Shiny Objects

To the left of my piano hangs a painting of a Chincoteague Pony. My father bought this for me just before I became a teenager, so I did not appreciate it then but I do now. It was painted by a local artist and sold for $250 at a cafe by the beach near to where I grew up. This is what I remember being told about its origins; I was young when he gave it to me, and sometimes our memory changes our truth, but I think that I have recalled this correctly.

The painting is behind glass, so when I sit at the piano I can see my face reflected in it. I often look over and watch my silhouette as I’m playing and think about how long my hair has grown or what angle my jawline is taking or if my posture is straight. I hate that I look at myself this closely, but it is how I have gotten (climbed) to where I am–such ruthless attention to detail, such heightened awareness–so I find that I simultaneously appreciate this part of myself.

This is not the first piano that allowed me to see myself. At twelve years old my parents purchased a black lacquered Yamaha that was for many years kept against the living room wall nearest to the front door. I could sit at the piano bench and look directly into its dark gloss finish and see my face reflected, like looking into a tinted mirror or opaque window.

Once I became a good pianist, I could play the keys and watch my reflection at the same time – meaning that, simultaneously, I heard what was on the inside and saw what was on the outside. If this sounds intimate this is because as a girl it was, and as a woman still is. I am today no less fascinated to experience myself in this way, to discover what is reflected in my music, in one way and sometimes two.

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Elegy to a Maple

Going home this summer, I found the fence torn down halfway along itself, the same fence that divided our yard from the neighboring plant nursery – that I climbed over on one particular night with a childhood friend, and we wandered through an acre of potted trees taller than us and startled wild rabbits and I distinctly remember looking up at the stars, and in the veiled night felt the air of magic that children feel before they become adults and enchantment becomes something entirely different. And this night is what inspired Girls in the Garden, which is about trespassing onto another’s property after hours but is also very certainly about more than that.

And so last summer, upon returning to my childhood home during the same month we signed over our family’s property of 30 years to a land developer, I walked through the opening in this newly fallen fence and further into my backyard than I had been in years, to an aged and giant maple that like the next door garden I once personified into a friend, and in my memory still do, but at the time of this writing I don’t believe the tree still stands.

On this day I approached my Giant Maple Tree with hesitation, and I believe this is why: sometimes we wait to touch something that is good, because the sooner something begins, the sooner it also ends.

But of course I did touch it, because that is why I went to see it: to say goodbye. I put my palms on its moss-grown bark in the way a daughter touches a parent who is soon to die. I did not want to take my hands away.

I put my forehead against its trunk, the way a tired woman leans her face into a man’s shoulder. Who comforts who in this moment I do not know, but would like to believe it can go both ways, whether you are a woman or a man or a tree. Regardless, I did not want to take my face away.

I asked that they wait until I leave – until I flew home – to cut it down. Who wants to watch death.

The boating ropes we’d tied to it more than twenty years earlier were still wrapped around the trunk the day I pulled out of the driveway and watched my childhood home and the Giant Maple Tree disappear as we drove up the hill to the airport. Those ropes, once upon a time, at one end held the seat of a swing where my younger self would sit and sing as loudly as I wanted on the back half-acre.

By now the ropes must be gone, and of course, the tree too. Now I hold in my memory the branch that, for the span of at least one childhood, supported a comfortable swing for a young and awkward girl who for many years believed in the magic of her yard.

And now I must turn my face from its shoulder. Now, I have taken my hands away.

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Landmania

At the feet of mountains, meadows and shores I turn from busy-minded woman to awed servant of our earth. I breathe the pines smelling like childhood camping and hold to mind valleys cradling cloud shadows in the afternoon, once in Montana and another time in New Mexico. 

I know now: that the still of a mountain lake arrives twice daily, at each end of the light; the embrace of everyday grass under bare feet; the change in the air that signals an ocean is a few miles out of sight; a love affair that, next to humans loving one another deeply and intimately (the only way worth doing it), most makes apparent life’s worth.

Love and land. Currency of choice, given the choice.

A stretch of road once led (still does) through northern New Mexico toward Colorado. Such flat, open ground is good for the mind. It doesn’t change at every turn; it doesn’t make you work to maneuver through it or ask much of you but to hold reasonable speed, if you like, and keep one eye out for the pronghorn.

If arriving somewhere new at night, then you are not yet there. The exploration begins in the morning, when the sun rises to reveal the surroundings. The evening before was merely counting a series of freeway exits, unpacking the car and falling into the bed or chair or arms of wherever your inner compass has taken you.

“I began to feel I loved the land and to know that I would never forget it. There I would go for long walks alone. It was alive, I was sure of it. I wanted to identify myself with it, to lose myself in it.” – Jean Rhys

(written in 2014; edited for ColetteKay.com)

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An Odd Way to Sleep

I said to the closed-eyed dog lying in the middle of the floor like a Sphinx:

That seems like an odd way to sleep;
it looks more like waiting.


But as a dog he will do what he wants, and it remains unconfirmed what and if they think – so maybe he is in fact sleeping and waiting, one in the same. What do we know?

May 30, 2019

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Goodnight, Norman

This week I reverted to killing bugs again – the tiny beetles that search my kitchen sink basin when the lights have gone out. I go in for a glass of water and switch on the light and before they scurry off have often stamped them out with a paper towel under my thumb.

It began this way (killing everything in sight), then it was not (feeling bad about killing), and only recently have I begun to murder them again, sometimes two or three at a time but they are bugs and one soul is no more important than the next, says my tired mind that has been working too-long days and my strained body worn out mostly because the mind is.

Norman, I named them. Hi Norman, I would say walking into the kitchen and I would let he-she do what beetlebugs are going to do which is be harmless. And I felt joy that I had named them and thought Norman was a likeable kind of character the way some names tell you all about a person before you’ve gotten to know them (of course there can always be surprises).

Other items in and around my home are: Vivienne (the dinosaur balloon now deflated since my birthday), Sheldon P. Strawberry (P stands for Percival), Cornelius the Jelly Donut Pillow, and Horace Alfred the owl-made-of-bird-seed who has two first names and whose apricot eyes attracted a trail of ants that I also wanted to kill. There might be a few others, but only so many details can fit in a brain at one time although I do think mine has extra room compared to standard brains which are often attached to people with standard names like Courtney and Bob and Mike (never more than two syllables, these types).

On the day I named the kitchen bugs Norman (earlier this year) I also stopped smushing them because once something has a name it has a personality and a soul and before you know it simple bug extermination feels more like murdering a roommate, albeit one(s) who lives only in your kitchen sink basin.

Hi Norman! – a good way to start the day

Goodnight Norman! – a good way to end it

But this week I began killing Norman(s) again and have two theories why:

1. I am tired and overwhelmed and someone has to pay for it.

2. Norman has multiplied and I must draw the line somewhere.

May 2019

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