The perfect spring day, the air is sharp, yet soft. The air is soft, yet sharp.
Yesterday was too hot and the magnolias wilted. Today the windows are open. The sun and the air come in the west windows. An apartment on the second floor in an old 1890s Queen Anne house, the windows almost floor to ceiling.
The floor where the sun is hitting is refinished old wood. A heavy lead crystal vase of forsythia is directly in the sun’s path. There aren’t even any curtains. Or furniture. Bright pure yellow forsythia as if they had come in on the air, and, by slowing, landing, became the soft flowers, the crystal rainbowed vase. The breeze becomes a small blue vase of three purple crocus, three white crocus. The apartment door sits open, and a black kitten, still blue-eyed, with straight up tail, pounces down the stairs to wait in the hall.
It is too early for nests to be built and babies to be fledged. Conceived in the fall and born in the winter, our kitten knows none of this. Our kitten stands on back legs, to look through the glass in the door. The budding trees are insane and a bit scary. She has watched from the upstairs window, from the kitty perch, the bare branches swell beyond swelling, into eruption, to bursting into green flame.
The white ground became darker and darker until the white disappeared into green and flowers in vases began to waft in through the windows. It is that spring day when the little black kitten of your senses knows that the snow is essentially over, that there will be no more slush, that the season has turned, that the passionate red tulips are not far behind.
And your little kitten of the senses pounces back up the stairs, directly into the path of the sunlight, curls up sweetly. While the sun takes the rest of the warm afternoon to slowly deliver all the other bouquets.
A cowbird. A river life-size ceramic river guardian, contemplating an object in his hand. Has the cowbird laid an egg, a grenade, a water bottle?
Being comparable with the original, he has ferocious eyebrows and a thick tendril of a mustache. Being ceramic, he is frozen in contemplation. Being life-size, his shoulder is a perfect cowbird perch.
What is life, what is fair, what is right? The guardian stands at an angle at the edge of the river, looking slightly cross-eyed his nose, looking down in consternation.
Water bottle, egg, grenade… his limited understanding of quantum physics changes the object from egg to bottle to bomb.
A water bottle, useful / domestic, full / empty, mundane / lifesaving. Clay drawn from the riverbed, shaped by warm hands, decorated with hatch marks, fire-baked. Guards against droughts / hot winds, long thirsts / sweaty days, deserts / parched sticky lips.
An egg, hard outside, nothing inside but potential and fuel. Nothing / everything. The cosmos and a predatory cowbird. The dust from stars, male / female, inchoate feathers / flight.
A hand grenade, blind outside, nothing inside but potential and fuel. Your pre-Alpha into your post-Omega. Mundane / life-ending. Clay, torn from the riverbed, shaped by slave hands, slashed with hatch marks, flame-tortured. Guards through destruction. That which cannot raise a hand against you will not harm you.
The cowbird flies away, lifting into the air with thousands of her flock, becoming for a brief moment a smear of starlings against the sky. Moving east, into the rising sun, looking for the next river, the next line of river guardians.
Behind them, the baby cries of hatchlings, the tearing crash of explosions. The river endures, full as it is — of feathers and potential.
tolerate dampness in the bones
humidity in the basement
wet leaves in the hallway
rain on the windowsill
frost on the marigolds
dish-ragged wet diner booths
mopped and slippery granite floors
backed-up storm sewers
shoes full of snow
slush in the gutters
lakes that were lawns
When the wash machine thumps and vomits
When the sponge is not big enough
When there’s a clog in the sink
Tears on my shirt
Tears on the placemat
Not enough kleenex in the house
Not enough kleenex in the world
My heart is a clay vessel
Broken on the floor
Broken in the basement
Things I do badly:
Such humidity in the basement
Such dampness –
– in my bones
In February 2003 (upon finding oneself in a writing circle in what used to be the local feminist bookshop)
What has happened?
What has brought me back here?
What is it that brings me back here?
This space here—I am describing more things these days by what they used to be. Like this space. I remember buying books here.
On dime day at the book sale two years ago, I found a Smedley’s bookmark. The book it was in wasn’t even worth a dime, but the memories from that little bookmark, they were beyond rubies. So I stole that bookmark.
Or: the King Sub building on West Buffalo St. has, on the west wall, a sign “Instant Printing,” and a roof shape that identifies it as Ithaca’s first Kentucky Fried Chicken. And on the cupola, before the repainting, there was the “Rx” of a pharmacy, the drugstore coming after the chickens, but before the printing.
But wait: is that the same King Sub that was up on Eddy St., first on the Fontana side, and then later on the other side?
There’s a young one at work who bristles when I describe something in terms of what it once was. Talking about the book sale, I mentioned it was really cool when it was in the old Ithaca Calendar Clock building. And when she didn’t know where that was, I said “where Clever Hans used to be, but not where it ended up.” This pushed her over some geographic edge. Too many people had used Clever Hans as the center of their Ithaca compass during the past week. So, because everything is anything but the actual street address, I tried: “It’s in the building where the dog groomer who used to be a therapist is.”
And she knew it right away.
Neither one of us knows the name of the new restaurant, but we both know it’s where Video Ithaca used to be.
Then there’s the Angelheart barn sale, which a couple years ago was where Woolworth’s used to be and last year was where something used to be—you know, in the mall where Jamesway used to be. And the Angelheart store downtown used to be where Monkey Ward’s was. I know that because Autumn Leaves is where Logos used to be, and that’s where Penney’s was. And Logos was where what used to be called People’s Pottery is and where Charjan’s used to be. You can tell that when you look at the sidewalk in front. Right there is a Hallmark crown because Charjan’s was the card shop.
And now, at the end of all this, I am beginning to doubt these chronologies. Where, then, was Newberry’s? High ceilings, wood creaky floors. And Kay’s Fabrics. Kay with the red hair, like Brenda Starr. Lots of wood in the old stores. The Corner Bookstore, off its (assumed) original corner by the time I learned to read—narrow, wooden, high-ceilinged stores. Rothchild’s. With the scary iron elevator and the cigarette machine on the landing between the first and second floors.
What has happened? Everything. Nothing. Even before it rains, the water is already running down through the creeks and over the falls. You can christen the creeks and even re-christen them. The water runs regardless.
And here I am, on the bank in my Angelheart finery, still thinking it’s more than possible for me to step into the same river twice.