Imagination

When you are six
and visiting your Franna
you always check the candy dish

today you would find
miniature Reese’s Cups

and when you are tired
of playing Connect Four

you and your Franna
might build a tower
out of the checkers
in an ABABAB pattern

and you might fashion
a tiny crown
out of the gold Reese’s foil
and turn the licked-clean
ridged brown candy paper
into hair
that you place on top
of the checker tower

The Tall Queen,
you would say,
just as she falls
and splatters her checker parts
across the table

The Tall Queen
has fallen in battle!

you would exclaim

(methinks that may
be the influence
of your reading
Narnia books)

but at any rate,
a Shorter Queen seems to do
especially when you ask your Franna
for eyes and a mouth
and she gives you labels
and pens
so you can make them yourself

and in answer to your question:
No, I do not think her crown looks
too much like a Viking hat
although surely the Vikings
had queens,
just saying

(to me she looks like she stepped
right out of Wonderland)

but above all
I think the whole moral
of the story here
is that everything which enters
your realm
when you are six
has a purpose
and is
never wasted

Maiden in the woods

For years now, I’ve caught glimpses of her when I’m driving down a certain road near my home. Between fields and old farmhouses are patches of woods, and that is where I see her.

I might confess that ever since I was a child, whenever I ride by an expanse of woods, I’ve daydreamed about seeing people amongst the trees as I go whipping past. Maybe people of long ago, making a reappearance on the land where they once lived and hunted. Maybe enchanted people, unable to go beyond some magical barrier, or simply relegated to this place of relative obscurity where they are least likely to be detected. In summer, the woods are full and dark; their secrets are more secret than ever, but in winter, the woods are revealing. So many trees are bare and shafts of sunlight illuminate the papery russet detritus of the forest floor…when I ride past in wintertime, I imagine someone stepping back in the shadows, or bending over a cookpot, or doing whatever it is one would do in a secluded woodland semi-existence.

So, actually seeing this maiden in the nearby woods for the first time gave me quite a turn. Now, of course, I know she’s there. I’ve been trying to figure out who or what she is. Perhaps a dryad (Narnia, anyone?), the shy female spirit of a tree, usually an oak in Greek mythology. Dryads look something like their trees and can live for centuries. Or maybe a hamadryad, a nymph so intimately bound to her tree that if the tree dies, she dies, too (anyone remember the scene in The Last Battle when the beechtree nymph runs to the Narnian king, Tirian, to say the talking trees are being felled, then falling and vanishing as her own tree is cut down?).

Although I could never get a good enough look at this maiden in the woods to decide if she might be a dryad or hamadryad, she didn’t seem “tree-ish” enough. No. For one thing, she wears clothes. A top as blue as the bluest untroubled sky, the kind with no clouds in sight, so blue it imparts an inexplicable ache in the heart. She has a long white skirt and some kind of white headdress. And she carries something red in her hands—berries? Grapes? What IS that, and what is she, and why is she standing out here in these woods?

One day, I kept telling myself, I’m gonna stop this car and get a picture…

And so I did.

Last week I pulled off the road and quickly got my shot… I dared not go too far or get too close, as I don’t know whose land this is and… well… you know… possible enchantments…

She appears to be a young Roman woman carrying a harvest of grapes home from a nonexistent vine. Not a goddess, not a dryad. I can’t discern why she’s here. A puzzle. No obvious reason that I can see. I wonder, too, if she was once pale marble or all bronze or solid gray cement—turned to stone, perhaps?—before some artist, whomever it was, chose to spruce her up with color. No telling how old she is, how long she’s been here, and why, why…so many untold stories…

I bet the trees know all about it. I would ask, if only I understood Tree. For they do speak to one another, you know. They have a whole communication network of their own, underground, in the air…

But I am merely human, and as always, the trees hold their mysteries close.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

Z is for… zapple

Breakfast duty at school… I see raised hands.

I go over.

I am expecting one of the following:

I can’t open my milk.
I can’t open this [bag of apple slices].
Can I have a paper towel? I spilled my ____.
Can I have a cup of water/a spoon/a fork/ another biscuit?

I have my responses ready:

Have you tried?
Have you tried?
How did this happen?

Put on your mask and go get it (x3)… and sorry, you only get one.

This is what happens, however, when I get to the little girl sitting with her sister and cousin:

Child: Look, my apple has a z on it.

Me: A z?

[Child holds up apple slice. Peel has been nibbled so that, yes, a sort of letter z remains]

Me: Wow, that IS a z. I guess you could say z is for apple. No—zapple!

[Child giggles]

Child: Yeah, I can eat it and have magic powers. [waggles fingers in air like a magician. Of sorts]

Older Sister [in spite of herself]: Yeah, you can go ZAP! [performs a ZAP with an air wand]

Even Older Cousin [even more in spite of herself]: Or, you could ZOOM.

Me: Ooo, yes! After eating the zapple, you could zap and zoom down the hall to discover a zebra peeking out of a room…

[offstage light shines on the faces of all three children]

Me [seizing the moment]: That would make a great story, wouldn’t it?

Even Older Cousin [with a determined nod]: I’m gonna start typing it on my Chromebook as soon as I get to class…

I leave them talking excitedly about What Happens Next.

Zapples clearly are magical.

*******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Zapple… er, Slice of LIFE Story Challenge every day in the month of March. This is my sixth year participating.

More metaphor dice

My son challenged me to make something with this roll of my metaphor dice: loss, elusive, junkyard.

This is what I have, so far…

Junkyard Loss is Not Elusive 

It is said that imagination
is the junkyard of the brain
where used things lie in limbo
until they are destroyed
taken back by the grass
or called into service again

which is to say
no experience is wasted
only catalogued and stored
in the deep recesses of memory
until the need for it
should arise
in solving a problem
in creating a new thing
in connecting patterns
in different ways of seeing
relating
expressing
understanding

which is to say
that beloved childhood doll
with the cracked face
or the scent of
your father’s shaving cream
or that dog, that dog
that chewed up your best shoes
but slept every night by your side
long ago, so long ago
comes bounding back
for a specific purpose

for there is unseen order
in a junkyard
where used things lie in limbo
until they are called into service again
or destroyed
or taken back
by the grass.


The light

Every morning
at about this time
if I’m not yet out of bed
a curious, pulsating light
enters the room

I would like to think
it’s a Muse, arriving
from celestial regions
bearing new and fragile ideas
for the taking and keeping

or that it’s some other
ethereal visitor
out there beyond
my window
illuminating
the darkness
and if so,
I want to know
why

but no,
it’s only a neighbor
on his morning jog
right on time,
between four and five o’clock
wearing a mining hat
that casts a bright beam
before him as he runs

I think, there’s a metaphor in that
a meditation, a prayer
before I rise
to face the day
in this present darkness:
Let there be a light
on my head
a means of truly seeing
all that I will encounter

not in the inadequacy of
my own shadow, falling before me
no, let it fall behind me
indiscernible in the dark

and so I watch this soft light
bobbing along my walls
permeating my closed blinds
painting pictures real and imagined
in my mind
while the Muse
(who never really leaves)
prods with a finger
or maybe it’s more of a pulling
or a whispering
or all of these

and I sigh,
throwing back the warm covers
rising to write
while it is yet night

a light
to set the day
off
and running

Statue, “Quest for Knowledge,” Washington & Jefferson College, depicting a coal miner on lunch break. Photo by “Kathy,” CC-BY.
My neighbor wears a hat akin to this on his predawn jogs.



Fancy

She is sitting on my lap, scrolling on my phone.

—Franna, I want these.

—Ooooo, so pretty! I love those gloves.

—(nodding) Yes, and the crown. If I have them I will be SO fancy.

—(chuckling) Hmmm…I’ll see what I can do.

She adores being “fancy.” She’s adopted the word all on her own. I suspect Fancy Nancy books may have influenced this. Elsa in Frozen certainly has, hence the request for these particular ice-blue gloves and tiara—sorry, “crown,” my granddaughter declares. At four years of age, she can slink around the house like any haute couture fashion model, pausing with her face turned to one hiked little shoulder, eyes half-lidded…she can’t hold the pose for long, as the rest of us, her loyal subjects, dissolve with laughter.

Oh my, you are so fancy, we tell her.

Of course, she replies in her “fancy” voice, blinking slowly, before erupting in giggles and breaking her own spell.

The little package is waiting for her the next time she arrives.

No words for the magic on her face when she opens it, for the way she gingerly caresses the plastic pendant, as if it were the Hope Diamond. Within seconds she’s all decked out in her fancy finery. For the remainder of her visit, she walks with a regal air and won’t remove those gloves for anything except her breakfast of French toast.

I suspect she knows she’s the queen of our hearts.

One must be fancy even while helping to set up Christmas decorations.

In my humble opinion, the rest of the ensemble was necessary.

*******

Inspired by SOS — Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. This week’s prompt was “fancy,” with this quote from Donald Miller: “Everybody wants to be someone fancy. Even if they’re just shy.” If you write or want to write just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

Wolf at the door

A friend sent me this photo after my recent pareidolia poem to a face in a cloud – pareidolia being the misperception of a stimulus as some familiar object, pattern, or meaning. It’s a normal phenomenon. The human brain’s visual system has a specialized mechanism for face recognition: the fusiform face area. We see, we interpret, we strive to make meaning, in more ways than we ever realize…

So: Do you see the wolf in this wood panel?

Imagine, then, seeing it in your house as a small child, every time you enter your bedroom… seems there could be a lesson here about our worst monsters existing only in our minds, but today the wolf has demanded a poem.

Far be it from me to argue…

Don’t really feel like playing
Not sure I should be saying
In case it hears me
Because it skeers me
That wolf beside my door.
Don’t want to go to bed
If a hundred times it’s said
It’s waiting in the dark there
To snarl and bite and bark there
That wolf beside my door.
What will it do as I go past?
Even if I try it super fast?
No one else knows why
I sit in the floor and cry
Except the wolf beside my door.
Please, I want to say,
Won’t you just go away?
If you will let me rest
I’ll do my very best
Oh Wolf—give me my door!
I hear his wild laughter
Ringing ever after
“Tell me, then, what for?
You’re not a child any more,”
Said the wolf who’s at my door.

With thanks to my friend for the photo and the idea, and to Two Writing Teachers for providing a word-playground for a Slice of Life to run and be free.

Pareidolia poem

From Greek para “beside, alongside” and eidolon, “image, form, shape,” pareidolia is the misperception of a stimulus as something familiar to the observer. The brain is, after all, a pattern-seeking device… surely that is why poetry speaks to us so…

Riding in the car, zipping past
Sunlit dappling shadows cast
Through trees, racing, racing fast
A speeding journey to the last.

Above in the sky I see
That you are following after me
Swiftly sailing your airy sea
Marking my passage, tree to tree.

There in your ethereal shroud
Where silence reigns so blue, so loud
Fleeting as life, warning the proud
Face of mourning in the cloud.

*******

In celebration of Poetry Friday … for more offerings visit Whispers on the Ridge – thanks for hosting, Kiesha.

The portal

Written for Spiritual Journey Thursday.

As COVID restrictions finally began to lift, my husband and I ventured out to a nice restaurant for lunch. We practically had the place to ourselves. Afterward, as the day was bright and breezy, we decided to walk along the outdoor mall’s trendy shops and boutiques. The sidewalks, normally crowded, were empty, perfect for a promenade… I almost felt as if I should be holding a parasol and that my husband should be wearing a striped jacket, a straw hat, and carrying an ornamental cane…on and on we strolled, aimlessly, just drinking in the glorious early-summer afternoon, temperate and rare.

“Let’s cross over here,” said my husband, grasping my hand, when I looked up to see…

on an otherwise blank, unremarkable wall…

a magical door.

“Oooh! Wait!” I said, dropping my husband’s hand to take a picture: I must write about this…

A painted portal. With light fixtures on either side to illuminate it at night. Even though it isn’t really a door.

—Or is it?

It seems straight out of a fantasy novel: A door to another world, a conspicuous portkey, an enchanted painting like that of the Narnian ship Dawn Treader hanging on a bedroom wall, coming to life as Eustace, Edmund, and Lucy rushed at it and fell through into the ocean…

Standing there on the vacant sidewalk, on that bright, ethereal afternoon so strangely devoid of other people, I could almost believe the portal was real, that it led to… something beyond.

I recognized the depiction, of course—a modified version of one of the best-known works of art in the world. Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. He painted it in his asylum room. It’s the view from his window, facing east, before the sunrise. He would write to his brother that “the morning star was very large.” The scene is dark. It is blue. At the time, van Gogh’s mind was dark and blue; he was a deeply religious man who’d suffered much mental and emotional pain, who’d sacrificed for his art to his own detriment, though most others found little value in his paintings until after his suicide. The full scope of the village can’t be seen here in the portal on the wall, and it wasn’t a village that van Gogh saw as he painted the original; it was in his mind. Those are cypress trees dominating the foreground—funerary trees, symbols of mourning.

I thought: Is this a portal I’d want to pass through? A place where I really want to find myself?

But then… my husband and I had just come out of a dark place. The COVID stay-at-home order. Shadowy, uncertain days swirling with horror and mourning as the worldwide death toll spiked. Refrigerated trucks needed for storing corpses, images of caskets lined up for burial… which of us ever expected to find ourselves here? Public places closed for the sake of public health, at last re-opening, tentatively, with social distancing requirements… we were still (and still are, even now) unable to return to church where my husband pastors…

—The church. Note how large it is, there in the mysterious doorway. Much larger in proportion to the one van Gogh actually painted. He wanted to be a pastor. He failed the exams. He became a missionary, gave up his own comfort on behalf of the impoverished congregation, and slid deeper into psychosis and poverty.

This artwork hits me anew with its unique, transformative force… for that is what art does. It speaks to the spirit. Van Gogh didn’t paint what he saw; he painted his interpretation of it. The tormented man looked through the asylum window and focused on the stars. A hundred and thirty-one years later I stand on a sidewalk before a quasi-reproduction of his famous work, looking at the enlarged church, with the words of C.S. Lewis echoing in my mind: “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

A spiritual portal, leading to something beyond.

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh (MOMA). Photo: Wouter de Bruijn, 2014. CC BY-NC-SA.

*******

Much gratitude to Margaret Simon for hosting Spiritual Journey Thursday for August on her blog, Reflections on the Teche. Margaret said: “My topic is spiritual art. I often find that art speaks to me in a spiritual way, like poetry.” Sparked by this challenge. my thoughts went straight to the portal, this painting, and van Gogh. Visit Margaret’s post, “Art for the Soul,” for more odysseys.

The C.S. Lewis quote is from The Weight of Glory, a wartime sermon first published in 1941. The title is derived from 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

The bottle

Today I have a literal “found poem.” Meaning not one derived from another’s work but as in finding it while going through folders from previous school years and unearthing poetry I’d modeled for students on writing around an object. I remember taking three objects with special meaning to me so the kids could choose which I’d write about.

They chose the bottle.

Which I found after my grandfather’s death, visiting the farm where he was born. It was the second and last time I walked this piece of land. The first time, my grandfather, grown old and frail, walked with me. Ten acres of fields bordered by trees is all that remains, but he showed me where the house once stood, and the barns, and the henhouse … all gone without a trace now.

Except for some long-buried treasures.

In the old days, farm families had a trash pile. What wasn’t burned away with fire, or washed away by ages of wind and weather, or destroyed by perpetual tractors and harrows, might be swallowed by the earth until the earth is ready to give it back.

I wasn’t expecting such a gift the day I walked alone, mourning my grandfather.

So, I told the students, as I prepared to draft, when you write about an object you might also consider the feeling the object triggers in you. For me, with this bottle, it’s wonder. I want to incorporate a sense of wonder in this poem.

And so I wrote for them, and they enjoyed making artistic suggestions (they wanted it to rhyme):

Granddaddy is gone
And I walk his old farm
How he loved this place
This wide-open space
Nothing now to see
Where barns and house used to be
Just an empty field
After harvest’s yield
Cold breeze blows
Through my heart, it goes
When I spot in a bit of grass
Sunlight glistening on—glass?
I momentarily forget my hurt
As I dig it from the dirt
—a bottle, imagine that
No telling how long it sat
Buried deep in this ground
As the as the years circled round
Whose hand touched it last
In that long ago past?
Clear glass, heavy, yet small
Cracked but unbroken, all in all
What unseen secrets must it hold
This bottle of stories untold

It holds untold stories, all right. I’ve not determined exactly what tincture this old bottle actually held. The faintest embossed image of a root, almost worn away, remains on the front. A health tonic, likely. I know my grandfather had a sister who died of diphtheria at age three, in 1907. I doubt the bottle is that old but I have visions of my great-grandmother nursing her ailing children and tossing that empty bottle onto the trash heap…

Sparking me to attempt a didactic cinquain:

Bottle
Antiquated, weather-worn
Eroding, cracking, enduring
Poured out for healing
Elixir

Or maybe a double reversed etheree:

Empty of that for which you were fashioned
vessel of life-blood for veins long ceased
drawn from roots to nourish my own
cold glass clasped in hands now still

spooned in mouths now silent
elixir fully
poured out, consumed
every drop

gone
cast off
forgotten
swallowed by earth
kept year after year
without ceremony
lying silent, eroding
enduring seasons, weathering
cracking but enduring, determined
to remain clear with your story obscured.

—oh, little bottle.

How I wish you could speak.