Category Archives: Poem

Last Rose of Summer

Right before the Fall began this year, my Grandpa passed away just after he turned 90 years old. I wasn’t there with him in the moment that he died, but I saw him in the hospital near the end. He went to the hospital first because he fell, but then improved significantly and was about to be discharged to go home. The day before they let him go, though, his body suddenly turned against him. He was unable to breathe on his own or open his eyes or talk. They worried that he would never be able to breathe on his own ever again. Although we hoped he would pull through like usual (his medical history has been fraught with hospital stays and difficult diseases), a part of each of us knew instinctively that this was it. He was getting tired of fighting, it seemed, even though he wasted no opportunity to try and tear the tubes away from his body. He pulled again and again on his restraints (meant to keep him from hurting himself), but would exhaust himself with the effort. As we hovered around the hospital bed, my family and I joked that we would know he had gotten better if he were to start swearing in German. He had been doing that when he was about to be discharged–cussing at the tubes connected to him, the restraints around his arms, and the nurses for putting those things on him. Then he went quiet, and left this world even more quietly.

Or so I understand. I wasn’t there. My mom, dad, and brother were there with him. I don’t think that I regret that too much, because I’m not sure about how I would have handled this if I had actually been in the room with him when the heart monitor flatlined. I’m content to be removed from that so that I have the freedom to face this without having to keep the visual image reel of the moment of his death on replay in my head. As it is, I already have a description of the scene to feed my blessed/cursed imagination: who was holding whose hand, the tubes removed, tears, swear words, beep, beep…beep…beeeeeeeep.

Grandpa’s other name was Trouble (with a capital “T”) for lots of reasons. Too many to name here, really, but I’ll name a couple. He used to pull on my pony tails and react with mock surprise when I whirled around with a furrowed brow to tell him to stop that (“But…isn’t that what pony tails are for?”). He would try to catch my toes with his cane by lightly pounding the ground around my feet with it (“Well! Isn’t that what canes are for?”).

He also loved Mickey Mouse. My Grandma (who is an amazing quilter) made him his own Mickey Mouse-themed wall hanging which hung in his den next to the rifle cabinet. He also had this great figurine of Mickey Mouse riding a propeller plane with frightened Goofy hanging out of the bottom. He made a special wooden stand just for that figurine so that it could be placed on a shelf in his den.
Grandpa was good at making things, too. He made things like tables and chairs, but also stories and poems. He taught my brother and I to do small jobs in his workshop and tested us on our ability to successfully hammer nails into leftover blocks of wood. And as a writer and an artist himself, he recognized my inclination to be those things as well. He made and gave me a lap desk and an enormous drawing desk to complete my projects on.

Grandpa had also been in World War II. He shared stories from his army days and passed on some of the training books he had kept from his enlistment. He gave my brother his old army-issue toolbox. After his death, it was decided that this very box would bear his ashes to the ground.

Finally, my Grandfather was a Master Gardener. A degree-holding Master Gardener who never actually retrieved his diploma because he didn’t need it. “I don’t need that piece of paper,” he said. And the matter was closed. The knowledge he had gained through the classes was already enough for him, I think, because he found no value in the physical object which declared that he knew those things. (Maybe I get my love of learning from him.) His own garden in the backyard was featured in the newspaper, though, and a clipping of his Press Gazette debut was framed and hung in the hallway of his house. Many people remember him for his love for and vast knowledge of roses. Every kind of rose. They were all beautiful.

This is why he reminds me of a charcter in a book I was reading shortly before he passed, which was The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. In the book, theere is a character named Sergeant Cuff who is the detictive hired to come to the Verinder residence to attempt the discovery of the fate of the famed Moonstone. He’s a patient guy, but he’s a little manipulative and very sure of his conviction of Rachel Verinder upon finishing his investigation at the Verinder household. The connection I draw between my Grandfather and Sergeant Cuff is their love of roses. Both of them would be willing to drop everything at any time to discuss breeds of roses, growing conditions, grafting, etc. That sounds like Grandpa.

Sergeant Cuff is also the reason that this post is named “The Last Rose of Summer.” Throughout the book, he whistles or hums the tune to that song whenever he’s thinking. That wasn’t a habit of my Grandfather’s at all, but the title of the song and Sergeant Cuff’s habit of singing it makes me think of him because Grandpa died a few days before the official end of summer.

Originally a poem written by the Irish poet Thomas Moore, the text personifies the rose as a feminine object whose experience reflects upon the anticipation and possible loneliness felt in the approach of death. It reads as follows:

‘Tis the last rose of summer

  Left blooming alone;

All her lovely companions

  Are faded and gone;

No flower of her kindred, 5

  No rosebud is nigh,

To reflect back her blushes,

  To give sigh for sigh.

I’ll not leave thee, thou lone one!

  To pine on the stem; 10

Since the lovely are sleeping,

  Go, sleep thou with them.

Thus kindly I scatter

  Thy leaves o’er the bed,

Where thy mates of the garden 15

  Lie scentless and dead.

So soon may I follow,

  When friendships decay,

And from Love’s shining circle

  The gems drop away. 20

When true hearts lie withered

  And fond ones are flown,

Oh! who would inhabit

  This bleak world alone?

Poem from: http://www.bartleby.com/41/487.html

Song version: Celtic Woman, Laura Wright

I have been wondering if he thought things like this while he tended to his rose garden and put it to rest at the end of the growing season. Please forgive my romanticism–I know that I’m probably putting thoughts into his mind that may not have been here. However, I wonder how he could have tended to his lovely roses for so long without considering something like that.

When we buried my grandfather,

There was moss on the ground,

grasshoppers flinging through the grass,

and a toolbox-shaped hole in the soil

with prayers lining the bottom.

We thought of roses and swear words auf Deutsch.

Two sets of daughters’ hands lay memories in the box,

three sets of grandchildren’s hands lay the box in the hole,

One set of pastor’s hands bless the soil and prayers

which blanket the toolbox.

Gone were the tool-torn hands which buttoned uniforms before inspection

and guided pens across paper with thorn-pricked fingertips.

Once specked with sawdust, now ashes.

Grass will reclaim the soil in front of the tombstone with two names

and grasshoppers will return to dash above the moss,

after the roses have finished weeping for their last rose of summer.

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Cat-Calling Bikes on the Street

For Stephanie 

“Mmhmmm, baby, look at those spokes! They spin me right ’round!”

“Hey honey, why don’t you roll my way?”

“Oooh yeah, I’d ride you in a second…with a helmet on.”

“Hooo-weee, you got some sturdy handlebars. Can I hold on to them?”

And then the bicycles felt that the bike oglers were objectifying them

(which, of course, was indeed happening)

so they filmed “Ten Hours of Riding on the Street” while they rode around town

with hidden cameras attached to their frames.

From this, they hoped to spread awareness for bicycle rights:

bicycles have a right to not be looked at as some piece of hot metal which requires validation by people.

People who just cannot help themselves when they see a snazzy bike

would have to hold their cat-calls in.

Instead, they may either say things like,

“I appreciate the ease with which you carry your load. You are obviously very sturdy in character,”

or “Have a nice day,”

or they may just take notice, turn their heads, and walk away.

And that was the end of the unappreciation of the bicycles.

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Clouds

How large the world does seem
when you’ve realized that
the clouds are layered,
How the sky is so big that it holds
a conference of clouds
gliding past each other on bright days
and as one big cloud on grey days.
And there you are, gawking
from the sidewalk on the school corner,
where the expanse surpasses your gaze.

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Sunlight Stashing

I take the good moments and tuck them away for later when I need them.

It is stored in a little topic-relevant chest to be installed in my curated hall

My favorites are saved for alone-times, so that I can enjoy how juicy they are

When I need one I huddle into myself and peek at the bright gem inside,

treating myself to another laugh at it. I take a dusting of it with me.

The quality ones last for weeks at least before I have taken so much shine-dust

with me after each use that it its potency is diminished to a chuckle.

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Today I am Grey

Today I am sad

Today I am grey

because I missed this chance to study away.

The clouds are whispy pewter

and I wish that I could just close my eyes

and dissolve into them

because they look the way I feel.

I know they must be soft, but they’re

hard and lifeless and flat and eternal

which I have not noticed until now,

since the clouds suddenly look the same way that I feel.

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Colors: Confusion of the Church-Goer’s Purpose

On a busy Missouri street, we saw a small throng

huddled around a church’s front door.

Was it a funeral or a wedding?

We ogled and stared, but could not find

conclusive evidence to support either possibility

of it being an event to celebrate life

or to mourn death.

They were primarily black-clad,

but their faces were bright.

Were they waiting for the coffin or for the bride?

*

A friend, whose first home was India, said,

“Black is not appreciated for big functions in India.

How many colors are there? You must make use of them…

for weddings especially.”

But we were still not sure

what that group was all about.

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Spinning Yarns with Naomi

My favorite storyteller who Spins Yarns right now is Naomi Shihab Nye. I recently read Honeybee, which is a book of poems in the YA section of the library, and I fell in love with her work while reading it. Similar to the title of that book, it made me feel sweet and golden and warm on the inside. She’s written a bunch of wonderful things, but I have yet to get to all of them. You should seriously consider reading a book or two of hers! It takes you in, sits you on the front porch on a rocker, gives you a glass of iced tea with a lemon wedge on the rim of the glass, and makes you feel quite at home while you get to know her world. And her world is put into words which sound like the ones your best friends use–the ones which make you grin most of the time. The best part is that after a while you feel like the story could be yours too, like you two have indeed been friends for forever. Sometimes, that’s just what I need too: another friend.

It feels absolutely creepy that I’m talking about her like this, even though we have clearly never met. I’m just an admirer. But if you’re feeling a little lonely and need a to borrow a piece of sunshine, read her work. You’ll be happy you did!

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not all rays of sunshine in her writing. There are some serious ones in there, too. Even those sound like something relatable and approachable.

Below is a poem of hers, called

One Boy Told Me

Music lives inside my legs.
It’s coming out when I talk.

I’m going to send my valentines
to people you don’t even know.

Oatmeal cookies make my throat gallop.

Grown-ups keep their feet on the ground
when they swing. I hate that.

Look at those 2 o’s with a smash in the middle—
that spells good-bye.

Don’t ever say “purpose” again,
let’s throw the word out.

Don’t talk big to me.
I’m carrying my box of faces.
If I want to change faces I will.

Yesterday faded
but tomorrow’s in boldface.

When I grow up my old names
will live in the house
where we live now.
I’ll come and visit them.

Only one of my eyes is tired.
The other eye and my body aren’t.

Is it true all metal was liquid first?
Does that mean if we bought our car earlier
they could have served it
in a cup?

There’s a stopper in my arm
that’s not going to let me grow any bigger.
I’ll be like this always, small.

And I will be deep water too.
Wait. Just wait. How deep is the river?
Would it cover the tallest man with his hands in the air?

Your head is a souvenir.

When you were in New York I could see you
in real life walking in my mind.

I’ll invite a bee to live in your shoe.
What if you found your shoe
full of honey?

What if the clock said 6:92
instead of 6:30? Would you be scared?

My tongue is the car wash
for the spoon.

Can noodles swim?

My toes are dictionaries.
Do you need any words?

From now on I’ll only drink white milk
on January 26.
What does minus mean?
I never want to minus you.

Just think—no one has ever seen
inside this peanut before!

It is hard being a person.

I do and don’t love you—
isn’t that happiness?

Hope you enjoyed and that you’re a new fan!

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