Full Bloom 17, November 20, 2016
There's color in the treetops now,
though fading. Arctic air reminds
me that winter won't be denied us
who live in the temperate zones. I
walk the dog early to let her continue
her winter nap. There are wings in
and out of the feeder. I mix sponge
for bread, light the fire I laid a week
ago. Sun was stronger then, and its
heat against the storm door warmed
me. The dog curls tight, hides her
nose; the hens, oblivious of cold,
rush into the orchard. Bach's music
lulls me to sleep. I have climbed
that sharp curve the publisher of
Grace gave me. Voices comfort me.
My daughter wants me to come for
Thanksgiving dinner and bring
pumpkin pie. Women in my
community agree: we will fight
if harm threatens. We won't be pushed
back to the fifties and its many
discriminations. We remember "with
liberty and justice for all." Never
perfectly kept, but not denied either.
Our enemies will learn humility
at our hands or at Someone Else's.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
My friend Gene Dillard, once in my poetry classes, began working in mosaic art a few years back, and having covered his garage walls, he began on the inside of his house, and now is working on the outside. These mosaics take about a year to complete a side, and mean piecing tiny pieces of tile or glass patiently hour after hour. He finds it a way to meditate. What do you think? Back in 2004, he spent a year in Honduras with the Peace Corps, building things--water systems as I remember--and writing poems in his spare time. I've added in a few poems. Aren't these beautiful? Judy Hogan
The right side of the front of the house.
After only one week,
routine is sneaking
up the valley
like a cloud band,
seducing my mind.
Too soon I forget
how the new Honduran culture
embraced my heart
in its strong Latin hands,
then tore it open,
exposing me to new houses,
foods, cobblestone calles.
Everything attained a new height.
For a brief time
I had slipped
my cultural bondage.
Driveway side of house, recently completed, with sun on its mirrors.
Inside of Gene's house, with ceiling, doorways in mosaic.
I saw his bent frame
walking toward the Mercado,
across his shoulders
a large pole with
huge bunches of bananas
hanging from each side.
through my mind
like corrugated sheet metal
used for roofing
in the third world
I thought he was a troubadour
carrying many fascinating
odes encased with
a protective outer skin,
waiting for a chance
Front of garage was his first wall mosaic, but he has also done the side you see to the left.
Here is the new tree, with mosaic leaves, house behind it.
In the silence of Copan Ruins
the wind blows
through the Ceiba trees,
a symbol for the Mayans
of the ever present
I am reminded
by the moaning wind,
as I view the deserted temples
that I am alone.
My loneliness forms itself into
dew droplets on the Ceiba leaves,
drips on to the stone reliefs
that make up this city.
Don't forget the chimney, and see if you can find Gene up there!
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Margaret Roys Stevenson, my mother at age three on their cottage steps in Kuling, the resort for missionaries in China, 1915.
Full Bloom 7 September 11, 2016
Summer wanes at long last.
I will be eighty next spring.
September lets in cooler air.
The hill I climb is steep. A gift
to publish Grace’s diary after
years of digging out its secrets.
In some way I fulfill her and
give away all she lost. Then,
after these eighty days of work,
I can turn back to my life story
and my Russian love. Now
Grace comes first–impulsive,
elusive, funny, unpredictable,
and ultimately unreliable for
her children and her husband.
So, confined, declared insane,
operated on as a means of control:
shock treatment, hysterectomy.
Yet she still loved to play the piano
and laugh. As she lay dying of
cancer, Mother reported that she
was sane. She took her a rabbit,
offered a ride wherever she would
like to go. Grace chose the mental
hospital to see her friends. She had
loved China; Norman, Oklahoma
was never home. When Gracie
died, she was inconsolable and
ran away, looking for a stricter
faith, a strait-jacket that would
hold her together, and then was
found wandering along a railroad
track. My grandfather never tried
to stop her, so the looney bin was
where she lived too many years.
She was sixty-four when she died
and left fear behind for other people:
my mother, her brothers, and their
children. Now I give her early,
happy life away to others. The gift
she had was too heavy for her, too
hard to balance. Now I carry it,
must let it lie lightly on my shoulders,
not heavy on my heart. I’m stronger,
wiser, and people have helped me, will
still help me make Grace immortal, too.
Christmas 1913, on the steps of their Nanking home: left to right, Grace, Jeanie, her younger sister, holding Margaret, Charlie, Grace's younger brother, and Samuel Isett Woodbridge, her father.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Grace Roys, holding Richard, with Margaret, my mother, beside her, 1914, Nanking, China
Full Bloom 6 September 4, 2016
[Written two days after I learned my book about Grace and Harvey Roys, my maternal grandparents would be published by Wipf and Stock of Eugene, Oregon]
Another turn in my life’s path.
Many threads are knotted. Who
knew this was possible? It began
with a question: Who was my
Grandmother Grace? She shaped
my childhood. Her mental illness
frightened Mother, and we knew
we should take care not to be
too smart, too high-strung, too
interested in sex, too artistic.
Yet we were all that and normal.
Grace was sometimes normal,
then lost her balance when her
eight-year-old daughter died and
never completely recovered.
Mother never got over her fear.
I explored, learned of Grace’s
beauty, her mischief, her will
to have her way, her going to
the sick Chinese in the night,
her love of her babies, her music,
her fluent Chinese and many
friends, her breaking her marriage
vows and running away. She
dreamt she was in Heaven with
Gracie. She brought us rabbits at
Easter, and got our hair cut without
asking permission. Gladiolas and
cats were her passion. She tried
to be good, but she jumped her
fences too often. I inherited her
gift, lost in her; in me, full bloom.
Grace and Harvey Roys in Kuling, China, probably 1912.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
Full Bloom 13 October 23, 2016
For My Thursday Class Students Fall 2016
Two hundred years ago it was an acorn
like the thousands that fell on my roof this
year. 1816 or so. Jane Austen was alive
but not for much longer. Here dwelt early
land grant men with their slaves. My house
was built on the foundation of a slave-owner’s
house, and around it oaks. They bring shelter,
shade, help with air pollution, beauty. I love
their sheer strength. To look long at a large
oak, tall and wide-spreading, is to take in
its power and peacefulness. When I moved
here, there were five: three in front, one
on each side. In eighteen years one in front
died and cast down all its limbs. Now
the largest, the Champion Black Oak is
casting limbs, and the hurricane took
a large number. They have hung over
my roof. As neighbors we are close,
so this oak belonged to Robert and Emma
when it was named champion. Now it’s
Chloe’s, but I’m the one who loved it.
Robert promised not to cut it down.
Then he died, and Chloe came. I told her
yesterday that it had died and bigger limbs
might fall. I was at risk more than she,
but it could hit the power line between
our homes and start a fire. I called our
electric company. They sent a truck to
have a look. Shawn came to clear the
branches off the roof, found a hole where
a sharp limb had punctured the shingles,
fixed it. I said he could wait, but he did
it the same afternoon. Its grand beauty
is going fast. No green leaves this year.
A limb span still extending wide with roots
under both our homes. That full bloom has
ended, and we must expect its decay. Helen
started me worrying, but I didn’t want
to act yet. Too many other urgencies.
Then came Hurricane Matthew. Limbs
pounded down above my head. Time is
limited for us all. I still teach, write,
publish, garden, care for hens, my dog,
other people, and fight coal ash dumping.
I do forget things, make more mistakes,
get lost more often in unfamiliar places.
I know my leaves will fall, then my limbs.
A deadline can be scary, even if you don’t
know when it is. For now my colors are
lively. Memories return. I check myself
in case of errors, let other people help me,
and they do. Why I don’t know. Sometimes
I don’t even ask. Let me leave behind a
memory of wide-spreading branches,
shading leaves, home-anchoring roots,
and a vitality that stays in other peoples’
minds long after I’m gone.
Sunday, October 23, 2016
My Phalaenopsis Orchid when she was young, May 1915
Can Flowers Change Your Life? XXIV. June 5, 2016
The big orchid is shutting down,
its blooms losing one or two every day.
So frail, petals like onion skin, only
thinner, more fragile. Our lives, too,
go so quickly. It may take years
to reach full bloom, and then that
passes, slowly, yes, but our bodies, too,
ultimately are frail. We need our habit
of courage, our commitment to live
without complaint, do all that we can do,
remind ourselves we know how
to work with human conflict and anger.
Discord is natural, but we all long for
those subtle harmonies which follow
when we lay down weapons and
dis-cover one another. I can’t make
that happen, but I can love those
who let me, and welcome eager
questions and let others speak their
truth. The mystery that follows
has us all rejoicing, awed, committed,
and deeply reassured. We know now
that we can win. We’re at peace
and ready to fight evil wherever
it dares show its face.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Nuclear Apples? The Third Penny Weaver Mystery. Judy Hogan. Hoganvillaea Books, Moncure. ISBN-13:978-1530404506. $15, paperback; $2.99 e-book (Kindle), 223 pages.
By Mary MacDowell
I just finished the last page of Nuclear Apples? Shucks, I don’t want to stop reading about these folks.
I have intimate knowledge of Chatham, Wake and Orange counties and how their activist citizens (including Hogan) and county officials tried to intervene to stop the Harris nuclear power plant from importing highly irradiated fuel rods from other plants, the threat that activated the local characters at the center of this mystery. The book accurately describes the risks of doubling the crowded pools radioactive contents and the safer option of dry cask storage and also how politics at the county, state and federal level often allows unsafe conditions at the plants to continue.
In the mystery the local professor of nuclear engineering at the state university who leads the activists explains the facts: to crowd the radioactive rods into pools where they would risk a loss of water would lead to overheating the rods’ shielding. This, then would cause a catastrophic fire releasing radioactive steam that could render a large area including Chatham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh & Durham uninhabitable for hundreds of years. I have been told by a nuclear engineer that all it would take is a very small plane the size of a Cessna crashing into the pool building to breach the pools and cause such a fire. Other causal or contributing factors include malfunction in the reactor or the interconnected water cooling systems, a fire elsewhere in the plant, or radiation from a severe reactor accident that precludes the ongoing provision of cooling water to the pools because it becomes unsafe for personnel to be where the controls are.
This is a real danger that exists at most of the 99 nuclear plants in the US, so it is excellent that Hogan has used this as the central issue in her book. But the book is also a delightful story of real characters with absorbing relationships and growth. They range from love between her Welsh detective husband and Penny, negotiations with teens wanting to date, two & five-year-olds whose mom is in hospital from being beaten by county cops at the sit-in to get the plant to stop the pool plan, a lesbian couple, an elderly black couple caught in the middle, plant workers being given radioactive drinking fountains and worried about plant safety while the supervisors cut corners. Through it all the people come together to cook and eat to strengthen themselves for planning and working together to challenge this powerful company and its political and legal supporters. And that makes a fascinating tale of what it takes to really support each other in each crisis.
Mary MacDowell worked for Chatham County for 10 years as research coordinator for monitoring and providing expert witnesses to prevent an unsafe multi-state low-level radioactive waste disposal site next to the Harris Nuclear Plant from being licensed by North Carolina government. This effort, with tremendous help of local citizens and allied environmental groups, was successful. The subsequent efforts to make Carolina Power and Light (now Duke Energy) take the safer course of storing their plants’ nuclear fuel rods in dry casks has not been successful yet, but this mystery should help spread the word.
Beginning November 1 and through November 30 on Goodreads.com I'm offering five free books in a drawing of Formaldehyde, Rooster, the fourth Penny Weaver Mystery, in which the community group fights against bad air pollution. It's due out December 1. Don't miss it!
Nuclear Apples? is available at The Joyful Jewel in Pittsboro, at Paperbacks Plus in Siler City, and at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham.