Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Lament and A Psalm of Praise --QM

Taken on 2.10.13 by
Wind Chimes at Auroville
Under the instruction of Mary Oliver I've taken out a real pencil and paper several times this past week to see if some Notable Words will emerge on my notebook. I'm not much of a journaler; I like to write to an audience larger than one. Every time I wrote, however, (the dentist office, the minutes between brushed teeth and lights out, a stolen moment before work) only raw, teary words came out, the kind that might be better kept in the dark of a drawer, hidden in a diary. 
I'm going to bring one entry to the light of this blinking computer screen, with the condition that you also read the lighter notes of the second one. My life isn't all heaviness.

 A Lament: Wind-chimes

Outside my mother's house,
like tuneful broken glass,
they tinkle.
The day is cold, the house empty.
The cat meows at the closed door,
the wind pulls at my thin brocaded coat and
I can hardly hear their cheery notes.

The music in my life has been quiet this year,
minor keys.
The wind has shook out each note.
I want to play a different song,
and hear a fiddler's lilting song-and-dance.

But my favorite songs are never ditties,
twitching feet.
I like the harmonies 
that swell and 

This season of loss, this confusing year--
Is only the wind
       the bass notes
and soon my song will richer, fuller ring.

My Children
 A Psalm of Praise: Blankets over a Table

The scraps of Sunday's dinner lie strewn over my counters--
The mess of rest.

  Beans drying on Plates 
   White-rimed Spaghetti Pot 
      Pungent Garlic Press 
       Syrupy Peach Juice
 But the table is cleared,
            wiped for a ROOK game, already won.
Now the little people of this house have confiscated the space.
Blankets thrown over and under,
A pillow for a secret book
a whispered reading.
The are surprised when I 'find' them, 
When I try to enter their world, I knock my head, adult-like,
on the underbelly of the table.

I'm a clumsy child, 
almost an onlooker,
but not too old to experience 
Thanksgiving at the Table.

Monday, February 9, 2015

It was Evening and it was Morning--at Sewing Retreat -QM

My namesake, Queena Kauffman. She grew up with this bunch.
It's evening now.
I hear one lone machine upstairs, humming across the blue and pink fabrics of my cousin's quilt.
My mom and aunts declared their bedtime long ago, but I hear them still, in their room, talking about their sewing projects
and their old lives
and updates about their friends in the Valley, the Lives that have moved on,
like the water in the river that flows by their childhood home.
The North River still has the same curves, the same banks.
This moment seems like an evening I've known before, a time when I listened to Sisters talking longer than my ability to stay awake.

My couch is cozy and I'm a child again, falling asleep to the rise and fall of my mother and aunt's southern accents.

It's morning now.
I wake to my mom telling me its nine and daylight's 'a wasting.
One of the photo opportunities--a quilt for my nephew.
I was sleeping during their rising but I can smell the hairspray and imagine the bustle. This is not a group that wants to start their day's sewing in pajamas and sweats. They sit at their machines with carefully combed hair, neatly arranged prayer coverings, colorful dresses, and cups of hot coffee next to their Berninas.
Scissors cut,
Machines whirl,
Women whistle quiet tunes,
Circular blades slice efficient piles,
Soon the quilts go from half-formed to
fully done.

It's breakfast now.
We read a verse, sing a song, harmonies weave
For egg casserole and fruit and family.
My Grandmother has painted all her life--in oils and on china.
The day moves on, Grandmother talks,
tells stories of Grandfather and
"You know I had nose surgery."
No, I didn't, but we laugh to think of our Grandmother trimming the size of her 'honker.'

It's nap time now.
Some of us venture out to the ocean, dragging quilts along for a photo opportunity.
A long sandy talk with my favorite cousin,
Sea shells for my children,
A break from industry. The coffee pot empties, fills, empties again.

Efficiency is so prized by these women, their speed takes my breath away.
An aunt mentions that "It is Sunday."
They put on a sermon,
Loud enough for the machines to keep humming, and
David Jeremiah's words are better remembered here, with busy hands, than if I had been in a pew.

My aunt that writes quilts:

It's suppertime now.
We sing and eat and get back to work.
My Mississippi aunt designs a string quilt made of Grandfather's shirts,
The one from Dallas gets ready for bed,
The aunt who writes quilt books places fabric stars on a flannel-graph blanket,
And I enjoy the neglected hot tub.

It's evening now.
The house is dark, the machines are still.
I hear the sound of the ocean, and think of that river in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley,
and these amazing women,
those seven little girls,
working, and swimming, and growing and
30-minute sketches, I doubt I'll ever polish them up for hanging on a wall. The oldest and youngest quilters.
I'm notorious for not finishing pictures--the colorful one is my 'finger-painting' project, to just give me a break from detail work.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sewing a quiet seam, stiching together a new life. --QM

We have been in Greenwood, DE for two weeks now, and the sheet has been hung in a retirement cottage, just a stone's throw from the Country Rest Home. Here is a picture, for proof:
We've settled in quickly, pulled all our boxes out from the attic (James and Dorie positively squealed when reacquainted with their forgotten toys), made many short trips to see Grandma Polly and Grandma Alene, looked into possible education options for Ethan, and I was hired for a part-time position as a para-professional, working with an adult education program. What a whirl-wind of a beginning! I've been excited and thankful for this chance to be here with my family and Delaware friends, but when I have a still moment, and look inward, I feel the faint catch in my throat of disappointment. In my mind's eye I see us a few years ago, the last time we were living in Greenwood, full of purpose and certainty about what we were doing and where we were going--calling our friends and family to get excited with us. And now we are looking for work, to feed our family, to find a second car, a house, to perhaps even go back to school for something completely different.

At this point of my musings, I'd like to paste into this blog excerpts from a sewing poem. Yes, a Sewing Poem. First, a word about how I found it! Next week my mother and her sisters have their yearly sewing retreat, a week and a half long extravaganza of fabric and thread, scissors and Bernina sewing machines, mothers and daughters and granddaughters all gathered in bonds of industrious creativity. Well, I get to join them for three days! One drawback is that I have a strong dislike of sewing. So, I'm bringing my paints and sketchbook instead, and to prepare, I've been doing Google image searches relating to quilts and sewing. Tucked in a distant webpage I found this little poem that hit my heart. (Click here for the complete poem)

I Sit and Sew

By Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson

I sit and sew—my heart aches with desire—

That pageant terrible, that fiercely pouring fire

On wasted fields, and writhing grotesque things

Once men...
You need me, Christ! It is no roseate dream

That beckons me—this pretty futile seam,

It stifles me—God, must I sit and sew?
Its not that I don't enjoy Greenwood, in fact I'm thrilled to be in the ESL field, its a life-long dream. But as I read this poem, I see Alice, the poet, sitting in her home, frustrated that she isn't involved in more than just the quiet things in life. I see a temptation in myself to do the same--to chafe instead of bloom.
Dear Alice, you think Christ needs you, but he doesn't, and you don't know how he values humble service. I've determined to live as his expendable crewman, and if that means to sew at something small, I'll trust that in his hands it will become an everlasting quilt, a masterpiece to be unveiled in heaven's economy. Goodness knows I've wanted and tried to be on the front lines where "writhing grotesque things/once men" wished for rescuing. I believe though, that the greatest front line is the one in my heart, where I fight pride and selfishness, and that goes with me wherever my address.

  We shall see what sort of quilts and paintings and laughter will come from next week's sewing retreat. I believe strongly that creativity has an eternal quality, that in some way the beauty we start on here on earth will be taken up again in Heaven. I'm proud of the way my mother has given herself to her great quilting talent, and she always makes me wish I would paint more (For a glimpse of her work, visit her blog).

I found another little piece in my web-hunt, with quite a different attitude toward sewing than Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson, and I'll close with this quote from the fictional 'Aunt Jane of Kentucky' by Eliza Calvert Hall (Here's her book):

"I've been a hard worker all my life, but 'most all my work has been the kind that 'perishes with the usin',' as the Bible says. That's the discouragin' thing about a woman's work. If a woman was to see all the dishes that she had to wash before she died piled up before her in one pile, she'd lie down and die right then and there. I've always had the name o' bein' a good housekeeper, but when I'm dead and gone there ain't anybody goin' to think o' the floors I've swept, and the tables I've scrubbed, and the old clothes I've patched, and the stockin's I've darned, but when one of my grandchildren or great-grandchildren sees one o' these quilts, they'll think about Aunt Jane, and, wherever I am then, I'll know I ain't forgotten."

Here's to the small things in life, to living in Delaware, to sewing a quiet seam.