There is but a shadow, a wisp, a hint

of the vibrancy she once possessed.

The grip and the hugs are still strong,

desperate almost, as if clinging to hope.


But the mind, ah, the mind slumbers.

There is a flash of unsure recognition,

a quick hug that gets even tighter

when I call her “mom” and tell her my name.


“It’s so good to see you,” she says,

the first of the score of times

she’ll tell me the same this afternoon.

“It’s good to see you, too, mom—you look great.”


She who once was always the first to talk,

must almost be prompted now to speak,

and most often repeats what she just heard.

“You’re still strong,” I tell her.

“I’m still strong,” she says.


She enjoys a ride in the car,

perhaps an escape from the routine.

She still eats well, if a bit messily

since her dentures were taken away

to prevent the manic behavior and drooling.

She enjoys going for walks, slowly, silently.

She loves holding hands.


She rocks back and forth as she sits on her bed,

and cocks her head close to the pages

of the book I brought, and reads in a clear

but halting voice, looking up after every few sentences,

as if seeking approval that she read well.

But looking up makes it hard to find her place,

and she reads the same paragraph aloud three times.


She always loved to read,

and seems to enjoy it still,

although it’s hard to tell now

if she really understands what she reads.

I know she won’t remember it.


I consider wryly the title of the book I gifted,

“It Is Better to Look Up,” inspirational quotes,

as she who once faced boldly all who crossed her path,

now keeps her gaze mostly down, within herself.


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HER Dreams

Ethiopian night sky
There are more dreams
in the minds of young women
than stars that dot the black Ethiopian sky.

One dreams of the healing arts,
another of justice and human rights.
One dreams of numbers, ordered and fair,
another dreams of the stage and applause,
One dreams of guiding young minds to learning,
another dreams of peace and global understanding.

And why not dream?
The future is the realm of dreamers,
and those who chase their dreams
make the imagined future real.

Yet, it is not enough to dream alone;
only dreamers who work hard,
whose passion and energy are applied,
who prepare with single-mindedness,
only these see their dreams realized.

What is it about HER
that helps dreams come alive?
There is a hope in HER
that once was dormant
but now shines brightly;
a hope that once unlikely dreams
may not be so unlikely after all.

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All Flesh is Grass

 Flowers on a grave

All flesh is grass,

as seasons pass

it withers, decays, and then sleeps,

to awaken when Spring rains rise

and caress its roots stretching deep.


All flowers fade

that grace the grave,

their beautiful petals will fall,

returning elements to earth,

the same that happens to us all.


All glory dies,

as light leaves eyes,

when the heart and soul separate,

only our minds transcend through time,

to travel to a higher state.


The word of God,

the iron rod,

endures, forever more will stand,

all else will die, all else will fade,

over all God sustains his hand.

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Flat fields and plentiful rains—

this was, after all, called at one time

the Great Black Swamp—

meant ditches lined the fields and roads

to catch the runoff

and channel it safely away to

snaking creeks and rivers.


Mostly dry and benign,

these straight line gashes in the earth

could swell to muddy torrents,

rolling ribbons of brown,

eight feet deep after soaking rains.


Ditches for us kids were fun and work,

full of frogs, snakes, and even fish sometimes,

but also easily cluttered after a storm

with stones, branches, and litter

that had to be cleared,

especially from the large pipe

running under our driveway,

to prevent future flooding.


Many summer days we spent

hiking the ditches,

searching for specimens,

mud sucking off and swallowing our shoes,

or casting sticks or paper boats

when the water ran high,

to see whose won the race

from one end of the pipe

to the other.


Ditches also swallowed balls

tossed inadvertently

and regurgitated reluctantly,

and opened their jaws

for bike and car crashes,

the latter almost always

occasioning the arrival of a

friendly farmer with a tractor and chain.


Ditch jumping,

especially when the water was running,

was a childhood sport,

a running start and flying leap

to try to land high enough on the opposite bank

to avoid slip sliding down into the muck.


I suppose we were fortunate,

for all the time we spent slopping about

in ditches

full of fertilizer- and pesticide-soaked runoff,

and occasional septic tank overflows,

to avoid dysentery and

a host of infections

that would otherwise have spoiled

all the fun.

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“Bus Just Stoppped at Rosebrocks!”

school bus

“Bus just stopped at Rosebrocks!”

It was the window watcher’s call

early on school mornings,

when four children were rushing about,

gobbling down Corn Flakes, packing lunches,

stuffing books in bags,

shrugging on sweaters or coats, and

running combs or brushes through bed hair.

First one done with all or most of these tasks

took up station at the west sewing room window.


The Rosebrocks, closest neighbor to the west,

lived half a mile up Buckskin Road,

and when the bus stopped there

and lit up the red flashing lights

we knew we had two to three minutes at most

to be in place on the south side of Buckskin

across from the mailbox, ready for pick up.


It was bad form to be rushing out of the house

as the bus was pulling up, and heaven forbid,

if no one was ready and the bus driver

laid on the loud, impatient, petulant horn—

that precipitated a melee of shouting, grabbing, running

and jeers or laughter from kids already on the bus.


But our driveway was short.

The real sport happened at the Crites’ farm,

last stop on Farmer-Mark Road before school,

with its quarter-mile-long driveway

and three brothers who seemed to relish

the bus driver’s blaring horn,

and the mad sprint down the driveway,

with kids on the bus cheering on the runners

and congratulating the winner as he mounted the steps

sucking in large gasps of air.


I decided then I was thankful

for fair warning of the bus’s approach

and a short driveway.

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Do Hogs Go to Heaven?

pig skeleton


Humid summer mornings

were the worst,

especially when a slight southwesterly breeze,

carried the stench of hundreds of hogs

over the mile of fields to our yard

from the landlord’s farm.


It was a stifling, oppressive, nauseating smell,

odiferous fingers clutching our throats

and putrid fists pummeling our nostrils.

I always wondered how the landlord’s kids

even survived on that farm—

if it smelled so from a mile away,

surely they had to wear gas masks

at ground zero.


I hiked through the corn field one day,

to the woods a half mile away

between our small plot and the landlord’s house

(he owned all this property),

and found there during my walk

at one edge of the woods

a pile of complete pig skeletons,

some large, some small,

maybe ten or twenty total,

all jumbled together

no doubt dumped from a

front end loader,

not even buried,

just plopped there

to rot and decay

and be eaten by buzzards and bugs.


These would be the sick ones,

the injured ones,

I guessed,

culled from the herd

and disposed of unceremoniously,

and certainly with little concern

for hygiene or the environment

or the assault of the offal

on the sensitive nostrils of rural kids.


And I wondered,

do hogs go to heaven?

And, if so, do they stink there, too,

or does God have a way

to keep heaven spotless and

to stop pigs from stinking?


It was a gruesome scene,

but I was used to seeing dead animals

in the wild

(though not usually piles of them),

so it wasn’t particularly upsetting,

and it certainly didn’t stop me

from savoring mom’s

fried pork chops and pan gravy for dinner.


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Creek Walk


All you needed was a pair of water shoes

or, in our case, a pair of old sneakers.

You didn’t mind getting soaked.

From there, you just rolled up your pant legs,

if you weren’t already wearing shorts,

or cut-off jeans,

and you were ready for creek walking.


The cold, clear creek water

rushing past our ankles,

and sometimes our calves,

was refreshing on hot summer days,

and minnows

skittered about as we stepped.


The swiftly running water

over time tumbled smooth

many small stones,

of shiny earth tones, and these

we collected as precious gems.


Turning over larger stones

often let loose a crayfish,

a special find if you were quick enough

to grab him before he scuttled away.


If you had an aquarium net

and a small bucket

you could carry home a crayfish

and maybe some minnows.


It was a simple pleasure,

the creek walk,

a pastime of a slower time,

a way to connect to the

water and stones and

creek creatures.

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