- "Hang On" and "Tell the Truth"
- "Beethoven or Baseball"
- "Writing Well is Important"
- "Mother's Nature"
At Peru State
With Summer Camp Students
The Nebraska Writing Project helped me learn the following valuable lessons regarding written composition. In 1979, I took my first NeWP course at Technical High School in the Omaha Public School District, and Dr. Les Whipp was our teacher, facilitator, and guru. In one semester, he taught me more about writing and teaching than I learned in all of my education classes combined. He helped me realize that I was an unconventional learner and one of my positive traits was that I could teach non-traditional students, because I enjoyed listening to their stories. He showed me how the best of teacher education can be summarized into three sentences as they are applied to students. "I like you. I hear you. Let's work together on what you are saying." I know that I could not have lasted thirty years in public education without NeWP, Dr. Whipp, and what I learned from them both.
- Managing editor, Fine Lines
- Retired from Omaha Public Schools in 2004
- Currently Adjuct English Instructor
University of Nebraska at Omaha, since 1982
Metropolitan Community College, since 1990
- Nebraska Methodist College, since 2007
- With NWP since 1979
- 18 graduate hours in NWP workshops: half of my Master of Arts Degree in English is in NeWP classes
- Selected by the UNL English Department to participate in the NE Humanities Project as a master teacher, 1985: the NE LiteratureProject, 1984; and the NE Writer's Project, 1979.
- Winner-Carol MacDaniels "Teacher of the Year Award" in 2001
In 1990, one of my English classes was filled with downtown, street-wise, tough high school teenagers who were one step from expulsion. All of them failed English class before, at least once, some of them several times. They did not want to be in school, and they couldn't wait to leave those classroom walls. They did not do homework for other teachers, when it was assigned, and they stared at me like they dared me to teach them anything. Half of the class was black. The rest were Caucasian, Latino, Vietnamese, and Native American, but the meanest looking and most physical was a white boy named Jack.
This group of "at-risk" juvenile delinquents was quiet, like the silence before a storm. If they misbehaved, they knew their days as students in that urban high school were over, and the street was the only thing they had waiting for them. Most of them knew what that meant: gangs, hard work, prison, and an early death from drugs. They all had friends or family in one of those places.
Jack never talked to anyone in class, including me. For all I knew, he was mute. From the first day of class in August to the week before Thanksgiving, he did not talk to anyone. He turned in enough work to maintain a passing grade, but when I asked him a question, he shrugged his shoulders and refused to reply.
He never took his eyes away from mine. Whenever I turned around, after helping another student or when I looked up from my desk, his eyes were on me. After a few days, I was leery to turn my back on him. I started doing things in class, so I always faced him. He sat in the next to last seat in the second row from the door, and I planned all my classroom activity, so I had one or two rows between us. Jack only let one student sit behind him, George, who was everyone's friend and always seemed happy. George was slow and had behavioral development issues, but he tried to read and write, even though he was four grade levels behind his peers.
Some of the girls in class had children. Carlotta was nineteen-years-old and had three. It was forbidden in school to flash gang signs, but when she wasn't paying attention to me, I could see her give a sign to another girl across the room. She was pretty and smart, and all the boys spoke to her every day, except Jack. When she spoke to him, he glared at her. After awhile, she ignored him.
Some of the boys were scarred by fights, and they never relaxed, even in class. They were always looking over their shoulders, like the worst thing that could ever happen to them was be caught off-guard or surprised, and where they came from, they were probably right.
The first day of class, I walked through the door and looked at this collection of races and attitudes, of dark sunglasses and darker souls, of defensive body language and silent despair, of low motivation and lack of hope. I said to myself, "Oh, Lord, why me?"
The next day, when I saw the principal, I asked him, "Why me?"
His answer was, "No one else would take the class, and we thought you could make them work. You've coached seven sports. You get along with any student who tries. Give them a chance. They all know that if they don't do what you tell them, they will fail the class and won't be allowed back in school."
I agonized about how to teach this unusual collection of young adults who did not fit into any group in the school. How would I get them to write essays, learn poetry, and read the standard curriculum? They didn't do those things before, so I knew I had to try something different. I threw the school's traditional way of doing things out the window, metaphorically. I decided we would write every day and keep a journal of our own work. Our writing notebooks became our textbooks, and I graded their work by the pound. In this class, the sweat that appeared from pushing a pen across the lines on the paper would earn credit. Three days a week, I would bring ideas for us to write about, and two days a week, different students would bring ideas from their personal lives for the class to write about. In effect, they would share in teaching the class. We sat in a circle, and everyone was equal.
Chemistry started to build between us. Slowly, trust crept into the room, silently and unseen. I would not let students enter class, if they didn't bring their journals every day. I brought photocopies of chapters from many classics, and we read those, often out loud. Text books scared these students, but they would read, discuss, and study anything that was photocopied. One reading I handed out that created the biggest stir from these young, angry rebels was "The Song of Hugh Glass" in A Cycle of the West by John Neihardt.
I introduced Neihardt's epic poem and talked about defeat and victory, rejection and acceptance, revenge, and forgiveness. I thought I saw Jack's lips move in response to something I said, but when I called on him, he shook his long hair that touched his shoulders and refused to speak. I knew he wanted to ask a question, but he would not verbalize it. He sat there in his long, black, leather coat, years before Columbine, and I thought, "Will I ever reach this one?" When I read his journal entry about Hugh Glass's true story, I felt a strong passion come out of his pen that started to show a different aspect of his character.
Over the next few weeks, everyone helped read Neihardt's long poem in class, except Jack. We slowly read every word, and I took my time, like I was walking beside Glass and giving a "play by play account" of this unusual, adventure experience. Outwardly, Jack gave the impression that he was too good to participate or too cool; however, his journal relayed another story. After each verse, after each page, we stopped and talked about what we read. I helped interpret many words and put the lines in a context everyone could grasp. Each time I looked up, Jack's eyes met mine.
When he turned in his notebook to me, as the others did, every Friday, I made sure to write something about his thoughts on every page. All my comments were positive. I believe in the power of positive reinforcement, and he had so much rejection in his life that I did not want to add to that long, negative list of "downers." I was surprised to find out that he was a deep thinker. No one could see what he wrote but me. I was amazed. His words were philosophical and intellectual. The sentences and paragraphs were not filled with the anger he generated with his body language and glacial stares in class. There was a good mind leaking out between the lines of his writing. Was there a heart in there, too?
I read to the class from "The Song of Hugh Glass":
"Alas for those who fondly place above
The act of loving, what they chance to love;
Who prize the goal more dearly than the way!
For time shall plunder them, and change betray,
And life shall find them vulnerable still.
A bitter-sweet narcotic to the will,
Hugh's love increased the peril of his plight;
But anger broke the slumber of his might,
Quickened the heart and warmed the blood that ran
Defiance for the treachery of Man,
Defiance for the meaning of his pain,
Defiance for the distance of the plain
That seemed to gloat, 'You can not master me.'
And for one burning moment he felt free
To rise and conquer in a wind of rage.
But as a tiger, conscious of the cage,
A-smolder with a purpose, broods and waits,
So with the sullen patience that is hate's
Hugh taught his wrath to bide expedience."
Jack shifted in his seat and rocked back and forth. He leaned forward and squeezed his pen so hard that I thought it would snap in half. While I asked other students how they interpreted those words, Jack stood up, slowly, left the group, and went to the windows and looked outside, quietly. He stood there for twenty minutes and only left when the bell rang to end the period.
The next day he wrote about rage and anger for ten pages. There were no paragraphs, just a stream-of-consciousness writing, like Holden Caulfield on steroids. He told of the injustices he witnessed, a death in the family, depression, fear, no strong male presence at home, loneliness, all the "phonies" he met in his short life, unable to control his anger, and why his court probation was connected to fighting.
The next day, I asked the students for permission to print some of their work in a four-page pamphlet that I would bring to class and share with them. Each person would get a copy, and they could take extra ones home for their family and friends. I got a verbal acceptance from everyone in class, except Jack. When I looked at him, he simply nodded. That was the first, positive gesture he made since school began months ago.
In 1990, our school had ten, old Apple computers, and they were always in use with a waiting line of teachers hoping to use them, so I bought my own and planned to do the layout of the student writing at home for our first, little publication. I didn't mention my ideas to the class again, because I was preoccupied with learning how to turn on my new computer so it would not explode in my face, teaching myself how to run a desktop publishing program, not swearing loudly while my own children were at my desk, grading papers from school, doing lesson plans for all of my classes, getting enough sleep to stay awake in class, and staying sane.
Many weeks later, I walked into class, and without saying a word, I started passing out our first class newsletter. All the writing came from students in Jack's class, and I could hear a few gasps and "Wow's" as they started reading their own copies. By the time I got to the next to the last row passing out the copies, I heard Jack yell out loud, "What is this?"
All the students and I jerked around like we had been shot. Jack talked, and he was on his feet and walking toward the front of the room. He was 6' 4" and weighed 225 pounds. He should have been on the football field daily after school, because he was such a good athlete, but he had such a poor, grade point average, the head coach would not let him come out for the team.
As he strode down the aisle, I thought he was coming for me, but when he got to the front of the class, he turned and walked directly through the open door out of the room into the hall. He stopped out of sight of the other students, turned around, and motioned for me to come into the hall with him. I told a student in the front seat, "If I am not back in five minutes, go to the office for help."
I walked into the hall and said, "Hang on, Jack, you can't leave our class."
Jack surprised me. His eyes got wet, and he began to cry. Tears came down his cheeks. With much anger, he asked, "Why did you put my writing on the front page?"
I didn't know if he was going to hit me or what. I said, "Jack, your writing is consistently the best writing in the class. It deserves to be on the front page. You have talent. I hope you write a lot more, and I am proud of you."
Then, the tears flowed heavily. "No one ever said I had talent in school before. What do I do, now?" He hung his head and stared at the floor, as water splattered on his shoes.
I felt him change in front of me. I placed my hand on his shoulder. "Go down the hall, and get a drink of water. Take ten deep breaths. Then, come back into class, because this is where you belong. From Monday to Friday, from 2:00 to 2:50 p.m., this is your home. Hold onto that notebook, and tonight, write into it like you are writing to your best friend. Tell it what you are thinking. Hold onto your pen, like it was your life-line. Don't let go of it, until you are so tired of writing that you have no energy left. Whatever you do, tell the truth with your words. Make every word ring with honesty. It doesn't have to be pretty. It doesn't have to be fancy. Just write. Tell the truth. When you are done, let your "new friend" talk back to you, and all you have to do is listen. Write everything down. You don't have to show it to anyone, unless you choose to do so. Now, go get that drink of water."
As he turned to leave, he stopped and moved toward me. I froze. He looked at me. I will never forget those black eyes looking down into mine: part animal, part divine, part confusion, part determination, part anger, and part pride. Those eyes haunt me still. Then he hugged me and said, "Did Hugh Glass ever survive?"
Tears came to my eyes, and I had to look at the floor. I said, "Come on, I will go with you. I need a drink of water, too."
As we walked down the hall and back to the classroom, several students looked out the door, trying to find where we went. When Jack and I entered the room, the other students wanted to know where we went. Jack smiled. It was now the week before Thanksgiving, and none of us had ever seen him smile in class.
As he sat down in his seat, he said to the other students, "Come on you guys, relax. I want to see what happened to that mountain man. Can you imagine crawling 100 miles after being half-eaten by a grizzly? That is some kind of courage. I don't think I could do what he did."
After that day, there were many more class newsletters. Jack's writing was in most of them, and he was the primary inspiration who sparked that anemic, classroom pamphlet to grow into Fine Lines, now a quarterly magazine for new writers of all ages. What started as a classroom motivator to encourage marginal students to write more after they saw their work in print and read by other students, teachers, and administrators became a publication which is used today in all grade levels: elementary, middle, high school, college, and graduate school.
Jack's grades slowly began to rise. He came in to see me after school and asked for help with his homework in other classes when he needed it. He still had to check in weekly with his probation officer, but he did graduate from high school. I found out, years later, that he stayed out of jail, worked his way through a two-year community college, graduated from a small, four-year college in another state, majored in journalism, and got a job with a small newspaper in South Carolina. He moved on from there, and I do not know where he is today.
I remember the last entry of Neihardt's All Is But a Beginning: Youth Remembered, 1881-1901. An old man tells of his youthful vision quest and how he felt like a failure after experiencing the three-days and nights of fasting on a lonely hill praying and hoping Wakon Tonka would appear then provide a spiritual message as he entered manhood. The old man admitted he had no great dream to tell when he returned to the tribe.
"If I have no vision to give me power and guide me, how can I ever be a man? Maybe, I shall have to go far off into a strange land and seek an enemy to free me from this shame."
Then, just as he had this bitter thought, a great cry came from overhead like a fearless warrior hailing his wavering comrade in the heart of battle. "Hoka-hey, brother--Hold fast, hold fast; there is more!" Looking up, he saw an eagle soaring yonder on a spread of mighty wings, and it was the eagle's voice he heard.
"As I listened," the old man said, "a power ran through me that has never left me, old as I am. Often, when it seemed the end had come, I have heard the eagle's cry, 'Hold fast, hold fast, there is more.' "
14.4 Winter 2005
When I write at a computer, I often hear instrumental music with a piano leading the melody. I never notice words or lyrics. As I place my fingers on the keyboard, I sense a concert hall and a quiet audience, waiting. I hear a symphony in the background, and I see Ludwig van Beethoven in my mind.
Why music? Why the piano? Why Beethoven? More importantly, why at the computer? After years of wondering, the answer became clear to me one night, as I tied sentences together and coasted into the 3 a.m. darkness.
When I was young, my mother and I argued weekly about how much time I should practice the piano. There was a nice Baldwin in the house, and she wanted me to play it.
One day, I heard Mother talking to her friends about classical music. The name "Beethoven" came up in their conversation, and I paid attention every time his name was mentioned. "He was the best German composer," she said.
At first, I was curious if I could make my fingers please Mom, and I was serious with my lessons for awhile. I practiced, diligently, so I could perform at a planned student recital a few months away. Would she think I was a little Beethoven? The stage fright I experienced at that small gathering killed my interest in playing. I knew Beethoven was beyond my reach.
However, the biggest competition for my piano playing time was baseball. I wanted to play centerfield for the New York Yankees when I grew up. Mickey Mantle, I imagined, was my big brother. I was the oldest child in my family, and I needed a brother to look up to, so I picked him. Fast, strong, able to hit on both sides of the plate, and unstoppable chasing fly balls that would be hits against other outfielders in Major League Baseball, he was my hero.
I loved the grass in "my office." It smelled good. I thrived on the isolation in the outfield and knew it was my job to manage the players on either side of me. I dared batters on the other team to get a ball past me. That did not happen often.
The respect I got from the coach and the rest of the team motivated me to concentrate on the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand on each throw, so I could get a jump on the batter's swing, as he made contact. I had to cover more ground than any other player. I wanted to be the best I could be, and I felt excited when I caught a line-drive on the run, grabbed a pop fly out of the sun, and threw a frozen rope from deep center field to home plate before the opponent on third could score.
My fingers were meant to throw baseballs, not find middle "C" on the piano. I liked the feel of my hand around the leather ball. I felt the gift of strength in my arm, and if I kept practicing, I would receive more praise from my coach and teammates.
Every Saturday at 10 a.m., God bless her, Mother would make sure I was seated on the piano bench doing my scales to warm up before practicing the new piece my instructor assigned for the next session. Weekly, this routine took place. My desire to improve was not as great as hers. While she dreamed of "Moonlight Sonata," I dreamed of the Chicago White Sox visiting Yankee Stadium.
In the spring, one Saturday morning, my life changed. As I sat on the piano bench absorbed in a new piece of sheet music, three of my closest friends knocked loudly on the front porch door, only a few feet away from me, as I was lost thought.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom.
I nearly fell off the piano bench in fright.
One of the boys yelled, "Hey, Dave, we're going to the baseball field, and we need you to practice some plays. We want to win that first game of the season. Come on."
Quickly, Mother said, "Tell them you can play in about an hour, after you finish your piano practice."
"But, Mom, they need me now," I replied.
"Your promise to me comes first," she whispered.
The boys on the porch were all older friends from the neighborhood. They played infield positions, because they did not like the outfield. They thought playing there was boring and too much work. They felt better on the dirt, and they needed me to back them up in the outfield.
I was not going to win this contest. Either my friends or Mom would not like my decision. I could always do piano practice later, like my friends said. They would not wait forever. I knew I would be grown up soon, and the Yankees would call me.
Mom's hands slowly folded across her chest. Her eyes filled with tears.
Beethoven or baseball? I knew that I loved centerfield more than the piano, so I made my move. Fifty years later, I still feel my legs slowly sliding off the piano bench and moving toward the front door.
"Mom, I'll be back after baseball practice," I reassured her, but I did not hear her say anything.
As I reached for my leather glove, she reached for the music pages.
When I stepped through the door onto the porch, the oldest boy put his arm around my shoulders and said, "We need you, buddy," and the other boys agreed.
As I started down one of the many roads I took to reach manhood, I imagined my piano music being torn in half.
Today, in my mind, I sense a bust of Beethoven behind me when I type, and I always write with his music in the background. His powerful notes calm me and let me find inner paths to explore with words. I have no fear of him, anymore, so I write on.
I find time each day to type a little "music," and sometimes, I talk to him. The music of reflection is a solitary tune. I roll through the storm clouds of life listening to "da-da-da-dum," as I hear notes coming from the keyboard. The letters that make my words become piano keys, and I don't look over my shoulders anymore.
Composing my "music" on paper shows me I learned to listen, while playing the piano and running in the sun. I learned the most in both activities when I did not talk, because there is power and strength in finding silent spaces during the day.
The secret of composition is to not think of the ending and what comes before the last page. The best plan is to write one sentence at a time and measure the steps, thoughts, and days in key strokes.
Today, when I watch a ball game, I recall all the fun, challenges, and respect I received at such an early age playing with my friends. Those days defined who I would become many years later. I liked sports, and I could not get my fill. I would love to return to those games and play them one more time.
I raise my hands above the keyboard, once more, and hear Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with those famous four notes. I am still practicing, Mom. This time I hope to make music, as I struggle to form complete sentences and developed paragraphs. I listen to Beethoven's notes, but I write my own internal rhythms and play my own tunes.
It was a new semester. The students filed into class early and were full of anticipation. They smiled a lot. I smiled back. The students got involved quickly. The lab hummed. There were no show-offs. They all typed well. They knew how to use the computers. The class atmosphere was exceptional. They asked specific questions and understood my comments the first time. I wondered if this might turn out to be an advanced class.
I always look forward to a new class and discovering which students really want to learn, which ones just want a grade, and which ones are looking for a ticket out of town. I share with them my expectations that writing well moves us closer to our potential than most endeavors. Knowledge is power, but good composition leads us to wisdom. All of a sudden, like thunder in a cloudless sky, there came a question from the back of the room. "Why is writing well so important?"
The question seemed understandable and natural. Anyone could ask it. Any student of any ability might raise this issue. I have heard teachers ask the same thing. This question is the most important one I am asked in English class.
Is writing so important? Do we need good writing? Can it change anything in our lives? The answer is positively, "Yes!" If people can write well, they can change their lives.
Even if students have brilliant ideas or they are great speakers, one might be a walking Cicero or a King Solomon, one day in order to introduce their projects or clarify their proposals, they will have to write them down. They will feel helpless if they are not able to express those ideas simply in writing on paper. A wrong word, an immature vocabulary, poor spelling, a breakdown in logic, and mistakes in written communication are barriers to career development. No matter what students plan to do with their careers, they should make good composition a big part of their lives.
Why go so far? Everyday, we write letters, send email, leave messages, and write advertisements. A nicely composed message full of humor can make a friend forget the offense we caused by chance. A love letter from the bottom of our heart will make even "heart-less" people change their feelings. An attractive advertisement can influence many people if only we can compose it well.
If we want to achieve success, we have to use our writing skills. We must work on them every day, using every chance we have by reading books, writing in a journal, improving our grammar, enriching our vocabulary, and learning critical thinking skills, because we will never be able to write well if we cannot think well. It is never too late to begin. Never think that what we write is bad. Try again! Write it better. One day it will be fine and fun.
The world is a confusing place. What is true? What is false? What seemed right yesterday might be wrong today. The art of living well is finding that which is long lasting, even eternal. To live life in search of truth and our soul is how we ought to measure our lives. Neighborhoods are littered with physical and emotional trash. However, we can do our part to improve ourselves and clean up our world by not confusing our readers and writing well.
"Thanks for the joy that you've given me. I want you to know that I believe in your song." I remember those lyrics by Dobie Gray in "Drift Away." "Help me be strong. Give me the beat, boys, and help me along." Good writing is recording the strong beat of our souls, the music and rhythm that carries us along our paths in life.
"Give me the beat boys and free my soul. I want to get lost in your rock and roll." O, to have a passion in life, rock and roll, or any worthwhile occupation, a cause in which to get lost, an opportunity to create, a dream to complete, a chance to heal, and a love to be satisfied. Good writing can take us there.
Writing well is poetic. The power of poetry, the impact of a few, well-chosen words can move mountains and deliver an emotional hammer. The last verse of W. E. Henley's poem, "Invictus," is such an example. "It matters not how straight the gate/How charged with punishment the scroll/I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul."
When a student asks me, "What is the value of writing well?" I think of Aristotle who said the meaning of life is to "know thyself." Writing well is a good way to do that.
No matter the vocation, those who communicate well are most productive. The ability to transfer knowledge and wisdom from one person to another is increased in direct proportion to one's talent in communicating. Writing with a specific motive influences one's opportunity to teach others.
Some have verbal gifts, and talking is their chosen method of communication. Research studies indicate teachers who only lecture reach a significantly small percentage of their students, compared to teachers who use auditory and visual stimulation. If we want what we say to be remembered, we must put our ideas in writing. The better we write, the farther our messages go.
Writing well also comes from reading more. We have proof that good writers are good readers. The opposite is also true. If people want to improve their reading ability, they should write more. Education is wasted on those who do not know themselves. A simple person who knows what he thinks and why is more valuable than an educated fool who has no clue as to his life's mission.
The following shows a world of difference in understanding. The simple addition or removal of a comma can make a sentence mean exactly the opposite of what was intended. A teacher asked his class to make sense out of these words: "a woman without her man is nothing."
A male said the words should read, "A woman, without her man, is nothing."
A female sitting in the next seat said, "A woman! Without her, man is nothing."
Those who write well know the power in a comma and the beauty in a well-written sentence.
"There's no thrill in easy sailing when the skies are clear and blue. There's no joy in merely doing things, which any one can do. But there is some satisfaction that is mighty sweet to take. When you reach a destination that you thought you'd never make" (Spirella).
"Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better" (Samuel Beckett).
I am just a man, never perfect. I feel happiest when I am lost in a few chosen words that say clearly what I am thinking. Well-written words provide the opportunity of finding a few moments of clarity, a piece of heaven.
E. M. Forster said, "How do I know what I think, until I see what I say?" Write on.
By David Martin
from a mother
who valued solitude
in her English cottage garden
who always went there in times of need
and on her knees threw soil on her plants,
the higher the stress,
the higher it flew
who knew all there was to know about roses,
her favorite flower,
and never wanted to leave
this private sanctuary
who returned to the house, often with tears in her eyes,
dirt on her clothes, sweating, and jaw set,
not looking backward, but
willing to go on with the day
she was on her knees
praying the whole time,
but I knew better
who read Dickens, Dickinson, and Du Maurier
without apologies or a college degree, and religiously
watched CBS Sunday Morning, cup of coffee steaming,
learning so much about the world that she cried
who taught me the wonder of books,
the power of sentences, and the white space sacredness
between the lines, where authors and readers breathe
together in peace with a shared truce of understanding
that the length of each volume does not matter
and people are books in the process of developing,
page by page, chapter by chapter
cherry pie, chocolate cake,
and ice cream were major food groups,
allowing her to eat dessert first,
anytime she wanted
who was the embodiment
of the idea that
it is better to be the poem
than the poet
who said her greatest accomplishment
and source of happiness was raising
four sons, although each one gave her
a nervous breakdown in return
who saw religion
as an opportunity to teach
the truth about Nature, God's church,
and His way of speaking to us
who discovered insight comes from unusual places:
petting a puppy, holding a kitten, listening to a wren warble,
rocking in her yellow chair on the front porch,
and looking over the horizon
who could sense a change
in tomorrow's weather
by how quickly the flowers
opened their blossoms today
who remembered her childhood,
watching thirty fuzzy farm cats come out of hiding
when Grandfather brought fresh milk
from barn to house for separating
who saw her father cry for the first time,
as a truck carried away his two beloved
Percheron work horses that were replaced
by his first tractor, a big, red Farmall
who conveyed feelings in her steel-blue eyes
without needing words to make her point,
cold one minute,
and warm the next
who loved all of her grandchildren,
played cards with them long into the night,
and laughed out loud when she laid her hand down first,
saying with a smile, "I win."
who sighed so long and deeply, she seemed
to draw all the oxygen out of the room,
then sat in Buddha-like silence, willing
the future to take place in front of her
who measured a metaphor by the richness of its message,
compared classical symphonies to Beethoven and Mozart,
and judged family journeys against the many troubled miles she
traveled on her front porch swing
who collected rocks from country roads
to arrange in the garden behind tall hedges
that kept out the neighbors as she dreamed of the world
in her quiet, private, patio paradise
who sat there contentedly
and let the breeze brush her hair,
as she watched the butterflies and bees
celebrate her fabulous flowers
who gritted her teeth in pain,
while she walked with her cane
toward a predetermined objective
unwavering, fiercely quiet and resolute
Mary Liz died in a room filled with
the laughter of family and friends,
her eyes closed,
and her heart open.