What’s Beautiful Here

What’s beautiful here is a house whose furniture belongs in a house of old, old things and old, old people. Broken or nearly-so. Fragile fabrics, like thin skin, bruising at every brush of a knuckle or seemingly kind word.

What’s beautiful here, where everything seems to be lightly stitched and held by twines and tufts of cat hair and dust.

What’s beautiful here. This is not a question. Because the answer is obvious, however much we like to hide it behind table cloth curtains and a ceiling of curses that fall on us with a laugh.

What’s beautiful here is … here.

Here where we gather. Here where we hurt full-throatedly and heal incrementally.

Here where we hang our art and tend to forget it until that day each quarter or so, when we take the dusting wand and swipe it lightly over the tops of frames and stop, if only briefly, to say “ah, I remember you.” Here where we relive the day we picked it out together and said “I do” all over again. I do love this. I do love you.

Here is what’s beautiful so we remember. As we look about, beyond the shoes and the books and the dishes that stack up on side tables and couter tops. Here is what’s beautiful.

What’s beautiful here is you. The you beyond your skin and hair and pants growing too saggy in your bottom even as mine grow tighter around my belly.

What’s beautiful here is your steadfastness, your loyalty, and your strength. Many men can benchpress the weight of me, but you, you carry me even when I am nothing but dead weight as you usher me forward, even while I draw you down and back.

What’s beautiful here, where the carpet and the couch are stained from a life of living with kids and kittens and a bevy of friends is not what is visibly here. Though some of that  is beautiful, too.

What’s beautiful here is the thing unspoken, the thing unseen, but often felt. It’s the thing that has broken us down and broken us open and the thing we rest our hearts on when we sleep.

What’s beautiful here is … us.


In the Middle

hereinthemiddleToday is the day! Release day for an anthology of essays written by some really thoughtful writers and compiled by excellent editors. Here in the Middle is a collection of stories about what has sometimes been called the “Sandwich generation.” But it isn’t really about a generation, it’s about a time in life when mothers and fathers find themselves involved deeply in the lives of their children and their parents.

This is a first for me, to have a piece I’ve written be included in an anthology, and I am thrilled that the first piece is this particular piece in this particular anthology. My story is from a time nearly nine years ago, when my children were still all at home here in Northwest Indiana, while my parents were battling my father’s cancer in Southern California.

momdadweddingIn looking through pictures at my mother’s house last summer when we moved her to a new home in a new state, I found this photo of my folks as they were “going away” on their wedding day. I love this photo for so many reasons, but mostly it shows these two as they set out in the world as a couple, a force to be reckoned with for more than 50 years.

But I also love the dress my mom is wearing. She kept it always and my sister and I would love to look at their wedding photos and then go steal a look at the dress. Alas, we outgrew that dress well before any time when it would have been appropriate for us to wear it, like, for real. So, instead, at their 50th wedding anniversary party, we hung that dress and her wedding gown from the curtain rods at my sisters house. I remember with a little embarrassed joy about how I fussed with that dress to pin the skirt out so everyone could see just how much fabric hung on that small but mighty frame.

My mom just left my home on Tuesday after spending Thanksgiving with me and my family. We are in a much different time now than the time I wrote about in Here in the Middle. And so are my husband and I in our journey with our now grown daughters.

I invite you to buy this book. My essay is only one of many that reflect the wide variety of voices from people who are here in the middle with us all. Wherever you are on your journey through life, I’m sure the honest writing about life’s full measure will be familiar to you in some form or another.

Find the book, here, on Amazon.


A Prayer for The Work

14449834_10209314972942714_1611560989051837028_nLet me not become my disappointment

Let me use my disappointment
to continue the work for justice
let it sit within me and urge me on
But help me fight becoming a
walking billboard for despair

Let me not become my anger

Let me feel my anger fully
and use it to combat injustice
and keep me going until all are free
but help me use it, not become it
so the world sees me, the person,
who seeks to uplift and be uplifted

Let me not become my disagreement
And let me never again say or accept
“Let’s agree to disagree”

Help me remember the person
behind the disagreement is human, too.
Hurts, too. Has been wounded by
a system that shields the work it has done
to keep us disagreeing, turning us away
from the help we offer each other.

Let me embody my joy even
in the face of work unending,
in the face of greed and disconnect
in the face of sorrow, anger, and, yes,

Let me embody wonder
so that when I hear someone
who says things that jangle my
every justice-seeking nerve
I find the reserve to ask, with true interest,
“Tell me why you said that?”

Let me embody love
Because there are people out there
who need it.
Let it be the root of the work, but
remember, it, alone, is not the work.

Let me wake each day
with the purpose of forwarding justice
with anger, joy, disappointment, and love.
Let me learn over and over and over again
that love is what we are sent for:
reparation, re-membering, and realigning
from our original sin: that of forgetting
we are all in this, together.

61. September Skies

The sky will
always be
a reminder

clear and blue
the temperature
still more summer
than fall
even in early

The reminder
is in the clouds

and in the names
still spoken
the beds still empty
and the love
that lasts longer
than death
longer than pain
longer than healing

Is it some comfort
that despite
what they took
what is left

urging us all to
stay vigilant
against the plots
of lost hearts

that have forgotten
that they, too.
once beat
to the rhythm
of love

60. Recipe for Remembering

Here is a recipe
for remembering

Sit still and
be alone, quietly

Or move about and
be in a crowd, loudly

Or take a shower
so the steam
cleans out the pores
that keep the memory
out and the pain in

Watch a movie
or read a book
or take a hike
or listen to the music
of the toads at night

But most of all
let go of trying to
remember and
more than anything
of trying not to feel
whatever you feel
about remembering

and let your
heart be open
to the all of it

Perhaps this isn’t
a recipe
so much as a
love letter

52. At the end of the world

Where the world ends
you’ll find me there
cradling your head
or holding your hand
firmly, but not tightly
but, then again,
if it is the end of
the world
perhaps my hands
won’t ache
in the joints and
muscles or maybe
I just won’t care

Even though in real
time the outdoors
gives me hives
I picture us
at the end of the world
sitting on a rock
with evergreens hanging
watching the sun set
on the red hills
outside of Sedona

That sounds like a
good way to meet
the end of the world

which I’m thinking
about more and more
this political season

we all find our peace
don’t we?

47. Ancestors

You call them ancestors
but I can’t help but
think of them as ghosts
whose only job
is to make sure
I know I’m connected
to something other
than the thoughts
inside my brain

even if it is only
the love inside
my heart.

Don’t Let Go

And still you have hope.
I see it in  you, even if you don’t.

You hold your metaphorical
and actual children up to the world
like Mufasa holds Simba in
The Lion King and say
“Look, behold, the new world is here.”

I was reminded today,
even after the bombings
that will continue to take
our loved ones until
love trumps fear,

I was reminded of hope

Hope is fuel
Hope is the vision
in our mind’s eye that
dares us, propels us,
to act in that most subversive way

Hope fuels us to love
with a dream of wholeness
that may be out of reach
but still beckons
like the cardinal song
reminding us why we live.

Hold your sorrow, my friends,
but don’t let go of hope
don’t let go of love
don’t let go

JJ’s eyes

I keep flashing back to
The Red Wheelbarrow
on which so much depends

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
--William Carlos Williams

I know, I know,
I’ve said it before and
I will say it again and again
and again until I get it
at the place of not knowing.

So much depends
on the hand you extend
on the word you keep
on the love you give

People are dying,
they said
People are dying
with eyes filled with tears
at the thought that I
might turn my back
on the reality I uttered:
that my voice can be
the difference I so want to make
in the world.
In their world.

So much depends

My red wheelbarrow is love
glazed with compassion
next to justice, dressed as chickens.

When they tell you
people are dying
and you can make a difference
It makes all else
come clear.

And you understand
that you are bigger
than you ever imagined
and love will, truly,
guide you.

Memorializing the Milk

Note: I just found this in my notebook. I wrote it at the end of May and it was true then. I read it over yesterday and I realized that it isn’t completely true now. But I find it quirky and a little funny and the invitation you don’t want to receive: the one into my brain. It got me thinking about responsibility and the truth and the way we describe ourselves to ourselves AND to others. I would never write these things about myself now–much has changed since the end of May, when living still seemed like a chore rather than a gift. But here it is. For some reason, I felt you needed to see it today. I hope you laugh a little more than you wince. I did.

Memorializing the Milk

The thing that helps memory
doesn’t work so well in me
and I am frustrated by how
often I have to remind those
who love me that I cannot
remember numbers
That’s why there are writing tools
and tricks to help me

That is also why I married someone
who does remember
not so I can annoy him with my
not remembering
but because he has what I lack
as I have what he lacks
and what we both have
are close to each others on those
important continuums.

I don’t forget
in order to inflict pain
which does not mean that pain
does not happen
or irritation
or anger
or outright hostility

I forget because my brain doesn’t work like yours.

And while there are tips and tricks to help me
manage that skill,, I find myself a slave to
managing a talent I don’t have
and waste time I could spend
on the talents I do have.

There are days or minutes when I wish
I was linear
and could follow you down the straight
path of logic and conclusion
and rational thought

And then my mind spins off in a direction
you’d never go and I find such delight
in the journey
I can’t imagine straight lines of here to there
without the quick trip to somewhere
and somewhere else.

Sometimes you listen and take the ride
with me
and you shake your head and I see
you smile and you wonder at the way my brain
can think so fantastically

and still forget the milk.

and the honey.

and the cheese.

and where I left my phone.

But I’m thinking of how to stop the killing and
incarceration of black and brown people
by the use of verse
and a phrase gets stuck in my brain
and suddenly it has pushed the phone, the milk,
and the cheese to the edges where
they will, sometimes, be found again.

Okay, so sometimes I’m just thinking about
leaves and grass and the temporary and

but that, too, sees drastic and important
and worthy of the captivation of my brain.

Anyone can remember the milk.
So why would you ask me to do something
anyone can do
when I am so clearly able to do
things that only I can do
in my brain not built for remembering
but for memorializing.

And it would be odd,
even for me,
to memorialize the milk.