Best of Member Monday 2012 #3

The Webmaster is off to Uganda; great time to re-run past Member Mondays based on fan comments.

In the Gaps
by Jennifer Phelps

I’m focusing on living in the gaps. It’s been a little over two months since my mother died,and when she was sick everything was gaps. She was hanging in a gap as if suspended over a gorge, halfway between earth and sky. Nothing was clear-cut when Mom was dying, and oddly, that somehow made sense. As if that’s what dying is: slipping into the gap.

Here’s what I mean by gaps.  Recently I e-mailed a poem to someone. The poem was called “Trying to Raise the Dead” by Dorianne Laux, one of my favorite contemporary poets.  My reader replied, saying that he found the poem, like most poetry,  “cryptic.”  I have never been of the mind that Laux’s poetry is circumspect or obscure with a difficult-to-delineate meaning. This reader was hung up on the details. The narrator is at a house. “Whose house?” my reader demanded. She’s at a party and she doesn’t know the people that well. “Why is she there? Why doesn’t she know them?” She’s outside, and the others are inside, singing. “How come? Why doesn’t she go back inside with them?” (To this, I answered, “Maybe she was smoking a cigarette.”  Geesh.)

Poetry leaves gaps. I’m comfortable with them. Not the esoteric, overly academic puzzle poems people love to praise, probably because they figure something so convoluted must be intelligent. Laux’s poetry isn’t pretentious or overworked. It just leaves open space so that when I read it, I can make it mine.

My mother loved poetry, understood the gaps, was in her element in them, actually.  But she loved music more.  She used to say that music speaks to that for which there are no words. So does poetry, I say. Good poetry, anyway.

Now that Mom is gone, I’m left trying to articulate to people what made her special, what it is that I miss. What I miss is that she knew a deep truth. That knowing was her unique gift. I will miss her facility with gaps.

I suppose my mother can be found only in those spaces between things now.  Wherever, if anywhere, the essence of her exists, it is not on this physical plane. At least, this is what I tell myself so that I don’t keep looking here. I look there – in the gaps. I listen to song after song, read poem after poem, trying to find one that makes me feel just the right way. Makes me feel like she is still here.

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Best of Member Monday 2012 #2

The Webmaster is off to Uganda; great time to re-run past Member Mondays based on fan comments.

Author’s Note:  Every spring I raise dragonflies in my classroom.  It’s a magnificent process to observe as these water creatures take flight and become acrobats of the air.  Just this last week, the dragonfly nymphs arrived in my classroom and so it feels appropriate to start off dragonfly season by sharing this piece with you.  One particular year, raising dragonflies came at a difficult time in my life and the growth of the dragonflies mirrored my own struggles.  As dragonflies begin to take flight this spring maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a little bit of yourself in them as well.

The Thing About Dragonflies
By Alicia McCauley

My favorite insect is the dragonfly.  Yes, they’re beautiful, but that’s not why I love them.  Adult dragonflies hunt by holding their legs together like a basket and scooping insects right out of the sky, but that’s not why I love them either.  Sure they’re the only insect that can fly backwards and while that’s amazing, that’s not why they have garnered my affection.

The thing about dragonflies is that they start out as nymphs.  Ugly, brown nymphs with grumpy faces.  They scoot around in the water and muck, shooting out their masks, catching unfortunate prey.  They spend months, sometimes years, in this stage.  Wallowing in the mire.  Camouflaging, even covering themselves in filth.  To the inattentive eye, it just looks like they’re hanging around being ugly, but what’s really happening is change.  You see, the nymph is busy growing and molting.  It grows and molts, grows and molts, leaving ghost skeletons lingering in the water.

Nymphs mostly molt in the dark of night, so that sometimes the changes go completely unnoticed until one day the nymph crawls out of the water and up a cattail.  It clings to the cattail with hooks on its legs and then a most splendid thing happens.  One last time, the exuvia cracks open and an adult dragonfly flops out of its old self.  It hangs upside down, seeing the world in a whole new way.

The new dragonfly waits.  Waits to fly.  Waits to see the world.  Waits to wheel in the wind.  When blood pulses into the wings, the dragonfly takes off.  At first the flights are clumsy.  The dragonfly bumbles around as if it’s getting acquainted with itself for the first time.  After a few test flights the dragonfly is zipping around, hovering and even jutting in reverse.  The scowl of the nymph is replaced with eager eyes and a jeweled body that shimmers even in the faintest of light.  It’s hard to imagine that the dragonfly feels anything short of joy as it skims the water, reveling in the knowledge that, at long last, it has become what it is meant to be.

At night when sad thoughts creep in and steal the remnants of sleep, I think about the dragonfly.  When I’m covered in sorrow and I can’t escape the muck, I take heart in the fact that growth is happening.  Change is taking place, even in times when I can’t see it.  I have to believe that heartache will someday become an ill-fitting skin that will eventually crack open and give way.  Give way to beauty.  Give way to love.

I think of the nymph and the day it makes the final climb up the cattail.  That must be one scary climb.  In fact the nymph will often fall back into the mud several times while trying to make that climb.  When I feel like all I’m doing is falling, I remember the perseverance of the nymph.I swing my legs over the bed each morning.  I smile at my loved ones.  I breathe in and out.  I tell myself to keep trying.  I know one day strength will break through sorrow, leaving the mire to exist only in my memory.  I wait with anticipation for the day that I’ll soar with wings pulsing with life.

I love dragonflies for their patience.  I love dragonflies for their determination, for their strength.  I love dragonflies because they are tangible proof that ugliness and pain cannot contain the pursuit of joy.

During lonely nights, dragonflies sweep into my mind with their basket legs and scoop away brokenness, leaving room for hope.

And that is the thing I love the most about dragonflies.

Best of Member Monday from 2012 #1

The Webmaster is off to Uganda; great time to re-run past Member Mondays based on fan comments.

Blind Billy Bongos, Sleepy Jimmy, and Larry Two Shoes
By Laura Hernandez

Walking past the Courthouse, on my way back to the Public Defenders’ Office, whipping my yo-yo up and down real fast ‘cause I was pissed that the preliminary hearing transcript that I ordered from the court clerk still wasn’t ready for me to take, I passed Blind Billy Bongos. He wasn’t really blind. The cops call him that because he talks to himself and plays invisible bongos in the air, “blind” to what it looks like, hands floating side to side, slapping one lid then another, back and forth; while he stands, struts or walks around town. I know it doesn’t make sense, but the name has a ring to it, Billy seems to like it, and it fits. Blind Billy would say “hi” to you, if you said “hi” to him, but it wouldn’t necessarily stop him from talking to himself, nor would it stop his bongo playing. I said, “Hi, Blind Billy!” and he said, “Hi Miss Laura!” and slapped the air about four feet from the ground on the left, then the right, before I got all the way past him. “Nice day for yo-yo-ing! Have you learned to ‘walk the dog’ yet?”

“No, Blind Billy, not yet!” It wasn’t quite true. I could do the yo-yo trick a little bit, but I was inconsistent, so the trick wasn’t ready “for the street” just yet. It involves throwing the yo straight out, low to the ground, letting it zing for a second, and snapping it back with an under and back snap to the wrist at the same time you pull you whole arm back to your side. You also need to bend at the waist to do this, and usually I had a sheaf of papers in one arm, so this trick wasn’t always graceful for me. I can’t juggle yet, either, but I’m trying.

Sleepy Jimmy was crossing the street in front of me, and called me over to show me something. I try real hard to be nice to the Guys in the Street because you never know when they might have some information about missing witnesses or something you might need. It’s not that I would send them on some “intelligence mission,” but My Boss might be real interested in the information and could send a real investigator to do the info gathering. Sleepy Jimmy always had his eyes at half-mast, kinda like he was about to go to sleep at any minute.He talked slow enough to make you think he was about to drop off any second, too. Today he showed me he had found a baby bird that had fallen from someplace, but seemed to be alright. I looked into Jimmy’s cupped hands and smiled at the tiny, brown, feathered, fluff ball that wasn’t even struggling to get away. The little thing just looked snuggled into a new kind of nest. It seemed happy to be there, and Jimmy was happy to have it. “That’s real nice, Jimmy! What you gonna feed it?”

“I dunno. I was thinking of some hamburger but I don’t got some.”

“Why don’t you go to the Law Dogs hot dog stand and see if they’ve got somethin’ to give ya?”

“Thas’ a good idea, Miss Laura! I gotta get over there, then! See ya!”

I think it’s funny that all the Street Guys seemed to call me “Miss Laura” just cause they heard one of my bosses, a southern guy, call me that once on the street in front of a couple of cops we were chatting with one day. They passed the name on, I guess. Most of the lawyers I worked with weren’t southern. In fact, that guy was the only one. I guess the Street Guys wanted to call me something “respectful” but not stuffy, so I got the “Miss” with the First-Name-Casual. Considering the names I coulda been called, this is not bad at all.

As I crossed Main Street onto Market, I waved to Larry Two Shoes who was on the next block. I always liked Larry Two Shoes, ever since he picked me up from an almost fall on the sidewalk one cold day. I was running in my high heels over another cobblestoned street downtown when I hit a broken, sticking-up stone and started to go down. Larry Two Shoes had just turned the corner behind me with his cart and ran to scoop me up just before I could hit the hard street. He was surprisingly strong for a Street Guy who didn’t eat often. He had one arm around me and the other outstretched to balance us both, like a teetering dancer. He straightened us in one swoop and settled me on the ground upright, smiling like he had just shagged an easy fly ball. “God, thanks, man!”

“No problem, Miss Laura! Glad I was here!” I clutched my papers tighter with one hand while sticking out my right to shake. He pulled back his own hand, “Oh, no, Miss Laura, I’m too dirty for you!”

“Well, we’ve never been introduced, but you know my name, so it’s only fair you tell me yours!” I said.

“It’s Larry Two Shoes, Miss Laura!”

“Why Two Shoes?” I asked.

“Well look,” he said reaching back to grab his shopping cart full of his household things. Tied by their grimy laces to the handle bars like Footlocker’s fuzzy dice were two old, cruddy tennis shoes, his “spares.”

“Oh, well that’s handy!” What else? “It was nice to meet you, and thank you for catching me, Larry Two Shoes!” I called over my shoulder as I heel-click hurried back to the office.

“My pleasure, Miss Laura!” he called back, bowing slightly. I didn’t know it yet, but one day Larry Two Shoes would show up on the street outta nowhere to save my bacon again.

Member Monday: The Wonders of the Lost Coast by Jen Higley

Welcome back to Member Monday!  We continue our theme on “Summer” with a piece from Writers Forum board member, Jen Higley.  Jen recently backpacked the lost coast in the good company of her mother and their dogs.  Today she writes of the wonders they beheld.  Welcome, Jen!

The Wonders of the Lost Coast

by Jen Higley

View from Kinsey Ridge TrailSummer in northern California marks the beginning of travel season for many, and few places are more refreshing than the coast.  Cool breezes, frequent moisture and lush green growth are just a few of the things that make the coast the opposite of the rest of California in summertime.  But for those craving adventure this summer, you needn’t look further than the Lost Coast in the King Range Wilderness.

The Lost Coast is a beach-loving camper’s paradise, with campsites for those in motor vehicles, on horse-back, or those adventure lovers who strap all their supplies on their backs and set out for those patches of coastline accessible only on foot.  Hike along the beach, watch seals play in the surf, set up your tent with a view of the ocean and listen to its tales all through the night.

Idyllic as it is, the importance of having a travel plan must not be understated.  There are a few things to keep in mind when on the trail to coastal camping bliss.

The Lost Coast Trail moves to and away from the beach at appropriate intervals, for the safety of hikers.  Enjoy the soothing sound of the powerful Pacific when hiking on the beach as you push through deep, silky soft sand with only everything you need to survive four days in the wilderness to weigh you down.  You’ll have plenty of time to absorb that marvelous maritime air when traversing miles of sand moving a foot and a half per step.  Plenty of time.

Moving inland, you get the beautiful ocean view from a shore bird’s perspective, as parts of the trail climb quite high with no obstacles such as railings, stout shrubs or anything else you could hold on to blocking your view.  And while you’re up there, with those magnificent shore breezes, take care to lean in to the hillside being traversed, as only the ocean and its accompanying sharp rocks and rip-tide would be there to stop a stumble.

There is no shortage of wildlife on the Lost Coast.  You will be living for a time in that mystical habitat where ocean life meets terrestrial, the sea lions and otters sharing the beach with bobcats, coyotes and bear alike.  While one must take care to watch out for potentially harmful wildlife when camping miles from the nearest town and well out of wireless range, most campers are spared unpleasant animal encounters by taking simple precautions, such as storing their food in bear-safe canisters and not stepping on the rattlesnakes.  The bother of insects is reduced by the exfoliating winds, but you’d be prudent to check your gear and body for ticks at the end of each day.  If you take along a faithful canine companion, check him also, as full-body fur can harbor a few dozen more ticks than you’d think.

Plant life along the Lost Coast is a sight to behold for botanists and common flora enthusiasts alike.  In early summer, you’ll pass wildflowers, century plants, and herbs such as mint, all equally obscured by the vast swatches of poison oak.  Trailhead signs encourage hikers to learn to recognize and avoid poison oak, but if you fail to dodge the fresh, oily growth that narrows the path to four inches wide in places, just rinse any exposed and most certainly contaminated skin at one of the many creeks and streams along the trail—and pray.

Weather on the Lost Coast can be breathtakingly perfect.  However, in a climate known to accumulate 200 or more inches of rain in a year, it is not uncommon for a hiker to experience some moisture.  Take care to pack your sleeping gear in water safe bags, as this will help you avoid a night of obligatory insomnia to stave off hypothermia.  Another reason to protect your gear from moisture is the grand ocean itself.  Some sections of this twenty-five mile trail are impassible at high tides, so one must carry a map and plan the day’s hiking accordingly.  At times, a hiker will neglect to consult a tide chart and be quite surprised when a pristine wave suddenly bashes her against the rocks, which is particularly distressing when there is no possible way to leave the beach for a mile or two in either direction.  Should you find yourself in such a predicament, you can hike to the safety of the nearest creek drainage, or perch on any high rocks in the area while waiting for the tide to recede, as it always does eventually.

As I’m sure I have conveyed, backpacking on the Lost Coast is a unique and amazing experience for the novice and seasoned backpacker alike, and can be enchanting fun for the whole family.  Knowing your route and packing conscientiously are the keys to a safe and grand adventure in this wilderness like no other.  On a personal note, I have never returned from the Lost Coast without longing to return.  It’s true.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com. Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!