tracery

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: tracery.

This is the dream that wakes me this morning. Before I went to sleep last night I asked for a dream. It’s when I am writing the dream out this morning that I realize that it’s my sister’s birthday. She died of cancer in 2012. Memory and dreams as tracery.

I am in a group of people on a platform. It is dark around us. It reminds me of a platform from a ropes course. In the ropes course we had to balance it. A rectangular platform on a log roller, held somewhat at the corners to keep it from dumping us entirely. A group version of a balance board. The trick is really that everyone has to stand still and only one person moves, very small amounts, until it is balanced.

But we are dancing in the dream. We are dancing, but people are uncomfortable. I am not sure why. Perhaps because we were dancing all together but individually and now there is a couple dancing. I realize that people are halting, worried.

I want them to be comfortable. I gesture to an older man. He comes towards me. His wife is there. He and I start dancing but I realize right away that this doesn’t make people more comfortable. They are less comfortable and even the other couple dancing stops. We are lit from above with darkness all around. No spot light follows us, so we move in and out of the light.

As soon as I realize that nearly everyone is uncomfortable, I stop my partner. He is an excellent dancer but that is not what is important here. I move with him back towards his wife and I sit on the platform. They sit as well. The other people around us relax. That is what they want, to sit, to talk quietly, to listen. That is what will make everyone comfortable. The others are settling around us, relieved.

I wake up.

sea gift

On Sunday I go on a long hike with my visiting son and daughter, out North Beach. We see three eagles in trees and then the reason. A dead octopus on the beach, large. A sea gift of protein. Four more eagles and other birds soared while people were close. Returning, this juvenile bald eagle is on the beach, happy with this meal. The speckled feathers changing from juvenile to adult are quite gorgeous. I want to go in the sea and meet our giant pacific octopus, too, some day.

all things

I went to a memorial last night, for a singer.

This photograph is from 2015, a memorial sing for my father, who sang in three or more choruses here from 1996 until 2013. Actually he was raised singing and with music. My sister and I were raised singing, too.

My father and the singer we were remembering performed folk songs locally.

We sang last night. I chose a round.

all things shall perish from under the sky
music alone shall live
music alone shall live
music alone shall live
never to die

Here is a version sung in three languages.

With each new loss we remember the old ones: I miss my mother, my father, my sister. The round comforts me: all things shall perish, yet music alone shall live, never to die.



Vital signs II

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: vital. For me, vital brings up vital signs. I wrote this poem in 2006. Pain was made the fifth vital sign in 1996. I have written about it here. In June of 2016, the American Medical Association recommended dropping pain as a vital sign. The idea that we should be “free” of pain has not died yet and the latest CDC report says that the overdose death rate for women has risen a horrifying 240% from 1999 to 2017. That report is here: Drug Overdose Deaths Among Women Aged 30–64 Years — United States, 1999–2017. My poem is still relevant and we still have to change our ideas about pain.

Vital signs II

Pain
Is now a vital sign
On a scale of 1:10
What is your pain?
The nurses document
Every shift

Why isn’t joy
a vital sign?

In the hospital
we do see joy

and pain

I want feeling cared for
to be a vital sign

My initial thought
is that it isn’t
because we can’t treat it

But that isn’t true

I have been brainwashed

We can’t treat it
with drugs

We measure pain
and are told to treat it
helpful pamphlets
sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies
have articles
from experts

Pain is under treated
by primary care
in the hospital
and there are all
these helpful medicines

I find
in my practice
that much of the pain
I see
cannot be treated
with narcotics
and responds better
to my ear

To have someone
really listen
and be curious
and be present
when the person
speaks

If feeling cared for
were a vital sign
imagine

Some people
I think
have almost never felt cared for
in their lives

They might say
I feel cared for 2 on a scale of 10

And what could the nurses do?

No pills to fix the problem

But perhaps
if that question
were followed by another

Is there anything we can do
to make you feel more cared for?

I wonder
if asking the question
is all we need

I took the photograph yesterday with my cell phone. It was so gloriously sunny that the water really was turquoise and I did no photoshop changes.

reminder

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: timely.

My mother died in 2000 and my father in 2013 and my house is full of art. My mother was a prolific artist and I am working on placing, gifting, cataloging her art. There is rather more than I’d seen. Watercolors and etchings were her most loved, I think, though she did woodcuts, silk screen, oils, pottery and all sorts of crafts.

She did tiny etchings, often 2 by 2 or 2 by 3 inches of fantasy creatures.


Etching of Winged Hare, by Helen Ottaway
Winged Hare by H. Ottaway
etching: Dolphin, by Helen Ottaway
Dolphin, by H. Ottaway

letters

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: letter.

I write a very careful letter to an old friend after my sister dies.

Not right after. 6 years after. Another friend tells me after my sister dies that OF says she will never ever talk to me about my sister. OF doesn’t. I don’t see her much.

I do not ask about it directly for six years.

Suddenly I am sick of it. For one thing, a family member of OF’s dies. OF asks me on the phone to come visit “And we’ll cuddle and talk about my family member.” I thought, how can you ask me to fly and visit and talk about your family member when you have not talked to me about my sister for six years? It brought all the pain back to the surface.

I write a very careful letter thanking OF for all the positive things she has done for me. She has known me since birth. She is a mentor for me as a professional woman. In other areas, no. I also write as a query, is it true that she will never talk to me about my sister?

She does not answer the query. And then tells me that she carries the letter around because it makes her so happy.

I think of the letter as a thank you and goodbye. If you will not speak of my sister to me, it hurts and it has hurt for six years. And I am done. I have been patient to the point of being completely ridiculous.

And I finally approach it directly on the phone, because I hate that branch of the friends and family gossip and triangulation. “Is it true that you will never speak to me about my sister? You haven’t for six years.”

Silence. Then: “I am willing to talk to you about your sister, mother and father, but only the good memories.”

And I say, “No.” I say, “Why don’t you ask me what sort of relationship I want?”

It is hard to leave family systems, even when they are dysfunctional and cruel. There is still love there even if it displayed by triangulation, gossip and mean rumors. It’s a love that is emotionally underdeveloped. We spend a long time trying to change, facing that the love is not loving, deciding that it is worth changing ourselves and leaving. I still love OF but I do not want to be in a relationship where she controls me and silences me. It hurts too much. I am still glad that I sent a letter with all the thanks, which I meant from my heart. And I am glad to say goodbye.