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When there's no one else to do it, and I "do the buildings" at work, it means I leave the post office at 3:45 p.m., grab the few pieces of mail in a small drop and put them in a nearby blue bin, then walk a block and a half to the JFK federal building; I collect and sort mail there for 10-15 minutes, then head to the O'Neill federal building at about 4:10, get to the mailroom at 4:25 or so, and collect and sort mail there for half an hour, then bring that mail down the hall to the dock; the truck that picks up that mail then drives me back to the JFK building, where I collect and sort anything that's come in since I left, bring everything to the dock for the driver, and go back to the post office to finish out my day.

Yesterday, as I left the JFK building, it was starting to rain. I knew there was a storm headed this way, but now how strong, how long, or how likely it was to hit squarely. It was clearly going to rain harder than the light rain that was coming down at the time. But I had a schedule to keep, and there's no slack in the schedule. So I headed out. It started coming down hard within a minute.

By the time I got to the underpass under the big parking garage, where people were taking shelter, the wind was strong enough they were getting wet even under there. And I was already as wet as I could get, really; the rain sluicing off my raincoat plus the rain in general had pretty much soaked my shoes — light hiking boots, really — and the lower half of my shorts. I kept walking.

When I crossed Merrimac Street, there was three inches of running water at the curb. But my shoes were already soaked. There was two inches of water running down even the middle of the street. Four or five inches at the curb on the other side. Two inches standing water on the sidewalk. And then the hail started.

Small at first, then half an inch, then an inch, then larger. I got pelted by a few pieces, but it didn't hurt as much as I expected, more like a marble being flicked at you than a golf ball. The way large hail forms, if I understand right, is that smaller hail forms in the cloud, starts to fall, gets pulled back in an updraft to the top of the cloud, and falls again with more ice forming on it, and with the smaller pieces sometimes clumping together. Some of the larger pieces that came to rest on the sidewalk looked like stylized daisies, with a center piece and then smaller petals all around that center.

You couldn't see a block down the street because the rain was so thick, with the wind whipping the water white and blowing it horizontally. No one was out: no cars, no pedestrians. I was out. I was not normal, not waiting it out, insane, sloshing down the street. And I was where I was supposed to be. I was on my way to where I needed to be, and I was going to get there. And for the first time in months, I was at peace. I was walking, but I was at rest; my mind was at rest. I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to do, not because I had to but because it was what I wanted to do.

I tried to understand it, that prickle at the corner of my mind, why it felt so calmly good. Not just the aloneness, not just the quiet that you only find in the midst of a rushing storm or the ocean or a waterfall. The best I can explain is: if I was supposed to be there, then… then there existed a place where I was supposed to be. A place I belonged.

The place is gone. It only lasted 10 minutes, a soap bubble containing a small sphere of a different universe, and when it touched me, instead of popping, it wrapped around me, let me pass through its skin and walk in that world for a few minutes, and then wafted on its silently loud way out to sea. But for 10 minutes, there was a place where I belonged, and I was in it. I don't know how to believe it will happen again; I don't have the ability to have that faith. But at the same time, as I fail to believe, I also fail to believe that it's impossible. That's the closest I've come to hope — to active hope — in a long time.


Jun. 24th, 2015 12:19 pm
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When I got out of the car at the cat shelter where my friend and I volunteer, there was a dragonfly on the ground. My favorite insect. One of her wings was… it was beyond bent, folded in half near the middle of the wing. She was on her back, moving slightly. I put my hand down and she held onto my finger, so I lifted her to look, and to see how bad it was. It was bad. The wing was creased like a folded paper you run your fingernail along to keep it flat. When I tried to see if it could unbend, or why it wouldn't, I could feel that the two halves were actually stuck together where they touched. You can't fix that, can you; it's not something that can heal, is it? She was dying. She was already dead. I knew it was kinder to crush her quickly, and I selfishly refused to give her peace.

It's hard to handle one wing of a dragonfly, to get that wing alone, without the others, refraining from holding the slender, soft abdomen between your huge thumb and finger. I was in terror that in her terror and struggle she would rip herself away from the wing I held her by; I knew it didn't matter, she was dead anyway, but it would be worse somehow to have a part of you ripped away, it must hurt more than just a broken wing. I finally had the grip I needed, with one thumb and finger on the outer part of the creased wing, one thumb and finger on the part near the body. I peeled the two sides apart, like tape from a piece of paper, and you know chances are the paper will rip, a thin film will come away with the tape and it'll be ruined, but there's no choice, and I expected the outer half of the wing to just fall off, to turn out to not even be attached at the crease. But it didn't. It stuck out at an angle for a few seconds, and then she pulled all four wings flat against each other, like sheets of paper tapped against a table, absolutely perfect, and I could no longer see the damage. But it had to still be there. It wasn't something you can fix, not something that can heal, it's prideful to even imagine, that you can fix something like that, prideful and childishly naïve. I had given her my finger again for her feet to hold, and she looked so perfect, it was painful to look at, knowing. Maybe, though, maybe it hurt less, the wing. Maybe she had peace. I took her to the pine tree against the fence and coaxed her feet onto a low twig. It seemed like the least-bad place to end life. And just in case, if this was something you recover from, at least she was out of harm's way while she gathered strength; no ants to attack on the ground, no birds likely to find her among the needles. I did not hope, but I wished, I wished I hoped, and I pretended like I hoped and put her there.

When I came back out ten minutes later, she was gone. Not on the branch, not on the bare ground below. I don't know if she recovered and flew away. I don't know how to even hope, because I don't know how to imagine that's possible. Creased, stuck together; I'm not an entomologist to know what's possible, and I don't want to call a professor at a university and ask because then I would know, and I can't imagine I would like what I know.

When my shrink read this, he replied, "I know that some stories don't have hopeful endings, and I'm not sure how you would feel about this, but I found myself thinking that the dragonfly was able to fly freely at least once more than it otherwise would." Maybe. Maybe she at least believed she could, in whatever way an insect believes. Maybe on the ground on her back she had known with certainty she would die, and then after the terror of being held by a monster, she had a moment among the pine needles when she knew with certainty — truth and logic don't matter — that she would fly away, when she believed she was not dying. They have such short lives that for her, a moment is a year, or perhaps a decade. Maybe I gifted her with the hope I couldn't feel myself. Maybe that's my life: telling stories that give others hope I will never feel. I don't know, but it's all I can manage now.

Autumn bee

Oct. 3rd, 2014 02:45 pm
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It's a short walk to the train station. I always glance at the ground a lot as I walk, which is why I notice the bumblebee. She is crouched motionless on the sidewalk, six inches or so from the edge. I'm not sure she's alive, so I kneel and touch her. She moves her legs, clearly upset, but uncoordinated; she keels to one side, unable to walk, let alone fly away.

Maybe she's hurt, although her body looks perfect and unharmed. Perhaps she's just old, shutting down and dying. Or maybe it's just too chilly to function for a tiny creature that isn't warm-blooded, and she needs a milder day to be able to fly home. Whether just cold, or dying, the sidewalk seems like a horrible place to wait for what comes next. Not because of the danger of human feet, but because she's in the open, on something that is not of nature. I know I think too much: her brain is not capable of dread, maybe not even of true fear. Maybe. But what if?

And that's why this afternoon, I knelt on a sidewalk, nudged an addled bee onto an oak leaf by touching her butt with another oak leaf, and set her four feet away on the grass under a tree. Maybe she's dying, maybe already dead as I write, but at least she has sprigs of green around her and over her, earth at her unsteady feet. To the extent that she can tell the difference between "exposed" and "sheltered," she hopefully feels safer, or just less unsafe.

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There have been a lot of bugs in my life over the last few days. The following are the three that stand out.

I was mowing M's yard one afternoon, and something flew/glided past. The flight made me think of a grasshopper, except it was as high as my head and ZOMG HUGE!! I walked over to where it landed and discovered a praying mantis. I'd actually never even known their wings were functional, let alone seen one fly. I cupped my hands under him, explaining that I was about to mow that part of the yard and didn't want to run him over (I was assuming "him" because he seemed smaller than I remembered mantises being, and in a species where the lady bites her mate's head off, it seemed reasonable.). He flung himself from my hand and onto the ground five feet away. I tried again; this time he took true flight, angling up above my head, making a boomerang-like loop in the air, and landing almost exactly where he'd been when I picked him up. Third time, I cupped my hands not just under but around him, wondering whether being enclosed would freak him out so that he took a chunk out of me, so I was kind of power-walking over to the azalea, and opened my hands to let him fly the last foot or so. The reddish tinge of some of the leaves was a phenomenally close match for his coloring.

Last week, I was digging up sod in M's yard where we are planning a flowerbed. It was in an area that I'd started digging up last year, hand-tillering down a good 18 inches because I'm not very good at stopping after six or eight inches. Anyway, that unearthed a good number of rocks, mostly potato-sized or smaller, but occasionally some rather large ones. One of the biggest was still lying where I'd left it last year, largely because it's big enough I ain't moving it until I'm sure it's staying wherever I put it. But it was now in my way, so I rolled it over to the nearby bare ground. It was about 12 inches by 18, and not 8 inches thick, so rolling was not easy. I more-or-less lifted one side and flipped it onto the part that had been facing up, and then flipped it again. And then I happened to glance at the ground where it had rested for that minute or so between the first flip and the second, and I was sad: I had rolled it right over a cricket. I'm okay with most bugs, but I have a particular fondness for crickets, perhaps because I read A Cricket in Times Square when I was in third grade. I started to apologize to the little squished guy, and then he tilted his head, raised up his body, and hop-sauntered off. Okay, glad he's okay, but how the hell? There was a divot where he had been, but it was not cricket-shaped. It was actually perfectly round. I leaned closer, and saw that he'd been inside an empty acorn cap. Had he been hanging out there when the stone passed by, or had he seen the sky falling and taken cover before it crashed down? I'll never know, but that's one lucky frickin' cricket. And yeah, I know, his life is drawing to a close, anyway, but hey, for a cricket, another day or week is like a decade.

Last Saturday, I was sitting on a bench near South Station before work. I'd finished my book, and I was just idly listening to something on my iPod and enjoying the sun on a day when it was cool enough to enjoy. My gaze was apparently on the brick sidewalk, which isn't surprising since I avoid eye contact and kinda people-watch with my upper-peripheral vision. About 7 feet away from me, something slid along a crack for a couple of inches, vaguely the size and shape of a cigarette butt, but darker. It was a windy day, so it wasn't strange that stuff would blow about, but there was something odd about the movement, the way it stopped abruptly after a couple of inches: almost intentional, alive. I anthropomorphize, so it wasn't a strange thought, and I know it doesn't signify actual sentience. Until I realized the movement was at a right angle to the wind. It moved another inch or so, and I knew I wasn't imagining it. It was still hard to see in the shade, but I stared until it revealed itself to be a grasshopper.

Why was a grasshopper on a busy downtown sidewalk? I looked around; the closest greenery was behind me, and in a raised bed three feet from the surface of the sidewalk. I paused for several seconds: it's a grasshopper, a pest, something I wouldn't pause the mower for if I were in M's yard, like I would for a bumblebee. And like the cricket, its life is nearly done. But then a man's dress shoe struck the brick right next to him, and I found myself standing, stepping, kneeling. I tried to nudge him onto my hand, but instead he squeezed in the crack between two bricks. I poked under him with my pinky, but he found another crack to huddle in, everything flush with the top of the bricks except for those knobby knees, so I took the one choice offered me and gently grasped a knee and lifted, slowly so he'd have time to loosen his grip instead of possibly leaving a front leg attached to the brick. He flailed for a second or two, then froze as I held him in midair, probably paralyzed by fear, or the certainty of being dinner. I backtracked to my bench and then behind it to the rectangle of mulch and low shrubs, and I let him go. He stayed motionless for a moment, took a couple of short hops, and then nestled down in the brown mulch, his jaws moving in a way that made me think of a bunny's nose, testing, perhaps tasting.

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Another writing workshop missed, but another poem offered as a prompt (Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking")


Read more... )


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[This was an event that happened nearly 20 years ago.  I have turned it over in my head ever since, but never written it down.  I always thought it would be a poem.]

I'm waiting at the last bus stop in this well-groomed suburb, knowing I have not gotten the job for which I interviewed, not sorry because I knew as soon as I walked in that I didn't want to work there, but sorry because I needed the job, and I wanted them to want me, and I can tell myself they were likely looking for someone older than 22, but I know that it was something else, something offputting about me, perhaps I shook his hand too vigorously, or perhaps it was the skirt, long and full instead of pencil, or the lack of makeup, or just that I can't pass for their social class, that I don't -know- what type of skirt to wear, or what color eyeliner, that I can't shake hands limply. I wouldn't have lasted there two weeks. What I really want is for it to have been the kind of place that I -could- have worked at, the kind I imagined when I read the want ad.

It has stopped raining, but it's late October and the air still feels heavy and dull. What few leaves had been left on the trees were knocked off by the morning's downpour, and the bare branches are dark with damp as if with black mold. Along the curb, the fallen leaves have been crumpled and crushed by passing cars, the rain turning them into paste. What little color was left in each leaf has mixed together into grey-brown drabness.

Near the middle of the road, there is one intact leaf. It throbs with glowing red and orange, shimmers in the breeze with a sheen of water. It is half-stuck to the damp pavement, fluttering hopefully with each gust, but never breaking free. A car approaches, and I am not aware that I'm holding my breath until the car has passed, tires straddling the leaf, its wake almost enough force to pull the leaf from the asphalt. But only almost.

I am poised now to rescue it. It's only four paces if that, but now suddenly the cars come one after the other, an early rush hour, or parents picking up their children from after-school dance and soccer and tutoring and karate. They are in a hurry, and I don't dare, and I watch the wheels pass so close, it shivers, I anthropomorphize, I know this, it's ridiculous, I know this, my hands should not be clenched, my throat aching with the desire to yell, to tell them to stop, don't you see, just stop and give me five seconds, that's all it will take. An SUV's wake provides enough wind to finally release it from the pavement, but it swirls in an unseen current, only a couple of inches off the ground, coming to rest again only a foot farther down the road, and closer to the path of the passenger tires, and I don't want to look, but I have shifted past the front of the bus stop to witness, so it won't go alone, I anthropomorphize, it's ridiculous, I hear the low whine and turn to see the school bus coming, slow but unstoppable, do they have double wheels in the back, because if so, and I don't look away, I watch the spot I can't see through the bus, until the bus recedes, the spot is empty now. Then behind the bus, a flash of orange six inches off the pavement, a foot, spiraling up, and out, skidding to a slow stop on the sidewalk like a plane landing on a runway.

How long have I not been breathing?

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Instead of pictures of the bomb site or the memorial, yesterday at lunch I retraced the first part of the route I took on Marathon day as I was evacuated from downtown. Because it was along Commonwealth Avenue, which is frickin' beautiful, and I recognized the beauty even in the confusion and the mass of people scurrying. Yesterday it was actually even prettier, with less magnolia but more dogwood and cherry.

The whole album is public on Facebook.


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Violet Wilson

October 2016



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