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Nephew 1 was a very solemn baby who stared a lot, and who could hardly be coaxed into a smile. Unlike his little brother, he’s tended to be a bit of a loner, so we were excited to hear he’d joined an after school team.

It’s an Airsoft team. Air. Soft. This harmless sounding team sport started in the ’70’s in Japan, tailor-made for fans of guns in a country that doesn’t have them. Airsoft moved from Japan to the UK – another non-gun country – and was meant to be about safely team-building, skills and sharpshooting. Nothing to do with real violence. Americans got hold of it in the 80’s, and… yeah. Nephew 1 was invited to play by a classmate whose father takes them both to run through the woods, scoping out other fathers and sons and shooting, keeping score, counting out loud the time you’re “dead.”

It’s “only a game.”

And yet….

afterward, we sat, silent
“it doesn’t matter
him learning to hold a gun,
if what he’s holding
in his skin is the target,”
my husband said, his gaze pained.

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The other day, I made the mistake of wandering over to lean against an outdoor table to talk to a friend… and leapt back, as I discovered the entire underside of the table, and much of the top was a wriggling mass of… oak caterpillars. (aka Western tussock moth caterpillars).

I retreated to the safety of a table beneath a maple. However, these guys were paragliding down from the oak on skeins of silk, to go where the wind took them. As I sat and read under my tree, I brushed them off of my shoes… my socks… the cuffs of my cardigan, my purse, my book, my collarbone, the back of my neck…

…and then we decided maybe it was time to go home, as there was Entirely Too Much Nature outside.

fuzzy logic

a dun-colored moth –
fully unremarkable –
confirms Metamorphosis,
(that insect intermission)
transforms even the spineless

(If you look at the picture carefully, you will count EIGHT at the moment I snapped this, under the maple. Please consider that a.] these were LITTLE ones, and b.] I was as far away as I could get from said oak tree and still be within hailing distance of my friends, and c.] I took this picture AFTER I’d flicked them away from my feet. For the sixtieth time. It was definitely time to just leave the outdoors to the those who live there.)

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Sunday afternoon was out of doors for a picnic with friends-of-friends, one of whom is originally from Minnesota. It was a big number birthday celebration for our friend, thus the out of town folks absolutely reveling in a snow-free world for a long weekend. One of few California natives in the bunch, I was vastly outnumbered, and amused by it. It was ironic how Minnesotans didn’t sound anything like people out of movies (unless they were imitating movies. Which they did do, as one does).

Inasmuch as I probably don’t sound like a Californian out of the movies (unless I do? Hmmmm), this was probably okay.

What a mess of assumptions and stereotypes movies have given us.

Glasgow 1

Sown Counterpanes

aerial piecework
patchwork crops, cradled by coasts
dubbed “flyover states”
connecting Midwest marvels
just as Heartland as hot dish.

Dear Midwest, do you all have fireflies? What’s it like to have a lake house? Corn fields just up the road? Snow AND tornadoes? State fairs with cheese curds and butter carving? While just now is not the best time to go exploring some of these curiosities (HELLO, SNOW), I like the sample of the Midwest that I have tasted. Granted, last Sunday it was more beer and brats than hot dish, but it was the classic flavor of friendship just the same.

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So, we had Nephews this weekend. It’s like having mice, but a lot louder.

Nephew 1 turns eleven this month… and already he runs cross-country and wears a size 10.5 running shoe.

TEN. AND. A. HALF.

Y’know what? I’m just going to concentrate on the memory of little fat feet instead of being gobsmacked that he wears a half size lower than Tech Boy. (Also: I apologize in advance for the Dad Joke, but once heard, these things cannot be UNheard, amirite? Of course I am.)

Elf at Eleven

that gummy grin gleamed
face drool-bright and triumphant
as he found his feet –
his feet, like Saint Bernard’s paws
give him great understanding.

(Those adorable ears are why he’s been Elf his whole life. These nicknames just write themselves.)

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“We serve the world by finding out what feeds us, and, having been fed, then share our gifts with others.”
– James Hollis

she weaves

noiseless and patient
the orb mistress toils and spins.
my own strands streaming
one tangled thread to the next,
weave a net which captures stars

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I know!

I’m late (except on our family blog); National Poetry Month has started without me, and another month feels like it has spit me out and tumbled me head over heels into unpreparedness… but, it is what it is. Outside, the flowers are blooming, while I’m still trying to construct mine. I still haven’t taken down all my autumn and winter decorations.

There are blue edges to the cloudy sky outside, and the tiny boy who lives across the street is vociferously making his opinion about jackets known – he’d apparently rather walk to the park without, and his mother Is Not Having It. As I negotiated that very question on an early walk this weekend, it seems a very Springtime conversation. I think that’s my theme this month: very “now” sorts of conversations. And, as tanka is a poetic form meant to capture “themes [such] as natural beauty, love, the impermanence of life, the activities of the common people and separation,” it feels like a good place to start. “To be touched by things” or in the original phrasing, “mono no aware” is an important idea in tanka writing, which is where I’m going to head with it this month. What am I feeling about this world, in its small encounters, and its larger truths?

(Also, I’m terrible at tanka, so it’s my hope that practice will lead inevitably toward improvement. We’ll see.)

fair weather

mercurial clouds
drift over a placid sky
But! A squall threatens
rain darkens the son’s small face
but kisses return the light.

{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.

{…but, history keeps the score}

After Psalm 137

Anne Porter

We’re still in Babylon but
We do not weep
Why should we weep?
We have forgotten
How to weep

We’ve sold our harps
And bought ourselves machines
That do our singing for us
And who remembers now
The songs we sang in Zion?

(The rest of the poem is here.)

These words have come back to haunt me repeatedly this past week… the beauty and power of Porter’s poem remind us that not only have we forgotten how to weep, the reasons we were meant to weep, and that we ever sang, we’ve also not really got time for any of the above… History rushes us on, and tomorrow, there will be another reason for outrage, if not for song, as The Globe predicts.

This week, Mitali Perkins’ Twitter comment that “Social media is a shallow container for grief” was poignant and empathetic, though yesterday, I felt like adding “…and, collective memory is a deep colander.” Not only are we failing to assign any real thought to things, in the fast-paced give-and-take of conversation on our Facebook feeds, we aren’t taking the time to fact-check before we state and repeat. I found this to be true this week in myriad comments I heard about school shootings.

The world has grown dangerous, is the usual cant, and I didn’t sign on for this, and We should arm teachers, and the classic, In Free America, they’ll take my guns from out of my cold, dead hands. (Yes, ol’ Charleton’s long dead, but apparently, still armed.) These are comments from smart people, too, but what they’re saying isn’t very intelligent… because school shootings are not, unfortunately, a recent phenomenon of a world gone suddenly, inexplicably crazy.

Because we forget things so fast, having new images and information crammed into our heads all the time, it’s forgivable, in some respects, to think that Columbine’s tragedy in 1999 was the beginning of a new trend in American violence. It was not. Setting aside violence perpetuated as a result of the Reconstruction, and against tribal groups in the American West, there’s a long historical trail of violence against students in schools, some specifically Civil Rights related, others directed by law enforcement for reasons of “public safety.” I remember being in high school when a man blew up his van in Stockton, CA, which was parked by a school, and then, in the ensuing chaos, shot into a playground, killing mostly Hmong kids. That was 1989. There has been so much violence since, and so much violence before 1999, when the most infamous school tragedy happened in Colorado.

We forget. But, history keeps a scorecard, riddled with holes and gunpowder burns.

In 1989 reporters argued that the bitter alcoholic man who killed all of those Cambodian and Vietnamese refugee kids shouldn’t have been able to get access to an AK-47. He’d had depression, and showed signs of mental issues. The Colorado students had posted questionable things on their Facebook. How could this have happened? the community raged. And yet, it did happen, and it has happened again, and again, and again, over, and over, and over…

And, in between, we hang up our harps and post cat videos on our Instagram. Until the next event for collective, ineffectual rage is called for.


And speaking of rage: I’m flattered that people felt so moved by my last blog post on the children’s publishing industry’s sexual harassment outrage/racist indifference that they’ve followed my Twitter and have tried to contact me for comment. To the many more who retweeted and boosted my thoughts, thank you. I’ve watched, as people have taken the “pay attention” that Debbie and Tracey tweeted and further characterized that post as “raging” – albeit beautifully, or as an essay “venting frustrations” albeit “eloquently,” and as “furious” albeit again with the modifier “beautiful.” It is… telling, to me, how even people who are trying to show they’re on your side can mischaracterize thoughts and intentions so easily. The Angry Black Woman trope is ever, ever before us; ever pervasive. Truth is, I was not furious when I wrote that blog post, I was factual. If I, as a black woman, got mad every time there was an injustice, I’d never do anything else. This wasn’t raging, this was Tuesday, and me thinking an issue through, and processing it in written form, as I often do…. This is why I mostly blog and often don’t speak up about things on social media. It’s just too, too easy for even those who appreciate us to misunderstand tone or intent, and for that misunderstanding to be a springboard to some other person’s soapbox. I appreciate so many people reading with and thinking with me – and there’s definitely a time and a use for anger – but I’ll save my rage for when I believe it will tilt the scales toward justice.

{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.