A River Drives Through It

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Wednesday morning, we loaded the dogs in the car for a jaunt back down to Monument—a thousand feet away in altitude, but a three-hour drive in distance. The tough part about moving far, but not very far, from our old home is that we think we can “run errands.”

Driving past the glittering waters edged in crystalline pines, we could have been the sole survivors on a peaceful morning, years after an apocalyptic event traveling on horded fossil fuels. We were insular, music and each other. Who needed the world?

In the first small town, a few cars passed from the other direction, and we stopped for lattes. Berthoud Pass bridged us to the other world—I-70, brake lights, a downhill slide into the murky inversion layer smothering Denver.

By the time we were surging, rubber band snaps of start and stop outside of Castle Rock, I realized I was seeing my former life through new eyes. Mt. Herman was a gentle slope and Pikes Peak was rounded majesty like a chubby cousin to the sharp crags surrounding our new home.

The landscape that had once opened my heart, this time, seemed like a perfect picnic, a cornucopia of verdant plenty, overrun by ants.  I couldn’t know that my sustained, if very short, sojourn in a little more rural and rugged part of Colorado would have this effect on me.

The traffic was the defining difference. Despite the contrasting blue skies, strutting elk, and pine-lined trails of my new home, it was the presence of all the cars, not the absence of these finer points of beauty, that did me in back on the Front Range.

The flow of driving runs its own narrative, a fiction formed by the non-fiction around us.  When the white Volvo held up six cars behind it, I imagined how her small world was, and surely more important than the thirty people involved in the small drama playing out in two northbound lanes. The little Subaru Impreza that tortoise and hared around us with disregard for safe space was also oblivious to the rest of us, texting and driving her way for 45 miles of our journey. In the absence of parallel driving at my new home in the high country, I had forgotten how much we, as modern humans, only care about ourselves. Everyone else should bend to our wishes.  People aren’t less selfish up here, I just don’t witness that self-centeredness on a daily basis.

Now I wait for the fiction that unravels from full-moon nights laced with gliding deer and hung with lingering coyote howls. I wait for the breathless moment when a stand of trees unbends into the regal step of a bull elk or the transformation when river willows raise their branches and become the massive-palmed, knob-kneed, awkward-grace of a moose. I wait until the automobile river becomes full light-years away.

Persephone’s Retreat

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Curving away, murmuring
The water turns coy.
Dashing past rocks,
Muddy banks and tendrils of ice.

These retreating days are sensory.
The brown lets off a waft of decay,
Insects composting, in late warmth,
A brush of summer on my cheek.

The tawny grass leans askew,
Like a middle-aged woman
Whose good looks echo
In the curve of her cheekbone

Hints of a verdant summer linger
In the long, broken stalks.
A time when the river swelled
Luscious and ripe, overwhelming the rocks.

Today, the ice fingers off branches,
Dipping into the subdued, slowing pools,
Patterning away from edges,
Consuming the river a molecule at a time.

I can anticipate a pillowed white day,
The water converted and still,
When muted shapes suggest an underworld,
Awaiting Persephone’s gentle touch.

Roxane Gay’s Fangirl

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In July of 2013, Roxane Gay wrote “ What men want, America delivers,” on Salon.com. I had my first introduction to the essay while trudging on my treadmill as part of my dogged determination to be fit enough to join my brother for nearly a month on the Appalachian Trail this coming March.

To say I am becoming a Gay “fangirl” is putting it lightly.

In her 2014 book Bad Feminist, I find myself humming the lyrics “strummin’ my pain with her fingers, singing my life with her words…” as over and over again, Gay articulates the very ideas that I have never been able to put into words.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m slow in coming to read feminist writing. The careful line of “one of the boys” and “Stayin’ Alive,” tiptoed by all women in the military made my interest in these things nothing short of a null set. It’s really too bad I waited so long.

One moment where Gay expresses an idea I’ve had, on a different topic, is when in the course of critiquing the “sometimes no means yes” content of Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines,” she admits, “In truth, I like these songs. They make me want to dance. I want to sing along. They are delightful pop confections. But. I enjoy the songs the way I have to enjoy most music—I have to forget I am a sentient being. I have to lighten up.” She admitted to liking the song she is critiquing. What a revelation! I feel the same way.

She goes on to dispel the need to lighten up, but the problems with the lyrics don’t change her pleasure in the dance-inducing music. In another essay (The Trouble With Prince Charming or He Who Trespassed Against Us), she admits enjoying the terrible prose found in E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Gray. It makes her laugh, even when the content sometimes angers her.

Perhaps these observations are what I’ve loved most about reading Gay, and I can’t wait to dive into her memoir Hunger. F. Scott Fitzgerald has been quoted as saying, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  My life feels like one big narrative full of this cognitive dissonance.

I love the Outlander series, most young adult dystopian novels, and some really cheesy country music. How can I feel this way and try to pursue meaningful writing and a serious life of the mind?  Roxane Gay is showing me the way.

I’m giving my own life a hard look as I’m trying to sort out how best to write my life story.  It took me 49 years of being a girl and a woman before I picked up a book like Bad Feminist, which I honestly chose for the title that seemed to describe me.

I love Gay’s bold and passionate voice whose relevance hasn’t changed even years after the shorter pieces that make up the book were published. Seeing the world through her eyes is giving me a new lens for my own experience.

I am unabashedly Gay’s “fangirl.”

Last Friday

Ice melt murmuring like a gaggle of geese.
Like birds babbling in waves.
Trees here, singing in a way,
But not for us: for them.

Three bald eagles.

Lake edged in ice baubles.
Gaudy jewelry,
Dressed to kill,
Below frosty mountains.

Spiraling clouds whirl over
Eagles
Mountains
Lakes
Us.

The sun streaks the dead grass strip
A molten gold lining the distant lakeshore
Between slate, whipped and gray.

And you.
Mocha melt eyes,
Smiling at me.