Like a Miracle…

Ways to spend a winter’s day: Watch the Weather Channel. Walk the wolf. Curse the coffee that tastes like cigarettes (bought it on sale).

It’s a tricky time, February. All that forced romance. If anything shouldn’t be forced, it’s your heart. It’s a rusty bolt. A stubborn bulb. Twist too hard and it shatters in your hands.

I love how you get me.
I love your pain, it’s so competitive.
I love how emotionally unavailable you are.
I love you like I’m a strange backyard and you’re running from the
cops, looking for a place to stash your gun.

That’s that Kim Addonizio, a very gifted poet. In writing classes, I always read this poem, for its sly, playful, relatable insights. It’s heavy and light all at once. It’s a balloon tied to a brick.

I’m speaking to a high school class next week. I will read the Addonizio poem. I will also read them Edward Field’s brilliant allegory about early pilots, where he talks about planes going into tailspins.

Spinning round, headed for a target of earth,
the whine of death in the wing struts,
instinct made you try to pull out of it that way, by force,
and for years aviators spiraled down and crashed.

Who could have dreamed that the solution
to this dreaded aeronautical problem
was so simple?
Every student flier learns this nowadays:
you move the joystick in the direction of the spin,
and like a miracle the plane stops turning
and you are in control again.

Field explained that the trick is to go with the turning – give in — and that way come out of your tailspin. In short, everything’s a kind of dance.

February has a lot of tailspins. Football is finished. Valentine’s approaches. Ewwww, this wine tastes like socks (bought it on sale).

I love you as long as you love me back.
I love you in spite of the restraining order.
I love you from the coma you put me in.
I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone, except for this one

(from “Forms of Love” by Kim Addonizio)

The other day, I got up early to admire the teak in the sunrise. I can tell within the first two steps whether my bum knee will bother me that day and how far I’ll be able to walk the wolf, the one with the Paul Newman eyes.

This wolf is difficult to live with but easy to love. Lately, I’ve been teaching her some of Newman’s lines from “Hud.”

This country is run on epidemics, where you been? Price fixing, crooked TV shows, inflated expense accounts…

White Fang loves it when I speak aloud. The human voice is like a violin to her. This home, once such a bouncy house of noise and confusion, is now disturbingly quiet.

So I talk to White Fang. I read her the grocery list – berries, butter, Burma-Shave — and she will sit attentively, closing her eyes slightly, as if hearing the Beatles for the very first time.

On cold mornings, White Fang plops herself atop my chest and steals my breath till I walk her. Seems all my life I’ve been surrounded by headstrong women like her.

Now there’s this Catty Cakes person, the daughter of my daughter. I sense the emergence of yet another headstrong young person. Her eyes have quips in them. They are rounder than eyes have ever been. Big as wagon wheels.

You know, you think you know love – all its volumes, all its various syrups — and then you meet your new grandchild, and in her face are a thousand memories of when you raised her mom and bounced her on your knee, trying to fix her hair before pre-school.

Talk about your hopeless romantics — a dad fixing a daughter’s hair, with fingers still gummy from breakfast.

Meanwhile, these young mothers today…

So impressive — verbal, determined, yet just like young mothers have always been, searching under tables for the missing pacifier, trying not to lose the tiny pair of socks, hoping to keep their husbands interested but mostly concentrating on this new soul who looks at them like no one has ever looked at them before.

That’s romance, right there, impossible and reassuring all at the same time.

A child’s love is the most precious love. It comes with no terms. It doesn’t need to be lawyered. No kid ever requested a pre-nup.

I sit with the two of them in the park on a beachy LA afternoon, on my bum knee, reading Catty Cakes a new book.

“Today I Will Fly” it’s called (paid full price).

Spoiler alert:  In the end, someone flies, even though the cynical elephant insists that pigs can’t fly.

“You will never fly,” the elephant warns.

Obviously, the elephant is dealing with a lot of the same internal struggles we all face, issues of self-worth. By lowering the expectations of others, he reduces his own sense of impending doom and disappointment.

But the pig gets help from a friendly pelican, and then Gerald – that’s the elephant – says that now he wants to fly too.

At least that’s what I got out of it. There was a lot going on in the park that day — kites and bikes and beautiful dogs just everywhere.

“Look at that one over there,” I told my granddaughter.

I didn’t mention tailspins to Catty Cakes. Too soon for that. I didn’t tell her that I love her more – and differently — than I’ve ever loved anyone before. She mighta sensed that; she mighta not.

“Come on, Cakes,” I said, belly down on the blanket next to her.

“Let’s read.”

Last call for Super Bowl recipes. I have some cream cheese poppers that will blow your head off, and wings that’ll let pigs fly. Please send suggestions to Go Rams! Go White Fang!

24 thoughts on “Like a Miracle…

  1. Hard to see to type…something’s blurring my vision. This post is entirely perfect, like your love for Catty Cakes and White Fang’s love for you. Thanks for introducing us to that wonderful poem, too. I am going to find a copy and enclose it in my husband’s Valentine this year. Chris, may you find a great love again yourself. You deserve nothing less.

      1. Thanks. I have been trying to google it but no luck. Which of her books of poetry is it in? Or what is the title of the poem?

  2. Maybe you can read some Mo Willems to those high schoolers in addition to Kim Addonizio and Edward Fields. Just like “Today I Will Fly” they are filled with life lessons every high schooler can use and they are fun to read. I’m sure Catty Cakes would agree. And those eyes…those cheeks. Absolutely precious. Cutie patootie alert.

    1. Oh, do I love this one. And Kim Addonizio. Who I did not know of, and is now right up there on Mount Olympus with my all time favorite, Billy Collins. Thanks for starting off this month with such a beauty.

      1. Agreed! About the revelation (to me) of Kim Addonizio.

        Every Chris Erskine column day is a good one but today, today was exceptional.

        Poetry is not really my thing except that now it is. Because of the Addonizio samples, I am in the midst of a deep dive–thank you!

  3. Chris,
    You just keep getting better and better. You touched my heart and I forwarded this to all my friends and relatives. You are one lucky man to have what you have and can express it so beautifuly.

  4. What can I say………except I love you! I love your family, I love your dog and I love your stories and the way you tell them…….always makes me smile, and I usually get a little misty eyed!

  5. It seems that everything you write is ultimately about some kind of love, and when this particular consciousness penetrates unreason, that becomes what there is. And Addonizio then makes perfect sense when little else does. She is a poet of love because she bleeds. And who can deny there is blood on the water these February L.A. mornings in Santa Monica? Maybe it’s the way it’s Winter sky gray contrasts with the valentine red oI the morning light, but I swear you are winding up the weather precedent to Valentine’s Day, and we are all the better for it, blue-ice-eyed canine girls’ morning enthusiasm notwithstanding. Could it be that there is a faint cast of red in the morning coffee, reflected glow from a face, or a presence? Oh, Suzanne, the plans you make in the air, until there is art everywhere. Who could not bear this Omicron fog when there is so much red on the horizon ? We could all stand a little rouge confection, not to mention two dozen long stems on the Barbie. And there is so much red to be read; ahead. Addonizio, again. Love will find a way.

  6. There’s no love like grandparent love. Our grandchildren walk all over Grandpa and me, twist us around their little fingers, and hit us up for toys both in person and while face timing, and we love every second of it.

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