Year 2, Day 1: A Song For the New Year

The Sec­ond Year of the Sec­ond Decade
of the 21st Cen­tury

A Song For the New Year
From A Shel­tered Place

I’ve stopped to watch a man skip­ping stones in a shel­tered cove
In a grace­ful angu­lar motion he takes each one then hurls it into the bay
I see only him and not the stones — he seems a gen­tly tex­tured man
With each one he moves in toward the water to help it take an extra hop
Crouch­ing by the shore he judges the dis­tance of the skip then begins again
His male­ness has a dan­ger­ous vul­ner­a­bil­ity and I will not let him go
Over and over he skips stones across the water in a pre-ordained rit­ual
Enor­mous pain and hap­pi­ness dance together in his eyes.

I won­der what the stones at once so heavy and so light mean to him
I think they are hope and death because that is what he is to me
I see Vir­ginia in another time putting other stones into her pock­ets
Not stones for skip­ping but for sink­ing. She sits at her desk
and then writes her last let­ter to him:
I’ve done the best I could, please for­give.’ And Leonard did.

Now he moves to the far end of the cove and casts the last stone
His mouth wide open in a mourn­ful scream but there is no sound
Count­ing 1–2-3–4-5–6-7 — 8 jumps it takes, the best stone of all
In a look of release not vic­tory he con­tin­ues on his way
He bows in trib­ute to an enor­mous absence he alone knows.

I wait for the arrival of the stone’s absolute absence
I desire that pre­cise moment when there is no trace of exis­tence
I think then of other absolutes: the pre­dictabil­ity of sink­ing
Of Vir­ginia, and of me
I think about this man and the bur­dens he car­ried in the stones
I won­der what fur­ther sor­rows he will yet dis­cover on his jour­ney
Across the rocky beach I wit­ness him mov­ing away from me
Despite his retreat I believe in him and that love exists in silence.

In soft dreams my own stones leave me with­out effort
Gath­er­ing them­selves from inside my heart they fly upward
And catch an osprey guard­ing his nest
Osprey misses noth­ing – he sees all our stones
He knows the dis­ap­pear­ing man and my heart­grief
In a flash of his wing­spread Osprey cov­ers me in shadow

He flies toward his nest, his home, his refuge, his duty
In oblig­a­tory exul­ta­tion of joy I watch him land
I look up to him and down to the water
Pos­sess­ing noth­ing I indulge a thought of enor­mous grat­i­tude
For this small event of last­ing mag­nif­i­cence
In my past resides a man in a shel­tered cove skip­ping stones
I sur­ren­der my stones and in an instant’s breath I release
Everyone’s stones and feel sud­denly and com­pletely … Alive.

©Alida Brill 2012


Filed under Hope, Inspiration, Life, Poetry, This Moment

Day 355: The Family Tree



The Fam­ily Tree

I retain almost no visual image of my grand­fa­ther except that his eyes were crys­talline, as shim­mer­ing blue as Lake Michigan’s deep­est waters. He cut ice with his friends and co-workers. I have fan­tasy images about this man who spent so much time on frozen sur­faces to make his liv­ing. Ice Men sold blocks of har­vested ice from horse drawn wag­ons through­out the streets of the city. The ice­box was the only form of refrig­er­a­tion then avail­able. Grand­fa­ther was a har­vester, not a sales­man of ice. But when I was a girl I heard about a famous play, The Ice­man Cometh. And made the assump­tion Grand­fa­ther must have been impor­tant if an entire play had been named for his occupation.

Frozen Stream

On land he designed and built a large wooden home for his wife and grow­ing fam­ily. It was crafted from the reclaimed lum­ber of an aban­doned ice stor­age house. I try to imag­ine it being dis­man­tled and hauled off a frigid lake or river to a street named Lil­lib­ridge in the Vil­lage of Fairview, which even­tu­ally became part of Detroit. From this for­got­ten and once frozen lum­ber he cre­ated a res­i­dence of grace­ful sub­stance and a large hearth for the wife he loved. My grand­mother was a woman con­sid­ered beyond his sta­tion in life. Grand­fa­ther was proud to be part of the indus­try that kept food fresh, safe from spoil­ing. The inven­tion of the mod­ern elec­tric refrig­er­a­tor as a com­mon domes­tic appli­ance changed everyone’s life. The fact of indus­trial progress trans­ferred his pri­mary iden­tity to the cat­e­gory of his­tor­i­cal footnote.

As my mother grew older, sto­ries about her father were more often about his life on land. He worked as a skilled car­pen­ter. Today he would be called a cus­tom cab­i­net­maker. Her favorite mem­ory was walk­ing to meet him at the end of each work­ing day. Patiently she waited on the cor­ner where he got off the street­car. He greeted her — always pre­tend­ing sur­prise. She slipped her hand into the pocket of his jacket and reacted with rec­i­p­ro­cal sur­prise when she found half a cheese sand­wich saved from his lunch. Through­out her long life the mean­ing of the cheese sand­wich lin­gered as a code. Through a scrap of left­over lunch he found a way to express love. Theirs was a large fam­ily — all the other sib­lings were boys; she was his only girl and the youngest.

For a time I lived close to the sea. My writ­ing room was a slap­dash addi­tion over the garage. I loved that soli­tary peace­ful space. It was the only part of the prop­erty with an ocean view. Each morn­ing I counted the waves from my perch. Already in her 90s, my mother climbed the stairs to sit with me. We drank tea. We talked about books and the impor­tance of women’s equal­ity. Mostly we talked about poetry or read it aloud to one another. Some­times her words drifted back to Detroit to relate the tales of her enor­mous extended fam­ily, by then all deceased.

As her lifes­pan com­pressed she talked increas­ingly of her father who had been dead for at least four decades. One visit she pro­duced a snap­shot taken of the two of us – a tiny child stand­ing next to a lean old man. She said I had bro­ken his heart. On a visit to Detroit he pre­sented me with a fancy teddy bear, and I did not per­mit him to hug me. The story shamed me, but there wasn’t a place for my emo­tions. No per­son left to ask for­give­ness. I was a young child. He was tall and thin as a pen­cil. — An ancient man with for­eign ways I did not under­stand; he fright­ened me.

At the end of that visit Mama made the announce­ment she had some­thing impor­tant to give me. She had the unfor­tu­nate habit of giv­ing me a small trin­ket of sen­ti­men­tal fam­ily value only to decide in a few weeks she wasn’t really ready to let it go. And would then demand return of the fam­ily remem­brance. It was a game I didn’t enjoy. I had become dis­in­ter­ested in these offer­ings and intol­er­ant of her behav­ior. This par­tic­u­lar day she pulled out a worn fold­ing wooden ruler. Its num­bers were faded.

This was your Grandfather’s work­ing ruler. He used it in every­thing he ever made.” He was pre­cise and care­ful in his craft. I owned a toy box he had made. This ruler was an essen­tial tool of his trade. I was trans­fixed by it. I wanted his fold­ing ruler for rea­sons I could not express. Now I know I wanted it as a sym­bol of the eter­nal mar­riage between cre­ativ­ity and craft.

Are you sure, because I do want this, and I won’t return it to you. Even if you ask me to give it back. It will sit here on my writ­ing table.”

She kept her word. The ruler stayed.

There is a sacred qual­ity to this old piece of wood with its worn numbers.

I have lit­tle expe­ri­ence of what fam­ily life means and scant his­tory liv­ing within one. The fold­ing ruler means I belong to a longer story than my soli­tary one.

Some months after Grandfather’s ruler came to stay, I looked out the win­dow that faced the sea. I didn’t bother with the ocean view. It was a windy day. I focused on a tree bend­ing deeply in the breeze. An eclipsed mem­ory of Grand­fa­ther came into my head. It was based on the rep­e­ti­tion of Mama’s sto­ries, not per­sonal expe­ri­ence. His pres­ence flooded my senses.

I picked up the ruler and thought about the con­nec­tion between these two crafts — writ­ing and wood­work­ing. I imag­ined him clos­ing and extend­ing the ruler until the wood was per­fectly mea­sured. In my mind I saw him tame that wood with his skilled hands, as it turned into some­thing use­ful, some­thing beau­ti­ful. I, his grand­child from another cen­tury, was seated at my writ­ing table. I was work­ing and rework­ing ungrace­ful wooden sen­tences, clause-by-clause, word-by-word, and then letter-by-letter. We were con­nected to each other by his old and faded fold­ing ruler.

Today a branch sags in the wind
Grand­fa­ther you are this branch

Weath­ered and brown as nut
I cut the branch down and
held it in my hands
it turned into my pencil

A half-century away from me
I wrote this note to you:
Grand­fa­ther I Love You.

the house
the tree
the pen­cil
the words
remem­ber­ing you.


Folding Tools

©2011 Alida Brill

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TODAY IS THE 333rd day of the Year

In a time known I was mar­ried to a math­e­mati­cian.  It was an odd choice for both of us because I still use my fin­gers to add when hav­ing an anx­i­ety attack. I’m sure it was chal­leng­ing for both of us!

What killed the mar­riage was not my numer­i­cal dyslexia, what mur­dered it was my chronic ill­ness.  He was, in his own words, “all healed out”…and who could blame him?  I still am not healed from the ill­ness. Only now, count­less decades later, have I finally healed from the loss of love, of that par­tic­u­lar love that was offered by him and his family.

Recently a trusted friend told me that I some­times retreated to a child­like state.  Actu­ally I think he said “child­ish” — if truth be known.  It stung me, because  he wasn’t sug­gest­ing it was a delight­ful Annie Hall trait of mine.  It was an annoy­ing trait of mine. I thought about work­ing hard to cor­rect it, at least in his pres­ence.  I thought about the fact I was largely unaware of it.  I was how­ever aware that I had been scolded by him.

It made me think about lives lived with ill­ness and dis­abil­ity, with lit­tle or no reprieve.  It’s made me think about the alter­na­tive world I live in which I’ve called the Planet of the Unwell.  I turned to Vir­ginia Woolf  not because I was think­ing about imme­di­ate sui­cide. But because I admire how she con­tin­ued on for as long as she did when so very ill with depres­sion, in her case.  All the fem­i­nist cor­rec­tion to the record notwith­stand­ing, I still admire Leonard Woolf for not leav­ing her, despite his flaws and mistakes.

At some point, if you are never going to be a well per­son, you’re likely to be scolded.  The patience of those around you will fray and they will say hurt­ful things.  You will say rash and intem­per­ate things because you can’t help it, although you try, some­times you try with all your might.

The hol­i­days are dif­fi­cult for many or most of us for all sorts of rea­sons.  For the unwell, the sick, the dis­abled, the hol­i­days are not always deck the halls with boughs of happiness.…if you’re with some­one or in a fam­ily, you’re likely to want them to be happy and your sta­tus makes that chal­leng­ing.  If you’re alone and unlikely to be remem­bered at the hol­i­days, the iso­la­tion of ill­ness becomes an even more pre­dom­i­nant real­ity.  I fight the feel­ing of aban­don­ment, but not very successfully.

I don’t have hol­i­day presents to offer my read­ers, but I offer Vir­ginia on ill­ness and behavior –

‎“There is, let us con­fess it (and ill­ness is the great con­fes­sional), a child­ish out­spo­ken­ness in ill­ness; things are said, truth blurted out, which the cau­tious respectabil­ity of health con­ceals.”
Vir­ginia Woolf, On Being Ill, 1947

And by the way, the Stone Sage Lion reminds me that the 333rd of the year is a palin­drome — which means some­thing that reads the same back­ward as for­ward.  Math­e­mati­cians tend to like them.  Mine did. I think the 333rd day of this dif­fi­cult year is a warn­ing to me to stop going over and over the hurts I’ve sus­tained as well as the things I’ve done wrong. The chal­lenge is to move for­ward to another year …with hope, how­ever guarded.  The even more daunt­ing chal­lenge right now is to move through Decem­ber with some amount of joy and with­out a clenched jaw and grind­ing teeth.  Stone Sage Lion says if not, I’m likely to turn to stone as well and spend the win­ter out­side with him…on the terrace.

That’s it for us today, the 333rd day of the first year of the sec­ond decade of the 21st cen­tury!!  Stay Warm, in body, mind and heart. Com­pas­sion and for­give­ness still trump almost any other avail­able gift we have to give another liv­ing being.

©Alida Brill 2011






Filed under Community, Compassion, Forgiveness, Friendship, Hope, Inspiration, Life, Love, Memories, Relationships, Seasons

Day 312: Gone Fishing

This is the 312th day of the year 2011

We’ve been off the screen but we’ve not jumped off the terrace.

The Stone Sage Lion said we should have hung a sign on the ter­race that said: GONE FISHING


But it would have been more hon­est to say, I fell off the track, broke the promise, and am so sorry.

Life does that to all of us. Creeps up, destroys plans, ruins sched­ules and even­tu­ally you have to own up to it or feel fairly crummy. So, I’m own­ing up to it now.

The Stone Sage Lion knew from the begin­ning that every sin­gle week wouldn’t work, and it didn’t. What inter­vened wasn’t life as much as my ill­ness. Then, when I began to feel stronger, I was stunned by how far behind I had fallen on the next book I’m writing.

How­ever, there’s a new post­ing on Word­paint that sums up my phi­los­o­phy of the writer’s life, such as it.

I’ll be in and out of the ter­race, putting things away for the win­ter, hop­ing for eas­ier days for all of us. And the Stone Sage Lion and I will be chat­ting with you again, so hope you’re still around in the vapors of our vir­tual neighborhood.

See you soon and ….


© Alida Brill 2011


Filed under Compassion, Forgiveness, Time