From July 2010 to December 2013, the two years following Mark’s stroke and brain surgery, he struggled to regain lost cognitive and physical ground. The hemorrhage occurred in the back of the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex in an area of the brain that supports eyesight. During the stroke he lost more than half of his field of vision. On the day we figured out that something momentous had occurred and I rushed him to the hospital, he cocked his head to his left side, like a bird, to see the doctor and nurses. We caught the stroke too late so some of the vision loss became permanent. The change in his vision disturbed him most at night when the house turned foreign. Every little object on the floor or crease in a rug transformed into a confusing and dangerous obstacle. Continue reading The year of the fox by Patricia Karamesines
(For Clinton F. Larson)
How long did I look in that face, admit
that voice? He left his door unlocked to me,
kept ice cream money in a drawer. He fit
his office to my urchin company.
Those years I spent his foundling, each day waking,
I toyed on his baroque and spiraled stair.
“Look, here is Milton. See this sentence snaking?
These coils bend on forever. Do you dare?”
Continue reading Father-Daughter Dance by Patricia Karamesines
Polar fleece. One of the best. Inventions. Ever.
My admiration for this virtuous fabric prompted me to do a bit of research on it. On Wikipedia, I came across this: “Aaron Feuerstein [inventor] intentionally declined to patent polar fleece, allowing the material to be produced cheaply and widely by many vendors, leading to the material’s quick and wide acceptance.”
What a lovely man for doing this for us.
Until recently, my polar fleece jacket has been out of commission, in need of repair. I’ve been wearing an uncomfortable coat—the shell, actually, from my husband’s coat—made of polyester. The coat is much bigger, heavier, and longer than my fleece jacket but nowhere near as warm. Continue reading Field Notes #13 : Spider in the hand of a goodly snow
Glancing at Belle, I can tell she needs water, and soon. I lead her away from the beaver ponds before she’s tempted beyond her ability to resist to drink from its giardia-laced teapots. I hurry her to the shade of a big juniper, another of my stops, and sit down in the dirt beneath a broken branch that hangs across the trail. Obviously, Belle needs more water than I can provide by cupping my hand. I relent and pour her a drink in the canteen lid. She laps four or five lids full then lies down in the shade without my prompting, her shoulder pressing against my knee. She pants rapidly but seems to have gotten enough to drink, refusing another offered lid.
Looking around inside the juniper’s shadow, I notice a single penstemon blossom, looking like a wind sock on a pole, glowing red against the litter. Its color leaps to the eye from a backdrop of live blue-green and dead brown juniper stubble; last year’s curled, tawny oak leaves; green wisps of grass growing in a clump; spider webs clouded with dirt and other debris; and round, purplish-blue juniper berries dropped into grey-toned soil speckled with blacker grains, probably of decayed organic material. From somewhere up-canyon, a canyon wren’s laugh pipes its downward-falling scale. Continue reading Field Notes #12: Who Has Seen the Wind? (Pt.3) by Patricia Karamesines
Part Two of a three-part post. To read Part One, go here.
Nearing the grove, I find the trail leading into it paved with a light mosaic of shed brown and yellow leaves. I resist the impulse to resent fall’s steady encroachment into summer’s back edge. When I reach the interior of the woods, Belle, very thirsty, trots ahead to a beaver-felled trunk, our customary bench, and plops down to wait for me to offer her water. I open my waist pack to discover that I’ve forgotten to bring her little plastic water dish. Thinking about how that might have happened, I can’t even remember why it isn’t in the pack. Maybe I took it out of the pack when I refilled her water bottle in the kitchen then forgot to put it back in. This is the kind of mistake I make when I’m worn down. I’m unhappy about this error and try to figure out what to do. I cup my hand and pour water into it, continuing to pour as Belle laps water off my palm. Looking at her face, I can tell it isn’t enough. The cap on my canteen is big and will probably hold 4 ounces of water, but I don’t want to offer the lid of my canteen to my dog’s tongue unless the need becomes urgent. Continue reading Field Notes #12: Who Has Seen the Wind? (Pt. 2) by Patricia Karamesines
What a mystery is the air, what an enigma to these human senses! [T]he air is the most pervasive presence I can name, enveloping, embracing, and caressing me both inside and out, moving in ripples along my skin, flowing between my fingers, swirling around my arms and thighs, rolling in eddies along the roof of my mouth, slipping ceaselessly thought the throat and trachea to fill the lungs, to feed my blood, my heart, my self. I cannot act, cannot speak, cannot think a single thought without the participation of this fluid element. I am immersed in its depths as surely as fish are immersed in the sea.
—David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
Part One of a three-part post.
August 24, 2013. When I head out today for Crossfire Canyon, I step into a world in motion. Currents of surface wind, smooth in texture, cool to the touch, flood out of the south, curling around every solid body be it person, fencepost, or stone, leaning into every curve in the terrain. Weeds and spindly desert sunflowers undulate in it. As I pass my neighbor’s orchard, waves of wind sound in the apple and pear trees’ leaves, oceanic in temperament, noising like breakers crushing themselves against sand.
Here on White Mesa, the character of the desert air ranges widely from spring’s sandpaper winds that rattle windows and flake shingles off roofs, to the sudden dust-ups of sand spouts or dust devils, to dead still, the odd hour where the air’s quiescence reminds me of a motionless pool deposited in a stream bed after a flash flood has rumbled through. Today’s wind surges without half smothering me. I’ve walked into mesa blasts that grapple with me for my breath. This wind is respiration friendly. Continue reading Field Notes #12: Who Has Seen the Wind? (Pt. 1) by Patricia Karamesines
We are the Day Society:
See how we skirt surefooted as goats
the Crevasse of Desire.
God is in the well-placed step that bears us above Death,
while Beauty weeps for us beyond the goat paths.
By day, the way is clear, so complete,
the ground floor and ceiling blue.
We see where we are and name it alone and only.
On our tongue, world settles into a few words—
unanswered, unanswerable shouting.
Then sunset’s splinters—orange, mauve—
fade to night’s raw transparency
and the first call of a star.
Perfect, calling silence, star following star
like deer stepping from shadow or heavy forest
into the dark’s open, stream-curled meadows.
Now we’re in sterner metaphor,
the embrace of the abyss,
brought by goat paths
to the brink of wilderness.
Patricia Karamesines has won numerous awards for her poetry, essays, and fiction, including awards from the University of Arizona, the Utah Arts Council, and the Utah Wilderness Association. She is the author of The Pictograph Murders (Signature Books 2004), an award-winning mystery novel set in the Four Corners area. Her poetry appears in the anthology Fire in the Pasture (Peculiar Pages 2011). She writes for the Mormon arts and culture blog A Motley Vision and runs the nature writing blog Wilderness Interface Zone that advocates for the “greening of human language”. She has taught English classes at USU-Eastern off and on since 2006 and now tutors English students for the NASNTI Grant program–a job she dearly loves. She lives with her husband and three children a stone’s throw from beleaguered Recapture Canyon, has put in plenty of foot-time in the canyon, and is currently completing a work of creative nonfiction about her strange and wonderful experiences there.
In my quest for perhaps a wrongly-remembered story about beavers in Yellowstone National Park, I’ve watched several national parks shows, including Ken Burns’ America’s National Parks series. Since we finished that show–worth the watch, by the way–I’ve looked for other, nature-toned documentaries. We saw that Amazon Prime would let us view PBS’s Nature series for free, so we’ve tried settling into the 2012 season. The only time I watch television/movies is when I’m feeding my special needs daughter. Watching narrative takes parade across the electrified cave wall of our flat screen TV helps pass the half hour to hour thrice daily that I’m tethered to one spot while I get food into my daughter.
I haven’t watched Nature for 15 years, in part because I’m up to my neck in nature. Every day I’m at it–the struggles of helping my highly challenged family get through an hour, a day, a night, a week–hopefully, without losing anyone. When I watch TV, I really, really, really prefer something that engages me. Hard to find, me being the narrative maven than I am. We’ve watched maybe 6 episodes of Nature’s 2012 season now, and I’m pushing it to journey on. The overall poor quality of narrative in these episodes stuns me. The constant rhapsodizing on the more spiritually nourishing qualities of wilderness, even as we take in scene after scene of death and violence, is so lopsided that I think it does nature a profound disservice, forcing the behavior of other species into zoos of human thought. Not only does such captivating language do wild nature a disservice, I believe it’s doing human nature wrong. Continue reading Better and better by Patricia Karamesines
For many, it’s a simple thing, going to sleep at the end of a day. For me it runs to the difficult side. I sleep with my special needs daughter to keep watch over her through the night. She’s often troubled by discomfort or becomes tangled in sheets and blankets. Sometimes, her arms and legs get caught on or under each other and she can’t sort them out. She may suffer reflux or other problems that need attention. We learned years ago that guarding her sleep reduces seizures to the point of eliminating them. It’s a tough investment that we think is better than the many unfortunate alternatives, including having to spend all night trying to resolve problems that have gone undetected until she erupts in fits of pain, crying–sometimes screaming. I think it’s fair to say that if we’d left her alone in bed all these years, she might have suffered a dangerous accident without our being aware until it was too late.
Every night, we go through the same ritual. We put on Priscilla Herdman’s music DVD Stardreamer for her, turning the balance control ’til the music hums from the speaker on her side of the room. I get into bed. Her dad comes in and we speak the ceremonial words: “Good night,” “I love you,” “Can you say ‘Goodnight’ to Daddy?” My daughter lets him know when she wants to go to sleep. Just before or just after he leaves, she utters to me a two-syllable sound that varies in coherence. Sometimes it’s just those two, softly hooted syllables, hinged by aÂ sound that seems like a combination between a glottal and nasal stop. Sometimes it takes the shape of a querying word: “cuh-gul?”, “cuhgd-duhl?”
By the time we get to bed, I’m usually worn out. I just want to go to sleep. Sliding across the bed to tuck her knees up on my thigh and spread my left hand over her chest is just plain troublesome. And that isn’t enough. Usually, she wants my other hand on her, too, uttering her cuddle call until I relent. “You want me to cuddle more?” I ask. She hoots a soft yes. My hands together have an 18-inch span. Despite her age–nearly 21 years old–she’s very small, an effect of her microcephaly–reduced cranial size resultant of a severe, prenatal brain injury. My hands spread across her chest and upper abdomen and wrap around her sides.
Lately, despite rumbling hunger pangs for sleep, I’ve started paying more attention to what happens when I lay my hands on her, sometimes long enough that, beneath them, she falls asleep. I’m teaching myself to become more aware of and involved in the sensations of feeling my hands lift with the expansion of her one functioning lung when she inhales then lower again when her breath slides out. I get wrapped up in the rapid fluttering of what I call her butterfly heart against my left palm, straining to hear and feel my own slower heart beat in concert. I wonder over her misshapen rib cage, torqued by scoliosis, the sternum pressed upward, her skin stretched tight and thin across it like a hide over a drum. My still hands learn the shape and measure of it, resting and open, palms down, on the height of that upward curve. I compare the movements of my own breathings with hers. Through my hands, I feel other movements, murmurs, and gurglings in her abdomen.
Sometimes she grunts to let me know she’s done with the ritual–she’s ready to fall asleep and wants her space. Cuddle over. In recent past, that moment came as a relief as I unbent and rearranged my body into more comfortable shapes. Sometimes, I lost patience, pulled away, and told her, “Go to sleep.”
That’s changed. Sometimes, through my hands, I feel her relax into the foam topper we’ve put on the bed to make it more comfortable for her bone-jammed body. Her breath acquires soft, near regular depth, becoming rhythmic and peaceable. She sinks into sleep. Then I slowly lift away my hands and squirm back to my side of the bed, where I savor the sensations she’s given rise to in me. Sleep wells up then, not as abrupt relief from exhaustion, like the wind’s slamming a door between the world and my worn-thin senses. It comes more peacefully, like the slow glide of late evening into dusk, into night, complete with sunset displays of dreams. Going to bed still takes work, but the effort’s effects have become less oppressive and more revelatory.
The literally tiresome ritual is becoming, for me, a final, pre-sleep act of wondering over another deep layer of my life, another engagement in the mysteries. It exposes an added layer to the stratigraphy of connectedness and its ever-increasing expanse, linking up, diving then resurfacing elsewhere in our lives. There’s no end to the wilderness we call life. It changes even as we fix a gaze on it, taking the gaze with it, so that our seeing becomes part of the changing. The world gives rise to something new.
That first twenty minutes or so of bedtime is now a looked-for meeting time with Something Else as I place my hands on my little, living seer stone. We shouldn’t label them “special needs children”–unless we mean that they can meet and provide for our special needs. I’ve said this before, but I keep learning it, over and over, in new forms: The limitations here are not hers, and they’re not the developmentally delayed conditions of hundreds of thousands or millions of children like her. Those delays in development are ours–they belong to the rest of us who lie near to these souls yet are incapable of seeing through the windows they open, we who draw the curtains and put space between them and us because, we think, they ask too much of us. It’s too hard. It’s too late. We just want sleep. Like any profound question, they do ask too much, over and over. Cuddle? Cuddle? Cuddle? We are the ones who often fall short of intimate response. Even when my daughter is falling asleep, she catches me up.
A few days ago a 20-something Navajo student named Danielle Yazzie brought in her annotated bibliography for my review. Clearly, she felt passionately about her topic–special education, how the public school system treats special needs children, and how special needs categories have changed over the last 50 years. She couldn’t help but put in her own heartfelt views–not exactly appropriate for a bibliography. I tried to guide her away from that, just so she could meet the requirements for the assignment. I suggested that she save those thoughts for her essay.
But at the end of the bibliography she included a personal annotation that I decided to leave in place. This is what she said: “To me, the category gifted and talented students includes disabled students because they offer so much insight into the world around us.” A spectacular perception from such a young woman. I said I agreed and looked at her dark eyes. There was no exchange of secret acknowledgement of the sort that those of us who are mothers to brain variable children sometimes flash to each other. This bright girl, not a mother herself, took her truth completely in stride.
So maybe we are catching up, moving past the edges of our limitations. Maybe we’re becoming caught up. And these kids are spurring our development, enabling breakthroughs. Teaching us to walk with better balance, speak ourselves more fully, become more involved in this world. Maybe they’re moving us past ourselves to deeper meaning and more fully realized life.
I live with a cutting edge being. This cutting edge person wants me to cuddle with her. Hands down I am the luckiest unlucky person I know.
Quote from Danielle Yazzie used with her permission.
Edited 2/21/2012 at 9:52 a.m.
My neighborâ€™s light steps
Through gaps between the boards at night,
And my neighborâ€™s light steps
Drift like leaves among his unguessed furniture.
At sunset, the sun leaks from his room.
We have never spoken through the wall,
Though we have, at other times, spoken,
And we have, at other times, thought
Of each otherâ€™s sleeping.
Male and female,
Twining like butterflies in the space
Of the wallâ€™s other room.
I guess love
And wait ’til their trembling,
And the wallâ€™s trembling, pass.
Then embers of their conversation
Once more permit sleep.
I hear a woman crying.
I think, “There is a woman in my dreams, crying.”
Then I think, “No, I am crying.”
And then another voice says, â€œNo,
That’s real sadness on the other side
Of the wall–not your dreaming.â€
I follow the sounds, but when my eyes open,
They have nowhere to go in the blindfold blackness.
Yet to my ears, the nightingale, a bare-throated woman,
Warbles her sorrows through the wall’s divide.
Patricia Karamesines lives with her family in the Four Corners region of the southwestern U.S. She has won many awards for her poetry, essays, and fiction. She is the author of The Pictograph Murders, a mystery set in the area where she lives. An adjunct English professor for Utah State University-College of Eastern Utah, she teaches English composition but acts at the college mainly as an English tutor, working mostly with the school’s Native American students. She is founding editor of Wilderness Interface Zone and a passionate advocate for the environment of human expression.
Photo of an old door in Dakhla, Egypt via Wikimedia Commons.