My Grandmother’s Feet

I remember the cold wet washcloth
we put on my grandfather’s face at four in the morning.
My grandmother would get us up
after the biscuits and the bacon were ready;
then, send us back in for him.
It seems like a lifetime away, that tiny house
with its wood stove.  I don’t know how long
they lived there before I was born; but, that was the place
where both her feet were sliced through by tractor discs;
then sewn back on like one of those patchwork quilts
that she made for every daughter, son and grandchild,
great and greater.  She’d always walked with a limp
and though it seemed like some old legend;
at the end of the day, when she took off her shoes,
we’d look at her scars, imagining it all over again.

They’re both gone now; and, as I pass through these years
collecting new memories; I begin to understand
how important those moments were.
I pause a little longer now
to examine the scars
and time seems like some thin veil
that I could pull back and reach through
to touch my grandmother’s feet, to massage away her pain;
like the incomprehensibly thin surface of an eyeball,
separating the fluid that gives us form
from the air that gives us life,
from the unheard message that holds us in the balance
between spirit and fire.


Daddy Osie’s Razor Strap

If I could tell you this story real slow… it would read like salty tears that just go on
like a big soft hug from Momma Osie, the kind I didn’t want to end when I was so small
that she lifted me off the floor and all I could feel was the pillow of her fullness.
I can still smell her in my mind somehow like the Old Spice after-shave that we used
to keep the mosquitoes off at night and the smells from her kitchen… bacon and eggs,
home-made biscuits and gravy, sorghum molasses and peach cobbler…

Or the smell of the peed-on sheets that we pretended we hadn’t done but if she checked
and she usually did… then there they would be hanging on the clothesline
when we came back from the pasture or the woods where we climbed grapevines
and shot BB guns and if she didn’t check well then we slept on them again
or the smell of salt-water from the ice-cream churn that we took turns cranking
on the front porch or watermelon with salt and fire crackers at family reunions,
or the smell of greasy engines and oil pans in the garage, hay bales and mice in the barn
and the red-hot-tip of a coat hanger burning its way through the pointy end of a sawed-off
cow’s horn that we would blow like a trumpet when it was quiet and we got into trouble,
but it was worth it.

And if you can smell welcome then it smells just like Momma and Daddy Osie’s house,
like the Chinaberries on the tree out back where we climbed out their bedroom window
onto the low branch and then climbed higher to watch the cows and the chickens
and sometimes we jumped just for practice, just in case we were “invaded”
by a foreign country and had to make a run for it.

Those were the days of the Cold War and bomb shelters and McCarthyism
and international paranoia.  From up high we could see the horse-apple tree
at the far end of the field and I wondered if horses ever actually ate
those knobby lime-green spheres that we threw at each other like cannonballs
like we were at war, just for practice and just in case….

The septic tank was close by and it too had a smell but it wasn’t that bad
and if we put more than an inch of water in the tub, we might  ‘overflow the septic”
so we shared the bath water, if we weren’t too dirty, and Daddy Osie’s razor strap
hung there by the sink and when Momma Osie wanted us to quiet down, she’d say,
“Ya’ll better stop that or I’ll have to get Daddy to use his razor strap on you.”
I don’t remember that he ever did, but we’d get over it, because he would pinch us
with his toes under the kitchen table, looking away, hiding a grin, pretending
he didn’t do it, like he did after he shot us with spit wads and a rubber band,
putting his hand over his mouth to stifle a laugh.

Momma Osie always told him that he was “worse than a child!”

I have a picture of him with his hand over his mouth hiding that same grin,
watching my sons, Carl and Julian, sitting on the back of one of his cows,
him with that hard-hat liner with the ear flaps turned up,
wearing those coveralls from Walls, where Aunt Frances worked.

They’re both gone now, and I think of them every now and then and those memories
stay with me.  And sometimes I just let those tears run because I want to tell them real slow
just how much I love them and I’m back up in that Chinaberry tree again, looking down
and thinking about jumping… just for practice and just for fun.

What is Love Like….

What is Love like….

Is it like swimming at 6am in Barton Springs on new years day morning…
is it strawberry rhubarb pie made in your honor by your son on your birthday…
is it a sweet little dog wagging his tail and jumping all over you…
is it a sunrise coming up over the distant pines looking out from Rose Mountain?

is it your tai chi teacher hugging you again after 30 years of smiles and acceptance…
is it that boulder at Vedauwoo in Wyoming that you just can’t forget because it feels so familiar,
like its a part of your soul, like your heart is connected deep inside that place?

is it like wanting to help when you have other things that you need to do…
is it a dream from which you wake up crying and laughing and fall back to sleep?

Is it the moment you realize you can do something you thought you would never do…
like riding a bike, like swimming, like climbing a mountain, like touching an elephant,
like standing under a waterfall, like hiking up Conundrum Creek to the hot springs,
like sky diving or skiing or swimming with dolphins or sea turtles, like seeing a whale… like reading Mary Oliver’s poems?

Is it like looking at a passionflower blossom up close, like smelling gardenia flowers,
like singing in a circle of friends?

I don’t know about you but for me, it is all of these and more and it is like waking up and starting all over again…
It is… so nice to be in this place and time and loving you.

Happy Valentine’s Day

If I Had To Choose My Life

Would I have been who I am or would I have landed in a grassy field,
a child of refugees on the run,
or an antelope destined to a different life outside in the sun?
Would I be an insect or an elephant with enormous patience,
loyal and long suffering; a granite dome
or a streak of lightning flashing jagged across a west Texas sky at night,
so quick and so bright, no regrets, no second guessing,
just one way to go and then it’s gone?
If I had a choice to be someone else or to stick with the current plan,
knowing what I’ve done wrong and right, how I have lied, cheated, begged, stolen, prayed, hoped and been rewarded when others were more deserving;
would I give it all back or ask for more,
would I punish myself or sing out loud with tears on my cheeks,
a smile on my lips and a lust like lemmings leading me to the edge of a cliff,
ready to do it all over again?
This is the one and only life I’ve been given and it opens like a flower
even as it closes like a book.
The one way in is not mine to choose and anyway,
how could anyone have the wisdom it would take to make such a choice?
How could anyone possibly know there could be so much to lose,
how long and how much it would cost to build the Great Wall of China
or how vast a universe we live in,
how could we imagine one Galaxy like our own Milky Way
or a million more stretching on into infinity?
We are less than the least we can imagine and yet everything and more.
We bring laughter like a river and heartache like a plow,
tearing up our fertile fields of wildflowers and weeds.
We choose a house to live in, some friends to share our thoughts with,
some food to eat, some seeds to plant; and,
sometimes a Katydid flies in through an open window
landing on our shoulder, to sing along in our shaped-note choir
reminding us of who we are, how brief our time on earth might be,
how bright the lightning strikes, how enduring is the granite dome,
how complex are the eyes and wings and lives of all the creatures
here on Earth and if I had a choice, good God, I would take these words
and all the rest, in just the way it came.
I would not change a word of it
as painful as it sounds, because if I did, who knows, my lovelies,
how fragile is this web of life
and I should be lost if I had left out the parts that carried me to you,
however long and troubled the way may have been,
I choose to believe it is worth it in the end; so, let us take our chances
and dip our toes and then our bodies… into this hot springs we call home.

Before It’s Too Late

Before it’s too late,
before too many swimming holes and night herons
before topless women at Barton Spring
and movies on big screens
before a plethora of haiku refrigerators
and Jimi Hendrix references
before another bright yellow goldfinch
or black striped dragonfly,
before unexpected miracles
come to shower us like raindrops again
and before I get another great song stuck in my head
as if a mockingbird has chosen
to join the bluebird sitting on my shoulder
surrounded by the colors of morning sunrise,
high noon and evening dusk
and before another red rose, orange cosmos
or cranesbill geranium discovers itself
cradled in the palm of my hand
and lifted to my curious nose,
before more sights and sounds and smells
crowd their way into my big old house
of sensuality and serendipity
and before we find so many more new joys
and beauties and songs
than we can safely contain
in these vessels of skin and bones
and blood and hope,
let me just write down this one thought
before it is nothing but a ghost of an imaginary thought
that came to me in a dream
and has long been lost to some other idea
that was better left unspoken,
let me just say this.

This Living Thing

This living thing…
that happens each day
and then stops
at some random moment
or not so random…
should one choose to believe in fate,
inviting all danger at any cost,
though most of us choose
to play it safe.
Others plunge headfirst
into the ever after, not knowing
or not believing…
or believing in who knows what…
Maybe they have left a note
explaining themselves.
We hope that if they did…
that it helped somehow.
There are many ways
to choose to leave this world.
Some like the Golden Gate Bridge.
Some prefer less public means.
Some I have known
or wished I had known better,
known what they were thinking when,
known what to say to keep them here
a little while longer, until they found
what they needed in this lifetime,
this living thing, that gives me shivers
at the sight of the white tailed hawk
or the little red-billed Blue Kingfisher.
Maybe there is only this
here and now…
or maybe there is everything
that came before, and maybe
it lives inside our soul
like some whirling dervish
endlessly intoxicated
by the ripples that fan out
across time, obscuring
the clean slate of promises
we inherit from other lifetimes
of learning and loving
and leaving it all behind
like a dusty bookcase
full and hidden away
in an attic somewhere
in a house forgotten
in a distant land, abandoned
and sure to remain there
until decay reclaims the pages,
rewriting history with a quill pen
from a scissortail flycatcher feather.
We cherish our lives.
We are the lucky ones.
We live, love, dance and sing.
We work. We play. We worship.
We are the lucky ones.
We give thanks beyond words.
We do not know how to sing it
so that the whole world knows
we are grateful.
We are humbled, amazed
and bewildered
by how easily we can forget
how wonderful life is
in this one world
we have been gifted with.

This Texas Road

This road, these prairie verbena in their purple dress,
these cactus bleached yellow and red by sun and drought,
this music on the radio,
this Texas my home where my mother my aunts
and uncles grandparents great and greater
give me good reason to pull over on the gravel shoulder
by the barbed wire fence under the power poles of creoste dipped pine,
Texas juniper growing everywhere it can
and will making cedar posts for farmers and ranchers somewhere.
Let me look up and wrap my eyes like arms around these long low clouds,
this blue and white and gray gone to pale yellow gold, green, brown and silver.
My life, this world, the joys the disappointments the laughter
the dancing light in my grandfathers smiling eyes
tempered and polished by the years of broken backs, camel cigarettes
and snuff and tobacco stained teeth some missing
some I watched him pull out himself with pliers he used to fix his truck.
I can’t tell you the joy he gave me but it is the earth under my feet
and the salt that flavors my sweat and tears.
He brought me my grandmother,
she in her long pleated dress he in his big necktie in their wedding picture
both of them as young as innocence itself
and somewhere in their precious lives a row was hoed and seeded
and grew hope and life and tragedy, eggs and biscuits and gravy
and sorghum molasses and aunt jean who could sing
and play piano and paint as beautiful as the best,
never having had a lesson
and cousin Debbie much the same and the rest of us
going to the hundreds now I guess,
momma and daddy osie long time gone,
just a memory an old photograph and everything in this quiet crazy lightning and tornado,
rattlesnake and horny toad and warm buttered biscuit dream
that is so real and so right and with such amazing grace.

A Thank You Poem For When We Say Goodbye

If I were to write a thank you poem,
I would address it to everyone whose lives have touched mine
and there would be lots of unspoken words in the background
like clouds in a blue sky on a desert photograph

and there would be plenty of salty ocean tears
because it is so hard to say goodbye and there would be lots of joy
because of the new babies coming into this life bringing their own
amazing innocence and some crying out loud

over the silliest inconsequential things because
so much is below the surface of this sweetness and I cannot begin
to thank you enough for all the life, love and weary wonder you have
invested in me though you might think it small,

I will carry it deep inside this well of memories
somewhere way back along this winding trail that moves like a snake
sometimes touching its luscious body flank to breast, tail to tip of nose
and like tiny kisses, I will remember your patience,

your kindnesses, and hope you will forgive
the ways in which I may have been less than kind along the way
less than aware in the times I forgot to say goodbye or good morning
because it’s too late for that now

and while I can still remember who you are
and what it looks like I will draw you a Raven
the way a child would do with a pencil
or a crayon and just a
few wobbly lines and

you may not recognize it
but that’s okay and
I will dedicate it
to you.

Happy Birthday

There’s something about a birthday,
not the cakes or the ice cream or the presents
or the parties – that’s just noise to me – though
it works for some and I get it that celebration,
for many, can be cool and sweet like watermelon
or cantaloupe on summer days in the back yard
at Grandma’s, or something as simple as
ordering a milkshake at a drive-in window,
once upon a time and long ago, but
what birthdays bring to my mind are friends…
and more friends, those I’ve just seen and those
I’ve forgotten about and am reminded of
yet again, like clockwork, like when the bell rings
on the old Grandfathers’ clock in somebody’s
living room, even though there are no yearly bells
on clocks that I know of… but wouldn’t that be sweet,
to have your own birthday bell clock that rings out
clear and bright – like a memory of a domino game or
a special jigsaw puzzle done together or a certain
swim in the rain in that ancient New England pond
or the call of the Loon or the hike up to
Conundrum Springs in Colorado or that cave
we crawled into on the river in Bend, Texas
once upon a time and long ago on a birthday
somewhere in time….  some day,
when we have passed on by these days
like ghost towns on a lost highway
and all we have left are some well used
memories furnishing our imaginary houses
in some spirit world after time, where
there is no bell, no clock, no rain, no birthday
to remind us of who we once were, the only
thing we may or may not share with our
imaginary friends in the imaginary ponds
of the great beyond may be these memories
that make us laugh or cry or something
in between and wait, isn’t that you calling now
to wish me a Happy Birthday, just when
I was thinking about you?