Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Photos and a Poem | Longwood Gardens 2019

After we visited the orchid show, D and I headed over to see what was going on in the meadow. Not much, if you were looking for lush signs of spring. Nonetheless, what I saw inspired a poem. D took the photo from the wooden bridge over the meadow pond.

Floating on the pond
Webs crack through ice
Awake to Spring knocking
On soggy doors

Beneath the surface
Frozen life hibernates
Motionless and chilled –
Fragile beauty
Waiting for release
From Winter’s icy grip

And now this photo — a closeup of something lying on the ice in the photo above. A graceful, beautiful remnant of Fall. This time fragile beauty frozen to the surface, waiting for release.

So…what about that meadow? Though it was open to hikers, there were precious few actually on the trails. The happiest hikers we saw were in motorized wheelchairs! No muddy boots, no slipping and sliding.

This budding tulip tree next to the meadow seems to think spring is just around the corner –

After a look at the slippery, muddy meadow paths, we decided to stay on the paved perimeter and walk over to the pond. I’ve never seen it so full, or so covered with ice.

Still, it was beautiful, peaceful and alive with signs of life, even though nothing was moving below the surface. I love the reflection of tree trunks and limbs in the first photo below. The second photo documents our only live bird sighting on the ground around the pond and meadow. One lonely robin.

This last set of photos is from our walk back to the visitor’s center. I chose several with flashes of color, beauty, or quirky interest.

Shadows and hints of things to come. Even the icy pond shows promise. I can’t wait to go back when Spring has officially arrived.

Thanks for visiting!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 February 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser, 5 February 2019

On listening to my father

My father’s shame, like mine, went back to his childhood. He endured family hardships as one child of many. These included things like carrying lard sandwiches to school and being ashamed to let classmates see him eating them; wearing winter ‘shoes’ made from pieces of old rubber and ropes; and living in fear of being shamed and beaten by his father.

Childhood shame became envy. One opportunity after another slipped through his fingers. He was a proud man, filled with deep-seated resentments. Then there were dreams he couldn’t give up even though they weren’t going to happen. On top of this, the older I became, the more difficult it was for him to celebrate my accomplishments.

In this slightly revised poem I’m inviting him to join me. I first wrote it about a poor woman in a portrait. I recognized myself in her. I know what it’s like to live with shame that feeds envy. I can’t change what happened between my father and me; I can, however, change the way my heart sees him today. I can also listen to him now in ways he couldn’t listen to me. Perhaps I might even weep with him.

Suffering from Obsessive Envy

I know this proud man
The look in his eyes
The slightly raised brow
The unsmiling mouth.

Heavy with envy,
His eyes keep sharp watch
Marking my own good fortune
As were it his loss.

Am I not entitled?
Do I not slave harder?
How dare she be happy
At my poor expense.

Dear father, I know you.
You cower in my heart;
Your anger, your silence,
Your pride, your fierce want.

Look at me if you dare
Look me straight in the eye
Describe your resentments,
The dreams you saw die.

Weep long if you must
For the life you have led;
Sit here on this bench
Let me wipe your tears dry.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 February 2019

For tongue-tied women of a certain age

Oh, Honey!
How polite we’ve been
All these years
Voices tripping lightly
Over rotten eggshells
And around huge cow pies
Plopped in our paths
Unceremoniously
By fawning faces
And genteel souls
Killing us softly with
Promises and thinly veiled
Threats cold and dagger-sharp

These words came springing to mind yesterday afternoon. Here we are in the 21st century, deep into the age of Trump, and I’ve been taught to be polite. To defer to those in authority over me, and keep my mouth shut.

Not that I’ve always been a good white girl. Still, on the scale of niceness I’ve probably been about 9 out of 10 on the side of the angels. Especially when dealing with men intent on keeping me in my place (wherever that is), or promising me heaven on earth.

Strangely, my father comes to mind, right up there with my worst boss ever and other men who tried over the years to shame or sweet-talk me into compliance with their wishes.

Today I’m wondering what I have yet to say to my father. Not to scorn or shame him, but to turn the tables and own the power of my voice. Along with the power of truth and good will. Not just for his sake, but for mine.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 February 2019

Little Girl Speakings | Maya Angelou

Here’s a poem for children. A taunt song of sorts, best heard when recited out loud, with appropriate emphasis on key words. Perhaps you’ve sung songs like this to yourself many times. My comments follow.

Little Girl Speakings

Ain’t nobody better’n my Daddy,
you keep yo’ quauter,
I ain’t yo’ daughter.
Ain’t nobody better’n my Daddy.

Ain’t nothing prettier’n my dollie,
heard what I said
don’t pat her head,
Ain’t nothing prettier’n my dollie.

No lady cookinger than my Mommy,
smell that pie,
see I don’t lie,
No lady cookinger than my Mommy.

Maya Angelou, in Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou
Published by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, 2013

quauter–quarter
cookinger–better as a cook

All my childhood I waged a double war. One war was with my father, at home. There I was his ‘problem,’ and he was the man sent by God to correct the problem. Maya Angelou’s poem wouldn’t have worked for this home-grown war.

The second war, however, was with childhood acquaintances and classmates who seemed to think male clergymen were sissies, or at least not ‘real men.’ Unless, of course, they were senior pastors in one of the big churches in the city. In their eyes, my father wasn’t one of the ‘real men.’ I know this because I watched their faces as I tried to explain my father’s situation.

Maya Angelou’s poem can be read as an in-your-face response to people who believe their privileged families and circumstances are better than her own. Note the repeated words ‘nobody,’ ‘nothing,’ and ‘no lady.’ She leaves no room for doubt. She has the best deal in town. They do not.

I can also imagine Angelou writing this poem for young girls surrounded by a better-than-thou, unforgiving world. Her poem is a gift of empirical, emotional truth. It’s for all young girls learning to take care of themselves and their voices, especially when the world wants to ignore and belittle them and their circumstances.

In either case, the hero in this poem isn’t Daddy, Mommy, or even ‘my dollie.’ It’s the young girl who dares to sing this song over and over, no matter the circumstances. Think of it as voice training for the 21st century.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 February 2019
Photo of young Maya Angelou found at atlantablackstar.com

It’s all I have to bring today —

Here’s a poem from Emily Dickinson in celebration of our hearts, the fields, the meadows and the bees. Appropriate for Valentine’s Day and every other day of the year.

It’s all I have to bring today —
This, and my heart beside —
This, and my heart, and all the fields —
And all the meadows wide —
Be sure you count, should I forget —
Some one the sum could tell —
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Emily Dickinson, in Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson
© 1994 by Magnolia Editions Limited, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

The sum of love is beyond comprehension, beyond the capacity of a heart to understand. Wider and deeper than meadows or the sky. Elusive as bees hiding in clover and pollen drifting through the air.

Is there a way to capture it? I think Emily’s answer is No. Perhaps because we don’t own it, and thus can’t hoard it? The only option left, it seems, is to give it away. One heart at a time, expanding out beyond itself. As large and as small as nature’s unnumbered wonders ‘hiding’ right outside our doors.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 February 2019
Photo found at sureastheworld.com

Orchid Extravaganza at Longwood 2019 | Photos

Thanks to Longwood Gardens for putting on the best annual orchid show in town! Here are some favorites from D’s prolific photos — nearly 300 photos this time.

We’re in the Conservatory’s spacious indoor gardens and hallways. Imagine the best-kept indoor garden you’ve never had, plus the sound of water flowing and/or cascading down in almost every room.

The photo above shows a passage from the main fountain garden to a quieter area. A small fountain at one end keeps the shallow water moving. Potted palms sit in boxes on the pool floor. Chairs and boxes of ivy and small flowering plants line the edge of the pool. Beyond the windows on the far side (above) are water lily ponds still in hibernation.

For special events the pool is drained, and furniture set up for elegant programs, dining, dancing or other celebrations.

Time for more orchids — beginning with this unusual black orchid from Longwood’s collection.

The ‘orchid curtain’ below lines a passageway beyond the orchid room. The second photo shows the same curtain on the reverse side, this time lining a tropical plant garden.

They next two photos remind me of college days and orchid corsages. That would be in the 1960s, when an orchid corsage or even wrist adornment was the mark of a woman spoken for! Or at least hopeful. We’ve come a long way, baby! And yes, the orchids were lovely — the mark of a caring gentleman.

Several more beauties — a random mix of smiling (sort of) faces and the unexpected.




Finally, one last look at three Conservatory paths. First to the orchid room, then through the bromeliad display, and finally around the edge of the main Conservatory entrance. I wish I could capture the sounds and fragrance of this place. Maybe someday….

I hope your day is sunny, filled with fragrant beauty and moments of calm joy.

Thanks for coming along!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 February 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser, 5 February 2019, Longwood Gardens Conservatory

All I need for today

All I need for today
Is framed by my kitchen window

This is truth:
The importance of small things.
Have you counted earth’s surviving insects?

Planetary disaster goes unnoticed
The border wall calls, cries, screams
For attention
The small child in each of us
Demanding and relentless

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 February 2019
Photo of endangered North American Karner Blue Butterfly found at allaboutwildlife.com

The Collage revisited

“Writing when Awake is dangerous.” I wrote this piece years ago, while Awake. When you get to the collage, click on it for a close-up.

*****

I agonized about whether to begin this blog.  Not because I had nothing to say, but because I was terrified.  Of what?  I’m not sure.  Probably the concreteness of truth.  Even though I lived with it all my life, putting truth out there in concrete words is different.

The words below are from my journal.  I made the entry on 19 July 2012, about 18 months before I published my first post, Dear Dad.  It’s a one-hour, non-stop writing exercise.  What you see is nearly every word I wrote—reformatted.  I made the collage in the early 1990s.

I’m at my desk, keyboard in my lap, eyes closed most of the time—except to check the clock.  The collage is on the wall just above my desk.  Nothing but bits and pieces cut out of old magazines.  It’s not a lovely work of art, but a crude icon.  It reminds me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

* * *

8:53am
Showing up.
Facing my fear and inhibitions.
All my life.
Small, invisible, insignificant, scared,
trying to fit in while desperately longing to stand out—
to be counted as somebody—
to make a difference.
A big difference.

Telephone ringing.
I’m a writer.  First.
Not afraid to let the phone ring,
to close the door,
to do what wants to be done.

Write.
Big.
Bold.
Unashamed.
More willing to live with the
consequences of big and bold,
than small and insignificant—
lost in the noise.

Shout it from the rooftop.
Hit the front pages of the newspaper.
Unavoidable and compelling.
A wake-up call not just for ‘them,’
but for me!!!!
Especially for me.

To tell the truth—
not for the faint-hearted
or for those like me given to
strategic choices of words that mask,
hide and protect the reality of what is—
whether we/I like it or not.

The truth not just about what happened
and is happening,
but the truth about what it takes—
the cost of belonging to the human race.
From the inside out—
not simply about them,
but about me.

Without fear or holding back;
without malice of mindfulness;
and without any agenda but one—
to bear witness in a way that
forges solidarity with others.

I’ve always wanted to belong—
to be normal—rather than strange,
set-apart, holy or the preacher’s kid.
The only way to get there, I think,
is to strengthen to completion
the bridge I can build
between myself and people I may never know.

A bridge of understanding,
of sisterly compassion,
of challenge,
and seemingly unending damage and pain.
A bridge of respect for survivors.
A bridge of honesty about my past
and the people who damaged me
and prepared me for the life I now live.

Am I looking for healing?
When that means acceptance, yes.
If it means pressing a restart button, no.
Things done and internal wiring completed
can’t be undone so easily.

If, however, it means healing
of my self as God’s beloved daughter child,
Yes.
This life was entrusted to me.
Not to anyone else.
Only I can live it.
Which includes/entails telling
the sad and sorry truth about growing up female.

Suddenly feeling drowsy.
Do I want to just stop and start over
on another topic/project?
Yes.
This feels way out of control and out of reach.
So yes, I have a strong desire
to put my head down and snooze.

(I just caught myself not sitting up straight.  Interesting.)

It’s now 9:15 am—
not quite halfway through this exercise.
I need to sit a bit and collect my scattered self.
I am a writer!

Centering Prayer.
Mindful breathing.
Surrender.
This is a practice I need as I write.

9:21am.
Back to it
Not sure where I am except for this:
To belong to the human race takes audacious courage.
Courage to do what doesn’t come naturally and is not always rewarded.
Bottom line:  Which price am I prepared to pay?
There’s a price for me either way.

Still struggling with drowsiness.
I ate breakfast before writing—
and now I’m struggling to stay present.
Feeling a tingly desire to go to sleep and not wake up!
Wakefulness—mindful wakefulness—
is worse than a nightmare.

9:26.
The clock seems slow today.
I need to just sit.  Drink Water.
Keep my body and mind awake,
open and receptive.

Drinking water.  Good.
I’m thirsty.  For what?
For something to calm my heart and mind
that wants to shut down just now.
Something to keep me going.
Alive.  Functioning.  Processing.  Growing.
Eliminating what is poison or no longer of use to me.
Water.

9:31am
The collage comes to mind.  I’m looking at it, getting teary.

The Collage

  • Life can be murder
  • Without Clear Proof
  • The Secret Within a Secret
  • DANGER
  • Somewhere in your house a battery is dying….
  • Lost.  Lost.
  • Failure
  • Stuck in Neutral
  • Defend Yourself
  • Sometimes you can tell what’s missing.
  • Much Less Than Meets the Eye
  • Someone Who Really Likes to Stay in Touch
  • For a Child’s Sake

The collage wakes me up!
Brings tears to my mind [sic].
This is reality.
My reality—about which only I can bear witness.
There’s no prettying up the truth.
There may be understanding,
but in no way is this a pretty picture.
Or a pretty story.
Telling it will not be pretty.
It will be dangerous.
And it keeps telling me it wants to be told!
Not hidden away like some shameful piece of my life.

I don’t like having to tell the truth
about things that may seem ‘sensational.’
They weren’t.
They were the sad and sorry everyday reality
of my everyday life.
Some things can’t be omitted.
To leave them out is to betray myself.
In some ways this writing is a plea for understanding.
This is who I am.
Late start telling the story,
but right on time in God’s economy.
9:51am

Journal entry written 19 June 2012
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 August 2014, re-posted 11 February 2019

For women of a certain age

Restless mind and body
search for direction –
Ways to speak into the void
of life counting down –
One day and night at a time
Relentless

Heaviness hangs on my eyelids
I want to sleep – or do I ?
Maybe I don’t want to be
Awake

It’s easier that way –
And who would know the difference
between sweet sleep and
fear-driven avoidance?

For what was this body/soul created?

Maybe I missed something
In the directions for women
of a certain age and temperament

I’m more than a statistic.
Writing when Awake is dangerous.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 February 2019
Photo of sunset in the Black Forest found at pixabay.com

a day unlike any other

It’s bitter cold outside my window
Venus rises in the Southeast
Smudge nuzzles my warm pajamas
The radiator pumps heat

Saturday
A day unlike any other
Quiet and laid back
Nonchalant

No busy imperious horns
Honking impatiently –
No braking trash trucks
Stopping at every other driveway
Tossing garbage into bins and driveways –
No yellow school buses halting traffic
To pick up almost-late scholars –
No buzz of chain saws
Or construction vehicles beeping
Their way backward down one-way lanes
Surrounded by shouts of men
Wearing noise-cancelling earpieces –
No screaming fire trucks, police cars
Or ambulances racing downhill
Toward the latest health emergency
Or freeway accident –
No droning news helicopters
Hungry to document rush-hour madness
At its worst

Only the chill quiet
Of a lazy Saturday morning

The sun is out, the temperature is down and the wind is up. A good day for indoor activities of the not-too-stressful sort. Such as reading, writing, eating, exercising when and where I choose, and maybe a teeny tiny bit of housecleaning. Just enough to feel happy, content and alive.

Cheers!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2019
Photo of Venus and Jupiter taken by Dennis Schoenfelder in Alamosa, Colorado on 18 Jan 2019; found at en.es-static.us

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