Summer reeling

I cannot tell if the day is ending, or the world, or if the secret of secrets is inside me again. ― Anna Akhmatova


I want to tell you about something, but I’m not sure how.

It’s about summer’s passing.

It’s about the sun setting.

It’s about walking away from the beach, across the field, leaving summer behind.

It’s about feeling like summer is under my feet, reeling backward, faster and faster, with each step I take.

It’s about seeing my youth dragged along underneath it.

It’s about the sudden knowing that summer’s ending echoes my own.

Ripening still

I want to tug only on those things that are truly ripe.
I want to let everything else take its sweet time.
(Virgo New Moon, Wise Harvest,  )

My youngest brother & sister, 1994
My youngest brother & sister, 1994 at the farmhouse we rented when we first moved to Vermont

As an adult, I’ve never been an author of fiction, and yet I remember delighting in it on Thursday mornings in the 4th grade where each of us got to put her hand into a packet of prompts: one for characters, one for setting, and one for plot–and then get to imagining!

I loved the surprise of it. Not knowing what strips I would get. Not knowing what story would unfold.

It’s the same with the writing I do now; even though I harvest the strips from my own life: this quote about the Virgo New Moon at the top of the page for instance, and this vision that has been rippling in my mind’s eye of my mother on the front steps of my first house in Vermont, 20 years ago.

I’m not sure how or if they go together or what may come of either, but they beckon and I follow…

My mother disliked Virgos. My father was one. She cautioned me about my choice in a husband, scolding me that it was only a matter of time before his easy nature revealed a truer self–one with a critical need for perfection.

She was right and she was wrong. (My father and husband must have different risings.)

My mother loved astrology. The tarot. The runes. Transcendental texts. All things beyond.

Me too. Only I came to it slower, and then sprinted–when my mother was taken from me too soon.

In the years before her death, before we knew she would be dying, I left my hometown by the sea for a little house in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Though my mother was 50 at the time, she still had little ones at home–my youngest brother and sister, twenty years my junior–and I brought them up to enjoy a week in the country while my mother enjoyed a rare week to herself.

When my mother arrived to fetch them the following weekend, they were covered in bug bites and bruises and they had so much to tell her.  That next morning, while the children were still sleeping, I was surprised to see mother out on the steps that led up from the field to our front lawn.

She sat there on the stones in the warming sun of a cool, summer morning, with a steaming mug in her hand, embraced by the mountains.

I was struck by the depth of her presence. Of her stillness. Of the stark contrast to her lifetime of doing. And I paused in my busyness in witness of her.

It’s where I find myself now. At the same age. In the same season. The sleeping children–my own. The house–the one my husband later built–the home my mother never met. And the stone steps? Brand new.

For ten years, I’ve had to leap out the French doors to place myself on the front lawn.

But with the ripening of August and age, I am invited to step down.

To sit.

To be still.

To receive the embrace of mountains.

And the warmth of the early morning sun on stone.

With the added delight of an unexpected communion, across time.

(more on stillness: The Still Ones)


Life like Summer (and a good book) ends

On my second read through the Prodigal Summer, deep in the middle of winter, I began to think that I skipped a chapter or two, particularly as the end came on so quickly. I was so certain that I remembered more to the story that I paged through the entire book, seeking the missed parts.

But that’s all there was.
It was over.
Just like that.

I feel the same way now.

How is summer coming to a close?

I look back at the weeks gone by and still can’t fathom that I have lived a full summer, but here it is: the middle of August (past the middle of August)… leaves turning red, school starting in a week.

Someone has stolen summer! Maybe I can blame it on the schools; or on the tenacious cough my son brought home from camp; or on climate change?

I bet it’s the same with our own endings.

Takes us by surprise.
Comes too soon.

(Even when we see it coming.)

Excavating Old Fears

Small-plane-crashes-into-houseAs the plane approaches, I cringe on the couch beside the vaseline and the box of tissues and the glass of water.

My breath shallows. My stomach clenches. I wait, suspended, until it passes over my apartment.

Planes have been known to crash into homes. I’ve heard it on the news. I think about it every time. Even when I’m in the car.

I also worry about car crashes ever since those kids dashed out in front of us on the bike. I keep the soles of my feet on the dashboard and use them as brakes. Casey doesn’t like it because it leaves foot prints. But he’s the one who hit them. (They were fine.)

Trucks too. Obviously. But that’s been a long, long time. I still hold my breath. I have to pass them as quickly as I can.

I return to my folders. The pile of them. On the coffee table in front of me. Each one holds the contents of a different aspect of planning, labeled with marker: dresses, flowers, photography, reception, gifts, honeymoon. Inside I tuck magazine clippings and make carefully written notes on lined paper, the new recycled kind.

Now that he sees how much work a wedding is, he doesn’t want it. But it’s already in motion. And until he walks through the door after his shift, I’m afraid the phone will ring. That call. That news. That fucking truck.

I roll some more vaseline on my lips.

I have a vaseline stick in my pocket too, and in my purse, and in my car, at my desk at work, and beside my bed, the kitchen table, the office, and in the dining room which isn’t used as a dining room at all but a place where I do the Firm–Levels 1 through 6, a video workout, or Jane Fonda, or the new Sports Illustrated series, of which my favorite is the gentle class with Elle McPherson, that gorgeous model from Australia with the sweet accent, who introduces us to something called yoga, which involves holding her toes.

I don’t know what it is, but I think it has something to do with yogurt. Maybe they’re from the same place.

The first time I had yogurt was when we were visiting my Poppop in the hospital in Boston. It was like ice cream, only sour. Now there’s a TCBY off the island, and I love the white chocolate. It’s the only chocolate I can have without a headache.

Each time I figure out something else that gives me a headache, I give it up: chocolate, alcohol, meats with nitrates like hotdogs, bacon, sausage and ham (my favorite), salad dressings and other prepared foods with preservatives.

It was salad dressing that tipped me off to the preservative connection. Because I thought, this is ridiculous, how can salad give me a headache, so I got up from the table, opened the refrigerator, pulled out the plastic bottle and started reading ingredients.

I’ve been pretty much headache free since. Except weekends.

The counselor who visited work said that I should try Al-Anon. I have no idea how that could help, but it has something to do with how I told her that weekends are really stressful for me, especially Saturdays.

My colleague, the PE teacher, saw me coming out of the tiny room off the back gym where they hid the EAP counselor for the day. “Is everything okay?” he whispered.

“Everything is fine,” I said. “It was free.”

I guess I was the only one who tried it out, and now I feel kind of embarrassed, but I’m glad I did it because Al-Anon changed everything.

3 bikers at the beach

Copyright © Joni James. All rights reserved by artist.
Copyright © Joni James. All rights reserved by artist.

youth on a small bike

her body leans into his
melts into his
the soft surrender of a belly
into a back
her arms wrapped around his waist
his wrists infused with their love

elders on a gourmet bike

she reclines
as far back as she can
into her body
apart from his
upright, proud
neither needing the other
in fully claimed

young & old on a tricycle

his chubby fingers lightly touch
his father’s back
taking in the world around him
certain in the safety
  of being loved

3 days with the sea


Ocean Drive

like a dog, she tilts her head out the window to capture the scent of

clams, seaweed, Coppertone

Olfactory Heaven

Salt Air

waft of the sea

tires on broken shells

mom & pop stands

salt battered roads and fences and siding

dissolving the boundaries that divide us
from the world and each other

Being One in nascent waters

day’s end

the air is so drenched with Her

that The Invention of Wings

curls like taffy

instead of paper

for the dogs

in the early morning and just before night fall

the beach becomes their playground

a dark furred and a light furred one arrive with 3 young people: two men and a lovely woman

fresh with possibility

i see him see me, and I see him:

clearly the geeky sidekick of the other–he who is already everything that he will ever be–towel wrapped snug around this sun-drenched body–diving into the surf, alone, while the geek and the woman run up and down the beach laughing with the abandon of puppies

my guess is that she belongs to the beachy guys, but one day may wonder what her life could have been with the man with the kind heart and glasses, the one wearing the chamois shirt and the cargo pants, not quite capturing the look; but taking time to see a woman, really see her, holding a novel, behind the disguise of middle-age

seize the day

third night of the grain moon

chance of rain,100%


when we saturate ourselves in the sweetness

denied ourselves so long


Grandma Anna Love

I brought home two items from Anna’s place on Anthony Street : a steel tub and a small feather pillow, which my boys later named: Grandma Anna’s pillow.

They also dubbed our morning eggs: Grandma Anna eggs, because of the way my husband makes them just the way she made them; and then there was also: Grandma Anna’s shells, which weren’t actually hers at all, but another woman’s, named Annie, who owns a food line, but the boys refused to honor that distinction.

Anna lived in the Berkshires in an old home looking out at Mount Greylock. I loved to sit at her kitchen table, in front of the big picture window, with a cup of hot tea in our hands, taking in the mountain and talking about our days.

Sometimes we’d take ourselves out back to her Adirondack chairs, and stare across the right-of-way to Mrs. Mente’s majestic Maple as it blazed into Autumn.

“Maybe you’ll never have a baby,” Anna said to me as we soaked up the color around us, “but you have a good husband and good job, and that’s enough.”

It wasn’t enough for me, and Anna lived long enough to meet her great-grandson, but by the time he was old enough to know her, she was rapidly declining in health.

In the year before his birth, Anna was forced to leave the Berkshires to move in with family just after we had relocated to New England ourselves.

I remember the day we packed up Anna’s house. I was very pregnant at the time, and delighted to discover a small feather pillow that no one else claimed. I wasn’t sure how I’d use it, but that first night, I tucked it under my burgeoning belly and it helped me sleep.

Twenty years later, and I still sleep with that pillow, and I’d love to tell Anna about that, and about how my youngest son, who she never met, enjoys a small cup of coffee, with a lot of milk and sugar, just like she made for my husband in her kitchen when he was a boy.

“She likes you already,” he told me the first time we met.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“She made Boston butt,” he said, emphatically. (The last time he brought a girl up to the mountains to meet his grandmother, she had handed him some cash and sent them off to McDonald’s.)

We did get along well, Anna and I. Our conversations picked up with season’s visit… summer, autumn, winter,  spring… talking our way through her long life and into my twenty-something years.

Anna welcomed my family into her home too: my youngest siblings on long weekend getaways; and my sister and her family when they were driving through. There was always tea, and Oreos in the canister, sweet bread in the drawer, and Keilbasa from the German butcher on the stove.

Years later, Anna danced at my wedding, and when we visited her as a married couple, she insisted that we take her bed; which makes me remember of an earlier trip when I asked about sleeping with her grandson.

Grandma Anna's Barrel 9 months pregnant
Grandma Anna’s Barrel
9 months pregnant

It was a couple years into our relationship (and a handful of visits later) when I suggested that Casey simply ask his grandmother if we could share a room so that we didn’t have to sneak out back on those cold Berkshire nights.

He refused, appalled at the impropriety, and so I went ahead and asked myself:

“Anna, how would you feel if Casey and I stayed together in same room?”

To which she replied (with wink): “Don’t do anything, I wouldn’t do.”

Grandma Anna love

(ps. I was 22 when I first met Anna, and then a decade older–and 9 months pregnant–in this photo with my feet soaking in her barrel. Later it became a tub for my boys. And most recently, on my 50th birthday, we stocked Anna’s barrel with bottles of champagne.)