Thursday, August 25, 2011

The House is a Nest for Dreaming: "The Sober Cabin" by Lois Minsky

The dream of a cabin over and over, in the woods, green gabled, dark with character. My mother was waiting for me there.

It was a home beyond any home I had ever known. A home with room enough for my thoughts. Shelves for my books. White scallop-edged curtains on every window.

The story theme of shyness and disability arranged in the corner table by a glass menagerie sitting on a rounded wood table in the corner of the room. It all looking to me like a diagram of what to figure out in this life, with elephants, ducks and horses patiently waiting. It was a place to be safe from all the storms. The basement grounded deep in the earth giving gravity to what moves inside. I am able to be still. I am a master of reflection here. It feeds me beyond bread. My heart can feel its beat.

Only I know what I overcame to belong here. The constant pounding thoughts, the hammering words given to children. "Stupid, Lazy, why did I have you? What are you good for? I hope God punishes you like he did me." The screams over a spoon left in the sink. The silence that holds no peace.

It was a cabin strong enough for my personal storms. Strong enough for love to enter. My mother waited for me there, years after dying and being reborn. The exhaustion I feel with each dream repeating itself over and over. My mother comes alive each time five years after her death and I must explain to everyone how this happens only to me - she is dead - she is alive, I must adjust and then she leaves again. Of her own choosing, gone with no known address, and again I grieve into exhaustion. Trying to explain how this keeps on happening in my soul : torrential storms that just pass over leaving every tree and branch bent under the weight of wind and water.

Lois Minsky lives with her golden retriever, Parker Quinn, in Burlington, Vermont where she reads, occasionally writes, and works. You can catch up with her at her blog: Not Sure Where I Am

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August in Minnesota: Perfect Day

Today will be a perfect day. The stillness and the color of light in the sky predict this. The sound of a motor over the lake dies away, another begins; the water is smooth, precise, breathless and without a ripple. I wake with so much love for Josh today, hold him tightly wrapped in my arms and legs. Later he looks for names for the baby in a book at the kitchen counter. Now only stillness, a fragile, quickly stolen noise keeps me company. How long was the longest silence? The waves from the motor boat wash against shore once, twice only. Over the dimpled sand of the beach shadows bend. I am blessed today with this solitary room and this window facing the shore of the lake, a beach I know well. A beach I ran across as a child.

What was it to be a child, so small in my body and big of mind with feeling spirit?

These are not sentences but interruptions that cut like a crosshatch[ed] pattern over an image of beauty. The lost sound of cut language enters here and we listen with our mouth with our body of skin, the mind rendered less useful. Posy ricochets off the page, which is no longer a page, no longer something one can keep between her fingers, before sleep touching her words, running her hand along the edge of her whole world. Now something else so easily misplaced so oddly wound together—up down—do I feel this language the same when it is no longer born out of a work of the body? When it is typed into space, empty of body? I scroll up and cut away an entire limb, scroll down and paste a face on the knee.

And what is my body? House for two. Our child so small it still lives between my hip bones after all these weeks, these three and a half months. People tell me (I don’t know, in joking) that I house a parasite. I am not offended or amused. This child is growing out of my body feeding on me; for the first time I am forced to wonder truly about the science of something after so many years of preferring my own stories.

What was it to be a child, to know so much and get away with your knowing as grownups have mostly forgotten?

The sound of a duck, quack quack, interrupts the carried away nature of my thoughts. How silly to hear a duck quack! The slightest breeze moves through my room. The quacking sounds horse now, a frog in the duck’s throat. Josh has gone for the day. Soon I will be called up to the house for pleasant conversation with my mother and company.

First, however, today will be a perfect day: a still thought will rise out of the quiet, clean sky and I will work to harness it, to give it skin and make it mine.

full term pregnancy

Monday, August 8, 2011

The House is a Nest for Dreaming: "Home" by Susan V. Weiss

If I say I’m going home after a slew of errands, I’m perfectly clear about where I’m headed: my little three-bedroom house with a yard the size of a playing card. But when prompted with the word “home”, I feel directionless, without route or destination. In the bigger picture, for most of my life, I suppose that “home” has been my family’s house in eastern Pennsylvania. Even though at some time during young adulthood I asserted to my parents, “This isn’t my home! Boston is my home now!” that was the place. The big womb. The X where gravity ended.

But that house is gone, now—gone, anyway, from my family universe like a star that has melted into darkness. I can’t quite separate the selling of that house from the decline of my parents and, finally, the death of my mom. I’m not homeless, though. I still have my own house in Vermont; in fact I’ve now lived here longer than I’ve lived in any of my other homes. And yet when the family home was sold in a panicked rush--so that we each had only one shot at grabbing whatever we wanted to salvage, as if we were contestants on a game show—I chose not to, or I forgot to, take things that I now miss: the doll dresses worn by my Shirley Temple doll that I would like to have hung on my bedroom wall; my mom’s ceramic mixing bowls; a carry-on suitcase. It was all hauled away in a big truck, sorted by hands that didn’t sense the softness of my mom’s sweaters or the smoothness of my dad’s belts. The hollowed out house is now inhabited by strangers.

These days, when I visit my father, who lives in a nursing home, I stay with a friend usually, or with one of my siblings. But during those visits, my feet never seem to touch ground. Where is the kitchen, my mother nervously preparing a dish that she worries will be too dry or not seasoned enough? What has become of the pink bathroom that seemed stopped in time way back in the sixties? Probably the new owners have gutted it and only pink shards remain, buried morsels to be some day unearthed by an archaeologist.

While some can claim to have more than one home—summer homes in warmer climates or vacation homes abroad—others have none. Two or three times a month, I volunteer for the local organization that serves the homeless in my community. Never once do I leave there any less than overwhelmed with gratitude that I don’t have to worry every day about where I’ll stash my stuff, where I’ll bathe, where I’ll lay my head that night. I can barely conceive of living in such circumstances. I have been compelled to think about a different sort of homelessness, too, after my experience teaching refugees: to be worlds away from the place that is home; to escape with just fragments of family; to hold onto no more than a language and customs, which often become impediments to creating a new home in a strange land.

Certainly I have lived in places that didn’t feel like home to me—after all, isn’t a home less a particular place than a relationship with that place, an attachment? Most of us release a little sigh—a good sigh--when we say the word “home”. Home with a capital “H”, not just the location where we plunk down our bag of groceries. But like all relationships, the relationship with a home can end. Even an attachment to a cardboard lean-to or the cold, hard ground can be forcibly terminated when the occupant is chased away by police or driven south by the weather.

My living situation seems so much more secure than the fragile stopping points of people banished from their homes by war, or by hunger and drought, and yet I know that no one is invulnerable to homelessness. I lost my home with the pink-bathroom, the kitchen, the fretful mother but am fortunate to have another. If any of us wants a guarantee of never being without a home or, better yet, of always feeling at home, we ought to start forming some kind of meaningful attachment to this great big world, the sky above us, the immovable earth below, and hope and pray that this, our biggest, most durable home won’t be snatched away from us and that we are the best tenants we can possibly be.

Susan V. Weiss lives in Burlington, Vermont, where she writes and teaches. Her novel will be published this September by Fomite. (Available through or Check out Susan's website and blog:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August in Minnesota: On the Road
 It happens in the town of Roscommon on our way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I notice a change of pace and a difference in the trees. The people are friendlier, less preoccupied. We drive into this town off Interstate 75 to use the restroom: a small bathroom with a toilet from who knows when—not the corporate layout of the highway gas stations. The woman behind the counter and her customer talk about the hot weather. As I leave I let loose an enormous yawn and she calls out, “Hey none of that in here, it’s contagious.” I smile as I walk sleepily out. We’ve been driving all day and we drove all day yesterday from Vermont to Michigan to our final destination of Minnesota. Roscommon, I say to myself as my husband drives us back out to the highway passing spruce trees and fir that spike high into the sky.

The trees here are Nordic trees—pines and birch, less hardwood, no lush undergrowth. We drive north towards the Mackinac Bridge—the third longest suspension bridge in the world—and the azure blue waters of the Straits of Mackinac, towards the sandy shores of Lake Superior and silent horizons fading into sky. I tell my husband people are nicer in the Midwest and he snorts. His loyalty to New England and his home state of Vermont remains watertight. But it’s true, I say, people are different here, they call you “honey” or “doll” and seem to genuinely care for you.

In Mackinaw City we stop at the Cunningham Restaurant for pancakes and eggs. The lady who takes our order, a middle-aged woman with a heavy tan and frosty eyelids, calls me “dear,” and I look over at my husband who is fiddling with his phone. “Hey, did you hear that,” I whisper after she’s left. He looks up at me, what? “I need to take your picture,” he says. “You look so lovely.”

"Big Mac"
 We cross the bridge as we did last summer and as we plan to do every summer on our way to visit my family in Minnesota. Its two towers make it look like the Golden Gate Bridge though it’s not quite as long. The water of the straits glistens greenish blue like a lagoon or southern ocean. We pass St. Ignace and drive northwest through the crinkly pine forests of the UP. I favor this northern terrain, the smell of pine and dry air, the yellow sand dunes of the lake. The coniferous forest of pine, spruce, fir and cedar, of birch, lichens and bogs composes the landscape of my Northern Minnesota home.

photo by Lee Frelich
 As we enter this world in Michigan, I begin to reflexively crave this landscape. In Vermont I am so taken with the deciduous forests of the Green Mountains that I forget the beauty of the pines. The landscape of Vermont is lush and dense, snaked with rushing streams rather than still lakes or bogs. Northeast Minnesota is home to berry picking while Vermont is known for its apples and maple syrup. As I write this my mother and sister are out berry picking this morning and a few days after we arrived, my sisters Bess and Hannah took me mushroom hunting in the forest.

There is something distinctly different about the way people here, specifically the northern part of the middle of the country, treat each other, as there is something specific and distinct to every region. But because I live in Vermont I naturally contrast Minnesota to the green mountain state. “Cold,” is the word I think of first when I recall New Englanders. Though, amusingly enough, Vermonters think of themselves as friendlier than New Yorkers or “flatlanders” (people who do not live in their state). Vermonters see themselves as living a slower life, but then maybe they’ve never been to the Midwest. If you want to live a slow life stop by Roscommon, I giggle to myself, or come to the Side Lake area where my family lives. Of course, I admit, I live in Burlington, Vermont’s largest metropolis, and not a small New England town. But even when I pass through the small towns of Vermont it isn’t like passing though the Northern Midwest where people will speak to you like they’ve known you forever.

I don’t necessarily want to go around chatting it up with everyone, even in the town where my siblings, cousins, and I went to school and I do know a good percentage of its 4500 residents from working at my grandfather’s and then my father’s pharmacy downtown, I mostly try to remain anonymous. Working behind the counter where I “run the till,” otherwise known as the cashier, I hope most customers will mistake me for one of my four blond sisters, though usually at least one of my sisters is also working with me and our father or our aunt. Why, I wonder do I prefer to listen to them and not tell them what it is I’m doing (the natural question to ask)? I like to hear what they’re doing, but I worry they won’t understand why someone would be tirelessly writing day after day, making a living working odd jobs at the age of 30 and frankly, I wonder this myself most of the time, so where would that conversation go—therapy session?

Back on the road through the UP, my husband wakes me from a nap to go swimming in Lake Superior. I’m leery of the water’s cold temperature but the sand is golden and plentiful and the lake is a spectacular Blue Grotto that rolls right into the spotless cerulean horizon. I lie in the sand while my husband wades in and dives under, waiting to hear the verdict on the water’s temperature. When he gives me the OK, I go down and step in the water—it’s chilly but tolerable. The waves lap against my shins as I wade in. At waist deep I plunge under; the cool water feels cleansing and I sense summer is only just beginning for me now, at the end of July.

We’ll make it to my parents’ by nine that night; our final road a small meandering driveway through the woods. We’ll sit glossy eyed on the sofa trying to unravel from the two days of driving. It will take me nearly a week to adjust and to return to my work, which looms in the back of my mind like an angry child longing for attention. The guilt becomes unbearable and so here I sit, again, writing it away. What a strange compulsion this has become. It happened in Roscommon, I think, the trees and the people changed. The longing for home, a place they say we only understand after we’ve left, grew up out of the craggy land, the pointed pines and cone shaped spruce, the bogs along the highway and the chilly sapphire waters of lake after lake after lake.

Sunset Cove