Saturday, October 8, 2016

Saturday Morning

There is such a thing as a cozy sort of loneliness.

This morning I jog to the Farmer’s Market in Clark Park with a reusable grocery bag tucked under my arm. Clark Park is my favorite place to observe Philadelphians. Sometimes there are groups of old black men playing chess at the park tables. Always there are dog-walkers. 

Today I notice a pair of young women walking together toward the market. Both have their hair pulled up loosely in buns. Both wear black and denim—one has black leggings, a denim shirt-dress, and a black sweater; the other sports black jeans and a black shirt with a denim vest. I wonder: are they new roommates who decided to dress the same today, or old friends who met at the park and laughed at their common appearance? Are they going to an event?

I peruse the stands, selecting a bunch of cilantro here and a spaghetti squash there. I tally prices in my head, measuring them against the $20 bill in my wallet. Soon my money is spent and my bag is brimming with salad-makings, so I retreat back up the winding park path toward home. I smile as a man passes with one hand full of orange and magenta flowers, the other hand holding the leash of a tiny dog. The dog pauses and looks longingly back at the market. The man says kindly, “We already went there today! It’s time to go home.”

On Baltimore Avenue I spot an acquaintance through the open door of a shop. It takes a certain measure of courage to smile and to call out, “Hello!”. We exchange a few awkward sentences, then she returns to helping customers, and I say, “I’ll be on my way!”

I turn onto a smaller street, and walk quietly home in the cool Fall air. The tall trees nod gently at me, as if to say, we see you.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Now, Philadelphia

On Labor Day, I go for a morning walk. The air is cool, and our neighborhood is quiet. I am surrounded with green and growing things: wild gardens siege each row house; giant sycamores and osage trees thrust their roots below the sidewalks, cracking concrete and proving that nature's patience overcomes human construction; blankets of ivy ensheathe tree trunks and scale houses and banisters. On one street, a man on a tall ladder is detaching great armfuls of ivy from the brick facade of a row house, perhaps, I think, to get to internet cords beneath.

I spot some plants I know the names of. Zinnias make me think of my mother, hypericum berries remind me of my wedding bouquet. Gigantic sunflowers on one street corner droop down at me, their heads so heavy that if I stand on my toes I might be able to touch a petal. A spray of violet morning glory tumbles out of a side yard, uncultivated. This is a place where plants grow.

There are animals, too. Gray and brown squirrels zoom up tree trunks when I pass. A sorority of tiny birds moves as one from sidewalk to tree branch to fence post at my approaching step. Two girls race along the sidewalk, their curly hair as untamed as the ivy, and I notice that their race is not a race in the competitive sense; they are trying to run at the same pace, smiling and breathing in the cool air as their arms pump and flail.

Adults walk well-trained dogs -- I hear no barks at all. The humans, too, are silent. No one says hello or good morning, but their restraint doesn't strike me as hostile. We are all enjoying the quiet, acknowledging that we are visitors here. The true owners of this territory are the maples and cedars and vines.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

and everywhere life is full of heroism

    I discovered this poem in a frame on the wall of a bathroom in a house where the classiest wedding reception I have ever attended was taking place. It was my friend's wedding, and I believe the poem was placed in the frame, and the frame in the bathroom, by her classy mom.


    Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
    and remember what peace there may be in silence.
    As far as possible without surrender
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story. 
    Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
    they are vexations to the spirit.
    If you compare yourself with others,
    you may become vain and bitter;
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 

    Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
    Exercise caution in your business affairs;
    for the world is full of trickery.
    But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
    many persons strive for high ideals;
    and everywhere life is full of heroism. 

    Be yourself.
    Especially, do not feign affection.
    Neither be cynical about love;
    for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
    it is as perennial as the grass. 

    Take kindly the counsel of the years,
    gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
    But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
    Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
    Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself. 

    You are a child of the universe,
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be,
    and whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. 

    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful.
    Strive to be happy. 

    Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mysteries, Yes

I was strolling through the bookstore on my way to buy chocolate caramels for a friend, when a section of poetry books stopped me.  Mary Oliver caught my eye, and I picked up a book of her poems.  I flipped through the pages, reading some, liking them, but not feeling justified spending $14.00 to buy them until I read this one:

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
  to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
  mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
  in allegiance with gravity
    while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
  never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
  scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
  who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
  "Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
  and bow their heads.

I tucked the book under my arm and carried it with me to the candy counter.  I purchased the poems and the chocolates, and headed out of the store, passing a book about the history of women's shoes and popping a chocolate caramel into my mouth, wondering if there is anything in this wide world that someone hasn't written a book about.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Dear Parkway Authority

On the evening of January 27th, I switched cars with my brother – he took the Toyota Camry I usually drive, and I took the ’86 Nissan pick-up he usually drives – so he could have a respectable car to go to an interview and then on a date.  I parked the truck outside my residence, and he drove off with the Camry.  I completely forgot that the Camry had a parking permit sticker, and the truck did not.
The next morning, I left my apartment to go to work.  I hopped in the truck, turned the key in the ignition, and …. nothing.  The car wouldn’t start; instead there was just an ominous clicking sound.  I was going to be late for work, so I arranged a ride and resolved to deal with the broken truck later.  I finished my shift at work, went straight to class, and later that night when I finally finished everything I needed to do on campus, returned home.  Before going inside I decided to check on the truck to see if the battery had somehow miraculously recharged itself.  And that is when I found the boot.
The moment I saw it I realized my folly: the magic little parking sticker on the Camry flashed into my memory, the total absence of such a sticker on the truck suddenly so obvious.  I called the number on the warning taped to my driver’s side window, and the really nice guy who answered walked me through the process of getting it taken off and submitting an appeal.  He even told me it was likely that the agent who removed the boot would have jumper cables and could help me get the truck started (which did in fact happen, the next day – Thank you, Ta’an).
So, here I am.  I moved the car to a legal parking area until I can switch back with my brother, then came to campus to make copies of my receipts, write this note, and work on the necessary paperwork for this appeal.  I’ve learned my lesson – that Nissan truck will never again grace the pavement of the residence parking lot, at least not without its own parking permit – but I would really appreciate as many of the sixty-three dollars back as possible, seeing as next week I have to pay rent. 

  Please be merciful and generous. 

                                                                     Thank you,

Monday, December 29, 2014

a few glimpses of this christmas

Two days before Christmas, I sat in the family room, reading, all morning.  The house was quiet.  Periodically, someone would knock on the door: a neighbor, bearing jam or fudge or bread.  Neighbor would walk away with a bag of Chex-mix, and I would return to the couch, pull my legs under me, and open my book up again.

We woke up on Christmas morning to a mantle of quiet whiteness: snow, finally.

Ben and Wayne made each other laugh so many times.

I got to sleep under the softest down comforter, on top of the firmest futon mattress, in the dark basement, surrounded by boxes and boxes of stuff we are organizing as a Christmas gift for my mama.

My uncle Steve said something particularly hilarious, and I watched as my dad, overcome with funniness, sank to his hands and knees, then picked himself back up, eyes still squinted and mouth still open in a full-lunged bout of laughter.  One of my favorite things is watching my dad laugh, and there is no one that can get him going quite like his little brother Steve.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

a short list of things that have made my heart happy

1. hearing my grandmother's voice over the phone.  she told me I am in the richest part of my life, and you know what, I believed her.

2. Handel's Messiah.  I'm playing in a community orchestra for a Messiah sing-in.  the work is simply glorious.  did you know: Handel composed it in his best clothes because he felt he was going before his Maker, creating an offering to God.  a line that struck me tonight was this: "He is the King of Glory".

3. this song.