Shades (An Original Poem)

Shades

The day is dim
Though the sun should be soaking us in a warm spring
This sky
is sullen, stormy, chilly,
weeping,

In memory of you.

This week,
the world struggles to recall your light,
your tall sunflowers
cloaked in a shroud of

The loss of you.

Those fires that destroyed you,
their causes unknown
linger,
their scent
caught up with yours
behind those doors we try
to keep closed
from

The loss of you.

I try and fail
not to replay that morning
on a loop in my head,
not to board that grief train.
Instead,
I find myself
grabbing a passing rail,
missing
falling
my heart
cut to ribbons under tons
of heartless steel
weighted down by

The loss of you.

The air
ripples in the darkness,
in my line of vision,
as I try to see the world
through

The loss of you.

Daily gratitudes:
Sleep when it comes
Getting accustomed to some hard truths
A successful truckload for the move
My great-nephew’s birthday tomorrow

Quote of the day: “Some people are just not meant to be in this world. It’s just too much for them.” — Phoebe Stone

Flatland (A Friday Original Poem)

Flatland

He said his grandmother
Could cook bacon
So that it would come out completely
Flat
Without using a press
and he didn’t know how she did it/

His Great Aunt Mary
Was an old-time switchboard operator
Who wore bright red lipstick
and smoked unfiltered cigarettes
Until she died in her 90s.

I always think they were Lucky Strikes,
but I always get it wrong.

His maiden aunts
Lived in a time capsule of an early century
Hoarding and seldom
leaving the house
full of the past.

Sometimes the present
Is just too much.

Daily gratitudes:
Beautiful days
Yesterday’s walk
A fine whiskey
Clean sheets
Strength

Quote of the Day: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” — Mahatma Ghandi

And the Next Day in Boulder

The past hasn’t changed. We all wake up and in those strange waking moments when we bring ourselves back to reality, we remember. We remember what happened in our community. We remember the grief that we might have shielded ourselves from in dreams. We awaken to the pain, to that sinking feeling of what we’ve lost. People. Security. Peace. Illusions.

We get up and make coffee. We get on with our day, with our jobs, with our lives. At the back of our minds, we are tragically aware that there are 10 people who are not doing those things today, and who will never do those things again. That their families are waking up to their new worlds and feeling the devastation that comes from having someone you love ripped out of your life. And in the midst of their pain, they have to do practical things and procedural things. They do those things on autopilot – this I know, from my stepson’s suicide.

Our Boulder world looks the same on the surface. We still go to the grocery store, but now there are police officers in the parking lot. We still buy flowers, but now they are for the memorial and not the bookshelf in our living room. We still pet dogs, but now they are therapy dogs trained to comfort us. We still sit on grassy hillsides, but now we’re restricted by yellow police tape. When we see a police car speed past us with its sirens blaring and its lights flashing, our first thought is “Is it happening again?” When we hear glass breaking, we think “Is that a shooter breaking windows?”

As the reality sinks in, we still don’t care why. Only that. Not why. But we are starting candlelit vigils. We have a memorial that spans two blocks, with flowers and candles and signs and crosses in front of the chain link fence that keeps us away from where the shooting happened. I went there today, and left flowers. Hugged sobbing strangers. Video chatted with K, showing her what I saw, so she didn’t have to feel so alone, distant, and removed in her grief for her town, for her younger self, for her memories.

It will be same tomorrow. I know grief and loss so intimately that I understand how it will play out for me. While it’s different for everyone, there are some constants for all of us. Time is kind enough to help our sorrow nestle into a place in our souls. But it never allows us to forget. 

Daily gratitudes:
Blue skies
K
Dogs
Community
Flowers

Quote of the Day: “She was a genius of sadness, immersing herself in it, separating its numerous strands, appreciating its subtle nuances. She was a prism through which sadness could be divided into its infinite spectrum.” — Jonathan Safran Foer

The Day After

I spent a long, long time in the shower this morning. Wishing I could find beautiful, lyrical words to express my sorrow. Wishing that those words would unfold from me, like the unfurling of a fiddlehead fern in spring, and spill from my fingers onto a page. I felt like I was not really a writer, because I don’t have that gift of spinning words that mean something, that touch others, from a silken tangled web of thoughts and feelings. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

The media released the names of those killed in yesterday’s shooting. Was I a friend of any of them? No. Were some names familiar? Yes. Even though I’ve written about how this town has changed over nearly 40 years, today it feels like a small town. Between K and myself, we have some second or thirdhand connection to someone who has been deeply wounded by this tragedy. (After speaking with K, she does indeed know some of the victims as friends of friends.) Speaking to us, the Mayor of Boulder, the Chief of Police, the Governor, all hold back tears – you can hear it in their voices.

Our community feels just numb. There are so many feelings and thoughts that it’s hard to even separate them. Thankful it wasn’t one of our friends or family. Guilt because we’re thankful. Struck by the names of those who were killed, as we run them through our minds…did we know them? Have any mutual friends? Do I deserve to be struggling with any feelings at all, since I didn’t know any of the victims, just the place? Why did the police treat the shooter with such tenderness? What if he had been black? What about gun control? One of the dead is a policeman who was known for rescuing baby ducks. He was the good guy with the gun. Why is he dead? Am I overreacting? So much. Too much.

Focus is a challenge today. Empath-me needs to immerse myself in media coverage, but I don’t have time for that. I want to sleep, a reflection of internalized grief. I have no appetite. My stomach is upset. My Mother used to say I always put my stress in my stomach. I guess that’s true. I continue to leak, just a glaze of small tears creeping into my eyelashes.

As the day progressed, I realized that this is personal. It’s happened to a community that I’ve been a part of for almost 40 years. Not in the community, but to the community. Today, we don’t care about why he did it, what his nationality is, what religion he follows, whether gun control is stronger…we don’t care about any of it today. We care about the people we’ve lost. The only thing we want is for this not to have happened. And that’s the only thing we can’t have.

Daily gratitudes
The hawk that accompanied me right by my driver’s window today – I could have reached out and touched him
Getting my vaccine (ouch)
Getting all of my old (and I mean old) journals back from my ex-house
Talks with K
Halo Top

Quote of the Day: “We cannot change fate and the tragedies that enter our lives but we can choose how we want them to change us.” — Nikki Rowe

Love on a Day of Tragedy

Today has been a horrible day. Just up the road, a gunman walked into the grocery store I’ve been in hundreds of times and opened fire. Just walked in and without a word, opened fire. The police won’t disclose how many people died. A YouTube video of the first few minutes of the massacre showed two bodies laying in the parking lot and one just inside the store, by the shopping carts. Those souls lay there on the cold ground for hours as SWAT teams broke windows and rescued people through the roof, as news crews swarmed. The thought of them there breaks my heart. This store is the one all the high school kids hung out at — K was one of those high school kids, not so long ago. Today, her high school parking lot was used as a staging point for MedEvac helicopters, but there were no injured. Only bodies. If there is a single severe mercy, it is that this is Spring Break, so even though the kids are back at in-person school, they weren’t all congregating at the store’s Starbucks after classes, just when the shooting started. A Law Enforcement Officer lost his life. Police vehicles from multiple counties are sitting silently with their lights on in a long line, waiting to escort him out.

I remember Columbine vividly. Then, too, I was stricken by the thought of bodies left on the floor for hours. As a new parent, I could just imagine what those mothers were feeling. I remember Aurora all too well. K was at a midnight showing of that film, just at a different theater. The Walmart shooting? About 10 miles away. I have checked in with all my peeps who might have been in the vicinity today and all are accounted for. But my heart grieves for those families who cannot say the same, for those people who were just trying to buy some groceries. You really never think it can happen in your community. But it can.

Daily gratitudes: (tough today)
Chicken noodle soup
Cuddly cats
The comforting reporting of Kyle Clark
The woman I made friends with at the store yesteray
The beauty of silver hair

Quote of the day: “Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.” — Fredrik Backman

The Original Friday Poem

Transcendental

When I neglect the solitary pleasures
of my soul,
Forget that there are myriad Waldens,
cloned Thoreaux,
I lessen what I have to spend, to share,
Ignoring random treasures buried there,
And find my self undug and drowning old,
A story dreamed, but never to be told.

But if my face should turn
towards silent suns,
Lessening winds that storm and
whip and churn,
Perhaps a tale will speak from ashes left
To smolder slowly,
finally,
to burn.

In brightness glowing with a roseate hue,
A saga shared with stones and living few,
The blooming blaze of me will well retell
The story still unknown, but known too well,
of love and life, of death, of heaven,
hell,
Of ages sages laughed and lied for,
Eons soldiers killed and died for.

Daily gratitudes:
Nerve
Lists
A beautiful thank you card
Friday
Finishing a journa

Quote of the Day: “There is no remedy for love but to love more.” — Henry David Thoreau

What Lies Ahead

When I was little, I worried a lot. About things that had a .000001% chance of ever happening where we lived, like tornadoes or earthquakes. Things my Father called non-questions. He shut me down with that statement whenever I’d finally driven him to the point of exasperation, though he was still kind about it. But there was one fear that neither parent could ever quell.

For my first 14 years, we only took driving vacations, and only within North Carolina or to West Virginia to see my grandmother. (Except for a few train trips down to Florida to see my other grandparents when I was very small.) As my Father worked at the University, we took Spring Break when school took Spring Break, which was usually in March. My parents would load up the car and drive to the Outer Banks, staying in Buxton where the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse sat on the point, shining its beacon as a warning to ships far out in the treacherous seas off the easternmost point in the state.

Palmetto-Peartree Reserve, a lovely
place that terrified a child-me.
Image from The Conservation Fund

It was a drive that felt like forever. We didn’t have a big four-lane highways back then. We took two-lane state highways, passing through rural farmland. I remember seeing so many old white abandoned houses that I wanted to grow up to rescue. We would stop in Willamston and have lunch at the Shamrock (it’s still there), and I always had stuffed flounder (it’s no longer on the menu), which was one of my “special occasion” meals growing up. I can still recall the wood of the captain’s chairs at our four-top, and the art on the paneled walls after all this time. After lunch, the drive turned from farmland to swampland, trees deep dripping with moss in uninterrupted mystery. What we were skirting is now the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve and the Alligator River National Wildlife Reserve, but back then, to a child, it was just the creepy swampland. Then suddenly, the swamp ended and we were heading over the bridge, through Manteo, across another bridge, and onto Whalebone Junction, where we turned right on Highway 12, which runs the length of the upper Outer Banks.

And that’s where the trouble started. Or more accurately, where I started being a particular pain in the ass.

By now, it was usually dusk. Not only was it a long drive from Durham, when you added trying to pack the car and two kids, stopping for lunch, and keeping to the speed limit, which my Mother did, the day was well faded by this time. Car headlights approached us as we traveled the 60 mile stretch of oceanfront road that was frequently washed out by Nor’easters or hurricanes. And therein lay the cause of my fears. Always, all the cars — all of them — were coming towards us. And we were the only car heading in our direction.

I was frequently near hysterical about this, absolutely convinced that something disastrous had happened at our destination, and that’s why everyone was coming towards us. They were all sensibly running away from the tragedy/monster/peril. But we were going towards it. Here we were, an innocent family, blithely travelling straight to our doom. Driving unknowingly right into the greedy, vicious maw of the beast. From my shotgun position, I kept swiveling around to see if there was anyone behind us, but no, there wasn’t. Just a long string of refugees from the terror ahead, passing by us, unable to gesture or indicate what was out there. My parents had enough of my nonsense after about 20 miles, so I would shut up and sit silently, staring into the darkness and girding my loins for our fate. As I recall, my brother, E-bro, was singularly unhelpful in this situation, but that’s what older brothers are for.

Of course, we would always live to tell the tale, reaching our haven of the Tower Circle Motel without being devoured or destroyed. Mr. Jack Grey would have left the light on for us and the door to our unit unlocked. There were no monsters or secret storms, just the sound of the crashing waves and the reassuring beam of the lighthouse flashing in its silent, trusted rhythm. We went on to spend a week with books and games and music and walks on the cold beach, times that I treasure. But every year, I went through this anxiety, without fail, until I grew out of it. I can’t remember how old I was when that happened. Curiously, my nephew had the same fear when he was small. That takes my mystical mind a-roaming to things like soul families and past lives. Did my nephew and I share a life long ago where we had a legitimate fear of something that destroyed us? Sounds a bit far-fetched, but one can’t be sure. I’m just glad that fear is a memory and that I’ve done a complete 180, going anywhere fearlessly and perhaps too often disregarding what might lie ahead. Roads, day or night, are made for adventure.

What Lies Before Us is a Joy and a Mystery.

Daily gratitudes:
Plans
No change fees on plane tickets
Nearing vaccine eligibility
My baked salmon
Getting called for Jury Duty!

Quote of the day:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” — William Shakespeare



After the Storm

After the storm, after the slow start that led to so many social media posts slamming and demeaning meteorologists, after the quiet, steady, falling snow, after the winds whipping drifts five feet high, after the trees were firmly and politely bowed with their cold burden, after all that…
Comes the crisp, clear, pure sky, the dazzling contrast of white against azure, the sun valiantly shining but futile in melting, the silence of usually busy streets disrupted occasionally by the clinking roar of a plow, the creaks and plops of those trees shedding dollops of snow, the woman wading through the depths of an alley to free her Bungalow from its magical slumber….

Daily gratitudes:
That I’m strong enough to shovel myself out
The beauty of undisturbed snow
A dent in our drought levels
A warm sunset in a cold sky
Hot baths and good books

Quote of the day: “The snow fell as softly as a poet’s tears.” — Kevin Ansbro

Mt. Anticipation (A Weekly Friday Poem)

Slivers of sun peek through sodden skies
As the tender tendrils of spring
Tremble in the breeze.
deceptive wind
deceptive warmth
teasing clouds
Where is it coming from?
Where is it going?
How strong
How stubborn
How painful
How powerful
How tragic
We wait,
Me
and the harbingers of spring
tentatively tucked up
for whatever the storm brings.

Daily gratitudes:
Tuna steaks
A day warmer than expected
My pirate mask
Friday
A quiet day

Quote of the day: “Snow falling soundlessly in the middle of the night will always fill my heart with sweet clarity.” — Novala Takemoto

The Sorrow of Today

Today, my youngest stepson would have turned 26. We lost him to suicide almost two years ago, another date that we mark with grief as we pass through the years. He was a complex and magnificent soul, with so much to offer. But as we all do, he found it hard to get out of his own way. The hopelessness and futility that feeling can engender became too much for him to bear.

M marks his birthday by dining at our son’s favorite restaurant, accompanied by his picture. He buys our son a glass of wine, and leaves it untouched. To date, M does not want me to accompany him on this modest pilgrimage.

I feel somewhat detached from my own grief about his loss. I think that’s defense mechanism that I have built, particularly around losing him. I have seen my hopeless, raging grief spill out at sunset by the side of a mountain river. I know it’s there. I just don’t know how to manage it, particularly in the face of M’s deeply painful, life-changing sorrow. My grief lives tucked away on a shelf so that I can be strong with him, for him, in the face of his.

Losing a child, at any age and regardless of the relationship you have with them, means losing so much more than just their being, their day-to-day existence, your interaction with them. It means losing the future. Your hopes, prayers, and dreams for your child vanish in an instant. You grieve that loss as well. I chastise myself for the opportunities I missed with our son, the promises I didn’t get around to keeping, the unintentional hurts I may have caused him. It’s impossible not to ask myself if I contributed to his choice. Or if there was something I might have done that could have prevented it.

His joy in his life was as real as his struggle. I hope with all my heart that where he is now, he can freely feel all the joy, and that the struggle is gone. As my belief supports, I trust that he and I will have a chance to get it right in some other life. In the meantime, M and I honor the day of his birth in our own ways, and honor him daily with remembrance, and prayers that his spirit has found some peace.

Daily gratitudes:
Jasper the Great Pyrenees
Two horses playing “I’m gonna eat your face”
Wind chimes
Having Ice Melt on hand for our upcoming snowstorm
Sending presents

Quote of the day:
“May the stars carry your sadness away, 
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.” — Chief Dan George