Posts Tagged ‘prose poem’

I am a tiny seashell
that has secretly drifted ashore
and carries the sound of the ocean
surging through its body. (
Edward Hirsch)

I may not live anywhere close to the ocean, but the ocean-sounds of my experiences remain in the short seashell-body of who I am. They hide in anyone old enough to have a past.

Yes, free will exists, but often knee-jerk reaction comes from expected hurt or rejection that has nothing to do with the moment; it involves long-ago scars formed in the evaporated sea of the past.

The love and acceptance of others creates fresh memories and the ability to see beauty—inside and outside of our shells. There are people who walk the earth who don’t know they are angels. They bring enough light for others to see beyond the expected.

Ella’s soft pink animal-print blanket lies over a chair for show—so that it can be photographed. The blanket was made to comfort her, to keep her warm during a time that promises to be difficult. Her open-heart surgery is scheduled for January 30. The large flannel square is a gift, offered by a woman who doesn’t know our little girl. Barb may or may not have seen a picture of our granddaughter. She gives because that is what she does. I told her I included photos of her creativity in my blogs. I don’t think she has ever looked at them. Praise is not her goal. A simple thank-you suffices.

I now want to be resilient like Ella and humble like Barb. I know Barb’s last name because I have finally been introduced to this gentle angel, but if anonymity serves her intentions, then publishing her first name is stretching it as far as I dare.

Once upon a time I recall being in a retreat group that was asked a rhetorical question. “What would the world be like if you hadn’t been in it?” The second question develops from the first: “What persons have touched your lives in a special way, yet never knew they blessed it?” That question was given more time.

Those people continue to arrive. And I suspect that if I am busy enough with gratitude there won’t be as much room for resentment and worry.

The sound of the ocean surges inside my metaphorical seashell. And sometimes it remembers storms; other times it recalls gentle waves and warm water. It explores each grain of sand underneath it, and knows it is not alone.

blanket made by Barb

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May my silences become more accurate. (Theodore Roethke, poet (1908-1963)

My husband leads me along a winding, unmarked road in the cemetery—I trust him to direct us out again. There were color-coded lines along the middle before the roads were freshly oiled. Now, I depend upon Jay’s sense of direction. For me north, south, east, and west could just as easily be called here, there, nowhere, and the dark side of the moon.

“How do you know which way is north. . . or west?”

He shrugs, smiles, and looks ahead. His map is innate. Perhaps he understands his place on the globe the way I intuit a new recipe.

We celebrate an unusually cool breeze at the end of July and read the names on the tombstones. I see my maiden surname. I don’t know if these people were related to me or not. The lush rolling hills are covered with angelic shapes, traditional tombs, and huge monuments chosen to stand out, to hover over the others. Yet, we don’t stop to honor the grand and the glorious. The persons buried there are just as dead as the ones under the flat, almost lost markers in center plots: mother, father, or beloved son gone too soon. I consider those lives. Who were they? Who am I to those I meet?

Wasps abound in the grass. They hover over the dates on the tombstones: born this date, died another. Real life includes plenty of unavoidable stings. I just don’t want to be the one who wields thoughtless ones during anyone’s “dash” time on this planet.

I take Jay’s hand. I’m not wearing a watch. My at-home agenda will wait as the silence absorbs me, and we trudge up a gravel hill into the afternoon sun.

listen to your heart

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Some stories are true that never happened. (Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate) 

I open a desk drawer to get the fingernail clippers and get distracted by a huge bag of rubber bands. When did I buy them? And why? The answer isn’t what matters—it’s the story, locked somewhere in the past.

Who remember events that happened every summer of childhood? Well, there was that scout trip in the sixth grade. Or was it the seventh? Memory, it’s as solid as quicksand or as good a substitute for a tennis ball as a raw egg.

My husband and I were in the same room as someone told us a story; we didn’t hear the same version. I suspect that happens often. Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”

Nevertheless, emotions draw from a different kind of truth. I look into the eyes of my grandchildren. Even though their perceptions may come from fantasy or a limited world view, the girls speak with fresh honesty.

Therefore, I want to be careful about the moments I leave in time. Some of the facts may be adjusted along the way, so I want to recognize the good in bad news, the beautiful in a broken glass, or the sweet possibilities in a lemon.

The bag of rubber bands has a gaping hole in its side. Many of the bands had to have been used. Perhaps a few have broken. Maybe some have bound important papers, while others found their way to the trash, or another state. Don’t know.

Truth lives in a deeper realm, a place poets touch yet never embrace. It passes through too many hearts.

heart cloud

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“I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change—only the depth of my seeing.” (Mary Oliver)

In a small Indiana town I stand admiring a gravestone from the mid-nineteenth century—it bears my name. Sure, I added my husband’s  surname more than forty years ago, but I wore this one until I married. And that part of me exists, if only in the past. I have no idea who this woman was, or anything about her husband, Leonard. However, there is something sobering about seeing your name engraved on a gravestone, something that triggers the imagination.

As I wonder through the roughly parallel lines of monuments I see other graves with the same last name I had. My father didn’t know all his relatives. And he lived in Indiana for several years. I don’t know the full story about the distancing among those persons, only one incident that stands out because it reveals my dad as an innocent, vulnerable child.

He had an uncle, known to be cruel. At my father’s home he asked my father if he wanted to see a match burn twice. Dad always had a scientific mind. And, like all children he understood words at face value. The uncle lit his cigar, and then burned my father’s young arm. Dad howled and his mother came to his aid. She asked the uncle to leave and never come back.

No one else in that family ever returned either. The family tie burned as well. I never asked for the uncle’s name. The mama in me had the same reaction as his. I dismissed the uncle, too. Now my father has died.

I look at the layering of graves, from the earliest to the most recent. Moss covers some. The oldest are swallowed by black algae as well as yellow and green lichens. Time, rain, and wind have erased names, memories. No flowers decorate the older side. However, the past leaves unanswered questions. This person lived only twelve years and this one managed to reach his eighties. Unusual for early 1800. Personalities lose their touch. What color hair did she have? Did he treat his wife as an equal, or with the attitude of the times? Even the most ornate statue remains carved stone. It never speaks, leaves clues about the human spirit.

My meditative stroll reminds me of the last four lines of Robert Frost’s poem, “In a Disused Graveyard:”

It would be easy to be clever

And tell the stones: Men hate to die

And have stopped dying now forever.

I think they would believe the lie.

A baby sparrow hops among the stones. I maintain my distance. Unnecessary fear helps no living creature. He is no longer in that area when I return ten minutes later. Perhaps he has found his way to the sky. Perhaps not. I can’t help him any more than I can help my father’s long-ago past, or anyone’s past—including mine.

Instead I fly back into the moment: overcast, yet warm, externally quiet, internally alive with possibilities. The secret is to stay in the present and to love with as much power as I have. Now. On this June day. I pray to remember that, for longer than it takes to think it.

Peace to all, continuously renewed.

(pic from Morning Coach.com)

only live once MorningCoach

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Perhaps imagination is only intelligence having fun. (George Scialabba)

My two older granddaughters want me to do watercolors with them, an honor. However, painting my hand and then splatting it on paper asks a bit too much. This artistry is part of their Mother’s Day gift for their mommy. And they are excited about doing it, in deep, dark purple.

My computer paper supply slowly diminishes and the dining room table looks like an upside-down wastepaper basket.

Finally Kate decides it’s hand washing time, much to my relief, and she begins another drawing. A purple girl with turquoise hair and a green hat. Her project has purpose. The girl has a story, in sci fi form, with human feelings, a past and a future. I listen, looking down at my wimpy sapling with a few dabs of pale green for leaves. I had no interest in creating it to begin with. It felt like a doodle on perfectly good 20-lb weight paper destined for the trash.

Rebe experiments with color. What happens when orange blends with blue? An odd shade of brown. Then what happens if it is streaked with purple? A storm has been brewing for the past hour. At the tender age of five Rebe knows what a lightning strike can do. The last crash felt farther away. She says that artwork has distracted her. Her wisdom brightens me.

I’m amazed at how easy it is to underestimate the insight of a child. The next day our little girl will pass her next swim test. I won’t be there, but will hear the joy in her voice when she tells me about it on the phone.

Then I will need to use my imagination, envision her quick strokes in the pool, not on paper. And hope that perhaps someday I can approach the world with the simplicity of children at play.

Somehow, as a child, I thought growing up meant knowing-it-all and freedom. Yet, if I’m really learning I discover that wisdom, truth, love, can’t be grasped and held. They expand and grow. Always. Like orange blending into purple and a child’s drawing becoming story, as an older woman watches two young girls embrace color as a gift. Not circles of hardened pigment swirled with water.

The storm passes. For now.

(pic taken from Morning Coach)

learning from children  morning coach

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Everyone, in some small sacred sanctuary of the self, is nuts. (Leo Rosten, author, 1908-1997) 

My day’s plan is to walk through the woods and take everything in without judgment, A meditative stroll, without the need to put anything into words, without thinking about work that waits at home, no thought of time. Jay and I don’t even have a camera with us. Spring has arrived, finally, and the sun is cooperative. My lightweight coat is unzipped, baseball cap on, hiking boots laced.

Nature does its part. However—I have scarcely trudged fifteen minutes before I notice how many beech trees there are along this trail. Their parchment-white leaves left from last summer break through my resolve not to capture the experience in words. Oh, I didn’t promise to stop writing. Just pause long enough to commune with nature, let it talk to me before I express an opinion.

Yeah, trees, I forgot. Your turn to talk and my turn to listen. And the wind sways the branches, teasing me, begging me to define them. The old beech leaves curl, like cocoons, without butterflies, no need to prove anything. Yet, they have withstood snow, bitter temperature, and harsh winds.

You sure jabber to yourself a lot, an old oak calls, silently of course.

I beg your pardon.

Meditation requires quieting of the mind, not analyzing, even if your conclusions create poetry. The best art mimics life; it doesn’t recreate it.

The tree hasn’t been running around, trying to find its place in creation; it already knows.

I nod and continue along the trail until my husband and I reach the lake. He takes my hand and we watch the sun play along the surface of the water.

My mind doesn’t calm easily. It asks for results, generally immediately, or at least quickly, even though I have had a lot of experience working on projects that have taken years. Not all of them have been successful in the world’s eyes. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn. Or that I am not learning from standing still, watching water move in slow mesmerizing patterns, on an ordinary April day, as if there were nothing better to do but be aware that life can be both beautiful and good.

knowledge has no end

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Don’t be afraid to be confused. Try to remain permanently confused. Anything is possible. Stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more, until the day you die, world without end, amen. (George Saunders)

The lectern at the church is too high for a woman like me who has slipped under the five-foot mark during the past few years. I smile, exaggerating my tiptoed stance. After all, it’s obvious that my father’s oldest daughter inherited his wife’s height.

Years ago when I acted as lector at another church, there was a wooden stool that could be pushed back and forth for the shorter readers. There isn’t anything like that here. It doesn’t matter. This isn’t a stage; I’m delivering a eulogy. I have five minutes, but hope to relay my message in less than three—not sure my tear ducts will hold out any longer. Now my balance threatens to give up, too; it doesn’t take long before I give up the façade of four-inch high heels and stand flat, my chin hidden as if I were in a bad photograph.

I have decided to be bold and speak as my father, a few octaves higher perhaps, and thank my siblings for the gift they were to him. I may be close to the ground, but my gaze reaches over my brothers’ and sister’s heads. No eye contact now. I’ll save that for later, when tears won’t create a domino effect and flood a perfectly lovely church.

As the service progresses, memories fly through my mind like drunken fireflies. I look to my right to see who is sitting in the pew where I was when my mother died. I recall my father’s quiet slump. Then I’m in a second-grade classroom and back again in the church, in the back, ready to walk down the aisle. Dad is at my side. Forty-one years have dissolved and it’s 1971; I’m about to be married.

In the next moment it’s time to go to the choir loft to lead a simple song based on Psalm 23. I’m uncertain because I haven’t practiced with the organist. I flub the words in one line of the second verse. Not too bad. Can’t let the fumble stop me. I want to be like my sister Claire who has sung Schubert’s Ave Maria so many times, she once sang it accompanied by an organ that sounded like an old-time organ grinder. Her first thought was, Where is the monkey? Yet, she didn’t miss a beat!

I look into the congregation and see my oldest granddaughter Kate staring up at me: the time gap between us is 58 years. Time. Space. Real, and yet illusion. My thoughts are as organized as tossed confetti. And yet . . .and yet . . . despite the sadness I feel a beauty that transcends the moment and embraces eternity.

moment of value Positive WoRdS to LoVe by

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Life is an opportunity, benefit from it. Life is beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realize it. Life is a challenge, meet it. Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it. Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is life, fight for it.  (Mother Teresa)

When my mother lay unresponsive waiting for her heart to stop on another December day, I tried to fill the vacuum with something positive, something that could transcend loss. I crawled into the middle of my bed with my guitar and picked and strummed Christmas carols. Silent night, holy night. . . The moment felt silent and holy enough, but lacked calmness and brilliance.

I felt a deep reverence for Mom’s transition into another dimension although I never had a best friend relationship with her. When I was born there was a hole in my umbilical cord; it severed some larger maternal connection before I faced daylight. Mom never had a chance to count my fingers and toes until I was ten-days old.

Even so at Christmas time as I grew older  we harmonized as we washed and dried the dinner dishes. I sang soprano and she added the alto: The First Noel, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, We Three Kings.

Harmony, it can’t be accomplished alone, in music or in life. And a lot of dissonance intrudes along the way. Some of it can be rearranged; some must be discarded to make way for patterns that work. Eventually, I learned who my mother really was. And I finally grew up and stopped fighting shadows.

Years later, this November and December, I observed my father’s silence and jerky sleep in the nursing home. His decline was in process.

“Hi, Dad!” I  kissed him on the forehead. The noise in the elevator and dining room was enough to jar anyone. An alarm went off in the hall. He grimaced—but the response was pain. I could only guess what he needed.

Eventually his final days arrived: twenty-four hour hospice care, lowered blood pressure, less blood flow to his extremities, a sudden change of color, from pink to waxy white, his breathing paused and threatened to stop.

“I love you, Dad. I always will,” I told him. “But it’s okay to join Mom now.” One more kiss on the forehead. One of my brothers, my husband, and an ex-sister-in-law joined in a few silent tearful goodbyes. I turned around. Dad’s hospice aide also wept as his spirit departed.

Back again in the center of my bed, guitar as a companion, I play and sing as if I had an audience of two: one woman who would have been 91, and one man who would have turned 92 on the first of January. She joins in with the alto and he grins, completely happy. “Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.”

my parents on their wedding day 4/4/45

mom and dad

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Darkness is an unlit wick; it just needs your touch, Beloved,

to become a sacred flame.

What sadness in this world could endure

if it looked into Your eyes?    

(Francis of Assisi)

 Morning hasn’t fully appeared. It’s autumn, that portion of the season where gold transitions into rust and darkness slowly chips away hours of light. Two squirrels chase one another in a circle in the street. I watch them as I drive in the opposite direction. I can’t guess why the squirrels have decided to argue or play in traffic. They don’t know it isn’t a good idea. I hope they get out of the way before a car comes along. But then I don’t know life’s answers. What happens appears random.

There are so many times I would like to find the wick Francis speaks about, discover light and then share it. I want to know why my youngest granddaughter was having trouble waking from a nap Wednesday afternoon. Is she getting a fever? Does she hurt somewhere? Her speech isn’t adequate yet. My eyes searched hers. We cuddled. Her small body conformed to mine. My effort didn’t feel like it could be enough. Can any human-to-human comfort bring complete healing?

Then I spoke to a friend who has experienced inexpressible loss. I can’t give her what she wants. It has been buried along with the only someone who maintained family for her. All I could give were two ears and two arms. They won’t stop the darkness from coming. In the seasons. Or in her life.

I watched my father sleep through his appointment with the eye doctor. No treatment this visit. His body has become a shell. My touch, a kiss on his forehead, has most likely been forgotten like a lost dream.

Now, as a new day begins, squirrels and people take chances. The sunrise blinds. Sunglasses help, but they make the edges of darkness even more difficult to face. The brightness makes me think of the eyes of God, too much for anyone to take in. They need to be diffused through blue sky, or through the actions of others. Any smile. . . hug. . . human gesture that never embraces the whole need. Nevertheless, it lets sadness know that it is attached to a spirit, capable of transcending any season.

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What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains. (Tennessee Williams)

Two people smile at one another. One is three years old, the other ninety-two. A little girl and an older woman. The little girl, my granddaughter, blows kisses. The older woman, my mother-in-law, accepts them. A large portion of the day my mother-in-law sleeps, lost in day-long snoozes. I’ve often witnessed these in my father’s nursing home. Except this woman is in a house miles from where my family lives. Some of us have been traveling for hours to get here—through a hundred miles of construction zones, over two states.

Our little one is a good traveler. But she needs to expend pent-up energy now. Her excited voice and antics amuse her great grandmother. Ella is excellent medicine, joy in size three-toddler stretch pants.

But Great-Grandmother has been sick the past few days. What is enough company? What is wearing for both the elder and younger?

“How are you?” we adults ask.

“I’m fine,” Great-grandmother answers. “Tired.”

But then her eyes meet the spirit of three-year-old Ella, and together their hearts run across mountains the rest of us don’t see. We are mired in the duties and responsibilities of living, the middle of the journey with its endless road work and detours. They know the beginning and the end, the segments closest to God.

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