Saying something back poem

with thanks to Katie at #verselove on Ethical ELA yesterday. She inspired poets to look around the room for an object of great personal significance, followed by a brainstorming process for finding the object’s own voice and characteristics: “Now that you have stilled this object in order to distill it in a piece of art, it’s time to bring it to life. Listen to it, and once you are ready, consider: If it were a character…and say something back.”

For Day Twenty-Nine of National Poetry Month

Repository

high-backed
mahogany cracked
infinitesimal spider veins

ever musty
oh so dusty
relic of bygone days

when the harmonies rang
and people sang
songs by shape note

now more of a reliquary

with touch-memory
of her hands
on your beloved keys

they don’t forget

somewhere in that
high-backed
mahogany cracked
prized-possession frame

amid your hammers and strings
and octavian dreams

surely you must
hold her dust
alongside mine
skin cells of
the child I was

relics of bygone days
side by side
just as we used to be
on your bench, of a summer night
in pale lamplight

singing
of the sweet by and by
when we shall meet on that beautiful shore

in the meantime
despite your need for tuning
and your wonky key

her great-grandson
stirs the slumbering chords again
the dust
the strings
the house
the blood in our veins
pounding out the glory
of the old, old story

blood does not forget

she’d be overjoyed
with my boy

as you must surely be

as you whisper to me

in high-backed
mahogany cracked
corners
where silence
aches

The piano dates to pre-WWII days, possibly the 1920s. My grandfather bought it secondhand for my grandmother. I spent many hours beside her on the bench as she played and sang alto to my soprano. In her last years she moved in with my aunt and finally the nursing home. She gave the piano to me: “It’s my most-prized possession, you know.” I never learned how to play but my my youngest son grew up loving old gospel songs. He’s a magnificent pianist who graduated from college with a music ministry degree; not a day passes that I don’t think of how elated she’d be to know this.

The piano knows, and remembers all.

My grandmother at the piano, long before my time

Childhood loves: memoir poem

If there were a portal
from Now to Then
and I passed through
where would I find myself
what would I do

what would I see
of my childhood me

raggedy white blanket
satin trim pulling loose
rub rub rubbing
my silky string
between my fingers
and over my nose
as I suck my thumb

Pa-Pa pumping a spinning top
reds pinks blues swirling
like rainbow smoke
—it’s playing music! Like an organ
—what is that song what is that song

I can play Grandma’s organ
shiny pretty red-brown wood
with curved legs
she presses my fingers on the white keys
— 5653 5653
that is Silent Night
oh and I am supposed to be holding
the white C button down

I can drive my little red car
along the sidewalks
in front of the shops
by pumping pedals
while Granddaddy watches
from the bench

sometimes he calls me Duck or Pig

I do not know why

but it is good

Daddy’s buying a house
I do not like the way it smells
like old old coffee

except that a neighbor kid shows me
that there’s a door in the side
of the cement back steps
when we open it
an even older smell comes out
past dangling cobwebs
on strange cool air
—there’s a game under here, in a box
soft with forgottenness for so long
pictures of ghosts mildewing on the top

a roly-poly scurries away in the dust

there’s a lot of kids to play with
and we run
and run and run and run
around my new backyard

—oh no, Daddy’s going to be mad
we snapped his little tree
—here, help me hold these two parts together
while we pray for God to glue them back

it didn’t work

but it’s not so bad

except for the little tree

Mama’s friends bring their skinny black dog
named Thing
yeah I know Thing on The Addams Family
it’s just a hand in a box

Thing digs a hole in the backyard
my sister and I make it bigger
and bigger and bigger
it’s a giant crater
we pull out a giant smooth white rock
maybe a dinosaur’s egg

I smell the clay, orange, gray
feel its slickness between my fingers
while we dig to the other side of the world
China

Ding-dong, Avon calling
look at all these tiny white tubes of lipsticks
they smell so clean
—can you believe there’s perfume
in this bottle made like a tree
—see when you take off the green top
and push the bluebird’s tail
it sprays

Bird of paradise bird of paradise
my own made-up song
I sing it in the tub
while the white hunk of Ivory soap
floats in the cloudy water

At Grandma’s house in the summertime
I find a stack of old records
I put them on the record player
while I dig through a tall wicker basket
of dresses
fancy ones
the pink one is satin covered with tulle
but the blue one is my favorite
with the rows and rows of lace on the skirt
reaching almost to the floor
when I put it on

I’m a princess

singing

I’ll buy you a diamond ring, my friend
if it makes you feel all right
I’ll get you anything my friend
if it makes you feel all right
‘Cause I don’t care too
much for money
Money can’t buy me love

and when I am tired of that
and when the long day is done
I’ll sit by Grandma here in the floor
where she spreads the newspaper open
on the braided rug
I’ll read the funnies
or the The Mini Page
or maybe even Reader’s Digest

Granddaddy comes over
freshly-shaved, in his pajamas
for me to hug his neck
and give him a kiss
on his smooth Old Spice cheek

while outside in summer dusk
cicadas sing
and sing and sing, so loud
and never stop

now I lay me down to sleep
my childhood loves to always keep

Magic find on Etsy: Vintage Avon spray bottle with Her Prettiness Enchanted Cologne Mist.
Not so sure how enchanting the scent would be after all this time…
that this still exists, however, is surely evidence of one powerful spell.

*******

Thanks to Ruth Ayres on SOS: Magic in a Blog for the invitation to return to childhood loves, to linger there for a while, and to bring something back.

Thanks also to the Poetry Friday-ers and to Mary Lee for hosting this week’s Roundup.

Oh yeah and thanks to The Beatles for the song “Can’t Buy Me Love” — and all the others.

The sound of gratitude

playing with a variation of pantoum, on gratitude found in favorite sounds

When I listen, I can hear
the sound of gratitude

in the rattle of summer’s last cicada, clinging
and crystal tones of children, singing

The sound of gratitude—
in the distance, church bells ringing
and crystal tones of children, singing
then at your voice, my heartstrings quiver

In the distance, church bells ringing
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
then at your voice, my heartstrings quiver
one last “I love you” before retiring

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring
—when I listen, I can hear
one last “I love you” before retiring
in the rattle of summer’s last cicada, clinging.

*******

Cicadas are ancient symbols of renewal, rebirth, transformation, change, resurrection, immortality, spiritual realization. Socrates linked the cicada song with divine inspiration in religion, poetry, art, and love.

Thanks to Ruth at SOS: Magic in a Blog for the sounds of gratitude inspiration & to Susan Bruck for hosting Poetry Friday Roundup at Soul Blossom Living.

Photo: Listen. Artists Rick & Brenda Beerhorst. CC BY

Repurposed

“Speak Up” mixed media collage. Jordan Kim, 2019.

A friend who knows of my strange love for the loud, jarring buzz of cicadas presented me with this card for my birthday. Fashioned from repurposed material, these snippets, chosen with artistic precision and care, strike deep…

Sing loud & proud

your soul
is joyful
loving and
wants to sing

positive

The world’s loudest cicada is the Brevisana brevis,
a cicada found in Africa that reaches 106.7 decibels

Earth itself has a sound, an incessant hum
caused by pounding ocean waves
measured at a frequency 10,000 times lower
than what humans can hear

Speak up
out

For now is the time of cicadas; some of them, sleeping underground for seventeen years, are due to rise.

And sing.

Yesterday, when the sun was brightest, I walked and walked the path around the graveyard of a country church, listening for the first strains.

—Silence.

No cicadas.

Seems they are late. I wonder why.

I thought about their wings, how the sectional lines running through the lower portion of these long, diaphanous structures form the letter W or P. It is said that these are omens for War or Peace.

—Folklore.

Unless Nature is a prophet.

Whatever pattern lies in the veins of their wings, or however it’s perceived, the cicada’s song is always one of life. Of survival. It is individual. It is collective. It is precious.

Most people call it cacophony, a harsh, deafening, discordant noise … not hearing the song for what it is. Not recognizing it the way cicadas do. We are not cicadas.

Yet there’s something of us, of all living things, in the sound. A song not heard with ears but with the heart, that ceaseless hum of our own brief journey from the womb to the ground. A song of earth, ocean, dust of the stars, for we are repurposed atoms of these; we carry them all, and each other, within us. Can we even hear our own song, any more than we can know our own heart, for what it really is? How can we even think we know someone else’s?

Until it becomes a collective cry of the heart.

In words

Speak up
out

in musicality

your soul
is joyful
loving and
wants to sing

even in sorrow, loss, grief, despair

even in fear, rage, hurt

especially in overcoming, healing,

rising, at long last

to greet the season of change.

Today, Two Writing Teachers shared words from Toni Morrison: This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore the pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledgeeven wisdom. Like art.

Like that of Jordan Kim, who created this cicada collage. Her mission: To inspire others to honor our connection to the natural world and to each other.

Let it be our repurposed song, fashioned from the fragments of our hearts. Let it be positive. Let the Earth ring with it.

Sing loud & proud.

I will love you forever

Can I play it?

Sure. This was my Grandma’s piano. She let me play it when I was little like you.

I’m not little. I’m a BIG girl.

Oh, sorry. I meant when I was a big girl like you.

How do I find the white part?

The keys? You just open the lid. Here, I’ll help you.

I am going to play a song for you.

Really? For me? What’s it called?

It is called “I Love Your Heart.” [playing] [Ballad feel] [singing] I love your heart, your heart. I love and love and love your hearrrrt …

That is so beautiful. [sniffling]

I have another song.

You do?

[nodding] Yes. This one is “I Will Love You Forever.” [Slowly, freely] I. Will. Love. You. Foreverrrrr…

[instrumental] [rocking small body in time]

{I love YOUR little heart, and …}

Hey Franna. [still playing and rocking]

Yes?

Can I live here with you until I am a hundred and nine? [pause]

Oh, I … um, that’s a really long time.

Is it forever?

Well, no. Forever is longer.

[nodding] [playing] [a tempo] I. Will. Love. You. Foreverrr …

{I know one thing, Little Big Girl}

{I.Will. Love. You. Forever.}

Good vibrations

Two of our three baby finches hatched 

I was expecting to find a hatched baby finch on Sunday.

Instead, I found two!

—I think.

I can really only tell it’s two because one egg of three is still there. Although I can kind of discern two different necks, one baby lying over the other.

I knew the eggs were due to hatch around Sunday, and all last week I wondered what the mother bird was experiencing. To begin with, she built—rebuilt, actually—her nest on top of the wreath on my front door, which means that any time we walk down the hallway or open any other doors in the house, she feels those vibrations. Is that a good thing, somehow? Is that a reason why finches like to build so close to humans, to feel those larger rhythms of life, perhaps trusting them to be benevolent and protective forces?

And I wondered—being a mom—if she could feel stirrings inside the eggs beneath her as she diligently kept them warm on these still-frosty nights and mornings. Eggshells are only so thick . . . Can she feel those tiny hearts beating under her, long before her chicks begin pecking their way out into the world?

So many good vibrations . . . .

Reminds me of the story behind the famous song. When he was young, Brian Wilson’s mother told him that dogs will bark at people who give off “bad vibrations.”

Inspired, Brian eventually composed the Beach Boys iconic masterpiece Good Vibrations.

Which leads me back to the naming of these three babies (in a previous post: Tiny trio).  Finches are singers, and my son is a Beach Boys aficionado, so . . . .

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Brian and Dennis (the latter of which was apparently revved up and decided to hatch early—how fitting).

Their brother Carl is due to arrive tomorrow.

—Stay tuned!

“I’m pickin’ up good vibrations . . . “

Tiny trio

Omne trium perfectum: “Everything that comes in threes is perfect”

Little bird up in a tree

Looked down and sang a song to me.

—”Little Bird,” Dennis Wilson, Stephen Kalinich, Brian Wilson

The house finch nesting in the wreath on our front door is incubating three lovely blue eggs.

My son (Cadillac Man) and I are walking, doing laps in the churchyard on a sunny afternoon, talking about names for baby birds (see what happens when new life generates in your realm; if you’re human, you take nonsensical ownership).

“It’s too obvious, but I almost can’t resist calling them Atticus, Jem, and Scout,” I chuckle. “I mean, they’re FINCHES.”

“Yeah, you’re right—it’s too obvious,” says Cadillac Man.

I think I hear a small sigh.

“Hmm. Well, there’s Harry, Hermione, and Ron . . . ” I offer.

Cadillac Man’s face remains immobile. I can’t see his eyes behind his sunglasses. He says nothing.

I can see that literary names are a no go, which is a shame, with “the rule of three” and all that. Cadillac Man does not think from a repository of words and phrases gleaned over time from books like I do. He thinks in music. He always has.

We walk a little way in silence; we’re keeping a pretty good pace. Then Cadillac Man proceeds to tell me new things he’s learning in his continuous (borderline obsessive) research on his musical passion, the Beach Boys: “Dennis didn’t get credit for how much musical talent he really had . . . .”

—I have an inspiration. Cadillac Man will love this. When he pauses, I say:

“We can name the baby birds after the Wilsons. Since’s there’s three of them.”

He grins. “Well, these little birds are singers.”

Brian is due to hatch next Sunday. Dennis and Carl should follow on Monday and Tuesday.

Even if they’re female, it will be fun, fun, fun . . . .

The homecoming

Last summer, a pair of finches made a nest on the wreath on my front door. I watched their family develop, day by day: Four eggs, four baby birds, four fledglings taught how to fly by their parents, and then they were gone.

I suffered empty nest syndrome. Literally.

I took wreath down for the winter and saved the little nest, because I didn’t have the heart to destroy a thing so beautifully made by tiny creatures that don’t have hands.

A Christmas wreath hung on the door until I finally got around to removing it in late January (well, it was festive; it brightened the winter-bleak days).

And I re-hung the “finch wreath,” which is clearly for springtime, but . . . I confess . . . I was hoping . . . .

And along mid-February—might it have been Valentine’s Day? Really?—I heard them.

The tell-tale cheerful chirps, the sweetest bird music, right outside my door.

My heart sang, too: You’re back, you’re back! Welcome home! 

They built a new nest and then . . . nothing.

For weeks, nothing.

I began to worry, which makes no sense, because these tiny birds are much more adept at survival than I am. My worry was mostly selfish, I realized. I wanted the birds here, didn’t want them to change their minds, find another place. I wanted to hear their happy voices every morning, wanted the joy they unknowingly impart, wanted to see new life happen again.

Every day, I checked. The perfect little nest was barren. No finches in sight or within hearing.

The temperatures dropped below freezing again. Just as I began to fear that some fate had befallen my finch friends, I wondered: Is it possible that they knew another freeze was coming? That they built the nest as planned, right on schedule, but that they can hold off laying eggs until the cold spell passes? Can that happen?

Then, early yesterday morning, a chorus of chirpy cheer outside my door!

I had to go see . . .

I have an egg!

Today at the exact same time will be another egg, tomorrow, maybe another, and soon I’ll know how big my little finch family will be.

But for now I just reflect, with reverential awe, on how the first egg came with the first bit of welcome warmth on the first day of the week.

My birds are back home, safe in their sanctuary, on Sunday morning.

And I sing for joy.

The last stop

 

Nursing Home

The Last Station Nursing Home. Ulrich JohoCC BY-SA

I push the wheelchair down the hallway. We pass an old man in a wheelchair; he lifts his hand in greeting, although he’s never seen us before. In the lounge, a tiny, gray-haired woman is holding a doll in her arms, rocking it while she watches TV. She takes a spoon from the tray in front of her, scoops up something orange – maybe jello, maybe mashed peaches – and tries to feed it to her doll. My throat constricts. With every step, I feel like the world is converging, that I am being squeezed into a narrowing tube.

I come to the room. 

“Here we are, Grandma. This is your room. It’s really nice.”

In the wheelchair, Grandma covers her face with her hands. She begins to cry.

I kneel, nearly panicked, feeling akin to Judas Iscariot. “Stop! Please don’t cry. You will make me, cry, too. Is that what you want?”

Instantly her hands drop. She lifts her wet face, squares her thin shoulders. “No, no. I don’t want you to cry.”

She looks at me with those watery blue eyes that I know so well. She places her bony hand over mine on the arm of the wheelchair. “If I have to come to this place, then I am glad you are the one who came with me.”

For a long while we just sit in the waning afternoon light, holding each other’s hands. There are no words.

Because there are no words.

I feared the day would come when she didn’t know me. She forgot many things – what era we currently lived in, that many family members were long dead. I debated whether or not to tell her when she mentioned her brothers or her son – my father – that they were gone. How many times can a person stand to lose someone they love? She watered her artificial poinsettia at Christmastime and, still in possession of her physical strength, managed to get out of the building through a window (if I recall that detail correctly).

She eventually lapsed into a docile silence, looking at every visitor with a sort of curiosity, but no longer struggling. She’d stopped speaking. At this point, she wasn’t feeding herself any more, so I would feed her whenever I was there.

Taking the plastic spoon in my hand, I say – I don’t know why, maybe because of tradition, habit, courtesy, or simple spontaneity – “Grandma, do you want to say the blessing?”

I know she hasn’t spoken in weeks. I guess I expect to say grace for her now.

But she bows her head, clasps her hands . . . and recites, perfectly, word for word, the Lord’s Prayer.

I sit, awestruck. This isn’t the family blessing, my grandfather’s prayer, that we always say when we give thanks. But she knows it is a prayer; it remains intact in her mind.

I thought of all the nursing homes I’d visited through the years, usually during the holidays to sing Christmas carols. The Alzheimer’s wards are especially haunting, with their heavy doors and alarm systems. The people sit, physically present, enduring their days, but mentally elsewhere, often unresponsive unless one of two things occurs. When a child comes in, the faces of the elderly suddenly light up. It’s an eager expression. They lean toward the child, smiling. Some even hold their hands out to the child. Whether it’s the newness of life or the memory of  what once was, the presence of  a child is magic here.

As is music.

Carolers walk the halls, singing, and residents wheel themselves to the doors of their rooms. Some smile and wave, others nod in time to the song, until we sing “Silent Night.”

Some of them were just sitting at dinner, one leaning to the other, saying, “I don’t know where I am. What is this place?” The other responded, “I don’t know either. And who are you?”

They may have been playing Scrabble earlier that afternoon, although the words won’t come and the tiles are too hard to see anymore.

But when “Silent Night” begins, the light comes back on in their faces. They sing every single word with us – even a woman, rocking her doll. 

This is my grandmother’s favorite hymn – she taught me to play it on her chord organ long before I started school, placing my little fingers on the keys over and over until I got it right. 

She was born the day after Christmas and died three days before Christmas, almost on her ninety-first birthday. We sang “Silent Night” at her funeral.

These thoughts and images swirled in my mind yesterday as my son played the keyboard at his grandmother’s convalescent center. I noted the absence of one resident who followed me nimbly to the exit the last time I visited – I saw the eagerness on her face, the light of it – just as the alarms went off and the nurses gently escorted her away from the door.

She died last week.

My son plays hymn after hymn; the residents clap after every lively rendition. Someone sings in a clear, soft soprano, every single word of every stanza, in perfect time with the music.

This is my story, this is my song . . . .

Even at the last stop, when time seems to be no more, when the days and nights and years and epochs melt together, when the stories lie dormant, music sweeps in like a breeze, stirring  fallen leaves into the air again. The words rise to the surface, for they are there, always there, in the deepest, darkest places. No matter how long they lie, the old, familiar melodies bubble back with the first strains. Released.

They sing, and I marvel. At the power of it, at the gift of it, at the peace of it.

Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming. Silent nights are coming. But until then, their hearts go on singing.

I stand amazed.