Good House Keeping

The Coffee stains on the table are my grandfathers. Each intersecting circle creates an Olympic design. The curtains were sown by my grandmother, yellow with little red flowers faded by a thousand sunrises to varying shades of light pink. The chip in the oak countertop is my mothers, the place where she sliced a thousand cuts of meat and missed the cutting board only twice. The scrapes on both side of the back door belong to the dozens of dogs who have graced our lives with wet noses, wet kisses and the click of claws on the hardwood door. The scrape on the floor belongs to my father, the place where he drug his chair along the old oak planks, bellying up to the table, newspaper in hand.

If I were to find my place in this old farm house, it would be in the attic where the pink and green wallpaper now hangs like fly paper from the narrowly peaked ceiling. The floor where my brass bed once stood is scored by my running leaps which always moved the bed an inch. Other children slept here, my mother in her time, her mother before that. The attic is a child’s place, a lofted wonderland whose view never alters with the years. Stepping across the old planks to the warped single pain window, I see a hundred acres of oak trees. These are the same trees that my great-great grandparents planted one hundred and fifty years ago.

Reaching out I take a swath of wall paper, tearing a neat strip to make a sample. Now that the house is mine, the workmen repair the shingled roof and paint the gingerbread siding to its original peach and cream. Someday soon, on summer holidays my own grandchildren will sleep in brass beds in this attic room, their eyes tracing the green and pink wallpaper of my mother’s childhood. In turn they will mark the house, damage the molding, and scratch their ever increasing height into the door jambs. Someday this will be their house, filled with their stories, memories, dents and dust, creating the best kind of housekeeping for a well lived, well loved home.

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The Farm Wife’s God

Shepherdess with Her FlockI will not pass through your “angelic” doors to be made insignificant by your lofted buttresses, shining alters and painted glass. I will not feel small in this world (my world); the place where my mother walked with her mother back to the beginning of time. Keep your sky God … a never wandering…never breathing…never living God who lets his children slip through his fingers into hell flame and fire.

My God rests upon the world, an invisible guest filled with a heady love, riotous in his moments of childlike joy. As one we live a life of love and laughter, blessed by the magic of a stocked pantry and a well-made stove belching out good scents: hot fresh bread, new beef stew, hot apple tart pulled from the flames just as the crust turns golden. This is a Good use of fire, the right use of fire, a fire that feeds and nurtures as fire should. My God is a hearth God, an earth God, a plentiful smiling God, his feet treading the wheat rows at my side from planting to harvest.

During long winters, my prayers are answered with the birth of a child, the well-wishing visit of old friends and neighbors, the scent and flavor of roasted ham and salted lentils. My God is here, his feet under the table. He blesses us when the sun hardly shines and we have only our stories and each other to pass the time with.

So I say to you now, threaten no one with your false doctrines, black clad papist man. For fear has no place among the peaceful. I’ve seen your cathedrals rising high into the clouds, calling the frightened to worship in dread of hell fire and false magic.

My cathedral is my hand-made house. My pulpit, a faded arm chair by the fire.  My doctrine is the doctrine of the farm: rise early, feed good fodder, share your bounty with your neighbors, always close a gate and be kind even in the kill, for kill we must to lay our table. As the fire heats the meat, my God and I give thanks, and are humbled by the beauty and bounty of the day.

I need no sky God’s magic, no promised afterlife, no cathedrals dripping in gold to know that I am loved, heaven made and purpose bent. I need no holy man to guide me to the heaven I already know, not while the hills call, the cattle low and there are sheep to be sheered.

When my time comes, my God will lead me by my work roughened hands that have fed people, birthed people, raised up the sick and buried the dead before the setting of the second sun and he will know that I have always been grateful to be alive. That  being the very best kind of worship there is.

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Cultivating Silence

I love silence. It’s a rare and beautiful thing. Silence eludes me at times but is easily cultivated once I let go enough to let it wander free. I love drifting through my silenced house with nothing to do. It’s these empty spans of nothingness that feed my soul in a profound way. I put on silence like an old coat, one that holds me close with its friendly warmth. I like the way silence buffers away the complicated storm swept world as it soothes my mind into quiet order.

In those rare moments when silence is accompanied by nothing to do I invariably finger a book I have no intention of reading or better still I pet my cat and break silence into a raucous flow of vibrational joy. My cats purr is deep and throaty. It is a cultivated purr won from silence, the silence of never having known love. That was not a nice silence. My cat has the purr of a feral cat dumped high on a hill top farm. It is the purr of courage which sings, “I dared to trust and in trust found love.”

Sometimes in my silence I contemplate at my toes. I have brave toes. I like to think of all the places my toes have led me. To the crib where my baby boy slept, to the door of my mother’s house, to the airport where together, toes and I boarded a plane. Finally I like to think of the moment my toes stepped to the top of Wearyall Hill. In this place the silence listens, builds and grows into a sort of spiritual wonder I can scarce find words to express.

One of the sweetest silences I know is barn silence. That’s right…barn silence. I have known barns filled with the slow breaths of big horses and the silent swoop of swallow’s wings. I have cupped my hands to catch gold bright dust particles suspended for a moment in the gleaming perfection of sunset; my horses quietly chewing in their darkening stalls. Barn silence is the best silence because it is filled with contentment. It whispers, well done, everyone is stalled, blanketed, fed, happy and safe. You’ve done your job, your free to find your bed but linger a while because contentment like this only comes to rose sniffers, day dreamers and those who understand and love the richness that comes with the knowledge that all is right with the world.

Silence gives rise to contemplation, the birthplace of epic daydreams. Epic daydreams become manuscripts upon which I labor hour after hour day after day. I nestle down happy with the certainty of my well spun plot, the depth of my characters,  enjoying the peace of knowing that everything will end as I wish it. What if life could be as conveniently orchestrated?

In Silence I disconnect from the global mind, allowing myself to once again become unique to my surroundings. In this great disconnect, I go off-line into silence and am again the girl I was, quiet and shy, no longer forced to brave a world which feels too big.

In silence I hear my heartbeat. In silence I’m glad I’m alive. In silence I am able to set aside my humanity, drink in the sublime and let go of all the petty rages which injure only me. In silence I am home, I am free and I am at peace because silence asks for nothing. It simply gives me space to be.

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What the Rain has Taught Me

Sun shines

and I bolt from the house

like a bird-freed from its cage

capering through my garden.

My thoughts beg the flowers to bud

the leaves to unfurl

the world to open up

blue sky and blinding day.

In light I remember what it was to be a child

bare foot in the grass

golden patterns filtering through branches

casting bright shadows across the lawn.

In blinding hues

I am the girl I was,

the woman I wanted to be

laced into a tight sundress and sandals

with red lacquered toes

too bright to be proper,

too free to care.

With sun comes heat.

Under its pressing warmth

I grow slow and lazy

flopping from lounge to chair

porch to sitting room

a glass

iced cold

pressed against my temple,

the phone or a friend

resting ever at my side.

Light makes me civil,

makes me social,

makes me the chatty companion I never am

when the rains come

and they come as surly as sun-set and death.

Rain comes on fierce wings

blown off tumultuous oceans

to fall with force from fat lazy clouds

or sting my face with fog

too heavy to maintain its ephemeral form.

With the rain comes the other self,

the turtle self;

a shell wearing, head hiding, self-cramming house dweller

too afraid to venture into the cold and clammy world beyond.

What is there to celebrate

when darkness creeps on moistened toes

to drench and smother all small joys?

I die in the rain

wilt and recede in its constant drizzle

my soul braking, shattering, glittering on the pavement

splashed across the surface

like the drops which wound me.

My soul free falls into the depths of black ridged winter

then vainly does my heart cling to artificial light

powerless to replace that blinding golden glow of summer?

The rain has taught me patience,

the value of old sunlit memories,

the necessity of an ever expansive inner world.

From long spells of impenetrable darkness

I know that no matter where I am or what I am reduced to

there is a place inside my mind

for a girl in a sundress

luminous under a full and fearless sun,

a girl who refuses to dream in monochromatic–rain dampened hues.

By EE Orme on surviving Seattle, the place where sometimes it rains longer than 9 months of the year.

What Phillis Wheatley Taught Me

Phillis Wheatley came into my life pressed between the pages of a rather lack luster anthology. I was twenty-one when I first sat down in my American Literature class ready to be thoroughly educated. My professor was young and handsome. He wore a tweed jacket with elbow patches and I knew that we would have great discussions that would change my life. I was right. My interactions with him would change my life.

The only Wheatley poem my anthology contained was the short but controversial,

On being brought from Africa to America

‘TWAS mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither fought now knew,
 Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

I read the poem with understandable concern. My white Gen-X background in no way prepared me for a woman who spoke with gratitude on having been taken from her family at the age of 7, sold into slavery at age 8 and then named after the slave ship which transported her. How she ever survived the long voyage aboard “The Phillis,” no one knows.

I sat in shock listening to my professor discuss the hardships of her life in blasé tones. He furthered the insult by saying that Wheatley’s poem was ironic. My indignation was instant. Nowhere in her words could I detect irony. I heard a fragile voice, as gentle as moonlight, singing out an ideology forced on her through hardship, a new and vengeful God coupled with the tortuous cruelty of slavery. Surely, no one with a heart could read this poem and honestly believe that Wheatley’s poem was ironic. Slowly I raised my hand, stated my case and flatly refused to back down.

My professor believed that his word was the last word on all subjects literary. My refusal to understand that Wheatley’s poem was ironic angered him so much that he began yelling “ironic” at me every time our paths crossed: In the hall, out on the green, in the parking lot. My reply to each and every one of his attacks was to simply say, “sincere.”

At the end of quarter, after turning in every paper, after aceing every quiz and test I received a D-. The girl who sat opposite me never turned in her papers, missed tests and didn’t read the assigned texts but was shocked to receive an A. I approached my professor, I stated that he’d switched the grades and he replied, “How very ironic?” Yes it was ironic that I should fail this simple class with my strong English background. Yes it was ironic that I should fight for a defenseless black poetess, and yes it was ironic that I, a woman, was forced to defend my belief before an empowered white male. I went to the Dean, I filed my complaint and nobody listened.

So this is what Phillis Wheatley taught me. She taught me that even when you’ve been bullied, brainwashed, stomped on and threatened you have to keep on speaking what your heart tells you is right. Since failing American Lit. I have become a lover of Wheatley’s poetry. In her words I find sweetness, beauty, and a refinement not of this world. Her voice is more tangible to me now than any grade. My soul is strengthened by her poem On Virtue. My love of art grows in her poem To S. M. A Young African Painter, On Seeing His Works. My favorite of her poems is simply entitled,

On Imagination.

Imagination! who can sing thy force?
Or who describe the swiftness of thy course?
Soaring through air to find the bright abode,
Th’ empyreal palace of the thund’ring God,
We on thy pinions can surpass the wind,
And leave the rolling universe behind:
From star to star the mental optics rove,
 Measure the skies, and range the realms above.
There in one view we grasp the mighty whole,
Or with new worlds amaze th’ unbounded soul.

Phillis is one of the reasons why I write about silenced women. Her history is part of why I will always take up a cause my heart recognizes as pure. Phillis could not speak out against slavery when she herself was enslaved but read again On being brought from Africa to America and notice how gently she presses the truth that we all have the right to find grace.

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