Sweeping, Summer Musing, or How Summer Celebrates Death

My brain is quiet. My heart still. This is a summer rambling. For when the cat’s got your tongue. Or mine. And thus I sweep.

Just ask the girls. If they see me sweeping, it does not occur to them that perhaps there was dust or pet hair or sand on the floor, and it needed to be swept up. No, they think, “What’s wrong?” “Mom’s stressed.” “Who’s in trouble?”

I do not know how or when it started, but there is something about sweeping when I’m uptight that seems to be a mainstay Anne Marie behavior. Whether it is a tense moment with the girls, I sweep. An upsetting phone call, I sweep. My mother’s dying, I sweep. My house was well swept during the divorce years. My house seems to be swept well this summer.

If all else fails, during tough times, I get sweeping, and I will have clean floors. The inner thinking, so deep and certainly not in a transcribable language, deep inside my brain, if I could see it, must look like this:

What can I control? What can I control? Dust. I can control dust. Sweep. 

At work I don’t sweep, but I’ll file, straighten the piles on my desk. Or take a walk. I guess we all have our thing. I had a boss who brought in flowers and would take a bit of time arranging them in small vases about the work place. We all knew she was avoiding something, overthinking something . . .

I have a friend who bakes. Anything. Everything. When cookies arrive at odd times for no reason from her? I know she is stressed. Another friend who gardens. We all receive bouquets when stress hits.

My ex-husband would run. And run. And run. There must have been a whole lot of stress when he trained for and then ran a marathon.

There are those, of course, who smoke or drink, or those who do housework or yard work, or feed the donkeys. Or write. Or think. Or sweep. Like me. I’m a sweeper.

Currently, even sweeping is not doing it for me. What can I control? So little. I sweep the garage. Concentric circles, until I have a pile in the middle. Swoop it up. Swept.

I’ve little to write about, obviously, as I’ve little to think about because I’m so busy thinking about whatever it is that I think about. All day long. Not what I want to think about. Does that make sense, I ask, thinking of my colleague who asks this question after every few sentences all day long. Does that make sense?

Is her line of inquiry indicative of her own lack of confidence, or a simple disbelief that her listener is following or can follow? I nod, and I give her great breadth of empathy and understanding in this little communication habit of hers.

She is a woman of true reluctance and self-doubt, a woman of tremendous brilliance and verve. She walks each day, breathes each and every breath, with the trepidation that appears to rest upon the souls of any parent whom I have ever met who has lost a child. She, her eldest son to the Afghanistan war.

There is no sweeping for this.

Sometimes the grief/anger watches from behind her eyes like an arched-back cat ready to pounce upon any misplaced sentiment regarding war or patriotism or even the notion of giving. “I know giving,” she tells me. “My son gave his life to this country, and I gave my son to this country. Don’t talk to me about giving she says. Does that make sense?

I am a fundraiser. I talk about giving.

Or sweeping.

Or thinking. I am thinking about how every summer kicks off with remembering. Memorial Day. I spent mine with my oldest daughter and our weekend was not about remembering but planning, or so we thought, planning her wedding. We focused on future, but can one plan a future, the future, any future anything without considering the past?

Take a wedding, for instance. We talked about mine to her father. We talked about my niece’s two years ago. We talked about my parents’. We remembered things we’ve read about weddings, or heard or said or wondered or imagined about weddings, we brought the past, inevitably, into our discussion about the future. We drove to the wedding site only to pass abandoned buildings, homes, an entire mining operation. (I live in an old copper mining town). Celebrations of future blend with past.

Memorial Day, a day to remember. The fallen. My colleague spent that weekend travelling to Phoenix for a military memorial service. “I go every year,” she says. It makes sense.

I sweep the kitchen. Working hard to accurately angle the bristles, I am certain I can get all the crumbs, bits, pieces. Broccoli. Dog food. Cashews. All of that which hides out in the little cave that runs under the lower cupboards. A long dark space of gathering. A hallway of meal and snack archives. Remembering. What did she have for dinner last Tuesday. I will find control.

I am thinking about how a summer that begins with remembering then continues to Father’s Day, another day of remembering.  In this time of life, of summer, of fruit stands and farmers markets and vacation and heat and celebration and so much living. We remember. So many people wrote and shared about the fathers they have lost.

I thought mostly about the the fathers who have lost a child. Father’s Day feels like a slap, perhaps, to them. An in-your-face boast. A nah nah nah nah nah. I say Happy Father’s Day to them, those fathers, but it is with hesitation. While I believe them to be good dads, they deem themselves futile. Does that make sense?

I sweep in my dreams. Repeating of late. Each night. And later on each day when I pass my bed on the way to the closet or bathroom, I remember the dreams. All over again. I dream that I walk into a house, and discover a room. The room. The hidden room. The room that I forgot. The room that makes me feel warm and welcome and comfortable. A room that is no longer mine but that I get to visit. Perhaps have again. Often there are things wrong. Broken doors or windows. Or furniture. I think about how I can repair and clean. Restore. Sweep.

Does this dream, do these rooms–that I forget about and then discover again, always with a sense of awe, sentimentality and nostalgia–represent the novel I am not writing? The friends I have not reached? The relationships I have not closed? Or is it just a room. Rooms. Because I have not cleaned my house. Because I have rooms to clean and sweep.

Adrienne Rich says have one. Have a room of one’s own. I have eight. Lucky me. I use only half on any given day. The other half on any other given day. I have given, my colleague says. More than a day, certainly. Does that makes sense.

I dream of houses large and full of broken
windows and floors but I am thrilled to
have finally found a place where I belong
how did I forget about this I wonder
as I wander about and measure for beds
and move sheets of linoleum, latch casements
pick up shards of ceramic coffee cups
and decide where the dog
will sleep and the

I sweep the patio. I think that maybe it is the heat. The heat, or the darkened house, that leads to this pause. I am in a pause. A hot pause. Not meno-. Just hot.

I posted about the heat. I write about the heat. I am trying to master the heat. This week the heat softened with the monsoons.* Yet while the temperatures are lower, outside, the temperature inside my house seems not to have noticed. It seems to be in a consistent state of tightly squeezing the heat in a big bear hug. As if to say, I love you heat, I love you and I missed you, don’t go. This makes no sense. I sweep the porch, it is so cool.

I think about the two eagles watching the muddy river. High and brown and happy. Both. The eagles and the river. They scream at each other, a young one, and its mother. Eagle screams are like children on a playground. I check to see if there are any. Children on the playground. There are not. It’s the eagles. Surely they’ve swept out the nest.

The Verde River is brown. Ha. The green river.

It splashes fast and far below the birds. I think of how quiet they have been, the eagles and the river. Summer brings out the scream and the roar. Like a lion. Summer heat and rain and thinking about nothing else but what I am thinking about.

I sweep up tufts of cat hair. Dog hair. My hair. All us old mammals losing our hair. I think of how tired, downcast, and heavy people seem recently. Shiny. Clad in as little clothing, or very little clothing, as possible. Then I see the fallen horse. Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The river ran through the park apparently. Then receded. One horse down. The summer is a time of witnessing. Skin. Pelts. Water. And dust.

I think about the tarantula I discover hiding behind a pot of snap dragons. A hairy creature as big as my hand and snoozing. Or thinking. Thinking about how annoying it is that this human pulled out this pot of snap dragons to rearrange the pots in order to sweep so she could think through things. Humans make no sense thinks this arachnid.

The sun is less present, hidden, like a room I have yet to find, behind clouds, or dreams. The spider wants to build a private room and I have interrupted. I am sorry. I was just thinking. Go back to your dreams. I am sure they make more sense than mine.

I am thinking about how thinking keeps me from thinking what I want to think about. Or write about. It is not writer’s block I suffer, it is a thinking block. I shut off my brain. I bring it back to quiet. My heart to still. I sweep.

When the news of the world hurts and it does. When leadership does not know quiet or still or think. When the world throws hard balls fast and I have never been an athlete, never learned how to catch, I close my eyes, I always have, when the ball is headed my way.

They laughed at me on the intramural team I joined in 1972. “No, you have to keep your eyes open when the ball comes to you,” the coach said as kindly as she could. With a bit of pity and a bit of scorn, but mostly an outright bemusement for it never occurred to her that there was a person on the planet who would join a team, don a baseball mitt, pick up a bat, ready to swing . . . and then close her eyes when the bad news came my way. Close my eyes and go quiet. Like a tarantula. Like a dream of hidden sunshine or rooms. Like a father missing his child. Senseless. Just sweep.

Then summer brings us to the day of celebrating all things American. United States. Patriotism. Independence. Freedom. And I close my eyes.

I spend the day helping a friend clip the rubbery growth on the hooves of her donkeys to  free them from pain as they walk around the dusty pen. Free them from pain as my friend looks around and with a sweeping motion of her heart tells me this is all his. Her deceased husband’s. He is free now of the work on this New Mexican ranchita they built together over nearly 20 years. And she sees no relenting, no freedom, from the grip that grief has on her thin shoulders.

The worry and the moving, the moving from one chore, one task, one meal, one day to the next, one at a time. She fears there is no freedom from his death. And she is right. We cannot be free from death. Independence Day celebrates freedom and never before in my life have I seen freedom questioned or scorned or defied or embraced as I did this day. My country. This grief.

She leaned against the donkey as he ate the grain, she grabbed his leg, bent it at the knee, gave the leg to me, I held it, strong, she took the clipper, large enough to pull off a toe, and pinched the growth on the bottom of his hoof and it was gone. Free. She gave the animal freedom from pain. Rubbery growth gone. Back to strident hoof. Freedom. Does that make sense?

Now I think about the monsoons. How these rains bring freedom from heat. From stifling. Stifle. There are those who complain. Too hot. Too cold. Too wet. Too dry. Too humid. Too perfect.

There are those who complain about their kids. And those who have none. Kids or complaints. There are those who complain about their husbands or donkeys or tarantulas and the donkey and tarantula did not complain. And the husband died.

I sweep my way into the dog days of summer. Sirius. Serious humidity. I sweep my way through this desert life. Rife with river and small lizards skittering about, up, down and around the walls of my house. Across the windowsill of each room. The dog chased them. Dug for them. Realized how futile it was. The cat watches them.

It will be Labor Day soon. A national ode to working. Sweeping. I want to be a tarantula hiding behind the snap dragons. Does that make sense?

It is time to sweep. Again. It is slow warm summer. My brain is still. My heart quiet. I’ve so little to say. Too much thinking. Death. The floors all dust free.


Photos from Pixabay.com; http://arachnoboards.com/threads/awesome-hides.293827/; from Michelle; and and the bad blurry ones are from yours truly.

(For you readers who may not know the rains, the southwest, the monsoons, here is a quick article. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Monsoon.)

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