Age and Patience

I came in from my daily walk with my dog Rusty, moving like Chester from Gunsmoke. My husband saw me hobble into our living room. He asked what was the matter? I told him the back of my thigh hurt like crazy. Like someone was jabbing me with a knife each time I took a step. Being a football and basketball coach for over twenty years, he told me I’d pulled a hamstring. “Have you ever had one?” I asked. “No,” he replied, “glad I never have. They hurt like hell.” Comforting.  

I’d spent the day before wrestling with thistle and dandelion in our backyard, clearly enjoying each and every time I managed to decimate one. What I didn’t pay attention to was I had been bending over for at least an hour, moving from dandelion to thistle and repeating, pulling my hamstrings tight like the back of a slingshot.  

After a couple days of icing, I couldn’t ignore Rusty’s brown eyes begging to smell the world just outside our door. Conundrum. How to walk him and manage with my painful hamstring? Then, I remembered we had a cane downstairs we’d kept since my husband used it after knee surgery. I wasn’t thrilled about walking with one, it was clearly a symbol for “old.” (Forget the fact that injured athletes had to, but then again, they didn’t have graying hair). Out the door Rusty and I went. I hobbled along with the cane in my right hand. We were moving very slowly, creeping along past neighbors’ houses and watching cars drive by. I became embarrassed, bordering on shame. What are they thinking? That I’m old? Maybe useless now. I hoped they would remember it wasn’t the usual me. Remember I don’t limp and I don’t need a cane.  

My father died at the age of ninety-nine and two years before he went into a nursing home, his balance was compromised, his gait unsteady. He’d fallen at home more than once, luckily uninjured. A farmer for most of those years, he was used to being strong and agile. We reminded him over and over to use a cane. Doctor’s orders. “No way am I going to be seen using one.” He refused. We girls became more and more frustrated to the point of anger. What was the big deal? We agreed he had too much pride. 

Walking Rusty as often as I could, using the sturdy blue cane with its rubber tip, I realized how vulnerable he must have felt, how difficult it was to lose his agility and strength, sad to know life’s sunset was more vivid. I said, with no one to hear but Rusty, “I get it now, Dad. I had no idea how hard it is to feel old, useless, in need of help. I’m sorry.” I hope he heard me 

Thursday’s Prompt

Writing is an avenue of self-discovery. Often times, personal unearthing talks through the pen, and we aren’t even aware until we read what we’ve written. Try writing a few paragraphs about your favorite place to write and the length of time that usually works for you.  You might learn new information about your writing process.

Painters to Poets

In July 2002, seven of us were fortunate enough to have a workshop at a private home in Tucson taught by the poet, Gina Franco. She teaches poetry writing, 18th & 19th-century British literature, Gothic literature, poetry translation, Borderland writing, religion and literature, and literary theory at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. She was awarded the Philip Green Wright-Lombard Prize for distinguished teaching. She earned degrees from Smith College and Cornell University.

I recently pulled out my files of classes and workshops and thumbed back to 2002. (My writers’ group jokingly refers to me as ‘the historian’ of our writing life.) I read through my notes from this workshop. I also tend to scribble notes not relative to the topic at hand or draw sketches of other classmates if I get bored, but in this file, there were none of those side tracks.

The content was a very intense route of the historians up through the modernists and how these poets were influenced by St. Augustine’s confessions, and how others used it to fit or create a new style of poetry. Post-WWII, many moved into abstraction vs. concrete, wanting to get away from the ‘feeling’, the deep-down confessional and traditional way of expression. Long story short—loose, individual culture, voice, and finding that individual voice on the page came about. Gina then compared short story writing to poetry, using omniscient, an exaggerated first person as in ‘I”, reactionary, stream of consciousness, arbitrary, conflict, and many more.

Alas, during this workshop, my head ached at the end of each meeting. In some of the discussions, I was crystal clear on structure, enjambed, stress syllables, expository, juxtaposition, and other times, my brain crinkled up like a small paper bag, and I down shifted to neutral to coast to the next refreshment break. I did not even have the energy to doodle.

At the end of the workshop, that last night, I was far too overstimulated, at the same time, far too exhausted I could barely drive home. One thing stuck, what the expressionists were doing with paints, the poets wanted to do with words. Images by painters were coveted by poets. As an artist, I got this transition. 

Poetry as I know it is an elegant dance. Strokes and splashes make meaning from memory and makes meaning from objects, and art into words. Like brushstrokes in a painting, words can transform onto a page to create a multidimensional world. With words, a poet can create crisp images and evocative descriptions that capture sensory perceptions in the ‘mind’s’ eye.

The few workshops I have taken on poetry have always drawn something out of me. On the last evening, I was thrilled when Gina gave us another prose poem to study, then pick five words that resonated with you personally, and write.

The birch sways with an imbalance

and I worship with a prayer of wild violets.

The darkness rises above my head

and the trunk of the birch splits dark red.

Rising is unreachable, filling my eyes

with evening rain, and peace wanders in

like a garden.

Give poetry another look.  

   

Phoebe – Colossus in a Tom Thumb body

She was a rescue. She took her second chance very seriously. She grabbed ahold of life and shook everything she could from it. She was determined to make the most of her escape from premature death. Phoebe had been found in the desert by hikers. Only a few days old, she was bare without fur in the hot sun, covered in ringworm, and abandoned. Someone had decided she was a lost cause and not worthy of care. The hikers covered her gently and took her to a no-kill shelter where loving hands restored her. Within a few weeks, a thick luxurious coat of black and white revealed her tuxedo style. She became the rabble-rouser of the cat shelter with energy that rivaled a free proton released in a small nucleus. She could not remain in the “kitten room” having terrorized the kittens with her high-octane behavior, so she resided with the adult cat population; free to roam through the big old house that was dedicated to the comfort and safety of all felines, large and small, old or young. They had special rooms and accommodations for sick cats.

When my husband and I went to the shelter to find a cat companion, I was intent on an older adult feline who needed a forever home, preferably male; someone calm, content and grateful to be loved.  A tiny black and white energy ball flew from room to room, bouncing off walls and scattering sedentary cats that tried to avoid her relentless path of destruction. Knocking into and overturning toys and small cat furniture, she was a blur of activity.

“What is that? I asked.

“Oh, that is Phoebe. She’s not what you’re looking for at all. She is a kitten and very unmanageable,” the shelter volunteer sighed. “We don’t think we’ll ever find a home for her. She is a lot to handle.”

“But she is so small,” I said.

“Yes, only about five pounds but she thinks she’s a tiger. She never stops and we are always on alert because she can be under your feet in seconds even when you just saw her in another room.”

The volunteer filled us in on her history saying it was a miracle she survived and was cured so quickly from ringworm. They guessed her age at four or five months.

“I’d like to see her closer,” said I, always up for a challenge. The volunteer corralled Phoebe and handed her to me. Phoebe squirmed then looked me directly in the eye as if to say, you can’t hold me for long.

I released her and off she zoomed. We continued looking through the rooms at adult cats, petting, holding, and trying to find a connection with one. Then it was dinner time and the attendants set out large dishes of food. Cats scurried in from all over to find a dish they preferred. In the kitchen, an extra-large pizza pan filled with kibble was set in the center of the floor. Cats of all sizes and colors arranged themselves around the perimeter of the pan and began eating in orderly fashion. In came the little black and white demon. She muscled between two larger cats and started eating. The cat to her left was the biggest cat in the house. His name was Liberty, he was pure white, close to twenty pounds, and definitely a dominant male. He looked down at the brash intruder and took a swipe at her with his large paw. She looked up, giving him an insulant stare then continued to eat. Again, he knocked her sending her back from the dish. She retreated, walked to the opposite side of the dish, and pushed between two other cats. But she did not stop. She walked into the center of the pizza pan, directly in front of Liberty, and started eating. Liberty’s head jerked up. In complete disgust, he turned and walked away from the pan and stood by the doorway. His annoyance was evident and every cat that passed by him as they left the kitchen was given a swipe of his paw.

My husband looked at me and in a sorrowful tone said, “You’ve found your cat, haven’t you?”

“Are you sure? queried the volunteer in charge of adoptions. “She is really wild. We’ve had an awful time with her in the few weeks she’s been out of quarantine. “

“Yes,” I said, “she is my soul sister. I understand her and we will be just fine.”

“If you change your mind, we’ll understand, and please bring her back. We don’t want any other abandoned cats, even Phoebe.”

We had Phoebe for thirteen years, an indoor/outdoor cat; something that is discouraged in the predator-filled southern Arizona environment. Her character was too big to be contained in the house. She was very desert-wise. She was unpredictable. She had confrontations with rattlers, bigger cats, and assorted potential destroyers that she bested and lived to brag about.  She provided a plethora of mice, geckos, and birds as gifts to us. She would bring them through the cat window and release them into the house fully alive for our enjoyment.

I have so many Phoebe tales, they could fill volumes. She once called 911 on our landline. I answered a ring at the door to find two handsome policemen asking if I was all right.  It took some time before I pieced together what she did – a phone receiver off the hook upstairs told the story.

She hosted a mouse for weeks, catching and releasing it in our house until we finally caught and freed it to its desert home. She would race through the upstairs and people downstairs would say, “Do you have an elephant up there?” “No,” we replied, “just Phoebe.”  Although she never grew to be more than seven pounds, her thudding footfalls as she raced around sounded like something much much larger was roaming the hallways. She bullied and intimidated human guests, fiercely defending her territory. My friends named her the cat from hell, but she was always the sweetest, most cuddly little girl to us. Her antics made us laugh.

After a mighty struggle with an incurable blood illness, Phoebe finally gave up. She is buried in our backyard and visited daily. After more than a decade I still miss her giant presence. Several treasured cats later (we now have three), none have filled that space.

Time for Licorice Records

This time, Adele was madder than a trapped feral cat faced by two dogs, one being a small Chihuahua with razor teeth, the other, fifteen-years-old and counting. Like the cat, Adele felt cornered. She loathed how her sister squealed on her for such trivial, small things. What was the big deal? All she did was sneak into her older sister Katie’s bedroom, open her drawer that held at least twenty pair of thong underwear and borrow Katie’s precious, guarded candy—black, stringed licorice shaped into thin connecting loops with a red dot of candy in the middle. Katie was sixteen and still liked how the licorice resembled a record, something that drove Adele nuts. Katie was four years older, a teenager, and she still hoarded those records? As for Adele, she was already into the real, addictive stuff—like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or strawberry-flavored B-B-Bats. She just liked a little variety, that being Katie’s licorice.

That evening, there was plenty of time for Katie to soak in the bathtub, at least an hour’s worth. She was going on her second date with Hap, a guy with thick black glasses and tall coiffured hair that could vibrate a clothesline if he tried to duck and walk under. Adele considered him a loser; despite Katie’s protests he was a “hot one!”  It was while Katie wrinkled in the tub that time pestered Adele and reminded her how tasty that black licorice would be. It commanded her to give in, get the goods.

Once the deed was done, the licorice in her hand, Adele had time to dissipate the tiny amount of guilt that crept into her head. She reminded herself she was “helping” her sister. Katie needed to cut the calories. It was easy to figure that out every time she watched Katie lay on her back on the bed, flat as a pancake to cave her stomach in and force enough gap to zip up her jeans. Not so for Adele. She stood straight up like a hiking stick and zipped up her jeans with one hand only, thank you. She easily managed all the chocolate.

Just in time, Katie suspected something was up when she couldn’t hear Adele making a ruckus outside the bathroom door. She called to her mother and squealed on Adele and just as Adele started to pull the licorice records out from under Katie’s underwear, her mother stepped into the room. “So-o-o, are you needing something from Katie’s drawer?” Adele thought for just a nano second. “Oh, yeah, Katie needed a pair of underwear when she gets out of the bath.” Her mother came closer and frowned. “Oh, really now?” She looked down at Adele’s hand with small pieces of black peeking out from her fingers. “Katie told me you were stealing her candy.” Adele knew it was over. “I think it’s about time you learned a lesson.” Here it comes, Adele thought. “No sweets whatsoever for you for a month.” Her mother turned and left, forgetting to take the licorice in Adele’s hand. She shoved the records in her mouth.  

Thursday prompt 9.15.22 Aroma!

Smell is the first sense we are aware of and the last sense we may lose. Smell is attached to memory, a whiff of a familiar scent may instantly bring up a memory from your childhood for instance. Write about smells from your childhood—list five you remember well, then choose one to explore. What associations do you have with that smell? Such as early morning aromas from the kitchen, certain holidays as you walked into a room, smells from a farm, summer cut hay, cough syrup? What other emotional memory goes along with it?

Time Holds You In Its Hands

Snow came down harder and harder, over and over, day after day.  Each morning I looked out the little guest room window I shared with my father, I groaned at the site, wondering how the van driver could get up the long sidewalk, now buried under snow, to wheel my dad back to the van for dialysis a mile away.

View outside parent’s apartment

Seven days prior my mother called to say dad was in the hospital with double pneumonia.  At age eighty-five and failing kidneys, I made a quick decision to fly to Illinois and of course upon my arrival was the very first approaching winter snow storm in the Midwest.

Early the very next day, I drove to Quincy at Blessing hospital to see dad. The news was out the storm was on its way, blazing up through Oklahoma and hammering across Missouri to Quincy which sets right on the Mississippi River on the Illinois side. One of my cousins called at 11:00 a.m.to say the snow was falling one inch every fifteen minutes and to watch out the window. I sat by dad and chatted about anything he wanted to talk about or hear about, looking over my shoulder out the window which faced the river. Please let me have enough time to stay. Within a half hour of my phone call, I saw the white blanket of snow coming across the river and heading toward the hospital. It was a thick sheet of white. 

“Dad, I have to go, the snow has hit, and I can’t see more than three blocks’ from here. I need to stay ahead of it.” A nurse popped her head in, “You better hurry, it’s time!”

“No problem, no problem, I know you need to go, you get along.”  Dad was thin, gray, and reached for my hand. I kissed him and said I would be back as soon as possible. 

Living in Arizona, we do not see much snow, fast and furious, covering sidewalks, and city streets, burying cars within minutes. I drove the little Ford 4-wheel drive Ranger my brother loaned me through town onto the interstate. The roads were barely visible but I could see the sidewalks and stop lights. The right lane had a few tire tracks imprinted in the snow but quickly vanished. The further I drove, the harder the snow and the narrow tracks I followed disappeared. What aligned me to keep going was the snow had not yet stuck to the dead grass along the interstate and I measured the distance from the grass to my right tires to stay on the pavement at 45 mph as other motorists pulled off to the side. How much time would it take to get back to mom? I could see her glancing at her watch, straining through the curtains and the haze of snow. There were enough worries and concerns weighing down the hands of her clock.

I spun and skidded up a small incline, down shifted, and finally pulled in front of my parents’ small apartment. Time let me make it. Time gave me a break. Time allowed me to bring my dad home from the hospital on cleared roads three days later.

View from hospital window

Aion, the Greek god of Time

Aion, Greek god of Time

I believe in second chances. I believe that even in seemingly impossible cases, I can offer a broken soul reprieve. Sometimes a person must be stripped to their lowest point to find what is truly important. I watched Nathan and his brother go through tough times and I think they deserve another chance. This is Nathan’s story. A story of redemption. A story I, Time, healed.

After leaving the plains behind, the terrain became hilly. Hills and hollers, Nathan thought as the train wound through a narrow valley between steep rises on both sides of the tracks. He was on his way home for the last time. He tried to stop thinking, forecasting, what it would be like to see his mother again. He imagined the furrows of worry etched in her face were even deeper than three years ago when she visited him in jail.

Her frail body would be held together by a thick wrap of sadness. Her youngest son was dead. Not just dead but executed by the state of Colorado. The only execution since 1976. What she didn’t know was that her remaining son would be dead in a matter of days. Nathan couldn’t live with the guilt he carried over Jamie. It had been Nathan who pulled the trigger, not Jamie. Nathan’s plan, Nathan’s mistake. But he didn’t find the stones to step up and admit it and Jamie kept his silence throughout the trial, never giving his brother up to the authorities. He could no longer carry that burden.

He had to see his mother and clear her mind about Jamie’s innocence. Nathan knew her love was unconditional, and she would never in her heart believe that either of her sons could be so evil. But there she was wrong. Nathan planned the robbery and carried the gun. Jamie did not even know about the gun until Nathan pulled it from his jacket pocket. The store owner rushed Nathan and the gun went off. It became a distorted nightmare. Jamie grabbed the gun from Nathan and, as they ran from the store, he dumped it into a trash can in the alleyway. Of course, the police found it and Jamie’s prints were on it, so he was charged with the murder. Nathan had gone to jail for ten years as an accessory, and he was now on parole for ten more years. Jaimie had been executed just a few days ago, after two appeals.

The train entered a tunnel, the darkest longest tunnel. Lights on the train flickered and went out. It felt like a steep downward trek. As deep and dark as Nathan imagined the trip to hell would be. There was a mumbling from other passengers, but no one left their seat. It is my turn to step in.

I am Aion, the god of Time. You might be more familiar with my twin Chronos but he is only the god of measured time, the one that is marked off by clocks, hourglasses and other man-made instruments. He fulfills the human need to track time, quantify and qualify it. I, on the other hand, am the god of the continuum. I never stop. I am neither forward nor backward. I am always. I am forever. Occasionally I find it necessary to meddle in the affairs of humans when I see an example such as the one presented by Nathan and Jamie, two truly good-hearted young men who went astray for what they believed was a good cause. Their sister suffered from a rare cancer and the expense of her treatment decimated family resources. In what they considered a desperate moment they made a poor decision with deadly consequences.

Steena died without any remedy and the brothers went to jail. Their mother was thrice impacted in sorrow, losing her daughter, a son to the system and now Nathan considers suicide. When the train leaves the tunnel the poor decision to rob a store will be voided. I took Nathan back to the crucible of decision and gave him a second chance. He is indeed on his way to see his mother, but it is to manage his sister’s funeral. He is meeting his brother and as a family they will mourn but be united. The intervening ten years were spent in productive ways. He met his wife and they collaborated with doctors to start a charity to raise awareness and research grants for others who suffered as Steena did.

The train exited the tunnel. Nathan squinted at the sudden brightness and glanced out the window as the train sped past an open area of farmland.  It all looked familiar, but not. He thought only of seeing his mom, comforting her in her grief and being once again with his brother after ten year’s separation. It would be a happy/sad occasion. At least they would all be together.

I, Aion, can change the moments of an event but I cannot completely erase some of the impressions. My little brother Kairos oversees the significance of an experience. Impressions may be imprinted in a person and come as flashbacks or deja-vu moments. People often believe they have been somewhere or seen someone before. Actually, I have rearranged a period in their life so the connections are blurred, but Kairos has stamped it with a sense of meaning that is irretrievable.

Nine Eleven O’One

Never Forget

Billowing palisades, pewter airfalls

            Cascade in slow motion

                        Overflowing the fountain of commerce

                                    Graceful to the eye, hideous to the heart

People, hundreds

            People, one by one

                        Living lives, forecasting futures

                                    Nine, eleven, o’one

Soft tarnished silver clouds

            Enfold those potentials

                        Tattered remnants of lives

                                    Spewed into the Manhattan morning

Elegant grotesque plumes

            Gently tumble one over another

                        Spirits ripped from bodies

                                    Turning the shells to ash

Is there a torture more absolute

            Moment by moment terror

                        Smelling the hot acrid breath of death

                                 As it approaches their prison in the sky?

Does hope flee quickly

            Or does it leak slowing

                        From the corners of their eyes

                                    As the dusk of life turns to night?

written on a plane to Seattle 9/21/01. 

Pay Attention

I am sitting on our deck this morning before the heat comes screaming in around noon or one o’clock. Colorado may have low humidity, but 95 and above for days makes me complain. That and sadly, the smoke drifting in from fires burning in other states to the north. However, it isn’t all bad. We face the mountains and the view shifts nearly every day. Sometimes, the sky hovering over them reflects into a soft pink or the sun behind mixes oranges with shadows interspersed in the vistas. It’s a lovely painting.

We live on a hill and just beyond us, resting below, are three goats with three kids. I delight in the way the kids just casually stand on their mothers’ backs or when they “feel their oats,” as they say, and charge across the pasture, jumping into the air, kicking their legs out. They are so filled with happiness; they make me smile every time I watch them up close with binoculars (I hope their owner doesn’t see me and think I’m a stalker!). There are also two horses—a pinto and a bay. They are in two different, fenced pastures, so they meet up several times a day, resting their heads together over the fence while swatting their tails to brush off pesky flies. It’s endearing.

 I ask myself, “Why aren’t I out on this deck more, sitting in my favorite brown wicker rocking chair each and every morning, sipping my coffee with cream and a teaspoon of sugar, watching the animals below? There’s no solid answer except that like a big boulder on the side of a mountain, I start rolling and rolling with busyness until I crash. I can’t even tell you what I am doing all those times. Possibly cleaning house, shopping, loading the dishwasher, going somewhere I consider to be an absolute, without a doubt, for sure, absolute task. The morning slips away faster than my dog Rusty when he discovers his leash is unhooked. He’s over ten-years-old and still charges to the nearest tree to relieve himself, even though he accomplished that act at least twenty times on our half-hour walk.

Sadly for so many, Covid arrived and dictated we were to isolate. I had no other choice but to stay put because most of us in the country were homebound, with the exception of the courageous essential workers. For we three, it was decided we needed to use that time and gather our stories and narratives into creating our book. Finally. I truly believe we would never had completed this magnanimous goal if we wouldn’t have been homebound. We learned to use zoom and and nearly wore it out. We certainly met on it more times than we could count. We’re still meeting. As illustrated in our book, Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, we take turns devising a prompt, write about it, and share the next weekWe relish the time together. Since I’ve moved and we can’t meet in person, well by gosh, we’ll do the second best and zoom!

I know I’m too busy and despite vaccinations, recently contracted Covid, which sent a clear message, being “slo-o-ow down.” My body is in command now. I hope to pay attention to this message. Watch the goats’ kids romp, listen to the horses whinny when one is out of view, wear the rocking wicker chair out. I need to value nature and my own well-being much more. It’s a great goal, an attainable one, if I just pay attention.