Silver slivers of longing,
White collared servants,
Strangers who will
never glide warm fingers
down my spine.
The futile fumbling of
a once poet,
now clay mind,
forgotten muse.
I miss you already,
my long ago destiny,
my never calling.

all this perfect ambiance
wasted on blank nonspiration.
empty and subdued,
i forget how i used to be a writer,
wish i could climb into bed beside you,
let bodies be poetry,
let the mind float away
and leave the work to the skin,
the breath.
ideas fade,
immemorial, immaterial.
it’s all those sinews, smells,
fingerprints that last,
unarguably present.
i forget what i call a vocation,
the feeling of beauty emerging
through forests of adjectives.
i want only flesh, earth,
beauty pulsing and warm.
or cold like the brown bird
lying lifeless on the porch,
my grandest sermon.

you are my happiness project

your quiet listening
while i chop
red purple onions
into moonslivers

your laughing eyes
squeezed shut
over glasses of ice and limes

your reaching
around my belly
while I pretend to sleep

the way you pour
your skin into mine
even as it wrinkles
before our eyes

you lean towards me
create space
trust my absence
and my growing

you are the leaves
unfolding beside me
in a red dirt garden
reaching for sunlight
entwining roots
breathing light and air with me

in gratitude
i open silent buds.

This morning the girls and I drive to Art Cafe, order giant croissants and a steady flow of babychinos. I read about ancient India while they draw pictures, write in code, string beads. P takes an ice cube wrapped in a serviette and sits by the glass overlooking the parking lot, whispering to herself while kind servers watch nearby. We vote on our favourite croissants, the girls use their best manners to order, we talk about God and recess.

The girls sit at the porch table painting a small ceramic tea set. J stays longer than her sisters, smiles at the bold colours, two small gaps in her bottom teeth. M sings Let it Go with an operatic falsetto from the playroom while arranging Playmobil. P’s teacups are covered with bright polka dots.

Last night we ate Indian food with the Minors, drank wine in the dark evening, while the kids played hide and seek in the art room with the lights out and Ghosts in the Graveyard in the rain.

Phil and I watch Miranda in our pajamas and laugh till I can’t breathe.

The last few nights have been show nights in the living room. The girls push back the furniture, prop a flashlight into the couch cushions and turn out the lights. Phil and I sit on the piano bench while the flashlight turns on and three girls in dresses walk elegantly to the music stand. Go Tell it on the Mountain and Changes. There are solos and dances

At supper P is fiddling with the wrought iron chair beside her and it crashes back against the tile. I ask her to pick it up and she begins to whine that it is too heavy and she can’t do it. I am firm, stern. She has to. Immediately her sisters both climb down from their chairs, rush around the table, lift up the chair together. They are kinder than I am. More willing to choose love over principle.

M comes home at lunch with a ziploc bag that holds a juice box and a chocolate chip cookie. The cookie is for her sisters, she has already eaten one. It has not yet dawned on either of the older girls to consider an option besides sharing their school treats with their sisters at home. I have never taught this nor expected it. Everytime they teach me. J saves the half of a chocolate croissant that P and I brought home in a white paper bag. She wants to share it with her dad. I insist she can eat it all, he often has croissants without her. She smiles but shakes her head. It is for sharing. P passes out her birthday gum with a wide smile, keeps forgetting that her sisters can’t have gum at school. Divides one carefully in half for me and Phil.

At the supper table P scoops yoghurt onto shredded cabbage than announces to Phil, “This isn’t true. It is just a thought I have in my head.” Phil smiles at the warning, waits. “I went on an airplane by myself…”

At night after many reminders to go to bed, P walks into our bedroom, then presses her hands to both sides of her disheveled hair “I keep forgetting this isn’t my room!” We laugh, forgive, shake our heads.

P’s babychino has a chocolate smiley face drawn in foam. She announces her beautiful manners. I laugh and make funny faces. The server smiles as she passes us.

M and I page through our new bird book. She checks her list, written with orange marker while driving through the Mara. Barefaced Go Away Bird, Secretary Bird, Starling. She has discovered the startling beauty of birds. I learn from her.

J lies upsidedown on her bed, her eyes droopy. She reaches for my neck, traces her fingers along my skin. “Ask me a question.” I ask what makes her excited. “Trying things for the first time, like swimming class.” I ask her what makes her feel sad. “I said only one question.” I kiss her translucent skin, the place where her hair meets her forehead. When I leave, she sits up, finds a flashlight, reads aloud to herself late into the night.

The girls have built a village in the pile of dirt on the driveway. It has roads, stores, restaurants and a game park, all outlined with rocks and flowers. They drive hotwheels cars over its roads until the sky turns dark. Then they preempt the sadness of its being wrecked by construction workers, by creating an avalanche.
The next day Hibiscus Hill grows in the sandbox. It is filled with a hundred of my carefully tended flowers, but it is so beautiful, as though this is what I grew the flowers for.

Yesterday P and I did yoga together. She followed carefully along with the video on her red yoga mat, then found her way over to mine, brushed my hair as I sat crosslegged, crawled under my downward dog, then did her own, fitting perfectly within the lines of my body.

Phil chases the girls around the living room, grabs them and throws them on the couch. They laugh so hard they can’t breathe. Later he reads them Salman Rushdie, explains the Arabian Nights while they colour pictures of Barbies with coloured pencils.

A weekend in the Masai Mara. Too much gorgeousness to record. Lions, giraffes, a Masai birthday, cubs wrestling, baby elephants, newborn gazelles, male lions strutting across the plains, children colouring, birdwatching, laughing, games, early morning tea on the savannah, g and t’s at sunset.

Today I knocked at R’s door in my sweatpants, empty yoghurt container in hand, begging for some coffee grinds. She made the coffee for me, cried about motherhood, while P’s voice floated down from her Playmobil world.

M is developing a secret language. A code that looks like elaborate hieroglyphics. J can’t stop reading at night, tired but addicted to the thrill of books. P holds the brown dog her dad gave her for her birthday. Shines its blue stars on the ceiling when she’s scared.

When I stop for produce at Lucy’s stand, P stays in the car, peeks her head out the window. Lucy gathers bananas and sikuma, transfers yellow passion fruit from a cardboard box into my straw basket, reaches into her top for a small envelope of shillings. She gives me extra bananas for a discount. We each take one handle of the heavy basket and carry it to the car, shake hands in the exhaust of matatus.

J starts to cry at the supper table, silent, while stirring her soup. She won’t tell us why. Later, after riding her bike around the track at dusk, parking it by the library, she holds my hand and pulls me back, says she’s ready to tell me a secret. She was crying before, she says, because when she went into the wrong bathroom at school, all the kids laughed at her. She wasn’t embarrassed, but felt really bad. I hug her, tell her about the time I walked into the bathroom when the principal was peeing. We laugh and wonder why kids don’t realize how hurtful laughter is. She skips home, lighter.

The sight of J’s large shaky printing, her perfect two’s, her big round dots on her i’s, brings tears to my eyes. I wish i could freeze the girls in this morning, spend a lifetime enjoying their shaky spelling and their imaginary languages. The days pass too quickly. I’m not ready for their passing.

Friends come for supper. We eat thai food on the porch, drink white wine. When it grows dark we light candles. The girls dress up like magical creatures and dance around us, faces covered, waving wands.

M helps lead the singing in chapel, she bounces, smiles, waves her hands. Later she says she was nervous before it started but when she got on stage she realized it was fine.

P wants to ride her bike so she doesn’t forget. The other girls are eager to ride bikes that have been getting repairs for a month. So after supper we go to the track, the light is dim, it is quiet. J leaves the track to ride back and forth over bumps, grass, anything for an extra challenge. M falls and scrapes her ankle, insists she cannot move, but soon is riding fast, pushing past fear to fly down the hill. P works hard, tries to start by herself, whimpers for mom. When we get back, their feet are red, their bodies smell like the hard work of childhood. So we fill the bath with white bubbles, and they soak side by side while I read George MacDonald. J says her Homework Bible Verse. M holds bubbles to her lips. P creates a kitchen, pours water over the floor.

Tonight the air is perfect. Clear. Warm. We can’t stop noticing it, can’t bear to bring the dishes inside and miss even a moment. Light falls in horizontal lines through the banana trees, then slips away while we watch. We light candles stuck in old wine bottles. The girls sing songs from Frozen, songs from chapel, songs they make up about colours. We laugh and clap, lean back on embroidered pillows, watch the silhouettes of bats.
The girls strike dramatic theatre poses, like opera stars, the candle spotlights giving them confidence. Their voices carry across the valley.

M walks without sound down the hall. Her sisters are asleep. Her eyes are red. She stands by my chair in a white tanktop, pink pajama pants and waits. Nothing is wrong, she has no questions, she just needs to be near me for a few minutes before she can face the night again. I kiss her shoulder, smell her hair. The faint smell of vinegar and warmth.

We celebrate the week with pasta and gelati. Clink glasses after toasts to P’s bike riding and the older girls’ happy weeks. P and M spin circles by the tables. J curls in Phil’s lap, her stomach hurting, his arms big enough.

Tonight the air is perfect. Clear. Warm. We can’t stop noticing it, can’t bear to bring the dishes inside and miss even a moment. Light falls in horizontal lines through the banana trees, then slips away while we watch. We light candles stuck in old wine bottles. The girls sing songs from Frozen, songs from chapel, songs they make up about colours. We laugh and clap, lean back on embroidered pillows, watch the silhouettes of bats.
The girls strike dramatic theatre poses, like opera stars, the candle spotlights giving them confidence. Their voices carry across the valley.

M walks without sound down the hall. Her sisters are asleep. Her eyes are red. She stands by my chair in a white tanktop, pink pajama pants and waits. Nothing is wrong, she has no questions, she just needs to be near me for a few minutes before she can face the night again. I kiss her shoulder, smell her hair. The faint smell of vinegar and warmth.

We celebrate the week with pasta and gelati. Clink glasses after toasts to P’s bike riding and the older girls’ happy weeks. P and M spin circles by the tables. J curls in Phil’s lap, her stomach hurting, his arms big enough.

P, Phil and I go for a walk down the nature trail. P is the leader, leads us down gravelly slopes, commands us to listen to the trees. We look at dog prints in the dirt, white bark, coloured leaves. At the labyrinth, we walk past each other, P hums, can’t trust the path. We swing her between us, high over safari ant rivers. She notices the redness of leaves.

This morning I am in a hurry, packing snacks and cookies for J’s class, needing to meet friends for French conversation. When I hurry, I am tense, quick to judge, frustrated with the slowness of the people around me. The milk is sour. J is slow with her violin. P draws pictures of flags. M struggles with her shoelaces. Phil forgives my impatience, kisses my cheek, says he (still) loves me.

Yesterday when I went to look for P, I found her at the neighbour’s swingset. She was alone, swinging. She reached her feet high above her head, leaned back, grinned the entire time. I think she was talking to someone. Or singing. Without warning, there were tears on my cheeks, surprised by the gladness of being. Some people never witness that much life in all their years. I felt full of enough love for a lifetime.

When J comes home for lunch, she stops outside the front door, hides by the pillar. When I find her she is crying silent face-contorting tears. She says she had run home. Run, when the rule was not to run. She cries for 30 minutes, the guilt too heavy. After lunch we walk to her classroom. She apologizes to her teacher, is forgiven, beams through tears and skips to the playground.

M wakes early, hair full around her face, pink flannel pajama bottoms, She moves slowly down the hall, finds her place at the table and begins to draw. Her drawings are small, detailed, labelled with misspelled words, the serious work of creating. The air is still blue before morning.

P rides a bike for the first time. We are all there, walking around her across the parking lot. The first time she pedals on her own, she begins giggling, giddy with freedom and fear. We laugh, run, cheer her over speedbumps. Her bike is red and worn. She never stops smiling.

I read the Princess and Curdie at the dining room table. P draws pictures of her sisters- hair to the ground, rainbow dresses, mouths on foreheads. J colours Snow White, carefully, boldly. M draws three girls side by side and announces that they are “rich, medium and poor.” then she changes everything by adding a bold and colourful title: “Best Friends.” And I am grateful for her freedom, her truth, her perspectives that haven’t fossilized.

This morning P and I sit side by side at the table, library books piled in front of us. I drink milky coffee from a white ceramic mug. She drinks lukewarm peppermint tea, sweetened with honey. Outside the window, rain falls in lines across a glowing grey sky. We read The Little Island, Down by the Bay, The Lion and the Little Red Bird. When we read One Fine Day, she says, “I like how the person put colour by these letters…” When we read the Little Island, she says, “If I was the sky and the sea I would never storm. I’d just be peaceful all the time.” She notices black outlines, unusual shadows. I try not to think about the day she will hide in her room, read her own books, not need me to brew her tea.
While I write, she chooses purple and pink pipecleaners from a bag, calls over her shoulder as she walks down the hall, “Behave yourself over there!” Then disappears into the art room, where she talks to her imaginary students, her enchanted society.

The girls play school, gather baskets of pencils, plastic cups, glue sticks. J creates a discipline system involving fairy stained glass (the one with the toadstool is the WORST). J has never been the teacher before, she is proud and buoyant, very serious. “Timmy, you have to got to listen. Don’t you want a gold star?” P worksin the artroom, sets up her science class, writes out labels for furniture. M tries hard to be student, not correct her sisters. She answers her math questions dutifully, slips off her grey stool. I have to stop them for bedtime, interrupt their beautiful universe.

M tried out for the swim team. She was keen and eager in her new black bathing suit, goggles, swimcap. There were countless kids, moving in swarms around the pool, vying for only a few spots on the team. She swam hard, turned her face to the sky with mouth open like a small bird, tried not to bump into the other swimmers, shivered on the edge of the pool. When she finally was dismissed she ran to me and her towel, cried with exhaustion and discouragement. “It was so hard. I couldn’t breathe.” The tryouts surprised her, reminded her of her limitations, broke small fractures in my heart. Later when I ask her how she is feeling about the experience, she answers, “Confused.”

When the letter comes that informs her she hasn’t made the team, she says she is okay. She says, “I felt like a small fish in that big pool. No, like a small rock.”