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