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Peanut Butter And The Loss Of A Father

11 Apr

I was given a good dad. His love for me, a great gift. Peanut butter helped me realize this.

I love peanut butter. Always have. As kids, our mom once expressed some concern for my brother and I, “You could develop an allergy if you eat too much”. Thankfully that has yet to happen.

I’m gaining fast on 50 and still eating pb regularly. My favorite is Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter With Honey (Creamy). I also like the Maranatha peanut butter. Jif is a workhorse, particularly for peanut butter cookies.

I’m a house painter. I pack my own lunch. Most days I take a container of pb&j, dipping it with celery sticks at lunch time. I have high metabolism and if I feel a bit shaky mid-morning, I spread some pb on a granola bar. It works wonders.

A house mate once told me, “John, I used to think eating was just meant to fill the hole, but when you cook I eat because it tastes good!” I was honored. But for too long I fear I have used pb to fill the hole without a true appreciation of its wonder, its sticky sublimity. A year ago something happened that made me appreciate it more: my father died.

Not long after he was gone (a few days, really) I perceived that my perspective on all of life was changed. I was seeing through a different lens. I could not immediately, or even months on, clearly identify the effects, but the world often appeared strange to my eyes (and heart). I feared this change was only for the worse, that sadness would prevail going forward. And that is true, but only part of the truth. Along with sadness I found another sense growing: joy.

Peanut butter isn’t really much to look at. Kind of messy. The natural kind separates, forming an oil slick that has to be stirred back in. Yet it is a gift, nutritious, flavorful, edible with other foods or by itself from a spoon. Kids eat it when they won’t eat the dinner they’ve been offered. And it even fills the hole.

It can’t fill the hole left behind by the loss of a loved one, but it has some power to impart a gratitude for all that is good in this world.

As I visit my mom and brother on the one year anniversary of dad’s death, I am more willing to embrace the sorrows and joys of life. Peanut butter tastes better than ever before. I am sad for our loss, but my heart is inclined toward gratitude for all the ways dad gave of himself, in love.

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Only Dog

24 Jun

As kids, we would put our hands inside
her toothy den; for us the molars were mild,
the incisors unwilling even to gentle dent
the soft butter of our skin.
She chewed a couple of neighborhood pets
and Dad had to put her on a run
until we moved outside of town.
There, with our Shepherd’s perked ears
and pointed nose always close by
my brother and I could explore fields
of curious cows, or trod a tangled wood. 
She would bark for joy in the driveway
when visitors arrived who sometimes
waited in their cars until we settled her.

In her waning days, Dad helped her
to get up steps, lifting her from behind. 
The day came he said, She’s in a lot of pain,
and lifted her into the bed of the pickup. 
We drove to town at dusk and dark
had fallen when the vet came out to us.
As if it had all been a dream,
she was gone
and we had started back toward home.       
        From beside him
there on the bench seat of the truck
I glanced up. Dad focused on the road
and cried.  We never had another dog. 
Dad’s words: It’s too hard.

Hidden

5 Jan

Ready or not, the seeker says.
    There’s only so many holes to go down
in this house, but they run to them again
when the count begins.

Who crawls from the laundry heap
or out beneath the bed is musty, dust
and silliness, contented to be found,
or else lodging complaint
if the count was too quick.

They pull my hand, demand, Count loud!
You’re it!  Oak floors bounce and shake,
then all sounds whisper into secrets. 

I raise my voice to reckon time
before ready or not and here I come.
I go slow, but you’d never guess
the way they’ve flown, like ghosts,
behind doors and into backs of closets.

Then I search the rooms of our home;
I seek their faces,
and the light that would be
found in darkened places.

Teller

28 Dec

In books he read aloud, my father uttered charms.
Brave Sneelock, the Heffalump, farmers Boggis, Bean, and Bunce,
the characters by whom he cast a spell.
As a boy, listening, I never guessed an author
and barely parsed the teller from the tale;
all the earth and sky was in the telling—and didn’t fail.

Who told me stories first my heart is welded to
with sentences, is anchored to, as truth is to a word.
His voice turned all to flint and fire,
or else so leaf and green as to be giddy.

Mom says he still reads to her—I can see him in his chair:
lamplight on furrowed brow and legs crossed.
The sun is low; the sky in rows of ruddy men
is marching down to greet him and he begins.
His gift is words—words full of rooms
in which the wonderment of telling is the end.

If Home

11 Dec

If home is where you go—if, here, you strike accords
between the sometimes angry parties at the table
and are able to heed the bell’s harmonic
when another round begins—you stand on solid ground.

If your pulp fictions hit the trash bin by the gate
before you stump over the back step
and through the door, if home is where
you log the daily lore, your feet are on the floor.

If home is where you laugh, cry, get surprised, listen,
touch, desire someone’s eyes, believe they believe
that you are wise, then you are wise. 
If this is your light and your sanctuary;

if home is where you go to rejoin the fight
after a long day—if your foundations shake
and your pillars quiver at the thought of this,
your beacon, quenched—you are a sage and a seer;

you are a lovely footed messenger in flight.

Morning Reflection

14 Jul

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them… ~John 17: 18

…my yoke is easy…    ~Matthew 11:30

At the kitchen, by the door,
Our heels on morning floor,
We gather and prepare
To cross the threshold.

Our heels on morning floor,
We hesitate or hurry
To cross the threshold—
sent into the world.

We hesitate or hurry;
We sally, stump, or tumble—
sent into the world
to shoulder and forgive.

We sally, stump, or tumble,
Heels bruised and blistered,
To shoulder and forgive,
To receive the yoke of rest.

Heels bruised and blistered,
We gather and prepare
To receive the yoke of rest
At the kitchen, by the door.

Early Miscarriages

22 Feb

Death,
you are the enemy. You took two friends,
and if you can hold them you have seized the wind.
We weep for ones taken, and are as shaken
by bleak absence as by your uninvited presence.

At dinner, we sit around the table with living kin.
We pray. Then, with our eyes open to each others faces,
we linger over life in a womb; with two fingers
we make small guesses—No bigger than this? Yes!

Death, we do not want for grief,
but there is a Wing you may not reach beneath.
There your hand cannot grasp fragile forms
and your grip has ceased to close on even these
tiny
living human beings.

Balance

30 Jul

A transaction statement arrives, is buried, finally rises to the top
and is opened, whereupon a five-year-old assails it with a crayon.
You find the time to frown check marks by debits and credits
that match your register; black ink corrals numerical larks.

Then, by calculator, I attempt to interpret this art. If only
I could deconstruct the prank figures, but previous and present
balances are stark, like Picasso’s later work: Don Quixote
mounted on a scribble horse, a depiction more likely to be parsed.

Departure

23 Jul

She toddles away from the cat, then sits
as if to place herself: a receptacle

for the parting kiss.  I bend lips
to her hair and whisper, I love you,

bye bye.  I believe she sends me
to gather fresh air, to harvest blue sky;

I believe I reign in her like a king,
turn in her like a door on its hinge;

I believe she rises and remembers a tower,
bowed, with breath and prickly beard.

Trampolines In Summer by Nathan Eells

24 Jun

I am bouncing.
Me and my brother,
we are bouncing
kangaroos in Australia,
our big feet pounding,
pounding the ground
as we race across the plain.

I am bouncing.
Me and my brother,
we are bouncing
high into the air.
Astronauts in space
zooming past bright green trees,
suspended high above the ground.
Then we plummet to earth
like rocks dropped off a bridge.

I am bouncing.
Me and my brother
we are bouncing
rubber balls
on a sidewalk.
Down we go—
we hit the pavement
without a sound,
like feet on the trampoline.