First steps

A lopsided tree on a trail in Patrick's Point Park in winter where I am taking first steps running

At the trailhead
I vacillate and waver,
shake away the urge to start, as if it were a pest aiming at my face,
turn my attention to a thought-that-cannot-wait-a-moment-longer,
though it has lain forgotten for days.

Drizzle dots my glasses sliding down a cold nose
Random aches nag
The bench on the bluff lures me to stay, sit
and see platinum sky melt into gunmetal ocean.

But I can’t:
A breath of wind and the lopsided dead tree ahead will slam down onto the trail
and cut off passage.
Time is tight
to press on and reach past the tree.
Too late is too close.

Yet I dither,
find excuses
detail pressing commitments I never made
impede the progress burning urgent
within.

Until
I wrest the first step.
Soon legs and feet fall into a trotting rhythm,
soles spring on rain-loosened loam.
Browning ferns crowd along the path—
dying, so spring can bring new growth.
Bright green fiddleheads will uncurl and unfurl.

The hesitant first step is effaced in the glow of the endorphins’ high
tide flowing in.

At the top of the page
I dither and doodle,
shake away the urge to write, as if it were a pest aiming at my face,
turn my attention to a task-that-cannot-wait-a-moment-longer,
though it has lain undone for days.

I brew a fresh cup of black tea
Inhale the sweet steam,
sip.
I quarter and core a Fuji apple
Bite after bite I eat it, a drop of juice escaping from my lips
chased and captured by the tongue.
Time is tight
to press on and reach the bottom of the page.
A bite of bitter chocolate
melts in my mouth

Now

Right hand prods the fountain pen
Nib whispers
Blue ink seeds the page
of the notebook the same hand sewed with precise stitches.

When I stop I am tired
The tracker shows over 3 miles run
The notebook 3 pages filled
bleeding onto a fourth.

Not every day sets a personal running record
Not every day the words will survive the editing shears
But today’s trotting is training for tomorrow’s run
Today’s still sentences are training for the full moon
setting on the ocean
sparking off the page.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

The Soccer Ball

Murano at sunset: soccer ball on the water

October 19, 2015

Seven tiny islands connected by bridges make up Murano, famous for its glassworks. A ten-minute motoscafo ride from Venice, Murano is an easy hop for tourists. They start arriving in the morning and during the day you all but hear the delicate glass rattling as wave after wave of visitors clomp from one glass shop to the next. By late afternoon, the tide of tourists has almost completely ebbed. We arrived as the sun was lingering on the western sky getting ready to set, and the silence was flowing back into calli and seeping into campi.

With the last rays of the sun glazing the canal-side houses rosy gold, my husband and I walked aimlessly. It was our first visit and we wanted Murano to reveal itself to us on its own terms, so we strolled in silence and without a specific destination, tuning our bodies to the day’s end slowing tempo, to the life beneath the picture postcard Murano, the place I had chosen for us to celebrate his upcoming 60th birthday.

The briny smell of the Venetian Lagoon tickled our noses. I tasted a delicate sweetness in the sunset breeze. Soft sounds of everyday life — footsteps, conversations, front doors closing behind people going home —enfolded us. In just a few steps we were hand in hand in a self-contained moment of being exactly where we wanted to be. We could have been tiny figures inside one of the delicate glass Christmas ornaments in the windows of the shops we passed. I smiled giddily at my husband, and he smiled back, indulgently.

A soccer ball landed — plunk! — near his feet. He saved the ball from rolling into the canal and threw it back to the kids playing soccer on the fondamenta, bounded by houses on one side and a canal on the other. They grinned their thanks. They were untroubled by this close call and continued to kick the ball around the slender flagstone course. The next kick sent the ball on the deck of a moored boat. One of the players sprang on board and retrieved it, and their game continued.

My husband and I smiled at each other then resumed our silent walk. A little later, I caught a glimpse of the ball floating in the middle of the canal, a paean to youth defying destiny, daring to play soccer in a place visitors admire as a timeless still life. In another town, the ball would have hit a garage door or rolled down an alley. In Murano, it splashed in the canal and floated with the tide towards the open water of the lagoon.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

Power lines

power lines across a post-storm sky

February 28, 2015

Our long drive southbound on California Highway 101 from Humboldt County to Santa Rosa got under way under a sky spring-cleaned by a two-day rainstorm. On Humboldt Bay’s mirrorlike water, ducks glided drawing fine wakes and egrets checked their snowy plumage. Millions of droplets caught in the needles of roadside redwoods made the tall trees glint. The first new leaves dotted branches of deciduous trees.

I took a break from soaking up the sparkling landscape to text my brother to be updated on the latest Lego drama: the evening before, my five-year-old nephew had crashed his prized police station while moving it and the catastrophe had plunged him into an abyss of desperation. The message popping up on my iPhone told me that an emergency rebuilding of the station had cleared the sky in the boy’s life. I smiled at the image of a twinkle slowly unfolding the creases on my nephew’s crying face. Superimposed on it, the older image of one of my brother’s theatrical tantrums when he was his son’s age appeared. I don’t know if and what he remembers, as we rarely talk about the first 20 years of our lives, when we inhabited the same apartment, but different emotional worlds.

After four hours of solid blue, thunderstorm clouds materialized in front of us, intermittently fractured by lightning, a rare occurrence in the Bay Area. We headed straight towards the churning gray chaos, while behind us, calm blue reigned unfazed. We stepped inside Gaia’s Garden in Santa Rosa where I read a selection of my writings.

Afterwards, Auriela McCarthy shared an excerpt from her book The Power of the Possible. She read how trying to change another person is “a hopeless and pointless task.” An energy field of resistance builds up “with each wishful thought and each hopeful feeling” and against it the person will bounce. The line of communication severed, there is no connection between the two sides, though their voices’ volume may reach a dangerous level of decibels.

Auriela’s words were a serendipitous commentary to the stories I had just read. In “Through the Green Glass,” my mother wanted me to be different. I wished the same of her. On that premise, we doomed ourselves to mutual isolation. On the other hand, in “Nasturtium Triumphant” I did not try to change the expansionism of the garden nasturtium that holds court around our house. Rather, I delighted in observing its blazing yellow and orange flowers, its shield-shaped leaves on which dew- and raindrops collect into glittering globes, and its indomitable spirit. And I explored with appreciation the plant’s culinary uses.

The reading event over, we turned the car around and headed north again. The sky was a fast-moving kaleidoscope of blue, white and many shades of gray. The thunderstorm’s threat never quite materialized, but the billows of clouds lingered on — marbled, as if black ink had been squirted into white paint and an expert hand was swirling a spatula in it. The warm light of sunset painted pink and purple brushstrokes in Monet-like frenzy.

My photographer’s eyes darted around framing the view from various angles, looking to capture the magical convergence of the gods of light, perspective and landscape elements.

“Stop here, please!” I pleaded with my husband.

I sprang out, iPhone at the ready and started framing this way and that feverishly, because each elapsing instant was bringing a subtle shift of light and clouds that meant the difference between a textured image and a flat one. After a 360 degree pirouette assessment, I stopped towards the south-east at a magnificent combination of sky, clouds and silhouette of hills and trees. But telephone cables and power lines cut across my sweeping field of view.

“Darn!” I raged, but then thought: “You can’t change them, so embrace them.” The black lines strung between poles speeding across at an angle became part of the image, no longer noise, but a line of visual melody.

“I love it!” I beamed as I got back into the car.

When we let go of wishing that the other person be different, a space of possibilities opens up. Death has shut down that space forever for my parents, but I can still explore it with my brother. I can make sure that the line of communication between us is also a line of connection.


Auriela McCarthy’s website
Redwood Writers’ Open Mic


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

Joy in every step

Odessa Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park (the joy of hiking)
August 11, 2015 — Rocky Mountain National Park

We emerged from the Fern Lake trail in the bright mid-morning sun, after hiking four and a half miles from Odessa Lake, on whose shore we had spent the night. The trail down from the lake started rocky and exposed, then turned into packed dirt in the breezy shadow of stately firs and quivering aspens.

Along the way, we met several fishermen, a park rangers’ rescue team in training, and other hikers—some couples and a few families with children in tow. Adults usually nodded, or said: “Hi.” Some smiled and, taking their cue from our backpacks, asked: “Where did you sleep?” The children rarely said anything or even made eye contact with us, maybe out of shyness, but most probably because as adults, we were by definition uninteresting, backpacks notwithstanding. Most of them looked bored, a few irritated, the rest slightly interested in the surrounding forest.

I remembered being worse than them. To treat my flat feet, as a child I had to wear custom-made boots that felt and looked like a prison. The orthopedist had recommended walks on rough terrain. When I was made to hike by my parents, I felt punished. I hated it and my permanent scowl made my feelings abundantly clear to anyone who dared look at me.

A stretch of unpaved road linked the Fern Lake Trailhead to our destination: the parking lot where the visitor shuttle stopped. I started on it savoring the bittersweetness infusing the end of an adventure. In the spotlight of the sun approaching its zenith, I saw a trio coming slowly towards us. A woman and a man held by the hands a boy walking unsteadily yet determinedly on thin, bow legs. His grin was as luminous as the sun above—a grin of unlimited happiness.

I focused on him only an instant. “He doesn’t want to be looked at,” I thought. But in that instant our eyes met across the road. I smiled at him. He surprised me with a silvery “Hello!” ringing like a mindfulness bell.

“Oh, hello!” I answered, widening my smile to match his grin.

His short dark hair stuck out at its end, pagoda-like. Four years old, I guessed. But there was no guessing about his glee: every inch of his frail frame screamed his joy of walking outdoors.

My gaze let him go, but I held on to the desire of declaring the same joy in each of my steps.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

On the bluff, in the wind

Indian paintbrush blooming on the bluff (Mendocino Headlands) At the edge of the bluff, the gaze glides down towards the ocean shimmering deep blue under a bright summer sky. It stops at the tuft of Indian paintbrush blooming brilliant red half-way down, a small fire, burning heatless on the steep sandy slope.

The Indian paintbrush is not the only plant surviving in the harsh environment,
scorched by the mid-day sun that has burned off the nightly fog,
shaken by the wind that accompanies the fog daily mass migration to and from the coast,
splashed by the salt spray the ocean showers when it pounds the shore.

But among the gravity-defying bluff flora, the Indian paintbrush is the plant that most assertively heeds its urge to bloom, bursting into flames of flowers. It doesn’t wait for something to change its surroundings, doesn’t try to move elsewhere. It sings its colorful song today on this rocky stretch of California coast.

The place or the time not being right for the blooming burning inside me is an excuse easy to make. The Indian paintbrush turns that excuse into sand. Where my feet are now and when I breathe this breath are as right a place and time as there will ever be. I look at the blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean marbled with streaks of white foam.

I breathe in the cool coastal air carrying the taste of salt and seaweeds. Like the Indian paintbrush, I cannot imagine a better place or a better time.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini

Pruning shears

My pink rose bush

Last year, at the end of the blooming season, I pruned the two rose bushes that grow on the western wall of our house.

Every evening for over a week,
after the day’s work was done,
in the suspended moment between day and night,
I pruned.

The air was still,
the Pacific Ocean, though constantly chattering, seemed to slow down and settle for the night.
Birds were silent,
bunny rabbits were safely tucked deep in the bushes,
raccoons were preparing for their nightly raids,
and I pruned.

Brandishing shears in my gloved hands, I snipped and snipped and pulled long thorny branches tangled with others. I was unravelling a mystery.

I wished the bushes understood my destruction’s purpose was to make them better. But I doubted myself and them. What if I bungled the whole thing and the bushes died as a result of my inexperienced snipping?

The light thump of each branch coming to rest on the growing pile of siblings sounded final, like a chapter-ending period. I left only healthy-looking branches off the main stem. The bushes looked kind of naked, exposed. The while walls behind them glared at me, exposed too.

I carried the last mound of severed branches to the discard pile and went inside without looking back. A sense of having survived a necessary painful process prevailed, liniment on the raw wound. For months, I didn’t go close to the bushes for fear I would see signs of deteriorating health.

In early spring,
a small red rose bloomed shyly
in the still cool air.

Then,
the pale pink bush exploded
into a firework of delicate blooms.

I tried to remember how sparse the bushes had been after my surgical intervention, but it was hard to match my six-month-old memory with the lush growth in front of me:
a lavish
ravishing
rose world,
a world lighted by pink and red petals.

On a recent morning, demoralized about sustained creative efforts not bearing the expected fruit, I went outside and looked at my roses:
bejeweled by dewdrops,
compliments of the nightly coastal fog,
they smiled at the pale morning sun and at me.

And I understood.
I must cut away what saps my energy,
what served a purpose, but whose role has come to an end.

To bloom, I must prune — mercilessly.


© 2015-2017 Simona Carini