Poem—Ice Water

Photo by borchee/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by borchee/iStock / Getty Images

I grew up in Michigan, and wrote this poem remembering the cold winters and walking on Lake Michigan icebergs.

Ice Water

Walking on Lake Michigan icebergs

water flowing through fissures beneath our feet

Tenuous footfalls on ice that heaves,

cracks, then holds as your arms flail

My grandmother clucking from the shoreline,

bundled into woolen hat and coat,

her gloved hands fluttering

as my brother and I step onto

the ice, tempting God, or fate

or the universe

falling through, boots filling

with the shock of ice water

snowsuit ballooning, sucking

us down, arms reaching to pull us free

And my grandmother pacing, weaving

consternation on shore, a frustrated hen

Like that first step into another’s space

entering hopeful, knowing the well

will be deep

and perhaps a little murky

A Post Thanksgiving Poem

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Origins

 

My maternal grandmother’s grandfather

was a butcher—he was Fleischman.

 

I am a poet

who knows the dreams

of my mother dwell in my sister

 

My paternal grandfather’s grandfather

was a farmer—he was Meier.

 

I am a poet

whose song is sung in

graphite and ink

 

They left Europe

for a similar place of cold and

want. Where gray covers the earth

for months on end, and frozen air

sears the lungs.

 

I am a poet

whose truth rises on

ice-bound floes

 

I am the voice of my mother

a rock of disbelief, her

hope a crumbling house, my

birth her bitter denial. My chilled

moment of delusion lasts a year,

or a lifetime.

 

I am a poet

my sea-weapons

incantations of change

 

I am like and unlike my grandmother.

She certain of her place and lineage, her

favors and grievances, my grandfather’s

acquiescence validating her at every turn,

every slight, every diminishment. Ice

infusing our lungs, our breath.

 

I am a poet

who dreams of snow

gracing a Michigan hillside

 

My mother, her daughter, adoptive

stranger. She who fled the snow

for the warming coast.

An insult my grandma never forgave.

 

I am a poet

whose voice courses through

the blood of German strangers

 

I am the scribe, recording the reasons we hold

ourselves to impossible expectations.

Retelling the tales—ghost stories

that reside in our bones.

 

I am a poet

whose words infuse mitten state

apples hawked from a rusting truck

Season of Loss, Season of LIfe

A dear friend had a severe stroke over the weekend. She and her husband, who live near Fresno, had been out gardening in their yard early, to beat the heat. When they came in to get breakfast, she collapsed onto the floor. Her husband knew right away it was likely a stroke: the left side of her face sagged and she was paralyzed on her left side. At the hospital, doctors immediately tried a drug called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), which works by dissolving blood clots. In this case, though, it didn't work, and they rushed her into emergency surgery.

That night, after surgery, doctors told her husband they'd gotten the blockage at the top of her carotid artery, but couldn't get to the one near her frontal lobe. It has been touch and go. Monday she moved her left leg and arm, and she was alert and asking for her phone and glasses Tuesday morning. Yesterday the report wasn't so good. We'll know more about the extent of damage in coming days and weeks, but we are all hopeful. She faces many months—perhaps a year or more—of recovery.

I've known these friends for more than 25 years. They just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, having married as youngsters on the eve of his going off to fight in Vietnam. He became a journalist and, later, a businessman. We met when we worked for the small daily newspaper in Redding, California, along with another friend. As couples, all six of us became close friends and have remained so to this day, though we all ended up in different cities far apart. We watched our kids grow up and vacationed together. We also supported each other when one of us was diagnosed with breast cancer many years ago. Last fall, her cancer returned. Her husband, meanwhile, struggles with rheumatoid arthritis. 

Earlier this year, my younger sister died unexpectedly, and another dear friend succumbed to ovarian cancer last month. Other friends are dealing with the sudden loss of his job; he is in his mid-60s.

This season of life for me has brought many joys—and, increasingly, illnesses, difficulties, sorrows, deaths. It is sometimes hard to remember that life is also death, and struggle. 

As I have gotten older, I find myself more introspective, seeking answers, looking for the reasons behind the events of our lives. I do not have the answers, but this I do know: None of us is immune from heartbreak or sorrow, and the only response to any hardship is trust, and gratitude for what is, and perseverance. And faith. I always come back to Julian of Norwich: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Paris in February

The idea for our trip to France began almost a year ago, when Rob asked me what I wanted for my 60th birthday. Half jokingly, I said I wanted to go to Paris for Christmas.

I forgot about it when we made plans last fall to visit London and Ireland for three weeks. We had an amazing time, and I will post more pieces in coming weeks about that trip. But it was while we were in Ireland that Rob suggested we do the Paris trip at Christmas after all.

We talked about it off and on, but then Rob sold his office building in Pasadena and decided to move to Santa Barbara full time at the end of December. “Let’s go for Valentine’s Day instead,” he said.

That sounded good to me. But we didn’t anticipate the complexities of moving not only his office but his construction workshop with all his tools, and his belongings and furniture from his apartment in Old Town. It took most of December and all of January to do it. We were still awash in boxes when the Paris trip loomed on Feb. 10. Also, while going to France in February seemed like a good idea tourist-wise (no crowds), the weather was iffy. More than one person said to us, “You’re going to Paris in February? Are you crazy?”

Well, yes.

We packed raincoats and warm clothes and waterproof boots, and off we went.

While the trip was overshadowed by my sister’s sudden death, we had fairly good weather throughout. Paris was sunny for the most part, although chilly. The one exception was the day we decided to visit the Eiffel Tower, when it was about 35 degrees and raining sleet. We climbed up to the second level and spent the rest of the time in the restaurant sipping wine and gazing out on the freezing crowds standing in line below.

The next day bloomed sunny and a relatively warm 52 degrees. We strolled along the Champs Elysees and window shopped as we took in the Grand Palais and the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way we stopped for chocolat chaud (more on that in a minute) and met an older couple from London. He was Syrian, a businessman who had lived in London for many years and who had gone to school in Paris during the 1950s. They were visiting for the Valentine’s Day weekend.

He was talkative and friendly and it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to politics—Donald Trump specifically (ugh!)—and President Obama, whom he said had been very weak on foreign affairs, especially with regard to the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis. It was an interesting and different perspective, at least for me. Rob and I have diametrically opposed political views (makes for some very interesting discussions at our house), and on that point I think Rob agreed with our newfound friend.

Now, as to chocolat chaud (hot chocolate): my poet friend and AROHO sister Lisa Rizzo is no stranger to Paris, and she had given me lots of suggestions of things to see and places to visit. One of those was a link to an article about which places had the best chocolat chaud in Paris. Over five days, we tried three different places (not all of them were on the list Lisa sent). But here’s what I discovered: It is beyond delicious. They serve it to you in two little pitchers, one with the thickest, creamiest, richest hot chocolate you can imagine, and one containing warm, delectable cream. You mix the two to your own liking, and if you’re really a lush for sweetness, you can add sugar. I fell in love. If you’re adventurous, you can add different flavorings as well. But I liked mine straight. There’s hardly any way you can improve upon good chocolate, I think. I can’t wait to try to re-create it at home.

Rob has been to Paris several times, but this was my first trip, just as going to London and Ireland last fall was my first time in Europe. I have always wanted to travel, and had been to parts of Canada and Mexico, and I got to spend a month in Costa Rica several years ago. But other than that, I am a neophyte.

After five days in Paris, we took the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, “high-speed train”) to Ax-en-Provence in the south, then rented a car and headed for the Riviera.

(Next, the tiny coastal town of Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat…)

Discovering London and Ireland

Until two years ago, I had never been out of the United States beyond a sojourn to Ensenada, Mexico, and to parts of Canada, which in my mind don't really count. In 2012 I went to Costa Rica and stayed at my cousin's beautiful home on the northern Costa Rican coast for a month. It was there that I finished the first draft of my memoir, which I've been excerpting in posts on my blog (here is Part One, if you've missed them).

So I was literally giddy last fall when Rob and I traveled to London and then to Ireland for three weeks. Our transAtlantic flight felt like Christmas Eve to me, and the stewardesses and stewards must have sensed it because they presented us with a bottle of champagne upon our arrival at Heathrow. Everything seemed magical to me. I loved London. Loved its energy, its people, the Tube, the lovely little boutique hotel in which we stayed, the vintage double-decker bus tour we took, the theater district play we saw, the vast historical sweep of the buildings and monuments everywhere one looked. In just the few days we were there we shopped at Harrods, saw a Shakespearean play at the Globe Theatre, took a boat trip up the Thames, and visited the new Tate Museum. And it didn't rain a single time, despite all the rain gear we took along. We were in Europe from late September through mid-October; the weather was cooler, but the crowds were almost nonexistent. I would go back to London in a heartbeat, because there was so much we didn't get to see. But the purpose of our trip was to see Ireland.

 The London Eye

The London Eye

 The Cheesegrater

The Cheesegrater

When we flew to Dublin on the fourth day, it was sunny and in the low 60s, a harbinger of the weather we encountered throughout our time there. Dublin is much smaller than London, but has its own charms. Our hotel was on the edge of the Temple District, which is the hot nighttime place brimming with bars and music venues.

The most impressive thing about Ireland is every corner has a pub, and every pub (almost) has a live band singing traditional music. We LOVED the immersion into Irish culture and music, and relished it as we traveled south and then up the west coast of the country.

 St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

 At a pub listening to traditional Irish music.

At a pub listening to traditional Irish music.

 On the Jameson whiskey tour.

On the Jameson whiskey tour.

Next, Waterford and Kinsale.


Blessings Abound

 Santa Barbara at Shoreline Beach

Santa Barbara at Shoreline Beach

It rained today.

That may not seem extraordinary in many parts of the country and world, but in drought-stricken Southern California, it was like manna from heaven. Rain so soft and steady—though pounding at times—it made me ache with the sense of a long-lost familiarity, of something lost for a very long time and now rediscovered.

Two friends and I walked at the ocean yesterday evening, just before the deluge, and I walked again this evening on the beach, picking my way among the strewn detritus thrown upon the shore by the storm's waves and marveling at the rushing rivulets that poured from the hillsides down to mix with the storm-sized surf.

Pink and yellow sunsets lit up the evening sky, and I had to catch my breathe in awe and gratitude.

So many in this world live in places where they might never see the sun dip into the ocean waves, the clouds pink and heavy above, coloring the sky and the world. I am blessed, and want never to take this world for granted.

Yesterday I walked with two dear friends, our dogs and our paces matched from years of sojourns together. This evening I wandered out to the beach during a break in the rain with my dog, Chevella, and ran across two similar-minded friends with their two hounds. Bundled against the wind, we walked as the sun moved toward the horizon and its inevitable dip into the deep sea, pinkened clouds hovering above like harbingers of sunrises to come.

We walked, the three of us, and came across another friend with her new Irish setter puppy, bounding with puppy energy and enthusiasm from person to person, dog to dog, tennis ball to tennis ball. There’s nothing like a puppy to remind us that life is for grabbing the absolute most out of the moment—chewing it, sniffing it, jumping up in joy, bounding down the beach with abandon.

I am grateful for this life, this place, this most magnificent point in time. Would that we could all feel—and recognize—the blessings that flow in and around us. There is so much to appreciate, despite the very real difficulties many of us endure. Open your heart, open your arms, open your sensibilities to the gifts available to you. May you feel the generosity of the universe in this new year.