Monday, August 30, 2010

Remembering Ruth

It's the fifth anniversary of my mother-in-law's death, so I honor her and give thanks for her life. Ruth would be 99, were she still here. In many ways, she is very much here.

I still see her at the piano after dinner, playing hymns from a well-worn hymnal. She passed on her fine musicianship to three of her six children, and did so with humility. Of course, I remain especially grateful to her for producing that sixth child.

As Ruth aged, she took to eating dessert (especially chocolate and ice cream) before dinner, just in case she wouldn't have room for it after a meal. While raising her large family on a pastor's salary, she still made sure there was dessert on the table every night.

She spoke her thoughts freely, the way young children sometimes do. I recall one harrowing trip in heavy traffic as we transported her to the wedding of one of her grandchildren. From the backseat (as we held our breaths hoping the wild drivers would not crash into us) came Ruth's declaration: "Such a nice, relaxing drive, dear."

There was the time I sliced open my index finger on a bottle of fine olive oil, and appeared at her door with a very noticeable gauze-wrapped hand. Ruth asked what I'd done, and I explained the accident. "Wasn't that rather dumb?" she asked. (It was!)

I never once saw Ruth wear anything other than a skirt or dress, and sensible, tie shoes. Her attitude was no-nonsense; outright affection and compliments could be minimal. So I was floored when, right after I'd miscarried a child and felt like a deeply flawed person, she peered at me over her steel-rimmed glasses and said simply, "I love you." I never heard her say such a thing at any other time. In her family, that love was understood without words.

As I remember Ruth this day, I will set out her wedding china for dinner. We rarely use it, but even for the simple meal we will enjoy on this work day, we will give thanks for a great lady as we bow our heads -- and eat dessert first.

Friday, August 20, 2010

More on poetry

As poetry makes its way back into my life these days, I was delighted to open the newly-arrived (August 24) issue of The Christian Century, in which editor John M. Buchanan writes: "When I am blessed with a little more leisure time than usual, I like to spend some of it with poetry. This summer, I am thoroughly enjoying God Particles, by Thomas Lux, who teaches poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology."

Tom Lux directed my honor's thesis in poetry while I was at Oberlin College; he was both brilliant and spooky. The spooky part had to do with his health, about which we students knew little other than to be worried. He wore lots of black clothing, and his book of poems, Memory's Handgrenade, sports a memorable all-black dust jacket. But spookier still was what Tom wrote inside my copy: "Raisin, This book is yours & the moon which shines over my grave is yours. Best, Tom."

Every time I find a new book of Tom's poems, I'm both excited and relieved -- that he's writing, that he's teaching, and that he's still breathing. Like editor Buchanan, I too have enjoyed reading God Particles, and I remember that this is a poet whose use of sharp, clean imagery fills my mind with movement and color, despite all the black that, in the mid-seventies, seemed to surround him.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


When I think of Patience, an immediate memory is a beautiful golden retriever of that name, owned by a (very patient) English professor I had in grad school at Hollins College.

More recently, in days when patience seems to be in short supply, I call to mind a poem that I'd love to share with you. The author is Pat Schneider, from the book Another River: New and selected poems (c2005).

The Patience of Ordinary Things

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
how the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
how the floor receives the bottoms of shoes or toes.
How soles of feet know where they're supposed to be.
I've been thinking about the patience
of ordinary things, how clothes
wait respectfully in closets
and soap dries quietly in the dish,
and towels drink the wet
from the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?