A Year of Firsts

This is a time for lasts, as we say goodbye,

but this is also a time for intensely real firsts.

A time when the reflection upon our own mortality

comes to the forefront, peeled away into puddles of grief.

The firsts that haunt the memories

are those that ask, “How can the birds be singing?

Why does the traffic keep moving?

Don’t they realize my world just stopped?”

Like a delicate flower praying in amber

First, there are the beginnings found only at the ends,

then there are the lasts that can only be found

looking in the rear view mirror

as the year of firsts steps forward

begins.

When it first comes home that there isn’t any

physical shell to go sit with,

to hold hands with,

or look into their eyes on this day or any more other days,

the comprehension of our provisional lives

settles like “dust-we-meant-to-get-to-until-things-changed.”

The sound of their breathing or their laughter

has begun to fade and yet, they show up

unexpectedly fully present as echos of last being.

What they don’t warn anyone about

are the May 4ths, the June 13ths, and the October 27ths.

The ordinary, every day chores laden heavily

with surprisingly unpredictable waves

The first meal alone, knowing they aren’t there.

Using the last of the coffee you bought

on your last shopping trip when you didn’t know;

While there was still hope you would shop again.

Packing the clothes they used to wear catching

a whiff of their cologne

that sparked the memory of their hugs.

The realization that along with your firsts,

you also experienced unwittingly, your lasts.

All of the things that seemed so mundane,

ordinary when they were around,

even through challenges,

suddenly become

…absent.

And although they never leave us

their love woven into our cloak of shared life,

everything seems suddenly out of sync;

off kilter; out of phase,

unraveled.

When we think of the deaths of our people

The ones we knew inside and out,

We brace ourselves for the celebrations

because we’ll go through the motions

We’ll go through the first motions of knowing

with all of our people, but one, we’ll be grieving.

Whispering ‘Bless their hearts” reverently,

We’ll be eating funeral sandwiches,

served in hushed tones after the nice service.

We’ll make motions of Christmas, Thanksgiving,

their birthday, your birthday, and the first anniversaries.

It’s the days of confetti we go to like holy sacraments

feeling gawked at and sacrificial; awkwardly naked.

But smiling politely with a discreet exit

helps to survive through the first holidays.

This is a time for new beginnings, letting go of goodbyes

but this is also a time for honoring that which has been before

A time when the reflection upon our own mortality

comes to the forefront, inspired by the love

which brought blessings and comfort throughout the years.

May peace be granted to you as it has been to My loved one

Home at Kawphy Hill

My favorite part of my home is if you stand

at the bottom of my kitchen steps

looking towards the front door at around 8PM

when the traffic returns home from their workday

my disco ball chandelier confetti’s my foyer

with dance party festivities.

My favorite part of my home is

if you sit on my back deck under my ancient oak

while the chickens are bathing in the dirt or

scratching where my Hosta’s used to grow and bloom

you can hear St. Thomas on one side, 4th Reformed

greeting midday with their church bells

My favorite part of my home is

if it rains, any amount at all, the basement

because of the slope of our just under quarter acre,

floods rudely sopping the carpet

but not the floor unless it’s a ridiculous amount

which you’d know nothing about here.

A favorite part of my home is found,

almost as much and as frequently,

as the obligatory Kawphy

served in: brewed, pour-over, cappuccino, or Keurig,

because one type isn’t enough when you love it,

are the multitude of teas that can be brought to life

nearly as instantly as the hot pot can boil.

My favorite place in my home is my mailbox.

I feel like “Walking on Sunshine” knowing maybe…

That today might be the day that one of several

who write me frequently may have done so.

They never fail to lift my spirits, bring me joy,

remind me that I matter in the great white north,

in the deep rainy south, in the breezy southwest,

No matter what or where, I am uplifted in their love.

My second favorite part of my mailbox is the flag.

When I see it up, then down, knowing maybe…

they will also know they are loved by me unequivocally.

Another favorite part of my home is my studio

It is my place of solace and solitude

where I can stretch my head and heart

to write whimsical or paint darkness.

I can embrace the mood of muse intimately

without pride or caution as she warms me thickly.

But what I love more than any of those things,

what gives me purpose to breathe life into the walls,

to shovel out the walk for the fourth time today,

to sort the recycling and the trash every Wednesday night

are my family.

Punky the Chihuhua, Herbie the turtle,

Louise, Fifty, Julie, Roy, and Maude the chickens,

(Two of which are indoor and wear diapers)

Our pet Human, Will, that I found on a street corner,

guitar strapped to his back as he headed out to busk

one freezing sunny snowy Sunday morning a couple of years ago.

Back then, he asked for a warm place to sleep for the night,

he’s never left and I don’t want him to, neither does Ben.

Without Ben the Great or me, we aren’t the we,

that make our Home at Kawphy Hill

Blazing Bonfire

I’m watching the orange hat man in the red flannel shirt and black gloves drink beer and toss corn hole.

His game partner is more pale of skin, wearing Lions jacket and a black hat. I suspect he is a Ryan or Chad, possibly a Todd.

The lattice fence behind them holds the picket porch at arm’s length.

A burst of laughter erupts. Orange hat guy has the orange bag that he curls in circles in his hand.

When he releases the bag at the top of the arch, his hand is like a painting in a city-scape for urban happiness.

A smolder plumes lightly with the breeze that precedes the storm threatening the evening hours.

Flap-flap hat and baseball cap are covering up the fire or adding up a larger stash.

Orange hat guy lights up a smoke. He has…HOLY BLAZES of black smoke and Christmas trees!

They’re all watching it burn. The pine tar smoke rises thick with quick and danger because the speed changed.

They’re up by the garage where I sometimes pass at night.

They’re pouring more gas. I’m slightly afraid of the large tree within wind distance from their need to burn.

Flap-flap hat guy is smoking a cigarette. He has a mustache. He reminds me of my brother and his friends before the military.

Baseball hat guy wears his brim forward and sports a full beard and mustache set neatly trimmed. Probably married.

Corn hole continues. Black and orange teams throw up-handed and across board.

Black hat dude just pissed by the garage with his back to me. His shoulders shook as he finished.

Orange hat dude paraded through the back yard with a baby in pink jacket and red polka dot dress. She flew above the fence.

Victory at Home

I was standing on Fulton street waiting for the Number 15 to take me to the corner near my home. The wind was brisk with an occasional chill, but the lifting of the hood of my sweatshirt over my head blocked most of it. This particular stop homes three buses headed out and about town. It feels quite familiar as all three round the corner coming out of the transfer station down by Van Andel Arena. I switch feet. I look across to Veteran’s Park where I danced with wild abandon at a Thursday night drum circle held after the Jazz concert at Ah-Nab-Awen park. The Main Library is behind that. I spent hours of research in those rooms. Everything I was looking at seemed familiar, but with a dream-like quality.

I came to the conclusion that I was but a drop in the puddle in their eyes, but in mine, I was so much bigger.

When I moved away from West Michigan in 1989, I had no idea who I was; broken, discouraged, full of lamentations. I had no direction or purpose. I molded myself into the ideals that I believed I was supposed to be. I became a fair wife, a devout church goer, a preacher of God’s love, a model citizen in every way. I provided Christmas for impoverished children, took them on camping trips, advocated for their protection always seeking approval from outside sources. I was miserable.

After the loss of Jordan, I began rethinking my life and the choices that had brought me to a point where I could no longer stay. My marriage was a disaster, my friends were there but they were all much younger than I so their freedoms were different. I still had no idea who I was or what I wanted to be or do. At 25 years old, I decided to find out who that woman looking back at me in the mirror was. I left everything behind. I cut ties with family, friends, acquaintances, and moved back to a small studio apartment in Kentwood. I married again but it crumbled basically from day one. I moved around the country for about a year, using Greyhound as my means of travel.

By the time I ended up in Arizona I was a disaster. I married for a third time. I found a group of friends that, for the first time, not only saw me for who I am, but encouraged me to be everything I was meant to be. I felt like a toddler whose parents delight in the antics of the little one, but at the same time, I was an adult. I radiated humor and enthusiasm. I decided I was strong enough to move, so I did. I moved across the country again to Tennessee where I lived with my father for a brief time. He was a miserable human being that rejected me just as fast as he embraced me. It was constant mixed messages from him which led to uncertainty and instability.

I found God living in a little church tucked away behind a natural shade of trees. I was told to go there and I’m glad I obeyed. It was like coming home. It was the first group of collective people that not only appreciated my wildness, but saught me out for companionship, help, and entertainment. I imagine it’s what being a rockstar feels like. What’s even cooler is that I adored every one of them right back. I couldn’t help it. I’d waited my whole life to know what it was to be me. I learned it at their knee. It was the most difficult day when I had to say goodbye to them and return to my hometown of Grand Rapids.

Only, it wasn’t my Grand Rapids.

It wasn’t the place where the broken little girl made up ridiculous fantasies of being the President of the United States or curing cancer with a brightly colored cardboard box and a stick found on the playground. This wasn’t the city where I dealt with childhood tragedies with self destructive behaviors. Nothing was the same, including the absence of the monsters that didn’t live under my bed but were under the same roofs as me. The dark secrets were held up to the light until their power whimpered into submission.

This city doesnt know me, power in my words, body thick with laughter, hair demonstrably wild, my secrets laid open to the beauty of rainbows once forbidden from my fingertips. This city is unaware that within its limits, there is a woman with courage as deep as a wristcutters truth, but as furious as a hurricane battering abusers with education. Grand Rapids has yet to understand that I, that had all along existed but had been nearly crushed by history, rose up to find my feet.

I’m standing in the middle of Division and Fulton in my mind, screaming with laughter at the pure wickedness of possibilities to be reached. This may not be my Grand Rapids, but it is my home.

Two Strips of String Cheese

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There have been many times in my life where I’ve been food insecure for whatever reason. [Couch surfing, ditching an abusive husband, barely making ends meet with 12 hour days] By default, I find myself counting and re-counting the dollars I have to spend at the grocery store. I’m hyper aware when dollars go missing from my pocket.

At the grocery store this evening, as I browsed the produce section, I noticed a young man whom looked a LOT like my friend Rocky. Hair, gait, style of clothing, even the way he was talking aloud to himself reminded me of Seabuurd. He also looked quite distraught.

“Are you okay? You seem upset.” I asked.

“Yeah, I just…I just lost $10 somewhere on the floor. I’m retracing my steps.” he replied.

“Well I sure hope you find it.” I continued on my way giving a short glance around the area hoping I’d be the hero that found the missing currency.

A few aisles later, I see the young man again.

“Any luck?”

“No. Someone probably found it already. I really needed that.” He fruitlessly searched the barren floor.

“I’ll keep a look out.”

“Thanks.”

I checked my pocket where I only had $7 left until Friday evening. I decided if I saw him again, I’d give him the dollars. I headed to the pharmacy area to see if they had an OTC sling to put my arm in because my shoulder is really jacked up right now. As I searched the pharmacy shelves, I heard a loud ruckus coming from the checkout part of the store.

Three women were taunting the young man with the $10 they found in the aisle. At first he started to explain himself, but they kept on going. Bragging about their good fortune loud enough to be heard, literally, half-way across the store. The other patrons joined in to defend the young man, but the young women just wouldn’t let it go. Finally, the young man, nearly in tears tells the women that he hopes they get pulled over and have to use his money to pay the fine.

Not finding what I need, I head over to the checkout lane. I select the one with a high school friend of mine as the cashier. As I approach her, I ask what all the noise was about. She tells me the story. While she’s talking I look over my shoulder where the Rocky looking young man is packing his groceries into bags. He’s obviously shook up. I reached into my pocket and gave him my dollars.

“It’s not the full $10 bucks, but it’s closer than you were.” I smile at him. At first he refused, but my high school chum tells him to take it.

“She won’t quit. You’re better off taking it.” She tells him.

“Oh, well do you like string cheese?” He asked me with sincerity. “Here have a piece.”

He gave me a piece which I peeled at the register and we ate together in the middle of the checkout line. “Have the rest of it.”

“Nah, I’m good. I can’t eat too much of that.”

“Please take a couple pieces at least.” He offers them earnestly to me. I accept and put them into my grocery bag. At that moment a tall well-dressed man enters the store, walks up to the young man with his hand extended.

“I approached them in the parking lot and asked for the money back. At first they were all about keeping it, but I told them I’d call the police because they were assholes. They gave it up.” He chuckled richly.

“Aw, man! Thanks, dude!” The young man reached into his pocket, retrieved the dollars I’d given him, attempted to return them to me.

“No. I already gave it to you, they’re yours. You now can pay it forward better.” He looked astonished. He kept telling me what a beautiful human I am. Even as I walked away from the counter he was continuing his praise.

You may or may not believe me about this, but I do stuff like this all the time. I don’t do it for the compliments or praise. I’m not even telling you this story for positive feedback.

I’m telling you that when you do something equally as kind, it spreads like a California wildfire. When you put yourself out there by an act of kindness bigger than the moment, you’re doing what you are born to do. You’re born to shine. You’re born to be the beacon of hope, love, and joy in this ridiculously cruel world. You get to be the hope someone sees by your actions. Like lighting your candle off your neighbor’s at the Christmas eve candlelight service, it spreads love.

Preaching all day long does nothing but give you a sore throat. ACTIVELY living loving is a practice in mindfulness; a revolutionary awareness of the world around you. It is a true mark of courage to be the light in the darkness. It is a badge of honor to set aside some wants you have (like giving up my breakfast tomorrow morning) to give someone else that light. I’ll keep doing what I do, regardless if you follow my lead or not, but we should practice this kind of radical kindness every day.

The Blind Eye

https://unclesnarky.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/one-eyed.jpg?w=627

Blind in one eye, can’t see out of the other

 

Hallowed be the wishes

of the war-torn children

as they battle to be brave,

their families unsafe.

All the world turns blind eye

while missiles reign the sunny skies

The land of the free, home of the brave

refuses these helpless as terrorist slaves

There’s more exploitation

There’s no place to go

Aid is only for the media show

Mourn for the child face down on the beach

while tucking your own kids into warm beds to sleep.

 

CREDIT of Photo: https://unclesnarky.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/one-eyed.jpg?w=627

Imaginary Wings

There are angels among us with imaginary wings

Their holiness is tied on with duct tape and strings

The words they may sing are littered with verses

That may sound quite a bit like unholy curses

Their divinity true if not a bit tarnished

Their brassy demeanor with scriptures varnished

You may not believe that they’re here to protect

Their offerings of prayer are effortless to reject

If your heart is opened to the blessings they give

You’ll never be without as long as you live.