Slices of life recycled

If the writer
observes the world
then the artist
recreates it
and the poet
preserves it all

Knowing yesterday was a milestone anniversary of my father’s death, a friend created this digital image as a gift. She took lines from one of my blog posts, Fresh-cut grass, written in his memory: Grass, though cut, always heals itself and grows again, and you are always present in that sweet scent. She used pictures in my posts to make the grass…here in these blades are slices of my first Christmas, the cross necklace my father gave me, a portion of his Air Force uniform, and a lamppost like the one that stood in the yard of my childhood home; my father used say that when he turned onto the street he could see the light of home shining straight ahead.

I’m in awe of the gift and its artistry.

A metaphor for life itself.

My father’s presence remains in the scent of fresh-cut grass. Here is Sunday’s poem, marking the twentieth year of his passing: September, When Grass Was Green.

*******

with thanks to E. Johnson for the digital masterpiece and to Two Writing Teachers for the original impetus to start a blog for capturing Slices of Life. I began by writing each Tuesday in April 2016, then every day each March, then for Spiritual Journeys on the first Thursday of each month, and on occasion for other writing communities like SOS— Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog…and every day thus far in the year 2022.

If you are reading…thank you.

We are our stories. Let us write them and live them well. And bring healing to one another.

Things you can do with crayons poem

with thanks to Allison Berryhill for the inspiration on today’s Open Write at Ethical ELA

Things You Can Do with Crayons

admire the colors
gold silver and copper
aren’t the only metallics
anymore
now there’s glitter
neon
and glow-in-the-dark

admire the names:
Macaroni and Cheese
Inchworm
Robin’s Egg Blue
Purple Mountains’ Majesty
Bluetiful 
Mauvelous
—such poetic pun

arrange your favorites
in the shape of your initial
or anything you want
glue them down
in a shadow-box
or on canvas

—drat, broke one
—wait, don’t throw it away
anymore

make something new
instead

break more
on purpose (!!)

slice ‘em 
into dots
for a mosaic

shave ‘em
spice up
your homemade slime

melt ‘em
and not just for candles

pour the running colors
into molds

make Legos
build anything
you can think of

oh and
once in a while
just color

make a scribble-scrabble

if you don’t like it
scrape it off
with your fingernail
and start over

smell ‘em

remember
your childhood

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

Quiet

Since my recent post, Listen, I came across The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Paying Attention by Julia Cameron. Perhaps you recognize her name from The Artist’s Way.

In The Listening Path, Cameron includes a chapter entitled “Listening to Silence.” She introduces this chapter with a quote by Alfred Brendel: The word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent.”

She urges us to seek quiet:

I’m a person who craves quiet moments. My husband does not. He always, always has the TV running, even when he’s in another room; he has to have sound. I sometimes wonder if he fears quiet. I will stay up late at night or get up early in the morning to write in the silence before life awakens and begins stirring around me. When I was writing the poem “Listen” no one was home and the TV was off. I listened to the sea of my own mind, for what would surface. The house, cooling in late afternoon of a warm day, popped so loudly that I jumped—sounds were definitely “more pronounced.” And what does the house have to say? What does the silence itself have to say?

It occurs to me that quiet is one of the benefits of night. That is often the only time we are quiet. We know the brain repairs itself while we sleep. Does quiet not bring healing to the mind? Is quiet itself a form of repair, inherent in sleep? A release, for opening the gate to a “higher force”? Perhaps that is a fearsome thing. What might be heard?

One doctor I know said that dreams are the brain’s way of entertaining us while we sleep, but…tonight, as as I sit in the quiet, finishing this post before going to bed, I am thinking of a young boy who heard a voice in his dreams. He’d been kidnapped at sixteen and taken to a far country where he was a slave for six years. He learned the value of prayer in captivity, tending sheep. This night, the voice told him he’d go back to his homeland; his ship was ready. And it was. He escaped and found it, two hundred miles away in a place he’d never been before. He went home. Yet he’d eventually return to the land of his captors. He had work to do there. In Ireland.

His name, of course, was Patrick.

His day is hardly one associated with “quiet.” But in the spirit of one who listened…let us seek the quiet and what it offers; let us practice the art of paying attention; let us claim the calm and carry it with us, throughout the clamor, in all the work we have to do. Let us enter into quiet…and find our path.

Of special note in this regard: My grandfather’s middle name was—I promise I am not making this up—St. Patrick. I wrote about this a few years ago: My Grandfather, St. Patrick. In my lifetime, he was a quiet man. Not to be confused with the movie.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 17, I am writing around a word beginning with letter q.

When I was death

Seems it’s time for some fun … here’s a memoir initially drafted and revised over several days in front of fifth graders, who chose the topic from several I gave them. Today I dust it off with an appreciation, greater than ever, for the power of improvisation …

*******

Mom hung up the phone. “That was Diane’s mom. There’s a costume party at church and Diane asked if you want to go.”

“YESSSSS!” I shouted.

“That’s what I just told them.”

I loved dressing up. I used to do it for book reports in my fifth-grade class. Once I was Aslan from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was really fun, except that my tail kept falling off. How exciting to have another opportunity to be someone or something else! What will I be? Maybe I can talk Grannie into taking me shopping for a gypsy costume, or maybe a cowgirl …

“Here’s the thing,” Mom went on. “They’re coming to get you in about an hour.”        

“Oh, no!” I cried.  “I don’t have a costume! What will I wear?”

Mom smiled. “We can think of something.”

She had improvised before. When my sister and I were maybe six and eight, we went trick-or-treating dressed as a little old lady and a little old man. Mom found a flowery dress for my sister and suspenders for me. She drew wrinkles on our faces with a brown eye pencil, dusted our hair white with baby powder, and even sketched a little mustache above my lip. When I saw the photos later, I didn’t recognize us; I even asked, “Who are these short old people?”

Now Mom went down the hall to the linen closet. She came back to the kitchen with a white sheet.

“M-o-m-m-m,” I moaned, “that’s lame. I don’t want to be a ghost.”

“Who said anything about being a ghost?”

She somehow twisted the sheet around me until it looked like a long white robe. She pinned the part around my arms so that I had long, floppy sleeves. She followed me to the bathroom where I looked at myself in the mirror.

“What am I supposed to be?”

Mom said, “You figure it out.” 

She walked off and left me there.

“MOMMMMMM!”

I could not go to the party like this. I didn’t look like anyone or anything; I just looked silly. This was worse than being a ghost.

In the mirror, I contemplated my long brown hair, which came to my waist. What I could I do with it?

Suddenly I wanted to look really creepy. I grabbed Mom’s comb and hairspray. I teased my hair until it was wild and looked like I’d never combed it a day in my life. Kind of cool, but not enough. I fetched my watercolors from my room. Back at the bathroom I painted big, black circles around my eyes. Better, but I still didn’t feel finished yet.

Mom came back to check on me. “How’s it going?”

“Ok. I need something more. I don’t know what.”

Mom studied me for a minute, then disappeared from the bathroom. She returned with a bottle of white shoe polish. “This might do the trick!” She proceeded to sponge my arms, hands, face, and neck with the shoe polish. The thick white liquid dried fast and started cracking. My skin looked like old plaster beginning to flake off. It was awesome, like a zombie or something.

My sister came to investigate. “What in the world ARE you?”

“You better watch out,” I said in a raspy voice, holding my hands up like claws in the air. “I am DEATH.”

“Whatever.” My sister rolled her eyes. “All I can say is you look better than usual.”

“Get out of here!” I snapped.

Right then, the doorbell rang. I ran to throw it open: My friend Diane, of course, looking very beautiful in a fancy Snow White costume. She even had short black hair like Snow White with a red bow tied in it.

She stared at me for a minute. “What ARE you?”

“Death,” I replied. “Bye Mom!”

When we got to the fellowship hall at the church, I saw princesses, cowboys, astronauts, cheerleaders, football players, Superman, and a mummy. All night long these characters came up to me, asking, “What ARE you?”

“Death,” I said.

“Coooooool,” they all nodded, except for the mummy. He said, “That’s weird. Death is something that happens. It’s an event. Not a person. How can you be Death?”

“You’re a mummy,” I told him. “You figure it out.”

I had fun creeping people out with my wild hair and my crackly skin, which someone said looked “ancient.”

Then some grown-ups worried that the shoe polish might not wash off.

Uh-oh. I hadn’t even thought of that … had Mom? How long would I be stuck looking like this?

I was worrying about it near the end of the party when my name was announced for having the best costume. Unbelievable! No one but Diane knew that I had slapped this together at the last minute, without any kind of plan. You never know what you can do until you have to. Then I went bobbing for apples and not only did I win that contest, I set the record for the fastest time: one second! I held my breath, dunked my head in the freezing water, pinned the apple to the bottom of the tin tub so I could get my teeth in it, and came up with it so fast that my long hair flung cold water across the crowd, making all the costumed characters scream and laugh.

“Hey, Death, hey, Death,” they called, “your scary face just got washed away!”

I was just me again.

And secretly glad.

Photo: Ghost (cropped). TCtroi. CC BY-SA

The eagle

Eagle

Bald Eagle. sally9258CC-BY

After a recent outpatient procedure, as I secretly celebrated waking up from anesthesia and not dying, my  husband drove me home down the back country roads. Through the passenger window I idly watched winter-brown grass, trees, and old gray outbuildings zipping by, noted a small clearing with a tiny pond nestled in wood-strewn ground, an eagle sitting by the wayside—

wait

We said it simultaneously, my husband and I: “THAT’S AN EAGLE!”

Just a quick impression, sitting majestically, facing us, huge, white head gleaming atop the dark body, not ten feet away . . . .

We were past it as soon as the sight registered on our brains.

“Go back! Go back!” I pleaded, grabbing my phone, opening the camera.

sssskkkkrrrrttt! of a turn-around at a dirt driveway, and we were back in a flash.

It watched us, unmoving, as we neared, but when we slowed, the eagle grew suspicious. It took off. Within a millisecond, into the bare, gnarled oaks.

“No! Wait! Wait!” I cried, snapping as fast as I could.

We rolled a little farther, but the only good shot I got was of its back, soaring away.

Gone. I missed the moment. Failed to capture my encounter with the wondrous. I have never been that close to an eagle in the wild. I’ve hardly seen any free ones at all, in fact. I’ve heard them calling in their high, haunting, piercing voices, have seen one perched on top of a streetlamp, but never anything like this.

I grieved my loss: It would have made such a great blog post, too.

I got home, got into bed.

Couldn’t rest.

The image of the eagle wouldn’t leave my thoughts. It stayed, motionless, watching me. Cocked its head, affixed me with its eye, its penetrating gaze.

—Why wouldn’t you stay so still just a little while ago?

It ruffled its feathers. Kept right on staring at me.

So I looked it up.

There are few things I love better than symbolism, and few are better-known than the eagle: The national bird, on the Great Seal of the United States. Revered icon of ancient times, civilizations, people. Mascot to numerous sports teams—even that of the school where I work.

But this is what got me about the eagle:

It is a symbol of healing.

It is a symbol of transition, some element of life or creative endeavor, about to take flight.

—Dare I see it as a sign that all shall be well, that some new venture, personal or professional, lies just ahead?

It was just an eagle sitting by the wayside, as eagles surely do, somewhere, every day.

Only this time I happened to see it. In the blinking of an eye.

It blinked.

I blinked back at it.

So, I told it, you wouldn’t stay put for a real picture, but now you linger as a mental one. If you’re going to hang around portending something, then let it be my creativity and insight taking flight. Let it be about thing I love to do most—let my writing be courageous and free, with clarity of vision. Let it fly, let it fly, on and on, higher and higher.

Only then did the image fade; only then did I rest.

I fell asleep.

And woke in the morning, renewed, resolute.

No more missed moments. There aren’t moments to lose.

—I’m ready for whatever lies ahead. Lead on, eagle.  

My best shot

Keep it alive

It is the place

where ideas are born

some as ghosts

some fully formed

It is the place

where voices echo, echo

real or imagined

they ebb and they flow

It is a place of seeing

yet layered in veils

lift them one by one

as mystery entails

It is a place of sensing

both self and Other

alive within, without

—feel the shiver, the shudder

It was striving to be

long before we had words

for we are knitted of story

given voice, to be heard

So nurture it well

let it breathe, let it grow

keep the magic alive, for

you’re meant to write it,

you know.

Metaphor

For metaphorMorning glory. Jason BolderoCC BY

Following a poetry unit in fourth grade, the teacher invited me to collaborate on arts-integrated assessments. We set it up by having students choose 1) Poetry concepts they learned and 2) The vehicle for conveying their understanding, one of the multiple intelligences: arts smart, math smart, music smart, body smart, self smart, people smart, word smart, science/nature smart, and one extra that we added, tech smart.

Students could collaborate if they’d selected the same “smart.” They were free to think and design as long as the activity or product defined or represented the selected elements of poetry – imagery, personification, alliteration, simile, etc. Some students chose to make games and puzzles (math smart) with their poetry concepts. Some went straight for Chromebooks. Some preferred sketching and drawing (later in this process one student who struggles with academics will show me how she intentionally incorporated perspective and 3D elements in her art smart visual representation of imagery). A team of body smart students began choreographing a dance to define three concepts. One student wanted to write a song. 

So much excitement, so much brilliance, yet no one picked “metaphor”— the word sat all alone on the chart where students placed their names beside the poetry elements that they wanted to demonstrate.

And no one chose “word smart” as the mode. They had, however, written their own poems during the unit.

I pointed out that word smart is naturally interwoven with music smart in writing a song, and with body smart in the chants accompanying the dance. Words play their part in slideshows, in the puzzles and games, and in all the conversation the kids were having about how to best represent the concepts in these ways.  

As for metaphor . . . the students grinned. With lots of teeth. “You said you’d give us a model.”

Ah. So I did. Is that why no one picked “metaphor” and “word smart”? Was this a conspiracy?  A throwing down the gauntlet?

I smiled inside myself. I would have chosen metaphor anyway (I think). And what better “word smart” way to convey its meaning than through poetry?

When I returned, rough draft poem in hand, I posed a question: “First, I need to make sure you know for yourselves what metaphor is. How would you define it?”

Their responses:

“An image that stands for something else.”

It helps paint a picture in the reader’s mind.”

You can’t say ‘like’ or ‘as’ because that’s simile. You have to say something IS something else.”

A comparison.”

Wordplay.”

Really, guys? And none of you picked metaphor? Seriously?” I asked in mock exasperation.

Giggles. They sit gathered round my chair, on the rug at my feet, these young sages waiting for me to read.

What is metaphor?

Metaphor is the sun behind the clouds

the heavens reaching long, shining fingers

down to the earth of our minds.

Metaphor is the moon on the ocean of knowledge

bits of silver smiles shining on a dark surface

that’s always moving, moving, moving.

When I say that home is the velvety warmth of my dog

and the laughter of my family around the dinner table

that’s metaphor.

What is metaphor for?

Well, meta means beyond.

Metaphor is understanding

in a deeper way.

Without metaphor

imagery is a just a strange skeleton

without flesh and color

something we don’t recognize.

Metaphor is what we know

helping us to see better.

Metaphor is new glasses.

Metaphor is the cloak

thrown over the invisible

to make it appear

and have shape

and make sense.

Without metaphor

poetry would shrivel

and maybe die.

Metaphor waters the poet-tree

and keeps it alive.

That’s meta.

That’s what it’s for.

Metaphor.

In one motion their hands went up to flutter or “sparkle” in silent applause; I had a fleeting sense of being in a beatnik coffee house, minus the sound of finger snaps. Of course these artists, mathematicians, scientists, all, will be chomping to give me specific feedback with the rubric that I helped them create. They’ll do it thoroughly and gleefully, rest assured.

Such a jewel-encrusted, double-edged sword, teaching.