For Grace

 

I was made a dog

person by my first chocolate lab,

green eyes, anxious

insistent tail, hot breath

panting, toss after

slobbery toss, she made me hers,

she was mine.

 

My first true love,

never critical or unkind, she

waited and wagged and shed

all of her energy into

my poor unsuspecting life,

my heart

broken the day

she couldn’t get up

and I put her down

on an old quilt, holding her face

to mine until I was sure

she was gone.

 

But sometimes,

often,

she comes swimming

back to me in midnight waters

full of joy and light, panting,

her pink tongue full

of life and her eyes still

glittering green and gold.

 

DRH for The Poplar Grove Muse

June 2018!

And I thought Jesus would come before I turned 30! I’ve more than doubled that projected year, and the thought of Jesus’ return is no longer troubling for fear of my friends and loved ones (unrepentant and unsaved) missing the gloryland boat.  And no longer anticipated for my personal translation into a heavenly body–able, willing, and eager to sing with the angel choir for 10,000 years! No, quite to the contrary,. When I think of how much I would’ve missed out on had my holiness preacher’s prophesying come true, I praise my lucky stars and the gravity that keeps me grounded that no matter how intensely you believe or perpetuate a myth, the reality of what is just keeps on keeping on–waking, sleeping, waking, sleeping, and all the life that happens in between as the seasons turn around again and again–summer, fall, winter, spring. And here we are planting, hoeing, harvesting our way into another summer. And here I am only a week from celebrating–Yes! Celebrating!–my 68th anniversary of spiraling down the birth canal and gulping my first lungful of this planet’s precious oxygen! And celebrating that I’m not into my third or fourth decade of singing praises to the god of my youth, who seemed to be (more often than not) angry, vindictive and a card-carrying member of the “tough love” society.

In my defense, I didn’t know any better back in the 50s and 60s. Of course I believed in my parents’ god, my teachers’ god, my preacher’s god! My world was small, secure, all that I knew. My imagination for anything different feared hell too much to risk breaking through those fundie walls. Ah, but thank God or Dog, or maybe Toad and Frog, or common sense and holes, lots of huge, crawl-throughable holes in the fence that kept me bound far longer than seems reasonable from this side of that fence, for my escape from fundamentalist dogma and, more importantly, I think, my discovery of this great big beautiful world in all its diversity. My discovery of love big enough to include everyone at the dinner table, or in the manger in that long ago stable, and not insist upon one size fits all, one faith suits all, one nation (under God!) with justice and liberty for all.

Is that the last line of the Pledge of Allegiance? Justice and liberty? Or is it liberty and justice? Either way it’s a farce to anyone who has struggled or still struggles year after year to put food on the table, pay the rent, make a better way for their kids, prove they’re worthy (ready, steady and prepared as much as anyone can be prepared) to walk through fire if need be for that liberty and justice. And why does it have to be so hard for some when it’s handed to others on a silver platter? And how in the world did I get here from the Second Coming of Jesus, the Rapture, the end of time as we know it? Ah… myths, I was talking about myths. And this liberty and justice for all myth is one that I do wish could blossom into reality by the very act of placing hand over heart and repeating, day after day, as the seasons turn around again and again. Yes, I was talking about myths….

And gratitude…
thank god and dog
toad and frog
my lucky stars
gravity
and holey fences

Glenda Breeden for the Poplar Grove Muse

Chaos

I have a basket in my bathroom filled with make-up; 2 or 3 eyeliners, several shades of blush and too many to count colors and types of mascara.  I admit it, I am a make-up whore. No, I won’t perform sexual favors for a new lipstick, but I will give up other things for the latest and greatest lash-lengthening, lip-plumping and cheekbone-enhancing product . Every morning before work, I would spend an inordinate amount time looking for the same eyeliner, blush and mascara that I used yesterday and the day before and the day before. It was always there, seemingly, right in front of me.

A couple of years ago, I decided it was time to stop this insanity and place these items in the front of the basket so they could be easily found. God forbid I should throw anything away! Or maybe I should have held the items in my hands and determined whether they brought me joy, but hoarders don’t have time to do that.  Anyway, as I looked in the mirror I almost didn’t recognize myself – I was attempting to eliminate chaos, which is a what I do in my work life, but at home, in my personal life, I typically created it if I couldn’t find it.  Let’s be honest, it always found me, like attracts like as they say.  But I stopped liking it.  I wanted peace, calm, solitude.

Under the hot glare of the Hollywood style lights of my mirror, this desire for calm became very clear and by mid-day, was in my face.

I was at work, doing chaos control, and calling my youngest brother’s cell in between fire-fighting.  He rarely answered his phone – no one called him but me.  At the time, he was 53 years old, a developmentally delayed, man that came to live with me after our mother died in 2005.  I had consciously or unconsciously been seeking peace by been putting pressure on him to have a life, to get a job, maybe live on his own. He was very high-functioning but hadn’t worked since I fired him from our family business in the 90’s.  He called me around noon that November day, hysterical. He wasn’t sure where he was.  He had driven to Cincinnati with the intention of killing himself. 

Chaos.

Throughout his life, I had always been my brother’s “person”.  I had helped him overcome his fear of driving.  With the help of my grandfather, I helped him get back on his feet after a broken leg and a year of inactivity led him to believe he couldn’t walk. He was ruled by his fears. The idea of living on his own or getting a job triggered those fears again. I shouldn’t have been surprised, it was right in front of me. 

For the next six months we were drawn into a cycle of admissions to different mental health facilities and then being released back to me, followed by some event that would result in him being admitted again. Each cycle included a new batch of diagnoses with matching prescriptions, leaving him unrecognizable to me. 

The day I got the hysterical call from him started this journey which has, ironically, led to peace, not just for me but for him as well.  Last week was the one year anniversary of his placement into a nursing home where his meds are monitored and he is happy, and so am I. 

I often wonder what would have happened if I had been in a meeting that morning.  Would he have succeeded, as so many others do, in his search for calm?  A suicide attempt was the last thing I thought he would ever contemplate and I saw him every day. Yet I know, with absolute certainty, that in the midst of chaos, it is hard to see what is right in front of you. 

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

Ode to the Yellow House

Ode to the Yellow House

Both of my babies were born
in front of a blue couch
inside a little yellow house
we named after the radical socialist
Eugene V. Debs.

Alice came in August
the house still adjusting
to our presence
our belongings
and we offered it
our baby’s first cry,
late-night sleep-deprived quarrels,
the soft touch of
small hands and knees
across its carpet.

People joined us in this house
Elaine, rest in peace,
early to rise and battle with the coffee pot,
Robert, who lectured while he cooked for thirty.
Scott, a jolly wandering philosopher and
Josh, whom we never should have
left home alone while on vacation in Colorado.
Now we know.

Then Leo came on the coldest day in February
a little blue at first
and quiet
until he realized there was no going back to the womb.
I remember how he dozed, swaddled
in a bouncy seat in the living room
as I devoured sleep,
and David composed
original music
about the warming of this planet
and our eventual fate.

More people joined us in the house after that.
There was Peggy who swept the floor
with a magic broom and
Michael who planned BBQs and read books to the children and
Crystal who was so broken
her brain could not make sense
of our reality.

Little yellow house, you have been so hospitable.
Even the bed bugs liked it here, for a time.

From the south facing bedroom window
we have watched the giant maple sprout
small red buds in the spring
and grow its leaves
into green hands that spread open for our shade.
We have watched them turn yellow,
the ones at the top first,
and float down to cover the
garden, the driveway,
the tree’s own massive roots.

Little yellow house,
yesterday morning I sat in your quiet embrace
the morning sun beaming through your windows.
I looked out at the garden beds, the blueberry bushes.
I breathed in the bright walls and exhaled.

I am letting go, I said out loud.
I am letting go of the gardens.
I love them
but they are not mine.
I am letting go of this house.
I love you
but you are not mine.
I am letting go of my life here
I love it
but it is not mine to keep.

So we will empty your rooms of our things.
We will take stock of our memories.
We will summon courage and faith
for a journey that will lead us into the unknown.
How strange in this moment
to stand before two paths
and choose
the mystery.

Oh Spirit!
Take our tears and water the seeds of hope
within our souls.
Take care of our deep roots
and transplant us in fertile soil.
After we blossom, send our fruit
back here to nourish our friends.
And tell my little yellow house,
Thank you.

— Laura Lasuertmer