The cry

This post is in response to Ruth Ayres’ invitation to “write fast” on SOS – Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. I hadn’t planned to post today. But then…well, Ruth wrote: “My blog writing is the writing I do for me. It’s the writing I do for fun. It’s the writing that is most unexpected. My blog writing is the writing I allow to trail out of my heart and curl into magic.

And then, this sound…

This morning I heard it again. It stirred me from my luxurious Saturday-drowse. A loud cryyyy cryyy cryyy from the backyard, or very nearby. I threw off the blankets and ran out on the deck, promptly soaking my socks in the day-old rainwater.

I dreamt, once, that I was standing here exactly like this, looking up at the western sky, when an eagle flew by. Bald eagles do live around here. I have seen them on occasion and am convinced that an eagle’s (big, sloppy) nest is on the top of a water tower on the highway around the bend. In my dream, I was awed by the eagle and knew it portended something good.

But I know eagles don’t have the beautiful, poignant cryyy cryyy cryyy I am hearing on this early, pearl-sky morning. All other life seems to be slumbering but for this phantom bird, the lusty rooster across the street, and me. Day is just barely fading in.

It cries again, in the stillness. The air rings with its sharpness, with the curve and edge of it.

I know it’s a hawk. It has to be. I’ve seen several in recent weeks, since the turn of the year. I watched one gliding low overheard, never even flapping its wings, staying aloft as if by magic, following an icy spell in January when I went for a short walk in the thin winter sunlight that gilded the bare trees and glittered on the grass.

Returning to the warmth of the house, in my sodden socks, I make coffee and settle at my laptop to search.

Definitely not an eagle; that call is feeble in comparison to the one I heard.

Not a red-tailed hawk. A hair-raising, harrowing scream.

Then… yes!

A red-shouldered hawk. Fluid, syllabic, downward inflection. Somewhere over in the smattering of pines between my neighbor’s house and mine, where I dreamed an eagle flew.

I’d rather hear this cry even if I cannot see the hawk. The sound scrapes against my heart.

Something to do with the aching aliveness of things, even if the hawk is a predator. If I want to focus on symbolism, there’s a lot: intuition, spirituality, power…

But now, now, as the rooster picks back up with his daylong rusty-bugle solo (that’s one vigorous creature), there’s a familiar cheep cheep warble at the front door, so happy and so loud that it seems almost to be in my house.

The finches! They made their annual nest in my door wreath last spring but didn’t lay eggs as in previous years, when I held my granddaughter up to see the nestlings. For some reason, they disappeared. And left me bereft. One more little layer of heartache in a deeply heartrending year. When I took the wreath down in the fall, I mourned over the perfect, unused nest.

I saved it. I couldn’t toss such artistry away.

I put my spring wreath up early. Like, at the end of January.

When I went to look for the chattering finches just now, I couldn’t see them any more than I could see that hawk this morning; I believe the little birds were sitting in the wreath, voicing (to me) their delight.

There’s likely to be babies at my door by Easter.

And, I hope, somewhere high in the lonely pines.

Red-shouldered hawk. Don Miller. CC BY

Fancy

She is sitting on my lap, scrolling on my phone.

—Franna, I want these.

—Ooooo, so pretty! I love those gloves.

—(nodding) Yes, and the crown. If I have them I will be SO fancy.

—(chuckling) Hmmm…I’ll see what I can do.

She adores being “fancy.” She’s adopted the word all on her own. I suspect Fancy Nancy books may have influenced this. Elsa in Frozen certainly has, hence the request for these particular ice-blue gloves and tiara—sorry, “crown,” my granddaughter declares. At four years of age, she can slink around the house like any haute couture fashion model, pausing with her face turned to one hiked little shoulder, eyes half-lidded…she can’t hold the pose for long, as the rest of us, her loyal subjects, dissolve with laughter.

Oh my, you are so fancy, we tell her.

Of course, she replies in her “fancy” voice, blinking slowly, before erupting in giggles and breaking her own spell.

The little package is waiting for her the next time she arrives.

No words for the magic on her face when she opens it, for the way she gingerly caresses the plastic pendant, as if it were the Hope Diamond. Within seconds she’s all decked out in her fancy finery. For the remainder of her visit, she walks with a regal air and won’t remove those gloves for anything except her breakfast of French toast.

I suspect she knows she’s the queen of our hearts.

One must be fancy even while helping to set up Christmas decorations.

In my humble opinion, the rest of the ensemble was necessary.

*******

Inspired by SOS — Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. This week’s prompt was “fancy,” with this quote from Donald Miller: “Everybody wants to be someone fancy. Even if they’re just shy.” If you write or want to write just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

Breakaway poem play

At SOS—Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, Ruth encourages playing with paragraphing and line breaks, as “a simple break changes the sound and, sometimes, the meaning.”

I am resharing this memoir poem I wrote a few months ago, wherein I played with line breaks. I am still playing with them.

This is one of my favorites. For many reasons. A scene I witnessed last year, during my husband’s recovery:

The Passing

She comes out of his study carrying it
in her four-year-old arms
and his face is transformed, glowing
as if a passing cloud has uncovered the sun.
He leans forward in the recliner as she
drops it, kicks it, sets it spinning
—Oh, no, he says, this one’s not for kicking,
it’s for dribbling, just as the ball stops
at his feet. He reaches down, lifts it
with the easy grace of the boy on the court,
hands perfectly placed on the worn brown surface
in split-second calculation of the shot
so many times to the roar of the school crowd
so many hours with friends, his own and then
his son’s, still outscoring them all, red-faced,
heart pounding, dripping with sweat, radiant
—and at twelve, all alone on the pavement
facing the hoop his mother installed
 in the backyard of the new house
after his father died, every thump echoing
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.
The game’s in the blood, the same DNA
that just last year left him with a heart full
of metal and grafts, too winded to walk
more than short distances, having to stop
to catch his breath, deflated
—it needs some air. Do you have a pump,
he asks his son, sitting there on the sofa,
eyes riveted to the screen emitting
continuous squeaks of rubber soles
against hardwood.
—Yeah, Dad. I’ve got one and the needle, too.
His father leans in to the little girl at his knee,
his battered heart in his hands:
—Would you like to have it?
She nods, grinning, reaching,
her arms, her hands
almost too small
to manage the old brown sphere
rolling from one to the other
like a whole world
passing.

Photo: Marcus BalcherCC BY-SA

More fun wordplay in my post title: A hinged basketball hoop that bends downward with a slam dunk and springs back into place is called a breakaway rim.

If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join the open-hearted group at
Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog.
#sosmagic

Also celebrating poems and poets in the vibrant Poetry Friday community – many thanks to Margaret Simon for hosting the Roundup at Reflections on the Teche.

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.

Gratitude blitz

A blitz poem has fifty lines. The first forty-eight are short phrase-bursts, sometimes even clichés. The last word of each even-numbered line is repeated as the first word in the next two lines. The final two lines are the last word of line 48, then the last word of line 47.

This week, Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog invites writers to make a gratitude list by “collecting ephemera” —perhaps from photographs, doodles, or notebooks.

This gratitude blitz is a collection of such fragments floating in my heart and mind, like bits of fiery crushed opal floating in glycerin, inside a teardrop-shaped pendant my Grannie once had. Maybe not so ephemeral…

Morning expectancy
Morning light
Light spilling from windows
Light-split rainbow colors
Colors of autumn, falling
Colors of sunrise, calling
Calling of geese, passing
Calling “Love you,” leaving home
Home for the holidays
Home for the summer
Summer tasting of salt and sea
Summer-long cicada song
Song of praise
Song of children

Children laughing
Children begging “Tell me a story”
Story in a book read over and over
Story for the writing
Writing to remember
Writing to celebrate life
Life is short
Life is a gift
Gift of God
Gift of family
Family jokes
Family time
Time for reflection
Time to rest
Rest from labors
Rest in peace
Peace of mind
Peace of heart
Heart revealing
Heart healing
Healing is a compromise
Healing in your beautiful eyes
Eyes gleaming
Eyes streaming
Streaming consciousness
Streaming rivers
Rivers of possibility
Rivers of meaning
Meaning found in each new day
Meaning every word you say
Say it in prayer
Say it in love
Love never forgets to be grateful
Love lives forever

forever
grateful

*******

Grateful for the invitation and the gatherings at SOS—Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog and Poetry Friday, where Linda is hosting the Roundup.

Trebek tribute

I love writing to photos. I often do so here on Lit Bits and Pieces (some of my recent favorites: Old Red Barn, Dancing Ghosts, and from earlier this week, High In the Sunlit Silence). Today’s prompt on Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog is writing to a photo, taking special note of the background.

Ordinarily I’d comb through my nature photos for a chance to let the background reveal its secrets, capturing impressions in light of what they seem to be saying to me… but this week a person looms large in the foreground of my mind and so I write to these images instead, out of gratitude, remembrance, and mourning…

-Alex Trebek from the retro run of Jeopardy! when taping ceased this summer due to COVID-19. Alex became the new host the year before my husband and I were married. As young newlyweds, my husband and I competed against each other, keeping tally mark scores (which were occasionally disputed…). Our children, from babyhood onward, knew Alex Trebek. As a toddler, our oldest pronounced the surname “Tra-jeck.” He’d announce along with Johnny Gilbert: “And here’s the star of our show, Aaaa-lex Tra-jeck!” Alex eventually asked to be introduced as the host; he said the show belonged to the contestants, for they are the stars.

As time passed, our oldest accrued his own set of tally marks and eventually wiped the floor with his dad and me. We were hardly competition for him. He took the Jeopardy! test a few years ago and didn’t become a contestant; we urged him to keep trying… these days, his brother, eight years younger, who looked at the rest of us with a sort of reticent fascination and maybe concern over our addiction to Jeopardy! through the years, regularly whips his parents.

And so, across four decades, Jeopardy! marked family time. It marked learning. With it we watched our children come into their own. It marked our personal friendly, sometimes fierce, but always fun, competition, all presided over by Alex like a modern-day oracle, a witty human version of Apollo or Odin, the holder of knowledge, wisdom, mysteries, trivia…

We grieved when Alex shared the news of his pancreatic cancer last year. We marveled at his spirit, his courage.

I’ve watched several interviews since his death last Sunday. These lines stay with me:

How do I want to be remembered? As a nice guy… I never went out of my way to malign anyone…

While looking at this photo of young Alex I can’t help noting the red and blue background in the context of 2020, hearing his voice echo: I never went out of my way to malign anyone…

We still have so much to learn.

Speaking of voting…

Silver fox: Another shot from the retro summer run. In 2018, Alex let viewers vote on social media for him to keep or not to keep his beard. Results were never exactly determined, as apparently Alex’s wife said let it go. That was enough for him.

In September our youngest gave his dad Alex’s autobiography as a birthday gift. At the outset, Alex says he’s not a writer, that he isn’t comfortable writing about himself.

But he did it, for us to know “Alex Trebek, human being” a little better.

This self-avowed “non-writer” writes:

I’ll be perfectly content if that’s how my story ends: sitting on the swing with the woman I love, my soul mate, and our two wonderful children nearby. I’ll sit there for a while and then maybe the four of us will go for a walk, each day trying to walk a little farther than the last. We’ll take things a step at a time, one day at a time. In fact, I think I’ll go sit in the swing for a bit right now.

The weather is beautiful—the sun is shining into a mild, mild looking sky, and there’s not a cloud in sight.

His family was with him when he passed.

Mine mourns. On receiving the news, our four-year-old granddaughter wept. “Who will be the host now?”

Just one more answer
Elucidating, eloquent, as an era ends.
Our minds can hardly contain the vast
Potpourri of knowledge showcased.
Alex, your legacy to generations
Remains like the ultimate
Daily Double—
You enriched our lives, exponentially.

He is a permanent figure, there in the background of the story of our lives.

Final words—the back dust jacket of Alex’s book.

If you want to write in community, SOS: Magic in a Blog invites you to share your heart.

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

Masked

This week, Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog invites writing about masks we’ve encountered or worn, literal or figurative, maybe one from long ago…

Winter morning. In my pajamas on the cold kitchen floor, Onyx and Bagel jumping on me with joy. Half-dachshunds, brothers who look nothing alike. Onyx, black and tan (muddled markings; his whole head is tan) is the stronger of the two. A combination of rubber ball and coiled spring, he can jump high enough to give me a kiss even when I’m standing—if I lean over just a little. It’s a feat; at thirteen I’m growing tall. Bagel, long-haired, red piebald, snowy white chest, coloring that reminds me of Lassie, is the happiest dog on Earth except for when it thunders and he runs to hide behind the commode. My sister sits by the wall on top of the vent, her skinny eleven-year-old body drawn into a tight ball, pajama bottoms ballooning and fluttering in the rush of heated air. She doesn’t want to be up, doesn’t want to go to school, is too grumpy for more than a furtive dog-greeting. She’ll play when she’s ready. I embrace the wriggling, wagging, warm bodies, giggling, when I hear footsteps in the hall…Daddy’s familiar stride on the hardwood, in shoes that he polishes every night with a tin and stained cloth until the glossy surfaces reflect like black mirrors…

Suddenly the dogs shoot to the gate (or what we call the gate: a gray particleboard once used under a twin bed mattress when Mama was recovering from back surgery, we slide it back and forth) in the wide kitchen doorway. Barking, ferocious; I have never heard them—or any dog—make such violent noise. They charge the gate, lunging, sounding ready to attack…

There stands Daddy. His face is gone. Instead, there’s huge, opaque goggle-eyes, a distorted nose, pulled and hanging, elephant-like, no sign of human skin or hair; olive-gray visage, that of an ominous specter…

He’s wearing a gas mask.

I had never heard of a strike, picket lines, or unions before. I couldn’t understand why someone would be called a scab for going to work but it did make sense that people who protect said scabs would be scathingly called “Band-Aids”… I knew police were involved, somehow, but the picture in my mind was as muddled as Onyx’s markings, without defining details.

My father wore the same uniform as police but he wasn’t an officer. He was a company security guard. A protector of the gates. Duty-minded. Responsible. The parent who got up with me at night when I had asthma attacks, who would later co-sign my first college loan with the stern admonishment that I’d better pay it back because he couldn’t (I did).

He would die in uniform, but not for many more years, in an attack waged by his own heart, myocardial infarction, three days before retiring, while on his way to work.

The dogs are going crazy. I stare at the mask and the only word that comes to mind is ‘monster’it isn’t right, it isn’t right, that such things should have to exist because of what people do to each other, that Daddy should need this macabre (newly-learned word) apparatus for his own protection—he removes it. He doesn’t mean to scare. “Gracious,” he says to Onyx and Bagel, chuckling, “what fierce watchdogs.” They cease barking and resume wagging the second his human face is restored. They return, pressing their little bodies against me. I can feel them trembling.

Or maybe that’s me, as Daddy goes about preparing for another day.

Lead photo: Insights Unspoken. CC BY-SA

*******

History, as we know, repeats itself in infinite ways. I inadvertently stumbled into this historical gas mask hall of horrors…or maybe it’s a hall of mirrors…

Checking rubber faces for gas masks. State Library of Victoria Collection, circa 1941. CC BY

Soldier and horse. Reeve17408. CC BY

I’ve joined an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us.

Don’t ‘should’ on yourself

Years ago, as I was lamenting things I wish I’d done differently as a literacy coach, my mentor leaned over and put her hand on my arm. Shaking her head, she uttered this unforgettable phrase:

“Don’t should on yourself.”

I wrote it on the cover of my coaching notebook. I would tell it to teachers. We laughed and something was released. The work would still be work, endless and immense, but one felt a bit lighter approaching it.

There are some foundational, common-sense shoulds. One should bathe regularly. One should wear clothes in public. But many shoulds serve as self-imposed bars to remind us we aren’t measuring up, somehow. That we are less. I always loved to write but was trapped for years by the exhortation: “A writer must set a regular writing schedule.” Period. Oh, I’d think, that’s what I should do. That’s what real writers do. If I don’t, I’m not really a writer. Except that my life isn’t ever arranged in such neat compartments of time. Schedules have to change too much. Then: “Writers write every day.” —I should do that! I want to do that! When I didn’t, a niggling sense of failure tugged at my spirit. Cobwebs of despair wound round my heart. The inner critic gloated: “Toldja. You don’t have what it takes.” Scraping should off myself took a long, long time—it likes to fossilize, layer by layer. Its armor is self-guilt. Its color, regret. Should doesn’t need the sharp spear of fear; it is the deadweight of an anvil, iron forming in the soul, shard by shard.

Should isn’t battled with mere acceptance. That’s dangerous ground. I did have to accept that I couldn’t write on the same schedule, every day, but I couldn’t stop there or I would never write. The secret weapon, for me anyway, was reimagining. What do I really want to accomplish? What does success look like for me, within the pattern of my days? I wanted to write more and to write better. I had stories to tell. Eventually they led to this blog. The blog led to wanting to uplift others—there’s already plenty in the world pulling us down. I found myself uplifted in the process. I write several times a week, some weeks more than others. I write whenever I can carve out the precious pockets of time…and for the record, thinking about writing is writing, which I do in the background of my mind all day, every day. A hasty note capturing a fragile new idea before it sprouts wings and flies away is writing. On a Post-It, in the margins of my planner, in notes on my phone, eventually transferring to a notebook… whenever the idea appears, I stop for a second to see it, translucent, barely formed, and catch it. To me that’s the most important thing a writer does. One cannot spin without a thread of silk. And so I had to reimagine what writing looks like, what it really is. I shook off should and carried on with far more productivity on my own terms—without feeling guilty for stopping to rest whenever I need to.

When Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog encouraged writing as a way to “shed your shoulds,” I was reminded, once again, that should is too often an unnecessary, subconscious burden…

Shed your shoulds
like leaves in woods
Trees shorn of fragility
preserve their ability
to survive.

Hear should rustling: ‘Don’t forget’
like leaves curling with regret
Spiraling, sigh by sigh
piling inside, dead and dry
cluttering today.

Beware should’s false measure
robbing Now of its pleasure
Shed those shoulds
like autumn woods
composting for tomorrow.

The moral of the story, Friends: Don’t should on yourself.

Scrape that mess off and use it for fertilizer.

*******

I’ve joined an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join, too.