Tag Archives: personal

The Poetry of Chance and Loss

Newburgh Lake, Michigan

The windows of the student union looked out through the overhanging branches of  stately elms.  Through a gap in the trees, Lake Mendota appeared, sparkling in the sunshine.  The breeze had kicked up some whitecaps on the blue-green water and a sprinkling of sailboats coasted with the wind.

At first, I thought it was just my imagination, but a familiar tune floated above the hubbub of the crowd.  This song, the poetry of chance and loss, sung to the chords of an acoustic guitar, had been one of our favorites in the dorm a few years back.  Catching the lyrics of the last verse, I smiled and said to myself, “Yep, back in Madison.”

The dark wood paneling of the room absorbed the light coming in, so faces were vague until my eyes adjusted.  When I scanned the room again, I noticed her sitting alone, apparently engrossed in a book.  She was wearing jeans split to create bell-bottoms and a black blouse, open with a v-neck, a choice I had always appreciated, as it set off her violet-blue eyes.  She wore her dark brown hair longer than I remembered, not loose but tucked beneath a silk lavender scarf.   On the wooden table, a coffee cup sat off to one side, next to an open notebook.  A leather purse, decorated with jade jewelry, apparently of some American Indian design, hung from her chair.

A long minute’s hesitation, then I found myself walking in the direction of her table, turning over in my mind whether to say hello—pretending to myself that I had a choice.  After closing the book, she put down her glasses and rubbed her eyes.  She untied the scarf and then ran her fingers through her hair.  Slipping the scarf inside the purse, she started to get up.

I blurted out, “Hi, Natalie.” The beer on my tray chose that moment to slide and I had to manage a neat balancing act to avoid dousing a girl at the next table.

Natalie Mariposa looked in my direction.  After a moment, she smiled as if she had been expecting me.  “Well?”  She gestured to the empty spot next to her and eased back into her chair.

Natalie had made up my mind for me, as it seemed she always had.  As at our first meeting, she still reminded me of a young Elizabeth Taylor.  Since nothing profound or even the least bit cool came to mind, I said, “This is quite a coincidence.”

“Howdy, stranger.  I saved a seat for you.” Again the smile. “For three years.”

Summer Sojourn

Au Sable River, Michigan

I found this place secluded, where the shallows stretch almost from shore to shore, and the reeds emerge from their aquatic hiding place to wave in the warm sunlight.  I’ve been friends with this river since I was a boy, but as the coasting  clouds seemed to pause  for a rest over the water,  the feeling that I was seeing it, and experiencing it, for the first time touched my thoughts like a gentle breeze.

Could You Have a Male Repeat That Suggestion?

forbearer of Katniss


10 Words for Each Girl to Learn [Article]

I was so impressed by the linked  article   by Soraya Chamaly, which  a friend shared on Facebook. Employing telling personal anecdotes supplemented by research, the author paints a vivid picture of  women’s voices being ignored  in a male world.   “A woman, speaking clearly and out loud, can say something that no one appears to hear, only to have a man repeat it minutes, maybe seconds later, to accolades and group discussion.”

Reading the article, I saw a reflection of my law school experience, some 10 years ago.  Classes were 50% women, yet discussions unfailingly took on a male-oriented, competitive tone.  Women students’ contributions were diminished until they simply declined to play the game.

In addition to the obvious limiting of women’s horizons, excluding or belittling women’s voices impoverishes our culture and ossifies its thinking.  As social problems prove resistant to the traditional male solutions, this is a deficit that we can clearly no longer afford.

If you like this article, you might also be interested in my short (I promise!) essay on Katniss Everdeen’s social/political significance.
“Solicitous to those most in need of solace, yet entirely capable of the hunter/warrior’s resolve, Katniss’ character suggests a renewal for our ailing spirit in politics.”

In Search of Elusive Deer

(An excerpt: memories of boyhood vacations in MichiganMichigan north woods)

When I awakened, my eyes met the pre-dawn silver-gray clinging to the woods outside the window, and the tangy scent of pine wafting through the screen.  The white frame cottage rested in a small clearing.  Somewhere through the trees, maybe a half-mile, and then down the steep, sandy Rollways, the Au Sable River lapped ashore, bleached logs from bygone  lumbering days bobbing in the cove.  This swift trout stream, uncoiling through the upper part of Michigan’s mitten, pooled to a broad, cobalt blue lake where Cooke Dam blocked its course  to Lake Huron.  Never warm, the river chilled to icy overnight.  By afternoon, it would still be brisk when we clambered down the hill for a swim, now chased, now led, by my sister’s collie.

Yet, it was still too early, not to mention too cold, to consider getting up.  Pulling the scratchy, old blanket up further, I dozed off.  Not for long, because my grandfather, in his flannel nightshirt, was stirring about the living room, as the first rays of sunlight peeked through the pines.  “We’ll have this old fire going in two shakes, Tommy,” he said, while lighting the propane heater.  Warmth flooded the room, subduing the morning chill.  Safer I have never felt.

While the cottage grew toasty, it was my grandmother, Gladys’, turn to make an appearance.  The hare to my grandfather’s tortoise, she bustled purposefully into her domain, the kitchen.  This was around a corner from my bed, but a clatter and clanging of steel pans announced her activity.
Even at this early hour, her white hair was neatly brushed and she wore a green print dress.  Certain proprieties must be maintained, even on vacation.
It did not take long.  “Anne, Tommy, come and get your breakfast—before your grandfather eats it all.”

My sister and I scrambled into our seats.  Bill Leiter, the cottage’s owner, had fashioned the furniture from local pines.  While we buttered the cinnamon-topped coffeecake, my grandfather was slicing the thick cantaloupe he had spotted at a farmer’s roadside stand.
“Grandpa, are we going swimming in the Au Sable today?” Anne asked.
“Can’t today, Anne.  Bill and I have to catch supper.  There will be plenty of time for swimming another day.”
Carving the melon with what looked like a scimitar, he seemed to remember something weighty.  “You know, kids, I never learned to swim until I was thirty,” he began.  Anne and I exchanged smiles; we knew a rustic tale would follow.  My grandfather was a realtor by trade, but his specialty was raconteur.

“Nope, never had the chance.  Why, I was that old before I knew what a vacation was.  It was year-round work on the farm, always more chores to do.  Time off?  We never heard of it.”
He scooped the seeds and pulp from the cantaloupe.  After slicing the halves into quarters, he placed them at my grandmother’s place, then before Anne and me.
“Would have liked a couple weeks up North, but who would’ve milked the darn cows.  Who would’ve hitched up the team at 2 a.m. to take the fruit and vegetables to Eastern Market?  No sir, no vacations on the farm.”

We had heard this many times, but I never tired of my grandfather’s yarns.  As a magic carpet, they conveyed me to a strange world, when barnyards and fields sprawled across Dearborn.  Imagine: horse carts on Michigan Avenue!
“Otto, you big goose,” my grandmother called from the kitchen.  “To hear you tell it, the men did all the work on the farm.  What did we girls do, play with dolls all day?  I should say not.  You think cleaning and cooking and baking for everyone was fun and games?”
Anne and I looked at my grandfather.  He appeared amused, not chastened.  Wagging a finger, my grandmother added, “Don’t you kids believe it; we girls kneaded dough ‘til our fingers ached.”
With her territory staked out, she placed the steaming bowls of oatmeal before us, as if it were the most important thing in the world.  Just at that moment, of course, it was.