Michelle Obama’s Podcast

I’ve always admired Michelle Obama for her strength, integrity, and comportment as the First Lady.  The Michelle Obama podcast reveals these qualities and many more.  In the first episode, Michelle talks with Barack Obama about community.  It is a delight to hear these two dedicated and intelligent people in a meaningful conversation. 

I’ve listened to every episode so far.  The topics have ranged from women’s health issues to friendships to marriage.  The most recent (9/10, as of this writing) involved a discussion with Michelle Obama’s mentees, young black women who held internships with her at the White House.  The mentees speak so thoughtfully as they reflect on their experiences at the White House.  It is obvious that they have modeled themselves after their mentor.

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to this podcast, I urge you to tune in.  It’s available FOR FREE on the Spotify app, also free. 

Excavation

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The Sawmill Creek behind our apartment complex flows into the pond on the college campus across the road. From there, it empties into the Wallkill River, the only north-flowing river in the U.S. The Wallkill meets Rondout Creek near Rosendale, and their joined waters enter the Hudson River at Kingston.

 

This spring, the creek overflowed a few times, coming perilously close to the footings of the apartments. Then, under the heat of summer, it petered out and became full of grass.

 

One early morning, the rumbling of machinery surprised us. We stepped out on our balcony to watch what was the beginning of a major landscaping project. The guy running the excavator was amazing. He dug out the creek bed. If he encountered rocks, he picked them up and dropped them into line on the far side of the trench. He used the shovel’s curved back to nudge the boulders into place, looking like a giraffe mother helping its newborn.

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Another guy drove the bulldozer, picking up the dirt and smoothing it out on the side closest to the apartment buildings.

All this landscaping activity has been great entertainment for the past week. In between pauses caused by rainstorms, the workers have completed the trench where the creek will run, laid thick black plastic along it, and dumped rocks on top of the plastic.

Eventually, the drainage pipes from the apartment gutters will be buried, the plastic will be covered over, and our lovely Sawmill Creek will again flow freely to the Hudson.

This is What You See

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By starlight, they fall asleep holding hands.

By moonlight, he frees one firefly caught between the glass door and the screen.

By lamplight, she reads while he holds her feet and asks, “What’s a four letter word for mixture?”

By candlelight, they heat water for washing on the gas stove.

By sunlight, they walk around the pond and stop to watch four goslings dozing.

By a red light, he says, “All clear on the right.”

By flashlight, she finds the missing puzzle piece under the couch.

By starlight, they fall asleep holding hands.

 

K.E.

Meditation

OM

Fold the legs under.

Place hands on thighs.

Wiggle fingers.

Get a tissue.

Smooth the blanket.

Find the loose cuticle

on the thumb.

Pick at it.

NAMAH

Move numb foot.

Shift the legs.

Smooth the blanket.

Find another rough cuticle.

Notice dry hands.

Get lotion

right now?

Scratch itchy neck.

SHIVAYA

Straighten the back.

Relax the shoulders.

Breathe in six.

Exhale eight.

Repeat.

Slowly

the body fades.

Hands at peace.

OM

Then set definite periods for prayer; set definite periods for meditation. Know the difference between each. Prayer, in short, is appealing to the divine within self, the divine from without self, and meditation is keeping still in body, in mind, in heart, listening, listening to the voice of thy Maker.

-Edgar Cayce reading 5368-1

My Laundry Love

For years, I never had a washing machine. From the time I left home for college, I spent hours in laundramats, fussing with the quarters and jockeying for dryer time.

person looking searching clean

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Marriage brought me to a Victorian house in Iowa, equipped with a Maytag washer and dryer. I was in love. But the town was predominantly Dutch, and the Dutch don’t waste money and power on dryers. I caved under social pressure and pegged out the wash. That proved to be a dicey proposition, because rain blows into central Iowa quickly. I’d have just left the flapping clothesline when the sky would open and I’d be back out in the yard, tossing wet laundry into the basket.

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We moved from Iowa to the New York farm. The washer came with us. I don’t know what happened to the dryer. Perhaps it is rusting away in the barn. The problem at the old farmhouse was the well. It was shallow and the water supply couldn’t handle my beloved Maytag washer’s demands.

At first, my sister-in-law generously let me do the diapers at her house. That soon got to be an imposition. When my son started preschool, I’d take the laundry to the laundramat near his school. With two kids and a house, I grumbled at having to return to my college laundry life.

As a newly single mom, I got the washing machine in the divorce agreement. It sat in the tiny kitchen of the apartment where my kids and I landed. Trusty as ever, the washer washed, but I did have to peg out the clothes on the back porch. After that apartment, we moved to a complex with a laundry room. I don’t remember where the washer stayed while we lived there. I do remember the panic over weekend laundry days, when I’d rush to the laundry room at first light in order to beat the other residents to the machines.

I bought a house. The washer came with us. I bought a dryer to be her lawful wedded machine. The main complaint at the house was the effort and danger of carrying baskets of laundry from the top floor to the washer in the basement. Every time I lugged a heavy basket of clothes, I thought of the nurse at my school who fell down the steps while carrying a laundry basket, and broke her collarbone. When, after at least thirty-five years, we had to put the Maytag down, it was a sad day. The new machine simply wasn’t as good.

Not long after, we downsized and sold the house with all appliances.  I bought a stacked washer/dryer from the previous residents of our new apartment. The glory of this arrangement is that the laundry center is on the same floor as the bedrooms. Hallelujah! I love the ease of it. I love my washer/dryer. I love how the scent of clean laundry fills the upstairs. I even love that the washer’s agitation cycle sounds like a dog about to throw up.

It’s a wonderful thing to have a washer and dryer. I am blessed and I know it.

 

Rearview

 

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Hurry them out of the car,

one grumpy, the other sleepy,

both smelling of toothpaste.

Try to ignore the wistful eyes

of the little one.

She hates being stuck

at the sitter’s house

with three boys.

 

The prickling guilt

lasts until the ignition turns.

Already other children

sweep onstage.

Twenty-four shoving,

claiming the spotlight.

Who needs more phonics?

Whose parent called?

How to fit in fire safety

when we’re behind in math?

Mark workbooks at lunch.

A meeting takes up prep time.

 

Rush to collect the kids.

Dinner.

He doesn’t like eggs.

She hates tomatoes.

Nobody wants pasta.

Yelling.

 

Wait for the neighbor girl.

Should have left ten minutes ago.

The grad class prof takes attendance.

In the rearview mirror

see the three standing on the lawn.

He looks mournful.

She flips the finger.

 

Parenting at the speed of light.

Did we ever just rest in each other?

Listen?

 

Now I hold a photograph.

Two young children,

long grown.

Wishing I could step inside.

 

Prodigal Summer and Prothalamium

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The poet Aaron Kramer first passed across my radar in the lyrics to a song, Prothalamium, sung by Judy Collins on her Whales and Nightingales album. I played  the record over and over while lying by the forced air register in a house on Balboa Island. It was 1971.

Decades later, the poem showed up as the epigraph in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Prodigal Summer.

prodigal summer cover

Prothalamium by Aaron Kramer

Come, all you who are not satisfied
as ruler in a lone, wallpapered room
full of mute birds, and flowers that falsely bloom,
and closets choked with dreams that long ago died!

Come, let us sweep out the old streets – like a bride:
sweep out dead leaves with a relentless broom;
prepare for Spring, as though he were our groom
for whose light footstep eagerly we bide.

We’ll sweep out shadows, where the rats long fed;
sweep out our shame – and in its place we’ll make
a bower for love, a splendid marriage-bed
fragrant with flowers aquiver for the Spring.
And when he comes, our murdered dreams shall wake;
and when he comes, all the mute birds shall sing.

 

Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer is a favorite of mine. I used to reread it every spring. I picked it up again just a day ago, and when I read the epigraph, I heard again the song in my head. This reading prompted me to investigate the poem.

 

My curiosity led me first to the poet Aaron Kramer, about whom I knew nothing. Kramer (1921-1997) was a busy guy. Besides producing several books of poetry, he translated works by Rilke and others, and he pioneered the use of poetry as therapy. For more information, check out his page at www.aaronkramer.com.

 

A “prothalamium” or “prothalamion” is a poem or song written to celebrate a betrothal. One of the oldest ,or possibly the oldest, example is the poem by Edmund Spenser, written in 1596 to celebrate the betrothals of two sisters. Spenser invented the name for the form, based on the “epithalamium,” a wedding song or poem.

Here are the first lines of Spenser’s poem:

Prothalamion

CALM was the day, and through the trembling air 

Sweet breathing Zephyrus did softly play, 

A gentle spirit, that lightly did delay 

Hot Titan’s beams, which then did glister fair; 

When I whose sullen care, 

Through discontent of my long fruitless stay 

In prince’s court, and expectation vain 

Of idle hopes, which still do fly away 

Like empty shadows, did afflict my brain, 

Walked forth to ease my pain 

Along the shore of silver streaming Thames, 

Whose rutty bank, the which his river hems, 

Was painted all with variable flowers, 

And all the meads adorned with dainty gems, 

Fit to deck maidens’ bowers, 

And crown their paramours, 

Against the bridal day, which is not long: 

Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.

Returning to Kramer’s poem, I find its words relevant for our current times. We in the U.S. and much of the world, seem to be experiencing a reordering and growth. The pandemic forces us to acknowledge our interdependency and connectedness. The upheaval over systemic racism pushes forth a truth that demands recognition and change.

Here is the Judy Collins version of Kramer’s Prothalamium, music by Michael Sahl.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dBaMCGsKWg

 

 

The Sixth Month

 

 

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Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

With each day’s light

comes the reckoning.

Lids closed, just rising from dream,

the heart lifts like a helium balloon

before eyes reveal

the empty morning,

unchanged,

the same color as yesterday

and the day before.

 

With each day’s counting,

hours wait like cups

to be filled.

But the liquid is mostly

salted tears

or bleach water,

for what is there to do

except weep or clean?

 

With each night’s closing,

calculate on fingers

the patches patched,

the words repeated,

the beans steamed,

the pots scoured.

Thus do the beads of days,

collected on time’s thin strand,

hang heavy as shackled steps

toward the inexorable tomorrow.

 

 

Greetings to new followers, and thank you to loyal readers. —K.

 

My Father’s Wisdom

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My father had a few pithy sayings that he liked to repeat. Some of these merely justified his personal preferences, such as, “Fruit juice is for sick people and babies.” But other aphorisms made sense. One of these came to me the other day.

“Address the behavior, not the child.”

My father was a child psychologist. He may not have applied all of his theories to raising me, but this idea, at least, I remember, and still find valid. Not only in relation to children, but to adults as well.

For parents, it’s tough raising children in today’s culture. They have a lot to contend with. So many labels in social media are out there, waiting to stick to a child: bad, fat, stupid, ugly, or smart, talented, etc. We even have a president who throws labels around, calling people “bad” or “nasty.”

Bad behavior or choices, okay, but just “bad people?” We can do better.

To say, “That’s good,” or “You’re a good _______” doesn’t help a child much. It’s more useful to be specific. “I like the way you _______ .” Arranged the pillows on your bed. Cleaned up all the Legos. Helped your friend who fell down. Used the yellow paint in your picture.

We let the child know specifically what was done well.

Adults also respond positively to hearing what they do well.

In my writing group, structured according to the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we give positive feedback to first drafts. We point out what was strong or memorable, what “stays with us.” Writers use that information to improve.

It works the same way with kids.

Until

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Until she had nothing,

she thought she could go anywhere.

Kyoto beckoned on cobbled streets,

maiko hurrying to a party at twilight.

Lisbon unlocked the old quarter,

where Portuguese whistled on pursed lips.

Morocco, flat roofs under the stars,

sent the call of the muezzin on the desert wind.

 

Until she had nothing,

she thought she had the breath

to plan for a workshop in Italy,

to find a quaint B & B,

to choose which class,

collage or linocut?

 

Until she had nothing,

she imagined a villa on the Costa de la Luz,

a piso in Cadiz,

a condo in Las Colones

for a month, a season, a year.

 

Until she had nothing,

Until the doors closed,

Until the work of going

was greater than staying,

Until masks weren’t enough,

Until the asymptomatic were contagious,

Until the Ides of March turned viral,

she thought she had the time.

 

 

K.E.