Stardust

Use the word life

sparingly in a poem.

Too vast an idea.

A subtle cliché.

 

Its meaning spread

as the dark spaces

between fireballs.

 

Its poignancy

as constant as

leaky faucet.

 

Each drop a

beat of the heart,

each beat a part.

 

But death,

be not proud,

big banging stops.

 

Drip, drip, drops,

fall like a star,

not far, not far.

 

Thanksgiving Thoughts 2014

Seeded grapes, marbled purple, had to be sliced in half and the seeds removed. I think this was the most labored part of making the fruit salad. The marshmallows were quartered and soaked in the pineapple juice. Dates were added eventually. I miss the fruit salad. There was more to it. I’ll have to ask my sisters and make some this year.

There was always more to Thanksgiving. Our house sat on a hill at the dead end of Grand Avenue, next to Valley One Dorms of Western Michigan University. One Thursday out of fifty two, set aside, set for more. More people around the table with mix matched chairs.

I remember the foreign students and the varied colors of their skin. Their voices were colorful too. They talked, and I tried  hard to unscramble the words to fit in my brain. My Mom had eyes on a middle-eastern student named Afiff (pronounced Ah-feef) one year. His name would come up each Thanksgiving thereafter.

I sure would like to see the little kitchen again. Same size as the bathroom above it. Two vital rooms of a house with ten children. Calls of nature they were…eating and eliminating, and the rooms for each call weren’t big enough. The electric stove with swirled coils on top, when on, reminded me of the Hitchcock movie Vertigo. In the belly of the stove the bird was basted periodically. Inside the belly of the bird, home-made stuffing, incubating.

Cranberry sauce in a can. I recall the sucking sound as it slurped out onto the serving dish while I tried to suppress a childish red faced smirk. I poked at it like it was the plump little white guy in the Pillsbury dough commercials. Cranberry sauce from a can didn’t giggle when you poked it. It jiggled, but didn’t giggle. The burgundy blob was sliced like hard salami. Each slice would flop over like someone sticking out their tongue.

As I sit here plunking the keys I wish there was a way to pluck up each of my siblings and bring them back to Grand Avenue to sit around the table and eat mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. If sentiments could move mountains, I would tilt the ranges so each brother and sister would roll towards the end of Grand Avenue, next to the valley. I would call my Mom and Dad. They would sit at opposite ends of the fully leafed table. We would hold hands and thank God for the gifts we were about to receive and these our guests.

We would see us, be us, the ten of us before we broke out into lives of our own. We could hold our breath again waiting for Mom to spill something down her front to mumble “fiddlesticks” or something more colorful. Dad would toss in dry jokes and his crooked smile. John would fall out of his chair laughing after Marge spewed a mouthful of milk on the buffet table. We would say “pass this” and “please pass that” over and over like a scratched Beatles White Album.

Then space and time pulled us to our destinies. The good God gave us free wills to choose roads on which to travel. Can’t we double back? Why is there so much separation? The physical distances, the emotional disconnects, while dysfunctions thread in and through us. Time has severed the memories, thinned them out. What once was, shall not forever be, for we aren’t who we once were.

Oh so dramatic!

We have reunions now. Every three years we bring our presents to squint at our pasts. At our reunions a song of thanks and reclamation is sung when we gather to eat. “Oh, the Lord’s been good to me, and so I thank the Lord.” It’s a song that stirs the tanks of remembrance. It’s a song that brings me close to crying the hand-picked tears of reunion, and separation. Hello and goodbye tears brim and roll down and pinch eternity into a single moment. Sometimes that is all we have, moments of eternity sliced and flopped over. Right now, that is all I desire. To be right where I am, squinting in the now, making eye contact, and thanking God.

 

[My Mom and Dad had ten children. Barb, Ellen, Rob, Pat, Mary and Margaret (twins), John, Jerry, Peter, and Carol.]

Worry, a Gift From God

Around this time last year the season of disorientation began. I got off the roller coaster, more like pulled off. My counselor recently described my life as one of going round and round on a roller coaster. When the coaster came to the end of the line I didn’t get out. I sat and waited for it to roll again as my family watched. They watched me ride and ride and ride. Church involvement, writing seminars, retreats, parts in drama’s and musicals, and my family grew without me. They watched me come home and give them a nod and head for the books and poetry that protected me.

I asked God years ago if he had a nickname for me. The answer was John-boy from the T.V. show The Walton’s. At first I didn’t get it, but considering it further, the name made sense. I was an observer, sometimes a silent one, other times not. I wrote stories and poems about what went on around me. For me it was easier, more natural, to make observations instead of engaging in the myriad of present moments of a large family. The true John-boy observed and wrote, but was also present and engaged in the rudiments of family life during the great depression. I haven’t put down my pen as it were. I have hope to become a full-fledged John-boy, engaged, present, and writing in the cracks of silence afforded me.

A slow deliberate reorientation is taking place. Grace and forgiveness is eroding the self-contempt of the years the locusts have eaten. New rules of engagement are being formed, for my family, for God, for the world. I look for more clear and present moments. It ain’t natural, but it’s coming along.

One sign that I am heading in a good direction is worry. I told my wife Barbara that I haven’t worried this much before. She didn’t even blink and said it was because I am engaging with my family. I know God told me not to worry, but in an odd sense I am grateful for the ability. I now have the opportunity to respond to the “be anxious for nothing” verse. Just this morning I awoke and my son Nathan was gone to work. He works for a snow removal and landscaping place. The roads were icy and I prayed “keep him safe.” That’s all. Simple anxiety removal, even if I have to pray it over and over. God told me it was okay to keep asking for the same thing anyway.

I am thanking God for worry today.

Covered

So fierce, this grace

furled over the mums.

The white wandered

all around, insulating,

claiming color by the inch.

 

This grace is still falling,

floating, flake on flake,

like a cataract peeling

from heaven to earth.

 

Oh, to fall on grace

not from it.

 

Hope, One Motivator of Creativity.

“If I have to sweat for it, dear God, let it be as in Your service. I would like to be intelligently holy. I am a presumptuous fool, but maybe the vague thing in me that keeps me in is hope.”

Flannery O’Conner, A Prayer Journal

Flannery talks about a novel as a holy endeavor. Basted in hope she wrote. Ah, the top three: Faith, hope, and love. She mentions hope. I too, would like to be intelligently holy, but hope dawdles behind my presumptions.

Hope seems always like the odd man out of the big three. Hope often suffers from the middle child syndrome. Faith, HOPE, and love. Faith the firstborn, always leading the charge, self-motivated, moves the mountains and such. Love, the baby, the spoiled, everyone goo gahing over it all the time. Hope tucked in the middle, often overlooked, underrated. I don’t know what Flannery thought of faith and love, but she uses the term ‘vague’ when referring to hope, at least when it comes to writing anyhow.

I hope to keep on writing. Hope, whether I acknowledged its presence or not, is what encouraged my fingertips settle on the keys this morning.

A friend asked me, “do you have hope?”

“Yes.”

“Well, hope doesn’t disappoint.”

I put those words in the glove compartment of my heart. Poor ole hope, tucked away again. But not forgotten. I knew where to look for it this morning.

Do you have hope? Put faith and love aside for a moment. I know they are close siblings and all, but for a moment pay attention to the middle child.

Flannery-O'Connor 1947.jpg

Flannery O’Conner

Floor Dance

A friend told me

The Greatful Dead saved his marriage.

 

He only listens to the Garcia grace now.

All day, every day.

 

I wonder if our resolve evokes a band,

a genre along the fringes

 

of what it takes to marathon dance,

to keep our feet shuffling.

 

When a song interrupts us to the point

of dancing in the kitchen

 

we experience another salvation.

 

 

Dreamscape

First Light,

descending over night.

 

Florescence now lays low

in the field.

 

Shorter days lengthened

while we walk on flurries.

 

Dreams descended from heaven,

as we tread softly on them.

 

Broad Shoulders. Thank a Vet Today!

My Uncle Robert died in WWII.

He went down with his plane over Europe.

He couldn’t get through the escape hatch.

His shoulders were too broad.

 

I salute all the men and women veterans today

whose broad shoulders have served our freedom.

My Uncle is not in the picture above, but he probably was in a crew like this one.

 

File Sharing. Parenting 101.

“I never saw my parents hug.”

Last Saturday Barbara and I took a break and sat and snuggled while the children swirled in a dervish. They chattered like birds while eating breakfast and doing chores. Barbara whispered “it is good for them to see this.”

I never saw my parents in this way. I don’t even remember a goodbye peck. They were always separate entities. My father always gone making our ends meet and Mom commanding from the bridge like Captain Kirk. Maybe I came along too late in the line-up. I am number eight out of ten Catholic induced children. I know, it sounds cold, but as I look back I wonder where they would have stopped if my dad were a mere Protestant. Maybe their hugs decreased in direct proportion to the increase of our household population. In any case, their personal space was limited when it came to each other. That’s what I saw.

Does it matter? More importantly, does it matter now? I have been asking myself this question about childhood stuff. So what if my parents weren’t modeling healthy interactions in front of me. So what? I am fifty three and half ‘for crying out loud.’ (I still hear my Mom…) So what? I’ll tell you what, it’s about the files.

I imagine my head as a filing cabinet. I grab my jaw and pull. Out rolls the files from childhood. I look under ‘positive marriage modeling’ and nothing. Not one memory of My Mom and Dad working together. It’s what I experienced, so my default mode is an independent contractor when it comes to marriage and parenting (other areas too.). I have to create files or replace faulty or non-existent files. Sometimes I need help to see what is missing. Thank God for Barbara and a good counselor.

I really don’t want to perpetuate the ‘sins of the father’ but the more I review my skills as a parent, the more I see images of my own parents. By the light of truth telling, my recurring disengagement cast the longest shadow.

My father didn’t have the files either. I know his story. If you look up ‘middle child syndrome’ my father’s picture would be next to its definition. He inadvertently handed me his baggage, and I inadvertently obliged.

So what? So what now? Create files. Hug my wife in the common area of the house for all to see. Tell my kids I love them. With words. Out loud. Simple things really. But files I want to create for my children to pull out when they are adults.

When my children grow older I want them to be able to say ‘I saw my parents hug.’

 

Carry Ons, So We Can Carry On In Authenticity.

“Why is it our childhoods carry so much weight?”

Sure we must move forward, but if there was nothing behind us we wouldn’t have anything to move forward from. I realize splitting semantic hairs might slosh some philosophy around, but this is two lives together, melding past with present to reach for the future.

My wife and I talk a lot about our upbringing and the baggage we packed. I believe our good experiences sometimes get stowed in the cargo hold, while our carry-ons, filled with the disappointments, keep dropping on our laps from the overhead. We’re sitting next to each other, so often our stuff gets mixed together when we hit some turbulence. We try to help the other sort the mess out. We divvy up his and hers, zip up the bags, and put them back up where they belong. We try.

Lately I’ve been trying. Barbara, my wife, hasn’t stopped trying. In the midst of a large family, with two adopted sets of four children each, added to our four bios, the turbulence settles like a fog periodically. Yes, that’s twelve children. Twelve. So to deal with our personal “stuff” is tricky amidst all suitcases laying around. We become baggage handlers and run out of hands. I say we loosely, because for the majority of our journey my independence has left my wife flying alone with the children, pre and post adoption.

So, “Why is it our childhoods carry so much weight?” That’s what Barbara and I ask each other from time to time, not in so many words. Often the question doesn’t form from our lips, but plays out in our ‘doing life’ together in our ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ existence. Our late night debriefings after a turbulent day occasionally drop personal baggage contents in our laps. My baseline is to disengage, sweep issues under the tarmac, and hop a redeye to a book, or write, or ride the lawn mower with headphones on. I know these activities are not bad in themselves.

Counselors. I have experienced many. Group therapy. Yup. “My name is Jerry, and I have baggage.” They have to start somewhere. Sure I’ve gone into therapy with an immediate issue in my lap, but a good counselor will quickly see beyond it and help explore origins. Origins mean childhood, upbringing, and apparently parents. Always. The reason for this is not to help me settle into some victimhood, fall asleep with headphones on, and entirely miss the flight experience. I see it as the counselor offering me a window seat to gain perspective to experience the fear of flying, or heights, or clausterphobia along with the wonder of flight.

Wonder is one of the updrafts of childhood. Sometimes childlike wonder wanes under imperfect parents, culture, religious ambiguity, and lands into adult realities far too soon. The flight lands, and childhood is taxied to the myriad of concourses of grown-ups. The baggage is pulled from the carousel and the perspective of wonder is diminished.

I realize I might have stretched this aeronautic metaphor a bit, but simply put, my childhood matters. The good and the bad and the in-between. It is part of the mystery of the whole or ‘hole’ I carry around with me.

I imagine the flight attendant offering me something to drink. I choose a glass of wine and lift it toward the other passengers as I glance out the window.

Prayer: Oh God, you knit us in our mother’s womb. You saw us when the turbulence shook us when we were yet children. Come help us be as little children again, and hold us in mid-flight. Amen.

Elton got me thinking today…