Intimate conversation poem

with thanks to Barb Edler for the Open Write inspiration on Ethical ELA. Barb invited poets to speak directly to a subject, perhaps a person from the past or present, a beloved or loathed object, or even a dream, frustration, or desire.

Refuge

In the dead of winter
in the dark of night
in the starlit silence
you come

to sleep
in the old
twig-vine wreath
on the front door

tiny warm presence
of which I’d be unaware
if not for the pull
of the stars

the frigid bite
of the night
is worth the sight
if only for a moment

so I open
the door

soft sudden flutter
wings taking flight
in the cold cold night

oh little bird
that I cannot see
you cannot know
how your presence
comforts me

that in this barren season
before the time
of nesting
you find your place
of resting

upon my door

little winged creature
of first blessing

*******

Note: Sea creatures and birds were the first living things blessed by God, Genesis 1:22.

Said wreath. When I woke before dawn, remembering there’s a comet to be observed, I bundled up to try for a view from the front porch. The little unseen bird flew out of the wreath as I opened the door. There is no nest; I am not sure where the bird tucks in but the idea of it sleeping against the safety of my door in winter makes a metaphor of immense comfort to me. I can’t determine if it’s a house finch (they build nests in my wreaths each spring) or a Carolina wren, tiny bird with a big, gorgeous song. In the darkness I can only hear small wings beating for a split second as it takes flight. Whatever it is… it is welcome.

Skitterings

Winter morning, below freezing, ground covered with thick layer of frost like unto snow. Oyster-gray sky streaked with clouds aflame with sunrise. Breathtaking colors. I drive to work, looking for magisterial hawks perched on power lines. None to be seen. At the corner where the patch of woods has been cleared, old tobacco barns are melting into the stubble, overlaid with a thin veneer of crystal. So beautiful, I say aloud. Something pure remains in the devastation. I cannot think of what. I drive on, pondering destruction and human hunger for it.

In the new rose-light little birds skitter up from the wood-edged fields. What type of birds they are, I cannot determine, just upward movement and wings. A strange line plays in my head: This day your life will be required of you. I suppose it’s born of constant murder in the news and too much reading, this very morning the strange coincidence of Diana, Princess of Wales, attending the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash. Did the struggling Diana sense any foreshadowing?

Why am I even thinking of these things during such a glorious dawn?

A shape swoops from the right, directly in the path of my car…surely a bird. I hear no thunk. I see no skittering escape in my rearview mirror.

The bird—if in fact it was—must be caught in the grille of my car. This happened once, long ago, when I was driving a different vehicle: I discovered a dead cardinal hanging partway under the car. Why, why do they fly so low?

I will have to stop and check. There’s nowhere to pull over on these winding backroads frequented by too-fast drivers and farm equipment.

There’s a tiny church tucked in the woods up ahead, past the intersection. Steep driveway, deserted area, but I have to get out and look.

Nothing ensnared on the wide chrome grille of my old car. Beneath the grille, however, are unscreened compartments and there, on the dark, recessed shelf, is a bird.

Alive and moving around. Gray, orange, and cloud-white, like the morning.

Oh, bird.

I take off my heavy black cardigan, wrap it around my hands, and reach in.

Gently, gently… then a soft, warm weight is in my sweatered hands. I make sure to cover its wings to avoid panicked and possibly injurious flapping. Its head is gray. Small gray beak opens and closes without a sound. Its eye, turned toward me, has a faint purplish hue, slightly reminiscent of my pet parakeet when I was six. The gray back and pale-orange coloring on the breast had me thinking robin, but now I can see it’s not. I don’t know what kind of bird this is.

Oh, little bird. I am sorry. As if my speaking will help, somehow.

I cannot stand here gawking at it. The creature has survived the trauma of my car; I don’t want it to die from terror of me.

I think of being in the hands of God.

Please don’t let it die, I pray. Is this a selfish prayer? I don’t know how badly the bird is damaged.

And what am I going to do with it now.

The woods…I skim for a sheltered spot. I step in the leaves and a sudden sound startles me: a rabbit goes skittering away, its big white cottontail bobbing against the sepia scenery. I had no idea it was there. What else is here that I cannot see—? I am shivering. I find a small ridge of leaves and pine straw by a bit of barren brush and there I lay the bird.

The bird turns itself from side to breast, facedown. There’s a bit of white edging on its tail feathers. I wish for to something cover it. The morning is so cold. My sweater might entangle its legs; scraping pine straw over it might alarm it.

I will go. I will not stay to see the outcome. It will recover, or it won’t. I recall the woodpecker that flew smack into the glass wall of the school where I work; it landed on its back in the flowerbed mulch and lay so still I was sure its neck was broken. Within a moment, it managed to flip itself right side up, ruffled its feathers, and flew off—zip!—as if nothing had happened. The robin I extricated from the grille of my sister-in-law’s car, having traveled miles down the interstate at 70+ mph, hopped around my backyard for a day before it flew away. Birds are hardier than they look…at least robins and woodpeckers are.

Still.

Should this pretty little bird die or recoup…it will be in its own natural setting.

In the hands of God. Not a sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the Father...

It is hard, yes, to leave it there and walk away. But I have done so before. With people whom I loved very much.

It is Yours.

Back in the car, I circle the tiny church named for St. John, heading on toward crystal-coated fields and misty-mirror ponds and the work that lies ahead. The little bird will never know that I will remember it, that it’s now part of me, stuck to my soul as long as I live. I know it and that is enough on this cold, fiery-sky morning, orange and gray, breathtaking glory tinged with, but not diminished by, loss.

“If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”Psalm 139:9-10 (my favorite of the Psalms). This is the view leaving my neighborhood.

As best I can determine: My unexpected passenger was a female eastern bluebird.

DSC_3019e eastern bluebird–female. jjjj56cpCC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Goals

What shall I say of my goals, as the year comes to its close?

I had a few. Some I accomplished. Some I didn’t. A few were work-related. Most were not. These I never articulated; they were just on my heart every day, from my rising to my sleeping.

That’s the thing about goals: personal commitment-keeping. They’re desires of your own heart. Aspirations. No can set them for you. They come from within. They become your own bar to reach, for the stretching of your own wings, as far as you wish. The extent of your growth is up to you.

I learned much by watching birds this year. This was an unplanned goal. One hummingbird materializing by the pines in my backyard, hovering long enough for me to take note, led to the purchase of a hummingbird feeder (and another, as more hummers appeared) and an incessant thirst to know more about these endlessly fascinating creatures. Day by day, my sense of awe deepened.

Awe is a vital element for vibrant life in this world. I looked for it and it found me. Like that hummingbird. For two years running, awe has been my guiding idea-word and its payoff, beyond compare. I find it everywhere but not in everything. Not in material things, for they never fully satisfy and pursuit of them potentially enlarges the void. In my previous post I wrote about the universe being a dark place (check out the jellybean analogy from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics). Yet there is light. I am awed by the stunning brightness of the planets each night; Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn have become like family. I’m always looking for their return. They inspire the same thirst in me as the hummingbirds: can I get closer to them, know more about them, learn from them?

In the end awe, for me, is about the divine design of things, the Creator’s reflection in the created. There are intrinsic, intricate, infinite lessons to learn and my time above the Earth’s crust grows shorter. There’s a sacred interconnectedness to it all… from a solitary hummingbird to the solar system to the scent of baking bread to the ability to love and be loved and my own DNA so evident in my baby granddaughter’s face… every particle a poem, a song, a ribbon of light.

My ultimate goal for every day is to keep myself open for awe and to be grateful.

I have done so. I am doing so.

I didn’t create an official list of resolutions or goals for 2022. I carried them in my heart and lived them, as I will for this new year on the cusp.

But I did write a few things… this is my 365th post of the year. Something I’ve never accomplished before.

Day by day, moment by moment, the story of life unfolds. Goals are attained the same way.

My wish for you: Believe. Let awe weave itself around you and through you.

And write.

See how you grow.

The unused goal page in my my plannera bit of seed, if needed

The gift of awe

In remembering my grandmother
on her hundred-and-seventh birthday
I suspect she never thought about
her stories as gifts
in living them
then giving them

for so many are laced
with a palpable sense of awe:

witnessing the birth
of her sister’s first child
the doctor gently molding
the baby’s little head
with his hands…

the family dog that was stolen
yet found his way home again
after chewing off the chains
and wearing his teeth to the gums…

seeing a doe with white-spotted fawns
crossing the old dirt road
for occasionally a doe had twins
(and once, only once in her ninety years,
triplets)…

taking her turn sitting
with a neighbor lady
who was dying
(as farm communities did
long ago
before the advent
of nursing homes
or hospice)
when the woman
unresponsive for days
suddenly sat up
right at the last
her face aglow
crying out
Can you hear them?
Can you hear them?
(—who, Grandma?
I asked as a rapt child
noting how her own face shone
with an otherworldly light
her blue eyes far away
reliving—
then coming back again
to rest again on me
with certainty:
I am sure it was
angels—)

and snow
and icicles
as big around as her arm
hanging from the eaves
the whole fierce, sparkling beauty
of it all
(not to mention Christmas)…

oh and birds
especially cardinals
(red birds, she called them)
and hummingbirds
in fact, many ornaments
in her house
were birds:
a crystal hummingbird
hanging in the hall archway
on the shelf, an eagle
spreading its wings
on the high-back piano
robins watching over a nest
filled with babies…

and music
and flowers

every single red poinsettia…

in remembering her stories
I realize
that this constant capacity for awe
may well have been
her greatest gift
of all

The poinsettia my husband and I place in church at Christmas comes home to live between Grandma’s piano and organ. Grandma’s funeral visitation was on the bitter cold, starry night of her ninety-first birthday. At the service the following day, her tiny hometown church was still decorated with red poinsettias.

I still marvel at the perfection.

Father talk

One more post prompted by WordPress:
Talk about your father or the father figure in your life…

He has born in a tenant farmer’s house
one October afternoon
during the Great Depression
the first child of a sharecropper and his wife

a responsible boy
who loved chocolate
most of all his grandmother’s fudge
made especially for him
whenever he spent the night

listening to rain
dancing on the tin roof
like dozens of squirrel feet

a boy who took baths
in a galvanized tub
behind a curtain strung
from the heater
in the living room
(there was no indoor bathroom,
only an outhouse)

a boy who loved cars
who wrote about racing

a boy who loved planes
who grew up
to join the Air Force

(after graduating high school
as senior class president)

a young man far away from home
who learned to love
Mexican food

who returned to visit his grandmother
(Mama, he called her)
carrying her for a ride
in his new white Thunderbird
Hold onto your snuff jar,
Mama

who eventually went to work
as a security guard

then marrying a girl
with big dark eyes

becoming father
a year and a half later

there are black-and-white photos
of me in his lap
wearing his hard hat

me sandwiched
between him and his father
on the sofa
all looking as serious
as the Culhanes
on Hee Haw

I can see him
sitting in the corner
rag in hand
shining his work shoes
I can still smell
the acrid black polish
from the little round tin

him taking me
to buy a parakeet I’d begged for
(I wanted the blue and white one
he said the yellow one looked better
so that’s the one we got)

the hall light coming on
late at night
when an asthma attack
had me wheezing
him coming to give me Benadryl
(it didn’t help)

him setting up the vaporizer
with Vick’s poured in the little tray
(it didn’t help)

many trips to
the ear, nose, and throat doctor
for allergy shots
(they didn’t help)

him sitting beside me
in the waiting room
(that helped
more than he ever knew)

him standing by
holding my doll
looking green
as an orthopedist pulled
and pulled
and pulled
my broken arm
to set it

intervening
like a bolt of lightning
when I screamed

him working every holiday
for the extra pay

him in his chair
watching Sonny and Cher

him telling me
after I married
that if I ever needed to
I could come home

him in a hospital bed
refusing to be taken to the OR
for coronary bypass surgery
until I arrived
and he saw me

him consequently
giving up cigarettes
for cigars
(surely that didn’t help)

him facing battles
that most people
still don’t know about

I knew

him giving me a cross necklace
at a family funeral

me wearing it to his
after he went
so suddenly

funny how
I find myself thinking now
of his scowl
and his warning
Get off your high horse

and his irritation
when I was small
Stop smearing!

(does anyone else
on Earth
use that phrase
for wasting time)

and all the neighborhood kids saying
Your dad is so strict

he was

but then there was his laugh
his love of silly jokes

him listening
while I played my Billy Joel album
and astonishing me
by saying he liked that song,
Stiletto

I bet it was the beat

twenty years now
he’s been gone

not seeing my boys grow up
missing so much

once in a while,
they stand like him
move like him
scowl like him

he’d be amazed by them

and fascinated by how
they like many things he did
such as some of
the same old-time music

his little great-granddaughter
who shares his birth month
will not know him
any more than I knew Mama

only a year in the world
and she loves music
and is already
something of a notorious scowler

her dad says
her head is shaped
just like Granddaddy’s

—the exact thing
you said about me
when I was born

but it’s not Granddaddy’s visage
I glimpse in the mirror these days

it’s yours
more and more

in so many ways, Daddy,
like all the stories
we lived
and every one
you told and retold
blood keeps pounding its rhythms
the beat goes on

Mystery prompts…

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, Exploring mysteries, here’s a list of questions that have magically appeared in my supposed-to-be-empty WordPress blog posts this month:

What is one thing that you would change about myself?

What are five things you’re good at?

Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited? Where is it?

What big events have taken place in your life over the last year?

What could you do less of?

Have you ever performed on stage or given a speech?

Tell about your first day at something—school, work, as a parent, etc.

What skills or lessons have you learned recently?

Is your life today where you pictured it a year ago?

All you writer-friends out there know the power of a good prompt for overcoming writer’s block, for reaching far and deep, tapping into memory and emotion. Writing itself is a release. It is healing. Perhaps even preventive medicine. Writing is a unique means of expression, of thinking, of creativity, of craftsmanship. It is a singular key for unlocking many mysteries, the greatest of all being yourself.

When gifts are offered, take them…they’re meant for your benefit, enjoyment, edification. The WordPress elves at work behind the scenes here clearly know this. These prompts are likely meant to be answered one by one (I have written to two: one thing I would change about myself and what skills I’ve learned recently) but today I wonder if I could tie them all into one reflection. For better or worse, here goes…

It is said that change is constant. I am constantly changing, growing older, a little slower. I would not change this. It is the price of having been alive a while. I’m willing to pay it. What one thing would I change about myself? My answer now would be different than it would have been years ago. I might have chosen something superficial, having to do with my appearance. Now I am much more concerned with my spirit. How do I narrow what I’d change to just one thing? I should choose to be more gracious, patient, forgiving, even loving…but as I write, the word listen blankets everything else that comes to mind. I would listen to others more. Not with my ears. With my soul. To hear what lies behind their words, their actions. Words are a thing I’m good with, usually. Were I to comprise a list of five things I’m good at, words are linked to at least half of it: I’m good at reading, writing (so I’m told…I do love it and work at it), imagining, wondering, and drinking coffee. In a way these are the five pillars of my daily life, the things I enjoy most, next to time spent with my family. When my boys were small my grandmothers told me that I was a good mother. Their simple proclamation, a revelation of their great esteem for motherhood, felt like the bestowment of a royal title. My boys have the final say, however. Children know all their parents’ flaws, eventually. What matters is that they know how much they are loved and that they learn to love. It is the beginning of belonging. It is why, when asked if I have a favorite place, I’m always going to talk about my grandparents’ home deep in the countryside, along an old dirt road (it’s gravel now). I haven’t been since the house has been torn down and a new one built for a young family. While I dread going because of that, another part of me desperately longs to go…to walk the old road once more, to remember being a child, hearing my grandmother’s old, old stories and my grandfather’s raspy, warm I love you when he offered his clean-shaven cheek to me for a goodnight kiss… again, listen. I imagine sensing them near even if all I hear is the breeze rustling the Spanish moss which wasn’t there, hanging there from the treetops, when I was a child. Once upon a time, though, there were little bridges along the road, due to the many canals…I don’t know what became of those bridges. But the tiny church at the crossroads remains, where my grandparents are buried with generations of my ancestors. One day soon, I must go. I carry them all and their stories with me… I am their story, the continuation of it, as my granddaughters are mine. They are the greatest event of my life in the last three years, one coming into our family at age three and the other born just over a year ago. They are the big event of my every day. I can almost hear Grandma chuckling…now you understand. Listen, listen. Carve time away from the clamor of the world to be still…to minimize distractions, to be fully present when another human is speaking to me, especially my young ones, especially my quiet son with the musical gifts and beautiful singing voice. So many layers there. Listen. I need to be less concerned with work; it is my livelihood, not my life. The family is my life. My pastor-husband, my pastor-son and his girls, The Boy and his music and funeral ministry, all our dogs, the church, the faith, the Lord God, Giver of all good gifts, including life, are my life. How perfect are His ways. Long ago when I was performing in plays and traveling to audition for acting school in New York, I could not have dreamed it would lead me to where I am now, that at nineteen I’d meet the man I’d marry through community theater. The title of that play: Whose Life Is It Anyway? Not just mine. Ours. It was ordained. I had an inkling of it, that first day after we were married, when we stood in the crashing ocean waves and I held onto my new gold wedding band for dear life, for fear of losing it. I knew salt isn’t good for jewelry. I just couldn’t bring myself to remove the ring. New beginnings are so fragile at first. As are new ideas. All these years into our journey, we still look for the new even within the old: we are going to learn how to use that Dobsonian telescope I got us for Christmas. We shall soon be wandering among the stars, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, all extending their glittering invitation every cold, cold night. I just learned I wasn’t using the finderscope properly. How poetic. Metaphorical. That’s what writing is for me… a finderscope. Through it I see the memories, the gratitude, the loves of my life…the light from years past, still meeting me right where I am today; I would not change a thing about that.

*******

with thanks to WordPress for the magical prompts and to Two Writing Teachers for the story-sharing place.

Happy holidays to all.

December 12th

Eighty-six years ago
they married

during the Great Depression
with war on the rise

they meant for the ceremony
to be in September
but he had the mumps

so the wedding occurred
on the twelfth of December
before the justice of the peace

she wore a blue suit

on the day after Christmas
she turned twenty-one

Every December after
he gave her
a red poinsettia

he knew
how much she loved them

Across the decades
she’d jest about
having nothing
to look forward to
the rest of the year

with her anniversary
Christmas
and birthday all
in the same month

December
for her
was pure delight

celebrations
of Light
and life

In the last years
when he was gone
I gave her
a red poinsettia
during the season

for the sight
of her face alight
blue eyes bright

Someone else gave her
a silk poinsettia
after she went into
the nursing home

once when I visited
she was watering it

We did not know
all those years ago
that their wedding anniversary
would become
National Poinsettia Day

I just learned it

how she’d love it

just another sign
that love is divine
and lives on and on
and on

My grandparents, on my first Christmas.
Love lives on.

Photo: National Day Calendar

The blessing

My Dear Firstborn,

You were always the Lord’s.

I rejoice

that His divine purposes
cannot be thwarted

that your preacher-father
lived to see this day


that your first daughter
sitting beside me
as you receive your
Master of Divinity
is the same age you were
sitting beside me
when your father
received his

seven,
representing
fullness
and completion

in an endless
spiral of blessing
that flows on
and on
and on.

You have always
been my joy,
baby boy.

With love
and gratitude
and awe
at the divine work
of the Master

always,
Mom

Heron

a triolet

with thanks to the heron

Every morning, at the corner of the pond
when I see the huddled heron
it calls my hunkered heart to respond.
Every morning, at the corner of the pond
with a wave of nature’s reflective wand
my muddled spirit is less bleak, less barren…
every morning, at the corner of the pond
when I see the huddled heron.

Grey Heron. PapaPiperCC BY-ND 2.0.

A heron is, in short, a symbol that all shall be well