We had a little party

Birthday portrait

Our goofy, neurotic, lovable, thinks-he’s-a-lap-dog dog turned six today. Which makes him (as a friend pointed out) 42 in dog years.

He still wants to hike for hours, and he jumps like a kangaroo in the unmown hay field by the river, but he’s also content lately to nap half the day away, and he’s showing just the tiniest hint of grey on his chin and muzzle.

But he’ll always be a pup to us.

I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. I could have guessed his answer: cookies and a long walk. So out we went. Surprisingly, no one else was out on this beautiful June day. Well, except for the red-winged blackbirds, and the red-spotted efts. We had a little party.



In his field

Spotted fellow

Next thing, they’ll be studying for their learner’s permits

Today they turn one.

It’s nothing like the bittersweet when you watch your friend’s children, or your own children, grow beyond your hold. They’re just goats, after all.

Even still.

How could they have gone from this to this in just 12 months? They did it so incrementally that we barely registered the changes, the way H came to be taller than I am, the way the grass goes from winter straw to “If you don’t mow it now the yard will become an unrecoverable jungle!”

What else has happened in those 12 months that I didn’t notice, and that’s now irretrievably lost?

Oh, best to avoid that particular rabbit hole today, when I’m thinking about Mother’s Day and having just listened to Roz Chast’s moving interview on Fresh Air about the loss of her parents.

Nope. Won’t do that. Won’t think that.

Instead I’ll think about how gorgeous those little goat girls have become; how Doris loves to have her head scratched just behind those horns; how Darcy hangs back, like a shy girl at the dance, but is all in for a cuddle once you crouch down in the straw with her.

I went out in the May sunshine and told them the story of their birth. They didn’t give a darn about that, but the treats in my hand held their full attention. I sang “Happy Birthday.” They gave me that goat look, the one that says, “We love our humans, but we’ll never really understand them.”

Doris-Maurice at 1

Darcy at 1

For Hyla


Thirteen thoughts on your fourteenth birthday

When the moon shines on the water with the twinkling distant suns,
You would need a calculator just to count the lucky ones.
— Cheryl Wheeler

Before you were born,
you were always with me.
When I woke, I carried you
with me to the shower
to the kitchen, to the car.
I buckled the both of us up.
At work, we took a secret nap at 3.
You were always with me.

A girl and a Singapura
are one.
A girl and a Singapura
and a raccoon dog and a minnow
are one.

This first word we recognized was “dog”.
Or maybe it “dad”.
You said your word
over and over
to the dog
to your father
to me.
You named us all a word.
You claimed us all with a word.

“Girls’ Wednesday”
You’re in a car seat in the backseat,
waving a hot dog in your hand.
We’re singing along with the radio.
“This is the best day of my life” you say.
And I think.

I love you.
I love you more.
I love you most.
I love you more than toast.

Whatever is the now
is the only thing that counts,
The thing you have in your fist
is worth two in the bush.
The now, the now, the now
is what you remind us to hold.

On the school swing set,
you sang the swing as high as it would go:
“Down in St. Mary’s county, headed south from Baltimore”.
You taught the littler girls to do the same.
In Chicago, you sang “O mio babbino caro”
In the science museum’s whispering gallery
In the art institute’s stock exchange trading room,
to an audience of two.
When I was a girl, I sang songs to myself
all the way from school to home.
Every day.
When you’re in a sunny mood, you hum
Christmas carols,
even in the summer.
Your father revs out “Jingle Bells”
with the brush cutter.
You come by it honestly.

Three weeks old,
September evening.
You and I had a day.
You were not yet you,
and I was still learning how to be a mother.

You sat in your buzzy seat,
my little growly monster,
and watched as I
hustled around the kitchen
piecing together a dinner

I stopped in my rush to
watch the slanted evening light fall
across your face.
Your eyes were wide
with some emotion neither of us knew.

I smiled to reassure you,
and said something, maybe your name.
I saw the twitch of your first smile
as subtle as the first flutter
I felt when you were a mere seed inside.
And I knew who you were.

The iron-tinted river is flowing.
You must be swimming.

I love you this much.
I love you from here to the moon.
I love you from here to the moon and back.
I love you from here to the moon and back.
Plus infinity.

The perseids were sailing across the sky
all night.
We were oblivious.
Focused only on the brewing storm,
of your arrival,
and the thunder outside.

Your bedroom floor,
is littered with books
like leaves on a forest floor,
or bones around an ancient fire pit,
radiating out from your bed
where you devour one by one
toss the finished one away
and reach for the next course.

Every day, you
write, you breathe, you blink, you
write, you see, you eat, you
write, you laugh, you think, you
write, you furrow and bristle, you
write, you crave, you sleep, you
write, you write your
first sentence
of the novel
of your

Sestina, for yesterday, for M

September 30 2012 - NE

It rained all day yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

It came down cold, and thick. It was nearly snow, but not quite.

If you’d wanted an excuse to curl up under the covers and feel pitiful, that would have been enough.

But instead, there was a birthday to celebrate. Another year in a beautiful life. A life I’ve been allowed to share because one day I went to work on a usual week day and met him and started to laugh in a new way and one thing led to another which led to a summer midnight in Maine when he asked the crazy question and I said “sure” and here we are, celebrating another birthday (and many more!).

We shared the kitchen.
I made soup with smoked fish.
He made the world’s largest sandwich.
We sipped smoky Laphroig.
We lit the first fire of the season.
We went shopping for things we didn’t need, but wanted.
We read books.
We made an apple pie and missed our poor, old Golden Russet tree.
We talked about cider, smoke, cheese, goats.
We listened to music.

He reminded me of this sad-beautiful poem.

(I love that he loves poems. And old books. And stars. And paintings. And oak barrels. And bowls of soup. And wooden spoons. And wooly sweaters. And Cape Cod when it’s cold and the beach is empty. And silly songs. And games of Sorry.)

And the rain came down all that beautiful birthday day.


September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

–Elizabeth Bishop

One just for you…

I looked at my to-do list this morning and it pretty much looked like this:

1. Work.
2. Work.
3. Work.
4. Work.
5. Write a blog post.

I’ve got a big project to wrap up; there’s no time to mess around today; this blog will just have to wait a few more days.

And then, I realized something really important. Today is my father-in-law’s birthday!

Bob is 89 today. He’s one of my most faithful readers, and if there’s any reason at all in the world to ignore that to-do list for ten minutes, this is it.

If we were there with you today, Bob, first thing I’d be doing is baking a birthday cake for you. Nothing too big or crazy. But you have to have a cake on your birthday and I’ve never made one for you. I need to fix that.

And then we’d all be telling you about the week: last weekend’s visit to Boston for L’s birthday, work, camps, the animals, things we’d been cooking, the fire ring we’ve been planning to build all summer but haven’t gotten to yet.

We’d tell you that, yesterday afternoon, Hyla and friends and I went swimming at a nearby pond. How we all swam laps around the floating dock. How the kids called Gryfe into the water with his leash and then took turns having him tow them in to shore, over and over. How they got out all warm-but-shivery, wrapped themselves in towels, and bought ice cream cones at the snack bar across the street.

Water level

Coming to shore


And our friend, J, gave Gryfe the tip of her cone. And Gryfe licked the little bit of ice cream out of it as gracefully as a dog can, before swallowing the last of the cone in one doggy gulp.

We’d talk about what’s happening in the world, the Olympics just about to start, what’s going on with friends, news from far-flung aunts, uncles, and cousins.

In the afternoon, after running an errand, maybe we’d have a beer in anticipation of dinner and that cake.

And we’d let the evening fall around us, maybe not talking much at all, just being there, all together, telling you, maybe not in so many out-loud words, but in hugs and looks and smiles, how much we love you, how grateful we are to have you in our lives, how lucky we are to know such a kind, gentle, and thoughtful man.

How we wish you much happiness and health on this birthday, and many many more.

Blueberries for Donna

Smoky blue

Mom would have been 68 today. To celebrate, I took her blueberry picking.

We had a little birthday party at the berry patch, me and mom.

I wonder what the other pickers thought of my talking to the ghost of my mother. There were families there, mothers with small children, a few teenagers, a few people alone, just like me. I bet some of them were talking to ghosts as well.

But I bet they weren’t having a birthday party.


I caught her up on what’s happening in our lives. I told her how tall Hyla is (not yet the seven feet that Mom predicted, but closing in). I told her we finally painted the downstairs bathroom. That the yellow rose bush I planted for her died. How greedy the goats are for ‘Nilla wafers. I told her about the summer of drama camps, the trip to Maine, the plans for visiting family in Michigan and Toronto.

She was happy about the Toronto trip and, when I told her we might go to the CNE, she said she wished she could come. I said she’d be there, too.


When I told her how much fudge and how many lobsters we ate in Maine, she smiled that crinkly-blue-eyed smile of hers. The blue she inherited from her father, Harry. The blue she passed on to her daughters.

Donna on Palmerson Porch

She loves lobsters. And, it turns out, chocolate fudge.

Not always, though. She used to shun chocolate. When we’d go for ice cream as a family, the only flavor she thought worth getting was vanilla. We, with chocolate smudges circling our mouths, were utterly confused by her choice. How could she not like chocolate?

Later, she came to appreciate chocolate more. When I grew up, I learned to understand why she loved vanilla best.

I told her about the bar mitzvah we went to last weekend, how the prayers and the songs and the rituals conjured up my ghosts: mom, grandma, grandpa. We laughed about those old bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings, with the horrible gowns and hair-dos, the huge rented halls, the mediocre bands, the rubber-chicken dinners, the dancing late into the night.

I kidded her about her own funny dance, hands in loose fists at chest-level, thumbs out, arms jerking to each side, one after the other, doing some sort of hitch-hiker-inspired move. She obliged me by doing the dance right there in the blueberry patch.

I laughed, blushed. Mom, stop! It’s so embarrassing!

Don’t stop.

I got a bit wistful. I told her there were so many things I wanted Hyla to know about her.

Well, then, tell her.

So I will.

I’ll tell her about your smile.
Your silliness.
Your forgetfulness (I didn’t understand then; I do now).
Your made-up words.
Your white lies to make others feel happy and included (I didn’t understand then; I do now).
The kindnesses you do for everyone around you.
The way you’re really interested in the answer when you ask someone a question.
Your less-than-successful cooking attempts (including “surprise-hamburgers”, “baked spaghetti”, and the time you washed that really bad mango-peach sauce off the chicken).
That you can’t whistle, or snap your fingers.

Stunning in NH

I’ll tell her about the things you love.
Being Canadian.
Your Florida home.
Your collection of kaleidoscopes.
All animals, but, in particular, horses, dogs, giraffes, and, later in life, the tropical birds and lizards that visited your back porch.
Birch trees.


The Bahamas.
Everything about Mexico.
Central American art.
Collecting beads.
Making jewelry.
Carousel horses.
Traveling the world with Dad.
Reading (especially novels by Canadian authors).

Drinking coffee (gallons of it, especially when you worked from home).

Reunions with family in Toronto. Huge orders of Chinese food eaten buffet-style in the house at 29 Regina. Kids hiding under the dining room table. Grownups wandering the rooms with paper plates in hand, telling the same old stories, some that made us laugh, some that made us cringe.

Mom and brothers

I’ll tell her how about the music you love.
Harry Belafonte.
Arlo Guthrie.
Neil Diamond.
Roy Clark.
Johnny Cash.
The Everly Brothers.
Andres Segovia.

New country music (Mom, I don’t understand that one, but I totally forgive you).

Mom and Hyla

I’ll tell her about how much you love your granddaughter, your son-in-law, your brothers, your cousins, your grand-dogs, your grand-cats (and, had you known them in person, your grand-goats).

Your daughters.

I’ll tell her (again) how you never wanted a birthday cake on your birthday. Only blueberry pie. Without the ice cream.

Mini blueberry pies

Holly holy love
Take the lonely child
And the seed
Let it be filled with tomorrow
Holly holy

Sing a song
Sing a song of songs
Sing it out
Sing it strong

Call the sun in the dead of the night
And the sun’s gonna rise in the sky
Touch a man who can’t walk upright
And that lame man, he’s gonna fly
And I fly, yeah
And I fly