Sweet Pea Memories

sweetpeas-bouquet-m 2016-02-11 14.55.06

February’s frozen Wasatch sod
broke away under thrusts from
grandma’s spade,
and stiffly sweet peas from faded pods
between frosty clods were carefully laid.

“Why plants seeds under a foot of snow?”
I asked as her weathered hands
worked the row.
“The thaw will come in two months, you know;
perhaps you should wait until then to sow.”

“Glade taught me how to help sweet peas grow.”

Soon after the thaw a bouquet came–
a spring breeze stirred delicate
pastel hues.
Baby’s breath twigs graced the fragile vase;
sweet pea perfume whispered around the room.

All summer long I saw the bouquets
as they welcomed, consoled, and
brightened days.
“Couldn’t you keep some for yourself today?”
Over her shoulder I heard her say,

“God taught me to give sweet peas away.”

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Laid to Rest

rocky gap

You were laid to rest today,
and you would laugh, wouldn’t you,
at that phrase,
knowing full well
it would be the only way
for you to rest?

Rarely did I see you rest
until your body and mind
so declined
that little option was left,
and it wasn’t, of course,
your choice—
it was the dictate
of your dementia.

Before then,
it was full-time work
at Frisch’s, then Webber’s and Sailor’s,
hostess, butcher for over 30 years,
and that was just the paid work;
what about taking care of dad
for over 50 years,
and raising four kids,
and then adopting three more,
when the first four
were all but grown and gone;
what about the house cleaning,
laundry, ironing, cooking all the meals,
packing all lunches, washing dishes by hand;
what about making all the holidays
so special even when we never had much;
what about serving and teaching
in the church all your life;
what about reading us stories;
what about studying scriptures religiously;
what about writing poetry;
what about Teeny Tiny Tea Parties;
what about Joy Boxes;
what about that car wreck
that almost killed you
and physical therapy for months
to recover movement and energy;
what about always looking
to serve the poor,
when we would say,
“But we’re poor!” and you’d say,
“There’s always somebody poorer.”

No, “rest” and “mom”
were never closely associated
until today,
as I stared at that shiny box
and then that upturned earth
under which it now lay,
and I thought,
finally mom,
you can rest,
in peace,
though, I thought,
knowing you,
you’re probably dragging dad
to and fro
in the spirit world,
seeking family and friends,
teaching, citing poetry,
signing up for celestial choir,
enjoying the new carefree,
mortality free energy;
because who can rest
when there’s so much to do anyway?

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Let Me Read Ya’ Something

bookcase

There was always a chorus
of adolescent groans
whenever you said,
“Let me read ya’ something.”

Okay, maybe not
the first time you said it,
but every time,
the hundreds of times,
you repeated it
through the years.

It was usually
at the height
of a disagreement
of perspectives
on politics
or history
or doctrine
or social issues,
when you would raise
your voice
ever so slightly
and say,
as you reached for a tome
from the bookcase,
“Let me read ya’ something.”

Like this would settle the matter,
because your reasoning
was based on your reading,
and the authority
of published authors
had to be respected,
and would be harder to dispute
than the reasoning of our father.

The groans said it all;
we wouldn’t concede
just because
someone
sometime
somewhere
had written
something
you construed to support
your reasoning.

After all,
we were adolescents;
we knew everything;
we didn’t respect authority
like you did.

But, that didn’t stop you;
it seemed
like you had read
something
about
everything
we discussed,
so,
there was always
an occasion
to say,
“Let me read ya’ something.”

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A Lullaby for Baby Guy

Night Sky 1

The glowing moon
high in the dark sky,
the twinkling stars
are winking at Guy.

Little Guy snug
in mama’s strong arms
nods off to sleep
tucked safely and warm.

Sleep gently Guy
may all of your dreams
be kissed by light
of gentle moon beams.

When morning comes
and the sun breaks through
mom and dad smile
and will care for you.

God the Father,
watching from above,
bless this small house
and fill it with love.

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House of the Bleeding Tongue

House of the Bleeding Tongue

I have only a foggy recollection of the house on the outskirts of Cumberland, Maryland. It was on a hill, that much I remember, and to this day I carry the bumpy scar on my tongue as evidence. There was a flight of ten to twelve cement steps carved in the hill from the street level to the small house. It was there one day when I was four that my older brother, Ben, my senior by seventeen months, convinced me to ride down those steps in our Red Flyer. He was persuasive. He did it first and the jolting ride looked convincingly fun. He pulled the wagon up the hill. He showed me how to steer with the handle. This was long before wagons had been redesigned with their modern safety features. I got in and he gave the wagon a shove and I went barreling down the steps.

It was fun until all the delightful jarring and bouncing came to an abrupt stop at the bottom. I had bounced to the front of the wagon, all the while holding the handle with both hands in a death grip. My weight in the front of the wagon made the wagon nosedive off the last step onto the cement landing and the wagon tongue jammed into the cement. My body’s forward momentum was stopped by the sharp-edged, metal wagon handle wedging itself firmly in my mouth. I still don’t know how I managed to slice only my tongue and not knock out all my front teeth in the process.

I remember the blood very well. My throbbing tongue was pumping out a steady, heavy stream of blood with every beat of my heart. By the time I climbed back up the hill with my brother’s help, screaming all the while, my mother had run outside to discover the cause of the commotion. I still can see the look on her face. At the sight of me it seemed all the blood drained from her face and went right into my mouth. I was covered in blood down the front of my shirt, spewing a fountain of red from my mouth, and crying and screaming at the same time. She scooped me up by the waist and rushed me inside through the small, front sitting room to the kitchen sink, as I watched blood drip on the linoleum floor the whole way.

At the sink she held my head over the basin, turned on the cold water spigot, and splashed water on my face as I continued dripping blood onto the white porcelain enamel. The dramatic image of the red blood hitting the bright white is burned in my memory. She didn’t ask me any questions. She must have known I couldn’t answer them anyway. She told me to open my mouth, and swish a mouthful of water around and spit it out, so she could get a look inside around all the blood. I did it, and it hurt even more, and the bleeding did not stop. I can still feel the throbbing of my heart in my tongue fifty years later.

Mom was able to spy the only damage done was a mean slice on the top of my tongue, in the middle, about half an inch from the tip. She stood me on a chair over the sink and told me to rinse again while she went to grab a clean dish towel. I did not rinse. She washed my face again when she returned a few seconds later. She told me to open my mouth and she pressed a gathered corner of the towel to the gouge on my tongue. That hurt, too, but she would have none of my fussing, insisting the towel stay where it was. That towel tip got soaked through quickly, and, in short order, so were the other three corners. The bleeding began to slow but it was clearly far from being stanched. She had come prepared with a few more towels. She made me rinse after each soaked corner and it seemed the torture would never end. Finally, after the third or fourth towel, the bleeding began to slow and so did my sobbing. It seemed I wasn’t going to bleed out and die after all, which I had convinced myself was going to happen.

She carried me to the front room and laid me on the yellow vinyl sofa with a clean towel in my mouth. She returned shortly with an aluminum ice cube tray, lifted the metal handle on the tray to loosen the ice cube compartments, handed me half an ice cube and told me to suck on it while pressing it against my tongue. That, too, sounded painful, but there was no sense protesting since I couldn’t speak to voice my concern.

To my surprise, the ice felt good in my burning mouth and seemed to numb the pain in my tongue a bit. The metallic taste of blood from swallowing the melted ice water was odd. When the first half ice cube was gone, I took another, and worked my way through most of the tray over the next hour or so, till the bleeding had mostly stopped.

Band-Aids or bandages of any kind are hard to keep on a tongue. I tried. And eating with a slice on the tongue is not pleasant. I spent the next several days with a clean dish towel handy, sucking on a lot of ice, and eating mostly pureed foods and nothing solid I would have to chew. The cut opened up and bled on occasion, especially if I wasn’t careful enough about talking very little or eating very cautiously. You’re never really conscious of how much your tongue moves and contorts when you speak and eat until it hurts and bleeds when you do it. So, for several days I was mostly a towel- and ice-sucking mute.

Ben was very solicitous those several days. I am confident he got a stern lecture about endangering his little brothers. It stuck with him for a while but it would not be the last time our older brother led us into escapades. Oddly, though, after that sliced tongue incident, I don’t recall any significant losses of blood during my childhood, except for several incidents when Ben, usually the ring leader, was the victim. I never needed stitches. He got stitches on his cheek, his hand, his knee, and all down his forearm, all on separate occasions. Later he broke a collar bone playing dodgeball in gym class. A few years after school, working at a factory, as our father did, he sliced off the end of a finger, as our father had also done. As for me, I came off relatively unscathed except for the tongue incident, especially if you ignore the small scar on my forehead from where Ben hit me with a tossed brick as we cleaned out the drainage ditch in front of our new house in Ohio. I’m pretty sure that was an accident, too.

My memory of that first house and its environs is framed by that single, unforgettable event of my early childhood. The hill, the flight of cement steps, the small front room with its linoleum floor and vinyl sofa, and the kitchen with its white porcelain enamel sink are the elements I remember. I don’t remember the bedroom I must have shared with my brothers. I do not remember the bathroom. I only remember the scenes framed by pain and blood.

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A Walk with Robert

Ruddles Cove

Robert?
May I call you Robert?

Of course, that is my name;
better to call me Robert than
Hezekiah, don’t you think?

There used to be a farm here,
gentle, rolling grass, dandelions,
muddy fields and ponds,
a firefly show every June, and
a farmer named Roscoe Ruddle,
an authentic old timer.
He had cows,
and weathered, calloused hands,
and a ready smile.

I like him already.

He let us board our horse here
free.
But he got old.

As farmers are wont to do.

Yes, too old to care for this land alone.
So his kids moved him away,
first the cows, then Roscoe.

As farmers’ kids are wont to do.

And soon he passed.

A farmer’s heart is in the plow and herd—
rip it out and it withers
and dies.

The rolling hills laid fallow a while,
empty barn, empty house on the hill,
fences in disrepair.
It was sad.

There are ghosts on empty farms,
milking spirit cows and walking the fence line,
And maybe woodland sprites, knocking over posts,
and tearing slats from barn doors.

It wasn’t long before a sign went up:
“Coming Soon: Ruddle’s Cove
Quality Estates – 9 sites available.”

With all the farmers
turning over in their graves
around here, it is a small wonder
it doesn’t register as a seismic event.

They tore down the fences,
drained the ponds,
staked out home sites.

Flagellation and bloodletting
and daggers
to the heart of famers’ ghosts.

They paved the long, winding stone driveway,
and planted sod, and left.

Lay the headstone and plant over the grave.
May this farm rest in peace.

I doubt that, Robert.
You see the mini-mansions already built,
the last few under construction,
all sold, most occupied.
Peace fled this land with the roaming deer.

You’re right, of course—
it was just a figure of speech,
something I felt
I needed to say.

I understand, Robert.
Tell me, did you see this in your New England?

I caught a glance, askance,
but I maintained my fences,
kept stone on stone,
good neighbors, and all that.

I remember.

It is hard to stem the tide
of man’s ambition and greed,
with wistful nostalgia of
simpler times.

We’ve lost something here,
something sacred, I feel.
And now there is word
that yet another tract of homes
will go up soon beyond those back woods,
where once we plinked at targets with .22s
without worry.

I still hear the echoing of ricochets.

That would be the rod and gun club,
just up the road, nearly 400 acres of
riverfront property,
where guns still blaze daily.
I don’t even hear those guns now,
after all these years.

I was accused of tuning out
in my day,
and I liked that description.
I had to tune out the noise
to write what I wrote, you see.

I do the same.
But this blight on the land,
has me so distracted,
so altered,
I can’t seem to tune it out.
It violates my rationale
for living here,
the lure of quiet,
remoteness,
that brought us here
nearly 20 years ago.

What will you do?

I don’t know, Robert, I don’t know.

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A Lunch Hour Walk in Washington, DC

I saw a girl with purple hair
and vivid violet lips,
and thought this look so suited her,
I stared and nearly tripped.

Two lovers argued face to face
with words as sharp as knives.
Then he surrendered with embrace,
and there they stayed entwined.

A bike messenger flew by fast
singing the Marseillaise.
His loud shout as he passed,
“L’étendard sanglant est levé!”

A school of suits and leather shoes
swam by in harried haste.
Power lunches with lots of booze
Seemed de rigueur today.

A hawker barked, “New ‘Street Sense’ news!
Two dollars we suggest.
Help the homeless, please do,
Good day and may God bless.”

A homeless man asked help for food,
just a snack to get by.
I bought him a bowl of beef stew
and slice of apple pie.

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