A Message From a Long-Ago Child

noaanya

 

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Behind the house in a field
there’s a metal box I buried
full of childhood treasure, a map
of my secret place, a few lead pennies
from 1943.
The rest I’ve forgotten,
forgotten even the exact spot
I covered with moss and loam.
 
Now I’m back and twenty years
have made so little difference
I suspect they never happened,
this face in the mirror
aged with pencil and putty.
I suspect even
the box has moved as a mole would move
to a new place long ago.
~Dan Gerber “The Cache” from Particles

 

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And this is where we went, I thought,
Now here, now there, upon the grass
Some forty years ago.

The days being short now, simply I had come
To gaze and look and stare upon
The thought of that once endless maze of afternoons.
But most of all I wished to find the places where I ran

What’s happened to our boys that they no longer race
And stand them still to contemplate Christ’s handiwork:
His clear blood bled in syrups from the lovely wounded trees?
Why only bees and blackbird winds and bending grass?
No matter. Walk. Walk, look, and sweet recall.

I came upon an oak where once when I was twelve
I had climbed up and screamed for Skip to get me down.
It was a thousand miles to earth. I shut my eyes and yelled.
My brother, richly compelled to mirth, gave shouts of laughter
And scaled up to rescue me.
“What were you doing there?” he said.
I did not tell. Rather drop me dead.
But I was there to place a note within a squirrel nest
On which I’d written some old secret thing now long forgot.

{Now} I lay upon the limb a long while, thinking.
I drank in all the leaves and clouds and weathers
Going by as mindless
As the days.
What, what, what if? I thought. But no. Some forty years beyond!

I brought forth:
The note.

I opened it. For now I had to know.
I opened it, and wept. I clung then to the tree
And let the tears flow out and down my chin.
Dear boy, strange child, who must have known the years
And reckoned time and smelled sweet death from flowers
In the far churchyard.
It was a message to the future, to myself.
Knowing one day I must arrive, come, seek, return.
From the young one to the old. From the me that was small
And fresh to the me that was large and no longer new.
What did it say that made me weep?

I remember you.
I remember you.
~Ray Bradbury from “Remembrance”

 

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I too left notes to my future self, in old barns, and lofts,
and yes, in trees,
but have never gone back to retrieve them.
My ten year old heart tried to imagine itself fifty some years hence,
what fears and joys would pass through like pumping blood,
what wounds would I bear and bleed,
what love and tears would trace my face?

I have not forgotten.
No, I have never forgotten
that I remember.

 

farmgirls

 

Bitter Sweet

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Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet.

Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.
~Stephen Dunn from “Sweetness”

 

Even when the softness of a lovely day lingers long,
reminding me to “remember this, this moment, this feeling”
I realize that it will be lost, slipping away from me
in mere moments, its sweetness fading into the fog of time
and daily distractions so quickly
that I barely remember the taste,
all that’s left is the bitterness of its loss.

Walking this path,
sometimes guessing,
more often not knowing where it leads,
I ponder the sweetness,
treasure it up,
knowing I would never miss it
if I didn’t taste it to begin with.

photo by Joel DeWaard
photo by Joel DeWaard

 

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wwupacplaza

Turned to Ice

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…was it, maybe,
a frost that had turned its sap to ice,
and so it stood,
bitter-sweet,
still fair to see,
but stricken,
soon to fall and die?
~J.R.R Tolkien from Return of the King

Any hint of spring
is frozen in place,
buds encased,
unable to swell,
their future
suspendedand stricken,
bitter in
their beauty.

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Stored in the Heart

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Whatever he needs, he has or doesn’t
have by now.
Whatever the world is going to do to him
it has started to do… 

…Whatever is
stored in his heart, he can use, now.
Whatever he has laid up in his mind
he can call on.  What he does not have
he can lack…

…Whatever his exuberant soul
can do for him, it is doing right now…

…Everything that’s been placed in him will come out, now, the contents of a trunk
unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light.
~Sharon Olds from “The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb”

This is the season for graduations, when children move into the adult world and don’t look back.

As a parent, as an educator, as a mentor, as a college health physician witnessing this transition, I can’t help but be wistful about what I left undone and unsaid.   In their moments of vulnerability, did I pack enough love into that bleeding heart so he or she can pull it out when it is most needed?

With our three children traveling all over the world over the last few weeks, stretching way beyond the fenced perimeter of our little farm, I have trusted they prepared themselves well.

I know what is stored in their hearts because I helped them pack.   It is where they can still find me if need be.

Sweet and Sour Air

photo of Mt. Rainier sunrise by Kathy Yates
photo of Mt. Rainier sunrise by Kathy Yates

In Summer, in a burst of summertime
Following falls and falls of rain,
When the air was sweet-and-sour of the flown fineflower of
Those goldnails and their gaylinks that hang along a lime;
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Cheery Beggar”

Sweet and sour extends far beyond a Chinese menu; it is the daily air I breathe.  Dichotomy is so much of my life and times,  more distinct than the bittersweet of simple pleasures laced with twinges and tears.

I am but a cheery beggar in this world, desiring to hang tight to the overwhelming sweetness of each glorious moment — the startling sunrise, the lush green and golden blooms following spring showers, the warm hug of a compassionate word, the house filled with love and laughter.  But as beggars aren’t choosers, I can’t only have sweet alone;  I must endure the sour that comes as part of the package — the deepening dark of a sleepless night, the muddy muck of endless rain, the sting of a biting critique, the loneliness of an home emptying and much too quiet.

So I slog through sour to revel some day, even more so, in sweet.  Months of manure-permeated air is overcome one miraculous morning by the unexpected and undeserved fragrance of apple blossoms, so sweet, so pure, so full of promise of the fruit to come.  The manure makes the sweet sweeter.

And I breathe in deeply, content and grateful for a moment of grace and bliss, wanting to hold it in the depths of my lungs forever.

photo by Kathy Yates
photo by Kathy Yates
angel trumpet plant
angel trumpet plant courtesy of HGTV
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apple blossoms

Bitter Sweetness

photo by Josh Scholten

Our hair
turns white with our ripening
as though to fly away in some
coming wind, bearing the seed
of what we know…
Having come
the bitter way to better prayer, we have
the sweetness of ripening.
~Wendell Berry in “Ripening”

My husband and I walk our country road together on a warm late summer evening, breathing in the smell of ripening cornstalks and freshly mowed grass lined up in windrows,  much like the walks we took together nearly thirty years ago when we were newly married.   Just down the road, we pass the smaller farm we first owned having left the city behind for a new life amid quieter surroundings.   The seedling trees we planted there are now a thick grove and effective windbreak from the bitter howling northeasters we endured.  The fences need work after 25 years, the blackberries have swallowed up the small barn where our first horses, goats, chickens and cows lived, the house needs painting, nevertheless there is such sweetness recalling the first home we owned together.

On this road, our children were conceived and raised, strolling these same steps with us many times, but now flown thousands of miles away for their life’s work. My husband and I are back to walking together again, just the two of us, wondering how each child is doing at this very moment, pondering how the passage of time could be so swift that our hair is turning white and we are going to seed when only yesterday we were so young.

We ripen before we’re ready.

It is bitter sweetness relinquishing what we know,  to face what we can never know.

It is the mystery that keeps us coming back, walking the same steps those younger legs once did, admiring the same setting sun, smelling the same late summer smells.  But we are not the same as we were, having finally come to the fruitfulness intended all along.

Ripening and readying.

photo by Josh Scholten