A Letter to Grandma

Dear Grandma Betty,

I hope I can maintain an honest assessment of who you were, and not get too wrapped up in memories seen through the milky windowpanes of linear time’s narrow corridor.

You wore your heart on your sleeve.  You told it the way you saw it and made no apologies.  You were born on July 31st.  You repeated yourself an awful lot, and passed that particular trait on to your son (my dad) and your grandson (me).  You liked taking people out to lunch.  And you liked to talk…….a lot.

I remember meeting you for the first time.  The pine boughs were swaying in the wind and it was summer when you came to the little house with the wood stove in the Oregon countryside, where my mom and I lived for 4 years and I rode my bicycle to school.  Your voice with its syrupy southern accent – and your spirited personality – seemed so huge to me that I thought I felt the house shake through the soles of my worn-out sneakers.

But the biggest parts of you were your heart and your stubbornness.  I didn’t know anything about you yet back then, but I could see right away that you were ruled by your heart, because of the way you were so kind to my mom.  I was protective of her, and so I watched, and I listened.

It must be nice to have set down your suitcase of earthly burdens, grandma, but I miss your stories.  I miss your grouchiness, your laugh, the way you pronounced hurricane ‘herrican’.  The way you always used southern colloquialisms like ‘he was mean as a snake’ or ‘that girl would argue with a fence post’.

Sometimes a weariness comes over me when I think of loved ones lost.  There are so, so many.  And yet in a way, they’re all still here, they’re all….close.  So I’ll say to you what I’ve said to them all, in one way or another, over the years:

to all those I love, and have loved, on either side of the transcendental veil – may my love be a lantern to help light your way.  And may yours help me light mine.

Fudge

C.M. Rivers

I came across the recipe in your old index card box, alphabetically misplaced between Fruitcake and Fritter Batter. “I miss you”, I said aloud as I measured out the sugar, butter, salt and evaporated milk. The cat looked at me expectantly, thinking – as he always does – that I was speaking to him. I combined the ingredients in a small pot, boiled and stirred them for five minutes. Outside, the sun tried its best to shine down on weeds turned brown from ice and frost.

I followed your handwriting with my eyes, blue ink letters across a 4 x 6 ruled index card. You had good penmanship, easy to read. The card must have been white when you wrote on it, but now it was a nameless color.

Remove from heat. Add marshmallows, semi-sweet chocolate, chopped walnuts, vanilla extract. “I wish I could hear your voice again” I thought…

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Recipe

Life is more the approximation of cooking than the exactitude of baking.  There are an infinite number of ways to proceed. 

Be curious, consider the methods used by every person you meet, and, in doing so, find your own way.  Develop your own recipes and never hesitate to share them.  To hoard them is to become your own dragon.

Become seasoned by the road of experience, but be wary of hardening.  The residue of clarity yields a suggestion of radiance, unmistakably luminous.        

May your love be a light in dark places.

Declaration

Friends who I have left behind, friends I’ve not yet come to know,

these drops of rain upon the hill come likewise to the valley,

to beat against your doors, streak your windowpanes,

set aglow your lighted lamps.

Return now to your visionary dream, song of your heart’s voice.

Return now to your body, at once solid and transparent.

Return now to the music in every prism at the end of every string

held loosely by the fingers of every wide-eyed child.

 

These are not the days of old maps and heavy leather-bound tomes,

gold fabric of late afternoon unsheathed, only to be slid back into a scabbard of mist,

clearing the way for a midnight sky of shattered crystal and baby’s breath.

 

These are days of cold mumbling rivers that know secrets,

cabins in the mountains, their wood beams rotting too slowly for us to see.

While walking in the morning I digest this vastness, this solitude,

this gravity that presses against the muscles around the eyes.

 

Friends, I toss myself aside for you.  I become available for you.

I eat, drink, run hands through hair for you,

scramble up the gully for you,

carry wood, fold socks, scrub pots, ever-fearless, requiring nothing.

 

These are days of time’s inhalation

pulling way up under the world’s collarbones,

stitching together the fibers of memory and intention.

These are days of emptying the mind, distilling the essence.

 

What does it matter if the world hears your voice?

We all belong to each other.  Your voice is here, mine is here,

as great, small, and equal in worth as any other.

The voice is in your heart and so the world’s heart knows it,

as surely as you know the heart of the world.

 

The line is cast before the coming of a great fish,

a sudden tug is felt through our hands

and our withered husks give rise to something new.

Steady now.

 

Field Row’s End

I am thrilled to have this poem appear in the current issue of The Cape Rock literary journal from Southeast Missouri University.

 

Field Row’s End

Ox turns at field row’s end –

onions, tomatoes, zucchini and dill.

 

The luminous strands of March

get up, get ready, to work, to begin.

 

Get up, get ready, to work, to follow

the arc of the world, the slope of the light.

 

Dirt beneath thumbnail,

knees imprint the soil.

 

Clods of mud smear rubber boots

and we, the workers,

 

anchored to weather

with its moods, whims, dictations.

 

We, the workers,

fastened to the ox and the engine of his breath,

 

fastened to the fields,

splashing around in our patience,

 

working until it is no longer work,

but who we are and what we do.

 

Tuning in to the stillness of evening,

we have become the work itself.

 

We are the field, the ox.

We are the onions, the mud, and content to be so.

 

Watching attentively, listening closely,

we view ourselves as if through a microscope,

 

our metronome held in the bone-basket of our ribs,

its momentum not yet interrupted.

Old Inuit Song

I think over again my small adventures, my fears, those small ones that seemed so big, for all the vital things I had to get and to reach.

And yet there is only one great thing, the only thing.

To live to see the great day that dawns and the light that fills the world.

Old Inuit Song

 

Among The Thistles

How can one sleep with a moon like this?  It’s so early it’s not even early, it’s late.  I mean early, you’re not up yet, not awake yet, slurps of hot liquid with eyes closed, fan of the mind humming, oscillating between two levels of consciousness, tendons shortened, digestive organs finishing up their work. 

Ten-thousand pinpricks of light still glimmer overhead, and you’re already out walking.

Hormones have been secreting, cells have been forming in your bone marrow, the liver is a tireless magician, the sublime workhorse of your heart has been laying low, half-drunk old man in a hammock.  And, like a gathering wind in the distance, love rises. 

It rises above lies and dictations, the sound of the mind.  It rises above the texture of your words, the swirling ether of your thoughts.  It blows among the thistles, it blows through your whole life.

A love so impossibly vast, unbearable its confinement.