Stitched With Silk

Judith Shea-Sculpture-Post-Balzac-Photo by flickr creative commons user krossbow

Today, I put on your love
like an overcoat
to protect me from the wind
and keep me warm.
You weren’t around
but you left it for me to use
when I needed it.

It was quite comfy and full
with plenty of room
to move around
and reach for things
without tearing at the armholes.

Not like the coat I wore before,
large and shapeless
cast off from someone else
with many pockets
for holding all my tricks
which banged into my legs as I walked
and wore me down
and tired me out
with their weight.

But like my own skin.
Tailored to fit me.
Cut from the finest fabric
and stitched with silk.

Photo credit: Judith Shea, Sculpture, Post-Balzac, Photo by flickr creative commons user krossbow

Light Gatherer

Spring in the snow

I have lived a cluster of sterling days
chased with silver light. Radiance
bounces from crystalline snow
halos your hair lending
you a glorified look. Your smile shifts
Transmuted it flies to tiny dendrites
transformed into electrical jolt
felt at the base of my spine
it radiates to extremities
I capture your shoulders
grasp hard, compose my lips,
close the gap.

Photo credit: stock.xchng user bcch

Fairy Houses

Fairies Live Here

Here’s the thing, as you get older, you relive parts of your life and recognize the weight of them in the shaping of you. Lying on the bed, reading a book, my arm crossing in front of my face, I see the ropiness of my thin skin, and wonder how it’s incremental changes were not apparent. Now, all of a sudden it looks like the petals of a crape myrtle that grew in rows along the perimeter of my grandmother’s Victorian manse.

Those trees swayed in the simmering summer somnambulance of the afternoon as I, an eight year old girl, sat on the scalding hot cement blocks that formed the pierced fence enclosing this tiny Southern paradise. I could not nap on the Army cot in the front room, Perhaps because it was lumpy, or perhaps because the texture of the flounced cretonne slipcover whose print of a bucolic village was rough against my face. I got up, leaving the rumpled cot behind the door of the “front room.” I carefully opened the French doors, trodding the weathered boards of the front steps, the balls of my bare feet, blistering as I descended. Then dashed out to the fence to take up my perch, and watch the heat waves shimmy in the air above the packed white sand street.

Because I was not allowed to make any noise, and because of the sweltering heat, I begin a slow walk through the grounds, poking about for a bit of cool shade. I push aside the branches of the azalea, and step down into the flower house whose foundation is sunk 3 feet into the Carolina grey soil. The moist embrace of the dank air welcomes me as the anole scurries along the window sill, abandoning his perch. I sit on the planks arrayed bleacher style against the long wall, and breathe in the familiar odors of my grandmother’s garden. In the winter, all her potted plants come to stay here just as my Mama tells me the Northerners once did in town. Now, it is empty, all it’s seasonal residents relocated to the house and the porch. Booger, my grandmother, loves her flowers and calls them each by name, the ferns are her favorites. Not that the giant magnolias growing just outside the door aren’t also significant. Their glossy, enamel-like leaves rustle in the hot breeze, stirring up a dust-devil in the dry topsoil.

Walking there I watch it swirl, and know we are in for a storm later. But for now, I pick up my “digging spoon” whose blunted bowl and eroded silver speak of better days. It is my favorite implement for digging out fairy houses. As I dig, the color of the moist soil beneath the surface goes from gray to tan. I place my foot in the hole and cover it from toes to instep with earth, carefully packing it so I can withdraw my foot, leaving behind the fairy house surrounded with a moat. The fairies need a cozy house so I line the floors with the waxy discarded petals from the magnolia, and the shed velvety outer wrappings of the buds, using just a bit of Spanish moss to complete their fairy beds.

What the fairy house needs now is a bit of frosting. If I’m not too loud, maybe I can sneak into the kitchen. Mama says it sticks out from the back of the house because that way it can’t heat up the place. But I know that I can go up the rough cement kitchen steps, carefully open the screen and get the rotary egg beaters, Lux dish soap and glass bowl with the milky interior and gold exterior and get back out to the yard without anyone hearing me. When I get back out to the yard, I run around to the faucet on the outside kitchen wall, where the maiden hair ferns grow and fill my bowl part-way with water, and then squirt in a few drops of dish soap. Now I plop down, legs akimbo, bowl between my thighs. This the fun part. I place the rotary beater into the bowl, grasp the crank and begin to turn. I like this part, the clanking whirring of the beaters sounds like music to me. Before long, I have a very dense whipped, white foam, just like the eggs when Booger makes meringues.

I go back over to the fairy house and carefully take my hands, and apply the frosting to the outside of the fairy house. It looks so pretty and smells so nice. I just hope that the wind doesn’t blow it away. Standing up, I step back to admire my handiwork. If the fairies don’t like this house, I don’t know why not. Now to fill the moat. I always leave that to last, hoping that the water will stay in the moat, but it never does. Somehow I don’t think I ever grasped the porosity of sandy soil.

I know Booger is going to get up soon, so I’d better get the bowl and beaters to the kitchen.

When she gets up we get a Coke and go out onto the side porch, which overlooks the side yard where I just built the fairy house. My bottom slides down the smooth seat of the Adirondack chair, and I rest my arms on it’s broad arms. My grandmother sits in her rocking chair with it’s untanned cowhide seat. She has on a dress and the scratchy surface doesn’t seem to itch her. I see that she has not bothered to hook up her stockings and as she sits there, I can see the rolled tops of them just beneath her knees. I think she doesn’t know that I can see them. As she sits, she rocks, wiggling the Coke bottle which she grasps between her thumb and middle finger like a vertical see-saw. Sometimes we talk and sometimes we play Parcheesi. Today, we sit and I look out at the fairy house and wonder, when will the fairies come?

This reminiscence was provoked by my reading of the incredible book, Faery Tale by Signe Pike. If you need a bit of magic in your life, I urge you to read this book.

And you can see and hear Signe speak about her experiences in this presentation that she recently made here in Charleston.

*I am the granddaughter of Mr. & Mrs. Hallie P. Compton. My grandfather established the Dorchester Coca-Cola Plant in the 1920s. He and my grandmother lived at 102 S. Hickory Street, Summerville, SC. This reminiscence takes place there. All of the 10 grandchildren called our grandmother, “Booger”. This was not a term of derision, but a term of affection. She gained the name from bouncing grandchildren on her knees, and saying, “You Little Booger” and when the first grandchild learned to talk, she called Rosa Compton, Booger.

Fire Starter

The Fire Starter Kindled a Bonfire in Me

As they sat in the open on a warm, starry night, he reached out and started the fire. The tinder was parched, and the flames raced the length of the limbs as they burned.

And before she knew it, she was on fire.

He kept adding bits, knowingly stoking it to a roaring brightness.

She encouraged him as the flames lit her eyes, raced to the ends of her hair.

This is the conflagration she’s always hoped for.

Years later, she learned he was a fire-starter, carrying the spark to eager kindling wherever he found it. He couldn’t resist setting fire. He loved to watch it burn.

In most, the flames died out quickly. But her fire was one he could not control, and it began to burn him too.

As she healed, she wondered if he was burned as badly as she.

Now as she awakened on All Souls Day two decades later, she could feel the effects of the fire and her desire to burn again.

That he was no longer alive relieved her of the fear of burning, but not the longing.

And on this morning, the soul of him snickered into her dreams and singed her parched edges.

Southern Tragedy

Mama and Daddy with the airplane-She stood by her man, perhaps too long

Today, I heard,
is the birthday of Tammy Wynette.
What does it mean,
This stand by your man stuff?
How long do I stand and where?

Do I stand where they did?
Those women of post war fantasy,
By the stove, aproned, lipsticked and coifed?
In the aisle of the Winn-Dixie,
or the waiting room of the pediatrician.
By the bed of a child?

And while I stand there
I wait for the “Atta girl”
that Bill gave to Janet.*
I thought, that if I did those things
like a paint by number;
1: committee meeting,
2: field trip,
3: shiny floors,
4: homemade birthday cakes,
that I would wake up to the trumpet calls
and blue ribbons of Gabriel and the county fair.

But I didn’t even get an honorable mention.
And I completed my picture.
And I didn’t color outside the lines.
I was a good girl.
Step by step,
I completed all the requirements.
Well, why then,
did I wake up in the Piggly Wiggly
with my soul screaming for salvation?

This poem was inspired by an announcement of the birthday of Tammy Wynette on Public Radio. This poem was written when I was trying to come to grips with my Southern upbringing, my choices, and my future.

*refers to Pres. Bill Clinton’s supportive comments to Atty. General Janet Reno following the Waco, Texas massacre of the Branch Davidians.

She is Just Away…

Forget Me Nots in my Mother's Garden

My mother is in China.
Visiting Tiananmen Square.
The Forbidden City.
Viewing 800 ceremonial buildings
containing 9,999 rooms
and a courtyard for 100,000 people.

She walks through Beijing’s ancient narrow hutongs
Learning about the daily life of the ordinary.
Then the Summer Palace, where the Imperial court lived
Every year from April to October.

On to the peaceful valley of the buried Ming emperors
Later to the Great Wall,
Undulating up and down the Badaling Hills
Marveling at great stone towers she learns its
Curves are to defy devils and demons,
Who only travel in straight lines.

At the Temple of Heaven
a series of elegant circular structures
Reaching for other realms
She hears of rituals of servility
for release of sins

I follow her progress in the itinerary,
subject to change.
With no telephone numbers,
no hotel address,

There is no way to picture her
visiting these places.
I have no photos, no book
to show the way.

I am reassured that she will have
a welcoming dinner of traditional Peking duck
with a lively acrobatic show during dinner,
after which she can relax during the evening
and gather her memories and new friends.

This poem was penned in 2003 when my mother was in China. Each day of her trip I tried to picture her doing some of the things that were described in the very formal, old-fashioned itinerary that was provided by the tour company. Some of the phrases in this poem are “found” in that I lifted them directly from the itinerary. While she was gone, I realized that I had no way to contact her, no way to communicate. And it struck me that her traveling to China was giving me a foretaste (way in advance I hope, as she is still wonderfully vital and active) of how it may be when she is dead and gone. Then I’ll have no way to communicate with her, no way to see her, no knowledge of how she is. The formality of the itinerary and its stiff language made me think of the Victorians and their journeys and then of Victorian era poetry. The title of this poem refers to James Whitcomb Riley’s poem “She Is Just Away”. If you aren’t familiar with his sentimental Victorian poetry, you might find this Wikipedia entry interesting.

Poem for My Son

Ivy Halls of Accomplishment

From the days before your conception, I heard you calling to me,
asking for birth, life, and time to accomplish.
That you had god as your intermediary, was not astonishing,
because as soon as I heard your call, I heard god sanction your being.

You, took command of my body, became flesh. Born into the world,
you were impatient to move. Walking the floor with you raging
in my arms, I announced, “he is not like this,”
he is quieter, still, in his core.” You mastered words and people,
gathered the elements of becoming, grew into a child
who observed, the vagaries of the world.

One who with prescience knew others,
your mind encompassed unseen parts of their being
astounded us all. We were not surprised when you made
pronouncements with full confidence, unlike other children,
“I will play tennis,” (and you did not know how.)
“I will go away to school.” (and you couldn’t have found your way to North Charleston.)

You knew yourself, in a way that few elders can, that the young never do.
You rarely showed your fears, making us all think you might be infallible,
but then, in the crux, yielding to human fears
fretting over your choices, your desires of going on.

But you have gone on, you have prospered and you are the man
whom I saw in the first instance of your call to me from the deeps
of dwelling with god. You are yourself, more profound,
more heartfelt and more real than my hopes
could ever make you.


BW Jericho Image

It is all I have ever wanted,
to live in harmony—in a peace
that vibrates,
a palpable resonance
through common people.

as in ancient times,
aligned harmonies
break down walls
with the horn blast
of humanity. Trumpeting
divinity of tramping feet.


Red Maples by CTD 2005 Flickr Creative Commons

There is a quiet moment
when winter moves aside
and spring begins
secret and obscure
it hides
known to initiates
holding full glory
of the new season
in newly formed hands

In mystery
arching and straight
stark as branching veins
against the flat sky
small trees lift their
growing edges
to be transformed
from sienna to burgundy
by the warmth and light
of an eternal star.

Red maples slowly uncoil
their blossoms
promise of fruitfulness
chancing cold
frost tinged air
they rise in union
with the opening world

Photo credit: flickr creative commons user Ctd 2005


Folly Beach. Marsh, Birds and Morris Island Light by Wm. Smithem

Today I have watched
every cycle of the tide.
four divided by two
high and low
alternately covering
and uncovering.

With each one
I expected
to find some evidence of you
floating toward me,
or evidence of you
steadily in retreat
and I only found
the rhythm of the ritual
flood and fall.
like a woman’s body,
the marsh fills and empties.

I think I expected this water
to bring you to me like
Jesus walking;
a miracle resolving all
doubts, simply believed.

Then I imagined
that I would flow
outward and find you
connected as we are
by the water, the wind,
and the grasses
undulating in unison.

But all I saw
were the birds,
who took flight
and carried me
into the horizon.