Life is a stream On which we strew Petal by petal the flower of our heart; The end lost in dream, They float past our view, We only watch their glad, early start.
Freighted with hope, Crimsoned with joy, We scatter the leaves of our opening rose; Their widening scope, Their distant employ, We never shall know. And the stream as it flows Sweeps them away, Each one is gone Ever beyond into infinite ways. We alone stay While years hurry on, The flower fared forth, though its fragrance still stays. ~Amy Lowell “Petals”
The stream of time flows ever faster, rushing away my remembrance of yesterday, the quiet moments today, my hope for tomorrow. Every day – a petal thrown into the cascade – disappears one by one, never to return. What of my dreams will last as they droop and drop and scatter? It is a lingering fragrance their roots leave behind; that is how to be remembered.
All day we packed boxes. We read birth and death certificates. The yellowed telegrams that announced our births, the cards of congratulations and condolences, the deeds and debts, love letters, valentines with a heart ripped out, the obituaries.
We opened the divorce decree, a terrible document of division and subtraction. We leafed through scrapbooks: corsages, matchbooks, programs to the ballet, racetrack, theatre—joy and frivolity parceled in one volume— painstakingly arranged, preserved and pasted with crusted glue.
We sat together side by side on the empty floor and did not speak. There were no words between us other than the essence of the words from the correspondences, our inheritance—plain speak, bereft of poetry. ~Jill Bialosky fromThe Players
The box of over 700 letters, exchanged between my parents from late 1941 to mid-1945, sat unopened for decades. The time had come.
My parents barely knew each other before marrying quickly on Christmas Eve 1942 – the haste due to the uncertain future for a newly trained Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. They only had a few weeks together before she returned home to her rural teaching position and he readied himself for the island battles to come.
I’m now half-way through reading them in chronological order. I’m up to March 1943 when my father received orders that he would be shipped out to the South Pacific within days. They had no idea they would not see each other for another 30+ months or see each other again at all. They had no idea their marriage would fall apart 35 years later and they would reunite a decade after the divorce.
The letters do contain the long-gone but still-familiar voices of my parents, but they are the words and worries of youngsters of 20 and 21, barely prepared for the horrors to come from war and interminable waiting. Much of the time they wrote each other daily, though with minimal news to share and military censors at work, but they speak mostly of their desire for a normal life together rather than a routine centered on mailbox, pen and paper.
I’m not sure what I hoped to find in these letters. Perhaps I hoped for flowery romantic whisperings and the poetry of longing and loneliness. Instead I am reading plain spoken words from two people who somehow made it through those awful years to make my sister and brother and myself possible.
Our inheritance is contained in this musty box of words bereft of poetry. But decades later my heart is moved by these letters – I carefully refold them back into their envelopes and replace them gently back in order. A six cent airmail stamp – in fact hundreds and hundreds of them – was a worthwhile investment in their future and ultimately mine.
Needing them still, I come when I can, this time to the sea where we share a room: their double bed, my single. Morning fog paints the pale scene even paler. Lace curtains breathing, the chenille spread folded back, my father’s feet white sails furled at the edge of blue pajamas. Every child’s dream, a parent in each hand, though this child is fifty. Their bodies fit easily, with room to spare. When did they grow so small? Grow so small— as if it were possible to swell backwards into an earlier self.
One more year, I ask the silence. Last night to launch myself into sleep I counted their breaths, the tidal rise and fall I now put my ear to, the coiled shell of their lives. ~Rebecca McClanahan from “Watching my Parents Sleeping Beside an Open Window Near the Sea” from Deep Light: New and Selected Poems.
My parents have been gone now for some time, my father over 25 years, my mother now over 10 years. Their dying was a long process of counted breaths and pauses. I witnessed their bodies curling into themselves, shrinking smaller, worn down by illness and age.
I still miss them, reminded of them by the events of my own life, still wanting them to take me by the hand as I navigate my own daily path.
After mom’s death, those possessions not distributed to family members have remained packed up and stored in our barn buildings. I know it is well past time to deal with their stuff as I become keenly aware of my own greying and aging.
Untouched in the bookshelf of our bedroom is a sealed box of over 500 letters written by my mother and father between 1941 and 1945. I know the letters began as they were getting to know each other at college, then going from “pinned” to “engaged” and continue for three and a half more years after a hurried wedding Christmas Eve 1942. By mid January 1943 my newly minted Marine officer father shipped out to spend the next three years of his life on the Pacific Ocean, fighting on the battlefields of Saipan, Tinian and Tarawa, not to return again to the states until late summer of 1945. My mother wrote her letters from a rural eastern Washington community, living in a “teachers’ cottage” with other war wives who taught school while waiting for their husbands to return home – or not.
It has taken me a decade to find the courage and time to devote to reading these letters they treasured and never threw away. Yesterday I sorted them unopened by postmark date into some semblance of order and sat down to start at the very beginning, which, of course, is my beginning as well. Only sixty letters in, I open each one with some trepidation and a lump in my throat about what I might find written there. I worry I may find things I don’t want to know. I hope I find things that I desperately need to know.
Most of all I want to understand the two people who became my parents within the coiled shell of their forty years together, though broken by a painful divorce which lasted a decade. Having lived through that awful time with them, I want to understand the origin of a love which mended their cracked shell, glueing them back together for five more years before my father died.
As I read their words over the next few weeks, I hope I too can cross a bridge back to them both.
I live a quiet life in a quiet place. There are many experiences not on my bucket list that I’m simply content to just imagine.
I’m not a rock climber or a zip liner or willing to jump out of an airplane. I won’t ride a horse over a four foot jump or race one around a track. Not for me waterskis or unicycles or motorcycles.
I’m grateful there are adventurers who seek out the extremes of life so the rest of us can admire their courage and applaud their explorations.
My imagination is powerful enough, thanks to the words and pictures of others – sometimes too vivid. I contentedly explore the corners of my quiet places, both inside and outside, to see what I can build from what’s here.
When the light is right, what I see in my mind is ready to spring right out of the frame.
Sometimes I think all the best poems have been written already, and no one has time to read them, so why try to write more?
At other times though, I remember how one flower in a meadow already full of flowers somehow adds to the general fireworks effect
as you get to the top of a hill in Colorado, say, in high summer and just look down at all that brimming color. I also try to convince myself
that the smallest note of the smallest instrument in the band, the triangle for instance, is important to the conductor
who stands there, pointing his finger in the direction of the percussions, demanding that one silvery ping. And I decide not to stop trying,
at least not for a while, though in truth I’d rather just sit here reading how someone else has been acquainted with the night already, and perfectly. ~Linda Pastan“Rereading Frost” from Queen of a Rainy Country.
that even though its lines are broken
will be drawn forward to the part where blueberries firm against fingers
say roundness sweetness unspeakable softness in the morning light. ~L.L. Barkat,“This Morning” from The Golden Dress
I want to write with quiet hands. I want to write while crossing the fields that are fresh with daisies and everlasting and the ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of the bread of heaven and the cup of astonishment; let them be
songs in which nothing is neglected, not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems that look into the earth and the heavens and see the unseeable. I want them to honor both the heart of faith, and the light of the world; the gladness that says, without any words, everything. ~Mary Oliver “Everything”
I’m asked frequently by people who read this blog why I use poems by other authors when I could be writing more original work myself.
My answer, like poet Linda Pastan above is:
Sometimes I think all the best poems have been written already, and no one has time to read them, so why try to write more?
Yet, like Linda, I’ve decided not to stop trying, since I’ve committed myself to being here every day with something that may help me and someone else breathe in the fragrance of words and the world. There are several hundred of you who do take time to read every day – such a privilege to share what I can with you!
Even when my lines are broken, or I say again what another has already said much better yet bears repeating — I too try to write with quiet hands, in reverence and awe for what unseeable gifts God has granted us all.
Let us celebrate by illuminating words and pictures which lift the veil.
And the seasons they go round and round And the painted ponies go up and down We’re captive on the carousel of time We can’t return, we can only look behind From where we came And go round and round and round In the circle game… ~Joni Mitchell “The Circle Game”
those lovely horses, that galloped me,
moving the world, piston push and pull,
into the past—dream to where? there, when
the clouds swayed by then trees, as a tire
swing swung me under—rope groan.
now, the brass beam, holds my bent face,
calliope cadence—O where have I been? ~Richard Maxson “Carousel at Seventy”
Sixty years ago in July, I was a five year old having her first ride on the historic carousel at Woodland Park Zoo before we moved from Stanwood to Olympia. Fifty years ago — a teenager watching the first men walk on the moon the summer I started work as an assistant to a local dentist. Forty years ago — deep in the guts of a hospital working a forty hour shift thinking about the man who was to become my husband. Thirty years ago — my husband and I picking up bales of hay with two young children in tow after I had just accepted a new position doctoring at the local university & we are offered an opportunity to buy a larger farm. Twenty years ago — with three children and our farm house remodel complete, we have three local parents with health issues needing support, helping with church activities and worship, raising Haflinger foals and organizing a summer local Haflinger gathering of nearly 100 horses and owners, planning a new clinic building. Ten years ago — two sons launched with one about to move to Japan, a daughter at home with a new driver’s license, my mother slowly bidding goodbye to life at a local care center, farming is less about horse raising and more about gardening, starting to record life on my blog. Five years ago — two sons married, a daughter off in the midwest as a camp counselor so our first summer without children at home. Time for a new puppy! Now – O where have I been? We can only look behind from where we came.
The decades pass, round and round – there is comfort knowing that through the ups and downs of daily life, I am still hanging on and if I slip and fall, there is Someone ready to catch me.
Now in the blessed days of more and less when the news about time is that each day there is less of it I know none of that as I walk out through the early garden only the day and I are here with no before or after and the dew looks up without a number or a present age ~W. S. Merwin “Dew Light”
A walk around the farm becomes more or less, before or after, now and then, a timelessness of shifting seasons and days each fading into the next.
A prayer is timeless, spoken to the God who was, is and ever will be, and who already knows what we are about to say. And He knows I don’t tend to say anything new.
And so He still blesses me with the light of His dew.
I began writing regularly over ten years ago as a way to explain myself to people I will never meet. Perhaps I actually am trying to explain myself to God.
God is, if I stop to look and listen. Yesterday, today, tomorrow – more or less, before or after, now and then, ever and ever. Amen.