Stubborn Artifacts of Existence

Not long ago, I noticed a crack in my mother’s Vintage Ekco Chromium Plated Black Handle 11-3/8″ Slotted Spatula Flipper USA, a fissure running out from the pressure point created by one of two steel studs affixing blade to handle. This trusty, well-worn utensil has been showing its age for a while—rust stains left on the counter after washing, a fretwork of indentations melted into the plastic handle where my mom before me, and I, let it perch against the rim of a sizzling skillet in the heat of dinner preparations.

I can replace it on eBay for $7.95 plus shipping, but I won’t. I’ve purchased two possible replacements at GoodWill for $.69 each, but haven’t yet put them into service. Neither seems up to the job, somehow.

A child doesn’t imagine a steel spatula fracturing, the fillings the dentist put into newly emerged grownup teeth failing and leading to cracks and complications and crowns 40 years hence, the hips and knees that toddled, then ran, and carry us through our lives simply wearing out—can’t even conceive that the pale, limp, sliced-bread French toast of the 1960’s served up by the indispensable spatula will be superseded by elaborate recipes for thick, crusty slices of artisanal bread soaked in heady brews of egg, milk, syrups and liqueurs, dredged in exotic sugars and showered with fruits flown in from far fields.  While the foodie French toasts of today surely surpass the humble-yet-special weekend offering of my childhood, dribbled with Vermont Maid syrup containing some token dollop of real maple, the memory of that offering still makes me feel loved, cared for, content.

We live among so many things, are gifted with and acquire so many objects, that tidying up and organizing and decluttering has become an industry, an international obsession. I, too, share a wild desire to live amidst fewer things, to have less stuff encumbering my daily activity, to move fewer piles of paper from table to closet and back when guests come to supper.

And so, my mother’s spatula. Somewhere in the world, it could still be indispensable, and as I pass it on (ideally to a scrapper rather than a landfill), I am humbled by the obstinate existence of this unassuming tool, conveyer of French toast and memory, stubborn artifact of existence, subject, like those who have wielded it, to use and wear and pressure points, to the passage of time.

Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse

This Winter Moon

This winter moon
pulls back veils of darkness
asks we do the same

I dream a tall house
with many cluttered rooms
full of charmed possibility

On the edge of understanding
I delight in
an Escher-like stair climb

See patterned papers
tattered crazy quilts, dusty
books and bathtubs

Imagine what to keep
–to release, all is
fodder for gratitude

Meanwhile tree shadows
on snow grow long
the moon moves along

Leaves its mark on this
vivid night trailed by
a soft sunrise promise

Dappled awakenings
the callings of my curious interiors
and morning birdsong


Beth Lodge-Rigal for the Poplar Grove Muse

Photo Credit: Kumar Ganapathy–

Mary Oliver: You were one of us

“Oliver told NPR that simplicity was important to her. “Poetry, to be understood, must be clear,” she said. “It mustn’t be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now, they sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary should not be in the poem.”

I know many women who are a part of our writing circles at Women Writing for a Change are mourning the passing of Mary Oliver this week. Sometimes I believe Mary Oliver’s poetry was the grease that moved our collective into being. Circle after circle, we would use a poem by Mary O. to help us write our way through grief and injustice and understanding the human condition. So many of her poems were touchstones that in fact when I heard she had died, it felt like a fellow writing sister had died. This woman had been next to me in many circles and readings, and I didn’t even know her.

But little by little, as you left their voices behind,  through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,
determined to do the only thing you could do- determined to save the only life you could save. ~ From The Journey

Mary was the poet who taught me that it is okay to like poetry. That poems don’t always have to be so fancy it takes a seminar to understand them. That words, meter, metaphor, allusion and everything that goes into a perfect poem belongs to everyone. It is Mary that first gave me the notion that I might write poetry and that in fact, poetry is the great healer, great uniter, great witness to our love and lives.

When I read her biography, I learn that she spent her life pursuing her two great loves: nature and poetry. What a wonderful life, I think. Not only am I admiring that she was able to live as she loved, but that she so generously shared it with the world. She also wrote so much about death being the natural order of things that I know she is at peace. As sad as I am, I feel that peace welling up in me as well.

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go,” ~ Mary Oliver

I am grateful for her life. I am grateful that she shared her words with the world. Mostly I am grateful to be a part of a humankind (and a local writing program) that would treasure and uplift someone so beautiful. I join my writing sisters and men and women everywhere in lighting a candle for one of the true great writers of my generation. She wasn’t fancy. She didn’t need to be. She just told us the truth in her heart. Thank you for your words Mary Oliver.

“When it’s over, I want to say all my life/ I was a bride married to amazement.”~ Mary Oliver

~ Amy for the PGM

Neighbors, Repeated

Welcome to my neighborhood.
Let me introduce you
To my neighbors.
Some you probably know
From my Morning Farm Reports.
First there are my dearest neighbors
Sue and Charlie
Who were my mentors in all things rural
And rescued me from the snakes and raccoons,
Also neighbors,
one loved and one feared.
There are the cows
Those neighbors we call “The Girls”
Who peer over the neighboring fence
Eyeing my delicious begonias
And always greener grass
Or so they believe.
There are the birds of the neighborhood
Too numerous to enumerate
Who come to eat at
What my neighbor Jill
Calls Bev’s Neighborhood MCL.
There is the elementary school
Down the road
The children’s voices echoing
In the neighborhood
At their break times, or
Mixing with the roar of the busses
Come to let them off
Or pick them up
Yellowing our neighborhood
With their colorful bodies.
There is my back pasture
Where the neighbors cross to
Visit the farm,
Or their children take
As a short cut to the school,
Sometimes forgetting to secure the gate
And then the other neighbor horses
Buck and Mare (neighing, of course),
And sometimes some of The Girls,
Come over to try out the
Greener grass.
Occasionally chickens or pigs
Will also come on over,
Considering my home
Just a larger part of their
Own neighborhood.
Wandering around to see what’s what
And, of course, if there is anything
Delicious to eat.
The deer are also neighbors,
My yard and the pastures their
Own fertile neighborhood
Where the small packs
Come to graze and take dessert
On my budding daylilies and
Sue and Charlie’s jonquils.
Coyotes are also neighbors,
Sniffing through the pasture
For moles and shrews,
Delicious dinner,
Especially if a new litter
Of these canine neighbors
Is on its way.
Meet the Amish family
Who lived at The Farm
For a while.
Quiet and fascinating neighbors
Laboring, stooped in their blue and white,
Planting and weeding the garden
They planted to carry food to the Farmer’s Market
Every Saturday in their horse and buggy.
There is Ben, the beautiful big black Percheron,
Who lies buried in the east/west pasture,
Put in that spot by Sue and Charlie
So we all could gaze at him from our windows
As we did when he was alive
And grazing in the pasture,
A very good neighbor still.
And, of course, as every neighborhood
Has its nefarious resident
There is The Worm
(Also named by neighbor Jill)
Who felled a tree without
Checking with the utilities people
And knocked out my electricity
And my internet.
Who cut through my gas line
And claimed he could fix it
(Without an explosion?
I asked him)
Who shoots his guns
Near my backyard
With nary a care for the neighborhood
Endangering my neighbor Jill
And me.
Still, all in all, it’s a wonderful neighborhood
Where most of us live in harmony
And peace.
Good fences; good neighbors.
Bev Hartford