In Which I Experience Not Only Post-Christmas but Pre-New Year’s Blues Before Reminding Myself of Something Really Important

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIt started even before I tossed the Christmas cards or took the old wreath off the front door.

A sense of sadness, a premonition of unease. Usually by December 28 I’m ready to make a clean sweep. Christmas is over, and I’m in the mood to, at least figuratively, put the past behind me and open the front door to usher in the new year. I say “figuratively” because I’m not that good at letting go, no matter how I tell myself it’s as necessary as it is advisable. And a new year always holds at least some promise, some mystery. Some new discovery.

This season, I found myself having a harder time than ever with letting go. The mere thought had me welling up uncontrollably. Was it an aftereffect of all those Christmas sweet treats? Hormones? The first Christmas in almost two decades without my beloved, nutty Siamese? A clear-eyed sense of the grim realities facing the world right now? Or all of the above?

Then again, haven’t there always been “grim realities” facing the world? Of course. And not only has the world managed to keep on turning, but I expect it will continue to do so for a while. So many are facing so much worse—the breakup of a relationship, unexpected death of a child, loss of a job and home, a flight from those who live to destroy and the search for a place merely to exist without fear.

I reminded myself that I currently have all that I need and more. That the new year would be largely what I made of it, though I am not naive enough to think we are ever completely in control (or even that we have much control at all, frankly). In spite of this, when I should have been working on an article due in less than a week, I found myself instead looking somewhat forlornly out my bedroom window at the Christmas tree bright with white lights in the family room of the house next door, then at the neighbor’s front yard across the street, waiting for their lights to come on again. Just one more time.

Thinking, Don’t go, Christmas. Not just yet.

* * *

The star attraction at my personal blues festival this year was not just the normal letdown after too much food and irregular sleep following a mad rush to complete shopping and wrapping and mailing while working 9-5 and taking care of/decorating a house as well. Anyone out of their teens can recount that story. No, the star billing went to someone who didn’t really deserve to have the guest of honor seat, but who shows up at my house far too often. Perhaps he makes a regular appearance at yours as well.

His name is Fear.

This year, Fear looked at the attractively wrapped packages under our little fiber optic Christmas tree only to remind me that there might well be fewer of them next year, as aging relatives with chronic health issues began to pass away.

Fear glanced at the well-stocked pantry and freely running faucets only to remind me of the warnings, even likelihood, that a terrorist attack could disrupt the national power grid.

Fear responded to the unexpected gift of a temporary job that would pay a few large bills with a note reminding me my source of income is currently uncertain and my health insurance scanty.

Fear observed the gift of four new article assignments for a new market with the whisper that I was so busy with holiday preparations on top of work that I might be hard-pressed indeed to make my present deadlines—not to mention the fact that the pay for those upcoming assignments would scarcely cover even a month’s rent.

In fact, Fear did so much talking that I wondered when he ever had time to sleep.

But as I sat at my desk wiping my nose for the umpteenth time with an increasingly soggy tissue, I heard another reminder, this one more welcome and one I decided to share with Fear, because he sure needed it.

Fear isn’t psychic.

I’ll say that again, just to be sure you both heard it.

Fear isn’t psychic.

Fear doesn’t know how much longer I’ll have family to shop for at Christmas, or where and how I’ll spend that holiday in the years to come. Fear doesn’t know what new clients or more traditional jobs await me in 2016. Fear doesn’t know what I’m really capable of, because even I haven’t discovered that yet.

But to start finding out, I had to get to work. First I had to write this post while it was banging at the walls of my heart. Next I had to start that article. Then it would soon be time to prepare for the remaining hours of that temporary job, to tie it up neatly with the rest of the outgoing year as the door to a new one slowly edged open. A door to new opportunities and acquaintances, new lessons and challenges, and, yes, new fears.

Some of which might be justified. Some of which might even be necessary.

But not one of which would ever be psychic.

Happy 2016, Readers.

 

 

 

The Toy That Didn’t Exist

I don’t know what made me think of this story recently, unless it’s that the holiday season—the season of miracles—is upon us, even if it is only October. And maybe it wasn’t such an extraordinary miracle, as miracles go. After all, there was undoubtedly a rational explanation for it.

But at the time I think it must have seemed like one . . .

* * *

I don’t have to be a parent to know that diagnosis of a serious illness in a young child is one of the most terrifying experiences a parent can ever face.

My cousin Matt’s son, Shepard, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, or ALL, shortly before his third birthday.

Long-term chemotherapy was on the horizon. Three years, in fact. And as Matt said, he might not be able to control his son’s pain or the toll cancer would exact on his little body, but he could get him a toy to help him through it. So he asked Shepard what toy he most desired.

Much to Dad’s chagrin, Shephard replied: “I want Randall.”

“Randall” was Randall Boggs—lizard-like chief scoundrel of Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.,” and Shephard’s all-time favorite movie character. While Matt couldn’t fathom what toy company would actually manufacture “a slimy villain” like Randall, he was going to find Randall Boggs and put a smile on his son’s face, if only for a moment.

There was just one problem. No retailer Matt contacted had ever heard of a Randall Boggs toy, much less had one in stock. He finally gave up, concluding it didn’t exist.

Not long afterward, as he told his Facebook friends, he was in the throes of “a little bit of a pity party” when his wife, Brady, suggested that he take Shephard’s big brother Sanders out for some fun. The pair ended up at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore, where they played with a train set for nearly half an hour. And on their way out, a toy caught Matt’s eye. A plastic figurine of “Sulley,” Randall’s arch-nemesis.

A closer look revealed that Sulley was one of a series, and yes, Randall Boggs completed it. But while the second figure was quickly located, there was no sign of Randall. Undaunted, Matt tore through a display of nearly 100 boxes until he finally saw, in the last spot on the very last row, a single package.

Guess who?

Overjoyed, he made a beeline for the cashier. Although he left the store $30 lighter in the pocket (having been convinced that a similar toy was in order for Shephard’s twin and older brother), he couldn’t drive home fast enough. For the look on his little boy’s face when he opened the box, he would have gladly paid three times that amount.

“God can use the smallest thing in the world to reveal Himself to you and renew your joy,” Matt said.

Even a toy that supposedly doesn’t exist.

Shep today

Shep today…future Auburn alumnus and…budding chef?

 

Sometimes It’s Just a Very Bad Day

catpawIn the end there seemed to be little more to say than that it was a very bad day, though it was actually a lot of other things as well.

It was, for example, dialing the number of my vet’s office and giving my name to the receptionist, scarcely able to choke out what I must afterwards. Hoping she would know.

“It’s okay,” she said.

She knew.

It was setting the time for an hour before closing, when fewer clients would be around. Watching the hours go by, slowly and not slowly, each one carrying me to that place. It was the moment of panic when I wanted to run out my bedroom door, begging some family member to do this for me, because I could not, I could not.

It was refusing the offers of help, even so.

It was leaving my hand on the back of her neck all the way to the vet, talking to her though she had been completely deaf for who knows how long, telling her the sun was shining, even though my sun roof and windows were open for her to feel it.

It was leaving my sunglasses on in the waiting room and turning my back to the receptionist, hoping she would see on her computer the reason I was there and wouldn’t need to say it out loud.

It was following a staff member to a room where we could be alone for a time, still keeping my sunglasses on and thinking, Please don’t let it be too long. I don’t know how long I can stand this.

I don’t want to cry in front of you.

It was being grateful there was no metal table. I didn’t want her to lie on a metal table, and I had brought a fleece coverlet that she’d napped on many times. But there was no table at all in this room, and I wondered if we would go to another.

It was minutes ticking by but I hadn’t worn a watch; being almost afraid, after a certain amount of time, that they had forgotten me. I took off my sunglasses at last when a staff member came in to discuss “aftercare” and payment.

No, I remember thinking, I don’t want to discuss that! I will not be able to discuss that. Please, just get it over with quickly and let me go.

It was signing paperwork. Swiping my credit card and feeling rather surreal that I actually had to do this now, because 19 years ago they simply sent me a bill, a month after the deed was done, after they sent me a sympathy card with a copy of “The Rainbow Bridge.”

It was waiting, yet again, until the staff member and a vet came in, a vet I couldn’t remember although he remarked that he “hadn’t seen her for a while,” and looked into her carrier to pet her. And while I had achieved a measure of calm at this point, as soon as he very gently inquired as to “what’s going on,” I started to break up again, and the old fear was back, that I would not be able to contain it.

I have always hated crying in front of people.

But somehow I did, just enough to explain that the previous night she’d had a seizure, and . . . all the rest we’d noticed in the past few months.

And he explained what they would do, and that I could stay for part of the process, or all of it, or none of it.

It was worrying that when they took her away, even though she had been confused for the past few months, even though she was securely wrapped in the fleece coverlet on which she had napped many times, that she would be afraid in this strange place. I did not want her to be afraid.

It was the staff member looking in at one point to tell me that her veins were “so tiny” that they were having trouble finding one.

It was looking at a copy of People magazine, though I have no idea now what I read. It was the door opening at last as they brought her in, wrapped in her fleece blanket, and putting the magazine down because this was it.

“She’s so sleepy,”

said the assistant, laying her down between the two of us, so gently.

“That was quick,” I said, petting Chloe’s head.

It was the vet asking if I wanted a little more time with her, me shaking my own head because I could not bear any more waiting.

It was gazing steadily at the closed door in order not to witness the last, stroking her head and neck as the assistant stroked her back. Neither of us stopped stroking until the vet took up his stethescope, until she was gone.

It was the shaky breath, the valiant attempt to steady myself so that I could at least say, “I think I’d better go now too.” The assistant picking her up, so carefully, as if she were only asleep and might wake, handing me the carrier on which I was complimented nearly every time I came to their office, the one I bought at a cat show.

It was finding my car wet from the rain which had been falling through my open windows and sun roof because the sun was shining when I came in and I didn’t think I would be there that long, even though it was the rainy season in Florida.

It was, at last, a semblance of relief, then later, the odd sense of bewilderment that follows a loss. The automatic turning of the head towards the room where her litter box was, the corner of the bathroom where her water mug sat, remembering that I would no longer need to empty the one or refill the other.

It was the tears at unexpected as well as expected times, wondering whether to wash the blanket she died on even though it was clean, driving by the vet on my way somewhere else and wondering if I’d ever look at the building the same way again.

It was searching the Internet for what leaders in my faith said about animals in heaven.

It was reminding myself, and being reminded, that she had a good, long life, that “to everything there is a season,” including death, without it making a bit of difference. Realizing that sometimes there is no epiphany, no rainbow, no mile marker of maturity that says I faced this, I did it, all by myself.

That sometimes it’s not much more than just a very bad day.

And that’s okay.

Meet the Poets: Al Rocheleau

Al Rocheleau

Al Rocheleau

On this final day of National Poetry Month, I’m pleased to close “Meet the Poets” with a tribute from my friend Al Rocheleau. I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that all the featured poems were memorials to someone loved and lost, something I had not planned on, but I appreciated this look inside the poets’ hearts. Such tributes can be difficult to write; at least I have found this to be the case with my only two attempts.

It has been said that poems are “among the most compelling expressions of emotions.” That certainly applies to the offerings from the five poets in this series, and I hope you have enjoyed their words, and their memories, as much as I have.

* * *

Al Rocheleau’s poems have appeared in over 40 magazines in the United States, Canada, the U.K., France, Austria, and Poland. For many years he hosted popular online workshops and served as Poetry Editor and Senior Columnist at Amazing Instant Novelist, a writers’ site sponsored by America Online. In 2004, Al received the Thomas Burnett Swann Award from the Gwendolyn Brooks Writers Association. He has lectured at Emerson College, the University of Massachusetts, and for many writer’s groups, including the Florida Writers Association. In 2010 his poetry manual, On Writing Poetry: For Poets Made As Well As Born, was published by Shantih Press and is available from Amazon.com. In 2012, Al developed and launched “The Twelve Chairs” seminar program, offering a 180-hour course in poetry writing for poets of all levels. He is a member of the Florida State Poets Association and resides in Orlando, Florida.

“My father-in-law, George Daignault, died from final stage Parkinson’s disease in early February. I had known the man for thirty-six years; he was a good friend, and it was my privilege to be his primary caregiver the last five months of his life. He had spent that life as a truck driver. He was a good man, good family man. When I elected to write something for him, I found it difficult to proceed. I finally settled on the ballad, a simple form (not simple to write, however) that could be turned into a song. In the middle of the night, two days before his funeral, it came together. I had written many elegies before, but none like this, none this close to me. I am thankful that the ballad form was around to frame George’s times, and his time with us. I asked a friend to finish the music and to sing it at his service; he did.”

* * *

George, A Ballad

You drove the drifting snow along,
you drove in days of heat,
you separated right from wrong
with pedals at your feet.

7 b George portrait closeup

George Daignault

The trucker’s life’s a simple one,
you go from A to B,
you try to make it back again,
again, to family.

“Goodbye Annette, goodbye my Gette,
and goodbye Annmarie,
I tried my best to be the man
you’d look up to, and see.”

Your baritone could fill a room
with confidence and quips,
yet melt to squeak of sentiment
as tears slid by your lips.

Calendars can fly away
their pages with a breeze,
but memory calls the living back
and brings us to our knees.

“Goodbye Annette, goodbye my Gette,
and goodbye Annmarie,
I tried my best to be the man
you’d look up to, and see.”

Working man, your day is done,
deliveries are through;
rest yourself within His arms
as we deliver you.

“Goodbye Annette, goodbye my Gette,
and goodbye Annmarie,
I tried my best to be the man
you’d look up to, and see.”

 

Meet the Poets: Walter de la Mare

Fiddle
In this week’s tribute to National Poetry Month, I took a little detour into the past. Unlike the other poets who generously agreed to share their work with my readers, Walter de la Mare is not a personal acquaintance, having died four years before I was born. I’m not very familiar with his work and suspect most people today would say the same, as he is rather out of fashion, though at one time he was one of his country’s most popular writers.

But for many years I have loved the sole poem of his I could recall reading, in a long-ago anthology . . . a poem not considered his best, that also appears to be largely forgotten, though an illustrated copy was deemed by some admirer to be Pinterest-worthy (and what would de la Mare have made of that?). A poem that never fails to choke me up just a little with its sweet note of hope at the end, no matter how many times I read it.

Walter de la Mare

Walter de la Mare, 1920

Walter John Delamare’s early life was prosaic enough. Born in 1873 in Charlton, Kent, in the south of England, one of seven siblings and left fatherless before he was five, Jack, as he was familiarly known, became a statistics clerk at seventeen, lacking funds for a university education, and remained in that position for eighteen years. While the fortunate bestowal of two Civil List pensions, in 1908 and 1915, respectively, freed him to concentrate on his craft, authors ranging from aspiring to despairing to successful can relate to the hopes he must have entertained throughout the writing and submission of hundreds of poems and short stories, as well as five novels, not to mention the fact that while Henry Brocken sold a mere 250 copies and netted only a bill for excess proof corrections, Memoirs of a Midget and Collected Stories for Children earned two of Britain’s oldest literary awards.

Several of de la Mare’s recurrent themes in all the above genres—death, dreams, and commonplace objects—appear in this week’s poem, along with the “undercurrent of melancholy” that runs through much of his work. But who was the eponymous fiddler, the wizard behind notes that surely sparked an uncontrollable urge to dance in feet of all ages or moved listeners from laughter to tears in a single melody? A real-life acquaintance, a figment of the author’s imagination, or perhaps a sort of alter-ego? Was he loved for more than his music? Did he have a voice outside that music, or did it end when his instrument was broken?

None of that really matters. What does matter is how, in thirteen short lines, the poet channels the flame of a personality without name or physical description (aside from the slightly ambiguous “stooping”), who discovered and lived his richest, interior self through the expression of his gift.

Much as, I suspect, de la Mare did himself. As all artists long to do. And in the end the art, the music, could not be silenced, emerging from branches symbolic since ancient times of the promise of new life.

* * *

 A FIDDLER

Once was a fiddler. Play could he
Sweet as a bird in an almond tree.
Fingers and strings—they seemed to be
Matched, in a secret conspiracy.
Up slid his bow, paused lingeringly;
Music’s self was its witchery.

In his stooping face it was plain to see
How close to dream is a soul set free—
A half-found world;
And company.

His fiddle is broken.
Mute is he.
But a bird sings on in the almond tree.


36647842-small-bird-canary-chiffchaff-on-almond-tree-in-full-bloom

For more on the life and work of Walter de la Mare, visit The Walter de la Mare Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Poets: Anne Peterson

Anne Peterson

Anne Peterson

In honor of National Poetry Month, Part III of “Meet the Poets” again brings us the work of Anne Peterson. Anne is  a wife, mother of two and grandmother of four, poet, speaker, and the author of over forty-two Bible studies as well as the books Real Love: Guaranteed to Last, Broken: A Story of Abuse and Survival, Emma’s Wish, Lulu’s Lunch, and The Crooked House.

Today Anne honors the short life of her sister on what would have been her sixty-first birthday. Peggy Gollias Dianovsky disappeared in September 1982—according to her husband, she left their home of her own accord after an argument (during which he admitted to having beaten her). But she never returned, or made any contact with her family, including her three sons. Twenty years later, her missing person case was reopened as a probable homicide and went to a bench trial, but although the judge believed that Peggy had died as the result of a crime, he did not feel he had enough evidence to rule that her now-remarried husband had been responsible, and handed down a “Not guilty” verdict to Robert Dianovsky.

From 2010:

“We miss Peggy so much. She was supposed to be here sharing our lives with us. Instead, we see her kids growing up without knowing her and now we see her beautiful grandchildren who have only heard about her.     

“After the trial we had a memorial for Peggy. It felt too little and too late. Each of us got up and shared what she meant to us. So many years had passed since her disappearance, consequently the room was not packed with people. At the cemetery we stood by her empty grave looking at a picture of her when she was a little girl.   

“We will never forget her, we will never stop loving her, we will never stop hoping to one day know where her body is. And all of us can testify that time does not heal all wounds.”

Please welcome Anne to Postcards From My Head.

* * *

NO MORE TALKING

“Divorce,” the letter read; “violence,” it went on.
A long-distance call made: “I can’t talk now!
He’s harassing me again.”

Hours later a phone rings, and two sisters talk.
One tells of a hurting heart and ten years of pain;
the other sobs in silence.
“Calling the police was easy,
I wish I would have done it sooner.”

Days later, another caller, “She’s gone.
No one knows where. She never showed up at work.
Her husband says she just walked out.”

Disbelief fills a sister’s heart,
Too many questions invade her mind:
Why would she leave her kids?

Why didn’t she take her car?
Why not wait for the money that would be hers the next day?

Some questions in life get answered, and some take time.
It has been thirty-two years since two sisters talked,
And one still hurts.

Peggy Dianovsky

Peggy Dianovsky

* * *

Connect with Anne and find more of her poetry at http://annepeterson.com/. You can read Peggy’s full story in Broken: A Story of Abuse and Survival. And if you or someone you know needs help with a domestic violence situation, please call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Meet the Poets: David Cohea

David Cohea

In Part II of my series honoring National Poetry Month, I’m pleased to showcase the work of David Cohea, General Manager of King Features Weekly Service and editor of ReMIND magazine.

“I’ve been writing poetry seriously since 1990 or so but for the past 20 years almost completely off the published radar. Back in the nineties I won several poetry prizes [the Thomas Burnett Swann Poetry Award at Seminole State College and Academy of American Poets Prize at Rollins College] and published in a few college literary mags. Since then most of my work has appeared online under a pen name. I find that the mask allows me to speak more honestly and deeply about the heart; history is mystery when spoken through the ritual mask.”

In 2013 David published the eBook Over Here, a collection of narrative poems about the Iraq-Afghanistan wars as they continue to be fought by returning vets, “raising the question whether it’s their war or our peace that is making healing so difficult.”

Please join me in welcoming David to the blog.

* * *

LAMENT FOR THE WITNESS

wildflower crash

 

 

 

 

 

Dying sometimes is huge: a booming ball
of fire, fuel smoke thick and black as tar,
the wreckage of a single trope for travel
spread over six square miles of wheat.
What’s left of the living is small: Body parts
like strewn litter, torsos still buckled in seats.
The toll of the wreck’s scorn of living
is both the smashed engine and the deck
of playing cards spreading a too-late
tarot from a carry-on. Each adds the other.
But there’s no known multiple for the
monkey doll found atop the sunflowers.

The world is fast zooming in, but for an
afternoon the catastrophe is a private war
between shocked villagers and rained dead.
Little is happening in any official sense; pro-
Russian rebels have the guns and poke curiously
at wreckage with their barrels. Local miners
walk the fields marking remains with white
streamers. They cry through handkerchiefs
held to their noses because the stench of death
has caught up with what scours their eyes
every time they look. The war is thus lost by
both sides, the living halved, the fallen
from so far and high to arrive so dead.

Pity the journalists who came to pay witness
for the world to horror’s scale. One reporter
interviewed by NPR had walked the fields all night
following rescue workers tagging the dead.
Most of the bodies were intact but twisted wrong,
congealed into postures like wax effigies passed
too near the flame. At dawn they came upon
yet another child near a patch of sunflowers—
a little girl no more than three wearing just a
red shirt. So many of the dead were naked,
stripped by the ghastly angelus of their fall
from thirty-three thousand feet into the news.

The reporter’s voice was darkly calm, her chosen
words on morning drive-time radio like a tiny
swaying bridge over the outrages she had seen.
Inferring no more than the first scant facts offered,
blurring her own outraged emotions beneath them,
wearing the mask of her profession to speak the
naked truth. (We’d been warned of graphic blight.).
No matter that journalism is a falling trade.
Witness for the community has such small value
when everything is slipping into big media’s mire.
We’ll forget this horror soon enough, attracted
like bees to the sulfur stench of the next burnt
flower. Can you remember what happened to
the other Malaysian Airways jet, or is its cargo
lost because we forget our yesterdays that fast?
Who are we without those lonely figures taking
notes all night in the smouldering fields of blast?

Imagination fails at the dead’s ground zero. Instead
I wonder how the witnesses were harrowed there.
How deep the smell and carnage roots down
into the lobe their minds and hearts must share.
Then reporter was a transcription of what the locals
told her, through a translator, of the jet’s explosion
and fall; she became their wonder at the flash
and great black plume, the horror of slow descent
of shattered things falling back toward Earth,
suitcases and engines and bodies in long streamers
falling slowly in memory like tears down a face.
How does such a witness remit the reporting drone
from human face in the window when she flies home?
How can sudden birthday streamers for a child
ever not be at once both terrifying and cruel,
so scornful of the girl they that morning so alone?

On the day before the crash, in another world far
from here, a New York Times photographer
was in Gaza City covering the Israeli air assault,
staying in a small hotel by the Mediterranean Sea.
He’d just returned from taking pictures at a funeral—
a man and his son killed while driving away from
a bombed building. The afternoon was glittery
and breezy off the sea, so different from the
entombing miseries collapsing fast behind.

Three boys were playing soccer on the beach,
their voices blent with bells and cawing gulls.
Suddenly an explosion from a shack atop a seawall
then fire, a fourth boy running from the smoke.
A second explosion and the four boys—cousins
all—were sprawled dead on the sand. The man
walked onto the beach fearing his imago in the
crosshairs of Israeli guns, focusing his lens
on distraught and crying men carrying their
boys too heavily in their arms. The soft warm
sand absorbing the blood as it always has,
the sea glittering, purer than ground glass.
And the breeze beyond the frame is lifting
and fluttering, happily waving our pale strips
at the wide indifference of an arch blue sky,
the final witness to our long descending cry.

gaza-boys-on-beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes

– Since 2006, about 30 percent of U.S. journalism jobs have been eliminated due to contraction in the industry.

– In 2013, 105 journalists world-wide were killed in the line of their work.  The three beats covered by most of the victims were politics, war and human rights.

– Sabrina Tavernise is the New York Times journalist who has been at the Malaysian Air crash site in eastern Ukraine from the outset. One of her stories can be read here.