Blue season

Today I am not driving along the backroads and byways to work, for that work is over and done for a season. There are a number of things I will and won’t miss but this morning I am thinking only of the drive. It has taught me much about noticing. And composition. Twenty minutes of travel in the countryside imprints images in my mind; I study them over and over.

For one thing, as I watched the verdant lushness of grass and trees deepen and the crops in the field bursting forth in their furrows, I thought about spring being the season of green. But not only green. Besides the blossoming and blooming of pinks, yellows, and whites, there’s the flash of fiery cardinal red, the dusting of robin-breast orange, the electric pop of the bluebird, the soft, quivering brown of Rabbit. It’s all poetry to me. Stirring a nameless longing. Maybe just for life itself.

Robert Frost comes to mind:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

And then I contemplate how green is really a combination of two colors, yellow and blue. If nothing gold can stay, that leaves…blue.

Which is so utterly fitting, as nearly every morning on my drive to work this spring I’ve been awed by the sight of a great blue heron in a pond. I pass three ponds, actually, and in two there’ve been herons. I have learned to look for them and there they are. Standing tall, serene, peaceful, almost elegiac. Once a pair of them flew across the road ahead of me. Dazzling. Somewhere in the brush I know there’s a nest with baby blue herons. In all my life, I cannot recall even glimpsing great blue herons. This is the birdiest spring I have ever known.

The herons are part of me now, and I think on the layers of meaning. Typically self-reliance, self-determination, progress… these seem surface level, like the color green. There’s more than meets the eye. There’s blue, a color I don’t usually associate with this season. Now I do. As I play with blue in my mind, it carries me to shadows, a time of day when the golden hours are transitioning to evening, and a fleeting memory of youth. A time of preparation, maybe going to dinner, gathering with friends, celebrating… all this, flickering and cool like tree-shadows when the day is nearly done and the blue hour descends. Again, a nameless longing. A heron in a pond.

I have had a hard time writing during these last weeks of school. Partly due to demands on my time. And physical limitations. And my psyche. But none of these are the blue longing.

Nature knows infinitely more than I about creating…and that is the pull, for nothing gold can stay.

Here’s to the blue season.

“Creativity is the Blue Heron within us waiting to fly; through her imagination, all things become possible.”

—Nadia Janice Brown

Photo: Great Blue Heron on the Coast of Texas, McFaddin Beach. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. CC BY 2.0

Hog-ku

Ordinary day
except for the feral hog
strolling through the yard

We’ve seen a lot of critters throughout our years of living in the countryside, but this is the first wild pig, enjoying a Sunday afternoon ramble through my son’s yard. My son took photos and sent them to me with an article on how feral hogs are an increasing concern in North Carolina. Apparently they do millions of dollars’ worth of damage to crops and pose a disease threat to livestock and pets. The state actually has a Feral Swine Task Force.

A zoomed and cropped shot, nevertheless too close for comfort…fortunately the hog wandered off.


Spirit lifter

Upon arriving
at church
to teach a lesson
on the work of
the Holy Spirit
what should greet me
but the wafting fragrance
of cinnamon coffee
brewing serenely

so good and perfect
restoring my soul

even though the world
is no less broken

it is no less loved

for God so loved

as I read
the Scripture
sipping my
cinnamon infusion
what should appear
on the windowsill
but a little bird
looking through
the glass
at our class

a swallow
who’s built her nest
under the eaves

Even the sparrow
has found a home,
    and the swallow

a nest for herself,
    where she may have

her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, 

my King and my God

they know, birds
they know

wingbeats flutter
in my struggling
human heart

it’s all
the work
of the Spirit

I came to teach
I am being taught

I know
I know

my cup
runneth over

A turn of turtles

My son texts to say
today
the girls and I
watched a turtle
laying eggs
in the yard

which I am sure
my six-year-old
backseat prophet
slash nurture scientist
loved witnessing

here’s hoping
she’ll keep the memory
for her little sister
living her first June

and that
they get to see
a turn of baby turtles
just before summer’s end

Snapping Turtle Laying Eggs Eno River Durham NC 095938-001. bobistraveling. CC BY 2.0.

“Turn” is one of the collective nouns for turtles.

Last day

What can I say about the last day of school?

Most students rejoiced. Not all. Some will miss their friends. Some will not return. They said their sad goodbyes. One little boy who just got here and who knows no English asked for a translator for this very reason. Some teachers will not return. Not necessarily a bad or good thing…there’s just no need to be flummoxed by flux. I think of the ocean. A sense that tides are turning…I stayed late to help interview teachers for next year. They radiate positivity. The grass is NOT greener, they say…one lovely candidate wearing a string of pearls posed this profound question: How do you feel about the people you work with? So much begins and ends with this, does it not? With the adults in the building?

And this was the last day.

Forgive fragmented brain-play with anagrams:

At sadly
last day
lad, stay

day salt
sly data
lady sat

sadly, ta

Seems fitting for the strange pieces of this year.

Peace…

Kid playing football.Wallboat. CC0 1.0.


Spiritual journey: Celebrating small things

Today’s spiritual journey theme is celebrating small things (thank you, Ramona, for hosting our group).

What’s been on my mind all week, however, is the brokenness of things.

I wrote a series of poem-posts on it.

In those posts on the brokenness of things I could have mentioned that the incalculable horror, loss, and grief in Uvalde still weigh heavy on my heart each day, that I mourn the state of humanity and the inability to spare children. I could have mentioned that this school year, another chapter in the continuing saga of COVID, has been the hardest yet on staff, students, and families. I could have mentioned my despair over diametrically opposed viewpoints about what’s best for students and how some educators cannot get beyond deficit thinking to see the wealth of creative and artistic gifts in the youngest among us…

I wrote instead about being a child. About breaking my arm on the school playground when I was nine. About fearing my father’s anger and being surprised by his gentleness. In an effort to comfort me he brought one of my dolls along to the orthopedic office. It embarrassed me. I felt too old for the doll. Maybe it was more a matter of not want anyone else to think I still played with dolls. Yet the gesture touched me, even then. To this day the memory of my father holding that doll, shouting at the orthopedist to stop when I screamed during the bone-setting, is one of the most indelible images of my life. There my father stood, unable to spare me more than a moment of the suffering I had to endure. I could see the intensity of his own suffering. It was written all over his pale, fierce-eyed face. His presence and the knowledge of his pain on my behalf somehow breathed a waft of courage into my terrified heart. This little stirring of courage would sustain me through a subsequent hospital stay when the bones in my arm slipped and had to be reset. It would prepare me to visit a five-year-old boy with a crushed foot across the hall as he screamed in pain and terror. It would beget empathy: me there in my wheelchair with a cast halfway to my shoulder and him in a hospital bed with crib rails, his poor damaged foot heavily bandaged and raised on a suspended sling. United in common suffering, we would find a glimmer of overcoming, in the very midst of our brokenness.

That is the thing about children. Before there are even words to express, there are keen understandings. Children are natural ambassadors of healing. They instinctively seek to comfort. Their native language is love.

I realize, now, what I was longing for when I went back to those childhood moments.

The spiritual journey is littered with broken things, broken people, broken self. I remember wondering how that little boy’s crushed foot would ever heal. At nine I imagined the bones in countless pieces and couldn’t conceive of how doctors could repair that much disconnectedness. I wondered if his foot would ever be okay…but I knew, somehow, he would be.

Which leads me, at last, to the Great Physician. Who, like my father, intervened on my behalf to alleviate my suffering, and who, unlike my father, is able to provide more than momentary relief.

I’m not sure yet if I’m done writing about the brokenness of things but here’s where I finally pick up the path of celebration. I celebrate the sustaining gift of faith. I celebrate the memory of my father, gone for twenty years now but so alive and active in my memory. I celebrate that the school year is now ending, that a desperately-awaited respite has arrived. I celebrate children.

It occurs to me that none of these are “small things.”

So, here is one: I celebrate the musicality of children.

For on the most hellish of days, when I hear them singing, I remember heaven.

For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these… Luke 18:16.

Salvador Dalí – Los niños cantores (Children singing) 1968. Cea. CC BY 2.0

The brokenness of things: 5

part of a story-poem memoir, when I was nine

The nurse affixes
a sling
for my left arm
in its heavy
Z-shaped cast

she helps me
from the hospital bed
into the wheelchair

she wheels me
across the hall
to see the little boy
with the crushed foot
who’s five
who’s been screaming
almost
non-stop

there he is
very small
in his bed
with crib rails

his foot
big with bandages
is suspended in the air
on a tall sling

I see
the surprise
on his tear-streaked face
when he sees
me

This is the girl
from across the hall

says the nurse
She has a broken arm
look

but she’s okay
the doctors have fixed her arm
so it can get well

Hi
I say
because
I can’t think
of anything else

he stares at me
this little boy
with the crushed foot
who is five

but he’s stopped screaming

Hi
he says
at last

he doesn’t smile
exactly

I don’t know
if his foot
is going to be
okay

I just know
as look at him
and he looks at me
that somehow
he
will be

because
I am

Get Well Soontsbl2000.CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The brokenness of things: 4

part of a story-poem memoir, when I was nine

The pediatric wing
of the hospital
is quiet
in the gray-blueness
of a June afternoon
easing into dusk

muffled sounds and voices
from the nurse’s station
down the hall

alone in my room
my newly-casted arm
is heavy
and awkward
bent in a Z-shape
so the bones
will knot back together
nicely

on the bedside table
two dozen handmade cards
crayon-decorated
by my fourth-grade classmates
brighten the sterile room
Hope you are feeling better SOON!
I’m sorry about your arm
We miss you

I am feeling
surprisingly loved
in these
long and lonely
moments
of nothingness

until a scream
shatters the
gray-blue stillness

a jolt
of electricity
shoots through
my heart

another child
nearby

the scream rises
and falls
into loud sobbing

it goes on
and on

when the nurse comes
to take my vitals
I ask
Who‘s that, screaming

she replies
while taking my pulse
Another patient
across the hall
he’s five

What’s the matter with him
Why is he screaming
like that

she looks at me
I can see
she’s thinking

His foot was crushed
by a lawnmower
He is frightened
and he has a rough road
ahead of him

would you like
to go see him

it might help him
to not be so
afraid

I’m imagining
a little foot
full of crushed bones
how can doctors
ever put all the pieces
back together

it frightens me

I don’t want
to see

but his screams
are terrible
to hear

Okay
I say
I will go

although my heart
is beating
no
no
no

Pediatrics exam roomStanford Medical History Center. CC BY-NC-S

The brokenness of things: 3

part of a story-poem memoir, when I was nine

Two weeks left
of the fourth grade

two days at home
in bed
with a cast
and bags of ice
on my left arm

to be told
on returning
to the orthopedist
for follow-up X-rays
that the bones
have slipped

which means
I’ll be going
to the hospital
where they can
put me under
to figure out
how to position
my arm
for it to heal

I feel small
and alone
so alone
even though
the nurses in
their green scrubs
are kind

think of your favorite things
says one
as she affixes
the rubbery mask
over my my mouth and nose

what do you like to eat
she asks

her eyes are smiling
over her surgical mask

I cannot see her hands

chocolate chip cookies

and for a second
I can taste them
before a chemical taste
tingles in my mouth

my throat is cold
is the last thing I say
as I descend
into
gray
nothingness

A nurse and a surgeon…Etching. CC BY 4.0.

The brokenness of things: 2

part of a story-poem memoir, when I was nine

I never heard
of an orthopedist
until my father
takes me
after the fall
on the playground

and why has he brought
my Baby Ann doll

her plastic fingers
and face
look more smudged
than ever
in the glaring fluorescent light
of the exam room
where I sit
too embarrassed
and in too much pain
to say
I am not eight anymore
I am too old
for dolls now

the orthopedist
looks grim
while surveying
X-rays
of my poor left arm
against the light

not broken
in the typical place

an injection
for what’s about to come

it does no good, really

the orthopedist
braces himself
against the table
grips my damaged arm
with both of his hands

and pulls
and pulls
and pulls

my feral scream
comes of its own accord

that’s when Daddy
cries out

STOP. STOP.

— the orthopedist stops
he wipes his forehead

Daddy is pale
so pale
his blue eyes
animal bright

(in later years
he will say
I couldn’t stand
that man

but I knew
in the moment
he could not stand
my pain)

he stands there
clutching Baby Ann

who smiles at me
in her plastic way

she cannot help me now
but maybe
she’ll get Daddy through

doll hand. David Lee King. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0