What elevates a place, with its sidewalks and local restaurants and smattering of churches, into a home? How does one gain or cultivate the sense of belonging in a place that is new? I’ve lived in Michigan for two years now, my husband Dirk for almost a year and a half, and yet outside of our apartment, we look on the town we live in as observers cataloging the unfamiliar behaviors of the locals, never considering ourselves as residents. When asked if we’ll stay in Michigan forever, we quickly respond “No”. But why is Michigan not our home? What is so different in the configuration of the neighborhoods and communities from the places we have considered home?
Some weeks, inspiration is my constant companion, but some weeks pass with no sparks or flickers. This week was the later. I finally cranked out a few haikus yesterday because I had to write something. Of course, my haikus are about vegetables. When you live on a farm and constantly discuss the different vegetables with your husband, vegetables don’t just creep into your thoughts, they are houseguests who become family members. Enjoy my veggie themed haikus!
I’ve read Robert Frost’s “Desert Places” every day this week. I love the imagery and have been especially moved by the fourth stanza. I co-opted his rhyming scheme for a poem I wrote this week, which was strange because my poems usually don’t rhyme. As I re-read “Desert Places”, I kept finding different alliteration patterns that added to the mood and meaning of his poem, creating a lyrical quality. My poetry doesn’t have this sense of details yet, but hopefully by studying some of the greats, I can learn. Even if you don’t read my poem, read and re-read “Desert Places”, you’ll be moved.
By: Robert Frost,
Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
I wrote this poem in my head while doing little tasks around the lab that didn’t require my full mental attention. I think a lot about what a strange environment a science lab is. It’s not the environment of the stereotypical “mad scientist”, it’s just a work environment with a lot of sterile equipment and chemicals. But the work done in the lab is still peculiar; all these little tasks to understand minute details of the universe. There’s something incredible about understanding the universe in great detail, but also, at least for me, something unbelievable.
The other day, I smelled diesel exhaust and was instantly reminded of my time in East Africa. This also happens with fire smoke and sometimes, depending on the season, with rain. I’ll be physically present in one place and mentally across the globe all because of a smell, an invisible tug on my memory.
Several years ago, I found myself inexplicably drawn to canning, despite never canning, perhaps because of an unknown thread between my grandma and myself, a thread now materialized through her gift of her water bath canner.
Before I left South Dakota,
Grammy lead me to the basement,
into the laundry room with shelves
of holiday glassware,
assorted kitchen gadgets,
stacked cans of green beans and corn,
and placed in my hands, her water bath canner,
an inky, midnight-blue pot
with white speckles like constellations.
It jostled and rattled in the backseat
on the bumpy roads to Michigan.
With the passing of my grandpa on March 5, I realized I had lost three out of my four grandparents. Reflecting on his life led me to also reflect on the lives and deaths of my other grandfather and grandma that I have lost.
The one who left first.
Slowly evaporating, breathless among tubes
as her husband told and retold
their first meeting in Texas
when he was a charismatic flyboy
and I paced hospital corridors,
wondering how Christmas
would now work.
baptized me into new acquaintance
Sonja, my younger sister, is a joy and a blessing to all who cross her path. One of my deepest pleasures in life is to be her sister. She has shaped me into a more patient, compassionate person. On April 17, she was honored by her boss and advocate, Colleen and by the mayor of Sioux Falls with not only an award celebrating her volunteer work but also a proclamation that April 17, 2018, is Sonja Swenson Day. To truly celebrate Sonja Swenson Day in style, there would have had to be adorable babies to love on, puppies to snuggle and cookie-dough blizzards for all. I am proud to be the sister of Sonja. To honor Sonja Swenson Day 2018, here is a poem about my galactic sister.
Daughter of the star-breather,
cloaked in Celestial Powers,
enlightening the planet in the glow
of a full moon.
leaves that jaundice,
the giant orb spider –
my hand shoots back.
In every edition of the Writer’s Digest magazine, there is a contest where people can submit a short story of less than 650 words based on a photo. I submitted a short story based on the photo below for the July contest. My story didn’t get selected so I thought I’d share my story here instead!
Tracy, standing tip-toed in her worn, black flats, peered over the beige wall separating her cubicle from the cubicle of her co-worker Megan. In his glass-walled office at the end of cubicle row, Jeff sat behind his imposing, wooden desk; his chubby fingers folded on a pile of papers while he spoke with Megan, her back facing Tracy. Tracy slowly sat down into her chair feeling her heart begin to pick up.
Just a normal Thursday, she repeated like a mantra between deep breaths. This morning she had left home with her shiny thermos of coffee, dropped off her two youngest at the home of their daycare provider and the older two at Forest Lake Elementary School, as she did every weekday. Tracy parked her crushed-cracker carpeted minivan in its usual spot in the parking garage and greeted her co-workers with a smile before she sat down in her cubicle, flipping through spreadsheets and expenditure accounts with all the casualness of a Thursday morning. But once Megan was called into Jeff’s glass-walled office, all of the heat in Tracy’s body raced to her face.
She heard the door of Jeff’s office door close and kept looking at her computer screen, willing herself to not look up once Megan had returned to her cubicle. A loud sigh punctuated the random keystrokes Tracy was making and she heard Megan thud into her chair.
“Did you know about this?” Megan whispered suddenly. Startled, Tracy looked up at Megan who was draped over the wall between them.
“Know about what?” Tracy whispered back, trying to hide an awkward swallow.
“The layoffs?” Megan said, speaking so that only Tracy could hear. “Jeff just let me go.” Megan said incredulously, rubbing her temples with a hand. Tracy pushed back from her computer and put her hands in her lap; she hoped her face looked as sympathetic as when one of her kids came to her with a world-ending scrape or scratch.
“Megan, I’m so sorry. I knew profits were a little lower the past few quarters but I had no idea there would be layoffs. I can’t believe it!”
“I have rent payments! I have my car payment. What am I going to do?”
“You’ll find another job. You’re smart and great at what you do.” Tracy said soothingly.
“Yeah, well not good enough apparently.” Megan huffed, collapsing into her chair again. Tracy turned back to her computer and felt the veins in her arms turn into frozen rivers when she lifted them to the keyboard.
The memory of the discrepancies in the accounts and hesitantly walking into Jeff’s office replayed in her mind for the hundredth time that day. She had been mentally reenacting that conversation with Jeff, evaluating every word she said and the exchange he made with her. For the price of a few adjusted numbers, she could remain in her cubicle.
Anyone else would have done the exact same thing. This wasn’t personal, it was about the four little faces in the rearview mirror this morning, keeping a roof over their heads and the student loans they would have someday. Being a parent meant making the tough decisions. Without looking up, Tracy heard the door of Jeff’s office close again as another coworker shuffled back to their cubicle. Just a normal Thursday.