Monday, November 24, 2014

I've Been Prisoner

I've been prisoner to a haunting melody and the birthing of a song for the past couple of months. Friends ask me what I've been up to and my brow wrinkles in trying to remember—to have something to say, to report, that says I've been productive, been “doing,” been saving the world, or at least a few souls. But I come up with empty shelves behind my brow—shelves that, at best, are supposed to contain trophies and certificates for my goodness and productivity; or, at least, several lists of things that I'm in the process of systematically working through.

I was ecstatic a few nights ago when a friend asked me what I'd been up to, and I knew immediately! I've been up to my ankles, up to my elbows, up to my ears in this birthing process. Slogging through muddy not-quite-right lyrics; scrubbing away words, lines, whole verses and reconfiguring my thought processes; listening to my heart and allowing it to beat right along with the rhythm of the words.  It has been a maddening process and a satisfying one all rolled up in this one, 25-line song. 

The first verse and the chorus came easy after I received a JPay email from my friend Phillip.  He had come in from a rain-soaked half hour in the recreation yard at Wabash Valley Prison, sat down at the computer in his cell-block, hammered out a perfect example of a “fast write,”—no caps, no corrections, no second thoughts—and zipped it off to me.  I “poetized” his writing and sent him a hard-copy.  He loved it and has given me permission to share it:

Rec Yard Reverie
I was laying on the concrete track
in the recreation yard,
staring up at the starless sky, thinking—
about family, friends, and freedom.
The darkness in the sky made me think
about all the unknown that’s out there
beyond this planet.
It made me think
about all the unknown moments and memories
that I never got the opportunity to be part of
because I’m in here.
Then it started raining.
I just laid there with my eyes closed
and imagined it was my ancestors,
my homies and my loved ones
(dead and alive)
crying down tears of joy
and tears of sorrow—
down on me, like:
“I hear you, I see you, I feel you.”
…I’m doing alright.

And so Phillip’s experience, and his putting it into words, planted the seed of a song in my heart and mind. While sitting at Table 9 in the Visitors’ Center at Wabash last week, I couldn’t wait to share the good news with him, to tell him I was “with song,” to quietly sing those first few lines to him. I sang it twice, at his request, so the melody would wind around his heart and mind, as well, and stick with him after we said our goodbyes.

In the car, at the kitchen sink, walking in the woods, waking in the middle of the night and with the morning sun, this song would not let me go. It has been a harder birth than I expected when it so effortless impregnated my song psyched. Guess that’s true with most births—all’s fun and games till embryo takes over body and pretty much has its way till it demands expulsion nine months later!

Thank goodness and those fickle muses that seem to come and go at their pleasure that at least this didn’t take nine months! And now I’m ready to send a hard-copy of this my fully developed, newborn song to Phillip. He’d probably pass out cigars is he could. I have no doubt we’ll be nurturing it—together and in our very different worlds: singing it, sharing it, and trusting it to touch others with its simple message of love, compassion, and possibility.

Night Came Early

Night came early that evening
Clouds were heavy and the sky was so gray
He lay flat on his back in the rec yard
Looking up at no Milky Way
Looking up at no stars and no moonlight
His mind a-drifting through the sky
Thinking 'bout family, friends, and freedom
All the beauty he had left behind

And the rain came falling down
A million teardrops from above
Ancestors, homies, and loved ones
Crying with the man they loved
Crying with the man they loved

He climbed out of his body that evening
Circled the prison yard 'round
And just like the city of old Jericho
The walls came a-tumbling down
He rose like a prayer into the cosmos
Carried high on the wings of his mind
Wrapping arms around family and freedom
Crossing the boundaries of time


Soaked to the bone on the concrete
Flying 'bove the clouds in the sky
Crying tears of joy and of heartache
For all the beauty still out there to find

Repeat 1st Verse                     
Glenda Breeden & Phillip Stroud (October-November 2014)

Glenda for The Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, November 17, 2014

threads to be woven later...

Homage to Linda Pastan's "threads to be woven later".

my mother
who never forgave me
for looking like my father

my brother
who could make me laugh like no other
and frighten me like no other

my grandmother
whose finger's absent-mindedly flew
around the tatting shuttle between rounds of
feeding gossip to her sisters' bird-like open mouths

my dad
whose big bear hugs i'll never feel again
but need every day

my soul
the first year it went to Scotland
and fell in love with mull's amethyst thistles
brighter than the purple fog wrapped around
rocky green mountain tops

my son
at 42 who still has his boyish giggle
and that trickster gleam in his gray-green dark lashed eyes

my head
full of characters
who wake me in the dark morning hours
demanding i tell their story

my island
with its gypsy water flowing toward the ionian shore
as it moves from azure to marble blue to steel gray

my son
whose eight-year-old hand drew
an anatomically correct valentine heart
surrounded by words of love for his dad and me

my elven-year-old self
pretending no one could see me
as i basked in the magical aroma
of grandpa's old spice and cherry pipe tobacco
while i sat in his chair
reading his saturday evening posts

rebekah for the poplar grove muse

Monday, November 10, 2014

Life Lessons

Life Lessons

The year was 1973. Bell-bottoms ruled, hair was long and our psychedelic mini-skirts tried valiantly to cover our butts. Glass ceilings were still firmly in place and cigarette smoking was ubiquitous. Nixon, a year away from resignation, was president and the Vietnam war had finally ended. The Beatles had gone their separate ways, “MASH” gave us a bittersweet peek into the Korean war and Marlon Brando, made us an offer we couldn't refuse in “The Godfather.” The race for space had concluded, with no clear winner, and we had a crisis of oil when OPEC proclaimed an oil embargo.

The seventies were my coming of age, learning about the world, years. I grew up on the south side of Indianapolis in a lower-middle-class white suburban community.  My mother, divorced from an abusive husband after twenty-three years of marriage, struggled to provide for her four children and didn’t have much energy to spare on nurturing.  At school I was the chubby, socially awkward, poorly dressed girl with few friends. Much of my childhood was spent with my nose buried in a book. I was out of high school before I had a first date and the other gender was a mystery to me. Although I had been married at twenty and divorced at twenty-one, I was still a very na├»ve twenty-three-year-old. My world, and my view of it, was very small.

In 1973 I stepped out into the larger world when I took a job as a bank teller at Indiana National Bank.  It was here that I had my first impression-making encounters with different races, ethnicities and social classes. It was when I became aware of the bias women faced in the workplace.  It was a time of change for me personally, and the world.  Like most gradual changes, I was not aware of them happening because I was in the midst of them.  It wasn't until I peered into the clarifying telescope of time that I realized many of the keynotes in my life lessons came during this period. They became some of the building blocks of my life philosophy.  

One of my first postings was at a bank branch in near downtown Indianapolis.  It was an old mausoleum style building located at 20th and Meridian, which was a waning part of the city.   Just blocks away from its front door were dive bars, prostitutes, and large populations of the urban poor. Being so close to downtown, it also served wealthy businessmen, foreign travelers and local business owners. My co-workers were just as diverse.  

I had never even met a black person before so this smorgasbord of humanity was a revelation for me.  I had the rare opportunity of being allowed to form my opinions of other ethnicities and standards of living that were not based on stereotypical ideas passed down to me from my own culture.  My brain was a dry sponge prepared to absorb the lessons being offered.

One morning a good friend and I were talking about our weekends.  She started tell me about how she and some friends had been out on Saturday night and wanted to go to a particular downtown nightclub. They had not been allowed to go in because of their skin color.  They had been turned away.  For me, a white girl from the south side, the idea that anyone wouldn’t be allowed to enter anywhere they chose was unimaginable. The wrongness of this had a profound impact on my understanding of prejudice. It opened my eyes in a way that reading something in a book never could.  

I also saw first hand the workings of the welfare system, as each month the welfare mothers queued up to cash their Aid to Dependant Children checks.  Many in true need; others working the system by having child after child.  I watched as young mothers, while standing at my teller window, explained to their very young pregnant daughters how to cash their own A.D.C. check.  Each new child brought into the world for it’s monetary value. It was a raw and revealing look into the nature of human beings.

 When I first started working at the bank there was a dress code for women.  We were only allowed to wear dresses or skirts. Over the years the rules relaxed enough that matching pants suits were permitted. That seemed like such a huge victory.  I didn't realize it at the time but the real victory that was happening was the advancement of women in the corporate world. In all industries, but especially banking, women were starting to put their high heel shoes on the first rungs of the corporate ladder. I got the first inkling that there might be a place for me in that world. I realized I could set goals and it was okay for me to have ambition. I learned a lot about self worth and the importance of a strong work ethic. All things I had never really considered for myself before.

In 1973 bank tellers processed transactions on a huge mechanical NCR teller machine.  They validated and stamped each document and accumulated running totals for day-end reconciliation.  The documents were sorted by hand and sent along their processing journey. In about 1980 the bank was making its first big steps into computerizing banking transactions.  I was chosen to join the team that tested the new system and then taught the other staff how to use it. Again, I did not realize the opportunity I had been given.  It was the computerization of the corporate world in its infancy and I was lucky enough to be there in the beginning.  The basic knowledge of computers and the skills I learned while I worked with the team were invaluable to me for the rest of my life.

I have had interesting jobs, met many unique people, and learned many new things in my life, but I always find myself going back to the basic truths I learned in those years at the bank.  Try to treat others fairly and don't judge because all people deserve respect, even if you don't happen to agree with them. Work hard and do the best you can with what you have and most importantly, never stop learning.  No experience in life is ever wasted. There is something new to be learned in each one. Sometimes you just need to look really hard at it.

Diana, for the Poplar Grove Muse