After I Have Left

           for Domi Shoemaker, who asked

I think about my bedroom after I have left the house, the nest of French linens and gray blanket, light through white curtain, sketch of a chickadee on the wall by the window.

Here is learned wisdom: You should always make your bed if you don't want to be called back, especially on a rainy morning, in the middle of your life.

Aunt Mimi drew the chickadee. It hung on her bedroom wall my whole childhood, and if I'd never left New Jersey forever she might not have given it to me. If I'd stayed there I might have my grandmother's diamond ring instead, and would have gone to lower Manhattan to find trouble, instead of Denver, the voice in my head would have the long old vowels of my first library books.

I just kept heading west.

The voice in my head is my own, only slightly tuned to Aunt Mimi. She can't believe I'd leave the house without making my bed, especially after spending so much money on sheets, can't believe I'd decide not to have children, or come all the way to Oregon, much less stay.

The voice in my head that's my owns says,

Don't be sad.

You don't get another chance

but you still have this one.

Important Things

Sleep is the second most important thing. If you can't sleep, leave your warm bed and make tea in a beautiful teacup. Mine has a chickadee on it. You don't have to drink the tea, but hold the warm cup in both hands with your eyes closed. This is a teacup, and tea, and a chickadee, doing their work. Feel your eyelids flicker, and look for the moments between the flickers.

Sisters are the second most important thing. If they are mid-west conservatives, send notecards often. Watercolors of dogs are good, as are flowers. Stay away from wild iris. Practice your signature so that it is neat and flowing, and slightly smaller than the part that reads, Dear Marie, I hope you are well. Write what truth you can.

A clean house is the second most important thing. Play Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major. Plan your work so that by the time you get to the allegro in the third movement, you will be cleaning your pine floors. Do this on a sunny day, and the pine will shine gold. Do it barefoot.

The world is big. Be small. Think of your feet, the ten toes, the heels, all those parts. Feel your feet bearing your small weight. Move your attention to the floor, to that finite amount of clean pine beneath your feet. Feel the floor doing its work, bearing your small weight.

Treat yourself as if you are someone you love.

Be simple about it.

Don't worry about the most important thing.


A blue bottle can be any shape. It's a good place to keep things. It can be any size, and the things I keep in mine are obvious things like a patch of clear sky on a rainy day, or the broken pieces of the Miles Davis album I had when I was alone all winter in my first apartment with a futon and a stereo, or the guitar on page 86 in the Collected Works of Wallace Stevens, or the blood of my Protestant grandmother, who never really forgave my father for getting my Irish Catholic mother pregnant, nor my older brother for being born.

Grandmother liked me though, let me help dig weeds from her beds of magnificent blue iris. Crazy blue world, spinning away. I got married, that was strange, I stayed married, stranger yet, and my parents both died, which is absurd, and then there is the ocean, and sunrise, and of course bedroom slippers and wristwatches and cancer.

I once had a blue bottle in the shape of Iowa, and another in the shape of Gorecki's Third Symphony. I have one now in the shape of an iris tattooed on my wrist.

Junk Drawers

To watch an old husband sleep is one of the small glories of a long marriage, with its vague definition of who I am, but I slip away without waking him, because of a dream. Dark mornings pull me back in unmarked time to houses and rooms that are now apartment buildings or strip malls or even empty fields, which doesn't matter, perfect words being beside the point.

I dig through layers for something that is not beside the point, like digging through the junk drawer for the demitasse spoon that returned to me in the dream, the dream beside the point, the spoon remaining. I know it's in the drawer somewhere. I try to dig quietly through old keys and nail clippers, a screwdriver and a magnifying glass ― detritus, and its tendency to clatter.

I first found that spoon in Aunt Mimi's junk drawer. I was 5 or 6 or 7. I had never seen such a small spoon, flowers in dark tarnish. I don't know how I got it. She may have given it to me. Surely I would remember the moment of such a gift.

And now my fingers are still.

I am digging through layers of hands handing me rosary beads and seashells, a pillbox with a mosaic lid, Aunt Mimi's wedding ring, and even my own wedding ring, definitions of who I am and who I've been ― things, and their tendency to matter.

I am standing in a kitchen, tile floor cold under my bare feet, junk drawer open, husband standing on the stairs in the blue plaid robe I gave him for Christmas the year we lived in the downstairs apartment on Carmen Street. Every time we turned on the heat the lights went out. He blinks at me in the dim light of this morning, drawing the robe tight.

Geography of Love

You have to imagine that everything you love will go somewhere, become something else — a wild plant of some kind that people pull out by the taproot before the crazy bright flower goes to seed and a breeze carries the seed to the neighbors' green yards, or even Canada, where it might have to struggle in green rock canyons (Frazier River), or stately apple orchards (Okenogan Valley), or farther west, traveling in the mud on the scaled talons of an eagle seeking candlefish through the mad scramble of aits and channels (Inside Passage), along with hundreds of other eagles that swarm and shriek at the oily fish, and the great great migration.

See? Now your love is far away.

Small-town native storytellers will tell of it and American fishermen will marvel not even knowing, and you are here in a city garden pulling weeds — damn dandelions everywhere, lawnmowers, workaday daydreams, a breeze.



Valentine's Day 2015


You think of other mornings like this morning, light coming on slow, the white curtains and clean windows, and you remember, watch what drifts past like a ghost or fog -- the old hound dog named Frisco, the 1951 Dodge pickup truck, the watercolor you painted of the vacant house next door in the mostly empty cul de sac that summer you first came to Portland from Colorado, when you and your boyfriend got work staining endless strips of crown molding and quarter-round in exchange for rent because you had hope and love but no money.

It was June. The wet heat was amazing. And it went by fast, turning into classes at night and a waitress job during the day, and just as fast you are here now in your own quiet room with all your books, the watercolor long gone, and the boyfriend too, the boyfriend you stayed with until late that winter, saying things you remember now, and wish you hadn't said, or could forget. If you had known then there would be this room, these books, this small black spaniel with her head in your lap, would you have loved the dazing heat even more, been more patient with the sticky wood stain, and the lunch diners, who wanted your time and tenderness, and the rain that came in a way you didn't know any rain could?





The Commute

The bus stop is three blocks away, with a small rise and drop between here and there. I didn't wear my watch. I rarely wear my watch. It's between 8:00 and 8:30 on a Monday, and there is fog in drifts. I can't tell how fast I am moving, or if the sun will burn through the fog, which seems to brighten if I look up. I can't tell how tall a red brick building is. Skeletal leaves lie along the edges of the sidewalk, and there is a small ordinary feather, and I stop and look at them lying there, and hear the thick air being quiet. Someone laughs somewhere, then stops laughing -- the particular sound of something being only a little bit funny. I walk on, past the feather, and picture it back there, and wonder if anyone else will see it, picture myself walking, and wonder if anyone will see me. I hold onto this wonder for only a brief moment. Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. Fog, a feather, the particular sound of a bus pulling away from the stop.


Dec 17


       for Shawn Moon

I often lie awake in the early hours. Today, at 6:10, I hear something killing the chickens across the street, at the same house where someone recently stole the mosaic that was hanging artfully in the fence, one of two. The other mosaic is left, the one with the blues and orange, and now an empty square hole. The sound of the carnage stops. Around the neighborhood, people are making coffee, or deciding which shoes to wear. The church at the corner of Third and Wasco is turning wine into blood. The sky pales, and pinks, and it is day again, a clockful of hours to turn our backs on black space.

On the other half of the earth, where evening is coming on, my friend wonders that there has been a whole day, and yet her mother is still dead. She wonders if she'll still be dead tomorrow, in that way of those beloved of the newly dead, how death at first brings less and less belief in death, in the way that each night seems to involve more stars -- the crushing awe that the dead are still dead, and that there is no end, only an ending going on and on. My friend walks her small dog one last time before tucking in to weep wildly for a while, maybe sleep, decide to go to work in the morning, praying that nothing will ever be the same.

Here, the newspaper lands on the front porch, furled around its brave headlines -- a house fire, a lost hiker found, riots in the middle east -- and, safe and small in the top corner, where most people never look, is the date.

The old woman who lives alone across the street is pragmatic about the death of her chickens. It has happened before. She has told me it is raccoons, and she feels bad about it, but she repairs the coop, even knowing that nothing ever really keeps a raccoon out, and she vows to be more diligent about collecting the eggs, which is what the raccoons are after.

Raccoons need to eat, she has told me. People need art.

She will get more chickens. She is working on another mosaic, which she will hang from the same hooks..