Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Kansas Wind, by Marty Blue Waters

Every day in Kansas you can pretty much count on the wind to mess around with you. It is so ubiquitous an element that not much concern or attention is usually given to it. Even when everyone grabs for their hats at exactly the same moment an enormous gust of wind whips by, nobody misses a beat, they just continue on with whatever they were doing or saying.

It really made sense to me when I learned that the state of Kansas was named for a Sioux Indian tribe, the Kansa, which means “people of the south wind.” When I was growing up in the open spaces of western Kansas, I liked to watch the wind at work, and discovered many different ways to witness its power for myself. A cottonwood tree was a good choice for climbing. I could sit astride a high branch as though I were riding a pinto pony, heading into the wind, and looking it straight in the eye. I rode with great glee. The leaves of the cottonwood rattled like fleshy castanets and provided an inspiring rhythm to dramatize the movie that was playing in my head.

Nobody had automatic clothes driers in Kansas. We had clotheslines stretched across our back yards. Sheets became parachutes, straining to free themselves. Everyone had their own special methods of battening down the wash. Clothespins usually worked just fine, if you used enough of them. But sometimes they still needed a little help. Mom sewed iron weights into old pairs of socks and knotted them together into long, heavy strands. Then she tossed these odd ballasts over anything that attempted to leap into the sky.

For some reason, our next door neighbor, Miss Pew, never quite got the hang of it. She was a robust woman, and her huge overalls flapped on her clothesline like giant flags on a ship at sea. Her bloomers, as she called them, were cumulous clouds darting about in the bright blue sky. It was not unusual to see a pair of her runaway bloomers flitting down the back alley in search of a lilac bush to get all tangled up in. It was one of my favorite neighborly duties to retrieve these escaped undies, fold them up nicely, and knock on Miss Pew’s door with a grin on my face. She always had a good laugh and said “Oh, did those naughty girls run away again?!?” Then we’d sit on her big porch swing for a long while and talk about anything that crossed our minds. Or just be quiet and rock gently back and forth.

Miss Pew was called a spinster, whatever that was really supposed to mean, and I think she was in her 80s when I was in grade school. She lived in an enormous house all by herself and she loved to collect things. Like salt and pepper shakers. They were handsomely displayed in two giant glass cases in her living room and she enjoyed telling me the history of each pair, over and over.

And, speaking of pairs, I wanted so badly to have a pair of overalls like she wore. They looked so comfortable and had lots of deep pockets. As soon as I started babysitting to make some money of my own, I went by myself to Woolworths and bought a pair of Osh Kosh overalls, much to my mother’s horror. She had to drag me into clothing stores to shop for skirts and dresses to wear to school and church, so this was quite a shock for her. Thank you, Miss Pew, for giving me the courage to do that, back in 1958.

As I approached my teenage years, whenever a big storm blew through town, there I was in my overalls, disregarding the sirens that were blasting the well-known code, informing everybody that it was time to dive into their basements immediately. I only heard the wind in superb action and headed for my favorite tree. I had to grab on to that upper cottonwood branch so tightly I thought I might snap it off the massive trunk all by myself. Like a Thanksgiving Day turkey wishbone. I imagined I was in a rodeo riding a bucking bronco and I was not about to let myself be thrown off. Afterall, I was a fearless cowboy having the ride of my life!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Things That Make No Sense, by Rob Sullivan

twig cracks underfoot,
rain drop chooses
this moment to fall
into a puddle

eyes smile serene,
knowing long beyond
the kingdom of words
the province of thoughts

mind blown as the wind
shifting, sculpting
dry, desert sand
into a greater design

body, ephemeral vehicle,
for this leg of the journey
that spans the birth and death
of many universes

spirit remembers true calling,
dross melts away
revealing wondrous beauty
of a love supreme.

Friday, June 8, 2018

I Remember (Except When I Don’t), by Annie Wexler

There are things I don’t remember anymore. Like I don’t remember what I did three days ago, or two days ago. On a good day I remember what I did yesterday, but I don’t have a good day every day.

I started a journal a few months ago where I wrote down everything I did on a particular day so I could look back on a date and be reminded of what happened. But after a few entries I forgot to write in the journal, so most of the pages are blank. I would be in a state of panic over this except for the fact that most of my friends nod in knowing empathy when I bring it up. “Oh God, me too,” is what they say.

But there are many things I do remember. Like most people’s names. When I see someone I haven’t seen in a while the wheels start turning and out pops, “Hi Jane,” or “Hi Joe.” My husband Tony remembers clearly what he did yesterday, but when we run into someone we haven’t seen in a while I can see that blank look in his eyes. So I announce, very loudly, “Bill! Great to see you.” Or if I think Tony still doesn’t get it, I’ll say “Look Tony, it’s Bill.”  I’m sure our friends know exactly what I’m doing. If they are young they just say “Hi Tony.” But if they are old (our age!) they catch on right away and say, “Don’t worry, I’m the same way with names.”

I remember quite well things I’ve learned over time, like how to speak French. And even some Hebrew, which I spoke fluently in 1968 after living in Israel for two years, and after lying in an open trench, terrified, during the six day war, wondering if I’d come out alive. I remember how to cook chicken and matzo ball soup from my grandmother’s recipe, but not how to make her sweet plum tart. Although I can’t fault myself for that because I never tried it.

I remember how to read music and how to play all the chords, including all the diminished, and the majors, and the minor sevenths and ninths. I just started my piano lessons again last week and sat down to play “You Go to My Head” and only messed up on the G-flat major 7th chord  with a sharp ninth.

I remember all the bird songs I’ve ever learned and I can walk in the woods on an early May morning and hear the yellow warbler go, “sweet sweet I’m so sweet.” Or a chestnut-sided warbler sing, “pleased pleased pleased to meetcha.”  Or if I’m lucky, a barred owl in the distance hooting, “who cooks for you who cooks for you all.”

I remember how to play crazy eights and gin rummy with my grandchildren. How to iron a shirt collar first, as my mother taught me. How to blot out a red wine stain by pouring seltzer on it.
How to polish my brown leather shoes, but come to think of it, since I never do that anymore, I can’t be sure that I actually do remember.

I remember how to design a garden — how to know in early April what flowers will bloom, and what color each will be, just from seeing a few shoots of green.

I still know how to find my way around town, how to make and keep friends, how to be happy. So until I find my purse in the freezer I’ll consider myself lucky and be grateful

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Morning Glory, by Barbara Anger

Before I had a garden I praised the morning glory
Watched it climb up the sides of porches
Open its fluted white flowers
At the dawn of day and reach for the sun.
How sweet, I’d think.

Now as I weed my garden
There she is in all her glory.
Wrapping herself around the clematis
Choking its budding flower
Taking it, pulling it over
Toward the thorny rose vine.

Careful not to break the stem
Of the clematis
I begin to unwrap the morning
Pulling its root from the ground.

There I spot another one.
Her leaves nearly heart-shaped
Taking my leg in its reach.

Clinging to my bony ankle
And running up to my knobby knee
Growing upward to the spot,
My spot, where I cannot resist.

You can’t get rid of morning
So I try to manage her,
But you know
That’s not something you can do
In a relationship.
Wild remains wild.
Accept her in the garden.
What else can you do?

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Room at the Back of the House, by Sue Crowley

My mother didn’t want us playing in that oldest part of the house. She always insisted that it didn’t belong. It stood out off the back, where ages ago, when the house was a much larger structure, a grand hotel with spa, deliveries were made and inventories taken. As kids, we would never have guessed at such a rich history for our ramshackle old house.
The grownups spoke about boom times back in the day before even our parents were born. The boom times began in the late 1800s with the first discovery of crude oil in the U.S. and lasted through the Roaring ‘20s right up to the Great Depression. Not much around these parts survived after that.
When you’re a little girl, a bit naughty, a bit of a tomboy, hearing your mother fret about an old boarded up room being off limits was simply an enticement. What self-respecting, rambunctious 10-year-old wouldn’t want to explore such an ancient and hidden place? It wasn’t a very big room and decades of neglect had left it unbalanced, cantilevered to one side. Mom and Gram wanted Dad and Uncle Frank to tear it down entirely, first because it was “an eyesore” and then because they thought it dangerous. No, we weren’t supposed to go near it, let alone inside.
Drawn to the forbidden, I finally convinced my more cautious and constant companion, my cousin Joanie, to go exploring. Now Joanie was best as a lookout. She’d keep watch for big people, meaning not just parents, but our five older siblings who would either take over the adventure or rat us out to the grownups. I did reconnaissance, like in those World War II movies that filled tiny TV screens back in the ‘50s. In my imagination I was a brave soldier checking out an enemy outpost.
I began carefully peeking through the rotted-out door frame, but the view was just too limited. So then, balancing on my bike seat while it was propped up against the wall, I looked through dusty, broken windows into a space littered with boxes, filing cabinets, old broken bits of furniture, faded papers strewn around, and a calendar, still hanging by a nail on the far wall. There was a date circled on it. That was exciting. My imagination said it was a clue to the movements of the enemy. My head said, I want to see that calendar. What day was it? What month? What year?
Sometimes, when you’re a kid, you just have to find out these things. The world is such a big place, filled with big people, and you need to make your own space. We were surrounded by seemingly endless mountains and forests, dotted with run-down towns and villages, and one city two hours away by car. And in all that, you have to find your place. 
Some kids might never feel that way. Joanie, I suspect, was one of them. Some kids already know their place, both assured of it and bounded by it from birth. Some just feel at home in the world. I felt at home only at home in that strange old house in Knapp Creek that was built to be something else entirely, only a fraction of its former glory still standing. And there was  always some little itch at the back of my mind.  What’s out there farther than I’ve ever gone, around the next turn? Or what’s in there, where you’re never supposed to go?
Later, after the adventure, my Gram would say, “There are ghosts in that room.” I believed her.

Friday, May 18, 2018

More Mother Stories . . . in 6 Parts, by Yvonne Fisher

I remember a time when I tried to make a reservation at a restaurant and it was full. I told my mother and she said, in her Viennese accent: “Don't worry about it. We'll just go there and they'll find a table for us.” I told her “No, Ma, that's not how it works,”  but she wouldn't take no for an answer. Ever! She wanted to buy airline tickets by going directly to the airport, standing in line, and buying a ticket. I told her “Maaaa, it doesn't work that way.”She said “Never mind. That's what I will do. You'll see.” We always fought about stuff like that.

My mother always took credit for everything. After she heard me read a story at one of Zee's group readings I asked her how she liked it. She answered me “I always said you were a good writer. Didn't I say that? You never listened to me. I always told you!”

My mother always claimed that under the surface everybody hates the Jews. She used to say to me “Don't ever marry a man who isn't Jewish because when you have an argument he  will call you a dirty Jew.” I always answered her “Maaaa!”

My mother always wore bold, flowery, polyester blouses. They were very loud and bright. She took pride in her clothes. How she dressed mattered to her. The other day I was at T. J. Maxx and I bought myself a lovely, silky, light kimono-type jacket with little flowers all over. It's hanging in my closet. I haven't taken the tags off yet. It reminds me of my mother. I'm thinking of returning it.

When I think about my mother, which is often, I feel a kind of overflow of bittersweet love, mixed with regret and remorse. There are so many things I would like to do over with her. I wish I had been more tolerant and patient with her. She was so impossible, so bossy. She always thought she was right about everything. She always thought she knew better than everyone else and she wouldn't let go. Oh, God! I'm just like her!

My mother used to say “Dry yourself very well after you bathe or you'll catch a cold.” After a few years I realized that it wasn't true. I wouldn't catch a cold. In fact, it was a bit ridiculous. Maybe it was true in Vienna in the 1920s but not in America in modern times. Still, every day I step out of the shower and I find myself drying myself extra thoroughly, much of the time without thinking. You just never know. My mother taught me well. Thanks, Ma.            

Sunday, April 29, 2018

On Occasion, by Susan Currie

Inspired by the poem “On Occasion,” by Grace Paley


On occasion, I wake in the night and wonder if we are living in virtual reality. I read that Elon Musk thinks we are living in the “Matrix.” On occasion, I think I see something out of the corner of my eye — something just out of sight or something at the edge of my vision shifts. Is this a glitch in the software of my virtual reality?

On occasion, I wonder if those who are long gone come back to check on us, to see what we’ve been up to in their absence. Once on my mother’s birthday, a framed photo she gave me fell on the floor. It was on the fireplace mantel and seemed to leap off as if she were demanding I pay attention to the day. Was this a shift in virtual reality or just an old house shifting? I like the idea of her invisibly sweeping the frame off the mantel, stamping her foot and asking, “Where is my birthday cake?” I made a small lemon ricotta cake for her and ate the entire thing myself.

On occasion, I have had an out-of-body experience. So, maybe we are, each of us, living in a virtual reality game that intersects with others’ reality. There is an article in a recent New Yorker about out of body experiences and I am afraid to read it. I don’t want to have another one. Once when I was a teenager, I awoke to find I was floating on the ceiling looking down at myself. “Is that what my hair looks like?” I thought. The last time was a few years ago when I seemed to be floating down the stairs in our house. I kept trying to go down each step but my feet floated in front of me.

On occasion, I make the mistake of sharing these experiences with someone I hardly know — it often ensures that I won’t see them again.

On occasion, I think we are all living in a science fiction novel where the characters have come to life. After all, what do you think about a place called “The Preventorium” — a place I knew well when I was very young — where all the children have the same exact haircut, wear little white bloomers and shirts, march single file everywhere with hands on hips? I know what you’re thinking: “Children of the Corn,” right? Or some other sci-fi movie.

On occasion, I wonder if we humans are the least intelligent species and all the animals understand us and each other, while we can only understand other humans, and often not very well. Crows can recognize faces, chickens plot out their exact territory, dogs learn to guide us to what they need and want but we only guess at what they know. Maybe they are smart enough in science experiments to teach the researchers what they want them to know.

On occasion, I think about what it feels like to be a plant or a flower in the rain. Once I lay on our patio in a rainstorm to see if I could imagine being a plant.

On occasion, I think about the elaborate pastries and cakes made before baking powder and baking soda were discovered — were they discovered or created? Now that is something else to wonder about on some occasion.

On occasion, I like to say some of my favorite words aloud, even when there are other people present: “CAKE” “SATISFACTION” “CHANGE.” If I had done this at work, it would have been a problem, but at the grocery store, for example, people just move away carefully. I like the words with a “ch” sound like sandwich. When I was a teenager, two of my friends came for a visit and wanted to share all the new dirty words they had learned. I made the mistake of telling them some of my favorite words. They just looked at each other. One said to me, “You look normal, but you are weird.” I agreed happily, telling them I was complimented that they thought I looked normal. Then I told them it’s a good thing I do look normal because that way, they never knew what I was thinking. Later, one of these girls told me at school that her mother didn’t want her to come to my house anymore.

On occasion, I think about some of the games I invented as a child, like the time two little girls and I used a combination of airplane glue (my brother’s), a bucket of tar taken from a construction site across the street, and feathers I had collected from the ground outside my grandmother’s hen house, to create “symbols” on every air conditioning unit on the street. The symbols were for safe air to go into the house and it seemed logical that the air conditioning unit was the perfect vehicle.

On occasion at night, I go to a window and look for lighted windows as a sign I am not the only insomniac worrying about virtual reality — well perhaps others are not worrying about that but are simply awake in the night, looking at the moon and stars or clouds or silent snowfall or fireflies in the summer, or simply waiting for dawn to come and take away the unrealities of the dark.