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Solitudes by Donna Ippolito

A drop of water has the tastes of the seven seas;

there is no need to exper­ience all the ways of worldly life.

The reflections of the moon on one thous­and rivers

are from the same moon:

the mind must be full of light.


      Discourses on Vegetable Roots

 Hung Tzu-ch'eng







The sky is pale, but the lake in September is wild as the sea. Great waves repeat over glittering pebbles while sandbirds fly close together and low, just skimming the powerful breakers. My dog Blue crouches in the sand and eyes the birds. As he leaps up to chase, they run, legs whirring like wings, and then fly.

We barely know the place but already Blue has found his spot, a fallen cotton-wood where every few minutes he stops to lift his leg. One leg up now, he spies a cricket in the sand, immediately leaves off peeing and puts his quivering nose to the small black creature. The cricket leaps up, startling the big dog who jerks back his head, but instantly noses after it again. The cricket jumps, Blue jumps, then pokes curiously once more. Very still, then hopping suddenly, the cricket fascinates frightens fascinates my city dog - - again hop, again hop, again again and again hop hop.




The sun is down, but I hold off lighting lamps and shutting the door. Looking out into the dim woods, I see all quiet but for the shivering of one very small tree. Now it too falls still.

We settle in, but when 1 move, Blue follows. And if I change seats, he replaces too. Always he must hold me at particular angles, sometimes wanting to be near, sometimes keeping a distance, often watching me, sometimes not. I set the small lamp on a hassock and lie under the little parasol of light, where I read. Blue comes up, pokes gently at the lampshade. Nosy, lifting his snout to the glow rising, he nudges, he snuffles, he is trying to smell the light.




It rained during the night, and the death of things is hastened. On the road to the lake, already the wild aster leaves are beginning to blacken. Walking in the mist, I find a frog half-buried in the sand, its legs stiff and flattened in death, and many small butterflies, papyrus wings flapping crazily in the cold wind.

Frayed from migration, a still live monarch drops to rest on a pile of dry stones. Then, after a moment, it tries to lift again. The wings open and close slowly, slowly. The shiny black legs cling pitifully to the stones.





Sun changes the long throats of sand grass and fringed weed to silver. Coming down white now, it blinds me, as does the lake, a mass of rollers crashing blue, gold, and silver. Among the stones, sand, and water, the shorebirds stand nearly invisible. Once again I try to steal close, but their dun bodies flare up. Electric, the speckled wings gleam into sudden stark white.







Mornings now, the moon still flares. Does night never end then? Few are about, but at half past seven, all at once cars begin to sound. On the damp, cold street their tires slick by, one, two, three, crossing and passing in rhythm.

The sun still not up, light seeps from somewhere, making it a twilit morning. Walking, we are on our way to buses and subways, on our way to work. I pass others on the street and, as I do, there is the feeling I should tap them on the shoulder, stop them, say something strange . . .




The walks grow fat with snow, making my legs ache. The snow mists and blows and blinds, but we plunge on, Blue and I, taking our walk.

A dog with winter in his blood, he's never cold and only minds the snow because it blots out briefly odors about fireplugs, trees, lampposts, and other important spots. Sniff, nose to the ground, he weaves rapidly, confidently, tugging me with the leash. Sniff, he drags me along from post to plug to tree. Cut it out, I yell, yanking on the leash and laughing.




The clock ticks softly, then more and more insistently as I become aware of it, as the silence of my rooms surrounds the ticking, the ticking, the tock, tock, tock. Then comes the steam, the wild hissing of radiators, their metallic clanging as though little workmen banged inside busily with hammers. A great thrust of heat follows, but it is really the sound of the steam which warms me as I turn a page, touch the dog's fur with my toes, and tuck myself deeper into the chair.




The street is dark and quiet. There is the hard snow, the blank, clear sky, my breath, my steps on the bright light of the snow. The skin on my face seems to stretch thin with cold, but the wind is still, and the street invites me to take another street, and another, to keep on moving into white streets, to hold myself strong, to step as cleanly as the cold air.



Blue jumps to the sofa beside where I sit, then jumps down again, back up again, telling me to look out the window. I rise and the big dog follows, cowering. On the street below people hurry about, watching the sky. Pearl, smoke grey and black, heavy clouds press down. A mighty wind tears at the new-budded trees, and branches of oak flap like flowers.

Now one open window bangs shut by itself and the door shivers violently. Blue scoots to a new huddle under the table. The sky shudders, flashes, mutters thunder, then cracks. A few drops sparkle on the glass, then suddenly a great blast of rain turns the windows grey, and I can no longer see out.




Long, tawny, and tiger-faced, the cat Shama has an enormous bushy tail. Seeing me for the first time, he thrusts up his pointed chin and stares with fear and pride, his eyes seeming to grow larger, more opaque. The little black kitten, head tucked into her neck, seems to peek out, curious and surprised. She darts her head toward and away from me, trying to decide whether to run or stay. She takes my offered finger, boxes lightly at it, then with the same darts of the head, she pricks with tiny, sharp teeth.

Keeping a distance, Shama looks up archly from over his shoulder, rolls his large eyes, twitches fragile ears. The little one leaps nimbly to the top of a chair, slides over on her soft belly, hangs precariously for a moment half up and half down, then drops lightly to the floor near Shama.

He starts it. Lazily he licks the little one's head, holding her neck by a paw, then the cleaning changes to nibble bites to the neck. The little one squirms, ends up with her head under Shama's body, her feet flailing, paws turning Shama's head away, her little teeth glittering too. There is a moment's halt, with Shama nearly bored, about to walk away, and the little one paws at Shama's magnificent tail, biting the fur softly.




It is cool now, the shadow from the honey locust in the courtyard dancing on my window sill, on my hand writing. People cross the court, and I can hear their every word, along with a radio from an apartment across the way, sounds of traffic, foot­steps on the worn steps in the hall.

Trapped in the courtyard, the wind hisses; then comes the soft tapping of rain, the sprinkle of wet breeze through the screen, a heavy smell of dampening earth. Rumbling low, the storm thunders in the distance, and the silent wild streaks blow up the sky like a sunset.







In the alley the great cottonwood sputters in the wind, flashing light and shadow, soothing as its ten thousand leaves bell in the breeze.

Across the way, my neighbor sits on her back porch idling in the afternoon sun. Two stories down, the gate creaks as a boy leaves her yard, moving quickly out of view, out of the alley onto which all our back porches give. From the gate a little girl watches him leap away on rubber soles, on the suction sound. The tree swims now in the air, its leaves and branches blowing, lifting, shimmering.

Next door a dog yaps, but the afternoon sun heats and mellows the sound. Even shadows are livened and warmed. Like dark moving curtains they form over faded brick walls, maroon siding, over the dull purple brick of the alley. Next door the dog barks again, less shrill. Light pierces the moving leaves of the cottonwood and the warmed spaces between leaves bobble in the pool of shadow below.






As I sit on the back porch writing, a phone begins. Through open windows and doors, in the heat, in the low wind, the ringing is diffused. From everywhere — from right behind me through the screen door, from over my shoulder at our neighbor's upstairs, from the house next door, it seems to call.

Mysterious, insistent, it is somewhere to my left; then behind me, its ring a soft thrill. Now above me again, calling, calling, calling. Not wanting to move, I hope it is for someone else, yet I love the monotone, the mournful distant repeating. Like one enchanted or asleep, I can only listen to it ring rhythmically ring.

Until it stops. Untilit stops, and I wonder who was calling. What did they want . . . Was it for me?




Next door lives Pete. Long grey hair parted in the middle and splaying out wildly, he looks like an aged Rimbeau. Wearing old T-shirt and rumpled pants, day after day he sits on his front porch where he whistles out, nods, waving hello, hello.

     Perched with spine erect, his wife sits there too, tiny and eager as a canary. Smiling cheer­fully first, she calls: What a lovely day! Then beaming with the same cheer: Well, it looks like rain,don't it!

     Pete and his wife have a graceful, slim-eared puppy with the face of a faun. Pete calls to me from the porch: Oh, she's a little sweetheart, she is. That's my Princess. He shakes his head with pride and wonder: Yessir.

Every evening one of their fence posts is stuffed with a spray of late summer flowers, bright defiance of the dingy street. Tonight when I passed with Blue, Pete stood holding some fluffy white and purple phlox, and he offered the flowers with a sweep of his arm.

Get the ones with long stems, Pete! his little wife chirped from the porch, while he ceremoniously broke several fringed leaves from a bush and arranged them with the flowers in his fist.

Lips moving soundlessly, gesturing clumsily with the flowers, he approached. Pardon . . . You'll have to pardon me, he said finally — but I'm half-drunk — and then handed me the bouquet with a flourish. Put them on the T.V. or something, he muttered, patting my shoulder and waving me away.

Laughing, smiling, Pete and his wife sit day after day — she perched with slim legs crossed at the ankes; he bent forward, arms and elbows balanced on his legs, smoking or holding his can of beer.

Want a beer? he calls lustily, waving the can over his head like a pennant. And she sings out, Well, we won't have many more days like this ...



Copyright 2007 by Donna Ippolito

First published Primavera, Vol. 4, Chicago. 

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