Monday, September 29, 2014

"Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness"

Today is 60 degrees and gray but the weekend was lovely.  Full of the warmth and drowsiness and o'er-brimm'd-ness of Keat's autumn, the "later flowers for the bees," the "fume of poppies," the "last oozings." 

The trees are blazed and blazing.  Their colors look violent, pensive, mysterious.  And then there is the pattern of the falling leaves that turns some trees into torches and others into ruined faces, empty bowls. 

You are taking your first tottering steps.  You don't care about walking.  You do it only when you're not thinking about it or when a single step or two seems like the easier route from here to there.  You've started up with consonant sounds, chugging them out in the back seat of the car or sending them lilting around the darkness of your room at 6:30am.  Last night you had a fit because we promised you a bath after dinner, failing to consider that "after" in not a concept you appreciate yet.  You sobbed through most of dinner, pointing to the doorway, until finally I carried you through the squashed bits of spinach pie on the floor and up to the bathroom where you slapped your palm emphatically on the porcelain edge of the tub saying, "ba! ba! ba!"  You've also finally figured out the hand sign for "more" only instead of bringing all your fingertips together, you use only your index fingers so the expression of the word seems more delicate and solemn.

This weekend your father and I went away for a night for the first time in 18 months.  We were supposed to go to a dear friend's wedding in Chicago but then a rather wounded individual lit an air traffic control tower on fire and thousands of flights were cancelled so instead of getting fancy in Chicago we got fancy in Minneapolis instead.  We stayed at a hotel downtown that had recently been remodeled.  This meant that bright red chairs in the lobby were back lit by forty television screens together projecting images from nature.  On each floor, the elevator doors swished open to the same fluorescent pink print of what looked like a virus under a microscope.  Meanwhile, Daddy couldn't look at the hallway carpet for fear of vomiting, such was the nature of the white/navy striped pattern.  Our room flaunted a wall papered with drawings of cassette tapes.  That we did not find all of this cool confirms that we are old.

We pretended not to be old, though!  For lunch we ate fish tacos and chicken salad on Nicollet Mall.  A bee flew into Daddy's beer and he rescued it and then poured water on it to try to resuscitate it.  I sipped chardonnay and grew too hot in the sun.  We spent the afternoon being lazy and then went to dinner wearing our fancy wedding clothes.  We tried steak tartare for the first time, scooping the pink bits onto toasted circles of baguette.  Afterward we went to an underground bar with a purple door (thanks for the rec, uncle John!) and sipped cocktails infused with pine buds and charcoal and chatted with the bearded, plaid-shirted bartender whose name was also Peder but who pronounced it Peter.  The next day we read the paper in bed and shopped for towels at Macy's and had lunch at the Sculpture Garden and I drank a latte infused with honey and lavender.  It was good.  Though I am still sad to have missed my dear friend's wedding.

Every Minnesotan was outside this weekend, I think.  It was the last swelter of opulence.  The oozings and the drowsiness and the hum of bees will soon give way to the cold and the starkness, the swift blanket that mutes perfumes and hardens sap.  Jennifer died at this time a year ago.  I am glad to be especially reminded of her now, in this season where we fill ourselves with food and warmth, with long walks and the claps of color from the trees, when we prepare to give our bodies over to a different way of living in this world.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Eat a Taco at Our House

Decide to make turkey tacos.  Set your laptop on top of the microwave, open to the Food Network recipe you've selected.  Smile inside, maybe a little smugly, about how you will be using vegetables from your CSA for these tacos.  Touch lovingly the dirt-smudged skin of the onion, the green hulk of the zucchini.  Set up a Paul Simon Pandora station, begin to saute in rhythm to a song that sounds like something Paul Simon might have written if he had a sore throat or no hands.  There is a tugging at your pants. Look down into the big eyes of the baby who is not really a baby anymore.  Open the doors of the cabinet in which you've stocked only baby-proof items.  Tupperware and packets of tea and Emergen-C.  From the other room there is the sound of the five-year-old flopping onto the leather of the couch.  Keep chopping.  The baby flings the tupperware about the room and then lays on his back, crying for no apparent reason.  Say to the baby: "Can you find the piggy?" and point toward the magnetic farm adhered to the refrigerator that sometimes randomly makes oinking noises when you take out a piece of pre-sliced cheese late at night.  The baby keeps crying and begins to move his legs so it looks like he is back-stroking across the kitchen floor.  Say: "Daughter! Can you find something to do with your brother?" Five-year-old enters with the wooden recorder from who-knows-where that tastes like patchouli when you play it.  Five-year-old is playing it.  Baby stops crying for no reason, brings himself to feet and waves his hands in air.  Sister dances around not giving baby recorder and baby begins to cry for an actual reason.

Peak head into living room.  Husband reading "Entertainment Weekly."  Carry baby into living room and deposit on rug near husband.  Return to kitchen.  Attempt to look sunny and pleased when daughter asks if she can help.  Dump olive oil and salt in a bowl and let her spread mixture on tortillas with a little brush.  Someone who is not Paul Simon is whistling and singing about trains.  Add 2/3 cup broth to the sauted vegetables.  While you wait for sauce to thicken set out plates and sour cream, CSA greens and a bib for the baby.  Ignore the heavy yellow sheen of oil soaking into all the tortillas.  Place them in the oven.  Stir the sauce and notice that it is not thickening.  Announce loudly that dinner will be ready in five minutes.  Cut avocado while five-year-old rocks back and forth on step stool chanting "Mama, mama, mama, mama" and baby, after re-entering kitchen, attempts to use his head to bulldoze your feet.  Note for three seconds the pleasure of scooping out a neat row of avocado pieces with your thumb.

Stir the sauce again.  Note that there is no thickening, that you've created seasoned meat and veggies swimming in broth.  Decide to serve it anyway.  With a slotted spoon.  Ask your husband to prepare the drinks.  Remove the tortillas from the oven and sprinkle two with cheese.  Return to oven.  Buckle baby into chair.  Bark at five-year-old until she sits on bench in breakfast nook where you eat all your meals because it's too much work to carry everything the extra five feet to the dining room.  Say table prayer with baby screaming, five-year-old pushing index finger into piece of avocado and husband tipping box of wine toward coffee cup with the insignia of college where you teach upon it.

Take melted cheese tortillas out of oven.  Sit down.  Cut tortilla into pieces with pizza cutter for baby.  When five-year-old tries taco meat and says in a whiny voice "I don't really like it, Mama," say "thanks for trying it!" in a falsely bright voice.  When baby screams and flings bits of avocado on the floor exchange The Look with your husband, The Look that means my-God-we-are-lucky-to-have-children-and-we-love-them-so-much-but-why-is-each-meal-such-a-shit-show-is-it-too-late-to-live-in-Victorian-times-when-we-would-only-see-our-children-occasionally-after-they-had-been-bathed?  When five-year-old slides from bench onto floor, let your husband tell her to sit on her bottom please.  Ignore the fact that she is not eating but instead deflating each of the air bubbles in the tortilla with her fork.  When she says, "Mama, put your finger in here," say "I'm eating my food right now." 

Remember to take a bite.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

When the World Tilts Toward Autumn

Today is that day when the weather turns and the world tilts toward autumn and we know that even if there are days of warmth to follow that in the weather scales those days will be on the lighter end, the side rising higher and higher into the cool gray air as we begin our decent to winter.

This means you wore gray fleece booties and a mustard yellow Columbia fleece to Econo-foods today.  It means I drew your fingers across waxy orange skin saying "pumpkin, pumpkin."  It means we peck at you with Kleenex already and constantly.  It means in the car your sister wept when she couldn't pull her pink fleece pants down to stuff them in her socks.  She's grown and there's a rim of skin below her cuffs.

This means Daddy and I are back in the swing of tic-tacing e-mails to students at all hours.  This means that on Tuesdays and Thursdays we put on slacks and shirts from hangers, stuff tupperware tubs with leftover soup into plastic bags, try to remember the set of car keys that has our office key attached.  That we communicate mostly about who will pick up whom and when and who has the department meeting and who has the student conference.  Who will make sure there is dinner on the table and who will get the oil changed.  Who will go up the stairs and turn Thisbe's pajamas right side out and who will wash the steamed carrots out of your hair.

Today is that day when the weather turns which means our blood is trying to thicken and seems to speak with a slow drawl as it courses through our veins.  It means that the wind is pushing our front door open and I'm setting the crock pot on the counter.  It means the coffee shop is a warm cocoon and on the street drizzle swishes its wings past our faces.

This means on Tuesdays I bring a patchwork bag with ballet slippers and a black leotard with rhinestones stitched to the front to Thisbe so that she can point and bend and make monster faces in front of a wall of mirrors.  It means that we eat dinner at church on Wednesdays.  That on Tuesdays and Thursdays we label string cheese and fruit pouches with your name and leave you crying beside five other babies.  That on Mondays when we go to the farm we come home with the heaviness of squash and onions in our bags, the spinach floating light across the top.

Tomorrow I am teaching Robert Hass's "Images" essay to my students.  The personal images he draws on are from this season, "the submerged melancholy of the end of summer."  And he talks about the way that images, unlike metaphors, "do not say this is that, they say this is."  That in the arrest of the image "what perishes and what lasts forever have been brought into conjunction, and accompanying that sensation is a feeling of release from the self."

Today is that day when the weather turns and the world tilts and you tell the students (so that you can tell yourself) to write it down so that this time stands still even as it is already swept away.