Reunited

Two days pass
and Phoebus follows us
north from Mexico,
us, the blue, rain-soaked
Irises
who sought his healing fireglow.

Love, maybe,
determined his northwest path
or longing;
at the very least,
mutual attraction.

Our flights toward each other
feel natural–
blue and orange,
perfect complements.

–c. kk 2010

Horsey Gift

Already the date is January 16th and I continue to receive daily gifts. Two days ago my gift came as I watched the horses in the pastures that surround my home.
First, looking out my west window, overlooking the herb garden where a multitude of finches are feeding, I saw the Armstrong’s black horse trotting, kicking up his hind legs and then galloping all around his enclosure. He frolicked. Although I don’t know about horses scientifically, I like to think he was just having fun.

I think something must’ve been in the air because when I went out my front door, which faces south, I saw the two horses in the opposing pasture were playing with each other in much the same manner, prancing prettily the way horses do, in a kind of do-se-do. In the pasture east of them, another horse frolicked.
What could my heart do but frolic too?

Was it coincidence that all the horses ran around their pastures at the same time or did they have a telepathic conference and decide to do so? Or was it a chain reaction? As I said, I don’t know much about horses or how they communicate, but I think they do communicate.

The three horses in pastures catty-corner from each other simultaneously ran to the corners of their fences, faced each other and seemed to be exchanging information. Puffs of steam whooshed out their nostrils as they snort-breathed, their tails swished and their heads nodded. For at least five minutes they stood like that, in communion, and me, too, watching.

I considered this segment of horsey time a wonder and my gift for the day. I enjoyed.

For Carol Masterton May–Island City 7th and 8th grade

Here’s what we all looked like in 1959. Where is that cutie Frank Slyter now? Some of us are bald, some are grandmothers and grandfathers, and some are no longer here on Earth thanks to drugs and the Viet Nam war.

My 7th and 8th grades I went to Island City School. The 7th and 8th graders were in the same classroom, just as the 5th and 6th graders had been, so if we wanted, we could learn what the other class was learning. We could also learn what was coming up the next year. And we could whisper when the teacher was working with the other side of the room, at least until we were caught and punished.

Our teacher, Mr. Lovely, was boring. When he should have been teaching us, he would tell war stories, which the boys loved, of course, but which I found to be sleep-inducing. I was not nice to him and acted like I wasn’t paying attention. He’d ask me a question to catch me, and I’d always know the answer. That drove him nuts and he had a conference with my mother about me. I don’t know why I didn’t tell her that he was wasting the taxpayer’s money by sitting on his butt yapping about the war and calling that teaching. Or maybe I did and that was as far as it went. Parents in those days were not as proactive as parents today, and they always believed a teacher before they believed their own child.

In these two years, I did very dumb things. One of them was to stick my tongue on the frozen bars of the swing set because Barbara Hyde goaded me to do it. Oops. Mrs. Crouser had to bring water out to pour on my tongue to get it off.

We had a chemistry set in our room, and when Barbara Hyde and I were looking at it, I saw there was nitrogen and also some glycerin, so I told her to pour them together and she would have nitro-glycerin. I had watched some TV show, probably Perry Mason, and knew that nitro-glycerin blows things up. Then we got scared and told our teacher what we had done. I think he got scared too, because he wasn’t smart enough to know if we actually made that or not, and so he said he was going to pour it down the sink in the teacher’s room and if the septic tank blew up, we were in trouble. We watched it, but nothing happened. Even though the whole thing was my idea, because Barbara did the pouring, she got in trouble and had to do detention. She hated me from that day forward and taunted me every way she could until we graduated from high school. Some people hold a grudge forever!

One day in the 8th grade when Mr. Lovely was boring us, he asked a question to which the answer was volcano. He called on Sally Bond, and when she went to answer, she belched instead. That was so funny, because she was the smartest person in the room, and out came this belch. One other funny thing she did was step on Governor Mark Hatfield’s foot when she met him. How embarrassing!

Sally and I were in the same 4-H cooking group and we did demonstrations together. We did an excellent job, and the year we demonstrated how to make bread, we also did funny things to make the audience laugh, and I thought of them. When the direction was,” Now you knead the bread,” I stuck my knee up there and started moving it around on the dough. Then it was Sally’s job to explain the word was “knead” not “kneed” and we showed how that was done. The audience enjoyed our demonstration. I should have gone on to stand-up comedy.

Because our classes were so small—8 kids in each grade—all the girls got to be cheerleaders and wear the turquoise cheerleader skirts. (I think Carol is wearing hers in our 8th grade picture.) We yelled cheers like, “Rickety-rackety-ree, Kick him in the knee! Rickety-rackety-rass, Kick him in the…other knee.”

For P.E. we mostly had square-dancing, and sometimes volleyball. I loved to dance, but that meant touching boys who were a foot shorter than we and 20 lbs lighter, and boys had to touch the girls in the dos-y-dos which they hated to do. What an uncomfortable situation. We often had to perform for events, such as PTA or school board meetings. Sometimes we had regular dances where my usual function was to hold up the wall. I still remember that brown, shiny pressboard wall in that tiny gym with no sidelines.

I loved volleyball too, one sport where I could moderately excel. I could serve the ball over the net almost every time, so I was a valuable team member for once in my non-athletic life. I could even get the ball back over the net most of the time as well. Our school played other schools our size in the Grande Ronde and Baker valleys. After the games, which we usually won, Barbara Hyde usually tried to pull off my towel or snap me with hers. At those times, I’d wish to be invisible.

I love music, but music with Mrs. Crouser was hilarious. Not because of her piano playing, or the great songs we learned in the little brown songbook (EVERY person who was a kid when I was knows what I mean by “the little brown songbook”), but because Frank Slyter and Reid Bailey would change some of the words around and Mrs. Crouser never even knew, even though they shouted them at the top of their lungs. For example, “Don’t SHIT under the apple tree, with anyone else but me, till I come marching home.” In the song, “K-K-K-Katy,” they sang, “When the m-moon shines, over the cow SHIT, I’ll be waiting…” We all laughed and Mrs. Crouser just thought that singing made us happy. She seemed happy plunking away on her piano. Come to think of it, she was probably just glad to be off her feet and anything else good was icing on the cake.

We had Christmas programs at Island City School too. One year it was going to be the Nutcracker Suite and every classroom had a certain part. My sister Skeeter got to be a sugarplum fairy and she had the cutest outfit made out of pink material on the top and a crepe-paper skirt. She had a pink bow in her hair and she was just darling. I did not fare as well. I got to be a walking, talking, singing, dancing tree STUMP. Of course, I was the best stump I could be, but still. So much for my stage career.

Once, in the 8th grade, the school had a super Halloween party that I was allowed to attend. There was a hayride, and for days before, the girls planned with whom they would sit and make out . The planning was much more passionate than the real thing, however, because parents also rode, and boys and girls were effectively separated. Besides, not too many boys were interested in romance, at least not in front of parents. The old-fashioned bobbing for apples was fun. The boys had threatened to push everyone’s head in the water, but again, parents squelched that fun by manning the dunking barrel. Afterwards we had a dance and more refreshments.

Schools aren’t allowed to have Halloween parties anymore. If kids get to dress up at all and play games, it’s called a harvest festival. This is because church and state must be separated and some Christian fundamentalists believe that Halloween is a religious event worshipping the devil.

We used to dress up in costumes and sometime during the day parade through all the other classrooms and let them look at our costumes and put candy in our baskets. Then each class came to our classroom and we got to look at their costumes and put candy in their baskets. Does that look or sound like Devil worship to you?
While I kept up in 4-H cooking and sewing, everyone in our 7th and 8th grade also had 4-H leather craft projects to make for the fair. I really enjoyed the process of tooling leather to make a design and then sew up the sides of things and stain them once we got past bookmarks to make wallets and then on to belts. I loved the smell of the leather and the stain, and being able to gift or use something that I had created. Perhaps this is the way Mr. Lovely fulfilled state requirements for art in the classroom. The school didn’t pay for this, however; our parents did.. I was sternly told that my projects had to be done well and not to goof around and waste money.

For our 8th grade graduation we had a field trip to the Marcus Whitman Mission and to the Washington State Penitentiary. Woo-woo! I did learn a piece of history and I did get to travel, but exposing kids to inmates in a penitentiary? I believe this was done to put the fear of God in us so that we would not travel down the wrong path. Another smooth move by Mr. Lovely. We were told that the inmates where we walked along the fence in our tour would yell at us and they might say naughty things, and to not talk to them. I don’t remember anything of that tour other than the inmates yelling naughty things. We were scared shitless and whether Mr. Lovely’s plan was effective or not, I have no idea since I don’t know where any of the kids are today, except for Reid, Randy, who I saw once on a La Grande visit, and now since Facebook, Carol.

Brian Doyle’s Gallbladder

Dear Brian Doyle,

I enjoyed your January 3, 2010 commentary “special to the Oregonian.” In fact, I enjoy your writing every time I see it. I enjoyed your writing before I ever saw you. You have been a writer “special to me” for years.

However, in my mind, a great disconnect existed between how I envisioned you and how you really look. I thought you were my age (which I am not going to disclose by the way), one of those distinguished looking silver-haired guys who is a tad portly in his tweed suit.

Then I saw you last fall in Manzanita and was so astonished I sat myself down and gave my imagination a good talking-to. You are ever so much younger than I imagined, more like my little brother who is 48 and whose hair has been every shade there is on Clairol’s shelves.

But that is not at all why I am writing to you. Even though I find your writing to be spectacular, Mr. Brian Doyle, I fear you do not totally comprehend the power of Jerzy Kosinski whom you dissed in your commentary. Especially powerful is his novel, The Painted Bird. The metaphor for how we even yet after WWII continue to treat so badly humans and other species not exactly like ourselves should not be lost on any of us.

Reading the part about the miller and the squished eyeballs aloud in my English class was sometimes the only thing that made my students shut up and pay attention. (Nowadays they might even stop texting.) I thought that was good writing, myself. If things got out of hand, I threatened the squished eyeballs, and order was restored. Unbelievably, no parents ever complained. Of Mice and Men they complained about, as well as the few “fuck’s” in Catcher in the Rye, but never the squished eyeballs. Go figure.

And wouldn’t you say that Being There got us ready for George W. Bush?

I hope you will re-think what you said about Jerzy. I know he lied by saying The Painted Bird was autobiographical. But hey, that just got us ready for James Frey. Jerzy was ahead of us on two counts right there.

Sincerely,

Karen Keltz

P.S. I hope your gallbladder (pick one):

a. improves
b. turns into an alien
c. is safely extracted

INVICTUS

INVICTUS
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

–William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)
My husband and I saw the film Invictus New Year’s Eve day. At the end of the film, the full-house audience stayed seated until the screen turned black. I like to think everyone was thinking about the message of the story or their memories of the time when apartheid was in full force, not only in South Africa, but here. Or maybe they were thinking how inequality still exists here at home with those who don’t look like us. I hope formulating their intention to change things kept people in their seats.

The poem “Invictus” hung on my classroom wall all my years of teaching, not only as inspiration to the students who may have read it but also for myself. Facing daily adversities requires something a person can grab hold of for strength, and this poem was my reminder that no matter what was done to or around me, I alone governed how I reacted. While we cannot control what is done to us, we are in control of how we respond. This lesson is not easy to learn, taking me at least 55 years before I REALLY got it.

Viewing this film also took me back to the school year of 1979-1980 when one of my students was a foreign exchange student from South Africa. Les was a good-looking, swarthy, sturdily-built lad and much in demand on the football field. In class, he did his assignments and was socially appropriate. He seemed so nice, I wanted to know why he embraced apartheid. Finally, the time came when I could ask him, when my asking would not embarrass him.

How could a class of whites who appeared to be well-educated as his father was, for example, continue this racist division I asked him. I wasn’t making comparisons between his country and ours, I assured him, but I wanted to understand. When you know a thing is wrong, why do you keep doing it?

“If we do not keep separate,” he told me,” they will overrun us. They are many and we are few. They will destroy us. We will not have the country we know. Everything we worked for will be gone. I don’t harbor them any ill will. Most people don’t. It’s just better this way.”

I thanked him for answering me honestly. I didn’t debate the issue out of respect for that honesty. Besides, my argument would change nothing he’d been taught. Only he could make that change happen. But I understood.

Fear, then. Fear keeps us choosing to do the wrong thing. Later, after much reading of enlightened authors and my own life experiences, I learned we do what we do for two reasons. Our choices always boil down to these two reasons: fear or love. Always.

So when I saw Invictus, I thought about Les and wondered how he’d fared in the last 30 years through all the changes in his homeland. I wondered if he has become the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. I wondered if he has changed. I wondered if now he bases his actions on love.

I also wondered this: what in some of us make us rise above the torment we endure to become the master of our fates, our own captains? What in us gives us the strength we need, the self-respect we need to endure, persevere, and prosper in the ways that matter? That’s a question I’ve asked for years and I still don’t know the answer.

But now I have decided on a name for that quality. I’m going to call it “The Invictus Syndrome.”

Accomplishments Last Week of 2009

“I once listed all the good things I did over the past year and then turned them into resolution form and backdated them. That was a good feeling.” Robert Fulghum

My friend Judy, who is the queen of quotations, sent this quotations to me attached to her yesterday’s e-mail. I laughed out loud, not so much at the quotation which I find brilliantly pragmatic, but because I had just done something similar myself.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s has been a dead zone for my husband who is both a judge and a student returning to university to acquire a degree in counseling. Not having many “must do’s,” other than pay bills, we both made lists of what we wished to accomplish during this free space of time. Mine was about ¾ of a page long.
Halfway through the week I took a look at it. Jeez, I’d accomplished only “pay bills.” I knew I hadn’t been lazy, exactly, so I wrote down all the things I HAD accomplished, like taking out the garbage on garbage day, making photo albums of our trip to Alaska three years ago, and my trip to Boston with my friend Janis in 2008. I even typed out all the poems I’d written during our Alaska trip and placed those next to the photos they referred to.
I had written my thank-you’s (Thank you, Mom, for teaching me that piece of etiquette!), watered the plants, and cleaned out Miss Emma’s kitty litter box.
I wrote a new blog.
Now my list took up the entire page and part of the margin. The page reminded me of letters I received from my Grandma Georgia who wrote not only on the front and back of every sheet of paper, but also all the margins, so that reading a letter from her was an exercise in 3-D, somewhat akin to figuring out a moibus strip.
Then for pure enjoyment, I crossed off all the new accomplishments I’d just listed. With a flourish. Some things like GARBAGE and PAY BILLS I put a rectangle around and then X’d out and some things I drew TWO lines through. “Work on novel” I merely checked because that’s an ongoing to-do. Still, the check showed that I had made a stab at revision. Same for “practice mandolin.”
By the time I finished, there were only four items remaining on the page. I felt so much better about my week. You know, there’s still a space on the page left, and I did watch three movies, which is like work for a writer, right? Wait a second. OK. I have that written down. Wait another second. OK. I crossed it out with only one line because that work is partly fun and inspiration.
I feel absolutely wonderful now. There’s one line left and I’m going to write down “Take a luxurious bath” because I deserve it after working so hard all week long.