Following Sea

Long Island Sound 2015

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Time is a ghost

out here on the open water.

Thoughts ebb & flow

like crashing waves.

And, you and I,

our sea legs planted,

silently being.

Your fishing line taut

with promise of a catch.

Me, immersed in a novel–

all the hopeful possibilities.

Taking turns at the helm,

we guide one another

toward the horizon.

An empty nest sits atop

a rock in all its prominence,

reminding us of the following sea

at our backs,

a new sun above us

and, ahead, moments we cannot plot

time we cannot count on.

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Listening to the MUSES

MUSES

 

muses anderson

Greek mythology tells of nine muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne: goddesses who inspire with their talents representing aspects of the arts and sciences.

The dictionary definition includes a brief etymology of the word, but also offers more modern day interpretations.

Muse definition

 

 

 

 

Often, artists (painters, writers, musicians…) tell of the muses whom have inspired them to create

muses dante

These are the muses and how I’ve been inspired by them:

Muse astronomy

 

There is nothing more majestic than the night sky. Symbols of it fill my pages of writing. In awe of the galaxy, the moon, the sun, the planets, I observe– me watching them, them watching me. As a student of astronomy and astrology, I study the constellations using aspects of signs in the characters I create. I believe their signs are part of the energy force that moves each character through a piece of writing, allowing him/her to take on a voice, action and thought that surprises even me, the creator.

Muse Love poetry

My first exposure to love poetry was probably during my freshman year of college in a Romantic Poets class studying Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge and Blake. This lead to the study of Victorian poetry– Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Bronte & Christina Rossetti. Later, I found Shakespeare’s sonnets and grew to appreciate brilliance of his work.

 

          “Love is not love which alters when its alteration finds

          or bends with the remover to move

          O no, it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on the tempests

          and is never shaken

          It is the star to every wandering bark

          whose worth’s unknown,

          although height be taken”

                                                          William Shakespeare

                                                          Sonnet 116

 

          “When I saw you, I fell in love

          and you smiled because you knew”

                                                          William Shakespeare

                                                          Romeo and Juliet

          “Be with me always

          take any form– drive me mad!

          Only do not leave me in the abyss

          where I cannot find you.

          I cannot live without my life.

              I cannot live without my soul.”

                                                          Emily Bronte

                                                          Wuthering Heights

 And, later still, I found other pieces that inspire. I write them all down– in a notebook, and on a wall in my study, so the words become a part of me.

 

“It’s only with the heart one could see rightly

          What is essential is invisible to the eye”

                                                          Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

                                                          The Little Prince

 

          “You know that place between sleep and awake

          that place where you can still remember dreaming?

          That’s where I’ll always love you.

          That’s where I’ll be waiting.”

J.M. Barrie

                                                The Adventures of Peter Pan

 

Love is the most powerful emotion. How could one write, after all, without love?

 

 

Muses history

If I didn’t pursue some vein (or many) of English in college or life, for that matter, I would have pursued history. It fascinates me. Everything about it. I’m drawn to antiquity. I’m drawn to stories of the past. I’m curious about how the past affects the future. I even get politically charged on occasion and relish a good political debate. History is about what makes people tick–  whole cultures, too.

When I was little, I grew up with two Italian grandparents whose parents immigrated to the U.S. before they were born. If I had to equate them to a modern(ish)-day example, it would be Cher’s character’s family  in Moonstruck.

 

My grandfather served in Guadalcanal during World War II, a great sense of pride for him until his dying day. My grandmother waited for him. Separately, they told me stories about the war and the Great Depression which, I believe, sparked my curiosity about history. Later, I would lose myself in research, digging to find more and more– the personal stories. I event went to Pearl Harbor and interviewed some of the vets there. THIS inspired my first novel– my first history muse.

muses war

 

 

 

Muse TragedyWe all have a tragic story to tell. Some hide it deep within; others share with ease. I’m still grappling with my story. Bits and pieces of it thread through my work– poetry, novels, short works, even some ideas I have for film. But I’m not quite there yet. Sure, I can make sense of some of the pieces. Some of which I represent in my writing better than others. But I’m still trying… with every piece I write I try to discover the triumphs of my tragedies, big and small.

 

Some of the tragedies that have inspired me include, but are in no way limited to…

 

Hamlet, William Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest tragedy of them all. Hamlet explores the psyche– so many sides of it. It begs us to question ourselves, the choices we make, our own lives.

 

          “What a piece of work is a man!

`        How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties!

          In form and moving how express and admirable!

          In action how like an angel in apprehension.

          How like a God!

          The beauty of the world

          The paragon of animals!

          and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?

          Man delights not me”

                                             William Shakespeare,  Hamlet

 

Alex: The Life of  a Child, Frank Deford, a little non-fiction book I happened upon, then later saw a film adaptation of. It’s the story of a courageous little girl, struck with cystic fibrosis, and her loving family in the wake of her loss. Beyond sadness, it’s about the triumph of spirit, much like the fiction novel The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I am often struck by the strength of those in the face of tragedy, perhaps, because I’ve seen a lot of it, too much.

 

Yet, I hold onto the belief that life is about Yin and Yang– balance. One can’t know extreme joy without having experienced tragedy. One cannot know beauty without knowing the beast. One cannot know peace without fear and love without hate. It is through experiencing the depth of such extreme emotions that, as creative types, we create.

 

Muse dance

 

This is the weakest of my own muses, for I am a dreadful dancer. I try to avoid dancing except in the privacy of my alone time. I wish I were graceful. I wish I had the poise, stamina and talent to move my body to the rhythms of the day.

I do have two very vivid memories of dancing, however, which fill me with joy. One is standing atop of my grandfather’s feet as he taught me how to waltz; he was as good a dancer as he professed. His left hand held my right in a firm grasp, while his right elbow jutted out perpendicular to my ribs as he gently placed his right hand on my back. 1,2,3 and repeat. He told me it’s all about the timing. For the second there were no rules. Just me holding each of my babies, on separate occasions, in my arms, either swaying to the rhythm of soft lullabies or dancing wildly across the floor to upbeat children’s dance music. Their sweet eyes closing as they drifted off to sleep or opening wide, wide as their laughing mouths to mommy being silly.

I try to capture moments, just like these, little snapshots of perfection, in my writing.

 

Muse music

 

Now, music– that is one of my greatest muses. I listen to music of many genres: rock, soft rock, pop, indie, alternative, singer/songwriter, disco, classical, pop(ish) country, some rap. I like music for the melody AND the words. Often, when I find something that I love, I listen to it on repeat too many times for others but never enough for me. Music serves many purposes in my life. It is the basis of fond childhood memories– a time when my whole family saw plays and sung entire soundtracks in unison. I wished I were one of the Von Trapps or the Osmonds or Jacksons. I could sing The Age of Aquarius from the first word on the album to the very last, the same with the Carpenters albums and Jesus Christ Super Star. My mother taught me a love for music.

As I grew older, I learned to love music in different ways. Attending concerts is one of my favorite past times. I’ve seen too many (yet, still not enough) to count: Rod Stewart, Madonna, Carly Simon, Cher, James Taylor, Genesis, Dianna Ross, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Train, The Cars, Chicago, The Police, Third Eye Blind, John Mayer, Maroon 5 and Coldplay (I’m sure there are more…). There is still one band on my “to see” list that I’m dying to see: Aerosmith. Being at a concert, body moving to the music, crowd singing in unison, my blood feels as if it’s boiling, so much adrenaline running through it, and like it’s swaying on an ocean tide at the same time.

While I’m writing, I plug my ear buds in, choose a play list that either my character would be listening to or one that imitates the mood of the scene I’m writing. This is what gets me in the zone. I could write all day like this.

 

Muse Epic Poetry

When I was a T.A. in grad school, my mentor professor had this painting on the wall of her office. Earthy colors and placid. A girl, looking forlorn, dressed in a flowing white gown, halo band wrapped around her hair, sitting in a boat, tapestry draped over the side, floating down a river. She’s looking up, as if to something.

I wanted to know what she is thinking. Where is she going? Is she running to something or away from something? Is she sad or introspective?

I’d learn that the painting, rendered by John William Waterhouse, was of his adaptation of an epic poem entitled “The Lady of Shalott,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It’s about an embowered woman, locked in a tower by a curse, who sees a reflection of a man she instantly falls in love with living in what seems to be a utopia. She can only look upon this man and his surroundings in a mirror, for if she looks directly upon it, the curse will break.

Muses The lady of shalott

Upon reading the poem, my questions became more complex. My understanding altered and intensified. Is living life a reality or a reflection of it? Isn’t everything about our perception, no matter from what the approaching stance? Is it better to live safe and protected or risk everything to venture out into the unknown? Is the unknown always utopian-like? Will it never quite measure up to the way we had imagined it?

Questions like these, prompted from epic works such as “The Lady of Shalott” or “The Canterbury Tales,” “Beowulf,” “Paradise Lost,” “The Divine Comedy,” “The Odyssey,” “The Illiad”… aren’t they just questions of life, the basis of philosophy, psychology & sociology? This is what makes us think. Thinking. Taking action. Interacting. These are what make us human.

All of life is an epic poem. Each of us with a different story to tell. Conflicts to overcome. Tapestries to weave. Unique journeys to take.

Questions. Observations. Experience. These are where the ideas come from.

 

Muse comedy

 

 

muses bombeck

 

I try to find that line in my writing, the in between, the thing that we all feel but have difficulty encapsulating in words.

We need comedy to deal with life, for without it, we’d buckle under.

 

Comedians that inspire me: Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, Howie Mandel, Jim Carrey, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal, Adam Sandler, Jimmy Fallon, Dana Carvey, Gilda Radner, Tina Fey, Dane Cook, Melissa McCarthy… and the one who makes me laugh the most: my son, Tyler.

 

The Yes Man

 

Muse Hymns

 

Listening to hymns, for me is like reading a good ending, one that satisfies all my expectations, to a book I can’t put down.

In all their majesty, hymns fill me with joy, faith, hope, perseverance. They remind me that beyond the struggle there is always something better. We need to live through the struggle to see that, for without it there couldn’t be clarity. Not only do hymns like these, my favorites, inspire me to be a better person, they inspire me to write more authentically.

 

Hallelujah: Jeff Buckley

 

Amazing Grace: Judy Collins

 

The Prayer: Celine Dion & Andrea Bocelli

 

You Raise Me Up: Josh Groban

 

 

muses what inspires

 

Images:

http://www.firstcovers.com/user/1007044/lady+of+shalott.html

 

 

Devil’s Teardrop Box: A Lesson from Before Women Had Wings

MM BWHW Book jacket

MM BWHW Bird Quote

 

Before Women Had Wings (1997),a novel written by Connie May Fowler, is one I end the year of American Literature with. Avocet, a.k.a. Bird, Jackson’s narrative grips the reader before the end of page one. She’s an innocent girl trying to understand life– what’s fair/ what isn’t. She endures pain, often issued from her parents, sometimes her sister, too, but she loves them and searches for understanding. A spiritual journey provides her with hope, an unlikely friend, and finally salvation. Although her family defines dysfunctional, it begs the reader to understand the flaws in human nature and the power of forgiveness.

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I find this unit, more so than others, is connectable for students. I’m not sure if it’s the arc of the unit. We begin with women’s poetry (Maya Angelou, Marge Piercy, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sylvia Plath, Anne Bradstreet, and even Ann Sexton) because I want to create an image of what it means to be a women– HER whole story: the good, the bad, the ugly.  When we read the novel, which I approach more like a book club than instruction, I allow the conversation to become fluid and completely directed by the students in the class. Next, I ask students to interview a  prominent female figure in their lives to reach an understanding of what being a woman has meant to her.

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The students borrow from a part of the book in creating a “Devil’s Teardrop Box,” a keepsake Bird’s father made for her which holds all that she cherishes, for each chosen woman. In it should be 5 objects (or more), authentic or recreated, that help the student tell her story.

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Finally, a reflection is written on the whole process. What I find most endearing is what students say about learning her (often a mom, older sister or aunt) story, something each student appreciates in unanticipated ways. For the girls, it’s often a sense of pride that emerges. Suddenly, this woman who has been more concerned the mundane, because after all she’s often just mom, emerges as a woman, a being that existed before the birth of the interviewer. For the boys, empathy comes through the most; they are the ones most surprised by the outcome. But, overall, all students regardless of gender come away with a newfound knowledge, and, I believe, real understanding. It’s such a positive way to end the year.

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LEGACY: The People Who Leave

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The following writing was inspired by my very first creative writing professor at college. Besides instilling a love for the craft, May Harding shared not only herself but her poetry which was meant to inspire each of us, and so it has.

Two Deaths

In middle life death cut him down,

severed blood from mind.

His presence, in an instant lost,

we mourned, we could not find.

You we lost in little ways,

stealthy was the going.

Your body robbed you of yourself,

secretly outflowing.

When you died, thought spent the blow,

anguish was bitter true.

You had left us long ago

we know now… and we knew.

                                                ~ May Harding

When she read this poem, I’d only experienced the death of one person who had been close to me– my paternal grandfather. May’s poem awakened a sense of introspection within me connected with death, one I hadn’t before considered. I began to question it, and, more so, I began to wonder what effects it had on me– still young and vibrant and very much alive, I was naive to life experiences, then.

Since, I have experienced too much death in my life and of those around me. Each time, I am brought back to this singular poem in thinking what effect each posthumously has instilled within.

Some years back, after picking up the pieces from the fourth death of a young child (all four occurred within a five year span), and, while they weren’t of my own children, they were of mothers who were close to me. As a mom, I just couldn’t wrap my head around how one survives such an experience, and, yet, four mothers I knew well were tasked with such a battle of warrior proportions. I wrote a short story entitled, “The People Who Leave,” addressing what the many people who have left my life have left behind and engrained in me. Some time later, I called up the document on my desktop to revisit it, only it was encrypted in some hieroglyphs I did not recognize, nor could I decipher. I cut and pasted various passages of the text into Google looking for a translation I would never find. I took it as a message that for some reason my story shouldn’t be written, at that time.

Now, many years later, I set about to try again. I’m not sure the purpose more than simply wrapping my mind around how I’ve been affected by each I’ve lost. I believe each person is put in my life for a purpose, sometimes unbeknownst until some years later, after much experience and reflection. Moreover, I think, in life, we hope to leave something behind. These are their gifts to me:

 

~ Gustave William ~

My first experience of death. It was cold. You were cold, to me, and distant. You graduated from college and you were an alcoholic. How did I know, then, that you were a paradox to me? I was young. I recall seemingly insignificant details that are sketchy at best. But I remember this: you taught me to cultivate a relationship with my father who idolized you. I think you were the best of friends.

~ Augusta/ Nana ~

My great grandmother. Of all of my great grandparents, I remember you best. You were such a regal presence, so full of life. I looked up to you. Next to the word matriarch in the dictionary should be a photograph of you. Stubbornly German, you made your presence known– your needs and wants too; to me, you embodied strength. You were a collector (of elephants– I became a collector, too) and a giver (your coconut cake recipe has been passed down generations). You were a fighter. I hope I learned that from you.

~ Nonni ~

My beautiful Italian, great grandmother who couldn’t speak much English. She would teach me Italian sayings like, “Come sei bella.” She is always sitting in my memories of her and she would take my hands in hers, so soft and warm, and look right into my eyes. She taught me to be proud of my heritage and to compliment others, often.

~ Aunt Florence ~

I’m not sure why I began visiting you… because you weren’t too far to bike to or because you seemed lonely. I have such fond memories of the smile on your face when I’d arrive, sometimes alone, sometimes with one of my friends. You’d make us tea, and, together, we’d pick grapes from your vine. You taught me how to knit; those knobby fingers made such beautiful things. You talked about your children, as if they’d abandoned you, but, really you just missed them.

~ Carmen/ Carmenucci ~

You, your death had a profound effect on my life, but you know that. You are one of the few people who I really feel hasn’t left me. I believe you watch over me. You were such a scooch when you were alive, always teasing me and preaching words of your wisdom (and how often I’ve come back to those speeches and would give anything to hear them again). It turns out you knew a lot more than I gave you credit for (because, then, I believed I knew more than you– turns out that wasn’t so). You taught me so much about life and war and that sometimes life is war, but, even when we’re afraid, we can find the strength to make it through. You taught me about death– how, even in death, to be valiant. As a result, I live in the present and often remind myself that I must live without fear.

~ Paul, Samuel & Albert Celone ~

An interesting set of brothers, not particularly close, and you came in and out of my life at different times. Yet, what I take away from the sum experiences I had with you is a sense of family, and that, no matter the circumstances, family is always there for one another. I find it peculiar that none of you married, and yet you all were so attentive as uncles; it makes me sad that you made me feel so special, but you never had children of your own.

~ Nancy ~

You were my friend, my “little” sorority sister, the girlfriend of my best friend. So smart and funny and pretty, you had everything going for you or so it seemed. I didn’t understand, until you, the depth of one’s demons and to what extent they could be masked. It must have been so hard to keep up the facade. To smile when you were crumbling inside. I’m sorry I didn’t know. I’m sorry I couldn’t help. It makes me sad that your parents used you as an example for your friends when I wonder if they played a part in the facade. Your loss hit me hard. It seemed selfish and unfair. But, the adult me understands the angst you must have gone through. You have made me a little more sensitive to the secrets people keep.

~ Kimberly ~

Born with a genetic disorder, we knew you didn’t have long for this world. And you almost made it to two years old. I wanted to help– your mom and you. It was important to give you the best quality of life we could. I grew close to you and felt that I made a difference, even though it was hard. Sometimes, I’d cry the whole way home thinking about your strength in the face of your life sentence. Years don’t necessarily equate to the impact one can leave behind. You are proof of that. I believe you made me stronger, more benevolent, less egocentric.

~ Jamie Lynn ~

Well, you were a force of energy– that’s how I’ll always remember you. When you entered a room, you filled it with sunshine. When I think of you, the image is always of you smiling or laughing or dancing. In your nine years, you proved that you knew how to live. Your loss was devastating. It created a chasm in many lives because it was so abrupt, so senseless– hitting us, in the wake of your death, with the fact that you never know if there will be a tomorrow. You were friends with my children, and to recognize their loss at such a young age was difficult to process. There is a photo of you, Kimberly and Ryan (all born within months of each other) that I look at and still cannot fathom that two of you are gone. With your death, I came to empathize with any mother losing her child, I learned how to support a grieving child (actually, three of them), and I learned how life’s twists and turns can change the compass of a friendship. In a way, I feel like I experienced two losses in yours because your mom and my friendship hasn’t been the same. I’m not sure if I just didn’t know how to be a friend to her during that rough time, I tried, or if she distanced herself from me because that’s what she needed. You taught me hard lessons, little girl, for which I am grateful, but I wish we didn’t have to lose you in the learning of them. Please know you are still very much alive in the hearts of my family.

~ Stephanie ~

Your passing, on the heels of two others so close to me, made me question God and my faith. I didn’t know you well. You were so young. One moment full of life and the next gone, all from a common infection, that mothers, like me, nurse our kids through and back to health– every day. Who knew that a strain of strep could halt a life. I felt so sick from your passing that I couldn’t even bring myself to attend the wake, something I’d never been squeamish about before. It angered me that God had taken you. As a result, I began a long journey reevaluating what I believed in. I’m not sure that I’ve found answers, but I have found peace that for every life and every death there is purpose. I’ve also found a tremendous respect for mothers like yours who have no other choice but to go on living the best they know how, even though a piece of them has been torn away. It’s inspired me, really, to look at my own obstacles through different lenses.

~ Mrs. Carbone/ Grandma Moe ~

I questioned your presence in my life time and time again. If I had to equate it to a symbol, it would be of a wall. I recognized the wall you built around yourself, letting few in, certainly not me, except on very few occasions. I also recognize, now, that you developed in me, perhaps inadvertently, a sense of self confidence I didn’t posses before you because you fought me at every twist and turn. It saddens me that it took your impending death for me to see that soft side that was hidden so far behind the wall. It made me realize how many obstacles you must have faced in your life and overcome. For that, I thank you. I thank you because you have made me a more introspective person, a stronger, wiser person, a more sensitive and loving mother, a more dedicated and considerate wife, and, I hope, one day, a more understanding and accepting mother-in-law.

~ Evan ~

On the cusp of becoming a high school student, you had so much to offer the world until you cut your life short in what some seem to question as the fate of a genetic legacy. You, too, were Ryan’s friend. It seemed unfair that at fourteen years old, he’d already lost three of his friends. We all wish we saw it coming, so we could have caught you– fixed you somehow. Your death made me a better friend to another grieving mother. It made me question why so many young deaths in my life– too many to handle, really. It affected me deeply. I look at your brother and sister, today, and think what a loss for them– how the ghost of you must permeate their lives. Your passing made me realize that no matter how much we want to save someone, a person really can only save him/herself– a lesson deferred from the loss of Nancy, I suppose.

~ Gramma Molly ~

I have met three true matriarchs in my life, and you are one of them. You were one of the sweetest, most compassionate and giving people I’ve known. You raised five boys almost single-handedly who are successful, thoughtful, respectful, compassionate, responsible and kind– a reflection of their mother. I don’t know a family who holds their mother in higher esteem than yours– a true testament to how they were raised, and I so envy you for that. I believe you made everyone you met want to be a better person just for having been in your presence. And I’m glad I was.

~ Angelique/ Angie/ Gigi ~

I think I still have not let go, nor do I think I ever will. I cannot encapsulate in words the effect your life has had on my own. You always were my rock, my infinite source of unconditional love, understanding and acceptance. Aside from my husband and my mother, I have never confided in anyone more than you (and sometimes I think I’ve confided the most in you). You’ve taught me so much about being a good person and mother and wife and friend and teacher– the effects of what I’ve learned from you ripple through so many aspects of my life. I hear your words and feel your soft touch when I need them. Even in my dreams, you are still telling me, you love me no matter what. I know you are my angel, and I know that you’ll never leave me, too.

~ Grandma/ Great Gram ~

I have fond, warm memories of you when I was young– holidays at your house (you weren’t the best cook, but you loved family around and your family always threw the best parties), coming to work with you, and the pretend bar we set up in your recreation room or the office we pretended to work in with the old typewriters, ledgers, and telephones. Then, upstairs, in your attic, there was a secret room, we’d (me, my siblings and cousins) would always find our way into; we’d play with the old stuff, which really were antiques only I didn’t realize it then. I developed a love for antiquity from you. Then Pop-pop died. You seemed to transform so quickly from a woman, dependent and lost, to a woman on a mission to live life fully and on your own terms. I missed you then. It hurt that you became so distant, so otherwise attentive to all things not us, it seemed. No more sleep- overs. No more birthday parties. We gave up depending on you. But hindsight affords us to heal and see outside of our feelings. I forgive you because I think you did what you needed to do for you, not out of malcontent for us, your grandchildren. I admire the woman you became, a career woman, independent, so well traveled, so respected in so many circles. I think one day, I’d like to become her only with a better sense of balance. I remember the end of your life fondly, too, because I saw a lot of you, again, then. It was sad to see your mind slip because I’d remembered you as such a keen woman. You were gentle and graceful, always. I think, in a very quiet way, you were a matriarch for our family– something you never aspired to be but just blossomed into.

~ Donna/ Big “D” ~

Not only my second friend to pass, but also a life force lost. We shared a name. We shared a past rich of common experiences, interests, tastes– even in men, but we never let that come between us. At a young age, you were diagnosed with childhood diabetes, something you would struggle to keep in check throughout your life. I feared that would be the way you would someday go, but someone robbed us of you much sooner than you allowed your disease to, when you died in a tragic car accident. The memory of Renee calling me to ask me if I’d heard and, simultaneously, the image of your car accident on the television are etched in my mind forever. Your loss was devastating to me. We’d been friends since fourth grade. You taught me so much about living with courage and determination, passion and zest. We thought we’d grow old together– two old biddies talking about back-in-the-day. You reaffirmed that I must live in the present because there are so many things between us left unsaid: what a good mother and teacher you were, that there are so many events in my life that I’m glad we shared because I wouldn’t have wanted to share them with anyone other than you, and what a good friend you always were– that I always knew you were there for me (even when life got in the way). The saying Live without Regret is part of my mantra, now, because I thought we had so much time ahead of us. I miss you.

~ Aunt Julia and Uncle Frank ~

The story goes that Uncle Frank was in the armed services and stationed out in California where he met Julia. They fell love and married, which took him away from his family in Connecticut. Then they had a beautiful daughter, Mary Francis, who was about my mother’s age, and, although, they didn’t see each other often, she and my mother grew very close– like twins on separate coasts– until Mary Francis died at the age of twelve because she choked on her own blood in the night while recovering from a tonsillectomy.  I heard stories about them– how close they were, how strong Uncle Frank and Aunt Julia’s love for one another was to survive such a tragic loss. I saw black and white photos of their wedding day, of Mary Francis as a little girl, and photos of she and my mother together on their visits with each other, and, lastly, of Mary Francis in her communion dress. These photographs painted a story. Uncle Frank and Aunt Julia went onto have another daughter, Ann Marie, not much older than I, who would become my pen pal for many of my formative years. We met for the first time when I was in junior high and would only meet again three other times in our lives. The last was several years ago when I visited them in California. I was conscious of the fact that it would probably be the last time I’d see Uncle Frank and Aunt Julia alive, and it was.

The two of you instilled in me an understanding of the quiet strength of a union, a love so deep and strong that it didn’t need to be stated because it was always felt. I always aspired to have that kind of love. You were my example of the way two people should love one another through the best of times and the worst of times. Everyone should have an example of a love story like yours.

 

I suppose I would have come upon this introspection on my own in my own time, but I thank May Harding for helping me to see something differently– a lesson I’ve applied to many aspects of my life.

I know what it’s like to go through a difficult time, but what I take away from that kind of experience is that each process is unique unto itself and the person walking through it. Each one teaches us something different, that when we’re in the vortex of it, we often can’t see, but we have to have faith and trust to know that one day we will see it and gain a better understanding of it and ourselves.

And, in the end, we all leave a legacy– hopefully, it’s a good one.

[Image: http://globeattractions.com/between-heaven-and-earth-sea-sunset-nature/ ]

 

 

 

The Only Way

I held you close, my baby boy,
my shining starlight,
nursed you
nurtured you,
until you could walk
 
Only your walk became a run
–boundless energy.
I lived through your vivacity:
Batman flying over Gotham
Power Ranger fighting the good fight
and my knight in shining armor,
you promised to protect me
until you couldn’t
 
Because you were standing on your own
–a separate, far away land
where you hoped to find yourself.
It was my hope too,
so I let go,
allowing you to fly and fight,
praying you’d protect yourself
until you didn’t
 
Watching you fall,
when I couldn’t catch you,
is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
My nature is to protect you,
but this is your life.
You need to learn how to stand
and fly, using your own wings.
You need to find your own star,
even when it’s so far out of reach,
to learn what’s worth fighting for.
 
Sometimes walking,
taking baby steps, 
is a better course than running,
certainly better than flying.
 
Sometimes feeling unprotected
and alone
is the only way, that through the dark,
you can find the stars.

stars

FLOWERS OF MY LIFE

“And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see – or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ~Alice Walker
 

DAHLIA the past, my parents cultivate their gardens, knowing full well they were cultivating us too

WILD DAISIES first love, plucking the petals “He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me!”

GERBER DAISIES all the colors of our life, planted each Spring, they represent who we are differently, and as one

FIRE`N`ICE ROSES wedding flowers, symbolizing the passion and purity upon which we built our foundation of love and family and home

HYDRANGEA the flower of our parenting, warm, happy   Cape Cod   memories each summer as we watch our children grow–all the stages of their lives, and the laughter– all the laughter

STAR GAZER LILIES mystical flowers, sturdily symbolizing my belief in the stars and the world beyond that is both within my grasp and far enough that I have to keep reaching

Flowers We Grow

 

            I.

The light is our apostle.

As sisters, we come to tend gardens:

lay the soil rich

of labor and love.

Planting roots. Watching seeds sprout.

Determined to envelop our precious

offspring. First flowers, pansies, when tended to

last all summer long. Marigolds encircle the garden,

scaring the uninvited away. Poppies grow

the tallest, sucking energy from sun to pollen.

Roses climb and wind. Easter lilies flutter in the breeze.

We try to plant in just the right light,

but even then, weeds grow, vines

tangle. We keep clipping

thorns and bandaging pricks

for each rite of passage.

 

            II.

Each summer,

I am still sowing. I walk through

my garden. The lilac scent trails, always

just behind me, as I deadhead the annuals.

To keep them flourishing, I bathe them

in Miracle Grow: 15-30 for the hardy,

30-10 for the delicate. Stepping back,

I admire the garden’s beauty,

note its imperfections.

 

You pick your flowers

and pretty them in a vase

at the center of your table.

As if you work in the garden is complete,

you admire them like a prize.

 

            III.

Your Jack preferred piano to baseball.

No wonder he wears his hair so long,

your husband said.

I admired you for loving Jack

when he handed you a bouquet of pansies

this Spring.

 

But Liza, the marigold in her daddy’s eyes, standing stalwart

and brave, made him proud—

earned her way toAnnapolis;

Only it’s unfortunate the way she puts oceans between

herself and those who come

too close.

 

Cain quit his books to pursue a career

in horticulture; raising opiates and weed.

I thought he was only playing games

as a boy, singing Step on the crack,

Break your mama’s back.

I wish he had sung Jack’s rendition

of World on a String instead.

 

            I haven’t the answer.

To me, my Clarissa is a rose,

but hard to touch, while her sister, Emma,

is smart as she is lily delicate.

 

            IV.

We sit across the table from one another,

sisters bandaging wounds.

My hand reaches across

to touch yours.

I always thought you looked

best in sunlight. As a child,

I wished I could fit right into your skin.

 

How is it, you break

the memory, Clarissa and Emma

Have turned out so perfect?

You whisper,

My children have peeled me

to the core.

 

 

 

 

Noodling

POETRY is to me what fresh air is to breathing. I write, often. Sometimes an idea comes to me that I must write (like a craving that doesn’t go away until it’s satisfied)… others ruminate in my mind, on a piece of scrap paper or in my writing journal until they take shape. A poem is never done, finished or complete– as my experiences change me, so does the way I conceive of the words I’ve written. I noodle them, as my poetry professor Vivian Shipley used to say. Noodle and noodle– walk away, leave it, then think about it and come back again to noodle some more. So this is what I’ve done– I’ve noodled these pieces, today.

[disclaimer. As is true for every writer, something I tell my students frequently, one shouldn’t assume any one piece is autobiographical; although, I will concede that there is a nuance of autobiography in every single thing I write.]

Wondering If the Sun Will Shine Again

Backside on grass,

my legs moved like scissors

and teased the blades.

The sun’s glow

reached out to me.

Beneath my chin,

I twirled a buttercup.

<stanza break>

My heels dig in. A bed

too hard for me.

My arms flail like a fawn’s legs,

hit, on a bruised highway.

He presses into my thighs,

then leaves a fog

of stale blunts and Budweiser.

<space>

If Only

If only I didn’t miss you so,

I could become unstuck

From the memories that seep

Into my most peaceful dreams.

<stanza break>

If only I didn’t love you so,

I’d move on by finding a man

To get lost inside of me

The way I lost myself in you.

<stanza break>

If only I didn’t miss you,

I’d still have every picture, love note and letter

I saved between us

That I broke and ripped and burned.

<stanza break>

If only I didn’t love you

I wouldn’t have found this blade

To drive right through the thick of my vein

So I’d never have to miss you, again.

<space>

Affair of the Heart

I wouldn’t have believed it.

I wouldn’t have even imagined it.

The card reader whispered,

There’s a Romeo still in your heart.

 

She took me back to

winter college nights

school cancelled and we –-

snuggled in blankets

opposite ends of the bed–

read each other’s poetry

softly,  aloud ‘til dawn

(there’s something to be said

about poetry and the night.)

You saw right through my guarded eyes;

 reaching in, you plucked the petals from my heart:

 I opened my secret self to you,

and you touched nothing more

than my hand.

<stanza break>

I didn’t believe your name was Romeo

until you offered up proof like a deed–

one of those old farmhouses you wrote about:

strength of character surpasses abundance.

<stanza break>

And you were surprised,

when I snapped open the shade

(hiding the cracked-open window)

 just to let the waft of your body encompass me

like the smell of hydrangea on aCape Codmorning

there are many rooms in the heart

           

funny, I hadn’t pondered line that until now.

Ten years later, at work –-

filing through a week’s worth of messages.

Suddenly,

the moisture in my eyes goes dry

my breath

        descends…

heart            skips         a beat

<stanza break>

“Mr. Romeo,” it reads, “please call.”

It was then I knew,

I’d kept you locked

in one of those rooms.

<stanza break>

And you wouldn’t have known it was me

(several heartaches since and a name change);

I am different now.

Until you walked through my door,

I could see right through your eyes;

you touched my hand –

smiled a casual good-to-see-ya smile.

<stanza break>

Poetry, left outside the door.

<space>

This is How I Love You

You are warm late morning’s

tangled limbs

You are unsolicited embraces

speaking love notes

You are a day’s work

sweating from your brow

You are a laundry basket

of assorted colors

You are the blanket I rub

against my skin

You are day-old socks

under the sheets

You are footprints

at my front and back doors

You are every room

of my heart

You are the book

I never tire of opening

You are a photograph

developing in my mind

You are the prism

teasing rainbows

You are the evergreen scent

enduring seasons

You are perennials

always returning

You are our initials

carved in the old oak tree

You are the ocean’s waves

rushing to be with me…

<space>

As Sin and Seaweed Tangle

(Summer of ’88)

Seagulls hover low

and glide,

like you, never having to try.

I am white caps in your ocean,

thrashing against you,

against us.

We lay on sand in sun,

warmth sweeps the storm we lived.

Eyes, placid only when they meet

and with the shore behind us, now.

I laugh a breeze,

you’re jealous of my playfulness

as I would secretly change myself

only to become you.

You lean, forcing the mast and I

to trust your zealous confidence

and we do.

When nightfall descends, you blanket me

and heat the shiver of my flesh.

We can no longer see each others eyes,

but they’re always there, comforting

like the stars and the breakwater lights,

we guide one another.

Shifting closer to the water,

sea breeze sprays our bodies,

like holy water

until we are one.

** some of the spacing in the poetry above is not as it should be– user problem– (I’ve inserted <stanza break> or <space> where the white space should be)  just so you know 😦

10 years ago today…

I awakened to the phone ringing at 4 a.m. Anthony took the call. I can hear the horror & disbelief in his voice… I sat up, and suddenly THAT call which wakes you from a sleep was happening. He handed me the phone. Andrea’s voice– defeated, breathless, lost. Jamie Lynn, my friend’s daughter and Andrea’s niece had died in a fire. She was 9 years old.
Jamie was the third child we lost– Kimberly and Stephanie before her. Evan and Matthew to follow. Too many children dying, too young. Too many parents having to figure out a way to move on.
I have questioned my beliefs each time– questioned all that I know. And the only answer I’ve found is that I know far too many parents who have lost their children.
These are poems I’ve written for three of them…
Children Falling

I know what it means
To want to be the catcher
I’m standing
Just a step ahead
Of you
Holding out the net

Waiting

The rye fields
Stretch out
Far
Beyond the horizon
Daisies
Are blooming
And I pluck the petals
One at a time
Living in the moment
Never anticipating

Phoebe is falling
I become suspended
Between breathe
And the inability
To breathe

Kimberly is falling
Stephanie is falling
Jamie is falling
Evan is falling
Matthew is falling

The last petal
Soft
And lovely
Between my fingers
I’m holding on.

All the petals
At my feet
Disappear through the rye
Swept away with the wind
They’ve become shadows
But I hear their laughter
Echoing
Softer and softer
Until they disappear

All the pretty petals

I know what it means
To want to be the catcher
Walking backwards,
I’m just a step ahead
Of you
Holding out the net
Waiting
Fearing the moment
I cannot breathe.

In memory of Matthew Kenney and those who we lost before him
4/28/07

Jamie Dancing In Our Lives

She comes in
Like a whirlwind,
Forcing us to freeze.
Statues in her midst.
Then, dancing on toes among us,
She teases,
Daring us to come alive.
Caressing a cheek,
Pushing back a stray hair,
A tickle, a wink.
And, then,
She disappears.

A ball of fire,
Our core,
The sun.
She sparkles,
Campfire tap dancing in the dark of night.
She is the light.

She comes in
Like a storm.
Hearts racing,
Adrenaline surging.
We are moved to move and not ask why.
Because of her,
We feel alive.

Then,
She takes her last bow.
Flies through wind,
Above the sun,
Beyond the night.
Dancing on clouds, she throws kisses.
A twinkle, still, in her eye.
In Memory of Jamie Lynn
27 December, 2001

When Winter Comes

I gave you my heart
on a cold winter’s day. And
just as the daisies bloomed in the fields,
we learned God would be taking you away.
We walk this path alone in the starlight:
Being part of you—
you being part of me.
For only the moments we have, we keep
like the shadows that protect us.
Someone out there must know
what I know.
Your eyes glisten
and I pray you will be part of a miracle.
For you are not a sacrifice,
you are Love.
You gave me your heart,
placed your life
in the palm of my hands.
And tenderly I help you to live —
daring not to miss a smile or a sparkle.

And winter always comes
but a moment too soon.
Though I will walk the barren fields alone,
remembering the daisies—
just how they used to be:
glistening in the sunlight.
I will know at night to look to the stars
because you will be among them,
helping me to live.
And forever, I will hear you heart
beating against mine.

In memory of Kimberly, the first angel 11/23/99

God bless all the little children we’ve lost. Forever in our hearts and our memories… our own little angels in heaven ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤

Merry Christmas

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other” ~Burton Hillis

Christmas is

Listening, eyes shut tight, while laying in bed, for the sounds of Santa

Sitting in Grandpop’s lap while he reads “Twas the Night Before Christmas”–

the snow gently falling outside

Debbie, Michael and I, waking at 3 a.m. to share opening our stocking gifts together
long before the morning light

Mom listening the whole year through for what we really wanted for Christmas,

all the things we’d long forgotten,

when we didn’t even realize she was listening

Creeping downstairs to sneak a peak at the gifts before our parents awoke

Anticipating an engagement ring wrapped in a tiny, red box

Anthony & I opening gifts on Christmas Eve because we couldn’t wait for
morning

Ryan’s second Christmas, awakening after his nap to discover the whole family,
gasping, “Everyone I wuv”

After opening presents, Tyler declaring, “We must have been really, really good
this year”

Alexa taking great care to leave just the right cookies & hot chocolate for Santa,
never forgetting carrots for the reindeer

Morning letters from Santa, recapping the year past

Reaching out of the windows in the kids’ rooms

to implant the tracks of the elves footprints, so when they awakened,

they’d know Santa had sent the elves to be sure

Ryan, Tyler and Alexa were fast asleep

Lazy monkey bread Christmas mornings investigating the gifts we’d gotten from
under the tree

Christmas Eve food extravaganza of shrimp, lobster, clams, crabs, tuna, mussels,
cod… cheesecake, mulled cider, cookies & candy aplenty

The piles of gifts for each child across the family room because our family had
grown, grown, grown

Untangling the Christmas lights, fighting over where to put them on the tree

Building and assembling the Dicken’s village, then standing back to watch it aglow

Picking up the fallen tree and broken ornaments, realizing that, while sentimental,

they didn’t really define Christmas

Lighting candles to remember those we lost

Tracking Santa as he moved across the world, anticipating what time to go to sleep

Looking around to see each and every face of those we love so much

Being together, putting all differences aside, to simply be
family.