Grace in the Side Yard

grace in the side yard

The hose water slapped the lawn quietly, and there were her bare feet getting dripped on, and her bare legs and her shorts and t-shirt;  she was all there, big, feeling mess that she was, watering the flowers along the side of the house.  It was buzzingly green outside– even the bugs seemed expectant.

She felt heavy with the midmorning humidity and the guilt about all the time she had wasted, floundering around since college, working at side jobs she wasn’t suited for and finding no ambition or direction in the world.  For over two years now?  And from the looks of it, she was going to continue to fritter more time away, helplessly, because there was no easy path, no clear or simple answer.  She couldn’t even formulate any clear or simple questions.  She was just one numb outer layer, and raw everywhere else.

With her hand loosely on the hose, she kept directing the hollow sounding rush of water, from the house, to the dirt, and she caught a glimpse of her legs in the reflection in the basement window.  Regular, solid human legs.   She felt her feet pressing into the soft ground and her legs growing upwards from them like leg-shaped tree trunks.  Holding her up.  And suddenly, she sensed that her squandering of her gifts was forgiven.  She had lost her way, or had never known her way, or what was a way?  Her connections with people were still painful and untapped.  She was about to apologetically but stubbornly while away the minutes and hours and possibilities of this summer Saturday in what was supposedly the prime of her life by going inside her dark little bedroom and eating cookies till the cows came home.

But she was not going to burst out of her skin.




Chick Chronicles, 2

The chicks’ eyes are like sunflower seeds, my daughters said.  And yes they are– small gray ovals when they close up from the bottom.  Closing upwards when they drowse and doze, their eyes seem to disappear.   My chick, Talulah, snuggles down and falls asleep when I hold her.  Maybe she is comfortable with me, or maybe it’s an escape mechanism and she’s sleeping as a way of disappearing.  Lately, I’ve been craving sleep in the same way.  The world does seem overwhelming and out of my control, and I just want to hide in my bed.  My husband’s eyes are the shape and color of almonds.  Seeds and nuts as we scratch around and watch our wings grow.


Here’s a thought:  I had a yellow plastic mixing bowl years ago.  It was creamy soft yellow.  Pale, you could say.  Not a tin pail, on the ground in a barn, next to a red hen.  Not a plastic pail like the ones I’ve bought for my chores around the house and that keep disappearing, and everyone in my house claims to be innocent.  Innocent, not cinnamon, as in cinnamon and sugar that my mom used to sprinkle on my buttered toast in the morning before I went to school, along with soft boiled eggs cut open for me in glass sundae bowls.  Innocent as a new egg yolk, mixed with the sun and a bit of salt which makes everything taste better when used in moderation.  Once I over-salted some pesto I made, so that my husband and kids couldn’t eat it unless they diluted it with olive oil.  My dad over-salted carrots and apples and other things, but that was probably because he smoked cigarettes, and his taste buds were dulled, or were they deadened?   He would hold a carrot or slice of green apple over a plate and then hold the salt shaker in the other hand, and tap the end with his pinkie and ring finger.  I miss his hands.  They were a little bit rough and practical.  He had callouses.  He always made me help him do yard work.  I never saw any of my friends do yard work with their dad.  Once when I was 10, a bunch of my friends came over on a Saturday afternoon, and he got us all to help him rake and bag leaves.  They did not come over to my house to rake and bag leaves, they told me, as we all stood holding the black plastic bag open.  But they laughed, and we ended up jumping and playing in the piles of leaves.  Whenever my dad ended up doing yard work by himself, I felt guilty.  But there were a lot of times he ended up doing it by himself.  In other words, guilt didn’t stop me from doing what I wanted to do.

Yellow are the walls I painted in my younger daughter’s bedroom.  I can see them from here at the dining room table, so pale, you might not even notice they are yellow, unless you pause and linger at her door, looking in, which would not be pleasant today, as her books and toys and dirty clothes and bedding are all rumpled around her green carpet and her shades are drawn, kind of gloomy.  Hang on, I didn’t paint her room— my husband did.  But I’m the one who ordered the white cloud stickers, which I then smoothed onto her walls when she was a baby in our Kelty external frame kid-carrying backpack, and my arms were strong and I mothered two kids at once, of which I was proud.

If I could, in some universe, paint the walls of our house with eggnog and get away with it, I would.  I like getting away with things, like eating spoonfuls of ice cream while my children are in the other room and don’t suspect my indulgence.  But I don’t get away with much, because I’m not comfortable with it.  I’d rather be honest and keep things in the light if I can, so I don’t have to hide any lies.  Or have a shadow pass over me while I hug my husband or girls.  Do you have another way of looking at this?  Please feel free to comment here. __________   But no, that’s silly.  Maybe just message me by sending your brain waves through the air right now.  My theory is that ice cream is best eaten with a fork.  Think about it, there is much more surface space for your tastebuds to interact with the ice cream between the tines of a fork, top and bottom,  than on just the top surface of a spoonful of ice cream.  My husband doesn’t necessarily agree with me on this, and we have tested the theory extensively.  My dad never heard my theory because he died before I came up with it, but I feel he would have loved to join the debate.  Or he would have scoffed, and later joined in.  I’m not sure.  He may still, even now, be part of this debate.  Is that wishful thinking?

Is that sunny yellow thinking?   He didn’t have the full use of his tastebuds, from all those years of heavy smoking, so I’m not sure he would have been qualified to be a tester, but my daughters and husband would have probably loved him to join in.  I know I would have.  We could have sat with our ice cream around the table he built, and that my mom and sister and brother let us have.  Talk about a different universe.  So many things would be different if he was here.  You have no idea.  And I barely do either.  But what I do know is that I’m passionate about the pale yellow cream of eggnog, with golden whiskey whisked in.   Whiskey and whisk, not whiskers.  I loved it when my cat Tasha used to brush my face with her whiskers just to show close proximity.  She was purring and saying, “I’m here next to you, that slight brush and tingle you feel is me.”

eggnog2015, whiskey and whisk

All the Smells of the Rainbow

Here in the east San Francisco bay area, it was the kind of gorgeous midwinter day when bugs hatch unseasonably and the sky is blue forever.  I threw together a picnic and drove the girls to the playground.  At the last minute, Jackie, the 1st grader who lives next door joined us.  My sister met us at the park with her two little girls, and my husband met us there too, having spent last night at his brother’s house to celebrate his brother’s birthday.

In the sun by the swings we were too hot and exposed to unpack our picnic, so we moved our soft sided cooler to the picnic table, shaded by oaks.  There, above the tree-darkened creek bed, it was too cold when the sharp breeze started up, cutting through our clothes, whipping plastic container lids to the dirt under the table, and knocking over a box of crackers and a metal water bottle, which clanked.  The little girls shivered on the picnic benches and hunched over their peanut butter and jellies, clamoring for more eye contact with us adults who stood by the table, sipping 3% alcohol cider and trying in vain to have a conversation that lasted longer than two sentences.

Then later as everyone dispersed throughout the playground to ride bikes or to roller skate or climb trees, I stood in the sun for a few minutes, my feet anchored to the paved path, my eyes open but unfocused as I caught the scent of the wind gusting up from the wet and dappled creek bed.  I let it speak to me.  I felt doglike excitement at the whiffs of clay and leaf and dust and mud, and rot and loam.  As I discerned one, another one came to me, and then another, and I breathed in, letting the cool air fill me up and suggest to me anything it wanted to.

The smells became everything, every memory and every possibility connected to those memories.  All the pathways to my memory bank— which felt vast, almost unending, like dipping into the edges of the collective unconsciousness— opened up simultaneously:  the picnics, the wild, unchaperoned moments of my life, quilts on damp grass or overhead, filtering in pink light, and the smell of sun-hot weeds in the field against my jeans leg.  I smelled the keg party at night down by the creek in the woods freshman year, and all future keg parties future college students may yet have down by other creeks.

The air carried with it the wildness of things:  the wild garden on that rainy day birthday party– my first drop off party as a little girl– at a schoolmate’s house near Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, and the wild woods of Northern California, the mass of the trees, all the trees I had ever been near, the height of them, their stature, like a library in their silence and knowledge.  And books, as cozy-smelling as an attic, books I read as a child that took me to exciting places and introduced me to new people, “The Family that Nobody Wanted,” and “Pippi Longstocking,” and “The Bobsey Twins by the Seashore,” and “Little Women,” and on and on.  And zoos, and seeing a giraffe’s giant blue tongue for the first time when I was three.

Every darkened and musty place I hid in as a child playing hide and seek, every dusty and blooming place, the vacant lots, the mountain air, all came to me on these smells up from the creek bed at the playground while I lingered for a couple of minutes in the sun.

I remembered that icy spring day in Minnesota when I was about eight.  I was supposed to walk home from school with my two friends, but we got waylaid by the tempting ice covered puddles at the edges of the sidewalks.  It was warm enough outside to begin to thaw the world from the ground up, and to smell deliciously like muddy springtime as the frozen puddles liquified, but at the same time, it was still cold enough that the solid sheets of ice over most puddles remained frozen, thick and hard.  So the sheets formed a crust on some puddles, that we could crunch through with our heels, and on some puddles the sheet formed a raft that could be jostled with the toes of our boots.  We stepped onto these white clouded sheets to test them and see if they would hold solid, or move and float, and then– deliciously– crack under our weight.

One frozen puddle led to another, and soon, instead of walking home, we were exploring the city, in the search of more ice that would crack.  Anywhere we saw frozen-over puddles, whether they were tiny or the size of a small lake, we’d take turns stepping or stomping on the ice layer, listening to the satisfying high squeaking as white jags bolted through the solid sheet of ice under our weight.  After it broke apart, we kicked– as hard as we could– the large glassy shards, which shattered into the air–  and sometimes we would accidentally plunge through to the  frigid water that we could see slurping around underneath the cloudy ice, and our boot would get wet and seep through to our socks.  That was always exciting, because it was a little bit scary to get wet in weather that cold, and it underlined the fact that we were roaming on our own whim, completely unsupervised.

When we finally got to my house, soaked to the knees, shivering numbly in the oncoming dusk, my mom was sitting grimly on the edge of the couch, pale with worry, about to call the police to search for us.

Now, as an adult, standing in a park, far from Minnesota, the smells that had been watered by weeks of chilly rain and then released by the warmth of the sun and scooped up by the passing breeze and delivered to my face, my nose….those smells reminded me what it’s like to be a child, free enough to wander and follow a trail of puddles and cracking ice.

Free to imagine anything into being– that’s how I want to be.  I smell stories.  I’m riding on rivers of memories that need to be let out in the form of characters or memoir chapters or movies with songs, or crayons and paints and pastel pencils.

There’s a rainbow of these memories coming through me, and I’m drenched with the bracing water I’ve broken into.

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Coach Heather Demotes Her Pillows

Alright listen up, I think we all know last night was not pretty.  It was a hell of a sweaty mess, and I know you understand I’m not talking about the good kind of sweaty mess, right?  What I’m talking about is what was probably the worst night of sleep in goddamn recent memory.   Do I look well rested to you?  No, I didn’t think so.  I have a kink in my neck and my back hurts like hell, and why?  Because of you.  See, I thought you were supposed to support me.  I mean, isn’t that what you are MADE for?   I toss and turn and scrunch you both up, and then my head literally sinks straight down to the goddamn mattress.  It’s like you’re not even there!  I’ve never seen such a couple of lame, sorry ass, piece of crap pillows in my life!  I mean, I could fit you both into my goddamn wallet.  What are you made out of— AIR? Aren’t pillows by definition fluffy?  Naw, not you two.  You two have seen your day, and that day was a long time ago.  Oh look, it’s almost bedtime.  I better go get two socks and lay them under my head.  That’ll be better than having to deal with you two sons of bitches.

Silly Skins

All of the young Potatoes were in their jackets that evening because it was cold at the game, and Mother Spud said, “We’re stayin’ until Little Fry scores a touchdown, so keep yourself warm.”   Down by the sidelines, the Salmon twins waved their pennants, calling, “Yay, for our school!”   And at halftime they held out their fins to the players jogging off the field, “Gimme some!”

Home Visit

I was out in the front yard, leaning on the tree-swing, enjoying the sound of leaves clicking in the breeze and watching the shade flicker on the dead grass.

My little girl sat above me, tucked into the crook of the mulberry tree, as she peered down the road through plastic binoculars.  She wanted to surprise her preschool teacher, who was about to arrive for a visit.

I let myself relax, body and mind, staring at the charcoal purple shadow of the tree on the pavement.

“I don’t see her yet, Mama.”

Long pause.  I lingered in my reverie.  “Ok,” I said a few moments later.  “Stay up there.  I’m going inside to check the time.”

I stepped into the open entryway, and that’s when I saw the squirrel walking down our hallway.  He had already passed the entryway, so he didn’t see me, and he moved at a moderate pace, looking left and right, which gave the impression of casual curiosity.  His tail disappeared around the corner, towards the girls’ bedrooms.

It would have been better for all of us, especially the squirrel, if my reaction had been cool.  But no.  I clenched my fists and squealed in a whisper, while dancing around from foot to foot, unwittingly telegraphing alarm through the floorboards and the air to every one of the creature’s five senses, and then I ran outside again to lift my girl down from the tree, because to my mind, things were about to get crazy, and I didn’t want to leave her stranded up there if I was caught up in squirrel corralling.

The squirrel bolted to the bathroom where I could hear skittering and crashing as he tried to escape through the large mirror on the wall, and then he jumped into the bathtub and leaped against the clear shower doors again and again, his small body— so foreign to marbled tile— visible each time he jumped.

Finally, he quieted down.

“We aren’t going to hurt you.  We just want to help you get back outside,” I said calmly towards the bathroom.

“Mom!  Squirrels can’t understand our language!”  As she said this, she put a hand to her forehead briefly.

“You never know,” I said.

Just then, the teacher’s car pulled up in the driveway, and my daughter ran outside.

Then I heard her teacher’s voice exclaim, “There’s a squirrel in your bathtub?  Well, that’s just ridiculous!”

Standing in the hallway, we told her the story and discussed techniques for ushering the squirrel outside.  I ended up opening wide the door to the back yard and closing off all other pathways in the house.

Then we sat down to a three person tea party in the dining room, with chocolate cookies, grapes and lemonade in tea cups.  We chatted about the upcoming school year and had a lovely visit.

Epilogue:  The squirrel escaped an hour later, with the help of our neighbor, who works with wounded wild animals at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in her spare time.  She came over right away when the girls ran to get her, and said, “What do you need?  I have 10 minutes before I have to take the dog to his vet appointment.”  She waved a pink bath towel and like a bullfighter but with great compassion, and finally coaxed/ushered the squirrel out from the bathroom and then from under the bed and then out the screen door.

Sideways Angel: Heather Keyser’s Perspective

Sideways Angel

I lie, braided and beautiful.  Dead, actually.  A vine winds around my body, and it flowers above my head. Irises rest in my hand.

I am graceful and complex and warm in the sun as I rise and float in a dancerly way, or dance in a floaty way into town, down among the shops, swooning in the weekend morning air— swooping around a lamp post coyly, headfirst.  I hold myself aloft sideways.  Somehow, I still have weight.  Oh, the dear weight of me, from my fingertips to my toes!  I course with power, like caffeine, only fresher and more natural, like wet bark essence emanating from my pores, as I hold my otherworldly body perpendicular to the metal post, like only a very strong, slight person can do.

In fact, now I am a Chinese man, a 20 year old Olympic gymnast, on the still rings. I look magical as I raise myself from the mat with widespread arms– my muscles roped–  to a suspended pike position, toes pointed.  I am trained, honed, elite.

How I love my body.  I celebrate it and sing it up, like Walt Whitman would have done.