Saturday, December 20, 2014

Last Dance

The last dance of 2014. Men with Grinch ties, women in flashy red or flowing white, ready to waltz, tango, cha-cha, swing, and night club. A buzz of excitement grew as the room filled.

My East Coast Swing class and two others would perform. We chatted nervously about the routine we had learned. Some practiced on the main floor, though the music often stopped short of the final flourish.

We met in the small room to assign partners and rehearse one last time. Enough of us showed up that some got to dance twice so all could participate. I would be in the second group.

I watched the first group, tracking the sequence of steps, spins and twirls.

Then my mind went blank as the music began for my group. The lead assigned to me, a delightful young dancer, doesn’t let me get far off the routine. I try to mirror her smile, but find myself biting my lip in concentration. We finish with me teetering to the final bow.

Not perfect. I still haven’t mastered the cross-step-hitch-and-go. I’m not even sure that’s what it’s called. Still, I’m good at stumbling through. If anyone noticed, I didn’t care; it was great fun.

With the break until January, I haven’t decided what to try next. But I’m going to keep dancing – right on up to my own Last Dance.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

This Dance

I stumble through this new dance step,
feet tangled, teetering off balance.

An instructor pulls me from the circle,
shows me how.
I’m humiliated by his good intentions,
shamed by my awkwardness
and painfully certain
everyone has noticed.

The dancers rotate; he moves on.
I try again, alone, my turn without a partner.
But my internal critic gets loud and distracting:
Me? A dancer? At my age? Why?
I abandon my efforts, stand and watch.

At the next rotation,
the woman nearest me approaches.
I’ve admired her skill in previous sessions
and steel myself for expected sympathy.

“Are you aware there’s a beginner class next door?”
Stunned, I nod.
“Been there,” I mumble.
She turns away.

My head says run.
My feet don’t move.
I sigh and step into the circle.

“I’m struggling,” I warn my next partner
and each one after.
As if they hadn’t seen.
As if they wouldn’t know.

After class, I plot my revenge:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Just a Word (a poem)

My raised eyebrow and intake of breath amuse her.
‘It’s just a word,’ she says with certainty,
this girl who looks too young to know.

True, we hear it everywhere,
even in movies portraying ancient times,
since saucy words from then no longer startle.

Repetition removes shock as well as meaning.
Yet – without attention to context – that word
gave The King’s Speech an R – for language.

I replay the encounter in my mind.
With so many words to choose from,
why get stuck on "f**k."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

She's Gone

She’s gone. She wobbled to her last nap July 24, 2014 and I’ve been untethered since.

I got her from Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene, Oregon. She was eight years old then, a gorgeous calico Maine Coon mix who flopped herself down in front of me begging for a belly rub. Irresistible.

She became my family, the one who was always waiting for me. On arriving home, if she wasn’t at the door, I would call, “where’s that cat?” A heavy-weight, she would thump off the bed or chair and trot to greet me, meowing all the way. And, though the name I gave her was Simone, she probably believed her name was That Cat.

Her meow sounded like Mao, though I told her time and again he was dead.

I gave her a good home and she in turn gave me uncomplicated companionship. I miss her. She definitely approved of the wonderful townhouse apartment I found (have you ever seen a cat nod as though checking off desired items?).

Her last days weren’t easy for either of us. She had lost weight slowly after the move to California, which wasn’t all bad. She had, after all, been quite pudgy. And when we moved to my current apartment, a townhouse-style, she ran up and down the stairs quickly and scrambled onto the bed more easily. She still played soccer with me – she was the goalie – and batted her toys under the furniture. I think she enjoyed watching me search for them.

Then, near the end of June, she just nibbled at her food. I tried another kind. She liked it at first, but eventually quit eating that, too. I ground it up and mixed water in it. She ate some. I got canned food with lots of gravy. She licked up the gravy. A friend told me about a brand of tuna her cat had liked; Simone lapped it up. Then she didn’t.

She got very thin. I had water bowls everywhere – in each bathroom, in the kitchen, on the table by my reading chair.

She was still drinking water, going up and down the stairs, climbing onto my chair and over to the table for a sip. She still zig-zagged down the stairs ahead of me in the morning. She still went upstairs around nine and came back to peer at me at 9:30 if I hadn’t joined her. My puppy cat.

Then she didn’t. She got wobbly. She let me carry her upstairs or down – something she wouldn’t have allowed before, not without a fight, anyway.

Finally, on a Tuesday, I called the mobile vet. I was pretty sure Simone wouldn’t last to the end of the week. The vet couldn’t come until Thursday. And I’m grateful. I don’t know how Simone made it that long. On Tuesday night, she was restless and wakeful like my previous cat had been the night she died. But Wednesday morning, Simone was curled in her favorite spot on the bed, watching me as I woke.

She was on the bed when I went to sleep Wednesday night. Then, when I woke at 2am, she wasn’t. I found her on the third stair from the bottom.

For a couple hours, I sat with her, petted her, crooned to her, thanked her for being my special friend. She purred for the first time in a couple of weeks.

When I woke on Thursday, she was on the bed in her favorite spot. She tried to lead me down the stairs, wobbling and pausing several times. At the second to last step, she tumbled to the bottom. Not really a fall. I resisted rushing to her aid. She continued to the kitchen door. I kept talking to her as she staggered to the patio. And I kept talking because otherwise I would have been sobbing and I knew that would upset her.

The vet arrived right on time and eased us both through the process, then wrapped Simone in a towel and carried her away.

It was hard at first, not rushing back to the house, or dashing to the store in search of the perfect cat food, the one that would bring her back from the edge.

Now that she’s gone I’m learning to allow myself time. Time to shop at a leisurely pace. Time to visit friends and family. Time to feel sad and time to remember the good stuff.

And in September, I gave the rest of her things to a wonderful woman who rescues cats. Well, all but the water dish with “Her Majesty” in big black letters around the side. I’ve set a round candle into it and placed it next to her picture on my bedside table. I tell her goodnight and good morning and ask her opinion on my attire. Then I wish her sweet dreams.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Picture ID

Simone’s photo ID arrived last week.
I didn’t know she had applied for one.

“We don’t owe you anything,” I said to the letter from the clinic.
Simone and I had vowed never to go there again,
driven off by noise echoing from room to room.

I slit the envelope. A card spilled out.

Not a bill. A photo ID. For Simone. My cat.
I had to laugh. Bad as any DMV photo,
Simone glowers at the camera, ears laid halfway back.

A criminal cat if ever I saw one!

But where shall we use this card?
Simone is a stay-at-home cat, and old,
born near the end of the last century.
She sleeps. She eats. She sleeps again.

Still, it’s good to know when her shots expire,
though Simone may expire before that.
I’m letting her call that shot.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Missing the Mall

Has it been three months since my last blog?

Update from my wish expressed then: my new glasses did not inspire me to warble hallelujah. Unfortunately, my old glasses still work better. I have another appointment next week to discuss possible solutions. But that’s not why I haven’t blogged.

The only excuse I can think of is lack of inspiration. Well, not exactly that, even. I’ve written a number of poems, most of which have been well-received. I also took a two week Road Scholar excursion to the National Parks in Utah, the subject of my latest poem. (I’ll include it at the end of this entry.)

Today, however, blog inspiration came. Just past noon, I walked the half-mile from my house to a shopping center. Halfway there, I realized my two choices for a bite to eat were Costco and the deli section of a market. Hmm. Costco was jammed. I crossed an acre of parking to the market. Nothing in the serve-yourself buffet looked appetizing.

I quickly found the vitamins I’d come for and proceeded back to Costco. By then, the lines had diminished. A hot dog took the edge off and gave me the energy for my return home.

While I do like my new home in San Luis Obispo, I struggle to understand why local shopping ‘centers’ seem to be so, um, un-centered. At the malls in Eugene – Valley River Center, Oakway Center, Gateway Center - you park on the perimeter of the shops. Two of those centers are completely enclosed. Rain or shine you can walk from store to store without going outside or moving your car. Additionally, each has a food court or at least variously priced restaurants. I often spent time browsing from store to store before or after a meal.

Here, the shops are on the perimeter of parking areas. You need to cross traffic to walk from one set of shops to the next. Or move your car. In addition, restaurants are either non-existent or placed far from the shops. No leisurely shopping, no convenient opportunities for coffee or a meal.

What were the designers thinking?

Oh, that’s right. This is California. The car is king. Drive, they said. Then park, dash in, and drive again.


A trip around Utah’s National Parks

The geologist’s enthusiasm catches hold
but not as she might wish.

Ten days circling Southern Utah
naming Neapolitan layers and
searching for joints and slots
in towering cliff-side casinos.

My eyes refuse to see
chocolate or vanilla
in the magic castles,
Egyptian palaces,
and mushroom-capped guards
on buttressed walls.

Instead, I see The Ancestors -
robe-draped pillars, eyes on the horizon,
their children crowding close.
One leans against a canyon wall,
glowering at our intrusion.

A parade of elephants never move
yet ever march across rock dunes
the color of sun-bleached sand dollars.

Oh, Look! a fox head
stained dark in the pumpkin wall.
And there, carved high in gray stone,
a dog crouches stalking some small prey.
And the eagle! Yes, I see!
etched in oyster stone to soar forever.

Yet all will pass as the Great Artist
reveals and ultimately conceals Her work.

Lee Darling
May 18, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Becoming Visible/Seeing Clearly

A little over a year ago, an astrologer shook her head in wonder. She was looking at my chart and said, “I just don’t see this kind of thing. Not for someone who’s turning 70. It looks like you’re going to become visible.” She paused and looked up at me. “You know you were born invisible, don’t you?”

I nodded and laughed. Twenty-five years ago she had told me I could take off my carrot costume. In response to my puzzled look, she had said, “You don’t have to be how other people see you.”

Now she was saying that other people would see the real me.

She also validated my then-pending move from Oregon to California. I’m now comfortably settled in a small apartment complex in San Luis Obispo.

One tiny step at a time, I am becoming visible in my new community. I’m hooked into a group of people who would normally not mix, but accept each other with love and humor. I feel as though I have a whole new set of littermates. We’re like eager puppies happily bounding up to greet each other.

And I’ve gotten involved with groups of writers and poets. I’ve read some of my poetry at open mic. My submission to the State of the Bay Haiku contest won the adult division last month and will be published in the report from the Morro Bay National Estuary Program. Dark trails ebb and flow/through cracks in seaweed cushion:/rusty brown on blue.

My most recent poem – Invisible Connection - is based on an incident on one of my morning walks. The poem says, in part:

I trudge along the fence-lined path, lean forward and begin the climb.
From near the crest he ambles down, limbs and torso bare and brown.

We met last week and briefly spoke of wind sprints, distance, time,
his manner easy, a runner in his prime.

Today, dark eyes capture me, smile welcome into mine.
I ask his schedule, nodding to ‘not every’ and ‘sometimes.’

His speech gives hint of distant lands, his youth sharp contrast to my years.
Yet he says, “I think we have . . . an invisible connection here.”

I’ve submitted the whole poem to a contest sponsored by The Tribune. And I’ll read it at the next meeting of Poets on the Edge in April.

But now I’m struggling to see clearly. Before leaving Eugene, I filled a new prescription for glasses. They never felt quite right, but returning to Eugene for adjustment wasn’t an option.

In January, I found an eye clinic here and scheduled an exam. The doctor said the Eugene prescription was wrong and gave me a new one. I didn’t fill it for a month, waiting for my eye/dental insurance to kick in.

When my new glasses came in, I was almost giddy with anticipation. I slid them on, expecting the world to become bright and sharp.

Not so! The left eye particularly was out of focus, a problem for me because that’s my dominant eye. The optician suggested I try them for a day or so to be sure my eyes wouldn’t adjust.

Stubborn little orbs, they just refused! Back to the optician. After a test with a small lens, she agreed the prescription was off and ‘bounced’ me back to the doctor.

Two days later, the doctor and his assistant struggled to find the right lens setting. He said he didn’t see how the slight change was worth re-doing the glasses, but it was my decision. Was he saying I was old and simply needed to accept bad vision? Not yet!

Now, I wait and hope when I slide this next pair on that I will burst into song: “I can see clearly now, the blur is gone.”