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By Erin Robertson


I wish I could say I was closer to my grandfather, but as the years went on and his Alzheimer’s progressed, it began to get harder just to see him. We watched him suffer so his death was something of a relief. In a time of mourning, I wrote this piece:


Fourteen dozen roses,
cut clipped, and arranged,
spread throughout the pews.
paid precision and prayer
fake sympathy and stares
bore through to the soul
it’s the friends and family
that keep you sane
so dry your tears
try to smile
the coffin is closed
the sermon was said
in the line we file
morbid flags that warn our purpose
march along the silence grows,
sobs muffled out of shame.
gather under the green tent
sit upon velvet thrones of mourning
as a group,
we bow our heads
blessing for the one departed
amens in sync
good wills, remembrance, praise
i whisper goodbye
drop his favorite flower
to decorate my grandfather’s tomb.


_________________________


This next poem was written roughly about the same time. Death, and its morbidity, was frequently on my mind. I wrestled with the idea of an afterlife or the concept that something so pure can be torn into sinful shreds.


death,
it comes on tar-dipped wings
dragging down the weightless soul
perfect when?
no longer flawless
as it flies
with heavy wings
down to hell,
to meet
judgement day has long since passed
fail or pass
the side you wish

death it comes on tar-dipped wings
dragging down the weightless soul
perfect then,
no longer flawless
anguish may have plagued you then,
but now,
you can be free.
whispers of unspoken trial
jury, angels, demons
judge of neutral boundaries
find you guilty,
innocent child
whichever way
you tend to walk,
you will be happy now
life, you may have suffered
dying, you might have been in pain,
but death, Sweet, death
it always comes,
exactly when it’s supposed to come.


_________________________


At a time of peak adolescent anguish, my friend –and thereby, I got tangled up with people who were not as they seemed to be. Often, my poems are free verse; however, I tried my hand at some resemblance of “Traditional Poetry.”


Enemy in someone you like:
Everyone wants to know
what’s behind the face you show
we all see your pride
you modestly try to hide

the smile that plays across your face
has seemed to find its place
but your moods change like a clock
the swings impossible to mock

a bipolar symptom waits to strike
find an enemy in someone you like
more outbreaks, in succession,
betray the mild marks of depression

your friendship is a weight to bear
it seems that no one wants to care…
your ‘quirks,’ they draw the curious
they come to mimic the delirious

they make a mockery of your ills
stunned by the bouquet of pills
a bipolar symptom waits to strike
find an enemy in someone you like.


_________________________


I don’t remember why I wrote it, but the first couple lines were running through my head for quite a few days, and I decided to elaborate on it in my 9th grade English class. My friend and I had been discussing the change in society and how people are satisfied being mediocre and achieving nothing. I guess I had big dreams back then, too.


my modern art wonder
of the twenty-first century
is torn straight from the pages
of a young man’s book
the whispers spoken
of wild ventures
swallowed by some
corporate gain
the mind-blowing drugs
destroy the naive
open portals onto new levels
swimming hallucinations of
teenage ideals
and the real world
collide with a splay of
colors only the
high can see
disappointments inspire
push onward or settle for less
business world stays on
the fast track for life
stuck in a job with no career
working up to work out
it’s got no end
it’s the truth that will slap
a truth we all know
the world as the jungle it is



Leaf Of A Ginkgo – Erin’s Tattoo, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I have yet to visit my grandfather’s grave site, years after his burial. I wanted to commemorate his passing in my own way. As a horticulturist, he loved all plants, but most specifically the ginkgo for its unchanged history. Rather than ink myself with a cliché R.I.P/tombstone tattoo, I came up with the idea of a falling ginkgo leaf. Its importance would be known to very few, preserving my grandfather’s memory.




About Erin: My name is Erin Robertson and I am a graduating senior from Susquehanna Township High School. Later this year I will be attending Temple’s Honors College to pursue a Doctorate in Psychology (because I am rather ambitious). My life has been full of adventure and I have met many unusual people and experienced quite a lot for someone my age. My life, the environments I find myself in, and the people I know, have all served as inspirations for the creative outlets in my life. I focus on poetry as a big way for me to express myself and my emotions.

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Letting Go, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Letting Go, funeral pyre on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




It’s one of those gray days in Minneapolis. A storm kicked up her heels last night, a gale force blowing through my dreams. Mr. StripeyPants is draped over a soft brown blanket next to me on the couch. I grabbed my small red greenroom eco notebook of haiku. There they were — the scratched syllables of a day on Lake Michigan.

I looked at the photographs from the writing retreat a few weekends ago. The funeral pyre popped out at me. After we arrived at the little cabins in Wisconsin, we learned that the matriarch of the family-owned business had passed away earlier in the week. She was in her 90’s.

The family gathered to pay their respects. And when we walked on the beach that morning, we passed a tall wooden spire, a testament to her memory. At lunch, an adolescent boy in a black suit paced the pine needles next to our cabin, crumpled paper in hand. He glanced down to the page, out over the blooming tulips, then, lips moving, back to the page.

After dinner, and a day of silence and writing, we looked out the picture window to see the funeral pyre burning. Moths to the flame, we could not help but step out to the porch. We talked quietly among ourselves, but mostly, we stood still and watched. Bearing witness.

It was humbling. In a few minutes, it started to rain. At the same time, a gust of wind burst through the skirts of the white pines and blew out to sea.

Then, complete stillness.

Later in the evening, we were chatting by the fire, and what sounded like gunshots echoed across the beach grass. Fireworks. That’s the way I want to go out. A gangly fire on the beach. Wind blowing my ashes out to sea. Rain to quench my thirst. Giant starbursts in a Full Moon sky.

That Saturday, I wrote these haiku. And to the matriarch — though I did not know you, I know The Grandmothers. And for a few days, I knew the place you called home. Rest in peace.




standing in the sun
waves crashing all around me
pale face, flushed and hot


puffy cirrus clouds
spread cream cheese over the land
gulls dive for crayfish


summer’s in the wind
the moon fell into the lake
jack-in-the-pulpit


waves gently roll back
in a giant concave bowl
anchor beach grasses


sun’s reflection glares
afraid of my own dark thoughts
dead fish rolls to shore


monkey mind is fierce
I don’t know what I’m doing
morning turns and breaks


funeral pyre burns
wind gusting across the lake
all eyes were watching


no understanding
of that kind of letting go
not for me to know 




On The Beach, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.                         

  To The Wind, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.   Phoenix, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  

On The Beach, To The Wind, Phoenix, Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 30th, 2008

-related to posts: PRACTICE – Blossom Moon – 15min & haiku (one-a-day)

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by Teri Blair

Years ago, I was given a reading list by my 11th grade English teacher. I was in the college prep class, and the list of 100 or so books were ones he wanted us to read before we graduated from high school. It wasn’t just his idea. He told us a committee of English professors had compiled it. These books were considered the bare-bones-minimum to have read before we darkened the first door of a collegiate hall. The list included all the classics. Most of us got to two or three of them. We instead invested our time cruising up and down Main Street in convertibles and drinking chocolate shakes at Hardees.

But I held onto the list. In the countless moves I have made since I graduated from high school in 1979, I never lost the list. I made several resolves through the years to read each and every book, and with every resolve I would read a few more. Finishing them before college changed to finishing them during my lifetime.

And then this summer, something happened. A fire was lit under me, and I can’t stop. I read O, Pioneers! (Willa Cather), The Crucible (Arthur Miller), and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith). I read The Red Badge of Courage (Stephan Crane) and White Fang (Jack London). I have read twenty books from the list back-to-back — the intensity and desire to continue building with every book.

There is one that stood out for me. One I curiously have liked better than all the rest. Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge Of San Luis Rey. It is the story of Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk living in Peru. One day, the most famous bridge in the country suddenly (and without warning) collapses, killing five people. Brother Juniper is desperate to make sense of it, to understand why these five died. He researches the life story of each of the people, trying to find connecting links/clues/a rationale. He wants to know if the way we live our life really makes a difference or matters. He wants to know if a Divine Force is orchestrating events. Or even cares. The book is fabulously written, a real page-turner.

I finished the book about a week ago, ten days at the most. I finished it right before the funeral of my cousin Shawn, the one who died unexpectedly when his car overturned on a country road. I was thinking about it when we stood around his grave in silence. I kept thinking about it when I returned to Minneapolis. Why some are taken and others left. Why I am left.

And then on Wednesday, in my beloved city, the bridge went down. And Thornton’s book was no longer simply a great piece of literature. In the first hours of learning about the 35W bridge, I had the strangest sense that the book was coming true specifically for me. It was eerie and confusing and I wanted it to stop and not get that close. I did the only thing I could think of; I read the next book on my list: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Emily’s famous line, spoken from the grave, now rings in my head. “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”

I crossed over the bridge six hours before it collapsed. The speed limit was only 40 mph, and I remember it clearly — the men with hardhats and orange vests, the traffic diverted to one side, the midday sun heating up the concrete. I replay the drive slow-motion in my head, understanding that at that moment the bridge was straining, barely able to maintain its load, almost ready to release. It was breathing its last breath. We didn’t know.

I have realized this week that I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of never living. I am afraid of mindlessly grinding through years being half-conscious and blandly molded to the status quo. I am afraid of never realizing my life.

And so I walk slower. This one act is real. My connection to life.


-related posts:  Bridge to Nowhere – The Great Connector, Fear Of Bridges, Minneapolis At Night, Natural Wonders: A Pentagram, The World According to Mr. Schminda (et al.)

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memoir

1567, from Anglo-Fr. memorie “note, memorandum, something written to be kept in mind” (1427), from L. memoria (see memory). Meaning “person’s written account of his life” is from 1673. The pl. form memoirs “personal record of events,” first recorded 1659. 
                                             – from the Online Etymology Dictionary

 ______________________


I’ve been thinking about memoir, the word, the difficulty people have pronouncing it. If you write creative nonfiction, chances are you read memoir. I am reading Bone Black, the bell hooks memoir about growing up in the South. Reading other writers jogs the memory.

My thoughts are pulled to the South because my step-mother in South Carolina passed away a few days ago. I wasn’t close to her, and had not seen her in a few years. Yet when I heard the news, I was flooded with memories of the time I spent with her.

That is the power of memoir.

I have a great sadness at her passing, though our relationship wasn’t as much about the present, as it was the past. Memoir is about the past. It revives and documents the history of living. History is full of contradiction.

Some of the sadness I feel is for my step-dad, who I was very close to as a child. In honoring his loss, I am sad, too. But the grief for me is deeper.

The most vivid memories of my step-mother are from the mid-sixties, my preteen years, a tumultuous time when my younger sister, two brothers, and I were uprooted and moved to the North. It was a difficult transition, and painful to be distanced from my family in the South – the only family I had ever known.

Looking back, it turned out for the best. I was exposed to a whole new culture in the North, different ways of thinking, talking, and living. I met my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Juarez, who made me read Dickens, believed in me, and inspired me to write. My experiences grew richer. All of them have led me here.

It has been 4 years since I’ve seen my step-mother; it was the year I quit my job and started writing. My last memories of her are leaning back in her rocker recliner, laughing and joking with us kids. We were all grown, well into middle age, attending a short reunion a few miles south of the border river that flows between Georgia and South Carolina – the Savannah.

Grandkids and great-grandkids were running, dancing, and jumping across the dark brick family room between rounds of lazy adult chatter and a noisy TV. I used to watch The Trooper Terry Show in that room, on a black and white with rabbit ears. It was the same 202 address, with the same aluminum mailbox, that received my letters to my step-dad in back slanted 6th grade handwriting.

The letters would soon drop off in 7th grade, a direct correlation to the rising teenage anger that welled up inside me. I attended New Cumberland Junior High in Pennsylvania and was teased mercilessly for my Southern accent. It wasn’t easy to change the way I talked. They might as well have asked me to cut off my right index finger. Yet, eventually, I did lose the accent. And ties to my Southern roots became confusing and disjointed.

It would take me a number of years to integrate and appreciate my past. That’s what memoir’s for. And in a few months, I’ll be travelling with my Mother to the South to begin researching my book.

Old endings. New beginnings.

I have done a lot of work since the sixties. A lot of letting go. On one of the last visits with my step-mother and step-dad, they told me how different I was from that dark, brooding teenager that sat in the corner rocker and never spoke. Those were their last memories of me.

When you don’t see distant relatives much, you tend to freeze them in place, lock them into distance and time. They are who they were the last time you visited them. But it works both ways. I am frozen, too – a still-frame snapshot in their memories.

Letting go is a great gift. It allows me to make room for all the good stuff. My memories may only be trinkets, shards of 40 year old bone, unearthed from iron-rich banks of Georgia clay that used to muddy my corduroys as a kid.

But my memories are mine. I choose to remember my step-mother for all the good things she gave the world, for what I loved about her:


  • Southern manners, the way she turned a phrase, the lawdy mercies! and come here, shugah’s, and my pet name for Liz, Shug
  • her warm smile, the way she laughed, a loud cackle that could fill a room
  • Southern cooking, buttery mashed potatoes with thick gravy, piping hot cornbread that melts in your mouth, spinach greens with just the right touch of vinegar and salt, fresh turkey and cornbread dressing, sweet iced tea, and a huge vat of homemade banana pudding. That girl could cook!
  • sipping 7up through a straw with me that time I was sick and laid up on the couch
  • she liked to go bare foot, paint her toenails bright red, and always wore flip-flops
  • she loved Granny and Pop the way I loved Granny and Pop
  • she loved the youngin’s, the babies, and hugged them every chance she got
  • she loved my step-dad, who I love, too


I live in the Midwest now. I walked the labyrinth on Monday and thought about how swiftly a little girl can shoot from 11 to 50, with barely a sneeze in between. My step-mother’s passing marks another fading link to my Southern childhood, roots whose stories die with the people who planted them.

I don’t remember the last time I openly grieved. We live in a youth-driven culture that does not emotionally or financially support taking quiet time to honor loss. But writing is a constant process of letting go.

It’s important to live well. Each time someone close to me passes on, it reminds me that this one life is precious. And the threat of death makes you want to live just a little bit harder.

In memory of my step-mother, Betty, who travelled into Spirit, Wednesday, March 28th, 2007, and is being laid to rest as I post this.

For all that has passed, and all that has been forgiven.


Friday, March 30th, 2007

-related to post, Labyrinth Walker

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