Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sensory Excursion and An Asterisk Experiment

Sunday writing with my writing friend - the prompt was to take a sensory excursion outside my window, then randomly place asterisks (without rereading the text or being too precise) and turn those designated lines into metaphors that had to do with my life. Here's what happened:

Experiment With Metaphors

Sensory Excursion with asterisks

Rain fell in the night, wetting the patio stones, washing the dusty colored leaves of the forsythia and the lilac. The air is damp and cool and pungent. *Everywhere flowers that just a few weeks ago were vibrant and healthy are losing their petals, exposing their bones. The tall yellow centers of the rudbeckia, the brownish stamens of the phlox, the pale pink hips of roses add small, quiet pulses of color to a garden otherwise devoid of all hues but tired green. You can almost see the brightness of summer draining away. The giant maples are turning to shades of yellow and orange and rusty red. *The songbirds are gathering and headed south – already the mornings are silent save for the crow and the strident jay. An early flock of geese passed overhead last evening and splashed down on the pond, disturbing the ducks and claiming the water as their own. Milkweed pods are bursting at the edges of meadows and along the roadside. Bright yellow finches tear at thistle fluff and the *catbirds cry farewell from the branches of the walnut tree.

I have pulled the withering cucumber plants, the leggy tomato vines and the faded bean plants from their beds. The*compost heap grows large, the garden beds lie blank and exposed, the chives, though still green and flavorful bend toward the ground as if too weary to stand tall another minute. Late bearing raspberries glow bright pink under yellowing leaves. The air smells slightly of wood smoke and decay. The guinea hens from the farm next door lurch across the lawn, mining the grass for bugs. They talk to each other as they go, their voices like squeaky springs. A* soft grey sky hangs low over the horizon. The sun may come back before the day is over but it will be a cooler light, a more distant star than in weeks past. It will sparkle on the drops that cling to the grass before fading into dusk and dark.

Everywhere flowers that just a few weeks ago were vibrant and healthy are losing their petals, exposing their bones.

My senses are flower petals, fading and dropping to the ground to lie wasted and mourned. Sight fades, hearing, tasting, smelling fall away one by one, leaving only the stalk of me, a blossom stripped bare of its youth and beauty.

The songbirds are gathering and headed south – already the mornings are silent save for the crow and the strident jay.

The autumn of me - that internal space where transition occurs - holds the absence of sound, the stillness of a pause, the twin feelings of anticipation and regret that accompany change. My thoughts are songbirds headed south.

catbirds cry farewell from the branches of the walnut tree

I am the catbird that cries farewell from the walnut branch, the bird of summer readying for a long journey, preening my feathers for flight, knowing the winter of my life is bearing down from the cold north, recognizing the possibility that I may not return the following year

The compost heap grows large, the garden beds lie blank and exposed, the chives, though still green and flavorful bend toward the ground as if too weary to stand tall another minute

When all is said and done, I am a garden bed and nothing more, plowed and harrowed and raked over, planted, weeded, harvested by my own hand and the hands of other gardeners, finally stripped of all that I produced in a lifetime and laid to rest in the dark and cold.

A soft grey sky hangs low over the horizon

And if I am a garden on the earth, I am also a bit of wind-blown cloud in the sky, hovering at the horizon, hoping for a glimpse of my former home, waiting for my chance to be rain, to nourish again all I loved while I was earth.

Monday, September 08, 2014


Life is lived in moments that coalesce, becoming days, years, phases. Sometimes we go through our moments so carelessly that when we look back on them we can't recall the details. Sometimes we pay such close attention to the minutiae that when we recall the past, we only remember the smallest of specifics. My school years combined both kinds of attention. I can recall exact moments - the time in 4th grade that Eddie and I closed a desktop down on Susie's head, for example, and got caught, although only Eddie's hand was on the desk and only he got spanked. I can still recall the look of horror on the teacher's face, the look of interest on Eddie's, and feel again the rise of hot guilt in my own chest. On the other hand, graduation day fifty years ago is still hazy. I don't remember marching up to the stage to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance. I don't remember having my diploma put in my hand. I can't recall the receiving line outside afterwards and have only the vaguest memory of the dress I wore beneath my gown.

This past weekend what remains of the Class of '64 held a 50th reunion at a local park. Already 11 classmates have passed away and of the 57 remaining only 23 of us attended  the event. But we were a jolly bunch as we cracked open lobsters brought down from Maine, gobbled sweet, local corn on the cob, hamburgers and dogs and chicken wings, homemade potato salad and cole slaw, finishing it all with watermelon and blonde brownies and thick, chewy molasses cookies. We wore snapshots of our yearbook photos as name tags and joked at how little (or how much) we had changed. At every table the word remember prefaced a conversation about some aspect of our high school years together, or remembrances of the war in Vietnam where so many of our classmates faced unforgettable horrors. All day, my perceptions kept switching from the detailed - the sound of Holly's laugh, the same intense greenness of Cindy's eyes, the timbre of Seth's voice, how tall Jack still was - to the overall: the concentrated buzz of dozens of simultaneous conversations, the outbursts of laughter, the recognition of old friends mixed with non-recognition - we've all become something we weren't back in 1964. 

Mid-way through the day our organizer-in-chief, JT, stood to make some remarks. "Looking back," he began, "I tried to think of one thing - one characteristic - that would define our years together in high school. I don’t know if it is common at other institutions of higher learning, but I think that our defining attribute has to be “cruising the halls” before class." This brought a great shout of laughter and a flashback memory of sharing tidbits of gossip or confidences with Sue or Katy or Marlene or Patty, our heads close, our voices a murmur as we walked the halls in twos or threes with a hundred other students for ten or fifteen minutes before the first bell.

"And then there were the notes," JT continued. "These presaged texting and were about as useful. Notes were the forbidden fruit of friendship, passed along with the thought that they were never to be shared. But, like the internet today, secret information didn’t always stay secret and some notes went viral." I leaned over and said to Sue, "I still have some of those notes!" and I do, stashed away in a keepsake book, notes from a certain boy and others slipped surreptitiously from hand to hand during class or tucked in a pocket as we filed out the door. I clearly remember when two note passers got caught and one of them had to approach the front of the room and read the note aloud. Viral all right!

I spent some time with a man with whom I'd shared an apartment and a life but hadn't seen or spoken to since we'd parted painfully nearly 14 years ago. We forged a truce, agreeing to start from now with no expectations or promises. We both realized that the time we have left to be happy is limited; there is no room now for futile anger or hurt feelings or recriminations. In fact, there never should be time for those things but when you're young you don't see it that way. Everything is important then; now, I realize, kindness and an open heart and a sense of one's real self are important - details that make sense of the overall haze. JT's summing up quote summed up this discovery: "In the words of an old Scottish toast: Here’s tae us, and wha’s like us. Damn few, and they’re all a’dyin’, Mair’s the pity!

In some ways it was a very strange day. I'd known a good many of these people my whole life, though I hadn't seen some in years and years. We shared a childhood of classrooms and hallways, ate our noon meal together five days a week for decades, received the same teachings, followed the same rules - and yet we were all SO different. And they had changed in ways I hadn't imagined (well, some of them) and so have I. A lifetime of memories, distilled into three hours of an afternoon.