Ninety-One

with cakeJournalist Jane Gross describes it as a “bittersweet season”, this ambiguous time of tending to an elderly parent. Referring to her own experience, she has said, “My mother and I had a very difficult relationship. I didn’t race to the loving caregiver’s role with an open heart, shall we say. I sort of weighed in my mind what seemed to me like the lesser of two evils. You know, was I going to do this because it was the right thing to do or was I going to bail and feel guilty for the rest of my life? On balance, with that as the rock and a hard place, I decided, you know, do it and do it right.”

That’s how it’s been for me, and, as I realize only lately, for so many of my generation. With our elders living far longer than anyone’s expectations, navigating our own complicated lives while overseeing that of an aging parent can be tricky and emotionally exhausting. My beloved father died when he was still relatively young, and my mother is now celebrating her 91st birthday. Well, as one wise old lady told me, “We get what we get.”

My mother has resided in an assisted living facility for about 15 years now, and I have remained her steadfast visitor through various crises and long stretches of bleak. It’s a wearisome duty, I admit it, and it’s gone on so long, but my heart insists that it is the right and only thing to do, so I don’t see any leeway. I’ll just have to keep doing my best. To quote Jane Gross again, “You have no idea how long it’s going to last. You have no idea what’s going to happen next. And I think so many of us are used to feeling in control of what we’re doing…you make a to-do list and you check everything off the to-do list and then, when you get to the bottom of the page, whatever the task is, you’re done. This doesn’t work that way.”

I’ll say. And even when things seem to be humming along rather smoothly, you never know when the next disaster will erupt: a fall, a broken hip, new dimensions of dementia. But you know? There are also some rewards: above all, I have learned forgiveness right down to the core of me.  I have learned how compassion, patience, and duty cleanse the soul. I have learned to retrieve from the rush of time that which is worthwhile, and to release what can only cause bitterness and sorrow. There’s been an unexpected addendum to my history with my mother and it shines a different light on things.

In many ways I’m lucky: my mother is sweeter now than I ever remember her being. She is confused but always knows me and has kept important memories intact. A year ago we were told she probably had only a few more months to live, and now she has improved to the point of no longer needing hospice care. She’s deaf as a stone even with her hearing aid, requires a walker, and has lost her lower dentures, but unless she’s in pain, her general demeanor is one of cheerfulness, acceptance, and appreciation. People seem to like her, and that works in her favor.

So I organized a party for her 91st birthday with a big cake that had her name on it, surrounded by pink roses. Quite a few of the residents joined us in the community room, and she was delighted.  Which brings me to  another unexpected good thing about this experience, since I’m always looking for the good: the people, or at least some of them. There are caregivers who do difficult work with diligence and good-heartedness, and there are residents whose dignity and resilience inspire me. (I’ve written in the past about a few of these residents such as Augustine, Jaime, Marge, Toby, Jack, and others.)

Even in a relatively pleasant place, as this one is, facing the daily routine can’t be easy, and I’m touched at how 92-year-old Pauline manages to emerge from her room each day impeccably dressed, including lipstick and eyeliner, or how graciously Jaimie shares stories and kisses my mother’s hand, and the intelligence and thoughtfulness of people like Toby, who might remind my mother if there is a Friday evening Shabbat service or escort her back to her room when she seems momentarily lost.

In fact, at the birthday party, I mentioned to Carolyn, a resident and friend, that I thought this might be the season of life that requires the most bravery. Carolyn quickly agreed. “It’s because we’ve lost control of our own lives,” she said. “We’re still the same inside, but we have to depend so much on others now, and our choices are so narrow.”

I’m remembering a lovely man named Len who lived here until his death about six years ago. He was a small, wiry fellow who always wore a  jaunty cap. His remarkable daughter Paula still regularly visits my mother, only because Len was my mother’s friend.  It’s hard to get my mind around such generosity. “Paula is amazingly kind,” says the daughter of another resident. “When my mother dies, I swear I will never set foot in this place again. I’ve been coming here every day for 12 years, and I’ve watched my mother go downhill, and it’s depressing. I’ve had enough. I come here every day and I think about death. My mother’s had enough too…haven’t you, Mom?” Her mother’s expression indicates that indeed she has.

But if we think about dying, we’re thinking too about living, and it was so good to orchestrate a happy day, to be present in a sunny room, to hear some anecdotes from the diverse and interesting lives that happen to have converged here. In an essay called To Grow in Wisdom, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote the following: “What we owe the old is reverence, but all they ask for is consideration, attention, not to be discarded and forgotten.”

So Toby held the cake upright so we could take a picture of it with my mother, who sat there like a queen, visibly delighted, and dear Marge wheeled over, leaned in,  and offered her best wishes. All in all, there were about ten guests around a long table, and we sang happy birthday to my mother’s deaf ears, and even if she doesn’t remember it today, it happened, and it was a very fine moment. A lady named Lou from Milwaukee, 96 years old, joined us near the end, wearing a plaid shirt and pink shorts and sandals, full of exuberance and ready for a piece of that cake and seconds too.

I was still in my 40s when this tour of duty began, still in the midst of working and raising a daughter, prime time. And here I am, beginning to think about my own old age, while the duty continues, and I imagine there will be harder times to come before it ends. But I am blessed in many ways, and I am grateful, and this was a good day. I feel human.

 

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The Future

new-york-world-fair-1964The World’s Fair came to New York in 1964, and my friend Bob and I skipped school to check it out. We watched atoms collide at the General Electric exhibit, journeyed into space in the Hall of Science, flew to the moon in an easy chair courtesy of General Motors, saw ourselves on color television at RCA, then zipped above it all in a monorail. At the Coca Cola exhibit we walked through a humid Cambodian rain forest, a noisy street in Hong Kong, and an Alpine ski lodge that smelled of snow and peppermint. Loftily dedicated to “man’s achievement on a shrinking globe in an expanding universe” the fair was in fact mostly about big corporations and gee-whiz technology, but its official theme was Peace Through Understanding, and for a couple of kids from a backwater Long Island town, this was pretty heady stuff.

At the Parker Pen Pavilion, Bob and I filled out forms for computer-matched pen pals. I answered in ways I believed would garner me a cute British boy, but my pen pal turned out to be a girl from the Netherlands, who really was a perfect match; we exchanged letters for years before we finally lost track of each other, and I still wish I could find her again. The grand finale of the day was ascending on an escalator in the Vatican Pavilion that moved us slowly past Michelangelo’s Pieta, its white marble lit eerily against a blue backdrop.

I do recall an ominous display of global population growth sponsored by Equitable Life Assurance whose astronomical and continually increasing numbers gave me a vague sense of anxiety, but overall the fair presented a breathtakingly optimistic view of the future. Tomorrow would bring affluence, convenience, and steady, full-throttle progress, with American industry at the helm. Oh, we knew there was turmoil in the world, and plenty of it: Cold War tensions, escalating war in Southeast Asia, the civil rights movement heating up and impossible to ignore. Even the shiny façade of the World’s Fair itself hid ugly politics and behind-the-scenes racial inequities. But Bob and I were sailing ahead with idealism and confidence, certain of great possibilities. He was a restless and creative person, determined to get out of town as soon and as far as he could, and in the meantime, he approached life with curiosity and enthusiasm, paying attention, recognizing opportunities, stepping forward from the sidelines.

Naturally, when Robert Kennedy’s Senate campaign announced a series of stops in Long Island later that year, it was Bob who knew we should be there. He had a sense of history, a sense of occasion. We walked downtown together and waited among the crowds that lined the main street. Soon the vehicles approached and there was Kennedy himself, his hair a thick shock of sandy brown, his features youthful and handsome, smiling and waving and reaching down to accept the hands offered up to him, including ours. “Well, that was something we’ll remember,” Bob said.

The future came. It came far more swiftly than we could have ever imagined and, as the World’s Fair had predicted, a great many marvels unfolded, but things were also terrible and complex. In the spring of our senior year of high school, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and two months later, Robert Kennedy. Our class graduated, proceeded into summer jobs and colleges, or went to fight a war. The following year, a man walked on the moon, and we saw pictures of a tiny blue planet, fragile and beautiful and beleaguered, already threatened by the very industrial progress we had celebrated, and we drifted further into our challenging and distracting lives.

I never saw Bob again; he went to Los Angeles, achieved some success in television, and died in his 40s. I moved to a ranch in California where I live to this day: still anxious, still amazed, growing old. The news is always dire. But some kind of crazy hopefulness took root in me long ago, and I can’t shake it.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself,” said Robert Kennedy, “but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” With naiveté and wonder, we imagined the future, influenced our own small portion of events, succeeded, failed, continued. And collectively, intentionally, maybe we can still bend history.

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Våryr

4th gradeIt’s often the seemingly random confluences and serendipities of life that keep me charmed and, as the blog name says, still amazed. Case in point: Janet-with-the-yellow-braid, who was in my 4th grade class. You met her here in this post about memories, in which I talked about going to a birthday party at her house on McDonald Avenue back in, well, let’s just say it’s been at least a half century. I remembered standing outside during this party having a conversation with Janet’s grandmother, who told me about the fjords and beauty of her native Norway.  I had never really thought about Norway before, but now it became a tangible place, all blue and white and breathtakingly lovely, and I resolved that someday I would go there.

Back to the present, where I have somehow landed at a ranch in California, which is itself pretty amazing, but from which I depart with astonishing frequency for trips abroad to see my daughter, whose studies and affections have taken her to England. So it’s a First World problem, to be sure, and I am at times almost embarrassed by the luxury and privilege it implies, but if we’re going all the way to England, we figure we may as well visit some other places too, and we think about different countries in that general direction that we might like to see. This time, out of the blue, came Norway thoughts.

“Most expensive country in Europe,” said one friend ominously, and her warning has been confirmed by everything I’ve read so far. But still. There’s something alluring about the idea of hiking in a place whose landscapes are consistently described as incredible and where the late May twilight lingers most of the night and maybe someday if we dare return in winter, I’ll see the Northern Lights. In just the first paragraph alone, a Lonely Planet guide book mentions “vast forests, rugged peaks, haunting fjords, dramatic glaciers, expansive ice fields, and wild Arctic tundra”, and a flight from London to Bergen is, relatively speaking, no big deal.

Other places beckoned and still do. But Norway kept its position high on our list, and Monte was moving into specifics and commitments while I dabbled in the realm of daydream, and suddenly we were booking a flight to Bergen. It crossed my mind that the grown-up version of the little girl who once stood on McDonald Avenue picturing Norway was now really going there.

And then – this is the interesting confluence serendipity thing – there came an email from Janet-with-the-yellow-braid, the very Janet whose grandmother planted Norway in my head so long ago. What are the chances, right? Another former classmate, Fran, had been doing a little web-searching in the hopes of locating Janet, and whether prompted by nostalgia, friendship, or pure whim, it had become a kind of quest. Fran sent me a current photo of a woman with Janet’s name who is the pastor at a church in Syracuse (of all places), and wondered, “Could this be her?”

It was our Janet, and she wrote to me! Weirdly enough, she had recently seen the Kensington story on this website, sent to her by someone else who does this sort of thing, and she had kinda planned to contact me after the busy-ness of Holy Week, but now, having heard from Fran, she was eager to say hello.  She also confirmed my memory: “Yes. Nana Josephine was from Norway. She came to the USA in 1902.  She lived to be a  healthy 93 and died quietly, quickly, and painlessly in 1970.”

So now I know I didn’t imagine that.

I only had the braid part wrong.  Nana Josephine, Janet wrote, “was not the one with the braid atop her head that you mentioned in your narrative – she had no patience with long hair and was the only female in that three-generation household who went to a beauty parlor to have her hair cut and permed. (She once did that blue-tinged dye thing as well, so popular for who-knows-what reason back in the 1950′s.)  The one with the braid was my mother. She lived in that house on McDonald until 1998, for 79 of her 81 years at that time, and is now 97 years old…”

And it turns out that when Janet told her 97-year-old mother about this recent communication with P.S. 179 classmates, her mother said she was pretty sure Cynthia was the girl for whom she sewed a skirt to wear to a folk dance assembly in which our class had been assigned the tarantella.

“Does that story ring a bell with you?” Janet asked.

Yes! It all came back to me: the red tarantella skirt! A big twirly circular pattern, probably pretty basic, but alas, my own mother didn’t sew at all, and I vaguely remember feeling some special sense of pride and duty and panic because this was after all an Italian dance and I was a half Italian girl, and so Janet’s mother’s kindness and patience were very crucial to me. And despite all her efforts to do me up right, I remember that I ended up getting the wrong kind of blouse, white with buttons and a ruffle, not a peasant blouse at all.  It wasn’t easy being a properly attired folk dancer in 4th grade.

And here we are in 2014 discussing these events as though they matter, along with the confession that we were all sitting in class (that’s us above) wondering how our portly teacher managed to stay upright on the very high heels she used to wear. I recognize both the marvel and absurdity of this.

But it was time for a braid update:

“Still have mine….shorter…thinner…grayer,” wrote Janet. “My mother still has a remnant of hers:  way shorter, way thinner, all white… when it’s not braided she says she looks like one of those troll dolls…which is also a Norwegian thing but not a heritage look she’s fond of evoking.”

Which brings us  back to Norway. I’m going to Norway. I may not dance on a fjord as Nana Josephine did, and I may be more likely to see rain than the blue skies I imagined, but I’m going.

Coincidentally, there was an article in The New Yorker last week about the photographs of Hans Kristian Riise depicting fjord life in springtime on the west coast of Norway. The word Våryr is used, which means “spring dizzy” and it describes what people experience when days begin to lengthen after the long, dark winter. Riise is quoted as saying, “I got this feeling, like I could just go anywhere, drive up to the sea, swim in the river and find a café. People seem to have time for you, they’re like tourists, taking a bus and then walking without any destination in mind.”

Våryr sounds about right for my frame of mind. It may be all this whole thing really means.

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Blessing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beannacht by John O’ Donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

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The Fixer of Crackers Coexists With The Cracked

We grow macadamia nuts. Every day I look out onto an orchard of more than a hundred thriving trees whose dangling tasseled blossoms fill the air with pungent fragrance, and that yield the sweetest and most satisfying of nuts, rich in the good kind of fat. But there’s a lot of work  before the eating. After the nuts are harvested, they must be husked, dried, culled, and cracked, and that cracking step is a tough one, because macadamias are gifted with the hardest of all nut shells. We often find bits of shells cracked open by neighborhood animals during their late night parties, but those creatures must have some pretty impressive teeth and technique. I read somewhere that it takes 300 pounds per square inch of pressure to crack a macadamia shell.

crackerEnter the cracker.

What I like most about the one we use is its color. Well, let me back track: what I like most about the one we use is that it usually works. But even when broken, as it has been for several months, its color is pretty. As you can see to the left, it’s an oddly bright and pleasing shade of green paint on a steel frame that could  very well have been left dreary. I also like the polka dot holes in the cylinder through which the nuts tumble out. And I like the industrious noise of it, when it’s running, and its Rube Goldberg aspect. It seems more contraption than machine.

But it’s been broken and idle and I’ve watched wistfully as burlap sacks filled with nuts in shells are hauled off to a distributor and I yearn for our own little share of the goods, whole round edibles in perfect 8 oz. portions, or the wonderful fragments my mother-in-law calls “cookie bits”.

Enter the fixer.

It’s Monte, of course, who reads directions and figures things out. The cracker comes with a Xeroxed sheet of instructions for both operation and repair that look like they were hand-typed by Mr. Shaw, the fellow who designed it. It talks about removal of bearings and end plates, replacing inserts in flanges,  and setting a locking collar in the direction of rotation of the shaft.  There are blades and taper pins, and even a warning about distorting the cover plate “in a manner that could render the cracker worthless”.

It isn’t only that I dropped physics and have never really understood how things work in anything other than a magical way (and I’m not proud of this), it’s also that I am impatient and not inherently interested. I am cracked and distracted, and light gets in, but it’s never a clear sharp beam. I look at these instruction sheets and feel overwhelmed and bored. Suddenly I notice a hummingbird darting around the honeysuckle. I remember something else I meant to be doing. I become the hummingbird, but not as efficient.

But Monte got that cracker going: eight blades, eight removals, eight replacements with small tools and patient hands. And it reminds me of something we’ve been talking about lately, which is the importance of slowing down, paying attention, and tending with care and grace to even the mundane chores and tiny rituals of life…things like washing the dishes, making the bed, maintaining the cracker. It’s what the Buddhist teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh refers to as mindfulness. “I plant with all my heart and mind,” he has said. “I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness…all is sacred.”

I guess Monte is Zen master in our household. As for me, I aspire. And whenever they are ready, I will munch on macadamias with mindfulness and pleasure.

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Words from Wendell Barry

“We have the world to live in on the condition that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it we have to know it. And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it.”

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How to Be A Poet by Wendell Barry

i

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

ii

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

iii

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

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The Salute

DSC00079We were sitting in the coffee shop in Lompoc this morning when our old friend Dick Jacoby wandered in.  I love running into Dick–he always has a twinkle in his eye and a story to share.

Somehow we got on the subject of Dick’s army years. He joined when he was 17, and at the age of 18 he was stationed in Japan, during the Allied occupation. General Douglas MacArthur was the Supreme Commander during this remarkable period of recovery and transition for the defeated nation. He established his General Headquarters in the Dai Ichi Insurance Building in central Tokyo whose higher floors overlooked the Imperial Palace, and he traveled along a broad boulevard in a black 1941 Cadillac limousine flanked by military police motorcycles. Dick was there.

“When MacArthur came out of his headquarters, all of Tokyo stood still,” Dick told us. “He was really a big deal. He had five stars on each shoulder and he had kind of a crushed hat and a corn cob pipe and he’d come out of his headquarters in the afternoon and everything in Tokyo would stop…”

At this point, Dick got distracted. It’s a busy coffee shop, after all, and he knows a lot of people. “Hey, there’s Bob, my good friend!” said Dick.

“Are you bothering these young, good-looking women?” said Bob. “Well, ladies, I can repeat that story as well as he can. Probably better, I’ve heard it so many times.  Dick forgot to mention that MacArthur was wearing dark glasses.”

general-macarthur-pipe“There’s always a critic,” said Dick, proceeding.

“Anyway, as I was saying, when MacArthur came out of his headquarters and got in his car, his guards on either side of the car saluted him very formally, and everything in Tokyo stopped in the middle of the day. The lights all turned red, all the traffic stopped, all the people were stopped on the sidewalk. Then his car takes off and heads toward the Imperial Palace.”

“Yeah, I’ve told this story a few times,” Dick admitted. “But on this day I was the only person standing there on the road near the Imperial Palace. I was the only person there! And I was standing dead still. And I’m thinking that there’s a five-star general coming, and his car came down the street, and he was alone in the car, and I was alone on the sidewalk, and I saluted him. I figured it was the thing to do. And he took his pipe out of his mouth and he returned my salute. So I made General MacArthur salute me. And I made him take his pipe out of his mouth.  I was 18.”

“May I take your picture?” I asked Dick. I was already thinking that this was a blog post.

“Yeah, go ahead. You can be like those newspaper photographers who always take two in case the first one comes out good.”

Dick knows about this because he ran for City Council back in the 1960s. One of the newspapers printed a photo of him with a shadow under his nose that made him look just like Hitler. He was advised to go around the neighborhood, knock on doors, introduce himself, win some hearts. It was not a practice he relished. He knocked at one door, waited a while, and there was no answer. He figured he’d leave, almost relieved.

“You gotta do these things,” his friend had advised.

“So I stayed there,” said Dick, “and I kept knocking and finally this old guy came and opened the door and said, ‘Oh, you’re the guy that’s running against my son!’ God, I wanted to go home immediately. Can you imagine?”

“Did you win?” Cornelia wondered.

“I did. I won. But it wasn’t because of successful campaigning.”

“May I take that one more picture?” I asked.

“Go ahead,” said Dick.

Afterwards, I had a hard time choosing which to use. They both looked good to me.

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You Be The Mother

little girl dirt roadIn a moment I want to share another poem by Marie Howe, one I think should be required reading for every parent.  It certainly brought back memories of my own little girl back in days that were more precious and fleeting than I ever imagined. That’s her above, striding along a dirt road, a funny and confident little mop-head. We had truly wonderful times together, that little girl and me, but I think there probably was a lot of rushing and fretting too, and I wish I’d slowed down a bit.

And there were days when she would declare that she was “Mommy” and I was the little girl. Sometimes she would assume an officious, big shot demeanor in that role, which I guess from her perspective was a major aspect of me. She was powerful and bossy then, as she clomped around in my shoes or jingled my car keys or referred to Monte as, well…Monte. But she could also be considerate–”Careful,” she would say, turning around to help me find my footing on the goat trail–and liberal with treats, and genuinely nurturing as she read me books and cuddled me on the day bed by the window. Anyway, this was my brief season of great significance, and it was touching to be admired and impersonated, but the ending of Howe’s poem is an unsettling reminder for parents to be conscious of what, exactly, they are modeling and teaching. The poem is called “Hurry”:

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store
and the gas station and the green market and
Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,
as she runs along two or three steps behind me
her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.
Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?
To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?
Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,
Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry —
you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.
And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking
back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,
hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

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This Is What You’ve Been Waiting For

april skyIt’s getting warm again. I took a real slow walk up a steep hill while listening to a podcast of Krista Tippett interviewing the poet Marie Howe, part of a series (“On Being“) that a friend only recently turned me onto, and I’m so glad she did. In the last few days I’ve listened to fascinating conversations with Thích Nhất Hạnh, Studs Terkel, astrophysicist Janna Levin, and today this remarkable poet who seemed to be getting to the heart of everything important.

Here’s a poem she recited called “The Gate”, written after the death of her brother. I think it’s perfect…and I hereby aspire to be more fully aware of the this, although I acknowledge that listening to a podcast while out hiking may be somewhat contradictory. Then again, maybe having a poem in my ear was part of my walk’s very this-ness.

I had no idea that the gate I would step through
to finally enter this world
would be the space my brother’s body made. He was
a little taller than me: a young man
but grown, himself by then,
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet,
rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold
and running water.
This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This — holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich.
And I’d say, What?
And he’d say, This, sort of looking around.

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Of The News and The Olds

lightskyI spent too much time in recent weeks trying to write something with the goal of an editor or expert deeming it worthy and rewarding it with praise or publication. I couldn’t write anything at all that way.

But this is for you if you want to read it, just a quick report of the news and the olds, neither essay nor poem, a post…barely prose.

Of  importance to me, I suppose.

In the morning there was a line of white light etching the outline of the sea against the sky, and Santa Rosa Island was a blue mirage floating above the water, and the wind was humming through my bicycle wheels, and I felt the sheer bliss of being alive, the crazy unfair luck of it, but the momentary bliss.

Later that same day we said said good-bye to a friend in the place he chose to be, with two old men who remembered him from the long-ago days, and there were tears and laughter and ashes and earth, all of us aware of falling, falling, but grateful for each other and the beauty of the world.

A bit of rain came through like diamonds.

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