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.

 

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.

An Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor

I was raised Catholic. After decades of soul-searching, my religious beliefs have come to fall in the category of atheist. However, I do believe fervently in treating all living creatures with courtesy and respect. Treat others as you would wish yourself to be treated. I often fall short of that, but I keep trying.

What terrifies me more than the ridiculous buffoon we have as the leader of this country, is where the country is headed morally and in the name of “Christianity.” I’m sharing this today because this guy, Peter, says it so much better than I ever could. It’s long, but definitely worth the read. If you can’t read the entire piece, than this section sums it up nicely:

“So let me see if I have this figured out correctly: God doesn’t give a flying fruitcake if we deprive twenty-million people, most of them poor, of access to health care. Nor is God particularly concerned about how men treat women in the workplace, how people of color are treated in the real estate market, how the hungry and homeless are cared for (or not), but God flips out if we bake a cake for a same sex couple to celebrate their wedding? I have to be honest with you, Frank. I’m just not seeing it. Not in the Bible, not in the realm of rational common sense.”

 

Source: An Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a “Small Church” Pastor

The beach even in winter

is still the beach,
still the sand,
and the gulls gliding low,
while a piper darts
along the curled edge of water —
too cold for wading,
too cold for swimming,
but for the stalwart few
enrobed in rubber
who persist in their passion
for riding waves.

After days of rain-slashed sodden skies
the sun lures people like me
desperate for a glimpse
of impending spring.
Mostly we sit in our cars
to avoid the brittle wind
leaving it to the dogs in their
fur coats with the owners
who love them enough
to walk with them, hunch-shouldered,
burrowing into their store-bought coats,
all of us looking ahead,
to warmer days.