Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page


In Travel on July 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I spent my twenty-fifth birthday in Africa.  On a flat roof under a hazy moon while the band played.  They called me on stage.  I sang the weirdest version of “Sugar in my Bowl” that’s ever met the world.  Assi sang about cheeseburgers.  The man in the blue shirt danced with me.  We hopped knees in the air.  The man on the mic danced with me; he ground me to the ground and I looked around, then ground to town.

We ate chocolate cake.  Djibi helped me blow the candles.  Upstairs, the meat sandwiches oozing oil.  Black luminescent bodies in headscarves, ornate fabric.  On wire chairs, metal chairs, wood chairs.  Holding babies who stared blankly.  White matte bodies in sweats and post-water sick stance.  And still we danced.


Miracles, New York

In Life on July 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm

There are so many miracles.  Tonight on the subway.  Cradling my head in a full car.  Cellist on the orange seat, wire rim glasses, a baby asleep below a banner, an old man hanging off a pole.  And somewhere between 42nd and 59th, the girl next to me opens a Moleskin journal filled with red and purple ink, cascading lines, a comic book villain, a falling sky.  When the train reaches my stop, I touch her shoulder, and she removes her earbud.

“I couldn’t help notice your book, are they your drawings?”

Such a kind, young and overweight face nods yes.

“You have a real talent.  They are beautiful.”

It’s funny how nervous I get to compliment strangers, how out of place or odd I feel.  But for this young woman, there was no hesitation, no dormancy to thanking her for who she is.  I hope I have made her night a little better and given her a compliment to suck on from time to time, in honor of those who have done the same for me.

Miracles Series 2

Yesterday down the street.  Tapping cool concrete with sneakers.  Oh!  I pass a church.  There’s a sign posted in its cold glass case hung on brick.  A quote about “love, faith, and hope,” from Corinthians.  CLICK.  Funny how we turn our feet, unthinking, down this street, not that, and one sign makes sense of something we’ve held close for years.  TS Eliot’s East Coker, the page falling from the book, is a little clearer on that board – he was Christian, after all.  And then standing there, I hear the music.  The noise from within draws me.

It’s a rehearsal. Two, maybe three people watch from the pews, sunlight streaming through stained-glass.  A lady rises and holds my hand, “welcome,” she says.  And the 100 women on the alter life their voices to God, as does the keyboardist and the guitarist, and I am shelter for that not uncommon feeling – my soul remembering its wings.

“Praise the day,” they clap, and they smile.  “Praise the day,” I laugh.  “Praise the day,” is all they say. “Praise the day,” I clap, they move and feel.  “Praise the day.”  “Praise the day.” “Praise the day.”  “Praise the day.”  “Praise the day.”  Each stop breathes life into the silences that are not dead, but waiting.  Waiting as a canvas for paint or a universe for existence or our own forms for death.  “Praise the day.”  Again.  “Day.”  Again.  “Day.” Again.


“Wait without hope for hope would be hope of the wrong thing /

Wait without love for love would be love of the wrong thing /

Wait without faith, for the faith and the hope and the love are all in the waiting.”

Their wait lasts just long enough so as to begin Again, and when their song does end, and I rise and thank them for what they’ve wrought, the silence is just another canvas for laughter.

Oh my joy.

I return to the street without a faith in Christ, but with immeasurable faith in the praise to which their God has given voice.

Miracle No. 3

My mom sits on the subway.  It is her first time in New York.  I am at her side and we are scouring my map.  A young woman gets on, sits her toddler besides us.  He is all smiles and before long, we’re chatting.

“Have you read this book?” my mom asks of our old faves.

The boy cranes his neck to catch the stations zooming; they haven’t, the mother says.

“What about this one?” I offer, but the mother gently grabs her son, saying, “sit up, Charlie, get off her” for Charlie has begun to slither on the seat.

We continue chatting, but before long, Charlie’s nestled his head onto my mom’s shoulder.

“Honey, sit up.  Strangers don’t like when you lay on them,” to which the boy immediately clasps my mother in a hug.

“Oh he’s sweet,” says my mom, returning it, and this child, a seedling to the world, receives his validation – love is what he offers, and what he receives.  This is why he is here.  It is no purpose, no goal, but the nature of him, which is right to love.

The two get off some stations later and after that, we do.


In Life on July 5, 2011 at 10:57 am


Oh my, it’s come back.  Timorously and without any name, for it knows it may not stay for long.  It is not happiness, but that is what we will call it, for language is what we have.  Let us call happiness, quietly, for tonight it sleeps upon my heart.


Some day, I promise to write the tale of my time in Ecuador, for such a tale is why this blog was born.  But today is New York’s day.  Tonight, it’s night.  I still feel mad at this city where I’ve lived for three months, but I understand: we belong together.

I woke up today and met Vincent, a 47 year old Frenchman.  We sat in the Dean & Deluca’s at the 59th St mall and laid our voices on a table.  Stretching them and pulling them and twisting and tweaking we parsed un and engineer.  He showed me his iPhone.  By golly, I think I want one (and this is coming from the world’s last Facebook holdout).

We parted in the rain and I went home to sleep.  I woke up amazed that some day I would die.  I made eggs.  I did yoga by candlelight, wafting in Indian tunes with my roommate.  I went to the Bronx and walked by the pictures of the players at Yankee Stadium.  Some of the old boys are left.  I knocked on a door in a corridor that smelled of piss and went inside and taught a 12 year old alliteration.  “Super Sexy” I said, to loud laughter.

I left on the B train and got off a stop early.  I hoofed it over wet pavement to 114th.  When everyone arrived, we filled the church with song.  It was my first night with the choir.

Now I am happy.  I remembered I have joy.  I enjoy things.  En in Spanish means in.  In joy.  My mother’s middle name is Joy.  So it runs in the family.  To enter in where we love.  To remember that we love.

On the train home I smiled quietly thinking about telling you this.


In Life on July 5, 2011 at 10:53 am


I fall in love on the subway.  Yesterday… a man gets on the D headed south.  My arm wraps loosely around a corner pole, The Leaf Storm and other stories hanging.  All I get is a whiff: tweed coat, blue jeans, blond hair and beard.  Yet he anchors his weight over my shoulder.  His chest to my back, he bends and gazes upon my book, casually, like a lover.  For seven stations I breathe the hum of him and we are as bodies in a dream.

The man gets off because he was always going to.  I lose him against the sea.


Coming up I am bad.  Ooh, I am bad; it wears me like a coat.  With a heavy gut a heavy head a heavier heart do I the slow city march, one foot two foot dead eyes snowshoes and dirt.  But I look down at my journal.  It spreads the width of my hand and on its cover the quote, “there are always flowers for those who want to see them.”

Oh!  I look up and find myself before a flower vendor.  In dead city winter, eyes blink and are instructed bright pink, deep blue, fire orange once more.


I lock eyes with a bassist sitting behind his case on the G.  And in that moment of stark and pregnant pause, we break the wall like shoelaces newly knotted and hang there – another star for memory’s sky, already dead and gone yet gleaming.


In Family, Love on July 3, 2011 at 7:27 pm

And when he died they lit fireworks in the sky.

And when he lived he had a pocketful of quarters.  The old ones, with eagles.  They were made just for the arcade games at the front of the delicatessen.  Just for the handful of bubble gum on the counter.  And we never had to haggle too long before he dropped those quarters in our palms.

He had a closetful of instruments.  The old ones, with broken mouthpieces, the 1920s jazz still dripping from the keys.

His closets were full of coloring books the size of our whole bodies, which were little ones, then.  They rested next to the box with the hundred crayons, because Nana wanted her children to have all the colors.

Oh he knew just how to get us on the lips.  Before we could stop him, bending to his cheek for a kiss.  What a way to swing his head around and plant one!  He never missed.  Better than any baseball player, any gymnast.  Better than any child craning to see an airplane in the sky – and it is hard to swing your head for a better purpose than this – our papa did.

His tastes were mushroom barley soup and cheesecake.  Nacho cheese and fish.  Water was never sweeter than from the clear plastic glasses we were finally old enough to reach in his cupboard.  When we were old enough, he would ask us to bring him one, too.

His backyard was for play.  The good kind.  In hazy heat, through swarms of flies.  The air was magic then, but we didn’t know.  Our legs ran through it, all of us, babies.

Then the morning came and it was time to go.  So Mom drove and we walked into the room and he was there.  And he wasn’t.  His breath a series of tubes, pumping up and down.  We kissed him.  We left.

At night the little ones ran through fields like their legs were wont.  They climbed gates and the air was cool.  And the cars came back.  And we collapsed in each others’ arms.

The children watched.  What they did not understand, part of them understood, as part of all of us understands, every day.  Every time we are kind to each other.  Every time we are not. Every time we hold the new babies and tell them stories, silently, with our eyes.   Every time we lay our hands together, over soft earth.

Every time we love, we bear the history of Harold Altman.

The day I became a woman, he promised me something, and it is for all of us, for Vicki, Bob, Jessica, Hunter, Aurelia, Daniel, Sarah, Marc, Arlene, Elizabeth, Dana, Ava, Jessie, Michael, Scott, Barbara, Abigail, Cole, Hannah, Martin, Suzanne, Ashton, Heath, and Hayden and all the rest.  From Papa, gone today ten years, from Papa and for him, too.

 You will always be loved. 

September Fifth, Two Thousand and Ten

In Family, Life on July 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

It is this dark and rainy night that I realize my mother is my hero.  She is standing with me on the side of the road, asking if I want to do this.

“It’s still there,” I say.

So she bends and wraps it in the towel and holds it near her chest as I open the plastic bag and it falls in.


I have taken to crying in the car.  Sobbing, really.  I guess it started with my return from Ireland, where it was the only place to scream, “Fuck,” at the decibels I needed, you know, the ones that generally inspire institutionalization.  As the seasons have passed, and the summer of my twenty-fifth year has arrived, the car seems to hold me.  I drive and listen to sad songs and look as red and wrinkled as a newborn babe, screaming with their same guts, the ones we all return to sometimes, a howl of thunder in our lungs.

Perhaps this rawness is embarrassing.  Perhaps it is private.  Perhaps I should find a non-mobile place to explore it.  Perhaps.  All I know is that I woke up not hungry again today, that grief still shrouded our house, that my mother and I fought on the way to the store before returning home to sit with my father and listen to him speak the death of a dying thing, and that around five pm, I got in the car.

I drove, I don’t know where.  Everywhere.  To my aunt’s house, to the bookstore, to the nursing home where my grandfather used to live.  I drove everywhere and nowhere, stopping only for stop signs, playing every sad song in my deck.  And then, it started to rain.

I turned off at the beach.  I’d passed it before: a wedding party.  They were gone now, but a flower remained.  I held it.  I watched the water.

Returning the key to the ignition minutes later, the clouds literally lifted and I knew it was time for the songs of joy.  Scrolling through the same albums, I played the upbeats; they reminded me of a recent bike ride, the twilit air a peaceful cape at my back.

Fist pumping and singing hoarse, that feeling returns unchanged.  I am still so happy to be alive.  To know joy amidst sorrow.  For I am sure that all of my recently unsolvable equations will add up: it’ll be alright in New York, my family will be alright, I will be alright.  “Life is,” as an 80-year-old Morman said to me on a plane in June (over and over in awe of this statement as if remembering for the first time), “good.”

And then, on Wilson Ave. a car rides over a rabbit.

I see it.  I drive on.  It takes one, two, three, four, five and a half seconds for me to honk my horn onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnine times.

Maybe because I loved a rabbit once or because I try to be the person I expect I am or because I have visited the London Imperial War Museum and stood before the words, “evil exists because good men do nothing.’”:

I turn around.

I scan the road, fully conscious of how stupid this is.  Come on Elizabeth, injuries happen every day; they don’t matter.

“But,” some part of me says, “you were the only one that saw this injury.”

Actually, I was the only one that saw this death.

There it lies, like a form they teach you to animate – back legs splayed, head lolled; only cartoons look like that.  It’s missing a strip of fur on its stomach.  I don’t know why or to whom, because it’s certainly not to Jesus, but I roll down my window and yell, “Jesus Fucking Christ.”

I pull around.  Its eyes are open.


A few blocks from home, just between the Kentucky coal mines and California sun, with two bags of food on the passengers’ seat, I know what to do.

Drop them on the kitchen table.  Head to the computer.  How deep?  Four feet so the foxes don’t come.

“Mom! Where’s a flashlight?”

But when she points to the drawer and the tool touches my hand, it displaces my resolve.  I can’t imagine digging up my parent’s lawn without questions, questions I know I cannot withstand.  I’ve never had a pet, not even a gerbil.  Reality’s heavy stone ripples across my gut as I picture my parents’ weary response, their slightly shaken heads, closed eyes.  They will completely dissuade me from this I know is right.


I’m wrong.  It’s two pairs of gloves, one shovel, a towel, and three plastic bags that my mother loads into the car.  They jostle on the seat as we creep back, almost missing the turn-off.

I point to it, though it hardly resembles anything, now.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“It’s still there.”

And just like when I was little, my mom bends to clean the mess.  She takes the trouble, the form with matted fur, with guts freed by the careless tread of nighttime wheels, and this is my mother.  Wrapping death in a towel and helping me carry it home.

Right now, life is rough.  Lately, I forget to look up to my mother as I begin wanting to mother her.  But, life is good.  Tonight, my mother is my hero.  When she puts the rabbit under a bucket and weighs it with a rock by our garage.  When she suggests that I wait til morning to dig.  When she points to where will work.  When I wash my hands and look to the food and see what she bought me where we fought this afternoon, what she has placed as a present underneath my plate.  When I hug her and come upstairs and write this.

Grandpa’s Mug

In Life on July 3, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Maybe, sometimes, falling apart is the best we can do.

I fell apart once, five years ago, the summer after my freshman year at college.  I came home, unpacked my bags, and crawled into bed.

It had been building for some time.  Throughout previous years, I had become increasingly nervous talking in groups, expressing myself, and generally being around people.  I was still performing and debating, dancing frenetically and bathing in the end of childhood (a long one that still shows up on my shores in low tide).  I don’t know why I started to feel so anxious.  I am not a particularly shy person.  I thrive off of others, need others to surround me and catcall and whollop and whisper in aid as I explore myself and the world.

But that summer, talking to a family friend one night, I panicked; I felt trapped and nervous and I was so mortified of how it showed.  The world had put a spotlight on my shaky voice and tremorous chin.  And I thought the best way to overcome it was to punish it out of me.

So when I crawled into bed and woke up feeling awful every day (what are our days when the night cannot erase all sorrow?), I felt this drastic disconnect with whom I had been and whom I now saw in the mirror.

I write about my pain because even in the midst of it, I clung to the writer in me.  I found whatever identity I had that could create and told myself I could use the pain to someday make something good.  I couldn’t, I really couldn’t, see myself ever feeling good again, but I told myself the little lies.  They were pretty.  And they weren’t lies.

I realize now, I didn’t need to be a writer to find something rewarding in struggling.  I didn’t need to be anything but what I am and always have been.  A person.  “We are all people,” goes the Sesame Street refrain.  It seems funny to echo something so obvious, but isn’t it the obvious stuff we end up taking for granted?

We are people.  We are here to share with each other, so that is why I share now.  What we create from pain is a time machine to the edges of the beds of our former selves; there we lie and here we sit, leaning over to caress our heavy heads, offering ourselves the loving and understanding of which we felt so unworthy.  I feel no shame, but only tenderness for this delicate glass bird of my history.  It allows me to pluck it down from some far branches of my tree (and not all days, some days it squawks right near my ear).  Whatever the distance, it allows me to take it out and show it to you.

I write this note with a few people in mind.  And you are people I love so much and want to be happy.  It’s easy to hate you for your unhappiness, your weakness, your most delicate aspects.  I am tempted to do so.  But I must remember the care I needed to learn to lavish upon myself.  It was harder, yet ultimately more rewarding to be kind to myself.  For, lacking empathy only perpetuated pain.  I see now that responding harshly to my problem was what perpetuated and even created it.  Let us remain our best selves when we are at our worst.  Let us love ourselves for our faults.  Let us understand that there is nothing as easy as an end.

Maybe, sometimes, falling apart is the best we can do.  “If it breaks, we’ll have the pieces.”*

*I stood over my grandfather’s old mug some years ago, washing it in the kitchen sink.  He was gone, but when I closed my eyes, I could see him sitting at the table, fingers looped carelessly around the handle, milky eyes and bushy eyebrows zeroed in on the morning paper.  In the kitchen of my college apartment, Alex and Kate are in another room, and I am standing at the end of our senior year together over this mug that I had packed and held on my lap and moved up the very first day.  I never said anything, but I almost forbid them from using it; that first day, I brought it out to show them, to admonish before any cracks had been made.  But these are girls I love, so grandpa’s mug got to know their hands, too.  And now, months later it was still with us, bathing in soap, until right then, like a gasp or a warm cloak or however the truth feels when it throws out all the metaphors and meager approximations we spend years chasing it with so that it may finally assume us as we have tried to assume it, I knew:

“if it breaks, we’ll have the pieces”

When all I had were these foreign, splintered, unhappy pieces of myself, I spent a summer searching for super glue.  And I continue to paste the new mosaic – pieces of glass birds and wildflowers and honking buildings and unseen stars – where they belong.