hello kitty

hello kittyRossella Vasta, an Italian artist visiting Montana tells us words create space for silence. She listens to the silence words achieve before she begins to paint. Kenosis: to empty one’s self, to willingly make room for  . . . what? The act of emptying.

Weather balloons are measured for their bursting diameters. They are meant to burst. There is no lid to this earth, yet we daily live as though we have limits. Weather balloons are also known as sounding balloons. To probe, explore: sounding.

My father slows the shutter speed when he shoots his sunrise photos. This is what it takes to let enough light in, letting colors deepen, as though readying a landscape for tea. Steeping.

When there aren’t mountains around, it’s easy to get mixed up and not know which way is up. Up, meaning north. Says the lady in the prairie store, admitting she hasn’t learned her left from her right, her east from her west. She didn’t grow up with the sun. She doesn’t know what to be afraid of first, living now on the prairie. Rattlesnake or coyote? To find her way back to calm, to center herself she recites Mount Everest.

Accidentally, I eat tacos with a former in-law. How can I not when we end up  in line together at the tiny taco hut? He searches for something to say to me, sounding like my former husband. Astounding, really, to witness the genetic hand-toss, the fingers fluttering in the air to indicate “whatever, whatever” when words escape all meaning. He dictates, flips through his soundbites, the speeches he has prepared to cover any topic. He’s half union, half white collar. He wants to tell me about a place twenty-five minutes from nowhere. I want to rescue him from his discomfort as he realizes he meant to say miles but said minutes instead, but I’m running out of rescues. And also short on caves.

Rossella Vasta’s art speaks the language of French cave paintings. We assume animals drawn on walls are kill drawings. See, this is what I took down. But when we rid ourselves of that notion, we make room for imagining the spirit of an animal captured when drawn on limestone walls. Maybe that’s why we empty, why we sound. Twenty-five minutes from nowhere birds sing through the timeline. Dogs howl in such cadence the path of an ambulance winding through the river valley is tallied. The more distant the howl, the further away the trauma. Wind rattles the cottonwood leaves in my neighbor’s yard, a hundred students clicking their tongues to the beat of a conductor’s baton.

the bass line


I ask my daughter, newly married, what it was like when she and her husband returned to his old hometown to attend a football game. He hadn’t been to one in some years. She laughed and told me he said, “Hey what happened to the boom?!”

This is why I tell her she is a writer. But she says she doesn’t write. She says she couldn’t write like I do.

I say, a writer is a writer even if she never writes. It’s the way she observes. the way she expresses herself. She’s the better storyteller. What I need to do is not come between my daughter and her sun.

Don’t be the shadow.


Even a cup of tea is subject to lunar tides. – Mary Ruefle


Things are selling like cupcakes, the lady in the booth next to ours exclaims every time someone asks her how her day at the Street Fair is going. She asks everyone why they are so beautiful. In the front of her booth, against paintings propped against a  purple chair, sits a cellophane box of four blueberry muffins on the pavement. We watch as shoppers shop. Painting, painting, oh, what? Muffins. In the back of her booth is a large salad bowl of coleslaw, uncovered. On the table she is trying to sell are two round platters covered in foil. Straw hats cover the foiled platters and we notice throughout the day that these are the only two items she never tries to sell.

The street fair is lively, and in our tent we can only witness what passes across the ten foot wide opening. The street is a stage and we are spectating. Across from us a six piece band plays a mix of bluegrass, blues, folk and what we call radio music. It doesn’t take too long before I have memorized the bass runs and in a slow moment I teach my daughter to play the bass runs with me. Wait for it, you’ll feel it and then you can not unhear it. Was it always this way, she asked? Or was it just this one song with a bass line you couldn’t ignore?

The bass carries us through the day. At odd moments she and I turn to each other, knowing before the bass plays it, what the bass will play. That shared head nod. The syncopated pulse.


My daughter and her husband are traveling north, one hundred miles, to a country wedding. The town has one motel, five rooms. The motel serves breakfast, only. If you want to eat any other meal, you’ll have to drive to Lewistown, thirty miles away. This is a town, my daughter says, where everyone brings their own creamer to the motel’s cafe for breakfast. A couple weeks ago the area experienced a flash flood and there has been concern the road to the wedding won’t be passable. Not to worry, the hosts reassure. They’ve marked an alternative route off the highway. Yes, the bridge is washed out, but don’t worry, just drive across it slowly.



the tailrace

tailraceInside the power house, overlooking the tailrace at Ryan Dam

My daughter married last month. My son married this month last year. I saw the minute hand move. Click.

Watches. Alarms. Clocks. Turbines spinning water into power. You can’t follow me here, said the man with the hard hat, the flashing tail lights. But my father told me to follow him through the gate anyway. Just go. And so I did. I drove my father’s van through the opened No Trespassing gate, my mother protesting in the front passenger seat that the hard hat man wasn’t going to recognize my father, sitting in the back seat. You just can’t go where you want to go, Bill, she said.

And when the hard hat man in his large white pickup saw us in his mirror, he turned around to confront us. I know, I’ve always known, the hows and whens to stop. It’s going forward that keeps me still.

Hello, Bill, the man said. Through his opened window, through my father’s, wound-down. Of course they knew each other. At one time, my father was the boss of this power camp. At one time, I was the little girl, Bill’s middle child, running through the camp, climbing cliffs, keeping a measured distance from the waterfalls.

Can you break a spell by yielding to it? This river has always had her way with me. Running through me when what I wanted was distance from her roar. She must have had a good war, this Missouri river. What it has taken for her to still be here, carving through landscape of wheat and rising yeast. Red stone, brittle shale. Dams strapped against her swell.


The Montana Girl Speaks of Water
                                                             after Langston Hughes

My soul has grown deep like
the rivers. The curl of eddies and bays

pool inside. I retreat downriver, into the spray
of the Crooked Falls, climb rock

cliffs, toeing dirt, sliding down
banks into the graveyard

memories of the familiar wide
lazy shoreline of my youth, retracing steps

skipped out with the verve and the snap
little girls had back in the day, still

wading in shallow water, my cuffs rolled
and my muddy elbows,

dreaming all the world was one
cool, shin-high ripple.

(Previously published at Babel Fruit)


Tailrace: The part of a millrace or the like through which the spent water flows





Tuck this thought inside your head.  Instruction I resist. In a family known for its stubborn streaks, I might be the one to claim top honors. One person’s determination is another’s definition of being a shit-head. (A direct quote from my mother.)

Just, please. I can’t think when family says to me, Tuck this thought inside your head. I can’t think their thoughts.

So when my smoke alarm goes off minutes after we’ve agreed, by text, not to meet for breakfast because he doesn’t want to drive to town, and I text him that my smoke alarm won’t stop, and he texts me back to disconnect the batteries, and I text back to say it is hard-wired, and he texts back to ask if I am sure I don’t smell smoke, and I text back that I am about to smash it with a hammer, and minutes later he shows up at my door with a screwdriver, I realize he’s never tried to put a thought inside my head. He’s all about ladders from the basement, wire-nuts riding on floorboards next to the Van Morrison Moondance CD.

Minutes later I am climbing inside his car, my feet finding space on the floorboards between the half of minnow trap he has left and a street poster he meant to give me last month. The thirty-five year old smoke alarm has been disabled, and we are headed out for breakfast after all.

Except that he drives past the good breakfast cafe, intent on explaining how he dropped half the minnow trap in the channel when a stray rottweiler came trotting over to him. The trap portion not tied to the rope is the part that he is now missing. All those minnows gone.

When I mention we just passed the good cafe, he doesn’t turn around and go back. Because that is what he doesn’t do: turn around and go back. This astonishes me, but in all the time we’ve been friends, I’ve never asked him to go back. Which is how we often end up eating at the casino with the flashing lights where no one goes to eat. This time, two yellow striped lines away from where I open the car door, two opened beer bottles stand sentry to the deserted parking lot.

And after a breakfast where I always order the same thing and he never orders the same thing twice, we step outside the casino and stop. He notices what I notice. One of the beer bottles is gone.


The gallery owner meets my daughter and me in the second room of her warehouse. She wants a custom pendant for her daughter who is moving back home after leaving her husband.  None of our pendants she sells in her shop work for this situation. She wants a word in the collage that will give her daughter strength. How do you say it, she asks. No longer in a marriage, she’s . . . what? In a divorce, now? Is that it?

Through, my daughter says. It’s the word you use to move yourself out of something bad and on to something good.





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