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.


Mother

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—


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday morning prompt - write to this quote:

"Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it.
He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it.
He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colors of the dawn and dusk."   ~N. Scott Momaday


I spent my childhood
in love with home—
with the gold/emerald grasses that knelt under my feet
and stood again after I passed,
with the spring flowers in my mother’s garden,
violets, lily of the valley, daffodils,
their breath sweet, their faces washed in sunshine,
and later, the fairy roses that climbed the fence
and hobnobbed with the first cut hay;


with the rough rocks that lined the banks
of the small brook that cut a path
through barbed and tangled berry bushes,
ripe with bee-spun fruit;
with the bent branches of an old apple tree
I climbed on, pretending I was astride a unicorn;
with the dirt road that, once tarred over,
led me past neighboring farmland, past deep woods
where I would prowl, looking for signs of bear
or wild Indians, half Indian myself, walking toe first
through the crackling underbrush;


with the staccato tap of rain on leaves
the warm, green-brown scent of wet earth
and great equinoctial storms
that presaged the change of seasons;
with my small, cross-legged self,
small among the cornstalks,
watching a chipmunk forage for kernals,
and once, a stately antlered buck watching me;


with the drift and spin of painted leaves,
touched by the brush of frost
and the tented webs that glimmered
red and blue and glittering silver on September lawns;
with the first snowflakes whispering on a chill wind
with knee-deep drifts, and sleds,
and green Christmas mittens, up-turned collars
and scratchy scarves, snowpants that swished,
galoshes with frozen buckles that finally yielded
to small, determined, snow-frozen fingers;
with March winds that rattled the old wooden shutters,
blew snow that piled in small drifts
on the window sills and etched icy ferns on the panes;


with the return of robins, blue eggs huddled in a nest
I could spy on from the upstairs window,
finding great comfort in the way
the parent birds looked after their young
until, at last, the babies flew.













Sunday, February 07, 2016


This has been a fairly snow-less winter so far. One Sunday morning writing prompt, however, dealt with the white stuff. Here's the result.

Write 12 ways of looking at snow.

One
an arbitrator between autumn and spring
keeping storm scores and stats on plummeting temperatures

Two
a cat burglar sneaking in on a passing cold front,
stealing color, hiding the tricycle and the dog’s dish,
disguising the starkness of trees with fluff,
covering its tracks as it leaves

Three
a bully, sweeping in on a fierce wind,
a white fury casting cold spells,
spinning and dancing like a colorless gypsy
tapping its tambourine fingers against the window panes

Four
A blanket of silence covering sky and earth,
flung out and floating down silently
in heaps and wrinkles

Five
an ice challenge, wicked, cold, and inhospitable,
hard as rock, unyielding even to the distant sun

Six
a nightmare like a thief in the night
stealing the familiar, leaving an expanse of
nothingness where light was

Seven
a gossamer dream, a fairy tale, a story of
eternal cold dressed in ermine, of diamond faceted jewels
that glitter under a pale moon

Eight
a blustery uncle, all noise and fake promises
who rushes in, pulls out his watch, and says, “I must hurry,”
as he dashes off

Nine
a lingering guest, one who arrives unexpectedly, expects a
room and food, languishes on the sofa with a hand to her head,
her scarf trailing across the roads and fields and tangling
in the branches of the trees

Ten
an artist with a monochromatic palette, painting with broad strokes

Eleven
an eraser, an impenetrable veil, a swirl of opaque white, a myriad of genies
escaped and coalesced, their arms and bodies so entwined that no light
pierces their white shadows

Twelve
a silence so profound one can hear only his own heartbeat counting the seconds,
his own blood swishing to the same tempo of snowflakes falling on his sleeve




Monday, December 07, 2015

Morning Report From My Western Window


There is a window in my bedroom wall that faces west through which, when I am inside looking out, I can see the rise of a mountain, its flanks like bits of blue paint splashed between the trees that grow close to the house. At this time of year, late autumn, the ground is papered brown with fallen leaves and every branch and twig is gilded by the early morning sunlight. Through bare branches I can even glimpse the pond across the road where geese are gathering by the hundreds to plan their journey south. A gray squirrel scampers in the leaves, a cardinal flaunts its jeweled feathers, a chickadee pipes a morning tune. All that I see is natural – birds, water, trees, mountain, sky. I’ve made none of these, own none of them. They frame my day, I move among them. They are what’s outside that window. They don’t come in.


Ah, but I can go out. I can gaze into my house from the other side of that window and see what the trees, the squirrel, the birds might see if they cared to look in. Should it be a surprise that the first thing I notice in that window is me, looking back at me? There I stand, reflected, surrounded by sunlit trunks, gazing into my own eyes. Only when I change my focus can I see the room I’ve left, the walls beyond reflection, the window in the east wall, my computer where I’ll record all this, the wall of book-crowded shelves, the ceramic turkey I’ve forgotten to replace with something more Christmasy. I notice that from the outside my window looks dark, the result of all that’s reflected in the glass while from the inside, the window looks quite clear and bright. I can see out far better than I can see in, but when I step close to the window and shade my eyes with my hands there is my room, my things, what I’ve made and what I own, what I am, really, reflected in things.