Sad Time

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Step outside myself

Watch the morning unfold

Watch him shuffle to the bathroom

Watch me coach him through the shower:

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Wash your face with soap

Use the bar of soap under your arms

In your crotch, the butt too

Hold out your hand

Here’s shampoo

That’s my towel and

This is yours

Underwear, incontinent pad

Arms up, deodorant underneath

Now brush your teeth

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He is so grateful.

Thank you, dear.

For trimming my toenails

For shaving my beard.

Thank you, dear.

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Oh, if only I could say

Thank you, dear God,

For this life of service

Thank you for his gratitude

Thank you for the restrictions

Thank you for the loss

Tell me how to say it.

Teach me how to believe it.

Day Care

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He has his pull-ups on.

I’ve shaved him. (It’s fun.)

He’s got just one hearing aid.

Lost the other one.

He’s had his breakfast,

taken his pills

brushed his teeth.

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“Where are we?” he says.

I tell him again.

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“I’ll be here when you get home,”

I say.

“You don’t need to call me.

You’re safe.”

*

I send him out to the van.

Watch him climb in

wipe away familiar tears

like a mother.

Rail Trail I

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Honeysuckle breeze carries

scent of cut grass.

Mower drones

behind shaggy hickories.

He stops to listen.

Maples flutter,

serious oaks think

about making acorns.

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Slow walking

One step to his two-step

shuffle-crunch gravel.

On the verges

phlox lilac pink

dandelion fluff

sinister poison ivy,

innocent in shiny green

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One chorus of

Zippity-do-dah,

He’s happy

under the canopy

shade and sun

in his eternal now.

Satya and Books

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“I don’t read,” Satya says. 

They are sitting in Satya’s kitchen.  Samantha is in one of the chairs.  Satya is on the floor with her back against the dishwasher.

            Samantha looks at the stack of books on the kitchen table.  One is about Mary Magdalene.  Another is called Eyebody Technique

            “What do you mean, you don’t read?” Sam asks, gesturing to the books on the table.

            “Oh, a page that looks interesting, yes, but not novels.  I can’t sit still that long.”

            Samantha thinks of her own bookish habits.  Sometimes she’ll have three novels going simultaneously, and one for the gym, and an audiobook for the car.  She especially likes to listen to Jane Austen on the way to work. Austen can make Sam laugh out loud.

            Satya doesn’t strike Sam as the restless type.  Sam knows that Satya watches videos.  Sam squirms in her chair and lets out a huff of air.  She doesn’t like this feeling of passing judgment, either on Satya for not reading, or on herself for spending so much time in books.

            Sam has always been surrounded by books.  As a child, Sam’s bookcase in her bedroom was only one quarter the size of the wall-to-wall bookcases in the dining room, the ones her father built.  Sam read and reread the Little House books, the Narnia Chronicles, and all of Marguerite Henry’s horse stories.  Laura and Lucy were as well known to Sam as her friends at school.  In fantasy play with her friends, they acted out events in the books.  Sam remembers that she always chose to be Susan, Lucy’s older sister.  “Why Susan?” Sam wonders.

            There were the E. Nesbit books, also, and George MacDonald’s fairy stories.  Edward Eager’s magic books.  For years, Sam believed intensely that one day she could find a magic coin or step into another world.  Sam and her friend, Marcia, used to stand next to an ornate lamppost near the school playground with their eyes squeezed shut, waiting for a faun to call them into Narnia.

            But in the silence while Satya stares at the floor and Sam sips her tea, Sam returns to Susan in Narnia.  Susan was a warrior, strong and decisive.  The exact opposite of Sam’s girlchild self who was timid, too eager to please, afraid to speak her opinion—it’s taken years for Sam to step away from those qualities.  To be honest, she’s not gotten that far away from little Samantha.

            Who was Satya when she was a girl?  Was she as ethereal and unusual then?  If so, she would have been teased and bullied by her peers, that’s almost certain. 

            “I went to a private girls’ school,” Satya says, as if reading Sam’s mind.  “The girls tortured me.  I didn’t have a single friend there.  I hid in the library and read books.”


Fans of Narnia, Harry Potter, and the other books mentioned above might enjoy my Karakesh Chronicles:

Better than the Alternative

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It was a sobering experience,

trying on brassieres in Target.

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Full disclosure:

It’s been at least four years

since I bought a bra.

And probably more

than four pounds.

But I was tired of

gorilla underwear.

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In lingerie,

I got the size I was before—

34B.

No underwires, you know.

They obstruct the chi flow.

But look at the flesh

bulging over the sides.

(Don’t look at the belly below.)

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When did this S shape

creep up on me?

When did my waist ascend?

The size I thought I was

I am no more.

Remember 32A?  32B?

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To me in the mirror, I say,

“This is what 71 looks like.

You are healthy.

You are alive.

You’ve escaped Covid.”

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I hang the lacy 34Bs

on the return rack:

the polka-dotted beige satin,

the striped gray cotton,

the black floral.

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Again, I scan the displays. Pick out any 36B.

Buy the ones that fit.

Salat Al Maghrib*

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Blessed are the birds

grackle bullies shriek,

scuffle over sunflower seeds,

muscling away patient goldfinches

cardinals wait on bare oak branches

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Blessed are the dry oak leaves,

pale as deerskin

worn winter thin

that shiver and tumble,

grounded by bitter March wind

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Blessed is the wind

sweeping in from the North

Only ice fairies fly

above the frosted pines

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Blessed are the pines

moaning adagios

windswept violas and bassoons

harmonize at twilight

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Blessed is the twilight

sapphire and steel

calligraphy of branches

writing the ballad of night

—————————————

*Islamic sunset prayer

Some Good News

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It is so gratifying when one’s written words are appreciated by others and sent out into the world. I’m thankful for both of these responses.

  1. One of my poems, Quilt, is appearing in the Summer/June 21 online magazine, Lightwood. Here’s the link: https://lightwoodpress.com/category/articles/

2. Another of my poems, The Memory Tree, is accepted to Amherst Writers and Artists publication, Peregrine. I’ll let you know when it is available.

Words

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Gait apraxia.

Two new words have sneaked into our house.

Commonly seen in vascular dementia,

gait apraxia

is that shuffling walk

as if feet are stuck to the floor.

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The neurologist tossed the two words

into the air, casually,

but I caught them phonetically

in my notebook

and looked them up later.

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No cues or modeling or suggestions help.

He can’t change how he moves,

so says Sciencedirect.com

We go for walks, and he shuffles along

behind me.

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Before gait apraxia came in the door,

I would say,

“This isn’t exercise!  Walk faster!”

“I can walk you into the ground,”

he’d reply,

lagging further behind.

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Gait apraxia isn’t alone

in taking up residence.

We have anxiety

wringing its hands in the corner.

We have incontinence in paper diapers,

hanging around the bathroom.

But table manners left for the south,

forgetting to close the door.

Birth of a Volcano

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This piece was written in 2006.

One day in Michoacan, Mexico, a poor farmer named Dionisio Pulido was plowing his field for spring planting.  Suddenly the blade of his plow disappeared into a crack in the earth.  Smoke poured out of the fissure.  In Pulido’s words, “I then felt a thunder.  The trees trembled, and it was then I saw how, in the hole, the ground swelled and raised itself two or two-and-a-half meters high, and a kind of smoke or fine dust—gray, like ashes—began to rise, with a hiss or whistle, loud and continuous; and there was a smell of sulphur.  I then became greatly frightened and tried to help unyoke one of the ox teams.”

It was February 20, 1943.  On this day was born the volcano known as Paricutin.  By the next morning, the cone had reached a height of thirty feet and it grew another 120 feet during the day.  At night, Paricutin catapulted glowing rocks more than 1000 feet in the air and lava rolled out over Pulido’s cornfield. 

Over the next nine years, Paricutin continued its activity.  From the level ground of a farmer’s field, the cinder cone rose to its final height of 9.210 feet (2,808 m.)  The lava buried the town of Paricutin and partially buried the neighboring town of San Juan Parangricutiro.  When the activity ended in 1952, the lava covered about ten square miles.

Gavriel, a Purepecha native, lives near Paricutin, in the town of Ahuapan.  He was ten years old in 1943.  Now, sixty-three years later, he tells the story to my husband and me with sweeping gestures accompanied by sound effects.  “La tierra estaba temblando (The earth was shaking).  Rumba!  Arum!  Habia una nube blanca, blanca y grande—en el cielo (There was a white cloud—white and big—in the sky.)  Arum!  Arum!” 

We are standing, Gavriel, Pat, and I, on sharp black lava rocks next to the half-buried church of that once-lively town of San Juan Parangricutiro.  Gavriel, our guide and hostler, seems to tremble with remembered terror as he recounts the tale of Paricutin.  The dormant cone of the volcano, bare and slate gray, rises in the distance.  Not approachable by car, it takes 2 ½ hours by horseback to reach the foot of the volcano.  Pat and I have chosen to ride only as far as the buried church.  Gavriel points out the date on the church’s cornerstone: 1618.

At age 73, Gavriel is as spry and sure-footed as any mountain goat, leading us over and between the volcanic rocks.  Pat follows the old man and I stumble along in the rear, grasping the sharp-edged rocks that look like frozen black foam bubbles.  I gaze around me at the ominous claws of lava.  Plants have taken root since the last eruption in 1952 and the land is spotted with green.  Riding to the church I notice wild berry bushes in profusion, and an abundance of unidentified yellow flowers.  Gavriel tells us that there are snakes and lizards, coyotes and rabbits living on the land.

Soon after the eruption began in 1943, the Federales (Mexican police) came to evacuate the citizens of the two threatened towns.  Ash was burying the houses; roofs were burning; even their beloved church was succumbing to the fury of the earth.  Women covered the mouths of their children with damp cloths, packed up what belongings they could, and the families walked or rode away from Paricutin and San Juan Parangricutiro—forever.

Today all that is left of San Juan Parangricutiro is the half-buried church, its bell tower leaning at a crooked angle. 

The altar is visible and remains a place of remembrance and worship.  Newly–placed flowers, wreaths and statues stand on the mantle, now partially exposed to the elements.  Gavriel urges us to join him where he stands in the church window, a large semicircle that arches over our heads.  Below us are the two doorways, one almost filled with chunks of black rock. 

Sitting atop a pile of lava, Pat and I rest and I examine our fellow pilgrims.  A mother and daughter have made the climb in thong sandals.  I’m grateful to be wearing the only pair of closed shoes I brought to Mexico.  I’d anticipated warm, dry weather, but thanks to tropical storm Chris and a rainy season, my sandals have remained in the suitcase.  These comfy, relatively new shoes will never be the same.  They are already scarred with scratches and cuts from the lava.

Panting after Gavriel, I keep hoping the old fellow will decide he’s shown us enough.  Finally, after a few final photographs of the volcano, we clamber back to the cluster of open air sheds where locals are selling blue corn tortillas and soda.  We buy a coke for Gavriel and we all sit for a few minutes.  The soil here is black from the volcanic ash.  Pungent smoke from the cooking fires mixes with the scent of horses.

I try to remember when I first heard of Paricutin.  It was years ago, when I was teaching second grade.  One of the guided reading books was Hill of Fire by Thomas P. Lewis.  Lewis’s recounting of the story of Paricutin, along with the dramatic illustrations by Joan Sandin, made this book a favorite.  My students, always thrilled by natural disasters, often went on to do research on volcanos.  One book in particular had pictures of Paricutin at night, the sky aglow with fire.  The students were excited to see the photos from which the book’s illustrator took inspiration.

The ride back to the stable seems shorter.  My horse turns its head to snap at the pesky flies, and continuously wiggles its shoulder muscles to dislodge the insects.  The ability of horses to isolate their muscles in this way is mysterious and fascinating.  Gavriel stumps along between us, keeping pace with the horses and never becoming short of breath.

When I slip my feet out of the stirrups and stand up, my thighs are already sore from bouncing on the barely padded wooden saddle.  I have also acquired quite a bruise from a misstep that slammed me up against a rock.  We settle our bill with Gavriel and mosey over to the restaurant.

Our boletas (tickets) allow us to view a video of Paricutin.  We sit in the restaurant, happily eating huevos mexicanos and watching the wild power of our inner earth.  Parts of the film are from 1943 with people walking like speedy penguins, gesticulating at the volcano and taking measurements.  The more recent part of the video features interviews with eyewitnesses and songs commemorating the tragedy.

Pat and I are doubly at a loss to comprehend the audio since the local native language is Purepecha.  The subtitles are in Spanish, so we pick up bits of the story.  It is enough just to see the weathered brown faces of the villagers as they tell their tales.  The interviews alternate with shots of the erupting volcano, rocks hurling down its slopes.

This visit to a volcano has turned out to be a surprise literary pilgrimage.  It is a strange feeling to be in a place that is familiar because of a children’s book.  I remember when Pat and I were studying the map of Michoacan two weeks earlier and I recognized the name of Paricutin.  A children’s book from many years past linked me to this place of awe and beauty. 

Gag That Monkey

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This monkey is first to comment on

the moderator’s obvious hairpiece,

a stranger’s clashing blouse and pants,

someone’s bad skin, crooked teeth, attitude

and all your mistakes from birth to present

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This monkey always has the loudest voice,

blaring like Aunt Agnes with her foghorn comments,

complaining about the warm vichyssoise,

criticizing

(Five A’s and a B?  Why the B?)

too fat too late too much too long

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The monkey’s noise

is an unending stream of spam

filling your mind’s inbox,

blabbing commercials and news bites

so difficult to mute

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Catch that creature!

Put it in a soundproof cell

without bananas.

Get on with

your life.