I drafted this about a week ago when I posted this photo, just as a sentence, knowing I wanted to work with it. The photo was a difficult catch, the flurries in movement and the rose hips holding still and glistening. I tried to capture the feeling of the movement and contrast that I remembered, and that still inspire me.
I composed the first draft poem in the past tense as was the original statement.
Then I felt it would work better in present tense.
I think I’ll leave it here for today, and I know I’ll come back to it.
This was just a quick realization while standing in my kitchen one afternoon: five and five and five and stars. I wrote it down and stuck it on the refrigerator and today, January 1, I decided I would write at least a few words each day, aiming for five days a week. This little scrap has been waiting. So we’ll see how I do with that goal.
Though our garments be tattered still we dance until the end of our season, and the next remove our memory from this place.
Not a quote from another’s writing, just what came to mind as I walked the trail enjoying the sprinkle of wildflowers along the edge. These two sunflowers looked as if they were holding hands and dancing and I thought of young girls in pretty dresses at a festival centuries ago. Then I noticed the flowers were more than a little ragged, missing petals, missing parts of petals, yet still they danced. It was not lost on me that I saw the joy first, and if I hadn’t stopped to photograph these two, as looking through the lens gives me a more literally focused look, I would probably not have noticed the ragged dress. But, indeed, soon they will be gone, with the first frost, or the second, and the memory of their moment be all that is left. Am I the only one who will remember them?
I don’t know when I will close the door
for the last time
long days of summer freedom
endless open windows as if
outdoors was in
warm days, birdsong, butterflies
cool nights, lightning bugs, crickets
days and nights of sundresses
my bare feet on the tile
on the wood
on the concrete
on the grass
on the soil of my garden
sundress now dropped in the laundry
days brief and shadowed
quick change through shorts and tanks
and tees and capris
to pants and long sleeves
socks between my feet and the Earth
I close the door
envision one of many bright spring mornings
I was not originally a lover of summer, preferring the quiet solitude of winter. At some point when autumn arrived I felt a pang of something…regret? loss? I realized I would miss the freedoms of summer: the open windows, easy cool sundresses, bare feet, even in hot weather days were less complicated by working for comfort. And once I began working at home I realized that the long afternoons of summer were just as quiet as I worked in solitude. Maybe, in some ways, better than winter?
No need for comparison. I still love winter. And I love summer too. And spring and autumn, the lead-up to each one, eases that transition in the most joyful way in spring, and the most solemn and contemplative way in autumn.
Summers are overly busy when I am a vendor at various weekend or even weekday events, though I still enjoy the long days of solitude in between. But writing time is scarce, though the inspirations are not.
When September arrived and I decided I would quit the events for the work I had in hand at home, I also decided I would at least take some notes on my thoughts and draft quick poems or essays and develop them later if need be. I used the “notes” application on my phone to record my voice as my hands were busy much as I once used my little tape recorder as I drove to work in the morning.
I pledge to myself to develop these ideas and get myself back in the habit of writing. I hope you enjoy!
My father and I were in the kitchen of the house where I grew up one morning in 1987, having a nice conversation. This was not a typical event because I’d never had a substantial conversation with my father before that, nothing more than one-word answers or brief sentences.
I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I think it was just chit chat, something about the weather, maybe a news story or something. Winter morning sun streamed through the windows over the table and in the back door and diffused through the white sheers on the dining room window in the tiny ranch house as we stood there exchanging words. He spoke with some animation, responding to what I’d said, asking questions of what I thought about something.
I was 25 and don’t remember ever hearing his natural conversational voice aside from the subdued, minimal answers he gave to questions and occasional brief comments. Just a year before he had injured himself in the small bakery where he worked, a very unusual circumstance for all the years since his childhood working in the family bakery, through service in WWII and then in other family and otherwise small bakeries after the war to that point. He was treated for the injury to his hand but the wise emergency room doctors and nurses had noticed some respiratory and cognitive issues. He was diagnosed with lung cancer the day before the Challenger shuttle broke up over the watching nation of students and teachers and citizens, and I think I cried hard for that tragedy in large part because the shock of the diagnosis had just begun to wear off. The mass was right at the point where his lungs separated from his trachea and impacted both lungs. The surgery was long and difficult, but when he was healing well physically and was not returning to a full mental state they realized his cognitive issues may not have been entirely due to the cancer.
After tests and trials of a few medications doctors determined he had parkinsonism or Parkinson Syndrome, evidencing the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease like the fixed, unblinking gaze, shuffling gait, rigidity and slow movements. The cause is usually unknown but is usually induced by certain drugs or environmental toxins, head trauma or brain damage. The doctors traced it back to a nearly fatal malarial fever my father had had while serving in India in the Asian-Pacific theater of WWII that likely caused mild brain damage at the time, but may have unknowingly caused enough damage in the right areas that he slowly produced progressively less dopamine and more symptoms over a period of decades. This concurred with what others had seen—one of his Army buddies visiting said he’d never been the same after he was sick.
By the time I remember him he was the silent, stone-faced person at the dinner table, or driving the car, or sleeping on the couch before he went to work in the bakery in the middle of the night, the person holding me in the photo.
Apparently the current medications and treatments were somewhat effective considering his comparative ease of movement and his conversational ability. The conversation continued for a while and then he left the kitchen to talk to my mother who was in my old bedroom at her vanity getting ready to leave the house.
“She’s a really nice girl,” I heard him say. “Who is she?”
I didn’t hear my mother’s response.
My mother was getting ready to leave the house because my father was going to the hospital for tests and observation and I was there to drive them and help them through admissions. The medications and treatments had indeed loosened up his body enabling him to move and speak as he hadn’t in years, but it wasn’t consistent. His mind was quickly becoming fragmented and he was developing frequent pneumonia and had also had prostate surgery. Because he hadn’t driven since his surgery I had arrived at the house in the morning ready to take them to many appointments during the previous year.
My father would not return from this one. After an extended hospital stay it was determined that skilled nursing care was necessary to manage all his conditions.
I was the youngest. I was the first family member my father “forgot” as his mind marched backward in time through the next four years and he seemed to relive his life in reverse, slipped deeper into dementia, and lost speech entirely along with any control over his body.
Even though my father had no idea who I was, the person he was in that moment found that I was a nice person. I’ll take that. I’d discovered with my mother under medical circumstances that the person underneath the mask of lifelong undiagnosed issues sometimes surfaces with great clarity at odd moments. I got to see for just a moment who that relaxed, broadly smiling person was in a photo I found in my brother’s baby book taken just four years earlier than the still-faced photo of him holding me. And I found out where my deep dimples came from.
How many other families also lost a family member slowly over decades after military service? Some conditions are recognized for long-standing emotional aftereffects, like PTSD, and some for physical aftereffects, like Agent Orange and other chemical pollutants service members encountered during service. How many other children wondered who this person was, how many spouses wondered who was the person who came back, or who changed fundamentally years later?
On Memorial Day I listen to the stories of others whose loved one died in service, that horrible reality. I also remember my father whose life was fundamentally changed, and the aftereffects on the group of us, my mother, sister and brother, whose lives were very different from what they would have been otherwise.
Read an essay about the photo of that smiling man, Father’s Day.
“Belly up to the salad bar!” a vigilant mother goose seems to say as the five goslings line up to enjoy some mixed grasses and clover. As I photographed I couldn’t believe they actually lined up like this. It’s a joy to watch such curious innocent creatures, like children exploring and playing outdoors at recess.
On my walk back from the dentist I saw a very large group of goslings, 14 at the highest count, being escorted along the edge of a parking lot by four or five adult geese. I decided to take a detour to stroll the sidewalk between that edge of the parking lot and the street, with the idea of photos in mind, of course, as well as simply enjoying the geese.
I took some wider angle photos to get the scope of this field trip, causing the goslings and the adult geese to move away from the sidewalk and into the parking lot. I changed to my telephoto lens so that I could get detail photos while I stayed far enough away from the little ones that the adults wouldn’t have to hiss a warning at me. Don’t mess with an angry gander.
The goslings were so happy. I don’t usually ascribe human emotions to animals, but each clump of wood sorrel they encountered growing though the cracks in the parking lot and sidewalks caused them to race toward it and bibble and dance a little as they surrounded it then began quickly nibbling with those little beaks. In all that, I simply sensed more than contentment from filling their bellies. “Look! Wood sorrel! It’s wood sorrel! My favorite! Come on, let’s race! It’s the best wood sorrel ever!” as they nipped all the yellow flowers and bits of the stems. “Look! It’s grass! Let’s go have some grass! I love grass!” The grass grew from a rectangular opening in the concrete sidewalk as if something set into it had been removed. The goslings hurried over, bibbling, and ran into the grass with innocent abandon, pushing through it, nipping a few pieces, then turning around to do it again as if they enjoyed the feeling of grass on their bodies as much as the taste of the grass.
In time the goslings grouped off with adults and each group went in a different direction, as if the parents had organized an afternoon walk, and now they were all heading home to enjoy a rest before a later meal. I followed one group of three littles and a male and a female as they moved across the parking lot in the direction I had come from.
We have quite a large flock of geese in this town who seem secure and content in where they live. They nest along the creek, and their little puffball children pop into the water from the greenery on the steep banks, bobbing up and down between two parents, growing, strengthening, evolving in their colors, and learning to be geese. Most pairs start out with six goslings or more by my observations and years of photos, but this family with only three goslings by this age is not unusual. There are predators, foxes and raccoons along the creek, there are high-water flows on the creek after storms strong enough to wash away small trees. Living outdoors in the wild fluctuations of a Western Pennsylvania spring in itself can be hazardous, and they cross the streets, oddly enough almost always at an intersection, and impatient or oblivious drivers run them over. Their parents’ vigilance is no match for outside factors.
This is the reality for geese living in the wild every day, and no doubt sometimes for domestic geese as well. Though they are protected by the Migratory Bird Conservation Act they are still hunted in season, not here, but not far from here. They are part of the food chain and their parents can’t protect them from that, or accidents.
And in this country today our human children are just as innocent and vulnerable as the goslings, even as their parents stand by and accept the fact they may be shot and killed while at school. At least the geese have laws protecting them as wild animals with punishments for persons who kills geese out of season, and in that way they have more protection than our children if someone with a gun decides to act out a mass murder, targeting the place where they gather, in school.
It seems children in school are always in season for mass shooters. Today was not a good day for 19 children who lost their lives, at last reporting, and all the children who witnessed and somehow survived the attack. We can stop this, but just as I can’t fully grasp the violent deaths of 19 innocent children in their school, neither can I fully grasp the motivations of those who will not work to control guns so that the possibility of this happening is at least reduced, or turn down the foul and angry rhetoric that intentionally depersonifies whole groups of people and infects and grows like a cancer in some minds. So again we give thoughts and prayers to the grieving families and the traumatized children, until tomorrow when we do it all again somewhere else in this country. Because we just did it three days ago with African-Americans in a grocery store.
My mother died on January 25, 2011, and each year around that date I remember her in a post and share the poem I wrote for her the day she died.
She had been ill for years, and this last time she’d gone to the hospital in congestive heart failure it was clear she would not recover. Kept comfortable by the hospital staff, we waited around her bed for her last breaths.
Later, after clearing out her room at the nursing home, all the necessary phone calls, a visit from a friend and more calls, I had my time alone and was up quite late. As I sat outside in the quiet of the January night watching the snow gently fill the air and fall whispering in a soft blanket on all around me, the poem came to me in nearly one complete piece. So that I would not distract myself from the flowing words in my head I carefully went inside and tiptoed to my desk for a tablet and pen, quietly went back outside to the swing and wrote it down slowly, line for line, all as if I was afraid I’d scare it away, all the beautiful words I’d been thinking, or maybe I’d break it, like a bubble. I changed very little in a rewrite.
I read this poem at her memorial. And I had decided I would go through with my poetry reading scheduled for just two days after my mother died, because it was an opportunity to share her with others and to read the new poem.
I could never encapsulate 86 years of a life into one blog post or one photo or one poem. The photo above is the one we placed in our mother’s casket, her wedding photo from 1946 when she was 21 years old. The little scrap of red in the lower left corner is the red blouse she wore, the one she loved best, and I knew she’d want to be remembered in it; our mother was one who could wear a red chiffon blouse in her casket and be proud.
About My Mother
Regardless of the many outstanding qualities any person may have
we are essentially remembered for only one of them.
In my mother, all would agree
this one would be her remarkable beauty.
All through her life the compliments trailed her
as she carefully maintained “the look”, her look, so glamorous,
from tailored suits to taffeta dresses to palazzo pants,
hair perfectly styled, nails manicured and painted
a collar set just so, cuffs casually turned back,
hair worn long, past the age of 50,
a dark, even tan and shorts into her 80s,
lipstick always perfectly applied,
and even at 84
people marveled on her perfect skin,
dark curly hair,
and big bright smile.
I see that smile
when I see my sister smile,
and I see my mother’s active, athletic bearing
when I look at my brother,
and her gray eyes are mine.
In each of her grandchildren
I see her round face,
graceful hands, pert nose,
proud upright posture
and a million other of her features and habits
and in all of us
her wild curly hair
is part of her legacy to us.
When we look at each other from now on
we will see the part of her she gave to each of us,
this little cluster of people who came from her
and who were her greatest treasure,
and when she looks at us from wherever she is
she will know that
she cannot be forgotten.
Following a trickling stream in the woods I found a mossy shawl draped over a log bridge. Left behind by a wood nymph to bathe in the stream? Was the spring day so warm the shawl was left behind, superfluous? And where was its user now, in these woods filled with sounds of dripping water, songbirds and breeze? Perhaps morphed into a bird herself, or a dryad returned to her shape in the heart of a tree as I walked in? I walked on, musing, to leave her to her task, as the spring beauty bloomed about my feet.
Just a bit of flash fiction, maybe, my wandering thoughts as I walked the woods last weekend. It’s funny, years ago I used a tape recorder to record my thoughts as I drove my car and sometimes as I walked through the woods and fields. Now I use my cell phone and voice to text and I don’t have to transcribe myself. Funny how it sometimes changes my words; my cell phone does not have a big vocabulary. No doubt I could look for a better app, intended for writers.
Just past snow
through the detritus of last year’s final folly
faded brown and crackling beneath my feet
you reach a slender tendril of faith
to bear aloft your flag of conquest
a complementary flower
arms open wide
let the rain fall soft on our faces
herald the joy of spring.
I’m always happy to see the periwinkle flowers, and this year I haven’t yet had the chance to move all the leaves so they display their soft blue-violet in front of reddish-brown leaves, a color complement.
Usually I’ll run my mower over the yard to pick up and mulch the leaves and let them fall back where they were, and the vines grow atop the mulch. But this year they’ve had to push their way through the maple and mulberry leaves that fell last autumn.
This is what happens when I wake up and the snow is enchanting and I hear that a maternity hospital in Ukraine was bombed by Russia and I have to do something with all of it.
Someday They Will Sing
where have all the flowers gone,
long time passing,
young ones have picked them,
every one of them
gone for soldiers,
returned to graveyards
and graveyards gone to flowers,
long time ago,
and again and again
when will they ever learn,
why did they never learn
(#SlavaUkraini, and for all other people oppressed by war.)
I drafted the poem on the trail on Saturday, what happens when I come face to face with nature on a trail feeling the earth beneath my feet and the sun and breeze filling my head and my thoughts. I have been singing the song since the invasion began and was singing as I walked along, and every so often wrote another line of my thoughts.
The song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” was inspired by a traditional song of the Cossacks, Slavic peoples who lived in rural regions of both Ukraine and Russia, though the source of the song is Ukrainian. Pete Seeger adapted some of the lyrics and wrote the first three verses in 1955, Joe Hickerson wrote the rest in 1960.
It once was that men marched off to war while women stayed behind and tended the flowers in the graveyards, but I have heard a few folk singers (can’t remember) who have sung lyrics updated to reflect that young women become soldiers as well as young men, in fact, young people of all sorts become soldiers. With both society’s norms and folkways and beloved folk songs, breaking the mold can be difficult, but I could finally feel an update was natural.
I watch the creative soul of Ukrainians in this fight, so many musicians, artists, poets, writers, playing piano at the borders, making art to describe the conflict and their opposition, making Molotov cocktails instead of beer, a brass band of soldiers standing in fatigues to play the Ukrainian national anthem around the spot where a Russian missile hit, and the least I can do is awaken my own, possibly my inheritance from my Ukrainian ancestors, to reflect my support.