For Ken

The weight of being youngest of thirteen
Like starting in the middle of a book
Unaware of what will be and what has been

This brotherhood — primarily of gene
Familiarity that never took
The weight off being youngest of thirteen

Age differences far outside the mean
Busy lives — too oft we overlook
Unaware of what will be and what has been

Roads diverge — picture, please, the scene
We traipse along and nary take a look
At the weight of being youngest of thirteen

Checking in — “Hey! How’ve you been?”
Connections never made and never took
Unaware of what will be and what has been

Substance solace sought when still a teen
Became a gap impossible to brook
The weight of being youngest of thirteen
Unaware of what will be and what has been


My husband’s youngest brother passed away last week, and I’ve really struggled to find words for my feelings.

When I met Ken he was two years old and running naked through the yard, laughing. Bud caught him, scooped him up, and in a move that amazed me at the time, still amazes me today, and told me that Bud would be a great dad someday,  put child and diaper back together in a fraction of a second.

Over the next few years, I played countless games of Strawberry Shortcake In Big Apple City with Ken and his sister, Jeannie. Like every 3 or 4 year old, he cheated to win, because he understood that the point of the game was to get to the Strawberry House, but he didn’t necessarily understand that there were rules involved.

Zaengle family walk — 1984 — Ken on a bike in front

Bud and I married, moved away, started our own family, came back again, and Ken was school age.

By the time he was a teen, our family had expanded and kept expanding. When Kenny made some poor choices, Bud tried to be involved with getting him on the right track — but a 23 year age difference doesn’t make for an ideal brotherly relationship. Lord knows, though, they tried.

And life goes on.

Every family has struggles. And splinters. Ours was no different.

We lost touch.

No, I’ll say it — I blocked him on Facebook because I couldn’t handle the weight of his struggles along with the weight of my own. Does that make me a terrible person? Probably.

But it doesn’t change the fact that we loved him — even though we didn’t know the right way to go about showing it.

I’m sad that Kenny’s gone.

And I’ll treasure the memory of that little boy laughing in the front yard — back when demons weren’t chasing him, only big brothers with diapers.

My sympathy goes to Sarah, Oden, Ellie, and Evan.

Rain

I’m beginning to anticipate
What his response might be —
My mother blamed “the others”
For things we didn’t see,
But my father’s not a blamer
So, when he can’t explain
“It fell down from the sky,” he says,
Like some mysterious rain.

I crawled around the other day
With flashlight in my hand.
Half his hearing aid was missing
And I tried to understand
How these darn things fall apart so much
Half in one room, half another
I would have blamed “the others”
Had I been my mother.

Then Laurel called me from the kitchen
“Wha-T?” I said, but I
Emphasized the “T” too much —
And I can tell you why —
I was getting irritated
At the time that it had cost
Looking for a hearing aid
Half of which was lost.

“Grampa wants you,” she said timidly
And so I went to see
What it was he wanted now
From irritated me
“I found it!” he was saying.
I was surprised at what I saw
The missing piece of hearing aid
Resting in his paw.

“Where’d you find it?” I demanded.
I knew I should happy
But, you know, I wanted answers
And he’d better make them snappy.
“Can you fix it?” he was asking —
Not answering my question
It’s a skill he has in conversation –
Changing the direction

But I was dogged — “Where’d you find it?”
“It fell out of the sky,”
He said, as if that answer
Would satisfy my cry.
He told me again yesterday
When I asked about a pin
He had fastened to his sweatshirt
And I asked where it had been —

Apparently the sky inside
Varies precipitation.
Outside I see it raining rain
Inside, to my frustration,
It yields an odd assortment
Of hearing aids and stuff
That I couldn’t have imagined.
I should be thankful; it’s enough —

The lost hearing aid was found
I’m not still crawling on the ground

Rain


For Peter:

Perhaps another explanation is that a wolverine
Creeps into the house at night, stealthily, unseen
And hides my father’s hearing aids
Tapes them to the ceiling
Whence they fall on Dad, while I am searching, kneeling.

Tell Me Something Good

A friend said, “Write a poem,” to help me start writing again.

 

So I pulled up a poem that had been sitting in my draft folder and tried to finish it. It’s not perfect but Brené Brown says that we should have the courage to be imperfect. With a little courage, I give you this —


“Tell me something good,” she said
“Please tell me something cheery.”
The corners of her mouth turned down;
Her eyes were slightly teary.
Teenage girling is the worst —
Well, that’s my working theory.

My mind returned to dark things thought
When I was still a teen
Of feeling that I just don’t fit
Of watching pretties preen
Of wishing I were different
Of people being mean

She said, “Tell me a good story —
A princess-dragon tale
With a female superhero
Who tries so hard and fails
Then with grit and perseverance
She finally prevails.”

I remembered watching her go out
And our lawn just lie
Watching jet trails drawing lines
Across a summer sky;
I imagined an adventure
Where she’s a secret spy

Who, by studying that one small thing —
The white smoke on the blue —
She deciphered secret messages
Most people wouldn’t view
Because they’re too busy doing stuff —
Do I do that? Do you?

The world is sometimes cold and cruel
And difficult to beat
But through stories we see bravery,
Learn ways we can defeat
The demon dogs who hound us
And the challenges we meet

“Tell me something good,” she said.
I thought, and then replied,
“Let’s look at something little —
Autumn leaves or dragonflies —
Let’s find the beauty, make a story.”
And so we walked outside.

Blonde

Me — about 3

My hair was blonde when I was small
But it grew dark as I grew tall
My mother had the same thing too —
Blonde that darkened as she grew

’tis a funny thing — this natural blonde —
Some maintain, and don’t respond
To aging with six shades of brown
But old age gives its hoary crown

To all in silvery grayish white
Tresses giving up the fight
To stay the hue of summer sun
And let winter overrun

Vanity, you try my hair
But you won’t win ’cause I don’t care


In response to Daily Prompt: Rhyme

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Alphabet with a Twist – B

Barefoot Girl

“Oh, I see you’re a barefoot girl this morning,” my father said, looking at my feet.

I was indeed barefoot, as is often the case when I’m still in my pajamas.

“A barefoot girl with shoes on,” he continued, smiling as he said it.

My daughters are often barefoot in the summer — and he says the same thing to them.

A barefoot girl

“What’s he talking about?” one of them asked once.

“It’s a poem he memorized,” I told them.

I asked him about it — and he dutifully recited two verses:

‘Twas midnight on the ocean,
Not a streetcar was in sight,
The sun was shining brightly
For it had rained all night.

‘Twas a summer’s day in winter
The rain was snowing fast,
As a barefoot girl with shoes on,
Stood sitting on the grass.

More verses are available on the internet, all unattributed, but those are the two he remembers.

Poetry and music get stored in a different part of the brain, I think — one that survives longer unscathed by dementia. It’s fascinating to think about.

Yesterday, he said something about Laurel going to the skating rink when I was taking her to the pool. He pulls up the wrong word often.

I also had a tough time convincing him that R2D2 wasn’t a radar unit. He was working on a crossword puzzle. R2D2 was the clue and he needed a 5-letter word beginning with R.

“R2D2 is a robot, Dad,” I told him.

“Why doesn’t radar work?” he asked, in all seriousness.

“Because it’s a robot. Robot will work there,” I said.

He made his if-you-say-so face and went back to the crossword.

Maybe if I made up a poem about it and had him memorize it, he would remember.

The Wreck of the Eliza

 

An original Sea Shanty

Not the Eliza, but maybe similar

(1) Captain Hopkins had a schooner
Eliza was her name
Come hear the story of her wreck
“tis such a crying shame
She sailed out from Hyannis
In April 1899
Heavy seas when she departed
Though the morrow’s forecast fine

(2) Captain Hopkins had a worthy crew
Of 13 men with him
Many were related,
Brothers, cousins, kin —
Eliza had been prosperous
So the Captain laid aside
Money to soon build a house
For his sons and his bride

(3) Eliza made a quick run
Through Nantucket sound
The Great Round Shoal lightship
They sailed right around
The night was clear, but a relic
Of the Northwest gale that day
Made the seas a little choppy
Still it did not cause delay

(4) Course was set for Great Rip
Also called Nantucket Shoals
Captain Hopkins knew his way
All around these fishing holes
Two men were on watch
When they hit the Rose and Crown
A miscalculated shoal
That brought their lady down

(Chorus)
Hey, there, Cap’n Hopkins!
Climb aboard wi’ me!
But – No-ho, he shouted,
The dory won’t survive this sea

Hey, there, Cap’n Hopkins!
There’s room for all aboard!
But – No-ho, he shouted.
And the pleas were all ignored.

(5) A wave swept o’er Eliza
From her stem to stern
She was broken with one pound
The surf was all a-churn
While some men grabbed the rigging
The dory was prepared
To launch for this emergency
That their lives would be spared

(Chorus)

(6) A wave swept the dory
Right off the deck
Three men fought to right her
And keep her by the wreck
“Come on board,” they shouted
To the remaining crew
Cap’n, he refused to go
And the others followed suit.

(Chorus)

(7) The dory, she was stove in —
Two men rowed, the other bailed
And they stayed right near Eliza
To save the crew, but failed —
The onboard crew refused them
“That dory is too small
Dawn will be here soon
We’ll be seen and save-d all.”

(Chorus)

(8) The men in the dory
Stayed the whole night through
Listening, hoping, praying
To know what they should do
But when dawn’s rays illuminated
Here’s what met their eyes:
The schooner gone to pieces
And nobody survived.

(Chorus)

(9)They rowed that broken dory
Through the Rose and Crown
Bailing water constantly
Till they came in sight of town
And so these three were rescued:
Nickerson, Miller, Doane,
But oh, dear Captain Hopkins –
Why didn’t you come home?

(Chorus)

*****

Based on the true story of my great-grandfather, a fishing boat captain who died at age 37, going down with his schooner, the Eliza.

Trolls

I have a little troll who likes to visit me;
The pleasure that he gets from it is more than I can see.
He crawls out nearly monthly, from underneath his rock,
And writes a little comment full of unkind ugly talk.

I’ve tried to just ignore him. I’ve notified police,
And pastors, friends, and family. I’ve asked that he just cease.
He changes names like t-shirts in an effort to conceal
His identity but there’s no doubt — this troll is very real..

Father Thomas, quite by accident, kicked a nest of trolls.
They railed at him (IN ALL CAPS) ne’er retreating to their holes.
They summoned other uglies, who joined the angry mob
In giving Father Thomas quite the hatchet job.

But Thomas preached forgiveness – and his words gave me a chill —
“Forgiveness,” he said wisely, “is an act of your own will.*
You may desire justice, but mercy may be better.
Dismiss the debt that’s owed you and forgive the debtor.”

I wanted to ask Thomas — “Does this apply to trolls
Who threaten and attack you and seem to have no souls?”
I knew what he would answer. At least, I had a guess —
Trolls are really humans. God does not love them less.

Created in God’s image. His breath, their breath — and more,
His mercy for their troll-ness, their awfulness He bore.
So daily now, I pray for him — this troll who visits me —
That from the hate which binds him he would some day be free.

*****

Father Thomas is Thomas McKenzie, an Anglican priest who blogs at thomasmckenzie.com. An audio of his sermon on forgiveness can be found here: Making Change, Part Five of Five

*What he actually said was, “This is just Christian ethical consideration for what you do in the event of trespass… Forgiveness relieves the tension in the ‘mercy versus justice’ option.”