Labor Day Picnic

On Labor Day 1999, my parents and I spent most of the day on the Winterthur Museum grounds, in Wilmington, Delaware, where we lived.  We explored the large craft fair being held there, and my mother and I bought the silver-and-glass necklaces that became our most-often-worn jewelry.  I have my necklace on today.  For a late lunch, we drove a few miles up Kennett Pike to the Mendenhall Inn, which had long been one of our favorite restaurants.

My parents at a picnic on the grounds of the Wilmington, Delaware, Quaker Meetinghouse – My mother is wearing her necklace from the Winterthur craft fair.

When we returned to Winterthur, we decided to park in the lot for the visitors’ center and take a jitney back to the craft-fair area and the field where the Delaware Symphony would perform that night.  We thought we were being clever to avoid the congested parking area near the Labor Day events, where everyone else attending the outdoor activities had parked.

After a bit more craft-fair browsing, we found a spot to sit in the field near where the orchestra would perform.  Picnicking families surrounded us.  The concert was magnificent.  It concluded with the full moon rising within the exploding stars of fireworks.

The other thousands headed to their nearby cars.  We quickly learned that no more jitneys were running at that hour.  Holding hands, the three of us walked down the long, otherwise-deserted hill to our car.  We walked on and on in the moonlight, creating my favorite of all my memories from all my years.  Here is my poem about the conclusion to the day.

Labor Day Picnic

The Moon rises over the trees—
First a hint of light,
Soon a crescent,
Then a round face with familiar features
Gazing on the thousands
Assembled for glorious lesser lights
Shining to music.

Later, Jupiter repeats the Moon’s ascent,
Balancing the Moon’s placid warmth
With its sparkling intensity.

Flash, boom:
Brilliance into the dark,
Surrounding the Moon smiling through
With a mustard-yellow grin,
Then nearly white again.

Intricate smoke trails almost as beautiful as the exploding colors,
Scenes like the end of the world by asteroids,
Scenes like the beginning of the Earth:
Golden trees, flowering, branching farther,
Drifting down into the dark sky
To be joined by rising, arching, pure color and light.

It is a beautiful life,
A moment to sear into memory
When the fireworks reach across the Moon
And the children twirl their neon necklaces—
Whirling in the shadowy almost-dark;
Sky-filling chandeliers of blue, red, gold, white, and green
Suspend themselves above us;
Our night is overtaken by light:
Circles of colors, human, momentary, framing the eternal.

And then in the moonlight,
Thousands stream for their cars,
A little lost,
A little tired and cold,
Carried on brightness
Into the September night,
Until it is only the three of us,
Holding hands,
Moving on together
Into the lovely silhouettes of evening
At the end of summer.

Photograph of the stars by Mason Hayek

Question and Answer

The answer to your question is,
“Take one step and then another.”
You will find your road by walking,
Not by spinning,
Rushing one way and the other,
Losing all direction,
Resenting the opinions
Of those you ask the way.

You are a sunflower expecting to be turned,
Afraid to follow her light;
She complains she is carried about like a seed,
Although her petals are turning brown.

You measure yourself by shifting shadows
And stumble along as the Earth moves.
Seek your Inner Light,
And find your foothold there.

You fear the judgments of others,
Expecting from them
The second-rate value
You long since assigned to yourself.

You mourn for freedom,
Believing you paid it for love and acceptance.
But these are given and earned, not bought.
Freedom grows wild within.


Music, You . . .

You rekindle the light in me,
The true in me,
The one who joins all peoples of the world
In harmonies and counterpoints
To their rhythms,
Their keys and intonations,
Their passages pianissimi o veloci e fortissimi.

With you,
I am one whose consciousness expands
Beyond the seemingly solid walls of her apartment
To embrace the musicians,
The other lovers of these melodies,
These instruments and voices,
The composers
Alive or long since gone beyond.

You make me sing—
I love to sing,
And I remember playing guitars
That summer of ‘69 at the university;
One boy called his guitar Adele—
I don’t now know the boy’s name
And never saw him again,
But I recall playing Bob Dylan with him
And his Dylan-esque ways,
And I played for the adored Rick:
“No, I never got over those blue eyes.”

You ask me to remember
The creaky floors of Tower Records on South Street,
Of singing along with Pav and thinking of my love,
Of later, at Essene Natural Foods,
Singing along—more Dylan—
“But I was so much older then,”
And by then I had understood
The wisdom of growing younger as we age.

You ask me to spruce up my hair
For Zoom-on-Sunday choir practice;
The best is singing in the pews,
Floating on the alto and tenor harmonies,
The bass foundation,
The soaring descant—
I am a soprano, though I do not vocally soar,
Only inside,
But even so, my meager high notes thrill me.

You ignite the dancer in me,
And that I am,
Tap, line dancing:
Move your body and be whole
Once I ice skated to Galway playing Pachelbel’s Canon
And when I listen to the Canon,
I skate in my mind;
My closing spin is more secure.

With you,
I gather again
With my dearest ones who have stepped away;
We take our seats at the symphony, the opera,
And sing around the piano,
“Let the Sunshine In.”

You light my spirit
To embrace its creativity,
Remind me
Gray skies are beautiful,
I am not confined,
I am not old, just me,
It is not too late,
can still create,
Be a part of everything,
Am a part of everything,
All that is,
Even in virus time.

La musica è la lingua madre del mio cuore.


“No, I never got over those blue eyes,” from “I Still Miss Someone,” by Johnny Cash and Roy Cash, Jr.
“But I was so much older then,” from “My Back Pages,” by Bob Dylan.
“Let the Sunshine In,” words by Ada J. Blenkhorn.

Beethoven in Virus Time

Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, by Beyond My Ken – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons

The Philadelphia Orchestra,
Broadcasting on television,
Is playing Beethoven’s Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6
In an otherwise empty Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall—
Empty, without an audience,
Because of the virus that has changed the world
In weeks, days.
Right behind the orchestra are the empty seats
Mother, Daddy, and I held as our season tickets.

Beethoven, Daddy’s favorite.
As I listen, my emotions rise, fortissimo,
Chords of pain,
Waves of feeling riding waves of magnificent sound
Carrying a magnificent, hard-to-believe-it-ever-was past.

When I was a little girl,
Daddy played a recording of Beethoven’s 6th for me,
Narrating the story told
As the symphony’s movements unfold.

I feel and see moving toward me in silent procession,
Now crowding together in their joyous,
Suffocatingly sad throng,
My life’s vast gifts of miraculous memories.


The virus is devouring the planet
For us who took meandering,
Nearly at will,
As the way our world spun;
We who are blessed
With generous measures
Of strength and possibilities
Wandered our neighborhoods
And far beyond
As means allowed
And inclination prompted.

But now a trip to choir practice
Is an act of courage, daring,
Perhaps irresponsibility,
Endangering others,
Harming those I love.

How could a time,
Decades, have been
When for us—
The blessed ones
Not living, or enduring,
In famine, poverty, infirmity,
Subjugation, or war—
Only time and budget impeded
Our exploring the globe?

And now we avoid trains and planes,
Restaurants and theaters,
Gatherings at church and school,
And touching one another.

Throughout the eons,
Lives have been transformed,
Darkened or destroyed;
We feared Earth’s annihilation
By inundation or asteroid,
But our present world and ways
Are trampled by a microbe
Unheard of when the old year
Stepped away a season ago,
Ceding time and space
To a new decade holding hope
Now dying,
But seeking resurrection.

Magic Carpet

The shades-of-blue oriental rug
Now in a church classroom,
The classroom where our choir practices,
Is, I feel, I sense with my spirit’s eye
As well as my eyes for physical sight,
The rug that for all the decades
After the braided rug of my childhood
Covered our den floor at home,
The room in our little white house
Where my mother and father and I
Shared dinners on our card table,
Night after night,
When I visited from other states,
When I lived back home again,
Home where I still remain
In my heart.

Just before the house was sold,
The rug was sold
And seems to have found its way
To the room where the choir I love
Sings melodies and harmonies
For the church that is now
My spiritual home.

Living on our rug at Christmas,
We three hung stockings on our fireplace,
No matter our ages,
The fireplace
With blue-and-white tiles in the red-brick hearth,
With Daddy’s mother’s painting above the mantel—
The painting hangs in my bedroom now.

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We rested our feet
On the pretty rug
As Mother sat facing the fireplace,
With Daddy across from her,
And I in between,
And after our Quaker-silence grace,
We shared our days,
Analyzed our dreams,
And one Friday night
Ate our last meal together.

On the rug’s patterned loveliness,
We read,
Wrote letters and journals,
Sang songs at the piano:
“Let the Sunshine In”
And “The Church in the Wildwood.”

On the blue-hued rug,
I was not always happy,
Often not the way I wish to have been,
Kind and serene,
But inviolate love
Lived always in that room.

At choir practice
I stare at the rug,
Searching for evidence
Of the years
It decorated and cushioned our lives,
Giving us its beauty;
Though tangible signs elude me,
I know
Because I feel our love
Still held in the fibers of the carpet.

Perhaps I am mistaken:
Maybe our family rug
And the rug in our church classroom
Are not the same;
Even if such is truth,
The carpet
I visit weekly in choir practice,
The rug offering ringing memories,
Speaks to me saying
My journey on into the years
Continues warmed and made beautiful
Through love unchanged by loss and time.

A Homily

Bald eagle, by Vtornet – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons.

As my friend and I drove to church,
Meandering on a road offering trees and loveliness,
We saw ahead an imposing being
Resting on an overhanging bare branch.

A raccoon first came to mind—
Such was the creature’s size—
But then we saw and understood
The white beaked head,
Eyes searching sustenance:
The only bald eagle I have seen
Out of the sky
In all my decades of living and wandering nearby.

The eagle gave the best of the day’s sermons:
Our world, God’s world,
Embraces eagles and humans,
Oceans and cities,
Elk and agriculture,
Hunted elephants and hungry children;
The choice is not between such as you and such as we;
The choice is between
Reverence for God’s creation—
Care for the Earth and air—
Between that and nothingness.

Prayer and Writing, for Writing


We hear from a wise Franciscan,
“Pray as you can,
Not as you cannot.”[1]
And I translate,
“Write as you can,
No longer as you cannot,”
Or barely manage
And with suffering.
Writing, like singing,
Is my prayer.
I sing with joy,
Insouciant in spite of my small,
Unremarkable voice.
But in writing
I seek my voice’s power.
So I am to “write as I can write,”
But how is that?
It is not as I have written,
And not as I have so far
Prayed for my writing,
Begging to be of service,
Begging to count,
Craving to take my place,
To find my place.
It is not as I have sought the means
To earn my keep,
To stop staggering
A few paces from the edge.
And so how can I finally write?
What that I have considered,
Pondered, and explored
Is of my soul,
And what is of yours, and yours,
And only mine as I think
It ought to seem?
How can I write
In order, finally,
To share the prayer of words
From my own spirit and being,
My own days and meaning?

[1] Our Franciscan teacher was quoting the Benedictine priest John Chapman (1865-1933).

Along the Way

I can set out again,
Even at seventy—
Just now I resisted
Writing “seventy,”
Fearing others will see
Me as less
Than I think I am
Or try to be.

I walk fast,
Make a point
Of lifting,
Being the go-to kid—
Happy I can,
Glad to help,
And with something to prove
To me,
Working to be needed,
Not left out.

So much is behind:
Though I do not know
The time ahead,
I understand the difference
Between potential
And impossible.

But yes,
I can set out each new day
Better ready for the journey
Than I have been before;
The decades
Nourish seventy:
Years of stumbling
And years of blessings
Give a measure of guidance—
Where to explore
And where not to step again—
Offer endurance,
New and familiar vistas
Whatever is still to come.

Garnet Light

I am twelve,
Loving summer camp
With its quests
Unexpected and new,
Its routines and scenes,
Moose Pond in the morning mist—
A wide lake in spite of its name—
The cloud wisps decorating Pleasant Mountain,
Honeymoon and Japanese Islands
Present unseen,
Loving summer camp especially this summer
Because I have a best friend,
We explore, discuss, absorb
The Maine woods and our unfolding lives.

Excursions and camping trips
Are my pinnacle delight;
For some, we paddle across or down our lake;
For others, we ride, singing,
In the open wooden-gated back of a truck,
Sometimes to a distant lake or river
That will carry our canoes to our sleeping cove,
Other times to a single day’s new source of happiness.

As on the day we campers climb
Over the face of a garnet hillside
Collecting beauty from the center of the Earth.

I love rocks—geology has risen high
Among the fascinations
That will rise and fall and rise in new forms
Across the eras of my life.

I am jubilant
Tapping on the cliff
In the warm Maine sun,
Loosening treasures,
Small rocks sparkling with deep-red gems
To carry home with me at the end of summer
In a footlocker weighing three times
Its going-to-Maine weight.

Our home, drawing by Mason Hayek

Back home
I am snared in the unhappiness of junior high;
My Maine rocks join the granite boulders in our backyard.

As my years continue,
Rocks give way to new passions—
Folk music, the great apes, ice skating, literature—
I live a floating life,
Grasping the possibilities in view,
Leaving left-behind possibilities on the shores of memory.

I meet rapids
And create whirlpools where none are intended;
I flail against benevolent waters
Because they are not the waters I seek
Or believe I need to find.

After journeying to distant shores
Seeking elusive settling,
I return eventually to Delaware,
To our little white house.

Daddy shows me he has kept my loveliest garnet rock,
Stored safely against our sheltering home.

Now the garnet-filled rock carries in its crystals
Twelve-year-old me
Held among the eons its gems have shone
Within and on the surface
Of our miraculous Earth.

My rock carries within itself
Its ancient molten infancy
And refracts the Light
To bathe my ephemeral now
With insight outside of passing time.

The girl I was is not lost
But held inside of me;
The future I wanted but did not find
Forms strata in my knowing,
In the strength I have to share.

God’s garnets in my hand
Shine their peace-giving glow
On who I was,
Who I am,
And who I still can be.