August Day

Awake before dawn, I lie thinking of my friend’s 49th birthday today, remembering that October afternoon we swam in Lake Caspian with our five- and six-year-olds — swimming outdoors in Vermont in October! The leaves around the lake flamed gold and orange. That night, I realized I was pregnant with my second child.

Lying there, I remembered the March morning you didn’t appear for coffee, and I suddenly realized your stepfather had passed. That foggy day we drove for hours, searching for a house for my daughters and me when my marriage had shattered, and the fall we canned sticky quart after quart of peaches and tomatoes? The steady drop-off of eggs this pandemic that has fed my family for so many meals?

Someday — the world willing — we’ll look back at 2020 and, even then, cringe. And yet, your birthday for me has always marked the high holiness of Vermont summer — fatly rich with sunflowers and vegetables gardens escaping their fences. The dew is cold on my bare feet, but the day promises that heat you love so well.

Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody were writing poems?… By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say ‘We loved the earth but could not stay.’

— Ted Kooser

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Birth Day

Here’s the thing about being pregnant: you just don’t know. Forty weeks, give or take a few (generally), is a long time to wonder, who’s this little baby, anyway?

When my first daughter was born — after a long labor that eventually terminated in a caesarian — the obstetrician held her up in his gloved hands. My first reaction was immediate familiarity: I knew this baby. And that was just the beginning of World with Molly.

From the beginning — with birth’s blood — raising kids often seems like surprise after surprise: oh, you can nurse? you can walk? you can ride a bicycle? make me laugh? make me stay awake all night, worrying about you?

If parenting has taught me one thing, it’s how precious little I know — save, perhaps, the world is unimaginable without our kids.

Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.

— James Joyce, Portrait of an Artist

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Girl All Grown Up

In a handful of days, my oldest daughter will be twenty-one. Wow, that’s a birthday.

When she turned six and I marveled over that, another mother told me all birthdays are big. Six was big, and so was seven, and so on. But 21? That’s an age when her heart’s been broken, more than once, an age when she’s fully left adolescence and crossed over into the realm of adulthood.

The year she turned six, her best girlfriend from down the road walked over wearing a tutu. Snow was falling.

When she turned seven, my friend had made her a piñata with purple and silver sparkles. When the pretty thing broke apart, her baby sister cried.

Twenty-one: now I keep up with the Impeachment hearings to hold up my end of our conversation. Twenty-one: so glad to have you here.

No matter who lives, who dies, the seasons never rest.
Creatures take their turns, and the year turns and turns.

David Budbill, Judevine

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Birthday Blessings

This afternoon, I stepped out of my library with a child to look at the sky. He was glad he had returned a stack of library books, a kind of clearing of his child conscience. In my clogs, I leaned against the building, a squall fattening in this valley, tucked up against Woodbury Mountain. What a winter this has been. Snowbanks dominate Hardwick like a pop-up mountain range.

Later, a friend and I leafed through a Vermont guide to wildflowers. Remember spring beauties? Remember trilliums?

Early March is my father’s birthday and, two days later, my mother’s. In their  80s now — old but not very old, not even close to very old — my parents who lived through WWII, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s resignation, and the eternity of the Reagan-Bush regime, through having careers and raising children, teaching and writing books and caring for the infirm and the dying, through decades of friends, through all the everydayness of living — and now through the particularly heartless regime of Trump — here’s Hayden Carruth’s birthday poem for love of a woman and love of living.

“Birthday Cake”

by Hayden Carruth

For breakfast I have eaten the last of your birthday cake that you
had left uneaten for five days
and would have left five more before throwing it away.
It is early March now. The winter of illness
is ending. Across the valley
patches of remaining snow make patterns among the hill farms,
among fields and knolls and woodlots,
like forms in a painting, as sure and significant as forms
in a painting. The cake was stale.
But I like stale cake, I even prefer it, which you don’t
understand, as I don’t understand how you can open
a new box of cereal when the old one is still unfinished.
So many differences. You a woman, I a man,
you still young at forty-two and I growing old at seventy.
Yet how much we love one another.
It seems a miracle. Not mystical, nothing occult,
just the ordinary improbability that occurs
over and over, the stupendousness
of life. Out on the highway on the pavement wet
with snow-melt, cars go whistling past.
And our poetry, yours short-lined and sounding
beautifully vulgar and bluesy
in your woman’s bitterness, and mine almost
anything, unpredictable, though people say
too ready a harkening back
to the useless expressiveness and ardor of another
era. But how lovely it was, that time
in my restless memory.
This is the season of mud and thrash, broken limbs and crushed briers
from the winter storms, wetness and rust,
the season of differences, articulable differences that signify
deeper and inarticulable and almost paleolithic
perplexities in our lives, and still
we love one another. We love this house
and this hillside by the highway in upstate New York.
I am too old to write love songs now. I no longer
assert that I love you, but that you love me,
confident in my amazement. The spring
will come soon. We will have more birthdays
with cakes and wine. This valley
will be full of flowers and birds.

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Lucky Charm

By the side of Route 14, my younger daughter leaps, waving at me to stop.  Nearby, her sister’s car is pulled over.

Flat tire.

The older daughter rails about her brand-new tire, likely ruined, and then her younger sister says simply, It’s just a flat tire.

“Flat tire” may become our new mantra — our own, hey, lighten up, change the tire and move on — maybe even a talisman, as if the tiny bit of ill luck might ward off the greater.

September 23 — birthday of the young man we’ve known since he was 1, who’s logged a million miles on his bike and is heading to Europe for even more. Safe travels. Much happiness in your new decade.

 

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