Sunday Poem–“Hair”


No females in my family had long hair.

Dad did not like it,

said it showed male domination

over women.

Once when grown and gone

from home, I began to grow mine

out, experiment.

When he saw it, he told me

he thought it unbecoming.

I cut it.

Mom said she had long hair

when she was young.

Her dad forbade her to cut it.

In her twenties she chopped her golden locks

off, flapper style, then hid her head

in a scarf, afraid.

 

Note:  This poem is from the family section of my book, “On the Rim of Wonder”.

 

 

 

 

Sacred Corn


SAM_0035   In the summer on hot, humid nights, you can hear the corn grow.  My great grandfather, my grandfather, and my father grew corn.  I grow corn in that same rich loess soil of Northwestern Missouri.  Soil laid down by Ice Age glaciers thousands of year ago.  Only on a few hill tops, here and there, will you find non glacial soil. Repeatedly, daily, I walk by the sacred corn plant of life painted on my hall corner.  This sacred corn corner houses three corn maiden kachinas and a drum decorated with corn maidens.  I give thanks to corn for my house and the life I lead.

Corn Song

I sing the song of ancients:

pueblo peoples,

Anazazi, Hopi, Zuni.

I sing the song of an America long gone.

Maya, Aztec, Tolmec.

I sing the song of life:  colors of the rainbow

golden, red, white, blue.

I sing the song of now:  thick, endless

identical rows.

Pioneer, Monsanto,

anhydrous ammonia,

atrazine.

I sing the song of hope and joy:

an ancient reclaiming,

a klaidescope of colors,

butterflies and fireflies.

I sing the eternal human song.

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This is a Navaho kachina.  Kachina are actually Hopi, but Navaho artists now make kachinas as well.  The first corn maiden kachina I bought.

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Spotted corn kachinas, on the left, are unusual.  It took me years to find one.  The kachina on the right was created by R Pino, who is both Hopi and Navaho.

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Every year Pendleton runs an art contest among Native American students.  The winner’s art work is transformed into saddle blankets.  This design, created by Mary Beth Jiron, is the latest in this Student Series. There are three corn  maidens  on each side of the blanket, representing the different varieties of corn grown by native peoples, yellow, red, blue, white, black, and spotted.

The Story Circle Network Conference and My Commitment: This Is What I Know


ad_scnconfWhen I first started blogging more than two years ago, I committed to blogging once a week.  That I managed for a year or so and then since that time, it became more sporadic.  Full time job, writing poems for my book, visitors, mini vacations, all sorts of stuff got in the way.  Really, I let it lapse, but refused to give up.  Last Thursday, I drove to Austin with my daughter and grandson for the biannual Story Circle Network Conference.  The plan:  while I conferred, they played.  The Story Circle Network is an organization for women which encourages women to write, to tell their stories, to share these stories, and when possible and desired, publish those stories in various forms from memoir to poetry.  This was my second time to attend and my first time to attend as a new board member.  A former mentor/teacher of mine, Len Leatherwood, facilitated  a workshop entitled “Transforming Your Writing Life in Just 20 Minutes a Day”, the last workshop I attended.  She blogs everyday.  I follow her blog.  No matter what, she sits down and writes 20 minutes minimum a day separate from the writing she does with her students–she teaches writing privately in southern CA.  One of her recent blogs has been accepted for publication–a piece of flash fiction.  She nearly begged us to commit to this kind of writing practice.  Previously, I had refused, flat out refused, partly thinking that if I tried it, more than half the resulting writing would be crap.  Nevertheless, she and her workshop convinced me that at least for one month I must try this.  Now all of you following my blog will be inundated with daily blog posts.  I am filled with curiosity as to how people will respond.  Maybe it will be like my Facebook posts–yes, I am an almost addict–the posts I consider most meaningful for the universe at large are the ones people ignore and the ones I consider personal trivia receive the most response.  Maybe I will track what appeals to my readers.  Some I won’t know because with blogging I share to Facebook and to a couple of professional networks, I have no clue who read what.  Once I received an email regarding a poem I posted. Although it never showed up as a like, the lady actually told me she read my poem in church!  Who would have guessed. I forgot to time myself so have no idea how long I have been here writing.

Here I am writing about why I am writing.  On the stove I smell Jasmine rice cooking.  I love Jasmine rice from Thailand.  I am a very picky rice eater and prefer to mix equally white Jasmine rice with black and red.  For one thing, it looks lovely when done–a sort of dark reddish purple.  Since I sautéd chopped garlic in olive oil, then added the rice and sautéd for about 15 more seconds, then added water and some broth just before I started writing this, the smell of Jasmine rice fills the house.  I piled a bunch of paper towels on the top before I put on the lid or you can use some cloth towel–a habit I picked up from my Iranian ex-husband.  Iranians really know how to cook rice.  I am also drinking a glass of Cupcake Shiraz which I bought on the way home from work.  And yes, Shiraz is also the name of a city in Iran where they actually grow grapes or at least used to. But of course, drinking wine is no longer acceptable in Iran or at least not publicly.  Good Muslims do not drink at all.

I did write something worthwhile while in this workshop and will share–doing this last because it won’t count as my daily writing since I wrote it yesterday.

 

This Is What I Know

 

My parents loved me, really loved me.

My mom was proud of my accomplishments.

Dad gave me a love of books, intellectual curiosity, and a

sense of wonder.

Mom gave me a love of music, beauty, and cooking.

Happiness is a choice.

I do not believe in luck.  You make your own luck.

Life is an exciting adventure.

Horses give me joy.

Singing gives me joy.

Dancing gives me joy even if I rarely have the opportunity.

Family relationships can be distressingly complicated.

I am proud of my children and their accomplishments.

Religion matters much less to me than 99 per cent of the people I know.

Ethnic and religious prejudice distress me and I do not

understand those kinds of attitudes.

I am a good writer.

I want to make a real difference in the world.

I am happy 99 percent of the time.

Blessings flood my life.

My close friends and children and grandson are more

important to me than they know.

Writing has enriched my life.

I have few regrets:

One I have rectified;

the other I cannot–

my dad is dead.

Barbie Doll


Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty, petite, blue-eyed and blond, my mother, one

fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mom’s death, Dad said, “Barbara was

afraid of absolutely no one and nothing!”  They married late:  34 & 38.  He

adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life with horses, music, love,

cornfields, hay rides, books, and ambition.  Whatever she felt she had missed,

my sister and I were going to possess:  books, piano lessons, a college

education.  Her father, who died long before I was born, loved, fancy,

fast horses.  So did she.  During my preschool, croupy years she quieted my

hysterical night coughing with stories of run away horses pulling her in a

wagon.  With less than one hundred pounds and lots of determination, she

stopped them, a tiny Barbie Doll flying across the Missouri River Bottom,

strong, willful, and free.

My Father


Recently I decided to try writing poems about a few family members.  Months ago on this blog I published a poem about my Grandmother along with the marriage photo of her and my grandfather, who was so much older than she  (22 years) that I never knew him at all.  In June I posted photos of the trip I took back to Missouri where I grew up.  While a few things remained the same, I felt very sad about some changes and kept thinking how my dad must feel if he were watching.  He died in 1996, lived in the same house for 80 years and on the same farm all his life.  He labored long and hard to make the homeplace beautiful.

He watches:

The house where he was born

gone

Only the old carriage house stands.

The young man who farms the land cannot bear to tear it down.

He watches:

The ancient burr oaks and black walnuts

gone

bulldozed into waste piles or sold for greed.

He watches:

The house he lived and loved in for eighty years

still stands on land his family owned for more than 100.

Strangers live there:

He sees the well trimmed lawn,

new picket fence,

children playing.

He watches:

The pond he proudly built and stocked with fish reflects the summer sun.

The tree filled park between the pond and house

gone

He wonders why someone would destroy such beauty.

He watches:

The walnut grove where he ran cattle

gone

The pond where his grandson caught the giant turtle

gone

plowed over and planted to corn and soybeans.

He watches.

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DNA


Several months ago I decided to participate in the Human Genome Project through National Geographic.   When I called to order the kit, the young man reminded me that as a woman, I would receive only one half of my ancestry, the female half.  Since women do not have a Y chromosome, a woman can only trace her female family line through her mitochondrial DNA.  He suggested I use my grandson’s DNA so I would receive complete results.  Of course, that meant that in the end, I would have to factor in what I knew about his father’s family and deduct that to determine my own.  After the Geno 2.0 kit arrived, we took his cheek swabs and mailed them off.  This week when we returned from an 11 day family road trip, the results arrived.  With the results came detailed explanations of human migratory history and even comparisons of populations with DNA most like his.  Although none were close, the top two groups were people in Bermuda and Mexican Americans.  Luckily, the information contained a detailed explanation of the people of Bermuda.  The Native American results I expected since his great grandfather was Navaho.  Other parts came as somewhat a surprise. Once again I am taking a poetry class and now working on publishing a book of my poetry so I decided to write a poem about this experience.

The results loom before me on

the computer, percentages:

Northern European, Mediterranean,

Native American, Neanderthal,

sub Sahara African, South African–

as in the Bushmen in the Kalahari,

Northeast Asian, Southwest Asian.

Suddenly, calculations move through

my brain.  I look again, add, subtract,

recalculate, stare, ponder. Is there

a family secret I missed?  How will

I know, from whom?

Everyone I could ask is dead.

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Going Home Again


Last weekend I returned to the county where I grew up and the family farms in Andrew and Holt County, Missouri.  It had been at least six years since I had returned to the place my great grandfather homesteaded over a hundred years ago.  Strangers live in the house where I grew up and my father lived 80 of his 90 years.  On the site where he was born, only the old carriage house still stands, a sentinel to a lifestyle long gone.  Repeatedly, I tried to write a poem about all this, but have not been able to do so–perhaps the experience is still too close.  Additionally, for the first time, I attended my high school reunion and chatted with individuals I had not seen since I was 18.  Decades truly change people; I would have recognized only a couple without the name tags.  Northwest Missouri this year presents an intense emerald landscape.  Having travelled there from the semi-arid land where I now live, I suffered “green” shock.  And tree shock.  The Panhandle of Texas grows few large trees outside of towns and cities.  Even with my very ordinary camera, these photographs capture the beauty I witnessed and family memories I want to remember and share with my children and friends.

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This is the house where I grew up and Dad lived 80 years.  The building in the foreground was built during the depression.  Before it was put to its final farm use–for hogs and chickens at various times in my childhood–Dad held dances here.  Because of prohibition, the sheriff always sent someone to make sure no illegal alcohol consumption occurred.

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The old carriage house, just south of the site where a large house stood during my childhood, still stands.  The stained glass transom window hanging in my own house now and an etched glass hunting scene are all that remain of the house where Dad lived as a small child.  Emptiness and raccoons finally destroyed it.   When he gave me the windows over thirty years ago, Dad said it was impossible to keep an empty house in good shape forever.

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At the age of 18, my great grandfather, Gottlieb Werth, came to the United States to avoid being drafted into the Swiss army which hired out soldiers as mercenaries.  My father told me what his mother told him:  my father’s mother stood on the roof of her house in Switzerland and waved until she could no longer see her son; she never saw him again.  This photograph shows his grave in the Fillmore, Missouri, cemetery.

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Nearby, perhaps fifty feet away, lay the graves of Mom and Dad and my grandparents.  I never knew this grandmother; she died long before I was born.  My grandfather died when I small and sadly I do not remember him.  The family stories tell that he taught me to talk at a very early age, nine months, because he held me on his lap and told me about everything occurring outside the windows.  My first word was “tractor”.

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Another family story tells that this grandfather walked to Andrew County, Missouri, from Illinois.  Andrew County’s rolls are full of Lightles.  It remains the only place I have ever lived where I am not the only person with my last name in the phone book.  Dad claimed there would be even more Lightles except for the fact that several brothers died when they tried to walk across the Nodaway River on winter ice and it broke.  They all drowned.

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Dad built the large pond in this photo and stocked it with fish.  Until a few years ago when someone bought the land and destroyed all the trees, a small forest of ancient oaks, black walnuts, and chestnuts grew between the house and pond.  Dad kept it mowed and groomed–a park.  Sadness filled me when I saw the trees all gone.

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All my childhood we attended Antioch Christian Church.  Although I could not see it from my house, if I walked across the road to where the carriage house still stands, it looms across the distance.  Potlucks were a very popular activity here.  Mom made such fabulous pies that everyone would get her pie first to make sure they got a piece.

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The sign in front of the Andrew County Courthouse.  This county remains filled with people of Swiss descent to the point they have celebrations commemorating their heritage. The following include photos of the courthouse and some of the restored buildings on the courthouse square.

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Several reasons exist for my returning “home” at this time, including attending my high school reunion for the first time.  The following photos show several people I had not seen since I was 18, including Melanie Eisiminger, who was the valedictorian when I was salutatorian so many years ago, and Jim Ahillen and his lovely wife.  Melanie is in the middle.

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My mother grew up in Holt County, Missouri,  in the town of Fortesque and her family farm next to the Missouri River still remains mostly in the family.  In my childhood, Fortesque was still relatively prosperous.  Now fewer than fifty people live there.  The farm lays right next to the Missouri River.  I walked down the levee and took photos of this mighty river, the Rulo, Nebraska bridge, and the farm.  If I turned one direction, I faced the bluffs where White Cloud, Kansas, resides and the other direction is Nebraska.

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Between the Missouri River and the bluffs lays one of the largest wildlife refuges in the United States, Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  It is especially important for migratory birds, bald eagles, wading birds, and various mammals.  One can drive the new road ten miles through it to observe birds in particular but also other species.  The huge cottonwoods and oaks fascinated me.  It appears I had totally forgotten just how grand these trees can grow if given adequate water.  In one area I drove for at least four miles through a tree tunnel, then several raptors screamed at me while I tried to photograph them, and finally I managed to photograph a red winged black bird and geese.  After several days of semi constant rain, it felt fabulous to experience a perfect sunny day for my tiny trip to the wild.

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After I left Squaw Creek, I drove to Mound City to find the graves of the Duke side of my family.  The last time I had been there was when we buried my aunt, mother’s sister.  I also remember going with her there more than twenty years ago.  I recalled the general location but had to hike around a bit to find them.  Because Grandfather Duke was much older than Grandmother, I never knew him.  Aunt Julia came to visit me at least once a year until she neared ninety and could no longer travel easily.    She never married and remained admirably independent until she became too feeble to get around on her own.

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The E stands for Evelyn.  She was named after a woman Grandmother worked for on the White Cloud Reservation, Evelyn Le Clair.  On my previous visit to Missouri, I went to the White Cloud Reservation and inquired about the Le Clairs but had been told they had moved away a long time ago.  Grandmother had to work because her father went blind and could no longer work.  His name was Kaiser and he, too, came from Switzerland.  The following is the gravestone of my great grandmother.  Mother frequently recited sayings from her, e.g. you can’t tell by the looks of a frog how far he can leap.

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In  my childhood, we cut across the country side to go from the Andrew County farm where we lived to Grandmother’s Holt County farm.  I remained unsure whether I could recall exactly how to do this but tried and met with success, feeling very happy with myself, remembering something I had not accomplished in decades.  Because it had rained six inches the previous week, unlike last year during the drought, knee high grass grew along the backroads, corn was coming up, ponds were full.  I drove by the houses of people I remember from childhood, not knowing who lived there any more except a few.  People change, life proceeds, but the country still holds endless promise and beauty.  Finally, with a few hours left before flying back to Texas, I stopped by a new area north of Kansas City, Briarwood, strolled around, visited an excellent natural food market, ate a rather exotic lunch, and took a few photographs of huge new houses and the Kansas City skyline.

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Everyone asked me to bring some rain back to the Panhandle of Texas.  It has rained three times since I returned home.  A coincidence, of course, but very welcome.

Destino


Week two of the prose poetry class:

“It is a blessing to live out your destino.”  Julia Alvarez

Long ago, in the hot summer, I could hear the corn grow at night with the windows open in northwest Missouri.  Rolling hills of corn and soybeans still clad the dark brown earth left by glaciers thousands of years ago.  So much time has gone without my returning to this land:  colleges in different states, marriages, jobs in cities.

My father lived ninety years on this farm his Swiss grandfather homesteaded.  He yearned for distant lands, to explore, to learn.  He loved the West, endless space, rugged mountains, canyonlands, wildness.  When it snowed too much for school, he loaded us in the car, turned wheelies, and headed for Kansas City.  His yearning to be a doctor died when very young–the only child left at home, caring for a diabetic mother, recovering from a failed youthful marriage before he met Mom.

He gave me his love of questioning, traveling, reading, trying the untried, a pride in the land and work, and a sense of wonder.  This night, after shoveling out from a dangerous blizzard, I sit in front of a fire, write on a Western canyon rim, look at his parade saddle and the photo of the farm for which he felt so much pride, and cry:  my destino.

Barbara Lightle’s Potato Soup


Recent cold nights brought childhood memories of Mom’s cooking, particularly the one and only soup I recall her ever making, potato soup.  Then memories of Dad and how much he loved Mom and her cooking rushed in.  Long after Mom’s death on one of my visits home, Dad asked me to cook all the ingredients for Mom’s potato soup except for the milk.  He wanted enough to last a while so he could add the milk bit by bit on occasions when he wanted soup.  On a cold night this past week, I duplicated Mom’s soup like on that visit home long ago.  I even made extra.

Barbara Lightle’s Potato Soup

SAM_09721 onion, chopped finely

Several stalks celery, chopped finely

Potatoes, chopped finely–enough so that the ratio of potatoes to onion and celery is 2:1

Enough melted butter to saute all the above until done

Finally, add milk and salt to taste, depending on how salty and thick you like your soup.

Mom made it plain like this.  I used olive oil instead of butter and also added a few chopped portabella mushrooms.  It later occurred to me that adding green chilies or poblano peppers with some cumin would make a nice soup.  Or use coconut milk and curry for Asia style.

Rim Rider


I ride the rim on Rosie,

writing stories in my mind.

The neighbor’s husky howls.

Rosie listens, watches,

moves away from the canyon rim.

I write of long lost lovers,

names forgotten,

smiling brown faces,

drifting through my dreams.

I ride the rim on Rosie,

writing stories in my mind.

The bobcat climbs the canyon wall.

Rosie’s ears move,

her body tenses.

I write of childhood memories,

places loved and lost,

of family joys and sorrows,

Mom’s singing while she worked,

Dad’s napping on the blue linoleum  floor.

I ride the rim on Rosie,

writing stories in my mind.

Isabella runs past, bunny hunting, barking.

Rosie wants to run, to race, is held.

I write of fragrant fields of saffron,

endless Thai seas of blue and green,

of lands I’ve loved , the Navaho Nation, the Llano Estacado.

I ride the rim on Rosie,

writing stories in my mind.