The Amber Moment

© 2011 David Parker

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” [Kurt Vonnegut]

I’ve discovered that I am most present with what is not here. I am the kind of person who longs for. Who savors. Who stockpiles hotel keys, t-shirts left behind. Who, as a child, licked the bowl, the spoon, the bottom of the just-cooled skillet my grandmother used to make her chocolate icing. Who saves letters not for the words they contain but for the handwriting, for the hands that brushed the page.

I linger. I want everything, but especially this, to last. Preservation, proof, posterity: these are the things I write for.

I spent my teenage years and my early twenties fascinated by home videos and pictures of myself as a child. I seemed so quiet and so calm–not words I’d use to describe myself now. My favorite album was the one that contained images from the first weeks of my life–Mom in the hospital bed holding me with (strangely) a clown behind her, Dad with his socks pulled up balancing me on one arm (I was so small my head fit into the palm of his hand and he’d hold me out like you might hold a crystal ball), my granddaddy so young his hair was dark. Ruthie, too, is captivated by the video of her first days. We’re enthralled, I think, by the love we see our baby-selves receive. Now that I’m a parent, I know that as we grow, that love doesn’t diminish, but it does become less apparent as we become less dependent. And so maybe, what drives us back to those first days is a longing for something we’re not so sure about, a longing for what we miss.

Every time Ruthie leaves for the weekend, she comes home someone else. More precocious, taller with hair on her legs, smelling like grass and dirt, saying things like “Let’s just not talk about that” when we begin to disagree. She disagrees. Unafraid of worms, lizards, frogs, she fears apocalyptic things like earthquakes, floods, jellyfish in the bathtub. She tells secrets, has secrets, makes up stories for the books she can’t read yet. And every night I regret the words I failed to put on the page to preserve the person she was today, the questions she asked: Are we human?

And in 20 years, in a month, five days, tomorrow, I will miss this. Through my doorway, Ruthie strolls past eating cheese with her stuffed elephant. Lately, she has decided that it’s best to fall asleep holding hands with me. On the way to the grocery store the other day, she said she wished there was no gravity so we could float everywhere. I said I felt like floating takes too long–sometimes I want to go FAST. She thought for a moment and then decided, “Okay. I wish for gravity. But I also wish for wings.” And it occurred to me that wings are kind of a celebration of gravity–without gravity, flying isn’t special. The past and the present, living and writing, have the same kind of relationship to me–the one celebrating the other.

The words are purposes. / The words are maps.

[The title of this post is taken from Adrienne Rich’s poem “Diving into the Wreck.”]

© 2010 David Parker

T.V. sounds reverberate from the living room:
loud, energetic, open-mouthed voices. Must be
a commercial. I’m trying to nail down a metaphor
to stand for the sound of her voice
(escaping through a mouth stitched shut against
crying) on the other end of the line.

And I think:
That’s a lot of prepositions.
And I remember:
to the log, over
the log, around the log,
under the log,
through
the
log,
across the log, for
the log, with the log,
about the log.

And the more I think of the word log,
the more the word becomes
not a word signifying a thing
but a strange-sounding noise
like when you say
your name
over and over and over and over until
it becomes a foreign sound and
it’s strange to think that the sound
is you
because it makes no sense
only sound.

And then you try emphasizing
different parts of the word:
YOURname, yourNAME,
you-R-name.
Or you say it different ways:
yourname. YOURNAME. Yourname?
Yourname! Yourname?!
…yourname.

But you can never separate
the sound so far from its meaning
that it won’t snap back like
a rubber band.

Try it.

Say:
tragedy.
tragedy. tragedy. tragedy. TRA-
gedy. TRA-gedy. tra-GE-dey. tra-ge-DY.
tra-ge-DY. Tragedy? Tragedy. TRAGEDY!
tragedytragedytragedytragedytragedy.
Tragedy.

That’s what we did (my friend and I
on the phone).

A Friday Folds Into Itself And Falls Away

© 2010 David Parker

Friday afternoons, I begin to breathe. I’m sitting outside with a beer that is quickly turning warm waiting on a friend whom I refer to as Aunt Bea and whose kindness always overwhelms me. She’s the type that still mails cards (you know, with stamps). And while she’s stuck in Game Day traffic, I have the opportunity to talk to another friend who is going through one of those times that makes me want to reach through the phone and press my hand into hers and just squeeze I’m here. But I’m not there, I’m here, drinking a beer and watching a young man who dines alone awkwardly make conversation with the older woman sitting near him waiting on her party. To his burger, he says, You never let me down. I’m thinking I can’t even live up to that hamburger with my friend on the phone so far away and me doing that thing I always do when I don’t know what to say, which is to say nothing except I love you because what else is there to say.

Around the time I get off the phone, Aunt Bea has arrived, ruddy-cheeked and grinning. We eat and drink and have one of those conversations that can only happen when you’re both on the same page moving at the same speed through your lives. By the time we leave, I’m sweating and a bit too full. And as I pull into the driveway, I’m overcome by that lonely, sinking feeling I get when I realize that Ruthie’s at her dad’s house for the weekend. It’s a feeling that always surprises me, because I expect to feel relief, but it’s a long time falling asleep the first night she’s gone.

Waving and Thankful

© 2010 David Parker

All my life people have been trying to save me. My grandmother, many of my friends in high schools and college, my family, but especially my grandmother. And they all say the same things: that God is working on my heart and that they are praying for me. All my life, I assumed that these people who wanted to save me were acting from some personal conviction that either they were better than me or I was doing something terribly wrong, or both. Today I saw two people who have been praying for me for a long time: my grandmother and a very dear, beautiful friend whom I’ve known since I was in kindergarten.

This morning, we visited my grandmother in the nursing home. She was dozing on the couch in the common room when we got there and it took her a few seconds for her face to register that she saw us. Ruthie came skipping in with me and all the old ladies sitting in heaps around the room turned toward Ruthie like flowers toward the sun. Terribly unsettling and sad. And so we sat there, Grandmother and I, on the badly upholstered sofa, while Ruthie flip-flopped like a fish out of water. She was so taken with Ruthie and how big she’s gotten. I was so taken by the fact that she’d evidently had her toenails painted a deep shade of red (I later learned that they offer manicure/pedicures at the home). When I left she said that next time I came home, she’d take me shopping and assured me that she had been praying for me. There was something about the way she said these last two things that made my chest hurt.

On the way out, I checked the time. We’d been there maybe 40 minutes. It occurred to me that she’s there all day. More chest hurting.

At 1:00, I picked up my friend for lunch. 45 minutes later, I was crying into my white truffle chicken salad. We talked a lot mostly about how we thought things would be much easier, how we only wanted these small things. And then she started talking about hope and what her hope is in. I’ve never understood hope, and, when I have allowed myself to hope, I have been generally disappointed. My friend has also been disappointed, but she hopes anyways. And she hopes for me. And prays for me. And I am so deeply, wonderfully grateful.

Grateful because both of these women were offering me their hopes and their prayers the way you would offer anyone you love a cup of tea with honey at the end of a long shitty day. No judgement, just a desire to share something that has made their hearts lighter.

It’s strange how heavy thankfulness can feel. It’s much easier to shrug off other people’s hopes and prayers, even get pissed off at them, get all Who does she think she is praying for me. Because to accept their hopes, their prayers, is also to admit that you need them (even if you don’t understand them). And gratitude, real gratitude, is humbling. And humility is rather uncomfortable.

So last week, I wrote about “Thanks,” a poem by the new Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin. This poem mesmerized me when I read it the first time or two, but today I felt it in my bone marrow. In the last stanza, he writes

we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

Two things are difficult about these last lines for me: that nobody’s listening and that it’s dark. But it occurs to me that someone is listening: me, the reader. I’m listening to the voices in this poem saying thank you. So maybe not-nobody’s listening to me too. And maybe I’m waving in the dark, but there’s a lot of us here waving in the dark, so maybe we’re not waving at nobody. Even though I can’t always see it or hear it, I believe in the we of this poem. And isn’t that faith?

Still Looking

© 2010 David Parker

All day today, I feel like I’ve just been swallowing stress. And I really tried to focus on happier things, but it just wouldn’t stick. Like this morning, after I dropped Ruthie off five minutes late, I did have a chance to appreciate the middle-school boy and his father both walking towards the school with back-packs on or the cross guard who high-fived every little kid who passed him crossing the street to the elementary school. The kids at school today were neat-o as usual for this bunch. They laugh easily and often, but not at each other. They willingly engage in discussions of symbolism and figurative language (two of my favorite things). But every little happy seemed to be accompanied by a burp of stress: the classwork already piled on the edges of my desk, the forgotten lunch, the parent conference that ran until I had to sprint to my car to pick up Ruthie on time. Even right now, Ruthie is singing in her bed, which is so sweet, but I’m a little panicky because it’s 9:00 and she really should be asleep if I’m going to wake her up with any amount of success in the morning. It feels whiney, but I can’t get away from wondering if this is really it. I’m beginning to think it is. And then I start thinking about Julia Child. For some reason, it always comes back to her and the fact that she was in her late forties before she got the acceptance letter for the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a project that was borne of her own boredom in France. And I think, when does the part begin where I really, really love what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and who I am? When I’m not working for what I’ll have tomorrow, because what I have right now is what I want? The troubling piece of all of this for me is that I’m pretty sure that part begins with me.

It would be remiss if I didn’t mention one bright spot that squelched a hiccup of stress: public poetry. So when I’m not whining about how boring it is to be an adult, I’ll be working toward doing a bit of THIS with myself and my students. Another yawp-errrific idea brought to you by one Emma Bolden, the presiding Queen of the Power of Whatever and Poetry whom I miss terribly and often.

Also, I’ll be writing earlier tomorrow because I think there’s not enough of me left over this late at night to piece together a post. See you in the morning.