This Hour

If this hour
were the
only one,
the only hour
of all existence,
would it feel
like an elaborate
waste, a pointless
exercise in cells
and blood
and biology
and thought?
Or would it be
the greatest miracle
the divine mind
could conjure,
worth an eternity
of waiting for
this one brilliant
explosion of matter?
I move carefully
across the damp grass,
watch the wasp
weave through space,
feel giddy with
my body’s presence
in this beautiful,
brief experiment.

New birds have found our birdfeeder, though we don’t know why or how. Grosbeak weavers with long necks, bold white foreheads. They scare away the smaller birds, the firefinches and mannnekins that have been at home here so long. We all gather at the sliding glass door, move slowly, observe these new dynamics, these rowdy new neighbours.

J is memorizing the locations of African countries. She stands with Phil looking over the Rift Valley and points across the vastness. Over there is Rwanda. Somalia is that way. Tanzania over there. She is finding her place on this wide continent.

We carry heavy wooden chairs to the middle of the lawn, watch the immense sky over the valley turn every colour. The sun becomes a fireball, then hides behind the clouds sending rays of heaven in every direction. We point at cloud shapes, colour shades, rain falling in the distance, dust devils swirling at the other end of the valley. The girls pause their movie, come outside, exclaim and point, still willing to be amazed by this land of their childhood.

At night P wants me to stay close, to trace letters on her back, to sing lullabies. Her bed is lined with stuffed animals, she holds a small reading light. Wants “fancy hugs” and extra kisses. Tomorrow she turns six, this child who used to fit below my ribs. Today when I walked her to school, she kissed goodbye early, insisted she’d run the rest of the way herself, is making me less vital to the workings of her day.

We run to the soccer field in the dark, just before bedtime, to watch P fly her new kite. She calls, laughs, runs to the far end of the field, disappearing into the darkness. We all take turns, following her careful instructions. M wears a Moroccan scarf that sparkles in the street lights. P and J do floppy handstands on the hard earth, legs spread wide. Our cheers echo across the silent parking lot.

M and J work secretly each evening, drawing shimmering pictures with gel pens on black paper- pictures of leaves and swirls, floating hearts and hatching eggs. They are making a boardgame for their sister, yell too harshly whenever she tries to see what they’re doing, work with urgent creativity.

The girls and their friends write clever plays to perform for us, plays about witches and fairies, vegetables, and lots of dying. They stuff pillows up jackets, tie scarves around their waists, work through their biggest fears. We laugh and applaud, wish we could save them from all that dying, all those fears.

P and I walk through the forest on he birthday morning. She carries a long stick and whacks it at every tree branch she passes, cheers when leaves fall. At every two-trunked tree she stops suddenly and stands at attention, tells me her kindergarten teacher told her to always stare at two-trunked trees for two minutes. Our progress is slow. When we find the prayer labyrinth, she picks small seeds out of seed pods, arranges them in a circle on the stone cross, rubs crumbly leaves between her palms for confetti.

Reflection

In the reflection of my laptop screen I see how the skin around my mouth is collecting in small wrinkles, realize my mouth is older than it feels. It reminds me of the wrinkles around the lips of my dearest aunt, her loud Irish laugh, her magical stories. She sits in a care home now, quiet and subdued by the way life is erasing her mind, wiping away all those memories, the farmhouse and the noisy children, the hours at the typewriter and long walks down prairie roads. The last time I saw her she looked lost and worried, not sure who she should be in that crowded diner, beneath that floppy hat. But the wrinkles around her mouth remember, hold onto all those years, give testimony to all that living. I smile at my reflection, notice the way my tears catch the morning light.

When Prayers Fall

When your prayer falls
weighted and dull
at your feet,
betraying all your
brave and fragile
hope,do you kick it
scuffed and dusty
to the tangled ditch
or do you kneel
beside it on
that sharp gravel,
breathe on it
the heartbroken
breath of a child
collecting, with
tenderness, the hollow
bones and feathers
of a dying bird?

M and her new friend tiptoe to the edge of the brown river that cuts deep into the ravine. They find a place to push through the bramble at the waters’ edge, lower themselves slowly into the cold water, take sharp intakes of breath as the water reaches their bellies, their shoulders. They swim across the water, work against the current that pulls them towards the rest of us, the shallows where younger siblings are splashing rocks. They are determined to cross the moving water, set themselves apart as brave and capable, reach the ledge on the other side that no younger siblings have touched. When they scramble on the far shore, they look small against the tall edge of the ravine, crouch in the dirt near some rocks, all elbows and knees pressed side by side, play tic tac toe in the dust.

We squeeze into the shade at the edge of the river, hand out crumbly scones and warm white wine. We listen for hippos, remind the children to beware of the current, pass around a ukelele.

P doesn’t want to go to school, cries and refuses to stand up when we start to leave. She wears a green bow in her hair, polka dot socks pulled high up her shins. I pick her up though she is too heavy, this baby of mine that has become a tall girl. She wraps her arms and legs around me like a small monkey, buries her tears in my shoulder, allows me to carry her up the hill.

There is a crowd of children playing tag in the backyard. Night has fallen and their shapes are blurry in the darkness, though their squeals and shouts are magnified. I watch the outline of J dart through the shadows, dodge the reach of the older kids. When she reappears at the edge of the pool of porch light, her hair is wild, her forehead glistening with sweat, her smile proud.

We sit on the porch and eat spicy olives that I’ve marinaded myself, my surprise for Phil after his long day. The dusky light slides through the leaves of the banana trees, through the blue and green glass beads hanging in long strings from the roof, through the Moldovan wine bottle Phil brought home from the store. The girls are playing at their friends’ houses. The yard is silent, the day folding in on itself for another night.

M wears a purple hoodie, lies beside me as I work, reading a book she’s read a dozen times already. She looks up every few minutes to comment on the sky, the ivy, the taste of her tea. I think of Rilke reminding us to love the things as no one has thought to love them.