Merry and bright

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting. —Micah 5:2

Ancient wonder is born anew this night
merry
angels
sing
Glory
merry
star
shines
bright
merry
is this ancient night, wonder born anew

Micah, 14 months, Christmas Eve

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.

December 12th

Eighty-six years ago
they married

during the Great Depression
with war on the rise

they meant for the ceremony
to be in September
but he had the mumps

so the wedding occurred
on the twelfth of December
before the justice of the peace

she wore a blue suit

on the day after Christmas
she turned twenty-one

Every December after
he gave her
a red poinsettia

he knew
how much she loved them

Across the decades
she’d jest about
having nothing
to look forward to
the rest of the year

with her anniversary
Christmas
and birthday all
in the same month

December
for her
was pure delight

celebrations
of Light
and life

In the last years
when he was gone
I gave her
a red poinsettia
during the season

for the sight
of her face alight
blue eyes bright

Someone else gave her
a silk poinsettia
after she went into
the nursing home

once when I visited
she was watering it

We did not know
all those years ago
that their wedding anniversary
would become
National Poinsettia Day

I just learned it

how she’d love it

just another sign
that love is divine
and lives on and on
and on

My grandparents, on my first Christmas.
Love lives on.

Photo: National Day Calendar

Round yon December

a triolet for my grandmother

Come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night
—how years, like snow and feathers, flew—
Come December, I’m remembering you
at sight of ruby-red cardinals, too.
On the wings of the morning, all is bright…
come December, I’m remembering you
in the lights and silent night.

December is my grandmother’s month. She was born the day after Christmas, was married in the middle of the month at age 20, and died the day before Christmas Eve, at 90. She loved the season, children, cardinals, and the color red, symbolic of her name: Ruby. “Silent Night” was her favorite carol; whenever I hear it, she is near. Her home place and resting place are in the outskirts of a rural town named for the dawn… “on the wings of the morning” is borrowed from my favorite Psalm, 139, a hymn to the omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence of God.

The cardinal ornament in the photo was a gift from a friend yesterday. I hung it on the tree last night after choir practice with the kids at church. They’re singing “Silent Night” in the worship service on Sunday.

Grandma, you would love it all.

Sleep in heavenly peace.

Personality color poem

with thanks to Tammi Belko, host of today’s Ethical ELA Open Write. Tammi invited participants to take a personality color test and to write an “I am” poem based on the color results and their traits.

I took the test. I began to write a series of “I am” stanzas when the poem went running off in its own direction…

True Color 

I am
the three bands
on the ring finger
of my left hand:

one worn by
my grandmother
engraved with
her initials
and my grandfather’s
alongside
their wedding date:
December 12, 1936
(the day after
Edward abdicated
for Wallis)

one worn by
my mother-in-law
a 1953 engagement
between a widow
and a widower
with two children each
with the long reach
of duty in Korea
calling

one given
to me
on the day
I married
thirty-seven years
two sons
and two granddaughters
ago…

a poet
named after
fleeting morning ice
may say
nothing gold
can stay

but I endure
because

that is what love does

like many before me

I am gold

*******

Interesting…

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.

Monostitch poem

with thanks to Kim Johnson for the inspiration on Ethical ELA’s Open Write today. Kim offers the monostitch form: “a strong sense of connection between a title and a poem of one line inspires the writer to consider the relationship between the title and the word.”

And so I share an observation from today…

Heaven’s So Near

Little girl sings The cattle are lowing…preacher-Grandpa’s face is streaked with tears.

Here’s a two-line version, for good measure:

Heaven is Near
Little girl plays in the floor, singing so pure, so clear: The cattle are lowing
Preacher-man Grandpa rests in his recliner, listening, face streaked with tears.

Treasured moments

If I could
make time stand still
I would have made
this one bright day
last for years
just me and you
bathed in brilliant
sharp-edged
autumn light
your beautiful pensive
baby face
considering
fallen willow-oak leaves
stretching beneath us
like a russet rug
as you swing
in and out
of my shadow

you cannot know
(not now, anyway)
how I treasure
these moments
this day
and you

but one day you will

oh, if I could make
time stand still

Planets

The Boy and I
walking under
the evening sky:
he notes the bright, bright star
glittering high

not a star, say I
that’s Jupiter

and that’s Saturn,
right over there

I take out my phone
open an app
hold it to the sky
aim at these ‘stars’

up pop the planets
on the fly

—oh, the awe
in The Boy’s eyes—

he shows me his watch
I didn’t know
he’d set its face
to the solar system
planets positioned in orbits
line by line:

I know where they are
but I didn’t know I
could actually see them
in the sky

—what app is that??

SkyView, say I

in an instant
The Boy has downloaded it
and is turning every which way
phone pointed
at the night sky

Mars is right there
by the streetlight! he cries

I LOVE this,
says he,
by and by

I watch him
with a sigh
remembering how
he first fell in love
with planets
around age five

The Boy’s solar system artwork, created for me about twenty years ago.
It remains taped to the back of my bedroom door.