Shingles, weathered by white Winters, sap soaked Springs, and the rains of Summer, hug my roofed room in the woods. The interior glows Gustav Klimt gold with ticker tape vines clinging to the layered paint. Scattered on the floor slats is one threadbare carpetbag; one glass milk bottle; one piano bench with skinny legs; one soapbox and one tin coffee can. There is a porcelain dispenser of rainwater and jars for drinking. There is no toilet or television, but a wood stove that sits huffing like a black hog in the corner. There I am, an aged archaeologist of sorts, sitting at a vast vintage desk in a creaky cushioned chair. I wear striped socks, tattered boots, a sweater of black yarn and my jeans rolled up. My hair is coarse as raw cotton; my skin crinkly as used tissue paper, and the irises of my eyes still shine their inherited blue. (I enjoy decorating my imaginings with rustic excessiveness, so please pardon my fun.) Before me, a plain paned window escorts the morning light onto stacks of stories, photographs and letters, which stand like a paper city skyline, bustling with the people and places of my past. I take my satchel from its nailed hanging place and pluck from its pockets a tiny brass pick and brush. I begin to chip, while the howls of dead folk singers drift from my ancient wired headphones, muffling the tinny clinks. Brush bristles sweep up dust, cobwebs and ghosts. I am digging for artifacts and the pre-arthritic bones of my youth.
Now nearly 32 years old, I feel I must make these relics and plant them in the field, see what survives.
Since the birth of my baby girl nine weeks ago, it has become an obsession: this daily decision to select the parts of my present to join in my future's past. Compelled to pack the present into trunks and suitcases for the unknowable voyage Time is thrusting me through, I wrap pictures and the sleepy scribbles of 3a.m. feedings into poppies and poppies (the flowers for their scent and symbolism, and the plastic bubble wrap for their fun and protection). However, this worries me. Will these things, one day, just make me whine and pine for the past? Do most people trust their brains with the complex work of memory? Do they really expect that the most important stitches along the hemlines of their lives will droop and catch on every passing zipper and park bench splinter, resurrecting memories like patches of perennials in Springtime? I apologize for the messy piles of metaphors…I’m just trying to understand, is this the better life to lead? One without all the hoarding? I'm not sure.
From the red carpetbag with its leather latch, I lift a 1947 Remington Typewriter and place it on the maple wood. A page from the past begins to tick.
October 13, 2015
The woolen sky filters afternoon light as a film camera might. Dogs bark at us, the sidewalk travelers. I wear my baby strapped and buckled to my belly. My arms stretch like the ropes of a barge, while my dog, the 37-pound tugboat, pulls me through wooded waves toward the stink of glistening piss.
Yesterday's rain failed to empty the atmosphere here. With the umbrella hovering over our heads, rain dripped and then dropped all at once, a herd of wild water shoved from the cliffs of the clouds. The holes in my sneakers invited a soak to my socks; the front of my pants darkened to a deeper gray. Curled into her sack, my dry baby slept with bubbles at her lips.
I remove the paper from the roller, turn it over and insert it once again. There is no electricity in this office among the trees (justifying my imagination's purchase of an antique typewriter). For what is Winter without the writing and typing of it?
The leaves, dangling from the spindle branches of the wide-trunked deciduous trees, delight her. They are withering now, floating, blowing into shifting piles. Humidity is already hibernating. It is October after all. Two days ago, the apartment wore her windows above her knob knees. Now we shield ourselves behind innumerable knit stitches.
"Do you think she'll be a botanist?" Scott asks.
"Maybe." I say with a smile. Though I think most babies love the sight of leaves sifting light.
We have turned a red hook into the plaster ceiling above her bassinet. From it, a basket spills leaves over its wicker sides. Daily, she stares up at the green vines, speaking her vowel sounds to it.
Within the shallow walls of a piano bench, I leave coffee-stained copies of the song lyrics I sing her. The most worn of these music pages is one unfinished song for which I bellow both day and nightly in my best Lead Belly.
My gurrrl, my girl, don'tcha lie to me,
Tell me where did you sleep last night.
In the pines. Oh in the pines
Where the sun don't ever shine,
Tell me where did you sleep last night.
Just that first part again and again like some howling lone singer on a scarred vinyl record.
Inside the glass milk bottle, on the backs of discarded grocery receipts, I write notes like these.
Sometimes she sobs for milk so suddenly that I am startled and I stumble into sitting. When her mouth grasps my breast, she moans in relief like the dryer ending its cycle.
Today she spread her fingers wide and held it to my squishy skin as she drank from my body, softening this heart into a sweet sauce.
"Why is she sucking on your body?" My five-year-old niece asks.
"She's nursing. This is how she gets her milk." I say. I am discrete, but my magic trick is amateur to the eyes of a curious child.
In the soap box stuffed with silk, I lift a picture print and stand it up to speak. Baby's 10 1/2 pound frame lays across my feather-tattooed-forearm on the left side of our silver sink in the apartment where we first live as Momma, Daddy and Baby. Scrawled across the cracked-egg-shell-white photo back is this message: You push your feet into the faucet, pitching your belly up and causing your head to point down. I have to work to keep the suds from engulfing your eyes. You're quiet when I dip you in and submerge you, my little sailboat. Staring up at the white wire of lights, you are calm as dawn, but when I lift you out of the warm womb-like water, you cry from the cold no matter how fast I work to fasten a fresh diaper.
The tin coffee can is heavy with coins no longer in circulation, one for every grin our girl gives her daddy and me, and two less for every time I blurt, "yeah, we're just gonna be broke right now." (referring to my staying home and not working.)
In this place of imagined things, there is no paper bag of fingernail clippings, no wine jug of purple placenta, no velvet ring box with an umbilical cord stump rotting inside, and no baby bottle of sour breast milk to remind me of the tangy stench that sticks to the folds of her infant face. In my shack, there can be no pantry of preserved moments ---no jarred memories to retrieve, revive and relive. Just some old sentences and pictures. Now I am writing and photographing, but mostly I am here with her in this apartment of brick and wood, by the wide river, beneath the great maple tree, in the year 2015.