City Week

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A year ago I was in New York, picking up my number for the NYC Marathon on a rainy Saturday, then running the windy streets the next day.  It was glorious.  Earlier this week there were trucks along Central Park West unloading and connecting massive coils of cable, wiring the park for the end of the race on Sunday.  This year I’ll be watching rather than running (Matt is all trained and ready to do it again) and I’m not sad about that.  In fact, I’m excited.  This wasn’t a year for marathon training, but it’s still a year to enjoy the city.

“You’re four for four,” David said to me Wednesday night as we walked back up town after seeing “An American in Paris.”  I didn’t know what he meant at first, then he pointed out I’d chosen two plays and two restaurants over the previous two days and each had been excellent. We were both surprised by the skilled mix of classical, modern and show dancing (with a heavy emphasis on ballet) in “An American in Paris,” all of it smart and sharp, set against back drops that danced across the stage too, the streets of Paris and the Seine coming in and out of view as panels whisked across the stage on free rolling wheels swirled by dancers, a dazzling art show in motion.

“A View From the Bridge,” directed by Ivo van Hove (excellent profile of him in last week’s New Yorker), with a set as stripped and modern as Paris was 50’s and lush, was gripping on Monday night.  This revival of Arther Miller’s 1953 play had the unmistakable stamp of van Hove, wringing the heart out of a play.  David and I had started the morning packing the car in New Hampshire, and by 11:00 p.m. we were walking up Broadway to our AirBnB on the Upper West Side, stunned.

We had dinner at ABC Kitchen on Tuesday night and lunch at Gabriel Kreuther on Wednesday — fantastic foodie experiences that we were hungry to enjoy, having walked 20 miles over two days by then.  We walk when we come to NYC — into and around Central Park, up and down Broadway, back uptown from the 9/11 Memorial, through Soho and Noho and Union Square and Herald Square and in and out of the overload of Times Square multiple times on this trip, with tickets to three plays.

Yesterday we walked another 7 miles on a day when we’d planned not to move around too much.  But between a morning stroll through Central Park marvelling at the massive sycamore trees, a visit to the American Museum of Natural History and a walk back down Broadway for the play “Hand to God,” we logged a lot of miles again.

Walking back up Broadway last night we were still talking about “Hand to God,” an outrageously funny play that stars Tyrone, a sock puppet brilliantly played as an alter ego by Steven Boyer.  With its irreverent take on religion and incisive portrayal of the pain that can arise from mistaking emotional silence for morality, it’s a deeply affecting play that cuts much deeper than the laughs foul-mouthed Tyrone draws with his dark monologues on religion’s failure to truly lift the human spirit.

Our spirits are certainly higher after a very full week in the city, a much needed mini-vacation when David and I only focused on what we wanted to do.  A week for us.  And we’re not sad about the week coming to an end, because now we have a weekend with Emilio and Ava, and we’ll be back in the city on Sunday, watching Matt, and tens of thousands of others, run.

 

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A High Bar

 

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I wear my sister’s socks and shoes, her jeans and a heathered purple Ibex hooded wool sweatshirt, a perfect layer for these cooler days.  Other women around my sister have taken scarves, sweaters, jackets, hats, gloves, shoes, socks, shirts and boots and they’re wearing Chris’s clothes too.  Pieces of her scattered across the eastern U.S.  It’s a comfort.

I’m not sad and surprised at my not-sadness and then I’m sad.  Today.  The bright trees, saturated orange and scarlet, russet leaching into the oaks, swatches of yellow that make tunnels of light in the woods, pull at me whenever I’m outside so I go outside a lot.

The farmer across the street has moved the hay feeder to the corner of pasture across the small dirt road from the house so I watch cows most of the day, right out my window or off the porch.  In the evening when the cows hear the tractor leave the barn with a new roll of hay they start to scamper and then gallop towards the feeder, two of the smaller ones butting heads.

“It’s weird, isn’t it,” my friend said to me last night at a poetry reading.  We were talking about readjusting our lives after loss — her mother died not long before Chris.  “We have more time now because someone is dead.”

True.  She doesn’t have her mother to visit everyday, trip after trip to rehab then the nursing home then hospice.  I don’t go to Stow for several days every week.  Being with Chris was the organizing principle of my life for months and I surrendered to it.   Helping the body of someone you love get to the end is so immediate and profound nothing else matters.

So what matters now?  I’m reevaluating what I used to think counted in light of certain death.  Because it is certain for each of us.  I’ve been right up next to it again and it’s a high bar.  What do I want to haul over?

Resurrecting Poems

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It seems like a long time ago that I was a young woman shepharding another young woman into the world, a mother to a daughter.  Watching the changes that puberty brought — the rising and falling tide of hormones, the blossoming of fertility, the chance that another generation was going to unfold (which it so delightfully has), was profound.  I wrote about it.  No surprise, I write about much of what I experience.

Sunday David and I visited friends who live far north in New England, and it was winter there.  It’s creeping closer to winter here, the thermometer reading a chilly 20 degrees yesterday morning.  But driving through Franconia Notch two days ago it was snowing and snow squalls followed us all the way to our friends’ farm where the grass had a white crust and a trailing vine on the porch was laced with icicles.  Ice, snow, a hard wind and a fire in the stove.

Put these together, and I think of another poem I wrote long ago, as I did last week.  The resurrection of poems continues.

Valentine’s Eve

I hear ice in the trees.
Our footprints from before dinner
up the walk to the house,
have crusted.

The sky, thin as newspaper,
shredded white,
hides black ice underfoot.
Oblivious to ice’s season,

another seed falls through me,
and through my daughter now too.
My hand on her arm,
she stops to stand with me —

we listen to ice clack above us,
raise our eyes from the ground,
hearts beating hard
as startled birds abandoning cover.

Parents Always

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One of the first things David and I agreed on when we met was “the kids come first.” Falling in love in your 50s and 60s is complicated for many reasons, and how a new relationship will play out for your children can be one of the trickiest.  Luckily for us, it has worked out well — our kids get along with each other and with each of us.

Good thing, because no matter how old your children, you’re still their parent.  Maybe even more so when one parent has died.  That fact and the glorious foliage this morning got me thinking about this poem I wrote at least 20 years ago.

PLAYING CATCH

The boy at the bus stop
tries to break his record of ten
leaves caught falling
from the maple,

leaves yellow as butter
cupping foggy morning light.

Not only leaves stir in the fog;
crows rattle branches, muzzle loaders
pock the morning with shots,
bus doors yawn open and shut,

children leave, come home,
leave again.

Instructions From Chris

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The memorial service for Chris was Saturday.  Over two years ago when she was planning her service, she asked me to read a poem as part of it.  I did.

Instructions From Chris

“You could use this poem,” my sister says
when she asks me to read at her memorial.

She’s reread my book, found more darkness
than she wants, she knows people will cry

but even so, she’d prefer a celebration, more
ideas than despair. “This one towards the end,”

when grief first starts to curve away
and my sisters appear, musical, muscular hawks,

long, strong wings, a slice of sun.
I understand. She wants her own poem.

She is second of four, the smarter, prettier one
I could never catch, a life in preview.

But I do no better than what’s she’s written
herself; the space created when a book is lifted

from the table, an opening that fills with shadow
and chance, quickening, quiet. I delete, start over,

come back to her smile as she carries her hope
and illness before her, a globe in her hands.

I toast bread, open a jar of her strawberry jam, ruby
sugar, red as magic slippers, no place, home.