Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Gasp. A Whiff. A Promise.

The earth turns in her orbit to warm the southerly side of her round form; warming her down-under side, as it were. Here in the north, we've been basking in the glory of her golden rays and blossom-scented days while our fellow southern hemisphere friends retreated into the cool shadows of winter for contemplation and dreaming.  Now it's our turn to capture those memories of summer, like fireflies in a jar, to carry us through the coming winter.

My friends are planting bulbs, hiding them under the soil where they will be kept an eye on for a hint that the winter is over, and the promise of life renewed. I imagine them sitting with a steaming mug of tea, gazing out over a frozen landscape with hope in their hearts, planted like their tulip bulbs, to emerge with the first warm days of spring.

As for me, I went for a walk on crisp October evening marveling at the stained-glass colors of auburn, gold, crimson and saffron that shone brightly against a cerulean sky. The scent of acorns and fallen leaves scented the air and a breeze, recently a denizen of the Arctic circle lifted a curl from my neck.  I moved easily and joyfully in this cool, dry air and smiled at the kaleidoscopic display nature revealed to me.

It seems intuitive to turn to contemplation or reconciliation in the fall.  For me, it's a time of reckoning and taking stock. I'm like the squirrel storing acorns away to nosh on all winter, gathering the kernels of experiences, feelings, flashes of insight, notions of things I'd like to try and putting them away to savor in the womb of winter.

Strolling over the blue-gray stone path, I took a big lung-full of air, thick with the scent of autumn; I walked through a ray of sun slanting sharply across my path. As I stepped into the light and breathed again, I was surprised to inhale the sweet and sublime scent of honeysuckle. I gasped and breathed again. Stopped in my tracks, I looked around for the flowers that were evidently confused into blooming in October.  And there they were, wrapped on a cedar branch, six perfect blossoms shining in a single ray of sun. Their audacity and bravery transfixed me. They didn't follow form. They were a defiant expression of determined summer to be seen and smelled; remembered and appreciated.

I laughed out loud at these crazy flowers and thought of how I and many of my friends and family are just like them. We are determined expressions of our essential being, out of context sometimes and unapologetic for it. We don't morph to fit into the scene; rather we choose to scent our surroundings with our being, leaving a lingering mark of our passing on the psyche of those who meet us. I seem to keep company with renegades.

Perhaps it's narcissistic to recognize the impact we have on our surroundings. I prefer to think it is a recognition of the grace God has given us - every one - to shine in our unique ways. I choose to be thankful for what I have to offer and joyfully share that whatever is useful to others.
I will remember that whiff of honeysuckle when I feel my surroundings closing in on me and daring me to shine brightly and risk being "put out."  So, I will make myself a promise, if a delicate flower can open it's petals in October then I can surely be at least that strong in staying true to myself, too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wholly Consumed - Living Mercurially

I've been slacking on the poetry front. I should have known this would be the hardest time of year to keep my promise to post one poem a week. Summer is too hot. My world turns to Mercury and the energy moves like quicksilver through the days. My muse takes refuge, preferring the cool of autumn and the long winter evenings to mull over the images garnered during the heat of summer.  Forgive me for the lapse - I will make it up to you! Whoever you are.  In the mean time, Mercury rules and I can offer this bit of writing to appease my sense of guilt and as a promise that I am not gone - merely dancing very fast and cannot expand into a poem until I catch my breath!

I am a mercury girl; a Virgo. I am a star-driven multi-tasker, over-achiever and go-getter.  I am also a closet introvert.  A fact, which when announced, brings looks of disbelief if not a blatant “Bullshit!”  That’s because Mercury girls are very, very good at doing whatever they do, articulating their ideas and taking control of situations that need an ordered and strong mind.  Not your usual introvert; not the skulking about the video store, not daring to look the clerk in the eye, sort.  We are bold and clear like a bell in a Buddhist monastery ringing across the Himalayas.
When given a chance to do anything – anything at all – I would usually choose to be alone, at least for a little while.  Empty, unplanned time is what I need to allow this strong and ordered mind to ruminate upon its many and varied interests, apply creative problem solving, logic and strategy and to allow intuitive creativity to inform the process.  For me, no time alone yields no poetry nor art, it breeds a systematic undermining of creativity and productivity.  This Mercury girl becomes agitated and depressed, overworked and stressed. 
Better to take a little time to unplug, unload, undo.  I love to dump the contents of my mind out and sort through it like a child digging through her collection of baubles and trinkets picked up at the fair.  And then put them carefully away, preserved and labeled, ready for recall at a moment’s notice.
With a guarantee of solitude and solace I find that I can be as deeply driven as I care to be.  I feel I can achieve anything I set my mind to.  There are no barriers, borders or rules that cannot be overcome.  I can serve forever from that limitless reservoir that feeds and sustains me.
Life consumes me wholly even as I am replenished.  I bring forth new effort and ideas; they are snatched up by an eager Universe and the nexus between Creator and Created pulls yet more from me in a continuing flux of energy.  I am restored from an eternal fount that resides deep in my intuitive self and is tied to my innermost core.  This is the birthplace of inspiration, motivation and action.
I have been consumed many times over, in many incarnations and reinventions.  I am mother.  Wife.  Entrepreneur.  Executive.  Spiritual seeker.  I have found new depths of being by diving beneath the waters of the well of grief to the still quiet place where the first heart beat its first beat.  I have walked in the fire and faced my foes with courage, spoken the truth from deep love and compassion.  I have become a leader and shelterer of those who are attracted to such truths.  I hold space between my outstretched arms for the world to be born and for lovers to dance and for the weary to rest.  It is not easy.  Sometimes I stumble and fall crying into the arms of that vast unknown and I yell “What more can I give?  What more would you have of me?”
I know the answer.  Mercury-girls, like me, are on the fast-track to dissolve into the Source, being consumed by a serviceful life.  Those blessed moments of introversion and stillness allow me to brush away the detritus and fragments that create drag and confusion and lend handholds to attachment and desire.  Attachment is the devil – if there is one.  I must be wary and ever vigilant against the desire to act for my sole benefit.  There is no lasting joy in serving one’s selfish desires.  It is a costly and painful way of living that is abhorrent to Nature.    
And when I turn my gaze toward the hills where the sun sets and solitude awaits, I know I am connected to the highest truth.  One that sustains and keeps all creation.  I will be lived, Mercurially, in the moment and unreserved. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Week Twenty Poem - Young Bull

Fourteen years old;
Surly and sweet
Tough and tender.
Cocky and yet so unsure he brandishes bravado
Like a matador staring down a bull
In hopes the bull will buy his act and flinch first.

Mostly, I am bemused and tolerant
But today he was mean to me.
So I chased him around the yard with a hoe.
He had mouthed off;
Spewed barbed nastiness
Using the vocabulary I had taught him.

He’s been hitting the testosterone pretty hard these days.
It seems to cause deafness, blindness, meanness, and general stupidity
My voice is only audible to him when I roar
And am amplified with gardening tools
Or threats of social curtailment.

And I roared, “NO! Dammit” He had crossed the line.
And I shook the hoe in the air and dashed its biting edge into the lawn.
And stared him down.
Mamma does not flinch. Not here. Not now.

The surprise on his face was comical
 He had touched a boundary that was electrified and was
Shocked to have found the limit of my patience.
I don’t know why. It’s been clearly marked for quite some time now.

Running after him was pointless, of course.
He moved easily. Like a panther, out of my reach
Out of range.
But he heard me, dumbfounded and stunned as he was.  
I had gotten through.
It was enough.

I walked away and put my Mother’s Rage
Back in my pocket and plucked the weeds from my pansies
To hide my hurt and regain composure.
This is not who I am – this is not who he is.
We have known each other since the tiny cells of his heart began to beat
Deep in the womb.

I breathed in a prayer for us both to survive
The teenage years of bull-headedness and breaking free;
The parenting years of expansion and letting go;
That there would be few regrets and enough love
To anesthetize the pain of growing up.

My fourteen-year-old man-cub
Came around with wariness in his eyes
And regret weighing down that proud neck. Would I forgive him?
Yes. Mothers do.
We do not break our young men on the rack of our pride.
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“Me, too, baby. Me, too.”

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Turning Points and Coaster Wisdom

This is a piece that I have been working on for a few weeks.  A tad grittier than usual. Enjoy! ~C.

Rachael frowned at the coffee-stained coaster “Happiness is Wanting What You Have” it proclaimed in letters stamped and baked into its surface.  Well that certainly explained a lot.  Were these glib statements that adorn everything from coasters to bumper stickers supposed to make her feel better?  What was wrong with a plain old coaster?   Rachael sat her mug over the offending message and stared hard at the wood grain of her friend’s table trying to ignore the sick feeling in her stomach and the sharp prick of tears stinging her eyes.

There was nowhere to go this time. It was bad enough that Steve had found out about her affair. It didn’t seem just to call it an affair when they had been living separate lives for the last half-decade.  Falling into Marcus’ arms seemed more a natural progression; like a seed pushing its way out of the dark earth into the warmth of sunshine.  So she was newly sprouted seeking the warm rays of love and happiness to shine upon her only to be mowed down by the violence of Steve’s reaction to her confession.

“You’re nothing but a tramp and a whore, Rach.” He had breathed into her ear with his hands wrapped around her neck. Rachael had a fleeting thought of a quail just before its neck gets wrung.  Then he had twisted his fingers in her hair and held her fast while he kissed her hard, drawing blood and bruising her mouth. He tasted like onions.  He shoved her away and sneered at her “That’s one to remember me by, you bitch.”

He had flung the door back to bang harshly against the wall and walked out.  She could still feel his hands on her neck and taste the copper of her own blood as she stood there in the rectangle of sunlight that poured in through the door.  The marked-up, crumpled copy of her cell phone record he had brandished at her, his proof and vindication fell silently to the floor.

A tramp and a whore.  The words still rang in her head. Rachael pressed the ice pack to her still-swollen lip and bit back the bile that rose in her throat. She didn’t think she was either and yet the accusation seemed to have found some shred of guilt to gain traction. She could feel the words banging around inside her, punching holes, bleeding her dry from the inside out.   She lifted the steaming cup of tea with a shaky hand and winced as she took a sip. She turned her eyes to the coaster again, “Happiness is Wanting What You Have”.  She hadn’t wanted what she had in a long time.

“What a fucking mess.” she thought as the tears finally pooled and fell over her lashes. She squeezed her eyes shut to hold them back but it was no use, a wracking sob escaped her chest. She gave herself over to it in, convulsing with waves of self-loathing and pity, heartbreak and fear.  Someone took the cup from her hands and then there were arms around her shoulders.

“It’s gonna be okay, doll. You’re gonna be all right.” Of course it was Lisa, her best friend, who also happened to have the most annoying coasters on the planet. Lisa pressed a tissue into her hand and told her “Now, blow.”  Rachael did and then she wiped her eyes and took a few shaky breaths.

“Now, tell me what happened after he left.”

“I just sat on the floor for a long time. The sun went down and the tile got cold.” Rachael pushed the words past the lump in her throat. “I could still feel his hands on my neck and I remember how strange it was that I could smell his cologne on my skin. He hadn’t touched me in months and I had forgotten how much I loved that smell. It made me angry, Lis. I was so pissed that the fucking smell of him could make me, make me – feel something!  After five years of us just cohabitating the same house, waiting to make a change until Jason left for college. Five years I was ignored or amicably tolerated. We just kept drifting apart and agreeing we would end it one day, this is what I get; his self-righteous anger and my stupid reaction to the way he smells. Christ! Lisa I never thought of myself as such a victim.”

There was a glimmer of disbelief in Lisa’s eyes. “Sweetie, you’ve been putting up with this situation longer than anyone should have.  But you know Steve, he’s go too much pride to take this laying down, even if he was single handedly driving you into Marcus’ arms.”

At the mention of Marcus’ name, Rachael felt a fresh wave of remorse and resentment. Marcus, her lover for the last two years, was absent. In the moment she needed him most, he couldn’t bloody be bothered.  She had met him at a political rally where he charmed her with his good looks and engaging conversation. The exchange of email addresses to help organize events quickly turned into text messages and emails to organize their budding relationship.  Rachael still trembled when she remembered the first time they made love. All the moments leading up to that consummation could have been forgotten, denied as innocent flirtation until that culminating moment when she had let him in. Until then she could have turned back, but after that she was no longer Steve’s faithful wife, she had become Marcus’ lover.  There was no changing that fact and so she clung to him as a bright spot in her otherwise lonely life.

Marcus made her feel good. His hands were strong and warm and seemed to cherish her with every caress. It was salve on the open wounds of her heart and she clamored for it.  She needed him, wanted him and resented it when he had to leave to go back to his wife. They had made pillow-talk plans for the time when they could be together and how great it would be when they were free to love openly. He said he talked to his divorce lawyer. They were supposed to serve the papers two months ago.  He promised to be there for her, to be her safety net. He said she wouldn’t ever have to worry.

Well, here she was free-falling and he wouldn’t even return her calls.  “I called Marcus, later and told him what happened. He said he couldn’t talk right then and that he would call me later. That was eight hours ago. I called him again and he didn’t pick up.  That Blackberry is never out of his hand, so I know he just ignored it. I think he’s hanging me out to dry, Lisa. I really do.”

“Maybe not. Maybe he’s really tied up and is waiting until he has time to talk.  He knows that you expect him to make a move. That’s got to rattle him a little.” She tightened her arm around Rachael’s shoulder. “But we don’t need to worry about him just yet, sweetie. Right now, we need to get you patched up. How’s your lip?” Lisa peered critically at her lip and touched it gently where the bruises were beginning darken.

“Still swollen, but it doesn’t hurt so much anymore, mainly because I hurt everywhere else.  What a fucking mess this is.”

“It’s not all that bad. I mean you and Steve were heading this way already, it just came down a little faster and harder than you thought it would.”

“He hates me. He called me a tramp and a whore. God! I really didn’t want him to hate me, Lisa. I wanted to be able to part well, for Jason’s sake.”

“He’ll come around, Rach. His pride is smarting right now and he has to roar about it.  He probably has a girlfriend on the side, too and it’s his own guilt making him nuts over what you did.”

“You think he has someone?”

“I don’t know. I’m just saying, there is more to it than we are thinking about right now. Everything has to settle down and then we can see what’s what.”

“Thanks, Lisa. Really.” Rachael could feel a fresh wave of tears and she wiped them away impatiently and sought to change the subject a bit. “What’s with the coaster philosophy? I mean I want to be happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Who doesn’t? But Steve didn’t want me and I didn’t want him and we couldn’t get divorced. I think I love Marcus, but I doubt that will ever have him. What do I have that I want, Lisa? Help me see that. I could use a little happiness right about now.”

Lisa paused for a moment and then slid another coaster out of the stack and placed it in front of Rachael.  “Gratitude Attitude” it said.  Rachael laughed weakly and mentally noted that Lisa was really good at talking people down – or up, depending on the situation. Rachael was up a tree, freaked out and clinging like a drowning person to anything she could touch.  “You have yourself, girl. And you have me. And Jason will always love you, because you’re his Mamma. You’re healthy and strong and gorgeous! What’s not to be thankful for?” Lisa took a sip of her own tea and settled back on the couch next to Racheal, took her hand and pulled her close. Lisa always smelled like lavender and vanilla.

Rachael laid her head on Lisa’s shoulder and let out a shuddering breath. “Do you think he’ll call?”
“Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn’t really matter.  You have to take care of you, and I’ll help. Marcus can’t help take care of you because he’s going to have to deal with his own decisions soon.”

Rachael let that sink in for a moment. The sounds of Lisa’s house filled the silence.  Budgerigars chirped merrily in the sunroom, the air conditioner droned like a Tibetan monk.  Rachael closed her eyes and listened to the clock chimes mete out another hour. Where had all the time gone?  She and Steve had been greedy; looking for something more, different and better than what they had. Would it have made a difference to Steve if she had stayed content, even if he wasn’t?   

“It would have been a lot easier if Steve and I just stayed in love. It’s so tragic and sad. All those years wasted that we could have been happy, if, according to your coaster philosophy, we simply wanted what was in front of us.”

“It’s never too late to learn, Rach. You can be happy.  Don’t beat yourself up, this is rich stuff. Don’t think there’s nothing to it just because it showed up on a coaster. Some of the best pieces of advice I have ever read came straight off the bathroom wall!” Lisa laughed and stroked Rachael’s hair.  “Listen, some people never have a clue that what they’ve written off as disposable was really a great gift. At least you are starting to see that.”

“So you think we blew it, too?”  Rachael braced herself for what would surely be the truth delivered straight between the eyes.

“I’m sorry for you to have missed out when you could have been enjoying life. But I, of all people, know what these last five years have been like for you. So, I can’t say it was a mistake, maybe just a missed opportunity.  Okay, a lot of missed opportunities!  But, I’m not going to judge you, doll. You seem to be doing a pretty good job of that yourself.”

Rachael startled when her cell-phone rang.  She reached to answer it only to have Lisa’s hand stop her. She turned to her friend with a querying look.

“Whatever he says, remember that You are Fine, Whole and Happy – just the way you are!” Lisa pointed to a third coaster proclaiming this latest affirmation. Rachael rolled her eyes and gave her friend a genuine smile.
She looked at the number on the phone and blew out a breath before flipping the phone open. Whatever Marcus said in this moment, she would try to embrace it, want it and be grateful. Even if it meant admitting that she had been lied to and had lied to herself.

She could tell immediately by the tone of his voice that he was setting her adrift. The spineless way he made excuses about it not being a good time financially and that his wife was feeling bad right now. “I just can’t kick her when she’s down” he said.  But, it seemed, he could kick her when she was down. The truth of that clicked into place and Rachael was forced into being honest with herself.  Admitting she had known all along he was never leaving his wife was strangely relieving.  He would not be there for her, he was not hers to have. He had used her while it worked for him to do so. And she had used him, too, to distract herself from the prison she was living in.

The truth had come and blown away the lies that had become her life.  Now those prison walls were gone and Rachael was in a free-fall.  Spinning and disoriented, she was too exhausted to really care if she fell hard to the ground. 

Through some miracle grace had interceded, granting a place to land and a parachute to sail through the turbulence.   Thanks to Lisa and a couple of kitschy coasters, she might just be okay. She felt unnervingly naked and exposed, but in spite of this she felt better than she had in years.

Happiness is Wanting What You Have.  She reread the message again and closed her eyes as she told Marcus goodbye and closed her phone.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Week Nineteen Poem: Holy Work

A friend said it is "holy work," to capture my grandmother’s stories
And put them on the page.
I am daunted, but determined to take it on.

My grandmother’s voice becomes a time machine
Revealing the secrets of her youth
She answers my questions with delight and
Her eyes take on the mischievous glint
Of a youngster in love with life
Ready to eat the world.
Next week she’ll be ninety.
Next interview she’ll be nine.

The digital recorder is a time capsule that we are filling up together
Picking out stories, mining her memory for the gems
Long held and not spoken of in a long time – or maybe never.
Preserving life and time gone by
In patchwork fashion, to be sorted later.
I am transported by my grandmother’s voice
Into her girlhood
Where I meet my great-grandparents and aunts and uncles, too
Who’s blood is in my veins and character influences me -
All these years apart and still so intimate.
Turns out my great-grandmother was a bit of a rebel,
I can relate to that and wonder if that’s where I got that particular trait.
I walk through my grandmother’s childhood home and touch the furniture
And smell the wood- smoke and beans simmering. 
I can sit alongside her
While she plays with paper-dolls cut from the Sears catalog
And dresses kittens in doll clothes to star in the backyard play.

It’s like Christmas.  I listen closely, each story unwraps a shiny new piece
Of the story that is her life and my heritage.
I am eager pose questions
To flesh out the facts with details that
Give them dimension.
Mimi laughs and digs deeper
And smiles as she finds these stories intact deep inside
It’s her youthful voice that brings them into the light
Where they dazzle like stained-glass butterflies
Sparkling in the sun.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Week Eighteen Poem: Still

It is impossible to write
When my heart is peaceful.
There is nothing to grab onto,
Stick words to,
And ruminate upon.
There is no outrage or heartbreak
No adoration or elation.

Stillness of the mind yields
Stillness of the pen.

Peace, refracted through
The prism of my mind
Casts rainbows of contentment
Across attic beams and foundation stones.
I cannot write, unified, void of duality.
In the beginning there was the word
The word that started it all
Before the word there was only Being.

I cast a stone into the Stillness
Try to get a rise,
Manifest a raison d’etre.
The ripple will need a voice.
Take a breath and raise the pen,
Ready to catch the wave and
Sketch the boundaries that separate
This tiny piece of Self from the Source

It is no use and I laugh out loud
at the effort to instigate a chain reaction.
That Peace has its own gravity
The ripple falls back into the Still Lake of Being
It’s impossible to write
In such a place
Where words have no meaning
One can only Be.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Week Seventeen: Mockingbird Haiku

Simple pleasures abound in spring! Each day I walk from my office building to lunch and on this short journey I play witness to the earnest and most delightful display from the mockingbirds. Love is in the the song goes...and the mockingbirds seem take that notion to a whole new level.
Happy Spring, everyone!

Mockingbird singing
The songs of a dozen birds
On a branch alone

Arrangement varies
Adds in a whippoorwill call
And car alarm, too

Sings “raucous crow” call
The one that wins her favor
She lights on his branch

Mockingbirds singing
Protect their nest of younglings
Medley lullaby

Friday, April 15, 2011

Week Sixteen: Come, sit in my garden.

There is nothing more deeply satisfying than digging my fingers into sun-warmed soil in springtime.  It’s as if my body needs to verify that, in fact, the long dreary winter is well and truly gone.  The earth turns in my hand and releases the aroma of possibilities; what will sprout here, this year?  I inhale deeply in appreciation of the dormant potentiality held in my hands.
Each year the garden beckons me from my winter hibernation - where I had been dozing dreamily over seed catalogs - out under the open sky to greet the sun, wind and rain.  My host of trusty shovels, rakes, hoes and gloves, dusty from the months of disuse, are once again employed in my endeavor to connect with the earth and watch the magic happen.
For what could be more magical than dropping tiny seeds into warm earth and then sitting back to behold the unfurling of a tentative leaf?  Or the opening of a bud that swells into a rose whose purpose, it seems, is to entice the bees?  In this tiny world sheltered by my garden fence I feel at one, at peace and whole.  Here, I am part of the cycle of life that flows through all beings.  And when I reach for a snap bean or sprig of rosemary and nibble them with soil covered fingers, I know this is my place.
Some say time spent in the garden is a hobby or maybe even a business.  To them I say, “Come!  Sit in my garden and look with clear eyes and see the mystery, magic and delight in these simple things.”  Then they know that I am one who can hear the whispers of the plant people and am here to share the wisdom of sustenance.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Week Fifteen - Random haiku snapshots of my week

Green pasture beckons
Waddling geese nibble new shoots
Cattle have flown south


Betrayed my trust
Hacked into my private files
Resignation penned


Liberation comes
To one free of attachments
Maybe, maybe not


Still water reflects
The scudding clouds of summer
Pond remains changeless

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Week Fourteen: Sleepless

As part of the exercises I regularly do to hone my writing craft, I create pieces gleaned from the imagined views and perspective of characters I am developing along with a healthy dose of romantic, dramatic flare. Makes for some interesting and varied reading. I hope you enjoy!

Blessings! Cass

Sleep won’t take me to the shores of dreams
Drenched in moonlight and beckoning
There is no rest for my wretched heart
Ticking like a time bomb and aching.

I beg and cajole that Sweet Slumber
To steal me away to Dreaming
There rules don’t rule and
Love’s erotic play plays out;
In that silvery landscape, there is no limit
We can have whatever we imagine.

A sensory feast to savor is what I would dream.
Rich and warm and sultry.
I want it all; Hands, heart and soul, too
You give them over freely.
Tip a wine cup to anoint us,
Poplar and teak, fair and dark,
Our union harmonizing and deep
Honey-scented passion play is headier than mead.
Drunk and sated in each other’s arms
That’s the dream I long for.

But sleep won’t take me to lay with you
On the twilit shores of What-if and I Wonder,
I toss, awake to seek comfort where I can find it.
Cool and impartial powers have inserted themselves
Short circuiting my plans to love you.
Integrity and Truth; cold comfort, indeed
Offer no soft ground to rest upon.

The Great Bard wrote of star-crossed lovers
In truth, I must be Juliet to call into the night
“Wherefore art thou?”
Cast the bones and gaze into the ball
And conjure up a wish-fed spell.
There is no earthly realm to hold Us.
Shall ever meet you on the shores of dreams?
I think, yes.

Week Thirteen - Boys of Summer - a few 'ku and one not 'ku

It’s Opening Day
With the greening of the fields
The boys are back

Stepping out like Gods
The crowd’s great roar anoints in
A benediction

Faithful fans flocking
The season is underway
Hope springs yet again

This time they could win
The bullpen and field are strong
Awesome at hitting

The boys of summer
Reign supreme on fields of dreams
A Nation’s honored pastime

Week Twelve - Little Darlings

My “little darlings” are culled and corralled
Into disheveled collections
On every hard drive of every computer
I have ever written on.
Turns of phrase and
Bits of word-smithery
That I couldn’t bear to simply
They hang out together - an unlikely assortment
In a file called
“gems to cut.”
One day I’ll sift through them
And place them artfully into
A piece of prose or an unsuspecting poem
Where they can really shine
Eclectic and expressive
Artful and daring,
These little darlings might just have been
Worth saving.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Charlie Metro - Something Tremendous. Week Eleven

My grandfather, Charlie Metro, passed away on March 18, 2011. This is a piece I wrote to celebrate him. I read it at the memorial service, amazingly, without crying. Love, Cass 

A Tremendous Life

Everyone’s life has a story; how they got to where they are with all the twists and turns that occurred while getting there.  Some lives are short and some are dramatic, some appear dull and others are brightly colored, layered with stories like coats of paint on a carousel.  My grandfather, Charlie Metro’s, life was an extraordinary display of color; his stories were grand and far-reaching. His life, well, it was tremendous.

I choose the word tremendous because it’s the only one that’s big enough to fit him. Papa’s booming voice, broad white smile, and devilishly handsome face gave ol’ Rhett Butler a run for his money. But more than that, Papa was larger than life in the way he kept himself open to things; the way he let in the vast expanse of the world and stretched himself to hold it, made him the center of our universe.  He laughed loud and long, he played hard and worked harder. He loved one woman for his whole life and never let her forget it.

When Papa was a boy growing up the eldest of nine kids, son of Ukranian immigrants in the coal mining town of Nanty-Glo, Pennsylvania, he had big ideas. Ideas of living life and seeing what he could make of it. He worked alongside his dad in the coal mine and was with him one tragic day when there was a deadly explosion. Papa saved his dad’s life that day, at the age of nineteen. Papa knew he didn’t want to stay in the mines all his life and his dad didn’t want him to either.  So he started thinking up ways to make a different life; a better life, not just for himself, but for his whole family.

One day he skipped school to go to a baseball tryout in Johnstown, PA along with 1500 other hopefuls. He knew his chances were small so he ingeniously contrived a way to be noticed. He rolled up his pant legs and pulled on long black socks clear up to his knees and gave his best effort at the tryouts. The scouts took notice and called to him “Hey, Black Socks! How about showing us how you run?” or “Hey, Black Socks! Throw in from center to the cut-off man.”   In that sea of other young hopefuls who all dutifully had worn long white socks, Papa’s flying black socks made a statement. And sure enough, he was one of only three players signed from the tryouts.

Papa’s tremendous life went on to include the game of baseball for nearly 50 years.  He was a player, manager, scout and coach. He helped start up the Kansas City Royals when they got their expansion franchise and was with the Dodgers for three World Series’.  He knew everyone from Connie Mack to Joe DiMagio to Ted Williams to Mickey Mantle to Billy Martin. He scouted and signed some of the players inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Over the years he sent money home and took care of his Pop and Mom and helped put his baby brother, Joe, through college.

In 1939 Papa found himself playing for the Mayfield, KY Baseball Club.  Helen Deane Bullock, our Mimi, a beautiful Southern Belle, was walking down the street and stunned him with her smile.  Papa was determined to meet her and once he did he never looked away.  She was his “Dixie Cupcake” and the sun rose and set in her.  He went about using his charm and magnetism to win her over.  But his most cunning move was when he took her to the soda fountain where he ordered only one soda – with two straws.  “That way I could get real close to her.” he’d say with a twinkle in his eye whenever he related this tale. It was funny, Papa wheeled and dealed with some pretty big big-shots in his day, but this has always seemed like his most proud accomplishment; winning Mimi’s heart.  The famous ‘One Straw Ploy,’ as it came to be known, along with his charm and genuine goodness gave her plenty of reason to love him and they were married in Texarkana, Texas on April 3, 1941. Papa’s love for Mimi was obvious in the way he brought her flowers and valentines any day of the year. Every morning he was home he made a beeline straight to her “I love you, babe,” he’d say with a kiss.  Theirs has been a union blessed with challenges that weren’t too tough to overcome but helped them grow closer, a friendship that has lasted a lifetime that helped them laugh and talk things over and a deep and abiding love that echoes through the generations. 

In the early years of his career and his life with Helen things were a little rough.  Playing ball to make a living and raise a family was dicey business. They moved around a lot with their children – Elena, Bud (Charles, Jr.) and Stephen – and later, Geoff. From Montgomery, Alabama to Vancouver, Canada and many points in between, the family followed Papa as he signed from team to team. Each spring he would don his uniform and go to work for the grueling season until –if they were lucky and won a pennant – September.
Eventually, the kids got older and the need to settle down and make a more permanent home for the family took over. Papa got a job with the Denver Bears and bought a fifteen acre parcel of land in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains west of Denver.  The Ranch, as we called it, was a dream come true for Mimi and Papa and afforded the family an opportunity to grow strong and put down deep roots. Geoff came along – a later-in-life surprise – just as the older kids were in high-school and college.

Papa and Mimi started off working with cattle on the ranch but before too long switched to their real love – horses.  Everyone helped out on the Ranch; building corrals and putting up hay, breeding the mares and breaking ice in the winter. They had Quarter, Paint and Appaloosa horses, mostly for riding and showing and a few that were fast, lately from the track. Eventually they started building a race horse breeding program, and this is where Papa really put his talent in smooth talking to work.  He had connections all over the nation from his baseball travels and he used those connections to get introduced to the top breeders in Kentucky and California.  He bought a beautiful stallion named Dance Lesson who had been owned by the daughter of movie director Cecil B DeMille and had been ridden by the great Willie Shoemaker.  Dance Lesson ran a 1/5 of a second off the world record under Willie and he never put the baton to him once.  That was one fast horse. Papa was so proud of him.  A new sign went up in front of the Ranch that said “Metro Ranch – Home of Dance Lesson.   The Metro racehorse breeding program was literally off and running.

Each spring, Papa would pack his bags and leave the Ranch for baseball training. My mom and dad, and my sisters and I lived on the Ranch in the bunkhouse which had been remodeled from a milking barn for permanent human habitation. We would all see Papa off with hugs and kisses and usually a family dinner up at the big house the night before.  Papa would pull each one of us kids (there were four of us at one point) onto his knee and would proceed to make us giggle with little jokes that only we would get.  “What’s the story, Boom?” he would ask my sister, Radha, and she’d answer, “In Angie’s book, Papa!” And they both would laugh like hyenas at their private joke. Or he would gently smush our mouths, until we looked like we had fish lips, and demand with a gleam in his eye “Now say ‘Peaches’!” and we would try to say “Peaches” with those smushed fish lips and Papa would laugh and we would fall into hysterics like only little girls can.

Over the course of the summer, Papa would come home to visit for a few days at a time. These were like holidays for us. We waited in anticipation all day long. Mom had to restrict us from pestering Mimi with phone calls and the not-so-casual stroll by the big house looking to see if our very own personal Santa Claus and Superman was home, yet.  There was only one rule; Mimi got to see Papa first, and while we all knew this was right, it didn’t make it any easier to wait for that call that told us “Come on up! Papa’s home!”   When that call did come, we flew out the door and ran barefooted and screeching all the way to the big house where we were greeted with that booming voice. “Oh! Wow! Look how you’ve grown!” and he would make a fuss over us and we would squirm.  Eventually, he would say “Close your eyes and hold out your hands!” and all of us sitting on our little stools in a row in the living room, would scrunch our eyes shut and jut out our dirty little hands in anticipation of what Papa may have brought us this time. Cracker Jacks, baseball cards with gum, team tee-shirts, ball caps, more Cracker Jacks, peanuts, hotel soaps and shower caps – it was all gold! It could have been the matchbook from the gas station and we would have been thrilled.  It was tremendous! This ritual happened every time Papa came home from a trip, he never forgot us and always made the effort to shower us with these tokens of his love.

Later in the evening we would all get together to hear Papa’s stories of where he’d been and who he’d talked to and what he’d been doing all that time away.  We’d light a fire in the old outdoor fireplace and cut some willow sticks for roasting hotdogs and we’d gather around to hear Papa spin his tale.  The firelight and purpling sky made it all seem so dramatic and wonderful. Mimi, so happy to see him, listened closely like a wife does. But we just wanted to be near and waited for him to say how he thought so-and-so was a crumb-bum or how so-and-so would make it big one day. We loved the way he talked. And the way he told us everything – about the airplanes and the hotels and the fancy lobbies and the big dinners.  He’d say “Oh! It was tremendous the way they treated us at the Ritz!” or “The lobster dinner and drinks in the press box was tremendous!” or “That guy had tremendous talent!” He’d talk with his arms making big expansive movements to help us see the bigness of where he’d been and what he’d been up to.  We’d stay up late just enjoying being there, all of us together.

The next morning we kids lay in wait.  We knew Papa would be out to feed the horses –giving Mimi a much needed morning off – and to see what needed doing around the place, and we were going with him.  If we waited five whole minutes and he didn’t come out of the house yet, we would creep up on to the porch and press our noses to the sliding glass door to see if he was in there.  Usually he was either finishing his coffee or pulling on his boots. Either way he’d laugh and say “Hey Babe! Look what the cat dragged in!” and we’d crack up over that. Then we’d holler back “Papa! The early bird gets the worm!” and we’d show him the scraggly worms we’d found on the way up.

Papa loved it that we got dirty and played hard. He taught us how to be mindful of gates and tools and of picking up dropped nails. We had to pay attention and not spill the grain, nor overfill the trough to muddy the corral. He sang to us as we helped him with the chores; just made-up funny little songs that he personalized for each of us. He’d dole out the feed buckets and we’d glare at each other in silent competition to ensure we each got our fare share of the chance to help. Then we’d skip along behind him like he was the Pied Piper. We fed the horses and watered them, too. We brushed them and mucked the stalls. We helped him move hay bales and mend fences. He was patient and kind, but firm about us staying safe.  When we were all done we’d follow him up to the big house where he’d say “Great job today! You know what I’m gonna do?” and we’d stare at him in speechless anticipation, “I’m gonna double your salary!” And we’d whoop and jump up and down.  Then, he would, regardless of time of day, give us the most enormous ice cream cones. We figured we had it pretty good.

Papa’s love of life and beautiful things was apparent in the way he loved his horses. He could watch them all day – the mares in the pasture or the yearlings in the glade. He’d get all soft-eyed and sweet when the foals were born wet and new, he’d rub them down with a gunny sack and chortle to them touch them all over so they knew he was their friend.  Those foals loved Papa just like we did and would let him do about anything with them. He’d just start saying “Hey now. Hey now. Hey now” in a real soft sing-song kind of voice and the babies would mellow out and not be so skittery.   The next thing you knew he was touching their ears and picking up their feet and slipping a halter over their velveteen noses. His heart would break with the inevitable tragedies that occur on a ranch; colicky horses that have to be put down and horses that get entangled or are born too early or in pairs.  He mourned them all and in his way taught us the value of grief and the need for allowing a soul the chance to just be sad about something.

Every once in a while, Papa told us to get the brooms and clean out his truck. Since we all knew this could only lead to something good, we cleaned and swept like there was no tomorrow.  Then, after our work passed inspection, he piled us all in the truck and we set out to the Jolly Rancher candy factory.  Sometimes our cousins were with us, too, and it was quite a sight to have seven giggling girls pile out of the back of that truck and take over the little shop in front of the factory.  Papa was magnanimous telling us to get one whole pound of anything we wanted! We were literally kids in a candy store and we lived it up in there.  Papa would “Ooh! “ and “Aah” over our choices and insist on trying samples of all of them and then not being sure which on he liked best would have to sample them all again. We loved it and we laughed and gave him sticky little candy after candy insisting that that one was the best one, yet.

As the years rolled on and we grandkids grew up, Papa never let us feel we were getting too old. He liked to remind us to stay young, think young, play games and enjoy life. He was usually the first to point out a positive lesson that could be learned from a bad mistake. He would tell you if he didn’t agree with what you were doing and would respect your decision to keep on doing it – just don’t expect him to like it! Even then, he always loved us and we always knew it. Any one of us could walk into Mimi and Papa’s living room and they would be there with over 175 years of collective life experience and they would listen and give some advice – if you asked.

Some of us got married and had kids, and this new generation of little ones has felt Papa’s loving-kindness, too.  After Mimi and Papa left the ranch because it was getting to be too much for them, they came to live here in Virginia where they have been surrounded by multitudes of grandkids and great grandkids and even great-great grandkids.  These great grandkids smushed their faces to the sliding glass door wanting to come and play with Papa. He played high stakes slap-jack with them, stacks of cookies as the ante, and he’d let them win. Then since they were the winner, he’d give them the most enormous ice cream cones. And sometimes, if they came to visit and brought him a big smile he’d hand them a “lucky gold dollar” – a gold one dollar coin with instructions not to spend it.  These stacks of golden coins are squirreled away in safe hiding places that only a kid can find. Secret treasure from a tremendous man whose love they can’t begin to measure.

Papa’s life spanned over nine decades. In that time the world has changed in ways that nineteen year old boy from Nanty Glo never could have dreamed of. From airplanes and rockets to atom bombs and microwaves to fast-food and cell-phones and satellite TV and internet – his is a generation that has truly seen it all. Papa loved all these changes and new-fangled ways.  He thought it was tremendous what man had done and what they would do. He dreamed big and never gave up hope, proof of that can be seen in the weekly lotto numbers and the favorite Sunday morning conversation over yet another non-winning ticket “Well, what would you do with 120 million dollars?” Hopes and dreams spring eternal in the presence of such tremendous optimism.

Memory upon memory exists for each of us, of how he loved us all. He made us feel unique and special, like he was only ours.

He had a tremendous laugh and a tremendous heart and will. He lived on a tremendous scale and made a tremendous impact on a tremendous number of lives. He loved Mimi tremendously and let the world know it. He walked with a tremendous stride and told tremendous tales.  His hands did tremendous work and were tremendously gentle, overwhelmed as he was by the sanctity of life.

We will miss him tremendously this Patriarch of ours; and we love him even more. He lives on in all our hearts and lives; reflected in our values and views, his tremendous influence our constant guide.