A Place of One’s Own

falling

 

There are so many things to like about this place; so many reasons not to move —
the feel of grass licking the backs of my bare legs, the
damp smell of earth, the leaves overhead
like silvered wings of whispering butterflies.
My eyes drawn to slivers peering
at the world through a curtain of flowering stalks
whose buds are just beginning to bloom.

I am a child again looking for sanctuary.

mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa

 

 

We Could Be Giants

The path ahead

They stood on the bridge and thought about what came next. The slant sun warm on their backs, while the river below held its breath, waiting for their decision.

What if this is not the path we are supposed to take? He asked.

What if it is? She answered.

And after leaning awhile in silence, they pulled themselves up in tacit agreement and pressed on ahead.

What We Treasure

This delicate beauty was made for me by the mother of a dear friend decades ago.  Back when I still collected dolls. I no longer do, but Rebecca here (the name she whispered to me when I took her from her box the first time) still holds an honored spot in my home. For eleven months of the year she sits in view in a shadow box on my living room wall. The twelfth month she hangs in a prominent spot on my Christmas tree.

Hanging to the top right of her is a glass egg from a set of four, made in Egypt, purchased as an extravagance at a time when we hadn’t much money.

Next to the egg, a sweet-faced clown rides a unicycle with a monkey on his arm. I discovered him in a small shop on a trip to Montreal seventeen years ago with my mother, my brother, and my son. We drove there from Rhode Island in search of a warm wool coat for me. I came home with the clown, instead.

Every ornament on our tree has a story behind it; every story attached to a memory of a friend or family member, some of them no longer here. It takes a long time to decorate our tree.

The world is full of seemingly unrelenting misery right now, but–oh, my–in the small space that we can control, isn’t it an act of self-kindness to fill it with the things in our lives that give us such pleasure?

This is my wish for all of us this holiday season. That we make space wherever, whenever we can, and fill it with goodness, laughter….and most of all, love.

May it be enough to sustain us.

 

 

All those Young Lives

RJS 1915

My grandfather in his Army uniform taken just before World War I. He was sent to fight in France.

This is my teenage grandfather on his way to the first world war.  Does he look scared?  Standing ramrod straight and expressionless in stark contrast with the bucolic backdrop.  Perhaps the photographer told him not to smile — war is serious business, after all.   I look at him and it’s hard to imagine what he was thinking, this son of English and Irish immigrants, born and raised on Staten Island, NY, about to go off and fight German soldiers in France.  I wonder what it was like for him over there?

Roderick James Stanfield was luckier than many who went off to fight in that war.  He came home physically unscathed.  I knew him as a kind, soft-spoken man who entertained us by pulling coins out of our ears.  He must have had stories to tell, but I never got a chance to ask — he died when I was younger than he was when he went to war.  Instead, I made do with reading poetry written by so many impossibly young and talented boys, many of whom did not return home to the people who loved them best. I read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth and cried. The scope of all those young lives lost was hard to comprehend. The suffering of all the survivors, almost unfathomable.

The sixteen year-old me weeping over the carnage of World War I still naively believes that the best way to honor the dead is to love and respect the living.

The present me, shell-shocked by the last two years of rampant xenophobia and nationalism is hanging on to hope. For the sake of young Roderick James Stanfield and so many, many more.

The Boy Who Climbed Trees

He climbed trees not for the thrill
of the effort it took, but for the vantage point
it offered.

Come here and look — 
A whisper of wind licked the skin on
his arms and traveled the nape of his neck
as he sat in a notch near the top of the tree
where he could see
past the confines of his small yard,
past his small town,
to the mountains that encircled them.

Beyond that was a world he tried to imagine,
and time on the wings of birds flying past
promising          promising          promising
plenty more trees out there,
waiting for him to climb.

 

~~ For Tom, Tommy, Tomas
Begun on May 6, 2018 to mark twenty years. Still a work in progress.

 

It didn’t snow on April 6th

April 6, 2018. This is not what spring is supposed to look like.

twenty-seven years ago.
There was sunshine and abundant warmth on that day,
a blessed gift after a solid week of rain.
Our son was a corybantic toddler in need of a playground
and an ice cream cone.
We were all desperate for ice cream,
that harbinger of truly spring when the days open again
to burgeoning possibilities
like green shoots bursting from the sodden ground.
And so, when the phone rang as we were leaving,
I did not answer it;
I answered my heart instead.

Years from now I doubt that
I will remember that it snowed today,
or that my husband brought home pizza
as a consolation for the weather.
To render a day in such focus that you never forget it
requires the prism of an unanswered call
that waits to inform you that your brother is dead.
It casts an image so sharp you can play it back at will:
a heart answered; a brother gone; and still the world spins.
There was also ice cream that day, and laughter.
I remember that. What there was always counts
as much as what there is no more.

*For Puck who is always in my heart.

 

A Proper Farewell

Toni, Alison, Me. Canterbury, UK 2013

My friend Alison is gone. In a blink. Like the flutter of a bird’s tiny wing. Suddenly and unexpectedly. I hate that there was no time to say goodbye. It sucks that we have no say in who we lose, and when. Life is hard enough the way it is. We should get to say a proper farewell to the people we love. And Alison was someone I truly loved.

That we met at all was a fluke. That when we did we became friends was as if preordained. I can’t remember whether I first hired her to pick my field or she hired me to pick hers, but that was the beginning. We chatted, because it was what you did on Farm Town. You talked to a total stranger who lived who knows where in the world because you could. In our case it turned out that we were 3300 miles apart with an ocean between us.  We quickly sussed how much we both loved to read ALL THE WORDS in all the books (when we weren’t making art out of imaginary fields on virtual farms, of course). We friended one another on Facebook, and continued to talk over the Farm Town fence where we learned that we each had an only child we were awed by, and who, despite being opposite genders and nearly seven years apart in age, were remarkably similar in their temperament and interests.  How could we not become true friends?

Eventually, we met in real life. I adored her daughter as she loved my son. We were like sisters once separated through no fault of our own,  now found, and reunited. It was happy days again. It was happy days each of the handful of times we got to spend time face-to-face.

Alison had a wicked sense of humor. She was one of the sharpest wits I knew. But she was an introvert like me, and she would go quiet occasionally, when the world was too much for her, and I recognized that tendency in myself. There are times when words are not enough and only the space for silent contemplation will do.

Still, I wish I would have told her how brilliant I thought she was, how much she made me laugh. I wish I would have let her know those naughty (but erudite) words I looked up for writing on her cast when she broke her arm. (rantallion, bescumber, fustylug, stympahlist.) They would have made her laugh. We should tell the people we love that we love them. We shouldn’t take for granted that they will know how much they mean to us unless we do.

I wish I could have thanked her for the years we had as friends. I wish I could tell her how the light is a little dimmer now that she’s not here.

In lieu of the card I did not send

Please accept this poem.
I wrote it with best intentions
a miracle in making, as all things made in earnest are
when thought finds a willing receptacle.

Instead of tidying the house
I spent days searching for words.
Meaningful words that dribbled
agonizingly slow,
or flew above my head
in the manner of teasing birds
whose waggling feathers I snatched
when I could.
(I did not hurt them. I promise.)

I set it before you now
as the welcome mat to my heart,
my wish for your comfort.
Come in. I love you. Let us share in Grace.

Family Recipe


First, you will need a lake:
Preferably one in which you once flapped fish-like, laughter lifting in iridescent bubbles from your lips.
Best results are achieved mid-summer, when days feel like new clothes you are trying on.

You will also need:
An infant whose buoyancy is limitless.
A father with a never-ending capacity for love.
A mother who adores them both.

Dip the baby in the lake —
that baptismal font of past generations whose sloughed-off atoms may yet be felt.
The sun will bless you with its warmth.

Swirl the baby through the water; kiss and love him well. Hold him
with tender hands. Do not let go. Dip and swirl until
laughter lifts in iridescent bubbles from his lips.
Memory is made from molecules like this.

Repeat as often as you like.
Calorie count is negligible.

About the ingredients:
This is my personal recipe. Your infant/s can be any number, any gender; likewise  parental combination. You can add a village. Water can be an ocean.
Love and Laughter should NOT be omitted under any circumstance.

Us Walking

The tree behind us is a dogwood. I know that because a man we encountered on one of our walks told us when we asked. Then he offered to take our picture in front of the tree. Afterwards, he handed the phone back to me and said, “I like seeing people in love.”

My Husband Walking
(musings from my notebook)

On his first morning home from the hospital I listen to the sound of my husband walking, bare feet padding determinedly along the floor. I am reassured by the sound of his footsteps tracing a back and forth route from the laundry room at one end of the house to the kitchen at the other. Instructed to walk a mile every day of his convalescence, he is dedicated to the task. He walks the route several times throughout the day.

After a few days his stride picks up, his heels land stronger, with force enough to rattle the small things cluttering the table and the desktop. A few days more and he graduates to walking the driveway. I cannot hear his footsteps outside. I realize I miss the sound.

~~~~~

Weeks before my husband’s surgery, we began walking. We needed the time together, the closeness, the exercise – all of it to be ready for whatever was to come.  Yesterday, the thirteenth day after his surgery, he had the catheter and staples removed. There is still work ahead to get him back to where he was, but I look forward to our renewed walking in the evening again.

Today is our anniversary. Today we have been married for thirty years. It’s impossible to calculate how many miles we’ve accumulated in our walking through all that time. Sometimes, I wonder how we’ve managed such a feat. And then I remember this:

Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”    ~~ Antoine de Saint-Expuery 

And I realize that that is the thing that has gotten us to where we are, that looking outward in the same direction. Here’s to us walking, looking outward together for thirty more.