Thursday, August 21, 2014


I wonder what my kids think of me.  Maybe they haven’t really – I don’t remember thinking about my Dad. He just was.

A realization that feels like a soft hollowing out of my chest:  I’m starting to forget (about) him. My Dad. It is so much worse than remembering him in his absence. I’m not forgetting what I need and I’m not forgetting what I want and everything I’m forgetting, I’m becoming.

Monday, January 6, 2014


Years earlier when we didn’t have a TV at the cottage, we would play a board game – or cards – nearly every night. Or, at least, that is how I remember it. That hadn’t happened for years when my father posted this list on the outside of the cabinet where the games were stored.

My Dad made a small space – not really a room, more like a large closet – in the rebuilt cottage where we spent our summers as children. He went in there to smoke when it was too cold or dark outside. The space had built-in cabinets that he had removed from the basement of our home in Shamokin - floor-to-ceiling, they lined all the walls -  except for a desk-like area.  There he maintained a small collection of tiny plastic wind-up toys among the miscellaneous pocketknife, harmonica, whistles, matches, pencils and crosswords books. Above his head he installed an exhaust fan that he believed extracted all of his pipe or cigarette smoke. It didn’t. The smoke drifted beyond the curtain he put up to block it as well as the door to the TV space where the rest of us usually sat.

Months after the flood, some things remained on the cabinet shelves. The board games – soggy and dank – were already thrown out by someone by the time I got there. I threw the remaining stuff into a garbage can and accidentally got my shoes wet when I moved something I didn’t know had water in it. I set a few things aside, among them, a box of stereoscopic slides and a small viewing mechanism. The slides were of me and my siblings; they were taken by a professional photographer – probably at Sears - when I was about three. They were tucked far in the corner near some other artifacts whose meanings my father had assigned, - meanings known to no one now.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Subsided Water

It had been my father’s small ‘get-away’ – an odd building only 40 yards from the cottage itself. Its main components: a half bath with a flushable toilet (although it flushed into an outhouse style septic hole beneath the floor), a storage space with a work bench and a porch. The roof largely served as an overhang – a sort of front porch (without a house behind it.). My father retreated there to smoke, to listen to classical music, to sort through his tools, to sit on the swing and do his daily crossword and, of course, go to the bathroom - newspaper in hand. He had constructed a space that looked onto the rest of the property and had a view of the creek. The space, like he had always been, was slightly apart and in only several singular ways, practical.

I hadn’t considered the possibility of falling at all until I felt the roof succumb slightly to my weight. Although I avoided the edges, I thought more about the possibility of falling through than falling off. I tacked down a silver tarp over the area that had, from the inside, shown the worst signs of leakage. I nailed into the overhang and into the fascia. It was all I could invest in the time I had. Come spring, perhaps, I’d do it right – or perhaps some one else would. I took a picture of it – I’m not sure why.

Two weeks later the tarp stayed in place as the flood-water rushed just below it - within inches of the soffit. The contents were swept away – the porcelain water fountain my father installed ripped from the wall and his porch-swing torn from its chains. I took another picture and until I saw it later, I hadn’t realized how much cleaner it looked.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

60 over 24

The movement from the wheelchair to the toilet depleted his strength entirely. He struggled to breathe normally and leaned forward, forearms on his knees, until he gained composure. “I don’t know if I can pull myself out of it this time.” he said. I can’t remember what I said. I hope it doesn’t matter.

Two weeks later, I laid on the couch several feet the temporarily placed bed in the living room. The light from above the kitchen stove scumbled over the contents of the two rooms. Every time he stirred I awoke fully - repeatedly.

The next day at 9:34AM I emailed his blood pressure to myself with my iPhone – I’m not certain why I did this but I found it days later among previously dismissed communications. “60 over 24”

Five hours later, tired from the night before, I closed the door and laid diagonally on my parents’ bed – atop the floral comforter. I like to think I faded to sleep with my father’s fade to death. It was quiet and for both of us, perception slipped away from that perceived.

His death nearly lacked the character of an 'event.' It was just one moment moving to the next - and moving so smoothly that it really could have been any other moment at all. And that is what has changed me most – the striking similarity between that moment and any other since.

Nathaniel woke me. He put his hand on my calf that jutted over the bed’s edge. He shook me slightly and I turned. “He just passed.” he said.

Later he said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know what words to use.”

His words were perfect and I couldn’t imagine a better person to tell me them. Nathaniel was my older sister’s first child – the first grandchild. I was eleven or twelve years old when he was born and all my life I’ve associated him with youth and potential and life pulled to a new generation.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Years Earlier

Her hand raised and touched her face. Her fingertips contacted her cheek and paused there - her flesh gave to the slight pressure. It was not a gesture that supported an expression and it had no decipherable intent. Although it looked like a touch to affirm her own presence – her own solidity - her eyes showed no manner of recognition or relief – no affirmation, no contradiction.

The movement was prompted by the spark of a single synapse – the first that would have, years earlier, set off the series necessary to generate the movement that bore meaning – a slight rub in response to a near imperceptible irritant on her cheek just below her right eye. She would have, years earlier, moved gracefully to the next function afforded her by mobility – a push of her glasses up the bridge of her nose, a brush of a hair from her forehead or a settling to her lap and a touch that recognized the insignificant texture of her polyester pants. Instead her hand moved down and away from her face and stopped for a long moment just inside her peripheral vision, and then it vanished. image source

Friday, November 12, 2010

Stream of Consciousness

I am momentarily and strangely uncomfortable if I take a shower without first telling some one. It is usually a passing thought in a short-lived instant – just as I turn on the water I think, “I should have told some one.”

It typically passes along with the many other transitory mental moments that pop and disappear in the gray dribble between sub consciousness and functional thought. Yesterday it stayed with me though – and it begged contemplation.

I considered the fact that being alone, I am commonly and deeply imbedded in my thoughts when I shower. I wondered if, in some way, I feared just how deeply I could descend - perhaps passing over some ill-defined verge where the everyday would be irretrievable - where it would affect me corporeally and I would dissipate with the steam; “They would know I was in the shower when I disappeared – and that would explain everything. “ I thought.

When I inventoried my thoughts I realized that when I’m in the shower I am not moving intently from notion to notion or employing my time alone in serious contemplation - but rather, I move randomly. One inane thought prompted from the previous and so often just reiterations. The shampoo. The razor. The washcloth flung over the showerhead’s pipe. Perhaps I am afraid I could easily get lost in those thoughts – I would slide away into the familiar and blend into the even grid of the shower stall tiles.

I moved on and opened the bathroom door and chilled dry bedroom air swept in. And then I remembered.

My father was a plumber; I say ‘pipefitter’ to sound more impressive and so does he. Despite – or maybe because of - the complex array of valves and holding tanks, by-passes and heat-traps, he added to the plumbing in the home where I grew up, the system seemed to prioritize a flow of water in manners intent on supplying unpredictable discomfort to everyone involved. Taking a shower with house full of people moving about their day was a risky endeavor. The sudden shifts in pressure and flow seemed to have little connect to the abrupt change in temperature. You could be scalded by a dribble of water, then chilled by the same, assaulted with a blast of high pressure water only to be thrown through a moment of warm comfort to a blast of flesh-searing steam. That is, unless you told some one you were taking a shower.

We all knew what it was like so we respected each other’s shower time – though only to a limited extent. We had about 15 minutes before domestic activities involving water would recommence and set off the torturous shifts. If they happened sooner than that, you would hear my Dad yell, “Yeeeeooooww!” from the basement shower or my sister scream down from upstairs, “Could some one turn off the dishwasher!”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

how good are your dwelling places (3 of 3)

Finding Maywood is part of an installation at Koffler Arts Centre’s off-site gallery and part of how good are your dwelling places.” Finding Maywood resituates, wallpaper, carpeting and other materials placed in my Rochester residence by its former owner. The materials, salvaged
during our renovations, reappear here in a presentation that responds to the general architecture and the quirky cubbies of the domestic space adopted by the Koffler Arts Centre. These installations attempt to create a conduit between my tastes and theirs and now and then – a connection to what was lost inside of our gain.

Cyril Reade contributed to the placement of these mini-installations. Faeeza Masood helped with the preparation for this exhibition. Jen Burger made this entire installation what it is through patient assistance, tireless commitment and creative input – all in the context of an unheated building without running water. I am greatly appreciative of their contributions and everyone else’s involved.