“Do you know," Peter asked, "why swallows build in the eaves of houses? It is to listen to the stories.” ~ J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan


the year of the cat

which just goes to show that you never know.
truly, really, no matter what you think.
you never know.

i didn't know she would move into my place; it was all about me moving into hers, and it took 2 months to accept i couldn't do it, 2 months of visiting her every day. 2 months of her alone in my mother's house, waiting on visits at the end of the day.  my mother had been gone from her life for 3 months, my brother her roommate for those weeks of the hospital, and then not.  then not.  

we began a journey.
a new line on my map and a new line on hers.

she played and slept and ate and chased and growled at dogs and other cats,
and then she learned to growl less.

i wonder how far back she remembers;
would she know her other home if i took her for a visit?
i like to think she would,
that she still thinks back to the time before now,
that she is just better than i at moving forward.

and then i think i haven't done that bad,
that i have moved at the speed of grief;
slower on loose gravel and into the dips
and as the road winds unseen under trees filled with summer,
knowing the straightaways lie fast and ahead,
knowing storms will come,
knowing they will pass.



the jingle bell cat, pear blossoms, and a bit of deja vu

spring is coming, ready or not.
pear blossoms already, tulip trees, redbuds blooming.
rumors on the wind that azaleas will be opening soon.

the jingle bell cat is a he, i believe, not a she as i first thought, and has decided that mi casa is su casa. yesterday he stood at the glass front door yowling to be let in, staring at me with blue blue eyes, clawing at the door, reaching for the door knob.  the day before he'd snuck in and wandered about, skye cat stunned, following him on tippy toes.  this morning, just a moment at the open door until skye ran him off,  not far, i would wager; he's probably asleep somewhere in the backyard. 

it is chapter 2 of the bob & maggie story, bob appearing on my front porch, what?, 19 years or so ago?, am i really that old?  maggie the cat refused to let him in and so he hung about and hung about and hung about, made it his home, slept under the house during the winter.  i fed him and eventually they came to terms, not particularly friendly terms, but terms nonetheless, and when i moved from the country to here in town, i brought him with us, and, as many of you know, he eventually left me for another woman, and moved in across the street with mary.  a cat who made his way in the world.  he ruled that house until the day he died.  

the jingle bell cat is a long haired version of bob - much the same color - and skye looks enough like maggie to be her daughter, and this all feels so familiar.  my reluctance.  heart felt sighs when i open the blinds and see him waiting.  he has tags, but katie says they are out of town tags, and i am hesitant to call that out of town vet, afraid jingle bells is too happy here in this yard, worried he will be yanked back from whence he came.  so i stall and stammer, and watch a strange friendship evolve between he and skye. my mother would not believe it, she who thought this cat could not/would not adapt to change of any kind.  to be truthful, that is part of the reason i let jingle bells stick his head inside my door.  as a gift for my year of no mother, 2 days away from one year gone.  it feels like a sign of some kind, and i have never been one to ignore signs.  so he is here on and off, eating somewhere else, and right now maggie is sleeping on my bed, birdsong flying through the windows and open door.  

i am wasting energy.
it is 59ยบ outside, a bit cool,
but the house is open and the heater is on.
it is sunday morning in the sunshine, almost noon, a lazy day;
cars are few on the street outside.
it is almost spring.
i am wondering if i let jingle bells in, if a new mary will show up.
the idea makes me smile.



year 5 begins

this is the painting that started it all.   

emma tree turns 4 today
and i head into year 5 without a clue.
i carry a map with roads to be drawn as i find them,
pencils, crayons, stardust;
my heart-the-compass always, as i've said before, pointing true north.
i have learned to embrace the unknown places,
learned that stumbling down the steepest of hills is not the end.
you just start from there and count the new flowers you find,
learned that what i believed in the beginning still holds true:
magic is falling everywhere around you.
hold out your hand and catch it.


thank you to all of y'all who are still here,
still visiting, still putting up with me.
i won't attempt to find words to tell you how much you mean to me -
there are none.
y'all have changed my life.
i bow to you.


this morning is warmth and loud fast winds and a robin outside the door.
birdsong, flying leaves.
yellow forsythia abloom at the foot of the driveway.
pink blossoms on tulip trees dropping to the ground.
the wind is cleaning house.



even the rain loves me

yesterday morning..
i opened the door to the day and the leftover rain said howdy
and threw me a kiss.
not the first time it's left a hint.
i'm beginning to believe.



the weight of words

my mother's sister was raped when she was 13 or so.  raped violently and almost killed.  she and a friend were on their way to the skating rink and said yes to a ride with a couple of older boys who mistook them for older girls, and then raped them.  my aunt's friend didn't much fight back and wasn't much hurt, if you don't count the raping part, but my aunt did, and, well, . . . i know part of the story through my mother's 9 year old eyes, the rest through her adult eyes looking back.

my aunt's friend made her way to a row of small houses along the road, a black community, a negro community, as they called it back then, and found help at the first house she came to.  the man who lived there gathered my aunt inside, then sent for help; his wife promised them safety within her walls, said "don't you worry, nobody is gonna hurt you here", and meant it.  

my mother remembered the police showing up at her house with the news, she remembered my aunt in the hospital, she remembered when they identified the two boys, and she remembered her oldest brother heading out with a shotgun, hoping to reach those boys before the police; she remembered others physically restraining him, holding him back.

come the time of the trial, my aunt's friend wouldn't testify, terrified and ashamed to say the words out loud.  but my aunt did; she was mostly healed by then, at least on the outside where people didn't have to look at the ugliness, and after the boys were sentenced to long times in prison, my aunt took her inside ugliness home and refused to leave.  no more school, she said, unable to face her classmates, afraid of the whispers, sure they could see through her skin to where her soul felt dead.  sure they would laugh, or giggle, or stare.  sure they would blame.

my mother remembered the day the school bus stopped in front of their house, late in the afternoon, the school day long ago ended. she remembered her sister sitting on the front porch, and she remembered the bus door opening and every girl in my aunt's class getting off.  one by one by one by another and on and on and on, until the bus was empty and the girls were in the house, there to tell my aunt they loved her, to hold her, to cry, to tell her come back.  my mother was maybe 10 by then, still just a child, but you never forget something like that.


i watched the secret lives of bees  sunday afternoon.  it came on the station the tv was already tuned to, and i hadn't seen it in a long time, hadn't read the book in even longer, and so i settled onto the couch with a spiral notebook in which i've been writing ideas and small poems, figuring i could continue that during commercials.  i've been writing all that stuff down in the back of the book, working backwards to front, because the front is one of my many journals. (woe betide miss emma, who will inherit these goodies - the chronological order is helter skelter at best; when i decide to journal for a while or do morning pages for a month, i grab the nearest notebook to hand.  they are all blue and all look alike and so i never know, and if i take the time to find the right one, the mood will pass.)

the movie was as satisfying as i remembered, but during the first commercial, instead of working on my new writing, i found myself at the front of the journal, reading some old morning pages, and middle of the night pages - pages i'd written a couple of months after my mother's death, may 2011, when the weight of the world had fallen on me and there felt like no way out.  i'd just brought skye cat home to live with me. 

and because this is the way the universe works, i watched the movie and there was may, writing down her heartbreaks, writing down the hurts that were too heavy to carry, and taking them to her own private wailing wall, leaving them there, not forgetting but laying them down, and there i was, reading the words of last year's month of may, words i'd laid down on spiral notebook paper when they got too heavy to hold inside my heart.  synchronicity.  my words were words of loss, my heart that of a child again, lost, her mother gone.  the movie was a perfect backdrop, and i was once again in love with the black madonna.  with these black women who took in a white child - nobody is gonna hurt you here.  when i checked emails later and there was a post from a friend about the virgin mary, i fell into tears.  the universe will make you pay attention.

“I'll write this all down for you," I said.
"I'll put it in a story." 
 . . . it's something everybody wants--
for someone to see the hurt done to them and set it down like it matters.” 

                                                                                ― Sue Monk KiddThe Secret Life of Bees



i love every little bitty itsy teeny weeny thing about this image

i love its wrongness, its not-a-thing's-in-focusness,
the way it fades into nothing on the bottom left hand corner,
the stripes of skye cat's legs against the stripes of that black & white bag,
against the wavering centipede stripes of that hairclip i shouldn't leave in the living room
but always do,
against the circles of my sunglasses echoing the circle of that penny
echoing the sweet roundness of cat feet running to be near me,
echoing that bowl holding a wasp's nest my mother thought a treasure,
itself a circle full of circles even if you can't see them,
echoing the almost invisible circle of a glass cloche handle -
you have to look hard -
all echoing the swoop of my hair which got in the way.
i love it all.
i love the circular movement that says this cat will not stand still
if she sees you with a camera,
love the laughter and busyness and downright throw away quality.
i love the not thinking. i love the not trying.
love everything bumping into everything else and falling off the edges.
love it.

my old photography teachers would shake their heads
but my old painting teachers would laugh along with me,
seeing the brushstrokes behind the lens.

if i lay my ear against this the image,
i can hear richie havens in the background singing freedom.



yesterday there were small moments of sunshine.

this morning the fog outside is all the way down to the street.
what more could i possibly need?  

yesterday was another february funeral, a graveside service, another aunt gone, and my heels left little holes in the moist ground, left a trail to be followed, a helter skelter passage from cousins to more cousins to aunts and uncles and my brother; we watched the warm sky and carried unneeded umbrellas and said another goodbye.  it was the family plot in a cemetery down the road from a small town named for us many moons ago, and we found a new tombstone for an old death, my father's cousin, gone when he was 4, christmas day of '31.  an accident took him early.  too much ether took my father's brother early.  my mother's mother lost more children than i can count on one hand, to a bad midwife, to pneumonia, to this, to that.  there was a child before me to whom my mother said goodbye.  yesterday's aunt lost a son on his first day here, and another son 20 some odd years later.  i had no idea about that first loss.

i stood and watched these people i don't know well enough and i knew their strength.  felt it within myself, standing there nestled amongst their stories.   another aunt had insisted i be there - i'd been sick, running a small fever.  you look like us, she'd said.  you are a part of us.

on the way home, i pulled off the highway and changed my heels for boots, my longish legs out the door as traffic whipped by.  it made me smile - we are a tall bunch.  my aunt was right.  i look like them.



how to spell love

it was sunday, and that meant gingerbread pigs, and heart shaped cookies with lavender or rosemary, or maybe both; i can't tell, i don't know, and i don't speak enough spanish to ask.  truth be told, it matters not. it was something in addition to sweet, just like real love.

we spell it l.o.v.e.
when we should spell it t.r.u.s.t.
and h.a.r.d.
and t.r.y.i.n.g.
and i.m.s.o.r.r.y.
and y.e.s.y.e.s.y.e.s.!
we spell it h.a.p.p.i.l.y.e.v.e.r.a.f.t.e.r.
when we should spell it

we spell it f.o.r.r.i.c.h.e.r.f.o.r.p.o.o.r.e.r.
and then ask for pre-nups.
we spell it i.d.o.n.t.n.e.e.d.t.o.s.a.y.i.t.
but we do.

we slow dance close and argue far away,
whisper secrets and shout truths and lies.
we look away and across crowded rooms,
and talk without saying a word

we should spell it
w.a.l.k.i.n.g.a.w.a.y. and r.u.n.n.i.n.g.b.a.c.k.
we should spell it
we should spell it f.e.a.r. and g.i.d.d.i.n.e.s.s.
and u.n.c.h.a.r.t.e.d.t.e.r.r.i.t.o.r.y.
we should spell it c.o.m.i.n.g.h.o.m.e.

we should spell it t.h.a.n.k.y.o.u.
and m.o.r.e. and  l.e.s.s.

this morning is monday and there is rain; yesterday's bright sunshine has been replaced with gray skies. i fell asleep last night to the sound of sleet against the night. like love, the weather changes daily, but the sky is still blue behind those clouds.  spring always comes.  i search for words to finish this spelling lesson, but they are just out of touch.  perfect, i think.  it feels unfinished.  real love is never done.

we hug goodbye and bring aspirins for aches
we forget birthdays but remember that time when . . .
we drive in silence and finish each other's thoughts
and we move in the same direction.



the colors of late winter

glad i wiggled my toes in the sunshine yesterday,
glad i slipped into something a little more comfortable;
the cold she be coming, and that means once-again socks,
never mind the flowers outside.
the forsythia has awakened to keep the paperwhites company
and tulip trees are waltzing with camellias,
 our annual february valentine's dance,
the cold always stopping by to remind us it is winter still.


it was daylight yesterday when i headed home.
no flashlight needed to find the stairs to find the parking lot,
and they have painted the outside of our work-a-day building,
cream with just a bit of butter melted into the mix,
the softest of palest palest yellows.
a perfect frame for the warmer yellow of our front room.
i am glad i painted over the blue walls.

medicine for my soul.



i've been reading it wrong for a couple of weeks

torn from my calendar,
my morning coke sweating onto the paper,
the wrong-read words a coaster to reassure me.
blurry early morning eyes none the wiser.
yesterday i was awaker than usual and read the truth.
i like my each new morning version better.

the ever-wonderful michael asked the other day how long it would take before he stopped saying he was going to run over to ask his dad something, his heart knowing immediately he couldn't, his dad gone the night before halloween. and i said forever.  a long time.  you will be saying the words wrong for a while.  you are standing in a new place - it takes a while to remember the solid feel of land.

a year ago today i had the last conversation with my mother i would ever have.  it was on a monday last year, and last night felt like the real year ago; i said a thank you to the moon and stars for the hours we waited in the emergency room, no idea that the laughter we shared that evening would be the last.  the next morning i would be standing in a place i'd never stood and i would stand there through the rest of february, not on solid ground, but at sea, in storms, leaning into the wind.  it would take a long, long time to lose my sea legs.

this month i feel them stirring, the memories of last february close to the skin.  forgive me if i wander to those days a bit - i won't stay long.  i have hearts to photograph, words of love to tell you, and i promise they will come.  but for today, in this new place i stand, one year past hearing my mother's laughter, but still weeks from saying goodbye, i have only these words.

it is a gray day and there are birds happy in the trees.
despite the chill,
despite the freeze warning for tonight.
another gift to gather.
i will take their song with me today;
i hear my mother's laughter behind the notes.



i spy an early spring

we got us some of these today,
the tulip tree all happy and showing it and clapping her hands,
slinging around sorbet colors,
making my mouth water for tangerines and raspberries and hurry up springtime.

we are bare feet and no heat in this warm church of winter
and there is a white cat new in the neighborhood;
her jingle bell collar soft like wind chimes in an evening breeze.

tonight a storm is moving in.  the skies are red behind clouds mixed with moonlight, low rolling thunder in the distance, lightning out and about, a thin rain just beginning to fall.  skye cat and i listen to it as - there! suddenly wind and fat hard raindrops against the windows, and i hope the white cat got home and out of the weather; she watched me gather skye in earlier and sat like a queen under that tulip tree pictured above, glowing.  i see her and think i should curtsy.

inside here, out of the rain, now gone soft again,
we are quiet
and there are lemon cookies.