Veronica's Garden

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

Category: From Rachel

Our Song

Forever ago I dated a boyman who was a huge fan of U2. It was in the 80s, before they sold out. We bonded over our mutual depression, which I guess I thought was daringly honest. We listened to U2’s album War together many times. We loved “Bad,” and sometimes I would say it was our song. He would say it couldn’t be our song because it was too depressing and he’d heard it was about a girl who was addicted to heroin. I didn’t see why that was a reason, and to this day that song reminds me of him, thirty years after I couldn’t continue to live in the cage that was his world, and broke up with him. Thirty years after he finally succeeded in killing himself.

When I think about it now, it seems more than ever like the perfect song for the relationship we had. If I could, through myself, set your spirit free, I’d lead your heart away, see you break, break away, into the light . . .

 

This week I saw a video of Bono and The Edge playing in a subway station in Berlin. And I could totally see that nineteen-year-old boyman loving that coat Bono is wearing. He actually wore his hair kind of like Bono’s in this video. And I’d never heard the song they’re singing, but the chorus is Get out of your own way . . . nothing’s stopping you except what’s inside. I could help you but it’s your fight. And oh my. It’s so what Richard needed to hear. I may have said something like that to him back then, who knows, but not with the conviction of having lived half a century and solved problems and lived through failures and gone on.  But if Bono had said those words then, maybe Richard would’ve listened.

Anyway, I don’t really think U2 ever sold out. I’m not looking for reasons to judge anyone anymore. They did what they did for reasons that are not mine. I admire the longevity of their career and their commitment to helping people in need, and they’re still around and writing new songs that can move me.

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Midlife Crisis

After a certain number of years—say,
fifty—it begins to appear that the thing
you’ve been doing all this time—the thing
which you thought was a minor obstacle
to be kicked aside on the way to doing
the things you came here to do—
that thing, was, in fact, the thing
you were here to do. And all those
other things, the ones you secretly
hoped for, the ones that seemed so
important that your life would have
been squandered if you spent it all
without doing them, the quest for a
glimpse of the unspeakable beauty
that formerly called to you from dreams,
all those things—nothing. Mere diversions,
vapid entertainment to dull the quotidian
ache of doing the real work.

Ah, this life will grind you down, slowly
over many years, if you’re lucky.
Stone to powder. Bone to dust. And that,
I suppose, is also the point.
Monarch fall 17-09

Fall Dancing

Moh mohia janai dur hai.
Kaho Nanak sada hadur hai.

Sikh mantra

And there are also times of unexpected joy.
It’s always there, here, as in the leaves
that fall spontaneously in stillness
and sunlight, turning over and over.
They are their own shadows.
Joy in the breath and the sound of the breath
and the movement of the body.
Joy in bending down and reaching up.
Joy leaking through the cracks
in the mindless repetition of ancient patterns
you love without understanding.
In every season, exquisite joy
that moves in you, dances you, if
you let it. Do. Dance though the mind
has other plans. You can still count
sun salutations, and dance in between,
though the body be heavy with humanity.
There won’t be dancing later, in that place
you secretly long for.

Sun through window Nov 17-3

Reversing the Process of Decay

I am on the board of the Strong City Preservation Alliance. Our current project is the restoration of the Opera House, also called the auditorium, or the movie theater. There was only ever one of any of those in Strong City, so no one bothers with any more formal name. It’s been empty for decades. People my age remember seeing movies there as kids, so I’d guess it was still open in the 70s or 80s. It was for a while owned by someone who used it for storage of his . . . stuff. Eventually the roof collapsed, and the city took possession so that the Alliance could restore it. It took time to get the roof replaced because first the walls had to be stabilized to be strong enough to support it.

Like most such projects, it could only happen because some people felt very strongly about it, and were willing to put in countless hours to make it happen. I’m a newcomer to the Alliance. I didn’t grow up here, so my only motivation is that I love old buildings, especially ones that have lots of space for various activities and dreams. So I thoroughly enjoyed working today in the clean-up of what remains of the little lobby.

Most of the floor of the auditorium either fell with the roof, or it was removed, I don’t know which. But the lobby just inside the front doors is still there, hanging above what was once a ballroom, and below the skeleton of a balcony. At one time the back wall had been moved to enlarge the space, and you can see the ends of the studs where they were cut and left hanging. When I went in today, a frame of the “new” wall was leaning against a rotting ticket counter, which had been left on top of about twelve inches of dust, debris, and boxes of miscellaneous storage.

Our task was to clear it all out. At first it was daunting, but like most clean-up jobs, it was essentially a sorting problem. A small amount of the material was salvageable wood trim or pressed tin from the ceiling. Wood and plaster could be sent to the city’s burn site. Plastic and anything that could be called “household trash” needed to be removed and sent to landfill.

It was a good lesson on hoarding. A large amount of the stuff we sifted through was thought by someone to be collectible. But if you collect more than you can manage, or if you fail to dispatch the things to other collectors, they inevitably decay.

There’s an enormous amount of work yet to be done, and it will take a mountain of money. We expect the job to take ten to fifteen years, or more. I may not see the job completed; but I’m glad I was here today to sort and shovel and participate in reversing the process of decay.

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.

 

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.

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