A Mother Removed

I was on the cell phone during my mother’s last breath. I was on the cell phone. A conversation with a funeral home director can’t quite qualify as chatting, but I remember it that way, I was chatting, it was easy-going and on the surface, unhurried despite my having said earlier in the conversation “There’s not much time.” I was arranging things for the aftermath, unaware that the aftermath was forming itself in those small seconds between one question about procedure

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Beech Forest

Year after year, my mother awaited those flaming red hues. The shrubs lining our rural road flaunted their fall glory in a dazzling foliage extravaganza. As we neared the scarlet hedge in the center of Goshen, Massachusetts, my mother gathered herself in anticipation. At the first glimpse, she would shout out, “Euonymus!” or something close to it. She was so proud of remembering the name. Sometimes she’d get only the first few syllables, and I’d help her with

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The Bicycle

Newark was a bustling post-world war II metropolis, and I was maybe seven, possibly eight years old. A long time ago. There were no air-conditioned buses then and the beige-colored bus I was on had split windows; they were metal frames that slipped from the top only, down one half of the opening. On Saturdays, I rode to the church where, in the sacristy, I would polish the candelabra that decorated the main altar at Mass on Sunday. It was summer, and the sun had climbed atop the city. As I remember, the ride was like any other, for a while. My bus

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Learn to Count Backwards While There Is Still Time

I am trying to write about having a brain tumor and being alone. I would rather be cleaning. An icy-sidewalk night at the corner of Broadway and 79th, and I forgot what day it was. And then I could not bring to mind what month it was. What year. What time of day. I asked my mind to bring me back to the date. And then by accident I bumped into our homeless neighbor who collects for God’s Love We Deliver. His long gray dreads spun out as he steadied himself.

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Ancestral Song

I stood on a pedestal, looking in the mirrors of my life and lives before me, reflected. And I waited, cocking my head, attempting to understand how I got to this point and why.

This was supposed to be an unaffected visit to my Grandfather’s home, now I was dressed in the marriage gown of his dead wife.

“Try it on,” he said, egging me on. “I’d like you to have it…see you in it.”

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Turkey Vultures

I do my rounds, feeding cattle and horses every morning, on a ranch in the Sierra Foothills in California, north of Yosemite. It is a fight every morning at daybreak, from sleep to consciousness. I’m not naturally a morning person. But still I rise, dress, and go. My captured animals must be fed.

Half asleep, the rounds are routine and boring. Awake, really awake, if I can get there, the early morning is unique and amazing. Here, in this place, at this time, being alert will be rewarded with something interesting, fascinating, exciting, maybe even life changing.

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Night Music

I’ve rented a small room in a century-old Seattle office building for ten years and it’s been a boon to my writing. But my quiet space was compromised when a psychotherapist moved into an adjoining space. The opening for radiators that served both spaces and the thin wallboard separating our offices leaked sound; often a susurrus but it caused me to strain to hear the next-door discourse—although I didn’t always have to strain.

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The Old Ball Game

I didn’t fit in well with the other boys on my team, the Cubs. Most had been playing Little League baseball ever since they were six, and given that the best players on our team were either a year or two older than me, they had six years’ experience to my none.

And then there was the fact that in my at most two bats per game, I had struck out almost every time. Once, I had been hit by a pitch on the back heel of my left foot. Once, I had actually

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