Wordsworth and Rain and Breathing Hearts

 
  “Fill your paper 
 with the breathings 
 of your heart.” 
 I’ve carried 
 Wordworth’s words awhile.
 I've worn them 
 around my neck.
 Today I breathe 
 a few of my own
 onto this page
 with my whole heart.
  


 Wordsworth would say,
 “The Poet thinks and feels 
 in the spirit of the passions of men…
 he must express himself
 as other men
 express themselves…”
 with “a greater readiness 
 and power in expressing 
 what he thinks and feels.”
 It’s about the expression,
 man’s or woman’s,
 keeping it simple.
 Relatable. 
  
 He would say,
 “…in proportion 
 as ideas and feelings 
 are valuable, 
 whether the composition 
 be in prose or in verse, 
 they require and exact 
 one and the same language.”
 So Mr. Wordsworth,
 Do your words 
 a poem make?
  
 Today my heart stopped breathing. 
 So did the heart of my dog Rain. 
 She was fourteen years old 
 with a heart of gold, 
 a heart that failed. 
 But did it really—
 when she gave so much 
 love away? 
  
 One month ago, my mother passed. 
 Rain traveled across 
 the state line. 
 A good eleven hours 
 in the car each way.
 Away from home
 eleven days. 
 The trip was hard. 
 For both of us. 
 Rain suddenly seemed 
 her age.
  
 On the third day 
 of the new year, 
 a Sunday,
 Rain couldn’t breathe.
 I was ready then 
 to let her go. 
 But oxygen 
 and medicine,
 a hospital stay 
 and a dollar or two 
 could fix her
 good as new. 
 For a moment. 
 Just ten days 
 after my mother’s death, 
 I couldn’t do loss again. 
 But I knew Rain’s time would come. 
 And now—“The rain is over and gone!” 
 Yet somehow my heart breathes on. 

Here Is Where We Meet

When my mother tested positive for COVID-19 before Thanksgiving, I was winding down my fall semester. On the last Sunday of November, she left the nursing home via ambulance to the hospital. On December 7th, she returned to her home of forty-five years for hospice care. My dad, my sister Liz, my brother Scott, and I were all there to hold her hand and love on her some more. Somehow, I believe, my mother orchestrated all of it and brought her family together for our goodbyes. Meanwhile, in the final weeks of my mother’s life, John Berger’s novel Here Is Where We Meet spoke directly to me, and I had a final paper to write. This post is an excerpt. In a fusion of fiction and autobiography, Berger weaves separate and seemingly unrelated threads of memories and experience and time and space to depict the interconnectedness of life and death.

The novel begins in Lisboa with the narrator, an author named John, ruminating on his dreams. In John’s dreams his parents are alive, and he phones them for various reasons, forgetting they are dead (2-3). When the Lisboa scene resumes, John’s mother takes his arm, they cross the street, and she says, “John…The thing you should know is this: the dead don’t stay where they are buried” (3). A person who continues to live in the hearts and minds of others can never truly be dead. We carry the dead with us wherever we go, whether we are awake or asleep. John goes to Lisboa and meets his long-dead mother there.

In her farewell to John, Mother shares a final philosophy on life and some motherly advice, which shapes the course of the novel. She says, “we are here to repair a little of what was broken” (51) and “we come to the eternal conundrum of making something out of nothing” (53). She advises her son, the writer, to “Just write down what you find…and do us the courtesy of noticing us” (53). For the rest of the novel, John does his mother the courtesy of practicing her advice, noticing the dead, and writing down his memories of them. Perhaps the narrator John and the author John Berger are one in the same, and in writing this book, perhaps both Johns repair a little of what was broken.

John, the narrator, spends the rest of the book traveling throughout Europe, from Lisboa to Genève to Kraków to Islington to Le Pont d’Arc to Madrid and to the Polish village of Górecko, as if travel is one of life’s secrets. He moves fluidly between settings, the past and present, the living and the dead. His travels reveal the most important people, places, and experiences of his life. John Berger published Here Is Where We Meet at age 79, probably when he considered the influences and interconnections of life and death more than ever before. 

John Berger’s eight chapters conclude with chapter 8 ½, a one-page dialogue scene with his mother that ends where the novel begins and connects it all together. Mother repeats her earlier advice, “Just write down what you find” (237). Perhaps life ends in the same way—we remember our loved ones and their words and connect all the pieces. John’s mother returns to her point in the way that people do when they want to make sure their audience has heard the message. Yet, even after eight chapters depicting the courtesy of noticing and writing it down, John responds by saying, “I’ll never know what I’ve found.” He doubts what he knows as we all tend to do, but in truth, John has found more than he realizes, making something out of nothing.

My mother passed at home on Christmas Eve, surrounded by her family. She is no longer here, yet she is vividly here. In my mind, my beautiful Mama radiates the sheer joy of her prime and laughs a sparkling twenty-year-old laugh. She lives on through my family, in our hearts and minds, and in the countless number of trees she planted around my hometown. I can only hope to do my mother the courtesy of continuing to notice, to write down what I find, and to repair a little of what was broken..

I Grew Up Blue

I grew up blue
in a little red state
in a little red town.
I played 
with the red kids.
My blue parents 
didn’t put
red parents down
for believing
Differently.
That was great.
We respected
opinions and choices.
Votes were our voices.
We didn’t see
Color—
red or blue.
Only people,
and what's true—
like a person's heart 
and character.
Maybe—
we can agree—
You do you.
I’ll do me.


I realize that living well is an art which can be developed. Of course, you will need the basic talents to build upon: They are a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings, and assurance that the world owes you nothing and that every gift is exactly that, a gift. That people who may differ from you in political stance, sexual persuasion, and racial inheritance can be founts of fun, and if you are lucky, they can become even convivial comrades.

Maya Angelou

Ode to My Bestie

I love telling people
how I crashed her party
and met her on the day
she turned five.

It was July the Fourteenth,
Nineteen Seventy-Five.
She was blonde haired,
tiny, and hazel eyed—
my new friend, Denise.

In school we shared
home rooms—
First grade
with Mrs. Shaffer,
second grade
with Mrs. Goff
third grade
with Mrs. Lane
and so on
and so forth
through senior year.

Nineteen years

ticked away.
The Class of Eighty-Eight
Reunion. In Oklahoma.

Memorial Day.


We both lived in Texas.
She lived nearby,
this girl I had known
since we were five.
I needed a friend,
and she did, too.
We met for margaritas
and Mexican food.

More years pass.
We ate and drank.
We told each other
secrets, even when
they stank.

Forty five years
from the day we met,
July 14th, 1975,
a day I’ll never forget.

Let Freedom Ring!

It was 1976. The United States bicentennial celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. A colossal family road trip, from the Oklahoma panhandle to the East Coast, and an unforgettable history lesson. I was six.

The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing 27 colonial grievances against King George III and by asserting certain natural and legal rights, including a right of revolution.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

At the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. with Carl Albert, Speaker of the House, and a friend of my dad from Oklahoma.
img_3935
My brother and I in our bicentennial overalls crack me up, D.C.
img_3941
The Liberty Bell at Independence Hall, Philadelphia

In the city of brotherly love, the Declaration and U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted at Independence Hall, where the Liberty Bell remains, crack and all. The symbolic inscription reads: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land unto All the Inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10). All means all.

One of my all-time favorite photos of Dad and Lady Liberty.

We rode the ferry to Ellis Island and ascended the steps within the Statue of Liberty all the way into her crown. The torch was closed, but the harbor remained open, welcoming the world’s homeless, freedom seekers. At the pedestal, there is a bronze plaque inscribed with the Emma Lazarus poem: 

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Picturesque Patriotism at Home

My country tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

God Bless America and Happy Fourth of July wherever you are!