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where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: April, 2010

all together, then poof!

it happened, i swear, with just a few notes criss-crossing the country. a what-if turned into a plan. a maybe turned into a yes. just like that, propelled by the heart.

date was picked, for no real reason, other than it was two fridays after the baby turned one. good enough reason in all of our books.

erasers were pulled, whatever had been inked onto calendars was swiftly rubbed off. just like that. propelled by the heart.

for one sweet weekend, according to improvised, multi-pronged plan, all of us, 16 of us, would be in one place, sit down at one table (okay, so that turned into two), come back to the roost where our mama is hen.

one by one, planes took off all around the country. one in maine, another in california, a third in arizona.

the people i love were on those planes.

on one, the one from california, sat a woman i’d never met. but already love. seems she’s found a soulmate in one of my brothers, my oldest brother, the one who’s been searching a very long time.

the plane in arizona was filled with the happy-go-luckiest clan that maybe ever there was. kids hauled their schoolbooks, ma grabbed a few days off work. pa, the brother of mine who leads with his heart wherever he goes, he pointed northeast, started flappin’ his wings.

up nor’east, in south portland maine, the baby was packed. and with her the ma and the pa, the car seat, the stroller. packin’ a baby is no simple task. thus, this was her first trip to chicago. my brother never had been back home as a father. never lulled to sleep his little girl in the room where he grew up.

while they all headed this way, still one more brother packed up the wagon, made room for his wife. left max, the beautiful dog, home in the kennel. drove in from ohio.

one by one, my mama’s house got more and more crowded. crowded in a way it’s never been before. each one of us glowed.

we were uniting for no particular reason. no funeral. no wedding. just the realest reason that ever there was: we all just happen to miss all the noise, all the laughter, the sharing of stories that thread through our lives. the ones the kids know forward and backward, even though not a one of them was around when all of it happened.

off and on for 30-some hours, we ebbed and we flowed. we were an amoeba with multiple parts, coming and going and swirling. soaking up all there was to soak up. every last drop. every last morsel.

without notice, the whole darn crew, or most of ‘em anyway, appeared at the sidelines of soccer. my little one, on the field with his head full of curls, he just beamed. especially when uncle piano, the arizona uncle, let out a cheer, spelled out the little one’s name in a cheerleader way. loudly. from the side of the field. the whole crowd roared at uncle piano’s inimitable bursting with joy.

at dinner saturday night–after scotch on the rocks for a few, and precision grilling for others–we all ended up packed in the dining room where, over the years, we’d all always taken our places, as if seat assignments don’t change, not from birth till that last christmas dinner.

never mind that this time there weren’t enough seats at the table. there were plenty of chairs. and plenty of stories. one after the other, till our bellies all ached.

that night when i tucked the little one in bed, he sighed. wanted me to tell him more tales. had been utterly swept by the magic, the power of story to tell who we are over time. when i told him just one hurried tale, he sighed again, worried.

“darn,” he whispered, “now there are no stories left for tomorrow.”

oh, i assured him, there were stories aplenty.

“make a list,” he called out, as i turned out the light, turned down the stairs.

and indeed the next night, the last night before bags were packed once again, there were stories. and birthday candles and cupcakes for the girl i call my delicious cupcake.

that’s when the tears flowed.

a few us, certainly me, ached for the knowledge of what we were missing. the depth and the breadth of the everyday. the growing up without intersecting in the dew of the dawn or the twinkling of night stars.

there is no substitute–not the most wizardlike phone or screen of computer–for living our lives just down the block. i cannot run and take that little girl’s hand. can’t show her the bird’s nest. can’t bury her nose in the rose’s perfume.
we are left to hold onto threads, snatches of story. the echo of laughter.

all week i found myself wandering through my house, knowing that was the book nook where the cupcake sat on my lap, played with the puppet.

there was the keyboard where music did flow.

there was the bench where my big beautiful brother wrapped his arm ‘round the girl of his dreams.

late sunday night, as i cleaned up the kitchen, i found in the corner the pink number one candle i’d tucked in the strainer of berries (the cupcake of choice for a girl who gets hives from eggs, milk or icing).

i held onto that candle for a minute or two. contemplated mailing it off, but then set it down in a basket of seeds by the window. i’ll send it some day, surely i will. but for now, i’ll keep it nearby.

it’s all i’ve got left of that short, sweet, magical weekend.

when for no practical reason–simply the mere fact of love–we all squeezed up to the table. and told tales till the clock struck good night.

a week ago today i was down on my hands and knees, crawling behind that sweet baby girl. my heart is wrapped up in hers, and in all of my brothers and the loves of their lives. here we all are, back in lives at full speed.
i’m not sad so much as washed over with the tenderest sweetness for a gift that came and went, in the blink of an eye.
how is it that so many of us live lives far from the ones we love the most, have loved the longest? who else longs for the village?

mr. mcgregor & me

grrrrr, was mostly the sound rumbling ‘round the garden.

it was rising from me. i happened to notice, once i saw what someone had done to my cloud-seeking missiles of yellow and red, and just-barely-brush-stroked-with-pink.

at first, as i galloped down the path, late to the train one morning this week, i saw only one. stopped me cold in my tracks, though.

clipped at the neck, the red beauty lay there, gasping.

its last futile breaths reached my ears, then my heart. my own gasp echoed the one that rose from the slack-jawed tulip, her petals all splayed, her innards stripped bare.

no time to attend to this merciless maiming, only to pause and mourn in double-time, make note to call back-up gardener and tuesday-afternoon nanny (aka my mama), ask if maybe just maybe, when she arrived at the scene, she’d rescue the poor decapitated darlin, swoop her up from the mud and lay her to rest, and maybe resuscitate, there by the sink in a stretcher of waters.

and so the day unfolded, certain was i that all would be well once the rescue ensued. i muscled on, didn’t give it even a wisp of a worry. figured that one random loss was hardly a crime spree. maybe merely my cat acting naughty. or just out-and-out hungry for whatever it is in a tulip that makes a cat go utterly bonkers.

why, i’ve seen that cat leap to the counter, just when he thought that no one was looking, and chowdown a feast of a dozen fat tulips that someone had generously, innocently, not-knowingly brought me.

see, thing is, i learned long ago to make do without tulips. in the acreage that is mine there is no tepid coexistence of cat and tulipa major or minor.

the only tulips that come to my house, more often than not, are ones handed to me by unsuspecting folk who’d have no reason to think that to bring in a tulip is to unleash the lion that lurks in my voracious striped cat.

and the ones that grow in my garden are ones that somehow, mistakenly, got there by accident. before i realized i had no future in the tulip department, and buried the bulbs back in the day when hope was my middle name.

either that or the squirrels here in the ‘hood noticed the absence and set out to fill in the blanks. impolitely and unceremoniously (i’m certain of that) pawing the dirt in beds down the block, and, under cover of darkness, they did what squirrels do: buried a mid-winter snack, then promptly forgot where they put it.

so every spring, a scant crop of tulips erupts. and love them i do. marvel at the gentle curves, the slim cup of a profile. wait for the day when the petals let go, ease back a bit, let in the sun. open their mouths, say ahhh, so tulip-mad mamas like me can gaze down their throats, count all the tonsils.

mostly, when that fine week of tulip eruption arrives, i hold my breath. try to coax the cat away. fill him with tuna and handfuls of treats. anything to steer him clear from the few brave stems that rise from my dirt, dare show their colors, dare toy with my heart.

so far this season, except for that one, i’d noted not a single gnawed-off stem. not a head dangling. i was dumb-founded. and truly delighted. perhaps the cat had moved on to a new garden fixation.

but then i rounded the bend. loped into the garden, from a long day at work. and there before me, the horrors.

here, there and everywhere except for on stems, there were tulips in shreds. their bright shining parts all askew, and every last one piercing my heart.

oh, i gasped, all right. let out a yelp.

then came the grrrrrrrr.

but before i could mutter a long list of swears (as my little one calls those words that shouldn’t be heard), i glanced at the face pressed up to the panes of the doors at the kitchen.

there, wearing his please-let-me-out face, was my dear gentle cat.

hmm. i thought, if he is inside, has been cooped there all day, who in the world was out wreaking havoc here in the once-tulipy bed?

without nod to the puzzle, i swept through that garden, gathered petals galore, and the few intact heads that i managed to find.

i carried them in, the near-dead and hopeless.

and that’s when my mama, she let the cat out of the bag.

turned out the cat was not the culprit here. fact is, she said, she’d just been out in the garden and those tulips were right where they belonged. doing what all good tulips so often do: they clung to their stems, they grew toward the sky.

but then she mentioned there had been a rabbit, a cotton-tailed fine one, hopping around in the yard down the way.

seems that when my mama turned to come in the house, that smart little bun, he made for the cafeteria that is my garden. started with a mouthful of reds, moved onto yellows, wound up with a whopping morsel of pink.

somehow, though, he left untouched a last batch of yellows.

maybe he had every intention of retracing his hops, in time for a bedtime refueling.

well, i’ve never let an angry thought cross my noggin–uh, ‘scuse me, correction: okay, not in the nature department, and not unless you don’t count the cussing i’ve done when a hawk eats a bird, or a someone eats a nest full of babies…

but i’m tellin’ you, seein’ those scattered petals of tulips. lookin’ like someone made salad of my vernal bouquets, well, i channelled my inner mr. mcgregor, and i remembered that page of the book, beatrix potter’s original peter rabbit, and i thought of that watering can, the one old peter got caught in, and the way mr. mcgregor chased ol’ pete with a hoe, and then the poor dear got his blue blazer caught on the fencepost, and well, after i thought through all that i was calmed down just a bit. and i never would hurt any rabbit. not even one who made porridge of my petals. but i did suddenly remember that deep in my cellar there was a bottle, a spray bottle of some organic rabbit chaser, and before i could kick my clogs into the next yard, i was down in that cellar, and i pulled up the bright red, the stop-sign-red bottle, and i spritzed every last still-standing tulip–alas, there only were five–with that mix of whatever it is, some sort of herbal concoction that apparently works.

it’s been three whole days now. and i still am the proud protector of my rather pathetic patch. i’ve got five yellow spears, pointing straight for the sky, opening soon at a theatre out back.

and i’ve not seen the hungry rabbit.

but if he comes anywhere close, i’ve hatched a bit of a plot. i’ll make a trail of carrots and lettuce. lead him straight to the kitchen where i’ll sit him down for a rabbity feast. and a very long talk about leaving my tulips alone.

or else, i’m calling mr. mcgregor.

this has been one stop-and-start meander, as i am in the thick of an all-family reunion. spent the afternoon with my baby girl, met my oldest brother’s everlasting girlfriend. oh what a day. kinda hard to think straight, let alone type. but type we must to keep these fingers from rustin’…..

anyone had to chase any critters from your springtime beds? the ones where the flowers grow, or to turn up the interesting meter, how bout the one where you sleep? i’ve got a tale there too. but i gotta run, as babies and girlfriends are waiting….

love, dad

we were all up early this morning, making sure the crew bag was packed, not an oar was left behind.

i was stirring oatmeal, the complex carbohydrate requested as regatta fuel. oh, there was a long bus ride before the rower put boat to water, but since we weren’t going along, since this was the first such big-time race, and since all this is new, well we all had a little vrroom in our morning’s engines.

we’d been tugged from the start about not being able to go along. plenty of parents do. why this crew crew sets up a tent, cooks hearty breakfast, hot lunch, back-to-back, for all the hungry, waterlogged rowers. “like throwing a two-meal wedding every weekend,” was how it was described, the night the rower’s papa sat scribbling notes in the meeting for the rookie parents.

doesn’t matter, not one bit, to these dedicated folk, that the rivers and waterways where paddles are put to current are halfway across the country. they just set the alarms a little earlier, start driving deeper in the dark, get there in plenty of time to hoot and holler from the riverbanks.

but, well, we couldn’t ride along in the caravan of cars. this time, this first time, here we are. and there he goes, our young rower, who now sports the purple heart of every fledgling rower, a literal bruise mid-chest, one that makes a mama wince, but one that he wears proudly. proves he pulls the oar hard, smacks steel to flesh, doesn’t slow for pain.

oh, yes, all this is fresh here in the house where we are used to painful all-night studying and typing till the wee, wee hours. but going through a box of band-aids a week, what with all the blisters. swallowing hard every time i see that purple heart. oh, geez, this is different.

so while i dropped raisins by the handful into that bubbling pot of oats, i turned and saw the man i love with pen in hand. i’d thought he was paying bills, scribbling zeroes onto checks, but then i glanced again. grew curious enough to ask, “who you writing?” wondering what correspondence needed attention so very early in the morning.

in one swift syllable, he answered that he was writing to our firstborn, the rower with the duffel by the door.

that’s when i heard my heart go thump. thump-thump, even.

see, i’m the one around here who can’t keep pen from paper. for years now, i’ve tucked love notes into lunches, slid them under pillows, dropped them like rose petals onto desks aswirl in papers.

i’m most often the one streaming streamers high and low, for birthdays, for triumphs of even minor proportion. so much so, i now have to apologize when i forget to whisk away the shreds of evidence and, oops, high school friends come by, might rib him just a tad, for the over-the-top mother who is his.

if there are stacks of notes and envelopes stashed in his drawer–and there are–nearly every one of them is in the boxy, ample cursive that is mine, not the tight-held pen of his father. not so many anyway.

and so, while i stoked my rower’s belly–and hopefully his heart–with oats and raisins, it seems his papa felt inclined to reach into the box where he keeps his heavy-weight ivory papers, the ones with his name inscribed in manly gray.

while i stirred and prayed for safe return, his papa pulled up to the breakfast table, and penned words that i’ll not get to read.
this was, whatever it was, between father and son. this was something that stirred straight from his heart, and onto paper, courtesy of black-ink pen.

i’ve gotten notes from that pen myself. keeper notes. notes that take my breath away, because often, amid the well-picked words, there is one sentence with such deep knowing, it leaves me gulping, swatting back a tear.

to be known, after all, is to be triumphant in this race called life.

you can live a whole life long, and not know that someone’s paying attention, someone’s listening.

sometimes that’s all it takes to make the difference between life and death. life and death of the soul, that is. that part of us that is so darn hungry to be known, heard, seen in all our bumpy, stumbling glory.

oh, we’re not cover girls or movie stars, not most of us. just plain old lumpy humans who make mistakes by the hour, who screw up, forget, fudge the story, bounce the check, come home from the grocery store without the one thing we set out to get.

but we all can dream. and dream we do. fact is, we get up most mornings trying to get it right, at least one something before the day goes cold and dark.

and sometimes, it’s ink on paper, it’s someone wise, someone we look up to, taking the time to sit down, put it in writing. it’s the closest thing there is to hallelujah.

and what the rower’s papa wrote, i’ll not know.

nor does that matter.

what’s touched me here, what made my big bass heart go kaboom, is that clearly there’s a river flowing, from a father to a son. and whatever words he wrote, i’ll guess there’s a fatherload of pride.

that papa rides the kid hard sometimes. expects plenty in the report card department. has been known to growl.

but watching that kid come home from sweating in the gym, freezing on the water, night after night, week after week now, so exhausted, so achy shin to shoulder, seems to stir something altogether else in his papa. something mamas might not wholly comprehend.

i wince, run from the room when he flips back the bedsheets in the morning, when that damn bruise is bared.

not his papa. i think he might swell with new-found atta-boy.

not sure what he wrote in that two-sided note, the one he proofed, read top to bottom one more time, before he slid it, sealed it in the envelope.

all i saw, penned onto the front, was the name we gave that boy long, long ago when he was but a dream and a bump in my belly.

i saw that black-inked name, on the white-faced envelope, lying on his crew bag, the one he swooped up from the front hall when the ride came, the one he slung over his shoulder as he waved, pulled his long legs in the car.

as i wiped away a tear, whispered words of prayer, one more time, for safekeeping.

and then i turned, closed the door. and the boy with the note from his papa rode away.

i’m fairly certain, of all the words i don’t know on that slip of paper, that i do know one part.

it was signed, i’m sure, love, dad.

and what other words could matter more?

did your papa, or your mama, or someone who really mattered ever tell you that he or she was proud? if it wasn’t in writing, how’d they let you know? do you remember how it felt? have you told the same to someone you love lately?

band-aid bouquets

the rains came hard this week, flooding hard, check-the-sump-pump hard. hail came too. and sleet, the precipitant that can’t decide, is it rain or ice.

that’s plenty pounding for my newborn starter crop, the patches here and there around the yard of cobalt blue and ice blue, and the sudden trumpet flash of yellow piped in gold.

all night, as i lay and listen to the rat-a-tat of hard drops, shuddered at the thunder’s lion roar and falsetto-whistling wind, i worried ’bout my babies. the outside ones. i knew my inside ones were safe under their blankets. were dry. were dreaming.

soon as the sun came out, soon as the squish of all that mud and ooze began to roll away, i marched out on maternal rounds, went out to tend the flock of sodden babies.

oh, there were fallen ones nearly everywhere i trod. some lay gasping still, necks bent, splayed in all the mud. others nearly had expired, their stems cracked, heads banged up all right.

rain when it’s hurling to the ground is no gentle rinse, no element of conscience. it pummels without pause, without regard to miracle in progress.

and so, i began the healer’s work. i gathered up the cobalt heads beaten to the ground. i cut short the daffodil’s pain, pulled pruners from my pocket, severed stems and limbs, all in a mission of mercy.

and as i collected all the injured, the near dead, i knew that i too was gathering my own balm, the stems that soothe my own aching nooks and crannies, the places you can’t see.

i am, it so happens, unfailingly cheered by my itty-bitty sink-side bouquets. from first bloom till far-off november, when the garden’s last is rescued; rescues me, in fact.

i will tuck thirsty stems, tired stems, stems with one last blast of merriment right there beside the spigot, at the cusp of kitchen sink and cutting board, where i spend so many hours slicing, stirring, spreading, sudsing, rinsing.
as the season gallops toward crescendo, or if a storm is particularly merciless, i’ll have not one or three odd bouquets, but a whole ward of the infirm, the maimed, the bloom in need of nursemaid.

i call them my band-aid bouquets.

truth is, the healing is a two-way lane, a commutative transfer in mathematic terms: i heal the broken growing things, give them one last drink and gulp of life; they heal me.

we are each other’s rescue squad.

for, most every day in the heart of any mama–surely any one of those who i know deeply–there is some heavy weight dragging down that four-chambered vessel, the one with room to carry such a varied load.

some weeks, it’s all we can do to keep from slumping at the waist, what with the heaviness we bear inside our chests.

and somehow, through the alchemy of small delights, my sink-side bouquets are there to whisper words of hope to me.

as i wonder and worry–be it work or world or friend or the stumbling of my boys–i glance down upon their nodding heads, inhale their woodland perfume, marvel at their overdose of color, and i am soothed by their mere insistence of being.

i cannot give up, cannot surrender, not when these tender offerings from deep within the earth depend on me for ministrations, for shelter from the storm, to lift them from the mud, to lay awake at night worried for their tender heads.

it is the unspoken, unflagging pact of the garden and the gardener.

we patch each other’s wounds. we heal what hurts. we put band-aid to the broken parts.

and then, arm in stem, we’re strong against the wind.

this is late, today. so sorry. i was out on a field trip till mid-afternoon. the resident architecture critic was climbing tall buildings, peering out through sky-high gothic buttresses with a classroom’s worth of 8- and 9-year-olds. i held my breath–and a few shaky hands–and followed close behind.

here’s the meandering question: where do you find balm when you are wobbly on the inside, especially in your heart?

holy hours, indeed

when you grow up with whispers all around, teaching you, making you believe, deeply understand, that this stretch of days, most especially thursday through sunday, is outside of ordinary time, it is barely possible to inhabit these days, these hours, without that veil of knowing.

these are holy hours, indeed.

and these hours are not merely mine. they belong to ancient history, they belong to the narrative of God, as it was first scripted in my second-grade soul of wonder.

even after all these years, all these twists of heart and shifting sense of truth…

even deep amid the flourless days of pesach, the passover, which i now mark from year to year…

i have, over time, made the stories of jerusalem undeniably mine. i ache with prayer on holy thursday eve, as mauve of twilight fades to black of night, as i too enter the garden at gethsemane, kneel down and pray, right beside that holiest of holies, jesus of nazareth, the pulse of all the stories.

i will be the one, my little-girl heart shouts, who will defend him, who will rise up and keep him from the guards.

and then, on the friday they call good–one of the early theologic puzzles, why is it good, so many children ask, if jesus dies this day–i await the hours of darkness, when the dome of sky will rend, when charcoal clouds roll in, and clap of far-off thunder is the sign that heaven’s ripped right open.

so it is that i come to these days. so it is that this year i have stumbled, more than in a long long time, into holiness.

i found it where i always do, alone for hours on end in my garden.

well, not alone at all, really.

i’ve all sorts of company. a flock of six hopping robins has decidedly captured my attention and charms me without pause. one orange-breasted fellow bathes and preens with abandon–and no small hint of vanity–in the just-filled birdbath. he carries on without interruption, even when i tiptoe close enough to catch a splash.

and then, of course, there are my all-winter friends, the cardinals, papa and mama and their endless flirtations. papa rising to the highest branch and pouring out his heart, in those high notes, those notes that make me drop my pitchfork and play the game of can-you-find-the-scarlet-warbler?

and that’s just the start of it.

joining in on all the seasonal hubbub, i’ve whole newborn nurseries, a chockablock of baby growing things, their nubs just poking through the earth–this one frilly, that one headstrong and stretching for the sky. everywhere a marvel that brings me to my knees.

these are, indeed, the breath-taking days, the days of early spring, when every other inch is throbbing, daring, straining, to beat the winter’s odds, to surge back into life.

when dull gray, and sodden brown, give way to freshly-painted greens, and cloudbursts of cobalt blue, a blue so delicious i could drink it, paint my walls in it, wrap my shoulders with it, lay down a carpet of it and plop myself smack dab upon it. then roll.

through happenstance and topsy-turvy spring break tweaks of plans, i’ve had here a stretch of days away from downtown typing, half my family far away, and a little one who’s been bathed in play, friend upon friend, the old-fashioned way, when one afternoon tumbles into dinner and, round about bedtime, we deposit some sweet friend back where he belongs.

that unexpected equation–and days so warm and sunny i had to slather sunscreen on the little one when he went holy thursday fishing–has left me home alone to tend my garden.

and tend it i’ve done, dawn till late afternoon, slopping around in ripped-up jeans and paint-splattered rubber shoes.

why, i’ve got cuts on three fingers, and blush of sunburn too, the gardener’s badge of honor, along with blisters on the thumb and feet that won’t be pink again till far-off november, when the garden rake at last is hung for its wintry slumber.

these holy days of high-mast spring, i wake up bathed in birdsong, windows open wide, all the outside washing in. despite my little one’s pleas to please shut the nighttime windows.

“bats,” he chirped last night when i asked why we couldn’t let the night air swoosh right in. poor thing is drubbed by bedtime fears these days, and that errant bat was just his latest scary plot.

i promised him the screens (which never managed to get taken out and tucked away last fall) would keep all bats at bay. and so we fell asleep to the lullaby of april air, and hushed stirrings on the street.

before murky morning light gives way to over-exposed mid-morn, i am up and out again making rounds, marveling at the power of the sun and the insistence of shrub and tree and sprout to unfurl as if a race, and the winner gets…perhaps, a big fat easter basket, stocked to the brim with gooey chocolates.

even my mama called this morn, midway through her sacramental hot-milk ’n’ coffee, to tumble out her burning question: “have your gardens exploded overnight like mine?”

then she went on to recount the revelry of springtime’s pyrotechnics, winding up with the leafed-out honeysuckle, “never before this soon.”

(i get my madness the honest way, acquired surely through the genes.)

all this to say that this year the holiest of hours comes to me in unbroken meditation, in a brushing up against, digging into, the stirrings of the earth, the underworld emerging.

i’ve discovered once again that my deepest bliss is the one that has me cradling God’s tenderest invention: the rebirth i see, everywhere i turn, when i take the time to be amid the miracles of seed and sprout and egg and wing and holy slant of golden sun.

i leave you to dwell in holy thought, as no matter the religion, this rebirthing of the world stirs in all of us resurrection themes. be it escape from egypt’s slavery, or rising of the holy savior, there is a vernal theme, from death comes life. and it is ours to wrap our muddy hands around.