A Love Song

bob & jordan France 2

Just an old-fashioned love song,
One I’m sure they wrote for you and me.
Just an old-fashioned love song,
Comin’ down in three-part harmony . . .

~~~  Three Dog Night

 

Of all the photos I have ever taken, this one is my favorite:  My husband and our son walking down the street in a French village twenty-two years ago.  They are walking away from me not to go anywhere in particular, but to allow me to record how astonishingly narrow the street is, using them as a measure.

I don’t remember where this was specifically.  Somewhere in the Provence area.  We had rented a car and were driving around to various places we’d pinpointed on a map.  A guide book I read mentioned a villa outside this village that Picasso may (or may not) have lived in for a short time.  We thought it would be fun to say we saw where Picasso may (or may not) have lived.  It was the first trip we’d taken where we needed passports.  We were giddy with excitement.

Thanks to the digital services of online places like Zazzle, this photo now adorns the case on my cell phone, as well as cheering me from a mug as I enjoy a cup of tea.  I bought three mugs bearing this photo, one for each of us.  To remind us.

We are a love song.  The three-part harmony.  The Boy and his Dad striding step by step along side of one another, me capturing the joy of a free and easy moment to carry us through life’s rough patches.  For me, the thought of that is all the Valentine I will ever need.

 

A Wish for Grace, A Dream of Sleep

Fa-la-la-la . . . oh, forget it.

Fa-la-la-la . . . oh, forget it.

Today is the day before Christmas.  The last shopping day.  The last day to go out and buy food if we’re to have a proper meal for Christmas.  I have three baskets of laundry piled high:  His dirty clothes; my dirty clothes; clean clothes and towels waiting to be folded.  We’ve a tree (see photo above) with lights and an angel on top, but nothing else, and yet, I think it’s the most beautiful tree we’ve ever owned.  It is perfect, is it not?

I am tired.   Really, really tired.

This has been my refrain, my mantra — every single day this year.

After months of trying to find the cause, I learned that I have severe sleep apnea.  A machine recorded how many times I stopped breathing in my sleep, which turned out to be an average of once every 75 seconds.  I was hoping Santa would bring me a CPAP machine for Christmas, but it looks like that’s not going to happen.  (A higher power than Santa requires that he fill out forms and documentation in triplicate while also procuring the eyeball of a Komodo dragon, three sets of fruit bat wings, and a pair of fuzzy dice before he’s allowed to deliver medical equipment.)

All of that aside, this is not a post just about me.  It’s about you, too, my readers, my friends, my family, my tribe.  What I wish for us all.

I’ve had plenty of down time this year.  Hours spent lying in bed–not sleeping–waiting for the brain fog to lift, the morning headache to subside.  Time enough to think about all the important stuff, or my interpretation of it, anyway.  (Everything is subjective.)

And what I’ve come up with is this:  Life sucks.

Life is incredibly difficult and unfair.  It’s full of nasty isms — racism, sexism, ageism, terrorism.  Everybody hates something, or someone.   People are mean, politicians corrupt.  All over the world people are suffering and sick, afraid and lonely.   People are dying.  Too many are contemplating suicide.

Why should I stick around for this?  Why should any of us?

It’s been that kind of year.

And then someone on a social media site shares a cute cat video or (even better) the video with a penguin laughing — laughing — and for a few seconds I forget about how hard life is.  It occurs to me that life has always sucked, yet here we are, still hanging in there, wending our way towards grace and a little kindness through whatever means we can.

Tomorrow is Christmas, the Boy is home, and music and laughter will abound despite everything else.  Despite piles of laundry, an unadorned tree, and gifts that didn’t get wrapped (sorry, guys!).  Despite death and disease, hatred and terrorism, love, hope and charity still persist.

Wherever you are, however you hurt, hold on to the fact that there are people who love you.  There is generosity and love all around.  Sometimes it’s hard to see, but it’s there, I promise you.   You are enough.  You have done all you can.

Tomorrow is another day, another step forward on whatever path we choose. An added bonus here in the Northern Hemisphere is that we will have another minute or so of light.

That’s good enough for me.

May the coming year be better for us all.  May we all find joy in whatever nook or cranny it resides.  But most of all, I wish us peace.

 

 

 

 

Shine a light

In memory of my brother. Another birthday in which there is no cake.

A Wilderness of Words

Tom with fire.jpg My brother and his trusty Bic lighter.

The boy in the photo above is my brother Tom.  My mother named him Thomas, but we all called him Tommy.  At seventeen he dubbed himself Tomas (pronounced toe-mas, accent on the second syllable).  He took to wearing sunglasses and being quietly mysterious.  It was the first of many personas he would try on for size while looking for how he fit in the world.

It wasn’t easy for him, figuring it out.  He had a handicap from the start: Youngest of seven; born colicky, and needing a lot of soothing in a busy, boisterous family. He was often lost in the fray.

At two he fell through the heating vent in the bedroom floor, bumped accidentally by another brother as they jumped on my parents’ bed.  He landed in the dining room below, barely missing the table. Astonishingly, other than…

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Say His Name

shannon adams 2

I never met Shannon Lewis Adams, but I woke up this morning thinking about him.  I said his name out loud.

On September 11, 2001, he was twenty-five, about the age that my son is now.  A baby, still, his real life just beginning — the one his parents had spent years preparing him for. Nurturing him; encouraging him.  Loving him.

Fly, little bird, they may have thought then.  Go out into the world and see what there is to see.

And Shannon flew.  To a lofty building far from home.

I knew his father.  We grew up in the same small area in the Adirondack mountains of northern New York.  A place where most people are content to spend the whole of their lives.  Lewis Adams had a shy sweet smile that traveled  his face and was reflected in his eyes.  I’ll bet his son Shannon did, too.

I picture a space in the universe where all the lost smiles fled to that bright September day. They are there still.  We need just say a name and the space lights up with love.

Of all the names I know just the one.  But it’s enough.  One name, one face, one smile is all it ever takes to bring us to our knees.  And still we say the name.

Because we can.  Because we must.

 

 

On the Way: Window Dressing

I’ve been traveling around England for a little over a week.  Today I’m in London.  My husband and I have logged some miles walking and today was windy and cool, so I wanted to head back to our hotel early.  On the way we walked past Selfridges.  Some of the window arrangements caught my eye, and for a few minutes I forgot about being tired and cranky.

This spring we watched the weekly PBS presentation of Mr. Selfridge.  I imagine that Harry Selfridge would approve of this display for the Apple iWatch.  I love how all the elements of this design — the butterflies changing color and suspended from thin filaments, the watches on pedestals rising from the bottom — meld with the reflections of sky and the wonderful glass building across the street to create something quite fanciful.

  

Into the woods

creepy woods 2

I’m off on an adventure, but I’ll be back soon.  You may wait in the heart of the Night-Light Forest while I’m away.  It’s lovely here.  If you squint your eyes, you can just make out the shadowy figures of creatures who are too shy to show themselves.  They hum the same soft tune and sway to the music they make.  The light show was created for them.  They love the lights — O glorious light!  Magnificent bursts of phosphorescence; the sky is awash with color.

If you chose to spend time here, be respectful.  No hooting and hollering lest you disturb the serenity.  Don’t trod on anyone’s feet.  Feel free to hum along, though, once you’ve deciphered the tune. If you must snack, pick up after yourself.  And if you happen to see Betsy, tell her the thing she most wants to know is skulking around here somewhere.

I’ll see you all when I return.  If you’re good I may bring you a little something.  Maybe chocolate, maybe not.  It’s a surprise.

Everyone loves a surprise.

A poem in every pocket

poem in every pocket

Today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day.  I love that this is a thing now.  I love poems, all manner of them, short, long, rhyming, oblique.  Each poem is a wrapped piece of candy I can never get enough of.  The idea of NPIYPD is that you carry a poem in your pocket to share with others.  I didn’t leave my house today, so I’ll use this post as my pocket.

A Poem in Every Pocket

Imagine a plaza
where some people sit on squat pedestals,
and some people are
talking/walking/milling about,
but all are carrying this secret:
that their pockets are filled
with poems only they
know all the words to.

Mary Pierce

That is my little poem.  It is also my wish.  If you have a poem you are carrying around today I’d love it if you would share it with me.

To hell with the Vicodin

cape cod kayak

 

I start things, I don’t always finish them.  At least in a timely manner.  I have a lot of drafts in my WordPress folder.  The way I work is, I get an idea, usually a sentence or a title, or I look at one of my photos and it spurs something.  But, the two things — a few words and an image — always go together in my mind.  That’s how I roll.  Often I get several sentences down, maybe even a paragraph or two, before I leave it.  That way I have something to pick up on when I come back.

You can imagine my confusion when I opened this draft and found the title with this particular photo and nothing else.  Not one word.  What does Vicodin have to do with a placid scene of two guys fishing from kayaks in a cove on Cape Cod?  What WAS I thinking when I dropped this here?  Anyone?

And before you ask, no I wasn’t on Vicodin when I began the piece.  That was the point of the title.  I do remember that.  Because I had tried to have a prescription for it filled, along with an antibiotic after a grueling oral surgery last October.  And an older woman who reminded me of my high school Math teacher, Mrs. Burns (a woman so terrifying that the French teacher across the hall once put a sign on his door that read:  First Aid for Lethal Burns) looked at my prescriptions and then told me all the reasons why the Vicodin scrip couldn’t be filled.  Something to do with changes in dosage — of the acetaminophen, not even the narcotic part of it — and my oral surgeon should have known that.  No, I couldn’t just have his office call it in because it was a Class 3 drug, I would have to go back to the office, a 70-minute roundtrip drive away, and have the doctor write a new prescription.  And my mouth was swollen and starting to hurt, and I was thinking, to hell with the Vicodin.  Which completely makes sense now that I’ve explained it to you doesn’t it?

Except for the photograph.

Your guess is as good as mine.  I welcome your suggestions.

A Stupid Place

Gram at 70.

Gram at 70.

A Stupid Place

A stupid place to put it,
she says, winding into another rant
about a ceiling fan at the wrong end of the room.
She sits and twists the ring on her finger,
and wonders why she is here.

Because she used to have a house.
Now she has too much furniture,
and a life packed in cardboard boxes,
honey-combed walls wilted by
the heat of how many summers?

Moments flicker and play out
in silent testimony to what came before
this place, this stupid place.
At the window, a curtain lifts like an apparition
in a breeze too flabby to last.

She turns her head and waits for
the next riffle of wind,
for the days that gather and roll
like dust bunnies beneath her bed,
while she sits and twists the ring on her finger

and her mind meanders in a space
too narrow for contentment,
a labyrinth of thoughts
that twists and turns upon itself
crossing the same trail, the same words,

A stupid place to put it, she says.
I don’t know why I’m here.

~~  Mary Pierce, 1995


The woman in the photo is my grandmother, Pearl Crawford Pierce.  She was seventy when the photo was taken, her hair color still hers and not from a box.  She cut her hair herself.  My grandfather had been dead for more than twenty years by then.  In those years, she had learned to drive a car and shop for herself, two things that my grandfather had always done.  She also got a job at the local paper mill, worked for a while, retired, and found a sense of satisfaction selling Avon products because it got her out of her house.  She had style and a snazzy Mustang by then.

A few years after this photo was taken she was mugged on her own front porch.  She stopped selling Avon and was reluctant to go outside.  A couple of years after that, in one of the infrequent times she did leave her house, her car skidded on an icy road and she hit a bank.  The kind you keep your money in.  She broke her jaw and her hip and cracked some ribs.  Eventually, she healed.  Physically.

By the time I wrote the poem, she had given up her house to a daughter and moved to a small one-bedroom apartment in a subsidized development.  Her short-term memory had moved somewhere else.  It clearly was no longer residing with her.  I wrote the poem after a visit.  That year I made many visits, driving from my home in Rhode Island to her stupid place in northern New York with a six-year-old in tow, trying desperately to find a way to keep her in her apartment and out of a nursing home.  Physically, in spite of her run-in with the bank, she was strong and relatively healthy, the one glitch being that she had developed high enough blood pressure to necessitate her taking daily medication.  Which, of course, she could never remember to do.

Twenty years and five months after the photo was taken Gram died in a nursing home after she fell out of bed in the middle of the night.  Had she known what was happening, she would have laughed at what a ridiculous way to go that was.  A few years before that, on one of my visits, she asked me to take her to the area she had been born.  We ended up at the cemetery where her parents and her baby brother, Rosco were all buried.  It was one of those lovely large cemeteries with mature trees and undulating hills, a place with a good view, she said.  We didn’t make it to the Crawford family plot because in our traipsing about, she lost her balance on the spongy ground and rolled down a hill before I could grab her.  When I caught up to her, she was unhurt and doubled over in laughter.  “Well, if I died here, at least I wouldn’t have far to go,” she managed to choke out.  And we both laughed like hell because the whole thing was hilarious, and what else was there to do?  Life is hard.  Sometimes, we end up in a stupid place.

I chart my grandmother’s journey in words and pictures because that is the best way I know to remember who she was.  To me, at any rate.  Others may remember someone else.  Despite the poem, despite the place she ultimately found herself in, it wasn’t the whole story.  I knew her as a woman of passion, of strength and the courage to guide me past a bear.  (Yes, a real bear.  A story for another time.)  But, she was also something more.  Scroll back up to that photo and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s there in her eyes.  Those are the eyes of someone who has always known how to dream.  An asset, because dreams will get you where you need to go.

No matter what place you happen to be.

Unkind Words — a Fable for Fools

The Gossips

“And, though they never stopped trying, the only words they could make always sounded like the rustling of leaves.”

 

 

The thing I am about to tell you might have happened once upon a time. It could have been last week.  It makes no difference, the truth is truth no matter when it happens.

In the place where my mother used to live, there were three tongues, each in a different mouth, and of all the tongues that resided in this particular place, these three were the most slithering and maleficent. Not one, but three serpents in the Garden of Eden.

The first tongue belonged to a woman named Helen.  Helen was a person who lived on a high moral ground in a great house she richly deserved.  She lived alone.  Her husband had been a fisherman who fell (some thought dove) from his boat one stormy afternoon and was never seen again.  There were three daughters, but each had left to marry, one after the other and all of them lived very far away.

The second tongue belonged to a woman who never married, never gave birth, never so much as cared for a cat because she simply did not have time.  Her job, she believed, was to mind the lives of others, and she did so with a ferocity few could circumvent.  Her name was Agnes.

The last tongue belonged to a man named Thomas.  He also lived alone, unable ever to settle on a wife.  Though there were many fine women in the area, none had ever quite suited him.  His standards were much too high.  Eventually, no one tried anymore to leap the hurdles he had set.

Communities generally have a way of getting along.  They mind their own business, or they help when they are able.  They offer comfort as needed, a joke, a helping hand, or even silent company when silence is the only thing that will do.  In the place where my mother lived all of these things were true.  It was also true that there was often anger and resentment that when allowed to fester would erupt in a cataclysm of bitter words and flying fists.  Sometimes people broke the law.  When that happened there was a price they would have to pay.

What is the price to pay for unrelenting meanness?

In this case, that price began to be tallied up with a wish made by a child.  A young boy who delivered eggs to the owners of those sharp tongues.  One day, after enduring yet another round of, you clumsy dolt, mind those eggs, and, took you long enough you lazy baboon, and, don’t look at me like that, you rude brat, the boy returned home and wrote: I wish THEY would disappear on a piece of paper. His mother found the paper and asked him what he meant.  When he told her she did not scold him.   Later, she told her husband what the boy had wished.  The next day he told a co-worker about it.  The co-worker nodded.

“Yes,” said the co-worker, a man who lived across the street from Helen and had gone to school with Agnes and Thomas.  “That is a good wish.”

The co-worker told his wife about the boy’s wish.  Three afternoons each week, the man’s wife scrubbed Helen’s kitchen and bathrooms, dusted furniture, and washed windows all while listening to Helen rant.  You can’t clean spit, my kitchen is too filthy to use, and if I didn’t follow you around the house, you’d probably rob me blind.  I only keep you on because that’s the kind of person I am.  Too nice for my own good.

The co-worker’s wife made a wish, too.

When Agnes railed at the woman who cut her hair, I should sue you for incompetence you imbecile, the hairdresser made a wish.

Thomas screamed at a teacher and her fifth-grade class for raking and pulling up weeds in the lot next to his house.  You and your brats are getting dirt in my yard.  I should have you fired, you’re too stupid to be in charge of kids.  Later that day the teacher and her students each went home and made a wish.

For weeks, people wished and wished.  Almost always the same wish.  I wish THEY would disappear.  Except for one.  Feeling ashamed of making such a dire wish and being caught out, the little boy who delivered eggs had amended his wish.  I wish THEY couldn’t speak he wrote instead.  He kept wishing it every day.

Somewhere all those wishes were being tallied.  And when there were at last enough of them, something happened.

One morning the sun rose high in the sky over the river that ran through that place.  People went about their business not noticing at first, how much lighter the air felt, how warm and inviting the sun was.  People smiled and said hello to one another and it wasn’t until a few hours later that they realized the lightness came from the fact that no one had heard the three awful tongues.  The bravest in the place went to check.  First to Helen’s house.  Then to Agnes’s.  Finally Thomas’s.  No one was there.  In fact, it looked as though no one had lived for a very long time at any of those three homes.

But, where three people had vanished from their homes, it also happened that at a lonely spot along the river there suddenly appeared three magnificent trees in a cluster, heads bowed, whispering together as if trying to make sense of how they came to be there.

Let this be fair warning to you:  Do not use words to inflict pain.  There is no reward waiting — in this world or others — for sharp tongues and wicked minds.

This is not a lesson easily learned.

On the other hand, those trees will be lovely for a long time to come.  The town set out picnic tables by the river so that people may sit and watch the water and time drift leisurely past. And where the only sound they hear (besides their own voices) comes from the gentle rustle of leaves above them.

 

The End

n.b. The photo is a picture of the trees along the St. Lawerence River in Akwesasne where my mother lives.  This is the view from her window.  I’ve had this photo and the idea that these trees were gossiping mulling around in my brain for awhile.  A long time ago my mother told me a story from when she was a little girl living at Akwesasne, about an old woman who was thought to be able to transmute herself at will into a pig.  That’s where the idea of transmutation came from.  And these days there seem to be so many people speaking such unkind words, I thought a cautionary tale was in order.