Timing

That’s a somebody else, 
god bless them, 
situation.

Thoughts and prayers
on repeat
for 24 hours.

An innocuous 
holiday trip
to the mall.

Thank you,
we’re just browsing
the belts.

Crowds of shoppers,
outside the store,
inside the mall — 

We’re all inside
these four walls
now screaming.

Clutching the browsed belts,
we crouch and cower
inside the counter square,

Where the young cashier
holds hands
with us.

Shots were firing,
people were screaming,
fleeing the scene.

We stayed contained
behind our counter,
safe by mere chance.

We chose the right store
at the wrong time
situation.

When I Became a Bird

Sitting on the back porch,

a nest of red cushions surrounds me,

the weight of 

The Count of Monte Cristo

drags down my hands, my arms

while scents of springtime

privet, honeysuckle, pending rain

collide in my seasonal sneezer.

Smiling spontaneously 

eavesdropping on conversations

between 

the Titmouse, the Finch and the Wren.

Between friends

you can say anything.

Dropping my book

I join the flock,

my voice ascends

tinkling with laughter

from my nest to theirs.

Smells of Summer

My young feral instincts

understood 

raindrops’ residue on hot pavement

(without being told or taught)

meant summertime,

In the same way 

cut grass goodness

dictated and begged

our nightly revelries — 

barefoot

(Ghost in the Graveyard

firefly chasing

front porch sleeping).

Working in the garden,

turned up dirt

lingering and clinging to

Daddy’s wrist and arm hairs

muddied the kitchen sink

spraying earth fumes, 

inhalation inevitable,

unavoidable,

welcomed.

The Waiting Game

“Waiting for . . . the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No. . . just waiting.” From Dr. Suess’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Terrifyingly, 
she lost consciousness 
in my arms and I
thank any and all 
gods attending us — 
for our Nurse Practitioner friend,
(now family) 
reviving her, and 
for Gigi
(also now family)
who had the presence of mind and 
free hands to 
call 911, and 
for the paramedics 
who arrived in minutes,
Amen.

They took her away 
for her second ambulance ride 
in as many weeks, and 
thus began the waiting, 
the longest day of my life.

Tears were cried,
hugs were given, and
received,
more prayers were prayed,
calls were made, 
and we waited. 
Six am until ten pm on that 
longest day’s ever night 
for a conversation
with the doctor — 
any doctor — 
for news on my girl.

She was 
so 
very 
very 
sick, 
the doctor said, and 
thank goodness 
they had her 
right where she needed to be, 
back in a hospital bed with 
tubes going in, and 
PICC lines coming out,
for the myriad medicines going in.

They said she would be 
staying 
for a long 
long while — 
for this infection 
consuming her lungs,
was waiting, too.

We can play 
(and win)
the waiting game,
we cried,
hunkered down
for a long 
winter’s month — 
warming up 
phone lines,
facetimes,
and bowls of soup
between us —
the distance always too far
for our waiting hearts.

Days and nights
became weeks
waiting
for the medicines 
to work,
for the chest tube 
to drain,
for the doctor’s calls
to be non-emergent,
for the hospital
to let me in,
for my tears
to stop,
for my fear 
to dissolve,
for our nightmare
to be a bad dream,
for permission
to go home.

The waiting
ended
(finally) and 
we drove away,
leaving the waiting,
(impossible to see)
behind us,
packed to the roof,
as we were,
with living.


The Leaving

I remember the leaving more than the being gone.

How my best friend drove us to the airport,

hours after he woke next to my sleepless night. I remember

how I watched him walk around the bed we shared, emotionless,

to kiss me goodbye like he was punching his timecard at the end of his final shift, and

then tossing it over his shoulder into the backseat of his car

as he drove away, never once looking in the rearview mirror. 

I remember feeling so much lighter when I heard his key turn the lock

from the outside, and how our windows faced south and the parking lot was

to the east, so I didn’t have to watch him walk away. All that was left was the leaving,

the packing was finished, and the instantly-grown-up baby, my girl, got to wake up

to Mommy’s kisses, filled with emotion at the start of our big adventure, together

just the two of us. Her brand-new toddler-sized suitcase was packed with her most important

possessions the night before I slept not at all, minus her bed friends — 

Jasmine, the bunny, and her yellow blanket — who got zipped up once she was up. I remember

the suitcase was red, yellow, and green with wheels and a handle she could push, or pull,  

next to me carrying everything else, on our way back east. The two women seated in front of 

our two seats, I remember spoke loudly about how their three-year-olds (40 years ago) 

would never have pushed the seat in front of them, or ever cry for any reason. 

And I remember feeling so much lighter when I drowned out their voices 

to comfort my terrified toddler, whose ears were exploding from too much pressure 

on the inside, and then I remembered how happy I was that my daughter was

using her voice.

First the Burning

Surely,
I’m not the first
woman
to get burned,
consumed,
reduced to ash

Who 
didn’t just step
too close 
to the flame, but
walked myself — 
like Shadrach
Meshach, and
Abednego — 
into the furnace

Who 
learned firsthand, 
at his hand,
what love is not
through baptism by immersion in 
the crucible’s cradle of heat,
rocked into oblivion,
burned beyond recognition

Who 
looked one last time
for herself
reflected back, and
the image spoke of
recognition, of
a glimmer, of
hope in a
pile of ash

Who 
heard herself
through the looking glass
demand
she rise — 
like a phoenix
with borrowed wings — 
to leave 
the burning
behind.

The One


Like sage gives its scent when you crush it,
I knew exactly what he meant
turning from heaven to
come home to me — 
lingering
like the fresh hope of morning.

(I want to say
listen
how your heart pounds inside me)

We meet on the street,

(Nothing was common
about the way we
stared at one another)

jumble about with kisses,
blossom on the threshold of abundance.

(I want to tell you,
I’m desperate for you, and
if I had three lives,
I’d marry you in two)

I have come now,
just say the word

He gave me kisses
so tender.

Look,
a golden omen
encircling us,
I touch it.

(I say
everything I write
will be about
loving
you)

Sources: [Maxine Chernoff, Denise Levertov, Roger Robinson, Layli Long Soldier, RK Fauth, Ada Limón, Anne Carson, Wislawa Szymborska, Jericho Brown, Sarah Russell, Ellen Bass, Warsan Shire, Ovid, Chris Abani, Maggie Smith, Alina Stefanescu, Patricia Smith]

Love More

My friend Margie died at 12:40 this morning. Thank you for indulging me and my broken heart by reading a little bit about this remarkable woman whose love for me, changed me. 

I met Margie when I was 21 years old and she was 63. We were roommates and missionary companions in Rostov, Russia, in 1994-1995. I was sent to Russia to preach the gospel, and Margie was sent to Russia because God knew I needed her. Also because she’s a registered nurse and healthcare workers were desperately needed. Margie volunteered her days in a nearby orphanage, where she held babies, talked to them, sang to them, and gave them (oftentimes the only) human touch we all need. 

Margie spoke not one word of Russian until she mastered the only words she ever learned: good, yes, thank you, and no. You’d be amazed at how far that handful of words, plus some well-timed non-verbal cues will take you in most interactions. 

How is your day? Good, thank you!
Would you like to sample this honey? Yes, oh it’s good!
Would you like to buy some? Yes, thank you!
Do you need a ride? No, thank you!
Do you speak Russian? No
I love you! Awwww, thank you! [hug]

Margie was tenacious and dedicated in her efforts to learn Russian. She never learned to speak more than the words and phrases I listed above, but her understanding of people surpassed language. Margie was fluent in loving. She never met a stranger, as the saying goes. And every single person who ever met Margie believed themselves to be her best friend.

She would come home every evening and regale me with stories of the ladies who worked with her at the orphanage. She knew the most intimate details of their lives, of their children’s lives, of their marriages, and of their husbands’ struggles with alcohol and employment. I regularly marveled out loud reminding Margie she doesn’t speak Russian, how can she possibly know these things? Yet she just knew. I had multiple opportunities to connect with and speak to her coworkers myself (in Russian) and Margie’s stories always checked off! She had understood every detail without skipping any nuance, either! And the ladies at work, just like everyone else, adored and loved Margie as a trusted friend.

I remember the day she came home bursting with excitement because she’d been invited to tea at her coworker’s home the following Saturday. “How are you going to get there?” I wondered out loud. “Oh, I have the address written right here,” and she handed me a scrap of paper with Svetlana’s name and address scribbled across it, but no phone number because most homes had no telephones at the time.

Like an anxious mother putting her five-year-old on the school bus for the very first time, I put Margie all by herself into a cab that Saturday morning, giving explicit instructions to the driver of where he was to take her. I wrote our address down in her notebook (plus our phone number just in case), trusting that Svetlana would give instruction to the cab driver on the return end of their luncheon. And that night when Margie was safely back home with me, I couldn’t stop beaming with pride at her adventurous achievements that day. 

Margie regularly went to the street market and purchased our daily food supplies. Grocery shopping in Russia in 1994 meant negotiating directly with the farmer on the product he/she was selling. She bartered (remember not in Russian) for our bread, honey, cabbage, tomatoes, butter, nuts, potatoes, and fresh-cut flowers (because gracing our table with beauty was a gift we got to give ourselves)! And then Margie would create the most amazing and delicious meals out of the simple ingredients she had found. I learned from her not only how to negotiate, but how to budget and stretch a dollar. Through her resourcefulness, Margie taught me how to cook and how to love feeding those you love, that food was simply a vehicle of expression, and ours was a table laden nightly with love.

I know I was a missionary and supposed to know all about love and compassion. In truth, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And only having the experience of living with Margie, of witnessing and watching her daily expressions of love — because that’s just how she lived her life — did I begin to comprehend the meaning of unconditional love, of generosity, and of kindness. Margie is the embodiment of loving out loud. She has been my greatest teacher.

Perhaps eight months into our time together, I became very sick and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Margie immediately quit her volunteer position at the orphanage in order to stay at home with me as my primary caretaker during my convalescence. She found the exact antibiotic I needed by calling every single young man in our mission, knowing at least one of them would have brought with him to Russia a two-year supply of the acne medication, Doxycycline.

Margie took me to every appointment, translated for me all the medical terms and procedures I didn’t understand, becoming my advocate in a medical world whose language I did not speak. She made me soups, monitored my temperature, listened to my lungs, administered my medications, and was the reason I was able to stay in Russia and complete my service as a missionary. 

Margie completed her time as a missionary with honor and it was my privilege to “send her home” with a hug and a promise that we would always stay in touch, that our friendship would be for forever. And we have kept that promise with each other. Margie attended my first wedding, met my young daughter when she and I were on our cross-country road trip after my divorce, shared countless phone conversations, commented on one another’s Facebook and Instagram posts, discussed our favorite books, swapped recipes, saw each other at her rehab center after she fell and broke something, and kept loving each other for always. Margie loved hearing all about and keeping up with my daughter as much as she loved keeping up with me. 

Two weeks ago I talked with Margie and told her that Dawna (another of our missionary companions) and I were coming to see her. I have never known Margie to be more happy and excited than in that moment on the phone. She kept crying/laughing, “I can’t believe it! I just can’t believe it! Oh, I’m so happy! You’re coming to see me! Oh, won’t that be the most wonderful thing! I just can’t believe it!” And she spent the next week and a half telling every single person in her life (her nurses, her activities coordinator, her friends in the nursing home, her daughters, her doctor) that “her missionaries” were coming. 

Two days later a surprise infection and a pneumonia diagnosis got to her before I did, but I didn’t change my travel plans. Dawna and I got to her bedside Saturday morning where her daughters graciously gave me time to say goodbye. I know she waited for me and I know she knows I was there. I kept my promise, and so did Margie. She decided this morning would be the right time to go home, and she went carrying the hugs and kisses from all of her best friends. I’ll keep on keeping my promise, to love her for forever. 

Margie’s life is reminding me that what matters is only ever the way we love, the people we feed, and the language we speak. Being generous with our hearts is what expands our world. 

I love you. For forever. 

Peach Sap

Sunday afternoon I was sitting gratefully under the shade of a pecan tree, whose leaves are shaped like a peach tree’s leaves, in my estimation. We grew up with an old peach tree in our yard, but I think trees prefer to be called “mature,” instead of old. Our peach tree was perfectly situated behind the old carriage house, which had a low slanted roof from the back grading up toward the front of the building, which my parents used for lawnmower, tiller and large garden tool storage and a workshop for my Uncle Tom when he would visit in the summer. I could pretty easily get myself up into that peach tree and climb its super sticky branches onto the back roof of the carriage house. The tree’s branches were just tall enough to offer my tiny self and her book a modicum of shade over the just-right-sized spot on that scalding carriage house roof. The downside to being up there was, of course, the sap stuck to my fingers, which then smeared from page to every turned page.

There was also the day I discovered our cat’s — it was either Cupcake’s or Twinkie’s — collar wedged up in that peach tree, which he’d promptly gone and configured himself out of the moment Mom brought him back from a very embarrassing (for him) trip to the Vet. Being butt-less in the wilds of outdoor cat living was an ego-blow he had to face head-on, no collar to announce his coming. He may have lost the fight that landed him at the vet and cost him both his tail and his derriere, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to walk around with his head held in place for him. I am pretty sure the day I discovered and delivered that missing cone to my mother was the last time she ever paid for any pet’s veterinary needs again. We were always a menagerie; there were just too many of us not to be.

In the sixth grade our classroom moved outside for a week — it was called Camp Greentop — and (thank you, Google, I just learned that) from 1957 through 1996, every student in Frederick County, Maryland, “enjoyed the opportunity to make a national park their school.” Another fun fact just learned by me 30+ years after attending Camp Greentop is that it was the second of three camps designed and built in the Catoctin Mountains, with the third camp of that 1930’s construction era being Camp David. My time at that camp as an excessively skinny prepubescent girl predisposed to climbing sappy trees to enjoy quality alone time with her books (and none of her seven siblings), was both enlightening and embarrassing.

We went on actual nature hikes for class, looking at and learning every type of leaf associated with every type of tree that our precious slice of the Catoctin Mountain showcased. We were shepherded late at night onto a large open field, most certainly with a fairy ring in its center, for a class of star-gazing, learning and looking for the constellations visible on a late starry night in May. We scoured the woods for flowers and poison ivy, touching and picking none of them. Also I peed my pants during one of our day hikes because I was a new 12-year-old who didn’t know who to tell or who to ask or where there might be a tree behind which I could — no, I could not — hold it. And, no, I didn’t, couldn’t, tell anyone. I relocated myself to last in line and raced my way back to my cabin as soon as I was back in camp, surreptitiously swapping my under and outerwear before my high school senior counselor found me for mess hall responsibilities.

It turns out that I was in the stingingly painful throes of my first ever bladder infection, but I didn’t know that until I got home at the end of my week at Camp Greentop, bringing with me my wonder and my shame, racing to the laundry room to put my under and outerwear into the washer, an extra scoop of soap to be extra sure no one would know. I wanted to climb up the peach tree with my book du jour, get covered up in sap and sticky fingers, surrounded by leaves I now knew were: deciduous. Instead, our 60-year-old babysitter sent me with her husband to see our family doctor, also a man. So my longing to climb up the peach tree and pry loose my embarrassment to leave it behind was never realized. I got spotted immediately by our old babysitter, who was probably just matronly and mature and understood things I couldn’t see or say. Mrs. Perry was perfectly-situated to ask me where there might be a tree behind which I might be hiding. Cupcake or Twinkie, whichever brother it was who got his butt bit off in that late-night fight — turns out that he and I aren’t cone wearers after all.

Bees and Birds

Bumblebees spend their days banging into my window and into each other — it must be something to tumble through life because you’re just so happy to be in it — you touch everything in your flight path, albeit frenetic to the outside observer.

The mama hummingbird outside our kitchen window splits her time between nest sitting and food sourcing for the babies she’s sitting on top of. We keep a pair of binoculars on the counter next to the sink for 24-hour surveillance of the life flitting back and forth in front of us. The nest she built gets just as many views from us as she does; its craftsmanship at a mastery level my knitting only dreams of attaining in this lifetime of needles clicking. Curt’s Aunt Carol recently told me, casually of course, that I’d have to knit faster if I ever hoped to finish anything. She’s right, of course, but I do have a track record now of beginning projects being completed, begging the beginning of something new, which is where Aunt Carol was sitting next to me — at another beginning.

Our curiosity that our neighbors (whose house is the backdrop for the hummingbird’s nest) might — or must — wonder if we’re scrutinizing them with our round-the-clock laughter that tumbles and tangles together like two bumblebees on the back porch: the bounce effect of belly laughs only ever begs for more.

We spent the last four days in New York City, bumbling our way through the City That Never Sleeps. We took the stairs underneath 28th and Park and swiped $2.75 each (that’s the current rate to ride the MTA) to get on the 6, which would take us to the 7, which would take us to the B, all of which would take approximately 28 minutes. But this was the wrong 6, heading in the wrong direction, so we exited through the same turnstile we’d just paid $2.75 each to enter. We walked up the stairs to 28th and Park, did the Hokey-Pokey, turned ourselves around, went back underground, swiped another $2.75 each, and stared at the same wrong 6, heading in the wrong direction. Rinse, lather, repeat — back through the turnstile, but this time I asked the MTA attendant sitting in his box for help and when we walked topside to come subterranean and swipe another $2.75 each, I did it with confidence and verve. Start spreading that news. . . I’m looking at the same wrong 6 for the third time! and the MTA guy is looking at us shaking his head waiting for his moment in the subway break room to talk about the two bumpkins from Birmingham who spent $16.50 in a ten-minute swiping spree to figure out how to cross the street NYC-style: by actually physically crossing the street.

Bumbling, tumbling, and laughing our way through life is the lesson we keep learning from the bees and the birds who fill our windows and our hyper-focused lenses with reminders that through the lens of someone else’s window is the funniest and most fun way to be:  just so happy to be in it — you touch everything in your path, albeit frenetic to the outside observer.