Pearl Inspired Letter

She read this morning the words of Pearl Cleage and the gist clung unflinchable like a stray hair. Mothers have deep and rich interior worlds. What daughter doesn’t want to know the deep lessons learned while navigating?

Her own children believe she is magic. That homemade dresses, meals and clean floors simply appear. That she is Glenda the Good Witch and they are Dorothies in red converse and flip flops – sparkles optional.

There is no magic here, only life in its great clawing rawness. She wonders if sharing the how’s and why’s will help strengthen the wing feathers and strong roots she is creating. Will it provide a bigger vision?

She shovels clothes into the rush of water, pulling the bright pink t-shirt from the white of socks and summer dresses.

Are these quiet details as important as the recipe for Christmas morning cinnamon rolls? Or instructions to properly load a dishwasher? Or honing the skill of finding the perfect Katherine Hepburn pants that have good drape?

She chuckles “Or this?” and reaches for lavender scented Downy so mundane chores smell like fields of memory and dream.

Pearl Cleage’s daughter didn’t think so. She believed they needed to remain intimate to those who participated in them.

She sits quietly at the kitchen table. Outside the window, a honey bee searches the blossoms of the wilting Ballerina Roses for missed satisfaction. Inside light piano music mixes with screams of “Ow-ow-ow” and “Stop.”

She picks up the pen next to the day’s list.

Dear Children,

Once upon a time is the way the most fantastic stories open. Those of good and evil, of great love, loss and big skies. This one has the added bonus that it is true or as we say around here: “I’m for Real.”

Once upon a time, a man came after many prayers were lifted. He liked the way I twirled in dresses and didn’t mind how my laugh unfurled in a room as if on wings. We became friends. And the air and light began to move differently.”


A nod goes to Story A Day for the prompt Epistolary Stories. Also to Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lessons, Lies & Love Affairs by Pearl Cleage.


Modern Romance

She looks at the count displayed in the upper right corner – 5,576. All are marked the dull read.

Read is an action word – fast like a hop and stretch to catch the ground ball and tag out at first. There’s a caught and slung feeling before moving quick to the next motion.

Received, although action, is different. To receive words given denotes a lingering. They are consumed slowly like a deep breath that fills body.

She nods 5,576 received. Inhaled.

Wasn’t it Van Goethe who sent to sweet Charlotte “every beautiful spot I wish you were there. I can’t help loving you more than is good for me…your presence never leaves me?”

And Beethoven to his nameless “Beloved Immortal” wrote, “My angel, my all, my very self — only a few words today.”

Or Napoleon Bonaparte sent Josephine while at war: “I wake filled with thoughts of you.”

She wonders if Josephine ran her fingers over the thick paper. She wonders if she circled the smudges softly longing them to be his prints. She wonders if after reading she smiled full and blushing.

It is cliché, she admonishes silly hopeful romantic notions. The 19th century days of courtship letters meet cursor and backspace. A text or tweet flashing on a palmed screen replaces the tactile note with branded seal carried by servant after a party. Don’t be dumb, she scolds.

But oh! The words swing her open like a garden gate, causing a rush of gooseflesh, same as theirs.

Is there a song of street corner horns attached? Secret words sent of a full moon? A tree top suspended in clear blue sky? Or does it hold the simple word pavers of faith walk – Love – followed by a period? A longing to hold?

It would take reams of paper to print, she pokes. Think of the trees. Then she closes the window.


A nod goes to Story A Day for the prompt Epistolary Stories.


My brain is weary of those bullet pointed resume words customized daily. It is squishy, I know. It is no longer the taunt and fit muscle that hunts for dots to connect, that draws pictures in starry skies.

The stumble occurred on a random May morning over coffee. Story A Day. My interest perked but there were other more important things to tend. I left. I customized.

I don’t believe in coincidence – perhaps this is the open window, the rabbit hole filled with adventure to follow. I returned. I read and gathered. I chewed slowly for a month.

The prompt: Epistolary Stories.

I read or heard a story about a poet who telling of her craft said that sometimes words rush at her like a freight train when she’s in the garden. She drops the hoe and sprints to the house for pen and paper. Sometimes she makes it in time so the words ink themselves as gift, no thought, no editing. Sometimes her foot catches on the top porch step. She is late and the train rushes through her as if she were a tunnel. At which point, the words come perfectly backwards.

The saying goes like this: “It’s either a light at the end of the tunnel or a freight train coming.”

“No worries,” I whisper to self while opening a blank page. “You like trains.”

Tag Out

Things are not going my way. I need to reschedule, re-organize, re-prioritize. I need to re-something. And I chuckle snarky at my internal shift.

These are the days when I’m grateful my shirt is on right side out. If I can to that, I have said out loud, all is lined tidy.

Then my mom notices the tag. It’s a label truly, just stamped paint & not what I need, which is the flag of hard white flapping surrender, getting hung in my hair or tickling my elbow like a gnat.

I smile wide. “Dang it. Stupid label.” I toss my hands in mock exasperation.  “There goes the façade, Mom. I don’t have it all together.”

And we laugh together from the experience of tags out, unmet wants & unwanted mets.

Then her face gets stern. “Don’t fix it, Honey. It’ll be bad luck. Leave it as it is.”

“Sweet! One less thing,” I nod, laughing loudly.

Standing at the sink, watching the water rush away the remnants of dinner, I feel the hard swell rise despite. Then I pull her grace around me tight like the Holly Hobby sheets & quilt, the net from my childhood.

“I love you, Mom.” I say hands putting more dirty dishes into the sink.

“I love you too, Honey.”

Napkin Grace Remembered

“It’s just going to take a lot of Grace from both of you. A whole lot of grace given by both of you to get through this.”

~ A. B., November 2012

I was busy. I didn’t want to talk, to answer. To open up to seek & find because I knew my own cracks. To hear again all of the ways I was “not.” I had the list in multiple forms from multiple times given. But I did, at first moving boxes with the phone pressed between shoulder & ear, because I was working & there were deadlines. Then while lifting tub filled with serving tools & napkins, the air shifted inside the humid shed & I sat heavy with unspoken apology, in unseen humility, towards him.

His voice was genuine. His concern authentic.

He spoke of a role, of covenant, of grace.

I heard him tell of his burden to teach, to lead. I know this rightly is his gift.

I counted the slats in the ceiling, listening, inhaling his words. Using a broken pen to scrawl his words on a cocktail napkin to carry, which I did in my pocket for weeks, well into holiday, before it pilled and ink from the broken pen stained my hands when I touched it.

I’ve read that when Jesus was stabbed by solider’s sword on the cross, the Holy Spirit was released, Grace came rushing, into the battlefield of our lives.

And that’s what I think of now. I hear the rhythm in his voice, the words unfiltered, speckled with the language of men now when I must recall to steady myself in the world’s wind blowing up threatening storm.

And I whisper “Hey” to him for the volume of his voice to rise. I whisper prayers with each exhale acknowledging Satan in the list being given again, in my never ending desire for Grace to move in. I whisper, quiet inside, “Dear Holy Spirit, I know you’re here somewhere. You are welcome here. Please wrap us tight in armor, gird us so we can remain open, fearless.” I near whine, drawing out the word ‘Please” again and again because words left me. But all I hear is a haunting echo as I look to the ceiling, counting slats. I remember the pilled napkin. The one whose ink stained my hands.

To Deep Carry

I didn’t merely think of him, he didn’t pass through my mind like the missing item, something to be added to a list scrawled on paper or chalkboard.

He was summoned there by a whisper rising from center, where life forms. My continued longing deep brought him forth so that when I closed my eyes, I felt him near & solid in muscle & sinew, despite geography.

And we rode without conversation like that contented in the murmur of wheels, spray from tire trucks & children sighing in sleep.

I smiled offering up the way the steam rose from asphalt. The way the mist formed haloes around street lamps. The way Tennessee fog like a lace scrim lifted to the light to reveal the secret way trees exhale away the night. The way this right here is the dream of umbrellas and laughter.

The Click

I thought it would be audible. The click.

I didn’t expect so much a flash bang sound like those thrown in movies before entry that are resplendent with bright light, loud voices & a battering ram.

Nor did I think it would be something consistent moving closer like a woman’s stilettos measuring time on hard polished floors before entering & sitting down at the wide table.

Both of these give that Darwinian sense of fight or flight in a belly, don’t they?

It just came so quietly. The click.

It was almost like the fault line gently sighed so a quake was felt in middle Illinois like it did once in 1987. I remember that day how I watched the window awning quiver and knew something had happened, something was not the same, but I didn’t know exactly what until later. I guess that’s how it happens sometimes.

I was standing there in brown leaves that held neither winter crackle nor spring promise. The children were behind me talking. Their lift & lull heard at distances further than mine. The smell of yesterday’s firewood lighting that day’s rose in white smoke when suddenly my world’s wind came hard. And I simply stood looking up into a looking down that demanded me to mend and make right.

I felt my face tighten with the weighted adult look & nod. I felt my head bow down as something changed. I felt myself float away knowing yet wondering  what was different in this shaded light here when the circumstance & expectation was familiar. It was just geography after all.

It wasn’t until later, the date kept and given by another who marks & measures using sticks & the like, that I realized I felt the answer move through artery & vein with a gentle strength. It wasn’t until then I found the words of no more and enough formed in marrow deep. It wasn’t until then I felt fully the depth & breadth of the air I took in daily. It wasn’t until I relived that I realized I caught a glimpse of the bluest sky between the green oak leaves there when I looked up, before I walked away.

Found Heart

I found it there mounded asymmetrical in the dirt. A heart. A dirt heart peeking through the litter of brown leaves and twigs.

I bent low to push them away & trace its edges.  When I called to my mom to come see, she gave the obligatory “Oh yes Honey,” which made me laugh & blush at my simplicity & easy distraction. There were other things to be truly tending, I knew.

But during the unpack & organization of a camp kitchen, a hearth, a dining room that would house the gathering family, I couldn’t keep from seeking it.


Eric Legge, one of my long time artist crushes, photographs them – found hearts. His flicker page is filled with them. A heart in the sky where tree branches meet. A heart of rust on scrap metal. A heart in a tossed banana peel. A heart made with fingers.


The next day, my mom told me the storm would pass, despite the dark clouds racing in. She said I was in the Midwest & things like this blow over. But I kept looking skyward, thinking of the children’s tents. I knew a storm was coming. The earth smelled different and the air although lazy summer hot was electric with anticipation for the first drops of rain.


He created a series of work in which he carved hearts deep & rough into cabinet doors & found pieces of wood then created a frame of sorts, wrapping each with extension cords and thick house wire. I asked him about the wires and he, in the softest secretive tones, told me how the heart must be filled with electricity, how that emotion described as “heart stopping” caused the hairs to rise on his arms and neck with intensity. He near whispered “bursting with strong energy. Love is the most important thing.”

I learned later that his father had passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack earlier that year and I smiled despite myself.  Because here was this man who worked side by side with his dad daily, whose respect & admiration was openly present when they spoke together or he spoke of his dad, and he was using his grief and confusion to create this beauty, to come to terms with that craziness, in order to hang on.

There is a certain picking, I think, I simply don’t realize I do sometimes. I speculate it’s all in the timing. But when I think about it too much & too hard, the minute hand spins & I can’t find what I was seeking. Instead I smile, hum a song of call & response & drop crumbs to follow back.

My mom is a gardener. When I was just a girl with lopsided pigtails & barefeet, I remember  her small frame wrestling the tiller as it growled into the earth. I watched her stoop to dig holes & tuck in the white roots.  She used a small claw fork & hoe for weeding. And when it was time, she drug an old apple bucket with missing slats & wire handles behind her filling it with dirty potatoes & carrots whose tops hung over the edge carelessly.

Watching her move here now in this small space, she looks in my mind as she did then, although she would disagree noting the color of her hair, the size of her waist & hips, as we women do.

She told the story of last summer’s tomatoes. How on the top they looked ready & ripe. I imagine their red tightness looked as if each was holding their breath in the summer sun. She said when she brought them inside to slice, the bottoms were soft & rancid.

I chuckled & said, “So the bottoms fell out, huh, Mom?”

She turned toward me, shoo-ing a gnat from her face, “Yea,” she said, drawing it out in a confused sad sort of way before returning to the soil and beginning another story.

I wasn’t really listening because I was thinking of those wooly tomato leaves that make me itch. I was thinking of how a year ago she tended them daily – pulling weeds, flipping their leaves to check for aphids, watering, eagerly awaiting the fruit. I was remembering the strawberries’ red.

A few weeks ago, I looked at the strawberries. As I lifted each plastic tray I smelled the sweetness of summer but decided they were too soft & would taste more of fall wine in need of smoky cardamon than milk & sugar which is what my mouth craved.

I know I will return to that counter drawn by their bright promise, but I wonder if I will leave empty handed again.

“But you planted again this year Mom?” I interrupted.

“Yes. I’ll give it a few years, you know? And well if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. Maybe I’ll stick with peppers and potatoes. I’m good at those.” She stands pushing her hand into the small of her back. “Oh Cindy, look at my pumpkin.”

“That begins with a ‘P,’ huh?”

She chuckles & squints her eyes at me in that delighted way she has when her children poke her. “Smarty pants. Come see.”

We both bend over the long curling vine at the end of the garden. Then she picks it up, flips over the leaves, plucks a few pieces of grass from the loose dirt.

I wonder if she’s coo-ing to them in her mind, to encourage and remind herself of their glorious orange to come. I wonder if I weren’t there she would sing and hum aloud.

It was a competition. Truly at its core it was a competition, but not like the ordinary learned competition – that of man against someone or some thing bigger outside like in barfights or bear attacks or in a boat on the ocean during a hurricane. It was more simple that than and more complex. It was woman. It was me.

It was the fourth, officially day 1,460 of yes acceptance in good and bad, in sickness and health, in tripping over shoes in the living room and struggling for a Windex sparkle clean and words to express. It was a long day for me, filled with spreadsheets, floor plans, impossibly small font and the task of weighing and measuring not just these. And I thought at 4:30 that I must do something. Tangible. With a bit of whimsy silly. A bit of sentiment. A bit of filling up gently, steady. A bit of saying something without using words. Something to bridge the growing gap and buttress a weariness also growing.

With an ordinary pot roast, something we Midwesterners serve on a busy Tuesday, a few candles, scrap wood, yard roses so different from their shop cousins because they show the wear of wind and rain and children bumping past and through, and honeysuckle vine dripping sweet nectar on an generic fruit filled tablecloth, I stood slowly to the challenge against self, pulling up from the boot straps snug around weary ankles to create a celebration. From all I had within my grasp, I set about to create feast.

And I could feel myself lift from the cheap seats of whatever-world to the field. The girl’s eyes were alight. The small boy smiled shyly. On a Tuesday.

And I spun rose petals so the bruises were hidden on the bottom.

And I tucked vine around and through candles gathered from other rooms.

Once, I thought, in a fit of silliness, candles dripped down the front of long bureaus and into drawers. Was that pre-ring? Or early-ring?

These wicks enflamed and sizzled the dust away.

As I fixed plates, the children asked questions of why and how on a Tuesday. And I told truth.

I told of how God made Adam and Eve to create the first covenant. I told of how children added texture and depth and how they were brought into this covenant to bear witness, to learn and grow it bigger. This glory is what is craved, I said. To create like this and spread wide. I told of how the commandments said to honor it in so many ways. And that right now I was trying so hard, with all that I had in my bone, to gather the pieces of fumbled days and celebrate. I smiled at them and told them open over potatoes being mashed that I hoped I was doing a good job as a bride, as a wife, but was fearful so I prayed those places away which is what one does, I said, when an ache becomes searing, when something must be done. And this brings glory too, I said. To pray. To lean.

And I said all of this in that way that comes hushed because of the absence of flourscent light over kitchen island. In candle light, all feels like a secret revealed, doesn’t it? Something mysterious maybe? Something sacred? And they pushed in and they blushed and got out the ketchup.