Life With Horace

poetry & essays


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A creative mother, or how I learned to love dance again

My mother once said that one of Martha Graham’s dancers was awful to her husband and little boy, but when one saw her on stage none of that mattered any more. My teenage psyche salted that one away as ammunition for the future.

Originally this was going to be a plaintive piece about my mother, life with a parent whose art was in many ways more important to her than her children, much like the childhood she herself had experienced as the daughter of a composer. Years on the memories don’t have the power to hurt the way they used to, because along with having a fairly self-absorbed modern dancer mother, I’ve come to appreciate an artist mother who painted zoo animals, including a never-forgotten giraffe, all over our Colorado Springs bathroom walls.

I had a mother who continued to learn and grow and create well into her eighties. I had a mother who regained a love life in her sixties after a long drought, meeting a wonderful man who was her partner for almost twenty years, who took photos while she sketched, was her personal “sag wagon” driver on the many Cross Minnesota Bike Rides she did, and with whom she could open up again. I had a mother who morphed from a modern dance teacher and choreographer into a fitness visionary and advocate for homebound seniors in the Twin Cities. I had a mother who loved me, but couldn’t always show it.

No turnaround happens all at once. My friend Susan was a magazine culture writer in Washington, whose perk was tickets to everything, and she loved to take friends along on their birthdays. One year she took me to the Trocks, aka Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

We watched this all male dance troupe perform technically brilliant and hilarious parodies of ballet and modern dance. Re-imagining Pavlova’s “dying Swan” with molting feathers. A hysterical Dance of The Little Swans. Side-splitting send ups of Balanchine, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey.

Enjoying dance without resentment for the first time in years, I knew exactly what I was watching, understood the finer points of the parody, appreciated the incredible technique and elegance of those men en pointe, all of it a gift from my mother. That night my life began to change.

I became more settled into adulthood, though not to the point of losing wonder and delight as daily companions. More along the lines of coming to terms with a parent’s humanity and limitations, acknowledging her often ill-expressed love, and eventually moving on, setting aside things I now understood better and for the most part no longer mourned.

With emotional dreck hoovered away, my brain cleaner and tidier, it began to fill up again. Clueless until it began to happen, it became obvious that the best new stuff would be things of my own, eventually leading to a creative bender of sorts that shows no sign of slowing down.

A few years ago life took a powerful turn. I joined a virtual creative group, and cannonballed into the deep end with little idea of what direction to take. I still find myself zooming about, trying things that look interesting or challenging. At first it was easy to hang back. Now I know the answer is to do whatever shows up. The wonderful thing about an opened up mind, and its natural partner creativity, is that they take up so much less room, feeding the spirit instead of diminishing it.


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The Morgan

It could have been
a silver mercury portrait,
but a horse appeared
displacing stiff poses,
mane flying, neck muscles
bunched in effort,
galloping through
a glimpse of the past.

 

 


Audio: Read by the author.


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A marvelous photo of a Morgan mare by the photographer Deborah Glessner brought up the last two lines of the poem. 


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Connection

In song, music puts its hands around my heart and my words think tears are a puddle to splash through, shoeless. Color often stops my breath, and I am its willing prisoner. A sudden memory coming on fast might need release. Any of these call up joy or tears, and it is all wonderful. To me.  When the signal comes they might glide to me in a waltz, or whirl up on the skirts of a wild mazurka. Better yet, ride in on the smoothness of an alto sax.


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Restland

Olivia’s obelisk sits in tailored green
behind an iron gate and arrow pointed fence.
Jumped-up gold letters on the arched black sign
declaring Restland. Stand near enough
in late afternoon shimmer and her voice is clear,
restless words reaching for release.

It is spring, but where are the lilacs I asked for?
No rounded shapes, or shade, or not to be forgotten scent.
A bit of rest here and there would have suited,
but this place? That name? The gods laugh.

Where are the staccato horse clops and soft whuffs,
wagon creaks, quiet words from walkers,
children playing hoops, the church bell?
Only constant gliding rumbles, impatient horns,
blares of sound, no suitable rhythm for a hill town life.

Where are the visitors? None inclined or left to come,
not family, not him anymore. Is he here too?
Years doing women’s work, all the time seeing color,
rearranging light, and wanting paint and brush
to show him what I saw, wanting to say his given name,
not Mister, nor Mister Baker darling.

Where is the promised release of death? I lie,
still in my stays, oh god for a knife to cut their laces,
walk and breathe unbound, not go about exactly as a man
but with a woman’s eyes, much better.
Will he meet me here in moonlight,
pull my fingers to his lips, and say my name?


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Not quite endings

The music stops and echos
shimmer then fade
our voices stilled waiting
for the flood of response
I fall into the silence
all energy given away
to singing’s singular joy

A long goodbye jumps the queue
to sudden extinction
Love lives on the mountain
ashes soaking into moss
his spirit coming back
to say that 40 years were
worth it all in all
and how are things

The chatter quieted
and in its place
a single sound takes shape
One note clearly formed
on endless breath
I find it comes from me
I had been singing all along
and never knew

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a prompt from tonight’s writing group with Doug Anderson: endings


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Meringue

Crunch under
my steps
over ersatz
spread snow,
Replenish
the feeder
cast seed
for the crew.
Doves hogging
the bounty
let others
go hang.
This fool’s day
with icing
starts off
with a bang.

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NaPoWriMo 2017 day 1! We’re off to the races, rabbit rabbit rabbit. This was a fun prompt since I’m not much for rhyme, but it always comes (slowly) if given some time.