Riding the Wave

This morning page is forming in the cocoon of the great windowed room, of the green chair, the purple couch, the sleeping dogs and slow risings of dear visiting sister-friends, their twin drums against the wall, and my husband risen early to greet his busy day. Crows cackle in the pine trees, my body has unstiffened in a warm shower, the coffee is good enough.

We pull Motherpeace© Tarot Cards to center a bit of writing and conversation. Yep. It’s something we do/I do some days when I’m not sure where to focus my thoughts or guide my own intentions.The six of cups. Six women are rising on a cresting wave, cups like lanterns held aloft. As always, I have no memory of the deeper significance of cups –or sixes (although there’s a symmetry to the number, a sort of balance there, and in this image, a feeling of vanguard, of promise of safe landing with the sun at their backs, and sturdy horses underneath). I choose to see this card as a sign of rising, empowerment, of riding the wave. Which, aren’t we now?

Whether the riders on the high crest of the wave stand the chance of bowling over those who find themselves lower in the upswell might signify something to be wary of in this moment is unclear, I ask myself what I should be paying attention to this season. The cautious me pays attention to both the crest and the upswell, knowing full well from experience that trying to catch a wave too soon, might mean you’ll simply be washed over by big waters, smashed down and tumbled by the boulder wave. Catching it in time, can mean a thrilling ride to the shoreline, a sleek, streamlined landing.

I have lots of questions at the moment about what shoreline I’m hoping to reach or whether there’s a shoreline in sight at all in the ocean of upheaval we’re all swimming in. Riding waves takes effort. There are rip tides and deep swells. Going back again and again to catch the perfect wave is an awesome metaphor for a rat race I’ve long ago left behind. Knowing the ins and outs of floating or fighting the currents is an acquired skill. Still, I’m a sucker for fun for fun’s sake, and riding in to shore for a rest at the end of the day. I could use some of that!

After many years now of circling with women in service to our stories, the empowerment, the waves, the troughs, the sometimes still waters of the journey to find and speak our stories….and on the cusp of the cultural zeitgeist of so many of us telling things that disturb the waters of patriarchy, I’m also old enough and tired enough to suspect that this current fierceness can and may very well be met with some of the worst of the destructive powers of men. The universe is shaking, if you haven’t noticed. So I gird my loins a bit in anticipation of the boulder waves that might be coming our way.

AND…we are Brave AND Brokenhearted (read it here) Women I know who move in waves to change what is…have seen the sun shining, the waves rise and crash. And still, as Brene Brown says, we rise. And rise again. It’s part of the pattern. I’m at peace with that.


Beth Lodge-Rigal


Random thoughts in December

  • I have begun practicing yoga and my favorite pose is called cobbler’s pose–the pressing together of the souls of the feet with knees bent out. Favorite because I can do it fairly easily—unlike say lunges or tree poses—and because the sensation of pressing the souls of my feet together is utterly unique. You think you know your body, you spend your whole life in its shell and then at 52 you discover that the souls of your feet have never met each other. They are complete strangers and they shouldn’t be.  They should have met and touched years ago and what kind of a beast am I to keep these two lovely body parts apart for so long.  The souls of my feet get together all the time now, and I am much the better for it.
  • I love my annual Christmas tree ritual. Throughout the year when I am traveling or having an adventure, I buy an ornament as a souvenir. Then in December, we put up a tree, and I decorate it with memories of travels with my family or special events. Mornings when I am up alone, I love to sit in the dark by the light of my tree, drinking coffee and enjoying the peace. After the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I have come to refer to this time of year as the long dark teatime of the soul.
  • (I am shocked, simply shocked to hear that men assault and manipulate women to get what they want at work, at church, at home, at the doctor’s office, on the street…)
  • I can never see Elf enough times. I especially love the last scene where Santa flies over everyone’s head and Buddy waves to all the former non-believers below.  It makes me cry every time.  Ahh, Christmas magic. Candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup.
  • In my early 50’s, I have come to have both chronic pain, chronic indigestion, and hot flashes. My body is truly feeling the tears and tatters of age but inside me, I feel as giddy and insecure as a 12 year old. How can that be? When does emotional age begin to equal bodily age? Or maybe it never will. Or never should.  Will I be sitting in my old age home, feeling like I want to skip and have tea parties as they insert the catheter?  I guess I will have to wait and see.
  • One of the great un-spoken pleasures in life is chocolate cake with black coffee.
  • My lovely daughter is what I would describe as a sensate. She takes pure pleasure in serving her senses. I notice it because it is the opposite of my way of taking in the world. From the earliest age she refused to wear pajamas to bed. The cold feeling of sheets on skin was magical for her. She loves soft fleece blankets and cannot go by a blanket or stuffed animal in the store without stopping to luxuriate in the feeling of tuft on hands and face.  Her love of softness has given rise to a blanket collection each one softer than the last. She also loves submersing herself in water, and bending her body in gymnastic configurations; she begs to burn incense and smell the thick cloying scent, and has a constant soundtrack of pop jingles playing in her head. I wonder what it would be like to inhabit that kind of body.  Although I do take great pleasure in the taste described above, I am less a sensate. I wonder if bathing in our senses is learned behavior or just simply intrinsic to who we are.  I must practice more hugging and eating chocolate cake.
  • Today my yogi, at the end of our time together says, “Everything is as it should be.” Adriene, you sweet naïve yogi, how can you say that?! Everything is not as it should be.  Black men are getting killed in the streets. My government has just mortgaged our country for the sake of 1% of wealthy Americans. My president is a fool.  I have nightmares about nuclear holocaust.  Not to mention person woes, aging, aches and pains, endless worries about the kids.  How can you tell me in this transcendent moment of Zen that everything is as it should be? And yet, when I carry that thought through the day, it gives me power and strength.
  • I love the final moment of yoga when the teacher bows his or her head in prayer and says to the class “Namaste.” I return the greeting in earnest.  It means something to me.



The Priestly Vestment


What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

                                                                             Philip Larkin


Thrifting has come a long way since my adolescence. I don’t remember anything like the current overwhelming Goodwill bounty organized by color, size, and garment type having been available to me in the years when my family’s budget could have used it most.

The one exception was The Minnesota Rag Stock Exchange, a memorably exotic destination located in an old warehouse in a seedy area north of downtown Minneapolis. My older sister and her friends had discovered it (along with hordes of their wannabe-offbeat classmates) and occasionally allowed me to tag along on their thrifting explorations.

Entering the industrial Lake Street neighborhood, somewhat deserted on a Saturday, and then the hulking stone building itself—four stories of exposed lumber loft, rickety stairs, huge bales of rag stock wired up for shipping to who-knows-where, was daunting. And the eclectic mix of urban folks picking through huge steel-rimmed 55-gallon fiber barrels—hoping for a serviceable coat against the harsh Minnesota winter, a vintage treasure find, perhaps a retread of some beloved garment worn through and discarded years ago—was an education to us suburban girls.

I once found a pair of WWII era khakis I adored. I took in the waist, employing the dart technique learned without enthusiasm in home ec (which I never dreamed would find a use in my life after the requisite A-line skirt) and wore them for our band’s staging of South Pacific, and then for the next four years, until they virtually fell apart.

My sister remembers finding a gorgeous silk kimono, which she assumes she still has in the scary collection she swears she will sort through in the New Year.

My find of finds, however, was a priest’s frock coat, a cassock, if you will. Sturdy, high-quality, finely woven black wool, with silk-covered buttons, it was fitted in the bodice to a high waist, then flared slightly from there to just below the knees. Standard issue standup squared-off cutout collar, split tails—it made me feel special, a somewhat renegade Protestant girl, while hiding the hips I have never quite made peace with (or so I thought). The silk lining didn’t provide much insulation, but the coat was roomy enough to accommodate a heavy sweater underneath, which sufficed for all but the most bitter Minnesota winter days. Best of all, it had two hidden pockets in the waistband, one surely for a watch, the other for change, perhaps?

I wore the beloved frock coat through all my university days in Chicago, always with red wool mittens (another wardrobe item I remain passionate about). It is immortalized in a photo of me in the Tribune, red mittens and all.

Eventually, I passed the coat on to my baby brother, who by then towered over me.  Once, not long after the transfer of the priestly vestment, we were on a road trip, destination now lost to memory and time. Coming upon a huge line of standstill traffic, we joined the ranks of the uninformed, sheep-like automobile passengers, waiting and wondering what had happened, when we would move, if we would make our destination at anywhere near our appointed time. At some point, baby bro decided to walk up and see what was going on. What was going on is now, also, lost to memory and time. But the enormous, mischievous grin he wore upon his return will never be forgotten, for everyone in every car all the way up the line had assumed he was a handsome young priest, hurrying up to administer last rites, or to meet any other exigent spiritual need.


Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse

Several Worlds at Once

I know the woman’s voice by heart, the one that comes on and tells us we are now approaching the stop for ‘Table Mesa.’  The tone of her voice is calm, robotic, and very clear.  She is the voice I associate with travel into Boulder, CO.  Today, I hear her voice and floods of experience I’ve had over the last three years wash my mind.  I’m not even off the bus, and I can almost smell the hot red dust of the flatiron trails.  I can feel the familiar burn of the welcome (and incessant) sun, and taste the dry chap skin on my lips.  Her voice is a gateway into the entire physical change that happens within days of being here.

My nervous system likes the resonance of open spaces, no fault of the forest I live in.  The forest consciousness of Bloomington, Indiana serves me very well in many ways.  The forest teaches my system of connection, roots, and community; reliance and sharing with others.  The forest teaches of shadow, enclosure, turning inward, breathing the green deep.  But sometimes, often times, I crave the horizon, to see far into the distance. To be able to see the sun emerge and follow it as it goes down.  To be connected with intense solar energy, masculine principle; something that inspires directionality….allows me to vision into the future.

My throat opens here too.  It recognizes space, the opportunity to expand into the air around itself, and my thoughts travel more around my aura, than in my mind.

I used to think that what I loved was how this place made me feel, but the more I understand how re-creation inspires my soul, the more I realize that what I love is how this place (MANY places) inspires my physicality to morph.  For me, recreation is about allowing the earth to enter to enter and inspire my flesh.  It is an act of following the stirrings of the soul to find pieces of itself again and again over places on this earth.

Every trip from Indiana to Colorado a dimensional time warp for me.  I leave Indiana at noon, and arrive to Colorado at 12:40, like no time has passed.  I remove my eyes from the green clouded forest into to blazing red sun.  It’s the time change, but also the essence change that creates the feeling I’ve traveled through a vortex.  And, there is also the reality that I feel equally at home here, as I do at home.   I used to divide myself, believing that there was such a think as one place to feel at home with.  But, by traveling over the course of my life, I’ve come to recognize the truth of my existence in several worlds at once.  When I come back here, I am home…and when I travel to Albuquerque I am also home, and in Ashland, Oregon and East Bay San Francisco, and South of the Memphis Pyramids outside of Cairo at a beach of the Red Sea…I am home.  Everywhere that I’ve loved, I’ve had the same sensation that I actually was a part of that place, that some part of my soul has always lived there.

Having home in so many places has led me to feel that my soul…our souls…are larger, more diffuse than we think they are.  I like to play with the idea that in some sense this physical body is like a train station, an airport, where the past, future, place and time enter and leave like airplanes landing and taking off.  A point of reference in constant motion, a center for hospitality, accepting visitors from local and foreign lands.

I like being here, re-creating with the part of my soul that lives in the dust and scrub.  And I already know I’ll like to re-create with the part of my soul I’ll find in the eyes of a fellow traveler next week at Union Station in Chicago.

Allison for the PGM


You’re Not Going to Die

How do you tell a child about death? Perhaps you find some picture books on the topic, and you sit, side by side to read, to talk about the person who died, to hug each other and cry together. It seems obvious in retrospect. But that is not the way things unfolded for me and my four-year old, Alice. Parenting, it turns out, is often a series of split-second decisions made under pressure, and this was no exception. I was leaving the next day for the funeral, and I realized I still hadn’t told Alice that Great Grandma, her namesake, had died. We were on our way to church when I broke the news.

“Great Grandma Alice died, my dear,” I said as I was pulling out of the driveway.

“She died?” Alice repeated. “But can she still move?”

“No, dear. When you die you can’t move anymore.”

“But can she still talk?”

“No, she can’t talk anymore.” I looked at her in the rear view mirror, and could see her brow lowering over her eyes, worry setting in.

“But will I die?” Alice started to sob, tears glistening on her red cheeks. “I don’t want to die!” she wailed. And then I panicked. This was not the reaction I had anticipated. I didn’t think she would get death. I was driving. Alice was losing it, and so I said the first comforting thing I could think of.

“You aren’t going to die,” I lied.

“I’m not?” she calmed for a moment. “But why did Grandma Alice die?”

“She was too old,” I said. “Her body got weak and she couldn’t live anymore.”

“But will my body get weak?”

Alice was too smart for my lie, and she was terrified of the truth. All security was suddenly stripped away. Here was death, grinning widely, scaring the bejeebus out of Alice. Stopped at the light on Rogers and Kirkwood, I reached back and rubbed Alice’s knee.

“It will. But not for a long, long time. Only when you get old.”
“But I don’t want to get old!” She started wailing again. “I don’t want to die!” She kicked her legs against her car seat, physically fighting the idea of her own death. Leo, too young to worry, just stared out the window.

“I won’t let you die,” I said.

“But how, Mama? How?”

“I’ll keep you safe,” I said. I wanted to pull the car over, bring my worried girl into my arms, settle her sobs.

“But how will you keep me safe?”

“I’ll keep you healthy, take you to the doctor, strap you in your car seat.”

“You mean like eat my carrots?” she asked through her tears. “I’ll eat my carrots! I’ll eat my broccoli and beans and peas! I will!” and the she paused. “Grandma Alice didn’t eat her healthy food?”

“She did, but she still got so old that her body didn’t work anymore.”

“Will I get that old? I don’t want to get that old!” We were back where we had started, but spiraling. “Will Leo get that old? Will you get that old? Will everyone in Bloomington get that old?” I was quiet. “Mom!” she cried. “Mom! Are you going to die, Mom?”

I dodged the question, and the painful answer. “Alice.” I said. “Alice. You are only four years old. Great Grandma was 98. She was really, really old. Way older than you or me. You like getting older. You like having birthdays. Don’t you want to be five, then six, then seven?” She was quiet in the back seat.

“Yes,” she whined.

“It’s good to get older.”

“Will Leo get old?”

“Yes. But remember he’s even younger than you. He’s only one.”

In the rear view mirror, I saw her looking out the window. Then she asked, “What happens when you die?”

Good God! I thought. I am not prepared for this conversation! “I don’t know,” I told her. But then I felt compelled to say, “You meet God. It’s not scary. Grandma Alice wasn’t scared. She was ready.”

“You meet God? The real God?” Alice asked.

“Yeah,” I said. But I don’t know if that’s what I believe, and thank God we arrived at church. I parked and gathered both kids from the car. When I dropped Alice off at the nursery, she was silent. She did not smile. As I left, she didn’t turn around to say goodbye. She just walked slowly into the room. I turned away and wiped my eyes, my heart heavy and broken. Up until that day, her world did not include death. Now there is no going back.

Laura Lasuertmer for The Poplar Grove Muse

Let My Sack Overflow with the Sacred

I will lay aside unwanted baggage—
Baggage that weighs me down,
Limits my going out and
My coming back again;
Baggage that fills my mouth
With unwanted words—
Words that hurt,
Words that sting;
My mind with things
That bring my spirit down.

And in its place,
I will pack my sack with the sacred—
Songs that bring peace to the world around me,
Poems and stories and conversations
That paint pictures of beauty and truth
And paths through hard places.

And I will pack love—
Gallons and gallons and gallons of love!
Love big enough to fill a house,
But light enough to carry
From here to anywhere;
Big enough to anchor me
To people and places I cherish,
But light enough to let me fly
Beyond my comfort zones.

Let my sack be filled with laughter!
For what is more sacred than laughter?
What is more healing?
Laughter opens rusty gates, closed doors,
Rolls children and grown-ups on the floor!
Sacred is the bubbling joy of laughter!
And if there is laughter in my sack,
There must be tears!
For what is more sacred than tears?
What is more healing?
Tears open hearts and souls,
Carve rivers of compassion
Around this hurting globe.
Sacred is the salty rain of tears!

So… I shake the baggage from my sack—
Those habits learned but abdicated,
Those fears that cause my throat to close.
I am ready to begin again,
With this empty, expandable, diaphanous sack—
Wide open and waiting for whatever I toss in.
For poetry—written down or painted on leaves;
For songs—in my heart or dancing in rain;
For laughter and tears and infinite beauty!
I might climb in myself at times,
And rest among my chosen treasures.

Yes! For me and for everyone I meet on the road,
Let my sack overflow with the sacred!

(Glenda Breeden October 4, 2017)



The darkness around us is deep. –William Stafford  

Wavering light on shorelines, a coming murmuration. Those never arrived- at unsleeping places in dreams without beginnings. Cliffhanger endings. Bodyparts in boxes buried under layers of October leaves lost somewhere on a country road. What happens in sleep feels at first like the luxury of nothingness and then midnight fear simmers in simple desolation. Insomnia remembers. Advanced withdrawals. Unwanted overpowerings. Convenient amnesia. Heartbeat. Tick Tock. Birds in the attic strike old clichés. In backseats, subways, basements, graveyards the interlopers return. They creep around corners in after-hours classrooms, rough touch down there then run. Their tattoos ooze liquid shame into my forever after. Somebody moans, zombies in the hall. Undead, they wander the night in me.

The night in me, too.


Sometimes courage comes in a circle of women willing to look darkness in the eye.  There are words and lines in this poem that came out of a recent retreat read-back process. This experiment, along with the recent explosion of women writing “ME TOO” on their Facebook pages led me look at the innumerable invisible marks so many of us (including me) wear inside our skin.



BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse


“…a confusion plain and nice…” Coffee in the Afternoon, by Alberto Rios

“Flying planes can be dangerous.” Noam Chomsky

I love a nice confusion:


The challenge of ambiguity,

the chance to open my mind,

trying new

routes to under


new ears,

new eyes.

This is


way I learn.

It’s the way I

often think,

seeing contradictions,

the other sides,

the re

flections and de



A good confusion is like a star-burst in my head,

stopping me



a bit.

Then the swirling and tugging and pushing and pulling

begin to reveal the new views,

the old thinking


and the resolution: a resolution of balance, or,

if not


at least a

place for it all.


I delight when that happens. My brain likes being stirred and shaken, punched and kneaded.

I love puns, even the groaners, because they propel me into new language, new ideas, and the world gets richer, the crusts and heels of my thinking crackle and soften.


I love a nice confusion:



when other people are involved

and we


to see into each other’s worlds and into our own.

I always learn;

I always hurt just



(sometimes more) in the process.


I can be

in great pain,

but even


a nice

confusion leaves me knowing more, feeling more, hungry


more understanding.

My loafing brain wakes




is con-


I feel its tentacles touching me,



to one place or another,


all of the Confusion Places.


I really don’t want

to go.

Often I’m afraid. I resist.

I’m threatened

because my old self won’t



there will have to be a new one, but


not a



that confusion storm teases and beckons, and

I do best


I embrace it.

My molded

mind reshapes


and that, my friends,

is a

NICE confusion.



“Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” Noam Chomsky


Bev Hartford


So Close, Yet So Far



What if you knew you’d be the last

to touch someone? ~ “If You Knew”, Ellen Bass


Several times a week I drive past the Grace Chapel of the Korean United Methodist Church. I see the stone that marks the spot where Korean graduate student Won-Joon Yoon was shot down by white supremacist, Benjamin Smith. Won- Joon was Smith’s final victim before he took his own life in 1999. The marker is only about ten feet from the front door of Grace Chapel, so close to being safely inside. So close to living beyond his twenty-six years-of-age. So close to finishing grad school. So close to life. So close to death.

I’m thinking of those liminal spaces between here and there, between yes and no, between life and death. So close to the dragon’s spume as Ellen Bass calls it in her amazing poem, “If You Knew”. We are all, each of us, every moment of every hour, a breath away from death, always in that liminal space, one breath away from that breath being our last.

As I watched both my parents’ transition out of this world, I saw a breath, then not a breath. Not one more breath. Smooth, peaceful and so very quiet. Was it like that from their perspective? I really hope so.

I’m wondering what we do with each of those bright and shining moments that are not our last? Make the most of them? Probably not. Take them for granted? Most likely. I think it would take too much energy to live like each moment was our last. I think I can manage being in the moment though. I can manage to slow down, be kinder, be more patient with people as Bass suggests. I don’t believe thresholds are meant to keep us stuck, caught in a web of choices. I believe they are meant to move us forward, to prepare us gently, intentionally for the next step in our journey, determine that needed first right step for our next adventure.

I’m reminded that we are just one decision or action away from being here or not here, by my friend, Nancy Comiskey who said after her twenty-four-year old daughter was killed in an accident caused by a driver who was high, she tearfully suggested that if only Kate hadn’t been able to find her hairbrush that morning, or had overslept, she might still be alive.

Who knows when we will be the last to touch someone before they die? Who will be the last to touch me before I die? I’m wondering who touched Won-Joon Yoon before he breathed his last. Was it a friend with a casual hand on his shoulder? Was it a paramedic trying to stop the flow of blood from his wound? Did he feel that touch? I hope he felt kindness right up to the very end. I went to his memorial service at the MAC. The place was packed. His father spoke so proudly, so lovingly. He spoke without hate. Didn’t want hate to be his son’s legacy. Won-Joon Yoon was loved. I hope he knew that.

Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse


Then the Drive Home: A Pantoum

We never talk much
No heart to heart or idle chat
Did you remember your pills?
When is your homework due?

No heart to heart or idle chat
We let the landscape speak
When is your homework due?
Fields of umber and ochre wave by

We let the landscape speak
Forests also beginning to sleep
Alongside fields of umber and ochre
The hills here show off their curve and crest

Forests begin to sleep in red and orange
Lone barn, grain silo, bible verse
The hills curving and cresting as we wind south
Pumpkins, mums, cornstalk

Lone barn, grain silo, Bible verse
I point to an odd sign
Pumpkins, mums, cornstalks
I might get a word or a nod

I point to the sign: repent
We never talk much
Now I get a word, a smile
Did you remember to take your pills?

~Amy for the PGM