Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Category: From Rachel

Not Waking But Dying

I came home from taking my daughter to school and barely noticed a black V on the gravel in the parking lot. But I managed to avoid running over it, and on closer look it turned out to be a monarch butterfly, presumably waiting for the sun to warm her/himself enough to fly. I supposed it could as likely have been dying, but I preferred to hold hope that it would soon be joining millions of other monarchs on their long journey to Mexico. Meantime, I took advantage of its torpor to get down on the ground near it, close enough for some photos.

Then I stood up, hesitant to leave a helpless creature where it was liable to be run over by a vehicle. I went over the possibilities in my mind . . . It was Friday, so I wasn’t expecting a garbage truck. Kevin was already gone to work. Caretaker Steve’s vehicles were present, and he doesn’t usually get out in the mornings. The butterfly was probably safe. As I stood there thinking over the possibilities, the sun broke over the roof of my house, and the slanting light was perfect for some more shots.

By the time I was done, the sun was shining fully on my little friend. It still hadn’t moved, other than to open and close its wings a few times, and turn to get the sun at a better angle. I went inside for a while, making a mental note to come back out in an hour or so to make sure it got away.

But the butterfly was still there when I came back late in the morning, its wings open and immobile, legs curled inward. This one didn’t make the journey; it wasn’t waking, but dying.

 

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Mars Conjunct Venus

There’s a rabble-rouser in me.
Likes to fight. Likes to shut down
a discussion with his jury-rigged
arguments made of home-canned
logic and duct tape. Lives with his gang
in an abandoned barn on the outskirts
of my mind. Strutting around shirtless
and sweating like he owns the place.
His girlfriend, she’s interesting. Titian mane
falling over a thrift-store feather boa.
Laughs like the bell grandma used
to call everyone in for dinner. Sings
like cold water from a deep well.
I’d be friends with her, if I could
just get them apart. We watch them,
my little girl and I, hidden under the
low-hanging branches of an evergreen.
We only see shadows through the grimy window,
but we can hear their voices, laughing,
shouting. Firing off the shotgun just for kicks.
If they knew we were here,
they’d torch the place and scatter.
We’d never see them again. But they’d
still be around, out there somewhere,
causing trouble.

Rowan at window2

Black Tangle

Pinwheel

It could take a year to get this place in order,
but I have to sell quickly. And I have to give
it over to the next owner with my whole heart,
with love and joy. So today I’ll plant this stone
flower box, with mums, because it’s late
in the summer, past the season for annuals.
The box is overgrown with perennials that
no longer flower, and volunteer white heath
that flowers too late. Oddly for August,
there’s new green growth under the black tangle
of last year’s moldy stems. I grab handfuls
of dead stuff, roly-polies scatter. Oh roly-polies,
cute dry-land crustaceans, I remember now
why I hate you. How many times have I
planted mums here, how many times
did you kill them? How many gallons
of water did I carry and pour out
for that which was doomed? I remember now
the full heart I put into this place, the
hope I held. How bitterly I gave up. How
intimate I’ve become with the word failure.
Why am I doing this? Love and whole heart,
oh yes. These blooms will be bright and pretty,
if only for a short while: that’s all I need.
Give me a week to show the place, then
let it be someone else’s job. I leave
a chunk of gangly mystery flower, move
the native late-bloomer a few inches
to make space for today’s fresh batch.
No normal person would find beauty
in these weeds, but I am a master of rescuing
the unwanted, of seeing beauty where others
see trash. The beer-can pinwheel isn’t a loss,
yet. I turn it to the slight breeze, watch it jiggle.
Every time I think it’s slowing to stillness,
another whisper wakes it. It never quite dies,
never really spins.

Yeah.

One of my primary purposes in starting Veronica’s Garden was to promote my novel, which I self-published four years ago and no longer promote. In fact, I’m officially not writing anymore, except I still blog and I write more poetry than I did for years. But. I’m supposed to be promoting my massage therapy business now instead, but I keep writing about nature and writing.

Today I had a massage from my friend Joy Daley. So if anything, this poem will promote Joy’s bodywork, which is ironic because I think she only takes new clients by referral. But, if you think this sounds appealing, I can probably do it for you as well. You can ask Joy, she trades with me, so she would know.

Yeah.

When you’re overdue for a massage
and you finally get a really good one
and you forget where you are and
a you feel inexplicable joy to see
a few lazy clouds dot the sky above
your freshly opened cranium and there’s
unspeakable beauty even in the train
carrying a thousand cattle to a grisly death
and a cacophony of sunflowers jostle
for your attention and turkey vultures
greet you on the road and you want to cry
and you forget who you are
and you just keep driving, smiling, saying
yeah. yeah. yeah.

Green hills

Argiope aurantia

Argiope

Years before Veronica’s Garden, I briefly had a blog at the Prairie Fire Inn and Spa site. It got lost in an upgrade, and I had failed to back up properly, so we’ll probably never see what I wrote there. I do recall, however, writing a post about the black and yellow garden spider. All I remember of that post was saying that this spider is as lovely as any flower in the garden, and underappreciated because she is a spider. It’s still true.

Wikipedia tells us that the large, brightly colored Argiope is the female, and her name means “golden silver-face.”

Some years we had lots of them. There might be three or four in front of the office, in the peonies, under the sign. But they’ve been rare at best for several years, so I’m pleased that our place is once again home to my favorite arachnid, and in such a prominent place. There might be some symmetry in it, from their abundance in the early years, and their return now after absence as we are actively working toward selling the property.

There’s work I ought to do behind that door you see above. But this Argiope has been in front of the door for several days now. I suppose I’ll find a workaround, such as my current solution, which is writing this post in the motel office rather than in my beloved studio. The chair here wracks my hips, but she’s worth it.

Dark Is the Shadow

Dark is the Shadow, yes, but
Dark is also the Indweller,
silent eternal Divine Love
within you, shrouded for
your protection from light
a thousand times brighter
than the sun. Brilliance that
would burn your eyes to see it.

When the moon crosses in front
of the sun, you can see stars
you never knew of. Forget the
crickets and monsters, there’s light
out there, for those who stand in the shadow,
cosmic rays from elsewhere, beyond
the sun, rushing in in just this brief moment.

Be there for it. Seek it, go wherever
it takes you. Pay whatever is
required to go into the Dark,
to see the light you can
only see from the Shadow.
Accept and claim its alien gifts
rushing in for you and you alone.
Upheaval is only another word for change.

Meeting Self In Dreams

In dreamwork, it is sometimes said that a person you meet in a dream is probably a representation of you, the dreamer, rather than the actual person. Occasionally other people play themselves in dreams, but it’s not the most likely meaning. (I wrote a poem about this once.)

To understand the significance of a person, notice the first thought you have when you think of that person. Let’s say you have a dream and Donald Trump is there. What is the first fleeting thought that comes when you think about him? It might be orange hair, or bigoted speech, or excessive use of metallic gold paint in interior design. In these cases, respectively, you might explore the significance of the color orange, or examine your thinking for ways you might be unintentionally bigoted, or look for ways in which you might be excessively ostentatious or making a show of wealth you may or may not possess.

I dreamt that G, a man I know, was making advances, but I refused him, staunchly loyal to my husband. And just as a dream person isn’t really the person, dream sex isn’t usually sex. It’s more often some kind of union, a melding, or taking in of a quality. If the dream is lucid or semi-lucid, I don’t consider it infidelity to accept such an offer. Thus it was a bit unusual for me to refuse so adamantly. What do I think of when I think of G? He operates several businesses, and he’s successful at everything. He’s honest, kind, and generous. He volunteers. His wife is just as lovely. They have a wonderful partnership and they do everything with grace. They’re so perfect it’s slightly intimidating to me. (Of course I know they’re not perfect, but for purposes of dream interpretation, we don’t need to understand the person in depth, because he isn’t himself in my dream.)

It wasn’t a stretch for me to see that G, in this dream, represents success that I find elusive in my own life. Does success want me even more than I want it? I had to chuckle when I opened my journal to record this dream, and saw the last dream I’d written in it, and forgotten, just a few days previous.

In it, I was at camp, with my longtime friend, sometime partner, M. It was the last day, and there was a program that would be presented, but we were going to skip out and imbibe illicit substances. Actually, I kind of wanted to go to the program, but I was going to loiter until the last minute, then slip in just as it started. Then I had to go to the bathroom. While I was there, I heard in the next room a camp counselor had come to find us, and was having some kind of talk with M and our other friends. When I came out of the bathroom, they were all gone, and it was too late for me to get to the program.

What’s the first thing I think of then I think of M? Without hesitation, it’s his prodigious ability to avoid responsibility. He has many other qualities, some I admire, and he’s certainly matured in the 25+ years since we dated, but the other traits aren’t what come to mind. He could disappear from a room right before jobs were assigned. He could telepathically know when someone wanted something from him, and make himself scarce for days. Avoidance was his gift.

Can you guess where this is going? Let’s just say I’ve got some major financial issues weighing on me lately. And I’m questioning myself and choices I’ve made. Am I shirking responsibility? Have I pissed away too much time? Am I patently rejecting the charmed life which is trying to get closer to me?

As Edgar Cayce used to say, “The entity is meeting self.” And thus concludes the fun part of dreamwork. Now I have to do the real work.

Scooter

Do you dream of running a race with your hands glued to a scooter?

 

Negative Space

Flyer

Because I have some financial pressures squeezing ever tighter, I designed this flyer to promote my massage therapy business. I showed it to several people for their reactions, and got one or both of these comments from every one of them: What table? and Take the text off the image of the table you’re referring to, and move it into the empty spot at the top right.

Clearly it wasn’t an effective flyer. But the idea of putting the text in what I’d intended as open, clear, negative space irked me to no end. The whole point was to show expansive, uncluttered space, like your mind when you really relax. Some people are compelled to fill every hole. Maybe I should put big arrows pointing out: This is the table you will lie on. And, This emptiness is your mind during a massage. The fact that I couldn’t communicate this idea to people who already know me, and know massage, discouraged me, and I set the flyer aside to move on to other efforts at promotion (which, incidentally, failed more pathetically than the flyer).

That was several months ago, and last week I was making a feeble attempt at decluttering the office, when this flyer rose to the top of the pile. My daughters found it and started asking questions about it. Why hadn’t I ever done anything with it? I told them that it wasn’t effective, and they agreed. They had been among those who originally critiqued it, after all. But I kept coming back to my irritation. Some people think they have to put something in every unoccupied space. If there’s a corner, they have to stick something in it. If there’s space on a shelf, they have to put something on it. (My own house has a dearth of horizontal surfaces unfilled with crap.) If there’s an open minute, they have to do something. Why can’t people just allow what is to be?

But upon further reflection, it isn’t that people do these things that is bothersome. As my twelve-year-old pointed out, some people function well that way, and they get a lot done. She suggested there is a balance to be found. She’s right. Maybe I should be more like them. I get very little done, and have no excuse when I don’t know what I did at the end of a day, or a week. Maybe I should try harder, push myself a little more.

Truly, though, I know that isn’t the answer. It doesn’t make me more effective, it just makes me unhappy. I don’t know why pushing doesn’t get things done for me, but it’s always been the case. Hence the ineffective flyer and the hours I spent designing it. Hence the promotional efforts I made after that, which took more hours and also came to nothing. I wanted to will a busy practice into being, but that’s never worked for me. Rather, I usually look back and it looks like I got what I needed, if not what I thought I wanted, and it didn’t come through effort but through allowing, choosing with intention, and accepting with gratitude what came to me. Why do I say I should be more like someone else? I know it’s not true.

I imagine people thinking I should be busier, try harder, adopt a better work ethic. They often ask me, “How is massage going? Keeping busy?” It’s what the Midwest is all about: the highest and most frequent praise people speak of anyone else is He works really hard. If I’m honest, though, I can’t think of anyone ever telling me directly that I should be different in any way. It could all be my imagination. It comes from me.

I had a vision of how things could be, of expansiveness and light, uncluttered and free of expectation, thought, or intention. Another name for this is peace. I could share that with others, but instead of receiving it, they mirrored back to me my own excess thinking, expectations, judgements, and willfulness. Isn’t it always that way, with the things that bother us most? Those are the things we don’t want to see about ourselves, that we try to push away, that keep coming back to gnaw at us until we pay attention. Hello old friend, Shadow.

I don’t know how I’m going to manage my debts. I may or may not expand my business. I will not be presented the highest praise bestowed in the Midwest. There is another statement, though, which describes me; it has yet to be elucidated. It is something about self-knowledge, higher understanding, effortless balance, peace. When I get there, I will know, and I won’t need other people to tell me.

 

Solstice Dream

“. . . the Cancer Solstice pulls us within to explore the deepest desires of our heart, while also calling us to express our feelings and visions in our wider community, finding appropriate forms and mediums through which to communicate our message.”Gray Crawford, astrologer

I was going back to school, my alma mater, Knox College. But I was going into a graduate level program in some kind of health field, something that would lead to a professional career that would build on the healing work I’ve done as a massage therapist for the last twenty years.

I met another student with whom I would be working frequently. She was young, just out of undergraduate study, and she was enthusiastic and energetic and made friends with me immediately. “So, what number would you call me?” she asked. I didn’t understand. She explained to me that it had always been her fond wish that someone would give her a numerical nickname. “So what number am I?”

How on earth could I give somebody a number? Numbers are so impersonal. “Well, what’s your favorite number?” I asked, but she was gone, leaving me puzzled and amused at the idea that somebody would actually want to be known as a number.

Looking over the curriculum, I read that some students in this program still had their Hematology textbooks, which would come in handy. Hematology? I know nothing about that. I knew many of the students in this program had come from the nursing field, but I hadn’t thought it was a requirement. I must be in way over my head. Maybe I should drop the whole thing now, before it went any farther.

But, the school had accepted me to the program. They knew my history, and clearly believed I could succeed. If they believed in me, why shouldn’t I? It would certainly be a big challenge, but I could tackle it, with determination and my natural ability to learn. I could get through this education, and graduate, and go into a serious professional job, with responsibilities and a salary, more money than I’d ever made. I could support my family.

And it would be a full time job, and I would not have time to write anymore. I would never write again. The pain was visceral, wrenching my gut, the realization that I would never be a writer again. How could I possibly have chosen this? How could I live with this choice?

Journal 2

Why I Am Not An Ally

I know I was late to the party, but the first time I heard the word ally was several months ago when I saw a conversation on facebook that was alarmingly sexist. There were several people involved whom I know in passing, and I didn’t want to go on a rant to them. Instead I went to my own page and posed this question: If you see someone say something sexist, do you speak up? When, or when not? Then, to add another dimension to the question, I added, If someone says something racist, do you speak up?

Lots of my friends were eager to jump in and say that we must always speak up against racism. Be an ally, they said. My first thought was, oh yes, I want to be an ally. I like that word.

(Interestingly, not a single person expressed concern about being an ally of women by speaking out against sexism.)

Later I thought, wait a minute. I’m half Asian, though I sometimes forget it, because I was raised by WASPS, and where I live, there aren’t Asian people so everybody just assumes I’m some kind of tan white person. But I am a person of color. Am I not? I’ve been told that Asians don’t count as a minority. I have no Asian cultural heritage, can’t say that I’ve suffered for my olive skin, except that I look ghastly in neon green. Maybe I’m just racially confused. And when people start talking about cultural appropriation, it gets worse. Which culture am I allowed? Being adopted and of mixed heritage, I’m a mess. Am I an ally? Or in need of allies? I’ve grown gradually less enthusiastic about the term.

On Mothers’ Day weekend I went with my birthmom, Barb, to the John Brown museum in Osawatomie, KS. We were joined by Barb’s (white) husband; her (white/black) daughter, my half sister A whom I met when I was 22; Barb’s best friend N (white), and her best friend’s daughter S (white/black). This is Barb’s patchwork family, some by blood and others tied just as strongly by love and choice.

We all had a nice time, but one comment S made to me stuck out in my mind. She said that there are a group of people in the city where she lives who very much want to be allies, but they don’t really know what to do, and maybe they could organize a field trip to come down to the John Brown Museum. I was trying to read a plaque at the time, so, sadly, I didn’t give her my full attention. I just said, “You mean, they should be more like John Brown?”

“Well, maybe without the violence.”

It’s taken me three weeks now to figure out what I think about that. A field trip would probably be a great idea, and fun as well, but here’s what I would like to say to S: What white people need is to feel that racism doesn’t just bring down people of color. They need to understand that the losses are their losses, and feel the pain as their own. This is true because we are all connected. We live on one planet, we breathe the same air, we drink from the same well of compassion and when we sleep, our dreams mingle in the same empathic, morphogenetic fields. When we know that, and feel it, action follows.

This is why I choose not to call myself an ally: because it bolsters the belief that race defines and separates us, that that separation leads to some of us being victims and others of us condescending to assist them, when what we really need is to break down the walls and fully feel our humanness, our pain, our love, for, on behalf of, and with others and ourselves. We must own it all. My white half is not an ally to my Asian half. I am one.

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