Whip-poor-will

Here is a new section from my WIP novel tentatively titled, The Rocky Orchard.  Enjoy!

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I lie awake for a long time.  It is the first time I have ever slept in the big bed – my aunt’s bed.

We climbed the stairs hand in hand, after everyone left: Woo, and my parents, and the little cousins grown tall and round but no less like fairies than always.  We wanted this night, our first night as married lovers, all to ourselves.  I lie here like a child on Christmas Eve, wanting to fall asleep so the morning will come faster. And being completely unable to fall asleep because I am too excited.  I listen for your first light snores.  I listen for them every night, as you always fall asleep before I do. Even when you tell me in the morning that you tossed and turned for countless time before you could fall asleep, I know better. I hear the snores.  They thrill me.  They comfort me.  They make me feel like I am safe, like I am trusted.

You shift your head and nuzzle into your pillow.  You clear your throat.  One half of one snore escapes your mouth, and your eyes open wide as you say, “Oh my God, a whip-or-will!”

I laugh out loud.  You are a collector of bird songs.  I am used to this.  You stubbornly remain in bed each morning until you hear at least one good, clear unusual bird song.  Not “trash birds” as you so adorably refer to the rowdy collection of sparrows, starlings, wrens and even robins that inhabit western Pennsylvania.  Many a morning have I opened my eyes to you saying, “Not a damn thing but trash birds this morning.  I’m staying put until something better comes along.  Even a cardinal.  Might even settle for a mourning dove.”

“Did you hear it?” you ask me.  “I mean, it could be a mockingbird.  Could always be a mockingbird who’s imitating a whip-or-will, but I’m counting it as a whip-or-will.”

I laugh again and trace my finger down the center of your face.  A fire comes into your eye.  You reach your hand around the back of my head and you pull me to you.  We make love, again.  Not like the first time tonight, not while we were still at the stop of the stairs, tearing at each other’s clothes, dropping to our knees on the raw oak floor.

We take our time.  Even in the dark of the country night, we see one another.  Our bodies are not nearly as naked as we are, in so many ways, on the night of our wedding.

I am the luckiest person in the world.

 

Painting by Kazimir Malevich

 

Wedding Day

Bride-field-flowers

I always wanted to get married at the farm. From the very first summer after we bought it. When the wildflowers and the mountain laurels burst out that first spring, and the ferns came out of nowhere with their fragile, curled fiddleheads pushing through the still-cold ground and towering toward the sky.  This is the place, I thought, where I want to join another person’s life.  I will gather an armful of wildflowers as I walk to meet my future husband.  The orange of lilies, the creamy white of Queen Anne’s lace, the vibrant gold of black-eyed Susans, the lavender of wild Phlox.  Maybe I will weave a crown of flowers to wear around my head as well.

I will to stand at the “crossroads” of the farm for the ceremony —  the patch of sloping lawn between the front and the side of the house,  the small patch of grass that links the orchard, the meadow, and the path that leads to the copse of old pines. And beyond the pines, the wide lawn that leads to the creek.  The ramshackle springhouse stands at the lowest point of this patch, built over the natural spring that feeds our pond.  Ungodly amounts of intestine-like tubes of tadpole eggs appear each spring, another astounding harbinger of life.  Of rebirth.

The crossroads-lawn is a mere few steps from the house, so I can be barefoot.  I will feel the grass underneath my feet, the blades that I will tamp down with the soles of my feet; but they will stand again.  They will feel the sun’s rays, and they will grow.  I want to be in touch with the ground, with the earth, when I marry.  I want to be tied to the world, to connect with the nature of the things – with my feet touching the grass that is rooted in the dirt that is the top layer of the earth that is part of a universe.

And now here it is, it’s today, it’s today.  I am getting married.  It’s my wedding day.  I will marry Eddie, my Eddie.

I look at myself one final time in the little mirror on the kitchen wall.  I grab the orange and white and purple and yellow bouquet of flowers that Eddie picked first thing this morning.  He surprised me, tickling me with the tallest flowers while I still slept, then handing me a cup of coffee in my favorite crazy, chipped mug.  I ran to the kitchen and put the wildflowers in an old mason jar filled with water and ice to keep them fresh.

bouquet

I look down at my bare toes.  This is so much like I always pictured it.  How did I get this lucky?  How did I  find a man to love, to love me back. A man who not only fell in love with me, but with my childhood wish to be married at my family’s farm?  Who got a tear in his eye when I told it to him, who kissed my hand and said: how could I not want to honor this dream of yours?

Eddie, my Eddie.  I step across the threshold between the kitchen and the porch, and I get my first glimpse of you.  Our families are scattered about the lawn.  I hear low voices, laughter.  Your brother clears his throat and coughs into his hand.  My brother pats him on the back.

As if you can sense my presence, you turn your head.  You see me.

I will step off the porch and I will feel the grass underneath my feet and I will say the  words and you will say the words and our eyes will stay locked to one another’s and we will be a woman and a man who are united.  With our families and the universe watching, we will be united.

I take a deep breath.  One last look the scene before I am in the middle of it.  Woo picks up his violin and starts to play.  It’s time.

I swear I see movement at the edge of the orchard.  Moving away from the gathering. Like someone was here and decided to leave, but who in the world would do that? No one; that’s who.  I must be more of an anxious bride than I thought.  The old scaredy-cat me rearing her ugly little head.  Wait, is that fringe I’m seeing?  Long fringe, like from a jacket, fluttering every which way?  I know that fringe.

But Woo is playing.  And I am imaging things.  It’s time.

Bride-3

Each of these excerpts from my novel The Rocky Orchard is meant to be a stand-alone snippet that piques your interest.  Like the majority of my writing, the past and present intermingle freely; memory and “reality” can be indistinguishable. It’s not meant to be a jigsaw puzzle to figure out, but rather, an aperitif to whet your appetite for more.

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My Brother Missed His Son’s Wedding

When a family member misses such an important life event, the air in every room is noisy with his absence.

He was not in the car when his wife picked me up a the airport, nor was he waiting back at the house, in the kitchen, with that slight frown of intense concentration that always accompanied his slow, deliberate, quietly jubilant cooking adventures that lasted full days.

His wife threw a party the day before the wedding, her sisters-in-law abuzz with busy helpfulness. Both sides of the family gathered, old friends, new meetings, hearty hugs and rich laughter abounded. The hum of celebration grew large, peals of laughter regularly piercing through. Still, the roar of my brother’s absence remained.

He did not see the expression on his son’s face when he saw his bride for the first time, coming down the aisle of the sweet chapel on her father’s arm. He missed it all.

As my daughter and I sat in the first row, waiting for the ceremony that would make my brother’s son a married man, my daughter whispered to me. She asked me if I missed him.

Oh yes, yes I do.

My brother Roy died on December 6, 2001. He died in Ecuador, on the side of a mountain very near its summit, immediately and without warning. And I think it would not be false to say that his absence, and my missing him, has been with me since. The loss of him, of a living brother, the little boy who was already there when I was born, the skinny, freckled, snake-catching, marble-collecting, bow-shooting, cowboy-playing, fly-tying person whose living presence told me that my own life and experience were true. He helped me know who I was. Every day he did this. Just by being alive.

I read this poem, by Rilke at his funeral:

Interior Portrait

You don’t survive in me
because of memories;
nor are you mine because
of a lovely longing’s strength.

What does make you present
is the ardent detour
that a slow tenderness
traces in my blood.

I do not need
to see you appear;
being born sufficed for me
to lose you a little less.