Candle

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(The following poem is by my Mother who died in 2008)

A candle’s but a simple thing —
it starts with just a bit of string.

Yet dipped or molded with patient hand
it gathers wax upon the strand.

Till rainbow-hued or snowy white
it gives at last a lovely light.

Life seems so like that bit of string —
each deed we do a simple thing.

Yet day by day if in life’s strand
we work with patient heart and hand
it gathers joy, makes dark days bright
and gives at last a lovely light.

 

John Quill

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John Quill.  Imagined in a springtime walk
as a flowering 18th century poet
penning works with turkey, goose, and swan feathers,
living in a garret with no flat-screen television
only rough hewn stone, the occasional chirp of a sparrow, a robin.

A lonely but deep man.

For Sythia

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Your golden flowers.
The hue of distilled sun, and honey, and lemons.

Heralding Spring dalliance,
boughs of promise.

I clip and set you in a vase on the table.

Ode to the Foot

Shod as a girl in sensible Hush Puppies, how did my feet go astray?

Corns – I grow my own crop.
Bunion – should I name mine Paul?

I bemoan clodhoppers but am thankful I have feet,
summon praise for podiatrists who name the fascist Plantar and form my orthotics.

Who are the betrayers of the ball, arch, heel, tendons, fascia, ligaments?

Was it the Loafer, the Pump, the Mary Jane, the Earth, the Espadrille, the Wedge, the Platform, the Wallaby, the Hurache?

I eschewed the Stiletto.  Was that a mistake?  Should I have given them a tango on the dance floor?

And what about DaVinci calling the foot a masterpiece of engineering, a work of art?
Leonardo, do you have a fetish?

These days I look for New Balance, preferably lace-up.

Primordial Life

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The swamp is gone.  I steer the car to the side of the road and park under the shade of a Dutch Elm.  Crossing the road  (paved,no longer gravel),  I wander to where the marsh was, recall the chorus of crickets and frogs that lulled me to sleep as a child.

No soothing chirrups, no cattails.  Only grass.  My gaze sweeps to the split-level house.

The rev of a lawn mower.  A strange woman rides it, cuts swaths in the grass.  I notice that the chokecherry tree is gone along with the tire swing.

I watch the woman make pivots with the machine.

And the weeping willow?  Vanished also.

Isn’t it poetry the way that tree weeps?  I flinch — realize that I sound  like my Mother.

The woman angles the mower toward the fence at the rear of the property.  It’s then I notice the cornstalks in the distance.  Yes!  The maize waves in the summer breeze, reassures.  The warm, sweet scent of silky corn hair as I played hide and seek with other children.

The woman circles the mower towards an unfamiliar tool shed.  She shuts it off and dismounts like a seasoned cowgirl.  Her hand dips into her shirt pocket and she pulls out a pack of cigarettes.  Tapping one out, she lights it and surveys the work she’s done.  Then her platinum blond head turns in my direction.

“Hello,” I call out, moving towards her.

She flicks ash off her cigarette and the corners of her mouth rise in a smile.  I remove my sunglasses.  Her hazel eyes are warm, friendly; somehow the crow’s feet add to their sparkle. An aroma like freshly baked bread escapes the chambray shirt she wears.

I hold out my hand to clasp hers in greeting.  “I hope you don’t mind my snooping.  I lived here when I was a girl.”

The woman’s name is Barbara and when I tell her my parents last name, she recalls my mother.  In a gravelly voice, she tells of Mother stopping by once to ask for some plantings from the back yard.   How could she refuse such a sweet little widow wanting flowers for her husband’s grave?

Barbara offers to show me the house.  She leads me to an enclosed porch with wicker furniture.

“The patio used to be here.  There were no screens.”

“Mosquitoes,” Barbara answers, “a nuisance out here.”

I don’t recall this being a problem.  What I remember is fireflies glowing and dancing in the distance.

Barbara leads me to the living room.  The picture window is enlarged and there’s a wrap-around view of the grass that replaced the swamp.  I am not disturbed by the changed house but the disappearance of the marsh with its humming, primordial life makes me sad.  It teemed with crickets and frogs and we children dipped into it to catch tadpoles.

As I stand in my old living room with this stranger, I feel how time distorts place.  It is like returning home after travelling long and far away.  How rooms seem as small as those of a doll’s house, how they cramp the humans inside.

The humans who look outward for primordial life.

 

 

Tunnels

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The tongue controls the endgame of words formed in the tunnel between heart and brain.

It is a great manipulator, the gatekeeper of food and language.

It curls and uncurls, rolls words that love or lash.   Or claims neutrality like Switzerland.

Sometimes the tongue deceives and takes the shape of dinnerware:
“He or she speaks with forked tongue,” we say.

But what of the throat?

The throat is the tongue’s precursor.
It is a curving tunnel stretching from heart to  brain.

When mood clouds the celebrated heart, it mists the  brain with poisonous vapors.

Left to incubate, moods rot.

Or they coil, snake-like, await a victim.
Then cold winter slush slithers through the tunnel ignoring mediation,
spewing rattler venom and surprise.

Regurgitated poison is hard to take back.  Like rolling broken glass on the tongue.

This is So Serious

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Every now and then a scene from the movie Royal Tennenbaums, bubbles up in my thoughts and I laugh.  In the movie, Ben Stiller is hyper-vigilant for disaster.  Ben plays the character Chas and he has two little boys.  Chas has his boys practice timed fire drills in the house.   Fire alarms blaring in the background, Chas yells at the boys to go, go go!  Once they safely exit the house, Chas clicks on his stop-watch to see if he and his boys will survive or be burned to a crisp.

I can relate to Chas’s character.  I, too, have been known to awfulize.    Perhaps my vigilance for disaster began in childhood.  I had a vivid imagination and once believed I saw the outline of a bear in the darkened hallway of our house.   It turned out to be a pile of rugs.

Then, when I was seventeen disaster did hit — my Father collapsed in the house and died from a massive heart attack.

Ever since then, the Grim Reaper taps me on the shoulder and tries for my attention.  It is a life-long challenge to be at peace with the knowledge that some day I, too, shall pass.

Until then, why not have faith that there is a reason for the way things happen?  Being crisis-oriented is horrible.  It robs life of joy, detracts from living in the moment.

Oddly, my worries took on a deja-vu turn a few years ago.  My husband collapsed in the kitchen and at first I thought it was a repeat of what I experienced with my Father.  But it was not a heart attack.  He’d been broiling Leeks Au Gratin and bubbling cheese dribbled down the rubber mitts he wore, burning his wrist.   The doctor in the Emergency Room lightened things up about the Leeks disaster, joked about wine pairings.

My husband still makes Leeks Au Gratin.  I just look the other way.