The World in One Room


 

Four jaguar heads stare at me,

Mexican, Costa Rican.

A third guards the mantel,

partially hidden in tropical plants,

attack ready, tail raised, jaws open,

teeth bared.

 

My feet rest on a coffee table

carved in Kashmir.  I look at the photo

of the young man whose family made it.

He took me home to meet his mom,

to the floating market.

Once peace reigned there.

Now I wonder if he is safe, alive.

 

The Hoop Dancer raises his arms,

the Acoma pot exudes ancient

black on white beauty, painted

by the tips of yucca stems.

The Thai Spirit House begs

to appease evil spirits.

I should put food and flowers there;

I never do.

 

Corn plant of life–for Navaho, Hopi,

me, painted, growing up my wall,

blue and red birds flitting through

the stalks, singing ancient songs.

Corn Maiden rug hanging on the wall;

an Isleta Pueblo girl won a contest

with its design.  Four Corn Maiden

Kachinas watch the room.

Corn everywhere–Sacred Corn.

 

Three Ethiopian crosses, St. George

and the Dragon, Frida Kahlo doll,

Argentinian Madonna, Tohono O’odham

baskets, a painted cow skull, Nigerian carved

wooden elephants, including a Chieftains chair,

the stained glass transom window from the house

where my dad lived from birth to ten.

 

In a room filled with windows, there

is little room for paintings, yet–

purple bison glide across the prairie,

an Iraqi woman flies through an azure

sky filled with dark blue birds,

a 15th century mystic, Kabir, tells

a tale in poetry, Navaho spirits,

pumas walking toward me–

my obsession.

 

Rugs scattered–Kerman,

an unknown Persian city, Afghani,

Egyptian, Indian, Zapotec, scraps of old

Turkish rugs sewn together.

 

In one cabinet, Grandmother’s china,

Mom’s Czech crystal–a wedding present

decades ago, Grandson’s painted art,

the silverware Dad gave Mom on their

first wedding anniversary,  Mom’s

everyday dishes–flowers blooming.

I use them every day.

 

These objects–a testament to who I am:

World wanderer, seeker, citizen.

SAM_0912

SAM_0035

 

 

 

 

 

September 1, on the Rim of Wonder


Sunrise

Dappled clouds

Owl hooting

Wren climbing

IMG_3489

IMG_3486

IMG_3487

Later, I graded papers and watched part of John McCain’s funeral, some of which almost brought me to tears.  I often disagreed with him but never did I question his passionate love of country, his courage, his willingness to buck the norm, to defy convention when he thought it was the right thing to do.  I think he and I shared certain values on which this country is based even if the country as a whole rarely lives up to them.  These include the conviction that all people are equal, that everyone deserves justice, and each person carries the right to find his or her own share of happiness without judgment and condemnation from others who may think differently.

Later, while working on the latest book I am writing, I found handwritten recipes written by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Nellie Narcissus Duke (Kaiser),whose father came here from Switzerland as a child.  One, for dumplings, remains readable.  The other written in pencil on the front and back of thin paper is fragile.  It is for Strawberry Shortcake.  If Grandmother Duke ever made dumplings, I do not remember it.  Mother did–chicken and dumplings.  I wonder if she used this recipe.  I do remember conversations about the shortcake because Dad did not like strawberry shortcake even though he liked strawberries.  I took photos of these two recipes written decades ago in my grandmother’s handwriting.

IMG_3492IMG_3493

IMG_3494

 

Black Raspberries


Mom filled the white bowl with black raspberries.

I pour Bossie’s white milk over them,

watched it form a pattern,

flowing around the raspberries–

a design in deep purple and white.

I thought it almost too beautiful to eat.

I was seven.

Now I rarely find black raspberries.  Red ones won’t do.  They lack intensity, the beauty.  Every year we went to Hunt’s Orchard north of Amazonia, Missouri, to buy black raspberries, took them home, sorted to discard the imperfect ones, then threw them way behind the garden next to the timber–huge trees, oak and hickory.  Eventually, these imperfections transformed into thriving black raspberry bushes.  We had our own patch, created from the discarded, the imperfect.

Mom fed us fresh raspberries for a few days.  The rest she used to create her famous pies, froze a freezer full.  Baked, they transformed a winter kitchen into the warmth and sweetness of my mother’s family devotion.

I bake pies, many kinds of pies.  I have never made a black raspberry pie.

 

12193406_10204105678156113_6043720938154804167_n

Note:  this will be published in an upcoming publication by the Story Circle Network.  In July my daughter, grandson, and I went to Hunt’s Orchard–yes, it still exists.  I asked about black raspberries.  We were too late; the season was over.  The timber behind the garden area was to the right in this photo.  The person who bought the land years later bulldozed down all the big trees.

Memorial Day–Memories


While I was growing up, my mom grew peonies by the side of the vegetable garden.  Red, pink, white, huge spectacular blooms that always arrived around this time of year just in time for Memorial Day.  We would pick many, put them in mason jars and take them to my father’s and her family’s cemetery plots.  She has created a metal apparatus to hold them so the wind would not blow them over.  We took water to fill the jars.  We did this every Memorial Day always.

No one lives close any more.  There is no one left to take flowers there.

My mother’s family members are buried in the Mound City, Missouri Cemetery.

SAM_1160

My mother’s parents’ gravestone.  She was Nellie Narcissus Kaiser before she married rather late for back then–in her late twenties.  I never knew my grandfather.  He was so much older than she that even though he lived to be 80, he died long before I was born. My great-grandfather Kaiser was born in Switzerland and brought here as a child.

SAM_1159

The gravestone of my mother’s grandmother.  I know she lived with my grandmother and grandfather a lot of the time from family photos, but I also know that she died in San Diego.  No one ever told me how she got there or why.

SAM_1161

The gravestone of Aunt Julia, Mother’s sister.  She never married, loved fancy antiques and china.  I frequently use some of what she left me.  She came to see me rather often and we visited antique stores when she visited.  To say she was an independent woman is an understatement.

SAM_1090

My parents’ gravestone is on the right and Dad’s parents’ on the left–in the cemetery in Fillmore, Missouri.  My grandfather, Pleasant Lightle, had walked from Illinois to Missouri as a child according to family stories.  My parents met dancing. I always smile when I see the peonies planted at their graves.

SAM_1094

This is the gravestone of my great-grandfather, Dad’s mother’s father, who came to the US from Switzerland when he was 18.  According to my dad, he did not want to be conscripted into the Swiss army because at that time Swiss soldiers were being hired out as mercenaries.  His mother stood on the roof of their house waving until she could see him no longer.  They never saw each other again.  I grew up on the land he homesteaded in Andrew County, Missouri.  Andrew County is filled with descendants of immigrants who came from Switzerland.

SAM_1097

The old carriage house near the house where Dad spent the first ten years or so of his 90 years.  It is all that is left standing.

SAM_1098

The house where Dad lived the last 80 years of his life and where I grew up.

SAM_1167

When I was a child, the building in the foreground was used at various times as a farrowing house, once for Rhode Island Red chickens, and to store various farm supplies.  When I went to visit Dad after Mom died and we were at the cemetery on Memorial Day, a man came up to Dad and asked if he was Doyle Lightle.  They started chatting and I learned that when Dad first built it during Prohibition times, he held dances there.  The sheriff would send deputies to watch and make sure no one was drinking.  I had lived there and visited there for decades and had never heard this story.

SAM_1134

I took this photo standing on the levee next to the Missouri River looking toward the Rulo, Nebraska bridge.  This is the land my mother’s family owned.  On some Sundays as a treat, we would cross the bridge to a restaurant on the Nebraska side.  It was famous for its fried catfish and carp.

SAM_1150

This is country with lots of water and trees.  This picture was taken near Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  Several times in my life, I have seen flooding from the bluffs on the Missouri side all the way to the bluffs on the Kansas and Nebraska side of the river.  When I was a child, my uncle and aunt lived on the river farm until a flood reached half way up the second story of their house.  They gave up and moved to town.

SAM_1145

When I was a child, there were trees like this in lots of places on Mom’s family’s farm.  About this time of year we would hunt for morels and often pick a bushel basket full.  Mom dipped them in egg and cornmeal, then fried them.  We practically lived on them for week or two.  I was shocked as an adult to go into a fancy market and discover that dried morels were 95 dollars a pound.

 

 

 

 

My Mother–Barbie Doll


Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty petite, blue-eyed and blond, my mother, one fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mother’s death, Dad said, “Barbara was afraid of absolutely no one and nothing.”  They married late:  34 and 38.  He adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life with horses, music, love, cornfields, hay rides,      books, ambition.  Whatever she felt she had missed, I was going to possess:  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 aways 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, free.

Note:  this poem is in my book “On the Rim of Wonder” and was also recently published in “Inside and Out”, a collection of writings by women.  It is available on Amazon and published by the Story Circle Network.

Addendum:  My mother loved horses and flowers.  When I look at the flowers around my house I think of my mother.  And, yes, I have horses.  The following photos are dedicated to my mother’s memory.

 

IMG_2230 (1)

IMG_2866

IMG_2373

IMG_2318

IMG_2304

SAM_0947

My mother’s mother and father.

 

Blood Quantum: A Poem for Our Time


 

My grandson cuts himself into 16 equal pieces:

4/16 Urhobo from Africa

3/16 Spanish from Spain

4/16 European–two Swiss German great, great-grandfathers

(Werth and Kaiser), Irish, English and who knows what

3/16 Mexican–whatever mixtures that may be

2/16 Navaho

 

Who am I? What am I?

Who are you? What are you?

Do we really know?

Who sets the rules?

white men

black

Indian

Native American

Irish

English

German

from where and for whom?

 

He looks Navaho:

-blue black straight hair

-pale brown skin

-obsidian eyes.

One four year old girl asks him,

“Are you American Indian?”

His six year old self says nothing.

She repeats,

“Are you American Indian?”

He says, “It’s complicated.”

 

The Navaho won’t claim him, too little blood.

He needs 1/4, not 1/8.

Caddy and Fort Sill Apache allow 1/16, not Navahos.

1/4 blood is for

-Sioux

-Cheyenne

-Kiowa

-Navaho

1/8 works for Comanche and Pawnee.

Some Cherokees only want a Cherokee ancestor.

 

But he is none of those.

Is he Navaho?

Is he white?

The old South goes by the one drop rule:

one drop of Negro…

Is a person with 99/100 per cent white

and 1/100 black, black?

Who says?

Kids at school ask, “What are you?”

He tells them.

They say, “You’re lying.”

 

I only know specifically about two ancestors,

the Swiss Germans.

Another great grandfather disappeared during the Civil War.

I don’t even know his name.

Who am I?

Who are you?

I think I’ll get a DNA test.

Then I’ll know how many pieces I need to cut myself into.

 

Note:  This was originally published in my book “On the Rim of Wonder”.  I had a cousin send me 75 pages of ancestry information.  I looked up more myself.  That one great grandfather remains a mystery.  I had my DNA done.  It did not match what I expected from the ancestry work.

Blood quantum is the term the US government used to determine whether a person would be qualified as an Indian.  Now many Indian Nations use it to decide who can be on the tribal rolls and who cannot.

 

 

Mom’s Pumpkin Pie


Mom made fantastic pies of all sorts so much so that when she took a pie to a potluck, people would rush to get a piece even before they acquired any other food.  The only pumpkin pie my grandson likes is Mom’s.  He seems to like the idea that he is eating something his great grandmother created.  Today, I taught him to make homemade pie crust and Mom’s pumpkin pie.  Here he is crimping the edges after rolling out the dough and placing it in the pie pan.

IMG_2884

We made two pumpkin and one pecan today.  Here is the recipe for Mom’s pumpkin pie.  He ground the cinnamon–pieces of bark from a friend’s mom’s tree in Ethiopia–using an old fashioned, wooden grinder.

1 1/2 cups cooked or canned pumpkin

1 1/2 cups milk and cream or evaporated milk  ( I use 1 can evaporated milk)

3 eggs

3/4 cup brown or white sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg ( I grated this fresh)

1/2 teaspoon ginger

Dump everything in a blender.  Place your hand on the lid before starting the motor.  Blend a few seconds, until smooth, and pour into pastry-lined pie shell.  Bake at 450 for ten minutes, then bake at 350 for 30 minutes longer or until firm in the center.

Placed with Mom’s original typed recipe is this note:  “Juliana, if you use half evaporated milk it gives a wonderful flavor and I like white sugar best.” I use white sugar.

The finished product looks like this.

SAM_1381

This recipe makes a lot of filling so if you do not have a large pie pan, you will need to bake some of the filling in another pan.  Since we made two today, we baked the left over without a crust in another oven proof dish–pumpkin pudding.

Unconditional Love


IMG_2222

IMG_2300

IMG_2238

IMG_2180

IMG_1548

img_2385

IMG_2318

All the beautiful flowers I see today, Mother’s Day 2017, make me think of my mother.  She loved flowers, especially roses, horses, music, beauty.  When I think of her, I also think of unconditional love.  Even when young and I sometimes thought she expected too much of me, I still knew she loved me no matter what the circumstances and always would.  For this I feel unending gratitude.  As a teacher, it has become very clear to me that many children do not experience the kind of love my mother gave me.  She died suddenly many years ago.  Her love will never leave me.  Thank you, Mom, wherever you are!!

The Fly, Wine, and Fennel


I look .

The fly floats in my glass of Seven Deadly Zins,

full to two golden flowers half way up the rim.

What kind of flowers?

I look.

Unsure, I watch the fly struggle, floundering around

in the deep red, the color that turns tongues

purple drunk.

I look.

Dead.  It floats.

Not poor, frugal.  I debate.

Should I throw the wine out?  Drink it?

I take the silver teaspoon–from the six piece

set Father gave Mother in 1946 on their

first anniversary–dip it in the dark, remove

fly, throw it down the antique copper sink drain.

I pick up the glass.

I look,

swirl the wine around in the bowl, take a sip.

Surely 15 percent alcohol kills germs.

 

img_2384

 

It was past seven, time to fix dinner.  Since I live a lone, I often fix dinner for two, save half, and have dinner ready for a hectic evening after work.  Just warm in the microwave.

Cod with Fennel, Mint, and Lemon

Two cod loins–one if extra large

1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic

Olive oil

1/2 to 1 cup finely sliced small carrots

1/2 large poblano pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

several cauliflower florets thinly sliced

crushed dried mint

essential oil of lemon and fennel (if you do not use essential oils,

you can use 1 tsp. ground fennel and lemon juice to taste)

 

Pour enough olive oil in a ten inch skillet to totally cover the bottom.  Saute garlic and carrots in the olive oil until carrots are almost tender.  Sprinkle a small handful of mint over the garlic and carrot mixture.  Add cauliflower and poblano pepper.  When poblano peppers are about to change color, add the cod.  Sprinkle drops of lemon and fennel essential oil over the cod–or the ground fennel and lemon juice.  Cook until the cod flakes.    Serve over rice.  I use basmati.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbie Doll


This poem praises my mother.  It is page 17 of my memoir in poems, “On the Rim of Wonder”.  It seems appropriate to republish it here for Mother’s Day.

 

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 and 38.  He adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life

with horses, music, love, cornfields, hay rides, books, ambition.  Whatever

she felt she had missed, I was 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 100 pounds and lots of determination, she

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

strong, willful, free.