Photos by Robert Reichert - Click for gallery



Fall 03


Twenty-Six Poses




1. Standing Deep Breathing

     You open the door on a deep blue sky day, and on your porch stands the carpenter. He has ridden his bicycle and stashed it at odd angles in the ivy. He wears flip-flops—two different flip-flops, in fact. Those eyes, a half-shade lighter than the sky. A soft beard, velvet as young leaves. He is more breathtaking than you remember. You’ve been expecting him. He’s here to bid on cabinet installation and some pegboard you want in the garage because there’s nowhere for your screwdrivers. Be cool, you think. This is hormones, you think. “Hi,” you say.
      He steps lightly into your foyer (yes, you have a foyer) and glances all around him as though your house were a museum. One day you’ll find out he noticed flaws immediately. Dry wall inconsistencies, casement windows mis-hung. What you don’t know, what you don’t even suspect, is that this is the beginning of an epic ride. Take a deep, deep breath, because shortly, your cells will restructure, your blood will change course. Your body, as you know it, will bake at 350, and the toothpicks inserted will never come out clean.

2. Half Moon Pose with Hands to Feet Pose

     The carpenter’s work is done, and though he suggested a social activity—a movie, he said—he won’t call you for another year. But you don’t know this yet.
      Why are you acting like a teenager, all of the sudden? After all, you have two children, and they happen to be right there at the dining room table while you pace back and forth, glaring at the phone. Your two little fatherless kids are forming Playdoh shapes on their placemats. The older one, the boy, is rolling a log of back and forth on his mat. It looks like a penis. Your girl watches everything her brother does and screams because she can’t yet do the same. So impossible, for a two-year-old to roll Playdoh into the penis shape. You show her how to make a Patty-cake, instead. Something benign and unsuggestive. You bend down a couple times, to pick the dried bits of Playdoh off the floor.

3. Awkward Pose

     You run into the carpenter at a coffee shop while wearing a magenta jogging suit. Anything, anything other than this horrifically matron-like garment would have been a better choice. The stretch-shorts that show your bulgy thighs would have been better. Perhaps the tee-shirt from Disneyland, the one with Mickey and his wizard cap, a semi-circle of stars peppering your boobs. The magenta jogging suit is leftover from your other life, the one you led before your husband was killed in a car accident and you moved out west to the state of OR-y-gun to become a liberal.
      The carpenter smiles, his ponytail still wet from a morning shower. He gestures for you to join him in coffee and scone. You return the smile, shake your head. Try to cover the overly wide zipper of your jogging jacket with a copy of the Oregonian. Try to find composure. Poise. One day you will find out this is one of his fondest memories of you: this day when he ran into you in the coffee shop. He doesn’t remember what you were wearing.

4. Eagle Pose

     So he calls you. You go out. He calls you. You go out. He calls you, and after three platonic dates, you give up. The carpenter will be your buddy. You begin to justify: he doesn’t read fiction, he’s not ironic, or funny. He doesn’t get your jokes. The balance is off, intellectually. So what if every liquid form of matter in your body flows in his direction? When you walk downtown together, your steps don’t match: his left foot, your right foot. His landing step, your foot still in the air. You are mercurial and airy, your mind never lands on a thought you’ll commit to three minutes down the road. His lack of verbosity precludes speaking until he’s sure.
      But, still, he sees things. He has the eyes of an eagle. He notices the seismic flaws in the buildings you pass: subtle details, like hairline cracks in the masonry. Once, he pointed to an airplane—a speck in the sky— and explained the difference between a prop jet and a DC-10. He talked about wingspan. Lift and drag. “Bernoulli,” you said, remembering the scientist, but not the principle.
      He said, “Who?”

5. Standing Head to Knee Pose

     Four days before your thirtieth birthday, you invite the carpenter over to watch a video because you can’t get a babysitter. You sit next to him on the couch watching “Pacific Heights.” The perfect movie to watch next to someone with whom you’ve written off the possibility of sex. It’s a movie about mindfucking. Because of this, you decide to play around with the carpenter’s head. Well, his hair, actually. Before you know it, you’re brushing it in patient, controlled strokes, not unlike the way you brush your little girl’s hair. The carpenter’s body language changes. He shifts his head down onto your lap. Toward the end of the movie, when the protagonist stalks the antagonist in a predictable Hollywood twist, you are upstairs, inserting your ten-year-old diaphragm into your thirty-year-old vagina.
      One day he’ll tell you, that night, he felt set up.

6. Standing Bow Pulling Pose

      Blood flows freely from your center. Think of a winter stream thaw. You are that stream, all snow melt and rage. The carpenter and you: wherever, whenever. Your outline, sweat-printed to walls, strands of long blond hair on your dining room table, where the kids still roll out Playdoh, now in perfect, round balls that they slice with plastic knives. You are as virile as an eighteen year old boy, and as playful, too. When has it ever been this much fun?
      August and hot. So hot. You sense the balance about to change, like an archer at maximum pull-back. You are about to let go. And you do, again and again. Pull back, release. Pull back, release. When you walk in the woods, along the stream near the house you will soon sell, you see this in nature, the way water rushes down and down and curls around the rocks in its path before spilling to its destiny. Then there’s a tiny creek that comes along, minding its own business, and you know the quiet water in the creek is about to join the wilder water of the stream. Confluence, it’s called when the mingling of streams occurs. Nature doesn’t know choice, and neither do you.

7. Balancing Stick Pose

     One of the carpenter’s favorite activities is walking through works-in-progress, noting the building decisions of other carpenters. He does this after hours, and the trespassing makes you nervous. Still, there is a thrill in negotiating cat-walks and scaffolding behind him as he points out future toilets and closets. He kisses you as you balance on a riser, the zigzag beneath your feet inviting misstep.
      You are discovering that dating this carpenter is like standing on one leg at a time: life with boyfriend, life with kids. This gets sticky when the carpenter spends the night, which he does with increasing frequency. One day, you’re making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and discover the dining room table heaped with freshly harvested marijuana. You don’t mind this, theoretically; you know that side of his life. But this is your house. Your kids roll Playdoh on this table, and now, these hairy clumps of bud lie there. You feed the kids in the family room instead. Turn on “Beauty and the Beast.” Disney, you think, and lots of it. Sometimes, you wish you didn’t give that magenta jogging suit to Goodwill.

8. Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose

     The carpenter likes to make money. He tells you, you could be making money, too. He’ll teach you, he says. So you sell your nice, finished house and enter the world of the fixer-upper. Two for the price of one: the carpenter’s fixer and, a few blocks away, your fixer. You tell yourself, this is an investment. You tell yourself, houses are leaping up in price, five thousand a month, in fact. You tell yourself, you’re making money while drinking your morning cup of coffee. But whose blue eyes are you looking into while drinking that coffee? Why is there half-and-half in your refrigerator, when you drink your coffee black?
      Your hundred-year old house needs lots of work. TLC, is how it was advertised. Never in your life have you repaired anything. You come from a tradition of throwing stuff out and buying a new one. Well, once, as a child, you found an old wagon in an alley and covered it with contact paper and white paint. This wagon, when you looked at it, made the space between your heart and stomach glow as if warmed by briquettes. You want that glow again, so, after watching the carpenter and taking notes in a spiral notebook, you buy a heat gun and start stripping the Victorian molding around your windows. You buy pry bars and hammers and a Makita cordless drill. You even swap out a three-prong pigtail on your dryer because you have a four-prong outlet. And when you’re done, the dryer works!
      Meanwhile, in his fixer, the carpenter has discovered the work-enhancing effects of methamphetamine.

9. Triangle Pose

     The ten-year old diaphragm fails you. Duh, say the eyes of the Planned Parenthood doctor as he sucks the collection of cells from your all-too-inviting womb. But, it wasn’t as easy as all that, this decision. For nearly a month, you contemplated two distinct trinities, tried to come up with a workable intersection.
      First, the existing trinity: You, your son, and your daughter. This trio was born of survival, and as such, the edges have blurred. You have done your part, your heart has stretched as far as it needs to stretch; you are through. Until you contemplate a second triangle. The carpenter, you, and a potential baby. A potential trinity. A virtual trinity. A trinity emerging given this variable and that variable.
      You take your existing kids to a Disney matinee, an aggressive one with abrupt animation cuts. It’s loud in the theater, and dark, thank God, so your weeping goes undetected.

10. Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose

     There are valleys between the carpenter’s ribs. Valleys! His likeness to Jesus has bumped up a notch. Christ on crank, you think, and chuckle. See? That’s the problem right there! The part of you that thinks having a speed freak boyfriend is funny. It’s not funny, though, when he falls asleep at the wheel while driving along the interstate. It’s your car he’s driving, and you and your precious babies are in it. You break up with the carpenter. Sort of. You give him the first in a long, long line of ultimatums. No more white dope. Period. And then you scuttle back to the shaky lathe and plaster walls of your fixer.
      But you LOVE him, you think, and therefore, you must save him. “Get a clue,” says your therapist, as she recommends some books on codependence. Unfortunately you don’t like any of the author photos; they all look like your high school social studies teacher, a woman who favored Jonathan Livingston Seagull costume jewelry. After three days without the carpenter, you begin to miss him violently. One day, with the help of a different therapist, you will see this part of the cycle for what it is: the reassessment phase. But now you simply think you overreacted. Because of the carpenter, you have a new kitchen. You have a deck behind your house. You have a fun playmate for your kids, someone who takes them out to the edge of the runway where the planes come in so low, they tell you, breathlessly, they can almost touch them. The carpenter has taught your son to tie his shoes and ride a bike. If it were up to you, your first-born would still be in Ninja Turtle Velcro sneakers. He’d be riding a tricycle until second grade.
      You sob, you bargain, you pray and you whine. You begin to have long conversations with your dead husband. Think of the Tevya character in “Fiddler on the Roof,” the famous vacillation monologues that include the phrase: On the other hand . . .
      You no longer believe in God, but you believe in your dead husband. He is your Ouija Board. Your magic 8-ball. Your tarot deck. He says, “Hang in there.” So you do.

11. Tree Pose

     The carpenter gives up crank. He’ll stick with pot, he tells you, it suits his temperament better. You know the real reason though: one night his best friend called him at two in the morning, talking nonsense. The next day, he found out his friend was in a mental hospital with methamphetamine-induced psychosis. It scared the shit out of him. “Let’s start over,” you tell him. You want to get closer; you want to be in a position where you can monitor his habits on a daily basis. Here is the solution: move in together. Mingle your roots and plant them somewhere. But in whose house will you all live? What you need is a neutral corner. What you need is the proverbial blank canvas.
      An opportunity pops up from absolutely nowhere. On the outskirts of town stands the most picturesque farmhouse. The place comes complete with an old barn, several outbuildings and 80 acres of leased farmland planted in crimson clover. You can lease out each of the fixers for twice as much as the farmhouse rent. So what if there’s no central heat or insulation? So what if the place is coated in bacon grease and field dust? You’re young; you have sleeves you can roll up.
      The carpenter, you, and your kids spend several weeks cleaning, sanding, varnishing and painting. You go to a feed store and buy baby chicks. It’s too cold in the henhouse, so the chicks are set up in a cardboard box under a heat lamp on top of the Playdoh table. First lesson in farmwifery: chicken urine goes right through cardboard, through varnish, and into maple. Because of this, the table will forever feature a swollen hump; it will take a year and a half for the ammonia smell to dissipate.
      Those first few weeks, watching crimson clover overtake the back eighty, watching your children swing on a tire under a back-East sized oak, planning an acre-sized vegetable garden in the orchard next to the house, it’s like the first time you witnessed color television: a threshold into perfection. Nobody can convince you this feeling won’t last. Even next week, as the carpenter and you, holding hands, watch your landlord uproot the graceful, blossoming pear trees in the orchard with his tractor bucket—they’re too old, he tells you— you’ll believe you’re the luckiest couple on the planet.

12. Toe Stand Pose

     When you were a little girl, instead of house, you played farm. You don’t remember a husband, but there were plenty of kids and animals. During your childhood, which, let’s face it, was spent mainly in the suburbs, your biggest fantasy was that you would one day spend your mornings gathering eggs, milking cows and making mud pie houses with your offspring.
      Here is the reality: chicken shit-crusted eggs, your neighbor’s bull escaping and running amuck behind your house, and the continual encroachment of field dust. And another thing: you are experiencing the fallout of living with a collector. On your back porch, under the once-serviceable shed, in several of the outbuildings, and indeed, in all the rooms of the farmhouse, are piles of treasure. Things like rusted cans of hand-hewn nails, wooden fruit crates holding rolled up yellowed newspapers, ancient stoves, bed rails, curtain rods. As you head out to the back porch to haul sopping laundry to the clothes line, you scratch your calf on the sprung metal band of a wine barrel.
      “Fuck!” you say more and more often.
      Then comes the emergency room visit to sew up your daughter’s head after she falls on the corner of a bisected water heater.
      When you played farm, a little girl in a sandbox made from a tractor tire, (where it came from, you have no idea), you tip-toed barefoot on the rim of that big, black tire. Farm meant soft, rubber, and warm. If you fell, you fell into sand.
      “I thought you could plant something in them,” the carpenter says when he sees you kicking the sliced up water heater, “or if we get that cow, it could be a water trough.”
      “We’re not,” you tell him through clenched teeth, “getting a cow.”

      Each July, August, September, and October, you harvest your vegetables and love where you live. You love the carpenter’s spontaneous constructs: a bookcase erected in ten minutes from scraps of old growth, a raised garden bed bordered with clay tiles. You fall asleep to the sound of coyotes, their yips and howls like a lullaby as you dream of abundance. Of completeness.
      November through June, you are chilled, damp and grumpy. Unfinished projects are heaped in your path: the school bus shelter that got as far as four posts cemented into the earth, the impotent clothes dryer on your back porch lacking a 220 outlet. You fall asleep knowing that every three hours either you or the carpenter will have to wake up and stoke the fire.
      In the middle of your final harvest at the farm, you and the carpenter tie the knot. It’s a spontaneous decision, really, if you don’t count the gun to the carpenter’s head. Unlike your first wedding—a Catholic affair involving limos, a three thousand dollar bridal gown and a raucous, boozy reception where people from your side ended up sleeping with people from his side—your nuptials this time involve metal detectors and a guard rummaging through your purse. The judge scheduled to announce the Stevens-Ness Form- vows in his chambers is late, and your children, swiped from school to witness the event, get into a fight in the middle of the I-dos. One day, while cleaning out a box of miscellaneous crap, you’ll find the dried up sunflower that served as the carpenter’s wedding corsage, and you’ll place it at the base of your wedding photo: two faces squinting skyward, as though determined to out-stare the sun.

13. Dead Body Pose

     You last nearly three winters at the farm before crying “Uncle.” You are tired, so tired; you just can’t deal, anymore, with the constant chopping of wood and carrying of water. And along comes a record cold front down from Alaska. You lie down in your living room—ignoring the piece of shit woodstove and it’s constant hunger—and decide to freeze to death rather than forge through this misery.
      Okay, says the carpenter, let’s move back to town.
      Oh, the music of those words! Immediately, it seems, you are blowing on your crippled fingers, thawing them enough to pack the necessaries. You open all your kitchen cabinets, gather your colanders, your juice extractors, and under your sink, in the drip pan, is a mouse frozen in a block of ice. Because you are moving, you laugh and laugh and laugh.
      What you don’t know now, what you don’t even suspect, is that next week the hundred year flood will arrive, and the road you are moving off of will be washed away.

14. Wind Removing Pose

     So you all move back to town, to yet another project house. This one is different, though. This one is a mom-and-pop corner store front with big picture windows right up against the sidewalk. The carpenter bought this “house” for pennies, and it is now half-gutted, awaiting renewal. When you move in, the store, as you refer to it, lacks a kitchen. No problem though, because you immediately join Costco and buy prepackaged everything you can microwave in the living room. Doing dishes in a clawfoot bathtub is kind of a drag, so on your Costco runs, you include plenty of paper and plastic; lots of twelve-ounce bottles of punch. To hell with canning and freezing your own organic produce, you can buy bags full of bite-sized carrots and broccoli florets, what’s a little sodium benzoate in the vast scheme of things?
      But one day, when you are upstairs painting a checkerboard pattern on your bedroom walls, (perfect, ten inch by ten inch squares), you hear a commotion in the backyard. When you look out your window, you see a couple of fellows stealing one of the clawfoot bathtubs the carpenter has heaped in the yard. “Good,” you think. “Come back for the washing machines.”
      You begin to get stomach aches. Just like back in childhood, before having to present something to the class, or when your father had one of his tantrums and you’d lock yourself in your bedroom, doubled over, your butt in the air. More and more, your butt’s in the air. Your stomach and intestines and liver and spleen and bowels and kidneys are seeking some sort of re-arrangement, some sort of new relationship. Luckily, though, you have perfect ten by ten squares to look at. The beginning, middle and end. As your snoring carpenter lies next to you, the total work-in-progress life you lead represented in his half-shaved beard, his partially clipped toenails, his nasal sputter that changes direction halfway through any given snore, it’s the symmetry of those squares that allows you to breathe.

15. Sit-Up

     The Promised Land is for sale, and the carpenter is going to buy it!

16. Cobra Pose

     Here’s the deal: you’ll hand over the equity in your original fixer so the carpenter can pursue his dream, if you can move out of the store, and into a real house. Under no circumstances, you tell the carpenter, will you move from Portland. If he wants to own a business 300 miles away, if he can make it work, you’ll learn to deal with it. Done. The strike is so fast, you never know what bit you. Suddenly, you are the owner of an RV park. It’s not just any RV park, however. This one is a geothermic patch of desert a hundred miles from anywhere. Hot springs flow from the ground and bubble into a cement pool, which is housed in a rickety tin barn. People drive there from hell and beyond so they can pay three dollars for the privilege of swimming in this pool. This place is on the other side of The Cascades from Portland. There are rattlesnakes out there. And mosquitoes so voracious, the little town has a festival each year to raise the funds required to kill them.
      But, in fulfillment of the deal, you get to move around the corner from the still unfinished store to the carpenter’s latest masterpiece: an almost finished bungalow so quaint with its shingles and wrap-around front porch that people are constantly driving by and pointing. Well, you think they’re pointing to the quaintness; they might be pointing to the carpenter’s collection of stoves, lumber and unidentifiable gadgets stockpiled in the driveway. But that’s okay, because you finally have a semi-functional stove hooked up to an unlimited supply of natural gas. No more will you have to change a propane tank in the middle of making supper.

17. Locust Pose

     Here are the imperatives of owning a business on the other side of a massive mountain range from where you live:


1. Find enthusiastic, honest caretakers who will happily greet the customers who pull in for their three dollar soaks morning, noon and night.

2. Understand that to journey to this place requires a full day of driving there, a full day of driving back, over sometimes treacherous, icy roads.

3. Allow your partner to be gone for huge stretches of time, and be willing to become, functionally, a single parent again.

4. Kiss any savings good-bye.

5. Kiss any notion of a vacation, other than at this business, good-bye.

6. Realize that everything is out of your control, absolutely everything.

     This last point is always the most difficult for you.

18. Full Locust Pose

     Hundred mile an hour wind gusts rip the hatchback off the caretaker’s car. One of the little trailers is lifted off its blocks and slammed back down to earth a few feet away. Some windows are blown out. You pester the carpenter to buy more insurance.
      In July, nobody ventures outdoors without a baseball cap, lest their hair get infested with gnats or mosquitoes. The yearly mosquito festival in town produces the revenue for the chemical warfare that, by airplane, is distributed in a huge gaseous cloud over the surrounding countryside.
      This is the quintessential “man’s, man” type of place. Cowboys routinely march cattle past the gates. The alkali lake bed in the distance attracts duck shooters; the hills are a haven for deer hunters. Everywhere you look, it seems, men are riding something—pursuing something. And you have to admire a place so harsh that even the slightest touch of hand to earth will produce chapped, bleeding fingers.
      Often, when you accompany the carpenter on visits to the business, you enjoy yourself in spite of your misgivings. The sky is a parade of sudden weather change: oyster-colored clouds give way to deep blue faster than you can put on a layer of sun screen. Star clusters you’ve forgotten about enchant you with their nightly show. Swimming in the mineral pool at dawn you feel the power of these healing waters; you understand why folks used to ride up here on buckboard for a soak.
      You watch the carpenter as he strides along in his Red Wings and ball cap, the way he’s such an unlikely resort owner, and you get that he gets the irony. Here is a man, a self-described anti-consumer, who has bought himself the oddest piece of property in the state. Even though he ceases to call you by name when you’re out here—referring to you instead as Wife—you can’t help but be infected with his overflowing happiness. You have a tendency to throw care to the wind, out here. You drink too much, daydream too much, and tend to say, “Oh, what the heck,” every other minute. But what you don’t know now, what you don’t even suspect, is that your egg and the carpenter’s sperm have once again danced. In nine months, your family will expand to include a tiny version of the carpenter, right down to his bovine astrological sign.

19. Bow Pose

     Ah, pregnancy! The distention, the disfiguration, the convexity of it all! When you had a normal life with your first husband, you wore smocks, sewed outfits, and watched the expansion with amazement and naiveté. Not so this time. Maybe it isn’t your chaotic, nonlinear life so much as you are ten years older, and ten years more neurotic. You get every test, read every book, live on the internet, and have insomnia for the three weeks between amnio and results of amnio because the ultrasound technician noticed your fetus’s pinkie had a shorter than usual mid-section.
      Meanwhile, the carpenter’s need to be out at his “ranch” takes a giant step forward. As you immerse yourself in the potential for any number of congenital anomalies, sudden maternal death, or even, (since you were so lucky with the first two), a really ugly baby, the carpenter spends an increasing amount of time East of the Cascades. There is more of you each day, and less of him each day. Eventually, you develop pre-eclampsia, and receive a mandate to stay in bed. Bed rest they call it. Right! The carpenter, claiming not to be annoyed at having to forestall a trip to the ranch, yells at you because you won’t stay in bed. But does he make the kids’ lunches? Do the dishes? The laundry?
      On the designated day, you and the carpenter lumber up to labor and delivery. With your first boy, you had a long, arduous Demerol labor. With your girl you refused all intervention and medication and had a “prepared” childbirth. This time around you—like many older mothers who’ve done it and have no trust of the medical community, or a need to prove stoicism in the face of pain—feel the need to micromanage the entire experience. They can give you Pitocin, but at six centimeters or contractions two minutes apart, whichever comes first, you will have your epidural. Period.
      “Don’t I have a say?” asks the carpenter.
      You look at this man, your husband, the father of the child who is about to be propelled from your womb; you look at the question mark in his brow, the pleading in his voice, and laugh. For the first time in nine months.

20. Fixed Firm Pose

     For several days after your baby is born, you are locked in place. You can’t tear your eyes from this miracle, this perfect creature. You are falling in love. He is skinny and shriveled and bald, and you can’t keep your hands off of him. The carpenter is afraid to hold him. The way this new father contorts his face, stiffens and stops breathing when his baby is placed in his arms, annoys you. It is not endearing. You’ve waited many years to watch a co-creator bond with your infant with the same degree of intensity and naturalness as you do. You grab the baby back. Send the carpenter off to fetch a fresh onesie. One day, he will be very eloquent in the description of his initial terror, his fear of breaking his son, and then you will weep with him, nod your head sympathetically, but right now, you just wish he’d get a fucking clue.

21. Half Tortoise Pose

     Slowly, painfully, turtle-like, the carpenter settles into fatherhood. It is with such glacial speed, you don’t even notice it, day to day. One early morning, after the baby cries off and on until 4 A.M, you are too exhausted to lift him once again from his crib. Somehow, the crying stops, and when you open your eyes, there it is: father and son. The baby’s head is draped over the carpenter’s big, sexy shoulder.

22. Camel Pose

     Life continues. The shingled cottage is too small for five people. There is no real yard, and, as you recall, the preschool years require ample running room. So, once again, you pack up and move. Pack, carry, unpack, carry, pack, carry, unpack, carry. You should have your baby surgically sewn to you. God, you’re so fat! How did that happen? The baby didn’t even weigh seven pounds! Your tits alone weigh seven pounds apiece.
      “Remember your ten eight-ounce glasses of water a day,” says the nursing consultant, “it’s very important in this heat.”
      You buy a bicyclist’s camel-pack, in addition to everything else, a bladder of water is now attached to your back with a plastic tube that snakes to your mouth. The August heat, the new house, the new baby, your two almost-teenager kids, it’s enough to break your back.

23. Rabbit Pose

     You are happy with your little brood. You always wanted a bunch of children. Back in your grandmother’s attic, where you spent most of your childhood summers, you constructed paper doll families. Always, there was a baby, always there was at least one teenager. The husband was always named, for reasons you can’t remember, English. Maybe because you hoped the husband you would one day marry would speak that language. Stun! you tell yourself, as your childhood lexicon dictates, the carpenter has forgotten English. He forgets to tell you that he’s getting high every single day while working on scaffolding, while using power tools, while driving around in his beater truck. When he’s high, there’s no stopping him: his dreaminess, his appetite, his treasure- hunting.
      You decide to put your foot down. No more piles of junk in your driveway, no more debris on your lawn. During the only snow storm of the winter, the carpenter rents a U-Haul to bring home an enormous, fractured, stained glass window. The carpenter is hopelessly in love with the potential of all things not quite beautiful, and the evidence of this begins, once again, to spring like weeds from all the corners of your perfect little garden. The baby, in fact, crawls up to a piece of this work-in-progress when you turn your back for two seconds, and blood dribbles from his index finger like cherry juice. This is the first of several emergency room trips for this child. You look at the carpenter, his disheveled hair, his torn pants, his more-and-more-common look of “Huh?” and you point at the monstrosity in your driveway: the broken window that has caused your new neighbors to call the city, prompting another one of those pesky clean-up-or-else letters to be delivered to your home, and you tell him, “I can’t do this anymore.”

24. Head to Knee Pose with Stretching Pose

     Between the utterance and the act, many months pass. Couples’ counseling with two different therapists. Many, many books—even those codependent no more books with the Jonathan Livingston Seagull jewelry wearing authors. You spend time now in bed with your dead husband; you have become close once again. Your dead husband would never have bought an RV park out in the desert. The dead husband didn’t spend his days meandering, always choosing the longest distance between two points. He didn’t construct his work day around getting stoned. That’s true, says your dead husband. But not because I wouldn’t have wanted to.
      You sink into metaphor. Metaphor has always been your best friend, hasn’t it? When people let you down? You begin to think of people as trees. The dead husband was a birch. One of those striking, unlucky trees with lots of good, serviceable seed, planted with exposure to harsh, north winds. The carpenter is a cottonwood. Yes, definitely a cottonwood. Biggest tree in the neighborhood, rooting near water and getting fluff all over everything at least once a year. You, well, you’re obviously a willow, just look at how you bend. Look at how you stretch. A weeping willow, of course, also a creek dweller, hence your association with the cottonwood.
      But, along comes the drought. Money has dried up. You wake up and you’re forty years old and you don’t have a pot to piss in. Except the hot springs. The carpenter wants to move out there. He woos you with the kind of house you know he could build. “C’mon,” he says, “just imagine what a great life it would be!”
      “You need to go to rehab,” is your response. In fact, it’s your response to everything. You are absolutely convinced that if the carpenter just stopped smoking weed, everything would be perfect. Okay, maybe not perfect, but less screwed up, certainly. So you decide to abandon the weeping willow form and see what life would be life as a giant redwood, the most “don’t fuck with me” of all the trees. As a redwood, you now feel confident giving the carpenter an ultimatum: your family or your herb.

25. Spine Twisting Pose

     The carpenter moves to a project house, and then an apartment. “The hovel,” he calls both these places, as a way to smother you in guilt as you lay on your new queen mattress in the family dwelling. You are on the phone with him an average of four hours each day. You have never spoken with him this much. He’s joined the twelve step group, and, he tells you, he goes back and forth between thinking these guys have a point and these guys are full of shit. You vacillate between wanting him back and drawing up divorce papers. You look at your little son, the blond hair, the blue eyes, the innate mechanical aptitude. There he is, hammering the pegs down in his workbench facsimile. Sawing your pillow with his little, plastic saw.
      The older children are teenagers now. How did that happen? Your daughter tells you to stick to your guns. “He’s had his chances, Mom,” she says. But you know that she loves the carpenter with all her heart. The man who taught her how to swim. The man who once carried her on his shoulders, up the Snake River Canyon, when she was too tired to walk.
      Your teenage son tells you he misses the carpenter. He sees his side of things. You look at this boy, who will be shaving in a year or so, and you want to throttle, not the carpenter, but your dead husband. Suddenly, your anger about his death—the unfairness, the grotesque way he died with a Delta 88 slammed head-on into his Mustang, four days before his daughter’s birth—swells from the depths of your gut. And now, now especially, when your first-born is approaching manhood, you begin to see DNA working its mysterious weave: the toe-out gait, the tenor of his voice, the analytical shyness when he’s forced into conversation with someone new. His sense of irony. His sense of decency. The way he never gets stains on his clothing. And here comes the unwelcome intrusion that this same revelation will visit when your baby approaches adulthood. This little towhead beside you has a living father. Do you really want to cheat yourself out of the beauty of watching a father recognizing himself in his son? Cheat your son out of daily contact with the only man who will ever love him unconditionally? Can’t you just accept the fact that you married a stoner who isn’t going to grow out of it? Your dead husband, the bastard, speaks again: So, you planning on buying another jogging suit, or what?
      You lie back on the firm, new mattress. Shit.
      After five months, you invite the carpenter back home.

26. Blowing in Firm Pose

     You line up your towel and water bottle on the carpet, in view of a wall of mirrors. There you stand in this hot, hot room, breathing in. Breathing out. The carpenter stands beside you, on his own towel. This is a new thing—this Yoga class. An idea you had: something to do together. And there he is, your husband, his reflection in the mirror: orange swimming trunks, hairy belly. His eyes, one shade less red than a scratch. His beard, a wooly goatee that covers the soft part of his throat.
      What you know now for certain, is that nothing changes, fundamentally. And everything changes, all the time. It is this paradox you must contend with. You, and the carpenter. But, one day you’ll understand, that the carpenter has known this all along.


Suzy Vitello will complete her MFA at Antioch, Los Angeles this December. Her fiction appears most recently in Kalliope, Amarillo Bay, and Prose aX. She is a prize winner in the latest Atlantic Monthly Student Writing Competition, and is putting the finishing touches on a novel. Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon.