Sunday, June 30, 2013

Great Heights

I recall talking with a friend of mine
as we stood on a boat inches away from a glacial river
about being afraid of heights.

“You know what I feel when I get too near the edge?”
he asked, leaning out to tighten a nut on the outside
of the cabin, one hand clutching a wrench, the other
gripping the rail. “I feel like I want to jump.”

I considered that idea as I wondered what I would do
if he lost his grip. A life ring and a length of line
hung behind the ladder to the bridge.

“Not me, man,” I shuddered to imagine approaching the rim
of a high cliff, or a building taller than two stories.
“I can barely stand watching someone else up high.”

I thought about how twitchy I get at scenes in movies
when a character is flirting with certain disaster
near a precipice.

My friend finished the tightening,
stood and handed me the wrench. “Never
think twice about it unless I’m there,” he smiled.

That was it. In the blink of an eye I decided
I never wanted to climb mountains
or anything else with him.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

This is for my friend Cyndi and her son, Logan


I sat alone with my dying friend
in the back room of her house, where she reclined
on a bed of pillows. It was getting close,
and even the ice chips weren’t effective any more.
She was delirious and drugged, just like mom
all those years ago in the hospital back in Logansport,
lost in the morphine of that Indiana spring. I sat next to her
for hours that night, trying to slip between the haze
of the drips sliding into her arm; to find my way in once more,
back to her heart. But it was a closed system, and I was empty
and outside it. All I have is her brief surfacing
long enough to flutter her eyelids like butterfly kisses, and
 (is this memory or what I wanted to happen?)
– a reach of her hand to mine.

I know she said, “Oh, you’re here.” And I was, even now.

I thought of that moment as I sat vigil next to my friend,
and considered what it was I wanted to say to her,
her son in the next room with other family and friends.
Her eyes opened wide then, and she sat upright. In a rush
she threw her legs over the edge of the bed, and tried to stand.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked as I gently stopped her.
“I have to leave.”
“I know. Wait a little bit first, ok?”
She sat back. I struggled to find my words, and watched her
raise a glass that only she could see to her lips,
lips that hadn’t felt a sip of water for days.
She took a long drink. She looked at me as she wiped her mouth
with the back of her hand. “You know it’s ok, don’t you?” I whispered,
my throat suddenly parched. “We’ll take care of him.”

She nodded as if she heard me and relaxed a bit.
I helped her lie back down on her pillows.
I don’t know if I got through to her either. It seemed to me
she was breathing a little easier when I finally tiptoed from the room
on my way to the kitchen for a glass of water.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How do you resuscitate a dog?

“I’d rather have a different doctor,” I said 
as I made another appointment for Spencer,
my ailing golden-haired friend. The last visit
was unproductive, and a bit demeaning,
so I thought perhaps a new expert would see
his balance problems differently. He was limping
more, to be sure, and I was sliding down the dark tunnel
from concern to worry. I needed help with the landing
if despair was the outcome. “We’ll X-ray the shoulder,”
the new doc smiled, “and see if we find anything.” I
was the one who said the C-word. “My last golden had bone cancer,”
and I got a sympathetic look. “It’s common in them,” she answered,
“and often shows in the shoulders. We’ll see what’s there.”
I waited a long time outside on a cool and breezy day,
then went in to  wait some more in the lobby.

The pleasant, welcoming atmosphere behind the counter had changed tone.
Only one person was left attending the clients who were sitting and standing,
barking and meowing. The assistants who showed their faces
looked harried and disappeared quickly. I watched one man and his dog
get turned away until tomorrow. We were next. Spencer was led back to me
with apologies,  "We've had an emergency. Can I schedule you for tomorrow?”
Her face was dark as she tried to work the computer, and I leaned in.
“Is someone in trouble?” She nodded. “We’ve had an emergency,” was all
she offered. Her hands shook, and her smock was covered with light yellow hair.

We returned today for the X-ray, and Spencer seemed genuinely
delighted to be back, despite my apprehensions.
Another, different doctor read the negatives.
“Looks like a bone chip in his shoulder. Maybe some arthritis
broken away. The good news is that it's not cancer.
We should be able to manage the pain with meds until it eases.”
My relief was a flood in a small, sterile room. It lasted to the counter,
where I asked as we waited for the prescription to be filled,

and was told someone else’s Spencer had reacted badly to routine anesthesia
yesterday, and didn’t make it. How do you resuscitate a dog? I wondered,
and felt small at my worry and relief over my friend while someone else
walked out of the same clinic with an empty leash hanging limp
where their companion should be. I held my gently wagging buddy close
a long moment before closing the door of the car and driving us home,
where we could imagine we were safe together for a little while longer.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Bright Days

This is nothing new

I used to look out the window
through the screen to the street below
and dream of the one true love
I would find – someone who would take me
away from the endless, trapped days
and nights filled with longing  – no knight
in shining armor, I.  And I thought I found her
on a blanket under an oak my freshman year in college,
and again in my junior year to the woman I married,
only to discover that wasn’t right either.

I had to travel to Alaska to meet her. It wasn’t always smooth.
She took a long time convincing me she was on my side.
Even though she beats me mercilessly at cribbage,
together we fell in love with our two sons, now grown men
and we get to do it again, with the granddaughters
that swirl around our feet these bright days,
and dance us exhausted and full. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Photographing with Dylan

Summer Heat

Last night my son and I stood together
next to a reflection lake at midnight
on the longest day of the year.

We were photographing the moon
and the Capitol dome mirrored
in the glassy water.

As we talked about exposure and ISO
it occurred to me how much more
the experience meant with him there.

Here was the little boy I used to carry
into the darkroom to show him the dichroic
colored light of an enlarger, standing

beside me – now a man with his own family,
under a full moon capturing his own light
to carry on his own path. We smiled and joked,

looked at each other’s images, packed up our tripods
and drove home in the humid summer heat,
windows down, quiet together, on our way

to ever shorter days.