Smallest of Last Things

With my husband in the hospital and family members arriving from near and far to help us in this crisis, I was grateful to all of them—but only wished I’d had more time to get our house ready for company. Nobody really cared or even noticed that our windows bore smudges of nose-prints left by curious cats—why was I fretting so? Finally I understood: it is far easier to worry about a host of little things than to face the deeper and more real fears.

Only when the health crisis was over, and my true love was the owner of a fine new heart valve, could I laugh at myself. It amuses me yet, to suppose that when “my time” comes, there I will be, tidying up the place first—or wishing I could. “Devoutly To Be Wished: a List” is not, of course, a serious prayer…exactly.

Careful readers may note a slight change in the closing line, made after both the printed and audio versions were produced. Revising, in such cases, far from being a tedious chore, is a temptation. The words of poems, too, want to be “in good order and repair.”

Devoutly To Be Wished: a List

For my house to be found neat and tidy
for once: floors swept and scrubbed,
still breathing the lingering scent of pine,
the furnishings, simple and spare,
left where I placed them as to appear
in their best light; my few belongings
in good order and repair; my windows, too,
through which the world clearly can be seen,
to shine, although individual flaws in the
original panes may cause some slight
wavering of otherwise solid and stalwart trunks
of trees; finally, my white curtains, freshly laundered
to welcome the snowy wings: these small requests
be granted, please, when to dust I shall return.

Who Still Wears Six-Buckle Overshoes?

Blog, my blog, could easily be a name to drop, slipped casually into conversations with my friends. I will try not mention it too often to my friends. I don’t want to be the way I was when first learning to play tunes on my harmonica. Give me the slightest encouragement, and In a flash, my harp would be out of my pocket, ready to play requests!

Even so, it’s a great happiness, this thought of having actual readers online: like a pleasant and courteous greeting. One of my early poems, “Chinook,” describes the January thaw in just that way. Depending on where you live, you may or may not have experienced the January thaw. This year in Nebraska, December was so mild that winter seemed scarcely to have arrived in time for Christmas. Perhaps we will not even notice the January thaw when it takes place. But if you have known frigid temperatures followed by a sudden—and temporary—reprieve, it arrived as a gift, did it not? A kiss on the cheek?

Here is the poem, which I wrote for my father, a farmer.


This morning I left the house prepared
for subzero temperatures, having allowed
time enough to scrape the ice from the
windshield as on a succession of mornings—
only now I realize this has been done
unbeknownst to me, sometime in the night.
Feeling foolish and happy, I stand beside my car,
saying to nobody, “What we have here is the
January thaw. ” I remember my father in his
six-buckle overshoes up to the fifth buckle
in melting snow knee-deep to me explaining,
it is a warm wind with the name Chinook
coming down off the slopes of the Rockies
that brings us the January thaw. It lasts only
a day or two, a small reprieve—like
a pleasant and courteous greeting
when we had expected a rebuff,
or a moment even in the midst of grieving
when something makes us smile.
So mild is the touch of the northwesterly breeze
on my face in the dawn this far from the springtime
of childhood, that I think on my way to work,
grace could have another name—Chinook.

Clyde and Leonore

Clyde and Leonore were taking me with them to a gathering held in Clyde’s home church, at Plainview. Clyde was on the board of trustees at the church where I had begun as the pastor. A licensed lay minister, I was called, in those days. Clyde had been the first person ever to introduce me as his pastor: This is Mary, our pastor. These had been sweet words to the ear of a first-time minister unsure of her place in the world.

But it was Leonore, on this day, looking out the passenger side window, who told me of her cousin, whose name I have now forgotten. The cousin likes to come to visit and always says what beautiful country surrounds the town of Plainview. To some, the idea of looking out over a grassy plain is too…plain; they think of a view as mountains, forests, rivers, although a lake or even a pond is nice enough.

“She sees everything,” Leonore said. I could wish the same, to see everything, to be attentive. All my life I have known there is far more beauty around me than I could ever take in. Perhaps this knowledge comes from when I was ten years old and finally fitted for eyeglasses. Astounding, to see things clearly and all at once. But Leonore’s cousin, whoever she is, surely has that gift of mindfulness.

From this came the poem, which first appeared in Nebraska Life Magazine and is the first poem in my chapbook, The Zebra’s Friend.

Near Plainview, Nebraska

Leonore’s cousin,
Leonore says,
sees everything—
and although
she lives away,
thinks this part
of the country
very beautiful.
So we look again
about us and agree
that it is.
I ponder this
for days:
how that someone
unknown to me
by such seeing
made me see
beauty in the eye
of the beholder,
if not altogether