Not Every Song Sings Verse

There are days when I write, and some words intrude and “all” I’m good for is poetry. I can edit in this mode, but then, editing is analytical. It’s easy sauce. No, sometimes the words will strike, and I will go fae-mad, and the verse tumbles out with immaculate line breaks. None of these messy have-to-play-with-them breaks. Occasionally, they’ll enjamb, tangled arms and legs akimbo on the page and I start writing love poems. Or veiled sex poems. Or the dreaded poem about writing! How meta. It’s been done. But I’m not. Verse snakes into my everyday speech, and in the sun-spangled angles of mangrove roots fish dart, fleeing egrets’ spears. It’s like a filter gets removed and I hunt those words on long legs in the shallows, and their small silverness can’t hide. All of it is bright, bright, bright, even the shadows.

No, what’s frustrating about this is that my neglected novel sits in its metaphorical box under the bed, gathering dust, while I’m out cavorting with iambs and herons.

And This Is Love

It’s not because I don’t understand cars, and it’s not because “I’m a girl.” I just never grew up working on the things, and when it comes to vehicle maintenance, I’m starting at square one. It’s like teaching a child to cook for the very first time, or showing a self-proclaimed klutz how to juggle. They are going to be awful in the beginning.

Charged with caring for my boyfriend’s 1985 Nissan while he was away on deployment, it fell to me to change the oil. I understand the way to change oil. It’s easy. Isn’t it? You unbolt the little plug at the bottom of the oil pan, drain the oil (after the car has run so the oil is warm and less viscous), replace the plug, and set to changing the oil filter. Right? Except for one small thing… I have never jacked up a car before.

With the car’s parking brake engaged, I prepped the driveway for the impending maintenance, then put the jack in place. Cranking it up was easy. Then it didn’t seem to go any further. Then bits of rust started to fleck the ground. To my horror, the jack had embedded itself in the old sheet metal underneath the vehicle, and I could not free it.

I did what any self-respecting first-timer would do: I panicked. I cursed at myself, called myself an idiot. Finally, I made the phone call to my boyfriend. Miraculously, he picked up.

Through my tears, I explained, sniffling, “…and I can’t get the jack free, and I feel so stupid.”

“Love, you’re not stupid,” he said.

“I’m not?”

“No. You can’t expect to know something you’ve never been taught how to do. It’s okay. You can still get the jack free. Next time, you jack it up under the frame rail.”

“What’s that look like?” I asked, entirely the novice.

“I’ll show you when I’m back. Until then, just take it to the shop. You know what kind of oil goes in it.”

“Okay,” I sniffed.

“Love?” he asked.

“Yes?”

“You know I love you, right?”

“Even though I messed up something so simple on your car?” I asked through tears.

“Yes,” he said firmly.

“I love you, too,” I said.

“You’re not an idiot,” he added.

“Thank you,” I whispered. As we hung up, I realized I learned something more valuable than how not to change the oil.

The Wind in These Woods

There is something about music; I don’t know what it is. A yearning at Billie Holiday’s voice crooning “Crazy He Calls Me;” a pull at the bottom of the soul at Apoptygma Berzerk’s “Kathy’s Song;” a sweet sadness born when I hear Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore;” all that is bitter and strange and all too familiar to rise fluttering in my throat when Joanna Newsom’s “Only Skin” plays. I am not an auditory learner. I have to move to think. My brain is in my legs and fingers, but music moves me. Hips, shoulders, toes, eyes, everything in motion at the sweetness of song.

All my life music has got into my bones, moved them independent of my muscles, has settled in my flesh like a wound that I can feel when it rains or when a cold front comes in. That’s why I took voice lessons when I was younger. But I did what many mere mortals do when they are approaching the divine: I was afraid. Music is a sacred thing, holy above all other things humans can make, save poetry. It lives in the air. It breathes through our fingers and lungs. I learned early the sound of sacrilege: a wrong note. Hitting the high notes flat. Missing a beat.

Certain kinds of sin never held any terror for me–not masturbation, nor lying. As I grew older, those things seemed holy in their own ways, sex and tale-telling, and true to my Pagan roots, I worship in these ways. But the sin of making a wrong sound? It was scarier than death at times. If the note I made wasn’t true, I’d cringe and shrink, heart leaden sitting in my toes, nausea rising in my gut. All these words are flowers. I can’t describe the fear, its nearness or magnitude.

I played drum in the fifth grade. I picked up the guitar at nineteen. I set them both aside because of the horror sitting in strings struck wrong and in rhythms dropped. So knowing this, what does my friend Harper give me at summer’s end, a belated birthday gift?

A harmonica. He offered to teach me, but the night he gave it to me I couldn’t put it to my lips. I drove home crying, the harp sitting heavy in my pocket.

When I got home, I inspected it, turned it over. A Huang Silvertone in the key of D. I took the cover plates off and looked at the reeds, afraid to touch. I replaced the plates, and shaking, finally wrapped my mouth around it. One clear note I blew from the four hole, and set it down in tears.

But the note was clear. The note was clear. And slowly, I am learning to play.

When the Frost Does Not Delight

It used to be, when I first moved to Florida, I felt a kind of smug satisfaction when the ground hardened and the oranges were ruined. I missed the sharp glitter on the ground more than I missed the snow, because it was a simple reminder. Because it was a reminder I knew I could have here. Displaced, adrift, I looked for familiar things.

A person can learn to adapt to almost anything. A person can make changes, bend, send out green shoots to learn the sun in new lands. Roots can regrow. Transplants do take. I came to believe that home is not where you hang your heart, but in the place where the people you love best gather.

But the people I love best all graduated, and they grew wings and flew on all the winds that the college’s logo described, or else they still attend, but I can’t join them in the café before we go to class in the anthropology lab and read James Deetz together with fresh eyes to discuss texts for the first time.

Home has become the place my cats interrupt me while I turn over the soil. It has become the place where my sunflowers get big and start to smile, smile, smile toward the sun, and the place where my hands never get clean. It has become the pomegranate place, the tomato place, a dooryard filled with onions and basil and sage and okra. An eggplant place, trimmed with a frill of cilantro. Home has become the place where I do work that I value. I suppose that means I have a lot of homes.

The frost has killed my tomatoes. Three nights hovering close to freezing, and the last two made the grass glitter like knives. I said goodbye to my cucumbers. I worry over the mango, the night blooming jasmine. Pomegranates are hardy, but my baby oranges spend the night next to my bed, kept clear of cats.

And near? I watch my neighbors beat their breasts, their prize-winning lilies, their beautiful flowers! Me? It’s a cold year, the start not inauspicious. It was newer at Samhain, but we Pagans don’t really keep count– it’s always this year. The killing frost doesn’t make it any more or less home, these days. It just makes it cold enough for me to contemplate a funeral for the cucumbers.

*1/16/10 edited for typos