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

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.

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

Warm memory

Not sure what triggers it… but for a moment I am a child in my grandparent’s house, in the tiny kitchen with tongue-and-groove walls painted soft yellow, empty dinner dishes on the table, Granddaddy in his plaid shirt pouring coffee in his saucer to cool it, Grandma in her apron serving flaky biscuits from the oven, Granddaddy grasping the thick glass bottle with the dark blue label reading King Po-T-Rik, adorned with a lion’s head, the dark, dark molasses drizzling into pool on my plate, his handing me a buttered biscuit, me sopping molasses with it… it is heaven, it is home, home, home, it is a hundred, a thousand years ago, and right now, in my remembering…the old ways, they stay, forever, forever, forever.

King Po-T-Rik molasses was manufactured from the early 1900s to 2015.
No other molasses compares to it.
As an adult, I once went to a country buffet that had molasses and biscuits.
I poured the brown richness on my plate and sopped it with a biscuit,
just like Granddaddy and I used to do,
One of the old men, watching me, said:
‘That’s old-school…”
and I was proud.

I’d go back and sop with you in a minute, Granddaddy.
There’s much to be said
for the old ways.

The givers


Remembering people
across the years
with a mixture
of awe, gratitude,
and humility
for often those who
gave me the most
had the least
to give

materially,
at least

I don’t recall
every gift now
only the bright joy
on the faces
of the givers

there is
no calculating
the vast riches
in their hearts
or the price
of their generosity

only that it lives on
long after them

I still hold
their greatest gold:

sacrificial love

Widow’s Mite – Ancient Roman Bronze Coins. IronRodArt – Royce Bair (‘Star Shooter’). CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Amen

Here is a memory
I shall keep for you
all of my days:

when we ask
Where is your turkey?
you pat the colorful creature
adorning your shirt
while attempting to say
gobble gobble

and when our family
gathers round the table
to pray

amid the reverent cadence
of your Grampa’s words
I hear you say

nen

nen

nen

—I shall keep it for you,
this memory:
Thanksgiving gold
your one-year-old
baby voice
blessing us all

Amen

Ekphrastic poem: Ripe Tomatoes

with thanks to Katrina Morrison, host of Ethical ELA’s Tuesday Open Write. Katrina writes: “The worlds of art and poetry meet in the ekphrastic poem. Whether you are viewing an original work in a museum or viewing it virtually, describing it through poetry is the definition of ekphrastic poetry.” Poet Ada Limón shares this reflection in The Slowdown podcast 780: “One of the things I love about art is how we bring ourselves to whatever it is we are experiencing. Whether we want to or not, we see ourselves in the film, the poem, the painting, the song.”

I write of the artwork that came to mind first; I was not the first to see myself in it…

Ripe Tomatoes

Long ago
your father
gave me a card
with a painting
of a woman
in a long white chemise
holding a basket
of ripe tomatoes
in her thin arms

her body is curved
toward the child
at her feet

an overall-clad boy
with a mass
of sunlit curls
atop his head
bent in eating
a tomato
straight from the vine

your father said
the painting
so reminded him
of you
and me

your curls
were black
of course
instead of gold
and I was never 
a gardener

yet I can smell
the tangy greenness
of tomato plants
as the summer sun
beats down
over the rolling hills
and old barns
and tall yellowing grasses
rippling in the wind

could be a scene
from around
the bend

even now

I feel the 
warm tomato skins
under my hand

as I think
of the abundance
I have been given

—take, eat,
my summer child
of the bounty 
of the vine
so deeply rooted
so long ago

and know

love never ceases
to preserve
transcend

and grow

“Ripe Tomatoes.” Robert Duncan.

Man and dog

On my drive to work
at the stop sign
where the grassy green field
borders the rail-fence pasture
where two horses graze
beside the goat pen
where fat little
brown-and-white goats
rest atop their knees
beside the still waters
of the glassy pond
with rising mist

I see a man
walking his old, old dog
(its body is black
but its face as white
as snow)

as I pass
they walk and walk
in the autumn-chill
of another new day
against a backdrop
of brilliant red-orange-gold
and moody sky

the dog’s amber eyes gleam
as it it chugs along
despite weary bones

somehow
this continuity
this reliability
this faithfulness
every morning
is a tonic
to my soul

a shot of goodness
an understanding
that in the far, quiet reaches
something is right
so right
with the world

Cornfield Man. h.koppdelaneyCC BY-ND 2.0.