I didn’t post yesterday for Mother’s Day. The reasons for this were numerous. For one, I was extremely busy. For another, I was torn between being happy my kids were all home and spending time with me and sad that for the first time in my life, I didn’t have a mother to call.
I used to write poetry for my mother. When I was a little girl, she was, in my eyes, the most beautiful woman in the world. She later became my best friend, my sounding board for life decisions. When I was in college, “long distance” fees on phone calls were still a thing, so we limited ourselves to one call a week to catch up. It became a tradition that lasted well into my married life when the children were small and past the point where “long distance” wasn’t a problem anymore. I continued to make those calls even when she began refusing to speak on the phone, always hoping to hear her voice, just for a moment.
I found a voicemail on my phone. It’s about three years old from the time before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I’ve listened to it once and saved it on my phone and sent it to my brothers. That voicemail is precious to me even though I can’t bear to listen to it. The guilt is real, still. What was I doing that I couldn’t answer the phone? Did I call her back?
Didn’t I realize I wouldn’t have her forever?
And because this is my first Mother’s Day without my mother, yesterday was, I guess, a sort of poet’s moment of silence. But now I want to share. Here’s my beautiful Mama, probably taken on a past Mother’s Day.
I wish I lived in a culture that used the same word to mean both hello and goodbye. It’d make it easier, wouldn’t it?
I’m saying hello now because the last post I made was Goodbye. And it was me saying goodbye to my mother. More than a month ago. Saying goodbye sucks. When my kids leave to go back to their own lives. When I hang up the phone with my father now. When a friend I’ve waited a long time to see leaves again. I hate that word. That strangely cheerful sounding, heart-wrenching, chillingly lonely word.
And yet, having said goodbye to the woman I loved most in this world, somehow it’s been even harder to say hello again to all of you. Maybe it’s because it feels like everything I say echoes in a hollow space. (As a poet, I appreciate that hello and hollow rhyme so well…) But I’m saying hello now because I know there is more to be done here. I have plans for National Poetry Month in April that include this blog. So I will say the word that, strangely, begins with a syllable that describes where I sometimes feel I am stuck.
Two words, so very different in construction, not at all alike in sound,
So very difficult to say.
By Michelle Garren Flye
A whisper of a word over an abandoned grave—
soft breezes blow spring grasses around
and I am searching for redemption.
Courage, the wind whispers, try to be brave,
don’t hesitate, reach for the crown
and your place in life with strengthen.
But in the end, I am naught but a slave,
helpless and a bit of a letdown—
even if I have your attention.
Hello is too much, I can’t do it, I say,
my face marked by an anguished frown,
Goodbye hurt too much; hello is no fun.
Hello, from me. Sometimes I forget to smile. 🙂 Selfie by Michelle Garren-Flye.
This is my mother. It was taken not long ago by my brother. He often took her and my father out to lunch since he lived nearby. My mother had Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in February 2020. She passed away on February 21 this year. I like this picture because her smile is bright and though the disease she fought had taken so much of her by this point, you can still see her intelligence and humor. And there’s a bit of innocence there, too. Like maybe she was already becoming an angel.
I saw her a month ago. She was still awake and still knew me, though communication was difficult by that point. But I could see she knew who I was, and I am grateful for that. I got to hold her hand and even felt her squeeze it a little. I know this is not always the case. I miss her. I’ve missed her for a long time, but now, knowing she won’t wake up and talk to me again one day, it’s different.
My mother taught me to laugh whenever I could, to curse when I had to, to enjoy music and reading, how to clean toilets (although I don’t use that much), that you always vacuum before you dust (again, not something I use much), to clean as you cook, that the beach is a bit of heaven on earth, that fried potatoes and country-style steak are the best food you’ll ever have on this earthly plane, to apologize when you’re wrong, and that loving and protecting your children takes precedence over everything else and doesn’t end just because they’re adults.
Among many other things.
I remember hearing that you’re not truly dead until no one is left to remember you. That’s part of why I’m putting this out there. Tomorrow is her funeral, and I will say goodbye to my mother. But I don’t believe she will truly be gone. Because I will always remember her. And maybe now some of you will, too.
By Michelle Garren-Flye
Let’s say goodbye as many times as you like:
once when I’m lying in bed unable to face the day,
I’m writing another poetry book. It’s a book of love poems.
No. I’m not in love. Not even close.
But I do have love. I have love for a lot of things and people and places, and if I concentrate on that love, I’m never lonely. If I let it fill me up, it lights up all the dark spaces so even when I’m scared, I know I’ll find my way.
If you think I’m lucky, you’re right. If you think it’s easy, you’re wrong. The worries of the world, mean people, personal problems, Chinese spy balloons…I could go on but I won’t because those things sneak in too easily. Instead, I will make the decision to live my life in love because it will make me stronger. I will draw my life the way I want it to be.
And I will not wait to be in love to write my love poems.
Confession time. I am and always have been a fangirl. It has taken various forms over time. Some things have stuck, others have worn off, and some have…grown. For instance, my current obsession with K-Pop has expanded from one or two groups and styles to multiple. As long as I don’t understand more than half of what they say, I’m in. (LOL, it’s not really based on the language, but you get my drift.) Oh, and K-Dramas, too. I’m actually picking up a bit of the Korean language now…thanks to all the subtitles.
I became a fan of David Bowie early in my life thanks to my older brother and Major Tom. Space Oddity actually came out several months before I was even born, but I remember my brother playing it on the jukebox at our local Pizza Hut. I was maybe five or six years old at the time but I remember listening and dancing next to the table with my little brother.
In 1977 I distinctly remember watching the Bing Crosby Christmas special where he sang “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” with Bowie. I was seven years old and had no idea that what I was witnessing was a miracle of negotiation and compromise between two diametrically opposite human beings. I also remember the debut of Bowie’s “Heroes” music video during the commercial break. Again, I was too young to fully comprehend the importance of that music video debuting at that time when people like my parents were the audience, but I now feel certain that bit of strategic marketing contributed heavily to Bowie’s career.
Bowie songs came and went and got stuck in my head over the years. I really became a true fangirl in 1986 when I saw Labyrinth. I fell head over heels in love with Bowie’s mysterious, sinister portrayal of the regal Jareth, but the songs were what captivated me. “Underground” in particular. I fairly ran to the store to snatch up the cassette tape, lol. And I was done for after that. A fangirl of Bowie’s for life.
The obsession faded, of course. I was distracted by other 80s hair bands like Bon Jovi and Ratt for a time. I even fangirled over them a bit. As an adult, I had a beach music/Jimmy Buffett phase. But I still listened to Bowie. And then the word came that he had died.
That news hit me pretty hard. I’d never really gotten over Bowie. In fact, although I hadn’t listened to him regularly in a long time, I immediately pulled out all my old Bowie music, downloaded even more and spent more than a year listening to him exclusively.
Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of Bowie’s death. I saw all sorts of tributes to him on the internet. I heard his songs again, sometimes just playing on repeat in my head and echoing in my heart. And I wrote a little something. Because, I guess, that’s what fangirls do.
Echoes in a Fangirl Heart
By Michelle Garren-Flye
Where have you been?
Admiring the sky I caught sight
of you quite by accident,
Welcome back, Hero.
Where did you go?
The sun came up, the curtain fell…
I never gave up though,
Insane lads leave me distraught…
How come they can’t be caught?
Image distorted, I can’t see your face,
going against all I was taught…
Greetings, my long-lost friend.
Just on the other side of the moon
is where I find you now,
even though it all ends too soon,
Full moon at sunset. Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye Copyright 2023 Michelle Garren-Flye
Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come whispering, “It will be happier.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson
I wrote my last post about light on the darkest day of the year. Today, the eve of a new year (New Year’s Day in some places already), is supposed to be all about light and hope. And in spite of my optimistic Winter Solstice resolutions about hoping without reason and loving without expectation (and I intend to stick to those, I promise), I cannot help but think about the previous New Year’s Eves when I threw open my front door to welcome those years into my life:
New Year’s Eve 2019: The end of a decade, the beginning of a new one! (uhhh…guess what 2020 has in store? Pandemic.)
New Year’s Eve 2020: God, I’m glad this year is over, let’s move on! (still pandemicking…and personal crap broke me…)
New Year’s Eve 2021: Well, that year sucked. Let’s try next year on for size! (still pandemicking and the personal crap intensified…)
I think it’s best to approach the end of 2022 without expecting too much from 2023. Instead, let’s look inside for the change we need. That’s why I intend to stick to my two Winter Solstice resolutions.
Hope. Even when it’s dark and it’s been dark and you’re bone cold and can’t imagine warmth ever again. Hope because if you believe the light is coming, maybe it will. If you give up on it, though, you will never see it even if it does come.
Love. Let love be its own reward. Love your family if you’re lucky enough to have them. Love the people around you. Love things. Love music. Love a flower that peeks up through the sidewalk if that’s the only thing you can find to love. Love the feel of the sun when it shines. Just love because it feels good to love and it will give you strength.
I will still open the door at midnight on New Year’s Eve. I will welcome the new year with hope even if there’s no reason to. I will love the new year, but I won’t expect anything from it. Because life is indifferent to me, and I will have to accept it all…good and bad…regardless. But if I believe the light is coming, at least I’ll have my eyes open when it does.
Photo by Michelle Garren-Flye. Copyright 2022 Michelle Garren-Flye
Yesterday was an important day that often goes unnoticed. In the Northern Hemisphere, it was the darkest day of the year. Winter Solstice.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the idea of the Winter Solstice. I remember my mother always marked it. She was one of those people whose mood is affected by the light. The darkness of winter depressed her, so the Winter Solstice was a time of change for the good. Because every day after would be brighter. The days are getting longer now, she’d say in the hopeful voice I loved to hear.
Yesterday was a good day for me. I almost forgot it was the shortest day of the year because it seemed bright. Good news, new music, a great day at my store and time with my kids…when I looked at my watch and saw it was almost time for the solstice, though, I knew I needed to mark it. Because every chance I get to make things brighter, I need to take it.
So at 4:48 p.m. I lit a candle. I burned it until midnight and I tried to picture my life…brighter. I came up with two resolutions.
I will hope without reason.
I will love without expectation.
I think if I can hold onto these two resolutions, I can live a brighter life. Too often we wait for life to give us a reason to hope. If we can just hold hope in our hearts, we can live in the light more often. I don’t know what you hope for. I’m sometimes not even certain what I hope for. But I know without hope for something, we might as well curl up and die. So hope.
And loving without expectation is something we all struggle with, I think. I’ve always found it easy to love…things, people, places, pets, food. But in loving, I too often expect something in return. I have a plan in mind for my love, a path it should follow, rewards I should get in return for it, whatever. But I don’t control the object of my love, so I cannot control the results of my love and am often disappointed. Love itself has to be the reward, and if I can achieve that, I will surely live brightly.
I’m sure these two resolutions are not unique. Buddha or Gandhi probably came up with them long ago. Perhaps this is what they tried to teach me in Sunday School when I was a child. Is this what faith is? Or is it just the ramblings of a middle-aged would-be poet? You decide. It won’t matter to me. I’ll be over here hoping for a brighter future and loving you.
It’s cold here today. Yesterday it was mid 60s. This morning? In the 30s. That’s why it wasn’t really surprising to see a dead butterfly on the sidewalk. Poor insect is as confused as I am about the weather. Yesterday, shirtsleeves, today, winter coat. But he didn’t have a winter coat. He was frozen but still beautiful.
It reminded me of poetry. Is that morbid? Definitely dark. But then, I’m one of the best poets you’ve never heard of, and I’m thinking it might be difficult for many people to name ten living poets off the top of their head, anyway. Because poets don’t become household names anymore.
Robert Frost said, “Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat.”
Carl Sandburg said, “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.”
Considering the competition between these two poets, sometimes one-sided, it’s not surprising that these two poets had very different views of poetry. What has always intrigued me was that people paid attention to that rivalry. It was a different time, I suppose. These days, poetry is a hard sale. I see it every day in my store. I have shelves of used poetry—some modern, some classic—in my bookstore. I also have a section of local poetry, including my own.
It’s the classic poetry people still want. Byron, Dickinson…Frost, Sandburg. I understand that want. Those poets wrote about things that aren’t our reality. They’re a higher brow type of escapism than bestselling fiction. I myself have two poetry books sitting on my desk right now. One is The Complete Haiku of Matsuo Basho and the other is A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry (published in 1950). I study haiku, so that’s my excuse for that one, but I love the pastoral themes of past poets. I adore reading about love and beauty and passion as if I hadn’t a care in the world.
But I know modern poets are important. We are dreamers and truth speakers, but when we put those dreams of truth out into the cold December mornings, there’s the danger that they may die of the cold.
I’ve picked up an interesting tradition? habit? madness? (You pick)
Every few days I have a fortune cookie. And I either shrug off the fortune inside or spend the next few days pondering it. Yesterday I got a fortune that read “A person who wants to sing will find a song.” (Or something to that effect. I think I lost the fortune…)
That one has stuck with me. Because it’s true, and I have spent far too much time living my life for wishes to think it isn’t. Because I can make as many wishes as I want, but there’s no wish fairy out there fulfilling them. Wishing is, quite simply, a way to focus my intent on something I want.
I want success, so I’m finding ways to make it happen.
I want happiness, so I’m learning to concentrate on the things I have in my life that make me happy. (And deal with the things that don’t without letting them upset my apple cart.)
I want a cherry red Ferrari for free— Okay, maybe not. (Adam Sandler fans will get that one.)
I’m still looking for the song I want to sing. I will have to write it myself, and I know that it won’t be easy, it won’t look exactly like I once pictured, and it won’t be the only thing in my life.
Nobody’s life is filled with one thing. It’s mixed up with the good and the bad, but if I want the good, I can choose it. If I want to be happy, I’ll find that happy in the middle of everything else. I can succeed if I’m willing to put in the work. And for this knowledge, among all the other good things in my life, I am grateful.
A villanelle from Learning Curve. Illustration and poem copyright 2022 Michelle Garren-Flye.
This Sunday, November 20, I get to do something I don’t often get to do anymore. I’ll be just an author selling her books.
I’m not totally certain I remember how to do that…
Running a bookstore was a dream of mine for a long time. I used to haunt the two little bookstores in my hometown. The Book Nook was my favorite because it was used books that I could actually afford. (I did buy my first new hardback book there, though. Black Beauty and Other Horse Stories. It cost $15 and I still own it.) Highland Books was where I went to dream. I didn’t have enough money usually to buy the books, but the owners were tolerant and didn’t say anything if I curled up in a corner with a brand new science fiction novel they knew I couldn’t buy. I wonder how many people bought books there that I had already read?
But I digress. I dreamed of owning my own bookstore for a long time but I didn’t realize that when I got one, I couldn’t just be an author anymore. Yes, I write in my bookstore. And sometimes I sell one of my own books. I’m on the bestseller table here, so I do sell some here and there, and it’s definitely exciting when I do. But I’m mostly here to sell other people’s books.
On Sunday, however, I will be at the New Bern Farmer’s Market from 1-4 p.m. with a slew of other authors, all selling our own books! I’m planning to take all the books I have here at the store (well, maybe leave one copy of each on the shelf) and hope to sell them and maybe get some people reading my poetry.
And still I won’t be able to resist asking what kind of book people like to read. And I know enough of the other authors there so I’ll know if their books are a better fit than mine. And I won’t hesitate to send them that way…so it might not be that different from being in my little bookstore at all. 🙂