Monday, November 21, 2016

What I Know

All that is uncertain beneath our feet,
all that we assume is bedrock—
an unshakeable foundation—
is really hope,
nebulous, alluring, beguiling hope.

Hope that somewhere in all the wrong
there is right,
in all that is terrifying
there is a moment of peace,
that the possibility of beauty
lies in every eye that beholds.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

My Aching Heart

A Dark Time

This is not the first time the fabric of my family has been ruptured by politics. The American revolution pitted a 7th great uncle against his own great nephew. The uncle fought on the side of the Patriots, his great nephew joined a British regiment in Canada. Mid-way through the strife, the nephew's family was driven from their New York home, their property was seized, and they fled, wife and several small children, to Canada to join the Loyalists.

During the Civil War some of my ancestors fought for the North. General James Longstreet, a third cousin 5x removed, fought for the South. I remember reading of families torn apart in that war by allegiances and wondered how that could be. Wasn't the love between family members strong enough to overcome different political viewpoints? I was sure my own would be.

I grew up with a Republican father and a mother active in the Democratic party. I registered as an Independent as soon as I was old enough to vote. In the 60s and 70s I was for desegregation and against the Vietnam War. (My father and I simply could not see eye to eye on my pacifist vs his militaristic viewpoint and had to agree to not talk politics with one another if we were going to continue to talk with one another at all.) Familial love won out; we refused to argue over presidents and policies and were able to love one another despite our differences.

Come Wednesday morning, November 9, 2016, however, I had to face the fact that maybe love alone isn't enough to maintain a relationship. It isn't that the love is extinguished, not if it's the kind that ties heart to heart despite differences. That love may be sorely tested, as was mine and my father's. But respect, an integral part of any relationship, and acceptance, essential for any lasting connection, can be overridden by disbelief and an inability to comprehend the justifications of another.

So I wake every morning now with a stomach ache and a feeling of dread that puzzles me until I am fully awake and remember, oh yeah, Trump has been elected and some of my friends and relatives voted for him. Some of them are Hilary haters, but no matter how they justify their vote, I can't help but wonder, does that mean they approve of Trump's behavior? Of his lying and cheating both in his private and working life (and his evident pride in that), his lack of morals, his verbal attacks on people of color, or those with disabilities, people of the LGBTQ communities, or those whose religion doesn't match his? Do they think his cavalier attitude toward women is acceptable? Or the fact that he brags about the loopholes he used to not pay his taxes? Does the violence that he subtly encourages not bother them? How about his ties to too-big-to-fail banks and moneyed insiders or the people he choses to surround himself with? If they don't necessarily approve, does that mean they are willing to overlook these things? 

I don't know how to reconcile my rejection of everything Trump stands for with their acceptance of it. "What about Hilary?" they ask. "What about her corruption?" I tell them I can repudiate Trump's behavior without approving Clinton's. "I could not, in all good conscience, vote for that woman," they tell me. Where was that good conscience when it came to Trump? 

I don't like the feeling of divide that I sense between us. I hate thinking that I didn't see the latent racism, the hidden bigotry and xenophobia, the intolerance, or that if I did, I excused it with an oh-everyone-is-entitled-to-their own-opinion insouciance. I'm sorry I didn't ask more questions or listen more intently. It breaks my heart to see friends and family pitted against each other. I hope, but I'm not positive, that love will triumph.


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.