Unsung

dahlov-ipcar-kalahari-woodland-2010We all can make a list of people who have had positive influences on our lives, and those lists will probably include teachers, relatives, community leaders, authors: we expect these sort of people to have drawn our attention and to have made a difference to others. This week, though, I was reminded of two of the “quiet” people in my life, people whose influence on me could have easily passed unnoticed, even by me, and yet there they were, roaming around in my memory, not ever having left it, and I was a bit taken aback at how strongly I loved them and admired them, one for almost 70 years, the other for almost 60.

Harvey was a boy about 5 years older than me who lived up the street. His dad was some sort of administrator at the clothing factory across from my house, a factory that made those ugly blue women’s gym clothes and summer camp clothes, and where I was asked to model from time to time for the camp owners who were looking for new uniforms for their places. I didn’t know Harvey all that well…, 5 years is a huge age span for young kids. We said “hi” from time to time, but that was about it. When I started the first grade in 1948 (no kindergarten in my village), I walked to school, a distance that would have been about three blocks if Standish had been a city and we had had blocks. The first day, a huge Doberman, owned by a neighbor, escaped from his yard and lunged after me. I was terrified…, at age 6, I was pretty small and this dog was taller than I was. I ran home, chased by the dog, and refused to leave the house. Harvey had been riding his bike by, on his way to school also, and saw what happened. This young boy of about 11 stopped, came to my house, and offered to walk with me to school and keep the dog away. It was a simple gesture on the part of a young boy, a boy who probably wouldn’t have been happy to have to hang out with a little first grader who might cramp his style. And yet he did. There was no complaining, no making fun of my fear: just a kindness, which he extended for several days after that until the dog’s owner fixed the escape route and the dog was no longer a menace to me. It was that simple. And yet, Harvey was my first hero. I never forgot what he did for me. That act of caring about a scared little kid showed me that people can be kind and reliable and unassuming about caring for others. There is no spectacular ending to this part of the story. I had very little contact with Harvey after that. We were of different generations and barely saw one another. However, many years later, at a school reunion, I was able to tell him how strongly I remembered what he had done for me and that he was my first hero. He was still unassuming. We have since become casual Facebook friends, and while I suspect our politics are on different paths, we joke about his heroism and I see his gentle kindness still there, the man he became reflecting the young boy he was.

The second person who played one of these important, if subtle roles in my life was Dahlov Ipcar, a Maine artist who died this week at the age of 99. Dahlov was the mother of a friend of mine when I was an undergraduate. I was married between my junior and senior years of college, and spent the last year living on the Bowdoin campus, being the only wife of a student (it was an all-male college at the time), and commuting to Boston the first semester to finish my own undergraduate work. My husband also had a roommate, because we couldn’t afford two residences. I spent the weekends at Bowdoin, and the whole spring semester there. Our apartment became a home away from home for a few of the Bowdoin guys, and Charlie, Dahlov’s son, was one of the frequent visitors who, with our roommate, Franz, and my husband, sat around and made a lot of music on their guitars and banjos, while I cooked spaghetti and other undergraduate food for the starving young men. Charlie took us out to his parents’ farm from time to time, in a nearby town on the ocean, and that is where I met Dahlov. Dahlov had grown up in a Greenwich Village setting, her parents being well-known artists, and later she and her husband had moved to Maine to farm and for Dahlov to pursue her own art. I was still a small Maine town girl, itching to leave, but, aside from having gone to school in Boston, still learning about the world outside of a small village. On our first trip out to Charlie’s I discovered a world and a woman and a family that showed me something I hadn’t even realized I’d been longing for. It’s difficult to describe, but Dahlov, for me, was Mother Earth. This warm, welcoming woman spent her time between her kitchen with its old fashioned wood-burning stove cooking for anyone who stopped by (and we all began to be regular “stoppers”), and her studio…, her very own room for doing her art, her room built on to the old farmhouse just for her. The farmhouse was full of smells of fresh bread and oil paint, swirling and dancing in our noses, and the bright colors of her art filling our eyes. Her subjects were primarily animals of bright patterns and full of movement. Domestic animals, especially her cats, and wild, jungle animals ran together through thickets of lush vegetation. And Dahlov calmly moved back and forth between these worlds, which were really one world, blended and hypnotic. I loved it, every single bit of it. I had never heard of her before meeting Charlie. I didn’t know she was famous. I only knew I wanted, somehow, to be like this woman…, not be her, but to live in spaces as a whole and complex person that I saw Dahlov to be. I was a young, 21-year-old woman looking for her own way back when not many women had the advantage to see what the possibilities might be, and Dahlov Ipcar opened my heart to what might be. We never talked about this, we never really talked about anything personal, but through Dahlov I discovered a way that a woman could be, that whatever the path I chose, it would be Dahlov, the very fact of her, that in no small way made the choices possible. She remained a part of who I am, a treasure of my life.

When she died this week, I broke down and cried, not something I often do. I had not even seen her in all of these years, although I had seen and been in touch with Charlie. What I do know is that I was only one among many young people whose lives were touched by Dahlov…, the very being of this woman, as I said, the fact of her.

Bev Hartford

Three Stories

“I found a kind of serenity, it no longer seemed important whether everyone loved me or not-more important was to love them. Feeling this way turns your whole life around; living becomes the act of giving.”  ~Beverly Sills

I have started a year of living graciously. I am trying to discover what it means to be a person of ultimate goodwill, and I want to spend my year writing about and trying to discover what it means to be that kind of person. The kind of person Beverly Sills tried to be. I picked a funny time to do this because now, with mounting political crisis and a seeming end to goodwill all over the planet, the very idea of being the kind of person I want to be seems unfathomable. Every day delivers a new blow to my ability to offer grace. Every day offers me a lesson.

True story: A woman I know, who happens to also be Muslim, tells a collective group of mostly white, presumably Christian women that she wants them to invite her to their church. “I’ll bring my three boys and donuts,” she says. “I want all those people to know me and see that we are just like them. I want those people to hide me and my family if it comes to that.”

She is sarcastic and breezy, and we laugh a little but the core of what she is saying chills me to the bone. My friend can envision a USA that includes people going into hiding. My friend can envision a USA that would force naturally born (not that that matters really.) American citizens into hiding to prevent them being rounded up or persecuted. I picture her holding a big box of Dunkin Donuts at the entrance to a local church with her three elementary age boys in tow.

There must be a better way, I think. Do we really expect this woman to serve donuts in our mid-western churches to win over the hearts and minds of Christian America? But really I should be thinking, that going into hiding for Muslim Americans will never happen. Will it? I honor her very real worry. It is all I can do.

True story: In the Kroger parking lot yesterday, I am thwarted a second time while trying to park my car. I am in my car getting ready to turn into a spot when a van comes driving through from the other side. “Really!” I scream in my car. I throw up my hands and drive around to the other side, if I hurry I’ll get the space that the van driver vacated with his van. The driver must have seen me in my in the car moment of exasperation (and dare I say rage) because he stood patiently in the space he vacated waiting for mkrogere. He was saving the space for me.

I felt embarrassed. Thank you I said. He explained that his car had died and he was waiting for a tow truck, and he thought it would be easier to tow from this angle. He had been parked there all night and just now got the opportunity to push it through. I was embarrassed because you know, be more gracious, and try as I might I never quite pass the parking lot test. This sweet man holding me a spot in the Kroger parking lot must have seen me shrieking at him from behind my car wheel. (I think being magnanimous in the Kroger parking lot will be my white whale this year.)

True story: Someone I love very much, I actually hate because of their beliefs. I can’t believe I am even writing these words. I have put this feeling under a microscope and am examining it like crazy. How can I possibly have this year of being gracious if I can’t figure out lesson number one? How can I confront this horrible glorious hatred in myself? How can I be like the light? How can I believe love triumphs, if I can’t control my own hatred? It is the question that vexes me most as I try to make sense of the world in the post truth era. Meanwhile, I have blocked their posts and will erase any comments they make and when they like something I have done, I snarl under my teeth because I know they don’t really, and they are spoiling for a fight.  Or perhaps I am?

It is easy to have compassion for my Muslim friend, to have righteous anger directed at those voters and Kelly Ann and Sean and DT himself. It is an easily learned lesson that any spot is fine in the Kroger parking lot. But I can’t seem to take it further than that. I can’t find it in my heart to understand and really embrace this person I love. It is making my heart hard and my year of living graciously almost impossible.

What is your true story of living graciously in an ungracious world?

Amy for the PGM

Presume Good Will

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The presumption of good will is one of the core, foundational tenets of Women Writing for a Change (along with the confidentiality of the circle and attentive, open presence). The phrase can bear multiple interpretations, but one we share is “believing that every participant is trying to be helpful and aims to lift up the best in one another.  We presume we each bring our best possible self to the circle.“

A fellow writer and I were musing the other day on what deeper meanings this principle might hold.  I find that when you really think about almost any phrase, it reveals hidden significance.

Turning to my longtime favorite dictionary, The American Heritage Dictionary, I found the following definitions of “good will.”
1. An attitude of kindness or friendliness; benevolence.
2. Cheerful acquiescence or willingness.
3. A good relationship, as of a business with its customers or a nation with other nations.

While these definitions begin to define the profound role good will plays in our organization, none really arrives at the transcendent power of our dynamic definition of it. Yes, it involves an attitude of kindness and friendliness, cheerfulness even, but it does NOT speak of acquiescence; being true to one’s truth and needs is equally fundamental to our processes.

I would say that the third definition comes closest, in defining good will as at heart invoking relationship. Our presumption of good will is transactional (“communication involving two or more people that affects all those involved; personal interaction”), the active, “paying forward” of a precious gift that is returned in kind, that sets a positive and trusting tone for interactions and relationships, the sharing and communication on which we thrive and grow in community. By thinking and expecting the best of you, I also think and expect the best of myself, my intentions, my efforts, and these hopeful expectations guide our encounter.

Presumption, on the other hand, sometimes gets a bad rap. American Heritage definitions run the gamut from:

  1. To take for granted as being true in the absence of proof to the contrary: “I presume you’re tired after the long ride” (Edith Wharton) and 2. To constitute reasonable evidence for assuming; appear to prove: A signed hotel bill presumes occupancy of a room.

to a more negative spin in:

  1. To venture without authority or permission; dare: He presumed to invite himself to dinner and 2. To act presumptuously or take unwarranted advantage of something: Don’t presume on their hospitality.

Personally, I like the way our presumption of good will turns the negative on its head, and, instead of acting negatively without authority, permission, or good boundary management, our presumption of good will can break down boundaries, actively creating a whole, healing dynamic that our world offers far too little of.

These are dark days for many among us, where communication and civility seem to have vanished from our national conversations, and too often from our personal interactions and conversations.  At WWfaC we aim to live our principles out into the world, demonstrating what transformative power a creatively dynamic presumption of good will on the part of ourselves and others can have in a wounded world.

 

Mary Peckham for the Poplar Grove Muse

They Are

Inspired by Peter Witte’s short story, “They Were,” The Sun Magazine, JULY 2016 ISSUE 487

 

He was. She was. They met at a fountain the day before semester classes began, awkward- him, lusting- her and together they: talked about his new puppy Nagi and his sick grandmother and her travels to Germany, talked a little more until the night she turned 21, sat together at Rileys and drank cheap beer, went to his place and hers and back to his, drove across the country and decided they were in this, moved in together, found a Native American community and found themselves dancing at powwows as head-man and head-woman and building teepees and in ceremony, graduated from college a year apart, found jobs nearby, rented a little white house on 3rd Street, got married at Hungry Mother State park by a man named Humble Bear, wore buckskin and beads, watched as he built a life around community and work while she dreaded her days and wished for more, went into debt so she could go back to school and become the teacher she’d been too scared to be, spent four more years in the little Appalachian mountain town while he built an Indian Village and she taught high school English, lost Nagi too early, had a perfect baby with a tiny hole in his heart that would close three years later, watched coverage of their town on TV after both shootings- Tamara’s husband on the Huckleberry Trail and a few months later the many at Virginia Tech, locked classroom doors and stood on football fields when threats in bathroom stalls were found, struggled to figure out how to manage with three, fought a lot, found out the job he loved would end soon, applied to grad school and moved to Indiana with a one year old and two cats and a turtle, found a teaching job for her with students she immediately loved, breathed out relief when he passed his quals, had a daughter, put supports in place to keep each other okay, slept more this time, spent summers apart while he did research, tried to move, stayed put, grew frustrated being asked repeatedly at work to give more and receive less and look the other way, found a writing community for her, supported her need to be there often, found distraction from dissertation writing for him, supported his need to be there often, made her decision to “retire” from a career she could no longer stomach a reality, became more connected to the conscious community that gave her the courage to choose a better way to spend her days, started homeschooling, spent time building community in their family of four, realized they could do things differently and always had, finished a dissertation, adopted Annie the crazy mutt to celebrate, accepted a semester- turned year- turned two year teaching position at small university nearby, loved their work- their days- again, continued to sit in the impatient waiting that a new career brings and in the knowing it will be good and hard whether they are here or wherever there is. He is. She is. They are.

~ Kelly Sage

www.sagetribe02.com

I Don’t Know, and I Like it.

Pisces WindowWhen someone is triggered by astrological insights, and enthusiasms, I wonder if there is something in their chart indicating this?  (I scroll through the menu of my mind: what aspect indicates a skeptic (Mercury in an earth sign in the house everyday affairs?) I’ve been thinking a lot lately, in a global sense, a transpersonal sense about who I am in relationship to the larger magnetic, interplanetary influence (my Mercury is in Pisces).  Well, ever since I was gifted a smartly designed 2017 astrological outlook course.  I absorbed it in the way that I do when I like something…by engulfing and osmosis.  Engulfing daily information and dreaming later to sort out the knooks and crannies.  I like astrology because it reminds me of a camera, and I like cameras because they remind me of perspective.  The astrological lens yields something big enough to remind me that a large part of us is ‘under influence.’

This is about astrology and its’ not, because I know that it’s not just astrology that lends a hand to faith.  But faith been dealt a bad rap.  Too many connotations, to many associations this word: faith.  I know there are many ways to remember that we are part of something that we do not always control.  Astrology is just one that I really like….and reading Carl Jung.

This week, in conversation with friend, he says, “I don’t like fate….that’s for people who lived a long time ago…we all know about free will now.”  And if the mind believes it knows….we all are saved?  That turns me off: overreliance on our mind/thinking to dictate our lives.   The compulsion, obsession to know! That turns me off more than simple displeasure, it dehydrates my soul.

When did we become so damn human mind-centered?   When did we fixate so heavily on the myth that we are in control and we know how to steer our ship at all times without any help from some guidance larger than ourselves.   When did we lose faith in the mystery?  Someone get my soul a glass of water.

Funny thing, as paradox can be… I’ve got a drive to research this, look in with my mind to try to perceive, to label it….to channel thoughts like:  “we are in a dark time”  “we’ve forgot about the Mother”…”life manifests and thrives only through love and attention..so how can we be different?”  “We’re held too – by the universe, the harmonies, the planets…the presence.”

Astrology?  I’ll take it – and I’ll take a huge helping of the others mysteries too.  Perceptions between awake and asleep, the ‘hunches we just have’, divination, supernatural sighting, communication from the guides.  And I’ll carry a flag into the desert that says: I don’t know, and I like it.

Allison for the PGM

Honest Kindness

My quote from the Universe yesterday:

“To touch someone with kindness is to change someone forever.

Heavy, huh? That’s nothing.

Because for everyone you touch, you also reach everyone they will ever know. And everyone they will ever know. And everyone they will ever know. And so, for the rest of all time, your kindness will be felt, in waves that will spread, long after you move on.

Muchas gracias,
    The Universe”

 

Before I tell you about my act of kindness, I should tell you how I reacted to being assigned an act of kindness by my writing circle facilitator, knowing that I would then write about it and read it in front of other women.  I immediately decided to do a really great act of kindness (one that would really impress you) and write a kick ass recollection of it (one that would really impress you).  Yes, such are the ways of my shadow.  She seeks to be known by her goodness, her kindness, her competence in all things.  That’s how I have come to know her.  I can feel her presence as I feel the need to be good, sometimes even the need to be better-than.  I am wise enough now to take her hand in mine, make some room for her beside me, and let her be with me a while.

So, in deciding which single random act of kindness to commit this week I found myself replaying in my mind all the memories I have of myself acting out in the world this way before.  There was the time when, as just a teenager, riding with my mom, there was an elderly woman struggling to time her crossing at a stoplight downtown.  My mom and I exchanged a few panicked looks as we watched her teeter forward and stop a few times in a row as the cross traffic raced by, oblivious.  My mom’s command to “Help her, Darci!” coincided with my sliding out of the car.  I sidled up alongside the old lady, linked my arm in hers, smiled at her and said, “May I help you cross the street?” to which she replied, “Why yes, honey, thank you.”  I’m sure I saved a life that day.

There was the time, just about a year ago, when I saw a mom in the parking lot at Kroger accidentally slam her little girl’s finger in the car door as she was hurriedly trying to get everyone moving in the right direction.  The toddler wailed as loud a battered wail as I’ve ever heard, piercing every heart in every audible direction.  That mother was crushed.  She shrunk down next to her sobbing one and kissed and kissed and kissed that little smashed finger.  As I walked by I just paused for a brief moment, long enough to put my hand on that guilty mama’s shoulder and say, “don’t be so hard on yourself…we’ve all done it.  You’re a good mama.”

Then there was the time when I cleared my neighbor’s car off after a heavy snow so that when she came out the next morning with her arms full of her new baby, dragging the toddler behind, heading out to her new job (her second job since her boyfriend was now in jail for doing “something stupid”), she wouldn’t have to leave those babies in the cold while she dug out her vehicle.

So I remind myself of how kind I can be and I remember how good it feels to pass on the peace.  I also realize how much I really do those things for me, for myself.  When I am really true and honest about it, I do kind things because it is the most honest expression of who I am in certain moments.  If I do it for any other reason, it is not my authentic self acting, it is my shadow.

So, my act of kindness this week was a simple one, an authentic one.  I bought an extra roll of paper towels to take to my aunt.  She is raising a litter of Golden Retriever puppies – ten of them – and they are 5 weeks old now.  That’s a lot of puppy pee and puppy poop.  She loves them.  But she is working hard and they are more than a handful.  One of them is mine.  I already love her with all of my imperfect, broken heart and she’s peeing all over my aunt’s kitchen.  I took paper towels.

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Darci Hawxhurst for

The Poplar Grove Muse

The Thread of Kindness: Post-Election 2016

I want my voice to catch the thread of kindness in everything I say, with everyone I talk to.  Even when I’m angry, when I need to be angry and voice my rage, I want to tie that thread of kindness securely around my finger to remind myself that I’m talking to another human being whether I like their actions or opinions or not.  I want kindness to cradle that anger, and to cradle me for being courageous and speaking my truth.

Looming in my mind now, post-election 2016, is my anger at the ignorance, arrogance, hatefulness (take your pick) of Trump and his Trumpeteers for playing to the fears and bigotry of way too many Americans, for playing their fascist drums of nationalism and provincialism and being rewarded for it.  That’s the real kicker, I think. That the bullies are being rewarded. They have taken “ugly American” to a new level. It’s not only the elite Americans who have garnered the scorn of people around the globe as they ate too much, talked too loud, held themselves above, apart from the mores and civil expectations of other cultures. (They called us “Norte Americanos” when I was in Nicaragua in the 80s to distinguish us from “Sudamericanos.”)  It’s not just the US military who has tromped with a cavalier sense of entitlement on the rights and lives of too many countries to even name.  Now “it,” this ugly American persona, this ugly Norte Americano persona, fills the screens of TVs and computers, here and abroad: President Elect Trump and his chosen ones—the leaders of the most powerful nation on earth!  I am embarrassed at how we must look to the rest of the world.  I am sad that so many people (some that I know and love) voted for Trump, or didn’t vote against him, either choice a vote for tyranny in my mind.

I read the Dalai Lama quote that I wrote with permanent marker on my fridge years ago: “Be kind whenever possible; it is always possible.”  Is it?  I’m not so sure these days.  I don’t feel kind toward the white supremacists, the rise of the KKK.  I don’t feel kind toward Donald Trump.  I try to see him as that little boy that his grandmother surely loved, but I can’t find that Trump.  I try to see him as someone who loves his family, but his narcissism takes up too much of the frame.  If he were in a secure facility, where he could do no harm, I think I would feel kindness toward him, or if he came to my door, hungry and cold, I know I would feed him soup and wrap a blanket around his shoulders, but how do I find that thread of kindness in my heart and mind for the reality of who he is and what he espouses, given the power that he now holds?

And I’m angry because I’m feeling discomfited.  I have been expending energy quite comfortably in my own pursuit of happiness, self-realization, meaningfulness. Now, with the climate change naysayers and the nuclear weapons proponents dismissing scientific facts and rattling their sabers, the state of the nation, the state of the world, the state of this good earth may need my voice, my boots on the ground—my energy—to resist this madness, this blatant mockery of truth and justice.  I want to be done with carrying signs and marching in the streets!  I want to be done with civil disobedience and the risk of jail!  I want my life of doing unto others as I would have them do unto me to be enough!  I want my love and compassion, the threads of my kindness, interwoven with the billions of other threads of kindness around the world, to be enough. To stitch together a safety net of common decency and civility; a safety net of enough. And I’m afraid that’s a pipe dream that I’ve held onto way too long.  Trump’s ascension has pulled that dream wrong side out and left the raw truth of fascism bleeding on my parade.

And while I’m writing this, I am bombarded with images in my mind of the Black Lives Matter movement that has grown out of recent police brutality toward blacks.  People have been aware that racism still thrives in the US despite the Civil Rights Act—anyone who knows the cold hard facts of our criminal justice system, and our incarceration, employment, and education disparity, knows that racism continues to eat at the soul of our nation.  But it took the killings of Brown, Rice, Garner, etc., etc., etc., to fuel the fight against racism with renewed vigor and momentum. That’s what I’m feeling with the election of Trump and his inner circle.  I’ve known that the US as superpower, warmonger, corporate-powered usurper of “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” has been the reality of our country for decades, but it took Trump’s rise to the throne (and Pence’s, for God’s sake! What a scary duo!) to shake the foundations of my complacency, my pipe dream, my belief that kindness  is enough.  It has peeled back the layers of red, white, and blue and left us with the tattered threads of our dirty underwear on full display.  Old Glory, indeed! The façade has been shattered.

Where do I fit in to all of this?  How do I catch and hold firmly to the thread of kindness in a world that seems to be so out of kilter, and skewed toward meanness, wrong-headedness, fear?  And will kindness make any difference in the big scheme of things?  I truly believe that it always makes a difference in interactions with people on a day-to-day basis, and in my own empowerment as a human being trying to do the right thing: to be kindness, to be love.  And I visualize waves of that kindness and love growing exponentially from my heart and soul to the very darkest core of madness that seems to be rampant right now. But how will it translate into sanity?  How will it translate into peace on earth goodwill to all?  Can I continue “walking peace” in these woods, and actually be a force for change in the world?  Can I sing my songs of peace and love and touch the wounded spirit of this earth?  Will my thread of kindness be strong enough, long enough, to make any damn difference at all?  I have more questions than answers.  I hold tightly to the Bible verse: “Perfect love casteth out fear.”  I wind the thread of kindness around and around my finger to remind myself of who I am.

 

Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse

 

 

 

I Am From

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I Am From

Solid men who told their daughters if they were feeling smart and strong they were on the right track.

I Am From

Broken women who broke each other with mistrust and sly smiles.

I Am From

Loving men who cooked, cleaned, wiped their babies’ butts, cuddled and soothed.

I Am From

Smart, funny women who could stretch a dollar, make ends meet, sew clothes out of feedsacks. Spent hot summers putting up enough food to last the winter. Went without and made do.

I Am From

Men who loved their mother and protected her from their father. Naively thought all women were like her and put them on pedestals they didn’t deserve.

I Am From

A mother who wasn’t mothered. Who was betrayed and left with a black hole inside her. A hole my dad, nor me, nor my brother could fill with light.

I Am From

Alcohol. Secrets. Spin doctors. Guessing. Shifting ground. Arbitrarily changed rules. Don’t ask.

I Am From

Great Aunts who were movie stars in waiting. Who scared me with their croaky voices and dark eyes magnified by thick lenses. Who loved wrestling and cowboys. Who listened in on party lines and called other people nosy.

I Am From

Women whose hands wrung the necks of chickens. Soothed a fevered brow. Made pie crust that melted in your mouth. Whose fingers flew around a tatting shuttle making lace as delicate as dandelion fuzz.

I Am From

Morel hunters. Fishermen. Craftsmen. Readers. Sports players and sports fans. Pipe smokers.

I Am From

Women who were told to snap out of it by their mothers. Who were told to take a pill by their male doctors. Who were told to buck, up, move on, get over it. Who were told by magazine articles to do it all and be happy about. Don’t let them see you sweat because that would be unfeminine.

I Am From

Men who were judged by their strength, not their tenderness. Men who were judged by how much money they made, not how much time was spent with their families.

I Am From

All of this and more. A brew that cooked up a complicated me.
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Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse

 

 

 

An Old Woman’s Random Memories: A Free-verse Poem

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I remember snow banks tunneled into forts against the Great Winter Enemy:the boy next door.

I remember being lifted up to be shown the empty crib, a quietness where the baby used to be.

I remember my grandmother’s aproned lap, soft home of fairy tales and stories read aloud.

I remember riding in the truck on the milk route with my uncle, the empty bottles rattling against each other and their wire cages, chattering about the homes they had just left, telling those stories to be held for their new adventures in the next homes where they would be delivered.

I remember taking sandwiches to white-helmeted men standing watch for the raging forest fires that were choking up our skies as we held our breath and crossed our fingers that they would pass us by.

I remember crouching under our desks at school, hands over our heads, practicing for the Evil Day when the Red Menace would Bomb us to Oblivion. We, even in our youth, couldn’t understand how those desks would protect us.

I remember getting the first polio shots, a newly made vaccine, lined up in the school corridor with others waiting nervously for our turn to be stuck and recalling stories of those we knew who had been struck and crippled, and yet we were still a bit afraid of that needle in our arms.

I remember when I learned that my 7th grade classmate had hung himself in his bedroom, I remember when I learned that my friend’s father had hung himself in the barn, and I remember when I learned that my mother-in-law had shot herself in her car, and I remember when my student shot himself with a rifle, and I remember when a dear friend jumped off the top of the Atwater Parking garage, and how I mourned them each and all in the agony of my distress and not-understanding.

I remember running naked from the car in the crisp air of the western desert night to plunge into the steaming hot spring and to float, body warm, face cold, looking at the bits of glistening stars in the black sky.

I remember making a story of high-power towers being aliens moving slowly across our North American continent, at a pace we could not see with our human eyes, but knowing that sometime, sometime, the Wire Aliens would be our Masters.

I remember falling down the dark opening at the inn in Dailekh after two long days of trekking, and wondering if I were dead.

I remember the young Polish musician on the train to Łodz urging me to run away with him and join his circus.

Too many more memories for my 74 years…the rest will have to wait for the next poem, and the poem after that, and the poems that follow those.

Bev Hartford

 

Turtle Day

turtleI ran over a turtle one day not long ago. There was a speed bump in the road and a little brown mound right behind it that I caught a glimpse of too late. The second I ran over it, knew it was a box turtle. I stopped, heart racing, and ran back to find it flipped over, splayed, limp and motionless. If it’d been a cartoon turtle, its eyes would have been X’s and its little tongue would’ve been sticking out, but no, it was more horrible than that. I stooped to pick it up, sick with remorse, and placed it gently on the grass nearby—on the side of the road in the direction I think it had been going. I was sure it would not be walking anywhere again but might instead be food for the neighborhood crows. Oh dear turtle, forgive my carelessness, and driving too fast. Please forgive me!

Soon after, as I sat down shakily to work at my desk, my belief in horoscopes was affirmed. A brief on-target sentence came up on my newsfeed and inspired me to capture this:

May I learn all the ways in which I do not really see what is in front of me. All the ways I rush through you, past you, over you. May I learn to pause in your presence. May I learn that witnessing you is witnessing myself. The more I do one, the more I can do another. –Chani Nicholas

I carried the sinking feeling of destructive power, failed witness- heavy in my heart and plodded on with the various tasks of the day: a string of soul sucking e-mails, a nice piece of chocolate, a letter of gratitude from an old friend in the mailbox, a worried call from my mother. Hours later, I walked with the dogs back to the bloody spot on the road. We traipsed over to the grassy area where I’d left the lifeless body of the turtle earlier and couldn’t find it. I looked all around the area, my dogs nosing too. No bloody trail, or indentation in the grass. Could the crows have made quick work of the little turtle? Could a child have picked it up and taken it home to see if it could be nursed back to life?

Maybe the universe was letting me off the hook. Maybe, as in the famous Lillian Hellmann story about the partially butchered snapper that left a determined bloody trail from the author’s kitchen butcher block back to the nearby pond, Box Turtles are similarly indestructible, with the survival mojo of millennia in their DNA. Maybe this witness of death and potential resurrection was an invitation to witness the many little deaths and revivals of a single day. Soul on deck, the buzzer is always ready to blare.  Life wants us to live, but it wants us to take our time too.

If my little near-dead boxie did indeed get plucked up into a tree to become food for the crows, then there is a prayer for that. Thank you for your life and making me pause, for taking me to a resting place between movement and stillness as I write these words, uncomfortable as they are…for helping me notice how I rush unawares, my killing powers, for reminding me that even tough shells can be broken…mine and yours. Forgive our bad timing (yours and mine), and stay safe in your home, wherever that might be now.

Beth Lodge-Rigal