Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cowslips in the Hall

As we were finishing another school year, in the spring of '66, my sister and I and some of our fellow passengers on the school bus realized the cowslips were in bloom in a marsh along the road between my grandparents farm and the school. We were pretty animated about this discovery and asked the bus driver if he would stop and let us pick them. Lefty Summers, a wonderful bus driver who was willing to make safe allowances for the youth in his charge, agreed to stop the bus.

My sister and I, flower children from an earlier time, and a few older high school kids with brightly forming minds of their own - the beautiful, black-haired Dorothy among them - waded into the ditch and came back up with armloads of yellow cowslips. Then, amid unprecedented enthusiasm we rode on to school, talking to each other with a renewed joy for life apparent in the faces of everyone on that big orange bus. A few minutes later we filed out of the bus following a trail of unruly cowslips, strays that had fallen in the aisle between the seats.

Later, as I walked up the stairs and into the main hall, I saw cowslips strewn on the smooth hardwood floor in front of the principals' office - left there by some of the older kids along with drops of water from the stems. Out of the office came Lefty our beloved bus driver who had, it appeared, been called to task for what those in authority saw as a poor decision. He didn't appear upset, he just strode across those flowers and on down the hall. I stood there and watched, hoping he didn't pay a price or feel remorse for his choice. It was the best choice he ever made for this young girl's life.

My sister and I would sometimes bring cowslips to my grandmother, not for eating (although they are edible from what I understand), but for putting in a vase. I recently mentioned them in a two-part micropoem about an afternoon visit to my grandparent's farm:

... screen door opens to small faces / withered hands tenderly place drooping cowslips in a green vase

... crossed legs cradle a favorite book / on the page a grizzly bear scoops salmon from a stream / afternoon seeps through etched glass

Cowslips are also known as marsh marigolds. The photograph is mine.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Corn Crib Summer

A couple of days ago I came across this poem by Tom Hennen and knew I'd want to share it with you. I love this man's poems. They call up my own midwestern life - the experiences I had and continue to have. When I was young, my grandfather, Moses, raised sheep and I would often help move them to summer pasture so this poem evokes especially fine memories for me. Following it, is a micro-poem I recently wrote about my own corn crib summer. It's wonderful how life so often dovetails ideas, enriching them even further.

"Soaking Up Sun"

Today there is the kind of sunshine old men love, the kind of day when my grandfather would sit on the south side of the wooden corncrib where the sunlight warmed slowly all through the day like a wood stove. One after another dry leaves fell. No painful memories came. Everything was lit by a halo of light. The cornstalks glinted bright as pieces of glass. From the fields and cottonwood grove came the damp smell of mushrooms, of things going back to earth. I sat with my grandfather then. Sheep came up to us as we sat there, oily wool so warm to my fingers, like a strange and magic snow. My grandfather whittled sweet smelling apple sticks just to get at the scent. His thumb had a permanent groove in it where the back of the knife blade rested. He let me listen to the wind, the wild geese, the soft dialect of sheep, while his own silence taught me every secret thing he knew.”

~ Tom Hennen

And, my micropoem:

corn crib summer ...
floorboards lit by ribbons of sunlight
dried husks under foot
I climbed slatted walls
lay beneath the eaves

Photograph courtesy of Barbara at: and
Thank you, Barbara, for allowing me to use your photograph to illustrate my post.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

... a trail of half eaten stars

It's morning on River Road. Yes, it's the first day of spring, but it still seems a long way off from where I'm sitting. I know it can turn quickly, so I'm practicing patience and trying to stay present to what is. Before long I'll be back working in the yard, and then, a little beyond that, feeling grass beneath my bare feet. Until then, I continue to be entertained by the ongoing tussles between the birds and the squirrels on the feeder amid my never-ending appreciation for the ever-changing light. In the morning, long shadows lie across my flowers sleeping in their beds. By mid-afternoon the light has created blue snow, a reflection of the very blue sky. And, in the evening, silky ribbons of pink light fall across the back yard ~ afterglow from a setting sun.

Happy Vernal Equinox, everyone! Here are a few more micro-poems I wrote at inspired by life right outside my window:

red tailed hawk sails upriver beneath a pale grey flannel sky

evening sun gathers in the trees / fills in the rough edged bark with left over light

under the lilac tree / snowshoe rabbit sleeps / dreams of spring

pink light / through snow covered pines / evening falls

moonlight calls ~ black bears leave their dens ~ dance in the snow

from across the frozen river / coyotes summon the rising moon / under the porch light / the dog listens

early march / snowbound again ... at the bottom of the mason jar / the last piece of summer

sheathed in grey linen / birch trees ... scratching life from the sky

on her way to love / she crosses the fence line / deep footprints in the snow

... she wanders ... somewhere between the frozen field and quarter moon / behind her ... a trail of half eaten stars

chickadees sing in the crab apple tree / the hoarfrost quietly lets go / surrenders to spring

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Has Anybody Seen Yuri?

The snow continues to come down. Winter has no intention of relenting until it's good and ready, and I'm starting to feel like a character in "Dr. Zhivago." Perhaps it's just my cabin-feverish mind playing tricks on me, but I'm expecting Yuri to show up any minute in a horse drawn sleigh.

Yesterday morning, I looked out the kitchen window and framed in the upper portion were three blue jays in perfect triangulation on the bare crab apple tree next to the feeder. The combination of blue feathers, grey throats, and the gray branches they sat on, with snow drifting down around them, looked like a scene in a snow globe, lightly shaken.

I sometimes wish I could design and create snow globes, add them to the small snow globe collection I began when traveling, where the criteria seems to have been the more kitschy the better. From time to time I would look in antique stores hoping to find an old one from some intriguing place I hoped to visit one day. I never found any there, but I know someone who has a few older ones and I have often looked at them longingly. Perhaps I need to solidify our friendship.

But first, I think I'll become better acquainted with the blue jays outside my window, and maybe that pine tree, the one that appears to be wearing an ermine cape wrapped around its shoulders. I wonder if it knows when Yuri is arriving ...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

dust in the wind

... and the snow just keeps coming down. It's a winter wonderland out there, folks. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

Two black squirrels were tussling on the bird feeder this morning while the chickadees were still sleeping. They chased off two grays, duked it out after a tumble in the snow and then burrowed their way to where leftover seeds were waiting. What a fun way to start the morning. That's entertainment.

On a completely unrelated topic, this poem popped out of an anthology yesterday and I can't shake it. I could tell you a whole lot of stories that sound very much like this one, but I'll just let you guys tell yourselves your own stories, or feel free to share them here ... I bet you have some, too.

"Escape from Paradise, Iowa"

We are afraid of nothing.
At the diner,
you order a burger,
a grilled cheese for me.
We tell bad jokes,
pour salt on the table.
The waitress glares at us,
our clothes too tight,
my lipstick too red
for this small town.

This is the summer
of anger and beer.
We know everything:
how each blade of grass turns in the wind,
why the sunlight glints off the pool,
the shining of streetlights on black pavement,
the darkness of the lake at night.

At the bar
you say I am as Nordic
as blonde hair, these big bones
under the sheet of my skin
a frame for your thoughts.
I am the only one smoking.
My breath peels into the air like waves.

We have nothing in this town:
a beat-up Mustang,
a few songs on the jukebox,
the torn cover of a book you never read.
When we get in the car,
you pass me another beer.

We are scared of these random roads,
the small towns passing,
the gas tank nearly empty.
My head on your shoulder,
the eight track stuck again,
we're gonna drive this dirt road
all the way to Kansas City.

~Kathryn Kysar

Kathryn Kysar is a Minnesota poet  (1960 -   )

Image from tumblr, but no attribution was given.

Friday, March 1, 2013

What I Want to Know

"The Invitation" 

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon ...
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Painting by Winslow Homer