Sweeping, Summer Musing, or How Summer Celebrates Death

My brain is quiet. My heart still. This is a summer rambling. For when the cat’s got your tongue. Or mine. And thus I sweep.

Just ask the girls. If they see me sweeping, it does not occur to them that perhaps there was dust or pet hair or sand on the floor, and it needed to be swept up. No, they think, “What’s wrong?” “Mom’s stressed.” “Who’s in trouble?”

I do not know how or when it started, but there is something about sweeping when I’m uptight that seems to be a mainstay Anne Marie behavior. Whether it is a tense moment with the girls, I sweep. An upsetting phone call, I sweep. My mother’s dying, I sweep. My house was well swept during the divorce years. My house seems to be swept well this summer.

If all else fails, during tough times, I get sweeping, and I will have clean floors. The inner thinking, so deep and certainly not in a transcribable language, deep inside my brain, if I could see it, must look like this:

What can I control? What can I control? Dust. I can control dust. Sweep. 

At work I don’t sweep, but I’ll file, straighten the piles on my desk. Or take a walk. I guess we all have our thing. I had a boss who brought in flowers and would take a bit of time arranging them in small vases about the work place. We all knew she was avoiding something, overthinking something . . .

I have a friend who bakes. Anything. Everything. When cookies arrive at odd times for no reason from her? I know she is stressed. Another friend who gardens. We all receive bouquets when stress hits.

My ex-husband would run. And run. And run. There must have been a whole lot of stress when he trained for and then ran a marathon.

There are those, of course, who smoke or drink, or those who do housework or yard work, or feed the donkeys. Or write. Or think. Or sweep. Like me. I’m a sweeper.

Currently, even sweeping is not doing it for me. What can I control? So little. I sweep the garage. Concentric circles, until I have a pile in the middle. Swoop it up. Swept.

I’ve little to write about, obviously, as I’ve little to think about because I’m so busy thinking about whatever it is that I think about. All day long. Not what I want to think about. Does that make sense, I ask, thinking of my colleague who asks this question after every few sentences all day long. Does that make sense?

Is her line of inquiry indicative of her own lack of confidence, or a simple disbelief that her listener is following or can follow? I nod, and I give her great breadth of empathy and understanding in this little communication habit of hers.

She is a woman of true reluctance and self-doubt, a woman of tremendous brilliance and verve. She walks each day, breathes each and every breath, with the trepidation that appears to rest upon the souls of any parent whom I have ever met who has lost a child. She, her eldest son to the Afghanistan war.

There is no sweeping for this.

Sometimes the grief/anger watches from behind her eyes like an arched-back cat ready to pounce upon any misplaced sentiment regarding war or patriotism or even the notion of giving. “I know giving,” she tells me. “My son gave his life to this country, and I gave my son to this country. Don’t talk to me about giving she says. Does that make sense?

I am a fundraiser. I talk about giving.

Or sweeping.

Or thinking. I am thinking about how every summer kicks off with remembering. Memorial Day. I spent mine with my oldest daughter and our weekend was not about remembering but planning, or so we thought, planning her wedding. We focused on future, but can one plan a future, the future, any future anything without considering the past?

Take a wedding, for instance. We talked about mine to her father. We talked about my niece’s two years ago. We talked about my parents’. We remembered things we’ve read about weddings, or heard or said or wondered or imagined about weddings, we brought the past, inevitably, into our discussion about the future. We drove to the wedding site only to pass abandoned buildings, homes, an entire mining operation. (I live in an old copper mining town). Celebrations of future blend with past.

Memorial Day, a day to remember. The fallen. My colleague spent that weekend travelling to Phoenix for a military memorial service. “I go every year,” she says. It makes sense.

I sweep the kitchen. Working hard to accurately angle the bristles, I am certain I can get all the crumbs, bits, pieces. Broccoli. Dog food. Cashews. All of that which hides out in the little cave that runs under the lower cupboards. A long dark space of gathering. A hallway of meal and snack archives. Remembering. What did she have for dinner last Tuesday. I will find control.

I am thinking about how a summer that begins with remembering then continues to Father’s Day, another day of remembering.  In this time of life, of summer, of fruit stands and farmers markets and vacation and heat and celebration and so much living. We remember. So many people wrote and shared about the fathers they have lost.

I thought mostly about the the fathers who have lost a child. Father’s Day feels like a slap, perhaps, to them. An in-your-face boast. A nah nah nah nah nah. I say Happy Father’s Day to them, those fathers, but it is with hesitation. While I believe them to be good dads, they deem themselves futile. Does that make sense?

I sweep in my dreams. Repeating of late. Each night. And later on each day when I pass my bed on the way to the closet or bathroom, I remember the dreams. All over again. I dream that I walk into a house, and discover a room. The room. The hidden room. The room that I forgot. The room that makes me feel warm and welcome and comfortable. A room that is no longer mine but that I get to visit. Perhaps have again. Often there are things wrong. Broken doors or windows. Or furniture. I think about how I can repair and clean. Restore. Sweep.

Does this dream, do these rooms–that I forget about and then discover again, always with a sense of awe, sentimentality and nostalgia–represent the novel I am not writing? The friends I have not reached? The relationships I have not closed? Or is it just a room. Rooms. Because I have not cleaned my house. Because I have rooms to clean and sweep.

Adrienne Rich says have one. Have a room of one’s own. I have eight. Lucky me. I use only half on any given day. The other half on any other given day. I have given, my colleague says. More than a day, certainly. Does that makes sense.

I dream of houses large and full of broken
windows and floors but I am thrilled to
have finally found a place where I belong
how did I forget about this I wonder
as I wander about and measure for beds
and move sheets of linoleum, latch casements
pick up shards of ceramic coffee cups
and decide where the dog
will sleep and the

I sweep the patio. I think that maybe it is the heat. The heat, or the darkened house, that leads to this pause. I am in a pause. A hot pause. Not meno-. Just hot.

I posted about the heat. I write about the heat. I am trying to master the heat. This week the heat softened with the monsoons.* Yet while the temperatures are lower, outside, the temperature inside my house seems not to have noticed. It seems to be in a consistent state of tightly squeezing the heat in a big bear hug. As if to say, I love you heat, I love you and I missed you, don’t go. This makes no sense. I sweep the porch, it is so cool.

I think about the two eagles watching the muddy river. High and brown and happy. Both. The eagles and the river. They scream at each other, a young one, and its mother. Eagle screams are like children on a playground. I check to see if there are any. Children on the playground. There are not. It’s the eagles. Surely they’ve swept out the nest.

The Verde River is brown. Ha. The green river.

It splashes fast and far below the birds. I think of how quiet they have been, the eagles and the river. Summer brings out the scream and the roar. Like a lion. Summer heat and rain and thinking about nothing else but what I am thinking about.

I sweep up tufts of cat hair. Dog hair. My hair. All us old mammals losing our hair. I think of how tired, downcast, and heavy people seem recently. Shiny. Clad in as little clothing, or very little clothing, as possible. Then I see the fallen horse. Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The river ran through the park apparently. Then receded. One horse down. The summer is a time of witnessing. Skin. Pelts. Water. And dust.

I think about the tarantula I discover hiding behind a pot of snap dragons. A hairy creature as big as my hand and snoozing. Or thinking. Thinking about how annoying it is that this human pulled out this pot of snap dragons to rearrange the pots in order to sweep so she could think through things. Humans make no sense thinks this arachnid.

The sun is less present, hidden, like a room I have yet to find, behind clouds, or dreams. The spider wants to build a private room and I have interrupted. I am sorry. I was just thinking. Go back to your dreams. I am sure they make more sense than mine.

I am thinking about how thinking keeps me from thinking what I want to think about. Or write about. It is not writer’s block I suffer, it is a thinking block. I shut off my brain. I bring it back to quiet. My heart to still. I sweep.

When the news of the world hurts and it does. When leadership does not know quiet or still or think. When the world throws hard balls fast and I have never been an athlete, never learned how to catch, I close my eyes, I always have, when the ball is headed my way.

They laughed at me on the intramural team I joined in 1972. “No, you have to keep your eyes open when the ball comes to you,” the coach said as kindly as she could. With a bit of pity and a bit of scorn, but mostly an outright bemusement for it never occurred to her that there was a person on the planet who would join a team, don a baseball mitt, pick up a bat, ready to swing . . . and then close her eyes when the bad news came my way. Close my eyes and go quiet. Like a tarantula. Like a dream of hidden sunshine or rooms. Like a father missing his child. Senseless. Just sweep.

Then summer brings us to the day of celebrating all things American. United States. Patriotism. Independence. Freedom. And I close my eyes.

I spend the day helping a friend clip the rubbery growth on the hooves of her donkeys to  free them from pain as they walk around the dusty pen. Free them from pain as my friend looks around and with a sweeping motion of her heart tells me this is all his. Her deceased husband’s. He is free now of the work on this New Mexican ranchita they built together over nearly 20 years. And she sees no relenting, no freedom, from the grip that grief has on her thin shoulders.

The worry and the moving, the moving from one chore, one task, one meal, one day to the next, one at a time. She fears there is no freedom from his death. And she is right. We cannot be free from death. Independence Day celebrates freedom and never before in my life have I seen freedom questioned or scorned or defied or embraced as I did this day. My country. This grief.

She leaned against the donkey as he ate the grain, she grabbed his leg, bent it at the knee, gave the leg to me, I held it, strong, she took the clipper, large enough to pull off a toe, and pinched the growth on the bottom of his hoof and it was gone. Free. She gave the animal freedom from pain. Rubbery growth gone. Back to strident hoof. Freedom. Does that make sense?

Now I think about the monsoons. How these rains bring freedom from heat. From stifling. Stifle. There are those who complain. Too hot. Too cold. Too wet. Too dry. Too humid. Too perfect.

There are those who complain about their kids. And those who have none. Kids or complaints. There are those who complain about their husbands or donkeys or tarantulas and the donkey and tarantula did not complain. And the husband died.

I sweep my way into the dog days of summer. Sirius. Serious humidity. I sweep my way through this desert life. Rife with river and small lizards skittering about, up, down and around the walls of my house. Across the windowsill of each room. The dog chased them. Dug for them. Realized how futile it was. The cat watches them.

It will be Labor Day soon. A national ode to working. Sweeping. I want to be a tarantula hiding behind the snap dragons. Does that make sense?

It is time to sweep. Again. It is slow warm summer. My brain is still. My heart quiet. I’ve so little to say. Too much thinking. Death. The floors all dust free.


Photos from Pixabay.com; http://arachnoboards.com/threads/awesome-hides.293827/; from Michelle; and and the bad blurry ones are from yours truly.

(For you readers who may not know the rains, the southwest, the monsoons, here is a quick article. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Monsoon.)


Surviving at 103 – Degrees that is, Farenheit

Or Rules for Cools

How could I have forgotten about this? This thing? This heat? As in living in it. As in the bulk of my waking hours, and some of my sleeping hours, being focused on it? Actually, focused on staying cool. Avoiding sweat. How can sweat surprise me?

Perhaps I did not remember this potentially all-consuming life style after having lived in Flagstaff, Arizona at 7200 feet for 17 years. Where the focus of my days was quite often getting warm. Bringing every ounce of sunshine into my house. Relishing a sun-warmed car, which I had purposely parked so the windshield faced the brightest direction, so at the end of my errand or visit or day I was welcomed by warmth. I loved warmth.

Now it is all turned around. I am not welcomed by nor do I welcome warmth. It is confounding me. This thing. This heat thing.

Once upon a time, many years ago I lived in the desert and I knew heat. For 12 years. Las Cruces, New Mexico. Where it was hot. Really really hot. Just about as hot as it is here in my new little town. Cottonwood.  Arizona. High desert. 3300 feet. Where at least two months of the year are spent running from heat. Hiding from it. Deterring it. Redirecting. I had forgotten it.

Perhaps on purpose.

Grocery stores are crowded in the morning. Streets are empty in the afternoon. The rec center is packed all the time. I do more laundry. I drink more fluids. The dog is under the bed. The cat is under a different bed. I cannot touch the outside of my own house. It will hurt my hand. I complain.

Wait. Stop. Don’t.

Aha! The memories are returning. That thing. That thing that I survived. Yes! I remember now!

I survived the heat of summers in southern New Mexico by following rules. The first one? No complaining. Absolutely none. It does nothing to keep you cool. In fact, inevitably, it makes you hotter. In fact, it makes the room hotter. I see a person’s cheeks flush when they say, “Damn it’s hot.” Perspiration grows on their lip when they say, “Sure is hot out!”

It could be that they are standing in 103 degree sunshine. Or it could just be complaining. Stop it. Refraining from complaining will keep you cool. And there’s more.

Rules for Cools

  1. Check on the ice. Make sure it is frozen. Check on it often.
  2. Grab a popsicle while you are there.
  3. DON’T cut your hair short. Nope. Wrong! Keep it long. You can’t get short hair off your neck or forehead or away from your ears.
  4. Avoid looking at a thermometer between 8am and 8pm  Don’t look at your phone, your computer, don’t ask anyone, and turn off the radio! Numbers make you sweat profusely when they soar towards triple digits. Stop it.
  5. Remember Patagonia. Remember the Arctic. Remember them when you are checking on the ice. Grab another popsicle.eric-welch-251400-unsplash
  6.  Ahhhhhh. Just stare at images of the arctic. I’m feeling cooler already.
  7. If you have to wear a bra, choose one that separates your boobs and holds them up. Little pockets of pooling salt water are bad. Bad. Lift and  separate, girls.
  8. Guys, I don’t know what you can do to lift ’em, but if there is a way, get them out of the way.
  9. Or simply do as Joey Tribbiani from Friends always did. Go commando.
  10. Do outdoor things before 8 am. Or after 8 pm. Otherwise, stay indoors. Duh, right? Do you know how many people I see running? Walking their dog? At 103????
  11. Offer your stupid neighbors ice.thermomenter
  12. Forget efficiency. The environment. It’s okay. LOVE your AC or swamp cooler.
  13. Remember single digit utility bills from last winter. When the rest of the country was paying hundreds of dollars for heat, and you were sitting on your patio drinking coffee at 68 degrees. Turn on the AC and afford it!
  14. Do not take your dog for a walk no matter how eagerly and sad he looks at you. Don’t buy it. He can wait until after 8pm like everyone else. Or everyone else who has a brain.
  15. Check on your dog. If you’re not walking him, he’s under the bed. Consider joining him. Bring ice.
  16. Remember Michigan. Remember the frozen boogers of walking to school at 7 am in the winter. Wind chills. Frozen snot. Ahhhhhh.5a4fe5003ac3f.image
  17. Get rid of your high-end, silky, 800 thread ct, stick-to-your-skin-when-you’re-hot sheets. Really? Go for Percale. 250 ct. Cool crisp and just like Grandma’s fresh off the line.
  18. Compare your life to people who live in Phoenix. Or Las Vegas. Baton Rouge. Bullhead City. Feel blessed. Laugh. Ha! At least it’s not 120. Repeat often.
  19. Imagine THEIR utility bills, and crank that AC!
  20. Eat cold chocolate. Keep it in the fridge. Or the freezer. Then, when you check on the ice, you can grab some chocolate. Eat it often.
  21. Chocolate makes you ‘be’ whatever you need to be. Be smarter? Chocolate! Be Prettier? Chocolate. COOLER? Chocolate!!!!
  22. Remember the ice caves of Flagstaff. Hold that image in your brain. Close your eyes. Stay there for a bit. Yes.ice on eldon
  23. Ice cream is allowed on all diets when it’s 103. Even 93. Or 83. 73 could be pushing it. But definitely 103. Have multiple flavors on hand. Check on them often. And the ice. Make sure it is frozen. emma-goldsmith-667225-unsplash
  24. Get out of those stupid stretch pants. Good God, women. Linen. Baggy loose fitting lovely, lovely linen. Wrinkles? What wrinkles? Quit adding more skin to the skin you want to shed. Linen. Yards and yards of linen.
  25. Or cotton. Or nudity. Yards and yards of it.
  26. Linen sheets. They’re expensive. So what? Shop smart. Shop for cool.
  27. Drink everything cold. Water. Wine. Whatever. If you can’t handle it cold, sensitive teeth? (Really? Whatever). Don’t drink it. Don’t like iced coffee? Eat frozen chocolate. Don’t like cold red? Don’t be stupid. Drink it or switch to white. IT’S 103!!!!
  28. Eat cold foods. Strawberry soup. Avocado soup. Gazpacho soup. Ice soup. Check on the ice.monika-grabkowska-667454-unsplash
  29. Popsicles. Popsicles. Popsicles. Do I need to say it again?
  30. Any sicle. Fudgsicle. Icicle. Freeze Pops.
  31. Freeze blueberries. Grapes. Raspberries. Choclate chips. Cheerios. Grab a handful when …. you ….
  32. Check on the ice!
  33. Wear cold jewelry. Keep your pearls in the freezer. Refreeze throughout the day.
  34. Keep your shoes in the freezer. Socks. Bras. Refreeze throughout the day. (Probably don’t do this at work.)arunas-naujokas-590857-unsplash
  35. Check on the ice.
  36. Don’t look. You’re tempted. But, don’t. No matter how much you think you are dying to know. You do not need to know. Knoweldge is not power. 103 usually looks the same. 103. But sometimes it looks worse. 105. 107. Don’t look until after 8pm. Then you can look.
  37. Get it out of your system, when it says 71, feast your eyes. Then look away. It will change soon enough.
  38. Stay cool, my friends.
  39. Be cool.Excess-Fridge-Ice-

Photos from unsplash; southbendtribune.com; http://blog.espares.co.uk/espares; https://www.storyblocks.com/s

Steamer Trunk

vessel lake huron.jpg

Steamer Trunk

The gap in the ground
yawned like a toothless mouth
waiting for teeth
waiting for the box
of her bones
aligned and perfumed
like sundries in a steamer trunk.

Her death certificate stamped
like a passport in her pocket
currency exchanged
and shiny new pennies
leveled on her closed eyes
ready to go.

How far away
did we have to go
before the crew,
their gloved hands
holding shovels like oars,
knew they could swoop
in from the trees
cast off dock lines
and launch that perfect
polished vessel.

Hook it up
swing it over
drop it down
release enough
then scoop
then the rest
then again
scoop by scoop by scoop
rearrange the polite dirt
no longer sweating
underneath yesterday’s tarp
damp with rain
tamp it down
on titanium then
christen it with sod.

How far from that site
did we have to walk
before we learned
how ill-prepared we were
for the re-arrangement
that grief would procure
upon every single step
we took, each breath;
how unfamiliar with cemetery
tripping hazards-
sprinkler heads
crushed roses
and gravestones the size
of shoe boxes.

Image found at https://pixels.com/featured/hard-to-starboard-captain-bud-robinson.html

A Tiger’s Game, Detroit, 08-07-06

tigers 2

A Tiger’s Game, Detroit, 08-07-06*
        for Pat and Mary

Fifth, sixth, and seventh
we sat in a row, like innings,
siblings on bar stools
we ordered tequila, rum
and cold Canadian beer
to cool us on our way
down the unyielding call
of memory lane

Tiger fans roared behind us
oblivious to August’s wet sun
dipping into the blue promise
of a cool evening, the Detroit River
muddy but reflecting the end
of a hot day and wavering concrete
quieted outside the pub’s windows
as we watched the scoreless skyline
another round and we touched base

Tall tales gushed like street showers
from the corner fire hydrant
Chalfonte and Prevost
we told the one about throwing stones
dumb and hard at bee hives
or pushing rocks inside the mud pies
to fling at a neighbor’s garage
or playing ball in the Feeney’s
big back yard, and how, we laughed,
I was never any good

And then there were
Sunday morning adventures
when mom and dad slept late
before church so we tipped couches
to make castles, covered lamps
with blanket tents, piled 45s
on spindles and danced
in the basement in our socks
like the big kids did

Our tongues flapping like flags
in the stands, we cheered
each other on. Remember
remember, remember when.
We had clearly lost
track of the score.

A pigeon pecked its way
across the ledge of a dark green girder
guarding the monolithic stadium, this
Detroit family, nodding in agreement
to a strange trio’s nostalgic reverie
or perhaps just the vibration
of 41,000 spectators shouting
stomping and chewing hot dogs.

That myriad of voices proved no match
for the stories that poured
from our long-ended sibling rivalry
we filled the innings with reunion
souvenirs we didn’t realize
we had savored for decades.

Toys and trinkets piled on the dark wood bar
bobbing-head tigers and t-shirts,
another round of yesterday secured
our place in this nine-inning game.

The laughter fended off the fear,
or the temptation to spill
old, determined anger, which slipped
instead underneath the blue
and orange cocktail napkins
the growling tigers
safe at home.

*We beat the Twins, 9-3

image from https://stadiumjourney.com/stadiums/comerica-park-s10/

“Mom, I Don’t Feel Good”

Or the Importance of TherMOMeters

When I was a girl, if I went to my mom in the morning on a school day and said, “I don’t feel good,” she had a routine response. She would first feel my forehead with that hand of hers. It seemed to me then, and does still now, that her perfect hand had been sculpted to cup my small brow, it fit my little temple like a robin fits into its nest, snug, and warm, and the first step toward healing.

Then came the regimen of questions inquiring about my symptoms. Depending on my responses—as in, if it did not include anything like ‘I’ve been barfing,’ or ‘I keep pooping,’ or ‘I am covered in bumps’—and her hand did not detect raging heat emitting  from my skin, she would say this:

“Go get dressed, wash up; then eat your breakfast. We’ll see how you feel.” If after all of that, and I still felt badly, I would probably get a sick day. “But no playing,” my mother would warn. “You have to stay on the couch and rest.”

It was sage advice that I understood then and now, and I raised my girls administering a similar health test, and I use it on myself as well. My mother knew that sometimes we are just off, a little low, or slow, sluggish or even sad, maybe a little anxious.

All we may need is a tiny kick start, a re-set, a nudge. A sweep away of the bad dreams or night frights. A smoothing of the sheet lines pressed into our cheeks. A mom’s perfect hand nestled upon our forehead that lets us know, “You’re alright.” (In fact, do it. Do it now. Take your own hand and gently cup it across your own forehead, and close your eyes, and remember someone’s loving health inquiry, with just their hand).

And, that was all I usually needed. Of course, a good scrub with Sweetheart soap and Pepsodent toothpaste . . . and the Mackler breakfast of champions, shared by astronauts we were told: Tang! And cinnamon toast! Who wouldn’t feel a little better?  Off to school I went.

Seriously, though, when my own daughters came to me to say, “Mom, I don’t feel good,” they received the same questions as I did from my mom, but hopefully the breakfast they were served included a little less sugar. I knowingly carried on my mother’s practice, and it worked.

If I got a call from the school later that day, I wouldn’t be surprised, they were sick after all. If I learned that they had lost their homework and were afraid to ‘fess up, we solved the problem. Maybe they were anxious because of ‘that kid,’ there’s always a kid. A kid they liked, didn’t like, who looked at them funny. Whatever it was, sometimes the moment just required a gentle pause.

To this day, for myself and for my girls, I advocate pausing. Having just traveled a few hundred miles a few times to a few places, I am quick to remember how we humans complicate our lives. Sitting in airports and public transportation lends itself to this realization, this witnessing. People have stuff and stress and a million reasons to hurry and push, roll their eyes and harrumph, snap and sigh. Loudly. Damn, we need to pause from our very selves.

The girls will still call me, and I hope they never stop, to say they don’t feel good just as I called my mom until she felt so bad herself and she couldn’t hear or speak very well. Just as I was not always looking looking for sage advice, my daughters are not necessarily seeking counsel either, maybe just a voice of soothe and sympathy. Or maybe they have an inquiry. ‘What was that tea you used to give us?’ ‘Do you think I should go to the doctor?’ ‘Those bumps have not gone away.’

I was questioned once by someone about my parenting. I don’t know if I had recently responded to a call from one of the girls, or if I was talking about parenting in the 90’s, but I was called a “helicopter parent.” This person certainly did not understand some of the basics to parenthood as I perceive them. The comment could have been a matter of age or gender difference, either way, it was a noteworthy perception, and earnest.

And I simply know that there is a significant difference between deeply caring and tending to a child, or adult as the case may be, and controlling and regulating the minutes of their lives. Steering their goals. Manipulating outcomes. Helicopter parent I was/am not. But participatory and concerned I was, I am.

I miss being able to call my own mom to say, “Mom, I don’t feel good.” Or, as was often the case, “Mom, the girls don’t feel good.” Even from afar, for many years, my mom represented the voice of reason and reassurance that I needed when sick or worried, and when I was concerned about a sick or worried kid. And, even from afar, I could feel her hand on my forehead.

It has nothing to do with wingless air transportation. It’s just love.

In my recent travels I’ve also had the opportunity to watch young mothers caring for young children. I witnessed some deeply loving and careful parenting, and I quite admire these young women and their ability to walk upright and smile while balancing an abundance of energy and exhaustion and babies, as well as car seats, telephones, and stuffed bunnies. I also witnessed something that has not yet settled in my brain.

I remember parenting peers doing this in the 90’s, and I remember to some degree that I, too, softened the edge of my own parents’ stern parenting. But the parenting I witnessed, recently, involved these young women engaging in a lot verbiage toward negotiation with their little ones, two-year-olds that is. They ended their requests with “okay?” Added a level of politeness, “Please don’t play near the cliff, okay?” And explanation, “If you do you might fall down and you could hurt yourself.”

I would always just scream, “Stop!” “Get away from there.” I admit, neither polite nor diplomatic. To some degree, I believe parenting the very young is an aristocracy, and I was the queen, and you, toddler, were my subject. There are rules, consequences, and routines that regulate our lives so they are safe and productive. But you didn’t need to know this, two-year-old, you just needed to stop whatever it is that you were doing that was dangerous or disastrous, thus I screamed, “Stop!”

No negotiation. Period. There will be plenty of time for that when kids are in their teens and have language, logic, lipstick, hormones, and of course, love, on their side.

I suppose in the world of parenting, as in the world of politics, the pendulum swings. The strict parenting of my Catholic upbringing in the 60’s—with curfews and mandatory confession; hand me down clothes and finishing every scrap of food on our plates (even liver and onions? OMG, yes!); no ‘talking back’ and lots of “yes, sir’s or ma’am’s”; and the dreaded, seldom-used but always-threatened ‘Red Painted Paddle’ on the top of the refrigerator awaiting our disobedient bums.

To the current kinder and quieter approach from parents who practice polite, and teach diplomacy; conduct lengthy discussions about spilled milk or scattered toys; make requests and avoid demands, for whom nap time is optional. (What???) Well, it still seems that love is the single most important and required ingredient. Their toddlers in the throws of terrible two’s are not terrible at all. They’re quite smart and curious and definitely cute. Go girls.

In talking politics recently with my daughter Riana, she commented that “It’s your fault, you know, you baby boomers,” or some such statement making reference to the mess of the current political world and what we baby boomers have done to fuck it all up. And I sadly agreed. But our intent was not to fuck things up, do understand that, I pleaded. We were trying to clean things up from the generations before us, who fucked things up in their way.

Will these wonderful children I recently had the pleasure of meeting and watching, someday tell their very diplomatic and polite parents, ‘You fucked it all up’? Yes, they will. And they will be smart, worldly, kind, productive adults, modeling their own parents, and questioning the fucked up world. It goes round and round. All the more reason for a pause. Could we just pause the nation please?

I guess the moral of the story is that we should all parent with every ounce of know-how and love we have in our coffers. Slather it on our little ones like organic, non-GMO, allergen-free, sunscreen. Or Coppertone. Or baby oil! Either way. The world will still get, or remain, fucked up in some way. And it will be someone’s fault. Just do the best you can. Pause on occasion.

As Graham Nash wrote, “Teach your children well.” And as he also wrote “Teach your parents, well,” too.

In the meantime, these young mothers I witnessed? They also have that magic in their hand. A built in therMOMeter. Whether their entire house is child-protected with clips and gadgets and buttons, and their disciplining comes with diplomacy, when their little ones come to them not feeling good? Their instincts out-maneuver any parenting theory. They go with love.

And to my girls? Any time you don’t feel good, you know who to call. I’m always here. No helicopter, no paddle, no diplomacy. Just me, loving you.

A Prayer for My Girls

May each day pass in anticipation of absolutely nothing
that will keep you from living that day fully and entirely.

May each day be full of passion, draining your senses and demanding
response, thoughtfulness, and kindness. A paint brush, or tap dance.

May your rest be calm, without fit or fury or fever
a  time of replenishing your sensual fiber and ability.

May your love be encompassing, knowing no bounds
but for self preservation and respect and enthusiasm for what’s next.

May your friendships be true, held firmly by a stalwart trust
that will remain long after you each may go your separate ways.

May you know teachers who give more than words, but threads,
sturdy and long, connecting the images sewn into each day.

May you know lovers who listen to the sounds of your requests
with their fingers, their eyes, and their souls.

I Feel Like an Elephant


Because June, for all of its weddings and graduations and summer celebrations, is also, for so many I know, a month to remember those we have lost, I decided to share an old favorite poem of mine. Both of my parents died in June. A dear friend’s deceased son was born in June. There are days that simply make us feel . . .

Like an Elephant*, a pantoum
for Pauline

I feel like an elephant
big and fat, dumb with grief
hovering over my mother, a pile of bones
slowly the herd readies to move on

I’m big and fat and dumb with grief
I nudge her hoping she’ll sing or rise
the herd nods to the horizon, slowly they leave
I stay to coax and stroke her cold dead hide

I beg her to sing to laugh to rise
her silence carves a bowl into the sandy earth
I wait and watch her cold breath hide
the ugly buzzards begin their circle

Her death fills the bowl of sandy earth
a gray mountain of mother, finished
I throw rocks at the big hungry circle
I lay across her sad shrinking flesh

She is a gray mountain of mother and stone
I shiver, move away from the pile of bone
lumbering from her shrunken flesh
I feel just like an elephant.

*Elephants mourn.

Photo by Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen on Unsplash

Four Friends, Two Babies, and the Ellipsis of Friendship

baby in a box.jpgIt is one of the absolute greatest pleasures in life to touch base with old friends after many years and to find the connection has not frayed or weakened as old wiring might do. Instead, the sparks all fire right on cue, and laughter, intelligence, and camaraderie ensue as they always had, as if no time had passed. Such joy.

I had this pleasure recently, visiting an old high school friend and two friends from graduate school. Our visits were brief but only in time. It seems that with true connection, a few of hours of conversation can fill the gap of 17 or even 24 years.

While school reunions are common and splendid, and I will be attending my 40th high school reunion this year, it is this type of one-on-one visiting that warms my soul most powerfully. To have a bird’s eye glimpse into friends’ lives. No room for assumptions or wonders. Just the reality of their lives, and their kindness to welcome me in. It is somehow a gentle reassurance when seeing first hand the artwork they hang, the flowers they grow, the children they raise, the partners they have chosen. To break bread, share a glass of red, and toast to old times, new times, and to this very moment in time. Grateful, hopeful, and kind.

Facebook or other social media, for all that they offer, cannot offer this. The whole business of posting or messaging or waving, yes, yes, yes, whatever. I do appreciate the connections offered, and, in fact, without FB, I might not have so readily found these dear old friends. But I have always preferred to sit down and embark upon a quiet intimate chat,  even at those big old high school or college parties we all attended back in the day. It is still my preference.

The aforementioned visits actually book-ended the key reason I traveled: to visit with an old friend, and roommate in my Flagstaff home, who had just had her second baby. And this visit gave me all the connection that I speak of here in this post, with the bonus of babies. Rocking and holding the littlest one soothed my soul as nothing else in the world can do. And visiting with a toddler reminds me of how great our species is, and re-ignited some hope in humanity that I have lost of recent. His curiosity and readiness for absolutely everything was inspiring and sometimes simply hilarious.

My conversation with Billie picked up and left off as often as the river bumped over rocks. We hiked and sat beside streams, creeks, lakes and lines of apple trees, and in between she tended to the little ones and I assisted as I could. We talked about all that transpired in the six years since we saw each other last. All the love, the loss, the success, the fails, the food and the trails. And of course the babies, her boys, the girls, or er, my two grown daughters.

(There will come a time soon when I do not refer to them as my grown daughters. Just ‘my daughters.’ Or maybe I will forever refer to them as my girls, my babies.)

We hiked with me carrying the wee one on my chest. His calm heart loving the race of my own as we turned the corner of another switchback. (My calves still hurt.) Billie had her toddler on her back, and trekked like a mama mountain goat. No surprise there.

We stopped for a diaper change, or Everett’s curiosity, or for my water breaks or for me to catch my breath. If it wasn’t for the babes, and this older woman, Billie would have traversed the mountain up and down without blinking, and I don’t think she ever panted.

With this part of my sojourn I rekindled one friendship, and made three more as I met Billie’s family. And remembered fondly my own days of early motherhood, and how we all managed friendships, diapers, and interruptions: with grace, poise, and bit of spit up, just as my friend Billie does now.

I did not mind one bit when her toddler called me Granny Annie. Yes, indeed, I thought, and thank you very much. Don’t mind if I do.

I am fortunate to have the resources to make the trip to do this type of visiting, and I return to my home, its colors and art and music and smells, all a little bit richer and clearer because of this time I have shared with old friends.

And this poem came to mind, for whether the interruption is from a tired baby, a stubborn toddler, or two decades — good friends, just pick up where they left off. Every time.

An Ellipsis

When we talk on the telephone,
to exchange the up-dates,
or upsets,
the needs of our daughters
punctuate our conversations,
leaving us speechless
with no time to proofread.

They question,
they exclaim,
they put an end
to our sentences.
(Never our thoughts.)
They bring us to pause,
cause us to stop:
silent as a space.

We begin again
and again,
by the dashed abruptness
of their “Get off the phone now!”
They draw us away
with their parade
through the neighborhood
or they pervade
the cul de sac
with just a little
late afternoon

Or their sweater buttons
have come undone.
Their zipper’s stuck again.

But we are an ellipsis.
We can allow our girls
to get us,
every time,
quick as a comma,
off the phone.

Riana’s in the front yard,
            without clothes;
I have to go.

            Okay, okay. Bye.
            Call me.

Because we understand
how to fill in the blanks.
STET. Close up the line. Insert.

and mothers.
We know.
We know.


Photograph by yours truly.


From Across the Room


From Across the Room

I listened from across the room
her giggles and secrets
forcing my eyes to stay open
so I could hear her make
growing up sound as magic
as the parade of perfume bottles
Chantilly and Shalimar
on her dresser, I unscrewed
the shiny tops before school
to smell my future
and she never knew

She didn’t think I noticed
her or received the attention
I deserved because she was consumed
by the antics of frocked adults,
But I was mesmerized by the rapid motion
of her wrist, like a top after the string
is pulled, when she perfectly scrambled
eggs for our breakfast

She could unscramble
the mixed-up deck of Old Maid cards
that confounded my pudgy digits;
her fingers like rulers
straightened out my slippery game

She let me try on all the colored flats
that lined our shared closet
and I wanted to be just like her
knowing how to sew and unlock
the mystery of a needle’s eye
her own eyes faraway; her teenaged
tongue both bitten and requested

I did not know the safety
a sleepy little girl like me could offer
from across the room, someone
who would only approach her bed
for cuddles under the covers
after a bad dream, someone
free of nightmares that stained
sheets in a rectory far away
a dirty laundry basket
she could never take
to the basement to clean

She knew how to make
Swedish Meatballs with gravy
as fragrant as the dandelions
I brought her, how to roll Tea Cakes
in powdered sugar without cracking
the nutty dough and cracking
me up with stories told between
cola and cigarettes

She took me on my first road trip
to the cornfields of America
I never minded the hump
the heat and the hum of sleeping
on the floor in the back seat
because the promise of Howard Johnson’s
pancakes the size of a clock at 5am
made up for unending horizon
and the boring AM radio

She never trusted how much
these moments mattered
to me, her own nightmared life
of dancing with short older men
in dark confessionals
troubled her sleep and finally
she unloaded over the phone

Predicting my rejection, but this tumbling
only made me dance my own story
in studios free of secrets
what she hid became my pirouette
of caution, his collared crimes woven
like impetus and black thread
in a sweaty Danskin leotard
thrown carelessly
onto my pile of dirty laundry
before I hopped into the shower
alone and unafraid.

Image from somewhere on the internet and I lost the URL

Cardinal Directions

Cardinal Directions

Once upon a time, at a staff meeting, a colleague boasted (was it a boast?) that she didn’t know her directions. She rolled her eyes as if she was too busy to know such a thing, as if it was below her.

I was struck by her pride in not knowing, and struck even harder when two other women in the group chimed in. “Me either,” they both said, also with smiles. And these were all very smart, educated women whose job it was to share their knowledge and resources. Two strikes.

Then the final strike. As I sat there admonishing them in my head, I had to admit to myself, that I, too, had once proudly noted this stupidity. Three strikes.

You’re out.

Not only did I claim not to know my directions, but that I didn’t know my left from right. I was much younger when I made such proclamations, and I distinctly, and sadly now, remember thinking it was somehow cute or funny. I was smart, I knew that, but there was this funny little missing piece to my intelligence. Instead of learning it, I laughed. Ha ha.

I recovered from the like in my 20’s, so I can at least give myself credit for that. These women are in their 60’s. But most tragic, yes, tragic (I’m not being dramatic, I promise), is that not only do we live, and have we lived, in a world where women are assumed to be less smart than men, but women wear this assignment with pride, like a sparkly broach. Look at me, adorned with stupidity. I may have learned my directions, but do I not claim stupidity in other arenas? Yes, and this is not as surprising as I’d think.

My mother thought of herself stupid, and my father agreed, and often broadcasted it publicly. I don’t know that she used the words “I am stupid,” but I am certain she said things like, “I was never very good in school.” Or “Aren’t you the smarty pants, smarter than your mother.” Or “I’m not the smart one in the family.”

My mom made the grocery list, but did not do the shopping. She could not (would not?) drive, and could not (nor would dad let her) keep a check book. But she did do the majority of the cooking, cleaning and housekeeping, and she organized and managed the entire family’s wardrobes, menu, hygiene, school needs, and more. Yet, there was a big to-do about the fact that my father could not read her handwriting on the bi-weekly list. He made no small affair of having to re-write numerous items on the list, noting how they were misspelled, and spelling them correctly.

My mother rode this ritual with an odd, dutiful acknowledgement. His job was to be the smart corrector. Sarcastic, and flirtatious perhaps, loving “in his way,” his ridicule was customary. Her job was to be the stupid mistake maker. Apologetic with a repeated “I’m trying,” or “I try,” as if talking to the headmaster, and not her husband, her lover, the father of her nine children. As if she didn’t manage the daily lives of eleven people.

This dance went on in many other situations besides the grocery list. The fact that she couldn’t drive, and she couldn’t because it scared the shit out of her. Left hand turns were confounding. The fact that she never did well in school. “But the teachers loved me,” she would brag. That she smoked (my Dad had smoked and quit in his 30s). And he chided her about how the thing she did best was shop and “spend his money.” Finally, how she hadn’t had a job since before their wedding.

And it is notable that she had worked for the Detroit Edison Company, but they fired her upon her getting married.

My mother was not stupid, and I don’t believe my father truly thought she was either. Beyond the facts—poor grades, etc.— she was brilliant. In fact, while at her funeral, I was impressed and warmed by the many cousins and friends who approached and told me how important my mother had been to them. Her counsel, wisdom, and trustworthiness led many a young person to a more firm place of confidence in their lives. Not only could they rely upon her to not tell their secrets, they could rely upon her for sage advice when it came to boyfriends, relationships, parenting, etc.

My mother was the 11th of 13 children. Her role as one of the youngest in the family gave her a particular in, and an understanding, to the evolving women’s movement and some of the changes in the Catholic church. She was, in fact, quite hip, and dare I say, she would sometimes sleep through Sunday service and let my dad take the line up of children to mass alone. Smart woman!

My mother was an avid reader with at least two novels going at any given time, and she read both the daily newspapers: The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. We also subscribed to numerous magazines which she read including Life, Look, and Time. Yes, she loved her soap operas, and to nap, but she was neither lazy nor unmotivated.

I do not know if she knew her cardinal directions, her right from her left, but I would not be surprised either way. She was not deserving of the ridicule, but she did not fight it. Could she? Can we?

Being stupid for women was, and unfortunately still is, understood as ‘cute.’ Acceptable. Funny. Expected. Sometimes proclaimed with an arrogance that is numbing. Yet, I know well the disdain and animosity that is generated when a woman proclaims the opposite. To be a smart woman, and to say so, is as unacceptable by many, if not more so. A woman can be quickly deemed arrogant, haughty, vain, and somehow a threat if she is smart, knows she is smart, and does not hide it behind a facade of stupid. It is an odd dance we’ve performed. We can’t seem to win, ultimately. Smart or stupid.

As this announcement was made at a staff meeting, I looked around at the group of  women to see their reaction. No one looked nonplussed except for the youngest and  newest employee: a millennial. And me. As we reacted others were quieted, perhaps embarrassed.

Our insisting that cardinal directions be added to the document we were discussing seemed a greater infraction than the women who boasted that they did not know their cardinal directions. And that the document should use some other terminology to explain the southeast corner. A term that was left TBD.

We have a long way to go I am afraid.

So I propose that we stop this silliness. End this madness. Let’s rally and take a stand that it is neither cute or funny or acceptable or expected for anyone to be stupid, and more importantly to not be willing to learn what they do not know, and even more importantly, to never be proud of ignorance, forgetfulness, or stupidity. And let us remember that most of what we can’t or won’t memorize, we can look up. And, there is a mnemonic device for everything. Even the cardinal directions.

I am ashamed of my own role in the like, and I urge all women and men to stop reveling in what you don’t know. Learn it. Don’t dismiss what you do know, share it. Do not judge the intelligence level you perceive, but be willing to teach others what they don’t know.

Future post? My bucket list of the things I need to learn and have been proud not to know. A list far too long including things like changing a flat tire and all the state capitals.

And on that note, a poem.

Cardinal Directions

North is cold blue
Michigan snow sneaking
into untied boots in the morning
when the wind hates you
there are icicles on your nose
the sun forgets your name

Name the opposite – deep green
sticky hot, dank hides
like a crocodile or mint julep
in the veranda’s shadows
the saucy fans of pink ladies
hugging the equator
like and old friend who lingers
too too long.

Linger in the yellow
winding river of sun
the day breaks you in
beckons yellow eggs
pronounces morning
like a fire alarm
not an inkling of past
the eastern shore birds
can not be quiet.

Quiet as a western Washington
rain, I come to you thirsty
like a desert cactus
missing the memories
of reliable raindrops
and succulent roots
all that sunset beauty
the day ends only
for now.

Photo by John Ruddock on Unsplash

Divorce in Two Poems, or Two Kisses as it Were, Second Person


April is Poetry Month. Poetry Challenge. Poem a Day. Nos 29 and 30. El Fin.

Kiss Away

You put our kiss away
tucked it in a drawer below
rolled socks, old Valentines
and a couple of quarters;
underneath that newspaper
with Bridget’s picture on it
and your Boy Scout scarf.

You put our kiss away
slid it under the pillow waiting
for some fairy to make our wishes come true
like when last October’s moon
shined full on our romance
oh how she would peek
into our bedroom window
witness our release

You put our kiss away
stored it among the tents
the crates and junk in the garage
near the screw drivers
your hidden cigarettes
all your layered secrets
waiting in the tool box

You put our kiss away
beside the deck, where
the grease from last July 4th’s
lamb BBQ still stains the soil
the struggling lavender plant
nods and the thriving jade shines
You put our kiss away and I can’t

find it; You, who could never hide
anything very well, hid this like
a spy, but even without it
I can’t forget the taste
of you, your gasp against
my ear,  your thumb
between my teeth

You put our kiss away
for safe keeping
for some day
for never

Kiss You Again

I found your lips inside a hug
and held on as if I could lose

you, I kissed the smell
of your smoke and scratch
of your stubble and knew
it was settled like dust
on the dash but the maybe
of forever was dancing again
upon my tongue

I kissed you and soothed
your cheeks in my hands
your eyes a query
in our moonlit van
I put my nose against yours
and remembered how lovely
are your eyelashes
your breath

I kissed you and led
your fingers to my face
they knew my chin my teeth
our lips returned
to where they belonged
once so sweet

I kissed you and recalled
nothing, planned less
just kissed and winked
behind your neck
at the December moon
she appeared, flanked by pines
to watch over this fleeting
this tease of time
she found a cloud
and I knew then
my kissed friend
that I would never
kiss you

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash