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  • Breath of the Trees
  • Susan Engberg (bio)

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Photo by Timothy Vollmer

[End Page 106]

Today, if I didn’t have to stay so alert for the children, I’d like to do absolutely nothing but dream into this whole back-of-the-houses space where yard touches yard touches yard—seven in all, pooled within the elliptical loop of Frederick Street—property lines trespassed by wonderful, well-established trees and blithe legions of birds and squirrels and all the houses revealing to each other their [End Page 107] less pretentious sides. The general impression is of appealing honesty, even vulnerability, watched over by our communal canopy of trees. Aside from the children’s games, nothing much is happening here this afternoon, yet everything seems animated with endless vibrant packets of fall light coming and going. Like that, I see how easily I too could dissolve.

However. Instead, here I am perched responsibly on the picnic bench, laptop open on the table, with the objects of my required alertness, five boisterous kids, off to my right in the area of playhouse and balance beam—both constructed by Mark—and geodesic monkey-bar dome—delivered by FedEx and surprisingly assembled by me one hot afternoon when Emma and Lydia were still shrimps. These days, even though the scale of the gym is too small to be challenging, our girls still find ways to dangle tranquilly from the bars of the higher triangles, maybe simply for the thrill of taking in the world upside down. They’ve also more or less outgrown the little house and balance beam, but today with the extra kids here, all the structures are teeming, and the din of play raises the skies. When Mark and I agreed to look after Naomi’s three during the first phase of her treatment, I had no idea we’d end up with a cacophonous quintet at such a different pitch of intensity from the fairly harmonious duet of our two.

Noise of course is a world better than downright trouble. This is their sixth day with us, and no one has melted down yet, but everything could switch in a moment; any one of them might balk at the food, refuse school, or suffer nightmares. Or get sick. Or run away. Or take up stuttering. Every few minutes I check the play area to account for five active bodies. Actually all the children, except perhaps Pixie, are a bit old for the equipment, but today, their first Saturday together, they seem to have agreed to play at being children, like an ad hoc tribe protecting an old but newly treasured claim. They don’t have to be adults yet, oh, no, not them, and listen everybody how they’ll prove it by shrilly, somewhat theatrically filling the neighborhood air. Well, it’s understandable. We’ve all been disrupted by Naomi’s illness. Everything feels improvised. At least they all seem to be sleeping pretty well. But I’m not.

Last night I finally sat up in bed to meditate for a while but then woke this morning drooling and with my head in my lap—I must have pitched forward sometime between 3:00 and dawn—and turned to see if Mark was awake so we could laugh over yet another variation on odd nocturnal trips, then at the emptiness of his pillow remembered with [End Page 108] fresh regret that we’d not parted well—in fact, quite badly—on Thursday when he left town. Oh, well, what more can be done right now? The nights will keep coming, and the days—until finally they don’t—more and more chances I hope to practice being alive.

This week fortunately the weather has been flat-out gorgeous, which smoothens some of the raggedness of my fatigue. It’s red-gold October everywhere, windless today, and as leaves lose their attachments they seem to float earthward, tipping side to side or pirouetting drowsily. For me, there are six hours to go before I can fall into bed. Does it help to count? I don’t know. A door opens across the way, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 106-128
Launched on MUSE
2016-07-07
Open Access
No
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