{npm18: 4.3}

Yesterday my sister remarked, rather sadly, that she met her best friend’s mother at the age she is now. Her best friend’s mother has recently had a stroke, and my sister is struggling with seeing Mrs. V’s ending, seeing in it, as it is human nature to do, the potential of endings of our own.

A chance exchange in a phone call… I hung up, and Tech Boy texted me that his father had died.

Life, and death. Just that fast —

Ephemeral

the weight of water
seeded from dust to cloudburst,
fulfills its circle –
dust to clouds, to sea, returns
as waters rise, and sun sets.

{second tuesday tales}

The Making Of Alastair Beckworth, 008: The Ride

It was, his father told him, time to stop pretending like a child in a man’s world, and act as a man his age. The directives he’d been given were to Stop Faffing About and Do Something With Your Life. While his father’s newest wife stood by, bright manicured yands wringing in discomfited silence, Father had read him the riot act, beginning with how he’d done nothing but bother the maids and trouble the gardener since he’d been home, that it had been months since he’d done his A-levels, and that, no, a gap year wouldn’t do, since he obviously had energy to spare, and nothing to turn his hand to but pestering the staff. Something Must Be Done, and It Was Time To Get On With Things. Beckworth Men Were Men Of Worth and it was Time To Be Getting On In The World.

Unfortunately, Alastair had no idea how Getting On In The World was supposed to work.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t DO things already – hadn’t DONE things for the last several months. He wasn’t indolent, and knowledge had always come easily – too easily – to him, falling like ripe plums into his lap. When he’d been six, his mother already gone, he’d found the new nanny, a plump woman with a coronet of gray-streaked brown hair, weeping in the linen closet. Father had caught her teaching Alastair a skipping dance that morning, instead of drilling him his maths, and had threatened to sack her, even though she was once someone’s mum. Even though her husband had passed on, just like Alastair’s mum had, because Beckworth men did not gallivant around when there was work to be done.

If he had asked, Alastair would have told him that the skipping was a way to count that he hadn’t seen before. If he had asked, Alastair would have told him he’d danced that morning for the first time since his mother had died. He’d have told his father that he’d felt the iron bands around his chest begin to ease that morning, for the first time, and felt a little like smiling again, for the first time. But no.

The thought of losing Ms. Nan had stung like jellyfish whips. Alastair had made an unhesitating beeline for his Father’s study and, once his father was occupied, made sure to spill his tea all over the letter Father was typing to the employment agency. As Father cursed and sputtered, Alastair had wept glossy crocodile tears, then made such a hash of trying to “help” him clean it up that Father had bellowed for the nanny to come and take him away. Afterward, Alastair had made sure to be perfect for weeks after, so there was no more talk of turning Nan out after that.

In grammar school, things like spelling long words, and reading longer books had been side hobbies Alastair had pursued while the stalking more thrilling game like finding out why the chaplain was whispering on his mobile phone in the hall, and why the Games mistress would watch the highway every afternoon at three with a gloomy sigh. (The chaplain was a habitual gambler, making book with the local man down the way, while the Games mistress was watching for the lorry driven by her erstwhile love, the Estate Manager from Gorbals Park, who only had time to see her at the weekend.) (Those secrets had been fairly easy to suss out, once he’d cracked the code on the Dean’s phone, and filched the Games mistress’ stopwatch. An alarm had been set for three.) When Alastair had charged home for tea to relate the story to Nanny, she had been by turns amused and exasperated. “You’re going to get yourself into trouble one of these days, my boy,” she’d warned him. Alastair had simply shrugged.

By secondary school, Alastair had excelled at being both a thief and a spy. No longer content just to bedevil his teachers, he kept an ear to the floor – and to all doors – around the manor. Knowing the cook’s son had been bullied by a butler’s daughter put the cook in his debt, after he sorted the snotty little miss as to who really had the right to push others around. Watching his stepmother’s newer, brighter makeup and hair styles as his father’s business meetings multiplied made Alastair set himself to quietly finding out; was Father really away on business, or doing something – or someone – new?

20131213_DSC8849.jpg

Even as he learned what papers on his father’s desk meant, learning the languages of business to peruse contracts and writs, Alastair was writing brilliant essays and arguing confidently in his debate club. While slipping into his Father’s electronic books to track down where he really kept his assets, Alastair was excelling in higher maths, geometry, trigonometry. Just knowing things meant that there was more to know; after chemistry and physics failed to sate him, his satisfaction in knowing there was simply more to know itself a heady lure. If only he didn’t keep getting distracted by the things he knew… there was always something more to find out, though; another fact, another story, another secret just over the horizon. And then graduation had come, and he’d marched out with the rest of his peers, content to wander back to the estate and rusticate with nanny – now retired – for a bit, then, maybe later, attempt university, if he could wrestle down the reams of things which interested him, piqued his curiosity, or looked like things he could do…

And now Father was… ending the fun. He was being packed up, sent off, and locked away in the gray iron-and-cement vault of the London business world. He was meant now to be A Grown Man, a Beckworth Man. A Man of Worth.

Alastair had no idea if he wanted to be a man of worth. Even being a Beckworth was somewhat suspect, to his mind.

“They’re expecting you at Benchmark Monday morning,” Father said firmly. “You’ll stay in my rooms at Broderick’s, and set yourself to shadowing Errol for a few weeks, see what you can learn. I expect you to distinguish yourself,” he added. “At the very least, you can be out of my hair for a time.”

“If that’s what you want,” Alastair said tonelessly, furiously calculating how much time he had, where he could go, and what he could do to escape this.

“It’s what you need,” his father had barked, launching into one of his aphorisms. “Beckworths are men of character, men of consequence. We set our feet on the road and let no one stop us.”

Alastair paused. “Indeed,” he murmured thoughtfully, then looked up, his expression full of false heartiness as he made his decision. “Well, then, Sir,” he said, shaking his father’s hand. “I shall take myself off to London.”

When the family sat down to supper that evening, he was astounded to note that his son had packed a bag, instructed his rooms to be packed up, and had driven himself off in the old gray Audi he’d bought for the nanny to drive, years and years ago. Mr. Beckworth was undeniably piqued – but curious. He knew Alastair was probably not obediently going to show up at Benchmark Ltd. on Monday, ready to do his duty. He supposed he was lucky Alastair had come home after school was finished; he’d expected him to vanish somewhere in the countryside and to hole up with questionable peers at some house party. Instead, he’d come home as if he’d had nowhere else to go. Mr. Beckworth shook his head and applied himself to his steak and peas. There was no telling where someone like Alastair would end up.


It had been a long while since he’d been behind the wheel. Alastair shifted gears noisily, the clutch grinding threateningly. He only tightened his mouth, concentrated, and shifted again. Better. Better. He’d get up to speed back here on these flat country roads, and have things figured out well before he got to the airport.

From there, of course, there was no telling what he’d do. No one actually said that being at an airport meant he had to board a plane for London. Perhaps he’d try a train. A boat. A ship headed for the Foreign Legion. Who were the Foreign Legion, anyway? Pretend Frenchmen, signing up to lose themselves in the desert? Why? What did they have to hide?

How much would it be worth to them to make sure no one found out?

Alastair narrowed his eyes speculatively, his foot easing on the accelerator. Up ahead, there was a smudge of black on the side of the road. As he zoomed closer, it resolved itself into a waving figure, and then he was past. He braked convulsively, fighting the car as it skidded. Clamping his arm around the passenger seat, he wove his way backwards, grateful that there was no one else on the lonely road.

At the black-coated figure, he stopped, and let out a disbelieving laugh.

“Nan?”

The old woman beamed. How she had gotten there, so far ahead of him, Alastair could only guess. She carried only her handbag, a clunky, old-fashioned thing, but which was usually filled with every necessity for a good adventure – boiled sweets, toy cars, handkerchiefs, and the odd cheese sandwich.

Alastair rubbed his chest. Sometimes, he missed Nan, and the little adventures they’d gone on when he was a child. Sometimes he missed the odd dance or gallivant. He wondered if Nan was up for a little fun.

She stepped forward, brows raised. “Going my way?” she asked demurely, waggling her handbag.

It seemed she was.

Alastair laughed, for real this time, and opened the car door to let her inside.

< /end>

This was fun, and reminded me of the Police Adventures stories I used to make up when I was eleven, about my friend Danny and me, being Smart Detectives. I figure that a.) 007 had to come from somewhere, and b.) we’re overdue for a 008 by now. So, here’s Alastair for you, before his Big Adventures (whatever those might be) and you’re welcome.

This month’s image comes from Flickr user Philipp Rein of Augsburg, Germany.

{flicktion affliction catch-up}

I missed writing a story in February for our Second Tuesday Flickr exercise. I can’t remember why, but I’m pretty sure it’s because the first two months of this year disappeared beneath the pall of illness and general blahs. Now that I’m better, I’m a bit regretful of missed opportunities, and want to do something with this picture because it is still so weird that I need to address it somehow.

MOSS MEDIA (Acción Urbana)

I know, right? ‘Weird’ was kind of an understatement.


green on cobblestones
even in the city square
Spring shares its secrets.


Okay, I feel better for having at least given it a shot. Better late than never.

{pf: p7 ekphrastic…acrostic}

This month the Seven Sisters are swanning about in India, having a gorgeous waterfall and a few pitha. A few of them have taken the time to put their lassi and mugs of Assam and write a poem or two — Laura’s is here, and Sara’s‘s is here. Tricia’s is here. Liz’s poem can be found here, and Kelly’s is here. We couldn’t get Andi to come away from the waterfalls, so she’ll write a poem once she’s inside with her tea.


Normally, I love a good ekphrastic, and I loved our image so much. But, as I’ve had to learn, my brain and I have a new relationship now which includes something doctors euphemistically call “brain fog.” I call it “staring into space.” I did a lot of that, trying to write this poem. In my defense, I’ve also started a new project and rewritten the first ten pages twice, once in first person, and the next time in close third and also finished a revision so a novel could get out the door to publishers (fingers crossed), but … yeah. A lot of staring these last few weeks. At least I had something good to stare at, though. I mean, look at it:

Again, it’s not the image – the sky is a perfect, cloudless azure bowl, the rocks are a wonderful red ocher, there’s detail and shadow — it’s some lovely contrast, and the wee little rock in between could be so many things — a point snapped off, a friend, a dependent… But I just couldn’t even find a form. Until the very last second. Welcome to March: that’s how I’m going to roll this month, apparently. And so, without further ado:

Foundational

Learn well those truths that desert life avails you –
(Expect that lesson one is “cherish rain.”)
All deserts are not flat, and as you pass through,
Necessity will teach you this domain.

In desert lands the rocks jut tall and lonely
Neath iron suns rusting in ocher reds
Gaunt sentinels remind the traveler only
Into each life, alone our steps must tread.

Survival is dependent on some timing –
(Nowhere to leap if first you do not look)
Trusting your leaping makes you keep on climbing
Familiar paths fresh vistas overlook.

A parable, for now, from lofty summits
Left sharp by time’s erosions, rain and wind,
Is told of one sharp stone which didn’t plummet
Noting the help its partners could extend.

Good rocks hold up the world in its foundations.
Durable infrastructures, like good friends
Order the world. Bedrock for generations
When slipping down, these rocks are our godsends.

No lofty peak need stand alone when friendship is a lodestone.

Poetry Friday is hosted at No Water River, an intriguing name!

{pf original: mama bird}

I mentioned my conflicted feelings some months back about my mother coming out of retirement to return to teaching, and many of you kindly reassured me that your parents – or yourselves – worked well into your seventies and didn’t die of it. (The Atlantic actually recently did a piece on this very phenomenon.) This culture has granted us artificial ideas about when we’re “grown” enough to set out on our own, and when we’re meant to lay aside our independence, and I think I fell willingly into that pretend-we’re-all-the-Jones’-rich idea that wants so desperately to ignore differences in class and income. My parents aren’t rich. I’m not rich. It is what it is.

In November, my family came, with friends in tow, to our new house for Thanksgiving… and it was a literal crush, as our new house is MUCH smaller than our old one. And I’d just been diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder I’m living with, and was trying – hard – to be the hostess-with-the-mostest; some blend of B. Smith and Martha Stewart with sprinklings of Emily Post. My mother wrote a poem about me on the fly, as I took everyone on a postprandial walk around the neighborhood.

My mother isn’t a poet… that she reached out to me in my own language, as it were, floored me, as it is a truly loving act. Also really cute. And so, I’ve finally written her one back.

Newark 104

Mama Bird

No nightingale, nor angel without wings
Her song rings out while pushing playground swings –
“Use listening ears – Is that what Teacher said?
“Sand’s not for throwing. Use a ball instead.”
Long years her songs have echoed in the yard
As Littles changed, and outgrew her safeguards
Such weary notes must falter now, sometimes…
“Keep bottoms on your chairs. It’s clean-up time!”
Some birds fly south, once eggs, now hatched, take flight
Are RV migrants, dawn, until twilight
This nightingale, whose silver-plumage shines
Still loves the song, affection genuine.

Though caged, she sings in faith. Substance deferred
Through evidence unseen, hope’s undeterred.

Poetry Friday today is graciously hosted by Elizabeth Steinglass. Happy weekend, and remember to be good to your Mama birds, if you can.

{pf: seven sisters and a february tanka}

Another month (was January sixteen years long, or was that just me???), another poetic endeavor with the Seven Sisters! This month we’re visiting Moscow (brrr, in spirit only, it’s far too chilly to venture that direction these days) to stride the wide boulevards surrounding this lovely bit of Moscow called by Muscovites “Vysotniye Zdaniye,” or “the tall buildings.” That nondescript description is more fancifully known to Westerners as “Stalin’s Seven Sisters.” While this is basically one gigantic architectural wedding cake, each of the seven buildings has its own distinct spire.

In our poetic endeavors this month, we’ve been tasked to create tankas – but with a tiny catch. Our topics were chosen for us, as each of us was to respond this month to another sister’s sonnet from last month. You’ll find Sara’s here, right here is Liz’s; Laura’s is here, and along with an explanation of the form, Kelly’s is here, and Tricia’s, here. We wish Andi a happy February, and hope catch up with her another time.

I am fairly certain that I got the easiest assignment out of the crew. Kelly’s winsome little beauty, Kismet made words sparkle from Kelly’s pen, and certainly Kismet easily lent herself to the tanka form, which traditionally celebrated the glories of nature. Well, nothing more natural than a cat falling asleep while plotting world domination, right? I mean, if they could just stay awake long enough, we might need to worry. But, otherwise, nah.

I played with the idea of what it means to “respond” to the sonnet, and, since we’ve encountered tankas before repeatedly in this poetry project, I also tried harder on the “turn,” that comes in the third line of the tanka form. Conventional wisdom suggests that this “turn” could be both used as a widening of perspective, bridging topics between the top and bottom lines, or for a complete turn of attitude. This makes it fun to use Kismet in the sense of destiny, and as the subject of our poems.

o, mighty huntress

russet drab, and dun
flap/flutter/peck unceasing.
double-glazed reprieve
denies this bat-eared huntress.
Crouch gains curl, then, pounce turns purr.

days of dozing

what calico dreams
await the fuzzball, sleeping?
the feline kismet
paws splayed, claws keen to capture
at least one fluffed-up sparrow.

as told by k2

sunbeams shift closer
that translucent obstacle
unimpaired by claws slashing
frames distraction. my human,
eyes dreaming, hears Muses sing

wayfarer

all hard ground and horns
the world is colder, outside
landing on her feet
she’s found warm laps and purring
not all who wander stay lost

Around Glasgow 596

Last week’s Poetry Friday host, Carol Varsalona, invited me to join the Winter Wonderland Gallery, where throughout the months of January and February, the poetry community will be sharing poems, photography, illustrations and reflections on the stillness and artistry of the natural world this season. Carol invites us to share “YOUR perspective of the winter season in any of these mediums: photographs, videos, digital slide shows, songs musical compositions, artistic renderings, collages, illustrations, digital inspirations, image poems, inspirational quotes, sketches, or hand-draw pictures. Share your inspirations globally.” Drop by, friends, and check it out.

Meanwhile, further poetry can be found at Poetry Friday, hosted this week by Donna JT Smith @ Mainley Write.

Pack as much introspection and discovery as you can into these crisp winter mornings. It’s the shortest month of the year. Make every day significant.

{deep breath & welcome back}

It’s the first Friday of the first month of the new year, and we’re here again, against all odds. Happy New Year, dear ones, and all hail the dreams of faraway places. Someday, may we meet in Norway. Or anywhere where there’s a place to read in the sun, and quiet adventures….

Already its been an eventful year – SnoCyclonopolis 2018, earthquakes, floods, and nonsense. Good thing we have poetry to make… well, if not make sense of it all, certainly to give us something delightful to look at while we ignore the rest of what’s going on…

Once again, our poetry addiction has brought the sisters of stanzas together for another year… we’re once again pushing ourselves past our comfort zones and poetic boundaries with January’s curtal sonnet. It’s exactly what it sounds like, albeit with archaic spelling; a curtal sonnet is curtailed, and Kelly this month invites the sonneteers to join Gerard Manley Hopkins, the author of this form, in trying our hand at sprung rhythm. Lines 1-10 are iambic pentameter, and the eleventh line is iambic trimeter. It sccans effortlessly when Hopkins does it… not so much with the rest of us more ordinary mortals. But, let us crash the gates and bully onward anyway.

One of the benefits of this form, to me, anyway, is that its rhyme scheme begins abcabc. That’s only six rhymed pairs, which feels manageable, at first. The additional five lines (DBCDC) have repetitions which may trip you up later, but to begin with, all is calm. -Ish. The first poem I came to with a topic, and shoving the idea I had in my head into the form… showed. It worked well enough, but it was fairly lifeless, so I scrapped it (even though it was written in the voice of Mr. Bennet, the hapless father from PRIDE & PREJUDICE). My second poem I decided to just… write, and then gently apply as much of the form as I could during the creation process. This actually worked out better than I expected, and I had minimal revision to do once I got it down – mainly just to elongate some of the lines to scan properly, and change a few of the more challenging word choices into something which had additional nonsensical words which rhymed. (The ‘c’ in the abc pattern is a snare unto the unwary, let me tell you.) I even knew for whom I was writing this – my unflinching, implacable, …marshmallow-hearted Tech Boy, whose favorite phrase used to be “disturb the comforted, and comfort the disturbed.” Everyone knows a truth-teller, and they often make people so very uncomfortable… but I, who so loathe lies and lying (and advertising, and sales tactics, and all the subtle, deliberate misrepresentation of exaggeration in media, social and otherwise) feel a certain ease that the scales never lie, and that the lens of truth always sees what’s really there.

soothsayer

        Pointless to point out garments that don’t match,
Knowing so well your penchant for the clash,
        How eager, cheerfully, you seek discord!
As sun’s bright gaze can kindle fire’s catch
        And burning, leave the forest white-hot ash,
So scything Truth divides us with its sword,

        Parts joints and marrow. Cuts us to the bone.
Scalded, we cower, hide from truth’s backlash.
        No, truth’s not universally adored
Yet, wisdom’s outcry needs its megaphone,
        Its living, two-edged sword.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Forsooth, did you realize that “sooth,” around the 800’s to the 1600’s, meant truth, or genuine? Oddly, by the 17th century, that was considered old and out of use; instead, by 1727 Daniel Defoe lists soothsayers along with astrologers and magicians. They went from being the source of truth to being augurers, clairvoyants, and psychics… the very antithesis of truth-telling. Odd, how meaning twists and changes.


There’s more poetry to accompany this damp and frosty (depending on which coast or hemisphere you’re on) day! Laura brings another beautifully natural image, while Liz is flinging it all to/at the squirrels. Sara’s acute perusal of Hopkins makes us bite our tongues while Tricia’s sonnet ushers in the deep breath of winter. Finally, Kelly shares an original in the original sonnet form, while we wave at Andi who is having a snow day.

Whether Curtal or longform, sonnets are a song, and if you’d like more poetry to sing to you today, Catharine at Reading to the Core is this week’s Poetry Friday host, and she’s highlighting CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR, which has to be my early choice for a 2018 poetry collection. Thanks for dropping by, and strength for your journey today. Tell the truth and shame the devil, won’t you?

{december lights: that indispensable silver lining}

Consolation

~ by Wisława Szymborska

Darwin.
They say he read novels to relax,
but only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If he happened on something like that,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.

True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’s had enough with dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggle to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction,
with its micro-scales.

Hence the indispensable
silver lining,
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,
seducers scurried to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean,
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly in the last.

Nothing is promised; not even tomorrow. Therefore, take no thought of it. In the moment you have, arise. Shine.

{december lights: bright against the dark indifference}

The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

~ W. H. Auden

We are adaptable creatures, on the whole. So, this door, or that heart has been closed against us? Well, it may take a little time, but we will go on. Arise and even if you can’t shine yet – rising is the first step, no?

{december lights: in the post}

On the third day of Christmas, I finally went to the post office.

Yes, yes, I KNOW. In my defense, I have some kind of sinus thing coming on, and I’m on that immunosuppressant, remember? So, avoiding crowds is what I’m SUPPOSED to be doing… five holiday concerts notwithstanding. Anyway. I am painfully conscious of being overdue in mailing my friend Sarah’s holiday box. Not just this year… her box from last year. No, really. I started shopping for my good friend and blog partner at Wonderland summer 2016, and then put those small items aside in the closet, because after the election and following shenanigans, I… couldn’t… pull it together… enough… to get to the stuff into a box… and to the post office. Two. Blocks. Away.

Look, the end of 2016 was rough, okay? And, 2017… was more nonsense, and then we moved, and …more chaos. Heat wave. More piles of crud. Then I got sick(er). So.

Here we are.

So, today I have DECIDED: clean slate. To the post office we go. Let’s get this taken care of.

I feel hopeful, having Peter with me.

I hope you take a minute to read Andrea Davis Pinkney’s piece on the special significance to her of the memorial postage stamp from THE SNOWY DAY. (She talks a bit about her own book celebrating the original book as well.) I wasn’t born when THE SNOWY DAY came out – I really didn’t read it ’til college – but there’s still something magical about the commonality of one small person enjoying something as simple as a first snowfall. Of greater significance is that he’s one small black person, and that the book was published in a day and age where a book with a black person on the cover was seen as something impossible to sell.

Oh, yes: there are publishers who still believe that. To this day. Even after the 90’s, when there were a lot of shows on TV which had fully non-white casts. Even after the successes of myriad books and movies, the winning of awards… even after all of the successes people of color have had outside of the arts… there is always a backlash. Three steps forward, two steps back. All the progress disappears because there are people who insist that “the world” simply isn’t “ready” for these “new” ideas.

The more fools, they. Change comes slowly, but it does come. Arise and shine – and be ready to greet a new day.