Afternoon Storm


Rolling thunder symphony
Electric scenting raw nostrils
The caress of cascading water
Another cymbal’s lighted crash

Something primal in me squats
Taking in my tight, warm shelter
Ticking off my food supplies
Tasting the sugar in my hot tea

Out back, the horses hunker
Under a spreading Ponderosa Pine
Something primal in them, too,
Tails turned to the lashing sheets of rain

The hummingbird perches on the feeder
Wings from 70 beats to zero
Heartrate still above 1000
Furiously in motion within iridescent pause

The sky sheds gray for a sickly green
Blurred in pouring fury
Then it, too, lightens to dishwater,
Next a towel wiped with dirty hands.

Betrayed by rays of sun,
Twisting soft water back up to the sky,
Earth scents perfumed with pine
The storm forages on for new prey

Complete and Great

Everything that’s worth anything is about love and memory.

Memories are malleable in all the best ways.  To live a satisfying life, I only have to turn to my past and find myself draping rosy haze that disguises the worst of what I’ve been and morphing myself into a heroine.  After all, that’s what we humans do.

Edmund Blair Bolles, himself a humanist, insists that “Remembering is an act of imagination,” and notes that we constantly interpret our past as opposed to producing an objective account of it.  In light of our continually updated world views, I find myself trying to build some form of consistency that forms a bridge between who I was and who I think I am—someone I’ll find a way to make consistent with the person I will become.

Having just hung up my combat boots after 26 years and two days in the Air Force, I’m persistently readjusting what I’ve done across that career to match with the young woman I was, whose motivation to serve in the military fell somewhere between seeing how cool my brother was (and thinking I could be that cool myself) and the paralyzing realization that, if I left the all-expenses-paid Air Force Academy, I would need a plan.

Psychologist Daniel Schacter writes about how we “cannot hope to understand memory’s fragile power without examining what happens to memory as time passes, and considering how we translate the residues of experiences that persist across time into tales of who we are.” Today, I am that young woman who served, with pride, and still was planning to get out when my five-year commitment is up, even if I waited an extra 21 years.

After a full career of deployments where I skirted my way around the edge of danger, never intersecting the violence around me, I find myself reaching to a plane of greater experience to sort out this sense of identity.  I’m still determining if this life I’ve lived and the life I am living has been, after all, worthwhile.

In 2013, Joseph Urgo handed me an Armed Forces Edition of My Ántonia. The Cather scholar and now Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, thought I might enjoy reading it while deployed to Kyrgyzstan over the next year.  I still recall the windowless cave, my home for nearly 14 months, where I reread my favorite lines from the novel. Cather describes sun-soaked young Jim Burden as thinking that he was “entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.” I find myself, often, in that glow, perfectly content in the sense that I’m merely a microbe in the cosmos, serving a purpose.

As Willa Cather’s WWI soldier from her novel One of Ours, Claude Wheeler, gazes at the stained glass of a cathedral window while playing tourist on his way to the frontlines of war, he notes how the “purple and crimson and peacock-green [. . .] had been shining hundreds of years” in light that traveled from a distant star. He’s contemplating his role in the Great War, and how he, as a person who always believed there would be “something splendid” in his life, is finding out that even a farm boy from Nebraska is part of everything.

As for myself, I can see that I am merely stardust—a speck in the light ray of stained-glass human experience. But I still believe that I’m a viable part of that universe and a particle of light that produces color.  I am light.  I am color. Maybe that is happiness.

Light Through Stained Glass

In the a.m.

 “And yet day and night meet fleetingly at twilight and dawn”
—Mary Balogh, A Summer to Remember 

Bare feet jammed in gritty Danskos
Pink legs clad in “Fight Like a Girl”
Sleep sticking eyes, morning pine scents
Brewing coffee recedes behind slammed door.

51 steps—nickers, sharp ears
Doe eyes trace my stumbling steps
Treats: “Horse on the left.
Horse on the right.”

Slinking strides eat dirt
Urge the gate back
Crop grass crop grass crop grass
My gritty pink foot rests on a rock

Now muck bucket and fork,
Digested grass buzzes with flies before me
I look to the horizon, black horse silhouettes
Above them I spy

A rosy stegosaurus stomping over
The rising sun
Dissipating more quickly than his
Earth-bound predecessors

Pitched fork strokes, bucket dumped
Dust there, dust under the broom
Garden with earthy moist scent
Lethargic grasshoppers doze in parsley

Patty pan squash yellow flying saucers
Balance in one hand, twisting open stuck door
Coffee wafts down the stairs
Morning chores done, amen.

Blog image Horse Sunrise

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