Monday, October 29, 2012


Driving around the state this summer and fall, we have eyed the withering corn, feeling a tinge of the gut-wrenching  despair we imagine  in the farmers, who planted in such industry and optimism in the spring. After many years away, I am back in my terrain of origin, fields of rustling corn spreading in every direction, sedimentary layers of landscape falling away from sight. This poem brought it all together for me.

by Bruce Weigl

I didn't know I was grateful
            for such late-autumn
                        bent-up cornfields

yellow in the after-harvest
             sun before the
                        cold plow turns it all over

into never.
            I didn't know
                        I would enter this music

that translates the world
             back into dirt fields
                         that have always called to me

as if I were a thing
              come from the dirt,
                          like a tuber,

or like a needful boy. End
             Lonely days, I believe. End the exiled
                           and unraveling strangeness.

From The Unraveling Strangeness by Bruce Weigl, published by Grove/Atlantic. Copyright © 2003 by Bruce Weigl. All rights reserved.

Mary, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, October 22, 2012

Words, With Friends

With Friends 

Words with Friends is a scrabble like game played with other people via a smart phone or iPad. It has been around for a few years and is very addictive, just ask Alec Baldwin.  Unlike Angry Birds, another game and guilty pleasure for many, people feel justified in the time spent playing Words. It is after all, spelling WORDS, helping us improve our minds. Right?

I personally love this game. I am addicted to it and have no plans to enter the twelve-step program to recover from it. Over the years I have played loads of games with friends and family. I’ve avoided playing with strangers, which is an option in Words with Friends. Somehow that just didn’t feel right. For me, part of the fun is playing with people I know.   One Words with Friends bestie and I have had as many as eight games going at one time. Words with Friends is one of my happy places.

I like to hear the alerting “pling” sound my iPad makes to let me know another player has studied the board and made their best move.  I like the fact that I can still make a great word even if I only have four “I”s and three “K”s .  I like the place Words takes my brain, mixing vocabulary knowledge with strategic game play. I like the community of Words. I like the chat board that allows me to check in on a friend or grumble about the number of vowels I’ve been allotted this game.  I like to win, but can appreciate it when an opponent hits me hard with a 100+ point word and I feel good about saying, terrific play!

I modestly say I am a good player, having read so many words in my life I have a cozy relationship with them, so I usually do well in the game of Words.  There are many players much better then me and I enjoy the challenge of competing with them.  There are players less skilled and I enjoy those games just as much. Words with Friends is fun!

Like most games there are ways to cheat when you play Words with Friends. Early on, there were web pages you could use to make words out of the letters you had available. If an opponent played a word like phenakism and their next word is pulveratricious you could be pretty sure those words didn’t come out of their brain unaided.

But that is old school, now one so inclined to cheat need only download any number of Words with Friends “cheat” applications. These apps essentially play the game for you, making the most strategic use of the available letters to maximize points.  I discovered these apps while updating my iPhone Words game. 212 cheat applications were gaily proclaiming to be the best Words cheats available. At first I was shocked. Here I was thinking this was a fun challenging game to play with friends, when clearly it is a fun game played with friends, which must be won at any cost.  There must be lots of players out there that can’t approach the game without the security blanket of cyberspace.

I don’t use cheats when I play Words with Friends. I don’t say this in some noble, head thrust upward gazing off into the middle distance kind of way. I say this in a, what the heck it’s a game, one that helps keep my brain from turning to mush, one that makes me feel good when I play a great word, one that helps me feel connected to people I care about, kind of way.  I hope and I think that the great group of people I play Words with Friends with finds the same joy in this game that I do.

Here is a little secret. It doesn’t take long to figure out if your opponent is using cheats or not.  If they suddenly start playing brilliant perfect moves each turn, or you find yourself consulting a dictionary after each of their word placements, chances are you are playing the computer not the person you assumed was at the other end of the iPad.  My advice, run with it, and if you lose don’t feel bad. Know a player beat you with access to way more information then can be stored in a plain old corporal brain like yours.

Diana, self proclaimed Words with Friends addict, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, October 15, 2012

Talks with Granny

     Ruth had become a misshapen old grandmother. Her once tiny waist had completely disappeared and she was squarish in a pudgy, roundish way. “Ah, vanity” she muttered. She felt spry, that was what was important. Her favorite sweetie pie was coming this afternoon, the lovely granddaughter, Elaine, whom she called Lainey.
     Ruth rearranged her hair, pulling it into a knot not unlike every grandmother picture you have ever seen, sort of like Mrs. Santa Claus. Her hair was a bit bedraggled BUT only turning grey at the temples. At  her age of 84, that seemed quite wonderful and made her peacock proud.
     Lainey and Granny Ruth would sit around the tiny dressing area in her orangey pink bedroom and tell stories of their lives to each other. Lainey’s tales were filled with school, and music and TV shows, all completely off Ruth’s radar screen of life.  A happy smile and a nod went a long way to make Lainey spin her tales of childish intrigue. At the end of each visit Ruth had to tell a tale about herself. This had gone on for years and years. Lainey was 13 now but loved this quiet special secret sharing time. They had been talking for 30 minutes now, days in kid and old person’s time.
      “OMG, OMG, Granny, Laurie Sue actually told Timmy that she might let him see her breasts, how gross is that?” Lainey blurted out as she had sunk into the floor pillows around the dressing table while Ruth sat on the vanity chair putting more finishing touches on her bun for the day.
     “ My my. …Bosom peeking, every man’s weakness,” Ruth cooed, as she now stroked Lainey’s hair with a delightful hint of bright green and lavender painted on the tips.
“ You are too much, how many men have seen your boobs. I mean breasts”
“How many men, oh my lovely Lainey, not nearly enough.” Ruth laughed and snickered
They both started laughing until Laineys’s asthma started in and Ruth became blue from emphysema. They slowed down, caught their breath and started again.
     “ I have seen a lot of bosoms in my day though,” Lainey looked up perplexed and gazing at her beloved granny, she knew a story was coming.
“After I married your Poppop, and we had your mother, life was sort of boring”
“ I can dig that scene, daddy-o,” Lainey laughed. Last week, a rather shocking beatnik Ginsburg tale had been regaled by Ruth, which enlightened Lainey with the true beginnings of the beat and drug culture.
     “ Oh Lordy, lordy, this is not a beatnik story, less cutting edge, much more sortid tale of lust and sex.” Ruth started rubbing her chin feeling for those amazingly resilient witchy hairs that had started sprouting there of late.
“ Sex story, bring it on,”
“As I said, I was longing for the fun life and thought excitement was passing me by. I was not ready to be passed by just yet. On those drives downtown to Poppop’s office we would always pass the red light district”
”OK!  OK! OK! What’s the red light district?
“Long ago…
“ And far away,” Lainey chimed in, their homage to STAR WARS which they both adored.
“ That is where women of ill repute,” she looked at Lainey, maybe she had gone too far but Lainey knew about sex, they had discussed many of the amazing adventures of the GLEE and Lainey knew about it all and often was in the role of explainer of more esoteric sex acts of the modern teen world to Ruth.  Ruth regrouped and started again,  “women who were prostitutes would be hanging around and there were strip tease joints in these areas.
“Like strip poker joints.” Lainey guessed nodding knowingly. This was one smart whippersnapper.
“ Good guess, no places…. where women would dance and strip their clothes off…in like a movie house”
“ Or a play, like the naked people in HAIR last year”
“ Exactly,” Ruth still couldn’t believe that Lainey had seen that show but the times roll forward.
“So anyway, these strip places or Burlesque houses, they were called, were advertised in the paper and just looked downright intriguing to me.”
“Me too, I would have wondered too, I mean completely pubic hair naked,” Lainey looked up, “ or maybe they had that Sultan hair removal stuff done”
“ I didn’t know,” Ruth winked “But if Poppop would just take me there, I would find out that and much much more”
“So, So,” Lainey was really into this story of grandmother decadence.
“So Poppop agreed, and off we went to the downtown Burlesque house,”
“ Whaddaya wear to something like that,” she grinned.
Ruth beamed, “I got very uptown, wore heels and a sparkly dress and a fur coat a boatload of makeup.”
     Lainey’s nose crinkled, a true animal rights advocate she was not letting any wearing of dead animal skins get by her.
“ Now sweetie pie, this was ancient history, we were practically like the cavemen back then. For warmth we needed these luxuries of life, trust me, these little creatures did not die in vain, we wore those coats until they stripped them off our dead bodies, people were even buried in their furs”
“OK, OK, back to the naked women, gran.”
“So. I felt good, I looked good, and I was going to give any little naked woman a real run for her money. We walked in, it was dark, sort of an earthy, sweaty smelliness and on stage was a beautiful woman with feathers and absolutely nothing on! We stood in the back and when she exited the stage, to much whistling and clapping and strange men noises, Poppop and I slid into our seats and….. I slide right out of mine.”
“ What,  what, I don’t get it.”
“Well, my sweet, I guess a lot of people drank too much in there and someone had vomited all over the seat I had sat in. So I just cascaded down that horrible seat in my fancy dandy fur and landed on this awful, filthy, sticky floor”
“OMG, OMG,” Lainey screeched.
“Needless to say, I got myself up and out of there faster than the next dancer got out of her panties.”

carole for PGM

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nate of Las Vegas Part II

I was still there when he came back and handed me the book, “Magic” by William Goldman. 

United World College/Montezuma Castle
“Do you know it?”

“Nope,” I said.

I turned the hard cover book over in between my hands and read a few words, unable to get a clear idea of the story before Nate began to navigate.  He sat back in his seat and pointed out over the dashboard.

“Okay so I think there is a dirt road on the side of town that takes us to the castle, I’ll lead you there.”

I drove, he talked…and talked, and in between words, he pointed to things.

“Jake is training me to be a boxer, been living in my tent there in front of that mountain.  In exchange, for his teaching I get odd jobs in town to make a little money.  But sometimes I don’t make money..or I spend it all…I’d really like to be saving for that cabin.. but Jake…well right now he makes sure my basic needs are taken care of.”

We drove deeper up the dusty moutain pass.

“You know, ever since my car broke down here in Las Vegas I’d always wanted to go to this castle, I’m glad I met you.”

“Thanks… I mean… I couldn’t pass it up.”

I was serious and joking.  I couldn’t pass it up. It was as if it was happening all by itself, besides my driving I wasn’t sure what I was doing.  I let my mind wander, I thought,

How odd that people seem to end up and stay wherever their car breaks down in the southwest.

Nate wasn’t my first encounter on this trip.  I’d also met a young couple in a broken RV who decided to convert it to a semi-permanent camp home.  And I remembered the several families I found living in campers in an Oklahoma.

I thought about this urge to migrate, to be somewhere other than planted.  Images raced through my mind, panning for gold, rushing to California, attempting to make it all the way west and not quite getting there.  I thought about this spark of desire to be free, so much that the only answer is to get in the car and drive.  You follow nothing but the impetus to go and see, and wherever the car stopped, that’s where you were.  And that’s that.  I wondered if that was what was happening to me.  I wondered if I was going to end up marooned in a 500 person town somewhere in the desert.  At least, there’d be others.

The dirt road made way to a narrow paved drive.  We approached the drive and passed through an open gate.  I looked around, suddenly there was green.  We had come from a dusty mountain pass to a landscaped lawn. 

After the gate was a sign,

“Warning, no unauthorized visitors.”   

And then a small placard, 

“Welcome to the World School.”

“Well, let’s go in…park here.”

He pointed to a spot just beyond the warning sign. 

“Do you think we should park somewhere less noticeable?”  I said.

And then added, “did you see the sign?”

“That sign is not for us, it is for other people.”

Nate unbuckled his belt and twisted around to look in the back seat.  He picked up a shirt from the floor and pulled it over his head.   The shirt smelled like body odor and had a smudged charcoal stain on the front.   It’d been worn for several road days in a row.   He sat back down and thought for a second and looked at himself in the side view mirror.

“This won’t do, we’ll need to be more official….we need glasses.”

I leaned over and opened the glove box.  He pulled out a pair of fake reading glasses and gigantic gold glam rock sunglasses.  He put on the sunglasses, and threw the reading glasses to me. 

“Wear these… now, we are ready…come on.”

I stared at Nate.  He looked like a drunk tourist in a woman’s t-shirt.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Come on…let’s goo oo.” He said, looking funny at me.

He added a couple of “o’s” to the end of his sentence and laughed.  He had so much ease in his gesture I was drawn into following him.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Ten steps away from the car, a security jeep pulls up.  The man looks at us up and down once and says simply,


He was a stout, unwaivering middle aged man, with a name tag,


I wanted to leave, immediately, but I hesitated.  I saw Nate’s upper lip curl into a private smile.  He looked to me and nodded.  It was a movement that kept me quiet and curious, one that said, we’re gonna play.

In an instant, Nate, drew the corners of his mouth down and softened his brow.  His face was fluid and fast.  I took this to mean follow, and like suit I fell disappointed.  I imagined myself as someone who felt confused and hurt.

 “Oh…please…I’ve heard so much about this place and we have traveled so far…”

Roger shook his head, slow and solemnly. 

Nate persisted,

“At least you might reveal more about the new construction on this building…you must understand…we’ve traveled…so far.”

Roger stopped shaking his head, and stared at Nate.  Nate gazed back with pleading, please eyes.

“I’m gonna to ask you two to leave immediately.”

I was ready to go.  I felt my body turning.  My head was back in the car.  Nate was not quite ready to go.

 Allison Distler

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Summer of Queen Anne's Lace

I called it the summer of Queen Anne’s Lace because I began to notice the ubiquitous weed everywhere.  It grew by the side of the road, in ditches, and unmown fields.  Anywhere that was untended, unloved, uncared-for, there was this lacy flower. Then also this summer people around me began to die: my cousin’s wife’s mother, my husband’s mentor, my boss, a guy I used to work with years ago who in a vast sea of mean spirited co-workers was uncommonly kind to me.  And somewhere in that field of summer death there was a pervasive consistent worry about my son, fourteen, struggling not to grow up, and dealing with some pretty horrible demons.

So I carried it with me everywhere: a sadness, a worry, a constant feeling that all was not right.  It settled in the middle of my chest, and I thought briefly that I was having a heart attack.  But I am only 47 and I knew better.

My daughter brought those weeds to my attention.  She picked one outside her daycare, and it brought to mind the times I used to color water and put the queen Anne’s lace in the water and watch their white lacey heads turn purple or green.  Magic, I told her as we whipped up a concoction of dye.  By week’s end every surface in the daycare was covered with a white flower stewing in colorful juices: toddlers with science on the mind.  It warmed me and brought comfort to this odd summer.

Then suddenly  there they were, everywhere, rows and rows of wildflowers waving in the hot summer sun, thriving, in spite of the heat, and I can’t really explain what possessed me to stop but I did.  I pulled over by the side of a less traveled road and a vast field filled with Queen Anne’s Lace. 

I pulled the flowers by the longest stems, they were tough, cutting my fingers.  My dad used to call them wild carrots, and I hold the root to my nose and smelled  the faint aroma of carrot. I am hot and feel the dust from the stems on my hands.  I used to love spotting the queen in the middle, a deep dark red dot in the head of the lace. There she is, I think, palms sweaty, bouquet growing bigger.

I went to lunch recently with a friend and when I shared a way out fear that I had Lou Gehrig’s disease she laughed and said, “you are the mellowest person I know.  You don’t strike me as a worrier at all.” I laughed, she clearly couldn’t see the foot bearing down on the middle of my chest.  Didn’t know that I often stopped breathing at stoplights, so worried I was that they would not change and I would be left sitting there in perpetuity.

My son has epilepsy, and as he navigates his way through puberty he is having a hard time managing his convulsions.  His hormones have somehow affected his brain.  Again and again they lower him to the ground, leaving an empty space where most have a memory.  This summer they happened in the diving well of the pool and on the ladder to the diving board. They happened at a church youth group supper and on the stone wall of the farmer’s market.  They happened on the way to a fourth of July parade. They happened at amusement parks and at camps for kids with epilepsy, and at both his grandmother’s homes. They happened at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And now as he begins his freshman year in high school they happen in the corridors and gym classes and science labs.  I can’t let him ride the bus for fear he has a seizure on the bus.

I think the school nurse did not believe me when I went to see her and explained his problem.  She had lots of kids in her file cabinet of maladies that listed epilepsy as a disease. I don’t think she understood that she would know Grayson better than any of them.  I laugh now because after three weeks we are old friends. I have a partner in crime.  She doesn’t know about the foot on my chest though.  She doesn’t know how when I draw in a breath it gets heavier and heavier. She doesn’t know that I am afraid to cry because if I do, I will not be able to stop.  If I begin to cry it will start pouring out of me like blood from a wounded soldier.  Crying will consume me and I am afraid of that.

I think all this, and know all this, while I am knee deep in wild carrots at the side of the road.  My hair has flown out of the bun on my head. Bugs are swarming my sweaty neck and face. A car speeds by close to my own car and then there it is, the first glimpse I get in a long long time of hope.  Nothing in particular, no butterfly on my nose or brief breeze across my neck, simply a fleeting feeling, for one brief moment the heavy paw on my chest is gone, and I breathe a deep unencumbered breath and in that one moment I can think for the first time, everything is going to be all right.  Everything will be ok.
The feeling is so momentary that I am actually wondering what synapses fired in my head to bring me that feeling.   All I have is this giant bundle of weeds from a dusty lot at the side of the road.  The sun still scorches, the bugs still bite, I am about to sneeze and of course the heavy weight has returned to the middle of my chest.  But something there in that moment gave me hope. Something in the world whispered to me on some cosmic channel. You will be okay.  And I believed it.

Amy for the PGM