Writes With Pencils

fiction, memoir, essays and poetry

Tag: Gratitude

The Grace of Holiday Illness

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In this busy season
of hall-decking, shopping
windshield-scraping, visiting, and baking—
a cold that settles
into the chest
to rumble
cough
hack
and wheeze,
slows the days enough to
feel the hair
of a red-headed boy
under my chin while watching Elf
and to host an early pajama party
to ring in New Year’s
on East Coast time.
On the year’s first day
we had no need for black-eyed peas,
and simmered instead a pot
of chicken soup to soothe and warm—
our bowls overflowed with luck already.

Experiencing the Divine

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A kiss is a promise that lasts but a moment
until it retreats from
the forehead
the brow
the cheek
or other lips
a promise to
care for
cherish
love
or adore.

A gift is an expression that lasts but in the giving
until it is received into
the eyes
the hands
the mind
the heart of another
an expression of
generosity
kindness
apology
or open heartedness.

A look is a connection that lasts but in the gazing
until it blinks away from
the tenderness
the vulnerability
the brokenness
the imperfection of another soul
a connection of shared
feeling
experience
values
or meaning.

The impermanence of these,
these kisses, gifts, and looks,
makes them more precious
not less
more meaningful
not less
more sacred
not less
for the only permanence there is, is death
and the moment is alive
the moment is all we have
and then another
and then another.

It is in that kiss
that gift
that look,
in those moments,
where life radiates brilliantly
and the distance between
kisses and gifts and looks,
even if it be infinite,
does not deny the life in them.

Suffering comes from the desire
for their existence to be static,
frozen into permanence,
but to fall into the moment of
a kiss felt
a gift received
a look shared
without expectation,
fully present,
is to experience the divine.

Better Cup o’ Joe

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At home Dad drank Taster’s Choice decaf instant.
On the road he’d pour himself a cup
from the round-bellied glass pot,
scorched on its warming plate at the Seven Eleven.
He was ahead of his time,
before sippy-cups were marketed to busy grown-ups,
he used his red Swiss Army knife to cut a flap from the lid
so he could drink it in the car without soiling his tie.
Its searing temperature
leached fumes from the styrofoam
adding more chemicals along with the non-dairy creamer
and Sweet-n-Low from the pretty pink packets.
Caffeine-free and bitter,
his two cups a day were neither a physical need
nor a pleasure.
At most it was a habit
begun in basic training, continued at the officers’ club.
He didn’t believe in unfettered indulgences.
Pineapple upside-down cake, his favorite,
he ate once a year, baked by my mother
on his birthday.
And he’d nurse his Christmas bottle
of Chevas Regal 12 year blended scotch whisky,
the good stuff, he called it,
for an entire year.

After his example of extravagant frugality,
I parsed out my Halloween candy
until Easter.
And looked forward each year to
my mother baking my favorite
Duncan Hines Cherry Chip Cake,
the good stuff, I called it,
for my birthday.
But once I grew beyond my father’s example
and traveled to other tables
where coffee was freshly brewed from just-ground beans
and served at 3 o’clock in matching porcelain cups
with tarts, gateaux, and bowls of peaked whipped cream;
served with welcome, generosity, and pride,
without judgment, shame, or mention of sin;
I learned
to feel the pleasure of the warm cup between my hands,
to relish inhaling its toasted aroma in my nostrils,
to enjoy the glazed texture of the cup’s rim on my lips,
and to savor its exotic taste across my tongue.
French pressed, filter-poured, or espresso pulled
I learned the value of
self-acceptance over guilt,
joy over penance,
and gratitude over fear.

Dad, you deserved
a better cup o’ joe.

The Lunacy and Truth of “We are OK!”

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Seven strangers sit
holding mugs of herbal tea
as warmth and comfort.

Each tells a story
of love lost to suicide,
mysteries remain.

Sobs of grief and pain,
full of questions and self-doubt,
punctuate some tales.

Factual, detached,
chronologically precise,
one mourner reports.

Numbed in disbelief
a recent death stuns and dulls,
eyes fill silently.

Lives ripped and ruptured
try making sense of chaos
where none can be found.

Sweet memories shared
of life before the madness
brighten sad faces.

In the tragedies,
left to puzzle and survive,
we search for meaning.

Some prevailing truths
limited to suicide
can be ludicrous.

Then one smiles and laughs
and with solidarity
another joins in.

Grateful for this place
where talk of horror, lunacy,
and death shock no one.

We seven all are
members of a lonely club,
no one wants to be.

We all understand
life’s foundation’s been destroyed,
but a roof remains.

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