Friday’s Quick Pick/Photos & Poem: Heart of Family

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Remember that from the start it was
one for all, all for one? An entire lifetime of this.
A sweep of arms that gather in all.

It may have been a fervent dream of hope,
an obstinate faith in unknowns, but still
our circle has looped and held even
when torn to nearly broken.
And repaired, each thread twined with
the next in tensile links of love,
defining a net that catches sustenance,
saves whatever falls and binds together our
disparate truths. And loosens to let you go your ways.

Will you remember when you are less sturdy?
When I am gone? Or if the ties unravel and
you wait at the window, hands reaching for more?
There will be rifts. Misplaced time. Miles flung far.
Yet it has been, remains and will be this:
all for one, one for all, heart overlaid with hearts.

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: This I Can Tell You

 

I found the past today, your zest and stillness,
the sturdy early years and in-betweeness.
Now you’re three quarters grown, still present
more or less, despite a bit of steel in lip,
a drape of walnut colored hair, a flutter
of eyelids, your face a study in pallor and shadow.

These obscure a teen-aged life, its secrets, until
a smile creases the standard blase position.
Words can appear like dewdrops or lightning:
ideas, feelings, a pronouncement, a kind of poem.
I pay heed, branch to bright leaf, age to youth.

Remember how easily you played and sweated?
Danced and pretended with my necklaces, scarves?
And memorized the properties of plants, liked insects,
revered high desert creatures, shared your drawings
or whatever made you mad–it all mattered.

I saved up those times when you still
found my hand, offered wildflowers, songs.
Your heart has ached, become strong in life’s vagaries;
kept company with humans, wildness, imaginings.
A thrum of mystery has gentled sadness, fed hope.

I have been glad to act a fool, to hurt for and hold you.
Still invoke angels to do great work with you.
I am nearer than you know as you sit with
daybreak and midnight and mine the depths
for wisdom that reveals greater truth.

Like water and salt, granddaughter,
the element bravery resides in you.
Like seed and starlight, love and faith,
your life will reach far, forge its way.
I will be here if you somehow forget.
Speak my name. I will remind you again, again.

Raggedy and Jonlyn Have a Chat

IMG_2515Jonlyn’s bleary eyes rested on the last bright spots of color in her yard, then narrowed at the three crows–“the three cads”, she called them–that liked to aggravate her mornings with their carrying on. But no newspaper anywhere. She rubbed her cold hands together, then went inside and pushed the heavy door shut. What was the point of printing papers if they ended up in recycling before they even got read at her table?

She cast a resigned glance over the comfortable living room, pausing at the picture atop a side table. There was her granddaughter grinning, snuggled between her parents like a jewel in velvet. Long dark ponytail, cheeks bright as berries, burnished hazel eyes looking right at her. A smile that reached into Jonlyn’s world. But Iris was living in Brisbane, Australia with her mother, Fran, Jonlyn’s daughter. And her son-in-law. Dennis. The one who took them there, and also watched over them, she admitted.

She’d been there once. Clots of palm trees, traffic aplenty and some good shops, restaurants. Lively enough. The family lived in a small chic apartment then; now they had a house on the outskirts, close to the beach. Jonlyn wasn’t a beach person; all that sand got into places she would rather not have it. She liked forests around her. It was quite exhausting and expensive to fly there. Fran said they didn’t have time to come to the States. Well, years passed. Iris was six now. Fran was forty-seven. That made Jonlyn older than she ever imagined ending up. A trick had been played on her.

As if in assent, the antique grandfather clock chimed. Jonlyn patted it in passing, then got her jacket and gloves. It was Monday; it was nine o’clock on another grey day. With the colder weather fewer people romped about the park across her street, and Jonlyn enjoyed it just as much if not more. She’d experienced scads of seasonal changes on the paths and benches.

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Hammerlin Park was like an extension of their yard, her late husband Ralph had remarked once as he was raking leaves. Only much better since they didn’t have to bother with upkeep. It had been their motivation to settle there, raise Fran. A park was a comfort.

By the time Jonlyn arrived, the dog owners, so possessive of their strip of torn up grass, had about left; the kids were in school. Excepting the ones who got kicked out or would rather skip class to smoke pot. Jonlyn walked by them at a good pace; they barely saw her so didn’t worry about being seen. She had reached that point in life. Somewhere before sixty you start to lose color apparently, finally fading into a surprising ghost. An advantage was that if she didn’t feel like dressing properly or doing up her straggly hair, she didn’t. Another perk was if she wanted to linger and eavesdrop by group, she could; no one expected she could hear much. She’d learned a surprising amount about people this way, though Ralph had cautioned about becoming a voyeur. Big word for being nosey, she’d laughed.

The ducks were quieter than she was. Jonlyn was about to take a seat and watch them glide like plump feathery ballerinas but she’d stepped on something. It was a rag doll with requisite red yarn hair, arms outstretched, a gay smile fixed on its pale face. The dress was a cheerful Christmassy mix of red and green and lit up with some yellow. A bit rumpled but in good repair. In fact, the doll was unscathed, not rumpled at all, as if its owner had just been there and Raggedy had slipped away without a fuss. Jonlyn surveyed the park: no mother and child, no errant strollers or forgotten diaper bags or backpacks. Jonlyn sat, then bent over and picked it up.

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Raggedy remained at ease in her hands, unperturbed by the damp breezes that ruffled her hair and stirred the leaves. The two black polka dot eyes stared back. Jonlyn lifted the arms up and pulled them down, then tried the legs. Sensible black shoes, she noted.

“Silly doll, forgetful mothers”, she said. “If Fran had been given this doll she wouldn’t have let go of it.”

The ducks make a gabbled sound at Jonlyn and headed toward the little island, their rumps bouncing.

“Well, that’s not true, really. Fran never liked dolls much. Planes and blocks. I guess she was meant to be a pilot.” She shuddered. “Those little private planes…fancy and dangerous.”

The doll lay there, either agreeable or held captive by happiness with a red-stitched smile. A bit crooked, appealingly so. The person who had made this toy would be disgruntled it was so easily lost. Jonlyn mused awhile about sewing she used to enjoy, then got up, hesitant as the doll gazed up at her. Should she take it somewhere, the closed clubhouse, the restrooms were there was a wood railing upon which to lay it? She determined it was best to leave it, so she sat her up and left. But she looked back once, twice, and something about that doll pulled at her, made her feel old and sad but tender, too.

“Ridiculous,” she muttered. “I will not be undone by a silly rag doll. It’s just the holiday season creeping up on me. I can’t abide nostalgia!”

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A teen-aged girl who was smoking by the edge of the pond shot her a look, then shook her head. The old woman was a sad case talking to herself like that. Jonlyn felt her dignity pinched.

The next two days she was busy with errands and an appointment but her thoughts kept retuning to the doll. The following morning she hurried across the street and along pathways. It needed to be gone, safely back in the keeping of the one who missed the doll. She saw a hulking man just leaving her spot so approached the bench. Someone, perhaps the man, had picked up Raggedy and abandoned her again with an offhand toss so she’d landed backwards and askew on the bench.

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“Ah,” Jonlyn said and took the doll in her hands, setting it on her lap as she observed the ducks and a lone heron. “A bit messy, though. Not as bad as I expected, however.” She brushed leaf detritus off Raggedy’s feet and noted a smudge on her knee. It gave rise to the disorienting thought that maybe Raggedy had tried to get up and head home on her own.

“I used to bring Fran here every day. She chased the squirrels and wanted to fish the pond.” She chuckled. “But not Iris. She’s never had the pleasure. Maybe next year. There’s always hope, of course.”

The two of them sat there fifteen minutes, watching a couple amble by, a young man execute amazing tricks on a skateboard. A homeless woman, the one Jonlyn often saw, pushed her full cart down the walkway. A child younger than Iris came by with her father, chattering and kicking up leaves. She stopped and pointed to the doll and Jonlyn, heartened, held out Raggedy.

“Oh, here–did you lose this?”

The man shook his head. “She has a baby doll that cries watery tears and does other things we wish she couldn’t!” He laughed. “I haven’t seen one of those for a long time, though.”

The child got a closer look, then took her father’s hand as they moved on, but she looked back.

“You can keep her,” the child called out and skipped away.

Jonlyn set Raggedy on the bench and nodded at her.

“Well, you’re a popular sort. I can see why, despite your maddeningly unchanged expression. You’re soft and quite pleasant company. Wonder if you have more of a name. Tell me it’s not Ann, but something more curious like mine.”

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The ducks paddled away and the wind picked up. Jonlyn left Raggedy seated on the bench and returned to the three cads and a bowl of leftover ham and bean soup for  lunch. Two days of papers had come and she looked forward to reading.

The next day Jonlyn told herself she wasn’t going to check on the doll, and certainly wasn’t going to talk to it if she happened upon it. Parks attracted people like her, a bit aimless, lonelier than she wanted to admit. They were pretty microcosms of the city. Well, she was going dotty from increasing solitude–and the rains and cold were just beginning. It was not attractive to reminisce about “good ole days” that weren’t all that spectacular. Now her daughter was gone and Iris growing up so fast she might have to remind her who her grandmother was before long.

The clock chimed; greyness deepened and spread as the afternoon came to a close. She grabbed her jacket. Rain threatened; wind whipped her coat open. Dogs were running about and people were heading toward their cars. Her long stride hastened her to the favored bench but before she even got there she felt the doll was gone. She edged up to the back of the bench and took a look.

Empty. Raggedy had been picked up by a child who needed a playmate, or some creature, heaven forbid. Or maybe that homeless lady she often saw on her walks. That would be just fine, although she wished the young owner had found her. Who knew? She felt a huge raindrop splat on her forehead and then on her cheeks so pulled her jacket close and headed back. The lamps came on and lit the way around the park. Jonlyn felt relief come upon her and with it, a stirring of pleasure. The air was thick with a damp and leafy perfume, and a sharpness hinted at wintry days and nights. She needed to buy a ticket to Australia. And she knew just what she was making Iris for Christmas.

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River’s Edge

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(“Serenity”. Photo credit given to  Martha Weintraub)

At river’s edge she watched them cavort like young pups, but they were nearly men, were actually men if she was honest about it, grown faster than the eye could see, soon off to other parts of the world. It was sweet to her eyes and ears. They had seen hard times. Motherless, then fatherless, but she had held them close and let them roam as needed. Or, she tried to do right. One never knew for sure. Things could end up far differently that she imagined. They might forget her, not her face, some of the better times, but forget HER, who she was and remained: grandmother but still a person with her own peculiarities, ideas. Mostly, love that knew no end. It was what she could do best she had decided when they had been left with her. But life had a way of blurring itself with each new experience.

Today, though, today. The river was brilliant. Green, full of living things. Gentled for once. The boys submerged themselves and then torpedoed out the surface, pushing and laughing. Making a scene for the nonchalant girls on the other side of the bushes. She smiled, swatted a bee away. If she sat here long enough she could see her whole life unfold, see her late husband float past on his homemade raft, his hand extended. She had been sixteen, reckless enough to take a chance and climb up and ride downriver with him. Good thing. The man and the river were both reprieves she needed. Still did. But life turned around a few times, and she carried on with it.

In time the boys would stumble onto the bank and sprawl out around her. They might wrap their arms around her and then she would shake them off, fuss about getting wet, laughing when they kissed her wrinkled cheek, and this, too, would lodge itself in her mind. Come one chill autumn or simmering summer day, she would pack up a sandwich and her folding chair and come right here. Even winter called her to the water’s edge with its mysterious ice soundings, its sleeping power. She would sit and wonder over every bit of it, her charges, the joys and little deaths that happened with human urges and dreams. There were worse losses, too. She lately felt the smallness of it all. It might feel like something more one day, or different, but she would savor it as the river talked back to her, carrying its own life past another spot with a different gathering, right into more days and nights. Never a brave swimmer, she stayed at the edge. The river knew what was needed no matter what was going on.

(This blog post was a response to Patricia McNair’s  6/28/13 blog writing prompt. It has been revised from the original.)

Recreating the World a Little at a Time

The room was densely packed with audience members who rustled in their seats, scanned the stage and entrances in anticipation, studied their programs. They chattered with one another and waved at people leaning shoulder-to-shoulder against the walls.

A major event was about to commence: Grandparents and Other Special Guests Day. I, a grandmother to two of the children in this day of performances, was there, right next to other family members. I had been looking forward to watching Avery and Asher share the creative endeavors their classes had worked on.

But I wasn’t ready for what ensued at their arts focus elementary school. My expectations  for the program were moderate; I was primarily there, after all, to see my grandchildren. But it was far from being a brief recital of ho-hum numbers or a jumble of slapdash acts. The children and teachers had carefully prepared an array of fascinating pieces. Each showcased a group of exuberant kids from kindergarten through fifth grade.

There were yoga positions posed to a captivating spoken poem(kindergarteners performing; grandson Asher included). Large portraits of family members were drawn by some students during the show and later exhibited on stage. Music from the 1960s was the background for second and third graders as they hula-hooped, “watusied, twisted, and monkeyed” their way across the stage–all in sync with the catchy beats. Boys and girls of all sizes and shapes designed complicated sculptural forms in response to electronic world beat music. Tumblers and jugglers entertained with their skills. Little children shape-shifted into spiders, iguanas and mosquities. And there was choral music shared, including my nine year old granddaughter’s chorus. It ended with an old bluesy piece that was refreshed by youthful twists. Avery’s face reflected the pleasure of submerging herself in song.

And in truth, the plain, large room pulsed with joy. We all clapped and tapped our feet along with those kids. Those kids got standing ovations. No one politely listened and then sneaked away when their family member was done performing.  Like them, I was rooting for every hard-working student who took a chance, explored inventive uses of space, form, sound and time, and who then found satisfaction and happiness. They discovered freedom sprang from imagination, especially with diligent practice. They had, in a word, fun.

We were reminded that children, when allowed the chance, are fearless creators. Their innate gift for invention breaks loose as though waiting for just such an opportunity. And they become themselves more fully. They search for new horizons. They soon discover that success can be as simple as finding and holding a note, letting a line zigzag its way across paper, or allowing their bodies to morph into something new and fine.

When the final act left the stage, the adults were reluctant to leave. Being a grandparent felt fully like the privledge it is. People chatted and milled about; then we followed our students to their classrooms to enjoy more of what they had to share. I studied the program and learned that this marvelous school had a Run for the Arts to obtain more monetary support, was selling T-shirts and sweatshirts to raise money, and also took donations. I bought two of the T-shirts for my grandchildren and will write a check soon. No child should be without the opportunity to experience the arts.

Many years ago, at Eastlawn Elementary in my hometown, I enjoyed an educational experience now nearly unheard of. I enjoyed the arts as freely as I enjoyed the gym,  school library, playground, and classroom with its more conventional studies. There were plays, dances, concerts to perform in. There were stories and poems to write and read aloud. I waited each day for a fine or performing arts class.

One year I decided to be a firebird for a school performance. My mother and I designed and sewed my costume, a divine outfit of orange and crimson chiffon. I waited stage right as the opening bars of Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” swept across the stage and over the audience. My heartbeat was taking the lead and my stomach was quivering jelly. But I stepped out and whirled across the stage on cue. I was lifted up by that music, the flaming skirt floating, then whipping around me. My feet made their own way and my arms rose up to the sky beyond. I forgot I was just a nine year old girl. In an instant, I was a rare and vibrant bird, and the music electrified. I danced as though it was the only thing I knew or needed to know. Transformation occurred without my even knowing how it happened. I was a bird, mysterious and earthbound, seeking flight. The spotlight followed me as I chased the notes acround the stage. The music called to me and I answered. It was as though I had crossed into a new country and and I followed my body across the border, to the finish of the journey. Sweat rolled down my back and a smile broke over my face as applause erupted. My cloth feathers stuck to my legs but I felt I could have flown right out of the building. And in the audience below was my mother and other family members, neighbors and friends. 

I felt right with the world, and happy. The doors of the universe slid open a bit. There was a bit of heaven right on earth and its name was clearly Art, although to me (as to the children today), it was just having a wonderful, magical time.

                                                         Love to Asher and Avery