I’ll laugh and I’ll cry and I’ll sing

22 Apr
Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine,
I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine.
And a million tomorrows will all pass away
‘ere I forget all the joys that are mine today.
I’ll be a dandy and I’ll be a rover, you’ll know where I am by the songs that I sing.
(and here you’ll know I’m really working hard to preserve some google-free magic – don’t remember this line and I’m not gonna break the spell!)
I’ll laugh and I’ll cry and I’ll sing.

Our family has what we call Candle Time (our little ritual before bed of stories and songs), which has gone from a being full-dark winter event to a sweet, less and less twilit moment before bed. Tonight we sang a song which I had the pleasure of growing up with without ever hearing a recording. I love that quality in music, and how rare it is! The song in question – “Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine”. You can YouTube it if you really want to, you’ll find out the author, probably correct a couple of lyrics, but I can’t promise it’ll sound the same without you having gotten to know it in the summer dusk at Hummingbird music camp, then finding it still in your heart to sing with your love of twenty-one years. A dear celebration of our sanguine hearts, and sweet it was in the room tonight. After it was over, Emmet posed one of his peculiar demands we could feel coming: “What’s that song about?” Never had I felt so connected to my dear wife as when I looked over at her and heard us both utter in unison the word he was looking for: “Strawberries”. Ida added, “I think it’s about love.”

Oh yes, things are strange and full-on and odd in the world right now. May we all keep some strawberry wine (vintage and flavor of our choice) close to our hearts.

More than Ninety

5 Feb

We’ve been having a lively, full year with the kids so far, rich and thick like some dizzying, spiked sort of stew. So thick that, between its strong gravitational pull and the call/bark of music, I haven’t been able to find much of a penhold anywhere. My mind journeys often to this blog with a few shades of regret, but it’s been a great year so far. Round Mountain finally committed to tape a version of “come to the garden”, the song from whose verses this blog derives its title. Feels good to get that done, and I’m satisfied with the way the new album’s turning out in a way I’ve never before experienced.

So anyway, here are a few moments to recount from these days.

Walking last week with Emmet, we headed up the arroyo behind St. John’s, up toward Atalaya. It was beginning to snow – the kind of waxing-year, thick snowfall whose magic is perhaps best felt in the way things sound. I was listening to our feet crunching, listening to Emmet rambling about beavers and trains – he was, for a time, playing the role of Winnie-ther-Pooh, and his voice carried back and up to me in a most warming way through the flakes as he trudged on, h0lding onto my mittened hand with his.

At that moment, I became aware of a sound that had been going in the distance for a few minutes – a long tone, gliding upwards amid a smear of echoes, then holding a high pitch until the echoes fell into alignment and disappeared, then dropping back down to a throaty roar before repeating the whole sequence.

I’d only heard this sound before in one place – Paris. It was a sound for which the locals had a story. When that sound happens, they said, all the old people look at the skies and the young ones look at their watches. In Paris, that sound freaked me out. It was a WWII air-raid siren, which they tested the first Wednesday of every month, or something like it. I’d never heard it in Santa Fe, and while it should have been completely shattering, something about the acoustics of the snow, the softness and distance, and all the oxitocyn I was getting from Emmet transformed the experience and my nerves for me. It almost sounded like forgiveness.

And then the maddening side of parenting, always so close on the heels of reeling ecstasy. The act of getting Emmet to sit down at the table can be a truly wrenching experience, replete with shouting from both him and me, all manner of things spoken from inocuous to venomous, until I manage to remember that he’s 4, or until he forgets that he wasn’t going to like whatever lovely, totally kid-friendly food his beautiful mother has prepared (think: muffins! pasta! Jeez! Come on, dude!). Anyway, once he starts in on the eating, the mealtime atmosphere enters into a jolly sort of flow. The other night, amid his now-affable meandering stream of chatter, he opined: “I’ve been doing some secret math in my head.  I think we need 6 kids in our family.” As underscoring, he added: “That’s more than 90!” He loves the number 90, has something of a special fetish with it. While I have generally more neutral feelings about the number, I couldn’t agree more with his final statement. Six is, in the end, more than just about any number I can grock. Not that we’re going to put it to the test!

And now, to bed with me, though I’ll try not to be a stranger.

Clark in the Park in the Dark pt. 2

5 Dec

Feeling a bit grumpy with WordPress – I cranked out a bit of a fat rant there a couple days ago, which appeared only as title, its content having very snootily decided to – what is it that happens to the soul, the message inside digital combinations of numbers when they are suddenly reduced, unpacked, dissipated? Man sized Clark in the Dark in the Park or some such. I even saved it as a draft, which was likewise blown away. Harumph.

Anyway, can I reconstruct the best of what I had to say? I hope so… I was on about the storms of great strife that have come to precede bedtime, particularly the storms of Cleanup Time. Having walked Eden to the park asleep while his big brother Emmet  played, it grew dark. This was a big deal to Emmet – he wanted to be out after dark – and so we lingered a bit, probably foolishly on my end. Anyway, I was remembering that classic Seuss poem as we lumbered at micro-speed outta there:

“Look what we found in the park, in the dark! We will take him home, we will call him Clark.

He will live at our house; he will grow and grow! Will our mother like this? We don’t know.”

So who, you may wonder, did Clark end up being? Turns out he was my mood. I hate to say it, but there are few feelings more humble than half-paying attention to your child, mostly gnawing on some preoccupation, which is what I was up to. Although Emmet didn’t seem to be too put off by it, it seems Clark was enough to get to Eden, who woke up very unhappily to see he was on me, looking at the headlights of cars not stopping for us at the crosswalk. Did I really flip them off? No, it was Clark.

We finally made it home to Brenna, with a lot of dragging of Emmet’s slow feet and screaming from Bébé, and a lot of full-body frustration for Dad, who you may argue deserved it. A brief lull ensued while Eden nursed, followed by the inevitable and dreaded arrival of Cleanup Time. Whatever happened to the sweetness of evening? To its languorous and indefinite expanse before us, expanding into happy and relaxed hours? Here’s another quote I love but take some issue with:

The hours between the coming of night and the coming of sleep have long belonged to the makers of music and the tellers of tales.” – unknown origin

Because, frankly people, it leaves out a biggie – those dogged restorers of order, the parents! I was bending over some toys I didn’t recognize or know where to put, or maybe trying to stealthily toss what I imagined might be a meaningful pile of tiny shreds of paper, when I heard it. Rather, I noticed that I’d been hearing it for fully a minute: A high, flute-like, wavering tone, really more kin to a pennywhistle or better yet a tea kettle boiling away, only with a few pauses for breath. My shoulders were starting to curl upward like angry old flowers – the sound was coming from my daughter, who was very usefully placing colored pencils one by one in rainbow-order. As I was about to try to come up with some (probably not very) tactful way of asking her to stop, she announced to the room at large: “Do you hear that sound I’m making? It vibrates the air and makes people feel like being helpful.” Brenna and I exchanged glances. Amazing how frustration lives so close to laughter. Full body laughter.

Gratitude

6 Nov

There’s some joy tonight in the quiet roar of the computer, gratitude for the feeling of humility which I appreciate in Obama, for the tide of political things far out of my control, but still holding for me a feeling of togetherness, not abandonment. I’m up, so I’m just going to lay out a few more things here that I’m grateful for, while I have a chance.

My wife. As we are worn smooth by these children that course like stream water around, over, through us, I find myself catching her eye and being instantly shifted back a step, stepping back to a height from which I can sense the vastness of her soul and the love I bear her. Awe that we get to witness daily the manifestation of that love, our children. Terrifying, beautiful. This is a yawning window into who we really are, beyond the clumsy figures we scrape in the dirt with sticks, dim placeholders for the real revelation. Into who we all as people really are.

I am grateful for yesterday with Eden. Somehow I was able to catch a wave into myself that was not tied to caffeine, a very calm wave. The house was peaceful when I came home from an early shift at work. The late fall settling into afternoon – Eden let me hold him wide-eyed, awake, walking out in the golden light. Our recent history — very short periods of calm before the fussing storm — was somehow bypassed, transcended, for one gleaming gem of a walk. The sun was just setting as we crested the hill looking West toward the Jemez, center of my own personal cosmology. I felt the way in which, although I carry his little body on my big one, in our spirits the roles are exactly reversed. Sure was a nice ride for me, ending in him falling asleep peacefully and sealing the precious twilight into me forever.

Emmet – he’s been feeling the sharp end of not being the baby anymore, and as his dad I’ve been loving him ever more for it, but it sure has been tricky. A couple of nights ago, it felt like he rounded a corner, though. He woke up throwing up, utterly confused, terrified, panicked. It was his first time tossing cookies! Since we couldn’t exactly have him puking up flu germs all over his somehow-still-sleeping baby brother, Brenna moved Eden into the other room and it was up to me to comfort Emmet. The soothing father role hasn’t often been easy for me, but that night it was right where I needed it. I told him about throwing up on a family vacation as a little boy, and I told him his favorite bedtime story again, and then every time he starting retching in his sleep, I held him up over the bowl… he and I were somehow initiated into something together then, and he’s been a little sweeter and more comfortable with his own loving self since.  

Ida has been an absolute marvel! I’ve just started to see the shining emergence of her empathy, though I felt its presence before. Recently Emmet took his first few turns on a bike with no training wheels, a feat made possible by his time on the little, wooden, pedal-less Skoot bike. Ida herself took off the training wheels only a few months ago. But instead of being dejected or fussy or needy, she said, “Dad, I’m actually really proud of Emmet!” Imagine her voice bursting with love and excitement as she shouted to him, “Emmet, you’re the Best Rider in the World!” You could feel the glow of that one ripple through all of us.

So here I stand in gratitude, O Great Mystery. Thanks for bringing me to see this day, and for every morning I’m lucky enough to open my eyes.

Brothers in poetry

28 Oct

It was a hard couple of days for my feeling of fatherhood, with Eden especially. So humbling how a little baby can contain half of one’s genetic material and still be screaming within three minutes of being handed to one. And yet be so sweet when handed to one’s wife’s female friends. Not the kind of payback from the “hardworkin’ dad” story that I find myself hoping for. I was feeling a little downtrodden in that, but today brought some new kindling to the story. Somehow when the big changeover moment arrived and he was in my arms looking around in growing puzzlement and alarm, I found myself diving into the poetry of a Turkish song: “Which of my sorrows shall I burn with? / I have a mountain of them, after all. / But I have a king, an older brother / turning my head toward love.” I’m not sure those are the correct words of the translation I learned, but this is made more sacred and less fussy for me by the fact that I learned them from my own older brother, and play the song together with him. The translation doesn’t have to be perfect when the feeling is there.

At any rate, Eden’s attention suddenly came raptly to me, and I found myself reaching for any poems I remembered, Yeats, Mary Oliver, and that kind of intoned speaking really brings him in. He kind of sings back along while I’m speaking, and it’s the greatest. You might well imagine that I was soon out of material. So I started rhyming, and have never been able to do it more easily (if strangely/ somewhat humbly most of the time). It felt amazing.

Brenna described how the spirit of a baby is so big even while the body is tiny – you can feel the soul trying on this body, and what’s really humbling once you get past the cuteness and tininess is the vastness and power of the one looking out through those little eyes, wielding those slowly grasping fingers.

And yet the territory down the road, as evidenced by Eden’s older brother, is just as scenic in its own right. Today, I got to walk my boys out to the store (one was sleeping on my chest). Walking home, Emmet casually said, “Dad, when someone was born the world began.” I was right there – “Who?” “It’s not a person, it’s an animal.” Lots of guessing later, I was able to ascertain that the primordial creature according to my son was very tall, blue, with feathers, living in the sky. Or, more precisely, a shark. That was what I finally came to, as he never said “no” to that one.

He’s of an age now where he is an utter, raving pain in the posterior at bedtime, makes you think you’ll completely blow a gasket, but also of the age that is able to truly believe (or rather, truly see) a fairy in a tree. We came upon a ponderosa the other day on our Chamisa Trail hike which, Emmet showed me, contained a fairy. He had a little trepidation, but a real fascination as well. “I’m not sure,” he said later, “whether it was a fairy or a small goddess.” Feels good to know we’re raising ’em right!

Little baby boy back-thumps

15 Oct

A baby’s back has a perfect sound to it, thumped softly but with enough firmness to incite a burp or two. That little resonating chamber of sweet places is a heaven of its own. Today I got a gift from Eden after work – I came home and got to take over Brenna’s nap with him. In the quiet, West-facing, fall-afternoon room, I didn’t quite fall asleep, but felt the brilliance of that warmth emanating from him. I was able to keep him asleep after a transfer from Brenna with that little thumping music taught me by so many children and moments like this. All those years of playing drumset and playing dundun at dance classes are also really paying off – I can just put my hand on auto pilot and almost fall asleep while keeping the pattern up, just a slightly swung, austere, heartlike pulse and impulse as realized by the sound chamber of little baby boy back. The real heartbreaker and kicker, and what kept me from drifting off altogether, is that I knew when his shiftings and kickings took over and roused him, he would cry. But it was a relief to find that it wasn’t too loud, or too haertrending, of a cry, and the afternoon sweetness metamorphosed into a different sort, pulling up plants and throwing them on the compost heap with now my wildly-big-seeming bruiser Emmet. It’s fall. Things are sweet.

I was happy

8 Oct

on my birthday! It’s been a while, probably more than half of my life, that I’ve found myself locked in some kind of birthday struggle with my voices, with my fear and my self-pity and my doubt. Finally this year, I was just too bloody busy to worry about it in advance, and wise enough to leave the planning of this thorny little day to my laser-minded, unstoppable, could’ve-been-a-great-war-general-if-she-wasn’t-so-damn-conscientious wife. I should have known something big was coming, but I was blissfully unaware. Funny how I’ve been going more and more in this direction lately, must be sort of manifesting vacations out of everyday materials or some such. If you don’t know what’s coming, you can be surprised over and over again, even by the same things! Magic at little to no cost! Anyway, with three kids and an odd birthday year like thirty six, I guess it wasn’t too unreasonable to imagine a quiet birthday. My last one passed by with us camping in a tent in our backyard in freezing October rain while we waited for the paint fumes in our house to dissipate! Regardless, I didn’t snap at all ’til that morning, when dear little contrary Emmet laid it on me at breakfast: “Dad, you’re NOT having a surprise party today!”

OK, then. But although I must confess I knew something of it, nothing could have prepared me for the sight as I walked up Big Tesuque creek of probably 20 beautiful children all pouring out of the golden forest, running to greet me as my dear brother welcomed me with bagpipes. Of course I was crying, not for the first time that day, with joy. Brenna had organized a large and beautiful group of friends to be there. I was received by people who care about me! I haven’t enjoyed this for myself for years -not that people haven’t tried, but I always seem to push it away, always feel like I should want and take some space on my bday, only small parties, etc… no actual groups of people, right? Actually, the force behind even Brenna’s work was our lovely Ida, who got it into her head to make the whole thing happen, down to the field full of kids, as she termed it. And God bless her for not doing her little bro in when he gave it away! It was actually pretty monumentally impressive that they both managed to keep it hidden as well as they did. But the real gold wasn’t about the surprise – it was about being loved. It’s an exhilaration that will continue to course through and awaken my deeper, more hidden and sluggish veins. In the cosmos I’ve been in of new arrivals, what better reconciliation than the recollection that I was also born, remembering that I can spring from that place still, and with love. The echoes of that feeling will continue into my year ahead and light me from within.

Of course it’s been hard to feel, in the succeeding days of coffee-slinging and grinding away, like it was all real, and like I’m still worth all that fuss. The sweet revelation is that we all are, and I’m not talking myself down here. Rather, I’m talking us all up – may we all have occasion to feel our own versions of that crunchingly satisfying birthday bath of self-love and forgiveness.

with Emmet and Char, my bubbas of different generations.