I am more than just the residue of my own story. I am not merely defined by survived traumas, injuries unrepentant and delusions half fabricated to give the events of my life validation. I am somewhat able these days look honestly at my own history, acknowledge it for what it is and not be afraid. I hope one day not to be locked in what feels like a battle struggling hard just to survive, and get some time and some room, that I might be able to sit down and write about some of it.
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One of the major things I've learned in the last year is that when everything gets spongy, the wind is howling and the wheels have fallen off, practicing simple gratitude, even for the smallest, most bullshit Norman Rockwell things, will carry you through and then some. Write a few down in a list form and see how you feel afterward.
Two nights ago, my daughter the five year old said to me, "We're poor." I jumped up and said No, do you see these walls? What is this place, is it our house and are we in it? Is the damn heat working? I showed her the inside of the fridge, Is there food in there? She said Yes to all these things and smiled a little. I said, we keep all that taken care of and we're fine. Everything else is gravy.
After a month of wondering, I finally looked up the star I always see just above the sunrise, the one bright enough to make me nervous whenever I notice it. I showed it to Ruth one night and she thought it was an asteroid come to obliterate all life on our planet. It’s the morning star Venus, of course; bright enough to cast shadows, brightest in the morning before dawn. All of which I already knew, just never experienced first hand, with the sweet oil-smell of diesel in the air and trucks roaring all around. At that time of day, before dawn has had a chance to break open, it is the cruelest looking thing in the sky. In that coldest hour, when I don’t feel like to talking to anybody anyway, with the yellow of the hazards blinking and the amber of the rotating caution lights arcing across the yard, before I’ve had any breakfast, before I have the chance to get my attitude right, it’s Venus that makes my brain goes everywhere it shouldn’t. The heat pump back at the house and whether or not I’ll make the bill this month. The bodies of Union soldiers at Cold Harbor shot so full of lead they fell apart mid-run. The terrible precision of hummingbirds making war, upside down, in the air. In the dark there, in the morning, I feel I am tumbling just like they do.
I tried to communicate all this to a lady who was vetting people in line. She told me that no case workers would be available today and could I come back tomorrow. I said I couldn't as I got my kids then. She then gave me two supervisors' numbers and very nicely turned me away. I went outside, suddenly very light headed again. I had been getting lightheaded all week. There is a nice courtyard there on Marshall and eighth I think, with a canopy framed by tall willow oaks. I sat on a bench and called the numbers. The wind blew and slender willow leaves clattered all around my boots. I hated everyone walking by who looked like they might have a nicer job than me.
Walking the long blocks back to the truck, someone called me back. I didn't get her name because of noise of the traffic. The sky looked gray and cold and low. She took my information and put me on hold. I wondered if I should stop walking and get my paperwork out of my backpack but then noticed I was walking through that homeless no man's land between the dead mall there on Marshall street and the Coliseum. Everything was open, exposed and concrete and faded metal that was tall and brown. There were dudes sitting around a metal table looking drunk. At some point I noticed my call had ended. I got that old feeling again like I was marching through the Apocalypse. I kept walking because I wasn't sure what else to do.
Ruth told me to write this though: Late in the day today we were trucking over the James by way of the Robert E. Lee Bridge headed for the Hopkins road transfer station to dump our freight. Gloria, who was sitting in the middle kept nodding out onto my shoulder. It had been raining all day. I scanned out over the river looking for my friends the Ospreys when I noticed a couple islands I'd never paid much attention to before. Just boulders lodged in the flow really, but they had at least one big ass Sycamore each. I noticed a huge nest in the upper reaches, much bigger it seemed than an Osprey's. Further up the branches I saw a hulking black shape and after a second more of staring intently I saw it had a white head. A fucking bald fucking eagle. We were bumping along, going maybe fifty and I can't believe I picked it out. I've never seen an eagle in Virginia. I'm almost down there looking for him now and for some reason I kinda don't want you to tell anybody about him.
This morning, the head of my pitchfork started working itself loose while managing a large pile of brush in the West End, the first job of the day. The truck was idling high, roaring from the PTO diverting energy to the crane swinging above me. Looking up to keep track of the knuckle boom, I saw seven geese passing overhead, the sunrise reflected pink on their underbellies.
Trucks are waiting for me in the dark,
I belong to the woman in my bed,
And a little boy and girl across town. That’s it.
There is fast water that cuts down the center
Of our city, water that can carry us away
If we let it. In the dark it occurs to me
That bending over to lace my boots,
My heart will be closer to heaven.
That crossing the river each sunrise
I will look for river hawks lighting out to hunt.
A response to a poem by Charles Simic I carried around in my wallet for five years.
The first ticket is marked Urgent- called in Twice so we get deep into Church Hill, the worst block up there my driver claims. After three days I’ve started to hate my driver, his Jesus on the radio, his smelly sandwiches. I cuss the fact that the sun is still not yet out when the headlights catch the first tire at the mouth of the alley. I get out into the hard rain and throw him into the back of the Stake body and head on, marching the backside of the long length of the block, the lights of the truck cutting through the hard rain and tall grass around me, illuminating more low black shapes waiting on either side.
Even though I won't be at the opening tonight, I feel insanely nervous and proud. It doesn't feel like this event has anything to do with me. It's as if my children went off to perform a play in D.C. or something. I want to call these drawings, these misfit poems and birds, and tell them to be sure to stand up straight and smile when the people start coming through the door. I want to tell them not to be nervous because everyone will be sure to love them.
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