Whip-poor-will aubade

He sings alone
just before light
Farewell, farewell
beloved night

Summer is nigh
yet again keep
echoing hope
—all do not sleep

Whip-poor-will in the woods behind my home about an hour before dawn. Such longing and long-ago in the sound, for me. When my oldest boy was three, our family moved from Virginia’s Eastern Shore to the North Carolina Piedmont. We lived in a parsonage beside a little church high on a hill. It was June. All that first summer, when dusk settled in and I put my boy to bed for the night, the whip-poor-wills began calling. Over and over and over. Usually just one. The sound carries; it echoes through the darkness from the woods across the ponds and pastures, from old and deep places, affixing itself to the listening soul. I rejoice in its returning.

Eastern Whip-poor-willtcmurray74. CC BY-NC 2.0

Of racehorses and old roads

As I write, the National Anthem’s being sung at Churchill Downs for the start of the Kentucky Derby.

I’ll be pulling for a horse not favored to win.

His owner grew up in eastern North Carolina on a little stretch of road in the country. It’s paved now, but people have living memory of it being dirt… and I have an affinity for old dirt roads in these far reaches.

Once upon a time, I was a child who stayed in a little house on a dirt road in the summertime. I swung from a tire swing that Granddaddy hung from the pecan tree all studded with woodpecker holes. I swung to the deafening rise-and-fall rhythms of cicada-rattles, alongside the old dirt road across from the clearing where timeworn gravestones stood over people my grandmother knew when she was a child. I swung back and forth, round and round through the dappled afternoon, singing a favorite folk song from my father’s Peter, Paul, and Mary album…

Stewball was a racehorse
and I wish he were mine
he never drank water
he always drank wine…

The song goes on to say how the speaker bet on the gray mare and the bay, when:

ahead of them all,
came a-prancin’ and a-dancin’,
my noble Stewball.
The hoot owl, she hollered…

This past week, early one morning, I recorded a hoot owl (barred owl) hollering from the pines behind my home.

Memory runs so deep, so strong.

And so I pull for the horse named Barber Road, whose odds keep going down in these remaining moments before he gets to the gate.

Here’s to my own beloved road by another name in eastern North Carolina, and childhood, and belonging, and ol’ Stewball who wasn’t favored to win, either, but did, and to the hoot owl, the stories, the songs, and overcomings.

And here’s to you, Barber Road.

Run on.

Thoroughbred racehorseMIKI Yoshihito. CC BY 2.0.

Update: Barber Road finished 6th. By now the world knows that Rich Strike, the least-favored horse (80-1,) took the Derby in the second-biggest upset in its 148-year history. Secretariat, the first racehorse I remember, and who still fills me with awe to the point of tears, holds the record.

Walking poem

Today on Ethical ELA Leilya Pitre invites teacher poets to “walk to your place of comfort.” The idea is to take a break, rest, relax, maybe noting things that capture your attention when you’re on a walk, or maybe walking back in time, through memories, or recalling a personal revelation that occurred on a walk. Just walk, poetically.

I love walks and have written of many… today, I meander back through memory to a place of comfort.

Walking with Granddaddy

Sunday afternoon
sidewalks aren’t crowded
no rush hour traffic
clogs the street
just a few cars
stopped at the intersection

can’t walk over to Rose’s
at the corner today
to buy a toy 
like my Slinky
or click-clacks, 
glass amber spheres
suspended on a string
to pull back and hear
that loud CLACK CLACK,
or a powder-blue
sachet ball made of satin
decorated like a lion’s head
with blue googly eyes
and an aqua feather-tuft mane

no, Rose’s is closed today

so is the drugstore
at the end of our row
no chocolate-covered cherries
or Peppermint Patties
or those caramel creams
that you love so

no, today we walk
hand-in-hand
across the street
while cars wait
at the lights

past the fire station
round back of the 
Baptist church

to the playground

you let me climb
the big sliding board
not letting go
of my hand
until I am sitting at the top

you are there
at the bottom
when the sliding stops

you push me in the swing
until my feet touch the sky
I am a bird 
flying so high

until the shadow
of the steeple-cross
grows long on the grass

hand-in-hand again
I watch our feet pass

back over the pavement
crossing the street
each step measured in time
of heart-to-heart beats

—oh, how yours to mine
still talks
so long after
our Sunday walks 

Granddaddy and me on his 61st birthday.
I am two and a half.

Thirty years later:
Granddaddy with my boys and me, on his 91st birthday,
a year and a half before he died.

He is gone, but never far away.

Death calls

Subtitled The morgue, part 2. A slice of memoir.

And so it was that the house for the dead became a house for the living. If there were any ghosts of soldiers or prisoners lingering in it for over twenty years, perhaps a three-month-old baby’s cries and the acrid odor of diapers drove them on.

Even I wouldn’t be there long. The shadow of death falls like a blanket; the living must keep moving out from under it.

My memories of the house are fragmented, all in black and white. A living room with plain white walls. A window with pale curtains likely made by my mother. The black slats of my crib. Years later my mother said there were little black footprints on the wall from where I pressed my feet through the crib slats. She didn’t have the heart to wash them off. My grandmother wanted to know why I’d been put to bed with dirty feet.

I had a white blanket with satin trim. I sucked my thumb and rubbed the satin against my nose with my forefinger; eventually the satin pulled away from the blanket. I’d rub it between my left thumb and fingers while sucking my right thumb. A soothing rustle, rustle, rustle. I called it my Silky String.

That is almost all I can remember for myself of the old house that was once an Army hospital morgue.

Pa-Pa was the reason we came to live here; he was the reason we had to go. He owned the house. When he died suddenly from a heart attack, his children took over his property. We were the stepfamily. Grannie had to leave the big house next door. My father, mother, baby sister and I had to leave this first house of my remembering. It was March. I was not yet three, when the long shadow sent us searching for a place to be.

When death calls, the living must answer.

*******

All these years later, I watch the news. Tanks, warships, airstrikes, destruction. A hundred and nine empty baby strollers placed in Lviv’s central square today, commemorating the children killed in the invasion of Ukraine.

I think of morgues.

And of the mothers. And little footprints left behind.

And people being driven from home. That is what wars do. That is what death does.

My son, in his mid-twenties, comes in as night falls. Dressed in suit and tie. I know he’s tired.

“Long day, wasn’t it?” I ask.

“It was,” he answers. “Maybe I won’t get called out tonight.”

For a minute I see him at age five, pulling out the church directory every time a member passed away. He’d grab a pen, cross out the person’s photo, and write the word Died.

Funny how these things come back to you. Memories are ghosts.

And life is circular; all things are connected.

My boy eats supper, collects Dennis the dachshund, goes upstairs to rest and, I hope, to sleep. Unless his phone should ring in the night. If it does, he’ll be back in suit and tie, leaving home to pick up someone. He’ll transport them to the house waiting to receive them, where he’ll begin the preparations for their burial or cremation. Got a death call, he’ll say, if his dad and I are still up. If not, he just goes quietly into the night, a mortuary emissary.

For when death calls, the living must answer.

Window in the living room of the house that was originally an Army hospital morgue.
I lived here from about age three months to almost three years.

*******

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

Ghost-memory poem

with thanks to Glenda Funk for the Open Write prompt on Ethical ELA today: “I invite you to think about the ghosts who appear to you and the ways you learn from and celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, those who now visit us in our memories.”

In the Night

When I crawl into bed
to rest my weary bones at last
I have a sense of her

the way she tucked me in
heard my prayers
kissed my forehead 
in successive repetition 
soft as wing-flutters

I hear her voice
when the lights go out
and darkness first envelops:
Don’t worry, Honey
in a minute
your eyes will adjust
you’ll be able to see

and I see her
in the night
a drifting wraith
in her thin pale gown
bathed in silver moonlight
floating into Granddaddy’s room
where I sleep 
on the little cot by his bed
listening to the rhythms of 
his mighty snores

for she always rises
in the darkest part
to check my coverings
sometimes caressing my head
or patting my leg
before drifting back out
to her own room
where snoring 
cannot reach

she is never far
even now
and for all the brightness
she brought to my days
she is near, so near,
in the night.

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.


Relationships are the fabric

In my planner for February is this quote:

Relationships are the fabric of our lives. They should be treasured every day, but sometimes we get caught up in the stresses of life and forget to express gratitude to those we love most. How can you show more appreciation and kindness this month?

This notion of relationships as fabric captivates me. Fabric is made of woven or knitted fiber. Some fabrics are delicate. Some are strong. Fabric can tear. I remember a skirt I bought as a teenager when I started making some steady money of my own. High-waisted, flared, houndstooth, almost ankle length. Tons of fabric. It hung in rippling folds, fabulous in its 1980s way. I adored it. I was wearing the skirt, and hadn’t had it long, on the day I knelt in the floor to pick something up and inadvertently stepped on it with my high heel, which tore right through the fabric when I stood up…rrriiiiiip.

A six-inch tear in the lovely houndstooth, to my horror. I might have cried (I cannot recall) but I wasn’t ready to pitch the glorious skirt.

I brought it to my mother.

She was a seamstress who worked for a major department store. She tailored men’s suits, fitted bridal gowns (“these girls want the dresses completely remade”), and took in sewing at home. Many a night she spread fabric across the kitchen table, pinned patterns, marked and cut the cloth with sharp scissors, a rhythmic snip-snip-snip. She made several stuffed animals, like mice and precious long-eared bunnies with a wardrobe of changeable clothes. Her work was stellar; everyone said so…

“Mom, can you fix this?”

I handed her my voluminous, mutilated skirt.

She considered the rip, held it closed with her fingers, puffed on the cigarette clamped in her lips.

“I can try.”

She fixed it. Not like I’d imagined. The stitching was bulky and obvious. “I had to go over it more than once,” she explained. It looked as big as a train track to me. Like the garish stitching on the Frankenstein monster’s brow.

I loved that skirt. I’d paid too much money for it to just throw it away. Maybe I was expecting magic…

I wore it anyway, hoping the long folds in the natural draping of all that fabric would hide the ugly scar. Most people never noticed, but I knew it was there.

Relationships are the fabric of our lives.

Fabric can tear. It can be mended, but it won’t be exactly as it was before the ripping.

So it is with relationships. We wear the scars in hidden places. How much could be avoided by careful attention and mindfulness in the first place…especially if we value a relationship…

Sometimes we get caught up in the stresses of life and forget to express gratitude to those we love most. Show more appreciation and kindness…

This goes a long way in preventing the ripping, the unraveling.

In every relationship, great or small.

The thing about relationships:
they never really end. They are
with us, always within us, inextricable as the
silkworm’s thread to silk fabric,
forming the infinite intricacies of our
days, our stories, our lives
.

Photo: A Symbiotic RelationshipFouquier ॐ. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

*******

with thanks to the Slice of Life community at Two Writing Teachers
and the relationships forged by sharing our stories

A game played long ago

This morning I woke to the sounds of wind gusts and snowflakes striking the window…brought back the memory of my oldest boy and a game we played long ago. A pantoum:

A game played long ago:
Little boy crawling into bed, whispering
“The North Wind will blow,
we will have snow!”

Little boy crawling into bed, whispering
“It’s so cold—I can’t get warm.
We will have snow!
Let me sleep here in your arms.”

“It’s so cold—I can’t get warm.
Until I am grown and gone,
let me sleep here in your arms”
—the memory of these moments!

Until I am dead and gone
the North Wind will blow
the memory of these moments,
a game played long ago.

Dog bowl story

I had to get Dennis the dachshund new food and water bowls.

He had been using the bowls left behind by our previous dachshund, Nikolaus.

Nik would have been twenty years old this week, if he were still here. He made it to sixteen.

I can see his little grave from my kitchen window. Two days ago the spot was covered in snow. Three tiny sparrows were feeding there or maybe just pecking at the snow for a drink of water. In spring a big rabbit feeds there.

Nik would not mind. He was always an easy old soul.

So, I have been using his bowls for Dennis, who is two.

One of the bowls was cracking (the food bowl; one cannot keep water in a bowl that is cracking).

When I set it it down for Dennis’s supper a couple of days ago, I must have done it a bit too hard: the bowl broke into half a dozen pieces.

So.

New bowls for Dennis.

I knew this was the right one as soon as I saw the wording on it.

It is the truth for Dennis, pampered little autocrat that he is.

It is the truth for me.

Because I have loved and been loved by dogs.

In return for their sustenance, they sustain. They give their whole selves.

Even hardheaded dachshunds.

My six-year-old granddaughter refers to him as “rascally Dennis”

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.