Sunday, February 19, 2012


Out of the corners of my eyes, I see shadows. Subtle movements. Apparitions that when I turn to see face on -- are not really there. Sometimes, it's just my own hair falling into my line of sight. Or the shadow cast by the sandbox, looking for a moment like a black animal crouched in the yard. Or a piece of furniture in the other room that I saw a second ago as something stepping through the bedroom door.

Even though I am easily spooked, these split second sightings do not raise the hair on my neck. But several times a day I do these double takes, expecting to see something unexpected. It's never anything but it leaves footprints in my mind, murmuring echos of something not here that was. Or not here that will be.

I can't tell which.


I'm 23. It's something like 2a.m. The nurse walks in and softly speaks. The baby won't settle so she thinks its time to try feeding again. I sit up. She's changing the baby's diaper and I think maybe that's my job but I'm happy to sit right here and watch, too lightheaded, still, to get up. She gentles the baby into the crook of my arm, an awkward transfer. I'm afraid of that floppy neck. The baby's weight and shape feel foreign to me as I try to position her for a good latch. After much trying and much assistance, I feed her successfully. My feelings of accomplishment are dampened slightly by the dawning realization that this is a process I'll need to repeat. Every two hours. For a year.

A small voice in my heart starts chanting -- oh no oh no. But I ignore it, focusing instead on memorizing the shape of the baby's face, and the curve of her lips, and the impossible small size of her hands.


A heart murmur, they tell us lightly the day after her birth. We'll have you get that checked out.

And now she's two weeks old. I'm morphing into something new, cocooned in a microcosm of hours that blend together, days that bleed into nights. I look in the mirror and my own face looks huge -- her tiny features have been burned onto my retinas and I'm shocked by the grotesque size of my nose and lips and forehead.

She sleeps through the heart ultrasound. The tech says little. I watch the blues and reds dance on the screen, wondering what he's seeing, worried only a little.

The doctor declares the murmur benign and it fades into nothing as the months pass. It's only in retrospect that I learn about the gallons and rivers of worry that this could have deserved. That in rare cases where the nothing is really something, babies die.

I had no idea. I could only focus on learning how to feed her.


And now she's seven. It's something like 7:30 and I let her know she needs to start getting ready for school. This, somehow, sends her into emotional imbalance. The next twenty minutes are hard for her. I don't take it personally (for once). I'm learning.

When it's time to meet the bus I start to put on my coat. She declares that she wants to walk by herself.

My heart murmurs -- oh -- and a subtle sigh shivers behind my ribs.

She only has to cross one side street to get there and it's not a busy one and I wanted her to start walking on her own soon anyway with the new baby on the way. But she has always responded with because I love you and want to be with you when I've offered the option in the past. 

And here it is -- no hug, a short good-bye, and she's walking down the street with cloudy, unsourced anger stuck to the bottoms of her boots. I want to follow her. Take the hug she doesn't want to give. But I just hang up my coat instead.

This is, perhaps, the first of four times forty-four such exits, my heart murmurs.

I know, I sigh. I know. 


It surprises me that no one is out walking this morning. It's cold but calm. Icy but sunny. I'm enjoying this as much as the dog. I always do. We are both pretty easy to please. Simple.

I cross the bridge and pause to look over the side. The stream beneath flows shallow and swift, only its edges crusted with ice. The dog stops pacing and the breeze stops whispering and the distant traffic lulls for a moment. I expect to hear the water as it sighs over partly submerged rocks and branches, as it tinkles past brittle bits of ice -- but there's nothing. It moves silently, at least from my vantage point.

I watch a small piece of bark taken by the current, turning over itself, end over end, passing over the ripples imprinted on the sandy bottom. Even though my ears can't pick up the sound, my heart hears the soft murmurings that it rides upon, as it comes from wherever its been and moves toward wherever it's going.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


The highway parts the landscape, stretching long in front of me. This kids are quiet, wrapped up in a movie. There's nothing else for me to do but stare straight ahead -- I am sure I will get some thinking done during this drive. The conditions are nearly perfect for netting at least some of the pictures and emotions and story debris that have been floating in my head like dust motes in the sun, the kind that you think you could catch between thumb and forefinger but scatter in the slightest draft. It doesn't matter how slowly you move.

But I keep singing that annoying song in my head and replaying scenes from earlier in the day or week. I think about baby names and how cold my feet feel. Snippets of too-familiar movie lines waft my way. I glance at the kids in the rearview and my mind wanders over the mundane and through the woods, to grandma's house we go.

I drop the kids off and imagine that the drive home will be more productive. There's a story character I've been trying to get to know and I can't quite see her face yet. I'm sure she'll turn and talk to me now that the car is silent and I'm alone at last.

But she doesn't.

There's nothing. No voices but my own, telling me things I already know.

Perhaps I've been trying to hard, I think to myself. Watching a pot that's not ready to boil?

So I search around instead for the dimmer switch, the one that settles my mental chatter and dusts a whispering of hush across my inner landscape. It's hard to find at first and I have to fix my attention on it fairly often to keep the volume down this low, but it works.

I never do talk to my character but I watch the orange orb of a sun lower itself inch by inch in the sky until the horizon finally swallows it whole, a piece of butterscotch candy for the night to suck on. It's big enough to last till dawn, when he has to spit it out.

The sky's cheeks blush pink then purple before draining to darkness. And even though I can't really hear it, the earth hums with the realness of the scene before me, a symphony singing just above the highest octave my ears can catch. But I can feel it. The vibrations touch then penetrate the space between my eyes.


The bacon sizzles and crackles -- it needs to be flipped. The waffle iron flashes its green light: another two are done. I put the warm cinnamon rolls on the table and declare them ready before remembering to set out plates or put syrup and powdered sugar in neat little bowls. Someone asks for a fork. I realize I forgot to offer cups. This isn't quite as organized as I had envisioned, but no one seems to mind.

One neighbor tells me that she knows she exudes frantic energy in situations like this. But it feels calm in here, she smiles.

I had thought perhaps my head was spinning on my shoulders and that maybe everyone heard the sizzling not as the bacon cooking but as my nerves frying. But maybe I'm humming calm more than I realize, even in the middle of chaos. If I can do it in the kitchen, making my version of our rotating neighbors' brunch, maybe I can do it anytime. When the toddler whines or the preschooler throws a fit or the biggest girl talks back and back and back. Maybe when it's all happening at once. While I'm making dinner. And even when the not-yet-here newborn is crying, too?

Well, we'll see. I'm hanging on to the idea, though. Humming calm. I can do that.


A pair of geese rest on top of the frozen stream. One sleeps, head under wing, while the other follows me and the dog with its eyes, wary.

My feet crunch over the uneven ice and snow. My jacket swishes with every movement of my upper body. I am anything but quiet. Sneaking and stealth are impossible today, even if I tried.

Some birds sing but their voices are lost to me, buried under layers of my own noise. But still, I feel the hum all around me. In the sharp staccato of that goose's glare, warning me away. In the low, weak sighs of a forest of trees almost ready to wake up. And in the billion, tinkling notes of the sun glancing off the snow.

The wind numbs my cheeks. My own footfalls mute every other sound. But I walk through a world of music.

Everything is humming. Perhaps never audibly. But it's palpable, if you hold out your palms.