I hope someone is listening

Duck Pin Bowling

My memories of the man are very murky.  I do not remember much. He took me duck pin bowling when I was 7.  A thought that is so vague and so minor in the whole of my life that it is represented by a vision of me from behind carrying a tiny bowling ball to a lane while wearing borrowed shoes.  Did it really happen?

He was thin, very very thin and grew a super bushy mustache that covered his mouth. The kind I was sure had tiny creatures hiding in it.

Once when I was a young adult, and I was in his town and his ex-wife was dying of cancer in a hospital nearby, he took me out to brunch and spent the entire time talking about himself and getting drunk.  It was a monologue of self-importance and self-pity.  I was bored. I hated him. I was indifferent.  His ex-wife was someone I loved, and I needed to go to her.  Instead he yammered, and I patiently listened. He was defending his decision to leave her or something.

I see him waiting in the wings at my high school graduation. He was afraid to be seen because there would be fireworks, but he needed to come to see his son graduate.  His son was my cousin. I see the man waiting at the end of my driveway.  He wore a grey suit.  I didn’t pay attention in the way that 18 year olds don’t pay attention. He gave me a gift and I cannot for the life of me remember what it was, but I think it was inscribed.

He tried to friend me on facebook, and I ignored it.

He died of cancer earlier this month.  He had several large brain tumors that eventually stopped his ability to speak.  I don’t know if he could hear or understand.  At the end he stopped drinking. Stopped talking about himself.  I can’t even tell you that it was sad. It just was the end. His end.  Not many people were there to witness the end.  A caretaker.  His son a few weeks prior.  I didn’t even feel a wrinkle in the wind when he died. 

Yet, somehow there is a quiet grief in my heart.  He hurt people. I know that because he hurt people I love.  He had a lot of money and then he didn’t.  He drank a lot. He took up a lot of space. He was someone. He was no one.  I decide that my grief is over all the lost opportunities.  All the ways he failed, and how no one saw he tried.  My grief is that he died alone and no one heard his last confession. He had no chance to apologize or make amends. Perhaps there was a man there who tried to love the best way he knew how and just failed.  Perhaps this is what he would have said if he could.  I tried.  I took you kids duck pin bowling.

Wherever you are in the cosmos RH, I hope someone is listening. Rest in peace.

~ALC for the PGM

Dull Old Three-Hole Punch

What you do is repetitious:
paper goes in,
lever is pushed down.
Ka-chunk!
and three holes appear on the edge of the paper.
Over and over and over.
You have served this special purpose
for many years now
the boring task of boring holes.
But to me old friend
you are my historian.
You have punched 300 pages of dissertation.
You have organized seminar after seminar
for more than 40 years
helping me to organize the readings
I selected and assigned
for hundreds of graduate students
from all over the world.
Students who came to learn
and to return to their universities
caught up on the latest ideas
in sociolinguistics
ideas they would pass along to their own students
and which would become part of their own work.
You have punched thousands of pages
of my own work:
Three holes for every page of how
people learn foreign languages.
Three holes of every page of
analysis of international political speech.
Three holes of all the drafts for publications
on how English is developed and changed
around the world as the world owns it
takes it and colors it for its own.
Three holes
Three more holes.
Then, one day, it seemed
your work must be done.
I retired.
No more seminars.
No more publications.
I thought of letting you go
but I couldn’t.
We had been together too long.
And so I kept you idling on the desk
A well-earned rest from all that punching.
And then,
and then,
I slipped into a different world of writing.
Writing about my life
Writing about my fears and loves and musings.
And I wanted you again
my friend.
I write on the computer
but I want,
I need,
those pages of paper
with three holes
to touch and to revisit
that tangibility so lost in the computer world.
And so, old friend,
you’re back to your work
Even this page
will be a part of it
and I am happy to
wake you from your idleness
and have you join me in these new
adventures.

Bev Hartford

Fences

We aren’t native to this land.
 It’s time to plant what is. It’s time to go home.
from “Poem for a Daughter” by Lynn Melnick

They weren’t native to this land.
Their footsteps trod unfamiliar ground,

disappeared behind them into
the flat nowhere way back when.

Time came to plant, they built
poor man’s fences horse high,

bull strong, hog tight
Osage orange. strange shrubbery,

prickled their sleeves splintered hooves
that no machete could cut no

matches would burn so
there you have it:

miles and miles of hedge apple
borders left to us – squirrel mash

prairie fruit be-dashed.

Come October I feel a pull to ancestral fields,
thorny edge along

the 20 acre woods, and then remember
my grandmother’s Botany thesis:

Maclura Pomifera
those wrinkled balls

brain-like but dumb
and picture her young again,

seated on a felled log
a ray of sunlight warms

the inedible fruit in her hand
releases its citrus scent, and she sketches

what she sees until the light fades.
A supper bell rings,

beckons her back
over the new split rail

as she tosses her mysterious
litter to the ground

useless autumn fencerow
ornamental, bright green

against bending
yellow grass

Beth Lodge-Rigal

Writing Prompts, Not Always Promptly Written


I write in my head a lot, mostly when I’m driving. I hear a phrase in the lyrics of the music I’m listening to and an idea is born. I try to keep them in my head until I get to my destination and put them in notes in my phone. If you could see into my head it probably looks like a bowl full of fortune cookie size bits of paper with writing prompts on them.

Yesterday, as I was thinking about the death of a friend’s mother and I suddenly remembered the circumstances of my own mother’s death, a piece of that night I hadn’t thought much about until yesterday. My niece had moved mother to a house she was renting at the time where she was receiving hospice care. The upstairs room in which Mother died was the same room a boyfriend I had in seventh grade had hung himself many years after junior high. That kind of smacked me in the face, seemed like there could be a lot to unpack there. In the seventh grade circa 1958 we called it “going together”, this mostly consisted of walking around the halls between classes and holding hands. I don’t remember ever seeing him outside of school or any conversations we might have had. But he was tall, dark, and handsome. I’m sure we looked quite odd together as I had probably reached my full “height” of five feet and no inches. I had mostly forgotten about him and moved on to shorter pastures until my niece told me of his fate. I still can’t reconcile that boy I knew and how he ended his life.

I came up with one of my favorite characters for my novel Marigolds in Boxes. I was listening to Hozier’s song “Take Me to Church”, in which he sings that’s a fine looking high horse. And, just like that, High Horse Harry was born.

Last week at the Rufus Wainwright concert his sister, Lucy Wainwright Roche opened for him. She’s also a talented singer/songwriter. One of her songs had the phrase perfect fireworks. I don’t know where or when I’ll use it, but I will find a place for it one day, giving her full credit, of course.

Inspiration from the poem “Great Sleeps I Have Known” by Robin Becker came in the form of the line where I saw a bird fly from a monk’s mouth for my novel Flight Plan about escape from abuse and shape shifting.

There have been times when a character has awakened me from a sound sleep. I had to immediately get up and write about that character so he or she would let me get back to sleep. That is how Miss Mayrose Mayhern was born. I wrote her in great detail and let her sit for many years, not quite sure what to do with her until I began writing Marigold in Boxes and knew she would be the perfect foil for the affable Milton Matthews.

Every week I’m privileged to sit in a circle with amazing women writers and take read back lines as we read our words to each other. I have notebooks full of them that I can tap into when the muse is being illusive. I always write down whose line it is, because they deserve full credit also.

We never know where writing ideas will come from. What we need to do is to be alert enough to realize that inspiration is everywhere. We simply have to notice it. It’s not rocket science, but it is kind of magical. I’ve learned through my own writing and listening to the words of others that nothing is too small to write about. Stories are out there waiting for us. That’s how I found my topic for today’s post. Who knew?

Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse
2019

Like Me

Sitting in the waiting room,

twenty-four years ago, 

shivering,

not because I was in a hospital gown

2 sizes too small, 

naked underneath from the waist up.

It must have been adrenaline.

Or does that cause sweatiness?

I was freezing, I was never freezing.

Maybe it was the fear that made me cold,

It started as soon as they told me to have a seat and wait, 

just one other woman and me. 

She kept looking at her magazine,

I never saw her turn a page.

A nurse came out and asked me,

in a voice dripping with empathy,

if anyone was with me.

That was when the first tear fell.

That was when I knew.

The lady stopped not reading,

she looked up and said, 

“It will be alright honey”

“But I have a five-year-old” I responded.

She went back to not reading.

I have thought of her many times in these 24 years, 

wondered if she ever read the article she was staring at,

wondered if she snuck it in her handbag,

wondered if she saw a surgeon the next day,

if she was told her breast needed to be removed.

Wondered if they opened her up to cut it off,

then changed their minds,

when they found out they were wrong, 

that it wasn’t cancer.

I have wondered if she still has her breast, 

Wondered if it was alright for her,

Wondered if she is still alive. 

Like me.

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

Are We There Yet?

P. L. Krahnke

Thousands of miles in a backseat

Sunk in the bench seat while 

The adults drive and steer

And yell sit down let’s play a game.

Sweet Jesus, why do we have to play a game,

I don’t want the distraction from my dream

Of a better life than an eleven year old

Without equal rights, complete autonomy

Over my body, and where it goes in a car,

Over there, over here, shit

Are we there yet?

They call me names and threaten to pants me, 

That mediocre hoard of other eleven year olds,

And I wonder, who is this lower level of being, 

these small humans who think so little of me

and

What is their point of conveying it in such terms? 

Mom always said 

her Mom always said

Above all be kind. 

So I took it, until I screamed in the darkened bus doorway

Such rage, rage, rage.

Bus Driver screamed back at me to shut up and

Sit the hell down, 

The first memory of my priceless girl voice being told

It was nothing, so I took it, but my head and I screamed

Motherfucker

And sat the hell down after fighting my way down the bus aisle 

through flails and sweats, the shouts and shrieks of these mediocre beings

Allowed to behave in such a way when I was not allowed to behave in such a way,

As I sought eye contact with someone, anyone else

Both silenced and wrathful like me.

I sunk in the bus bench surrounded by stench

As I looked out the window and wondered,

Are we there yet? 

Who was this guy driving that bus, some guy,

Just some ordinary guy, to tell me 

to shut up, 

just some random guy

Who got paid to yell at me 

to shut up,

Who got paid to keep the noise down but

Who didn’t hear the noise in my head 

From the merely average boys who threatened me in whispers

With pain and humiliation,

No one told them 

to shut up

But me. 

Bus Driver was a dick

But for some reason I imagined 

a world where all average mediocre nobodies 

would enter the distant future as ripened, mature,

Carefully spoken, kind in their actions,

Empathetic in their emotions, and generally totally cool. 

But if you pay close attention to rolling machines, 

such as vehicles and Earths and cubicle chairs,

It is clear they represent defined environments, 

claustrophobic interiors, 

for the playing out of such high dramas

That hint at a destination but never actually get there. 

Settle down on the bench seat, don’t raise a ruckus.

Ignore them and they will go away.

Here, play a game. 

What fucking game? I’m being serious, here.

Serious about what I see and where we’re going.

I’m screaming, it’s all real to me we’re

Stuck in the confines of borders and passports and 

moveable walls that may appear to change the inside 

but it’s still the same place,

Filled with mediocre nobodies 

Whispering pain and humiliation with

No Bus Driver to tell them to shut the hell up

And sit down

Because the Bus Drivers are in charge of the ride

And they don’t give a shit,

They’re getting paid to keep it down.

I scan the aisles and the confines, 

the atmosphere at the bend of the lens 

that looks out toward Mars, 

seeking eye contact with someone, anyone else

Both silenced and wrathful like me.

I know they are here. 

Are we there yet? 

Two Attempts to Explain What I Know

                                                                                                                          

POINTS OF VIEW

This morning, alone in the house,
moving up the stairs to my room,
I think…
I am the only one of 7 billion humans who is seeing these particular dust motes
dancing in this specific ray of sunlight
streaming across this bamboo floor at the top of these stairs.
I feel the Universe is charging me with seeing this one particular view.

Across the face of the planet, 7 billion of us look from corn fields and rice fields, deserts, mountains, forests, cities, war zones, prison cells, sick beds, from boats and ships, from airplanes, from beaches and the sides of volcanoes, opening our eyes for the first time and closing them for the last; we are looking from billions of singular points of view.

Trillions of members of other species are looking out on this world with strange eyes
that see a completely different world than mine.
Now as I watch my hens moving and pecking in the grass
I think…
My three hens move through the space of the yard each day,
Looking out of eyes that see more colors than mine.
They are charged with seeing the same world from their particular view.

This Earth is being fully seen.

POINT OF VIEW

Let me be true to that little child who saw that the adults didn’t understand that they couldn’t really name her.
Let me be true to the vastness that has coalesced to form this dot of matter that finds me looking out from this tiny point of view.

My work in this world is to remember the infinity, the emptiness from which all is born into form to take up a vantage point.
All points of view, from plant and insect, to predator and prey, look out on this world and the Formless lives the totality of form and view.

I wish I didn’t keep forgetting that I am a tiny point in an unimaginable, endless infinity.
I am born from the Formless into this particular, individual shape, never to be repeated.
I am here to be awestruck and to look and see and hold the unbearable beauty and the unbearable breaking heart of this lonely, soon to vanish, point of view.

Veda Stanfield for The Poplar Grove Muse

Dear Schoolhouse,

Thank you for the green wall my back pressed against when I was new, just starting to feel brave enough to share. Back then I looked across the room at a butterfly mama and her daughter. I wrote during my planning periods and left Wednesday staff meetings exhausted but grateful to come to where kindness lived. 

Thank you for all your little rooms: Earth, Water, Star, Tree, and Fire, where I gathered countless times to process story, circles, bills, and soul cards.

For the summer camps and kids’ classes, women’s circles, Girl Scouts, Stepping Stones writers, meeting spaces, and the many times I sat with you alone to catch my breath. 

Thank you for the little mouse in the trashcan and the chocolate wrappers her and her friends left behind, the laughter I hear when I’m alone, the bathroom my family needed when we didn’t have water last spring, the grounds where writing and play and treasures are found, deer bones and all. 

Dear Schoolhouse, thank you for the respite, the quiet space, the friendships, the sisters, the time. Thank you for keeping us too warm and too cold and just right all at the same time. For train sounds and rattling windows, for finding Beth and Dan, for letting Beth and then us create a space that is healing and important and hard to put into words.

You have saved many and held us well. Thank you, Dear Schoolhouse. 

~ KGS

Summer Day

I have always been a wanderer
Over land and sea
Yet a moonbeam on the water
Casts a spell o’er me
A vision fair I see
Again I seem to be

Back home again in Indiana
And it seems that I can see
The gleaming candlelight
Still burning bright
Through the sycamores for me
The new-mown hay sends all its fragrance
Through the fields I used to roam
When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash
How I long for my Indiana home

Fancy paints on memory’s canvas
Scenes that we hold dear
We recall them in days after
Clearly they appear
And often times I see
A scene that’s dear to me

A white bike appeared at the top of my street 6 weeks ago and has haunted my summer.  It arrived one Monday morning not long after a tragic hit and run bicycle death that occurred at that spot.  The ghost bike is both memorial to a man who died late one night while riding home and a warning to drivers watch for cyclists and share the road.  The bike rests against the street sign, and has gathered flowers, ribbons and notes as people pass by and want to leave a remembrance. I consider the bike and the incident that landed it there every day, multiple times a day as I drive to and from my house.  I never knew the man, but I did know his family, and I think of them as they must be spending this summer in sorrow. I wonder what that is like to spend the season of abundance and light, mourning the death of a loved one. The bike sweetly, sadly, tragically is his final story.

The place the bike rested is near some wildflowers.  It is now, at the peak of summer, July and August, that I become mesmerized by the flowers that crowd the sides of our roads: Queen Anne’s lace, cornflower, black-eyed Susan, purple clover, goldenrod, daisies, and the funny star shaped periwinkle flowers whose name I do not know.  In the Midwest, if you watch the side of the road in the hot summer months, white and purple and orange flowers fill up the available space. They are the brightest of hues, the prettiest of flowers, they are both plentiful and extremely inaccessible.  I am known to pull my car over to the side of the road, in a ditch to pick a handful.  I associate them with the hottest of days, and I long to pick them all, to love them, to bring them into my house.  When I do pull over and begin to clip roadside weeds, I imagine other drivers eyeing me, wondering what I am up to.  Who picks weeds?   I do love these flowers, and I bundle them up in my sweaty hand and carry them home to some water where I can appreciate them.

This summer I have traveled some.  Most recently to the west coast.  When I travel the first thing I notice is the flora.  How are the flowers different here? The greenery?  The roadside weeds? Who can’t marvel at the palm tree and the bougainvillea?  The flowers and trees with their long growing season are abundant and lush.  But I watched the roadsides of the Bay Area for a sign of cornflower and goldenrod, and could not discover anything that sparked my imagination as much as those midwestern weeds. No rose, no bougainvillea, no strange succulent was as lovely and abundant as Queen Anne’s Lace back in Indiana.  I couldn’t wait to get home and see my flowers, I was sure that they had bloomed and were waving in the thick hot summer sun, waiting for me to get home and pull over and appreciate them. I am home, I said to no one and all the discarded flowers the minute I landed. I am home.

I went for a walk yesterday.  For some reason, as I walk up the street in the oppressive humidity, sweat pouring off my face and back, the old song Back Home Again in Indiana, keeps rolling through my head.  I hum it a bit as the wind picks up the leaves and grasses.  I pick out some black-eyed Susan and daisies to cut.  I wilt in the sun, find a shady spot to rest.  I am on my way to the top of  my street on foot, to look at the bike and watch for a minute, soak up its story. I pause and pay my respects.  This white bike now wrapped in ribbon and flowers seems to shine in the sun.  I have never seen a brighter white.  Cars zoom past me.  It feels very public, very exposed. I wonder how long this memorial will stay.  I hope forever. I imagine all the scenarios that might take it away. Roadwork, theft, the property owner next to the sign might decide he’s tired of it.

The wildflowers, the roadside memorials, my steady walk up the road. I am sunshine and and sweat and home sweet home.  I lay my bouquet down on the ground near the bike while considering the crime and the hot summer night that brought a man and his bike to this spot.  How now, after all this, we consider it hallowed ground.  I silently wish this family a way through grief.  Peace, I think, just peace and I walk home.

Amy Cornell for The Poplar Grove Muse

My Boat

 

 

We learn and teach and as we go

each woman sings~ each woman’s hands

are water wings. From “Water Women” by All Renee Bozarth

I was pushed out of a very rocky and leaky boat twenty-eight years ago. I went against my will. I had only been in this one boat for years and I was sure I would never feel at home in a new boat. The problem was, I had never even touched the oars in the old boat. They were never offered and up to that point, I had not dared to take them on my own. I knew how to swim, so I thought maybe I would tread water until a lifesaver floated my way. It took a while for me to realize that I was the lifesaver that I could teach myself to walk on water

The more I treaded, the stronger I became, and I began to rise up out of the water. I spied a shore with a brand new boat bobbing tantalizingly at the water’s edge.

This is my boat, I said loud and clear to myself and to the whole world. The oars fit my hands perfectly. I painted my boat red, my new power color. Passengers in my new boat were by invitation only. No one stayed if they were toxic. I wasn’t the only one who could be pushed out of a boat.

My boat liked its new sheltering boathouse, but it also liked to travel. We’ve been on many journeys, many adventures, my boat and I.

Sometimes it springs a leak and I often surprise myself when I realize I have gathered just the right tools for the task at hand, and they are always ready.

Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse