Oddments

In search of story


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November 29.22: Coping, but barely

January 1983 was a low point in my life. I turned 40 and was starting over. I took a deep breath, went back to grad school, got an assistantship, and was assigned a cubicle.

My cubicle mate had different hours and we started leaving notes for each other. Give an English major a scrap of lined paper and stand back. Thus began our friendship.

A few years later, she developed a brain tumor which was initially misdiagnosed. It was a terrible fight she fought, but she survived. Not only that, but she earned her PhD at the same time.

That was Sandy. Sandra Littleton Uetz.

Almost thirty years later came the second tumor. She fought again but this time it was different.

I have lost a dear friend.

I don’t think I’m the only one who wonders.  When, at some low point in life, we find ourselves sharing a desk with a stranger who becomes a dear friend, what is that? Do we call it the grace of God, the luck of the Irish, random chance, some cosmic plan, serendipity?

And when the dear friend is at her low point, and we can’t do anything, what do we call it?

She had great teaching ideas, baked a mean cherry pie, was seriously conversant with Pogo and Krazy Kat and Mark Twain, collected buttons and handkerchiefs, loved books, the St. Louis Cardinals, cats, little dogs, birds, and, most deeply, her family. She was a woman of faith and fear — to live with the possibility of recurring tumors is to be just that.

One December Sandy and I drove to Valparaiso, where the square around the old courthouse had been developed into little shops. Christmas carols — REAL Christmas carols — were piped outside. We wallowed in happy nostalgia. It was one of our best hobnobbings. I promise to remember it.

One of her favorite poems, and perhaps her most favorite, is this, by Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

 

May the angels lead you, Sandy.

 

 


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November 26.22: Coping, but barely

A few are left

dry bright flutter

soon adrift

each in its oneness

a moment in the arms of air

then slowly down

leaving the shadeless world

to marvel

at the unhidden.

 

If you know me, dear reader, you have surmised that my muse has abandoned me once again. She does not request a leave of absence; she just absconds with inspiration.

I can’t be too hard on her, though. I’ve caught one of the bugs (infectiously speaking) going around and it has not improved my curmudgeon’s disposition. One of my best friends is losing her fight with a brain tumor, and my thoughts probably don’t leave much room for my muse. Maybe the truth is that I’ve abandoned her.

I had to cancel Thanksgiving at the last minute because of this rotten bug. We swapped food so everyone had a full menu, but we didn’t eat together. I had tea and toast — not cheerfully, I assure you.

Thanksgiving is for all of us a memory mishmash, I think, but it’s fitting as the door to the season of memories. I wish us all perspective.

 


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November 7.22: Coping, but barely

Brown birds,

brown leaves,

crackles, crumbles,

webs in eaves.

The glossy crow

in polished black

perpetual

melancholiac.

Pallid sky,

 sunlight void,

droops a greyness

ichthyoid.

Pond of slate,

grass turned rubble,

wind that moans

of toil and trouble.

The year grows weary,

needs to sleep,

gardens snuggle

in winter’s keep.

Beshawled and flanneled,

I watch the earth

beshawl itself

with color dearth.

 

 

With apologies to Shakespeare.

 


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November 5.22: Coping, but barely

Look back or look ahead,

up close or from a distance,

it’s balance that we want

to give us our resistance

to unfinishedness of life —

there’s always something more

we could have done or should do;

it’s the Expectation War.

There’s ballast in the look back

at what’s already done

as we teeter on the edge

of what we’ve just begun.

An update from Bill (to posts 10/21, 23, 27) with more background on the mural. The shop behind the wall sells chrome wheels and tires, and it is the owner of this shop who had seen Dathan’s murals and commissioned one for his wall. Dathan took the wheel as his inspiration for the design. The close-up of the open door shows the merchandise in the shop, and it also shows the challenge going forward. Originally the mural was to be to the door, on a relatively smooth surface, but now he’s extended it and therefore must negotiate a totally different canvas of metal panels. Does he look ahead in trepidation and see how much he still has to do, or does he look back in satisfaction and derive energy from what he’s already done? Does the artist’s eye see something finished that might have been done better and ask himself if it’s really finished? Is this life or what?

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg,

and to artist Dathan Kane.


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October 29.22: Coping, but barely

I have googled my grandma’s house from time to time just to see it again. I’d often wondered, if it ever were on the market and there were photos of the inside, would I look? It was, there were, and I did. I know the truth of “you can’t go back,” but I had to try.

I stared in disbelief at the photo of her kitchen, now a jigsawed greasy soulless room with a Dogpatch ambience. But the dark woodwork around the door to the dining room was unchanged. There was the portal. I saw the grate in the floor, a forgotten everyday that I once considered so exotic a part of her home. I held to that and imagined. There was an ache in me that told me I was there.

It was on that very spot that a little-girl me asked Grandma “Don’t you want to live to be a hundred?” She stunned me with “Oh, no! That’s TOO old!” I can today feel that thud inside me: my grandma couldn’t die ever. Only the grate and I remember what Grandma taught me that day.

How many little things in our daily lives do we see to the point of invisibility? What an injustice we do them. The everyday has power.

 

*****

Thanks to my grandson, who nabbed this screenshot for me. If my grandma weren’t already dead, this dirt would kill her.


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October 26.22: Coping, but barely

There was a time

when I would climb,

jump and hang and crawl,

confetti’d leaves

in shoes and sleeves,

telltales of autumn brawl.

With summer old

but not quite cold,

the air a heady brew

of acorn dust

and toadstool must,

the world was strangely new.

The leafless trees,

my youthful knees

together rocked the day;

in nature’s gym

my scuffed-shoe vim

had eternity to play.

I’d like to now,

but, holy cow,

I just can’t make me do it;

if I should try

I fear that I

would very shortly rue it.

 

With more thanks to photographer S.W. Berg

 and Fort Harrison State Park.

I think I can say without fear of (much) contradiction that I am not the only one in this blogging room who would love to kick leaves all the way up to that big old dead branch, climb on it, jump up and down, hang from it, walk it like a tightrope. Nor am I the only one who would decline the temptation. There isn’t enough liniment in the world.

 

 


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October 14.22: Coping, but barely

It wrapped me like a cloak, that papery sound. October’s leaves, battered and bruised, but holding yet, whooshed thickly in a wind tantrum determined to strip away every remnant of summer, thrashing the trees and twisting each leaf, growling down from the dishwater sky and around our little homes, impatient for winter.

The air was warm still, but one muscular shove from the south bore an invisible stream of ice, a whisper in the tumult, frost-winged specter. I felt it and knew then it was saying what it came to say, this insistent rush.

I bent over the lavender, itself bent low. Spent, sleepy, it offered up a final incense as I trimmed back its floppy stems. Two fat bees lumbered through the air to watch and sniff. They too heard the Babel of the papery leaves, in tongues of crimson and copper, and saluted the deep purple of my harvest. They too knew the time.


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October 2.22: Coping, but barely

We sculpt, we carve,

we draw and write,

enfleshing awe

for our mindsight.

What we think we know,

what we know we feel,

elusive, taunting,

unprovably real,

we try to capture,

to see, explain,

for eye that seeks

in heart and brain.

That eye wants form —

it matters not

that form derives

from mythic thought.

Thus the legend,

myth and lore

that spring from deepest

human core.

Because we have

this itch to see

every invisible

mystery.

 

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg,

and to artist Jeff Savage, whose sculpture marks

the headwaters of the Mississippi and the role of women,

the Caretakers of the Water,

according to Anishinabe (Ojibwe) belief.

Thanks also to the Minnesota Percent for Public Art and the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwater Center at Lake Itasca Minnesota State Park.

 


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September 25.22: Coping, but barely

Ceres paints in shades of cream,

daubing light like candle gleam

in autumn;

a mother’s sign when daughter leaves,

soft-whistling wind in union grieves

in autumn;

in seed-pod spike, in brittle stem,

desiccated requiem,

in autumn;

grasses in allegiance tender

bow their annual surrender

in autumn;

luminous mantle, light as breath,

gentle over sleep and death,

in autumn;

mother’s vigil thus ignited

over waning year twilighted,

in autumn.

 

 

More thanks to photographer S.W. Berg

and to artful arranger D.J. Berg.