Welcome from Amy D. Unsworth

Language, Literature, Learning & Life.

On the Year's End:Considering the Sun in Absence

On the Year's End: Considering the Sun in Absence

The sun has risen and fallen again, and elsewhere
must be rising on this last day of the year,
auspicious with eights and endings which
must be beginnings as the narrative will write
itself with or without adjustments and sidetracks
and lies. The year begins in hope, as it must, and the old
battered: a few photographs in frames, a number of lines
in neat order, piles of papers to file, stacks to purge and re-purge.
Sons taller, homes emptied, tidied and filled again. This
is how the story goes with false starts, with remarkable moments
once sworn to remembrance: but was it a sunrise or sunset?
Or, the way the half moon caught in the net of limbs, the prairie
covered in morning haze, smoke? Or, the owl posturing
as death reborn? There was a hill climbed, and the smell of paint
on a March afternoon, and many spiders removed stiff-legged
from webs, the stove’s redhead glowering and water rushing
into sinks and pans and saucers. Then whiskers,
on a son’s cheek, as he bends now to bid goodnight. And thus,
the sun rises and falls and the year begins anew.

Peace to You

A little earlier than usual, I'm ready for the season. As a family we've planned a Medieval Feast with fairly authentic food, decorations, a newly designed family crest to celebrate Christmas Eve. Parsley bread is rising, the kitchen is chockful of lamb for stew, fish for roasting, and leeks, mushrooms and other vegetables to dice, saute and steam. There is a fireplace in our rented home, but it's not in working order, so we'll un-authentically bake with our oven and stir pots on our conventional stove. The pater noster is memorized, our characters thought out, the table to be laid with silver salvers and goblets. We have music to listen to, skits to perform, we'll make music, too with flute and recorder. And celebrate the birth of our Lord, in whom we delight.

May you be as blessed, this and every day.

Thoughts on Thanksgiving Afternoon

Pioneers had the ability to make the most with what was on hand: a large orange squash, a handful of sugar, cream skimmed from the top of the milk bucket, rendered lard,flour,spice carefully hoarded to bring an autumn treat to the table. But more importantly they remembered to take time from their busy lives to celebrate, one with another, in thanks and praise for another harvest in the root cellar, another year's bounty, for the faces around the table.
May you too, recall the bounty you've been given and remember to give thanks where due. With gratitude, we acknowledge all we have been given and focus on these gifts, life, love, another day to witness the sun's rise and fall, the pattern of shadows and sunlight across the window pane, the beauty of a leaf, the smell of a wood fire burning. Simple things, peaceful things. Take a moment of quiet and feel yourself breathe. A gift, today.
Have a Blessed Thanksgiving!

Poem: How to Hold a Son

How to Hold a Son
by Amy D. Unsworth

For a newborn the bend of your elbow
supports the head, the untrained neck.
Note the bunched face, the pulse
visible at the crown. Prop your arms
with a pillow. Don’t sleep.

At two pretend to be a zebra,
prance on all fours. Become
accustomed to carpets, grass.
Rediscover your knees, sitting
cross-legged. Laughing, he’ll
collapse into your arms. Hurry.

The five year old will bring tulips,
stemless. Or a ladybug. Find a bowl,
a stool, a magnifying glass.
Stand behind, peer at the dusting
of pollen. Hold the glass steady
to see spots and wings. Inhale.

At nine, tousle hair.
Carry the backpack, tuck in
an extra chocolate. In front
of friends, smile. Read about
dragons or mummies. Sneak
your arm around, let it settle.
Pull him close.

In the teens, persist.
Wrestle, slap backs. Knock first.
Attend ballgames and cheer.
Say it’s for your own sake.
Recall the ache in your arms,
the throb of his heart.
Let him leave. Learn to sleep.

Not What I Expected: The Road from Womanhood to Motherhood

And then there is this, too!

Editing work, completed.

Donna L. Potts and Amy D. Unsworth, eds.
Region, Nature, Frontiers: Proceedings from the 11th International Region and Nation Literature Association Conference.
Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2008.
ISBN 9781847184597.

Thanks to Donna Potts for the opportunity!

Thoughtful Gifts, Long Remembered.

Looking back over my childhood a few gifts truly changed how I envision life: a pair of Appalachian clothespin dolls and a book of Willa Cather's short stories from my aunt, and a theatre experience planned by my grandmother. Other holidays came and went, in a blur of Christmas trees, the angel-hair drench tree of my grandfather's house, the children's tree downstairs at an aunt and uncle's home, the white tree displayed in the front window, the year my brother and sister and I decorated a real spruce tree with toys and while my parents were away only for it to crash down in the middle of the night. Now, I think of gifts for others and remember, too.

Something about the plain, tiny-featured dolls that evokes my childhood, beyond that particular year Christmas. I recall autumn weekends at Spring Mill, gathering sticks for a fire to roast marshmallows, the visits to the pioneer village, the cold water from the spring trickling by mossy banks. The pioneer apothecary shop with jars full of herbs and remedies, the bonnet-topped ladies in long dresses strolling in and out with their baskets, the stonewalled garden with the vegetables laid out in neat rectangles. The tidy utility of rooms meant for living, cooking, around a stone fireplace. The smell of woodsmoke on a clear night always made me imagine that pioneer life, those wooden cabins, and the damp chill of morning seeping in through the chinks as the fire burns low. Making do. My aunt had lived in such a cabin, north in Canada, to me a land of mystery and bears. The clothespin dolls now stand guard over my collection of antique books; they still make me smile.

The book of Cather stories too, brings to mind the pioneer days and the juxtaposition with urban society. The heartbreak and pride of working the land, the apparent ease of city life, and the squalor and hardship which was too often the true experience of the immigrant, the pioneer, the fool-hardy soul who hoped for more than the earth or the city was willing to give. Just south of where I grew up, there is a historical marker for Pigeon's Roost, where settlers were massacred men, women and children all. I grew up with a sense of being connected to this history, to the sense of adventure and possibility inherent in moving on and trying a new life elsewhere.

The practical side of me knew that pioneer life was hell on women, the old graveyards are full of babies, and women who died bearing them, the tin-types show women worn to a nubbin, aged beyond their years with sickly children peering out from behind their skirts. In Kansas and elsewhere on the prairie , they made lives out of the dirt, living in sod houses, trying to break the hills before the flint in the hills broke their will to try. It was cold in Kansas last year after the ice-storm, without electricity, in a modern home equipped with a fireplace--bone cold. Imagine an entire winter, with no light, little heat, tucked like a mole in the side of the hill. Imagine the damp, the heat escaping each time someone passes in or out, the impossibility of clean. The practical side understands why Paul, of "Paul's Case" made the fateful decision to run to the city, to the lights, the theatre, the warmth and abundance.

Tickets to the theatre,too, were a good gift: the lights and the wonder. The memories of dressing up, of occasion. That particular Christmas I was four, with a red long dress trimmed in white lace holding my grandmother's hand, following along, mesmerized by the width and the breadth of theatre, by the people gathered there to wait in the dark, for the storybook brought to life on the stage. There, then, anything was possible.

How it happened

Much of the contents of the box were no longer treasure,
maps and diner placemats from long forgotten journeys by car
pamphlets and sights to see and contests by mail.
In her diary, the days marked mostly by weather, warm today,
much cooler this week, in a hurried hand. Thomas
MIA since June, the war department notified Elizabeth
on July 8th, no word since, the first entry for the year 1945
and in August in so few words, we've offered terms to Japan
and then a few days later, Papa's home early and off tomorrow
to celebrate the signing of the treaty--VJ day,-- the boys
will be home soon,and Papa's finishing the glass front cabinet
before he must go back to work. Then fall, with telegraphs
and holiday wishes, and the year ends, as it must, with snow.

Post-date Billing

All night I toss and turn, dreaming of the doctor's office,
of the treatment room, of the intersection of the IV and
my veins. The half-awake sleep of chemotherapy
floating between the mind's desire to dream of health
and the physical body's agony. There are days I can't
remember: the first day of treatment, the day I refused
any drug they offered to calm my stomach, to relieve
anxiety, pain. The day I swore at the onocologist surrounded
by his interns. I do remember the following morning, the suprise
when the doctor asked if I had decided to live. I don't remember
asking to die. Last night, months from treatment, the anxiety
came back. This time, the dream of sickness, awaking
to health, to scars healed and fading, to home. I cannot
drink enough water to wash the taste from my mouth.

The Second of Autumn

I’ve been guilty of spoonerisms today. I raise my hand to ask a question and I cannot speak aloud in a lucid manner. I tip over my trongue. Don’t listen to my mind racing ahead. On paper, on pixel, I manage just fine, thank you.

Some days one throws out a line, and draws in nothing but a wet hook. Today, splashes, ripples around me. I cast again. I cast again. The ducks chuckle in their low voices. The cars hum by, the faces anonymous blurs. In this moment, I gather them to me.

We speak of Narcissus and the Echo. Vanity. Wanting too much. In the muddy pond, the geese float by in legions. The leaves fall catching the light, each year I am caught anew by the subtleness, each year agog. Listen to this, I say, waving the sheaf aloft.

Contemplation: Identity Matters (part 2)

I believe it is Lacan that says that our identities/perceptions are formed in the mirror of other people's minds. And so, others reinforce our own ideas of ourselves. Socially this makes sense: a father reacts positively to the child who "behaves" reinforcing the positive behavior he want to see. Tell a kid he/she is smart for a year and see what happens. If a person's action are received favorably, he/she will repeat that action. A baby smiles at another person, the person smiles back, the baby smiles. Most of the time, I believe we try to live up to the good. If a person hears negative remarks, she can choose to change behavior(accept the other person's verdict) or to continue to act in the same way(rejecting that verdict). Sometimes a person rebels against the perception/identity someone else has of them, forcing person #2 to change their perception. Either way, one (or both) of the two people involved will incur a change in perception and attitude. We react negatively to people who are not following the perception/identity we have created for them. We also react negatively to people who do not display the values and morals we trust in.

So, then, our own perception of ourselves is also constantly edited, shaped and changed by social interaction, by what we do, what we fail to do and how other people respond. We also become more like the people we choose to spend time with, emulating the behaviors we long for in ourselves. But we can never truly know another person, each of our evaluations are biased by what we can see/hear/empirical knowledge which is limited by the impossibility of being with someone constantly and the mediation between thought and spoken/written communication. We choose people who will reinforce what we like best in ourselves (whether we openly admit to those aspects of ourselves or not) including our values, morals, ethics, desires, and beliefs. The highest valued relationships are ones in which the other person best reflects our "best" self perception/identity. (Again, constantly in flux, with each person reinforcing the other)

For personal change, then, a person has to both change her own views of herself and change the response patterns of other people, editing her own perception of her-self and reinforcing other people's positive reactions to the desired change. (or responding negatively to their negative feedback) Or she leaves the others behind as their values, behaviors, desires no longer reflect her own. In new social situations, we choose how to present ourselves hoping to reinforce the best self identity/perception so that the new interactions provide the most comfortable reflection and we seek out those people we believe can help us learn/grow/change ourselves (or at least show us that our present self is acceptable.)

I think this is one of the reasons that people reject God. How vulnerable we are in the face of an omnipotent God who never changes. One who knows all our thoughts, our insecurities, our wrong doings. Rail against Him, He remains. Plead with Him, He changes not. We cannot cajole, demand, or persuade Him other than He wills. He will not be changed, we must change if we want to know Him. It is easier, safer, to reject that God, to say His way is "superstitious" or "a fairy tale" than to be willing the change our hearts to reflect Christ's way revealed in His Word. We fear might be asked to give up too much. We fear the rejections of other people, their negative responses to our relationship with a God who Knows. Especially since those other people are corporeal, empirical, near to us, and we can hide our secret hearts, our fear and weaknesses, from them.

We fear the surrender to a Way other than our own. But when we need comfort the most is often when we feel the most alone and the most cut off from human companionship. No other person knows, no one else can understand, no one else can share in our internal pain. How terrifying to be known, yet how we desire it as well. We see Him now as in a glass, darkly, the scriptures say. At first, this seems an impossible task, to see God's presence. We have to look, to seek to find evidence of His existence. Like the wind, which we cannot see, He touches the world around us. We can see Him in the action of those who know Him, and through His Word. I long not just to know Him more, but to be a good reflection of Him and His Love.

(more to come)

Contemplation: Fractal-ly Thinking (part 1)

I've been visiting "electric sheep" recently and trying to comprehend what fractals are and how they are created. My questions led me over to the ever-readily-at-hand wikipedia where I'm able to read a definition, grasp at the concept, but still be a little fuzzy on what the math people might be talking about. I think I understand the basics of "what" but "how" is still evading me at the moment. In the simple explanation, it's a shape created by the replication of the same shape--it occurs in nature sometimes in plants like ferns. And it's rather how I was taught to draw a tree, a "Y" with branches splitting to branch again, and again. I find the fractals delightful to watch, even though I'm unable to distinguish the shape that is replicated in most cases.

From there, I began reading about "strange loops" Escher is known for these: hands drawing each other, staircases to nowhere, and such. But more interestingly, I found that there is a book by Douglas Hofstadter called I am a Strange Loop, which appears to be about soul, consciousness and its self-constructiveness. I read an interview which gives me a sense of the book's argument. But, I need to request this, and his earlier Gödel, Escher, Bach, from my library. I'm particularly interested in Hofstadter's theory about the "soul" (should we say "human essence"?) having more than just a single repository and how this relates to other ideas/theories I'm familiar with from literary and language theory, and more essential how it relates to my relationship with and understanding of God.

Oddly enough, Hofstadter also postulates about random experience suddenly revealing an order (do we impose this order? or was it there, waiting to be revealed all along?)

A turn of a kaleidoscope and all the randomness settles into a beauty of its own.

(more to come)

Even a sparrow

In the bright afternoon light a sparrow mistook the reflected sky for sky. The thud of the impact drew our attention away from our books. How could we read with a sparrow stunned and trembling on the other side of the glass? The eyes blink, the chest rises and falls, the claws clench as if holding onto a branch we can not see. Will it die? my son asks. I don't know, I don't know. The sparrow breathes faster now.

I hold my son close to me and we watch this spark of life burn. Except his breath and his blinking pupil-less eyes, the bird lays perfectly still staring up. We dare not touch it; other birds raise a cry from the branches, entreating. We look at the patterns of the legs, the way the feathers lie close to the chest. God knows when even a sparrow falls. I can't bear to think of it dying, splayed on our deck. I pray aloud, for healing, for peace if the injury is too great. How many similar prayers have others said for me?

When I open my eyes, the sparrow's breath has slowed. Let's let it be. As I stand, the bird flutters then rises into flight. He'll have a headache, my son laughs. The sparrow becomes once again just one of the flock, chattering noisily in the backyard. Thank you. For the sparrow, for this day, for life.

Radio Signals in a Digital World

My son, born under the Hale-Bopp coment, studies the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth and beyond. Based here on the mysterious spark of water and carbon, a chemical reaction perhaps, life. Out there, the telescopes scan the unknown, adding day by day to the reserve of human knowledge. Sending out into the vast Beyond a record of our human life meant to travel beyond our boundaries and limits in search of something more. We hope and dread some acknowledgement of our passing by. Is it not enough to reach out and touch each other?

There is more to learn than a lifetime can teach in the habits of the toads living in the damp recess under the deck with moss and the remains of last year's acorns. I unpry my son's hands to loosen his grip. For a moment the small creature stares up at us, white tipped toes splayed, heartbeat visible through the thin skin, the pouch at its neck inflating and deflating. We stare back, then watch him hop out into his world, our backyard now a toad's universe spiraling out into the woods beyond. We too are small and vulnerable, breathing deep when danger has passed, together amazed at what the day provides.

R. E. T. (Random Emotion Triggers)

There are days where she cannot believe that death is a possibility. There is so much work to be done. Lessons to plan, menus, pajamas to fold, novels to read, three sons to feed. How is it possible that she must contemplate death while cooking rice for dinner, or walking the dogs along the tall corridor of trees? No one mentioned that the fear still could catch her unaware, with tears at unexpected moments, on the way home from the video shop, or peeling carrots, or combing her now shoulder-length hair. This time, a weekend movie set in space. Each individual made in duplicate, multiples. Memory transfered from the broken body to the whole. She holds her husband's hand, remembers how many times he's been the link that held her in this world, held her near to sanity when letting go, when ending the effort began to seem a viable option. And other times too, at football games, at the orchestra, as they held their sons in the moments after birth. Tonight she looks away, blinking, waiting for the fear to pass and the moment to turn to gratitude for another day alive, for another moment to watch and to be a part of it all.

One Year, Again.

I've been to "one year" before, one and a half years ago. The doctor said to come back for a bit more blood work, for another scan. Those scans said: second primary tumor, hereditary. I wonder if the first cancer saved my life. There was no evidence, except in my blood. And no one would have been looking at blood under a microscope if I hadn't already been sick once before. Typical onset is 70, screening begins at 50, sometimes later. I was 35.

Monday was my "one year" from the end of treatment checkup. Last July during my 8th infusion of what was meant to be 12 doses of Folfox6, I began having trouble reading, then seeing, then breathing. Then I realized that I was having a reaction to the medications that were meant to kill the cancer cells. My face burned and I felt choked; I could hardly raise my voice to call the nurse. And in a flurry, a brief moment or two, the line was unplugged from the port.

The nurses called my husband and he drove from work to sit with me. For an hour, the nurses watched to make sure the side-effects were subsiding. I closed my eyes and practiced breathing until the air passed freely in and out of my lungs. My husband, held my hand. In my head, the storm of emotion raged, questions, doubts, and fear. If I could not continue these infusions, what would we have to do for treatment next?

After some time, the doctor returned to send me on my way home. What next? Clinical standards suggest twelve dose, but medicine is still a question, a guessing game, an art of conjecture, laboratory work, and faith. The reaction signaled the end of the chemotherapy and the start of wait and see. Now, blood work and scans.

Now attempt to return to normal life. Now the fog lifting, clarity, hope, and each day another chance to live better. To learn what I am meant to learn: mostly, that I cannot do it all on my own, no matter how able, how strong, how determined, how intelligent, how stubborn I may be.



In the dream, the group plans to trade one friend for the money to finance a holdiay blowout. Her life insurance will pay for presents, treats, wrapping paper, tinsel. She watches benignly as they collect their temporary treasures around them. Why? I ask. Everyone looks away


In the mirror this morning, I ask my reflection: what life am I trading? And for what?
For what?


At daybreak, I climb the hill on 20th Street. A buzzard rides on the updrafts, circling. A mouse lies dead on the pavement's edge. Today, I will trade for nothing that will not bring me joy. My son and I hokey-pokey down the hill, even as he protests. I choose these: long walks with children, dogs, and my life's love; the promise of new friends and places; the comfort of those who have shared my highs and lows; and the never-ending pleasure of words. What trinkets could compare?


Market Day

The summer's long, humid days stretch on. Children in the street putter about on their bicycles, even their shouts have lost vigor. Paper and pencils, bright colored folders and lunchboxes fill the aisles at the stores. Days without routine blend into weeks, punctuated only by rain.

Today, we visited the local farmer's market: several vegetable stalls covered with canopies, a table of honey, and one of goat milk fudge. We bring our bag to carry our produce home, turning away the ubiquitous plastic sacks. The young man at the eggplant stall comments that it gives him hope to see more and more people with "green bags." I wish for a market basket, with a comfortable handle. We purchase a dollar's worth of roma tomatoes, an eggplant to fit my cupped hands, local honey for toast with butter, and a basket of okra pods. One feels hopeful at a farmer's market, however small, for the earth's bounty, for those who plant and reap, and for the long market tradition continued for yet another season.

Our routines begin to fall into place: Wednesday afternoon to market and library. In colored ink, the words march across the calendar.

Life, Re-Ordered

The deck overlooks 13 acres of tangled woods, wildflowers, and a myriad of weeds. A path leads into the thicket, beckoning. The first morning, a doe and two fawns grazed just beyond the edge of the yard, in the midst of the purple flowers as yet unrecognized. A hawk krees overhead, perhaps leaving and returning to her young. Nuthatches, in their close knit group hop and bicker, feeding from the tree at the edge of the yard.

Slowly, from many boxes, books and pots, towels and candleholders emerge, shyly into this new place. We learn the names of the streets and avenues, locate parks and walking paths, answer other people's phone calls, reassure the dogs, find ways to make this, too, home.


Tomorrow the madness begins in earnest. The cardboard boxes filling up the rooms, piles of paper, strangers in the house. Everything in a parcel, unhelpful labels on packed boxes, no room to move. In two days it will be over, loaded onto the truck, on the way to elsewhere.

Last night, home from my trip across five states, I found three zuchini and a tomato finally ready on the vine. A small harvest: tomorrow's dinner, with salt and pepper. A simple impulse in the midst of disorder. The mystery vine trails across the stone path, more tomatoes grow on the vines, absorbing the sun and heat. More profusion. The urge to grow amazes me.

The herbs fill out their pots. A moveable garden, to adorn the small house on the end of the street which will soon be, however temporarily, home.


The work awaits, the writing must wait, at least for now, on the blog. I'll be back, in a week or two after re-assembling our home. I'm pleased to know, however, that you'll be here online, when I return. Some things don't have to be uprooted. For this I'm grateful.


Smoke & Light

For the last three nights, the firecrackers and roman candles have filled the air with a film of smoke and set the dogs' nerves on edge. Even tonight, after the town's display over the park, the noise continues, and will continue for hours.
Early in the week, the days are punctuated with short bursts of explosions, growing to tonight's peak: every street and cul-de-sac filled with children and laughter. The water hose and buckets at hand, we light our corner of the world, with sons grown tall. Five years in this place, a place one could call Home.
We say goodbye with sparks and smoke. We learn to sleep with the commotion.


Look, Every Day

The gourd vine grows wildly again this year. A mystery. Baby pumpkins? Striped, winged gourds? Little white ones?

Out front, in the flower beds, a watermelon plant, perhaps from last year's Fourth of July festivities. A straggler, a weed. Is there time for it to bear fruit?

I don't know. I look every day, to wonder at the profusion.

Child, we've done our best.

Someone will have to weed and spread
The young sprouts. Sprinkle them in the hour
When shadow falls across their bed.
You should try to look at them every day
Because when they come to full flower
I will be away.

--from "Heart's Needle" by W.D. Snodgrass

Submit or . . .

It seems that everytime I'm getting organized to actually send out my work, I have a technical glitch. Out of ink, the driver for the printer is mysteriously deleted, the kids have used up all of the printer paper to draw cartoons on, or I'm out of envelopes because the kid felt he should make packets of cartoons to send to *his* friends.

This week, it's my computer down. I did get a couple of email submissions out the door, and two paper packets out before the end of the month deadlines. I managed a few last month as well, so not too terrible, but not what I was hoping to get done before we packed up and hit the highway for our rather short move to Leavenworth, Kansas.

The move threatens to be all I can see right now. But when I'm busy, I need to write. So, I write. Life is good, no?

Sweet Tea and Summer Time

Although I was born and (mostly) raised in Indiana, which many people wouldn't consider "The South," I know that summer has arrived when there are fireflies over the garden and sweet tea in the 'fridge. It took me awhile to realize, when we lived in Georgia, that you could actually order sweet tea at dinner out on the town. And no matter how lovely that might be, it's still not as good as homemade sweet tea, made with Lipton's, diluted with ice, and served in a tall glass. I've changed to de-cafe, otherwise I don't know that I'd sleep all summer long.

Fill a medium sauce pan with cold water, bring to boil, tie 12 tea bags together. When the water boils, take the pan off the burner and add the tea bags. Cover. Wait for 5 mins. while the tea steeps. Take out the tea bags, add 1c. sugar to the hot tea, stir until the sugar disolves. Pour in 1 gallon pitcher. Add a bit of cold water, espcially if you're using a glass jar, to fill about 1/2 of a gallon. Top the rest of the gallon with ice. Stir well. Enjoy on your front porch while watching robins, the neighbors, or whatever happens to lurk on your street.

Ah. Summer.

More on Gratitude

I'm subscribed to Zen Habits, a blog that is probably best classified as a part of the "slow movement." Today's post is about incorporating gratitude in one's life. The post also is a challenge, which they ask the readers to share, so I'm sharing with you.

Characteristics of a Grateful Life

A life of gratitude is composed of three parts that combine to make a whole.

1. A sense of purpose in our lives

2. An appreciation for the lives of those around us

3. A willingness to take action to show the gratitude we feel

I think as a poet, I do pay attention and appreciate my life and the lives of others. I don't know that paying attention, alone, is enough. One of my shortcomings, I feel, is that I don't incorporate enough of the third characteristic in my life. Writing is often the most comfortable response; writing, though, is not always the most helpful response.

The challenge is expressed in practical (practicable) form:

* Spend three minutes every morning writing down a few things you are grateful for that day
* Devote a full morning or afternoon to composing a more detailed gratefulness list. (One tip: think both about what you are grateful for and also how you can show that gratitude)
* Make it a habit to encourage at least one person every day
* Review your finances to make sure they are in order and aligned with your values
* Plan something fun, like a trip to somewhere you’ve never been
* For one day (or more), say something positive to every person you meet

So, I'll start by adding three things I'm grateful (beyond my family-which of course tops my list each and every day) for this morning and I challenge you to do the same here in the comments section--or wherever you blog (leave a comment with a link).

1. Being able to wake up at an early hour without an alarm. For many years, I've been a night owl while my husband wakes up chipper each day. After a lot of practice and self enforced earlier bed-times, I'm able to wake up and spend a few moments over coffee with my husband before the day's concerns start to intrude.

2. Fresh fruit and vegetables. What a luxury to have strawberries and apples and bananas at my fingertips most every day. I keep a tray of fruit on the counter, often the basic apples and oranges, but their color brightens my day. And I know that my kids have healthy food at hand.

3. My silly dogs. I've learned much about love and trust from our two Italian Greyhounds. They make us laugh, too. During my chemo last summer, they sat by my side and kept me company. There were weeks when the only time I saw my husband's true smile was when the dogs greeted him at the door. They are so pleased to please.

There is always something to learn and always work to do.
Be blessed where you are, and bless others in return.

Tomorrow's Cleanup Information

Continuing Volunteer Cleanup Efforts

Via email from the Sunset Zoo list Serve:

All volunteers wanting to assist with the continuing cleanup from the recent weather event should report to the northwest corner of the Bill Snyder Family Stadium parking lot (near the corner of Kimball and College Avenues) between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Friday, June 13. Those volunteers should dress appropriately (long pants and shirts, work gloves if available) and will be transported to the affected areas.

In addition, all those with vehicles and equipment to use in support of the continuing cleanup effort should call 587-2489 or 587-2404 so they can be put in direct contact with those needing greater assistance. Any property owner or tenant needing this assistance from those volunteers with vehicles and equipment should call 587-2489 or 587-2404 to register for assistance.

I'm really impressed with the way the city of Manhattan has and is managing to get information out to the residents of Manhattan. My friend on the ground earlier today said that the Stadium parking lot was set up with a mobile command post. The stadium lot is about four blocks from the damaged area on campus- It is amazing to watch the community pull together to help each other.


The Ksu Foundation's Web Page with information on how you can help. They also have a media presentation and links to other stories about the June 11th tornado.

I have yet to see a specific page for the RED CROSS here in town, but I'm sure they are accepting donations as well.

Please also remember the Flint Hills Breadbasket which helps feed people in need in the Riley County area.


The Manhattan Mercury has a SPECIAL REPORT with more photos and will update as news becomes available.


The tornado was classified as an EF4, the second most powerful classification.


Eyes on Campus

1:40 pm.

Reports via cell phone from friend on campus:

Dennison Avenue is completely closed off and the area is being cleaned up as we speak. The building and grounds crews at KSU are hard at work putting tarps over the damaged buildings at KSU. Cardwell Hall has lost all the windows at the top and the ventilation system on the top of the building is shredded. You can see where the tornado touched down and pulled everything toward it. Many of the trees in the area have lost major branches, and there are branches strewed all over the ground.

The bottom level of Cardwell has already been boarded up. Danker Roofing has their crews on the grounds currently.

Burt Hall has many trees down, luckily the stone building has stood well in the face of the storm.

Waters Hall is missing windows and is roped off.

ECS seems to have escaped much damage (I spent much time there as a Grad Student.) although there is much debris. Chunks of the roof from the nuclear power plant are on the ground. The Engineering building has lost all the trees, many uprooted and knocked over.


Cars in the parking lot have been picked up and thrown. Hoods are torn off cars, and some are stacked on top of each other. (see photo in earlier post)


Campus is navigable thanks to the great response from the community and the KSU Grounds and Facilities Crew. Cleanup is progressing in an orderly manner. There are quite a few students walking around with their cellphone/cameras taking pics of the damage.


A special thank you goes out to Manhattan's first responders: the police, the firemen, and the EMS & Red Cross workers. They were out last night pulling people out of the torn houses. RCDP must be running on fumes as today has progressed.


As major news networks are now covering this story, I'm signing off for today. I am extremely grateful that Manhattan was blessed enough to have no lives lost. And grateful for the emergency system that warned local residents in a timely manner to take cover. I'm certain their work saved lives.


What is Left of the New Water's Hardware

Just opened in October, here's what is left: (again, embedded from WIBW's viewer photos,photo credit to "Rob S.")

Hardware store destroyed

Local Photos/ KSU Tornado

KSU RELIEF FUND The site has information about yesterday's events and a way for you to donate to KSU to help rebuild. This link is to the KSU Foundation.


Here is a link from WIBW with viewer photos. The website also has some early video. (The following photos are embedded from that site, photo credits to Justin Weibers for the KSU photos and "Steph" for the Amhearst photos) Click to see larger photos/or to comment at that site)

Amherst Area, Manhattan Damage

Amherst Area, Manhattan Damage

Photos from the Campus Area:

K-State Tornado

K-State Tornado

K-State Tornado

Amherst Area, Manhattan Damage

Here is a link to the broadcast of last night's storm at it occurred on KTKA

Cnn's coverage is spotty right now. But the I-report section has a few other photos: see here

Toyota on Seth Child:

Extensive damge to Manhattan

A photo of "a" Tornado during a lightning strike: EDIT: Good Grief-> awesome photo of the power of nature; NOT a photo from this tornado.


Another CNN "I-report" reporter has pictures available:

KSU: 20 million in damages

According the interview I heard earlier on the radio, K-State has an insurance policy that will cover much of the damages. However, there is a 5 million dollar deductible --I'm sure that there will soon be a fund for donations. When I find out those details, I'll post them.

There are students enrolling today at K-State, many who were sleeping in the dorms last night--and there will still be enrollment today but the location has moved to Bramlage Coliseum.
I'm certainly impressed that KSU has been able to respond so quickly and still provide the necessary services to the incoming freshmen. There is a shelter for students, too. At Putnam Hall.


Be safe out there today.


Volunteers call the RED CROSS or the Manhattan City Managers (phone numbers below)


The Mercury. com says they'll have pictures soon. update at 11:55 am : The Mercury has several photos of the damage now.


Friends & such Report

One of our friends in Amhearst reports that her entire neighborhood was out on the streets last night, talking in the street and making sure that everyone was safe. She says that the Amhearst Neighborhood is crazy with all the sirens and emergency vehicles.


Another friend near the Campus tells us that the roofs are torn off of buildings and that there are many cars damaged and much debris everywhere. I can hear the shock in his voice as spoke to me as he walked around the area.


Thank you to the friends who have called to check on us. Our home and neighborhood is safe; while some members of our church have damage to their homes.


Senator Pat Roberts said, "Kansas is not Katrina; Kansans will help Kansans" (via interview on FM 96.3 around 9:52 am.)


Outside my windows, it's a typical rainy morning.


Weather, too, is a Concern

8:59 am

We are expecting more poor weather likely today. If you are out and working please be aware that the weather might be an issue again today.

The RCPD will be doing sweeps again today to make sure that everyone is accounted for. FEMA is in the area also doing sweeps, as is the RED CROSS. National Guard is on site to also secure the damaged areas.

9:01 am

If you need shelter, there is also now a shelter for pets available.

The RCPD will have a press conference this evening

Gov. Sebelius & our 2 senators Brownback and Roberts will be coming tonight to view the damage at KSU and Manhattan


There are many great things about living in Kansas, tornadoes are not one of them. The community's response is amazing. Out of all the damaged homes, only 6 people needed to use the shelter last night.


K-Man, K-Rock still are running current updates.


Volunteers are Needed today after lunchtime. CALL City office at 587- 2489 or 587- 2404 for further instructions.


9:13 am

City Manager Ron Fear reports that they will be assessing structural damage and trying to mark any unsafe buildings in town. Most of the main roads are open in Manhattan. Please be aware that stoplights may be not functioning. Use caution when working outside as the situation is still dangerous--broken glass and nails and other building supplies and household items are spread over the area and still pose a hazard.


Picking Up

Manhattan KS 8:50 am.

After the night's emergency, it's absolutely amazing that there have been no serious injuries reported here in Manhattan. The neighborhood was a family neighborhood. Another friend who lives in the area, is out of town--so we know that she is fine but have no word on her home.

Reports indicate that $20 millions in damage at Kansas State Campus.

Volunteers should call RCPD if you are physically fit and are willing to help pick up and sort debris in the tornado hit area especially in the Miller Ranch Area.

Water's True Value is destroyed to just a slab.

Damage to apartments and some home on College Ave.

Potteroff Hall is still available as a shelter.

Cash donations should be sent to the RED CROSS.

Two arrests made for looting in the Amhearst Area. Good Grief.


I'll update as the day progresses as The Manhattan Mercury site is down from heavy traffic.


Manhattan Damage/ KSU tornado

About 30 houses in Miller Ranch area are destroyed to foundations, and the K-State Campus sounds like it has some serious damages as well: roofs torn off, power lines down, mostly near Weber Hall, and in the parking areas. Water damage, faculty offices damaged, and such. Reactor was hit by the storm, and the engineering building. But no real reports of injuries.

CAMPERS IN THE RESIDENTS HALL ARE SAFE, according to reports on the radio this morning.

It appears that all the storms are done for tonight. I think I will really go try to sleep.
Our quick review of our property didn't reveal any damages, but I'll look again with the light.

Amherst Area, Manhattan Damage

(If you've arrived directly to this page you may not see the latest information: I've embedded some photos--click photos from the archive links at the right of the page for the latest information I have from the area.)

June 11th Tornado

It seems that the tornado "bounced" three times across town starting at the south west corner of town near Eureka Drive (just north of Fort Riley Blvd) skipped across the lake and hit the ridge at Miller Ranch just west of Seth-Child and continued across to damage several businesses. (I'm sickened to hear that there was some looting at the Toyota Dealership) then the tornado skipped over and hit near campus, removing a roof *near* the Farmhouse Fraternity House, and damaging several campus buildings.

PLEASE STAY HOME! Unless of course you you and your family need shelter. The RED Cross # is 537-2180 and they are operating a shelter at Cico Park's Potteroff Hall with a backup shelter ready to go if necessary. (Pets are NOT accepted)

I expect that WIBW will have photos for us in the morning and the Manhattan Mercury.(although there is NOTHING on their site right now, besides a thread in the comment section.) and here's a link to the Manhattan Broadcasting's website.

And a better map, indicating the Miller Ranch Area.

Tornadoes Tonight in Kansas

June 11th, 2008 11:52 pm

Manhattan KS: Local radio reports a tornado touched down near Seth Childe Boulvd. within the last hour with cars turned over at /near the Toyota Dealership and on/near K-State's Campus.

We spent the hour huddled together in our storm shelter under the stairs. Luckily our friends who live in that area report power outages but are otherwise fine. We're under a watch until 3am.

We're staying near to cover until the worst blows over.

I'll update later in the morning.

Amy (wearing her red sandals just in case)


Live update via b101. 5 fm Radio

Amhearst neighborhood (one block west of Seth Childe) with severe damage, roofs off houses on north Dartmouth, with Miller Ranch area reported as more severe via RCPD. Gas leaks are presumed for this area.

No current reports of injuries.

K-state Campus is also reporting damage.

Updated: 12:37

Water's True Value (the new location) is completely demolished. Some houses in Amhearst completely destroyed according to live broadcast on FM 101.5 Miller Ranch area heavily damaged.

12:42 report from Campus:

University Heights has also been damaged as well as the Engineering Bldg on KSU campus

At Claflin & North Manhattan severe damage to campus soil labs (reported as uprooted/then dropped in parking lot).


Lee Elementary School reports damage and debris. Summer School for Manhattan (USD 383) is canceled until further notice.



minor injuries reported in Miller Ranch area such as broken bones. RCPD is going through the neighborhood right now.


K-rock, K-Man, B104.7 will have links on their web-pages with further updates... Pets will NOT be allowed at the shelters (yet to be determined) I'll add links asap.

On Campus: reports indicate

Cardwell, Bird, and another building damaged. Wind erosion lab is completely destroyed.


1:01 am

Eyewitness reports on the radio indicate about 10 houses completely destroyed to the foundation in the Miller Ranch area. Yet, most residents are accounted for with only minor injuries.
Red Cross is on the scene to take people to the shelter.


As of now, news reports probably 3 touchdowns in the Manhattan area. 1. Eureka Drive (west of Manhattan) 2.) Miller Ranch/ Seth Child/ Amhearst / and businesses 3.) K-State Campus (Now sealed from the public.)


Check with the above radio stations (and I'm sure that the video crews will have more for those who watch TV) for more update information as the night goes on.


I think I'll let the official people report from here. If you're here in Manhattan, please be safe and don't go gawking. The night's not quite over yet.


May God hold you in His hands


View Larger Map

Multiple Intelligences & Poetry

I was digging around a bit today trying to find out more creative approaches for homeschooling my sixth grader and one of the suggestions was to pay attention to a child's "multiple intelligences" so that they have a greater chance of success (and also to make sure that the child is getting the support they need to balance out their "weaker" intelligences.)

Out of curiosity, I took one of the web's tests to identify my strengths, and the results were a bit surprising--I actually scored highest in Musical rather than Linguistic ability although the actual difference was rather small. It would be intriguing to find out if other poets (as a group) scored in a similar manner. (I also scored surprisingly high in Naturalist--but I attribute this to gardening and a grandmother who insisted I learn the names of the birds and trees around us.)

I'm not sure that the questions are terribly accurate-- and perhaps this would be a good tool to help an adult bring more "roundedness" to his or her life--knowing for instance that I am poor at spatial ability --might be a good prompt to work to develop this skill more fully in my life. (In case I decide to take up sewing or quilting in the future, this would come in handy.)

On the last trip to my local library, I found an interesting little book, Wisdom of the Plain Folk, on the Mennonites and Amish life --beautiful photography paired with hymns and sayings. I've been working my way through some theology recently, I began with Bonhoffer's Life Together, and now I've picked up The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis in a translation by William Griffin. The wily introduction is by Richard J. Foster and contains those little comments in Latin that used to annoy me, but now pique my interest.

Latin has been showing up everywhere--in my son's book on Shakespeare, for example--and of course in my older son's vocabulary course. I have often thought if I just looked at Latin long enough it would begin to make sense. I am thrilled to know that there is always another subject to try, another project to undertake, and more books, and books!

In garden news, the pot holding last year's stalks of basil has suddenly sprouted a few young plants, long after I'd ceased to hope. But two leaves become four, become eight and so forth.
The thought of fresh pesto tempts. And many years after I first made pesto at home and after quite a few years of frustrated searching, pine-nuts are easy enough to acquire at the local grocery. Perhaps this summer, I'll try making the pasta myself. Small as a marble: the season's first tomato, and like a small furry caterpillar the zucchini inch into the world.

Poetry as Punishment?

Awhile back, some kids had a party and trashed the Frost House. Now, they've been assigned to take a class in Frost's poetry.
I suppose the impulse is good, but

Frost is one of those poets whose work seems "simple" at first glance, but with further thought, insight, and contemplation, the poems begin to open up facets of meanings--more than mere simple description, although that, too.

Try reading some for yourself. Here's a nice linked collection of some of Frost's work.
For Once, Then, Something

Others taught me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths--and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

Thanks to: Robert Frost page

This Too: Rock & Water

Yesterday, as requested, a man and his two assistants created a new sidewalk for our house.

First a frame: the particular angles marked with lines and string, and wood. Then a base of crushed limestone leveled and waiting. The practical done with attention, too, is art.
As they worked, a robin landed between them to pull worms from the turned soil, heedless of her proximity to man, hopping closer, then closer again.

And his son, visiting, complained my boots are missing: four years old and eager to be there, in the frame, doing his Father's work, waiting eagerly for the rumble of the tumbler truck.

With the mud pouring in, with rubber boots and concrete rakes, the rush began to pull and press the raw ingredients into each section of the frame. A moment or two's pause as they waited for the right texture and consistency before smoothing each inch: the delicate business of pressing, cleaning each tool between passes, until the surface lay smooth, then brushing & cutting in narrow grooves to allow the give and take of the earth, and ice, and heat.

And the end of the day, he stood back and smiled, pleased.

Something solid, something reliable: a day's work, well done.


Troupe Portrait with Unicycle.

by Amy D. Unsworth

One tent, one ring

and the ponies trudging their sad circles,

the bags of peanuts shrunken

to fit a child’s hand.

But the spangled girls still ascend

to the lofted ceiling,

to dangle by heel or tooth.

And to the father’s broad shoulders

the sons catapult.

And Daughter steps

from her high platform, like off the curb

in her everyday boredom.

From: Tar River Poetry, Spring 2007

Poetry as Witness

I've discussed before "what poetry does" and one of the things is that poetry can act as witness. The best of these witness poems engage us at an emotional level vs. a didactic level and help us to understand the perspective of the person who is suffering and the reactions of those around him or her. Politically, a single person's expressed suffering tends to move us more than the "millions of people who have starved to death" type of data that is so often vaunted on the news.

Here is an interview, and another news source provides an article and poems from a poet from North Korea whose work tells of the suffering of the people. For the poet writing as Jang Jin Sung, writing is overtly a political act, so much that he must write under a pseudonym in exile after defecting from the North. He swam a river with the poems tucked in a chest/ or next to his chest. The language is unclear on that point in the article. Poetry as courage: strength to persevere, from the heart.

As the Months Go By

On Thursday, at my ninth month checkup the doctor says: You're boring. This, my friends, is wonderful news. Apparently, my amazing bone marrow, countless people's prayers and good wishes, support from a wonderful spouse & family, and a positive outlook with lots of laughter are having the right desired effect. The cea (a cancer marker)-last time within normal ranges- was this time untraceable. My resting heart rate has improved dramatically, and more, and more. (I'll not bore with details) Thank you for your good thoughts.

On the way home,I was doing the snoopy dance in my head, and smiling. In looking briefly for the snoopy dance online I came across this quote:
"He has to retreat into his fanciful world in order to survive. "

But more interesting is the Gertrude Stein / Snoopy connection. . .
serendipities abound.

And once upon a time in a life time far away, I too knew Snoopy. In our school's production of "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown," I had the illustrious role of Woodstock. Yellow overalls, beanie hat and all.

Snoopy dances for everyone.

Poetry as Antidote

Sometimes when you ask, the answer is partially comedy,
but wholly what one needs.

We, too, are wondrously made:

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,

Gallway Kinnell's St Francis and the Sow

The Universe has a sneaky sense of humor.
Remember to be well, laugh often, bless yourself.

$10 Words?

The news some days is amusing. I've been an avid, voracious reader for a good percentage of my life, so I suppose that I take the words that comprise my vocabulary as standard English. "Thespian" and "flippant," according to the article above, qualify as "Ten Dollar" words. I'll give them credit for "sagacious" though, I haven't slipped that one in a conversation recently. And how do you get a job reading letters from prison?

I'll applaud the prisoner's efforts to give his son a large vocabulary and encourage the child to aim for college. Why should it be a surprise that he wants more for his child? Doesn't every parent? And maybe he just subscribes to The Word of the Day. It's those "big words" that teach root meanings which are so essential to understanding:
. . .an average American undergraduate is estimated to have a vocabulary of about 20,000 words. . . .One half of general words and two thirds of all academic, technical, and low-frequency words are derived from Latin, French (through Latin), or Greek, thus indicating the importance of learning the meanings of roots and affixes.

Language is so permeable and so apt to erosion that each generation really does have a "gap."Try reading books from 1950's and see how much the "normal" vocabulary has changed. Or pick up a copy of Shakespeare and see what a couple of hundred years will do. So, I'll applaud anyone who is working to keep "big words" in circulation. Don't the French have a whole administrative wing for that?

And if you learn more words, you'll experience a physical change in your brain:
For monolingual English speakers, increased vocabulary knowledge correlates with increased grey matter density in a region of the parietal cortex that is well-located to mediate an association between meaning and sound.

I like that "mediate an association between meaning and sound" line. It's an article on brain function, but there for a moment, I'm hearing a line from a conversation on poetry.

Did you see this?

Congratulations to Seth who is continuing to making his mark on the poetry world. Now that's something!

Poetry's Featured Poet: Seth Abramson

Laugh or Cry?

I'll admit that the whole site was quite funny in a strange way. But somehow knowing that these manipulated images (esp. of women) bombard us constantly makes me want to cry.

Isn't she beautiful enough before? I guess someone thought not.

Stop it.

but this one is just hilarious.

What He/She Said

In a mailing from Poetry today, a card with a quote and a Triolet. It's a little late for the pocket poem, so I'll post it on the refrigerator. However, paper tends to get dusty and worn and splashed with tomato sauce, so here' the quote that I'm saying Amen to today:

Let us remember. . .that in the end we go to poetry
for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit
our lives and the world in which we live them, and
that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might
be less apt to destroy both.

-Christian Wiman

In this week's library catch: Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

Poetry's work is the clarification and magnification of being.

-Jane Hirshfield
And that's the opening sentence for the preface. Thus far, I've really enjoyed the essays I've sampled. In the library's deep chair under a corner window, I found myself nodding emphatically. I am reminded of this Louise May Alcott quote as well:

She is too fond of books and it has addled her brain.

And if you have a moment to giggle, you can check out an ornament decorated with this quote and the "related items" at Signals.

A Cloud for Spring

It's been a long while since I've posted a word cloud. There is a cloud generator here if you'd like to try it for yourself: TagCrowd.
You can enter your webpage, or a piece of writing and even exclude words (like blog).
Since the webpage, I entered was this one, I'm sure that these are my common words for the last month or so. Can you tell I've been in the garden?

created at TagCrowd.com

Morning & Evening Sun

The birds begin early their warning, warming songs. A pair of robins supervise as I water the tomatoes and peppers, and sprinkle the morning's coffee grounds on the compost. The nest is still hidden, or is yet to be built. I cannot remember when the cedar sprouts twigs and strings and the mouths of baby birds. Now and then, a grub in the soil: fat and soft and luminescent in the light. A curl of possibility, a mouthful for the featherlings, a brown June beetle, wrapped in April's cloak.


Spring is creeping in, the burn-downs are mostly finished, the green sprouts across the prairie, the rocks are small islands, anchorings in the green and black bottomed seas. Woody stalks rise, masts from sunken ships, no leaves to catch in the evening breeze. We come home smudged with soot, the windows rolled down, music and laughter pouring out into the dusk.


Today, a gift. Three small bags stuffed with handfuls of sedum. And another filled with several clumps of daylilies. An afternoon spent up and down on the rocky slope, planting. Tucking in green among the stones. The balance and give of the body, the muscles' stretch and contraction. Being able to dig and plant, to work.

To remember for a moment and then, forget again, illness, constraint, inability. To pick up where one once left off, to see what has gone on growing without tending: the blooms of the periwinkle on a grey cloud day with new sprouts reaching and rooting, new clumps of lemon balm, and the tightly curled leaves of the hostas rising through the dead leaves' litter.

Comforted by Home

One of my favorite authors is Willa Cather. She loved to write about place and the idea of home. I've recently finished her Shadows on the Rock which is a snapshot of a young girl's life during the late 1600's in Quebec. Her attention to place is amazing as always. I feel as if I'd like to visit Quebec to see if anything of the world she describes still exists:

Directly under his feet was the French stronghold,--scattered spires and slated roofs flashing in the rich autumnal sunlight . . . Divest your mind of Oriental colour, and you saw here very much such a mountain rock, cunningly built over with churches, convents, fortifications, gardens, following the natural irregularities of the headland on which they stood; some high, some low, some thrust up on a spur, some nestling in a hollow, some sprawling unevenly along a declivity. (4-5)

The detail in which she describes the Apothecary's home, is rich in such detail as well. There is a love of sensual detail, a way of evoking even the smallest item to demonstrate that the house is more than mere lodging but a home-place which echoes the traveler's original home in the heart of France. Even in the wildness of the primitive settlement of Quebec, with the right reminders of a more gentle life, home is created.

Shadows is a tale of diaspora, the Father always longing for the home left behind; the daughter looking forward to a life created in the land where she's grown into a woman. Hope and despair are the two faces of the coin; the old and the new, where we've been and where we are . In Willa Cather's novel, the best of the old life completes the new through patterns of actions, through simple household objects, "all the little shades of feeling which make the common fine," "le persil" on the windowsill, the rug on the floor, tradition: what we cannot help but carry with us.


See also:
Willa Cather Archive at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Hands in the Dirt

Off to the nursery twice this week, once to replace the lavender plants and add pale purple bacoba to the mix by the driveway. Once for veggies and marigolds plus strawberries and red nasturtiums, an unexpected selection by my 11 year old son.

I am Mini Muscle-Man, he said, as he attempted to carry the 50lbs of potting mix from the store. He wants to paint pots, or add stickers, and next, grow pumpkins. Moving, halfway through the summer, there would be heartache of leaving behind the promise of such autumn pleasure. I convince him to choose zucchinis with a harvest date well within our stay: stir-fry, zucchini bread, zucchini casserole with tomatoes and cheese, and a special trip in October to pick pumpkins from a farm field. This is fine work, compromise, to find accord, to trade one dream for another, to promise together to be happy with the choices made.

Early in the year, we spread the compost on the bed for my small garden. As we turned it again yesterday, the dirt was dark and crumbly with much worm-sign. Room for roots to spread, however short the season. Tucked into the damp soil, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini planted to feed us, and festive orange and red marigolds to repel unwanted invaders. No matter how small, a garden is a commitment to water, to weed, to taking better care of ourselves and our earth. What grows here? Hope.

Last Frost Date


There and Back:

According to the plant nurseries, this weekend was the last expected chance of frost for Kansas. The flowers, in small pots and 6-packs, smiled beside the roadways. Grocery stores, hardware stores, and random gravel lots all sported spring's glad colors. Spicy marigolds, pale petunias, leggy vinca, and the promise of many backyard gardens' bounty: peppers, tomatoes, summer squash.

Also along the roadside, winter's damage to the trees: broken crowns, downed limbs, and log piles. Evidence of saws and sledges and splitting wedges, even as some plant in anticipation, others remember and prepare for the wind, cold, and ice that seemed ever present for many long months.

Home Again:

Raking back the leaves reveals lemon balm along the slope and new plants in profusion. Where little else deigns to grow, the lemon balm spreads fragrant leaves. Even though I live well within the city limits, a small grove of trees graces my life. The birds are chipper this morning; a mockingbird sang his serenade this morning through my bathroom window. I am grateful for open windows in the morning, for small green leaves, for another day of to be alive.

Small Pleasures

  • clean sheets, warm blankets, cozy Italian greyhounds, and the sounds of my husband rustling about in the kitchen
  • the tempting smell of morning coffee and the feel of a perfect pot-bellied mug's warmth against my palms
  • watching Pride & Prejudice with a friend: five hours of dancing, costumes, and fine horseflesh
  • the particular way that lemon and poppyseed drop-cookies form tidy circles in the heat of the oven
  • the lovely contrast of pale yellow of the dough with blue-grey poppy seeds
  • the process of cutting circles of parchment paper with pinking sheers to layer in a tin with the freshly baked cookies.
  • the promise of home-made cookies for an after school snack later this week.
  • the windowsill parsley pressing its leaves against the sun-lit glass as against a lover
  • the click of mahjong tiles on the kitchen table and my teen-aged sons' patter
  • a steaming bowl of mushroom soup
  • evening sun on my face as I wash up after dinner
  • piling onto the bed with my youngest son and two dogs to watch a movie all cuddled up.
  • the tactile pleasure of reading a library book in an edition published in 1950 with soft, rounded, edges of the worn paper (and enjoying the book, too)
  • monolith (what a word!)

May you, too, be so blessed.

Draft: Insistent, The Rain

Insistent, the Rain.

Now:         a time for rain,         for roots.

The cedars lose their powdery-greyness

        for green,

a process


from day to day.

        Until comes a morning

and the jay and wren, framed in

        wet window-panes,

perch in fluffed garments

on bright,
        drenched and dripping,


Spring is due any second now, the daffodils are in-bud, but waiting for more sunlight before they trumpet the news. Yesterday, our first "earthworm morning" with the spring rain and thaw flooding the tunnels and sending dozens wriggling for the surface with the certain particular smell that the combination of earthworms and wet earth exude. And tiny little leaves settle on the spirea , the salvia has turned green again, another month to see if the fall's project of splitting & transplanting the lavender yields an abundance of spikes for the bees, or another trip to the greenhouse.

It is time too, to say goodbye to these small rituals. I didn't think to mark the last fire in the fireplace, the last snow, the last snowman in this front yard. We are due to pack boxes and dismantle this life for the next: the next post, the next borrowed house, the even more temporary quarters of a school assignment. And then another: undetermined, undefined. The worlds begin to touch and intrude one upon the other, the world of possibility, of change, of adventure. But reaching out, the comfort of this home slips away into the past. I am looking for grace. I am always learning who I am, who I might be.

I turn the soil, rake out the fallen leaves, add another day's grinds to the compost pile. I think of tomatoes and gourds, and perhaps a pumpkin vine for the enriched soil. And wonder if the robins will return even though their nesting tree was broken in this year's storm. The red-bellied tomatoes will be a gift, to whoever comes after us. And I have half a summer to watch for their yellow trumpets' heralding.

Pocket a Parsley Poem

The Academy (poets.org) wants everyone to carry around a poem in their pocket to celebrate April and Poetry and such. I don't know what to carry this year. I carry a few in my heart by Auden, by Lux, by Kenyon, by Hirshfield, and more, and more.

This year, I'm thinking about carrying one of Billy Collin's poems. He has a great take off of the Three Blind Mice nursery rhyme. I think non-poetry inclined people might enjoy it (maybe even more that avowed poetry people:

I Chop Some Parsley While
Listening To Art Blakey's Version Of "Three Blind Mice."

(Thanks to another blogger. . .)

Now this one is fun, yet touching in its own odd way. I enjoy the long "Chinese" style of the title, the playfulness of the theme, the empathy, the "jazz riff" style of the poem and the good sensual detail. I think it's also fun, because the poem asks all the questions I wanted to ask as a kid. (Nursery Rhymes don't always make much sense and it's rather reassuring to think that someone else notices these oddities too.)

In the sixth grade class where I teach both reading & writing poetry once a week, this has been a nice introduction to poetry. At the beginning of the year, I open with this one. The kids like playing with nursery rhymes, since it gives them something to write down and musses up the blankness of the page: a start. And that's a great thing, somewhere to start thinking about language as not just as story but as a way of playing. Play leads to love of words, love of words leads to adeptness of language, and taken together with a nudge in the right direction the two will lead to poetry.

I'll not lie though, I'm always pleased to find someone who will talk difficult with me, who will get down to the very words, and wrestle with the poem's ideas (meaning and significance), and find 13 ways of looking. And discuss theory, or theology, or etymology, or contexts, and literary allusions; and how these influence our interpretation of the poem. Oh, but how few and far between those exchanges are. But I look for those conversations, and I think about poetry even if I must read alone, all by myself.

What will you poem will you put in your pocket? April is sneaking up, while March tries to decide: lion or lamb. And the daffodils push up through the mulch, tempting us to forget snow, and ice, and cold for another year.

Truth & Everything After

I follow the conversations at Critical Mass with interest and sometimes just to visit the fox. But today's conversation about truth and memoir raised valid points. Is it all that important that a memoir be 100% truthfully relayed? Of course, the answer is that it can't be ALL that important since it is impossible for memory to stay true. We embellish, we embroider, we edit, without often realizing it. What we do remember as true might be contradicted by someone who was there in the memory with us. One of the things that fills me with dread is when someone close to me asks "Remember when we. . ." because what they ask about is some that is typically important to them and often I don't remember at first.

Asked about my childhood, I can recall the pony that my grandfather pastured near our home. I can remember the feel of the curry comb in my hand, of picking burrs from his (or was it her?) mane. Or have I substituted the tactile experiences of other, less memorable horses? I know that one day the pony bloated while I was putting on the saddle, and as we trotted through the woods and jumped over a downed log, the saddle tipped sideways and I fell off into the leaf mold near the place where my sister and I laid out sticks to form rooms in our pretend house under the hickories and white oaks, where we used acorn cups and pieces of bark to lay the table. Near the pond where one spring the fish were so hungry that I used mushroom caps to catch them on my cane pole because I ran out of earthworms. And wild roses, and blackberries, and persimmons in the fall. Some things are etched deeply. Some things fall and blow away beyond recall.