I Must Confess


I must confess
I painted the green table
and the yellow chairs,
the ones
we bought when we were first married
fifteen years ago
when my stomach was flat
and we didn’t shy from starting movies
(and other things) after 11.
When sleep was commonplace, like mis-
matched socks,
and silence was everywhere in the house
so thick you could trip on it
or get lost in it.

Of course,
you asked me to paint the table
and the chairs
but I didn’t
think it would take so many coats to cover
all the gashes
and scars
left by a thousand Scrabble games
hot pans of Rice Crispy Treats
four years in storage while we lived
in England
unsecured trips in moving vans
then teething children gnawing and racing
their matchbox cars past bowls
of cereal that left little pale rings
like the wispy ones that circle planets.
And then there were the permanent markers
that bleed through sheets
of multi-colored paper
or the demanding bang of miniature
forks and spoons chipping away.

But the new red paint will never cover
over the way we sat on those chairs,
elbows on the table,
and cried
after two miscarriages. Or the lost
friends. Or the pain
and joy
of moving on
to new places.

There are some things paint cannot cover.

Like conversations unfolding from
what do we do?”
“How could you say that?”
“I’m not doing well.
Not well at all.”
But also
“I’m pregnant,”
“I got the contract,”
“I couldn’t do this without you.”

Someone already scratched the table
despite my many warnings of the incredible
wrath that would fall from this
August sky
but when I saw in the middle of the new
scratch that the original dark green
was still there
under the red paint
all those years
just a thin skin away
I must confess.
I was relieved.

Because these years of ours
may look like a pock-marked tabletop
scarred and scraped,
but they can never be covered over.
And that is one thing in this world
that is exactly as it should be.

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That Time I Drove Around Four of the Minor Gods

Photo by Ivan Timov

They emerge through mahogany
doors, out from under Greek letters,
like four of the minor gods. They are
all cardigans and collars and suit coats
like their fathers
(lawyers, doctors, accountants)
brazen laughter at past conquests
and those to come. Nothing holy
or sacred because the world
is theirs to pillage. All around them
mortals making minor gifts,
supplications. Nonetheless,

We drive
through the city, me straight-faced
and listening. I am torn. I want them
to have fun, to drink one too many,
to make mistakes that will make
for good stories years from now
when they unexpectedly cross
paths. Remember that
night? But I also know that when gods
and mortals cross, the gods do not
suffer, even if they leave the mortals
in ruins. And I think of my daughters
ten years from now, or fifteen, perhaps,
somehow in the path of these laughing
gods as they take whatever
they want.

“We’ll get out here,” they shout, opening
and slamming doors in the middle
of stopped traffic, laughing and running
through the lines of waiting cars, talking
as if they know the entire population
of this city is listening. Maybe
it is. Has this world
always been man-
handled by such careless
deities? And where are the heroes
among us, the ones who will unseat
these reckless rulers and saturate
the world in
kindness and grace?

I pull away, into traffic, into
a sea of brake lights fragmenting
under the winter rain. Where
are those who will save us
from ourselves?

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the beautiful flawed hurting mean angry exquisite world


I wonder
if this world has heard the expression
“to hell in a hand basket” or if it
even cares that a hand basket
especially one of wicker or wood or
straw wouldn’t hold up well in the flames
not to mention the smell it would carry
if you were somehow able to bring
the basket back home with you
after such an excursion.

But then, in the midst of this train
of thought, I hear you crying and I go
to your room and lay myself down beside
your crib like an offering,
the both of us not sleeping, the mid-day
sun burning bright lines into the blinds
the fan whirring the air into distraction.

There is another baby now, I tell
you. “Baby?” you ask. “Poppy Win?”
“Yes,” I say. “Poppy Lynne.”
Our eyes meet. You have the only other set
of brown eyes in the family,
just you and I, and I wonder if eyes
that are the same can see each other better. I wonder
if it is your lashes weighing down your lids
or if sleep is coming back.

I lift a book above
my head and try to read in the dim light, try
to outlast you. The book is sad.
The book is magnificent.

No one stops him. No shells come whistling in. Sometimes
the eye of the a hurricane is the safest place to be.*

It is too dark to read so I try closing my eyes
for a time, try to accustom them to this darkness.
When I open them again the words are clearer. I wonder
if silence is like that, if it helps us to hear more
clearly when we are surrounded again
by the noise.

You are clearly not buying it.

I scoop you up
take you back out to the world, the bright world, the
beautiful flawed hurting mean angry exquisite
world and I give you a small glass of water and you
smile, wet-chinned, brown-eyed and I say

It’s okay.

You nestle your head in the valley
of my neck and I say again,

It’s okay.

But I’m not entirely sure who
I am trying to convince.

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*italicized section from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A Rather (Extra)Ordinary 17th Anniversary


You spent a sliver of our 17th wedding
anniversary piecing together grilled cheese
sandwiches and tomato soup for lunch while I
changed diapers. The butter sizzled on the griddle.
Dinner! I shout, and then came the
stampede, the sound of bare feet on wood
floors, not unlike the sound of new rain
on windows. There is a quiet joy in watching
your children eat when they are hungry, even
when the soup
drips onto the floor.

Earlier in the day your mother took
the oldest five to see a movie while you and I
sat in the living room reading books, each our
own, and watching Poppy smile in her dreamy
sleep. I stole glances at you
and remembered, for a moment,
the people we had been 17 years before.

They are strange to me, and very young. I may
have seen them in the city
just the other day. The girl is
quiet and nervous, like a small bird
trying not to stir
in the undergrowth. The boy is confident and
somewhat careless, crashing through
the brush with no concern
for what might be there: a once-every-17-year
flower, or
a small bird.

But, there we were, our current selves,
reading, while our sixth
baby slept, and the traffic went by on James Street,
and the heat gathered in clouds on the
window panes. I dozed off. When I woke again
you were sleeping, Poppy resting
on your chest, her breathing mingled
with yours, her rise and fall on top of your
rise and fall, Sunday moving
through all of us like the first breath.

Later, the children running
charging shouting their way from here
there, and
Billy Joel came on, the kitchen oddly
except for me
and you

She’s got a smile that heals me
I don’t know why it is
But I have to laugh when she reveals me

And we slow-danced on the cool kitchen tile,
a thunderstorm darkening the alley outside,
the sound of new rain pinging
on the windows. You seemed very happy
there in that small circle, that small revolution,
as if we had found something forgotten
or maybe only

On Having a 13-Year-Old Son


I walk down the long, dark hall to his
room, the door barely cracked open, the line of light
like a sunrise. I push the door open and see him
on his bed, headphones on, his head moving
to the bass. He flips the page of the book he is reading.

He does not see me.

Thirteen is the continental
divide, the place where two rain drops falling
side by side can end up in opposite
oceans. It is Matchbox cars and a
laptop, Elmo with baby brother and hesitant
conversations with young ladies. Thirteen
is to have the soul of a child lost in the body
of an almost-man, like a hand in
a too-big glove.

I look at the top of his head and remember
the first time I saw that head crowning, dark hair still
wet from his mother’s womb. So much anticipation, waiting
for the first sight of that face. That face. Screaming,
he came. That is the way of the world.

I move to nudge him, to say good-night. Instead,
I look at him, his long body stretching the entire length
of the bed, his shoulders widening. Beneath the curve
of the blanket I see the form of a strong back. I wonder
what it is to be a father, what it is that joins us
to our sons, what strange awkwardness in seeing ourselves
right there
becoming men in ways large and small, doing things
we remember
doing things we
try to forget.

Thirteen is the heat of summer, the sweltering
waves rising from melting macadam. It is the
condensation on the outside of the glass,
the ring left behind on the table. It’s the season
the creeps in through the screens, heavy
and warm, with thunderstorms on the horizon.

I back out of the room quietly. Tonight I will leave him
to find his way. I will not ask him about his music
or what he is reading. I will not try to create an artificial
crossing. Tonight. Step by step I back out of the room,
until I am pushing
the door closed softly. But

just then

he senses me. Turns his head. Smiles his boyish grin
the grin that is all 13-year-olds and yet only him,
the grin that gaps at the back where his last baby
teeth have fled.

“Good night, Dad,” he says, extra loud because of
the head phones. I almost say
Turn down your music,
but I do not. I only smile
and close the door.

Good night. Yes. That is what we call it. I leave
the door cracked open, that line of light
a sunset.

Away We Go


Shadows line the tile and a cool summer
breeze floods through the screens like water
through a broken dam. I can hear
the young men revving their car engines at the red
light on James Street and for a moment
I remember the smell of oil burning, the rush of waiting
for the light to turn. It seems a long
time ago.

They rush into the night, and I count the gears
in my head. First. Second. Third. They leave behind
a steady hum of city silence, which means:
the refrigerator
the neighbor’s air conditioner in the alley
a siren four streets away
and the creak of floors above me as Maile
walks the hall.

Twenty years from now, when my children
are grown, and Maile and I sit
on the porch on a summer night
like this one, what familiar things will the past
use to snag me? Will the cry of a baby in an
apartment across the street remind me of these
sleepless nights? Will a family walking
the sidewalk remind me of our own treks through
the city
for ice cream
or to the park
or to church?
Will a book I read remind me of my
attempts – successful? not? – to publish my own words?

For now I turn off the rest of the lights
and stand a moment longer in the hall on cool
wood floors, the breeze pooling around my feet,
the sound of another car revving at the light. The bass
thumps. Someone shouts. The light

Away we go.