In Miniature

In a large, oval-shaped dish that once belonged to a slow-cooker and is now filled with potting soil, I have a small garden. It gets light from west and north windows at one corner of our house. My garden boasts a stand of “trees,” three or four stems of a delicate, feathery fern, now grown
to a height of four inches. Moss from north of our big evergreens is, of course, my garden’s lawn. Over a pocket-mirror pond stands a footbridge purchased along with a few other miniatures from a supply company. Although there is a whole industry built up around “fairy gardens,” my project has cost me less than twenty dollars.

Lining the curved wall are rocks, each with a small sign telling from where it came—brought home to me by my children from their travels. The garden’s sign says, “Small World Garden; visitors welcome.”

Oh, and I must mention one more piece: a painted wooden boy or girl less than an inch tall. He or she stands on the bridge, a pilgrim with walking stick in hand.

I think my garden is now complete, made of the elemental things: earth, water, stone, grass, trees. What more could be needed? It has a bench for restful solitude, a bridge for life’s ordinary transitions, a pathway, and at the last, a gate opening to the big wide world and human company. All this is the stuff of dreams and myths, I realize.

My guess is that there is a human impulse to create such little worlds with ourselves in charge. This is why children at the beach make sand castles, and why quaint villages spring up on the mantel at Christmastime, and why snow globes exist. The worlds of our imagination are as we would like them to be.

All the same, it is the real world that needs our attention. At the post office the other day, a friend said to me, “I’ve been watching the news too much.” And we agreed that there is too much of pain and sadness all around. Today, therefore, may I do no harm; rather, may I do some good, however small it seems.

Elephant Poem

The skin on

the oldest

elephant’s

ankle has

been opened

by shackles

it must wear

day and night.

 

After it

steps out of

the river,

elephant’s

powerful

trunk takes up

the heavy

chain, places

it across

its shoulders;

the keeper

needs only

click the lock.

 

My son was

there and saw

this, several

months ago.

He says it

makes him sad,

thinking of

domestic

elephants

away in

Sri Lanka.

 

This son sees

what loads of

care we, too,

are cumbered

with, as we

have been taught

and have learned

so to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Moment, Brought to You

It is as though God says—to any of us—“This moment is brought to you by Me.” Nearly anything good can reach us as the grace of God, which, of course, it is. Perhaps, on a nightfall this October, light from a doorway falling on a brick walkway paved with wet leaves and petals of red geraniums. Relief, even temporary, for one who suffers chronic pain. A kindly word, coming as an unexpected gift to someone far away from home and hearth. Today may some small happiness bring forth from each of us the most simple of prayers: “Thank You” and “Thank You again.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Boat Poem

Here is a poem for our challenging times. It would have ruined the poem to relate the ending of the gospel story—found in chapter four of Mark–but readers will remember Jesus’ command to the tossing waves, Peace, be still.

 

Our Lord, Asleep in the Boat

 

Without a place to lay his head

except for a cushion, its mustiness

dried many times in the sun, he lets

the whitecaps in their lake of sky

lull him away to sleep.

 

The disciples, supposing themselves

in command, do not see, at first, those

far off clouds a-building, so innocent

the time that only after will they say

was the calm before the storm.

 

Regardless

“What will my undoing be?” The question scribbled in my notebook weeks ago has at last become “Fall from Grace,” even though it is not necessarily a moral or religious poem. The word undoing can be applied to many situations. It has a feeling of falling apart, like shoelaces becoming untied.  And the word regardless, which my father regularly used instead of nonetheless, more properly means without regard, i.e., heedless, reckless.

 

Here, then, is “Fall from Grace.” I think it is done. One never knows about these things.

 

 

Fall from Grace

 

This may be my undoing,

I sometimes say, when about

to take a chance.

 

Still I start down those icy

steps or that slippery slope

regardless and

 

later wonder what I did

or said that brought about so

unimaginable a

 

descent.

 

As I said, I think the poem is done. However, it occurs to me now that NOT taking a chance may also sometimes lead to one’s undoing. Can you think of any such occasion?

 

 

 

 

Beholden

Beholden

From the porch I called out “Thank you again,” to the neighbors who had dropped everything to come and help us.

My husband Ray had taken a fall—or, to state it more accurately—his legs failed to hold him up, and he ended up on the floor, unhurt, in front of his big chair. I knew it was impossible for me to lift him. I began to leaf through the telephone book. Within minutes, three angels in work clothes came to our home to rescue him—and this wasn’t the first time it had happened.

As much as we needed their aid, just so much I needed their reassurances: “No problem. Glad to help.” My gratitude, you see, heartfelt though it was, was tinged with the shame of being…beholden. How many times will it take, I wondered, before their graciousness wears thin and we are regarded as a nuisance?

The truth is, if there were a bottom to the well of neighborliness, my husband and I would have reached it long before that morning almost three weeks ago. Since that day, I have been thinking about the word beholden. For most of us it is not easy to ask for the help of others. Even when we cannot avoid asking, we are likely to say to ourselves, “I don’t like to be beholden to anybody.”

The word comes from Middle English, not surprisingly, it is a form of the word “behold.” In the Bible, to behold means to look: “Behold, I bring you news of a great joy…” This makes me want to suppose that beholden carries this meaning: looked upon with favor or kindness.

Our great God keeps sending us into fellowship with one another. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are regarded kindly by friends both seen and unseen. In an old hymn there are these words: “O to grace, how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be.” Yes, I am wonderfully beholden to God and to others each day of my life.

A Small Delight

Writing our memories is a way to try to keep them. It does not take many words bring it all back. Here is a poem about a winter day’s particular colors. Underneath the naming of colors is the “delight” I found in what I saw, glad as I was to be going to a holiday gathering with my family.

A Small Delight of Colors

This silver bracelet? A Christmas gift.

On the way to our daughter’s home

one Christmas Day, I saw fields

wearing brown coats with ragged

fringes of trees, and—the silver

curve of a narrow frozen creek

beneath a sky I remember

as aquamarine.

Louise

It is decided: the first poem in A Little-Known Book will be “Fels-Naptha.” Yes, as in the soap. A poem about wash day at Grandma’s house now seems the perfect choice. My mother’s adoptive mother, Louise Catherine Adelaide Bauman, her snowy cloud of hair billowed in its net; her cotton apron, like her dress, homemade, brought stability to my early life. I always say this–that she provided stability–as though the very ground beneath my feet had otherwise sometimes tilted to a dangerous degree. Perhaps you, too, have just such a definite legacy that was left to you. Here is the poem.

 

Fels-Naptha

Grandma, in taking cleanliness

for godliness, scrubbed whatever

needed it. Never scrimp on soap,

she’d say. Frugal Grandma, watching

her pennies, saved the rainwater

from off the roof to rinse her hair.

 

On wash day when the old rag rugs,

like our white underthings, were wrung,

our small hands reached up to fasten

the clothespins ‘gainst the tugging wind.

Then we’d sit on the front porch step

near Grandma in her rocking chair.

 

Here in my sunny laundry room

I unfold the paper wrapping

from a brand-new bar of soap.

Breathing its fragrance is enough

to let me hear her say again,

First we do all our work, then rest.

 

Thrift Store Find

The deadline is looming for a contest I hope to enter. It is for women poets over the age of fifty-five. I need to submit a minimum of sixty pages of poems, one poem to a page. OK, I have more than enough poems. The question is, do I have enough good poems? As I look them over, it is just like walking into a shoe store and suddenly seeing one’s own shoes (which were fine a minute ago) as now hopelessly shabby and worn. I want to rewrite practically every one I read–which could, of course, end up badly.

I can’t even decide which poem ought to be on the first page. Oddly, I know the one I will put on the last page. Here it is. It should be last because it deals with last things, and because the title of this next book of poems is actually A Little-Known Book.

You must imagine that a book has a story to tell.

 

A Little-Known Book’s Last Request

It is not as though I came from

the printers’ only yesterday.

I know very well what becomes

of us when we are old: with luck,

we end up dog-eared, smudged, cookie

crumbs lodged in our spines, coffee cup

rings upon our covers. For some

little time we’re carried about,

insightful notations jotted

in our margins, parts of our text

underlined by the same reader

more than once, before a new book

comes along. Here at the thrift store

I hope for one more reader

and light to read by—this, although

it is enough to be well loved

and well thought of by just a few.

 

 

 

 

 

An Early Morning in September

I’ve been hearing an owl, these past mornings before the daylight comes. It may be the same Great Horned Owl who-o perched in our big cottonwood one afternoon, watching me hanging out the wash. If so, she is getting older, too–that other time was several years ago, when our dryer was broken.

According to my bird book, females of the species are larger than males. This definitely was a very large owl, as I saw when she lifted herself away from the branch.

We live at the outskirts of town. This morning’s low call from the shadows of the trees tells me there are yet a few creatures living in the wild near our home. Mother Owl, I hope that you have a good day’s rest from now until evening comes.