Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mag 46

When I was a child
I would run my fingers
Over embossed pictures of you
Sitting joyfully
In your mother's lap
And wonder
If I could sit in yours.
I would slide my creamy hand
Around your olive neck
And hold tight,
Burying my shame in your shoulder
And we would weep together
Over the loss of my innocence
And the unfairness of life.

I am older now
But not quite grown.
And I still long
For the intimacy of your embrace
Because even the joy of life is too much
To bear alone.
And I wonder
If you would gather me up, still
And let me, like beloved John,
Press my ear against your beating heart
And trace the softness of your beard
With a childlike hand.
Would I be able to drink in your scent
And let peace consume me
With every breath
As you gather my tears

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hello, Again

It feels a little strange letting my fingers move over the keys again, saying hello to friends whose beautiful words I still rehearse in the moments before my eyes open. I have missed writing and long to feel my creative mind stretch, yawn, and spill juicy lines on waiting pages. Until I can come back, though, I wanted to repost something dear to me, a reminder of the night my youngest child was born. He will be two on Friday.

(re) BIRTH
At age 40, I had a baby in my bed. I died that same night.

The day itself seemed unremarkable--steady contractions still lingering from Monday and Tuesday. Nothing a nap and a bath wouldn't cure, I thought. But during my nap, I awoke several times with contractions that made me grip the bed. Not so much from pain, but more as though someone were squeezing me from the inside out.

I wasn't quite sure how to imagine the day and the delivery because this would be my first time. Not to have children--no, no. I have lots of those. My first time to have a child at home. Decidedly away from the hospital. And doctors. And pain medicine.

When I embarked on this journey, I was a sojourner in Austin. A transplant from Stepford, where there is a proper way to do everything--including having a baby.

After just a few months in Austin, I met women who moved freely and confidently through their days--every step an independent expression of the beautiful dance of their lives.

I was jealous.

Panicked, I questioned the thoughts churning under my perfectly-coiffed hair. I ran head-on into my planned, conservative life, and I hated what I saw: a bound woman. I remembered the girl I once was--a fiery, independent force who discreetly took a back seat to make way for a pat on the head. Somehow I had lost that girl, and I was going to find her.

When I found out I was pregnant with my fourth child, I relived every other birth in my head. I saw myself, sitting across from my doctor. Assenting to the "need" to be induced, to be pumped with pitocin, to have a needle in my spine to be relieved from what I believed would be unbearable pain. In that moment I could not stomach the thought of another anesthetized birth. It was just too indicative of my numbed life.

I began searching for alternatives, and as soon as I heard my midwife Michele's voice on the phone, I knew I found my answer. The thought of a birth experience that would be authentic and all mine made me cry. With each visit to Michele's home, I felt grounded--right, somehow. But Stepford Girl was right there. Going through a list of worries and reminding me that I was crazy.

On Jonathan's birthday, I got up from my nap and looked at my birth kit that had been tied in neat bundles and tucked away like Christmas gifts. I was giddy and nervous at the same time. I called Michele around 7:30 that evening--still not sure that I was in labor. At 8:00 Michele's assistant Scottie bounced in with her sunshine smile. She took one look at me and knew it was my time. Michele examined me as soon as she arrived, and told me I was dilated to 8cm. I was already in transition, and although my contractions were enough to take my breath away, I could smile between them. I relaxed in a warm bath waiting for complete dilation--but that was short-lived. Michele heard me sounding "pushy" through my contractions and came in to help me to the bed. Suddenly everything that seemed so peaceful and slow began to speed up. I bore down on Michele's shoulders through my next contraction, afraid I would crush her tiny frame as my water broke. After having another contraction in the bathroom doorway, I made my way to the bed. As the next contraction came, the pain seized me, and I turned and screamed into my pillow. I heard Michele's calm voice telling me I was safe. I remember thinking I feel safe, I am just in immense PAIN. Nevertheless, Michele's gentle words and soft touch on my back helped me focus. With the next contraction, Michele spoke relief to me: "Roll over. It's time to push." The pain burned white hot, time rushed through me, and my heart throbbed in my ears. Suddenly suspended outside of time, I felt my Jonathan come into this world. A wet, warm miracle crying on my belly! With each pulse of the umbilical cord, the pain subsided. Peace enveloped me, and, still suspended above this surreal scene, I looked back to see someone I vaguely recognized.
Lying there on the bed was Stepford Girl. Anemic and breathless, she cried out to me. Wanting me to give her my hand--to confine myself again in the ordinary life she created. The comfortable life she desperately wanted for me. But it was too late. I had tasted real pain, real life, real freedom. So I left her there, gasping and pleading. Stepford Girl died that night, but I . . . I held my beautiful son and lived.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Magpie 19

maybe pruning is too kind a word
for this cut

one flinch
and the crucial circumcision
becomes the mutilation
of my faith

preserving salt
burns the wounds laid open
so I stare down into empty hands
with heavy shoulders
and agonize at how life came
to this

when the prickle
through numbness comes
is it the green bud
of dreams newborn
or the phantom itch of hope
amputated long ago

if the tender rain is a gift for the unjust
then wash me
come to me healer
sing over me
the song of life resurrected

cut the bonds cinched tight
and beckon me to take up the bed
of my selfishness
and run again

to the place where laughter
dances on my tongue
where frigid expectation
warms in your perfect light
and you and I are in love again

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Friday, June 4, 2010


many times have I walked your shore
tentative steps
on unstable sand
the breeze whispering
a Siren's song
for my questioning soul
every thought woven into the rhythmic
of the compassionate undertow
blurring the line between focus
and release
the seductive descent
into lukewarm slumber
and I think
maybe today

but hot verve breathes electric
across my shoulders
as dancing eyes on flushed cheeks
look for me
and words yet unwritten
from creamy pages
summon me

your waves lap my toes
drawing the unfaithful foundation
from beneath me
and in one measured recoil
I know
not today

not today

Monday, May 31, 2010

A crawfishy tale

I suppose my grandmother (Mimi to me) had always been a rebel. At 5'9" she betrayed her Cajun heritage by growing taller than almost everyone in her family. Her shoulders and hands were tiny, though--very French. After her first husband left her, she married a non-Catholic--very scandalous in her family. She loved life and had a wicked sense of humor. She once told the lady at the Lancome counter that for what they charged for a facial cleanser, "it ought to clean your butt for that price!" I would have been horrified but for the look on the sales lady's face--like she was painfully waiting for the punchline, while Mimi gingerly adjusted her purse on her arm and walked away. Because of her diabetes, she was well-known by the pharmacists at her local Wal-Mart, and she made a "better-than-sex" cake for a young man there who was particularly kind to her. She made him eat it--with his hands--in front of her and all the customers waiting patiently for their prescriptions. While he was mid-bite into the cake, she shouted, "Isn't that better than sex!?" and laughed her sweet, diabolical laugh. Poor guy.
Mimi taught me all of the Cajun-French I know. But I cannot tell you about it. Not only because true Cajun-French is a spoken language, never written, but also because all she taught me were curse words. I do not remember her cursing much in English, though--I guess that, and her many pairs of delicate dinner gloves, were the indication that her rebellious spirit had some familiarity with decorum. She gave me a pair of those dinner gloves, creamy velvet with rhinestone cuffs. I loved those gloves, but they were not my favorite of the things she passed on to me--that gift would be her love for cooking. When she cooked crawfish etouffee (AY TOO FAY), her kitchen seduced me with fragrance and held me there while I watched her serve up big bowls of this earthy stew over steaming white rice.

In the spirit of both Paul and Willow--whose posts are always filled with juicy information, I will tell you that etouffee means to stew, smother, or braise and is considered primarily a Creole dish--rather than Cajun. According to Chef John Folse in his Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine, Creoles--first named for the children born on Louisiana soil--were once considered the cultural aristocracy of Louisiana. They were well acquainted with fine wines and superb cooking. Creole cuisine was inventive, refined and generously seasoned. A sophisticated, aristocratic cuisine based on European techniques, Creole cooking used wine- or liquor-based sauces to enhance its subtle delicate flavors. Cajun cooking, on the other hand, was more rustic and dependent almost entirely upon home gardens and local wildlife for its ingredients. Cajuns were the homestyle cooks, while Creoles were the chefs. Another piece of information to note is that both Cajun and Creole dishes rely heavily on "the Trinity" (onion, celery, and bell pepper) and "the Pope" (garlic). With terms like these, it is easy to see that these Louisiana cooks take their cuisine very seriously.

Which brings me to the real reason behind this post. I will not bog you down with details, but I will tell you that I recently read a comment from Mark--a merchant seaman and friend of Melinda and Diahn who commented about Melinda's etouffee having cream of mushroom soup in it. Cream of mushroom soup? Are you kidding me? Clearly this is dangerously close to sacrilege. All I know of Mark is that he is a vegetarian, has excellent taste in show tunes and books, and is married to a very pretty wife (I've seen her picture). So, he seems to be a pretty together guy. However, I fear that if Mimi (or any other crazy Cajun) read Mark's comment, she would introduce him to some Cajun-French. So, for the sake of sparing Mark a possible good Cajun cussing in his future, and to provide you with a taste of some fantastic cuisine, here is a recipe for crawfish etouffee (without cream of mushroom soup):

1/4 C. butter
1 C. diced onion
1/2 C. diced celery
1/2 C. diced green bell pepper
1/2 C. diced red bell pepper
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 large shallot, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground red pepper
14 oz. chicken broth (or crawfish stock)
1 oz. white wine
1/4 C. fresh parsley
1/2 C. fresh green onions
2 pounds cooked, peeled crawfish tails (you can use frozen--defrosted and drained)
Hot cooked rice

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and next five ingredients; saute until tender.

Add flour, salt, and red pepper; cook, stirring constantly until caramel colored (about 10 minutes). Add next four ingredients; cook, stirring constantly about 5 minutes or until thick and bubbly.

Stir in crawfish and cook until thoroughly heated (about 5 minutes). Serve over rice.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Magpie #16

what is the sound of your trial by fire

is it the soft unlatching of sandals
for the sake of holy ground
only to walk the coals
lusty flames
gorging themselves
on the last of your faith

is it the escaped groan
of watching your dream slip
the long, slow fall
like broken glass under bare feet

is it the mother's staccato lament
planting the son of promise
supinated and shoeless
into the eager earth

perhaps it is the trickle of a briny bath
while hope walks away
like a fickle lover
or the silent abuse of unforgiving heat
claiming your tongue and
turning your sweet songs to vapor

maybe your cries come
a mere echo back from deaf caverns
but of this I am sure
there will be the shout of return
glorious return
like the white wizard
full of light and power
or Lazarus unforgotten

and the deep sigh
of feeling the dewy, yielding grass
between your toes again

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

She's cool like that

This is Katherine--my fourteen year-old who just sort of oozes coolness without even trying. Somehow her sweet, tiny hand that barely used to fit around my finger has outgrown mine, but I drink up the joy of knowing she has not outgrown the need to feel my hand in hers. I like to call her my anti-teenager. She is, for the most part, thoughtful and witty and remarkably kind. I try to raise my children to live as though we are all part of an amazing team, and if that is so, Katherine is the quarterback among my children. When she was eight, she used to play hide-and-seek with her newfound neighborhood friends. When they made her three year-old brother "it," she hid right beside him while he was counting and whispered Evan, I'm right here. She still brings her younger brothers and sister along with her everywhere, and she still reminds them that she is right here--beside them--no matter what. They spend their days truly in awe of her. She always seems to dazzle them with whatever play she has in mind for the day's game.

At fourteen, she is so much more than I ever was at her age. Strong, independent, and completely comfortable in her own skin, she shines with the light of a true original--a fresh-faced, converse-clad, guitar-playing original. When she was first born, I imagined that she would be a small version of me--only, hopefully, without all of the mistakes. But who could have ever imagined the richness and dimension she would add? She has helped me to learn to let go of perfection. She makes me feel beautiful, and wise, and really happy to be growing older. She introduced me to Maroon 5 and Twilight and comfy t-shirts and JabbaWockeeZ. Most importantly--she inspires me to serve a little more selflessly, to live bigger, and to embrace change courageously. I think when I grow up, I would like to be more like her.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The little things

My husband and I ponder together often. We sit in the cool of the morning or evening and try to figure out people and life and our place in this world. One resource that has given us much to think and talk about is a book he is reading: The Call by Os Guinness. I cannot tell you the countless lessons it has led us to, but this morning was especially profound. Guinness says that George MacDonald writes in his piece "The Shadows," "the mark of a true vision of things is that 'instead of making common things look commonplace, as a false vision would have done, it had made common things disclose the wonderful that was in them.'"

For the girl who gets trapped in the obligation of living for the glorious, this is a beautiful wake-up call. I am the sure product of a father who demanded not just excellence--but perfection in all that we did. He taught us that being the best, the top, the most celebrated should be the aim of our life's work--and he walked it out to prove it. Now, it is not for me to point a finger at my father and disagree with the choices that seem to have served him well, but this vision of a life well-lived just doesn't suit me. Probably because I have chosen to be a mom, to let my degree serve as a backdrop for teaching my own children, to spend many days nursing and making peanut butter sandwiches and, honestly? Cleaning lots of poop. For a long, long time I thought I turned my back on the accolades I was beginning to collect and choose, instead, the second-rate. Not that my life is in any way second-rate in my heart--just the opposite. But I felt that through my choices I was letting someone down, and that I was committing the great American sin of not "living up to my potential."

But in this life--the one that false vision would call commonplace--I have found the truest and deepest of meaning and beauty. In this life, I have discovered a passion for writing I never knew I had. I am the one who kisses my children's tears away and lays them down for naps. I listen to my children's jokes and their questions about life--and we try to find answers together. I read stories and learn along with my children every day. Some days I cry because we go without some of life's luxuries and pleasures, and I wonder if it is all worth it. Some days I get frustrated when my Pollyanna life just falls apart into chaos. Some days I do laundry and dishes and garden and cook, and some days I do none of those things. Some days I enjoy the simple pleasure of watching my two youngest serve each other cookie dough while we bake together in the kitchen.
But the key for me, and maybe for you, is that no matter how I spend my day, I do even the mundane because it's what I love--even if I do not do it well--even if there is no one to congratulate me at the end of my road. In each day, I can ask myself, am I making the common things disclose the wonder that is in them? And if yes is the answer, then I have lived well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Magpie #15

cast not your net for me
for I will not be gathered
under your steeple
or to your polling place
or your bed

and I will not cast
my bread
or my vote
or my garments
to be strung along
to be weighed
and counted
and forgotten

I may offer myself
a satisfying meal for a poor child
but I will never feed
your greed
or ambition
or ego

I belong to the sea
and to the caress of each wave
but I do not belong to you

I swim
in the warmth of
clear emerald
while you drown
in the cold blackness
of insatiable lust

cast not your net for me
for I will not be gathered

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Morning surprise

A couple of months ago, my neighbor gave me some bulbs and plants for my sad, sad flower beds. I planted most of what she gave me, but I had run out of room before I was done. So, on my back patio sat a Styrofoam minnow bucket full of bulbs. I would look at the bucket each morning as I enjoyed a little quiet time with my husband, and I would think I really need to plant those. But I would pan the yard, trying to find just the right place for them and come up with nothing. So they waited--my bucket of neglected bulbs--unwater, unplanted, unrooted.

This is what I saw when I got up yesterday morning:

Yep, right there, in the most unlikely of places, were these captivating flowers. And I cannot tell you the joy they brought me, because, like these bulbs, I have felt very unearthed and honestly a little forgotten by God. Like He put me aside for a while because there was no perfect place for me to be planted. So I have been waiting. Waiting to be watered. Waiting to feel my roots thriving in the soil. Waiting to feel like I belong to something again. But as we all know, life is rarely measured out to us in comfort and security--many times our conditions are rough, and our resources are sparse.

Today, though, I have a new perspective because of these little metaphors ablaze on my porch. Maybe everything I need in order to thrive has been in me before I was ever uprooted. Maybe I am not forgotten after all. Would it be so crazy to think that even in my seeming displacement, I could (and should) stop waiting and start bringing a little joy and beauty into someone else's life? So today, instead of wishing for a garden of rich soil and soft, sweet rain, I think I will just . . . bloom.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Magpie #14

Is it possible to hold irony in my hands? To trace my fingers over the delicate pattern of life circling back upon itself? The retribution of greed now balanced upon my palm.

Somehow, I think I knew it would all come to this. That it would fall to me to pack the last traces of you. The mink, stolen with your mother's scent still fresh in the luxurious warmth. The long list of trinkets and valuables--all fodder for your bloated belly full of entitlement.

And now the dishes. The dishes. The dishes your mother swore you were taking piece-by-piece right out from under her. The dishes that lay hidden in your closet until her death. The dishes that should have been carefully packed and laid aside for your selfish son and his grasping wife. The dishes which I left, instead, a shattered heap on the floor.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Hello my little blog and my bloggy friends. I have missed you so much. From the start of this year, I intended to devote time to writing about all the magical things I see in my hometown right now. But the truth is I have been weighed down with copy writing and feeling decidedly UNmagical here. So--that's the story.

I used to miss the magnolias and azaleas and tall pines and the green . . . well, the green of Shreveport. I missed the familiar more than the magical. But the longer I am here, the more detached I become.

Today, I am homesick for Austin. For a place not where I grew up, but where I found myself.
Here are the things I miss most.

I miss breakfast with Eddie at the Monument. The wait staff knows us when we come in, and the orange juice is fresh squeezed. I always have the crispy waffle with three strips of peppered bacon. The butter is creamy, and the warm maple syrup comes to the table in a tiny stainless serving cup.

I miss driving across the 360 bridge. Something about the structure of this bridge appeals to me. After sunset, we pull over to a lookout point just across the bridge and see the lights from the Austin skyline reflecting off the Colorado River. The beauty of it makes me cry.

I miss the bats in the twilight sky. At first they scared me, but after a while they mesmerized me. Now, this black heartbeat, this undulating wave of creepy wonder belongs to me.

I miss standing under the Texas star at the dome in the capitol. Passing life sized portraits of Davy Crocket and Sam Houston, I look up into the structure and marvel. I stand on my tiptoes and imagine floating up like Charlie and Grandpa in Willy Wonka's bubble room. Sometimes I say silly things up into the dome and hear my voice echoing back . . .

I miss the bluebonnets. In the spring they are painted across fields and roadside hills and medians. They even spring up in a few parking lots. A periwinkle blanket serves as the backdrop for countless baby pictures and bridal portraits. After a barren winter and ahead of a brutal summer, this March gift reminds us that Austin is indeed alive.

I miss summer nights at the Dell Diamond. For five bucks, we sprawl out on blankets in the grassy area behind center field and wash down soft, salty pretzels with cold cokes. On Friday nights everyone stays late to ooh and aah at the fireworks, then we all go home feeling a little nostalgic.

I miss the Oasis.

I cannot find the words.

In the hot summer afternoons, we sit under colorful umbrellas and drink in the breeze and the view.

Ooooh, the view.

As if this were not enough, when the sun sets, the laughter boiling over from the decks quiets to a simmer. We wait for the last ray to fall behind the lake. Then everyone applauds.

And I think God, I love this place.