Category Archives: Memory

Life on the game show channel

I sit and breathe in your long silences,

the room filled with TV conversation

about the puzzle just done or the prizes they won.

Lounging in quiet while you sleep,

then you stir to acknowledge the commercial break

about stuffed-crust pizza, ready to bake.

These moments are interludes,

built as a ladders to an afterlife. While we brood

all our days picking out letters for words forsooth

or the answers from among the multiple choices we choose,

we have one eye on the stuffed crust pizza, ready to bake.

The beginning of the game is rapid fire, and everyone gets an answer right

and we are introduced to each contestant’s life, the bright light

of their enthusiasm spurring us to play along

wishing we knew all the correct responses from wrong

or knew the best path we could take.

The episode of this game soon passed

the winnings of our participation never would last.

While from question to question we walk in our mind

’til our slumbering surpasses our tangible time

we are barely awake, our dreams filled with ladders

and craving for pizza already baked.

Poinsettias (a pantoum)

A vase of red poinsettias,
with blooms all tinged with gold,
sits atop a mirrored cabinet
that reflects her pictures from years ago.

With blooms all tinged with gold,
a glittering of yesterday
reflecting pictures from years ago,
An illuminate display.

A glittering of yesterday
fills a world my mother dreams.
An illuminate display,
her youth, sparkling in scenes.

The world she fills with dreams
reflect the mirrored cabinet:
her youth, sparkling in scenes,
with a vase of red poinsettias.

Scratching Frost

Ahead of my steps in linear course, 
the shovel scritches back and forth
- a sound that scatters with the snow
and bits of debris ground below.

As I amble across the drive
the scratching noise itself derives.
A haul gets tossed to the edge,
bits fall wayside, marking a ledge.

This song in concert with my walk
could not be heard with snowplow squawk-
rumbling in the cold grey air
tossing snow, making bare

the concrete surface on which I stand.
The scraping by a shovel in hand,
the detail frost and snow aligned,
showing what I've left behind.

And as the chore has come to close
I look back at the path I chose.
Leaning on the shovel there,
snow still falling everywhere.

The best way out is always through – Robert Frost

There’s always one more

In the still life of a stand of flowers, beauty only lasts as petals are reaching their horizon. In a second, they fall and fade from memory.

I pick just one in that moment.  On another day it will grow elsewhere, the memory of the first a propagation of seed and light.

In the waning moments of a day, there is a gasp of light before the darkness draws down the shade.

There are many more specks after it fades. A memory in one more snapshot.

Getting to know the sky requires the memory of space, the distance between and among the stars.  Finding one and remembering where it is.

But if you misplace it, no matter,  there’s always one more.  

What Sweeter Music

Traditions start as single activities.

A one time event makes an impression so that it is planned for again in order to recapture the excitement and joy of the first one. Nothing celebrates holidays like traditions.

I had the fortune of growing up in a musical family. Both my father and mother were music teachers and my two siblings and I had lives that were intrenched in music lessons, church choirs, band, piano, choir concerts, etc. No time of year was more filled with music than Christmastime.

At early ages, my sister and I would wear out the phonograph playing my father’s vinyl albums of the Robert Shaw Chorale “Hymns and Carols Vol. 1” and the Harry Simeone Chorale “The Little Drummer Boy.” I don’t remember the first time I heard them, I just remember listening to them every year. This grew into my own tradition of seeking out and purchasing a unique Christmas album each year. My collection on CD is extensive. 🙂

When we were slightly older, perhaps tweens or so, my parents taught us a Christmas carol to sing for our relatives after we made the long car trip to Grandmother’s house – in 4 part harmony. It kept us engaged and perhaps kept us from fighting over spots in the back seat. Our first carol was an arrangement of Deck the Halls, followed in subsequent years by several Alfred Burt Carols. It became a tradition throughout our teens, with my oldest brother contributing the final carol we would rehearse and perform as a family unit (written in a fit of inspiration during his first year of teaching and sent to my parents as a Christmas card – much like the Burt carols).

A most memorable tradition began soon after we had moved to Arkansas in the early 1970’s. My father had become the choral music director at (then) Arkansas Polytechnic College, a place that at the time was known for its band program but never had much of a choir. I suspect that he decided that he wanted to give a grand Christmas program one year. Preparations would always begin the Friday/Saturday before the concert with the search for the appropriate Christmas tree to cut and bring into the main lobby, the crafting of decorations, and last minute rehearsals. The program grew each following year and would begin with small ensembles singing in a pre-concert venue around a Christmas tree.

Antiphonal brass and choirs would perform from the open balconies of the music department lobby. Processional pieces that involved brass and organ announced the start of the program. Unique stage decorations such as large evergreen wreaths of cedar and pine or a mock stained-glass window would adorn the center of the stage.

There were exciting new choir pieces and familiar favorites and the community came out in droves year after year.

My father passed away a few months ago, and these memories have been a comfort these past few weeks. I am fortunate to have a soundtrack for my memories of him, and much of it is Christmas music. Here is a top five (ok, six) list of Christmas musical moments influenced by my Dad.

1. O Come all ye Faithful (Robert Shaw Chorale)
2. Come Dear Children – Alfred Burt
3. Ríu Ríu, Chíu – Anonymous
4. XIV: The March of the Three Kings, from Hodie by Ralph Vaughan Williams (really this entire work, Hodie, is worth a listen)
5. His Yoke is Easy, from Messiah by George Frideric Handel

And finally, a moment of sweetness that expresses my father’s love of music greater than any song, poem, or piece that I could have written.

What Sweeter Music – by John Rutter

I encourage each of you to embrace your traditions, not only during this season of the year, but all year. It might be baking or going to events. It might be meals together or a hike in the woods. It could be singing or storytelling. It could be volunteering to help others. Watch them grow each year. Make something your own tradition and share it with ones you love.

********

Images within this post are my own.

Now and then

It was entire durations of a dream, she stood behind me, not a sound.

Then a gleam of light hit the ground, a shadow fell and her voice sang a round.

Now, the memory a more abundant chorus than I recall

with my littered words that clash and brawl – my slumber at an end.

I never saw her face, neither that of lover or a friend.

Another day may bring her near, perhaps with some quieter verse to hear as when it was just then.

An unexpected drive

I saw the sun sparkle between the leaves

just before the outpouring of red and gold,

that moment of flux when everything is not new.

A bird flock undulated in our view.

A tarnished framework bridge sat to cross over

the creek, a connection between us and there:

A rusty reminder of the history of travels.

How many have driven this dirt road before?

Who else remarked upon the aging of the beams, has seen the streaming

brown water beneath.

The near-autumn sun advanced

upon the field.

An apple orchard in neglect to the left.

Weeds stood in contrast with the trees,

yet, apples continued to ripen and drop throughout the field,

leaving a sustaining memory.

The bird flock returned to a billow and thrum

and I drove on, following a ebbing sun.

In a moment of selective focus

Seeing narrow and close

the fresh rain that hangs like tears

from a florid pome and blurred green surrounds it.

The pinnacle of small details – the tip of a pen pressed

at the page or the placed dish inlaid with memories.

The indentions of your slow intake of breath fills me as you read

the texture from a leather-bound book.

Obsession takes a toll, roughshod over the global view

of landscape and horizon. Still and fixed,

the single moment aches in a story with pain

and the point that tarries after a kiss in the foreground, surrounded by rain.

***

This poem, a sparrow

I remember counting birds on summer mornings,
before the heat settled in,
I’d circle the house.
and count the sparrows and bluejays,
a robin or two and sometimes a cardinal.

A task that kept me focused
each and every morning – on small details
like the poetry now.
I looked for colors,
with hope that this time
I might see yellow in a warbler, a goldfinch,
the multicolored painted bunting
or hear a gleeful song that the mockingbird pretends.

The ominous black crow was not here, though venturing
near the field behind our house – I would hear caws
that echoed.

Tick marks on the page were used to tally,
and sparrows always led the count.
A swath of greys and brown, with patches
of blue and red, and always hoping for yellow.
The darkness far away.

This, before the summer heat settled.

On birthdays, memories, and top 5 lists

This past week I celebrated another birthday.  It was a milestone, being number 55. This year events coincided that made the day just a day.   My wife recently had back surgery and is recovering at home (doing well, but still has pain).  My eldest son is busy with work projects and a new baby.  My youngest son lives elsewhere and had to work (though he did call and we had a great conversation).  Good friends had other family obligations or were traveling.  I worked all day.  In fact, this is one memory of my birthday that will go down as being one of the most unremarkable.  For that alone, I will probably always remember it.

I will count the small kindnesses/gestures along the way:  The balloons shared by coworkers who recently turned 55 this month and like to tease each other about who is older.  We now have a special club – and I will always get used balloons because of it.  The blueberry pie made for me by a family friend who was looking in on my wife as she recuperates.  The phone call from my youngest son to wish me a happy birthday. The adorable phone call from my parents singing “happy birthday” in different keys.  Note:  My parents are career musicians and are never off-key.  Greetings shared on social media (FB) from friends and family – far and wide- hoping that I had the greatest day – the best day.   Yet, it was just a day, and I guess there is nothing wrong with that.

I reflected on past birthdays  and wondered what made a day the best day – the greatest day.  I’m not sure I have the answer, but I did dredge up some good memories of birthdays.

  1.  On my eleventh birthday, I received my first vinyl album as a gift from my parents.  It was Magical Mystery Tour by the Beatles.  I had recently been introduced to their non-mop-top music by a school friend, and was immediately smitten with the lyrical genius of John Lennon on I am the Walrus.  It would be the first of many vinyl albums I would receive on my birthdays/Christmases.
  2.  On my 13th birthday, I had a sleepover party with 8 friends. I think this was my first and only sleepover birthday party. We ate hotdogs and hamburgers, played badminton, wiffle-ball and touch football, then roamed around the neighborhood after dark – playing  ghost in the graveyard.
  3. On my 27th birthday, I received my PhD.
  4. For my 40th birthday,  my wife purchased third base line tickets to a AAA baseball game in our city.  We went with some dear friends (one each of our children share a birthday) we had recently reconnected with.
  5.  On my 50th birthday, I was traveling in Germany with my eldest son and my father.  We were in Nuremburg on that day and visited Coburg Castle.  Facebook likes to remind me of that day every year and I smile.

There are memories of other birthdays,  but all the things that make days special are there in that list: meaningful gifts and gestures, landmark events, good food and fellowship, and exciting adventures in new places.

They are still just days – though,  and I hope you have a great one.