Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Beauty

A Bitterness | Mary Oliver

This poem by Mary Oliver hooked me a few months ago. I think it’s about her father. In Upstream: Selected Essays, Mary describes what she did in order to have a life of her own. This included taking a different route in life than her father took. In this poem, she describes his life as she understands it after his death.

A Bitterness

I believe you did not have a happy life.
I believe you were cheated.
I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery.
I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression.
I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling.
I believe comfort, though you craved it, was forever a stranger.
I believe music had to be melancholy or not at all.
I believe no trinket, no precious metal, shone so bright as your bitterness.
I believe you lay down at last in your coffin none the wiser and unassuaged.
Oh, cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful flowers of the hillsides.

© by Mary Oliver in 1992; published by Beacon Press in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, winner of The National Book Award; poem found on p. 43

I wonder what Mary Oliver’s father would say about this description. It strikes me as a perceptive and honest lament. This is the father she left in order to save her own one precious life. It’s also the bitter man who never found the comfort he craved.

In the last lines, Mary Oliver points to the strange disconnect between his ‘cold and dreamless’ world (in life and in death), and the beautifully wild yet peaceful flowers now covering the ground above his coffin. The contrast couldn’t be more painful.

As a young girl, Mary Oliver endured brutal mistreatment from her father. Her poem entitled “Rape” leaves no doubt. Nonetheless, Mary Oliver’s relationship with her father didn’t disappear. She comes back to it in several poems in this collection.

In this poem, she points to a sad irony about her father. Here he rests, “cold and dreamless under the wild, amoral, reckless, peaceful flowers of the hillsides.” Clueless about what he missed in life and, even more painful, what he missed in his daughter’s life. All because of his undying bitterness.

The poem reminds me of my father, and the circumstances that shaped his outlook on life and on me. What poem might I write about my father? What might be his identifying characteristic? If not ‘bitterness,’ then what? And how does that affect me today?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 September 2019
Photo found at fineartamerica.com

Unexpected Gifts

I’m just back from a long morning walk. Gorgeous sky, just-right breeze, birds singing, at least 5 nannies or moms out with tots in open-air limousines (strollers), and a far-off sighting of Rita walking her dog. And that was just the beginning.

Most wondrous was a sudden realization. For years I’ve been fearful about turning 78, even though I still have just over two years to go before that happens.

My Mom died in February 1999. She was 78 years old. She had a stroke (brain bleed) that she couldn’t overcome because of her already compromised body. Three months after the stroke, she died peacefully in a wonderful hospice facility.

That same year, my fear of turning 78 was born. Magnified by fear that I might not even make it to 78 years. Never mind that my father was nearly 97 when he died. My problem would be getting to 78 and beyond without dying.

This morning, for the first time, I realized I no longer fear turning 78 or not living long enough to celebrate 78 years. Why not? I’m not sure.

A second unexpected event was seeing one of my neighbors when I was almost home. She had just finished a novel she thought I would love. She was right! I carried it home and will begin reading it today. It’s a murder mystery set in the marshlands of the North Carolina coast. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.

And finally, a third exciting reality: Our painter is beginning work on our bedroom! After which the carpet will be replaced, and we’ll start putting it all back together again.

More than enough to fill my happiness cup for today, with some left over for tomorrow.

Happy Monday to you!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2019
Photo of North Carolina Marsh found at ncwetlands.com

I Worried | Mary Oliver

Here’s a prose poem from Mary Oliver, written in her later years. My brief comments follow.

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And I gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

© 2010 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Ironically, I found this poem in the front pages of Katy Butler’s book, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life. It seemed a strange way to begin a book that helps navigate end of life decisions. Are you tired of working on this or that document, or making choices about things that may or may not happen? Just go out into the morning, and sing whether you think you can sing or not!

Which is exactly what I’m learning to do. No, it doesn’t come naturally. Worry comes naturally, sometimes dressed up as Work I must accomplish today. Not for a paycheck, but perhaps to ensure my peace of mind?

Yet even all the completed medical and other documents duly signed and filed in their appropriate places can never ensure full peace of mind. Sometimes I need to get outside my list-driven environment, enjoy the day and sing.

A calm mind. Most appropriate in a distressed world over which we have limited control.

Happy Monday to each of you, with a prayer for those living in distress this day and night, and calm courage to reach out as we’re able.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

Shades of memories

What will become of today
After the sun sets
And the moon moves on
To other nights
In other places

Will anyone remember
Or care what happened
Just now
When I laid eyes on you
And you on me

Shades of memories echo
From your eyes and face
Just beyond reach
Whispers calling to me
In the dark of dawn

A small poem for a large presence in my life. I’ll never forget the first day D’s eyes smiled at me. Just the way they do today. It was 1961. I was a sophomore in college; he was a junior. The quiet type, except for that sparkle in his eyes. I’d never had a man, or boy for that matter, smile at me with his eyes the way D did. To say I went all weak inside would be an understatement. Now, 58 years later, he still has the gift.

Happy Wednesday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 August 2019
Image found at creativelive.com

The Journey | Mary Oliver

Is Mary Oliver talking about herself in this poem? What do you think? My comments follow.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver, reprinted in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 114-15, Published by Beacon Press 1992

The first time I read this poem I was puzzled. Instead of writing directly about herself, Mary seems to be writing to someone else. Or to a past version of herself?

This poem was first published in 1986 in a collection called Dream Work. The current collection includes 18 poems from Dream Work. They focus on Mary Oliver’s personal life. Not a subject she’s particularly thrilled to write about. And yet….

Without her personal story, it’s possible to think Mary Oliver enjoyed a charmed life of wandering in the woods. Visiting ponds and streams. Watching foxes, fish and birds. Lying in fields of Spring flowers. Making notes in her hand-made notepads. Living a magical life in her chosen world that celebrates nature, beauty in the presence of death, and the perfectly sad and glorious ending of each season.

Wrong. Mary Oliver worked hard to ‘save’ her life. She left home. Literally. She walked away from her father’s abusive behavior, and from voices that incessantly cried out for her to mend their lives. Death followed by what? Nothing?

This poem celebrates Mary’s decision to make a clean break. It also celebrates what she found along the way. Something she didn’t even know she had: a life of her own and a voice of her own.

For that alone, I’m grateful. I’m also challenged to keep listening for my own voice in unexpected places.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2019
A Dark and Stormy Night, by Warren Criswell, found at saatchiart.com

Living on the edge

Living on the edge
of disaster or boredom
Throwing myself into
waves of hope
Rising to occasions
ripe with possibilities
Daring everything
at each turn
Forgetting yesterday
in favor of now
Life moves on
without fanfare

Ticking each day off
as if the whole
were more than it is
I take heart from
the carefree nature
of my beautiful cat
showing me how it’s done —
This thing called
living in the present
and loving it to death

Question:
What does it look like to live and die one day at a time?

Answer:
Just enough strategic motion to get through today
With a bit of excitement, boredom and mystery
Followed by firm commitment to letting it all go
Clearing body and brain for more of the same, or not, tomorrow.

Hoping your day is moving along with grace, grit and unexpected beauty.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2019
Photo taken by ERFraser, Summer 2019

Islands of sanity

Islands of sanity hover
In the distance
Small protected spaces
Untroubled by storms
Picking away at sandy shores
And beaches of pristine
Water marshes alive with
Small chicks and crabs
Feasting on invisible bounty
Sheltered within my heart

This was a disruptive week due to our unexpected waterbed leak. I find myself depending on a few safe spaces not affected by our immediate crisis. They feel a bit like anchors or touchstones. Things I can count on right now for a bit of sanity.

I love my attic perch, looking out the window into the tree tops. I love sitting with D and Smudge in our den in the evenings. I love the sight of daughter Sherry’s glowing stars shining down from the ceiling in my temporary bedroom when I go to sleep at night.

Writing the poem took me back to my childhood. Often when I needed safe space or a bit of peace and quiet, I went out to the old dock (see photo) on the river that flowed by our front yard. I sat on the wooden picnic table and watched the river, the marsh hen chicks learning to balance on marsh grass, and little crabs diving into the mud at low tide looking for food.

Tonight I’m still that little girl at heart, grateful for small islands of sanity.

Hoping you have a restful Sabbath,
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 August 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, July 2010
Dock in front of my childhood home in Savannah, Georgia 

Monday morning trilogy

calm of new morning
just born and alive with hope
seeps into my pores

curled into a ball
white fur with pink ears sleeps
oblivious

down to earth robins
pull juicy worms from soaked ground
business as usual

Happy Monday!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 July 2019
Photo found at freestak.com

Lily Ponds and Platters at Longwood 2019 | Photos


Have you ever seen such a pretty dragon fly? The blue in the background isn’t the sky. It’s one of the Longwood lily ponds. Here’s an overview from the far side, looking back at part of the Conservatory. It was about 1pm.


We happened to get there just as one of the gardeners jumped into the water and started pruning back huge platters and long stems beginning to collide with each other. The first pieces are lying there on the sidewalk. On the whole, I’d say he was merciless! Without regular pruning, the platters and long underwater stems will overtake everything. Each of these particular platters can grow nearly a foot a day. Or was it a yard? It was a lot!

As he hacked away, he attracted a small audience, and the pile on the side kept growing. I was surprised to see how spikey these gorgeous platters were on the edges and undersides.


I think the two specimens below are young, unfolding platters. I wouldn’t want to meet up with either of them on a dark night. The largest mature platters can hold up to 100 pounds each, providing you don’t think it’s a trampoline.



I don’t know whether the blossom behind the platter just above is the same as the blossom below. It seems it might be. In any case, it has its own spikey armor. Not what I’d usually associate with lovely, innocent water lilies.

In one of the corner ponds we saw this interesting water plant. It’s often called Nile cabbage because it was first discovered near Lake Victoria in Africa. Though lovely, it’s super invasive and a breeding ground for mosquitoes. On the positive side, it can be used in tropical aquariums to provide hiding places for small fish. It’s also used to control algae blooms. Still, I was glad to see only one of these on display, floating in its special little water tub among the lilies and other water plants.

Who doesn’t love lotus blossoms? There were several large lotus plants in the ponds. Don’t miss the pod in the center of the first blossom. I thought the pod itself was quite regal, as well!

Here are several other favorites. Sometimes the leaves are as spectacular as the blossoms.


And just a few more. That’s papyrus thriving in a shaded corner of the pond garden, just next to the conservatory. I don’t recognize the flowering water plant in the second photo.



Finally, just to prove I was there, here’s a lovely photo of Longwood Hybrid Platters, and of me standing patiently beneath the shade of a potted plant, while D takes as many photos as he would like! Look for blue jeans, a sun shirt, a white sun hat and a back pack.


I can still feel the heat of the sun when I look at these photos. Still, it was a cool weather day compared to what we had for days before, and will have more of this coming week.

Thanks for dropping by!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser, 24 July 2019
Lily Pond Garden at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA

A quick update

First, Longwood Gardens photos are in the works. Yesterday D and I played hooky and went to Longwood Gardens. Our way of celebrating the end of a long streak of heat waves, rain and heavy winds. D’s photos are on my computer, and I’m already plotting a photo post. The photo at the top is a little taste!

Second bit of blog-related news. I’ve created a Mary Oliver category. I haven’t discarded or forgotten about Emily Dickinson. I am, however, especially drawn to Mary’s poetry right now, and anticipate more posts about the way they intersect with my life.

Third bit. I’ve just begun going through over 100 posts on Death and Dying. I’ve created the category, and will continue populating it with old and new material. I’m eager to think and write about life with death on the horizon. Not that that’s anything new….

And finally, I’m making peace with myself one day at a time. In general, that means taking things a bit slower than usual, and spending time in the attic each day. It’s a fabulous place to relax, read, write, do nothing at all, or think about the wonderful people who have helped bring me up whether they knew it or not.

Hugs to those who need them, and smiles to everyone whether you want them or not!

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 July 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 24 July 2019, Longwood Gardens’ Waterlilies

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