Saturday, June 29, 2013
Every summer when I was a child, a gray catbird made her nest in the lilac bush that grew near the house. In the early evenings after dinner, my mother would sit on a lounge chair on the screened porch with a book and a tall glass of lemonade and she and the catbird would carry on a conversation.
Belonging to the mockingbird family, gray catbirds make a variety of sounds; the most distinctive is a sharp, catlike meow, easily imitated. For several minutes, Mama and the catbird would amuse themselves by meowing to one another. Finally the bird would break into a complicated song and my mother would give up, laughing.
I've since then associated catbirds with my mother. After Mama's death on a chilly October day, long after all the songbirds had departed, I sat in the yard of my childhood home, thinking of her, missing her. A persistent sound made me look up and there on the nearly leafless lilac bush sat a lone catbird. She called out several times before taking flight. "Mama?" I called after the bird, but there was no answer.
A few years ago, on Mother's Day, I was idly lounging on my board swing, reliving the wonderful day I'd just spent with my daughter and her new little family when a catbird flew to the branch just in front of me and began to sing. I simply sat and stared as the bird serenaded me. Then with a harsh meow it flew off into the underbrush. "Mama?" I called after it? There was no answer, but it seemed possible.
Tonight I was reading in my screened tent when I heard a catbird. She was perched on the top of the far clothesline pole. Meow, she screeched, over and over. "What?" I asked her? She hopped to the near pole, still calling. "Meow," I called back. "Is that you, Mama?"
The little bird became agitated. She flew to the side of the tent and clung to the pole. She dropped to the ground and peered in at me. She flew to the lilac bush that grows near the front door of my cottage, calling the whole time. Finally she darted into the small maple behind the tent and sang her mockingbird song, a string of rapidly ascending and descending notes. I gave up, laughing. Do I still think it's Mama? You bet!
photo by robinsegg at http://www.allaboutbirds.org
A folded orange secret
Pried open by the sun,
A single day of glory
Allowed but just one story,
Told until the day is done.
A folded orange secret
Be sure you listen close.
Don’t miss the story hour
Of a hundred orange flowers
Muted by the setting sun.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Tonight the wind came
sweeping down from
the stars to stir
that whispered at first,
then all in a rush,
together, dancing wildly,
bowing first one way,
then the other,
on their bendy branches.
Wind can’t stay,
wanderer that it is.
The leaves sighed
and were still.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Words overlay thoughts
Until the map of my life
Is a dual cosmology
A study in parallels
Blue lines for all the ideas
From which the red lines veer
Covered with imaginary footprints
Until I walk
Literally and figuratively
Off the edge.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
My first memory of my father is a visual one. I am a toddler and I am sitting on the floor behind the brown chair in the living room. Before me are two polished black shoes and two very long legs clad in khaki. Those long legs would often make a bridge between Dad’s favorite green chair and its matching hassock and we children would try to crawl under him without being caught. It was a favorite after-dinner game.
Dad raised chickens for a living. In the army he’d been responsible for training the carrier pigeons that flew messages from platoon to platoon. His peacetime job involved several hundred chickens, a brooder house, a long hen run, and a slaughter shed where he killed and dressed the birds for market. The farm was lost first to a flood that left hundreds of carcasses across the yard and garden. Dad restocked, only to learn the chickens were diseased and this second setback cost him the farm.
The years that followed were difficult. There were four children to feed and a mountain of debt. For a while, Dad worked the night shift at a lime kiln. By day, we children had to be very quiet so as not to waken him while he slept away the sunny morning hours. We spent a lot of time in the abandoned chicken houses, running races down the long hen run or roller-skating on the cement floor of the brooder house. On weekends and sometimes after school, Dad took my brother and me hunting. We ate whatever was in season—rabbit, duck, partridge, grouse, venison. He loved to fish as well as hunt and fishing season often found us knee deep in some cold stream, angling for a few trout for dinner. We never went hungry.
In the 1950s, Dad went to work for the Post Office as a rural route carrier. Before the law was passed that would not allow a mailman to carry passengers in his car, we sometimes rode with him, helping to deliver phone books or shovel snow from mailboxes. Dad was good at his job. He liked people and never passed up a chance to be helpful, often delivering messages and meals to shut-ins. The people on his route paid him in kind. Every Christmas, he would come home with dozens of gifts from grateful patrons.
Dad wasn’t much of a gardener, preferring ball games and evenings with his friends to digging in the dirt. Still, every spring he worked with my mother to plant tomatoes and peas, squash and cucumbers, and long rows of string beans. Sometimes he and I would take the big dishpan, fill it with bright green pea pods, then sit together under the maple tree to shell them for dinner. We would hunt for morels in May, gathering hands full to sauté in garlic and butter. He knew where every stalk of wild asparagus grew.
We owned an old push mower and summer evenings would find him cutting the lawns. I loved to follow along behind him, watching the grass fly from the whirring, clattering blades. When the chores were done, he and my mother would play baseball with us on the front lawn. Using trees and doorsteps for bases, we hit and ran, yelling and laughing until it was too dark to see the ball.
Years after marrying and moving away, and years after my father died, I moved back to the old family homestead. I worked in the garden, remembering those long ago days when Dad and I planted vegetables together. I followed in his footsteps as I mowed the lawn or searched for wild asparagus along the roadsides. Often just at dusk, when the fireflies began to twinkle and the last of the light was fading, I thought I could hear him calling me to come in. His presence was just a memory but it is a memory that pervades the very fiber of my being.
Monday, June 10, 2013
No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instance. Take peace!
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy!
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty . . .
that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.
Courage then to claim it, that is all! . . .Fra Giovanni
|One of my eldest son's hundreds of sunset photos.|
This present little instance - it's all we really have, isn't it? This instant, with the rain falling softly on my head while I remove soiled sheep bedding from the pen to mulch my growing vegetable plants. This moment, as I listen to the bell-shake song of the fretful little house wren; duck as the anxious barn swallows swoop close over my head, warning me away from their nest with sharp cries; trudge through the now steady rain with my loaded cart, thinking ahead to warm, dry clothes and a mug of hot tea when my chore is done.
I am not sure I believe earth obscures my heaven. I would more readily say that my attitude about earthly doings, specifically human doings, threatens my joy. As for meaning and purpose, I think we supply our own and that muddies our innate urge to understand and accept what is true - that we are merely part, not the end-all, be-all, of the vast and unknowable universe. Actually, thinking that makes me feel far safer and happier than assuming, even for a millisecond, that I am more important than any other being or thing on this earth.
The mulching, the rain on my head and shoulders, the hot tea and dry clothes are in my immediate past now. Look how quickly those moments were lived and yet, I know when I look back on my day as I lie waiting for sleep, I will think what a long, quiet, peaceful time it was. I don't believe we waste moments by being idle, by filling them with gentle thought rather than frenetic activity. Activity suggests a purpose, yes, but if one's purpose is to cherish each moment, there must be that delicate balance between doing and being.
My next bit of doing is to re-hang the family photo gallery I removed so that I could paint my bedroom wall. I've grown accustomed to saying goodnight to my children and grandchildren as my gaze wanders over those beloved faces. Knowing they love me too spreads peacefulness over me like a quilt.
Saturday, June 08, 2013
Written to the prompts of "letter" and "starlight".
Letter to Starlight and You
There is a certain shade of blue
that belongs to dusk,
that draws my eyes to the window,
that draws me out the door,
a softening of the hard line
where earth meets sky
so that I can see past the horizon
into everlasting space,
the space where you are
now that I can’t see you.
If the sky were a map
you’d be here, just above the line
where tree and air intersect,
a red pin marking the exact spot
where I saw you last,
bed-bound and bruised, breathing
one more and one more and one last
The sky was dusky that night, too,
headed toward black, and we two headed
in different directions; you to an unknown
destination and I to home, where
out my window, I watched the stars
blink into view.