Changing Season

I met the moon early this morning.

Me, alone on a bike.

She, nestled in the white branches of trees.

Both of us, silent.

Like the way I always felt closest to you

when there were no words

between us,

trampling our knowing

down into cages

no one could live in

for long.

 

Before me, the trail wends its way

along the creek for a while,

past the tended field

where squash blossoms

erupt in blooms of bright yellow,

then bends

under the canopy of trees,

where it is littered with leaves

that crunch under my bike tire,

a sign of things to come,

 

A lesson in letting go –

of dogs

of daughters

of lovers

of women I used to be.

 

From here, I cannot see

the full round face

of the morning moon,

pale as she is

against a bluing sky.

I cannot see

around the next bend,

past the underbrush

alive with chattering birdsong.

 

But, on I ride

balanced atop this bike,

arms outstretched

in gratitude

for mornings just like this

and the song of the creek,

whispering

of what lies ahead.

 

~DRH for The Poplar Grove Muse

A Never Ending Current

“There’s a river of birds in migration,
a nation of women with wings…”
I sing in my mind, in my heart,
I sing when I’m a part of
Women Writing (for) a Change
and when I’m apart from it.
I sing when I’m the turtle that I am,
plodding along, grounded,
bound for the next bend in the creek,
the next tear on my cheek,
the next time I eat my own words
that could’ve been more carefully served.

But hey! Look at me!
Yes! Turtle that I am!
Inspired!
Fired up by the tree of life—
the circle of women and writers
and dreams in my own life!
Throw me a sky hook!
Watch me fly!

I climb out of (to the top of!)
this comfortable, familiar,
predetermined shell,
brave and bare-chested
with a vested interest
in my own survival
and the survival of women’s voices.

I grab hold of stories and songs,
poems and prayers
and those soul-shaking,
heartbreaking,
mind-waking keenings.
I ride the never-ending current
of words set free—
voices ancient and modern,
published, unpublished,
and those still incubating,
throbbing, waiting
for just the right moment to hatch.

I join strong women flying high—
a dense, impenetrable flock
of them, of us!
Spreading our truth-telling wings,
pointing out the where,
the when, the why of being:
over there,
right here,
way back then,
now,
because!

“There’s a river of birds in migration,
a nation of women with wings!”

Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse
(Soul Collage)

 

Endings and Beginnings

So many thoughts are tumbling through my head this morning as I think back over the years of my life.  Some of those years have a theme; 1963, 1968, graduation years, 1990 (my son’s birth), 2014 and of course 2016 – endings and beginnings. Losing my father in 2014 left a huge hole in my heart and like my mother’s death, caused me to question my beliefs, yet oddly, confirmed them at the same time.  I have always been spiritual, but never fond of organized religion. I had imagined that I would feel my mother’s presence in the months after her death, hear her voice, know she was there – it didn’t happen and I was shocked. I realized over time that it wasn’t a lack of presence, it was lack of recognition.  I had failed to recognize those moments – the tiniest of tugs, the wisp of the wind, a white butterfly swarming around me, 2 white butterflies the day after my dad died, an aroma, a song.  Small moments of connection. What has been most challenging for me is how easy it is for time to pass without me thinking of them.  I have heard people say, “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about them”.  That is not true for me.  Days and weeks will pass and I am not conscious of thinking of them.  Then that tug, that song, that wisp of the wind reminds me.  Is it you Mom?  I can almost hear you saying, “how dare you forget about me, I gave you birth”.  Or is it you Dad?  “It’s okay kiddo, you are a lot like I was.”

Knowing that my own son will likely experience this when I am gone quickly brings tears to my eyes. I like to think he will know that I am always with him, but my death will also create space for him – endings and beginnings. One great thing about endings is the beginning; nothing ends without something new starting.  As much as I miss my parents, there is an odd freedom in being parentless for me.  The cloud of their perceived judgement has drifted, dissipated.  Funny, I was the one who put the cloud there. I was the one who could have sent it packing. I was the one wearing the ruby slippers.

It is hard, nearly impossible, to understand the existence of possibility in the throes of an ending. I just have to remember that there are endings that are joyful and I have to relish those, like August 9, 1974.  I look forward to another ending like that, hopefully this year, because I know around the corner will be a new beginning.

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

To come from and to beget

“Youth is our biological and physiological homeland.  There, we know our way.  And even if in our nostalgic memories the sun shines where it was actually dark, still we are familiar with the pitfalls and perils of youth.  We know how to live in that homeland with good and bad – how to master it, anyway, better than we know how to navigate the foreign country of age into which we are expelled.”   –Frederic Morton

I come from men, it seems. From a mysterious Ignaz. And from him, born February 11, 1833 in Holungen, Germany, came my great-great-great grandfather, Johannes Heironiums Ertmer who settled in JoDaviess County, Illinois. He is the one whose name titles a 200-page geneaology of my branch of the Ertmer family. And from Johannes and Elizabeth Goldhagen came John, and from John and Caroline Ortchied came Robert Frank (a first-born son), and from Robert Frank and Mary Ann Clancy came my grandpa Robert Elwood, the fourth of ten, and from him and Alice Mary LaGrand, my father David Joseph who married Peggy Rothermel who birthed me. And I married David Lasuer and gave birth to Alice Joy and Leo David. It’s enough to make your head spin. All these men, all these women. Begetting, begetting, begetting. Then dying, dying, dying. That is most of what I know – when they were born and when they died. Until I get to my grandparents and my parents. Then I know for sure that I have come from women too.

She was the last of her generation, my grandma Alice, when she passed away in Denver, Colorado on November 30, 2016. Ninety-eight years old. We buried her in the ground at Mt. Olivet cemetery on a cold Tuesday afternoon in December. We buried her in a powder blue coffin, with pleats of blue fabric, with crucifixes and a bag of Cheetos, with argyle socks on her feet, and sparkly purple polish on her nails, with her glasses on over closed eyes, her hands resting together on her stomach, a rosary threaded through her fingers. She was thin and light when she died, just worn-out skin covering tired bones. But her hair was the opposite. It was the striking white of the full moon, perfectly poised and luminous. At the funeral home, my Aunt Mary Ann, upon inspecting the handiwork of the mortician, took out a small brush and began to fluff my grandma’s bangs over the bony curve of her forehead. “Mom, don’t you worry. We are going to get these bangs just how you like them.”

*****

The last time I visit Grandma is in July 2016, four months before her death. She doesn’t live in a nursing home, not the kind with the metal beds and mounted T.V.s. She lives in an apartment building for the elderly, with exercise classes, a library and a menu to order from in the dining room. The living room in her small apartment holds furniture from the house on Steele Street where she raised her five children. The brass birds that flew in formation across the wall there, fly here as well. In the corner is a soft, slim leather recliner that she inherited when her eldest son, Bob, died from a heart attack. Draped on the back of that chair is the woven blanket I gave her after studying in Bolivia. In the freezer is the vanilla ice cream, essential for making the root beer floats she offers to her visitors.

When we leave her apartment for the dining hall, she turns to ask, “How’s my hair?” Mom and I reach to pull a few strands over the spot in the back that is flat from where she sleeps on it.  She is dressed in black pants with white polka dots, a white sweater, a string of pearls, and gold circular clip on earrings. “Did you see my new shoes?” she asks, leaning on her walker and nudging one foot forward. I look down at her sandals. They have thick, black soles and colorful wide straps. “Very spunky! Are they comfortable?” I ask.

“Oh yeah,” she says. “Very.”

Grandma speaks slowly and softly, like the words take a while coming to her mind and a bit longer to exit her mouth.  At lunch she starts talking but my mom doesn’t hear her and rushes on with her own story. Grandma just closes her mouth and goes for a bite of soup.  What was she going to say, I wonder. My aunt and uncle, my mom and dad, we all say too much, too quickly. So I just put my hand on her back and rub it gently. She smiles, closes her eyes and leans forward.

After lunch we walk the hallway to the elevator and I ask, “Do you know your neighbors?”

“Not well,” she says.

“But you have people you sit with at lunch?” prompts Mom.

Grandma stops and looks at us. “You know the other day I went to lunch.  And Vera wasn’t there. I asked where she was and they said she’d moved to the fourth floor.” She pauses. “Well, turns out she had died!” At the elevator we see a flyer with Vera’s smiling face, the date of her birth and death and a notice that services are pending.

Death must be everywhere to Grandma, and old age is no stranger either. I’m sure some people arrive at 80 and, like a revelation, discover themselves to be old. But Grandma has had eight years since turning ninety to be old, to feel her body weaken, her mind lose its grasp on the day of the week and the names of her children. Here the halls are populated with four wheeled walkers – bright red and blue – and cheerful nurses.  In the library, the hunched form of an elderly lady hides behind an outspread newspaper, her nose almost touching the print. A man with oxygen tubes clutches a walker, his grey sweatpants spread thinly across his wide rear.  He speaks some nonsense before singing a cheery, “Hello, Alice!” and stepping into the elevator.

I’m struck by her name, how it’s the same name as my daughter’s, how she too will grow and grow until one day her body will shrink back upon itself and struggle to stand up straight, to stand up at all.  If we’re lucky, of course, and don’t lose her before she has a chance to ripen.

And I remember that day in June 2012, when we stood in the hallway of her old apartment to say our goodbyes, my belly full of baby. That was the day I said to her, “If it’s a girl, we’ll name her Alice.”

“I’d be honored,” she said, as she wrapped me up in her bony arms.

“I love you, Grandma,” I said.

“I love you,” she replied.

Two months later, after weeks of drought and 100 degree temperatures, a series of storms roared through Bloomington to break the heat and bring new life. She took thirty-six hours to make her way from womb to world. Ninety-four years younger than her namesake, Alice Joy followed a string of six great-grandsons to become Alice’s first great-granddaughter. It’s not my favorite name: Alice. It took me a few weeks to believe that she looked like an Alice, or that a baby should don the name of an old granny. Some people, like my sister, think of several names and then wait to see the baby before deciding what to call it. But even if Alice wasn’t my favorite name and it didn’t feel quite right at first, there was never a question. She would be Alice because she would inherit the spirit of Alice Mary Ertmer. And indeed she has.

By Laura Lasuertmer, for the Poplar Grove Muse

 


	

Tea and No Sympathy

 

 

I’m on the edge of my seat as I await the arrival of my cream tea in the ironically named sunroom at the Argyll Hotel. I have the room to my self, journal at hand, soundlessly, charcoal clouds scud over the marble blue bay where the waves grow increasingly wild, heavy rain clouds stacking up over Ben Mor on Mull. Heaven.

The tall waiter with the lovely Irish lilt to his voice gently sets down the homemade scone, bits of orange peel buried within the substantial pastry, a ramekin of black currant jam, dark like velvety royal robes, a matching ramekin of fluffy clotted cream, fragrant black tea steaming in the pot, all served in white crockery, on a white linen tablecloth with a white linen serviette, white on white on white, heavy silver cutlery, soft metallic accent. I sigh, delay gratification and congratulate myself for taking the time for the luxury of a cream tea on a rainy Scottish island afternoon.

I open the body of the scone, like a clam, revealing its tender center. As I lovingly, tenderly smooth jam and clotted cream over the bumpy surface of the scone, I hear clompy footsteps approach, loud discourse regarding which of the four remaining identical tables, with four identical views would be the best choice.

Serenity lost, not to be regained, like a slippery fish wiggling from the gannet’s pewter beak. The couple looks hardy, red-faced from the sharp wind, hair pointing to all compass points, when they pull off their staticy wool hats. They finally settle on the table next to me because it has “the best view” in a long narrow room that has a wall of ocean facing windows. The waiter comes to take their order.

“Is it too late for lunch?” asked the young man in that harsh American accent that grates on Scottish ears. No Gaelic lyricism there.

The waiter points to a prominent sign that announces in bright chalky colors times and types of service. Lunch ends at two. Cream tea service begins at three. It is three-thirty.

“Can’t you make an exception? Throw together some sandwiches?”

“Sorry, sir. I’m afraid that’s not possible. The chef is preparing starters and the evening meal,” says the waiter in his politely soft accent. He’s not fooling me. I hear a “fuck you” between those curly r’s. All said with a smile.

“I’d like to speak to the manager,” says the young man, his chin cocked at a stubborn angle.

“Very well, sir.” says the waiter through clenched teeth as he heads off to find Rob, the hospitable, yet very proper co-owner of the hotel.

“What I can do for you, sir?” asks Rob as he bends his tall, thin frame to shake hands with the young man.

“This waiter tells me, I’m sure erroneously, that it’s not possible to get us a couple of sandwiches instead of a cream tea, whatever that is.”

“Declan, is quite correct,” answers Rob without apology. “As I’m sure he mentioned, Chef is busy with preparations for this evening’s meal. We are chock-a-block in the hotel and he is quite busy. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Can we make a reservation for tonight’s meal for six o’clock?”

“I’m sorry, sir. Meal service starts at six-thirty. I think we have a couple of tables left at that sitting.”

“That just won’t do. I don’t see why you can’t accommodate us on this one little thing. It’s only thirty minutes. Is it because we’re not staying in your establishment?”

“Not at all, sir. We have many non-resident diners and welcome everyone. But if we make an exception for one person, we would have to make exceptions for everyone and that simply wouldn’t be fair to our staff, “ says Rob delivering one of the most elegant smack downs I’ve heard in quite some time.

“I suppose a cream tea for two will have to do,” says the young man, making a face as if poison was being substituted for what he felt he was entitled to.

“We do appreciate your business, sir,” says Rob as he nods in a courtly fashion. “I leave you in Declan’s most capable hands.”

“Yes, sir. What type of tea would you like?”

“What are my choices?” I knew that was coming even though they’re listed on the laminated tea list perched in a wooden holder in front of the young man. The waiter silently points to it with his middle finger.

The young man orders for himself and his companion without consulting her. Her hunched back is toward me. I can’t see her face. She has been quiet through all of these awkward exchanges. Her head bent. Not looking up. I suspect this is a scenario she has seen played out on numerous occasions.

I close my eyes and shake off the negativity and tuck back in to my tea. Savoring the tanginess of the orange zest that compliments the smoothness of the tea. The wind has picked up even more and a herring gull makes three attempts at landing on a rock outcropping near the shore as the gusts buffet it about, his webbed feet expertly gripping the slippery volcanic rock.

“Why aren’t you enjoying your cream tea that I went to so much trouble to get you?” the young man asks her, noticing that she’s picking at the pastry and letting her tea go cold in its bone white cup. She mumbles something that I can’t hear and apparently, neither can her friend/husband/ lover.

“What? Stop mumbling. How many times do I have to tell you that, Annie? Speak up. I know you’re not stupid. I know you know how to put a sentence together.”

“How would you know that? Have you ever let me finish a sentence? Or allowed me to express an opinion without telling me I’m wrong, not that you disagree, but I am simply wrong.”

“That’s an exaggeration,” he snaps back.

“You’ve just made my point for me, Jeremy,” said Annie, dropping her serviette like it’s a mic as she noisily scrapes her chair backward across the tile, grabs her red coat, and stomps out, her heavy hiking boots making a statement of their own. When she comes out of the hotel entrance she has a huge backpack strapped over her shoulders.

I’m beyond caring if Jeremy catches me watching. I sit back, cross my arms and stare at him like I’m watching a chess player ponder his next move, thinking to myself, you’ve already been checked, mate.  

He blinks a couple of times and rises as if in slow motion. Throws some crumpled notes on the table and rushes out of the hotel. He starts waving his arms and yelling. I see a flash of red as Annie leaps across the water lapping around the steel ramp of the ferry. The ramp begins to rise as soon as Annie is safely on board.

Jeremy’s arms hang limply at his side. Defeated. Left alone, perhaps for the first time, most certainly not the last.

Rebekah Spivey for the Poplar Grove Muse