A Weariness Grown Tender: A Time for Love
by N.Y. Haynes
This afternoon I decided a nap was needed. As I lounged, feet on the ottoman, I listened. A neighbor just happened to be listening to Marcus Printup, a trumpeter. Closing my eyes, breathing more deeply, I felt through those tracks a depth of feeling, a skill on his instrument and a brilliance of tone. This private creative storm of effort and talent opened a door and invited me in like a friend’s loving arm to lean on and turn my day around.
Listening worked as a strange, powerful lens through which my ordinary daily life was configured and filtered with extraordinary intensity. The notes bleed from his sweet, deep throat—an artist absorbed in the musical task of letting each crescendo develop a full, still life of its own—unlocking the avoidance of the uncomfortable, destructive truths both of my interior life and of our present time, inundated with unexpressed fear, anger, and sadness.
A Time for Love reconfirmed the knowledge that we, as a nation, were coping exceptionally well with the difficult routine of life with masks and humanity’s devastation. As I embraced the sounds of the accompanying harp in my heart, I remained translucent and calm in the way the notes lingered then reverberated long after the crackle and drag of my weariness had passed.
By six o’clock I had once again come to terms with the extreme necessities of COVID life. Since childhood I have tapped into the wealth of both classical and jazz music. I have fallen in love with the ritualistic nature of the many steps it takes to make each note. I am attracted to the past and haunted by it as well. I often use music that reminds me of another time, or the subtle emotions that might go unnoticed on an “ordinary” day.
A smile danced across my mandible as all the day’s tension flowed out through my toes. A Time For Love was exactly like finding an antique instrument and listening to all the music yet to be played as it reminded me how disaster, when it finally arrives, is never as bad as it seems in expectation.
by Louise O’Donnell
I’ve put on a few pounds recently. Not the puffy, water-weight pounds that come from eating too much junk food for a few days. These babies are solid and make getting dressed and out of the house unappealing. So in true chicken and egg fashion, I continue lying on the couch, binge-watching Netflix and stuffing my face. The more I lie in this emotional mud bath, the dirtier I get.
When I was pregnant with my daughters, and was told in that sometimes awkward way, “Look how big you’re getting,” I wore it like a badge of honor. I was supposed to get bigger. There was a life growing inside me. I followed doctor’s orders and didn’t put on too much weight, but I couldn’t wait for my belly to swell so I could justify wearing those cute little maternity outfits and, of course, I knew there was an end in sight. After all, it was only for nine months. And the reward for carrying around the extra pounds was this shiny new person, with her whole life ahead of her.
That’s how I am trying to look at the weight I’ve gained lately. There is a person inside me that needs nourishment in order to emerge healthy and ready to enter the world. It’s just that the gestation period has been much longer than nine months. In fact, it’s been thirty one and counting since I filed for divorce and began feeding this growing life. A whole new world had opened up and I was jumping in with no galoshes. Look out puddles, here I come! I don’t care if I get wet or dirty! Home Depot sells power washers and I’ll buy one if I need to! As I shed the metaphorical weight of my marriage, I felt lighter than air and, at first, craved sustenance from writing, travel, girl time and sex with strange men. After years of hiding it, I loved my body and all that it was capable of. Yet here I sit, these last few months, in my Lulu leggings and big sweaters. Something changed. I began to crave pizza and chips and chocolate.
The day the Blue Heron came was grey and the threat of rain hung heavy in the clouds above my little pond. In the preceding days, I was filled with a heaviness of my own. Hours passed as I lay wrapped in a cocoon of fear, paralyzed by indecision. Often during my life, when I have felt the weight of the world pressing up against me, I have thought of my father. A young man with a wife and six children who has a massive stroke and isn’t supposed to live, yet spends the next thirty years of his life, swinging his half-lifeless body over the edge of his bed each morning, saying, “Any day is a good day I can put my feet on the ground.”
The Heron came on a Monday. Traditionally a day of new beginnings. On Monday I will get up and exercise. On Monday I will eat better. On Monday I will unpack the bag from last week’s trip. This Monday was another beginning. Spurred by some divine intervention, I would get up off my couch, set my feet on the ground, and begin to look ahead. I dressed myself in real clothes and set out to find a job.
When I was young, Dad and I planted petunias in the front flower bed on Oliver Street. The red, white, and blue petals waved like an American Flag to greet summer and the relatives that visited each year on Memorial Day. As I recall our time together in the garden, I can’t actually see Dad there with me, nor can I hear his voice, but I remember the musty smell of the freshly turned dirt as I plunged the tip of the trowel into the ground. “How deep should I make the hole, Dad?”
After Dad’s stroke, I planted the flowers alone. I was twelve and unsure of everything, but determined to lay out the reds, whites, and blues in a way that would honor all that Dad had taught me. There were weeds to pull to make room for the new blooms and I learned early the strength it took to turn over the hardened soil, revealing the rich earth from which the flowers would grow. Once the rows of flowers were neatly and properly spaced, the trowel I used each year seemed to remember it’s job. When my work was done, Dad made his slow way to the front door. I asked, “How did I do, Dad?”
In the backyard on Oliver Street, we had small planting beds where purple-bearded irises and pink peonies grew. Transplants from Mom’s childhood home. Unlike the petunias, they were perennials, returning to the soil each fall and emerging and expanding each spring. After Mom died and I was grown and married, Dad and Step-Mom Genie tended the flower beds. When they sold the house and moved away, Genie dug up Mom’s irises and peonies and helped me plant them in my own yard. No longer a teen, but a young mother and still unsure about much, I was determined to grow a garden of my own.
I learned how to cut the plants back each Fall, ensuring new growth after the long, harsh Connecticut winters. Seeing the tiniest tip of green stretching its way up through the soil each spring was my assurance that I, too, was growing. During the heat of the summers in Florida, Dad and Genie would come home to visit and we’d sit on my patio among the flowers, sipping iced tea, watching my girls swim and admiring what I’d created.
According to Native American Tradition, the Great Blue Heron follows his own innate wisdom and with self-determination, creates his own circumstances. He represents those who know what is best for themselves, who follow their hearts, creating their own paths. This particular Monday, when the Blue Heron visited my pond, followed a weekend when I thought I would be broken. I was at a crossroads and needed to navigate a new course. From morning ‘til night, the Blue Heron stood on the edge of the water. From morning ‘til night, I sowed the seeds of my new path. For fifty years, I knew my purpose. I was a daughter, a wife, a mother. With both my parents gone, being recently divorced and my girls creating lives of their own, I found myself buried. Buried beneath years of self-doubt and putting others first. It was time now for rebirth. Time now for growth. I must dig deep beneath the surface to make room for a shiny new me to emerge.
Although long and thin, the legs of the Great Blue Heron act as pillars from which he draws strength to remain stable. He stands alone along the shore, panning the water’s edge, waiting for his next move. Like the Heron, I must learn to stand on my own as I navigate this new landscape of my life.
After completing a renovation project at our home, my husband wanted a pool area that matched the grand house we had just created. I loved our cozy outdoor space with the natural wood fence lined by my flowers, but he had other ideas. His ideas didn’t make room for my gardens. As we worked with the landscaper, I was determined to keep even just a few of my plants. Determined that years of growth would not be lost, I dug up bulbs and tucked them neatly into five gallon pails and delivered them to the nursery for safekeeping over the winter. Dad passed that Fall, and Genie was dealing with her own grief and health issues. I was on my own. When Spring came and I was ready to claim a much smaller patch in the big pool area, I learned that the bulbs didn’t survive.
Neither did my marriage.
The Heron stands patiently and waits until the promptings of his heart reveal themselves. He does not question. He creates the circumstances through which he magnificently soars. Yes, I must be patient, because my heart and head have been strangers too long now. I need time to heal and time to remember what it was like when one did not try to outsmart the other. When once they worked in tandem as when an infant knows it needs food or attention or love. As an infant, my heart knew what it wanted and cried out for it, trusting it would come. Self-doubt and fear were strangers then. As I feed my growing belly, I must patiently wait and listen. Listen for a voice to whisper as I dig deeper.
In my cozy home by my little pond, I now have gardens of my own. They are small, and for the first time, I am also growing vegetables and herbs. As I enter the Autumn of my life, and am still unsure of so much, I continue to learn and grow with every new plant. Dad isn’t here to help me anymore, but I feel him next to me when I plunge my trowel into the musty earth. “How deep should I dig the hole, Dad?” The wind seems to whisper, “Deep enough to find yourself there.”
Midnight Dreams of Recognition
by Jacklyn Heslop
Imagine if creativity stained the skin of the person it controlled.
Dancers would have layers of vibrant colors dripping down from their collar bones, streaking their wrists and rolling over their calves. No one could tell the true pigment of the painter’s hands from the rainbows splattered across their knuckles. The photographer’s eye would be a collage of each shot. Of course, the most vivid color of the body would represent their first inspiration. A brilliance that scars the body with the intensity of its presence. Wood chips, clay, paint, ink would mix with natural talents, and no one would know where the medium ends and the intricate patterns of their artistry began.
Where would my colors be?
I am a writer, but only one hand works to turn thoughts into stories. Imagine the surprise if a teenage me woke up with strange spots burned into the skin where I held my pen. I would have assumed that I had a defective pen, not that I was capable of some sort of creative act. What could my colors even mimic? I’d have purples for the tone of my prose, maybe yellows for the imagery of my poems. Honestly, I think I already have my stains. I have blue lines buried in the length of my forearm. I know, after a particularly real story, they turn red and leak out in jagged patterns—or at least some part of me feels so raw that I imagine this.
Maybe I lose my right to any colors? The words fall out of pretty girl’s smiles and awful boy’s actions, the grays of childhood trauma and pinks of innocent stargazing belong to the memory—not me. I led readers to soft, grass-covered hills. To wildflowers and luscious trees that kiss a wisping cloud. Sunlight touches the plants and warms the skin of those lazily grazing or napping on the open horizon. The winds pick up, waltzing with the branches overhead. Above, the blues of Earth’s ceiling inspire peace to all who can see it.
Before you are my words, but can you hear me? This is my space you’ve been invited to, my narration taken from a place I need for my sanity. You inhabit my space, you inhabit me, but where am I? I am alone, surrounded by the reader’s perversions of myself, but these are clones I will never meet. I am invaded and pillaged for metaphorical significance before returning to a personhood you’ve constructed. I am a writer, one missing from her own story.
Can I be considered creative if my presence is never noticed?
I don’t think writers should be stained like other artists. We squeeze out words from imaginary places to create stories from arbitrary lines. Our art blooms inside the minds of the reader. Each reader should then reveal a chest exploded in the most vibrant pain mingled with the thin veins of commonality between words and mind. The writers themselves are never stained, an unfortunate trophy missing from their status as an artist, but their influence lingers in the hearts of readers. Words ingested by the unknowing audience grip onto rips, or lungs, or dig their way into the brain infesting their victim with an experience once locked away by an unshared world within another human being. Left long enough, these words infect the body leaving a lasting stain. Of course, as writers, we want nothing more than to be able to point to some visible representation of our ideas and words, but paper with ink is a boring centerpiece. So, instead, we dream of a world where creativity stains the skin.