Car poem: Galaxie Ride

with thanks to Susie Morice for the car poem inspiration on the Ethical ELA Open Write today

Galaxie Ride

One thing I knew
from the beginning:

We were a Ford family.

Granddaddy could recall
his first glimpse 
of a Model T.

Daddy always spoke
with a trace
of yearning for 
the white Thunderbird
he gave up
after I was born.

I came along in the era
when cruising the Earth
was not enough;
governments sought
to be the best
at hurling humanity
into space.

In the hazy gray memories
of my early days, 
one bright pop of color
stands out:

Grandma’s car.

Ford Galaxie 500
fire-engine red
rocket-sleek
aerodynamic
meant for racing

curious choice
for a grandmother.

She loved it.

Granddaddy bought it used
never imagining, I suspect,
that it would carry us
through three decades.

No power steering
—that silver steering wheel, 
a full cardio workout—

no AC

—sweltering in southern summers:
when I was twelve 

I left a stack of 45 rpm records
on the rear window dash
and they melted, 
rippling up
just like ribbon candy.
Grandma would tuck a Kleenex
into her cleavage
to absorb the sweat—

seats trimmed in red leather
upholstered in scratchy red fabric
studded with silver dots
—I like to think they were stars—

I cannot remember seatbelts.

Over the years
the red fabric
faded to pink
and began to split.

By that time I’d learned to drive
having practiced
with the old red Ford
on the old dirt road
of my father’s childhood home.

Grandma said:
“Honey, if you can drive this,
you can drive anything”

—and she was right.

The Galaxie and me. Grandma took this photo. Can you guess her favorite color-?

Daddy with his pride and joy. I believe the T-Bird had a red interior.

Anniversary of twelves

On the twelfth day of December, back in the Great Depression, my grandparents were married. My father was born the following October in a tenant farmhouse.

That’s my grandmother’s wedding band in the photo. It’s not the one she received on her wedding day. That ring was thin; it wore “clean through,” Grandma said. Broke in half due to overuse, in the days when washing machines had wringers, in an era of canning and preserving, in the time of sharecropping cotton and looping tobacco.

This is Grandma’s replacement ring. She had her initials and Granddaddy’s engraved inside, along with their wedding date. A wide gold band, made to last.

It is my ring now. I wear it every day.

Often thinking of December 12th.

For it’s not the only anniversary.

Almost thirty years after my grandparents married, their youngest daughter got married. On the same day.

She was eighteen. A senior in high school.

Her husband, my uncle, was going to Vietnam.

I went to that wedding. In utero. I wasn’t born for another five months. My presence was obvious; my mother couldn’t fit into the dress she planned to wear. She had to rush out and buy a new one that day.

My young aunt mailed black-and-white baby pictures of me to my uncle on his tours of duty.

He brought these pictures back home with him.

Fast forward three decades…

On December 12th, exactly sixty years to the day of my grandparents’ wedding, my husband and I learn that we will have another child.

A second son. Our last child.

My grandparents lived to see him and know him. To tell him they loved him, like they always told me.

It is a day of remembrance for me, December 12th. A deep and quiet knowing, a dark-blue glittering gem that I carry in myself in the middle of the holiday season. Meaningful. Valuable. Priceless.

I think of the long-ago Decembers. Family gatherings, celebrations. Layers of blessing. A blanket unfolding again and again to encompass the next generation.

I am a grandparent now; the mantle is passed.

It is one comprised of faith. Of courage and commitment. In it lies the story of persevering against unknowable odds. The Depression. Vietnam. In it I find strength for living now. I know that what keeps us pressing on is having someone to press on for.

Numerologists might wax eloquent on the significance of the number twelve, in all its powerful associations. We mark our time by twelves on the clock, by months in the year…there are ancient connotations such as twelve Olympians, twelve disciples, twelve tribes of Israel, twelve of days of Christmas… twelves go on and on. Twelve is considered the number of perfection, cosmic order, completion. Just now I recall that our second son was born in our twelfth year of marriage. I am not a numerologist, only a poet contemplating patterns. Not a mathematician, just a wonderer. A believer. Pythagoras is said to have said: “There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.”

I sense a geometry in dates and a musicality to years…a song of life and the living of it. For me, this is the lesson of 12/12. There’s something of eternity in it.

Which makes perfect sense, if twelve is God’s number.

The song is love.

*******

Many thanks to Two Writing Teachers and the Slice of Life Story Challenge community.
And to readers…you’re all part of the story and the song.

Thanksgiving legacy

I once read of a young woman preparing her kitchen for Passover. Amid the traditional cleaning and purging, she had a sense of taking her place in the long line of women who had done so before her, throughout history. As if the rituals of tradition invoked their presence, for within the actions lie inextricable, unbroken threads of purpose, holiness, praise, gratitude…

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I have a similar sensation. Driving to the grocery store, armed with a list of ingredients for foods that my children have requested (deviled eggs and carrot cake chief among them), I am enchanted by autumn’s alchemy. Late afternoon sun gilds the trees along the roadside. The blending of red, orange, bronze, some trees already bare, preparing for winter…for a moment, for mere seconds, I imagine there are figures running through these flickering sunlit woods. If I could look long enough, or just right, I might catch glimpses of people as they were in times past, maybe even my childhood self. Burnished memories still living, beckoning…snapshot scenes of Thanksgivings, with card tables set up for the children. Heads bowed in prayer. My grandfather’s humble blessing, his knobbled, work-worn hands. Grandma’s deviled eggs and potato salad, Mama’s carrot cake (the hit of every holiday gathering), Grannie’s rum pound cake…lifting that big old Tupperware lid, the first whiff nearly knocking me down, but the moist golden richness after…incomparable. I find myself yearning for a slice of it now.

In the process of cleaning and preparing for the holidays I reorganized a closet. I found a box of Grandma’s things. Letters and cards given to her over the years, her green-bronze jewelry box containing her clip-on “earbobs”. Old photos. Books and trinkets I’d given her. Her diaries, dating back to when I was twelve. Programs from my school plays. Her funeral program. And I think about how life is the story of love, sacrifice, survival. How she and Grannie did much with little, raising children during the Great Depression. How they held faith and family above all else…how they do not feel far from me, even now, as I write these words. My own granddaughter, their great-great granddaughter, will be four weeks old on Thanksgiving Day. I have a profound sense of taking my place in a hallowed line of legacy and love. With abiding gratitude. And joy, shining like the immutable sun on the autumn trees, in the ongoing story of survival. The turning of pages, new chapters, in a gilt-bound book…

Here’s to all the blessings that were, are, and are still to come.

Our precious Micah

Reflections of gratitude: Spiritual journey

For my newborn granddaughter, Micah

What shall I tell you about the day you were born?

Your Grandpa and I were waiting in the carpool line to pick your big sister up from kindergarten when your dad texted: Micah is here! 9 lbs!

Gratitude flooded our hearts as photos flooded our phones.

We wept at sight of you. Your sister would say “happy cried.”

Looking at your beautiful rosy face, a thousand thoughts fluttered in my mind, like birds descending from the azure sky, landing one by one on soft, moss-covered branches…

I remembered it was supposed to storm that day, and it didn’t; the late October sun shone for all it was worth, illuminating the countryside with brilliant gold, orange, yellow, and scarlet.

I forgot the shadows, worries, and grind of daily life.

I remembered the story of my own birth, told over and over to me by my grandmother: She, Daddy, Granddaddy, and Grannie stood looking at me through the nursery window, Grandma “happy cried,” Daddy said I looked just like Granddaddy.

I forgot to be sad about not going to the hospital to see you on the day you were born due to limited visitors in COVID protocols.

I remembered that I’d be able to come the next day, and that it would suffice.

I forgot there was even a pandemic.

I remembered the joy of your father’s birth, the fierce motherlove which surged in my veins, which surges still, and exponentially now, for you.

I forgot about fearing my own inadequacies.

I remembered to wear Grandma’s locket.

I forgot, until your curious big sister opened it, that your father’s newborn picture was nestled inside.

I remembered the promises of God, that blessings fall on the generations of those who love Him, my precious, precious baby Micah, daughter and granddaughter of pastors: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9, ESV).

I have never forgotten that.

Thankful for the infinite grace of God. Love you always, Micah. – Franna

********

with thanks to Denise Krebs for hosting November’s Spiritual Journey Thursday group, with a focus on gratitude.

and also to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge.

I am deeply grateful for you all.

Shimmer of being alive poem

Late September

across the street
the first few spots
of yellow dot the lush green
abundance of trees
despite the searing blueness of sky
and bathwater-saturated
Carolina air

lingering summer

yet in it I feel a tinge
the tiniest tinge
an almost imperceptible
coolness

deep in the wooded shadows
from a sun-patched limb, no doubt,
a lone cicada takes up his rattle
crescendo, decrescendo


they were late arriving this year
but still here

driving to work
along the winding backroads
a darting from the left
two gray squirrels, 
scampering in tandem
right in front of me
on the double yellow lines

I stop for them 
they stop for me

after a moment
of squirrel contemplation
one continues on across
but the other, the other
turns back
with something in its mouth

not an acorn, something hanging
pale-colored
I’ve never seen the likes
but instinctively know:
that’s a baby squirrel

and on I drive, thinking
of the old squirrel twins book
my grandmother read to me
so long ago

and of how I shall read it
to my own granddaughter
arriving in a few short weeks

the morning September sun shimmers
rose-gold in my rearview mirror
like promises steeped in time

I no longer dream of dying
like I did when I was nine
now, in my first tinge of autumn
I dream of new babies born
every night

*******

with thanks to Sarah Donovan at Ethical ELA for the inspiration to write poetry
around moments of knowing “I am alive.”

What’s in a name poem

I love the mid-monthly Ethical ELA Open Write for educators. The kickoff for July is hosted today by Mo Daley, who offers the invitation to explore your name, and who you are, through poetry.

I happened to write a post about my name in March: Frances. This morning I rework it here, with a few more layers of meaning…

Early morning
before the dawn
as first birds begin to sing

I light a candle
on my table

I sit
by its wavering halo
to write
about my name.

In the beginning
I didn’t even know
it was my name.

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Brown, 
called the roll: 
Frances?…Frances?

She finally narrowed her eyes at me: 
Aren’t you Frances?

Sitting before her at a tiny table, I blinked: 
No. I’m Fran.

An inauspicious start
to my academic career.

The first shaky foot
on the lifepath
of learning who I am.

I didn’t love it at first,
my name.

Early on
(sometime after kindergarten,
that is)
Daddy told me
it was after his mother,
Ruby Frances

Grandma

my consummate storyteller
avid letter-writer
daily diarist
devout reader
tireless defender-angel
Grandma

On the day you were born
I stood at the nursery window

and cried.

You looked
like a little angel.

Grandma

My life’s memories
begin in her arms
on her lap
being rocked
in time to the beating of her heart
and the cadence of her voice
singing
Jesus loves me, this I know
or reading reading reading
until I could recite
the rhyming stories
by heart, page by page
long before I went to school

Grandma

who read the entire Bible aloud
several times over
to Granddaddy
who could not read it 
for himself

Grandma

who was named
after her beloved Papa,
Francis

a very religious man

who nevertheless hung himself
on a tree in the woods
in front of her childhood home
when she was just sixteen

Grandma,

I asked, when I was around sixteen,

did you know
that the name Frances
means ‘free’

or ‘one who is from France?’

We talked about it in French class
today

—Does it? I didn’t know.
I loved taking French

—You took French? Really?

—Yes. Such a beautiful language

I didn’t tell her
we got to choose French names
for class
and I chose to be Renée 
without realizing 
that it means born again

or that the kids back in elementary school
could never get our name right:
Hi, France! they’d cheerfully greet me.

I’d grit my teeth:
It is Fran
or Frances.
Not ‘France’.
I am not
a country.

No one else in school
had my name.

It wasn’t cute or popular
since maybe 1886

not to mention
the spelling problem
such as on labels
from the pharmacy:
Francis

Does the world at large
not understand
or care
that the feminine spelling
is with an e?

I wanted to hurl
those little orange bottles
through the window

along with my problematic name

until the day I was teaching
a group of little Spanish-speaking girls
how to read English
and one of them grabbed my badge
to decode my name:
Fran

Very good! That’s really my nickname.
It’s short for Frances.

Ooooo, breathed my little student.
That sounds just like ‘princess’.

In all my years
I’d never thought of that

even though Princess Diana’s middle name
was Frances

and I have to laugh a little now
because Daddy always said
You ought to take Spanish instead of French,
it would be more useful.

He couldn’t have been more right, alas.
He usually was.

I wonder what he’d say now
if he knew my DNA tests
reveal a dollop of French ancestry
that he very likely
passed down…

and as I’ve been writing
the sun has risen
bright and ever-new

a red dragonfly
lands on the little statue of Saint Francis
by my front steps

never minding that I’m not Catholic

nesting birds find sanctuary here
on my porch
along with a host of small creatures
seeking a resting place
even the occasional stray cat in need
for whom I leave fresh water.

The candle’s wavering halo
is invisible now
in the sunlight spilling
through the windows

as I write about my name
this inheritance
I’ve come to treasure
at last

and it just so happens
that the candle’s fancy label says
chèvrefeuille
French for “honeysuckle”

the flower and scent
of happiness
of hardiness
of devotion
and everlasting bonds

like a legacy of love

and unseen angels

that are
always near.

Note on red dragonflies, mentioned also in my most recent post: I’ve seen them for the first time this summer. They’re stunning and in some cultures, considered a sign of the sacred.

Facing fears poem

National Poetry Month has ended, and I miss it. While I may not be posting every day for a while, I continue to write.

The last prompt on Ethical ELA’s #VerseLove was on fear. Articulating it, facing it…perhaps conquering it.

This got me thinking how facing a thing for what it really is = the first step in conquering. There’s a lot of extreme anxiety in the world today. A lot of hatred. Sometimes we just don’t see things for what they are…including our own thoughts.

And so this poem was born.

Courage, peace, and wellness to you, Friends. Whatever it is…you can overcome.

My Fear Haiku

I once read a book
where people’s eyes turned inward.
They died from seeing

what’s inside their minds.
I trembled to take a look
at what lurks in mine.

Now I remember
what Granddaddy once told me
regarding black snakes:

don’t ever kill them.
See, black snakes eat rats and mice;
they’re good. We need them.

I think fear’s like that
snaking along, with purpose
something quite useful

so I never try
to kill it. Let it consume
the uglier parts

of my thoughts, and go its way
leaving me with a clean peace
and a better mind

so that all I fear,
in the end, is forgetting
memories of love.

Path of peace. The view after turning off the highway to visit my grandparents. The house is my grandmother’s homeplace, where she and her eight siblings were born in the early 1900s. Just ahead, around the bend on the left, stood my grandparents’ home where my dad and his sisters grew up in the 1940s-50s, and where I spent many childhood summers.

My safest haven on Earth. Snakes and all.

Love, life lessons, legacy, and memories live on.

Saying something back poem

with thanks to Katie at #verselove on Ethical ELA yesterday. She inspired poets to look around the room for an object of great personal significance, followed by a brainstorming process for finding the object’s own voice and characteristics: “Now that you have stilled this object in order to distill it in a piece of art, it’s time to bring it to life. Listen to it, and once you are ready, consider: If it were a character…and say something back.”

For Day Twenty-Nine of National Poetry Month

Repository

high-backed
mahogany cracked
infinitesimal spider veins

ever musty
oh so dusty
relic of bygone days

when the harmonies rang
and people sang
songs by shape note

now more of a reliquary

with touch-memory
of her hands
on your beloved keys

they don’t forget

somewhere in that
high-backed
mahogany cracked
prized-possession frame

amid your hammers and strings
and octavian dreams

surely you must
hold her dust
alongside mine
skin cells of
the child I was

relics of bygone days
side by side
just as we used to be
on your bench, of a summer night
in pale lamplight

singing
of the sweet by and by
when we shall meet on that beautiful shore

in the meantime
despite your need for tuning
and your wonky key

her great-grandson
stirs the slumbering chords again
the dust
the strings
the house
the blood in our veins
pounding out the glory
of the old, old story

blood does not forget

she’d be overjoyed
with my boy

as you must surely be

as you whisper to me

in high-backed
mahogany cracked
corners
where silence
aches

The piano dates to pre-WWII days, possibly the 1920s. My grandfather bought it secondhand for my grandmother. I spent many hours beside her on the bench as she played and sang alto to my soprano. In her last years she moved in with my aunt and finally the nursing home. She gave the piano to me: “It’s my most-prized possession, you know.” I never learned how to play but my my youngest son grew up loving old gospel songs. He’s a magnificent pianist who graduated from college with a music ministry degree; not a day passes that I don’t think of how elated she’d be to know this.

The piano knows, and remembers all.

My grandmother at the piano, long before my time

Frances

I don’t know how old I was when I realized.

I hated it.

My name.

In kindergarten, I didn’t even know it was my name.

My teacher, Mrs. Brown, called the roll:

“Frances?…Frances?”

She finally narrowed her eyes at me: “Aren’t you Frances?”

Sitting there at my tiny desk, I blinked: “No. I’m Fran.”

Such an illustrious beginning to my academic career.

Nobody called me by it much, except my aunts. My mother’s sisters. “Frrrraaanncessss,” they’d say, rather posh, although they weren’t. They were a colorful blend of heavy smoker and ribald raconteur. With looonnnnnnnnnng Carolina drawls.

My father used it when he was angry: “Fran-CES!” —Yeah, the emphasis on that last syllable, utterly ominous.

Nobody else in school had my name. Lots of Debbies, Dianes, Jennifers, Kellys, Sherrys, Angies, even a Charlene or two. There were names that felt like poetry to me: Vonda, Monica and Erica (twins), and Lawandra. Even a girl with a Hawaiian name: Leilani. Gorgeous.

Not my name. It was popular in, like, 1894.

When my reading group was learning about spoof in fifth grade, the teacher allowed the three of us to illustrate it to the class. My spoof: I had legally changed my name. To Diane or Debbie or something (can’t quite recall). Something that blended in much better and was much cuter.

The class didn’t buy it. There was no escaping.

Many of the kids couldn’t even get it right. “Hey, France,” they’d cheerfully greet me.

I glared at them, responding though clenched teeth: “It is Frances, or it is Fran. Not France. I am not a country.”

Early on (sometime after kindergarten, anyway) I learned that I’d been named for my paternal grandmother, Ruby Frances, whom I loved long before my memory ever kicked in. She remains, to this day, my life’s single greatest influence and guiding force. I never wanted to be away from her. We treasured every moment we had together throughout her long years. Grandma was named for her father, Francis. She adored him, always spoke of him with great affection and admiration. She saved a wooden jewelry box he gave her during the Depression. It is mine, now. She cherished my being her namesake; my love for her and this generational legacy were the only saving grace I could find in my name.

It was problematic on another count. The pharmacy couldn’t spell it right on prescription labels: Francis. Did the world at large not understand that the feminine spelling is with an e? I felt like chucking those little orange bottles through the window.

But then I learned a couple of things. The name means free. Or, one who is from France. Interesting that I discovered this while taking French in middle school, where the class got to choose French names. I was Renée. Spoken from the throat.

“Hey, Grandma, did you know the name Frances means one who is from France?”

“It does? I loved taking French in school.”

“You took French?”

“Oh, yes. I thought it was such a beautiful language.”

My DNA tests now tell me there’s a dollop of French ancestry. Not hard to guess which side passed it down. Although my father told me I should be taking Spanish instead because it’s more practical. He was right, alas…but I loved French and studied it until I had dreams fully narrated en français.

Funny how my elementary classmates used to call me France.

Then there was the little group of Spanish-speaking girls in my first teaching job, one of whom grabbed my badge across the reading table and sounded out my first name: Fran. “Great job!” I said. “That’s really my nickname. It’s short for Frances.”

“Ooooooo,” said my little student, “that sounds like princess.”

I never, ever would have thought of that, even though I knew Princess Diana’s middle name was… Frances. Even though I wore my hair in a Princess Diana bob for several years. My hat in yesterday’s post is an artifact of those days.

Was there a poetic quality to my name, after all?

And, even though I’m not Catholic, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi stands by my front steps. Patron saint of animals, always depicted with birds, which are often in my dreams and blog posts, for they speak to me each day. In their own bird languages, that is.

So it’s only taken a few decades but I’ve grown into my name. I cling to the legacy of it, have come to hear the musicality in it, even in all its variations. Except, perhaps, for Fanny.

Ahem. Moving on…

My favorite of all, from my granddaughter: Franna.

Now, that’s gorgeous.

*******

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 approachOn Day 6, I am writing around a word beginning with letter f. Figured I might as well write around my name… a fun way of inspiring more stories from your life is brainstorming words and phrases that somehow describe you, that also begin with the first letter of your first name:

Breakaway poem play

At SOS—Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, Ruth encourages playing with paragraphing and line breaks, as “a simple break changes the sound and, sometimes, the meaning.”

I am resharing this memoir poem I wrote a few months ago, wherein I played with line breaks. I am still playing with them.

This is one of my favorites. For many reasons. A scene I witnessed last year, during my husband’s recovery:

The Passing

She comes out of his study carrying it
in her four-year-old arms
and his face is transformed, glowing
as if a passing cloud has uncovered the sun.
He leans forward in the recliner as she
drops it, kicks it, sets it spinning
—Oh, no, he says, this one’s not for kicking,
it’s for dribbling, just as the ball stops
at his feet. He reaches down, lifts it
with the easy grace of the boy on the court,
hands perfectly placed on the worn brown surface
in split-second calculation of the shot
so many times to the roar of the school crowd
so many hours with friends, his own and then
his son’s, still outscoring them all, red-faced,
heart pounding, dripping with sweat, radiant
—and at twelve, all alone on the pavement
facing the hoop his mother installed
 in the backyard of the new house
after his father died, every thump echoing
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.
The game’s in the blood, the same DNA
that just last year left him with a heart full
of metal and grafts, too winded to walk
more than short distances, having to stop
to catch his breath, deflated
—it needs some air. Do you have a pump,
he asks his son, sitting there on the sofa,
eyes riveted to the screen emitting
continuous squeaks of rubber soles
against hardwood.
—Yeah, Dad. I’ve got one and the needle, too.
His father leans in to the little girl at his knee,
his battered heart in his hands:
—Would you like to have it?
She nods, grinning, reaching,
her arms, her hands
almost too small
to manage the old brown sphere
rolling from one to the other
like a whole world
passing.

Photo: Marcus BalcherCC BY-SA

More fun wordplay in my post title: A hinged basketball hoop that bends downward with a slam dunk and springs back into place is called a breakaway rim.

If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join the open-hearted group at
Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.
#sosmagic

Also celebrating poems and poets in the vibrant Poetry Friday community – many thanks to Margaret Simon for hosting the Roundup at Reflections on the Teche.