Thursday, October 25, 2012

So here I am in a little farmhouse in Nebraska after God put me in a safe and growing place, and I worked through my past as I worked through the garden.  I was scared and I was pretty sure that I'd messed up so badly that I'd never recover, like I'd be singing the Single Mama blues forever working too hard for not much and making ends meet by tying together what came my way from the local second hand store, from what my sister passed down to me, and from I was able to grow from a $1.29 packet of seed picked up at Walmart.  And I prayed the fabric of this life would hold strong, so we could pull it up to our chins at night, Nora and I in the double bed my great aunt had passed down to me after her death and whose Rodale's Garden Problem Solver became my regular reading though I never would have believed it.

And then Pastor J. showed up and we talked a lot of honest stuff across the scarred kitchen table, and Nora was three, and she started preschool, and I met so many beautiful women, and we laughed and we sang and we loved, and we still do even while we're negotiating the changes that come when women are mothers and women and wives and wishers.  Then  I got hired full time at the University after 80 other applicants passed through, and I could not believe it.   I payed bills.  All of them.

And all this time my mom and my stepdad were loving me and holding me strong and encouraging me, and I bought some boots for kicking around the shit that haunted me and the new ideas that also haunted me.  And I wrote to friends and I wrote to the world and I sang on my dad's Martin in the kitchen sitting on the counter with my bare feet propped up, just cover tunes because I was still looking for my own voice, and when it was too hot, I'd drink a beer or some sun tea, and when it was too cold, I'd close the door to my bedroom, turn the heat down and crank up the space heater as Nora and I hunkered down.  The landscape turned from green miles to the white of some alien landscape, the little brick house they built for Ila sitting around us like Fort Farm, and we were under attack not from anything I could address directly like a broken well pump or a dead farm cat in the shed, but from the pain of already sealed choices I'd made for myself and for my daughter, who lives with my decisions as children must.  Back then when I didn't know where I, this real woman who woke each day as herself either closer or farther away from that "I" and what she was made to be, could place myself, and the distance between us was immeasurable though I couldn't, at the time, have known that I should be thinking about the states that separated us.  This man.

I still couldn't articulate then what I deserved until the rain poured down into your shoes, and we decided not to harden our heart, and there you were: 1000 miles away.

And here it is, and it asks courageously that I walk away with what I found here on the farm, carrying our lives in a bundle of seed packets labeled "Holy Night She Cried Until the Morning Glory" and "Sweet Pea that He Calls Her When She Looks Shy at the Dinner Table with Bread He Baked" and "The Only Explanation is Heirloom Grace Seed" and "Protect the Children in the Fortress Called Home of Our Belonging" beyond the plains, beyond my own small expectations for my life into what I was actually made to receive and made to give.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

1.  The light that travels between us doesn't know how far it's come.  In this instance, inexhaustible torch, lampposts along the route, stars connected dot-to-dot, the holes in fabric stitched together.  Whatever you have, children, that has made you fall in love, marvel at it.  Gift.  GIFT.

2.  And as I take this inventory, the places too dangerous to record surface, the places that make the story "clean" struggle to represent something nicer than I am sometimes--the places that were up late at night reading, thinking like she did:  eat.  pray.  love.  Do it or die.  Do it or die.

3.  Dad calls.  We talk about George Harrison and agree he was always looking for God: from the abundance of the heart, the mouth will speak.

Friday, October 12, 2012


1.  I suppose it's like this:  never let me assume I know the whole story:  the cut up parts, the ones that smashed the matching coffee mugs on the kitchen floor or cut up the dress worn to prom, dumped fragmented and stolen in the trash, or the one who took the stack of oil paintings done when she lived above the bar and went to high school and wrote her own excuses and lit them on fire, the paintings and excuses, in the big oil drums outside where her family burned trash, the black smoke rising like a signal above Silt Mesa.  The wedding dress tasted bitter.  Even so, divorced people have empathy.

2.  In the basement, we write poems while Laura smokes the cheap cigarettes outside, and I listen to her black eyes and her son who saw it all, so I start smoking, too.  And what we exhale together makes a prayer in the sky about eyes and ashtrays and voice and voice and voice.  Let it rise.

3.  Just the truth.  The whole truth.  Walk a mile walk a mile walk a mile.  Do this until you see the smoke signals above her, spilled ink in the last glass of water.

Then tell her who she is, if you think you can.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

1.  On campus they have a "no walking on the grass" rule (weird, eh?), which kills me this time of year when the leaves are falling and make a gorgeous sound underneath my boots like opening the wrapping from a birthday present .  I park on campus and Nora and I hold hands while using the crosswalk to get to her school (it's right across the street).  We do her morning work together practicing the muscles that make the letters.  And then I go out and cross, but I don't use the crosswalk when it's just me--and the direction toward my office is east and the sun is breaking the trees apart in red and gold light and the leaves respond under my feet, and I'm surrounded, flaming.  And I'm thankful to start the day on fire because this is what it requires.

2.  Every semester a theme develops in all of my classes.  This semester's theme seems to be this:  You never know exactly who you are.  But don't let that stop you from making important decisions on your own behalf.  Don't stand, deer in headlights style, in front of the difficult maneuvers each day requires and think you'll mess it up if you choose a direction.  Act.  God will work with it.  And this is the process of letting the old self die in order to be born something else.  The leaves open the gift under the path I choose.  I have always loved movement.

3.  I'm so thankful for Prof. R who walks the halls with his coffee pot, too, filled with water from the bathroom.  And he shakes my hand.  Then I run into Pastor J and he makes Rocky style boxing moves when he sees me.  And Farmer Ben reminds me that I'm "the man."  Like the fire in the sky, the people around me lift my hope and this makes it easier, in turn, to choose.

4.  And I choose to open to this movement.  I know you don't get biceps like these staring at the five year old or the rock salt or the dirt or the seeds as light as light.  I'm not bragging.  I'm just saying.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

1.  For girls with blonde hair who live and love and fight strong for themselves.  In chapel today, I notice four young women with gold curls on shoulders and think of Nora and Amelia.  I think of my Grandpa Smith saying that a woman's hair is her glory, and I am loving the girls surrounded by golden crowns.  Help them over the hard spots.

2.  I wish we could all rest more.

3.  Everything is going to be okay.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

1.  Fourteen juniors and seniors dressed to the nines with resumes and portfolios in hand.  Fourteen professionals from the area who spent two hours of their day doing three mock interviews with each student.  We circle around afterward and laugh about the trick questions:  "How would you fit an elephant into a refrigerator?"  "I'm glad you asked that.  May I demonstrate?"  The student who shows up with his fly duct taped together, a last minute fix to an unexpected problem.  The story of the shoe sent after an interview in order to "get a foot into the door."

They are good people, and I'm wishing them well into future where they will continue to Become and Be under the guiding protection of the Gift Giver.

2.  Laughing with old friends about ending up like Stanley Kunitz, growing old and bent over until eventually I'm simply plowing the garden with my forehead.  And "everything is going to work out just fine" and "can we come visit on Sunday?"

3.  Nora's teacher stopping me to say how much Nora is learning, how she's doing well, making progress.  For the last two weeks, there's been a major change in her:  she is thriving, no longer cries when I leave her, gets dressed in the morning without grumbling (much), and can write her alphabet.

4.  (Bonus goodness!)   Hearing him laugh warm and open and real.

Extras:  And surprise text prayers from friends, my mom's unchanging love of me (tyrant that I was and can still be at times), another friend's brave admission of change and growth and the unknown--the tears in her eyes and the smile that says, "I don't know, but I will anyway."

Monday, October 8, 2012


To break into it again, to get back Home, to make a note, to speak it out, to say it and be it and become it, to handle it and hand it over, to take it up, to hoist it, to more than manage, to negotiate the sound of it, to pick it up and believe in it and kiss it better and wish it more than well, to write it:

Three Gifts.

1.  The song found its own notes and whispered to me from the small confine of my heart: you are bigger than this.  And the note spreads into five and the fifth remembers the fingers and the fingers remember the hand and the hand remembers, puts back together, the face it holds.  You are beautiful.  Yes YOU.

2.  I want her to be well.  I send love across the room to her.

3.  How he won't be discouraged, how he hears and shapes and tries and tries again.  How we don't speak long but it doesn't matter.  I hear him everywhere.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Because I haven't written in awhile and I don't know where to begin, let's start with three gifts:

1.  I call out the letters and watch as Nora negotiates the crayon into upper and lower case symbols, and all this time she's been at kindergarten, she's been figuring out the sounds and the curves and lines that make it possible for her to write, as I do across the impossible distance sitting here in fields of Nebraska, the words: I love you.  And he will write back with his heart all exposed like a dynamite bird because he probably went to kindergarten, too.  Yes.

2.  The garden is dismantled but for the chard and the fall planting that may yet yield red sail lettuce, spinach, radish and turnip, sweet peas.  The field mice had made a home in the herb bed.  I found the downy milkweed seed gathered into a soft bedding pulled across the hole they dug.   My yanking and pulling woke them, and they jumped out scampering for cover.  The cats immediately went to work, grabbing one and flinging it high in the air.  I ran after the brute yelling, "Leave it alone.  It's just a little thing!" And then I remember that I caught seven of them in traps last month.  And I wonder about context.  The day I bought the mouse traps, I also bought food for Henrietta, Nora's hamster.  And it just seemed silly and uncomfortable in some ways looking down in the grocery cart and seeing small rodent food next to the snapping mouth of the trap.  What is this strange world with all its strange rules?

3.  We talk and love through talk.  We bake the bread and spend half the day simmering beans because we love the children, love making something healthy and slow in this speeding world.  I knead the dough.  I've lost track of time.  Push it forward in the loose flour.  Right hand folds the top down and a quarter twist.  I don't remember ever having been taught this motion.  The bread must have told me how it dreamed and wanted rendering.  And on the counter:  nine half-pints of bartlett pear and rosemary preserves: lemon zest and honey calling the bitter and the loving halves of us together so we might forget ourselves long enough to just be ourselves, a little bit sour but mostly good and gentle.