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

MAGGIE

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.”

Maggie

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)

Click…

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   

Sandbreak

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

The Vanity of the Seasons

Fall has always been my favorite time of year, even when I was a small child. I love the brilliance, the crispness, the change from the heat-formed, clinging odors to sharp and pungent ones. I like to see the squirrels busy getting ready for the coming winter and the trees doing the same. Of course, I regret the passing of summer, as I regret the passing of each season, but I rejoice the most when it’s autumn on its way in.

I was also born in the fall…in September, so I suppose that may play a part in my love of the season. However, as I’ve reached old age, I find myself with mixed emotions about what another fall means to me. If I were religious, I’d give any deity thanks for my still being around. Since I’m not religious, I’m just glad that I am here. But here’s the rub: I’ve found that there are more associations and reasons for regarding seasonal changes with a bit of a jaundiced eye than there ever were when I was younger…or, at least, ones that I am more conscious of than when I was 30 or 50 or even 60.

Let’s get right to today’s reason. Everything I read about older women seems aimed to make me even more aware of oldness. Whether it’s telling me it’s okay to be old or telling me it’s not okay, but here are the ways to make me seem younger so I’ll be okay. Or that it’s okay, get over it. Or that it’s not okay and I should get over it. Or that I don’t exist as a real human individual anymore, get over it. But it all stems from being categorized as “old” and “other”.

I’ve pretty much been “other” most of my life…just being a female made me “other”. Not quite accepting the full role of women as defined in the 50s and 60s made me a little more “other”. Deciding not to have children made me “other”.  Refusing to wear heels (and I’m very short) made me “other”. Being determined to have an academic career made me “other”. Wanting to drive a semi-truck when I was kid made me “other”. Not being a sports fan made me “other”. Still, these were all choices that I made and don’t regret, although I’ve spent a lot of time either defending, explaining, or both, these choices. But there are things that have made me “other” that I didn’t choose, and it’s those that stab at me now, some of which have become more obvious as the world has seasoned me.

And it’s that age thing that I’m thinking of right now…the age is not choice, but how I am in it mostly is….and I am finding that vanities I have thought don’t matter do matter now. The change from summer into fall is a good example. I’ve always liked clothing that was a little different, but comfortable (thus the mention of high heels above), but kind of reflective of who I think/thought I am. And this year, as the coolness of the season whispers its arrival, I found myself feeling relief…why? Because I didn’t have to search for clothing that would be cool enough for our Indiana humid summer heat, but which would cover up my wrinkly upper arms! I could not believe that all-of-a-sudden, I cared about wrinkly arms…what the heck??? Yet, I am looking forward to warm long winter sleeves. I don’t care about my wrinkly face…I refuse to wear make-up; almost always have, hate that greasy stuff, including lipstick, anywhere on my face. So let the neck sag and the eye pouches puff and the lips narrow…no seasonal change can do much about that, and it’s an otherness that is part of my self-definition.  Bare ankles? No problem! Bare toes…well, there are those socks I love with my sandals…and my toes get cold really easily. More otherness. Socks in the summer season…why not? But those arms…no, no, no! Sometimes, at home alone, when they are bare, I get an accidental glimpse of them, and the hanging flaps where muscle used to be (and to be honest, a bit of fat) just stop me in my tracks and I look away at what I think is ugliness, even if my reflective self says “so what”…Ugh. No amount of self-talk has convinced me to go sleeveless, or cap-sleeved. Nope. No way. Forget it.

And oh, are there remedies for this. Plain old exercise and weight lifting are supposed to do the trick. 50 pound barbells. 50 reps. Seven days a week. You don’t have barbells or belong to a gym? Then just heft a couple bags of flour in each had…those big bags. Or put a rod up in your doorway and do 500 pull ups. Or get down on the floor, careful of the creaky knees and do 1,000 push-ups. That, old woman, will get rid of those creepy upper arms.

Don’t want to exercise? Have we got a solution for you ! For just $99.95 plus shipping for a 5 ounce tube, we have this miracle cream, made from secret herbs that will do the trick. All natural, of course. Just rub it on (ignore that herbal odor…just put it on on a day when you’re not going to wear anything but a bra, no other top). In ten days, bingo! No more crepe! Arms toned like a 20 year-old !  If  it doesn’t work after 10 days, sorry. You can’t find us anywhere to get your money back.

Or, we have these magic bands. Just wrap them around your upper arms every day and the heat from them will melt that extra skin away. Just be careful of burns.

The arms still sag and wiggle and mock me. Most importantly, they mock my vanity, my vanity about not being vain. They mock my attempts to just accept my almost-76-year-old-body. And, most importantly, they mock my attempt to like all seasons equally…because of them, I just can’t like summer as much as its three siblings. Sorry summer, but that’s just how it is. So I’ll bid you adieu today. Maybe next year we can try again.

Fall, my favorite, bring it on and know that this old other has an arm up her sleeve as well as a few tricks and treats.

Bev Hartford for The Poplar Grove Muse

 

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