TALKING TO STRANGERS

Last month, I decided I’d take the bus to Erie, PA to visit my sister.  When I shared this plan with my husband and sister, both offered to ferry me there and back rather than allow me to throw myself to the ‘Hounds.  I shushed them and bought a ticket, determined to have an adventure.  C’mon, how bad could it be?  For a very reasonable price, they do all the driving, and you get a comfy seat, a generous baggage allowance, an electrical outlet, complimentary WiFi, and a restroom.
I had tight connections to make in both Columbus and Cleveland, so things got off to a rocky start when the bus failed to show up at the designated pick-up point in Springfield.  The Greyhound rep checked the online tracker.  The bus was running late.  Like, over an hour late.  Hubby drove me to Columbus, I made my connection, and everything went smoothly from there.  On some legs, the bus was less than half full and every rider got a row to him or herself.  On the more crowded legs, I was quick to offer up the empty seat beside me.  Most people kept to themselves; they read novels, listened to music, or texted on their cell phones.  The nap-takers came prepared with C-shaped neck pillows and eye masks.  Others were eager to strike up a conversation.  If my seatmate wanted to chat, I obliged.  These dialogues were eye-opening.  Humans are complex beings, not always what they seem:

PEOPLE OF GREYHOUND

The bus driver arrives carrying a coffee
in each hand and fills us in on the rules.
“Be considerate of others around you.
No loud music or yakking on the phone.
Hold onto the overhead safety ropes
on your way to and from the restroom.
Weapons and smoking are prohibited.
Sit when you pee.  And there’s no maid
onboard, so pick up after yourselves.”

My first seatmate is a clean-cut dude
carrying nothing but a brown paper sack.
He’s 35 with kids by three “baby mamas.”
After he got out of “the joint,”
he started reading.  All those new ideas
“shifted his paradigm” and changed his life.
He channels Maya Angelou saying,
“When you know better, you gotta do better.”
Young black ex-cons can surprise you.

In line in Cleveland, a chocolate Adonis
with shined shoes and a swank iPhone says
he’s heading back to rehab after a day pass.
“Think that vending machine takes fives?”
“Probably,” I reply.
He returns holding a bottle of lemonade
and I ask how much they ganked him for.
He snorts.  “Did you just say ganked?”
Old white ladies can surprise you, too.

My next seatmate is a pasty redhead
in faded Levis with more holes than denim.
She’ll be riding all night to get to Nashville.
She opens her shiny copper-colored handbag,
withdraws a can of Pringles,
and allows herself one diminutive handful.
I envy her restraint.
When she nods off, her head slumps forward
like a flower on a broken stem.

Within earshot, jagged snores saw through
the feather-light laughter of a guy sporting
Elton John sunglasses and bedazzled jeans.
A Barbie doll-shaped brunette is on her way
to an exam that will determine her worthiness
for a slot in a speech pathology program.
A plain-clothes nun silently prays the rosary.
An afroed teenager bobs his head in time
to the pumping bass overspilling his earbuds.

On the final leg, I meet a dark foreigner
with a gold front tooth and wicked breath.
I offer him a box of wintergreen TicTacs.
He accepts them with a gracious “Merci.”
He asks if I have children.  When I say no,
he nods gravely and replies, “God’s will.”
He teaches me a few French basics:
Bonjour.  Comment vas-tu?  Bien, merci.
“Au revoir, ami,” he grins when we part.

Have a comment?  Click HERE to share it!

Advertisements

A VOICE FROM THE GREAT BEYOND

Earlier this week, a reminder popped up on my FaceBook:  “Conrad Balliet has a birthday today. Let him know you’re thinking about him!”  Had he not passed away last August, he would have turned 92.  I miss him a lot.  He hosted Tower Group meetings in his home and recited poetry on WYSO’s Conrad’s Corner for decades.  Local poets stepped
up to fill the gap.  Steve Broidy now hosts our monthly meetings; Lori Gravley and David Garrison have kept the Corner going.  Conrad’s old recordings are interspersed throughout the schedule, and it is always uplifting to tune in and hear his voice.

Conrad was a WB Yeats aficionado so I wrote this parody of “Where My Books Go” to read at his memorial service.  I think of it every time I hear him reciting Yeats on the radio:

LEGACY

All the verse he has uttered
on the radio each night
preserved for all eternity
through the magic of sound bytes
Our sad, sad hearts shall perk their ears
as his lilting voice recites
the works of Yeats and all the greats,
a comfort and a delight

Have a comment?  Click HERE to share it!

ORDINARY, YET EXTRAORDINARY

After my dad passed away last summer, my mom consolidated his stuff and let each of us kids choose a few keepsakes.  These items reside in a special box:  an everyday zip cardigan, a necktie, a cloth handkerchief, a Craftsman wristwatch with a leather band, a pair of clip-on sunglasses, a child-sized rosary (perhaps the one he received for First Communion), a copy of the letter I sent him for Father’s Day containing a hodgepodge of childhood memories, and the eulogy I wrote and read at his funeral.  Unbeknownst to me, he had been a journaler.  In small notebooks and diaries were records of his daily activities dating back to the late 70’s.  We didn’t fight over them, but we all clamored for our share.  On days
I really missed him, I would read a few pages.  His life, though ordinary, was full of surprises.  Who knew Dad was the garbage man’s favorite customer, a closet romantic who rewired lamps and misspelled words?

One of the diaries I have is from 1986, the year I graduated from high school and went away to college.  It was interesting to read about the months right before and after I left the nest.  The following poem is a mix of summary and insights in the style of Dad’s journal pages:

Have a comment?  Click HERE to share it!

PRECIOUS OR PRECOCIOUS?

When I was a child, I loved staying at Grandma’s house.  I packed my suitcase and lugged it up the creaky stairway to the alcove bedroom with the framed print of the alley cat whose huge eyes glowed in the dark.  Crisp morning breezes carried the sweetness of lilacs and bird song through the open window.  Grandma didn’t play with us so much as let us tag along as she did her chores.  We clamored to help gather fallen apples for a pie, knead bread, or feed laundry through her old-fashioned wringer.  She never cut us a break when we played games.
It didn’t matter if you were six or sixteen, if you misspelled a word in Scrabble, she would challenge you and you would lose your turn.  She had the patience of Job, fielding our questions all day without a trace of irritation.  When I pointed to a ceramic jar on the bathroom counter and asked what ‘Chopper Hopper’ meant, she told me choppers were teeth and a hopper was a place to keep them.  “C’mon, Grandma, you can’t put teeth in a jar!” I said, certain she was pulling my leg.  I about flipped when she opened it and showed me Grandpa’s dentures.  At bath time, I told her I didn’t want my hair shampooed; I had sounded out the words on the bottle and was convinced that a product called ‘Hurr-ible Essence’ would smell bad.  Her rosary resided in an elegant plastic box whose lid was a statuette of the Holy Family.  Across the front it said, “The family that prays together, stays together,” which
I solemnly repeated every time I retrieved it for her.  My fascination with reading everything in her house must have driven her bananas.

GRANDMA MARGARET
(Elegy in Ghazal)

Her gentle brown eyes lit up just for me, my grandma
Her hugs were warm and soft and bosomy, my grandma

She stoked the basement woodstove, did her gardening
in a proper dress and hose—always a lady, my grandma

She turned every chore into fun: chopping up vegetables,
making beds or bread, hanging out laundry, my grandma

In card and Scrabble games, she did not pander to us kids;
she played hard, made us beat her honestly, my grandma

She churned out snickerdoodles and homemade noodles
and jars of tiny pickles, as sweet as could be, my grandma

She knew a mourning dove’s cry, made snapdragons talk,
shook down fruit for us from her apple tree, my grandma

When I tossed a Nerf ball in the toilet, talked too much, or
toppled a houseplant, she never grew angry, my grandma

On her Singer, she sewed clothing and puppets and quilts,
and hundreds of pairs of mittens for charity, my grandma

She even made me a black baby doll, hair done up in braids
Provider of my first lesson in racial diversity, my grandma

Each night, she prayed for world peace and those in need,
counting Hail Marys on her worn rosary beads, my grandma

I’m fifty and childless and live in sweatpants and sneakers,
but inside, where it counts, I shall one day be my grandma

Have a comment?  Click HERE to share it!

BEAUTY AND THE ARCTIC BEAST

As the Polar Vortex blew through the northern US and Canada, it did lots of ugly things.  Furnaces struggled, unable to keep pace with the chill. Car batteries gave up the ghost. Intrepid outdoorsmen got frost-bite and ass bruises.  But it also delivered the season’s fluffiest snow, air-brushing it into nooks and crannies in impressive drifts, swirls, and arcs.  One screen on our bay window, raised in autumn and forgotten, was hovering at half-mast when the storm hit.

The poem is a VERS BEAUCOUP; click on link for the rules of the form.

POLAR VORTEX SAND ART

By Winter’s hand, sparkling bands of flurries land
in a grand curve between the window and screen,
surreal scene, framed but fleeting, fast-retreating
snow tears greeting the low-slung rays of midday

Have a comment?  Click HERE to share it!

ALL IS CALM, ALL IS BRIGHT

For most of the year, I’m perfectly happy with shadows and darkness.  But the approach of winter solstice awakens in me an almost primal need for illumination, as evidenced by my recent household projects.

Setting up our life-sized crèche, powered by six extension cords:

Installing the Lego lighting kit in my little VW Bus.
Oooooh!  Ahhhhh!
Headlights, tail lights, signal lights, and overhead cabin lights:

Decorating my lime tree with a garland of twinkling stars:

Writing another Lanturne:

NOEL
Light
Shining
Luminous
In the Manger
Christ

 

But light can be metaphorical as well as literal.  I drove out to Dollar General yesterday to buy some non-perishable items for our Little Free Pantry.  I had already shopped there three times during the week and accumulated three coupons for $5 off a $25 order, all redeemable 22 Dec 18, not to be combined with any other coupon or offer.  I pushed my cart through the grocery aisles tossing in beans, vegetables, fruits, canned meats, pastas, sauce, macaroni and cheese, and jars of peanut butter.  Then some holiday items: cinnamon, ginger and vanilla, poultry seasoning, Stove Top stuffing, cranberry sauce, cookie mixes, frosting and sprinkles, hot chocolate and marshmallows.  I knew I had gone way over budget and briefly considered putting all the frivolous items back, but a voice inside assured me that I would be able to afford everything.

Just one register was open.  The clerk was hesitant to let me divide my order into three piles and use all three coupons, but she relented when I explained the food would be donated to charity.  Checking out took a while.  The line grew longer and the customers behind me grew antsy.  As the clerk scanned the final pile of groceries, a man in the line leaned toward me, held out his credit card and said, “This is the card you’ll want to use for that, Miss.”  It was the most expensive of the three piles, well over $50.  I asked if he was sure.  “Positive,” he smiled.  He’d overheard enough to figure out what I was doing and wanted to help.  The rest of the customers nodded approvingly, their irritation forgotten.  Greetings and blessings were exchanged and afterward, we parted ways, each of us touched by the glow of goodwill, carrying it like a torch into the cold, gray afternoon.

Merry Christmas!  May you all be bearers of the light.

Have a comment?  Click HERE to share it!

WHAT’S GONE AND WHAT ISN’T

My father passed away on June 24th.  When death strikes somebody near and dear to our hearts, it’s a wake-up call, a siren song urging us
to make the most of the hours we have left.  I’m pushing fifty. What’s done is done. Certain windows of opportunity have closed. The roads not taken are destined to remain so.  What we’ve surrendered might never be recovered.  Yet, all is not lost.  Each of us carries, in a secret pocket deep inside, an insurance policy made of neglected hopes and dreams, waiting to be cashed in.  Desires that, with time and nurture, might enrich our lives, bring us joy, and set us on the path to purpose and fulfillment.  What is it that you long to do?  What are you waiting for?  Life is a limited-time offer!

LOST

Under each public roof
there’s a box or a drawer
of things we’ve misplaced
and return looking for

But childhoods foreshortened
and innocence lost
are among precious items
you won’t come across

No good advice spurned
or time carelessly squandered
inhabit dark corners
where car-less keys wander

No vanished virginity,
old flames, or lost loves
court bohemian scarves
and forlorn single gloves

No obsolete friends
will be spotted consorting
with vagabond wallets
and cellular orphans

No scandalized ethics
or compromised trusts
wear google-eyed sunglasses
covered in dust

No frittered good health
or sharp minds gone astray
jostle musty umbrellas
from past rainy days

But ignored inner selves
and raw talents untamed
and sweet dreams once forsaken
might yet be reclaimed

Have a comment?  Click HERE to share it!

DAFFO-DILIGENCE

I love every spring flower, but daffodils most of all.  Crocus are low to the ground, built to withstand the weather’s vacillations.  Tulips wait until they know it’s safe.  According to local legend, winter is not over until snow has fallen three times on the daffodils.  Surely, they know this.  Yet they stick their necks out, risking it all to brighten the dreary landscape.  Grouped together in our flower bed, they are the trumpet section of a marching band, bravely tooting Spring’s Reveille, making joyful music for the eyes and renewing the spirit:

FLOWER POWER
(Monotetra)

On the heels of winter’s chill
emerge audacious daffodils
trumpeting from yellow frills
soprano trills, soprano trills

Intrepid Marchers, heads bent low
in bracing wind and fickle snow
Brassy bright on spring’s tableau,
they fairly glow, they fairly glow

With blaring, daring confidence
born of a faith in Providence
that resonates, pure and intense,
inside my chest, inside my chest

Have a comment?  Click HERE to share it!

THE POWER OF ENOUGH

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, the football event known for its multi-million dollar commercials.  In my mind, commercials are best avoided; they are designed to make us want things, to plant seeds of discontent.  If you’re like me, your closets and cupboards and garage shelves are overflowing with items you used once or twice, then wondered what possessed you to buy them.  True liberation lies in freeing yourself from “thneeds.”

ENOUGH

The work-n-spend treadmill
can make it quite tough
to decide for oneself
just how much is enough

Some extra square footage,
a big SUV,
a fancier cell phone,
each touted as key

to a blissful existence,
a short-lived reaction
when this or that thing
doesn’t bring satisfaction

Less really is more,
like freedom from worry
Coffee at sunrise
with no need to hurry

Homegrown tomatoes
red-ripe from the vine
The fresh smell of laundry
dried on the clothesline

Meals made from scratch
Time for reading and play
Communing in silence
with nature each day

The treadmill can’t offer
what money can’t buy;
she’ll tease and she’ll tempt
but you needn’t comply

Turn off her commercials
Stop buying her stuff
Instead, count your blessings;
they’re more than enough

Have a comment?  Click HERE  to share it!

ENTERTAINING ANGELS UNAWARE

‘Tis the season of charitable giving.  The most cheerful givers tend to
be those who’ve been on the receiving end, often quite recently.  This week, I would like to share a Christmas story that’s near and dear to my heart.  They say you cannot spread joy to others without some spilling back on yourself.  Luckily, joy won’t stain your shirt, like turkey gravy or cherry pie.  So feel free to spread and spill as much as you want:

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a young couple who lived in a drafty rental house in upstate New York with their five cats, three of which were not sanctioned by the landlord and had to be kept hidden. They dreamed of owning a home and taking in all the strays they wanted. When they learned the Air Force was moving them to Dayton, Ohio, they contacted a realtor in Yellow Springs, a liberal village that felt right to them.  There were only a couple homes in their price range.  They trekked across I-90 three times that autumn to check out the possibilities and made an offer on the best one, a small, sturdy brick ranch with a fenced backyard, located on a quiet cul-de-sac.

The bank required a thick stack of paperwork, their finances laid bare on the loan officer’s desk.  They had overextended themselves in the past:  a new car, a motorcycle, a vacation to Europe, vet bills for the cats.  They had gone through credit counseling and reined in their spending, but they were still a long way from paying off their debts.  The loan officer reviewed their forms and shook her head.  But if they were willing to jump through some hoops and obtain a VA guarantee, maybe she could swing it.  The VA packet was thicker and even more daunting, but they persevered and the guarantee was granted.  Even so, their application was iffy.  The loan officer issued strict instructions not to touch their credit cards or deplete their accounts for anything frivolous.  Just rent, utilities, food, and existing loans.  Nothing else.  Every dollar counted and the approval of their mortgage hung in the balance.  This meant there would be no tree, no presents, no trip home, no Christmas.  They sighed heavily; the thought of it was almost too depressing to contemplate.

The next morning, they took stock of their assets.  A trunk of lights and Christmas decorations.  Flour, sugar, and cookie cutters.  Miscellaneous craft supplies.  Paper, envelopes, and a book of postage stamps.  They pooled the cash from their wallets and added the change from the big Mason jar, a grand total of $64.  They obviously couldn’t buy and mail gifts to everyone, so they devised a plan.  They would fulfill one wish from the Angel Tree, spending fifty of their precious dollars on a fancy dollhouse for an underprivileged child.  The wife sent a letter to their closest family and friends explaining their circumstances.  Inside each, she enclosed a handmade angel ornament crafted from white felt and lace and buttons, a reminder that however little one might have, there is always someone who has less.  They baked sugar cookies to munch on.  There wasn’t enough left over for a tree or a holiday dinner with all the trimmings, but it didn’t matter.  All they really wanted was good news about their house.

Two evenings before Christmas, they heard a knock at their front door.  On the porch was their neighbor, Tim, wanting to know if they needed help putting up their lights.  He could lend them a ladder.  Tim peered into the living room, wondering aloud why they had no tree or decora-tions, and the whole sad story came pouring out.  He invited the couple to join his family for Christmas dinner, assuring them there would be plenty of food.  Having nowhere else to go, they gratefully accepted.

The following night, Tim dropped by again, this time dragging a lush evergreen he’d gotten for a song from a tree dealer eager to clear his lot and head home.  They retrieved their decorations from the attic.  Tim steadied the tree while they secured it in the stand.  They finished stringing up the lights and arranging the ornaments just in time for Midnight Mass.  On Christmas day, Tim and his family welcomed them, inviting them to fill their plates and grab a seat by the tree.  Little did they know, there were gifts for them, too.  Overcome, eyes glistening, they opened up packages of slippers, a throw blanket, hot cocoa mix, cashews, popcorn, and candy.  It was one of their most memorable and joyous Christmases ever.  Tim smiled ear to ear, accepting nothing but their gratitude and the promise that when they were able, they would pass it on.  He could not have imagined what he set in motion that day.

Soon after, their mortgage was approved and they moved into their very own home.  By the following Christmas, they had added a pound puppy to their menagerie and saved up enough to make good on their promise.  For twenty-three years now, they’ve been paying it forward, largely under the radar.  They’d like to keep it that way, so I’m not at liberty to say who they are or exactly what they do, but rest assured, they are real people, just like you.

There are still eight days until Christmas… it’s not too late to spill some joy.  Keep your eyes and ears and heart open; you’ll know what to do.

Have a comment? Click HERE to share it!