Restarting, recharging and blundering onward

Greetings. With the change of the calendar to a new year, Nifspeak resumes. I hope to be more faithful to the spirit of blogging, and post on a regular basis in 2012. Like most of the aging folks I know, I wonder where the time has gone, and how it is I find myself writing these numerals.

It was only a blink ago that I ventured into Belfast for the By the Bay New Years celebration fof the new millennium’s arrival. My mother was, at the time, a week away from death. My good friend (sister, really) Halina and I had ventured forth seeking a guilty moment of respite from her care. I remember finding it difficult to focus on the joy of the occasion, that the scene was surreal.

How can so much life, and death, be happening concurrently, I wondered. But it does, and many more juxtaposed events have come and gone since then. It is human life, all beginnings and endings punctuated with a few rebirths, if we are lucky enough to still be present and engaged.

Sea Urchins

I receive an unexpected package  in the mail today from my oldest sister. The mail here is on island time, like everything else, and besides, I don’t go check it very often. My birthday is weeks past. That’s odd I think, turning the package over, tearing into the puffy manila envelope. I wonder what she’s sending me? I think of some old family letters, stuff my cousin gave her. Then I reach inside and find a card made from plain brown paper stock with a rough red heart on it. A Valentine I say, Aha. On the card are these words:

Timeless latitudes
Sisters listening

February 2010
Love, Sue

The book is Wladen by Haiku,  written by Ian Marshall. It’s a most extraordinary book. On the inside flap of the front jacket are these words:

“Although Thoreau would never have encountered the Japanese haiku tradition, the way in which the most important ideas in Walden find expression in haiku-like language suggests that Thoreau at Walden Pond and the haiku master Basho at his “old pond” might have  drunk at the same well.”

I smile knowing
Sisters listening
Echoes sounding time

As I take my afternoon walk along the old Danish plantation road that hugs the shore of Leinster Bay, I think about gifts. I think about siblings. The word precious comes to mind. I walk looking inward, spot a fragile bleached sea urchin shell the size of a quarter and pick it up. I hold it gently in my palm and walk on. This is precious, I think, remembering the black nubbly spines of tiny living urchins I have seen, nestled among the rocks in the shallows of another bay. I think, not all survive to have spines that speak of elegant  ebony chopsticks. And then my mind moves on to context.

I think, without the creature, this object in my hand is just another pretty thing. I think, without my family I would be nothing, my outer shell is so far removed from what’s inside. How would anyone know the woman on the shore could be a poet?

She stoops
curiously sipping
the pond’s fluid edge

© 2010 Jennifer M. Pierce, All Rights Reserved

A Diversion Mid Slope or You Gotta Have Guts

I’m supposed to give you the story of Hermie Houdini today, but I got sucked into a torrent, and that will have to wait. I’m learning to perfect the writer’s craft. This week in one of my courses we’re working on scene. Thinking about Hermie got me deep into the hillside here.

Picture this. The slope I live on is so steep it’s like living on the back side of a wave that lifts you three feet off the bottom when you’re at the beach. Objects carelessly left on the deck railing and knocked off go clattering and careening down slope until they get snagged by a jumble of rocks or detritus up against a tree root. If you’re game for going after  the errant object, you have to nearly bend prone to get back up hill to where the level spot is under the deck. If you don’t mistakenly put your foot on a loose spot, you’ll make it, but only if you grab onto trees and things that look mightily anchored to the scarce top dressing of tropical earth. You can’t see the bottom of this hill from the deck, but that’s where the gut is.

I’ve thought about stringing a rope from tree to tree to aid in the ascent.

One time, chasing down the screw cap to my stainless water bottle, I took the roof broom along. That’s a telescoping aluminum pole with a fuzzy bent-out-of-shape green nylon brush at the end. I used the broom head like a shepherd’s crook (now I know what they are good for in addition to snagging lambs) hooking it around trees uphill and then pulling myself along it’s length. This worked well except for when I didn’t tighten the telescopic mechanism and began listing menacingly backward, in the direction of the gut.

A gut is a boulder strewn drainage channel that carries the runoff we get here when it rains. Runoff is an innocent sounding word, and barely describes the water that doesn’t sink in. Rain on St. John isn’t like other places. It comes out of nowhere and goes back there, either dribbling from the trees or gushing with such volume that the gutters can barely accommodate it.

A good rain leaves rocks as big as beach balls just the far side of the hairpin curve, and the roadside gutter, if there is one, strewn with gravel, dead palm fronds, smashed plastic water bottles. In a few places this torrent might tear and rage madly down into a storm catchment full of pebbles with a tyer palm sticking out of it.

When it really rains you can hear the normally silent gut from my bed. Not long after the rain cloud clears Bordeaux Mountain’s west flank the plunk plunking of rain sloughing off the dastardly leaf-dropping turpentine trees overhead is joined by what can only be described as the sound of an insane skier made of water schussing downhill as fast as he can go. It’s definitely the sound of a reckless guy skier. Only in this case, the sound doesn’t pass by and diminish like it does on a steep snow covered mountain. On St. John, this schuss stays right there in your ear for an hour, a half a day, a few days. Depends on the rainfall.

© 2010 Jennifer Pierce, All Rights Reserved

My Mother’s Eagle

We had an optional writing assignment in my Postcard Memoir class. I liked my piece so much, I’m sharing it with you all. 400 words, describe an object from childhood and show its meaning without explaining. Here it is.

A slab longer than my arm and two inches thick sits on the bench by the sitting room window. It is soft golden brown oak, the color of late day sunshine in September. Its rough edge gently scribes the contour of a bird with spread wings. The blunt diamond shape in the middle of the side facing me carries the graphite tracing of a sheaf of arrows, a leafy laurel branch. This is my mother’s eagle.

Near the slab is a heavy mallet of dense lignum vitae. It has a rich patina the color of dark maple syrup. Occasionally there is a pile of small grainy chips. They break in perfect flat planes when handled even gently. I am not allowed to touch the slab or the tools. They have gleaming razor sharp blades shaped in angular points and graceful arcs. The tool handles are stained with shades of grime from years of use. On a hook hangs a leather strop, one flat band smooth, one roughly textured. Held between two hands and flexed just right the two stiff pieces of leather can be coaxed to produce a loud snapping sound. I do this when no one is around, and run my fingers over the raw contours of this unfinished bird.

Just to the right of this place is the ironing board in a box, built by my dad. It keeps the board handy, but out of the way of my mother’s work bench. When I am tall enough to reach it, I spend long hours in this spot, ironing creases in my father’s pants, the sheets, my skirts, my mother’s dress. The slab goes mostly unchanged. Just beyond it a few inches away the window facing east frames the seasons. I look out as I iron thinking, my mother was an artist once.

This window and I watch over the slab together. Home made curtains flank its rippling double sash, flutter lazily in a kite-worthy spring wind. It whistles in winter’s howl, though closed. In summer it is open to the ferocious drenching of a squall. The slab warps from the rain. One day I lean over it to shut the window and the bird cracks along it’s length.

Years pass. The window is opened each spring, but the eagle never flies, though I try to will it so.

© 2010 Jennifer M. Pierce, All Rights Reserved