Miss Emma

October 30, 2014

She was black.

Actually, brown–a rich, chestnut color

I loved her

So did my boys.

She came to us at age 78
A gift from the heavens

We moved together
From the sandy soil of Gracewood to Kissingbower Road

She cooked cream of wheat for my Sam
Gave him his breathing treatments
Did our laundry
Never missed a day’s work

Mastectomies couldn’t slow her down
Because of her faith
Her work ethic
And her love for my babes

Dressed to the nines in her yellow suit and hat
She attended Hank’s fancy Episcopal school graduation
She attended to so much.

She was family

I miss Miss Emma
Her fearless way of approaching life
Through the race wars of Augusta
The employers who took advantage of her
The stores which shut her out

She wasn’t bitter
Not one pore in that beautiful brown skin
Was toxic

She was nothing but Love.

I still fix my collard greens the way she taught me, with a pinch of soda

She sang to our baby while Hank was at preschool
“Sam is the best, the best little boy,
The best little boy in all the land.”

But she was the Best.

After we moved to the mountains
Is the only time I saw her afraid
She refused to come visit
As it was an all white county

We sent her a small check each month for the rest of her life.
I wish we still were

I wish she’d never died.

Nobody Knows

October 30, 2014

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows, but Jesus.”

Nobody knows
Nobody can know
Each of us bears our own pain
Mostly silent

I used to say
When people got up from the pews
The cushions were covered in blood

People hurt
I hurt
Jesus knows

Does He care?

Trouble comes
Whether we seek to avoid it or not

It is part of the human condition

If we are alive
We’re going to have trouble

Nobody knows the trouble we’ve seen
Nobody knows, but Jesus.

I’ll leave it to you to decide if He cares..

(I wrote this poem many years ago but never shared it–like many poems I’ve written.
I happened upon it on my Dad’s 87th birthday. It is about him. So I read it to him at his celebration. I hope you like it.
He spent years every Saturday morning searching for Native American artifacts, and found them by the hundreds–even an entire site where an Ancient tribe worked their flint and quartz into hunting points–a site missed by archaeologists. Whatever my dad does, he does well. So..this poem is for you, my wonderful father. Thank you for taking me with you on some of your hunts.)

The Arrowhead Hunter

The man walks with a stick
Uses it to turn over stones
Move clumps of moss
Cast aside decaying leaves

It strikes something solid in the ground

He bends to pick it up
Wipe dirt from its face
Finger the serrated edges
Feel the rise in the middle

He places it in his bag
It lodges there next to bird points
Chunks of pottery
Artisans’ work

His eye is trained
He charts the topography
He knows the lay of the land

Here, on plowed fields
There, beside a spring
Where creeks meet
Under a giant oak

He searches
Like the woman
Looking for a lost coin

St. Francis Was Beheaded

October 25, 2014

St Francis was beheaded. Right next to my garden bench.

The statue I’ve owned for twenty-five years.

(Not sure how the real St. Francis died, although I saw his and St. Clare’s remains in Assisi, on top of that spiritual hill, overlooking fields of Italian sunflowers.)

My St. Francis peers over a blue bowl.
It is filled with a lacy green plant whose tender tendrils spill over the sides.

A purple flower stands upright in the center.

St. Francis guards my key.

For years now, at the Little House, close friends and family
have known where I hide it.

So, recently, when I had a need,
a good friend came to my house to retrieve some clothes,
carefully chosen for me.

But first, she beheaded St. Francis.

It was an accident. To lean over would hurt her back so she lifted him by his head, and plop..off it came!

My sister-in-law, astonished when she stopped by-in humor and sincerity said–“We can’t have a beheaded St. Francis. I will cement it back on.”

For 24 hours we let the cement set, a blue tape held it on, looking like a clerical collar.

We smiled. St. Francis’s head was back on!

The next day, I took the collar off, and his head simply rolled off with it.

I began my Google search to replace my statue in the garden
But this is the conclusion I have come to:

“St.Francis was always more heart than head.”

I kind of like him that way.

Yes, he will stay.

Riding with Angels

October 24, 2014

“There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
Of walking in the noisy street
And being the noise.”

He told me not to worry
As I headed home from Tucker
Angels surrounded my car

I-285 is not a piece of cake
Nor Spaghetti Junction.
Nor I-75
Nor US 41
Nor anywhere in Cobb County
Even Paulding now.

I used to enjoy driving
Have driven across the U.S.
Up and down the East Coast.

I’ve taken highways and byways and any kind of road with a kind of gusto
Singing often at the top of my lungs
Listening to the radio.

I’ve carried young people
Driven vans of old people
Travel groups to Milledgeville
to visit Flannery O’Connor’s hallowed ground
pick up a peacock feather.

But now I’m terrified.
Driving is not what it used to be
Trauma is involved

Lanes change daily
Road work never ends
Sudden deathly stops on Interstates shock the senses.

Cars brake red for no good reason
The Fast and Furious weave in and out
Semis roar, accelerate, their wheels next to my window.

Stressed drivers honk if one pauses a nanosecond
when the light turns green
Or ride your tail when you slow down to turn in a driveway, then honk,
as if it’s your fault you need to go home.

Ambulances scream to push through intersections
Not get hit as they help others.

I cross myself and pray for the wounded
Safe travels for the medics
And cars to HEAR the sirens
compelled–convicted–to pull over in time.

It’s all too noisy–loud–and–fast!

So, the man’s words comforted me that August Day
Barely two months ago.

He gave me a gift–
“My car is surrounded by angels
I need not worry when I drive”, he taught me.

But I do.

My hands shake. I scrunch my eyes as a car almost merges into me.
Plead to God that I won’t get hit or hit another
Continuously multitask as my gaze goes from rear view to side mirrors
to the situation in front
I grimace at the one who tailgates me
Tensely grab the steering wheel to swerve the stalled car in front of me
Keep my foot ready to accelerate or brake at the first moment’s warning.

I –and you–take our lives into our own hands everyday
when we are out there..in Metro-Atlanta traffic.

Help me, Angels, to ride with you. Help us all, I pray.

Rumi teaches us to become the noise.

I would prefer to escape it.

Once upon a time, I was a naturalist.

I worked in the field of environmental education and interpretation at a time–in the 70’s-before it was ‘hip’.

Around that period I read Annie Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”.

I’ll never forget the impact.

As I walked down the hill to the grocery store, it was as if for the first time.

I was keenly aware and filled with Joy, her words and way of being taught me, led me down that hill.

I spied the new dandelion’s yellow, the cluster of perfect petals close to the ground.
The chestnut brown acorn from last fall camouflaged in the leafy soil. The wisp of a pine bough brushed across my cheek, I chewed on one pungent needle.

Annie wrote something like this: I can’t recall exactly because I loaned my prized copy, well worn and underlined, to a friend and never got it back. And that was over thirty years ago..but here is what I recall if in concept alone…

“God-Consciousness is the opposite of Self-Consciousness.”

Annie has written many books since then, I guess I’ve read them all, seen “Holy the Firm” as a one woman play at the Nexus Theatre which no longer exists, in Atlanta. Know about her childhood growing up in Pittsburgh, and the writing life, but nothing she has penned since Pilgrim..has captured me so.

Holy is the firm foundation Ms. Dillard created in her first work through one powerful and transformative sentence..offering up as gift a way to live that she and others like her, mystical naturalists I would name them– like Mr. John Muir who stood on edges of cliffs overlooking waterfalls to better understand them. His curiosity and excitement drove him into the night amidst the crash of a Yosemite storm. He risked his life to learn, to experience, to become One with the Earth..and thus, God.

God-Consciousness takes us away and out of Self-Consciousness. They become mutually exclusive as we live and breathe, gather our senses to focus on one leaf, or a moth. One part of God’s Creation, a child’s faint freckles, the tiny toes of a newborn, a bent-over man walking to his mailbox slowly, opening it, finding nothing, then walking back up his driveway into his house.

Life is so rich.

We miss it if we are focused on what Annie called “Self-Consciousness”.

God-Consciousness is the best way I know to truly Live.

Thank you, Annie. And John Muir.

Last night was a hard night.

Some days are just like that, ask Alexander.

I finally settled down, found peace under the starry lights on my deck.

Remembered who I am.

Then, I decided I wanted another Coke Zero before McDonald’s closed.

So I stripped off my nightgown and new Norwegian slippers, pulled on my simplest dress and sandals, grabbed my jacket and headed out the door.

It was five til midnight. I made it just in time.

As I sipped my addiction, I spied my Redbox movie I needed to return, to the Kroger, in my little corner of the world.

So, I cranked up my car, returned the video..and that is when I saw the man in the parking lot.

He had his van hood open. He was talking on the phone. He was scraping his battery terminals.

No one else was around.

Naturally, I stopped to see if he needed help. His cousin, a mechanic, was on the other end of the phone line but an hour away.

I’m good at batteries. I carry jumper cables. I have a tennis racket to prop my hood open.

I know how it is.

So we tried, about a half hour, we worked together, the three of us to get his van to crank.

It never happened. His battery was completely dead.

What wasn’t dead was the love and the exchange and the help which is always mutual.

I’m glad I gathered unto myself in the magic of the night on my back deck, reconnected to God, then followed a nudge for a Coke Zero.

We never know what’s in store.

I sing the Nat King Cole song, “Nature Boy” all day
The same line over and over

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return”.

The words find root in my marrow
They resonate with what I know to be true.

Love is all there is. Period.

I live in what once was a rural area.

Like most places, it is now grown up with subdivisions, strip malls, and storage facilities–as if we didn’t have enough ‘stuff’.

What is beautiful to me is one white frame house on the side of Highway 92.

I drive by on my way to work.

In winter, smoke rises from the chimney and I know how they heat. In summer the grass grows up around the weeds and entangles old fences.

It’s a happy place on my drive.

For years, I’ve spotted this old man in the side field in overalls who stands near what looks like a beehive and waves to everyone passing by. I always wave back and think to myself, “He must be touched”.

But as I look closer on each drive, I watch him check different boxes.

The traffic is fierce on this major highway so I only get a glimpse, but each time I see more..

There are rain gages and barometers. The box holds what I am guessing is a thermometer.

The old guy I thought was crazy is an official weatherman. He reports in to the National Weather Service I have learned. His instruments beside the rambling country house give valuable information for Paulding County residents.

Now, my opinion of him has altered, like the weather does.

No,longer do I see him as ‘touched’ –as a senile, old man who waves at every car–but as someone who touches many lives with a longtime service to the community.

I am constantly surprised by people and so very thankful to have my ‘assumptions’ disproved.

I hope I learn one day, “Never judge a person by their coveralls.”

Faulkner’s Prayer

October 11, 2014

I cup the half sandwich in both hands
Lift the baker’s whole grain bread to the heavens
Creamy peanuts spread into butter.
Purple cherry preserves spill over the crust
I lay them all down as art, on a paper napkin

It is a simple lunch.

The soft brown wooden pine of the farm table forms a backdrop
Sumac berries and a golden oak leaf are centerpiece

I cover the food with my hands
Ask God to bless it
and then Faulkner’s Prayer begins..

Words lead to other words
Thoughts spread out like the jelly on the bread

It is a Stream of Consciousness Prayer

I pray for the farmers, perhaps in South Georgia,
Who grew the peanuts
I ask God to bless one child with the protein from the soil
The migrant worker who picked the cherries,
The fields of wheat ground into flour

I ask God each meal to bless one person—one person who has no food
With the gift I am about to receive.

I open my eyes
And gobble down my sandwich
With a glass of milk.