Veronica's Garden

I originally started this blog to promote my novel, Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. Now I write essays and poetry about everything, including the Flint Hills, healing, parenting, etc. WARNING: emotional content, sometimes intense. Read at own risk of feeling.

Volunteering at the Fireworks Stand

Fireworks, Wamego, KS 2
Blockbuster Smoke Balls, Black Snakes,
Big Rig. Climbing Panda, Pooping Dog.
Oh Americans, we love our fireworks.
Love to make loud bangs, love
the sensory disorientation of smoke
and flashing colors. Blue. Bullet Bombs.
Feel the Blast. I feel it, America,
the blast and the bombast that we think
makes us us. We tone it down for no one.
We own it. Bandit Bombs. Blow the Bank.
Is this who we are?
The woman who gives God the credit
for the silent wild giraffe she just killed.
The grinning politician who displays
a big gun in a parade, the thousands of dogs
cowering in closets and under beds
while we celebrate.
Screamin’ Eagles. Pooping Elephant.
A Shot in the Dark.
But aren’t we also that quiet brown boy
whose grandma carries his coins
in a baggie, admonishing him to choose
his fireworks wisely, then pays the difference,
gives him the change, and donates a little
to save an old building.
Sky Spider, Alien Landing.
He thanks me as they leave.
Trifuge, Heavy Cake, One Night Stand,
Dirty Dancing In the Sky.
Oh America, your schizophrenia is mine.
Your land, your peoples, your languages,
your paranoias, your heating climate,
your religions, your fears, your lies,
your history, your crazy are all in me
for all time. God bless America.
Night Circus, Mammoth Day.
Magic Crystal, Twitter Glitter.

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Moon

Moon At Dawn 2

They say the moon only reflects the sun,
but doesn’t she pulse with her own
invisible frequencies, not gold but silver,
cooler than ultraviolet, and white-hot.
Insouciant as a cat secreted in the dark,
keeping her own time,
whole units of time named after her.
They say she’s less powerful than the sun,
but she has her own gravity.
See how her silent tug pulls oceans.
They say the moon is nothing but a giant rock,
but what rock hangs in the sky
at that precise distance perfectly balanced
between plummeting and drifting away?
They say the moon has no influence with us,
does not bathe us from our first breath
in her waves of light and gravity,
of memory, hope, myth, and love.
They are wrong.

Bringing The Cats In At Night

Puddle of Light
After the kids have gone to bed, I round up the cats for their dinner. They like to be outside in the evening when it cools down, so they don’t always come in when I call them. I wait a while, then try again. Eventually it’ll be fully dark and I’ll go outside to find them. The traffic will be lighter by then, and the daytime heat will be fading into a cool evening. I walk the length of the parking lot, savoring the crunch of gravel under my feet, the scent of the night air, the stars. Sometimes there’s a red ring around the moon, or frogs calling, or fireflies blinking in the trees. I might call to the cats once or twice, but I don’t have to. By the time I’ve walked to the end of the parking lot and turned around, there’s usually a cat waiting behind me. I don’t know where they come from; they blend into the shadows, but even in full daylight they can hide from me if they want to. If I’m lucky, by the time I get back to the house, they’ll both be following at my heels.

The one we call the White Ninja likes to make sure we both know that she does as she pleases. But last night she came in early, for whatever reasons, only she knows. When I went to call the other cat, she was waiting at the door. They were ready for their dinner, but I wasn’t. The evening was too alluring to ignore, so I stepped out and walked the parking lot anyway, just to take in the delicious air and the quiet darkness, before we all settled in for the night.

To Follow

If someone exhorts you to follow Jesus,
remember there are more than one way to follow.
There’s following instructions, doing as you’re told,
respecting the order as presented. Respecting
tradition and propriety without question.
Accepting what is given without reservation.

But there is also following the energy,
discerning what is alive and luminous
from what is flat, inert, paper as opposed
to a living tree. What quickens the spirit
and calls to every cell and rewrites all the
old stories. There is finding wonder
that catches the breath and the heart,
radiant as the sun, wet as the ocean and tears
and blood. Cymatic vibration that remakes you
into another kind of being: find it. Let it.
Breathe it in, immerse yourself in it,
ride the waves wherever they carry you.
This is what it means to follow.

Wildness

What if it were a dream, what would it mean,
if a cat killed a bird barely ready to fly?
You wanted to protect the birds,
but you couldn’t. The cats’ wild nature,
what you admired about them,
drove them to hunt. When you took them in,
you thought you could balance their needs
with the needs of the local environment,
aliens though they were. You thought
you were more powerful than they.

At this point, in the dream, the cats
would have grown much larger than you’d expected.
They’d be like tigers, paws as big as your face,
claws that could take you down in one playful swat.
You’d be fearful for the safety of the children,
who, because it’s a dream, would be very small,
infants, even, not the actual gangly teens
you know today, who look down to meet your eyes.

You would hope that evolution
might have given the birds something.
They are wild, too. You might try
communication, learning their various
calls, watching and learning their habits.
Don’t build your nest in that tree, there are cats,
I can’t protect you, because cats. Cats.
And miraculously they understand, and
move the nest closer to the house.

What does it mean, when every day
you struggle to keep the wildness in, but it escapes,
and every day another dead bird by the door,
with the mottled feathers of one big enough
to fly, but not yet very good at it,
not having grown into their distinction,
the patterns and colors that show who they are?

Adopted

Here’s a poem for all the adopted people and parents on Mothers’ Day.

Some families don’t look like each other.
Tall and short, different shapes,
long pointy noses and buttons,
olive complexion and fair with freckles.
Blue eyes and brown. All mixed together
dumped unceremoniously into one pot.
Stir, add heat, and call it a family.
We have no shared genetic memory,
our only history that which we claim,
that which we make together or make up.
A handful of heritages from which
we choose at will. This is adoption.
We are people so audacious as to
choose our family, by luck or by love or
being in the right place at the right time.
There may be times when we feel we don’t belong,
we’re in the wrong family. There may be times
we secretly long for the rich, kind, perfectly adoring
people we were meant to have,
who would buy us everything we want
and never make us do chores.
But we always know better: the real family
is the one you are with. Who needs
blood and DNA and shared cheekbones and skin,
who needs strangers to know by looking at us
who belongs to whom?
We are family by force of will.
Our existence is proof that we are.
Our existence is proof of the power of choice
and when we say mother and father
we are speaking verbs more than titles.
Don’t feel sorry for me, I am adopted and proud
and know the strength of family
in a way you blood relations never will.

Bob King

back massage

Of my teachers in massage school,
he was the one I wanted to be like.
Bodybuilder, deep thinker, he taught me
the importance of balance in structure.
Intellectual: in another incarnation
he would be an engineer, but in this one
he was an engineer of the body.
Lengthen and strengthen, he often said,
and I still say it in my mind
when I’m touching a person’s hip flexors.
Lengthen that which shrinks down and inward,
strengthen that which is overstretched.
Let us each stand as tall as we are.
Big strong hands that could make you feel safe
by touching you, compassionate spirit
that could make the truth feel less scary
when he spoke it. Lengthen and strengthen.
I’ve come to that age when I know
that people I remember from a long time ago
are likely to be dead now, but hadn’t yet
when I heard Bob King had died.
Magician, wise man: He knew the secrets
of the body. He taught me how to breathe.
How could he not live forever? How could I
have had my last conversation with him?
I still hear his voice, the way he measured his words.
I still think of questions I’d like to ask him,
about the vagus nerve, or torsion of the pelvis.
For some people I would be willing to believe
in heaven. I’ll see Bob there, and we’ll talk
about how it was to be in the body,
the exquisite pain and the dancing, the feeling strong
and feeling like a jigsaw puzzle put together wrong.
Remember when we used to lengthen and strengthen,
he’ll say, and I’ll say yes, I do, I did,
lengthen and strengthen.

 

NaPoWriMo Day 30: Library of the Obscure

Domestication crept in gradually.
It may have started with books.
Remember when books held magical
stories you couldn’t find anywhere else?
When facts were precious, and libraries
were oases of information? In the house
where I grew up, books in every room.
And then I began to collect them.

In things, too, there is rich history
that no one notices, or cares to.
The antique field organ that could literally
be rolled into a field, worth nothing today.
My scientist father’s collection of slide rules.
The voting machine that elected W.
A map of the world that shows Rhodesia,
Czechoslovakia, two Pakistans, one Germany.
A Rolodex, a Commodore 64 computer,
CDs, records, cassette tapes, 8-tracks.
Film projectors and reels and reels of films.
If I had a house with endless rooms,
it could be a library of the obscure,
a museum of archaic technology,
a gallery of unknown artists.
A place one could wander, looking
at objects with history, stories,
memorials to people who are silent now.
We could fix the broken banjolele
and the flute from the 1930s and
play for the children dancing
in costumes hand dyed in the 1970s.

When the oceans drown the coasts
and the governments wither away,
we will be here on the prairie,
reciting the Latin names of medicinal
wild botanicals, hosting readings from
the collected works of Shakespeare,
preserving food in the way
of George Washington Carver,
keeping our deep humanity alive
with the old stories.

NaPoWriMo Day 28: Nomad

I thought myself a nomad, rootless,
in love with the road, addicted to the new.
I lived on little, shrank my footprint,
claimed no place as home. Felt at home
in no place. I “followed the energy,”
committed to nothing and no one.
The world could end at any moment,
and I didn’t waste time on pursuits
that might not fruit in the foreseeable
future. I caught rides to distant cities
to protest oppression, met people
who held exotic political ideals,
followed them to coops and gatherings,
ate brown rice from my bare hands
when I didn’t have a bowl (“Hand food
is the best food!”), hitchhiked to wilderness
to protest logging of old-growth forest.
I could live here, I sometimes thought,
in the mountains of Idaho,
in Jamaica Plain, Madison, Missoula,
Eugene. But I never really did,
just stopped for a few days or a year,
never signed a lease, never took a job
I couldn’t walk away from tomorrow.
Slept on a pile of pillows, or a friend’s floor,
or a bare mattress scavenged from the street.
Went to bed drunk, too restless to sleep.

NaPoWriMo Day 27: Rainbow Gathering, 1991

It was a beautiful day. I closed my eyes
and warmed my face in the sun.
We were sitting on the ground in a meadow,
surrounded by earthy people
in grimy handwovens and tie-dyes,
and before the meal everyone stood in a circle
and shouted WE LOOOOOOVE YOU as a prayer.
We were young, a handful of friends for a summer
whose names I no longer remember,
who didn’t yet know the value
of carrying a bowl and cup in one’s backpack.
A big pot of brown rice was brought round,
some glopped into every bowl
off a very long-handled spoon.
When he came to us, the wild-haired hippie
with the spoon told us to hold out our hands.
The rice was sticky and still steaming,
barely tolerable to my tender skin.
“Hand food is the best food!” he said,
and went on glopping. I took it into
my mouth. It was the best rice I’d ever eaten:
it tasted of sunshine and mountain air
and strong hearts. Of wet earth
and freshly cut cedars. That day I learned a
rich, deep truth: that the story of Jesus
feeding the multitudes was absolutely real.
And that hand food is the best food.

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