Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Monday, December 26, 2011

No Resurrection, Only Coffee

I know him either as Roy, short for Royal, or RJ, short for Royal James. Which he claims, in a slurred half-chuckle, has nothing to do with royalty, although he is from Scotland. That is easy to detect in his voice. He knows me only as the man who will provide him a bite to eat or a cup of coffee, but not a penny of money. I told him why at our first encounter, when he asked if I could “spare a dollar….how ‘bout a quarter…how ‘bout a dime, then.” I would guess him to be around five and a half feet tall and about one twenty, but he is not weathered or emaciated, like many of the homeless folks. Roy has simply been worn a good bit. He appears to be in his forties. I always see him in the same area, a busy intersection, gas station/convenience stores on diagonal corners and fast food restaurants on the other two.

Roy told me he has been here a short while, in this country, and that with the economy as it is, employment has eluded him a few times. He becomes talkative in less than a minute from the beginning of our encounters and has shared that he was a Navy Seal in the middle east and other hot spots around the world. Places ranging from jungles to the sandbox to the big iceberg. He has done dastardly and deadly deeds for his country, whichever that may be, and could really spill the beans (or haggis) if he really wanted. But right now all he needs is a little food and some work to get him on the straight again.

As we were chatting during today’s visit, a car pulled into a parking space in front of us. Roy stopped talking, took a couple of steps toward the car and lifted a dragonfly off the grill. He placed it on his palm, where it fluttered its wings for maybe half a minute, then died. “Nothing I could do for him,” Roy says, and placed the dragonfly under a bush near the sidewalk. Something struck me as unusual about the scene. It had nothing to do with Roy’s loss of reality, or super-embellishment of reality, whichever applied to him on this day. It was his hands. They were young, almost delicate, not the hands of a hardened deadly deed doer. I noticed no calluses or roughness, only a small cut. As though all in his life has been lost, or deemed no longer of value, except for his hands. And those are his last treasure, which he perhaps hopes will possess the magic to restore whatever they touch. Our coffees steamed, our sips the loudest noise between us. 


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Along the road to Detroit--Toledo, OH

(At the end of the post you can click on a link to see all the photos.)

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments

--John Lennon, lyrics, In My Life

Toledo was never about Toledo, for me. It was more of a direction, more of a trip, more about things to see and do along the way rather than things to see and do at the destination. As a place, it was where I went to shop for school clothes, compete in high school sports or to celebrate a special occasion with a steakhouse dinner. It was also a place I went through during Greyhound Bus journeys to my grandmother’s home in West Virginia. It was a place we always called “up the river” when, in fact, it was down the river, beyond Napoleon, beyond Grand Rapids, beyond Waterville and Maumee.

I had an early opinion or impression of the place, my idea of what I thought Toledo represented in the sixties and early seventies. Most of my impressions were created internally, below the sooty look and unkempt physical appearance and I will tell you some events, not out of a cathartic need or horrible recall but because they are what push to the forefront. My opinions began to form in the spring of 1966, as I was walking home from school, with the honk of a car horn. The vehicle slowed and the driver rolled the window down and asked if I would like a ride, because, “Boy, oh, boy, look at that gray sky! Rain is sure on the way. Might be lightning or hail.” Those were innocent times and I accepted the lift. He talked, told me he was a salesman from Toledo, then drove past where I told him to I needed to get out. A little farther I told him again and he turned around, took me back. We sat in the parked car for maybe ten minutes and talked about me and school and girls my age, then he asked me if I played with myself. I said no. He laughed and said every boy did and he would lay a twenty dollar bill on the dash for me, if I would get in the back seat, unzip my pants and do what he asked. As I grabbed the door knob there came a pounding on the window and a screaming voice, “Get the hell out of that car!” My mom may have saved my life.

In summer of 1967 I got on a Greyhound Bus in Defiance and about an hour later got off at the Toledo bus station, for a two hour stop and bus change. I took my suitcase, a blue Samsonite with ivory trim, and went outside to scout around. At the corner a man began talking to me. I told him I was going to buy some lunch. He told me he owned a restaurant and pointed to it, the Pink Pussycat. I went for the “free hamburger.” Bob fixed me a great burger and fries, gave me a cherry Coke and talked to me while I ate. As I was finishing he ask me if I played with myself. I told him no. He asked me how big my dick was. I didn’t answer. He placed a magazine, with photos of naked men, on the counter and asked me if  mine was as big as any of the ones in the pictures. I grabbed my Samsonite and left the Pink Pussycat.

Finally, in spring of 1973, I was working a few hours a week at a gas station, during freshman year at Defiance College. It was late afternoon when a car pulled up near the station’s door, only a woman driver inside. I figured she was a typical drive-up, wanting to buy a snack or pack of cigarettes. The passenger window was down and what was a woman’s hair and woman-primped face dropped to a man’s body, wearing absolutely nothing but a cut-off tee shirt and a pair of beige panty hose. He/she asked the directions to the road to Toledo, because he/she was lost and wanted to get home before dark. He/she fluffed his/her hair and smiled and the obvious excitement that was being generated within him/her. I was rough cut in those days and he/she came a touch on my arm away from receiving great bodily harm.

I became more worldly during my two Defiance College years, even more so when I transferred to Bowling Green State University. My insulated, small town coating was scrubbed and drained away. Rightfully so. Toledo lost its luster, in my mind, of a place of perps and pervs, of murders and crime. It became just another city with no more or no less of the same issues that other cities faced—other than its rust belt, automotive industry decay. But, like Ft. Wayne, it has also seen a revival of the downtown, and I was pleased with what I saw during my recent visit.

It still holds nothing special for me, as a place. But I will always love that drive along the river, on the road that carried me in my grandparents’ cars, my own cars, in Greyhound and school busses. The winding way that bends and hooks and shoots past farms and orchards and forests and runs just above the late afternoon water of the Maumee River at Turkey Foot, where my cousin and I revved the 100 horsepower Johnson outboard on the Katherine Anne to its limit, as we slalomed over a glycerin-smooth surface, during high school summers. Where, across the river was the lot my aunt and uncle’s summer trailer was parked and Jimmy and I learned to drink too much stolen beer, then puke and sleep off heavy thoughts of northwest Ohio girls in bikinis lounging on docks. It is the road that stretched to Bowling Green with its opportunity to learn and, ultimately, allow me to travel other roads, leaving the road to Toledo to those who would use it more often and for their own reasons. 

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Along the road to Detroit--Ft. Wayne, IN

 (At the end of the post you can click on a link to see all the photos.)

If I had a tale that I could tell you
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I'd make a wish for sunshine all the while

--John Denver, lyrics, Sunshine On My Shoulders

I never gained an attachment of any degree to Ft. Wayne. From my first trip there to all that followed over the next four decades. To me, there was a somber dinginess about it. The buildings plain and earthy colored. Its residents struck me as routine and lackluster, little more than cows lumbering and grazing in a pasture. I have relatives there, by marriage, (my mother-in-law, now gone, was born and raised in the city) and know these words will not settle well with them, or any others who find Ft. Wayne’s area to be the opposite, or any degree improved over my portrayal. To all those people, I apologize and will add that I found a revived and attractive city during my recent visit (although I still gathered no attachment). But back in the sixties and seventies (and since) I would bet those Hoosiers had the same plan for life as us Buckeyes—put in forty years, then jump on I-75 and drive faster than the speed limit toward the south, where condos and mobile homes were waiting to be plucked like citrus, where retirees could float on a bay in a gilded boat with silken sails.

Perhaps part of the reason for my early-developed impressions was because the hour ride westward always seemed to be through an overcast and dull heaviness, regardless of the season, or the weather conditions when the trip began. Plus, once we reached New Haven the roads were more pothole than blacktop. Something else has occurred to me, as I think back. During the first journeys, with my grandmother, she would often stop along the way to buy fresh corn, beans, cabbage, or whatever might be offered by farmers along the route. 
I had an awakening, a growing appreciation for the macroscopic view of the world. Where I used to see a farmstead with barns and silos and fields, I suddenly had interest in things as simple as the thick curls of paint on the wooden legs of a fruit stand, the rust-eaten hinges and hardware on a barn door or the texture and color range of corn tassel. These yanked at my curiosity and begged to be touched. I obliged. I carried that awakening down the road to our destination and along the road of my life. So, for this, thanking Ft. Wayne would be appropriate, rather than setting its residents out to pasture. I suppose the tendency would have developed within me anyway, and maybe already had, but the blandness of that place and time is where the buck stops.

Like the cliché goes, old habits are hard to break and on my November trip I glommed onto the bits and parts and pieces, rather than seeing the large. Yes, I did mention above that the city is revitalized and clean, but, my attention was diverted to the macro. I noticed arcs, arches and angles, with the whole of the buildings blending into the sky. I admired branches and leaves as the trees stood on the sideline. My gaze attached to crisp shadows rather than the casting objects. And, yes, at 57 years old I still touched and felt some of the things that were within reach. And, yes, I daydreamed about the things not within reach.

More and more, I am finding that the rot, the mold, the algae, the collapse of the once sturdy and firm always pulls me in. I am no longer disgusted by atrophy and decay. Perhaps it is my way of reckoning with my own decline, and the strange thing is that I am seeing an increasing amount of beauty in the dwindling of existence.
All in all, Ft. Wayne is still a palette of drab, but on that recent November day there was a blue sky, a strong and warm blue without clouds. Kind of like the place was offering an apology for all the bleached out wrongs it committed against me. But, I am an old fashioned guy who believes in long courtship and moving forward slowly. There will have to be more than blue sky and those free cookies the docents hand out as you enter the terminal of their airport. 

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Along the road to Detroit--Defiance, OH

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Everybody's so different, 
I haven't changed.
Joe Walsh, lyrics from Life's Been Good

Defiance is about an hour upriver from Toledo, about the same distance downriver from Ft. Wayne. It is in an area, in northwest Ohio, which played an important role in the early growth of this country. I knew nothing of that history when I went to live there in October 1965. The town’s existence then, as it has remained, was primarily due to a large General Motors foundry. Coming from rural WV, I was impressed with the wealth, the dark turquoise color of the new Plymouth police cars and, what was presented to me as fact, that a tornado would never land in Defiance because it was at the confluence of two rivers, which created a special magnetic force.  Fortunately, in spite of my hillbilly twang, I was able to blend in each time I returned to go to school there. I moved away after sixth grade, came back for the last couple months of seventh. Moved away again, came back for last couple months of eighth. Moved away again, came back as a freshman and stayed through graduation.

I have lived in lots of places, but Defiance is my hometown, primarily because it is where I found stability in family life and schools. It is where I attended my first two years of college, met the perfect girl for me and got married, and visited nearly every year for over forty-five years.

This is not a story about growing up, or coming of age, rather it is a tale of realization, a lament of sorts. I was there recently and, much like those days of October 1965, the weather was the same tease, chilly and misty one day, sunny and sixty the next. The town has changed. I suppose it has remained true to that great ‘50s and ‘60s word that so many places in America promised to be, “Progressive.” The population is roughly the same, but Defiance has grown in boundary and business and has done so through homegrown talent. For all that, I am proud of the place.

Throughout the decades of visits, I continued to view the changing of the town and the people I know as just that—everything seemed to be changing but me. Physically I  was changing, that I understood, but mentally I was the same old Steve, the same kid, student, quick-witted guy of satire and fun, but others were growing older and leaving behind all the things that needed unpacked for the journey forward. Events and happenings from the ‘60s and ‘70s that were shared and remembered with good laughter only twenty years ago are now remembered with, “I don’t really remember that. I am glad you can!” My lament is more than someone forgetting a minor incident; it is the look in the person’s eyes. It’s the very slight squint and glance downward, followed by a nearly unnoticeable shake of the head, as they can’t recall. Then they give the “Do I know you?” look, the one that’s almost always a conversation killer. “Hey, been really great to see you again!” What can I say other than, “Same here. Hopefully we can talk again before ten or twenty years or more fly by.”

So, forty six years and one month after I arrived, I have finally left. Not forever gone, not completely-washing-my-hands-of-the-place gone, but gone from the youthful spirit that kept me attached so closely. I finally realize that I was little more than a passerby, like Tecumseh, Pontiac, General Anthony Wayne, travelers on the Miami and Erie Canal or the huckster who came in the wagon and sold elixirs and liniments.

Like many, I chose to leave, not knowing that each day would make “the good old days” a little more remote, always thinking that the life I had there would never end and having no idea that in actuality it might become the life that never really was. The combination of gray days and age, along with midnight streets and empty benches, has a way of getting a person to set his calendar to the proper year. During my last day there I thought about my visit and did not want to go home and wrap up any writing with the old cliché You can never go home again, so I picked up some stones at the new reservoir, held each one and thought about special times before heaving it into the water. The stones sank and will be there for ages; the memories will fade with me.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

There just may be things out there...

I have never been to Roswell and do not believe in the whole alien/UFO thing. However, I was recently in Defiance, in northwest Ohio and caught this on my camera. Just before snapping the photo there was a rumble and BOOM! and this is what I saw in the viewfinder. A small town midnight happening that may change my opinion on what is out there.

Geishas of Autumn

Geishas of Autumn

The tulips have danced
and bowed, the daylilies departed
from single afternoons in the sun,
the goldenrod remains as stringy
veins without ore.

A breeze rides like samurai
through the oaks and maples,
herds of severed leaves gallop
across the sidewalk.

Before the goldfinches took tour
they drained their summer
plumage onto the ginkgo.

Beneath the temple of branches
a thousand Lilliputian geishas,
porcelain faces tilted upward,
patiently wait
for their fans to fall.

This poem first appeared in Umbrella Journal

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Another special find

I have discovered another treasure inside one the plastic storage containers. It is good to find forgotten things, stoke those times that were good, or not so good. These items remind us who we are, why we are. I distinctly remember the Garcia boxes, but not this one, the Antonio y Cleopatra. I could even give the poem a new title. Perhaps my grandfather's old boxes wore out, collapsed from lack of money. I am sure he gave this to me, although I do not remember the moment or the conversation. But, today, my memory is freshened, filled with other special times we had.

Garcia y Vega

There was an incredible simplicity to his business
accounting. A pair of Garcia y Vega cigar boxes,
one marked In, the other Out. The colorful lids belied
the raw, red hands, purple thumbs, toothpick-sized
splinters and fierce labor of pole barn construction.

Bad weather provided no excuse to stay home. Holes
were augured in frozen ground or dug by hand when
the tractor broke down. We slogged through Super Glue
mud that gripped boots, ran for the truck when lightning
sizzled the air and skated on clay slick as glycerin on glass.

Friday afternoon grungy guys gathered round the kitchen
table as pay was doled out, slowly revealing a white bottom
in the box. Someone rolled his bills and clenched them
between his teeth, “Ain’t nothing like a fat green stogie!”
We roared, ignoring the dissipating aroma of success.

It was the dwindling In and the profusely bleeding Out
that allowed me to obtain the grants to go to college.
Years later, when antique cigar boxes became the rage
of collectors, the boxes seemed to hold more value than
my grandfather’s pole barn business ever did achieve.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The entire flock ridiculed Sebastian, teased him about eating too many bad fish. He ignored all of them and continued to train. In the end, there was shock and awe. The race was much closer than expected.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Regardless of how desolate a place may seem, it is likely that man has already been there.

Cedar Box

I have found a time capsule, of sorts, a small cedar box that I have not opened for maybe 25 years. The box was a giveaway item, offered by Lane Furniture through its dealers. I believe this box is from the mid to late 1960s. My grandmother gave it to me to put things in, when I lived with her. 

It is full of keepsakes and mementos. To my surprise I cannot remember why some of the items were saved or where they came from. I have selected a few to tell you about.

Several items were from my school days, like my high school ring. I did not order the one that was selected by my school and classmates. There was no particular reason, other than my need to buck the system. There were 310 kids in my class, I had the most beautiful class ring of all. Also, from my college days, there is my varsity letter from cross country, cut off of my jacket, and my TKE fraternity pin. I enjoyed all of my days at every level of school and am glad these items were saved.

There is a Benrus watch in the box. This watch is from 1969 and I wore it through high school and college. I stole this watch from Bargain City, a large discount superstore before WalMart or Kmart made such stores a major force. My cousin and I hitchhiked to the store and we each leaned over the jewelry counter, slid a door on one of the displays open and grabbed ourselves a watch. I am not proud of that, but we had very little of anything and everything we saw was appealing to us. The store has been long gone, or I would take the watch back and apologize.

There are two fountain pens and a letter opener in the box. I do not know why. Perhaps I realized the items were old and would one day be of great value. I shall keep them in the box and continue with that way of thinking.

There is a small collection of arrowheads. I have found many over the years, which are kept in my office on shelves. I do not know why these few are in the box, but I will remove them and place them among the others.

There is a small bag of volcanic dust which was given to me by a guy who was in the area at the time of the Mount St. Helen’s eruption. It is fine, like baby powder. He called me, when he got back to Orange County, where we lived at the time, and told me he had collected it for me, because he knew I would like to see it. I will keep this.

From December, 1972, there is an acrylic key chain with a scorpion inside. I went to Phoenix during winter break of my freshman year at Defiance College, to visit my mother, brothers and sisters. My brother bought this for me. It was never used. I have always considered it too valuable for that. It shall remain in the box, wrapped in a tissue.

There is a section of barricade tape from the 1984 L.A. Olympics. I cut this after watching the bike races in Mission Viejo, where we lived at the time. It has no value, no meaning, no anything to anyone other than me. For that reason, I will keep it.

I will tell you about only a few more items, because you will get bored reading about too many things that are meaningless to you. The first is my ID bracelet from high school. They were big at one time. Every boy had one. They were important, because it was the only thing you could give a girl if you wanted to go steady with her, if you were not an upper classman and had no class ring. Four or five girls wore this. The last to do so is still my wife to this day. This will be saved.  There is a pair of Wedgewood cufflinks. I do not remember anything about them, other than, like the pens and letter opener, I figured they would be of value someday. I will keep these also, with that same belief. The last item is a gold and onyx insignia ring. I was given this in 1970. It was purchased for my uncle, who died of a heart attack. He never wore it, and probably never would have, because it would have been to sissy-like for him. I replaced the R with an S and wore it for many years. It has served me well and its value to me is many times more than the value of the gold it contains. I shall keep this, too.

In fact, after carefully going through the contents I will keep everything and place the box back where it has been. Perhaps I will add some small items first, so that I can talk about them if I get the box out again in 10 or 15 years.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Although it is a couple days after Halloween, some things are still hanging around.

The Rogue Link of Bob Evans

There are several airplane graveyards in desert locations out West. In one is, perhaps, an Allegheny Airlines DC-9, the plane I took my first business trip on after graduating from Bowling Green State University. I had only flown three or four times my whole life up to that point. Most of my traveling, as a boy, had been by Greyhound, leaving Defiance for Toledo where I would catch a different bus that stopped in Findlay, Upper Sandusky, Marion, Chillicothe, Jackson, Gallipolis, Charleston and finally dropping me in Beckley, WV, to spend the summer with my grandmother. It was a great way to turn a seven hour trip into 13-14 hours, plus I got to see lots of farms and forests in both states and sample various versions of egg salad sandwiches at bus stops.

It was a chilly April morning in Dayton when I boarded the Allegheny flight for New York. I had never been there, so visions of Broadway, Times Square, Central Park, muggings and crime had me sky-high before we ever lifted off. Younger readers will have to follow me here, and believe it, when I say that airlines used to serve a small, but adequate, breakfast to fliers. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it is true.

The stewardess wheeled the cart to my row and asked if I would care for the eggs and sausage breakfast, the hot cereal or the cold cereal. Well, DUH!, like in 1976 a young man would choose Cheerios or oatmeal over scrambled eggs and Bob Evans. I was savoring a bite of my lukewarm  toast with grape jelly when the whole trip took a different turn. As I stabbed my plastic fork into a sausage link it slid across the tray and plopped into my lap, where no man of any age wants a two inch sausage-shaped grease stain. Then it fell to the floor and before I could move my tray and bend down to get it, it rolled toward the back of the plane. 

I have no explanation for the rage it caused.  I wanted that link, not to eat, but to capture it, cut into little pieces and dump it into the vomit bag that I hadn’t used for airsickness.
Seated behind me was an elderly woman, every bit over eighty-five, covered with a knitted shawl and clutching her purse with every last ounce of being. I stood and turned, plastic knife in one hand, fork in the other, and barked at her, “Did you see my sausage?” The creamy pallor drained from her skin. “I know it rolled back here and it is probably around your feet.”

As I think back now, she likely thought she was in one of those nightmares where something bad is going to happen to you and suddenly your voice is gone. You open your mouth to scream and even the hiss of the escaping air has no sound. Lucky for her the stewardess returned, pulling the food cart, and ask if she could help. 

“I am looking for my sausage.”

“Sir, could you please take your seat? I am sure the crew can get it once we land.”

I hate it when people can be so forceful using only a smile and a nice tone of voice. The alternative was being the first person on the “No Fly List” thirty years before it was even started. Then there is that runaway sausage, probably nestled in a crack or crevice enjoying eternity in the warm Arizona desert, as a slab of parts-is-parts pork

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mystical Find

I have come to The Place of the Cut-off Ears, others have called it Where the Bitter Melon Grows. Regardless of the name given to this spot, it is thick and unruly, crisscrossed with vines that choke the trees and shrubs, morphing them into wooden skeletons. There is an aroma of fall, all year, because of the dead and decay. The ground is spongy from bark and leaves and bodies that have crumbled to dust and layered for decades, maybe centuries; twigs and stems crush easily in the hand and pour off the palm like ground coffee. It is mostly silent. The dense growth swallows sounds. Insects are abundant. In turn, they attract birds and lizards, which attract snakes and the nocturnal hunters. There is always movement, in the trees, on the blades, leaves and flowers of the plants, and on the ground. But things disappear before their sounds reach the ear. One finds that they walk slow and cautious, without realizing it. I walk slow and cautious here, constantly turning my head, searching side to side and to the rear. Hearing and peripheral vision vastly improve in places like this. Adrenaline rushes, but remains suppressed and on call. A visitor glistens with sweat that forms from edginess.

 It is in this place, near the base of a dying oak, that I have found what appears to be a small crystal ball. I do not know how it came to be in this location. My foot scuffed into the soft ground and it appeared. I looked in all directions before I bent down to examine it. It has several chips, so perhaps it was discarded, because it lost its usefulness. Or maybe it was lost. I do not know. I wish I could tell you why it is buried beneath the layers of decay. I wish I knew how long it has been in this place, or be able to say it is the reason for my journey, that it was my intent to find this round treasure. But, in truth, I do not know if it holds any power or magic, or whether it can show me anything other than a fisheye view of what is current and proximate. I hope it was lost, rather than discarded. For its smallness, it appears genuine, if one believes that an item such as this exists, or could possibly exist. A first glance into its center seems to offer a view of our planet, as though I were distant, maybe as far as the moon.

After briefly gazing and examining I looked around and found a broken oak stem, on which the ball properly rests, as though they were crafted for each other. I pushed the stem, with the ball on top, into the ground. It looks authentic, but I am not sure. If it is genuine, it will share its magic wherever and whenever it is called to do so. There is no reason to leave it here, resting on this stem stuck in the ground, where it could fall into the possession of one who might not apply its power wisely. I will keep it, and the pedestal, for possible use and good fortune at another time, in another place.  I will gaze into it later, see if there is something to be revealed.

I think of all this because the ball reminds me of a kiss I received, when I was twelve. A girl, Brenda, and her mother moved into a trailer a few spaces away. They were from Mississippi, had hair dark as carbon-black. Brenda said her mother was a gypsy and knew magic. She told me more. I was fascinated. We played Ouija. At the end of the evening, she leaned her face to mine and our lips enjoyed an awkward encounter. It was, nonetheless, a kiss. Maybe my find will conjure an image of Brenda, as she is today. I hope she is well and that the answers she received from the Ouija Board came true.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Bow

I do not know the woman who wears this bow. Though I have tasted the floral air about her, while brushing past, and I am certain the flavor runs along her neck, a delicate stem. Her fine hair is heavy with the scent. This I caught when she flipped the strands off her moist neck, stirring the flavor my way. She has blue eyes, pale to medium, and they smile at the corners. I noticed this when we simultaneously offered our wineglasses to the server at the wine tasting. She said, “I’m sorry, you were first.” She smiled and her eyes smiled. I responded, “No. Please,” and nodded at her glass. “Thank you,” returned as though delivered by a harp, with a slight nod of the head and glance downward. It seemed elegant, like something out of an old movie, maybe Casa Blanca or something of that lilt. Her glass was filled and she turned to her friends. Mine was filled and I took the photo. I thought of asking her first, but I did not want to interrupt. What I know about her is fresh, pleasant and sufficient. I have no need to know more about the woman who wears this bow.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weaving a New Eden, review

One doesn’t need to know Sherry Chandler, or her motive for writing Weaving a New Eden, a collection of  her poems published by Wind Publications. One simply needs to read and linger in the richness of its fresh furrows. It is a bounty of craft and style, which will catch the attention of many, but for me the harvest is in the content. I personally believe content always trumps craft. I am a history buff and whether presented to me as fact—actual, romanticized or creative—or fiction, I dig in. In her book Chandler has given me the whole lot of what I look for, plus the bonus of the subject matter being based in the mountains, valleys and hollows of the region where I was born and spent some of my happiest years.  

This is a book that is perhaps as appropriately titled as any. The poet has woven past with present, personal with historic, research with imagination and who she is with many of her womenfolk before her. Page after page, the weaving continues, either through direct statement or sentiment. It is also a book of lost and found, and moving on after each. Unlike most books written about loss, whether parent, spouse, child or friend, Chandler doesn’t start at the beginning and work to the last breath, she gives us the event at the start in “Elegy Sung by a Daughter”  and it is neither maudlin nor rambling:

Anna Katherine Toole is dead,
Lillian Glass too.
Each week a few
more elders die

who lived the life my mother lived.
The dogwood blooms
again. Mother takes
the sun and laughs.

I lie making spoons with you, feel
your breath against
my neck. The blood
runs hot. Hold me.

Readers quickly discover that the blood does indeed run hot. One can almost imagine that Chandler walked across the room, from the bed of her just-lost mother, to a sturdy rocker, where she sat and began to recount tales of  generations of family women (back to the late 1700s), as though ancestral fire was boiling within her. Even though these family poems are information-packed, Chandler does not bore us with ancestral trivia and she deftly sprinkles humor, as in “Namesake”:

I was named for the sake of my mother’s mother, Reenie
Florence, though I’d have called her less a flower,
more a hedge, . . ./

Or in “Granmaw Keith Speaks of Marriage to Her Great-Granddaugher”:

         Child, you look at that old photograph
         your mother keeps in a box and see
         a lumpy fat hag in a handsewn dress.
         I did not have my beauty in a time of snapshots.

Rather than feeling like I had to plod through the first half of another book of personal, baby boomer cathartic recall, I actually looked forward to the next page and the journey of the family. Among the many pieces that make the journey genuine is “Mamaw Reenie Takes Pen in Hand, Sends Postcards to the Future” a collection of 12 cards from her grandmother’s 1957 bus trip to California.  Chandler pens a found poem, leaving the original spelling and grammar intact:

         Card 12: Cactus Leaves Can Never Replace the Good Ol’ Corncob

         then we Changed at Cincinnati 745 in the Evening
         it was 9 Oclock when I got to our lane
         and I had to walk all the way down the lane                                          
         and Cary my Suit Cases.
         it was on Thursday, October 17, at 930
         when I got Home after 4 days and Night Hard traveling
         But it was good to get Back to my Old Ky Home./
In my mind, that last line sums up the family’s feelings, generations all.

The remaining half, “The Frontier,” offers us a parallel world—timewise—primarily featuring Rebecca Boone, but giving country-sized helpings of others in the Boone clan. Chandler continues her weaving with  strands of fact and good lengths of creative yarn. I believe she is able to add more color in this section because the burden of being as faithfully accurate as possible loomed with the family pieces.

We get a mini-history lesson in the rugged travels and settlings of the Boones. The death of children, the faults of well-intentioned men and the constant danger from everything life and place has to offer. There is an early taste of the hardships in “Why I Don’t Write Lyrics about the Frontier”: 
         It is written that Boone went back
         to find James, that boy, his firstborn,/

And as if it were not enough to locate what appeared to be the remains of his first son, the poem continues:

         It is written that Boone went back
         to find Israel, that boy, his second born,/

But, the reader discovers, in this lengthy and somber piece that, while men provided the color, women provided the background for the tapestry of discovery and settlement:

         But what of Rebecca, who had
         no writing, who formed those boys
         from her own flesh, pushed
         them out in the water and the blood,/

And the background had power:

         Rebecca was never to see
         that mountain grave,                                                        
         that carrion-strewn battlefield,
         she who would have known
         the crook of Israel’s finger,
         the droop of James’s left eyelid.

And what collection would be complete without a cat? Chandler delights and conjures in “Rebecca Boone’s Cat, Boonesborough, 1778”:

I could claim to be the first tabby
to stand on the banks of the Kentucky River
but there’s not much glory in it.
Still I had my moment in the spotlight.

There are so many passages and lines in this book that can claim a moment in the spotlight. I have selected a few that strike me as special. And it would be unfair to copy and paste the entire book! Other readers will find fine handiwork on different pages, but one thing is for certain, there is something for everyone woven here. I found one weakness, one that is not common in books of poetry—the journey ended too soon.