Sunday, May 31, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-four


Buds of orchid from Rita Baldwin's Orchid House

***
Talking to Myself Twenty-Four May 31, 2020

Today we celebrate my birthday.
I turned eighty-three years on
Wednesday, but today my daughter
and her two children will join us 
in our front yard and sit six feet
apart. Tim will buy “take out” 
pizza, one meat and one vegetarian. 
Lilly begins grad school in August.
Bobby will be a junior at his college.
We all like pizza. Tim brought
two chairs from his storage unit. He’ll 
take out two of mine, old-fashioned
ones–one from my grandma. How
she loved me. She called me Judith.
How I loved her and those times
I visited her in Pittsburgh, and she
told me stories. I learned them,
too. What a life I’ve made. How
well I’ve lived. I trusted my heart,
and my heart thrived. We learn 
on Tim’s TV how angry our
black brothers and sisters are over
one policeman’s killing of a black
man he was arresting for no reason.
Our president has been unjust, our
country divided and too many
people angry. It’s time to consider
justice and transformation. Enough
of using force to achieve what we
need. Remember Henry David
Thoreau and Martin Luther King
and Gandhi. It’s time to trust

the God Within.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-Three



Writer friend Sasscer Hill, as a child: 
"You can't have my chicken."

Talking to Myself Twenty-Three May 24, 2020

Here is Yuri, writing me emails in Russian,
which I find I can read only occasionally
turning to the dictionary. Then he tells me
of a translation program. I find it on the web. 
It works well. Another resource to learn
his meaning. He writes simply. So I
recognize most of his Russian words. Google
translates them quickly: Enlightenment!
No language in the world can keep me out.
We all adapt, stay in our houses, wear
masks when we venture out. Even I have
one, homemade by one of Tim’s fellow 
workers. My broken toes are healing and
soon I can walk without the boot. What
a good life I have, even so. Old friends
write to me. We’re all still alive, getting
elderly, but still as active as possible.
Tim finds the food, the paper towels, 
the medicines for the dogs; feeds and
waters the chickens. Janet carries Wag
out and is digging the grass out of our
flower garden. We’ll have zinnias
and cosmos, their lively colors, rising
again when the wind blows them
sideways. Our volunteer peach tree 
by the back of the house has green
peaches already. The invading blackberry
bushes have have red fruit. The hydrangea
has its hundred florets. The rain
stirred its roots and sent out blooms,
and Yuri has me reading Russian again.

Here is Yuri, writing me emails in Russian,
which I find I can read only occasionally
turning to the dictionary. Then he tells me
of a translation program. I find it on the web. 
It works well. Another resource to learn
his meaning. He writes simply. So I
recognize most of his Russian words. Google
translates them quickly: Enlightenment!
No language in the world can keep me out.
We all adapt, stay in our houses, wear
masks when we venture out. Even I have
one, homemade by one of Tim’s fellow 
workers. My broken toes are healing and
soon I can walk without the boot. What
a good life I have, even so. Old friends
write to me. We’re all still alive, getting
elderly, but still as active as possible.
Tim finds the food, the paper towels, 
the medicines for the dogs; feeds and
waters the chickens. Janet carries Wag
out and is digging the grass out of our
flower garden. We’ll have zinnias
and cosmos, their lively colors, rising
again when the wind blows them
sideways. Our volunteer peach tree 
by the back of the house has green
peaches already. The invading blackberry
bushes have have red fruit. The hydrangea
has its hundred florets. The rain
stirred its roots and sent out blooms,

and Yuri has me reading Russian again.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-Two


Talking to Myself Twenty–Two May 17, 2020

It can all be done, I remind myself.
In a pandemic things slow down. My
proof copy takes three weeks. Then
three more to get a whole shipment.
I’ll change the pub date. My foot
heals. That was slow, too. I spend
more time looking at the green trees,
watching the hens who have learned 
to hide their eggs among Tim’s
bicycles or in the midst of the flower
garden. The daylilies are rising, and
Janet and I are plotting to plant zinnia
and cosmos seeds to arrive in two
weeks. It means weeding and corralling
the hens, clipping their wings, mending
their fence, fertilizing, but that’s what
farmers do. It means work. I’ve been
idle because of three broken toe bones,
but they don’t hurt now. Let me
recover my strength and wits, feel
less helpless and more canny. Things
will grow even now, and slowly
our pandemic will let go.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty-One

Vera and Yuri Lebedev, my Russian friends from Kostroma

***
Talking to Myself Twenty-One Mother’s Day, May 10, 2020

I saw the word pismo (letter) when
I glanced over my shoulder. A Russian
letter from a Russian friend. Then I saw 
Yuri. I hadn’t heard from Yuri in years.
He wrote to me after Mikhail died in
2015. They didn’t know–even his closest 
friends didn’t know–that he was dying. They
learned too late. His wife and his son
cared for him that last year. I’d written
to him in January and sent my new
book, This River: An Epic Love Poem,
the Volga painted by Rumyantsev on  
the cover, looking across to Kostroma.
They were connected by their childhoods.
Yuri explicated Russian writers of the
nineteenth century. Mikhail’s novels
explicated, and were saving, the Russian 
soul. It can’t be faked, but it can be told.
When Mikhail left town, Yuri came
and took me to their apartment. They
fed me and put out honey for my tea 
to heal my cough. We sat hours over 
our meals, speaking, sharing stories.
I had very few Russian words, they
no English, but we used the dictionary.
Everything was told. We didn’t hesitate.
We played with baby Vanya. I taught
him to say, “Hi.” It came out, “Argh.”
How we laughed. Vera gave me a 
mustard plaster. I’d never had one.
Then she brought in big art books
and showed me paintings while the
mustard plaster worked on my cough.
An apartment was found for me. Vera
showed me what was safe to buy and 
what not. Yuri walked me to the university 
 so I could meet the Rector. At night  
we talked and laughed and told secrets.
 The rest of the family visited. We feasted.
When it was time for me to go home, I
cried. Yuri said, “Don’t cry, Judy," and I
cried more. Now comes a letter in
Russian, and photos of Yuri and Vera, 
then the whole family. I am loved, not
forgotten. “We hold these memories

in our hearts."

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Talking to Myself Twenty


Blue iris in Judy's garden 2018.

Talking to Myself Twenty May 3, 2020

What am I afraid of? In my dream
I couldn’t organize other writers 
though I tried. They were all so different,
and they wouldn’t listen to me. Then
they disappeared, and I was lost. All
around me were huge stone buildings,
but there were no trains. I asked help,
but no one helped me. Then I was
alone. I didn’t know where I was or 
how to get home. We all are alone,
and I’ve always been that way. I
wasn’t afraid. It was easy to love
other people, and they trusted me.
I need to heal. I am healing, It takes
time and patience. My body has
ancient wisdom in its bones. It
knows how to get better. I can’t be 
lost if I’m alone. Alone I always
know what to do. A train will come.
Everything will be clear again. Some
few will listen to me. My words will
matter. The deep places will speak,
and many people will listen. I’m safe.










Sunday, April 26, 2020

Talking to Myself Nineteen



Baby chicks on roosting bars in their coop.

Talking to Myself Nineteen April 26, 2020

Every day more white iris. The chickens haven’t
bothered them. Tracey gave me bulbs, which I
duly planted, but they didn’t bloom until this year.
Then the chickens ate the weeds which held them
back, and here they are. The violets returned when
I let go the reins, some mysterious, some defiant. 
This morning I think of losses. Lisa Mansfield
whose smiling face I met in the post office. I worried
about her, living so close to that coal ash dump.
Poisoned, then murdered, along with her husband
still angry about that coal ash dump so close to their
home. Angry enough to kill, but someone else killed 
him and Lisa. Then John Cross, so kindly, often 
gave me rides to meetings. Once he fixed a weak 
board on the back porch. Terica-for-Peace dies
of lung cancer. She cheered me on when I began
working against fracking. Then Johnsie. She knew 
the coal ash trains going through Southern Pines
were death trains. People talked about her love
and her smiles. No one was a stranger. No one
listened to her warnings. Was it the cancer which
killed her, or the cure? Now our twenty-first
century plague carries off thousands. What have we

come to in the land of the Pilgrims?

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Talking to Myself Eighteen


Sunrise at Jordan Lake earlier this month by Doc Ellen, DVM.

Talking to Myself Eighteen April 19, 2020

Is this my eternal life, wearing a boot
to protect fragile toe bones while they
heal? Sleeping with one foot under 
the covers and one on top? Using a
borrowed walker to move from the
couch to the kitchen and to my
computer and writing chair; staring 
at the trees outside, watching the 
chickens cultivate the backyard
and where our garden was? Only 
blackberry vines now. We had the
perennials: daffodils, violets, and
now the white iris. In front, forsythia
and hydrangea, daylily leaves, and
next door the remains of our champion
black oak, finally on the ground, 
tangled in chickweed. Tim brings
in eggs laid among the bicycles
under a tarp The wilderness has
jumped the fence, but the grape
vines again run over the top
of the chicken run. They run over
the fig trees, too. It doesn’t bode
well for tomatoes and zinnias.
Emails from friends: “How
are you?” “Still healthy, broke 
some toes, but they’re healing 
slowly.” I write about my life,
remember when I kept our
baby writers’ network afloat,
when I influenced the National
Endowment panel to keep the
required number of books 
published to two, instead of 
increasing it to ten. I told them: 
“We have no household budget.”
I lived then in subsidized housing,
got food stamps. Janet comes,
and we reminisce about our losses 
and hardships and our small, but 
persistent, victories. I didn’t get 
the grant I tried for, so I said
we’d have a conference for 
women’s stories. Six hundred
women came, and I told them
their writing was important. We
called it “Tell Me a Story That’s True.”
I still believe, with Muriel Ruykheiser,
“If one woman told the whole story
of her life, the world would split
open.”I’m still working on it.