Tag Archives: Different Loss

Leftovers


Leftovers

When my father died forty years ago, it was in Arizona, where my parents had been spending their winters for the past ten years.  They maintained houses in two places, returning to South Dakota for the summers. But after my father died, my mother never again entered that house in the town where I’d grown up.

Our family had scattered like fall leaves by then—my mother to Arizona, one sister to Iowa, another to Wyoming. Both the youngest and the only unmarried one, I had fallen the furthest from the family tree. I had just returned from Africa, and so it fell to me to drive to South Dakota to pack up the house and to decide which pieces of our old life I might choose to build my new life upon and to dispose of the rest.

My father’s accumulations were not ones to fill a house. There were whole barns and fields of him, but none that needed to be dealt with. All had been sold before and so what was to be sorted out was the house. In that house, the drapes and furniture and cushions and cupboards were mainly the remnants of my mother’s life: clothes and nicknacks, pots and pans, spice racks full of those limited flavors known to the family of my youth—salt and pepper and spices necessary for recipes no more exotic than pumpkin pies, sage dressings and beef stews.

Packing up my father was as easy as putting the few work clothes he’d left in South Dakota into boxes and driving them to the dump. It had been years since I had had the pleasure of throwing laden paper bags from the dirt road above over the heaps of garbage below to see how far down they would sail, but I resisted that impulse this one last run to the dump, instead placing the bags full of my father’s work clothes neatly at the top for scavengers to find—the Sioux, or the large families for whom the small-town dump was an open-air Goodwill Store.

It was ten years after my father’s death before my mother ever returned again to South Dakota. By then, that house, rented out for years, had blown away in a tornado. Only the basement, bulldozed over and filled with dirt, contained the leftovers of our lives: the dolls, books, school papers and trophies. I’d left those private things stacked away on shelves—things too valuable to throw away, yet not valuable enough to carry away to our new lives. I’ve been told that people from the town scavenged there, my friend from high school taking my books for her own children, my mother’s friend destroying the private papers. My brother-in-law had taken the safe away years before.

But last year, when I went to clear out my oldest sister’s attic in Minnesota, I found the dolls I thought had been buried long ago–their hair tangled and their dresses torn—as though they had been played with by generations of little girls. Not the neat perfection of how we’d kept them ourselves, lined up on the headboard bookcases of our beds —but hair braided, cheeks streaked with rouge, eyes loose in their sockets, dresses mismatched and torn. Cisette’s bride dress stetched to fit over Jan’s curves. My sister’s doll’s bridesmaid dress on my doll.

It felt a blasphemy to me. First, that my oldest sister would take her younger sisters’ dolls without telling us. Her own dolls neatly preserved on shelves in her attic guest bedroom, ours had been jammed into boxes with their legs sticking out the top. And in her garbage can were the metal sides of my childhood dollhouse, imprinted with curtains and rugs and windows, pried apart like a perfect symbol of my childhood.

Being cast aside as leftovers twice is enough for even inanimate objects. Saved from my sister’s garbage and cut in half, the walls of my childhood fit exactly into an extra suitcase borrowed from a friend for the long trip back to Mexico, where I now live. I’ll figure out a new life for them as room décor or the backgrounds of colossal collages that will include the dolls I’m also taking back with me.

Mexico is the place where lots of us have come to reclaim ourselves and live again. So it is with objects, too. Leftovers and hand-me-downs have a value beyond their price tags. It is all those lives and memories that have soaked up into them. In a way, we are all hand-me-downs. It’s up to us to decide our value, depending upon the meaning that we choose to impart both to our new lives and these old objects. Leftovers make the most delicious meals, sometimes, and in Mexico, we know just how to spice them up.

The prompt: Hand-Me-Downs—Clothes and toys, recipes and jokes, advice and prejudice: we all have to handle all sorts of hand-me-downs every day. Tell us about some of the meaningful hand-me-downs in your life.


 

 

Justification

Justification

I spent all day in town today for business and for pleasure,
so by the time I got back home, I felt I’d had full measure
of driving-selling-trying on, shopping-eating-walking;
so I just thought I’d have some time that didn’t include talking.
I put my suit on thinking I would jump right in the pool,
but then the cat began to whine, the dogs commenced to drool—
sure signals it was feeding time—in this they were united.
They’ve learned their human serves their supper faster when invited.

The problem was, the dog food was still up in the car,
so I ran out to get it. (It wasn’t very far.)
I fed the dogs and cat, then found new flea collars I’d bought,
and so, of course, I had to put new collars on the lot.
Then, finally, the pool was mine—aerobic exercise
kept my body busy while a movie wooed my eyes
to disregard the time that passed while bending, kicking, flopping,
for when I am distracted, I am less intent on stopping.

With no prompt to finish early, I just went on and on.
Two hours passed so quickly that the setting of the sun
(and the ending of the movie—I guess I must admit)
finally gave the signal that it was time to quit.
But as I climbed the ladder, something poked my breast—
something sharp and lumpy that had made a little nest
there between my cleavage all my hours in the pool;
and when I drew it out you can’t image what a fool

I felt like, for this faux pas cannot help but win the prize
of all the times that I’ve done stupid things in any guise.
As teacher, daughter, writer, artist, sister, lover, friend,
I’ve committed stupid acts impossible to mend.
But this one takes the cake, I’m sure, as stupidest by far.
I’ve told you how I went to get the pet food from the car,
then fed and put flea collars on protesting dogs and cat.
(I doubt you’d do much better when dealing with all that!)

When I went out to do all this, I didn’t want to lose ‘em.
That’s why my car keys (with remote) wound up within my bosom!


Try as we may, those little indicators of age will sneak up on us.  There is no plastic surgery for a sagging memory!!!  (The Prompt today was:  “Age is just a number,” says the well-worn adage. But is it a number you care about, or one you tend (or try) to ignore?”)

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Wonder of wonders, when I put the key in the ignition the next morning, it worked!!! Saved on this one!

First Friends

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The Prompt: Do you — or did you ever — have a Best Friend? Do you believe in the idea of one person whose friendship matters the most? Tell us a story about your BFF (or lack thereof).

First Friends

I am three years old, lying in my Mom’s room taking a nap. I can hear voices in the front room. The world comes slowly back to me as I rouse myself from the deep sleep I swore I didn’t need. I hear my mom’s voice and the voice of a stranger. I slide my legs over the side of the chenille-covered bed, balancing for a moment like a teeter totter before giving in to gravity and letting my feet slide through space to the floor below. I creak open the door, which had been left ajar. My mom’s voice gets louder. I smell coffee brewing and hear the chink of china coffee cups in the living room.

I hear a dull rubbing sound and move toward it—through the kitchen to the dinette, where a very small very skinny girl with brown braids is sitting at the table coloring in one of my coloring books. She is not staying in the lines very well, which is crucial—along with the fact that she is coloring the one last uncolored picture in the book which I’ve been saving for last because it is my favorite and BECAUSE I HAVE IT PLANNED SO THERE IS SOMEWHERE IN THAT PICTURE TO USE EVERY LAST COLOR IN MY BOX OF CRAYOLAS!

I sidle past her, unspeaking, aflame with indignation. Who could have—who would have—given her the authority to color in my book? I stand in the door of the living room. My mom is talking to a mousy gray-haired lady—tall, raw-boned, in a limp gray dress. My mom sees me, and tells me to come over and meet Mrs. Krauss. They are our new neighbors. They are going to live in Aunt Stella and Uncle Werner’s house two houses down. Did I meet their daughter Pressie in the kitchen? She’s just my age and Aunt Stella and Uncle Werner (who are not actually related to us, but just friends of my folks) are her real aunt and uncle.

The gray lady calls Pressie in to meet me. She is quiet and I am quiet. Then we go back to color at the table together. We drink orange juice and eat potato chips. We will be best friends for what seems like a lifetime but what is really only until we approach adolescence. I will have a love-hate relationship with her mother, who will continually set up competitions between Pressie and me to see who will win. She will try to coach Pressie first; but still, I will always win.

Pressie and I will play hollyhock dolls and dress-up. We play, sometimes, with Mary Boone; but her parents are too religious and don’t think we’re nice enough to play with her very much. I want to put on neighborhood plays and circuses, but none of the other kids want to perform. I want to play store and school, but Pressie eventually goes home to help her mother varnish the floors.

Pressie’s house is full of loud brothers and a sulky teenage sister. It is full of high school-aged cousins who tease us unmercifully and old ladies who come to play Scrabble with her mother. It is full of a missionary sister who comes back from South America and married brothers who come from Florida with babies that Pressie and I take charge of.

Pressie’s house is full of slivery floors that are always in the process of being varnished or de-varnished. There is one drawer in the kitchen full of everybody’s toothbrushes, combs, hairpins, hair cream, shampoo tubes, old pennies, crackerjack toys, rubber balls, lint, hairballs, rolled up handkerchiefs and an occasional spoon that falls in from the drain board above it. They have no bathroom—just the kitchen sink and a toilet and shower in the basement, across from the coal bin and the huge coal furnace. Their toilet has a curtain in front of it, but the shower is open to the world.

Sometimes when I am peeing, someone comes down to put coal in the furnace or to throw dirty clothes in the washtub next to the wringer washer. I pull the curtain tight with my arms and pray that they won’t pull it back and discover me, my panties down to the floor, pee dripping down my leg from my hurried spring from the toilet to secure the curtain. To this day, I have dreams about bathrooms that become public thoroughfares the minute I sit down. To this day, I get constipated every time I leave the security of my own locked bathroom.

Pressie babysits with the minister’s kids for money. I go along for free. She spanks them a lot and yells a lot. I think I can’t wait until I’m old enough to have kids so I can yell at them, but when Pressie is gone and the minister’s wife asks me to babysit, I don’t yell at them.

At Christmas I can’t wait to have Pressie come see my gifts: a Cinderella watch, a doll, a wastebasket painted like a little girl’s face, complete with yarn braids, books and toilet water from aunts, a toy plastic silverware set from my sister, stationery from my other aunt, playing cards, sewing cards, paint by numbers, a new dress. I run over through the snow to Pressie’s house to see her presents: a new pair of pajamas, a coloring book and new crayons, barrettes and a comb. In her family, they draw names. Quickly we run to my house, but she doesn’t pay much attention to my presents. She is funny sometimes, kind of crabby. The more excited I get, the more withdrawn she gets.

Later, I want to make snow angels in the yard and feed leftover cornmeal muffins to the chickadees, but Pressie wants to go home. Pressie always wants to go home. What she does there, I don’t know. She doesn’t like to read. None of us will have television for another five years. She doesn’t much like games or cards. I don’t know what Pressie does when she isn’t with me.

When she is with me, we take baths together and sing the theme music from “Back to the Bible Broadcast,” washing our sins away in the bathtub. We play ranch house in our basement. We pull the army cot against the wall and put old chairs on either side of it for end tables. We upend an old box in front of it for a coffee table. My grandma’s peeling ochre-painted rocking chair faces the army cot couch. We sneak into the hired man’s room and steal his Pall Mall cigarettes and sit talking and smoking. We rip the filters off first, which is what we think you’re supposed to do.

Pressie will always stay longer if we smoke. I blow out on the cigarette, but Pressie inhales. We smoke a whole pack over a few weeks’ time and then go searching for more. When the hired man starts hiding his cigarettes, we discover his hiding place and learn to take no more than four at a time so he doesn’t miss them. When he has a carton, we take a pack and hide it under the mattress on the army cot. My mother wonders where all the filters are coming from that she sweeps from the basement floor, but never guesses our secret.

Pressie spends more time with me than before, drops by almost every morning and always wants to go to the basement to play and smoke. Then the hired man finds another room and moves out and when Mrs. Church’s granddaughters come to visit, I will want to play with them but Pressie won’t. Then we will pair off—Pressie with Sue Anne, the girly one, me with Kate, the boyish one. We have a little war—mainly instigated by the sisters.

When the new farm agent moves in with two daughters—one a year younger than Pressie and me, the other a year younger than my sister Addie—I want to ask the girl our age to play with us, but Pressie won’t. I have a slumber party for everyone—all the girls we know. I invite the new girl, whose name is Molly, but no one talks to her much. She is shy and doesn’t push herself on us. No one else ever wants to include her. I go play with her anyway and spend the night at her house. Her mother is nervous, her dad cocky. Her older sister laughs nervously under her breath a lot, as does her mother.

Many years later, by the time we are in high school, everyone has accepted them. By then, all of those girls have parties where I’m not invited. They are always a little reserved when I come up to speak to them. Maybe they’re always reserved. How would I know how they are when I’m not around? Later, they all got to be pretty good friends. But in the beginning, I was everyone’s first friend.

Unstarched

 

Unstarched

My ladies writing group is classy—never crass or gaudy.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I found they can be bawdy!
Just one impromptu potluck and a few bottles of wine
turned their metaphoric minds to matters far less fine.
For Jenny had just mentioned that a friend had lately lent her
a rather naughty film that nonetheless had really sent her
off into the paroxysms of unbridled laughter—
the kind that take you wave-on-wave and leave you aching after.
I’d been needing that for months—my life had been sedate
since my old gang had moved away and left me to my fate
of no last-minute games of train and late-night jubilation,
for though I still have good friends here, I lack that combination
of friends that I enjoy who all enjoy each other, too,
enough to create silliness to make my nights less blue.

“Bad Grandpa” was the film we watched, and though I must admit
I watched behind spread fingers for at least a fifth of it,
still the antics had us all just rolling on the floor
—starting with a snicker and then ending with a roar.
Scatology is not my thing, nor are pratfalls or shtick,
yet still I must admit to you, I got a real big kick
from this film filled with all of them, and so did all the others;
so as we watched, it felt like we were all sisters and brothers.
And as they left, I think we knew we’d shared a priceless treasure,
for there’s nothing that unites us like a mutual guilty pleasure!

The Prompt: When was the last time you watched something so scary, cringe-worthy, or unbelievably tacky — in a movie, on TV, or in real life — you had to cover your eyes?

Hail, Hail

                                                                        Hail, Hail 

My farmer/rancher father’s boots grew older with him, their wrinkles—like the back of his neck—born of weathering: rain, snow, mud and hot Dakota sun. They were so much a part of him that when he died, they were all my pre-teen nephew asked for, and he wore them out the rest of the way, until the soles peeled back and the leather with patina already long worn off, began to crack along the wrinkles and peel off.

Those boots reflected my father’s life, where things wore out. His clothes, his favorite chair—none were replaced for aesthetics or style alone—this practicality motivated neither by penury nor cheapness, but by growing up in a house where “making do” was a necessity.

But as in most things, there was one defining vain compulsion in my father’s life that broke him free from his mold. He loved new cars, as much for the pleasure of making the deal as for the smell of new leather and metal. The car dealers learned to call him when they got a car fully loaded, the way he liked it: automatic windows, power steering, power brakes, seats that tilted and slid back and forth and up and down by the touch of a switch. Whatever automatic feature was new that year, my father was up for it—big cars with fins, when they were in style, of every color.

The car salesmen would wait until the wheat crop had been harvested and then make the call, driving the car for sixty miles over the prairie to bring it to him for his perusal, like a new bride brought to a shah. They knew him well, and so when the bargaining began, they would accept his peccadillos. It was not the price he quibbled over, but rather the trade-in. “Well, I’ve got a combine that I need to trade in.” Once, three horses. And they learned this joy of trading was often what sealed the deal.

Later, when my sister married, her husband claimed my dad traded in his cars whenever they needed washing, but this was not true. Three years was a car’s usual shelf life, before he’d hand it down to whichever daughter of driving age needed a car the most. Packards and Cadillacs and Pontiacs were his choices of brands. For some reason, he reviled Fords. So that July of my thirteenth year, when the salesman brought the bright green Oldsmobile for my dad to view, we were sure this was the car he would turn down. My mother was not sure about the color and my dad was not sure about buying an Oldsmobile. He had no real reason. It was just a brand he’d never considered before, but it had all the bells and whistles. I think it was the first year that cruise control was offered, so it possessed that allure of new technology. And so it was that the car made it past any first inhibitions on both my mother’s and father’s parts and when the salesman drove away, it was in our “old” Cadillac and the shining green Oldsmobile became the new resident of our garage.

My oldest sister was married and gone, my middle sister seventeen—a year past legal driving age. Summer camp in the Black Hills was nearly 200 miles away, but over easily-navigated straight roads through bare prairie, the wheat having been cut early that year. So it was that my mom, worn pliable from 20 years of driving daughters hundreds of miles to doctor appointments and eye appointments and ball games and church rallies and singing contests and summer camps, decided my sister could drive me to camp that year.

My sister Patti and her best friend Patty Peck piled into the bench front seat. My best friend and I piled into the back. The trunk was full of two weeks worth of camping clothes. The pleasures of riding in a brand new car, just one week removed from its purchase, equaled the thrill of being off on our own. We rolled down the windows, stuck out our arms and let the hot July air stream through our fingers, stopped at Wall Drug for milkshakes, sang at the top of our lungs, and when our bare legs started sticking to the vinyl seats, closed the windows and enjoyed the air conditioning.

Three hours later, the black outlines of the hills that were our destination grew close enough to define the ponderosa pines that gave them their name. We cruised past Rockerville Ghost Town—a tourist trap where my oldest sister had worked a few years before—and turned off into Coon Hollow. My sister steered the car carefully over the dirt roads, fearing chipped paint or a chipped window from the occasional rock in our path. “Take Me Back to the Black Hills” we crooned, as we always did when we approached our favorite vacation spot. We rolled down windows once again to enjoy the scent of ponderosas and to hear the gurgling of the water as it rushed down the small river that paralleled the course of the dirt road that led back to the campsite.

“Black Hills Methodist Camp” read the sign. We stopped to take a picture before veering off onto the divided dirt road, and we had just caught site of the large log cabin that served as the mess hall when the first loud “Whump!” occurred. Then another and another and another. Terrified, my sister steered the car off into the trees as the hail grew larger and larger. We were facing the creek, which had grown wild with the churning of the hailstones hitting the water. They grew rapidly from quarter-sized to golf ball-sized to baseball-sized. The front window began to shatter. When one large hailstone seemed to pierce the roof of the car and land in my lap, I was out of my seat and over the back of the front seat onto the seat between the two Pattys before I could even think about it. As I remember it, I somehow managed this shift in position without ever removing my seat belt, but this, perhaps, is an exaggeration that occurred more in memory than in actuality. My friend, still in the back seat, held up the white ceiling light cover that had popped off when a huge hailstone had hit directly on top of it—showing that the rooftop was still unbreached

The entire hailstorm probably occurred over no more than a ten-minute period, but at the end of it, the stream in front of us was completely white with floating hailstones and the ground was covered. We climbed from the car, pushing through the hailstones in a shuffling motion to avoid slipping and falling on the huge balls of ice. The front windshield was completed marbled, every inch of our shining new car dimpled with deep depressions that equaled our own depression over what was going to happen when our mom and dad saw their brand new car! We were teenagers all and accustomed to that guilt that arose from a whole string of iniquities: dropping our mom’s favorite crystal bowl, staying out an hour past curfew, eating the last piece of pie. My sister backed the car out of the little turnoff she’d turned into hoping for some scant shelter from the hail and drove me and my friend the rest of the way to the registration in the mess hall, then she and her friend drove away. On the way home, they encountered a plague of grasshoppers that coated the windshield and they had to use bottles of Squirt to dissolve them from where they had become embedded into the marbled windshield; so this stickiness, dried in puddles on the hood of the car, added to the total devastation that greeted my dad’s eyes when his new “baby” was returned to him.

The feared recriminations never occurred. “Accidents happen. It wasn’t your fault,” said my dad. “I never really liked that color of green anyway,” said my mom. When my folks came to pick me up at camp, it was in a brand new rose-colored Pontiac Bonneville with a cream-colored top—the most beautiful car we ever owned. We met with no disasters on the way home, and four years later, it was the car I drove off to college six hundred miles away. My parents’ newest brand new car was a beige Buick that possessed none of the charm of the car now relegated to me, but did possess several new electronic features that I’m sure, for my dad, compensated completely.

The Prompt: You’re at the beach with some friends and/or family, enjoying the sun, nibbling on some watermelon. All of a sudden, within seconds, the weather shifts and hail starts descending form the sky. Write a post about what happens next.

NaPoWriMo Day 27: Lemonade

 

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Lemonade

The Crystal Lite, like a marriage of Kool-Aid and crystal meth,
catches the light and glows from inside its plastic gallon container,
becoming its own advertisement for this lemonade stand,
its pre-teen proprietor standing in the scant shade
of a stop light pole
behind his fruit crate counter
with its stacks of styrofoam cups.

He has chosen his clientele—
perhaps thirsty from a long wait
in the doctor’s waiting room in the clinic
or the hospital across the street.
To his back, a retirement community with no house
more than 3 blocks from the hospital—
its inhabitants like products on a shelf waiting to be picked.

When they pass the stand,
memories of generations of such stands
perhaps flood their minds,
and thirsty or not, they stop for a cup.

I am the woman with her foot in a cast,
sitting in the passenger seat
of the car pulled over to the curb.
The woman reaching through the window of the car
is my sister, holding out the white cups
with the too-sweet yellow shining through
as though radioactive.

She was my long ago pattern for everything,
including Kool-Aid stands with 5 cent
paper bags of popcorn and ice cube slivers
floating in the Tupperware pitcher of cherry Kool-Aid,
a plate on the top to repel flies
lazy in the July heat, orbiting our sweaty heads
like precognitive sputniks
buzzing in the minds of rocket scientists.

We had not a clue.

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The prompt today was to write a poem based on a picture.

NaPoWriMo Day 24: Building Walls

 

Our prompt today was to write a poem that features walls, bricks, stones, arches, or the like.

Building Walls

The new neighbors are not friendly.
From their side of my wall,
they have severed the vines
that have covered my tall palms
that abut the wall
that has separated our properties
for thirteen years—
those maroon bougainvillea vines,
stretched ten feet wide
by covering layers of blue thunbergia,
formed a community that housed families
of birds and possums and possibly
a very large but harmless snake.
I saw it cross my patio once,
the dog and I turning our heads toward each other,
exchanging looks of surprise
like characters from a stage play or a comic book,
her so startled and curious that she followed,
nose to the ground, to the brush beside the
wall the snake had vanished into,
but never issued a bark.

At night the palm trees
and their surrounding cloaks
would give mysterious rustlings that
aroused the barking of the dogs
and I’d let them in—the pup to sleep
in the cage that was his security
and my security as well—against chewed
Birkenstocks and ruined Oaxacan rugs
and treats purloined from the little silver
garbage can that held the kitchen scraps
saved for Yolanda’s pigs.

Along with the vines,
the new neighbors cut the bougainvillea
that grew to fifteen feet above my wall
and furnished privacy from the eyes
of those standing on their patio,
ten feet above mine,
so that now their patio looks directly down
on my pool and hot tub and into my bedroom,
their new bright patio light shining all night long
into my world formerly filled
with stars and moonlight and tree rustlings.

The old wall has revealed its cracks and colors
from several past paintings
that were later made unnecessary by its cloak of vines.
It is an ugly wall that  separates  neighbors,
echoing the now-dead vines that stretch 80 feet up
to the fronds of the palms.
It takes three men three days to cut the refuse of
the dry vines down from the trees,
two truckloads to bear the cuttings away.

The dogs still bark, but the possum and the birds
have gone to some other haven,
and the men come to erect the metal trellis,
12 feet high, above the top of my low wall.
I hope the bougainvillea will grow
to cover it this rainy season,
building a lovelier wall
between neighbors who still have not met
by their preference, not mine,
causing me to wonder
if I really am as welcome in this country
as I have felt for all these years.
“My neighbors are the same,” my friend tells me.
“They do not really want us here,
and if you think they do,
you are deluding yourself.”

Thirteen years in Mexico. I miss my old neighbors,
best friends who would come to play Mexican Train at 5 minutes notice.
I miss their little yipping dog and the splash of their fountain
that the new neighbors ripped out and threw away
and the bougainvillea that drooped over my wall into their world.
“Scorpions!” the new neighbors decreed, and lopped it off wall-high.
It was a wall more than doubled in its height
by a vine as old as my life in Mexico
that can now be peered over
even from their basement casita.

With old walls gone,
higher walls of misunderstanding
have been constructed.
Each weekend their family streams in from Guadalajara.
Children laugh, adults descend the stairs
to their hot tub down below.
When I greet them, they do not smile.
I have painted the old wall,
now so clearly presented to view,
and I have taken to wearing a swimsuit in my hot tub,
waiting for my new wall to grow higher.

Before detail of tree vine

“Before” detail of tree vine and hedge.

"After" detail of tree vine.

“After” detail of tree vine.

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NaPoWriMo Day 13: Wish Wagon

Wish Wagon

Hear the clanging pots, the squeaky wheels?
Over the rise comes the peddler’s cart––
horse with head down, pulling the load,
the jolly man just dangling the whip over her flanks.

Pitchers, fry pans, mops and brooms,
a doll for sis and kites for the boys
who run to greet this week’s happening,
hoping that Pa has spare bills in his wallet this time.

Now hear the “Whoa, Nell!” and see Zeke, the peddler,
swing his bent frame down from his high perch,
Ma drying her hands as she emerges from the kitchen door,
sis attached to her skirts, shy but drawn irresistibly from safety

to see the wonders that the peddler draws from his wagon:
penny candies by the jar and safety pins.
Needles, spoons and dime novels.
Cloth for Ma of calico and new boots for Pa.

Rag rugs made by Ma and traded for a bucket
and a wash pan his last trip here
that haven’t sold and so he won’t need more.
Jangly bracelets like the city women wear.

Her brief laugh scoffs at them.
The very idea. But one finger runs them round
before it draws away. And in her eyes
there is a wistfulness we will not see again

for thirty more years, until another wagon
crests the hill and drives away with her,
that look again frozen on her face
for eternity.

 

 

Our optional prompt for today was to write a poem that contains at least one kenning. Kennings were metaphorical phrases developed in Nordic sagas. At their simplest, they generally consist of two nouns joined together, which imaginatively describe or name a third thing. The phrase “whale road,” for example, could be used instead of “sea” or “ocean,” and “sky candle” could be used for “sun.” I used my kenning for the title.

Different types of Loss

Okay.  I’ve hinted and I’ve come right out and asked, so I’m going to use another tactic.  I would really like to hear some thoughts about types of loss other than death.  I know so many people who have moved to be nearer parents who have Alzheimer’s or who need more care.  They give up their lives, friends, houses to do so.  This is a huge loss even before the eventual loss of their parents.  Any thoughts?  I went to visit my sister who was at the stage of Alzheimer’s where it was becoming obvious to all of us that she would soon need to move into a care facility.  It was heartbreaking but also a very intimate time together with a sister who was 11 years older than me and so who had always thought of herself more as my “boss” than my sister–in my eyes, as well.  We had been a bit estranged for years, so this chance to be with her for a few weeks was both very special and very hard at times.  I’m printing a poem I wrote about the experience, hoping it will prime the pump for other peoples’ memories.  Please share them.  –Judy

I will be the first.  This is a poem I wrote while I was at my sister’s house. She is now in a managed care facility which is very hard for her.  She keeps thinking she is in a hotel or back in college or even back in our home town in South Dakota.  One thing is constant.  She keeps wanting to go home.  This was written during my last visit with her before she had to move.

When My Sister Plays the Piano

The first notes, beautiful and true, float like a memory up the stairs.
In the week I’ve been here in her house with her, she has not played the piano
and so I thought her music was gone like her memory of what day it is
or whether I am her sister, her daughter or an unknown visitor.

Yet on this morning after her 76th birthday celebration,
music slips like magic from the keys: song after song
from “Fur Elise” to a sweet ballad I don’t know the name of—
sure and correct at first,
then with a heartfelt emotion we had both forgotten.

“Midnight Concerto,”
“Sunrise, Sunset”—
song after song
expressed
in an unfaltering language—
some synchronicity of mind and hand
her brain has opened the door to.

While I listen, time stands still for me
as it has for her so often in the past few years
as yesterday and today shuffle together to
crowd out all consideration of future fears.

For ten minutes or more, she segues
from melody to melody
with no wrong note.
Then “Deep Velvet,”
a song she has played from memory
so many times,
dies after twenty-four notes.
Like a gift held out and snatched away,
I yearn for it, pray she’ll remember.

After an uncharted caesura, her music streams out again,
sweet and sure, for a staff or two—
the sheet music giving her a guide her brain so often can’t.
But after a longer pause, I know it is lost
like the thread of so many conversations.
A hiccup of memory, folding itself away.

“Come And Worship” chimes out
like the tolling of a bell.
The wisp of the old hymn, two phrases only—
before it, too, fades.

That sudden muffled sound.
Is it a songbook displaced from its stand as she searches for another;
or the lid of the piano, quietly closing on yet another partial memory?