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I turned 61 a few days ago.  Something of a non-event.  I almost let it pass without comment.  Odd, for me, to not celebrate the season if not myself. But times change and people change, and perhaps it is not so odd after all, but right and natural for the person I am becoming.

We voted early last Saturday.  For a black man from Hawaii.  When I was born, Hawaii was not a state, and the concept of a Colored Man as president of anything would have been the set-up for some sort of joke.  In 1947, in 1957.  In 1960 it was enough of a shock that the candidate of change was Catholic.  We debated the merits of Kennedy and Nixon in school, and did not ignore the elephant of his religion.  Obama’s race is in the pot, but the haters pretend that it is not the ingredient that makes him poison for their country.  They lie to themselves.  But then, anything we fear partakes of all the things we fear, so perhaps he is a socialistic Iranian Muslem terrorist, at least within pockets of the  ubermind.

Hell, the idea of early voting alone is damn near radical.  There were no computers in 1947.  No cell phones.  Most of us were on party lines, which were like extension phones in multiple households, each with its own pattern of rings, all with an expectation of evestropping.  And even local calls were through an operator.  Within scant blocks of the state capitol and the downtown shopping area were neighborhoods with no indoor plumbing in the second half of the twentieth century.

urbanrenewal3And so it goes.

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(I’ll see your thirty and raise you, dyl)  The finest birthday poem, period.

POEM IN OCTOBER

  It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
Summery
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sunlight
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singing birds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

Guess there was a false alarm back there somewhere. Or a miscarriage never mentioned later. I have a definite memory of my mother asking me if I would like to have a little brother or sister. And my excitement. That, I remember clearly. Of course, what I really wanted was an older brother, but even at four or five there are some things that you cannot help but understand. That, no matter how much I wished it, I could not be an Indian when I grew up. That there was not really a fairy on the toilet paper roll (often). Still, if Mama asked me if I wanted something…

I kept waiting. Nothing happened. For years. Got my brother eventually, to such rejoicing you would not believe.

Yea Glenn!

Starlings and Minnows


It is starling season again. Not my favorite birds as individuals or, come to think of it, when roosting, but I love them in flight. They whirl and swirl and it is like the wind made visible. Feathers, leaves, wind in the oat grass like wavelets on streams. Like minnows flashing black and silver as they weave and turn and turn back on themselves.
I learned to swim in a creek not far from my grandmother’s house in Dickson County. Yellow Creek at the time was crystal clear and icy cold, and the place we swam was just deep enough for diving on one side. The other side was a limestone shelf. That’s where we would drag ourselves out, blue and wrinkled, to thaw and bake until we were ready to go back in and start over again. There was a bridge there. When no one was swimming, you could sit up there, high above the water and watch the minnows.

The end supposes the beginning. The dog wags the tail or the tail wags the dog. There was a trail down the hollow when I was a little girl, but the trail went under the barbed wire fence that was rusted so badly it was about to fall apart and sagging so low that even a little girl could wind up with snagged pants if she tried to slip underneath it. I know, because I did try, and lost it in the end. It is hard to extricate oneself from barbed wire when all alone in a ditch. I wondered what would have happened. Could I wind up stuck there forever? Would snakes come and tickle my ankles. Would spiders build webs in my hair? Would the birds laugh at my problem? Would the squirrels swear at my being in their back yard? Would the foxes come at night and bark at me.

The foxes in the hills around my grandmother’s did bark. I heard them before, in the nights when I crawled out of my nest of four quilts, so heavy I could hardly breathe beneath them, much less move, having to pee, hating the little chamber pot under the bed because it was so easy to miss. I would pad barefoot out of the cold front bedroom through the living room where my grandmother slept in her rocker beside the banked stove. She could not sleep lying down; asthma, she said. Open the door, open the screen, creaking but quiet, onto the smooth concrete front porch.

Outside the smell of hickory woodsmoke filled the air. The air was still and frigid, cracking. There was no sound nearby, no birds, the dogs all in their house curled in a warm ball together, the chickens in their coop all puffed (no baby chicks yet beneath light bulbs, in a month or two the mail order peepers will come). No one about but me and the moon, making hard shadows, and off in the distance up the hill past the hollow with the tiny creek and the barbed wire, the foxes, not like dogs at all, calling out the cold night. Then I went to the moon, shaking scared of the foxes and chilled and pulled down my pants to pee steam off the edge of the porch.