Scarecrow

Mixed media by Scout, age 5

Suppose you’re a special sort of Scarecrow with a
Carved pumpkin head and a purple hat
Adorned with pink roses, holding out your arms to
Receive birds instead of repelling. Your reward for
Embracing these winged messengers might be
Canticles of cheer sung in your ear,
Refrains of comfort and even celebration as
October dies, again, reminding you, again, it’s only for a
While.

Abecedarian poem

ABCs for Micah, on the day after your birth

Autumn-child: So lovely
being born amid crackled-leaf,
cider-steeped, cinnamon-spiked
days of
ever-bright,
flaming color, crisp and
glittering under first-frost grace.
Hallowed moments
infused with
joy while I dream of
kissing your fuzzy head, your
little newborn face.
My precious Micah,
never doubt your Franna’s fierce love,
opal-bright, like autumn fire,
perpetual, eternal,
quietly flickering,
radiant and
sacred,
throughout all our tomorrows together.
Upon your coming, beloved Baby Girl,
veritable heart of my heart, I wait in the wings
with hugs (ooooooo) and kisses
(xxxxxxx) all for you from
your Franna, so blessed with new-life
zest.

On fire and prayer

On the last Monday of October I drive to work in pre-dawn darkness as deep as midnight. Rounding bends on deserted backroads past unlit houses, gaping stubbled fields, hulking shapes of farm equipment, shadowed barns, patches of woods, when off in the distance, through silhouetted tree trunks—fire.

A bonfire. Tall flames, bright orange against the blackness, undulating skyward. Startling. So Halloween-esque. Hauntingly beautiful in its way except….I can’t tell what’s burning. Probably trash. The fire seems large for that, and before sunrise? I am too far away to see anything but the fire itself. I cannot see smoke or smell it. No screaming sirens. No alarms. Only silence, stillness…should I investigate to be sure? The road twists and turns, demanding my attention, and as I reach a tricky intersection where a few sets of headlights from opposite directions approach and pass, I realize: I’ve lost sight of the fire now. I am not sure of its location. Somewhere close by it’s burning, consuming, destroying, I hope nothing precious, nothing of value… and so I cross the intersection, praying it is controlled until extinguished.

On I drive in the darkness, shivering.

I think of anger.

*******

Fire, anger. The contrast of being controlled, purifying, and righteous, or uncontrolled to the point of destroying, intentionally or not, what is precious, valued, and loved. Thinking of that fire throughout the day yesterdaythere were no reports of damagereminded me of a poem I wrote last week:

Why I Pray

In the absence of peace,
I pray.

When my mind cannot fathom
or even form questions,
I pray.

When I am weary
of injustice, of sifting truth and lies,
when my inner well has run dry,
I pray.

I pray for power beyond my own.

To overcome the red-hot dagger of fury,
that I should not wield it,
thereby scarring others
and myself.
To knit words of healing instead,
one by one, 
like snowflakes falling
to form a blanket of blessing,
a holy hush.

Freeing myself by forgiving
myself
as well as others,
feeling the weight drop away.

That quickening sense of awe,
for even if I cannot call
fire from Heaven (thankfully),
I can move mountains of ice
in my own heart.

Because, as long as I live,
I will battle need, loss, and fear, 
trusting that love conquers all
—its beating wings in my heart,
forever my reason 
to pray
again.

*******

with thanks to Andy Schoenborn for the “Embrace your why” prompt and the mentor poem written by a student, shared on Ethical ELA’s Open Write last week.

and to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge, always encouraging “a world of reflective writers”—so needed.

Photo: Burning fire at nightwuestenigel. CC BY 2.0

Here

a Spiritual Journey offering

in memory of my father

and in honor of Micah, my granddaughter
who will be born later this month

*******

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again…
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting — 

over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

October is here
and with it, memory:
it is the month

of my father’s birth.
I am here
because he was here
once upon a time.

October is here
and with it, wild geese

coming home.
My father loved them
like he loved planes
in the wild blue yonder
of his service years

when he was young.
At his funeral procession
a flock of wild geese
stood by in solemn ranks.

He chose to be buried here
so Air Force jets
would fly over his grave

every day.

October is here
with its fiery oranges, reds, golds
and heartrending blue.
Blazing colors that are here
for just a little while,
coming and going
before the long sleep
and eventual rewakening
.

October is here
with its bright story
of permanence
cloaked in

the temporary darkness
of impermanence.

October is here
with its beckoning to
see, smell, taste, feel, know
life in all of its spice

and fullness,
never bound by a calendar,
a schedule, a checklist…

October is here
with its own organic order,
a natural reminder

of all our comings and goings
and of the taking of one’s place
in the family of things
.

October is here.
You will soon be here
,
firstborn child
of my firstborn child
.
I, too, am
the firstborn child
of a firstborn child
.
My father named me
for his mother.
Your father named you
for God

by whose infinite grace
I am here
to see your coming.

A downy-soft blanket and a whole lot of love are here awaiting you, little precious one.
Your name is one of ancient faith and praise: “Who is like God?”

*******

with much gratitude to Ramona Behnke, who inspired our monthly Spiritual Journey Thursday group to write around the word “here” with this quote from Emily P. Freeman’s podcast, Episode 188: You Are Here (And It Matters):


“What if you being all the way here actually mattered, with your cold feet and your stomachache and the light shining through the window. You with your stack of books, by the bedside table and hopeful feeling inside your heart. You with your deep grief, over a loss you thought you’d be over by now, standing in the kitchen while you microwave your coffee. For now, this is true. So what is true of you? And do you really believe God is with you no matter what? That you are not alone, that you don’t have to be you all by yourself? Here’s to being where you already are. Fully present with all that is true. And then here’s to doing your next right thing in love.”

*******


Fallidays

a poem which began as I was driving to work through the darkness and fog that appeared on the first day of October…

October awakens
in the night.
She rises in silence,
stirring white veils of fog
within the world’s
darkened bedchamber.

She knows
I am awake, too,
watching,
and that I am aware
it was not as dark
yesterday morning
at this same time
when September
was still here.
October gathers

her black satin robes
shimmering silver
in the moonlight.
She whispers of magic
and I shiver

just before the sun bursts forth
like a famous artist
with palette in tow-

There is no blue without yellow
and without orange,
and if you put in the blue,
then you must put in the yellow
and orange too,
mustn’t you?” 
and suddenly everything is
yellow and orange and blinding blue
with flecks of scarlet and brown
against the still-green
canvas.
For all her dark mystery
and the death-shroud she carries,
October doesn’t speak
of endings.

She points instead
-see that golden thread glittering
there in her sleeve?-
to celebrations just ahead.

Ah, October.
I see you
disguising your smile
as you creak open
nature’s ancient alchemical doors,
reverently ushering
in
the leaf-bejeweled holiness
that I shall henceforth call
the ‘fallidays’.

“Female ghost”WhiteAnGeL ❤.CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

How would you personify early October?
It is difficult to find a photo of a veiled figure comparable to the dark morning bands of fog.

“Figure In The Fog”. paulmcdeeCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The quote, “There is no blue without yellow and without orange…” comes from Van Gogh, written in a letter to his brother. I have used it several times in poems. Seems especially fitting here for the colors of October, illuminated by the artist-sun.

“Symphony of autumn colors”. PeterThoeny. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

******

with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge
(even when my small-moment story morphs into poetry)

Trees know

Yesterday they came back.

Just a few of them.

The others will have their turn, soon. For now they wait in the wings and on the screens…

In a month when masks are normally worn for celebrating, they came masked for protection—of others.

Several of us stood as sentinels in the misty gray morning, waiting, also masked. Gloved, thermometers ready, when the first bus rolled up and its door opened to release three children.

Another bus carried only one.

But when the first child passed inspection and entered the building, the gathered staff cheered. Applauded. Like welcoming a hero home.

They are heroes.

These kindergarteners, these first, second, third graders in their colorful masks, quietly navigating the building, sitting socially-distanced (alone) at lunch… I suspect these images are etched deep in my brain for the remainder of my days.

I saw this verse on a StoryPeople print by Brian Andreas (1993):

When I die, she said, I’m coming back as a tree with deep roots & I’ll wave my leaves at the children every morning on their way to school & whisper tree songs at night in their dreams. Trees with deep roots know about the things that children need.

I think about how trees

help us breathe

cleanse the air

provide refuge

absorb storms

soften hard edifices

beautify

welcome

are calming

are cooling

change with the seasons, yet remain constant

color the world

Tree leaves do whisper. Trees talk to each other (they do). They live in groups and look out for one another.

They carry the stories they live within them. You can read them, in their rings.

I cannot decide which is best, to be the tree with deep roots, waving my leaves at the children on the way to school, singing in their dreams…or to be the child, asleep, hearing the tree-song…

I stand, a sentinel in the gray silence of the empty bus loop, masked, gloved, thermometer in hand, watching bits of red and yellow and fiery orange swirling through the air as if stirred by an unseen hand… tree confetti, celebrating life, letting go in order to hold on through the coming winter, who knows how dark or cold, and I’m seized by the sudden desire to run into those dancing colors…

—I am bits of both.

*******

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the invitation to share on Slice of Life Tuesdays and for also knowing about the things that children need. They, too, carry their stories within them…

Photo: Donnie Ray Jones. CC BY

Dancing ghosts

A poem inspired by a neighbor’s decorations

I happened to glimpse them, in a ring
Holding hands, a curious thing
In the darkness, dancing there
Diaphanous beings, light as air
Small faces in gossamer veiling
Wispy arms fluttering, flailing
Maybe in mischief, maybe in glee
Luminous little spirits set free
…hallowed revenants of you and me,
The children that we used to be.

*******

Just a little offering (shades of October? A bit of Octo-plasm?) for Poetry Friday.
Special thanks to Janice Scully at Salt City Verse for hosting the Roundup.

Haunting forevermore

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in … June, 2013.

My older son and I, teachers inspired by a love of The Great Gatsby,  celebrated the arrival of summer vacation by driving from North Carolina to Rockville, Maryland, where we visited the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Having accomplished this mission before nine o’clock in the morning, my son asked: “What do you want to do now?”

“You know,” I grinned, “Baltimore is only forty-five minutes away. Poe is buried there.”

Thus was our Dead Writers Tour born. Off to Baltimore we went.

In contrast to a midnight dreary, the morning sun was blinding at the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground. The old Gothic-Revival church, the gate, the trees, the headstones, all cast the blackest, sharp-edged shadows, as if intentionally evoking the last lines of  “The Raven”:

And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

Shall be lifted – nevermore!

And there, to the immediate right of the entrance, was the author’s grave under a large, shadowy monument bearing a plaque with his likeness. One wilting yellow rose and a couple of little rocks rested on the base.

Poe is buried with his wife, who was also his cousin, aged thirteen when he married her and twenty-four when she died, and her mother, his aunt.

“This isn’t the original grave,” my son pointed out. “Poe was first buried somewhere behind the church. He was moved here to to the front later.”

“That figures,” I said. “The man was unsettled for most of his life. He couldn’t even be settled in death.”

Just then a black bird flew by to land on another headstone, where it sat watching us from the stark shadows.

“Is that a raven?” I whispered.

Quoth my son, wide-eyed: “Geez, Mom!”

“No, it can’t be,” I assured him. “Ravens are bigger than that … I think. Let’s go find the first grave.”

This cemetery is old, dating from the late 1700s. The pathway from the entrance to the back is narrow,  leading past massive domed slabs somewhat reminiscent of Quonset huts. Years and weather have left black streaks running down the sides of these burial slabs to form odd swirls and patterns. Ghostly patterns, painted by nature’s fingers.

“Check out this stain,” I said, pausing. “Does it look like a skull to you?”

“Oh, wow – it does!”

Rounding the corner of the church, we came upon a marble table with thick legs and a top so sunken in the middle that it seemed impossible for such a heavy substance. A plaque informed us that this “gravity-defying” monument was mentioned in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! article. A Revolutionary War veteran is buried beneath this oddity.

From there, my son and I could see Poe’s original grave, as the crowned headstone is embossed with a raven. On nearing the cenotaph – the empty tomb – the words arching above the bird become visible: “Quoth the Raven – Nevermore.” The stone informs visitors that Poe rested in this spot from 1849 to 1875.

“Do you remember reading about the mysterious person who showed up every year on Poe’s birthday, wearing a cloak or something, to leave roses at the grave?” I asked my son, a trivia expert extraordinaire.

“Oh, right – the Poe Toaster. He wore a hat and white scarf. He left cognac, too.”

“At this marker or the other?” I wondered.

“This one, I think. He came for decades, until just a couple of years ago. No one ever figured out who the Toaster was.”

“That’s hard to believe, in this day and age.”

“What’s really strange is that just before Poe died, he was found in the streets of Baltimore, out of his mind, wearing someone else’s clothes, and no one ever knew why.”

“It’s haunting, but mostly sad,” I pondered aloud. “Something straight out of his own work.”

We turned to leave, walking past a line of eroding tombs and vaults on the far side of the little cemetery. Some stone vaults had iron closures that appeared damaged. My fanciful imagination took flight: Had someone tampered with the doors, trying to get in – or out?

I shuddered despite the brightness of the day, recalling something my grandmother told me when I was a child afraid of the tiny graveyard across from her house in the country: Never fear the dead. Fear the living.

“I don’t think I’d want to be here at night,” I said to my son.

We simultaneously picked up our pace toward the exit.

“Nor would I.”

Back at Poe’s final resting place by the gate, my thoughts turned to his poetry, the glorious rhythm of “The Raven,” which drew me as a child the first time I heard Vincent Price reading it on TV. The poem wields mesmerizing, unique power. It is meant to be read aloud. Once when I was working to help third graders comprehend a text they were reading, we encountered the word raven.

“What’s a raven?” they wanted to know.

“It’s a bird – a black bird,” I told them. “There’s a famous poem about a raven.”

“Read it to us!” demanded the kids.

After a quick Internet search, I read the opening stanzas.

The children listened, spellbound. When I stopped, one of them sighed:

“Oh, Mrs. Haley – that sounds just like music.”

It does, indeed.

Ever after, the kids greeted me with “Hi, Mrs. Haley! Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary!”

Having paid my respects at last to Edgar Allan Poe, I walked back through the gate, just as the church’s bells began striking eleven – as if the word master himself was sending a message:

Keeping time, time, time,

As he knells, knells, knells,

In a happy Runic rhyme,

To the rolling of the the bells —

Of the bells, bells, bells —

To the tolling of the bells,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,

Bells, bells, bells–

To the moaning and groaning of the bells.

It couldn’t be coincidence – could it?

Today is the 167th anniversary of Poe’s death.

Reflect: What written works sing in your head, call to you, haunt you? Why?