September arrives with peak weather of cooler, clearer days and I am feeling urgency to tackle—it being fall, the season for football—yet not literally tackle a pigskin leather sphere with knees and shins slamming into the sod and dirt, but to tackle my self-imposed deadline for this short blog post to circulate into the stratosphere in late October or maybe to just disappear into the ether—indistinguishable from emptiness. Why? you ask. Well, this blog post is about my fascination with “tacking” and, in writing it now, the word “tackle” falls onto the page from who-knows-where and I suddenly realize that, even in my couple of years of gathering thoughts about tacking, it had not occurred to me that “tack” is part of the word “tackle.” I’m delighted because immediately I see how this fits my thesis.
This—dare I call it something as formal as a “study” or “thesis”—began with writing my poem “Street Smorgasbord,” which ends in a conversation with my pup, Miss Sweet Potato Pie, about her healthy practices that make for her svelte physique. Tato (for short) uses one simple word to sufficiently explain her practice: “tack.” This is what she performs with nose to the ground in search of a bounty of foodstuff dropped, tossed, left, and forgotten—a veritable feast—along the streets of our hometown. Never heading straight for the chicken bones, the decaying squirrel carcass, or the sandwich wrapper, she would zig and zag like a sailboat tacking upwind to its eventual destination. Or like choosing to take the stairs instead of the apartment building elevator as a heart-pumping exercise to burn extra calories—one’s daily constitutional. Journey over destination.
Here’s the full text of that poem, which will also appear in my debut chapbook, Within Walking Distance, to be released in early 2023:
Our town streets are a veritable delicatessen
for my dog. Today her nose led her to two delicacies,
a piece of pizza—the main course—and a Pop-Tart for dessert.
The pizza found along Mill Street in the pachysandra on the east side
of the old high school building, now the county offices.
The Pop-Tart in plain sight at the base of the electrical pole
at the corner of Maple and Queen Streets.
Over the years, she has retrieved
a Slim Jim, still in its wrapper, hanging from
a Nellie Stevens holly branch next to Houck’s Men’s Shop,
half of a roast beef sandwich at the curb across from Sam’s Coffee Shop,
and smashed or partially eaten croissants, muffins, and cookies
scavenged any direction within a block of Evergrain Bakery.
What she is sure to find each day are chicken bones.
Most often they are small weathered bones stripped of meat and gristle.
But on a good day, a pile of wings in the middle of the street
where Queen and High intersect,
and reliably in our neighborhood’s new 7-Eleven parking lot.
And also in front of our town’s most desirable historic properties on Water Street,
routinely on the sidewalks and in the shrubbery
where crews are restoring and repairing nineteenth-century homes.
On any route, her dog walks are a stroll down an all-you-can-eat cafeteria line.
What’s your secret, I ask,
to your svelte physique when you serve yourself
from every swale, seep, and sweep?
Tack, she whispers, nose to the ground.
Tack, I observe,
the incessant practice of seemingly
nonsensical zigzag maneuvers.
Never head into the wind, she continues,
dart and dash,
tweak and refine,
lust for wander.
My big thesis is that tacking holds a great truth about living a productive life by acknowledging how life really works. Or, in this case, how it does not work: Life is not linear. So, when feeling down-and-out, we must test this reality. We become disgruntled because life disappoints us with evidence, over and over again, that it (life) is not linear.
The plumber cannot come tomorrow to fix the dripping faucet, an irritation that I am anxious about having fixed to prevent an iron stain in the guest bathroom sink. A week goes by and my bedside table lamp’s outlet stops working and a ceiling fan needs replacing. It is making a knocking noise and wobbling threatening to scatter its parts as shrapnel shards onto the guest bed. And did I mention that a dear friend is arriving in three weeks for a long weekend visit? Two weeks pass and a few more issues surface, leading me to question if the thermostat needs replacing and the household’s hot water temperature adjusted. The Monday before my guest is due, the plumber calls before 8 a.m. to ask if he can come in the afternoon. By then I had researched options and purchased a new thermostat and a ceiling fan, both still in their boxes. I am ready. The plumber spends the next two days fixing this long list, as well as an outlet in the garden shed and the outdoor faucet that sprung a leak during the previous winter when I left a hose attached to it all winter long. My guest arrives that Friday, oblivious to my crises, finding me in a heightened state of unexplained and uncharacteristic generosity and chattiness, delighted by his company without the worry of a looming to-do list. My desire to thoroughly enjoy a weekend catching up with a close friend, serving delectable meals, and sharing long and late-night conversations exceeds my expectations.
Only tacking will deliver the resolve we seek, as each tack takes us to a guidepost where we will find a compass for the next tack. We find ease in life when tacking, abandoning expectations of what life is not: linear, predictable, on-time. When we arrive at our destination, it is in the rearview mirror that we glimpse where we have been—confirming that we have indeed arrived (if only for a moment). Yet when arriving via a convoluted path of tacking, we are always filled with the desire to be at a new destination. And so, our voyage continues into shallow sandy coves, around rocky shoals, shouldering, hunkering down, ducking and diving through, flying, spinning, sliding, and gliding with the elements—yet always tacking.