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in the dark…

vintage Econolite Mother Goose night lightMy father sat reading in his big chair in the living room, enveloped by the warm glow of the lamp, feet up on the ottoman, library books stacked at his side. I kissed him goodnight.

“Close your curtains,” my mother would say. “Be sure to close your curtains.” From the clumped gather of cotton fabric at the right side of the wide window, I drew the curtain across the lower rod to the center, peering over the top at what might be outside concealed by the darkness. Then the left side. Then the top, left side and right.

Turning off the glaring overhead light, I changed into my pajamas in the darkness, felt my way to the bed and crept under the covers. On the chest of drawers next to the bed was a nightlight — my “diddle” — with a top like a little circus tent and a celluloid barrel painted with a cat and a fiddle and a cow and a moon that would revolve with the heat of the bulb inside. I turned it on and waited for the monsters.

After a while, my mother would come into my room and inspect the curtains for gaps, casually rearranging the fabric where the gathered panels met — at the center, at the edges — as if this was a matter of design, aesthetics, beauty, rather than a mantra against unseen terror.

She kissed my cheek, pulled the little chain to extinguish the nightlight, and left the room, closing the door behind her.

Eyes wide, I stared at the perfectly-draped window, certain that I was visible to the grasping creatures outside. She had told me about them: kidnappers, men who would offer me candy, who would touch my body. I couldn’t be too careful. They were everywhere. Especially outside my bedroom window.

I listened for a telltale footfall on the long flight of wooden steps that led from the back patio to the porch outside my room. At every creak and scratch I stopped breathing. At every sigh of the settling floorboards I waited, willing myself invisible.

I pictured them: hunched and twisted, grotesque and gap-toothed, reaching and staring.

I dreamed of wolves…
vintage night light photo


trying to write…

Dorothy's view
As we sit in the bar after the reading, friends offer up bits of their stories, anecdotes, and each one seems like a poem, like a ribbon to untie in my mind. But now the stories and the poems have escaped me, and my morning mind seems awash in wavelets at the shore, neither in the water nor on the land.

The light, of course. There’s always the light to focus my senses, to draw me into language. The day is still, very quiet, cloud-streaked, the poor plum tree with its shriveled brown blossoms now leafing out, plumless, each new growth tip on the spruce twice as big, twice as bright as yesterday. Mt Baker is hidden in the spring skirts of a distant tree, and now I see that the top of a nearer tree, a conifer, has breached the ridgeline and will, in not so many years, conceal the mountain from my view year-round.

This familiar vista, this movie that I watch each morning, reminds me suddenly of my mother’s viewing from her studio window, the scene she painted and drew again and again, the rooftops, the trees, the low dark hills. This simple observation, this constant re-seeing, a way to calibrate time, to capture the slippery anecdotes of memory.
oil painting by D.A. Kleinberg ~ 16″ x 24″
For some reason, Dorothy didn’t like this painting and threw it in the trash. My father discovered it there, retrieved it and hung it on the wall in his workshop in the garage. I’ve always loved it; eventually it ended up on my wall.

window frame…

Dorothy's window frame

The window at the end of our living room looked out onto trees. Beyond and between the trees, at the bottom of the hill, was the cemetery with its always-green, always-mowed grass and its tidy rows of matching marble headstones. Beyond the cemetery were more trees and, rarely, on exceptionally clear days, a glimpse of distant Catalina Island.

The window was large and square, between drab drapes that my mother drew closed religiously every night and that remained closed in the morning to protect the furniture, and the artwork, from the sun’s burning rays.

One day, with her artist’s eye and her quirky imagination, my mother enlisted my father to build a slender wooden frame, which they then suspended on fishing line within the larger frame of the window.

What we saw was no longer just a view, but a constantly changing painting: the jacaranda tree with its feathery leaves, lavender flowers and large, flat pods; the dusty silver eucalyptus; the gaudy pink oleander; the raucous jays and mockingbirds; and the breeze, stirring the colors and shapes into ever-new compositions within the focusing lens of the simple frame.

morning song…

black-capped chickadee
In the dawn dark, a bird calls plaintively, a single sad note repeated, repeated. I press my face close to the window to look and listen. He’s hidden by the dark and the shrubs, but, faintly, between each call, I hear the second, lower note of the chickadee’s love song, faded, worn thin from this month’s hopeful singing.
chickadee photo: Nature’s Pic’s

dawning… a beginning…

Babydoll sky, fragile pinks, white lace edging, palest blue, soon absorbed into the cottony gray. Snow lingering in the clearcut slash above the neighbor’s roof, a few shaggy heaps and slushy bogs along the road. In the window I see through the window, through the scrim of reflected tree branches, the suggestion of dawn gathers along the ridge. A gull, wings barely moving, carves a furrow across the gray sky and then through the slightly coloring reflection. Another swoops in, is suddenly blown sideways directly toward me, then, with a flap, rights himself and flies on. More gulls, crows, intent on their journey north or south or dipping wing into huge circling loops, down, around, up, and then onward.

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