Life With Horace

poetry & essays


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the flow

I dream of deconstructing beaver weirs
layered dams of branch and mud

fiendish things set up by stealth
to drown my woods

and work to draw up plans,
a personal peninsular campaign

fought in the boots of wellington
besetting toothy bonapartes,

guerilla skirmishes to win release
of chokepoint water pools

allowed to stream again towards
the pond beyond its sapling fringe

growing up we know some barriers too,
thrown up to block our childhood path
casual injected freeze,
anti action dollops of impatient noise
thoughtless shards from adult tongues
that carry all the power
of their world, and leave us
with no voice to tell them no
unconscious joy leaching from
young porous souls, replaced by dust
to render us no longer fully vested
in our birthright gifts

oh we will feel creative pull
and try to move toward its warmth

each with our signature routine
to step around the wall,

with time and luck that sidestep waltz
will lose appeal, prompting us

to search out understanding,
mighty antidote to doubt

and let it heal our hearts
armored with new energy and joy

thoughts free to wander where they will
we ride the flow

__________________________________________________
there is a vast difference between thoughtful words to guide and tossed off criticism. as adults we often forget the power of what we say to a child.


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the thrum

chords reach in with certainty
fingering my waiting bones

sometimes as undulating touch,
wispy fog that knows no barriers

gently casual hands on shoulders
arms outstretched announcing their intentions
patient for response.

then there are other passages of notes
roaring by on chariots of glory,

powerful as basso lama horns
thrumming from dharamsala
straight to the chambers of my soul,

until waves of tears
escape to fold me into beauty,

ebbing only slowly,
limpet companions to the day

she sent a shower of stars


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journey to my tribe

the sky’s first star night’s scout
piercing the scrim of fading light
that hides the spirit dome of heaven
once seen it must be wished on
our lore never for ourselves
to make the magic work

my heart stored its wishes where it could
in the beams of other stars
under the wings of catbirds
in the warmth of sleepy dark
deep in thrush song
or layered in the lamp hung blue of early night
all forgotten over time
in the flow of life away from wonder
wearing down the prickly instincts
of a younger self

walking in my wake unseen
there was a dream gatherer
Ninhan my ancestor of the Mohawk people
taking wishes to her heart
against a future need she knew would come

some years ago my heart connected
with the force of messy life
in a nearby marshland
talisman and refuge
where my feet felt rooted
its spirit cloaked my shoulders
settling on my skin and filling my eyes
the very heart of life

seeing this she knew the time had come
and sowed the air with a wish become a dream
and so I sang again
another as a glowing drop to open up my eyes
rejoice once more in line and color

my deepest wish was to create without restraint
to find the headwaters of my soul
almost buried by the dark paned windows of an early time
faces of blank fear following me from age to age
until I went there in a dream
to vanquish them and bring back light

her answer was
to shower me with stars
a million wishes worth
that set me sparking
whirling to catch words
and once more find my voice
to shout aloud with joy

the dogs on the ferny path 9-17-14


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the presence of gifts

my list is long today
and gratitude a living thing,
with thanks this morning
I begin again,
and marvel at the magic of
this year so richly lived.
strong arms of love
encircling the night,
to hold my spirit close and safe.
the gift of children,
essence of my soul alive
in generations made from love.
sisters, brothers, cousins
now become the elders
drawing closer, wisdom’s harvest.
friends of many years
and those more newly met
all precious links
to memory and heart

a time of growth,
and unexpected joy
tapped from an unseen well,
welcome, cherished, fed
by wonder, Open eyes,
encouragement and friendship,
kindred links though loose,
their potency holds true.
connection with
things seen and not,
humbled by belief at last,
feeling nature’s voice
run through my blood,
trying for acceptance
of the path I follow,
learning from the way behind,
with kinder eyes
and gentler thought
for my mis-steps.
facing out to grasp
with ready hands
this miracle
that is my life

__________________________
birthdays have always held magic for me. today is no exception. while not a lover of new year’s resolutions, I do believe in taking stock and giving thanks.

A swamp lobelia?


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the dowser

he worked, still unaware
there was a gift
beyond his certain talents
waiting for a moment’s spark
to see and use.
then reaching out in love
still cloaked by friendship,
recognizing shuttered light
so long denied, abandoned,
the door was opened
to a warm, lit space
free of expectation or of limit,
safe haven for them both
although not recognized
at first, that’s what it was.
she was reborn before his eyes,
her art and life renewed,
and seeing, knew
this was no random thing,
a path for him to follow, work to do.
he was and is a dowser,
spirit drawing spirit
from the clutches of oblivion.

_______________________________________
posting in her blog, Maria Wulf described her life and thoughts before she found her art again. A year ago her husband Jon Katz formed an online community to foster the creative spirit in people willing to open up to new possibilities. Fortunate to be a member of this wonderful group, I’ve been thinking about the road we have traveled together, and how far we all have come. For Jon and Maria.


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warrior (for the light)

fist raised to the sun
in soft salute,
a signal presence
with intent to grow,
unfold from chrysalis
to full formed frond,
radiating energy
at every bladed tip,
proof that light
will foster growth,
atoms racing out,
stronger when they
touch and ping
their fellows,
moving, nurtured
on the journey
of creation

____________________________________
for The Open Group at Bedlam Farm and for Jon Katz who saw the light, and told us it existed.


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the piano duo

My godmother, Anne Hull (left) and grandmother, Mary Howe, about 1920. They were both pianists and composers, and performed together as a piano duo from 1912 until 1935. They met at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore in 1905, when my grandmother was studying piano with Ernest Hutchinson. She later returned to the Peabody (with the full support of her husband) to study composition with Gustav Strube, gaining her diploma in 1922. She was active musically until the early 1960s, an internationally recognized composer, and a founder of the National Symphony.

Anne was studying for an Artist’s Diploma and Teaching Certificate. She had a rich musical life, never married, teaching first at The Institute of Musical Art in New York, and later The Juilliard Graduate School, retiring in 1968 at the age of 80!

Friends for the rest of their lives, they did extraordinary things in a world that sometimes considered them dilettantes (they weren’t) and not to be taken seriously (they were).

My grandmother’s unequivocal take on being a woman composer, circa 1950:

“Women composers should be played more than they are. I don’t think conductors have a prejudice against women composers now. But no one puts women writers or women painters in a class any more and they still do with women composers. I know I considered it a handicap to be a woman when I started composing. I’m not a feminist. But I think I would have gotten along faster if I’d been a man.”

I generally admire her pieces, and think her art songs were her strongest. She knew many poets, and read poetry voraciously. Her friendship with the poet Elinor Wylie, whom she met at the MacDowell Colony, is a story in itself. A particular favorite of mine is her setting of Wylie’s poem “When I Died in Berners Street”. I have been working on it with my voice teacher, and like to think she would appreciate the effort, if not the result!


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

Mom 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. Of course my teenage psyche salted that one away to use later and say “see?”.

Sitting down I was all set to do a “meaningful”, plaintive post about my mother, and life with a parent whose art was in many ways more important to her than her children.

TURNS OUT it doesn’t matter as much as it used to.
Because, along with having a self-absorbed modern dancer mom, I also had an artist mom who painted zoo animals, including a never-forgotten giraffe, all over our Colorado Springs bathroom walls.

I had a mom who continued to learn and grow and create well into her eighties. I had a mom 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 MS Bike Rides she did, and who showed her she could trust again, open up again.

I had a mom 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 mom who loved me, but couldn’t always show it.

NO TURNAROUND happens all at once.
There was my culture writer friend Susan who got tickets to everything cultural (and I mean everything) in Washington, DC. She loved to take friends with her for birthday presents. 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.

I also realized that I knew what I was watching, understood the parody, appreciated the incredible technique and elegance of those men en pointe. All of it a gift from my mom. Life changing.

I ALSO began to grow up.
Not to the point of losing the wonder and delight I cherish in myself. More along the lines of figuring things out, coming to terms with a parent’s humanity and limitations, acknowledging her often ill-expressed love. And simply moving on, putting things I now understood better and no longer feared behind me.

BUT WAIT, there’s more!
With gobs of emotional dreck hoovered away, the closet cleaner and tidier, some shelves empty (isn’t that a lovely thought), I’m busy filling things up again. I had no clue until very recently that I needed to do this. That the best new stuff(ing) would be my own. That I would go on a creative bender of sorts that shows no sign of slowing down.

IT HELPS to be ready to be open. There’s an understatement.
Four years ago life took a powerful turn. A favorite author decided to form a virtual creative group. I jumped in, pretty much cannonballed into the deep end with little idea of what I was doing.

I still find myself zooming about, trying things that look interesting or challenging. At first I wasn’t sure I could do more than one thing at a time. Now I know the answer is Yes. Of course. In the encouraging and intense “biosphere” of this group, it was all good.

The wonderful thing about open thought and its life partner creativity, is that they take up so. much. less. room. They feed the spirit instead of diminishing it.

Best of all, they are infinitely renewable.