Ppersimmon Tree writers are wily creatures. Ask them to write Short Takes on a seemingly simple, straightforward topic like “Advice” and what do we get? – two poems, a rumination on how novels are born, and a deeply touching memoir that ends … nope, I’m not going to spoil it by telling you how it ends. What we don’t get is – well – advice.
At least not the obvious, go for it, “I hope you don’t mind me telling you this, but that dress makes your face look orange” kind of advice. And that may be why they are Persimmon Tree readers and writers. Because the unvarnished, straight from the hip truth is never what any of us want to hear. Nor will we listen to it. How many cigarettes did we smoke because our parents told us not to? There is nothing like good advice to set us straight – straight out the door.
But advice that’s cloaked in humor or pentameter that comes at us sideways now that will do it for us. That we’ll think about, that will start an itch going that eventually becomes an “Aha.” That we’ll take seriously …
Big-hearted, Witty and Wide-Eyed
– with a bow to Anthony Doerr
while I ate a burrito at Chipotle
and the first third of Her billions were mayhem:
Meteorites crashed in to Her. Magma everywhere,
acid rain falling on Her, until finally,
Her first wildlife, fungi, started forming,
then only single-celled ocean critters
for another third of those billions of years.
Sex life didn’t show up for nearly another third
of the billions of years in a Precambrian Age,
plant-animals with weird fronds
and sea-tubes copulating like seahorses.
Trilobites paddled around for a few billion years
more, until ancient forests grew and dinosaurs
crunched through Her trees,
chewing Her photosynthesizing leaves.
We mammals have been here a very short time.
Before us came primates, orangutans, chimps,
Neanderthals, arrowheads, Cleopatra
and then the naming of stars by Greeks.
And you and I – with our CDs and
shelved books, our masquerade costumes, shoes
regrets, dreams, hopes, mouths we’ve kissed,
or wished we’d kissed – have only been here for a
microscopic bit of time, a slice of time so comparatively
thin you’d need a microscope to see it.
Just take a file off that bit of time and you’d wipe out
Shakespeare, ancient Greece, and the Bible,
to say nothing of all those hundreds of Hollywood flicks.
We’re each no more than an illuminated mote,
dancing in a beam of light for a second that’s passing away,
insignificant amid crowds of over 7 billion living today,
and billions dying yesterday. So, I say,
be big-hearted, witty, and wide-eyed with wonder!
Read about the Anthropocene Age, love some others,
paint, sing, taste everything lawfully possible,
and help save the kids from Climate Crisis,
because you still have some hours left!
In the Long Run
When Tom and I decided to marry, we made a deal. He was 40, a widower with children. He’d grown up in a small town but moved away to support his growing family. After nursing his first wife through her illness, he was back at work in New York City, wanting to lead the high life. I was 33, a big-city career girl who had already traveled the world. I’d had my share of exotic boyfriends, and I wanted to settle down. Tom and I met by chance, and despite the fact that our affair was improbable, neither of us wanted to break it off.
After a year of romantic weekends, Tom asked me to marry him and promised to support my ambitions. I agreed, with the proviso that we’d have a baby. He thought I’d be too wrapped up in my business to want a baby of my own. But after a year of marriage, I did. Being a good guy, he honored the deal. A few years after our son was born, I realized I wanted a daughter. Tom said no, reminding me that the deal was for “a baby,” not “children.” I protested, in vain.
A dear friend visited around then. When she heard me out, she said I should just poke a hole in my diaphragm, and Tom would be fine as soon as he got used to the idea of another kid. I thought about it. I talked to other friends. I agonized. And I did not take my friend’s advice. Of course Tom would have been a fine father to another child, but I couldn’t welch on the most important deal I’d ever made.
I didn’t have the second baby. Recently, I took another shot at creating something wonderful. In my debut novel, Appetite, the protagonist takes her best friend’s advice and pokes the hole that results in a daughter. Maggie, the protagonist, is nothing like me, and her husband is nothing like mine. But it was so satisfying to play out my old dilemma in someone else’s life. In the long run, not listening to my friend’s advice worked out fine.
In the Dark of the Night
We had always ended the day with an automatic “Goodnight, I love you” but those words now held more intensity. In the sanctity of our bedroom, we would hold each other tightly and make passionate love like it was the last time. Our bodies and souls were as one.
My emotions often crept to the surface at night and Dick would wipe away my tears and say, “Don’t cry, we’re going to be okay.”
It was too hard for him to see me so bereft so I tried to control my tears or to turn over and cry silently.
Dick was not one to talk about his emotions very often. He was a left-brain, practical kind of guy. Somehow it was easier to share our intimate thoughts in the dark of the night. We talked about how grateful we were that we had these precious days. We talked about how fortunate we were that we had married at a young age and had so many wondrous years together.
Mostly we talked about the past and the present.
“Remember how I used to sneak into your freshman dorm and tiptoe around so the housemother wouldn’t hear us?
“You did not tiptoe! I was always scared she would hear you. I remember sophomore year when you used to stay over in the Clark Tower dorm. I would warn you to be really quiet while I made the weekly call to my parents on Sunday mornings and I swear you moved around and made noise on purpose!”
Even in the dim light, I could see Dick’s clear blue eyes crinkling with laughter.
The first two years of medical school, the students had every afternoon off to study so we spent lots of time together.
“Remember how we explored every library within thirty miles of Cleveland?” Dick asked.
“I sure do. I took six courses and got all As that semester!”
“I’m so glad I robbed the cradle.”
“Yeah, you tricked me those first two years! We spent so much time together and had so much fun. Then you talked me into getting married and I had no idea that when clerkships started in the third year of med school I would never see you again!”
“I feel like we grew up together,” Dick remarked.
“I know, I can’t believe we’ve been married for forty years. They‘ve been the best years of my life. I love you so much.”
Although we spent many hours talking about the past, it was more painful to talk about the future. We had conversations about dying but it was more often the practical rather than the spiritual.
One night I asked Dick, “Is there anything important I should know, any advice you have for me?”
He responded with absolute seriousness, “Always remember – righty tighty, lefty loosie.”
My Mother’s Door
And she comes to tell me,
That the room is small,
The door must be kept open.
A certain urgency in her voice,
Her words commanding.
Then she backs out,
Carefully closing the door behind her.
I sit blinking at the table.
We both agree.
The room is small.
The door must be kept closed.
The door must be kept open.