Chalk and Circles

As a child, it was all chalk for her.
Chalk on the sidewalk, in the corridors, chalk on the wall.
A smear of chalk on her forehead where sweat had dripped and tickled
A residue of soapy chalk on her fingertips as eagerly washed hands anticipated an afternoon snack.

Circles were the hardest thing to come round to
But they were her art.
Did intersecting circles cut open or close up even more?

Twenty years later and it’s still circles.
The urge to gather close, to conclude, to separate off.
Where intersections once intrigued, they were now a skill to master.

Of course in Sunday School she learnt that. That’s what God did — he separated.
Light from darkness, earth from sky, land from sea.
But at each line that marks their intersection, their meeting
He seemed to know full well
It wasn’t a straight chalk line, not even a squiggly drawn chalk line of a four year old.
No, it was a confusion of shadows, a bleeding bursting red, a flux of waves and seeping sand.
Somehow he made it beautiful.

Twenty years later and it is still chalk on the walls.



Her mind flowed over people often, calling each to shape. First, the rough impression, the first impressions worn over. Then the last thing said, done, the last emotion left. I wouldn’t put too fine a point on it, though writing about it this way now, you might think it was an intense process. Or a process that stood out as extraordinary. It wasn’t. It was an easy flipping of fingertips through recipe cards that landed on an especially rough or yellowed edge; an automaton in the back room that occasionally gave a gentle beep.

Red shirt will be flying off… or has he already? Pink, how is her new board? Carrie needs a new teapot. Jo said she’d like to try the bagels from this shop. Jess… how is Jess? And John. Where is John now? If I left earlier on Wednesday, I could pick a bagel up for Jo.

In the room above: the meetings to come, the goings to happen pan across a messy black board, chalk long leaving a musty smell in the air.

She might drop a text. Or not, if she worries for the shatter. Not everyone holds it well.

Of air, water, and suitcases.

She allowed herself momentary grief for the momentary separation.
After which it was merely a layer of her onion skin peeled back. What remained was what she struggled to find in those few hours that ended in sleep: motivation, memory, and a vague misgiving.

Afterwards the coolness of the water slips over her skin. Her arms parting, parting, parting, pushing her way, her legs defiantly gathering the waves back. Perhaps last week as they swam together she would have, had she been in the mood, reflected on this differently. Not a parting and re-gathering. Simply, well, strokes, calligraphy, art.

Nearing the end of the week, no longer an image, it became the rhythm of her life. Going out into the world, opening her arms to the thick, hot, buzzing air and the landscapes and people that came with it. Then returning to that old, brown, lazyboy with its soft cushions — a good deal. Her thoughts attempted to collect as she sank down but she’d come to a realization: peace wasn’t holding everything neatly together. Sometimes peace was just, holding nothing at all. And in the water, not even the weight of her own body.

But it wasn’t lightness and air that settled her mind. It was the heaviness of a jam-packed suitcase you pull up the stairs with someone when you awkwardly, and with slight embarrassment, realize that the end you’re holding didn’t bear much of the weight at all. A reassuring smile is all it takes to ease that situation.

Wild One

Who knew that a step forward would send us three steps back?

“Never love a wild thing, Mr. Bell,’ Holly advised him. ‘That was Doc’s mistake. He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they’re strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you’ll end up, Mr. Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky.”

But you know, I think I’m learning to love wild things. I’m learning to love the traces, the presence, the absence. I’m learning to rejoice at another’s adventures, and rejoice with a happiness that I don’t have to be a part of. I’m learning to love friends as an open door – and you may just as well walk out as you may walk in. The door is always open.

Pillow Talk

Dealing with everything is like having sadness and fear living right next door. Even when they’re not over, you hear the comings and goings of their daily life. Especially at night, when the streets are quiet, and the lights are out, your awareness of their existence just next door heightens; the bed-squeaks, an old rocking chair dragged across the floor, toilet flushes.

Often times they come over and knock relentlessly on the door in the middle of a good day. There are days they sneak in through a window for a plate of freshly baked happy thoughts, sitting on the counter to cool. There are days I get lured by the bottle of red and the bowl of chips they offer and give in, inviting them into the party. And then there goes, I end up sitting alone for the rest of the night, drowning in the bottle, wallowing in the bowl of chips. The worst though, are my dreams they visit, every night. They tiptoe in ever so slowly and start to turn every second into a painful, exhausting, circus ride that wouldn’t stop.

Nowadays, I’m finding the courage, energy, and time to bring a bottle of red and bowl of chips over to them instead. We sit down and talk, and I’d get to knowing them a little better. Like, where sadness and fear are from — apparently they’ve been around since I was way little — what shaped them to be who they are, what got them where they are. Some days we don’t make it to talking, we just look at each other and go through a box of tissues, surrounded by the pillow fort we’ve made on the bed.

I’m starting to understand them a little bit more. I’m starting to learn to talk truths into their lives. I’ve stopped asking them why they chose to live next door. Instead, I’m starting to welcome them in as an important part of my reality, that shapes my life.

I’m starting to leave their apartment each time I visit, with a freshly baked tint of hope.

Less I Forget

Stubby fingers held up to paint
Against the sky.
A woosh of shapes

Headful of dreams
Blanket of giggles
Bedtime adventures, trail the unfinished

So much, too much
Too fast, too soon

Now words once traded
Are traded for sighs
A sorry upgrade
From the lullabies

Heart unsure
Strings a tangle
Reach to love, caught, mid-strangle

Not back, not rewind
Don’t stir, wicked sleep
Not back, no up, up, up.
To the canvas, I once knew.

How do you talk about a wordless wrestle, a nameless sigh?
How do you begin to understand the unfathomable reachings of the heart?

Tonight the sky skirts the edges of a dream
Layers and layers, superimposed.
And you know it’s supposed to mean something, the way the rays kiss the expanse and the clouds blush, an effortless apology.
Rather, you wish with all your heart it’s supposed to mean something
How could it not; the abandoning wisp, the moon painfully far, a teasing, sly, slice?

But even if it does, who can know?
I’m left forced to take a step back.
Tonight the streams of clouds and the whisper down my veins, they’re one in the same.

The clouds do not carry needless tears
The clouds do not carry needless tears.

God, I’m tired.

Aim for the heavens

We’ve all got our noses pressed up close against the stained glass pattern. Too close — we become frustrated with the mono-colored image, a blurred second best.
We’re all standing with our toes furrowing the sand, crinkling as salt water rides up the shore, dissipating. The pleasurable coolness tickles our feet and runs away. The sun slipping, slipping past.

I feel the edges of each word tied precariously to the thoughts in my head. Metonymy gives your state of mind its weight. Metonymy lets words settle in your mind in place of liquid silver you try to wrap your fingers around to grasp, to understand.

I feel… scattered. Everywhere and nowhere. Doing everything and nothing at all. I think about… nothing, because there is nothing sizable enough in the world for me to wrap my tiny head around. So my mind wanders instead, running along narrow corridors, rapping its knuckles on the wooden framed doors, searching.

I feel… out of control. I’ve got one leg extended, pretty gracefully, mind you, ready to take the next step. I know I’m in my sparkly sandals I bought because they were the furthest from sensible shoes I could think of. My toes are pointed — a habit. But I have no idea where my next step will take me and already my other feet firmly planted is sinking in quick sand. My arms would be flailing, but they’re too busy gripping for dear life onto the street lamp.

But I fear that reining myself in, pulling my life together, I end up leading a life only as big as my arms can hold.
I fear that things will go my way in a world I don’t half understand, in a life I don’t treasure half as much as I should.
I fear placing my trust in where I plan my feet to tread as I traverse ever-shifting ground.

See, the problem is not that our dreams are too big
It’s that we can never quite dream big enough.
The problem is not that we hold on too tightly, not wanting the good things to end.
It’s that we do not desire eternity enough to aim for the heavens.

A Knock on the Door

It’s funny how sometimes in your mind you run into your past.
Those bits of memories are like your next door neighbors — they’d been there the whole time, but when you come face to face from time to time you still feel a little surprised. Oh hey, hello you, fancy seeing you here, you from just next door.

And then you wonder why you don’t interact more often.
And you don’t realize how much of a difference they make in your life.
Like the pots of grass he plants to keep his soil from drying out. They’re weird to look at. But strangely comforting because I don’t think my parents would ever do that. They remind me of  different forking paths just outside our door.

Sometimes, till we meet these, we end up living with imposter memories. Maybe kind of like the Rain Man. It’s funny how easily we assimilate false memories into statements we assert as truths about ourselves. It’s incredulous how often I pass statements I genuinely believe to be true about myself when in fact they aren’t. Like for the longest time, I went around telling people how strange it is I’m majoring in Literature since I never really read much and I was never really into reading. Curious that, most people seemed to imply. Well, I found it curious myself.

Then out of nowhere, today, a flood of memories came back to me. My mama reading a book with me every night when I was growing up, my polishing off the Boxcar Children series, pouring over the Little House on the Prairie, and Ramona Quimby’s life. The Newbery Award books I had to finish for Literature when I was homeschooled (they were often devastating…and for some reason often about God). Then when I was 12 there was the first book I ever bought, Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, and that set me on a Picoult craze. I attempted (and mostly failed) to read The Lord of the Rings after falling for the movie. But because I was such a show off I’d pick out random trails of Tolkien’s descriptions and write them in my description bank book and use them for my essays. Those poor few sentences must have been awful embarrassed, royalty sticking awkwardly out from the mud. I don’t mean to ramble on, but that’s how the memories came. Books lined up to knock me on the head. The Cricket in Times Square, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, The Twenty One Balloons, Akin to Anne, all awaiting their turn: “Pardon me miss, do you not remember my delightful company that you should now disown these memories?” I was rather abashed but all the same, incredibly happy, for I had discovered my old friends and old adventures. A gathering of old friends, as you know, always brings back good memories, much embarrassment, and a few good laughs.

Memories that, have always been but next door and you’re surprised at your surprise in running into them. Memories that open up forking paths. What strikes me here, is the way these memories keep. Like a room filled with slivers of mirrors of all shapes hung from the ceiling on thin, silvery threads, moved to perfect pirouettes in the wind. A kaleidoscope. You walk into a room like that and you finally find yourself and yet you’ve never felt so scattered and elusive. Many explanations unfold but you’ve never felt so incomprehensible. Everything seems so crystal clear, vistas of diamonds, satin light, cut stone. Yet you’ve never been so illegible. A bit like standing on a beach.

These memories of books each a mirror, a reflection and a portal all at once; now opaque glass, now translucent skin. Books that open up whole other worlds I used to dance in, fight in, cry in, laugh in. My mind had always wandered into foreign places, breathed in the murmuring, fragile air, tasted that slight hint of cinnamon. Odd.

I read somewhere that human beings can survive on borrowed memories by sharing in their hope. That’s what books are, really. Borrowed memories, shared emotions, hope an easyover-spread. I don’t know why I stopped reading. Maybe I just got busier. But I think a part of it is I started sharing in too much of the despair as well and I had to close some of those doors. After which, I never went looking for any new ones. It’s no wonder though, that I started feeling like my world was shrivelling up. For the longest time, I stopped living in so many different shades of different colors.