Poem-A-Day 2019: Sandi Stromberg

I have some close friends, Scott and Paula, who live in the northeast now but who are from Texas. Scott’s dad and stepmom have a marvelous goat ranch and bed and breakfast out near Wimberley, Texas, in the Hill Country. When my husband and I and Scott and Paula and a lot of our close friends were all in our twenties we used to go out to the ranch every year to help clear some of the land of unnecessary cedar that was starving the narrow waterways, the streams and creeks and waterfalls. We all had desk or computer jobs, and a weekend of physical landscape labor every January was just what we thought we needed to reset ourselves.

In actuality, what we needed was time in the Hill Country, time spent on a cold, sunny landscape bright with a winter sun in a turquoise sky. We needed a bumpy ride over caliche roads, a truck’s jaunt across a bridge over a narrow tributary of the Blanco, a bonfire in the large fire pit at night while we rocked on the enormous porch and peeked at Milky Way in the freezing black sky. We needed to wander the tall grasses, a weather eye out for coyotes and mountain lions, with the shepherding dogs and each other. We needed to come back near the house to feed and pet the goats and hold their kids, to pick burrs out of our socks, to sit up all night talking books and art and Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang. We needed breakfast casseroles with three types of corn in them and Paula teaching me to make a tartine at night. We needed time to sit, time to nap. I needed time to wander off to a corner with my journal and write while Paula painted my portrait for practice.

Almost twenty years later, when we go back to visit our friends at the ranch, we still wander the land and look at the cedar bough graveyards we built, now brittle bleached by age and the elements, and take a small sliver of pride at the rushing waterfalls and streams and creeks we helped resuscitate. When we aren’t having a drought year, anyway. The Great Pyrenees, those huge shepherding dogs, are used to us now. The goats are still sweet and loud and make us squeal with delight, especially now when we take our our kids to see theirs. And never fear, the cedar just goes on and on.

We need spaces like this, even in our urban lives, our urban inner landscape, just to have a moment to sit in a rocking chair with nothing pressing upon us. It’s the only way, sometimes, we can figure out how to relax.

I love this poem tonight, from the gracious and excellent Sandi Stromberg; it reminds me of faraway friends and a place and people I hope to get back to soon.

Wimberley Winter

Country music two-steps around a worn
leather couch. Flickers of yellow and orange
rise from smoldering logs. And my pen glides
across the lined page, gathering thoughts.
Outside, drizzle fogs the air. Ice crystals
drop from leaf tips onto the redwood deck,
tinkling as clear and harmonious
as a triangle.
.                                     All is so right
with my world, I would stop time in the middle
of this moment, snuggle into an endless
Hill Country winter. But when the flames fall
into their embers, and the ice crystals melt,
my blood rushes on.
                                   I anticipate—
the way the sycamore dreams of spring buds
or the stag, drinking at Cypress Creek, aspires
to more points on his antlers. The way
a mother holds her breath, watching
her child’s life unfold, step by step.

***

Sandi Stromberg is the mother of two sons, whose steps she still anticipates, one a director of motor-yacht development in France, the other a musician/composer in Singapore. She has been an award-winning magazine feature writer, editor, poet, and translator over the past 40 years. Her poem “The English Student” was recently published in the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News. Her poetry has been published in many small journals and anthologies, most recently in the Ekphrastic Review. For 10 years, she served on the board of Mutabilis Press, during which time she edited Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston.

 

12 Days of Earworm-Worthy Christmas Music

Last year my friend J.F. requested this song for this series, but it didn’t make the cut.

This summer he unexpectedly passed away.

Now this song keeps going through my head, and I’m guessing it’s because J.F. is wishing me a Merry Christmas from wherever his spirit is enjoying his afterlife. (J.F. was a holy man and a Christian, so I’m guessing he’s with God.)

Hold your loved ones close.

It’s Time

Okay, I just sent my daughter off to camp on a school trip. It’s her first time away from home for an extended period without any family members. She’s excited! So am I.

But, oh.

When she first got on the bus, it looked like she didn’t have anyone to sit with, and she started to get sad, and suddenly every ounce of my childhood came back to me in one long sigh of pain. And then one of her friends started waving frantically at her from toward the back. She had cleared the seat next to her so my daughter could sit there!

My girl ran up and hugged me fast and then ran back and sat down and didn’t give me another look, all smiles and relief. So I went back to my classroom, wondering whether I should have stayed to watch the buses leave.

But no, it’s time for her to go on this trip and have her own fun time, and it’s time for me to have my normal work day. As I was walking to breakfast a little while later, she called me to say the buses had left, and she loved me, and would see me in four days.

Time to go grade papers. *le sigh*

Featured Poet: Charlie Scott

This has been a wonderful month of poems. I’ve enjoyed all the work people have shared with me, and sharing it with you. As I’ve said before, I received so many wonderful pieces that I just couldn’t fit in for lack of days. If you had fun reading this series, I hope you’ll check out the rest of the works by these poets. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet of all the good stuff out there by these talented writers.

I’m going to end this year’s National Poetry Month series with one by Charlie Scott, my colleague and friend — and one of my poetry mentors from college. Speaking of college, news broke this week that the dorm complex where I lived when I attended there is going to be torn down. This news rallied literally hundreds of people who lived in those dorms within roughly the same decade and change to join together on Facebook and — reconnect.

Yes, many of us were already friends on Facebook. But prompted to share this news in a viral fashion, we found more than just each other. We found those we hadn’t kept in touch with. Friends of friends who were once friends of ours, like ripples in a pond, stretched in widening concentric circles until, within forty-eight hours, we had our own new Facebook group with (so far) 615 members (and counting — in fact, two more joined just since I started writing this blog post). People have been posting memories, anecdotes, photos.

I admit the volume of FB notifications has been overwhelming.

We’re planning a reunion before they raze the buildings. But honestly we’re having the reunion already, and it’s wonderful, and I cannot wait to be at that party and see so many people after the decades we’ve been apart. We’ll have to plan it far enough in advance for everyone to come back from the four corners of the country, from the outer bands of the planet. People are talking about doing this, and I hope they’re serious.

Bittersweet in all of this, of course, is that not all of us are still around. People have died. Our classmates, our friends. They died young and tragically and left so many behind. Some of them still have active Facebook accounts, and on the anniversaries of their births, Facebook reminds is to wish them a happy birthday and offers us a chance to send them a gift.

And we remember them, with love and fondness and occasionally the temptation to get, as Tim O’Brien cautioned against, sentimental about the dead. But we do not forget; we cling. And the fact that we can? That in itself is a gift.

 

***

 

ELEGY: TO BOB

 

Funny thing. When I sign up
for an on-line account
of some kind and am asked
to answer one of those
“security questions,” that question
has on occasion been, “What
was the last name of your first
childhood friend?” More
often than not (and I guess here
I’m handing all you hackers
out there a freebee), my answer
to this query has been
“Jordan.” The good thing is that
that answer will be always
the correct and, shall we say, perfect
one. Those memories do not
vanish. They persist. But people do
vanish and they don’t
persist, and when they do and do
not, my goodness, that’s bad.

 

***

 

Charlie Scott has published one full-length collection of poetry, So Much for Borders, and two chapbooks, The River Is Laughter and Methodoglia1. His poetry has appeared in several journals, including The New RepublicThe Antioch Review, Western Humanities Review, and Zocalo Public Square.