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

Living With Pain

painbranchTwo and a half years ago, completely unexpectedly and seemingly overnight, triggered by who-know-what autoimmune response, arthritis descended upon, or emerged from within, my body. I no longer recognized myself, my lack of energy and ongoing experience of defeat and despair.  It took a full year to get an accurate diagnosis. Now, I live with pain, learning to lean into it, challenge it, refusing to let it take over my life. Some days, I want to lie down as soon as I get up, the worst response of all—no response, giving in, giving up, allowing this negative development to take over my life.  Experimenting with anti-inflammatory diet, apple cider vinegar and turmeric, foam roller and exercise bands and physical therapy, I am stretching, stretching, stretching—both my body and my mind. I am a work in progress.

The parallels to the 2016 election are striking to me. Some of us stayed awake watching the unexpected, overnight descent into what feels like madness, while some woke up to the pain of living in an America we feel we no longer recognize. From my position as a white, heterosexual, cisgendered woman with arguably too much education, a financially secure household, and health insurance, I have been privileged to be dismayed and depressed by the increasingly entitled expressions of racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-other anger surging in my country, and by this seemingly sudden confirmation of the power of these diseased symptoms. This was not news to too many living among us, whose otherness is easily identified, worn on their bodies, experienced in an ongoing succession of daily, disheartening interactions.  Jon Stewart said it well when he pointed out post-election that America is not “a fundamentally different country than we were two weeks ago,” or when we elected Barack Obama, twice.

Our body politic is living in and with pain, experiencing migrating manifestations of pain in different limbs and locations at different times.  I was heartened when President Obama himself, who surely feels this pain acutely and personally as few of us can—as a gracious, intelligent, pragmatic man of integrity who has done his best to lead our country in a positive direction as our first African American President, against unprecedented obstructionism and rising racism—gave us permission in an interview to grieve through Thanksgiving. And we have been grieving.

But this wishfully symbolic national observance of thanksgiving and cultural cooperation is over, and we must stand up, lean into the pain, experiment with every plausible approach we can think of to treat disease, stretching our souls and our minds, exercising and extending our capabilities, and work to heal our afflictions. I am in awe of those who are already out on the streets, the social media groups that have formed, offering proactive, constructive, often-easily-implemented ideas for expressing our collective dismay and opposition to the intentions of the newly-elected leaders of our evolving future. We are still, with any luck and a lot of hard, thoughtful action, a work in Progress.

Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse


Light Bringers

The hardest part of our recent election came for me the morning after. Hungover from a long night of drinking in disbelief and fear, I woke up, listened for movement in my children’s rooms, lingered in the idea that I didn’t have to tell them. Maybe I could spare them the news, spare them the fear, the confusion, the truth that our country was clearly entering a darker time. I took pause in the absurd. I could ignore the situation. Election, what election?

I scrolled through headlines. Parody. Satire. I was looking at The Onion, right? Surely, NPR was playing a practical joke. My son entered the room. Almost as tall as I am, this ten year old is starting to resemble more teen than kid. “Who won?” he said frankly, hands deep in the pockets of the blue fleece bathrobe he loves.

Here it was. I wanted to first tell him he’d be safe, we’d be safe, the country would be fine, but I could tell he just wanted the one and only fact I could give, “Trump won.”


What else could be said? When you’re ten you don’t add an expletive after Oh. That was the only thing to add. Well, that and maybe, We are ______.

A couple hours later, after we dropped his sister off at a class, he and I would go to breakfast, talk about what all this meant. One of the perks of homeschooling, he wasn’t about to get on the bus; we had time to talk. Right now though, all we could do is look at each other and listen to the unknown in our silence.

He turned, went back into his room. His audio book, Goblet of Fire, clicked on. I heard his door close lightly. The bigger of our two orange cats smacked my hand with his paw. Not caring how I felt, how little I felt like moving, he reminded me it was time to be fed. His sister joined him, meowed, and started a dialogue between them aimed at moving me. I heard the dog stir patiently in her crate. I had to get up, face this day.

I walked past her room. She stirred. Let out one of her big I’m awake yawns. I took a deep breath, wondered how I should tell my six year, already a worrier, a man who speaks hate, assaults women, stirs violence, who doesn’t care about so many in our country and world won. How do I explain the most important values their father and I, the community we surround ourselves with, try to teach and model: acceptance, kindness, tolerance- not need apply to the Commander in Chief of our country.

“Mama, who won?” Were the first words out of her mouth. This time I did say we were still safe, assured her we would be okay. She didn’t understand how he could win. Asked if this meant everyone would have lots of guns.

Now, almost two weeks later, I am still unsure how to answer their questions and my own without dipping deeply into darkness. The future feels bleak. I wonder if those who voted for him are listening, hear his revised plans, the truth that he will make a better life for himself and the wealthy, for big corporations, and the majority of us workers will pay, in many ways, for them to prosper. I wonder as our planet’s fate spins even more into the hands of climate change deniers and pipeline pushers, how to keep myself from falling into passive living. It feels too big, too hard; it would be so much easier to ignore, tune out, and pretend I’m watching reality TV.

It’s our immediate future I’d be tuning out. It’s too big to ignore, and my family, all of us, will be a part of it no matter how much I wish to pretend otherwise. I wonder how many times in the coming days, months, years my kids will hear and see hate. Will it continue to be painted on our bike trails, on buildings, continue to come out of our “leader’s” mouths? I realize my children have never experienced racism, bigotry, misogyny, hate. I remind myself how many people in this country, how many children, don’t have their same story.

I know we will be changed and we get to choose how.

I know I need to listen to my children and for what they might hear.

I know I need to watch for what they might see.

I know I need to tell my children and myself, we must, more than ever, be light bringers, and then make sure I’m being one.

I know we must stand on the side of love and seek out more ways to help, accept, and give. I know we can’t just talk about it.

I know if we are determined to meet hate with even more love, we can change this country. Stop the spinning backwards. Propel us forward again. The conversations we have, the words we choose, the places we spend our money, our actions, and our contributions, matter.

Last week they saw the new rainbow bridge leading into our town; told me they loved it each time we passed. From the backseat, they agreed with each other, we need more rainbow bridges in our world.

They see safety pins, the one their father adorned with a little silver feather; they have their own, know they stand for help and hope and we are in this together.

They seek little signs of hope, like I do, and reminders of what can be done. The last two weeks, when things felt too hard, and all I wanted to do was shove the cats off the bed, tell them to fend for themselves, pull the covers up over my head, tell the kids we’re all just fine, I needed these reminders. I will continue to need them.

I can’t lose sight. We can’t. I remind myself of the privilege, my privilege, of having so much choice and freedom, and the hard work needed to keep light from burning out in our country. I choose to get up, speak fierce love, be informed, open my eyes and heart, help grow light. I choose over and over to work for and believe love trumps hate, always. For me it doesn’t feel like a choice, but it is, and I have to choose it, we all do, over and over again.

~ Kelly Sage



If I could…..

cat-in-a-blanketIf I could, I’d give the world a weighted blanket; something like a quilt of leaves without the wetness.  If I could, I’d give the world a weighted blanket to drape over our wanting skin; to comfort us through storming times.  If I could, I’d wrap moments in this blanket, not to rid of struggle, but to inspire: there was a time we felt safe.  I think of fast beating hearts, nervous systems seizing at the sound of thunder-clap, beings in post trauma danger loops.  I think of pets who need thundervests just to survive a storm, people who need pets just to survive a storm.  We all need something to remind us of our bones…something keeping our weight here and involved.

If I could, I’d give the world a weighted blanket; something to contain us.

I walked the streets of New York this past weekend wrapped up in my “New York Coat” – grey, scractchy unpenetrable to grime.  A coat that contains me, like the NYPD contained the protest down Broadway.   In a single moment thousands of us move one way, thousands of us move another.  I’ve seen whole cultures of life, colonies of bacteria diverge under the introduction of a drop of something acidic.  Groups organized on each side of the petri dish seperated by the stimulus shock.  Trauma is like this: who goes back to the center for fear of the atomic drop?

If I could, I’d give the world a weighted blanket; something to assuage us.

Allison for the PGM

Follow Your Muse…

museFollow your muse, your own muse, the one who knows you like the back of her own hand.  The one within who watches you, watches over you day and night, keeping your beating heart and all of its dreams and beating bloody desires all wrapped up, safe and sound.  This is the one true voice in the world only you can hear.  And only you can bring it into words on a page so clear and streaming and real and true.  Only you can bring her up and out into the light of day in a world that wants to know and love her, to hear and hold her, to celebrate all she knows and the wisdom she has to share.  You are the only one she speaks to in quite this way.  Your own little code.  You’re the muse-whisperer, you are.  This one that’s just for you.

And you are for her.  Do not leave her alone.  Do not ignore her, abandon her, make her shout and scream and stamp until she is hoarse and exhausted and feeling mute.  Open your heart to her, your pen and paper to her, your time – just a space, a sliver of time – to her and she will shower you with the words you want to fill yourself up with, up to the brim with, up to your eyeballs and out onto a world waiting for what only you, only you, dear woman, can give life to.

~DRH for the Poplar Grove Muse~

Brownies and Mud Puddles



My family’s never been much for visiting cemeteries.  I guess Mom and Dad bought wreaths or bouquets for my grandparents’ graves on Decoration Day most years (I don’t think they ever called it Memorial Day), but that was about it.  Not much sentimentality about the final resting places of our forebears.  Maybe if they’d been buried on our land, out back of the barn or near the garden gate, we might’ve been more solicitous towards their bones and marble stones, but maybe not.

As far as I know, my cousin Eddie had been the only family member to visit Daddy’s grave since his death in July.  He called to tell me that he dropped by the Rising Sun cemetery to visit his brother Bobby and our grandparents, and went by his Uncle George’s (Daddy’s) grave while he was there—to tell him how much he respected him and what a fine family he had and that Aunt Pauline was sure missing him but was going to be okay.

Yesterday would’ve been Daddy’s 91st birthday.  Mom would’ve baked him an apple pie or chocolate cake and would’ve certainly had vanilla ice cream on hand if he were still hanging around.  He’s been gone three and a half months and she’s still not used to the quiet space that his laughter and snoring and the rise and fall of his words once occupied.  My sister and her daughter and granddaughter (Reta, LaVonne, and Gracie) are spending a couple of days with Mom this week.  Four generations of women sitting around the kitchen table goes a long way towards filling up the void.  They decided to visit Dad’s grave after lunch and my older brother Ron went with them.

When I called last night to see how their venture went, Mom said, “We stopped at that little florist shop in Rising Sun and I bought a bouquet of flowers in fall colors.  George loved the fall colors, and the flowers were real pretty.  But the gravesite was a desolate place.  We’ve had so much rain this past week that the grave was all muddy and sunken in.  I almost wish I hadn’t gone.  You know how George was about keeping his yard so perfect, and there he was, stuck under a mud pit.  Ron dug a hole and poked the flowers in it so that helped a little.  We had to laugh at our meager attempt to beautify the place.  The stone’s not there yet either, so it felt like we were sticking those flowers in a mudhole.  Ron said the grave has to settle before they put the headstone in.  I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s settled.  Looked like a pan of brownies I took out of the oven way too soon, only a lot worse. A big mud puddle, that’s what it was.  I guess it’s a good thing we went though.  Seemed like we needed to do something to mark George’s birthday.”

After I hung up the phone, I made a pan of brownies.  Didn’t add pecans to the batter because Daddy couldn’t do nuts—he hadn’t worn his bottom dentures for years.  And I was careful to leave them in the oven till they were perfectly done. Didn’t want the grave to settle right before my eyes.  Brownies for Daddy’s birthday.  I ate two for breakfast this morning—one for me and one for him.  I think I’ll wait and visit his grave after the groundskeeper has had time to fill it in and sow some grass, after the stone is in place:


     George Edward Baker                       Pauline Smither Baker

October 24, 1925—July 8, 2016             September 23, 1926—


I hope Mom hangs out with us a few more years before we have to carve out that last blank space.  And who knows, when both my parents are six feet under, I may join my cousin Eddie and visit their final resting place on a regular basis—at least on Decoration Day.  Maybe take along a couple of brownies and a thermos of coffee and sit a spell.


Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse


Spare Rib



Aspects of Eve

To have been one
of many ribs
and to be chosen.
To grow into something
quite different
knocking finally
as a bone knocks
on the closed gates of the garden—
which unexpectedly

Linda Pastan (b. 1932)



Dante Rossetti



Is that the Con? That we started out in Adam’s rib cage. Protecting his heart and lungs. Is that why women need to be watched, monitored, put in their place? Because we started out in a line up?

If we started out as part of a whole, are we not to be trusted to go out on our own to establish ourselves in a singular manner?  We are told that if we get out of line, then the whole system falls apart. Even though, we were not the ones who voluntarily left the group. We were pulled out by our long tresses. No choice. No discussion. Grabbed. Twisted. Yanked. Were we deemed less than? Not good enough to live in the host?

And what of the host? If he had a missing rib, was he not less than? Incomplete? Tender. Vulnerable? Words that scare the host. That is not the way it turned out. The host told himself he was stronger by virtue of losing the weakest link. And with his new found strength, he put himself in charge. Pretending not to need that missing rib. Imbued himself with all the answers, leaving him with no need to ask questions, not even ask for directions. Does the host always feel like something is missing? Maybe he is jealous because the rib can stand on its own, thank you very much. Although The Con would have us think otherwise.We are asked to support the host without question. But the crutch by virtue of its very being is stronger than the host. It holds up the whole world and is resented for its necessity.

If that rib was, indeed, snatched from Adam, that was when we lost the level playing field. That womanly rib came into being at a cost. The host sacrificed so that women could exist. Or so the story goes. We’ve had to pay for that. Our existence doesn’t come cheap, nor does it come with a birthright. The price we have paid is exorbitant. Sometimes with our lives, for sure with our self-esteem, dignity, and self-image.

Our strengths went into the manmade negative column, in ink, in red.


Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse



Fall has always been my favorite time of year. I love all of the things written about in poetry and literature: the colors, the air, the frost, the digging out of sweaters and jackets, and the laughing complaints about the temperatures.  The  fall season (and early winter) has lots of great holidays, also: my birthday in September, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Dashain and Dipawali, and sometimes Ramadan, to name a few. I especially like Halloween. I love the costumes that both kids and adults wear.  Two friends of mine who have since left town threw the greatest Halloween parties in Bloomington: some of the costumes over the years include a group that came as an African village , an American Gothic couple, and  the Blues Brothers. I have gone as a constellation (the swan); as Kali the Hindu goddess, and as a Tibetan woman. I miss their parties and the dancing and drumming and general good time that we all had.

These days, though, I have very mixed feelings about October. Exactly nine years ago this week I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Before the final diagnosis, I had had a lot of tests, and joked to my friends that I was going to go to a Halloween party as a skeleton that glowed in the dark because of some of the tests I had had.

October, it turns out, is  National Breast Cancer month, so there’s some irony in being diagnosed with the disease of the month in that very month.  October now grabs my attention: all of my follow-up tests also fall within that month, and fear that has been quieted during most of the rest of the year rises up for about three weeks. The check-ups include a mammogram, an ultrasound, a physical by the oncologist, and blood tests. Any one of these can bring bad news, and the results seem to trickle in while you are waiting over the days. If the news is good, you breathe a little more easily, not ever, ever forgetting what might still be making mischief in your body, but putting it away from most of your waking hours for a time.

Each year, the annual tests have been negative (which, contrary to the meaning of “negative” in other contexts, is actually “positive”). Up until those results come in, though, I can’t bring myself to make any commitments. But the first year, when the diagnosis was positive, I had to cancel a lunch with my best friend because I was too scared by the diagnosis to eat or talk.  I have mentioned magical thinking in my other writings, and believe me, it kicks into full gear in October!

Five years ago, the cancer tests were good too, but instead of that, my cat bit me so badly on the thumb on the side where the lymph nodes were removed during the lumpectomy procedure, that I had to go to the emergency room to have it tended to. That resulted in a 6 week long daily (including weekends) treatment of debrasion, antibiotic shots and antibiotic pills. It ended up taking 6 months to fully heal, and I missed the wedding of the daughter of the friend whose birthday lunch I had had to cancel two years before!  Her birthday is next week, and needless to say, we are waiting until the following week to celebrate, because magical thinking reminds me that I might be tempting the return of the cancer gods if I don’t postpone it until the Thought Magician tells me it’s safe.

Pink has never been my favorite color, and yet now, I have added  it to the repertoire of autumn colors. As a child, I was dressed in pink because my mom followed the fashion rules of the day: pastels for blondes and bright hues for brunettes. My sister got to wear reds and dark blues, I had to wear pink and powder blue…I hate pastels! These days, though, I do wear pink sometimes…I hate cancer more than the color.  I have a pink shirt, some pink scarves, and socks with pink breast cancer ribbons on them. When the SIRA/IMA walk for breast cancer occurs in October, and I wear them all. But the walk also gives rise to mixed feelings for me: It is heart-warming that so many people come out in support, but it is also heart-breaking to see how many of them have had breast cancer.

I always forget that anyone, including men, can develop this terrible disease. I like to think that we are all united in our experience, and those supporters are united with us. But, of course, we are as diverse as any community can be. Last year I was talking with a lady who works at SIRA, whom I didn’t know.  I had told her that my oncologist, whom I had just seen the day before, had mentioned that most people who work at SIRA/IMA had decided to wear pink on that Friday. He said that while people agreed, some of the other cancer specialists had asked why just pink for breast cancer…why not the other cancers, too?  I told this lady that I had told him that maybe we should all wear rainbows. She gave me a disgusted look, said ‘I don’t think so’, and walked away! Only then did I realize that she associated the rainbow with LGBTQ folk and she wanted nothing to do with it…the cancer experience does not unite us after all.

Yet, it does bring us together, in ways we probably would rather not have happened. Just recently, I learned that a friend of mine had joined this not-so-exclusive group…October has not lost its force at all: one more pink to add to the fall colors.

Bev Hartford

for Poplar Grove Muse






I am so weary this election season. This is clearly a tired response to the second presidential debate.–BLR


I reckon the way things are going
we’ll return to the fire,
no more mouths agape in TV glare-

Reckon once the world goes dark
and the waters rise
we’re back to gathering sticks

Reckoning with all we’ve
brought upon ourselves
at the end of the brittle day

I reckon the shadows of men
will fade in a certain light
to join with women in song.

I do.

After long suffering,
bitter dispute and
too much dust consumed

I reckon what rises between
us is a graceful
reckoning of our illusions

No guarantees
in the tally of truths
the settling of scores

But reckon it comes around
to getting up again another
day, wholly broken

Less grieved than
getting on with things
existentially reconciled

Still, alive.  Alight.campfire


Beth Lodge-Rigal

Bring Light

The Autumnal Equinox past, we move into shorter days, the residue of the calendar and solar years. The light draws down, no more basking in the brilliant summer sunlight one can bear unmediated for only so long; we, and our animal companions, are drawn to what subdued light shines into our lives, falling on scuffed floorboards, narrow windowsills, worn couch cushions.

And another darkness is descending, met by, calling out, a surfacing from the deep of fears and frustrations that have lain semi-dormant in unfathomed recesses. Our rhetoric grows harsh and cruel, divisions and misunderstandings erupt in usually civil interactions, we find ourselves defensive, tense, apprehensive, at odds with ourselves and our world.

Yet even, perhaps especially, in these less tangible, more heart-burdening areas of our lives, public and private, we can and must allow ourselves to be drawn toward what light shines into our lives, amplifying it, calling it out in ourselves and in others, holding our hopeful candles up against the seeming dying of the light.

I see it all around me, in the patient, positive gathering of circles in our Schoolhouse to write and to share insights, in the peaceful massing of individual voices and bodies in demonstrations proclaiming that Black Lives Matter and that education, rather than violence, is the answer, in knitting circles and meditation groups, in the feeding and sheltering of the homeless, in interfaith affirmations of solidarity and resettlement of refugees that proceeds in spite of bigoted laws that would prevent the very effort.

Bring the light you want to see in the world.


Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse