Thursday, June 19, 2014

I own this body, dammit.


An interesting and alarming video/article has been circulating on the crackbook lately: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/06/18/stroke-smartphone-video/10822049/. The woman is having - and recording - a TIA or “mini stroke.” TIA's are often precursors of major strokes.

This really hit home for me. When I had BS (my affectionate nickname for a right ischemic brainstem stroke) in 10/12, it was preceded by 4 TIA’s over the course of 2 days (you can read about the event in more detail here http://uncanneryrow.blogspot.com/2012/10/stroke-of-some-sort-of-luck.html). For me, during each TIA, I got momentarily dizzy, had a slight headache, and my left arm & hand wouldn’t work (they weren’t paralyzed, numb, or tingly—my left hand just sort of hung there, loose, and wouldn’t do what my brain told it to). Each time, things would go back to normal after a few minutes, so I thought I was fine—just stressed, over-tired, light-headed from too much coffee, or any number of other rationalizations. I put myself through the standard stroke inventory in front of a mirror—smile, raise my arms, repeat short sentences, stick out my tongue, and everything seemed okay. Still, I suspected from the beginning that these were TIA’s, because of the dizziness and sudden weakness and lack of coordination in my left arm.

On the second day, I went to the doc and was diagnosed with “possible atypical migraine,” even though I TOLD the doc I’d never had migraines and was probably having TIA’s. The doc started me on BP medicine. (Duh...maybe my BP was suddenly high because I was having mini strokes and was terrified?) This was probably a huge mistake on the doc’s part, since the BP med further restricted blood trying to get to my already-choked brain. The doc sent me home to wait a couple of days for a mobile testing lab. That night, I had the Big One and had Ray drive me to the ER in the Big City.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have bypassed the doc and clinic from the beginning, in favor of the ER in a hospital with a stroke unit. They MIGHT have been able to give me the magic t-Pa drug that could have prevented the Big One entirely—you have a 4-hour window from the start of symptoms to get the drug. By the time I got to an ER, the window had slammed shut.

BS did plenty of mischief. It left me with left-side “weakness and incoordination,” as the neurologist puts it. My left hand didn’t work. I had trouble walking and had to use a cane. My left leg dragged. My left eye wandered. I careened into walls. I had “emotional lability” and cried or laughed inappropriately or spontaneously. I sometimes had trouble swallowing.

Thankfully, exercise, repetitive movements, and plain old everyday muscle use & memory has helped my brain re-route or make new connections to my body, so things mostly work again. The “deficits” (another neurologist pet term) that remain are subtle and invisible to the casual observer. I’m still slightly dizzy about half the time. I have occasional hand-eye disconnect, so that I type letters in reverse, or my fingers go for a key on the opposite side of the keyboard from the letter I want. Sometimes my left fingers type two letters at once or miss the keyboard entirely. My memory is squishy. My left foot doesn’t always lift high enough to clear stairs, and I trip. When I’m tired, everything on my left side starts to “wilt” or drag, just a hair. I still get tired VERY easily and don’t always deal well with over-stimulation. And my brain processing speed is slower (probably a difference only I can detect), so I’m occasionally at a loss for words – for a millisecond.

I also lost my singing voice and my ability to play gee-tar. My left fingers still have a hard time holding down gee-tar strings firmly enough to make a nice ringing chord, and they sometimes miss a string entirely, since they don’t always go where my brain tells them to go. Both singing & playing are improving with daily practice, though my former clear singing tone still eludes me.

In the words of today’s ubiquitous expression, “It is what it is.” I can’t go back and un-stroke. I’m alive and grateful. I can think and speak. BS taught me that the brain is an incredible, complex, fascinating work of art, and I have a profound new love and appreciation for my brain. More importantly maybe, BS taught me that we need to be our OWN healthcare advocates—doctors are not gods; they do NOT have all the answers; they are NOT always right. I heard long ago: If 50% of docs graduated in the top 50% of their class, what does that say about the other 50%?

And here's the real point of this post: If YOU think something is amiss in your mind or body, GO. If you think it might be something big—stroke or heart attack, for example—bypass the clinic. Go directly to the ER, preferably in a hospital with a unit specializing in whatever you think is wonky (brain, heart, etc.). It’s better to go and be wrong than not to go and to be sorry. The video at the beginning of this post also points out that if you aren’t satisfied with the answers you get, ask for a different doc. Or, walk out of one ER and into another. Ask a bazillion questions. Whine. Protest. Scream and hold onto doorframes if you have to, but don’t leave until they Check. You. Out. Completely. It’s YOUR life…save it. ;)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Prodigal Peas


Francoise the Elder: Romantic Victor
If you’ve followed the blog (http://uncanneryrow.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-case-of-disappearing-peafowl.html), then you know that our peaflock, 29 birds at its peak in 2011, suffered massive “culling” from multiple drought-desperate predators, nest predation, and disappearance, until by this spring we were down to three birds: a solo female and two males.

Devastated by the losses, I did some research this spring to see about buying peachicks to rebuild the flock. Turns out, it would take major work, beginning with converting our garden shed (formerly a chicken house) into a peahouse with an outdoor netted pen. I would have to raise the chicks—about $300-500 for 9 chicks, depending on the color/strain—penned until fall, when they’d be big enough and familiar enough with our existing flock, to turn loose. I decided the Goddess of Stamina & Finance would have to buoy me up one more year before I could tackle such a project.
 
Grotto Formerly Known as Casbah
These losses absolutely broke my heart, especially since the peacocks pre-date us here on the Row. When we first looked at the property, there were 6 peacocks in the resident flock, and the contract for the house stipulated that the peas remain with the property; reading this clause sealed the deal for me. Legend has it that peafowl have been on the place for over 25 years now. In fact, there’s a shed-sized “casbah” outside our back door that a previous owner built as a “peacock house.”

In the meantime, last Thursday morning, I walked out on the back porch with my coffee in time to see THREE peahens. I did a cartoony, aghast eye-rub, looked again, and sure enough, there was our lonely hen Debbie in the loafing shed having a dust bath, and two other hens making a beeline (pealine?) across the yard, straight for Francoise, our oldest and dominant male, who was fanning, flirting, thrumming, and calling for all he’s worth!

Junior the Lesser: Romantic Loser
I’m pretty certain these are a couple of the Row’s vanished hens returned, after more than a year’s absence. They knew right where to find the pea-buffet; they jumped up into the birdbath like they owned the joint; they settled into the greenhouse window well during yesterday’s heat, like they’d never been gone. They’re more skittish than Debbie, but that’s probably a good thing. And best of all, they WANT TO NEST; for a few brief moments each morning, they let Francoise have his way with them.

I like to think the Universe is working her magic, naturally, slowly, restoring balance. And it’s ridiculous how happy the Prodigal Peas’ return makes me—I could SO go all Flannery O’Connor, reclusively wandering the farm, trailed by our little flock of peas, rocking a housedress, a bad perm, pearls, and cat-eye glasses, perfectly content in my hermitage. So if you don’t hear from me for a stretch, swing by and check on Ray…
Flannery and Me...We're Like THIS.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Let the Summer Begin


lakeside drooling chairs
I just turned in my final grades last week, and already, my patio table is covered with 6 flats of veggie garden and hanging basket plants; I have two guitars, a mountain dulcimer, and a baritone ukulele in the dining room waiting for new strings, and half a dozen 3-part-harmony songs to learn for a July birthday party; I have a box of spray paints and four old metal patio chairs to re-do; I have a contractor to meet with; I have an old swing set frame to paint and a new rope swing to put up…

Apparently, these things don't plant themselves.
Is there an Overachiever’s Anonymous? Should I start a chapter? Because I could totally be their poster girl. Clearly, it’s an illness. It’s part the unfortunate OOPS gene (Obsessive Overachiever/Perfectionist Syndrome—thanks, Mom). It’s part end-of-semester euphoria, which makes us think we can cram a year’s worth of neglected work, family re-connecting, and leisure activity into one fleeting summer. And it’s part desperation over the brevity of prairie summer, which seems to have gone from 3 months to, oh, 6 weeks or so. It just snowed in the Black Hills, for Pete’s sake, and it’s the middle of May. I’ve seen snow in June.

Ray and I started our “summer” almost before the semester ended, with a quick road trip to MN last week for our friend Bruce’s  funeral. Halfway there, we stayed overnight with friends Peggy & Steve on Big Stone Lake. Staying with them is always a heavenly little retreat—if I could walk out my back door with a cup of coffee and sit on a dock, water lapping and gulls calling & diving, I’d spend the rest of my life shuffling between dock & coffee pot, sipping or staring/drooling. People would start to talk about that “poor white-haired woman on the dock. Gordon’s cousin LuVerne said she used to move and even speak…” It’s probably good I’m landlocked at home.

In MN, we stayed with our “new” friends, Pat & Terry (who also live on a lake!). We’d been hearing about these folks from Bruce for years, and they opened their home to us without a moment’s thought or hesitation. Pat is an antique dealer, and their home is chock full of history, so staying there was like going home for me (see my old post: http://uncanneryrow.blogspot.com/2011/01/missing-yo-yo-man.html). Terry is a luthier and gave us a tour of his shop while Steve demo’d one of Terry’s guitars. It was really a private concert of gorgeous guitar-playing, on an incredible instrument that’s also a work of art. I’m now trying to figure out which child or grandchild I can sell to get one of Terry’s parlor guitars (http://www.kennedyguitars.com/size-2/); I’m pretty sure this guitar could even improve my singing voice...

MN fence - don't boot me in.
On the way home, we meandered around southwest MN until we found the “Little Henry House.” This is a house where Little Henry, Ray’s band from his 20’s, lived and played music together. They were a bunch of sweet little hippie boys (and girls, who moved in & out occasionally, too), and I could just imagine the early 70’s peacelove communal vibe—until we neared the house and I spotted the rusty chain across the drive, the yard full of junk cars, and the two junkyard dogs that charged our slowly-cruising car. The house’s owner, a gruff old man, came out and stood, flannelled arms crossed over his chest, until we moved on. O the times, they are a’changing.

fokken salad ni├žoise
Susan & Cathy - as Etta would say, "At last!"
living room Klezmer
Speaking of change, as soon as we got home, I was fixing food for our Sisters of Perpetual Disorder monthly dinner meeting. This month, we had two wonderful occasions to celebrate. Our sister Cindy returned from CT, where’d she’d been nannying her new grandson since last winter. And our sisters Cathy & Susan, partners for over 35 years, were finally able to marry! They’d gone to IA (O, the irony…committed same-sex partners—and how much more committed can you be than 35 years together and a paid-off mortgage??—can’t legally marry in SD yet, but it’s still on-the-books legal to shoot Native Americans if 5 or more gather on your property). 

There were 27 of us at this month's "meeting" (we rotate host-homes for this incredible potluck). Gail, Laurie, and I (the Nickerettes) sang a stirring, slightly modified rendition of the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” (ours was “Courthouse of Love”), and Laurie and Holly, a gifted clarinet player, did a set of Klezmer music (Susan is Jewish), including a Laurie-modified version of “Hava Nagila.” The day was a glorious celebration of friendship, food, wine, stories, laughs, congratulations, and love, as ANY wedding reception should be.

gratuitous grandchild shot
Things have settled down a bit now, but here in the upper Midwest, we know the “summer window” is really more a peephole. Mid-winter, my OOPS summer goals were to (1) write the really great American novel; (2) travel the world; and (3) convince all warring nations/peoples to lay down their arms. But now that I recall SoDakian summer more realistically, I’ll settle for getting the garden in and putting up some food. I’ll take a short June girls’ road trip to a lake cabin (thanks to my brother), where we’ll do some sunning & rehearsing. Ray & I are scheming for a mid-summer longish road trip to Nevada and New Mexico (have you ever tried to find a farm-sitter for 3 dogs, a cat, 2 parrots, and peacocks?), and we’re making plans for the late summer Big Bohunk Family Reunion up by Walker, MN. And I took a couple grandkids, ages 9 months and 4 years, to the zoo yesterday (a good reminder why mostly young’uns have children).

My post-stroke addled brain and wobbly left side could really use a summer of beach reading, walks, meditation, singing, and regular afternoon naps. But like the farmers around here, Ray and I feel compelled to “make hay while the sun shines.” Maybe I’ll ask Ray to string up the hammock in the garden: swing…pull a weed…swing…pull a weed…

Sunday, May 18, 2014

There Once Was a Man from Revillo...


Little Henry 1.2
Ray went home this past week, and I tagged along. We stopped in the northeast South Dakota town where Ray grew up. We cruised around town, as returnees do, remarking about the changes and what and who had gone missing—the old gas company outpost, the hotel, his parents.

Then we drove on to Alexandria MN for the wake/memorial/par-tay in honor of our missing friend, Bruce Kelly (http://www.andersonfuneral.net/obituary.asp?id=1488). Ray has known Bruce since his early college years, and knew OF him before that, when Bruce’s family moved from the farm into Ray’s hometown. Ray and Bruce passed boldly through the “drop out and become famous rock & roll musicians” phase together, and they've played music together in one band or another ever since—about 40 years. In the past decade or so, the band they had in their 20’s, Little Henry (the boys lived together in a farmhouse back then), had been getting back together to play gigs once or twice a year.

Bruce’s memorial service was as close to a perfect funeral as I’ve seen. The “service” part was [un]officiated by someone who knew and could share his own memories of Bruce, a couple of poems, and some words of comfort; Bruce’s brother Norm and Bruce’s three children shared beautifully touching and funny memories; I read a poem; and musician friends near & dear to Bruce sang songs that had been some of Bruce’s favorites. No “sermon,” no rote readings from a standardized service, just broken-hearted joy.

Little Henry 5.0
The rest of the day was 300 or so folks reconnecting, connecting for the first time, hugging, weeping, laughing, eating, drinking, and sharing Bruce stories. I talked some serious kale & quinoa with Bruce’s daughter—Bruce’s quick wit and constant humor is alive and exponentially multiplying in his amazing kids. Many of the musical amalgamations with whom Bruce had played over the years (he was a monster bass player) took the stage and cranked out tunes—probably what Himself loved to do most in this life. Even his wife Annie got up and played her accordion on a few tunes. Bruce was probably late for the funeral, having stopped along the way to have a beer and tell someone about this one time when…

Little Henry 5.2

There once was a man from Revillo, who hid golf balls under his pillow...

I have lots of Bruce memories of my own, but the thing I come back to over and over about Bruce is this: Having come on the scene later, I am not part of the Little Henry history. Even so, Bruce welcomed me unconditionally as LH family. He encouraged me to sing with the band, always treating me like an essential element, not like a “band wife” or “chick singer.” He emailed songs I HAD to learn. The last Crackbook message I got from Bruce said “I’ll sing with you anywhere, anytime.” Shortly after meeting her in 2006, he got his future wife, Annie, a newspaper editor, interested in playing music and brought her (another interloper not part of the LH history) into the LH family, as well. Maybe I’ve romanticized Bruce’s larger-than-life-ness in my addled brain, but it seems to me that for Bruce, there were no insiders and outsiders, no people who did or didn’t belong. There were only people he loved.

We’re wrong to think of anything as permanent, I know. Everything is temporary. We live most of our lives with fractured hearts precisely because we cling to the unrealistic expectation that things—and people—will stay. So Ray and I will move on, we’ll keep playing music and telling bad jokes. And if, while I'm getting ready for today's Sisters of Perpetual Disorder meeting & celebration,  you hear me say, “I’m making a fokken salad nicoise,” well, that’s just a wee bit ‘o Bruce.

UNTIL WE GET THERE

You go on ahead, out into the galaxy.
Learn the chord changes
for these new songs, warm up the band.
We’ll stay here a while to celebrate
your unconditional kindness,
your constant humor & generous hugs,
your joy in family & friends.
We’re glad and grateful, knowing
you join the music of the universe,
notes so true and full of love
they’ll ring out in this temporary dark
until we find you again—
your mischievous smile in the crescent moon,
your twinkling eyes in bright planets,
your heartstrings in light trails
left by shooting stars.
We’ll have to stay here a while,
without your hands to hold,
but our road is less troubled,
our burdens lighter somehow,
because now and always,
you fill our bruised & aching hearts
with laughter and song.

Friday, April 25, 2014

It all boils down to...Jell-O.


First half: all-night jams.
Making sugar-free Jell-O today for Ray’s and my evening “treat” was suddenly hilarious. I started laughing, then I had to dash for the bathroom (any woman over 50 will explain it to you), where I had a few moments to contemplate the glories of middle age.

I’m in my 50’s. THAT’S middle age.  I swear, if I hear another 30-something woman kvetch about being “old” or “over the hill,” I’ll give her such a swat with my hiking pole (hipster cane) that it’ll knock her from here to Tuesday. This is probably how my 78-year-old mom feels about us whiny whippersnapper 50-somethings, too. I guess there are varying degrees of curmudgeonness.

One difference I’ve noticed between younger adulthood and midlife is the shortening of one’s daily energy window. The semester is grinding [me] to a halt, and my colleagues and I are in full-on, flop-sweat panic mode trying to cram in every goal, outcome, measurement tool, assessment test, final paper, final portfolio, and student conference left on the Biblical Syllabi in order to appease the vengeful regental gods. We know full well that this “cramester” means that students salivate over their instructor evaluations, where they can unleash, with their pointy No. 2 pencils, their own stress-induced, apocalyptic (as all things are for 19-year-olds) retribution. There it is: another chance at Superhuman Teacher of the Year blown to smithereens.

First half: all-nighter, somewhere in NM.
Anyway, I noticed in a recent lightning round of student conferences that my midlife/post-stroke brain is good till about 3 p.m. After that, it quite suddenly closes up shop and goes home, leaving me in front of class or in a meeting, trying to hold up my lower jaw. I stare into space and say things like “Okay, well…whatever,” or “Wow…pretty Works Cited page,” or “ED-ipus…EEDipus…hmmm….” I’ve also been squeezing in additional conferences with students who now find themselves in the Downward Failing Dog position, and if they come to see me after 3 p.m., I go all Mom on them, like, “Well, Bethany, you should have thought of that before you…” or “I guess those absences really do have consequences, right Treyvon?” or “Personal responsibility blahblahblah…” Not helpful to either of us.

First half: musicians + old school bus = band.
Another thing I’ve noticed lately is that if you take your age, subtract the number of “Kojak” episodes you’ve watched (either accidentally or on purpose), then multiply that by 10 times the number of times you’ve ever said “totes” or “probs” (A – K x (10xTP)), that’s how many calories you can safely consume in a day without packing on a spare monster truck tire and watching your eyes sink into folds of spongy blubber. And that’s only IF you also jog 20 miles/day (on your recently replaced knee/hip), don’t eat ANY processed foods or sugars, don’t drink ANY alcohol, and take a Zumba class. My friend M and I tried a belly dancing class not long ago, because, well, really wonderful belly dancers are voluptuous, right? So the class was an hour long. She lasted 30 minutes, and I lasted 40, before we both faked injuries and left. The 20-somethings had already put 9-1-1 on speed dial, so they were relieved when we left under our own power.

Second half: sudden, unexplained muscle contractions.
That brings me to another novelty of midlife. Shifting priorities. I was not a bit embarrassed to leave that belly dancing class. Nor was I embarrassed when I recently showed up for a student conference on the wrong day. I’m not sure when it happened, exactly, but my people-pleasing obsession seems to have vanished right along with my well-defined waistline. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but it took me until my 50’s to realize that even the most kind-hearted folks have plenty of their own swampwater to wade through; they don’t have the wherewithal to consider mine. So I’m learning to be my own advocate. I’m learning to say no. In fact, I’m learning to say hell no, then bend over, slap my knees, and cackle hysterically.

Second half: clearly, she doesn't care WHO sees her hair.
Speaking of bending over, who was I trying to fool when I spent our friend B’s birthday doing wine-fueled interpretive dance at our Little Town watering hole? My former 2- or 3-day non-stop party binges, and my frequent grad school all-nighters, have turned into biannual MAYBE half-nighters, followed by a week of Advil, hotpacks, and constant grumbling.

So as the semester tightens its choke-hold, with piles of papers to grade and a bazillion loose ends to tie up, I’m planning summer outings, of course. Maybe a cross-country Amtrak trip to see friends in Cali. Maybe the Denver/Vegas/Santa Fe loop road trip to see our oldest son. Maybe a few days at the lake with the girls. Or maybe, a summer senior yoga class, lots of Jell-O, and daily 3 p.m. naps.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sweet Forgiveness


Forgiveness. We’re all great at spouting off about the importance of forgiving, not living in or being victimized by the past, moving forward. And I don’t mean this blog post to be a maudlin attempt at confessionalism, or pseudo-therapy, or whawhawha self-pity. I just know there are gazillions of folks like me (some of whom I know, love, and maybe gave birth to), carrying around their boatload of anger, and I’d like for them not to wait half a lifetime (like I did) to learn why forgiveness is a CHOICE and an essential act of SELF-love

I’m pretty good about forgiving people. I always try to see the good in people. I always try to consider the scars they might be hiding. I don’t stay mad. I don’t hold grudges. Well, except for one…

My dad was born on the Ides of March. Maybe in some karmic vision of the Universe, that explains why I’ve always felt betrayed by him. He left my mom (got booted out?) with my three brothers and me, ages 5, 10, 12, and 14, at home. Although he had a decent job with the police department, he paid ZERO alimony or child support. EVER. And even though he lived in the same city, he didn’t call, come to see us, or remember birthdays/holidays.  My grandma (with whom we all moved in after Dad left) tended to us kids while Mom worked two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. And when we grew up and started having kids of our own (his grandkids), he often couldn’t remember their names. My youngest son once called him “that guy named Grandpa.”

I’m admitting now that for DECADES, I seethed. I wrote angsty, hateful poems about him. I made it a point—a mission—to ignore him. I said I couldn’t care less about him. I blamed him for my failed relationships. All men were him. I considered myself somehow unformed or incomplete because of him.

Some idealistic part of me desperately loved him, too, and betrayal is compounded, complicated, by love. My answer was to “live” with his betrayal, to keep it close. I carried it around as a testament to my pesky love for him & to my own survival. His betrayal was my trophy—my really heavy, completely useless trophy.

Recently (duh) I figured out that I have colored, shaped, molded with resentment the decades since my dad left us, and that I had only succeeded in punishing myself. My dad certainly hadn’t been paying attention. My mistakes (plenty of them) were not his fault—they were the result of my own idiocy. My bitterness hurt me, not him. My anger was a little pin with which I stuck myself over and over, so I could be wounded—stay wounded—like everyone else, maybe more than everyone else, because I was so utterly fatherless.

One day (in the process of writing a poem), it hit me that for whatever reason, my dad couldn’t be a father—maybe he didn’t like it, he didn’t know how, he didn’t learn it from his own father, he was too narcissistic, he was too disappointed in his life, he didn’t have a sense of himself, he had a wife and three kids by the time he was 30, he was betrayed himself as a child, whatEVer—the reasons don’t matter. What matters is that I finally understood it had always been MY choice to carry around that ridiculous trophy.

So this week, I called my dad to wish him a happy birthday. I didn’t have to grit my teeth. I didn’t try to get in just one nasty jab. I was actually happy to hear his voice.

I feel liberated to finally wish my dad well. I hope he’s happy and at peace with his life. I’m sad that he CHOSE to miss my life, that he’s missing my kids’ lives and their kids’ lives. I’m sad at how much richer and sweeter his life could have been if we’d all have been part of it. I’m sad that it took me so long to kick myself in the arse (my dad just turned 83). But I won’t carry around that sadness, either. I’m letting myself off the hook. I’m steam-rolling that damned trophy. I’m CHOOSING to forgive my dad. And I forgive him unconditionally—no strings attached (otherwise, it doesn’t really work). He doesn’t have to ask for it (and he never would, although ironically, he’s a strident born-again Christian now, who believes Jesus cured him of prostate cancer). He doesn’t have to want it, deserve it, or feel he needs it. Because really, it isn’t about him at all—it’s about me. That may seem selfish, but it isn’t. It’s self-compassion.

When I say we should all stop talking about forgiveness and practice it, that we should LET IT GO right now, I know from whence I speak. Theologian Lewis Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” That’s me…paroled at last, blinking in the sunlight, and breathing in the fresh air.

The poem that flipped the switch…

LETTER TO MY FATHER

It’s four in the morning,
my skin warm against my husband’s back
where I curve along his spine,
his breathing a chant.

I waited a few paltry decades for you,
this hole blasted in me
where your name echoed
in perfect rhythm with my beating heart.
You wouldn’t believe the things
I’ve stuffed in there to muffle that sound—
bits of strung-out boys,
ancient incantations for the dead,
a shell-shocked drug dealer,
bark from a weeping willow,
apologies scribbled in crayon.

Do you know how many times
I peeled back my skin
to show you the color of my blood,
the way my lungs held air?
Late nights, drunk or stoned,
I’d sleep with my ear pressed
to the steel tracks, waiting for a sign
you were coming back
to say something.

Then one day you turned
in a stab of memory and I saw it—
the hole blasted in you.
We were only
what you stuffed in there,
temporary, all those awkward teenage angles,
never enough to fill you up
or muffle your own dark names.

It’s quiet now.
Only a man’s breathing—
that prayer, that song.

© Marcella Remund

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Et tu, March?

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Spring is a sneaky season here on the Row. It’s fleeting for one thing, dramatic and temperamental—think of Spring as the angsty teenager of seasons; Spring tries to pull the wool[ies] over our eyes; it tries to sneak out while we’re sleeping; it’s pouty and petulant. 

It’s true, March and April bring blessed sunshine (and the Vitamin D that pasty, cranky northerners desperately need), sporadic warmth (it’s been in the 60’s in the past week), and slow greening. The crocus (croci? crocuses?) start to push up. The geese fly north by the thousands. The peafowl abandon the loafing shed and resume roosting in our backyard tree at night. 

But pragmatic, skeptical prairie people—folks who call you “new” until you’ve been their neighbor a quarter-century or so—aren’t easily fooled. While the less wise pack away their long johns and oil up their rototillers, we snicker into our sleeves. We know that March & April are just trying to Eddie Haskell us into a false sense of safety. Because remember, March & April are traditionally the months with the greatest snowfall. As Ray likes to remind me, we often get one last serious tantrum from Jack Blizzard AFTER the robins return. So yeah, I’ll sneak out and do a few yard chores whenever the daytime temps hit 50 or 60. But my parka & UGG’s will stay by the back door (I bought my plain, shabby pair of boots for function, not fashion, way back before starlets started wearing them with hotpants), thank you very much.

Here’s a little poem I wrote, which I post every year to remind us all to be vigilant—March & April are behind a barn somewhere right this minute, scheming with their friends, and trust me, the minute our backs are turned…

THE IDES OF MARCH

The seer was right to warn us,
beware the ides of March.
It's a dangerous time, peering
through iced windows at the jeweled
tease of crocus and daffodil.
We've weathered another season
of deep-freeze, locked up tight
in muscle and mind. We're tired
of winter's grey and gritty leftovers.
But this is no time to get careless,
toss a floorboard heater through
the beveled glass and go out,
where Spring flashes her flannel petticoat
embroidered in pinks and greens,
leaves us gaping, breathless,
in air still cold as a knife blade,
stripping off the down.