The Priestly Vestment


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

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

                                                                             Philip Larkin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse

Several Worlds at Once

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allison for the PGM


You’re Not Going to Die

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

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

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

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

“But can she still talk?”

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

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

“You aren’t going to die,” I lied.

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

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

“But will my body get weak?”

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

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

“I won’t let you die,” I said.

“But how, Mama? How?”

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

“But how will you keep me safe?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” she whined.

“It’s good to get older.”

“Will Leo get old?”

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Lasuertmer for The Poplar Grove Muse

Let My Sack Overflow with the Sacred

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Glenda Breeden October 4, 2017)