2018 Thanksgiving

A daughter texts: “I can’t wait to come home.”

Her mother replies: “Ah, that’s what I always felt about going home, until I got there….”

Response: “Hahaha.”

We come home to the people who raised us, loved us, fed us, and feed us still, in spirit, in memory, in flesh that is aging and weakening before our eyes. We see everything anew and acutely upon returning, with the wide-open vision of having gone ahead and attempted to forge a new way, an onward path. Sometimes the old ways are comforting upon return, often not.

We gather again at our tables, new tables, old tables. We make, or do not make, the foods of our childhood, and if not, we hope that Grandma will, if she sees, accept our loving sacrifice of having swallowed so much that wasn’t to our taste, will perhaps even admire us for making things better for ourselves, in a relatively unfreighted way denied to her.

We talk more freely, younger and older, not just men, but women and more, claiming opinions, beliefs we have worked to forge, to own, wanting to have a say in making a difference. And yet, we are wary, feel we must be, desiring easy community among those who have mattered to us, matter still, yet acknowledging  blistering, blustering cross-currents of misunderstanding, miscommunication, cultural division and disconnection—all fanned by those in power who seek even greater power.

Still, we gather, and give thanks, manifesting the belief that in gathering, sharing food around a table—old or new—talking, celebrating what we have shared, might still share, we can find heartfulness and healing.

In our home, we do not do The Thanksgiving, the roasting of the turkey, the gravy-making. Far from family, we are invited, grateful, to an unimaginably iconic feast, hosted by a dear friend who loves to cook and prepares a sumptuous board with artistry, heart, and great good spirit.  I carry to Newcastle what coals are allowed.

Two days later, I prepare a rump Thanksgiving in my home.  This year, husband off to China for a big gig, mother-in-law newly relocated to town, beloved daughters briefly home, some of us still working off a beautiful food coma, some  more enthusiastic feasters in quest of leftovers than others…, we share an afternoon of communal effort in turning out our favorite Thanksgiving dishes in a lower key, honoring both the effort and the awaited eating.

The calculations for any gathering around a table are many, delicate under best circumstances–a labor of love balanced with available energetic effort, filtered through ready resources and personnel, and, of course, the ultimate constellation of diners.  To be able to choose what to serve, and to whom, to be so blessed that restraint is a choice, a goal even, rather than a constraint born of necessity, is unthinkable to much of the world, and to most of human history.

And I give thanks.

Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse


The abiding mystery to me is how she wrote so microscopically. How two and a half years, from 1927 – early 1929 can be recorded in daily paragraphs of this, of that in a tiny leather-bound diary. How any of it is only decipherable with a magnifier. Mostly she records the grind of graduate school, boarding house rules, visitations with friends, the agonizing conflict over Chuck and Johnny, and who might make the most suitable choice for the long stretch of unknown life ahead. Chuck won out in the end. Just as I remember wondering as a girl, if I’d even exist if my mother had married her high school boyfriend instead of my Dad, same goes for whether Louise had gone with the swarthy, worldly Johnny instead of her steady guy back home. She went with dependability. She settled, happily it seems, for being a Jr. High School English teacher instead of a Botany Professor.

We’ll be back in her kitchen this Thanksgiving. The same kitchen that was her mother’s and her grandmother’s. We’ll eat with their forks on plates collected for over a hundred years. As the fifth in a line of generations of mothers at our Preble County Farm Table, I’ll ponder the larger questions of our legacy; gratitude for family, the fidelity to the land that shapes us, and the long stretch of unknown life in front of us. I search for a magnifying glass illuminative enough to help me see our unfolding story, the breaking or continuing lines of our lineage, and enough grounding required for going on with grace.

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

Random Thoughts in November

Every morning, I leave my home and drive to work. My car rises a small hill, out of our little holler (as we have come to call the place where our home in the woods rests), and I take a left onto the street that will lead me to the main road. That left hand turn brings me to my first glimpse of the sky for the day and it is always, always a beauty. The sky greets me with clouds dappled with sunshine in the most brilliant array of colors and patterns. I was trying to memorize all the different ways the sky greets me but they became too numerous. I simply appreciate my little patch of art every morning.

• My yogi teaches me continually the power of breath. I don’t wanna breathe, I think to myself as he teaches me some new breathing technique: bellows breath and dragon breath and fire breath. Greet the sun with a lion breath. Alternate nostril breath. Diaphragm breathing techniques. Haji breath. He counts for me to breathe in and then counts for me to breathe out. I am so sick of breathing. I am so sick of counting and holding the breath. Do not make me do this yogi. I flutter my eyes open and he is watching me. This is too hard, I think. The breathing is just way too hard. Why can’t I just breathe normally? I’ll breathe because I want to not because you tell me too, and I do a little renegade thing where I breathe out of the same nostril twice. Oh yogi. When will I learn?

• My friend makes maple leaf cookies every year and gives me a little bag. They are flavored with maple syrup and cut in all sizes of maple leaf. I do not share them. When I get my little bag of cookies I cannot wait to open the bag and eat them in one sitting before anyone asks me to share. Love the maple leaf cookies.

• The darkness has finally hit and with that chill in the air, it strikes me that it is good conjuring weather. I find myself wondering if I should google how to cast a spell or better yet, create a voo-doo doll. I think I need a lock of hair to create a real voo-doo doll. Now in the darkness of early night, I plan how to steal a lock of hair so that I might use it to cast a spell and wreak havoc. There is something about the arrival of the night, day of the dead, winter time hibernation, that brings out a need for real magic. If anyone knows any please send it to me. All spells welcome.

• I am guessing our commander in chief keeps his hair trimmings under lock and key.

• In April, I will be participating in National Poetry Writing Month or NAPOWRIMO as we insiders call it. We write a poem a day to a new prompt everyday. A bunch of us will get together at the beginning of the month to have a little lesson about poetic form, and we’ll get together at the end of the month to share what we’ve written. In between we will write and share and write and share and read. This month-long celebration of poetry makes me very happy. I look forward to it as much as I used to look forward to Christmas as a kid. I think it is because of a daily push and daily permission to be creative. It is a cliché to talk about creative juices, but that is exactly what it feels like. Like someone just has fed me joy and it is pulsing in my veins. Every day.

• I still love the end of every yoga class, everywhere in the world, when I bow my head and say “namaste” to the teacher and to myself. I whisper it under my breath with reverence. I love the feeling of hands in prayer position; I love the meanings of the word; I love the subtle bow of the head. One teacher I have now, makes a point of bowing to every student in the class. I love that.

Namaste.  Amy for the PGM

Safe Place

The School Across the Street has had that sign for many years.
You know, the one that assures the children that this is
A Place where they can be
Safe from storms at home and
Safe from storms of nature.
A Place where they do not need to fear the cyclone cloud of an Indiana spring,
where the echoing sirens,
telling them to shelter,
are sending them
to gather, to wait out whatever threat is being hurled at them.

We didn’t have
Safe Places when
I was a child except for our
Desks under
Which we knelt, just
“For Practice’,
in case the Russians bombed us with their nukes.
Then this is where we would be So Safe,
So Safe because our teachers told us so
and we wanted to believe them
and we waited until we heard the all clear
and then we emerged laughing a little nervously
because we didn’t really believe those desks
that kept our books and pencil cases safe would actually keep us safe
from The Bomb.
Still, though we had no Sign that announced this as a Safe Place,
it seemed it just might be one.

The School Across the Street has that sign. Safe Place.
It no longer convinces us that this is true.

Bev Hartford

To My Daughter

From the narrow doorway,

I saw you.

Small fingers spread lightly on your chest,

long, dark tangles tossed across the white pillow,

framing your face, it’s features frozen as

you slept in the dim light.


Your eyes,

usually wide and wild,

perfect grey-green with

won’t-take-no-for-an-answer eyelashes,

were closed.


The impish grin was gone,

and your lips, no longer

singing, screaming, sputtering

their incessant now, now, now,

were poised in a perfect pout,

smooth and silent.


Stretched out, listless, beneath

white wrinkles and folds,

your scrawny, long limbs,

that endlessly trip, turn, tip-toe

and kick, kick, kick,

were resting.


In the peace of that stillness,

my breath, too heavy to hold,

hollowed me out,

and the thunder in my chest

beat at its bony cage

until I thought it would break.

I thought it would break

to feel you

kick there again.


~DRH for The Poplar Grove Muse


October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month—time to share Maggie once again. I am grateful to have been the conduit for the following poem several years ago. It was well past midnight when I returned home from a friend’s 50th birthday party and sat down at my kitchen table. Maggie, a blending of several women that I knew personally and thousands of women that I knew viscerally, opened my notebook, handed me my pen, and fell onto the page in full living color with surround sound stereo. Now, ten years later and still aware of her strong presence, I “move with the rhythm and give Maggie the praise.”


festive dancers poured into forest clearing
as eastern horizon birthed buttery full moon, and
aging ragtag band belted and crooned familiar tunes
from the 50s, 60s and 70s—wild and crazy, thick and lazy
pregnant with love’s bliss and blunder and bygone dreams
of peace on earth, make love not war

that was the night Maggie danced her shoes right off her feet
nothing left but a few scraps of leather
kicked wildly into the weeds
danced through her purple and green socks
till they hung in rags around her ankles
danced her joy till it was all used up
then danced through her strong woman skin
and painted the ground red with her blood

danced her broken marriages into the dust
stomp, stomp, stompety-stomp
like rattlesnakes that needed killing
danced her fuck this, fuck that, fuck you teenager
into flattened grass and curling roots
down, down to earth’s fiery core

she wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop
after a lifetime of tamping it down and locking it up
her anger raged as rhythm and blues and rock ‘n roll
invaded her body and mind like some unleashed demon
demanding her soul

Maggie danced the scared little girl out of the closet
from under the bed
from behind closed doors
turned her loose on her drunken father’s face
his roaring mouth, his bleary eyes
danced so long on his violent fists
that flesh and bone and flowing blood
obliterated fear and pain no child should ever have to bear
danced on her mother’s going back
and going back and going back again
and kicked her under a rock at circle’s edge

danced the broken-down, lead-piped, asbestos-walled
rat-infested southside projects into splintered ruins
set them afire with lightning feet
and stirred the coals with her bones
like a woman gone mad
danced so hard and fast her clothes dissolved
with blood, sweat, and tears that puddled
the earth red, yellow, purple, green
danced off her skin like a butterfly’s cocoon
till only her soft raw spirit remained
anger danced out, madness revealed
shattered dreams strewn about
like broken glass on the ground

the band stopped playing, the frenzy died
the circle of dancers grew quiet and calm
we tiptoed around puddles and razor-sharp dreams
picked up rags and charred bones to carry them home
then watched Maggie’s remains melt into thick golden butter
like tigers who raged in some long-ago tale

we ladled her rich smoothness into earthenware crock
carried her gently to our campsite fire
and when the moon disappeared
and dawn painted a new day
we spread her fat beauty on skillet-fried cornbread
and filled our hungry bellies with her essence
her goodness, her self undiluted

and these many years hence to this very day
when the full moon pulls and the music strikes up
Maggie sets us to dancing wherever we are
in forests, in bedrooms, in streets, in our graves
and we move with the rhythm
and give Maggie the praise

Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse   (September 2008)


I sat in the waiting room with one other woman. She was older, probably my mother’s age. We didn’t make eye contact as we mindlessly flipped the pages of our magazines. The industrial clock on the wall noted the passage of time with slow clicks and added to my anxiety. I can’t speak for her’s. It was the fall of 1995. Two days prior, I had awakened to find a large lump in my breast. It was Labor Day, so I had to wait. My doctor got me in to see her the same day and arranged for my mammogram the next day. Things moved quickly, until after the mammo. Until the waiting room, then time slowed.

Click, click…

Finally the tech came into the room. Hand on my shoulder, an ever so slight smile on her face, asked, “Is anyone with you?” My fear overflowed into the room, closely followed by my tears as I was told they would need to talk to me. The motherly woman across from me did what mothers do and said, “It will be okay, honey”. My barely uttered words,

“But I have a five year old”.

Click, click…

Then time shifted again. Words defined moments…You need to have a biopsy. You have cancer. We’ll schedule you for surgery. We will remove your right breast. You will go home the same day. We will know more about treatment after.

Click, click…

But I have a five year old.

In the pre-Google world, my waking hours were filled with unanswered questions. What was the survival rate? Who would take Adam to the Y for his soccer game? Would I live to see him graduate, marry, have children?

Awaking from surgery, I was told that the doctors were wrong. I didn’t have cancer. I stopped asking questions. I didn’t need to know more. Gratitude was overflowing.

Twenty-three years and several health scares since, life has been so good to me. I have learned that I don’t need all of the answers, because despite my fears, I have survived. I have also learned that life doesn’t follow “waiting room time”. It goes much more quickly and although I would love to slow it down some, when I stay in the present, I find joy.

My five year old is now my twenty eight year old. This past Saturday he married the love of his life, and I was there.







Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

We Are Afraid

“Fear is one of the persistent hounds of hell that dog the footsteps of the poor, the dispossessed, the disinherited….It is a climate closing in; it is like the fog in San Francisco….It is a mood which one carries around with himself, distilled from the acrid conflict with which his days are surrounded.”    —  Howard Thurman Jesus and the Disinherited

“I was afraid of him. I knew he’d kill me. So I left him, changed my name, went to a totally different city. He found me a month later and buried me alive. I don’t know how long —” Peggy says, her tone matter-of-fact.

“Like in a box? Underground?” I interrupt to check my ears.

“In a box underground,” she replies, pausing to wipe her eyes. “By the time that he finally started digging me up, and asked me before he opened the box if I was going to obey him, I had scratches all over my neck and arms, trying to get my veins out to end it.”

Peggy and I are sitting outside the local food co-op in Bloomington, Indiana, drinking coffee on a warm September morning. We’re quite familiar with one another, but I’m not sure you could call us friends. Peggy moved into the guest room in my family’s house about a month ago. So while we live together we still don’t know each other very well. It is normal for us — me, my husband and our two young children — to live with someone who would otherwise be homeless. It’s part of what we do as members of the Bloomington Catholic Worker community (BCW). But it is not normal for me to spend an hour listening to a guest talk about her fears. I’m thinking now that it should be.

Peggy was raised by her grandparents on a farm in southern Indiana. She was a scrawny girl who was frequently picked on. “They put gum in my hair,” she recalls. “Just mean kids. My sister always took up after me, but we were always molested until I was sixteen.”

At fifty-one, Peggy is petite but muscular, assertive and sweet. She calls the cashier at the co-op, “youngin’” and me, “honey.” Her long, curly hair has been dyed the red of fallen leaves, but the roots show the gray of stress. I’m envious of her energy: though she comes home after a full day of volunteering at the day shelter and weeding the garden at the Peer Recovery Center, she will still take up a broom and whisk away the dirt from our living room floor. Staying busy and helping people is one of the ways she copes.

“What’s your biggest fear?” I ask as I glance around at the other tables, aware that her voice carries. Peggy doesn’t seem to notice. She keeps her gaze on me.

“My biggest fear is Kent getting out of prison in a little under six months. I still have my nightmares, where I can smell the dirt. Thank goodness I haven’t woke up screaming in your house yet! That’s one of my biggest fears because that’s something I can’t get out of. So now I’m carrying a flashlight, a lighter, a knife on me at all times because honestly if that ever happens to me again, I will probably slit my throat.”

“How do you build back up after something like that?” I ask.

“A lot of prayer. A lot of faith. A lot of talking to caseworkers, psychiatrists,” Peggy says. She puts her hands around her coffee cup. Her pale blue eyes are wide, and she grins. “That’s why I’ve always watched scary movies, like Criminal Minds. Believe it or not, you can watch someone be in a situation and watch that show and try to figure out how to get out of it before you get in it.”

Peggy’s imagined, again and again, what might happen if Kent gets paroled and comes looking for her. She’s contemplated carrying around a small shovel, to dig herself up, and a gun for protection. “After everything I’ve been through, I will go down fighting before I give up.”

Yes you will, I think. I’m right there with her: I imagine myself pummeling her ex. But the truth is I have not been formed by fear the way Peggy has. I know I’d just collapse into a heap on the floor.

I know this because just the other night, a stranger paced the sidewalk outside our house screaming obscenities. When I pulled back the shade, he saw me and started to approach the house. My heart quickened. I locked the doors and windows and went to Peggy’s room.

“Peggy,” I asked, “do you know that guy?”

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” she said.

“Is that your ex?” I asked.

“No way. He’s still in prison. I was hoping you knew him.”

“Nope,” I said, peeking out the window again. The guy was gone.

“I’ll see if I can find him,” Peggy said, pulling on her hoodie.

“You sure?” I asked. I was not about to chase down an angry stranger.

“Yeah. I’m not afraid.” She slipped out into the night and walked the block, but we never found out who he was.

By Laura Lasuertmer for The Poplar Grove Muse, excerpted from a piece originally published in Geez Magazine #48.

Love Letters Straight from the Heart


I went crazy and cleaned out a drawer in tall chest in my bedroom recently. The top one that held old pairs of glasses, part of my rock collection, two very small baskets, an old Blockbuster card.

Tucked away back in a corner were the signature blue airmail envelopes containing love letters from my then future ex-husband. They were way sweeter and way more articulate than I remembered. I met him when I worked in a hotel the summers of 95 and 96 on the Isle of Mull in Scotland on a work abroad program. He was the barman and I worked in reception. He was English. Well, he’s still English; he just was invited not to be my husband anymore.

Our tryst had begun my second summer there.  I had gone back to America after that to return to work and school. He stayed in Scotland to finish out the season at the hotel before going back down to England for the winter. He missed me, longed for me even. His bed was empty and cold. He loved me more than he could express. One envelope even had S.W.A.K. on the back flap. At the end of one letter he had spelled out love with tiny x’s. Sweet. Tom, you sweet, sweet man who wrote sweet letters, if only that had been our whole story.

And there were the letters from Robert. Ah, Robert, the brother of one of my co-workers at the hotel. Instant cosmic connection. Old souls reunited. Letters on thin blue onion skin paper. Pale words penciled in tiny script, five pages double-sided. Saying everything, saying nothing. Words of guarded love, words of universal love unbound. Memories of our time together that first summer I was on Mull, when he told me I had the brightest aura of anyone he had ever seen. Books, gifts, presents sent.

The connection was so strong that when I was back home I knew when he was sick. He knew when I was feeling down. We met twice when I came back the second summer. Our connection scared him his sister told me, old scars still raw. But I was not the one who caused them. He ran like a scared rabbit. Oh, Robert, if there had been an us, there never would have been a Tom.






Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse   


As if wire and pinewood
unspooled to a vanishing point
along the foamy shoreline
could keep the drifting dune
in place.

As when gulls fly inland, summer
people leave, every season has its
storm. I see you letting go at the edges
looking out beyond everything
– steel waters, sobering skies.

As if we had more time to make
ourselves known to the world,
to one another, assume we’ll remake
what floats away—our lives in surges;
our tattered windsocks, our weathered homes.

As we ponder this together on the lip
of the last wave, our feet disappear
in clutches of cool sand. We hold hands,
brace for balance, seek safety in interiors.
Our fragility affirmed, we promise return.

Beth Lodge-Rigal September 2018