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.



Earth-keeper poem

For the final Day of National Poetry Month, with thanks to Susie Morice, who encouraged poets to write of their favorite earth-keepers on yesterday’s #verselove at Ethical ELA. She suggested using a quote from an environmentalist to build the poem.

My quote is excerpted from a favorite novel:

“We found that trees could communicate, over the air and through their roots…We found that trees take care of each other…seeds remember the seasons of their childhood and set buds accordingly…trees sense the presence of other nearby life…a tree learns to save water…trees feed their young and synchronize their masts and bank resources and warn kin and send out signals to wasps to come and save them from attacks.” —Richard Powers, The Overstory

Understory Haiku
(for Granddaddy)

Once upon a time
my grandfather dug a well
in the earth he loved

he never said why
or who needed that water
maybe his neighbors

farm communities
did that; they worked together
for the common good

down deep in that hole
his shoveling uncovered 
a fully-formed tree

never saw the likes
he said, and I never asked
what became of it

but I imagine
it still lives, long after him
my understory

My grandfather, walking the land he loved most, his childhood farm. He told me where the house stood, and all the old barns…at the time of this photo, nothing remained but a wide field still in cultivation, bordered by trees. That’s my shadow at the bottom, taking his picture.

“Secret connoisseur” poem

with thanks to Karen Workun who invited a quick write today for #verselove at Ethical ELA. The idea is to brainstorm “secret areas of expertise,” choosing one to spin into a poem.

This is dedicated to Dennis. Again.

For Day Twenty-Seven of National Poetry Month

Lapland

Lapland
they say
is an icy
enchanted region
where the
northern lights
color-play
in the sky
and where
the only official Santa
actually lives
but here
in my house
I am Lapland
to a ten-pound
cream-coated
chocolate-nosed
dachshund
who will NOT stop hopping
by my chair
until he successfully
springs into my lap
or until I scoop him up
whichever comes first
and where he settles in
to snooze
with blissful
rhythmic
surprisingly loud
dog-snores
for as long
as I’ll let him
which is usually
until my leg goes
completely numb
from his tiny deadweight
yet still I sit
absorbing
his mighty warmth
like a recharging
of life
for the day
and should I have
to get up and walk
to get the blood flowing again
in my poor numb leg
he trails me
with glistening
brown doe-eyes
beseeching
the reappearance of
his cozy
enchanted Lapland
for the sweet dreaming
of his
little dog dreams

A bit of legacy poem

For Day Twenty-Six of National Poetry Month

Testament 

I cannot measure
how much time remains
in the hourglass
of my days

sand grains
steadily trickling
more than half
already gone

yet still refining
polishing
my existence

with words

let them be
the worry-stone
worn smooth
slid into the pockets
of those I encounter
a cool indented
presence of calm
for the holding

let them be a beckoning
a turning inward
toward crystals
forming in the geode void
the amelioration
of hollow places

let them be
like the curious folk remedy
of my childhood
jars of strange white peach rings
with heart-colored centers
floating in witch hazel
(which has nothing to do
with magic; the etymology of the name is
pliable)
cure for bruises and
what ails you

let my words be
a gauge for life-giving rain
collected
yet flowing on
and on
a good measure
pressed and shaken
poured out

a testament of love
for the new life

coming

Title poem

with thanks to Dr. Stefani Boutelier on Ethical ELA’s #VerseLove today. She writes of the way a title can change the interpretation of a poem, or how it might add layers of metaphor: “I invite you to write a poem where the title helps identify its content, theme, or purpose. The topic and form are up to you–the focus today is on the title.”

I will share my poem’s title at the end.

For Day Fifteen of National Poetry Month

The stories
of time before my time
I lived them
through your telling
felt them through
your pounding heart
breathed them
with your young lungs
until I wanted to run
coughing from
the reek of smoke
the acrid taste of ash
and I think of
how you spent your years
giving yourself
to others
despite the ghosts
that surely clung
as smoke clings to clothing
and as I enter the doorway
I can hardly breathe
for the cloying scent of flowers
and there you are on the table
ready and waiting
in your little box
conveniently resting
in a little white tote
I dare not trust the handles
I just wrap my arms around you
and carry you against my heart
like I did my babies
only there’s no car seat needed now

still, I must keep you safe
in your new lightness
so I strap the seatbelt across us both
pondering the measure of a man
larger than life
so reduced

but I’ve got you, I’ve got you
cradled close
see now, I’m driving you home
sun and shadows flickering
over us like old newsreels
of liberation

******

Title: What Remains

Dedicated to my father-in-law, a World War II veteran.

His birthday is next week.

Hope quatrain

with thanks to Dr. Padma Venkatraman and the Ethical ELA #VerseLove invitation to write a quatrain today on hope, especially, hope overcoming hate: What does hope mean to me? How do I see it? She suggested using a metaphor.

I see hope is as vital to our existence as humans. When I started this blog, I wanted it it to be uplifting and hopeful. The world already has far too much anger and hatred. I struggled with condensing a metaphor for hope that would fit in four lines! I finally settled on a sunflower. It’s too big for all I would say here in regard to hope overcoming hate. Maybe I will try it in another form later. Part of my inspiration comes from sunflowers being planted to absorb radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Technically lines one and three should rhyme but I claim poetic license.

For Day Fourteen of National Poetry Month

Hope Perpetuates

Hope turns its face to the sun
Warming its myriad seeds
Hope’s roots absorb toxins
Cleansing each soul that it feeds.

Sunflower. metin.gul. CC BY

Take and taken poem

with thanks to Andy Schoenborn for the invitation to write on “what we have taken and what has been taken from us” in today’s #VerseLove on Ethical ELA – a reflective poem using the words take and taken.

A double etheree, on Day Thirteen of National Poetry Month

New
morning
brimming with
yet unwritten
possibility
asking nothing of me
only offering itself
for the things I shall make of it
once the ribbon of light releases
this present day; what shall I take of it?

This present day, what I shall take of it?
Maybe just isolated fragments
to hold in pockets of silence
little treasures worth saving
moments of loving like
the ones yesterday
has not taken
away from
you and
me.

Magnolia

Next-to-the last day of March. Early morning. Still dark. Chilly.

I sit at my laptop, sipping coffee, catching up on my Slice of Life blog comments. The neighborhood rooster across the street crows for all he’s worth.

My husband comes into the kitchen: “Is she up yet?” he whispers.

He means our granddaughter. She spent the night. We stayed up way late watching Frozen II (again). We watched her dancing to the ending credits soundtrack, performing her own astoundingly artistic interpretation, cheeks pink, blue eyes glowing…followed by punchy laughter before the crashing.

“Not yet,” I whisper back. He retreats to his study to work on sermons.

Shortly, though, she here she comes, a gift of the dawn, Aurora’s child, barefoot in a blue flannel gown, cloaked in long, disheveled hair, ethereal smile of joy illuminating the semi-dark kitchen. Favorite lines of a Billy Collins poem come to life:

But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her,

barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window
in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor.
She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.

My radiant dawn-child climbs into my lap. I let her read my post about Dennis the dachshund and his toy moose. At five, she reads with exactly the right inflection in exactly the right places, decoding beyootiful without batting an eye.

“That rascally Dennis!” She laughs aloud.

My husband returns, his own face alight at sight of her. “There she is!” he exclaims. “I’ve been waiting for you, Sugar Magnolia.”

He sings the opening line of the Grateful Dead song:

Sugar Magnolia blossom’s blooming

Just so happens that our granddaughter’s middle name is Magnolia. A nod to her Louisiana heritage. A native tree here in North Carolina, too.

I think how, less than two years ago, my husband was dead, until EMS and CPR brought him back. I think of all he’d have missed…

What matters is that we’re here together now, today, in this moment. The Grateful Alive.

Sugar Magnolia, in one of Grandpa’s hats

When we are dressed for the day, she asks: “Can I pick out your earrings? And your necklace?”

“Certainly.”

She picks the magnolia. She and my son gave it to me for my birthday last year.

She hands me the necklace, watches me clasp it, smiles with satisfaction.

She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light

Just beyond the bedroom door, from the windows in the foyer, birdsong.

The finches.

I waited for them all of March, in vain. Then, here at the very end, within the space of these last twenty-four hours, a nearly-complete nest rests on my front door wreath. More on this tomorrow, when I write with the Spiritual Journey gathering on the first Thursday in April…for now all that needs to be said is that the finches always come to my door, every year except this last one. They vanished without warning, without a trace, during COVID-19. Now they’re back, making their home in the wreath.

The magnolia wreath.

Front door wreath and nest-in-progress

Magnolias, magnolias, everywhere…

They are tougher than they look. The oldest flowering plants on Earth. A symbol of love, longevity, perseverance, endurance.

It’s that word that captures me: Endurance.

It is the end of March.

We’ve endured the COVID pandemic for a whole year.

We’ve endured the reinvention of life as we knew it, school as we knew it, teaching as we knew it.

My family has endured distance, isolation, individual private battles…and we all get our second round of vaccinations over these next two days.

My husband has endured. He is alive.

My granddaughter has endured. She is the light of our days.

The finches have endured. They have returned to resume nesting.

This is my last post for the Slice of Life Story Challenge; for thirty-one consecutive days, I’ve endured. My writing has endured.

I wrote a lot of memoir in the Challenge, for memories endure. I wrote of a walled garden and roots and the need to get out of the comfort zone; I did that with some of my writing. I think now of my magnolia metaphor and look back at its deep roots in my childhood. Southern heritage. My grandmothers, steel magnolias (although they wouldn’t have thought it of themselves). Women who endured wars, deprivation, unspeakable losses. The stand over the landscape of my life like the old magnolia trees near their homes, their churches. They were the encompassing, protective shadows against the burning sun and sweltering heat, the solid coolness of the earth under my feet, where lie the curious, fuzzy seedpods of my existence, my remembering, my gratitude, my faith. From these branches waft the eternal fragrance of sacrificial love and forgiveness; nothing on God’s Earth smells as sweet.

One final curious image—it persists, so I have to figure out if and how it will fit here: When I was very small, I spent a lot of time with Grandma, Daddy’s mother. She and Granddaddy lived nearby in city apartments until he retired and they moved back home to the country when I was six. In this scene, I am around four, I think:

I am waiting in the hall for Grandma. She’s turning the lights out; we are getting ready to go. She calls my name from another room. I call back: “I am here.” My voice keeps bouncing, off the walls, off the stairs going down, down, down, into the darkness; we have to go through it before we can get to the door and the sidewalks and the sunlight outside.

“Grandma!” I cry. More bouncing voice, hollow, strange.

She’s there in an instant. “What’s the matter?”

“What is that sound?”

Oh, honey, that’s just your echo.”

She calls out, “Hello”…her voice bounces, just like mine.

“Echoooo…” I call. Echooo-ooo-ooo, says the shadow of my voice, rolling down the stairwell.

And I am no longer scared, because now I know.

What does this have to do with magnolias?

Only that we are on our way to the park, where she would offer me bread to feed the ducks, which would come to eat from my hands, from my little extended arms…and where the magnolias still grow in abundance. The memory is a cup of light I carry with me, just as the echo of her voice remains, just as I find myself echoing her, for we are always echoes of the ones we love most. As blood circulates in our veins, so do remembered light and beloved voices, long past shadows and silence. These are things that endure.

Grandma’s homeplace was named for the dawn, by the way. She’s literally Aurora’s child.

But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her

“Stand right there, honey. Let me get your picture by that tree,” I tell my granddaughter, on our first trip to the park.

It’s a different park. A different tree.

But still, and always, a magnolia.

Our Sugar Magnolia, by “her” tree.

*******

With abiding gratitude to the community at Two Writing Teachers during the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, which concludes today. It was a joy to write alongside you every day in the month of March. Thank you for every cup of light you offered; I will savor the echo of your voices for many days to come.

Zone

This quote was in my planner for the month of March.

Since it is the month of the Slice of Life Writing Challenge, I thought of it in terms of writing, and of the mind—where writing lives.

I picture “comfort zone” as a little garden surrounded by a stone wall; there is no gate. There, in the coolness of the day, the grass remains lush and green; dew glints like diamonds in a sun that never rises nor sets. There is no twilight in this zone, nor any dawn. Time is irrelevant. The season is constant; perpetual spring. Flowers remain in bloom, lavender, pink, lacy white like a wedding gown, but they give off no spirit-stirring fragrance, and they never die. They just are. A little fountain bubbles quietly in the midst. In the distance, birdsong. The birds don’t come to visit this garden, though, beckoning as it is. They are living things which need living things. Nothing grows in the garden. It is not stagnant, only static.

This garden is a place where nothing ever happens; to attempt feeling, to imagine, to have any hope of creating, one must risk climbing the wall.

There is no guarantee of what lies on the other side…except that the ground is there to land on, and that the stars are overhead for guidance, and that the wind will not be controlled, it will blow where it will, and somewhere in it you learn what holds and what does not, like the stone walls, mossy, cool to the touch, henges of the human mind. That is the strangest zone of all. It has nothing to do with time, but with that small green thing that desires to grow, seeking cracks for tender tendrils to poke through…whether in or out. The little living thing simply reaches for the light.

And so we write. We scale the wall of the comfort zone where nothing beautiful grows… and discover unexpected light. Perhaps in the wonder of words, in the glory of ideas, in the power of story… and then we realize: Different gardens, different flowers, different wellsprings, perhaps…but underneath, the living root that connects us all, one to the other. It is deep. It is ancient.

Going more than a bit out of my comfort zone here: sharing Golden Shovel poems built from the planner quote. They still need a good bit of work. As we sometimes do. They are imperfect, unpolished. As we are. You can see the poems are mirror images of each other. For so are we, in the end…

The writerly zone, after all, cannot be the comfort zone.

It is a scaling of the wall. Of the mind, and also of the heart… for that is called trust.

Note that one definition of “mind” is the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought.

Sounds like a writer to me.

Before the Writing

A keen awareness of World
comfort beckoning
zone of reckoning
is this defining one’s mind?
A vast, inner expanse encompassing the
beautiful, a safe
place of keeping
but does that matter if
nothing leaps from yours to mine, or
ever climbs over the stone walls where
grows our vine of stories, inextricably
there intertwined, and infinitely rooted.

After the Writing

World of awareness, keen, a
beckoning comfort
reckoning of zone,
mind, one’s defining, this is
the encompassing expanse, inner, vast, a
safe, a beautiful
keeping of place
-if matter that does, but
-or mine to yours, from leaps nothing
where walls stone the over climbs, ever
inextricably, stories of vine, our grows
rooted, infinitely, and intertwined, there.

*******

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 approach: On Day 26, I am writing around a word beginning with letter z.

Now that I’m over THIS wall…in which direction shall I go for the remaining five days?

Yahtzee

She spies the box on the top of the shelf in “her” room (I call it the “Spare Oom,” kindred Narnians):

“What’s that game, Franna?”

“Oh, that’s Yahtzee. I used to play it all the time when I was growing up.”

“How do you play?”

Sounds like an invitation to me.

I reach past Spy Alley, Catchphrase, Trivial Pursuit, the chess set, and Twister (that game floored her. Really. Not just trying to be punny).

Dear old Yahtzee.

The dice rattle inside the box…and I remember…

Whole afternoons elapsing on the worn living room rug, sunlight waning behind the lace curtains, sometimes distant thunder beyond the rain-slapped windows, none of it mattering in the wide circle of lamplight where my sister and I hunched over the scorecards. The exultant cry or groan of despair, depending on whose throw landed all five dice on the same number. Yahtzee!

Evenings in my aunt’s spotless, light-dimmed, vanilla-scented den, legs criss-crossed, drinking Dr. Pepper in glasses with curiously-cylindrical ice cubes clinking (ice-makers were uncommon, then). The lovingly-fierce competition between my young aunt and uncle, their laughter, their encouragement: Good choice, Hon. Sometimes you just have to take it on Chance

The look of perplexity on kids’ faces at math camp when I bought out the box after a lesson on probability; their brows furrowing as they learned the terminology: three of a kind, four of a kind, full house, small straight, large straight; their faces soon glowing with new zeal; shouts of YESSSS! accompanying fist punches in the air…

Hours at the kitchen table, the warmth of butter-yellow walls, my mother blowing on the dice, sending my sister and me into giggles; we start blowing on our dice, too. Come on, sixes, come on, sixes…years later, as I leave the house for a date: my mother at the kitchen table with a friend from across the street, whose story I never fully knew, only that she’d suffered a mental breakdown and had been taken in by relatives. Her hands shake as she lights one of my mom’s Salems, blue eyes wide and a little too bright, a nervous smile flickering across her face as the dice roll in her favor. Swirls of white smoke heavy in the air, floating after me on the sound of my mother’s cackling laughter, hilarious in itself, uniquely uninhibited, ever-gleeful…

So much depends on the rolling of the dice, on the way you choose to take what comes.

I lay out the pencils and scorecards, scoop up the dice, place them in my granddaughter’s little cupped hands.

“All right, Baby. Let me show you how to play.”

*******

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 approach: On Day 25, I am writing around a word beginning with letter y.