A Rant About Healthcare

True story

On Thursday late afternoon our son who attends college in Vincennes, Indiana, texted to tell me he was out of one of the three drugs he uses to control his seizures. He must take his drugs or he will have a seizure. He told me he had enough to last to Saturday. I called the pharmacy that told me-“Nope-not up for refill for 8 more days. Call your doctor.”

Of course one can’t call the doctor until business opens the next day, so Friday at 8:00am I called his neurologist. Meanwhile, I have my son hunting high and low for apparently 8 days worth of missing pills.

The outgoing message at the neurologist’s office asks you to choose an option: press one for appointments, press two for prescriptions, press three for a nurse and so on. I pressed three for the nurse and got voice mail and left an extensive message detailing our problem. Her outgoing message tells me I will wait up to 48 hours for a reply. Also, ironically, the outgoing message says that if I have a problem with a scrip to call the pharmacy. There is almost always a black hole of bureaucracy between these two entities. I can’t tell you the number of times the pharmacy has told me to call the doctor and the doctor has told me to call the pharmacy.

I wait 20 minutes and call again, this time pressing the buttons to get me to a live human who reassures me that the nurse is there and working her way through the voice mail, and she should get to it at any minute.

At 11:30,  I had not heard from her, so I called again, pressing buttons to get me to a human and this time the nurse herself answers the phone. She tells me that she will talk to the doctor and can handle it immediately, and I also ask her to send the scrip to Walgreens in Vincennes. Walgreens is the pharmacy closest to campus.

BTW—she acknowledged that it was the doctor’s office who called in the wrong scrip initially. Our son didn’t lose his pills, he simply was not given enough. “Oops, I’ll send in the correct scrip this time.” The nurse apologized and we told our son to stop hunting for the missing pills.

Now,  I pass the task  to my husband Geoff. It is his job to call Walgreens and give them our insurance and make arrangements to pay for the drugs that our son needs. He calls me shortly after to tell me its all set. Walgreens helped him set up a special payment account and took our insurance information. “No problem.” he said.

But wait, an hour later he notes on this special payment site that, Walgreens has posted that our insurance will not work with Walgreens and they will charge us $1200 for the 30-day supply. For those of you who do math that is $20 per pill twice a day for 30 days.

So he calls back to the Doctor’s office. Now it is about 2:00pm on Friday. Geoff talks to the nurse again, and she says that she will talk to the doctor again and send in a new scrip to CVS in Vincennes. We wait for confirmation. Nothing comes. Geoff drives to the doctor’s office at 4:30.  The nurse is still there, but the doctor is gone for the weekend, and she apparently never asked him to resend the scrip to CVS in Vincennes. She tells Geoff, “He’s driving to Louisville for the weekend. I’ll try to get ahold of him and have him call it in.”

Well nothing comes through. It is 8:00pm. No doctor response at all. The outgoing message on the doctors voicemail says simply to hang up and call 911. We think perhaps we need to go back to Walgreens and pay for 4 pills ($80) to get him through till Monday and then try again on Monday for CVS to fill the full scrip. Perhaps we can get the doctor to call next week?

I call CVS one more time, and after much discussion of the situation, (We have been on the phone with them three times now. They know us well.) the nice lady at CVS reveals that in fact they can call Walgreens and get the scrip from Walgreens. Who knew! At 8:45pm the pharmacist from CVS calls to tell me that not only does he have the scrip ready and waiting for my son to pick up, but there are coupons that can get us a 14 day supply for free and money off on the rest. Who knew!!

The moral of the story. CVS in Vincennes really helped us. I am switching all my scrips there even if they charge more. They came through for me. The pharm tech and the pharmacist were the heroes.

The second moral: The system is really messed up. It took two adults a whole day of head scratching, texting, phone calling and waiting to get doctors, pharmacists and insurance companies to come together to get two weeks worth of little white pills, SO MY SON DOESN’T HAVE A SEIZURE.  What happens when a parent who doesn’t have a decent employer who lets her make calls while at work needs to fix something like this?  What happens to people who don’t have insurance and  need to get meds to stop seizures?  What happens to someone who just can’t figure out how to make it work tries to get medicine? It should not be this hard.

Ask me sometime how often stuff like this happens.

Please please someone out there. FIX the HEALTHCARE SYSTEM!!!!

Endings and Beginnings

So many thoughts are tumbling through my head this morning as I think back over the years of my life.  Some of those years have a theme; 1963, 1968, graduation years, 1990 (my son’s birth), 2014 and of course 2016 – endings and beginnings. Losing my father in 2014 left a huge hole in my heart and like my mother’s death, caused me to question my beliefs, yet oddly, confirmed them at the same time.  I have always been spiritual, but never fond of organized religion. I had imagined that I would feel my mother’s presence in the months after her death, hear her voice, know she was there – it didn’t happen and I was shocked. I realized over time that it wasn’t a lack of presence, it was lack of recognition.  I had failed to recognize those moments – the tiniest of tugs, the wisp of the wind, a white butterfly swarming around me, 2 white butterflies the day after my dad died, an aroma, a song.  Small moments of connection. What has been most challenging for me is how easy it is for time to pass without me thinking of them.  I have heard people say, “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about them”.  That is not true for me.  Days and weeks will pass and I am not conscious of thinking of them.  Then that tug, that song, that wisp of the wind reminds me.  Is it you Mom?  I can almost hear you saying, “how dare you forget about me, I gave you birth”.  Or is it you Dad?  “It’s okay kiddo, you are a lot like I was.”  Knowing that my own son will likely experience this when I am gone quickly brings tears to my eyes. I like to think he will know that I am always with him, but my death will also create space for him – endings and beginnings. One great thing about endings is the beginning; nothing ends without something new starting.  As much as I miss my parents, there is an odd freedom in being parentless for me.  The cloud of their perceived judgement has drifted, dissipated.  Funny, I was the one who put the cloud there. I was the one who could have sent it packing. I was the one wearing the ruby slippers.

It is hard, nearly impossible, to understand the existence of possibility in the throes of an ending. I just have to remember that there are endings that are joyful and I have to relish those, like August 9, 1974.  I look forward to another ending like that, hopefully this year, because I know around the corner will be a new beginning.

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

To come from and to beget

“Youth is our biological and physiological homeland.  There, we know our way.  And even if in our nostalgic memories the sun shines where it was actually dark, still we are familiar with the pitfalls and perils of youth.  We know how to live in that homeland with good and bad – how to master it, anyway, better than we know how to navigate the foreign country of age into which we are expelled.”   –Frederic Morton

I come from men, it seems. From a mysterious Ignaz. And from him, born February 11, 1833 in Holungen, Germany, came my great-great-great grandfather, Johannes Heironiums Ertmer who settled in JoDaviess County, Illinois. He is the one whose name titles a 200-page geneaology of my branch of the Ertmer family. And from Johannes and Elizabeth Goldhagen came John, and from John and Caroline Ortchied came Robert Frank (a first-born son), and from Robert Frank and Mary Ann Clancy came my grandpa Robert Elwood, the fourth of ten, and from him and Alice Mary LaGrand, my father David Joseph who married Peggy Rothermel who birthed me. And I married David Lasuer and gave birth to Alice Joy and Leo David. It’s enough to make your head spin. All these men, all these women. Begetting, begetting, begetting. Then dying, dying, dying. That is most of what I know – when they were born and when they died. Until I get to my grandparents and my parents. Then I know for sure that I have come from women too.

She was the last of her generation, my grandma Alice, when she passed away in Denver, Colorado on November 30, 2016. Ninety-eight years old. We buried her in the ground at Mt. Olivet cemetery on a cold Tuesday afternoon in December. We buried her in a powder blue coffin, with pleats of blue fabric, with crucifixes and a bag of Cheetos, with argyle socks on her feet, and sparkly purple polish on her nails, with her glasses on over closed eyes, her hands resting together on her stomach, a rosary threaded through her fingers. She was thin and light when she died, just worn-out skin covering tired bones. But her hair was the opposite. It was the striking white of the full moon, perfectly poised and luminous. At the funeral home, my Aunt Mary Ann, upon inspecting the handiwork of the mortician, took out a small brush and began to fluff my grandma’s bangs over the bony curve of her forehead. “Mom, don’t you worry. We are going to get these bangs just how you like them.”


The last time I visit Grandma is in July 2016, four months before her death. She doesn’t live in a nursing home, not the kind with the metal beds and mounted T.V.s. She lives in an apartment building for the elderly, with exercise classes, a library and a menu to order from in the dining room. The living room in her small apartment holds furniture from the house on Steele Street where she raised her five children. The brass birds that flew in formation across the wall there, fly here as well. In the corner is a soft, slim leather recliner that she inherited when her eldest son, Bob, died from a heart attack. Draped on the back of that chair is the woven blanket I gave her after studying in Bolivia. In the freezer is the vanilla ice cream, essential for making the root beer floats she offers to her visitors.

When we leave her apartment for the dining hall, she turns to ask, “How’s my hair?” Mom and I reach to pull a few strands over the spot in the back that is flat from where she sleeps on it.  She is dressed in black pants with white polka dots, a white sweater, a string of pearls, and gold circular clip on earrings. “Did you see my new shoes?” she asks, leaning on her walker and nudging one foot forward. I look down at her sandals. They have thick, black soles and colorful wide straps. “Very spunky! Are they comfortable?” I ask.

“Oh yeah,” she says. “Very.”

Grandma speaks slowly and softly, like the words take a while coming to her mind and a bit longer to exit her mouth.  At lunch she starts talking but my mom doesn’t hear her and rushes on with her own story. Grandma just closes her mouth and goes for a bite of soup.  What was she going to say, I wonder. My aunt and uncle, my mom and dad, we all say too much, too quickly. So I just put my hand on her back and rub it gently. She smiles, closes her eyes and leans forward.

After lunch we walk the hallway to the elevator and I ask, “Do you know your neighbors?”

“Not well,” she says.

“But you have people you sit with at lunch?” prompts Mom.

Grandma stops and looks at us. “You know the other day I went to lunch.  And Vera wasn’t there. I asked where she was and they said she’d moved to the fourth floor.” She pauses. “Well, turns out she had died!” At the elevator we see a flyer with Vera’s smiling face, the date of her birth and death and a notice that services are pending.

Death must be everywhere to Grandma, and old age is no stranger either. I’m sure some people arrive at 80 and, like a revelation, discover themselves to be old. But Grandma has had eight years since turning ninety to be old, to feel her body weaken, her mind lose its grasp on the day of the week and the names of her children. Here the halls are populated with four wheeled walkers – bright red and blue – and cheerful nurses.  In the library, the hunched form of an elderly lady hides behind an outspread newspaper, her nose almost touching the print. A man with oxygen tubes clutches a walker, his grey sweatpants spread thinly across his wide rear.  He speaks some nonsense before singing a cheery, “Hello, Alice!” and stepping into the elevator.

I’m struck by her name, how it’s the same name as my daughter’s, how she too will grow and grow until one day her body will shrink back upon itself and struggle to stand up straight, to stand up at all.  If we’re lucky, of course, and don’t lose her before she has a chance to ripen.

And I remember that day in June 2012, when we stood in the hallway of her old apartment to say our goodbyes, my belly full of baby. That was the day I said to her, “If it’s a girl, we’ll name her Alice.”

“I’d be honored,” she said, as she wrapped me up in her bony arms.

“I love you, Grandma,” I said.

“I love you,” she replied.

Two months later, after weeks of drought and 100 degree temperatures, a series of storms roared through Bloomington to break the heat and bring new life. She took thirty-six hours to make her way from womb to world. Ninety-four years younger than her namesake, Alice Joy followed a string of six great-grandsons to become Alice’s first great-granddaughter. It’s not my favorite name: Alice. It took me a few weeks to believe that she looked like an Alice, or that a baby should don the name of an old granny. Some people, like my sister, think of several names and then wait to see the baby before deciding what to call it. But even if Alice wasn’t my favorite name and it didn’t feel quite right at first, there was never a question. She would be Alice because she would inherit the spirit of Alice Mary Ertmer. And indeed she has.

By Laura Lasuertmer, for the Poplar Grove Muse



Tea and No Sympathy



I’m on the edge of my seat as I await the arrival of my cream tea in the ironically named sunroom at the Argyll Hotel. I have the room to my self, journal at hand, soundlessly, charcoal clouds scud over the marble blue bay where the waves grow increasingly wild, heavy rain clouds stacking up over Ben Mor on Mull. Heaven.

The tall waiter with the lovely Irish lilt to his voice gently sets down the homemade scone, bits of orange peel buried within the substantial pastry, a ramekin of black currant jam, dark like velvety royal robes, a matching ramekin of fluffy clotted cream, fragrant black tea steaming in the pot, all served in white crockery, on a white linen tablecloth with a white linen serviette, white on white on white, heavy silver cutlery, soft metallic accent. I sigh, delay gratification and congratulate myself for taking the time for the luxury of a cream tea on a rainy Scottish island afternoon.

I open the body of the scone, like a clam, revealing its tender center. As I lovingly, tenderly smooth jam and clotted cream over the bumpy surface of the scone, I hear clompy footsteps approach, loud discourse regarding which of the four remaining identical tables, with four identical views would be the best choice.

Serenity lost, not to be regained, like a slippery fish wiggling from the gannet’s pewter beak. The couple looks hardy, red-faced from the sharp wind, hair pointing to all compass points, when they pull off their staticy wool hats. They finally settle on the table next to me because it has “the best view” in a long narrow room that has a wall of ocean facing windows. The waiter comes to take their order.

“Is it too late for lunch?” asked the young man in that harsh American accent that grates on Scottish ears. No Gaelic lyricism there.

The waiter points to a prominent sign that announces in bright chalky colors times and types of service. Lunch ends at two. Cream tea service begins at three. It is three-thirty.

“Can’t you make an exception? Throw together some sandwiches?”

“Sorry, sir. I’m afraid that’s not possible. The chef is preparing starters and the evening meal,” says the waiter in his politely soft accent. He’s not fooling me. I hear a “fuck you” between those curly r’s. All said with a smile.

“I’d like to speak to the manager,” says the young man, his chin cocked at a stubborn angle.

“Very well, sir.” says the waiter through clenched teeth as he heads off to find Rob, the hospitable, yet very proper co-owner of the hotel.

“What I can do for you, sir?” asks Rob as he bends his tall, thin frame to shake hands with the young man.

“This waiter tells me, I’m sure erroneously, that it’s not possible to get us a couple of sandwiches instead of a cream tea, whatever that is.”

“Declan, is quite correct,” answers Rob without apology. “As I’m sure he mentioned, Chef is busy with preparations for this evening’s meal. We are chock-a-block in the hotel and he is quite busy. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Can we make a reservation for tonight’s meal for six o’clock?”

“I’m sorry, sir. Meal service starts at six-thirty. I think we have a couple of tables left at that sitting.”

“That just won’t do. I don’t see why you can’t accommodate us on this one little thing. It’s only thirty minutes. Is it because we’re not staying in your establishment?”

“Not at all, sir. We have many non-resident diners and welcome everyone. But if we make an exception for one person, we would have to make exceptions for everyone and that simply wouldn’t be fair to our staff, “ says Rob delivering one of the most elegant smack downs I’ve heard in quite some time.

“I suppose a cream tea for two will have to do,” says the young man, making a face as if poison was being substituted for what he felt he was entitled to.

“We do appreciate your business, sir,” says Rob as he nods in a courtly fashion. “I leave you in Declan’s most capable hands.”

“Yes, sir. What type of tea would you like?”

“What are my choices?” I knew that was coming even though they’re listed on the laminated tea list perched in a wooden holder in front of the young man. The waiter silently points to it with his middle finger.

The young man orders for himself and his companion without consulting her. Her hunched back is toward me. I can’t see her face. She has been quiet through all of these awkward exchanges. Her head bent. Not looking up. I suspect this is a scenario she has seen played out on numerous occasions.

I close my eyes and shake off the negativity and tuck back in to my tea. Savoring the tanginess of the orange zest that compliments the smoothness of the tea. The wind has picked up even more and a herring gull makes three attempts at landing on a rock outcropping near the shore as the gusts buffet it about, his webbed feet expertly gripping the slippery volcanic rock.

“Why aren’t you enjoying your cream tea that I went to so much trouble to get you?” the young man asks her, noticing that she’s picking at the pastry and letting her tea go cold in its bone white cup. She mumbles something that I can’t hear and apparently, neither can her friend/husband/ lover.

“What? Stop mumbling. How many times do I have to tell you that, Annie? Speak up. I know you’re not stupid. I know you know how to put a sentence together.”

“How would you know that? Have you ever let me finish a sentence? Or allowed me to express an opinion without telling me I’m wrong, not that you disagree, but I am simply wrong.”

“That’s an exaggeration,” he snaps back.

“You’ve just made my point for me, Jeremy,” said Annie, dropping her serviette like it’s a mic as she noisily scrapes her chair backward across the tile, grabs her red coat, and stomps out, her heavy hiking boots making a statement of their own. When she comes out of the hotel entrance she has a huge backpack strapped over her shoulders.

I’m beyond caring if Jeremy catches me watching. I sit back, cross my arms and stare at him like I’m watching a chess player ponder his next move, thinking to myself, you’ve already been checked, mate.  

He blinks a couple of times and rises as if in slow motion. Throws some crumpled notes on the table and rushes out of the hotel. He starts waving his arms and yelling. I see a flash of red as Annie leaps across the water lapping around the steel ramp of the ferry. The ramp begins to rise as soon as Annie is safely on board.

Jeremy’s arms hang limply at his side. Defeated. Left alone, perhaps for the first time, most certainly not the last.

Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse 












My Superpower is Listening

I think my superpower is listening. I am very quiet, patient, attentive. But sometimes I think I forget this is a superpower. In the past, I have been too quiet, too attentive. I forget to speak. So on occasion I overcorrect. I get anxious about making sure I say what I need to say and I can interrupt or forget to listen. But listening really is my superpower. Because I love to do it.

When I eat lunch with Maria, I love to ask her questions about her brothers or her fears and then sit quietly for long stretches and listen to her paint her life out in front of me. I love to hear her voice get excited and her deep laugh. These lunches are my lifeline. They help me practice. She asks me questions too, things friends have never asked before. And I like that she makes me think. I like that she cares, that she is interested. She keeps her eyes on me, kind and large as I begin to weave my answer. This is why I think listening is my superpower. Because it’s Maria’s too. And I know how rich and held I feel when she listens to my life. And I know that’s how it must be when I listen to others. I always want those around me to know this feeling.

Sometimes I wonder how two such deep listening wallflowers make a friendship work. In many of my other friendships, I always listen and someone else always talks. But it is natural with Maria, like the balance we have is something ancient inside me, something so innate. I miss this when I can’t have it. Maria is busier now than she used to be, and she has someone she loves in her life. I don’t hear from her as often, and I miss being asked how I’m doing every day. This is partially because I can be honest with her. She knows all of me. And she doesn’t just listen to it, she holds it and checks up on it. She asks but she doesn’t pry. It is beautiful to have a friend who makes you recognize your own strengths, superpowers. So I think my superpower is listening, like real, deep listening, so that I remember the words for years and hold them in me like they’re my own.

My superpower is listening so that others feel loved and worthy and important. My superpower is listening so that I am not just me but a collection of all I have heard and seen and been witness to. My superpower is listening to those around me, but it is also listening to myself. I have this knowledge of my own needs and wants. Sometimes I forget to listen really closely or sometimes I listen but disregard, like a superhero who flies but for a moment can’t levitate off the ground. This is something I’m trying to work on, remembering to listen to myself as deeply as I listen to my friends, my family.

Anna Raphael for The Poplar Grove Muse
(Anna was in the first Bloomington cohort of Young Women Writing (YWW), as well as the first Bloomington Young Feminist Leadership Academy (YFLA); she  co-facilitated the 2018 YWW Girls Summer Camp, during which she wrote this fastwrite.)

When The Work Is Done; Remembering Dad

My father died April 13, 2018, 60 years to the day after he gave my mother a promise pin in the spring of ’58. She was 19. He was 24. Long marriage. Made good on the promise. Four kids. They made us strong and flexible. They taught us teamwork. They’d change the furniture around or start a new household project when things got stale. Mom was visionary, Dad, the implementation person, builder, and tinkerer– Supreme Doer.

Mom: I can see that whole wall, floor -to -ceiling with bookshelves.


Mom: Don’t you think we could strip that old corner cupboard, bring it out of the barn and into the house?


Mom: Let’s make a garden like we saw over in England (or Tuscany, or over in New Harmony, Indiana.)

Done. Done. Done again.

He did these things on “off hours”, while serving in capacities as a high school math teacher, a church elder, a business manager, master gardener, friend to so many, he also taught the power of presence, paying attention, and following one’s own creative callings.

Whether he was making bookshelves for our mother, an attic loft for my teenage brother, tables out of reclaimed bowling alley lanes, simple river stone carin sculptures, planting hundreds of trees, or simply following his curiosity in conversation with you, he was all there and all in –in service, busting down whatever walls prevented us from connecting, or alternatively, building rooms to keep us safe.

When I was eight he held my hand as I lay morose and tearful on our nubby couch after school on a grey autumn day. I was a stressed, anxious child. “I know”, he said. “School can be really hard.”

When I was eleven he held my hand as we walked wordless, me shaking, to the gathering area at Vinton County Church Camp, my first sleep-away camp experience (which, for someone who could barely make it through typical sleep-overs three blocks from home, was a big deal).

At twenty-seven, he held my hand as we walked through Cincinnati’s Eden Park to my future husband’s med school graduation. Out of the blue, he said “You know, you are not alone, we’re here for you.”—I suspect both of us felt on the cusp of big life changes. We’d had talks about a few existential matters at that point and while we’d debated the question of whether or not we are each fundamentally alone in this world, he tended toward the conviction that with faith and love, and maybe a god out there, we were less alone then we think we are.

Our father, Charles Richard Lodge, taught us many things. Among them, and for me, personally, was the embodiment of loving service and attention to whatever you happen to love. He developed a deep capacity for imparting this gift to the people around him whether they were friends or strangers. For him, this was hard-earned grace, after rough beginnings and the slow healing of his own wounds.

This past April, I held his hand a lot. So did my 3 other siblings, my husband, and our mother. For three days, tag-teaming, we were a chain of hands through the hard labor of his dying. Believing he could hear us, we reminded him of all he’d given us, all he meant to us, and his world of family and friends. We reminded him that his work could be done but in fact, would carry on through each of us. I have no doubt it will.  He was never alone.

Neither are we.








BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

Reunion Stories

I am the mother of a beautiful girl who was born in Jiangxi Province, Peoples Republic of China. No doubt most of you are aware of the Chinese one child policy and its implications for Chinese girls.

When we first traveled to China to adopt her, I wrote a lot about the experience. I needed to learn and process what it meant for me and my method of doing that was through writing.

Now, I spend a lot of time reading and learning about adoption and Chinese girls growing up in America. There are a legion of websites and facebook groups for parents and adoptees like us. There are no end to the issues and discussions in which we all take part.

From the moment we started the process, I had always assumed that she (we) would never know her biological family. It is a crime to abandon babies in China, and so most leavers of babies do so quickly and quietly in a hopefully safe space where they can be easily found.

I say a prayer every day because whomever left my girl did exactly that. I know that the biological mother of this child must think about their girl every day, and I do my share of praying to the four winds that they know somehow that she is happy and healthy and well taken care of and most of all loved beyond measure.

But now, on all my FB groups, reunions are beginning to happen. Thanks to modern DNA science, girls are getting tested and groups of adoptive parents and adoptees are making their way to China to encourage Chinese parents to get registered. Matches are being made. People are actually finding the daughters they thought they’d lost forever. Stories abound, and if you guessed they are tear jerkers you are right.

Young girls, swaddled in the blankets they were born in, left with a lucky charm or note, are being raised in the lap of privilege in this country. Given education and love and resources beyond compare, are growing up and find their way back. The tears flow from the mommas and poppas who grab their long lost daughters and beg for forgiveness.

The stories are like crack for me. One after another I envision a day in the future where my lovely girl and I might make the same trip. To close this circle that is wide open and dangling before us. Will she be so lucky as to meet the birth family that gave her up so many years ago? Does she even want to? How old should she be when we start the search? These are some of the questions I ponder daily.

Meeting her birth family is not threatening for me. Whomever set my daughter on the steps of the social welfare institute that May morning committed an act of love, and I would like to repay that love with the chance to hug and kiss this strong smart girl. I like to think that meeting her biological family is quite simply a part of her story, and I for one am anxious to know how it all turns out. Aren’t you?

For now we have registered her DNA on several sites and I continue to learn about programs for Chinese adoptees and issues related to birth parent searching. The right opportunity will present itself before too long.

For now,  here is a video of a reunion story.

Amy Cornell for the PGM

Magic language.


Until about a year ago
I had a secret belief
Which the hyper-rational me hid
Because she could not hold it.
Growing up on the edge of a northern forest
Abutting tall pines and peeling birches
A place of shelter on the needled floor,
The scent of dried sheddings  giving rise to some dream-world travels,
The soft clatter of the needled limbs,
Convinced me that these,
My comforters, my sheltering towers
Were talking to each other.
My linguist self denied that this could be true
And yet, I knew, I knew that this was a community
With mothers and children
Leaning into one another
Encouraging growth
Making room for saplings
Resisting the “other”
The elms and oaks could not thrive there
Though birches seemed to be welcomed on the outskirts
Of this resined community.
But I spurned these childhood musings
No grown-up could possibly believe such things
Especially a godless being like me.
Silly dreams, child.
Silly dreams.
And yet, I could not abandon them.
I wrote poems about the tree communities
And every time I returned to the forest in Maine
The scent teased my rejection
Reminding me of my beloved home
As odors can often do.
Still, my linguist self said
That’s fine, but trees have no language
That’s a fantasy best put aside.
You know better.
And then, and then, like the burning bush
That spoke,
An ecologist, a scientist, a rational being like myself
Wrote his book
And put to rest my embarrassment and shame
For believing my wooded friends
Were talking and singing
To all who could hear.

Bev Hartford

Ref: The Hidden Life of Trees: What they feel; How they communicate. Discoveries from a Secret World.  Peter Wohlleben.2015. Greystone Press

Also check this out (thanks to Rebekah for finding it): https://www.facebook.com/bbcworldservice/videos/2037134556305660/UzpfSTE1NTEyNDUxMzY6MTAyMTYxOTgzMTU5NDEyMDk/


For Grace


I was made a dog

person by my first chocolate lab,

green eyes, anxious

insistent tail, hot breath

panting, toss after

slobbery toss, she made me hers,

she was mine.


My first true love,

never critical or unkind, she

waited and wagged and shed

all of her energy into

my poor unsuspecting life,

my heart

broken the day

she couldn’t get up

and I put her down

on an old quilt, holding her face

to mine until I was sure

she was gone.


But sometimes,


she comes swimming

back to me in midnight waters

full of joy and light, panting,

her pink tongue full

of life and her eyes still

glittering green and gold.


DRH for The Poplar Grove Muse

June 2018!

And I thought Jesus would come before I turned 30! I’ve more than doubled that projected year, and the thought of Jesus’ return is no longer troubling for fear of my friends and loved ones (unrepentant and unsaved) missing the gloryland boat.  And no longer anticipated for my personal translation into a heavenly body–able, willing, and eager to sing with the angel choir for 10,000 years! No, quite to the contrary,. When I think of how much I would’ve missed out on had my holiness preacher’s prophesying come true, I praise my lucky stars and the gravity that keeps me grounded that no matter how intensely you believe or perpetuate a myth, the reality of what is just keeps on keeping on–waking, sleeping, waking, sleeping, and all the life that happens in between as the seasons turn around again and again–summer, fall, winter, spring. And here we are planting, hoeing, harvesting our way into another summer. And here I am only a week from celebrating–Yes! Celebrating!–my 68th anniversary of spiraling down the birth canal and gulping my first lungful of this planet’s precious oxygen! And celebrating that I’m not into my third or fourth decade of singing praises to the god of my youth, who seemed to be (more often than not) angry, vindictive and a card-carrying member of the “tough love” society.

In my defense, I didn’t know any better back in the 50s and 60s. Of course I believed in my parents’ god, my teachers’ god, my preacher’s god! My world was small, secure, all that I knew. My imagination for anything different feared hell too much to risk breaking through those fundie walls. Ah, but thank God or Dog, or maybe Toad and Frog, or common sense and holes, lots of huge, crawl-throughable holes in the fence that kept me bound far longer than seems reasonable from this side of that fence, for my escape from fundamentalist dogma and, more importantly, I think, my discovery of this great big beautiful world in all its diversity. My discovery of love big enough to include everyone at the dinner table, or in the manger in that long ago stable, and not insist upon one size fits all, one faith suits all, one nation (under God!) with justice and liberty for all.

Is that the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance? Justice and liberty? Or is it liberty and justice? Either way it’s a farce to anyone who has struggled or still struggles year after year to put food on the table, pay the rent, make a better way for their kids, prove they’re worthy (ready, steady and prepared as much as anyone can be prepared) to walk through fire if need be for that liberty and justice. And why does it have to be so hard for some when it’s handed to others on a silver platter? And how in the world did I get here from the Second Coming of Jesus, the Rapture, the end of time as we know it? Ah… myths, I was talking about myths. And this liberty and justice for all myth is one that I do wish could blossom into reality by the very act of placing hand over heart and repeating, day after day, as the seasons turn around again and again. Yes, I was talking about myths….

And gratitude…
thank god and dog
toad and frog
my lucky stars
and holey fences

Glenda Breeden for the Poplar Grove Muse


I have a basket in my bathroom filled with make-up; 2 or 3 eyeliners, several shades of blush and too many to count colors and types of mascara.  I admit it, I am a make-up whore. No, I won’t perform sexual favors for a new lipstick, but I will give up other things for the latest and greatest lash-lengthening, lip-plumping and cheekbone-enhancing product . Every morning before work, I would spend an inordinate amount time looking for the same eyeliner, blush and mascara that I used yesterday and the day before and the day before. It was always there, seemingly, right in front of me.

A couple of years ago, I decided it was time to stop this insanity and place these items in the front of the basket so they could be easily found. God forbid I should throw anything away! Or maybe I should have held the items in my hands and determined whether they brought me joy, but hoarders don’t have time to do that.  Anyway, as I looked in the mirror I almost didn’t recognize myself – I was attempting to eliminate chaos, which is a what I do in my work life, but at home, in my personal life, I typically created it if I couldn’t find it.  Let’s be honest, it always found me, like attracts like as they say.  But I stopped liking it.  I wanted peace, calm, solitude.

Under the hot glare of the Hollywood style lights of my mirror, this desire for calm became very clear and by mid-day, was in my face.

I was at work, doing chaos control, and calling my youngest brother’s cell in between fire-fighting.  He rarely answered his phone – no one called him but me.  At the time, he was 53 years old, a developmentally delayed, man that came to live with me after our mother died in 2005.  I had consciously or unconsciously been seeking peace by been putting pressure on him to have a life, to get a job, maybe live on his own. He was very high-functioning but hadn’t worked since I fired him from our family business in the 90’s.  He called me around noon that November day, hysterical. He wasn’t sure where he was.  He had driven to Cincinnati with the intention of killing himself. 


Throughout his life, I had always been my brother’s “person”.  I had helped him overcome his fear of driving.  With the help of my grandfather, I helped him get back on his feet after a broken leg and a year of inactivity led him to believe he couldn’t walk. He was ruled by his fears. The idea of living on his own or getting a job triggered those fears again. I shouldn’t have been surprised, it was right in front of me. 

For the next six months we were drawn into a cycle of admissions to different mental health facilities and then being released back to me, followed by some event that would result in him being admitted again. Each cycle included a new batch of diagnoses with matching prescriptions, leaving him unrecognizable to me. 

The day I got the hysterical call from him started this journey which has, ironically, led to peace, not just for me but for him as well.  Last week was the one year anniversary of his placement into a nursing home where his meds are monitored and he is happy, and so am I. 

I often wonder what would have happened if I had been in a meeting that morning.  Would he have succeeded, as so many others do, in his search for calm?  A suicide attempt was the last thing I thought he would ever contemplate and I saw him every day. Yet I know, with absolute certainty, that in the midst of chaos, it is hard to see what is right in front of you. 

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse