Disparate Objects: Starting

Often, when I start a new essay, I begin by combining disparate objectsone natural, one man-madeto see if I can somehow relate the two. Today I walked down Forest Street, a blending of old bluestone sidewalks and white concrete, to snap a picture of this longleaf pine. After finishing my errands in town, I walked through the woods and into the cemetery for a photo of a tombstone that caught my interest yesterday. I’m anxious to see what may result from this juxtaposition.



I wish I knew the story behind the oversized silver key, found in a box of treasures my father pointed me to as he lay dying. Three numbers – 3, 3, 4 – are unequally spaced upon the key’s face. There’s a hole at the top, to accommodated a key ring.

Why did my father keep the key? What meaning did it hold? What memories are locked inside? I’ll never know: Without memory, without context, the key is merely a key, not a storyteller.

And yet, I hold onto it, a reminder of all the stories I neglected to hear.


This post was written in response to the Hundred Word Challenge.


Parked outside my front door are two city trucks, hazard lights flashing. Three or four yellow-vested men stare into the naked branches of a sweet gum tree and the limb that dangles dangerously overhead. A neighbor kibitzes with the workers as they ponder how to extract the limb before it falls on someone’s head. A woman stops to talk while her dog sniffs beneath the trees. I drink my coffee and watch this impromptu scene gathering before me.

The limb is a remnant of the storm that ripped across town last September, a microburst, the meteorologists called it, which, according to the fireman I’d asked, is basically a tornado turned on its side, flying, tumbleweed-style, just above the treetops. Three months on, we still talk about that storm, contractors enumerating how many roofs they’ve repaired, homeowners counting their blessings about the tree that sliced neatly across two yards and tore down a fence but didn’t hit anyone’s house. There are stacks of split logs in endless backyards. Here and there are crooked stumps. And in the woods, trees are stretched across the ground as if merely resting.

* * *

Continue reading

Final Bow

Candleflame flickers. It bends to the right,
taking a bow before righting itself,
as if someone has just passed

before it. But she sits here alone,
the candle lit in memory of her father,
gone now these nine long months:
the time it takes to grow a child.

She sits and writes and streams NPR
to catch up on the news,
waiting for her family to return to her–
from work, from school, from a pickup game of street soccer–

Dinner is ready: burgers and potatoes. Roasted Brussels sprouts and,
for dessert, the three cupcakes the neighbor brought
for her birthday.

After dinner, they quarter the cupcakes,
decide which one they like best,
the chocolate, the spice, the angelfood cake,
except for her son who eats without tasting
before hurrying back outside to his game.

The dishes are cleared, the table wiped.
She puts on the kettle and blows out the candle,
the memory of her father leafstains on the sidewalk.

Beautiful and Simple and Unknown

I know who won the Academy Awards. I know who fell, know the names of the designers behind the gowns. I know who ordered pizza, who participated in a giant group selfie, who photobombed whom. But I cannot tell you the name of the bird whose call ushers me down the street twee! twee! twee! towards the woods.

Tendrils of warmth are woven into the air, lightly perfumed with manure from the farms outside of town. Water rushes down the street, in its joy catching up sticks and pebbles and plastic bags, hurrying them along towards the storm drains. The snow on the lawn, black and gritty, has begun to recede. A moat of colorless grass surrounds each tree, keeping the snow at bay.

The dog pulls, urging me onward: This is the first time in days that the temperature has allowed us to venture outside for more than a moment. My feet crunch upon the ice at wood’s edge. The dog pauses to sniff at some bushes. The path through the trees is still thickly covered in snow. I am grateful for my boots.

A shimmer of water floats upon the creek’s thick ice, grown lacy at the edges. Snowmelt trickles down the muddy bank, briefly paused in its progress by a fat fingering root. The water pools there, hovering tentatively, one drop at a time, at the bottom of the root before letting go.

A mourning dove calls. A man sits on the ice, an upended white five-gallon bucket his chair, playing a line in his hand. The pumpkin still rests upon the frozen lake, its face wrinkled and withered, sagging and melting, succumbing to inevitabilities.

A cardinal flashes red among the trees as I circle the lake and go back towards the creek.

An empty nest nestles among naked branches, a nest to be lined in soft feathers and settled into, a nest that will soon hold a clutch of oval eggs.

I struggle up the muddy bank, digging in the toes of my boots for purchase and head home, promising myself to look up the name of the bird whose song is beautiful and simple and unknown.


This was linked up to Just Write.






No Words

I study the photograph, pressing my fingers gently upon the flat shiny surface, willing it to tell me its story. Was this the aunt who used to part the heads of chickens from their bodies with a blow from a sharp and shiny axe? The aunt who delighted in telling my mother tales of the headless chicken zipping round the farmyard until she could catch it and suspend it, feet first, from the clothesline, while sightless eyes looked on in astonishment and beak jaws flapped in protest?

I flip the picture over.

No words are written there. Continue reading

Before Jogging Northeast

I started in my son’s room.

I started in my son’s room because I didn’t want to start in the master bedroom: Thin floral paper at least fifty years old grips the walls there. The crack above the whistling radiator runs parallel for the length of my arm before jogging northeast, like a hand curved upward.

I started in my son’s room because his room has always been the room of hand-me-downs: dresser and bed and a nightstand painted blue.

I started in my son’s room because his sisters have begun that slow and steady departure, charting out lives of their own. Already at college, they’re making plans for summer internships to get away from this beautiful little village that I already love, the village that insists upon squaring up its shoulders and calling itself a city.

I started in my son’s room because the alternative was to start in the kitchen, a project that will require an investment so outrageous and grand, I find it’s best not to think about it. So I fold up that project, tuck it away into a place in my mind labeled after college.

I started in my son’s room.

It was a mistake.

Continue reading

Chasing the Sun

Even with keeping the heat at sixty-four degrees and stiff-legging it around the house in long underwear and jeans, this month’s gas bill is a shocker: Three hundred and eighty dollars.

During the day, I follow the cats around the house. They chase the sun as it moves from room to room, picking out a warm spot on a couch or on a shelf upon which to curl up.

But evenings, when the sun has gone down, we gather in my office: a room with two walls of bookshelves and a set of windows that extends along a third. A window seat, with built-in cabinets beneath, runs the length of those windows. And it is here that the pup sits, growling at squirrels or passers-by, while the older dog, too frail and too large, besides, to get up on the seat, exhales on the glass panes, leaving them dotted with mist.

Continue reading

Considering the Trees

If you time it right, if you get that old Christmas tree to the curb on time, the city will pick it up. Haul it away in the back of a salt truck and turn it into compost. Most of the trees get picked up this way, but a man has been spotted ’round here, stepping from his Cadillac, considering the trees curbside, occasionally selecting one and wrestling it into his trunk. But that doesn’t happen too often.

What can happen is that people are late. They miss the cutoff, don’t get their tree to the curb early enough. And so there it sits, poor miserable tree, once cherished, now a thing to be disposed of, accumulating a layer of salt and snow, putting up with the indignity of prodding dog noses, under constant threat of being mistaken for a fire hydrant.

Here and there, these leftover trees are scattered, the trees not picked up by the city or by the man in the Cadillac. I wondered what would happen to them.


Continue reading