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A Poem for Remembering Hiroshima — August 6 1945

           FRIENDS, I have posted some of the great poems in our literature on the scourge of war.  Among my own poems, the verse you see below is my favorite. 

         I wrote it in commemoration of those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9th, 1945, and all who may yet perish in atomic war.  It imagines what our last day might be like  if WE were to find ourselves under atomic attack. 

a-bomb-dome

The Hiroshima Peace Dome Memorial

A building that survived the U. S. atomic bomb and was left exactly as it appeared after the blast.   It is surrounded now by a Peace Park that is visited by many people  from around the world. 

 

Last Day

 

                                                        On the last day

A rabbit came to taste the dandelions

Along the low hedge,

Sent, some might say, to bless us

Though he did not know anything about us

Or what blessings are.

 

2

The great cloud of death was drifting on

And we were in its way.

There was nowhere to go

So we simply stayed at home

On the last day,  

Not wanting to die underground

Pecking away at a protein bar

In an illusion of safety.

 

3

A repast, in fact, was not what we seemed to need

On the last day, 

Though it was good to watch the rabbit

Chewing its munchies

Along the low hedge,

Startled a bit, when we appeared

With the shears to clip things, 

Showing us for a moment its fat cottontail

In a bobbing burst down the hedgerow.

 

4

Yes, we trimmed the hedges

On the last day.

Thinking no one would ever see

And yet — who knows —

I suppose we felt.

We liked the yard, the hedge, the rabbit,

A slow walk down the block

To see our bit of woods.

We liked the companionship of other living things

On the last day 

And the beauty of them and

The lack of sentience in them and all foreboding.

 

5

We went on walking a little 

And trimming a little in the yard 

And the doomed rabbit supped on its grassy fare 

Along the low hedge

And did not know anything at all

Of a cloud of death 

       On the last day.            

               — By Martha Stephens

 

It is said that over 60,000 people died instantly in Hiroshima on the day our atomic bomb was dropped — and many more over the years from the radiation sickness that followed.  In the central area of the city no life remained; not an insect, nothing, and there ruled a strange and utter silence.  The city was entirely destroyed.

You may see many pictures of the victims on line, but I will not compel anyone to look at them here.  

The U. S. remains the only country to have exploded a nuclear bomb.  I believe we must work to banish all such weapons if we truly want our little globe to survive.  Protests are taking place not just in Japan, but in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the bombs used in Japan were developed, in California near our laboratories for nuclear research, and in many other places around the world.  Four years ago the last crew member of the plane Enola Gay, which unleashed the Hiroshima bomb, died at 93.   The bomb he helped detonate was called by our security “Little Boy” (and the Nagasaki bomb “Fat Man”).  This crewman had said in his later years that he no longer believed in war or atomic weapons.

 

PEACE!  TO EVERYONE ON EARTH

 

 

Dese Peas Tase Modda-focker

             FRIENDS, that’s what was said by a certain little girl as she sat over her supper one night.  I happen to have known this little girl very well, and I can tell you her story.   

She is grown up now, so please read on, but back in the late sixties, she lived, not in Pleasant Ridge, as she does today, but with her family in Paddock Hills.

And I’ll tell you this — she was a finicky eater!  She did not like vegetables; there was not much use to put them on her plate.  She did not want to be healthy.

OKAY, I was this little girl’s mom, and I have to acknowledge that the mom and the dad in this house did not watch their language as they should have done.  Now at that time there were bad actors in the country, just as there are today, and our language about these no-good-niks could get out of hand. 

I remember a time when I was picking up this little girl up from her play-school at UC.  She was sitting in her car-seat in the back seat when her teacher came to her window to say good-bye.  And what did she say, this little tot, to her teacher?  “Bye-e sweet ass.”  Did I the gun the engine of my car, rather quickly, and drive away?  I suppose I did.

Paige Stephens at three. And  with her sister Shelley.

 

 

NOW SHE DID manage to grow up, this little girl, veggies or not.  She got married and had a child — a very special child. Here is a sweet and funny picture of Paige and her daughter Ellen. Ellen has a sort of dumb look on her face, don’t you think?  And that’s funny because she grew up to be a terribly smart person.

 

 

Same two guys today on their front steps at home.

And at BLM protest at Justice Center.

                 Today Paige Stephens is a Union Rep with the United Food and Commercial Workers.  In that job, she takes no nonsense, if I may put it that way, from the stores where her union members are employed.

            I expect you know, reader, that unions in the U. S. are under a lot of pressure these days — by the Big Money guys who run the country.  Big Money wants its way with every doggone thing we do.  They don’t want to be told by their own workers what pay they ought to get, what healthcare, what pensions  — for those who do manage to stick it out.  In Ohio the vicious Republican legislature hopes to pass a Right to Work bill that would allow workers to stay out of their union if they want to.

        BUT UFCW has a lot of fight-back in them, and they are one of the most important such outfits in the country. 

It was reported a few weeks ago that a number of deaths from Covid19 have struck UFCW workers in meat-packing plants.  So awful that is.  Guys that have to work, safe or not, and take their chances with Covid19.  I’m a retired college teacher, and I can stay safe, but they can’t!

IN ANY CASE, this daughter of mine, Paige Stephens, is on the front lines herself, just like her workers in the grocery stores and pharmacies.  She has worn a mask for some months now, and tried to keep her distance from customers without them.  As for me, she wants me to stay in quarantine in my home and visits me only in the yard and with her mask on.  Paige is one of the political arms of the union and seems to know all the various movers and shakers in the city environs.  She’s on various boards that want to have a “labor” person around — and sometimes even pay attention to that person.

                                                       Sharon Woods

IN JUNE Paige had a week’s vacation from her union, and lo and behold she and Ellen and I rode out to Sharon Woods for a hike.  One of my few days out of the house, but it was beautiful on that cool spring-like day!   We had our masks on in the car and on the hike, and the few other hikers did, too, and we felt safe walking a handsome trail lined by banks of amazing greenery and huge trees of many billowing and beautiful kinds.  Ellen is an environmental major at OSU, and even she didn’t know all their names.

Well, that was fun, and I don’t get to have much fun these days.  I’m stuck at home, like many others, but I have virtual work to do for racial justice and an end to the rule of Big Money!  I have my grandchild Ellen, who’s a dear good girl and comes over with my groceries and her mask on.  I have my yards to care for and good neighbors, a special friend named Chuck, and various writing jobs.  So there — you nasty virus!  Just get yourself off this planet!  We got enough trouble here without you!

 

 

An Old Lady and Her Cat — and Rita Hayworth!

      FRIENDS, in our time of troubles and quarantines, I can’t go out and make mischief for the powers that be, so I just stay home with my friend George, who happens to be a feline friend.

See us here in our living-room in Paddock Hills.

 

Now George is an indoor-outdoor person, just as I am.  During the day, I work in my yard, and George keeps guard over the house from his back porch, a screened-in affair he’s very fond of.  He has his own chair out there!  Can you find him in the photo below? 

And here’s George sleeping peacefully in his nice soft chair in the living room.

And taking a drink from a tub of water that’s my humidifier!

  •  
  •                                                     Rita  Hayworth

  •                 AT NIGHT George and I sit together on my living room sofa and watch YouTube.  One of our favorites is Fred Astaire dancing with a young woman you may have heard of Rita Hayworth!  My god she’s good, this tall, skinny woman with all the right moves!  We see her with Fred in an old black and white movie called You Can’t Get Rich (1942).  You gotta catch these two!  Just google Astaire and Hayworth on YouTube.  Then click on a four-minute spot called “Sway With Me!” Or “Shorty George”!  But hey, I’ve got a link for you down below — so you can catch these guys with one click!

      RITA HAYWORTH had danced with her father in shows around the country and soon found herself in the movies.  Though she loved to dance, she never wanted to become a film idol — or “the most beautiful woman in show biz,” as she became known.  She craved to stay home with a sweet, ever-loving husband, but such an animal is hard to find, after all!  Miss Hayworth had a series of husbands, including Orson Welles, but none of them wanted to stay home with her, even though she was the most beautiful etc. etc. Hayworth gave birth to two daughters, and then not too many years later, she died — of Ahlziemier’s, and one of her daughters led a U. S. campaign to support other sufferers from this dread disease!

       BUT BACK TO GEORGY PORGY (Puddin’ Pie).  Who Is this George who watches YouTube with me — and keeps guard over my back porch? 

Well, George has his story.  (We all have our stories, after all.)  He was adopted by my daughter Paige from a friend’s litter, but she quickly realized she was allergic to him, and in his infantile years, he hardly ever got to come inside.  When she and my granddaughter Ellen moved back to Cincinnati from Las Cruces, New Mexico, guess who took this kitty in?

George has stayed the course with me.  He’s been my best friend for some years now.  His doctor says he has a heart murmur now, but not to worry.    He may be okay for quite some time, it seems.  I once wrote, btw, on this blog about George and our beautiful friend Lucy Dog.  Lucy, too, had needed, during her late years, a refuge, and she found it with George and me!  We loved her to death.  (Please see on this blog A Tree, a Dog, and Death So Near.)

 

                                                             A Cat Refuge

       NOW LOOK, I GOTTA SAY that in my later years, my house has been nothing but a Cat Refuge.  Animals are dropped off on me by my children.  My daughter Shelley gifted me once with a puny little dark-striped cat named Mayo that I became quite fond of.  She had found baby Mayo cold and trembling under a car one night on a certain street, and took him home with her!   She soon moved into a condo, though, and Mayo did not fit in.  So yeah — I took him in on Bristol Lane.  Years later, the poor thing died in my back yard of what the vet had told me was feline HIV!

      My son gifted me once with a yellow tabby that didn’t like me much and immediately ran away.  A year later, I saw him sunning himself comfortably in a yard on a street in the neighborhood.  A neighbor woman had thought he was a stray and taken him in!  (The nerve of her — and him!)

        ANOTHER  CAT I will always remember was Wildcat!  Before we got a screen in our kitchen window, my husband and I would find in the mornings that some animal had gotten in and taken bites out of the leavings on the counter.  What kind of animal likes a piece of leftover toast? we asked ourselves..

Wildcat then turned up now and then on the back porch, very hungry, but he was terribly afraid of us humanoids.  I began to put before him a dish of food, and gradually he let me come close to him.  Finally I reached out one day and stroked his head very gently.  From then on he was mine!  Wildcat came to love me very much.  But after a few years he got sick.  I took him to the vet, and the vet said No hope!  Kidney failure, he said.  Possibly something he ate, I was told, and frankly, I think he was poisoned by someone who didn’t want him around their property.  (I cannot forgive that!)

       SO MY FRIENDS, be cool, be safe, be good to yourself and your animals (if you have any), and stay in touch!  Leave me a Comment, perhaps?  Or a photo of an animal person you’re acquainted with?  You need not identify yourself — just be Anonymous, if that suits you! 

 

  See Comments below this link.

Here’s that beautiful link for Fred and Rita!  Choose Sway with me on far left.

Healthcare for All

via Healthcare for All

The First Frost Comes to the Garden

Readers, you know me as a malcontented person who posts mostly on war and peace;  but I hope you will see that this, too, is a tale of war — on helpless vegetables!  — M. S.

 

        “Martha! We’re dying!” cried the peppers today.
       “Are we Martha?” said the tomatoes in one chorus, hoarsely. “Tell us please!”
       “My darlings . . . yes-s,” I began. I could hardly speak, but I had given life to these friends and knew I must stay the course with them.
       “Yes, my pretty ones, I cannot but say that tonight the cold will come, and in the morning you will not wake.”
      Sad murmurs along the rows. I steeled myself to go on. I felt they wanted to know everything.
      “Tonight, my darlings, your limbs will begin to droop rather badly, you’ll wither and go limp, and as the days pass — you’ll become stiff and brown. You’ll be nothing but the withers. No blood, no sap will run in your stems. No voice will you have. No mind to think about your fate. And that is death. That is what we call death, my darlings, my little loves. When I come to your beds again, you will not know that I am here. If I speak, you will not hear . . . .
      Silence there was for a long time. They were trying to understand the world.
      When they spoke again, their tones were as thin as locust wings.                 “You, Martha — you will not die tonight?”
      “No-o, I do not think I will die tonight, my darlings . . . my pretties that I love. When the cold comes this evening, I will go in my house and shut the door, and the cold will be outside and I will be inside. But you — your feet are in the earth, they cannot move you to warmth and safety.”
      Somehow I went on — I don’t know how. “Look at me, my pretty ones! See me — my eighty years upon me? Fix on my face your poor dear eyes. Can you see this face, half-withered even now, as I stand before you? I will tell you today a great truth. On this October day in the year 2016 of the earth, and in the name of the nature that enfolds us all — I will tell you that all creatures go down, as you will tonight, and we big ones go down. We do not know why. Why . . .? we ask ourselves sometimes. But who is there to ask this question of? There is no one — no one.

      “So we are waiting all the time for the withers to come and take us and seize all we have. Our voices. Our limbs. Our minds. The sap in our roots and stems. Our memories . . . everything!” 

      Weak expressions of sorrow trickled out along the rows.
      “Martha, dear Martha,” they said. “It is a sad thing to know and yet it is best, we think, don’t you — to know things? And it is as if we must — we must know them . . . even very very sad things.”
      “Yes-s my darlings. Somehow we feel we must, we must know things — though we don’t know why . . . .”
      The peppers spoke again. “Do you see Basil, Martha? How thin, how sere she is? She was never strong. Last night we believed she still lived — then this morning she was quite gone. Dear Basil is gone!”
      “Yes,” said another. “Dear Basil, with her beautiful scent, is no more.”
      On this late fall day, the butterbeans had long since lapsed into the weedy growth of their mounds. In the ferocious summer heat, the cucumbers had hardly lived at all, for the beetles had come; and the summer spinach had been still-born.
      “But look at Radish!” said the friends. “He is as strong today as the day he was born!”
      Only one radish remained from the early spring patch, and Radish was a splendid specimen indeed — a hero of survival, grown as bushy and tall as a pepper almost. When I had observed his peculiar strength, I had not pulled him for his root, his leaves, but left him to shade the Romas, and they had wound themselves about his arms and legs and the peppers nearby, and ripened snugly underneath.
      Radish seldom spoke. He was a Daikon after all!
      “We understand he is a sort of princeling, Martha, and does not speak to such as us. And that his great root is as thick and long as the roots of human men that grow between their legs!”
      “When tonight we depart this earth, where will Radish be?”
      “Radish, my dears, will stay on a while in all his bushy glory. The early cold will not take him, you see, but in time the snows will come, the ice and greater cold will come, and Radish will be pulled!”
      The friends spoke once more, and I strained to hear, for their tones were fading into the frosty air.
      “Take of us, Martha! Take our last fruits home with you today! And by them . . . remember us . . . and our little lives . . . rounded by a sleep. Dear Mar-tha, remember . . . remember us . . . for we can say no mo-o-r-e . . . .” ##

From Me and the Grandmas of Baghdad, a memoir by Martha Stephens (in print and ebook).ms-at-plaza

A Poem for Remembering Hiroshima — August 6 1945

a-bomb-dome 

The Hiroshima Peace Dome Memorial

A building that survived the U. S. atomic bomb and was left exactly as it appeared after the blast.   It is surrounded now by a Peace Park that is visited by many people  from around the world. 

        Friends, I have posted in recent times some of the great poems in our literature on the scourge of war.  Among my own poems, the verse you see below is my favorite.  I wrote it in commemoration of those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9th, 1945, and all who may yet perish in atomic war.  It imagines what our last day might be like if WE were to find ourselves under atomic attack. 

Last Day

 

On the last day

A rabbit came to taste the dandelions

Along the low hedge,

Sent, some might say, to bless us

Though he did not know anything about us

Or what blessings are.

 

2

The great cloud of death was drifting on

And we were in its way.

There was nowhere to go

So we simply stayed at home

On the last day,  

Not wanting to die underground

Pecking away at a protein bar

In an illusion of safety.

 

3

A repast, in fact, was not what we seemed to need

On the last day, 

Though it was good to watch the rabbit

Chewing its munchies

Along the low hedge,

Startled a bit, when we appeared

With the shears to clip things, 

Showing us for a moment its fat cottontail

In a bobbing burst down the hedgerow.

 

4

Yes, we trimmed the hedges

On the last day.

Not thinking anyone would ever see

And yet — who knows —

I suppose we felt.

We liked the yard, the hedge, the rabbit,

A slow walk down the block

To see our bit of woods.

We liked the companionship of other living things

On the last day 

And the beauty of them and

The lack of sentience in them and all foreboding.

 

5

We went on walking a little 

And trimming a little in the yard 

And the doomed rabbit supped on its grassy fare 

Along the low hedge

And did not know anything at all

Of a cloud of death 

On the last day.             

                       — Martha Stephens

 

It is said that over 60,000 people died instantly in Hiroshima on the day our atomic bomb was dropped — and many more over the years from the radiation sickness that followed.  In the central area of the city no life remained; not an insect, nothing, and there ruled a strange and utter silence.  The city was entirely destroyed.

You may see many pictures of the victims on line, but I will not compel anyone to look at them here.  

The U. S. remains the only country to have exploded a nuclear bomb.  I believe we must work to banish all such weapons if we truly want our little globe to survive.  Protests are taking place not just in Japan, but in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the bombs used in Japan were developed, in California near our laboratories for nuclear research, and in many other places around the world.  Three years ago the last crew member of the plane Enola Gay, which unleashed the Hiroshima bomb, died at 93.   The bomb he helped detonate was called by our security “Little Boy” (and the Nagasaki bomb “Fat Man”).  This crewman had said in his later years that he no longer believed in war or atomic weapons.

PEACE!  TO EVERYONE ON EARTH

 

 

Am I Too Old to Garden? Oh well!

         Friends, I live in a cruel country, and I should write about truth and justice every day, and all the time, and yet I don’t.   May the holy spirits forgive me, but today I want to show you my little garden on Bristol Lane — with photos by Ellen Kieser, my granddaughter.

Yes, I call myself a gardener, did you hear?  But I don’t have a greenhouse.  My seeds in the ground are just out there in all weathers! 

All THIS in my living room by my front door!

         No toolshed either.   My hoes and rakes, my seed packets, my gloves, my bags of potting mix, my bone meal — are all collected, notoriously,  just inside my front door, or at the bottom of my front steps, or on my small back porch.

          Plus —  I’m old.  (Did you know?)  As I step around my new tomato plot on the one sunny corner of my front yard, I’m prone to missteps.  I have to catch myself at times and hang onto a limb of my spruce bush —  and warn myself to take it easy.

           Yet I do garden, and I sometimes feel it’s brave of me!   But I love to be out there.  Love to  dig and water, nourish and protect my little friends, my plants.  Mommy nature is my friend, so I don’t dig up her wildflowers — and most of them get along very well with my food plants. 

          You see here my spring greens in their own small space near my tomato patch.  In the evenings sometimes  I like to go out and just look at them.  My  pretty mustard is from a very old jar of what I call “non-stop mustard seed.”  I’ve kept this seed for years in the back of my fridge, and it couldn’t care less how old it gets.  (Sort of like me.)

 

An ancient oak in my neighbor’s back yard

         YES, NATURE for me is mostly the nature of my yards these days, front and back;  and during this beautiful cool spring, I’ve liked walking around the neighborhood to see the gorgeous sprays of spring blooms on our trees.   We have huge, amazing oak trees, taller than two houses end on end.        

         You see, I don’t hike much any more.  I don’t travel a lot.   My nature is now the trees and shrubs in my yard, growing fast and tall in our new normal of heavy rain!  

       

Look at my famous huge white hydrangea, for instance.  Yeah, that’s my granddaughter Ellen keeping  guard over this precious bush.  Everybody in the neighborhood loves it.

Ellen Kieser on Bristol Lane

                 Nature for me is also the birds I hear and see when I’m out working in my yards.  Chickadees and robins, little brown birds, harpy blue jays, even doves come to my back yard to be fed — or to sing to me!

                Now you fellows who read my blog on this site, or on Facebook, will feel, I bet, that you don’t care for honeysuckle, that it can’t be disciplined, gets very uppity.  But look here — what I see from my kitchen window is my great smart honeysuckle bush. In the spring it fills up my whole window with its gorgeous white and yellow blooms!  They last, I find, about a month, and bring nature right into the house, you might say.

         

 

         MY COLLARDS, by the way, are thriving and enjoying life in the circle around my magnolia tree — also their cousins,  the kale plants.  Both are survivors par excellence.  I have seen them standing up in snow.  I have turnips that wintered over from last fall, and their leaves are delicious too!  I throw some in my salads with my collard leaves, mustard, and kale.  

              I grew up in Waycross, Georgia, and my mother wouldn’t have made salads from these greens; for her they were just for cooking!  She would cook up a big pot of them with a ham-hock in the pot, and we ate this dish piled up on fresh cornbread!   Nothing better than that, my friends, though I doubt if you hominids in Ohio would even taste such a dish!

 

 

A Tree, a Dog — and Death So Near

TODAY, MY FRIENDS, I must write about my two oldest friends, and I will begin with my oldest one, my tree!

I wish I could hug my tree today, but I cannot.  I loved my tree — did I ever tell you that?  Or let me put it this way — we loved each other.

We had known each other, after all, for forty-six years.  Now we’d had some little ups and down, nothing serious.  In the shadow of my tree I couldn’t grow any marigolds or petunias, and sometimes I complained, but not often, because I loved my tree’s shadow, too.

We were always aware of each other.  Certainly in summer.  In summer my great oak tree was always there for me, everywhere in the yard I turned, there was my tree.  When I read at my dining room table and raised my head to the big windows, there was my tree.

My tree had been abused once quite seriously — before we knew each other.  My tree grew near the street, under the power lines, and the evil power company had sheared off its head.  It had literally removed a whole side of my tree’s crown.  Yet my tree had not died; it had grown a new head out of its injured crown.  The new head had veered off to one side, however, as it grew, so my tree had a vicious gap in the middle of its crown. Yet as I have said, my tree was a loved tree, and it still had a gorgeous canopy, if a slightly interrupted one.

In summer this canopy cooled the whole yard and the front rooms of the house, and in winter we felt my tree stood a lonely guard over house and yard and took on itself the brunt of the ice and snow.

Then my tree died.  Not a natural death, my friends — no, no.  My tree was murdered — didn’t you hear?

EARLY ONE MORNING in springtime, a certain company arrived at our house.  We had hired this company to install a walkway in our backyard; we had not asked it to repair the slightly tilted sidewalk beside our friend, the tree.  But the company made a tragic mistake that day.  It thought it had come to repair the raised walk.

That morning I woke up to hear jack-hammering out my front window.  What is that? I asked myself.  A road repair?  I got up and went to the window.  What!? I cried.  I threw on my robe and ran downstairs and out the front door.  “Stop!” I cried.  “What are you doing?  Stop that!”

Too late.  The Death Squad had done its heinous work.  One huge yellow root of my tree lay exposed among the shards of concrete.  Such a round, healthy root!  Beautiful!

A neighbor came out to look.  She loved my tree’s canopy, too, and she said to the killing squad, “You cover that root back up — just cover it right back up!” So the company called its friend, the Urban Forester.  He came at once and professed to examine the great elephant toes of my tree’s trunk.  “This tree will have to die,” he said.  “See the rot down here?”  We did not see any rot, and we knew he was colluding with the paving firm.

“That tree was old,” the company explained to me the next day.

“Yes,” I said, “and I, too, am old — should I be jack-hammered to death one morning . . . ?”

                              The Story of Lucy-Dog

Ellen’s drawing of herself and her Lucy-dog many years ago. I wish I had a later photo of this beautiful pet of ours.

I’LL BE ON AND ON about death today, my friends, for I have lost not only my tree, but my dear doggie as well.  A month after my tree died, my beautiful black lab of seventeen years was taken from me as well.  The gods of family life were jealous, I believe, of my relationships.

Lucy-dog died at home.  She had been ill for only a week, no longer much interested in our daily walks, though late in the cool of the day, we would still go out for a breath of air.  For a few blocks she would sniff along the curb and more or less investigate the territory for me, and then she would be satisfied that things were all right out there, as if to say, as I later imagined it, “Martha, you’ll be fine on this street when I’m gone.”

One night we were visiting with neighbors in our front yards.  We didn’t want our dog to be lonely, so we helped her struggle outside.  She lay down in the neighbors’ front yard and could not rise.  Eventually we were able to help her back to our front door.  She lay down in her favorite place on the living room carpet, and that evening I stroked her head and murmured loving words to her.

I went to bed, and when I got up in the morning, Lucy was not breathing.  I lifted up her head and stroked her old black nose, just to remember what that was like.  I made myself cups of tea, and for hours I simply left her that way, so I could look at her and enjoy her company once more.  Then I called the vet, and she told me what to do.  My husband had flown off on a trip early that morning, but I wrapped the body of my dog in an old sheet, and the daughter of a neighbor helped me move her to the hatch of our van.

I drove to the pet hospital, where I could leave my girl’s body for cremation.  A young assistant came out to the van to help, and when I pulled back the sheet, she said, ”Oh, what a beautiful dog!”  My dog had not lost, you see, the trim, artistic shape she had always had.

I felt somehow closer to death that day — to the phenomenon of death — than I ever had before.

IT WAS MY DAUGHTER Paige who had cared for Lucy-dog most of her doggie life.  She had gone camping with the family over and over again.  My granddaughter Ellen says she would go down by the river and run over the fields, but she never ran off.  “All we had to do was call!  She loved our camping trips!”

As just a young girl, Lucy had been a stray.  She had hung out on a street where Paige lived, and one day she asked the kids whose dog she was. “Nobody’s dog,” they said, but that people fed her at times and made friends with her.

Paige wasn’t looking for a dog, but she she took Lucy in.  She looked like a pure black lab, but at the vet’s they said she was part pit-bull!  Imagine that.  When Paige learned from me of Lucy’s death, Ellen said, she was cleaning out a closet, and she began to cry.  When she had moved back to Cincinnati a few years ago, she had not found an apartment where she could keep a dog, and Lucy had stayed at my house.  I was Lucy’s grandmother.

I AM NOT MOZART, but I wish I could compose a beautiful requiem, a Requiem Aeternam, for these two old friends of mine.  May eternal rest be granted them, O Lord, and perpetual light shine upon them.

Let us all give to the poor in their holy names.  ##

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Person on Planet Earth

 

Friends: my granddaughter Ellen left for her first year at college yesterday, and I’m sorry, but I say bad for her!  Can’t she realize she’s my best friend and I don’t have any other best friends? 

Oh well.  Her mom, my daughter Paige, helped her pack everything up and get it in the car — bedding and clothes and the whole works.  (No room for a grandmom — even in the hatch!)  On the way they spent the night at a motel, and that was smart, because today over 7000 new students — freshpersons, if you will (I won’t say freshmen) — will be arriving, as Ellen will, at Ohio State University.

Ellen is an addicted hiker and camper, and she hopes to join up with an OSU hiking club, and also find some climate warriors or Save the Earth kinds of guys.  She’s reading a book that us older ones may know: Eaarth by Bill McKibben (two a’s because the old one-a’d Earth is gone, says McKibben).  And in fact it’s hard, Ellen feels, to find in this tome any hope for Planet Earth.  Much has already been lost, McKibben says, everywhere in the world, and he documents those losses most carefully.

Still, the book’s lesson is this, as I recall: “We must save what we can — while we can — of our beautiful Planet Earth!” 

I didn’t show Ellen yesterday a new poem of mine.  It’s  called “The Last One.”  She’s bound to read it, though, on this blog, so here it is.  It’s not a great poem, no-no, but the last verse almost makes me cry.  

        The Last One

The last human being
On the wasted earth
Lay down to die
Under a sickly tree.

There would be time, she felt, 
If only a little
To dream once more
Of the plenteous earth
She once had known.

Of herself as a child
Squatting on the sidewalk
To peer at a tiny bloom
By the grassy way.
“Spring beauty!” said her mom.
“Look, but don’t touch!”

“You said that, Mom.”
‘Don’t touch!’ you said,
But very gently.
I loved you, Mom,
And my spring beauty 
With its tiny white petals,
Its skinny little legs.”

“Mom, I’m the last one!
The last person on earth.
But I didn’t touch,
Did I, Mom?
I didn’t touch!”      

        — Martha Stephens

I EXPECT that visitors from outer space will come to Planet Earth some day, and I like to imagine what they may say to each other:  

“So sad what happened here!  But look, here’s some old placards half buried in the sand.  Here’s one you can still read: THERE’S NO PLANET B.  My gosh, they were clever folks, these Earthlings, and clearly some of them didn’t want it to happen — the loss of all life, that is, on this funny little sphere.“

IN MY SADDEST MOODS, I imagine our ruined planet this way: floating over its tragic wastes, as if from spaces beyond, is one magnificent song that has not died: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. 

J. S. Bach is smiling over us.

Yes, he is smiling as Planet Earth revolves, faithfully, in its ancient orbit, turns, even now, on its old-time axis in just the right rotation for life to have existed here.  I expect I will resort to the Earth-net tonight, and listen once more to renderings of this Great Song.

 

Good Times and Hard Times in Las Cruces, New Mexico

FRIENDS, the southwest feels rather like home to me.  I seem to be nothing but a deep-dyed southerner, an aged vagabond from Waycross, Georgia.  In Las Cruces, though, people seem just as friendly.  They talk, they tell you things, and I like that.

My hard life in my Las Cruces co-op

About sixteen years ago, one of my daughters moved to Las Cruces.  I had just retired from U. C., so I went to visit her and my small granddaughter.  One visit led to another, and I soon found myself a kitchenette at an old mom-and-pop motel, and began spending the whole winter.  Fate, though, wyrd as the Beowulf poet puts it, go-ith however it shall, and my daughter is now remarried and back in Cincinnati.  My granddaughter is graduating from Walnut Hills this year.  But I have my own karma, after all, my own wyrd, and I still return year after year, for at least a month, to Las Cruces.

Yes, I like the friendliness, the easy-going-ness of a smaller town, and people beautiful to look at — sixty percent of the town are Latinos.  (New Mexico, after all, was a good cognomen for a territory we had stolen from Mexico.)

In this territory, co-ops are common, and I love the co-ops in Las Cruces.  I eat lunch almost every day at the deli in my co-op supermarket, looking out its great windows at the Organ Mountains, and I buy all my groceries there.   We also have a co-op movie house, the Fountain Theatre, run almost entirely by volunteers, and my friend Aletta and I seldom miss a show there.

                                             El Calvario

ON A STREET back of the main post office, there’s a small adobe church, El Calvario, and this winter I helped people there welcome immigrants arriving from the border.  The woman minister, Pastor Nema, was happy to have me around, and that night she and several other members friended me on Facebook.  I like that.

At El Calvario I helped make dinner one night for 24 immigrants just processed at the border — mostly from Honduras and Guatemala.  They had been in border detention for up to two weeks while ICE  decided what to do with them.  The travelers we get carry papers stipulating that their families in the U. S. will provide them a home here.  So far ICE lets such people through, or some of them anyway . . . we don’t really know how many are turned back.

Maria from Honduras

It feels good, though, to be out front when the ICE bus pulls up with these pilgrims, and to give them hugs and loud hurrahs of beinvenidos.  We often we see one parent and one child.  So haggard, so tired.

We provide them a big dinner with beans and rice, chicken and salad, and a bag of fruit and bread for a late-night snack.  Then we put away the tables in the hall and line up the cots they’ll sleep on, with plenty of blankets, for their first night in the this country of ours.

 

Debra, who cooks the whole meal.

Making up the cots.

After dinner, families from other churches also turn up to take some of these fellows home with them, and help them head out the next day for their destinations.  Of course wherever they go, they will have court hearings popping up fairly soon, and under the dispensations of our new government, we don’t know how long they’ll be allowed to stay, or what kind of judge they’ll get.

As I see it, WE are the ones mostly responsible for the ruined lives these pilgrims have lived at home — under the vicious dictators we’ve supported and the military weapons we provide them.

As for El Calvario, I seem to like churches more and more these days — and maybe you do, too, my friends.  They’re resisting, after all.  Here at Las Cruces First Christian are two women practicing a song for the Sunday service, and guess what it is?  We Shall Overcome!  I heard my friend Melody intone this hymn-like song that day, with Aletta at the piano, and it was the most beautiful and passionate rendering I’d ever heard!

    My Pool

IN CRUCES I SWIM in the mornings at the local pool, an old place that’s cold and not very inviting as to its physical being, but I like talking with the other swimmers in the funny little women’s dressing room.  A box-like heat vent extends from a wall.  It breathes hard, it rattles and shudders when the heat blows through.  The city doesn’t fix this place up, and it also ran out of money when it created its new aqua-center.  The promised lap lanes were never constructed.

As in much of the U. S. there’s no money for people’s services of a decent kind, since the state of New Mexico doesn’t collect near enough taxes from the corporations here.  (New Mexico children are always vying with Louisiana for the very poorest kids in the nation, and my city of Cincinnati isn’t far behind.)

A Home-Schooling Mom

One of my fellow swimmers is a home-schooling mom, and as we take off our suits, she tells me what she’s doing to try to enrich the lives of her three children.  In the afternoons, her kids swim in the same pool, on community teams, and her middle boy won first place for his age group in the state meet last year.  When the mom swims, her youngest boy comes with her and helps her improve her strokes.  He times her laps.  Meanwhile, her daughter does her homework at a table back in the cavernous spaces around the pool.  She seems very absorbed in this work, and I think to myself, “Why didn’t I home-school my kids?”  (But I wouldn’t have lasted a week, I bet you.)

                                      One Mom’s Triathlon

Another dressing-room friend is training for a Triathlon in El Paso next month.  She’s a long-time runner, but she also has to swim and bike, and swims every day for forty minutes.  At home she has four-year-old twins, puts in her lap time while they’re in day-care.  She’s a tall, handsome person, just like the home-schooling mom.

She asked me one day what I do with myself here, and I told her I visit with old friends, go to church, work in a pantry and with immigrants, and on whatever book I’m writing, walk in a nearby park.  What kind of books do you write, she wanted to know, and I told her about my fictions and about The Treatment, and what happened to the victims of military research in Cincinnati — not especially interesting to most people, I’m afraid, but the next time we met, she said she was reading this book.  I don’t know where she found it — in the public library, perhaps.  “I always read a little at night,” she said, “when the kids are in bed, and I’m learning a lot now from your book.  I can’t believe I know a real author!”

DID I SAY, my friends, that we had a fine Women’s March in Las Cruces?  See my favorite signs.  It’s So Bad Even the Introverts Are Here.  And So Much Wrong, and So Little Cardboard!  

Las Cruces can be an engaging and interesting place — artists and crafts-people are everywhere, and a kind of counter-culture.  On the co-op shelves I  find newsletters about herbal medicines, good sleep without drugs, how to be a “nature archivist,” how to measure, not the GNP, but our Gross National Happiness.  A medical doctor writes about the rise in gluten-free, and she links this rise to the huge rise in the use of Round-up (glysophate), now the weed-killer of choice for our grain  and vegetable fields.

What is not interesting is the severe poverty in this area.  Democrats are ruling the state legislature. but this month a bill to provide pre-K for all NM kids was hung up in committee and will have to wait till next year!

This man is dangerous!

I WANT TO TELL YOU, my friends, about a wild ride I was taken on through the Black Mountains!  Hair-pin curves on a narrow winding road way up among the great peaks of the Gila National Forest!  Deep caverns down below, and I was scared!   A friend from Cincinnati, Chuck Abbott, insisted on this drive as we came home from a day-trip to Silver City — and I should ask your advice as to whether I should ever invite him to visit me again . . . .  

 

See some interesting Comments down below, my friends, and leave a C0mment of your own, perhaps.  You don’t have to write much — or cite your email, or even your name.