Freaks of Nature

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The giant sequoias inhabited me, and I don’t want them to leave. These mutants — with their fire scars and boils protruding unapologetically on their red skin; with their unreachable branches, their impossible girth and height — are the impenetrable towers in command of the Giant Forest located in the heart of the Sierra Nevada. One could only dream of climbing them. One could only dream of owning them, too. Many entranced settlers have tried, but have ultimately failed to claim ownership over the goliaths that long ago claimed themselves along with their mesmerizing, green kingdom.

To get to the big trees, we had to twist up the Generals Highway with its endless hairpin turns and rolling foothills covered in playful poppies and gangly lupines, which look like cornhusks with bright purple bulbs. The highway runs alongside the Central Valley, climbing toward the Sierra’s snowy peaks. We drove slow enough (or else!) to notice what was buried in some of the tight curves — slender streams of water spilling alongside jagged cliffs. Sean pointed out pine trees on some of the highest cliffs with tips slipping into the clouds. Once we had reached an elevation of 6,000 feet, I had to remind myself to exhale the large gulps of the thin mountain air I held in my lungs. I tried to read what I brought for the long drive (Patti Smith’s newest book, “M Train”) and managed to take in no more than two pages in my wordless marveling.

I remember the first one I spotted. Even in a forest filled to the brim with firs and pines, the Sierra giants are easily identifiable. I let out a big eek, like a child laying eyes on the Disney World castle for the first time. As trite as this sounds, seeing that first sequoia was a fairytale come true. It was enchanting, yet at the same time I invited its freakishness into my heart immediately, accepting its enormity. I grabbed for my phone and recorded the drive through the Giant Forest, trying to still the view, instead of shaking with excitement.

When we arrived at the Giant Forest Museum parking, I rocketed out of the rental car, but froze in my footsteps. There were three massive trees congregated together beside the lot. I stood there with my mouth hanging open. Sean urged me to hurry up so we could start a trail, as there would be plenty more trees to see. I couldn’t help but want to greet and study every single one, which was just as hideously beautiful as the next.

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Just outside the museum stands the ginormous Sentinel tree, which is “average” in height compared to others. The Sentinel is covered in barky boils. Carved into the right side of it, is a scar shaped like a church steeple.

The Giant Forest was named by John Muir, the famous Scottish-American explorer, writer, engineer, environmental philosopher, and early advocate of the American wilderness. He is known for his preservation efforts of Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and other areas. Muir along with others, such as George Stewart, the editor of the Visalia Delta newspaper, who led the movement to create the national park — hell even the U.S. Calvary — have worked hard to protect the sequoias and the land they stand on.

I learned that many people have been bewitched by these beasts. Settlers into the 1890s set up shop and built hotels, stores, gas stations, among other facilities. Finally, the Sequoia National Park was created to protect the giants, ending all Sequoia logging activities. Still, it wasn’t until the 1970s people began to truly realize that their presence was affecting the trees’ ecology and beauty.

So many of the trees have names. Let’s see. There’s Clara Barton with her numerous craters. Presidents Lincoln and Washington. And the fallen Michigan tree.

And let’s not forget, General Sherman, the largest tree ON EARTH. General Sherman is estimated to be somewhere around 2,200 years old with a height of 279 feet and a weight of 2.7 million pounds. I couldn’t wrap my mind around General Sherman.

The giants have that way about them — of boggling minds. The first people to stumble across (and keep stumbling) the giant sequoias had to prove to the skeptics that these things actually existed. A number of trees were sacrificed, chopped into bits, and sent overseas to museums who even with proof had deemed them a “hoax.” What oddballs. What freaks.

Many of the trees in the Giant Forest as well as the 75 groves in total have sequoias with shimmering black bark and hollowed out trunks damaged by fire. General Grant is a tree with a massive fire scar. Sean took a picture of the pine tree located next to General Grant to reference just how large the scar is, and how staggering it is for something with that much damage to live on. However, I learned natural fires occur in national parks all the time, and actually, the giant sequoias depend on these fires. Like phoenixes, the sequoias that actually fall (more likely to fall from toppling as opposed to fire) recreate new life and live on through their offspring.

The museum offered a lot of information on the giant sequoias’ impenetrability. There was a John Muir quote on a wall near the exit that particularly stuck with me. “Everything in nature called destruction must be a creation — a change from beauty to beauty.”

I felt an electric surge down my spine as the trees’ profundity washed over me. Feelings of awe and respect called to all the little hairs on my arms. Tears streamed from my eyes and down my cheeks. Sean squeezed my shoulder. I cried the entire way from the museum to the car. I couldn’t stop.

I know what it’s like to have a piece of me destroyed by fire. Little do most people know, I lived in Southern California for a couple of years, and in 2003 my family’s home was taken from us in a wildfire. I remember the flames licking the mountains, the cold sweat that clung to my forehead. I remember shaking my mother awake, tearing through my clothes, grabbing for my photo albums. After weeks of living in Ramada hotels and camping on friends’ couches, we drove back. Trees with chard limbs haunted the landscape. When we sifted through our home in the dust and rubble, nothing stirred, and no one said a word.

We think clothes, pictures, cars, items of sentimental value define us. But in the end fire burns everything like it’s made of paper — scrolls unfurling and curling into themselves. And even though I knew this, I was still left reassessing who I was and what I was made of without my beloved earthly possessions.

These sequoias are naked to me. They’re defiant. I hardly know these trees, and I love them. And my love for them inspires me to be open and bruised and big.

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Garden of two goddesses

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Just us girls. Camping in the wilderness without the Seans. Two Seans. I have a Sean, and Alexa has a Sean. It just ended up that way. I told her when she was single that she didn’t necessarily need, but could use a Sean to keep her warm at night. It wasn’t hard to look. We all grew up in the same town a few miles away from each other on blocks named after trees. We’re good people. Or at least I like to think so.

But back to camping and rocking out in nature with our vags out. Not really. I mean, our vags are in our pants, but they’re as swampy as a bowl of French onion soup after hiking all day.

I built a fire for the first time ever, and we roasted seasoned vegetables over it. Mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, red peppers. Alexa used lemon and garlic powder to season the vegetables and slapped them down into a homemade tin foil bowl. She wrapped them up tight. She calls these things “hobo pockets,” which as a word is mildly offensive, but quite wonderful as a meal.

I feel full and toasted around the edges. My center is as mushy as the potatoes we gobbled up. We weren’t sure the potatoes were ever going to cook. But they turned out to be worth the wait.

I’m thinking about that phrase “having a friend at the end of the world.” I know there’s a movie with a similar title. But I’m not talking about the movie. I’m talking about Alexa and me. We’re two friends, and it’s not the end of the world, but if it was, I think I’d be okay on this melded, moss-freckled rock in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest.

Alexa came up with the idea to go camping without our doting, lovely boyfriends, so we hopped in her car and drove the five hours, just to say we set up camp and lived. And lived we did.

At first the ground was hard and refused our stakes. We forgot to bring a hammer. We used our hands, grunted with our entire bodies. Alexa used her car’s window scraper. And I used a wine bottle, which wasn’t the brightest idea. We dragged the tent farther into the campsite, and eventually we landed on a spot that would take.

Unfortunately, the only camp site that was available when we arrived was the one next to the outhouses. This is our luck. And so, the wind wafted the worst smell known to man, his own excrement, of course. Nothing hangs on the nose more than our own shit. It’s kind of funny, actually. Alexa and I like to think of ourselves as regular older poopers, and the campsite fits. And the thing about bad smells, as Alexa reminded me, is that you get used to them the longer you’re around them.

Alexa packed up a real feast: pita chips and hummus, buns, vegan sausages, and loads of vegetables. She bundled everything together in a basket like it was a Christmas package for us to unravel together. Complete the scene with an open fire.

I am overcome with gratitude and s’mores-layered love for my friend who always thinks ahead and crosses items off lists. This is a very true characteristic about her. She’s punctual, prepared, and sometimes a little anxious about how the future will play out.

As a whole, Alexa is one of those people who has a feeling but can’t quite put her finger on how genuinely beautiful of a person she is. She has had to grow up very fast in household with a single mother with severe untreated depression. In the beginning of our friendship, I recall a cynical, but loving Alexa who doted on her mother and her every whim.

Eventually, she loosened the string around such a tightly bound tangle. She, as an only child, did this much later than some. But like all of us, there comes a time when we have to let go of our parents’ hands for their sake and our own. I know this from Alexa and myself, and well, a lot of people.

I realize as we roam the Garden of the Gods wilderness — dry, dusty, and laundered in long, thick brush —  that I’m proud of my friend and myself for getting along in world we define as our own.

Last night, we ventured down the gravel road leading away from our campsite. We let our heavy heads sag from our necks as we surveyed the stars that were so close to our faces they could stick to our flesh. We were standing on the inside of a purple marble. The stars blinked. And some of the blinking stars turned out to be planes.

I peered into the pitch black road. I was suddenly cold and hyperaware of the darkness, but held onto the lantern, the stars and planes, and the length of time it took for me to realize that I couldn’t possibly die alone in that moment standing next to Alexa. She would be there to help testify the life I lived and the life she played a significant role in.

(Alexa. Wearing a checkered hoodie and green rain boots, about to walk her her golden retriever in the rain. It’s the image I’ve come to associate with her more than anything else.)

But this trip has given me so many more images to preserve like jam. There was a moment last night when we were talking. We had a bit of wine, and all of a sudden Alexa broke out in a sweat and laid her head on the picnic table. She told me she was scared she would pass out. I was overcome with a sick, frozen fear, and my mind raced. We were after all in the middle of nowhere and without cell phone service. How smart of us, I criticized in my head.

I ratcheted back and forth to conclusions. Food poisoning. Altitude sickness. Some wild bacteria. I finally reached the conclusion where I would be no where and nothing without her. I asked her if she needed me to run for help. But she assured me she just needed to rest her head for a while.

I thought maybe it had been my fault. I had been telling her about my family and struggles. Maybe it was too much to hear. That noise makes me dizzy too. Sometimes I feel I say too much and the weight of words fall on Alexa, who takes the brunt of my conscious fears and levels of distrust. I said nothing and wondered if I was too heavy of a friend, and then Alexa lifted her head, and said, “WHOO, I think I just needed a good sweat. I feel better.”

She felt better, and I felt drunken relief and sober joy.

In the morning, we finagled out of our tent and drank cold coffee. We decided to drive down to a gas station where we’d have service and could call our boyfriends to tell them we were alive. Alexa drove, and we kept cracking jokes to cover up the wrong turns. But soon enough, we both admitted to each other we were lost.

“I don’t remember that barn, do you?” we asked each other. We drove alongside rows and rows of Illinois’ finest fucking corn that started to look like a blurry sea.

Alexa and I have a habit of getting lost together. One time, we almost got locked in a forest preserve, another one in rural Illinois, past dark. We saw a deer on our wrong way back to the car. And Alexa couldn’t getting over me calling it “a total deer.” In most cases, our wrong turns tend to be worth it.

As suburb folk, so much of Illinois is beyond our reach. Barrels of hay, windmills, and busted down barns. Driveways that run deep into low hanging greenery. Dusty, desolate towns. Men on tractors and underneath cars, covered in the grime of work. Women sitting in lawn chairs, smoking. Kids waddling around in diapers. We drove through one town that was completely dedicated to something called “Mule Days.” Signs with mules are displayed on lawns across the town of Enfield, Illinois.

Alexa, a vegan, made quick, painful eye contact with the cows we passed in trucks. I could tell she was also getting nervous about being lost, and told her that we always find our way.

2 and a half hours later, we eventually found our way back. We didn’t waste any time on our embarrassment as we threw water and snacks into Alexa’s back pack. She let me carry the camera, and I let it dangle on its strap from my shoulder.

We climbed jagged steps and grabbed hold of tree trunks to help us along the trails. Our calves began to scream, and perspiration clung to our lower backs. The stones, which were formed millions of years ago, have lizard skin. The red and silver patterns swirl and twist and shine like molten lava. Some stones reminded me of layered paper flowers. The largest boulders could each be their own landmark. They sit on top of each other in clumsy, yet sturdy ways. Leaning, bowing, bending, rolling stones piled and piled one on top of the next.

I didn’t know what I was doing, really, but I snapped picture after picture. We ran into a group of people who were resting next to their horses. I asked to take a picture of this man and his horse. Alexa laughed and told me it was like I had never seen a horse before. I’m pretty much this way in every new setting. It’s all context.

A small creek kept us company while we ate lunch — peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I paced back and forth to prevent the flies from getting too cosy on me.

By the time we arrived to the campsite, we were stumbling underneath the weight of our exhaustion.

Right now we’re sitting next to each other on rocks and writing. I’m sipping wine from a coffee mug, drinking away my body’s aches. It’s getting darker, and after the taste of the stars last night, I’m hungry for more. They could be dessert.

This is the land of the gods, and we’re two awkward, but strong goddesses keeping a close eye on our steps.

Someone

“Someone” needs to unplug my brain
or allow me to be in a space
where I can play with it
like a cat with yarn.

But I’ve never been much of a cat person.
I like dogs for their bliss
and birds for their flight and paranoia.

It’s true what they say, a job,
at least any old job is a trap,
and 9 to 5 is man made
and wrapped in barbed,
electrified strings
that zap you awake
but not wide enough.

And sometimes you forget the way
your throat tends to move
when it’s fed words.

And that “someone” is me, right?

Except that someone seems so strange
to me right now.
So hidden, creepy-crawly,
rag-dolly.

I never thought words
could make an enemy of me.

They were supposed to be
flutters of light.

Dandelion-like.

This was supposed to come with sprinkles,
and the icing is dry.

And sure, I have secrets that paralyze me,
play me dead,
but it’s the open-ended questions
that consume me.

The lose-yourself-in-the-music
kind of symptoms that come
with hearty pep talks.

But not only music.
Everything.

Lose yourself in everything?
What kind of advice is that
for people who choose to be planted
in perfectly pleasant pleasantries?

Oh, but there’s so much more,
they say with their dewy eyes
that are so easy to get lost in.

You know the flower children I speak of,
they grab your hand and drag you
through a row of sunflowers
drinking sun in the wind.

You tell them it’s getting late,
and you have to get back.

I love and hate them
for clasping the galaxies
swimming around their heads
and daring them to jump.

5 ways to control your body language

  1. Eyes — Pierce a hole through someone’s skull with your eyes.

We’ve heard it time and time again: “It’s all in the eyes.” People with darting, shifty eyes are a worrisome sort, and this behavior should be corrected if they ever want to come off cucumber-like in a meeting or at an event.

Instead of channeling UFOs, you should be focused on the person in front of you and the conversation at hand. Try somewhere in between bedroom eyes and life-flashing-right-before-your-eyes eyes. This gaze will let your listeners know the level of urgency with which you listen when hearing important information.

In the ground-breaking book, “Eyeballs Talking” author and communicator Marv Barryson advises, “Pretend your listener’s eyes are the pepperonis on the pizza you will consume at an alarming rate after the conversation is over.”

Once you perfect this art, you’ll rapidly notice a positive change in the way you communicate with others.

      2. Hands — Raise your hands high above your head so everyone can see them.

Those pesky hands. It would be easier if they didn’t exist at all, am I right? It’s difficult to know what to do with them, especially if you’re one of those people who picks their toenails with a pair of chopsticks when you’re nervous.

In response to our supreme terror of social rejection, we oftentimes cross our arms or jam our hands in our pockets and discover a quarter that we need for one of the five loads of laundry that we will do when we get home.

Inside Business Person reports, “It’s important that you raise your hands high above your head so that everyone knows exactly where your hands are, and that they’re not scrambling around your genitals underneath the table.

Lift your hands up over your head until you can feel a slight strain in your shoulders. Invite people to tickle your armpits to let them know just how much you trust them.

  1. Stance — No sudden movements; camouflage your nerves

It’s understandable that people need to scratch their noses sometimes. But for the most part, think of that childhood game Freeze Tag when people are talking to you. People are like deer in the woods; they spook easily. What’s more, you don’t want to give them the impression that you have thoughts about the fragility of life or the meaningless nature of small talk.

Dr. Bartholomew Fartz, a behavior analyzer who has also taken his fair share of nude drawings classes to better understand the body, has worked with the FBI to unmask the deception behind finger picking and rocking back and forth on your heels. It turns out most people who do these things have likely drowned an adorable animal or two at one point in their lives.

I know I said “don’t move.” But apparently that’s a menace to conversation as well, so maybe nod your head. Yes, freeze your entire body save for the nodding of your head.

Look aggressive, but not too aggressive.

4. Posture — Refrain from slouching like a slob.

Remember all those times your parents forced you to be a productive, good-for-something somebody according to society’s standards, and you responded with a slouch and an attitude? Yeah, don’t do that. You’re not in high school. Spit out your gum and sit up straight, like a spider just crawled up your back.

“If you slouch, it lets people know that you choose to spend most of your time watching Netflix original series and eating cold pasta out of a pot in the dark. It gives people the impression that you don’t find yourself as gold-starish as your teachers proclaimed you were,” said career advisor Belinda Dalloway.

Let’s go back to the spider crawling up your back. Think about that spider for a moment again. Think about being attached to its web. It’s stringing you along, lengthening your body, pulling it tighter and tighter.

Sitting up straight conveys that you have your life together and you’re pretty much self-actualized.

It isn’t easy, but it’s common sense if you think about it. The more solider-like you sit, the more work hours you will be able to put in without much back strain. And we know what happens when you have back strain. YOU GET FAT (but that’s a conversation for another helpful listicle).

      5. When all else fails, be like Sophia.

 

 

 

Annie Dillard in present time: Thoughts on “The Abundance”

I started reading “The Abundance,” a compilation of some of Annie Dillard’s best, most badass, or as editor Geoff Dyer puts it, “genre-resistant” essays.

Overall, I like to write about traveling, so I find this work inspiring and stimulating so far. I appreciate Dillard’s tendency to sidetrack, to run away with something, and turn an observation on its head.

The first story is about Annie’s travels to Yakima, Washington to watch a total eclipse with her husband.

The first sentence that punched me in the gut was about how when we see something in nature so stupefyingly beautiful, we don’t know how to speak up for ourselves. It’s like those questions we get when we’re in the midst of kissing someone we’re beyond excited to kiss: what am I supposed to do with my hands? Oh yeah, and which way to Earth?

I remember driving through Sequoia National Park with Sean. Climbing and climbing and all those hairpin turns. The green valley sinking beneath the weight of mountains. Mountains shrouded in clouds. I shivered, taking them in. But I couldn’t for the life of me come up with a damn thing to say. I was practically drooling. A dog with her head out the window, overwhelmed by the blur of smell and sight. Dillard described this failing of words as something quite endearingly foolish. She also breaks down the “I could hardly breathe” cliché to illustrate the experience we have when we are overcome by awe.

“I watched the landscape innocently, like a fool, like a diver in the rapture of the deep who plays on the bottom while his air runs out.”

It’s interesting that the beginning of the story starts out in a hotel, where Dillard is preparing herself for her adventure in the sky. She sees a creepy painting of a clown hanging on the wall in the hotel lobby. Only, the clown’s features are made up of vegetables.

“The crinkled shadows around his eyes were string beans. His eyebrows were parsley. Each of his ears was a broad bean. His thin, joyful lips were red chili peppers; between his lips were wet rows of human teeth and a suggestion of real tongue. The clown print was framed in gilt and glassed.”

This is obviously not a usual way to depict a clown, which is perhaps why it sticks in her memory so clearly. We’ve seen them depicted the same way for so long; we don’t question the red nose, the frazzled, rainbow wig, the chalky face paint. What about a clown made of vegetables? Is funnier? Is it sadder? Is it a more pronounced distortion of meaning? It is those unruly and juxtaposed things in nature that stick with us, maybe even change us. It is up to us to describe the indescribable. This is what Dillard seems to say when we encounter something that is beyond the confines of language.

When Dillard actually sees the eclipse, she describes its alien-like appearance, its fleeting definition. She and a bunch of other observers who have gathered to watch don’t know how to take it. They scream. She screams. It’s terrifying because it doesn’t make sense to see the world in this way.

“From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching, a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That’s when the screams began.”

It’s suddenly dark, like the sky closed a lid. It’s soundless and unsettling. Like there’s nothing, “no world at all.” It feels like death; like they’re all dead and floating, Dillard describes.

“Abruptly it was a dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. For the hole where the sun belongs is very small. Just a thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world. We were the world’s dead people rotating and orbiting around and around, embedded in the planet’s crust, while the earth tolled down.”

She grabs for a definition, but realizes that it isn’t within the common vocab of the human experience. Those especially who lack an understanding of astronomy, she says, will not be able to understand its magnitude in these more tangible terms. But then she goes on to point out scientific theory fallibility, which can’t account for all the sheer wonder found within a firsthand account, an unknowing eyewitness. You don’t have to know numbers and figures to experience the fullness of such a phenomenon. The knowledge you have may actually get in the way, or “blind you” to experiencing something in a new light. With any given experience we have to make sure that we ourselves don’t become eclipsed, she seems to say here.

“What you see in a total eclipse is entirely different from what you know. It is especially different for those of us whose grasp of astronomy is so frail that, given a flashlight, a grapefruit, two oranges, and fifteen years, we still could not figure out which way to set the clocks for daylight saving time. Usually it is a bit of a trick to keep your knowledge from blinding you. But during an eclipse it is easy. What you see is much more convincing than any wild-eyed theory you may know.”

I also just read “The Deer at Providencia,” which is about Dillard’s travels through the village of Providencia in Ecuador. This section focuses on one overarching image — a deer that has been captured and tied to a tree. It desperately tries to escape, cutting itself on the ropes. It’s a violent scene that made me want to stop reading.

“Its neck was no thicker than my wrist; it had been rubbed open on the rope, and gashed. Trying to get itself free of the rope, the deer had cut its own neck with its hooves. The raw underside of its neck showed red stripes and some bruises bleeding inside the skin. Now three of its feet were hooked in the rope under its jaw.”

She watches the deer tire itself. It goes on for 15 minutes. During this time, Dillard’s unfazed expression at the flailing deer is also noted.

Dillard’s travel companions, who were all from big cities, were taken aback by her detachment of the scene of suffering they all witnessed.

She asks them, “Gentleman of the city, what surprises you? That there is suffering here, or that I know of it?”

One man explains, “If it had been my wife … she wouldn’t have cared what was going on; she would have dropped everything right at that moment and gone in the village from here to there, she would not have stopped until that animal was out of its suffering one way or another. She couldn’t bear to see a creature in agony like that.”

Later when Dillard arrives home, she looks in her mirror. Taped to the corner of her mirror, is a newspaper clipping of a severely burned man, someone who had experienced devastating burn not for the first, but for the second time in his life. Every day, the clipping explains, he lies awake in pain wanting to die. Dillard reads this same story every day so she knows that pain like his exists.

“I read the whole clipping again every morning. This is the Big Time here, every minute of it. Will someone please explain to Alan McDonald in his dignity, to the deer at Providencia in his dignity, what is going on? And copy me on it.”

It’s an interesting take on suffering that I think a lot of people disagree with. Is it enough to know? Is it enough to read the newspaper? Shouldn’t we alleviate? Many of us would argue, yes. A lot of us (especially women, as the city gentleman seems to hint) would go running toward the deer or at least squirm in anguish at the sight of something so horrific and sad.

But I think Dillard makes an interesting statement that not a lot of us can accept for some reason or the other. Suffering happens, and the majority of it goes on with our input or non-input. She seems to say no being (animal or non-animal) has more or less dignity than the next, but also seems to remind us that their suffering is a part of nature. That there is no full-proof explanation for why one suffers and why one does not.

The world is never entirely cured of some things. This is the way it functions. Mothers suffer from autoimmune diseases. People are burned in accidents. Deer die in sad ways. Etc. This is a difficult concept to face. Dillard argues that we need to face it, be present, and understand it the best we can.

What I like most about Dillard’s travel log style, is her presentness, and that she does not have a “conqueror” complex. She does not demand something of her environment. She lets it speak to her and through her. With both stories I’ve read so far, from her point of view, it is not in her interest to control the experience while she is experiencing it. Rather, she is there to simply experience and see where her presentness of the moment carries her later on the page. When there is a gap in memory or capability she injects her own special brand of wildness. These are the parts of her stories where the bottom suddenly drops out, where everything seems the same, yet inverted.

Rooster goes Cockadoodledoo

My nephew’s name is Sky, and I see sky for miles.
I thank the universe for letting me be so close to the clouds.

Sky likes the touch of leaves and sunshine on his pale legs.
To him, the forest is filled with long reeds and stems
to caution and laugh out loud at.

We veer off track, and as I push him through grass,
long, slim skins skim his knee.

His instincts kick in, and he throttles into his seat
in horror or fits of giggles.

There is no in between.

Then we play peek-a-boo through the mesh of the stroller,
the window to his gummy soul.

We’re strolling past a farm, stumbling upon a chicken
that’s actually a rooster. We surprise him,
so he ruffles his neck and straightens.

I’ve never heard a cockadoodledoo in broad daylight,
a mere two feet away from my face before.

My nephew can’t speak yet, but I’m hoping he’s internalized
the sound and syllables, and how off-key the noise
is with expectations.

His eyes pop, and the bird’s eyes pop;
its wattle snaps to attention.

Wordlessly, they exchange thoughts while I sprout feathers.

Mary Ann

The gas station attendant wasn’t moving fast enough. A man in front of me huffed as the attendant scurried about the store fixing things, moving with a slight limp on her left side. She was all of sudden aware that there were people at her door, so she started rushing to please us guests. The man was irritated in an airy, hot headed in summer way. He left with a half-grunt when she told him to enjoy the rest of his day.

When it was my turn at the register, I asked why she apologized so much, and she said it’s something she does (and she was sorry that she was sorry). I do it a lot too, and I tried to tell her with my face and leaning in language. She wore glasses, gray, stringy hair that hung in her face, and heavy wrinkles that sagged on her cheeks. She had to be at least in her 60s. I don’t know; I can only really tell age by how worn-in a soul is. Hers was a broken in mitt, an old tune that everyone remembers the words to when the melody starts to really pick up.

My eyes were hungry for her smile. And then it happened, proud and tooth-heavy. I asked if she could break a five-dollar bill for me, and she made a ripping movement with her hands. I cackled at her joke.

We held up the line talking. Five people were soon standing behind me as I asked her questions about her life, which seemed to revolve around being a gas station attendant. I joked about rushing and time. With a crooked smile, I glanced at the fake watch wrapped around my wrist. She laughed. When she laughed it wasn’t scratchy. It was gurgly and girlish in the way that girls get when they think no one is looking.

Her name is Mary Ann, and she’s alive and limping but well in Empire, Michigan. If you run into to her, hold up the line and make each other laugh. It will carve out the browning parts of your insides.

Wears multiple hats

Bowler, beanie, sombrero, cap,
ten gallon, and a fine ass fedora,

the hats I wear stacked high like
a Dr. Seussian pile of pancakes.
My neck sags, and inside my head’s
a three-ring short-circuit circus.

I’m a professional cockroach
capable of survival underneath
the soulless, energy-efficient
lights with a sensor that says
if I sit still long enough, life
will grow a shell and crab legs
that will scurry away from me.

Each time the room goes dark,
I come to my senses and rise
dramatically, like a staged mime.
What a forgettable performance,
they’ll say, as I tap my beret.

Believe in baths

If God is water, then Sundays
are reserved for soaking in the tub.

The bath salts fizzle and crack,
I hear the snap of the candle —
this one’s called cashmere plum.

I pump my legs like riding a bike
against a lukewarm tidal wave,
hoping the words will come.

I guess I’m thinking too hard,
so I focus on the follicles,
proud and stubborn,
protruding from my sweating flesh,

and the candle wax drips.

I swipe my razor,
but the soap is misleading.
it’s not enough
it’s never enough

paving the way to a perfect shave.
(I still feel the sharp parts.)

And then it occurs to me
that every bath is baptism.

There’s so much left on
this earth, in this tub
for me to accept.

No one is ever loved enough.

After the great plunge,
I sit up, drenched
and heart-quenched.

I latch onto my elbows,
hug my knees,
these knobs
are not smooth or soft;
but they’re something to hold onto.

I bend my spine crane-like
follow my folds,
trace the watered down lines.

Total body stretch

Alexa and I stretched today.
She laid out a blanket on the floor
in her room.

Her room is blue.

It’s covered in photographic memories,
discolored thrift finds
worn by use and age
and someone else’s hands
that handled these finds
from time to time,
in coming and going.

We grew up a little in this room

and stretched alongside a woman
on a screen.
She wore tube socks
that covered her entire calves
and grazed her thighs.

When she pulled her limbs,
we pulled ours.
When she rolled her head,
we rolled ours.