!”

“Oh, who cares? Just spray me, I like it.”

………

You were wondering about the patio dig?

May 7
May 7
IMG_3524 (2)
May 9

Not vastly different, but measured and marked off. I’m in a holding pattern until my gravel and sand get here Wednesday. Fine by me – I need the rest. Ran the final numbers today and will order the actual pavers and wall blocks tomorrow. Finalizing the materials – shapes, colors, etc. has been a somewhat fluid endeavor, depending a bit too much on my own personal considerations of what would make things easiest on the installer (you know, me). Christ, I hope I can pull this off.

………

There has been a smell of gasoline in the air all day. It’s 9:30 pm, finally dark. I’m on the porch, listening to a very still night being lacerated every ten minutes or so by the sound of the next someone dragging trash cans to the street. The fuel smell persists. I keep putting my fingers to my nose to see if it could be me, but it isn’t. I haven’t touched gas at all today. The wind changes, and it goes away. I haven’t heard a ferry.

………

There’s been a void since completing Moby Dick. Animal Farm was just too much like reading the internet, so I knocked it off after about half. Steinbeck’s been good – my God why did nobody ever tell me about The Red Pony? What madness! What guts! Alas, I need something bigger/longer. For two bucks I put The Woman in White on my Kindle. I read a Wilkie Collins book a few years back in college – The Law and the Lady. It was a good read in a class taught by a woman who was a total fangirl for the Victorian/gothic/mystery thing that Collins does. I understand it is a long book – 600 some pages. Just what I need. It may become unwieldy on the Kindle. I don’t like the electric format for anything long. It’s best, anyway, for airplane and night reading.

The Brothers Karamazov is also on the way. I want to do that one in paper.

The Perfect Vision Plague Diaries #21

Sprung Broke

KC Public Health News and Blog
KC COVID-19 Data Dashboard

They’re reporting things a little differently now, releasing the data only on MWF. But the data dashboard is still populating. I’ll keep links to my go-to pages at the top. Saturday saw 7 new deaths, and Sunday just 8. These are more comfortable numbers. We’ll see if it’s a trend.

My only bold prediction about the end of this whole ordeal is this: pick any government figure across the globe – governor, mayor, president, chief – and that person will receive roughly equal measures of condemnation and praise for actions taken to minimize the damage. Each one will be either a hero or a horror, depending on who you ask (and they won’t wait to be asked).

………

This week we Spring break under quarantine for the first time ever. This’ll be a challenge. Anyone knows you can sit a kid in front of a screen and not be bothered all day, but that’s obviously not the solution we’re looking for. Our daughter will gladly watch dog videos on her phone for a week straight, but again: nope. The prime directive of parenting when the kids are still very young (at 12 my daughter’s pretty much out of that category) is this: Remember you are a parent first. And also second through fifth. And this isn’t because of noble notions of self-sacrifice for the all-important children of the world. It’s just because the quickest way to become frustrated, angry, and miserable, and to have a very bad time of things, is to expect that those high priority personal things that you want to do, can actually get done. You’ll be able to visit them throughout the day, sure. But if your disposition isn’t given over to the fact that at least one kid is going to come to you at every moment you least want them to, then you and they both are in for a very bad day.

The weather will be good, but we can’t go far. The 7 kids on our dead-end street will be tired of each other and getting rather catty by Tuesday, I think. But kids have memories shorter than their attention spans, so it’ll be a roller coaster.

Speaking of cats, this is for all you cat lovers out there:

Ask the things you shouldn’t miss
Tape-hiss and the Modern Man
The Cold War and Card Catalogs
To come and join us if they can

My son has been wanting to venture out a little farther on his bike, being tired of doing small loops in front of our houses. Everything around us is a hill, though, and without directly saying it he only wants to ride on the flat stuff. So we shoot straight out of our little block, past the speed bumps that mark the boundary for all of the kids (beyond those it’s ‘here there be monsters’ territory, actual cars driving, no sidewalks, blind curves – the nightmares of the urban mom) and ride until we hit the curve in 45th Ave SW where things turn eastward and uphill very quickly. He stops there and turns back, afraid of the effort in that slope, and we cruise back to our driveway. It’s maybe a couple hundred yards each way. Now he’s asking if he can do it alone. Of course, yes, be careful and all that. Never forget where you are, etc. It’s easy and he’s fine, of course, but there’s the neighborhood politics of jealous children to think about. Because now even the 5 year old is asking why she can’t ride her bike out there, too. All I know is that I’d rather be under-protective than over, which is a nice and pretty  thing to say when all I really want, as a parent, is to get everything exactly right  the first time, every time. That can happen, right?

I actually worry sometimes that I’m too close with my Boy, but I also often feel like I’m his only advocate in the world.

He’s it, though, he’s one of them. He’s one of…

…the brutes, the boys,
the noise-born boys
whose shouts we shush –
stamp right out –

He’s gonna be the one who throws the stone in the water right next to your bobber, the one who punches the neighbor, the one who swears at the grown up. He’s taught me that it’s harder for some kids to learn the niceties, and they aren’t necessarily to be blamed for that. More importantly, neither am I. My God, he tries so hard. He knows there’s so many things he’s getting wrong, and he already feels separate from the other kids on the street, because he’s the one who’s always in trouble – the one the other kids get tired of. He’s too much for them. Too much for himself, for now. Too much even for me sometimes, but there’s no way in hell that I’m going to squash or suppress any of it that I don’t absolutely have to. There are bad parents, yes, but most bad kids have good enough parents who are trying all the right things, and simply have some rockier soil to till than others. And most bad kids aren’t bad kids, they’re just behaving badly for the moment. I remember, when I can, that bad behavior is fleeting – good souls are forever. I try to teach to the soul.

………

So here we roll into our COVID-19 Spring Break. I’ll be having leftover Easter breakfast this morning, because it looks like this (well, it did yesterday):

FTC

 

Your “Homeless in Coronafornia on Easter” update is a little dull. I asked him if he found any Easter eggs:

I did not
I almost forgot it was easter
Did you?

I did. Well, I always do. My whole life is an Easter egg. Sometimes the candy inside isn’t my favorite – maybe it’s malted milk balls or something butterscotch – but everything’s somebody’s favorite, so sharing is easy.

Let the boys scream, Comrade Citizen!—

GO AHEAD

Happy to be full of it, sometimes

The last thing I ever want to do is the thing that everyone else is doing. For the purpose of this entry, that thing is playing the victim. Claiming specialness. I am not special. I am not a victim. But I am willing to observe, politely and mildly, that there is a bit of an extant sentiment in society that is, shall we say, ever-so-slightly in opposition to men. There’s lots of things we’re not supposed to be, depending on who you ask. But it’s all the same thing in the end, really. The thing we’re not supposed to be, is us.

So what. My entire childhood and adolescence were based on doing exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do. Big deal. Still, here I am: one of these men – at least in terms of biology and mentality – that we don’t seem to want much of. I write occasional poems in support of others like me because after three years in college, I learned more than anything that the most important thing to do is to celebrate and support with the greatest fervor those things that are the most like ourselves. The liberal arts world in college is a world based on the elevation of things of your own kind, and denigration of things outside of your own cultural circle. And also tolerance. Do what you will with that little contradiction.

I am aware of what kind of man I am. I only very occasionally build things, but I have an embarrassingly impressive array of tools. That kind of cliché. I fold laundry more than I hammer steel, I wash dishes more than I turn wrenches. My hands are not hard or large. I am tall but not imposing, and I am (he meekly admits) terrified of confrontations. My God, I think back over all of the fights I have craftily avoided in my life and I am not proud. But it’s still in there, that core thing, that masculinity that is called toxic nowadays. I know our need of it, and bristle at the mockery directed its way.

I am not here to argue against that. It strikes me as hypocritical in some ways. The masculinity I own and revere does not raise its voice to protest. It works and produces and creates and lets that action speak for it. It follows the cardinal rule of the writer in that it does not tell – it shows. I am here not to complain but to be a fan. To write up my support for the hard things that we are, and for the shittily unrefinable parts of our nature that I would not run from a fight to preserve.

Having said that:

GO AHEAD

Be dirty and don’t hide 
your large hands that could 
                    split timber.

They flip thin pages, too,
rattle pans and
feed their fighting heirs.

GO AHEAD

Be mean and lift the heavy thing 
and don’t mind making a little 
                    show of it.

Your beambroad back
can bear it and
won’t tremble in the least

GO AHEAD

Be hard, clumsy and cruel
and let the sneer of the timid 
                    mock itself.

You hardly can part 
from that look that
feeds you its forsaken strength

GO AHEAD

Be bare-knuckled and nude
because we need most what
                    no one wants.

The world knows and 
keeps a place 
for the things we expel.

 

Independence Day

Not THAT independence day.

Independence Day

Grandpa, Grandma, can we talk to you
	about our mom and dad?
	I don’t know quite what’s going on
	but things are getting bad.

	Dad’s been crying at the news 
	and his voice is higher pitched.
	His jeans get tighter all the time
	and there’s a limpness in his wrist.

	Meanwhile, mom’s been swearing more
	and wearing suits to her new job.
	She hasn’t fixed her hair in months
	and on weekends she’s a slob.

	Dad’s afraid of everything –
	plastic straws and – what’s a Russian bot?
	Last week was Independence Day,
	and he said he “just forgot.” 

	Mom hasn’t cooked a single meal
	since she went marching in D.C.
	And now our yard has all these signs 
	that say “welcome refugees.”

	Dad almost asked if it was right
	but she wouldn’t let him speak
	so he’s been getting craft beer growler fills
	every day for two straight weeks.

	We don’t know what to do right now
	We’re prolly just too young.
	But maybe you’ve got some idea
	of what’s been going on.

Granddaughter you’re a clever girl
	and grandson you’re no fool.
	So we’ll tell you something here and now
	that you’ll never learn in school.

	You’re noticing about your folks
	that something’s kinda wrong.
	It’s not just them – it’s everywhere.
	We’ve been watching all along.

	If it’s hard these days with mom and dad,
	to know just which is which
	You may not have the words for it,
	But your dad’s your mommy’s– 

You’re right, grandpa, school’s no help
	our teachers are all so strange.
	They say two-plus-two and Judy Blume
	both equal climate change.
	
	They took us out of class one day
	to line up on main street
	with signs that said the world would end
	from the President’s next tweet.

	I just want to build some things,
	and when sister tries to sew
	they swear that STEM’s the thing for her
	and I’m privi- toxi- I don’t know!

	Do you think that you could talk to them?
	To our parents and the school?
	Tell them that they’re scaring us
	and that they all seem real confused.

We surely could go talk to them
	but they hate that we’re so old.
	We remind them of the ways they’ve failed
	and the truths they’re scared to know.

	There’s a wisdom in our wrinkled skin
	that they’re trying hard to kill.
	And if kids like you are catching on
	they’ll start trying harder still.

	For now it’s good you’re noticing
	and that your guts say it’s not right.
	Just keep each other close at hand –
	pick your spots, and fight your fights.








Frozen Stories

Midwestern Memories

Frozen Stories

Midwestern winters ask kids to make
a risky reckoning best left to the wise,
standing at the edge of a snowdusty pond

and measuring its slab of ice against
the way the weather’s been and how long
and daring (or not) to step out onto it.

But this is Northwest February and
I barely get to speak of ice at all out here,
or hear tales of boys fallen through

over the years and how once you’re under
the black water moves to hide the hole you made.
I barely get to speak of ice out here

or worry that a spot of skin’s gone white.
The weather asks so little of me
that I have to beg memory to list

wispy words and show hung pictures
of winterfear. But memory’s different
from knowing like guessing’s different

from fearing and I know that if I ever
do get to speak of ice out here
it’ll be so whisperthin that every one

of mom’s drowning boys would have
measured it beneath them to even try.
They would just walk around the sound,

well trained by a place where
the weather asks so much of them
and the ice is always on their tongues.

Parenthetical Courage

.

How close were you dad (here he peers
down plastic sights of a painted gun)
to the bad guys when you shot at them?

I had to say (I hoped) in a way
that would not forever break his aim,
I had to say (as hidden as the thing had stayed!)
that I never got that close.

But I was available,
I promised my apology,
had someone simply asked me to.

And that much was surely true
but that much was not enough
to burn me into some hell where
the blood of better men dried
and caked and made crispy
little cards of the sand.

That much was not enough –
as apologies never are.

Were you good at shooting dad and
should I close one eye when I aim?
You should aim I said
(he couldn’t know how blindly)
with every eye you can open.

Cut

Yes, messy.

There are days you learn things
like the real feel of sawdust,
downy in plush piles
with no trace of the cruelty
of its bellicose birthing.
Days you learn that
the things you don’t long look at –
things made when two mean pieces meet
and one must give –
are too quickly swept away.

The first time you ever smelled it –
a tidy slice that bled all freshness
from the dying whine of the
chopsaw (hard named thing!) –
was in the garage, probably,
or a cobwebbed shed or even
in the bright back woods,
under a stiff wind that could move whole seasons
and could not help but carry
the fruit of hewn spruce and history
straight into you.

That first time it was only looking
for a place to live.
It barely asked a second time
to make it smell like home forever.

We know it now
not as the smell of the jobs of our fathers,
jobs that often didn’t seem enough.
We know it now
as the smell instead of the work they did
that we silent saw
(and they more silent did).

Work that was rough,
that was mean,
that mother sometimes seemed to think
wasn’t good for much.
That it was only the work –
just that, merely the work –
that made them,
merely,
men.

But now we know that Mama knew
and nothing good was left unseen.
We know that she knew that
Papa had to be the silent thing
to clear a little holy space
for a little violent shepherding.

Now we know that Mama knew
what rough cuts made the dust,
and how she must not just sweep it up
but that she must (hard fought stuff!)
form its piles into neat peaks
to bear up the brutes, the boys,
the noise-born boys
whose shouts we shush –
stamp right out –

Believing, hoping we can
polish down the teeth
of the saw,
pad the menacing head
of the hammer,
quench the fires blasting
in the engines of the bulldozers –
And still have a house to live in.

Mama – who made us know
when she made us whole –
sees us act
as if we could make all
the hard things soft and
the loud things quiet and
the mean things nice and
never once put tooth to tree.
As if we could have
the (yes, messy) blessing of the dust
without the saw.

We never saw that mama cuts things, too,
and lifts her blade while
papa (who always mutely knew)
swings his, severing, down.
We stand between and above
with our noses in the air where
we’re made on the hills of their unswept dust,
smelling home with every swipe and hack.

Morning’s Mile

In the cities there is nothing
to milk but time. You are spared
the poetics of rote labor.

There is no duty to recall
in that strange awakening
of late adulthood

mother’s feathered hands
or the careful thud, thud,
thud of father’s boots trying

helplessly not to wake you yet.
In the cities when young
men find themselves wearing

their own fathers’ rent vestments
they do not smell like
dirt, shit, and oil.

They smell like paper
and staples and the florid
lining of a brass-clasped

briefcase swung swish,
swish against a silk-slacked
thigh.

In the cities young fathers
grow up slight and light
because their histories weigh

less and don’t ask much
muscle to carry around.
They lack the heraldic sound

of the only engine in a morning’s mile
being turned churlishly over and
breathing exhausted clouds into an

unhidden sky. But in the city in
the street where a thousand engines run
you don’t hear a single one.

Cavity

I.

I’ll say that there are Men.
First.
Just that.
There are Men.

And that men are magnificent.

I’ll say that there are violent men.
Magnificent, violent men.
Violence is the golden blood.
And violence is the fetid brine
where it turns the earth to mud.

And I’ll say that the most violent thing is
Not the man
Not the knife
Not the heart
Not the guts
Not the blood or the brine.

That the most violent thing
is the violence it takes
to strip
to rend
to gnash
to gut
to burn
the man away.

II.

I’ll say that men are with women.
And these women are mothers.
And that mothers are magnificent.

And that if mama don’t get her way
she finds her way
any way.
Because she’s capable of the biggest things –
including violence.
Because that child won’t feed itself.
That fish won’t gut itself.
But mama’s violence doesn’t
crunch and zipper
down the fish’s scales.

Mama’s violence is an ancient intent –
A bloodless lunge that leaves no hole.

III

I’ll say that these women are with men
And these men are fathers
and that fathers are magnificent.

And if papa don’t get his way
he gives his way
any way.
That tree won’t chop itself.

But papa’s violence isn’t neat.
It leaves great gashes of sap
and of tarry black blood
and a hole so big
a child can crawl through it.

IV.

the built world screams at Papa
because his way is violent.

But papa with hard hands in the world he built
says nothing back.
He just shoulders the axe.
Because violence knows
and violence gives way
and violence rests.

And rest endures.

V.

And because endurance is violent
He is violent
to people who are his boys
so that they will not forget how when duty calls them.

And because violence endures
He endures
with people who are his girls
so that they will not forget how when duty calls them.

VI.

And he is with woman and she is with him
and they have ways that are found
and ways that are given
and ways that are taken.
All ways endure.

VII.

The most violent thing
is the fish
because the fish will gut the man
if he feels embarrassed
for the fish when he
looks at its guts.

The fish with its rent heart
will not understand this.
The fish with its rent heart
and piles of cold spilled guts
will wonder what’s wrong with him.

The fish will ask:

Have you never eaten?
Has your mother never told you
about all of the pain?
All of the violence it took
to be eaten alive by you?
At least you have the heart to kill me first.

VIII.

And I’ll say that men
have spoken to the fish
about the fish’s guts.

And I’ll say that men
have spoken to the tree
about the tree’s bones.

And I’ll say that men
have spoken to the earth
about the earth’s blood.

And I’ll say that men
have sung to the child
about the child’s supper.

And the fish and the tree and the earth
have answered the men.

the fish has offered its guts.
the tree has offered its bones.
the earth has offered its blood.

the child –
the child eats

IX.

And the little boys drag
– with their bleeding hands
and hard fathers – the heavy axe.

And the little girls pack
– with their tender hands
and hard mothers – the crimson gauze.

the men give thanks
the women water the stone.

Because endurance cradles
violence at its breast
and woos it to its rest.