30 December 2012

Muzo's Chimney

Smoke rose from the chimney, but the trees surrounding the little cottage obscured nearly all of the building.  Only the top of the white-washed chimney was visible from the winding path, and only when the cold wind blew just so, blowing the tips of the trees in such a way.  With her free hand, Tansa adjusted her scarf as best she could so that it completely covered her blonde hair.  The basket hanging on her other arm was growing heavy, laden as it was, but she continued down the path.  She was nearly there, to the cottage, and it was nearly Christmas.  She wanted her trip to end and to share her surprise and warm herself by the fire.

She thought of the last time she’d been here - nearly two years ago, when she was only fourteen years old.  Now she was nearly sixteen, practically an adult, she felt, and this trip was necessary because of that.  Now, for many reasons, she could - and had to - make her own decisions.  That much was a necessity.  Her life had changed irrevocably since then.  Perhaps by returning to this cottage, to Muzo’s cottage, she could begin again.

On her previous journey, she’d set out to gather gura nuts that fell from the trees in late fall.  She hadn’t ventured that far from home, just over the mountain and into the next valley.  Without warning, the sky had filled with low, white clouds.  Before long, snow was densely falling, and what had once seemed familiar no longer was.  She’d become cold and disoriented in the snow, and found herself drawn to the sound of an axe chopping wood.  She’d nearly stumbled into the bentwood fence, startling a large man who was chopping kindling inside a nearby shed. 

Approaching the gate of the cottage now, she thought of that man, Muzo, and how he’d noticed her, mid-swing.  He had brought his axe down gracefully, skillfully, and hurried to this very gate.  As she unlatched it and continued to the tiny cottage, she thought of his grey eyes, his handsome face surrounded by dark curls of hair.  He’d led her into the house, stoking the small fire and making tea from dried roots that he powdered in a small ceramic bowl.  The tea had warmed her, and then made her so sleepy that she hadn’t been able to stay awake.  The last image she could recall before her slumber was his eyes as he carried her to the small bed in the corner of the cottage.

The dreams she’d had!  They’d been so vivid, so colorful, so bright!  That was why she had returned.  In the dream, she’d watched herself, as if from above.  She went about the cottage, through the forest, as she always had, but rather than the drab greens and greys of the woods, everything was garish and multi-colored.  Muzo was there, too, and he wore not the tan tunic he’d worn chopping wood, but instead one of a lively violet and green that shimmered in the light.  In the dream, he’d kissed her.  His mouth was warm and sweet, melting into hers.

Tansa’s hand trembled as it rose to jingle the string of small bells that hung near the door of the cottage.  First, though, from under a blanket that covered the basket, a whimper arose and then settled.  She peered beneath the blanket, and a child smiled at her, his grey eyes twinkling.  She gently pushed back the bonnet that covered most of his fine black curls and gave his tiny nose a tender tap.  He giggled and grabbed her finger in his chubby hand.  The wind whipped up and rang the string of bells violently, and Tansa could hear someone approaching from inside.

The door opened, and Muzo stood in the doorway, his curls brushing the top of the frame.  His eyes widened at Tansa, but he said nothing.  Tansa wasn’t deterred.  She held the basket up, to show Muzo the baby within, just over a year old.  The child blinked his grey eyes expectantly at Muzo, who stepped back to permit the pair entrance.

A small fire crackled within the hearth.  In the back of the one room cottage, a shivering girl gripped a steaming mug at the table.  She looked exactly like Tansa, right down to her apron, a small tear separating the strap from the bib.  Tansa looked at apron she herself wore - and yes, there was the same rip, the one she’d repaired with fine stitches after she’d returned home from Muzo’s house.

Tansa and the girl at the table looked at one another, blinking, trying to make sense of who was whom and what was happening.  No one said a word.  Tansa set the heavy basket on the floor.

After a few moments, the girl at the table put her mug down, hard, on the table.  Her eyes closed, and then her head nodded once, twice, and fell forward into her arms.  Muzo held up a finger, signaling to Tansa that she should wait.  Then, he went to the table and took the girl into his arms and carried her to the small bed in the corner.  Easily, he arranged her on it and removed her shoes.  Then he covered her with a multi-colored quilt, only item with color in the drab cottage, and kissed her on the lips.

Tansa watched the scene, all the while remembering her multi-colored dream.  She felt as if she were watching herself, the girl on the bed.  It was all so familiar.  The baby squirmed in its basket and then babbled happily.

Muzo turned to Tansa, shaking his hair from his eyes.  He smiled.  Muzo took the baby from the basket and they looked at one another intently.  The baby grabbed a lock of Muzo’s hair and laughed as Muzo danced with him.  He set the baby on the floor, and the baby took a tentative first step, and then another.  And as it walked toward Tansa, it grew.  With each step he grew taller and older, his clothes stretching to fit his body.  He was now nearly as tall as Tansa.    

Tansa rubbed her eyes and pinched her arm.  This was all so strange.  She looked again, and the baby was now as tall as Muzo.  They stood with arms folded, huge, identical grins revealing their perfect teeth.  Tansa took a step backward, toward the door.  Muzo stepped forward so that he was even with this creature that resembled himself exactly; this creature that moments ago was a baby in a basket, one that Tansa had carried in her arms over the mountain just this morning.

Both of their eyes locked on Tansa’s and she found that she couldn’t move.  Her feet seemed attached to the floor.

“Tea?” they asked, and Tansa nodded helplessly, even as she felt herself swirling into a colorful dream.

16 December 2012

Home's Hearth

On Friday morning, we were all just learning of the horrors in Connecticut that were eclipsing the similar horrors reported earlier this week from Oregon.  I was at school, of course, and found out about Sandy Hook when I checked the news at lunch.  A few hours later, my own school was in lockdown due to a threat.  This threat turned out to be a hoax, but that can’t be known until there’s an investigation.  Reactions must be immediate and they were.  It was eerie, knowing what had happened earlier in the day.  It was stressful because the energy level of the students had been high all day due to the coming weekend and the impending storm.  They didn’t want to be cooped up any longer than necessary. 

During a lockdown, the police essentially take over the school.  There are procedures we follow to ensure safety and order.  There are regular drills so we all know what to do.  But still, even when it’s a drill, it’s a huge inconvenience for everyone.  Students miss appointments; those with after-school jobs are late to work, and of course, the lessons of the day are interrupted.  Parents coming to school to pick up their kids are turned away by members of the SWAT team armed with assault weapons.  No one leaves or enters the school for the time being.  It’s incredibly inconvenient and disruptive.  Every threat has to be taken seriously.  Every procedure has to be followed.  There is far too much precedence for horror to do otherwise.

After we were released, I managed to make some preparations for the coming week’s final exams before I left school.  I raced home and we had a quick dinner before taking off for my younger daughter’s performance in a play with her classmates.  The play was adorable and silly, as only an elementary school play can be.  And as I chuckled and applauded, I choked down guilt that such joy was mine.

Later that night we were in Sedona, a trip that had been planned ahead of the winter storm and long before any of us had ever heard of Newtown, Connecticut.  The sandstone rock formations were dusted with snow and shrouded in clouds and fog.  In the morning, I hiked with my family in the cold drizzle and sleet, seeking solace and beauty.  I implored those red rocks and ominous clouds to allow me to find some peace.  I was in a place of unparalleled beauty, but my thoughts kept returning to unspeakable horrors.  I noticed that the rain had a magical capacity to draw out colorful patterns on the normally dull, matte wood of the juniper. Beauty was all around me, in the grandeur of the vistas and the rivulets of water racing down the rocks. 

The rain and sleet were constant, never letting up.  The wind whipped and became still, then rose again.  The trail wound through trees and red muck and onto the sandstone and back again.  It was cold and miserable and lovely, hiking just below the elevation where the snow was sticking.  As I comforted my shivering children after we’d returned to the car, I could only think of their counterparts at Sandy Hook, and wonder what words adults might be whispering to them.  And while I know I am feeling only a fraction of the grief they must be enduring, I was overwhelmed by the sadness and pointlessness of it all.

Chilled by the rain and my thoughts, I could not get warm again, even after I was in dry clothes.  I spent the rest of the day sipping coffee and reading and writing as close to the gas fireplace as I dared in the condominium where we were staying.  Still, I was cold.  To my very core, I was cold and no amount of heat brought comfort.

This afternoon, at home again, as I rinsed red mud from boots and pant legs, I was grateful.  As I folded my family’s laundry, I found comfort in routine.  I stoked the fire, adding wood my family had cut and carried, and finally felt the warmth that only rises from home’s hearth.  We are all finding comfort in the routine of a typical Sunday evening.  We are the lucky ones.  The lucky ones who still have routine to cling to.  The lucky ones whose lives haven’t been inexplicably, irrevocably wrenched into unspeakable darkness. 

This evening, though, I asked my daughters if they had any questions about what happened in Connecticut. I found that my voice caught and it was a long moment before I admitted to them that I couldn’t answer the only question they asked:  Why?


Strong Roots

For SB

To grow strong roots:
water deeply but not too often.
Plant in full sun but shelter from wind.
Stake yourself to something stable
so you will grow strong and true.
When the time is right, do not be afraid
to remove the stakes,
otherwise you will not learn to bend in the storm
without breaking.
Feed regularly with sunshine, sky, and love.
Know that when the storms come -
and they will come -
you can weather them.
You are not in the same soil as your forebears,
but a soil enriched with your own castings,
your own leaves. 
This rich loam is of you, for you.
It is up to you to shelter yourself
from that which burns or blows too strongly.
All the while, unseen, your roots are growing.
You don’t even know and won’t believe
how strong you’ve become.
And as the storm blows itself out, fades,
and its last drops finally fall, remember that these, too, will
nourish your soil.
And you will open your eyes again
and recognize that although you’ve been battered,
you are still standing,
strong and tall and steady.
And you will know that you are still here,
that your shade exists in contrast with your light;
that the unfurling of the new leaf and the crackle of the golden one
in the wind, these too are of you and for you.
One cannot exist without the other.
Spring will come, but winter first,
and your deep roots will sustain.


02 December 2012


Is it enough to watch a
sunset, to mark the passing of
yet another ordinary day?
The manifestation of the good,
constant god that indeed
provides, around whom we
most certainly orbit - is it
enough to witness this disc
sliding beyond the hills?  The
potency of its strength
evident once it has disappeared: 
the rosy glow of the earth
behind me after its vanishing, the
mounting darkness a contrast
to our beacon’s warmth.
Is it enough to coax a
seed into life?  To prepare a
space for its stored energy to
inhabit, a loamy soft bed
where it can stretch - roots and
stalk - and turn its face,
eventually, to the light. 

Is it enough to love as best we
can, which is to say, often
inadequately, now and again
without seams that pucker and
bind.  There are moments
fleeting as the exclamation
of color that builds at day’s end -
moments of weightlessness,
compassion, when we fold
into one another, purely,
simply, without terms. 

Is it enough to write a
poem?  To fill the page with
words that lack precision,
and surge and ebb,
stilted in their development. 
Words are just the tools I use. 
The same words that I struggle
with, these are the ones
that Shakespeare and Tennyson
shepherded, now entrusted to us. 

If all we have is each other,
this space the only comfort, our
solace, a soft carpet upon
which we soothe our weary
soles and souls, let us find
wonder in this just as we might
greet the sun’s return tomorrow: 
a miracle of gratitude, the lost
traveler, at last, journeyed home.