Wednesday, February 29, 2012

all manner of things shall be well--

The anchoress looks
into high rafters for one bold mouse,
scurrying over the quiet cell
then smiles,
settling into her ceaseless
life of thanksgiving.

Townspeople bring old bread,
moldy cheese, rancid wine.  
With these she makes a daily meal 
but remembers always to leave a crumb 
for the small life overhead.

As a child she ran loose-limbed,
wild with sunshine.
That warmth still encircles, enfolds.  
Now she looks up to see neither mouse
nor rafters but instead golden beings
singing, chanting, shouting praises to an Almighty God.

With a quick pen she writes
all she hears.  All she sees.

Soon, exhausted by seeing, purged by writing,
she collapses on her pile of straw.
Mouse finds its way to her pillow
and together they sleep 'midst the ruins of heaven.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


She laced them tight on your fat feet
and you raced down the empty brick street
with the pilot hat tied tight 'neath your chin
kicking a tin can for the noise, for the din,
for the joy of a boy released from the house
where apron strings were everywhere like
fearful fingers holding wings tight to prevent
freedom, to delay flight.

I hold your shoes today--

You outgrew the need for speeding round
country corners in squared off Indiana.

You engineered bits for rockets that never left
this heavy earth.

You found peace in the ready rounding
of the lawnmower and the strong beat
of steady, friendly hearts.

You lie quietly six feet below my tears
and I hold these little boy shoes.
And feel the joy of freedom---
the way of souls in flight.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Right when I thought the light was
brightening, when time was sliding
through my hands like that
prom dress I wore the spring of 1968,
when saying yes came easier than
complaints or criticism,
when life had gotten to the sweet spot
and I was ready to hit one out of the park,

Just then....
...well, you were there.
You saw it happen.

I've got a new normal now.
The sweet spot moved, but hey,
I'm flexible.  Adaptable.  Human.

And I've got a taste for lemonade.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Some Shape of Beauty

Very soon will there be voices calling us all to come home.
We will loiter in tall summer grass,
fireflies in hand, feet bare and streaked with mud,
waiting for the sound of our true names.
We will run away from long shadows leaping behind us
toward some shape of beauty.
We will find ourselves home again.

(This is my love poem to John Keats, that darling boy...)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Hardware store

Today, redemption finds me sitting
on the wooden floor
of my local hardware store,
gazing at useful things.
Helpful people with embroidered name tags walk by, 
pointing the way—
In this sacred place plumbing can be explained.  
Plaster illumined.

Wander the aisles of bins with me and
look at bits of things that don’t make sense.
We needn’t feel worse for our ignorance. 
Someone knows what it's all for.

Possibility and hope hover over each spool of rope,
each box of nails, the rows of tools.
Hearts lift with the thought of a life made new—
a failed and broken life fixed up,
and painted over

so that no one need ever know it was broken.
                                    Rhonda Palmer

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Unbearable Lightness of Grandmothers

Run with me, jump with me
says the three year old boy.
Spin in a circle and jump.

I totter behind, following
the curl of his hair, the dimpled hand
pointing the way, run this way.

There go a few familiar strands
of the DNA I so proudly carry---
Red hair.  Imagination.

The falling down on the floor and screaming,
I don't claim that bit.  Biting the sister:
not mine.  Never mine.

Jumping high enough to reach
a nearby constellation of stars, yes.
Blazing with a corona of fearless beauty---



for Penny Riddle

"Earth and heaven cannot contain Me; what can alone contain Me is the heart of him that believeth in Me and is faithful to My Cause."  Baha'u'llah

Sacred tobacco rises
in smoky ribbons to the four corners of Mother Earth:

(. . .North. . .South. . .East . .West. . .)

The Creator inhales deeply, searching for worth,
determination, pure heart.  Where can we hide?

From her small house Penny sent clouds of tobacco
in all directions, in all seasons.  Her heart grew large.

This large heart encompassed a cargo of tears,
abandonment, distress.  Dis-ease.

Her large heart pushed less lifeblood with each beat,
but always kept space---
      always kept space----
                    ---for a simple throne in a room filled with roses.

Abandoning the ashes of imperfect, earthly love
she was drawn like clean blue smoke by her Creator

and offered as a prayer of hope to the four corners of our lives:

(. . .Past. . .Present. . .Future.  . . Now. . .)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Haiku came and I wasn't ready

or: Basho covers his face with both hands and sighs...
Seasons are central
to haiku, essential to
to describing the awakened life.
Summer was gloating and fall hovering but
I saw nothing as I stormed
an inner wasteland.

A sky full of birds,
gaggles and ripples of them,
sentences and paragraphs of birds
flew just above my head.
I reached up to touch them.  I heard them
discuss flight patterns.

I walked with blind eyes
while waves of birds stormed my beach,
sent down troops,
and tried to win this war.
The clouds in my mind were stormy and
I pushed them aside.

One shape moved above the birds,
leaving behind a silver contrail of meaning,
a palimpsest for me to scan with my hopeless heart.
"Here there be haiku," it said.

My haiku came and I wasn't ready.

Friday, February 3, 2012

My Library was dukedom large enough.” Wm. Shakespeare

"My Library was dukedom large enough.”  Wm. Shakespeare

Last week the sibs and I went through remnants of a legacy from Mom and Dad.  In two brown paper bags and one battered box was the ephemera of several lives left for us to sort.  We tossed trash that had been carefully treasured over a century, identified some odd pieces of lingering memory, counted the hankies and watch fobs and divided up what we wanted to take home for our own children to wonder over after a funeral feast.

I took the books.  I have them in a suitcase carefully segregating their seeping mustiness from my own precious library.  In these books are the scrawled autographs of school children who became my grandparents.   Grandfather Burr Stephens wrote in a margin of “Macauley’s Life of Samuel Johnson” that he was a junior in high school in 1916.  I can’t imagine any current high school junior even recognizing this book as reading material.  Burr’s spelling lists (folded and tucked into the book for almost 100 years) show that in 1916 he could correctly spell chauffeur and acknowledgement and knew the difference between loose and lose.  Burr went on to marry my grandmother, Marie and they both drank themselves into early graves but here I hold bits of their childhood in a musty suitcase.  In the book Hiawatha is Marie’s name carefully inscribed with a lock of hair tucked between pages.  I see that they read all of Lincoln’s speeches and essays by Charles Lamb.  They studied Shakespeare.

My favorite is a tattered copy of The Indiana Educational Series “First Reader,” published in 1889 by the Indiana School Book Co.  My great-grandmother’s name is written on the frontispiece: Florence Jackson.  Even then she was using the Palmer method with cursive if not yet connected letters.  When her parents and younger sister left for Canada to homestead, eighteen year old Florence was left behind with her new husband.  She grieved the separation for the rest of her life, but here I examine a book she held in her five-year-old hands and imagine her blue eyes widening just a bit as she understands that reading is in her control--that the world is available to her through this small, square device.

The sibs and I received a remarkable inheritance from our forebears: an insatiable love of reading and learning.  The faded pictures; the alcoholism and its sequelae; all those women's handkerchiefs; the watch fobs; the pervasive anxiety--these bits of inheritance we may pass along to our children but we won't brag about it.  The love of reading is better than all manner of stuff.  Stuff gets kept in brown paper bags for grieving relatives to sort.  Reading, learning---now there's the stuff of dreams.

"Books have always a secret influence on the understanding; we cannot with pleasure obliterate ideas: he that reads books of science, through without any fixed desire of improvement, will grow more knowing; he that entertains himself with moral or religious treatises, will imperceptibly advance in goodness; the ideas which are often offered to the mind, will at last find a lucky moment when it is disposed to receive them."  Samuel Johnson.