Five Things

The world has been a bit disappointing all around lately. But the birds are still praising God, and so are many people, and many people give their lives to help people who are oppressed in the world, people who are different from them. And the people who are oppressed forgive and forgive, and much love can overcome anything. I believe this. I believe it and I try not to despair. But I feel quiet. I don’t know how to speak into the maelstrom. So here are five things. 

1. I sent World Whisperer Two off to my editor the other day, and I'm working on plotting the third. I'm doing it! I'm writing a series, and the characters have me completely captivated. I really love Isika, Ben, Jabari and Gavi. And the others. And now there are even more. Gosh it's fun to write about pretend people.

2. I’m making the change from being a morning person to being a night person. You might be tempted to tell me about studies that show that this is not possible. But I’m determined, because for all of our marriage, my Superstar Husband and I have been living on nearly opposite schedules and enough is enough. Normally I wake up at 5:00 or 5:30 so I can write before the kids get up. Now I’m trying to write after they’re in bed, and even though I’m often working, Chinny and I are in the same room, and sometimes we distract each other with funny videos or kisses. But it’s still hard to get my mind around “work” happening after “kids in bed” time. I’m tricking myself with all sorts of tricky tricks. Like calling it “creative alone time.” Also, I’ve started lighting a candle and some incense as a sort of signal that it’s time to start. And I’m trying out reading to the boys downstairs to I don’t go upstairs to where the bedrooms and the beds are, all beautiful and smooth and inviting and sleepy-making. We’ll see. I’m giving it another week or two while I try to adjust.

3. I went to Chiang Mai a couple weeks ago, and on the way home I rode in the front seat next to a bus driver who was a little intense. He was nearly riding on the top of other people’s bumpers. Also, he had a police siren installed as his horn, and whenever someone was taking too long to let him pass, out came the siren. Like a pull over siren. The police don’t use sirens very often over here, and I guess it’s not illegal to imitate American-sounding sirens. It made me smile every time, even as I clutched at the door handle.

4. Isaac is taking a turn for the delightful and sometimes sings a song that has lyrics something like: “I love my mama, because she is so beautiful…” and then I attack him with kisses. We had a lice day the other day (it’s been a while, a record for us) and his head is shaved and gorgeous. I kiss it and lead him around by the handle on the back, the way I used to do with Solomon.

 

5. I took Leafy to the local tailor the other day. He gave her a sketch he had made of a superhero costume he designed. It’s going to be made with navy blue spandex. He’s the navy knight. I’m so thankful we live here right at this moment, because as his project got more and more complicated, and then we bought spandex and I realized I have no idea how to sew spandex, and much of it was going to be me making the costume, I got a little panicky. I wasn’t sure I had the ability to withstand the thread tension issues I was sure I would come up against. And then it hit me! The tailor! She can do anything. She gave Leafy an apple to eat, which he was inordinately happy about. He’s making a superhero team. They’re going to do nice things for people in the neighborhood, like pick up litter and clean things. And this is why I love being a mother.

We/ A poem.


(This has nothing to do with July 4th, or 1st for that matter. My mind is elsewhere this year. But happy celebrating to you who are running around with sparklers.)

We/

We come
As
We bring
We/
    Well-  Here is a story
shaped in sky
Song of one tree
angling around the clouds
in its own particular bend
That
curve
one blackened branch/
I thought I was better alone
until I was alone
and all my songs
were quiet

The book won't fit on the shelf/
The mynahs copy the sounds of saws sometimes
metal on metal

You shrug it off but you have
that bend now
And it isn't grief
It isn't the trap you have
been avoiding

It isn't the zipped suitcase,
smoke disappearing into the air
Water takes the form of its container
and the color of its companions
But water is always water
filling up
pouring out
running down

It wasn't the heavy stone I thought it was
one tree in the forest bending
a story of roots and sky
I told you when we were driving
I told you in the car
I remembered him as my brother
but I knew I was his mother
I was no longer completely my own
but I didn't belong to anyone else either

And
We all
He was
We couldn't say
It was the blood in him that died first
Oh- The perfect donor

I’m trying to
I can't
Maybe/
what they say is unhealthy
the waiting for breath-
we are caught but they walk away glowing/
we redefine health
they walk grooves into the floor
they finally look into our eyes
know they are beloved
maybe/
our way in the world is different
maybe/
water will find a way to run clear

It wasn't the stone I thought it would be
song of one tree
sharp branch against the sky
It looked lonely
but it was surrounded by trees
We came
We couldn't say
You have to want to be changed
you have to ask
We bring
as
water is always water

We
come
we couldn't say
We/

Kid Stuff

My dear friend, Leaf, asked me if I could fit the following somewhere in a blog post, so here it is:

While Chinua and I were in California, Josh undertook the job of giving Kenya and Kai a rock and roll education. They had the following conversation, as recorded by Josh:

Kenya: “So this David Bowie guy is famous for wearing makeup and being ugly?”

Josh: “No, he’s famous for being one of the most influential musicians of all time! And he died recently and the whole world cried.”

Kenya: “I didn’t!”

Josh: “Yes you did, you just didn’t know it.”

Kenya: (thinks) …

“Mom said that’s just hormones.”

***

(It’s true, I do say that a lot these days.)

 

***

And since I have written that, let me tell you more about the kids.

Tonight, I was washing the dishes I had bargained Solo for (he did all the plates and cups, I did some of the bowls and the forks) when Leafy joined me at the sink. 

“You taught me well, Mom,” he said.

“Thanks. How so?” 

“As hard as I try, I can’t say the ‘F’ word. I mean, I try and try, and it just won’t come out.”

“Oh. That’s… good?” 

“Yeah, I mean, it’s like when I try to say it, my voice won’t work.” 

It’s reassuring.

***

I’ve become quite the lady of leisure in my mid-thirties. I mean, I can pop out to the market without any children because I grew a thirteen year old and a twelve year old who can watch the others for a while, and I don’t have to push carts of screaming children around. Not that we have shopping carts here. Just sidecars, like the chariot. 

Although sometimes Isaac wants to come, and then Wookie wants to come, so I load them in the chariot and we go to the market to buy vegetables and milk, but Isaac decides halfway through that he doesn’t want to go to any more shops, and then I have to inform him that he doesn’t get to punk out half way through. 

And he’s nice to the fruit lady only half the time, but she’s nice to him all the time. When I got back from California the whole market (think of a big open air market with a lot of separate stalls) was abuzz with the news that I had left to go to America and Isaac had stayed back without me and had come to the market with Ro. 

It feels nice to be known. Although it’s less nice to be known if anti-Isaac runs down the aisle shrieking. Anti-Isaac looks like Isaac but doesn’t have the same sweetness and light. 

 

So, sometimes it’s easy to do the shopping and sometimes it takes three times as long, like the other day when I went to the Vegan restaurant to pick up food for everyone at Shekina on Gardening day, and for some odd reason Wookie kept escaping from the chariot and running around the vegan restaurant, and it made me really nervous because I didn’t know whether it was breaking their “no meat in the building” rule to have a dog running around, because she has dog food stuck in her teeth sometimes, and she is kind of live meat, but we’re live meat too I guess. Anyway, I had to put her back in the chariot three times, and I had the three-year-olds, Isaac and Jasper with me too, and they sat at a table and attempted to wow each other with tales of how hard they dance to rock and roll, by which I knew that Josh had got to them too.

 

And the other night, after community lunch, (which is lunch and then a whole afternoon of hanging out in the garden playing music and washing dishes and sometimes juggling or playing frisbee) Kai, Kenya and Leafy were at Taran’s house playing carrom, which is a game we learned in Nepal, a kind of board game where you shoot pieces across a chalky board and it may have originated with maharajas. They like to play it, so they were there at his house, and I was home with Solo and Isaac. I wanted to go to the noodle lady to get noodles, but realized that I had no babysitters, and I needed to bring the small boys. 

So, okay, they got their shoes on after seventeen minutes of looking for them and we walked along our street just as big drops of rain started to fall. I pointed out the yellow flowering tree which has seventeen thousand flowers on it and smells like heaven, just as our naughty dog, who likes to break out and terrorize the neighborhood with cuteness, came tearing down the street. Apparently she had climbed out the window to follow us. I stood there with Isaac while Solo brought her back to the house, and the drops got larger, and I sighed and swung the tiffins. 

The older Thai man who likes to exercise a lot in awesome seventies exercise shorts came out to peer at the giant crevice in front of his house, that the road workers had dug that day, and to warn us that it was starting to rain. And we waited and waited for Solo. Finally he came out and ran down the street toward us. So we kept walking, and were nearly to the noodle lady when Isaac informed me that he had left his flip flop back where we had stopped the first time, a block back, and had only just decided to tell me about it. We went back, and now the errand had taken eighteen times as long.

But then we got to the stall, the scruffy, delicious little Pad Thai stall, and all my happiest things were there. Thai-speaking ladies, umbrellas, people-watching opportunities, sitting at a little stall on the side of a street, fruit smoothies, and my boys. And we waited for our food while the rain poured on the umbrellas and we drank the smoothies, which made the boys whole year, because I normally insist that we make our smoothies at home, and Miriam wandered along and sat with us for a while and that was perfect.

So yeah, I love being a mom. It’s the best.

Color- A New Poem.

My thoughts have been emerging most easily in poems, lately. Here's a new one.

Color

Stop,
she said.
The dog might bite you.
but I walked through the door
anyway
as softly as I could
and I stood there
and I waited.

It always makes me catch my breath
an error
a step where I shouldn't have made one.

He watches the tiniest muscles
in their faces. 
A flex in the jaw, 
love and desire in the flaring of a nostril.
I look at his hands, 
a ripple of muscles and tendons
   I see unbearable sorrow.

We try to be brave and good. 
I want to flip tables.
I want to burn the house down. 

I will hate the day that I can't hear his laugh. 
For now, I stop and listen, 
as though from across the galaxy: 
I hear it. 

She sat across from me,
tapping her chin with her pen.
In our culture, we wear black to show we are suffering,
she told me.

And yes — we wore color, it's true
Bits of color under tall trees.
   But oh- how we were suffering.

 

Five steps

Chinua and I went to California for four days, flying in a sky that we normally see from the ground. Beautiful people made it possible for us to go to Ian’s memorial, just the two of us. We drove through redwoods and I rolled the window down to breathe their beautiful, spicy scent. It was the first time in 13 years that we went away together for more than a couple days. 

We held hands a lot. I cried. I hugged Christy as much as I could. She still fits under my chin. Chinua spoke at Ian’s celebration of life and he told all of us in that great giant room about his friend. My heart hurt a thousand times. I laughed, too. Christy laughed as well. I wanted to get up to say that Ian was very, very kind to me. But there wasn’t time, because people rushed the stage to talk about their friend. There were so many of us.

We slept on a soft bed and ate good food. We saw people we haven’t seen in years, people who know our story. I sat in the sun in the cool air and felt like the most blessed person in the world.

Back at home, in Thailand, the kids were well taken care of. Our friends took turns watching them, and they got a full education in rock and roll, they played a game called Abandonment, where Kai, Kenya, and their friend Taran were driven out to a spot, blindfolded, and had to make their way back home. They did it easily. (I would call it Survival, but they love to proclaim that they were Abandoned, loudly and dramatically.) They were loved and fed and bathed. Our house was the hub of hospitality and fun. We are back home now, relearning to embrace the chaos, saying hello to our neighbors.

And why do I feel so lost? Perhaps I will always feel this way. Blindfolded, trying to make my way home. I am surrounded by love, by friendship. And I’m scratching my way through the dark. I can feel so good sometimes, like I’m clearly not mentally ill. And then the tiniest of things, just one small surprise brings the drums of doom, fear without reason. (I don’t like surprises.) Ah. 

God loves me anyway. I’m pulling out all the tricks. Drawing, walking, getting up to write in the dark. Cups of tea, lots of hugs. Maybe if I can line up all the days, just get through it, God will form a life of triumph in me. The darkness encroaches, but I speed away on my bicycle. This could be grief. Not only for our friend. But for the world that I thought I knew. Why did I think friends don’t die? It was certainly never guaranteed. I grew up in a home touched by death, but still I was blind to the fact that it can happen. I didn’t believe the facts, the numbers. 

But the butterflies are amazing lately. We live in a butterfly land. Clouds of them rise up to meet us when we walk through the grass. We are sojourners in this world, like them, only here for a moment. We are strangers in a different land, wanderers who are beloved. All the paths have led to this point, they lead on from here. We are not forgotten, we are not finished. We are not Abandoned. 

He pursues us, he runs for us. We speak quiet whispers and he is already listening. We convince ourselves of our solitude, but it is untrue, because he is taking five steps to our one, every time.