Monday, October 17, 2016

Sunday Morning Write - Freefall

I cup the morning in my hands -
the sun rising on the back of the rooster’s blare,
the grass growing straight out to the barn
where a black cat explores the known world.

I hold the whispery sound of wings overhead
and the silly dither of earthbound hens.
Crow feathers slip through my fingers.
Red leaves, and orange,
green leaves and yellow crowd my fingertips.
Wisps of soft air float free.

My hands hold the smells of wood smoke
and damp earth, of dried grasses
and fallen leaves. I bury my nose
and inhale the universe as it turns,

loosening summer, setting autumn free,
welcoming winter. All this is here
in my cupped hands, holding one morning,
holding them all.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Sunday Morning Write: A Memory From the Week Past.

The phone rang at seven on Thursday. A small voice at the other end of the line said, “Can you come back, Nini? I miss you. I want you to put me to bed.”

I felt my heart contract and expand simultaneously. Even if I could see to drive at night and even if I did drive the hour to that small voice, she’d be sound asleep by the time I arrived. I’d be unnecessary.

I talked to her instead. I sent her kisses over the phone line and virtual hugs, describing where I’d plant those kisses – on her cheek, in her neck (she giggled), and on the top of her head. And I told her how tightly I’d hug her, how I was throwing those hugs into the air in her direction. All she had to do was catch them. “Did you get your kisses and hugs?” I asked.

“She can’t see you nodding,” my daughter whispered.

“Yes,” said the little voice. “Here’s your kiss,” and she made a loud smacking noise. The hug she sent was accompanied by the grunt of effort it took to launch her stranglehold into the air.

“I will be there on Tuesday,” I reminded her.  “If you need extra hugs and kisses, Mama has lots stored up. Just ask her.”

“G’night, Nini,” the small voice called, probably from the stairs. “I love you.”

“Good night Lil,” I called back, and putting the phone down, wept happily into my hands.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Kind of Prayer

This Sunday's writing prompt: in light of the current climate - political, economic, social - make a list of synonyms for worry. Then make a list of antonyms. From that let a poem arise. The results are below.

synonyms for worry

dwelling on the negative
thoughts of impending trouble

synonyms for the opposite of that –


A Kind of Prayer

In the dead of night,
encompassed, enfolded
in lightless dark,
I can switch on a lamp,
set a match to a candle,
illuminate the shadows,
send them scurrying into corners,
ease my anxious mind
with the familiar –
See? All is recognizable, all is well.

In the daylight,
when dark shadows crowd
the light into corners,
I must find another means of comfort,
Another way to tame the dark,
and so I name things -
there’s a tree, a wall, a sink, a pen,
on and on, until I begin to notice
the leaves are green,
the wall is brick,
the sink is clean,
the pen is blue;

and further still,
the leaves rustle, whisper, dance
the bricks are sun-warmed,
the wall is meant to protect,
the sink is lustrous, gleaming, useful,
the pen, in hand, can set thoughts down,
free them up,

and so the world rights itself
and becomes comfortable again.

Photo by Jean

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Morning Write

Sunday morning write with friend. Prompt: If you were to check a crowd for your mother, how would you recognize her? How would she recognize you? From that writing, extract a poem.

Checking a Crowd for My Mother

She wore her hair the same way all her life, in a sausage roll at her neck. Even when styles changed and short hair became de rigueur, she would affix the rolled net at the back of her head and struggle to tuck up the short wisps that straggled along her neck. I would know her from the back even before she turned her head and smiled, for that smile, that encompassing, welcoming, genuinely-pleased-to-see-you grin of hers would be another giveaway. Or perhaps, from a distance, and she were sitting, I would recognize her hands, the way she rested them on her knees, fingers tucked, anchoring them with her thumbs. I see my own hands emulating hers every time I occupy a chair. If there was laughter, I would pick hers out from the cacophony, the distinctive lilt of it, and the gentility. And her voice – whoever forgets their mother’s voice? Low and even, hardly ever raised, even in anger, I hear that voice in my head every day, the music of it, the remembered love.

Were she to be looking for me, it would not be the hairstyle, for mine has changed and changed and changed again over the years. But she would know my face, my tip-tilted eyes, the same shade of light blue as hers, my Longstreet nose so different from her Guertin one, my high cheekbones she often said must be from my father’s Native American heritage. She would perhaps recognize my posture (stand up straight, hold your shoulders back – don’t hunch!) or my lack of fashion sense. Only when I wore her hand-me-downs did I look like a fashion plate for she had many of her pre-marriage clothes made by a dressmaker. Constructed of sturdy stuff, those clothes lasted through my own high school years. She might know me from my walk, a long-strided gait I adopted when I walked home from school, anxious to leave those claustrophobic rooms for the outdoors. She would certainly recognize my own laugh – a loud, high-pitched bray so unlike her own gentle chuckle. And if she neither heard nor saw me I still believe she’d find me. Between us there still exists the fine silver thread that joins people who love one another. She would tug. I would come.


She has been gone for thirty years.
We dressed her in a pretty dress
and laid her to rest.

No more mischievous blue eyes
dancing with secrets,
no more gentle laughter
or spontaneous hugs,
no more healing hands
cool on feverish foreheads,
or work-a-day fingers dusty with flour
or smelling of wood polish,

though now and then I think I see her
in the sideways glance of my youngest granddaughter,
in the mischievous grin of my grandson,
hear her laughter echoed in my daughter’s,
or see her hands in my own lap.

Perhaps she is not resting at all.
Might be she comes to me
singing, in the body of the catbird,
or in the leaves whose rustling sounds like whispers,
or in the cool magic of moonlight.
She might be exhaling
the dusty scent of phlox
or answering the hoot owl in the neighbor’s barn.

We laid her to rest in her pretty dress.
But maybe she’s not resting there at all.
Perhaps she’s here with me now, remembering.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Change Is In the Air

After a spate of hot summer days when the humidity hung in the air like steam, there came a storm riding on a rush of wind. Rain fell in torrents. Lightning exploded, and crashing in its wake, thunder boomed and rolled away across a greenish-purple sky. After the storm, there was a new coolness to the air.

The seasons are in transition now; summer is on the wane. The sun sets earlier and rises later. Evenings are cool and at dawn the August mists hang in the valleys like gossamer veils. By mid-morning the sun has warmed the air and summer seems still here but come evening again, the breeze whispers among the trees and the heat flees before it. In the deep grasses the crickets sing, “Too soon, too soon.”

The swallows born a few months ago are flocking. They line the telephone wires and give aerial performances in the late afternoon. The sun is warm then, and hazy, and the air shimmers with incandescent light. The swallows’ wings are transparent as they swoop and dive and soar. It is the best time of day to sink down into the warm, flowered meadow grass amid the Queen Anne’s lace and the cornflowers, the feathery, wild purple asters and goldenrod, a time to watch the birds play, and dream autumn dreams.

There is a freshness to this seasonal shift—not the sprightly, springy newness that tumbles in with spring, but rather a snap to the air and a feeling of bustle, a sort of counterpoint to summer’s somnolence. It’s harvest time. Bins in the fresh air markets overflow with vegetables. Gardens are multicolored—scarlet tomatoes and yellow- skinned squash, deep green peppers, and onions the color of washed pearls. Orangey pumpkins peep from beneath dusty green leaves and pale yellow kernels emerge at the peeling back of the corn’s husk. It is a time of bounty, a time of storing up against the lean winter months ahead.

The individualities of summer and autumn meld in August. Fall flowers have a spicy scent that mingles with the sweetness of mid-summer blooms, and their colors intensify. Lavender becomes purple, pink deepens to mauve, pale yellow is burnished to gleaming gold. Leaves once the color of emeralds in the sun show promise now of autumn hues – vibrant red, vivid orange, glowing yellow. The birdsong, so lavish and loud in the early spring, mellows to sleepy tootles in the afternoon and flocks of birds freefall and tumble through the air, alight in the treetops for a moment of respite, then fling themselves into the air again. With the lengthening of twilight comes a deep hush, a stilling of wind and sound, until you can hear the earth breathe as it turns.

Over and over and over the seasons change, as predictable as the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon. Yet with each shift, what was new becomes old, what is old fades away, and what dies is renewed. Life is transformation, transmutation, metamorphosis. It teaches savoring and letting go slowly, and appreciation in the midst of mourning. This summer’s flowers will fade and fall, this year’s harvest will nourish and sustain, this year’s warmth will withdraw and diminish until nothing is left but a memory. Yet held in that memory is all the promise of summer to come again.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Fallen Angel

Fallen Angel Food Cake
I remember a time when my mother, then in her sixties, made a cake and it flopped. "I just can't seem to cook anymore," she sighed and I thought to myself, "Sure you can. Just get a mix and bake that." Mama would have thought it poor advice. She'd never used a mix for anything. She'd been brought up making everything from scratch. Well, it's my turn now and I can belatedly relate to how she felt.

First it was the brownies. And they were made from a mix. I followed the directions on the back of the box, baked them for the requisite amount of time, and still they had to be eaten with a spoon. My neighbor, J, with whom I shared both story and a spoon, commiserated with a story of her own. She'd whipped up a batch of waffles, heated the waffle iron, opened the lid, spooned in the batter, closed the lid, and when the steaming stopped, opened the waffle maker to discover it was the sandwich maker instead. "We called them wafliches and ate them anyway," she said.

Though we laugh at each other, there runs an undercurrent of sober worry beneath our hilarity. Is this the beginning, we wonder? It isn't just cooking failures. We mis-button our clothes, find ourselves mid-trip wondering just where our cars are taking us, waken everyone in the household at night with the crash occasioned by catching our pj bottoms on the toilet seat, and lock our keys in the car, sometimes with the car still running. (See Laughing on the Way Out, my other blog, for details.)

"Who's going to take care of us?" we often ask each other.

The latest fiasco occurred this afternoon. I'd been shopping and angel food cake mixes had been on sale. I love angel food cake, especially with fresh berries and whipped cream. I picked up some of those, too. While the cake was baking, I called J and said, "Come over in about an hour and have dessert and tea with me." She never says no.

I whistled while I whipped the cream and hulled the strawberries. The oven timer chimed. I grabbed two potholders and whisked the cake out of the oven. It hadn't risen as much as angel cakes usually do but I attributed that to the weather - it was rainy and damp. I tipped the pan to rest upside down, the way you do with angel food cake pans, when to my surprise the cake began dropping onto the counter in great chunks. I grabbed a plate to catch the rest. Meanwhile the crust of the cake hung like an empty skin from the bottom of the pan insert. I peeled it off and draped it over the chunks. By this time I was gasping for breath. All alone in my little kitchen I hooted and howled, hoping I'd have control of myself before J got there.

When she opened the door, she paused. On her face was a mixture of surprise, dismay, amusement and... recognition. Then, "OMG! Who's going to take care of us?"

We fell about laughing. And of course, we had to try the cake. After all, there were berries and whipped cream. They'd help disguise what looked and felt like a pile of blanched silly putty. While we ate, we traded stories of food failures when we were young wives - the well-pricked but unbaked pie crust that let all the custard seep to the bottom of the pan while the crust rose sluggishly to the top, the tuna noodle casserole without the tuna, the minute steaks cooked for the same length of time as the boiled potatoes. J looked at me. "Do you suppose," she asked, "that we've been failures all along and we're only now realizing it?"

I sure hope so!

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Offering

Outside my door grows a lilac
planted 86 years ago,
a venerable tree, gnarled with age,
leaning so close to the ground
that it would lie flat
if it were not propped up by sticks.
Every year it blooms.
It puts out leaves and blossoms,
fewer and fewer each spring
but still, there they are,
green and purple, soft and scented,
and I cannot bear the thought,
a thought that comes each time I
look at it, that I must cut down the old tree,
give the new young shoots
that have sprung up from the mother root
a chance of their own to grow up
and out and old.

Maybe next year, I think. Or maybe
in ten years, when I will be 80.
Maybe then the tree and I will
accept the changes age demands.
Now, in the pale spring sunshine,
the new leaves unfurl, the tight buds
set last autumn expand.
Like an old woman who once was
lush and ripe and beautiful,
the tree, remembering, offers

what remains—