DAUGHTER

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roseShe came with August’s marigold sun,
Serenaded by the carousel,
And candied-apple sweet.

She was doe-eyes and hush-a-byes,
Wrapped in angel’s wings,
And party-dress pink.

Joyously the red birds sang:
“What, what-cheer! She’s-here-here-here!”
Proudly the Nemean roared!

What kismet, karma, or will  divine
Designed such bountiful treasure
With hope to make me whole?

So I named her pure and musical,
Breathed in her abundant promise,
Vowed to be deserving.

She was magic; she was enchantment,
And she held my swelling heart in the palm
Of her tiny hand.

~lisa

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SHE WALKED LIKE SHE WANTED IT

One evening near my fifteenth birthday, I was summoned to stand before the Kitchen Tribunal.  My mother was there;  recently widowed, understandably shell-shocked, and exhausted by the demands of a fragile household and three needy teenagers.  Also in attendance were my two older brothers, their adolescent snickering temporarily pushed aside by the weight and severity of the matter at hand, which was this:  A few days earlier, an acquaintance of  theirs (several years older, a bit snarky, and appropriately enough, named Dick) had driven past me as I crossed the Market Street Bridge, then reported to my big brothers that their little sister walked like she wanted it.   The family was solemn and disapproving;  the kitchen smelled of fried egg sandwiches and scandal.

Well, I was affronted!  I was mortified!  I was. . .intrigued.  So after clearing my good name with Mom and the brothers, I retreated to ponder this new development.  I turned it over in my mind:  She walked like she wanted it.  Those words couldn’t possibly apply to me, a self-described wallflower and slow starter who hadn’t yet learned how to flirt.  I mean, I certainly knew what IT was, but I wasn’t sure I wanted IT anytime soon.  To be honest, IT was a little scary.  Besides, exactly how did I walk like I wanted it?  What was happening back there that I didn’t know about? 

Therefore,  I turned to my cultural icons for clues.  The men on Gilligan’s Island (even the Professor!) were dumbstruck each time Ginger walked by, but I’d have described my walk as more . . . Mary Ann-ish.  And there weren’t enough Underalls in the world to make my back porch swing like Ann-Margret’s.  But in the privacy of my room, I had to admit I kind of liked knowing something about the way I walked caused Dick to take notice.  Is this what made Aerosmith’s Walk This Way such a dirty song?

Conveniently placed bamboo conceals Gilligan’s interest in Ginger’s leopard skin swimsuit.

Until that moment, the only womanly walk I’d ever analyzed was my mother’s.  Her long legs moved with quick, purposeful strides.  “Keep up, Lisa!” she’d insist as we rushed from store to store each Saturday morning, trying to get our shopping done before some deadline (Yes, I grew up in a world with downtown stores but no Amazon.com.). 

Mom also instructed me on how to walk like a lady.  “Move your legs from the hips, not from the knees, Lisa.”  And because I tended toward pigeon-toes:  “Point your shoes forward, Lisa.  Don’t let your toes turn in when you walk.”  I assure you, Mom was not being critical;  back in the day, it was a mother’s duty to teach her daughter the finer points of being a woman.   How ironic that the very walk my mom worked to cultivate in me would one day attract the attention of boys like Dick.

I never managed to duplicate my mother’s walk, though.  At 4′ 11″ inches tall, I just don’t have the equipment to cover ground in the same fashion.  Now 79, Mom still out distances me step by step.

But as I made my way through the mall recently, I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of being stalked by my Great Aunt Lois (May she rest in peace.).  Great Aunt Lois was smart and generous, a veteran school teacher with a no-nonsense attitude, a woman esteemed by the family at large during my formative years.  Great Aunt Lois’s walk, however, was nothing like my mother’s. 

The Grand Dame was short, stout, and plagued by arthritis.  She waddled stiff-legged from here to there with knees and hips that moved like rusty gears.  I imagined her carrying an oil can in that oversized handbag on her arm.  And whoever was caught climbing a flight of stairs behind Great Aunt Lois had better not be in a hurry;  coaxing those creaky joints to rotate in such a manner was a process that simply could not be rushed.

And so it was Great Aunt Lois’s walk that followed me  past each store window— in the form of my own reflection.  Nowadays, I walk like I want some ibuprofin and a nice, long, soak.  And since he’s a grandpa now, I’m pretty sure Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler walks this way, as well. 

Dick, too.

And such, friends, is the walk of life. 

~lisa

THE HUMAN GALLERY

  

 

We are Creator and Creation
Both the artist and his art
Our first, lush days painted like frescos
Into flesh still wet and new
Sometimes Botticelli, sometimes Bosch
Swirling fusions of shapes and hues
Ever and always a work in progress   
                        
We are tattooed by mistakes   
False starts and regrets
The burned skin then displayed to all
Equally revered and reviled
By the circumspect eyes of patrons and critics
So achingly beautiful, so grievously lacking
Paradoxical and juxtaposed
                         
I stare at the easeled mirror
A reflection of my handiwork
Itself balanced precariously on a pedestal                                                    
Earnestly carved of self-mined marble
Transfixed by the veins, I chiseled deeply
Bloodied my hands and rendered the column
All in the name of articulation
                       
The human gallery is a carnival, a spectacle
Strewn end-to-end with masterworks
Each piece an opus, every creation a rhapsody
Yet one by one, they crash to the ground
Knocked from their underpinnings
By hecklers, by vandals, by fellow artists
Imperfections and faults exposed
                       
Yet despite motive, hunch, or vision
No matter the inspiration
There is one great equalizer:

Humanity.

We are given charge of a subtle palette
Then, tempered by our sameness
Must bravely reach toward exaltation

~lisa

THE LITTLE SPARROW IN THE BIG STORE

 

At the big home improvement store where I work, there are managers and project specialists and customer service associates.  There are cashiers, loaders, and night stockers.  But of all my coworkers at the big home improvement store, my favorite is the little sparrow who lives in the rafters.

In most stores, the presence of any animal would be an oddity at least, more likely a disturbance.  But because of our store’s size and openness, birds fly in and out at will.  They’ve become our unofficial mascots—ad hoc good will ambassadors at whom adult customers smile, and which their children regard with unabashed glee. 

What is it about birds that makes us humans feel all homey?  Our vocabulary is seasoned with bird-related idioms meant to evoke home and family:  A couple just setting up house is said to be nesting, with that first shared home likely referred to as a love nest.  Advancing one’s position in life is sometimes called feathering the nest.  An expectant woman is on the nest, or on the egg, and when the children are grown, we say they’ve flown the nest.  At that point, we nickname their parents empty nesters.

So charmed are we by our winged friends, that many of us openly invite them into our lives— transforming our yards into bird havens by decorating with feeders, baths, and nest-friendly houses.  Perhaps you’ve seen that clever commercial in which Mama and Papa Cardinal use their local home improvement store to build the bird house of their dreams.  That’s no coincidence.

Still, it’s not the result of advertising that I’m so fond of the store sparrows.   It’s the harmonic relationship which has developed between the two; it’s what the birds have come to represent to me:  adaptability and survival. 

Snugged in the beams above the lumber area cash register is a nest built by a little brown sparrow. I watched as the nest took shape;  at first she flew out the loading doors and back in again with twigs gathered from the ground, but soon she was incorporating materials from the store itself.  Tufts of insulation were carried up into the beams, along with snippets of twine and other packing materials.  The little brown sparrow and her mate made themselves at home in their adopted, block- and- steel meadow.   Undaunted by the noise, the clutter, and the close proximity to creatures of a much larger and much different species, they learned to raid the seasonal shop for spilled bird seed and other goodies.  And unless I’ve misjudged the signs, they’ve filled their carefully-built nest with a clutch of eggs.  How could my heart not be happy at such good news?

Who knows what brought the little brown sparrow into our store weeks ago?  It’s a big, wide world out there.  But journeys tend to begin and end as they like, and we make our homes wherever that road leads.  Sometimes the journey is geographical, with starting and ending points in different physical locations.  But for many of us, the journey is an emotional one—or a spiritual one, or one of self-discovery, or of self-improvement.  The point of some journeys—so it would seem—is to overcome an obstacle or survive a crisis with perseverance and grace. 

Likewise, the home we make might be a three-dimensional structure built of supplies found in the aisles of a home improvement store; yet, home can just as accurately be defined as that state in which a person feels comfortable with his situation, or within his own skin.  What a home, sweet home that must be!

I applaud the little brown sparrow:  her determination, her creativity, and the moxie with which she hops among employees and customers, shopping for bits and pieces to take back to her nest, are the embodiment of home improvement,  both literal and metaphorical.  I can only hope to do my job as well as she does hers!

PAGING DOCTOR PHART. . .

I was at work the other day when I received one of those phone calls.  You know, the phone call that everyone dreads, with the voice on the other end saying something like this:  “Hello, I am calling from (insert emergency facility here), and I’ve been authorized to tell you that your (insert loved one here) has been air lifted to our facility for treatment.  If you are unable to drive yourself, you should find someone to bring you here as soon as possible.”

Hours later, my daughter, my son, and I stood together outside an ICU treatment room listening as the medical staff performed an intimate, uncomfortable procedure on my already broken husband.  Luckily, we’d  learned that his injuries were treatable, and after a week of hospital care, he’d be coming home to continue his recovery while we look after him.  Hallelujiah!  Still, we clung to each other there in the hallway–exhausted and frazzled– struggling to comprehend all that was going on around us.

At that moment my son remarked, “What an unfortunate name. . .” and my daughter and I looked to see what had caught his attention.

The shock/trauma unit employs a Dr. Kephart.  Only the letter board didn’t say DR. KEPHART;  it said DR. K  PHART

Someone–a coworker, perhaps a custodian–had removed the “e”, effectively transforming the doctor’s good name into a bit of potty-themed onomatopoeia.  Don’t ask us how we know the absent letter was intentional; we just know.  And for a few moments we brushed away a heavy cloud of anxiety by letting ourselves in on the joke: Paging Doctor Phart. . .paging Dr. K. Phart!

There is no doubt in my mind–not the tiniest bit–that dear Dr. Kephart knows his name has been tampered with by a mischievous gremlin.  I believe absolutely that Dr. Kephart is taking one for the team; that he knows a sprinkle of light-heartedness might go a long way toward comforting people like us–people with scary news to digest and anxious hours to pass.

So here’s to you, Doctor Phart!  Thanks for becoming a doctor so you could be there to help mend my husband’s wounded body.  And thanks for giving me a smile each time I make that long walk back the hallway to the ICU.

WORDS FOR THE BROKEN-HEARTED

The rock where you stand is cold, and it’s desolate;
How many times have I stood in that place?
I know the mistrust in your eyes, the hesitation in your smile,
How your heart pounds out a litany of questions,
And pain expands your lungs with every breath.

Solitary is the path walked by the broken-hearted;
Where bodies draw inward to protect wounded souls,
Where scar tissue grows thick beneath endless granite skies,
Where simple pleasantries are stopped at the door
And melodies are silenced.

You offered your life, your love, your world,
Gifts that were neither wanted nor deserved.
So you clutch tattered shreds of brightly colored papers,
Knowing you threw the prize after a dream
That would never come true.

But look up, dear friend, look to the sky and see
The silvery moon softly smiling to light your way
Until the sun reaches down and warms your tear-stained face.
Fluttering leaves scatter your cries to the wind
And the universe calls you home.

Take another step; that rock beneath your feet
Was built layer by layer, made substantial
By those who walked the solitary path before you,
Just as you now pave the way for those
Who will arrive in their time.

And that aching heart, ever faithful, ever hopeful,
Still pushes life through the tributaries
That keep your river’s current flowing fast and strong.
That’s you, my friend: more than strong enough
To weather the storm.

Put these memories in a photograph album;
Keep them in a chest of fragrant cedar–
In time this pain will pass into the world of shadows
And in its place will be your reward;
All you ever wanted.

~lisa

SIX LIFE LESSONS EVERYONE SHOULD LEARN

Displayed in the various rooms of my house are trinkets, treasures, and mementos gathered during a lifetime of experiences.   Souvenirs, photographs, handicrafts— some were acquired at great lengths, such as the authentic Welsh lovespoon I commissioned from a craftsman and had shipped from Wales to Pennsylvania for my 2oth wedding anniversary; some came serendipitously, like the heart-shaped stone my then-five-year-old son proudly presented me one summer afternoon.  All keep company in my home because they help to tell  my family’s story, and because seeing them reminds me of things I don’t wish to forget.

We collect words, too:  pithy sayings, bon mots, slogans, axioms, oft-repeated advice from Great Aunt So-and-So, ironic messages revealed at the crack of a fortune cookie. . .Much of what we hear and read washes over us and out to sea without registering so much as a blip in our brainwaves; yet a few strike dirt,  take root, and grow to become part of what makes us who we are.

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Another life lesson compliments of Indy: It's not the years, honey, it's the mileage.

Having lived long enough to realize the truth this one-liner from Indiana Jones, “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage,” I offer up Six Life Lessons Everyone Should Learn

  1.  No One Gets to the Finish Line Without a Few Dents

From the time we hit the atmosphere, life is a race: a rat race, a horse race, a stock car race, a foot race. . .and though we’ve checkered flagall been admonished to “slow down and smell the roses”,  humans are in a perpetual rush toward the same, inevitable finish line.  But whether we reach our checkered flag in ten years or a hundred, no one crosses without a few dents.  My brother shared this with me, while another friend put the same thought in slightly less poetic terms:  Everyone has his own personal pile of shit to climb.  So, drivers, put on your helmets and strap yourselves in; life is no kiddie ride.

 

2. Now Isn’t Forever

Ever find yourself caught in what seems like a loop of misfortune or despair?  True story:  during an especially trying time for both my mother anddove chocolate wrappers me, we used to meet daily and exchange moral support in the forms of an hour of television and a piece of chocolate.  Printed inside the wrapper of one Dove bar was this message:  Now isn’t forever.  OK, I know the cocoa-tinged inspirations are nothing more than a clever marketing ploy, but day-um!  No matter what fresh, new hell the day seems to bring, those three words remind me that it’s only temporary.  This, too, shall pass. . .in the meantime, pass the chocolate!

3. If God Forgives, So Can You.

More than ten years ago I sat knee-to-knee with a dear friend, nursing the self-inflicted wounds of anger, guilt, and yes, pity.  Although I’ve never claimed perfection, I was disappointed in my failure to bring resolution to a situation I’d created even more years in the past.  “Do you pray?” my friend wanted to know.  I answered that, indeed, I do pray.  “Did you ask God to forgive your mistakes?”  Yes, in fact, I had.  “And do you believe that He has forgiven you?”   Yes, I did believe it.  So my friend looked in my eyes and calmly inquired what I was waiting for.  Then she asked pointedly if I thought my own forgiveness came at a higher premium than the Almighty’s.  Snap.  The inability to forgive one’s mistakes is evidence of a healthy conscience—to a point.  Beyond that, it’s self-flagellation.  I’ll admit I’m still my harshest critic, and probably always will be.  But I’m working on it.

4.  For Better or For Worse, but Not For Granted.

Accepting a partner no matter what life dishes out is a promise more easily made than kept.  Sobered up from the sex and stupidity of early love, a long look at what’s been wrought is in order.  And sometimes that’s the point at which a single, dangling thread is revealed—a thread that can be pulled until the fabric of the relationship begins to unravel, leaving the partners standing before each other, truly naked for the first time.  Recently I overheard two guys complaining about the manner in which their wives helped with jobs around the better or worsehouse.  “She just can’t carry as much as I can, and it slows me down,” said Guy#1 while Guy #2 commiserated.  “I know, right?  It’s like having a kid try to help.  After she leaves I have to go back and redo everything the right way.”  I was reminded of a woman I know who remarked about the lunch her husband had packed for her, “He knows I like more jelly than peanut butter.  How hard can it be?”  Little inconveniences aside, it made me sad to hear these people being so harsh.  Wives who ache to help— however awkwardly—and husbands who express their love with poorly ratioed PB&J’s are to be treasured.

 5.  The Only True Happiness Is Inside You.

We all can cite the circumstances and activities during which we feel happy:  spending time with a special person, making music, traveling, exercising, at work. . .but what if those circumstances and activities change or disappear altogether?  What then?  I am supremely happy with my husband, but if he should die and leave me alone (as was the case with my own parents years ago), I would have to carry on.  Tying your happiness to something or someone else is tenuous at best, and it’s an awful lot of pressure to put on the recipient of your expectations.   I don’t pretend to hold the secret, though  I’m sure some would say it can be found in faith—and here I won’t differentiate between traditional religions and the zen-like inner peace sought by some.  But I do believe that true happiness comes from within.  Everything else is gravy.

6.  And In The End, The Love You Take Is Equal To The Love You Make.

I was just a kid when the Beatles released the Golden Slumbers/The Weight/The End medley, which was to be the last time they recorded collectively, and the piece closed with this proclamation.  My little girl mind focused on the final four words, as I had only just learned about the birds and the bees (tee hee hee).  I don’t remember at which point I realized the message wasn’t about sex at all, but about karma, about applying the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have done to yourself.), about not expecting more from life than what you’re willing to invest.  Although they put a decidedly flower child spin on it, the message is rock solid, and hearing John, Paul, George, and Ringo sing it gives me chills—even after all these years.  Want to know a secret?  I’m not a tattoo kind of girl, but if ever I were to submit my flesh to the needle, it would be for these fifteen words.

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And in the end. . .