Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lieutenant Hope is Adjusting my Helmet

"The Future"

On the afternoon talk shows of America
the guests have suffered life's sorrows
long enough. All they require now
is the opportunity for closure,
to put the whole thing behind them
and get on with their lives. That their lives,
in fact, are getting on with them even
as they announce their requirement
is written on the faces of the younger ones
wrinkling their brows, and the skin
of their elders collecting just under their
set chins. It's not easy to escape the past,
but who wouldn't want to live in a future
where the worst has already happened
and Americans can finally relax after daring
to demand a different way? For the rest of us,
the future, barring variations, turns out
to be not so different from the present
where we have always lived -- the same
struggle of wishes and losses, and hope,
that old lieutenant, picking us up
every so often to dust us off and adjust
our helmets. Adjustment, for that matter,
may be the one lesson hope has to give,
serving us best when we begin to find
what we didn't know we wanted in what
the future brings. Nobody would have asked
for the ice storm that takes down trees
and knocks the power out, leaving nothing
but two buckets of snow melting
on the wood stove and candlelight so weak,
the old man sitting at the kitchen table
can hardly see to play cards. Yet how else
but by the old woman's laughter
when he mistakes a jack for a queen
would he look at her face in the half-light as if
for the first time while the kitchen around them
and the very cards he holds in his hands
disappear?  In the deep moment of his looking
and her looking back, there is no future,
only right now, all, anyway, each one of us
has ever had, and all the two of them,
sitting together in the dark among the cracked
notes of the snow thawing beside them
on the stove, right now will ever need.

~ Wesley McNair

"Main Street Mansion," by Grant Wood. Pencil, chalk, charcoal on brown paper, 20 x 15 3/4.
It was one of the illustrations used in the Grant Wood illustrated edition of Sinclair Lewis', Main Street.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Some Enchanted Evening Along the Santa Fe Trail

One of my favorite poets is Naomi Shihab Nye. There's something gentle and kind about her writing and it comes through in every word. When I read her poem, "Full Day," which you'll find below, I was reminded of my own small box of treasures filled with memories gathered many years ago. My mother bought it for me for my twelfth birthday.

We had been out shopping together, perhaps for my birthday present but I'm not certain, when we stopped in a store very near to where I am now living. While there, I spotted a beautiful, black lacquer music box with a Japanese design and doors inside to hold jewelry, should I ever have any. I stared at it, turned the mechanism underneath, opened it so I could listen to its tune, "Some Enchanted Evening," then glanced at my mother a time or two to let her quietly know I had found something absolutely perfect. Did I think she'd actually buy it?  It seemed far-fetched from where I stood.

But, a few minutes later she did just that. I felt like the richest girl alive when we left that store. I can remember sitting in the car on the way home with the music box in my lap, unable to believe it was actually mine.

It's a tad travel worn now, but it still contains some treasures from earlier times. The mechanism that played the music as well as the inner hinges broke a long time ago so I haven't been able to listen to its tune for over twenty years. Except for this ...

I was getting ready to move from Santa Fe back to Minnesota, carefully carrying it from the house out to the garage where I planned to pack it in a box filled with newspaper before its return home. I held it close in both hands, as you do when you're carrying a box of treasure. As I stepped through the door into the garage the music started playing. I stood in disbelief and quietly waited as it played, "Some Enchanted Evening," all the way through, with the lid closed. And then it ended. Though I tried several times it never played again.  That is, until today. The deeply meaningful reason I received this message today shall remain my private understanding. But I'd like to share the poem with you that brought forth this memory.

"Full Day"

The pilot on the plane says:
In one minute and fifty seconds
we're going as far
as the covered wagon went
in a full day.
We look down
on clouds,
mountains of froth and foam.
We eat a neat
and subdivided lunch.
How was it for the people in
the covered wagon?
They bumped and jostled.
Their wheels broke.
Their biscuits were tough.
They got hot and cold and old.
Their shirts tore on the branches
they passed.
But they saw the pebbles
and the long grass
and the sweet shine of evening
settling on the fields.
They knew the ruts and the rocks.
They threw their furniture out
to make the wagons lighter.
They carried their treasures
in a crooked box.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye, from Come with Me

Among the treasures in my own "crooked box" is a small amber hair comb that belonged to my mother, long before she became my mother, as well as an amber beaded necklace from her youth.

The music box.
My mother, at the age of 16. She passed on in the year 2000.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Tale Called Time

It's been many years since I read Born on the Fourth of July, the story of Ron Kovic and the terrible aftermath of his time served in Viet Nam, yet I still can recall my response and the tears shed while reading his closing words remembering a particular day in his young life, a moment of almost unbearable poignancy, before the war and the wheelchair. He wrote, "There was a song called "Runaway" by a guy named Dell Shannon playing one Saturday at the baseball field. I remember it was a beautiful spring day and we were young back then and really alive and the air smelled fresh...."

This seemingly small moment in time had somehow remained fixed, as though the day itself had just happened and all of life was yet to come. We probably all have these moments, moments that come to define us. I am very grateful that my own have not been marked by tragedy.

On days such as this one, it's easier to sense the goodness life has wrought. The sun is shining bright in a cloudless blue sky, a slight breeze comes up every few minutes and rustles the leaves on the trees. Three goldfinches share the bird feeder with a pair of red-winged blackbirds, the deep pink blossoms of a crab apple tree as their backdrop. The shadows created by the tree limbs, outlined on the grass below, feel peaceful and right.

Earlier, I had walked to the almost-overgrown orchard next to the field and watched as a bumblebee buried its nose in a soft white apple blossom, while a small yellow butterfly settled briefly in the tall grass, flew a few inches and settled again, doing this over and over until it moved out of sight.

On my way back to the house, I stopped to look at the old license plates Otis had nailed to the shed in the years before I arrived, a simple progression of numbers telling a tale called time.

Then, I looked over at my garden gate and thought of the sugar snap peas, quietly pushing their way through the dark earth to the waiting sunlight.

"Runaway," for those who might want to remember:

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Philosophy and Potato Planting

After coming in from planting two rows of potatoes, 36 soon-to-be-hills of a variety of red and Yukon gold, I had me a little nap and then I started messing around on the computer. Next thing I know, here I am talking about it. Good grief. You'd think I'd have something better to do on a Saturday night. But, I don't. Hey, I have my potatoes planted. There's a super-moon tonight. And all is well with the world. Well, maybe not, but let's pretend, just for tonight, shall we?  Even this Linda Pastan poem I found a short while ago seems to fit right into the scheme of things. I've read only a few poems by her thus far, but every one resonates in some fashion.


Sometimes it really upsets me --
the way the clock's hands keep moving,

even when I'm just sitting here
not doing anything at all,

not even thinking about anything
except, right now, about the clock

and how it can't keep its hands still.
Even in the dark I picture it, and all

its brother and sister clocks and watches,
even sundials, all those compulsive timepieces

whose only purpose seems to be
to hurry me out of this world.

~Linda Pastan

Speaking of being hurried out of this world: today is Soren Kierkegaard's birthday (1813-1855). On a bookshelf behind my chair sits a framed quote (I like to think of it as my prayer) by this Danish philosopher and theologian. I've included it in a previous post, probably two years ago now, but I'm re-posting it today not only as a way to honor him, but also to remind myself to pray for this daily and to live it more effectively:

"As my prayer became more and more attentive and inward, I had less and less to say. I finally became completely silent.... This is how it is. To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking. Prayer involves becoming silent, and being silent, and waiting until God is heard."   ~ Soren Kierkegaard

Both images are paintings by van Gogh.

If interested in Kierkegaard, here's a good site: