Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Half-Way House

Hello Friends,

I recently saw a photo of a house I lived in long ago that had been greatly gentrified.  I got to thinking about my own personal gentrification.  I hardly recognized the house, just as I hardly recognize the young woman I was who lived there once, but here's to resurrecting places and pieces of a self and trying to get it down.  (Couldn't quite make my 3-line- stanza format correctly on this blog, but you get the jist.)

My Half-Way House

Wasn’t the Graves Avenue place, on the other side of the tracks,
round the corner from Burt’s second-hand store where the guy gave 
discounts then undercut his own bottom line to keep you coming back.

There, on Graves, with 90 bucks after the security deposit and 1st month's 
rent paid, I was. Landed with a thump and the slow leaky lump
of my heart big enough to stain the walls and hardwood red.

The part of me dying went to live on Graves.
It wasn’t that other house in the country, Tiny, White,
Yankee-Prim  place-holder house I rarely slept nights alone.

But between those two, on State Street, near the old fruit market
We came and went in a shingled green flop house:
The clown I slept with, the blind hippie, his

Flat-bellied, wild-haired Cuban princess and their pet
Ferret, whose name I forget, but not her scent.
The whole house smelled of musk, sex, bong water and sandalwood.

In those younger, in-between-things- days, I sought
A house of forgetting, wood-screened door to slam closed  
what had opened, Big Love, Big City Loss

I sought to cauterize my wounds
With instruments that played lullabies
in the underwater light of dreams.

Not on Graves, or in the country near Amherst ,
but the half-way house on State
was a good spot to die awhile.

Most places like this are for getting it together.
Mine was for falling apart, which I did
Until lack of breath brought me up for air.

State street for the state of me then
Part Emily Dickenson, part Diane Arbus,
The green house healed me in the end.

--BLR  for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, January 16, 2012

The White Stuff

This poem, by the “Belle” of my former home, Amherst, arrived in my e-mailbox yesterday, from poetry.org.  (If you don’t already subscribe, you might want to; I have discovered poets I never knew, and now love, through these daily introductions.)

Every child I know is itching for snow, some with a truly impressive intensity, while my middle-aged self, far from my harsh climatological origins, and sometimes overwhelmed by the logistics of a clear day, cringes at the thought of significant snowfall. To remind us all of the new-making, transformational power of snowfall, I share this:

It sifts from Leaden Sieves -by Emily Dickinson

It sifts from Leaden Sieves -
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road -

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain -
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again -

It reaches to the Fence -
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces -
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack - and Stem -
A Summer’s empty Room -
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them -

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen -
Then stills its Artisans - like Ghosts -
Denying they have been –

I love the piling up of nouns and descriptions, pointing to the outlining/transformation/disguising of our familiar surroundings that snow effects. I also love the penultimate stanza, elevating the humblest features of the rural landscape to notice, even celebration.

 I am restored by even a light dusting of snow to my childhood rapture at snowfall. (I remember vividly a preschool-less, pre-school experience where my neighbor friend and I made our mothers unearth all our winter regalia for a few flakes, which had mostly stopped falling by the time we toddled out in all our winterwear.) I wish for Greg even a single day of local skiing, preferably today, and for Anna, a day of fullhearted sledding before the season is over.

MKP for The Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, January 9, 2012


There she was, towering in the air above my head.  Her huge snout bristled with long, sharp, pointy teeth, engineered for one purpose, ripping and tearing flesh. Massive jaws powerful enough to clamp and hold its enormous prey, smiled down at me.  Perched on her tiptoes, sharp eyes locked on her next victim, she looked ready to leap from the pedestal.

I was star struck, standing in the shadow of Sue, the largest and most complete tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered.  Forty-two feet from snout to tail-end, with a rib cage large enough to house a family of four, she dominates the rotunda of the Field Museum in Chicago.  Sue is the crown jewel of the museum’s extensive dinosaur collection and dinosaurs have always fascinated me so I savored every moment spent wandering the exhibits.  As I stared up at the neck-cracking height of the brachiosaurus I envisioned it alive and grazing its way through the forest. Stopping by the duckbilled dinosaur’s exhibit we were able to hear what the hooting call must have sounded like.  

I am also fascinated by the thought that these behemoths could be the distant relatives of our free flying birds of today. More and more the evidences points to a connection between the mighty dinosaurs and our feathered friends. The formidable and enthralling Sue provided scientists with another clue that helped prove the hypothesis.  Her almost complete skeleton revealed she had a furcula, also know as a “wishbone”, which is common only to dinosaurs and birds. Try making a wish on that wishbone next Thanksgiving!  

The conflicting image of the fierce T-Rex festooned with bright blue plumage perhaps with a perky red topknot, wars in my mind with that of the enormous charging reptile depicted in “Jurassic Park.”  Reconsidering the dowdy little sparrow outside my window as a vicious, sharp-toothed predator ready to strike seemed fanciful, but there it was.

Today paleontologists have incredible tools and much more knowledge then those who first studied these strange creatures. Many of the pioneer dinosaur hunters were untrained gentleman hobbyists.  Enthusiastic about displaying and explaining, their finds they often created unusual theories to reconcile current beliefs with the evidence at hand. When the first colossal bones were unearthed, the speculation was they belong to a giant race of humans, since gone extinct.  When it became evident they were enormous reptile-like beasts, the paleontogists of the day couldn’t conceive that anything so large would have been able to support it’s massive size.  The assumption was that they lay prone until hunger stirred them enough to lurch their large frames upright in search of food.  Modern technology has made it possible to explore these era spanning and extraordinary beasts in more depth. The last century has seen an explosion of information that has corrected old misconceptions, revealed startling facts and presented new mysteries. The evidence supporting the theory that birds are the tiny descendents of dinosaurs grows stronger with each new discovery.

These animals populated the earth for a vastly longer time then we humans can even contemplate. The earth was their domain for millions of years compared to our mere thousands.  For me, the thought that a part of them remains to soar with the birds that fill our sky is, as it ought to be. Perhaps dinosaurs truly were the first white meat.

Diana, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, January 2, 2012

Living Dead Baby CIRCA January 1968

     A still birth had just occurred. The veterans of many births had hurriedly wheeled a gurney into the delivery room, bumping it against the door. The ill-fated contents of the six-months-pregnant uterus spontaneously aborted. The tiny fetus was wrapped in butcher paper and placed in the dirty utility room for pathology to pick up. Meanwhile, inside the cold, white, sterile delivery room, the doctor delivered the placenta under a bit more control than the ‘bumped door’ fetal technique.
     Nurse Miller, the gray-haired nursing instructor, motioned for Elaine and her fellow student nurse, Sandy, to follow her into the dirty utility room. “I’m sorry we’re not dealing with a live baby, but this dead infant will be worth studying a bit.” Nurse Miller gestured for the two to hurry as she looked up and down the corridors in a furtive manner. “This fetus is a mere 6 months, no good lung development, no hope for viability but let’s see what we can see.” Nurse Miller had quickly materialized in the corner area where specimen bottles, dirty linens, and old instruments awaited cleaning and reprocessing. On the lower shelf was a tiny brown-paper-wrapped parcel. “I ‘m very cautious about whom I would show this to…, but you both are mature, smart nurses, so let’s take a gander at this little creature’s last remains, shall we?”
     Nurse Miller quickly unwrapped the bloody package. Lying in the middle of the plain brown wrapper was a little thing with a face, fingers, toes and a minuscule penis. A tiny chest started to rise and out of the little slit of a mouth, a gurgling sound arose. This little baby hadn’t been suctioned or resuscitated in any way. The extremities were a bad, dusky blue color.  Maybe he weighed as much as a bottle of coke. He could fit in the palm of a man’s hand. “It’s alive,” Elaine whispered. Sandy was fumbling for the tabletop to steady herself as she tried to back away. Sandy gurgled, “Oh my God, this is not right!”
     “Let me go for help. Stay right here!” Nurse Miller commanded. She picked up the tiny package with the breath battling baby and turned towards the door. Just as she moved, the attending physician, the head of the Obstetrical Department of this urban Catholic hospital, walked through the utility doors looking for a place to discard his gloves. With a friendly nod he glanced at the quivering trio. “A little post mortem inspection, Nurse Miller?” He gazed at them over the tops of his glasses with a sly smile.
     “Just in the nick of time, Dr. Anderson, this little guy is breathing and was just wrapped here to die.” The older instructor walked towards him with outstretched arms, the baby lying nude and panting.
“Hold on a minute, put that fetus back where you found it,” he ordered, his smile rapidly disappearing. “That is a non viable little thing. Put it back.”
“Put it back?” Nurse Miller looked confused. Elaine and Sandy huddled in the corner not moving an inch. Unclear where the authority was, in their teacher or this power figure of a medical man.
“That’s barely a six-month gestational fetus. It will not live. The parents are distraught and in pain.” The tall man loomed over Nurse Miller as saliva collected on his lips and his voice boomed, “Telling them they have a child only to incur major, I mean major expenses and have a dead baby within two days, is cruel and unusual punishment for no good reason. Put that poor creature back. Now!” With that he ripped his gloves off and slingshot them into the trash bin, “I'm doing what is best for that fetus and the family.” He abruptly made an about face and stormed out the door, leaving it swinging with a helicopter whirling cadence.
     The threesome stood silent and shocked.  Nurse Miller responded first and quickly, placing the infant back on the brown stained paper, “He’s right, and he’s wrong.  I’m sorry, girls, it’s the real world. He‘s a good man. We caught him unaware, this isn’t his nature.”
     It took Elaine a moment to realize Nurse Miller was apologizing for the Doctor, muting his anger and trying to contain the horror for them. The old nursing instructor started cleaning the floor where placental blood had dripped from the umbilical cord when she had spun around in rescue mode just a moment earlier. “It’s not appropriate to look closer at this child, I‘m truly sorry, you saw this.” Her right eye started twitching. Sandy who always had something to say about anything, stood there with every drop of blood drained from her face. Elaine vowed never to work in maternity.
Nurse Miller stopped teaching after that year.
Sandy graduated but never passed her boards and worked in a plastic surgeon’s office as an insurance adjuster minimizing all patient contact, infant or otherwise.
Elaine just collected degrees and taught others to do what she couldn’t.

carolefor The Poplar Grove Muse