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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Seven haiku

Summer splashes in
the pool, fuzzy sweaters in
winter--a child's carefree life.

Dribble, jump, turn and
air ballet before the swoosh--
fist bumps and back slaps.

Squealing tires up
the block, held tightly in my
angry pinhole sight.

Empty apartment--
now home to random trash and
chilly, weeping ghosts.

Not a sad goodbye--
skinny arms around me and
her cheek on my chest.

Bags of groceries fill
my car's trunk, as Dad stands, arms
clasped, held behind him.

A soft purr at my
side, the soundtrack to a dark
night in my green room.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Past Perfect, Present Tense

Past perfect, present tense
Safety and danger, both so near
to touch, to see, to sense--

A step back, away--a defense.
Lie low until the storm relents.
The past is present, the present tense.

I wait, in irons of suspense.
Open the present, the moment so dear--
past present, present tense.

Can I give without recompense?
It's a charmed light when comets reappear--
to touch, to seek, to sense.

Lying, like cats in the sun, content
in the silent bond that I revere--
to touch, to seek, to sense.

Will we live only in words we hold dear?
Words are ways which have their ends.
The past is present, present tense--
to touch, to seek, to sense.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Race With the Wind, or: “Putting the ‘Ow’ in ‘Lowville’”

After a long week getting back into school mode, and not sleeping well at all, I headed west to the Tug Hill Plateau with my cycling pal JC for the Race With the Wind, a fifty-mile bike race mostly on dirt roads and snowmobile trails. On the drive back, we concluded that riding and racing teaches many things, among them the odd pronunciation of ‘Lowville.’ Read on.

I’d never seen this particular part of New York before, but I hear about it all the time in the winter: it’s a perennial winner in terms of snowfall due to the infamous ‘lake effect.’ It’s gently rolling hills, fields and forests, and the area near the race is filled with wind turbines, quiet white sentinels stretching for miles. Their blades made gentle sighs, almost breaths. A fighter jet from a nearby base ripped across the sky as we got closer.

We pulled into the parking lot to find a smaller-than-expected number of racers. Maybe some folks had a more updated weather report. I loaded my gear: spare tubes, mini pump, caffeinated gels, phone, water, and a drink called Perpetuem—it’s isotonic and hyperbolic.

Time for the start of the long, narrow drama. Shortly after rolling out, the skies opened up. Searching for an adjective, I tried to remain positive, passing on “miserable” for the more poetic “epic.” I was with the front group, doing the best I could to hold the wheel in front of me as that wheel kicked up a gritty rooster tail. These riders were the lean and hungry racer types I’d seen in the parking lot, and when they pulled away, I was somewhat relieved. Holding a wheel on a gravel road in the rain is a bit dicey. I rode at my own pace, leapfrogging two riders on mountain bikes several times, and following the pink spray-paint arrows.

The road surface varied widely, from hardpack dirt to fist-sized rocks. I was riding Fine China, my cyclocross bike, and my skinnier tires went from advantage to liability and back. The alloy frame transmitted more than I cared to know about those rocky fists under my wheels, but I kept on.

Mile 17: The road was some sort of chip-and-seal, and my tires happily and noisily bit into it, until the abrupt left onto a snowmobile trail. My front tire washed out, sliding several inches to the right as I leaned into the turn. My body responded automatically, and my right arm moved so quickly that the muscle burned immediately. I would have went down hard on my left side. Fortuitous? I think my angel gruppetto was smiling on me.

My legs burnt, my back tensed up, undoing all the magic of Friday’s massage. My Perpetuem seemed to fall short. I did the mental trick of dividing the miles I had left, saying, “Oh, I can ride 25 miles anytime.” I felt great. I felt like I had to stop. My hands got numb. I shook them out until feeling returned. My breaths steadied, and I reminded myself that I tend to get stronger the longer I go, and that it’s enough just to finish.

Forty miles in, one rider way ahead, none visible behind. I figured there were about six to eight ahead, an unknown number behind. The course doubled back a few times. I recalled this from a cursory glance at the map. Pink arrows pointing different ways. A man in a pickup at an intersection said “about four more miles.” Energized, I sped up, went through another intersection, saw another man at an intersection, who said “about six more miles.” Huh? My mood plummeted. I passed a cabin I swear I’d seen once before. Or was it twice? Arrows going both ways. Mile 50 came and went, with me alone in the woods.

I caught a glimpse of something large and white, and heard the swish of air. I was never more happy to see a wind turbine, and I knew I was close. A peek back—no one. Am I doing well? Who knows? On the gravel road, I sped up. A quick left, down the hill to the finish.

The woman’s clipboard was filled with riders who’d already returned. My heart sank. It turns out I’d missed a turn and ridden an extra six miles.

Okay, so I rode more miles than anyone else. There’s no special jersey for that. Considering the circumstances, I’m happy with how I did. The weather cleared, the view was beautiful, and that sweet post-race endorphin buzz was coming on. Pass/fail? Pass.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fire and Water

Anger and guilt go together for me. In that order. I got good at it at an early age. I can remember running up the stairs after my mother; my father was not far behind. I can remember my own yelling, my mom’s crying, and my dad’s deep, calm voice. What I can’t remember is what caused all of this. I also can’t remember how many times it happened. More than once, I’m sure, but I’ve distilled it all down to this one scene that I replay in my mind.

What happened that made me so angry? Whatever it was, it was a match struck in a dry forest. The match disappeared in the flames of anger. Deliberately set. A type of arson. Anger is an accelerant, a shortcut that scorches and consumes other emotions. It’s voracious and pernicious. I started this fire, and it wiped away all traces of its origin.

As I grew up, Mom and Dad were loving, but not very expressive, demonstrative or animated. I do remember Dad’s hearty laugh from downstairs. In trying to reconstruct this scene, I've surmised that my anger was a way to provoke an emotional response. I've learned through life and teaching that all of us at times need that, and that negative attention is better than none at all.

The pattern was established: Get angry; watch Mom crack and run off, into the bedroom and shut the door, crying. Dad comforts me as I beg to see Mom, to apologize. He calmly says, "Not right now. Wait a while." Is this comfort what I was seeking all along? The guilt floods in now, a wall of water putting out the flames, but presenting new dangers as its waves pull me—pull me under.

These emotions were very confusing to a child, and I’m still trying to find the words for them, all these years later. I'm still trying to find why I reach for the match at times. It happens with those closest to me. Is it a level of intimacy? A test of love? Fire and water. A rough metaphor that works for now.

A Letter to My Students

I don’t say it enough, but I care about you. Each of you. That’s why I’m here. It’s too much work to do it for the money, so there must be ...