Dandelions represent the return of life, the rebirth of growth and green after a harsh winter, and a display of abundant strength and power. – Lena Struwe, Director of the Chrysler Herbarium
At my school this year, every staff member is writing notes of encouragement and gratitude for each other. We are calling this “filling each other’s bucket” – everyone has a colorful designated bag for receiving the written messages.
I couldn’t think of better symbolism than this bucket of dandelions. Or the quote.
All too often, we never realize the collective abundant strength and power we have.
It is in the giving that we begin to experience it.
I turn to my husband: “What’s the matter with the car?”
He’s driving. He looks perplexed. “What do you mean?”
“That droning sound. It’s so loud.”
“Oh, that. It’s just the road.”
This is a man who once worked at a major auto parts store. Granted, he took the job because he needed one if we were going to get married, long, LONG ago, when he was twenty-three and I was just turning twenty…he jokes that all he knew about cars at the time is you put gas in them.
Ahem. How much has he learned since?
“It’s NOT just the road! My car doesn’t make this noise on this road! We’re not on a steel drawbridge or anything.” (Anyone who’s ever driven across a metal draw on a bridge will know what I mean. It’s a loud, hollow, wiggly sound, directly related to the sensation in one’s stomach).
This droning sound changes with acceleration and deceleration.
“I think it’s your tires.”
Eventually he checks his tires, after I say the noise is so unnerving that I won’t ride with him anywhere else until he does. I am imagining blowouts, being stranded on the roadside, swerving in traffic when anything could happen… although I looked at the tires myself and thought they had okay-looking treads (confession: I am clearly not a car-ish kinda person, either).
He gets four nice new tires.
I happily climb into the passenger side to ride with him to… I forget, actually…when:
“IT’S STILL MAKING THAT SOUND!” I exclaim (shout? holler?).
“Well, it’s not AS loud,” he says, driving right along.
“YES IT IS! Something’s not right. This sounds like go-carts I rode as a kid. Only louder.”
He then informs me his friend tells him it may be a hole in the muffler.
He still does not seem to be concerned about driving this car.
I do not understand it.
And by the way, the tire-changing establishment told him, when they loaded him up with the four nice new tires, that he needed some brake work also.
I am getting suspicious.
He gets the brake work done and mentions to the establishment that he (and in particular, his wife) still hears the droning sound.
The establishment says: It’s probably something in your transmission. We don’t do that kind of work. You will have to take it to a full-service auto repair.
But they fix up his brakes quite nicely, graciously throwing in a couple of coupons, which is akin to throwing a cup of water on a raging bonfire… moving on, however…
Of course the droning continues. I ride with my husband to the grocery store. This is when we encounter two beautiful, fly-masked horses trotting along the backroads, completely unattended, but that is another story. I’ve begun to feel like imagery of potential harm and disaster is practically screaming at me with every turn. We manage to get home (apparently the horses did, too, as we would have heard otherwise from friends…in the countryside, news travels fast, especially if it’s bad).
I look up all the possible things that could be making the droning sound.
One of them is bad wheel bearings.
“Did the tire-brake people ever say anything about your wheel bearings?” I ask.
“Oh yeah, they checked ’em. Said they were fine.”
Something is definitely NOT fine…and it better NOT be a bearing.
Today my husband takes the car to a full-service repair, local, privately-owned, folks who’ve been in the area forever. Reputable and reliable.
A few hours later, a call: It’s a bearing….
As soon as the bearing is repaired and we are allowed to get that car, I will be riding with my husband straight to the former tire-and-brake establishment to have, shall we say, a discussion.
And I better NOT hear the tiniest hint of droning along the way…
This is my first attempt at writing a ghazal (pronounced “guzzle”) a medieval Persian form of poetry with ancient Arabic roots. Traditional ghazals have themes of love, longing, and loss. They are often sung. Couplets are typically comprised of autonomous lines and the final stanza sometimes contains the poet’s name or a connection to its meaning (mine being either “from France” or “free one.”)
I have entitled this ghazal “Relationships.” Is it romantic? About a married couple? About colleagues? Or… what? You decide, Dear Reader…
For the record, I find this form incredibly challenging. I am still working on it (hmmm. Same can be said of some relationships).
We yoked ourselves in this chosen journey We get old, in one another’s way
Passions burn like inspirational fire Tongues burn cold in another way
A heart weighted with iron and ire Can be a heart of gold in another way
Narratives are sometimes cardboard boxes Packaging people to be sold in another way
Your words cannot cage me, for I’m a bird set free Your truth is yours; I hold it another way
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.
In continuation of a series of posts on my guiding word for 2021, awe, I am celebrating the power of poetry.
For who among us was not filled with awe, listening to Amanda Gorman reading her inaugural poem?
Once again, we experience what words can do to inspire, unite, and heal.
Poems also paint a vision. Of things remembered, things hoped for things, things imagined…
Much as artists do on canvas.
Last year Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” took on a special significance for me. I wrote about it in The portal. For me, “The Starry Night” has become a symbol of looking beyond.
Van Gogh painted it while in the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole. He didn’t paint what he saw from his windows, but what he imagined, maybe what he dreamed for, hoped for, in the innermost part of his suffering heart. Perhaps it was an act of faith.
All those blues and the night remind me of “the blue hour,” loosely defined as the time when blue wavelengths of the subhorizon sun paint the landscape at dawn or dusk.
Perhaps this had a hand in my recent spontaneous sketch of my word for 2021, awe. I depicted it as a sunrise, or maybe a sunset.
So now I ask myself: How is it that I imagine a rising or setting sun as “awe” in a metaphorical way? I think of van Gogh’s starry night, the blue hour, and the imaginings, the hopes, of my heart…which have turned into a prayer for the repairing of relationships. Does love not conquer all? What inspires more awe than that?
And so I wrote a poem.
I wove some of van Gogh’s quotes into it:
A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke
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?
Awe (The Blue Hour)
on the blue hour at the falling away of day and the coming of the night
with hope of stars
givers of dreams
singers of songs
that there is no blue without yellow and orange
like the crackling fire in our souls beckoning one another to stop, come and be warm
instead of passing by
in wisps of smoke
tendrils of wrongs
in electric-blue currents of memory love survives by anchoring itself to the last blade of living grass
the color of forgiveness in the blue hour
-F. Haley, 1/18/2021
-Walk in wellness, friends. Live and love deeply. Forgive. Keep your heart open for awe.
One of my masks
My original sketch of “Awe,” where the landscape spells it. Look for awe, and it will reveal itself.
The Starry Night version. The blue hour. How it all connects.
-shared in the Poetry Friday Roundup. Thank you, dear Laura Shovan, for hosting.
–and with the Two Writing Teachers’ weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. Thank you all for continually illustrating the power of words, ideas, and shared stories.
Just a little note this evening, as the sun begins its descent, glowing its most golden as it prepares to depart … really I must remind myself that it is the Earth turning away, not the sun itself. Which of us would reach longingly toward the last of that light, trying to hold what remains of the day, until encroaching shadows break our grasp … then, the dark. How many of us welcome it, so tired, so needing the sleep, so wrapping night like a thick velvet blanket around us, letting it shelter us, entomb us, savoring the peace and stillness in it … until we turn to first light and morning once more…
I am tired.
But so, probably, are you.
Today I walked through the empty halls of school. I could hear teachers’ voices in rooms as they met with kids online or recorded lessons. I could not hear the children. Through a hallway window, I caught a glimpse of many young faces on a large screen, interacting with the teacher—a virtual music lesson.
There’s something so eerie about it all. Haunting. The hollowness of the place, the distant, disembodied voices. Dystopian is the word that comes to mind. It’s like living in some novel we’d have been assigned to read in high school. But it’s real. It’s writing itself, bringing itself to life…
In snatches of conversation my colleagues discussed the reinvention of assessment for online administration, to determine what kids need, and what makes sense, and what is best for kids…
That line will not leave me. What is best for kids.
It’s a phrase we tossed around so loosely, before. “Let’s make decisions based on what’s best for kids…” but did we always?
I fired up my laptop, went to my little corner of a Google Classroom, and waited, thinking about those words: What is best for kids. Remembered playing games with a blindfold when I was a child. And waking in the night when the power’s gone out, having to feel my way through the dark…
Within moments, however, a cheery little face appeared. Beaming at me. A little voice asking if, before we read together, I could see something made for classwork today. This child—this very young child—splits his screen and presents to me. Then he asks if we will have time, when we are done reading together, for him to show me his dog.
I am sure, just then, that I feel the Earth turning. Steadily onward. Light mixing with shadows.
What is best for children is what it always was. That they feel safe. And loved. And valued. That they get to share things that matter to them. That there’s joy in learning. That they learn to do new things, some they might have thought they couldn’t. That their teachers do the same. That their teachers work together, help each other, and honor each other for the professionals they are. We may all be apart, but we must all pull together… reaching toward each other as we reach out to the kids.
The time goes so fast. My screen goes empty, the child disappears… and comes back with his dog.
It occurs to me that all three of us are smiling…the dog with his whole wiggly body.
Today will be tomorrow soon enough.
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the opportunity to share on Slice of Life Tuesday.
Just hold on loosely, but don’t let go If you cling too tightly you’re gonna lose control.
—38 Special/D. Barnes, J. Carlisi, J. Peterik
The draft of this post has been sitting here a long time, gathering cobwebs, while I considered how to write it.The idea began with seeing connections between teaching, instructional coaching, parenting…with those cautionary lyrics, above, coming to mind: “If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.”
That’s the problem with many relationships, isn’t it. Control. As in, who‘s trying to assert it? By holding too tightly? By force? What are the consequences? Why do I think of Aesop’s fable of the North Wind and the Sun trying to prove who was stronger by making the Traveler remove his cloak? What does this imply about human nature?
And not just human nature…that little green vine in the photo, above…it has goals, doesn’t it? To keep growing, climbing, gaining strength daily…soon the difference between “holding on loosely” and “clinging too tightly” will be evident in the absolute destruction it will wreak. It cannot know the cost to whatever tree, gate, house, other plants, anything it overtakes.
How did I land here, when I began with thinking on connective threads of teaching, coaching, parenting? Where will my metaphorical thinking take me next? What philosophical point am I trying to make?
Is this out of control now? How DO I write this persistent…thing?
When at a loss to say what can hardly be said, there’s always poetry. Maybe that’s what this idea wants to be…
Each poem is a metaphor, a philosophy, a journey of its own. This one, like life, goes fast. The form is designed for that. Sylvia Plath said that once a poem is written, interpretation belongs to the reader. Read it just to read, then maybe reread to decide for yourself if you see threads of teaching, coaching, parenting…and more.With poetry, there’s always more.
So here’s where the poem took me. I landed in a blitz: “Hold On Loosely.”
Have only today Have and to hold Hold my hand Hold it dear Dear one Dear children Children laughing Children leaving home Home is wherever YOU are Home place Place of remembering Place in the sun Sun rising in the east Sun dappling the grass Grass rippling in the breeze Grass withering, fading Fading light Fading fast Fast go the hours Fast and furious Furious argument Furious storms Storms wreaking havoc Storms passing Passing over Passing by By the way By getting to work Work it out Work hard Hard to handle Hard to reach Reach anyway Reach out Out of time Out of breath Breath of fresh air Breath of life Life is short Life is precious Precious moments Precious faces Faces in photographs Faces tugging at heartstrings Heartstrings reverberating at final words Heartstrings tied loosely Loosely hold on Loosely, not letting go. go… on…
—What threads did you see?
Oh, and writer-friends…maybe reread one last time to see how the blitz might describe a relationship with writing.
More of it each day. Driving the darkness away with its gentle appearing, rousing bright-eyed birds earlier and earlier, which respond in uninhibited chirps, songs, chatter. New day new day new day day day …
It’s a beautiful time to be alive. To be reborn. To mark having been born.
“What do you want for your birthday?” asked my husband.
“New rocking chairs.”
I’d been thinking on it.
The old chairs on the front porch are cracked, broken, portions held in place with wood glue. Time for them to go. Time for new ones. I want to sit outside in the light, in the breeze, even though it remains oddly chilly, to hear the birds, to see Papa Finch alight on the roof. I hear him before I see him; I wonder what his loud twitter means but I always answer, “Hi Finch!” Then there he is, tiny brown creature with his chest faintly dusted red, sitting high above the garage against the cloudless blue sky, looking directly at me. The porch is part of his domain. Sometimes from inside the house I hear his loud chirp; looking through the window, I find him sitting on the white porch rail. I suspect he’s eyeing the front door wreath for his bride’s nest. Although I took the wreath down for the winter, I’d left the old nest from last year attached. With the coming of March, and with great care, I put the faded, bird-loved wreath back in hopes that the nest would be reused. It hasn’t. So I removed it to make way for new.
Like my rocking chairs.
When my granddaughter visits now, it’s only on the front steps for a while, until the coronavirus social distancing expires. She comes with eyes full of spring light, as blue as the sky above my finch, who never fails to join our gathering and to add his voice to the conversation.
“That’s a loud bird!” says my granddaughter, age four.
“He is. Look, there he is, on the roof. Hi, Finch!”
And in these bright little moments, I revel in the poetry of life, that this bird (I wonder if he was one of the previous hatchlings from my wreath? ) should be a mainstay. Especially as my granddaughter’s name is Scout. Yes, from To Kill a Mockingbird. Whose last name was … Finch.
I want sturdy chairs on the porch, for resting. As a place to quiet my mind with the greenness of the grass in the yard and over where the path leads round the pond through greener trees. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul … To share with my granddaughter as she grows, to have coffee with my husband who almost didn’t live to see another spring. To celebrate living, being, enduring. To converse with generations of finches who’ve chosen to make my home theirs. To know, as evening falls, and I must go in, that I savored the gifts of that day to their fullest, their deepest.
My husband bought the chairs.
“We’ll put the old ones on the back deck,” he told me.
I wanted to say Why, they’re held together with glue, they’ll last maybe three days out there with no shelter, let’s just throw them away. But I didn’t. He wants to keep them, for some reason …
Truth is, the old chairs look kind of nice on the back deck by the flowerpots. For ever how long they last out there.
It was the rocker nearest the kitchen that made me realize.
Thump thump. Thump thump.
Dennis the dachshund woke from his sleep in a patch of sun-stripes at the back door. Ears perked.
“What is that?” I asked him from my chair at the kitchen table, where I was typing on the laptop.
Rising, looking through the window.
The rocker, rocking all by itself.
Thump thump. Thump thump.
The other rocker opposite sat motionless.
The wind, I thought.
Second thought: Why this rocker and not the other?
Third thought: Is the wind — or something — IN that chair?
It reminded me that I’ve always wanted to write a collection of ghost stories. An incongruous thought on such a bright, gold-green day.
How have I missed it?
For all the weeks—months—of the wind’s extended gusting and moaning under the eaves, unlike I’ve ever heard it before, I failed to notice it had stopped. All through the COVID crisis it’s been a grieved entity, swirling around my house in desperation, haunting my spirit with its voice, agitating the tall pines.
It’s still here, as my rocking chair can attest. But subdued.
Perhaps the wind has decided to sit a spell and rest. Perhaps the rocker was an invitation.
I am not sure we are friendly, yet, the wind and I, but I will offer it hospitality as long as it’s a benevolent guest. Is it taking up residence here, like the finches?
Perhaps I will take my coffee out there one afternoon and ask—begging the wind’s pardon, of course—why it cried so long and so hard.
But as I have no wish to stir anything up, maybe I’ll just let the wind rock to its heart’s content, in peace.
Midway through lunch, the din in the cafeteria is too much. The new boy brings his tray to where I’m standing:
“Can I sit here at this table?”
It’s an empty table, save for my phone, closed laptop, electronic entry key, all the things I carried with me because I didn’t have time to put them in my room before this daily duty.
I consider his brown eyes, looking up at me. Pleading.
I consider his boisterous classmates and the seat he left behind.
“Are you moving yourself here because you feel it’s a safer place for you to be right now?” I ask.
“All right. That seems like a good choice.”
His face breaks into a grin. He sits.
And the questions start: What kind of phone is that? Do you have a dog? Do you like Doritos? What kind do you like best? What’s your favorite color? Where are you from?How old are you, twenty-nine? Forty? Older?
—How old are YOU? Eight? Did you move over just here to ask me all these questions?
He just smiles and takes a swig of his strawberry milk.
“Mrs. Haley, what’s your favorite snake?”
“What? My favorite SNAKE, did you say? Yikes—I don’t …”
Of course I am about to say I don’t like any snake whatsoever, but something in his expression stops me. “Um, do you like snakes?”
He nods. “I like pythons.”
Heavens. I refrain from telling him about a man I saw on the news this week. He happened to find a boa constrictor in his couch and had no idea how it got there or from whence it came.
—He’s watching my face. A keen observer, this child. He’s waiting for my response.
I could say I like green snakes, but I don’t. I could say I like black snakes because my granddaddy said they eat rats and mice, so don’t ever kill a black snake. I think about the copperheads Granddaddy killed on the dirt road where his barefoot grandchildren ran in the summertime. I think about the coiled baby water moccasin I found in front of the kitchen cabinets when my first son was just three, and I how I was about to pick it up, thinking it was an odd piece of rope . . . until I almost touched it. And saw its eyes. Or that time I was cleaning the attic and discovered a complete shed snakeskin; I nearly knocked a whole new exit in my ceiling, trying to scramble out of there . . .
I DO NOT LIKE SNAKES.
But this boy with the strawberry mustache is waiting. His eyes are shining.
And then I recall a little creature lying across my sidewalk a couple of weeks ago. So little that I thought it to be a large worm at first; it was the same pale tan. I noted a faint pattern of scales on it. Could it be a snake? I looked it up. It was. “Smooth earth snake.” They are shy; they live mostly in the dirt around trees and bushes. I’d just had all the old bushes around my house pulled up. Apparently this little fossorial serpent was disturbed, or even damaged, as the equipment pulled away deep, tangled roots. For whatever reason, it crawled out in the open only to die there on the sidewalk. Who knows, maybe it was just trying to get to safety.
—Poor little snake. The only one I’ve ever mourned.
I look at the boy. He’s new here. He’s been uprooted.
Perhaps he did come to this table for safety, after all.
Even as I begin to speak, I think of earth and geosmin, the organic element in soil that humans can smell to something like the trillionth degree (we can detect one tablespoon in three Olympic-size swimming pools) and why that should be, unless it’s because we were meant to live close to the earth, that we came from the earth, and to the earth we will return. A curious kinship with that little snake. With all living things.
“My favorite snake is the earth snake. It’s very small. Have you heard of it?”
He wants to see a picture, so I do a search on my phone just as it’s time for classes to clean up and go outside for recess. To run, to play, to breathe the fresh air, to enjoy being children . . . how well I remember.