Friday, December 30, 2011

Hello, New Year! Please be kind to us all!

So here we are again. Another year has passed and another lies ahead. In between, I suspect we've all had our share of good times and not so good. I hope for all of you that there has been more good than bad. I also hope you have had abundant time to be with those who are dearest to you, whether family or friends. We had an enjoyable visit with my children, grands and greats in California with the fun of eating and drinking too much, and laughing a lot. (You cannot do that too much!)

We also got to spend an afternoon with long-time friends, Dave and Glenda. As a couple, there is no one we have known longer and we love them dearly. We attended their 25th wedding anniversary party and their 50th, and that is very special. When we see them, all too seldom these days, I always think that Tom is more his old self, which is wonderful to watch. Dave still cracks him up as he always has and they talk about the 'good old days' as though they were both going back to work on Monday! Because they have not spent a lot of time with Tom since his Alzheimer's was diagnosed, they remember him almost as he was before, and that is a lovely thing. No matter what is going on in our lives, they have been friends we shared with, laughed and cried with and always look forward to seeing again as soon as possible. Trips we took with them are some of our most precious memories. If you are lucky enough to have friends like that, you are blessed indeed.

When you sing "Auld Lang Syne" tomorrow night (and wonder what the heck that means anyway) I hope you sing it with good friends and that you look forward to the newness of discovery, learning and growing in the coming year. Health and happiness, my friends.

Here's a poem from "Dance on a Dirt Road."

Endings

Like the slithery transition between
sleep and waking, a year begins to slip
into history, taking with it those unpredictable
moments when everything was possible.

Endings bring sadness, finality, no more
chances to shape events, pull from
the distractions in my head the jagged
start-stop of best intentions.

Leaves fall from my tree of hope,
gather on the ground dampness, slowly
decaying into new life, but forever lost
to my mania for fixing what went wrong

with this year’s plan – going for the dreams
and passions that I always knew would not
survive loneliness or bring me comfort. I see them
dangling at my window, and once again

I believe in beginnings.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Tidings

If only it were as easy as that, to deck the hearth and mantle,
drape the archways with boughs of fragrant evergreen
and set the angels holding candles by the door.
I sleep with carols skimming my dreams, a speck
of glitter in my hair, a wisp of powdered sugar on my cheek.
If it is possible to will the glory into existence, I will
put my foot upon the threshold and drag this tableau
into tireless repetition – to celebrate in spite of everything.

For whom is the cedar wreath ribboned in silver? For whom
the bowls of ripe and shining fruit? I see the childhood
visions in my mind, and still I sing the midnight song alone.
It was simpler when there were no choices but tradition,
when one could copy from a picture in a book, a psalm,
a prophecy that seemed so true, a day for children to curl
into the warmth of indulgence. Here love is the motivation
for cherubim and magi, a star my hope, my nativity.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Driving Home on a Winter Night

I’ve spent too long in the city,
weary of traffic and too much
of everything.

As I turn for home in the fading light
a cold mist whispers into the air,
descending like the dust of diamonds.
 
I thread through big rigs and pick-ups,
as the radio plays Barber’s Adagio,
steadying, calming, breathing.
 
I settle in for the hour’s drive.
Rain now lacquers the road, the dark
pierced by light sabers pointing the way.

The rhythm of the wipers dulls my attention
and I change the radio to an oldies station
I can sing to, memories filling the car.
 
On the rutted dirt road at last, my path home
draws me forward, where I live and belong
to feed on quiet, to feast on solitude.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Poem and a Bit of Small-Town Whimsy

Winter is definitely upon us. This morning, when the deep fog bank lifted, I saw that the snow is creeping ever lower down the mountain (we call it our mountain) and snow is in our forecast. This is a wonderful time of year for those of us in southern Arizona as we actually get to experience a change of seasons, though in a mild and wholly agreeable way. I don't long for deep snowdrifts or extended periods of sub-zero temps. I do dearly love the  dusting of 3-4 inches of snow that coats the morning landscape and is gone by lunchtime. Yes, these Arizona winters are brutal, aren't they?

I wanted to share with you a short video that was made the day after Thanksgiving in Patagonia, AZ. I belong to the area's premier community chorus, Santa Cruz Singers, led by the talented Christina Wilhelm, and this year we decided to attract some attention to ourselves in the hope of encouraging more closet singers to come out and join us. I even got Tom to join us, though he protested some. Still he joined in and persisted even when a little bit lost in the music. For a guy with memory issues, who has never sung in a group before, he was impressive! Hope you will enjoy this clip.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1paU4XS4efc

Now for a short poem, to honor my beautiful sycamore tree, that let go of the last of her leaves in the wind that raced through a few days ago. I think she is still beautiful, though barren,

Cycle

having let go
her brittle autumn glitter
the sycamore shivers
in a winter dress
white bones bleak
as a ribcage
waiting in the void
for the turned-in earth
to waken and dress itself
once more

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Greetings from Technology Hell!

During their Thanksgiving visit, my daughter and her husband (both of them technology wizards) convinced me that I simply could not go on without an I-Phone. To the best of my knowledge, neither of them gets a kickback from Apple, but I trust their advice explicitly. So, yesterday, off I went to the Tucson Apple Store for an appointment at the Genius Bar...which might cause one to think that Apple has a monumental ego -- and why shouldn't they? (In the extreme mob scene, I was the only one with a Dell Laptop!) But I digress.

Some 2 hours later, the problem I have had with my I-Tunes account was too much for the genius and I was told I had to call APPLE! The "system" even disputed my birthday! The first half of the day was spent on the phone  ("There are nine calls ahead of you...") and finally got to speak to a specialist, who just re-directed me back to emailing yet another specialist who will be able to fix the problem when he/she emails me within 24 hours. As you might imagine, I am beginning to suspect that the problem is unfixable.

You might also infer that I am angry with Apple or disillusioned with their products. Not at all. I am already falling in love with my phone and downloading tons of free apps. I can't buy any apps until my account mess is straightened out. But the capabilities of this phone are mind boggling. I'm beginning to develop a nice relationship with Siri, though she has failed to do a few of the things I have requested. I just don't understand why it takes so many layers of smart people to fix one account. Steve Jobs would not be happy...but then he often was not, according to his biographer.

I can't help thinking how relatively savvy I was technologically 5 years ago, which was an ice age ago. I had a Palm Pilot, used it constantly and rarely had a problem with setting it up or using it. That device was only slightly more sophisticated than a sharp rock as a tool compared to the power in my new phone. I'm pretty sure I'm smarter than a 5th grader, but maybe not a smart phone! I'm going to be visiting the aforementioned daughter and son-in-law at Christmas and you can be sure I am taking my laptop and phone. They got me into this -- they will have to get me out of it!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Thoughts

In the midst of pre-Thanksgiving dinner prep, I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who have been such faithful readers of my blog. It amazes me that hits come from all around the world, and all I know about the reader is the country or the U.S. city. I always wish to know more...how did you find my blog? what do you like about it? what could you do without? why do you return again and again? I would love to know the answers to those questions, but because I don't I just want you to know that it means a great deal to me that you 'follow' me. It makes me feel connected to a much larger place than Sonoita when I see that someone in Finland, or Egypt, or the U.K. has visited my little blog! To them, and to all of you, many thanks!
For my U.S. friends, may your Thanksgiving Day, no matter how you celebrate it, connect you to your blessings and help you feel an attitude of gratitude. I shared this short poem last year and it seemed to resonate with some of you, so once again here is my Thanksgiving wish for you all.


Look Around the Room

The day is full, food and laughter,
music and games, richly laden tables
and flowing wine.

Before the day is gone, blessings
retired to the back of mind,
look around the room.

It is in the faces you see, hands
you grasp in love, that happiness
resides in the completeness of life.

Touch tenderly those who gather
this day, remind yourself that it is all
you need, you are rich

beyond your dreams.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Holiday Reflection

Thanksgiving, perhaps more than any other holiday, triggers memories from all periods of our lives. In my early childhood, I remember Thanksgiving as the time when I got to see aunts and uncles I never saw any other time. My two uncles, Lucian and Bernie, were rotund and jovial, with pockets full of balloons and other advertising specialties, their joint business. That is the sum total of my knowledge about who my mother's brothers were. Their wives are just vague shadows in my memory. We weren't a close family, as you may have gathered. I searched out a quiet corner to read until dinner was served, returning to my book immediately after.

Another Thanksgiving I remember with some angst, my first as a newly separated single Mom. It even generated a brief reflection, with tongue somewhat in cheek. Seems like someone else's life, some 30 years later.


Holiday Angst

He left days before Thanksgiving and I,
wanting to pretend for the children,
did the usual turkey and pumpkin pie.

I held it together until I made the gravy
and discovered I had lost custody
of the gravy boat.

NC


May you and yours enjoy each other's love and companionship in gratitude for all our many blessings

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When it’s not the life you had in mind...

It was with tear-filled eyes I watched Diane Sawyer’s interview with Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly on 20/20. All the usual adjectives have been used to describe her struggle to recover from the terrible trauma caused by the bullet that sliced through her brain last January...valiant, brave, fighter. Yes, she is all that. But what occurred to me as the videos of her progress played is that she is now a teacher and a role model for all that the human being can be.

Will she ever totally be the person she was. Probably not. She will most assuredly continue to improve, fighting tough battles to do the small things we all take so for granted and beating odds that would have defeated most people – stopped them from dreaming of what they could still accomplish. But Gabby Giffords still has much to offer. Her smile and her spirit are glorious to behold! It is obvious that the poignant dedication and love that Mark brings her every day has been an enormous part of her recovery. But she will not be living the life she had in mind. She is not the same person she was when she married her astronaut husband four years ago. Whether she returns to Congress as Arizona’s representative still remains to be seen. It may seem like too easy a goal, after all she has been through. She may have something even more ambitious in mind. She knows she still has much work to do in her therapy and recovery.

What does one do when, in a heartbeat, life changes. One minute your dreams are on a fast track to being realized and a second later you are powerless to live the life you planned. That fast. It would leave many people devastated and defeated. Most of us have lived lives of privilege and ease, no matter what we believe our problems to be. We’ve perhaps never been asked to show such incredible strength. But when that moment comes when our dreams are suddenly shattered and we must discover what we’re made of, that is when the human spirit is it’s most noble and inspiring. We are capable of so much more than we know! So much more.

Gabby has accomplished as much as she has through sheer determination and hard work...really hard work. That’s the secret word. It’s HARD. Whatever has changed our lives from what we had in mind to what we have requires the effort to find new dreams, to discover what is now possible. It is clearly far more than we could have imagined.

Gabby, you are teaching us about strength and courage and how worthwhile is the struggle. Our hearts continue to be with you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

To All the Dogs We Have Loved

Macho, Forrest and Jenny

Scott and JoAnn lost their beloved Whippet, Forrest, last night. He was part of their lives for 13 years, a long life for a big dog, but not nearly enough. He will leave a hole that nothing will ever quite fill. That’s just the way it is when you give your heart to an animal. People who choose not to have pets never quite understand the heartbreak or the way in which we choose to give them such a huge piece of our lives.

It’s not just sentimentality or emotion run amok. There just isn’t any way to explain how much love there is in the relationship between us and our dogs. Cats, I know, are dearly loved as well, but they don’t go on trips with us, camp out in tents or take long walks. It’s just not their thing. Our dogs learn to fit in with whatever our life is at the moment. They thrive on adapting just to please us. We are more than master (and some of us never get the hang of being alpha). They don’t ask us to quit our jobs. They just wait patiently at the window for a sign that you are returning and then rev up the welcome so that by the time you reach the front door there will be no doubt in your mind how much they missed you. The same is true if you just walk to the mailbox and back. No one in your life is ever as glad to see you, no matter what they say.

No relationship in your life will ever ask as little and give as much. My thoughts, of course, have gone straight to the grief we felt, and still feel, over losing our dear Macho. He was with us for ten years, far short of the 17-18 year life expectancy for a Havanese. But he gave us everything he had. When he was so sick, and we were living in a trailer awaiting the completion of our house, he valiantly jumped up the high steps and adapted to our tiny living space – to be with us was all he wanted. Each morning he would walk through the construction with me, checking on what was new, even the doggy door that was being installed. He never got to use it. He died three weeks before we moved in. No dog, no matter how appealing will ever fill that space or show us more love.

Why do we put ourselves through this experience that is bound to end badly? Well, why do we love our human companions? Why our children? Loss is part of life. Every living thing has an ending. But few things in our lives are really as uncomplicated as this. Our dear dogs are pure love, forgiving us when we forget to fill their water dishes, sensing when we are upset or ill, patient when we leave them for hours, and always, always believing in their hearts that we are the most noble, most excellent, most deserving creatures that ever walked on two legs. If they know our flaws, they just don’t care. Unconditional love, indeed.

Rest in peace, dear Forrest.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Perfect Moments

I’m not a perfectionist. Believe me. I’ve often regretted that, feeling that I am sometimes entirely too casual about the details of things. Actually, most of the true perfectionists I have known would give almost anything to be a bit looser – a little less anal, shall we say? I also believe that the perpetual search for perfection is the road to disappointment, though when it occurs it is a joy indeed.

What I now pursue are perfect moments. It can happen anywhere. And a moment is an inexact measure of time...it can be a few seconds or a few hours, or more. The length of time neither enhances nor diminishes its perfection.

A few mornings ago, the season abruptly changed from late fall to early winter. Feeling a chill in the house, I grabbed my sunglasses and my Kindle and headed for the front porch where the morning sun was strong and bright. The metal chair was warm and as I sat down it seemed to envelope me in heat. It was completely quiet but for the thrum of a hummingbird and a light breeze ruffling the bushes. I drew in a deep breath and realized that I was living a perfect moment. From inside the house I could hear Vivaldi playing softly, and I felt all my senses sharpened. I noticed things I might have simply brushed by. In the modest garden, the plants were pulling back to prepare for winter, the summer’s vibrant colors now gone to drab. The butterfly bush now vacant and dry will be back in the spring. Those pink flowers whose name I can never remember are gone too, but I know they are still there, resting as they deserve to do. Gracie and Alfie sat quietly by me, content for a while to let the birds fly and the bugs crawl without feeling the need to chase or bark. I wanted to freeze the moment.

To be sure, there are life’s perfect dramas, such as the birth of a child, a wedding, a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, a family reconciliation -- precious and welcome when they occur, but rare. The perfect moments can be as mundane as finishing a long put off project, baking a pie that, for once, looks like the picture in the cookbook, as deeply moving as an intimate conversation with a dearly loved friend or sitting in a darkened concert hall listening to a sublime performance of a favorite work.
 
Perhaps it has to do with adjusting one’s expectations. To live more consciously is to find many more moments to appreciate fully, or as someone put it “it’s not about having what you want; it’s about wanting what you have.” Tom is a good example of that. His always cheerful spirit makes the best of every day, happy with the small world he inhabits. I am learning much from him. He seems to be unbothered by his lack of memory for the past, and focused instead on the pleasures of the moment.   
 
I say to life “surprise me!” (And I mean that in a good way!)  In the meantime, I think life wants me to find the perfect, sacred moments that are all around just waiting to be fully embraced. I don’t want to miss a single one.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Journal Entry

this is what happened
the wind changed
vertigo
freefall
gravity

suddenly
life is loss, dismal
barren landscape
blue-gray chill
angles my spine

secrets
unsung songs
the path vanished
blurred and distorted
sighs of regret

this is what happened
leaves swirled at dawn
counter-clockwise
consolation
weightless as a zephyr,
grace

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Seeing Through the Poles

When we decided to make our home in this rural paradise called Sonoita, we were very clear on a couple of things: 1) we were going to live a long way from everything – family, shopping, doctors, etc. and 2) the scenic beauty and unlimited views were well worth the disadvantages.

Soon after moving in, we learned that the electric cooperative to which we all belong was planning a major upgrade to service in this area which would involve placing 60’ tall poles to carry the necessary voltage directly in the line of sight of some of our most beautiful viewscapes. As a concerned citizen, I tried to inform myself of the facts, attend forums where the co-op presented their case and the residents of the targeted area spoke of their objections. It often became heated. There were options that would have greatly lessened the impact to our neighborhood but would have had drawbacks for the co-op. I also learned that I have limits to the degree in which I wish to be an activist. I watched some people spend tireless hours and energy trying to fight City Hall, county bureaucrats and corporate intransigence. I was never one of those warriors, though I admired them.

In the long run, the battle to preserve our beautiful views, pristine horizons and rural atmosphere was lost. As one of the long-time residents responded when I whined about the poles, “do you want electricity or don’t you?” She had a point.

The poles are now a fact of our lives. None of us realized that there would be so many of these concrete monoliths. I have not yet been able to drive to town without feeling a combination of sadness and anger at how they have changed our environment. So here is my challenge: how do I learn to see through the poles to still cherish the beauty of this place, free of the angst I now feel?

It is a excellent metaphor for life. Who doesn’t have obstructions that prevent life from being what was planned or desired? When you focus on the obstruction (whatever your “pole” is) you cannot see anything else. The negatives in our lives can make us joyless and despondent, and, worse, convince us that we are powerless to change our feelings.

So my lesson begins. I’ve been told, in various ways, to just let it go...get over it! I know I must. I must drive to town and smile as I always have at the longhorns grazing in the grass, the changing colors of the beautiful Santa Ritas, and the spectacular clouds I love so much. I can do this. I can choose my attitude as easily as I choose my clothes. I can sit on my patio and breathe in the beauty that cannot be negated by a bunch of poles.

What poles?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October Renaissance

The morning is all color and shine, 
a late summer having sighed
its farewell with a chill inflection,
slight but determined.

I envy autumn’s tenacity,
how it dresses the trees and hills
with fire and flash, if only for a blink
of the eye, bittersweet with promise.

Each season leaves its singular lesson;
I learn I can balance on the thinnest
beam of sun and draw nourishment
from the briefest moment of warmth.

Remind me, kind October, of brevity,
of precious passing time, and I shall breathe
your vibrant grace and drink the tender air,
guardian against shadows and cruel truths.

N.C.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Song Goes On While the Lyrics Fade

We’ve been lucky. Tom’s Alzheimer’s has been progressing slowly. It began with simple forgetfulness – at least we thought it was simple. Since his diagnosis in April of 2006, he has continued to function almost normally, except that events and conversations have a shelf life of only a few hours to a few minutes in his memory. He has stayed physically active, reads voraciously, and plays chess online. Most of all, he has been happy. I know that seems strange given that his life is so greatly effected, but he has always been a man of few needs and one who prefers quiet routine. He likes the daily predictability of knowing his surroundings and activities do not change. That's just about perfect for an Alzheimer's patient.

Every so often we hit a milestone, a place where I can identify that something has changed and needs to be addressed. Early on it was clear that he could not manage our financial affairs, as he grew very confused over using Quicken (a program that was second nature to him for many years). A few years ago I realized that his driving days needed to end. He never argued or resisted because he knew that driving required fast reactions and calm response to crises. He has lost his ability to make quick decisions – ok, he never was very good at that!

Now we have reached another ‘milestone’, though it seems more like a stumbling block. Our chief entertainment, given the size of the town and our predisposition to being homebodies anyway, has always been movies from Netflix. Reliable diversion just a mailbox away, with the universe from which to choose. Our after dinner activity has now become a major source of frustration for him...and for me. It may be because of the nature of new movies these days – complicated plots, fast action and rapid dialogue. But coupled with his declining ability to track and comprehend, it has just become too difficult for us both. He becomes bored and distracted but continues to ask me who this or that person is, what year was this made, etc. over and over until I eventually invoke my opera voice, leaving us both upset with me! True, there are old movies that are not so complex and favorites from our own library, which he likes to say seem new even if he knows the dialogue by heart. Those are our ‘go to’ choices now, that leave him smiling not frustrated. Tonight it might be “Casablanca” night again just like it was a week ago. Hey, Bogie is always good even if the words of “As Time Goes By” feel a bit ironic...you must remember this...

The main point has always been doing something together, spending time enjoying an activity. Sometimes it is sitting on the patio watching the sunset with a glass of wine. The dialogue we have shared over our nearly thirty years together has been the glue in our relationship. Talking, planning, debating, arguing – conversation has always been intimate and satisfying. Now we mostly banter because there is no context for an ongoing discussion. And he doesn’t miss it. He’s just happy. That is a very good thing. And I know it won’t last.

A steady stream of specialists has examined, prescribed and puzzled over him, none liking to admit that there is not much they can do medically. But one wise and caring doctor, a professor at U of A, said this: “Go home and do what you love, and be happy for as long as you can.” That’s what we are doing. I wish for more strength, more patience, more nobility, but I settle for just making it through another day. I don’t want to lose myself but I especially don’t want to lose him. Much of my poetry of the past few years has been written in the angst of watching him fade. There are no words to express how painful it is. Meanwhile, we play with the dogs, listen to great music and watch sunsets. There are worse ways to live.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Remembrance

It has always been difficult to speak of 9/11. It is an event for which words seem completely inadequate. Recently, I have had conversations with several people who are dealing with deep grief. Thinking about the subject brought this poem to life, with the realization that each of us handles grief in our very personal way, and that, as the whole nation grieved ten years ago, we realized our bond with one another through this terrible event. Regardless of the cause for grief, it can be relieved, if not eliminated, over time with compassion and grace, through the warmth of human contact.

Fragments

(on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001)

Grief lays heavy, splits the heart and sends a cry
upward to the spine of heaven, from where it descends
like indigo rain pummeling a tin roof of disbelief.

Hope falls in jigsaw shapes on vacant space,
recognized but not familiar, reminiscent of all things
broken beyond repair, where nothing fills the void.

Relief seems a hollow oath repeating wait, wait –
there is no healing, no reversal of fortune to sustain
while walls collapse; even the stars have forgotten

how to find peace, how to return to resilience.
Still, the resolute force of life demands to be seen
like jewels on the surface where wrecked remains

gather to wait, wait for release of fear and hate,
where songs are once again sung for the sacred flame 
of survival, here in the perfect moment of now.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thoughts of Sedona



This morning I came across this picture of Cathedral rocks in Sedona, one of Arizona's treasures and a must-see on any trip west. I first visited there in 1980, before the highways were crowded with tour busses and the t-shirt shops had proliferated. I thought I would die if I couldn't live there...I even thought I might have lived there in a former life -- a bit far out for me. It is still one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, but I definitely would not want to live there now. It's a good thing I have not given in to all my impulses. Sometimes first impressions just don't hold up to the test of time, right? Or more likely, we just think we want and need different things at different times in our lives. It reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago about Oak Creek, the beautiful Sedona landmark pictured here and the source of many pleasant, reflective moments on my visits there. It is a place filled with an energy that penetrates one's psyche in a deeply refreshing way. (Just do avoid the tour busses if you can!)

The Creek

It used to run wild and uninterrupted
but few things remain that way today.
Now there is a little park, not so bad,
but no one just happens upon the creek any more.
 
Still, if you make your way through parking lot
and visitor center, there at your feet the water
plummets over stones like mirrors in the sun
smooth from relentless liquid caress.

Like a thousand gems, the water gives back
sunlight so intense its brilliance fractures
the horizon, too blinding to stand and stare,
except for the brown bird who seems not to notice.

Now, late in the day, still springtime cool,
everyone gone, silence broken only
by the muted scrabble of water,
I sit on a flat rock and watch the fading day.
 
Red pinnacles now silhouetted in blue dusk
stand sentinel over the darkening stream
whose music orchestrates the twilight
and awaits the rising of the moon.

from "Sip Wine, Drink Stars"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Poetry of Chaos

Wind rattles the trees, the sea grasses
bent low and sorrowful, while overhead
birds catch the draft balanced on the pinnacle,
moving neither forward or back on the currents.

This is not the life I dreamed, this chaos
that somewhat resembles order, this fragile life raft
adrift on a thrusting sea, lifted and dropped
amidst the detritus and dross.

I was enticed aboard, with the belief of a convert
that I could captain this dismal, leaking craft,
pilot down my designated channels, avoid
the storms that befall the timid explorer.

I lean forward, eager to wash up on the shore,
amidst broken shells and mounds of kelp
where nourishment awaits, where wreckage
is an asset, and poems whisper on the wind.

from "Dance On A Dirt Road"


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Bit of Whimsy

Alice Redux

Alice, oh Alice, where in the mirror are you now?
I know how you felt, head all a-twitter. Nonsense
makes perfect sense when up is down and down is up.
I catch a glimpse of you now and then, when my life
has gone jabberwocking into hyper-reality, and I
am the Hatter gone mad, the angry queen, the dormouse.
Isn’t it obvious? I am, at times, all my worst selves
dressed in my best clothes, looking for the party,
one minute too small for my life, the next too large.

Are you who you thought you’d be? And if so,
are you disappointed or glad? Sometimes I can’t decide.
Was there ever a plan, or did I just follow a set
of strange rules for fear of disrupting the game?
What do I have to fear from a pack of cards?
The shuffled deck could yield no firmer answers
nor protection from the Queen who wants my head.
I’ve lost it so many times that it feels normal.

Was it all a dream, dear Alice, was it brillig or not?
I would gladly step through the glass to see
where I might have gone, had I been wiser, braver
or less afraid of looking foolish. I would have followed
my own strange dreams, except that one about
climbing Everest naked; definitely not that one.
But I think of you when I plan my brief escape.
Why is there never a rabbit hole around
when you need it?



Sunday, August 7, 2011

Chronicle

 A yearning to be known builds daily,
to be fully aware and recount what matters,
to tell the story of the journey and understand
what remains to be seen.
 
Notes scribbled in the wide margins of memory
beside journal entries, the real narrative conjured
of long days and nights, rising, falling, with faith
and the plague of hope, all within the same breath.
 
Sounds that drift lazily in and out of doors
left ajar for unknown reasons, echoes of laughter,
nuances of texture, a blend of light, tenderly
filters through windows on the shady side,

familiar blue shadows and the trellis
that crosshatches the wall with squares of sun.
This, the place of my clearest vision, the song
I waited long to sing, my destination and arrival.
 
Here is the proof of life, generations of sweetness,
the children and those that followed living the mystery
as delicate as the white throat of a lily,
legends they have created with their dreams.

I long to shed the faltering version of myself, the partial
truths and condensed editions; morsels and crumbs only,
the continuum evading, slipping through the hollow in my heart
just as I am about to surrender to joy.

N.C.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It was a dark and stormy night...

A nighttime storm is a rare event for us, except during monsoon. I look forward to it all year. It makes for interrupted sleep (for some) and upsets many dogs (not ours, she said gratefully). I had to drive 30 miles or so this morning along a beautiful road that is now green and lush, thanks to a higher than normal rainfall this summer. What a difference water makes! Just one more thing to make me smile.

Rain at Night

timpani in the distance
a tremble of light
the other side
of the mountain;
sleep is broken,
expectant
entering that place
of half-awareness
quiet respiration
eyelids flutter
to notice the
night preparing
for the gale;
now the wind
sweeps up leaves
and dry earth
in one breath
discharges
a turbulent swirl
as serrated lightning
illuminates the room;
count the seconds
until the crash
and the rain
suddenly erupts
on roof and door
to play me back
to sleep.


NC



Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Maine Idea...Rest and Relaxation

Just returned from a week in Maine at the beautiful home of dear friends. We had a wonderful time, saw much of the Penobscot Bay area with its charming lighthouses, sailing vessels and the ubiquitous lobster traps, not to mention the lobster! We enjoyed a terrific concert of Brahms Violin Sonatas at the Rockport Opera House one evening, took a sunset cruise on a schooner where we were dazzled by the incredible sunset (it was Tom's birthday and the captain even let him steer for a few minutes!) We ate and drank too much great food and great wine, of course, but that's what vacations are for. Our hosts offered us every possible comfort. I must say, however, that Maine is one heck of a long way from Arizona! I could see that on the map, of course, but until you have spent all...and I do mean all...day on three planes with luggage glitches and nothing to eat but airplane peanuts, you don't really know how far it is! Suffice it to say we were mighty glad to get there and ever so glad to get home. I'm grateful to live in a place I love so much that it is always a joy to return.


Here are a few lines penned while soaking in the beauty and peace:

Time in Maine

The bay, splashed with diamond dust in the morning sun,
rocks its skiffs on the ripples and licks at the smoothing stones.
This place, so sturdy, so green, hearty with independence,
gives the air a significance, a relevance to the endurance
of place, and everywhere the soaring trees proclaim
their fierceness while faithful lights guard the wide, wild coast.
Remote shores summon those who crave a quiet mind
to abandon expectation, to absorb hardship, to soften
demands and invite fresh eyes to invigorate again.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thoughts on Birth and Life

One might think it gets old, this baby business. Having given birth to four children, who brought forth nine offspring, who now have produced six, count 'em, six great grandchildren, it could become routine, right? Hah! I became the same emotional, weeping mess this weekend as with the first. Granddaughter Katie and her husband, Arash, early Sunday morning, gave us Fletcher, a healthy baby boy who already owns all our hearts. We are so grateful to have this new little life among us.

It starts the wheels turning about life in general and I find myself thinking about what the world will be like when he is a man. Can we think ahead 20 years, or is it way beyond our imagination? Has the world become ungovernable, humanity out of control? Are we a runaway train, headed down a track into a dark abyss? Sometimes it seems so, but who can live with an image so foreboding? We surely have problems, severe and overwhelming problems that don't present simple solutions. But creativity and innovation have always saved the planet just when it appeared we were bound to destroy it through our greed and stupidity. Maybe it is living on the edge, the possibility of doing ourselves in that is our silver bullet. Typically, we never fix anything until a catastrophe looms, or sometimes after...the horse and barn door syndrome. Call me simplistic, but when the evening news drags on me until I want to cry or scream or both, I take my glass of wine to the patio and drown myself in the red-painted sunset and decide, once again, that I will not be brought down by political bickering, sensational trials, world-class scandals or yet another oil spill. I will do whatever I can from my small place on the planet to improve the world...I will speak out, I will vote, I will write my heart out. But dammit, life is too short, and getting shorter, to dwell on problems. There are babies being born every minute who don't know what a mess we've made or that it will be up to them to fix it. Meanwhile, they need to be taught, carefully taught, that life is wonderful and joyous most of the time, and that they, too, can rise above the other stuff.

When Fletcher is 20, perhaps we will have peace in the Middle East, no American troops on foreign soil, a cure for Alzheimer's Disease and cancer, and a practical way of converting all our trash and garbage into clean fuel. Perhaps not. But, just as those of my generation have lived through terrible wars and complex dilemmas, his will find a way to make a life in an ever-changing world and, let's hope, make it better than the one we offer him today.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Just Listen


What do I need from you, you ask?
How can I help?

You can do so much,
but nothing much;
nothing much, but it is everything.

No strategies, theories and please,
no solutions.
Just listen. Just listen.

Why would you think you know
what I should do in a life
you have never lived?

My solution is within me,
we both know that.

What I need from you is
your full attention

so that I might hear
my own answers,
in my own voice.

If you always have a plan,
and always know what decisions
I should make,

I will have to stop 
asking you 
for help.
from "Sip Wine, Drink Stars"

Permission to use this poem has been requested by several group leaders as an affirmation for how they will work with one another. I've even been contacted by a therapist in London who has used it in recovery workshops. I'm glad that it resonates. In our desire to help and/or to take away a loved one's pain, we are quick to offer solutions, and in doing so to miss the real need...the need to be heard. What a gift it is to simply sit with the problem or the pain and be willing to offer empathy and love instead of quick fixes. It takes a very strong person to just listen.



Friday, July 1, 2011

Fading

Where once I was a deep canyon of joy, a receptacle
for happiness in great billowing armloads,
I now hold it in a rose-rimmed china cup,

drinking quickly, savoring the delicate sips,
knowing the sweetness is a passing pleasure,
like your hand upon my face.

You are teaching me to want less and less, as you
have always done, so that now I want but one thing,
the one you cannot grant me, nor can the stars.

So many things I need to be true and not spun
from spider silk, things I cannot see clearly
looking through the cracked glass in a window

where it is always dusk. How can you know
what is real if I do not? Is our story still emerging
or is it a tapestry woven of finished threads?

I watch the silver stream of memories
pass too swiftly for your hand to dart out
and grab them as they go by.
NC 

Five Totally Trivial Things I Find Annoying, Disturbing and/or, IMHO, Unworthy of Space on the Planet

1.      Anything that comes packaged in a “clam shell” that isn't a clam! With all the regulations the government has devised to keep us safe, how has this lethal, maniacal packing weapon been allowed to exist? My sanity is hanging by a thread already...by the time entry is gained, I’m ready to launch it through the nearest window.

2.      Stores or restaurants who can’t spring for a $1.00 hook for the back of the restroom stall door so women can hang their purses instead of putting them on the floor.

3.      Scary TV shows such as, but not limited to, “Toddlers and Tiaras” and “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.” I mean, come on people!

4.      Those little labels on fruits and vegetables. I picked one out of my salad last night! In addition to its bar code, it said “tomato.” Duh!

5.      Wrinkle Cream commercials where the model is 22. I want to smack her!

Okay, I feel better since I got that off my chest! What’s on your list?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Down To What Matters

here, at last, is where truth lives
on the bitter edge of loss

where we sing no pale songs of  regret
shed no tears for faded memories

no confessions of bad choices or failures
resentment of time’s devastation
no slippery denials or ego defense

relief is a fragrant warm bath on a cold night
senses ablaze, skin crying out for touch

naked honesty, open arms extended,
waits here in silence, all is forgiven

what has been held back is released
like caged doves to spiral into dreams
and submit to ancient instincts

save yourself for days filled with strawberries,
nights with sweet merlot and stars,

tenderness pours down, fills the aching abyss,
soothing tattered hearts and savaged spirits

with love that transcends old forms,
freedom for which words have not been invented
and finds silvery solace in this moment,

which is all that matters.

from Sip Wine, Drink Stars (2009)

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Father's Power

I was six years old when my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. It robbed him of his dreams, sadly before I ever learned what his dreams were. I know he loved me, his only child, very much though he, a gentle and quiet man, rarely expressed it verbally. Every Father’s Day I think with regret of how little I knew about him and his life before me and yet how sure I was of his love. The distinct memories I have of him are few but treasured. My favorite memory is of the cottage on Lake Erie where we went each summer. I would sit on his lap on the screened porch, watching the spectacular lightning displays across the Lake. My mother was terribly afraid of thunderstorms, so while she hid in the bedroom, my dad, determined that I would not catch her fear, persuaded me that storms were beautiful, powerful and wondrous natural events. I have loved them ever since and always think of him when the sky cracks open and flashes its power across the heavens. In that moment, I am the six-year-old child again, sitting safely in the arms of my father.

Fathers must be among the most powerful forces of human nature. In an over-simplifed, and in no way scientific, study, I have found few men or women who don’t have some kind of “father issues”. My theory is that fathers don’t understand their power...for good or for its opposite, which is usually not evil. They don’t understand, often until long after their influence has left an indelible stain, the desperation with which children, especially boys, long for their father’s approval. Some men seek it all their lives, convincing themselves that they are unworthy humans because their fathers never said, “Son, you’re OK as you are.” And so goes generation after generation.

This Father’s Day, I am especially aware of how powerful dads are.  My youngest child, son Scott, will be celebrating his first official F.D. in the company of his beautiful twins, Claire and Jonah, six months old. He has elected to be the stay-at-home Dad and is doing a fabulous job of it. Yes, it clearly can be stressful, exhausting and complicated. But those children will grow up knowing their dad in a way that most kids never do. They will see his silly side, his vulnerable side, his confident side. They will hear him sing to them, see the thousand funny faces he can make. And they will know that he makes mistakes sometimes and can admit them. He might fantasize about being the perfect dad, but he also knows there is no such thing. He’s a grown-up man who loves his kids. And they will never have to wonder about that. What a gift!

Friday, June 10, 2011

What Gets in the Way

Most of us would agree that we are often our own worst enemy. I think as we age we do less getting in our own way, less struggling against the unchangeable. For me, it is the struggle that wears me down, the wishing away of things that are here to stay -- for a while at least. This poem is about a peaceful acceptance of what IS. Not a giving up...more of a letting go. It may only last an hour or a day, but for that brief moment, the shoulders relax, the hands open and the breath comes deeply.



Opening

but one day you just know...
that the struggle must end,

that the time for sadness is past
and the grieving stranger, no longer needed,
has gone for good;

that the sweet music you hear
is the rhythm of your hopeful heart
laden with gifts of nourishment,

a lavish feast for your hunger,
a warm cup for your deepest thirst
that you will not turn from, but embrace;

that you have come at last, searching
for yourself, clothed in grace,
to offer only love.

from Dance on a Dirt Road

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Revealed

Light changes everything, tricks the eye
and then the heart, to believe in the mysterious,
a canticle of temporary, breakable or already
broken dreams and songs that were meant
to last forever.

At nightfall I can believe in many things
impossible in the luminous morning;
the nacreous moon steals reason,
hides truth behind a tranquil fa├žade,
impassive, pretending and remote.

I see you silvery, as through a prism of water,
or a veil of forest leaves mottled in a dozen
shades of green, there but for a fleeting second
and then not there, beyond my reach, grasping,
groping to touch your face.

So much regret, so much loss, pooled on the floor
like a sheer curtain, shielding but exposing
injury that cannot heal or mend itself
as though we were already gone, leaving nothing
in its place that I can trust.

N.C.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

White Spaces

it’s what isn’t said,
isn’t seen,
what remains idle,
disregarded,
dormant...

ah, therein
is the wealth
of what might have been,
words of healing,
connections made,
songs of hope sung,

lovers too long silent,
the time unrecoverable.


from Dance on a Dirt Road

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Oprah

Until I retired five years ago, I had only watched a handful of Oprah shows. I’ve always thought her rise to fame an interesting phenomenon, but I have become a great admirer recently. I DVR her shows so that I can watch when I want and zip through the commercials, and I don’t watch every show. Sometimes her topics and/or guests don’t interest me. But she, as a person, interests me a great deal. She is clearly an iconic business woman and a very successful one. But what I think Oprah has brought to the airwaves is the ability to raise the standards of broadcasting and celebrity. She has built a huge following by doing good and generous things, not by becoming a circus act or a negative role model. She is a clear force for kindness and good in the world -- is there anything we need more?

Some of her beliefs are a little far out for me, but they harm no one. The key principle of her show, she tells the audience frequently, is intention. The good she has done with her fame and fortune is massive. Whether it is building a school, or giving away her favorite things, she is leaving a legacy of excellence and generosity. (Don’t you know how much I would have liked to be in the favorite things audience...screaming and head exploding like all the rest?) She has allowed herself to be known, glamorous one minute and flannel pajamas the next, and let us see her without makeup. As we women all know, that takes true grit! She has built an audience so loyal that she seldom had to worry about ratings, but she vowed to present shows that had value for the viewer and she has done that extremely well. And let’s not forget that she got people to read and made a lot of authors’ careers.

Yes, I will miss her. I will miss her like a dear friend with whom I can laugh and cry. I have come to love her humor, her passion for her dogs, her straight talk and her intention to live her best life. I wouldn’t mind trying to live her best life – but I will continue to try to live my best life as well as I can. She has inspired that in me, and for that I admire and thank her. She will no doubt surprise us with her next chapters.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Life Goes On, World Without End, Amen!

I've cycled through a series of thoughts and feelings about "the end of the world." I've shared quite a few laughs with friends, imagining all kinds of pranks that people could play on this the day some say is our last. Mostly it is irritating that people are able to be duped by religious fanatics who play on fears and lead others to believe ridiculous claims. Just another signal that P.T. Barnum was right! Still, if there is anything we can pull from this nonsense, maybe it is that we should live every day as if it were our last. Life is short, indeed.

Vita Brevis
all the more reason
to cling
to the barest scrap
of love
however unlikely
or undeserved
to disturb
sacred beliefs
unravel
cherished convictions
examine
established truth
be done
with useless
arguments

from "Dance on a Dirt Road"



Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Terrible Alone-ness

A few days ago I came across a book that has moved me deeply. Alzheimer's Diary: A Wife's Journal by Michelle Montgomery tells of the day-to-day challenge with her husband's disease and the impact on their lives. She writes with great simplicity and honesty, and it cracks my heart open to read each page. She has written my book. The similarities between her life with Dave and mine with Tom are striking. Dave's A.D. is more advanced when she begins her story, but I see myself on every page, always trying to balance what is possible against what is gone forever. Their marriage was a close and loving one also, which is the foundation on which each day is built, no matter how frustrating.

While I find myself close to tears on page after page, it is a feeling of recognition and almost relief that what we are experiencing is not unique, that someone else can articulate so accurately the sadness mixed with determination that we live. We are not alone in the constant struggle to extract pieces of normalcy from a distinctly abnormal existence.

She knows my flashes of anger, followed closely by guilt, when my frustration pushes me to raise my voice in anger. She knows the look in her husband's eyes when they both know he can't help forgetting the things that used to be so important. She knows the awful ache of watching a brilliant man fade into a shadow of himself. But she also understands how precious those flashes of connection are, how much joy can be felt when a joke makes us both laugh or an authentic moment in the present is shared.

I find myself slowing down as I read toward the end of this book. Her story, like mine, will not have a happy ending and I resist and deny whenever possible. It's my only weapon, ineffective though it is. I have wanted to tell our whole story, and maybe someday I will. But for now, I feel a kinship with someone who has told a story so close to home for Tom and me. I feel less alone in this very lonely place.

The poem that follows is from my first book "Sip Wine, Drink Stars" (with apologies to Alan Ginsberg).

HOWL

Don’t bother with the moon
howl instead at love
that weaves your breath with another’s,

in the intimacy of oxygen
only to take it back
while you still need to breathe.

Howl at the vampire of memory,
who broods in the labyrinth of empty rooms
and hedge mazes of remembered events.

Howl at loneliness that fills the lungs
and drapes itself heavily around the shoulders
while memories pile up

on your side of the bed.











Thursday, May 12, 2011

Longing for Rain

While our friends in the midwest are suffering so with epic flooding and rainfall, those of us in the southwest are wishing some of it could come this way. It has been so dry for so long that we are in high fire danger. A few days ago there was visible smoke in every direction. Our dedicated firefighters from all around the state have been working hard to get all the brush fires under control but it is a tough job.

I miss rain! I mean the all-day kind, the kind we almost never get. The kind that drives one to the bookshelf to settle in with an engrossing novel, maybe with a cup of tea or cocoa, occasionally looking up just to watch it cascade down the window. Don't get me wrong. I love the desert -- that's why I live here. But just ever so often I yearn for a good downpour. (Just please, not next Wednesday. That's when I'm having all our windows washed!)

Here's a poem based on a familiar quote, whose source I do not know.


Rain Dance ("Don't wait for the storm to end, learn to dance in the rain.")

Yes, I know the phrase
but not who penned it first.
Learn to dance in the rain,
it goes, mouth open wide
to quench your thirst,
with what falls from the sky -
you might as well invite
the storms that come in dark of night.

Arms outstretched to face
the outrage and deceit,
the petulance and greed,
the pain of hurt and loss,
far more than enough
for one to bear alone,
while your back straightens
and your skin grows tough

Bring on the aging bodies,
the aching joints, failing senses
whose mysteries no doctors
can decode in all their sterile halls,
go ahead, endure, survive
it all and even thrive
when life calls down upon your head
a shower of bowling balls.

Dance for your life,
dance wildly until every song is tasted.
Let yourself be lifted on the wind,
not a drop of precious rain wasted
and when it stops at last, stand still
with the people who love you.
Inhale the music and forgive the world
to lighten your step for the next dance.


NC
from Sip Wine, Drink Stars, 2009

Friday, May 6, 2011

What a Difference a Week Makes

Ask anyone who knows me...they’ll say I’m a pretty positive person. I believe in the innate goodness of most people, I believe that we are resilient and able to deal with and rise above most of the bad things that happen to us, whether they be natural disasters, serious illnesses, untimely deaths or terrorist attacks. But since the Sunday night jolt of Breaking News burst upon us, I have had some strangely mixed feelings. Am I glad Osama bin Laden no longer menaces the planet? Of course. Am I proud of the incredibly brave men who risked so much to make it happen? Without a doubt. And as an ardent Barack Obama supporter, I am glad that his decisiveness led this mission to achieve its goals so well. It does feel like justice.

Now many are speculating about the national response, the mood of celebration that seized some as the news broke. What the news did for me was to bring up the unimaginable horror of that day nearly ten years ago when the towers fell, the Pentagon burned and a few brave men charged the cockpit to prevent an even worse calamity. When those images appear on TV, it seems like it happened yesterday. And nothing will ever change that or bring back the dear souls whose deaths were of the most terrible sort. I just can’t rise above those images to celebrate.

We are better off without Osama bin Laden but probably not much safer. Safety is not one of life’s guarantees, that much seems clear, so there may rise another name, another threat whose mission in life is the destruction of all things American. Life is risky, sometimes dangerous, and always, always fragile. All we can do is cling to the sacred moment, the NOW, which is all that we have. I won’t live in fear. Not of anything. There is too much for which I am grateful, too many precious people to love and too few hours in the day to spend them afraid of what might happen.

Last week I, and millions of others around the planet, had a brief fascination with the Royal Wedding. How distant that event seems now, along with the silliness over birth certificates and any number of distractions that keep us from confronting grave issues. The seriousness of life came home clearly this week, but it did illustrate the delicate equilibrium of life with ample servings of both good and evil.