pull up a chair

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

Month: August, 2010

back at it

wasn’t it just a minute ago we were practicing putting our feet up, wiggling our bare-naked garden-stained toes?

weren’t we succumbing to the temptation to carry plates of food outside, light candles, watch the summer cloak of darkness fall, drape our shoulders, drape the twilight?

and, poof, in an instant didn’t it get swallowed, like a giant slurping down a clump of grapes?

here we are, back at it.

rising sharp at 6:01, no luxury of rolling back to sleep. there are boys to rouse, and oats to stir. there are slabs of bread to be slathered, meat slapped down, slithered into baggies. there are lunches to be lined across the counter, so many paper-bag soldiers awaiting their call to duty: fill the bellies of the hungry boys when the lunch bell rings at school.


one more round.

already, we had scissors out, were clipping pages from a stack of magazines, sifting through the baby picture box, in search of pictures that would tell the story of who was the tousle-haired boy squirming in his chair, the boy not ready to be back in a desk, on the dark side of the windowpanes, looking out onto the field where balls aren’t bouncing anymore, because children are back in straight-back chairs and desks and rows and raising hands again and trying to net the daydreams that flutter in the space where numbers and letters once again are swirling, are in charge, are trying to compute, to fall in neat and tidy rows and columns, make sense after the long summer’s snooze.

here we are, back at it.

there are school supplies to fetch and forms to be signed, in triplicate. and checks torn out and paper-clipped to notes that scold: do not be late, or else you will be sent to unforgiving chair in corner, where you will wait out the remainder of the year.

oh, and carpools. back at that, too. remembering that it’s monday and not the day you drive, but if it’s tuesday you do drive, only not the late shift, it’s the early shift. and don’t forget the one boy who only comes every other tuesday. so don’t sit out in front at his curb, waiting for him to lope out to the car, where you will squeeze him in, because your car isn’t quite as big and roomy as all the others in the carpool. so you slip sunglasses on your too-young-to-be-in-the-front-seat child, and you hope the nice police officer passing by doesn’t glance over and think, how odd, that toddler in the front seat.

for you’ve no time to be pulled over by the nice officer, no time to explain, to make him understand how, yes, yes, the child’s five pounds shy of the legal limit for front-seat riding. but really, how else will you get him where he needs to be? what, mr. officer, you think i can do all this driving on my own, without a carpool to assist? just to have the child snuggled safe in the seat behind me? oh, mr. officer, you do not understand: we are back at it here.

and we will do whatever need be done to make it from alarm clock at dawn till light’s out back at midnight.

we are surviving, mr. officer, and that’s all we can hope for. summer’s over, sir, at least as far as principals and teachers are concerned, and so it’s back at it for the grownups and the kiddies still under the thumb of the schoolhouse ways-and-means committee.

oh, we might sneak in a little morning’s coffee under the boughs of the pine tree where the wind chimes sing their end-of-summer song. might muddy all our toes squishing through the garden where the sprinklers try to make up for the lack of so much rain.

we might lick one more ice cream cone out where the fireflies do their blinking.

but we know the sorry truth here: we’re back at it once again, and summer’s break is a long, long way away.

have you been hit yet by the end-of-summer blues? have you been hit between the eyeballs by the non-stop pace that comes with the brink of each september?

humming my song

i’ve never thought i’d make the cut.

the hummingbird cut, that is.

the wee things, the size of thimbles, the weight of five extra-strength aspirins, it’s been said, flap-flap-flap their wisps of wings some 2,000 miles, nonstop across the oily gulf of mexico, praise be the thinkin’ birds.

en route from way up north in canada to down in costa rica, the little darlings keep their eyeballs peeled for a comfy place for roadside grazing. if you flapped your wings up to 80 times a second–do the math, that’s 4,800 times a minute, nearly 7 million flaps a day–you too would wanna drop the landing gear, suck up a jug or two of nectar.

and, i’m told, the wee things have braincells that do not forget. should you put out the welcome mat, but then forget to keep the sugar water fresh, those birds will cross you off the list, never forget that your stale waters made their wee, wee bellies ache, and never ever stop again.

you’ll be blackballed by the hummers, i was told in unforgiving terms.

so that made me 1.) worried, and 2.) afraid to even try.

i couldn’t stand the thought of my ol’ house and garden being X’d off in the hummingbird map across america.

so i did the wimpy thing: hoped they’d like my nodding flowers, and left it at that.

oh, i might have caught a glimpse here or there, one popped its nose in the rhododendron a spring or two ago. then maybe, by the black-eyed susans, at the end of some summer, i might have seen another.

but, well, my mama, she’s no chicken. no feeble-heart is she.

she reached right in the cabinet where she keeps her bird supplies and she marched up my walk with the very bright red feeder i’d not long ago given her.

while the feeder itself came in a box, complete with “hummingbird solution,” a mix of this and that that came with darn directions (thus ever raising the bar on whether i could make the cut, could cook up the holy nectar for the passersby), my mama pooh-poohed all that.

said, sugar and water is all you need. change it once a week, even every 10 days. none of this make-it-fresh-before-the-crack-of-dawn-each-day-or-your-birds-will-keel-and-X-you-off.

up she hung the feeder on my tree. and back she stood to watch the hummingbird brigade.

i dared not hope.

but then, out of the corner of my doubting eye, i spotted a large cicada darting through the trees.

or so i thought.

the large cicada, hovering, stuck its nose down the gullet of the pale pink anemone.

and then i realized: that was no cicada.

that was my mama’s promise come to roost.

ever since, it’s been hummingbird haven around here. the little things are darting here and there, practically coming to my nose. they fly forward, backward, up and down.

even the cat has taken to watching all the aerobatics.

and i’ve not yet been scolded by a hummer for letting all the sugar water go sour. or dry.

fact is, i think they’ve taken a shining to my little bird hostel. they’ve been sipping and darting now for nearly two whole weeks.

and i have found my end-of-summer bliss in the watching of their antics. they come so close, they dart so quickly, they seem so downright unafraid, i can nearly imagine the cartoon clouds coming from their little beaks, the bird words spewing, as they chatter back and forth. chase away the big birds. never mind the cat. order up another batch of hummer’s brew.

they are said to be pugnacious, and pugnacious they are. who would think it of a flying thimble?

and i have come to delight in their fearlessness. marvel at it, really. have tried to absorb a drop or two, from their lesson plan: how to rule the world, even if you’re no more imposing than a gardener’s thumb.

i’ve no real clue how long this show will last, before the sun and wind and moon call to the wee ones, beckon them to return to their long flight.

i’m told, though, that the flip side of that brain that won’t forget is that they’ll remember. they’ll come back. these very same winged blessings. they will remember, perhaps, the blue table where i pull up my chair, where i sit beneath the trees, where i keep watch, and whisper sweet thanks.

they will remember the long-necked anemones they drink from. and the bright red feeder my mama hung so boldly, so believingly.

they will be back.

and i’ll be ready. bold and believing, just like the birds who cross the globe, knowing they’ll find sweetness when and where they need it.

i sat down to write this morning but first found word from my beloved little brother that his most beloved golden retriever, max, might not make it through the night. if dawn came, they’d be driving max to the nearest best big city and hoping the vets could work a miracle. i cannot tell you the depth of ache for my brother who has already buried a retriever he loved. and who took years before he was ready to love another so dearly. my little brother had just turned 13 the day my papa died. he was the one who walked in the hospital room as they tried to save my papa. please whisper a prayer for my sweet bri, and for max, the dog who has been his dearest friend these past few years….
heartache comes in so many forms. and all we can do, besides wrap our arms around the ones we love, whisper hope in their ear,
is keep prayin’ and loving.
for all the heartaches gathered at this table. and all the moments of rejoicing. amen.

so what life lessons might you have learned from winged things, or dogs that nuzzle up beside you?

and, p.s., in case that photo up above proves to be an optical delusion, there is a wee hummingbird just to the left of the red feeder. see him, pointing his long nose toward the hummer nectar that i cook up? the shadowy little thing in front of the willowy pink anemones?
oh, and in case you too want to cook for aerobatics, it’s simple: 1/4 cup white sugar to 1 cup boiling water. stir sugar till dissolved, let cool (hummers don’t like to burn their two-pronged tongues) then pour into a hummer feeder, or i am sure there is some alternative feeder, just something into which they can stick their long noses…..

one thing: be safe

and so, like that, hair still wet from the shower, white t-shirt tight enough to catch each plane and shadow of the rower’s top-half topography, the babe i once rocked in my arms, the boy who never much took to tricycles, the now-man with newly-minted license in his tight-squeeze pocket, he did something i’d never seen before: he swiped the keys to the old blue wagon off the ring where they’ve dangled since the day we moved into this old house, and he ran for the door, for the driver’s seat, for the road and whatever lay beyond.

mid-stride, and without ceremony, he glanced back to check the clock, nervously (only because he was late not because he had an ounce of apprehension about the road ahead), as i tried to slow the exit, calling out, wait, where exactly are you going? and when will you be home?

as he tossed back words, perfectly sensible replies, and made one final lope through the door and down the steps, disappearing behind the crab apple that nearly blocks the path, i called out: “be safe.”

and the words hung there.

each crisp syllable so wholly capturing what i wished and prayed for with all my being.

be safe.

what more is there?

what deeper prayer does a mother’s heart hold?

above all, be safe.

come home whole. come home without a gash. never mind the fender or the tail lights. just be safe, my sweet beloved child.

and so for the next few hours, i went about my business. few noticed, i’m certain, that i was turning blue around the mouth. i held my breath. only half expanding lungs, i do believe, as i watched the clock hand glide towards ten.

till at last i heard the rumble, saw the headlights illuminating garbage cans as they pointed down the alley, came round the final bend into where we sometimes park the car, two bright eyeballs, blinking “we’re home” to me, as they clicked off, and the 6-foot-3 first-time-alone-ever driver slid from the old wagon as if he’d been out unencumbered a million times before and this was nothing, nothing really to have interrupted anyone’s lung-work for the eve.

i find myself employing those two words–be safe–often in these past few weeks.

both my boys, it seems, are pushing out the boundaries, laying new tracks, expanding their orbits beyond me. out of reach. into that terrain where we hold on only through the silky thread of prayer, the whispered murmurings of petition to the great protectors all around, or up on clouds, wherever is the place from where they keep their watch.

the little one now bounds up the stairs to his piggy bank, grabs a crumpled dollar bill, and tells me he is walking to the little not-so-far-away grocery where all the kids buy chips and candy. or to the comic book store. or, just the other day, over train tracks, across the big street, the one with five lanes of traffic, to get to the store where baseballs called to his friend, and my little one didn’t think to say, um, no, i can’t come with you without checking first at home.

and as he sweetly told the story–confessed, really–i could only gulp and think of safe again, that word that captures unbroken wholeness, the white light of safety shield that we hope and pray and beg surrounds our children, no matter what they throw against it: diving boards or busy streets or trucks with 18 wheels and drivers half-dozing at the steering wheel.

not one to rely on hope alone, and having grown up with rosary beads dangling from my bed post, at the bottom of my white straw pocketbook (the one with starched-cotton cornflowers and poppies on the lid, the one i carried each sunday into church), and, yes, amid the pens and pencils and assorted detritus in the pit of my high school backpack besides, i wasted little time before enlisting st. christopher to my back-up squad.

i ordered up a medallion, a dangly disc, of dear saintly chris, the one who carried baby jesus (i do believe) on his shoulders across a raging river, and who, along with st. babs, my namesake, got unceremoniously dumped from the heavenly chorus back in the revolutionary 1960s when the catholic church decided their miracles weren’t quite of the saintly stature, so they were stripped of rank, left to be mere lieutenants of goodness in the hierarchy’s eyes. which, of course, is all it took for me to promptly and fiercely promote them ever higher, in my book now patron saints of all of us who have ever suffered the indignities of being shoved to the back of the pack.

yo, chris, for you we have assignment.

and thus, in a white envelope left waiting on my keyboard (thanks be to my own personal patron saint of procuring–my holy blessed mama), there is the half-inch metal oval of mid-stream chris that will forever dangle from my brand-new driver’s key ring.

be safe, it will whisper, will send off vapors, will infuse the air my firstborn breathes when he is far, far beyond my clutch.

be safe, the holy mantra of the mamas, as we stand back and let our babies reach and stretch and take to the highways. st. chris, right there in that front pocket, where we can’t ever fit.

the photo up above is reality journalism, taken the very moment my firstborn cruised to the end of the alley, clicked on the blinker, headed north into the rest of his driving life. it was mere hours after the driving czars deemed him worthy of a certifiable driver’s license. and i was left, with quivering fingers on the camera clicker, having captured the stunning truth: my boy was driving now. i heard the snap of the scissors as yet another cord was cut.
whose safety have you prayed for of late? and what long nights’ vigil have you kept, waiting for the headlights at last to come to park?

my not-so-secret garden

i’ve been under the spell, i do believe, since that long-ago sunday when i should have been in church. but instead, i rubbed the thermometer on my bedsheets, allowed the friction there to be my accomplice in the charade of sunday-morning fever.

now that the statute of limitation’s surely well expired, i can confess my sin at last: i’d feigned the fever so i could stay in bed with the book that stole forever my heart, (and, apparently, my soul) and, yes, my whole imagination.
twas then and now, frances hodgson burnett’s “the secret garden,” with pen and ink and watercolors by my enchantress, tasha tudor.

twas the book that took me down the sinner’s path, and opened up a lifetime’s looking for, believing in, the dappled path to paradise.

oh, who could go to church, sit stiff in wooden pews, when instead i might tiptoe along behind orphaned mary lennox as, at last, the robin redbreast showed her the long-lost key to the long-locked little door that opened into the long-still garden, where once upon a time heartbreak happened and the old once-beautiful garden was left to die of sorrow.

indeed, instead of whispering my morning prayers, my heart leapt up and out of me, traveled off to english countryside. was there inside the garden walls, where ivy hung, “a loose and swinging curtain.” peeking through the “fairy-like gray arches” of the climbing roses, tangled over trees in slumber, swinging down in “long tendrils which made light swaying curtains.”

so it says on pages 92 to 96, where i barely breathed the first time through, nor just now as i read again the words that birthed in me a life’s-long enchantment with secret nooks and crannies where fairies dart from leaf to leaf, and robins lay their sticks, their curls of birchbark, where sky-blue eggs are laid, are hatched, where wee small beaks just barely make a chirp when mama comes with worm.

oh, i am enchanted, yes, by the secret garden.

and just beyond my kitchen door, where a summer ago and long before, was gnarly bush and weeds that grabbed you by the knee, there seems to have sprouted a patch as enchanted as any i have ever known.

i cannot keep myself from there, where fronds of fern tickle me on the shin, and hydrangea drapes before my nose. i’ve a curly-barked maple that is home, already, to the robin and the red bird.

just this christmas past, i discovered tucked between a weeping hemlock and that maple a bird-house bench, one built for me by my beloved friend, jim the builder, and left one afternoon before a giant snow blew in. i had no clue it was there, till two days later, when, out shoveling before the dawn, i caught a glint of early-morning sunlight shining off the copper-topped birdhouse peak. and there, with snow cascading down, i wept. overtaken by the tiptoeing-in of the humble builder who had faith i’d find his gift and hadn’t thought to pester me, inquire, had i found it, had i found it?

ever since, it’s my preferred spot for taking mugs of steamy morning coffee. or mid-day lemon waters. or sips of wine, as sun’s long last rays bid the garden, “good day.”

or, if i can’t bear the few-steps walk to the bench, i might plop my bottom on the blue-stone stoop, just beyond the kitchen door, just down from where the basil and the thyme and the flat-leaf parsley grow in the wooden box along the windowsill. sitting there, i am eyeball-to-eyeball with the butterflies that land in the unnamed bush, or atop the country mailbox that holds my garden gloves and clippers.

and, best of all, my meandering walk, with blooms of creamy white and fronds and leaves of grayish-green and silver-green and almost lime (who knew how many shades of green there are?), at last has the proper entrance i have dreamed about, well, forever and ever.

there is now, at the south end of my not-so-secret garden, a perfect arch, with arbors on the side, and bentwood top, where you might look up and watch the clouds, the sun, the stars, play peek-a-boo.

not yet do the roses ramble up.

but they will.

old roses, dusty pink, tissue-paper vintage roses. the ones from storybooks and block island, that faraway place a ferry’s ride from rhode island’s coast where winding lanes are lined with old stone walls and miles of rather ancient roses have been forever rinsed by sea-salt breezes, so the color’s nearly drained, and just a whisper’s left of palest oyster pink.

it is the place i’m drawn to morning, noon and dark at night. i’ve been known to stand there watching moonbeams on the mopheads of hydrangea. i tiptoe out before the dawn, just to be alone, to absorb the misty earth in morning prayer. i dart in and out all day, watch the light play shadow games.

we each, every one of us, need a secret sacred place to hope and dream and cast our prayers on passing breeze.

those of us who scatter seeds of holiness, who tuck them in the loamy mounds of garden, we are blessed with bursting forth of bulb and branch. we endure the heartache of the dying stalk, the one we cannot resurrect, not with all the love and faith we know how to muster.

there are lessons to be taught from every garden and the paths that meander through.

and, oh, to be among the ones who understand the volumes of truth nestled there among the trailing vines, the fairy-like arches and the light swaying curtains that come in many shades of green.

oh, to be grown up and, after all these years, still hold dear the secrets of the garden. even when it’s not so secret, after all.

bless you, holy garden.

where is your secret sacred place? the plane of pillows by your window? the armchair that wraps around you? the middle step on your front stairs? or perhaps you too have a slice of enchantment that grows just beyond your kitchen door, or way out back where no one knows you hide?

we are deep in festivity here at this old house, with birthday on top of birthday, a whole pile-up of cakes and candles, and digits clicking ever forward. today’s the one that belongs to the father of my boys; two days from now, my little one turns nine. just day before last, my most beloved brother david blew out candles right alongside the nation’s president. and two days before that my papa would have been 82. thirty years ago he died. be still, my ever-broken heart…..now healed enough to love and laugh beyond my wildest dreams…