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

 

Lost Girl

She is playful,
a mop of hair,
a puffy sleeved dress with a ribboned waist,
covering crinolines
and ruffled panties.
Mud is caked on the heels of her patent leathers.
She likes to remind me that she is still here,
wills me to let her out.
She doesn’t know what acceptable behavior is.
Certainly, a lady does not like the smell of worms after a spring rain
or long to play with the race track her brothers play with for hours on end.
She belonged with her always aproned mother
in the kitchen,
polishing the silver,
rolling out the dough,
tidying things up with her sisters.
The boys were allowed to do just about anything,
but not the girls.
I kept her away to avoid trouble,
to fit in,
until one day
I forgot about her.

Once in a while a memory drifted in;
the smell of salt water and Coppertone,
riding my bike on a leaf covered path,
or hearing my name whispered as I edged toward sleep.

And then, finally, it all came back,
in a flood of tears that would not stop.
She understood,
she had shed many tears herself
not for herself,
but for me
for the pieces I lost
and forgotten about.
She wanted to help me pull them in like a big fish dad would catch,
“turn the reel,
let it run a bit,
turn the reel, faster!”
Always a two-person job if the catch was big.

Sometimes the line would break,
water would get on her dress
water not from the fish, but from her eyes.
We cried a lot,
she hid a lot.
She could get very small,
it is hard to grow without oxygen.

I need her to grow in me again,
to take me to all the places she wanted to go,
the little cave on the side of the hill that smelled of dampness and dirt,
the creek with the dam that the boys down the street built.
(I was afraid of those boys.)
The secret place where you could see fireflies even in the autumn,
although I think she made that up.

I want her to grow so I can see what she looks like.
I picture her strong, and lean with a fierceness about her,
streaks of white and gray running haphazardly through her still curly hair
and the lines on her face bearing a story,
my story, my pain
mixed with great joy.

She has been here all along,
This not my story, it is our story.
I see her now,
She is standing here
holding a fishing rod,
here to help me pull in the big one,
once and for all.

Sherri Walker for The Poplar Grove Muse

On Spending the Day at Bloomington Hospital

Holy Hill

 

 

Efficiencies. So many
Noises. Good God.
Almighty doctors,
Specialists all,
This one for that and
That one for this and
they are all twelve years old
And they are all super cute,
Hip, snappy, right on time with
Charm to lose like a wealth of smile,
It won’t hurt to overflow a bucket
Of warmth on the individual suffering
an existential moment of
“I hope I wake up,” “I’m sorry for everything,” and “I wish I had moved to Brooklyn.” 

Cold hard stone passages, hallway arteries
carry husbands and wives of a certain age
To the kind of customary surgeries that result from
A life of purposeful personal care neglect
Mixed with genetic predisposition to whatever has slunk
About the system since long before Mom slept with Dad.

The bodies are chunky and broken,
Long beards and nose rings,
Tight jeans and gut spills,
Pale pink knit Mom tops and
Peony scattered polyester pedal pushers,
Reeking of smoke and
Looking a lot like — well, to be honest —
A helluva lot more than that’s
Been going on all these years.

It does add up.

There are vague looks of worry.
The aloneness of some feels like they are already ghosts.

Many are accompanied by armies of relatives,
Cousins, brothers, aunts, mamaw,
Support-troops in the rare case that their loved one
Comes under fire from an enemy that
looks oddly like life.

The family-care specialist
Makes sure to have at least
one of their phone numbers.

They fill the consulting room awaiting
arrival of their very own hip, snappy twelve year old
Who will provide a confident, detailed explanation of
Is he going to make it or isn’t he?

Questions in broken farmer English
Are softly asked. 

Nervous laughter of relief wafts from the room.
All those who wait, twitching within earshot
Of the troops in the nearby bunker, feel it and think
maybe,
maybe
this will be a good day after all.
Perhaps we will survive the battle
after all.

Thup thup thups among the
Beep beep beeps and the
Quavering and shouted, “somebody help me”s.

Lifeline is here, aiming, afloat, and aiming again.
We hold our breath as the mind, watching, wanders
to car wrecks and handyman accidents,
Stupid Dad tricks and incidents of child abuse.

The Lord said, Go in peace and be freed from your suffering,
Pray the agnostics in the room watching. 

The tonnage of wasp alights
upon an oddly bright, wide expanse of cement as
Attention is torn by a sensory assault charging the room:

Somebody pooped.
A lot.
In the wrong place.
At the wrong time.
Holy crap.
I think I’m gonna die. 

Oh the indignity of an ill-timed bodily function.
There but for the Grace of God, as they say.

The red-shirts scramble.
Poor thing.
She’s all alone and so frightened.
How can all these children help her, she manages to wonder,
via the few very small spaces still available for hysterical thought in her plaque pocked brain.

Worry and fear.
Sadness and the urge to get the hell out of here,
As if whatever is happening to everyone
in the freezing identical rooms that emit
bups and yeeps and yelps and sobs
Is catching. 

Paperwork arrives.
Wheelchair arrives.
Car arrives. 

The bumpy stop-stop ride
to the East side and out of town
via 2nd Street commences.

We depart the strangers writhing in rooms, in pain, in apprehension.

There is a place in Wisconsin called Holy Hill.
The long drive up the road to the church passes
Fields and a diner.

The church is brick, stoic, a curiosity
Lording over empty land.
The sanctuary is cold hard stone. 

On the right wall as one faces the altar
is a bar stuffed with wheelchairs, crutches.
Post-it notes from the healed cover the walls.

Thank you Lord Jesus!

Curiosity sated, the car that traveled up
Now travels down and 

Breaks

And rolls directly into the parking lot of the diner.
Waiting for a tow, a conversation ensues with 
teenagers pouring iced tea behind the cold, hard counter.

What do you do for fun around here?

“Well, there’s a movie theater up the road”, she said.

“When I was in high school”, he blurted with odd urgency
to the unusual stranger stuck on a stool,
“my Dad asked me to get up early to help him with the farm,
because he was going to lose it to the bank.
But I didn’t. And he lost the farm.
So now I just read my Bible…but
I’ve always wanted to live in Brooklyn!”

Patricia Krahnke, for Poplar Grove Muse

Near West Neighborhood Cats

 

The Near West Side Neighborhood has been a cat neighborhood for as long as I’ve been around here.

From 1978-1982, my young son and I rented a house from John Layman at 706 West Sixth Street.  I had a few cats and my friend Marla moved to Canada and left her cat, Dumpling, with us.  Our neighbor Terry Morgan had a cat named Mama Baloney.

Several years after I remarried we began looking for a house in this neighborhood and we were able to buy a house back in the Near West Side in 1992.  I got to know lots of neighborhood cats.  There was Weird Al who lived with Linda and Mike, but who decided to move in to our house.  He lived with us for a few years until my son’s big black Lab came to stay with us and Al decided to move back in with Linda and Mike.

Judy at the corner of Eighth Street and Fairview had 3 cats, a lovely long haired Persian and two short haired black cat brothers.  One of the brothers had a neurological problem and he walked sort of sideways.  But he seemed pretty happy.

Miss Margaret, who lives a block north, has always had free ranging, glorious, long haired cats.  Her cats are 15 years old now.

There was a heart breakingly frightened long haired black cat who would not let us come near him, but he visited our back yard.  We had to put food for him at the very back edge of our yard so he could eat and not be afraid.  We fed him for a few years before he left and we never saw him again.

Our cat Pearl, who was a very sweet, but not a very smart cat, learned to climb and jump up on the roof of our back deck.  She would walk up and over the house roof to the front porch roof.  Then she would sort of forget how to get back for a while.  Many times neighbors knocked on our door to tell us Pearl was trapped on the porch roof and was meowing piteously.  We would thank them and tell them it was OK.  In a while, Pearl would remember how she got there and retrace her steps to the back deck porch and climb down.

Fluffy Harman was one of my favorite neighborhood cats.  She was mauled to death by the drug dealer’s pit bull when he got loose.  That whole horrid situation was finally resolved by neighbors working with the City, and the drug dealer and his dog went away and that old Victorian house was renovated.

Marti, who lives a block north and a couple of blocks west, has had several cats that I’ve known over the years.  Great cats.  Katua, Percy, Frankie and Mr. Gatto, who recently died.

Dave and BJ, across the alley, had Kit Kat who had a few serious arguments and scuffles with some of my cats over the years.

Thumbs is a sweet, champagne colored cat who lives a couple of doors east of my house and sometimes comes by to ask for bite of cat food.  I bring a snack to the front porch for him.  My old cat Pumpkin sometimes goes to parties at Thumbs’s house and my neighbor Zack sends me pictures of Pumpkin mingling with the guests at the party.

The point is that neighbors in the Near West Side have always had indoor/outdoor cats.  And the neighbors have always known and enjoyed each other’s cats.

Some people who have recently moved into our neighborhood are seriously disrupting the long time NWS cat culture.  They have cats that they keep confined in their house.  They are trying to make us all confine our cats because that’s what they believe is best.  It is cruel to confine a cat who knows and loves the outside world.  Cats are only partially domesticated animals and most of us love that about them.  Our indoor/outdoor cats will not trade all their wildness for cat food.

The gentrification of our old Near West Side neighborhood has caused physical and cultural dislocation for both people and their cats.  We are trying to work out livable solutions for both species.

Veda Stanfield for The Poplar Grove Muse

Aqua Net in the Produce Aisle

The lingering wisps of a woman’s hairspray waft over me in the produce section of the grocery store. I look up from the drippy heads of red leaf lettuce. I won’t find her. Still, I look.

Every so often, I am caught off guard by this smell. The truth is, I’m not sure what I’m smelling other than my grandmother. I breathe in her signature scent.

I am 4; she is visiting us in Virginia. I am eating a hotdog in the backyard. My mother runs into the house. Something Grandma said has made Mom sad. I tell her I hate her and run in after Mom.

I am 8. I want to go to a Bon Jovi concert with neighbors. Grandma is at the kitchen table and tells my mother I am too young. Mom sighs and says she’s probably right. I hate her again.

I am 12. I have traveled across the country by myself to visit Grandma and Grandpa in California. I am nervous, but find she is different this time. I leave feeling loved.

I am 21 waiting for her in the lobby of a hotel in London. Our vacation to England is where I return to most. We’re meeting, just us, for cheesecake and ice tea.

The elevator door opens. Grandma’s once tall frame hunches over; the top of her spine is curved. Her sun-speckled, papery skin draped in bright silks; she slowly makes her way into the lobby. Arms out a little, looking for something to hold on to, her thick snowy white curls are sprayed wild like the beach wind is her stylist. Orange lipstick stains the same thin lips I have. I stand and head towards her. As I get closer, I hear her trying to breathe. Raspy and shallow, she is known to alternate oxygen and Marlboro Reds in the same room.

Pete is her name. Mom says it’s because she was one of the guys when my grandparents were in college. She cooked for my grandfather’s fraternity, and they called her Pete.

There’s more to the story, I’m sure. I ask questions, but Mom’s not sure or doesn’t tell. She says my Grandmother is a very private person.

Back in the lobby, her gruff voice, and familiar phrase, “Hey, Kell Bell. What’s shaking?” makes me smile. I lean in towards her, help her steady herself. I inhale. “You always smell so good,” I say.

We head into the cafe, eat cheesecake, drink tea. I tell her about Clark, the man I love. She asks questions about him and what we’ll do after college. I make sure the ones I ask her are easy. I ask about her volunteer work, her friends, the weather. I wonder about the hard questions I have. I wonder about her mother and the stepmother her father married shortly after her mother died. I wonder about my mother’s childhood, the fragments of sad stories I’ve heard over the years. Why Mom often told me I had no idea how good I had it.

We don’t know each other well. This, maybe our fifth or sixth meeting, is one of a few of my memories. A handful more will come. Grandma and Grandpa will be at my wedding; she’ll move to Virginia, where Mom will mother her again. She’ll meet my son and later my daughter. We’ll eat sweets together, and I’ll tell her my stories. She will keep hers.

“Excuse me,” someone says as they reach past me for the carrots. I breathe in again. She is gone. I resist the urge to find the woman who carries her scent. I want to douse myself in my grandmother’s story. I want to know her. I wonder what would have happened if I had offered to listen.

~KGS for Poplar Grove Muse

www.curiosityencouraged.com