Fluent

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

John O’Donohue, “Fluent,” Conamara Blues

Moulin Rouge: My Bit of Autumn Heaven

The Moulin Rouge

I have always wondered if heaven captures a
time in our lives when we were the happiest
and most content. One that mirrored the
moment in time when [we] were in complete
and utter love and at peace. And I would
like to think that I would spend eternity
amid a late-October day with laughter
echoing across a long-awaited cool breeze.
Crisp ombré leaves will dance in
celebration as the rusty gates of my heart
open upon candy-corn kisses. 

–“Autumn Heaven” by Alfa Holden [alfa.poet]

Can we pause the madness of our coronavirus pandemic, pre-election existence to consider the understated beauty of late October?

I cannot get enough of the breezy-sunshine days. I’ve even begun taking walks during Zoom meetings that don’t require my explicit input.

This past weekend the weather was irresistibly perfect, so my guys and I went out to Scott’s Orchard’s to pick apples. When we arrived [mid-afternoon], the lines were long, and the trailer transporting people into the orchard was packed, with no social distancing measures in place. Everyone was masked, but we passed on the apple-picking and purchased some “already picked” and sinfully delicious apples.

So what did we do instead? We basked in the sunflowers!

A small sunflower field lining the entrance to the orchard beckoned and we heeded the call. There were many varieties of sunflowers, and the strong dose of sunflowers was so good for my soul.  I have many more sunflowers to share, but the bit of gorgeousness that leads this post left me speechless. I’ve seen the Moulin Rouge sunflower in photos, but to see it in person is another thing altogether.

Talk about a bit of autumn heaven!

If you love sunflowers half as much as I do, stay tuned. I have loads of sunflower love to share–the ones I shot a few days ago and the many, many, many I obsessively shot during the summer from the mini-field my guys planted outside my home office window. Who knows? Maybe, I’ll start 2021 with a month of sunflowers!

Until then, find a little heaven in this autumn beauty…

To Autumn, or, Little Girls with Apples

It dawned on me this morning as I opened an envelope from Fran B, one of my Love Notes pals, that we are nearly a month into the season, and I have not done any “odes to autumn” on the blog. Shocker, right?

I assure you, I have been soaking up the goodness of early autumn as much as I can–the milder temperatures, the gentle breezes, the random highlights [bright oranges, yellows, and reds] in the trees. Academic life during COVID-19 is a level of busy I have never, ever experienced, so it’s been a bit of a struggle getting to the blog, especially since I’m typically screen-weary to the point of tears–or madness.

The artwork featured on the card Fran sent is worth my risking my sanity.

“Cider Mill” (1880) by John George Brown. Oil on Canvas. Daniel J. Terra Collection.

Cider Mill by John George Brown (1831-1913) features five little girls feasting on scrumptious apples they’ve just picked outside a cider mill. It speaks volumes about girlhood, apples, and autumn. The art is part of the Daniel J. Terra Collection of the Terra Foundation for the Arts. [Click the links to learn more about the artist and the masterpiece].

This is a delightful piece of art, but it grabbed my heart because the intensity of and seriousness in the eyes of the little girl with the red bow remind me of my baby niece, Lu, whom you’ve seen on the blog before.

Don’t you think she would fit right in?

Oh, and there’s a bonus–the first stanza of John Keats’ “To Autumn” was beautifully imprinted on the back of the card! If you’ve been keeping up, you know that he’s my favorite British Romantic poet:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Oh, there was even more autumn goodness inside the envelope, but you’ll have to wait for that. 😉

#ThursdayTreeLove | “When I Am Among the Trees”

As I’m nearing the end of this week of not feeling quite like myself, I am thankful for the time I spent with the trees–during one long walk on a path I hadn’t taken in years and in brief moments while running errands.

The photo above was from one of my shorter walks. As I walked, I looked up to behold the beautiful black walnut tree with its gorgeous branch extended over the path–an invitation to loveliness and light.

Being “among the trees” is therapy at its best. “They save me…daily.”

“When I Am Among the Trees”
Mary Oliver

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Doodling Purple | “Sitting on a Bus with Strangers”

I was a bus rider for several years, but, with the exception of taking the streetcars in New Orleans for fun, it’s been a long, long time since I rode a city bus anywhere. 

I kind of miss the almost quiet commute. Traffic and road construction were someone else’s concern, so I took the time to grade papers, review lecture notes, daydream, or rest.

I especially enjoyed people-watching: mothers with babies struggling to load strollers onto the bus and the ever-present kind gentlemen who assisted them; school kids chatting about their day or “clowning” each other; men and women in business attire leaving their work behind and mentally planning dinner or a night out. The chance meet-up of neighbors and friends, excitedly greeting each other.

There were always crazy, interesting, and [sometimes] scary stories to report after a ride on the bus.

The latest postcard from Fran B, my Love Notes pal, reminded me of those bus rides and the many stories that were part of the experience. The postcard features the poem “Sitting on a Bus with Strangers” by Teresa Wyeth. The poem is part of Indiana’s Shared Spaces/Shared Voices public art project that infused Indianapolis’ public transportation system with literary art and spoken word performances written by Indiana writers. 

About the Image: The top image is one of the photo art pieces I crafted from the mums I shot at the end of September. You can see more mums art in last week’s [not-so] #WordlessWednesday post.

Mums the Word!

Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us.

–Mary Oliver, “Franz Marc’s Blue Horses,” Blue Horses, 2014

Today’s blog post is brought to you by the autumn flower–mums!

When we celebrated my aunt’s birthday this past weekend–social distancing measures in place–I knew I had to capture the mums welcoming us to her home. I had plans to play around with them later.

I’d been adding “create something” to my daily to-do list for days, but had not managed to check off that “task,” so I sat down with my computer and iPad to “play” during last night’s non-presidential debate[?].  I was able to revisit the mums and transform them in more ways than I can share in one blog post.

Here are three of the 12 pieces I crafted. [I will share some of the others in separate posts].

Maybe, they’re beautiful. Maybe, they’re not. No matter. The pleasure was in the process of creating, not the outcome.

There Is Joy…

But
isn’t it funny?
[…]
all they are interested in is our pain,
as if the joy-parts were accidental.

I write love poems, too,
but
you only want to see my mouth torn open in protest,
as if my mouth were a wound
with pus and gangrene
for joy. –Koleka Putuma, “Black Joy,” Collective Amnesia

People misunderstand Blacks in America. When we rise up against police brutality and other racial and social injustices in this country, when we speak the truth of our pain, we are not saying our lives are utterly miserable. There is joy, and–at the risk of sounding essentialist–that is part of our beauty and strength as a people.

I’ve run across many people who are interested in our pain, as the poet Koleka Putuma notes, but few who are invested in our joy. This strips us of our humanness and reduces us to “objects.”

I assure you. There is joy.

In spite of the pain that often comes with living in this world with Black skin, in spite of the economic barriers, in spite of the educational and health disparities, in spite of systemic oppression, we are able to thrive and embrace joy. We are able to live and worship and laugh and love and support our communities. We are able to forgive, to comfort, to heal. In spite of the struggle, there is much that is joyful and beautiful in our lives.


About the image: The photo was shot at my Dad’s 80th birthday party five+ years ago. I was searching my Flickr album for a completely different photo, but there was so much joy in this photo that it oozed off the screen and into my spirit on this gloomy not-so-wordless Wednesday.

Musings from My Younger Self | I Can Be Me!

“Coneflowers” by Kayla W.

While talking to a colleague a few days ago, I happened across a poem I wrote when I was about 16. I shared a few lines with her and she was “impressed” that I was thinking about something other than boys and getting away from my parents’ rules. I told her I’d share the poem on the blog today, but it requires more typing than I can handle at the moment, so I chose a much shorter “teenage” poem–one that is nothing like the other poem.

I Can Be Me!

In a poem
I can be anyone
I want to be.
I can do
what I want to do
when I want to do it.
I can lose painful feelings to memory
and rejoice in my misery.
I can escape
and travel to ageless worlds.
I can create a world of my own
and destroy reality.
In a poem,
dreams are reality
and yesterdays are forgotten.
Tomorrows never come.
Today is forever.
In a poem
I can be a philosophical moron
or a simple intellectual.
In a poem
I can be anyone
I want to be;
I can even be me!

It has been almost two years since I shared a “younger self” poem! I find a lot of the poems rather “cringey,” to use my son’s word. But there are a hundreds of them, so I’ll try to get over myself and share them a bit more frequently.


About the Image: The cheerful artwork above is the work of my colleague, Kayla W–the person referenced in the conversation about my teenage poetry. She recently learned she’s an artist. 😉 Even if you find my poem cringey [too], please show Kayla some bloggy love. ❤

Summoned Mother | Tameka Cage Conley

All mothers were summoned, when George Floyd called out for his mother. —Rachel Costa

Every mother heard him. We heard George Floyd. We hear him. —Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo who was murdered by New York City police officers in 1999.

For today’s post on living Black in the United States, I invite you to view a three-part series presented by the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. The project features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, an artist I initially met many years ago when she was a student–an English major, of course. 😉 I am so very proud of her and her work.

The museum describes the “Summoned Mother” series as:

a memoir of a particular American motherhood: Black and uniquely precarious. This three-volume video series features Dr. Tameka Cage Conley, a literary artist and mother to a six-year-old Black boy, as she responds to George Floyd’s breathless call on motherhood. Conley juxtaposes the works of Elizabeth Catlett with those of contemporary Black poets, bridging the visual and literary arts in a meditation of Black artistry’s longstanding eye on injustice.

Dr. Tameka’s masterful weave of poetry, art, story, and song achingly reaches that primordial place in all mothers that compels us to protect, to rescue, to do something.

The project was spearheaded by Kwadwo Nnuro; the entire series is approximately 42 minutes in length.


About the image: The image that leads today’s post features a favorite photo of my son and me–modified for the post.

Other posts in the “Black Lives Matter” Monday series:

Breathe | Two Poems

I do not have a guest post today. Instead, I offer two poems written [by Toi Derricotte and Ross Gay] in response to the murders of George Floyd and Eric Garner. Both men uttered the words, “I can’t breathe” before they died at the hands [or feet] of police officers.

Why I Don’t Write About George Floyd [2020]
Toi Derricotte

Because there is too much to say
Because I have nothing to say
Because I don’t know what to say
Because everything has been said
Because it hurts too much to say
What can I say what can I say
Something is stuck in my throat
Something is stuck like an apple
Something is stuck like a knife
Something is stuffed like a foot
Something is stuffed like a body

***     ***     ***

A Small Needful Fact [2015]
Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.


About the image: I shot [and edited] the photo above about 5 years ago while on one of my campus photo walks. A few days after George Floyd’s murder the photo “resurfaced” while I was looking through my archives for a different photograph.