8 legs, 1 life

Wisdom, they call it, at the root of that reptilian-twitch,

I put the mundane down, look over my shoulder and slowly follow my body out the door.

His words are muffled by the back of his bent curious head:

“Mama, I found something!”

Of course he did. And I immediately know it’s that something that righted my spine like an antenna.

I tread quickly across the grass and very intentionally throw a thick blanket on my inclined-haste as I pull him closer to my body. To inspect the under-belly of stone we step over daily.

And there she is. Upside down and in full display of that most-notorious mark.

“Love, this is a very dangerous spider,” I assess.

He bends in closer and asks, “It is?”

I pull him back, “It is.”

After I explain indepth, I ask him to summarize his understanding.

“So if this spider bites me, I have to go to the hos-bi-tal. And get lots of band-aids. Dora band-aids.”

I hesitate. And then concede.

I send a picture of the red hourglass to my husband and father-in-law.

They confirm the diagnosis with the echoing commands to kill it.

Everything in me curls inward. Killing is not my thing and I cling to my standby, transparency:

“Your papa says I have to kill it. But I don’t want to.”

An invisible hand clutches my heart as my 2-year literally shuffles a step forward and says, “Mama. Don’t worry. You don’t have to kill it. I will kill it for you.”

Adoration aside, I get lost in mysterious feelings of gender-challenge, and thus go looking for an appropriate tool.

A snow-shovel seems to provide me the level of distance from the task that I seek.

I apologize outloud. And the deed is quickly done.

But I couldn’t hang my new heaviness up in the garage with the snow shovel.

And not a day later, I found my toddler thumbing the life out of ants.

My talk of momma-ants and pappa-ants and their haunted, empty, lives in the absence of their thumbed-out son and daughter-ants,

did nothing.

The trip to the science center where a Theraphosidae took huge, hairy, deliberate eight-legged steps up his tiny arm,

did nothing.

“It was a NICE spider Mamma!”

I praised this declaration with all heights of sing-song recognition.

But the daddy-long still lost all his legs in the single unsupervised leg of travel between the bedroom and patio.

“Can I put fire on the bumble bee?”

My heart stubbs out like a cigarette.

And just when I have convinced my tortured soul that this might simply all be the natural course of 2-year old boy’s experimentation with life and death, he will say something like:

“But Mama, you killed that spider.”

And my shoulders slump in defeat.

rest in peace black widow

I did. I killed that spider.

And although my son will, certainly, learn through his own trial and error of the distance between life and death and snow shovel.

It’s my lesson on teaching,

that has sunk in.

 

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On the day you were born…

On the day you were conceived, July 2nd, 2014, Mama fell into a deep afternoon nap and woke up to a “familiar knocking” in her womb. Her cobwebby recollection was of a dream in which she was searching for the permission to name her to-be-born. Ten days later your conception was identified by a rarely recognized dip in basal temperature; a clue your hopeful mother clutched secretly and close to her heart. Four days later, the pregnancy in which you were enveloped was confirmed with the faintest of purple lines that your Papa insisted he could not see. But Mama knew. Only days later, a local healer with a reputation for eyes that sometimes saw more than you wanted to know, glanced over your Mama’s left shoulder and declared that the pregnancy would be healthy and a reunion of lives long-bonded. On that day, Mama cried a fountain of salty, happy, relieved tears. In the months that Mama carried you, she was often sick with insomnia, pains, anxiety, exhaust, and a dizzy belly. But she gave of herself graciously and embraced her belly with endearment. On the day you were born, Papa wanted to fish, but Mama refused to let him; she had a feeling something big was stirring in her belly. Ten days beyond the due date calculated by your conception, Mama was feeling the fire of readiness. In a truly sour mood and moment, she called a best childhood friend who inspired undulating waves of belly laughs which your Mama would later call out as the catalyst for her labor. On the day you were born, which was the 14th of days in which she clutched her belly in hourly contractions (yes, 14th), Mama felt a slight progression in her laboring while sitting in the grass of the lower homestead park, watching your black-lab-buddy-to-be backflipping in aggressive attempts to catch a flailing frisbee sent into the air by your madly-giggling 2-year old brother. Momma took a long hot shower when she got home, and in the process of getting dressed, reached inside a deep laundry bin and felt a foreign cracking inside her belly as the waters in which you floated broke and announced your impending arrival. Mama instructed Papa, without hesitation, to pack the hospital bags. In the car, Papa called your grandma Patri and doula Emma. When Mama and Papa arrived at the hospital, Mama calmly checked in downstairs while Papa got lost looking for her on the second floor. When they finally united in the birthing ward, your parents were told that all the rooms were full with a wave of other mothers inspired into labor by the pull of the full “blood” moon. On the day you were born, Mama began her labor by bouncing on a birthing ball, excitedly chatting about how much energy she was feeling for the first time in weeks after nightfall. Not more than an hour later, Mama got quiet and closed her eyes as you would the shades for the evening. She crawled through dog, cat and child poses on a mat on the floor in search of a position, any position, that would ease the pressure.  In the room you were born, the lights were low, soft hypno-birthing affirmations streamed from a speaker, and voices murmured gentle encouragements as hands were laid on Mama’s back, hips, and shoulders in soft touches of encouragement. Mama’s doctor later recollected that each time she came into the room, she would pause in the hallway and take long, slow, intentional breaths to leave the quick steps and general angst of the birthing ward outside the door; malaise had no place in the sacred space into which you’d be born. On the night you were born, Mama only occasionally opened and uplifted her eyes, in the short pauses between intensifying contractions, to look up through the dark windows and witness the blood moon traversing the night sky on its way into eclipse. Having chosen to labor naturally, Mama’s contractions increased in severity until she could barely murmur that she didn’t think she could do it. Mama would later remember the confident caresses of your Papa and the whispers of your grandmother repeating, “You’ve got this. You’ve got this.” On the hour of your birth, Mama crawled onto the hospital bed and pleaded, “Can I push yet?” When the doctor nodded her permission, Mama sighed with relief and the pain immediately eased off as she worked to find an elusive position to bring you into the world. When Mama gave up on finding a perfect position, she resolved to just urge her entire body in unison, and sighed deeply when she finally heard the encouraging words of her doctor declaring, “There you go. Here she comes….” Mama engaged her full body in a final exhalation. The pain blew out like a candle and your rigid, purple, screaming body was placed on your Mama’s chest. In her ecstasy, she barely noticed your distress, and simply cradled your cries in the arms of her trembling, tearful, grateful being. It wasn’t until your paternal grandmother remarked, “I’ve never seen a Cogswell cry like that!” that your Mama finally focused on your face; upon this first lock of eyes, you immediately calmed in a pattern that foot-printed the following months of your infancy. The day you were born was April 4th, 2015. Throughout the day your were born, Papa ushered away the nurses that wanted to bathe you, and thus sweat, blood, and vernix mingled in your first skin-upon-skin embraces with your parents. Before any heads were laid to rest, the hospital staff had written your name on the nursing white board: Riva G. Riva, as a root of Rivera, a family tree of which your parents wanted to emphasize the connection and branching. In Hindi, riva means, “one Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 8.11.49 PMwho moves” which was determined fitting to the union of global travels and the birthplace — India — of “Slina” (Slade & Christina). In Latin, riva means to, “regain strength,” a tribute to the arduous path of miscarriages that led to this final birth blessing. In Spanish/French, riva means, “from the river bank/shore”; a gift of respect to the Rivera lineage and their ancestral relationship with water. Your middle initial/name, “G” pays homage to the Cogswell Family, and in Hindi, जी, which is phonetically pronounced the same, is an honorific suffix given to those of earned wisdom, age or respect. On the day you were born, you were placed on a scale that registered your weight of 8lb and 2oz. It would not be until weeks later that your Mama would notice the tan and quarter-sized birthmark on your inner thigh that you share with your mother, Aunt, Uncle, two cousins and grandfather; a true stamp of the family heritage and affirmation of the appropriateness of your given name. On the day you were born, your brother kissed your forehead and without a single hesitation relinquished his single-child status. On the day you were born, your Mama and Papa’s hearts cracked, again, in two, as scar-tissue replaced the emptiness of what would never again be the same without you.

 

 

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stammer, stutter, hiccup

(posting some older drafts before they are outdated by the seasons)

If you have ever stared suspiciously at the stars,

you have wondered what it feels like to be pregnant.

Both states stammer in the face of other-worldliness.

In the suddenly quiet corner of the room,

the run-on sentences of scientists, priests, and atheists all stutter to silence the same.

There is a human being hiccuping in my belly.

And there is nothing,

nothing,

that can follow, from one side to the other, the leap of that crevasse.

Only silence

can respectfully touch the feet of that fact.

There is a human being hiccuping in my belly.

The statement itself tremors.

No amount of repetition stills it.

For a tiny season in my human life,

and one yet permanently obscured to all males on this planet,

I simultaneously house

and surrender to

the involuntary flutter

of a miniature practicing diaphragm.

Tiny perfect practice grasps for air.

That will one day become

sighs, gasps, laughs, snores, heaves

and even a last, subsiding, breath.

But will mostly spend the 86400 seconds of every day

unconsciously streaming and stringing one moment

to the next.

Existence hiccups to life.

 

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ode to snowplow

(posting some older drafts before they are outdated by the seasons)

Ode to snow plow.

Dearest snow plow,

Will you ever know?

The way your rumble up the street,

Cuts a tantrum in two.

The morning pro-clothes argument (any clothes mind you)

Tossed in the air with a, “Wait a minute, did you hear that?”

And the echo of “SNOWPLOW!” trailing the hall,

As a blur of near-nakedness bolts for the bay window.

Mollified by your magic, I slip a sweater over his love-locked eyes,

“Momma – the snowplow is here! He’s here!”

I make haste for the stove and bring back a bowl of steaming oats,

And transfixed, he mimics the repetitive scraping of the street with the motion of spoon to mouth.

(This is the only food I will not have to spend 20-minutes convincing him to eat today.)

I offer him a cushion to lean back against,

And make a dash of my own for my coffee and news,

And for 10-blessed minutes I enjoy the silence of the house,

Aside from the echo of his “beeping” in song with your reverse drive.

 

 

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constellations of untold histories

I have found myself, recently, lingering on the pause following, “You’re so lucky.” Would I be lying, or acquiescing, in a cordial nod and smile of agreement? The woman at the grocery store/in the hot springs/at the concierge desk has just lit up with the reception of the news that I’m expecting a baby girl, knowing that my first child is a boy: “One of each! Aren’t you lucky!” What she, of course, is not aware of, is the the 7-months of failed pregnancies preceding this one. She doesn’t know that this little female form came down life’s train track, only after jumping the crossing where in an alternate rail map, I had two baby boys. So when she hints of the suspenseful space where mystery is conceived – in one’s favor or not – I rather think of the dark corners of that room that I so thoroughly explored, with groping hands. Its makes me think of all the profound wells of trial overlooked in first presuming glances and expressions of cordiality at the communal meeting and greeting spots; how much we may discount, or neglect to connect, in the untold history of others. It doesn’t bother me. It just lingers with me. Yet if luck is truly just something to do with the stars, then perhaps, she is correct; this is my fortunate present place in the constellation. And likewise, if luck’s only having something to do with gratitude (as it might be in my faith to suspect), then there would be nothing dishonest in my nod of acceptance of this, albeit eventual, blessing. I supposed I started off this paragraph wanting to explore the pause, but rather, maybe have made peace with it; Likely the most fortunate conclusion of all explorations.

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on time arrival

This morning,
I carried the cold choke of tears from a fading vision,
back to the warmth of my bed.
Dreams aren’t characteristically so on-time,
Ever arriving in a cloaked foretelling.
Or standing with its useless suitcase in the echoing rumble of a train departed.
But here we are with the on-time arrival
of the anniversary of your death.
In the same bed where I clutched a phone and heard nothing after,
“He’s gone. Your father’s passed.”
Without looking, I still find you.
In the trailing whistle of a passerby.
And the daily improv songs and antics of your 2-year old grandson.
Reminding me of just how much youth you carried with you to death.
Reminding me that life is actually never so serious.
Reminding me that there’s always space,
really no matter how inappropriate,
for a punchline.
And that I’ll find you laughing with me,
There.

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motherhood subtitled

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 7.19.43 AM

My son’s daily insistence on the wear of his red rubber boots is fitting. Less than two and a half years navigating the gravity of this planet and already he is fierce in stomping out his independence. “No, I can do it…” a reflexive demand following my every motion and suggestion. Momma’s hands, normally tackling a flurry of tasks in omni-armed domestic combat, are effectively batted away. First I raise my palms like resigned white flags, “Okay, okay….you can do it.” And then my arms eventually cross as I slump into the elapsed (10, 15, 20) minutes it takes to watch 2-year old fingers sort out the seat belt button, pull on pants with the pockets in the front, or open and pour the almond milk into the blender. Ultimately, we are both rewarded with the most lustrous of all medals: “I did it! All by myself,” he says, as much in self-recognition as subtitles to his mother. And I think, “I did it! Patiently pain-ed myself long enough to let him do it all by himself.” And there’s a moment, right there, where I glimpse him as a 17 or 27-year old, with that same relaxed face and those inward eyes of accomplished self-reliance. And I also see that there’s a phone in the background, and a call that he will not make to me, the mother he has left in the inadvertent dust of his red-booted path. And I subtitle the image: Motherhood: the art of thanklessly doing and non-doing with inexhaustible acceptance.

 

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on hypnobirthing

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 7.27.40 AM(My hypnobirthing doula from my first pregnancy/birth asked me for a quote on my experience…)

They refer to it as “hypno” but I think “mindful birthing” would be more fitting. Yes, the meditations and affirmations work on silent, work-horse, levels of the subconscious. But the effect is quite tangible and rooted: a simultaneous sense of calm and courage sitting by the door next to the hospital bag. Our culture is saturated in birth stories dripping in fear and pain and disempowerment. They are readily in your face, so you too have to consciously choose to shut those doors and protect yourself from the monsters in that closet. But pregnancy is perhaps the loneliest state of being I’ve ever experienced. It’s a rite of passage – and thus by its very nature, you set out alone. Hynobirthing equips you with tools for the journey, arms you with knowledge and self-confidence that you can transform to wisdom and conquest through your unique experience. It is not an easy voyage, nor will anyone tell you it is. But embracing the path of pregnancy as a gentle warrior will bring forth secret powers of your femininity that you’ll sling over your shoulder for the rest of your life path. And on the other side, a tribe of mothers will wink at and welcome you. So if there’s any piece of advice I can offer you, it’s to choose a mindful birth. (If you resign your freedoms, there are predominant cultural trends that will happily relieve you of your responsibilities/rights.) Know what’s at stake, and step into your experience. Embrace a love and trust of your body and the intuition it inherited from the lineage of women who brought you into being. As with Buddhism, you choose and take what tools you need from hypno-birthing (and leave the rest behind). And as with anything in life, the practice will only return what you authentically invest in it. So accept this quest as a rare (!) opportunity to forge a meaningful relationship with your body. There is no higher way to honor (or be humbled by) this most intimate brush with the bone-marrow of existence.

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on the peripheries of death

Chipmunks and small birds flit beyond the shoulder of death.

My father would interrupt my clumsy cobbling of life-memory-love professions with a chuckle and point to the antics of the tiny, striped, tumbling acrobatics in their jostle over seeds fallen from the suet feeder. “Well won’t you just look at that…” he’d say through the rasp of his choking-on-life voice.

On cold jutting stones in the silence of the low-alpine Sierras, I’d sit with Aaron, daring myself to ask him the unspeakable: about his personal experience of dying within the Buddhist context that consumed his Phd path during his cut-short years in life. He’d raise a hand to my ramble: “Did you hear that?” Eyes searching, narrowing, he’d stand and look through the binoculars that had become an extension of his body. “There she is. Wow. Look….”

I was cut short. Never said all I had to say.

But that must be a fact in all dealings with the dying.

The flit and patter of those tiny wings and paws. Did they save us from our over-thinking? Focus us instead on the looking? Root us in the insistent presence of just being? Together. Unfocused on dying.

My father and Aaron have now passed. Yet these tiny songlines of their presence still perch and tumble in all my looking-out-the-window quiet moments. At the bedside of death, I had thought it was my duty to give. To unearth. To close. But the dying have their own agenda. And mine couldn’t be bothered with relics. I stumbled into the conclusion.

There is a lightness to leaving.

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my own footsteps

When I was 7,
I’d rally a small neighborhood troop,
To carve a tunnel through the blackberry bramble.
Lift the warmed wooden lids off garden snake traps.
Part overhead golden grasses in search of field mice.
Construct a fort roof of fallen pine branches.
Stockpile pinecones for an anticipated ambush.
Host a ceremonial burial for a fallen bird.

Not a far skip to my adult life where I spend my days*,
Carving small student group cultures.
Through the thickets of alien customs.
Catching the most basic of life assumptions unaware,
Searching for mindful treasures in jungles of stimulation overwhelm.
Exploring themes of self-reliance and fortitude.
Stepping in front of the virtues worth defending.
Encountering small deaths and the sacred in passing.

How life dangles clues,
That we may find ourselves through circles,
Growing into the prints,
Of our own footsteps in the sand.

(*work)

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