Monthly Archives: May 2012

Romantic Moon

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It’s our  50th wedding anniversary this week, so perhaps it’s no wonder that I have the Moon in mind. The Moon has always been a symbol of romance and half a century of togetherness has taught us that romance is key.

We held hands and walked

            Under that silvery light

            Was it long ago?

So many songs have been written about earth’s celestial appendage, so many poems, myths and legends, that I lose count. When I was growing up in Japan, folk tales abounded with talk of the Moon … badgers and foxes worked their magic for good or ill under the full Moon; princesses and brave heroes prospered or perished under its silver light. Countless lovers have spooned under the June Moon or floated down Moon River or grumbled, like Lord Byron, that he would “No longer go a-roving by the light of the Moon.”

There are more sinister tales as well… for doesn’t the werewolf howl when the Moon is full? There is also Artemis the goddess who wreaks vengeance on those why spy on her mysteries and, closer to home, there’s that huge, copper Halloween Moon to delight small ghost and ghoulies.

I’ve often wondered how the Moon came to settle in our skies, and recently I learned that proponents of the ‘impact’ theory among the savants think that it was formed about 4.5 billion years ago when the Earth had a collision with a massive object. I have tried to imagine this: an immensity smashing into our Earth… a gush of  raw materials erupting from our wounded planet into space.   It’s believed by a preponderance of scientists that this ejected material became entrapped by Earth’s gravity and formed the Moon. Out of disaster, a new celestial body… that feeds my imagination even more than do the old myths and legends.

I have to admit, though, that as much as I like to gaze at our celestial sidekick, I wouldn’t want to go there. It’s tormented constantly by solar wind and moreover is cold, barren, and covered with powdery dust. But I can remember the day when Apollo 11 landed, and how I watched Neil Armstrong step out of his spacecraft with a mixture of goosebumps, excitement and awe. And, yes, a niggle of envy for here he was stepping onto an extraterrestrial body while I remained earthbound! There is romance in being a pioneer even of a cold and desolate marble in the sky.

There are pioneers and pioneers. My husband would, I know, give his eye teeth to journey into the unknown and would cheerfully hop onto any spaceship. I myself have always maintained that I’d only be tempted to go exploring where no (wo)man has gone before when shelter and hot running water were available. Still, the writer in me was thrilled when it was learned that there might be water ice on the Moon. A future Lunar colony? The Moon as a jumping-off point to the distant planets and perhaps the stars? After all, today’s science fiction usually is tomorrow’s science.

Meanwhile, the Moon reigns serenely in the night sky. Perhaps not forever, though, for there is a theory that the lady of the night sky is slowly… very slowly… separating itself from Earth. In billions of years (I said the process was slow), it will have moved far enough from us to cause tremendous climatic changes that will, among other things, turn Las Vegas into a land where darkness and unendurable cold will reign for part of the year.

But for now, here is the evening sky. “Moon rise,” my husband says, and there I see it– the pale yellow disk that glows with light as it floats effortlessly over the horizon. And as we watch together, I forget about science and astronauts and space and even time, and again am lost in the beauty and romance of the Moon.

Under silver light

            We hold hands, are young again…

            This is Moon Magic.

           

“Moon Silver”

Of Slings and Arrows

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Hamlet didn’t go far enough. Along with the various slings and arrows that he accused Outrageous Fortune of aiming at him, he neglected to mention the most frustrating arrow of all: Bureaucratic Run-Around.

Our entanglement with this particular miasma came by way of four potholes which began to arrive on our street in early January, probably caused by the strange upheavals in weather which we have been experiencing in North Carolina. Beginning as small indentations in the asphalt, they grew to such proportions that they were a danger to any cyclist, car or pedestrian who encountered them. Flat tires, front end alignments, a broken ankle… the possibilities were endless.

We named them for the cast of Wagnerian operas. The one nearest to us was Siegfried, the big one farther away to the left was Brunhilde, and the huge one to the right had to be Odin. My husband insisting on naming the last and smallest pothole Ophelia because (he said) this one appeared innocent compared to the rest.

Realizing that these potholes would remain a hazard until something was done, we put  a call through to the Department of Public Works of Wake County—something requiring a great deal of patience since the DPW phones rang busy, it seemed, for days. When a human voice finally answered, it was to inform us that we were not eligible for county services. Our street was too north, a little too far south, just a tad too far west and much too east to be in their jurisdiction. “But, just a minute,” protested my spouse. “We pay taxes to the county but don’t get services? It sounds like taxation without representation to me!”

Like a too-stretched cord

Patience can snap when tested

By indifference.

We were given a telephone number to call. Two days of busy signals later, a human voice answered and offered another number… and another… and yet another. There were hours of excruciating frustration and epochs of being put on hold. I wonder if there anything quite as maddening as being put on hold? If there is anything quite as irritating as hearing that disembodied voice explaining that our call is valuable?

Then, the incredible happened. An official looking truck rolled into our street. Several men dismounted. “What are they doing?” I whispered to my husband, who had gone to check things out. He replied that they were taking measurements. It would probably another month before we saw them again, he said.

But here is a lesson to those who would lose hope. Not quite a week later, the same truck rolled down our street disgorging men with shovels and cement! They dug. They poured. They departed. The reign of Siegfried, Odin, Brunhilde (and little Ophelia) had ended.

The neighborhood rejoiced. No longer did we need to steer our cars around gaping holes in the ground. Children could skate board and bicycle without fear. All was well.

Then, it rained.

Last night we experienced a deluge, a gully washer, a torrent. This morning as I set out on my walk I noticed that a small corner of what had been Ophelia had fallen in and that a bird was washing itself in the small pool of water that had gathered there.

I never did trust that Ophelia.

A bird is bathing

            In that small roadside pothole…

            Everything has use.

 

“Blue”

 

Begonia Story

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Long ago, while she was still living with us, my mother planted a water-lily begonia and gave it to me. It was a pretty plant with its oversized begonia leaves and tiny white flowers on long, slender stalks, and under my mother’s care it grew and flourished.

When she was no longer here to care for it, it put out new leaves until this winter when it started to decline. I changed containers, moved it to various parts of the house, faithfully watered, but it continued to wither until I finally had to concede that it was a hopeless case.

Grieving for a plant may seem foolish, but I was heartsore. This was my mother’s gift to me. She had planted it with her own hands. I remembered her smiling as she put it on the table by the window. Now, I had lost it.

I am not the only one to have such feelings. “I wish I had brought with me a cutting of the roses my father planted near our house up north,” a friend said to me the other day. “I have roses here, but they’re not the same.” No, for the beloved rose held memories that could never be replaced.

Together we picked

            Roses with such sweet fragrance

            They gladdened the heart.

I know that my mother pined for her own garden and all the growing things she cared for with such devotion. When the Kansai earthquake tore down her home and forced her to leave Japan and all she had, her garden was her greatest loss. “I will never see the sweet peas this year,” she said to me. “I know they will be coming up out of their winter sleep around now. Who will take care of them now? Poor fellows.”

Much as I would have liked to, we couldn’t bring her plants across the ocean to the United States, so my mother had nothing left from her garden. Gamely, she tried to grow a few things here in North Carolina, and I remember one early spring evening when she defied impending frost by covering the budding anemones with sheets and towels. “Frost?” I could hear her muttering as she worked. “Nothing doing!”  Next morning, she stripped off the sheets and contemplated the sturdy plants with great satisfaction. “You see?” she told me triumphantly. “You have to have hope!”

Under her hand my house plants… including the water-lily begonia… flourished.  So one gray winter morning when I looked at the miserable specimen before me, I felt that I had failed her in some way. Well, it was time to throw the poor thing out. I picked up the pot, but then…

There always seems to be an ‘but then,’ but it often takes a jolt, a jarring, a disruption, to make us aware of them. But then the pot slipped from my hands and crashed onto the floor spewing dead plant and earth to the four corners of the room. Muttering unprintable words under my breath, I was about to get the vacuum cleaner when I saw the small green leaf.

Green! No way… but really, a small section of the root was trying to grow. Incredulous and excited, I found a new pot, filled it with new earth, carefully cut out the little living section, planted it, watered, and hoped. And slowly the plant began to regenerate. First a leaf, then two…

Each leaf unfurling

            Brings with it unlooked for gifts…

            Precious memories.

On Mother’s Day this year the water-lily begonia looked healthy and quite proud of its  stalk of white flowers. “There, you see?” I could almost hear my mother exclaim, and of course she is right. Nothing is ever beyond hope… or the heart.

 

 

 

Ship Of Stars

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We are cleaning out the attic. It is beautiful outside, hardly the kind of day in which anyone would want to tackle a spider-webbed, over-stuffed-with-boxes, hot and dark place such as this. Still, when it’s time, it’s time… so here we are.

“What do you want to do with this?” we ask each other as box after box is opened. Sometimes the answer is easy, and the entire box goes on the ‘give away’ pile. Other times, we sift through items we have long forgotten and debate whether to keep, give away, or send to the land fill. Clothes of fashion long out of date, mismatched glasses, incomplete sets of dishes, and here… look, a shoe box filled with little baby shoes and teething rings that are at least forty five years old.

Was it long ago

            That they wore these tiny shoes

            And the world was new?

What does one do with treasures that were collected so lovingly? What should be done with the whale which small fingers once carved out of soap and this little handprint in plaster? And what of the souvenirs we collected in a dozen different countries? It is hard to part with even one of these away for they bring back memories of a day spent strolling through an exotic bazaar in Jaffa or the night when we walked through Disney’s Magic Kingdom and saw fireworks burst against the stars.

“Even if we get rid of this stuff we will still have the memories,” my practical husband says.

I don’t answer him because I am still rummaging through the shoe-box and have come up with a little water globe. It is dark blue, and when I shake it, it sparkles as if lit by starlight.  It reminds me of space.

I sit on my heels and watch the twinkle of make-believe stars and think of a program on the Science Channel where experts spoke of a ship that would someday sail the universe. It’s not a new concept—powering a spaceship with solar energy has been around since the 17th century courtesy of visionary astronomer Johannes Kepler and Russian space pioneer Friederich Tsander —but only in this age of technology will NASA actually send a spacecraft propelled by sunlight into space. The hope is that it will orbit the earth.

And the coming years will bring more marvels. Great sails of the lightest material known to man will one day billow into a great sail. Attached to a space ship, that sail will propel its vessel through the uncharted seas of space using the push of ions and the energy of starlight! It’s amazing. It’s science fiction stuff. And how I wish I could sail on that ship of stars to embark on voyages that Columbus never dreamed of.

Looking at the stars

Wondering what worlds there be

That I’ll never know.

But here’s the rub– when those pioneers of the future set sail, what will they take with them to remind them of Earth? What can they keep, what will they need to leave behind? They’ll take practical things, of course, and some far-in-the-future cousin of kindle, and some holograms and images… but would there be room for a whale carved out of soap? A handprint set in plaster?

I cradle the little whale, trace the fingers of the small, plaster hand. Memories are the real starships, for they take us swiftly and surely to days long gone. Bathed in their gentle radiance, we can close our eyes at any time and  relive a wondrous day or speak with a person we loved or hold a small hand now grown large and strong.

Before getting back to work, I slip the star globe back into the shoe box and place the box carefully back on the shelf.

Sorting through treasures

in a hot, dusty attic

full of memories.

“Moonrise On the Dark Planet”

 

The Language Of Loss

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What has loss in common with the scent of roses and the gladsome song of birds? I’m not sure, but there is a connection somewhere. At the moment the connection eludes me because I am thinking of people who, this spring, have left this life. There has been a recent death in my extended family; friends have lost their dear ones; and the writing community has said farewell a woman whose humor and kindness will sorely be missed. So I am not thinking of flowers and birdsong but of the Language Of Loss.

Oh, yes, there is such a language.  I know that as we grow older it is inevitable that we lose some of the people we value and love, but each time this happens I fling questions into the void. Why her? I have cried. Did it have to be him? And the ache within, the one that began with the first great loss and which never has really healed, throbs anew.

Then the questions come. The words of the Language Of Loss  are universal, common to everyone in every country and in every walk of life. I wish I had… I could have … if only… why didn’t I? Those insidious words echo in the still hours of the night or slide into busy daylight thoughts. I have listened to them so often and know that tears have no power over them, for they remind me that now there is no going back, no redress for things undone or words unsaid.

        If only I wrote

       One last time… busy over

      Inconsequentials..

The questions are most strident when the death is unexpected. Accident or suicide robs us of our last bits of armor—a disease to hate or the expected end of a long life—something feared yet half expected. With sudden death come an outpouring of questions for which there is no hope for an answers. Why? Mourns the heart. What could I have done? Why did this happen? And the plaintive questions go on.

Sorrow at the loss

            At questions never answered…

            Flowers felled by frost.

The Language Of Loss comes to us all, but somewhere it begins to change. Whether in a month, a year or tens of years, the mournful questions slowly fade and gentler, happier ones take their place. Do you remember? We ask each other, and we smile or laugh out loud at memories that are filled with the sunshine of past times. Remember that time when… remember what she said… and, oh, how proud he was that day? And then the sun grows bright again, the birds sing as they have always done, and we can be glad of the roses blooming in our garden.

            Memory can bring

            Laughter and healing tears…

            Rainbows after rain.

This healing language is also born from loss, but instead of burdening with gloom they fill us with hope and the memory of love that strengthens and enriches. We become free to celebrate the lives we have lost. And, still carrying the scars of great sadness, we turn to the life force that carries us forward. Perhaps we remember the words of Andre Gide:  For love is eternal and man is immortal, and death is a horizon… and a horizon is only a line beyond which we cannot see.