Thursday, March 27, 2014

Piano Lessons

One, a pause. Two, a pause. Three. She plays simple chords, descending, and I nod my approval. Each pale finger is placed deliberately, softly, upon the keys. Her focus is apparent; I can see it in the bend of her back, and the way she watches her hands. She seems not to notice the pale shock of hair falling limp against her cheek. It obscures her, but I don't need to see her face to know that her brow is creased. On the bench today, she looks old, and in the sense that she is near to the end of her life, she is. She is nineteen.

I didn't know her, when there was color in her cheeks. I didn't know her when she ran, or sang, or laughed without having to sit down. It's in her mother's face, though, and it's in her voice whenever she tells me that she's glad she can at least sit at the bench for her lessons. At least. She breaks my heart.

"Do you want to try your piece?" She nods and finally tucks the errant hair behind her ear. I take up the pages of the song she'd chosen, open them, and set them in front of her. She prepares by placing one bare foot atop a brass pedal, and once again arranges her fingers along the ivory with consummate care. I step back to set the metronome to a slow, steady knock, and she begins to play. Her fingers trip over the melody, more than once, but I hardly notice because I'm watching her. I am always amazed by the grace that remains in her. I have never wasted a moment wishing that I'd known her before this happened to her, because even as she is, she is more than enough to humble me.

I realize she's stopped playing, and wonder if she's lost her place, but when her shoulders begin to shake, my momentary confusion is replaced with alarm and I am by her side in seconds. Even though I can feel the frustration radiating from her brittle frame, I ask her what the matter is.

"I don't have enough time." Her voice is a whisper, half defeated, half angry. She doesn't have to clarify. We both know the ugly truth of her words, and we are silent for a long moment while the metronome ticks on, deafening. I dare to place a hand on her shoulder in comfort. I can feel all of her bones.

"Play your chords," I say to her, quietly, and after a moment's hesitation, she does. I sit beside her, and it is my turn to arrange my fingers along the keys. I wait, as her chords slowly climb the keys, then descend. I begin to play, and mine become the notes that swim below hers, buoying them up and up, making a song of them. All of my training, I devote to this one task. I don't claim to know much but this, I know. This, I know. I lose track of time. We play and play, and when I finally glance at her face, she is smiling. This, I think, this is why I am anything at all.

--

That was the last time I saw her. I couldn't make myself go to her wake, because I think that seeing her so still would have killed me, too. I went to her funeral, though, and it rained. I held an umbrella and said things I can't recall to her family. They thanked me for all I did, and all I wanted to do was apologize because it wasn't enough.

I dream of her, still. Sometimes I just dream about rooms that are empty of her, and I wake up broken and alone. Sometimes I dream of the day that we played together. And sometimes, when I am very, very lucky, I dream that I am not playing at all. Instead, I watch her compose and play with a skill far beyond any I could have taught her, suffused with light and smiling.

-J

This story came out of a rough idea that snuck up on me on during one of my many long drives, assisted by the beautiful music of Olafur Arnalds. The particular song that inspired this is called Arcade, if you'd like to have a listen.

The Storm

It was a Friday night. The grounds were clean and dinner was nearly finished. We raced up the hill beneath an ominous grey sky, past the old, limbless pine in the courtyard and into the aisles of the grey barn. There was still time for a ride if we hurried. The campers wouldn't be coming up for another ten minutes, and if we were mounted by then, we were golden. Jane and I snatched old, well-oiled saddles and bridles off of their racks, labeled respectively with duct tape and the names of our mounts, Topaz and Summer, written in faded sharpie. With pause only for a shared smile, we hurried to the only two stalls left occupied.

I patted Topaz’s golden rump and he moved to the side, glancing back over his shoulder at me with liquid brown eyes. As I lifted the saddle pad and saddle onto his broad back, I inhaled the sweet scent of horse and hay. There was electricity in the air. I cinched the brown girth up beneath his stomach and took the opportunity to stroke the pale white star on his forehead as I bridled him.

There was no need to lead him into the courtyard. He followed without the slightest pressure on the supple, laced leather reins. Jane was waiting there for me, already astride the chestnut Summer, who danced in place, sending echoed shuffles of sand as far as my boots. I slipped one foot into my silver stirrup and swung into the saddle, immediately feeling at home with the familiar shape of gold and black beneath me.

We cantered up to the ring, ignoring the sky, afraid that a single glance might cause the pregnant clouds to open up and explode. Through the crooked gates, and onto the sand, measured hoof beats drummed on the earth. It was the best ride of my life. That night, Topaz was a titan beneath me, and fine-boned Summer was a fey creature from some other place. Jane and I were not riders. We were guests. By now the campers had wandered up the hill, tame after a hard day’s work. The gathered around the edges of the ring, watching, chattering to one another, intrigued by the opportunity to see their instructors ride.

Life was perfect, in that moment, but the sky couldn’t hold out forever. In response to the thunder of hooves, the sky rumbled back. A flicker of lightning zigzagged across the sky and we knew our time was up. We fled the ring, ushering the scattered girls into the safe space beneath the aluminum roofs of the barn. Saddles and bridles came off as the clouds began to boil. Jane and I glanced at each other over little brown, blonde, red heads and young faces. The horses had to be turned out. Storms in the Green Mountains could turn to destructive monsoons in the blink of an eye, and the horses were safer unconfined, where instinct could take over. But could we make it in time? Another shared smile presented the challenge. We bolted from opposite ends of the barn, heading towards our respective fields, hers down the short, low road into the wooded Back Pastures, mine up the long, steep dirt road to the Hunt Field at the top of the grounds.

I picked up a jog, my tall black boots making as much noise on the packed dirt as Topaz’s hooves. I wove the fingers of my right hand into his coal black mane and let that contact bind us together, leaving the lead rope to hang loosely between my left hand and the bottom ring of his red nylon halter. We ran together past the archery targets, past the double pine, past the crooked-fenced sports field. Up, up, up. Onto the grass where the clip-clop of hooves and boots became muffled thumps and swishes. Past the campfire circle and down the green path. Past the ponies, past the mares, and past the old geldings. We stopped and I pulled back the wire gate of the Hunt Field. I stroked his pale white star again, pulling the halter off over his head and watching him canter off towards his pasture mates, then lower his head to graze, unfazed by the rumbling thunder and the streaks of wild lightning.

I stood watching him until I heard it. At first I thought it was just the storm wind in the pines, but then I looked up toward the tree line. A fine haze was sweeping across the trees, then the field, enveloping everything in a line of grey. It was rain. A solid sheet of rain. I turned and fled. By the time I reached the dirt path, the rain was only a few feet behind me. The wind of my own speed was whipping my hair out of its unstable pony-tail as I veered onto the narrow, winding path that began just past the small, green shower house. It was harder to navigate, but more direct, and my only hope of staying dry.

Heavily wooded, the back path was much darker than the road, barely lit at all when the clouds swallowed the sun. Spurred on by an irrational fear of darker things, I ran even faster, taking long, leaping strides over roots and stones. The rain was right on my heels. Arms pumping and legs flying, I streaked around the last corner, putting on an extra burst of speed as the barn came into view, the worried faces of thunder-spooked children and the willowy Jane looking out at me. They moved aside as I tore into the barn without a second to spare. The rain enveloped the barn, literally inches behind me. The sound of billions of raindrops splashing down on the tin roof was deafening. I stopped, bending with my hands on my knees, taking great gulps of air, laughing from the sheer adrenaline of the run. Laughing harder upon noticing that the rain had been close enough to wet the heels of my boots.

I’ve never run like I did that day. There’s something about the ferocity of the elements that can inspire things in you that you didn’t think you had. To this day, whenever it rains I think of that storm, that ride, that run. When everything somehow seemed bigger than me.. even though I was bigger too.

Topaz is older now, and so am I. I took him home with me from the mountains that summer, and even though we haven’t been back in years, we still run beside each other, my hand tangled in his mane. His white star has gotten bigger, spreading out with the white hairs of age, but he’s still my Titan, gold and black. He’s my walking memory of that day. The lightning in my life that doesn’t fade away, even after the storm has passed.


-J


I wrote this in college, and just found and revised it a bit. It's one of my favorite pieces, because it's 100% true. March 22nd makes ten years since I lost Topaz, and not a day has passed when I haven't missed him.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Warpaint

You will not see me cry.
Charcoal lines and sapphire lashes do not weep.
You will not see me color.
Powdered and blushed to perfection,
Invisible; both pale of fear,
And flush of shame.
Where untinged lips invite,
Today their red will shake you
And you will wonder
How recently I have tasted blood.

-J

The general feeling on makeup seems to be that it's about wanting to enhance and attract, to draw people in. I often wonder, though if it isn't sometimes about wanting create a mask with which to keep the world out.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I Remember


I remember the moment you made my heart beat.
I remember the stutter,
the pins-and-needles, graceless thump that filled my throat.
Breath halted and caught, a sudden warmth;
The wary elation of the drowned who, peace made with god,
wakes upon beautiful, but foreign sands.

I remember your amber-green sparkling, smiling,
lit from within by a scrawled heart
and seven impulsive purple numbers.

There in that near-empty bar,
I faced you because I was afraid to turn away.
Pressed to the brick, turned in my chair.
Riveted to the way your hand rested lazily around the drink we shared.
I knew that if you touched me so,
Only let go when I, too, was empty,
I would break like glass.

Spring drew it's deepest breath that year,
And blew us tumbling into summer,
into each other's arms.
Since then, a year, and more.
Some days a lifetime, others, a split second.
You hold me as you held your drink, that night.
Effortless elegance, smiling eyes, and gentle hands.

I face you now because fear has left me.
Safe at your side, rich beyond measure,
Riveted still to the way your hands move.
You touched me when I was empty,
And filled me to the brim with love.

-J

So, I think the subject matter here is pretty obvious. The funny part to me is that the first line is true. It was an exact moment that something shifted for me after two months of being perfectly content with 'just friends'. Eye-opening and scary, but ultimately worth the risk.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The First Fracture


Maybe this is where it starts.

Maybe this is the first fracture, the first sign
That you,
That you will break from me and fall away,
 like ice into an ever-warming sea.
Maybe tomorrow the silence between us will be a moment longer,
 stubborn and unbending as “You first” takes our gentleness away.
Maybe tomorrow the warm amber-green of your eyes will have cooled
 into the stiff oak of a winter leaf.
A day after that, perhaps a month, a year;
When my unwillingness to bend has coated you with frost,
You will leave me.

You will take the summer with you when you go.

It will be too late, then, to press my heart into your hand and hope.
It would slip through your fingers, an exercise in futility.

The sound of my heart breaking would not be like glass,
 It would be silent, lost inside the echo of your footsteps, walking away.

So tonight I will swallow my pride over this imagined slight.
I will climb the stairs and go to you.
I will press my face, wet with tears, against your neck and tell you I love you.
I will learn my lesson before it is too late.
I promise.

-J

A poem in which I acknowledge that sometimes, I am absolute crap at relationships, and then try to fix it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Folding Laundry

There is something about folding laundry.
A quiet, penetrating melancholy about the way my hands move
 that reaches into my core and pulls up the past.
Draws up like water in a bucket the way my mother's hands
 performed this simple task;
 before her, my grandmother's--before that, her grandmother's.
Through ages, this piece of infinite simplicity has persisted.
It has never been a matter of life or death,
 no, it is just a way, a woman's way, of keeping what she loves
 bundled safe, nestled carefully.
Every piece of fabric, cotton light or woolen heavy,
 comes laden with memory.
'Remember then', 'I'll wear this when'..
Today, as I crease, smooth, and stack, I remember:
 the tie-dyed, contented happiness of a drive with my grandmother,
 the clean-cut denim and buttoned cotton of a lecture well-received,
 the green wool that hugged me when I realized I loved my husband,
 the purple wool I wept into when I realized he didn't love me.
Tattered navy that cradled me through my dark days,
 and black lace that tried to prove to me that I was not broken.
The flowing white and grey of finally remembering
 how to dance with wild abandon.
Here in this pile,
 Here is my life. These are my masks and my skins.
Not only do they pull me back, but they push me forward, forward.
Someday, I will do this thing in joy.
Smiling, I will fold the tiny socks and shirts of my first child,
 positively bloomed with love.
Someday, I will do this in sorrow, folding and blessing with salt water
 the effects of those beloved who have gone before I was ready,
 not that I will ever be ready.
Hope and regret, laughter and tears, bright summer and deep winter.
All of them live inside me but today I pour them
 in careful memorized sweeps and folds
 into closets and drawers.

There is just something
 about folding laundry.

-J

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring

With all the lightness of spring, inhale.
With sun-streamed skin, remember warmth.
Stretch and glow. Unfold. Reach.
Put away those winter things, child.
Put away covered and curled,
Send wool and weather with melting ice.
Exhale, and fade gale to zephyr.
Put away simply survive; instead, flourish.
Follow the way of root and crown.
Dance, bend, and blossom.

-J

So, here's a rough little thing on the first real days of spring. It's in the high 60s here today, and lovely. I was laying in bed this morning thinking that there's something just infinitely light about spring air, so I figured I'd run with it. In other news, I'm fantastically behind on this, but pretty okay with that. It'll come when it wants.