you can't spell COURAGE without RAGE

In 06, I was working for Elmer Morris and the calendar on my desk had been purchased from the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of America. The image for the month of May, pictured below, socked me right in the guts. Another painting referenced in the poem is "Peaceful Harbor" by Jean Michalski but I was unable to Googlemance it out just now. The artist who created the painting below is a Portugese lady named Daniela Cristina Caburro; you can go check out her gallery at her website.

She makes a living as a painter
without the use of her arms. This lady is a ROCKSTAR. I'm so glad I found this poem again. It's not quite a sonnet: it doesn't follow the sonnet rules perfectly. But you know what? Things don't need to be perfect. Just beautiful.

Girl Gathering Flowers by Daniela Cristina Caburro

Works painted with the mouth, slow careful strokes
show beauty, rich in detail; emphasize
though limbs hang limp from spinal cords that broke,
more than mere puppets watch from our keen eyes.
Each petal's sharp, like flowers etched in metal.
Boats, stone-fast, stand in harbors; roofs slide off
into the sky. What's solid melts, unsettled.
What floats grows petrified, no longer soft.
One little girl stands in a field of blooms,
her legs obscured by solid greenery,
her hat askew, white as a skull entombed,
her gaze rapt at what only she can see.
I see a woman twisting flowers, beneath
which blur long-lost arms, painted through clenched teeth.

a verrrry old dream log

Going through all my old boxes full of books and papers turns up lots of surprises. Ran across my old bachelor's thesis, on Philip K. Dick's "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch", for example. This, though, is a thing all its own, written from myself to myself and put to action. It was from a brief period where I wasn't writing dates on stuff so I only know, from the other content of that yellow legal pad, that it came about in midsummer of '03. A good (though kinda freaky!) piece of writing at least, and about where my head was at, at the time. Thank God I'm somewhere even nicer now. The dream itself is followed up by a couple of short analysis paragraphs which are from the same pages.

A beach of broken pebbles and cracked clams leads up to the House of Broken Things. The door is ajar. No board in its floor is unsplintered, no windowpane whole; even the rocking chair on the front porch is missing a leg. Out from under the porch darts a cat. Feral and lightning fast, its yellow eyes seem wise though they see the mouse in me. Tufts of fur missing to scars, tattered ears--is its fur grey?--it pads before me to the door of the house whose windows stand half-open like idiot mouths. The cat's tail twitches as it slides out from under my hand. I don't think I touched it. Brass knob, tarnished, old, turns with both hands and a thunk--I thought the door was ajar?--hinges creak. One comes loose, and I think the door is going to come off in my hand.
It doesn't.
Inside I think there is only one hallway, and there is, but my vision of it shifts and falsifies: I am left with an impression of winding crazed wood angles, locked, open, half-open doorways. A glance in one doorway reveals the unchanging, a gap-toothed piano with metal threads curled up under its wing, dolls with one eye that glares smirking. Another shows an empty bed, mattress stuck with its own rusted springs, cracked leather belts and a tongueless shoe that looks violent, a shadowy closet door. A few steps forward a girl's face peeks out, thin fingers wrap the wood just below the keyhole, cheeks smeared with tear-streaked dust, eyes achingly familiar. She darts back in, covers her retreat with a slam, but by now I know better than to follow. A draft whispers over my toes; I look up to see yellow eyes in the distance. The cat blinks once, twice, and I run to follow. Walls try to whisper their ancient cackles and though I cannot close my ears I don't listen.
The last doorway is locked but not closed. As I stammer, combing fingers through my hair, the cat wanders off, crooked tail slung low. The password comes back to me. Tunnelvision, I say to the dusty wood. It swings open and I hear my heart beat: this, the monster of my dreams. Blank whiteness. Viscous like the goop in a lava lamp, moving, its bulk fills the doorway and tentacles congeal, reach for me. My mouth chock full of a scream that keeps my teeth bound together. Don't encourage it, I tell myself. Out of the whiteness eyes roll down, lidless, and lips writhe into a mouth. Now only the tongue holds its ghost, the purples and greens of a clown face--not colors but hues bent wrong. I remember the dream that freed me from this face; I remember Atreyu between the sphinxes. I step through. So simple to say.
Looking forward, forward, up ahead a narrow chimney climbs up a cliffside, the path freckled with pointed stones, the angle of ascent maybe sixty degrees. I must keep my eyes on the ground so as not to slip or step on a sharp stone and injure my feet. I climb for what feels like hours, panting; soon my only thoughts are of the next step, the next handhold, for which I am distinctly grateful. Grey stone eases its way into russet, another geological age, and overhead I hear the rough voice of a crow. A fiber in my heart loosens. It is safe now to look back, I say almost out loud, and grabbing a handhold, turn to look over my shoulder. Down and down beneath the rockfalls, between the pitted forearms of the stern-faced hillside, a tiny ramshackle thing with a half-shingled roof gapes into the wind. On the stoop a white figure, spangled in what might have been frills but at this distance looks like dirt has its face turned unerringly towards me, foolish hat notwithstanding. I fancy I can see its mouth open at the touch of my eyes, and yet I'm deeply, madly grateful its running is running in place. I turn to face forward. There, the path spikes up and seems to end in the blue sky, the crow wheeling near beneath wisps of cloud. Clambering the last few steps, I fetch up somehow on my feet.
The plateau is a valley in the center of a circle of stones, great mountains that stand in the distance and remember. Behind me I cannot find the path I came by amid the boulders and sparse underbrush, and I decide that this is a good thing. To my right and left and behind me the mountains are gathering up their skirts, evergreens here and there, and on one hilltop a ways away I think a mountain goat springs from one crag to another. Ahead, there is no path, but a wide expanse of stone worn smooth by rain and wind and the passing of many feet. I step forward onto it and see, perhaps a hundred yards off, a circle of monoliths laid on monoliths like the great circle in England. I walk forward unhurried, feeling the wind through my fingers and the sun gently pressing the crown of my head.
There seated by the nearest of the twice eleven gates is a dragon, coiled around and over himself, silver-blue and blood-colored with eyes bright as a distant star. He winks at me, this old wyrm of the earth and sky--old to my eyes anyway. His rumbling voice is like drumbeats, joyous and solemn.
About time, he says.
I got a little hung up, I reply, dashing fingers through my hair. If I was too long in arriving he forgives me, and I am glad.


They are fools who think surrender is defeat.
A wise person knows that any endeavor can proceed either around an obstacle or through it, and can survive retreat if it is kept in order and those involved keep their goals firmly in mind. Of course the most glorious surrender is that which marks the transformation of an adversary into an ally--but this is a rare privilege and difficult to describe. I will say that apparent surrender, that is, misdirection, is a valuable tool in clever hands and can be used to thwart even a cunning opponent. But apparent surrender is not true surrender and is no fit replacement for it. This you should bear in mind in love as well as conflict, in friendship as in enmity. For one who consistently substitutes false surrender for true is no fit companion.


I began looking for a way, and as I went, the path sprang up around me.

wound so tight v2.0

The ending is muuuuch better than in v1.0! :D Must...arrange...recording session again soon! *wag*

panic rises up so suddenly within me
crease my brows and purse my lips and I look old
like an origami spider up a chimney
I will fall into the fire if I unfold

wound so tight
wound so tight
because everything else is unraveling

we throw away the things we own
the clothes, the books the telephone
devices we use every day
and statues we cannot display

but like a camel full of water
knowing I'm my Father's daughter
swells my back, makes me look muscular and strong
still I can't carry all this gear
I'm just a snarl of will and fear and hope
suspended from a filament of song

wound so tight
wound so tight
because everything else is unraveling

why do I clutch myself so tight?
it isn't any use
only my hands can reach inside
of me and cut me loose
all blessings wait for me if I
can find the will to choose
to let them in

only my God, my world, my loved ones
truly satisfy
the thirst in me that turning inward
would have drained me dry
I hold to all things but in fact
I do not have to try
only begin

wound so tight
wound so tight
still when everything else is unraveling

the tigress

When I was over at Lexy's on Sunday, she was slicing up an onion to sautee (pasta and white wine sauce with clams! supar nummeh!) and the first line popped into my head. I told it to her and she laughed. For anyone coming out of a difficult time, working their way out of a funk so to speak, a big part of the challenge is dispelling the negative illusions in the "what kind of a person am I?" part of our thinking. This is a pretty bold and brassy sonnet--but it's supposed to be, as an encouragement and a counter to illusions. :D "You go, girl."

The kind of woman who makes onions cry
because she did not slice them thin enough;
who'll answer pat when lovers ask her why
their anxious favors met her cool rebuff.
She sleeps with novels written for her friends,
and when dreams misbehave, she cuts them loose.
I'd load my straining back to serve her ends,
but bowing, weary, to her is no use.
Bright, like a tigress throned among the sheep,
who do not satisfy, yet genuflect,
she calmly conquers but won't deign to keep
those who don't find the strength to show respect.
But for the lucky few who understand,
she'll sheath her claws, smile soft--open her hands.

more fun at Christian Taoism

Odd that my last good stimulus-response thing over there was also about limits, the boundaries between interiority and exteriority. I think that boundary is always going to be an overarching theme of my work. In much the same way, and for much the same reason, that authenticity and degrees of reality are an overarching theme of Myke's.

Here I've tried to do that thing which I learned from GK Chesterton. Take a seemingly unanswerable question and turn it inside out, and more often than not you'll find the answer was simple and good and lovely and--in retrospect--blindingly obvious.

HK Stewart: Reaching the Bottom

I can see the bottom of a creek.
I can touch the bottom of a stream.
I can swim to the bottom of a river.
I can dive to the bottom of the sea.
How do I reach the bottom of the Tao?


I open, a bloom:
the honeybee lights on me,
touches the inmost.
When I receive, I'm carried
forth from myself, and give life.

ah, there is is

Something odd happened just now when I posted up the sonnet I got this morning on Facebook. I'm usually fanatical about typos, but for some reason while I was transcribing it out of my notebook I made the same typo, twice. Which altered the meaning of the lines slightly without detracting from them: "there it is" became "there is is," not once but twice. Emphatically. So I think I'm going to make that accidental change permanent. And come to think of it, do it one better and change "all of it is true" to "all of is is true" in the third line from the end!

To all that passes through my hands which is in any sense alive, I wish to allow, to the extent I can, the same freedom I myself relish. And ultimately even a poem only passes through my hands and out into the world, whose citizen I am and which I love with a towering passion.

Ah, there is is, the universe again
Just when I had it narrowed to a point
Tight-gripped in thumb and finger like a pen
Round, nestled down the first and second joint
There is is now, the world again made fresh
I roll out wet upon it with a slap
To see the dreams of all I love made flesh
And hot coals heaped in our Opponent's lap
No mortal soul can match the Maker's art
What lives is dense with riches, through and through
I would be straining at the leash to start
But I am free, and all of is is true
Flung wide, all me gives thanks to Him in whom
The living live - I roar - "Make room - Make room!"


Killer was the first.

Or at least the first in this little area of time, in this particular season. She wasn't, as people tend to count things, a member of the family. Just a tiny, shy gray and white kitty who lived inside the liquor store where a good friend of Pearl's works. When we visited there, she was in a bad way already. We walked down the aisle lined with glass refrigerated cases packed with beer and there she was, motionless, alone, a little bundle of fur and bones curled up against the heat vents underneath the doors. So we did the natural and proper thing; knelt down on the floor, petted and made much of her, carefully brushed the layers of caked and matted dirt out of her fur, told her she was a good kitty and a pretty kitty, said with our hands and the fact of our presence that somebody loved her.

She died a few days later, and from what I'm told she didn't die easy. I'm glad I got to see her first.

My late former boss, Elmer Morris, taught me a wonderful Jewish word: dayenu. There's a song around it that's part of the end-of-the-year holiday. He didn't teach me the song--at 96, after years of not attending religious services, he didn't remember it--but he told me what the word means: Enough. Enough for us. Both in the sense of, "it's enough, we're full, we can't eat another bite or we'll explode!" and in the sense of, "we've done all we can, given all we've got--oh God, please let it be enough."

I know just a little bit of the tune, though, the one word and the scrap of melody. And on the way home last night on the train, relieved and much healed and full of happiness, I sang it over and over when the song of the wheels was loud enough to cover it and wrap it up from other ears than mine. Daaayenu, dayenuuu...daaayenu, dayenuuu. And I smiled that smile in the darkness of the tunnel and the peace of God settled over my soul.

Shashi didn't die easy either. As soon as Amber called me up and told me to come, I could hear in her voice how bad it was. That the vet's more hopeful prognosis was almost certainly mistaken. I made it up there on the last train of the night. Mom and Amber were there for me and hugged me and made sure I ate and had tea. They'd been watching over the cat all night and did all they could, held her and tried to squirt water down her throat, even hydrated her with the IVs they have to care for the other cats. And when it was clear that she wasn't going to get better, Amber did the needful and called me up, took up the mantle once again of the bearer of unbearable news. I got there in time.

She was panting for breath, hot to the touch, like someone who'd just run a mile with a heavy backpack in full summer. When I petted her, when my hands were on her, it seemed to ease the panic a little. Her eyes were unfocused though, the third lid pulled in across the eye and bloodshot with strain, and when I looked into them she didn't see me. I looked anyway. I thought of Myke, and what he always says about the difficult things, the unavoidable suffering that comes of living in a flawed and imperfect universe: I do not look away. I do not, ever, look away.

It took more than two hours, though, and I was so tired. Mom and Amber had gone to bed--we all agreed it was best not to wake Pearl, who'd been inconsolable when her own cat died last month. They didn't want to leave me, but in a way I kind of wanted to focus, to not divide my attention, to be able not to look away. When Mom finally went into her room, hurting for me, I said, "Don't worry, Mom. Don't worry." At that hour of the night all the vets were closed. There's emergency clinics out there you can go to at all hours but a last-minute visit costs more than a hundred dollars. So there was no shot, no way to make it quick. Mercy enough that I had the train fare to even get up there.

When it got to the point where my grip on consciousness was starting to slip, she was far gone enough that even my hands on her body didn't seem to register anymore. So I took her off the cushion, lay back on the couch and held her on my chest. Every breath had a raspy little moan in it, but in spite of everything my head drooped and I started to doze. I was so tired. It startled me awake when of a sudden she thrashed, yowling for a moment as if she fought something, voided what little fluid was left in her out of both ends. I suppose that was the moment, but it almost didn't seem real. She was still as warm and fluffy and soft as ever. But when I put my hand on her body all I could hear was the echo of my own heartbeat passing through her tiny frame. After awhile I set her body down on the cushion which was on the floor next to the couch and covered it with a blanket, got up and rooted in Mom's dresser for a clean shirt, went to the bathroom. Before I went to sleep at last I had to reach under the blanket a couple times, just to be sure, for my hands to be sure; no pulse, no breathing. Real, but in a sense not real at all anymore--a body without the life in it, the living being that I'd loved. Baggage, empty of the treasure it had borne.

"All true wealth," Lois Bujold once wrote, "is biological." What lives is what matters, and while we who live are alive we are priceless. Life is the only anentropic force in the universe, the only thing which draws order out of disorder, which slows and inverts decay, which blooms and makes beautiful. Decay itself, I think, is principally beautiful because it exposes the fingerprints life left behind, shows in naked silence the glory and the victory and the majesty of what was, of what has come to pass, though not to stay. However small it may seem as people tend to count things. It is life which makes the universe a place worth inhabiting, and love which makes any life a treasure to be savored rather than a burden to be endured.

When I got home to Chicago on Tuesday, I knew my roommate Don was in the process of breaking up with, and kicking out, his second Craigslist girlfriend. Based on the hash he (and to be fair, Pennee also) made of the first Craigslist relationship attempt, I knew I was in no shape to deal with it that day. And I had already arranged with my good friend Lexy to get together and celebrate her birthday after meeting Tuesday morning with the building manager of the place where I'm trying to move. Since it was bitterly cold and we didn't feel like going out, I ended up crashing at her place after spending the whole day together. It was healing for both of us. She's been depressed and sort of away from her usual dynamic self this past while. But she's a brilliant and incredibly resilient person, who reminds me of no one so much as my big sister Amber, the sort of person who walks through mountains when the mountains fail to respond to a polite request that they move out of the way. And I've been rocked out of balance by endings and beginnings, wonder and dread, grief and joy all crashing into each other. But I love a lot and with grace and help am learning to love more and I'm good to be around. Friends are friends because they help each other. Getting back to the place I currently live and walking into that situation, though it wasn't really mine to solve, was something for which I had to prepare. And when I got back after work on Wednesday I was prepared.

Don got up in the middle of the night to grab some iced tea, and I sat him down at the kitchen table and got a talk going. He'd been totally freaked about me moving; he's part owner of the building here and without my rent he and his business partner don't really have another way to keep up the mortgage payments. And finding a good, reliable tenant during winter in Chicago--let alone smack in the middle of the holidays--verges on the impossible. That on top of his own impending breakup had knocked him for a loop and I wanted to help him out of it. I don't want to destroy anything when I leave. I don't want to leave anybody hanging in the wind. I don't want to see anybody lose, anybody suffer, any good thing die, if there's anything at all I can do. With any kind or degree or mode of relationship, however personal or economic, however large or small. I have enough, and more than enough, to live my life and be the person I'm becoming. I will do all I can in all directions at once and ask and joyfully accept the help of everyone involved and pray God it is enough that no one loses. He was comforted.

Yesterday, as today, I had the day off work, and with my new-minted equilibrium turned with a will to the task of sorting out some of my possessions. Cutting down on my own baggage. Don had cut off the internet, fearing I would leave--as I'd originally planned to do--today, in the first week of December. He'd've had to vacate the place himself if I had, and likely the first floor tenants as well and sell the building in a down market. None of that was especially real or pressing to Debra, the second Craigslist girlfriend, though. Without a phone of her own, without internet access, and without even--because Don went into her purse and took them, the cause of their big fight yesterday--the keys to the apartment to get back in if she left, she had nowhere to go and no way to get out of here either.

She's been more than depressed for more than a little while, and coming here and trying to build something with Don was sort of a last-ditch effort in a situation where all other doors seemed closed. And it wasn't working out. They bickered almost constantly and had each basically given up on the other. I was on the phone much of the early part of the day, in my room and the storage area I've got up here, sorting out all my clothes and figuring what to keep and what to give away. But I overheard her say, loud enough to carry through my door, "I will never again trust another living soul." And involved or not, my problem or not, it hit me like a rabbit punch. Later when I was off the phone I stepped back into the thought of that moment, stopped stock still in my tracks and prayed--for wisdom, for mercy, for everyone involved. For a problem that I most definitely did not have the right to impose myself upon but it hurt to watch, especially for a second time, with a person so far sunk in her own esteem she couldn't even get angry enough to fight it. She spent most of the day curled up on the couch hardly moving; after awhile she covered up her face with a blanket because, I think, she didn't want to have to look at me or Don as we walked by.

I even left the building for a time. Unlike Debra I have keys, and I really, really wanted to get to the library and use the internet there. On the way I dropped off a little bag with a blanket and some warm socks at the bus terminal. There's a homeless lady there I've talked to a time or two, pretty lucid, spunky as all get out, considering, and I figured since I'm giving so much stuff away I might as well cut out the middleman and give a few things to someone I know. She wasn't there, but I left it with a couple of other guys. They let me know her name, or rather what everybody in the homeless community there calls her, which is Mama. I know a couple times a year Don will put together a feast and bring it over there--where else is the homeless community going to get a feast?--and it cheered me up a little to learn Mama's name and that she's a known and in a certain sense respected citizen among them.

And at the library I got to send off a sonnet I'd written earlier in the day, to the hopeful comfort of its intended recipient. Won't reproduce the whole thing here, but the first line goes:
They know in hell, and they are terrified.

Much later, after Don had left to go hang out with a drinking buddy of his, Debra knocked on my door and asked to use my phone. Which was my in, though she was so anxious and feeling so unworthy that she hardly even registered how glad I was to have permission. I sat with her for a good long while and talked--I mostly listened, caught her terms and turned them over and put them in perspective. Told her lots of stories, quoted quotables, let her vent and pull up her astonishment and anger and fear and just look at them, see them for what they were and not have to run from the fact that she felt them. Sang her movin' down in the world and it made her laugh.

It helped, actually, a lot that she was so angry at Don. Drinking has been a major issue for her for awhile, made it impossible for her to stay with her son's family, made her unwilling to go stay with her parents, who are teetotalers living in a dry county. But she looked over at the fridge and shook her head and pointed and said, "That man--he makes me so angry. I know there's beer in that fridge and I'm not even gonna drink it, because I'm fed up, I've had enough of this crap, and I don't want anything of his."

The plan was for her parents--she's middle-aged, they're elderly--to drive up from Kentucky and pick her up this morning. But her son called up and said that wasn't going to work. It'd be a brutal drive, Kentucky to Chicago and back, even in daylight in nice weather, and at night in the cold he didn't want to ask that of them. He offered to buy her a bus ticket over the phone, so she could take the Greyhound down there and have them pick her up. And I watched her slip right back into panic, I watched her face pressed up to my phone as she said, "I can't. I can't." She'd have to leave everything behind, all her little meager possessions that were her only link to the life she used to have before everything went to hell. She'd have to leave the pieces of herself, worth more to her for so long than her actual self, here in this house, in the custody of a man she despises more than she needs drinking. And here I was trying to get rid of all my baggage, with another day off work coming up, and I know how to get to the bus station. I started bouncing up and down in my seat and it was hard not to laugh; she would have taken that as mockery in the face of her despair. "This is totally doable! Yes it is! We can carry it all between the two of us, and I know how to get to the bus station, and it's totally doable! Wait right here!"

I went and took a peek at her stuff, in boxes on the living room floor and in the front closet, then dashed back into my closet and got all the duffels I had, tossed them on the floor next to the boxen. By this time she was off the phone, and when I was at the door heading for the basement where I had some more duffels, she stood up from her chair in the kitchen and asked me, "I don't understand. Why are you doing this?" Till then I had passed everything off with no problem, my pleasure, not a big deal, no worries. That time, though, I grinned and bounced on my toes and said, "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. I'm takin' it literally. As it should be!"

(Just now--literally just now, while I was typing this--the agent from the new building called up to tell me that my application to take over my good friend Nabeel's lease has been approved. :D God's timing.)

When I came back up the stairs singing "These boots are made for walkin" she had already started pulling her stuff out of the closet and taking it off the hangers. She'd gotten so very upset with Don earlier for going in her purse, it seemed wise to me to just sit at the table and let her get everything arranged for herself. I rolled cigarettes and told more stories, and she started to focus less on venting and more on the prospect of being able to escape. I copied out the lyrics to movin' down and wrote on the back of it, "It's been wonderful to know you, though I wish the circumstances had been better. This was the last song I ever sang to my father. It was sad then, but it's happy now. May there always be a road." Then I folded it up and she put it in her purse. I hope she reads it on the bus. Thinking of bus reading time--Chicago to Kentucky is a long trip!--I went in my room and got Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards! which is extremely funny and uplifting, and is one of the few books I own myself rather than having had it lent to me.

She started to set aside a few things to add to my Salvation Army bags, since she did have more clothes and things than even two people could reasonably carry on their backs. And I told her about leaving some stuff in the station for Mama and about the socks, which stuck in her imagination. So we put together another little bag to leave along the way. She had way warmer socks than the ones I'd left earlier and it made her feel good to be giving stuff away to someone who'd appreciate it. She also gave me a lovely button-down comfy sweater with pockets, which is very nice but too big for her and too bulky to carry. (I'm wearing it now, in fact. I told that to Don earlier this afternoon and he said it had made her look old, but on me it looks really sharp.) And I showed her how you carry multiple duffel bags, straps crossed over the chest to distribute the weight, with a smaller bag in each hand. After getting rid of a few items there was just enough that between the two of us we could carry it.

The walk to the bus terminal was incredibly hard for her and slow going. She'd never done anything remotely like it before; her back muscles weren't used to the strain and on her tiny frame the straps kept slipping out of alignment. We had to stop and rest a few times--it's about a mile from here to the terminal--but we made it, in good time and in good spirits. The train ride down she was talking even more hopefully, focusing on getting out, getting independence, having a chance to start off all new. When we got to the stop I actually didn't recognize it at first--I'd usually gone to a different Greyhound station--but a fellow commuter pointed out the correct street to us and within half a block down it I knew exactly where we were.

There was a bad moment at the ticket counter. She had seven bags altogether, and due to rising fuel costs Greyhound's policy is that you get one carryon, one bag in the overhead compartment on the bus and one under the bus for the price of the ticket. Second bag under the bus is ten dollars, third and each bag thereafter is another thirty-five. She got a little panicked again; I could feel it rising in her. I said, gently as I needed to, "Debra. It's just stuff. You're getting out." And I looked in my wallet and I had thirty, so I took two fives and slapped them on the counter. She was flabbergasted all over again but we hunkered down, zipped open all the bags and tried to empty out at least one, consolidate some more, stuff the already packed bags a little tighter. And she took some of the smaller bags and put them inside each other to make a single massive carryon. After all that, she'd sorted out and selected a half-full bag's worth of stuff she could bear to get rid of, and I gave it to the Greyhound guy to add to the station's donation bin. He and the ticket agent said they'd give her a break, since after all it was duffels and not hard luggage, and let her have an extra bag under the bus. Though they warned her that when it came time to change buses in Cincinnati, the driver of the next bus might not let her take along all of it from there. They tagged what she had and I helped her carry it over to the line of other people's luggage waiting for the 3:40am, and I hugged her and wished her well and she thanked me again.

I hope she pitched that extra bag in Cincinnati. I hope she laughed and the wall of panic in her laugh broke suddenly out from under her and let her into that great big bright wide beyond it. And I hope she pitched that baggage in the bin and got back on the bus and rode all the way home to a dry county with a great big grin on her face and the cold air of Kentucky felt delicious in her lungs because there's so, so much of it, and it's free.

When I got back to the bus terminal Mama was there, in her usual spot on the little ledge next to the payphone. The bag we'd left behind was nowhere in sight, but some of the things that had been in it were peeking out of her other luggage and I think she was wearing Debbie's socks. And I smiled the smile again, much bigger this time, and skipped all the way across the terminal to Dunkin Donuts and bought myself a bagel. With cream cheese.