See What You’re Missing


Dream No. 1, Wednesday

A stiff, raw breeze blew through the house. I had opened all of the windows because a strong storm was rolling in, and for the past two weeks, the air inside had felt heavy, stagnant.  It was May, but the wind reminded me of March, when the atmosphere is unstable and indecisive and unsure of herself.

For three weeks, I had been sleeping on the couch. I had thrown our queen-size bed away, hauled the mattress and the box springs to the curb for the garbageman. I hadn’t decided what kind of replacement bed to buy. A twin would be large enough for me, but would foreclose on future possibilities. A twin would be too small to accommodate me and the cats. I was leaning toward a full-size, but I felt torn, so for now, I had settled on the couch.

I fell asleep without a blanket. I dreamt I was holding a cold, round object, perhaps a potato or a stone. But the texture was too supple, too smooth. I was holding your hand.

You were wearing your brown coat, your fall coat, the one that kept you warm when we traveled to Meat Cove, at the tip of Cape Breton, and watched the cormorants huddle in the mist on the pier.

“Wait, aren’t you dead?” I asked.


“What’s it like to be dead?”

“It’s OK, not too bad, about what I expected.”

You always had a gift for understatement.

We were quiet for a while, and then you said, “But I do like sitting here in the breeze with you.”

Suddenly, my hand was empty.


Dream No. 2, Thursday

First, I had to dig a trench. It needed to be square, its perimeter large enough for a bed and several vases of flowers. Then I had to stack and mortar concrete blocks to build your crematorium.

You lay dying on a hospital bed within the building’s footprint. The hospice nurse, Pat, said I had to finish it, timed perfectly, so that I placed the last block, the keystone, as you died.

Pat updated me every half hour.

“It won’t be long.”

“You should hurry.”

I had completed one wall when I realized I had mismeasured. I leaned on my shovel and began crying. You had always told me to slow down, to be methodical, especially when assembling things. You were right. You were always right.

I started over, measured — twice this time — dug another trench, took down the concrete blocks and stacked and mortared them in their new spots.

“He’s almost gone.”

I sat down, slumped against the one good wall and cried. I still had two and a half walls to go. There’s no way I would finish on time.

As If You Could Escape


The blinds lift automatically.
I stand behind glass. You’re enclosed in a fiberboard box that from here looks like stone. Because by law you must be contained before you are rolled into the fire. As if you could escape.

Inside the box, you are dressed in a blue-and-white short-sleeved shirt that used to complement your skin tone. The same shirt you were wearing when we sat on the patio of the Mexican restaurant one summer afternoon long ago, drinking margaritas, half the rim salted, half not,
while knockout roses bloomed in nearby pots.

Inside the box, you are wearing khaki pants, but no socks. When Justin, the funeral director, came last week to pick up your body, I handed him a small pile of your clothing, topped by a ball of black socks. He said you didn’t need socks, so I must have returned them to the drawer. As if you could escape.

I read a Buddhist poem. The silver crematory door raises and the gears on the conveyor belt begin to roll. I’m so intent on reading the poem that I miss your going in.


At twenty-eight hundred degrees Fahrenheit, it still takes four and a half hours to cremate the average-size body. You went in at 1:30, which means you’ll be done by 6, so I go buy tomato plants and some cages. I take a late lunch, occasionally checking the time, and think of you as a stick of incense, orange and glowing.

After burning for four and half hours, the average-size body needs time to cool. The next morning at 11 I pick you up. Your urn is a handmade box of poplar, a tall and sturdy tree that is resistant to disease. I remove the lid and see that your cremains are encased in a clear plastic bag, which is tied off and secured with a silver tag. As if you could escape.

The bag is warm to the touch, the temperature of tortillas when they arrived at our table on the patio of the Mexican restaurant one summer afternoon long ago. I ladle out a portion of your ashes for your brother. Somewhere in here are your kind brown eyes, the constellation of moles that streaked across your left cheek, your blue-and-white short-sleeved shirt.

A life, on foot


My husband and I had been married 19 years before I saw his feet.

Dennis never went to the pool. On the very rare occasions we visited the beach — two, to be exact — he wore sneakers.  He preferred to shower alone. And yes, I know what you’re thinking. He wore socks then, too.

I did not complain. We’re all allowed secrets, and there are worse ones than the shape and condition of one’s feet. I once saw a black-and-white photo of him as a child. The picture was faded and old, but his feet looked normal.  He had five toes on the left and five on the right. They were not webbed.

After a while, it became a game, a test. Five years passed, then 10. How long can a couple be married and one spouse not see the other’s feet? At 15 years, I decided I never wanted to see them. That would be my secret.

In the spring of 2015, after we had been married 18 years, I glimpsed the side of his right big toe, as elusive and breathtaking a sight as if I had spotted an ivory-billed woodpecker in the wild. Dennis was in the hospital and in the process of removing his black crew socks and putting on his yellow footies — the color that indicated to medical staff that he was a fall risk.




I have wide, strong, homely feet, the feet of my father. I do not paint my toenails; that would only draw attention to their unattractiveness. I do not gussy them up with pedicures. Feet are tools. And like tools, they should used for the correct job, kept clean and properly stored.

When I was young, my family and I lived down a long gravel driveway that led to a gravel road. In April, my bare feet would be tender, and I would gimp to the mailbox. But by summer’s end, the soles would be thick and tough from playing basketball barefoot on concrete, from stepping on a bee in the lush clover, from softball games when the hot clay would burn through your cleats. By August, I could run barefoot down the driveway, down the road, kicking up dust. At night, I would wash my feet and tuck them inside fresh, cool sheets, where they were kept clean and properly stored.



It occurred to me midway through my marriage that in the normal course of living, I must have seen tens of thousands of bare feet. One pair stood out: In the summer of 1980, my friend Natalie and I were sitting in the hallway of our high school waiting for driver’s ed class to begin. She had removed her shoes to unveil her feet, tan and unblemished, as if milk chocolate had been poured into a mold. Her toes sloped like descending musical scale. Not a callus, not a bunion, not a corn. A perfect set of feet.

Fifteen years later, I found myself in a karaoke bar in my hometown in Indiana. The room was dark except for a spotlight pointed to the dance floor, where among the performers was a man with no legs and obviously no feet. He sang Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Then a group of women gathered to sing Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Break the Chain.” I could not see their faces, but in the spotlight I spied a familiar set of feet. After the song was over, I hurried to a back booth. “Natalie! It’s Lisa! It’s been a long time. I recognized you by your feet!” She smiled and nodded, which I understood to mean that she was anxious for me to leave.


This spring, Pat, our hospice nurse, was at our home for her biweekly visit. She wanted to check Dennis’s feet and ankles for swelling, which would signal his kidneys were not efficiently processing waste. She also monitored for ulcerations, which can occur either from constant pressure on the skin or from a gradual breakdown of the body.

I stood at the head of the hospital bed. Pat pulled off the left sock, then the right. For the first time, I saw all of my husband’s feet. The nails had grown long during his illness — Stage 4 prostate cancer that had metastasized to his bones. But otherwise, an unremarkable, perfectly good pair of feet.

Before I met him, Dennis’s feet had been to Vietnam and Italy and Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as a member of the last draft class — Lottery No. 33 — he worked in Air Force intelligence as a codebreaker and an analyst.

These were the feet, Size 10, that had balanced on the basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway, in Northern Ireland, on our honeymoon, 19 years and 11 months ago. They had tracked with me through Santa Ana canyon, no more than a slot, really, in Big Bend National Park. They had traipsed along the Skyline Trail on Cape Breton Island, where we scanned the sea for whales.

It is April 14 and Dennis is dying. He is in his last days or even hours. This evening as I rubbed his feet with coconut oil and aloe vera, I noticed they were cool to the touch. In the past, he did not like me to touch his feet. Tonight, he did not mind.






Purity & comfort in an empty mattress store in Durham

The Lakewood neighborhood in Durham is home to an eclectic assortment of businesses, both present — the Simonetti Historic Tuba Museum, the Scrap Exchange, African Land — and past — an early 20th-century amusement park and a 21st-century organic mattress store.

The store moved out a couple of years ago (the building at 2009 Chapel Hill Road is now for sale). I shot this photo shortly after all of the mattresses had been removed but the shop’s slogan remained on the wall.


Remnants of an organic mattress store, Chapel Hill Road, Durham
©2014 Lisa Sorg

Sun Trust

A woman was reading in Black Wall Street Plaza in Durham, an umbrella propped up to shield her from the sun. Later I noticed the SunTrust ATM in the background, with the same color scheme as the umbrella.


Durham street preachers: Read and heed


Five Points, downtown Durham

Above, a street preacher, May 2016:  “Read and heed. I hope you listen.”

Below, children from Mt. Zion Christian Academy, May 2015:
“Repent. You will be judged.”


©2015, 2016 Lisa Sorg

Las Amazonas: No Loitering

lasamazonascross 2.jpg

Formerly an amusement park on a trolley car line, the Lakewood Shopping Center now  looks threadbare, with a Food Lion, Dollar General and a dozen or more vacant storefronts.

A few doors down from B&T Tobacco,  Las Amazonas was a Mexican restaurant and bar that seemed to keep erratic hours. I never went, but some (male) friends who had been there said Latinas were hired to dance — and only dance — with male customers, mostly Latino.

Las Amazonas appeared to have closed a while ago, although it’s hard to say when. I passed by the place this morning and noticed someone had broken its window. But when I looked through the hole and saw the wall mural, I realized the purpose of this place was to remind its patrons of home.



Filling the empty lots: Durham development

Gary Kueber of Open Durham called this lot “the strangest downtown property.” The former furniture warehouse lot at 120 W. Parrish St., between Alley 26 and the old Jack Tar motel, had been abandoned for years. And then it was redeveloped by Arthur Rogers — he did the Citizens Bank building, home of Bar Virgile — into artful small office/start up space.



Photo by Lisa Sorg ©2014

Rogers had to navigate a lot of bureaucracy to build an here: Nearby Mechanics & Farmers Bank actually owned a sliver of the property, which was designated by a metal inlay in Alley 26. As creative infill development, this lot illustrates that imaginative, positive placemaking is possible.

There’s a lot of anxiety about a changing Durham, some of which is documented in an exhibit, Durham Under Development at Pleiades Gallery, on view through March 6. This photo, shot from the parking deck of the Jack Tar Motel in December 2014, is part of the show. I remember looking over the edge of the deck (I’m a bit afraid of heights) and after my queasiness dissipated, recognized the striking geometry of the scene. And Doodleman, the yellow figure in the alley, is peeking over the edge.

I share the anxiety — about affordability, about displacement and gentrification — and have covered it extensively for the INDY and Bull City Rising. However, I also have hope and no small amount of fascination about our changing city. The changes need to be equitable and inclusive. The changes must not diminish Durham’s most endearing qualities: Its diversity, and what the Japanese would call wabi-sabi, the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

We want progress, but we don’t want sterility and exclusivity. Fortunately, Durham CAN, People’s Alliance, the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit are all keeping important issues in front of city officials, who, for the most part, are equally concerned.

These days, you can’t — or I should say, it’s difficult — to get to the top of the old Jack Tar because it is also under development. It’s being transformed from a ’60s motel that eventually became squatters’ quarters and an old-school coffee shop , which was displaced for construction, into a swinging boutique hotel, due to open in a year.

boy in coop garage

Photo by Lisa Sorg ©2014

This photo is also in the show. In November 2014, I met several boys playing in the shell of the future Center for Child & Family Health. It is part of the Kent Corner development that includes the Durham Co-op.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and the boys were horsing around in a building under construction, as boys  and girls  will do. (I could definitely envision myself doing the same at that age, and apparently even at the ripe old age of 49.)

All My Children Day Care and the West End Community Center used to be on this property, but they were demolished. While it’s too soon to assess the impact of Kent Corner—it opened about a year ago—on the largely African-American neighborhood, it’s important to ensure that the development does not displace longtime residents.

A wall was outside of the frame, and another boy was hurling himself over it. That explains the silhouette of his feet. In addition to the geometry of the shot (yes, I’m into geometry), there’s a certain innocence about this young man that I felt endeared to.

What will Durham look like when he grows up? Will he benefit from the city’s progress? Or will he be excluded? We owe it to him that he has more educational, vocational, and personal opportunities as the result of the renaissance.

Only the only: the odd beauty of Ahoskie

green church

The town of Ahoskie, North Carolina, welcomed me with a speeding ticket, and send me back home with images of a place I have yet to make sense of.

Like most small towns, it is struggling to keep its place in the world. Jobs have evaporated. Shopping has been exiled from downtown to the suburbs or nearby cities. That said, I found the town beautiful because it lived up to its nickname.

soldier 3 copy

At 36.28 degrees latitude, Ahoskie, population 5,000, is nicknamed “The Only One,” because it is the only such named town in the world. True: I have never seen a church decked out in green and white like the one in Ahoskie. Or a painting in a storefront like the one on Main Street. Or a metal sculpture of a soldier like the one in No Man’s Land Park.

soulfoodweird painting colortrain bench

On the street, a found painting ©Japan


japanese painting 2.jpgInitially, I paid little attention to the gray bench seat, apparently from a van, slumped on the curb along Kent Street. Then I saw the discarded painting, propped up on a cushion, and realized this could be one of the greatest street finds I’d ever encountered.

To say it’s a painting sells it short. The lake and sky are painted in what appears to be watercolor, but the rest of the piece is constructed of natural materials: bark, wood and moss.


The paper on the back of the painting is stamped with ©Japan, which means these pieces of nature were likely collected in that country. Since there is no artist’s signature, perhaps the artwork was mass produced. Nonetheless, it bears the mark of the individual. Somebody tapped those metal brads into the wooden island, glued the moss and the bark.


I came home, and my husband, Dennis, and I immediately hung it on a living room wall. We shined a lamp on it so we could analyze it more closely.

“You know, it’s kind of sophisticated,” I told him.

“Sophisticated enough for us,” he replied.