28 July 2013 – 2 June 2018: Five Years in Apartment 8C

I remember how it felt to leave our little house on Cisco street in Nashville in 2013. It was weird to think about someone else sleeping in my room, guarded by my blue striped walls.

I remember the moment I walked into my room in Nairobi. The bed was the flattest mattress I could ever remember seeing. There was a white plastic chair beside the bed. The curtains were closed because it was nighttime. The dim light was yellowy. There was a quilt on the bed, handcrafted, but not by someone I knew, or wanted to know. I was tired. And not just ‘I flew across the face of the planet today’ tired. I was tired of feeling like I was leaving. And walking into the room didn’t feel like coming home, even when I most wanted it to.

In 2013, I couldn’t imagine ever loving that room, but I did. Eventually, it did feel like coming home. When I walked through the door and flopped on the bed. When I woke up with the cat on my chest and the sound of kids in the stairwell. When I did my homework sitting on the floor with the windows wide open.

A few months ago, I packed my belongings into bags and walked out of the cabinet-lined, wooden-tiled room that I had grown to love. Leaving, all over again.


{Bellway Park, 8C}

‒ a poem in which the walls tell me what they’ve been hiding

We’ve seen it all.
The homecomings and the leavings.
The suitcases dragged tiredly and excitedly through the door.

You and the dark-haired child used to be much smaller.
You used to laugh a lot less.

We told the cat we couldn’t speak.
We’ve listened to the him meow all day long.

We’ve heard the neighbors tell you to keep the noise down.
We agree.

We’ve seen every movie you’ve ever watched.
We love the paintings you have hung.

Tell the dark-haired child that we feel
the small sting of that basketball over and over.
The basket attached to the door,
we hear it is feeling a bit neglected.

Sometimes, when it is very dark outside,
we move in just a little.
We think all that pacing can’t be doing you any good.

Now, we watch the bags pile by the door, packed tight
and zipped, a sound we know too well.

Your secrets are our secrets.
They always will be.

Nevertheless, the door shuts firm behind you.
Do not forget the way we held you for these years.

Advertisements

{A Poem In Which the Apostle John Speaks of Sheep and Imagination}

3 The sheep know the shepherd’s voice; the shepherd calls them by name and leads them out. 4 Having led them all out of the fold, the shepherd walks in front of them and they follow because they recognize the shepherd’s voice. (The Inclusive Bible, John 10.3-4)

Imagine a sheep –
small body, small life.
The fur: fuzzy and clumped.
The hooves: scratched and tough.
The nose: wet and dark.
The belly: smooth and mottled.
The eyes: focused.

Imagine a shepherd –
bigger body, small life.
The hair: tangled and long.
The arms: dark and freckled.
The fingers: nimble and experienced.
The voice: known and knowing.
The eyes: leading.

Imagine the connection.
Just, for a second – imagine.

{24 May 2018}

I’m washing the dishes with Gilmore Girls playing on my laptop
which is sitting on an overturned pan on top of the microwave.
The rain outside is the kind of rain that is constant, more than
a drizzle but less than a pour.
My hands are a little cold from the water and the suds and
I’m thinking about how lucky I am and, staring out the window
to the rain falling on the green fields,
I can see my life stretched before me like a ribbon.
I’m waving at my future self

who is also standing with her hands in a sink in front of
a window as she washes dishes.
Rain falls on her garden and she remembers
how this moment felt, when she
saw that everything was glowing,
that the shimmer of joy gleaming on the edge of the dripping dishes
was a gift she did nothing to deserve.

{5 May 2018}

I’m thinking that today I don’t have a poem to write but the sun flashes
across the train tracks on the other side of my eyelids and
the words of a book pour into my ears and

I think about my friends and
their hearts and
they keep saying to me we are here with their smiles and
piano-playing fingers and

my face feels warm with a sunburn that will bloom tomorrow and
food offered to me in kindness is still on my tongue and
the sky is as blue as I imagine it to be and
the sun will go down late tonight after I’ve had a cup of rooibos tea with honey and
the spiders outside have begun spinning their new home and

I will climb into bed and
I will rise and
begin again and
I am still pretending that I don’t have a poem to write.

{17 April 2018}

I muck actual bull shit into a four meter deep pit
Below the stables that are home to 55 dairy cows
On a small island in a lake in the middle of Holland.

If you didn’t know the dignity of the land,
You might not even call it an island, just
A collection of fields and small canals.

I’m wearing a pink tank top my mom’s best friend and
My namesake gave my mom.
The shirt feels tight with meaning and the
Sawdust covering the front is suddenly bothersome.

Through the huge barn door, I can see various songbirds and
The eurasian magpie, which my friend says is the only
Beautiful bird in his country.

I’m thinking about the first line of my memoir.

I’m thinking:
This is merely what happened when the problem began
to look like a life-sized problem.

Later, after the cows have been fed,
Their heads draped over the edge of the stalls,
Their tongues, long like giraffes’, eating the hay urgently,
I sit outside on a concrete slab in the middle of the grass,
Writing on the back of my Wendell Berry book, and
I wonder how these words push their way out of me,
Onto a page of paper torn out of a notebook, and
Into this world.

The cows are eating as if it were
The most important thing,
Which, I guess, it is, right then.

Learning from example, urgently, I take in this moment,
This life-sized moment:
The cold concrete under me, the wet grass against my boots,
The pen in my fingers, the words in my throat,
The cows in the barn, the magpies gliding,
The blue sky slowly darkening,
The new day coming.

{Windows}

Every evening, if we remember, before it is dark enough to turn on the light,
We pull the shade down over the window,
Blocking our neighbors and people on the street from a view straight
Through the glass of five friends chatting over chocolate and tears and sacred words.

Every morning, when enough of us are awake,
We pull open the shade to a view of the street and the neighbors’ dining table:
Bare winter branches and telephone wire and
Two yellow chairs and a laptop and occasionally a person.

Tonight when I take the train out of the city,
It snakes through apartments, tall buildings made of little boxes made into homes.
Through the brightly lit windows,
All the kitchens look different, counters and tables and chairs.
I catch a mere second of the inhabitants’ actions,
The turn of a head or the placing of the hand or just stillness,
Only their eyes following the movement of the train.

I think about how many people we saw everyday on the streets.
We are not city folk.
The cars and the trains and the noise and the exhaust, well,
We could wax poetic.

I don’t know how to say that it seems unnecessary to be living in small cubes
Of one’s own decoration surrounded by others doing the same.

We walk the same streets, breath the same exhaust.

Regardless, we return to our room every night and pull shut the curtain,
Enveloped again in our box of artificial light,
Our stories spilling out of our mouths,
Leaking through the cracked window,
Staining the old concrete in the East Village of Chicago.

{A Story of Birds}

For high above, flew the cranes

I wonder what ancient star song lays
rolled like a message in the bottle of their hollow bones
that moves forward their dinosaur bodies.
Probably hunger or thirst or fear.

And down below, we walked

Muley said that the hunted cannot be strong,
only fierce.
The egrets, small creatures with yellow legs
and feathers that seem an impossible white,
peck and jab at the sand, hunting.
I think maybe their hunted,
the tiny, muscular sand fleas,
are strong, and willing.

But it’s unfathomable, really.
Time and sand and death
and birds and all.