Life as a Jenga Tower

Carefully the foundation was laid,
Criss-crossing planks reaching toward a sky
That tantalized with low-strung clouds of hope
And a vast expanse of possibility.

Life took a plank here and there,
That’s how the game is played,
Opening holes into the recesses of mind and heart,
But a Jenga tower is not easily toppled.

Illness came like the petulant child and
Swiped at the blocks, scattering a few to far reaches,
Never to be seen again,
Knocking the tower a little off kilter.
But the tower remained standing,
Shored up by many hands.

Blocks were extracted as
Building materials for towers which were
Themselves under construction
In a reach for that wide expanse of sky
In a never-ending shuffle of finite resources.
Still, the tower held firm.

Then a block was drawn from the bottom,
And the tower groaned.

Then another.

And another.

Players played on,
Wondering why the tower swayed.
Unaware of the laws of physics,
Of gravity
And of equal and opposite reactions,
They poked and prodded at the structural integrity
Of the Jenga tower.

The game is still in progress,
Though the base has become riddled with openings
Where the winds of disillusionment and melancholy
Eddy and swirl.


Photo credit: Nicola since 1972 via Foter.com / CC BY

Table Talk

A table dressed
In Autumn red and gold,
Flickering tapers beckon –
Come,
Eat,
Share.

The feast awaits –
An amber bird, trussed and tied,
Overflowing with succulent stuffing,
Rests in a fragrant cloud of scent,
Next to humble mashed potatoes
And glistening candied yams,
Sensible salad and unassuming rolls.
A hush of appreciation falls
As the finely dressed are seated
Before the best china and crystal,
Spreading linen cloths across their laps.

Hand in hand,
A mumbled prayer of thanks
For goodness given,
Is all too soon
Drowned out by pungent words
As battle lines are drawn.

Relativity

Reminiscent of so many other times, we parked the car down the road and started walking toward my brother-in-law’s house at the end of a cul de sac in a quiet residential neighborhood. Only this time as we walked toward the crowded driveway we heard a loud oomph-a-oomph-a.

“Is that a tuba?” I asked my husband. “Did they get a band, or is somebody just practicing?”

He shrugged and seemed to indicate the latter was of greater possibility.

As we walked in the front door we realized it was a band, a family of four, with the father as lead singer, his daughter somberly plucking a bass, an older son holding rhythm on a sousaphone, and the youngest, a boy of around 12, stretching and compressing an accordion while wailing along with his dad. They were joyful and loud. We later found out that the police had already been called by a number of close-set neighbors, and my brother-in-law had been warned to wrap it up by ten.

We congratulated the pair on their anniversary and made our rounds shaking hands and saying hello before sitting down at one of the many tables set up under undulating blue plastic tarps. I looked around. The San Antonio riverwalk had nothing on this festive backyard arrangement. Fluttering under the tarps were paper picado banners, not the plastic kind, but actual tissue paper, cut and strung crisscross across the yard. They spoke of love and attention to detail. The tables were festooned with colorful plastic tablecloths, and each table held a Corona bottle vase graced with a single bright flower.

We weren’t allowed to sit long before being ushered to the lean-to shed, where a man was expertly assembling street tacos. The smells of carne asada and pork al pastor made me remember why I could never become a vegetarian. I demurely ordered one of each of these, and my husband eagerly grabbed a plateful of strange looking tripe tacos. We piled the tacos with fixings of fragrant cilantro, homemade salsa, onions, lime, and then topped the whole plate off with a pile of cactus salad and went back to our seats. I would later go back with gusto for more. I’m a sucker for street tacos.

I set about taking Snapchat pictures to send to my eldest two who now live far from home as if to say, remember this? Remember your heritage? I snapped a picture of my mother-in-law, now in her mid-eighties. We lost my father-in-law a couple of years ago; we try not to take this time for granted. There was a slew of back and forth salutations with lots of love and hugs and well-wishes, but all over the distance that technology provides, a sanitized version of connection, life through a lens. I sent snaps of food and videos of dancing, a framework that made up much of their extended family experiences.

A few people asked where our other kids were. They got our standard answer, “Oh, they don’t want to hang out with us anymore.” In reality, one was off at a wedding at his girlfriend’s house. He had promised her mom he would help set up. The other had run off with his friends for the day. My husband hadn’t given me much of a heads-up about this party, otherwise I would have made sure they were there. Still, our answer stands. The older teens don’t want to have much to do with us anymore. Maybe it’s normal. Maybe.

My husband went off to talk to someone. I watched him gesticulating animatedly from across the yard. I saw that the man he was talking to was leaning in, so it must not have been about work this time. I sat with my mother-in-law in the silence that loud music brings. Conversation in my native language would have been hard; lip-reading in Spanish was nearly impossible. So I observed.

My youngest brother-in-law was twirling his girlfriend around the patio. They would come back sweaty only to hop up again immediately as the band started up with another favorite dance tune. I had picked the only brother out of nine who didn’t like to dance.

An older brother-in-law was holding his grandchildren as his wife talked animatedly across the table with her son’s young girlfriend. The son was busy. His seven-year-old niece was looking up at him with starry-eyed devotion as he led her around the dance floor.

I sat and watched the new generation repeating what we once did, tios dancing with their nieces, people laughing and holding babies, the older generation dancing, dancing, dancing. I thought back to a Christmas party long ago, of my brother-in-law twirling my daughter, then five, around and around the small kitchen. I felt time telescoping in with a crushing sensation and all of a sudden I was squinting back tears as I felt the all-encompassing lonliness of endings, of time past, of the things I held so dear slipping through my fingers. I bit my cheek. Hard. And again. It wouldn’t do to cry right now.

All of a sudden I felt my husband at my side again. He was cracking a lame joke, looking into my face, drawing me out of the abyss. I smiled and went willingly.

We chatted with his mom and brothers and ate cake during the band’s break. My mother-in-law tried to separate her youngest from his beloved beer. My teetotaler husband once again proclaimed his status as the perfect child, while his brother looked at me and said, “He has his vices.”

I nodded.

“Work. Work is his vice.”

I know.

The band started up again. It was 9:45.

“Are you ready to go?” my husband asked. “I don’t want to be here if and when the police show up again.”

I laughed. “I’m ready,” I said.

We rode home in silence, my ears ringing with the residual oomph-a of sousaphone and my heart pinging with the loneliness of solitude.

Greener Grass

Ah, the old greener grass dilemma, the one that has you looking over the fence and drooling at your neighbor’s yard, dog, family, life. And by neighbor I mean anyone. It’s cliche, but the grass really may be greener on the other side of the fence. I mean, when’s the last time you fertilized your own lawn.

It’s easy to look outward, especially in the age of Facebook and Instagram, and see who you want to be. It’s hypnotizing, the desire to remake oneself into a thinner, richer, happier, or more successful person than may be the present case. A person may appear to be fulfilled, surrounded by beautiful, happy faces cheering him or her on. Yet a snapshot does not describe a life any more than a book cover does a book. Because we can’t know the fertilizer our neighbor is wading through, we may idealize his or her existence through whatever he or she chooses to share. Through social media we market ourselves as our perfect vision of what we hope to be as much as we buy in to others’ marketing efforts.  This disconnect has led to to the widespread Facebook envy phenomenon.

I’m here to tell you, that green grass has been fertilized by the same bullshit that’s heaped onto your yard and watered with the same tears, and the sooner you manage it and rip out those pesky weeds, the greener your own lawn will be. Tend your own lawn, and you will be so busy lying in the lush, green grass and looking up at the stars that you won’t even notice those poor souls peering over your own fence.

Sometimes people throw away something good for something better, only to find out later that good was actually good enough and better never even came close. ~Susan Gale

 

How Do You Vote?

I’m not stirring the pot of the heated election of 2016. I mean in your life, in your relationships, how do you vote?

Do you vote with your presence… or your absence? In a world filled with distractions, it can be tempting to eschew the company of a loved one for another trip down the Reddit feed or a Snapchat conversation with a friend. I have had many car trips with teenagers glued to their phones, and the longstanding rule of no technology at the table is continuously broken. Each look down instead of up is a choice for and against, and each vote is counted as a tally mark on the heart.

What role does work play in your life? A job is a necessity, but it can become a mission, another separate world complete with its own gravity, populated with its own citizens that speak a completely different language. Family becomes a distant blip on the horizon, a destination that becomes harder and harder to reach.

Do you take the time to visit loved ones, or do distances that are short on the map become insurmountable, as hard to reach as if they were on the other side of the world? It is said, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so the converse must be true as well.

Do you vote with your presence or your absence?


Photo credit: craftivist collective via Foter.com / CC BY

 

Do you vote with words of kindness or of criticism? Do your words uplift or devastate? Negative words are like acid, drop by drop tearing down even the strongest foundation. Kindness is a glue that binds and builds not walls, but webs, scaffolds of strength that hold us all up and unite us. After a long day at work or school, are your words measured and thoughtful or impatient and rude?

Your words are your vote toward what you value. Do you vote with kindness or criticism?


Photo credit: symphony of love via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Do you vote with your dependability or do you frequently betray trust? Can your partner, your parent, your friend, or your child depend on you to catch them when they fall or do you constantly rock the boat just as soon as they stand? Where do your loyalties lie? Is impressing the masses more important than holding tight to those in the inner circle? In life it’s good to know who’s got your back. Trust is the foundation of love, and without it, love falls apart.


Photo credit: birgerking via Small Kitchen / CC BY

So, in the relationships of life, how do you vote?

 

Dirty Dog

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“Roxie, out!”

It’s a refrain I hear daily.

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Puppy dog eyes – a look she’s perfected

Roxie was born outside in the rainy spring of 2014. Her young mom was a purebred black lab who, in true dog fashion, got knocked up right before she was scheduled to be spayed. Roxie and her twelve litter-mates shared a fenced enclosure under a carport. She’s used to being outside. But it warms my heart to have her near.

The day we went to pick a puppy, the rain was driving sideways. The family laughed when we showed up, saying they thought for sure we would cancel. We picked up the two remaining females. I turned each one over in my arms in turn. Roxie immediately went limp and sunk her head back as if she would snake out of my arms. What a weird dog.

“We’ll take this one.”

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Visitation

When we returned the next time, she ate up the attention, that is until Sunshine placed the small, red collar on her neck. She flopped. She rolled. She jumped at Sunshine’s face. Her body language said, in true toddler tantrum terms, get this thing off me! We placed her back in the pen, where she found a spot in the mass of jumping, writhing black and white furballs, lay down, head on paws, and glared at us as we walked away.

When we got her home, Sunshine took over parenting duties. She cuddled the pup. She coddled the pup. She now asks me if we blame her that Roxie is so strange. I’m sure she didn’t help the situation.

Roxie spent her first few months cozy in a warm bedroom with an adoring companion.

My husband always says he doesn’t want an inside dog. He hates pet hair, and who can blame him, but we traded our carpet for laminate a few years ago, so that’s much easier to keep clean. He says the dog stinks, and she probably does, but she’s not inside all the time. She actually prefers to be outside in the company of the other two, not-house-trained dogs. (When I tried the inside trick with one of them, he promptly peed on my couch. Not going to happen.)

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Roxie’s corner of the couch

She’s a good house dog. She curls up on her bed, just happy to be around her people. She is very attuned to us and easily trained, but she has her willful side. When she wants in and nobody is paying attention, she paws the back door. Repeatedly. If one paw doesn’t work, she knocks with both, or scratches the screen. (She knows that will get someone’s attention.)

We used to keep her crate set  up for those rainy days when she would come in wet. One such day, Mr. A was leading her out with the requisite command. She sulkily followed him, but darted into her crate at the last minute. There was no way she was going out in that weather, warm dog house or no. Many times she has made these decisions. She has her favorite place on the floor in the corner of the sectional, right underfoot. She can be sound asleep, but when she knows Mr. A is coming to sit on the couch, she will wake up and slink over to her dog bed. She knows if she lays low he won’t command her outside.

We conspire against him, Roxie and I. She lays low. I keep the broom and Febreeze handy. In our conspiracy, we are able to eke out a little more time together.

 

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Inspired by The Daily Post’s prompt: Dirty

House of Cards

Cool tears assuage the pain as though my feet
Have stumbled over shards of glass so fine
That you contrived to throw where we might meet,
And in your tantrum bold have drawn a line.

Your viewpoint is confirmed, my dear, not mine,
For I believe concession is an art.
In meeting of the minds we may align
To face the future tethered at the heart.

The fragile bonds of trust may tear apart
When scornful words are cast about at will.
In your defense you say we’ve pulled apart
While in my heart I know I love you still,

And wish with all my soul you’d sweep those shards
Of stubbornness and fix this house of cards.