Then and Now

Yesterday my Dubliners CD arrived. I’d gone looking for some Irish music with which to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with my tiny students. The Dubliners brought back memories of a second story apartment in an old house in Omaha, Nebraska. Two doctors shared quarters, one Irish and the product of a Jesuit education, a repository of rude limericks, and the maker of one mean beef and lime curry.

As I started to sing along with familiar lyrics, I found myself caught up in the rhythm, my feet tapping out a jig of their own invention. A fiddle, a banjo, and whiskey-rough voices softened by the lyric sound of Eire spun me and waltzed me and set me back down, a little lighter on the Earth than I’d been before.


This morning I dug out a bottle of face cleanser I hadn’t used in a while, the one I can’t buy any more. A creamy foam that left my face feeling smooth and clean.

I squeeze out one of the last drops of a sample moisturizer, the one I haven’t bought for myself yet because it’s forty dollars an ounce. The fragrance is “pamplemousse,” French for grapefruit. It glides over my skin, leaving a citrus perfume in my nostrils.

I open the bottle of my favorite body lotion, the one they’ve discontinued. I put a small dollop of “bergamot coriander” on my wrist and transfer it first to the other wrist, then to my temples.

I go to the kitchen to make myself some tea. Earl Grey. Hot.


This morning son the older and I had a tiff. He was having trouble with a piece of equipment, and I, eating breakfast and reading the paper, was annoyed at the interruption. I too had a bit of trouble with the recalcitrant hardware but with a moment of focused attention resolved the issue. You just didn’t try, I said.

I walked out on his cry of outrage, only to walk back in a moment later. I’m sorry, I said, I shouldn’t have taken on your problem. The next time I know you will find the solution yourself.

He goes to the piano then and plays for a while. When he stops I go to him. He is still upset. I wrap my arms around his unyielding body. I hug harder, then step back to look him in the eye. I pour all my love into my gaze and after a moment, his shoulders relax and he steps into my embrace, puts his head on my shoulder.

I lean my head against his and we stand for a long moment. His hair against my cheek, he breathes into my neck.

Rivers and Tides

Last weekend husband and I watched “River and Tides,” a film on the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy. Twigs, leaves, icicles, and thorns. Water and stones. These are the materials of his sculptures.

The icicles and leaves last but a few hours in the sun and wind. A fistful of crushed rock explodes into color as it hits the surface of a mountain stream, then is diluted and washed away as the river continues its journey.

The cairns, the stones stacked in the shape of an egg, a “seed” he calls it, are more durable. At times, though, he builds them on the beach at low tide. He waits nearby, to view and document the arrival of incoming water.

The work was not made to be destroyed by the sea, however. It is instead a gift to the sea. “The sea has taken the work and made more of it than I could have ever hoped…”

The real work of art, he says, is the change. The transition from one ephemeral state to another.

He pulls reeds from the ground, each stem blackened below the point where it was still surrounded by earth, where the contact between plant and earth has changed the plant. Evidence of heat.

Spring, he says, starts deep in the ground.

Vois sur ton chemin

Last week son the older and I watched a French film, Les Choristes, a story about a music teacher and a boarding school. This week the soundtrack arrives in the mail.

That evening son the older fills the kitchen sink with water, then puts on the CD, cranks up the volume, and, lyric sheet on countertop, sings along as he washes the pots from dinner.

The next day he sits at the piano and tries out chords. My son, the self-taught composer, at work.

(And I, the mama, so proud to see a seed, secretly planted, begin to sprout.)

Offerings of Love

Yesterday the weather turned warm (again). I went out on the front porch to find sunlight glistening on the grass. I fetched a pair of scissors and cut a single rose from the corner bush and a curve of rosemary that had started to bloom.

Back inside I gathered my silver tray, some incense and a scrap of bread. In Bali, the people prepare offerings to the gods every morning. Every morning, they place a flower, some incense and a small ball of rice on a leaf. Every morning, after a short prayer, they leave the offering on the steps to their house or on the sidewalk.

In the larger hotels and other business establishments, they have people whose job it is to walk through the building with these offerings. I light my incense and walk through my house, circling each room. I look anew at the familiar surroundings and give thanks. Give thanks for the shelter, for the beauty, for the family I love.

In the kitchen, I stop and give special thanks for the roses dear husband gave me for Valentine’s Day. Their pale coral warms the seafoam of the kitchen walls.

When I have finished, I take the tray and leave it on the porch floor, at the top of the stairs. In a short while, the sun will reach it and sun will glint off the silver, steal through the petals.


Last night we had guests over for son the younger. I hand out glow sticks and they rush out the door, into the dark of a late winter evening. Whoops of excitement fill the air. It grows quiet as they head down the block. Moments later they return. Glow sticks blue, green and orange are now crowns, necklaces. They adorn forearms and climb calves like the laces of Roman sandals. Neon colors dance in the black night air.

Inside I sit doing needlepoint, pulling soft wool through the stiff canvas. On the television, Jane Austin’s crisp dialogue crackles with irony and early nineteen century manners. In country drawing rooms, in those days before television, men read aloud and women stitch.

I clip my yarn and secure my empty needle in a corner of the canvas. Now upstairs, the children are quiet, engrossed in video games. Their faces illuminated by a flickering light, like the hearth fires of days gone by.

New Moon

Tuesday night I went to a women’s new moon celebration. I came almost straight from work but arrived very late. I did take time to put on a saffron shalwar kameez, with turquoise and purple embroidery at the hem of the bouffant pants, a sheer purple and silver skirt, and a belt of silver jingles. I knew I would arrive near the closing ceremony, I tell one woman, but I came anyway, just so I could wear my costume.

The room was lit with candles, the altar laid with a maroon sari, flecked with gold. A small tortoise shell has a place of honor. Women dance with scarves. I am sorry to have missed the chanting.

Leaving, the wind catches and brings back to me the scent of my perfume, Casimir. I feel a fine rain upon my face.

Subtle Music

Saturday friends come to dinner. I make a fish curry; Elizabeth a pound cake with grilled fresh pineapple and a brown sugar rum sauce, the pineapple a perfect complement to the spicy fish. I wear a jeweled “bindi” on my forehead and jeweled sandals on my feet. I listen to Indian music as I cook.

Sunday Leslie comes to walk my yard with me and discuss gardening plans. We talk of bamboo. At times invasive, we are nonetheless beguiled by the subtle music of canes rubbing and tapping in the breeze.

This evening as I come home from work, I stop in mid-stride just steps from the car. The sound of cicadas fills the air, like the roaring of lions at sunset. I am struck that it was not until I heard them again that I realize they had been silent.

At my front steps, I look over into my neighbor’s yard. A palm towers over his house; the fronds rustle in the wind.