She’s four, after all.

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“Daddy, I want to show you something,” she crows, skipping down the park path.

About ten minutes ago, they’d both gotten cold and decided the splash pad wasn’t as interesting anymore. Her brother is content to sit, hooded in his yellow-striped towel, and watch trains go by, periodically yelling “TRAIN!” to Mommy.  But she is too excited.  Her shivers are gone, and the muggy weight of late summer is a suitable towel.  There is much to explore.

She clambers up the red sandy concrete of the skate park half-pipe.  The sign says that the walkway is not for pedestrians, but whoever skated here recently is long gone.  My adult mind dismisses any danger and hopes her exploration is meaningful.  I trail behind, soaking in the moment and my clothes.  The splash pad looked like a lot of fun, what can I say.

She wants to show me how she can climb up all by herself.  She is brimming with excitement and fourness. She filled up on the latter yesterday, overflowing with balloons and ribbons and this new purple bike with its white plastic basket.  $10 on Craigslist. We’re proud of that.

She got to choose her cake – pink cake with blueberries on top – and helped Mommy make it in the afternoon.  That is, after she spent a couple hours working on her bike skills.  Bikes are freedom, wild and unrestrained and a little bit dangerous.  Wheels to take to places, baskets to carry your treasures, the open road, the wind in your face.  Am I that different, in my late 20s, stretching the bonds of my 5-year job, sniffing the wind for the next thing?

But she’s back, and will not be ignored.  She slid down the half-pipe against my wishes (she’s four, after all), leaving a wet stripe on the curve.  Scratches?  None, to be sure, but I ask anyway. She confirms that my concern is silly.  I knew it was.  I just wanted to be concerned.

She climbs again, and shows me how brave she is, walking back and forth on the foot-wide ledge without my help (she’s four, after all).  She is brave.  She’ll have to be.  She stops and sits and, finding the concrete warm from the day, stretches out.  She is cozy in her fourness, wrapped in bravery and good cheer and, I hope, the knowledge that I’m nearby. I stand by her and lean on the half-pipe (“Not too close!”) and we talk about things that little girls talk about with their daddies.

Earlier, some teenage punks – daughters and sons reveling in their sixteenness – swarmed the swings right as she flitted toward them.  And she stopped, and considered them.  They were foreign, turquoise hair and flat brims and skinny jeans and ill-fitting boots.  Did she glimpse something of her future?  I was far away when she turned, and my outrage was tempered when she didn’t care.  But I wanted her to ask them if she could swing.  I wanted them to see her.  I wanted them to remember, maybe, what it is to be small in a big world.  My guess is, they know, but don’t talk about it often.

She is so old right now, and so young.  So taken with her world and her self, squealing at spiders and playing peekaboo with the princess in the mirror.  Her name is Nadia too, and they both have blue eyes and curls and a smile that stops my heart.  She’s learning to pray, to listen when I talk to her about Jesus, though it’s clear the Wonder hasn’t penetrated her heart. We pray it will and we walk alongside her. She is so tender, breakable at the smallest slight, fierce in her wrath, tempestuous in her sorrow.

She is four.

There are many birth-days ahead, when we celebrate her being zero before this, and one, and two, and three… We count them with thankful hearts for a safe pregnancy and delivery, which is withheld from so many others for reasons impossible to understand without the mind of God.  We count them with happy hearts for the life coursing in her veins, overflowing in her laughter, and we celebrate with toys and games and sweets to show her she is worth celebrating.

We count them to remember: the coughing cry, the excitement and surprise at a girl when everyone said boy, the squinched-up eyes that opened dark and sweet and perpetually suspicious.  How I hated it when medical punks woke her in the night to poke and prod and test, when we only wanted her to know love, not professional disinterest.

Do these only get harder, days brilliant and sharp-edged and rare, diamonds of summer?  I’m collecting them for my winter years, to uncover and admire – will they be as clear then? – to remind her of her summer when her children are in theirs. In our hearts we all need this.

She wants to sit and watch the sun go down, and I do too, so we linger longer.  Her brother has since given up sitting and is racing up and down ramps, tripping and colliding into everything and bouncing back with skinned knees, unperturbed.  He experiences life differently at two. His sister has time to sit and enjoy sunsets.

All the time in the world. She’s four, after all.

I, the Fly

ithefly

I, the fly
I’m big and I’m brassy,
I get in your face
I’m odious, sassy,
I’ve hairs on my back
And my tummy and nose
And my arms and my legs
And my knees and my toes
That capture the filth and the grime that you fear.
Everything nasty, I’ve got it right here!
I’m a bulge! I’m a bulbous and fabulous blight!
A hairy canary! A goblin in flight!
Germs! I scream as I zip by your head.
And mostly, you boast(ly), you’d best like me dead.

You clumsy oaf human
You swing and you miss
And I zip on by blithely
With whir and with hiss.
Bwa! ha! ha! I cry
(Yes, I the fly)
Outwit, outflit, and
Outdo you all with my spirally whirls
My daredevil flaring, my squirrelly curls

I sit. Yes, I sit. Yes, I the fly,
Sit quietly, taunting, sit quietly by.
I lick my claws at you!
I spit on your chair!
I wiggle my bum at you!
Thppppttt! So there!

You’ll never catch me,
So I show you my tush.
I, the intractable, total implacable
True indestructible, fully unflappable,
I, the unbreakable, yes, inescapable
SMOOSH.

30 Degrees

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Heidi lived with her parents in a house on a hill not far from the edge of the town. She was a quiet, shy girl whose favorite hobby was worrying.

There’s nothing to worry about! Her mother would say. But Heidi knew she was wrong.

You need more courage! Her father would say. But Heidi didn’t know how to get it.

You’re such a chicken! The children at school would say. But Heidi didn’t see how that applied.

But enough about Heidi. This story is actually about her house. Specifically, the foundation of her house, and what she found there.

Heidi’s house was tilted at exactly 30 degrees to the north. Heidi and her parents spent their days on an incline. No one knew why this was. It simply was, and had been since as long as anyone in the town could remember.

They climbed a carpeted hill every evening so they could brush their teeth.

They nailed furniture to the floor so it wouldn’t move.

They made sure that all drawers were extra sticky so that they wouldn’t slide.

They always knew where to find things they dropped, because they all rolled, bounced, or slid to the southern side.

Heidi found walking on a level road to school to be quite easy. Opening drawers was a little too easy. But most of all she worried. She worried that her house was developing structural problems (which was not altogether unfounded), or that it would suddenly right itself in the middle of the night and they would all perish in the wreckage.

Oh, stop worrying about silly things. Her mother would say. But Heidi didn’t know how to stop worrying.

If it hasn’t happened yet, it probably won’t happen. Her father would say. But Heidi knew he was wrong.

Bawk bawk bagawk! The children at school would say. But Heidi still didn’t see how this applied.

One day while watering the flowers by the lower end of the house, Heidi noticed a small rough-hewn door in the sod, no bigger than her, at the base of the porch. It seemed to lead under the porch. Normally, Heidi would worry about getting a splinter, or encountering a poisonous spider, or getting stuck, or getting poked in the head by a nail, or getting crushed beneath the house. However, she had most recently been considering the much larger worry of complete destruction to home and family, and knew she must act.

She opened the door cautiously and peered in. She saw several spiderwebs draping the beams, but couldn’t tell if they were from poisonous types or not. She thought it might be best to be safe. She stood up and was turning to her watering pot when she heard a tiny voice. She looked back.

Sitting upon a daisy nearby was Firefly.

Hello. Firefly said.

Hello. Said Heidi.

Follow me. He said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To find out why your house is like this. He said.

I’m worried about the spiders. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of getting splinters, and you still opened the door. Firefly said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight his logic, and though her stomach did three quick backflips, she followed Firefly under the porch.

The porch had slats on all sides, so the grey dim was shot through with rays of sun. The ground was covered with small pebbles. Heidi inspected the webs carefully, and determined that they were of the non-poisonous variety (she had a precise knowledge of spiders). At the back wall of the foundation there was a wide hole leading to a very dark tunnel. It looked to be too small for her. She took a step backward, but suddenly heard a squeaky voice. She turned.

Sitting upon a rock nearby was Rat.

Hey. Rat said.

Hey. Said Heidi.

Follow me. She said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To find answers to your questions. She said.

I’m worried I’ll get stuck. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of spiders, and you still came under the porch. Rat said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight her logic, and though her stomach fluttered like a flock of hummingbirds, she followed Rat to the tunnel. By Firefly’s pale green light Heidi could see that the tunnel turned downward and north. Rat led the way forward. She followed them both.

The tunnel twisted and turned and dipped and dodged, darker then ever and tight in most spots. Rat guided them expertly, and Firefly lit the way. Soon the tunnel opened into a wider tunnel which began sloping upward, following the line of the house. Beams, skeletal, knocked against each other in all directions; bare nails gleamed dull in Firefly’s light.

Heidi eyed the low ceilings and exposed spikes nervously, brushing the the sod from her pants. She glanced back at the tiny tunnel she had just crawled through, but suddenly heard a gravelly voice. She turned around.

Sitting upon a flat boulder was Badger.

Greetings. Badger said.

Greetings. Said Heidi.

Follow me. He said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To know the truth. He said.

I’m worried I’ll get poked by a nail. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of getting stuck, and you still came through the tunnel. Badger said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight his logic, and though her stomach dropped taut like a rock on a trampoline, she followed him toward the back of the house. Firefly followed stoutly, lighting the way for them all, while Rat followed.

The house and the ground around it sloped up and up and up, gradual but steady, step after step, until they came to the very back of the crawlspace. Badger pointed to the wall. It was covered in mushrooms and scaled by age, and it encroached into the crawl space like the hood of a car through a shop window. Heidi turned and looked at her three guides, quizzical.

Badger spoke.

She has been here for generation after generation.

Rat spoke.

No one knows where she came from.

Firefly spoke.

Or when she will leave.

Heidi turned and looked at the wall again. She didn’t understand. She walked forward and touched it gingerly, brushing some of the dust away.

It moved.

A low rumble built up, the wall vibrating and heaving, the ancient sod on all sides cracking free from the bulge. Heidi saw daylight through the cracks, glimpsed scaly underbelly, reptilian claws pushing out from indentations in the shell.

Turtle stood up ponderously, lifting the house to a 90-degree angle. She turned her head slow from side to side, stretching thousand-year-old kinks and dripping streams of bronze. Heidi was glad her parents weren’t home.

Turtle lifted her foot, intent.

At this point Heidi realized that her worst worries had come true. Sort of. She hadn’t factored in a giant turtle. Mostly, though, she didn’t want to die under her house when the improbable reptile let it drop.

Casting frantically about, she spotted two floorboards in the dust. She looked up, hoping beyond hope, and saw a tiny opening between two nail-festooned, splintered beams. She gathered Firefly, Rat, and Badger in her arms, aimed and closed her eyes tight just as the house slipped from Turtle’s broad back.

There was a whir of dust and color, an almighty crash, and Heidi fell backwards with her friends in her arms. When she opened her eyes she was staring at the ceiling of her home, nestled on the north wall, along with most of her family’s belongings. A tiny spider skittered across her leg and into the crawlspace.

Heidi lives with her parents in a house on a hill not far from the edge of the town. She is a quiet, shy girl whose favorite hobby is trying to explain how her house ended up with a 30-degree incline to the south.

There’s no such thing as a giant turtle! Her father said. But Heidi knew he was wrong.

You know you can tell us what happened. Her mother said. But Heidi didn’t know how to explain any differently.

We don’t believe you! The children at school said.

Heidi didn’t see how that applied.

Bobby Billows, Fiasco Immense

The day that Bobby Billows bumped into his sister’s blocks
Is an awful, catastrophic day that won’t be soon forgot.

For when they toppled down upon the floor they bumped a stack:
Of library books, hazardously leaning in the back.
Those books, when toppled, nudged the chair
His sister sat upon (she knew
Not to lean but yet she dared
To set her chair askew).
It toppled too, and back she flew,
And nudged the flower pot.

The flower pot (petunias fair)
Flew gracefully down through the air
And landed with a thudding crash upon the welcome mat.
Can you guess who, languid there,
Lay sunning, lazy, unaware,
None other then – that’s right – the Billow’s cat.
The Billow’s cat (his name was Fred),
He thought his third of nine was up
He shot up, shot out, yowled and fled,
Right up the leg of Mailman Crupp.

Crupp fell backward, tripped the brake
His truck began to whine and shake
And trundle on down 16th street,
Crupp bravely chasing, fifty feet,
One hundred, two-thirty, five-forty and some
Yards flashing, mail flying, nine hundred and one
Until the fortunate pit leaped right out
And stopped the truck short, straight on its snout.

Alas, if only it ended right then.
But a package of fruit was ejected and when
It came down it looked round and found something amiss:
The conductor and crew of train two-fifty-six!

(Now right then young Bobby (this kid was a blight)
Had just settled down in his bed for the night.)

The train took off slow but then steady built steam,
Driven by ghosts, or fruit, it would seem.
Through field and forest, through pale fading light,
Then on to the coast, all the long moonlit night.
It ran out of coal just one mile from the end,
Slowed down to crawl, and came round the bend…

A cow who was staring and munching serene,
Got bumped by this deadly infernal machine.
He toppled quite slowly, still eating his lunch.
And tripped up the rest of his vast bovine bunch.
One by one, tippling and toppling through fields,
The cows wavered, wobbled, and teetered and keeled.
‘Til they bumped Granny O’Malley McPhee
Who was having her picnic right down by the sea.
An apple flew straight from her hand through the air
And decked a young man with wavy blond hair.

He fell from his tower down into the waves,
Scaring some fish, coming up in a daze.
Those fish, it would seem, took off through the deep
They bumped a small dolphin who gave out a cheep
And flew from the water, propelled by its tail,
Which smacked an old, crotchety, fusty blue whale.

(Now right then this Bobby, the agent of woe
Proceeded to breakfast, his blankey in tow.)

This whale, vindictive as any could be,
Looked about fiercely, and what did he see
But the hull of a boat, and a big one at that,
So he went right on up and he gave it a slap.
The boat careened wildly, the crew went all green
The steering froze up and they started to scream
It warbled along, yawing widely and then
It jostled quite fast down the banks of the Seine.

(Now right then this Bobby, fiasco immense,
Was eating some raisins in one of his tents.)

The cruise ship, quite casually, aimed for the dock,
The crew then leaped over, avoiding the rocks,
As the ship plowed on blithely, and upset a cart
Filled with barrels of pickles and artichoke hearts.
The barrels rolled quickly through borough and lane
Causing hysteria, panic, and sprains,
Rolled through a cafe, smashed into a chair,
And a lady’s umbrella flew high in the air.

As if in slow motion they all watched it fly,
The parasol, spear-like, arched high in the sky
And landed smack dab in a crack in the Eiffel
Which everyone thought had been only a trifle,
That is, until the crack started to spread
And grew wider, like spiderwebs, over their heads.

With creaking and groaning the whole tower fell
And the sound of the metal rang bright like a bell
The point landed fissure-first, jammed in the ground,
And the public heard then a much awfuller sound.

(Now right then young Bobby, who caused this whole mess,
Was stuffing poor Freddy into a pink dress.)

The rumbling started, first low and then loud,
And the cracking and quaking swept under the crowd.
The countries and continents severed and pounded
As an earthquake of global proportions abounded.
Asia bumped Europe and Australia loose
And the Earth broke apart all in fours, threes, and twos.

(Now right then young Bobby was floating in space
With family, Freddy, and whole human race.)

So watch where you step, son, and don’t bump her blocks
Or we might end up weightless on freshly-made rocks.

Please Come Again

Haunted House on West Avenue

Atop the hill just down the road
Lies lurking, ominous and old,
Bent relic of a time long past,
And full of history, books, and last,
The sense that something’s just not right,
A library. And every night
I look across and wonder, doubt:
Few dare go in, and those that do
The brave-ish few
Never come back out.

One autumn eve while walking home,
The wind as quiet as a stone,
The trees a-creaking, snapping loud,
Shivering, glancing all about,
I spied a figure, hunched and grinning
Cycle tires, festooned and spinning
It was Clyde, the fearsome Clyde
And here I was, nowhere to hide.

I cast about for some small hovel,
And being there without my shovel,
Ran pell-mell up the gravel drive
Unthinking, desperate to survive.
And looming, darkling, wooden, still
The library, hunching on the hill.

I ducked inside, dashed down the hall
Clyde collided with the wall
He stopped and stared, as I did too,
At warrens, tunnels, stacks shot through,
With colors, tatters, sharp and free,
No system, Dewey, UDC.

I took the hall, Clyde in pursuit,
And passed at a dash an old man in a suit
Facing the wall, his hunchback a dome
Of brown tattered cloth and odd jutting bone,
A voice mechanical in tone
Said “Welcome to my shop.
We’ve books, big, small and also medium,
Sure to ward off simple tedium,
Just pore on through, yes, we’ve got lots and lots.
Don’t touch the books in aisle…” he
Trailed off; I scurried down aisle three.

Slipping just clear of a pile of Pratchett,
I paused. My breath, before I could catch it,
Got stuck in my throat as I hit a dead end.
And Clyde saw this too, he had me well-penned.

He sidled up slow, grinning, spinning, conniving
He hated anything he saw thriving,
And here he had me, cornered and scared.
I think he was happy, if he even cared.

He took a step forward and reached for the books
Tossed to the carpet, shaggy and hooked,
A large pile of King, a poor choice it seemed,
For all around us they started to stir,
Shaking off dust and bristling spurs.
Salem’s Lot started the whole darn disaster,
And Carrie and It came in faster and faster,
I ducked through a tunnel before I could see
What became of Clyde Barrows Arcadian Snee.
All I heard as a I ran off was Clyde’s strident scream,
“Get ’em off, get ’em off, get ’em off me, ayeeeeeeee…”

All around me the books flipped, slipped, snapped and whined,
With their paper-slashed teeth, gleaming eyes, scaled spines,
A Milton clutched my leg and fast,
I felt the fall and thought at last,
This my end is here, who’d think
The books with paper teeth and ink
For blood they sought! ‘Twas mine they craved,
And I was caught, not to be saved.

A Chaucer chewed upon my arm,
While Gaiman nibbled, civility, charm.
I shook them off, I shook them free,
And scrambled off down aisle three.

I slid to a halt, books pouncing behind,
At the library desk, “Are you out of you mind?”
I shrieked to the lump
All derelict, slumped,
“Don’t you see? They’ll eat you alive!”

And in passing, just glancing,
I saw him turn slow, a puppet on strings,
Its cheeks wooden, rattling; jaw upon springs.
Its teeth jumped up, back,
Its eyes didn’t track,
And slowly and deeply intoned from within,

“We enjoyed what you left for us, please come again.”