Thursday, December 31, 2015

I Matter

I Matter

it was when she first dared
to see her truth
that the winds howled.
after a time,
it strengthened her
and she spoke her truth
and the earth shook.
and when finally,
she believed her truth -
the stars rejoiced,
the universe opened,
and even her bones
sang her song:
I Matter!
© Terri St. Cloud

I like the poem but I don't matter.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

the world darkens

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
place that you belong to though it is not yours,
for it was from the beginning and will be to the end.

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
and the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
in the trees in the silence of the fisherman
and the heron, and the trees that keep the land
they stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
and how to be here with them. By this knowledge
make the sense you need to make. By it stand
in the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.

Speak to your fellow humans as your place
has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
before they had heard a radio. Speak
publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
from the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
by which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
and the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
which is the light of imagination. By it you see
the likeness of people in other places to yourself
in your place. It lights invariably the need for care
toward other people, other creatures, in other places
as you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.

"2007, VI" ["It is hard to have hope"] by Wendell Berry. Text as published in This Day: New & Collected Sabbath Poems (Counterpoint, 2013).

Friday, December 25, 2015

some of them kings

this is my official favorite Xmas poem.  Ms. Oswald is a British poet who does a lot of gardening,sees nature more clearly than most.

Various Portents

By Alice Oswald
Various stars. Various kings.
Various sunsets, signs, cursory insights.
Many minute attentions, many knowledgeable watchers,
Much cold, much overbearing darkness.

Various long midwinter Glooms.
Various Solitary and Terrible Stars.
Many Frosty Nights, many previously Unseen Sky-flowers.
Many people setting out (some of them kings) all clutching at stars.

More than one North Star, more than one South Star.
Several billion elliptical galaxies, bubble nebulae, binary systems,
Various dust lanes, various routes through varying thicknesses of Dark,
Many tunnels into deep space, minds going back and forth.

Many visions, many digitally enhanced heavens,
All kinds of glistenings being gathered into telescopes:
Fireworks, gasworks, white-streaked works of Dusk,
Works of wonder and/or water, snowflakes, stars of frost . . .

Various dazed astronomers dilating their eyes,
Various astronauts setting out into laughterless earthlessness,
Various 5,000-year-old moon maps,
Various blindmen feeling across the heavens in braille.

Various gods making beautiful works in bronze,
Brooches, crowns, triangles, cups and chains,
And all sorts of drystone stars put together without mortar.
Many Wisemen remarking the irregular weather.

Many exile energies, many low-voiced followers,
Watches of wisp of various glowing spindles,
Soothsayers, hunters in the High Country of the Zodiac,
Seafarers tossing, tied to a star . . .

Various people coming home (some of them kings). Various headlights.
Two or three children standing or sitting on the low wall.
Various winds, the Sea Wind, the sound-laden Winds of Evening
Blowing the stars towards them, bringing snow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Various Portents by Alice Oswald

this is my official favorite Xmas poem.  Ms. Oswald is a British poet who does a lot of gardening,sees nature more clearly than most.

Various Portents

By Alice Oswald
Various stars. Various kings.
Various sunsets, signs, cursory insights.
Many minute attentions, many knowledgeable watchers,
Much cold, much overbearing darkness.

Various long midwinter Glooms.
Various Solitary and Terrible Stars.
Many Frosty Nights, many previously Unseen Sky-flowers.
Many people setting out (some of them kings) all clutching at stars.

More than one North Star, more than one South Star.
Several billion elliptical galaxies, bubble nebulae, binary systems,
Various dust lanes, various routes through varying thicknesses of Dark,
Many tunnels into deep space, minds going back and forth.

Many visions, many digitally enhanced heavens,
All kinds of glistenings being gathered into telescopes:
Fireworks, gasworks, white-streaked works of Dusk,
Works of wonder and/or water, snowflakes, stars of frost . . .

Various dazed astronomers dilating their eyes,
Various astronauts setting out into laughterless earthlessness,
Various 5,000-year-old moon maps,
Various blindmen feeling across the heavens in braille.

Various gods making beautiful works in bronze,
Brooches, crowns, triangles, cups and chains,
And all sorts of drystone stars put together without mortar.
Many Wisemen remarking the irregular weather.

Many exile energies, many low-voiced followers,
Watches of wisp of various glowing spindles,
Soothsayers, hunters in the High Country of the Zodiac,
Seafarers tossing, tied to a star . . .

Various people coming home (some of them kings). Various headlights.
Two or three children standing or sitting on the low wall.
Various winds, the Sea Wind, the sound-laden Winds of Evening
Blowing the stars towards them, bringing snow.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

I am Rilke's Panther

I am the most depressed I have ever been, and depression is my oldest, most frequently seen, friend. And I have been depressed this time much longer than ever before. And I don't think I am ever going to get to the end of this bout because my depression is situational, the result of losses I cannot accept.

Paradoxically, I am numb, yes, but I am also in excrutiating pain.

I often think "This is it, I'm a goner" but way in the back of my conscious mind, I whisper to myself "you test your glucose, inject insulin as needed, take your meds and eat healthfully, a part of you is still caring for you, all is not lost' but such thoughts enter, pierce me and, poof!, they re gone, like in Rilke's poem The Panther:

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.
~ Rainier Maria Rilke, The Panther
My faintly subtle sense that I am still taking care of myself enters, rushes down through my whole being, plunges into the core of me and is gone.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Big Heart

The Big Heart by Anne Sexton. . . When I was in law school, I had a phase when I was obsessed with Yeats and Sexton. I once found Sexton's Collected Poems, used, for seven dollars in a book store near the U. of MN and I remember that I caressed the book standing on the ladder in that bookstore, loving it even before I hopped down and paid for it. I wonder what happened to all my poetry? I was obsessed with Yeats because the boy I was then in love with was obsessed with Yeats. I never won the boy but I had a good time with Yeats. I made my mother give me Yeats' Collected Works for Christmas to impress the boy. Yeats?! Seven dollars was a lot for a used book in the seventies but it was Sexton, after all.

Big heart,
wide as a watermelon,
but wise as birth,
there is so much abundance
In the people I have:
Max, Lois, Joe, Louise,
Joan, Marie, Dawn,
Arlene, Father Dunne,
And all in their short lives
give to me repeatedly,
in the way the sea
places its many fingers on the shore,
again and again
and they know me,
they help me unravel,
they listen with ears made of conch shells,
they speak back with the wine of the best region.
They are my staff.
They comfort me.
They hear how
the artery of my soul has been severed
and soul is spurting out upon them,
bleeding on them,
messing up their clothes,
dirtying their shoes.
And God is filling me,
though there are times of doubt
as hollow as the Grand Canyon,
still God is filling me.
He is giving me the thoughts of dogs, }
the spider in its intricate web,
the sun
in all its amazement,
and a slain ram
that is the glory,
the mystery of great cost,
and my heart,
which is very big,
I promise it is very large,
a monster of sorts,
takes it all in--
all in comes the fury of love.

I'd love you to love me

audio below lyrics:  song first done by band Cheap Tricks in 1977. Great lyrics. Great poem. Great love song. It's what I want.
I want you to want me
I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I'd love you to love me
I'm beggin' you to beg me
I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I'd love you to love me
I'll shine up the old brown shoes,
Put on a brand-new shirt
I'll get home early from work
If you say that you love me
Didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?
Ohh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?
Feelin' all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin'
Ohh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?
I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I'd love you to love me
I'm beggin' you to beg me
I'll shine up the old brown shoes
Put on a brand-new shirt
I'll get home early from work
If you say that you love me
Didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?
Ohh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?
Feelin' all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin'
Ohh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?
Feelin' all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin'
Ohh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you cryin'?
I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I'd love you to love me
I'm beggin' you to beg me
I want you to want me
I want you to want me
I want you to want me
Nielsen, Rick
Published by
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC


Tuesday, December 08, 2015

hieroglyphic stairway

hieroglyphic stairway © Drew Dellinger

it's 3:23 in the morning
and I'm awake
because my great great grandchildren
won't let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?

as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?

what did you do'

I'm riding home on the Colma train
I've got the voice of the milk way in my dreams

I have teams of scientists
feeding me data daily
and pleading I immediately'
turn it into poetry

I want just this consciousness reached
by people in range of secret frequencies
contained in my speech

I am the desirous earth
equidistant to the underworld
and the flesh of the stars

I am everything already lost

the moment the universe turns transparent'
and all the light shoots through the cosmos

I use words to instigate silence

I'm a hieroglyphics stairway
in a buried Mayan city
suddenly exposed by a hurricane'

a satellite circling earth'
finding dinosaur bones
in the Gobi desert
I am telescopes that see back in time

I am the procession of the equinoxes,
the magnetism of the spiraling sea

I'm riding home on the Colma train
with the voice of the milky way in my dreams

I am myths where violets blossom from blood
like dying and rising gods

I'm the boundary of time
soul encountering soul
and tongues of fire

it's 3:23 in the morning
and I can't sleep
because my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the earth was unraveling?

I want just this consciousness reached
by people in range of secret frequencies
contained in my speech
~ Drew Dellinger

Saturday, December 05, 2015

I will come and find you

I will come and find you when the love
I find inside myself is equal to what you offer,
I have been so afraid in that outer world
in which you found me; one thing I know
that I do not need to ask you to wait.
I only want to tell you that here in the center
of my strength I am everything you have seen.
I will come in late September when the light
inside me and outside of me has changed utterly.
All of this will come true….

Excerpt from 'SEPTEMBER' :
Twenty Poems of Requited and Unrequited Love’
© David Whyte and Many Rivers Press
Now Available at

great poem by Audre Lorde

I was going to die, sooner or later,
whether or not I had even spoken myself.
My silences had not protected me.
Your silences will not protect you….
What are the words you do not yet have?

What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day
and attempt to make your own,
until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?
We have been socialized to respect fear
more than our own need for language.
Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen?
Then push yourself a little further than you dare.
Once you start to speak, people will yell at you.
They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal.
And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier.
And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision,
which you may never have realized you had.
And you will lose some friends and lovers,
and realize you don’t miss them.
And new ones will find you and cherish you.
And you will still flirt and paint your nails,
dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said,
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.”
And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty
that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth.
And that is not speaking.
by Audre Lorde

Sunday, November 29, 2015

the thrilling sound of puffing cranberries

Every Thanksgiving week I think about my holiday pie. I can't eat cranberries anymore because of a medication I take. I have been thinking about making my cranberry pear pie. I like the way memories can float about, like the smells coming from a kitchen readying a holiday feast.

It is a simple recipe. A bag of fresh cranberries (usually a pound) and less than one cup of real maple syrup and a bunch of beautiful pears. Prebake the pie crust slightly. Peel and slice the pears. If you are baking this pie with a child, let the child eat all the pear slices s/he wishes to eat. Layer the fruit artistically. And use a lattice top. It is a very beautiful pie. The red cranberries shine like rubies nestled in the pears. The red peeks through the lattice crust nicely. Serve with unsweetened whipped cream. Let the child taste a fresh cranberry too, if they wish. Explain the word pucker afterwards.

The recipe is not really what I was thinking about. I was thinking about the real reason I love to make this pie.

You put the maple syrup in a saucepan with the cranberries. The actual recipe calls for two cups of maple syrup but one of the reasons I like this pie is that it is not too sweet. Cut way down on the maple syrup and you really taste fruit. Cranberries are tart so they need the syrup but use as little as possible.

Heat the syrup and cranberries gently, slowly. Here is the  reason I used to make this pie: as the cranberries warm up and start to both cook and absorb the maple syrup, they make a very soft puffing sound.

Oh my gosh, I love the sound of the cranberries puffing. I love to do this with a child. I love to enjoy the hushed anticipation as we listen for the first puff. While waiting, this is a good time to kiss the child on top of the head a few times.

As soon as the cranberries start puffing, you have to quickly pull the saucepan from the heat. The thrill does not last long, the puffing is only a few seconds and the sounds very soft. Yet it is a very fine experience. There is a temptation to keep the cranberries on too long in the hope that you will get to hear another mild puffing sound but you must resist. Resolve to make this pie again soon.

Then you layer the cooked berries, the pears and bake, not too long, just long enough to meld the flavors, to lightly bake the pears.

Friday, November 27, 2015


I am rarely out of doors after dark in the summertime. I don't know if there are fireflies in Northern California. In my old, Chicago South Side neighborhood, where I grew up, there were lots of fireflies. Being allowed to stay up late enough to see them was a very meaningful thrill.

I grew up in a real neighborhood, a real community. Almost everyone who lived on my block and the immediately adjacent blocks, which comprised my childhood universe, belonged to our Catholic parish. Most households had lots of kids. The households with no children still at home were still mostly Catholic. Me and my childhood pals, we sorta thought everyone on our block belonged, somehow, to us. We knew something about everyone that lived near us, even if all we 'knew' was, for example, that they didn't like the sound of children or they insisted that the paper boy get their newspaper on the top step, not out on the stoop.

The houses were brick bungalows. After the long ago famous Chicago fire (Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a gas lantern that started a fire that burned much of the city to the ground), all homes in Chicago had to be brick. Pre-WWII bungalows. Built-in woodwork throughout. Sprawling atatics, cavernous basements. And front stoops. All the house had front stoops. Not just steps but stoops. Alongside the steps, all the houses had broad cement pads where all us kids clustered, talking, talking, talking our lives away. And watching. On my front stoop, which was the largest one on the block. Me and my brothers were very proud of this fact, because there was enough room for just about every kid to have a seat. . . and our father was warm and welcoming of all the kids. Some of the parents didn't like having ten or twenty kids, gaggled on their stoops. My mom didn't like the kid crowds but my dad loved it. And in those days, in our gray-flannel-suit era, fathers were in charge. Fathers always overruled mothers.

Another important aspect of our great, best front porch was that our porch came out in front of the house. Lots of the porches were on the side. If you sat on, for example, the Montags front porch, next door to mine, you couldn't see up and down the street because the porch was tucked back. Our porch, the largest, the highest, allowed a view of every single house, up and down, both directions, both sides of the street. In order to avoid our detection, neighbors had to use their back doors. But nobody did. Everyone came in and out the front. We always knew who was home and who wasn't. Well, technically, there were a very few households that came and went from our block off the ally but these were people with no children, people who did not interact with us kids. People who didn't matter.

It was a garden of Eden, the block I grew up on. To me, as a child.  Our block was particularly blessed, at least from my narcissistic, childhood perspective. There were more kids on my block, close to my age, than on any other block for, well, for what I perceived to be miles. In practice, the blocks immediately adjacent to the 5800 South block of Albany Avenue had many fewer kids than my block. 5800 South Albany Avenue was a kind of heaven.

I lived on the west side of Albany Avenue. On the northwest corner of my block, on my side of the street was a pre-WWII apartment building, the old-fashioned kind of apartment building with large apartment homes. Full living rooms, full dining rooms, large kitchens, pantries, maids rooms and three or four bedrooms. Vaguely, we kids pitied the renters, believing that people who didn't have their own yards were meaningfully deprived. The McGowans lived in an apartment on our corner. They had six kids. I don't remember a Mrs. McGowan but there must have been one. Johnny McGowan and Mary McGowan were close in age to me. Mr. McGowan was much loved by all of us. He would play baseball with kids, in the ally, for hours and hours.

Mr. McGowan insisted that the girls be allowed to play. Boys were always trying to keep me out of their games because I could not hit the ball or catch the ball or run bases fast enough to score any runs. Mr. McGowan always insisted that I get to play anyway. And, bless him, he made real efforts to coach me, to help me improve. Often, he would wrap himself around me, when it was my turn at bat, 'showing' me how to bat. Then he would hit one hard, past all the boys playing outfield, hitting it so far that I could have crawled around all the bases and scored my run before the boys could throw the ball to the catcher.

I loved Mr. McGowan. The day he was able to buy a house for his large family, leaving the rented apartment home behind, was a tragedy for me. I think I stopped playing baseball right around that time. Without Mr. McGowan's insistence, I never got picked. Some of this discrmination was rooted in my asshole brother Chuck. Chuck, a year older than me, was born an asshole bully. One of his abiding focusses in childhood was being mean to me and our little brother Joe. Yes, Joe was younger than me, eleven months younger. Me and Joe? We're Irish twins, born less than a year apart. We could pass for twins, me and Joe. We look very much alike. Joe turned out to be bigger and stronger than Chuck so gradually Chuck stopped bullying him because Joe could take him. Also, Joe often defended me, fighting with Chuck on my behalf. There were lots of nice boys on that block and most of them defended me with Chuck at one point of another. Chuck was an indiscriminate asshole, bullying everyone, but he picked on me the most. Why? Cause I was always there, living with him because we were stuck with each other. Where was I going? Fireflies?!

I was going to describe the serendipitous lineup of kids on my block.

On the northwest corner, was the McGowan family. Johnny and Mary about my age.
Next to the McGowans, in the first house on the west side of our street, was the Montags.

The Montags had three kids, eventually. When they first moved in, it was Bill and Peenie Montag. Peenie was the mom. Her given name was Darlene but somehow she had acquired the nickname Peenie. My mom hated Peenie. She despised Mrs. Montag and she considered her nickname to be pornographic. How, my mother would grouse pretentiously, could a grown woman, a mother no less, allow people to call her such a disgusting name? I had no idea why 'Peenie' was a disgusting name. I asked a few times, wishing to understand my mother's umbrage but mom would never explain it to me. With hindsight, I imagine that 'Peenie' sounded, to my mom, like penis?

Alls I knew was I loved Mrs. Montag.

The Montags moved in after us. Until the Mohtags, alls I had was boy neighbors. Then Bill and Peenie moved in with their kids, Tommy and Tammy. Soon, Peenie gave birth to Tina. Tina Montag was born the same week as my brother Tom. Tammy and I became instant best friends and we stayed best friends until my family moved out of the neighborhood when I was fourteen. This move broke my heart. My whole life might have shaked out very differently if I had been allowed to be an adolescent living in the 5800 block of Albany, if I had been allowed to retain the magical circle of the kids I grew up with. Even now, after all these years, I still think high school would have been a whole lot better if I had been able to stay friends with Tammy, Patrick Snooks, Bucky Cywinski, Frankie Vacco, Nancy and Ellen Schmudka, Tammy and Marlene Tellerico, Mary and Patty Danaher. Etcetera. I think friendships change when kids move from grammar school to h.s. and I know my friendships with these kids would have shifted. I know it is an illusion to think my adolescence would have been better if I had stayed on that block.

I begged my parents not to move. The move made little sense. We had a huge house with six bedrooms. When mom and dad signed the sales contract, they didn't know they were expecting my baby sister. Later, mom would say that if she had known she was pregnant, she wouldn't have moved. The move made no sense. We moved into a tiny rambler with three tiny bedrooms, no basement, no attic, no yard. Even without my sister's unanticipated addition, the new house was too small for five kids. Mom was lining up her life to leave my dad. She was trying to control outcome. Or something. Another factor, prolly: our old neighborhood, Albany Avenue, was blue collar. The new neighborhood was white collar, more upscale. Mom was trying to keep up with the Joneses? Or something? Fuck the Jones. Later mom would say that I probably never would have gone to college if we had stayed in the old neighborhood, that Tammy Montag and Nancy Schmudka's bad influence would have dragged me down. This was preposterous. I was a fucking genius all through school. There was never any possibility that I would not have gone to college. If nothing else, I understood that college, with dorm life, was my escape.

Tammy and Nancy did not go to college. Mom got that part right. I don't know what happened to Nancy, except I heard she got married at age 18, which appalled me. She was probably pregnant, eh? Tammy got a job as a secretary in the Sears Tower. I envied her what I imagined was an awesomely glamorous life. She had to take two separate elevators to get to her perch at work. Rode one elevator to like the 40th floor and then switched to another elevator to get to, like floor 83. doesn't that sound glam? The time Tammy told me about the elevators, that's the last time I ever saw her. I loved Tammy, especially because she kept in touch with me, not the other way around. I have tried to find her since but women change their names.

Where was I going? Fireflies.

The McGowans, then the Montags. Then the Fitzpatricks. Next house, had a widow and a college-aged son when we moved in. Mrs. Farski and her son Allen. Mrs. Farski used to pay me to weed her flower garden. They were nice enough neighbors but I couldn't help feeling regret that Allen was so old. I prayed for girls to move in, which they finally did but not until I was in about the fifth grade. Then the Smudkas moved in. Ellen, one year older than me, Nancy, my age, Debbie, one year younger than me and then Ned. Ned was one of those echo babies. The Schmudka's thought they were done with babies and then surprise.

Next to the Farski/Scmucka house was a two-flat. Two-flat is Chicago speak for a duplex, two apartment homes stacked one on top of the other. The bottom flat was inhabited by the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Sigurdson and their also-grown son Ole. Ole was in high school when my family moved to this block. Right away I set to regretting that Ole was so old. I used to imagine that having a friend named Ole would be very wonderful. Even now, I love that name. Ole, too bad I never got to know ya.

Mr. and Mrs. Sigurdson was standoffish, they did not participate in our neighborhood life, although they did go to church every Sunday. They sent Ole to public schools, which was rare and sitgmatized in our crowd. We always felt sorry for the publics, believing, perhaps because the nuns told us so, that public school teachers did not love or care about their students, not, at least, like the nuns loved us.

The Sigurdson's rented their second-story flat to the Snooks. Throughout my childhood, it was an established fact that there really was a Mr. Snooks and that Mrs. Snooks was still married to him. Divorce in our Catholic universe was foreign and unreal. The 'story' was that Mr. Snooks was in prison. I am pretty sure this was true. I heard, a few years after my family had forced me to move away, that Mr. Snooks got out of prison and took his place at his wife's wide. Also, Patrick Snooks, who was my age and my first best friend, once swore me to secrecy and told me that it was true, that his father was in prison. I never, not ever, told anyone about this disclosure until this moment.

Mrs. Snooks was nice enough. Being a single mom is always hard but in those days, it would have been even harder. She didn't fit into the grown up world, which was all couples. And she didn't date. She never had a job outside the home so she must have had some income. Relatives? We never saw relatives visit the Snooks. We never saw anyone come or go into their lives except each other. Patrick and his three sisters. I don't remember the girls' names.

Patrick confided in me that he hated my brother Chuck and that he thought Chuck was mean to me and he, Patrick, thought it was a crime for a guy to treat his little sister badly. He told me I could come over and play in his yard anytime I wanted, to get away from Chuck. Five-year-old tiny Patrick. He was always very petite, one of the smallest boys, always, I was always attracted to fine, tiny males. . . my first big crush, on a tiny, petite, bird-like boy named Norbert Putlack . . . gee, do I dare use his real name? How many Norbert Putlacks might there be in this world? and if I use these guys' real names on this obscure blog will, like, they ever know? I think it would be okay. I loved Patrick Snooks and Norbert Putlack. I still do.

I spent lots of time wondering what crime Mr. Snooks might have committed, to get sent away for so long. I decided it would have been something like embezzlement. I always imagined Mr. Snooks to be a gentleman like Patrick always was.

Patrick introduced me to his landlords, the Sigurdsons, informing them that I was his friend, even though I was a girl, and if they saw me come into the yard, it was okay, I belonged.

Next to the Snooks' was, drum roll please, Bucky Cywinski. Mr. and Mrs. Cywinski. Plus Bucky had an older brother, away at college or maybe in the military. Not a player in our world. Bucky was congenitally shy and his parents must have been also. I don't recall ever hearing Mr. and Mrs. Cywinski speak. I don't recall ever being in their presence. Me and Tammy speculated for countless hours on whether or not the Cywinskis ever left their home. They used the back door, of this we knew for certain. No one ever used their front door, not even Bucky. He came from around back, coming through the gangway between his house and the two-flat.

Bucky's real name was Richard. That's a beautiful name, don't you think, Richard Cywinski. I met Bucky when he was five years old. He was always Bucky. I don't remember if he had bucked teeth when I met him. I don't think he did, though. I think he didn't get very very bucked teeth until his second set of teeth grew in. This is something else Tammy and I speculated on with serious deliberation. We believed that he got the nickname Bucky long before he grew bucked teeth. We believed, with a sense of reverence and awe for the great mysteries that is the universe, that a kid named Richard could get a nickname like Bucky and then, only then, grow bucked teeth. Almost mesmerized by the potential magic, we wondered, over and over, and over and over, if his nickname had cast a spell, dooming Bucky to bucked teeth.

Another thing we speculated on, ad nauseum was his parents unwillingness to invest in orthodontia. Were they cheap? Were they poor? Didn't they love Bucky?

Bucky was one of those kids who, like, never talks. He was always around, always involved in group games. In my old block, we played team games endlessly. Baseball, basketball, sure. But we also invented games. Plus we played things like red rover and simon says, out in the street, blocking traffic a lot and getting yelled at for blocking traffic and then blocking it again. Sometimes we painted game boards on the street, made up games and rules. The painted game boards were inspired by hopscotch. One day, as Tammy and I chalked a boring game of hopscotch I had a vision: if we went out on the street, we could chalk the largest game of hopscotch ever. Soon we were playing imaginative role-playing games, with dungeons and penalty boxes, castles and crystal balls, soothsayers. All painted out on the street.

The painted-on-the-street board games was, I humbly submit, my idea. And it was a brilliant stroke. Until that moment (gee, Nancy hadn't moved in yet, it was still me and Tammy and boys boys boys, boys dominating all the game playing, boys shunting us girls to the side), the boys called all the shots. Suddenly, we had come up with something that boys wanted in on but that the boys didn't control because I made up all the rules. I shared credit, fully, with Tammy but it was all me.

One of the many reasons Tammy made a great best friend, for me, anyway, was because she was secure about my smarts. Other girls, as they infiltrated my best-friendship with Tammy, they sometimes competed in the smarts department with me. Tammy? She loved me unconditionally and placidly accepted that I was the brains in our partnership. And I was.

Does this stuff sound egotistical? I am not sure that it is. All us kids went to school together. We all knew who was in the high reading group and who was in the slow reading group. Bucky? He was a brainiac. Patrick? Not. These things made no difference to us, back on our block.

We had a sweet thing going, on that block. Back on our block, the kids on our block were all deeply appreciated and accepted. We gave each other unconditional love, I think.

Being a brainiac was hard on me. My brother Chuck used to beat the crap out of me for no reason but if I got better grades them him, for example, that would be a reason. Chuck wanted to be the best, the leader, the top of everything and he sure as shit didn't want no girl showing him up, especially his sister, which was the worst kind of girl to Chuck. Me. He despised me.

It was an important blessing for me to have a best friend who didn't mind that I was smart. Tammy and me? We made such a good team. It was a healing balm for me to be loved unconditionally by Tammy and it was a healing balm for her to be loved unconditionally by me. Cause off our block? At school? Tammy was one of the dumb kids. Back on the block, she was perfect. My best friend and perfect.

Me and Tammy, Patrick and Bucky. For a few years, the four of us lived in a happy cocoon. We were proud that there were four kids all the same age on our block. And wasn't it wonderful that our houses were all close together? The house in the middle, where the Smudka's eventually moved in, that was the only thing that separated the perfect line of four kids, all the same age.

Across the street, on the other side, were more kids. Keep in mind that at the beginning, when the four of us first bonded, we were all about four years old. We weren't allowed to cross the street. So, at the beginning, when we melded our deep bonds, the kids on the other side of the street might as well have been on the other side of the moon.

Then, as we grew, our horizons expanded. Plus new families came along.

When Nancy Smucka moved in, the same age as us, we were thrilled. Then there were five houses in a row with kids all the same age. Nancy came in, I think, the 5th or 6th grade. She had siblings. Her older sister Ellen, one year older, became a particularly good friend of mine. Nancy, not as much. Nancy was one of those kids that needed to be the center of attention. If I were parenting her, I think I would have understood this need for attention. As a playmate, it rankled. The four of us kids-all-the-same age had been sleepily proceeding through our childhood, me acknowledged as the smartest -- smartest in school smarts, Tammy as the sweetest, Patrick as the funniest and Bucky as the quietest. We moved, the four of us, like I imagine geese fly in formation, aligned, content, at peace.

Like a meteor crashing into a flower garden, Nancy arrived.

We had problems before Nancy.

I have, thus far, focussed on the 5800 block, on the west side of the street.

In the 5700 block, across 57th street and then on the other side of Albany (if you are keeping track, this required crossing two streets to get to this other side), were the Danaher's.

In my early days on Albany, as I stated above, the Danaher's might as well have been on the other side of the moon. When I was four, five and six years old, I was not allowed to cross the street. Not to mention I didn't need to cross the street. I had everything I needed on my side of things. I had my best girlfriend, I had Patrick and Bucky and I had my brother Joe who, in a pinch, was also good company.

I probably would have lived out my grammar school years ignoring the Danaher girls if I had been left to make my own playmate choices.

My mom became obsessed with breaking me and Tammy up. She despised Peenie Montag. Mom said Mrs. Montag was white trash. Mom said Mr. Montag, Bill, was a drunk. She was right about that, by the way. Mr. Montag was, most definitely, an alcoholic. And in a superficial way, Mrs. Montag probably was a little trashy. Peenie ratted her hair and she wore tight clothes and lots of clangy jewelry. And high heels. Hanging around the house, fixing lunch for her kids, Mrs. Montag would be gussied up, by my mom's standards, lots of makeup, blue eye shadow, clacky earrings and bracelets, tight capri pants, tight blouses.

Mom said Tammy wasn't smart enough, that Tammy was dumb. And mom said there was something wrong with Tammy, but she never came right out and said what.

Now, only with hindsight, I can tell you that Tammy was epileptic. At the time, alls I knew was that Tammy had spells. Mrs. Montag had sat me down and explained to me that sometimes Tammy had spells and if she ever had one when she was with me, I should get a grown up immediately. Tammy never had a spell in front of me but, of course, I kept an eye out.

Nobody used the word epileptic. When I was in my thirties, perhaps even later, I asked my mom if Tammy had been an epileptic and mom answered matter-of-factly that yes, she had been. That explained a lot.

I just remembered something that really got my mom going. This is the incident that got my mom to start dragging me over to play with Mary and Patty Danaher. Mary was the same age as me, Patty one year younger. Patty, by the way, was okay. Me and Tammy liked her just fine. We were always happy to spend time with Patty. But in our culture, it was not completely acceptable to play with kids one year younger than you. Perhaps on a different street, in another neighborhood, it would be harmless to play with a little girl one year younger than you but in our situation?!! It was so unnecessary. We had plenty of kids the right age, the same age.

Besides, even though we were willing to accept Patty on those occasions when mom forced playdates with the Danahers upon me, we resisted choking down Mary.

Mary was a bitch. That's right, at age six, she was already a troublemaker. I did not use words like 'bitch' in those days. I guess I would have called her a brat, spoiled, a troublemaker. Mary was not happy unless all the children in her orbit were paying attention to her and, mostly, she seemed to prefer negative attention. She liked to quarrel. She lived for disagreement.

Tammy and I had been sailing through our childhood like mindless cows in a pretty meadow, content to be near each other and, thus, not alone, simply 'being' together. We could, I am still convinced, integrated Patty into our lives. But not Mary.

Mary wanted me to pick her to be her best friend, which meant that I had to fire Tammy. She wanted me to say "You aren't my best friend, Tammy, Mary is." And then, as soon as I would capitulate to Mary's demand, then, or so it seemed to me and Tammy, then she would decide that she wanted to be best friends with Tammy. Then she would go to work to get Tammy to decalre herself to be Mary's best friend and for Tammy to similarly reject me.

Back and forth. This became our social life, fighting with Mary over who was best friends with who.

Patty, perhaps already wise to her sister, dropped out of the competition. She moved down her block, to the Barretts. She became best friends with Eileen Barrett and made a life for herself free of Mary.

Tammy and I would have loved to do the same thing, to carve out a life free of Mary. And, I still believe this, if we have been free to do so, we would have.

My mom interfered. Mom insisted that Mary was a better playmate for me. In the privacy of our home, my mom rat-a-tat-tatted negativity about my beloved Tammy, filling my head with all kinds of thoughts that had never occurred to me. I, simply, loved Tammy.

I am like this to this day. I love people like an idiot. I just love them. It doesn't take much for me to love someone. Usually, I will catch a glimpse of something about another being, maybe I will notice that they wear plaid pants and then, whoosh, I am in love with them. If I am feeling good about myself, I pretty much love everyone I look at, much like newborns love everyone they see. We humans are programmed to be this way.

I am not perfect. I am not the single most imperfect human alive on the planet at this moment in time. I admit it. I am imperfect. But mostly I am kind and good, loving.

Back when I was little and loving Tammy as my best friend? I was just about perfectly loving.

Now I did live with some challenges to my loving nature. We all live with challenge to our true nature, which is to be loving, am I right?

I had my brother Chuck. I didn't just have the constant negativity of my brother Chuck (I wonder, as I have many times, what the fuck happened to Chuck to make him the way he was? something must have happened, although it could have been a past life, we can't know these things). Having a bully for a brother was a great challenge. Even more challenging, for me, anyway, was the way my parents would never intervene, how my parents seemed to allow Chuck to do whatever he wanted. I had an insight, when I was very young, like two years old, perhaps younger, that as the first born, my brother Chuck had received some special, irrevocable status from my parents. With this special status, in my parents' eyes, Chuck could do nothing wrong. He was their golden, magical miracle: their first, precious, dazzling, mesmerizing, awesome miracle, a baby. Later, much later, I also realized that Chuck got extra credit because he came with a penis. Somewhere along the way, I realized that my parents would not have treated me with the same kind of ecstatiac reverence they bestowed on Chuck even if I had been the first child. The fact that he was a boy made him more special than me.

Thank goddess my next brother, Joe, was okay. When Joe was a baby, my mom found a poem about a boy named Joe that went something like this: dear little Joe, kind little Joe, he's the best little boy that you will ever know". That poem summed up my dear little brother Joe. Joe was everything Chuck was not. He was the best little boy I ever knew. Him, first. Later, Patrick and Bucky were all right also, although my brother Joe was much more intensely kind to me, being my brother and all.

But Chuck? Chuck?!!! Yuck.

Me and Tammy speculated, now and again, that whatever was wrong with Chuck had also infected Mary. Mary was also a first born. Maybe being first born came with some kind of curse? You know how kids turn things over in their minds, trying to make sense of the world they find themselves in. Tammy and I knew we had a good thing going when it was just the two of us. Bring other people into the equation, and trouble.

Tammy had siblings of her own. Her brother Tom was older than my older brother Chuck. Chuck was one year older than me and Tammy. I think Tommy Montag was three years older than me and Tammy. Tom Montag was enough older than us that our worlds did not really collide. Tom and Tammy had some sibling boundary issues. We weren't allowed to go into Tom's room. Sometimes Tom kicked us out of the Montag yard or basement because he required it for him and his friends. But Tom never beat Tammy up. And Tom never said a mean word to me. Not like Chuck. Chuck recited verbal abuse at me nonstop when there were no adults within earshot and sometimes even when adults were present. And he was verbally abusive towards Tammy, too. Yes, Tammy had her issues with her brother Tom but she and I saw, clearly, that Tom Montag was not as awful as Chuck Fitz.


Somewhere in the magic of dark, hot summer nights on my old block, when my dad was around and allowing us to stay outside after dark, an important reason to stay out late, until it got really dark, was to see the fireflies. You can't see them until it's really dark. We punched holes in old canning jars and tried to catch as many as we could. Then we would feed them the next day, waiting for the next onset of darkness, to see if the fireflies in our jars would light up in the jar. They would light up in the jar, if they were still alive.

I keep thinking that it was my imagination, all those fireflies. How did my urban South Side get so many fireflies? It seems like fireflies would not thrive in the city. There were, as a contrasting example, not many birds in my old neighborhood. When we took summer vacations out of the city, to relatives living on farms in Indiana or living in Mitchell, South Dakota (where my grandparents lived, where I was born), it was an annual miracle of summer that we would hear songbirds and crickets. I never heard a cricket in my old neighborhood so how did the fireflies happen to thrive there?

I don't know how they happened to thrive. I only know that they did.

There was a street lamp in front of my house, which made it harder to see the fireflies. We would go down the block, down by Bucky's, to catch fireflies. Mostly, we stayed away from Bucky's house cause his folks were so standoffish and we tried to respect their quietness out of respect for Bucky. We kept quiet when we were chasing fireflies. We actually negotiated this with Bucky, getting his permission to be in his yard, catching, so to speak, his fireflies.

Just to give you an idea how young we were: Bucky's house was three houses down from mine. Standing in his front yard, holding my jar, watching for fireflies, reaching into the night to snatch one as it lit up, I had a sensation of being very far from home, far and at slight risk, to be so far from my home in the night.

As I recall these scenes, I feel the dusty sweat on my face, arms and legs. I feel the summer heat wafting off the sidewalk, cooling down from the noonday sun but, still, baking. The darkness itself was a kind of coolness, the absence of the sun cooling. I would see kids dodging and bobbing, up and down the block, grown ups sitting on stoops, keeping an eye on, probably, their children but also, perhaps, an eye on their neighbors. Folks of all ages taking in their world, winding down their day.

We kids got the idea that you could make gold from the firefly tail, from the little bit that lit up. How did this work? We did not know but we really wanted to make gold. I was already an avid reader, devouring fairy tales, which are full of tales of spinning simple things, such as hay, into gold. I wanted to believe in magic. I still do. I tried to catch enough fireflies to form a ring. Tammy and I talked about this project a lot, probably all one summer. We tried a few times. Then one evening, we banded with Patrick and Bucky. We would catch a whole lot of fireflies, rub the tail-stuff onto my left ringfinger. We assumed it would work best if we used the wedding ring finger. We agreed that if a gold ring did appear on my finger, that I would sell the ring and share the profits equally with the three other kids.

We killed a lot of fireflies that night, enthusiastically slathering the tiny bits of smooshed firefly onto my ringfinger.

There was no gold. None of us ever brought the failure up. And we stopped chattering about turning firefly light into gold. It was a big disapointment to me. I so totally wanted some magic. Sure, I knew there was no such thing as Santa Claus and I knew there was no tooth fairy or tooth mouse. I knew that magic was not real. But, gosh, wouldn't it have been wonderful if I had woken the next day and found a gold ring on my finger? Afterwards, for a long time, I enjoyed imagining telling Tammy and the guys, look, look, it's true, look, there is a gold ring. And I enjoyed pretending, silently, to myself, that I got lots of money for the ring and we all bought lots of great presents for ourselves with the gold. And then we made ring after ring.

Fireflies. I love them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

a thanksgiving poem

A Thanksgiving prayer by Adam Zagajewski. His poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” was published in The New Yorker after 9/11:
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

(translated by Clare Cavanaugh)

Monday, November 23, 2015

be still until

This came from a FB page called StoryPeople by Brian Andreas

And this reminds me of a beloved Wendell Berry poem:
Willing to die
you give up your will
be still
moved by what moves all else
you move

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thursday, October 08, 2015

maybe my favorite Auden poem

The More Loving One, by W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

we started off pure gold

We started off pure gold, then people began

polluting us when we were too young

to fight back.

If a jeweler now examined you he might exclaim,

"What happened to you? You turned into pyrite!"

Don't be worried by such a candid remark; don't

let it depress you for there is a way

to reverse this process. Everything I write gives

practical clues, clues, clues!

poem by Rumi

Friday, August 21, 2015

a perfect starry night and a dead river

the stars were dazzling last night
as always, as I gaze upon a clear, starry night
I felt my own star dust nature
I felt peace. I felt safe.

I got lucky.
My flashlight lost its power.
The stars guided me home.
I sat outside my tent a long while
trying to identify some constellations
that I knew from long ago
when my sweet daughter studied the stars
in Waldorf. Her class took her telescope
on a camping trip once.

It was a fat, cheap cardboard telescope
but it worked just fine
We gave it to the class teacher
She was embarrassed that it was a cheapie
He said "No, it helps the children see how
a telescope is made. They can see the mirrors
and lenses as we assemble this fat clunky telescope.
This one is perfect for us."

I would have liked to have that telescope with me last night
I would have liked to have recognized even one constellation.
I can usually find the Big Dipper, but it isn't always in the sky above me.

Emboldened by my stargazing
I trekked down to the Navarro River
at high noon
It was a heartbreaking walk
Most of the riverbend is stones, with very little water
I had to walk and walk on stones
to get to a small pool of water
called the beach.
It was too hot, too sunny
No bubbling brook to cool the day

At the beach were two baby deer
They froze when they saw me
They stood in tall dry grass, no green
They almost blended in
They were safe from me, of course
but a predator could have had them for lunch

Just now every stone in that river bend
feels like a dead, fallen star.
A heavy spirit today.

Seeing a mighty river dying
did not leave me as happy
as seeing a perfect starry night.
The stars will be fine
And so will the river
But perhaps not in a time frame
I can yet comprehend

When we have allowed profit
to snuff out this planet
and all life on earth
the Earth will still be here
the Earth will heal
Beings will dwell here again
I hope not beings like the humans
Who think the earth is here for money

The earth is her for life.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

catalpa flashbacks

Long ago and far away, I owned a house on a huge, double lot. And on this lot, there were some trees. Pine trees and silver maples. Green shrubs hugged the base of the house.  Alongside our house was an entire lot, big enough for another house but it had only grass and a couple mature maple trees, plus a row a tall shrubs acting to block the noise from the street alongside that lot.    The maples were mature and majestic, with spectacular fall color shows. Silver maples, however, have a shallow root system, making it difficult to grow the kind of suburban lawn that most people aspire to. Plus, the shallow root systems make it hard to mow your crappy lawn. The roots jam your mower.  Our trees provided deep shade, which added another challenge to my then-husband's fantasy of thick, lush, green sod. I loved the silver maples but, also, I hated them because I had to listen to the he-who-shall-not-be-named whined about the grass. I will never write his name but I'd like my readers to know that if I had to give him a name, it would be mathafucka.

The root system of our silver maple trees came above the ground, making it impossible to grow the kind of fantasy all-American lawn most Americans want. Or used to want. My ex husband wanted one.The motherfucker. The word rolls happily off my tongue when used to refer to him but I won't use it again, having now provided a sketch of his values and personality.

There were no catalpa trees on our land.

My neighbor across the street, however, also had a huge, double lot. Her double lot was covered with catalpa trees.

Did I mention that although he-who-shall-not-be-named complained constantly about the lawn that he never did any yard work? He worked  sixty hours a week in his big-shot job. When I was lucky, he worked more than that.   He watched sports when he was home, expected his meals on the table, his laundry done. And, the jerk, he'd patrol the house, inspecting it to see if I had cleaned properly. He mostly came home to eat, sleep and dominate abusively. The yard work, in our little family, was woman's work. My work.

The lawn mower terrified my baby, then my toddler. First, I had tried to mow the lawn while she was napping, fretting that she might wake up and need me but I would not hear her over the mower. This meant that I mowed the lawn in little bitty snatches of time. So I was eternally mowing the goddamn lawn. This meant the lawn was never all mowed at the same time. This gave my then-husband something else to berate me for. He said I should just let the baby cry as long as it took me to mow the lawn in a manner he considered proper. It was proper to mow the whole lawn all at once. The extra lot was all lawn and the main lawn had hard to mow grass, mired amidst the tree roots that came up to the surface for water. I could not work outside for two hours, unable to hear my baby crying inside the house while I was out with the roaring lawn mower.

The lawnmower was much more powerful than we needed. I had wanted a push mower. He acted like the lawnmower reflected his manhood and had bought one, over my objections, that was particularly loud. Very manly. As I have said, I did all the mowing.

Mowing the lawn was a pain in the neck with a baby but raking leaves with a baby was fun. Before she could walk, I would just prop my Rosie near me and chatter to her nonstop. I really liked to talk to her about the wind.

"Let's be quiet, honey," I often said to her, "Let's just be as still as we can and think about what we feel."

Then I would pause to listen expressively, the expression being for her benefit. "Did you feel that?" I would exclaim, "Did you feel that movement on your cheek? Did you feel your hair move? I saw your hair move. I felt my hair move."

I paused a lot, to give her a chance to think about what I was saying, to think about the air. "You feel the air moving, honey," I would say. "Isn't that amazing? You can feel it but you can't see it. Oh, Rosie," I would conclude, "Life is full of things you can feel but you cannot see."

"When you feel your hair moving, that is the wind, honey. Can you say wind?"

It never mattered to me that my daughter could not talk back. I talked on and on. I felt compelled to talk to her about everything. I believed I was imparting meaningful things to her with my nonstop chatter. Even when she did not understand what I said, she felt what I felt. She felt my love for her, my attention. And she did communicate back, just not in language, not at first.

"Look at the tree, see how the branches and leaves move? That's the wind, honey, moving our trees."

"See the leaves blowing away? What is making them move?"

We had great conversations while I raked leaves. We had great conversations while we did everything. I was scintilating. She was mesmerized.

Left to my own choices, I would not have raked any leaves, and especially not the catalpa leaves. The lawn was a wipe out anyway, because of our shallow tree roots. I wanted to let the leaves stay on the lawn. I did not care about the grass, although I was very invested in my vegetables and flowers.  My husband, he who I shall not name but I will use an accurate adjective to refer to him:  my motherfucker of a husband insisted I rake all the leaves, even the catalpas that blew from across the street. They were not even our leaves.  The catalpa leaves were so thick that they might have wiped out what little grass we had between our shallow, on-the-surface, tree roots.Easy for motherfucker to insist I rake them; he did no yard work at all.

My life raking catalpa leaves was short-lived. As soon as my ex and I separated, I never raked leaves again in that house.

While I still raked, just for two falls, I put Rosie in a lavendar sweater outfit, pants and matching top with a hood. The hood had a white ball on a string, attached near the crown of her head. That fluffy white fabric ball would bounce around her head and I loved the intensely gorgeous perfection of the contrsaat of the white bobbing ball, her rosy cheeks and her dark brown eyes, with the lavendar hood. An exquisitely beautiful visage.  Her pink to red cheeks beamed out of the hood, mittened hands waving. She seemed intently focused on me, still the center of her existence at that time.  Remembering her on those chilled fall days, her rosy cheeks, her big brown eyes following me, evokes one of my sweetnest memories of being with her.

We loved to rake the maple leaves, which are easy to gather into large piles. We loved to tumble in them. My job was to gather all the leaves into piles on our driveway and then my husband would help me bag them. It is much easier to bag leaves with two people. It was a challenge to get those piles because Rosie loved to mess them up. We loved fall. We loved all the time we spent together. Or so I thought.

Just about the time Rosie and I finished raking our maple leaves, the catalpa leaves would begin to fall.

Catalpa leaves are gigantic, often twelve inches or more at their widest tips. And catalpa leaves are thick. Catalpa leaves are a misery to rake. They stick to the rake. I would make just one small swath with my rake, the rake would be full and if I wanted to continue raking, I would have to stop, after just one swipe with the rake, two swipes tops, and then have to pull the leaves off the rake before I could rake more. I had to tear off the leaves, put them in a pile or in a bag, and swipe again. Again and again. It was tedious, hard work. And exhausting. Imagine trying to gather dozens of cubic yards of anything but only able to gather a few cubic inches at a time.

Nowadays, a person might use a leaf blower. Not back then.

When I raked the catalpa leaves, I vented my frustration to my daughter, who was the best listener I ever knew before she learned to speak. After she learned to speak, she still liked to listen to me. Until she became a teenager.

"I remember reading about Nancy Drew's yard having catalpa leaves," I told Rosie, "When Nancy Drew had catalpa leaves, they sounded beautiful. I read about them and longed to see catalpa trees. When I was a little girl, I used to wish our house in Chicago had catalpa leaves just like Nancy Drew. But oh, no, my dear little girl, I was wrong. Nancy Drew was wrong to love her catalpa trees. Catalpa trees are one of god's curses, my honey bunny. Don't ever saddle yourself with catalpa leaves. You've been warned."  Even now, it gives me great amusement to remember the one-sided, brilliant arguments I presented to my one and two-year-old.  I was always giving valuable life lessons like the catalpa leaves lessons.

Of course I didn't really think I was giving her meaningful lessons in my words. I did believe, fervently, that I was giving her lessons with my constant attempts to expand her world, open her up to consider things like the invisible wind and, most importantly, the lesson that I loved her and liked her enough to focus on her.

One nice thing about talking incessantly to an infant is that it is not necessary to stop and explain things like who is Nancy Drew unless you feel like it. Rosie was always willing to listen to whatever I had to say. She trusted me, at this stage in life, on all things. She didn't need to know that Nancy Drew was a teenage sleuth in a series of mysteries targeted to young, female readers. What could she do but trust me, as she sat in her walker under one of our old maple trees and I raked leaves, talking almost nonstop.

"Catalpa leaves are horrible," I often complained. "And do you know what is the worst?" Rosie always wanted to know the worst. She signaled this longing to me telepathically. "The worst is that all these goddamn leaves are not even ours, honey. These leaves belong to the neighbors. Every year these leaves blow across the street, into our yard. By every right, the neighbors should come over here and rake them. But no, oh no, they do not. They shirk their duty, my little one. Don't ever shirk your duty, my little Rosie. Well, don't ever own catalpa trees but if you should ever be so foolish, well, then be a good neighbor and gather your own goddamn leaves, wherever they may blow. Just ask your neighbors where you need to rake. I am sure they will happily accept your raking help."

Sometimes, when making indignant speeches about those cursed catalpa leaves and the negligent neighbors who did not help me, I spoke as loudly as I could, as if the neighbor would hear me and come over and help. It was fall. Windows not open. Plus that neighbor had a full time job and I usually raked her catalpa leaves while she was at work, while the whole neighborhood seemed empty except for me and my kitty kat, my cocoa bear, my cake cup. My Rose.

It was not necessary to explain things like 'shirk your duty' to Rosie. I knew that if I spoke to her intelligently, she would catch up. And she did. She had near-perfect scores in English on her SATs.

I made a decision as soon as Rosie was born that I was going to talk to her exactly like I talked to everyone else. So I said 'goddamn' to her. I also said things like bullshit, fuck, and damn, except never in front of her dad because he would have been furious. We left him when Rosie was a baby but we stayed in the house a few years. Once he moved out, I stopped raking leaves. Rosie still helped me grow flowers and vegetables, of course.

Pat Clark was the name of our neighbor who owned the cursed catalpas. Sometimes,  Pat would sometimes stroll across the street while I was raking her catalpa leaves to say hello. Pat was a very tall woman and she had a way of looking regal, whatever she did. She would cross her arms, settle back on her feet and say from on high "It just isn't fair that you have to rake all these leaves. They come from my yard, after all."

"Well, Pat," I would say, "You are welcome, feel perfectly free, to rake these leaves. Here, you can use my rake. Rosie and I will sit and watch. I could use a break. Rake as much as you want!"

Pat would laugh, shift on her feet again and stroll back home.

"Did you hear that?" I would exclaim to my Rosie, "Even she knows it isn't fair that your poor mother has to rake these cursed leaves! Don't ever own catalpas, my little pretty."  I so appreciated Rosie's unspoken but passionate support for the injustice of those catalpa leaves.

Catalpa leaves will choke a lawn. If you care about lawns, which I do not and did not. You have to get them up if you want any grass.

I hated catalpa leaves.

Now I can find  lots of catalpa trees in Northern California. They are beautiful trees with lovely flowers in the spring. Great shade trees.  Nancy Drew was right. Nancy had spoken of their great shade. As I walk around, I crunch on the leathery, thick, cursed things. Since I don't have to rake them, they are beautiful to me once more. As I crunch along, I have mental conversations with my baby Rosie, telling her that it is okay to enjoy catalpa leaves now that her mother does not have to rake them. I remember the many, perfect shades of rosy her cheeks usually looked when we did yard work. I remember that her cheeks grew red when she helped me shovel snow. I remember the spring I planted dozens of zinnias. When I weeded my zinnias, two-year-old Rosie would help me but two-year-old Rosie could not distinguish the weeds from the zinnias. She followed me as I moved along my zinnia border, and she pulled up all my zinnias. She was so proud to help. When she was asleep, I went out and planted new plants.  I never told anyone before this that I replanted flowers after my dumpling dolly helped me by pulling out all my starter flower plants.

Sitting on the ground with her, talking about the beauty of flowers, nattering on about the miracle of growing things, how we could put seeds in the ground, water them and the sun and other forces would cause the seeds to grow. More things she could not see but which were real, for she could not see whatever force made a flower grow, she could only see the growing.  I spoke of these things hoping to get her to sense into this majestic world, to get her thinking about a seed breaking open, growing, stretching towards sunlight. Like babies do. Like plants do. Like all of creation does.

I have come back to the present. I remember that I am walking on catalpa leaves without Rosie. I find myself wondering if I imagined her. Maybe only the catalpa leaves were real and she a figment of my imagination? Am I a figment of my imagination too? Being her mom is, or was,  so central to my sense of self and my sense of self got shattered when I lost her. Now I have to invent myself again and I don't want to invent a new me. I want to be Rosie's mom. The hardest aspect of losing her, I think, is the way it plays with my memories. I have what I am calling memories of what it felt like to love her while I raked those damn leaves and talked to her about everything. Inside these memories, I was a warm, loving, good mommy. Did I make that up? Maybe loving Rosie was a story I made up. Maybe I was a horrible mother and I made up memories of being a good one. These kinds of thoughts don't make me as sick as they used to but they are often with me. The  catalpa leaves brought them on this time.

My daughter told me, the day I dropped her off at Cornell, which I helped make possible in a million ways, she said "Now that I am in the Ivy League, I don't want to have anything more to do with you."  That was the last time we saw one another until, on a trip to my hometown of Chicago recently, where she lives these days, I went to her office building just so I would know where my kid spends some of her life. Just to have an image of her in a place, safe, happy. Things went awry, she became aware I was there and she threatened to have me arrested for trespassing.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

hope is a dimension of the soul

"Either we have hope in us or we don't; it is a dimension of the soul, and it's not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the Spirit, an orientation of the heart.

Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it's good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. . . It is also hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem hopeless. . ."

- Vaclav Havel (1986)