Tuesday, May 17, 2016

From Venus Until Galaxies

Not yet a year after I learned to form letters
In the wide glowing green of an evening backyard
The apple trees whispered to me
"Wake up"

"Sit still, little soul, and see"
"Rest from your play, learn to love awe, wonder at being"
It was then that I found my spirit didn't fit
Came squeezing out my eyes
And grasping for a something to catch it
I picked up a pencil and laid it in a notebook
"The apple trees are beautiful," I wrote
And it was enough

In seventh grade I stole the barstools from the kitchen
And draped them with a blanket so I could sit for hours
Beside my bedroom window after dark
Because there were stars beyond the apple trees
Because the stars and the trees and the mystery whispered
"Wake up"

There was a solitary tree in the plaza in the city
Bricked in it stood grieving beneath my dormitory window
Too burdened to whisper under the orange glow of city night
With ceaseless sirens and never a star

Sometimes the hills of Massachusetts whispered
Once in the fall the yellow leaves lifted my feet and my spirit
Down a settler's stone path to the ocean's edge
And the wide bright sky on the wide blue waves
Held my breath
And whispered, "Wake up"

In the irony of motherhood I never slept
And yet I slept for nearly a decade
Slept in the necessity, in the doctors and the dishes
In keeping everyone alive

Once in every while, usually with a child strapped on
I walked away alone and listened
Listened to the willows weeping where they stood
Sentenced to adorn retention ponds in the stifling suburbs
Listened to the endless cornfields ripple in the Iowa desert
And nearly screamed at the silent, treeless yard of the subdivision
Where no amount of fertilizer could make that green grass live

When my soul was nearly deaf from silence
We moved beneath five ancient battered pines
Beneath an ivy-drenched elm and an ash that had been lost to beetles
After a century of shading a farmhouse that barely remembered it used to be white
They solemnly watched a horizon where fireflies blinked
Where the sun always called to me as it left each day
"Wake up"

"Sit still, weary soul, and see"
"Love awe, and wonder, and being"
Until I gasped and breathed
Until I felt my soul couldn't fit
Until I found a paper to lay it in again

I rested there
Rocked my last baby long after he was asleep
From Venus until galaxies
Humming, thanking, grieving, writing

The pines turned their backs to hide their grief
When I left that porch
Left it for necessity
For a better place to do laundry and dishes
And keep everyone alive
"I can't see the sunsets here," I said
And my husband sighed
Because he's not the type to talk to pines

Sometime in the winter I stopped at the sink
Noticed the frozen branches of the plain maple against the sky
And marveled how the pattern differed from the oak peeking over the privacy fence
And from the half-dead elm with the holes in the top where the sparrows slept
When the green buds lined their patterns in spring
I marveled more and hated the maple less for not being a pine

"Did you ever have a favorite tree, mom?"
My daughter asked me today
"What did you name it?"
And I laughed to see that the apple tree's apples hadn't fallen far
"What is that maple's name?" I asked her
"That's Lucy," she grinned as if she knew her well

Tonight I took a paper and a pencil
Sat still on the new sunporch
That I thought a little too new to speak just yet
And looked to Lucy
"Well…" I said
To my delight she replied
"Wake up"

And when my spirit dripped over
I caught it here
And for tonight
It is enough

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In the Waves Below

Sweet baby girl with the hot tears brimming and streaking
Brimming and streaking as you swipe them with a cuff
Trickling down red cheeks because these feelings are bigger than before
Bigger than they were when you were six and all the world was right
And always would be

Sweet baby girl, now you are ten and now you feel
Deeper, broader, wider than you ever knew you could
Swept under by sadness that never more than lapped your toes
Never more than brushed your cheek when you were six
And all the world was right

You don't know how to brush it away anymore
Don't know how to laugh it off, how to forget
Telling me you don't want these emotions
Asking me to help you turn them off, and how to go back
To always cheerful, always smiles

Sweet baby girl don't give in to that, don't shut down
Let me stand beside you and let's feel this now
Don't be afraid of sorrow, grief, and last good-byes
I'll walk you down this path I've memorized by now
Down the path of broken hearts

Take a long, last, wistful look at innocence and childhood
Throw your head back to the melancholy waves, let the tears run
Down your face, and tell your your heart that it's OK to grieve
To grieve for all this world has lost, and all you lost today
Before you heal

So say it, please baby girl, let it all out now
It's OK
"Good-bye sweet Jim
I loved you with every space in my enormous little heart
I loved your head and tail held high every time that I would ride
The way your spunky steps made every other horse a bore
White socks prancing at the lead before the tired old guys
You were old, but you were never tired
I loved the way your spark matched mine
And I was always proud to be the one to ride you"

"Good-bye sweet Jim
My heart is breaking looking at you green pasture empty
Holding close the pictures that they gave me
Wondering if maybe 
I could visit your new home someday
I hope that you are happy"

Sweet baby girl with the hot tears brimming and streaking
Sometimes in the saying and the feeling lies the balm
Don't try to turn it off, let yourself feel it
Say it, write it, cry it to the stars above
In the waves below
Find healing

All the Little Poets

I've been listening to Andrew Peterson again lately. Matt likes to make fun of him. He says his voice sounds like Kermit the Frog. Admittedly, his voice does. So I have to smuggle in my Andrew Peterson time while Matt is at work. I don't listen for his voice, I listen for his heart that so often matches mine in this draining world.

It's been years since I last really listened, and I realized that I've missed a lot of beautiful songs. Yesterday I discovered this one:

All the Poets

To all the poets I have known
Who saw the beauty in the commonplace
Saw incarnation in a baby's face
And in a drop of rain, the stars

When there was mud and blood and tears
You sang a song at night to calm our fears
You made a moment last a thousand years
You are the poets I have known

To all the poets I have known
You built a kingdom out of sea and sand
You conquered armies with a marching band
You carved a galaxy in stone

You built an altar out of bread
And spent your soul to see the children fed
You wove your heart in every story read
Thank God for poets I have known

And you keep on dreaming when the dreams all fade
When friends desert me, you're the ones who stayed
To write the prayers when every prayer had been prayed
You are the poets I have known

You turned your tears into a string of pearls
You held your sorrow high to light the world
When I thought I was alone

In every man you saw the boy
The hidden heart the dark could not destroy
Slipped past the dragons with a tale of joy
Thank God for poets I have known

And you keep on dreaming when the dreams all fade
When friends desert me, you're the ones who stayed
To write the prayers when every prayer had been prayed

You walking wounded of my life
Who bled compassion in the heat of strife
You stood between my heart and Satan's knife
With just the armor of a song

You are the heroes and the brave
Who with a slender pen our passions save
And chisel epitaphs upon the graves
Of all the poets I have known

So keep on dreaming. . .

You can listen to the song here.

This morning I decided we needed more poetry in our family life, so today's one and only school project was to discuss this song and then to find one ordinary object in our house and write about the beauty or joy they found in it. Below are the amazing works that my little poets came up with.

by Toby Eby, age 7
(editor's note: Kiki is the name of Toby's white blanket that he's had since he was a baby. It got this name when he had trouble saying "Blankie" and said "Kiki" instead.)

Very comfortable
Since I was a baby
I like to cuddle with Kiki when I am tired
I feel happy

Lego Elves
by Emma Eby, age 8

Lego Elves
Oh, how I love to play with Legos
I love to pretend that I'm sailing out to sea
And Farran is flying on his dragon right after me
Looking up ahead, Aira is flying on her pegasus sleigh
And if I look down I could see Naida
Riding and playing with the dolphins
Azari is on the ship with me
And is trying to turn the water into fire
When I'm playing with my Legos
I feel so great

by Hannah Eby, age 10

A small well-loved blanket
Worn and dusty because of love
Since I was two years old, she has never left my side
Though people call her grey, I can see her pink
No blanket could be loved more than Blankie

They way her fabric feels is comforting in hard times
The small Piglet patch woven on from Winnie The Pooh
Has memories of cuddling with her
Clinging to it
I could never sleep peacefully without Blankie by my side

by Naomi Eby, age one-week-shy-of-twelve

Tiny little blocks that don't amount to anything
Yet they bring together siblings that otherwise have separate interests
Unlike other toys, they don't grow old
because you can always imagine and then build something new and different
There is no end to the adventures they hold

Something like WildStyle's motorcycle, driven by Lego Kai
Might be going on a picnic with Lego Friends
Or a stormtrooper in the latest flying machine
Might be pursuing Aira's Pegasus sleigh
There is no end to the laughs when Toby's driver, in the newest mobile
Says, "Can't catch me!" and then is caught unaware by Emma's driver
Who has crept quietly around the corner
And then when he flees right into the hands of mine

I love these little blocks
That enable us to have such good times

I am so impressed by what my children came up with today. I hope they keep on writing.

To all the poets I am raising,
And to all the poets who are reading,
Keep on dreaming.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Cost

Her bike gave way going around the corner
I found her with a bloody knee full of gravel
But not a tear in her eye
She limped home beside me
And we shared a laugh imagining the ruckus
That would have raised the neighbors
If it had been her sister with a gravel-packed knee

Only the next day her horse startled into a gallop
Threw her to the dirt
Jerked the arm that clung to the reigns
Bruised the tailbone that took the pounding
They tell me she got up, shook it off
Rode that horse back to the barn
Not a tear in her eye

Yesterday she pushed a lawn mower
Rickety and stubborn, heavy in the grass
Off and on we took turns for four long hours
Leaning in hard
Steps determined
Hands growing red and numb
With no complaint

Until the sun drifted just a little lower
Not low enough to bother me
Not yet even twilight
But a shade too low for her failing eyes
That no longer saw the line where she should push
Straining and squinting into the green blur
The tears rose up

Today she came to me for the third time
With the same bloodied knee
Scab torn off twice now
Not from a tragic fall from a bike or a horse
Those she can take with grace
But because her own feet had betrayed her again
Just walking down the driveway
And the tears rose up

"I can't even run around like a normal kid"
Stinging my heart along with hers
No ointments or bandages to offer for her real wounds
Except to tell her that such strength
Such tenacity
Such beauty
Come at a high cost
And that she was earning them well