A Face You Know

Galushko Semen/Shutterstock

When you hear that voice saying, 
I’m nobody
and 
my life is boring,
your mind has become 
a newspaper, 
reporting on your life 
as if it were 
where you would find 
celebrities and calamities, 
awards and booms.

You have believed 
the reporters in your head, 
the editors and executives,
that you are measured by 
how loud and unusual you are.

You who washes the clothes, 
feeds the children,
shovels the snow, 
think you don’t matter, 
as you scrape drifts of snow off the car 
as deep as a New York cheesecake,
and wonder when you’ll get 
to your next appointment. 

Snowflakes fall as you
you heave them up and throw them away, 
thinking you live in a world 
robbed of mystery.

Galushko Semen/Shutterstock

They keep coming, like unopened letters, 
not one like another.
So many that they make
the cypresses bow, 
the streets hush,
the fields round.

You will not understand them
by reading the paper, 
and that is why you must
close it up, 
and look out.
Greet each six-pointed star 
like a messenger, 
a memory, 
a face you know.

Anew

It’s January 1, 2021. I wake to the sound of children’s voices downstairs. The new year has begun like many others, yet the voices are a little different. My son’s voice is becoming a man’s. The teens, now silent in their beds, were once little girls. 

I hear the baritone voice of my husband. This house we have made together. This life. Comets colliding together through space. Children like stardust, clinging to us until they hurtle off too. 

I hear the espresso maker pumping. Ceramic plates being set down on a wooden table. I know the noisemakers and party hats are still strewn across the crumbs and candle wax. The bottle of sparkling cider we never drank has exploded in the freezer, but I don’t know this yet.

Outside my bedroom, the cat mews. It’s 9:15, I have slept in. I slide the pocket door over the slanted floorboards. He wants to be close to me. I pet him and by the second stroke, he is purring. Animals teach what I keep forgetting. How to love, how to be loved.

The sky weeps. A sad start to a year that the whole world wants to be better. Can we find a less traumatic way to live? Before the virus came, we were still dying alone in hallways, keeping a safe distance, putting masks over our true faces.

Downstairs I find the boys lining up matchbox cars under the couch. I begin chopping onions and celery. Lentils bring good luck, Enrico’s mom used to say. Little coins in a bowl, we will spoon them in, eating prosperity for lunch.

A warm world, a world just awakened. What if I started each day knowing I am a little closer to my death? What would it be like to walk through the world so tender? Not cleansing the traces of sleep, not covering the dangerous softness we had when we were born.

A Gingerbread Fantasy

A week before Christmas, five evergreen trees were delivered to our house on a flatbed truck and brought down our driveway with a forklift. Twelve feet tall and 400 pounds each, they were to make a new hedge to screen us from an unpleasant view. 

I felt uncomfortable about the ease with which this operation was completed — the former spindly trees sawed down in a couple of hours, the new trees purchased over the phone with a credit card, deep holes dug in the mud by a crew of men. 

When they were all planted in a row, they looked so beautiful and I thought of decorating them with lights. But to celebrate what? Our continued fortune? The five trees, plus the one in our house encircled by a cascade of presents, reminded me where I stand in this lopsided world. 

2020 showed us the devastation that has always been here, and as we watched, it got much worse. Outside the Target in Tenleytown, people in rags beg at the door. At food pantries, lines of cars wait all night for a bag of sustenance. All across America, tens of millions will not have enough to eat this winter. And yet Jeff Bezos made 90 billion dollars this year, Mark Zuckerberg made 46 billion, and Elon Musk made 68 billion, increasing his wealth by 277%. I am a part of this world. How do I walk through it?

“I am grateful for our strong house and this safe neighborhood,” I say to the kids when I tuck them into bed, thinking of the foster child who asked Santa for a coat, help with school, and running water. 

Acknowledging all that I have fills me with warmth, banishing the emptiness that keeps me grasping. All the jumbled messages that criss-cross my mental space flutter down, and I can see again. I think if I continue to allow other people’s suffering into my heart again and again, I will stay human. I will act from a place of love, not defense.

When I protect myself from the world, I close off a part of myself. The part that sees and feels. I start to walk stiffly. My eyes cloud up. I become hard. A gingerbread woman in a land of my own making.

The children and I built a gingerbread village this year, bonding the panels of spiced bread with royal icing. We edged the shingles with sugar pearls, decorated the window mullions with jimmies, then added gumdrop trees and jujube flowers around a pond of sparkling sugar.

This gingerbread world — that we break apart after the holiday, that never tastes as good as it looks — reminds me to stay human. Be broken and ragged. Never too sweet, never too bitter. Always unfinished.