sheep

Why I love children

I love their whimsy, how they abandon themselves to fun and are able to find it in almost all things. And how they have not the slightest fear of judgment or disdain.

In Tongue years ago, way up in the northernmost reaches of Scotland I popped in to a local shop. While browsing I spotted a wee lassie there with her father, dressed up in her lovely kilt, a matching tartan tam perched at an angle on her head.

She was curious about me – and watched me, as children will do – her eyes following me around the shop.

Standing alongside her I pointed to a tiny toy sheep displayed on the shelf, which was dressed comically in a full perfect tuxedo.

I asked her, quietly: “Now what would a sheep be doing dressed in a tux?”

She thought about it and then announced, seriously:

“Maybe he’s goin’ tae a weddin’.”

rotary phone

Missed Calls

I remember even now how it would feel

when you wouldn’t call.

Cursing the ugly faded pink rotary phone

sitting mute at the desk on the landing.

I grew to hate that phone. Its insolence.

Its deadness.

 

I left the light off on the desk to lessen expectation,

tried not to listen for it

not ringing,

lifting the receiver every ten minutes.

Maybe a power outage, a felled tree limb,

slamming it down again.

 

I hated you for all of it,

for this stranger I had become,

saddling me with a rejection so deep

I can still hear the deafening sound of that phone

not ringing.

 

velella

A Windblown Legacy

Dolphins are toothed whales. Who knew?

How do you distinguish a dolphin fin from a shark fin? (You never know when that might come in handy.)

Easy!

Dolphins roll at the surface so you see more than just the fin. If you only see the fin and nothing more, head for the (air) mattresses.

I just came in from the beach. I was, as ever on these islands, beachcombing, with my writing pad and pencil tucked into my windbreaker pocket, hunting for “sea glass.”

It takes about 20 years for a piece of regular bottle glass to evolve into the much sought after “beach glass,” ubiquitous now in pendants, earrings, bracelets, etc. Twenty years, that is, of continuous buffeting by course sand and salt and sea spray. The glass must be exposed to all these elements during that time to render it smooth and opaque. And exquisite.

I bring these treasures home and display them everywhere – in wine glasses, soup tureens, ice buckets, any receptacle will do. In fact, the more incongruous the vessel, I find, the more intriguing the display.

These trips never disappoint. In a recent seaside meander I happened upon a diminutive jellyfish, a fascinating creature, about the size of a pinkie finger. They are usually deep blue in color, but their most obvious feature is a small stiff sail atop a transparent cylindrical base that catches the wind and propels them over the surface of the sea. The mainsail in this case is the fish’s protective barnacle, made of a fingernail like substance.

This jellyfish is commonly know by the names sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail, or simply Velella. Yes, they are small but they are amazingly resilient. Like Sammy Davis Jr (RIP). Or a toddler resisting bedtime.

When these wee jellyfish die their hardy mainsail remains, to become part of all that outlives us… their weathered windblown legacy.

More beaches – and discoveries await.

SW06

The Cost

Yes, painful, so very often
to have fewer filters than most.
To be wide awake to the hurt in the world.
I look across at the driver next to me at the stop light
and wonder if he is loved.
It is involuntary. Born in some. Inescapable.
Manifest.
This breathing in the pain of others. Then carrying it.
Never failing to notice the one lonely person in the room,
the resigned among us.
Drawn to what is broken, all that needs tending.
Powerless to look away.
And always more to see.

But I pay the cost.
Would pay it twice in this life of mine
for what it gives in return,
this unseen affliction.

See me here.
Still standing,
bearing scars under my clothes,
yet laughter rises easily in me.
Still able to take a child’s delight
in an unexpected gift,
a fresh snowfall,
a baby returning my smile.

See me here.
I am still standing.
And so terribly vulnerable to joy.

beach

Sea Change

The sea is my book today;
I read it wave by wave.
Light changes, wind shifts, the story unfolds,
the afternoon drifts on.
The mood is a placid one:
the water more green than blue.
Its movement is rhythmic, predictable,
like metered verse:
neat stanzas piling up on the shore,
politely making room for more.
Not like yesterday with its heavy drama,
all driving wind and heaving surf,
a real old-fashioned page-turner.
True to form,
it took no prisoners.
Tomorrow
from this same perch,
a brand new yarn awaits:
different book jacket,
different author,
title yet to come.

Canadian singer and poet Leonard Cohen i

Goodbye, Leonard Cohen.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

I thank you, Leonard Cohen, for sharing your gift with us, shining light in life’s darkest corners, so we could see. He labored with severe depression through various periods of his life, the price he paid for his gift, a price he paid on behalf of all of us.

church-cross

Reverence

I can’t step into a church without being reminded of Leo.
I see him, leaning heavily on his cane, waiting in the vestibule
to usher the parishioners to their seats,
his labored gait up the aisle, one leg stiff,
the shoulder of his Canadian Legion jacket strewn
with medals and ribbons.
In the stillness the rubber tip of his cane
squeaks loudly against the polished floor.

The star resident at her mother’s boarding-house,
my friend Linda said we should visit him.
He’d insisted,
and there had been toffees promised.
Restless and bored one spring day I relented,
followed Linda home and climbed the stairs lazily to Leo’s room.
Unlike the others his door was open.
There was Leo, lying on his bed, his cane alongside,
rest the only respite from his affliction.

Come in, close the door.
Feed my bird Charlie.
I worried then about telling my mother this.
But Leo wasn’t a stranger.
Everyone knew Leo.
Father Blackwell told us in catechism class
it was men like Leo who had kept us free.
The shabby room smelled of wet wool
from clothes drying on the radiator
and of Old Sail, his pipe tobacco.
A bowl of sweets beckoned by the bed.
Charlie was bustling about in his cage.
Sit beside Leo, honey.
A good Catholic girl, I did as the hero said.
The bristles of his beard stung my face,
his breath turned to a rasp.
I smelled something fetid on his breath.
When he released me
Charlie was singing,
still.

book-1696642_960_720

While cleaning out a bookcase.

For Richard Blessing

There is a poet I’m reading
After being surprised to come upon his dog-eared collection
While cleaning a bookcase.
I had forgotten even owning it.
His name won’t mean anything to you, never famous or fashionable,
But it draws me after all these years,
His slim dusty volume so callously abandoned.
How quickly I am reminded of his sublime voice,
Like that of a long forgotten beloved friend,
Resurrected now line by line,
Rising off the yellowed pages
In the slate gray light of this autumn afternoon.

His father’s nurse says she’s too tall for marriages.
The younger poets are ample in their margins.
The migrating salmon leap like sparks from some windy chimney.
The sound of his son’s bat on a baseball, as sweet as any teacake,
the ball’s leaping arc making the field small.

It’s gratitude I feel to find him once again,
Someone I didn’t even know I had lost,
Relieved to have unearthed his particular genius, restored it to my life.

I won’t be rich or famous, you said, sad on your birthday.
I don’t have a baby. Now it’s too late.
I pull you close. We have missed nothing. This is our only life.

And just when I think he can give me no more
Comes his closing prayer, this long dead poet
With no name you would know:
May grace be drawn to our ill-suited hands.

glass-resized

Face Value

John Wayne hated horses. Took a truck whenever he could.
Esther Williams hated water. Couldn’t wait to dry off
after every shot.
Dr. Seuss was annoyed by children, their unpredictability.
Beiber probably hates his own music.

Whatever you think is true about anyone
turn it on its head then flip it again.
You’ll be closer.

Next I’ll be telling you Marilyn Monroe hated sex.
But I bet you a year of Hollywood’s grosses
she did.

It gets worse:
The flawless model: photo shopped.
The philanthropist cheats on his taxes.
The environmentalist cannot live without A/C.
No one throws it back like the prohibitionist.
The priest,
I hate to say it, the priest’s no saint either.

Assume everyone you meet is revealed to you
Through a prism,
Leaving you one option: to tease out
the viewing angle with the least distortion.
And even then.