All Hallows’ Eve

misty mystic morn
divine light, cloud-flaming bright
holy hope reborn

I cannot recall ever seeing a rainbow on Halloween before. This morning, there it was, gleaming bright in the clouds. Thus begins Allhallowtide, the age-old Christian tradition of prayerfully remembering those who have died.

Nightwalk

The Boy and I traveled long
stopping by the cemetery
in the waning October sunshine
to visit his grandparents
(hello, Daddy)

eventually locating
our unfamiliar hostelry
near the colonial village

the hour was late
but we were not yet tired
so we walked
the timeless deserted paths
anyway
in the dim silver glow
of the waxing moon

if we hadn’t,
we’d have missed
hearing the song

what kind of bird? I wondered aloud
until the telltale skitter
overhead in a halo
of lamplight

bats
singing to one another
in the dark

loud
wild
plaintive
notes
sustained
urgent
echoing
echoing

searing the night

and my shivering heart

even so
the evensong
sent The Boy and I
heading back
locating a different path

if we hadn’t
we’d have missed
the diamond-sparkling
darkling stream
under brick archways

a beautiful sight
a beautiful night
despite the chill
spirits so still

when The Boy and I
traveled long


*******
with thanks to the Two Writing Teachers community
for the weekly Slice of Life sharing

and to the bats
for their moonlight melody

and to The Boy
a constant joy

Spiritual Journey: Revenants

with thanks to Chris Margocs for hosting October’s Spiritual Journey Thursday. Chris invites our group to write about those who have passed and left something behind in our hearts, in preparation for the upcoming holidays of All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day. She says: “As a person of Celtic heritage, the idea of the thinning of veil between here and the hereafter on these days intrigues me…”

—Me, too, Chris.

*******

The stirrings begin with the first breaths of cooler air.

As September gives way to October, while the trees and grass are still green, before any obvious turnings of yellow, orange, or fiery red, they appear.

I sense them most often at doorways. Portals.

There, on weatherworn sidewalks, a smattering of fragments from dead leaves surreptitiously dropped—I can never tell exactly from where—comes to life just as I approach. A soft rattling, a lifting, a sudden swirling… the upswept pieces begin dancing in a circle.

Fairies, I think.

And then I think, Children.

Small children delight in collecting such things, bits of leaves, tiny twigs, acorn caps, a butterfly’s bright-patterned wing, cicada shells. Nature’s cast-off scraps of life. In the hands of a child, they become treasures, magical objects, if only for a moment, in the mind of the child.

Watching the leaf-bits dancing in a circle, round and round and round again, I wonder if invisible children are at play. I almost want to linger long enough to hear them laughing…for there’s a stab of joy in it that I cannot explain, a piercing longing, a wild freedom…why should I perceive these things?

I wonder, then, about memories, so like the leaf fragments rising anew at the portals as I continue walking through the stations of my life, here to there, there to here…it is real, this revenant of my own childhood, the child that I was, holding onto the treasures that were given to me, reliving the precious bits that remain. As memories swirl round and round, I delight in them, in re-immersing for a moment in long-ago moments with people I loved, who loved me, who sheltered me, sustained me, prepared me…and who are gone but never far away. I see their faces before me, their eyes shining. I remember their stories. I hear their voices: I love you.

People die. Love does not.

Autumn comes with its fiery promises, its contrasts, its losses; trees will soon release their fragile organs in hopeful glory of surviving the winter. They shall sleep until spring, until the reawakening, life made new.

I walk on, remembering, wrapping gratitude round and round me like a hooded cloak, still sheltered, sustained, loved, awed by the beauty that deepens around me every passing year.

The stirrings begin with the first breath of cooler air.

Dancing revenants of what was, hinting at what is to be.

Perhaps they are whispering Allhallowtide.

Twenty years

September, When Grass Was Green

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow…

(T. Jones/H. Schmidt, 1960)

I remember
our last conversation
in September
twenty years ago

you said you’d
been cutting the grass
and that maybe
you’d overdone it
going back and forth
with your mower
making a pretty pattern
—you thought your chest muscles
were sore from the turning

it worried me

—you were worried
about other things

but happy to be retiring
in two weeks

the thing about last things
is that you don’t know
they’re the last

I remember promising
to come celebrate your retirement
and how we spoke of you
having more time to spend with
your grandchildren

I remember getting the news
a week later
as soon as I walked in from shopping
with the retirement card I just bought
still in my hand

I remember that September day:
so glorious, cloudless
sky so blue it hurt
all the trees still green, sharp-edged,
clinging hard to the light

never again will September
be as bright

or kind

I remember coming home
for the last time

to speak at your funeral

to thank you,
my duty-minded, dedicated
father

twenty years
come this twenty-fifth day
of September

don’t you know
the grass is still oh so green
and Daddy, you are still
in the scent
of its cutting

Yesterday’s sunrise

with thanks to Susan Ahlbrand for the Do You Remember prompt with musical inspiration on Ethical ELA’s Open Write earlier this week. Susan remembered her own father’s passing with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September”. I chose “Try To Remember” as a frame instead. The song predates me; I recall hearing it on my father’s radio when I was very small.

I still have the retirement card I bought for my father on the day that he died, with three workdays left to go. The card mentions that it’s a great time to be alive.

Twenty years, and that remains the great dichotomy of late September.

A poem of body and song

On the last day of National Poetry Month, Sarah J. Donovan, creator of Ethical ELA, invites teacher-poets to celebrate thirty days of writing for VerseLove. In studying a collection of poems dealing with struggle and celebration about what we are told and believe about ourselves, Sarah says: “I thought a lot about how our bodies hold and shape so much of who we are.” Today we write to own that we are writers and poets, considering figurative body language, other voices that have influenced us, and our own song.

For me, writing calls from sacred places, inherently requiring, as an act of creation, sacred spaces.

As such, writing, poetry in particular, takes on a life of its own. It starts as one thing and becomes another. This may be more than one poem. I am just letting it be.

Polyhymnia at the Core

And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.
—C.S. Lewis, “How the Adventure Ended,” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
 
The ghost
of my father
and grandfather
are here 
in the shape
of my face
something of them
about my cheekbones
my mouth
a certain turning

My grandmother
is in my bones
those are her arms
in the mirror
fixing my hair

no denying
my mother’s eyes

the Spirit sighs

I imagine Polyhymnia
nearby
(if I can choose
my Muse)
in long cloak and veil
finger to her lips
bright eyes glimmering
silken rustlings
as she leans
whispering, 
always whispering

it is with great love
that she raises
the lion’s claw
piercing every knobby layer
of my being
peeling away
until all that remains
at my tender core
is wordless song
singing there
all along

you are alive
alive alive alive
in the listening
in the remembering
in the faces
in the sacred spaces
where you have been brought
to learn
the unforced rhythms
of grace

now find your words
and be

Polyhymnia. Joseph Fagnani, 1869.

Polyhymnia’s name means “many praises.” She is the Muse of sacred poetry, hymns, and meditation.

The lion’s claw in my poem is an allusion to the referenced chapter in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Aslan peels away the enchanted dragon skin from Eustace, restoring him to his true—and transformed—self.

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” is from the paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message.

Lost and found

It’s a delicate rose-gold chain with crystal bezels. I don’t know its value, but my oldest son gave it to me some years ago, so to me it is priceless. I wear it every day on my right arm where it frequently catches the light and reminds me of him.

The last thing I do whenever I leave the house is pull it out from under my sleeve (if I am wearing long sleeves or a coat, and as temperatures were in the thirties this morning, I was wearing both).

When I reached for it today, the bracelet wasn’t there.

I had a busy morning ahead; I couldn’t stop to look for it.

I had to carry on without it.

In my mind, I retraced steps. I would look for it when I got home.

And so I did.

Wasn’t in the bed (I’d made it, surely I would have seen the bracelet if it was lying there).

Wasn’t on the floor, not anywhere that I could see. I used my phone flashlight so the bracelet would shine in the light…

I checked my closet, checked the sleeve of my pajamas and my warm red robe.

Not there.

Even checked my husband’s car; we went out for Mexican last night.

No.

“Do you think you lost it at the restaurant?” queried my husband.

“No, I didn’t even take my coat off and the sleeves are fastened close at the wrists. I don’t think it could have fallen out.”

It’s just a little bracelet but it’s irreplaceable.

My boy gave it to me.

Retracing, retracing…

I am a pretty good finder of things. I can usually retrace enough or recall what I was doing well enough to locate a lost thing. I ask myself: What makes sense?

Back to the closet.

It made sense that the bracelet might have come off when I changed out of my robe and pajamas, which I left folded on top of a storage box in there. I had already checked, but…it’s what made the most sense.

Shined my flashlight (again) on the closet floor.

Shook out the pjs.

No.

Shook the fuzzy red robe, ran my hand through the sleeve.

No.

Shined my flashlight on top of the storage box…

A glint of rose-gold, there in a crevice.

Found.

It’s safely back on my arm now.

So, I haven’t always been able to find a lost thing. Speaking of my boy, he lost a precious item when he was small. It’s a silver basketball pendant that belonged to his grandfather, who played the game in high school. His name is etched onto the pendant along with the year: 1935. My husband was wearing it on a silver chain when we first met. He explained that it belonged to his dad, who died when he was twelve. He said: “If I ever have a son, I am going to name him after my father.” And so, a few years later, our boy was born. He was named for my husband’s father. And he was given the basketball pendant on a silver chain when he was too young, really, to be mindful of it. One day it disappeared. We retraced our steps, hundreds of times, over the days, weeks, months. We have moved a couple of times since then. The pendant has never resurfaced. It’s silly, perhaps, to mourn for a thing, but such a loss is more than material; it’s for the history and person and love attached to it…I prayed many times that the little old basketball pendant from 1935, lost in the 1990s, might still find its way back to us someday.

It hasn’t yet.

But that doesn’t mean it won’t…

The pin

Every December I open the small cardboard box, remove the pin, and place it on my winter dress coat.

This is the fifteenth year.

The box is now timeworn but the little poinsettia still sparkles like it did the day I bought it. There it was, right by the checkout counter where I purchased black hose to wear to my grandmother’s funeral.

Not one poinsettia pin.

Three of them, just alike.

I bought them all.

I packed them for the journey to my grandparents’ hometown. The setting of so many idyllic childhood summers, so many holiday and birthday gatherings.

It happened to be her ninety-first birthday when the family gathered at the funeral home on that cold winter’s night.

She was born the day after Christmas. Used to chuckle about not having anything to look forward to the rest of the year, with her wedding anniversary, Christmas, and birthday all in December. But she loved the season more than anyone I’ve ever known. Sending and receiving cards. Baking. Cooking, cooking, cooking. Glass ornaments and colorful lights on the tree. Gifts in festive paper, old-fashioned hard candy in the candy dish. Collecting angel figurines and bells across the years. The aged, sepia-toned Nativity scene atop the piano. Going to church. Carols. Snowfall. Candles in the windowsills, shining in the night. Little children with wonderstruck expressions. She loved it all. She exuded holiday joy.

It was her season.

One of my favorite old photos was taken at Christmas when I was a baby: Granddaddy holds a new shotgun. Grandma holds a poinsettia. It’s their first Christmas as grandparents. Her face is radiant.

I would give her a poinsettia every Christmas in her later years. She would exclaim over each one: Oh, it’s just beautiful!

It had to be red, like her season. Like her name. Ruby. Deep red, precious. Bright as the cardinals that also enchanted her.

I knew she would leave at Christmastime. Seemed written in the stars.

And she did. The day before Christmas Eve.

The holiday was a blur. Arrangements were made. The visitation set for the twenty-sixth because there wasn’t time before Christmas Day.

I would speak at her service the following day. I would read Proverbs 31: Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies…

I would ask that her favorite Christmas song be played. Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…the first song she taught me how to play on her chord organ, when I was around four or five. Her hands guided my fingers along the keys.

I would find the tiny old church of my happy childhood summers laden with red poinsettias. Christmas remnants. I would recall someone giving her a silk poinsettia after she went into the nursing home, and how she lovingly watered it…dementia erasing pieces of the mind, of memory, leaving fragments intact.

I arrived early for the visitation. There was something I needed to do.

Three poinsettia pins, just alike.

I wore one on my coat. I gave one to her last living child, my aunt, who met me at the casket. And I leaned in to pin the third one on the lapel of her suit.

She would be buried with her last poinsettia.

Merry Christmas and happy birthday, Grandma. Sleep in heavenly peace.

December comes again, and again I wear my pin. She is near. In the songs, in the lights, in the color, in the spirit, in the story. As undiminished as brilliant cardinals against the wintertime world.

It is forever her season.

Dear student…

That email you sent.
Almost didn’t open it.
Seemed like random spam.

Thank God I did, though:
I hope you remember me…
the little girl who

halfway wrote a book
‘bout five or six years ago…

-How could I forget?

Never finished it
but now I’m writing this one…
-You are still writing!

You can’t know the gift
it was, assisting your craft
as it developed

the pure joy I took
from the spark in your child-eyes 
born of storylove

-that’s YOUR gift, you know.
Your storytelling power.
It’s grown stronger, still.

And your plans, to be
a therapist. A healer.
An author. Oh, child

you have no idea
what your words have done today.
I read them again

and again, amazed
by your remembering me.
I compose my thoughts

to respond to you,
most of all to say that you’re
unforgettable.

*******

I wasn’t this child’s regular teacher but the school’s literacy coach, supporting writing workshop across grade levels at the time. Her fourth-grade teacher asked if I could make time to work with her as she had fallen in love with the craft and wanted to write historical fiction. We carved out the time; we made it happen. I blogged about it in 2017: Tripping the write fantastic. That teacher invited the student back a couple of years later to share her writing with a new crop of fourth graders. I blogged about that, too: Still tripping the write fantastic.

In the recent surprise email that sparked the poem I posted today, the student also wrote: “Every now and then I’ll read what you wrote about me on Lit Bits and Pieces, and it always makes me smile and feel inspired.”

That, Dear Student, makes ME smile and feel inspired. ❤ Can’t wait to see where your writing takes you!

Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge…for teachers must write to teach writers.

Thanks also to Allison Berryhill who hosted an Open Write on Ethical ELA with prompting “a poem to a student.”

Photo: “Steal Like An Artist – ‘Write the book you want to read’.” Austin KleonCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Memory, like morning (on the day of a friend’s funeral)

with thanks to Denise Krebs who shared the hay(na)ku form on Ethical ELA today.

First draft:

On waking before dawn on the morning of a beloved friend’s funeral

Memory
Like morning
Shimmers with light

Gathering
For Christmas
Across the years

You
Playing Santa
Giver of gifts

Laughter
Colorful, bright
Exquisite as snow

Stories
Like wine
Better over time

Dinners
Savored moments
Ending too soon

Envisioning
Your eyes
Always Christmas-bright

Awe
At love 
Given so freely

Embracing
Many others 
Ever-widening circle

Gathering
Together today
In your memory

Celebrating
Your life
Colorful, bright, exquisite

Testimony
To faith
In Lord Jesus

Returning
your body
to your homeplace

Earth
Where our
Young selves walked

Gathering
For Christmas
Across the years

Now
In springtime
Oceans of flowers

Bloom
Like promises
Around your grave

Friend
No good-byes
Only more homecomings

Rising
From darkness
In heaven’s embrace

Memory
Like morning
Shimmers with light