|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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
“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.
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,
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.
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,
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