Friday, February 4, 2011

Dear Keith

Dear Keith,

You wouldn’t believe the trouble with “water works” I’ve had this morning, a little over 20 hours after learning of your passing. I literally mean “you wouldn’t believe it.” You were so unassuming. You went about your life just being decent, not thinking about it, not knowing how rare and striking and dearly beloved that is—decency. Maybe especially notable to the women who worked alongside you; I don’t know.

How many years did I have the honor of working with you and Jerry on the nightside News Desk? Is that it, the explanation for how hard this has hit me? No words can describe that particular kind of stress. The deadline pressure every single night. The lying awake after an ungodly shift, trying to force the stress to drain so you can have a few hours of peace. The questions:  Did I miss something? Did I let some horrible potentially libelous mistake pass by me? Were we fair to the people who will be hurt by the news in the morning? No higher-ups in the chain of command to call at midnight, or four in the morning. Not to mention the very hardest moments when they came. Like, a suicide after we* had broken a story. Or, Mark calling in a fire fatality as it happened, me holding the phone to my ear taking his dictation, his voice cracking as he pushed through the report like the super-professional that he was. A 2-year-old child was dead in the burning house; the mother was screaming in the background. Could I even begin to thank you and Jerry, for the friends you were to me that night after the paper was put to bed?

You knew that tiny, near-detonating bubble of a world. Jerry knew. We leaned hard on each other’s examples. Quiet respect for each other’s pain, without wailing or teeth gnashing. No ridiculous coming unglued allowed—and that was good. We became comrades in arms, you and Jerry the clear war-wizened leaders. Examples of how to live in that world, and of the courage to continue when others (like me) drifted away.

I wonder how it was that I didn’t know this horrible “thing” was taking your life, but then I think, of course I didn’t. You wouldn’t have made it known outside the very closest circle. You are forever brave and decent and true in my mind and in my heart. You have my love, an inexplicable kind of love that has endured time and distance, always there even when hidden from my own daily thoughts. More than that, you have my deepest respect. How the world needs your decency.

*Mark is “here” with me today, too. Say hello for me, dear old friend.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to Get Dumped Outside

In my extended, Hispanic-Catholic family in El Paso Texas, babies came at a steady rate, though not so often that each one was not greeted with wonder. A collective familial breath was drawn each time eyes were laid upon the newcomer: Look, in this tiny space is a human life where none was before.

Women in the family just beyond childbearing age were at various stages of matriarchy, and the unspoken duties of each included a formal visit to the new mother a week or two after she came home from the hospital. Children who tagged along were dressed up nearly as well as for church. This always involved notching the kids tight for some reason. Braids. Unforgiving patent leather shoes. Buttoned collars. I endured the severe grooming, working on the wrinkles between my eyebrows at a tender age. I still remember a thick, bright red wool sweater that my mother must have bought too big and required me to wear until she couldn't get away with calling them 3/4 sleeves any longer. For years I steam-cooked in that sweater in the vinyl back seat of the family Buick, in West Texas weather hot enough for lowered windows. In those days, the Boogie Man was still considered a draft with a living flocculent of disease inside, whisking away the souls of children in the night.

My older cousins and younger aunts who had become new mothers loved me very much, but it didn't take long for them to want to scoop me up, deposit me outside, and lock the door. I was that annoying little girl for whom newborn babies are a perfume drug. Five-year-old girls like the one I was get a bead-like focus that can't be slapped away. We don't say a word because suddenly, we can't. Our brains are too befuddled by the human life where none was before, the miraculous miniature creature wrapped in nebulous blankets and hand-delivered to our foolish care by no less than the angels above. Our nostrils flare with excitement; we look and we touch and, when gently encouraged to direct our freakish ardor elsewhere, we circle back around like witless boomerangs. We will sneak back into the nursery. Then, in a trance of good intentions, we will proceed to topple the baby basket or induce startled wailing or just generally leave a mess of disheveled blankets and toys in the crib, evidence we broke our deaf-and-dumb promises to "look but don't touch." Under any other circumstances we are good as gold, but put a new baby within pheromone-detecting distance and we just can't stop.

Click here, for a master with childhood memory (thanks be to Jami Pederson, for the "share").

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


March of feasts overblown.
Fine silver, origin unknown.
The runcible spoon
in a cradle
of glittering capers.

Salt sheathed in black.
Promise of pearls
parsed over time.
A fiery pop,
an uncrossable line.

A king awakens.
How exquisite  --
the peppercorns in brine.