Monthly Archives: May 2008

For my son, whose middle name is Edward

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years in World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high school, senior year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He too had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was nineteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troupe. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather.

Bataan Death March

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Psychic order

Sometimes I’m asked in what order someone should read my books. I guess this is because some of the same characters appear in the three which are published. First, I think it doesn’t matter. Read whichever one comes your way, and go from there. Each book is written to stand alone: a full-fledged story with beginning, middle, end. But as the one who writes them, it is very interesting to me the way they have unfolded in my imagination. The first one was written to heal over a great hurt. The second one was written because the publisher made an offer I couldn’t refuse. The third one was written because that’s what was there for me to do when I left a regular job. The fourth one is being written now because it’s the one I’ve been trying to write since the second.  A piece of it tumbled out in the third. That was when I realized how large this particular story (Louis XIV) was, and that my mistake had been to try to fit that story into one book. So now I write another piece of that story. And when it is finished, I will take one thread and unfurl it forward into the time period of Dark Angels, and those characters, Richard and Alice, will come back on stage. But then the book after, six, if I’m counting correctly, will again look backward to Alice’s girlhood. And then, and only then, will I be ready to go forward to the early 18th century in which Barbara, the character of the first and second novels, lives. Somehow, there’s a psychic order. I must finish with Louis XIV and Alice before I can begin again with Barbara. It’s as if I threw a rock in a pond, and the rock was the first book, and these which come after are the ripples in my imagination. Those basic themes of what is love, what is forgiveness, what is redemption just keep widening.

By telegram

I’ve been thinking a lot about Daddy, she says. He died in 1992. And sometimes she calls my brother, “Daddy,” with that questioning arc at the end of the word. DadDEE? I find an old scrapbook of hers, of her wedding shower cards. Old pressed roses from Dad are dust in the wax paper she pressed them in. There is a telegram in among the cards and rose dust, sent from aboard his ship when he was a new merchant marine officer, sent from the Newhall Hills by radiogram to a Western Union office. It arrived by telegram on the 24th of December 1946.

Wishing Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the most wonderful person in the world Love Clyde, it says.

I am amazed by look and feel of the old telegram, those pieces of paper delivered by messenger that once apprised people of important news, usually not good. It is thin and fragile, nearly tears at the folds from age. I frame it for Mother’s Day, and when I bring it I think about timing, seen and unseen, wondering if Dad is speaking to her from wherever he is, sending his love one more time by telegram.

old love poem

You were like marmalade

sweet bold tangy

man I loved you so much

you kissed me lightly sweetly and my hope went seeding into the air

a dandelion blown apart by wind

I felt like sleeping beauty

waked from a long dream

the next time you kissed me fire grew

and pointed my breasts

and that night I stared sightlessly

above dishes in the sink

stared out at the darkness

waiting for you to climb over the fence

and take me


The prosaic: this poem came from a writing prompt at a writing workshop at Brigid’s Place when my good friend Sandi ran it. The facilitator put a list of words on the board and then asked us to use several of them. Among them were “dishes in the sink at night” and “dandelions.” The word “marmalade” is what got me started. A draft of this poem just flowed out of me, always a wonderful experience for a writer, that tapping into something under the surface that appears like a dolphin arching out of water. The poem captured a special time; when you’re so attracted to someone, and there is respect as well as spark in the attraction, and the potential for a love affair is there. I write a lot about love in all its aspects: familial, romantic, friendly, broken, forbidden, spiritual. It seems to me that is our reason for being here–to learn how to love life and the people in it in the fullest way. My definition of full continues to  grow.

http://www.brigidsplace.org/

Tender

Houston springs are tender. There’s just no other word for them. Soft days and soft nights. Coming brutal humidity and heat remain last summer’s dream. I think I become emotional and tender myself because I know what’s around the corner. But for now, it’s spring. Pink tulip trees and redbuds have been the first to announce blooming time. The sweet color of their blossoms is impossible to describe: amethyst in which rose had been swirled. Azaleas and bridal wreath follow. Trees bud and leaf, and in a month Houston will be a cloud of green from the sky.  Here’s what Houston’s soft spring does to me:

gardeners are busybodies

always peering out their windows

at the roses to demand:

have they bloomed yet?

 

cream edged in coral

I steal indescriminately

my neighbor’s roses

 

magnolia blossoms

open tight buds to reveal

deep creamy faces

 

what do butterflies

think when they race? does it

matter who wins?