The Bonsai Club of Milwaukee

We happened upon an exhibition for the Bonsai Club of Milwaukee. It wasn’t intentional, this viewing of shrubs and trees in miniature, just convenient since we had a sitter and we had time. My husband, with thoughts of root systems and leaf shapes, observed, as always, from a distance called science. I paced the maze of planters and pots looking only for what pleased my eye. The bonsai had been judged, and like any State Fair exhibition hall, most of the ribbons remained tacked to the week-old display, all shabby pride with no particulars to aid in understanding the judge’s criteria.

Later, we walked the grounds of the botanical gardens that had hosted the bonsai club’s exhibit, talking about the things we don’t usually talk about. I said, how different our lives are from everyone else’s, and yet, I can’t quite figure out why. He said, things are not so different from the way everyone else’s are. That’s what we say to each other, especially about the dark and about mysteries. I say, things, they are hard. He says, no, things, they aren’t as hard as you make them. But the bonsai, I say…

The exhibition was organized in groups: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced. There was a winner for every category, and various Miss Congeniality-level awards that seemed to laud effort rather than result. It was the beginner entrants that caught my eye. Each show just how people create bonsai–magician’s secret revealed!–with wire. No different, really, than customized cages. Not so different from feet binding. Not that different from rules and policy and politeness, but I knew something else.

The intermediates had already been loosed a bit. Yes, they were still forming, still pushing against restraints, but they already displayed a helium-like lightness to their sparse leaves or needles reaching up for light, for life, that defied the dark and twisted nature of the stunted wood. The advanced were wireless but acquiescent, all quirky beaut, passive acceptance. But those beginner trees, wires twisted up stunted trucks, restrained branches, enforced gravity, little beauty yet to justify the treatment; they defined me where I was just now. I knew what I felt, and the knowing was hard: I looked at my future–all constraint and adaption–and saw little more than a life lived in miniature.

My Phoenix

(2008 – Noah is three years old.)

Before he was born, each moment
simmered down so simply
to: happy, sad. Now I am neither. Never
one nor the other. A haze
has settled, an eclipse cloaks
the light, and I rummage, blind,
through piles of emotions, sinkholes
of scraps, all notes on a broken heart,
searching for clues, an X on a map, a route, a way out.

The world turned grey for us. No
bright colors any more for us,
our lives whittled down with
Unmet expectations shaved off in wormlike
curls. Lost dreams drop
off behind us like so much
debris in ditches, piles of discard and disuse.

Now my back bends.
My belly scrapes the ground.
I am loaded like a beast
of burden. My weight is weighted with wants
I can no longer put to work
in the hopes of shaping a life
for myself, for him, that is measured
by capacity and not by limits.
And I am tired, tired
of sorting feelings
into orderly bins: hope love disappointment.

Yet, one day, long
after he should, he points
To an apple, red and round
on a white page. Recognition. Cognition.
And there. Oh there it is.
Like a mouse burrowing
beneath fall leaves, like a faint voice
whispering from beneath rubble, hope stirs.
And like a pale green sprout, slow
in its uncoiling, Noah unfolds.
And suddenly I believe again.

Some day he will learn
his letters, his numbers, his name.
And on those new-colt legs, he will
run with friends, run from me,
from my arms that have carried him far too long.
He will run, fly, and I will
be the first mother to cheer, to say, to plead:
Go, my son, grow up too fast.
Like they all said you would. Go.

the summer i turned eighteen

They Broke my legs
both femur Bones
Broken in half.

They removed one
and a half inches of Bone
from my strong right leg
inserted that Bone
(imagine: what could look
like sawed Bone? imagine:
sawing bone.)
between the Break
in her weaker left sister.

They used my Bones
as counting beads
as building blocks
to grapple
with impotent equations
(1.5 + -1.5 = 0)
to prove science
dominates nature.

They evened me out
3 inches.

They slidshoved (imagine!) metal
rods like skewers
down
into the spongy marrow
of my Bones.

They screwed metal
plates nestled next to Bone
and i remember
i woke screaming
when
They drew my Broken legs
bent at the waist
up over my head
(Perhaps I imagined)
a better angle for x-rays.

They said walk
and i did 2 days later
i imagined i would die
wished
They would die
imagined she
the athletic blond therapist coaxing
me onto two Broken legs
with platitudinous encouragement!
to walk
on two Broken legs
would die.

For eighteen years
They described my leg as discrepant
and i believed
that discrepancy
was me.

i watched a movie called
Misery
and she broke his legs
with a sledgehammer!
to keep him still, to keep him
home. It whispered
memory
into my ear
this (imagined?) horror.

how did They
Break the legs
begin the punishment
of the criminals
who hung
on crosses
next to jesus?

They were god.
father, son, holy ghost
my mother
bless her believing heart
turned me over to Them.
They were healers, mayo clinic, blue masks, sweet
air like candied fruits lining my mouth, like sweet
cellophane, a Disneyland sleep, reach sweet sleep
count 100 backwards, imagine peace.
They were teachers and coaches
who said no,
who refused to Break
the world open
for a little girl
for whom no
would always be the answer.

They said i couldn’t
play on the swings
skate like dorothy
tumble like nadia
It was no use to imagine.
They said i couldn’t run
on the bases. Took me off 1st when i earned
my place and replaced me
with someone who could.

i wonder who
They imagined I would become
(who I could have imagined being)
before
They Broke my Bones
the summer I turned eighteen
and I felt my spirit
slip away.