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.

The cicada

Yesterday I tried to rescue a cicada that had fallen on the pavement in the bus loop at school.

I didn’t see it fall. I only saw it on its back, wildly fluttering its wings, unable to right itself.

As cicadas are huge insects, many of my colleagues preferred not to get near it.

But I have loved cicadas all my life. Their summer song, that choral buzzing swelling from the treetops, sends my spirit spiraling skyward. I find it among the most comforting of Earth’s songs.

And so I went and picked it up.

The cicada beat its wings in a frenzy, for a second clinging to my dress with its hook-legs.

I placed it, right side up, in the mulch at the roots of a crape myrtle.

It flipped over on its back again.

This is what cicadas do, what most insects do, when they are dying. Their legs can’t support them anymore.

I figured the creature would be gone by the time school dismissal was over. All I could do was provide a dignified passing for it in the mulch under the tree versus being flattened by the wheel of a bus.

But it was still alive, moving its legs a little, when time came for me to leave.

So I put it in a cup and brought it home.

It was still and silent for most of the ride, except for one episode of weak wing-beating against the cup.

I placed it, right side up, under some ivy in a planter on the back deck.

A couple of hours later, it was on its back again, still feebly moving a leg or two.

I don’t know how long it takes cicadas to die. I don’t know if they feel pain, anxiety, or fear. I know they live the greater part of their lives underground (up to 17 years, some of them) and their time above is short (a few weeks). I start listening for their song at the end of May, the month of my birth, and I hear the last strains sometime in September. Cyclical, symbolic creatures, cicadas. Across cultures and legends, they’re most often associated with immortality and resurrection.

Yet this one was dying. I couldn’t help it or save it. I couldn’t tell it how grateful I am for its kind, and it couldn’t care. I couldn’t give it peace.

In the end, it gave me peace to let it play out here at home with honor in the ivy-sheltered planter. As night drew near, dozens of other cicadas called from the trees…a fitting requiem for a fellow northern dusk-singing cicada.

Maybe it could hear. Maybe the song was a comfort, a blessing, a benediction.

It was for me.

My northern dusk-singing cicada

Immersed in Van Gogh

Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives
and we obey them without realizing it.
– Vincent van Gogh

3D bust of the artist with light and shadows playing across his face

I spent a short while immersed in the world of Van Gogh (visiting Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience) and what I come away with is profound sense of contrasts…

-glories of nature against dark anguish of the human soul
-wholesome serenity of pastoral life against psychosis and extreme loneliness
-wonder at scientific evidence that a man who used so much color so brilliantly was likely color-blind

I stood in a dark room illuminated by his swirling sunflowers, floating bursts of fiery light. This is the flower most associated with happiness; the tortured artist loved them. His doctor-friend planted them on his grave.

I took a virtual journey from the bedroom at Arles past the bright wheatfields where crows lazily took flight, through the peaceful woods (Van Gogh loved long walks in the woods) into the village where fireflies danced around lampposts, to the riverside of the Rhone, where the stars gleamed above… the journey ended with rising into the stars and landing back in the bedroom at Arles where the floor, walls, bed, stand with pitcher and basin, straw hat, and strewn paint supplies materialized around me. I know Van Gogh’s famous quote about painting his dream but the quote that lingers is this: Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.

You are so right, Vincent. So right.

And so we paint our lives.

Immersed in swirling sunflowers

3D rendering of “The Vestibule,” in the Saint Paul De Mausole Asylum

Short clip: Scenes of Van Gogh’s self-portraits set to music

What the sea teaches

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and, greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”

—Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift From the Sea

Lindbergh’s words come back to me as I contemplate the frenzy of living and the pull of making the most of every moment, especially on vacation (how often do we say we need a vacation after returning from our vacation?). Life is not always a matter of doing, of endlessly digging for treasure…but carving out time just to be and to see what treasures may come. For they will. And we will be far less likely to miss them.

On this day

Nine months
since you entered the world
making mine
exponentially beautiful
every single day

Three years
since your Grandpa
had a massive heart attack
while driving
and the deputy sheriff
came to tell
your future dad, uncle,
and me (Franna)
that he’d run off the road
and was being taken
to the hospital
where we were told
he’d been resuscitated

they weren’t sure
he’d make it

he did

Grandpa lived
to see you
love you
and call you
“little angel”

I say
there must be
some mighty ones
all around

Micah, 9 months, looking up at her Grandpa

Eight months

Numbering the days
God recreated my world
with your arriving

My beloved Micah

One day I will tell you many stories, such as how you don’t like to take naps during the day and how I can manage to rock you to sleep. I like to think of it as Franna-magic. I will tell you that at eight months you suffer separation anxiety when you come to my house and your parents are out of your sight. I will tell you how you cry about that and how I take you outside and then you stop crying because it’s June, everything is so green, and the birds are always singing; you grow still, listening to their lively songs. Best of all, you heard your first cicada in my arms, one loner rattling high in the pines; you lifted your tear-streaked baby face to the sky in wonder. One day I will tell you that when I was a little girl staying with my grandparents in the summertime, the constant rising and falling of hundreds of cicada-rattles became my favorite sound. For me it is an Earth-song of belonging, comfort, hope, resurrection. It sings in my veins. In that sound, my grandmother is near. Perhaps you will love it too, my precious Micah. Maybe it will be one of many bonds we share in all the days and seasons and years to come, a tympani accompaniment to our generations, going on…just know that today and every day, your presence in this world is my new and hallowed heartsong.

XOXOXO forever & ever – Franna

Patch of earth

Sunny afternoon
visiting my son

my granddaughter
walks me out
to a patch
of dusty gray soil
shadowed by
the old live oak
not far from
the swingset

here, she says,
is where
we saw the turtle
laying eggs
then she
went away
into the woods

that is the way
of turtles, I say
she will not
come back

my granddaughter nods
and I recall
that her first word
was turtle

my son has placed
fluorescent stake flags
around this patch
of incubating earth

for the benefit
of his expectant
child

Not sure how many eggs are hidden here in this patch of earth so near my granddaughter’s playground.

Empty box turtle shell discovered by my son’s basement. The turtle died some time ago. Not the mother, but apparently she was also an eastern box turtle. Under good conditions, the eastern box turtle can live over a hundred years. It’s a symbol for patience and is also the state reptile of North Carolina.

And then there were more

Dear House Finches With The Nest Atop The Magnolia Wreath On My Front Door:

I wondered why you’ve been lingering so long.

The four babies you hatched at Easter surely took to the wild blue yonder weeks ago.

I haven’t checked the nest because I feared your fledglings might be reluctant to go; after all, there’s no place like home… not to mention that in a previous season I think I may have accidentally force-fledged babies who could fly but were still cramming themselves into the nest. They gave me quite a turn, flying out that day when I came to investigate. So little. I worried if they were really ready to make it on their own. It would be my fault if they were not…

So, Finches, I have left you to come and go as you please, without interference, and I confess that the whole reason is purely selfish: your music. I savor your beautiful song. So bright and pure…sunlight is woven through it even on the dreariest day. Your song gets under a corner of my sometimes-heavy spirit and lifts it, floods it with peace and a longing I cannot quite explain. I know the day is coming when you won’t be gracing my porch any more and then I will be bereft of these joyful little interludes… so I haven’t questioned your lingering. I’ve only treasured my extended finch fantasia with a grateful heart.

Yesterday my husband asked: “Can’t we use the front door now? Those babies are gone, right?”

Bless him for his great patience with my bird sanctuary. He is a minister, after all…

I said, “Probably. Let me go check the nest to be sure.”

And then.

Then then then.

Oh, it’s going be a while yet before we can open the door.

Now I know what you’ve been up to, my beloved Finches.

Encore.

A day in May

It is the season
of newness
of flowering
of fresh color
of cloudless sky
so blue it hurts

it is the season
of grass
of earth
of birth
of birds
of Eastertide hatchlings
leaving nests
to wing their way
through the world

it is the season
of contemplation
of existence
of life
of purpose
of time
not standing still
and therefore being
infinitely
piercingly
precious

Micah contemplates pink sorrel and a piece of pine straw

Core memories poem

On Day Two of National Poetry Month, Emily Yamasaki offers this invitation for VerseLove at Ethical ELA: “There are some details that we hold in our hearts and minds, never to be forgotten. Whether it was carved into our memory in joy or distress, they are always there. Join me in giving those core memories a space to live openly today.”

This is the kind of thing that can keep me writing for hours, days, years… I kept it simple, using the first things that rose to the surface, sticking somewhat close to Emily’s models.

random core memories

the cadence of my grandmother’s voice, reading
fat pencils in kindergarten
the smell of struck kitchen matches
bacon grease kept in a canister by the stove
having to throw myself against the stubborn front door
     of my childhood home, to get it open
ironing my father’s uniforms
the smell of his shoe polish
the vaporizer sputtering in my room at night
the rattling crescendo, decrescendo of cicadas
saying it’s going to be all right without knowing how
finding sharks’ teeth in the new gravel of an old country road
lines from dialogues in my 7th grade French textbook
soft-petal satin of new baby skin
that one wonky piano key (is it D or E?)
the mustiness of my grandparents’ tiny old church
the weight of the study Bible in my hands
seeing you for the first time, across the crowded room
the cadence of our granddaughter’s voice, reading

A book my grandmother read to me, that I read with my granddaughter now.
Is it any wonder that I find birds and nests so alluring?
Early memories hold such latent power.