Category Archives: Eulogy

Wheat

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Wheat

A stalk of it usually extended from between his teeth when he was out inspecting a field come June or July. It collected in his pants cuffs and in the hat band of his broad-brimmed work hat.  Bags of it wintered in a huge pile that filled our garage one year when there had been a good crop and all the barns and silos were full to bursting. The cars stood outside in the gravel driveway just off the alley and behind the garage that winter and our house was strangely empty of mice as they took shelter in the garage instead. Our outside cat grew fat even though he rarely came to the back door to be fed.

Ours was a little ecological system all its own.  Mice feasted on  grain spilled from burst seams in the garage. The cat feasted on the mice and we feasted on the steaks of Black Angus cattle who had eaten the ensilage from wheat stripped of its grains.

If I have always worked hard to furnish the bread and butter of my life, it is wheat that has furnished the dessert–my college education, my first car and, after my dad died and I inherited 1/6 interest in the farm and ranch, my first house.

Our lives were run by wheat and cattle.  During the summer, no time for family vacations. Wheat and cattle were my dad’s alarm clock. He rose before sunrise every morning and was often asleep in his chair before sunset, wheat spilling out of his pants cuffs or high top boots or stuck by the hooked spines of its beards to the fabric footstool in front of his rocker.

He slept hard, my father, and rose early to insure everything worked to the cycle of the nature that had surrounded him from the time, as a three-year-old boy, he had stepped off the Union Pacific train that had brought him and his mother to the little South Dakota town both he and later I grew up in. As they descended the metal steps, my grandmother had held one hand down to grasp the hand of my three-year-old father. The other was extended upward, holding a cage with two canaries. My grandfather and teenaged aunts were there to greet him and my grandmother, who, even though she had been the one who decreed that they should leave their safe security in Iowa to claim a homestead on the Dakota prairie,  had not traveled by wagon, but instead had sent her young girls and husband on ahead to prepare a way for her and her youngest.

My grandfather––a Dutch immigrant who was not a farmer, but rather a baker better suited for working with wheat in its miled state––did what most people did when my grandmother issued demands.  He complied.  It made for a hard life for them all–fighting the harsh South Dakota winters out on the plains as well as prairie fires, plagues of grasshoppers and schizophrenic weather that could furnish either drought, unseasonal rain or hail–all of which could ruin a wheat crop. So that later, when I asked my dad why he never frequented the games parlor where the other men played poker and lofted a beer or two, he said that he had no need for games of chance. His whole life as a rancher and farmer had been the biggest gamble of all.

My grandparents never did learn the correct formula, but my father, surrounded by the prairie from age three to seventy, learned its secrets well. Enough to buy out his parents as well as others who tried and failed. Enough to ensure the comfort of his wife and children and his grandchildren. Enough to die at what, now that I am nearly  69,  seems like the young age of 70.

Year after year, as he tilled the rich South Dakota soil to plant the grains of wheat he’d saved to seed a new crop––he seeded my life as well, along with that of my mother, my sisters, my nieces and nephews–all of our lives growing and prospering from those millions of shafts of grain that he planted and watched over and harvested and stored and replanted over a period  of fifty years.

The WordPress prompt today was “Grain.”

Heading South

Heading South

My friend put on her traveling gown
for London was her sort of town
where mouths share tales and shoulders rub
when friends or strangers meet at the pub.

My friend put on her traveling gown
for Paris was her sort of town—
gone to the boulevard to eat
where strangers she perchance would meet.

A demitasse or two, or more,
a shared baguette or petit four—
approachable down to the bone.
Better not to eat alone.

She was a traveler, born to roam
when she was not ensconced in home.
Back home, a cat upon her lap.
Away from home, a well-creased map.

On maps, the south is always down,
be it Paris or London town.
So be not sad or down at mouth.
Our friend is merely going south!

As I grow older, I like to think
one day we’ll meet there for a drink.
Well-versed, our friend will show us where
to sip our coffee in open air.

Or snuggle in for shepherd’s pie
in company fit for roving eye.
To lift a pint or raise a glass
once we have joined her there en masse.


(Word came yesterday that my friend of 49 years had passed away in a London hotel room, where she was just finishing up a month long vacation.  If you haven’t read yesterday’s post, go HERE.)

Marilyn suggested this song which my poem reminded her of.  It is one of my favorites, so I’m including it here…the link provided by okcforgottenman. In his words,  ‘It is Fort Worth Blues, written by Steve Earle in tribute to the then recent passing of Townes Van Zandt. You can see him sing it HERE- in a Townes tribute on Austin City Limits. It’s a worthy tribute to Grimmer, too, I think.’

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/south/

Poetry by Prescription: Goodbye Old Paint

Image

Goodbye Old Paint

What have you eaten that we have forgotten?
What lost earring resides
in the deepest recesses of your front seat?
What coins shaken and pushed into your crevasses?
And do you remember the song made up on the spot
and sung just once, then left forgotten in Nevada?
Do you still carry the dust of Tonopah
or that yearning to actually see something extraterrestrial
on the Extraterrestrial Highway?
Do you carry shards of his boredom while driving
mile after mile of Utah beauty?
Do you still carry her expectations of sharing
the giant faces of Rushmore
and echoes of the fact that he expected more?

What of molecules of the Mississippi crossing
or dreams of the memories of Hannibal?
What sweat from those Mississippi hours
waiting outside the B.B. King Museum?

Salt grains and chocolate crumbs
and DNA of those few souls who rode along in you—
all parked in a parking lot waiting to be bought
by someone who will never know the hidden you.
Just like the rest of the world,
frequented by interlopers.
Only we, leaving you, will murmur “Goodbye Old Paint”
and know that although you neither hear nor answer,
somehow our past is locked up inside of you
and there a part of us will stay
while we depart without it.

The prompt today was by Forgottenman, who wanted me to memorialize his faithful automobile companion, Old Paint (pictured here to his right). To his left is his new love, Soul Red.  To see his prompt, go to his blog here.

NaPoWriMo Day 25: She

She

She was fingers drumming lightly on my arm while I fell asleep,
a box of candy that my dad had to hide or it would be gone by morning,
fingerprints of bright coral rouge staining the top of her powder puff.
She was a girl’s rhymed diary that told of filling the church elders’ hats full of Bon Ami powder.
A fatherless girl sleeping with her sisters on a sun porch in Kansas.
A sister of a girl who wore a nightgown to a ball,
the sister of a man who couldn’t stop drinking,
the sister of a girl who died in the great flu epidemic of 1918
and of a father who died in the great flu epidemic of 1918.
She was the sister of a woman who died in childbirth
and the sister-in-law of a man she did not marry to raise her sister’s child.
A woman who liked radish and onion sandwiches
and cornbread and orange Jello with shredded carrots and pineapple.
She was a girl late to marry who lied about her age until in her nineties.
A woman who never told her real name to daughters
until her daughters were women as well.

She was a good friend who never revealed secrets.
A woman who finished her housework quickly to lie on the divan and read.
A woman with a mangle who ironed the body and arms of shirts
while her daughters ironed the collars and cuffs.
A member of the Progressive Study Club who wrote all the plays for State Conference.
The woman who wrote the play, “The Hillbilly Wedding”
that started out, “Ye critters and Ye varmints, we are are gathered here today
to wed this man and woman in hillbilly sorta way.
H’ebenezer, Hannabella, do ye promise to be true and always love each other?”
“We do, We do.”
She was the mother who played silly tricks on her pre-teenage daughter
and hid in the closet to see if they worked.
The woman who had all her teeth pulled on the same day and nearly bled to death.
A town girl who lived in a tiny trailer with my father on the empty prairies of Dakota
and traveled from dam building site to site with him the first year they were married.
The town girl with no bathroom, so they had to park by service stations to use theirs.
The girl who counted to see how long she could hold her hand in the oven
to determine when the heat was right to bake cakes in her wood-burning oven
and who swam with her mother-in-law in a large stock tank.

She was the woman who took her daughter out on summer nights to look for U.F.O.’s.
The woman who never learned how to play the piano
but insisted her daughter take lessons for 8 long years,
and the woman whose daughter never really learned how to play the piano.
She was the trainer of dogs and parakeets and baby bunnies
rescued from the prairie by my dad.
The assembler of Halloween costumes and the decorator of Christmas trees.
She was the woman whose Christmas decorations one year were entirely silver and pink
and who made an elaborate chandelier ornament out of sprayed coat hangers.
The woman who drove her daughters 60 miles to buy saddle shoes
and 150 miles in the opposite direction to see an eye doctor.
She was the woman whose husband loved babies—
the woman who collected spare babies in restaurants
to take them to her husband to hold
while their mothers finished their meals.

She was the woman who showed her daughters how to make
Philippine lanterns to use as May baskets.
The woman who dressed up as a witch for Halloween and was so good in her role
that she sent children screaming down the sidewalk.
The woman who took off her mask for the rest of the night.
She was the woman who made up long rhyming poems about what pieces of the body
were being handed around the circle in a darkened room on Halloween:
a peeled grape, a bowl of spaghetti, a piece of liver.
She was the woman who covered lamps with sheets and pinned on
paper ghost eyes, nose,mouth.
and who collected corn stalks for decorations.
She was the woman who loved Halloween
but loved Christmas even more.
The woman who hid grass nests full of jelly beans and sugar eggs
all over the house every Easter.
The woman who found one of her own nests when decorating for Christmas.

She was the woman who loved to read who could read her daughters like a book.
The woman who could sometimes read her husband like a book—
the woman who said, “What did you do? You brought home another animal, didn’t you?”
the day my dad entered the living room with a sheepish look,
even though he’d left the rubber boot with the tiny puppy inside in the mud room.
She was the woman who had said the same thing
when he brought home the bunnies, the kittens, the tiny mole, the raccoon and the magpie.
She was the woman with the quilted satin robe with the long train
that the baby bunny hopped up on for a ride around the house.
The woman who taught Chipper, the parakeet, to say,
“Hello, Betty Jo. Judy Kay. Judy Kay. Patti Adair. Gee you’re cute!
Gimmee a kiss (kissing sounds). Baaaaaaad Benny!”
She was the woman named Pat whose husband was named Ben.
They were the couple whom later we later learned were really
Eunice Lydia and Gerben Sylvanus.
She was the wife of a rancher but gave him three girls.
They were the ones to insist all three girls go to college.
She was the mother whose travels had extended from Kansas to South Dakota to Iowa
who gave permission for her daughter
to set out to travel around the world
when she was still in her teens.
She was the woman who convinced her husband to move to Arizona
the year her youngest went off to college.
The woman who sold her mangle and became a fashion plate again in her 50’s.
She was a woman with four swimsuits
who did 1,000 exercises in her Arizona pool every day.
A woman who went dancing every Friday night,
who tried to take up golf and failed,
who lay on her chaise on her patio and read books
while her husband went to the corner café to regale his new audience with old stories.
She was the woman who flew to Australia to visit her daughter.
The woman who traded houses every few years
for the fun of buying and decorating a new one.
She was the grieving wife who said, “Ben always hated that clock!”
and watched it fall off the wall.
She was a girl and woman and old woman who believed in ghosts
and who slept near Hadrian’s Wall in the haunted room
of an eleventh century Abbey in Scotland.
She was a woman who played with a cat on Dylan Thomas’s sea wall
and who slept in a room over a pub as well as the Grosvenor House in London,
where she saw Garfunkel walk across the hotel lobby.

She was a woman who liked to sit and look at the decorations in her living room.
An old woman who drank aloe vera and vinegar
and did leg exercises in her bed each morning.
An old woman who got a machine to help her read.
An old woman who listened to the news all day when her eyesight failed.
A woman who bought a breathing machine when her breath failed
and walked around her condo trailing a long rubber oxygen tube.
An old woman who lived to be 91
and who lived alone till the day she died.
A woman who put on makeup and jewelry and who dressed up
every day until the day she died.

I was her collaborator in writing silly rhyming poems to send to my sisters in college.
I was her collaborator the day she dressed like an old woman
and sat in my dad’s chair,
setting him up by saying, “Dad, there’s an old woman here,
and I can’t get her to say anything.”
When she sat hunched over in her white wig,
her shoulders shaking with suppressed laugher,
he said, “We’d better call the sheriff. I think she’s having a fit.”
She was the one who actually never grew old in my father’s eyes.
The one who lived alone for nearly 30 years after he died.
She was the one who wanted a boyfriend to take her dancing whom she didn’t have to kiss.
The one who wore the Evening in Paris perfume
I bought her every mother’s day
until I was in my teens.
The one who fed the baby coon with a doll bottle
and bathed and baby powdered it every day
and put it underneath my covers when I had the measles.
The one who went from matronly house dresses
to wearing my castoff college clothes.
The one who created a whole new life
when her children left and pulled my father after her.

She is the one who has been gone for 13 years.
The one who very rarely passes through my thoughts.
The mother who did what the best mothers always do.
Who released her children into the world and let them go.

 

Today’s prompt was to write a poem using Anaphora–a literary term for the practice of repeating certain words or phrases at the beginning of multiple clauses or, in the case of a poem, multiple lines.

NaPoWriMo Day 8: Slack One Lying On the Cobblestones

Our prompt today is to write a poem based on another famous poem. The poem suggested is this one written by Cesar Vallejo and translated by Robert Bly:

Black Stone Lying On A White Stone

I will die in Paris, on a rainy day,
on some day I can already remember.
I will die in Paris–and I don’t step aside–
perhaps on a Thursday, as today is Thursday, in autumn.

It will be a Thursday, because today, Thursday,
setting down these lines, I have put my upper arm bones on
wrong, and never so much as today have I found myself
with all the road ahead of me, alone.

César Vallejo is dead. Everyone beat him
although he never does anything to them;
they beat him hard with a stick and hard also

with a rope. These are the witnesses:
the Thursdays, and the bones of my arms,
the solitude, and the rain, and the roads. . .

This is my version of Vallejo’s self-eulogy:


Slack One Lying On the Cobblestones

I will die in Mexico, on a zany day,
on some day when memory fails me.
I will die under the feet of a burro––as I don’t step aside––
perhaps on market day, as today is market day, in a fall.

It will be a market day because today, market day,
buying new shoes, I have put them on
the wrong feet, and never so much as today do I find myself
having problems negotiating all the cobblestones ahead of me, alone.

Remi is dead. That burro walked on her
although she never did anything to him;
he tromped her hard with his hooves and hard also

with his trailing rope. This is what was left:
her shopping bag, the bones of her dignity,
her bolillos, her new huaraches, and the road. . .

(Note:  Remi is my preferred name to be called by friends, although few consent to do so.)

Poem written after the Celebration of Life for Nina and Eduardo

 The ceremony for Eduardo and Nina was full of the loving thoughts of friends, details about their lives given from many perspectives, a few tears but even more laughter from remembering the good times.  It was only on the road home that the contrasts in the peaceful happy setting I saw around me and the events of a week before hit me.  The first lines of this poem ran over and over again through my thoughts and I had to pull over by the side of the road and write this poem.  Part of me wonders if it is exploitative to write about this sad event, but I’ve found that many of my writer friends who were friends of Nina and Eduardo have been driven to do the same.  It is as though I no longer know how to think about things unless I do so through my writing or my art.  Somehow, the only way to process a hard truth of life is to make use of it creatively and to try to create a message that makes sense even though the deed never will.

After the Ceremony: Driving Home

The streets are filled

With ice cream and cerveza

and the wildly patterned legs

of senoritas.

It is a day

of sunlight and red flowers

and fuschia flowers and blue.

A slight wind

 strums the swaying branches

of the palms,

but no other sounds

compete with the passing hum

of oncoming traffic streaming

 from the city to our shores,

 seeking safety, quiet,

the gentle lap of water against willow,

hypnotic bobbing of the pelicans

between the undulating liria––

a lazy day away

from the cares of urban life.

I pull to the side of the road to watch

 these visitors to our world.

 Have they not heard or

have they just forgotten

the breaking glass,

the knife, the club,

the red screams

slicing the midnight air?

The ones who were the screamers

 are very quiet now––

part of the calmness

of this afternoon.

Their darkness

is dispersed by sunlight.

Yet all of their fear and pain––

the terror of their leaving––

now gone from them,

is kept like a souvenir

within the hearts of friends

whose turn it is to remember

for a while what we, too,

had forgotten.

Our happy world

lies like a blanket

over a bed made messy

by pain and loss.

It is the world’s bed,

and deny it as we will,

we all have lain in it

and will again.

                                                                              –Judy Dykstra-Brown      February 24, 2014