Sunday, October 31, 2010

Poem - Something in the Air

Vermont 2009 © Rita Bourland
 Something in the Air

November has arrived,
The time will change,
Frost might even appear,

Brrr, I’m cold,
Just thinking
About the cold,
About catching a cold,

But it’s not so bad,
The cold,

Snuggle in a downy wrap,
Settle in, read a book,
Drink some cocoa,
Make some stew,
Or cider brew,

But don’t stop walking
On the cold, cold days,
Go outside, feel the air
Bite at your cheeks,
Feel the air
Blow through your hair,

Feel the air,

It might just
Open your mind to the
That winter comes for a reason,

To nurture your mind,
Replenish your body,
With the stuff of thought,
The stuff of soul,
The stuff we push aside
At other busy times
Of the year,

Brrr, I’m cold,

But not too cold
To feel the promise
Of something more
In the air
Than cold.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Poem and Essay - My New Self

My New Self

We've all heard this phrase before.  Someone has been sick and a friend kindly says, "You'll be back to your old self in no time."  Maybe you've been depressed or under the weather and you say to your spouse, "I can't wait to get back to my old self."
A very wise young man said to me recently that getting back to one's old self shouldn't be the goal.  He pointed out that we are constantly changing and evolving.  When we go through illness or dark days, we are permanently changed by the experience.  Our idealized old self no longer exists.  We have shed some skin and emerged with new perspectives and some deeper thoughts about life. 
Our new self just might be better, more open, healthier and more accepting.  Don't long for that person you once were, embrace the one you are now.  

My old self disappeared,
POOF! - just like magic,

I wasn't trying -
it just happened,
as things 
sometimes do.

I looked high and low,
and then one day
I looked
in the mirror
and saw myself,
new self,

different but good,
bruised but whole;
wholly changed
by a bump in the road,

"Hello," I said.  
"Nice to meet you."
"You seem different than before,
but I like what I see,
I like who you are,
I like where we're headed

POOF! - just like magic,
the new me
turned and walked

changed by life
not looking back.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Poem - Halloween Fright

There’s a story that’s told about Halloween night,
The details are sketchy, but oh what a fright,
If you think about ghosts and screeching black bats,
Then add a few witches with pointy black hats,
You can start to imagine the harrowing scene,
And the facts that led up to the bone-chilling scream,

A figure was seen walking past in the dark,
He had an odd shape; his feet left no mark,
He floated past windows and over the lake,
But cast not a shadow; no sound did he make,
No witness could pinpoint the sight they had seen,
It could have been real or maybe a dream,

But just after midnight a scream ripped the night,
The wind blew a chill through covers held tight.
Who was alone in the woods at this hour?
Why did they scream; where did they cower?

With nerves set on edge and fear in his heart,
Young Johnny McGee set off through the dark,
The sight he discovered has not come to light,
For Johnny McGee never spoke of that night,
In fact, young McGee never spoke again ever,
The fright of that night changed Johnny forever,

So watch where you roam on Halloween night,
If you go out alone, please stay out of sight,
There are scary, black cats and goblins out there,
And strange ghostly shadows floating on air,

You might see McGee out taking a walk,
He may tip his hat, but never will talk.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Poem: Being Special

Being Special

I decided a long time ago
that I wanted to be

but I wasn’t sure how
to accomplish
that goal,

being special,

it seemed to require
more than I could

 then one day, I realized
I just needed to be me,

just me,

and I would be special;

it didn’t require much at all,

after all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Short Fiction - I Wouldn't Be Surprised - Part II - Conclusion

A week after the delivery, I was rushing around getting ready for work, when I bumped into the corner of the cabinet.  I hadn’t found the perfect place in my apartment just yet, plus it was too heavy for me to move, so it was still just inside my doorway.  As I bumped the corner and started rubbing my hip, I noticed that an envelope had dropped to the floor. 
Where did that come from? 
I bent over to retrieve it and saw the loosened duct tape on the back of the cabinet.  
My heart began to beat a little faster as I carried the letter to the kitchen table. 

Dear Linda,
    I know the cabinet’s arrival must have taken you by surprise, but I though it best that you receive it in your home where it clearly belongs.  With all the turmoil after your parents’ accident, I knew you didn’t have the heart to go through their belongings just yet.  You trusted me to keep an eye on things here in Ohio until you had time to come back and look them over.  I have taken that trust very seriously.
    I found the enclosed letter in your mother’s desk a few weeks ago.  I was going to pay some of the ongoing house utility bills and was rummaging around for some stamps when I found the envelope.  It was addressed to you.  The outside of the envelope said:  Dear Linda, please don’t ever get rid of the wooden cabinet.  There is a story.
    So, dear niece, I taped the envelope to the back of the case and shipped it off to you.  I did not read the letter.  I hope whatever you find inside brings you comfort.   With Love & Affection, Aunt Denise

Aunt Denise was as close to me as a sister.  She was 15 years younger than my mom and only 10 years older than me, so we grew up with a special closeness.  I went on trips with her and shared my deepest secrets.  We had a very special bond and I trusted her completely.
After my folks funeral and memorial service, I had to return to New York right away, so she had agreed to keep an eye on things until I could come back and spend some time sorting through things.  An only child, I knew I had an enormous task before me, but I had pushed it to the back of my mind and thrown myself into my advertising work with a fervor.  And then the cabinet arrived.
I opened the enclosed envelope with tenderness, realizing my mother had sealed it.  I missed my folks so much.

Dear Linda,
    I’m not sure when you will open this letter or how you will feel about what I am about to say, but I hope you come to treasure this cabinet in the same way I have.
    When I was 20 years old, five years before I met your father, I had started my first job and was setting up my apartment in Indianapolis.  I would often go to flea markets, garage sales and estate sales to find items to furnish my place.  I had a blast digging through junk to find any little treasure.  One Saturday afternoon, I stopped in a small resale furniture shop and spotted the wooden cabinet.  It was nestled in a corner with a crooked lamp resting on top.  A thin layer of dust meant it hadn’t been touched in awhile.  I smelled a deal. 
    The owner approached from the back of the store.  A man in his 30’s with an athletic frame, he strode toward me with energy and purpose.  He looked Italian with his dark eyes and hair and confirmed my opinion when he spoke with a fluid Italian accent. 
“My dear, can I interest you in this fine piece of furniture?  It has been sitting in that corner for three years and needs a good home.  It comes from Italy and was made by my father Giuseppe.  He made many of these, so I have decided to sell a few, but only to those I deem worthy of such a fine piece of furniture.”  Putting out his hand, he gave me a dazzling smile and said, “My name is Carlos.  Welcome to my shop.”
Linda, I was smitten, more with the man than with the cabinet.  We talked for the next two hours about my new job, my family, his family, his father’s woodworking shop, how Carlos came to America and on and on.  He invited me to dinner and ended up cooking me a feast of Italian dishes in the apartment at the back of the shop.  We drank wine and talked into the wee hours of the night.  I spent the night with him and returned many times over the next six months.  I envisioned marriage, children, Italian vacations and helping him run the shop. 
One Saturday, I arrived for our evening together and there was a note taped to the door.  My Dearest Susanne, it said, I have returned to Italy for a family emergency.  My father is ill and it may be many months before I return.  I love you,  but life has made a choice for me.  Family comes first.  I will always hold you in my heart. 
There was a sign on the door which said:  Dear loyal customers: My shop is closed indefinitely due to a family emergency in Italy.  I will be away for many months and hope to return someday - until then, Dio sia con te – May God be with you. 
I drove home in tears - great sobbing tears.  I mourned the loss of my innocence, of first love and of this beautiful man who had touched my heart.
A few days later, a delivery man arrived at my door.  He was a large man carrying an even larger box.  He shoved it through my front door and then asked me to sign for it.  I hadn’t ordered anything, but it was clearly my name on the address.  I retrieved the scissors from the kitchen and slit the seams of the box.  There was the wooden cabinet from Carlos’ shop.  As tears began to flow, I opened the latch and found a letter.
Dear Susanne, I am so sorry for leaving you.  You are a beautiful young woman with your whole life ahead of you.  Someday you will forget about me, find a husband and live happily ever after.  I want you to have this cabinet as a reminder of our time together.  Fill it with the things that bring you joy, the things that warm your heart and the things that store memories.  I will never forget you.  You are full of light and life – a true gift from God.  Love, Carlos
I met your father five years later and never looked back, but I kept the cabinet all these years because it reminds me of who I really am – a person of light and life.  And I did fill the cabinet with memories – memories of your father and you.  You are the people who bring me joy, who warm my heart and have given me a lifetime of happiness.  I hope you treasure the cabinet for the same reasons.  Love, Mom

I put the letter down and sighed, thinking about my folks, about my mom being 20 and experiencing her first love and about the treasures in the cabinet.  Yes, I thought, I will take care of the cabinet and begin to fill it with my own memories.  My folks are gone, but I will try to carry their love, light and life with me as I travel the rest of my days.  I tucked the letter inside the cabinet, got out some furniture polish and lovingly rubbed the wood.  Happiness, so elusive, so tender - emotions so strong, so telling of our hearts inner longings.  Dio sia con te, mom and dad, may God be with you always.  I strode out the door and headed off to catch the subway for another day of work. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Short Fiction - I Wouldn't Be Surprised - Part I

     I wouldn’t be surprised if something wonderful happens today.  I woke with the feeling that good news was around the corner and happiness was within reach - such an elusive thing - happiness.  Ever since my parents died, I have felt adrift, wondering which direction to go in my life.  My grieving has had a grip on me, but today I planned to move forward.  When the intercom buzzed, it broke my reverie. 
    “Hello,” I said. 
    “Is this Linda Sanders?” the disembodied voice inquired.
    “Yes, how can I help you?” 
    “I’ve got a delivery with your name on it.  Can I bring it up?”
    “What kind of delivery?”
    “Lady, I don’t ask questions, I just deliver stuff.”
    “Okay, come on up.”
When I opened the door, I was faced with a large delivery man hoisting an even larger box.  How he got it up four flights of stairs was beyond me, but now it was on my doorstep awaiting entry.
    “Just sign here, lady.”
    “Can you help push this inside?”
    “Yeah, but once it’s through the door, I’m done.”
    After the delivery guy was gone I gave the box a long stare.  It was about five feet tall and two feet wide.  The postmark was smudged and the return address absent.  I hadn’t ordered anything.  I felt a tingle of anticipation.
    I hurried to the kitchen to retrieve scissors and began cutting away at the seams of the box.  And there it was - a beautiful old cabinet of carved cherry with intricate inlaid wood on the door.  But the real treasure was inside.  I didn’t even need to look to know what I would discover.  Happiness was starting to move from my toes to the top of my head as I unlatched the door.  There were the board games of my youth and the dusty family photo albums - a gift from my parents from beyond the grave.  

   How this gift arrived at my apartment on this particular day would be discovered later, but for now I grabbed a cup of coffee and spent the rest of the morning paging through the photos and reliving the past.  
   Happiness can never be permanent, but a small piece of my past had just given me a surge of joy that would carry me for many a day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Poem - Bully for You

Bully for You

Bully for you, bully for me,
We need a new bully
If we’re to have three,

Bullies are there
Behind every tree,
They want to be mean,
They want to be seen,

So, how do we stop
These sinister fools?
Try to play cool?
Stay after school?
Remind them it’s
Nicer to play by the rules?

We mustn’t let bullies ruin the day,
They make it no fun to go out and play,

Let’s form a new pact and stay far away,

Leaving bullies behind
Just might save the day,

And I say hooray!

Poem - This is My Wish for You

This is my wish for you:

May your heart be light,
worries take flight,
and sleep
come easily to you tonight,

may all that you fear,
soon disappear,
drying the tear
that’s often so near,

on each dawning day,
I promise to pray,
that all of your troubles
will be held at bay,

may joy come to you,
and those you love too,
filling you through,
with love that is true,

I just want to say,

I wish you the best,
I wish you good rest
and may your life
always be
simple and blessed.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Demise of Children's Picture Books - Say it Ain't So

 The Demise of Children’s Picture Books – Say it Ain’t So

I love children’s picture books.  There, I’ve said it.  I’m 57 years old and still love the look and feel of a good children’s title. Show me rich illustrations and I will show you 50 children who will pore over them for every nuance of meaning and will tell you of the wonder they feel when they hear the story that goes with the pictures.   
            A recent New York Times News Service story by Julie Bosman that was reprinted in the Columbus Dispatch on October 14, 2010 covered the changing scenery for children’s picture books.  It seems there are a few factors conspiring to affect this treasured gift to children.  Our busy lives have pushed reading to a lower priority position.  Publishers have scaled back the numbers of new titles released each year because sales have slowed - they have stuck with the tried and true authors and illustrators.  The economic downturn has hit families hard (libraries are the easy answer to this problem). 
The fourth reason and the one that I find most baffling is that parents are urging their kindergartners to bump up to chapter books so they will ace their standardized tests and one day get into fabulous Ivy League schools. East coast booksellers have heard parents admonishing their children who are drawn toward picture books, telling them they can do better than that.  Egads!
      I finished reading the article and headed upstairs to the bookshelf where my sons’ childhood books are still stored.  My sons are 28, 26 and 24 now, but I can’t part with the books. I began pulling books from the shelves, selecting ones that had particular meaning for our family.  My stack grew and grew and I realized that I wasn’t quite sure why I was piling them on the floor.  Was I creating a mound of books to prove their demise had been overstated?  Was I planning a march to the east coast to wave picture books in the faces of crazed, pushy parents who are missing the entire point of childhood?  Or was my stack an homage to a dying breed; the potential dinosaur of our times? 
All I know for sure is that the death of children’s picture books would be a tragedy of epic proportions.  There is so much to be gained from the combination provided by this particular format.  It almost seems ludicrous to even attempt to explain the necessity for this type of literature.  If you don’t get it, you just don’t get it. 
So, here are a few of the books that our family loved.  Strega Nona written and illustrated by Tomie de Paola; Old Bear written and illustrated by Jane Hissey; Fireflies, written and illustrated by Julie Brinckloe; Abiyoyo, written by Pete Seeger, illustrated by Michael Hays; I Have to Go written by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko; Feelings written and illustrated by Aliki; Ira Sleeps Over, written and illustrated by Bernard Waber; No Jumping on the Bed, written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold; The Great Kapok Tree written and illustrated by Lynne Cherry; any book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, and anything written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein.  There, I feel a lot better.  My list has, hopefully, created a dam against the tide of naysayers. 
I treasured the time I had with my children when they were young as we curled up on the couch together, read a good book and laughed or worried over the evolving story.  We talked about big and small things – things that were evoked by the story and pictures – precious moments.  I bet you’ve had a few of those too.
If you love good books for children, then go to the library, go to a bookstore, buy a book for your child or a friend's child, read to a niece or nephew, volunteer to read at a kindergarten, request that your local bookstore carry a larger variety of children's picture books and then buy one.  We can each do something to make a difference. Just reading is a very good start.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Poem - Questions With No Answers

1954 - Patrick far left, me in front

When I was four years old, I was the youngest of five siblings.  When I was four years old, my 10 year old brother died.  When I was four years old, my mother gave birth to my baby brother, Norbert.  Once he was born, I was no longer the youngest of five.  A lot happened when I was four and I don’t remember any of it, at least not consciously. 
My older brother’s name was Patrick and from stories and pictures, I have formed a firm impression of a sweet, sensitive boy who was cursed with ulcerative colitis and died from complications of a disease that would not have killed him in 2010.  I wish I had a clearer sense of his presence.  After he died, my folks were grieving, but had to keep on living and providing for their four, soon to be five, children.  There wasn’t much talk of Pat after that – it must have been too painful - but as a result, many unanswered questions have remained.   My parents passed away several years ago so further illumination is no longer possible.  What went through my four year old mind after something that tragic occurred?  I’ll never know for sure.

Southern Indiana,
A death occurred,
A young boy,
So sad,
So dear,

Why did he die?
Where did he go?
When will we see him again?

He’s gone to heaven,
He’s in a better place,

But where is that place?
When will we see him again?

Questions with no answers,
Answers that explain nothing
To children
Who grieve too,
Who need more than

He’s gone to heaven,

It’s scary to have someone disappear,
There one day gone the next,

A boy with such a winning smile,
Such a warm heart,

Why did he die?
Where did he go?
When will we see him again?

Parents too weary,
Too sad to answer,
More dinners to cook,
Baths to give,
Sheets to wash,
Babies to have,

Life goes on, and on, and on,
But the sadness gets buried
With the long ago loss,
And surfaces from time to time,

Why did he die?
Where did he go?
When will we see him again?

Children need answers,
Need to know the truth,
Need to be heard

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Poem: Listen, Listen Well

I joined our church choir recently and have rediscovered the joy of singing beautiful music in four part harmony.  We are blessed with a great director who is kind, efficient, funny and deeply spiritual.  He effuses with enthusiasm for great hymns sung with feeling.

The hymn, Let All Things Now Living has deep meaning for our extended family.  We sing it each Thanksgiving before dinner.  Even though we are from many different faiths, it is a reminder of our shared humanity.  I found a YouTube recording and slide show that is quite poignant.  If you would like to hear it, click on the song link.

I have been thinking about music quite a bit lately.  It is a powerful force for healing, joy and sharing. 

Listen, Listen Well

has the power
to pour over us,
 through us
and into the very core of our being,

it sometimes makes us weep –

is it the vibration, words,
waves of sound,
or is it 
that music is what
we heard first
while safely cradled
in our mother's womb?

the beating of her heart,
her voice humming a tune,
a symphony of notes
filtering down to our tiny ears,

we were yet to utter our first words,
but were already aware of music,

touching nerves,
touching our soul,
reminding us of who we are,
who we were,
and who we might yet be,

listen, listen well,
let the harmonies reverberate
and replenish your tired body,
your weary mind,
your tender heart,

be lifted on the waves,
and caressed
by the embrace of
joyous and loving

I wish you peace,
I wish you love,
I wish you

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Poem: Pen Pals

If you write me a letter,
I’ll write you one too,
I’ll tell you my secrets;
I have one or two,

Just pick up a pen -
A pencil will do,
Jot a few lines,
Then I’ll write a few,

I’ll ask you a question,
You’ll answer me back,
We’ll go back and forth,
We’ll soon get the knack,

I know we’ll have fun,
I hope you agree,
The best of pen pals
Soon we will be,
 Just you and me,

Writing's the key.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Poem: Don't Pass 'Neath the Light

 Don't Pass 'Neath the Light
This story is true, as true as can be,
Just listen to me and you will soon see,
I never tell lies about something so real,
It’s scary and eerie, but oh what a thrill,

Imagine a house that is haunted and cold,
Then picture a witch all haggard and old,
She sits on her porch from morning ‘til night,
Just waiting for someone to pass ‘neath the light,

Then one night it happened, I swear this is true,
A lady passed by and said, how are you?
The witch smiled slyly and said, I’m just fine,
Come in for awhile; we’ll share some fine wine,

The lady said, sure, I’d love a small glass,
And that’s when the facts of this tale came to pass,
The door opened wide; the witch pushed her in,
Then followed behind with a wink and a grin,

The lady returned to the town the next day,
She seemed to be fine in most every way,
But sometimes she twitched and sometimes she itched,
And sometimes she looked a bit like a witch,

She started to sit on her porch ‘neath a light,
And watch folks pass by from morning ‘til night,
That’s all that I know, and all that I’ll say,
I’m just a bit leery there might be foul play,

It’s probably best if you stay far away;
I wouldn’t go near, at least not today.

Rita Bourland © 2010

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wisdom and Regrets - A Short Story

Wisdom and Regrets

Emilie sat by her Grandma Bessie’s bedside.  She stroked her hand and sang a few bars of “You are my Sunshine.”  Grandma Bessie had sung that song to Emilie hundreds of times when she was a child.  Now it was Emilie’s turn to sing.  Grandma Bessie was dying and would likely not make it through the night.  The sadness and heaviness of death hung in the room, so Emilie sang and stroked and cried a bit for this woman who had always been there for her. 

There were moments of lucidness through the night.  Emilie asked Bessie if she had any regrets from her 88 years of life.  Bessie smiled with her eyes closed and spoke in a whisper, “Emilie, it’s not good to have too many regrets.  They can be stones around the neck that keep you from moving forward.  Try not to drag regrets through life.  I do sometimes think of moments when I was in too much of a hurry to get somewhere and missed something small and magical.  As I got older, I took more time for the magic and left the hurrying to others.”  Bessie paused, then turned and looked at Emilie.

“I was 35 years old and living in New York City.  I had an important job in the garment district as a designer.  I was rushing to a meeting to discuss the fall fabric colors when I heard exquisite music emanating from Central Park.  It swirled around my head in marvelous waves of sound and my steps slowed so I could savor each note, but I didn’t stop.  I had to be somewhere important.  I regret moments like that.  I should have kicked off my high heels, wandered barefoot into the park and perched myself on a grassy patch for the rest of the concert.”   Bessie sighed and then continued.

“When I was about 50 years old and had moved with John to Columbus, Ohio, I came upon a young woman crying in the grocery.  I asked her if I could help.  She said, “No, no, I’m fine.”  So, I moved on and continued with my shopping.  I should have stayed with her and encouraged her to speak to me of the sadness in her heart.  I've often wondered about her.”  Bessie smiled at Emilie and then turned her head and closed her eyes.

“I’m an old woman Emilie and I have few regrets.  Just remember to stop when you hear the music and pause when you hear the tears of others.  The joys and sorrows of life deserve our full attention.”

Emilie continued to stroke Bessie’s hand after she stopped talking, and then she sensed the sudden absence of life in the room.  Bessie was gone and the joys and sorrows of her life had spiraled up into the heavens where all peacefulness reigns.  No regrets – just abundant glory.