Posts made in November, 2010

Magic is Afoot

Posted by on Nov 27, 2010 in Spirit | 1 comment

My grandson talks to me in his native tongue, telling me stories from foreign lands. He snuggles close beside my ear to speak sometimes, others he paces back and forth across the room waving his tiny arms in the air, clapping with delight at his own jokes. I laugh, although I do not understand a word he says, but somehow the gist of what he means comes through. I think perhaps I have some ghostly memory of that place from a visit long ago. The words all sound familiar, but sit just beyond my grasp. He speaks of rainbows in colors unknown to human eyes after storms made of cotton candy.  Other things he tries to explain are much more complicated, things so big I have lost the ability to comprehend them because I have been too long in this solid, almost unwavering world.  It is enough that he still knows.  Someday soon he will learn how humans speak. Of course a lot of the magic will be gone by then, but not all. I whisper to him as I rock him to sleep, beg him not to forget entirely. Hold it in your heart sweet baby I say, don’t ever let it go. Just before his eyes close he sighs a baby sigh that sounds very like,”I’ll try”. I kiss his tiny forehead and sing him softly off to his baby dreams.

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Rain

Posted by on Nov 25, 2010 in All things natural, Dad | 1 comment

I sat on the front step watching the lighting storm, feeling the cool damp air pressing down on my body as I hugged my knees to my chest, thinking of my father. He loved storms as much as my mother hated them, and perversely, seemingly to annoy her, he would carry me out with him to the porch to watch the wild play of light and noise. In the safety of his arms I never felt a second of fear.

I think about how many times over the years I listened to my father tell the stories of the early days of his marriage and the struggles they survived. Somehow he managed to make the worst of times seem funny and wonderfully entertaining. My father’s most amazing gift was his way with a story and even retold a hundred times we all sat spellbound, listening to every work, like a familiar and beloved book dog eared with the reading.

One of my favorite stories was about the time spent visiting with his in laws down at Echols, the rural village in Western Ky where my mother was born. It is a tiny community whose heart was my grandparent’s general store. Other than that were  a few houses, a Baptist Church,  and acres of farmland. Dad’s story was set in 1937, the first year of their marriage. Until that night my mother had always accepted her family’s actions as perfectly normal. I could always see the signs of discomfort on my mother face when my dad commenced telling about the time they were all awoken in the middle of the night, ordered to dress in their Sunday clothes, and then quick marched through the backyard and into the root cellar.

“The men,” my father intoned with an ironic seriousness, “all stood in the front, by the door.” That would consists of my placid, long suffering grandfather and his two oldest sons, Cleo and Billy, plus the kin by marriage, Uncle Bill the war hero, Uncle Hillard, Uncle Dick and my father. “The women and children were pushed to the back.” As he speaks I can see them huddled among the canned peaches and bins of potatoes listening to my grandmother predict their imminent doom with dramatic sobs and prayers.
“I think it’s gonna blow off over toward the river,” my grandfather states with quiet authority.

No Dad, the wind is blowing directly this way.” says one of the sons, but then a sharp look from his father and a loud whale from the dark recesses behind him reminds him how this game is played. The voice quickly recalculates,

“Well, if it veers a little to the south it just might miss us.” The men agrees with that assessment in a voice that is an echo of his Papa’s firm and steady grasp of the situation. My father remains silent, too sleepy and confused to understand this strange family ritual, feeling he has missed something in the news, in the air, that would justify their behavior.

The rain begins to pour down in buckets. The men shut the cellar doors and everyone sits cramped under the earth like buried victims of some mass murder, suffering but not quite dead. The minutes turn into hours before the rain subsides to a slow steady drip, and then, when my father thinks he can stand it no longer, the man we all called Papa declares it safe to head back to the house.

My Dad embellishes the story with each telling over the years until I can smell the air, feel the breath going in and out of the huddled bodies, see the tense frightened faces when the lightening flashes. Never is the story totally revealed without questioning from the rapt audience.

“Daddy,” I ask, knowing the answer from other times, “Why did you have to put on your good clothes?”

“You know punkin,” he answers with a mocking quizzical voice, “I wondered the same thing, so the next morning I asked your grandmother. Millie Burden just drew herself up proudly and told me,
“Well, if we died and they found our bodies I didn’t want them to think we were trash.” We all have a nice long laugh at the absurdity of the poor woman’s reasoning.

“Daddy,” I ask, “Why would anyone be afraid of the rain?” My father smiles and my mother gets up and declares that she needs to do some laundry.

When I married and had children of my own, my Dad told me another story, this one serious. He confessed that as a child his mother had locked him in a small closet under the steps as punishment for his misdeeds. He said he still had nightmares about the dark and enclosed spaces. My father, who stood a head above most anyone around him, whose square shoulders and barrel chest were still straight and strong at ninety years old, the man who had taught me to be as fearless as a badger had an Achilles heel. The fact that he admitted it to me melted my heart.

He’s been gone from me these four years now, but sometimes when the air smells like rain, I take a minute to slip outside and think about how often I stood beside him watching the clouds churn and the wind turn the leaves inside out. Sometimes he would just slip his arm silently over my shoulders and pull me next to him and we would stand there in wordless communion until the rain came.

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Sunrise in Seattle A Memory from 2005

Posted by on Nov 20, 2010 in My Children | 0 comments

Always the mountain sits and waits, at times only the faintest memory of mountain, sketched in mist and clouds, floating like a magic city above the landscape, but always there, like faith or love, even when unseen…

I wake to the SOS sound of the vertical blinds in the apartment, blown by the fan’s breeze through the open patio door. Since I am cool, and it is July, I realize I have left Virginia far behind. A half moon shines redundantly in the half moon window above me. I rise and turn off the fan and step onto the balcony and into the early dawn of Seattle. I can’t quite see Rainier yet, but a ghostly outline tells me it is still where we left it at sundown last night. A long line of black mountains extends across the horizon, with a hint of gold promising the return of the sun is imminent. I close the door against the chill and dark and crawl back into my bed. It seems a time for sleeping, but I am unsuccessful in my attempt to doze again. My mind is filled with the impressions of last evening, a beautiful restaurant patio, the cool breeze, fabulous flowers, and the crisp, grapefruit scented wine we enjoyed on my arrival. Even the bus ride had seemed exotic, a quiet, clean, electric trip through a neighborhood of wedding cake houses, interspersed with terra cotta adobe and grey cement apartments, ornamented with plants, sculpture, and flowing wrought iron. I give up on sleep and attempt to make coffee, a Seattle religious ritual, but find myself puzzled by the electric bean grinder. I dress and step back out to the balcony where I enjoy the promise of the new day, watching as the mountain reappears, splashed with spots of gold and pink across it snowy face. Some lights blink on in the hillside windows of other early risers, and dawn slides down to Lake Washington, bringing its scattered sailboats to life. The seagulls have turned out for breakfast and sing their discordant squawks, complaining about their empty bellies. Jets soar high above, carrying sleepy people to distant, unknown destinies, reminding me that my time here is limited.

When I last visited the west coast, real life had seemed so far away, but now, with family sleeping cozy downstairs, I understand how this comfortable place can be home for them. I am content as I anticipate their awakening, knowing that love abides, solid as the mountain, seen or unseen

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Days of Amber

Posted by on Nov 16, 2010 in All things natural, Angst, anger, anarchy, Spirit | 3 comments

The light is perfect today, brilliant and golden, like the world put on its polarized sunglasses, laughed, and then woke me early to share the joke. Even before I venture outside, the color tells me there will be a crispness to the air and a faint whisper of burning leaves. The scurry of fall is upon us; the memory of languid summer days almost erased by the press of winter anticipation. Even city dwellers who cannot tell soybean from wheat fields feel an urgency to count their metaphorical sacks of grain. The days grow shorter, the grasshopper’s summer song begins to take on a remorseful refrain, and the ant tidies up his honeypots with a dour air of smugness.

The suede jacket that has hung in my closet these long months wraps me in it’s soft embrace, like an old friend returned from sabbatical. My blood quickens as I step out into a world ablaze with color. For all appearances the earth goddess Gaia rejoices in her her lying down to sleep, but perhaps she stuck a bad bargain and is making the most of it, like us all.

I am thankful it is Sunday and I have time to reflect. I need physical and emotional recovery from two nights out this weekend and the excitement of my first real birthday party since I was a teenager. Two weeks before the party I began to wish I had ignored my natal day as I have so often in the past. The week before I am unexpectedly teary. On Thursday, the day before my birthday, events unfold both at work and in my personal life that make my sojourn in my own private purgatory a bit more bearable. Friday afternoon I send out all my work evaluations at ten minutes of three and make my escape before anyone can email me. Friday night I find myself surrounded by supportive loving friends and family, and I sat there drinking it in like the woman who has everything.

I am acutely aware of how lucky I am when I see envy on the faces of strangers and casual acquaintances. It makes me ashamed about all the times they might have seen the same look on my face, just for a second, just before I turned my head. We are greedy creatures we humans, and I more than most. The words from  Leonard Cohen “Bird on a Wire” play on the soundtrack of my life:

“I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
he said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
she cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”

I give myself over to a moment of selfishness on Saturday night and tried to explain my restlessness to the man I married. The words don’t come out right. They never do, they never will. I live in a place of abundance, surrounded by love. No one could ask for more, and yet, I do.

After the band played its last song Saturday we stepped out  into the cool dark of evening, flushed from the dancing. I lifted my hair and let the air evaporate the dampness from the nape of my neck. In the car I fingered the amber talisman on my bodice, an ancient palliative against aging and evil spirits…

The morning sun found me on the sofa, my charm still encircling me, guarding me. Its honey yellow color echos the light of the day and an unimaginable morning forty million autumns ago when resin dripped like butterscotch from a wounded Mesozoic tree, now long extinct. In an eye blink of years from now the memory of my current struggle will be reduced to lines on paper, less important to the universe than the flotsam this amber trapped before it hardened. Unanswered questions that shot like sparks from the fire inside my soul will be long cold, and my restless spirit will lie still and silent. Today I am taking inventory. With a burst of grasshopper regret I realize that the dreams I stored in the summer of my life may be insufficient to take me through to the end. Perhaps I need to run faster than I ever have before to find a place I am not even certain exists. It may be that my run must be in solitude and sacrifice, but not to try is to deny my birthright. The rustle of  leaves beneath my boots seems to whisper, “Hurry, hurry.”

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Regret

Posted by on Nov 12, 2010 in Poetry | 3 comments

The world seems too big tonight
To ever find the things
I so carelessly left behind.

The highway winds into the distance, black and uncertain
and while I cannot see them,
I know the ancient mountains rise behind
In the wake of my hurried passing.

I do not recall the journey’s beginning
and flight seems my only destination.

I run alone, breathless,
Searching the sky for dragons, the woods for lions,
Praying silently to whatever gods might be listening,
But no one comes to rescue me in dreams.

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