Hea i ka Haku

david-salafia-office-still-life-on-flickrOn day two we fired the harpist.

“The music is really very lovely,” the nurse had explained, as if we’d never heard a harp before. My sister and I sat facing each other in plastic chairs on either side of a hospital bed. We watched the nurse smear Vaseline on our mother’s lips. Our mother’s eyes were closed, and she continued the loud, gurgled breathing that began after she lost consciousness from her second stroke one floor below us in the emergency room.

“She’s played for several patients and the families are always so grateful. I’ll give her a call and let you know when she’s available.”

We thanked the nurse. We watched her peel off her purple latex gloves, flip open the garbage pail with one foot, and drop the gloves in the can. “No problem,” she said, and left, pulling the door closed behind her.

I turned to my sister, “No harpist.”

“No harpist,” she agreed.

The first stroke hit my mom at home. My sister had stopped by to say hello to her and noticed the right side of her face drooping. And her language was strange, although not in the usual way, not funny, but garbled. [Read more…]

I Miss Gwen Ifill

20161219-gwen-ifill-on-wikimedia-creative-commonsFor Kate Keplinger

It is the blight man was born for
It is Margaret that you mourn for…
–“Spring and Fall,” Gerard Manley Hopkins

“I’m sorry for your loss,” my friend Dionne posted in response to a note I posted on Facebook.

I’d just come back on the redeye from the West Coast that morning, and stayed home from work to catch up on some sleep. I was puttering around in the kitchen in my nightgown, my mind in a fog, when I heard on the three o’clock newscast that journalist and news anchor Gwen Ifill had died.

I immediately called my husband, who was picking up the children from school, with the news.

Suddenly I felt even more at loose ends than I had on the morning after Election Day, stunned by yet another instance of how, overnight, the landscape around me had shifted. Except in this instance, the feeling of being unsettled hit me more forcefully.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook: “Memory eternal, Gwen Ifill. Our whole family will miss our Friday pizza nights with you.”

It didn’t occur to me until I saw Dionne’s response that it might appear that said Friday pizza nights might be with Ifill in person—as opposed to a picnic on Mommy and Daddy’s bed watching Washington Week. [Read more…]

Keeping Vigil

the-flight-into-egyptBy Suzanne M. Wolfe

These are dark times.

Here in the northern hemisphere the sun is at its lowest point in the sky; the winter solstice is still weeks away.

I’m sitting outside on my elderly mother’s kitchen step. I’ve come to England three times this year to take care of her. I came before and after her heart operation. A few weeks after I’d been home she fell and broke her elbow and so I’m back again.

My mother does not do well in the darkness of winter; she becomes agitated and depressed.  As I look out at her garden, I see an objective correlative of her physical and mental state since the onset of her illness a year ago.

I see bare branches with a few shriveled leaves clinging to them, vibrating forlornly in the chill air sweeping south from Iceland. I see frost-burned grass and plants. The herbs I planted for her in the spring look dead.

I know that once our planet begins its ancient, slow tilt towards the sun again, all will be resurrected. I try to keep that in mind as I huddle on the steps, smoke a cigarette or two and pray for God’s mercy to my mother at the end of her life, pray that she will find peace and joy and beauty.

I pray that spring will come to a life spent mostly in deepest winter. [Read more…]

The Nightingale Floors

craig-pennington-birds-on-flickrIn Kyoto, Japan, seventeenth-century Nijo Castle contains an architectural feature meant to protect the ruling shogun. The floors in the inner most chambers are constructed in such a way that the nails rub together when trod upon, creating the acoustical effect of chirping birds. Known as “nightingale floors,” the sound acts an alarm, providing a warning against enemies attempting to take the shogun by surprise.

The richness of such a design is manifold, as beautiful as it is practical, as charming as it is inspired. Leave it to the people of silk screens and floating worlds to make something so delightful out of a military defense. The Japanese just have a knack for poetic juxtaposition achieved by means of elegant economy, creating eternal wonders within the space of a few square inches—bonsai trees, haiku, etc.

But when a wildly uneconomic Western mind such as mine comes across something like the concept of the nightingale floors, the idea ranges into metaphors and ironies. Oriental simplicity gets “all mussed up” by occidental complication. I cannot leave the “nightingale” alone, but instead must think of all that it implies. Call it maximalizing the minimal. [Read more…]

A Farmer’s Lament

christina-peterson-farm-imageLast weekend, I cooked lunch for three farmers. One of them was my husband. The other two were a couple who were being forced to close down the small organic vegetable farm they’d been building together for nearly a decade. I could see the loss in their weary smiles, in the holes in their clothes, in the fact that they were even sitting with us. They were usually working so hard that they didn’t have time to go anywhere.

They’d given everything to a dream of beautiful clean food. And they hadn’t been able to make it continue. [Read more…]