Lullaby

Once upon a time
when baby had trouble
going to sleep
we played
soothing songs
on our phones
until she drifted off

and baby grew
(that is what babies do)
so that now
when we put baby down
to sleep
she cries for a minute
and then
she sings
and sings
to her own little self
without any words
a sound purer
than songs of birds

(know that I am outside your door
beloved baby
tears in my eyes
listening
listening
to your own angelic
lullaby)

Someone’s getting sleepy…

Round yon December

a triolet for my grandmother

Come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night
—how years, like snow and feathers, flew—
Come December, I’m remembering you
at sight of ruby-red cardinals, too.
On the wings of the morning, all is bright…
come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night.

December is my grandmother’s month. She was born the day after Christmas, was married in the middle of the month at age 20, and died the day before Christmas Eve, at 90. She loved the season, children, cardinals, and the color red, symbolic of her name: Ruby. “Silent Night” was her favorite carol; whenever I hear it, she is near. Her home place and resting place are in the outskirts of a rural town named for the dawn… “on the wings of the morning” is borrowed from my favorite Psalm, 139, a hymn to the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God.

The cardinal ornament in the photo was a gift from a friend yesterday. I hung it on the tree last night after choir practice with the kids at church. They’re singing “Silent Night” in the worship service on Sunday.

Grandma, you would love it all.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Blithe memory

My grandmother loved music
all of her life.
She wanted me to love it, too.
And so she took me to
Murphy’s Mart
(if memory is correct)
to buy a child’s chord organ.
I looked at the pretty blue instrument
and chose a doll instead.
Grandma couldn’t understand.
But you love playing my organ…
don’t you want one of your own?
At the time I didn’t have words to say
I love music but it isn’t my destiny.

The doll, called Blythe,
had eyes that changed color
when I pulled a string:
blue
green
pink
orange.
I picked her instead
of the music.

Grandma, dismayed,
bought her anyway.
It was only the beginning
of my fascination
with seeing the world
through lenses
of many colors.

Maybe it was then
that a writer
instead of a musician
was born.

Neo Blythe ‘Bohemian Peace. MissBlythe. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

I have learned, in researching my Blythe doll, that Kenner only made them for a year (1972) in the U.S. A Japanese company bought them out. An original Blythe doll is now worth a couple of thousand dollars. I don’t know what became of mine, unfortunately. My grandmother’s own glossy-wood Roxy chord organ from the 60’s, however, stands in my foyer. In the end, it’s infinitely more priceless to me.

See another good example of Blythe at https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=897056547546831.




Why I Write—2022

Every year for National Day on Writing, I reflect on why I write.

It’s like looking at a diamond ring in a semi-darkened room. Different facets catch the light, scattering sparks of brilliant color, red to orange, green to blue. Writing, for me, is an inner fire. A living fire. It is in my blood the way that farming was in my grandfather’s blood, that music is in my son’s, that crafting was in my mother’s, that a love of children was in my grandmother’s. I see different facets even in these comparisons. Farming is about sustenance. Cultivating the earth, harnessing resources to make it produce—this is what earth is designed to do. Music is expression, form, response, sounds in time, even color. It can be endlessly repeated and replicated; it is the unique and universal language of humankind. Crafting…it takes skill to make a new, useful thing from pieces placed exactly right, sewing them together so that the seams don’t detract. My mother was given a hand-me-down sectional sofa covered with pink scratchy fabric (it was 1970s horrible). She studied it, measured it, bought earth-tone floral fabric and cording and systematically created a custom slipcover that lasted for years. The love of children…does this not tie all of the above? Creating, nurturing, producing, expressing, a contribution to the future.

Writing is all of this.

One can make the argument that all these things are learned, and so they are. But that doesn’t account for the compulsion to do them even when there is no need. Granddaddy gardened into his nineties when he didn’t have to produce his own food anymore, when all he could manage was two small rows in the old dog pen after the dog was dead and gone. He carried a chair to sit on and rest between the kneeling to weed. My son hears all the instruments, all the harmonies, in a song; he spends hours recording a song over and over with different instruments, singing the different vocals, until it all comes together like he wants it…simply for the joy of accomplishing it. My mother received little income from the clothes she made for people; she crocheted countless baby blankets as gifts. She made flop-eared stuffed bunnies with changeable clothes, for the whimsical fun of it, never making a dime. Craftsmanship is beauty unto itself. Like art. Like music. My grandmother’s face shone like the sun at sight of children. I was one of her greatest beneficiaries, my life indelibly shaped, still being shaped, by her love. I might also mention it was Grandma who sparked my love of reading and writing long before I could do either.

Writing, in the end, has much to do with story. At least for me. The story of having lived and loved. The story of seeking the beautiful. The story of gratitude for finding it, in all of life’s brilliant facets and sparks, even in the shadows. There would not be shadows if there were no light. It is there, always there, for the capturing.

And so I write.

Necklace given to me by my father. Years later, it still shines.

Twenty years

September, When Grass Was Green

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow…

(T. Jones/H. Schmidt, 1960)

I remember
our last conversation
in September
twenty years ago

you said you’d
been cutting the grass
and that maybe
you’d overdone it
going back and forth
with your mower
making a pretty pattern
—you thought your chest muscles
were sore from the turning

it worried me

—you were worried
about other things

but happy to be retiring
in two weeks

the thing about last things
is that you don’t know
they’re the last

I remember promising
to come celebrate your retirement
and how we spoke of you
having more time to spend with
your grandchildren

I remember getting the news
a week later
as soon as I walked in from shopping
with the retirement card I just bought
still in my hand

I remember that September day:
so glorious, cloudless
sky so blue it hurt
all the trees still green, sharp-edged,
clinging hard to the light

never again will September
be as bright

or kind

I remember coming home
for the last time

to speak at your funeral

to thank you,
my duty-minded, dedicated
father

twenty years
come this twenty-fifth day
of September

don’t you know
the grass is still oh so green
and Daddy, you are still
in the scent
of its cutting

Yesterday’s sunrise

with thanks to Susan Ahlbrand for the Do You Remember prompt with musical inspiration on Ethical ELA’s Open Write earlier this week. Susan remembered her own father’s passing with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”. I chose “Try To Remember” as a frame instead. The song predates me; I recall hearing it on my father’s radio when I was very small.

I still have the retirement card I bought for my father on the day that he died, with three workdays left to go. The card mentions that it’s a great time to be alive.

Twenty years, and that remains the great dichotomy of late September.

Poem of perspective

On the the fourth day of Ethical ELA’s Open Write, Ann Burg invites poets to “Think of a moment in time— an historical moment or a personal one. Place yourself outside yourself — as a favorite tree, a flower, even an inanimate object who has witnessed this moment…”

The Upright Mahogany Howard
(c. 1920s)

I grow old
I sigh
I know you hear
my bones creaking
as you walk by
I have no mirror
but your eyes
and there I see
my beauty
is not faded
although
I’m scarred
and snaggle-toothed…
you may not realize
my proclivity
for touch-memory
but I tell you
that baby on your lap
presently pounding
my ivories 
has the feel of her
—one day,
she will play
and I will respond
living on and on
in the song
for the chords
never broken
vibrate once more
stirring the dust
of five generations
in my bones…
I am
your reliquary.

The piano was my grandmother’s most-prized possession. My grandfather bought it secondhand sometime during WWII. My grandmother intended to bequeath it to my aunt, who also played; my aunt contracted MS in her 50s and died before my grandmother. Grandma then offered it to me. I do not play, but my youngest son is an extraordinary pianist with a degree in worship music. His brother’s baby, my granddaughter Micah, ten months old, is already showing an affinity for music. She sat on my lap ‘playing’ Grandma’s piano last week, thoroughly enchanted.

Remembering Olivia

Early 1970s:

My aunt bought a tape recorder
such a modern thing
she had my little sister and I
sing into the thing:

Let me be there in your morning 
Let me be there in your night 
Let me change whatever’s wrong

and make it right (make it right)
Let me take you through that wonderland 
That only two can share 
All I ask you-ou-ou
ou
is let me be there ..

We giggled
and felt so grown-up
singing the soul-felt words
of such
a beautiful
person

we knew
and believed
every word….

If you love me, let me know
if you don’t, then let me go
I can’t take another minute
of a day without you in it
If you love me, let it be
if you don’t, then set me free
Take the chains away
that keep me loving you….

We loved you,
Olivia,
from our very beginning.

Be still: Spiritual Journey

with thanks to Chris Margocs for the “Be still” invitation and to Margaret Simon for the “Presence” offering on behalf of our Spiritual Journey writer’s group on this first Thursday in July

Back in March of 2020, four days into COVID-19 lockdown, I wrote a post entitled Be still. It was based on Psalm 46:10, a verse with special significance to me since I was about thirteen, when a youth group leader gave me a little decorative plaque bearing the first line: Be still and know that I am God. The plaque hung on the wall of my bedroom throughout my tumultuous teenage years until I married and left home at twenty. I had no inkling, then, that my young husband would go into the ministry two years later or that we would eventually have two sons, the older of whom would become a pastor and the younger, a music minister and worship leader.

Throughout the decades I’ve received numerous gifts which have borne those words: Be still and know that I am God. The verse keeps returning to me. A few weeks ago my Sunday School co-teacher brought a handful of cards printed with Bible verses, held them out to the class facedown, and had each of us draw one. I drew Psalm 46:10. Be still and know that I am God.

I could write a lot about those eight words, having to do with trusting God in times of trouble and God’s unfailing faithfulness. Overcoming fear and despair. Carving out time away from the demands, vitriol, and horrors of the world. Finding peace in the rhythms of nature surrounding my home in the countryside (I have written a lot about that, actually).

But those eight words are only the opening line.

“Be still and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

—Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

The verse is a call to be in awe of the power of God, to be a people who carry forth the message of godly peace to the world, by which wars will cease (v. 9), and by which God will be exalted. It is a declarative, definitive statement. On the part of God: It shall be. On the part of humanity: Be awed.

Awe has been my guiding word for the past two years. It is likely to remain so as long as I live. In the context of inherent awe and Psalm 46:10, words of the song “Above All” by Michael J. Smith come to mind:

Above all powers, above all kings
Above all nature and all created things
Above all wisdom and all the ways of man
You were here before the world began

Above all kingdoms, above all thrones
Above all wonders the world has ever known
Above all wealth and treasures of the Earth
There’s no way to measure what You’re worth

Be still and know…God is above all.

My theologian son is studying the work of Eugene Peterson (1932-2018), minister, author, poet, and Professor of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver. We have recently been discussing The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Peterson’s idiomatic paraphrase of Scriptures, apparently written out of frustration with people not reading their Bibles.

Here’s Peterson’s paraphrase of Psalm 46:10:

“Step out of the traffic! Take a long,
    loving look at me, your High God,
    above politics, above everything.”

I cannot think of a more timely message.

I return now to the original Be still post I wrote on March 17, 2020, during the early days of the pandemic. We thought school would be closed for two weeks. We had no idea of all that lay ahead. Extended isolation. Loss. Rampant fear. Exacerbated discord. Death, violence, rage, destruction. War. Rising inflation.

Consider the verses immediately preceding Psalm 46:10, from the ESV translation:

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (6-7).

And then we are told Be still and know that I am God.

Who is above all.

I thought about linking Smith’s song here. Psalm 46 is, after all, a hymn.

I am linking another song instead, one of my longtime favorites for its plaintive beauty and quiet, meditative message—a little rest stop for the soul on the arduous spiritual journey through life in this world that God, incomprehensibly, still loves.

Be still my soul
the Lord is on your side…

Blessings of stillness, rest, and awe to you all.