your song


          The first tone tap tap taps like water on a windowsill, only it doesn’t sound like a gray day’s rain — it sounds like a sun-warmed raindrop, sweet and clear. The note gently tap tap taps on the heart.

          My friend sent me the song in a care package to Namibia, where I lived as a teacher. At night I listened to Kate Walsh sing, as close to inside my ears as I could get. She sang my longing as I lay under the mosquito net. I yearned for everything, out there in the desert — family, language, food, technology, romance — and she lullabied me.

          I listened to Kate on repeat. I took her with me out to the spigot as I filled the blue bucket to wash clothes. I stood in the dust and tried to make sense of her words:

So I’ll make whirlpools,
and watch him sparkle

I didn’t know what she meant, but watching the water made me think I did. At the outdoor tap, the water was warmest, the closest thing to warm water. A subtle piano cascaded notes down, in a swirl, but the water gushed out hard. Sunlight sprang up from the bottom.

          Kate’s voice was simple, sometimes nervous. Sometimes she sounded old, like a granny, sometimes young and shy. Her voice shrank, as if to say, notice me, don’t notice me. Like a fisherman she cast her lines out, and nearly forgotten words bobbed at the end:

I’m stuck on a boy, who
fills me with joy, I
knew I was wrong to
jump straight on into
this picture so pretty

It was a confession trailing off.

and we’ll make
love, make

         I lugged the dusty-bottomed bucket back inside. Was she right? Would it be magic?

my mother, she read to me


Bricks slick with rain, outside a tiny library.

My mother read to me, too.

Mom doesn’t want you to waste money on flowers and doesn’t want the hairdresser to give her any volume. She doesn’t wear pants so snug they’ll show her figure, doesn’t mind eating leftovers to spare the rest of us, doesn’t drive a Prius for ecology, just economy.

But when she read to me she read with enthusiasm. Not with impressions, like Dad, but at least with interest. Can a person be both practical and have a flair for the dramatic? Can she be no-nonsense and at least a little whimsical? I don’t remember the titles of any of the books from my childhood (other than Let’s Talk About Whining), but I know she read to me, with flair, and I know such a thing is to be canonized.


Swandell Wedding-93

In the span of 13 days, I made promises I’m supposed to keep forever. I vowed that I would preach the Holy Scriptures, recommend fasting or abstinence (both by word and by example), and earnestly strive to be made perfect in love.

I vowed that I would “instruct the children in every place,” visit from house to house, never be unemployed, never be triflingly employed, never trifle away time.

I vowed that I would live together in holy marriage with one particular man. I vowed to love him, comfort him, honor him, keep him. I vowed that I would forsake all others and be faithful to him as long as we both shall live.

I was 30 years old and it was a lot of vowing. Got ordained and got married. Got pregnant — no, but if I had, my lifelong tethering would have been complete. Got back from the honeymoon. I wanted to write down all the vows and hang them on my wall, so I would remember.

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving

and make good your vows to the Most High.

Psalm 50:14 (BCP)