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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Fragile

 

one day they will fly

One day soon they will learn to fly.

 

Reflections: 07/08/1990

A night
in the life of us.
Kathy says
she wants credit
for the title.
Okay
I say.
I am easy.
Tommy has always been
easy
or so he thinks.
I think
we are all too
fragile
for real life.


Several days ago my husband discovered a nest containing newly hatched baby robins in our rhododendron bush.  I took a photo with my phone.  I keep looking at the picture, amazed that such tiny creatures are able to survive at all.  How is that even possible?  I mean, look at them.  They have scant feathers and see-through skin.  Their spines are a yellow dotted line down their backs.  They cannot hold their heads upright.

Something in the fragility of these babies made me think of a night long ago. My sister was visiting from Virgina, about to move to California.  My brother was still alive.  I convinced them to go with me to see the movie, Cinema Paradiso — a magical film about childhood and how it shapes who we become. Afterwards, we went to a bar where we drank wine and wrote poetry on paper napkins.  Then we sat in a park, talking into the night until one of us was sober enough to drive home.  I kept all of my napkin poems from that night twenty-four years ago.  Dated and numbered, yellowing and stained; seven of them in all.  I don’t know if my sister still has hers.  I wish I had my brother’s.

I don’t remember what started it, the writing poetry on napkins.  Most likely the wine and the movie, the looking backwards to the past.  Wondering how any of us survive the chaos that comes with growing up?  We were so fragile then, our dreams as transparent as glass.  Our poetry so self-confessional.

But survive, we do, for a time.  Some of us longer than others.

The baby robins are thriving.  Which is a miracle to me.  In five days they have doubled in size.  Their feathers are coming in and there are the shadowy buds of wings that will eventually lift them from their nest.

I hope to bear witness when they do.

Five days old.  A crowded house.

Five days old. A crowded house.

Until a tiny thing trips you up (Flash Fiction)

 

London Eye pm 1

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a mother in possession of a young child must be in want of a crystal ball.

She wasn’t afraid of anything: Smoldering fire; hail storms of passion; blood-sucking leeches, reeking of desire.  Bring it on.  Her hobnailed boots were made for stomping, and she could dance, by god.  She could move.  She could run long and fast and still have breath enough to laugh in the face of all that friction.  Drive a truck with her old life across country toward her future?  Piece of cake.

She, and the man she knew would never try to change her, made a new life in a place where people lived on fried dough and clams.  A baby arrived one winter morning weighing less than the four-layer fudge cake she was planning for her birthday later; a clear-eyed boy careening headlong into the world so furiously that he took her breath away.

But time is a forward moving thing that cares for no one.  It will not pause for one second, no matter how nicely you ask.  She learned this on a ferris wheel as her child laughed between her husband and herself. The wheel lurched forward and backward, filling and emptying, still moving ever upward, and then slowly around and down, where she asked to be let out.  She walked away and watched as the wheel rolled upwards carrying her heart.

She pictured the wheel collapsing, sending the cars flying through the air, saw her husband and her child (who still believed she could make monsters disappear) hurtling downward while she had chosen to save herself.  She could do nothing to stop the inevitable.  Hobnail boots were useless.

She knew that all she had was now.

 


 

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Flash Fiction.  296 painstakingly sculpted words.  The limit was 300.  As is usually the case, I chose the photograph first and let it tell me the story.  Apologies to Jane Austin for the bastardized version of her opening sentence in Pride and Prejudice.

How I won the Super Bowl* (or a Happy Birthday to the Boy)

January 20, 1989, roughly 10:30 am.  Picture me sitting in a room, utterly slobberknocked.  My husband has just kissed me on the forehead and gone off to “get some sleep” he said.  Get some sleep?  What about me?  I’ve been awake for twenty-six hours and this is all I get?

Actually, what I got was a 5 pound, 14 ounce package of energy and sweetness that would change my life forever.

The Boy arrived at 10:14 am.  I remember seeing his little face for the first time–his eyes wide open, looking right at me.  I was shocked by the intensity.  A few minutes later a nurse whisked him away, my husband left, and I was alone in an empty room with all this discarded equipment, feeling like I’d just played ten hours of pro football.

Best day of my life.

Fast forward twenty-five years.  Zip past the infancy, the toddler-hood, the childhood that flowed into early adolescence without a hiccup.  The teen years, years of homeschooling, learning to drive, part-time jobs.  Then college, then a first real job.  You could pack it all into a two-hour movie.  Piece of cake.

Last week my husband and I attended an open house at the place where the Boy works.  Throughout the evening, several of his co-workers, including his bosses, took the time to tell us how much they thought of him, how creative he was, what a nice guy he was.  All very gratifying, as well as reassuring in today’s job market. Exactly what every parent hopes to hear.  At one point, the founder of the company jokingly asked me what I had fed him for breakfast, as though how the Boy turned out had anything to do with me.

And that’s the point.  Beyond the love we offered unconditionally, beyond the boundaries we set (and constantly negotiated), who the Boy is now has more to do with who he was when he arrived:  eyes wide open, curious, imaginative, tenacious, persistent, and with a sense of humor.  He loved music and words and laughing, right from the start.

And we are the better for him, his father and I.  He has taught us far more than we ever thought possible to learn.

The Boy leaving for Africa, wearing all his cool clothes

His bags are packed, he’s leaving for Africa, wearing all his cool clothes.

The music that inspired a wish to go to Africa in the photo above.

*NOTE:  I didn’t really.  It’s a metaphor.  The Super Bowl took place two days later.  The 49ers won.  But there was much rejoicing in our house, all the same.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Family

Feet with purple toenails pm 4

I like these weekly photo challenges.  They’re quick, I can get on and get off, and still feel like I’m not spending quite so much time on the internet.  Plus, they give me a new way of looking at a word.  Today’s word is family.  A word, which for me, is sometimes so fraught with drama I want to run away and hide, or talk some kind person into adopting me.  And yet, I know that my family of origin loves me no matter what, as I do them.

But family is such an expansive word, and when I read the challenge I thought of this photo, taken at least a decade ago.  Because sometimes family is also a word for the friends who will get up before dawn and ride an hour-and-a-half just to stand beside you to watch the sun rise over Walden Pond.

Ring-a-ding-ding

bell pm

Ring out the old, ring in the new
Ring, happy bells, across the snow
The year is going, let him go
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

 Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This was my personal note from The Universe today:

I want you to know, Mary, that I’ve ordered up another year for you.Think I’ll call it 2014.

I’m going to put most of the same people from 2013 in it, since you all think so much alike. But there’ll also be a few new, very cool cats coming to play – give them some time to grow up though.

And I’m going to have things start off pretty much exactly where they left off in 2013, for continuity’s sake. Flips folks out too much when I don’t.

All in all, 365 more days in paradise… and only one request of you:

DREAM BIGGER.

Coolio?

Let’s do this,
The Universe

Dream bigger.  That sounds good to me.  I like that I get my own little note every day from The Universe.  I wake up to them and they always make me smile.  It’s like getting a text from a friend every morning that says, Wake-y, wake-y, you gorgeous creature, you! And you have to believe it, because a friend like that would never lie to you.

Notes from the Universe is just one of the oh-so-many interesting things I discovered through the internet this year.  There are blogs out there, writers who lift me up or break my heart with their words, music–OMG!–the music being played, spoken word poetry, photography, art.  I feel like I spent most of the year in a chair.  Only to discover (on the internet) that sitting too much will make you die.

So it goes.

Last December 31st I blogged about choosing a word for the new year.  One word that I would keep as a source of inspiration, to think on when I needed it. I chose, RISE.  I like how that worked out for me.  This year I’ll take the word DARE along for the ride.

I have big plans for 2014.  There are adventures waiting for me.  After a full and satisfying year of blogging, and discovering kindred spirits, I am going to take a break from all things internet-related in order to write.  Non-stop, seat-of-my-pants, finish-my-damn-book writing.  It’s time.  Look for me in about a month.

Before I go, though, I want to add my voice to the happy throng wishing friends and family well. May 2014 be your best New Year ever.

Cheers and love, people.  Always, the love.