Leaving Westie Way

A backward glance…

Leaving Westie Way.

Why must it be

the most beautiful

the day we leave

for the last time,

autumn sunlight dappled just so,

never saw it ladled quite as deliciously.

The family of loons not seen all summer

now suddenly patrols the dock,

aloofly,

not wanting to seem

the slightest bit interested

in the ruckus.

The chipmunks will wonder, peevishly

where their nightly trove of Spanish peanuts has gone.

Grover the groundhog will sigh wearily at the prospect

of having to charm new owners yet again.

The male and female cardinal will look for us in vain on the front deck

after countless nightly visits,

and decree their human companions

to be fickle at best.

Taking our leave,

the dirt road behind us will unspool,

dustily, as always

and we may miss the new fawn

who pops her head out from the brush,

curious,

wondering at someone leaving such a place

when all around her is golden.

roses-any-heavens

Any Heavens

If there are any heavens

my mother will all by herself

have one.

It will not be a pansy heaven

nor a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley.

It will be a heaven of solid yellow roses

with sturdy thick notched stems

not prone to bending.

 

The blooms will be embarrassingly,

Sinfully fragrant, the size of

baseballs when fully blazing.

They’ll radiate light in their yellowness and

never die.

sequin-brooch_840x400

Washed Up..

When did everyone start washing with Purell

Every time you turn around?

As if we could prevent anything.

Stop germs

if they have any interest in us

whatsoever.

When did greeting cards start costing 12 dollars,

for real.

No one else notices:

The guy in front of me buys four.

Unfazed.

And while I’m at it

When

Did it become a crime to dress.

You’re so dressed up,

spat out

like the worst possible indictment,

And there is me.

The unforgivable,

in heels, and ok,

maybe

a sequined brooch.

 

Pier-in-Fog

Clearing.

Orphaned and standing in the rain

But it’s not as bad as it sounds,

I can hear Bonnie Raitt’s voice from a car

in the parking lot.

A kid just smiled at me

from his seat in a shopping cart.

No reason.

Just smiled.

The forecast is for better days.

I smiled back.

books0198

Are any of our dreams the same?

My maternal grandmother was dead long before I was born.

Rose Ann Bradley was her name, born in County Cavan, Ireland, one of 11 children.

My mother spoke of her infrequently, and never unkindly. But the impression of her remains as that of an indomitable woman, withholding and glacial.

The story that reverberated the most for me was this one: she and my mother were sitting in front of the fire grate in their tenement flat in Glasgow. My grandmother had suffered a stroke and was in a wheelchair. My mom was nursing my eldest sister Kathryn.

She steeled herself to ask her mother a question: I say steeled because they shared no closeness, no confidences.

“Mother, can I get pregnant while I am nursing?” This was in the days when reproductive knowledge and education was almost non-existent.

A long pause, and then came her gruff reply: “Lassie, you know what you’ve been doin.’”

Rose Ann married her husband Thomas Smith, a Glaswegian, without loving him. He was educated and she knew he would teach her what he knew. She could neither read nor write. She signed her marriage certificate with an X. She had 12 children and lost twins at birth, a 19 year old daughter to TB and a 22 year old son to the war.

If I had a chance to meet her, I would ask my grandmother if she had dreams for her children. I’d ask her what was it like to marry a man she didn’t love. About the harsh life she must have endured in Ireland as one of 11 children. And what she was like as a little girl before life intervened.

I will never know her but she made my being here possible. And I wonder what parts of me are her. My love of the saxophone? The way I curl myself in sleep?

Are any of our dreams the same?

My mother often said she wanted to be the mother she never had.

And for that, I owe to Rose Ann Bradley Smith my unblemished gratitude.

Dock-at-dusk

Last One Home.

My attraction to abandoned places continues to prompt my writing, in various ways. Here is a piece I wrote last month, by the water at dusk, after all of my guests had packed up and returned to the city. Such a difference when everyone has left.

The resident family of loons, emboldened by the sudden silence, magically reappear, and glide ever and ever closer to the dock, happy to have the lake returned to them once again.

Last One Home.

The dock bobs in the brilliant sunshine,

not a soul on it.

See the watercraft there, lined up along the shore

like silent soldiers,

oars at the ready for willing hands.

Lifejackets in bins lie folded and stacked.

Rubber buoys squeak and jostle

with nothing to do.

 

The hammock lies still,

awaiting a sleepy visitor.

The firepit seeks a crowd of rowdy singers.

The chipmunks scurry freely

And no dogs give chase.

No voices calling back and forth.

Sunscreen, please. More towels.

My I-Pod!

 

The birds sing

but half-heartedly,

with no audience to perform for.

Ceremoniously,

the sunset unfolds its glory

all on its own.

LANDS21

For Chuck.

I just heard about the sudden death of a high school classmate. Chuck was my date for the prom, my soulmate during some dark days of my youth, my port in a storm. This, then, is for him.

For Chuck.

When I first heard you had died

and far too soon

I picture you

running at full tilt,

fearless as ever,

down the back hallway outside the chemistry lab,

to take the five steps down in one flying jump.

I see you next at my parent’s front door

on a cool spring night,

my date for the prom,

nervous, exuberant.

overpriced wrist corsage in hand,

And me,

stunned someone had asked.

I wore my sister’s dress from two years before,

the sleeves shortened,

but it mattered not,

because you told me

I looked beautiful.

You actually used that word.

Beautiful.

Thank you, Chuck,

for that night,

for seeing in me

what no other boy did,

what I couldn’t myself,

for actually listening when I spoke,

for telling me I was smart,

and not saying

for a girl.

Thank you, dear boy,

for the kind of laughter that hurts your stomach,

for dancing with me that night in the gymnasium

to the Righteous Brothers,

for making it magical somehow,

despite the basketball hoops

and the scratchy sound

and the bad lighting.

For delivering to me the moments that help define us,

and shape the best

of what we can

and will be.

 

Stephen Hawking, tectonic plates, and going with the Buttercup.

On a brilliant summer afternoon I am reading Stephen Hawking. OK, perusing. Who ever reads Hawking except Hawking? And I am wondering what part of my brain is missing as I work my way through it. His observations are uncanny, wondrous. To wit, here’s classic Hawking:

“If the rate of expansion one second after the “big bang” had been smaller by even one part in a hundred million million, the universe would have re-collapsed.”

On that comforting note… And what to do with it?

Well, one thing I did was write this poem, “Why Worry.” Actually, I do find these lofty pronouncements comforting in an odd way.  I don’t know what it is about looking at the bigger picture for me. I do it a lot, as witnessed below. Instead of troubling me it gives me solace. Perhaps because it reminds me how miraculous it is that time and tide conjoined to bring me here at all. To bring each of us here.

And it reminds me how unimportant it is whether I go with the Highland Cream or the Buttercup paint, although I am leaning toward Buttercup.

Here, then, I ask: “Why Worry?”

We sit on vast tectonic plates equivalent in thickness

to the skin of an

apple.

Beneath,

a vast pool of molten rock, magma

so hot it burns

clear through the Earth’s crust up to the surface. Volcanoes erupt.

Did you hear me? The skin of an apple

determines our fate. We are powerless.

We tread on the

filament of a spider’s web.

sand-dollar

Advice from a Poet Now Gone.

Advice to me on writing from a friend and poet, now gone.

Write poems, no matter whether they’re read, no matter what anyone says.

Forget about being judged, who is right, or wrong. Forget all of it. Will they think I am smart? Worthy? Put it all aside.

Close your eyes, stand at the edge of the board, shivering. Dive in to the deep, the cold. It’s down there, waiting, and the harder, the more painful it is to find, the more important it is to find it. 

Jeff-Phillips-Reflection-in-Puddle_840x400

Company.

We all know those moments of clarity with someone we love, that tell us more than perhaps we are ready to know.

This poem “Company” is based on a story a cousin once shared with me, of a long-ago evening when she lost not just one person, but two people once so very dear to her.

Company

She asked him to do one thing
In all those years.

One thing she asked of him,
To sit up with her all the night long
As she waited word of her mother,
Sick, suddenly, and so very far away.

The call came in the small secret hours of morning
and she crept to the phone
To hear the worst she could imagine,
Her mother was gone from her, forever,
In a place she would never know,
Worlds away.

Narrow light seeped in at the window.
She felt the chill of the new morning.
And she felt it alone.