Friday, June 12, 2015

How Asheville Can Win The Battle of Busk

When a friend asked me while we dined on salads what I thought of the busking situation in Asheville, I almost choked on my salad.  "We have a busking situation?"

He told me he'd seen the article in the New York Times. Again: almost choking, "New York Times is writing about buskers in Asheville?"

I love this so much for so many reasons.

The fact that we are in the 9th most food insecure city in America, the fact that people can walk around this town and not know we have a large African-American population scuttled away on the outskirts as a result of demolishing 2000 homes in the city center, the fact that we don't have affordable housing in town, all this aside: we make the Times for our "busking situation."

This is why I love Asheville. This is why you really should move here: we have a busking situation.

We have music everywhere. We have music outside t-shirt shops that print quotes by great songwriters on their organic cotton and complain about the musicians outside on the their sidewalk. We have music outside banks. We have music in the alcoves of galleries and jewelry stores. We have music in the park all the time, and we have music all night long on the sidewalks to sing you back to your parking deck where you will no doubt also hear music in your car.

As an (ahem) award-winning historian of this lovely city, I have to tip my hat to the people who feel the need to "do something" about our "busking situation." I am not wearing a hat though so I will not. The busking situation is classic Asheville. It simply is. This is a city that is so rooted in music that no one will ever ever stop the busking because it is actually impossible to stop the music. These mountains are made of music. The people here--well, the people who have been here a long time--have been raised on music. Music just is part of the brickwork of our early 20th century architecture, and it's just part of the gorgeous landscape we look up at through our office windows then escape into when evening comes.

To get more specific, Asheville was designed for healing and for song. This is the land of breathing, where people who could not breathe came to so they could. They came here also to drink moonshine, to dance on the verandahs of gorgeous hotels. They came here to play.

That kind of energy does not change.

People made money elsewhere and simply brought it here to make beautiful homes and to get in touch with the one of the strangest natural resources known to man: mountain magic. The best translation of this magic has always been either in the cooking or in the music. Last I checked one would have to have some health department permission to serve up the first of these on the sidewalk, but last I heard one needs no such permission for the second, and that's because music poisons nobody. Music hurts nobody. Music doesn't even touch you, unless it's in that, yes, magical sense, in your heart, your soul. Maybe it makes you move. But that's not harmful. That's what we call beauty (even when it's not perfect!) and it is good for you.

There's beauty in the simplest presence of the slightest attempt at making music. It's the beginning of something. If someone has a song to offer, well they are in this world welcome to sing it. Rather than viewing it as an affront to the image of the city, we'd be much better off accepting it as the city, because that is exactly what it is.

This is a city of music. Before it was a city, it was just the music. Sometimes, if you're in the right frame of mind and heart, you can hear that. And maybe if you're really in the right frame of mind and heart, the frame in which this city was first formed and the frame it really wants you to remember as a vital and still-needed part of your life, you can dance to it.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Free Time

Remember in elementary school when after an in-class exercise was completed the teacher just said, "Now you can have free-time?" Maybe it was just three minutes, but the idea of it felt like a patch of blue sky through a firmament of cloud. During free-time, I could doodle without being told not to. I could lay my head on my folded hands on my desk, I could talk with my best friend quietly in our third row seats.

My daughter mentioned free-time to me yesterday. Having completed a two-hour standardized test in less than one she had two hours of free-time in which to de-standardize. Disallowed markers for drawing, she was permitted a book, which she was happy to have some quiet time read. She also folded her blue sweatshirt on her desk and took a little nap. "It was nice to have some free-time."

I had forgotten about free-time.

I have had unscheduled time. Plenty of it. As a university professor my classroom time is far outweighed by what has become nearly constant prep time as I read, update, prepare course content and, most importantly, keep up with my students' lives and stories. Sitting at my laptop to accomplish all this, I also am checking emails and notifications on social media, often opening several channels of my varied lives at once, and they accumulate on my screen until I am actually doing ten things at once. This makes me feel inspired, on top of everything, and I'll often get two or three ideas for new projects (this blogpost for instance) so that by day's end I have consumed my time with busy-ness even in moments when I might have taken a break.

I am reintroducing the concept of free-time to my vocabulary to prevent this from happening every day.

Free-time means I am not at the computer. I am not even writing (because writing, for me, is work-adjacent).

I am at the piano or in my car on the Blue Ridge Parkway (after dropping my child at school). I am sitting in a chair or the hammock in my garden with a cup of coffee or tea. I can be reading if the book is not a book for a course I am teaching. I am lying on the grass letting my thoughts drift.

Right now I am aiming to have 90 minute segments of free-time in both morning and afternoon. The purpose: to break free of technology's accumulation, to let my brain relax, to bring a little bit of childhood forward into my adulthood, and for no other purposes than these.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Kissing the Water (an excerpt from a memoir about my grandmother who'd been in a prison camp in China)

. . .

Three days a week we did this. I did it for a whole semester until one day I didn’t wake up and meet the van outside. I let it just go the way I let the balloon rope go once the burner had filled the silk. I never gave any of the team my phone number. Arthur had no idea which dorm was mine. I wish I could say it was because I didn’t need it anymore. I did need it more than ever. Everyone needs it--those early mornings of blackness, that uplift of seeing heat raise something so enormous simply by being itself up into the sky.

There was a “move” I learned about in one of the very few conversations I had with my balloon people. We parked the van with a view of the balloon just as it lowered toward the earth. Normally, when we saw it descend, we tumbled out and started the most violent 500 meter dash over thorn bushes and yucca and pyrocanthus and every other miserable Florida plant that Florida produces to seize the ropes the Captain tossed down to us and which we grabbed hold of with every fiber of muscle tissue we had in our small little human hands. The rope burned through the heavy canvas of my gloves. The brambles tore at my denim jeans and poked through my thick socks as I held on with the others. But no balloon wants to come down. No balloon wants to be trapped on the ground. The slightest updraft would pull us soaring into the air, sometimes twenty or thirty feet (I never counted, but I never let go either) back up into it then it would end and send us plummeting to the sand, with our only goal not to get smashed by the basket. You’ve seen the peaceful flight of hot air balloons over where you live. You’ve imagined the quiet of the air, the view. What you didn’t imagine was the bone-threat of being lifted by one of those blasted beautiful things and being thrown back to ground on the whim of something so harmless as a morning breeze, a soft lilt of air. This one morning, though, we didn’t run.

“Shouldn’t we be running?” I said to Arthur.
“Just watch.”

The balloon approached a lake in the middle of the vast field, a man-made lake but a lake about the size of a similarly man-made shopping mall. The captain lowered the flame in the burner, and the balloon gently descended.

“Shouldn’t we really be running?”
Arthur shook his head.
The balloon came down to the water then just in time the captain flared the burner once again, lifting the balloon back into the sky.
“It’s called Kissing the Water.”
The seven of us stood in a line like we were watching something die and come back to life.
“He only does it when the conditions are perfect.” 

I never saw him do it again, but the phrase stayed with me. It was something that could happen.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cinderella and the Glass Hearing Aids

It's been a while since I've written about deafness. When I started this blog some seven years ago or something, that's what it was about. In the in-between years, I've gathered my life up and moved it into a new life, a quieter one. Things about deafness that frightened me then don't anymore: I can sit through dinner parties and not get much of the conversation and still honestly say I had a wonderful time. I have good hearing aids that let me hear my students read their work. I can take them out at the end of the day and have a very quiet world. For most situations I have accepted deafness into my life.

That is.

Until I have a horrible exchange with a young woman working at the cinema over the quality and performance of assistive listening devices after watching Cinderella.

Cinderella keeps saying "have courage and be kind and all will be well."

But I found myself today in a situation where I understood why "the disabled" are grouped together often as being a grouchy lot. I didn't start out grouchy, though I have become accustomed to a certain degree of inconvenience when I request one of the assistive listening devices at the cinema. The manager or staff attending the little customer service kiosk always behave as though I have asked to see the holy grail or some other precious thing that few have the authority to handle.

"They haven't been charged," said one manager about the closed caption device that sits in a cup holder.

"It will take me a moment to figure this out," said the one today as she toiled with the cords of the closed captioning lenses.  I also asked for the t-coil device because the lenses don't always work.

I stood waiting for 10 minutes, then she started to wipe all the cords with alcohol.

That was the beginning of my bad mood. Yes, I want clean devices, but I don't want to miss ten minutes of my movie.

I understood she was polishing the grail so didn't interfere.

The t-coil device was crackly, and the lenses didn't work.
I left the movie to get help, but it was another10 minutes so I left the devices with the usher, saying please have the manager come help me.

The manager did, and the lenses still didn't work. She fiddled with them, then they worked. But they missed about 20% of dialogue.

Before I went deaf, I was included in just about everything that white women are. I could enjoy movies, restaurants, move around in the world with a pretty decent ticket to everything. That ticket went away when I lost my hearing due to a congenital disorder that lay dormant til my late 20s.

And I know this is what I sat with during Cinderella.

When the technology for accommodating deafness doesn't work. deafness is brought into high-relief once again. I am driven to remember it, to recognize that my world is limited.


After the movie, I delivered my device to the manager and suggested she have a staff member accompany the user into the theater to make sure the devices are tuned to the right channel. That way the user won't have to miss a chunk of movie-time. This blew up very quickly into a very different conversation.

"They did work. They were the same ones I gave you at the start of the movie."

It isn't possible to trace the logic of this response or how emotionally she delivered it. What was happening was beyond the devices and their administration. She was not trained to help, and the ADA is about helping.

And just as quickly, I lost my temper. I was in tears after the exchange, having been brought face-to-face with the exclusion deafness has introduced into my life, this thin shaft of the whole spectrum of exclusion and its many forms. And it hurts terribly. It stings the blood.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires all places of public accommodation to comply with ADA standards.  Current rulemaking is addressing the inclusion of closed captions within this title. Legal matters aside, though, what I feel as a result of this situation is beyond legislation.

I was told tonight, "No, I will not help you." I was told, "The machine works."

The machine doesn't work.
And I needed help.

When Cinderella is given the glass slippers, we know it's a losing deal. The shoes are glass. We know they can be lost. We know they can be shattered. And we know that at midnight, they will turn back into the little canvas dirty things they started as.

When deaf-tech fails, when accommodations fail, when justice fails, even in the microcosm of the cinema,

when help fails . . .

that is the coach turned back into pumpkin, the shards of illusion that the world is open to everyone.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Through the Beloved We Talk to God

“Where there is sorrow, there I dwell.
Where there is grief in the world, love has its dwelling.” 
― Mir Sayyid Manjhan Shattari Rajgiri, Madhumalati: An Indian Sufi Romance

The world is frightened tonight
of the last thing it said.

My daughter tries on her first Valentine’s dress.
When asked what color it is she said, “It’s the color of the galaxy.”
(We found the jewelry to match on the moon.)

I read tonight about the Muslim man who when the extremists
took over the kosher grocery store in Paris
hid the Jews he could in a freezer and turned out the light.

The largest part yet of a fallen airplane was found in the sea,
having flown where it wasn’t supposed to.

The tree is still up. Each year I am more reluctant to take it down.
This is not a religious statement but a statement on the art
my daughter has made and which decorates all the branches.

Each year I want to hold her closer than the last.
Each year I let her go into the world a little bit farther.

She sprays glitter across her shoulders so she resembles the winter sky
outside the window, four degrees and falling, but she is warm and singing.

A world enlightened by the dark might work better I often wonder
considering Isaac Newton’s unpublished works were still about magic,
the thing he’s credited for taking from this world.

A man who asked questions in Saudi Arabia received the first 50
of a thousand flogs today, and in the coils of sound that travel the earth
through pain and sorrow I heard him.

In Paris, everyone had to stay indoors yesterday.
The first siege since 10th of May in 1940. I flipped through the photographs
of the Seine last July when Les Berges opened and the lovers and the artists and the children with their families and the young and the old gathered along the Seine,

and I photographed them without their knowing
because I did not speak enough French to join them.
(This is true for me in all languages, sometimes even my own.)

But when I hear the rough-throated howl of my dog at the night’s pant-cuff,
ready to chase down heaven,

or when I listen to my daughter’s voice describe a really cool trick
involving a coke bottle and three-point-five hours,

I think of a Sufi story about the bird of love who finds no place to land
so alights in the inmost human heart.

and I take a sip of this wine
that tonight only tastes of the hope humanity has sipped at every day’s end
for all time,

that which is dark and heavy and sweet.
A Sangiovese, the blood of the sky god,
out of this glass blown of thunder.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Hula Dancer on a Square of Flesh: Scene from my Father's Medical Education

" . . . dismiss whatever insults your own soul"
                                               --Walt Whitman

I often hear people mention that "a lot of doctors are poets." The list begins confidently with William Carlos Williams. It often ends there. My interest in Narrative Medicine moves from another list, the list of doctors who never wrote poems. At the top of this list is my father, an endocrinologist, a Fellow of The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. My father is a brilliant physician. His patients adore him. Though he is retired a decade now, his patients friend me on Facebook to ask me how he is feeling. We don't often ask how doctors are feeling. More often we accuse them of not feeling.

While my father is in assisted living in Sedona, we talk often about Narrative Medicine, me as the poet, he as the doctor. To summarily arc his career: he started in research and was happy there, teaching and discovering insulin's effect on adipose tissue under varying circumstances. Publishing ceased in the late 1970s, at which time he decided to move to the U.S. and enter private practice. He grew his success to multiple locations and real estate holdings and lost it over two decades, leaving the U.S. in 1992 and opening a single-examining-room office in Hamilton, Bermuda.

He wanted me to be a doctor. I knew I could not. We fought about it. In that argument I threw a Royal Doulton coffee cup at his head. I missed by a centimeter. Ten years later I reconsidered and told him I would leave my MFA in Poetry program to study Medicine. This time, he argued:
"Don't do it. Poetry is the superior means of finding the truth."

I didn't withdraw from the MFA program. Another fifteen years later, I am developing the field of Narrative Medicine, a practice whereby doctors are trained to develop empathy by engaging literature. My father is my greatest ally. For years, I felt that I needed to justify poetry to him. Now, though, we justify medicine to poetry.

Poetry and Medicine both heal, one the soul, the other the body. Our fields have always connected by an obscure parallax. How far apart we were can only be perceived by blinding oneself in one eye momentarily, but we are connected. Now I talk with him to learn how he learned to be a doctor then I follow up with an email asking him about the story he has told.  He told me the other day the story about his first day at University of Toronto College of Physicians and Surgeons when one of the more advanced students stood in the hall stretching a "square shape" which as my father got closer he realized was a large piece of flesh cut from a dead person's stomach featuring a tattoo of a Hulu dancer, making it "dance." I wrote after:

Hi Dad,

I'm excited about our writing project. I'm going to ask you questions about your medical school experience to begin. I know the story of the tattooed flesh cut from the cadaver's belly. But I don't know how you felt as you walked down that hall. It was your first day. You see a more-senior student, or just a person down the hall . . .

Can you tell me your thoughts as you discovered what this was?
What did seeing this "do" to your ideas about medical school. It's a bit horrific to someone who hasn't been in medical school.


When we spoke today he told me he had never thought about this. He referred to John Irving's Door in the Floor, paraphrasing the writer's task as being one of paying attention. He said that a physician's task is to get information and "get out of there." He told me he was astonished by my three-dimensional thinking. I had to check the email I had sent to see if we were talking about the same thing. I wasn't aware I was being three-dimensional or astonishing. I was asking how he felt
"I mean, wouldn't seeing something like that insult your soul?"
"Insult your soul. That's Whitman, isn't it?"

I remember the first time I heard my father deliver an order to disconnect a patient's life support. We the family were gathered for supper when his beeper beeped. He dialed the hospital using the phone on the kitchen wall. I could hear him.

"Is the family gathered?"
Silence as person at hospital replies.
"Okay, then. Go ahead."

Then, he sat down and continued eating. I knew what had just happened. I stood and walked to my room. He followed.

"How could you just sit down after that?"

He told me the story of the first patient he "lost." He was devastated. His attending physician told him that he could choose to either be devastated each time a patient died or he could choose to be a doctor. That was the lesson. My father chose the latter. Hearing the story helped somewhat. We both returned to supper.

"Yes, Dad, it's Whitman."

"Did it insult my soul? If it did I never thought about it."
I told him I didn't think my questions were that astounding, that I thought they were the most obvious questions to ask. 

"No, don't sell yourself short, kid."

I have always sold myself a little bit short. It started the night the coffee cup shattered against the plaster of the dining room wall. It started when I chose to be a poet instead of a doctor. 

Now, to think that my consideration of seeing a human being holding another part of another human being (with a cartoon image of yet another human being inked upon it) in a joking, detached manner is unique or amazing, I would have to think that my father and I approach life from two extremes. Is it possible? Would others not be mortified by this image? Is poetic reasoning so different from clinical as to effectively render such a sight readable as two very separate texts?  One seeing it as okay and acceptable? The other seeing it as a horrendous and vile act?

The conversation ends with no judgment or even answers. And will continue.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

DENVER, a short story (wishing everyone a blessed holiday filled with kindness)

I arrived in Denver late at night, having flown across the U.S. losing hours along the way. Stella was four months. Her father and I had just ended it. I’d flown to Denver to spend Thanksgiving with my best high school friend, Audrey. Audrey’d said she’d leave the key under a flower pot on the front porch and would come back from Boulder in the morning, where she was presenting a paper on Kerouac. There was a snowstorm. She didn’t want to drive. The key, though, froze into the ice that gathers between the holes at the bottom of a flower pot so when I knelt (with my baby in a Snuggie inside my corduroy coat) to pick it up and feel around on the cold wood for the metal key I didn’t feel anything. I checked the flower pots on the steps and saw one at the far end of the front porch. When I lifted each of these, I moved my hand around on the snow planning to find that metal shape. I removed my gloves and felt the snow gathered under each one burn my fingertips.

I carried a lot with me that year everywhere I went. Having an infant was like being a bedouin burdened with brightly colored things. Part of this was out of necessity: I had to have a car seat for the shuttle, and I had to have a stroller because Audrey didn’t have a child, and I knew she’d want to show me all the places that Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy had hung out, got drunk, left one another behind. Maybe the Snuggie would have been enough, but sometimes I’d want to be able to do something without a baby strapped to my chest so I took the stroller. I also had to have a breast pump because once I’d breastfed on an airplane and forgotten to re-snap my nursing bra and pull down my shirt before getting up to get something out of the overhead. You only have to do that once to realize that milk-brain is a thing, a thing much more daunting than pregnancy brain which merely subtracts verbs from one’s vocabulary. Milk-brain subtracted minutes and hours from memory, a primal strategy no doubt to keep us always wondering if our offspring have fed, ceaselessly calling us back into the nursing rocker, the only furniture in the modern world other than a toilet wholly dedicated to one bodily function. Stella and I were still in that zone where when she was hungry my uterus contracted with all the tension of early labor. I needed a breast pump because if a pain is both unbearable and avoidable, one must do whatever it takes to serve the latter quality, even if it means toting a complicated bomb-resembling device cross-country. 

I had a four-day supply of Huggies Swaddler diapers because it does make a difference, two blanket sleepers, a pink snowsuit about four inches thick into which she was now safely stuffed, a week’s supply of onesies and “outfits” which I was into because I was a new, first-time mother willing to spend, if not fully in a financial position to do so, $50.00 on ensembles she’d outgrow in two weeks, and a peculiar contraption comprised of a brightly colored mat with two bendable bars that attach by arching over it much like the poles of a geodesic dome tent one might pitch on the side of Everest but without the nylon and instead with little clips from which hung a purple hippopotamus, a giraffe which had some kind of rattle inside it, a grey elephant, and a crinkly sort of zebra, and at the transept of these two bending bars attached a star with lights that flashed slowly in time to a little song that might not exist outside the realm of this one toy. 

My baby loved the star and the giraffe, and because Audrey didn’t have any children of her own, I doubted the presence of stars and giraffes in her home. I wanted to have something to keep Stella entertained. That’s the way I thought then, that the baby had to be entertained, as though the experience of being in a world for the first third of the earth’s cycle round the sun might not be stimulating enough. I had all this stuff divided between one suitcase for clothes and one very large duffle bag for Baby Things, including the stroller. Between these two objects I huddled on the floor of Audrey’s porch with my baby sleeping inside my coat and snow streaking the air. Where the fuck is the god-damned key, I swore at my scholarly friend.

I had a cell-phone, but the battery was dead. The houses on the street were all dark. It was after midnight. Families in Denver went to bed early. I regretted not telling the shuttle driver to wait until I was inside before driving off. Then I hated him for not thinking of it himself. The last hotel he’d dropped passengers at had been at least twenty minutes away, by vehicle. I wouldn’t be able to walk it. I pulled my hat down over my ears and double wrapped my wide wool scarf around my neck and shoulders, keeping the winter from Stella’s skin. 

Had I been alone, only me, I might have stayed there through the night. In the same way that before I found out I was pregnant I smoked cigarettes, I would have done something stupid. But as much as breastfeeding and the actual process of growing a baby inside of you make your brain a little slow, it makes you really smart in matters of life and death. There was no way I was going to let my baby stay outside all night a mile above sea level. I gripped the bannister and slipped down the steps and along the sidewalk and knocked on the un-illuminated next door. 

And waited.

Booking the flight to see Audrey was an automatic response to suddenly being alone, like turning on the lights when entering a room or buckling a seatbelt when entering a car. I hadn’t seen her in years, but it was the only thing that made sense. I had a baby. I wanted my best friend to see her. Then I’d arrived on the porch of a stranger’s house about to beg to be let inside, like the Virgin Mary begging to be able to give birth in the barn. Not for me. For the baby. I was alone and vulnerable and part of a story in humanity that aligned me with the one no one could deny assisting on a winter night. If no one answered, I’d make my way to the next house, and the next, and the night would go like that. Me, the woman in the snow with the baby’s heavy head against her breast inside layers of corduroy and wool. 

The porchlight came on, and a man in red Royal Stewart plaid flannel pajama pants and a cream-colored long john shirt and great thick hiking socks and a kind, long, pale and unshaven face answered. I didn’t have to say anything once he saw the little brown haired head emerging from my coat. I was a story that didn’t have to talk. He opened the door wide. Come in Come in.

The door opened into a universe of Family. The wooden floors peeked up through archipelagoes of toys, sweaters, coats, textbooks, notepaper, and wool socks of varying sizes. Sheet music lay on the floor around the piano, with one sturdy page standing straight in the place sheet music belongs. How long have you been outside?  The man’s wife, wearing also a cream-colored long john shirt and plaid flannel pajama pants and wooly socks , poured hot chocolate from a well-used saucepan into a dark blue mug with the word “LOVE” engraved some sunny summer camp afternoon. I was sure if I peeked at the bottom I’d see the name of the pilot of the plastic helicopter on the fireplace mantle or the hockey player whose black skates hung from a hook screwed into a two-by-four nailed to the wall by the front door. Worn blankets lay across the backs and arms of worn sofas to the degree where it was impossible to tell what was upholstery and what was adornment. A cuckoo clock on the wall had two little doors above the place the bird came out at 1 a.m. and out of which popped a little man who danced to a little song with a little woman then cheerily went back inside their instrument of time. I took Stella out of my coat and the Snuggie as I sat down, not long, just a few minutes. 

Here, I’ll hold her, she said, holding her arms out the way women hold their arms out to infants, this ancient thing, this “oh-please-give-her-to-me” favor, the desire of love itself. I didn’t hesitate. Stella was deep in the sleep infants can access in times of stress and extremely cold weather. She was moving her lips in a gentle pulse. Soon she’d want to nurse, but I’d have time to drink hot chocolate first. The marshmallows released their form. The warmth from the heating vent wrapped my legs under the long wooden table.

Wade and Leslie were my hosts’ names. They had two sons and a daughter, Jim, Drew, and Alice. all sleeping upstairs in their rooms, rooms I could picture as they told me about each one. Alice, it turned out, was the hockey player. Drew was the pilot at age 7, and Jim preferred improvising jazz to learning classical on the piano. Alice was 11. Jim 13. Nobody said anything about the way everything was everywhere the way other people always apologized for “such a mess” when their homes were almost spotless. 

When Stella unsettled and started to mouth the air like she was seeing angels, Leslie showed me to the room where I’d be sleeping. I sat on the bed and started to nurse while she simply swept a pile of unfolded laundry back into its blue plastic oval laundry basket and kicked it toward the corner of the room where already an ironing board stood with a pile of un-ironed shirts on top of it. I didn’t imagine the shirts would ever get ironed or that Wade was a man who would require them to be. 

We have this. 

Leslie opened the closet and wheeled out a white lacy bassinet with a pale blue star, a pink moon, and a golden mysterious other figure from the solar system bobbing from a musical device that also spun these around when Leslie pressed a white almost-invisible button on the side of the basket. The song was a lullaby I knew the words to, “slowly the big silver moon rises and peeks in the room . . . . “ It was the prettiest bassinet I’d seen. I was almost jealous I hadn’t found it myself. Leslie reached up to the shelf in the magical closet of baby things and brought down a silk blanket printed with pink sailboats and blue sheep. 

It's nice to the touch. But you wouldn't put it in there with her.

I told her about the bags I had left on Audrey’s porch. We’d completely neglected them. By now they’d be covered with ice and snow. Don’t worry about it. But Leslie left and there was a conversation and soon Wade was bringing the duffle and my suitcase to my little guest room. He picked a towel out of the laundry basket and wiped off the melting snow. Stella was on a break from nursing. I pulled down my sweater before he saw. I found the key, he said, It was frozen to the bottom of the flower pot by the door. But your friend didn’t leave the heat on. I booted it up, but it won’t be warm enough for you and the baby for an hour or so. Sleep here. We’ll move you over in the morning.

He drew down one feather duvet and two heavy blankets from the magic shelf and placed them on my mattress. I’ll leave you two. Good night. Glad you’re safe. He looked at Leslie, Love you.

Leslie held out her arms to hold Stella again, Why don’t you take a shower. I put some pajamas next to the sink. They should fit just fine. I pulled a pale purple blanket sleeper from my suitcase and placed it on the bed. I didn’t understand how Leslie could think her pajamas could possibly fit me, but the ones she’d placed on the shelf did fit, large enough for a woman who’d eaten the world in order to produce a healthy baby. It didn't at all feel strange leaving Stella with this stranger. I felt that I was in a house that was made for keeping children safe. If anything ever went wrong here it would be the result not of human neglect or human action. It would have to be something of an eerily impossible and terrible chain of events. The hot water melted the last bit of winter from my body. I hadn't taken a long shower since before giving birth.

I returned to my room where Leslie held Stella close. She'd dressed her in the blanket sleeper from the suitcase, and rocked where she sat at the edge of the bed. She’d placed a bag of Pampers next to the bassinet, for 3-6 month infants. I climbed under the blankets and felt the feather duvet and blankets smother me into safety. I welcomed Leslie’s rocking. She might have done it all night as I slept.