Monday, November 05, 2018

When the Geese Go

Written on a blue paper sky,
late autumn sentences spelled out with twigs,
punctuated by small, black birds.

A sketch of leafless trees,
colored pencil straight,
lined up in shades of gray and brown.

Tales of a winter hillside,
an ice-skimmed pond,
geese listening for their cue

to close the book,
leaving silence and snow

Sunday, July 01, 2018

I Wish I'd Said That!

   "What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are."
   I've said something to that effect, using similar words when trying to explain to my children and grandchildren why they shouldn't be too hurt by other's opinions. C.S. Lewis said it first though, when he wrote these lines in The Magician's Nephew.
   He's right, of course. The bigger implication behind the words is that we all hear and see exactly what we allow ourselves to and everything we experience is funneled through the self. We find that out, often painfully, when we try to tell someone else what to do, how to live, how wrong they are, or worse yet, when someone tries to tell us.
   I wish I'd said, "Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything," but Billy Graham beat me to it, and "Revenge has no more quenching effect on emotions than salt water has on thirst." Newsweek quoted Walter Weckler on that one. A fellow named Malcolm Hein said, "There is little room left for wisdom when one is full of judgment." Just think how many arguments could be avoided if we all remembered that one.
   In Life's Little Instruction Book, H. Jackson Brown, Jr. admonishes us to "Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures." I tried it this morning. I watched the sun rise over the treetops and wondered about life's pulses and rhythms, puzzled over the concept of space and time. Then I held one small, round, plump blueberry in my hand and marveled at its perfection, its uniqueness, knowing that it was only one out of millions of existing blueberries and it was there in my hand, in my mouth, tasting exquisitely sweet and delicate. It was such a little thing, but to have not noticed would have been an injustice.
   W. Somerset Maugham said,"It's a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it." And Issac Asimov said, "It's been my philosophy of life that difficulties vanish when faced boldly." I've thought these things, I've even tried putting them into practice, but "Middleness is the very enemy of the bold," said Charles Krauthammer, as though he knows me well.
   While Mama said there'd be days like this, Roger C Anderson said, "Accept that some days you're the pigeon and some days you're the statue." I really wish I'd said that! And John Steinbeck, in his book East of Eden, summed up a bad day this way - "Lord, how the day passes! It's like a life - so quickly when we don't watch it and so slowly if we do." I think of those words whenever I'm stuck somewhere and toying with the idea of giving in to boredom.
   "We learn only when it is too late that the marvel is the passing moment," warns Francois Mitterand. If only we took the time to realize it, when examined, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. And, states Art Buchwald, "The best things in life aren't things." They aren't free, either. There's always a price. Price doesn't translate into burden, however, unless we are unwilling to pay it.
   The thing I most wish I'd said first is what Robert Frost said about our existence: "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life. It goes on."

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Getting This Off My Chest

There are times when I wish I had faith in something other than the persistence of life itself. I was raised in the Catholic faith and, as a small child, listened intently to all I was told by my mother and the nuns who taught our summer school. Some of it didn’t make sense. Some of the beliefs I was adjured to accept (God is good; God cares about humans more than other life forms, giving us dominion over them; God will save, rescue, support humans from evil, especially US citizens; that my soul was in serious jeopardy if I attended a service in a non-Catholic church) flew in the face of my experience. I clearly remember being excited when I was told that, as I prepared for my first communion, I had reached the age of reason. I took that to mean some of my more pressing questions – those surrounding the efficacy of prayer, the virgin birth, limbo and purgatory, who determined what was good or evil, who was eligible for heaven and hell – would be answered. I was sorely disappointed. The more I questioned, the more evasive the answers became until I decided for myself that most of what I was told was simply made up. Despite, or maybe because of, college classes in religious history, world history, world literature, and psychology, as well as exhaustive reading over the last six decades, that hypothesis still stands.

It is my belief, in this dichotomous world, that man falls prey to being divided in makeup, embodying some of both male and female, intelligence and blindness, good and evil. Morals? Up to us. Belief systems? Up to us. Determination of good and evil? Up to us. I no longer imagine a being that gives two fig leaves about what humans do. We are simply part of a system that continues both with us and in spite of us, an ever-changing system that places no more importance on human activity than it does on any other natural process. It is both a freeing and a frightening train of thought, but it places responsibility exactly where it belongs – on us.

That said, in the current world political situation, part of me longs to believe in a Jesus figure, a man so imbued with zeal that he still has an effect on mankind some 2000 years after his death. I want to cherry-pick Bible selections, make a super-hero of the man who in Matthew 21:12 overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove them off with admirable wrath and a whip. I would send him to the Mexican border and put him in charge. I’d pray him off to Syria, to Yemen, to Russia, to the White House with his cleansing ardor. And in the best of all possible worlds every mother who ever loved her child would follow with me behind him, afraid but strong, gathering the children, reuniting them with their families, holding the orphans, feeding the starving, comforting the bereaved. It’s man’s inhumanity to man that most influences my belief that it is us, we humans, who simultaneously hold the happiness and sorrow of the world in our hands, our minds, our hearts.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Because of Them

Mother's Day is coming up. I wrote this years ago when I was a newspaper columnist. It's all still true today!


Brendan, my first-born, arrived on father’s Day – an appropriate gift. He was a tiny, pink, frowning replica of his father. His head was covered with a thatch of golden curls and his blue eyes had the intensity of a summer sky. He would gaze at me so long and questioningly as he nursed that I would have to look away or cry. I loved him wildly. I still do.

He was an inquisitive child, and a happy one until the first day of school. I opened the front door at mid-morning to find him crying on the doorstep. He had walked the mile home from school at recess. His teacher called in a panic when she couldn’t find him. As I walked him back to school, he solemnly explained to me, “Six hours is far too long for a      child my age to be away from his mother.” No kidding.

When he was seven, I put him on the bus to Boston with a chum from school. They were going to visit the friend’s grandfather and Bren was beside himself with excitement. I was beside myself with worry. In his suitcase I packed Sammy Sock, his favorite toy, thinking that it would help him be less homesick if he had something familiar with him. When he came home two days later, he confided that he had been having a wonderful time until he opened his suitcase to get his pajamas. Seeing Sammy made him so homesick he couldn’t sleep. It was an important lesson – never presume your child feels the way you do.

As Bren grew, he seemed to stretch. Always thin, he soon towered over me like a young sapling. I remember a day I was scolding him over some trivial thing. He looked down fondly on my upturned frown and said, “What did you say, Shorty?”
Incensed, I dragged a chair over and stood on it, forcing him to look up at me. The absurdity of it struck us both at the same time and we collapsed in a giggling heap.

My second son was born a year and a day after his brother. For the first two days of his lfe he was known as Baby because his dad and I couldn’t agree on a name. Finally in desperation I began reading aloud from What to Name Your Baby. When I got to Kenneth, I looked down at baby. He looked back and gave me a ghost of a smile. I didn’t care what we called him as long as I got to keep him. I loved him wildly. I still do.

Ken was a rugged little boy with a mop of yellow curls and a mischievous grin. He liked to move fast and climb high. When he was two I went into the kitchen one morning to find him sitting Buddha-like on top of the refrigerator. When he was five, a neighbor called in a dither because she’d seen him climbing among the branches of a huge pine in her front yard. I strolled over to fetch him.

“Hi Mom,” he called from his hiding place twenty feet up.

When he was old enough to get his driver’s license his standard excuse for a speeding ticket was, “But my car just goes too fast.”

Jennifer was born two months after Ken’s first birthday. Her hair was as soft as swan’s down, her eyes the color of violets. Her brothers adored her. I loved her wildly. I still do.
She was enchanting – a butterfly child who sang to herself every morning while waiting to be lifted from her crib. One Christmas, my mother came to spend the holiday with us. She brought a miniature Christmas tree trimmed with blinking lights for the kids’ room. Before going to bed she plugged the cord into the socket. She woke to find Jennifer sitting on the foot of her bed, watching the lights blink on and off, on and off.  “Isn’t it pretty, isn’t it nice?” piped Jen. We still say that when entranced by some unexpected beauty.

Jen loved being center stage. “Watch me dance!” she  cried at age seven., pirouetting around the dance studio. “Watch me twirl!” she sang at twelve, throwing her baton high in the air. “Watch me do cartwheels!” she yelled from center field during half time. “Hear me sing!” she crooned, standing in from of a microphone at her high school graduation. Where did this extrovert come from, I wondered.

Cassie, the caboose baby, was as sturdy as Jen was elfin. She had the same golden hair and wide blue eyes as her siblings, and a deep, throaty chuckle. The day she was born, my father stood over her examining her fingers and toes. “Look,” he said, “at her perfect little fingernails, her perfect little feet. Every time, it’s a miracle.” I loved her wildly. I still do.

“Don’t see me Mommy,” was her favorite admonition growing up. She was an intensely private and self-reliant child. “Born old,” people said of her and it was true. She seemed to possess some ancient wisdom that gave her an enviable self-assurance. When she was thirteen, I put her on an airplane flight from Vermont to California where she was to meet my sister. From there they would fly down under, spending the summer backpacking through Australia and New Zealand. I got dizzy every time I imagined the soles of her feet meeting mine from the other side of the earth. “Dear Mom,” one bloodstained letter began. “I can write now that my cuts are almost healed…” Of the two of us, she was (and is) the one with admirable aplomb.

Because of them my life is enriched beyond measure. I loved them wildly. I still do.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

From a Sunday Morning Write With a Friend

Every Sunday morning a writing friend and I connect via telephone. She suggests a prompt, or I do, and we spend an hour composing poetry and prose. This is what came of this rainy morning's collaboration.

Chorus Line

rain, slipping down
from a colorless sky,

lines its drops
along a branch—

one, three, six,

a chorus line
waiting to perform;

two hydrogen,
one oxygen,

bringing their own light,
their own music,

they wobble, quiver,

the reflections of
everything around them

changing as they fall;
now gray sky,

now crenellated trunk,
now green blades

pushing up from
the thirsty earth.

One Sentence Poem

Compose a poem using these words: molecule, zig-zag, shoestring, calico, quiet, tree

Do molecules follow a zig-zag path
or do they stretch themselves out
like the trunk of a tree,
like a shoestring, a quiet line,
like the thread in a calico quilt
holding everything together?

Friday, March 30, 2018


First hepatica at the Cobble - like little ragamuffin children bursting out of their dark, winter-weary houses into the sunlight, clad only in raggedy leaf dresses with flowers in their hair.

There's an open space preserve nearby named Bartholomew's Cobble where I often go to hike, especially now when warmer weather brings snow melt and the forest floor wakes up. Spring is the season of littles - all those baby plants! One of my favorite first flowers is the blunt lobed hepatica (see above).

Hepatica at the Cobble

The merest hint
of spring brings them out
like small children bursting
from a winter-weary house.
Out of the dark into the light
wearing only leaf scraps
for clothing and flower petals 
round their heads,
they clamber over rocks
and peer down the wooded hillsides
to the wandering river
or lean back to stare, yellow-eyed
at the blue bowl of sky.
How such a small, green, growing thing
can move the weighted earth,
how blooms so delicate, so barely visible,
can reach and swell the human heart,
is one of the world's
happiest miracles.

If I stand still on the Cobble path and close my eyes, what comes first are not images, but sounds - the plaintive two note song of the chickadee and the harsher call of the phoebe, the whisper of disturbed leaves, the crackle of twigs underfoot, the sigh of the wind through the hemlock and cedars, the scritching of windblown oak leaves, the startled honk of a goose and a great flapping of feathers

The sun hugs my shoulders, the breeze pats my cheek. Eyes open now, I see a splash of brilliant green moss, the small spirals and whorls of fuzzy stems, leaves lifting to the sun. Such small things growing under the giant trees. The wind whirls like a child at play, then hunkers down to blow at a leaf. 

I stop to break the fragile ice that has shrunk to the size of a dinner plate in the middle of a puddle. The sweet, fertile scent of mud, of the earth waked from its winter sleep, fills me with elation.

I could look for spring in the curled 
leaf bud of the lilac bush
in the happy morning sunlight or
the kissing warmth of the southern wind
Maybe it's in the cardinal's love song'
or in the mad swirl of starlings
streaming from the treetops
or even the delighted burble of
a road side stream
I could poke under last year's leaf mulch
for this year's bloodroot
or kick the gritty snowbank into
a thousand glistening fragments
but I think I will simply go to the edge of
the road where the mud lives and
breathe deep