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.